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January 18, 2006

My Cat Ate My Novel

My Cat Ate My Novel

by Susan, Thinking Excuses Are the Way to Go

So with all that’s going on in the world—the mayor of New Orleans remarking that last year’s hurricanes meant God was mad at us (didn't Pat Robertson already use that one?); Hilary Clinton saying the House is run like a plantation; boys in Florida beating up and killing homeless men for kicks; and William Shatner selling a kidney stone to raise money for charity (ick!)—I figured I’d tackle a truly serious subject, one that’s near and dear to my heart, being that I’m now officially 13 days from my already-extended deadline with plenty still to go on this fourth Deb book and THE LONE STAR LONELY HEARTS CLUB due out January 31 (hmm...a freaky coincidence?).

Let’s talk about excuses.

Those lovely phrases that bide you time, get you out of a jam, prolong the inevitable just a wee bit longer.

What I’m fishing for is a little help from all the brilliant readers of The Lipstick Chronicles, because I’m not good at making up excuses.  I’ve always been Little Miss Perfect, getting projects done by their due dates if not sooner.

Case in point, last August when I lunched with my editor and agent in New York, the conversation went much like this:

Editor:  “Susan’s always early with everything!”

Agent:  “I know.  If she did things any faster I’d think she was a…a…”

Me:  “Robot?”

Agent:  “Yes, a robot.  Thank you.”

I’m normally the kind of worker who makes other workers resentful, disgusted, envious. 

But I’ve come a long way, baby.  With this fourth Deb book, I’m earning a new reputation for myself, people are whispering behind my back that I’m—gulp—human.

I know.  It's frightening.

A good many folks were starting to think I was the Energizer Bunny, battery-operated or at least fueled by broccoli crunch salad (thank you, Whole Foods, ‘cuz without you I’d starve).  All the whining I’ve been doing about too much going on and being distracted while I write NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB has friends and family—and everyone within earshot—grinning as they witness the crashing of yours truly off her Pedestal of Punctuality.

What’s that?  You say you heard the thunk, Ms. Nancy?  All the way in Pittsburgh? 

Honestly, it’s kind of a relief, like getting gum out of your hair.  I can breathe more easily, knowing the people around me will, perhaps, stop expecting so much from me.  They realize now that I’m not Superwoman.  I’m a big old stressball with too much on her plate, just like everyone else.

Anyway, back to the excuses.

Could you help me come up with some good ones, just in case I need a few more days (or a week) beyond my deadline extension to finish up this book?

I did find some online but they mostly involved missing work.  And, since I work from home, those just won’t do, but I wanted to share my favorites with you:

"I'm too drunk to drive to work."

Wow, what a classic!  I know a few people who should definitely write this one down, as they might be able to use it.

“I accidentally flushed my keys down the toilet."

Oh-ho!  That’s hilarious.  Would a boss really buy that?

“My boyfriend's snake got loose and I'm afraid to leave the bedroom until he gets home."

His snake got loose?  My gawd, the double entendres you could squeeze out of that one!

“I'm too fat to get into my work pants."

Beautiful!  Not a lie either, if you’ve been into the Haagen-Daz and Ho-Hos the night before.

“The ghosts in my house kept me up all night."

This one probably works for psychics, like the chick from “Medium.”

“My cow bit me."

Ouch, that can hurt!  Ha ha.

“I was watching a guy fixing a septic pump, fell in the hole and hurt myself."

Harley, this one's yours, isn't it?  It sounds so familiar.  Hmmm.

“I was walking my dog and slipped on a toad in my driveway and hurt my back."

I hate when that happens!  Darned toads.

For now, I’ll have to stick with, “My cat ate my novel.”  Well, if you knew Maxwell the Kitty (aka Mad Max, the Master of Disaster, Osama bin Rotten), you’d believe it.




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Those are pretty good excuses. I'll lend you my absolute favorite, courtesy of a student who wrote, excusing her absence from lab, that her "dumb" (quotation marks in the original) boyfriend had shot himself in the head with a crossbow while practicing for deer season.

The best part, really, was the quotation marks around "dumb."

FWIW, allowing yourself to be human is a really Good Thing in the long run. Enjoy it :)

Mad Max ran across my keyboard effectively reprogramming all Word documents into a Swahili dialect, while the printer has decided it likes the Wingdings Fonts for a change of pace. Microsoft Tech Support was attempting to correct the problem, but then the power went out on my block.

I resorted to writing longhand until the power was restored, but the only available writing instrument I could only find a permanent marker. The combination of the fumes from the marker and the fresh bottle of white-out quickly overwhelmed me causing me to pass out. I hit my head on the desk when I lost consciousness, and this caused short-term memory loss.

How about, I'm seeking perfection. My eyes wandered over a story about that on Yahoo! this morning, that perfectionists are hampered by themselves. Anyway, it's a perfect excuse because what is your editor going to say? Oh, we don't want perfection. Just hand in the damn thing.
Anyway, I am suspicious of deadlines. In my experience, I rush to meet them only to find that my overworked editor of the moment can't get around to reading my much-in-demand manuscript for another two weeks.
What's up with that?

Susan, I'm still reeling from the image of a robot with gum in her hair, munching on Broccoli Crunch Salad.
I find that simplicity in excuses is dull, but effective: "I just gave birth to twins" got me a long way. My best friend found that "My mother just died" is also really good.
Of course, the word "just" is elastic. Who's to say that what the statute of limitations on these events should be?

Susan, isnt the E key broken on your computer? if not, could it be?

Wow, you guys are great! Keep 'em coming.

Nancie, that sounds exactly like an excuse I'd actually use, because I'm too wordy to do something brief, although I'm considering Harley's "I just had twins"...only I think my editor might be suspicious about that one. She could ask for proof, like photos, or something. Though I could always borrow from Harley, right?

Kerry, you're right. Being human is a very good thing. I'm getting used to it. Now if I could also do the "be patient" thing, too, I'd be on a roll.

Sarah, the perfectionism excuse would obviously suit me well, and it is the reason I can't just do a messy first draft more quickly then go back and fix it. I have to fix as I write, which tends to bog me down sometimes if I find a lot I need to change in earlier parts of the book.

Halli, I bliv you'v got somthing thr. Wow, how can I writ without th "" ky? Mayb I should quit now and tak a vacation. Hmmm.

Excuses ? Uh...let's see. "My appendix just burst" is a good one, but you can only use it once (although it did come in real handy a few Thanksgivings ago)
Or there's the old 'Sucked-back-to-the-Mothership' standby - or any variation using alien abduction and body cavity probes.
How 'bout, "I was cleaning out my closet, and ended up in this freaky place with four Brit kids and a talking lion. Why they thought I was a Witch..."
I actually *did* have an employee, who called in late one time because their D&D game was running late and he didn't want to lose his 'Magic Powers'. Can you say, "Employee of the Month"?
See if Sarah will let you use this one - "My pelvis just separated, and I can't find the missing piece." ouch - Sorry, Sarah. How are you feeling, by the way ? Let us know. We may be sickos - but we care.

If Harley's not forthcoming with twin photos, I can supply you with some. Even have the sonogram shots, for versimilitude. "I'm pregnant with twins, and barfing up everything I've eaten since 1974" might even work.

Cornelia, that's perfect! I might take you up on it. Here's hoping my editor doesn't read TLC and get hip to my plans. ;-)

The one I'm planning to use if this current monstrosity takes me any longer is "My critique partner died midway through the book."

It's actually true (and although it's morbid, my friend would have been the first one to say it was also very funny), so I figure that instead of being criticized for being late, I'll get bonus points for having soldiered through the turmoil to finish the book at all. If I present it in the right way, I may even be able to generate the sounds of violins on the soundtrack to gain even more sympathy.

(And in case anyone's wondering, it was a particularly fast form of cancer, not having to read my awful book, that was fatal. I'm the one that the book will eventually kill. And yes, I do have a bad habit of dealing with things through humor.)

'I was about to finish it, but then I saw something sparkly.' (Like, say, these: http://couture.zappos.com/n/p/dp/8264373/c/3.html )

Ooh, sparkly.

Shanna- Does that mean you get an automatic A, like if your roommate dies in college?

Daisy, the "ooh, sparkly" thing would probably work, as would, "Joe Elliott called and asked me to travel with the band for a few months." My editor likely would believe either.

Shanna, if only I had a collaborator! I can't even blame a live one, much less...um, the other. (BTW, I'm so sorry! Seriously, how awful.)

I'm so impressed by the creativity of this group. I'm making notes. Really. Y'all almost scare me with your ingenuity.

How about one of the following:

"I had to bail Margie out of jail."

"I have food poisoning." It's good if you have to hang up right away, then call back five minutes later sounding putrid. Repeat if necessary.

"My period is so heavy I can't leave the house." Unfortunately, for we women of a certain decade, this one's real. Plus, once you bring up anything connected to the female reproductive system and blood, people just don't want to hear one more syllable, and will just give you what you want so you will stop talking about it.

Wow, these are good. I, unfortunately, don't have anything to add.

Except that hanging out here looking for good excuses isn't getting your book done any faster.

The Enternal Slave Drivers
Of Others

Oh, hey, and if they don't buy bailing Margie out of jail, how about explaining that Hazel is having a hard time adjusting your aura properly because the moon just entered Virgo yesterday and she can't find a good topaz to use. When you add that the sun enters Aquarius on Friday and the Celtic Tree Month of Rowan begins on Saturday, well, shoot -- no wonder you can't get anything done!

(Can you tell that my darling husband buys me a Llewellen's witche's date book for Christmas every year??).

Oh, man, I'm so glad I'd swallowed that chug of water before I read the latest comments. Kathy and Kerry, y'all are evil geniuses. Can I put you on my speed-dial for excuse emergencies?

Mark, aka Eternal Slave Driver of Others...but, dude, what's my BRIBE? My dangling carrot? I need something to aim for. Like, a trip to a spa? Oprah's chef for a week? Something sparkly??? C'mon, snap to it!

How about a gas leak?

Once you realized the gas was leaking you hurried out of the house without any of your writing materials. Unfortunately, the gas company hasn't been able to find the leak, so you haven't been able to get back in your house for days! Of course you could try and write without your materials, but then, instead of finishing the book you were working on, you'd probably end up with half of another book! In this case, two halves do not equal a whole!

Lisa, you're brilliant! I am so impressed with the insightful and highly imaginative minds out there. If I could just harness all your brain power, I could have this danged book done in two days!

A few more:

Ants got in and built a nest in your router.

If you finish the book on time, the terrorists will have won.

Too disturbed by the set of coat hangers with Nichole Ritchie's face on the cover of this month's Lucky to write.

"Susan? Quien es Susan? Lo siento, no hablo inglais."


This is by far my favorite! Does that make me twisted?

I meant the terrorists will have won line. Mr. Typepad doesn't like me today!

I think I'm going to co-author (with who else but James Frey) a novel disguised as a memoir called EXCUSES I HAVE KNOWN AND LOVED and include all of these, because they're hilarious! Y'all are totally twisted, thank God. Ooooh, Daisy, I thought the same thing when I got the latest Lucky. Does she not gaze in the mirror and say, "I look like a lollipop?" Someone needs to do an intervention.

Our dinner-table conversation often includes suggestions that my children use that “terrorists will win” line for their homework. Or for my running a “pink” light. Or for our not buying Turkey Hill Black Raspberry Ice Cream and Double Stuff Oreos. Or no one taking the dog out.

It’s an “all-occasion” excuse.

Um, Josh, what's a "pink" light? When it's not quite red? Or do you live in a place with pastel traffic signals. Sounds lovely.

That's apparently a term used in Cleveland, and I think it means a red light that I don't want to admit is a red light.

That was a joke, by the way. Since a car looking like mine with my license plate got that $75 ticket from a camera in 2002, I don't run red lights, on penalty of getting rear-ended.

I'm seriously giggling now -- daisy, that terrorist line is perfect! I'm going to share it with my family. I'm going to use it for everything.

Well, Susan, the last time I believe I bribed you by promising to read one of your books. Will that work again?

Of course, I'd have to buy it first. Even more motivation?

Josh, here we call those orange lights. Half way between yellow and red.

Mr. Obvious

Mark, you drive a hard bargain, buddy. Okay, yes, I'll finish this book if you'll read the new one when it comes out. Tho' I can't guarantee #4 will be turned in by the time that happens. So cut me some slack. I'm a crazed woman with a cat who eats manuscripts. (Actually, he can delete things and page down without warning.)

Shouldn't I read #2 before I read the new one?


Well, yeah, I guess you should. Although you don't have to. My series is surprisingly flexible. Still, I don't want you to skip GOOD GIRL, if you've already got it. So, okay, do the second before the third. (I'm such a Libra.)

I don't have it. That's part of your reward. I'll buy and read the second one, increasing your royalty from that book.

Yes, I have so much power with one little purchase.

I also controll the universe.

Off to live with my delisions.


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