Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Drop It Like It's Hot



1. I totally meant to post a cheery little Merry Christmas message here on December 25th, BUT I got a little distracted by this.

2. That's right, my sister and I went to see Sherlock Holmes on Christmas Day.

3. I've been actively salivating ... er ... looking forward to this since I saw the first trailer in August.

4. It was well-worth the months of anticipation. Downey and Law are Holmes and Watson and the script is a masterful blend of humor, intrigue, complicated relationships, action, and Holmes' trademark brilliance. The new aspects brought to the two characters by director Guy Ritchie served to breathe new life into a well-loved classic. When the movie ended, I was more than willing to sit for another two hours and watch it again.

5. I didn't.

6. But only because I knew the next show was sold out.

7. The other day, the Scientist had a conversation with me that went like this:

Me: *responding to some sort of amazing trick the Scientist did with his new Nerf gun* Hey! That's really cool!

Scientist: Mom. *shakes head with pity* Please don't. You aren't hip anymore. You need to accept it and move on.

Me: *gives spawn the Beady Eye* Not hip?

Scientist: Totally not.

Me: Really? Have you ever dropped it like it's hot? No? Well, come back to me when you have and then we'll talk.

8. I bet he tells his friends I'm crazy to cut short the inevitable speculation when they come for a visit.

9. Tonight, we spent an hour at Chuck E. Cheese, that bastion of noise and chaos.

10. While we were there, I saw an EMO EIGHT YEAR OLD.

11. I do not jest.

12. He had the skinny girl's jeans, at least a two sizes too small, that only covered half of his captain's quarters. His shirt was also two sizes two small and he had the whole emo hair thing going on (All the better to do a hair-flip, Mom!).

13. I truly believe in self-expression and will allow my children to choose their clothes, hair style, piercings etc. as long as they don't look like they're part of a Vegas show. Yanno, the kind where singles are the only currency available.

14. But I don't get an 8 year old emo.

15. Just don't.

16. Either he's supremely messed up or supremely confident in who he is.

17. I'm rooting for confident.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ninjas, Emo Edward, & a California Stop (Or Why My Cop Friend Can't Pull Me Over)



1. We have our very own Christmas Ninja.

2. Her name is Spastic Kitten and the FDA has yet to approve a medication that can fix what's wrong with her.

3. Yesterday, I went with my sister (who is visiting from Arizona for the week of Christmas!), Paul, his wife Kelly, Myra, and her husband Ethan to see New Moon.

4. I was the only girl in the group who hadn't planned on seeing the movie when it came out.

5. It was better than the first movie.

6. Which wasn't hard to do since the first movie was le crap.

7. There were parts I enjoyed and all of those involved a certain werewolf. The CG was cool and Taylor Lautner's acting made up for K-Stew's total inability to emote. The two of them had chemistry on screen (through no fault of K-Stew, I can assure you) and that was nice. Plus Billy Burke's acting is always a treat. (He plays Bella's father.)

8. What wasn't as nice?

9. Emo Edward.

10. EMO. Edward.

11. Without a shirt.

12. Which, it turns out, is NOT his best look. (I can sum it up in two words: misshapen nippleage. Once seen, it can't be unseen. I may need therapy.)

13. Add a burgundy robe over shirtless Emo Edward and he looked like a young Hugh Hefner.

14. However, Paul had his gun (He has to be armed everywhere he goes. Part of the job.), and I felt reasonably entertained with the notion that any rabid Emo Edward fans could be dispatched with ease.

15. Plus, the gun isn't registered to me and I'm really good at looking innocent when the other option is spending life behind bars.

16. Speaking of Paul's status as a cop, he tried to pull me over after the movie.

17. Yes, he did.

18. Not because I was speeding. (Though he did make a ridiculous claim about me making a "California stop" at a red light while I was turning right. Totally bogus because everyone knows you can't afford to sit on your booty when there's a stream of oncoming traffic about to ruin your chances for a quick exit.)

19. He followed me, flashing his lights (which I ignored) and apparently even tried to call me (my phone was still on silent from the theater) because he wanted to give us our Christmas presents.

20. He caught up to me at the next red light where, since I wasn't trying to turn right in front of oncoming traffic, I was fully and completely stopped.

21. He pulled up beside me, got out of the car, and walked up to the window, already yelling.

22. I can only imagine what the cars behind me thought.

23. I warned Paul if he ever tried to pull me over I wouldn't stop.

24. I wasn't bluffing.

25. Until tomorrow, peeps!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Commercial Fiction: One Writer's (Probably Intelligent) Rant



Today, I read something that made me mad. I won't link to it because I refuse to drive more traffic to this person's site, but in a nutshell, this writer stated that agents and publishers are choking off the existence of literary fiction by forcing the masses to only read commercial fiction which, by this writer's definition, is "low-brow and unintelligent." The writer speculated on the lack of talent, work ethic, and intelligence in those writers who would write commercial fiction and stated they must be writing it because they wanted publication enough to suck up to what publishers wanted.

As a writer of commercial fiction, this offends me deeply. Here's why.

1. The writer makes a big fat assumption that I write commercial fiction because I'm not smart enough to write something else. I despise sweeping statements that classify an entire group of people as if there aren't nuances to everything. Frankly, if someone is too elitist or ignorant to realize that there are individual people with individual choices behind every commercial manuscript published, I'm not ready to give credence to anything they say.

More to the point, I write commercial fiction because it's what I love to read. I'm intelligent, educated, well-read, experienced, have a firm grasp of the English language and many of its subtleties, understand the craft of writing, have mastered much of the art of story-telling, know how to weave symbolism into the thematic fabric of my work, and can plumb the depths of the human condition with one finely crafted sentence. I could write anything I want to and I do. I write commercial fiction. Not because I'm unable to write something else. Because I love it.

2. This writer's assertion that her manuscript hasn't been published because agents and editors refuse to allow "real" fiction to fall into the hands of the adoring public smacks of both sour grapes and a stubborn refusal to take her rejections like a big girl and move on. We've all written something that won't sell (With, perhaps, the exception of Stephenie Meyer.). We've all been told "no." Most of us will hear the word "no" far more often throughout our career than we'll ever hear "yes." Does that mean agents and editors have banded together to refuse our masterpiece a space on the hallowed shelves of Barnes & Nobles because we're too intelligent for the masses to comprehend?

No.

It means write something else. And then something else. And something else again until you write something that will sell. It's called paying your dues. Practicing your craft. Hitting your stride. Finding your niche. Getting lucky with the market.

If a writer thinks she should be entitled to bypass this because her manuscript is important enough to be called literary fiction, she needs to wean herself off the Entitlement Wagon and join the real world. No one owes you a publishing contract simply because you typed "The End." I don't care what genre you write.

3. Which brings me to what really bothered me: the assumption that literary fiction is somehow more important than every other genre out there. This is elitist snobbery at its worst. It's like saying classical is the only true music out there and everything else is a red-headed step-child crowding the airwaves and filling up the concert venues and night clubs because the masses are too stupid to realize better music is out there. I can't get behind anyone who believes one form of artistry takes more thought, more work, or more craft than another. Or that one genre is more important than another.

Different genres exist because tastes differ. That's something to celebrate. I enjoy bypassing rows and rows of genres I don't care to read on my way to the rows and rows of genres I love. Why? Because other shoppers are crowding the rows I ignore, discovering new authors or buying from those they already love and that's a good thing.

A good thing.

It's good that smart, talented, artistic writers like Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Laura Lippman, Maggie Stiefvater, J.K. Rowling, Dean Koontz, Jeaniene Frost, Lillith Saintcrow, Julia Quinn, Nancy Werlin, Lisa Mantchev and a host of others buckled down, worked like ditch-diggers, and wrote what they loved.

And I must make it clear that I'm not taking aim at literary fiction or those who love to write it. I'm responding to one writer's attitude only. I think lit fic has just as much place on a bookshelf as manga or romance or thrillers or YA and I believe all authors deserve respect for pouring themselves into their craft.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to crafting my own piece of commercial fiction in which themes of abandonment, choice vs. nature, and what must be sacrificed for the greater good go hand in hand with fainting goats and stealing a flock of chickens.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Anniversary



Yesterday was my 15th wedding anniversary. Clint had to read The Night Before Christmas on stage at the Grand Ole Opry before the Radio City Rockettes performed so we decided that would be the perfect anniversary date. A friend offered to watch the boys (and ended up voluntarily cleaning our kitchen which was a sacrifice of the above and beyond variety!) and off we went.

We entered through the backstage door (the one marked Artist Entrance) and hung out backstage for a bit until the stage manager escorted me to my seat to wait for Clint's reading. I sat for a bit, noticed it was a mostly sold-out venue, and then the announcer read Clint's bio and he came out on stage.

He sat in an old-fashioned wing-back chair in front of a mic, opened the book, looked up and said "I'm going to read The Night Before Christmas. But before I get started ..."

And I knew he was about to pull a fast one.

He continued "My wife is somewhere in this crowd. C.J., where are you?"

I sort of waved my hand and they put a spotlight on me. Heads turned from all directions to stare.

Then he said "Fifteen years ago today, I was married to my lovely bride. I'm so blessed to have her as my wife. I love her. She's my soul mate. I hope we have thousands more years together."

And the whole crowd (me included) went "awwww!" Then they clapped and he continued on with his reading. I was blushing. First time in ... well, I don't actually remember the last time I blushed.

After he sat down with me (and those around us congratulated us on our anniversary...except for the one guy who complained Clint had now raised the bar impossibly high for the other husbands in the crowd), I kissed him and told him he was good present-wise for the next five years. It's not every girl who gets honored from the Grand Ole Opry stage in front of a thousand people.

He's definitely a keeper!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday. That Pretty Much Says It All



1. I'm finished with December's query workshop now.

2. The next one will begin mid-January.

3. Several clients have requested I do a synopsis workshop as well.

4. I think we all know how I feel about writing a synopsis.



5. However, the truth is I can write a good, 5 page synopsis in less than an hour.

6. I'm just not sure how I do it.

7. I need to sit down and figure out my method, do a little research, and put together some lessons.

8. Critiquing five pages of synopsis will be a LOT more time-consuming than critiquing a one page query so the price for that workshop will have to reflect that.

9. A conversation I had two nights ago with Daredevil:

Daredevil: *creeps down the stairs after bedtime and tries to sneak past me while I'm writing*

Me: What are you doing?

Daredevil: Getting a snack.

Me: A snack? After all the dinner you ate tonight?

Daredevil: Dinner? What dinner?

Me: What do you mean "what dinner"? The dinner you inhaled earlier.

Daredevil: I don't know what you mean.

Me: Barbecued chicken, carrots sticks, garlic bread. Remember? You cleaned your plate and had extra chicken.

Daredevil: *pauses to think and then shrugs* Sorry. Doesn't ring a bell.

And THAT is why I work extra hours, folks. I'm raising mini-vacuum cleaners who routinely clean out my pantry with no memory of having done so.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Truth About Raising Boys



1. People will say things like "You live in a zoo." This is totally untrue. A zoo has paid staff to clean up the messes, people willing to give you popcorn and cotton candy, and, most importantly, cages that actually keep the dangerous animals where they belong. YOUR life is a safari. Think of it as a wild, dangerous adventure through mostly uncharted, crocodile-infested waters with breath-taking rapids, incredible scenery, and zero bug-repellent.

And poo jokes. Lots of poo jokes.

2. People will say raising boys is easier than raising girls. This is also untrue. It's not that boys are harder, it's that they are different. Comparing the two is like comparing downhill skiing with riding a sled coated in Crisco down the sheet of ice currently adorning your roof. Both are a wild thrill but only one has ALMOST CERTAIN DEATH as a viable side-effect. Boys' brains are flooded with testosterone before birth. This short-circuits every thought-pattern that doesn't end with them trying to achieve world domination through death. Theirs or someone else's. They aren't particularly picky.

3. People will say boys aren't nearly as emotional as girls. This is nonsense spouted by those who don't understand how to recognize emotion in boys. Girls get upset and scream, cry, pull out someone's hair, or go sulk in their room with their cell phone. Boys get upset and shoot their brother in the face with a Nerf shotgun, explode a can of leftover paint on the neighbor's driveway, and do their best to burn down everything in a seven-block radius. If you're pregnant with a boy, go ahead and add riot gear to your baby shower registry. And liability insurance. And a lifetime supply of chocolate.

4. People will say unenlightened things like "Why do you have a lock on the OUTSIDE of your son's bedroom door" or "Who hides their chef knives behind the bags of frozen peas in the freezer?" These people do not understand that you are doing what you must for the good of society. And so you don't exceed your daily ration of Prozac.

5. People will balk at the noise level in your house and ask you how you can possibly tune out something that sounds like a herd of moose challenged a rabid parrot and a hormonally-challenged pack of hyenas to the war of the century. They don't realize that your noise-tolerance has grown along with your children as an act of self-defense. You are now skilled in recognizing the "I'm bleeding and probably broke fifteen bones" scream from the "You opened the bathroom door while I was peeing and now you must die" scream. It's all in the nuances.

6. People will remark on your children's behavior while you are out in public. If your boys have been replaced by aliens and are acting like perfect gentlemen, people will think you are Mother of the Year. It's okay to accept these accolades under false pretenses. It won't be long before the aliens grow tired of risking life and limb and find another host. When your non-alien infested boys let loose in a grocery store, burping the alphabet while trying to pop a wheelie with a cart full of soup cans all while remarking at top volume that the man in front of you MUST be pregnant, you are left with three options. A) Run. B) Pray a hole opens up and swallows you and when it doesn't, run. C) Have in place a Family Emergency Plan For When Boys Are Boys In Public (FEPFWBABIP for short). This is easy to implement. You simply give the agreed-upon cue (a blast from an air-horn usually does the trick) and the boys scatter, meeting up at the car in five minutes. Those precious five minutes are enough for you to deny you've ever given birth to a boy to every onlooker on the premises. To really sell it, buy something pink. Anything pink.

7. People will think you're joking when you say you wear a hazmet suit to clean your boys' rooms. Of course you were joking. You don't wear a hazmet suit to clean your boys' rooms. You wear two. You know this is a necessity of life since while boys understand a myriad of fascinating, wonderful things like architecture, skateboarding, and the quantum physics needed to force their younger brother into the hamper, they don't understand clean. They use dirty socks as bookmarks. They hide half-eaten snacks under their mattress. They load the blades of their ceiling fan with legos and wait for you to turn it on for the day's entertainment. You take your life in your hands every time you cross through the doorway into their bedroom.

8. People who understand items 1-7 will mistakenly offer you their sympathy when they hear you have a household full of boys. This sympathy is misplaced. Yes, boys are loud. Yes, they get creative with glue sticks, popcorn, and the family dog. Yes, they once held a Pee For Distance contest in the middle of the cul de sac while every neighbor was out on their front porch. But you wouldn't trade one second of your adventure because boys are also enthusiastic, affectionate, smart, funny, talented, and endlessly entertaining.

Even when what they're doing will probably lead to someone's imminent demise.

Monday, December 7, 2009

I Know Someone On The Naughty List



1. This is Tinks the Terror and Spastic Kitten's first Christmas with us.

2. As of now, the score is Kitten Power - 3, Glass Ornaments - 0.

3. Also, we can't put wrapped presents out because Spastic Kitten has some sort of holly-jolly paper deficiency in her diet.

4. She is soooo on Santa's Naughty List.

5. My birthday is two weeks to the day after Christmas.

6. Starshine's birthday is five days after mine.

7. He's finished his monologues on what he'd like to get for Christmas and has moved on to birthday.

8. Today the discussion went like this:

Starshine: Hey Dad! Know what I want for my birthday?

Clint: What?

Starshine: Barbie dolls!

Clint: WHAT? Really? Well...if that's what you want.

Starshine: Yup! It is. Oh, and also? I'll need some M80s.

9. He won't be getting either.

10. No matter how much fun his father thinks that would be.

11. With my luck, I'd end up with Barbie parts clogging a toilet or spontaneously combusting beauty queens setting my broiler on fire.

12. If they could do both of the above to me with nothing more than Hot Wheels and Legos, doll parts and firecrackers would probably be enough to level the entire house.

13. I'm in the middle of December's query workshop--the part where I start reading through and personally critiquing queries.

14. This part of the course always makes me wish I were a literary agent because I always see so many really cool projects I'd love to request.

15. CASTING STONES is coming along nicely.

16. I'm having so much fun writing it and I really think the dark layers and complexity play nicely with the slapstick-on-a-page humor. It's like I Love Lucy meets Buffy The Vampire Slayer. With some barnyard animals thrown in for good measure.

17. I've had the flu for almost a week now. It just won't go away. I'm not flat on my back anymore, thank God, but I can't seem to kick it completely.

18. Which is highly inconvenient because my life isn't built for taking a break.

19. And yes, Tricia, if I'm still sick I'll go to the doctor.

20. I can fit that in on Friday.

21. You can hit me when you see me on Sunday.

22. It's nice to have friends who nag you because they love you, isn't it?

23. I want to send my agent a Christmas gift but don't want to send something she'd hate.

24. I make pumpkin bread for all my neighbors and thought, wouldn't it be nice to send her some too?

25. Now I have to figure out if I can afford to ship pumpkin bread to NYC and have it arrive fresh and in one piece.

26. I'll let you know how that goes.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rules? We Don't Need No Stinking Rules!

There is much discussion within the writing community about rules. Rules for how to plot a book before you write. Rules for how to write--what should go where and when, what you can and can't get away with, and for Pete's sake, GRAMMAR people!--and rules for what to do with your writing when you're finished. Rules for how to approach an agent or editor.

It's enough to make a girl go a little crazy.

Don't get me wrong. Some rules are necessary. Like the one that says stalking a literary agent into a restroom and handing your manuscript under the stall door is TABOO. That's a good rule.

And the rules of the craft, the basic understanding of how to write a compelling sentence, an excellent paragraph, a knock-em-dead chapter, and work it all into a HOLY COW good book are necessary.

To a point.

But in every writer's life there comes a moment when you have to throw out some rules and start experimenting. It's how you gain a Voice that sets you apart from others. It's what defines your style.

When does that moment come? I don't know. I'm sure it's different for every writer, just like how every writer chooses to approach writing a book is different. Maybe you have to be good enough within the "rules" to be able to break some by choice. Maybe you have to practice long enough to start feeling constrained by the old school ideas.

I'm not here to tell you what rules YOU should break. (Though I definitely wouldn't hand my manuscript to an agent under a bathroom stall unless she'd specifically asked me for toilet paper and I had nothing else available.)

I'm here to tell you the rules I break. I didn't start off doing this. In fact, it took a few drafts of my first manuscript for me to realize my Voice was dependent on not just my ability to craft a compelling sentence, but my ability to artistically and strategically throw some rules out the window.

Rules I Break:

1. I love using fragments. Love it. Really. I use fragments to both establish my character's voice and to manage the pacing of a scene. Sue me.

2. I start sentences with And or But whenever necessary. I'd been told by a published author that was her biggest pet peeve. And yanno, if I did it every other sentence, it would be my biggest pet peeve too. But, I don't. I only do it when it works in dialogue or, again, for pacing.

3. I don't use the hero's journey or a formula stating at which point in my book I should hit each next escalation of plot. I don't think those are bad things at all. They just don't work for me. They shut down my imagination. I'm a more organic writer (Look! Pesticide free!) and while I do a blurb and some one sentence chapter plotting ahead of time, I let the book and the characters tell me when I need to slow down or speed up. Pacing for me is something I can feel as I write. Trying to shut down that sense and use diagrams etc. instead makes me slightly homicidal.

4. While I do read heavily in my genre (and two other genres that interest me), I don't agonize over whether the story I'm telling fits perfectly within my genre. I just get to know my characters, flesh out the plot, discover its twists and turns, and do my absolute best to remain authentic and truthful to MY story. I think that helps give me a unique Voice. I think it probably also gives my agent a headache. So, yanno, use this one at your own risk.

5. I write in first person. There isn't actually a rule against this, per se. But there's plenty of scuttlebutt warning new writers away from this. Some told me it was too risky. That until I had an established sales record, no editor would touch it. Some told me no agent would sign me either. I tried third person and it worked. Sort of. But my Voice comes alive in first person. And my Voice is what attracts (or repels) readers from my books. I decided first person fit best and plunged into it and I've never looked back. And guess what? My agent loved that I wrote in first person.

Which just illustrates my point. You can break any rule you want to break if you know how to do it well. And maybe you won't do it well at first, but that's what practice is for. So, go ahead. Be a rule-breaker. Experiment. Find what makes your Voice stand out and then practice that until it knocks 'em dead.

What rules do you break? What rules do you absolutely hate to see broken?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Also

For those who would rather donate any amount you choose instead of purchasing coffee, there's a Donate button the sidebar now. The money goes into a separate adoption account. Thank you from our entire family for helping bring our daughter home.

Java For Johanna

Okay, here's the deal. I would feel really strange fundraising for anything other than my daughter. :) The truth is, we're getting close to hearing from China with permission to travel and we still need 6k to bring her home (China has raised its fees several times and we've had to redo documentation here in the states due to China's delay).

Many people have asked us how they can help. There's a fantastic company here in Nashville that roasts its own coffee and donates $5 for EVERY bag purchased. It's linked straight to our adoption account. If everyone we know purchased a bag for themselves or a friend, our account would be full and we'd be ready to bring her home.

If you're interested in helping us bring Johanna home (and you want to give/drink coffee for Christmas!), please go here. And please, pass the link along to anyone you know who would be willing to drink a little java to bring an orphan home.

Thank you! We truly appreciate you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Note To Self, Part Doh!

When one is distracted by music, Twitter, and the Chow hound's obsession with a little rubber ducky and one takes a large gulp of one's drink, forgetting that one has switched from Peach Tea to Diet Coke, one should remember the following tips in coping with the surprise:

1. Do not gasp in shock.

2. If one catches oneself mid-gasp and realizes one is about to fill one's lungs with Diet Coke, one should not clamp one's throat closed while still keeping one's lips closed.

3. One should remember in such a scenario that the only remaining viable opening prepared to absorb the momentum of one's mouthful of Diet Coke is one's nasal cavity.

4. When Diet Coke forcibly enters one's nasal cavity one should not reflexively snort.

Diet Coke, the new sinus douche.

Starshine Discusses History

Starshine: Hey, Mom. Have you ever heard of the shotgun heard 'round the world?

Me: You mean the shot heard 'round the world?

Starshine: Yeah. Did you know it wasn't really a shot the whole world could hear? It was just something that affected the whole world. Kind of a rip off, if you ask me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Note To Self:

Although the skill to time one's exit precisely through a pair of automatic doors is a thing of beauty, one should always take into account the possibility the doors might not open all the way.

Ouch.

Starshine's Christmas List

Today, we asked Starshine what BIG item he wanted for Christmas since we have a fairly expensive present already purchcased for each of his brothers. We said keep it between $80-$120. Here are the answers he gave:

1. A coupon book including coupons for parents to clean his room, do his homework, and punch each other for the entertainment of their spawn.

2. A box of Nutcrackers (25 please!) to create his own Nutcracker army.

3. A gun. A real one.

Is it wrong that I'm actually looking at the Nutcracker army as a viable option?

Fun Contest, Great Prize!

Fellow writer Shannon Messenger is running a fun contest on her blog. Tell her what you'd change about Edward Cullen and you could win a signed copy of Twilight! If that sort of thing floats your boat, head over to her blog and join the party. :)

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