A few years ago, The Duchess decreed that we would take a trip to Paris, as wives are wont to do. I was, of course, powerless against her wishes, despite the fact that my own desire to visit the City of Lights hovered around zero – nothing against the city, of course; I’m just unconvinced that it matters whether I visit or not, and I can be overcharged for things by rude people right here in the New York City metro area. Still , Jeff merely pawn in game of life, so I started making my preparations for the trip, which included learning some French. I have a personal rule that states I must at least have some grasp of the language of the country I am traveling to. I will not be one of those American tourists who runs around saying “English, motherfucker: Do you speak it!??!”
I worked on French for months. I do not have a brain designed for foreign languages, so this was a struggle, but I did manage to learn at least basic French, enough to get by on. Proudly, I went to Paris with my wife … and promptly choked. Every time I tried to use my French, I screwed it up. Mispronounced things. Forgot words and phrases. Every attempt ended with a sardonic Parisian asking me if I was American, then speaking in English. Slowly, as if to a retarded boy.
I am not a Performer.
Some people thrive on the Performance, the pressure of having to do something in front of other people on demand. Some writers are like this. They can elevator-pitch a story to an editor in the middle of a conversation, they can sell an idea. I’ve never been good at that. I much prefer to keep my ideas to myself and then reveal them when I feel more confident, when I have something more or less complete and more or less coherent.
The downside to this, of course, is that sometimes you only find out that people think your idea is crap after you’ve spent 300 hours and tons of energy on developing it. This can be a bit of a kick in the balls. Believe me, it’s happened to me. I once wrote an entire novel based on a vague conversation with an editor only to have that editor send it back with a dead rat in a box. True story. Figuratively.
You have to work with what you’ve got. I know I’ll never be the guy who can make you want to read a book of mine based solely on my passionate pitch:
YOU: So, what’s the new book gonna be about? Vampires? Sluts? SLUTTY VAMPIRES?
ME: Well, um, I had this, er, idea, after eating too much Chinese Food and drinking too much whiskey – which, you know, never ever eat Chinese Food with whiskey it DOES NOT go together well AT ALL – and so I had this idea, where this guy, like nothing he does feels right to him, you know, like people tell him something’s fun and he tries it and it isn’t fun at all it’s awful and he eats things people tell him to eat and he hates it and stuff like that and slowly he starts to realize this is because everyone is lying to him all the time and oh! I forgot about the aliens.
ME: Yeah! They sing. And that’s pretty much it.
ME: I’ll let myself out.
YOU: Yeah, I can’t even look at you right now.
Oh well. When I do finish a book and deliver it to folks, I usually get at least 85% the reaction I want. Which isn’t bad! The point is, sometimes I’m pretty sure the idea, diffuse and vague in my head, is actually pretty good, it’s just my inability to speak it coherently that’s the problem. My inability to speak coherently has been a problem since I was 13, actually. Which, coincidentally is the year I discovered liquor. Funny, that.