I looked at the date of my last post and I could not believe it had been so long. Apologies. I guess not posting is better than chattering on about nothing. Kinda like I’m doing now. Join me on Goodreads, Twitter and Facebook if you want book updates faster than I post them here. I’ll try and do better. Honest. We’ll see.
This summer I took a 10-day trip through the south. I traveled through New Orleans, Charleston and Savannah with Jacqueline E. Luckett, author of SEARCHING FOR TINA TURNER, and a member of THE FINISH PARTY. Jackie and I had never traveled together before beyond the writing retreats organized by the group. Those retreats are just that, a place to disconnect in a beautiful locale, to write, research, edit or regroup. We do group dinners and there might be one or two trips into town but it’s not whirlwind travel. This was. Neither of us knew if we’d be compatible travel companions but I have never been on an easier trip in my life. And that includes my honeymoon with the Crown Prince. (That nickname, by the way, recently confused a woman I met at a dinner party into thinking he was descended from Russian royalty. Uhm. No. Just no).
Jackie and I started our trip in New Orleans, traveling from Oakland after a mini-retreat with the group in the Bay Area. We gathered on Saturday night for dinner and extended conversation and then Sunday we had our meeting. Two manuscripts were critiqued before we broke until November. Jackie and I puttered around that evening, buying last minute items for the trip. Then we grabbed dinner at Bocanova in Jack London Square. We took the red eye to Atlanta (yeah, Chik-Fil-A biscuit breakfast) and then flew on to New Orleans. It was hot when we landed. “Like Africa hot.”
We stayed in New Orleans for four days. We braved the heat and saw everything we wanted on the trip (more pictures on Facebook) and spent a long afternoon traveling along River Road viewing the old plantation houses. We started at Destrehan and ended at Oak Alley. Both are famous, both are filled with fascinating but bloody history. I think our presence on the Destrehan tour freaked out the tour guide but she did her best. Neither of us threw up Black Power fists but it must’ve been strange to cover some of the history with the two of us there. She gave it her all, we did too.
From there we traveled to Charleston. Simply one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever visited. We rented an apartment in Charleston after a hotel stay in New Orleans. The perfect way to break up the trip. We found a two bedroom in a central locale, fully furnished and cozy. Perfect. We did day trips to the Sea Islands from the apartment and then made the drive to Savannah from St. John Island. We stopped in Beaufort, SC. Pat Conroy made me love Beaufort before I’d even seen it. I read PRINCE OF TIDES a lifetime ago and wondered, “Damn, does the sun really hit the water like that?” Yes, it does. Jackie was enchanted as well. We even looked at this house right on a marsh with a fully equipped writer’s studio in the back. A nice fantasy.
In Savannah, we took a couple tours, ate a few great meals, met some nice people and did a little writing. We had hours of free time together so we talked about everything over and under the sun. A lot of that talk was about craft and process. About writer’s block. About narrative resistance. About our own laziness and ambition. About finding the seeds of a new story. About starting a new story. About the difficulties of finishing a new project. About the Finish Party and how inspiring it has been to be a part of the group. About our new friendship. About the trust we’ve bestowed on one another. About, like I said, everything over and under the sun. The trip was magical. So much so that I found myself homesick for that trip. I have never experienced anything like that but I still longed for a single moment I will never be able to get back. Standing on the levee, in the sun, across from Oak Alley, with dragonflies dancing all around and a barge gliding down the river. It felt like the beginning of something, I didn’t know what, but I started writing anyway.
Seventeen pages later I am bringing this post full circle. See how I did that? This past weekend the Finish Party met at my home here in L.A. They traveled from northern California and the East Coast and it was wonderful having them all here in my home. This was their first visit to this house. The last time I hosted I was in my old place, still grieving, and gravely ill though I didn’t know it. What I remember about the collective kindness of this group was that at that last meeting in 2008, one by one they took me aside and asked if I was okay. I thought I was. I thought I was just sad. They were discreet but caring and I wish now I had listened harder to their concern. At one point during the meeting I walked down my back steps to let Kobe out into the yard. I was gone for fifteen minutes. I couldn’t get back up the stairs. I sat there and watched Kobe play still not connecting the dots that something was terribly wrong. Now if more than one of them asks me the same question I know that I am projecting something that needs to be addressed. At this meeting they did that. They asked why I hadn’t finished any of the manuscripts I’d submitted since the group formed. Bam! “It’s like that and that’s the way it is.” (RUN DMC).
This question was asked after we’d completed the critique of my submission. The enthusiasm for those seventeen pages, pages I started on the plane rides between New Orleans and Charleston, made me feel like the magic had actually been captured on the page. The pages feel different. The voice is different, stripped down and pointed, spare in a way that makes me flex a new narrative muscle. Every day I write it’s a challenge to sustain such a harsh, unbending P.O.V., but I like the challenge. And even though this doesn’t feel like anything else I’ve ever started (including THE DYING GROUND) the reality is that I am always excited at the beginning and then…then the pages lay dormant.
So, believe it or not, when the question was asked I had an answer. An emotional answer but talking about it with the group took some of the power, and fear, away and that – even beyond the fabulous notes I received from each of them – was the point of it all. Making yourself vulnerable is part of the process, and by process I mean both writing and life, but it is damn hard. I talked, for the first time, with the group about the struggle against the vulnerability I feel writing in such a public arena. Not this blog, which is why it’s been helpful, because there are no expectations (that I know of) here. Sometimes you might laugh at something, you might cry, you might feel indifferent, but the beauty of it is that I don’t know. That makes this a safe place. Writing for television is actually a safe place as well as strange as that might sound. The audience is bigger and wider but any script, whether there’s a single writing credit, or not, is a group effort. Safety in numbers. Hiding in plain sight. All the cliches. True.
I talked about the struggle. I talked about the very personal aspects of it. They listened. I maintained my cover but my breathing changed. It was stressful and not because I didn’t trust the women but because confronting a demon, no matter the size of it, is always scary. But, damn, isn’t it easier to go into battle with more than one person. Now they all know. And they all asked how they could help. I had an answer for that too.
I was tired but rejuvenated when they left. I went over the notes on the pages they’d handed back to me, re-read the ones I scribbled as they talked and tried to outline the next chapter. When I get to the point where fear starts to take hold instead of giving into it I just start talking directly to it. A little California woo-woo for some but I am rolling with what works.
“So, you’re here again, I see. Well, I am going to acknowledge your presence because that seems to be what you want. But that’s all your getting from me today. You’re greedy and spoiled and obviously you want more but I am cutting you off. Sit there and pout if you’d like, I’m turning my back, blocking you out. After awhile I’ll forget you’re there and you’ll stop picking at me, or you’ll get bored and disappear. Either one works for me. I’m not leaving but you can. Swift travels.”
Sometimes I have to say it more than once, sometimes I have to write or type it out, sometimes it only works with music to get my mind moving away from the fear. Rick James works really really well, by the way. I am sure there were many things Rick chased away in his lifetime, why not add creative resistance to the long list.
But to end on a high note. Here is something I actually did finish in the past couple years. This is A BEST FRIEND NAMED RICK, a short story that took longer to write than THE DYING GROUND, but we’re not focusing on the negative. Don’t make me get Rick! (Hadn’t even noticed the link between the short story and the singer. Funny how things work.)