Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Remaining Calm

The eye of Marie-Clémentine-1798-1881--Artist unknown It was my my husband’s and my 16th wedding anniversary on August 7th. We decided to go out for a nice dinner to celebrate. We choose a fancy restaurant in South Park Charlotte called Zebra.

This meant I needed to look nice. Oh, I clean up well, but nine days out of ten I take no effort at all with my appearance. In fact, I’d packed my makeup for our trip to Highlands, NC (about a month ago now) and have not located it since then. I think I stuck it in a bag that was inside another bag and inside another bag….I’m wondering if I threw it away. So now, even if I’m reacquainted with my makeup, I’m not sure I’ll remember how to effectively apply it. I pulled on a brown dress, wore strappy sandals (I’m way-tall for heels), yanked a comb through the long brown hair and called myself good enough.

We walk into Zebra and I realize that I’m in the midst of the most glamorous and elegant women I’ve ever seen. AND---they were all at least 10-15 years older than my 38 years. I squinted at them through the dim lighting. Did they have work done? No, it didn’t look that way. But…oh. Make-up. Well applied. Fortunately, my husband seemed oblivious to the Glamazons in the restaurant, and delighted to be with his wife with the AWOL makeup.

I’m not a competitive person (good thing, since I don’t tend to win things) and I’m not a jealous person (a trait I find rather disgusting), but I’m a very Type-A person. I want to do a Good Job.

Since I’m writing the first book of a series for Berkley Prime Crime, I bought a bunch of epicurean mysteries published by Penguin. I wanted to make sure I’d done a Good Job. This was both helpful and disturbing. Helpful: I was able to gauge the approximate ratio of food to mystery. I was able to get a good feel for their line. Disturbing: I was reading a very polished finished product. My draft didn’t seem to measure up.

I’m not sure I can recommend purchasing books that are similar to your own and critiquing them. But, if you choose to do this, here is my big tip:

Treat it like English class: I brought out my red pen.I circled things, wrote notes in the margins, and completely deconstructed the books. This encouraged an objectivity that helped me remain calm.

Noticing the pretty ladies in the restaurant? Cost=$50 at the Clinique counter at Macy’s. Feeling inadequate while reading a well-edited version of what I was trying to accomplish? Cost =$10 lunch with a friend where I babbled the whole time about fabulously-talented writers. Keeping my objectivity while obtaining useful strategies to apply to my novel? Priceless.