Friday, December 31, 2010

10 Things About Sierra and 2010

I have no Google Reader Roundup for you this week because the blogosphere took a huge break and there were far fewer posts this week! (Well, for the most part. Some of you were active as ever, which I was thankful for!)

So instead of this week's Roundup, it seemed appropriate to do a 10 Things About Sierra and 2010, which I did for 2009. Call it an annual indulgence, if you will.

1. I got knocked up. Disaster struck. Then I got knocked up again.
Six months into this pregnancy, I'm healthy and well and so is the baby. This baby, another boy, is going to be born into the year of the Rabbit, which is what I am, and that seems pretty great. Other than that, I have no clue how I'll handle two kids! I'm sure I'll rally. I'll have to. And hey, there's all that reading time while nursing to look forward to.

2. I joined a professional writing group.
That's right, I joined RWA. And you know what? I'm so glad I did. I haven't even begun to take advantage of the benefits yet but I really am enjoying belonging to a professional and well-respected organization. Best yet has been my membership in the RWA-Women's Fiction chapter, which I really enjoy.

3. Rejection didn't kill me.
And it won't. I'm not so silly as to think I don't have acres more to learn about craft and stories and everything. But I put myself out there, got some bites (some of which are still nibbling) and learned a lot. And you know what? I discovered that this is the way it goes. Rejection is a regular part of the writing life.

4. I discovered that it's okay not to love your critique group.
My Toxic Critique Group post drew a ton of hits. I found out that a few trusted readers--fellow writers whom I met through blogging and tweeting--are worth 100 in-person critique groups, when the group isn't working for you. I learned that it's okay to outgrow a group and look for something that does fit what you're writing, what you want to do, and how you want to critique. (Thanks to those of you who helped me this year. Your generosity meant so much to me.)

5. The World Cup lit up my summer.
Despite the fact that the US lost (we cried) and Scotland wasn't even a contender (Scotland being the country in which my team, Hibernian FC, resides), it was a fantastic tournament with a fabulous display of talent. In particular, I rooted for Spain from the get go, and they didn't disappoint. Plus, what was not to love about the vuvuzela? My post about 5 things you can use yours for after the World Cup still draws the most hits out of any post.

6. Goodreads made logging what I read really fun.
I absolutely love Goodreads and love connecting with you on it. I used to keep a log of books I read in Excel, so this site is a great tool for keeping track of what you read, when, and getting recommendations from friends (and giving them). Way fun! According to the stats, I read 25 books this year. You might think that's low, but between mothering, wifing, working, and writing, I'm glad I got to read what I did. Now the challenge is on to see what I can read in 2011!

7. I learned that it's absolutely about community.
I mentioned this above, but the connections I'd made on Twitter and through blogging have furthered and grown my writing career. It's put me directly in touch with agents and authors, it's gotten me recommendations, and it's gotten me support I never dreamed of. Engage! Support! Communicate! That's what it's all about.

8. There's nothing like conjoined twin growing out of your neck jokes.
Man, that one had a healthy life on Twitter, didn't it? Thanks to Linda Grimes for enjoying it and running with it, with her twisted sense of humor.

9. Cupcakes.
Yeah. I started a blog called The Cupcake Quest, and while I don't add to it on a regular schedule, it has quite its own little following on Twitter. Plus, I get to eat cupcakes and post reviews of them. What could be better, really?

10. Change is good.
2010 was really a huge year of change for me, in terms of family, work, and my growth as a writer. Everything happens for a reason at the right time I think, and I look forward to a wild 2011--and I know there will be many more surprises and changes in store.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

3 Steps to Online Storage Choices

Last week before Christmas, author Jody Hedlund blogged about how she's sitting there all peaceful in front of her laptop, drinking hot tea and feeling great, when all of a sudden a nasty trojan virus popped up on her screen. (here's the link to the post)


Jody's post was actually about how unexpected nasty things like that take you by surprise. But equally interesting to me--and others reading the posts, judging by the comments--was, what happened? Did her laptop files get wiped out? Was it a real trojan virus? The answer is yes, but Jody mentioned in her comments that she uses Carbonite online backup, so all was fine.

And when you're a published author--no, when you've written ANYTHING, you'd better have some kind of backup system in place. I know this. You know this. But are you actually backing up? Cause I sure as hell wasn't.

Here's the deal. I have an external hard drive, a big fat one that holds a million GB or whatever, but it requires that I sit there and plug into it. And because I use a laptop all around different areas of the house, I don't do that. I never do that. So, I never backup despite repeated reminders from friends, despite little pings from Toshiba (manufacturer of my laptop) to do so. I've never done it, because I was too damned lazy. I mean, for God's sake, I'm not going to go plug it in to my laptop! That is lunacy.

And more importantly, my laptop is newish and in good working order and my virus protection is up to date (actually, it just expired...guess I better take care of that too).

But Jody's post proved none of that matters. And I may not be published yet, but I started thinking about my WIP and my novel on submission and all the ideas and hours and work I've put into writing. It would KILL ME to see that all disappear or go corrupted merely because I hadn't backed up. I started feeling kind of sick thinking about it, kind of like when you eat a large chili cheese dog with sauerkraut and then drink borscht to wash it down. Ewww.

So. I am too lazy to back up to the external hard drive. What would be nice is a simple automatic thing that does it for me, with no hassle. Also, I want to back up all the photos and videos we've taken since the whippersnapper was born.

I did what any smart person does when one needs answers: I asked Twitter. And the answer was, yes, it's good-- but so are other online backup services. Mr. Sierra, darling saint that he is, took the time to research the best rated ones for me. PC Magazine and Cnet both have some great comprehensive reviews. Here are some steps I put together if you want to know the basics:

1. Decide what you want.
You might want to just back up your laptop, or you might want to back up your entire music and photo collection across 500 DVDs and hard drives. Also, you might want to back up other computers in your household. If so, you need to know which services do multiple PCs, external hard drives, and how much storage you get for your money. (See below for the basics.)

2. Estimate how much space you'll need.
They say the average user thinks they'll need like 50 GB when in fact they usually only use about 20. But when Whippersnapper #2 is born in April, I'm guessing we're going to have a crap load more photos and videos. So what I might backup now might increase over the next two years.

3. Consider your long-term plans.
Even if you don't know what you're going to do with your digital stuff, I want to know that I'm using a company that's going to be around for a while--particularly if something happens to my original copies. What happens when if your online backup company goes out of business? I mean, are they expecting to be around forever? I don't know, but the company's marketing and positioning might have an effect on my choice.

So, here are some quick service run downs but I recommend you do your own reviewing. There are many more companies out there but these are the biggest I think.
  • Carbonite --unlimited storage for $54.99 for a year, exudes stability, and also has great user interface. But no multiple PCs and no external hard drives.
  • MiMedia -- price plans depending on storage ($50 or so for the first 25 GB), and an awesome quick way to load all your crap onto a storage device and then bank it with them. But, 25 GB limit and I didn't need the extras like a web portal.
  • MozyHome - price plans depend on storage, stable company behind it, good user interface. But won't back up external hard drives or multiple PCs.
  • Norton - multiple PC backup, web based interface, about $50 for the first 25 GB, and is a trusted company. But, their interface integration into Norton security was, the last time I checked, shit.
  • SOS Online Backup -- This got a very good rating at PC Mag, but I'm giving this a huge thumbs down because when I went to their web site, there were NO links whatsoever to questions I have about the service including price--just a button inviting me to sign up...and a phone number inviting me to call if I had questions. Um, really? Really, guys? Seriously?
Here's the link to the PC Magazine online backup reviews

I ended up going for Carbonite's free trial, but I have to make some careful decisions because they don't back up external hard drives, and I need that.

But, God do I feel better about backing up.
Comments? Thoughts about other backup services/solutions/companies? Do you backup? Do you use the same excuses I did?

Monday, December 27, 2010

3 Things I love in a Great Adventure Novel

My wonderful, late great-aunt Blonda was a very special lady. She paid a lot of attention to me when I was little, and was one of the most relaxed and fun adults I knew. She actually played games with me--games I wanted to play--which was unusual among the adults I knew. I was an only child so someone who was willing to play at my level was a favorite. Blonda was also refreshingly honest, and told things like they are. And, she and I had a deal: I could curse if I wanted, and she wouldn't say a thing. One of my earliest memories of her is in her farm house in Ohio, and how we'd pick blackberries together. Some of my last memories of her are the times I spent with her after she'd moved to California.

One of the things Blonda did was send me the boxed set of CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, probably when I was about 11 or 12. Blonda, I think, loved fantasy and mystical stories; she may or may not have been religious (I just don't know). I still have this box set. I kept it for my own children because the books are so fabulous. (The books I've kept for my own kids are another subject of another post coming soon.) The editions I have are Collier Books. Cover photo at right.

My favorite book from the Narnia series is book 3: the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I will. The last time I read it, I was probably 13 or so. But I loved it so much. The whole Christian allegory thing totally went over my head when I was a kid (sorry, Mr. Lewis), probably because I had no background or understanding of Christianity at that point.

I am a Catholic now, however, so re-reading the books is interesting from that perspective. But after seeing the first Narnia movie some years ago (The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe), I tried to re-read the book and I just couldn't. I'd moved beyond it. Sadly, I placed it back on the shelf. The books in the Narnia series are not fantastic--not like Lord of the Rings, but they are decently good adventures.

This is particularly the case with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is so full of adventure and solid plot and great characters that when I picked it up again the other night, I just dove into it. Of course, I'm reading it with different things in mind now: as a Christian, on the look-out for the allegorical elements; as a writer, on the look-out for craft, plot, and character; as a fan of a damn good adventure novel. It didn't disappoint on any front.

I wanted to just call your attention to some of the finer elements:

A fantastic first line
"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
Holy Krakow, what a first line! He almost deserved it! Need to know more! This is about as fine a first line as I can think of.

Identification with a character
In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, we had four kids to care about. But in the Voyage, we have a different cast--the disagreeable Eustace, who we don't actually care about because he's such a twerp (until he proves otherwise), Caspian, and two of the original four kids: Lucy and Edmund. Lucy is the only girl and everyone on board the Dawn Treader treats her with a genteel-like respect and courtesy. And she's a kid! This tickled me when I was 13, and I still enjoy this element now. Is this limited in the sexual characterization? Yes! But who cares. What I liked about it is that a girl was treated with courtesy by grown men.

Solid fantastical elements
The story more than any other in the series, perhaps because it is a seafaring adventure, really has some great classic elements that remind me a lot of Enid Blyton-style fantasy. There's dragons, sea serpents, mer-people, and tables full of delicious food that magically replenish. And, of course, there's the overall message for each of the main characters. There are also moral elements like honesty, loyalty, bravery, and behaving kindly and compassionately to our fellow humans. You could say these are the Christian elements of the story, but whatever--these are just plain excellent story elements for an adventure.

Vivid imagery
When Eustace lands on the pile of dragon's treasure, you can almost feel the sharpness of the metal and see the glint of yellow gold and red rubies in the dim cave light. When the ship enters the Dark Island, you can feel the cold and sense the nasty things on the island waiting, creeping. You can feel the horror reflected in the bulging eyes of the passenger they pick up there. You can taste and feel the lightness of the water and sun in the Last Sea. It's all very, very clear and even now at my advanced age, I was swept away by it.

I haven't seen the movie yet. I suppose I will soon, but for now I wanted to relive everything I loved originally about the book (because, as I'm sure you'll all agree with, what is better than a well-written tale?). If you haven't read this, please pick it up even if you're not interested in the rest of the Narnia series--it's a great one in a standalone kind of way.

What adventure stories were stand outs for you, either as a kid or now? I'd love to hear.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

Lovies, it's a Christmas Roundup! And with that comes snow.

Have a beautiful Christmas. If you don't celebrate Christmas, then have a beautiful day anyway.

  • Anne Allen gives a pretty well rounded list of ways to find topics to blog about in her fourth installment of her wildly popular How to Blog series--and it totally has become a series! Also she mentions me and I squeed over that.
  • Meghan Ward posts her own version of my holiday gift ideas for writers, with full credit to moi (thanks Meghan). This link listed here is a bit late now seeing as it's Christmas Eve, however I think the list is a fine one to keep handy and spend all those B&N and Amazon gift cards you're getting for Christmas. I hope. (Cause that's what *I* asked for.)
  • The HuffPo, which recently published a story on another area of its site with a photo credited to "AP File" when in fact the photo was taken from a press release I put out for my company and the photo was in fact one of our project photos-- just saying--and then didn't respond when I sent an email pointing out the fact --also just saying-- featured a link to an AOL Daily Finance story that Julian Assange has just landed a book deal. Perhaps he will write about how he raped women and got away with it. Oooh, yes I did just say it.
  • Rachelle Gardener asks, will all good writers be published? It's a good question and the answer is definitely not all-- except if your name is Julian Assange, apparently.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beating Mike Chen

My bloggy/writing friend Mike Chen and I have a friendly competition going right now, til the end of the year. Well, it's friendly on his part. It's rather serious on my part. What did you expect? I have a nemesis, after all.

Mike and I agree on many things in life, and that includes (but is not limited to): music, writing, marriage, and what constitutes stupidity. Those are the biggies. The fact that we disagree on which is the better sport (him: hockey, me: soccer) is irrelevant, because we both agree on the extreme ugliness of some hockey players. (The winner is Mike Ricci. Yeah, he has nubs for teeth. Imagine kissing that.)

Anyway, Mike (Chen, that is, not Ricci, the horror! The horror!) and I have a deal going: we're both pushing to finish the first draft of our WIPs by the end of the year. The deal is, we're striving to reach 82-85k on our drafts. We spur each other on by working on the drafts and then send irritating little emails to each other with our word count. Well, I suppose they're not that irritating. Only if you're the one behind, which Mike currently is. I love a competition, and his word count emails definitely have spurred me on to get my draft done. It's been great because there are plenty of nights when I think I'm too tired, or need some sleep, or some other namby-pamby pregnancy woe. No. No! I have Mike Chen to beat here!

If we'd done this right, we would have the other write a public ode to the winner's favorite sport or something, but as it stands we have no prize. But it's not too late! We can! If you have any suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

And finally, if you need that extra push, I highly recommend pairing with someone to beat write with. It really gets you past the hard nights where you think you have no energy. Believe me, I have energy when I think Mike is creeping up near my word count. Back! Back, I tell you!

If you're looking for a writing push partner, you might consider leaving a comment here and seeing if you can pair up with anyone that way. Hey, that's how I found my nemesis.

Mike and I haven't decided if we'll extend the competition to the editing phase, because editing is difficult to calculate. Also, I'll be giving birth in April, and that might throw a stick in the works and I can't have Mike pulling ahead because of a little thing like birth. Mike suggested I get a netbook to write while nursing but the thought of a computer being covered in stinky spit up is too much to bear. Also, it negates the whole bonding thing.

But I'll find some way to get in there, watch and see.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mistakes and Atonement

One recent morning, my little boy, age 4, was whining his usual "I don't wanna to go to school" song. He has to go to preschool, because I have to work, and him being at home while I work doesn't compute. As well, he gets pretty vital stimulation from preschool, including lots of prep for the big K. We all get that. But he makes it very difficult when he pulls the I don't wanna go crap.

So I left the room to go get my shoes and he burst into tears--he's a great dramatist. He screamed and cried in agony over having to go to school. This crying and wailing went on for several minutes until I came back in the room and told him to stop. His response was to emit a loud banshee scream of anger and upset. The kind of scream that scatters flocks of birds half way down the block.

I lost my nut.

I threw my shoes down and marched over to him, intending to take him by the shoulders and have an eye-level discussion on what, exactly, this screaming was about, and why we didn't need it.

But funny things happen when you're reaching to grab your kid because you're pissed and not being careful.

On the way to grabbing his shoulder, the inside of my thumb nail slid across his cheek--leaving an ugly, awful red trail. He screamed more, of course, shocked by the pain of an unexpected gouging by his own mother, and I stared, shocked that I had just scratched my baby's cheek enough to make it bleed.

And the horrid thing is that I had just earlier that morning admired how thick and long my nails were getting due to pregnancy hormones.

It was just awful.

More tears resulted, of course, and then I had to explain that in no way whatsoever did Mommy intend to scratch him (and oh God the blood!), and that yes, she was angry that he had screamed, which we would discuss in just a moment, but that first he should understand that I would not hurt him on purpose and would never go and try to scratch him on purpose. (By now the scratch was swelling into a nasty welt that almost certainly would not fade anytime soon, probably not before Christmas.)

I don't know if he understood or was able to separate out the scratch from the trouble he knew he was getting in for screaming like a banshee, but I did my best to explain things several times, including why banshee-screaming over going to preschool (an inevitable destination, since we were, in fact, going) was not cool.

After a while, we calmed and he asked for a bandaid for his face. I cringed. The scratch was completely hideous, and maybe a bandaid would look better than the red welt on his cheek. Plus, he loves picking out bandaids. So we went up and he picked a lovely Transformers bandaid, so bright in its colors that it would call attention to his face from three streets away, and on to preschool we went.

As soon as we walked in--the entry mind you, not even the classroom--a teacher saw, said hello, and asked what happened to his face.

Me: Cringe.

Boy: "It's a scratch."

Teacher: "Who scratched you?"

Me: Cringe

Boy: "Mommy."

Me: Cringe, cringe.

We get to his classroom and immediately his little friends crowded around him, fascinated by the bright Transformers bandaid on his face, as though it freaking glowed and dispensed candy or something. They asked my boy what happened, and by then the boy was warming to his subject and told them all,"Mommy scratched me."

Not the best mothering moment.

I felt horrible, and I deserved to feel horrible, because after all, I'd done it. Worst of all would be when Mr. Sierra saw it and realized what his wife had done to his son. To his credit, Mr. Sierra was understanding and didn't mention at all divorce or restraining orders and little to no visitation rights. But he could have thought them. I would have, had I been him.

I hate it when these things happen. In the whippersnapper's four years, I've had to learn patience the hard way--when I had very little to begin with--and it hasn't been easy. I've lost it many times (although I'd never managed to maim my child before now). For a long time, I questioned having another child because I felt like I could barely get a handle on this mothering thing with the first one. How could I be so selfish as to have another one and subject him to the same frustration and un-model-mothering?

A lot of times, I go down what I feel like is the wrong path in mothering. I do this while I'm drafting stories, too. I make a mistake, and back out. When I'm writing, this is easy because you can just hit the backspace key or select large offending paragraphs and hit delete, like it never happened. But real life is different. I have never figured out how to "undo" mistakes I've made, especially ones as a mother. I'm fascinated by the whole concept of atonement for things you know you've screwed up on. How do you do it? What do you do? I'm not sure anyone has the answer, but I've known for several months that I'll be exploring that theme in my next novel.
(The current WIP theme is about how our parents affect us as adults.)

The only answer I've ever been able to come up with is to just do my best going forward and keep in mind the mistake I made (although accidentally scratching wasn't a mistake so much as an accident; but I could have tried the calm approach and then perhaps my hand wouldn't have gone toward his face at such velocity).

Any thoughts? I'd love to know what you do to rectify mistakes, and what you think about atonement. Have any good books for me to read on the subject?

The day I wrote this post, Carrie Heim Binas wrote her post on trying better. It really came at a good time, as you can see, and I kind of get that you screw up as a parent, or as anything--a person, a spouse, a friend, a writer. Or, not even that you screw up--but that you don't do the best job, but the next time you do it better. I didn't scratch my boy on purpose God knows, but what could I have done differently? Definitely I should work on staying calmer, because if I hadn't rushed at him, my thumbnail wouldn't have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. I get that you try better next time. It didn't erase me feeling like a hideous monster, but it helped a lot.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • Anne Allen gives us How to Blog Part III - 14 mistakes to avoid. Note my one that I called out about not spamming your blog followers with email about anything whatsoever. It's completely unacceptable and if you do this, I will shut you out as fast as you can click "oops". This has happened to several bloggers recently and it's not okay.
  • Jessica Brooks again talked about how bloggers and tweeters and forum users have gone on about "helpful rejections" when in fact they are referring to standard form rejection letters that merely polite in tone. Helpful refers to specific advice to improve a manuscript, a rare thing. So Lydia Sharp posted one of these on her blog.
  • Carrie Heim Binas posts a thoughtful and eloquent post on failing better. I just Carrie for this. She's so...I'm very proud of her. She writes excellent posts, and her posts keep getting better. Carrie's blog is like the evolution of a great writer in real time.
  • Joe Moore at the Kill Zone has a holiday gift for us: some awesome suggestions on where to go for aspects of our books, including characters names, locations, bios, and statistics.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pull(maning) from Others

Monday I went off on a bit of of tangent about advance copies and how I used to basically feed my soul with them. Today I want to talk about what inspired the story about Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass advance reader copy in the first place.

Philip Pullman is known for speaking his mind and telling it like it is, if you will. This past September in an article in the Guardian, he said that "...the use of the present tense in fiction had been getting more and more common, and I didn't like it."

For Pullman to say this gave me pause. I liked that he said something so critically bold, and because he's a great storyteller and a great writer, I listened. He goes on in the article I linked above to clarify that he thinks present tense is a great device in contrast and then lists some wonderful examples of what he means. You get the sense that Pullman has studied his craft and read widely. And that's what I really wanted to talk about today.

One thing that has always touched me about Pullman as a writer is something he wrote in the author's note to the completion of the His Dark Materials series, which begins with The Golden Compass, continues with The Subtle Knife, and ends with The Amber Spyglass.*

*I just used present tense in the way that he described it working; note the contrast in present in my sentence and the events of the past (writing the books in the series).

In that author's note, he says the following, which floored me completely:

"I have stolen ideas from every book I have ever read. My principle in researching for a novel is 'Read like a butterfly, write like a bee,' and if this story contains any honey, it is entirely because of the quality of the nectar I found in the work of better writers."

He goes on to list three works that particularly influenced the creation and writing of that series (The essay "On the Marionette Theatre," by Heinrich von Kleist, which Pullman says he read in 1978, John Milton's Paradise Lost, and the works of William Blake.)

We all pull from other writers, or we should. Les Edgarton's book Hooked talks about (and recommends) this concept of stealing from other writers. NOT plagiarizing, you understand, but learning from others and using what you learn in your own writing. Maybe it's a theme, or style, or word, or a style of voice, maybe it's a trick of character, maybe it's a clever use of adverb. Whatever it is, it's not plagiarizing when you read something that delights you, internalize it, and make it yours.

What I loved is that Pullman puts it out there and admits it, and he didn't have to.

Some authors I have appropriated elements, ideas, or tricks from:
  • Maeve Binchy
  • Marian Keyes
  • Gerald Durrell
  • Bill Bryson
  • Nick Hornby
  • Kate Morton
  • Mary Kay Andrews
  • Anne Tyler
  • Anne Lamott
  • Ian Rankin
These authors aren't the only ones I've pulled from, but they are but some of the ones that have influenced me most recently--and who influence me every time I re-read them, or read something new by them.

What do you think--do you do this? Should you do this, do you agree with Philip Pullman (and me)? Who are some of the authors you've pulled from recently or over your life as a reader and writer?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advance Copies

When I was a very young lady, I worked in a bookstore for three great years. I loved the job because I loved being among books, and being in bookstores and libraries still is one of my favorite things to do today.

I did not like the customers because invariably they would be disagreeable, so when our small store was transmorphed into a huge monster-eating mega store, I finagled a position in the receiving and returns department, which was beyond fabulous because I got to see every new book that came in (this meant putting aside copies for myself of great new titles), and send under-selling titles back, which meant stripping covers off paperbacks (employees could keep a stripped copy or two; this was a great way to read older titles), and sending back older books to publishers for credit.

It also meant advance reader copies went straight into my hot little hands. In those days (I'm talking 1994-1997), publishing house reps would go from store to store and actually place orders based on our sales information. Striking up a good relationship with these reps was key because they would keep their eye out for titles and authors you liked and bring you advance copies. I was close enough with our Bantam Double Day rep to exchange Christmas cards for several years until we sadly fell out of touch.

Bookstore employees were encouraged to read the advance copies and recommend them to customers; we were also allowed to actually check out books and read them as long as we didn't breathe on them or fail to turn the pages with sterilized tongs...not a problem since that's how I treat my books anyway. (I'm kidding about them requiring that. But not kidding that that's how I treat my books.) So we employees actually got quite a few advance copies--also commonly marked "Uncorrected Proof."

One advance copy that came in around that time was The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman. I still have this copy, and it's in great condition. I have scanned the cover so you can see the fetching artwork--it's changed since then, but it reflects the original release, first edition artwork, which is absolutely what attracted me to it in the first place. I couldn't get away from that gorgeous polar bear*.

*For some reason, I am completely swayed by pictures of polar bears. If you want to lure me into a secret cave and trap me, put a picture of a polar bear in front. I'm yours. Note: this will not work for my nemesis, obviously.

I didn't actually read it for a few years. In fact, I only took it because I was leaving the store for greater pastures and was trying to get as many advance copies as I could to last me a while since I wouldn't have the bounty again. It took me probably two or three years before I got around to reading The Golden Compass, and my God. My God! What a book! By the time I was done reading it, I looked for more in the series and lo and behold, the next one was just being published. The squeeing that went on!

The point of this post was to talk about something Pullman put in one of his author's notes for this series, and I will do that on Wednesday, because today I want to wallow in the glory of how cool advance copies are. The Golden Compass copy is from 1995, and it did a lot of promotion for the book. The inside cover features a letter from the publisher imploring us to see how extraordinary and fantastic the book and Pullman are--and if you click on the cover of the image, you can enlarge it and see the quotes of preliminary reviews taking up the cover space. On the back cover, it actually lists the marketing stats. Take a gander:

  • First printing: 100,000 copies
  • $250,000 advertising and promotional budget
  • Internet publicity: science fiction/fantasy groups
  • Author tour
  • Reading group guide
Holy cow! What a plan. And how cool that they put this info right on the back of the advance copy! I should note here that my copy has "Uncorrected proof" all over it but I never saw any mistakes when I read it, which I have, several times.

It got me thinking about other advance copies. I had a ton, but I think I must have gotten rid of them over time because the only other one still on my shelf that I could find was for the beautiful book Arranged Marriage, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

This "advance uncorrected proof," as it is labeled, is much less exciting than the one for The Golden Compass, as you can see. It features what looks like a photocopied and size-reduced picture of the actual cover, with some basic information stamped below (in the oval):
  • Tentative publication: July 1995
  • Tentative price: US $19.95/Canada $26.95
  • Please note that any quotes for reviews must be checked against the finished book.
The back cover offers a few more scintillating tidbits:
  • 5 1/2" x 8 1/4"
  • 320 pages
  • ISBN number
Not very exciting. But, it was more of a complete book than The Golden Compass, which didn't even have a copyright/publisher's page. Arranged Marriage does. Also, it's pretty clear that Arranged Marriage didn't have a massive PR campaign attached to it.

But, Arranged Marriage is signed. To me, by Ms. Divakaruni.

I met her at a bookstore signing when Arranged Marriage was finally released. I'd read the advanced copy and loved it (go buy it, it's superb), and was excited to meet her. I remember the look she gave me when she saw my copy, a plain paperback, with "Advance uncorrected proof" on it. It was kind of a double-take, and the bookstore minder next to her kind of sneered, like I was trying to pull one over on them by bringing a very different-looking book to be signed. But Ms. Divakaruni said nothing, and graciously signed it. She has since remained a favorite author of mine, and I've bought and read her later books, but I didn't realize until much later that she must have thought me horribly cheap and gauche for bringing an advance copy to be signed. But I loved that copy, because that was the one with which I'd fallen in love with her words.

Those are my advance copy stories.

Have you ever had the fortune of getting your hands on one of these gems, that were not your own (for those published writers reading)? Thoughts?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

Well guys, I was laid low by a nasty stomach flu this week, so you have my apologies for such a short list. I wasn't even able to read blogs today and gather good stuff...I'm sure I missed some great posts this week, but I look forward to catching up over the weekend.

  • A continuation of Anne Allen's blogging series, here's a list of ways to establish a popular blog. (Like this one, naturally.) Anne, I didn't get a chance to tell you this, but you wondered if your blogging on Sundays was bad because supposedly the most-read blog days are Wednesday and Thursday--I wanted to tell you that you're still blogging on Wednesday and Thursday since you blog once a week. We just get to read you at our leisure.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Writing Your Age

This year I read a lot more books than I have in recent years--probably because my whippersnapper is at an age where I can spend more time reading. And also, Goodreads absolutely is a God send in terms of keeping track. I used to keep an Excel file of books I read with little notes because I couldn't remember books I'd read the previous year. Let's just say that since having children, my mind has gone to pot.

Anyway, when I was younger I used to do a lot of re-reading of my books, but this year I don't think I re-read anything. I've been too busy hungrily reading new things in order to learn about writing (from fiction)--and also because I have this fear that I must read, read, read in case I am hit by a bus or something. But a few weeks ago, Tawna Fenske had a great post about re-reading books at different stages in your life and having a completely different perspective each time your read. That's the joy of re-reading, of course. Tawna points to Diana Galbaldon's Outlander as one of her favorites, and how depending on what age you are when you read it, you might have different reactions to the age difference between Claire and Jamie. It was a great point.

I think this happens when we write and age, too. For example, one of my most all time favorite authors, Marian Keyes, has said that she writes characters that generally match her own age. So her first novel has a main character who is about 30. Each subsequent book has older character--not by much, but a year or two. I noticed that I've done this, too. The first novel I ever wrote had a main character who was a resolute 26. Subsequent novels had characters (all women) who creeped up on age 30, and now I'm up to 33 and 34 without a bat of the eye. It just feels right.

It would follow that to challenge myself, I should probably think about writing characters at a totally different age than myself, but that's a post for another time.

Do you do this? Do your characters follow your own age, and have they done so in the evolution of your writing development? What about stories you enjoy? Do you like reading books with characters you own age?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Holiday Gifts for Writers

There are lots of blog posts going round with awesome gift ideas, and I'm going to be no different. The gift suggestions below are ones that I've found in the past few weeks that I always think "Dang, I should put that on the blog!" when I see them.

Disclaimer: I have received none of these as samples and have tested none. (That said, I am not adverse to receiving free samples of any of the below, retailers!)

Without further ado, here's my list of things to give other writers, or demand for yourself.

Fun Things

"Ask me about my book" shirt
The perfect gift for anyone--published or not. If not published, then it ensures you have that pitch ready. If published, then it gives you a walking advertising. Win-win!
Link to buy

Never Never Never Give Up plaque
Winston Churchill's famous address to Britons is highly appropriate for every writer.
Link to buy

Pacman Moleskine
This doesn't need any explanation.
Link to buy

Rory's Story Cubes
There's nice dice in the set and you roll some combo of them to tell a story. A good brain-starter, and if you use it as a party game, then you'll totally kill at it!
Link to buy

Reference books
Reference books are always welcome for a writer's shelf. Here are some of my favorites:

An Exhaltation of Larks by James Lipton
This is one of my all-time favorite books and very nearly indispensable. It lists the plural form of hundreds of animals and birds. If nothing else, it teaches you one of my most favorite: a murder of crows.
Link to buy

Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition
You know you want this. I have the 14th edition and even I want this.Confused as to how to refer to titles in text? Want to know the difference between an em and an en dash? The CMOS has it all. This is writing's definitive style manual, especially for fiction writing.
Link to buy

The A-Z Guide to Perfume
If you missed this a few weeks ago in my Google Reader Roundup, you missed a great one. This book is a fabulous collection of description of scents--and an unexpected reference for writers. Get it, learn from it, and sit in awe of the power of description. I just got my copy in the mail and even Mr. Sierra was absorbed by it. The descriptions and critiques are incredibly well-written and thoughtful, and really teach you to describe something by smell and experience. It's an incredible source. On Amazon, the reviews range the gamut from good to bad, and I noticed that the review giving it one star complained about the "the constant avalanche of snark." I'm sorry, that's a positive. The authors are deliciously and clever in their harsh judgment (and praise, too). But it's the descriptions you'll love. One of my favorites: how on perfume from the 1980s smells like "Burt Reynolds naked on a bear skin rug." As I vaguely remember the sleezy, sweet smell of that perfume, the image was right on. Get this book!
Link to buy

Other Books

The Autobiography of Mark Twain
Did you know Twain wrote this and then left instructions not to publish it until 100 years after his death? Well, it has been, and now it's published. Think of all the people who would have liked to read this but died before now, thanks to Mr. Twain's outrageous selfishness. Count yourself lucky to get a copy.
Link to buy

At Home by Bill Bryson
You can't really go wrong with any of Bryson's books, but At Home in particular is a wonderful traipse through the history of homes and houses, with a focus on those in England. With each chapter, named after a different room, you get not only the history of the room's origins, but also a sociology lesson. For example, the chapter on sculleries and larders delves in a truly fascinating account of servant's lives, especially in the Victorian era. The book in incredibly well-researched and I've learned so much already from it.
Link to buy

Have any to add? This is admittedly a rather incomplete list, but it wasn't meant to exhaustive.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • Pimp My Novel is discussing Genre Sales this week and next, so defo take a look. I particularly enjoyed his post on mashups--those books that are re-takes on old material, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. What Eric says is, "Stop writing that. It was funny the first time only." I couldn't agree more.
  • This LA Times post about the Best Bookstores in the World showed up in Nathan Bransford's week in books wrap up last Friday, and I wanted to call special attention to it because it mentions one of the best bookstores I know about: Atlantis Books in Santorini, Greece. Atlantis Books is basically in a cave in the town of Oia on Santorini. For those of you who don't know, I lived in Santorini for a few years as a kid (see these posts). A few years ago I wrote a novel that takes place there, which I had a lot of fun writing, especially knowing the island's curves as I do. And Atlantis Books? Featured heavily in the novel. How could I not? When I lived there, a bookstore with actual books in English would have made me explode into many pieces of delight, rather like the volcano that Santorini is. Alas, Atlantis did not yet exist when I was there. Its presence changes the dynamics of the island somewhat, for to be without reading material know what? I need to do a blog post about this. Yes. Expect one soon. :)
  • Janice Hardy gives us a another freaking great post on telling red flags. Janice is so smart, I don't even think I could have written a post like this because I wouldn't be able to recognize half of them enough to write about them. Well, I can now, thanks to Janice.
Happy weekend, loverlies!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

2 Important Things Writers Should Remember, Part II

Monday I posted about the first important thing that I thought writers should remember: that you should put your energy into your intention. Thanks everyone who commented with super nice sweet things to say. Today I'm talking about the second thing I think writers should remember.

As I said Monday, these are just my thoughts on the big picture of a writer's pursuits, whatever those pursuits may be. For most of us, that includes representation and publication (and then success). I'll repeat here what I said Monday: I'm currently unrepresented and unpublished, so you may not really care to hear what I have to say. After all, I haven't been there, have I? These are just my thoughts. Agree or disagree, I'd love to hear what you think in the comments.

So for the past three years or so, I have spent a lot of time writing. I don't take a lot of breaks. I usually write after my whippersnapper goes to bed. I also blog then, and read, too. I've kept up a pretty feverish writing pace, and I've never regretted it. I don't question my pace because I love writing. Writing is my play, and I do it instead of watching TV or cleaning. Also, I know I had a lot of ground to cover because while I'd always written stories all my life, I'd never written novels. There's a lot of learning to be done.

Last weekend while being pampered and served by my mother, I had lots of time to think and surf the internet and catch up on my reading. One of those I caught up with was Writer's Digest. When I saw Zachary Petite's Promptly blog post on Writer's Digest about the one thing Sue Grafton reminds herself of with every book she writes, I liked what Sue had to say, and then kind of moved on. But later on, I realized it really resonated with me. A lot, in fact. I knew I'd arrived at the second important thing I think writers should remember:

Writing is play.

Sue Grafton actually said her lesson is that she should trust the process, but ends with the reminder that writing is play. When I question what the hell I'm doing, what dreck I'm pushing out, what effort I put in, why I bother researching every single agent I submit to far, far more than it takes for them to reject me, I remind myself that writing is my play. I never tire of it, and therefore I never tire of any part of the process associated with it, including the search for representation and publication. I've heard it said many times that publishing is a business and cannot be approached as a hobby or anything less than a job. And I agree, 100%. But for me, if I don't have the underlying passion and drive for the thing in the first place, if it isn't my form of play, then how can a publishing career be a long-term pursuit for me?

Your mileage may vary, of course. But I need anything I do intently and whole-heartedly to be my play, or else I won't put the intensity in that it requires. I've got to love it.

What do you think? What do you think about both of these important things writers should remember?

Monday, November 29, 2010

2 Important Things Writers Should Remember, Part I

I was up at my mom's this weekend, napping off Thanksgiving and generally being pampered in the way that you do when you go to your mom's. I had plenty of time to think, and thought about where I am in the writing and publishing journey. I usually don't talk about where I am with things on the blog, but maybe some displaced end-of-the-year sentimentality suggested it, I don't know. Or maybe I just grow introspective when I have my meals all cooked for me and lots of napping time and free child care.

Either way, one of the things I do when I have a lot of time to think is question what I'm doing, where I am, and how I'm doing. I've queried a lot of agents for one of my novels, a novel that I really love the story of, and both my query and my opening chapters have changed quite a bit during the process. There's been a lot of rejection, a lot of encouragement, and some of the best advice and help I've ever gotten from special, caring, smart friends (you know who you are, and thank you again so, so much). I've had fulls requested, I've had fulls form rejected. I've learned a lot. I've started work on a new story, and put everything I learned into that one.

I've questioned myself many times. Am I ready? Do I deserve representation? Am I ready for the demands that will bring? Can I honestly agree that my novel is good enough for the professional business? Should I give up on the current novel query? I think it's healthy to ask yourself these questions. I also realized two really important things writers should remember. (Note: I am currently unrepresented and unpublished, and I realize that may make hearing what I have to say irrelevant. After all, I haven't been there, have I? How can I possibly have experience enough to tell you what important things you should remember? Just saying I recognize that fact.)

So one of the things my mom does for me when I visit (apart from everything else) is make an appointment for me with her pedicurist (although pedicurist is a shabby term for the woman, Judy, who gives you a whole foot experience with massage, soaking, tidying your feet --a particular joy if you have trouble reaching them because of a growing pregnant belly). Yeah, my mom's house is like my own personal spa. She also pays for my appointment. Take a moment to turn green with envy.

While having my feet pampered by the pedicurist Judy this weekend, I asked her how business was. She works in a small mountain town with a glut of personal service businesses like massage and pedicurists and spas, and she doesn't do any marketing at all. But her business has been steady. In contrasts, her neighbor who does massage with her feet (as in, walks on you), does a lot of marketing and yet her business has dropped off. So how does Judy stay in business? She told me what I think is the first important thing for any artist to remember:

Put all your energy into your intention.

Judy said her neighbor didn't really do that. She diversified her services and didn't concentrate on her massage-by-foot business, putting little time and heart into it and instead letting her marketing signs and brochures do that work. And the result is unfortunate, because Judy said her neighbor is very talented. Judy arrived in the small town 10 years ago and focused on her shop and that was it, and it's paid off.

This is a little bit like The Secret, I guess, but I liked the way Judy said it. Maybe you don't want to put your energy into your intention, or maybe your intention has changed. Maybe you aren't even sure what your intention is, and that's okay. I'm just saying that I know what mine is, and I'm going to continue putting my heart and energy into it. It just is going to be that way.

What do you think? Do you agree that this is an incredibly important thing to remember, or has all the pampering gone to my head?

Come back Wednesday for Part II of this post, where I mention the second most important thing for writers to remember.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

Happy post-Thanksgiving Roundup, loverlies! I had a lovely Thanksgiving, stuffing my face full of every thing I could to the point where I was unable to tell what was food and what was baby. Luckily my stomach is getting so big that a big bloated tummy is nearly indistinguishable from Cletus the Fetus, so I was able to get away with pretending I was merely pregnant, when in fact I was carrying at least a 9 pound Food Baby as well.

I always make cranberry sauce and roasted-garlic mashed potatoes every year. This year, I used Barefoot Contessa's cranberry fruit compote recipe (yes, that very one) and it was GREAT. For the mashed potatoes, I roast garlic ahead of time (cut 1/2 inch off the heads so the garlic is exposed, drizzle with olive oil, bake in a 425 oven for 55 minutes and then mash the garlic once it cools). Then I followed this awesome Williams Sonoma recipe for buttermilk chive potatoes and let me tell you: best mashed potatoes I've ever made. (Oh yeah, and add in the mashed roasted garlic before you add in the chives.)

Anyway, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Please know that I am super thankful that you all read my blog--every time I get a comment it makes me smile, and I just love you guys. Also I am thankful that I don't have a partially-formed dead conjoined twin growing out of my neck, or a disfiguring disease, or colon cancer that would require a colostomy bag (awful), or other horrid hardships. Instead, I have a great job, health insurance, my house is not being foreclosed on, I have a really saintly husband who puts up with me, a very very sweet darling boy, and another whipsnap on the way. And I am so excited and thankful that I get to write.

I said this already above, but I'll just say it again: I am thankful for you, my blog readers, who gratify my ramblings and validate my thoughts.


  • Roni Loren, who was on fire this week, discusses overwriting, and then helpfully describes how not to do it.
  • Jane Friedman's query series continues with post 8 with query letter red flags, and post 9 with actual full queries critiqued.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The World Has Changed

I've been reading with interest and growing horror the whole TSA backscatter X-ray machine thing and its evil twin sister, the opt-out groping pat down. The spate of reports emerging from people who are abused by the TSA for dissenting--and worse, not even dissenting, just opting-out, is disturbing. There are stories of people being arrested, being harassed for asking questions, and being detained. Stories of people being groped. Stories of threats and lawsuits and fines if we don't submit to it.

I'll just say here: I'm pregnant and I don't believe that the full scan machines are safe for my unborn baby. Nor do I feel they're safe for my son, who is four. I don't have a problem being patted down, but my son isn't going to be touched in his groin by strangers. (Note that the TSA has said that children under 12 don't have to submit to this; I heard this on NPR and a spokesperson from the TSA admitted they had "not communicated this to the public very well." WHATEVS.) My OB agrees that the backscatter Xray machine is a no-go for me, which says a lot.

So I'm watching and waiting, and we have chosen not to fly until a solution is found that doesn't involve being groped or put in harm's way. I believe that solution will come, because most people flying today know flying security is now a part of our lives thanks to September 11, but that we won't stand for being groped or harassed or subjected to harmful x-rays. I'm a veteran flier, and maybe it's real easy for me to say I won't fly because I don't have much cause to right now and also because I have a baby coming that will allow me to stay grounded for some time. But come next October, I'm probably going to have to fly for work. And what if something horrid happens to a family member far away? What, am I going to drive across the country?

The world has really changed, hasn't it?

As writers, there's no way to predict what will change. Reading stories with airport travel the old way (no security, no hassle) is quaint now. Likewise, if stories don't mention air travel security (instead, something like "I breezed through to the gate from the ticket counter and boarded the plane. I plopped down in my seat and put my head back, ready to snooze the journey away.") then I'm sitting there going, Yeah, right. It's unpleasant from start to finish.

This is a minor point, but I always find it amusing when I read stories that feature some aspect of air travel and it's all peachy. I find airport security and other flying malarkey like cattle-call lines, the failure to feed or entertain me on long flights, and the unsettling fact that there are no airbags on the flight because airlines don't want to spend room or money putting them in, even though they've been shown to save lives, too unpleasant to even think about. So I don't like to spend time mentioning those details in my stories.

Thoughts? What else dates a story, and how do you feel about using modern references that could reflect our culture's point in time?

Note: after I published this post I found the picture of the above toy set with security--thinking they didn't make any such thing. Scary. That's a Playmobil set, though, not Fisherprice Playskool.

P.S. I am super sorry if you are taking off to go fly somewhere for Thanksgiving.

P.P.S. Happy Thanksgiving, loverlies!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Way We Come Across

Last week, a guy in my company (let's call him "Pete") sent an email to someone else ("Polly"). Polly had asked for Pete to help with the printing of a proposal that would be sent to a customer. Pete replied that our company was on a serious color print and paper reduction campaign and that we would have to think about reducing our color prints drastically. Also, Pete said we should think about reducing the colors we use in our proposals, like removing orange. Orange, of course, being our main corporate color.

Polly (rightly) didn't really know what to say to that, and forwarded it to me. I didn't really know what to say either, since no one had asked ME (I am marketing, by the way) about color usage. The way the email read, someone had made up some stupid rules about color and printing with nary a thought to reality, or funny things like company brand.

I sent some strongly worded emails ("This rule is BS") to Pete and also our IT manager (let's call him "Repeat"), who usually (and frankly, is known for) sets these kinds of rules. Both Pete and Repeat responded quickly all up in arms, telling me there was no need to get my dander up. They both said no one had made the color usage rules and that it didn't exists and it was just a suggestion. And that, basically, *I* was out of line for being all upset.

So, apart from the obvious lapse of total common sense in suggesting such a lame color reduction scheme (perfect fodder for a ragey ahole boss character, no?), Pete and Repeat failed to see how the original email would come across to someone who was merely requesting help with a print job. And then how I took it, having gotten Polly's bewildered email.

It made me wonder about all the times we write a scene or an exchange, and we mean something really important with it, and then our beta readers or critique groups go, "What is this? Did you fall and hit your head? What is this drivel trying to prove right here?" And you go, "Um, I was trying to, um..." but the cause seems lost since they didn't get it. Then later, when you brood over the critique, you go, "But it is there! I was totes trying to make the dragon seem deep, because he represents the struggle of the hero."

I'm convinced that sometimes there's just no way to know what the effect is going to be on people. I would say that in most cases, we try our best to think things through and make sure we consider the different ways in which people take things--and of course this is one of the reasons feedback is so important--but in the end, you can't control it.

(Although I really kind of think Pete could have thought how such a psychotic answer about imaginary color usage rules would come across to the marketing folks.)

Thoughts? Agree, disagree? Do you think there is a way for us to get across a point the way we intend it? Does this happen often to you, where you thought you were showing something only to find you failed utterly?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • Llinda Grimes does llamas, illustrating yet again why we llove her.
  • I love this Craigslist ad reposted by Janet Reid a writer took out for an agent. My favorite part is "Compensation: TBD."
  • Are you following Jane Friedman's awesome query series? In last weeks roundup I listed posts 1-4, and here is post 5 and post 6 and post 7. I'm just going to say this: I was reading one last week and something CLICKED with me in terms of query writing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bet You Think This Post is About You

I can’t deny that I was enjoying myself relaxing on the park bench while watching my small son run around in the playground area. The day was warm, and it was my favorite time of afternoon when the light had a golden hue to it and time smacked of relaxation.

And then I saw him.

He came around the main play structure, chasing after a very small girl—his daughter, I surmised. At first, I thought he was this person I used to know, and that’s why I sat up and paid closer attention—taking care, of course, not to be obvious. It took a long time of watching him to assure myself he wasn’t the person I used to know. This was good, because if I knew him, I’d have to possibly get up and go say hi, and I’d be flustered, and not know what to say, and generally make an ass of myself, as I always used to do around him.

But the resemblance was uncanny. Same coloring, same build, same country of origin, even, since I could hear his accent from where I sat. I watched as he called to an older child, a boy, who had a name typical of his home country. The mother of the children wasn’t in view, and I allowed myself to wonder if he’d gotten himself into a situation and not married her, or had divorced early perhaps. What kind of woman had trapped him? Because he was the kind of skittish guy that had to be trapped.

Yes, fine, it wasn’t the same guy, but close enough!

The fact remained this man was like an addictive drug, just as the person I used to know had been my heroin. The way he carried himself, the way he spoke, even the way he looked off in the distance seemed dear. Even now I’m at a loss as to how the two could be so similar. I adjusted my staring and made sure I turned my head toward my son many times—both because I had to as a responsible mother, but also because this man was alert—just as the person I used to know was always alert—and his eyes (oh, his eyes!) darted around the playground often.

Then his wife came into view. My mouth dropped open and I sat up, thankful that my dark sunglasses allowed observation without detection. That was his wife? This was what he’d married and procreated with? Wait, he’d slept with that? He’d shunned me when I’d known him! And now he’d turned to this potato sack? I hoped she was a friend, or a relative, and not his wife, but then she reached over affectionately pulled down the bill of his hat (oh, how I wanted to tug the bill of his hat!), and smiled at him in a way that belied intimacy. His reaction wasn’t satisfactory—not if I’d been her—but then hey. She’d scored and married him.

The two were so mismatched that it was laughable. I felt hideously mean for thinking this, I still do, but there it is. Look, I’ll be plain—I never thought much of myself, never had a very big helping of self-esteem, and it certainly took a dive after knowing the man I used to know. But God, I wasn’t that bad. Not everyone is a beauty queen, but his wife was clearly living a different lifestyle than he was. No one is perfect, but she had stopped caring.

His eyes continued to dart around the playground. Watchful, aware. The two boys my son was playing with kicked each other down and their father told them they were leaving. My son stared forlornly after them, and I decided now was a good time to go. Otherwise, I couldn’t trust myself not to get up and get closer to the guy under the guise of seeing what my son was up to. I couldn’t trust myself not to drool, or make some other unseemly sign from my bench. He’d see it. I could be assured of that. His head turned in my direction when I got up as it was.

It wasn’t until we were in the car and driving away with this man well out of sight that it hit me: he’d been glancing at me, too. His watchful eyes hadn’t darted to other areas of the playground. He’d seen me from afar. Maybe I resembled some woman he’d known before. Maybe he really loved his potato sack, but he couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to be with someone who looked human, and whose ideals matched his own. I was that person! Of course I was. I’d always been. Now, we’d both married other people and invested in them--and there are no regrets with my husband, none at all--and we’d had kids. We’d committed to other things in life, to the joy of our own children. It was time to forget all the nonsense of the past and look forward to the lives we’d built.

But damn it if his notice of me today wasn't like water in dry cracks. I could have had him. It would have just taken a twist of quantum physics to put us in a different time and space, and possibly a different man entirely. I was okay with that. I could have had him.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mailing Lists: DO NOT WANT

Last week, I received a mass email from someone whose blog I'd followed. The email itself was fairly harmless--a reminder about something going on at the blog. But I'd never opted in to receive an email. Automatically questions arose. Will there be more emails from this person? Will my email address be added to a larger list and used as spam chop-suey? Will the other people cc'd (oh yes, not bcc'd) on the email mine the email list and add my name to spam lists? And where could I opt out? And why, for the love of kittens, why was it necessary to do this?

Email as a communication tool to augment blogging isn't bad in itself. It's the fact that I hadn't given permission for my email to be used this way. Granted--granted!--my email address is listed over there ------> in the sidebar for all to see and use. However, if you should take my address and use it for your mailing list, you would be a spammer.

When I got the email, I tweeted about it. Several people gave me advice on how to handle it. I felt that it required kid gloves because this is social media, after all, and I generally don't like to alienate my bloggy friends. Tawna Fenske suggested saying nothing in reply, but blocking the emailer from further attempts. Still another fellow tweeter suggested replying and gently educating the emailer on the etiquette.

Ultimately, I did nothing, but I blocked the address as spam. I feel that mining your google follower list for emails is such a gross violation of mass emailing standards that there really was nothing to say. I still go back and forth in my mind about it. It's possible the person genuinely didn't know. When I re-read the email, I noticed that it did say "Apologies if you don't want to receive this type of email; if you don't, let me know."

But that puts the action of it on me, and I still have to send an email that is not anonymous. I still risk having "ass" attached to me for doing so. It's like those guys who paint your house number on your curb and then ask for payment. If you don't want to pay for your house number painted on your curb (and why would I, when the cost is exorbitant), then *I* have to go outside, put some kind of notice on the curb, and hope the wind and rain don't blow it away. That assumes I can walk to the curb and bend over to begin with! (I can walk, but bending over--not so easy when you're preggers!)

Forget that. Ask me first or else get relegated to the spam folder, lose a blog follower, and generally piss people off.

Look, as authors or future authors, email lists are a great marketing tool. You should use them. But there are rules that must be obeyed. Because I administrate mass emailings for my company, here they are, in case you didn't know:

  • You may not email people unless they have specifically opted-in for that purpose.
  • You must include a way for the recipient to opt-out or unsubscribe from the email list and you must make it easy to do so (no "in writing" or bs like that)
  • Don't abuse the purpose. Meaning, don't send out mass emails to say hi or that your cat took a dump. Make sure it's newsworthy.
What do you think? How do you think I should have handled it?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

Bit of a shorter roundup this week, but I hope you find these useful.

Special update: I am sorry to have missed this originally, but Samuel Park did a thoughtful post on the whole Nathan Bransford leaving thing, which provoked very thoughtful comments...including a reply from Nathan himself. It's very civil, and makes for interesting reading and thinking on all sides.
  • Carrie Heim Binas gives us the greatest book ever written-- and it's the A-Z Guide to Perfumes. Think she's insane? Read what she has to say. After I did, I placed an order for the book. Seriously. It's that amazing. Every writer requires this.
  • And finally, Jane Friedman is running a fabulous series called The Ultimate Blog Series on Queries. Here is part 1, which covers the 5 elements of a query, then part 2, which tackles the 3 elements of a novel hook, part 3 with a query and hook critiqued, and part 4 - with another query and hook critiqued.
  • And finally, I'm listing my own post from Monday, 5 Reasons You Don't Have an Agent Yet. This post got more hits than any other post I've done, and it enjoyed a far-reaching retweet life as well.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Interview with Tina Lynn Sandoval

Halloween is over, but that doesn't mean ghost stories are out of vogue. Quite the opposite!

To that end, I have a special treat for you today: an interview with Tina Lynn Sandoval. Tina Lynn is a darling of a blogger. She writes YA and is currently revising her novel. If you read her blog regularly, then you know she also sees dead people.

This fascinates me to no end. I've never seen ghosts, but Tina, who until recently even worked in a very haunted hotel, is very sensitive to them. For Halloween, she posted a really chilling short story on her blog. She agreed to talk to me about her experiences. All of my questions below were fueled by an unrepentant curiosity about this because I've NEVER been sensitive to this stuff.

Sierra: I am endlessly fascinated by your real life ghost stories and it seems like I have a lot of questions that you don't always answer. So, here goes: have you always had the ability to see dead people?

Tina Lynn: I'm not sure, but I've had experiences for as long as I can remember. The house I grew up in was very "active".

Sierra: Did it scare you always?

Tina Lynn: Yes.

Sierra: Have you ever found a way to confront them and make them stop? In your story for the Halloween blogfest you describe the act of blinking to make them go away.

Tina Lynn: That works when I'm seeing things, but the noises and the feeling that someone is with you still stays with you. I guess I should correct the above statement. I'm not always scared. But it's never comfortable.

Sierra: That's understandable. I'm a big scaredy cat when it comes to things like that, so I definitely wouldn't be either. What's the worst thing that's ever happened?

Tina Lynn: That's a hard question to answer. I remember when I was very young my playroom was a scary place. Things moved.

Sierra: Ooh, that is scary.

Tina Lynn: But recently, I experienced my first full figure ghost. I thought I was going to have a coronary.

Sierra: What! I would have.

Tina Lynn: I actually did post that story on my blog.

Sierra: How did I miss that one?!?

Tina Lynn: I don't think you did. You never miss my scary stories.

Sierra: I know, I'm terrible, I'm an awful sucker for your scary stories--as long as I'm not the one actually experiencing them. That's what makes them so fascinating, probably. So where did you see the full figure ghost?

Tina Lynn: It was at the hotel. A friend of mine and I have been discussing the possibility that I brought something back with me.

Sierra (getting chills on back of neck): What do you mean, "with you"? When you were born?

Tina Lynn: The house I live in has become "active". It didn't used to be.

Sierra: Ahh. Like you're drawing them to you, almost.

Tina Lynn: Exactly.

Sierra: Maybe they're like the ones in The Sixth Sense, they know you can see and hear them, so they flock to you. What do you think about that movie? (I'm sitting here making comparisons between you and that movie which might not be fair, so feel free to scoff.)

Tina Lynn: LOL. That child was much more sensitive than me. Children tend to be more sensitive. And cats. Our cat knows.

Sierra: Definitely. I think you mentioned before that your kids have the ability to see as well?

Tina Lynn: My oldest has been having many experiences over the course of the last few weeks.

Sierra: Out of the blue?

Tina Lynn: Yes.

Sierra: How does she handle it?

Tina Lynn: She had experiences at our old house (which was a terrible place), but here it's new. She's terrified. But she knows she can come to me. So, that's good for her.

Sierra: Have you ever looked into finding someone who can help you through it?

Tina Lynn: No. I've always just dealt with it.

Sierra: If you could choose, would you have it stop?

Tina Lynn: That's a good question. I think short answer is: yes. Long answer is: If I can't ever make it amount to anything, I'd prefer for it to stop. But if I could help someone, I wish I could. Dead or alive.

Sierra: Have you ever tried to help anyone, or maybe a better way to ask that is, have you ever felt like you had the opportunity to do so (dead or alive)?

Tina Lynn: I've asked before. One night at the hotel, I begged the entity to let me help it if that's why it was bothering me, but perhaps I am not sensitive enough for it to communicate with me. I never heard anything from it.

Sierra: That's interesting and kind of leads to my next question: do you think they are conscious? Do you think they think?'

Tina Lynn: I think it varies. I think some are fully conscious. Not in the way we are, but I disturbed one once, and she made no secret that she was pissed. Others I think just carry out the same motions.

Sierra: So they have emotions.

Tina Lynn: Oh, yes.

Sierra: Maybe like us living, some are more engaged than others.

Tina Lynn: Perhaps. This particular girl stays in a stall in the women's bathroom in the hotel lobby. I can see her shape in the mirror. I always check the actual stall to make sure she isn't really there. She didn't bother me. She is just present. Which is scary.

Sierra: Yes. Especially when your pants are down.

Tina Lynn: LOL! Yes.But one time, I couldn't check the stall because the door was closed. I opened it to check to make sure, like always.

Sierra: What do you mean? The door was closed already, before you came in?

Tina Lynn: The door to the stall is usually open.While I was ahem doing my thing, she started banging.

Sierra: Did you yell at her? "Hey, I"m trying to PEE here!!"

Tina Lynn: No. I sort of finished and booked it out of there. Not sure if I had my pants completely on either.

Sierra: Have you ever shouted at them out of frustration?

Tina Lynn: Once. Only once.

Sierra (getting chills again!): What happened?

Tina Lynn: Sorry. I'm a bit distracted.My oldest has a "baby". And she's crying.

Sierra (thinking Tina means a ghost baby): WHAT! HOLY COW! Right now?? Maybe I shouldn't make you talk about this. I see that now. !!!

Tina Lynn: For sex ed, they now hand out simulation babies to discourage teenage pregnancy.She's plenty discouraged right now.

Sierra: Oh. PHEW. I thought you meant a GHOST! Is the sim baby programmed to cry at intervals? Hopefully it doesn't do that during the night. THAT would be realistic.

Tina Lynn: It just cries all the time.

Sierra: Modern sex ed: "We teach you how much it SUCKS."

Tina Lynn: That's why my daughter is crying now. She's frustrated and tired.

Sierra: Yes, well. I hope you reminded her that this is how YOU felt.

Tina Lynn: She asked me how in the world I did it. THREE TIMES. I think it's a bit different when you love them though.

Sierra: Did you say, "But for the grace of God!" Also, they're warm and you know they will grow out of babyhood. Of course real babies take massive dumps, too.

Tina Lynn: yes!

Sierra: That's not so good. And they puke everywhere. Nothing like projectile milk vomit all over you, your chair, the carpet, and your books.

Tina Lynn: Yeah, and my daughter was a spitter. Blech.

Sierra: Oh yes, my son was as well. OK, back to my hard-hitting ghost investigative journalism.

Tina Lynn: LOL

Sierra: By the way, right now I am eating a grape flavored Tootsie pop, and I must say it is entirely pleasant.

Tina Lynn: Yes, I had one yesterday.

Sierra: Although I would normally murder for chocolate, I do not prefer the chocolate ones. I like grape and strawberry and especially cherry.

Tina Lynn: Oh, we are so so alike.

Sierra: We are, Tina, we are indeed. Ok so: Do you ever get the sense of how they died, or why they linger?

Tina Lynn: No. Never. That's why it sucks so bad to be me. I'm sensitive enough to know they are there, to sense them, to see them, but I can't do anything about it. I've been encouraged to try and strengthen my sensitivity, but I really don't want to.

Sierra: Strengthen it! Why, so you can play bridge with them? Holy cow, what would you strengthen it for?

Tina Lynn: So that I could help them.Or get them to leave.

Sierra: Yes but then you'd be running all over town to solve their problems.

Tina Lynn: LOL. Yeah, maybe.

Sierra: And you have a family to worry about! And a plastic crying baby!

Tina Lynn: Oh, boy. Poor girl. She's going to have a loooooong night.

Sierra: Yes, but she'll think twice now about unprotected sex.

Tina Lynn: Yeah, right.

Sierra: Just whatever you do, don't tell her that its actually easier the younger you are, cause you have more stamina for the all-night sleep deprivation.

(Then followed a long tangent about labor, babies, and pregnancy, NaNo, writing, and the Bay Area, with the following comment mixed in somewhere: "Applesauce with steroids, now THAT is good.")

Thanks, Tina! It was fantastic to talk to you about this stuff. Anyone have any questions for her and her amazing ghost-seeing ability?