Thursday, March 5, 2015

What I Learned from Binge Watching Scandal

I had walking pneumonia last month, which in my case was basically a First World Problem, albeit one that came with much hacking and wheezing. I felt winded if I stood up. I had the plague for a good three weeks.

I'm most thankful that I didn't have to drag my tail to a "normal" job. I remember corporate America well. Sick employees face a Catch-22: Your boss and colleagues hate you for coming in sick, and they hate you for taking sick days. I am also deeply grateful for my mother and sister-in-law, who took the Grape off my hands for the lion's share of the February school break.

I convalesced by discovering and binge-watching Scandal.

Some friends say the writing has gone over a cliff (wink) in terms of credulity, but I love a good caper, particularly this one, with a smart woman at the center of multiple dark conspiracies.

Well done, Shonda Rhimes.

Luckily we writers can chalk up excessive TV viewing as a learning exercise.

The main downside to watching so much Scandal: I kept wondering whether my suspense thriller, The K Street Affair, should have been farther fetched.

While writing early drafts, I decided my scheme (wherein corporate titans from around the globe conspire with top elected officials and those charged to protect them to perpetrate major crimes, because they are Greedy and Insatiably Power Hungry) would need to be really complicated.

Watching all that Scandal taught me that fast paced writing will make the audience come along for the ride—and they don't need to see every nut and bolt of a conspiracy to believe it. They will accept that their fellow humans will do anything, when driven by lust (whether for power or flesh or cash, or any combination thereof).

At some point, around my seventeenth draft of K Street, I decided that it was too remarkable for my smart but civilian heroine to remain alive through the terrifying events that befell her. I toned down some big events in the book. Mistake?  Hard to say. It's that credulity thing again: it's awfully fun, as a writer, to dance as close to the edge as possible.

In sunnier news, I'm confident, after watching all this Scandal, that putting two hot, imperfect men in my novel was absolutely the right call.

Everyone loves a love triangle, and I suspect many fans love Ms. Rhimes for bucking the big screen trend: Olivia Pope gets lots of woman-focused sex.

Aside: While watching this love triangle, I have also contemplated what it means for my psyche that I hope Olivia chooses Jake over Fitz. Or at least chooses herself.

The K Street Affair is a quirky book: a woman centered political and spy caper that doesn't fit neatly into any of the spaces on the bookshelf. It was fun to write, at times scary to research, and ultimately the novel I wanted to publish—a misfit, nerdy sort of book. Kind of like its author.

Because K Street was a quirky novel, I never shopped it* to major publishers, a huge mistake I realized too late.

Precise moment of my epiphany regarding how badly I screwed up:  Thanksgiving, 2012, when Barnes & Noble selected The K Street Affair for their General Fiction Book Club for January 2013, and I had no distribution network to get books into their 700 stores, or any mechanism to take back unsold copies. That was an enormous missed opportunity for me as a writer.

I'm thrilled by the success of Scandal.  It means I'm not the only woman writer who's tired of seeing the guys have all the fun, and that audiences agree.

*Full disclosure: A few agents saw, years earlier, a very rough draft of the book that would become The K Street Affair (2013). After several of them advised me to shelve it for a while, and write something more "mainstream," I listened and wrote The Hazards (2011).

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