Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Let's Make a Deal

The year is 1974. The place is Hollywood, California. The weather is "hot as hell." But you don't mind. You've stood in line for three hours in the hopes that you'll make it through the doors. You're wearing an orange and yellow Hawaiian shirt, a brown fedora, a hot pink feather boa, green and blue plaid golf pants, and Keds hi-top sneakers in traditional white.

The doors open and people start filing in. You breathe a sigh of relief when you are counted as one of the studio audience, but relief soon turns to dismay when you see how far back your seat is. Before you get worked up about it, the lights come on, announcer Jay Stewart starts revving up the viewers, and then Monty himself walks out onto the stage. It's a whirlwind, people are screaming, deals are offered, decisions are made. And then, suddenly, he's standing next to you, every piece of hair perfectly shellacked in place.

He asks the next question and your eyes widen a bit. You rip open that massive, leopard-print tote bag hanging over your arm and start rifling through dental floss, Phillip's head screwdriver, tea bags, acorns, seashells, a lock of hair, a kazoo, and there it is...a pair of false teeth. You pull it out and wave it in the air. Monty doesn't even have to move. He's talking to you now and you feel a bit like Ralph Kramden on the $99,000 Answer episode. Hum-a-na-hum-a-na-hum-a-na.

Carol Merrill, that model with the legs up to here, walks into the aisle carrying a small table with a box on top of it. Monty offers you what is in that box or what is behind Curtain #1. You think a moment. Something big could be behind that curtain, but then again good things come in small packages. For all you know, Jay Stewart is sitting on an old tractor with a few bales of hay behind that curtain. You choose the box.

Carol flashes her trademark smile and her eyes twinkle. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? She lifts the top off the box and inside is an envelope. You realize you're holding your breath, but as long as they reveal the contents of that envelope within the next four minutes, you'll be okay. A long, shiny, red fingernail slips under the flap. A piece of card stock with fancy lettering on it is extracted. Monty tells you you've just won $500 per week for the rest of your life.

We're not talking quit-your-drag-of-a-job, life-changing moment here. But just the other day you were saying how much better life would be if you had a few extra bucks to eliminate the fear of the unknown. $500 a week for life is the answer to that prayer.

But it's not over.

Monty is offering another deal. Keep the contents of that box or trade it for what's behind Curtain #1. You feel the rush of adrenaline in your veins. Do you trade the sure thing for the unknown? Do you trade what was good enough just a day ago for the hope of something even better? Do you trade guaranteed stability for the possibility of something previously unimaginable?

You ask me this question 20 years ago and I might have gambled and picked the curtain. Now I'm not so sure. What about you?

Note: If you live in a part of the world where $500/week would mean a huge change in your life (alas, on Long Island, this is not the case), then lower the amount to something that would bring a bit of comfort but not have the sky rockets shooting off before your eyes and then answer the question.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Beyond the Sea: An Inked-In Collaboration

This blog is a collaboration between Richard Lamb and Margaret Reyes Dempsey discussing their collaboration.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Other Writers

Margaret: It seems membership is increasing at Inked-In. I'm sure many people join just to see what it's all about, as I did back in July. I never dreamed it would turn into a collaboration with a fellow writer on the other side of the Atlantic. I'm always up for a challenge, so when Richard said, "Hey, we should write something together," I immediately agreed. We had hit it off socially and admired each other's writing. He was a "long-winded" screenwriter who thought he might be better at novels. I was a "woman of few words" novelist who thought screenwriting might be a better match. (When it comes to talking, it's actually the reverse.) In the end, we decided on a novel, hoping our styles would meet somewhere in the middle.

Richard: Truth be told, I’ve never been much of a collaborator. When I was at Art College and I found myself having to do a group project, I would invariably come to blows with everyone else and then lose interest because they weren’t doing things the way I thought they should be done. I wanted total autonomy over all my projects or I simply lost enthusiasm for them. I’ve always been something of a loner, most especially when it comes to creative endeavours. So no one was more surprised than I when I suggested to Margaret that we collaborate on a novel together. We’d met on Inked-In a few months earlier and quickly discovered that we had a lot in common, both personally and creatively. So as far as whims go, it seemed like a fairly logical one. Which is more than can be said for most of my whims.

Margaret: Of course, I had reservations. As similar as we were in some ways, we couldn't be more different in how we approached the writing process. There were also difficulties (putting it very mildly) with misunderstandings due to American versus British English, not to mention the trouble you can get in with inflectionless forms of communication like online chat. What we did have in common, though, was the ability to duke it out and get on with the work. Well, eventually get on with the work, that is.

Richard: We came up with our idea in short order and quickly realised that we had something that was pretty original in its approach and execution. That gave us the initial buzz to get started and five months on we are still hammering away at it. Well, sort of. Maybe hammering isn’t the right word. Light tapping might be better.

Margaret: There were a few months when I was immersed in edits for my soon-to-be-released novel. But the real reason it took so long to get in the flow was the difference in our approach to writing. Richard is a spontaneous, "without a plan" kind of writer and I like to have a loose outline of where I'm heading (otherwise my finished project ends up looking like little Jimmy going from Point A to Point B in the Family Circus cartoons).

Richard: Okay, so there have been lapses in motivation along the way. On both sides. There have been times when Margaret has accelerated past me and times when I have accelerated past her. There have been many times when other projects have dragged us away (Margaret’s soon to be published novel is the prime example) and certainly times when we have become frustrated with ourselves and, from time to time, each other. However, I have not once lost interest in it and I have never really found myself wanting to reach across the Atlantic and strangle Margaret. Not in relation to this book anyway.

Margaret: In time, Richard began to see that his approach wouldn't work in a collaboration. After all, we couldn't read each other's minds and the type of novel we're writing demands consistency. We compromised by discussing individual chapters as we went along. Then we finished chapter four and got stuck again. Finally, Richard suggested that we plot the whole thing out so we knew where we were going. Wow, what a great idea. Wish I had thought of that. ;-)

Richard: I’ve been surprised how easily we have worked together. We complement each other creatively and I’ve even enjoyed Margaret’s little brainstorming sessions, a concept which I have usually found extremely tedious in the past. In fact, we spent God knows how many hours brainstorming almost the whole thing over the last few days. It was exhausting but surprisingly satisfying.

Margaret: So, the last two days have been a whirlwind of activity. We spent hours on the phone plotting out the novel (me on my lounge chair sitting out in the sun on a mild New York spring day; Richard on his sofa under an English night sky). It was exhilarating and grueling at the same time. But in the end, we had something amazing that we both really liked. We'll see where it goes.

Richard: I guess the secret of this collaboration’s success is the way in which we complement each other. Sometimes I need to be told to write less and sometimes Margaret needs to be told to write more. Together we find a common ground where I think something very special will be produced.

Note: Inked-In is an online social network for writers, artists, and musicians.


As I get older, I realize just what a gift memory is. I also realize that my memory isn't what it once was (and I'm only 43!). Pregnancy and motherhood have a way of permanently reserving a portion of your brain. However, I'm grateful for the section they've left for my personal use. And there's nothing like a good memory--especially one that is older and whose reality has mellowed with age so that what remains is sweeter than what originally existed.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning said "Light tomorrow with today!" To me that means to live well and make good memories. Don't waste time journaling every detail, don't see your vacation through the lens of a camera, don't watch your child grow up through the end of a video recorder. Live life to its fullest, immersed completely--even in the seemingly mundane moments for that is where the best future memories often reside.

In another blog, I mentioned feeling guilty for not "documenting" Jon's life as much as I "should." But recently I watched some old home movies and realized that my parents had captured my entire childhood in about 3 hours of footage. That was more than enough to jog my memory and fill in the empty pieces. If every detail had been captured, if I had lived like the character Truman with every minute recorded, there would be no creativity permitted in the selected recollections. Life would have been reduced to a series of stage directions presented in the past tense.