Okay, so I had a whole thing planned for NaNoWriMo this year. It was looking pretty good – I knew how it would work. Beginning, middle, end. It even had some imagery going on and theme and all sorts. It was looking good. I wrote about 20k of it and my brain just went foom. I couldn’t carry on. It wouldn’t let me. I have this thing where I can write maybe a third or even a half of a draft, if I’m lucky – that’s just straight up, head down, pound those keys and don’t look back.
Then the editor starts growling. Then I start needing to stop, because I don’t want to go on with the middle of the book if the beginning of the book is such an unholy, unedited mess. I can’t figure out continuity or character development or anything if there’s just crap all over the place at the start. It feels like trying to cook a meal in a kitchen that’s already a wreck. I need to know where things are.
So – what to do? Chug along writing total brainvomit or write something less challenging to keep up the word count?
I wish this wasn’t the way my mind worked – for reasons soon to become self explanatory.
It’s Monday. I wake up in a bad novel, shower and hurry to the mirror to describe myself. My hair has dried in a weird shape and I’m supposed to be studying for finals but all I can think about is how my blue eyes are too big for my face and my nose is too small. Damn Katherine Hannigan for subjecting me to this unspecified ordeal – this was supposed to be her interview, but she’s come down with the flu just to spite me and so I’m going to have to go and interview this Crispian Neigh guy. Me – mousy, skinny, long legged, full-lipped me. I don’t even know what to say to a man.
Kate is lying on the couch, self-medicating with a cocktail of blended Scotch and Nyquil. Even with pink edged nostrils and eyes to match she is still way prettier than me. Ugh.
“What happened to your hair?” she coughs. “You look like Barry Gibb circa 1979.”
“Who’s Barry Gibb?” I murmur. She’s more worldly than me too, although not as deep, obviously. “Kate, I don’t think I can go through with this – I don’t know the first thing about interviewing people.”
“Hanna, let’s be honest,” says Kate, sitting up and wiping her nose. “You don’t really know much about anything. In fact, it’s safe to say if I didn’t know any better I’d say you’d been raised in a Skinner box.” She holds up a hand. “And yeah – I know – you don’t know what that is either.”
“I’m not good with men,” I whisper, biting my lip. “I don’t know what to say to them.”
Kate sighs, exasperated. “Look, I wrote you a list of questions. You walk into the room, shake his hand, say ‘Hi, I’m Hannelore Squeal from the student newspaper,’ and try not to faceplant, assplant or fling yourself through a plate glass window, okay?”
“It is for me. I’m so hideously uncoordinated…”
“…like that chick from the teenie vampire books. Yeah. We know, Hanna – we know. You should probably get that looked at – maybe it’s some kind of inner ear thing.”
“But I don’t know anything about Crispian Neigh,” I plead. The words ‘inner ear’ bounce around inside my skull like an annoying narrative device, as yet ephemeral but soon to be given flesh, form and hula skirts. Probably. Every time I say the name ‘Crispian Neigh’ out loud I feel a ripple of foreshadowing and have to sit down with my head between my knees.
“I wouldn’t do this for anyone else but you, Kate,” I say. “You’re my dearest friend – a strong, determined, beautiful, independent woman…”
She waves a hand and flips open her phone. “Hanna – save the plastic sisterhood for your bookclub or your travelling fucking pants or whatever. Can you just go now please?”
As I walk out the door I hear her say “Yo ese, what up? Yeah – she’s gone.” She laughs throatily, so brave in spite of her illness. “Bring the bong. X is a grand old-fashioned drug but man, the comedown is a bitch.”
She’s so sassy. I love her. She’s so tenacious that I know she will make an amazing journalist, even if she is annoyingly pretty. And rich. And sexually liberated. And her breasts are larger than mine. Ugh.
I drive to the headquarters of Crispian Neigh’s global enterprise. It’s a building so large that I need to consult a thesaurus to describe it. After lengthy consideration I settle on ‘edifice’, replace my well-thumbed copy of Roget’s in the glovebox of Wendy, my trusty VW Beetle, and walk trepidatiously (nice) through the soaringly high glass doors of the steel and glass edifice.
Well, I say walk. Actually I fall. I don’t even get six steps across the polished sandstone floor before I trip over my own feet and skid, face down, to an ungracious halt in front of the expansive semi-circular reception desk. Which is also sandstone, by the way. White sandstone. (In case you were wondering.)
“Oh my goodness. Are you okay?” When I look up a blonde head is peering over the edge of the desk at me. The blonde head is attached to a blonde woman and her body is dressed in the sharpest suit and whitest shirt I have ever seen in my life. She is immaculate. Her hair is really tidy too.
“There’s a sign,” she moues apologetically, pointing to the wall behind me. I turn and look and see a yellow sign reading WARNING – FLOOR MAY BE SLIPPERY.
“It’s okay,” I murmur, getting to my feet. “I’m always falling over.”
“Oh,” she says, blinking her long (probably false) eyelashes at me. “Is it an inner ear thing?”
I try not to glare at her and wonder speculatively if blondes like her and Kate have some kind of hive mind thing going on. “No,” I say, trying not to sound snippy. “It’s a minor character trait.”
She quirks an eyebrow as far as her Botox allows. “Looked pretty major to me,” she says. “If you’d slid any faster you’d have cracked your skull on the desk. Are you here to see someone?”
Yes, I think. I’m here to see your boss, so don’t look at me like I’m shit on your shoe, you Barbie. I draw myself up to my full five foot six (Most of which is in my legs – I have really long legs. It’s probably why I’m always falling over and my lankiness is probably why men find me so sexually unappealling, especially when I wear a short skirt.) and say “Yes. I’m here to see Crispian Neigh.”
“Okay,” she half-sneers. “Go take a seat. What did you say your name was again?”
“Hannelore Squeal,” I say, flushing scarlet. “My mother likes European names.”
“You’re not on the list, Ms. Squeal.” She trails the tip of an impeccable black enamel fountain pen down the page as she reads; I suppose at least she doesn’t move her lips too, although she’s probably trained herself not to do that, so as not to wear away her lipgloss too quickly.
“I’m here for Katherine Hannigan,” I explain. “The journalist. She can’t make it – she’s sick.”
Barbie curls her lip. “Some journalist.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, immediately defensive of Kate. Kate is my best friend, even if she does make me do her interviews for her when she knows I’m not good at conversation, or social cues, or anything that isn’t curling up with a book really.
“Well, you know.” Barbie shrugs padded shoulders. “I thought the whole deal with journalism was to ‘Cover the story,’ even if you’re being shot at, chased by the government, sued by Scientologists or just in a self-induced chemical funk so terrible that you’re seeing giant reptiles slithering all over the blood-drenched carpets of a fancy Las Vegas casino bar, but…you know. Whatever. I’m sure Ms. Hannigan knows what she’s doing, careerwise.”
I don’t like her. “Can I have a glass of water?” I ask.
“There’s a cooler,” she says, pointing.
I glare and go to get up, but she waves me back down. “Yeah, on second thoughts stay put,” she mutters. “I don’t want you walking on that floor – you’re a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
“I’m sorry to be so much trouble,” I whisper, staring at my shoes. My face is aflame and I want to die.
When I look up, Barbie catches my eyes and laughs – the kind of bright, merry, carefree laugh that only a blonde can produce. “Oh honey,” she chuckles. “You’re so not sorry – you’re not sorry at all.” She lifts the phone on her desk. “Still or sparkling? Ice or no ice?”
Opposite me, the elevator doors ding open. Blondie replaces the phone without dialling as two men step out of the elevator, one tall, handsome and African-American and the other white, short and somewhat pudgy.
“You gotta keep active, Neigh,” the African-American is saying. “Keep up the movement and you’ll be back on the golf course in no time.”
As he speaks I realise that the other man is none other than Crispian Neigh. I get to my feet to introduce myself, trip over the strap of my satchel and faceplant at his feet.
“This is Ms. Squeal,” explains Barbie. “She’s filling in for Ms. Hannigan, from the student newspaper.”
He looks down at me. Holy crap, he’s so young. He can’t be much more than twenty five. He’s wearing a Hawaiian silk shirt open over a Nickleback t-shirt. He’s cute, kind of quirky, wearing one of those grey striped fedora hats with unruly copper coloured hair and bright brown eyes that regard me shrewdly. It’s the strangest hat I have ever seen.
“Hi,” he mumbles, holding out a hand and helping me up. “I’m Crispian Neigh; I have ethnic friends.”
“Dude, I’m not your friend,” says his companion. “I’m your proctologist, although I guess I can see where the confusion occurred. I mean, we’re kind of intimate in a…you know…kind of way.” He raises two fingers in an inexpressively expressive gesture that I don’t understand, being as sexually naive as I am. He nods to Crispian Neigh and says; “Just keep applying the medication, know what I’m saying? And try to lose weight.”
“I’ll see you on the golf course!” says Crispian Neigh, as the doctor walks away. “They let them now, you know,” he tells me. “Play golf. Like Tiger Woods.”
The receptionist lets out a little groan under her breath. “Oh my God,” she groans. She’s obviously in love with her boss. He is strangely captivating – I can’t explain it but I feel strangely drawn to him.
Crispian Neigh smiles at her. His smile is wonderful – thousands of dollars worth of orthodontics must have gone into making him average-looking. “Hey Olivia,” he murmurs, his voice husky and oh so sexy. “Is that a new bra you’re wearing? Your breasts look perkier than usual.”
She stares at him for a moment and bites her glossed lip. “Did you just neg me, you asshole?” she incredulously snorts.
“I’ve got two words for you, sweetie,” he says, his voice as silky as his shirt. “Unemployment. Line.” He holds up two fingers, one after the other, to emphasise his point. His fingers are oddly eloquent and I can’t help up but thinking about them fumbling up my…oh my. My inner ear stirs and I have to steady myself against the edge of the desk. I wasn’t prepared for him to be so dominant, like a young Mitt Romney.
Olivia simpers, bats her eyelashes and smooths her impeccable twist of blonde hair. “Yeah, well I’ve got three little words for you, Cris,” she says.
“Yeah. Sexual. Harassment. Suit.” She bares her veneers in a grin. “Now, in case you didn’t notice, your two o’clock appointment is right here. Take the elevator – I wouldn’t advise making her walk. She’s got some kind of inner ear thing.”
It’s a character trait, I start to say, but Neigh has grabbed my arm and pulled me into the elevator. The doors shut and I realise the depth of my predicament – I’m alone, in a moving metal box, with a man. An attractive man. A rich man. Not that he wouldn’t be attractive if he wasn’t rich, of course. I’m not interested in money.
We stare straight ahead, determined not to look at one another. He lets out a small, soft huff of laughter and out of the corner of my eye I see the ghost of a smile dance at the corner of his mouth. “What is it about elevators?” he says, more to himself than me. I’m sure that I hear the faintest, barely imperceptible poot as the elevator carries us, with terminal velocity and no understanding of physics, to his office floor.
“This is us,” he says. The door opens, but too late. The barely imperceptible poot is now all too perceptible.