Category Archives: excerpts

excerpt: Get Lucky

Get Lucky comes out in less than a month!

(And if you live in Houston, save the date for Saturday, April 10, 5:30-7:30: A cocktail-hour book launch party at Brazos Bookstore!)

Here’s how it begins:

GET LUCKY: A Novel — Chapter 1

First:  I got fired.  For emailing a website with hundreds of pictures of breasts to every single person in our company.  Even the CEO and chairman of the board. Even the summer interns.

Looking back, I may have been ready to leave my job.  I’d like to give myself the benefit of the doubt.  Sometimes the crazy things I do are actually very sensible.  And sometimes, of course, they’re just crazy.

I knew the company had just lost a high-profile sexual harassment lawsuit for some very big money.  I knew we were now enforcing our zero-tolerance policy.  I knew somebody somewhere in the chain of command was looking to make an example.  But I didn’t think about all that at the time.  Here’s another thing I didn’t think about: I’d just nailed the ad campaign of a lifetime, and I was finally about to get promoted.

In my defense, it wasn’t like these people had never seen a breast before.  In fact, our whole agency had been awash in them for months.  We’d just finished a national campaign for a major bra
company, and I’d led the creative team.  I’d even come up with the concept—ads directing women to do all sorts of crazy things with their chests while wearing one of these bras.

“Dip ’em,” one ad read, while our push-up-clad model leaned into a swimming pool, dunking her boobs in the water.  “Scoop ’em,” read another, while she pushed her boobs up toward her chin with two enormous ice cream cones.  “Lauch ’em,” ordered a third, as she arched her back up to the sky. And on and on: “Smack ’em,” “Mug ’em,” “Wash ’em,” “Flush ’em,” “Flash ’em,” “Love ’em,” “Lick ’em,” “Leave ’em.”

I’d spent innumerable hours with those boobs—weekends, nights—working my butt off to turn them into the most famous cleavage in America.  Which, by January, they’d become.  No small feat.

The model for the campaign was nineteen years old and profoundly anorexic with the most enormous augmented chest you can imagine.  I didn’t even know her name, actually. We just called her “the Tits.”  She was a petulant teen who spent all her time between shots wearing earbuds and drinking lattes and then asking people for gum.  The question “Do you have any gum?” will forever take me back to that summer.

She was a pretty girl, though the freckles, bumpy nose, and squinty eyes would have required retouching.  If we’d used her face.  In the end, we zoomed in so close that her face didn’t even come into the shots.  When it came to bras, who needed a face?

That’s really how I used to think.  I’m not exaggerating at all.

If I sound crass here, that’s because I was.  If I sound unlikable, that’s probably true, too.  I was, at this point in my life, after six years in advertising, a person who needed a serious spanking from the universe.

And don’t worry.  I was about to get it.

I was proud of the ads.  They were saturated with color, eye-catching, naughty, and delightful.  Everybody was ecstatic, and I was strutting around the office like a diva. The Boob Diva.  That was me.

But something was off. Being the Boob Diva wasn’t as great as I’d expected.  I’d been so underappreciated at that job for so long that when appreciation finally came, it felt false.  Maybe I’d built up too many expectations.  Maybe all the pep talks I’d given myself about my coworkers being idiots were finally kicking in.  Or maybe external validation is always a little disappointing, no matter what.

The books I’d been reading weren’t helping, either. I had a whole stack by my bed that chronicled the ways advertising was making us all miserable.  Who knows why I kept buying them?  It’s a chicken-egg question.  Did I hate my job because I was reading the books?  Or was I reading the books because I hated my job?  Either way, I couldn’t get around what they had to say:  That an economy based on buying stuff needed to keep us all dissatisfied and miserable, needed to keep us focused on what we didn’t have instead of what we did, and needed to convince us that things like happiness and peace and beauty could be bought.

Not the greatest water cooler chitchat.

Later, it would occur to me to wonder if advertising in general was screwing over the entire world or if my firm in particular was screwing over just me.  I certainly wasn’t paid enough.  Or recognized enough.  Or appreciated. But questions like that are a long time in the making.  First, I had to have a little thing we might call a breakdown. Or an epiphany.  Neither of which was my intention.

Here’s what happened, to the best of my recollection:  The night before our big final presentation, my sister happened to send me an email link with the subject line “Boob-a-palooza!”  Because I was too wired about the next day to go to bed, I clicked on it.  And there, I found miles and miles of mug shots of anonymous breasts belonging to real women. No faces, no bodies, just breasts.  Breasts au naturel. Breasts in the wild. Breasts as Mother Nature intended.

My sister just thought it was funny.  But I had a different reaction:  I could not stop scrolling through.  I’d seen a lot of breasts on TV and in movies and on magazine covers in my life.  Who hasn’t? But I’d never seen anything like these real things.  The variety was spellbinding.  High ones, low ones, flat ones, full ones.  Close together, far apart.  Lopsided.  Droopy.  Walleyed.  Googly-eyed.  Water balloons.  Bags of sand.  Jellyfish.  Cactuses.  Bananas, prunes, and pickles. And this was the eighteen-to-thirty-two-year-old category. These were boobs in their prime.

Under each photo there was a caption written by the owner of the breasts.  And each caption read something like this: “These are my breasts. They’re pretty droopy (or lopsided or small or dimpled or ugly or embarrassing or pickle-shaped).  Wish I could fix them.”  The comments ranged from vehement hatred to mild distaste, but nobody, absolutely nobody, said:  “Here are my boobs. Aren’t they great? I find them delightful, and hallelujah!”  Nobody.

I was slated to hit the office at nine the next morning in my stilettos to present the “Boob ’em!” campaign to everybody who mattered.  But instead of getting to bed early, as I’d planned, I stayed up until three in the morning browsing the photos.  Something about the
realness of the pictures on the site underscored the fakeness of the boobs in our ads.  Something about the dignity of the real things made our hyped-up things seem ridiculous.  The whole campaign suddenly seemed brash and loud and stupid and just plain rude in a way that I couldn’t ignore.  How had I never thought about this before?  We were about to put a picture of a woman’s cleavage getting branded on every bus in America, for Pete’s sake.

I thought about all the normal women who had taken off their bras for the cameras.  I thought about the bravery of stepping forward with your own imperfections to help others feel better about theirs.  And all at once I felt ashamed of being part of the problem. I scanned the site until the images and the words bouncing in my brain became a cacophony of women’s dissatisfaction and despair, building louder and louder to a crescendo that I could not shush.  That is, until four a.m., when I clicked Forward on my sister’s email, selected the company-wide distribution list, and hit Send.

I sat back and nodded a little so-there nod.

Then, in the quiet that followed, I realized what I’d done, sat straight up, choked in a little breath of panic, and started looking for a way to unsend that email.  Knowing all the while that there wasn’t one.  That’s the truth about emails:  You can’t take them back.

In effect, I fired myself. Though the guy who actually did the firing—discreetly and several hours after our slam-dunk presentation—was a VP named J.J. who everybody called “Kid Dy-no-mite.”  Even though he wasn’t dynamite at all, just another ad guy at Marston & Minx.  A guy I’d started with six years earlier.  A guy who’d been promoted over me based on work we’d done together.  A guy I’d slept with back in the beginning until he called me a workaholic and broke things off.  Now he was married to a girl who wore pink Bermuda shorts when she brought him lunches in a picnic basket at the office.  But I guess I was even less dy-no-mite than he was, because I wasn’t married to anyone, nobody ever brought me lunches, and now I was out of a job.

J.J. said, “I’m sure you know that email was inappropriate.”

“Was it?” I said.

He gave a short sigh.  “People were pretty offended. Yeah.”

We were standing in the now-empty meeting room where our “Boob ’em!” campaign would later win promotions for seven people on our team.  We were surrounded by enormous blowups of bra-clad breasts in every direction.  Breasts larger than our bodies, in full color.  Valleys of cleavage the size of La-Z-Boys.  The “Steer ’em” ad showed boobs wrapped in barbed wire.  “Munch ’em” showed them resting on a giant sub sandwich.  And “Whip ’em” had a close-up of a whip just before impact.

“J.J.,” I said. “Look around.”

He looked around.

I said, “What does stuff like this do to real women?”

“Real women?” he said, cocking his head.  “Real women are overrated.”

Then he gave me a flirty smile, patted me on the shoulder, and told me the case was closed.  It was lunchtime.  He had a meeting. “Be graceful about it,” he advised as we headed out.  “And if you upload your own photo to that site,” he opened the door with one hand and pressed the small of my back with the other, “shoot me an email.”  Then he added, “You’d totally win that contest.”

“It’s not a contest,” I said.

“Everything’s a contest,” he told me, and then he walked away.

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Filed under events, excerpts, Get Lucky, katherine's books, prose

favorite quotes

A reporter asked me last week to put together some of my favorite quotes from Everyone Is Beautiful for a story she’s doing.  And so I did.  I’ve been writing new stuff, and blogging, and goofing off with my kids this summer–and it had been a while since I’d spent any time with Everyone Is Beautiful.  It was fun to go back and visit all those characters again and sift through the story to find some favorite moments.  

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So here are some of my favorite passages from Everyone Is Beautiful:

•••

People are always beautiful when you love them.

•••

Taking Amanda’s card, I knew that within twenty-four hours Baby Sam would find it in my purse, put it in his mouth, chew on it until it looked like a wad of gum, and then leave it on the floor where I’d step on it in bare feet many hours water on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  But it was okay.  I wouldn’t have called her anyway.

•••

Here’s what I need to confess about Peter and me:  We were not exactly in love anymore.  After fifteen years and three children together, we were often other places besides in it.  We were under it, sometimes.  Or above it.  Or against it. Or in arm’s reach of it. Or in shouting distance of it.  Or rubbing shoulders with it.  But not in it.  Not lately.  Not since Baby Sam was born.  Baby Sam was, you might say, the straw that broke the Love Camel’s back.  And now that camel was lying in the baking sun. All alone and very thirsty.

•••

At the end of the evaluation we had learned many things about me:  I had a strong back, biceps and calves.  My “areas for improvement” included my triceps, hamstrings, nonexistent stomach muscles, and pretty much everything else.  We had also learned that I had a tendency to become sarcastic in the face of intimidating physical challenges, and that my positive attitude was questionable.

•••

She did not know what it felt like to be challenged by a child, or overwhelmed, or unsure of what do to next.  It’s easy to be smug when you’ve had it easy.  I would much rather have been judged by a mom who’d had some challenges.  But, of course, a mom who’d had challenges would know better.

•••

Within a certain range of acceptability, we were all just doing the best we could—and, really, given a basic foundation of love and some Richard Scarry books, kids would be okay.

•••

I suddenly understood what it was, exactly, people longed for when they longed for their youth.

•••

Years ago, in college, I remember reading a statistic about women.  Asked if they’d rather gain thirty pounds or be hit by a bus, 75 percent of them chose the bus.  I was one of them, for sure.  I remember thinking that, truly, if I gained thirty pounds, I might as well be run over anyway.  Because I’d have no reason to live.

•••

It couldn’t be love, I told her.  It was too horrible. 

“That’s exactly love!” she said.  “Love is exactly that horrible.”

•••

It was so easy to come up with solutions to other people’s problems.  To watch them struggle through parenting and believe in a self-satisfied way that if you were in their shoes, you’d have it all figured out.

•••

“I’m not interested in taking your picture when you’re acting beautiful,” I said.  “I want to take your picture when you’re being beautiful by accident.”

“Nothing beautiful is an accident,” she said.

•••

It only hit me at this moment:  It had been a tough five months for my mother.  She needed to do some things for herself.  And I could relate to that.  I could really relate to that.

•••

At that moment, I suddenly loved us all the more for our flaws–for being broken and human, for being embarrassed and lonely, for being hopeful or tired or disappointed or sick or brave or angry.  For being who we were, for making the world interesting.  It was a good reminder that the human condition is imperfection.  And that’s how it’s supposed to be.

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revising a draft

Here’s me, yesterday, revising an early draft of a story.  This is what it looks like early on–lots of writing all over the page: arrows, carrots, scribbles.  Then I go back and type in what I’ve written.  Then I print it out and write all over the typed pages again, over and over until it feels ready.  People often ask me if I write things by hand or type them.  I always used to say I typed.  Until one day I noticed that it’s about half and half.

The words scrolling on the screen are the words that resulted from the very writing moment happening in the video.  I don’t usually share early drafts with anybody at all, so it feels a little thrilling and crazy to put those words up for the world to see–especially when those little sentences are just newborns.  But people seem to be interested in the process of writing.  And you can’t talk about revision with something that’s already finished, can you?

My husband thinks the sound of the pen on the page is like a dog wagging its tail.  And that’s kind of exactly right.

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Filed under excerpts, for writers, katherine's books, news!, prose, random, videos, WRITING WEDNESDAY

written on the body

I’m not sure how I came up with the idea to do this.  But a few weeks back, I decided that I wanted to paint words all over the body of my friend Jenny and have our friend Karen photograph it.  So I asked them.  And to my serious delight they both said yes.

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Here’s something I love to do:  put words in places you don’t expect them.

In college, I stamped poems onto signs made out of sheet metal and  put them up around campus.  I stamped words on office supplies, and bedsheets, and the pages of old books.

I loved the idea of words showing up where they didn’t belong.  The surprise of it.

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Now I am a grown-up, and writer, and I spend most of my creative life typing.  

But every now and then, I get to step away from my laptop.  And two days ago, I ventured out into my  mother’s back garden with two of my favorite people.  And I could not believe how relaxed we all were.  How game Jenny was to be painted like a tattooed lady, and how calm she was.  And how perfectly Karen captured not just the look of things, but the tenderness of it all.

And then our friend Laura showed up, too, and we hung out at my mom’s kitchen table.  We ate do-nuts and joked around a lot, but there was definitely something magical going on there that day.

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And then, using Karen’s photos, I made this video–to try to bring the words off the page a little.  To bring them to life in a new way.  And boy, did they come to life.

ALSO: This happens to be the garden where I got married. 

And ALSO:  Karen took exactly 500 photos that day.

And ALSO: Jenny read to us from the memoir she’s writing when we went back inside, and my face hurt from laughing the rest of the day.

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a little excerpt from Bright Side

Happy Mothers’ Day!  Here’s a video I made with an excerpt from Bright Side!

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Filed under excerpts, for writers, katherine's books, prose, random, the bright side of disaster, Uncategorized, videos

we all carry our mothers inside us

Here’s the second video trailer for the essay “Things to Remember Not to Forget” in Andrea Richesin’s anthology, “Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers on the Mother-Daughter Bond.”  All the photos, as before, come from the amazing site Square America.  

 

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you really can’t have everything

Here is the first in a series of 3 videos I am making that feature excerpts from my essay “Things to Remember Not to Forget.”  The essay was just published in an anthology called “Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers on the Mother-Daughter Bond,” edited by Andrea N. Richesin.  The photos are from an amazing site of “American vernacular photography” (i.e., found snapshots)  called Square America

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Filed under anthology: because I love her, excerpts, for writers, katherine's books, prose, videos, visual art