Authors: Jennifer Crusie
Tags: #FICTION / Short Stories
Maybe This Time
Welcome to Temptation
Crazy for You
Tell Me Lies
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this collection of short stories are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
Crazy People: The Crazy for You Stories
. Copyright © 2012 by Argh Ink LLC. All rights reserved. For more information, visit the author's website.
First Edition: May 2012
This collection is for
Who taught me how to write
and to never go for the cheap laugh.
The most unforgettable teacher
I've ever had and the best.
nce upon a time, I went to school to get a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. No, that’s not true, I went to get a PhD in feminist literature and got co-opted into the Creative Writing Program when the head of the program stopped me in the hall and said, “I hear you’ve published a novel.” You really have to know Lee K. Abbott to appreciate how startling that was: big guy, looks like the Marlboro Man, terrifying in his reputation for grilling students. And then there was me: frumpy middle-aged woman who’d written three novels for Harlequin, only one of which had been published so far. So I pushed my glasses back up my nose and said, “Uh, yeah, but it’s for Harlequin,” and he said, “I don’t care who it’s for, you should be in the program.” My brain shorted out about then, but Lee is not somebody who gives up, so I agreed to audit a creative writing seminar. Just dip my toe in, wait for somebody to make fun of me, and then leave. But as it turned out, the only biased person in the program was me. As far as I know nobody else gave a damn who I wrote for, they just wanted to write good fiction, although the lack of cheap shots might be in part attributed to the fact that Lee stood in front of the class the first day and said, “Anybody who makes fun of romance fiction is making fun of Jane Austen, and anybody who makes fun of Jane Austen answers to me.” Why yes, I would walk across broken glass for that man. Why do you ask?
I won’t say I don’t have scars from the experience, but every one of them was necessary. When he critiqued the first draft on one of the stories in this collection, “Just Wanted You To Know,” he said, “I already knew Jenny could make me laugh. But it matters the way she gets the laugh.” Then he went through the story page by page and said, “Here you went for the cheap laugh. And here you went for the cheap laugh. And here …” He was right. And every time since, whenever I write something that’s strictly for the laugh, I can hear Lee saying, “Here you went for the cheap laugh …” and I delete that sucker without hesitation. Lee K. Abbott taught me to write, and I am grateful to him every day for that.
The most difficult part of the program was that I had to write mostly short stories. I think writers are born to the length they’re best at. Some of us are born sprinters and some of us are born marathoners, and I was born for the long form. But people in MFA workshops get hostile when you ask them to read entire novels and critique them, so I learned to write short stories. In the process, I discovered that the short form is also the shortest path to discovering character, and as I worked my way through writing exercises and stories, I discovered a character I wanted to spend more time with: Quinn McKenzie of Tibbett, Ohio. It took some time, but eventually I started Quinn’s novel, full of characters I needed to know more about, so as the writing exercises assignments and workshop story assignments piled up, I pulled out characters from the assignments and put them in the novel, and then pulled characters from the first drafts of the novel and wrote short stories about them. In the process, I found out more about them than I ever would have within the confines of Quinn’s story. Turns out when you give a minor character her own voice, she has a lot to say.
Eventually, Lee pointed out that I had to graduate—I’d have stayed forever if I could have—so I put together my master’s thesis of the short stories I’d written during that time and the book proposal for Quinn’s story, then called
. I turned the thesis into Ohio State, graduated, and went on to write
Crazy For You
and then other novels for St. Martin’s Press. These stories pretty much gathered dust on my hard drive (with the exception of “Just Wanted You To Know” about which more later) until the author-as-digital-publisher revolution hit, and it seemed like the time to resurrect Quinn and Zoë and Darla and Debbie and Meggy and Caroline again. So here they all are.
For those of you who’ve read
Crazy For You
, I hope this collection is fun, an inside look at the some of the characters you liked (or didn’t like). And if you haven’t read the book, I hope the stories stand on their own, pieces of a small town in Ohio that runs on gossip, friendship, and love. They’re stories I’d thought would be lost forever, so I’m grateful for the chance to publish them, and even more grateful you’re reading.
One of the perks of being in an MFA program is the Visiting Writer Program, which is exactly what it sounds like: a famous writer comes in for a week and teaches a seminar for advanced grad students. In 1996, Ron Carlson came to OSU and it was one of the best weeks of education in my life. One of the things he did that I thought was insane at the time was assign the Alphabet Exercise: Write a short story of twenty-six sentences, the first beginning with A, the second with B, and so on. It sounds nuts, but what I realized after I tried it is that it provides an arbitrary structure that solves a lot of problems. The story is only going to be twenty-six lines, so you get to the point fast. And wrangling those words around to fit the alphabet makes you think about what goes into the sentences. I called my protagonist “Quinn” and her sister “Zoë” to get rid of the Q and Z, and then within the freedom of that structure, I just wrote, and the story emerged on its own. I liked it so much I rewrote it into a real story, the story below. (The original twenty-six line exercise is in
of this collection.) The big takeaway from this exercise? It doesn’t matter what structure you use, as long as you have a structure.
So this is Quinn’s story at fifteen, seventeen years before the start of
Crazy For You
fter my big sister, Zoë, shot Baker Turnbull, our mailman, Mama grounded her for twenty-four hours, which didn’t seem like much of a punishment to me since it was assault with a semi-deadly weapon, but Zoë was put out because it made her miss the big dance at the Grange Hall in Celina. She said she didn’t care except that she was eighteen and shouldn’t be getting grounded at all, even if she did still live at home. Zoë says the key to life is not caring about much and not being ashamed of anything, but you have to be Zoë to pull that off.
I was really surprised Zoë got grounded at all because she always gets away with pure blue murder around here which Lord knows I never do, even though I am just three years younger than she is which is practically twins. My dad just laughed when he heard about it and went back to watching the game, but Mama said Zoë crossed the line when she picked up that gun. (That’s when I said, “Guns don’t hurt mailmen, people hurt mailmen,” which would have gotten a big laugh if Zoë had said it, but all Mama said was, “Quinn McKenzie, do you want grounded, too?” And I ask you, is it fair that Zoë shoots somebody, and I mouth off, and we get the
punishment? No, it is not.) Mama said that Baker was a truly terrible mail carrier, but shooting him was not the kind of behavior she wanted her daughters associated with, which is another thing that makes me mad because she’d never said anything about not shooting people before, probably because she figured Zoë and I would have the brains not to, and now we’re absolutely not allowed to, and of course Zoë got to, and now I can’t. Not that I’d want to. It’s the principle of the thing.
I do not want you to get the idea that I’m jealous of Zoë because I’m not. My mama says some people are oil paintings and some people are watercolors, and they’re both perfectly fine, and I could handle being a watercolor, but Zoë’s decided she’s neon, and it’s damn hard to see me next to her. I don’t mean for other people, I mean for me. It’s like that mailman thing I said and got yelled at for, which is exactly what Zoë would have said, and the only thing I can figure out that’s different in the way we say it is that I’m trying to be something when I say stuff like that and Zoë just is when she says it, and there’s nothing you can do about that. But I figured it wouldn’t be so noticeable if she wasn’t standing next to me all the time, so I was hoping things would get better when she married Nick and moved out.
That’s the reason I decided to help Baker, because of Nick going to boot camp. He was Zoë’s boyfriend, and they were really going places, mostly our back porch after dark, and I was pretty sure they’d get married and that would have given me some room because Zoë would have been staying home nights someplace else besides where I am. But then Nick decided he wanted to be a Marine and joined up, and Zoë told him that she wasn’t waiting six weeks for anybody, let alone somebody who was dumb enough to enlist in the Marines without asking her first and then come around afterwards expecting to be congratulated for being a moron. Nick tried to tell her he was doing it for her so they could get married faster, and she threw one hellacious fit and said, “Do I
like somebody who wants to get married, Nick Ziegler, do I?
” And of course, that’s exactly what she looked like to Nick, but that’s not what she looked like to Zoë, and it’s what Zoë thinks that counts, so Nick left for boot camp a real mess because he thought he’d lost her.
I thought so, too. That’s how I ended up talking to Baker, which was a big mistake although I do not regret it because Zoë says that regrets are for people who don’t understand life. The thing was, I still had some years left being only fifteen, but if Zoë was going to hang on and be one of those late marriers, I could see those years going fast. So I thought all I had to do was get somebody else to love Zoë, which wouldn’t be hard, and marry her, which would be harder, and she’d move out and then I’d be able to figure out who I was without Zoë getting in my eyes all the time. Which is how I noticed Baker, carrying our mail one afternoon.
Baker was not a bad catch, being a civil servant, and not bad looking at all, being an ex-fullback for Tibbett High. He had no neck to speak of, but his face was pretty good and his nose hadn’t even been broken once, which Zoë says tells you something about how much use he was on the field, but I still thought he had potential. He was old, of course, close to thirty, but I thought Zoë’d like that, dating an older man and making people say, “That Zoë” and shake their heads and smile. I didn’t know much about Baker, but I figured as a government employee he must have something going for him because the civil service exam doesn’t mean scoot in Tibbett without somebody pulling for you, so somebody had liked Baker enough to give him those blue shorts, and that’s more of a recommendation than most of Zoë’s dates come with. I mean, Nick was pumping gas for his dad when he left for the Marines and half the time all he wanted to do was sit on the couch and watch TV and the other half he wanted to sit on the back porch with Zoé and do God knows what, and neither one was enough to hold Zoë, even if he was a sweetie and really cute, and even if she was fairly enthusiastic about the back porch part. “I need somebody with flair,” she told him once, “and you do not have it.” He must have had something because she dated him for six months without going out on him more than once or twice, but once he was gone, he was history, and he knew it, and I knew it, so I had to do something.