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COLUMNS
IN Her Own Write
January, 2008


Best Revenge

How To Use Anger For Fun And Profit
Steam your way to a masterpiece
By  Anne R. Allen

Our boss-dude manager-person says we’re getting waaaay too lax here around the old Inkwell. Time to stop wallowing in politics and personal angst and give our readers some serious how-to.
 
So gather ’round, campers. I’m gonna tell you how to create a masterpiece using everyday stuff you’ve got lying around the hovel: a scrap of paper, a pencil stub and oh, yeah — anger.
 
As Mr. Jung told us last month, suffering from a writing habit has its down side. But on the plus side, supplies are cheap. Good writing doesn’t come from technology, expensive courses or secret formulas. Sure you’ve got to master the discipline: learn to create a compelling story arc and find out where those apostrophes go, or you’ll look like an idiot. And computers make the process a whole lot easier. But what separates great writing from simply adequate is one thing: emotion. The more intense, the better. And as far as intense emotions go, anger’s a goodie.
 
Two years ago I’d never sold an article. I thought I had no talent for nonfiction. That’s because to me, “nonfiction” meant those college papers we all had to grind out — stuff like Horticultural Imagery In Herrick — passionless snores to write and, I’m sure, to read. But I’d often fire off angry letters to the editor of my hometown newspaper. They usually got published. I even got fan mail. (Hate mail, too.) But no pay. One day it occurred to me to expand a “to the editor” rant into an 800-word article. It was accepted and a check arrived a few weeks later. My career took a whole new turn.
 
Fiction can be fueled by anger, too.
 
People often ask me why I choose to write about intrinsically unsympathetic character types — celebutantes, right-wing fundamentalists, snoopy old busybodies. I used to say, “The character chose me. She/he just appeared on the page.” But the truth is my most vivid characters barge into a story after I’ve kept them stashed for a while in subconscious hidey-holes of unprocessed anger. And the amazing thing is that once I get to writing about somebody who really cheesed me off, I imagine a background or problem to explain why he/she acted in that superficial/intolerant/clueless way, and not only do I have a better story, but my anger's gone.
 
Recently I’ve been afflicted by an infuriating plague of spam — so many hundreds of porno e-mails a day that my spam blocker can’t keep up. The overworked blocker is apparently so exhausted that it often tosses my real e-mails into the “bulk” folder and the spam into the inbox, which pretty much negates the whole point of the program.
 
But the other day I noticed that the “person” who had sent me the e-mail offering “admirable russian teenies in aesthetical blowjoobs” was named Ferdinand Flakes.
 
I’d been looking for a name for a character’s annoying roommate and there he was: Ferdie Flakes — I could see his asthma inhaler on the coffee table next to the molding pizza boxes as he played loud, endless rounds of Grand Theft Auto.
 
I started paying more attention to the spam. The next day I realized that Mrs. Rose Van Hansen (who offered to enlarge my peni$$) when put together with “goluphlious hardcoor” purveyors DeeDee Briggs and Pricilla Clovis, made the perfect screening committee for my heroine’s Manhattan co-op board.
 
As a fun writing prompt, I tried using all one morning’s names in one paragraph — about when Elbert Snell saw supposedly straight Jerold McWilliams and Jason Guthrie together in the locker room, and ratted to coach Cruz Hutchinson, who reported it to principal Evangelina Ngyen, who called her lawyer, Hillary Allred. It might have stayed quiet except that custodian Gonzalo Fritz told his mother Eula, and her bingo friends Dima Buntz and Clara Flood spread the scandal all over town.
 
So if you’re blocked, or need a cool name for a character, check that bloody, @&%*!!# spam.
 
And next time the creep with the “My Dog Is Smarter Than Your Honor Student” sticker on his SUV cuts you off, don’t waste anger giving him the finger. Go home and write a story about how his dog found little Timmy in the well and pawed the keypad on Timmy’s phone to call Mr. SUV and woof him over to save the day. Now you’re actually rooting for Mr. SUV to keep driving like a drunken NASCAR wannabe. You want him to reach Timmy before he drowns, don’t you?
 
OK, maybe I lied about the masterpiece, but hey, you’ve got a story and your anger is gone.
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Anne R. Allen is a California novelist and book editor who has been living part time in the UK. Her latest comic novel, The Best Revenge, An Historical Novel Of The 1980s, (Babash-Ryan) debuted in the UK in 2005 and is available from amazon.co.uk and most UK bookshops. Her first novel with Babash-Ryan, Food Of Love is available from amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com as well as amazon.co.uk analan2@yahoo.com

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