How The Dog Stayed in the Picture

Last time I posted, having just finished about a third of the new book, I think I was in Stage Five of a Creative Process list that sporadically pops up on the Facebook feed, never failing to comfort. Most of us have probably seen this list:

1. This is Amazing
2. This is Tricky
3. This is Crap
4. I am Crap
5. This might be Okay
6. This is Amazing

The second book’s trouble started early on. I’d reached Creative Stage One (This is Amazing!) a little early in the game with this second book, in fact before I’d even written one sentence. Open Road had just accepted my first memoir, The Habit, and we were beginning the editorial process. I decided to tell my brilliant publisher (brilliant for many reasons, but for my purposes brilliant because he liked The Habit) what the plan was for the second book. I write about what’s in front of my nose mostly, and the main thing in front of my nose at the time (every second of every day, everywhere I went; falling to pieces whenever I left the house) was Lilly, our greyhound, newly rescued from a Florida racetrack. Lilly and I were in the early stages of a mutually satisfying but extremely dysfunctional relationship at the time, each for our own reasons—Lilly because she was in complete shock at the change in her living circumstances, and me because I needed a project to distract me when my last two children left for college—so there was plenty of material.

The second book will be Amazing. It’s about this crazy adorable dog and—

—No. Please don’t write a dog book, Susan. I don’t want dog books. Write something else.

The Creative Process is all about how you look at things. This rejection was definitely not a setback, because in reality my publisher’s thumbs-down helped me move with lightning speed to Creative Stage Two (This is Tricky!). And then, I totally amazed myself by bypassing Creative Stage Three (This is Crap!) altogether, forging straight ahead into Creative Stage Four (I AM Crap!) with absolute conviction. I couldn’t believe how much I progress I was making. I may not have written any actual words yet, but Wow! There were only a couple of creative stages left to conquer, which meant just one day after pitching to my publisher I was more than halfway through the second book!

It seemed appropriate to regroup for a few days. The boys were writing college applications and needed some snacks, and I had figure out a way to get out to the grocery store and back without triggering one of Lilly’s panic attacks. I’d been noticing the irony of my situation lately: Somehow, I’d backtracked twenty-odd years to early days when the timing of an errand was dictated by naps and infant feeding schedules. By the time I reached the checkout line it dawned on me that I didn’t really get that pitch quite right. If I’d known my publisher didn’t want dog books, I could just as easily have pitched him the other angle of our story: the looming empty nest, about which my brain cells were firing with all kinds of insights, which is how I came to think This might be Okay—as in Creative Stage Five.

Friends suggested it might be a good idea to start writing an actual book before I ran out of stages. Which I did, promising myself I’d only write about the dog as she applied to our particular empty nest transition (sort of tricky because Lilly had begun trying to follow me into the shower; it was hard to concentrate with all four of her long skinny legs wrapped around my ankles whenever I sat down to write) and by the time I (Lilly and I) surfaced, the kids were gone, I had ten chapters in the can and only five more to go. So I decided to go back and see if Open Road was interested in publishing my empty nest book which was not about a dog.

By then, the brilliant fellow who’d birthed The Habit but nixed the dog book had left the company. I was directed to Open Road’s new publisher, a woman, who called three weeks later to say she was having this terrible problem because she didn’t want to upset me and she really liked the book but she wasn’t sure what she could do with it because there are so many empty nest books out there now, BUT: there’s this one character in the book, this dog, Lilly, who is so interesting, and could I put more about Lilly in the book? Because if this were more of a dog book, she definitely knew she could find our readers.

This is Amazing! And hello there, Creative Stage Six! The Dog Stays in the Picture comes out September 29. Pre-order at the usual online outlets, or click here for the Amazon page

dog stays in the picture cover




I am busy with the next book, catching up on what’s been going on lately Chez Morse. Isn’t that sort of what I’m supposed to be blogging about? I write memoirs, dag nabbit. Between the book and this blog, it’s like I’m constantly fighting the urge to plagiarize myself.

Last night at dinner I told my husband what I have planned for Chapter Six. It’s about cleaning out our closets, basically—which is why I’m cool with the fact that it’s unlikely I’ll ever convince a publisher to give me an advance. They’d have to read the thing to understand. I tried writing out a list of chapter summaries and it was just plain stupid:

  • Chapter One: Susan worries unnecessarily about her marriage.
  • Chapter Two: Susan goes to a Broadway show and becomes unnecessarily worried about her children.
  • Chapter Three: Susan finds a few more things to worry about.
  • Chapter Four: Susan gets a new dog to distract herself. The plan backfires horribly.
  • Chapter Five: It’s all very stressful.
  • Chapter Six: Cleaning the closets helps a little.

So now we are caught up on the Morses and there is no need to read the first third of this next book. Is it clear we’re approaching a cliffhanger?

I knew this blog was a bad idea.

I had sort of the same problem with The Habit. I’d tell people I was writing a book about my mother and their eyes would glaze. I completely understood, but I couldn’t seem to help it. I am fascinated by the absurdities of the everyday, and I often feel a strong impulse to document them in a way that moves, entertains and comforts me (and, hopefully, others). Besides, I really can’t be bothered with making things up. I don’t mind about the publishing advance problem—I’m having too much fun writing to give it much thought.

Any way my husband was crying when I got to the end of my summary of the closet-cleaning chapter. I am pretty sure that’s a good thing. You kind of had to be there. Hopefully you’ll see.

Okay the dog's not so bad.

Okay the dog’s not so bad.