Friday, June 24, 2011

Endless Summer

It’s June 24. 

Do you know what that means?

It’s the last day of school.

Don’t even get me going on “where has the time gone” or “I can’t believe it’s the end of June already!” The last ten months have flown by at 186,000 miles per second, and now we're suddenly teetering on the brink of summer vacation.  This means massive schedule changes for everyone here in the household.

I’ve kept up my weekly blogging pretty religiously, even after the Junior Mint was born in April, but now, even I, Master Tactician of Time Management that I am, must concede that I'm out-matched.

I don’t know what I thought I was going to do – maybe figure out a way to invent a 25th hour in the day – but with four kids at home 24/7, the plain fact is, things are going to be a bit dodgy here until school starts up again in September.

I’ve decided that I’m going to let things descend into happy chaos for the next few weeks (possibly longer). Yes, the grass is going to get a little tall here at the blog. The posts are going to be shorter and more sporadic. I’ve got a new WiP underway and what little time I’ll have to write, I’m going to spend on that. It’s kind of like on Star Trek when the captain shouts, “Divert all power to main shields!” 

Power diverting, in progress. Stand by...
Yes, that’s what I’ll be doing. Diverting all my power to the WiP. I know you guys understand, especially my comrades with young children at home. Sometimes you've got to power through and carry on and all that. But sometimes you’ve got to dial it back and run through the sprinkler shouting “Freedom!”

I’ll still be on Twitter semi-daily. Hopefully we can chat over there (I’m @KlipMart – come on by and join in the fun). I’ll also still be reading blogs so keep up the good work, everyone. I hope to be a far better commenter than I've been in recent months. 

Wishing you sunshine and popsicles until summer’s end,


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Before You Dig, Drill, or Blast

Is this a reference anyone else gets?

I used to see “Before You Dig, Drill or Blast…” on bumper stickers and billboards as a kid, and I was like, “Who is doing this blasting or drilling or digging and why?”

Well, of course it was an advertisement for a 1-800 line that you were supposed to call if you were going to do any kind of construction work that involved excavation. God knows what epidemic of stupidity prompted the creation of this 1-800 line. The 70s must have been a time of serial disasters, with people routinely digging through buried electrical cables and accidentally disinterring septic tanks.

Also, as a kid, I recall something about calling “Miss Utility,” before you dig, drill or blast, which I thought was like Miss America. So I pictured this woman in a crown, answering the phone and guys in hardhats on the other end, their hands poised above detonator plungers, awaiting permission to blow stuff up.

In the same grand tradition of avoiding potential problems at the get-go, I ask you: When you get a shiny new idea, before you jump into it, do you research to see what else is out there that might be similar? Or do you just plow ahead and assume that your idea will be different enough that it won’t matter?

I do this with titles certainly. Some (potentially cool) phrase will pop into my head, and I’ll run it through The Great and Powerful Google to see what results. This was the case for my blog’s name. A search yielded this odd Japanese punk band, Rock in My Pocket, but I used the title anyway because of that "A" in front of Rock in My Pocket, which makes all the difference in the world in distinguishing me from them, don’t you think?

And speaking of that definite article, I’ve often thought I should change the name of this blog to AAA Rock in my Pocket, because that way I’d always be listed first in everyone’s Google Reader. I’m like a plumber or a cab service that wants to be first in the phone directory.

Oh, and seeing as I opened this post with a question about whether anyone knew what I was referring to, I have another genius idea: The Reference-o-Meter. It could help you determine how widely known something is before you reference it in your writing. The Reference-o-Meter could help us all, especially as we get older. For example, if you plugged in something like, “Who doesn’t love a good piece of liverwurst and some calliope music?” you’d get a very low reference score, and this would tell you that no one under the age of 98 would fondly remember liverwurst and calliope music so you might as well strike that reference out.

So. What were we talking about again?

Oh, yes.

Do you call the 1-800 line before you start drilling away writing something new? If you've encountered a project similar to yours, what did you do about it?

(Some of you have mentioned having difficulty leaving comments. Right now you have to click on the post title to get the comment box to come up. I’ve reinstalled Intense Debate three times, which has more than exhausted my patience with it. If I can’t figure out a way to fix this, I may return to the regular old Blogger comment system. [Do you hear that, Intense Debate? Get with it or Ima slap you good.])

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gimme Some Sugar

Amazing the things that inspire a blog post. This week it's energy food.

The hubs and I dragged the kids to a pro men’s cycling event this past Saturday because we’re like that. Just substitute “cycling” for the word “religious” before the word “zealot,” and you’ll have some idea of our devotion to the sport. I’m sure the kids hated it, but that’s life.

(“You will ring that cow bell for those men in spandex! Ring it, I say! Ring it for all your worth!”

But mother, I don’t understand the point of cycling! They just keep going around in circles, I can’t even tell which guy’s ahead!”

“Blasphemer! Get thee from my sight!”)

They were handing out samples of these new energy bars to spectators, and if you’ve ever done any cycling, running, hiking, etc. you know the dilemma with these things. Let’s face it, a Slurpee and a handful of marshmallows would give you quick energy just fine, but really what you’re looking for is healthy, nutritious energy. You want the “Look at me being so robust! Exercising! Eating compressed soy products!” thing, and OK, you also want a bit of chocolate to get that sucker to slide down your throat without coming right back up.

So this is what you’re trying to balance: nutrition and yumminess. Fortification and frills. But how much of each thing are you looking for? Are you the kind of person who wants more chocolate or more wheat grass? These are the questions we must answer for ourselves, and to each his own, right?

So this free sample we got was clearly going the healthier-than-thou route. It was touted as preservative free, nut free, kosher, and vegan. I think it was literally mashed up fruit and grain stalks pressed into bar form. Perhaps there was some binding agent like honey or tub caulk or whatever the heck they use to make those things chewy.

So what did we do with this free sample? We ate it. Because people will eat anything if it’s a free sample. I’m telling you, if you put it on the end of a toothpick, cut into bite-size squares, dipped in carob, people would eat uncooked goat brains.

And what did I think of this fine specimen of healthy energy food? The word ACK comes to mind. I must still have some of it in my molars because I can’t get the taste out of my mouth, even days later. That binding agent? I’m pretty sure it might have been manure.

Obviously, I’m not such a fan of the pure nutrition route and you know what? I realized that’s probably true about my taste in literature as well.

Ah, yes, there was a time when I wouldn’t read anything that wasn’t a meditation on death. Or meaninglessness. Or meaningless death. And if a book had a happy ending, bah! How can anything with a happy ending be serious reading? If the main character didn’t die of advanced syphilis or malnutrition or alcoholism in an insane asylum then it hardly seemed worth my time. I call this my “black turtleneck phase.”

Now? Heck, man. Gimme some damn sugar. I even get annoyed at any book that doesn’t have some form of redemption at the end. I have no time for unmitigated sorrow. I get plenty of that reading the newspaper every day.

Have your tastes in reading changed over the years? If so, have they become more nutritious or less?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Goofus & Gallant Go Out on Submission

I hope I’m not going to get sued by Highlights for Children for borrowing what is surely copyrighted, trademarked, legally-whatever-ified, material, but I’m using our old friends Goofus and Gallant in today’s post. 

Many of us, I'm sure, wiled away the hours in doctors’ waiting rooms as kids, learning how to conduct ourselves in the world by reading about how Goofus and Gallant comported themselves in various social situations.

Anyhoo. Did you know that Goofus and Gallant both grew up to be writers? They sure did. Poor sods. And funnily enough, both Goofus and Gallant went out on submission at the same time! Let’s see what happened with them and how they handled it, shall we?

After a months-long process of thoughtful, careful revision, Gallant’s manuscript was ready to go out on sub. He thanked his agent for his hard work and then promptly forgot all about his book, choosing instead to pour his energies into other writing projects as well as the normal volunteer work he did. Helping others was its own reward, and if his dream to be a published author came true, that would be nothing more than icing on the cake. Not that Gallant liked icing. In fact, he never ate cake, even on his birthday. Heavens, no. Do you know how many calories there are in a tablespoon of buttercream frosting? That's why Gallant preferred to celebrate special occasions by eating baked (sustainable) fish with a refreshing squeeze of lemon.

After six weeks, Gallant finally got word that his book had sold in a modest deal. Wonderful news! Better still, he was thrilled to learn that he’d be a midlist author because anything more than that would seem too showy. He celebrated, as usual, with a delicious baked fish, and then called his mother. She’d always been very encouraging about his writing and to show his appreciation, he used his small advance to buy her some new nightgowns from Land’s End.

The night Goofus went out on sub, he took out his platinum Amex card – that he’d gotten under false pretenses by plucking the pre-approved application out of his roommate’s trash can -- and threw it down on the counter at his local club, instructing the bartender to buy a round of drinks for the whole place because he was rich. Or about to be. He threw back his Fuzzy Navel* with a laugh, imagining the death match that was about to begin somewhere in New York City amongst editors who would be vying for rights to his book. It was going to be just like The Hunger Games! Except with editors!

For the next few days, he toggled between his cell phone and email like a hyperactive lab rat looking for a food pellet. Around day nine, he began peppering his agent with inquiries, but of course, his agent had no news for him. This was perplexing. It became even more perplexing as the days turned into weeks and then months. At some point, someone came and carted off his flat screen television and XBox. Something about repo. He didn’t bother getting all the details. He sucked at Halo 4 anyway, so who cared? 

Meanwhile on Twitter, triumphant tweets from authors announcing their new book deals seem to scroll by like a cruel stock ticker. Each tweet was like an astringent-soaked toothpick in his eye. Or rather, his heart. OK, that didn’t make any sense. He’d never been that good at metaphors or similes or whatever. Maybe that was why his book hadn’t sold yet. Maybe… maybe his book … maybe it wasn’t really all that … probably should work on something new in case… NO! NO! He fought to maintain his composure. Hadn’t Michael Bay come to him in a fevered dream that night he woke up on the toilet, still clutching his cell phone because he hadn't wanted to miss any calls? Hadn’t this Michael vision whispered to him about franchise potential? That had to mean something! Didn’t it? Didn’t it?!

This momentary glimpse into the abyss of his craven soul, however, had no effect on his work habits. He wrote nothing new for the next seven months and sank into a torpor so deep it might have qualified as hibernation. Eventually he tried to check himself into the hospital for exhaustion, but medical staff could find nothing wrong with him other than abnormally high levels of bitterness in his bloodstream. He was treated and released and told by his parents that perhaps it was time he looked into temping.


Well, there it is. Hope you’ll be able to conduct yourself with aplomb when it's your turn to go out on submission.

*Can you believe anyone still drinks Fuzzy Navels? What a jerk!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Obituaries and You!

Despite the subject matter at hand, I swear this will not be a morbid post. That’s why I put the exclamation point up there in the title. To make it seem more cheery. 

See the difference there:

(Admittedly, kind of gloomy.)


(Not so bad really. Might even be kind of fun! Let’s see what Kristen has to say about them!)

So. Obituaries. I read them nearly every day because I’m curious about people’s lives generally, of course, but I’m also curious from a writerly perspective about what information gets included in them, either because the writer thought it was important or because the deceased person’s family did. Or maybe the deceased person him or herself would have wanted these facts to be generally known.

And OK, confession time, when I’m scanning the obits page trying to decide which ones to read, I’m mostly attracted to the obits with the really weird photos.

I assume – especially with the really bad pictures, where the person’s got one eye closed or they’re sitting on a bar stool with no shirt on, next to a three-legged dog -- that the person who is the subject of the obituary did not pick the picture that accompanied it. And we’ll give the person who did make the selection the benefit of the doubt that they meant well or perhaps cut them some slack because of their grief. They might have just stuck their hand in a photo-filled shoe box and said, “Here. Use this one. I simply don’t care!” Of course it’s always possible that no better picture of their deceased loved one existed. But whatever. There are some doozies in there on almost a daily basis and they always make me wonder if the deceased person would have been pleased that this photo was printed in the paper along with the summary of his or her life.

Like today. There was a woman my age who died of who knows what. Sometimes I think obits are the only remaining thing in society where we use euphemism to the point of obfuscation (OK, maybe obits, Pentagon press releases, and election materials), but whatever she died of is not the issue. I noticed her because, like I said, she’s my age -- 43, for those scoring at home -- and they used what looks like might have been her high school yearbook photo for her obit picture. Like, with the totally 80s hair – yeah, she had the big, flippy-fluffy-teased thing going on -- and those horrible feather earrings that were so popular back when Bon Jovi roamed free across the American plain like an apatosaurus in tight leather pants.

What can we, as writers, learn from this?

One, I’d like to go on the record now and say that I do not ever, ever, ever want my high school yearbook photo used in conjunction with my obituary in the event of my untimely death. You got that? I mean it.

Two, I realized that for storytelling purposes, so much interesting, useful information exists in that intersection between how characters see themselves and how they are ultimately seen by others. The question is how to include this in ways that are meaningful, but it’s a good starting point when you’re trying to introduce conflict and depth into a story.

Three, given the short, just-hit-the-highlights format of obituaries, they can be a useful tool for you when you’re planning, plotting, and sketching out a novel. For example, if you wrote an obit for one of your characters, what would you include? This seems like a great writing exercise and by golly, if I weren’t so lazy, I might try it next time I started a new project before jumping in and belatedly discovering my main character plays the spoons, likes kale, and once killed a man in a bar fight in Mexico City.

See? This hasn’t been a gloomy post at all, right? I hope I’ve turned your attitude around about obits. They can truly be helpful and useful.

I'd just like to conclude by reiterating the main take-away from today’s post and that is this: if I see one picture of myself with my 80s-era sausage curl hair appear next to my obit, I’m gonna seriously kick somebody’s ass.