Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Rewrite here. Rewrite now.

You know what’s nice about rewriting a manuscript?


Oh, come on, there has to be something nice about rewriting a manuscript. It…puts a gunshot wound into perspective? It allows you to tap into feelings of self-loathing and paralyzing self-consciousness you haven’t felt since eighth grade? It means you’re one step closer to publishing, at which point everyone can know you wrote the worst book in the world?

People are kind enough to ask me how the book is going. Frequently, they say things like “Is it out yet?”, because it seems as if I have been working on the book since before the advent of movable type. But no, it isn’t out yet. It will be out February 1, 2009. Publishing has its own pace and it is a measured pace. There is plenty of time booked in for taking the notes your editor has given you and incorporating them into your work. Days on end can be dedicated to polishing a paragraph your editor has noted is awkward and lacks a transition. More days can be booked in for deciding your entire writing style is awkward and lacking in transitions. Nights can be given over to obsessing about how your entire life is awkward and lacks transition. Fixating over your overuse of adverbs is a nice palate-cleanser.

And then the person who has so kindly asked if the book is done yet and has been rewarded by me looking pained and rubbing the bridge of my nose tries to atone by asking a perfectly reasonable question: “What did you decide on for the title?” They are rewarded with me putting my head down on the nearest horizontal surface and crying long hopeless sobs.

I still lack a title. I have come up with a few but Marketing at the publishing house hasn’t felt that special mix of humor, accessibility and shocking profit-margin they like in a title, so I keep getting sent back to the mines. Not only do I have to have a title, I have to have a wacky, appealing and even more audience-pleasing subtitle. My online friend Jen Lancaster is deliciously gifted at both. It now appears I am gifted at neither. Let others decry how bad the American school system is; how our students think the three branches of government are Kevin Jonas, Nick Jonas and Joe Jonas. I am only interested in decrying that a "Title Creation" class isn't a prerequisite for graduation.

So of course I am focusing deeply on anything but the book and its missing title. For instance, I am fascinated by the contents of our shower caddy. There are three human beings living in this house. None of us are hair models. Our follicles are not insured by Lloyds of London. So why do three people have eight bottles of shampoo? At the very worst, shouldn’t there be something like…three?

Let’s examine this mystery more closely. First, there is Consort. Consort likes this particular shampoo which makes my hair look like seaweed, so he has his own bottle. But Consort also has a habit of seeing the bottle of shampoo get below the half-full mark, thinking “I’m almost out of shampoo!”, buying another bottle and starting to use that one, while leaving the first bottle alone because it’s half-full, so in his mind it’s empty. He then works the new bottle halfway down and thinks “Zoinks! I’m almost out of shampoo!”

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

And then there are my shampoos. There is the organic shampoo which promised me shine and body but actually gave me new cowlicks and a peculiar smell. I keep it in there because I spent good money on it and I can use it on Daughter, but only periodically, because the smell draws possums. I also have the cheap shampoo which works well, but only on me, and then I have another bottle of that shampoo, because what I thought was conditioner turned out to be shampoo. I then have a shampoo which describes itself as “Color-Enhancing” which actually means “Hair-Dye”, and I only use it if I remember to wear surgical gloves to shower, because it will leave my nails and palms sort of a coral-rust color for a day. Also, it tints my ears. Mostly, I don’t use it, but still it stays and why?

I spent good money on it.

And then there’s Daughter's shampoo, which is organic and sweetly scented and not tested on animals and more expensive than anything which removes poster-paint should be. It sits in the shower caddy, but slightly apart, as befits its stratospheric price; it’s lobbying for its own caddy, with a plasma-screen TV and a publicist. And what is this next to Daughter's shampoo? Why, that’s the dog’s shampoo. I wash the dog about once a month, and damp trial-and-error has taught me that it’s just easier to put on a bathing suit and wash him in the shower.

I’d store his shampoo and only bring it in when I’m washing him, but then I run the risk of again getting both of us in the shower and only then noticing I’d forgotten the shampoo. At which point, I slipped out of the shower to get the shampoo, but the dog followed me and raced around the house in fragrant wet-dog delight at having escaped. He then raced outside, tap-danced in the dirt, and flew back in. Twenty minutes later, when I finally caught him, the only places in the house without muddy footprints were the crawlspace and a few square inches behind the fridge.

Yeah, his shampoo stays in the caddy.

The next mystery is the teapot. Correction: the next mystery is the last three teapots I’ve owned. Not a complicated bit of engineering, teapots: they boil water; they make a noise when the water boils; they have a hole through which you pour out the boiling water. I’m not exactly sure how the noise is created from steam but since I’ve never seen Microsoft enter into the teapot marketplace I’m guessing it’s pretty straightforward. So why is it that I cannot buy a teapot which works? Two teapots prior to this current one, I had a model I called “The Strangler” because the sound which indicated my water had boiled wasn’t a whistle as much as the sound a chicken would make if someone were cutting off its air, slowly. It’s not fun to have a kitchen device which makes guests think you’re making money on the side dressing poultry. Still, I kept that stupid teapot for years because beyond that hellish death-rattle there was nothing wrong with it and…

Right. I spent good money on it.

Eventually, it developed a leak and I could discard it with a clear conscience. I decided the reason the teapot made that awful noise was because I bought the cheapest one I could find. So I went up-market and bought a slightly better one. I brought it home. I boiled water. It peeped sweetly at me. Gladdened by how my extra money was well-spent, I threw away the receipt. The teapot, sensing it was now home forever, never spoke again. Whenever I boiled water I would have to hang around the kitchen like a stove stalker because the only indication this teapot gave that water was boiling was an intermittent, asthmatic wheeze. We had gone from the poultry slaughterhouse to the ICU. In any living thing, this sound would have been a reason to summon a priest but this teapot beetled along, gasping and boiling, for years.

When I could finally justify the length of time I had owned the wheezer (Consort once accused me of "amortization fever"), I bought my freedom from the kitchen by getting a new teapot. This most recent one is an evolutionary step forward in some parallel universe because not only does it not make a whistle, -- preferring instead to make a sound I have dubbed “the whispering retch”whenever I use it -- it slops hot steaming water all over my hand, the tabletop and generous lashings onto my legs. Where it doesn’t pour water is in the cup. Nevertheless, I’m keeping this one, and not because I spent good money on it but because these things seem to be learning and I know the next one will go for my eyes.

My most troubling mystery, however, is Ken. The name Ken is in the top twenty of 20th century’s most popular names for boys, but just barely. James is the most popular, and Consort knows two of them. John is the second most popular and, again, Consort knows two of them. Robert, Michael, William, David…they are all represented in our social circle in reasonable sprinklings. However, if Consort says “I’m going to see Ken this afternoon…”, I am instantly at a loss. The man knows at least nine men named Ken. None of them go by Kenneth. If any of them have a nickname they’re keeping it quiet. It doesn’t help that Consort, seemingly forgetting that we’re surrounded by a clutch of Kens, dives into anecdotes without illuminating which Ken he’s talking about:

CONSORT: Ken brought his new girlfriend to the office today.

QUINN: Oh my god, when did he break up with his wife?

CONSORT: He was married?

QUINN: We had dinner at their house. Her name was Sheryl. They seemed so…wait. You’re not talking Work Ken, are you?

CONSORT: Sure I am. Wait, you mean Other Work Ken. This is New Work Ken.

QUINN: I met New Work Ken. I'm, frankly, a little shocked that he has a girlfriend.

CONSORT: No, that's Gay New Work Ken. This is another guy.


QUINN: Did none of their mothers have imaginations?

I’ll let you in on a secret: sometimes, when Consort is talking about something and my mind drifts, I cover myself by asking “So, what did Ken think about all this?” Works every time.

And with that, I have to go back to title-birthing, a process only slightly less taxing and unsanitary as the regular kind of birthing. As with the regular kind, I have to assume it’s all going to come out right. February 1st, 2009, head into your local bookstore and glance at the “New Books” table:

A THOUSAND MEN NAMED KEN AND ME: A life of crowded showers and empty teacups


Blogger BiPolar Wife said...

I would rather be in your shoes (awesome book - no title)than mine (awesome title- unfinished book). The perfect title will come to you when you least expect it, for example, when choosing a product in the feminine hygiene aisle or when listening to someone's extremely boring scene-by-scene reenactment of the movie they saw last night. Don't worry...the book AND the title are both going to be fabulous.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful post! Although I can't believe you ever have trouble with titling with all of your on point titles used throughout this blog. You need to rejoice in the fact that you only collect shampoo and teapots, this small three bedroom house has 11 vintage telephones in use (dial no less) 7 antique electric fans (while also using central air.) and lastly 3 chiming clocks (sure a much smaller number you say but it equals a larger headache every half hour) Oh wait we also have a glut of Mikes and only one Michael. I'll have to use your Ken trick. Thanks for that!

7:31 PM  
Blogger egb said...

"I Spent Good Money On It". Sounds title-ly to me.

8:04 PM  
Blogger EGE said...

Oh, man, I feel your titular pain. I'm only in the trying-to-sell-a-proposal phase, and I was never nominated for an Oscar! (Although, personally, I think that was a mere oversight brought on by Hollywood politics. Who says you have to actually ACT in something? Bollocks to that.)

Anyway, how's this grab you:


Good luck!

3:30 AM  
Blogger Leta said...

I know one Ken, maybe two. My world used to be populated with guys named John but the David regime has taken over to the point that I believe that "David" is a root word that means "man." When in doubt I just call guys David and I'm usually right.

5:47 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

I also vote for some use of "I Spent Good Money on It". Assuming, of course, that this is actually an opinion poll.

Regarding the shampoo, I once declared a moratorium on the purchase of shampoo in our house until all of the half-finished bottles were gone. It lasted for nearly 9 months.

7:06 AM  
Blogger berit_k said...

how about-
i'm a butter croissant in a cheerio world?

7:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Title ideas:

1. Have a contest among your readers - let us submit titles?

2. Look back at your early posts, like "mayor of simpleton" (one of my favorites). I think you might find something there.

Best of luck

8:35 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

Considering David Sedaris' titles, I would never have imagine they would be so picky. I mean, "Dress your family in corduroy and denim"? I figured you just covered your eyes and selected a quirky phrase from your book at random and that was that. FWIW, you might try it...

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We know a plethora of Davids and Scotts. And two couples named 'Scott and Amy' which makes talking about any of those four ridiculous.

The title will come - can't wait for the book, whatever it's called.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ohhhh, child, child, child. I remember having to RETYPE an entire manuscript in 1974. Why? BECAUSE THE PUBLISHER GOT IT DIRTY AND WANTED A CLEAN COPY.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Pat'sPen, Ink! said...

Can't help you with your title problem (I just solved one of my own and I'm STILL on the fence about it!), but I feel your pain with the non-whistling teakettles. I finally solved that problem about 10 years ago (admittedly at a discount price) by buying a Revereware kettle of a style I normally loathe (dome-shaped, handle curving up off the back, not attached to the front). However I loathe it's looks, it's whistled quite consistently (first of my kettles that ever did so) and only takes forever to heat the water to boiling point. But consistent it is and remains. I actually dread having to replace it.

This is important to me only because I can't drink coffee anymore (I like it, it does NOT like me anymoe). But I pass it along for what it may be worth to you.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Joy! said...

You slay me on a regular basis! Sorry about the headbanging that the manuscript induces.

And my DH will also launch into stories without clarifying the context of the person he's talking about. As if I can read his mind. Drives me nuts.

9:25 PM  
Blogger Quinn said...

I nearly choked on my cracker from laughing so hard! My husband, who rarely finishes anything else (we still have winter beer in the fridge from two winters ago) can finish off a bottle of shampoo. And then leave it sitting precariously perched on the wall of the shower...until I break down and get out the stool to reach it and put it in the garbage.

We know a multitude of Scott Hamiltons - and often get them mixed up.

9:57 PM  
Blogger Skerrib said...

Gay New Work Ken sounds like a new and exciting friend for any of the twenty-first century professional Barbies.

I know a million Steves.

1:07 PM  
Blogger Dawn Maria said...

I'm also casting my vote for "I Spent Good Money On It." Something about it really grabs me.

I'm enjoying hearing about your revision process. Not because I'm mean, but because as a writer not yet to the point of having editor's notes, its an incredible look at the process. Thanks for sharing it with us.

5:56 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

I know a whole bunch of Steve's.

My husband is one, and so is my son.

I once sent an email, meant for my husband, ACCIDENTLY to my son, who claims that it has scarred him for life. Now when I intentionally send him emails, he claims that he feels deep emotional fear and pain until he scrolls down to make sure that it is signed 'mom' before he will actually read it.

I think your book should be titled "Quintessential".

8:48 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Great writing! I won't tell you that I'm sure you'll come up with a title, because how do I know? I won't say - "Oh, it must be frustrating," because you know that it is. I will tell you that I'm a big fan of this blog. You are smart and funny and convey your thoughts in an articulate way. I thank you. Your pain is our gain.

11:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The teapot, sensing it was now home forever, never spoke again."

Ha!! What IS it about teapots? I have had this exact thing happen. Finally gave up on them at hubby's urging, now we just microwave little coffee cups of water when we want a hot drink. I'm not liking it but we just couldn't let the teapots win.

Also lmao at the various Kens. Maybe the book can be called "Gay New Work Ken and more" or something. lol

8:44 AM  
Blogger Miss Cavendish said...

Perhaps you could sneakily consolidate Consort's shampoos. Just top them off weekly so they're always full. A lot of work for you, yes, but shower-caddy harmony could prevail . . .

6:38 PM  
Blogger MJ said...

I second Pat on the Revere kettle. I bought one of those at a Revere/Corning outlet once, because it was just like my mother's and I had some idea that I would give it to her for a present. Instead, I selfishly kept it for myself. I've tried other, more attractive kettles, but they can boil on the stove for an hour before I realize what the barely audible tweeting sound that's coming from the kitchen is. And of course, they have all kinds of strict instructions like "do not boil for more than five minutes" and "do not heat on high." Nothing like that with the ugly Revere copper-bottomed kettle. And it's not even all that expensive: link to Amazon.

Also, I'm pretty sure I have some of that organic shampoo, or some just like it. At any rate, it does seem to have mysterious possum-attracting properties.

I'm sure you'll come up with an awesome title, because you write sentences that I have to stop and read again just because you can pack so much humor and insight into a few words. I'll be watching for your book!!

4:13 AM  

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