If you haven’t met Jessica Anya Blau yet, or her inimitable character, Lexie, (The Trouble with Lexie, just released), delight awaits. Jessica, who has previously written such hits as The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, Love and Death with the In Crowd, The Wonder Bread Summer, and Drinking Closer to Home, shared the spotlight with her charming friend and local HarperCollins Perennial author, Greg Bardsley (Cash Out – and, soon-to-come, The Bob Watson), at a book reading and discussion at Towne Center Books recently. This well-stocked and friendly community book store in downtown Pleasanton, CA provided the perfect setting for the evening’s dynamic discourse, and regularly sponsors author events, book clubs, author luncheons, and writing workshops.
Greg acted as Jessica’s “Charlie Rose,” gave homage to his influential English teacher of years past, his writing conscience, and in droll fashion described his books, which are wry spoofs on corporate America in general, and Silicon Valley in particular. His reading from The Bob Watson had the audience grinning ear-to-ear, if not in stitches, and left me suspecting than I must have met Bob Watson, that sly ditcher of corporate meetings, at least a thousand times in my career.
Beneath the humor that oiled in the evening’s lively machinery, the audience was presented with the very serious business of writing, the art of finding the humor in human foibles and pain, and using it to expose characters’ limitations and flaws as well as the truth at the core of human life.
Jessica and Greg discussed the discipline writing requires amidst busy lives which include full-time day jobs and family life with children, while accommodating spouses exasperated by the writing life’s demands: writing at all hours of the day and night, writing under contract deadlines, writing well, regardless of circumstance, book tours, and the ceaseless discussion of one’s writing’s passions.
They discussed reading, their love of “beautiful sentences,” good literature, the desire to be entertained and “taken out of” their heads by a book; that writers must honor the reader’s time. For both, humor masks hardcore dysfunction and universal truths, and allows the reader to cast a sympathetic eye on deeply flawed characters. Jessica exclaimed, “We’re dying just by being alive!” to explain why she refuses to finish any book that hasn’t captured her by page 60.
Jessica relayed how the seeds of books “came to” her: how a singular memory became a sentence, then a book; how a conversation with a stranger who was describing an ignominious moment gave birth to a book idea, then to Lexie. Both authors agree that they are drawn to human imperfection and odd circumstances as ceaselessly entertaining. Struggles are more interesting than the lack thereof. Writers, they concluded, are natural observers who mentally catalog quirky moments, traits and events, to digest later and, perhaps, to use as grist for the writing mill.
Although writing is hard work, both agreed, a writer cannot think about what people will say, or let reviews and comments hold sway. One must write what one is “given” or what “comes” with persistent effort, what is true and perhaps funny, then work with a skilled editor to make it sing.