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Thursday, December 23, 2010

More On Plotting

I took a shot of this the day of finals, and just now got around to pulling it off my phone.  Here, we have: a short outline, a long outline, notebook, hair clip, lip balm, colored index cards, pencils, highlighters, black ink pen (very important), white index cards, and Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT.

Then, when I have a good idea of where I'm going, it all gets input into Scrivener, like this:

I typically try to write from beginning to end, but there are some scenes I know out of order, so I don't feel bad spending a few minutes getting those down as they come to me.

Full-screen mode is great for times when Twitter gets in the way of productivity:

I'm also partial to my timer-bomb, which keeps me from feeling overwhelmed:

But the real secret to writing well is having tons of these:


Happy Holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Required Reading for Writers

Back when I worked for The Bank, there was a stupid rule that we had to read this bohemoth of a policies and procedures book every year before December 31st. Every year, I'd put it off until the very last week, hoping I could somehow get out of it. And every year, my boss would swish past my desk, wearing a look on her face like she'd just swallowed a toad, and I'd know my plan had been foiled. Again.

I don't rightly recall why I had such an aversion to reading the policies and procedures handbook, except to say that half the stuff was either outdated or outlandish or both. But I do remember how it felt to come back in the middle of December, after my winter vacation, and see that 5" maroon binder staring me in the face. It's the same feeling I got last week, when I looked at my history final and realized everything I knew about the Civil War came from True Blood.

But as I was tidying up my office, the thought occurred to me that maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to spend what little bit is left of 2010 re-reading some of my favorite writing books.

Here's a short list:

I have others on my shelves that I turn to periodically, but these are the ones I find myself going back to over and over again.

How about you? Which books are your favorites, and which would you deem required reading for writers?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Porn and Sex and "Pasta Attachments"

The other day I took part in a three hour psychological survey on pornography. Before you go getting the wrong idea, I promise I'm not as big a perv as that sentence lets on. But I was three credits behind in my case studies for psychology, and I only had five days to go, so it was either talk about porn or talk about my mother. I chose the one least likely to leave me feeling like I needed to scrub with bleach at the end of the day.

I know a lot of people don't like porn. They think it's immoral or shameful or embarrassing or anti-feminist, or whatever, and if that's how they feel, then that's how they feel. Personally, I'm OK with it, but I can think of better ways to spend an afternoon. When I was in my early twenties, working three retail jobs and struggling to pay rent on time, I reviewed porn for food money, so it will always have a special place in my loins. I mean, my heart. Nowadays, though, I view it much as I would a Jonas brother--pointless and kind of boring, but I can see why some people might like it.

Anyway, so I'm answering these questions about porn, and some of them are a doozy. Have you ever appeared in an adult film? (My answer: No.) Have you ever wanted to appear in an adult film? (My answer: who else is starring and do I get to wear cool shoes and would it be Highlander themed and can I be Methos?) Would you ever watch an adult film in 3D? (My answer: who would?)

The questions lasted about an hour, and after that, I took my credits and ran far, far away. Probably not unlike the people in the porn films I'd just surveyed.

One of the unfortunate side effects of having viewed a bunch of sexually deviant material, though, is that Amazon has a tendency to "recommend" things based on your keywords. Which is why, when I was trying to order a pasta machine attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer yesterday, I kept getting redirected to . . . other attachments, attachments I will not link you to because I like you too much.

And no, I'm not trying to be evasive. I'm trying to keep it clean. Really, I am. And if I could think of a euphemism for a Kitchenaid attachment that allows a person to fuck herself with a STAND MIXER, I would use it. But alas, I don't. I attribute this mostly to the fact that in the three years I've had my stand mixer, I've never once had the urge to strap on a cock, wriggle out of my panties, and straddle the damn thing.

I know, I know. I'M USING IT WRONG.

But as I was looking at that other attachment, I couldn't help but wonder, who would spend that much money on a mixer they're only going to use for sex? I mean, I felt guilty for months after I bought mine, because I only bought it because I was too lazy to knead my own dough.

(I realized later that's probably why the people with the other attachment bought theirs, too.)

And how do you explain a standing mixer in your bedroom, anyway? It's not like you can pretend it's a flashlight or maybe a back massager like some other toys.

The second thing that popped into my head was, what if the people with the other attachments don't just use their stand mixer for sex? And it's times like these I wish I didn't have an overactive imagination, because that's when my mind became overrun with images of birthday cakes gone wrong and the possible secret ingredient of Grandma's "special" mashed potatoes...

Right now, all you normal people out there are shielding your children from my website and hurrying to click the "unfollow" button at the top of your screens. And hey, I don't blame you. But rest assured you can count your blessings on one thing:

At least I didn't tell you about the guy and the horse.

The Idea Store

Earlier this afternoon, I asked a friend of mine, "Where do your ideas come from?"

"I buy them from an ad in the back of Rolling Stone," she told me. "I dunno. All over."

This morning I pulled up a book I finished in September to get it ready for an edit the size of a rewrite. I don't know how to explain what it feels like to read your own work except to say that it's different than reading someone else's work. The flaws are more pronounced, the characters more familiar. Sometimes I run across things I didn't even know I knew, and I'm amazed I even knew it to begin with.

Growing up, I was never one of those people who had to ask, what should I write about?  What should I draw? What should I play? What should I wear? I had to ask those things a lot. (I still do.) But I always had an idea for something to write, even if I didn't know how to execute it properly at the time.

So how do you open your own Idea Store?  I have no idea clue. But here are a few rules that have helped me over the years.

Give up on your muse.

I hate to break it to you, but muses? They don't exist. What does exist is hard work. If you really want to be a font of ideas, stop waiting on them to find you and start looking for them. Everywhere.

Don't panic.

Every now and then, the thought occurs to me that I might never have a good idea ever again and will somehow die of writer's block. 

(I know it's not really possible to die of writer's block, but sometimes it feels like it is, and that's all that matters.)

The cure for this is simple: step away from the computer and do something fun. Play mini-golf. Do the dishes by hand. Read a book. Take a nap. Play with the kids/dog/cat. Acknowledge a loved one with more than an annoyed grunt. By the time you're done relaxing, you'll most likely have had an idea. Crisis averted. It's only when you let yourself go into panic mode that all hell breaks loose.

Stop window shopping.

Keep a notebook and pen with you everywhere you go, and jot down ideas as they come to you. If you lollygag around waiting for validation, probably you're going to forget the idea you were ambivalent about in the first place. It's better to write it down now and analyze it later.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Challenge yourself every day to craft a story in your head about a song, a painting, a picture or a building. Whether you put it on paper is up to you.

Don't expect every idea to be a good one.

Most of the ideas I have are crap, and I mean that in a Battleship-Earth-meets-Dumb-and-Dumberer kind of way. You could bottle some of my ideas and fertilize your farm for years to come, that's how crap they are. But I jot them down anyway. You wouldn't believe how many good ideas come to us dressed in a suit of poo.


Take two been-there-done-that ideas, shake them up, and see what happens.

Those are just my tried-and-true favorites, and as always, your mileage may vary. So how about you? How do you go about generating ideas?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Three Months

Since September, little Nathan Fillion has gone from this:

To this:

He's spoiled rotten and absolutely fearless. I can't wait to see what he gets into next.

(Note: Ignore the date on the photo. My camera hasn't worked well since that time I dropped it in the toilet.)

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Since my car blew up on Wednesday, I’ve been at the mercy of my mother in terms of transportation and therefore my sanity. I should also point out that it’s mandatory when referencing my mother to italicize it like that, otherwise you won’t understand the dynamic between us. Then again, you’re reading my blog, so maybe you will. Regardless, the moniker only fits if you say it like there’s another word supposed to come after it, so mother will have to do.

Just in case you should get the idea, my mother is not entirely a bad person. She’s just not the kind of person who should ever have been allowed to have kids, or for that matter, be near them on a regular basis. I remember once my psychiatrist asked me, “Do you know if there is any mental illness in your family?” And then I told him about the time my mother threatened to set the floor on fire because I wouldn’t help her move the TV to the middle of the living room because THERE IS NO PLUG THERE AND IT WILL NOT WORK WITHOUT A PLUG, and how she freaked out when I told her and then accused me of trying to get her nice and confused so I could hide her peanut butter.

I got my prescription doubled that day.

Anyway, my daily routine begins at 4:30 a.m., that way I can get a couple of hours of writing and downtime under my belt before my first class. Or as other people see it, I like to sit around and do nothing for a while. You say tomato, I say tomahto. Either way, having a couple of hours to laze around in the morning is the key to my mental health. Without it, I’m a strung-out ball of nerves, jittering around on the verge of tears all the time because THE SKY IS FALLING AND SO ARE MY PANTS.

So between Wednesday and Friday, I tried to mentally prepare myself not only for an interruption in my beloved routine, the one that keeps me sane, but also in having to deal with my mother, the one who drives me crazy, in the wee hours of the morning.

But how do you prepare for a layover in hell?

From the moment she appeared in my doorway to the time I left her car, I had learned to second-guess every decision I'd made that morning, from what I was wearing to why I was writing to my major and whether or not I should have named my cat Rebecca.

"Are you ready? Why aren't you ready? Take your time but hurry up? Have you had breakfast? Let me make you something. You're not going to spend six dollars for a coffee, that's ridiculous. I won't let you waste money like that. Wait, you're not really going to wear that, are you? And you need a coat. Where is your coat? You should really have the weather on right now so you can plan ahead. Are you going to dry your hair? Where's your hair dryer? You know, you should really keep it in your bedroom; an office is no place to dry your hair. Oh, aren't you cute? She's cute, isn't she? She just looks like a Rebecca, don't you think? Hello, Rebecca! Come here, Rebecca!"

"HER NAME IS DANA!" I shouted, and it just deteriorated from there.

By the time I ambled into my psychology class, I was a good twenty minutes late, my hair was wet, and I'm pretty sure I smelled like the leftover turkey sammich from last week she forgot she had in her glove box. Fortunately, rotten turkey smells a lot like regurgitated gin when mixed with my perfume, so I fit in with all the other hooligans coming to class straight from waking up in their own vomit.

"Rough night?" the guy I'd sat down beside asked me as we were filing out of class.

"Rough morning," I said.

"I hear you," he said. "Can those Sigmas throw a party or what? It was like, suh-weet."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Tale of the Dancing Chicken

For the past two months, I've been at war with Verizon Wireless over my cell phone bill, after one of their representatives changed my plan and crammed my account with a bunch of shit I neither wanted nor needed, just so he could make his monthly sales quota.  Their official stance on the situation is the verbal equivalent of the facial expression a constipated moron makes in an airport bathroom, while trying to pass the kilo of smack his dealer convinced him to eat for breakfast.  It's the look that says, "Dude, where's my official Verizon Wireless flagpole? Oh wait, it's stuck up my ass. THANK YOU FOR HOLDING WHILE I RESEARCHED THAT FOR YOU."

To be completely honest, I gave up ever reaching a satisfactory resolution with Verizon Wireless weeks ago, right around the time I called the representative who made the adjustments to my account, only to have him pretend to be his own voicemail recording halfway through my introduction.  So now I'm in it purely for the catharsis of getting to scream at someone about everything and nothing at the same time. I figure if they're going to charge me $800 to get out of my contract, I had might as well slap a caduceus on it and call it a psychiatric co-pay.

Probably you think that's horrible of me, and I can't say that I disagree with you. But if you think about it, I worked in private label retail collections for FIVE YEARS, so this is just karma paying me my dues.  Plus, now all those representatives know what it's like to deal with an angry paranoid schizophrenic customer. Talk about win/win.

Anyway, our last "session" resulted in me "accidentally" breaking the display on my cell phone, the one I just bought in August, the one they were insisting I had insurance on until I actually tried to use it, in which case, whoops, we took that off last time, ma'am, but if you would like to add a web package to your plan, we'll be happy to send you a car window cling and a year's supply of government cheese.

So there I was, earlier this afternoon, stranded at a Wal-Mart thirty miles from home because my car had overheated, with nothing but a dead cell phone and the molten bitter ire I felt for its network, when who should walk by but a dancing chicken holding a CA$H 4 GOLD! sign.

"Excuse me," I said to the chicken. "Do you know where I can find a payphone?"

The chicken looked at me for a long while. "A what?"

"A payphone," I said. "I need to make a call."

Another look of confusion from the chicken.  "What is that?"

"What is what?"

"A payphone?" the chicken asked. "What is that?"

"It's...a payphone," I said to him. I didn't know how else to explain it. "You put money in it and it calls out."

"Huh," he said. "I ain't never seen one of those.  Sounds cool, though.  Maybe they have one in electronics."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pull the Lever, Turn the Crank

For the most part, my family is ultra-conservative, not in the sense that they don't drink or smoke or have premarital sex or do drugs, but in the sense that they don't talk about doing those things in an attempt to look better than everyone else. And by everyone else, I mean Democrats.

I know I've told the story of how my grandmother reacted when I came home from school in fourth grade and told her I'd voted for Ross Perot in the school election, but since Blogger wants me to upload all one-thousand-five-hundred-and-twenty-three of my archived posts one-by-one into its system--thus proving BLOGGER IS A COMMUNIST--I guess I'll go ahead and tell it again:

This one time, in fourth grade, I voted for Ross Perot in the school election, and my grandmother had a nervous breakdown.

Wow, that was kind of anti-climactic.  THANKS A LOT, BLOGGER.

I failed as a granddaughter twice on that day: first, by voting, and second, by voting INDEPENDENT. To hear her tell it, Jesus wept tears of blood that day, as did George Bush, because didn't I know? INDEPENDENT is just DEMOCRAT spelled backwards! I can't adequately describe how this affected me growing up, but let's just say that if Jehovah's Witnesses were in cahoots with the mob, then Democrats were in cahoots with oh, I don't know, could it be...SATAN?

I think about her a lot this time of year, because no one brought the joy to political campaigning quite like my grandmother. I remember one year a DEMOCRAT tried to put a Clinton/Gore sign at the edge of her lawn, and she threatened to cut the blood out of him with a switch from the lilac bush. Probably she would have, too, if he hadn't taken her at her word, piled his heathen ass back into his Volvo, and peeled out of the driveway like he was on his third strike and had just overrun a sleeping meth addict.

Wait, make that a basket of really cute bassadoodles, because who counts meth addicts as people, anyway?


Before the 2000 elections--before anyone knew what a hanging chad was, before all the W's had been ripped off the White House computers--I had about as much interest in all things politics as I did all things goat farming. As in, none at all. Between the electoral college and my own cynicism, I had convinced myself voting didn't matter unless you were a middle-aged white guy who made more than $250,000 a year. And while I think it sucks donkey balls that we're still using what is essentially a child safety lock of an electoral process, I realized then that whether you're heard or not, the most important thing you can do is say something, even if the only thing to be said is, "I'm votin' for myself, 'cause y'all both be batshit crazy, dog."*

I know by now most of the polls are long closed, but the message is simple: I don't care who you vote(d) for, as long as you vote(d).

* Overheard this at the polls this morning.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Can you hear me now?

Monday Mayhem, special six-cats-with-diarrhea-I-am-too-tired-to-hold-my-head-up abridged edition:

1. What ticked you off last week while you were on your way somewhere?
I'm in one hellacious fight with Verizon Wireless right now that has devolved to the point where the dialogue between us could very well have been swiped from an old Looney Toon featuring Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd. Lately, it's become all too obvious to everyone involved that the absolute best case scenario is that everyone dies in an ACME explosion and we all end up playing harps whilst floating on clouds.

So last week, I'm trying to get everything squared away with that mess, and if you haven't tried to deal with Verizon ever before, let me tell you, it's like trepanning yourself with a spoon, only not as fun. I had Angela on one line saying I had to go to the store, and Brad on another line saying oh no, it had to be taken care of by customer service, but customer service had me on hold, and the guy from the FCC is sighing in my ear but I'm not about to let him go because LIKE SHIT am I going to let them get away with this again, when MY CELL PHONE RINGS and who is it?

No, really. WHO IS IT?

It's VERIZON WIRELESS, wanting to know if I'm interested in UPGRADING MY PLAN.

What came next was a string of profanities too crude to post, not because I'm ashamed, but because I'm pretty sure it would land me on the terrorist watch list.

Lesson learned: every time you tango with Verizon Wireless, THE TERRORISTS WIN.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Think and Type

I'm not normally a superstitious person, but ever since I was a little girl, I've been afraid to talk out loud about things I want, because if I did--if I said it out loud--then something would inevitably happen to keep me from getting it.

I think this has something to do with that time I told Santa I wanted a cow for Christmas, and instead we had roast beef, and every time my grandmother carved off a slice, my brother (who had been eavesdropping during the whole Santa thing), would go, "Moooooooooo."

And then you have to remember that we were very poor when I was growing up, and most of the money my mom got from my dad in terms of child support went to tuition so we could have a private school education, even though the education wasn't that great, and then Tabitha stole Adena's Maxie doll and blamed it on me, so of course we had to replace it, only we couldn't afford to replace it, so my mother made me take back my lone birthday present to exchange for the Maxie doll, even though everybody knew it was THAT BITCH TABITHA WHO STOLE IT, but no one would say anything, because she was a somebody because her parents had money, and OH MY GOD should I pay you for that therapy session now, or can my insurance settle up with you later, because really, I think I've had a breakthrough. Let's meet same time on Tuesday, only I get to be the therapist and you get to have the breakdown, OK?  OK!

But the gist is, I really loved my Wedding Day Midge, and the moment I said so, Tabitha ruined everything. So I guess in hindsight, I think that has A LOT TO DO WITH IT.

Even now that I'm older, it's still hard to get over that childhood fear that if I say something out loud, a SWAT team of boogeymen demonfolk--or, you know, TABITHA--will try their damnedest to grab it for themselves and piss it away, and then point and laugh because HOW FOOLISH WAS I TO HAVE WANTED IT IN THE FIRST PLACE, RIGHT?

You know, because that's what boogeymen demonfolk and people like Tabitha DO.

There are a few things I'm especially hesitant to discuss with others: faith, romance, and writing. I know at least a few of you were hoping 'cat shit' and 'my uterus' would be on that list, so I'm sorry to disappoint you. Pray hard! Maybe next year!

The writing thing is probably the biggest hot button in the world. Sometimes you can tap it and NOTHING HAPPENS.  And sometimes you can tap it and OH GOD WHY ARE YOU BEING SO MEAN TO ME?  I imagine this is even more confusing for those people to whom I talk about everything, all the time, because one minute I'll be like "LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THIS NEW BOOK I STARTED" and the next minute I'm all "YOU SNEEZED WHILE I WAS TELLING YOU ABOUT THE PLOT SO MUST REALLY HATE THE IDEA OMIGOD YOU DO HATE THE IDEA DON'T YOU I COMPLETELY SUCK WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT THIS MY GOD GET OVER IT ALREADY I QUIT I'M GOING TO GET A JOB AT BURGER KING DID YOU SEE THAT COMMERCIAL WHERE THE SOCK MONKEY GOT A TATTOO IS HE HOT OR WHAT MRROWR."

That last line, by the way, could totally double as my autobiography.

 After enough of those outbursts--which happen every Tuesday, more or less--most people either learn to ignore them and accept them as part of the lovable neuroses that make me unique, or stay out of my way because I'm fucking nuts, depending on whether they look at me and see a glass half full, or a glass half full of EEK! EEK! EEK! batshit insanity.

I think it's one of those self-preservation things you learn as you get older, because these kids I go to school with? They'd poke a sleeping bear with a sharp stick, just to ask it repeatedly what it's doing.

And then laugh when it mauled them.

This morning, I was searching for zen in my happy place,  when a kid from psychology class sidles up to me and asks, "What are you doing?"

"Typing," I tell him.

He takes a seat. "Homework?"




"Well, what is it?" He's looking over my shoulder now. "Is it dirty?"

"It's a book," I say. "I'm writing a book."

"Cool," he says.  Then he pauses for a moment. "So, is it dirty?"

I sigh. "Yes," I tell him. "It's dirty."

"Cool." Another pause. "Can I read it?"


"Why not?"

"Because it's not finished."

"When will it be finished?"

I sigh. "I don't know," I tell him. "Probably April."

"That's a long time," he says, letting out a low descending whistle.

"Books take a long time to write."

He's still looking at my laptop screen. "So you have to type out every... single... word..."



"So... how do you do it?"

"How do you do what?"

"How do you write a book?"

"Well, you have to have absolute silence."


"And then you have to think of an idea."

"OK. Idea. Got it."

"And then you write down what you're thinking about."

"Uh-huh," he says.  And we're left in silence for almost a minute. Then he says, "What are you doing now?"

"Right now?"


"I'm thinking of an idea."

"That's all?"


I start typing again.

"And now you're writing it down."

"You got it."

"Wow," he says.  "That's the most boring thing I've ever seen anyone do, ever."

"Yeah?" I said.  "Imagine what the person watching you feels like."

The kid is laughing at me now, because we're in psychology class and we're supposed to be learning stuff, but here I am typing up a blog entry on my Macbook about how he annoys the shit out of me with his constant pestering in the wee hours of the morning, and sldkw--SEE! HE'S STILL DOING IT!

I mock you with love, Bryan. I mock you with love.

ETA: Bryan just caught me at lunch and said, "DUDE, I just now got the part about you needing absolute silence to write a book! I talk too much, don't I?"


But in a good way!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Scarred for Life

This morning I woke up to a house full of cats all sick with the runs, and if that isn't the most disgusting sentence you've read today, I FEEL SORRY FOR YOU.

We went through this with the first litter last August, and it lasted for four months.  FOUR MONTHS.  which means if it goes on even half as long, it will go into next year.  I don't know about you, but I have just now managed to wrap my head around the fact that the days of T-shirts and shorts are OVER for 2010; I can't imagine the mental breakdown that's bound to come from trying to imagine the rest of the year covered in shit.

I'm actually quite surprised how adept I've become at containing situations like this before they escalate out of control, because at this time two years ago, I had one cat who used the toilet, and another who was so dainty with the litter box, she practically boxed up her own excrement and set it gently into a blue plastic bag, which was then expertly tied into the shape of a heart or similar.

And now I live in a cat locker room where everyone eats burritos and no one flushes.

Which is precisely what I'm going to tell the next person who rolls their eyes when I tell them I dropped almost five hundred dollars on two flushing litter boxes.

Anyway, so this morning I managed to get all of the older ones outside where they can't get sick, and the younger ones bathed and put in their condo where they can't get in the sick, and I'm thinking to myself that this is going really well, because the older cats are sticking to their self-cleaning boxes and the little ones are sticking to the puppy pads in the bathroom, with the only exception being the lone skid mark in the living room from where Fritz had tried to Preparation H his ass with the hardwood floors.

In the meantime, my jeans are falling off my hips, because I've lost a spot of weight since I bought them in August, and they were half a size too big then, so now they're really too big.  Like, add-a-belt-or-show-your-thong kind of big.  Except I'd already snapped on my rubber gloves and picked up a mop, so with a belt out of the question, the only thing left is to do is walk like John Wayne.

So there I am, purple Rubbermaid gloves to the elbows, pants riding low, walking like John Wayne with a bag of cat shit in one hand, a mop in the other, when it happens: my back spasms out, my knees turn inward, my pants fall to my ankles, and I look out of the picture window in front of where I'm standing.

And there, waiting for the school bus, is a chubby red-haired kid with his eyes wide and his mouth in an "oh" shape. He takes one look at me, drops his backpack, and takes off running down the street.

I don't think 'horrified' begins to cover it, for either of us.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

'you can never ever leave / without leaving a piece of youth'

For a period of about four months in 1996, time stood still and everything smelled like rain and wassail and root beer flavored lip gloss. That was the year I fell madly in love with a trombonist, the year my best friend betrayed me, the year I finished my first novel. Every year at this time, when the leaves change colors and the weather grows cold, I feel like I'm right back there, eating caramel apples and whispering about S-E-X, while Billy Corgan croons on in the background.

It's bittersweet.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Quiet Time

Believe it or not, my favorite time of day is just before dawn, when I have the courtyard outside the library all to myself, and an hour and a half to do whatever I please. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I lay my head down on the table and stay that way until the sun comes up. Regardless, it’s my time to do whatever I want to do, and that kind of freedom is worth its weight in gold.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Round and Round and Round We Go

My hometown has this unnerving obsession with circles. If you go downtown, you see them EVERYWHERE, sometimes three or four in a row, and all I can think of every time I swing around one is how Kingsport's obsession with circles is not unlike Angela's obsession with rosettes on season 3 of Project Runway. It's like the city itself is cocking its hip, going, "And these are my signature circles. I'm, like, SO INTO THEM RIGHT NOW."



Thursday, September 9, 2010

Are you an Approval Junkie?

Take this quiz and find out!

  1. You fall completely in love with a yellow faux-leather jacket at the mall. Not only is it your size, it's also on sale.  What do you do?

    1. call your best friend immediately and ask her what she thinks. If she likes it, you'll buy it.
    2. call your best friend immediately and ask her what she thinks. If she hates it, you'll buy it.
    3. call your best friend immediately and tell her about the new yellow faux-leather jacket you just bought.
  2. Your "dream agent" has declared young adult alien romances (like the one you've been working on for the past 2 years) dead in the water. With aliens out, he predicts were-kitteh mockumentaries will be the Next Big Thing. You:

    1. spend the next six months transforming your young adult alien romance into young adult were-kitteh mockumentary. He's a professional, after all, and you trust his opinion.
    2. scrap everything and spend the next six months using it as an example of how people like him are killing the publishing industry. He's a professional, after all. What does he know?
    3. shrug it off and keep on trucking. Good books never go out of style, and if he doesn't want it, someone else will.
  3. You hear through the grapevine that a girl you work with has been running you down behind your back. While some of the accusations are true (and others not so much), they're taken out of context to make her look good and you look bad. You:

    1. buy her coffee for a month in an attempt to change her opinion of you, and when that doesn't work, avoid her at all costs.
    2. remind her that two can play this game by outing her for being the talentless, two-faced hack you both know she is.
    3. accept that not everyone is going to like you and move on. If she's really as venomous as she seems, it's only a matter of time before others figure it out, too.
  4. You have an idea for a new project. But before you get started, you want to:

    1. run it by your mother, brother, sister, priest, therapist, critique partner, critique group, Facebook friends, twitter followers, blog subscribers, members of every mailing list you belong to, and so on, and so forth
    2. make sure it hasn't been popularized by someone else. Seriously, how embarrassing would that be?
    3. make a few notes, maybe even an outline or to do list, so you can get a feel of how to best execute it
  5. You catch yourself stretching the truth about your accomplishments:

    1. Sometimes
    2. Always
    3. Never

You're done!  Time to tally your answers!

If you scored:

Mostly As
Step away from the Kool Aid! When it comes to approval, you'll do just about anything to score your next fix. Too bad your obsessive-compulsive people-pleasing leaves you feeling even worse than before.

How to kick the habit: as Polonius once said, 'to thine own self be true.' Whenever you find yourself seeking approval from outside sources, take a mental health moment and ask yourself why. You may be surprised at the answer.

Mostly Bs
If apathy were a superpower, you'd have the world by the balls.  Or at least, that's what you want people to think. Truth is, you're as insecure and approval-addicted as everyone else, you're just too scared to admit it.

How to break the ice: confession is good for the soul, so cut the crap and fess up. Who knows? The more you give a damn about others, the more they may give a damn about you.

Mostly Cs
You're calm, cool, and collected...and maybe a little too well-adjusted.  Sure, you have the occasional bouts of self-doubt, but for the most part, you own your awesomeness.  Way to go, kiddo.

How to stay the course: keep your eyes on the prize. According to mental toughness guru Steve Siebold, “most middle-class performers - the average person - spend far too much time focused on their fears in an attempt to prepare for the worst. World-class performers develop a laser-like focus on their excruciatingly detailed, emotionally charged vision."

(Just like Payson Keeler!)

That's it!  How'd you do?


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Tap and the Hum

Only days before my old computer bit the dust, I invested in an electric typewriter. (This isn't it, but it's close.) Now whenever I'm stuck, I flick it on and let it do its work. The sound it makes is great for soothing away frustration.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Weekend Video: Stephen King on the magic moment

This is one of my favorite bits of writing advice ever, especially at the end! Enjoy!

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Aspiring Author’s Fan-Fiction Survival Guide

Last week, when I spent the majority of my time in bed going back and forth between watching Buffy reruns on Logo and throwing up in the bathroom, I went searching for an old fan-fiction story I’d started reading in 1999 and hadn’t ever finished.

And I found it! Thanks, Google!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as I remembered. (Boo.)

But it was still pretty good.

There are a lot of writers who don’t like fan-fiction because they say it encroaches upon the original writers’ rights, and also because it’s stupid. Ironically, these same people are usually the ones who get paid to write movie and TV tie-in books, even though they sometimes can’t even spell the characters’ names properly. Which, if you ask me, is the same thing as fan-fiction, only not as well-written and often way too expensive.

(Yes, Paul, even after eleven years, I am still bitter about that $8.00 book by the person who spelled ‘Drusilla’ with a C.)

I, on the other hand, am not ashamed to admit that I spent a LOT of my time writing fan-fiction when I was younger, because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have half the writing know-how I have now.

It’s true.

Which is why I think fan-fiction can be really great as a learning exercise. Because even though Xander and Willow never really got together, and the show itself devolved into a parody of itself from season four onward, everything was OK in the Buffyverse because I could just ignore all the other crap and write it the way I saw it.

The way I wanted it to be.

The way it should have been.

Until, you know, the writers got it wrong.

Which, now that I think about it, is still the reason I write today–because something isn’t the way it should be, and I feel like I have to correct it to make the world right again.

Which sounds more egotistical than it really is, I think. But whatever.

There are some pitfalls fan-fiction authors fall into that can be easily avoided, if you know where to look. So from one former fan-fiction writer to another, here’s a list of survival tips I’ve compiled for aspiring authors who write fan-fiction:


*  Use a pseudonym

If you’re at all squiggy about someone (like a potential agent, or your mom, for example) finding your fan-fiction online, here’s an easy solution: don’t put your name on it. Give yourself a handle like HighlanderFan302 and be done with it. No one will ever know unless you tell them.

* Work on the mechanics of writing

Just because you’re using someone else’s characters doesn’t mean you can’t still learn something about writing. Pay attention to your grammar and spelling, pacing, story structure. Practice plotting. Perfect your pitch. These are things you’ll need later, when you start writing your own, original stories. And the more you do them, the better you’ll become.

* Take chances

Variety is the spice of life. So every now and then, do something you think is stupid and would never work. Write a script. Write a story using only one-syllable words. Create an odd pairing, or write a story in second-person present tense point of view. Without having to worry about characters or setting, you can focus on being as experimental as you like, without worrying about whether or not it works.

And experimentation? Yeah, it’s a good thing.

* Beware of toxic people

Here’s a story for you. I once met a girl who was serious about writing. I know that she was serious about writing because she told me: “My name is Jenah and I’m SERIOUS about writing.” She also told me she liked my stories, and that if I worked really hard, I could be as good as she was.

Months passed and Jenah and I kept talking. I learned she had an agent (but she wouldn’t say who) and that she belonged to a super-secret top-notch critique group (but she wouldn’t say where) and had won a bunch of awards (but would never say which ones).

One day I asked if I could bounce an idea off of her and when I did, she told me it sucked.

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” she said, “but it’s not very good. And I wouldn’t say that unless I cared.”

I scrapped the idea and a week later, she put her version of it up at her website.

“There are no new ideas,” she said when I confronted her about it, “just new twists. Your idea inspired me. You should be proud.”

Then she told everyone I was a freak who thought everyone was stealing her work. I never talked to her after that.

Later I found out she had been giving me such a hard time because she didn’t think it was fair that I was in my twenties and she was in her forties, and we were both in the same place, writing-wise.

I KNOW. It didn’t make sense to me, either. But that’s beside the point. The point is, she was mean because she was jealous. Or maybe she was mean because she was mean. But there was some jealousy in there, too.

So if your friend or critique partner or beta reader is always trying to find something they don’t like about you or about your work, or if they’re always telling you you’re wrong and that your ideas are stupid, cut them loose and move on.

For what it’s worth, I later met someone who was serious about writing, and unlike Jenah, this person was interested in doing her best, not in being the best. That person, by the way, is Victoria, and if you haven’t figured it out by now, she is AWESOME.

* Finish what you start

This one is important for two reasons:

(a) starting a story and not finishing it is a mean thing to do. Why? Because someone might want to read it, that’s why. And that’s hard to do if you never finish it. I ran across an abandoned story in 2006, when I was recuperating after having had a miscarriage, and let me tell you, I’m still annoyed by it.

(b) starting a novel is easy, but finishing one is hard. So if you have dozens of half-finished fan-fiction stories on your hard drive, how many half-finished novels do you think you’re going to have? Finishing the stories you start, no matter how stupid or badly written they are, is a good habit to have.


* Copy someone’s idea–or worse! Their STORY!

That’s called plagiarism, and not only is it stealing, it’s completely fruitless. Don’t do it!

* Be a review whore

Writing a book is hard work, and for a lot of people, it’s solitary work. And if you’re trying to get your book published, it can also be thankless, frustrating work. Sure, everyone likes a good old-fashioned pat on the back every now and then. But the reality is, most of the feedback you’re going to get is constructive criticism, which is just a nice way of saying there’s something wrong with your story.

Something you have to fix.

Which can get old. Fast.

Especially if you’re only writing so people can tell you how good you are at something.

So while reviews can be a nice ego-booster every now and then, it’s probably not a good idea to get too invested in them. Otherwise you’re just letting other people (your reviewers) determine how you feel about yourself and your writing. And that ever ends well.

And last, but not least, you should NEVER…

* Write fan-fiction–and ONLY fan-fiction

Repeat after me: you cannot publish fan-fiction.

(OK, so technically, you can, if it’s public domain. Like if the author’s been dead for a hundred years, technically you can use those themes in your novel. Which is why there are a gazillion Pride & Prejudice sequels out there. Not that I’m complaining.)

But for most people–like those of you who write Supernatural slash, ahem–that kind of thing will get you sued.

So if you’re serious about wanting a writing career, pouring all your energy into fan-fiction is not a good idea, no matter how hot Dean Winchester is without his shirt on.


What was I saying? Oh, right. It’s your time–use it wisely.

Like maybe by replaying that video, for example.


OK, that’s it for me. Tomorrow I have a follow-up appointment with my doctor about my back and/or hip, and then I’m back in the gym on Saturday for ballet class. Keep your fingers crossed!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Frabbits Not Included


Last year’s hair was the Suri Cruise. This year’s hair is the Justin Bieber. Next year, I’ll probably go the Sinead O’Connor route, except with a rat tail.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Herd of Browncoats

"We got outflanked by the Independent squad, and we're never gonna make it back to our platoon.  We need to resort to cannibalism."

"We got outflanked by the Independent squad, and we’re never gonna make it back to our platoon. We need to resort to cannibalism."



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