the after party

(image courtesy Quinn Dombrowski)

This is me, writing:  

Aha!  Hunched over, fingers flying ticticaticatic over the keys, it’s hot in here and I’m on fire, sizzling, the epitome of a supercharged poet, burning literary rubber, Kerouac’s got nothing on me, and the words can’t flow fast enough through my fingers, and then (oh, shit, oh, no, don’t do it) I look at the screen–

What? What the hell is that? Oh no no no, that’s not right— not right at all–

–and the sizzle turns to hiss.

The following chapter is what I call a “false start” (when I’m in a good mood. When I’m not, it’s something that starts with an “f “or an “s”).  If I were a mother cat and this was my twisted newborn kitten, I would have eaten it by now.  For some reason, here at the end of my novel, I felt moved to write from a completely new perspective, that of a heartless outsider. Why did I do this? Maybe I needed to exorcise some demon. Perhaps I’m having difficulty ending the story. Maybe it took me 30 chapters to finally get this snarky voice out of my head. But instead of deleting it nice and clean, I’m posting it here so we can share a little chuckle.  

Do you ever have false starts?  How long does it take before you realize you’re headed in the wrong direction?  How do you depose your inner snark?  

*

The afterparty is held in an exclusive, trendy spot with a bar at the center and table–filled nooks carved out along the edges of the room. The low ceiling offers the illusion of intimacy; sculptural lights dangle like jewels and cast a scarlet flush that catches on the curls and facets of well-coiffed heads, glossy lips and smiles so white they glow in the dark.  The room is studded with little clusters of people having private parties in a public place; smiling like they know, sipping drinks, holding poses.  An occasional voice rises above the others, strident or clever, mocking or nebbish, and others follow with gratuitous laughter.  The stars are on fire tonight. They blaze like suns.  Even the minor characters have been scrubbed and polished to a dull luster.  It is a beautiful display—as a group they have achieved a critical mass that elevates them all, unites them all with a frisson of self-satisfaction. 

Cameras flicker and flash, benign explosions exposing the details of faces, mostly Mae Beacon’s.  She stands at the center of a crowd holding a champagne flute in one hand and what seems to be an imaginary pen in the other.  She is telling some fabulous-looking story, making grandiose flourishes in the air with her pen, pausing now and then for the laughter.  Look at her.  Just look.  She has them eating out of her hand.  They would bark like dogs if she asked them to.  How could anyone manage to be so bewitching and charming and young at the same time?  What makes her so special?  If we could get a little closer, we might see.  We might discover the trick up her sleeve.  We could expose her, copy her, reach out and touch her, give her a good pinch to see if she’s real, maybe even make some money off of her, right?  Of course I’m joking, darling. Anyway, she’s surrounded by a tight-knit crowd, a tight and jealous bunch with their backs turned to the rest of us.  However, you will be interested to note that her composer friend is not at her side; guess he was just background music in the end. Ha, ha!  In his place stands a bookish boy wearing a beautiful vintage Italian suit.  Who is he?  People want to know.   

Lang Westwood, the famous indie avant-garde director, is deep in discussion with a select group of important people at a table on the edge of the room.  Many people would let themselves be chewed up and spit out if they could just be a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of that table.  Baz Bogard the producer is doing all the talking, probably discussing Deep Water or maybe his next project.  They say Westwood will only consider local projects for the next five years so her kid can graduate from high school.  Isn’t that nice? What a woman.  I suppose if she wins the awards, she can afford to sacrifice.  Sources say that Westwood and Mae had something going on in Louisiana but if they did it must be done since they haven’t even glanced in each other’s direction.  Svengali, anyone?  Oh, please.  

Sitting at Westwood’s side is a dark-haired woman in a red dress whom art connoisseurs will recognize as a famous painter although I can’t quite remember her name.  She paints flowers or women, something like that.  It’s on the tip of my tongue…. oh well, they say she’s very talented but she does not seem charmed by the conversation.  The others lean forward while she leans back in her chair, gazing around the room with those dark, curious eyes.  Restless eyes, that’s what they are; they wander all over the room.  She looks like she must be a handful.  Oh, wait– there it is– Westwood just took her by the hand.  Now they’re looking at each other and smiling.  They must be in love.  How perfectly nice for them both.  It will never last. 

If you know your stuff, you can tell who really belongs and who had to pay to get in.  There’s the guy who played Mae’s romantic lead, Peyton Hoydyn, with three “y’s” and one arm clamped firmly around the thing with mounds of cleavage.  Not bad.  And there’s the composer in the corner talking with the tiny woman who played the piano in the film.  Ava Gibbon the heiress/celebrity is here, of course, because she always shows up, and Mann Bradley the celebrity/reporter-of-the-stars, too, but that hot French actress won’t be here since she just had a baby.  

Speaking of babies I almost forgot to mention they say she’s going to have one.  Yes, Mae Beaon. No kidding.  Not by adoption–she’s doing it the old fashioned way.  Can you tell?  See how she presses one hand against her stomach?   Look at that cat-who-ate-the-canary look on her face.  Wonder if that’s real champagne in that glass she’s drinking.  Inquiring minds need to know.

Isn’t this fun?  Are we having fun yet?  Do I look like I’m having fun?  But nobody’s here for fun although it is always a pleasure doing business and if you pretend hard enough, something might come true.  You never know!  Look at that manic mouse working the room; he jumps from group to group, asserting himself; our self-appointed host, I presume.  He must be the writer, probably the first writer on credit, then someone else was hired to cut the fat, then someone else to make it actor-friendly.  Nip and tuck, chop chop!  A skinny script with plenty of white space, that’s the ticket. 

At the table over there they’re serving Cajun hors d’ouvre, fried oysters and hushpuppies, that kind of thing.  New Orleans is hot these days, very hot.  Nothing like a mardi gras or a natural disaster to bring people together, you know.  All the rubberneckers crawl out of the woodwork, attracted like flies to meat, moths to flame.  The next best thing to finding yourself is losing yourself, you know.  But the crab cakes are divine and whatever you do, don’t forget your swag bag on your way out.

About girl in the hat

aka Anna Fonté, writer of novels, short stories, personal essays, and bits about the neighborhood crows. The things I write want you to look at them.

29 comments

  1. Thank you for your candour, and for sharing things you are not happy with. Actually, I quite like the ‘false start’. Might not be suitable as an ending to your novel, but it could be the start of a wonderful friendship… sorry, I meant short story!

  2. Marc Schuster

    I have false starts all the time! Some go for a hundred pages or more. Characters who never really do anything. Subplots that never really go anywhere. But I save them all. Optimistically, I’d say these passages might come in handy someday. Even if I don’t use them, though, they at least serve as a reminder that I can always back up and start a passage, chapter, or book over again.

    • Good to know I’m not the only one.
      My husband and I joke that if you have too much good stuff cluttering your home, you should put it in the garage and wait a year and then, voila! Open the box and you will find a bunch of crap that can go straight into the garbage. Maybe it works the other way, too– put the crap in the closet and one day, it might turn into treasure? (I’m an optimist, too.)

  3. Hi Anna. This is a nice write. I was able to visualize the scene very well from your prose. And bringing it all around to New Orleans and not a typical Hollywood feel was a nice touch. And speaking of New Orleans, my latest post features a scene from the city. Check it out.

  4. My entire first draft was a false start! You got off easy, my friend.

    (This is actually kind of adorable.)

  5. Anna, perhaps “false” might be the perfect tone for most of the characters gathered here. anyway, write on. continue…

  6. p.s. i better clarify…i surely don’t mean the writing is false…i actually like the piece, and the keen observations it contains. continue…

  7. It’s well written of course (you don’t need me to tell you that) but I sort of see what you mean about its relation to the whole, though I couldn’t possibly see it from your angle as its creator.

    I’m like a previous commenter up there. Lately I’ve kept my false starts in case they come in handy for some purpose. Dialogue, I’ve noticed especially, can be used for different characters depending on how I tweak the specifics. At the moment I have three or four beginnings of 100 word stories, all hanging precariously. It was only last week that I found the story for one begun months ago. What if I’d eaten it right away?

  8. Oh but I do need you to tell me that, Re! Sometimes I’m ludicrously unsure.
    I wish I saved things. I just spent hours looking for a piece that I, in a virtuous and bloody mood, apparently threw in the trash. Now I think I might need it and have to try to write it again from memory, without any of my original inspiration. I think I should try it your way.

  9. False starts? I’m in final revisions on my novel (interesting that several of us seem to be in about the same place). This is version six. And any time I need to remind myself how far I’ve come as a writer, I need only go back and look at versions 1-5 and see how bad they were. The first three are painfully bad.

    • Every time I read something of mine I haven’t seen for awhile, I cringe. I wonder how you know it’s a final version. Every time I think something is done I put it away… then take it out and cringe.

      • Same here, but you have to draw the finish line somewhere. I’ve been through this ms so many times that I start to worry I’m making it worse, not better. And I figure if an agent offers to represent, there will be more changes coming anyway.

  10. I have 3 versions of 3/4 of a novel–does that tell you why I now write tiny stories and scripts and graphic novels? I know it’s not a nice word, but i’m a retard when it comes to writing long form fiction. I obsess over the wrong things. The tone starts changing on me. I think this year i might try NANOWRIMO.

    I don’t know if this helps, but for me, besides starting something new, I hate endings. My solution is to just force myself to end a thing and then go back and edit. I have false starts because I don’t see the project though. I keep stressing how lame my middle is. You mentioned that you are done with the novel. If so, a big congrats! That is amazing.

    If not, NaNoWriMo in November–meet you there.

    g

    • I’m struggling with an ending right now. Was it Capote who said ending a book is like taking a child out back and shooting it? Something like that. (No NaNoWriMo for me, my friend, although I’ve heard it’s quite a challenge. Good luck!)

  11. Everything I write is false until I give it a sharp slap when finished and then (hopefully) the words will shamble into place. I never know how things will end.

    This piece here makes me shudder only because it reminds me of my PR job and some of the parties we’ve put together in the past. I’m usually the one handing out the swag bags, and only certain names can get them and blahblahblah…

    I like your use of adjectives: inventive, but not excessive. The only edit I would suggest is the use of ‘exclusive’ instead of ‘exclusive, trendy’.

    ‘frisson’ and ‘nebbish’ – words that need to be used more often.

  12. As painful as it is, I’ve learned to love false starts — so yea You on this one!! And I mean that whether it’s the false start of a paragraph, or the false start of a chapter or 1/2 a book! (did I really just type that?)

    Yes, I mean it. Still hurts like hell though. ;-)

    • Ouch, for sure. Like marrying the wrong person, or at least sleeping with them. I guess the trick is to leave as soon as you know, but I haven’t quite mastered that one. I keep thinking I can change them!

  13. gailytr

    i rather like your shifting gears that way, a good way to say goodbye to people who are leaving anyway. the farther away you get the more remote they become. what is swag your bag?

    • A swag bag is full of free stuff that they hand out to famous people at fancy events. In exchange for the free endorsement the company might get if you’re seen using their product, I guess.

  14. Oh, I actually liked your false start! The last time I was typing away and finally glanced up at the screen I saw that my fingers had been placed just one key over too far, and I’d typed nothing but gibberish. I had a similar response, ‘what the hell is that?’ followed by words I can’t type here…

  15. Pingback: He Walked the Halls « Abominations

  16. Full circle or cut to black? Some stories are about moments, they
    end where they begin and vice versa. This reminds me of your first
    chapter – arising out of the hollywood hustle and bustle. I know this
    was only a test so I didden’t take it seriously, but your thoughts are
    not illigitment. Often I draw up rough plans for more complex
    secquences in my own stories – they read like play by plays
    from sports anouncers -

    “Some guy shows up to work, takes a wround turn, sees something
    he shouldent – gets called in as a witness – etc – ”

    I woulden’t call them outlines but you get the idea. Perhaps give it some
    time, you got enough stuff here for several great endings weather happy
    poinent or sad – Often I come up with an ending before my story leaves
    the drawing bord – I do this because nothing makes me more nearvous
    then a great story with no ending. RUST was an exception to that rule
    though. The ending is awefully subtle for a sci-fi bit but I’m happy with
    it. RUST is an experience I think, rather then a story – sometimes the
    end isen’t that important, but if you have a good one – and you sure
    seem to – sometimes you’ll find yourself with an ending so good you
    wonder if the rest of story deserves it.

    Sometimes any ending may allow you to can a project – now that all
    the working parts fit together – you can tweek them like knobs. Often
    a few changes are all that is necessery to turn a work around.

    A great ending is a holy grail of mine – it can make a great read into
    the ultimate read. So it’s definatly something to reach for.

    Here are some points of drama to consider -

    illicit affairs –
    secrets –
    passions –

    A lot can come out of these
    and your plot is full of them!

    your story is fertile ground for
    all sorts of drama and explosive
    concequences. I do feel there
    are many interesting endings
    here! Try to enjoy exploring the
    posibilities. :D

  17. Further note –

    Having the storie’s ending
    occur at the after party is
    actually, a pretty neat idea.

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