In Which Our Hero Sits Down to Outline
ME: (delivered with a hearty but clearly false tone of confidence, possibly slapping own thigh while dropping into chair) Right, then! We’ve established that the detective suspects Carolyn stole the key, and Carolyn lets him go on thinking that. Why?
MIND: She’s protecting someone.
MIND: Isn’t it ‘Whom’?
ME: Don’t get picky. Who or whom is she protecting?
MIND: From what?
ME: From the detective! Why would she do such a thing, anyway?
MIND: Probably her childhood…
ME: You’re right, you’re right. We don’t know anything about her background. Where did she grow up, who were her parents—?
MIND: Madge and Sheila.
ME: Huh? Madge and...Sheila? Both women?
MIND: Same-sex marriage. Or Madge killed her husband with Sheila’s help. Or maybe one had a sex change. That would be kinda interesting, wouldn’t it, having a transgendered parent? Fertile ground. Ten bazillion times more interesting than this recycled Chandleresque wannabe crap you’re trying to foist off on me. But every time I try to get creative you slap me down with your constant criticism and carping and—Hey, look, a blackbird!
ME: Where? Oh. No, that’s a starling. Get back on track here. What does Carolyn want?
MIND: Bagels. Blueberry bagels with cream cheese. I think starlings have longer beaks than that.
ME: 'A bagel' is not what Carolyn wants. It’s what you want. Now buckle down and think about this damn story!
MIND: (begins to whistle My Sharrona and drum on the desk in an unusually meatheaded fashion.)
ME: Stop that…stop it!…A least not that song!
MIND: Fine. How about, Don’t cry for me, Ar-jun-TEEEEEEE-nuh—
ME: No, not that, either! I'm begging here. What am I supposed to do with you, anyway?
MIND: Blueberry bagel, toasted, with cream cheese. And none of that low-fat imitation glop. Real cream cheese.
ME: Okay, I give, I surrender, we’ll go get bagels and coffee. But when we get back, we have to buckle down and do some work, right? ...Hmm, so where’s my wallet and keys?
MIND: Do I have to keep track of everything?
Guess what? When we get back from bagels, nothing happens. And that’s on a day when my imagination is being cooperative. On other days my mind slouches against the wall like a sullen teenager, arms crossed over its narrow chest, refusing all eye contact and answering only in grunts.
I blame myself, really. I ought to have sent my imagination to obedience school when it was still a pup. But it’s too late now. The only way I can get it to help is by using primitive child psychology: “Mmmmm, yummy! Look, Daddy’s eating. Daddy's eating it all up!”
So I just write, and pretend I’m having fun. Since I usually am—I trance out really easily, especially when I’m focused on fiddly craft details—soon the imagination joins in, and a good time is had by all. But unless I have writing as a distraction, I can't even think about my story. (Okay, I admit that doesn't make much sense. So sue me.)
I like to claim I wouldn’t have it any other way. But the truth is, if I ever get another imagination, it’s obedience school for the little bastard as soon as it’s old enough to romp across the kitchen floor.
The way I write novels makes defense contracting look like a paragon of efficiency.