2008: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
It's been a tempestuous year in more ways than one. We were battered by gas prices, election ads, and Hurricane Ike. We said goodbye to Studs Terkel, Sydney Pollack, Arthur C. Clark, Michael Crichton, and Eartha Kitt. (Not to mention these poor turkeys.) The publishing industry experienced some high highs (as a thousand Schnauzer puppies were named Brunonia) and some low lows (as Borders and B&N teeter on the edge of the cosmic bargain bin), and here in Blog Vegas, Colleen and I attempted to make sense of it all. A year-end inventory of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly always helps put things in perspective. So how was your year? We'd love to hear from you, celebrate your accomplishments, commiserate your losses, and/or share your outrage. Pop us an email or post a comment.
Here's my list:
Ghostworld was a trip this year. In April, I went to LA to meet with ridiculously multi-talented Kristin Chenoweth, who'd just finished doing a revival of "The Apple Tree" on Broadway. We clicked immediately. She's delightful. Huge heart, head on straight, and a laugh riot. While I was in New York doing the book nanny thing, my ed at Random House emailed me the new paperback cover of a project I worked on last year, Rue McClanahan's My First Five Husbands. I instantly recognized the photo of Rue from the original production of "The Apple Tree" back in the 1960s. Seemed like a good omen, and as it turned out, Kristin's project was a blast -- fabulous story, fun fun fun fun research, terrific editor, intensely educational legal review. Unexpected perks of the gig included becoming friends with Kristin's wonderful mom, Junie and best bud Denny, getting to hang out on the set of create-o-palooza "Pushing Daisies", and making the acquaintance of K Chen's famously on again/off again paramour, the brilliant Aaron Sorkin. He generously contributed a short chapter to the book and (totally above and beyond the call of menschly duty) spent time educating me on the screen trade and dialogueing about political, historical, and literary shoes, ships, and ceiling wax.
K Chen's memoir A Little Bit Wicked (think Anne of Green Gables meets Sex and the City) is due out from S&S in April. It's too early to talk about my next ghost gig, but I'm fully engaged, up to my neck in research, and loving it.
It was a great reading year, too. I stepped away from the sort of books I usually consume and worked through about a dozen screenplays. Aaron gave me a list and said, "Read these if you're interested in being lured over to the dark side. I think it's something you'd be good at." Too early to tell if he was right, but reading screenplays is an excellent way to study dialogue. I also delved into the seriously thinky thoughts of Clarence Darrow, Truman Capote, Aristotle, Plato, and some of the philosophical works I way didn't get but read when I was in college so I'd fit in with the hipsters at the Wunder Bar. I read only about a dozen novels this year. Mostly crime suspense thriller lawyer type stuff mixed with complete non sequiturs to cleanse the palate. Two freaky delicious diversions I particularly loved: The Annotated Nose by Marc Estrin and House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.
Last year, I declared my intent to separate my fiction and nonfiction identities and publish novels under a nom de plume from now on. It hadn't occurred to me that launching that fiction persona's career would be every bit as challenging as launching my own career twelve years ago. Progress is slow, but that's okay; my fiction life is a wheatfield, not a factory. The toughest thing about my professional year was making the decision to change agents. Again. This is always a stressful process that sucks a ton of time and energy away from writing, but I ended up with a fantastic agent who will hopefully never never ever retire, catch the flu or get hit by a bicycle messenger.
Being without power for almost three weeks after Hurricane Ike derailed both my WIP and my gym habit. We lost trees, fencing, and shingles (not to mention most of the skin off our knuckles during lumberjacking and clean up) but I did enjoy doing a guerrilla bookmobile for the neighborhood kids, and I was surprised and touched by all the lovely email and comments about that.
All in all, my year was a lot like a spaghetti Western. Hard labor in the hot sun, stunning reversals, agonizingly slow periods interspersed with mood music and dramatic posturing, stunning scenery, and over-the-top characters. In the end, Clint Eastwood speaks the words I'll take with me into 2009: "There's two kinds of people in the world, my friend. Those with loaded guns and those who dig."