You can follow this blog via email or send an owl.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ten Best Moment in Children's Literature

1.)    Matthew meeting Anne Shirley at the train station. I didn’t have the pleasure of reading this one until adulthood, when it was required for a mother/daughter book club I’d joined. Never have I been more impressed by an author’s ability to convey such a realistic change in perception in so short a time. I saw Matthew fall in love with Anne, and had a premonition of how she’d enrich his life. Pure magic.

2.)    The death of Severus Snape. I loved not only how this one gave a tidy explanation for the animosity the Potions professor showed toward Harry but also how it effortlessly patched things up. There was definite forgiveness in Lily Potter’s deep green eyes. Which is why we love her son so much. The only down side was that this scene made it hard to hate Snape with our previous fervor. There goes one of the guilty pleasures of the series.

3.)    The moment the phrase “Some Pig” appeared in Charlotte’s Web. White’s depiction of how he thought the down-home folk would react to such an occurrence struck me as downright realistic, brimming over with respect. This is saying something, since it was the perfect opportunity to poke fun at a whole class of people who might, under different circumstances, be construed as simple. Let’s face it, Charlotte was a snob, and she was sort of slumming in her relationship with Wilbur. But the author never falls into the web of condescension. What starts out as the cautiously optimistic compliment burgeons into words like “Radiant” and “Terrific” as Charlotte and Wilbur discover mutual appreciation. Theirs is one of the purest and most memorable partnerships in literary history—but if you look back at its evolution, they are careful never to overpromise. Let's not mince words here. This is some story.

4.)    The moment Colin Craven rises from his wheelchair in “The Secret Garden”. Whoo yah! The power of love, the innocence of childhood, mind over matter culminating in one small step for man. Colin might as well have been walking on the moon.

5.)    Nat’s announcement that he has purchased his first fishing skiff in The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. This is when it becomes clear that he and Kit will end up together. A very important moment in a book that formed my view of romance, for it marked the first time I’d been subjected to the strong-willedgirlmeetsboyshehatesatfirstandthengrowstolove formula. It is a formula that has been used again and again over the years, but never better than by Speare. In fact, I read this one to my daughter recently and didn’t remember there being so much historical shit in there. That’s how entranced I was by soul mates Nat and Kit. Gotta hand it to the author. She covered her bases, including history for those of us who weren’t duddle-headed romantics back in grade school.

6.)    The moment Lucille Applewhite declares Jake Semple a “radiant light being” in Surviving the Applewhites. Hands down the best of, like, a million great moments in this book. See for yourself:

      Jake picked up his bag, but she didn’t move. She just stood looking at him, her hands on her hips, her head to one side. Jake intensified his scowl. The combination of this particular expression and this T-shirt, even without the spiked leather collar, had totally unnerved the principal at Traybridge Middle School.

             Lucille sighed a long, appreciative sigh. “A radiant light being, that’s what you are. A     radiant light being!”

     Jake very nearly dropped his duffel bag. Radiant light being!

     “And don’t ever let anyone tell you different.”

    End of excerpt. Now right there is a passage that will give non-traditional students and misunderstood kids all over the world hope that they will someday find the one person who appreciates them despite their quirks. Middle grade done right.

7.)    The heroine’s death in Shel Silverstein’s Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony. Bet kids (not to mention, parents) never saw that one coming. Ponies for everyone!

8.)    The kids ambushing the author in The Children’s Hour and throwing him, chair and all, over the balcony. Something tells me this wasn’t really in the poem, but hats off to the illustrator of the version in my childhood library. He made Grave Alice, Laughing Allegra and golden-haired Edith into a trio of manipulative little monsters never before seen on any bookshelf that I was aware of. Now that I have kids of my own, I figure he was drawing from experience. Back then, however, I thought it a feminist depiction—and it gave me a little thrill to see those girls getting the best of their dad or uncle or whomever. I probably exited stage left to burn my training bra.

9.)    Princess Sabra getting lashed to the tree (although I remember it being the mast of the ship) in St. George and the Dragon. Proof that the fascination with bondage (evident in the viral acceptance of 50 Shades of Grey) begins at an early age.

10.)   The last sentence of The House at Pooh Corner. Beautiful as a sunset, it seeped        
               into my soul and stayed for good. Bear of little brain, my foot. More like a furry   
                Emily Dickinson.

     So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

       Yeah, I still have my dog-eared, tear-splashed copy of that one. It would almost be a downer if it weren’t so damned poignant. Anyway, I’m a better person for reading it for the first time as a child and every ten years or so thereafter. At the very least, it makes a good case for allowing kids to keep their stuffed animals in their rooms.

All of this shows how much harder it is to write for kids than for their bigger, dumber counterparts. Responsibility, responsibility, responsibility. We are forming psyches, people! Pen accordingly.



Monday, October 22, 2012


Hey! This is hard. Has anyone else noticed? Instead of another blog about how hard this is, I thought I’d spew out something useful. Like my mantra.

The following is what I’ll read whenever I feel like Elspeth from Her Fearful Symmetry, concentrating all my psychic energy on one thing in the hopes of creating a small shift in the physical world—all from a strictly spiritual vantage point. Like Elspeth, all writers face the possibility that their efforts won’t be noticed. Yet we take this gamble, the gamble of ghosts.

My work in progress is about a young girl who thinks the universe is sending her signs to guide her through adolescence. She interprets these signs in extremely self-serving ways, almost ensuring they become self-fulfilled prophesies. This whimsical, strong and charming MC of mine would be all over the notion of a writer’s mantra geared toward spiritual revitalization. Like Sweeney Todd on a five o’clock shadow, in fact. So Melia Carter, this one’s for you.
First, Jessica's:

Now mine:
(It’s a combination of The Irish Blessing, Murphy’s Law, the Apostle’s Creed and the Bipolar Disorder Association’s mission statement.)

Today my word count will match my genre. The keyboard will rise to meet my fingerpads. The wind at my back will be shorter than the day is long. Spellcheck and autosave will not fail me, but grant me the serenity to type in a rhythm that’ll fuel daydreams about the day I pay someone to ghostwrite the myriad ideas churning through my head.

I’ll always have faith in myself and my writing. I will never again cringe at boasting membership in SBCWI when I mean SCBWI (and shouldn’t it be SCBWAI?), for the only reason I make dumb mistakes like that is because I’m busy composing the next scene in my book, which is far more important to get right. It’s a book, after all—not just five letters. I won’t sweat the small stuff. I won’t obsess about the inevitable typo (or two) that’ll show up in my book when it’s published. I won’t pine for Borders. I’ll take amazon.

I will get an agent—and it won’t be the day before they become obsolete. Oh God! I am not obsolete I am not obsolete I am not obsolete. Computers can’t write stories; I can. And just because my stuff is in the slush pile doesn’t mean I write slush. I don’t write slush I don’t write slush I don’t write slush I don’t write slush. And if I do, at least it’s better than sludge.

Talent will find a home, talent will find a home talent will find a home talent will find a home talent will find a home, and that home will NOT be underlined in red on predators and editors. Because then it’s back to Square One. I will not have to go back to Square One. Square 5,689, maybe. But not Square One. Never Square One, for I have learned so much—and it only takes one yes.

That’s my mantra. Feel free to borrow. Meanwhile, may the odds be ever in your favor. True talent will find a home. Keep hoping. Keep dreaming. Keep writing. It only takes one yes (or two).

Now let’s rock the revisions.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hack! Hack! Hack!

     Hear that? It’s the sound of me hacking the heck out of my manuscript. It’s so hard to let those words go. Even harder now than when I worked in advertising. Copy was shorter back then. There didn’t seem to be as much at stake. An account person said, “Change this. Shorten that.” I was okay with it, aware from the first that my baby wasn’t really mine. As I’ve said before, many, many people are involved in cranking ads out. We have a term we use enthusiastically when the “collaboration” seems to have gone seriously awry. It’s called a clusterXXck. (C’mon, fill in the blank; this is a family blog.)

     In contrast, this baby is mine, all mine—and here I am slaughtering it! I’ve cut 9000 words so far. More edits are to come before my deadline of October 31. Hopefully I’ll have the perseverance to keep it up.

     Here’s a little secret. After the first one thousand, cutting words became almost fun. It’s like taking a sledgehammer to a wall. So cathartic. I realize now that my first pages were bogged down with boring backstory. On the bright side, writing it out wasn’t a waste of time because I needed to know all those things in order to cement my characters, and their history, firmly in my mind. But my readers didn’t, especially not in such detail.

     Think of it as a CIA operation. In novels, everything is on a strictly need-to-know basis. Ironically, some of what I removed from the info-laden beginning is materializing further on in the story—usually in dialogue. I’m noticing that the things that reappear are points vital to the story. Everything else has the sense to stay where it belongs, in the outline that’s for my eyes only.
     Aside from initiating the carnage, I don’t feel like I have too much input. Everything is kind of falling into place. It has been a liberating exercise and one that I recommend. So, save a backup of your original, and then hack away. You can always revert to the prior draft, but I bet you won’t.

     Before I go back to my demolition project, I leave you with Florence, and urge you, dear writers, to hack with wild abandon. Like machines. Take that manuscript and shake it out.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Games Over, Game On

Fall wildflowers in my yard.
I have a good excuse for neglecting my blog for so long. If you’ve been reading it at all, you’ll know I’m looking for a job. This week I had an interview, which was a nice surprise. It took a ton of energy to prepare for it, including buying a proper outfit—since I no longer have “interview” clothes—getting my portfolio together, researching the company, alerting my references about the possibility of being contacted, and basically getting myself in the mind-set for making a big pitch to the potential employer. Because I’m me, I probably did some over-thinking (refer to sub-title of blog), and it occurred to me that the interviewing process is a ritual. Thinking of it that way was sort of comforting, because I adore rituals.

I interviewed with two people, the first of whom asked if I could take rejection. Good thing I didn’t laugh out loud. Most people are unfamiliar with the publishing industry. They have no idea that authors don’t just bundle their books off to printers to be published. They don’t discern between self-publishing and traditional publishing. They have no idea just how much rejection is involved. Of course an interview isn’t the time to educate the public about the harsh realities of publishing, so I merely assured my interviewer that I handle rejection just fine. But do I?

I’ve received two rejections this week. Having an interview lined up helped temper them, but still. One was a very conscientious, although long overdue, rejection from a publisher regarding a children’s book I wrote which focuses on language extinction. The editor liked the topic, but felt there was a problem with the execution. I don’t know if I agree, but I certainly appreciate her response. The other was generated through a little game I participated in on a literary agent’s blog. The gimmick went like this: If you sent your query out a certain week, she promised to give you a brief explanation of why it didn’t float. I was a bit leery about my comparison books, which were MEAN GIRLS and OLIVER TWIST. I mean, a lot of books about bullying and queen bee-ish behavior use MEAN GIRLS as an example, so I was afraid it was too blasé. And with the latter choice—well, I felt a bit presumptuous comparing my writing to a Dickens work.

You’ll never guess what happened! I got the promised rejection cum explanation. It said, Mean Girls was very YA (my book is MG) and Oliver Twist was very…old. Dot. Dot. Dot. In short, she didn’t admonish me for comparing myself to a timeless genius; she insinuated that Oliver Twist is outdated. Irrelevant to young people. Oliver Twist! I'm sorry. I just can't live in a world where that's the case. (I'll have to watch some reruns of The Wire.)
Anyway, at first I considered this to be the snidest rejection I’ve received so far. But after I thought more about it (Like I said, over-thinking is what I do), I found I wasn't defensive on my own account. I mean, poor Charles Dickens! I'm sure he's cringing. I’d hate to be as old as he is. Not to mention, dead.
Seriously, though, this unhelpful exercise paid off, and I'm grateful because now I know I don’t have time for games. Early on, there might've been time, but I've since upped my game to the next level. I'm to the point where getting an agent, any agent, is no longer the directive. It's like a shift in the balance of power--and that's good news. 
From now on, I will treat my writing the same way I treated my interview, and I urge you all to do the same. Prepare yourself, devote time to it, prioritize, get in the mindset, launch. The query process is a ritual too—and rejection is something that comes with the territory. No more. No less. Read only as far as no, and then move on.
Okay, so that worked for like a second. Now I'm thinking I'll hear back about the job and it'll be a no-go, because things come in threes in advertising. Rejections are probably no exception. With my luck, there’ll be a resurgence in Dickensian tales with a modern YA twist—and they’ll all be New York Times best sellers and none of them mine. In the meantime, while I'm waiting for disaster to ensue, let's hear tips on how to cope with rejection…in all of its incarnations.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ads to Live By

Thus far, I’ve garnered a lot of good life advice from ad slogans. Sometimes I think it’s better than anything my parents ever told me.  (Let me remind you of dear old dad’s contribution: Children should be seen and not heard.) Here are the ones that daily shape my worldview.

Try it. You’ll like it.

Translation: Try new things, even if your first instinct is to make like Mikey and clamp your mouth shut in a really bratty fashion. It's not the new thing that is giving you indigestion but your tendency to stress, so stop it.

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.

Translation: If you get skunked while out with friends, stay out, loitering, until one of you by some miracle sobers up and can navigate the ride home. If this sounds as questionable to you as it does me, try making a really prudish friend who doesn’t mind staying sober. Hopefully, when you attempt to get into your car, he (or she—most likely, she, in fact) will claw your keys away from you while droning out the aforementioned mantra.  

Don’t squeeze the Charmin.

Translation: This one’s self-explanatory. I feel the need to add, in the interest of common sense however, that not squeezing won’t get you out of changing the roll. Certain people might claim they’re unable to touch the stuff without losing control. To those people I say, get a grip. (Just make sure your grip is softer than a squeeze.)

Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t.

Translation: There will be moments in your life when you believe yourself to be on the brink of insanity. Don’t worry. That moment will pass, yielding to a certainty that you’re no crazier than anyone else. It’s all good.

I’m a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, she’s a Pepper. Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?

Translation: While it’s tempting to succumb to this badgering, what it boils down to is a devious incarnation of a mob mentality. And that’s never good. Try to resist and keep your options open. It’s okay to like Coke better one day and chug an ice-cold Pepsi the next. That’s your right as a consumer. Don’t ever feel pressured to join up with any gork who tries to convince you that Dr. Pepper is some edgy, subversive, revolutionary drink. Dude, even Dr. Pepper is a waffler, distributed by Coke in some areas and Pepsi in others. And it doesn’t have a grain of Pepper in it, last I checked. So don’t commit to being a Pepper unless you are truly a believer. You’re better than that.

Footnote: If you haven’t guessed, this is my guiding ad slogan for politics.

Dirty mouth? Clean it up.

Translation: If you go around swearing like a sailor, you won’t have cause to smile much, and no one will see how it brings out that comely sparkle in your front tooth. And also, chew gum or your breath will be an abomination.

Celebrate the moments of your life.

Translation: Enjoy it while you can. ‘Nuff said.


When you care enough to send the very best.

Translation: Instances in which you’ll want to send someone the best ,via snail mail, on your own dime instead of your company’s will be few and far between. So it’s okay to splurge and spend six dollars on a greeting card.

Be all that you can be

Translation: Always feel guilty whenever you’re sitting around doing nothing because it is a luxury not everyone has. What’s more, if you don’t rouse yourself right now and find something worthwhile to do, your innards will slowly liquefy, shaving three years or more off your life.

Because I’m worth it.

Translation: That woman, the one on the screen who is far prettier and thinner than you’ll ever be, deserves all the money and fame people have thrown at her. You, on the other hand, deserve this: a modest salary commensurate with your experience, three square meals a day (unless you’re going to try that wacky Atkins thing again), on average twenty facebook posts to your wall on your birthday, and sex once every blue moon if you’re lucky.

The heartbeat of America is today’s Chevrolet.

Translation: This country and what it symbolizes are as timeless as that rusted out piece of crap up on blocks in your red-neck neighbor’s backyard. So even though it is an eyesore, and probably a danger, let the schmuck next-door keep up his efforts to restore it. After all it’s a free country. Plus maybe he can salvage something.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Oops. That’s not one. Sorry.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Oh, great! Now She's Pulling Out the Excerpts!

Don’t look at me like that. It is inevitable that a blog about writing (Hello! It’s called The Block—and I didn’t mean of Gouda.) will resort to featuring excerpts of the author’s work sooner or later. It’s not enough for me to entertain you with subversive opinions (though whether or not I’ve even done that is debatable), I won’t rest until I wow you with my writing. Not because I want to solicit comments and/or critiques (although that would be great, so long as you sway toward compliments) but because it will get me back to the crux of the matter. I’m having a hard time getting inspired.
     My kids just went back to school, my house is a mess, the weather is so nice, facebook continues to fascinate, I should blog more, query more (in fact, today I'll be critquing pitches for the GUTGAA Pitch Polish week, where I'm entry #32 if anyone wants to take a gander) I need a job, whine, whine, whine….and—oh yeah, wine. All of these excuses have made it nearly impossible for me to write. Am I blocked? You be the judge.
     Three words: Too many ideas. (I know, right? Annoying.) Since I don’t know which to concentrate on, I might as well be blocked. Life is ironic. But you can help by telling me what to write. Why should you grace me with your guidance, you wonder? Because fellow authors should support one another. Plus it's not like you’re not writing, either, you’re surfing the web like a freaking pre-shark Bethany Hamilton. (I see you there!) Chill. I’ll return the favor. Someday. (Jeez, it’s not like I’m asking you for rent.)
     Here are your/my options: a Middle Grade fantasy that I wrote a long time ago. I have some ideas to improve it and if I can do it to my satisfaction, I may get up the guts to resend it, along with a letter explaining about the revamp, to an agent who requested a full way back when. Who knows? She might want to take another look. Or not.   2.) a YA about a girl who was kidnapped and molested when she was a kid and is now dealing with the dire ramifications; i.e., she’s on drugs, acting out, pissed off at the world…Total hot mess (the girl, not the story, which is actually kind of good). It has religious undertones and a bit of romance thrown in. One-third done. 3.) a YA about a cell phone prank gone viral and the effect it has on a mentally imbalanced teen and, in turn, the community. 4.) a mystery that could probably be characterized as women’s fiction, leaning heavily toward romance, with a tinge of 50 Shades of Puke. (This would be my first completed novel for grownups—and it’s so close to being done I can smell the trailer—book trailer, that is. Not the double-wide.) If I had my choice of projects, I’d work on that. BUT I DON’T. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO! At night I place a writing pad on a table, light a candle, and enter a fugue state. When I wake, the pad is filled with words I don’t remember writing. (Yes, I am Lady Oracle!) That’s how tenuous the state of control has become.
     Now, where was I?  5.) a mystery with strong cautionary vibes thanks to an element of social networking which leads to the MC having run-ins with cyber predators. This one has a catchy title, and will be finished once I redo the beginning, which must suck, because it’s the only part that anyone’s seen and no one has requested to see more. I’ve decided to swap out the prologue in favor of a scene-setting newspaper article (because rumor has it prologues are taboo—and I’m banking on the assumption they are more taboo than scene-setting newspaper articles are cliché.)
     What would you read? What would you write? While I wait for your response, here is the promised excerpt from the mystery/romance I described. It features the hunk detective and meek ad chick engaging in a banter-y version of a Detroit parlor game called Guess what I Drive.
   I nudge the bowl toward him with my index finger. He digs and comes out with a cream soda, which is my personal favorite too, but the candy doesn’t pacify him as it’s meant to. He still seems restless and dissatisfied. I suck rather thoughtfully for a moment before attempting more conversation.
  “That archetype exercise was probably more harmful than anything.” I muse. “It’s not good to put much stake in stereotypes.”
   “But people tend to, and—if nothing else—you learned a new big word.” He graces me with a half-hearted smile, what those of us in advertising call a teaser. It does its job; I’m left wanting more.
   “That’s not all. After being exposed to all that psychobabble, I can now tell with dead-on accuracy what kind of car a person drives just by looking at him.”
   To gloat, I roll the sucker around my teeth. Matt perks up.
   “Really? Care to take a shot at me?”
   I balk. I didn’t plan on having to perform my little parlor trick; I keep forgetting who I’m dealing with. This man is seriously into proof.
  “C’mon, you claim to be the expert. Tell me what I drive,” he urges.
  Oh, you don’t want to go there,” I assure him, backpedaling frantically. “I mean, isn’t that what we were just talking about? If I’m right, you feel like just a demographic. It’s demoralizing. If I’m wrong, you transcend the stereotype, but I’m—well—even more shallow than you already think I am.”
   He shakes his head, feigning dismay. “God, it’s the Birmingham thing all over again.”
   I bite the sucker and chew. Matt seems to think this indicates I haven’t understood and goes on to elaborate. “You know—how you assumed that because I was a cop I couldn’t afford to own a house there…“
   “I never said that—“
   “Or buy your drink,” he patiently supplies.
   Two back-to-back pieces of damning evidence. Just as I was prepared to defend my course of study earlier, I fumble to explain away my tendency to label people. It’s especially difficult because I’m having a mini-epiphany. See, Matt thinks I have underestimated him because he is in law enforcement, but—little does he know—he has burned me for the wrong brand of bigotry. Regardless of his education or salary and despite where he lives or what he drives, deep down I feel that he is simply far too hot to be allowed any insight. Yet here he is, showing some. It’s almost as though he’s thumbing that perfectly formed nose of his at me. No wonder I’m struggling with the concept. Having one’s preconceived notions shattered thus is not a pretty sight. (Except for today, when it is ruggedly handsome.)  
   “Remember now? You went so far as to get out your wallet,” Matt accuses.
   Because I didn’t want you to think that I...I mean, I thought that drink was Gabby’s by right, that maybe you and she were, um—“
     Matt raises his eyebrows. “You thought I was sleeping with Gabby?”
     “That was before I knew you were related, of course,” I stammer, taking a moment to collect my thoughts. “Dodge.”
   He smiles and leans back with an air of confidence. “’atta girl! Dodge what?”
   “Ram.” This is fun. It’s kind of like charades.
   “Damn. What color?” he challenges.
   “Red,” I blurt.
   “Now, there you’re wrong. It’s black.”
   I retreat into a sulk. “I was gonna say black next.”  
   “I believe you. Now, it’s my turn. I really shouldn’t do this. I’m such a show-off.”
   He holds up what looks like a tattered coupon and my pale brows automatically flex.
   “Know what it is?” Matt asks, relishing some secret. I shake my head, mute with fear. “A crystal ball into your life.”
   “It isn’t even mine!” I object.
   “You don’t recognize it? Tanning coupon. It fell out of your purse the day of the murder when you got your badge out to let yourself into the building. I picked it up and pocketed it. See, I was right behind you coming in. Good thing I wasn’t some psycho because you held the door, enabling me to enter without a key pass.”
   I roll my eyes at his stern glance and am about to argue that the chance of a psycho lurking in our parking structure on a Monday was pretty minimal, except he’d only counter with the obvious: There had been a murder in the building that very day. Who knew? I soothe myself.
   “You took the stairs. Since you’re not what I’d call health-conscious, I’m thinking it was to avoid being on the elevator with me,” Matt continues.
   “With anyone,” I admit numbly. “Okay, it’s mine. So, give me it.” I make a grab.
   “It’s expired.” He lets the coupon flap playfully. “Besides, you don’t tan anymore. The only reason you did in the first place was for this guy, the short one with the olive complexion. Italian, maybe? That’s also why you were so defensive earlier when we had the short men vs. tall men debate. You understandably have some lingering protective feelings, since you were about to marry him but ditched. In any case, you stopped tanning around the same time you guys broke off the engagement, as evidenced by the almost-faded-but-not-quite tan line on your ring finger. It was pretty recent, I’d say. Any tan you had would fade quite rapidly. The fact that you even had one at all here in the month of October is what first caught my attention.”
   “Well, aren’t you the little Colombo?” I say bitterly.
   “I wish,” he laughs. “Now here’s some advice.”
   “Don’t!” I am in a panic.
     “Oh, but you need it.” He might as well be sprouting horns, his smile is so devious. “Your friends are worried about you. They were telling me exactly how worried they were before you busted in on our conversation earlier. I’ll give it to you straight. The guy was a jerk, Allison. You have red highlights in your hair and skin prone to freckling. The tanning booth is not your friend. Any man who would allow his future bride to be exposed to skin cancer to boost his own ego deserves to be jilted. You did exactly the right thing. Plus, the fact that I got the gist of your relationship with him from a tanning coupon raises another red flag. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders. Next time, aim for someone with more depth.”
   After he leaves, I clunk my good head right down on my desk in despair. A good head on my shoulders? Romantically speaking, it’s the kiss of death.

Friday, September 7, 2012

How Do You Do? (And More Importantly, How Do You Do It?)

Very funny. I know how to do that. I was talking about cracking into publishing. If it's anything like advertising, connections are key, so here I am, participating in my first blog hop. (Sounds fun-- like a pub crawl, except without all that pesky walking...and no hangover.) Although I'm an experienced writer, I'm new to blogging--so please be patient. (I just noticed I'm a little late to the meet-and-greet party, but here goes nothing.)

Where do you write?
In my great room (which, ironically, is quite small.) Sometimes at my computer table, where I continued to type, despite neck cricks and leg spasms, even after I bought my laptop.

-Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
A lamp. (Boring, I know.) And my brother's most recent book, which you can buy here.
 (Far more exciting. So proud of him.)


-Favorite time to write? Mornings, which is odd because I am a nighthawk. I guess all those studies on optimimum brain performance are right.

-Drink of choice while writing?
Coffee. Sometimes tea.

-When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?

-What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it? As I drove by the trailer park down the street, Linkin Park's "Waiting for the End to Come" was playing on the radio. The stars aligned. (In other words, I take the fact  that Linkin Park was playing as I passed another "park" while thinking up the story as proof that The Universe approves of my idea. That's how I roll. Literally.)

What's your most valuable writing tip? You don't need a business card proclaiming you're a writer. In fact, if you have a business card to that effect, you probably aren't. Don't feel like you have to be published to stake your claim in the industry. Now more than ever, words are up for grabs.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How Roald Dahl Ruined My Life by Writing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Making Me Think There’s a Golden Ticket to be had, and that Nice Kids Not Only Have a Chance of Getting It, but Can Also Look Forward to a Ride in a Glass Elevator, a Lifetime Supply of Chocolate and Seeing Their More Repulsive Counterparts Pegged Off One-By-One as Punishment for Various Obnoxious Behaviors Nice Kids Would Never Engage In

     This is what we on the ABNA discussion threads refer to as a Smullen, which is a really long headline constructed for the very purpose of inciting deep thought and/or riots. Sometimes these titles have intentional typographical errors, as well. Mine doesn’t because A.) I am a proofreader trained to rebel against typos, although Lord knows I’ve made my fair share over the years. B.) I am attempting to launch a semi-literary blog and don’t want to look like an idiot. (But I must remind you, I’ve disclaimed all the information contained here—read the archives, people!—which is a little trick left over from my years in advertising.) Now that I have your attention, let me elaborate on how Roald Dahl ruined my life. First off, he set the standard pretty high. How in the world am I to compete with an author who’s run the gauntlet? I mean, everything from witches, magic, mysterious chocolatiers, bullying schoolmistresses, used-car salesmen, space travel…seriously, what is left? And he’s a generation-buster. My daughters are, as we speak, cooking through all his books. Curse you, Roald. (Please envision me shaking my fist.)
     Second, his villain always gets an unpleasant comeuppance, which has fostered the fantasy that villains always get what’s coming to them. Um, no. This disconnect is downright scarring, because I’m still waiting for various villains to get theirs. This situation is complicated further by my inability to tell the villains from normal, non-villainous people. (In Roald Dahl’s universe, they are always puffed-up buffoonish types. In real life—not so much.)

Villains rarely stand out in a crowd.
photo: Marvin Gentry/Reuters
     Third, he has a really cool name, which led me to believe in my youth that people who did not have cool names (which I don’t) had no business writing books. (And no, I hadn’t heard of pen names back when my worldview was forming, but I guess the use of one now would remedy this gripe. So ignore the last two sentences, please. I'm too lazy to hit delete.) 
     The main reason my life was ruined straight out of the gate, thanks to Roald, and perhaps to Mrs. Freund (who--if you must know--taught me how to read) is that as long as Roald was on the job, there was no incentive to think up stories. His were sublime. Why bother, especially when so many were made into movies.
Don't be alarmed! I like to read hanging upside-down, like a bat.
Lucky for me, along came Suzanne Collins. Be warned, I just finished Mockingjay, but what follows here holds more sour grapes than spoilers. Still, if you feel passionately about the series, turn back now.

     It’s not that I didn’t like The Hunger Games. I loved it; I stayed up all night, reading. My enthusiasm waned a bit for Catching Fire, perhaps because too much time spanned in between. Our library had a waiting list, you see, and I couldn’t in good faith pluck the book from the waiting jaws of the local tweens and teens, all of whom were eager to devour it. (They needed it far more than I did.)

      I thought things were back on track with Mockingjay. I stayed up late again, convincing myself it was because I cared so much about Katniss and her family and friends. I don’t know what made me finally realize that I was persevering because I just wanted to get it over with. In some weird way, I had become Katniss, marching stoically to my fate, choking down the disbelief of having to go through it all again. I was a hair’s breadth away from begging someone to kill me—quickly—not with stones, as in the morbid precursor to The Hunger Games. (Don’t even try to dispute the parallels between this series and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, but do remind me to devote the next blog to how Shirley Jackson ruined my life by forging That Career while having kids and writing The Lottery in ONE DRAFT and by wearing Those Glasses.)
This blog needs some pretty about now. Isn't this pretty?
Of course I didn’t really contemplate suicide, silly blog-buds. Unlike Katniss, I was subjected not to a barbaric reality show requiring a fight to the death, but to joyless writing, which is almost worse. I waited all night for good to win out over evil, and what did I get? A draw. (Katniss waxed...for this, thought I.)

     Why did I see it as a draw? Someone tell me, please? Is it because I’m bitter and jealous, coveting Suzanne Collins’ success? Is it because I’m not the target audience? (No, it can’t be that one; The Hunger Games is a crossover!) Is it because I can’t deal with reality? (Although, I don’t think the trilogy is building its stellar reputation based on its realism.) Here’s the thing, no matter what anyone says, I want to believe that if the world comes close to annihilation, there will still be moments of humanity. Symbolic scenes that manage to break through the insanity of the times. Interactions between people that reassure me we’re all deeply connected and that we haven’t sacrificed everything as we meet our doom. I want to keep believing that a nice kid like Charlie Bucket could win out over Varuca without throwing a single punch or slipping a date-rape drug in her fizzy drink. That stubborn hopefulness is my most definitive quality.

     It pains me that kids someday will look back on this trilogy as a story that has shaped their childhoods, and certainly their psyches. Here's what I found lacking in the wee hours of the night: Redemption. Hope. A dawn hinting at a day that might burst in one's mouth like a handful of fresh berries. In the finale, I looked for a trace of the joy or the love that Katniss had on her worst day in the Seam and found...nothing. Her life was ruined—just like mine is, thanks to Roald Dahl. 
     On the bright side, a generation defined by such a story will definitely know the grim score as they’re turned out into the arena, whereas my buddy Roald sent me aloft wearing rose-colored glasses (at least they weren't Shirley Jackson's!) I'm surprised I haven't been ninja'ed to death yet.
Truth be told, these taste better without the golden ticket. So much less grainy.
Everyone knows that in real life Varuca Salt would’ve been the victor in the bid for the chocolate factory. Her father would’ve pulled out his checkbook and ended things within the first five minutes of the contest. And when the business showed signs of going under, Willie Wonka would’ve issued little pink slips to all of the oompa loompas. Then an executive from Hershey would’ve swooped in and bought him out, awarding him a nice severance package. He would’ve exited by way of a golden parachute, not a glass elevator, and poor Charlie would’ve wandered home only to see a foreclosure notification on the window of the shack he’d lived in his entire life. That’s the way the cookie really crumbles, folks.

    The Hunger Games was a departure from the rainbows and unicorns. I get that. What I’m saying is: go back! Rainbows are real. Unicorns are lovely. I don’t want the tattered remnants of a girl’s soul on my conscience. I want to be here, ranting and railing against Roald Dahl for getting my hopes up only to have real life bat them right back down. Shouldn’t every generation have that to look forward to, in addition to a ride in a glass elevator and the possibility of a lifetime’s supply of yummy bonbons? That's what gets us through our nasty, miserable lives. Maybe I should be thanking Roald Dahl for lying to me.

     ATTN: Future Suzanne Collinses (no relation to Tom Collinses) of the World, please don’t stick another Katniss in the games on my account. I want to go on believing that windmills might be giants and that my child's ADHD could signify she is a god among kids. That Voldemort will be vanquished before he’s even had the chance to make that first appointment for a nose job consultation. That Good has the smallest chance of prevailing over Evil—and when it does, that the survivors will be happy. Maybe not ever after. Maybe only for a day--and under heavy sedation--but I need to know the struggle was worth it. Sure, it's life-and-death, but does it have to be so damaging? Can't we laugh a little? On Roald's watch, we could. These kids agree: 
     Now let’s all head off to use the Insert Hope function in our stories. Go to Microsoft Word, to Insert, and then scroll down. (See it? Right there under clip art, next to ‘Insert Humor’—another thing poor Katniss lost along the way.) If you use Scrivener, well then, you’re plum out of luck.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ode to Songwriters

This blog is dedicated to songwriters, because I envy them. I mean, I’ve tried my hand at ads, poetry, novels, short-stories and the dreaded query letter, but I can’t write a song to save my life. It’s hard. You have to rhyme a little, but not too much, or else you sound like Dr. Seuss. You’ve got to read and write music, appeal to both young and old, look hot, sound sultry, show the potential to resurrect your career if the inevitable looming threat of becoming a has-been actually comes to pass. (Nowadays you may be asked to appear on Dancing with the Stars.) Ideally, you should play an instrument—but not drums, because it’s nearly impossible to keep the beat while singing lead vocals. (If Karen Carpenter couldn’t do it, no one can.) Yet, songwriters make the arduous seem easy.
     The one thing they’ve got working in their favor is time. At least when a music artist sits down to connect with the muse, he has a realistic expectation of coming up with something by that evening, which means I’ll be jamming to the fruits of his efforts way sooner than if he were an author cranking out a book. He (Or she—of COURSE I mean he or she whenever I write “he”. It’s just all those he/she’s totally clunk up my blog.) is lucky in that sense. In the world of “it’s never done”, it would be nice to be done. Wouldn’t it? The songwriter gets to go out and have a beer to celebrate. He probably doesn't come home and feel pressured to make more revisions. It's done! He goes to bed. 
     As usual, my envy has made me want to rip apart the objects of my jealousy, making this less of an ode to songwriters and more a tirade against them. I honestly didn't plan it that way. See, odes are similar to songs—and as I said before I can’t write them. I simply wanted to use the word ode because it sounds cool. Still, I’m sure that I could write both song and ode if I lifted a familiar melody from somewhere else. I like Train as well as the next girl (I actually LOVE Train), but seriously? Seriously?    
Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Did you hear it? Even the videos seem constructed in a parallel vein. I mean, meeting David Hasselhoff in a grocery store is as surreal as being swept away from the Opera House by a deformed-yet-somehow-charismatic masked man in a gondola, first by way of an underground stream—and then…by horse?
 It’s no surprise, I guess, that certain elements appear again and again in fiction. Yet, somehow, novel writers get reamed. With us, this is called cliché. With songwriters, it’s called homage to an early influence. They get to cite artistic license and all that jazz (pun intended), while I can’t even describe my character’s eyes as emerald green or make them roll up in exasperation. There is no justice in the world.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Worthy Dream

This past month, the community I live in voted on a millage to support the arts. If passed, it would increase funding for local libraries and allot a small portion of taxes to the art museum in the nearest metropolitan area. I voted—and I’m proud to say it passed, resulting in free admission for area residents to the Detroit Institute of Arts. Being the cheapskate that I am, I took my children to the museum, like, the second the polls were in.

     All of my kids show great artistic potential, and I want to be supportive if they do decide to pursue a career in the arts. Yet, like many parents, I’m tempted to urge them to have a “backup plan”. The danger is that they may see this as an indication of my being unsupportive. Am I? Yes. It’s like saying, “Follow your dream, but have an alternate one in case the first one doesn’t pan out.” It goes against the very definition of a dream.

     It's a conundrum, for sure. We may be authors and artists, copywriters and graphic designers, documentary-makers and photographers…but would we wish all the toil and turmoil we went through to earn these titles on our children? It's harder to be on stand-by than to be working toward the goal ourselves.
Talk about a sense of entitlement!
My kids use the easels that, I'm pretty sure,
are meant for art students.
     While waiting in line for a book signing, I saw how the author/illustrator stifled a wince every time a parent insisted his or her son or daughter was going to be an artist too. The woman in front of me in line had proof: her seventeen-year-old son had already sold a picture. “That’s great!” I said, and smiled as she went on to tell me that he wanted to attend an art school. I said I didn’t wonder; it must be heartening to have success at such a young age. Her next comment surprised me. She confided that she’d rather he study something else. Something stable.
     So I suggested he pursue a career in advertising. (I’d forgotten that it was considered to be art’s ugly step-sister.) Perhaps I gushed, because I loved my job in ads. Yet I was honestly trying to be helpful, showing that there was some hope of financial stability in the arts if one went about it realistically. As an art director, I reasoned, her son would have a stable paycheck yet could still market his art on the side. Then if the work turned out to be steady, he could give up working on ads and just do that. The moment the first syllable of the word “advertising” fell from my lips, she began to look at me as if I’d suggested that her son backpack across Mars, post-college. She never spoke to me again. (She grabbed her signed book, and was out of there!)
Did I mention that my son's gonna be an artist?
     Whatever! It was good advice (It was!), and if Brett Helquist had given it—she probably would’ve listened. Her loss—or maybe her son’s. In any case, it gets me back to my point. We must support our children in their decisions to pursue artistic careers. Our job is not to judge, but to guide them in going about it realistically. We must strike a fine balance between warning them of the pitfalls they’ll encounter and putting a damper on their dreams. Make it clear: We too deem these dreams worthy. If we don’t do all this, we are big-old, artsy-fartsy hypocrites! Not to mention, bullies. So, there. That said, I’m going to stop pressuring my kids to be dentists. Pinky promise.