Saturday, December 5, 2009

Return on the Investment of Not Being a (total) Jerk

The SEC Championship. Alabama vs. Florida. Glory, drama, tradition. A football gal's dream.

We have two young 'uns, a leftover gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse, and no desire to fix dinner during the game. I'll just go to Outback at halftime and presto! problem solved.

I arrive shortly into halftime, in my houndstooth check coat and crimson scarf, and there is no one at the take-out stand. Except an older couple studying the menu with an intensity that startles and alarms the gal behind them, who is determined to place her order and depart before the start of the third quarter.

Years and years ago, I waited tables at Outback. I know this couple. She is overweight and her ballet slipper style gold sequin shoes show stress at the seams. He is dressed in a fastidious but not expensive fashion. If they were seated in my section I would groan inwardly while fixing a bright smile on my face to greet them. It's not really their fault they don't know how to tip and it's not my prerogative to give them less than my best because of my prejudicial assessment of the likelihood that I'm about to get stiffed.

Safely behind them and invisible while they peruse the menu, I silently tap a foot and fix my best annoyed customer expression on my face. Not because I'm hoping they will notice- I'd feel pretty bad if they did- but because I'm hoping someone who works there might and please come tend the take-out stand. Let's speed this up, people.

Unfortunate shoe matron turns to see me behind her, smiles broadly, and says, "Mumble,mumble, mumble, good, mumble,mumble, reasonmumble?"

I don't hear well so I know some of my trouble is attributable to this undignified condition but I do hear well enough to know that something is off with her speech. She is foreign or has had a stroke. I've never had a stroke, but I've been foreign and that is challenging enough.

"Sorry?" I ask, with what I hope is an encouraging smile.

She communicates that she would like to know what articles on the menu are agreeable and affordable. They have a $25 gift certificate and do not want to exceed that amount.

"It's been a while since I've eaten here but everything is pretty good. I have a $50 gift certificate, though, and I don't think I'll spend more than $35, so if you go a little over I'll pick up the difference." I tell her. I've been there, looking through the window at goodies I can't quite afford. It sucks.

She is delighted and bends over the menu again. He opts for a chicken and ribs combo I've had and I assure him it is good, she chooses a chicken sandwich item I've never tried. The attendant finally manifests, looking harried, and takes their order. They come in just under the $25 limit.

I'm a bit disappointed but I think it's sweet they didn't try to take advantage.

The neatly dressed gentleman focuses attention on the television at the bar while I place my order. I don't need the menu since I checked it online and had already made my selection.

"I've got a connection to Alabama," he says. Cool. They're Alabama fans. "My brother-in-law and both my nephews played there."

I cease the recitation of my order, much to the server's confusion and ill-concealed irritation, and ask, "Who's your brother-in-law?"

"Did you ever hear of Jeremiah Castille?"

I proceed to mild hysteria and a borderline apoplectic seizure. Holy hell. Jeremiah Castille and his sons, Tim and Simeon, are Alabama legend. Jeremiah was the MVP during the Bear's last game in 1982. He went pro with Tampa Bay, I think.

After stuttering praise for the man's august relations and watching his proud grin grow wider and wider, I offer to buy them dessert. The wife is tickled pink. She orders cheesecake.

Damn if I didn't get home to find the people at Outback put Jeremiah Castille's brother-in-law's cheesecake in with my order instead of his. I hope something good happens to them sometime soon. They were nice folks, and exceedingly generous in their pride for the achievements of their family.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Gender Identity vs. Overt Misogyny

I wanted to post something funny but alas, alack, I lack the anecdote. Perhaps tonight's holiday office party will provide fodder for the next post. So instead, here's what's on my mind:

Is it misogynistic to have a male character who is bigger/better/faster/stronger than the female protagonist?

I keep reading book reviews by people I deem superior to me in literary taste, social consciousness, and basic coolness. They don't like the pop culture books that I enjoy and the reason that crops up with the most frequency is that the book is antifeminist in some way. And no, I am not talking about Twilight, although its popularity demonstrates a personal conviction of mine.

Evolution trumps social consciousness.

We are all descended from hunter-gatherer societies with division of labor based on biological necessities. Women bear children. Human children require a lot of time and attention, with one of the longest and most intensive juvenile periods in the animal kingdom. It might be possible, or even advisable, to be a single mother these days but for most of human history it would have been a very difficult prospect. I propose, therefore, that most women exhibit a genetic preference for a male who can provide and protect. This gives offspring the greatest chance at viability. It is a documented reproduction strategy called "sexual selection by female choice" and is most notable among species with concealed ovulation, or a fertile time that is not advertised to the male of the race.

Whether or not a gal wants children odds are good she will find her sex drive still dovetails with those traits her progenitors required.

Men who want the choicest females look for one who is likely to produce healthy offspring. i.e.: They like their ladies hot. While facial features and coloring vary by race, some indicators of "health," like figure, are nearly universal. An "ideal" female body shape, for example, demonstrates proportions that cross culture and race. The preferred ratio of a model's bust, hip, and thighs are the same on every continent. Except maybe Antarctica but there is no population to speak of there.

Then begins the demonstration of masculine desirability. This can be physical superiority but because we are social creatures other forms of power, such as wealth, can compensate. Hence, the "howcome men can get older and still be sexy" lament. Older men have amassed more wealth as a general rule. Nobody thinks the salt and pepper silver fox with food stamps is a catch. If he's driving a Mercedes, however, swoon.

I'm not saying this is universal or that we can't get off the reservation, just that it is already hardwired in a spectrum pattern with extremes at both ends. But it would go a long way towards explaining why we return, generation after generation, to stereotypes that most of us agree are outdated.

So, is it actually misogynistic to recognize these distinctions and stereotypes in our writing? I think no. Unoriginal, but not misogynistic. It crosses the line into anti-feminist when the characters are punished in some way for breaking out of traditional roles and I don't see that much in current fiction. Writing within a traditional role isn't the same thing as rejecting a non-traditional or even counter-culture one.

The biggest complaint about YA books is that most often the male character is the vampire, werewolf, supernatural whatever and the hapless damsel is either at his mercy or under his protection. In reality, the "supernatural" is just a crutch for "supermasculine." Most of the traits that come with the title are exaggerations of physical qualities we consider male: speed, strength, and sometimes aggression.

The uber masculine hero and the heroine who values strength and loyalty in her man are not going away because they lie at the center of the spectrum and appeal to the greatest number. Or lowest common denominator, if you want to look at it that way. As a value judgement, it seems harsh to hold it against society in general that we tend to look for our ideal mate in a romantic figure. We can stretch things a good bit- look at how many more of our heroines get to do a lot of thinking and even some saving (yay!) and how many emo vampires (boo!) are out there- but trying to reverse the role altogether and still produce a commodity that resonates is tricky business. No matter how much I tell myself I should, I really don't want to read the love story between the 98 pound weakling and She-Ra.

This is what the romance industry has known for years. It's also why they are growing while almost everyone else is not. The rare books that appeal to the mainstream without alienating the academics blend the lines but they don't completely erase them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Observations from Salt Lake City

Two thirds of the tightest high school trio ever united over the weekend in Salt Lake City, Utah. My friend Jen and I haven't seen each other since my wedding nine years ago and I have never met her children so we had some catching up to do. During my visit I got to:

See Salt Lake City, which I've never done. It's gorgeous.

Shock a table full of Mormons by ordering (and consuming) two large carafes of hot sake. Fortunately, Mormons are more polite than teetotaling Baptists and refrained from praying for me on the spot.

Watch Alabama beat LSU.

Read a great book (Soulless by Gail Carriger. Go get it. Right now. I paid for my copy, FTC.).

Make chicken and dumplings at high altitude. It actually does make a difference. Who knew?

Observe the largest selection of licorice I have ever encountered. Apparently, licorice is big with the Mormons. Of equal interest to me was that the licorice was all manufactured by the Amish.

Count bicycles. There are lots.

Hang out with Jen, one of the coolest people on the planet, and remind her that her soon to be ex made a classic mistake. He married a chick way cooler than he is.

Regretably, I did NOT get to do thing I wanted to do most. Make the ex's ears bleed. Jen prudently neglected to tell me when he stopped by the house to pick up the kids. My only other opportunity would have been when he dropped them off. Of course I wouldn't have reamed him in front of his kids but I could have cornered him at the curb while they were safely in the house.

**The series of events that promted my visit is catalogued here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Observations on the Cheestastic Eighties vs. The Modern Era

SyFy is running the 80's version of V since the updated one is coming to network television very soon. I loved the mini-series, but hey, I was in eighth grade and lacked sophistication. Catching it on the flip side of 2009 is just as good but for entirely different reasons. Reasons I'm certain do not represent the intentions of the original screenwriters. I find that upon reflection, V captured many wonderful eighties trends that were notable in other works.

198?: Women were equal to men. The gender neutral uniforms that fit the women much more snugly than their male counterparts demonstrate this fact.

2009: Women wear chick clothes because they want to look hot and that is just fine.

198?: No child was ever born whose parents understood him. Ever. In the eighties, parents sprung fully formed, with no childhood memories to lend empathy to their childrearing skills. The Breakfast Club said it best: "When you grow up, your heart dies." Even adult children bear the scars of the tumultuous parental/progeny relationship. They seek blue collar jobs that satisfy the soul rather than embrace the corporate ladder that consumes their materialistic progenitors.

2009: In YA fiction and entertainment, parents are well meaning but absent and bumbling. The modern teen may discuss his or her sex life with the extremely tolerant parent but probably prefers not to because of the ick factor. Youth today indulgently care for their parents who are hopeless outside the workplace. This is convenient when a girl with a policeman father has her boyfriend spend the night EVERY NIGHT.

198?: A midget who frolics each time a plane lands on the island is the height of tolerance and understanding. Good white people adopt black kids despite social pressure because, darn it, it's just the right thing to do. White people like "Benson" and "The Jeffersons" so race relations are good. Geeks haven't really entered the scene, just nerds. They are smart computer whiz kids with misunderstood poetic souls. Aside from the news and the AIDs crisis, homosexuality does not exist except as a cruel high school slur. ("I thought only pansies wore neckties." Anyone remember that gem?)

2009: Everybody has a gay best friend. The gay person is important and cooler than everyone else but not the lead. ( Will and Grace exception duly noted.) Lesbians are always bisexual and hot. Black people are also cooler than everyone else, sometimes the lead, but never the geek. Geeks can be cool but they must be quirky, caucasian, and routinely err in their fashion choices.

198?: Kids from the 'hood have good hearts and no opportunities until someone more privileged gives them a chance. Most people stereotype them and treat them badly.

2009: Erm, well, this one hasn't changed much.

198?: The villian is very attractive and beyond redemption unless they are a small town sherrif and then they are fat. They like to use phrases like "insipid fool" unless they are a small town sherrif and then they call everyone "boy."

2009: It isn't really fair to label someone. People have conflicts. Picking sides is arbitrary and judgmental. If the character is a demon, vampire, or werewolf, they are definitely not the bad guy.

Favorite stereotypes? Thoughts?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Caramel Sauce and Babies

He smells like caramel.

I let them have caramel sauce with sliced apples for dessert. She got it in her hair and it clung through bath time. She smelled delicious and had the most adorable, sticky curls for bedtime. I'll deal with it tomorrow.

He looks like an angel when he sleeps. He's beautiful, the visage pregnant mothers the world over dream of while they wait. Hell on wheels awake, but so perfect now when the world is still and dark and he has finally given up the day. The only beauty he lacks in sleep is cornflower blue eyes that reveal every plot and mischief that crosses that hyperkinetic brain.

I wonder if angels really smell like caramel. If they don't, they should.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Midlife crisis

Somthing's different. She isn't sure what it is, exactly, but equilibrium is gone. They've worked together for so long, toward the same objective. Things should be good. He's gotten what he wanted. Maybe it's her turn to work on herself.

It's a little scary that they cashed in their entire retirement for him to open his own law firm, but it's a calculated risk. They are near forty. If they wait any longer it will be too late.

Maybe they got married too young. So many of their friends at BYU got married at the same age, though, and they seem fine. Maybe she's just hit her midlife crisis. Suck it up, Jen. Deal with it. You've got three great kids and a husband who works hard.

Her therapist helps her reach the understanding that she is not the only one. Many women do not feel completely fulfilled as homemakers and caregivers. She's always been a runner, she keeps in shape and runs marathons with friends, but her brain is hungry. She would have gone to med school if she were younger, if there weren't three kids. When there was still time for that she was putting him through law school in New York. Then they moved to Boulder for his great job. He worked such long hours. If she were a med student or a resident neither of them would have had the time for their marriage, their growing family. She reads a lot.

I loved Boulder. I wish we'd never left.

But the siren call of Salt Lake City, a community of people who believe as they do, another great job, it was important to him. Their daughter is fourteen now. She'll be dating soon.

Salt Lake City is kind of fun. She remembers being in school. She wants that feeling again. Learning new things and building knowledge specific to a purpose.

"What do you need a job for? You have a great house and three kids, Jen. You have a responsibility to your family. You have plenty of outside interests. You do stuff with your friends, you take running trips and go to concerts. I make enough money that you don't need to work."

He doesn't understand it but he knows her mind is set. She always had an independent streak. It's largely the reason they've been in marriage counseling. Whatever. It's her midlife crisis. She starts nursing school.

Nursing school is a rush. School has changed so much! Everything is on computer now. Assignments get turned in online. There aren't enough hours in the day to keep up with running. She misses running with D and her husband.

D and Brad keep running. They decide a vacation would be fun. The families can go together. Their six year old boys are best friends. The brief trip is a bright spot, a communion of families and a respite from study. Rejuvenating.

Back at home, though, things still aren't right. Equilibrium is gone. Is it really about nursing school? The kids are happy, supper gets cooked.

The August cell phone bill looks funny. There are hundreds of text messages to just one number. It's D's number.

Brad admits to "inappropriate involvement with D." Translated from lawyer to English it sounds like an affair but he swears it's not been physical. Like that makes it better. He agrees that the right thing to do is cut off contact. They take a trip, just the two of them. She's working hard to address his complaints, to use what she's learned in marriage counseling to fill whatever need he has. New York was fun, but in Paris she knows he's not really there.

They come home and she knows he's texting D. She confronts him. He nearly convinces her she is crazy. After all, she was the one with depression issues, right? In the end, though, he comes clean.

"I love her. I'm not giving her up. I'm leaving."

So he does. She puts his clothes out the back door for him to pick up in the morning and deadbolts the door. He's gone.

It's his midlife crisis. A sports car or hair plugs would have been cheaper. Whatever. She is done.

D is still living with her husband and two kids. Brad is living in his new house around the block.

Jen, well Jen is finally living.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Felicitous vs. Cantankerous

Please excuse me just this once while I B.R.A.G. on my kids. We play lots of music, greatly varied, at home and both kids enjoy. We dance and shriek like banshees for about 30 minutes of each day. The two year old has gotten to what I like to call the "stoner" level of music appreciation:

"Like song, Mama!"



Now. The five year old. Oh, the five year old. The bane and joy of my existence, he is. Tonight, we started with Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 Chorale (Ode to Joy). His response to the music?

"This is felicitous!"

After switching to Bach we spent a few minutes of picking out instruments on Brandenburg Concertos ("That's a flute! I hear violins!"). Then Toccata and Fugue ensues with its solemn organ tones.

"Mama, this one is cantankerous."

Can't spell 'em yet but he can sure use 'em in a sentence.

Thank you for your indulgence. I will try to return to more scholarly or adult themed (as in, if I'd never had kids I'd still care) topics later this week.

If I won the lottery

The coolest thing about writers has got to be the "What would you do if you won the lottery?" response.

Everybody else, in ascending value judgement order:

1. "I'd quit my job tomorrow."
2. "I'd quit my job tomorrow and volunteer somewhere."
3. "I'd definitely keep my job." (But you totally know they wouldn't.)

But nobody ever says, "I'd get to work earlier and stay later since I would have the freedom to do so."

Writers, published, unpublished, more money than God, impoverished, brilliant, or kind of sucky:

"I'd write more."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Jacob have I loved...

For most of my life I have related to Esau. Beloved by my parents, the firstborn, but all the blessings seemed heaped on my younger sibling. It was the trickiest part of Sunday School for me. I always felt bad for the wrong guy. Jacob was the hero of that story but I never got over thinking that Esau got gypped. I still think it is horribly unfair that Pharoah's heart was hardened instead of allowing him to relent and grant the Jews their freedom. He lost his son to the Angel of Death in the next plague of Egypt. Why? Another topic, another day.

Most of our youthful acquaintance will tell you that I'm the smart one but my sister is more fun, and prettier. And so funny! Strangely enough, no one seemed to realize that we were both insulted by the observation that things worked out so equitably what with me being gifted with intellect and my sister with beauty. And just for the record, she's every bit as smart as me, however smart that might be.

We share many of the same gifts and weaknesses. We're both stubborn to the point of self-harm. We both have a sense of compassion that is great enough to cause us considerable discomfort. We feel sorry for convicted criminals who totally had it coming. Neither one of us would change the outcome but we do feel bad for the jerk who swindled all those people or fled the scene instead of calling an ambulance. We would both hock an organ or a car title to pay for a dog who needed surgery. Maybe not even our own dog.

These days, my sister is going through a rough patch. Long story short, she is reaping consequences far, far beyond what she has ever sown. She does not deserve the $#i% that is raining down on her right now. But she is not taking it lying down, curling up and quitting, giving up. She is tough as nails.

In our casual acquaintance, she probably still seems like Jacob. In her world, she probably feels like Esau. But here's the cool thing about Esau. Jacob and their mother conspired against him to steal his birthright. His mother and his twin. But Esau had the strength and confidence to greet his brother with delight after all the years and all that had passed between them because they were still brothers, first and foremost.

The things I have that my sister wants, I share with her. The things that she has that I want, she shares with me. It is likely that neither one of us will ever have what the other does, but it doesn't matter so much. Because if one of us has it, we both do.

I'm proud of her. I'm proud to share the same blood with someone as amazing as she is. I'm proud when other people admire her and I can say, "That's my sister."

Some days, both of us are Esau. But I think really both of us are Jacob. We both inherited the strength of our forefathers and one sister a piece. We are blessed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Anniversary: High Points of a Marriage

Be wary. This will be long since said marriage has many high points.

9 years ago today the flower girl rolled backwards down the stairs while my beloved and I exchanged our wedding vows.

Anniversary 1: We celebrated in our Lilliputian Atlanta shoebox of an apartment. He fixed filet with cognac and mustard sauce and we ate year old, thawed wedding cake that was surprisingly delicious. My sister called us from Alabama in tears because her dog had suffered a critical spinal injury that ended up putting her in debt for quite some time. That boy I married was not one bit perturbed at having his delicious and romantic dinner interrupted by the crisis since he gets that our dogs enjoy a status damn near our actual genetic progeny, at least in my family.

After Year One I don't remember any specific anniversary, just that we always say "Happy Anniversary" to each other. I can't tell you how grateful I am for this. Neither one of us feels the pressure to make EVERY ONE just as special as our wedding day. We aren't always observant of birthdays or Mother's or Father's Day, either. I had the good fortune (or wisdom) to marry a man who thinks like I do. It's the sentiment and the occasional big gesture that count. You can't pull off the big gestures with regularity. But there have been a couple of knockouts during our relationship and the momentum wave carries you a long way.

First Christmas (dating, not married): Now Dear Hubby wrangled a series of three hardbacks by a man named Ferrol Sams (Run With the Horsemen, The Whisper of the River, and When All the World Was Young) for me. Autographed to me, complete with references to each book in the autograph, by the author. It were truly a fortuitous series of events that led to this coups but Damn! It was perfect. The books are universally loved by my family and left my sister's much wealthier lawyer boyfriend baffled at how nobody, including my sister, was impressed with his gift to her of half carat diamond earrings. That was the year she came up with the following axiom:

"You can spend a lot of money on a gift or a lot of thought. If you don't spend a lot of thought, you'd better spend a lot of money."

Eventually, she fired the lawyer boyfriend with lots of money and I married the student boyfriend without any. She was on to something with that observation.

After we'd been married a couple of years, That Boy and I took an amazing trip to Chicago for me to run the marathon there. Great food. One of the best trips I have ever taken. My mom went with us and since everybody loves my mom, including That Boy, it didn't cramp our style at all. In fact, it was even more fun.

He bought tickets to the Alabama vs. Tennessee game for my birthday that same year. Home game for my cherished Crimson Tide. The outcome was mixed. It was two weeks after the trip to Chicago and you know what they say about distance running and fertility. Well, I took a chance that weekend. The football game had four overtimes with the forces of evil finally taking the edge to give Tennessee the win.

Shortly after that trip, I fixed rack of lamb and bought a weensy bottle of champagne for us to tell him we were expecting for the first time. He was thrilled, I was terrified.

One two year old boy and some crazy medical complications later, I miscarried twins. We were disappointed but okay.

A couple of months later I bought a nice Pinot and fixed rack of lamb again, but I had to kick his mother out of the house after dinner to achieve the same state of expectancy the second time. That one stuck.

Shortly after the night I had to kick my mother-in-law out, my now husband turned 40. He celebrated his birthday surrounded by friends and family at the most ridiculously deluxe lakehouse to grace the southeastern US. It had an elevator. In addition to the heated pool (late November birthday), hot tub, fire pit, full size keg refrigerator, pool table, pinball machine, piano, and two kitchens, everyone had their own bathroom. A couple of people bought plane tickets to attend.

Each guest received their own copy of the cookbook to which they had all contributed recipes, stories, and photos. (My husband is a bang-up cook.) There were commemorative cooking aprons, as well. The keg refrigerator housed an actual keg and many, including the birthday boy, awoke on Saturday with substantial hangovers from any of a number of liquors including single malt scotch that populated the full bar. We had Italian one night and friggin' awesome barbeque the next, although I was too nauseated to enjoy either since I was pregnant with baby number two at the time. It was a surprise party and that boy I married had no idea until I got him there on Friday night under false pretense. The entire shindig represented a nearly a year of planning and the ultimate pinnacle of my creative forces.

Tonight we had dinner with our five year old boy and two year old little girl who both agree their dad is the fun one. Mom is kind of scary. We had chicken and dumplings. True to form, the Princess wore more than she ate. But That Boy I Married picked up a bottle of champagne on the way home so the chicken and dumplings seemed a little less Middle America boring than usual. And he also stopped at Target and bought me the softest blanket ever. EVER. I'm always cold.

I'm a lucky, lucky woman.

Monday, September 14, 2009


I've concluded that staying up all night long (literally...not sleeping at all before the first restless wails of a child herald daybreak and hungry children) to write is VASTLY preferable to staying up all night long with restless, undirected energy that is borne of dissatisfaction with the pace of my book but no clear direction how to fix it. It's fixable. I know it is. I just can't back away from it enough to see the solution.

I'm closing in. Little insights strike while I'm driving, in the shower, vacuuming, whatever. Some of them break my heart because they involve taking a hatchet to a chapter I just loved when I wrote it and still love to read. But in the big picture, it has to go. If 3000 words can be pared down to 300, then it was too many damn words.

But hey, I'll always have my hard drive, right? Me and my many-worded lovers can meet for private trysts anytime. If I'm ever famous, I'll have a ton of bonus material to post on the website. Boo-yah!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Moved...and starting Kindergarten

Mama Bear reared her ugly, roaring head today.

Hatchling #1 started Kindergarten yesterday in our fair new city. School started here back in August...way back, like the he is breaking in to an already established playground hierarchy.

Background info:

Said progeny is descended from bellicose vikings on my side and germans on his father's-pretty much the same thing. He is very tall. Being a tall five year old, he is also skinny, though not painfully so. His birthday is late June so he barely qualifies for the age cutoff for kindergarten, making him one of the youngest in his class, but he's already reading so it seemed counterproductive to hold him back a year for age equality.

He's a little athlete with a well-developed sense of justice. He's also the youngest member of the youngest class on the school playground.

He came home today with a vicious scratch on the back of one hand. Turns out, a bigger kid grabbed him and was holding his hands (a smaller scratch bedecorates the other) and Bambino wasn't having it so he pulled his hands back to himself. Good for him. He did EXACTLY the right thing. He stood up for himself without hitting back or being a weinie tattletale.

We had a little chat about bullies. You don't have to put up with anyone putting their hands on you if you don't want them to. If they do, you tell them forcefully to stop. You have permission to defend yourself. If you need help, get a teacher but try to resolve it yourself first.

Little man tells me these kids are bigger and step on the littler ones. On their heads, arms, whatever they can stomp. My guy feels guilty for not interfering when they pick on someone else. Wow. I remember that feeling. What a conundrum as a mother. So that boy I married and I had a talk about how to handle this. We concluded the following, in descending level of importance:

1. Our child's physical safety is priority number one.
2. We want to instill (or reinforce, in his case) his right to stick up for himself.
3. We also want him to speak up for others if the situation warrants.

Now. How do we reconcile 2&3 with 1? That boy I married wants me to talk with Little Man's teacher. I don't want to be that mom...not yet. I don't want to mark my child as the kid with the overprotective mother, especially if he can fight his own battles or learn to. He obviously has some sense of self preservation or he would have intervened when others got picked on. I need to help him find the line that when crossed means he needs to go for help.

For tonight, I told him he did the right thing. I told him that when someone else gets picked on he should stand up for them if he thinks he can. And I told him that when I was little, and his dad, too, sometimes we didn't say anything either. Because we had the sense to be scared.

I hope that as he gets older he will find the strength to help someone weaker and the creativity to do it even if he feels outmanned. I did, somehow. I was the bully target for over three long, miserable years and I still never suffered the torture of someone weaker than me. It is a violation, an abomination. I'd rather be hated than live with knowing I should have spoken up, even when I was twelve.

In the meantime I hope my child's mother will refrain from the instinct to find the little $#8#s who are doing this and tell them in hushed tones, below the hearing of rational adults, that they might be bigger than my kid but I am bigger than them. Their mamas might not care if they act this way but I do. I can find them. I can make them sorry if they don't stop.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Did you take your medication?

Be forewarned. This post is destined to trend whiny.

We just moved to a new city. Or rather we are approaching the end of a move to a new city. I loved where we lived before but am delighted to live less than twenty minutes from a grocery store and in a city large enough to boast actual bookstores. (Well, our last little burg did have one bookstore. Sonshine. Inspirational reading. I never went since I own a Bible already and prefer to go straight to the source if I am seeking spiritual guidance. Self-help in any form, even non-religious but especially theologically based, is an anathema. Don't argue with me about have no chance of changing my mind.)

Moving is hard work. I've done it plenty of times before and you would absolutely not believe the sheer quanitity of crap I can lift, carry, and haul. If I were a superhero my identity would be Antgirl: the woman who can carry up to 100 times her own body weight if it means one less trip from the car!

This time is different. I can't lift as much. And I punk out half-way through to my goal for the day. I just have to stop and lay down for a while. My legs swell up and the skin feels like sausage casings until I raise my feet long enough to let the swelling go down. I used to get more done than anybody but my mother and this time around I feel like everyone else is carrying my weight. That boy I married has done his share and about 75% of mine. I harbor the secret fear that he is looking at me askance because he thinks I've grown lazy. But then he asks:

"Have you found a nephrologist here yet? Are you taking your medication?"

If you have ever had a chronic medical condition or taken long term meds then you will understand there is no phrase more annoying than "are you taking your medication?" It is rife with implied criticism. The possible interpretations are limitless:

You aren't taking proper care of yourself.(Admittedly, I can do better in this arena.)

If you were taking better care of yourself you would be as good as everybody else.

And my personal favorite: You just aren't what you used to be. And the difference is notable.

I am not on the verge of kidney failure. I am nowhere near as sick as life insurance companies think I am. Or as I will likely be at some point in the future. My blood pressure and lipid panels are good but my body can't seem to keep enough iron to carry sufficient oxygen for my robust energy requirements. I lose enough protein through my kidneys that I could eat steak every day and still not break even.

It drives me NUTS. Right now. Not even thinking about what this means for my future. I hate the feeling that my body needs me to put some chemical into it to slow down the ambiguous progression of a ridiculously obscure illness that has no cure and that one of my children may have inherited. Oh, and did I mention that it also causes deafness? Seems convenient, if constant chatter frays your nerves. The noise, however, is not yet diminished. I just don't understand what you're saying half the time. If there is background noise and I can't see your lips moving as a crutch then odds are good I am getting a garbled version of whatever you're asking me.

Don't even think about talking to me if you are standing with your back to me or walking in front of me. I speak English, Spanish, and Redneck fluently and can't understand any of them reliably if you don't speak directly to me under ideal conditions. In bad conditions you sound just like Charlie Brown's teacher. Delightful.

Ah. My cankles have reduced in diameter to discernible ankles again. Time to get back to work.

Monday, August 10, 2009

In Defense of Literary Stepchildren

OR: Why does everybody hate adverbs and passive voice so damn much?

These are two hard and fast rules in "good writing." Adverbs and passive voice are lazy, sloppy, unprofessional, and will ruin your work even though they are grammatically correct.

Okay, who came up with this arbitrary prejudice? I can guess where the antagonism towards adverbs started and it probably is rooted in lazy writing. Observe:

"I want you now, my darling," Fabio whispered breathlessly.
"We can't! O my lover, the evil Stephan will kill you," Victoria murmured fearfully.
"I will defend you. You are mine," he said fiercely.
"Oh, yes. I am yours, lover. Take me now!" she said recklessly.

Many dialogue tags and adverbs to describe the dialogue. BORING. And trite. They should be saying and doing things that cue the reader into the mood. But really, there are only eight parts of speech. Do we have to engage in the wholesale slaughter of one of them just because lazy writers use it as a crutch? That's bad writing. It shouldn't be contending for publication anyway. Meanwhile, a decent story with better writing is getting axed by an agent or editor whose anti-adverb policy is Pavlovian. Once you've trained your eye to look for them they are all that you see.

To adverb or not to adverb? It's basically (uh-oh! adverb!)Faulkner vs. Hemingway. And dammit, I like Faulkner better. But clearly (oops...another adverb!) there is a place for both.

Then there are passive voice and being verbs. Essentially, the subject of the sentence is acted upon or just IS something instead of performing an action. Most of the time a sentence can be restructured to better effect by eliminating passive voice. I get that. For example:

I was hit in the skull with the baseball.
The baseball careened into my skull with bone-crushing force.


The house was delapidated, with paint peeling like willow bark and a porch that sagged with years and the burdens of the family within.

Paint peeled like willow bark from the delapidated structure and the front porch, exhausted with age, sagged in its center.

But why can't it be okay to just state a condition every now and then? Like:

I was defeated.

It's short, sweet, and to the point. If you want more oomph, sub "beaten like a red-headed stepchild" or whatever. Sprinkle in an adverb like "utterly" as long as you're breaking all the rules. But if the narrator got theyself beat, a brilliant descriptive sentence that pops off the page doesn't feel the mood.

I'm paying a lot of attention to passive voice these days and some of my favorite books use a lot of it. I suspect this is because the authors are storytellers more than writers and spend less time worrying about passive voice than communicating the mood or state of the character. At any rate, the reading public is quite forgiving of passive voice regardless of what professionals think of it. It certainly appears with much more frequency in the classics. Probably because they were written before t.v. and movies and ADD convinced us all that everything has to be action or we will be bored by it.

Since I am not famous nor do I think I am the next Faulkner, I continue to scour my work with an eye toward eliminating adverbs and passive voice. I gotta tell you, though, sometimes it doesn't make any difference to the story. I wonder if the pendulum will ever swing back the other way? I miss adverbs. Passive voice doesn't bug me. And don't even get me started on the death of the backstory.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Why Is Church Funny?

Yesterday I went to church with my mom to hear Don Piper speak. He is the fellow who wrote "90 Minutes in Heaven." The short version of his story: killed when an 18 wheeler hit him head on in excess of 60 mph. Declared dead by four different sets of EMTs. Dead. Definitely dead. 90 minutes and lots of prayer later, he was singing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and somebody was telling the police officer, "Hey, the dead guy in the red car is singing."

I'm not going to weigh in on the tale or the religious implications. I haven't reviewed x-rays or medical charts or verified eye witness accounts and don't feel particularly driven to do any of these things. Draw your own conclusions. Aside from the amazing personal account I left church with one other burning question.

Why is church funny?

Am I just by nature sacreligious? I don't think God is funny, although I'm pretty sure He has a sense of humor. But honestly, I cannot get through an entire church service of any type without stifling laughter at the most inappropriate times. Yesterday, for example, I almost lost it when the internalized narrator noted in a dry voice that the soloist bore a disconcerting resemblance to BTK. Perverse, I know.

If you could get inside my head at a funeral you might be diagnosed with grief induced hysteria. My own wedding witnessed shudders of silent laughter that began with me and spread to include my sister and the very dignified, dedicated pastor performing the ceremony. (The flower girl rolled backwards down the stairs with a series of thuds that sounded for all the world like a bowling ball. In my defense it was pretty funny.)

I think it is all the dignity at church that makes me laugh. People are just not dignified. I sit there in the pew and contemplate the nature of God, the failings of humanity, the remarkable notion of redemption, and wonder how many other people there are hungover or thinking about lunch. Stomachs growl, the guy next to me in the pew has killer garlic breath and sings with too much gusto, kids who are too old for the children's service squirm, we all sweat or shiver because one octogenarian power-hungry harpy of a church secretary controls the thermostat. No single place in the world brings to focus the foibles of humanity like church.

I have many friends who no longer attend church (or synagogue or whatever). They cite a host of reasons for their lapse but chief among them is that church is full of hypocrites. Naturally church is full of hypocrites. How can you have hypocrisy without standards that you value and fail? It's really the whole point of church, if you think about it. A place for all us hypocrites to get together and try (or pretend) to be better than we are.

It's the dichotomy, I suppose. The incongruous juxtaposition of the beauty of spirit and selflessness with the inescapable reality of corporeal form. That being said I really should go to church more. If nothing else, it's good for a laugh. And if the sermon takes too long I usually leave with a really good idea for a book.

Yesterday's service taught me one very important thing about myself. I do NOT want to get run over by an 18 wheeler in order to achieve publishing success. God does speak to us, even if we laugh too much during service.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Day Off

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a public service message. To be more accurate, a good old fashioned grumble session.

There is a large disparity between my husband's definition of "a day off" and mine. Before I continue, let it be known that in reality I have no cause for complaint. None. I married a wonderful man who is a great dad. He works hard, comes home and plays with the kids, does more laundry than I do, mows the lawn, takes out the garbage, and very seldom leaves the toilet seat in the upright position. He's a jewel.

That being said, I need a day off. A weekend would be better. For every gift giving occasion over the last two years this question has been posited:

"What would you like for your birthday/anniversary/Mother's Day/whatever?"

The answer has been the same each and every time.

"I would like for you to take the kids and go away."

I'm such a romantic. But seriously, I would like a whole weekend to not hear a whine, wipe up juice, change a diaper, or blow bubbles in the front yard. And read and write with NO GUILT.

The thing is, that boy I married often takes one or the other of los bambinos somewhere for an extended period of time on Saturday afternoons which cuts my responsibility load considerably. Occasionally, however, I am promised a day off. Last weekend he made noises about actually taking the kids to see his mother this weekend. I had palpitations.

Somehow or another, that plan faded or fizzled or maybe he was just speculating out loud. I'm not really sure. It was quite a tease, though. Then he floated the idea that maybe he would take the older (my trouble maker) with him on Friday night and Saturday to do some work on the house we are selling. That one never came to fruition either. Today he generously (and bravely) started out with a plan to manage the kids all day and let me put my feet up.

I know that in theory it's the thought that counts. I do. And he was thinking of me. BUT. If everyone is here, it's not a day off. I can hear them when they have tantrums. I feel guilty that I'm not pitching in. (Not quite guilty enough to ascend from our cavelike basement.) And when things get really hairy I have to pitch in because frankly the kids are a little more scared of me. So. In the interest of well meaning spouses everywhere who promise their significant other the day off I am posting the conditions that must be met in order for it to qualify:

1. You must actually go away.

2. If you say you will go away by 9 am, you must comply. No claims of a 9 am departure and then dilly-dallying around until 1. At that point it's naptime for at least one of the bambinos who must then stay home and that is NOT a day off. Every second that dear hubby and kids are still around is on MY time. I get edgier than a two dollar hooker looking for a crack fix while I watch the clock and wonder when everybody is really going to clear out and the house will be quiet.

3. Do not come home early unless it is a bona fide emergency. In our case, a complete melt down of the five year old qualifies. I might want a day off but I can be reasonable and handling him in a public setting when he is in full frontal disintegration mode is just too much to ask. Just please call and let me know as soon as you do that you'll be home early. Otherwise, if I think I have until 6 pm to play with my belly button I really need until 6 pm. If I don't get it I feel ripped off. Shortchanged. Hostile.

4. It is better if the day off is not a surprise. Half the fun of the elusive day off is knowing it's coming and looking forward to it. It's better than jewelry and highly likely to gain you favors of a carnal nature.

That's it. Pretty simple, really. If I ever get a real day off I will let you know. But I won't blog about what I did that day because I guarantee you that to anyone besides me it will be dreadfully, blissfully boring.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

ONE LAST DRINK: Clarity of Night Flash Fiction Entry


I greatly desired the man’s death, even imagined it; he could not be suffered to live. You, who so well know me, know it was not covetousness, as my wife ventured to suggest- that she should utter such against her own husband! Her slander against me proved the poison in the man’s deranged poem that haunted and taunted, incessant, unceasing.

I had his acquaintance years prior but dreamed not of meeting again. Such simplicity, such justice in the path set before me as my eyes knew him in the street. He wore the greyness that came on him in his younger days, marking the madness consuming his soul. Madness he inflicted upon us all with his writings. Nevermore. You must understand my course predetermined. What just man, sane man, could deny it? Not you, certainly.

He had a weakness, this supposed genius of our age.

"Mr. Poe! Mr. Poe! How luckily met!" He could not guess my revulsion at touching the vessel of such insanity as dwelt within him.


"The very same! Join me. You must not walk alone on Election Day in Baltimore. Here we are at Gunner’s Hall. Come, have a drink. I’ll see you safely home."

"I should not. I am-I should not."

"You cannot deny me the pleasure of raising a glass together in celebration of your accomplishments. It is many years passed. Come, one drink."

"Ahh. One last drink." So you see, it truly was he, not I, that chose his manner of death.


I want something new to write. It's more fun than editing. Vastly. I still love the book...adore it, want to make out with it and have its baby, but I miss seeing a whole scene of something new in my head and being completely checked out of reality until I can write it down.

Surfing blogs of writerly and industry types I have become a huge Chirs Eldin fan. Those of you who are just supportive friends of mine might not have heard of her but I think you will. I swear she's channeling for Judy Blume. Think "Superfudge" for the 21st Century. Anyway, she plugged a writing contest on ANOTHER blog, Clarity of Night, that I'm all geeked up about. Cliff notes version of the rules follow:

1. Write no more than 250 words
2. Inspired by posted photo.

The photo (Seriously, go look it up if you want to see it but I am too lazy to post here) is a glass of something that looks like claret and a hint of smoke wafting around the base.

I wasn't going to enter but I got struck by lightening (figuratively of course) over the weekend with a really cool concept and decided to flesh it out. It turned out pretty well and holy crap, it was so fun! And completely different in voice and concept from what I've been writing. The entries in previous contests have been crazy good so I am not holding my breath to place against that kind of competition but I don't think that next year I'll look back on my entry and cringe. I'll post here tomorrow after I submit it.

I have another fun little germ of an idea rolling around waiting to ripen, as well. I'd better edit faster before it takes on corporeal form and dominates my life to the exclusion of all else...

I hope writing continues to be this fun after I start sending queries.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Different, Like the Rest of Us

Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm "different." The phrase "You are NOT right!" has been directed at me with remarkable frequency. It's a little strange, really, since on the surface I look like a stereotype. Thirtysomething, married, one boy, one girl, two dogs. We worry about money, elections, where our kids will go to school, our parents getting older. We're just like everybody else. And when people tell me "You're not right" it's usually because I have elucidated a universal truth that no one else wants to 'fess up. My biggest dirty little secret? Every single day I count the minutes until the kids' bedtime so I am done being a mom that day. Except it isn't really a secret since I'll tell anyone. Even a social worker.

The thing is the stuff I will admit to is usually stuff everybody else feels, at least some of the time. You know how I know this? Bestsellers. Chick lit is rife with stereotypes like me. The moms are overwhelmed, trying to balance work and kids, sometimes disappointed with where they are as opposed to where they thought they would be at their current age. If nobody else felt this way no one would buy these books. The characters would be impossible to relate to. In real life I am surrounded by the grown up version of Pollyanna. Everyone I know talks about how they are so grateful for their wonderful kids and they say prayers of gratitude all day every day for their perfect, blessed life.

I don't believe them. I KNOW that they all get tired of wiping peanut butter off the TV and crayola off the walls. I KNOW that when no one is looking sometimes they yell at their kids. For no good reason other than that they are tired and the kids are being kids. I KNOW they sometimes let the kids watch too many cartoons just so they can get something done. Or maybe just so they can take a nap. Sometimes, after I admit these things to a shocked group of classroom mothers, a few of them admit it too.

I don't typically gravitate to chick lit because I like my characters to be more exceptional than I am. Better. More. Maybe they overcome bigger problems than I face (or ever hope to) or have some incredible talent that I wish I had. But it's nice to know they pee in the shower despite their amazing, superhuman gifts. Still, part of escaping my life involves reading about things I don't get to actually do.

Gritty realism is not my forte as a person-who-writes-things-but-does-not-refer-to-herself-as-a-writer. My life is full of it. I can't go three days running from bad guys in the woods and still be interested in making out with my boyfriend because frankly, I would stink. A lot. In a book the delightful man who captures the heroine's heart would be entranced by her musky scent. Since I deal with BO and dandruff all the time anyway I don't really want to write about it. Or read about it.

So what it boils down to is I like to read and write things that would never happen to me. Or anyone else. But I still want to know that the character is scared of something, proud of herself, or embarrassed sometimes. Different, but the same as the rest of us.

(Just for the record, though, I really am different. I'm downright odd. It's okay...I'm good with it.)


How's this for gritty realism? Within 30 minutes of posting the five year old stops up a toilet, overflows it, and steps into the playroom announcing he did wash his hands with soap AND wiped his heinie. (In five-year-old vernacular this is code for he did neither of these things.) While he is squirming back into his underwear I notice a poop stain on the carpet. A full seven or eight feet from the bathroom. It is the only one and defies explanation. No poop on hands or feet (that I can see) and no other stain indicating a trail of any kind. Dogs are outside. No idea how mystery stain manifested. Five year old to the bathtub and out comes the carpet cleaner and scrubber. You can't tell me all those other moms would be singing psalms and hymns of grateful praise right now.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

What I've learned (not) on the Internet

Summer vacation proceeds with crushing, time sucking, intellect devouring inexorability. My progeny demand childhood memories worthy of, well, childhood. Spending all my time writing and surfing blogs about writing seems to fall short of my own fond memories of summer so I did the responsible, motherly thing and took them to Gaga's house for a week at the beach and to Grandmore's house for another two weeks full of day camp, slip-and-slide, ice cream, and swimming lessons. It's killing me. I'm pretty sure it's killing the grandmothers, too. But the kids are having a good time and bear mosquito bites, bruises, and skinned knees to prove it.

My forced adventures in maternal obligation have left me bereft of internet connection and time to use it even if I had reliable access. I've been scanning blogs and catching as catch can on agent postings. In the two week sabbatical I'm shocked to discover that nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed in the world of publishing. Nathan Bransford was sick for about a week but he's feeling better and remains his kindhearted, good-natured self. Janet Reid continues to make me laugh out loud with acerbic observations about people who just don't know any better and perhaps don't actually know anything. Editorrents explores the change in mood by using the phrase "was gone" in lieu of "wasn't there." Writers who comment continue to lament the state of publishing today and the absurdity of trying to pick only books that will sell. All fun to read and prone to induce occasional moments of trepidation when I ask myself if I would ever do something so idiotic as whatever is the most recent transgression trend of newbie queriers the world over but nothing really new. And truth be told, I emphatically would not do any of the things these kind hearted educators of unpublished writers warn against. My biggest stumbling block remains producing a book (and query) good enough to capture an agent's interest.

What have I been doing with this unexpected windfall of free time? (Free time being defined as the hours between 9:00 PM and 8:00 AM when the fruit of my loins can reliably be expected to sleep.) I've engaged in an outright orgy of reading and writing. I haven't had this much fun since I decided THE BOOK was finished enough to start researching how to get it published. I think I might ride this restricted internet trend a little while longer...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Why Do I Want to Publish This Book?

Over and over I read cautionary tales posted by authors and agents about how long it takes to get published. The fifth book seems to be the magic formula for a lot of authors...that's the one they finally had success with because they kept writing and kept learning and finally got good enough to write something publishable. They look back on their earlier efforts with indulgent affection but they know that the agents who rejected them were right to do so.

Here's my problem. I love this book. I didn't include any overt references but it was inspired by some closely held personal beliefs that are dear to me. I truly don't believe I'll write a story I like better than the one I'm working on now. That doesn't mean I'm a one trick pony (maybe I am) but I've already written another book that was fun to write and I might go back to later but it really isn't as good or compelling as this book. The story is there, the characters are well developed, the length is right, and the writing is coming up to snuff with polishing. I want to get my baby prettied up enough that other people can love it, too.

It has not been my life long dream to be a professional writer and I can honestly say that this did not start out as a quest for publication. It was just a story that captured my imagination and turned out well enough for ambition to bite me. It's a good story. I'm terrified that since this story is the one that popped fully formed into my head like Aphrodite springing from the foam of the sea that I lack the technical skill to give it the chance it deserves.

I don't want to just get a book published. I want to get THIS book published.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Fan Fiction and Other Things...

So now that I'm cyberstalking agents trying to figure out whom to query and how to tailor their letters I frequently stumble across frightening, distressing blogs and stories on the internet. A couple of my pie in the sky choices have agented some high profile authors and books (hey, shoot for the moon, right?) and are obviously being stalked by lots of other wannabes.

Like me, many of them blog.

I have an unofficial personal blog policy of not naming names. It could be distressing if the named ever read it and besides, once it's out there I can't take it back. So without naming names I feel free to say that there is some really bad stuff out there. And it's getting sent to agents I want to query. I know, objectively, (people who know me will tell you I'm pretty good at being objective, even if it means taking criticism) that what I write is better than much of what I'm reading. Not just grammatically. I found one today that actually posted fan fiction on characters I'd read. It was painful. Trite, cliched, and clearly intended to mimic the voice of the author but without success. I cringed, literally cringed, while reading it. The poster was obviously proud of the effort and has written a book they want to submit to my dream agent. Said dream agent must get a ton of really bad submissions.

This should be a comfort. But it is not. I'm doing the same thing a gazillion other wannabes are doing and we're flooding the market. If I were an agent trying to slog through fifty queries in between doing work for actual clients my eyes would bleed. How does it not all run together? What on earth could I put in my query letter to let them know that I am not one of those people? The answer: absolutely nothing. All I can do is make it clean, to the point, and not gushy. And hope something about my query attracts the reader's attention enough to prompt further investigation.

There is some really good stuff out there, too, don't get me wrong. It's just demoralizing to share ambition with people who obviously think their work is just as good as anybody's when it definitely isn't. The implication is obvious. What if, in truth, I AM one of those people? And if I'm not how will an agent ever know?

Too bad they don't grade on a curve.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What People Will Say on the Internet

Trolling blogs in the last few weeks I have been shocked by some of the posts.

Most of the blogs I follow these days are agent/editor blogs run by people in the industry of publishing. I'm interested in how the business works and whatever free insight I might gain from these folks who spend part of their business day sharing information with people who know little to nothing.

I'm not so very naive as to think there's nothing in it for them. Every aspiring author with any initiative is likely to stumble onto an agent blog that offers advice on how, when, and whom to query. And guess who they'll query first? The people they feel they have some connection with through a blog. Good agent bloggers are likely to get first shot at new, fresh authors just coming up. A blessing and a curse, I'm sure.

Nonetheless, other agents who DON'T blog are likely reading these posts as well. And editors and publishers. A few people post anonymously but many use something resembling a real name. The ones using their real names are most likely doing so in the hope that their name will be recognized when they send queries. The things they post, however, are equally memorable. If I were an agent I would remember particularly vitriolic observations about how agents, publishers, and the entire industry in general are abusing writers in every way and publish nothing but tripe designed to sell to the lowest common denominator. I might even remember the name of the poster if it were frequent or harsh enough.

At any rate, the authors of these blogs don't get paid any extra for their time, insight, or the questions they answer. And some of the questions seem way out of line. For example, if an agent offers free advice on how to evaluate a new agent and whether or not to consider signing with them, it seems over the top to ask the blogging agent for a list of new agents who might be good. You are essentially asking them to send you to their direct competition. I've been in sales for a long time. I never minded questions about my competitors and always did my best to answer honestly but it flew all over me if a customer asked me to recommend one. I would always direct them to the internet. I never felt obligated to make it easier for them to take their business elsewhere.

Some of the comments are just plain mean. They attack others who post on the blog with aspersions on their intellect, understanding of the industry, intentions, and personal preferences. I don't like mean people. They make me mad. And then there are the ones who get upset over things like a daily blog posting late. Seriously? Someone who is doing something not in their job description that makes my effort to learn about the industry easier posts their daily blog an hour or so later than usual and they get complaints? Because it's inconvenient to the work schedule of a blog follower?

Mostly these people are friendly, curious, and willing to learn or share what they know. But a few of them are way more unhinged than I am. I can't imagine they are serious about getting published. But if they are, karma is a bitch. And the internet is forever...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


There seem to be lots of traps out there for aspiring authors. I'm falling into them with alarming frequency. I will enumerate them to the best of my ability here.

Trap #1: Researching the publishing industry turns into a monster time suck because of all the great blogs. These are writers, agents, and publishers. They are literary. They can turn a phrase pretty damn well. And they're often funny, which is like catnip for me.

Trap #2: Reading all these blogs with advice for aspiring authors makes the whole thing seem hopeless. Lists of reasons queries get rejected, manuscripts get rejected, common mistakes new authors make, how important it is to polish your MS but DON'T LOSE YOUR VOICE! So it has to be highly standardized so it won't stand out but it had better stand out. This sends me combing through the MS in a panic looking for all the things they say you can't do if you want to get published. I would rather go through sorority rush at Ole Miss with a great big zit and fake leather shoes than query.

"Do I have too many dialogue tags?" she said, worry clouding her expression.

Trap #3: I've read published books that sell well that I don't think are as good as my book.

Of course I have. I made up my book. I got to put in all the stuff I like and leave out the stuff I hate. If I can't develop my own fantasy world to my liking then I have a real problem. It's like having imaginary friends who won't play with you.

Trap #4: All the people that post on blogs sound really serious about what they're writing. Maybe they are way better than me. But the really serious ones hate the books that sell well. (Except Stephen King. He seems to be the only best seller who is sacred to aspiring authors. They will eviscerate anyone else. I hope people one day hate me as much as they hate Stephenie Meyer. If people hate me that much then I can buy an island or something.)

Trap #5: I might as well give up now because I live smack in the middle of nowhere and have two small kids. Writer's conferences are not an option. I don't have a website for my book (and won't in the near future), have no idea how to go about creating a book trailer (I know. A trailer for a book. Who knew?), I'm not a viral internet marketing buzz genius, and I have no desire to Tweet. I'll never make it.

Trap #6: Walk around in circles worrying about Traps 1-5 while I should be editing my manuscript.

I guess the thing that has me the most freaked out is the element of luck in the industry. I am the unluckiest person you will ever meet. I don't gamble because I know with absolute certainty that I just gave the dealer five dollars. I won't win it back. I am Murphy's Law incarnate. It seems so futile to send out queries when I know that luck plays a part.

On the other hand, maybe I'm way overdue for some good luck.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Another aspiring author who's doing what I'm doing...blogging his "newbie" experience, just wrote a post about editing and how much he hates it. I was very relieved to find this is not unique to me. Two words:

It sucks.

But why? For me, it's a couple of reasons. I made a couple of major no-no mistakes in my original draft. A lot of my book takes place in my main character's head so there were large chunks of story exposition with no action or dialogue. I'm fine with that as a reader but agents hate it. Because editors hate it. Since it's their job to know what readers like I'm guessing other readers hate it. So there were sections of my book I really liked that had to be complete do-overs. There's also the tricky "If it doesn't forward the plot, cut it" rule. That one is tough because sometimes there is a detail or conversation that develops a character or relationship with no direct bearing on the plot. Judgment call. The other thing I realized about my style is that I have an obsession with semi-colons and extraneous modifiers. I spent one very boring day using the search function of my word processing program. Once I removed the words "actually" and "a little" (I allowed two instances each to stay but everything else had to go) the manuscript was TWO PAGES shorter. Two single space pages. Two whole pages of useless words. The semi-colons had to be found the old-fashioned way. I re-read the whole thing, breaking almost every sentence with a semi-colon into two shorter sentences.

Editing takes a lot longer than writing and it isn't especially creative. The part about writing the book was fun. (I'm fighting the urge to insert a semi-colon here.) The story was burning me up and I couldn't wait to get the next part down. I couldn't write it as fast as it was coming into my head. And the coolest thing was that sometimes the characters wouldn't do or say the things I thought they would. They really were getting their own personalities. It's like having your very own socially acceptable multiple personality disorder. Once the story was down, though, I was ready to see what they would do next. As in next book. They were still talking in my head all the time and doing their own things. But book one isn't ready for prime time yet so editing must happen despite the yen to get back to the fun part. I've indulged in about 150 pages of fun part while I was supposed to be editing...I can't help it. Plus another almost whole book completely unconnected with the first one. That book was fun but total crap. I'll keep it for me but otherwise it will never see the light of day.

So now I'm panicking about getting book one cleaned up enough for its virgin voyage into queryland. I need about a week locked in the basement to devote solely to editing and a magic pill to instill discipline. Since I won't get a week in the basement I'll just have to work on the discipline thing. Damn.

Monday, May 18, 2009


I don't know if it is universal among artists but jealousy among writers seems rampant. And it does seem worse than in other industries.

Aspiring authors rip commercially successful books at every opportunity. These books can't all suck that much. If you see a bestselling title mentioned on an agent blog, however, there will be a frenzy of messages attacking the book for everything from originality to writing style. The only thing I can think of is that unpublished authors assume that discrediting "great" books will make their book seem more appealing. "If a book like that can get published and sell then can you imagine what a really GOOD book, like the one I wrote, could do?"

I'm not a singer or a composer or a painter but I don't get the sense that artists in those fields are so vicious. Musicians routinely recognize others with skill, even the ability to just write a really good pop song. I don't hear painters or sculptors (and I have friends in both areas) slamming others in their field who manage to eke out a living as a successful artist. I guess in that community it would sound something like this: "Oh, yeah. She's alright. She sells a bunch of stuff to hotels. You know, nothing challenging."

So what is it about writing? Just in my own little bitty anecdotal evidence of an experience the "pickiest" feedback comes from people who write. Not so much stuff I can use, like is the pace okay? Is there enough tension? Too much of this, not enough of that? What phrases do I repeat too much? If you bought this book would you be sorry you spent the money? Would you buy the sequel? Most of the suggestions would change my book to more closely match what that writer would have written if it were their book. And no, I'm not talking about any of you.

On one agent blog he posted an "Agent For A Day" contest where anyone who wanted to participate evaluated 50 query letters and selected the five they would pick to represent. Three were query letters that went on to be published, including one NY Times bestselling title. None of those three made it into the top tier of queries the writers participating would have selected. Hmmm. Maybe writers aren't really the best qualified to evaluate what readers would buy. At least not unpublished writers ;)

At any rate, I published a review on Amazon for the first time ever this weekend. I liked the book but I had a couple of minor quibbles and thought on the whole it might have been better. A sequel is coming out next year and I speculated in my review that the sequel would be better, since the one I read was the first in a series and by the end of the book it was starting to rock. Setting up a story big enough to take up several books is pretty hard to do and that's what this felt like, mostly setup. Anyway, the author's husband read my review and responded. He was really cool about it although I got the impression he was disappointed that I didn't have better things to say. So of course then I felt bad and offered to pull the review (which was overall positive). He said no, it was totally fair and not to worry about it. Since the book is selling like hotcakes I'm pretty sure they don't really care what I think.

The only two negative reviews, though, read like they had been written by embittered authors. One accused the writer of plagairism and the other didn't even review the book, just said that the author was only published because of who she knows. That DID bother her husband. As well as the fact that people they considered friends a few weeks ago are not friendly to them anymore. Other authors she's been friends with for years. How sad.

Why do we support each other until one of us gets what we all want? It's crazy. There isn't a limit on success. If you succeed that doesn't mean I will fail. And if I do, it doesn't mean it's because you were successful first. Sure, I might be a little jealous. But that doesn't make me not want you to get what you want. I just wish I had it, too.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Okay, so I wrote a book. I won't tell most of the people I know about it because, well, they might think that I think that makes me a writer. (Spoken in mysterious tone that self-identified writers use with pride and everyone else with skeptical humor.) My mom doesn't know. She might want to read it.

The trouble is, I like the book I wrote. I like it a lot. I don't think it's great literature or anything, but if someone else wrote it and I read it I would buy another one about the same characters or by the same author. I've passed various transmogrifications of it to enough people that the feedback makes me think I am not actually crazy. Other people might like it, too. In fact, other people do like it, and not just my best friend or my husband. Plus, they all think it would appeal to the same kind of reader I think would like it. They tell me this without me asking them, "Do you think Twilight readers would like this book? Despite the fact that there is not one damn vampire in it? Or werewolf, or any other creature of classic horror lore?" So far, my instincts aren't too far out in left field.

So what do I do next? The feedback I've gotten tells me that that the story needs fleshing out in one area in particular. Everyone has said basic versions of the same thing on what they like and what they want more of. So I added more of the "I'd like to see more of this..." and people like it better. Moving in the right direction.

This was the most fun thing I have ever done in my life. I have been the happiest, the most fulfilled, writing this book and starting the next one. Do I really want to wreck it by opening myself up to the brutal rejection of trying to get published? Everyone who writes a book thinks their book is good and other people would want to read it. We can't all be right. We can't all be writers.

I decided I would just putz around online and see what's involved. Crikey. A month later I found myself so paralyzed with fear I was ready to trash the entire harebrained scheme. I am definitely not a writer. Who knew that if you "tell me, don't show me" in the story that agents and editors will summarily reject you? Everything has to be somehow worked into action or dialogue? Seriously? But as I started thinking about it I found that maybe that would work. Chapter One is now on its fifth version. Oddly enough, it is way better than the first version. They might be on to something with that "show me, don't tell me" business.

Query letters. Oh. My. Gosh. I have to get someone to foam at the mouth over a debut novel by an unknown in 350 words or less. They won't care that I lived in Argentina since my story is set in South Carolina. Or that I had research experience funded by the National Science Foundation when I was just in college since the book has nothing to do with science. Or that I ran my own business for five years since the main character is in high school. All things that have fit neatly and impressively in cover letters for other jobs I applied for. I am completely unimpressive. My only option is to communicate the hook and "tone" of my book in one to two paragraphs. I was not a marketing major. This is not my forte.

It's much easier to read agent blogs and scheme than take action. Maybe I'll just do that for a while. It's more fun than editing, at any rate. The more I read the blogs the more I see just how ridiculous it is to think I might be one of the select few to get lifted from the slums into the elysian fields of published. Or even just agented. But I notice a trend among the blog followers. Most of them are unpublished, too. And a lot are kind of whiny about it. The prevailing theory common to unpublished authors is that agents suck and don't want anything that's new, untested, or challenging. They want cookie cutter books that will sell well to the unwashed masses. I conclude two things from this. One, people would rather blame someone else and then spend all their time yelling at the object of their frustration instead of getting better. (Reading and posting on blogs takes up an awful lot of time. If we were all offline and working on our books our lot might improve.) The other is that if they think so little of the reading public, people who actually spend money and buy books, they probably aren't writing books that the reading public wants to read. So maybe the agents are right. Maybe their books aren't really all that sellable. Maybe mine is. It might not be smarter than theirs, or as challenging, or high art, but at the end of the day I bet people might buy it. Maybe I will submit to a few agents. What's the worst that could happen?