I had tried coauthoring a book before with my friends Katie and Jessica. The plan was that each of us would write a paragraph, then hand it off to the next person. The problem? We never made it to page two. We did, however, write some preadolescent promo material:
LIFE ISN'T FAIR
Courtney used to think her life was great. She isn't popular and she isn't a total dweeb. Her and her best friend, Teri, have it made. And Courtney's boyfriend is the most popular boy in school. Then Courtney's parents are having a baby, and Courtney eavesdrops and discovers the fact that she's adopted and she knows that her parents don't want her. When her boyfriend dumps her, that's when she decides that life isn't fair. So she [wait for it...] runs away.
Of course she does! By the way, I think we may need to resurrect the word "dweeb."
For our next cowritten venture, Katie and I decided to simplify things. Our book would be a series of letters written by two friends who were having a much more interesting summer than we were. Plus, this would give us an excuse to utilize a four-color pen (Katie) and dot our i's with hearts (me).
But first we had to jot down a list of our respective four-color pen pals' vital statistics and favorite T.V. shows—this allowed us to make extraneous pop culture references and concoct zany hobbies that no real-life fifth grader would ever admit to being interested in. My character, Andrea Forleene, loved goats and Corey Haim.
D.O.B.: October 4, 1977
Fav. Food: Chocolate cigars
Fav. Animal: Goat
Fav. Actor: Cory Haim
Fav. Actress: Kristy Swanson
I was very impressed with her performance in Flowers in the Attic. And that movie where she narrowly escapes death by becoming a killer robot.
Fav. Movie: Three Men And A Baby
Family: dad - Christopher (41), mom - Stephanie (39), sister - Christina (16), sister - Brittany (14½), brother - Sean (12½), and me!! Andrea (10½)
Fav. Sport: Kickball
Hair Color: Brown wavy, shoulder-length
Eye Color: Brown
Are you ready for the hobbies? This is when we get into WTF territory.
Hobbies: Writing Letters, Singing, Riding Trains, Collecting fake flowers, making pyramids out of old pop cans, recycling, eating chocolate, collecting flashlights, wearing tons of jewelry, making my family members pissed.Making pyramids out of old pop cans? Seriously? That's how Andrea spends her time? And I thought the flashlight collection was so genius, I actually reused it in another story. !!! Or perhaps you could say I "recycled" it, because recycling is one of my hobbies. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to catch a train to the fake flower shop. Right after I tell off my mom.
Katie's character was Leslie Nettles, a creative speller who belonged to organizations with unwieldy acronyms for names.Full Name: Leslie Elizabeth Nettles
D.O.B.: July 7, 1977
Favorite Food: Corean Chiken Balls
Neither Katie nor I had ever eaten a Korean chicken ball, but we HAD seen the movie Hello Again, starring Shelley Long as a woman who chokes to death on a Korean chicken ball only to be magically raised from the grave one year later by her woo-woo sister, Zelda. Unfortunately, Shelley Long does not come back as a zombie, but she does end up making out with Gabriel Byrne, so I guess that's cool too.
Favorite Color: Peach
Favorite T.V. Show: Miami Vice
Favorite Animal: Saint Bernardo
Do you get it? Do you get it?
You might if you realize that's Bernardo from West Side Story, and that's he's wearing a shoddily drawn halo. (Crap, jokes aren't funny if you have to explain them, are they?)
Favorite Song: Pour Some Sugar on Me
Favorite Singer(s): Def Leppard
Favorite Movie: [Blank]
Family Members: Mom: Frances (38), Dad Francis (39), Maria (7), Sandra (16), Marx (16), Alan (13)
Favorite Sport: Horse Back Riding, Water Skiing
Hobbies: Basket Ball, Dancing, Acting, Bug Collecting, Pillow Case Collecting, Cooking, A.C.A.O.A.F.G.W., making my sister jealous, Water Skiing, Horse Back Riding, Listening to the OLDIES [do you think she sweats to them as well?], collecting podel skirts (Todd)
I know what you're thinking—that is, after you've gotten past the pillow case collection and the podel skirts (Todd, by the way, is not the name of one of the podels; he's Leslie's love interest, as you'll see shortly). What you're wondering is "What the hell is the A.C.A.O.A.F.G.W.?" The disturbing part is that IT DIDN'T TAKE ME THAT LONG TO FIGURE IT OUT. I'm pretty sure Leslie belongs to the Anti-Chauvinist Association of America for Girls and Women. And the protagonist from Life Isn't Fair was also a member! [Courtney Allison Sett also had a pet iguana named Igor (who she would totally fall for if she were an iguana!), her boyfriend was a georgiouse skater, and she had a weird habit of stating facts about herself aloud.] I'm not exactly sure what the A.C.A.O.A.F.G.W. did at their meetings, but I suspect it may have involved comparing men to farm animals.
Hi, how are you? I'm fine! How do you like being with your cousins all of the time? It gets really hot down here. You know Australia always get to be 90° everyday? Well, it's true! I miss my dog Duchess sooooooo much! Do you miss your house?
My grandparents, well, really my grandma can be such a NAG, with a capital N! There's one kangaroo who is hurt and is really tame who eats out of my hand. COOL, huh? I bet you could never get an animal to eat out of your hands!
Well, gotta go!
Leslie E. Nettles
For your information, ELIZABETH, my Aunt & Uncle and cousins live on a farm (SORT OF) here in Vermont. SO animals like goats and stuff eat RIGHT out of my hands. SO THERE! So chow yourself out!
Andrea Heather Forleene
P.S. Your grandma's right to NAG you!In patented Sada style, my character goes totally frigging psycho after the smallest provocation. Also, I think there was some (unwritten) backstory about how Leslie hated her middle name, hence Andrea referring to her as Elizabeth in CRAZY CAPS™. However, I do enjoy "Chow yourself out!" as an insult. I like to think of it as a less-sophisticated version of "Why don't you take a long walk off a short pier?"—except I think it might involve overindulgence at the Old Country Buffet.
Listen, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to be a brat but I was just sooooo excited about the KANGAROO eating out of my hand. By the way, my grandmother does NOT have the right to nag me.
In your next letter, I hope you aren't mad at me! Gueese what? I met this really neat boy/guy? named Todd. He's got brown hair and green eyes! His grandmother lives down here too. He seems like he's pretty smart but I don't know.
Leslie E. Nettles
Dear Leslie Patricia, [Because Patricia is a waaaay hipper name that Elizabeth.]
Well O.K. you're forgiven, just don't act so conceited! O.K. I guess you can't help it. [Ooh, BURN!] Tell me more about TODD! He sounds SUPER GREAT! No boys around here except for my dad, Sean, and my cousins Danny (10) and Aaron (5). Danny has a crush on me! MY OWN FLESH AND BLOOD. Isn't that sick? I hope the KANGAROO feels better. O.K. so my other cousin is a girl and her name is Allison and she's 12 and we call her Allie.
Your friend, Andi
P.S. Write back soon.
Hi! Listen, I don't think Andi is such a good name, I mean it's just really not your style! Really, who gave you that name? Any way if you like it, Andi.
Sooo, you want to know more about MY Todd? ["MY" is actually underlined three times in three different colors, but I could only use one here.] You're probably thinking: "her Todd," huh? Well, he asked me to go to the BEACH with him! ALONE! Without any adults! COOL!
It really is gross about Danny! Listen is he cute? How's your aunt? My grandma is just great. Oh, my grandpa caught a 27 bl. fish. Gotta go
Also, I'm not going to make a joke about Leslie's new nickname and Todd's questionable gender. I AM TAKING THE HIGH ROAD.
Well, I don't think Lesi is the name for you. Les and Lesli would be O.K. I can't believe you asked if Danny was cute! I mean, he's only a child, besides you have "your Todd" remember. Anyway, O.K., what did you DO at the beach and I'm not being gross, Les. My cousin Allie is really cool and really nice! She took me to the mall yesterday and I got you a present. Wait and see what it is.
P.S. I'm changing my name to Hillary, OK?
You know I like that name! I think I'd like to meet Allie! She sounds cool! When I come back you have to take me to Vermont! Anyway, you have a sick mind! Todd and I went on a walk along the beach and then we went for a soda. Cool, huh!? Your right though, it was gross asking about Danny! I found out something you might be interested in! Todd has got a brother, TWin brother!
Nothing like a walk on the beach in winter. Good thing Australia is 90° year-round! I must say, though, I have my doubts about this intercontinental blind date scheme.
You are right! Allie is cool! What's Todd's brother's name? And I don't have a sick mind!!! By the way, did you share a soda!?! O.K. I was only joking, Les. So when's the wedding? O.K. No more. I stopped. Allie is really nice! We went to the movies and she introduced me to Jeremy, this super-great seventh grader! My new name is Diane. Do you like that name? There are so many names. I hate the name "Andrea"!
I don't know why I had all these characters who were dissatisfied with their names. I've always been kind of fond of mine. I do, however, remember constantly coming up with nicknames for myself (for example, Biff) that never, ever stuck. I can't imagine why.
I've got a new image! I've got a totally COOL new wardrobe. Todd has this cousin, Glory, who is really cool and she went shopping with me! I got a cool pink skirt with a yellow shirt. So COOL! Todd and I went to the movies and he, well, he sort of, well..., he, uh, he
KISSED ME! Uggg! asked me to go to a party with him. Glory helped me pick out this cool dress too! It's just so cool! Oh, yeah, Brian, well, he wants to meet you! But, it's going to be sort of hard for you to meet, but I gave him your address!
And that's it. I mean, if Katie was going to RENEGE ON THE KISSING (the hell?!), where was this story going to go? Plus, she totally stole my getting-made-over-by-a-cool-cousin plotline. Godammit! How was I ever going to top the pink skirt and yellow shirt combo??? She set the coolness bar way too high.
NEXT TIME: Fifth grade book reports, a.k.a. an excuse for 11-year-old me to write some pretty terrible jacket copy.
Until then... Chow-Chow, Taa!