- by Flo Fitzpatrick
A few years ago I wrote an article for the New Jersey Romance Writers Heartline Herald called “Exceptions”. I was re-reading it the other day and decided that with a little updating some of the insights might be worth repeating.
Let me first state that I love quotes. Classics like Auntie Mame’s “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” (The original was a bit more graphic – “suckers” was that seven letter word beginning with ba and ending with ‘ard’ that normally describes an illegitimate male. They cleaned it up for the movie done in the 1950s.) Ridiculous, nonsensical quotes like this one from the cartoon show Pinky and the Brain featuring two genetically-altered mice. “If we give ‘peas a chance’ won’t the lima beans get jealous?” Inspirational quotes: “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.” That one is from Strictly Ballroom and is a quote I wish I could live up to. Lately I’ve been writing down quotes from the show Psych. My favorite? Shawn and Gus are breaking bread with friends from India. While eating amazingly, horrendously spicy hot curry and who knows what else, Shawn exclaims “I can’t see out of my right eye” and friend Gus gasps, “I see dead people.”
Then there’s Star Trek. Now, while “Live long and prosper,” is one whale of a good salutation, it’s not something to draw upon during moments of stress. And although there are many days when I wish “Beam me up, Scotty,” actually brought the Enterprise transporter within range of zapping my molecules into tiny pieces and whisking me off into the sky, I can’t see that happening anytime soon. Which brings me to this memorable quote from Star Trek Next Generation and Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. In a masterpiece of perfect timing, immediately after breaking the Prime Directive (again) the Captain states, “Life is a series of exceptions.”
Perhaps because I’m an unrepentant reprobate, I take this comment to heart. I find it inspiring for those days when I think “Why try?” Whether the ‘why try’ is contacting an agent I’m sure will turn down my latest opus or instilling knowledge into teenagers (I teach dance and theatre at a local high school) it seems just when I’m ready to give up Jean-Luc’s words appear before me. Exceptions – rule breaking.
Take a look at the world of publishing. I often tell people when they ask what I write that “I’m ungenreable.” If I ever start a rock band with other authors, the name will be The Ungenreables. I include romance, mystery, ghosts, reincarnation, occasional time-travel and almost always humor in my novels. Thankfully, I’ve managed to get a few published and am grateful I’m an exception to the unwritten “rule” about staying genre-specific.
Other publishing exceptions. Consider one of the most high-profile rule breakers around. J.K. Rowling, who was told that a book about a modern-day boy wizard woouldn’t sell. Yet Harry Potter did sell – quite well. “Ah, but she’s the exception.” Well – yeah.
Another myth: “No one reads literary fiction. ” I’d say Lovely Bones, The Time-Traveler’s Wife and all of Jane Austen blow that rule away. Exceptions.
How about politics? Even ten years ago, no one would have believed that a woman and an African-American male would be going head to head for their party’s nomination for President. And that their opposing party would launch into celebrity status another woman who was unknown nationally until 2008. Exceptions.
A quick run to business: There’s that kid. Yep. The young Harvard drop-out and self-proclaimed “computer hacker” who created what is now the biggest social networking operation on the planet. Mark Zuckerberg was named Time’s Man of the Year for 2010. Exception.
The list could continue but let me give a slight warning before everyone starts musing about ways to use those series of exceptions that could end up as disastrous.
No-nos: ‘Exceptions’ is not the quote with which to zing the IRS auditor when he asks why you listed the male stripper who performed at your agent’s bachelorette party as a deduction. Nor to use when stopped by the highway patrolman after you’ve robbed a candy store for fifty pounds of chocolate (“But Officer, I’m on deadline! I need this!”) Those are not exceptions. Those are a possible “five to ten with good behavior.”
Exceptions is the mantra to remember when when writing or submitting a manuscript that eight agents have said, “won’t sell,” yet your gut says, “Will too!”
Make it the quote to mutter when you’re starting your own business and everyone in your family is screaming “the economy sucks! Don’t do it”.
Remember exceptions when teaching kids who don’t want to be taught by doing a little hip-hop rapping to explain mathematical formulas.
Don’t be afraid to bend the rules. Who created them anyway? Are “back-story” SWAT teams aiming for page one of your first chapter where you – gasp – describe your character instead of diving immediately into action? Are political parties taking away your right to run for office because you happen to be a gay Hispanic female who believes in UFOs and has a cousin who claims to be a vampire? Wait – that could make for an interesting plotline.
You MIGHT get fired from your teaching job if you’re using hip-hop to explain geometric formulas but then again – the kids might understand those equations better, their scores might just rise and you could be the Exceptional teacher of the year. ( “I say Yo! I say “E” – equals M C squared. Talkin’ mass, energy – and no hot air!” Sorry. Obviously my rapping talents are less than exceptional!)
Will you end up in jail because you’re opening a business that delivers chocolate 24/7 to writers on deadline, candidates for office and rapping math teachers?
When faced with naysayers, try channelingl Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Close your eyes and listen to Patrick Stewart’s melodious tones as he states, ” Life is a Series of Exceptions.” Then go for your dreams. Without exception.