When I was in college there was a hierarchy of artsy-ness. The fine artists looked down on the graphic designers, who looked down on the production people, who had to make do with looking down on people outside the art department. Web designers and Illustrators had to float around the edges and hope that no one eliminated their department before they graduated. I could never figure out why the fine arts students were so high and mighty – they were at a state school studying painting. It seemed wildly clear to me that their degree was a complete waste of daddy’s money. It was my opinion that the graphic designers were just as creative as fine artists; we just happened to be practical enough to want jobs after graduation. Such sentiments were far to mercenary for the art department where creativity only had to serve it’s own purpose and things like deadline’s, client needs, and money were all too, too pedestrian to be considered. Which seemed silly to me since even if you became a wildly successful painter you were going to come up against deadlines (we need 12 paintings for your gallery show in September!), client needs (the White House says the portrait can’t be a nude), and money (don’t worry your pretty little head about money!), why not learn how to manage these every day things? Wouldn’t that make you more successful? The resounding answer from the art department seemed to be that such thoughts would stifle the creativity.
And when it came to art, I had no problem shaking my head at their silliness. The only place I allowed myself that kind of indulgent largesse was in writing. I would be out tip-toeing through the tulips of my imaginary worlds for months at a time. But as I have gotten older and more experienced in the craft of writing I have discovered two problems with this. One – the product frequently is not what is needed. Too much wandering down unprofitable by-ways and I come back to the main plot of the story with about 100 pages of random stuff that don’t serve the story at all, but because I’ve just spent months on them, I love them too much to cut. Two – I don’t have the time. I now have a husband, a daughter, and a business to attend to and they all have a legitimate claim to my time. And how is the dog supposed to get any attention if I’m off typing… again? (Hint: He has to look gosh darn adorable.) So, my solution? Schedules and outlines. Those two foes of creativity have become my friends. With a strong outline my writing is faster and more productive than the days when I sat down at the computer wondering what to write today. I’m not sure how anyone else manages (and I’d love to hear other people’s experiences), but I’m hanging my hat on a schedule and an outline.
Recently, I was ranting on Facebook about my hatred for the periods in a.m. and p.m as well as the comma between city and state in addresses (see what you miss by not being my Facebook friend?) and one of my friends posted a link to Weird Al Yankovic’s new song “Word Crimes.” As a long time Weird Al enthusiast and a Facebook friend to several editors and writers I had already seen the video (click here if you haven’t). The video parodies “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke’s insanely catchy hit from 2013. If you haven’t heard that one, then you probably weren’t living in America all of last year, but here you go – Blurred Lines. (Warning: may not be suitable for work and my cause you to get in arguments with your feminist friends over whether or not the song is “rape-y”. Double Warning: If you use the word rape-y at me, I will smite you.) But back to the story, as I watched the Weird Al version again (because why wouldn’t you?) I was caught by the line “You do not use “it’s” in this case!”
But why don’t we? Yes, yes, the current rules state that “it’s” is a contraction. “It” is not possessive; “it” cannot own anything. But I say, “Listen up English – if you’re not going to provide me with a gender neutral pronoun, why can’t I use the defacto pronoun already in use in conversation – it?” Clearly, the language is lacking such a word. English should stop being stuffy and allow this clearly needed possessive to enter the dictionary. I’d willingly delete “tweep” from the Oxford-English Dictionary if I could have “it’s.” Who’s with me?
The premise of my Carrie Mae Mystery series is that in the sixties, while other ladies were burning their bras and inventing Tupperware, Carrie Mae Robart founded a door to door / friend to friend cosmetic selling empire – Carrie Mae Cosmetics. Her goal was to give women financial independence without having to work outside the home. However, the more women she met, the more she realized that there were some problems that couldn’t be solved with just money – some problems needed a fist in the face. So Carrie Mae set up the Carrie Mae Foundation. Financed by proceeds from the cosmetic sales, the foundation is part non-profit – working on pro-bono legal cases and lobbying government on women’s rights issues – and partly a women only, black-ops, elite fighting force. The heroines of my stories Nikki Lanier, Ellen Marson, Jenny Baxter and Jane Rozmarek are part of that force and they travel the world, fulfilling the Carrie Mae mission statement: helping women everywhere.
Now the thing you’ll notice about this premise is that it’s only partially based in reality. I mean, sure, it’s possible for a woman in the 1960’s to found a peer to peer make up sales company. Not that I know of any… ahem. But sadly, it has apparently never occurred to anyone to found an elite fighting force for women as part their non-profit. (If someone knows of one, please email me immediately; I would like to join up.) The problem with all of this lack of reality is that I have to make it sound plausible when writing. And that means all the other bits have to sound real. I have to research the guns and the locations and I try to make sure that my characters emotions feel authentic. But if I spend too much time in reality, I suddenly look at my own premise and think, “That’s ridiculous! I can’t write that.”
That’s right; I tell myself, “I can’t.” Those are some of the worst words in the English language. (Although, they’re still not as bad as, “We need to talk.”) I’m two books and two short stories, and half a manuscript into a series, and… I can’t? How does the Can’t Gremlin sneak into so many places? I thought I was well fortified behind the Walls of Fantasy; girded by the Armor of Gumption; defended by the Holy Force of Imagination. And yet… I can’t. Why is it so hard to get that jerk of a gremlin out of the house? Can’t have an elite fighting force? You might as well suggest that a woman can’t write books. The cycle of Can’t can be extremely hard to break, so when I get too down in the Can’ts, I like to read other people’s books. There’s nothing like a good trip through someone else’s imagination to leave the Can’t Gremlin in the dust. But still, I know he’s just waiting around the corner to trip me up. Which is why I prefer to visit reality infrequently and for only brief periods of time. Feel free to visit me any time, but leave your gremlins at the door – I can’t be bothered with Can’t today.