Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


Structure: From Frankenstein to Brando

Last week one of my mentors emailed me asking if I had sent him the latest draft of my book. He couldn’t find it and thought he’d lost it. “You didn’t lose it,” I told him. “I haven’t sent it yet.” I was a little embarrassed but also glad that he emailed me. It was the kick in the pants I needed.

My memoir has been a labor of love ever since Kaz died. I’ve been writing and re-writing, putting it down, then diving back in. It has felt a bit like a time traveling project… every time I work on the book, I am transported back to us.

Since I’ve never written a book before, I’ve given the various drafts to several readers for feedback. The most recent reader was a woman who was referred to me by a mutual writer friend. Perhaps because she doesn’t know me personally she ended up giving me some of the best insight. She said that mid-way through the draft she started losing interest and only kept reading because she had to. She said some other things too, but it was this comment that really got me thinking because I’ve heard it before (in so many words) from other readers.

The problem isn’t with the story or the way it’s written. The problem is with the structure. The story reveals itself too much too soon, instead of in a way that makes the reader want to turn the page. It’s also the actual order of events, actual persons involved, actual sources, actual dates and so on. On a certain level, this is necessary for a memoir but on another level, it’s not.

As long as I’m not making anything up, what does it matter if certain things are condensed, re-arranged, placed in a different setting, said out of context, etc? I suppose if it’s too fictional I can always call it a novel. Frankly, this is the least of my concerns right now. My main concern is for it to be a compelling read.

So, I conceived of a new structure, one that is actually more simple than what I had but also more daring. This time I swore to myself I would not get on the computer to figure it out, nor would I index card it. I would do it the old fashioned way… a paper edit.

I sat down with the physical draft, several magic markers, a stapler, and a pair of scissors and went to town. Every scene became a loose piece of paper with a title at the top. I put each scene in a specific pile, in chronological order. Then I put dots on the pages to indicate whether I thought it would go in the first act, second act, third act, etc. With my dot method, I could always re-order the scenes to their original piles should I get lost.

Then I started putting the scenes in the order I thought they should go. Only when I was satisfied that I had an order that made sense did I open my computer to copy and paste scenes so the computer draft mirrored this new paper edit. It was painstaking work.

Now, I’m going through the computer draft and refining, condensing, filling out, also very painstaking and a huge gamble. Once I do this, it will be difficult to go back. I have literally dissected the story and pieced it back together again, like a Frankenstein draft. But the goal is to keep fine-tuning it so Frankenstein turns into a Marlon Brando.

It might take a while but at least I have a vision. It’s actually been in my head all along. I just had to reach the point emotionally where I could execute it as a WRITER, instead of a participant in the drama.


Breaking Free of the Day Job

I’m currently working as a legal assistant at a film studio, have been for 3 years, ever since Kaz got sick. Before then, I was temping and working freelance production jobs while trying to get my writing/directing career off the ground. It’s a good thing I got this job. My boss – the entire department – was incredibly supportive. I don’t know what I would have done without it/her/them. Besides the steady pay and benefits, when things got really tough this place was like a refuge from the storm. I would come into work, bloodshot with worry and exhaustion, and be surrounded by what felt like normalcy. I was and still am lucky to have stability in an unstable time. But that doesn’t change the fact that I want out with every fiber in my being.

This is not where I’m supposed to be. I know it. My boss knows it. Everyone knows it. In fact, I’m quite sure many people wonder what I’m still doing here. Last year I walked into my boss’ office and told her, “I can’t do this anymore.” Then I burst into tears and gave her an out-date.

Word spread like wildfire. Was I really leaving? When? Why? Did something happen? At that time, it came out of the blue. Not just to my co-workers, but to my family too. Everyone tried talking me out of it, especially my father and brother. What would I do without health insurance and savings? Who would I turn to when I ran out of money? I didn’t blame them for being concerned. In fact, I listened to all their advice and told my boss I’d changed my mind. Since I had never written a formal resignation letter, on record, I hadn’t actually quit. I had faux-quit, we laughed.

Two weeks later, another assistant really did quit and I requested (and was granted) his cubicle by the window. I relished this brighter, more private work space and focused on appyling to writing competitions and residencies. Then I got accepted to Vermont Studio Center and after much hoop-jumping was granted a 5-week Leave of Absence with the understanding that, upon my return, I would stay with the company at least until May 2013. (They were afraid I’d come back and quit the next day.)

Now I’ve learned that the LOA was actually paid for with ALL MY VACATION TIME, including floating holidays. At the rate of accrual (1.5 hours every 2 weeks), I won’t be able to take a vacation day until September 2013. And if I leave the company beforehand, they will deduct the balance from my paycheck.


Every morning I think, is this the day? Can I make it through the end of the week? My job performance has decreased. I’m late almost every day, not on purpose but because I’m so unmotivated I’m literally dragging myself around the apartment in the morning to get ready. This, compared with how I was in Vermont, when I woke up early, went to bed late and wrote every hour in between, or more recently when I prepared for the interview so intensely.

When people complain to me about their lives, I usually say, “If you’re unhappy about something, take steps to change it.”

What can I change about my situation?

I could still quit and live off my meager savings, but then if anything majorly bad happened I’d be shit out of luck.

I could start playing the lottery.

I could change my attitude and make some difficult decisions.

Maybe instead of working, taking care of my dog, directing a play, blogging, trying to get a book published, rewriting a script and developing/writing a television pilot, I should focus on ONE thing, maybe two. Work and puppy aren’t going anywhere. So, that leaves blog, book, play, script rewrite, pilot.

It’s time to cut the fat and the bullshit. I’m going to sleep on it and get back to you with my decision.