Letter from L.A: "That's so random."

This morning, digging through a drawer in my desk, I found a note scribbled on the back of an unfamiliar business card. The card belongs to woman named Dyan deNapoli, who calls herself The Penguin Lady (underneath it says Penguin Expert — heh). When I looked up the associated website I learned that DeNapoli specializes in educational programs on penguin behavior, biology, and conservation. She’s also the author of a recent book titled The Great Penguin Rescue. DeNapoli seems very cool, but I have no idea why I have her card. I must’ve met her at some point (she’s a writer, there’s a clue), but when or why is long gone.

The note scribbled on the back reads: Start with the restaurant. Kill the chickens. As the kids say, that’s so random. But I know what it means. It’s a note to myself about the opening chapter of a novel I was working on some years ago, how the story maybe started in the wrong place, and how I might shift things around. I never followed through, but finding this note has set off weird little fireworks in my head, and it’s prompted more note-taking, which will go into a drawer, to be resurrected or not when the time comes (or not) to work on that story again.

In a week I’ll be up in Grand Lake, teaching and writing. Preparing for class always sets off cascades of randomness, tidbits I want to share but won’t, because when the time comes they won’t really fit what we’re doing, or because they'll seem stupid, or because I won't remember what my point was.

This morning’s scribbles:

  • Never underestimate any character. Never count anyone out.
  • There are enough stories in a single issue of The Enquirer to keep you in novels for the rest of your life.
  • Everything doesn’t have to make sense.
  • Admit it when you’ve made a mistake. Apologize. Do all you can, and more, to correct it. Make sure it never happens again. (This has more to do with living than writing; but for writers, really, what’s the difference?)
  • Do those rare people who have one blue eye and one brown eye see the world differently? Would you want to be one of them?
  • I always put on lipstick before I sit at the typing machine. Who am I making myself pretty for?
  • If you’re weak on plot, you can train. Every day for a month write ten three-sentence novels: this happened to set things in motion; this happened to complicate the story; this is how it turned out.
  • You might catch more flies with honey, but you’ll still have to kill them.