Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I would do anything for love
(but I won't do that)

I have two confessions.

The first is that my refrigerator smells like something crawled inside, threw up, contracted a severe foot fungus, developed gangrene, and then died.

The second is that I refuse to do anything about it.

Oh sure, I removed a carton of takeout Thai that’s been in there since March, and I might’ve sniffed a few iffy perishables (and proceeded to eat them).

But the fact is, I hate cleaning the refrigerator. It’s one of the chores – along with mopping floors and mowing the lawn – I will avoid at all costs.

I might feel guilty about this if it weren’t for the fact that Pythagoras has a similar list of chores he refuses to perform. His list includes folding laundry and scrubbing tubs or toilets.

The funny thing is, we’ve never discussed this in 12+ years of marriage. He’s never openly declared, “I will let the clean clothes accumulate in the laundry room until I’m forced to dress myself beside the dryer each morning while standing shoulder-deep in a pile of socks and underwear.”

Nor have I confessed to him that I will wait until one of us actually loses consciousness in front of the refrigerator before I stoop to removing shelves and scrubbing bins to find the source of that god-awful smell.

It’s just an unspoken rule that the spouse who doesn’t abhor the chore will eventually tackle it for the one who does.

This fact – plus a shared love of ‘80s butt-rock – is why we’re a good match.

It’s also the reason I surround myself with writing and publishing professionals who compensate for my weaknesses.

Plotting is not my strength. My idea of plotting a book is declaring that I’d like to write about a heroine who owns a vineyard and then some stuff happens.

Fortunately, critique partner Cynthia Reese is a fabulously talented plotter. She’s always willing to help me brainstorm when I’ve backed my characters into a corner and removing their clothes won’t get them out this time.

Lest you think it’s a one-way relationship, I bring something to the table as well. I amuse her with fart jokes and point out when her scenes might benefit from the inclusion of one.

I will also freely admit I'm incapable of reading instructions and contracts. When I saw the first copy of my three-book contract with Sourcebooks, Inc, I made it through the first twelve words before succumbing to the overwhelming urge to polish my toenails.

Luckily, I have my amazing agent, Michelle Wolfson. She not only read the contract in its entirety, but fought hard for changes that benefited me (well, I assume they benefited me – it’s possible I just signed a contract to sell my liver on the black market).

Do you surround yourself with people who have strengths you don’t? Do you help tackle chores someone else abhors when you don’t mind doing them yourself?

Please share in the comments. I’ll be donning my gas mask in preparation for retrieving the milk from the fridge.

32 comments :

Rebecca Lynn said...

Okay, firstly... removing their clothes should *always* get them out of a plot corner.

And secondly, this is what I do for a living, Strengths Coaching. And I can't tell you how many people I've worked with over the years who can't figure out what you've naturally learned. It's so refreshing to read this post!

Well, refreshing in a way that doesn't include my olfactory glands, but I guess we can't win them all. :-)

Great post, Tawna.

-Becca (@beck_a_tron)

Janet Reid said...

The publishing contract has a clause requiring you to clean the fridge weekly. I think Michelle and Pythagoras are in cahoots.

Don't believe me? It's clause 72A/vii/7.

JohnO said...

I went 11 for 10 on the last 80s music quiz I took, yet somehow missed the term "butt-rock." Clearly I've been only half-alive.

Trisha Leigh said...

I threw away a bag of bread last night that was completely green and had moisture droplets clinging to the inside. Yeah. Gross.

I need a Pythagoras-type.

In answer to your question YES. Critique partners help me plot when I'm lost, tell me to get over myself when I start clinging to my pretty words and sobbing softly - and drink wine with me when I've had a rough week. Priceless, they are.

Oh, and they also smack me when I start talking like Yoda. Go figure.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I'm so with you on cleaning out the fridge! I guess my strategy is, when the fridge gets bad, to stop buying food. When I eat everything left in the fridge, then it's easier to clean. :) At least, sorta.
One of my friends is a fantastic line-editor. She finds misspellings and grammar mistakes that are still there in the third or fourth draft. In return, I help her scope out her plot, because she sometimes gets stuck on little stuff and doesn't know what to do next. We're a pretty good team.
Great post!

madameduck said...

What an excellent metaphor! My other half does the complimentary chores too! I recently joked to a friend, "I do the laundry and dusting and vacuum the floor. He does the cooking and the dishes and the bathroom cleaning. And neither of us mops."

Now I'm going to have to find similar relationships in my writing! :)

Summer said...

My husband is the first to tell me that I'm making things overly-complicated, and that I need to cut all the crap. He's not a reader or a writer, but he has a great mind for plot. I blame it on all the movies he watches.

I think I need to even up our chore-abhoring relationship. He doesn't clean the bathroom (seriously, ever. I never really even noticed it until we'd been married for almost two years), doesn't clean the litterbox, doesn't make the bed, and never puts his f-ing shoes away. I used to not take out the trash, but now I do. I should remedy that.

Patty Blount said...

Absolutely!

Like Summer said, my husband is also not a big fan of reading or writing. (The last book he ready was The Amityville Horror.)

But he's great at helping me plot.

My sons are also incredibly patient as they listen to me talk about "Dan," my MC, as if he were their brother.

And of course, you, the folks I "hang" with online.

One of my detested chores is anything that requires a visit to the attic. I'm just not coordinated enough to manage the pull-down stairs, hunched down to avoid a rafter head-butt, and mind the gaps between the floor beams so a foot does not crash through one of my ceilings.

I will bribe one of the boys to do that for me.

Michelle Wolfson said...

The contract has a clause requiring me to clean MY fridge weekly. I'm no dummy.

Michelle Wolfson said...

Hopefully I read your contract more carefully than I read that comment.

Delia said...

I'm with Pythagoras on the laundry. I'm happy to move it in and out of the machines, but folding? No. Likewise, my husband doesn't scrub toilets or wash the stovetop or sink. Even if he's cleaned the rest of the kitchen, the stovetop and sink somehow escape his attention.

I'm in the process of surrounding myself with appropriately talented people. I'm just starting out, and this stuff takes time. I'll get there.

One more thing. Butt-rock? I lived through the eighties -- hell, I even remember some of it -- but I've never heard the term butt-rock. Hair metal, euro-pop, power ballad? Yes. Butt-rock? No.

Jessica Lemmon said...

I've gotten myself into that predicament recently - the middle of my story is making me miserable, but I'm doing my darndest to muddle through.

And yes, the fridge thing? I haz it. Oh, and I don't mind cleaning the toilet, but BEHIND IT?! Um, no...

Makes me think I want a maid, but then I imagine her breaking my beloved [fill in the blank] and I decide I'll just make Mr. Lemmony do it!

Melissa Gill said...

Don't worry Tawna, after a while the stuff in the fridge petrifies and it no longer smells or gives off noxious gasses. Now if I could just get my critique group partners to come clean out my fridge...

Tawna Fenske said...

Becca, oh good, so I'm not just a freeloader who's taking advantage of what other people can do for me? :)

Janet, wait, you mean Michelle isn't going to show up here & clean my fridge? Dammit, why do I even have an agent?

JohnO, funny, butt-rock plays a significant role in the second book in my contract. There was some debate when I wrote it whether people would be familiar with the term. Among my readers anyway, those who didn't know the term still knew right away what I meant!

Trisha, I would pay a lot of money to hear you talk like Yoda.

Bethany, I have one of those amazing line editors among my stable of beta readers. Unfortunately, she isn't a writer herself, so I can just bribe her with swapped critiques. I ply her with liquor instead, which seems to work just as well :)

madameduck, we mop our floors maybe once a year. No, I'm not exaggerating. It's the reason we installed all this dirt-colored tile. You really can't tell when it's filthy.

Summer, yep, you definitely need to go on trash strike. Taking out garbage should always be a boy job :)

Patty, my husband isn't much of a reader either, but you know what he's absolutely DEVOURING right now? IN THE SHADOW OF FREEDOM by Travis Sentell & Tchicaya Missamou. I should probably be offended he's never shown the same enthusiasm for reading my books, but I'm eager to read it, too!

Michelle, I'll clean your fridge if you clean mine. You first. Ready? Go!

Delia, I actually stopped using our dryer a few years ago when I made a New Year's resolution to air dry all our laundry to save energy. I bought these great clothes drying racks for indoors, and the system works great because I'm quick to put everything away so it isn't just sitting out in the hall. The problem? If Pythag gets a wild hair and decides to do a few loads of laundry, he will use the dryer. And since I'm not accustomed to looking in there anymore, the clean clothes can pile up for weeks before I notice.

Jessica, I've always wanted a maid. Unfortunately, I'm it for now!

Melissa, oooh, I think you're onto something there! I'll lure all my critique partners and beta readers over for a "brainstorming session" (ha!) and I'll trick them into cleaning my fridge. Great plan!

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Alexa O said...

My boyfriend and I are both artistic types who don't know how to earn a living. When my mother asked us who was going to be in charge of that tiny detail of life, we both looked at my daughter.

Who is two.

Happily, we will be content in our poverty because he knows how to stay neat and organized. That's what he brings to the relationship. What I bring to the relationship is my sparkling personality and good looks.

This seems like a perfect yin and yang, no?

Clever Cherry / Betty said...

I so hate to do laundry. I would behave exactly as Pythagorus only unfortunately my housemate wants to use the machines sometimes so I have to take the laundry out. I will take it to my room and move it from surface to surface as it gets in my way rather than fold or hang it.
Guess what I'm doing today? Laundry. Just starting. Determined as always to get all of it washed, dried and put away. Har. We'll see.
Unfortunately I have not found writing partners yet. Not sure how to go about it even. This is a very small town.

randine said...

I have the solution for your fridge- and you won't even have to clean it: baking soda!! That's what I do to mine. And when that doesn't work, just buy more. Soon your fridge will be full of just baking soda and old take out.

And yes, I am in the same predicament with my husband. We basically play a version of 'chicken' to see who can hold out the longest on doing household chores until one of us caves and does it. It's just about hazardous as the version they play with trucks on Footloose.

Danica Avet said...

I will do any chore in the house except dust and clean bathrooms. I can't do it. I'll cut grass, wash clothes, sweep, mop, wash dishes, but don't make me clean bathrooms. *shudders*

Right. My CPs are amazing people. I have one who helps me figure out what's funky about my plot. She points out the little things that could easily be offensive to readers and reminds me that there's a thin line between tortured and crazy. My other CP is the fine tuner. She points out where I could drop words to tighten up my manuscript and laughs at the parts I want people to laugh at. I'd be lost without them.

Suzi McGowen said...

Fortunately, the chore that I hate the most (cooking) is the one my husband loves.

So he cooks and I eat. It's a marraige made in heaven's kitchen!

As for my writing, my weakness is repetitive words. Fortunately my crit partners are great at spotting my weaknesses!

Leona said...

yeah, we've got those chores too. Because he's working and I'm home with kids and writing, I'm trying to make sure the chores get done. Unfortunately, I'm not real good at that aspect of things :) Maybe I'll get an agent that will clean out MY fridge. lol

I'm looking for a CP. *cough ahem Clever Cherry* I have a couple of beta readers, but they don't know how to critique. Although, I have learned things from them.

So far the biggest problem I've had is they take out my voice. Or try to. I let them too much on a fantasy because of other blogs I'd read on too many adjectives. Went the wrong way with that.

And, I think Janet Reid is way too good at the clause number. If she was my agent, I'd now be frantically combing my contract for that particular number to see if cleaning the fridge is in there :)

Leona said...

Oh, and I almost forgot. Butt-rock is a common term around here :) I've worked for bands who play that music and even call it that. Not sure how anyone who lived through the eighties didn't know that. When I got told about it, I wondered how I didn't know that. I graduated in 1990, and I still didn't learn that term until I was roughly 26, When I started working for bands and theatre.

Linda G. said...

It is so funny that you're posting about this today. This morning, right before he left for work, TG said, "Maybe I'll clean out the fridge when I get home."

Which I'm guessing MAY have been a hint, since he's coming off a stint in Opera Hell, and has been working 14-hour days, and probably doesn't really want to clean the fridge when he gets home.

So, did I clean the fridge? Uh, no. But I'll coat his stomach with disinfectant before I feed him anything from it. (What? Alcohol is a disinfectant.)

Elizabeth Ryann said...

I was going to talk about strengths. And then my mental image of Cynthia pounding back spinach like Pop-Eye distracted me. And then I was diverted by the fantasy of having a maid. And, honestly, that whole marriage racket looks better and better every day: lower taxes, lower car insurance, someone else who can do the litter box and vacuuming and dishes... Hmm. Mostly I just plot with my BFF though because she thinks in a way that's really similar to me, so it's like working things out with myself, and apparently I'm extremely narcissistic.

Focusing: not my strength today.

Christina Auret said...

Your blog makes me want to count the days until your books come out. It is that amazing. My only fear in this regard is that it might be a while before your books become available in South Africa. (Is there any plans for a South African release or will I have to get my sister in law to smuggle me copies from Canada?)

Anyways:

On the chore front I can't relate. I live alone and my flat only gets cleaned before my parents come to visit or when I particularly want to see the carpet.

However, my varsity friends have saved me a lot of time in the prevention of plot-holes. (I don't have 15 000 words, but boy do I have plot-holes.)

CA and lawyer friends know useful things.

They have not had much use for my skill set, but I know they will call me if they ever need a tennis ball assault weapon.

Suz said...

Funny you should post this. I was just going to ask you how that writing-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method is going. I tried writing like that and also ended up writing characters into a corner. Guess I just have to find a good balance between freestyle writing and coming up with plots, because I don't have any writer friends to help.

As for the fridge cleaning. Do what I do and hire out a cleaning service at least once per month.

Candyland said...

I suppose the hubs and I have a similar relationship. Except, I do just about everything and he does none of it. That's balanced, right?

But on another note, the inclusion of a fart joke can only make a story better.

Patrick Alan said...

I like to hang out with outgoing funny people, because I am a shy unfunny wilting flower.

Patrick Alan said...

HEY! Guess what's jingling in my underpants?!?!?

Oh. Wrong post. Sorry.

terripatrick said...

Fridge cleaning advice: My sister promotes cleaning the fridge at the new moon. But since I don't notice the moon when it's not there, I try to remember to clean the fridge at the solstice. The news on that day always has something about being able to balance an egg on end because the poles, or gravity, or magnetics are different.

Something about taking a raw egg out of the fridge to sit on end in the sun reminds me to clean the fridge. Which doesn't take long since it's mainly condiments and beer.

Oh, right. Your post wasn't really about cleaning the fridge, it was about people in our lives who have strengths that balance weaknesses. Well, I think so. Not sure I have a weakness. I'll get back to you at the solstice, or maybe it's the equinox.

Screw it. I'm going out to look at the moon. It's a bit cold to toss my clothes. I'll focus on the fart process.

Jen J. Danna said...

Great post! It definitely must be love when you and your partner can complement each other so well!

This post hit home for me on several levels. First of all, I write with a partner, and one of the reasons why this works is because we complement each other so well. We are very similar (I'm a bench scientist, she's an ex-bench scientist) and have very much the same outlook on life and on how we view things. I keep up a really kick-ass schedule and any one who couldn't keep up with me would have to go; Ann can and does keep up with me. She's intuitive and creative and honestly, I think she's the smartest person I know (and I work at a University with a lot of egg-heads, so that's saying something...). When I stumble on plot, she's always there to suggest something fresh. And when it comes to the actual writing, she pumps it up to a new level and sets an expectation level that I have to meet even in the initial draft. She's also my harshest and best critic. We'll story plan and brainstorm together, I'll write a chapter, she'll rip it apart and then as a team we put it back together. Kind of extreme perhaps, but it works for us.

On top of that, we have several members in our critique team that we couldn't have done without -- one is a professional editor and one is an author herself. Their comments made a *significant* impact on the final draft of our novel (final thus far...).

Writing is not an isolated journey. Those not in the 'know' might think so, but it really is a team exercise. And the right team can make anything possible.

Shakespeare said...

I can't say I have a good critique team, but my husband probably helps more than anyone. He is NOT a great reader, but that helps, for he makes me stay real, and he's willing to tell me when something isn't working.

Since he's not a writer, he also doesn't tell me HOW to change my stuff. I've always hated critiques when another writer rewrites one of my pages to make it "better." Ouch.

Tawna Fenske said...

Alexa, too funny! Very early marriage when we were still trying to be open minded about the idea of procreating, we decided that if we could come up with five solid reasons to have a child, we would at least discuss the possibility. The only reason we ever came up with was "to have someone to take out the trash." Suffice it to say, this didn't seem like a very good reason.

Clever Cherry, thanks for reminding me I should blog sometime about finding critique partners. It's a question that seems to come up a lot here, and I should probably address it somewhere besides the comments. I know there are forums at absolutewrite.com where lots of people connect with CPs. Are you a member of a writing group for your genre? I know my RWA chapter, for example, helps connect people with CPs. I met CP Cynthia Reese in the discussion forums for Harlequin when we were both targeting lines there. We've never actually met in person, but we've worked together for 6 years.

Randine, alas, we've already got baking soda in there. Even that's starting to stink.

Danica, does this mean you won't be coming over to scrub my toilets? I'm crushed.

Suzi, do you do the dishes after he cooks? :)

Leona, you'll have to report back if you and Clever Cherry end up connecting as CPs! I'd feel like a dating site then. And thank you for knowing the term "butt-rock." I just like it so much better than "hair bands" or "glam rock." It has such a nice ring to it!

Linda G, you are a thoughtful and considerate wife, and he is lucky to have you.

Elizabeth, yes, there are some advantages to marriage. Not all of them are sexual, either.

Christina, you know, if I had actually read my contract (you thought I was kidding about that?) I might know if my books are being released in South Africa. I'm not sure, but I think foreign rights are negotiated separately, but hell, what do I know? It's also possible my publisher already has a robust distribution plan for the entire African continent. I suck at this, sorry.

Suz, I've been doing the seat-of-my-pants writing thing for 8 years and 8 or 9 manuscripts, so even though I occasionally back myself into corners, it's part of the fun for me. I'm pretty good at getting myself out, but it's definitely not a method for everyone.

Candyland, does he at least rub your feet and tell you you're beautiful?

Patrick, has anyone ever suggested therapy?

Terripatrick, fridge cleaning with the phases of the moon? Huh. Never thought of that, but maybe I should give it a shot.

Jen, that sounds like a really cool relationship, both with the co-writer and with the critique group!

Shakespeare, my husband isn't much of a reader or a writer, which is one reason he's fun to bounce ideas off of. He always has a unique way of considering things that's totally unlike what I'd do.

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna