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Archive for November, 2012

Writing Revenge

Unhappy WriterThis isn’t a post about Nora Ephron. I’m going to write one, honest, as soon as I can process all my feelings about her but I haven’t done that yet. However, Ephron was the author of one of the great revenge books of our time—Heartburn. In case you’re not familiar with the book, it’s a thinly fictionalized version of the break-up of her marriage to Carl Bernstein, the journalist. In a nutshell, Bernstein cheated on her while she was pregnant and then was found out in a very public way when his mistress’s husband outed them both in the gossip columns. Up until that time, Ephron had specialized in nonfiction, particularly in acerbic essays about modern life. But she chose to write this particular experience as a roman à clef, perhaps because it was too painful to write about it otherwise.

What I mainly remember about Heartburn (other than a couple of terrific recipes) was Roger Ebert’s review of the subsequent movie in which he excoriated Ephron for writing the book in the first place since it would expose her children to the sordid details of her breakup. Ebert didn’t seem particularly upset with Bernstein’s original actions, mind you, but he did mind Ephron talking about them in public, especially because Ephron’s acerbic prose pretty much skewered Bernstein in perpetuity.

The idea of seeking revenge through writing is a fairly long-standing one, however, and not just limited to cheating husbands. Erica Jong revenged herself on Julia Phillips in her accounts of her misadventures in trying to see her book Fear Of Flying made into a film in her follow-up novel How To Save Your Own Life. Jong painted Phillips as a drug-addled harpy who ruined everything she touched—she “disguised” Phillips under a pseudonym, but anyone who’d followed Jong’s experiences in Hollywood knew who she was talking about. Unfortunately for Jong, Phillips (who died in 2002) was still around and newly sober when Jong’s revenge was published, and she was writing her own autobiography You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again. She had no qualms about presenting her version of the Jong debacle, using very real names this time. Jong did not come off well.

Other authors have presented thinly veiled pictures of old friends and enemies, using fiction to accomplish the kind of skewering that real life denied them. Lauren Weisberger filleted her former boss, Anna Wintour, in The Devil Wears Prada. Carrie Fisher gave less than flattering portraits of her mother in Postcards From the Edge and her ex-husband in The Best Awful before switching to true nonfiction to describe the same experiences in Wishful Drinking. In Fisher’s case, the needling with mitigated by the fact that, like Phillips, she was equally hard on herself.

The bottom line here is that screwing with writers is never a good idea. Unlike non-writing civilians, they screw back. The best illustration of this maxim I know comes from Bobbie Louise Hawkins’ poem “Vicious Valentine” (from My Own Alphabet):

Here I sit all broken-hearted

Loved a twit but now we’ve parted

The present’s grim the future’s brighter

He shouldn’t have done it to a writer.

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turkeyTomorrow is the first time I’ll be fixing Thanksgiving dinner in Colorado. For the past several years, we’ve celebrated in Fredericksburg, Texas—a Hill Country town not unlike my very own mythical Konigsburg (except for no Toleffsons). A few years ago we started having Thanksgiving at a Fredericksburg bed and breakfast (there are a lot of them—it’s like the capitol of Texas bed and breakfasts) with our sons and their Significant Others. It’s been great fun, but it didn’t start out that way. The first year, in fact, was something of a disaster.

From the beginning, we knew just the place we wanted to rent. We’d stayed there in the summer, and it was a light and airy house with a creek running through the live oaks and pecans out back. Perfect. The only problem was that the name of the place was very similar to the name of another bed and breakfast in Fredericksburg. And I was frustrated when I made the reservations because the online service wasn’t working right. And…well…I reserved the wrong cabin.

We didn’t realize this until we’d gotten to Fredericksburg after dark, mind you. Then we had to frantically phone our sons, who were driving up in their own cars. I saw the outside of the cabin I’d rented by mistake and told myself (repeatedly) that everything would be okay. It was, after all, a historic house, even though it had no creek, no live oaks, and no pecans except for the pie I’d brought. But it was Thanksgiving. And we’d all have a great time fixing dinner and eating it.

Once I saw the inside of the place, my Pollyanna tendencies had to start working overtime. The owner had decorated it with “antiques,” which meant she’d stuffed every room in the place with junk. “Vintage” clothes hung over the doors, sort of like someone had just dropped by and left their undies behind (my older son was particularly taken by the black one-piece and rubber swimming cap with floppy flowers that were hanging in the bathroom). My sons, who both inherited my sarcastic gene, began referring to the place as the Bates Motel, expecting to find Norman’s mom reclining in a rocker somewhere underneath the detritus.

Then I heard my daughter-in-law whisper to my older son, “There’s no oven.” I looked around the meager kitchen and realized she was right. Hotplate. Microwave. Coffeepot. No oven. I had a smoked turkey breast, a couple of bags of stuffing mix, and a bag of sweet potatoes in the car. And no oven in which to cook them. That was the point at which my husband took my arm, handed me a glass of wine, and ushered me into what would be our living room for the next three days (although it was also the room where our younger son was sleeping—maybe a little more togetherness than I’d planned on).

We made it. On Thanksgiving day we went down to our friendly neighborhood HEB (South Texas’s fantastic grocery chain) and bought the biggest toaster oven they had. We cooked in shifts in the tiny kitchen and washed dishes whenever the counters got overloaded. And afterward we played Trivial Pursuit and got royally plastered.

This is the point at which I should draw a moral and say that Despite All Our Difficulties, It Was The Best Thanksgiving Ever. Except it wasn’t. It was pretty much a disaster. But the next year (and all the years since, until this one), I managed to reserve the right cabin. And it’s been pretty much smooth sailing. The sound you hear is me, knocking wood. Happy Thanksgiving all!

 

 

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Don't Forget MeMy sixth Konigsburg book, Don’t Forget Me, was just released in print last week at Samhain, which is really cool. But what I really want to talk about now is why the book is named Don’t Forget Me, aside from the fact that that phrase conveys every author’s most fervent hope.

Don’t Forget Me is the story of Nando Avrogado and Kit Maldonado. Readers who know the other Konigsburg books may remember Nando and Kit from Long Time Gone, where they seemed very much together. What that book didn’t include was their breakup at the end of that summer. Don’t Forget Me deals with the aftermath of that breakup a year and a half later.

All my Konigsburg books are named after songs, sometimes obscure (Venus In Blue Jeans isn’t exactly at the top of everyone’s playlist) and sometimes very well-known (Long Time Gone has been used as a title for over fifty songs—if you’re interested, I was thinking of the Dixie Chicks version). When it came time to write about Nando and Kit, my original idea was to call the book Heartbreaker, after Pat Benatar’s great raver. But somehow, the more I got into the story, the less appropriate the title Heartbreaker became. Heartbreakers, after all, hurt their lovers deliberately, or at least they do it without really caring. But that’s not true of either Nando or Kit. They’re both heartbroken themselves.

Still, I was going to go with Heartbreaker  until one evening when I was riding into Denver with my DH, listening to Prairie Home Companion. The musical guest was Neko Case and the song she sang was called “Don’t Forget Me.” I only half listened to it, but I noted a couple of odd lyrics—one where the singer talked about being old and full of cancer, which isn’t exactly what you expect in a love song. Still, for some reason I couldn’t get that song out of my mind, so I went to my ultimate resource for song information, iTunes. There I discovered the song was written by Harry Nilsson, which explained the quirkiness (he also wrote “Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me” and the “Coconut” song). I also found it had been recorded by a lot of different people, including Nilsson himself along with Neko Case.

I hadn’t really thought of it as a book title until I listened to it a second time—and a third and a fourth. It seemed to me the main qualities of the song were regret and longing: it’s an emotional roller coaster. And it suddenly struck me that those were also the main qualities of my separated lovers—regret that their love affair had ended so badly and longing for a second chance.

Of course, they get that second chance—this is romance, not tragedy. But it takes a lot to bring them back together again, most of the novel in fact.

Here’s the blurb for Don’t Forget Me:

Once they said goodbye forever. Now they want to walk it back.
Konigsburg, Texas, Book 6
Eighteen months ago, Kit Maldonado was so over Nando Avrogado, she left Konigsburg without a backward glance. With the family restaurant in San Antonio sold out from under her, though, she’s back to manage The Rose, an exclusive resort eatery outside town.
Dealing with a stingy boss, an amorous head chef, an understaffed dining room and planning her aunt’s wedding should have kept her hands full. But she realizes she might not be as over Nando as she thought.
As the town’s new assistant chief of police, Nando’s got enough trouble without sexy Kit fanning embers he thought had long ago turned to ashes. Every time he turns around, she’s there—and it doesn’t help that everyone in town wants to see them back together.
One incendiary kiss, and there’s no denying the force of their attraction. But there’s a mysterious and oddly familiar burglar who’s been lurking around Konigsburg, someone who isn’t above a little mayhem—maybe even violence—to cover his tracks.

Excerpt:

Nando Avrogado was hiding. Granted, the Dew Drop Inn didn’t provide much in the way of cover, although it was dark enough to make identifying anyone pretty challenging unless you were less than six inches away. Granted, Nando himself, at six three and a hundred eighty-eight pounds, was somewhat difficult to hide, even when he wasn’t in uniform (as he wasn’t at the moment). Nonetheless, he was hiding. From Francine Richter, five three and a hundred five.

It was embarrassing. It was nothing a mature adult male of twenty-eight should be doing.

He should just get over it. He knew that. He should just head down the street to the Faro tavern, where he usually hung out, and take his punishment, whatever that punishment turned out to be—tears, curses, possibly violence. It wasn’t exactly his fault that Francine hadn’t understood the meaning of their goodbye date the way she was supposed to. It sure wasn’t his fault that she’d been leaving messages on his voice mail for the past two days.

Except that it was his fault. Sort of. He’d tried to make it clear throughout their handful of dates that nothing more serious was on the horizon for them. That they weren’t going to hook up for the long term. That they were just having some temporary good times.

And in reality, the times hadn’t even been all that good after the first couple of dates. He had to admit that, for the most part, he’d just been going through the motions. Francine was okay. She didn’t natter too much. She looked good. She was…a decent kisser. Not bad exactly, but not good either.

Nando sighed, taking a sip of his lukewarm beer. If he were honest, it wasn’t Francine who’d been the real disappointment. He was the one who wasn’t measuring up to expectations, Francine’s for sure, but his own too. Given his lack of enthusiasm, maybe it was just as well that they’d never progressed beyond a few hot make-out sessions on Francine’s couch.

Of course, if he were honest he wouldn’t be sitting in this dive, drinking beer that tasted like dishwater. He’d be down the street with his friends at the Faro, drinking some honest brew and dealing with Francine when and if she showed up.

He rubbed his eyes and fought back the impulse to groan in frustration. God, he was tired. And it wasn’t just the hours from his job as a Konigsburg cop. During the last few months he’d seemed to fall into a rut that just got deeper and deeper. Same people, same problems, same everything. When had this feeling started anyway? And why? He’d gotten all the things he’d once thought he wanted in his life—full-time appointment to the Konigsburg police force, a decent place to live away from his parents (sharing an apartment with his brother Esteban, but doing that wasn’t such a bad deal), an active social life without being tied down to anybody.

Yeah, right. It was that “active” social life that was the problem. Maybe he should try deliberate celibacy rather than the unintentional kind for a while. See what it felt like to not hit the clubs on his night off. The whole excitement-of-the-chase thing was getting very old. And truth be told, the chase hadn’t been that exciting for a long time. Eighteen months, in fact.

Don’t go there. It’s over. No matter how much you wish it weren’t.

 Buy link: http://store.samhainpublishing.com/dont-forget-p-7160.html

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