Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Did you hear that? That snide, obnoxious, sing-songy voice.

I just want to slap that guy.

Do you have an inner voice like this? Some jerky, insensitive dude who tells you that what you’re writing sucks to high heaven or worse, that it's so, so very boooooor-ing?

I don’t. Of course I don’t. My inner voice is kindly and encouraging, doting even. A cross between Mary Poppins and Oprah. It wants me to succeed and irons my pinafore and tells me which eye shadow is most flattering for my eye color and why I’m never gonna find lasting love down at the club.

Ha. I wish. Instead I get Snarky Guy, who thinks he knows everything about everything.

But that’s OK, that’s OK. He can put his feet up on my coffee table and spit sunflower seed shells around the room. Little does he know, he’s actually helping me.

I didn’t start out writing for young people. I started out writing for adults. So when I switched to writing for a younger audience, one of the hardest things for me to master was the accelerated pacing. I was still accustomed to the comparatively leisurely ramping up that you do in stories for adults.  And the digressions. Gosh, they haven’t yet made a tangent that I wouldn’t go on. I always have my bag packed in case of unexpected tangents.

But now I’ve got this cool kid in the third row of my brain who lets me know when he’s bored because I'm not moving fast enough, and even if he can’t offer me any helpful suggestions about character development, he can at least act like a sort of canary in a coal mine. ‘Cause boredom is very much like a noxious gas. Sometimes you can’t smell it or see it but before you know it, an epidemic of pantlessness ensues -- 'cause you've bored them off everyone.

I picture narrative as a big pick-up truck bumping along the road, and I’m the driver. The back of the truck is filled with readers, and if I hit too many potholes, those readers are going to fall off right onto their heads. Splat! (“Lost another one on that last plot twist. Damn.”) And of course if I go too slow, those readers are going to jump off like it’s a lame-o hay ride. And you never want to arrive at your destination only to discover that it’s just you, your coonhound, and a bald spare tire in the back. No, you want to keep your riders happy and even be picking up hitchhikers along the way like a sociopathic loner who doesn’t know when to put a stop to an overworked metaphor.
This is why Jerky Bored Voice is helpful to me whether he realizes it or not. Whenever he pipes up, I just toss a grenade into the narrative. You know, something to mix it up and keep things interesting. Also, people – even imaginary ones – usually have the good sense to flee when there’s a grenade around. So those grenades definitely serve the purpose of moving the story along at a good clip.

Of course maybe you guys don’t have this problem like I do. But if you do, how do you respond when your inner Snark Meister tells you that your story is boring his ever-living pants off*?  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

One Hour a Day

I have one hour to write this post. Possibly less. Let’s see how I do.

This new baby -- he likes full concierge service from his mother. What is up with that? It’s been darn near impossible to find time to write when I’ve been fetching warm towels, refilling his drink, and explaining why I can’t get him the chef’s table at Le Cirque on short notice.

I now understand how spoiled I’ve been for the past year. Six months ago I was able to write as much as 20 hours a week. I know, right? That’s an awesome amount of time.

But I’m trying to look at it this way: perhaps having all that time allowed me to become mentally flabby. Yes, and extremely inefficient.

Yeah. That’s it. Having more time to write is obviously a bad thing.

Now that I’m down to one single solitary hour a day (if that), I will have to concentrate my efforts and get all my words in order before sitting down to work, like some kind of writerly version of mise en place. But this is good, no?

Supposedly Virginia Woolf only wrote for one hour a day, and she managed to be incredibly prolific. OK, sure, she also kinda killed herself, but hey, nobody's perfect. She wrote loads of novels and essays only writing one hour a day long before she killed herself. So there. I’ll take heart in that – the one hour thing. Not the suicide thing. I’ll just try to put the suicide thing out of my mind. I really don’t think the two are at all related.

It’s not like I’ve never been pressed for writing time before. When I first got back into writing – this was back in 2008 – my kids’ schedule only allowed me to work early in the morning, so I started getting up at 4:45 am so I could squeeze it in. That’s right, O dark 4:45. That’s how gonzo I was about getting work done. It sucked, but I did it because I was hungry to write. Of course, by the end of the day, having gotten up at that obscene hour, I was so punchy that I should not have been operating heavy machinery. Or even light machinery, if there is such a thing, although if there is, no one seems too worried about people operating it in an impaired state. What is light machinery anyway?  Blenders? Hair dryers?

(The point! Get back to it, woman!)

Right! Getting to point now...anyway, circumstances fortunately changed, and I could work longer, at a less insane hour. Which I was glad about because getting up that early, even if you're doing it so you can ride unicorns through Candyland while people throw hundred dollar bills at you, is a grim prospect. It was so bad, in fact, that I was worried about ever having to go back to that kind of crazy-intense writing life. 

But now I'm once again looking at the possibility of having to do that if I want to get work done. Honestly, I’m not sure I’m up to it. But I’ve got to be. Somehow I’ve got to get back into that “Eye of the Tiger” mode. Gotta feel that writing hunger bad enough to drink raw eggs and punch haunches of beef until my knuckles bleed.

(Yeah, that's right. I referenced Rocky III, Survivor, and Virginia Woolf in the same blog post. What of it?)

How much time do y’all have to write each week? Is it consistent or does it vary wildly from week to week?

A gratuitous picture of Mr. T seemed appropriate here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Closed for Attitudinal Renovations

You’re probably not going to believe me, but I really don’t like doing too many grouchy, “here’s what’s wrong with the world” blog posts, but this week, that’s all I seem capable of writing. Three times now I’ve started to write something for the blog, and each time it’s turned into a feverish rant like I’ve gone off my rant meds.

And it's not just the blog either. Yesterday I undertook a simple note to post on my front door. Something along the lines of ...

Please do not ring doorbell. Sleeping baby inside. Thank you.

Instead it turned into this:

Solicitors will be turned away in as rude a fashion as is humanly possible, and in case you're wondering what that might mean, I'll lay it out for you: You ring my door bell, I come to the door and unload a torrent of expletives, and then I go back inside and hook up my water cannon. I then return to the door and unleash 2000 lbs. psi of water pressure onto you, washing you down the street like a puddle of anti-freeze. 

Although, come to think of it, if you rang the doorbell even after reading this sign, you’re clearly: 

1) illiterate; 

2) some kind of huge d-bag who doesn’t think 
rules should apply to him; or

3) being chased by bears and in need of immediate shelter. 

In any case, I can’t help you. 
Because I’ve got this baby to deal with.
So don’t ring the freaking door bell.  
So, yeah, I’m obviously a little tired and cranky, and I should probably not P.W.C. (post while cranky), so come on back next week for more of my usual sunshine. In the mean time, I’ll take a nap if I can.

How’s your week going, my friends? What's it like out there in the world these days?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Trafficking in Turtles

From time to time I drive past this store that makes me curious, hopeful, confused, and amused all at once.

It’s a turtle vendor.


It’s a store that primarily sells turtles. Indeed I am talking about those shelled beasties that you occasionally swerve to avoid running over. Or possibly you don’t, in which case you probably wondered what that thump you heard under the back tire was before you shrugged and kept going.

I like turtles. What’s not to like about turtles? That's not the point. The point is: how does such a place possibly stay in business? Can you really earn enough money each year selling turtles to make ends meet? Really?

Actually, what do I know? Maybe I’m just putting my ignorance on display right now. Maybe you can make a good living selling turtles.

But I don’t think so.

Not unless there are costly turtle accessories I’m unaware of. Turtle lotions or turtle vitamins. Something like that. Stuff that makes your beleaguered turtle clients think, I’d never have bought this freaking turtle if I’d known how expensive they were to maintain. Maybe turtles are money pits, which is bad for people who buy them but good for people who sell them.

I mean, it’s astonishing. The very notion of taking out a small business loan to open a turtle shop --  it’s so gutsy, so wrong-headed, so funny. Didn't anyone vet this business plan? Try to talk the guy out of it? Just think about the level of interest you have in turtles and then survey a few people you know and ask them how they feel about turtles. I’ll bet they say, "Turtles? Um, I guess turtles are fine. I never really thought about it before.”

Now ask them how much money they spend annually on turtles and turtle-related products.

Exactly. None. None amount of money. Their turtle budget line for FY 2011 reads zero dollars and zero cents.

Some people are extremely passionate about turtles – so much so that they establish a business trafficking in them – perhaps without taking into account that the vast majority of people are indifferent verging on uninterested in turtles. And even those people who are farther along on the turtle-o-phile spectrum probably wouldn’t shell out (pardon the pun) much cash to buy or support one.

I wonder if certain novels are like turtles for sale. I know that I definitely categorize the books I want to buy and own vs. the books I can wait to read and will probably check out of the library. Same is true for movies. Sometimes you see a movie trailer and think, “That’s definitely a rental.” Then there are those movies you will pay any sum to see, and you'll go to the midnight showing dressed as one of the characters, all the while squealing and tweeting “ohmygodohmygodicannotpossiblywaitonemoresecond !!!!!!!!! *faints of acute squee intoxication*” 

What I'm saying is that turtles -- they're always a rental. At best. At least for 98 percent of America they are.

Not to overwork this turtle thing too much, but some of us (ie., me) are inevitably going to be turtle vendors -- hopeful souls, passionate about our novels, who fling open the doors of our brand-new turtle paraphernalia shop only to be met with very, very few paying customers.

Which is why I find the turtle store simultaneously perplexing and inspiring. Of course, the turtle shop has been there for a while now so they must be staying afloat. I should be so lucky to eke out a living selling my turtles, er, I mean novels. 

So there it is. Perhaps I've gotten a glimpse of my future in that turtle shop. 

Godspeed, turtle vendor dude.