Sunday, September 18, 2011


I am developing an irrational hatred for the phrase "at the end of the day." Maybe I just hear it too often lately, mainly from reality show bottom feeders. I hope that's all it is, and not something more insidious, like that my editing brain has now crept into my real life and is mentally rewriting what people say. "That's a cliche. Find a new way to say it."

My editing brain ruins many, many books for me now. That's bad. Good in the sense that I love the good books even better, but bad in the sense that I'm less patient with books than I used to be. But anyway, editing brain, you are hereby ordered to leave Real Life alone.

And now back to words/phrases people hate. I've bumped into a survey in a couple of different places that says the word Americans hate most is: MOIST.


Raise your hand if you cringed.

I didn't. That word doesn't bother me. It bounced off of me like I was a MOIST-deflecting Superman. Or something.

I can't think of a specific word I hate. But I can think of lots of words that I hate hearing pronounced the wrong way, and by wrong way I mean not how *I* say it. For example, there is no Z in resource. So why is suddenly everyone saying it like there is? If you are one of these people, are you Canadian? Is this why this is happening?

Anyway, back to the editing brain and the sound of words: last night I was reading a novel (self-published, sadly) that was making me angry. It contained this fraction from a sentence: "treated with careful care by Carol." I think it was not on purpose. And so when I read that aloud to my husband, he gently took the book from me, held it up and looked at the cover, and then calmly punched it.

I love him.

Friday, September 16, 2011

White Noise

It's a flood, man. The constant barrage of tweets and FB updates: buy my book, it's awesome, blah blah blah.

I try to follow back anyone on Twitter who follows me unless they're obviously a spammer. But sometimes the spamming is subtle. For example, there's one fairly successful YA writer who ONLY retweets nice stuff people say about her books. After a month of her in my feed, I've learned nothing about her as a person. Not a thing. So I unfollowed her.

And when random writers add me on Facebook, if their first three updates are nothing but marketing ploys, then I immediately hide them.

I get really tired of the Twitter folks who use it is as nothing but a marketing tool. IT WON'T WORK LIKE THAT, DUMMY.

And yet I think Twitter and even Facebook can be incredibly effective for marketing. For example, there are authors whose books I've bought that I wouldn't have otherwise picked up because I've followed them on Twitter for a while and I have a feeling that I'll enjoy their writing voice. I have never once bought a book from someone who tweets nothing but stuff about their own books or about someone else's self-pubbed book because they think the favor will be returned. It all comes off as a smokescreen to me.

And then there's the in-between, the writers who tweet about nothing but writing. I like to talk shop, too. But I need more than that connection point to really click with someone, even at a social media level. So the ones who wear me out with nothing but boring writing updates . . . unfollowed or hidden.

I think I react this way because I'm a classic extrovert, meaning I recharge by interacting with other people. People who don't offer real connection points . . . they just want something from me. In the circles I run in, they mainly want me to buy their book. In real life if you had a friend who always needed something from you without offering anything in return, that would be a toxic friend and ultimately, you'd probably let that friendship wither.

So that's what I do with social media relationships. The ones that don't offer some insight beyond the billboard of a writer's projects, I let those fade.

And amazingly, as many of those as I've let fall by the wayside, I still find some really fun connections.

Maybe that's why blogging is still my favorite thing. It forces more real reciprocity than "like" and "retweet" buttons do.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I hate it.

Dang, I picked the wrong job.

I hate it but I do it.

Maybe I don't hate all research. Sometimes it's funny to me. I've had to explore floor plans for Antebellum homes, take a virtual tour of the Space Needle, and study diagrams of marionettes. I've definitely collected some bizarre bits of knowledge.

What surprises me most is that minutiae I have to research that doesn't have much to do with my story. I've spent an hour reading about the origins of steampunk to get a single, non-plot dependent sentence right.

But it pays off. I wrote an entire novel set in Seattle. I never even visited there until after I finished the novel, but I was amazed to discover that the result of all that research was that I walked around the parts of the city I had described and realized I got it right. Surreal.

Here's a top ten list of odd things I've learned while researching:

1. The homes in Audubon Place in New Orleans were protected by Blackwater operatives during the Hurricane Katrina chaos.
2. There are not a lot of spices that make great names for boys.
3. There are a lot of delicious-sounding places to eat in Seattle.
4. It's amazing how much money things will sell for in a New Orleans antique auction.
5. A surprising number of people skirt the foster system in New Orleans.
6. It's hard to research region-specific slang.
7. The cars that teens find cool are totally different between California and Louisiana
8. Any era you search between the 1960s and now, Converse All-Stars are always considered cool
9. The bad parts of Washington DC are among the worst in the country
10. The best research: sitting on Huntington Beach pier while your husband explains why the surfers are doing what they're doing.

What is the weirdest thing you've ever had to research?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Crazy, Stupid Good

The fun of being a movie goer is that if you sit through enough mediocre movies, you'll stumble into one that's worth the price of admission. Or even the price of popcorn. Which is what Crazy, Stupid Love is. Totally worth it, I mean. Even the popcorn. It might even be worth the cost of the babysitter, popcorn and admission.

I'm saying it was good.

As a movie goer, I loved the acting. Ladies, I'm going to show incredible restraint and out of respect to my husband, I will limit my Ryan Gosling comments to this: he can say so much with the tiniest quirk of an eyebrow. Steve Carrell is in his Dan in Real Life groove here, which I love. And the babysitter is awesome. And Julianne Moore is as good as always. I didn't love the oldest kid, but beyond that, actors=great. Emma Stone: exceptional.

But as a writer, I especially loved this movie because the characters are so well-developed. One of my biggest pet peeves in storytelling is when characters are forced to do something that makes no sense for their personality so that the author can ratchet up tension or complicate the story. But if it's not something the character will actually do, it's super distracting to me. Example: I'm a highly skilled international jewel thief in the middle of a major heist. Oops--forget to turn the cell phone off and now it's ringing. Trouble!


Grrr.  Of course a character can make mistakes; it just drives me nuts when they act against type. The character and writer both lose credibility with me and I lose the pleasure of escapism.

One of the things that I loved about this film is that even though at one point the characters are thrown into a situation that would never, ever happen, it didn't distract me at all because the characters were so consistent. I believed their reactions even though I didn't buy the premise, if that makes any sense at all.

To sum up: Go see Crazy, Stupid Love. I kinda think I might want to go see it again. That's a good movie.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Brain dump

And here's how you know you're a writer. I went on vacation and wrote TWICE as much as I usually do in a day. And I count that as a GOOD vacation.

Why, yes, I am a barrel of laughs and an amusing travel companion. Assuming you're not married to me. And that if you are, you WANTED to take care of our three kids way more than usual.

Assuming that, I'm a vacation delight.

I read lots on vacation. When I think back on all the uninterrupted reading I got to do, the feeling I get is the one I think the pirates mean when they talk about their timbers getting shivered.

I had three fights with my sister today. I'm wrong every time and I still get in there and swing. I wish someone could explain our dynamic because I don't understand it. It baffles my husband. My brother, in one of the middle of our squabbles today, said to my sister about me at one point, "She's being passive aggressive. Ignore her." And also about me at another point, "She's being a nerd. Let it go." But she wouldn't. Which I'm sure is exactly why I kept it up. I think I'll have no choice but to write soon about siblings who behave like this so maybe I can figure it out.

Finally, name a great movie or TV series about a writer. I'm in the mood for one all of a sudden. My favorite is Stranger Than Fiction but I'm open to other ideas.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Freaking hilarious. Let me diagram it for you . . .

This one time, I felt sorry for Robison Wells and it's not even because a horn is trying to erupt from his forehead. That in itself is not a big deal. (I mean, if it's a unicorn horn it would be pretty cool. If it's a goat horn, well then . . . yeah. Okay, that's a problem.).

Anyway, I felt sorry for him because he was talking about how he had to put together a class on how to write humor for a writer's conference.

Now I also pity Sarah M. Eden for the exact same reason. She's stuck with this topic, too. I think they are both brave and good people (of questionable sanity) for taking this on . But I still feel sorry for them.

Here's the thing. I don't think you can teach people to be funny. You got it or you don't. It's that indefinable thing that makes someone become a massive pop star and someone else never make it at all when they have equal talent and looks. The "it" factor, maybe. (Oh, and minus any sleeping with the right people hijinks. (Cheating slutty McHohos. [I'm looking at you Susan McBoyle. {I'm totally not, cuz I'm writing about jokes, see? See how I did that?}])

But you're funny . . . or you're not.

Unless you're like me. In which case, you are HILARIOUS to the people that know you and often lock up around everyone else.

But, and for the sake of this argument and also because I think it might be true, my books are pretty funny and those jokes are cracked in front of thousands of people I'll never meet. And yet if you put me in a social situation where I  know less than 20% of the players, most of the time I morph into this interested observer and nothing funny to say comes to mind at all.

Get me in a room full of friends, I kill.

Get me in a room full of friends who are also funny, I lock up again. I think I can only be funny if I'm the clear alpha funny dog or if I've known everyone in the group FOREVER.

It's a weird thing.

Anyway, the point is, I know funny. I am funny. This has been voted on and ratified by the marketplace, so say the sales of my book. That's the expertise I'm claiming. Oh, and you can ask the 25 classes worth of 8th graders I taught over five years. They'll tell you: I'm funny. And get me in front of a room full of teachers in a staff development meeting? I will destroy them.

The thing is, I can't turn it on or off. I just am or am not. There's no deciding I want to be funny and then the jokes come. They're there or they aren't.

I truly believe most funny people are this way.

It comes down to this: as soon as you explain a joke, it's not funny anymore. Or put another way by Sarah Eden, "In my experience, classes on humor are the unfunniest classes at all."

I bet if you surveyed the attendees in Sarah or Rob's classes on humor (and I've been to other classes they taught and can vouch they are each hilarious), this is what you would find. 15% of attendees are friends or acquaintances who are there for a good laugh and didn't even read the title of the class. The rest are people who have no inherent funniness and will leave with lots of earnestly taken notes and still no clue how to crack a joke, much less a good joke.

Case in point: This Wired magazine article from May looks at humor through the lens of science, trying to quantify what makes something funny. (Yes, I read my  husband's magazines in the bathroom. If he can stay in there with it for an hour, so can I. Also, I'm suddenly a genius when it comes to buying his gifts because, hello? I could blindly point to any item on any page in that magazine and he'd want it.) And while it's an utterly un-hilarious article about humor, it's fascinating. This is kind of the nutshell, although seriously, go read the whole thing:

It makes perfect sense.

But if you have to explain it to someone . . .

I'm just saying. Rob, Sarah . . . you have my deepest sympathies.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Lose the Jeep

Or maybe not lose it. But we probably don't need to know it's red yet.

Nathan Bransford, former literary-agent-turned-middle-grade-author, offered a critique of a first page for someone on his blog the other day. It's a fascinating look inside the editing process from someone who knows what he's doing, so it's well worth a look for the handful of you writers out there who don't already follow his blog. I find his red line markup especially helpful. Anyway, you can check it out HERE. He makes a GREAT point about the difference between writing and being writerly.

Seriously. Go read it. Then come back.

Well, hey again.

What caught my eye in the author's submission was the last sentence in her opening paragraph: The telephone rang, awakening me from a deep Valium-induced stupor. A disembodied voice said, ‘the Inn’s on fire’, and then the line went dead. The clock read 3:00 - the witching hour. I grabbed my dog. Still wearing pyjamas and slippers I jumped into my red Cherokee Jeep, and drove to The Witch’s Inn. 

It's the very first thing people are reading about your character and her world and her voice. So what really, REALLY needs to be there? Do we need to know that she drives a red Jeep Cherokee? And if we do need to know that because it tells us something about her character, do we need to know it very first thing? Maybe yes. Maybe no. Probably no.

Maybe we never need to know at all. Most likely at some point, as readers, we would like this little detail because the profile on someone driving a late-model Lincoln Town Car is far different than the profile on the person who is driving the red Jeep. It's a helpful clue.

Just not opening paragraph helpful.

I think this really caught my eye because I recently won a 1200 word critique from one of my dream agents, Sara Megibow. I sent her the most polished pages I could bleed out. I really thought I nailed it. 

She liked it. She didn't love it. But I'll tell you what she said and why.

Here's my first paragraph: Jolie fingered the remnant of soft gray corduroy in the moldy pile of fabric and wondered about her odds. Could she yank it out without toppling the massive stack on top of it? With a quick prayer to the imaginary saint of crazy hoarders, she jerked it and ducked, ping ponging her way between a wall of newspapers on one side and precarious piles of nearly everything else on the other.

Here's Sara's response:

Writing – You are using lots of imagery in the opening pages. Your writing is interesting, engaging, full of life. I really “feel” the chaotic, cluttered world that Jolie is navigating. A suggestion – it feels a wee bit as if you are trying too hard on the first two pages to insert details. It’s not a deal-breaker, just an observation. If I were reading this from the slush pile, my response would be along the lines of “new writer, trying too hard, a bit too wordy, hopefully it smoothes out.” For example:

“I fingered the remnant of soft gray corduroy in the moldy pile of fabric and wondered about my odds. (soft gray corduroy and moldy fabric) Could I yank it out without toppling the massive stack on top of it? (massive stakc) With a quick prayer to the imaginary saint of crazy hoarders, (quick prayer, imaginary saint, crazy hoarders) I know this is just the opening paragraph and we think “goodness, that’s nitpicky” but it’s my observation. My suggestion would be to trim the details just a hair in order to make the narrative flow a bit more smoothly. ***

So, I'm thinking . . .yeah. Lose the Jeep.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Just what the world needs . . . another writing blog.

When I started my other blog, I thought I was going to spend all kinds of time writing and thinking about writing and blogging about reading.

But I realized as a novice writer, there's only so much to say.

And I quickly discovered that I'm not a super huge fan of people blathering on about writing when they don't really have any credibility. Meaning, they're not published.

I'm good with people talking about their journey and their thought processes, etc. I just don't think I can get behind someone setting themselves up as an expert on point-of-view or . . . you get the point. I'm always left with the same question: And how are you an expert?

I have no idea what I'm going to do with this new blog, or if it's even going to be a thing. I dunno.

But I've been thinking about writing so much lately, about the process of creating and breathing life into words and all of that good stuff that I had to let it out somewhere.

Oh, and also, it gives me an excuse to play around with templates. Because I needed another time waster in my life.

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