Wednesday, November 25, 2009

So Very Much To Be Grateful For

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve blogged. Back up. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve written at all. My absence was, in part, the result of the unceasing demands of my day job. But a lot of it was self-imposed, too, a retreat from a world that depends so heavily on one’s Muses. And mine had taken an extended holiday, leaving me to tackle some heavies that had exploded my 2009 in ways that I both expected and wasn’t sure that I was ready for. Suffice it to say that it’s been a difficult year, one that caused me to consider, and reconsider, and reconsider again, where I fit in this world, what I expect out of myself, what I expect out of others, what I want, what I need—essentially everything I thought I’d already figured out. And in an insomniatic moment of self-reflection, I made a balance sheet of my life, the pros and cons of being me, as if writing them down could possibly organize the myriad thoughts that were zig-zagging in my mind. Ludicrous, perhaps. But what I discovered was that my pros list was much longer than my cons (mostly because I believe that inanities like, “awesome collection of ruffled shirts” and “full head of hair” count as pros). And that recognition colored my greater perception, made me realize how truly, ridiculously, unfairly fortunate I really am. So much so that I made a list the things I am most grateful for on this day nationally sanctioned to give thanks:

1. My family. Yes, they are insane. And yes, I am the progeny of a mother who once said, “Sweetheart, family is what God puts in your life because no normal person would ever pick these people to be their friends.” True that. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate my family—my mother especially—for what they are. And what they are not. I’m grateful that I can watch a movie, curled up against my mom on the couch, without having to say a word the entire evening. I’m grateful that she knows me so well that where she once was enormously hard on me, she is now constantly worried that I am too hard on myself. I am grateful that my family—for all of its faults—is kind and generous and affectionate and open-minded. Most of all, I’m grateful that they are always, always there for me. And that they frequently tell me so.

2. My friends. The ones I’ve known for years, the ones I’ve only just met; the mature sages who understand my neuroses, the ebullient imps who share my childlikeness; the viscerally unfiltered who revel in my frankness, the thoughtfully discreet who bring out my introspective side; the hysterically funny who make me laugh until my back seizes, the heartbreakingly vulnerable who rouse my protectiveness; those who are always ready to give a smile, a laugh, a hug, a hand, a heart, an ear, a shoulder; those who make my heart beat faster; those who slow down the frenetic pacing of life; those who are all of the above and infinitely more. For them, there shall never be anything I won’t give, or do, or say, or be. And for them, it shall never take a holiday or special occasion to say what I feel on a daily basis—that I love them to no end. That I will always be there for them. Unconditionally.

3. My job. Okay, maybe not the exact job I have right now, which is apparently that of an indentured servant, complete with a cowbell noosed around my neck and a cattle prod positioned over my hind end. But it does come with a bimonthly means to afford my pros (ruffled shirts and hair products, for example), and it does flex my gray matter in ways that I wouldn’t have otherwise known. It’s given me instruments that I can place in my toolbox of skills and an exposure to some rather incredibly awesome people. And it has introduced me to creatures so bizarre that they will inevitably make it in my next novel as a character. Congrats, you soon-to-be-immortalized weirdos! Which brings me to…

4. Writing. ‘Tis been eons, dear, elusive passion of mine. And oh, how thou maddens me with your creative blocks and word gluts and crises of confidence. But when it’s good—when the ideas flow, when the characters speak, when the words harmonize just so—it’s so very, very good. Words thrill me, and if you’re a fellow writer, then you understand the quest to find just the right word, the one that fits perfectly into a sentence and creates the perfect string of notes, the melody that makes you read the sentence again, just because you like the sound of it. Characters consume me, become a real part of my consciousness. They compel me to become a keener observer in real life, a better listener, a student of the whys and logic of the human mind and spirit. And if I may torture this analysis even further, I dare say that the exercise behind writing makes me a better person, makes me more thoughtful and reflective and compassionate, less critical and judgmental and narrow-minded. It has been too long since I’ve put musings to paper, but I am grateful for the temperance of time and the fact that my pie of life contains a slice so incredibly beautiful. At least to me.

And finally…

5. The small things. I read somewhere—probably a verbose fortune cookie—that I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff, and that everything is small stuff. I don’t like this. For one, yes, there is big stuff. There will always be big stuff. And if you don’t believe that, try telling this little axiom to a person who’s just lost a child or has a loved one in Iraq and see if you don’t get a swift upper hook to the jugular in response. More than that, though, I don’t like how it connotes a discounting of everything to the repressed trivial when it may be anything but. Because I used to think that life was a series of big things—graduation, career, marriage, children, death—connected together by the little things, like major organs supported by the interstitial. I don’t think that way anymore. I think of life as being the interstitial, the little things that often get swept aside in favor of the proverbial big. It’s the little things that inform my view on a person’s character, the quickness of one’s temper or smile rather than one’s resume of accomplishments, the kind act when no one’s watching rather than the lifetime achievement banquet in his honor. It’s the smile in the midst of a harried day, the offered seat in a crowded bar, the text from a friend just to make sure I’m all right. That, to me, is life. It’s what makes the big manageable, what tempers it and places it into a context that neither aggrandizes nor belittles. And when it comes down to it, when I am lying on my deathbed, I doubt that I will be dwelling on the fact that I won a landmark lawsuit, or that I’d published a book, or that I’d discovered the cure for chronic fatigue syndrome. No, I imagine that I’ll be reminiscing about a road trip with a special someone, the grand old time I had a friend’s party, the exact words my brother uttered that made me feel like everything was going to be better than fine.

And so, I guess that’s my takeaway from this year—that, despite the difficulties that will always shade our backdrop, there is so, so much to be grateful for. There is beauty in the seemingly nothing, delight in the ostensibly mundane. There is optimism and hope and an ability to look at the bright side of things. An ability to take the big and break it down into precious littles, an ability to take the littles and mold them into an object of import. I am grateful because I can be grateful, positive because I don’t know another way to be, blessed when I don’t deserve to be, fortunate in ways I can’t describe.

And so are you.

Happy Thanksgiving. May you eat so much turkey that you fall asleep before you realize your stomach has exploded.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Slumdog Millionare—It [Life] Is Written. And It [Life] Is A Total Crapshoot

I’m not what you’d call a big moviegoer. I’m terrified of crowds. I don’t enjoy the smell of popcorn. I can’t sit still for two or (oh, God) three hours at a time. I’m busy. And for the last year, everything at the theater looked unappealing to me. So, I was a little remorseful when, two nights ago, I finally saw Slumdog Millionaire on cable. Because while it was lovely on TV, it would’ve been brilliant on the big screen.

If you haven’t seen the movie, it deserves all the praise it’s received. The cinematography is beautiful. The acting is superb. The story unfolds like the best kind of novel, flipping between past and present without ever losing its viewer. Drawing her in and widening her eyes with anticipation for what’s to come next. Looping back and connecting all the dots, like a thoughtfully constructed puzzle. The characters are by turns charming, vile, frightening, loving, dejected, resolute, hopeful — everything that people are in real life.

But it was the setting of the movie that really stuck with me, the abject, heartbreaking poverty that compels the main characters to do what they do, to find ingenious ways to survive, to succumb to breath-arresting exploitive cruelty, to ponder — and sometimes become convinced of — the idea that destiny has a hand in everything. That fate or God has preordained one’s existence to the utter preclusion of alternatives, good or bad. That wondering about this for too long only leads to the maddening recognition of existence’s circularity, of the balance of trying one’s damnedest against the idea that destiny necessitated such exertion in the first place.

One could think about this until she went crazy.

Or, if you’re me, you could set the idea of destiny next to its philosophical twin — that life is a total crapshoot. Because we don’t choose to be born in the slums of Mumbai any more than we have the power to be born in the Seventh Arondissement of Paris. We don’t elect to be birthed into a lowly Indian caste or an isolated housing project in North Korea any more than we are entitled to be birthed in the Upper East Side. We don’t get to pick when we make our appearance on Earth, or where, or in what time frame or into which slice of the socio-economic pie. And if we really want to get nitpicky about this, we don’t get to select our skin color or our IQ or our level of hotness. It’s this awareness that makes me cringe when I see people act with an unattractive sense of entitlement. Why snobbery and arrogance and a general I’m-Better-Than-You attitude grates me in the worst possible way. Why racism and sexism and every other kind of –ism makes no kind of sense. Because the truth of the matter is that no one’s inherently better than anyone else. That it’s what’s on the inside of a person that really counts. We learn these extraordinarily basic axioms in elementary school. Somehow, we forget it by the time we’re in middle school. We forget it so violently that we spend the rest of our lives trying to one-up each other, to compare ourselves by how much stuff we have, how many designer labels and exotic cars and vacation homes we can claim. How many people we know, how many important people we know, how much money we have, how much clout. We laud the beautiful and the privileged, spend eternity trying emulating and envying them. And in our ugliest moments, we are thankful that if we cannot be X, then at least we are not Y.

For what?

Are there really any answers?

Of course, I’m not immune to any of this. I mean, I live in the real world. I’m insecure. I’m competitive. I’m petty. I’m vain. Hell, I’m a girl. And I’m not one to pitch a person’s controllable faults into the wastebasket of “life is a crapshoot,” either. But I’ve also been soul-searching a bit recently, which might be one of the best and worst consequences of writing character-driven fiction. And I’ve been thinking about this elusive notion of where my characters — and as an extension, where I — fit into this crazy world. And for all the whys and what fors that I can pitch, I realize that the answer that works best for me brings me back to the central character of the movie — try, try, try, world unending, amen. Be better today than what you were yesterday. Be better tomorrow than what you are today. And be kind. Always. Because you never know who might loop back around in this drama of life. Who might need a hand or be the one to extend one.

There is, of course, the central matter of love in Slumdog Millionaire. Enduring, unflinching, bet-your-life-on-it love. It is, to be punny, lovely. But I’m not a movie critic tasked to relay central themes. I’m a writer who is inordinately distracted by shiny objects in the distance. With a blog in which she gets to describe what she just saw. ☺

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Congratulations, You’ve Decided To Become A Published Novelist! Now What?

I’ve been meaning to blog about writing — both the technical mechanics of the craft and the business side of it — for ages. Back up. I’ve been meaning to blog for ages. Unfortunately, my work-in-progress was taking forever, and I’ve been snowed at the office, and family this and life that and blah blah blah…

Anyway, quite a few people have asked how one goes about getting published. And I’ve gotten so many requests for a roadmap that I promised to blog about it. Well! Ask and (four months later) ye shall receive!

To give you an overall analogy, the road to publishing isn’t unlike the road to building a house. There’s the actual writing of a novel (more on that in another post) — the actual building of the house, the blueprints and nails and hammers and load-bearing walls and electric wiring and plumbing and whatnot. And there’s the publishing of a novel — the bureaucratic process of having a house built, the permits and approvals and inspections and so forth. To publish a novel, you need both. Yes, even you, the Next-David-Foster-Wallace of Boise, Idaho who’s got connections. And while I’m by no means an expert in the field, I have been through the looking glass and can give you my two cents on the matter (this is my way of saying, “take this post for what it’s worth”). So, without further, ado, here are the eight easy steps (ha!) to getting your Great American Novel published * **:

1. The Novel. Write your novel. The entire novel. Edit it. Have your literate friends and family read it. Demand that they give you brutally frank critiques. Join a writer’s group if it helps. Have them read and give you brutally frank critiques. Check your spelling and grammar. Use Times New Roman, 12-font. Double-spaced. 1” margins all around. Don’t justify your margins. These are industry standards. Follow them. In other words, present your work as perfectly and professionally as you can.

2. The Agent. If you are writing fiction, then you absolutely must have an agent. Due to the overwhelming volume of submissions (and copyright liability issues), most publishing houses will flat-out refuse to read anything unless it comes from an agent. The vast majority of agents lives in New York, but don’t be afraid to scout those who live elsewhere. Check out The Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc. (AAR) (www.aaronline.org). The AAR site is chock full of information and includes its Canon of Ethics. Agents should not charge you money up front. Ever. There are just as many scammers as there are legit agents. Beware the agent who guarantees that you’ll be published. He might as well promise you that you’re going to win America’s Next Top Model. Might happen. Might not. A note: don’t preclude agents who are not members of the AAR, either. Some of the best agents are not. But be sure to confirm that he or she follows the AAR’s Canon of Ethics.

Which agents should you target? Check out if the agent you’re researching represents your genre. Some only deal with adult fiction. Some only work with YA writers. Some are exclusively non-fiction agents. And so on and so forth. Kathryn Brogan’s Guide to Literary Agents is a good resource. So is Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents. These books are rather pricey and change very quickly, so visit your local library for current editions. While you’re there, look at books in your genre. Check out the acknowledgements page. Every author thanks her agent. See who rep’ed said author. Check out authors’ websites and look at their contacts page. Stalkerati, much? Indeed. It’s called Due Diligence. Make a list of your favorite dozen (or two or three or hundred) agents. Know what their submissions guidelines are.

3. The Query Letter. The dreaded query letter. Your chance to show the agent in very few words why you’re the shiznit. There are many ways to do this, but they should generally be limited to one page, single-spaced. In a few succinct paragraphs, state what you wrote (general idea of the novel in as interesting a way as you can manage) and who you are (background, education if relevant, writing awards if any, why you’re uniquely qualified to write this book). If the submissions guidelines request sample pages, include them. If they specifically ask that you don’t, don’t. You don’t want to come across as being unable to follow directions from the get-go. Use white paper, for God’s sake. Don’t spritz it with perfume. Don’t include a picture of yourself nude on a chaise lounge. Seriously. I’ve been told that way too many people actually do this. Triple proofread it before you send. Make sure you’ve addressed it to the right person. Sounds ridiculous that I should include this advice, but when you’ve got fifteen (or three dozen) query letters in front of you, all of them following varying guidelines, you might be surprised how easy it is to make a mistake.

Because I am hopelessly OCD and Type-A, I made an excel spreadsheet that listed which agents I sent query letters to, when and with what. Why? So that I wouldn’t send repeat letters to the same people. So that I knew how long it had been since my submission (i.e., when I might sent an email to the agent asking if he or she had received my query letter). So that I felt like I had some modicum of control over the process.

4. Wring Hands and Wait. Many agents’ websites will say that they’ll get back to you within 4-6 weeks. Many of them won’t. Not because they’re evil and want to personally torture you. But because they often get a thousand (no joke) query letters a week. A week. And reading query letters isn’t their only function. They’re negotiating deals for their current authors, reading and editing (if they’re of the editing brand) their authors’ work, reading requested drafts of submissions, speaking at conferences, raising children, etc. They’re wicked busy. When can you call them to see if they like you? Pretty much never. Don’t call them. It’ll irritate them. It’ll likely get you dinged before you’ve even had the chance to get your work before them.

This was probably the most difficult part of the process for me. I am a lawyer. I worked for ages in an environment that screamed if a draft wasn’t ready in a day, lost its shit if the brief wasn’t perfect in two. Partners were always at my door, asking when I would be finished, where was the GD pleading, how much longer, why isn’t it ready, are we there yet? I am also incredibly impatient by nature and push myself to exhaustion on a daily basis. My unfortunate personality and my job made me expect that everyone — agents included — were just like me. Where were these agents? I’d ask. Have they read my query yet? Why not? My God, but it’s been thirteen days and six hours! What. Is. Taking. So. Long?? I was fortunate enough to have what I now call my Writing Fairy Godmother basically wring me out and tell me to calm the f*ck down. That publishing doesn’t work like the legal field. That I would quickly make myself persona non grata if I couldn’t learn to Sit Down, Shut Up And Wait. That would be my advice to you (without the neck-wringing and the F-bombs). To be patient when you’re practically bursting at the seams with anxiety and anticipation. To keep in mind that agents are working as quickly as they can. That they are looking for the next Brilliant Work as much as you’re trying to get your Brilliant Work in front of them.

(Now, if the guidelines said 4-6 weeks, and it’s been eight, yeah, it’s okay to send an email or a letter asking if said agent received the query (but don’t call)).

5. Rejections. Horrible. Horrible. But if you get one (or 200), welcome to the club! You’re now officially one of us. Every author has gotten a rejection. Some rejections will bear a stamp with a single word: “No.” Some agents might feel generous and stamp, “No, thanks.” Others will have nothing written on your letter. It’s simply returned and you can assume they’re just not that into you. Some will take the time and explain why your work isn’t what they’re looking for. Don’t sweat it. Don’t take it personally. Don’t think you’re a lesser person or untalented because of it. All you need is one to say “yes.” So much easier said than done, no?

My husband saved all of my rejection letters, by the way. The entire two-foot stack. So that when I was rich and famous, I could look back on it and gleefully shout, “So, who’s the reject now, suckas?” I don’t know if you’re into that. I still haven’t shouted at it. He has. He clearly doesn’t understand what “rich and famous” means.

6. The Agent Likes You! and wants you to send the first chapter. Or the first three. Or the entire novel. This is why you need to have your novel perfected and ready to go. This industry is notoriously wait-wait-wait-wait-I-want-it-all-NOW. You might get a response from your query in a week. And the agent might want the entire work immediately. If it’s not finished, she may pass. She might find someone who’s written something very similar to yours. She might not be willing to wait while you take the next two years to finish your masterpiece. So, git ‘r done before you query.

7. What Now? If the agent likes your work, she may ask to represent you. A contract might be involved. Or she may be old school and request an oral agreement with you. There’s no right or wrong way of going about it. If you’re not an attorney and skittish, it’s not a bad thing to take the contract to a lawyer (caveat: make sure he specializes in these matters. Trust me. Just because someone has an “Esq.” by his name doesn’t mean that he knows jack about publishing. The industry is an animal onto its own, and the lawyer must be versed in it). But if she’s an AAR member (or follows it’s ethical guidelines), you probably don’t need to worry. Do whatever makes you sleep well at night.

8. Submissions to Publishers. The agent will send your work to appropriate publishers. Let the waiting games —and teeth gnashing and nail biting and howling at the moon — begin. No one ever talks about what actually happens once the manuscript goes to, say, Random House or Penguin or Simon & Schuster. The process is often affectionately (read: exasperatedly) called the Black Box. But from my stalkerati research, blog-reading and agent-questioning, I’ve gleaned that the process goes something like this:

- manuscript lands on junior editor’s desk. Junior editor reads, adores it.
- Junior editor sends to senior editor (there may be several senior editors who read them in seriatum or all together). Senior editor(s) love(s) it.
- Senior editor(s) sends to acquisitions editor. Acquisitions editor reads, adores it.
- Acquisitions editor sends to acquisitions board.
- Every member of the acquisitions board reads, loves it.
- Acquisitions board sends to publishing board. Also sends to marketing/accounting group.
- Every member of the publishing board reads. Number crunchers decide whether the book will make money.
- Publishing board loves it. Number crunchers see profit.
- Manuscript goes to publisher. An actual person who has the final yay/nay vote.
- Publisher loves it. Calls agent. Offers advance money.
- Agent calls author. Relays offer. Discuss whether to demand more, take to another house or accept (this, I can’t comment on. This is strictly between you and your agent as to what to do).
- Author accepts. Everyone is happy. Author goes out and gets tanked to celebrate.

Depending on the agent’s clout, several steps at the beginning may be skipped. And depending on the size of the publishing house, there may be one, several or no acquisitions/publishing board. What I do know is that should anyone say “no/pass,” then it’s game over. It’s a wonder that anything ever gets published.

Okay, so that, in a very long nutshell, is what happens up to the point of sale. The aftermath — the editing that occurs in-house, the release date, sales, publicists, marketing, etc., is the icing stress that really, really varies.

Also, I know that as much info as I’ve tried to give, clearly, it’s not enough. There’s never enough answers to an aspiring writer, I’ve found. But, there are resources. I love Absolutewrite.com. I love Backspace (bksp.org). I love pubrants.blogspot.com (from an agent’s point of view). These forums will have topics on anything you could possibly wonder. And if not, you can always pitch the question. Hell, if you really want, feel free to pitch me a question, and I’ll do my best to answer or point you in the right direction. Just give me four months or so. ☺

* Disclaimer: there are, of course, many exceptions to these steps. You might be Paris Hilton’s Chihuahua, for example, or Tila Tequila, and have an automatic in. In fact, publishers likely came running to you to get your awesomeness immortalized in print. But if you were not born a pampered Taco Bell dog or have shot to MySpace/MTV superstardom by being an exhibitionist leprechaun, then you will need to follow these steps.

** This post only relates to fiction. I can’t speak on non-fiction or poetry or anything else. The motormouth in me would very much like to, but I’d be making things up.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tall, Dark and Handsome. Size 0 Supermodel. Hot? Meh. Not So Much.

I’m not what you’d call a fan of Jessica Simpson. I think her music is garbage. I think that the reality show she did with Nick Lachey was an embarrassing pile of excrement. I think she’s a curse on the Cowboys. And her acting — Lord, I’ve seen porn stars take better stage direction. So, I was kind of surprised to find how defensive I was on her behalf recently when everyone from Fox News to Perez Hilton blasted her for having gained a few pounds. For calling her a moo cow and worse. It made me bristle at these sideline spectators for criticizing a woman who, while clearly not a rocket scientist or an Oscar contender, is an objectively beautiful woman. Even with a bit more meat on them bones. Even if she were to add a whole lot more meat on them bones.

Why on earth is Simpson’s size news? Who cares? Does her public identification with beauty entitle society to dog on her for gaining weight? Even when it’s so much more forgiving of an actress like, say, Kate Winslet, whose primary worth is in her thespian skills and not her Good-God-She’s-Gorgeous-ness? Apparently, Simpson’s “lost” a bit of what made her famous in the first place. And unfortunately for her, hotness is a quality that we, as a generally non-hot society, revile publicly and covet secretly. Which is perhaps why her having “lost”* some of it gives us fodder and permission to revel in collective Schadenfreude. And to be disappointed by it. It’s that incongruous duality, plus, perhaps, an extension of self — of projecting our own wants onto an individual— that causes commentators to grab onto nonsense like her increasing, leather pants-clad assage and call it current events. Why they excoriate her so viciously. So gleefully.

I don’t know. It may just be that people are shit.

But all of this made me think of physical beauty. And its more interesting cousin, physical attraction. What makes a person beautiful? What makes a person desirable? Can these qualities be measured? Be plotted on a graph and scientifically determined? Pick up a book, and chances are that the heroine will be pretty at the very least, described as beautiful or striking or some synonym to that effect. Its hero, more often than not, will be tall, dark and handsome. The hot guy that the cute heroine will fall for. Why? Well — because. I mean, let’s be real. Physical beauty is currency. It’s power. It’s a doorway to opportunities otherwise foreclosed. It’s forgiveness amplified. Leniency commodified. It sells. It attracts. This is America. That’s how it works.

But it’s also incredibly boring. To me, at least. And because this is my blog, I get to talk about what I think is attractive. And I’ll tell you, it has nothing to do with how one’s features line up on the face. Or how chiseled one’s abs are. Frankly, I couldn’t care less. What I do care about — what I notice right away — is how a person’s smile will light up a room, how it will change the air instantly. It’s what drew me to my husband in the first place, what made him absolutely arresting even though he’s short and fat and has terrible taste in clothes. I notice the way a person moves, the confidence and purpose and economy of her steps. I notice the merriment in one’s eyes, the friendliness of a wink, the warmth of a look. I gravitate immensely and immediately toward a hearty laugh, one that conveys in all of its magnanimousness how much a person delights in the funny. And if someone can make me laugh, that right there is 95% — the embodiment of intelligence and mental quickness and cleverness and the ability to pinpoint the absurd. It’s the intrinsic nature of a person that I find so appealing, one’s generosity of spirit and heart, his or her empathy and kindness. Her talent and ambition and ability and drive, his easygoingness and affection and desire to be a better human being. It’s all of these things that make the outside completely irrelevant. And completely beautiful. Take some of these qualities away, and I’ll never find that person attractive.

So, to Jessica Simpson, who I still think is a not-so-great singer or actor or shoe designer or comedian, who I will likely mock in the future for the idiot things that you say and do, take heart that you are nonetheless a beautiful woman, not because of what you look like, but because of the kind things you do, the caring words you utter, the empathy you show for others. No matter how much weight you gain.


* I put “lost” in quotes because I reject wholesale that a woman larger than a size 00 can’t be beautiful or hot or gorgeous or anything else. And I don’t agree that a woman who is a size 00 is disgusting or necessarily skeletal or worthy of contempt, either. She may just be small. An elf, say.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Insomnia—Oh, Sleep, One Day, I Will Find You and Make You Mine. Or Maybe Not.

I once read a magazine questionnaire where the interviewer asked random celebrities how they sleep. Some answered with what they wear to bed — the fluffy flannels and sexy nothings and bedazzled eye masks and whatnot. Others shared their rituals pre-sleep — yoga, meditation, Bible-reading, drinking a full glass of water (really?) and so on. My favorite answer, though, came from Tom Ford, who said that he lays in his bed, awake for six hours, and then gets up. Now, I love Tom Ford for a number of reasons (as the creative director for Gucci, he made the brand awesome again; he’s got a brilliant line of his own now; he’s ridiculously easy to ogle). But his response made me like him even more because I was so acutely able to identify with his answer. So much so, in fact, that I would’ve become a fan of his had I not already been, based on that one quality alone.

On average, I sleep about three hours a night. Often, I sleep less. A lot less. And when the moon goes blue or when Hell’s temperature dips a degree, I sleep more (I couldn’t tell you the last time I slept a full eight hours). That’s not to say that I’m up and about and putting words to my Work-In-Progress or drafting brilliant legal briefs or even catching up on this blog. No, I’m in bed in the pitch dark, letting my mind spin. Day job, family, the WIP, TV shows, current events, what I’m going to wear tomorrow, what we need for the house, the inexplicable popularity of Rachael Ray and overextension of Ryan Secrest, the Supreme Court Justices, in descending order of judicial conservativeness…

Absurd, isn’t it? My husband often asks why I can’t just shut it down for the night and think about things tomorrow in the shower or at work or on the toilet like a normal human bean. Why I can’t focus on sleep with the same intensity as I have for the thousand goals I tend to during the day. Frankly, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s stress or worry or simply the fact that I come from a family of non-sleepers. Maybe it’s a curse that afflicts some of us the same way that diabetes or hypertension or male pattern baldness smites others.

What I do know is that the effects of lack of sleep aren’t that far off from those of drunkenness. That my reflexes are too slow when they shouldn’t be; that they overcompensate and accelerate when a situation requires a steady hand. I know that my emotional antennae perk into overdrive, causing a moderately humorous situation to feel like hilarity on crank, or a nominally disappointing moment to feel like hopeless despondency. I know that unexpected kindness breaks my heart as violently as an unkind word does, that frustration might as well be the same thing as anger, and anger jealousy.

Or my senses shut down altogether, slow time and space so that I feel lethargic and apathetic. So that I feel like a spectator in this game of life, given a front seat to the happenings around me, even as they involve me. If you’ve ever suffered from insomnia, maybe you know what I’m talking about, this detachment that allows you to see everything, but not permit you to react or respond. This notion that you’ll tuck everything away and ponder them at three a.m. with a bit more clarity, only to find that you can’t make sense of it then. That you’re too busy wondering if you’re starting to go insane.

It’s horrible, this inability to sleep. One for which I’ve not yet found a remedy (believe me, I’ve tried. Tylenol PM. Benadryl. NyQuil. Chamomile. Valerian. Tryptopham. A little bit of bourbon. A lot of bit of bourbon. First Chronicles. Second Chronicles. Combos of all of the above. For reasons I won’t go into, I really don’t want to try prescription drugs).

But here’s the kicker. For all the crap that is insomnia — and it would be a huge disservice to ever discount its nefariousness — I don’t really mind it. I’ve gotten used to it, I suppose. Or maybe I’m eternally optimistic, a perpetual ball of Sonshine as a lot of my friends call me, able to see the positive aspects of it. I appreciate the visceral nature of hypersensitivity. The tools that it provides to feed the emotions of my novels, the words and scenes that paint in detail exactly what my characters are going through. The empathy necessary to give a character depth and substance and a real emotive quality. And in the same vein of that sunny optimism, I find that for every one negative, overly dramatic event I experience, I find at least twenty-five silly things to delight and bask and revel in. Maybe it’s why I’m constantly laughing. And why my writing, which often deals with serious subjects, has a whole hell of a lot of funny in it.

Which leads me to my final point. And perhaps the most important one. Sleep deprivation imparts a strange freedom, the “I’m so tired, I don’t give a shit” kind of attitude that allows me to write as if no one is watching. As if no one is judging. I can let my story go the way it was meant to, on instinct and intuition and the gut impression I had from the start. For me, there’s something dissatisfying about a novel that is too careful, too formulaic, too afraid to offend, one that an author might have drafted with her editors and publishers and audience in mind. Not that I’m immune to these, of course. And I certainly don’t mean that I’m uninterested in my audience. But there’s an authenticity inherent in abject honesty, and with authenticity comes the natural ability to identify with the writing, with the characters and their situations. It’s that connection, I think, that causes me to remember books years after I've read them, to recall how a particular made-up person felt so real. How a figment of an author’s imagination was able to transform my perspective, and perhaps my life.

Hell, to be able to do that — yeah, I’ll take a sleepless night or two. I'll even take ten thousand.