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Eat Your Makeup

August 21, 2012

If ever there was a piece of advice I would give a writer asking for advice, it’s “don’t ask strangers for advice.” I’ve seen it time and again on Reddit. “Hey Reddit, will you critique my short story/first chapter?” The problem is, most of the advice you get is from people quoting chapter and verse the shit you already know if you’ve ever read any writing book ever. You can almost hear the harrumphing voice as they proclaim, “Well, there’s too much exposition here, you really need to grab the reader in the first sixty seconds blah blah blah.” There are just too many people out there ready to pounce, or who want to look like experts, and the best way to do that is to tell you that you’re coloring outside the lines. The problem isn’t that, in the abstract, it isn’t good advice in general, so much as it is the kind of advice that helps make your work more like everyone else’s. Crappy books are all alike, every uncrappy book is uncrappy in its own way.

As I get deeper into LTP, I start to look back and say, oh, that contradicts this, or oh, I need to add something back there to justify this, or oh, what I said back there needs to get reflected up here. But if I were to stop and apply the standard advice template to my work, I’d never get anywhere. I’d be too busy forcing to fit to keep moving. There is a LOT of exposition at the beginning of the book, but I’m fine with that. It’s setting up the characters and the situation and I don’t find myself bored when I reread it, which is pretty much my litmus test. And if I need to, I can reframe it later. So much of that stuff is really hair and makeup, the kind of thing you can fix and change after you’ve successfully built the body. I am very well aware that this is a first draft. And that, after cooling it on the sill for a while, I will look back at all kinds of things and say, o crap. And, should no Golden Ticket present itself, and I end up self-publishing, I intend to hire an editor to go over it and see what I as author just can’t. (This is of course when you wish you were the kind of author whose acknowledgements run into multiple pages, in which you thank all the readers and editors and coworkers and fellow-writers and everyone else in your vast social galaxy for all their kind assistance and patience and input and therapy.)

So here’s a bit more. I don’t know why, I just can’t bring myself to get Alex talking yet. It’s going to be hard, after working so hard at making him wonderful, to make him disappointing, I guess.


I met Alice at the bakery slash café downtown. We were buddy buddy enough now that less and less of our conversation was about Alex, or ourselves – now we were comfortable enough to talk about “stuff” most of the time. But there was something that had been on my mind for a week or so now, since getting my clearance from Dad.

“Hey, I wanted to ask you a favor,” I said. “No cost to you.”

“Okay,” she said in the tone that said keep talking, not yes.

“I never got my own Alex. And…I want to now. To see what they’ve done. And maybe I’m being paranoid, but with my NDA and everything, I think if my name pops up somewhere in their customer database, it could be trouble. So I’ll pay for it, but…”

“You need a shell company, so to speak.”

“Yeah.” I had to resist the urge to say that I’d make it worth her while, trying to remember that friends didn’t pay friends for favors, and trying to buy friends was a bad idea.

“I can do that. When do you want to get him?”

“Well, how about now?”

“Let’s do it.”

We went back to my house, the first time I’d had company over in…well, ever, other than family. I sometimes wondered what the neighbors thought. Okay, I often wondered what the neighbors thought. Spooky girl who lives alone, as seen through the living room window always on the couch reading a book. I guess there were worse fates than being thought of as eccentric.

“Nice,” Alice said succinctly. The house wasn’t big, but it was big enough, a bedroom for me and a bedroom for an office. And I liked to think I’d made it homey.

“Thanks.” I dragged another chair into the office and we went to to sign up.

“Nerd Alex?” she asked as we went through the setup process.

“Is that the one you have?”

“Yeah. I find him the least offensive of all the ones I’ve seen. There’s a Jersey Shore Alex, you know.”

“No way.”

“Well, he’s not called that. But same thing. Flat brim hat worn backwards with the sticker on it Alex.”

“Call me Brah Alex. No, let’s stick with nerd.”

We went through the signup process, battling furiously against the special offers and stealth toolbar installs as we went. If AOL can be held responsible for one terrible thing, it’s the way that every offer page you wade through has a giant YES button and a tiny, hard to find No, Thanks hyperlink.

Alice entered her card info and we downloaded Alex and installed him. “Copy the terms of service, will you? Just out of curiosity.”

“No problem. FYI, Jay’s got it commented out on his blog.”

“How long have you known him?”

“Since last fall, I think. We’ve only been dating for a few months.”

“Dating!” I blurted.

“Oh, yeah, I didn’t tell you that?”

“Nooo,” I laughed. “I never hear you say you’re doing stuff with your boyfriend.”

“Well, opposites attract, I guess. He really is Mr. So Busy, and I really am Ms. Do Not Call, so between the small amount of time I want to spend with other people, and the small amount of time he has for me? It actually works out pretty good.”

Alice and I were alike in a lot of ways, and I had to wonder if we were more alike that I knew. What if I did have unlimited access to people? How much of it would I really want to use? I loved the idea that you could have access to a social life, without being obligated to total immersion. I did like to sprawl on the couch and read a book, and after some days at work, that was all I wanted in the whole wide world. Just not, you know, every night.

“So he’s not really the typical Alex user. Or what I’d think of as one, anyway.”

“Well, there’s two kinds, I guess. There’s people like us, who like the idea of company on demand that doesn’t ask anything in return.” I almost moved to object but reconsidered. “Three kinds, I guess, since there’s people who just can’t find any other friends. Since the third are the hackers, the ones like Jay who want to take him apart, jailbreak and remake. Who can be as socially retarded as the rest, I guess, but Jay, well, he’s the kind of guy who ends up either founding a huge corporation and becoming a trillionaire or going all Wikileaks and surviving on God knows what.”

“And he is on the way to which one?”

She frowned. “Hard to say. The money in Alex is obviously someone else’s, so right now he’s on the road to ruin. Okay, he’s ready. I set you up as the ‘giftee’ so he knows to use your name. First name, that is. You’ve got my last name because the company thinks you’re my kid now. Are you ready?”

I laughed. “I’m nervous. Like I’m going out on a date, years later, with my high school sweetheart. Which I guess he was.”

“Well, let’s hope he still has his hair. You want audio?”

The “new” Alex could talk, but there was something more human to me in reading his words, and ascribing a tone of voice to them, that there could be with the way the current technology’s fabricated “voice” sounded. With the sound off, I thought, I was more likely to believe in magic.

>Hello, Caroline, Alex said for the first time in years.

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