Tuesday, July 26, 2011


At 6:45 this morning it was cool enough, 70°, that I was able to run my 3 miles.  I needed it; this heat wave has kiboshed my exercise regimen: over 80° every morning.  I recorded my time, changed, and by 7:30 was outside in front of the pool, muscling the second half of my scene-by-scene outline for my latest novel, Vaccine Nation, with Styles, our pit bull, sharing half the lounge chair.  I had at least a few hours to work before the landscapers, a hoarde with weed whackers, leaf blowers and lawnmowers, would drive me inside from the two-cycle engine fumes and noise.  I'm halfway through the book at about 40,000 words.  Writing before I’ve finished the detailed outline of the whole book is an unusual way for me to work.  But months ago I had my benchmark critical points in the outline thought through, planned out all the scenes in the first half and wanted to get writing.  I've gone back to some of my old movies for ideas on structure, but I've still struggled with some holes in the second half of my story.

By late morning I'd made good progress with my outline, so I came back inside and dictated about 1,500 words into my Dragon voice-to-text software on my computer; critical scenes in chapters 9 and 10.  A decent day’s work.  At about 12:30 I walked into the kitchen.

Manette and Zac were walking back up Summit Avenue with Styles when they saw Peter mowing his lawn across the street.  He waved, made a display of shutting off the mower to emphasize the importance of the moment, known only to him, and started toward them, boney legs in shorts, glasses askew in his haste, his work gloves now in hand.  Manette was thinking Peter had obviously written something new he wanted to tell us about.  She watched him work his way through traffic across Summit Avenue like Woody Allen dodging lobsters while in pursuit of Diane Keaton in Annie Hall.  They talked for ten minutes, then Manette invited him for coffee.  He looked back at his idle lawnmower and said, "Just a little,” displaying an inch and a half between two fingers.

We’re currently reading Peter’s third-person memoir of his now-respectable friend, Santo, who wants to tell his saga, yet keep his distance from his Soprano-esque upbringing on the mean streets of Jersey City and Newark.  Santo’s story is told in independent vignettes, so shocking and starkly real that we know Peter didn't make them up because you can't make up stuff like that.  Santo relates each vignette to Peter over coffee at Starbucks one at a time, and then Peter goes to the public library to channel Santo longhand onto the page as clearly as he can remember. I'm helping Peter prepare the memoir for uploading a dozen vignettes at a time into Kindle.  Peter and his wife, Felicia, are successful, traditionally published children's book authors and illustrators.  Peter is also the guy who came up with a now famously ubiquitous ad campaign (Got Peter?).  So Peter and Felicia still do stints of advertising work for selected clients.  And Peter writes things that come into his head, as they come into it, like a dark children's book about scheming squirrels that plot to take over Easter (it ends badly for the Easter Bunny).  Like another book I'm helping him upload into Kindle, with the working title "Snapper," about a giant snapping turtle that terrorizes a town.  I can't figure out if it's young adult, paranormal or just creepy.

When I walked into the kitchen, Peter, Manette and Zac were seated around the marble-topped island.  I noted Peter’s shabby shorts, T-shirt and the fact he hadn't shaved.  Then I remembered my own appearance and smiled to myself.  When Manette offered coffee, Peter said, "No, really, I can't stay," and continued talking.  Zac prepared the coffee—we keep fresh-ground beans from Whole Foods wrapped in plastic in the freezer and use a French press—and the kitchen filled with the aroma of Brazil.  Peter's eyes went wide as Manette pulled out our "Abner" heavy cream, almost as thick as sour cream, prepared from raw, unpasteurized milk.  Abner is an Amish farmer who ships the stuff down from upstate New York once a week to our food guild.  "Well, maybe just a little coffee," Peter said, again showing an inch and a half between two fingers.  Manette poured him a full cup and he loaded two luxurious spoonfuls of Abner cream into it.  We talked about Santo’s memoir, Vaccine Nation, "Snapper" and other things.  Forty-five minutes later Peter asked if Manette's cell phone could make outgoing calls (he and Felicia don’t have a TV, on behalf of the kids—although they do love Mad Men and watch it on DVD—but Peter has a cell phone, so I don't know why he asked the question) and left a message for Felicia saying he'd be home in a few minutes.  He refilled his coffee cup, added more Abner cream. We kept talking.

Another forty-five minutes later Peter stood up and said, "I need to get home.  I think I'm probably in trouble."  As we stood saying our goodbyes, Peter launched into a description of another story he's writing, about a futuristic society where everyone is dumbed-down by taking some pill every day, and the quest of his hero to burst out of it.  He slowed down for a few moments and then got more animated, his eyes going wide behind his glasses, arms circling and hands gesturing.  "Have you finished this?" Manette asked at one point about fifteen minutes into the story.  I smiled to myself, knowing by that point Peter was making it up as he went along, because that was how he worked.

After I finished my coffee I went back to my outlining.