Sunday, June 19, 2016

How to Build a Bill-Baggott Father in 12 Not-so-Easy Steps

(On the Occasion of Father's Day)

1. Raise the boy among women.
It's best if he's born in Brooklyn -- to get a feel for the city -- but set him loose in the mountains of West Virginia. It's hard, yes, if he loses his father while young -- the trauma might cause him to stutter for years -- but he will be raised among women -- his mother, his old-maid aunt, and two sisters. And although the loss is profound, this might be the best way a man of his generation could be raised. The loss will make him sweet and thankful to be alive. He'll show emotion easily -- acts of bravery will make him cry but so will the weepy parts of The Parent Trap, starring Lindsey Lohan. In the 80s, he'll be the only corporate lawyer who loves sensitivity training.

2. Give him some mountains and uranium tank-fields to play in. Let him grow up among coalminers and glassblowers without any money.
He'll learn how to sneak into things without paying -- a habit. He'll be the corporate lawyer shuttling his kids into a football game through a break in the chain-link fence.

3. Make it inevitable that he gets punched in high school for being a know it all. (He should also date triplets -- at least two of the three -- and play trumpet.)

This will inform the dining room where you grow up, where you'll learn to argue. The dining room table, your brother will later say, that he learned more there than in all his years of school.

And one day the know-it-all will be the lead researcher for his youngest daughter who starts writing novels that entail nanotechnology and Domes and airships and all the things he liked dreaming about as a kid. It'll be something that ties them together, where science meets dreaminess.

4. Have him push through a 5 year engineering program in 3 years then law school. First real job -- patent office in DC -- during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Just plop him down at ground zero.

5. Have him fall in love with a redhead and marry her and have kids -- and always want more kids.
He'll be mistaken for a pediatrician a lot. He'll be the guy on the plane who offers to walk the screaming baby in the aisles so the mother flying alone can eat. Through all of his grandchildren, he'll become known as the baby whisperer. No one can get a baby to quiet like he can. He'll be able to take over the household of a family with five kids and run it smoothly while the parents are away. He's the one to call when the baby is sick and has to go in for an operation.

But way back, holding his first child, he should think, "If I died now, I'd have gotten more than my share."

6. Eventually, he should get political. He should take to the streets, protesting wars, with a baby in a stroller and eventually carrying one of his grandkids. He should be pro-civil rights are every turn. When his father in law gives him a German lugger as a gift, he'll take it home and dismantle it, hiding the parts in different places. He was once chased through the woods as kid by cops -- with their guns pulled.

7. In the National Guard, he should talk a man out of killing his wife. On a trip to Iran, he should save someone from choking.

8. Oh, and make him practice cheapness. He should make a lot of money -- why not? But he should downplay it because he's a little afraid of money. He grew up on Great Depression-era films where poor people were happy and the rich corroded. The youngest (who's kind of an idiot in her way) should think the family is so poor she can't bring herself to really fill out a Christmas list. Your father with his Velcro briefcase and Velcro sneakers should pay for two things freely: education and travel -- wait. One more, theater...

9. Have him write down every play he's ever seen on an index card held by a rubberband -- stacks and stacks.
And speaking of the arts, whenever his youngest daughter comes home from dance lessons, he should have her teach him the moves. He should be able to moonwalk pretty well, and he'll teach her the jitterbug in the kitchen. And, when he's retired, he'll learn to fly planes, self-diagnose a rare blood disorder, and take up modern dance in the Berkshires.

10. Have him search for his past -- all the way back to a dock in Chestertown, Maryland where his ancestor, a prisoner, was auctioned off. (He should get an Irish passport -- get a piece of that citizenship back.)

11. Have him sign off to raise all of the kids Catholic -- which he attends weekly, never taking Communion -- but have him answer the kids' questions honestly, what amounts to a small rebellion, a list of protests.

12. When his mother is in a nursing home, he should visit every night and feed her dinner, spooning in each bite -- long after she's stopped recognizing him. He should put her favorite old songs on a little tape recorder and she'll sing. Even in light of a 50-some year marriage to that redhead and the four kids and the 13 grandchildren, this is where he'll teach the most important lessons about love and devotion. And one day when he's watching a movie with his youngest and a little boy shines a mirror's reflected light on the wall to entertain the old man in bed, he'll say, "You'll do that for me one day." And the youngest will say, "Yes."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

what we talk about when we talk about drafts.

i've never looked at this data before much less thought to share it, but when new writers are excited because they've "finished" their novel, i'm never sure how to break it to them that they probably haven't. each time i make a major change to a novel in progress, i create a new file. sometimes these are also overhauls, complete rewrites. often i'll write the first fifty or so pages of the material but as drastically different novels -- even versions that exist in different genres and for different audiences. after a novel has a first draft, i rewrite heavily again, sometimes wholly. here's a list of the numbers of drafts (files) of certain novels i've written, including three current works in progress.
PURE -- 33
FUSE -- 16
BURN -- 15 (numbers go down because major decisions of world, tense, point of view, genre, audience had already been made in the first book of the trilogy)
HARRIET WOLF'S SEVENTH BOOK OF WONDERS -- 39
PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED (as Asher) -- 19
ALL OF US AND EVERYTHING (as Asher) -- 26
THE EVER CURE -- never published, pulled from the contract because the editor and I couldn't see eye-to-eye, a sequel to THE EVER BREATH -- 19
of my current works in progress, two have full rough drafts. one took 21 passes to get to the first draft. one took only 10. Both have many more to go. a third work in progress -- that has drastically different versions staring at me -- stands at 26 files and none of those files will likely be close to the version that will see me through to some rough first draft.
and then just to mess with me, there's THE PRINCE OF FENWAY PARK -- 2. just two. of course it then went through copyedits and proofing cycles in-house but still this kind of experience -- when it comes out in some way really clean and whole -- damages all expectations and keeps some twisted hope alive. it just never happened like that for me again. whatever you take from this post, don't hold on to this part. trust me, don't.
oh, and none of this includes reams of notes on the wall -- click here to see what i mean

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Why You Might Just Marry the Right Person

The NYTimes piece by Alain de Botton, "Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person," has been circulating, and with my anniversary coming up -- I got married to David Scott when I was just 23 years old – I’ve had to ask who broke Alain de Botton so hard. (Gotta be some folks out there personally squirming.) Maybe it's the fact that de Botton chose the plural we -- the "we are all doomed" we -- that just felt so overbearing, but I'd like to say that we're not all doomed to disappoint each other. What's amazed me in these decades of my marriage to Scottie-boy is that I've had the privilege to know this other human being deeply and he astonishes me -- his depth of love, his tirelessness, what he says, how he says it, his humanity, his worldview, his connectivity with the people around him, his humility. He hasn’t shut down. He’s become more expansive, more loving, more interesting and complex and thoughtful. He's kind and sturdy; he'll lift you up. Not just me. I mean you -- family, friend, stranger going through a hard time. You. 
Is he also a jackass? Yes. Am I also a jackass? Absolutely. (And I’m also a dipshit, as those who know me well can testify.) 
But my point is this: the WORLD disappoints me. Life sometimes terrifies me. But, my God, going through it with this man -- this hilarious and tender-hearted and rock-solid human being -- it's more than I ever expected. 
We've been sad together, mourned and tended and laughed and shouted and hooted and fallen on our knees in thanks. I fell in love with him before we had our four kids, but I love him even more fiercely because of the kind of father he is. He’s also my creative and business partner so we work together, long hours, which are made easier because we work for each other.
I’m the one to turn out the light late at night. And I usually look over at Dave, and, when he’s sound asleep, he still looks exactly the 25 year old guy I fell in love with. But I'm so glad he's no longer that guy because the opposite of de Botton's piece is just as true. Sometimes we marry the right person and they become righter and righter and righter over time.
Take heart, de Botton. Take heart.