What I’m Working on Now (Viewer’s Choice Blog)

Thanks again to everyone who participated in the first Viewer’s Choice Blog. It was so much fun that I think I’m going to make it a monthly feature. You’ll vote; I’ll write.

So this month’s winners (we had a tie) were “What I’m working on now” and “Fan Fiction.” I think today I’ll tackle the writing question and tomorrow I’ll give my thoughts on fan fiction. Let’s get to it.

Right now, I’m working on the second draft of GOING BOVINE. It’s a dark comedy about a 16-year-old boy, Cameron, who has mad cow disease. He’s on a road trip with another 16-year-old guy he meets in the hospital, Gonzo, a video-gaming dwarf who thinks everything is going to kill him. Cameron has visitations from a rather punkish angel named Dulcie who has a propensity for spray-painting her wings. They are on a mission to get to Disneyworld, because it’s a small world, after all. Wackiness ensues. Talk amongst yourselves.

Some backstory on BOVINE: I wrote the first draft three years ago, just after I’d finished REBEL ANGELS but before starting TSFT. Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of the Y.A. novel, TANTALIZE, (vampires, werewolves, Austin, TX—what’s not to love?) and her hubby, Greg, had invited me to participate in a super-cool writer’s retreat in Austin called WriteFest. When Cyn first called me up, I was eyeballs-deep in revisions for RA, so I just sort of nodded and said yes to everything, not really taking into account the whole, “You must submit a completed manuscript to us by May 1st” thing. Flash-forward to February, and I haven’t even started on a first draft. I make a phone call to Austin:

(Dramatic reenactment of phone call)
Me: Hey, Cyn…heh-heh…when you said a “complete” manuscript…heh-heh, you scamp…like, how “literal” was that? I’m sure there’s wiggle room, right? Like you weren’t serious about that, were you?
Cyn: Very serious. Complete manuscript. Beginning, middle, end. By May 1st. See you in June. Click

Miss Cyn does not play.

Panic set in. I had booked a trip to New Orleans for research purposes. (Part of the book takes place in NOLA. This was six months before Katrina, and I was shocked at how bad, how entrenched the poverty had gotten. But that is another blog.) I came back from New Orleans, wrote in a mad torrent for two-and-a-half months, and Fed Ex’d that puppy to Cyn on April 30th. I know if it hadn’t been for Cyn and Greg’s velvet whip, I wouldn’t have gotten to this book for years. (Thanks, guys. You rock.) WriteFest was of enormous help to me—the support of the very generous writers who read it and gave me great insights was invaluable. And then I had to put BOVINE away in my closet where it would gather dust while I tackled THE SWEET FAR THING. I think we all know how THAT writing process went—like a two-year emotional proctology exam.

During the tension-fest that was the writing of TSFT, I was at a function with Gail Carson Levine. (Do you like how I name-drop so smoothly? Nice, right? You know, Leo “Big L” DiCaprio tells me I’m a riot when I name drop. But I just think he said that because Kanye was laughing at all of my jokes.) Gail was talking about how one book gave her fits—she was comforting me, seeing the terror in my eyes—and she said, “Some books are just like that.” And she’s right—some books are just tough from start to finish. And other books are easier. (Notice I didn’t say “easy,” just easier.) BOVINE is that book for me. It’s like it had been brewing in my head for so long that it came pouring out.

Now that I’m starting on the second draft, I feel both exhilarated and terrified. Hooray, I get to work on something new! Wow, what if I screw it all up? What if I take some scenes apart and then can’t figure out how to put it back together? (I feel this same exhilaration/terror with everything I write, by the way: short stories, books, letters, grocery lists, those missives to Clive Owen that go unanswered because I’m sure he’s just very, very busy…getting a restraining order.) So I read other people’s books and go, “Holy crap! How do they DO that so well? So effortlessly? So seamlessly? They put, you know, those WORDS down in a pretty, pretty way and it all comes together to make a story that I like to read that doesn’t suck like my stories do?” I become convinced that the gene for writing is the same gene that allows you to put together furniture from IKEA, and I do not have that gene and never will. I become convinced that I will fail utterly. That I’m failing before I even start, that even my breathing is somehow The Wrong Way to Breathe. Does this ever happen to you? What ways do you find helpful for shutting up your inner critic, other than screaming out, “Trying to work here, people!” to the mean voices in your head, which endears you to the other folks in the coffee shop?

Mostly, I’m trying to keep the fear at bay by concentrating on the joy of the novel. BOVINE touches on lots of things I am interested in—Absurdist humor, black holes, string theory, multiple universes, microwave popcorn, snow globes, road trips, Norse mythology, the nature of love, Don Quixote, what happens when we die, is there a god, why are we here, Disneyworld, pop culture, smoothies, bowling, and general weirdness. (By the way, you should always write about what interests you. Write for your own inner reader first and foremost. That way, even if everyone hates it, at least you’ve entertained yourself.) Right now, I’m doing lots of research on string theory. I understand about every ten words I read, and those are usually “the” and “however.” My mind, she is blown. I love experimental physics, and I wish I had the smarts to really explore it more completely. By the way, today’s music choice is taken from my GOING BOVINE iPod playlist. Other songs include “Into Your Arms”/The Lemonheads, “Trouble”/Ray LaMontagne, “Orange Sky”/Alexi Murdoch, “Joy”/Apollo 100, “Keep the Car Running”/Arcade Fire, and “Girlfriend”/Matthew Sweet. I’m still adding to it.

So today, in a few hours, I’ll be working on a new scene. (Yes, it’s about 5:00 a.m. EST, and I’ve been up since 4:00 a.m. What is it with me and insomnia? This from the girl who once fell so soundly asleep at a party that she didn’t even stir while her friends dressed her in sporting equipment and took blackmail photos. Oy.) Writing a new scene feels like when I was a kid and the other girls were jump-roping. I was afraid of getting hit by the rope, and I never really knew when to jump in. So I’d hesitate or get close and feel the whip of it and run back, feeling like a spaz. Of course, the thing is, you just have to jump in. Today, I have to jump in. Wish me luck.

Thanks to all of you, by the way, who wanted to hear about my imaginary affair with Clive Owen. Even as I type, he’s painting my toenails, a naughty grin on his face peeking out from underneath two days of stubble. And every few minutes, he says something hard and British and oh-so-world-weary. And then he pulls out a gun and starts shooting. Oh, Clive, you big goof. You kill me. You really do.

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