Apart from this, of course…
Yes, I did paint my nails in ridiculous jellybean colours, for a laugh (the intent being mainly to amuse Emma when I got back, as I am SO not a nail-polish type of gal). But amid painting my nails and picking up countless chips and chocolate fudge Pop-Tarts, my hands also did some useful things in Eastport. They paged through my By the Rivers of Brooklyn manuscript looking for more places to cut words, and they also (somewhat unexpectedly) flew over the keys of my Neo creating an entirely unplanned new chapter for What You Want.
This came about because my friends Lori, Tina and Christine had all read the draft of What You Want, and I was of course jonesing for some feedback. They mostly had nice things to say, but Tina in particular was quite adamantly opposed to my ending. After a novel which tells the story of a three-week road trip in almost minute-by-minute detail, I attempted a final chapter that was sort of like an epilogue, summarizing what happens to the characters over the next few months and projecting into the future. I wasn’t sure it worked.
Tina was sure it didn’t. She told me it sounded like John-Boy at the end of a Waltons episode. To quote her exactly, she said (in a John-Boy voice), “…and Grampa never played his mouth-organ again after that day….”
OK, I got the point. Probably because, as I tell people in writing workshops and such, if a critique resonates with your own secret doubts and fears — like my fear that the summary/epilogue/last chapter wasn’t working — it’s probably true. Especially if one of your dearest friends compares you to John-Boy Walton.
In this summary epilogue chapter, there was a brief reference to two characters spending the night together — with no more detail than that. Lori said that was a cop-out and if they were going to Do The Deed, I should write about it. I said no, I could not possibly write that. Hot’n’steamy scenes are hard enough to write without sounding ridiculous, and this particular scene with these particular characters included some, um, logistical challenges, that made it even more difficult to write. And I wasn’t sure the reader needed that much information … I wanted much of the outcome of the book left up to the imagination.
But after some discussion, I got intrigued with the idea of the bedroom scene that was too difficult to write, and I decided to take it on as a challenge — not with the slightest intention of ever putting it in the book, but as background to tell me more about the characters, and as a useful writing exercise for me. Could it be done?
I tapped away at this scene on and off during Saturday night and Sunday, convinced that I was writing the most hokey, schlocky, cringe-worthy “romance” scene ever. Then on Sunday night, with much apology and self-abasement, I read it aloud to Lori and Tina (we were the only three Stridents left at the Eastport house by that time, the others having gone home earlier). They listened with rapt attention while I blushed my way through scenes with far more detail than anything I would willingly publish under my own name.
Then they told me the chapter was absolutely riveting and perfect and that THAT had to be the new ending of the book.
So what do I do now? Do I trust their judgement? Do I end my book with a steamy scene? (Note: Tina insists it is a “love scene” not a “sex scene” and is not explicit at all, but it is much more, um, detailed than anything I would usually attempt to get published). I believe now that the John-Boy ending was wrong for the book, but is this new ending right?
Decisions, decisions. If nothing else, this illustrates how hard it is to be an objective judge of your own work. But more importantly, it illustrates that having writer girlfriends who can offer honest criticism, enthusiastic praise, tough questions, support, and multiple colours of nail polish is the best thing a girl can have.
(Signing off, John-Boy-style voiceover)…Trudy never painted her nails OR wrote a sex scene again after that trip to Eastport. But she never forgot that weekend, because it changed her somehow…
(Hypergraffiti theme music rises over end credits).