Anyway, here's Wiki about The Man in the Moon. Turns out there's a word for making something out of nothing: pareidolia.
"Common examples include images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon, and hidden messages on records played in reverse."
I was thinking about something similar the other day. When I hear someone's voice, I will try to figure out whose it is -- until I decide it sounds like a voice I can identify. If the voice doesn't belong to the person, I'll be fine, because I know it's like that familiar voice. Familiar voices, even if they are incorrectly identified, are reassuring.
I think our reaction to the unknown, in general, is similar. The unknown is discomforting (even on as non-threatening a level as "Is that actor in kids' show X the same as the one in show Y?"), but as soon as we're able to put a pattern on the unknown (or make some kind of identification), it becomes less threatening. I would guess that this is true even for things that turn out to be even more threatening than originally supposed -- there's a reason that "better the devil you know" is a cliche, I think. Also, if you're watching a horror movie, once the monster is revealed (or a pattern of behavior, like, "Oh, it's a Chinese vampire"), it almost always becomes less threatening.
Personally, an exception for me would be the aliens from the Alien movies. Normally, when a "jumpy" horror movie reveals the critter, I'm okay (if still jumpy). "There it is," I say. "I can see it." But with the aliens, it's not enough to be able to see them. They're fast, relentless, and leave behind hidden horrors; you can never be sure when you really know what's going on. And they're so familiar, somehow, it's almost as if they're my personal homicidal clowns. (Back when I was having terrible (unidentified) sinus infections combined with adolescent hormonal craziness, I would see these distorted white shapes out of the corner of my eye -- and I would feel like something was trying to crawl out of my skull, so no real surprise there.)
Ah, and on the subject of nightmares, I think I'm trying to tell myself something. Twice this week, there have been two "gates of horn"-type dreams with pretty scary implications:
1) I spent an entire dream cycle trying to get ready for zombies. It was Lee and I (Ray didn't exist, in this dream), and we'd escaped the first onslaught and were taken into an older couple's house. They helped us find the supplies we needed, which included very large gardening shears and a chain-saw, the kind you use to saw high tree branches.
2) I was at Pearl Harbor before the attack, in a diner that has started to recur in my dreams. (I know it's a diner, but for some reason they serve margaritas in these heavy green glasses with blue rims, and they always leave off the salt, which disappoints me.) I kept trying to leave the diner, but I never managed to do it. (Ben Affleck was in the movie; oddly, so was Matt Damon. Neither one of them would listen to me. I even tried to explain to Mr. Damon that he wasn't supposed to be in the movie, but it didn't do any good.)
How do you know whether you've had a meaningful dream vs. meaningless garble? Well, I know because I know. Sometimes I don't remember the dream, I just remember that I had a meaningful dream, and I'm like, "Well, crap. I hope I figure it out before it happens." "It" being whatever it is I'm trying to tell myself.
A while ago, about six months ago, I had these dreams where gray mice kept showing up. Every time they showed up, something horrible happened shortly afterward, either tied into the mice or not. I knew those dreams were important, too, but I never figured out those ones either.
Full moon, pareidolia, or message from the undersoul? No idea. But if I could fit it into some kind of pattern, I'd probably feel better about it.
Elias replied, "Mr. Charter, wine needs no condoning. Our Lord's blood is wine."
(This book is part of "The Fairy Tale Series" edited by Terri Windling, the same collection that brought Stephen Brust's The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, and Pamela Dean's Tam Lin.)
Fitcher's Brides is an adaptation of the Bluebeard fairy tale. Apparently, there's a variant of the story called Fitcher's Bird, from whence the title.
The story follows the plot of both pretty closely; no surprises there. But like any good ghost story, you're not hooked on it because you expect to be surprised: "Don't go in the basement! Don't answer the phone! Don't join the Armageddon Religious Cult!!!"
(But they never learn.)
The book is set in New York's Burned-over District, the birthplace of everything from Mormonism to Milleritism, a hotbed of Spiritualists, table-rappers, and frauds. The religious cult in question is named as "Fitcherism," the followers of a fictional charasmatic, Elias Fitcher, who preaches the world will end on a certain day in 1843.
The moral of the story, happily enough, is not that sex is bad or that a woman's curiousity will be punished (although sex is used in the book to hurt curious women), but that blind faith can lead to horror. An altogether satisfying book.
By the way, here is what Gregory Frost has to say about the book.
Now, I've been wondering for a while if it's just me or if anybody else connects the Bluebeard fairy tale with that of Dracula: a sinister, foreign-looking man has a terrible secret; the women around him disappear, sicken, die; the man has an isolated house out of nightmares with numberless rooms; sexuality is evil; the dead "wives"; a woman's fidelity cannot be trusted; curiousity and willfulness are flaws, rather than virtues.
The story never comes out and says it, but I think Fitcher is a vampire. He can travel by day and doesn't have to take a coffin with him, but he can appear in places he is not, travel with celerity, leaves one man pale and weak after they have traveled together (the man later asks for God's forgiveness for having "been with" the preacher), and kills a woman in the form of a gray mist or shadow, draining her until nothing but a husk remains. Several times, the narrators mention seeing him out of the corners of their eyes with pointed, wolflike teeth.
None of the citations at the link to Frost's website above mention anything about vampires. Nevertheless, I have my theory...
She glimpsed his face, his eyes rolled down almost beneath the lids, his lips drawn back from his teeth--a feral face--and panic took over.
Here's a picture of one of the other competitors on the show, Marianne Berglund, who had no problems getting a contract.
(via By The Way...)
Top 10 Food Books (not Cookbooks) That Every Chef Should Own
(in random order)
1) On Food & Cooking -- Harold McGee ***Agree. What, a 1000 pages of heavy reading?
2) The Art of Eating -- MFK Fisher ***A lovely book.
3) Kitchen Confidential -- Anthony Bourdain
4) It Must've Been Something I Ate -- Jeffrey Steingarten
5) Tender at the Bone -- Ruth Reichl
6) The Tummy Trilogy -- Calvin Trillin
7) The Omnivore's Dilemma -- Michael Pollan
8) Down and Out in Paris and London -- George Orwell
9) Heat -- Bill Buford
10) The Physiology of Taste -- Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Q: Is there are maket for alternative-lifestyle romances?
AK: I have one that's taken over two years. But it's a good market. It's got to be different. [YT -- the woman asking the question said, "Oh, it's different" and we cracked up.]
Q: What's a successful day for you?
SB: When I get a call saying, "We want to publish your book."
Q: Where will the industry be in five to ten years with regards to the Internet?
AK: I love my books. I want to fall asleep with it on my chest. "Just read it on the Internet?" No, no.
SB: I think there will always be paper books. Publishers are trying to become more savvy on marketing via the Internet, though. Maybe not as many copies of a given title will be published on paper.
Q: Earlier you were talking about "one shot" with an editor. Can you clarify?
SB: You have one shot with the house. You need to find the right imprint and the right editor. It used to not be like that. Then Random House bought everybody. All the agents said, "How are we going to sell projects?" So now Random House has rules. Simon and Schuster and Harper have their own rules. Within an imprint, you absolutely have only one shot. If editors share an editorial board? Then the answer is no.
Q: If I'm planning to submit something to the PPW contest, should I still submit the book to an agent?
Beth: Call the contest. We can pull the entry if you get published! Can we have one last question?
AK: I've been lucky in finding a senior editor over all the imprints at a publishing house. When I pitch him a book, he can tell me who to send it to.
Q: When you're selling a nonfiction book, do you send the proposal or make a verbal pitch?
SB: I send the proposal. I never do a verbal.
Prizes: one copy of Self-Editing for Writers. One deck of cards from Ellora's Cave, an erotica publisher. "Fun!" exclaims Beth.
The End :)
From here out, it's mostly audience questions.
Q: I've edited a lady's memoirs. It's a WWII story. I'm not qualified to be an agent. If I send a query letter to you, what would your reaction be? She's eighty-five years old.
AK: You're the one responsible for getting my interest, if you're writing the query letter. But the contract is with her. If anything were to happen to her, her family would have to abide by the contract.
SB: I sometimes get queries through someone not the author. Especially memoirs. But keep in mind that everybody has a story. I will make contact however it's set out in the query letter.
Short break "for the agents to eat candy." This is when I spotted the print of the luminous tree.
Q: Are you open to queries from workshop members?
[Information withheld. Essentially, yes, but using a method that was meant to be provided only to the people at the meeting.]
SB: As with any agent, you shouldn't query me if you're writing romance or science fiction, poetry, horror, or adult fantasy. I do like YA fantasy.
AK: Right now, I take manuscripts across the board. Historical fiction. Memoirs are hard. I'll probably take a look at it if it's a straight memoir. I don't do children's books. I do middle school and YA. I don't do erotica. I haven't made those contacts.
SB: I represent nonfiction across the board.
AK: Self-help, metaphysical, business books.
SB: It's easier in fiction to talk about categories. If it's nonfiction and good, I'll want to take it on. You have to write a book proposal if you're writing nonfiction. Not the manuscript, you don't have to write the book before you sell it. Proposals are hard. They structured. Some good books on writing proposals are The Shortest Distance between You and a Published Book by Susan Page. You have to have the book completely mapped out, including a table of contents, chapter summaries, and two sample chapters. That's what the agent uses. Provide your expertise and give your credentials; explain why you're better than other writers on the same subject.
AK: Look in Writing for Dummies [YT -- is this out of print? Couldn't find it] and use the simplified proposal. Then choose another book.
[This was Beth again.] Q: The writers here have varying levels of experiences. What are the typical royalties, etc.?
AK: Royalties are 7 1/2% to 12%, depending on the house.
SB: The standard for hardcovers is 10% for the first five to ten thousand, 12 1/2% for the next ten thousand, and 15% after that. Trade and mass market editions pay six-seven-eight percent. They're lower. For big publishers, that's what's standard. The figures are based on the list price of the book. Small publishers, the figures are based on net, which is what they sold the book to the bookstore for, about 50% of retail. Small houses pay on net. Big houses pay on retail. But to make up for the difference, some smaller publishers will pay bigger rates than the standard.
AK: The trend is not as high. On average, advances are five to ten thousand, which is really good for these days.
SB: It's terrible right now. The publishing houses practically bankrupted themselves. Advances are paid out in halves or thirds over a twelve- to eighteen-month period. Royalties, the book has to earn back that amount. You don't owe them any money. You'll earn royalties sooner than later.
AK: Smaller houses have to pay back what it costs to publish the book, then you'll earn royalties.
Negotiating power of agents:
SB: You have some as an agent, but not necessarily about advances and royalties. The publishers are not going to do any marketing if you're not a big name. You can keep film and translation rights, get rid of the option clause where the publisher has the first option on the next book, audio rights. We don't really get to negotiate rates, but we negotiate the breaks. Instead of ten percent for the first fifteen thousand books, we can get ten percent for the first five thousand books and 12.5 percent for the next ten thousand books. The more known the author is, the more we can negotiate.
Beth: Does this hold true for big agencies as well?
SB: Yes. Some agents are like gods, they're so powerful.
Q: I have one book with a New York publisher, and it's out of print. Can I go to smaller publishers? I ahve the rights to it. I have an agent, but she won't represent the book to smaller publishing houses.
SB: Yes. But your agent has to release the book. They have to write a letter. Publishing the book depends on doing reprints. Is the book still relevant?
AK: I want to look at the sales.
Q: Some basic questions about contracts. First, do you have verbal or written contracts? What are the basic clauses? What should not be included in a contract?
AK: I have paper contracts so new authors have something to hang on to. [YT -- hear, hear!] My agreement is that we will be exclusive for a year, but on a handshake basis after that. The exception is previously published authors who are looking to publish in a different genre. It's all about trust. I'll make a contract if we need a paper contract, but I don't if we don't. There's always a way out for my authors: write me a letter if you think it isn't working out. Everything that's going to cost you, as an author, money should be written down. If I have to use another agent, it's 10 percent for each of us (for example, if your book is turned into a movie).
SB: I do have a written contract. When I started working as an agent, I was mostly representing unpublished auhors who didn't understand the business. I would explain the term clause, explain what costs I would pass through (mostly photocopying, but now I use e-mails). I do like them. When I'm first representing you, I want to lay out how it's going to work. You can get out of the contract. I also have contracts for my protection. If I sold a project to a publisher, I'm married to that project. I should always get commission on that book. If I'm still trying to sell a project and we part ways, there has got to be some kind of timeframe before I turn the project over to another agent. I have a 12-month clause.
SB: Authors have to wait one year before they can resubmit the book to someone I already submitted the book to. The exception for contracts would be an experienced writer.
Q: How many clients do you have, Anita, since Sandra already told us.
AK: I have about 25 clients, 12-13 really "in the works."
Q: What percentage of work do you place or sell? Is that a typical percentage? Is it different between fiction or nonfiction?
AK: It's about 50/50. I'm so new. I have no idea whether that's typical.
SB: It depends on what level you're at, how big your agency is. You get better the longer you're in the business. I don't give up easily.
AK: Me neither.
SB: I have two or three books I've been trying to sell for years. But the authors haven't said that I should stop trying. If I didn't love the books, the authors and I would have parted ways. But they have a good story to tell. I have a story for you. I went to a writers' conference in DC in 2003. A woman pitched a novel to me. I thought it was interesting. I asked to see the manuscript. So did five other agents -- she had six of us after her. The book was a masterpiece. We all wanted to represent her. She didn't pick me. I watched for the book for years. I thought maybe she'd changed the title. I always called it the book that got away. December 2006, the author contacted me and asked me if I was still interested in the novel. Her agent had sent the novel to twenty houses, and they had all turned her down, because the book wasn't commercial enough. The agent had told her that if the book couldn't be sold to a big house, he didn't want to sell it. But me, I'll sell to anybody! I read it again, and it was every bit as good. It got turned down at the big houses. I finally sold it to Ghost Road Press in Denver, which is as small as it gets. The editor loves the book. I'm not going to make any money on it, but I'm thrilled. I really love their work [YT -- I think she meant Ghost Road's].
The book is called Seal Woman. It's set in Iceland after WWII. Icelandic farmers needed women to cook and clean and whatever. There were a lot of single German women after WWII, so the farmers posted a notice in a German newspaper. They weren't mail order brides. [YT -- Someone from the audience says, "Slaves."] Yeah, exactly. And they went. But it's a really interesting story. It's about a fictional woman who travels from Germany to Iceland to start a new life, but she can't leave behind her memories. The author's name is Solveig Eggerz. The book should come out in May 2008.
The first door prize was given away: a $25 gift certificate for hair services. Both men and women could use the certificate. I was one number off: not meant for a new 'do.
Q: Do you prefer e-mail or written query letters?
SB: It doesn't matter. Now, I do look at my e-mails first. It's easier to put paper to the side.
Q: What do you tell your first readers?
AK: They read the manuscript after I've read the first three chapters. They're looking for flow and content, not typos.
SB: I don't have readers. It's just me. I have a couple of people who look at my queries when I'm overwhelmed. They have the form letter. One of them especially. He knows what I like. We have similar tastes and sensibilities. He's a good judge of smart writing. I'm so busy, 99% of what comes in has to be rejected. Unless he's really sure I'll like it, he sends it back. The first sentence of my form letter is "I'm sorry this is a form letter."
Q: What do you think about the trend for agents to request shorter fiction synopses of one to three pages?
AK: I'm still old school. I want the story. For a 300-page book, it's okay to send a 15-20-page synopsis. If you can get it all in three pages, that's okay.
SB: I hate synopses. Absolutely. They're so hard to write well. You're almost wasting your time. I don't want to see them at the beginning. I don't want more than two pages. Does everyone know synopses are supposed to be written in the present tense? You do, at some point, have to write one. I don't want them with the query letter.
AK: I look at synopses as if they were the first draft. I'm not too worried about them.
SB: I think a better use of your time is the one-page query letter. The letter hsould have a paragraph that sums up your book very succinctly. I look for beautiful writing, a paragraph about 5-6 sentences that tells what the book was about.
AK: I agree. That is your pitch.
SB: We do that when pitching to editors. You're supposed to be able to pitch your book.
Q: What's selling? Should we jump on a bandwagon?
SB: I'm not a big fan of trying to follow trends. If you're spotting a trend, it's too late. I don't know how to spot trends. For example, after 9-11, everybody was writing a book. None of those books did well. You're second-guessing a commercial audience. However, there's a trend I've seen building for years. In mysteries, they're not even looking at male protagonists. It's been developing for years.
AK: Do not follow trends. If it's good, it'll get picked up.
Q: What shoudl an author look for when choosing an agent?
AK: It doesn't do any good if you look them up in the Writer's Market and it says they're not taking any new authors. Look at the genres. If you're in their category, send a query.
SB: Look at books similar to yours and see who the agent is on the acknowledgements page. When you target an agent, you can make the query letter more personal and say that your book is similar to this book you represented. It shows you did your work. You need to target agents as much as agents are targeting editors. It matters.
AK: Me, too. If you know something about me, it makes me feel good.
Q: How can writers protect themselves from scam agents?
AK: If anybody is charging money to represent you, run the other way.
Beth: If an agent says you are "almost ready" and refers you to a book doctor, run.
SB: Yes, but some of those are legitimate. Sometimes I'll do that, but I'll give a list of editors to choose from. Agents work on commission. Fees are against the practice of being a legitimate agent. Like reading fees.
Q: What's are the advantages and disadvantages of a single-agent agency versus a multi-agent agency?
SB: I've never worked in a large agency. I would think the advantage of a small agency would be the personal relationship. Big agencies would be able to develop a personal relationship, but they may have pressures to carry more clients. I answer my phone and my e-mails. But I don't know.
AK: I'm the same way. I don't know. Both types of agencies are looking at having personal relationships. That's why I'm in the business!
A committee came up with the first set of questions. See Part VI and following for audience questions. Beth Brownwater led the meeting.
SB: Being an agent is a very subjective business. You can't represent something you don't love. There's a huge difference between agenting for fiction versus non-fiction. It's easier to sell non-fiction. You have to have an agent if you think your book should go to a big publishing house in New York. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, it's necessary. At any given time, six million people think they are publishable authors; however, there are only 175,000 new titles a year. [YT -- 175K titles? I can't have heard that right.] You could send your book to a small publishing house, without using an agent.
AK: Check out the Writer's Market books. If a publishing house states it only accepts agented works, don't bother submitting a manuscript on your own. Agents do the dirty work.
SB: Publishing books involves a lot of business work. An agent can see the bigger picture of what an author could be doing for him/herself, as a business. It can be very hard to find a match with a good agent.
Q: What's a typical week like for you?
AK: I don't have a typical day! Monday, I try not to answer the phone. I get 60-100 e-mails a day, and I have lots of reading to do. I have a first reader to help. Once we accept the manuscript, I always do the final reading before we start submitting the book. I talk to the editor before I submit a book.
SB: There is no typical week. I have about twenty clients, of whom 13-14 are really active right now. I have projects at every stage. I talk to my clients, editors of works in progress, editors who might be interested in projects. E-mail is great. No more postage. [YT -- she flashed this huge grin at this point.] I follow up on submissions. You have to get the book to the right editor. You only have one shot. You need a killer cover letter for fiction. I need to make sure I have a good handle on my authors' bios for when I'm talking to editors. For one of my writers, I'm prescreening publicists, because there's potential for the book to be really big. I do a ton of little bitty detail work.
Q: What makes you more likely to take on a book?
SB: First I would like to say, don't be insulted by a form rejection letter. I tried to personally answer my submissions for years, but I finally got smart. I don't have time. I'm looking at 60-100 manuscripts per week. More than anything, what I'm looking for are smart writers. A good hook is good, but it's not enough. The writing's gotta hold up. I sometimes get a letter with a good hook, but the writing has nothing to do with what was in the quety letter. I love humor. Especially in mysteries. For nonfiction, the platform is very important. You have to have some expertise, credentials. Does everyone know what a platform is? A platform means you're already out speaking to an audience. Professors. Journalists. Business books especially. Be out there as a consultant, in front of large audiences. The exception would be memoirs.
AK: I do love humor. If you put a hook in, I want a synopsis in the query letter. The synopsis is very important. If you hook me with humor, I read the synopsis, and it's boring, I won't ask for more. Keep the momentum up in the book.
Q: What gets included in query letters that turns you off?
AK: When the query letter is so rigid, I can't tell what the writing style will be like. A formal query letter is okay, but I want to see your personality in your query letter.
SB: If you e-mail your query letter and then send an attachment without being asked! Or if you include an elaborate picture in the body of the e-mail. I won't open it; it's presumptuous. I don't like arrogance. You should be confident, not arrogant. That's fiction. For non-fiction, I want something about your credentials. Say something about yourself. You have to fit this all on one page. It's covering a lot. Your query letter is your first sample of writing, so the writing has to be good. Let me know if you've had a story published here or there, if you're part of PPWC or a critique group. If you have a related degree. I want background. If it's nonfiction, you have to talk about your credentials in your query letter. Don't be vague. Don't write sentences implying something. If you've been previously published, don't say, "it sold well," give numbers. Don't take offense at this, but if you're self-published, don't say you're a published author. Be completely upfront and honest.
AK: For e-mails, don't send the same e-mail to fifty of us. They just get deleted.
SB: Hear, hear. Have you heard about "Scriptblaster"? Don't do it. They send submissions to 3000+ agents. Why would I respond? I have no interest and no time to respond to that kind of submission. I auto-delete them.
Q: Apparently, there's a new trend of sending 3-5 pages with a query letter, even if you haven't been asked. What do you think about that?
SB: I actually don't feel strongly about this. If someone sticks pages in, I don't care, I'll read them. (They have to be in the body of the e-mail, not an attachment, if it's an electronic submission.) Now, some agents, that would be the kiss of death. Five pages is too many; don't send more than three. Mostly I won't get past the end of page one.
AK: I don't mind. One to three pages is good. If I read the first page and I don't like it, I won't ask for more. I'll stop reading at the first page, either way.
When I pulled into the parking lot, other cars were trickling in behind me. Oh good, I thought, this really isn't going to be six people sitting around a table, blindly critiquing each others' work. (I hate workshopping.* I'd rather have someone I trust read my book, or read someone else's book. Not have a dozen people sit around with twenty pages, coming to the consensus that the best way to tell if spaghetti is cooked is to throw it against the wall to see if it sticks.)
I didn't count, but somewhere between 50-75 people showed up, eventually. I think the last person was fifteen minutes late, which was handled quietly but amusingly: she was pointed straight to the front row.
As I walked in, my initial impression of the place was that it was a working artists' school, rather than a selling artists' school, which is what the Bemis and the BAC (in Manitou) come across as. Not that art shouldn't be sold, and not that the art at the Cottonwood shouldn't be sold: I found a print of a luminous, leafless white tree against the dark background of an evergreen forest that I really wanted and may have to go back and check out (I didn't get the artist's name). But it looked like people spent more time working at art than putting in new carpet or painting over nicks or replacing ceiling tiles. A good impression. The paintings in the room we were in were hung with awards: the ribbons were the same kind I remember from 4-H at the state fair.
My first impression of the people themselves was to laugh: a gathering of artists (although maybe not the artists that worked at the Cottonwood) would be more pointedly eclectic. A gathering of "art lovers" would be better dressed. Also, there would be wine in addition to the coffee. But a group of writers is just a bunch of people. People you might see in line at the DMV. "Ordinary" isn't the word, because almost all of them were holding notebooks, and how many people walk around waiting for something to be said worth writing down?
I sat next to a guy who looked about sixty, nearly fell over in the chair (me, that is), scooted over a seat, and sat next to someone who looked like a frazzled admin escaped from the telephone. It smelled like lavender. The woman in front of me had done her dark blonde hair, dressed in an orange suit, put on gold-color earrings, and nursed a coffehouse chai, which also smelled good (I don't know about her, but I've nursed many a coffeehouse chai when I was in need of reassurance. Maybe she just liked the taste, though). Missing was the scent of overwhelming perfume: I didn't catch anybody being drenched, even during intermission. The one artfully-dressed woman I spotted looked like she came with the place, not the group, but I might be wrong.
The Vice President, Beth Brownwater, opened the session. The craft book** of the month was Self-Editing for Writers (I may have written the title down wrong, because I can't find it now), which was on sale for $11 if you bought it at the table at the back of the room. Other craft books would be on sale. The backside of one of the shelves would be filled with donated books. Donations would be accepted for the donated books; the money would go toward the PPW Microphone Fund. The no-host members night would be the Monday following at 6:30 at Poor Richard's for everyone to talk about writing and drink hot chocolate*** and eat pizza.
Sandra Bond looked very professional, very black-and-white (and not just in a color scheme). Groomed, rather than styled, if that makes sense: styled, to me, means an expenditure of too much effort, where groomed means adaptably tidy, able to fit in as necessary without out-doing anybody. Professional-looking men are groomed. Women with too much hairspray are styled. She was groomed. Strong-prescription glasses. Blinked a lot, at least before she started speaking. Her voice had just a whisper of a lisp in it but sounded charming and unpretentious nevertheless. The charm came from her involvement in what she was talking about: she must love being an agent.
Anita Kushen looked very no-nonsense, like a nurse or a fourth-grade teacher. When she spoke, her face lightened up, and I realized that she was the kind of person accustomed to being the life of the party. When she was being introduced, she reacted to what was being said about her, a little self-consciously. It was almost like she wasn't herself unless her face was in motion, but as the introduction went on, we found out she'd worked for a rape crisis hotline, among other jobs requiring an abolition of nonsense, so I wasn't totally off in my initial impression, either.
*But not as much as I hate revising. Let's keep this in perspective, here.
**I like the idea of referring to writing as a craft. Writing is somewhere between tatting and casting black-magic curses on ones exes, after all.
***Poor Richard's opened a wine-and-chocolate bar in one section of their meandering store, uh, I think it was last year. Ooooh...looks like they put in free wireless now, too. I swear the goal of their toy store is to get adults to buy stuff.
On Wednesday, I went to a trial (for me) meeting of the Pikes Peak Writers group, "What Literary Agents Want, featuring Literary Agents Sandra Bond and AnitaKushen." The writer's group, among other things, holds an annual, 3-day Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Here's a link to the 2006 conference to give an idea of what they do. (I linked to 2006 because I recognized more names, including Dan Simmons and Kage Baker.)
I had heard of the conference before, but I kept thinking, "I'm not ready yet." Well, having survived this round of revisions, I can say, "I've written a whole book, one that makes sense, one that's readable all the way through" and so now am feeling cocky enough to brave plunking down that kind of cash. "I can write it off my taxes," I tell myself, feeling ever so worldly.
Other upcoming events: November 1st, a funraiser/booksigning at Poor Richard's, with local authors signing as follows:
Ronald Cree, Desert Blood
Frank Dorchak, Sleepwalkers
Beth Groundwater, A Real Basket Case
Linda LeBlanc, Beyond the Summit
Elizabeth Roberts, Living with IBD & IBS: A Personal Journey of Success
Charlie Rush, One Turn of the Cards
Robert Spiller, The Witch of Agnesi and A Calculated Demise
Sarah Vigil Swiger, The Divine Plan: A Novel of Obsession
And here's the kicker: The November 3rd workshop will be an all-day, Saturday workshop called, "Scaring your Readers, featuring Tom Piccirilli, Melanie Tem, Steve Rasnic Tem, and Carrie Vaughn." The workshop will cover the differences in suspense used by horror, suspense, and crime fiction and other suspense-type topics.
I am totally going.
Heh. I've had this brand of chocolate (Vosges). It was waaaay to expensive. But this, I may actually fork out the $6.00 for, because what have you lived for in life, if you have turned your back on the ability to taste "Mo's Bacon Bar"?
(Via Accidental Hedonist)
They must not have soccer games.*
*Which came first, the chicken or the Ministry of Silly Walks? Michael Palin narrates. Via Neatorama.
Susie Bright is one of the, um, seminal writers of erotic* fiction, editor of Herotica (lesbian erotica) and The Best American Erotica series as well as the author of a ton of other books (titles like Mommy's Little Girl: On Sex, Motherhood, Porn, and Cherry Pie). She's not one of my favorite writers, but she does a good, solid schtick: Sex is good. Also, it happens to touch on almost every aspect of people's lives. Also, there's a lot more variety than you think there is. And a lot of things to appreciate. And a lot of things to hate...
She brings the same attitude to her book. The writing advice is good, solid stuff, but nothing really original, in either the advice or the writing exercises (other than the one about taping yourself, but that seems a pretty direct, obvious suggestion). She spends a lot of her time (as I suppose she must) reassuring writers that writing about sex isn't bad and is, in fact, as vital as writing about relationships or death.
Where the book truly shines, though, is the last third, which covers the publishing industry. She makes a good case for staying out of publishing: your hands stay clean. Publishing is the kind of work that some writers are never going to love. And how hard you're going to have to work at marketing...
I've found better books on writing. They didn't go as far as How to Write a Dirty Story does about sex, but really -- once you've gotten over the forbidden aspect of writing about sex, it's like fortune cookies: take all the advice you like and add the words "in bed" at the end:
- Show, don't tell.
- Avoid cliches.
- Plot is important.
*There's a debate over whether you should call sexually arousing material "erotica" or "pornography." While people generally use "erotica" to mean "pitched toward more literate/sophisticated audiences," I tend to use it to cover written material, and "porn" (pornography being literally "the writing of harlots," ironically) for visual material. Just the era I grew up in, I guess. "Porn" was what guys sneaked away to watch; "erotica" was the books we passed around at the dorm (the early '90's being the point at which "erotica" became a more commonly-thrown-around term).
This is exactly what happens when you don't write the novel when you first think of it. I've been pondering this since 2001! And, to add insult to injury, it looks like exactly the kind of thing I would like.
At least they didn't get the Others or the solipism. I would be extremely creeped out at that point...
Until about book eight or so, I would reread the entire series -- all over again -- before tackling the next book, but, with each book approaching 1000 pages (at a minimum), I wore out. I had to give away the books I had, because I new I'd just get back in the habit all over again. The plots (like the sentences) got to be too complex, too unresolvable, too political, too heartbreaking: I liked the characters too much. A lot of the threads that he left dangling for readers to bother themselves over until he hit book 13 (or book 12, if you don't count the prequel), other writers (Terry Goodkind springs to mind) picked up on and ran with, maybe because they couldn't stand to wait that long, either.
So I turned my back, waiting for the series to be over, or at least to have the last book waiting to come out in the foreseeable future. And now he's dead, and I wasn't even paying attention. Well, they may be able to get a writer (T.G. should be done by then, eh?) to finish the series from Jordan's notes, but when? Maybe I should just start them anyway, keep them around for bad days when you don't want anything more than hot chocolate and a book that promises you that you'll never have to come back...
*"Robert Jordan" was a pseudonym. His real name was James Oliver Rigney, Jr. Another thing I didn't know.
Funny, how the U.S., under the "right wing" control of Bush et al. begins to resemble the extreme "left wing" Communist Russia, in these creepingly slow and subtle ways.
IF IT WORKED FOR THE COMMUNISTS, IT'LL WORK FOR US!
PRESERVE YOUR FREEDOMS BY GIVING THEM UP!
JUST WAIT A YEAR OR SO, HOW MUCH DAMAGE CAN THE BUSHIES DO BEFORE THEN?
The number of "W" stickers continues to decline in town. It's not fair, I don't think, to even lump them all together as conservatives anymore.
So I have a question. I haven't done any creative writing in a looong time so I can't really feel your pain when you're talking about revising and editing a story.
BUT, I'm curious why it's such a painful process. Isn't it like putting on the final, finishing touches on a project? Working out all the little kinks, putting in a few polishing touches removing some things that don't work. So that you end up with a completed piece you feel satisfied with?
What am I missing about the process that makes it difficult?
I'm going to make a separate entry out of this because it gives me more room (so to speak) to bitch and moan about the horror that is revision. Please note that I am so much better at drafting than I am at editing that I have three books sitting around, going, "Well, what now?" Great ideas. Lots of potential. Like the teacher said, "She has so much potential. If only she would do the work."
The first draft is hard, even when you put together a plan, because no plan is going to tell you how to accomplish things. Your plan says, "Scene 1 is a fight scene between our heroes and the bad guys and is meant to set up this type of conflict as something fairly common but for one or two elements that will be the kernel of the plot."
So you sit down and write, and usually what you come out with is a fight scene; the other elements are gravy. And then you proceed to write Scene 2, which is a slower scene about how the heroes best friend is having problems at school. You push yourself through to the end of the book, throw yourself some kind of celebration, victory!
One, your scenes don't necessarily contain everything they need to contain, and the things they need to contain can be pretty nebulous.
If your plan resembles the one for Scene 1, you might leave out the sense that the scene is something that's always been happening, or what you thought accomplished that, like, just writing the sentence,"They were always fighting about the same damned things" just isn't working* (for instance, because the fighters are totally hyped to be doing what they're doing, and each kick comes across as something so mind-boggling exciting that it sounds more like the first time they've been in a fight scene, not the fiftieth). So when you go back through your writing, you're like, "Well, not bad for a fight scene, but I really don't get the sense that things are getting frustratingly repetetive, which I need for Scene 4."
How do you fix that? Preferably without destroying the whole scene, because it does accomplish most of the stuff you set out to do, and you might accidentally destroy your sense that the characters like each other but don't necessarily get along well, which is also important (but may not be spelled out in your plan).
(I fear that some of my most brilliant plotting may be coming from the fact that I notice something could not possibly have happened the way it happened, and so had the characters talk out loud about it, which led to a Problem Three, when I then resolved in a panicked fit of inspiration.)
Two, your plan, be it written or unwritten, may just be flawed from the get-go.
This book went pretty well for that; I only had one chapter that I was like, "I don't know why I even bothered." I kept it, just in case, and it turned out I had enough loose ends to resolve by that point that I retroactively stuck them in there. But let's say, when you sat down to plot out your story (even if this just happened in the back of your head somewhere), you came up with a story that tried to focus on too many things. The plan may have seemed like a good one at the time, aha, famous last words, and now you're screwed. Okay, fix it.
I currently have three manuscripts awaiting this kind of resolution. No minor patching is going to fix those things. One of them, for example, I think I'm going to have to 1) split it up so it's a series and not just a single book, because it's just too much, 2) add a sci-fi backstory to what is essentially a fantasy book (because otherwise, why did it happen?), and 3) totally rewrite it...with fewer characters. It took me seven years to figure this out. I don't know if the idea is worth the time it will take. Will it sell? Who would buy it? Would it even make me happy to write it? Should I just let it die?
Now, imagine that kind of problem even possilbly happening to you on a book for which you've already taken cash, and so cannot easily ditch. Throw in the fact that you have a deadline of less than a month to get it done. Fear? Oh, yeah. Fortunately, this problem didn't happen with this book (knock on wood and a first), but it might have. I reread the draft with my heart in my mouth.
Three. Sometimes you think up good stuff that wasn't in your plan, and you know you have to use it. This happens to me a lot.
The plan was to have what was basically an adventure book about the importance of balancing playfulness and seriousness. I ended up with a tragedy cloaked with adventure; one of the characters digs a hole so deep, only a complete change in character is going to help. (And certainly isn't going to occur at this point.) An almost literal damnation (no religion is included in the book). Um. Fortunately, the changes seem to be working.
But it also called for a lot of backfill: I had to go back to the beginning and lay down all kinds of small changes that pointed away from a lighthearted adventure and toward doom, without revealing what was going to happen later. I totally lucked out on this, because it doesn't take much to undercut lightheartedness, and lightheartedness is a good contrast to doom. But there were a lot of things to juggle, and I had to make sure I didn't drop any of them. Oh, and I tried to keep the theme of playfulness vs. seriousness, too.
It's not like I'm a genius writer. Here I am, thirty-three, nothing major published. I have enough rejections to at least paper the bathroom stall, and the major reason I don't have more is that I gave up on submitting for a while. The second reason is that I switched to writing novels that I haven't finished...
So I guess what I'm trying to say is: I'm pretty smart, but it's not a fast smart. I will never be on a quiz show. Also, I can competently juggle one object at a time, if there's nothing to distract me. I have a lot of the tools that I need to draft well: I daydream a lot, I like people (even if I don't look up to them), I like to listen to people talk and tell stories, I like to read, I obsess about how cool things are, I like to impress people.
But a multi-track brain capable of organizing a truly awesome number of possibilities and details and making very subtle adjustments that will effectively and entertainingly balance them all, I ain't got.
I really like the spreadsheet I used this time -- I just wrote down all the changes in the spreadsheet. Didn't touch anything in the draft until I was done. So I didn't have to figure out what was wrong and try to fix it at the same time. Of course, when I went back to make the changes, I found more things that were wrong, but by that point, I had a pretty good idea of what else was wrong, so I was able to go, "Thing A is wrong...but thing B is also wrong. If I fix them both the same way, it might look like I meant it that way." But it makes steam come out of my ears when I do it.
*The whole "show, don't tell" thing.
- c.1225, from O.Fr. persone "human being" (12c., Fr. personne), from L. persona "human being," originally "character in a drama, mask," possibly borrowed from Etruscan phersu "mask." This may be related to Gk. Persephone. The use of -person to replace -man in compounds and avoid alleged sexist connotations is first recorded 1971 (in chairperson). Personify first recorded 1727. Personable "pleasing in one's person" is first attested c.1430. In person "by bodily presence" is from 1568. Person-to-person first recorded 1919, originally of telephone calls.
(Etymology.com may be a new favorite site for yours truly. Desire coming from "await what the stars will bring" de sidere. Also, you can sponsor words. Bear (n.) is taken for the next six months, FYI.)
I could come up with all kinds of nice things to say about what writing means to me, but they wouldn't be true. Of course, this is a bad day, a day that I have to get some editing done. I feel like I'm ripping out my heart in a way that never happens when I'm doing a first draft. So keep that in mind.
For yours truly, writing means...
- an escape from life's jerks. I spent any number of hours in school writing poetry that was about something completely different than anything I was experiencing. Or poetry that let me feel sorry for myself. Or poetry that let me stop feeling sorry for myself, until I was ready to feel sorry for myself again.
- an addiction. If I don't write something (or if I just do editing for a while), I get depressed. It's worse if I'm writing something, and it stinks. Really, really stinks. If I don't write something good, I'm a failure. I beat myself up about it.
- something to fiddle with. Life isn't perfect, and you can't control it. You shoot yourself in the foot when you try too hard. You can piss around with a piece of writing for the rest of your life, trying to perfect it. Failing, but trying. Beating your head against the wall can feel good. I swear.
- a way to say something unacceptable. If you can't say it in real life, dress it up in characters and call it fiction. Everything from sex to old resentments you just refuse to put to bed. Pretty it up enough, and people will agree with you, whether you're right or not. Justification! Yes!
- a way to feel good about yourself when nothing else works. On those days when I feel like the world's worst mom, friend, or lover, on those days when you just look at yourself in the mirror and feel just about ready to spit in your own eye, at least you can say, "Hey, at least I'm a writer."
- the world's most luxuriant, blissfully ecstatic way to show off my mad skillz at finessing the words and pushing the buttons. One of those "if you have to ask" things, I guess. Usually, I'm the magician's apprentice. But sometimes I'm the magician.
MOUNTAIN VISTA is having a fundraiser. You can shop online at
The group receives profit from the sale and the seller will receive prize credits. Enter the seller ID below to begin.
Seller: Rachael Kenyon
Seller ID: mou7517
Thank you for your support.
If the link above does not work, please use the following link and enter the seller ID: http://www.abcfundraisinginc
Oddly, it just struck me that the story might be read as a metaphor for abortion. Three years since I wrote it, and I'm just now realizing this, which just goes to show that critical analysis might show more about the person doing the analysis than the person doing the work.
Greek Goddess: "the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris, vengeful fate personified as a remorseless goddess."
|1.||something that a person cannot conquer, achieve, etc.: The performance test proved to be my nemesis.|
|2.||an opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome.|
|3.||(initial capital letter) Classical Mythology. the goddess of divine retribution.|
|4.||an agent or act of retribution or punishment.|
But a nemesis, in a story, serves a function. It isn't just that it's a character or a force in opposition to the main character. It's something so extreme that, barring outside help or some kind of divine intervention, the character can never survive it. It's Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty. It's Ahab and Moby-Dick. Heck, it's Captain Picard and the Borg.
Is it possible for anyone to have a nemesis, or can only some people have them? Other people are just overwhelmed by forces out of control. They're mowed down by tragedy. So in some sense, you must be pretty uber to have one -- maybe it's that you're almost able to stop the unstoppable.
And then there's the phrase "arch-nemesis." Is it a redundancy? Or can people have more than one nemesis? At first, I thought not, but then I thought of Batman. Batman has nemeses. (He has nemeses like other people have neuroses, doesn't he?) Each of his enemies is somehow more than an enemy, more than just a force that comes into opposition with him: whenever he butts heads with most of them, it rips his soul apart in a greater or lesser fashion. He at least can see (even if he won't admit it) that there's some kind of justice to their perspectives. Except the Joker. The Joker also happens to be Batman's arch-nemesis: the unstoppable force of pure insanity, which you can bottle up but never, ever cure or treat or heal.
So what is a nemesis? What is the force that pulls a character and a nemesis together?
One day, one of the guys at work came in with a red-and-pink plaid shirt. Everyone gave him crap for wearing a pink shirt. He'd got it at a western store in Missouri: the shirt cost $25, unless you bought a $10 bag of chicken feed, in which case, you got it for free, so he bought the feed and put it out for the birds. And you know, if the worst that a bunch of conservatives can make fun of you is for a shirt that you got for free with a batch of chicken feed at a bona fide western store, you're pretty well off.
Anyway, I kept thinking of that Peter S. Beagle book, I See By My Outfit:
- "I can see by your outfit that you are a cowboy."
- "I see by your outfit you are a cowboy too."
- "We see by our outfits that we are both cowboys.
- If you get an outfit, you can be a cowboy too."
I sent him the link without reading the whole thing, and he said, "Thanks -- so you think I'm going to die of a sexually transmitted disease, huh? I can read between the lines."
And, sure enough, in the original lyrics:
- Had she but told me when she disordered me,
- Had she but told me of it at the time,
- I might have got salts and pills of white mercury,
- But now I'm cut down in the height of my prime.
Anyway, turns out Johnny Cash covered it at one point. I couldn't find the actual Smothers Brothers version, but here's a cover of their cover.
When I say, "Let me know if you have any requests," I mean it. I mean, I really mean it. My cooking imagination can only come up with so many things on its own. Getting requests can be almost like being recommended new music by someone with good taste who listens to stuff I've never heard of before. Which I also enjoy.
Anyway...here's the menu:
Steak (boneless rib-eye -- who knew there was such a thing? I got it at Whole Foods.)
Bacon (not wrapped around the steak, which was grilled)
Notice: no real vegetables. Not even a wayward glance in the way of salad.
Grilled, medium rare. I flipped mine often and let it sit off the burner (but still in the grill) for a few minutes after I was satisfied with the outside, then let it sit for fully five minutes on a plate before I even thought of cutting it. Juiciest damn steak I've ever had.)
Mmm. Bacon appetizers. What could be more appetizing than bacon?
Baby portabellas, cut very thick, sauteed in butter with a shallot tossed in near the end, until the sides were browned and dry. Salt, pepper. Pan not overcrowded (which I almost always do). Marsala sloshed in the pan and boiled down until disappeared. Butter added after heat turned off.
Oven 400 degrees. Farmer's market baby red potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and put onto a stoneware cookie sheet (Jackie turned me on to these). Salt, pepper. Romano cheese grated over top. Garlic cloves tossed in for good measure. About 2/3 of a cup of butter blapped on at the last minute. Roast, stir, roast, stir. I just now read an article about roast potatoes where the cook threw them under the broiler for a few minutes to darken them even further at the end. Chewy, crispy, salty on the outside, creamy on the inside. Bliss.
I generally don't drink wine at home (Lee won't drink it with me), but I had to open the Blue Monkey 2003 for this. Lovely, buttery, all umami and good. I'm going to try to pick up one of those sealant-pump thingies tomorrow, because otherwise I'm going to kill myself trying to finish this before it goes bad, I'm such a lightweight.
Sharffen Berger 70% bittersweet, baby. To go with the wine.
Lee skipped the wine and the chocolate, but there you go.
Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention the pecan pie, but we haven't touched that yet...