Monday, March 31, 2014

What we're writing: Tales from Hallie's OUT file

HALLIE EPHRON: It's What We're Writing week, and I am so happy to report: I am not!

Not writing a draft, that is. Three weeks ago I sent my editor a the finished manuscript for Night, Night, Sleep Tight. A few days ago I got an email back, and I quote: "This is my FAVORITE of all your books. I LOVE IT." Her caps. 

And I thought, OF COURSE! 

I began writing this novel two long years ago. It's morphed and twisted, and finally I wrestled it into some semblance of order. I have plots. Subplots. Characters I adore. Themes! I don't even know where they came from but there they are!

But honestly? If my editor had written me and said, "Uh oh. I hate to say this, but it's just not that good..." I would have believed it.

Instead of toasting myself with Prosecco Bellinis and baking a celebratory pineapple upside down cake, I'd be flagellating myself with recriminations and saying, "I knew it was terrible. What ever made me think I could write a novel?"

I might even have highlighted the entire 309-page manuscript and dumped the whole thing into my OUT file which is already 229 pages long.

Every novel I write has an "OUT" file. It's where I put the stuff I write and then delete. Plot twists that go nowhere useful. Characters I no longer need. Overwritten description. Underwritten description. Passages that are too dark or too snarky or just plain boring.

This is why it takes me so long to finish a novel. Even though I outline, when I go to write it I'm constantly second-guessing myself, taking out, revising, doing what I hope amounts to making it better but sometimes only making it shorter.

So today I thought I'd entertain you with an excerpt from my OUT file.

Here's a passage from what I thought would Page One of the novel but which now lives in the OUT file. Back then, the main character was  named Beth (she's now Deirdre.) She was living in New York (now she's in San Diego.) And she's received an invitation to attend her 20th Beverly Hills High School reunion (the entire reunion is gone from the book).

Beth hasn't been back to Beverly Hills, never mind her old high school, for ages. The prospect of seeing girls she went to school with brings back a flood of unpleasant memories.

From my OUT file:
The invitation to Beth’s 20th Beverly Hills High School reunion came on a Saturday.  Don’t miss this evening and chance to visit with “old friends."

Her gut twisted just thinking about it. Up came memories of shoes—that’s what growing up there had been about.  This seemed perfectly ludicrous in retrospect, and even back in 1961 she'd known that getting Those Shoes wouldn’t make her fit in.  And yet in ninth grade, what she lusted after, dreamed about, obsessed over were baby-blue, pink, or avocado-green ballerina flats with a T-strap low across the instep and three petal-shaped cutouts over the toe.  They were made by Pappagallo.

Sure, you could get knock-offs at Chandlers a few blocks away, but they weren’t soft and supple, and they didn’t flex when you wiggled your toes. Even Beth could have spotted wannabe shoes, though the term wannabe had yet to be invented in what would be 90210 when they got around to using zip codes. 
Can you tell this comes from experience? Which is why I had to take it out. Because this did not turn out to be a book about me. It did not turn out to be about not fitting in in high school. And the fictional main character I created evolved so much over the course of writing the novel that she no longer sounded like this. 

Still, I love those paragraphs so I shall keep them for perpetuity rather than wipe them out completely. Maybe one day I will write something it fits into.

I did, in fact, go to my twentieth high school reunion. I wore a blue flowered shirtwaist dress and the popular girls were there in short-short lace baby-doll dresses and footless tights. I felt like a piece of outsider art.

Which brings me to today's question: What were "those shoes" at your high school, the object of desire that seemed to separate the kids who had it all from the rest of us?


  1. We wore white leather sneakers (we would have called them "tennis shoes" back then, but the leather ones were called "Bubbles.") They had only three holes on each side for the laces, which were shorter, and round, like strings.

    You wore them with your ankle socks up, never folded, and I wore stockings (Hanes suntan) under them because this was Wisconsin, and it was bloody cold from November through March. The shoes had very flat heels, and I absolutely loved them.

    The alternative was penny loafers, which I hated; they made me feel cloddy. And by senior year, I sometimes wore high heels to school-- black leather, with pointy toes and really thin heels. I wore them when I had to give a presentation in Speech class, or had to attend an awards ceremony-- and wearing them on those well-worn marble floors, I began my long journey into foot nonfunction.

    Ah, those were the days!

  2. Keds. Usually white, but other colors and designs were acceptable. The blue label on the heel was not negotiable.

    I had several pairs, but it didn't help me socially. Turns out I was just dorky! :0)

  3. And you're illustrating by example another great reason to keep an OUT file - grist for your author blog. It may not fit the novel, but I'll bet your loyal readers will love this post!

  4. Penny loafers YES we had a period when those were THE SHOES. Not white leather "tennis shoes" (we called them that, too, Ellen)... but (now I'm dating myself) white bucks I dimly remember. They had to have orange rubber soles.

    And Keds. We ad a Ked period, Paula - Had to be baby blue or pink. They were a LOT cheaper than the Pappagallos.

  5. Thanks, Michael - I've also the occasional short story out of the OUT file, and whole pieces have ended up in later books. They also make a fascinating meander, like an archaeological site.

  6. 52882442 252Does anyone remember the Pappagallo purses with the wooden handles? Then you could button and unbutton different purses to match your outfit?

  7. My "shoes" were Jordache jeans. This was way back in eighth grade, and only three girls had them (it was a small school, with maybe 30 girls in my class). My desire to be popular was short-lived because I learned early that popular did not equal happy. The queen of the clique committed suicide when she was thirteen, removing her Jordache jeans from the clothesline in the basement and covering her Barbie Dream House with a sheet before shooting herself.

  8. Oh, Susan, I would have loved that!

    Purses. We had a year of briefcase-style purses. Then quilted leather bags with thick chain shoulder straps (a la Chanel but not).

    Now I buy bags for their weight... or lack thereof.

  9. That is so sad, Sandi. Suicide and teens... a whole 'nother topic. Kids are so mercurial, the right verb for adolecence really is "surviving."

  10. I remember those Papagallo purses, but they never held enough, and they were hard to carry (so was a folded clutch, like the purse I had in junior high).

    But I still own my Papagallo dress from the Pappagallo store in D.C., bought in the summer of 1965 when I was a Senate intern. It was black and white (large) gingham, sleeveless with a boat neck and a horizontal pleat a little above the hem (and a bow at the back of that pleat). It is fully lined (they did gorgeous work) and cost more money than I should have spent on it, required ironing-- and my sister and I have a bargain that whoever can someday fit into it again gets to have it. Meanwhile, it lives in my cedar closet.

    I wore it with a wonderful pair of Charles Jourdan black patent leather shoes that had open sides and a strap across the ankle. I LOVED those shoes, and wore them until they totally disintegrated about three or four years later. They cost more than I'd ever spent for a pair of shoes up till then (Hallie mentioned Chandler's, but I usually shoe-shopped at Baker's, the low-end Chandler's)-- my entire month's allowance (snack and toothpaste and tampon money, so I had to babysit like crazy to afford those things that month) in the spring of my senior year in college. My friends were aghast that I would spend $40 on a pair of shoes (that was big money back then), but the night I bought them, I kept getting out of bed all night long to put them on and admire them. I finally put the shoebox next to the bed so I could just reach for them without getting up.

    No Jimmy Chou will ever match them for style, elegance, COMFORT (believe it or not) and sheer indulgence. Not that I'd ever buy a Jimmy Chou or any of those pricey shoes nowadays. These days I'm big on imitation Crocs ($10 at CVS), which I can hose off when I come in from the garden.

    But those shoes and that dress were proof positive that one can have a love affair with a material object. Especially if it is a perfect pair of shoes or the perfect classic dress.

  11. I thoroughly enjoyed that visit to the OUT file Hallie. It was a wonderful snippet of a story.

    So excited to hear that you have finished a draft of Night, Night. As a huge fan of There Was an Old Women, I find it hard to imagine I could love the next book more, but I am will to suffer through reading it to find out. ;)

  12. Love your love affair with those shoes, Ellen. I once spent a LOT on a pair of red wedge heel espadrilles with a sling back that I adored. Sadly they hurt like crazy, and one hot day I was standing in an asphalt driveway and they ended up with black bottoms. The End.

  13. I love your reunion story, and your dress was perfect, Hallie. Seriously? Baby doll mini-dresses and footless tights? They were probably all competing with their middle school daughters!

    I was anti-everything in high school, and so my status footwear was a pair of clunky Frye boots. They went great with my Army jacket, corduroy purse, and boot cut jeans. But I confess I secretly admired the preppy girls, and one summer I begged for a button-cover purse for my birthday. One cover had whales, the other was bright pink. I never used it at school, but I loved it and kept it for years and years.

  14. We didn't have Pappagallo purses, but I remember the style. I never really liked them because they didn't hold enough, but I sure had one.

    Growing up in the 80s, it was Jordache jeans. I don't remember a particular shoe (except those hideous Jelly shoes and mother refused to buy them because they'd "ruin my feet"). We couldn't afford Jordache; I bought no-name jeans from Penney's. But one year, my aunt bought me a pair of Jordache. I wore them until the were squeezing the life out of me - I had to lay down to get them to zip, and I'm sure the resulting pressure was going to warp the form of my liver.

    And yeah, they didn't make me any more popular.

    Surviving - what a great word for adolescence.

  15. Well, it depended on what LInda KAtzenberger came to school wearing on the first day.

    If she wore REALLY REALLY WHITE Keds, we knew we had to shoe-polish ours to keep them white very day.
    If she wore dirty keds, we'd have to gunk-up our new ones.

    Same with pennies in the penny loafers. WITH a penny? Or without? Depended on Linda.

    ANd don't even get me started on slouchy versus perfectly-folded-over white socks.

  16. Now I'mn thinking of a book, or better, a short story..."Depending on Linda."


  17. Weejuns!

    I am currently wondering what to wear to my 50th high school reunion this September. (It won't be Weejuns.)

  18. I saved up my clothing allowance to buy yellow shoes just like those. And I got a red pair, too. My sister and I could share clothes but not shoes because her shoe size topped out at a 4 1/2!

    The popular girls all had lovely sweaters over their blouses and plaid mini skirts to match. I tried (sewing mine out of half a yard of material) but I just never looked as nice, or so I told myself. But one of those popular girls who I thought was a bit of an airhead at the time has become one of my biggest mystery fans now. She even drove way across LA to come to my reading in Redondo Beach last June, having retired from a long career as a nurse and social worker. Who knew?

    I didn't go to a reunion until I was fifty and was much more settled into myself. The smart kids were the ones I wanted to see, anyway, and we picked up like no time had passed. It was great.

  19. Eighth grade, "buffalo sandals:" tan leather, criss-crossed, a buckle, and cork soles. Finally got them and they squeaked when I walked, so I hardly ever wore them. They're back now, with much higher soles. This time, I'll pass.

    Thanks to a very stylish mother, I had a great wardrobe in h.s. -- though I was far more interested in books and golf. :) She's still the best person I know to shop with!

  20. The list of things I didn't have in high school is way too long! And I didn't even bother to want what other girls had. We wore uniforms to school (with navy blue tie oxfords).

    I bought all the wrong things for college, using my summer earnings to purchase a sailor dress (!!) and a red plaid Pendleton suit (my mother told me it was a classic).

    Once in college, though, I started to pay attention. And, I carefully saved for and bought some REAL classics -- my favorite was a powder blue villager suit with a blouse that was all pleated in the front (pale blue tiny flowers).

    Loved the reunion glimpse and CANNOT WAIT for the new book!!!

  21. Congratulations on the editor's note. What a feeling that must be, especially since you weren't certain which way she was going. Probably true that artists are never a good judge of their own work, though. May the great reviews continue!

  22. Hallie, my OUT file is called DELETE! No, seriously, I'm one of those people who constantly rewrites, and I never save drafts.

    After I saw the exhibit the Willis Library at the University of North Texas had made with my notes and edited manuscript pages from my first book recently, I've started keeping my printed, line-edited drafts, just in case some future student wants to see how much a book can improve in rewrites...

    Loved your excerpt. Would love to read the book you DIDN'T write, as well as the one you did! :-)

    High school, ack. My daughter swears I was born without the "shoe gene." So while I can remember the baby doll minis (that the teachers would measure from your knee) in junior high, and in high school, the jeans I had to lie down on the bed to zip myself into, I have no idea what shoes I wore... I can tell you that high school was all about bell bottoms, the more bell the better. And if you had some kind of fabric sewn on the bottoms, you were even cooler.

  23. Who knew, boys had THOSE SHOES, too. Had to share this post on Facebook from Ken Sullivan: I was in high school in the early 60's, too and boys had 'in' shoes also. I suppose it says something about Malden's mostly blue-collar population that our favorites were from Thom McAn and not Florsheim's. First, there were Snap Jacks, a step-in with a kind of tongue on the outer surface of the shoe that had a mechanical device attached inside which allowed you to lift the tongue away from the instep so you could slide your foot in and then you lowered the tongue back into place (it snapped when it was all the way down - thus, Snap Jacks) and tightened it on your foot. After that, there was another kind of slip-on that had a short decorative lace on the side that you could wind around 4 or 6 metal studs. There were several ways you could arrange the laces, each of which was supposed to send a 'message' about how you were feeling that day. And, of course, they had the social status required Cuban heels.

  24. I do remember wearing white Keds in elementary school, however, for a really weird reason. I was running with my cousin down in the creek bed that surrounded our house. I tripped on something and fell. I got up, and didn't realize I was hurt until I looked down and my (new!)white Ked was red. I had cut the top of my right foot so badly that the tendon was exposed. My uncle had to come carry me up to the house and then I was whisked off to the doctor. Twenty four stitches, and I still have scar to prove it.

  25. Denise Ann - Oh, Villager! I remember Villager. There was a store on Broadway a block from Barnard College that carried that brand... which btw would have been entirely too preppy for southern california but which I love Loved LOVED.

  26. Debs - that white Ked turned blood red belongs in a book, perhaps even on the cover...

  27. We're planning our 45th high school reunion for this summer. Man, I'm old!!! We wore uniforms and we had to wear Bass tie weejuns. With stockings! How ugly. So we never had any of the "my clothes are better than yours" issues. There were only 27 of us in that class and we've been catching up via facebook while planning this event.

    However, Pappagallo! Loved them. There was a store in Acton, MA that I visited (a lot.) And Etienne Aigner! Remember the fishing creel pocketbooks? I had Aigner sandals, purses, wallets, key ring, shoes. But this was in college and beyond.

  28. Hallie, I love that you keep an Out File for your discarded writing. I'm wondering how often snippets from this file make it into later works. I would imagine that the file could be a great resource. I thoroughly enjoyed your shoe starter.

    In my small town, the shoe that outshone the rest was the the Bass Weejun, loafer of the stylish. While I never really considered myself stylish and my mother would often tell me I needed to look down at what was on my feet more, I did manage to keep in step with the Bass Weejun craze, probably due to my mother's guidance. I can remember the shoe store and getting fitted for them. At that time I had a rather narrow foot, though tiresomely long. The owners of the shoe store lived across the street from me, and their daughter was my idol and mentor, even though I had two older sisters. I also bought my saddle oxfords for cheerleading from this store.

    Oh, and Marianne, the Etienne Aigner purses and accessories were beginning to be all the rage when I graduated from high school. One of my graduation presents was an Aigner key chain. A purse came later.

    What a fun trip down memory lane. I really have never cared too much for the "right" brand of shoe or anything, but it's interesting to remember that there were indeed such things, and even more amazing to recall that I wore them. I suspect others were responsible for me being properly shod.

  29. We wore uniforms in high school, too, back in the 60s. I have no memory at all of what kind of shoe we had to wear. Whatever it was, I know it caused my feet to hurt! (Most shoes did/do.) On Wednesdays, we were allowed to wear "regular" clothing, instead of the uniform. Most of the time I chose to just wear the uniform, with perhaps a different blouse. Part of the reason was that I really didn't have a lot of non-uniform clothing that would meet the rules and regulations governing our non-uniform wear.

    When I was in 6th and 7th grade, I DESPERATELY wanted a purse that had a chain for a strap. DESPERATELY! I saved my money and finally bought it for $4 at a discount store! I LOVED that purse!

  30. Bass Weejuns! I'd never heard of them until I came east to school.

    Saddle Oxfords -- black and white. I remember what a pain they were to polish.

  31. And Hallie, I am looking forward to reading that book! Whenever you've talked about it here, it's been hard for me to put it out of my mind - I want to read it NOW.

  32. Oh My Gosh! These memories are now flying around and I'm stunned at how much I had forgotten!

    Villager and Weejuns, oh my!

    Pappagello purses!

    The one thing I remember being a total brat about was a purse. This is not a good memory for me.

    When I went off to school, it was a small college located between Wilmington and Philly, on Concord Pike. Brandywine College - now the law school for Widener University. This was an entirely new world for me - not a good one in the long run (another story for another day).

    All the girls were carrying leather purses with huge brass monograms riveted onto them, and they were ridiculously expensive. They were handmade in New Hope, PA. I, of course, wanted one. Mother said no, so I went to Dad, who said yes. It was the only time I remember them not standing together on something and I will never forget how mad my mom was and honestly, it took every bit of the joy out of that purse.

    Hallie, I loved reading your "outs!"

  33. Wouldn't we all make perfect lemmings??

  34. Congrats Hallie--what a great feeling to get that feedback! Love the picture of you and Jerry too.

    Sandi, I hate to hear that story of the 13 year old suicide. What heartbreaking details!

    Villager--yes. We went to the outlets one year (not so common or accessible as they are now) and bought outfits that matched from head to toe. then shortened the skirts at home until they barely covered our butts.

    But the shoes I remember were the WRONG shoes. I was starting a new school in Michigan, sixth grade. My mother talked me into black and white saddle shoes--oh such a mistake. The kids in that class called me "the cow."

  35. I actually have a pencil drawing of my feet, encased in well-loved and the coolest ever fringed moccasins--senior year high school--worn with flared jeans, tees, and straight hair to my waist, blonde, and parted in the middle! You can guess when that was!

    Love the idea of an out file--sometimes things just don't work and you think, "Damn! That was well-written, too!"

  36. Roberta/Lucy:

    I was talked into saddle shoes(by a shoe salesman, who said "all the girls are wearing them", plus my parents liked the price) when I was in 7th grade. Yes, it was a horrible mistake, making me the butt of jokes by the class "mean girls".

  37. Bass Weejuns. Proudly made near me in Wilton, Maine - until the company was sold and the manufacturing was sent overseas.

    The factory is now partly a great Italian restaurant. Brick walls, cast iron boiler, good wine.

  38. Pappagallos for me, too, but not with the straps--just flats, maybe with fake penny loafer design across front, Bass Weejuns (mine were moss green) and Villager shirtwaist dresses. I had a Villager A-lined suit that I loved. I sometimes dream of my high school clothes. Reminds me of the book, Love, Loss and What I Wore.

  39. Okay, I love the idea of saving the snippets from your story in an OUT file [and I really can’t wait to read the book], but . . . shoes and high school reminiscing . . .
    The best I can do is to say that I had a pair of unmemorable shoes [loafers, I think] and a pair of white sneakers for gym. There wasn’t money for anything fancy and, since in those days I was far more concerned with remaining unnoticed by the “mean girls,” I have absolutely no recollection of what any of the rest of them had or wore . . . .
    Thankfully, most of those days have long since vanished into the mists of forgotten memories . . . .

  40. Tennis shoes polished white white white!!! And brown penny loafers...only we put a dime in them. For choir performances we had to have one inch heels. White. That was dictated by the director. We wore hose unless we were wearing knee high socks. My mom insisted on getting us saddle shoes even though I have these long narrow feet that were hard to fit. I always ended up with odd colors. Maroon and tan once. My last pair were so ugly. Olive green and khaki. I refused to wear them. So I finally got the tennis and loafers. :) But I usually ended up wearing the loafers with the knee socks...those darn narrow feet again. Well this brought back memories. :D

  41. I enjoyed the post, Hallie, but it was the "Depending on Linda" comment that really sent me down memory lane. In my case it was Tammy Kitchen. One of my favorite memories of growing up was the year we started 6th grade, our first year in middle school. (Our district was ahead of its time.)

    Tammy decreed that in middle school, we were too old for knee socks and needed to wear nylons. I dutifully went home and told this to my mother. Her first reaction was "No," but after my fit and a little reflection, bless her heart, she made this offer. "You can wear nylons the first day, and on other special occasions. But not as an everyday matter." So the first day of school I got off the school bus in my nylons to greet Tammy, standing there in knee socks and red-rimmed eyes.

    I really, really appreciated my mother that day.