Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Out There: My First Year of Blogging

Wow. Seems like only yesterday that my husband went away on a ten-day business trip, and I, left to fend for myself, decided, “What the hell. Maybe I’ll start a blog.”

It’s been that hazy focus and lamentable lack of drive that has brought me to this milestone one year later.

My goal in starting this blog last October was a simple one. I felt I needed to get myself “out there.” You know what I mean. At first I resented the whole idea of authorial self-marketing. I really felt – and you may empathize with this sentiment -- “For heaven’s sake, haven’t I done enough just writing the dang book?”

The answer to that question is, alas, no. There is more to do – so much more -- and I guess I finally accepted that last fall.

Of course once you’ve had this reckoning and you resign yourself to blogging – or at least resign yourself to giving it a try -- you’re faced with many decisions about what kind of blog you want to put out there for public consumption. As I meandered through the blogosphere, I realized that there were several kinds of blogs offered up by writers at different stages in their careers and also by industry experts: you’ve got the agent blogs that offer advice and/or public spectacle, depending on the personality of the blogger; there are the blogs by editors, some written openly and some anonymously (and snarkily); you’ve got blogs by authors with book deals and established authors who get to talk about their lives, books, and all the cool places they’re visiting on their book tour; and then there is the vast ocean of the rest of us. The aspirants. I'm sure blogs by aspiring writers must number in the billions at this point.

From the outset I knew I wasn’t the type to dump all the details of my personal life into the cyber-landfill for the seagulls to pick over, and my guiding principle was and remains, “Do nothing regrettable.” I initially steered clear of writing about writing because many of you do that so well already, and what could I possibly have to add? Instead, I started what I thought would be a straight-up humor blog, mostly for my own amusement, as I assumed I wouldn’t have much of an audience. Well, one thing led to another, and somehow I’ve ended up with this hybrid humor-writing blog, which just goes to show you that if you keep at it, you'll eventually find your way, perhaps after some initial flailing about. (I probably knew this already, but it’s never a bad thing to have further proof that flailing is a noble art.)

What I discovered in my year of blogging and reading blogs has surprised me. At first I thought, Yikes. Do I really want to hear everyone’s blah blah blah about their struggles to get published? And the answer has turned out to be, “Yes. I very much do.” I happily follow many blogs, and I really enjoy keeping up with everyone’s story. I want for all of you to find success in your writing careers, and I especially love those triumphant posts about writers signing with agents or getting book contracts.

Which brings me to this: the future of this blog. The plain fact of the matter is that all blogs run their course unless you change and adapt. I’m not exactly sure how this blog will evolve in the next year, and frankly, I'm not going to spend too much time fretting about it. I've devloped a loose-cannon approach to self-marketing, and by golly, I'm going to stick with it.

One thing I am very certain of is this: Though the sun may someday collapse for lack of hydrogen to fuel it, the writing life will never stop providing me ample material. Thus, I will blog – and mock -- on.

I want to say thank you to all my regular readers, especially those of you who frequently leave me comments. Because of you, “out there” has turned out to be a very fun place to be.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Big Bowl of Assorted Candy

I must begin by offering a heartfelt thank you to Lola Sharp and Sierra Godfrey, two fine, sexy ladies who graciously pimped last week's query post so convincingly that now I have many lovely new followers as a result. Someday I will take you both to Vegas and shower you with Cristal.

New followers, by the way, will receive the official “A Rock in My Pocket” Welcome Pack, which includes this 100 % polyester dickey (pictured left), a 7-day supply of Proactiv solution and a coupon for $10 off your next bail bond. All delivered COD in 6-8 weeks.

I must admit this post is a bit of a punt, because I’m planning a big anniversary post next week to celebrate my first year as a blogger. Hence the mish-mash of topics you will encounter, like…

  • There is way, way, waaaaaay too much gratuitous use of AC/DC music lately. I’m thinking in particular of this new Will Ferrell/Tina Fey movie, Megamind. I mean, I love me some AC/DC. I think Back in Black was the first album I purchased with my own money. Nothing made your old man freak like the lyrics to Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap or Big Balls. But if you’d told me that Highway to Hell would someday be prominently featured as a kid’s movie theme, I’d have said, no way, man. But there it is. And so completes the warm- fuzzification of another hard rocking band from my youth. Some of you young’uns out there, you’ll see what I mean in another fifteen years when advertisers are using Pearl Jam to sell Pampers and Smells Like Teen Spirit is the background music on a Geico commercial.

  • I now present what passes for a PSA on my blog: I encourage you, if you haven’t done so already, to begin your chocolate inoculations this week. What is this you ask? In years past, I have valiantly resisted the call of the mini-candy bars only to succumb on Halloween night and stick my head into a big bowl of candy like a pig at a trough. Now what I do is eat two of those "fun size" chocolate bars each day until Halloween, thus putting small, prophylactic quantities of chocolate into my system. This provides me protection against Halloween gluttony. It works. Kind of.

  • Honestly, how much stuff do Harry & David think I’m going to buy from them? I bought one gift from them last year and yet they’ve send me umpty-seven catalogues with pictures of their fruit of the month club. Well, let me tell you something, Messrs. Harry & David, I’m pleased to say that I don’t have any doddering, infirm aunties in a nursing home nor do I know anyone else to whom I would send a box of fancy pink pears or Indonesian kumquats. (I have no idea where kumquats actually come from, but whatever.) If anyone ever sent me that fruit of the month thing, I think I’d put my foot through the box and send those squashed blood oranges back to the gift giver along with a note that said, “Seriously? Fruit?” So if that was on your list for my Christmas present this year, strike it off.

Until next week’s blog-o-versary post, fair writer friends….

Friday, October 15, 2010

My Query Letter Manifesto, Part 2

If you’re joining us mid-Manifesto, please scroll down and read yesterday’s post before proceeding.

OK, where were we? I believe the first round of queries had just been launched, and if I’m not mistaken, things were about to get ugly. Right now you probably feel like you’ve just stormed a machine gun nest with a melon baller in your hand. This is to say, your defenses are woefully inadequate for what you are about to face.

Step 8: Before we go any further, it’s time for a craft project! That’s right. I want you to find yourself a shoe box. Any old shoe box will do. Get out your construction paper and glue and glitter and decorate your shoe box as nicely as you can. When you’re happy with the way it looks, set it aside while the glue dries. We’ll come back to it in a little while.

Step 9: You begin to receive responses to your queries, and they are not favorable. This is that rejection thing you've heard so much about. How to describe this awful feeling? I'd describe it thusly: you feel as if you’re being vivisected by clumsy aliens who keep poking your liver with a stick because they think it's funny the way it jiggles. 

But here’s how you’re going to cope. I want you to now put on your best Newark, NJ accent and repeat the following phrase: “It’s nuthin’ personal. It’s just business.” What you’re going to do throughout your querying process is this: you’re going to stand tall in your black loafers and pinky ring while these agents shoot your cousin, move in on your territory, insult your mother, and feel up your best girl right in front your face. You got that? You’re going to take all their disrespect, all those “not right for our lists” and “lack sufficient enthusiasms” and “best of luck with your search for representations,” and you’re gonna suck them up like mussels marinara. You’re gonna take that pistol whipping they give you, and you’re going to keep repeating through your bloody teeth, “It’s nuthin’ personal. It’s just business.” OK? What I’m saying is, you’re gonna be a man about it. You want to plot your revenge, you go right ahead. But you keep that to yourself.

Step 10: Here’s where we deal with the subject of non-responsive agents. Sadly, about 60 percent of your queries will receive no response. I know, right? That seems wrong, and it seems wrong because it is wrong. But this is where that shoe box you made comes in handy. Each time you are tempted to moan about the unprofessionalism of agents or otherwise whine about the insane business model that is publishing, you write that complaint down on a slip of paper, and you put it in your pretty little shoe box. Then you put that shoe box in the closet or under your bed, and you never look at it again.

You are a writer, you’ve chosen to be a writer. It is the greatest job in the world, but this is the downside of it. Rejection and interminable waiting and indifference. You must remember that this subjectivity thing, it’s true. No one owes you his money or his time, and everyone is entitled to his opinion.

As for dealing with these no responses in a practical way, just decide what your cut-off is for receiving a response. I would suggest 4 weeks. This will allow you to close out these “no responses” as no’s and give you back a modicum of control in a process where you essentially have none. It is cold comfort but still, it’s something.

Step 11: We’ve now reached a fork in the querying road. I’ll start with the happier of the two possibilities, that you’ve gotten a request for your full manuscript. Congratulations! Even one full request is to be celebrated, but it is crucial that you do NOT NOT NOT put all your hopes into this one agent’s basket. Keep querying. That’s right. You heard me. Keep on sending out those queries.

I know it might seem weird to you. You might feel like you owe it to the agent who has asked to see your manuscript because you’re so utterly grateful that he showed interest. Or – and this is more likely – you might want to stop querying because you’re tired of it. I’m telling you, you’ve got to fight that urge to leave off. (I’m assuming, btw, that you have not made a pact with this agent for an exclusive read. If you have, keep that exclusive window short – say, two weeks – and by all means, honor it. But when the time’s up, get yourself back on that query steed and give her the spurs.)

Why do I say this? Look, you have worked hard, perhaps waited a long time for good news, and you don’t have time to waste on time-wasting agents. I’m talking about those agents who let things languish. Hard-working, smart agents work through their TBR pile efficiently and communicate with you effectively. This is the kind of agent you want. Also, if an agent is running behind, he/she will respond to your gentle, polite status inquiries with an honest answer and a realistic time frame for when he’ll get back to you. The sad reality is that some agents will NEVER respond, even when they have your full manuscript. (I know, I know. It’s horrible. Just put that complaint in your shoe box. It’s another thing you’re forced to tolerate.)

Here’s my query catch phrase, and if you remember nothing else from this long Manifesto, please file this away in your brain: Query until someone puts a ring on your finger.

Now, let's hope you do hear back, but let's say the agent has passed. How do we parse these full manuscript rejections? OK, well, sometimes you get nothing useful back from an agent, and you can draw no conclusions from zero information. Unfortunately, most rejections, even on full manuscripts, will fall into the “It’s just not for me” category. Sometimes an agent will say why exactly it wasn’t for him, sometimes not. Sometimes this reason will make you say, “Hmmm, yes. I see what he means. I can fix that.” Sometimes you'll just scratch your head in astonishment, not sure what to make of his response because it's just so...wrong.

The thing you need to remember is that no single rejection is a referendum on your talent. The only thing (entity?) that can tell you when to quit is your gut. If the agent passed, he passed. Oh, well and onward. Tomorrow's another day.

Step 11b: Alas, we’ve now reached the sadder of our two alternative endings to the query quest. Let’s say, after two or three rounds of querying – so that’s about 30-40 queries – you've gotten few if any requests for your manuscript. You can feel defeat. You can smell defeat. It smells like a dog’s ass. Maybe after weeks or months of this process, you are sitting in the VA hospital, missing several key body parts, eating your meals through a straw. The nurse, she averts her eyes when she changes your bandages, and your mother keeps bursting into tears at the mere sight of what you’ve become so you’ve asked her to stop visiting.

Dude. This sucks, but I’m telling you. This is the moment. This the moment that determines what kind of writer you’re going to become. Persistence is the key to this whole crazy endeavor, but smart persistence is what you’re aiming for. You do not want to be that guy who keeps going and going until he’s just a charred torso, desperate and delusional. This is when your gut needs to come and sit at the end of your hospital bed, and you two discuss how you’re going to proceed.

You need to consider that your manuscript might not be ready, that YOU might not be ready. There is no shame in this. Take a break, set your manuscript aside, work on something else. Come back to it in 3-4 months and take another look. Odds are, with a little time and some emotional distance, you will see things that need improving. It is a sobering and difficult thing to do, but if you can get through this stage, you will be better for it. Not just better. That’s an understatement. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this part – being able to realign yourself with reality -- is the single most important skill you will ever master as a writer and possibly as a human being.

Now, having faced up to the fact that you need to revise, you may be afraid that you can't make the changes, that you simply don't know how. You must try. Go on, give it a go. You cannot be afraid of revision because revision, like poverty, will always be with us.

If you do decide, however, that your manuscript just doesn’t pass muster and can’t be fixed, then it’s time to move on. Do not for a moment mistake this for giving up. It’s a strategic re-grouping and can be evidence of what I just mentioned: smart persistence. These are the battlefield decisions that make the difference between ultimately successful campaigns and lots of needlessly dead, maimed soldiers.

Let me just finish with a few hundred more words on the subject of dealing with those painful pangs of envy you may feel toward more successful writers.

About two years ago, I did this 100-plus mile bike ride thing. Why did I do this? I don’t know. I guess I like to suffer even during my off-writing hours. Anyway, during one portion of this ride, you’ve got to get up this absolute beast of a hill. It’s like a mile straight up, and as you are hauling your keester up the right side of the road, trying to keep the vomit from rising in the back of your throat, you see this stream of cyclists coming down the hill in the on-coming lane. And you hate these people. Oh, how you hate them! You want to track down each and every one of them and follow them to their cars and cut their brake cables. Because there they go --- WHEEEEE --- whizzing effortlessly past you while you’re on the other side of the road struggling and sweating and suffering.

Of course when I finally crested the hill, I realized that the route called for riders to do a short two-mile loop and then double-back down the beast-hill I just came up. In other words, all those people I saw coasting down the hill earlier – they had already climbed the mountain.

I think my point is pretty clear. Those people you hear about who are getting manuscript requests and signing with agents and even getting book deals, more than likely they have already climbed the mountain. They’ve had their disappointments and heartaches. God knows I have, and for me, the summit is still miles off. I’ve had my heart broken more times that I can count and have been treated unkindly by a few agents along the way, but I don’t dwell on that. With malice toward none and charity toward all, I’ve carried on. (Jesus, did I just plagiarize Abraham Lincoln in that last sentence? I think I did.)

So I guess I’ve come to the end of the Manifesto at last. I hope you found something here to encourage you because that, at the end of the day, was what I was going for.

Go forth, query bravely, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Now what say we stop all this query talk, flag down the bar man, and have him bring us another round of boilermakers? My treat.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Query Letter Manifesto, Part 1

How is it possible that I'm coming up on my one year blog-o-versary, and I haven't yet tackled the most obvious topic for any writing blog, the query process? Well, that oversight ends right here, right now, my peeps.

While I do have an agent, I am by no means an expert on querying. Still, I believe I have a thing or two to add on the art of querying and so I've pulled together the sum total of my wisdom for the sake of posterity. Here you have it, "My Query Letter Manifesto." (I'm afraid this turned out to be rather a long post, so I've broken the Manifesto into two parts. I hope you'll come back tomorrow for the conclusion.)

Most of what follows is based on my own experience, but I’ve also relied on the guidance of those knowledgeable, humane agents out there who blog about querying despite what must be their total exhaustion when it comes to this subject matter.

So. Are you ready to go? Got your greasepaint on and your knife between your teeth? Let's now pull the ripcord and descend into that war zone known as Query Hell.  Hooyah!

I begin with this set of assumptions about you and your novel:

1) You have written a manuscript of appropriate length for your genre, neither too short nor too long, and additionally, you know what your genre is. More importantly, you know what the word genre means because you have a robust command of the English language and a tolerable ability to punctuate and follow the rules of accepted grammatical usage.

2) Three or more people not related to you by blood or marriage have read your manuscript and offered constructive feedback to you. Preferably one of these people had a personal animus toward you and enjoyed making you suffer. Perhaps this reader was an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend who you callously dumped years ago. As a result, he/she pointed out every single damn thing that was wrong with your book, and hard as it was to do, you addressed each problem, and the novel is, even you must grudgingly admit, far better for it.

3) You have at least a vague sense of who your readership might be and a fairly comprehensive knowledge of who’s writing what in your chosen genre. Let me be clear that you do NOT need to be plugged into the New York publishing scene, be a regular reader of Publishers Marketplace, or have any other special insider information on what novels will be coming out in the next two years. Also, you have wisely ignored anyone or anything mentioning the word “trend,” but have paid attention to the words “market saturation,” lest your book end up being one extra teaspoon of moisture in the ocean.

Having met these three requirements, you feel you are ready to query.

You are not.

It's OK. No one is ever ready to query. Sometimes you need to query to realize that you are not ready to query. Not to worry. It’s all part of the grand adventure. Now proceed as follows:

Step 1: Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Just calm down. I cannot emphasize this enough. You are about to send out a query letter. That's all. You are not trying, through your expert use of prose, to win a pardon for a condemned man or outline the means by which to rebuild post-WWII Europe. What I’m saying here is that lives are most definitely NOT at stake, and everything is going to be all right.

Step 2: Put the first draft of your novel aside and commence researching agents. On a personal note, I will tell you that this seemingly harmless initial step was so daunting to me that it caused me instantaneous gastrointestinal distress. That’s right. I was so overwhelmed at the outset of querying that merely pulling up agency websites made me think I’d somehow contracted a mutant virus that produced the worst aspects of apoplexy and giardia. That’s when I had to grip the sides of my desk and revisit Step 1. I forced myself to calm down. Alcohol may have been involved.

Step 2.1: Oh, dear. Already I'm off on a tangent, but this is important. During the course of your research, here’s what’s going to happen. You're going to identify a person you will come to regard as your “dream agent.” Probably because you read his/her blog or follow this person on Twitter and he/she seems nice and friendly and so understanding. Quite likely this person will be Nathan Bransford. You will imagine yourself with Nathan walking on the beach, hand-in-hand, or feeding each other strawberries while listening to Sting’s Fields of Gold. You will doodle “Mrs. Nathan Bransford” over and over in the margins of your notebooks and sigh pleasurably at the idea of taking Nathan home for the holidays to meet your parents, who will love him because, I mean, who wouldn’t? You may become so convinced of your rightness for each other that you prematurely blurt out an extremely inappropriate query at this person.

I’m going to tell you this straight up: Nathan is going to say no to you. Or whoever your “dream agent” is. He or she is going to form-reject you, in fact, and leave you in spluttering disbelief at this rank betrayal. I’m telling you this not to be cruel but to prepare you. It happens to just about everyone.

Step 3: Having gotten over your shock at being rejected by your dream agent, you should begin compiling a list of agents approximately 80-100 names long. You may not ever query this many agents, but having such a long list will encourage you to see just how many fish there are in the literary agent sea. To compile this list, you will need to read blogs and visit websites and read agent interviews. So many blogs, websites, and interviews that your gums will bleed and you will begin muttering in your sleep, “no more than ten pages pasted into the body of your email” or “NO ATTACHMENTS!!!”

Be aware that this research process may take you several hours a day for 6, maybe 8, weeks or more. I know. It seems crazy and you may find yourself thinking that you’re putting more work into this querying thing that you put into writing your novel. Yes. That’s how you know you’re doing it correctly. The fact is, there’s a lot of information out there, and you have no one to blame but yourself if you don’t make the most of it.

Step 4: Simultaneous with your agent research, you are also reading Janet Reid's Query Shark blog and visiting Query Letter Hell over at Absolute Write. You should read dozens upon dozens of query letters and evaluate the responses they receive. Take note of the common errors. Do not make these same errors as you begin to draft your query letter. What is the single worst mistake you can make in your query letter? Grandiosity. Everything else is forgiveable but not this. Clear evidence that you have an out-sized ego will make agents vomit in their mouths a little.

Step 5: Having drafted your query letter, ask for feedback on it, either from fellow writers or at various writers forums. Listen to the input you receive, but know when to tune out the bad advice. Because you will get some bad advice. Also, you will hear from people who say you absolutely must do this and for God's sake NEVER do that. Query letters, some people believe, have a rigid structure not unlike iambic pentameter, and if you make one wrong move with them, some capricious agent who otherwise might have requested your full will reject you because you left out the definite article in the fourth sentence of your second paragraph.

It is true that some agents like for queriers to launch immediately into the meat of the pitch. I myself could never do this. I always began with a one sentence summary of my book’s stats: “I’m seeking representation for my YA SF novel, Title, and word count.” Some people advise against this because they believe it allows an agent to decide in a matter of seconds if he/she wants to be bothered with your paranormal urban memoir at 90K words. They tell you that you should be -- perhaps not purposefully vague -- but tantalizing in your lack of information so you'll pique the agent's interest. This way he'll ask for a partial or full just to get a better feel for your project. OK, I suppose there's some truth to this, but here’s my feeling: you’re never going to “trick” an agent into liking your book so why not just get the basic information out there first. If it’s not their thing, so be it.

Also? Those agents who have outlandishly complicated or snotty requirements for what they want in a query letter? Don’t query them. Begin to understand, even at this very early stage in your publishing career, that you have the power to say, "No, thanks.You’re not my cup of tea." There are too many really great, passionate literary agents out there. Don’t bother with the trolls.

And further on the subject of bad advice: this will not be the last time you will need to trust your gut over advice from purported experts. Your gut and you – you should be tight at this point. You and your gut should be finishing each other’s sentences by now and maybe even wearing those little heart-shaped necklaces where you’ve got one half and your gut has the other. Your gut will be the only thing that will tell you, “hey, you know, I think this agent's got a point” or “Nah, that’s a bunch of bunk. Don’t listen to that.” Your gut is your wing man. Buy it a drink and tell it how pretty it is. Often.

Step 6: Having compiled your list of reputable agents who you are absolutely sure represent the kind of novel you wish to pitch to them, divide your list of agents into groupings of 10-12 agents. Decide which will be in your first wave of queries. Do NOT put all your “favorite” agents in the first wave you send out. If this is your first time ever sending out a query letter, assume that you might need to re-jigger your query or, if you get a request for pages, the manuscript itself. Thus, by not shooting your wad of favs in your first wave of queries, you will still have some in reserve when you go out with your next round, now using your new and improved query and first chapter.

Also, do feel empowered to interpret an agent’s submission guidelines as broadly as possible. By this I mean, unless they specifically state, “I do not handle X (sci-fi, fantasy, memoir, etc),” assume that when they say YA or commercial fiction or what have you that they mean, yeah, you and your stuff. Send it on. Most importantly, get over your fear of “offending” or "bothering" agents with your unwanted query. They are perfectly capable of saying no. They do it all the time. Heck, I half suspect my middle child will someday become a literary agent. As soon as she learned to speak she said “No! Don’t like it!” to pretty much everything.

Step 7: Having ascertained the correct email addresses for the agents you're about to query and having double-checked that you’ve spelled the agents’ names correctly, boldly hit that SEND button. If you’ve got one, feel free to fire your semi-automatic rifle into the air like an Iraqi militia chief. Then pat yourself on the back. You've now gotten farther in your quest for publication than 95 percent of everyone out there who wants to be a published author. No matter the outcome, courage is what makes you awesome.

Refer back to Step 1 as events warrant.
To be continued tomorrow….

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Not Like an Egg on a Spoon

There was this guy in my MFA program, and he did this thing that some writers do that I hate hate hate.

Here it is: you’d be talking to the guy, thinking you’re having a normal conversation, and then you or someone nearby would say something he found interesting, and he'd respond, “Oh, I’ve got to write that down before I forget it.” Then out would come the little notebook, and he'd actually do it. He'd write down what he'd heard with the utmost self-satisfaction at having captured ... whatever. 

Like the world was his zoology experiment, and we were all just rare macaques for him to observe and report upon. Totally annoying.

I’ve been advised a number of times to always carry a small notebook so I can jot things down in case inspiration strikes. I don’t do it.

I do my best thinking when I’m out walking or riding my bike. Somehow the motion kick starts my brain. For a long time, I’d get these ideas for stories or plot fixes or whatever, and I’d think I’d have to rush home and write it all down before I forgot the details. It reminded me of that birthday party game -- the relay race where you’ve got to carry an egg on a wooden spoon without dropping it.

But then I stopped doing that because somewhere along the line I realized something: good ideas are not that fragile.

OK, admittedly I do still write things down occasionally -- things that occured to me while I was out for a walk -- but I certainly don’t hurry along with that egg, trembling and fearful that I’ll drop my good idea on the pavement before I get home, and it'll be ruined. Maybe I just believe in a survival of the fittest sort of approach when it comes to spinning fluffy new ideas into actual books. If it’s a good idea, I’ll remember it. And if it’s a truly great idea, capable of sustaining an entire novel, it’ll persist almost to the point of my needing a restraining order against it.

This is not to say that I don’t respond to inspiration with the appropriate respect and, rarely, with a sense of urgency, it’s just that I don’t freak out about it. And if I’m talking to someone at a party, I, you know, simply talk to him. I’m not there to study and record behavior, to treat people like they're fodder for my work. Bleh. I don't care how great a writer you are. Who wants to be around someone like that? 

Geez, now I'm wishing I’d had the nerve to rip that little notebook out of my MFA chum’s hands, throw it on the ground, and clog dance on it while shouting, “There. Observe and write about that, Thoreau.” Of course then he probably would have, and I’m sure he would have turned it into a very funny story. You just can’t win against these writer types.