Monday, April 12, 2010
A Break In The Month and a Breakthrough in the Creative Process
*So since I killed off my technology for the weekend, I did write this blog post as a kind of makeup entry--you know...like when your husband brings home flowers because he accidentally washed all your white permanent press with his brand new red boxers and wonders why you're crying at the sight of pink doll clothes? Yeah, like that--here we go.*
A word of advice--if you're a writer in search of an agent and a big publishing contract, do not watch Julie and Julia. Seriously. Don't.
Don't get me wrong--I love the movie. I think it's hysterical and I can no more turn it off than I can say, "No, I don't think I want another Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Really." What gets me about the movie is the way it portrays the writer's journey. It begins with a girl who has a basic idea--she's going to write a blog about her attempt to work her way through Julia Child's landmark cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The concept of that blog was so fiendishly simple, and yet smart too. What could be easier than documenting one woman's attempt to follow in her heroine's footsteps by dedicating herself to perfecting those recipes? But it's clever too. Julia Child is an icon, one that's dear to American audiences. See how clever that is? Even people whose only experience with Julia Child was the SNL skits about her would recognize her.
I love it.
Then there's the parallel story--the story of the long and tortuous path Julia Child followed from simple government wife to the Cordon Bleu Institute (where she flunked her first graduation test) through the heartbreak and years of work it took to craft that darn cookbook. But here's where the real parallel--the Gotcha! moment of the story hits me in the gut.
Julia Child has to work for years to find a publisher--and keep in mind those were the days of just mail. *shudders* But Julie? Julie gets a two column article in the New York TImes food section and the very next day starts getting phone calls from editors. Publishers. Agents. Television producers. Movie studios. On and on and on until I am ready to hurl my laptop across the room. Damnit! Where are my phone calls?
It just makes me want to scream. My stories are creative, damnit. They're well-crafted. People enjoy reading them. Why, then, is it so damned hard to get an agent? Granted, my stories are more complicated than Julie and Julia--
Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeech. Hold it right there.
Could it be that easy to see? Really? Could the difference be that simple and clever is easier to sell than complicated and brilliant?
Think about it: look at some of the more recent great stories. A boy wizard is the destined foe of ultimate evil. An expert on symbology is called in to decipher religious mysteries. A blogger goes through the recipes of Julia Child.
Simple premises all. Clever too. Those simple premises turn into great stories by virtue of two things: they entertain the reader and they allow the reader to imagine themselves easily in that situation. Even Dan Brown's Robert Langdon explains his rather pedantic subject matter with a verve and a fire that brings the reader along with him in his enthusiasm. JK Rowling's Harry Potter is the epitome of adolescent angst, and brings all that uncertainty along with him--something completely natural and familiar to the teen reader (and quite a few adults) renders an extraordinary situation into something they can accept. Simple. Clever. Layered with the express purpose (whether intentional or accidental) of permitting the reader to put themselves in the shoes of the main characters.
So although the day of 65 phone calls is probably never going to happen, that doesn't mean the day of 1 phone call--the phone call--won't as long as I remember on cardinal rule of writing.
I'm not writing for me. I'm writing for you.
My job is to make you feel that the extraordinary is possible, that the ordinary is special, that you are on the same ride the characters are on.
Intimate--and that intimacy is the final factor, the one thing that makes some writers beloved while others languish in the cold sterility of critical acclaim. Regardless of how much writers bitch about the perceived flaws of those who've hit the heights of success, there's something about Harry Potter and Robert Langdon and--yes, both Julie and Julia--that strikes a responsive chord within us.
A chord that has not one damn thing to do with a split infinitive or a dangling participle.
Something to think about.
And, of course, if any agent (legitimate agents only, thank you!) or editor or huge NYC publishing house sees this blog post and wants to call me--well, you know my number. I've figured out the secret! I'm ready to roll!
I don't need 65 phone calls, though. I need one. And eventually, I"ll get it too.
One. Just one. See? I'm not greedy. I think I'll make beef bourbignon for dinner tonight, too.