I Wrote A Book. Now What.
I finished my book! Saying that feels awesome.
Back story- I started this particular book SEVEN YEARS AGO, WHEN I WAS PREGNANT WITH YOUNGEST CHILD. Back then, the story was very different. In fact, it was a screenplay (See dry ice and hear Brady Bunch flashback music featuring harp).
I was co-writing another screenplay at the time with my good friend and fellow author, Andrea Kennedy. That screenplay is called Feeding the Wolf. It is currently in a drawer. But I believe it is still relevant, so it may make like that massive man-eating sturgeon in Lake Tahoe and resurface. Because we all know that thing is IN THERE and it is only a matter of time.
Andrea and I have REALLY DIFFERENT writing styles and strengths. Her writing style- write furiously- 25,000 words a day! Then, dissect and discard half. Then, write furiously and dissect! Then, discard half. Continue. She jams. She jams so much she could open a jam factory. I can’t even read as fast as she writes first drafts.
My writing style is this: write one paragraph, then erase. Reword and reorganize, maybe change font? Futz around until phrases ring with perfection. Wait, is it really perfect? Print and read. Good. Now, read out loud. Fine. Shine and polish. Nip and tuck. Great! Then, send living-specimen-made-of-words back to Andrea, who furiously stuffs it into manuscript, writes another 75,000 words, then changes course and slices out everything new at next dissection, including specimen. Damn.
We have different writing strengths too.
Andrea’s strengths: uh, everything. The ability to take a sensitive topic and unfold it beautifully. Large vision. Small vision. Massive intellect. Consumption of all information relevant to subject. Mad ability to parse information without sounding didactic or patronizing. Dry humor. Perfect spelling and grammar. Genius wordsmithery. And of course, lightning speed. I believe she could start a revolution, over anything, and win.
My strengths: 1) dialogue 2) The ability to turn everything into a joke.
Mind you, in my world, my strengths are not bad. However I did wonder, and eventually ask Andrea, why did you ask me to co-write a screenplay with you on a not-remotely funny topic of which I am ignorant? I am such a wrinkled pea to be immersion-blended into your soup. I am the last slimy piece of cilantro stuck to your cutting board to be scraped, maybe, into your guacamole. I am so front line in your revolution.
“Because it’s way more fun to write it with someone else. Plus, it will motivate me.”
That’s all she had to say. I eagerly participated and it was a great experience. I learned A TON. But really, it was her baby.
While working on that screenplay, I started having visions of my own baby, and not the one that was growing in my belly. Vivid living pictures that would jerk me from bed mid-slumber, unable to nod off again until I scribbled them down (If you are a writer you know the curse of which I speak). I pictured scenes featuring an American family living in Shanghai and all the shenanigans that ensued. My story. Did I mention I was living in Shanghai at the time with my family? And before that we had lived in Bali for two years? (SIDEBAR- If/when I pull a Where Did You Go, Bernadette and vanish because no one understands me and it’s all too much!, Bali is where I will be. I will surf in the morning, play in a Gamelan band at night, and write at all hours in between. I will carry no devices, scribing only via pencil on paper. You heard me – off-grid. Please don’t come looking for me. Well, I guess you can, but only if you, too, enjoy hanging ten and are dying to play an oversized, circus-colored xylophone. Otherwise, please get on with your life and know that I did the same. Namaste.)
Where was I? Oh, right. During the first few years of my life in Shanghai, I often marveled that the only thing predictable about my life was the unpredictability of my life. I marveled about a lot of things. Marvel is a subtle and understated way of saying that I often needed to flatten myself against the closest smooth surface and scream
However, at about the three year mark (when the screenplay writing was happening), the marvel factor was starting to diminish. For example, I barely thought twice about going to the wet market anymore, it was just that place I could smell from a block away where they sold things like pig face and where I bought food for dinner. Nor would I ogle the neighborhood recycling man, wheeling his rusty trike down the lane with a fresh load of Styrofoam the size of a blimp. Or double-take the guy who sold live, man-eating crickets stuffed in tiny intricate baskets from the back of his bike. The slices of life that had knocked me over with shock when I first arrived in Shanghai were becoming commonplace.
Then, one day, I noticed that I almost did not notice a man in a tree with two inch long fingernails, barefoot and straddling a live wire. He was trimming a tree branch with a butter knife. This while a woman wearing something akin to a space suit (for sun protection, of course) ballroom danced around the same tree. It struck me then – I had to write about this place. I had racked up a decent number of passport stamps in my life and I was certain – Shanghai was a sprawling, booming, frenetic metropolis, YES, definitely. But even more, it was an infinite font of amazing stories, and to not share these stories with others would be near-criminal.
I shared my visions with Andrea and immediately started working on a new screenplay about daily life in Shanghai when I wasn’t working on Feeding the Wolf. But the tone of my baby was off. Like making chocolate chip cookies without baking soda, my new story was thin, with weird bubbles. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out the key ingredient that was missing. So I shelved it, completed Andrea’s screenplay, and soon after, gave birth to baby Fi. I continued to journal, keeping sleep-deprived, emotional, hallucinatory notes about daily life in Shanghai. However, I was no longer trying to create a larger story with a beginning, middle, and end.
It turns out that my story was missing perspective. I couldn’t see that then because I had none. My story needed distance, and softening.
Fast forward three years. My family, which had been a party of three when we left the US seven years earlier, had blossomed to five, returning state-side with two additional ankle biters. We were back in San Diego, and I was writing a lot, at all hours of the night. Life had thrown a few curve balls my way and I found that frequent, frantic sessions of insomniac writing were one of the few balms that could temporarily reduce the sting of my new normal. My story, the American family in Asia, kept calling to me. I finally plucked it from the bowels and dusted it off. I changed it from a screenplay to a collection of short stories. Three years later, it was complete.
Or rather, I really wanted it to be complete. After all, I had written all of my stories down, 450 pages worth. But, something continued to niggle me. I couldn’t get the bur out of my sock. What does one do with a fat mess of stories? They were disconnected. Unrelatable. Formless.
Enter Marni Freedman, a writing coach I found at an ungodly hour on the internet. Talk about serendipity. I told her I had vomited many words onto a mountain of pages and she said yes, yes, sweet child, this happens all the time, come sit with me (patting couch cushion and fluffing back pillow), let’s discuss. Or maybe she threw up her arms and said Eh! There are a hundred million Lindseys with stories they can’t finish! Blah bitty blah blah, enough with the whining and pull the cotton out of your ears! I don’t remember what she said exactly but whatever it was, I was ready to hear it. And, slowly but surely, I transformed the oozing blob of words into one big story about an American family in Shanghai – it even has a beginning, a middle, and an end! While it is based on true events, I had to shuffle things up and make it fiction. Otherwise it would have had forty main characters and seventeen rambling plot lines and gone on and on, ad infinitum, and let’s face it, no one is that interesting or funny.
To Be Continued.. (Sorta like Brady Bunch Hawaii episode. Bam.)