Thursday, December 13, 2012

Permission to Bang the Bragging Drum

I grew up under my mother's strict "No Bragging" rule. I was expected to do my best -- to excel, even -- but always with the understanding that crowing about any achievements or awards was a social infraction tantamount to audibly belching the alphabet during a sermon. It was simply Not Done.

To this day, I try to steer clear of shameless self promotion.

I don't follow people on Twitter if all they do is tweet links to their appearances, books, and / or reviews. The gene that makes others want their own reality show is completely missing from my DNA.

But sometimes (once a year or so), it's nice to have a venue that encourages one to publicly celebrate one's successes.

To that end, I hereby unveil The Bragging Drum!

Not only will you have the opportunity to tell the world about your stellar superbity, but you'll actually get to feel good about doing so because you'll be helping deserving kids get some awesome books for the holidays.

Here's how it works:

*  In the comments, tell me (and my awesome, supportive readers) what cool thing you -- or someone you know -- did this year that's worth a brag or two. Did you finish your novel? Have a baby? Get married? Get your first byline? Graduate? Tell me, and I'll celebrate with you.

*  I'll donate $1 to literacy champion First Book for every comment. (Every $2.50 donated to First Book provides one brand-new, high-quality book for a child from a low-income family. Better yet - from now through the end of 2012, Disney has agreed to match every one of those books with two additional books!)

"Let me hear you say yeah! Yeah! Hallelujah! Amen!"
 

*  Want to feel even better and send even more bucks and books to kids who need 'em? It's easy, and it won't cost you a cent. Just follow. From now till year's end, I'll also donate $1 to First Book for every new follower of this blog (currently being followed by 162 of the coolest readers in the universe).

I'll go first, to show you and my mom that it can be done without selling your soul. Remember the Out of the Box One-Act Playfest playwrighting competition I told you about? Well, I won -- Audience Choice Award two nights running and the juried judges' Grand Prize. So... yay, me!

I won a few bucks. Now help me spend it on kids who could really use some Christmas cheer. Brag below. Go on: bang that drum!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

#TheNextBigThing: Welcome to "The Lion's Club"

I'm honored to be tagged in the wild, woolly, and wonderful meme that is #TheNextBigThing!

The Next Big Thing is a blog hop that not only encourages authors to discuss their current projects, but also lets them tag other authors to tell about their projects. (In the immortal words of Heather Locklear while hawking shampoo in the 80's: "And so on... And so on... And so on...")


I am indebted to the delightfully snarky Alyson Peterson, purveyor of acerbic commentary on the vagaries that afflict one as a woman, a writer, a parent, and a spouse at her Dirty Green Jello blog, for tagging me.

I rarely participate in blog hops, but shall make an exception this time. ~ahem~  Drum roll...

Here, then, are THE RULES for The Next Big Thing Blog Hop if you’re tagged:

1. Use this format for your post.
2. Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress).
3. Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing

1.) What is the working title of your book?

The Lion's Club. (Though I also kind of like Jobe's Pride. Jury's still out on the final title.)

2.) Where did the idea for the book come from?

It began with a screenplay assignment, of sorts, for a week long master screenwriting class with Jim Mercurio that I attended in 2008. I wanted to write a low budget script with few actors contained within a single set that told a story worthy of asking for two hours of an audience's time. The original germ of the story -- about two friends who kidnap a Hollywood star "for his own good" and hold him captive in a cage that once held a lion -- has morphed and mutated, but remains essentially unchanged.
Stalking the story: Heeeeere kitty, kitty, kitty!

The finished script became a story obsession at the same time I was researching the phenomenon of overnight celebrity for a different project, so I put that project on hold and turned the script into a novella exploring both the double-edged sword of super stardom and the perils that accompany doing the wrong thing for the right reasons--

But the characters and the set-up still wouldn't leave me alone (I think it's because I have a tendency to crush on my male leads. This one is no exception.), so I thought I'd delve deeper into their world and see what more there was to tell. That's when the angels sang and the planets aligned. I realized that the story perfectly lent itself to a pet idea I'd long wanted to do: a rather twisted re-imagining of the classic tale of Job from the POV of one of his erstwhile "friends."

3.) What genre does your book fall under?

Women's fiction / literary fiction. Ish.


4.) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Nope. Not going to go there. Not because I don't have definite casting preferences. It's because I am an unceasing optimist, holding out hope that not only will the book be picked up, but that it will be successful enough to warrant a movie. I've already had a director friend show interest. He knows my casting wish-list. But I'm not going to jinx it by putting it into print.


That said, here are the characters:

JOBE: Hollywood's biggest rising star with serious personal problems that threaten his professional life. Mid-to-late 20's. Hotter than Hades. Dark hair. Piercing eyes. You get the picture. Mmm-rowr.

ELLIE: Mid-to-late 40's. Supermom. No-nonsense. Tough as nails. Runs a respected dog rescue facility. Hiding a long-dead secret. Fiercely loyal and protective of everything entrusted to her care.

ZOE: Mid-20's. Ellie's friend and accomplice. Still rocked, but recovering, from a recent tragedy. Knows Ellie is hiding something, but trusts her implicitly.

MIMI: Uber agent. Jobe's stepmother. Evil incarnate. Dangerous when crossed -- and Jobe has crossed her. Big time.

Those who know me well (or even in passing) can probably take a good, educated guess at my dream cast. To you I say: Get out of my head! I like it here all by myself, thank you very much...

5.) What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

When animal rescuer Ellie Tieman discovers Hollywood hearthrob Jobe Ramsey unconscious in a dumpster, she falls prey to a blackmailer's twisted scheme: she must keep the hottest man alive under lock and key for six weeks, which will ruin his career, or have the truth be told about her secret sin and spend the rest of her life behind bars.

6.) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Trick question, I fear, for there are more possibilities for publication than just those two.

I'm pushing for traditional publication all the way, whether I sell the project myself or find an agent who believes in it enough to sell it for me. Further bulletins on that front as events warrant. At the moment, things are looking very promising, but it's too soon to tell. Sshhhh... I don't want to jinx it.

7.) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? 

First draft of the script took two months.

First draft of the 27,000 word novella took 72 hours, which is completely insane, I realize, but I was participating in the Three-Day Novel Competition while recovering from a nasty bout of Swine Flu, so insanity ruled.

First draft of the 80,000 word novel took a little over a year because other writing commitments made me put my spec writing on hiatus.


8.)  What other books would you compare to this story within your genre?

Ah, if I knew, I would gladly tell you. I know what other writers have tones similar to mine, but I have never met a book like this one. It's dark and funny and twisted and wry, with hefty doses of both dogs and drama. It's got more in common with the movie "Serious Moonlight" than with any book I know.

9.) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Like I said: my characters refused to let me be done with them. When I finished the novella, they were so real to me that I would find myself looking for excuses to spend more time with them. (Remember the aforementioned crush on my MC? ::sigh:: Yeah.)

I especially wanted to explore the "how far would you go to protect a loved one?" question from the perspective of a strong woman in a stable, long term marriage. IMHO, there are far too few committed, competent female characters in literature.

Plus, I've always found the classical story of Job -- a good man who has everything taken away from him on a whim, making him a tortured pawn in a game he doesn't understand -- difficult. I welcomed the chance to dig into it and unpack it from several different angles.

10.) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

"The Lion's Club" is a feel-good story of addiction, abduction, and murder, with healthy doses of canines, cookies, and one God-awful cockatoo that makes me laugh, but which would only convince my mother, were she ever to read it, that she had failed as a parent. It should speak to anyone who has ever been guilty of going above and beyond the call of duty (if not the law) for a friend.

Include the link of who tagged you (done; see above) and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

Hookay! Here goes:

Gale Martin, opera lover extraordinaire, who writes pee-your-pants funny women's fiction and blogs at Scrivengale. (UPDATE: I hear that Gale has already taken part in this meme. My bad. Oh well -- check out her blog anyway. She's good people.)

Crime writer Marguerite Ashton, celebrating the recent release of her first book, "Burned Bridges" (which I had the privilege of editing) and hard at work on her second. Marguerite blogs at Criminal Lines.

Kalla Monahan, lover of the bizarre, strange, and outright weird. Kalla is a publicist for Siren's Call Publications and Pink Pepper Press. SCP and PPP publish horror, paranormal, erotica, & romance -- all stuff that I don't write, which is kind of sucky, 'cause Kalla is great at her job. Kalla writes the Bizarre Kaleidoscope blog.

Yi Shun Lai, fiction editor of the LA Review, triathlete, riveting writer, and all around excellent person. I met her while doing some work for a client's non-profit and she's absolutely aces. Check out The Good Dirt blog and see what I mean.

Quilting doyenne Kelly Smith, who had the audacity to become my friend and then leave the state of Michigan to go far, far away to the wilds of Colorado. She's working on at least two novels (that I know of), one of which I'm dying for the chance to read in its entirety. ~hint...hint~ She blogs about quilting, Colorado, writing, and other stuff at Redheaded Quilter.

I encourage you to check out these amazingly talented writers and all-around awesome people. 'Cause, seriously -- they're the Next Big Thing!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How Superman Lost His Underwear

Superman, defender of truth, justice, and the American way, is returning to the big screen. Without his briefs.

“I tried like crazy to keep the red briefs on him," claims director Zack Snyder in an interview with the New York Post. "Everyone else said, ‘You can’t have the briefs on him.’ I looked at probably 1,500 versions of the costumes with the briefs on.”

Eventually, he capitulated. The undies got stripped off. Because, you know, the role demanded it.


I suppose Snyder thinks "everyone" wins.

I beg to differ. I, for one, am sorry for our loss.

It’s not enough that our heroes fly. No. We are people of science. Of technology. We insist on knowing what makes the hero tick. We know there must be a trick. Because we don’t trust ourselves, we suspect subterfuge in our heroes. We unmask them, probe their privacy, force them to doubt and disrobe, all the while reinventing them to make them darker, edgier, more like us. We have become the audience equivalent of the TSA.
Photo by bigal101 via MorgueFile.com

We insist on seeing ~ahem~ the whole package.

Other civilizations gave us Easter Island, Stonehenge, and the Sphinx – creations shrouded in mystery.

We’re the ones who put a human on the moon. Then we crammed more computing capability into a phone than into the equipment to make the lunar landing and promptly used those super phones for...

Sexting. 

Ours is a legacy of removing the mystery from what once was revered.

And so we strip our Superman. We’ve become a consumer of our icons, insisting upon greater and grander sacrifice while removing every shred of dignity.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jumping "Out of the Box" - Celebrating the Short Stage Play in Southwest Michigan

How to support your community theatre? Show up!
On the evenings of Friday, November 30, and Saturday, December 1, the Box Factory for the Arts will host the Out of the Box Playfest.

Eight ten-minute plays, selected from submissions to the first Out of the Box Playwrighting Competition held earlier this year, will be performed in a reader's theatre format.

The contest was open to playwrights in Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. It emphasized creating plays suitable for community theatre actors and audiences. (Translation: smaller casts, manageable props, few explosions, no elephants. That sort of thing.)

Judges will evaluate and score the plays during the performances, naming the top three plays at the end of the second evening. An Audience Choice award will be presented to one play each evening.

Last Friday, Berrien Artist Guild President Judy Sokolowski, actor Chase Samuelson, and I were featured on WSJM's "In the Spotlight" with Brenda Layne, talking about the playfest and our roles in it. I suspect I was invited because everyone else they asked, including Director Greg Ladewski and Artistic Director Lisa Kelleher was away for Thanksgiving. No matter. It's always fun to be in a radio studio.

I am honored that one of my plays is in the running. I'm really looking forward to seeing something I've done performed live before an audience and seeing the reaction it gets.

The plays that will be performed each evening are:
Community theatre: few explosions. No elephants.

Cleaning Up by Pearl Ahnen
Divorced Playwright by Maureen Perideaux
Detection by Greg Ladewski
The Interview by Ami Hendrickson
Beep by Bob Lawrence
Laundry Day by Debra Davis
Conversation by Sandra Thompson, and
What Dog by Lynn Spear.

Hare & Tortoise (and a Pair of Ducks), an additional play by Greg Ladewski, will also be performed, though it is not entered in the competition.

Good luck to all contestants!

Doors open at 7:00 p.m. both nights, with performances beginning at 7:30. General admission tickets are $10 each; seniors and students get in for $8. If you're in the Southwest Michigan area and enjoy the energy and camaraderie of community theatre, come on out and see the premieres of these eight original short works.

*  While writing this, I had hoped to include a link to each playwright's website and a short blurb about each play. Every attempt was made to do so, but with -- as you can see -- minimal success. If you are one of the playwrights listed and you have an online presence, let me know in the comments and I'll remedy the situation with an appropriate link in this post. A.H.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Great Escape: What "Twilight" Taught Me About Why I Write

Last Thursday I played hooky from my generally responsible life. For 12 straight hours, I didn't chauffeur anyone, cook for anyone, clean up after anyone, or make sure homework had been done. I even put my clients on hold for a day and didn't do a stitch of writing. Instead, I, my BFF, and about 300 of our closest friends attended the Twilight Marathon at the local theatre where we committed nutritional suicide over-indulging on popcorn, pretzels, and other empty carbs while watching all 5 films -- from Hardwicke to Condon -- back to back to back...

Frankly, I felt a bit self-conscious about the whole deal. I'm not a rabid Twihard. I can't actually make it all the way through even one of the books; the writing just puts me off. Swanning around the theatre wearing a big black lanyard emblazoned with the "Twilight Marathon" logo is not my idea of sporting the latest fashion accessory. 

Still, the event sounded like fun and, as my friend and I rationalized: When would we get the chance to see all of the films together in a theatre again?

Don't judge me.

Nah, go ahead. Judge me if you must. The experience not only gave me an unexpected infusion of motivation, but it was also a huge eye-opener into why I write. 

You see, I met Charlotte.*

Between screenings, I got talking with the woman sitting next to me. She, unlike me, IS a Twihard. Big time. Where my friend and I bought our tickets three days before the event ("If they're sold out, it's no big deal..."), Charlotte bought hers six weeks earlier, as soon as they went on sale.

Charlotte told me her husband has a t-shirt that states: Twilight Ruined My Wife. She is Team Edward all the way, baby, and sported a shirt to prove it. She was politely aghast when I admitted to not having read all 4 books. She's read them all -- several times. And she has attended every marathon before every new release.
Every one.

Now, you can judge me all you want, but don't you dare judge Charlotte.

Because Charlotte's husband has a job that takes him away from home for extended periods of time, she is, for all extents and purposes, a single mom. She has several children, the oldest of whom has several serious long-term medical issues that will never go away or be fully resolved. She had left her kids in her mother's care for the night, but confided that because of the eldest child's special needs, she could only get away for a night out once or twice a year.

Thursday was one of those nights.

For twelve glorious hours Charlotte put her life on hold and gave herself a break. So what if she chose to spend it watching sparkly vampires, impossibly ripped guys, CGI werewolves, and a morose teenage girl? Twilight gave her a Free Pass to another world... just for a little while.

Of course, afterward, she had to go back to her life. She had to once again shoulder the responsibility of doling out meds, keeping the peace, driving to doctors' appointments and school events, managing homework, and raising the next generation. She had to get back to paying the bills, buying groceries, maintaining a long distance relationship, and keeping her sanity. 

She wasn't shirking her responsibilities by taking a 12-hour Twilight break. She was recharging her batteries so she could charge back into the fray.

Go ahead: discount escapism. Say all you want about fans of such stuff looking for a way off the merry-go-round. But beware any feeling you may have of superiority. You never know when life will deal you a hand that has you looking for the escape hatch.

Here's the thing -- though it would be nice to write a bestseller, that's not the be-all and end-all, as far as I'm concerned. It's not all about numbers and sales. Instead, it's about connection.

For me, the Writer's Brass Ring would be to write something that allows people to escape whatever chains are binding their lives -- if only for a little while. That's why I write. And that's why I will never again judge a diehard Twihard. Or Gleek. Or Hunger Games aficionado. Or a fan of any other writer / singer / series / actor. Instead, I'll just do my darndest to create something that moves people half as much. 

* Not her real name.

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Simplest Advice for Writing to "The End"

If it's within your grasp, take it!
or, How to Finish What You Start

"I have all these great ideas. So many stories are started -- but I finish so few." 

I hear this from writers all the time. There are a million things I could say about sticktoitiveness, evaluating an idea's merits, and choosing one's projects wisely...

...but all that would just fill up space, without getting to the real core answer.

How does one finish a writing project? Do one of two things:

1.) Pick the lowest hanging fruit. Choose the story that is closest to being done -- the one that won't take much to push it over the edge to completion.

Work on nothing but that until it is finished, edited, polished, and ready to send out into the cold, cruel world.

This is soooo good, I know I'll finish it!
OR

2.) Feed your soul. Choose the project that most speaks to you. The one you can't stop thinking about. The one you *have* to write.

Work on nothing but that until it is finished, edited, etc.

Notice a common thread?

Yeah.

Working on multiple projects at a time is like fighting a war on many fronts. It disperses your creativity rather than distilling it and concentrating it, making it far too easy to lose focus, drive, or passion.

The end is near! And that's a good thing!
Pick one.

Stick with it.

Wrestle with it.

See it through. Then move on to another.

I never said the advice was easy, but it is simple.

What's the best advice you ever heard for finishing something? Tell me!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The Gamechanger: A Simple Solution to Show, Not Tell

"Show. Don't tell."

It is the rare writer who hasn't heard this advice at some point in his or her career.

"Show, don't tell" is as much a writer's truism as "kill your darlings" and "marry a trust fund baby."

"I've heard that," I've had writers groan. "It might even be true. But what does it mean? And -- more importantly -- how can I fix it in my writing?"

The "show" mandate simply means your story is strongest when you are presenting the reader with an experience as opposed to reporting on that experience after the fact.
At the game... vs.

It's a matter of involvement.

Showing makes the reader a player -- present during important revelations. Telling keeps the reader at arms' length, removed from the action and sitting on the sidelines, following the game from the bench.

When you tell the reader a fact it does little to engage any of the reader's senses or imagination. Statements like "My father had a soft spot for puppies," or "Col. McShale was a raging alcoholic," rarely have much of an impact on the reader's immersion in the story. They are the literary equivalent of report writing. As soon as you begin telling the reader what happens instead of taking the reader along with you on a journey of discovery, you have lost an important part of your connection to your reader's mind.

However, if, say, the father's affinity for puppies is an important piece of the character puzzle, relating a short incident that shows this could be quite effective. Something like:
"Without so much as a right turn signal, Dad whipped the Volvo to the side of the highway. A semi train three trailers long roared past only a foot from where my head rested against the back seat window. Dad pried his linebacker-sized body out behind the steering wheel and, faster than I could say 'what the hell are you doing?' darted into traffic. 
Time hiccuped. 
My mouth froze in a little 'O' as I watched Dad race across all four lanes and into the median. There, he scooped something dark and bedraggled up to his chest, protecting it like a SuperBowl winning pass as he braved the interstate and returned, panting, to our car. He deposited his prize (a damp, terrified bull terrier pup who stared at him with adoring eyes) in my lap, put the car in gear, and continued our trip without a word."

I'm not suggesting that the preceding piece is literary brilliance. You could probably write a way better example. So go ahead. Do it. I promise: readers will remember Dad's puppy love (or the Colonel's drinking problem, or Aunt Erna's Chippendale addiction, or the next door neighbor's predilection for barbecuing road kill) more if they have the opportunity to see such things for themselves.
...IN the game.

Whenever a character trait is critical, look for ways to show, not tell. Remember how much it impacted the viewer to see Indiana Jones' aversion to snakes? Imagine how much punch would have been lost had the writer simply had a character say something like, "That Indy isn't afraid of anything. Except snakes. I hear he hates snakes."

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. So How Do I Fix This Sucker?

If you have a tendency to rely on report writing and tell more than you show, try this exercise:

1.) Go through your manuscript italicizing every instance of telling instead of showing.

2.) During your rewrite, on each instance of telling, ask yourself if the story really needs this information for clarity or craft. If "no," cut it. Be ruthless.

3.) When you're finished cutting, revisit everything still italicized and revise to engage the readers, immersing them into the world you have created, giving them a shared experience with your characters. Let your readers get off the bench and join in your game.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

When The Election Shoe Drops

My nine-year old daughter is a far more political animal than I ever was at her age. Politics fascinate her. She loves the arguing, the half-truths, the spin, and the hype. I suspect WonderGuy and I are largely to blame for this for several reasons:

1.) We saw her propensity to argue with alarming mastery of debate and rhetoric at a young age and encouraged, rather than discouraged it, reasoning that some day she'll be a lawyer and able to keep us in a manner to which we'd like to become accustomed.

2.) We own the complete Bloom County library, which the 9 y.o. has memorized and can quote ad infinitum, thus necessitating explaining the historical implication of such lines as "Frankly, if Hart can diddle a blonde, I can smoke a schnauzer,"

and

Binkley: Ooo baby baby! You tear me to pieces! Would you love me any more if my tush was like Ed Meese's? TAKE IT, MILO!  
Milo: Take it WHERE?

and
"A SCARY anxiety tonight, Binkley boy! We'll be bringing out all the Democratic presidential candidates!" (circa 1984)

...among others -- always to her bemusement.

3.) She loves history -- holding a special affinity for Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. The thought that a population comes together to collectively choose a single person who can have a lasting effect on the direction of that nation mesmerizes her.

I confess: I never saw the elegant grandeur in democracy that she instinctively grasps. So, while I avoid political ads whenever possible, my daughter seeks them out. She analyzes them, tears their logic to shreds, and gleefully points out their inconsistencies.

The Election Shoe
She fondly remembers watching the televised election results coming in live when she was in kindergarten, not to mention seeing President Obama's inauguration. I view election campaigns as chaotic shouting matches full of invective and aural sewage. To her, the entire process is a grand and glorious interactive multi-player game.

Because of this interest, as November 6 approaches she has devised her own countdown to "E-Day."

I present Exhibit A: The Election Shoe.

The Election Shoe is a silver sneaker with a two-foot scavenged stick stuck into it. Taped to the stick is a sign announcing "Election Shoe" with an arrow pointing toward the ground.

Atop the laces, a neatly lettered and colored sign says "Toys." Small trinkets find their way into the shoe each evening, to be removed and exchanged for different trinkets the following day. It's a sort of Advent Calendar for the politically inclined, with each toy having some larger meaning in the whole grand Shoe of influence.

The Election Shoe made its appearance over a week ago and has graced our dining room ever since.  The nine-year old takes it very seriously; the Changing of the Toy has become a weird sort of daily ritual.

The purpose and significance of the Election Shoe escapes me as much as understanding why anyone in his (or especially her) right mind would ever vote for--

No. That's too easy. Let's just say that it eludes me.

But that doesn't keep it from holding significance to my kid.

The other day, I joked that if she kept this interest up -- who knew? -- maybe she would become the first woman President of the United States.

"Oh, Mom," I got, with all the disdain a nine-year old can dish (that's a lot of disdain, by the way). "There'll be one way before I'm old enough to run."

I may not understand her passion for politics. But I admire, and I envy, her optimism.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

5 Simple Questions To Ask Before Choosing a Writing Mentor

Or, "There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch"

One of the things that greatly enriches my life is acting as a mentor or writing coach to other writers.

We're all climbing the same ladder, but if I can help someone climb up a rung or three, I am honored to do so. Why? Because I have always appreciated those who helped me take my writing to another level. Mentoring works both ways: if you are willing to take at one point, I firmly believe you should be equally willing to give back later.

Whisker-lickin', nose-pickin' hungry dog is hungry!
Not so many years ago, I was in the "hungry" stage of my writing career. As in: Hungry for bylines. Hungry for print credibility. And running out of ramen. So I freelanced for a time for several of our local newspapers and magazines.

Near the end of my writing-related Hunger Games, our local rag of a newspaper, owned by a large and impersonal conglomerate, as are most newspapers in the country,  sent out the following announcement, which is a study in How NOT To Mentor:
Dear Faithful Correspondents:
Note the condescending pat-on-the head initial tone. This is not a religious, publication, mind you. “Faithful,” here doesn’t mean “pious” or “honorable,” so much as it means “lapdog.”
You are invited to a writing session on Nov. 16. It will begin in the conference room at 11 a.m., and I assume it will easily go until 12:45-1 p.m. If anyone wants to hang around after that to ask questions, we'll hang around too.
Big of them, don’t you think, to invite writers to a writing session and then offer to “hang around” to answer their questions?
We will provide a catered lunch and also will pay you $30 (the rate of a simple feature story) for your attendance, because on the next day we will also pay our full-time staff members for their attendance at a similar session.
So many comments beg to be made. First, did you catch what the going rate is for a feature article? Thirty bucks! Assuming that you spend an hour interviewing all your sources, half an hour transcribing your notes, an hour typing like a fiend while writing the article, and half an hour proofing it, you’ve made a grand total of… $10 an hour! Before taxes.

Of course, that’s assuming that you don’t get an overly talkative source, that you can do all of your interviews via local telephone calls (so you don’t have to spend money on gas or long distance), and that you can write a worthwhile feature story in an hour.

Sadly, you can bet that the full-time staff members won’t even be paid $30 for their time at the same event the next day.

Finally, I find it fascinating that the writer (one of the editors) felt compelled to tell the correspondents how much they made on a simple feature story. As if the correspondents, who are responsible for their own billing, didn’t know.
The purpose is to go over some writing tips and no-nos (especially the most common lapses and mistakes). City Editor XX and I have collected lots of examples of writing that could be improved. The examples are both from full-time staff and correspondents, and we will do our best to keep the writers anonymous!
They’ve collected “lots of examples,” have they? Not “many examples.” Not “scores of examples.” They haven't even simply “collected examples.” No – “lots.” This is a newspaper, after all. Dedicated to getting the facts right and to unbiased reporting.

Bomb Detector Kitty - lolcats.com
I’m thinking that if they’re going to go over writing that could be improved (“rife with colloquialisms,” “use of slang,” “imprecise measurements…”), they could start with the opening sentence of that last paragraph.

Here’s my personal favorite:
The focus will be on getting the little things right, because cumulatively they add up to big things.
We'll only have a short time to deal with larger structural issues of story construction. We also anticipate this will be a convenient time to answer your questions about such things as staffing of the Metro Desk on nights, submitting your correspondent pay sheets, sending digital pictures, and so on. Photographer YY will attend part of the meeting to talk about j-peg transmissions and picture compositions and to answer any questions you may have.
It’s too bad that they won’t have much time to deal with the larger structural issues of story construction, because it appears that someone could use a refresher course in paragraph design.

A paragraph is not very strong. It can only contain one topic. That’s all it’s capable of holding. That's why, for example, asking a single paragraph to contain information about “getting little things right,” “submitting your correspondent pay sheets,” AND “picture compositions” is quite unreasonable. One topic per paragraph. One.
As most of you know, we will be increasing the pay rate for some categories of stories and pictures for correspondents. That will take effect with the December pay period. We intend to have new pay sheets available at the meeting.
And thus the road to hell is paved…
If you cannot attend the Nov. 16 session you are welcome to attend the Nov. 17 session with full-time staff. It will also begin at 11 a.m. and have a catered lunch.
Since these starving writers are making only $30 a pop for their articles, why not get a double dose of composition advice from the masters? That would not only result in two “free” lunches, but it would also allow them to compare who got the better catering service. It would answer one of life’s niggling little questions: Is it worth it to be a staff newsperson?
Please let me know in the next week or so if you can attend. That will help us in ordering the food.
I eat you now, k? - lolcats.comAnd voila, a letter about the importance of good writing skills ends with a masterpiece of construction.

That particular letter made me realize several things.

For one, I was done writing for that newspaper.

More importantly, I realized when it comes time to seek writing advice (and seeking such advice is necessary at all levels of the craft), it was vitally important to do one's homework. Ascertain whether or not the mentor offering “advice” is worthy of your time and attention. It behooves you to ask yourself the following questions:

1.   Does this person have practical, professional experience in my field?
2.   Does this person exhibit writing traits that I admire and wish to emulate?
3.   Can this person construct a coherent sentence / paragraph / piece?
4.   Do I respect this person’s professional accomplishments?

And, last, but not least:

5.  Can I get a free meal out of this?

If the answer to three out of the four is “yes,” go with God and make the most of your time with your mentor.

If, however, the only positive answer is followed by, “What’s on the menu?” perhaps it’s time to find another guru to guide your career.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Six Words of Fleeting Fame


Fleeting magazine (Now Fleeting Books, see note below), publisher of made-ya-think fiction, poetry, and "X Questions for ____" interviews with Interesting People, ran a Hemingway-inspired six-word short story contest this summer.

Almost 5,000 entries poured in. On a whim, I sent in what is essentially the six-word pitch for a short story I was thinking of tinkering with but didn't have the time to really flesh out because client work kept calling my name while stamping its feet. I hate when it does that.

Well -- cool beans! -- my entry is one of eight that got shortlisted. (Which makes me think maybe I shouldn't expand the piece into a short story at all. Sometimes less is more...

Conversely, perhaps this means I should delve into the idea deeper and see how rich the story ore is.

Odd, how I never do this kind of vascillating with client projects. Maybe it's that dratted foot stamping that keeps my focus sure.)

The shortlist entries are worth a read. They're all quite individual. Some rely on witty banter. Some on nuance. Some on subtext. Active verbs do their thang. Linking, passive verbs are nowhere to be seen. (Huh. Irony. ::wink, wink; nudge, nudge::) It's fascinating how, when offered unlimited words from which to choose, with a mandate only to reduce word count, each author's unique voice shines through in just six strokes.

I wonder if there is a tipping point where voice would be lost. Five words? Three words? Two? I suspect if one had to tell a "story" in just one word, the word chosen would speak volumes -- if only about the one who chose it.

Congratulations to my fellow finalists. It is an honor to be in your company.

Have a six-word story? Share it below!

*** Update: Imagine my surprise after writing & posting this to receive a note from the lovely contest Grand Poobahs informing me that I had won! I was sitting in Panera, sipping an overly-acidic cup of coffee & chowing down on a chocolate babka when I read the e-mail. "Holy Cow!" I said aloud, though I was alone. Other patrons immediately gave me a wider berth. Anyway, it's always nice to hear one has won something. Here's the official version of the story from Fleeting.  A.H.  

****Update, October, 2013: Fleeting Magazine is officially now "Fleeting Books," a literary consultancy. See Editorial Assistant Charlotte Seymour's comment below. Here's wishing them all the best!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Signs of Trouble...

I took a trip through southern Ohio (aka: The Red State to the East) recently, accompanying my BFF on a cross-country jaunt to a Shire horse dispersal so she wouldn't have to drive 11 hours (there and back) by herself.

We drove into the state -- one I know well, after having traversed it numerous times since I'm a Pennsylvania girl who went to university in Michigan. Plus, one of my best friends lives there. Much of what I've seen of Ohio is:

* Interstate 80. ::snore::

* Cleveland. Both "The Clinic" -- where WunderGuy has gone to visit Veddy Important Brain Doc who knows a lot about brain tumors and is able to say things like "oligodendroglioma" and "resected" to your face without flinching -- and a gi-normous arena where the formerly mentioned friend & I fried our ears at the kickass Bon Jovi "Have a Nice Day" tour.

* Columbus, where said friend lives, and annual Equine Affaire venue.

* US 31. Which includes half of the stoplights and stopsigns in the continental U.S., and which is the only way to get from southwest Michigan to Columbus.

* Kalahari in Sandusky. The site of a wonderful 3-day Thanksgiving weekend where the family went to the waterpark while I sequestered myself away in the room to write the end of my NaNoWriMo novel.

and

* Geauga Lake in Aurora. The now-defunct amusement park I visited when I was a kidlet.

As we drove across the state line, BFF noted, "Huh. Ohio. I've never been here."

I was stunned. "You're kidding!"

"Well, no," she answered. "Why would I?"

Since she has had no reason to visit Cleveland Clinic, and has never attended Equine Affaire with me, I conceded that she had a point. "It's beautiful," I told her. "Lots of rolling hills and lovely farms."

In addition to a wealth of car-sickness-inducing scenery, we discovered, Ohio also has a much to offer in highway reading.  Giant billboards point the way to "Heini's Cheese Chalet" (I am not making this up. Evidently they have bona-fide awesome cheese.). Other, equally imposing, signs advertise massive green John Deere heavy equipment with the go-get-'em slogan "DRILL, BABY, DRILL!" in 15 foot high letters.

Interspersed along the picturesque literary landscape were signs like this:

No mud this year. Guess the drought affected everyone in different ways.

and this:

I have nothing more to add...
If that ain't a sign of the heartland (or of the Apocalypse), I don't know what is...

Monday, October 01, 2012

Is it Money You Need? Really...?

The publishing world was all atwitter last week at the news that Penguin filed lawsuits with the New York Supreme Court against 12 authors. The publisher charges that the authors in question did not deliver the books they were contracted to write and demands the return of not only the advance for the books, but also a significant chunk of change for "interest" on the monies in question.

Ah, Ben. How I wish we were better acquainted...
In short, Penguin is trying to re-collect over $412,000 of advance money and tacking on an additional $138,500 for interest. Which begs several questions -- not the least of which is where the heck does Penguin invest, and how do I get me some of that action?

This will be interesting to watch play out. On the one hand, I firmly believe that if a writer signs a contract he or she cannot honor, any money advanced for the project in question should be returned. Writers rarely get paid enough for work they have done, let alone get paid for work they haven't. If you want to get paid for NOT doing stuff you said you would do, you should be in another profession. Like politics.

On the other, after extensive searching of my book-writing contracts, I find no mention of any "pay us back with interest" clause which my publisher could invoke if feeling especially pissy.

Oh, sure, there's language that says I'm obligated to turn in Project X that follows certain mutually-agreed-upon parameters and to do so at a mutually-agreed-upon time. Failure on my part would result in my being obligated to return the portion of the advance already paid out. But nowhere does my contract say anything about my responsibility to invest my advance in such a way as to afford my publisher a 20 - 33% return on it.

Every day, I read the blogs and tweets of writers who seem to believe that what they really need is a publisher to throw money at them, which will then make all their dreams come true. (Variations of this theme exist, beginning with "I need an agent" at one end of the spectrum and "When my book makes me rich and famous" at the other, but it is pervasive.)

What these writers don't realize is that book advance money doesn't buy you respectability, talent, or even a career. It merely buys you a little time. Occasionally (Praises be!) it puts food on your table and diapers on your kid's butt. More often, it's earmarked for things like publicity and promotion.

Advance money is a business partnership that makes you contractually obligated to get that book not just done, but done to the publisher's satisfaction. (If ghostwriting, make that "BOTH the expert's AND the publisher's satisfaction.")

It's also -- everyone involved hopes, with fingers crossed and breath bated -- money that will, if put to good use, prime the pump to spur sales so the book earns out its advance, thus (HAPPY DANCE ENSUES) earning both author and publisher more money.

So let me ask you... Right now, as far as your writing career is concerned: Is it money you need?

Really?

How would a five-figure advance impact your writing life in a meaningful, positive way? Would it make you take your career more seriously? If so, why? What would a sudden influx of cash allow you to do that you aren't already doing?

Would it make you more productive?

Would it make you more seriously approach growing a solid readership and fan base?

Would it make you write every dang day -- no excuses -- until that manuscript was pitch-perfect?

Would it make you feel validated as a writer? As if you had finally "made it?"

If you're saying Yes! Yes! A thousand times Yes! well butter my behind and call me a biscuit, but that's an awful lot of clout to give to a few pieces paper, innit?

Truth is, lack of money is often a crutch, a widely accepted excuse for not doing what one is perfectly able to do regardless of funding. A five-figure advance -- which includes all of the advances cited in the Penguin lawsuit -- isn't enough for a person to quit his or her day job. It's a nice shot in the arm of liquidity, true. But living advance to advance is still the writer's equivalent of living paycheck to paycheck. Is that what you need?

Lest you misunderstand, I'm all in favor of advances. The bigger the better. Especially those that come on checks with my name written on them. They mean that a publisher has ponied up the dough, put a marketing team on alert, and is joining forces with me to get this book done.

But I'm equally in favor of small (or no) advances. They mean that as soon as the book starts selling, I start collecting royalties immediately instead of waiting for the book to earn out its advance.

I can't speak for all writers, but I don't need money to write a book. I'm perfectly happy to do the work first and then get paid. Big advances don't make me a successful writer any more than big diamonds make a successful marriage. Some of the work that I'm proudest of has earned far less than just fair-to-middling stuff I earned top dollar for.

I'd be a hypocrite if I said I didn't care if I got paid for my work. However, money is not what drives me. I daresay, it's not what drives most writers.

What, pray tell, drives you? What is it you need... really?

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Plus-Sized Problem: Musings on Full-Figured Word Power

Last week, the headline "Ralph Lauren Hires First Plus-Size Model" blared at the world, as if the fashion designer had turned its back on size 00 emaciated stick-insects and paid attention to the Other 99 Percent.

Truth is, RL's model is a size 12.

Now, last I checked, size 12 is on the small side of average. According to "Just What IS an Average Woman's Size Anymore?" from WebMD:
Today, the average American woman is 5’4″, has a waist size of 34-35 inches and weighs between 140-150 lbs, with a dress size of 12-14. Fifty years ago, the average woman was 5’3-4″ with a waist size of approximately 24-25″, she weighed about 120 lbs and wore a size 8. 
If RL's size 12 model was 5'4, or thereabouts, she wouldn't be "plus size." She'd be "normal." But she's not; she's an imposing 6'2"!

OK. I don't know about you. And I certainly don't know about Ralph. But if I see a 6-foot tall woman who wears a size 12, I don't think "plus size." I think "statuesque." "Willowy," even.

Garfield "I'm Undertall" Small Poster
http://www.cafepress.com/garfield.484081872
What this means, of course is that Ralph is telling American women the same thing Garfield has been saying for years: they're not overweight. They're undertall. If they want to wear cool designer duds, they should either lose a Kia's worth of weight. Or just grow a freaking foot. Whichever is easier.

According to a Slate article on by Julia Felsenthal on why US clothing sizes make no sense, the only measurement originally used to determine a woman's clothing size was her bust. 'Cause, you know, that's a  uniform measurement across the human species.

A national commercial standard sizing system was pursued in America for the greater part of the 20th century, without any real success. In 1983, the US Department of Commerce axed the concept entirely. (Which explains how today, though I'm 10 pounds heavier, and have had a child, I still wear the same size I did while in high school -- back when Jesus was little, dinosaurs roamed the earth, and clothing manufacturers hadn't played fast and loose with the sizing charts in an effort to pander to the vanity of a population who, inexplicably, has come to believe a woman is sexy if she's a 0. Hmmmm... But that's a post for another time.)

Words exist for a reason: so we can communicate with clarity and intelligence. What I don't understand is why Ralph decided to call his lovely model "plus size" instead of just "tall." It's like calling Snooki a novelist or FOX balanced. Saying a thing doesn't make it so. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Getting Past "I Just Didn't Love It"

Rejection in the Wonderful World of Writing comes in many sizes, styles, and colors.

Some are the one-size-fits-all form letter rejections that tell the writer nothing about the publishing industry pro's true thoughts on the work in question. "Thank you for the opportunity to review your work. Unfortunately, at this time, we do not feel it is a good fit for us. Best of luck in placing it elsewhere."

Some rejections are more personal, offering insights on both the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the piece, as seen through the eyes of the rejector.

Fu Fu - lolcats.comAnd then there are the killers. The ones that say things like: "While elements of the story were certainly interesting, and the general premise was OK, unfortunately, I just didn't love it as much as I had hoped."

I can't speak for other writers, but those blasted "I Just Didn't Love It" missives used to sucker punch me. I'd open the email with pathetic hopefulness, then suddenly find myself transported back to high school -- making me all "aww, geez, I didn't get accepted into the popular kids' clique. Waaahhhh!"

For a long time, I thought the IJDLI rejections were the WORST.

Well, no more.

You see, I made the colossal mistake of equating "I just don't love it" with "I just don't love you." Which, of course, is ridiculous. I am not my book. My book is not me. ::Yeesh:: As if.

Strangely enough, it was a reading experience that gave me my writing epiphany.

Lately, I had the opportunity to experience IJDLI from the other side of the Great Writing Divide. A friend recently recommended a novelist -- a terribly accomplished, internationally bestselling writer -- whose tone and sense of humor is a very close match to my own. Though said novelist writes a genre I generally don't read, because of the similarities in our styles, I wanted to acquaint myself further with her works. So I checked out six titles from the library and started to read.

Same twisted sense of comedy: check. Same penchant for writing strong female characters: check. Same loopy approach to plot: yeah, Baby! Check!

But something was... missing.

Maybe it was the genre. Even in the hands of someone so talented, it's Just. Not. My. Thing.

Maybe it was the fact that every time the plot line skewed north, I was more interested in what would have happened if it had gone south. Or east. Or north by northwest.

I finished two of the six books, and got over halfway through three others. And I had to admit that though there was nothing wrong with the writing, the plots, or the execution of ideas, I just didn't love them.
Photo by wintersixfour via MorgueFile.com

This clicked on the Lightbulb of Revelation in my dim little brain. Suddenly, I understood exactly what IJDLI means. It means exactly what it says:

"I didn't hate it. I may have liked it. I may, in fact, have really liked it. But it's not something I want to read again. It's not you; it's me. Others may (and probably will) disagree with me on this. But since this isn't a book I can't stop thinking about, I'm going to cut you loose to find someone more passionate about this project."

In other words, it's the literary equivalent of "let's not get into a marriage of convenience. Better far to wait for someone who loves you truly, madly, deeply."

Who, I ask, can quibble with that kind of logic?

I know what it's like to have a long-term relationship a spouse who is one hundred percent crazy about me. It's awesome. It was so worth waiting for. I'm thinking if I receive any more IJDLI rejections, I'll not allow them to kill my optimism or enthusiasm. I'll just keep on keeping on till I find true love. It's out there. Don't give up till you find it!

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Art of the Book Review: with Joe Ponepinto

I am thrilled to introduce MuseInks readers to Joe Ponepinto (@JoePonepinto), who has graciously provided today's post. 

Joe Ponepinto spent the first half of his life in a variety of mercenary pursuits. To make up for it, he now writes, edits or teaches every day. He is the Book Review Editor for the Los Angeles Review, and has been published in many literary journals. He lives in Michigan with his wife, Dona, and Henry, the coffee drinking dog. His blog on writing and criticism is called The Saturday Morning Post.

With the recent flurry of articles that excoriate book reviews as unfairly positive, such as Jacob Silverman’s in Slate, or as written for hire or cronyism as in The New York Times, it’s tougher than ever for book reviewers to maintain their credibility with readers.

As the Book Review Editor for The Los Angeles Review, I at least get to define how ours are presented, in the hope that readers will find them honest, informative and fair.

First, an explanation. I’ve blogged on my own site about the incestuous relationship between book authors and reviewers, and noted we are not immune to the pressures that situation creates. Many of our reviews are positive, in large part because my review staff and I are free to choose books that we think we will enjoy reading. Reviewers on mainstream publications like The New York Review of Books must generally review books that are or will be in the news, so the chances of disliking the book are higher. And we do include negative observations in our reviews, although we tend to discuss them as reviewer and editor beforehand, and look for ways to temper the bad with the good before we publish. 


So all that being said, what do I look for in a book review? With thanks to Ami Hendrickson for the opportunity to blog, here’s a list a of some of the major considerations:
  • What’s it about? What’s it really about? Give me the tone and the theme, not the plot. Anyone can recite the plot of a book. What’s more valuable to me as a reader and an editor, is an indication of the emotions the book is meant to invoke. That relies heavily on the author’s execution of the theme. Of course the premise and some plot is necessary to help ground the reader of the review, but in general, I want to know what the book is about, not what happens.
  • What’s the author trying to do, and did s/he do it? A good reviewer should recognize an author’s techniques and underlying ideas. Most books (the good ones, anyway) are filled with metaphor, both within the actual writing and in the theme. Reviewers—and I find the best ones are writers themselves—must be able to reverse engineer the author’s motivations to determine the effectiveness of the book.
  • The “I’s” don’t have it. I do not like “personal reaction” book reviews. Let me rephrase that: I despise “personal reaction” book reviews. They are self-indulgent navel gazing of the worst kind. Bad enough the reader has to slog through some reviewer’s personal issues, but to brush aside an author’s hard work to do so? I advise my reviewers to write in a professional, third person style, unless there is a strong personal connection to the subject of the book that would warrant such a treatment.
  • Specificity. Nothing turns me off a review faster than a string of generic adjectives. Wonderful, fabulous, well-written, enjoyable and their friends all go out the window. (Clich├ęs, too—like that one.) Show, don’t tell is just as important in book reviews as it is in the writing.
  • Creativity. A book review can be as creatively written as the book itself. When I write a review, I try to capture the attitude of the book to a small degree in order to relate the tone of the work. If it’s funny or quirky, dark or deeply emotional, I try to reflect that mood. But just like more creative genres, if the writing is over the top and tries to outshine the review, that only makes the reviewer look amateurish.
  • This ain’t your high school book report. Show me you know what you’re talking about. Use literary theory. Reference other works for comparison. Build on the criticism that’s already out there, and make your review part of the literary conversation. Reading other books—a lot of them—helps.
Of course that’s just my short list. I could go on at length (and I often do). I welcome inquiries about book reviews and reviewing at lareview.bookreviews@gmail.com.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Genre-Free Writer: Looking for the Common Thread

I've spent the last three days holed up in my writing studio, with strict instructions to all I know and love not to bother me unless the Horsemen of the Apocalypse are thundering down the street.

Much of my time I spent actually writing. However, some of my time I spent really looking at my career and my writing and deciding where I'm going to go from here. Some questions I considered were:

*  What elements connect all of my characters? 

*  What common threads run through all of my work?

*  What plots and themes most move me?

*  What one trait is vitally important to my characters?

The experience was an eye opener. One I highly recommend.

photo by mantasmagorical from MorgueFile.com
See, I've always known what I write didn't fit into an easily identified genre.

I write screenplays and poems, novels and short stories. I write science fiction, fantasy, women's fiction, children's stories, middle grade fiction, family fare, and darker, edgier stuff.  I happen to think some of the stuff I write is funny -- but realize that not everyone shares my rather warped sense of humor. It certainly wouldn't be classified as "comedy."

So I wracked my brain. Since all my writing comes from ME, I reasoned that there must be some common threads and recurring themes. And slowly -- painfully slowly -- they became clear.

I discovered several things about my writing. For instance:

*   I write quirky, unselfish characters with hidden strengths and highly individualized but uncompromising integrity.

*  I gravitate toward bittersweet stories, antiheroes, and tragic characters.

*  My characters are often trapped in situations from which they cannot safely escape, but which ultimately lead to glory.

*  Every major character of mine has almost pathological perseverance.

It literally took me hours to come up with these attributes. When I mentioned them to a writerly friend who is familiar with my work, she responded:
"It is so your writing down to a fine sharp point." 
And she's right. (Though maybe I could have saved a ton of time if I'd asked her to answer the questions for me in the first place.)

photo by andalusia via MorgueFile.com
I wish I had undertaken this exercise years ago. Though it took me awhile to find the answers, it gives me a sense of relief to have done so.

Since I don't specialize in a particular genre, it's easy to assume that my writing is fragmented; disconnected; that one work is completely dissociated from another, as if I just wander from project to project dumping word clumps on whatever happens to pique my fancy.

Ah, but it's not the genre that connects my works to each other. No. Instead, they are connected by characteristics, themes, and situations.

I now have a whole new feel for my material as a whole, rather than as a series of unconnected pieces. Better yet: I have a far greater understanding of who my ideal readers are.

*  My ideal readers like quirky characters with hidden strength and unwavering integrity.

*  My ideal readers appreciate antiheroes and the occasional bittersweet tragedy.

*  My ideal readers like to root for the underdog, knowing that sacrifice is often the key to success.

*  My ideal readers admire characters who refuse to give up, regardless of the odds.

I love being a genre-free writer. But I don't want to be a reader-free writer. Answering those four questions helped give me greater insight into my work. Now that I know what I have to offer my ideal readers, I am better equipped to find them.

Do you write genre-stuff or non-genre-stuff? What common threads connect your words? How do those threads then weave a pattern for your audience?

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Do-It-Yourself Writing Retreat

All summer, I have been not-so-secretly jealous of my writing friends who put their lives on hold to go on a writing retreat. It was hard not to be tinged with the teensiest bit of green when hearing of those who eschewed the demands of parenting, working, and spousing for awhile in order to spend some serious quality time with the creative muse.

One need not escape in order to create.
And then I got to thinking: my thinly veiled envy wasn't because my friends were spending time at the shore, or in the woods, or in the mountains. No. It was the sheer concentrated writing time that I begrudged them.

This realization soon led to another:

If they could do it, goshdangnabbit, so could I.

This inelegant (but motivational) thought led me to create the DIY Writing Retreat. It's amazingly simple. Here's how it works:
  • For three consecutive days, I am going to focus primarily on my writing. My family has people in it (other than I) who are capable of cooking. [Note to self: if the cooking tenet proves false, we can easily survive on mac & cheese and takeout pizza during that time, if need be. My muse thrives on carbs.]
  • During my retreat, I am more writer than mom, daughter, friend, or spouse
    • I will not do laundry, run errands, go grocery shopping, weed the garden, troubleshoot relationships, babysit, or talk to telemarketers. 
    • I will not answer the phone. 
    • I will not muck about on social media sites. 
    • I will not feel guilty about this. 
    • I will not back down. 
    • I. Will. Write.
Because I have access to the mystically magical Net of Inter, I'm going to have New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Crusie be the keynote presenter to kick off my retreat.

You see, several years ago, Crusie wrote an awesome post that was ostensibly about finding an agent, but was more accurately a step-by-step blueprint on How To Discover Your Ideal Writing Career. Addressing the "you can only answer these for yourself" questions and issues raised within that post shall be Item One on my DIY Writing Retreat Schedule.

I'll spend some of my DIY Writing Retreat time focusing on word count.

I'll spend some time focusing on improving specific parts of my craft.

And I'll spend some time plotting and planning so I have a clear vision of where my WIP is headed when I return to the story of my life that's already in progress.

I will not spend time doing research online because I know that the aforementioned Net of Inter exerts a strange and terrible influence over me. I can begin researching ninth century peasant life to add veracity to my story, only to fall down the YouTube rabbit hole, emerging two hours later dazed and addled and laughing hysterically after yet another viewing of Tim Hawkins' Inappropriate Wedding Songs.


I will not spend my time painting my fingernails, or my toenails, or (God forbid!) cleaning my house or my writing studio.

I will not delude myself into believing that 140-character tweets count as writing. My family won't be noshing on takeout so I can fraternize with my Twitter friends.

I fully expect to emerge from the three days of self-imposed exile, disheveled, over-caffeinated and recharged with creative juice, with several thousand as-yet-unwritten words added to my novel in progress. Who knows? If the family can handle one more visit from the Pizza Guy, I may decide to extend my DIY Writing Retreat by another day... Or two.

My 3-day indulgence begins on Monday, August 27. Don't be jealous! Join me from the comfort of your own home, and embark on a #DIYWriting Retreat of your very own.

Photo via www.MorgueFile.com

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why the Top 3 Reasons for Ebook Piracy Don't Hold Water

In case you were unaware, rampant piracy of e-books abounds. Some pirate vessels brag openly about their dastardly deeds. Others run silent and deep, like U-boats lurking in the murky waters of 21st century publishing.

Last week I engaged in several discussions with writers and agents bemoaning the piracy of their books. Without exception, all victims of piracy were irate, so most conversations were liberally laced with both profanity and swashbuckling imagery.

I find it fascinating that a blogger who innocently infringes on image copyright can get seriously sued while bottom feeders who openly and maliciously steal content are serially scott-free.

Why is piracy a problem?

I'm glad you asked. To find the answer, let's take a look at some of the most common reasons pirates give for their actions and deconstruct what they're actually saying:  

Scurvy Reason #1 for Piracy:  "I can't afford to buy it."

Poverty of income doesn't mean you also have poverty of ethics. Besides, in order to pirate an ebook, one must first own a device capable of reading an ebook. If you can afford the computer / phone / tablet / e-reader, you sure as shooting can afford a few bucks for a legitimate download.

Here's the thing: if you can't afford a new car, should you just steal one? If you can't afford a new jacket, should you lift one off the rack? No. Members of civilized society unanimously agree that such actions warrant mandatory "time outs" from freedom in order to contemplate the error of one's ways. Stealing is stealing is stealing.

You want to talk poor? Consider the fact that no book writes itself overnight. It takes each author a significant portion of his or her allotted time on this planet to write what pirates blithely steal. Every author sacrifices family time, hanging out with their friends, sleep, and staying current on news, movies, books, and in some cases, reality TV in order to create a manuscript. Every book sold through legitimate channels earns the author the rough equivalent of $.000007 cents an hour. Ask me how I know.

If "Power To The Poor People" is truly the pirates' mantra, they'd put their money where their mouth is and pony up the few bucks to support a writer rather than begrudge him or her the funds to buy a cup of coffee to keep the muse fueled.

Rather than poor pirates, I blame poor parenting. Perhaps the pirates' parents never taught them the value of a work ethic. Here's the thing the rest of us learned while we were still in grade school: if you can't afford something, get a job, work, save your money, and use it to buy the stuff you want. Until then, learn to do without what you can't afford.

Rascally Reason #2 for Piracy:  "If I love it, I'll buy it."

This translates to "I will first read a bootleg copy. If -- and only if -- it moves me, changes my life, opens my eyes to a new paradigm, and transports me to realms hitherto unimagined, I will then leave the dark alleys of Pirateland and purchase a copy from a squeaky-clean source."

Right...

So what this means, when one decodes the pirate-speak, is that it's perfectly OK to steal books one likes but does not love. It's the pirate equivalent of "Sleep with me first. If you're any good, I'll leave some money on the bureau in the morning."

In agent-speak "I just don't love it" means "I won't rep it." That's bad enough. But in pirate-speak, "I just don't love it" means "I read it but won't pay for it," which is infinitely worse.


Scallywag Reason #3 for Piracy:  "I'm a big supporter of books I love."

What does this mean, exactly? "If I illegally download something I really like, I tell all my friends and get them to illegally download it, too?"

Because, really, do you expect me to believe that if a pirate downloads a bootleg copy of something, loves it and tells all of his (or her) pirate-y friends about it, he (or she) will direct those friends to a legitimate download site?

What kind of friendship is that, I ask you? Everyone knows there is no honor among thieves. I sincerely doubt those thieves will often pass up the opportunity to drag others into their underworld. Rather than send their friends to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords, fer instance, to get an ebook that really moved their blackened hearts, it's far more likely that they'll direct those friends to the same site from which they stole downloaded their own copy.

Here's something those who attempt to defend their illicit acts tend to forget: multiple illegal downloads doesn't translate to "support." It just means that instead of being responsible for a single theft, they're responsible for many.

I'm not so naive as to believe that a little blog post like this will somehow make ebook pirates see the error of their ways and stop embezzling books. Naw -- I just live for the day we authors can embed a code in ebooks that's benign if downloaded legally, but that goes ALL EBOLA when pirated. ~maniacal laugh~

All photos from www.MorgueFile.com.