Friday, January 7, 2011
"How many thumbdrives did you put your manuscript on?"
I put my tray table up and turned in my seat to face my husband.
"Four. No, five."
He raised his eyebrows a couple times. "Is it good?" he said. "Your book?"
I shrugged. "I think so."
"And it's ready? You're sure?"
I looked out into the night. Peered down at the sprinkle of lights that was Colorado Springs.
"Yep. It's ready. I'm sure."
He squeezed my hand. "Cool. Give one to anyone who'll take it."
Before we went to bed that night, I flipped through my Writing for the Soul conference binder. I paused at the page titled, "20 Things a Writer Should NEVER Do." I counted my transgressions on my fingers. Then my toes. I put my palms together. They were slicked with sweat. I glanced at my husband. ESPN SportsCenter lit and darkened his sleeping face.
I pushed the covers down and swung my feet onto the plush carpet. Tiptoed over to my brown and pink, bought-just-for-this-writing-conference, Hello Kitty tote bag. I unzipped the back pocket and dug under business cards, tampons, and lipglosses to find one, three, five jumpdrives. I cupped them in my left hand and opened my suitcase with my right. Found my Monday day-of-the-week undies and folded the thumbdrives inside.
"Not yet, guys," I told the bundle. "You're not ready. Not even close."
I switched off the bedside lamp and got back in bed. Pulled the silky sheets and pristine down comforter up to my chin. I looked at the mini-chandelier above me. Moonlight twinkled on the crystals.
"Thank you," I said in a wee voice.
Friday after breakfast, I shook hands with my first appointment--a lady agent. I forced myself not to stare at her basketball-looking hairdo, and I tried not to think about her biography. "Handpaints hobbit models in her spare time." She paints hobbits? Really?
The woman drummed her fake, French-manicured nails on the table between us.
"So. Do you have a sample chapter?"
I stuck my trembling hands inside my Hello Kitty bag. Pulled out one of six copies of what I thought was my best work.
The hobbit painter tapped the table with a red Bic pen as she scanned my work. She didn't look up when she spoke.
"Too much telling," she said.
She turned the page. "Not enough dialogue."
She pushed the chapter back to me. "You write in passive. Stop."
She took off her rainbow, polka-dotted reading glasses and leaned toward me. Tried to smile. All I saw were the parentheses ditches on either side of her mouth.
"Honey, it's like you typed out a phone conversation you had with your best girlfriend. Don't tell me what happened. Show me. Put me in the room with you."
She looked past me. Raised her hand.
I stopped in front of the woman who looked like Maude--attractive, silver-haired, kind eyes. The placard in front of her read, "Christian Writers Guild Mentor."
I breathed deep through my nose. "You busy?" I said on the exhale.
She sat straighter. Patted the empty chair beside her.
I sat. Got a lipgloss out of my Hello Kitty bag. Pinked my lips.
"So?" she said.
"So, I brought my manuscript here."
"And the lady agent who decorates Frodos said I write passive. That I don't use enough dialogue."
She pinched at the pleats in her slacks. "How long did it take?"
I sighed, and my lips flapped. "'Bout two minutes."
"No," she said. "I meant, to write the book."
I huffed. "That's just it," I said. "It only took six months. It just flowed out of me. Like pee."
I peeked at her from under my lashes. To see if I'd offended her. She didn't blink.
I tilted my head. "Oh, what?"
She took the cap off her pen and used it to clean under her nails.
"That happened to me too," she said. "Did you think because it just came out of you, it was great? That it was a gift from God?"
She chuckled and lifted my chin to close my mouth.
"Guess what?" she said in a whisper.
I spoke softly too. "What?"
"That's not a book. That's your first draft."
I was late, so I tiptoed in and took a seat in the back row of the Saturday afternoon "Thick-Skinned Manuscript Clinic." Jerry Jenkins and his assistant stood at the front of the classroom on either side of an overhead projector. They wore white labcoats. Had stethoscopes around their necks.
Jerry held up a red pen. "This," he said, "Is my scalpel. And now, I cut."
He bent over the projector and read silently for a minute or two. Finally he looked up.
"Okay," he said. "First to go are the helping verbs. Eliminate words like is, was, am, were, etcetera."
He marked, read, and slashed some more. He turned to face his assistant.
Andy made red stripes all down the page. "No -ing verbs," Andy said. "Weakens the writing."
Jerry hovered beside the projector. He grinned as he drew looped lines through modifiers.
"Why use three adjectives when one will do?"
Andy tapped the overhead surface. "Not to mention, 'tall, dark, and handsome' is a cliche.'"
He glanced up at the screen, then back down at the transparency. He crossed out two more phrases.
"As are 'white as snow' and 'old as the hills.'"
Jerry examined the writing sample again. More red. The page seemed to bleed. I heard someone whimper, up near the front of the room.
"People," Jerry said. "You've got to omit needless words. Trust me. Less is more."
At the bottom of the piece, Jerry paused. He grinned and drew a smiley face. Tapped the transparency.
"This is great," he said. "'They buried the farmer in his overalls, with the dirt still under his fingernails.' I like that. Like it a lot."
Andy walked up to the screen in front of the room and pointed to the smiley face sentence with his pen.
"And this is really where the story starts, don't you think, Jer?"
Jerry stroked his goatee. "Good point. Who cares about all the stuff up top? This is your first sentence."
On our last morning in Colorado, I went to put on my Monday day-of-the-week panties. The five jumpdrives clattered as they hit the white tiles in front of my bare feet.
"What was that?" my husband said from bed.
"Five thumbdrives hitting the bathroom floor." I waited.
"Five?" he said. "You didn't give any away? Not one?"
"They're not ready. I mean-- The book's not. I have to go home and start over. Omit needless words. Put in more dialogue. Stuff like that."
"Yes. I'm sure. Believe me. I am very sure."