Friday, April 30, 2010

Beach Vacation Check List: Helmet, MS, And Foo Stick

Next week, my family is flying to Charleston, SC. We will meet my parents on Kiawah Island to swim, bike, and eat mom’s cooking. I might not be blogging. We’ll have to see if there is an internet connection. I know, I suck.

The first thing I need to pack is a helmet for my husband. Three years ago, he went biking with my parents and got bashed on the head by a downward moving bar guarding the road entrance to a private golf course. I wasn’t there. I was back at the house napping. I hold my parents responsible.

Two years ago we were at the playground with the girls. He jumped up to the second level of a jungle gym and brained himself on an extremely hard, horizontal bar of metal. I was impressed he didn’t faint. One year ago, he decided to be more vigilant. But the shower rod in our bathroom came loose and hit him, you guessed it, on the noggin.

Today I printed my ms to take for another read through. I’m on a typo hunt. My worst enemies seem to be possessives and plurals. I put apostrophes on plurals and leave ‘em out for possessives. Spell check doesn’t help. I also like to use 'hopping' and 'scrapping' when I mean 'hoping' and 'scraping'. Spell check doesn’t catch those either. What are your typo demons?

I plan on reading the ms out loud, with gusto. Except I might have to whisper. I don’t want my kids to catch me. It ain’t exactly Winnie the Pooh. And I really don’t want my husband to hear this. He will make fun; I will get pissed. In fact, I just might grab my big Bunny Foo-Foo Stick and bop him a good one. Guess where?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Buying A Book For Its Cover

I have a thoughtful husband. He knows I read novels like pregnant women eat Lay’s potato chips. The other week he picked up The Inn at Angel Island by Thomas Kinkade and Katherine Spencer.

If that first name sounds familiar, that’s because Thomas Kinkade is one of the most recognized artists of our time. I love his work. I have a Kinkade print in my bedroom and a framed Kinkade puzzle in my library/dining room. These days you can buy Thomas Kinkade calendars, shirts, jewelry, wallpaper, and toilet paper. Okay, I made the last one up. Probably.

However, when it comes to books, I prefer a rollercoaster story that flips you upside down, sideways, through a corkscrew, and into a pitch-black tunnel over a piranha pool at 80 mph while you scream your guts out. This confection was ‘It’s A Small World After All’. Since it’s the 11th novel this duo has created, there must be plenty of folks out there who like their books safe and inoffensive.

To quote Seinfeld, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re familiar with Kinkade’s work, then safe and serene is what you’d expect. I read it just to marvel over its cheesiness. A woman painting a bathroom screws up and says, “Drat!” Whoa, cover the childrens' ears. When paint splattered outside the lines during my last home improvement job, my neighbors were treated to a hearty “Son of a BLEEP!” But that’s not all. A teenage boy runs away for the day, setting off a massive search party of at least five individuals, but wait! They find him just before bedtime. And, sniff, he was, oh my goodness, suffering from slight dehydration! The horror!

I shouldn’t make fun. Hey, I’m not published. But to a hardcore suspense and thriller reader, this was comic. I wonder what Donald Maass would make of this book? Does it exhibit micro-tension? Yes, in more ways than one. But I have to give them props. Their marketing strategy is brilliant. The cover is beautiful and they get the last laugh, because the book is here and my money is in their pocket.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Easter Lilies, Alcohol, And Other Inappropriate Gifts for Cats

Hello pet lovers. Did you know that lilies are potentially fatal to cats? I did not. I found out three weeks after an Easter lily had been sitting by this very desk. And when I checked, yep, several leaves had been chewed. Only one of my two fur-babies eats plants, so I knew who won the trip to visit Dr. Schumacher. Sidney, fluff-muffin, come on down! You’re the next contestant on Please Tell Me This Price Ain’t Right.

Off we went to the vet—Sidney, me, and my two children. Sidney got some blood work done and my kids each got a peppermint all at the low, low price of $190. Yowza. The doc assured me that Sidney was probably fine since she was eating, drinking, and acting normal.

Lilies ruin a cat’s renal function. Dr. Schumacher told me there’s a place in Boston where they will put your cat on weekly dialysis if their little kidneys go kaput. I smiled and told him that was out of my price range. He smiled and said he felt ridiculous bringing it up.

Home-again, home-again with a grumpy feline, two kids covered in peppermint goo, and a brochure from the ASPCA listing 101 household dangers. Here is my personal fave:

79. Alcohol – Alcoholic beverages are toxic to pets and should NEVER be given to them during the holidays or any other time.

Are you smiling? If so, good for you! There’s something wrong with that sentence. If you are rolling on the floor, laughing and need of a dry pair of undies, bravo! You possess some editorial savvy. Why continue past ‘them’ or 'pets' for that matter? Are there people out there slipping Princess a bowl of bubbly on New Year’s or Fido a brewski during the Superbowl? Please tell me no. Please.

As for Sydney-pepper, her blood work came back clear. Whew! Time to celebrate, uh, responsibly with nip. Sydney, step away from the Mike's. Right now.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My Beef With The Query Process

Hello fellow writers. Are you stuck in query hell? Have you spent hours researching agents until your eyes cross and your server screams for mercy? Do you cringe before opening your email account, dreading the next rejection or worse still, the lack of response, only to go through the process again an hour later?

I feel your pain. I know agents don’t want to hear about our rejections or our laments about lack of feedback, but I’ve got to let off some stream. I can’t hold back any longer. Somebody needs a wake-up call.

First off, what idiot spent the first two months querying agents without sending a test email to themselves first? ME, that’s who. And guess what Sparky? Remember all those ‘extra’ lines of white space you deleted in the gmail composition window? You fool! You sent over ten queries that showed up as solid blocks of text with zero, I repeat zero, white space! ARRRGGGHHHH!

Not to mention the fact that you blathered on in the opening paragraph in the persona of a minor character seconds before their death. Exciting? Maybe. Stupid? Definitely.

What really gets me is that you kept firing off this abomination to agent after agent even though your stomach was twisting into knots, your palms were sweaty, and your vision was tunneling. Listen to your body, schmuck! It was trying to knock you out before you could burn more bridges!

Okay, new rule. You will absolutely not, under any circumstances, send out queries to agents without sitting on the proposed letter overnight and test-emailing the submission to yourself. Remember that little voice in the night that gave you heart palpitations when it said, “Hey numbnuts, you wrote: Below is my synopsis and first five pages.” Damnit, that’s supposed to be ‘Below are . . .’ .

What am I going to do with you? And one more thing. If you want to see that SASE again, put your address in the center of the envelope, moron, not in the upper left hand corner.

Oh, the humanity!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Tale of Two Endings

I have two signed books in my possession. One is Swann’s Last Song by Charles Salzberg. I met Mr. Salzberg at a NYC Pitch and Shop conference in March. He was the teacher of all things pitch-worthy/coach for our merry band of sixteen thriller/suspense/mystery writers hoping to entice an editor into reading our novels. It was a wonderful experience, and if you can afford it, it’s a lot of fun.

The Swann in Swann’s Last Song is Henry, a skiptracer. Think of a low-end P.I. tracking down folks who have skipped out on their bills. Swann is skilled, but knows his place. That’s why he’s surprised when an attractive, Upper East Side dame asks him to solve her husband’s murder. Mrs. Janus and her request are out of his league, but she’s willing to pay handsomely for his services. Swann is not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially one smelling so seductively of lilacs.

Off he goes, on a journey that will take him out of New York City to the emotional wasteland of L.A., the jungles of Mexico, and a dreary, postwar Berlin. His target, Mr. Janus, is no ordinary antique dealer. Swann uncovers the dead man’s convoluted history of pseudonyms and personas that vary from rock star to Mexican revolutionary to a German spy in search of the lost bones of the ‘Peking Man.’ As Swann sinks deeper into the mystery, the case becomes an obsession—something to be solved at all costs—money, safety, and sanity be damned.

With all the adventure, change of locals, and layering in this mystery, Swann reminds me of a latter day Indiana Jones. Then I discovered this book was written in the 70s. The reason it stayed shelved is a story in itself. Salzberg explains his original intention for this book in Writer’s Digest. (Feb. 2009)

“People, I imagined, would be lulled into thinking they were reading a typical mystery but would then be jolted into realizing it was something more, a literary novel of ideas disguised as something they thought they recognized: the classic, American detective novel.”

In an earlier version, Mr. Janus’s death turns out to be a random murder, unconnected with anything Swann worked so hard to discover. Publishers wouldn’t go for it. So Salzberg rewrote the final chapter.

I like the new ending better. Salzberg had a powerful idea: use a detective novel as a tool to illustrate how messy and unpredictable life can be. But he did such a bang-up job creating the tool that it overpowered his idea. Putting Swann through all that turmoil for naught is too harsh a sentence on the character and the reader. Besides, if Salzberg had kept the first ending, the wonderful opening quote from Ross McDonald wouldn’t fit. Instead he might be coerced into citing Macbeth’s oft-used “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Neither Swann nor Saltzberg are idiots. Nope, they’re too cool for school.

So check it out. Swann is a character not to be missed. Both the Writer’s Digest article and original ending are included. Let me know which ending you prefer.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Shocking Infidelity Story

My husband was away with the children this weekend. I was home alone with two buckets of periwinkle paint and all my bedroom furniture shoved away from the wall, covered in plastic. On Sunday morning, I awoke in my daughter’s twin bed to the sound of a walloping bang that echoed through the house.

My cat Sydney was in the room. She growled at the bang and took off for the stairs. I stayed. If she wanted to battle the huge, terrifying housebreakers I was envisioning, so be it. You go girl. But I don’t think she had the same vision. She thought it was her nemesis, the dark one, Mistoffelees. Which reminds me of a piece I wrote last winter.

I did it again, yesterday. He showed up—short, dark, and oh so handsome. I’m married with two beautiful—but loud—children and two beautiful—usually quiet—felines. But I couldn’t resist. In front of two members of my family, I traipsed out in the snow wearing my house shoes, no less, got down on my knees and sank my hands into the luxurious fur of a huge black, tuxedoed cat we call Mr. Mistoffelees.

Oh my GAWWD, he is soooo cute! I rubbed him from head to tail while my two fur-babies sat stunned in the window. The outrage! Whenever this dark fellow shows up at our domicile, my creampuff, the Fabulous Miss Sydney, will shriek like someone is disemboweling her.

The first time I heard such a caterwauling, it was in the dead of the night. I knew, without a doubt, that an ax-murderer had entered the house and stomped her good. No, it was just Mistoffelees. He is a little devil. He’ll just sit, nose pressed to the sliding glass door, and stare at Miss Sydney with his huge yellow eyes as my poor fluff-muffin yowls, spits, and attacks the window.

Mistoffelees is working the neighborhood. Rumor has it our neighbor is similarly smitten with this lothario and is attempting to adopt him. I heard he calls the cat Jasper. But you, my dark prince, who poops in my peonies and gets my kitten’s knickers in such a twist, you will always be Mistoffelees to me.

So after cowering in my daughter’s bed for a few minutes, I decided the only way to get back to sleep was to go downstairs and verify that no thieves were silently ransacking the house. First I had to get my glasses. And downstairs I crept, wishing for a baseball bat or some sort of weapon, when I realized that Sydney was right. The danger wasn’t inside; it was out. The newspaper delivery person had hurled Sunday’s fat wad of news and advertisements at our plastic storm door with all the vigor of a major league pitcher. At five a.m. There goes your Christmas bonus, dude.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Twitter Me This

Okay, it’s time to enter the wonderful world of blogging. But, alas, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late. Blogging has been around for how many years? Hmmm. To Wikipedia! Looks like ten for blogging as we know it. I blame my father. He dragged his feet on new technology, too. They still have an eight-track player in their house. I kid you not.

So the blogging of yesteryear is passé and all the cool kids are tweeting their little hearts out and following the Jonas Brother’s every sneeze. Oh hand me a barf bag will ya? How am I supposed to get jazzed about writing a—what is it—a one hundred and forty character burst of inconsequential information? And that’s their definition, not mine. Thanks Wiki, I know, I owe you.

Forget cute little bluebirds tweeting in an apple tree. Give me an animal that suits my purposes. Something like a hoary old elephant seal drunk on three-bean enchiladas blowing out long, sonorous gasses from both ends. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. BULAAWWWWWG!

I know I’ll crumble, eventually. Last fall I swore not to get sucked into online query critique circles. Now I can’t stop frolicking through Nathan Bransford’s forums like a mother of six given a dependable babysitter and set loose in a spa. It’s got to stop.

I can see the writing on the chat room walls. The chirping is thunderous. Don’t depend on your agent or publisher to sell your book! Have a strong online presence! Self-promotion or self-immolation – it’s up to you!

What's a Luddite to do? Oh give me a flute. Or better yet, a tuba. BULAWWWG!