Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Thought I’d do a quick post today before I have to start peeling potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner.

Not that you should feel sorry for me. My husband is doing most of the cooking for Thanksgiving, particularly the turkey. "Roasting large pieces of meat” is firmly on his to-do list along with killing spiders and weed whacking. (What's on my to-do list? Everything else.)

Somehow this came out different
than I was expecting.
And let me give props to the man. He can make a turkey gravy like you would not believe. I swear, if they ever shoot one of those Voyager space rockets out there again to sail beyond the limits of the solar system, they should not only include a recording of Earth’s sounds but also an ounce of this turkey gravy because it's clearly one of the best things ever produced by a member of the human race. (If you're single, you might want to look for this ability in any potential mate. Seriously, people, I just read recently that eHarmony is adding "competent gravy-making skills" as its 30th dimension of compatibility.)

But moving right along, and in keeping with the holiday theme, the writing topic I’m thinking about today was inspired by a Butterball turkey. Specifically, this question: how do you know when you’re done with something? I mean, you do a draft and perhaps realize you'll need to revise in some way but, let's be honest, you hope not. Or rather, once you're done with a draft, you believe as much as it’s possible to believe in anything that it’s done.

Then, of course, only weeks or months later, perhaps after you’ve already started to query it, you realize it’s not finished. You know this because nobody wants to eat that bright pink slab of underdone novel. So you reluctantly confront the reality that you’ve got to shove it back into the oven for another round of cooking.

Wouldn’t it be nice if every book came with the equivalent of one of those pop-up turkey thermometers? Then you'd know when your book was done because you’d see the thermometer pop. There! Look! The book is absolutely done. The little red thermometer tells me so. Time to take it out of the oven so others may enjoy this sumptuous literary feast.

Do you all routinely let your first draft sit for a while before looking at it again and assessing what changes need to be made? If so, how long? And if so, where might we all purchase some of your wisdom and patience?

Wishing all my fellow Americans a happy Thanksgiving, and to everyone else, a very joyous November 25th!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Nom de Plume-o-matic

From time to time I’m sure we’ve all toyed with the idea of using a pen name, either because we don’t much care for the limelight or because we write such horrendously graphic, fetishistic, smut-filled horror novels, we don’t want anyone in the PTA to find out about it.

But how do we choose just the right pen name?

I found a couple online pen name generators, but they were pretty lame. You type in your real name, it spits out a pen name at random. BOR-ing. Come on. You know I can’t abide antiseptic randomness when there’s a far more asinine approach to take. So, here you go. As ever, you’re very welcome.

The Nom de Plume-o-matic
(patent pending)

1) Take your mother’s maiden name. Substitute a y for the first vowel and then add an e to the end even if it already has one. I find that you can never have too many silent e’s.

2) Add either your favorite gym teacher’s last name or the plural form of the street on which you grew up.

3) Reverse the two.

4) Are you married? If yes, hyphenate those two names. If no, that's OK, but I think your mom’s starting to worry about you and frankly, so am I. We don’t want to see you end up alone. It happens, you know. If you’re being too picky or whatever. I mean, look what happened to your cousin. Such a good-looking kid and then whammo – dead at 28, killed by a pile of comic books that fell on him in his basement apartment, and all because he refused to settle down or rather, to just plain settle. And do I even need to tell you how the paramedics found him? Let’s just say that if your grandmother sees “auto-erotic asphyxiation” written on your death certificate, she's going to die of embarrassment, and I mean that literally. Stroke or heart attack or whatever else old people die from suddenly. So consider that, Mr./Ms. Too High Standards. Anyway, if you’re not married, drop the second name entirely.

5) If you live on the East Coast, choose one of the following prefixes -- Mc, von, or del -- and put that in front of whatever you came up with on line 4. West Coast people add one of the following suffixes to the end: -ton, -ville, or –burg. If you live in the Midwest, just leave it alone. You people have enough problems as it is, and I don’t want to add to your confusion. (Mountain time zone, you say? Please. There’s no such thing and never has been. Don't be a dupe of the Feds.)

6) Oh, btw, this is now your last name. Start writing it over and over again so you get used to giving autographs in this name. If you want, feel free to also wear a wig or lifts in your shoes if that helps you get into character but don’t expect your significant other to use this name in intimate situations. Well, not without first rolling his or her eyes while muttering, “Oh, for God’s sake….”

7) Have you visited Africa since 1977, eaten tainted meat products from Scotland or Wales, or had sex with a prostitute who visited Africa since 1977 AND ate tainted Scottish or Welsh beef? Oh, wait. Forget that. You’re not donating blood.

8) You’ll now be needing a first and possibly a middle name. All your great literary lions have three names (moi, for example). I’m afraid to tell you this, but you can’t just “decide” to have three names. You have to earn the right to that third or possibly fourth name, especially if you’re not married and therefore have no hyphenated bogus surname. And if you’re not married -- again, your mother and I want you to know that there’s nothing wrong with you that a good hair cut and some decent clothes wouldn’t fix. Anyway, to earn a middle name, answer me this: do you know how to change a tire? If yes, you get have a middle name. If not, you should be ashamed of yourself. I mean, really, unless you have some other vital life skill to rival tire-changing -- say, knowing how to perform an emergency tracheotomy or something -- you really need to work on getting more practical life experience before you go embarking on some high-falutin’ literary career.

9) Choosing your first name... (And before you even ask, no you absolutely may not substitute initials for your first and middle names. Look, everybody does that because they think they’re being all clever about hiding their gender, and they think they’ll be able to avoid reader biases that way. No, no, no – a thousand times no. Have the balls to declare yourself regardless of whether you actually possess balls.)

10) Back to choosing a first name. Pick ONE of the following:

 a) Your childhood nickname (Tippy, Buster, Dorkmeister in the Highwater Pants);
 b) a diminutive of your actual name (Chucky, Tommy, Sissy, etc.);
 c) your favorite pet’s name;
 d) if you’re still on about that gender-neutral thing, fine. Use Robin, Dana, or Chris if you must.

11) If you’ve earned the right to a middle name, help yourself to the name of your favorite Star Wars character.

So what did you get? Please do share your name with us in the comment section below. I need to know it next time I’m browsing my local bookstore for your latest smut-filled horror novel.

(My pen name as generated by the Nom de Plume-o-matic? Baba Jabba von Brown-Schyffere.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Writer’s Prayer

I know y’all are going to be tacking this up on your refrigerators immediately after reading it.

(I don't want to alienate anyone not of the Judeo-Christian heritage, so feel free replace each reference below to “Lord” or “God” with the Higher Power of your choice. If you’re an atheist, just substitute O Great and Powerful Randomness. It still works.)

A Writer’s Prayer

God grant me the serenity to sit my twitchy rear-end
down in that chair once again
and make that cursor move
across the computer screen,
even if the only way I can do so
is to repeatedly apply my forehead
to the keyboard like a chicken
pecking the ground for meal worms. 

Lord, please help me to accept the things
that cannot be changed,
like the fact that the entire premise of my next book --
the one I'm super excited about –
causes most people to either shrug with indifference
or say, “Ooooh-kaaay. Sounds, you know, interesting.
Good luck with that.”

Give me the courage to change those things
that should be changed,
even though I have damn well changed them enough,
and I don’t want to change them again.
No, I don’t.
I don’t, I don’t, I don’t.
La-La-La-La-La…I’m not listening.
I’m not listening to that little voice of doom in my head
(and my gut better shut up too if it knows what’s good for it).

Help me to see the difference between something
that’s actually funny and
 lame jokes predicated on esoteric references
to “BJ and The Bear.”

And when I am in the darkest hour of Querying,
walk with me, Lord, and be my rock and my shield.
Also, this would be one of those times
when I could use some serious smiting of my enemies.
May I suggest one of those plague things You do so well?
Or a flood.
 Whatever You’re in the mood for. Feel free to improvise,
 but be sure to make it extra, you know, vengeful,
since vengeance is exclusively Your thing
and not for me to indulge in
 no matter how much I might really, really want to.

Lord, grant me some more of that serenity
so that I might not freak out at my agent
 when she tells me that I need to revise
based on feedback.
Because You of all people realize
that even if that poor woman were getting
an 85% commission on the sale of my work,
it wouldn’t be enough to compensate her
 for having to listen to all my whining.

And lo, though I may walk
through the valley of the shadow of rejection --
which incidentally is a long-ass
and extremely shadowy valley
and not to complain but, geez, WTF?
How about the occasional peak now and again
just to break up the scenery a bit
(just something to think about
-- even You aren’t immune to suggestions for improvement) –
Yes, O Lord, be at my side during these desolate hours
and try not to take it personally when I lash out
at You, the world in general, and all those
who don’t “get me.”

And finally, Lord, grant me the wisdom to understand 
why it is that I do this writing thing,
 because there must be a damn good reason
or else I wouldn’t keep sitting here,
 day after day,
watching that little cursor winking at me
 like it’s in on some big cosmic joke
that I don’t know about.
 Because it’s not all one big joke, right?


Anybody there?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Enemy Between My Ears

I’m so hating my brain right now.

Here’s why: I’m in-between projects at the moment. I finished a manuscript about three weeks back and decided that I should probably take a break. You know, to sharpen the saw, as they say. Besides, I finished the last manuscript on a Friday, and I really didn’t feel like it fit with my Gospel of Slack to go jumping into the very next book the Monday after. I’m not some workaholic literary drone. (Am I?)

Of course, right after finishing this last manuscript, I started getting this itch in my brain. It seems the brain wanted to get going on something new. I argued with it and said, no, man, chillax. We’re taking some time off. But my brain wouldn’t accept that. So what did it do? Did it respect my wishes to take some vacation days? No, it did not. That same brain that I'm now hating retaliated by choosing the wee hours of the morning for generating new project ideas.

I'm prone to insomnia anyway. The minute stress hits my life -- which is pretty much, you know, every day -- my sleep cycle takes a hit. So I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and sometimes lie there for hours for no good reason (no, reading doesn’t help; no, I can’t do crossword puzzles – I’ve tried it all, believe me). During this recent project limbo, however, it’s gotten way worse. My brain has become like a crazed chipmunk on Mountain Dew. 

Hey! Who’s up? Are you up? Cuz I’m up. Let’s talk. What do you want to talk about? I know! You want to hear all 50 state capitals in alphabetical order? No? That’s good because I don’t know them anyway. I do know some stuff other though, like, here’s some random pieces of various pop song lyrics! It’s a mash-up! La la la Baby baby baby ooohh! Whatsa matter? You don’t like The Bieber in your brain at 4 am? Too bad!

And then we’re off to the races. Thrown into all the background noise are useful things that I actually want to pay attention to: bits of dialogue, character back stories, settings, plot twists, the whole shebang. It’s like getting a middle of the night call from your friend who’s out at some really loud bar, just broke up with his girlfriend, and has clearly had too much to drink but insists on going over the mistakes he made in the relationship while at the same time sharing his insights into how he recently solved Fermat’s Last Theorem. You’re kind of enthralled by the prospect of what he’s got to say, but at the same time, it’s late and you wish he’d stop crying.

Well, I guess there’s nothing for it but to get back to work so I can shift all those machinations to the daytime where they belong. Then perhaps my evil, eager chipmunk brain will let me rest.

So much for vacation days, huh?

Man, I have GOT to talk to HR about this sorry benefits package I have. And to payroll, for that matter. They’re taking so many deductions out of my salary, it’s like I’m not even getting paid at all.