When I started writing my first novel, “Milkshake,” I had one kid who went to bed at a predictable hour and a laptop that didn’t connect to the Internet -- unless I plugged it into a telephone line and waited several hours for AOL to load. I wrote in a series of late-night sessions, followed by hazy, sleep-deprived bursts when I was on maternity leave with baby number two. “Milkshake” is a spoof of the breastfeeding wars, a tale of a nursing mother who has a wardrobe malfunction, a political campaign that co-opts her story, and a sexy would-be governor who gets the baby bug. As I was writing, life kept fueling art. I remember sitting on my bed one morning with my newborn son, thinking, “This hurts like a b---ch,” and before long, I had a new character who delivered my thoughts in a sarcastic speech.
These days, the tugs on my attention are much greater. My new laptop has wireless, and constantly lures me with social media. My day job -- as a Boston Globe columnist –requires me to come up with two big ideas each week. My evening routine involves lording over homework, piano practice, and dental hygiene. When late night rolls around, I’m usually konked out in in one kid’s bed or the other’s.
But I do have a second novel in the works, a story of class warfare, nameless for now, that’s slowly growing in a computer file called “Rich Bostonians in Progress.” It’s the story of Ellie, a middle-class woman with a chip on her shoulder, and her relationship with a family of crazy-rich Mayflower descendants. Corky, the black sheep of the family, commits an act of performance art that shuts Boston down for a day – inspired, as they say, by true events. http://www.boston.com/news/
(To promote veganism, he sets up little black devices that make mooing sounds, and are mistaken for terrorist bombs.) To make amends, Corky starts to work at the inner-city afterschool program that Ellie runs. And Ellie, against her better instincts, kindles a romance with his older brother, Skip. Skip is handsome and charming, but aimless– he can’t figure out what to do with his life, because he doesn’t have to -- and he makes Ellie wonder: Can you forge true love across a class divide?
What keeps me going, during moments of exhaustion and doubt, is the process itself. Inspiration comes from unexpected places: I caught a snippet of the Tyra Banks Show when I was home sick one day, and it launched one of my favorite scenes in“Milkshake.” And it doesn’t take long before the characters start speaking for themselves. This time around, I’m especially keen on Skip and Corky’s parents: the matriarch who coddles her wayward son, and the dilettante dad who wears a Speedo around the mansion, and thinks a bunch of urban middle-school kids will want to hear him play an ancient Mayan flute. I’m working my way toward the scene when the dad and the inner-city kids first meet, and I can’t wait to see what happens.
I only hope that I can stay ahead of current events, and keep my fiction at least a half-step more outrageous than reality. Sometimes, when writing satire, that’s harder than you’d think. As I wrote “Milkshake,” I was imagining a group of breastfeeding extremists called the BOOBs, at a time when a store in Europe was selling breastmilk ice cream. These days, I’m coming up with outrageous things rich people might say, while certain politicians are declaring that they have a Cadillac for each coast.
I’m taking it all as inspiration –and a challenge. Also, I’m thinking of ditching the computer and writing the rest in longhand. Really. There are fewer distractions that way.
When she tries to feed her baby in an art museum, new mother Lauren Bruce suffers a wardrobe malfunction -- and becomes the "Joe the Plumber" of the breastfeeding wars. A sexy politician, running for Massachusetts governor, enlists Lauren to help her win the women's vote. Breastfeeding advocates, who call themselves the BOOBs, want to make her a true believer. And a group called the MOMs -- for "Mothers on Modesty" -- wants everyone to cover up. Now, Lauren has to decide where she stands, all while dealing with political rallies, breast pumps, talk show hosts, perfect-mommy friends, and post-baby sex.
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