Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday Word: Sinecure

This week's word is definitely one I didn't know before, but one that I heartily wish applied to me. Sinecure, a beautiful word that is pronounced sin-e-kyur, refers to an office or position that requires little or no work, but provides a salary. That providing a salary bit is the best part, obviously. Sure, we probably all know people who seem to hold sinecure positions. It needn't be a bad thing, though (especially were it to apply to me, I assure you!). Although someone who doesn't earn their money is theoretically offensive, there are positions that might warrant such a thing like advisory positions, or positions where you stay involved by name because you're a super smarty pants.

Yeah, I know, I'm pretty far removed from such things.

But nevertheless, I have a list of things I'd do if I had a sinecure position with income and no work:
  • Travel to Europe regularly, especially Edinburgh to see the Hibs play
  • Write
  • Go to the zoo
  • Go out and have coffee at 10 am
  • Make unintelligible art projects in my backyard out of putty and sticks
  • Finally carry out plans to defeat my nemesis
  • Read, read, read
  • Visit my grandmother a lot more
  • Play with the whippersnapper
  • Perfect my score in MarioKart Wii
  • Become a master gardener
What kinds of things would you do if you had a sinecure position? And let's not pretend that you have one already because you write, or I shall be exceedingly envious and wrathful.

Monday, September 27, 2010

4 Ways to Celebrate Banned Books Week

It's Banned Books week! Normally I never manage to figure out when these things are, but this year but some dumb trick of luck I noticed-- and it's partly because I'm still running on fumes of red fury over Laurie Halse Anderson's book, Speak, being grossly misrepresented and slandered by a professor.

So, join me. Banned Books Week is September 25 - October 2, 2010. Here are four simple suggestions for celebrating.

1. Blog about it. And get a very handy and swanky badge for your blog (see mine over there to the right? See? It has classed up the blog, I tell you).

2. Read the books on the list. Not just this year's list either, but previous years, too. Don't be restricting my access to books, Man! (Or whoever tries). I'm going to read them anyway!

3. Think about the reasons behind each attempt or success at banning. The ALA has a PDF download of 2009's banned or challenged books, with explanations of who and why challenged them to give you more background. On the list is Hitler's Mein Kamf. It has been banned because there is fear it will "fuel support for far-right groups. The Bavarian
authorities reaffirmed a sixty-four-year-old ban on the book after the Munich-based Institute of Contemporary History, or IFZ, applied for permission to reprint the work." Do you agree with that? I can't really agree with the banning in principle, because it's banning, and yet--the book and its author are odious. But where is the line in getting rid of damaging or inciting material? Is there even a line? How do you feel about that? (Tell me in the comments!)

4. Support organizations that promote the right to read. Such as the The Freedom to Read Foundation or The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund or The American Civil Liberties Union.

Have any other suggestions?

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Google Reader Roundup Speaks Loudly

This week we have a very special Google Reader Roundup. No doubt you heard about Laurie Halse Anderson's book Speak being called for banning by a complete hole who understands very little about the ways of the world. This week's GRR is a collection of the blogs I could find about this issue. Please take the time to visit as many of these as you can, and speak your own voice about this.

Before you move on to the links, I want to leave you with this comment from Laurie's blog post about the situation. This comment, for me, says it all:

I found Speak in the youth section of the public library when I was in 7th grade. I had experienced sexual assault and I was a cutter, and I had walled myself off so much not much could reach me. But this book did, i was grateful for the honesty and a voice besides my own to say the things i was feeling, things too scary to tell my mother or my friends. And considering the situation outside of myself, gave me perspective to see ME beyond that pain.

One final note. Wesley Scroggins, we've ALL got your number.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday Word: Palaver

Today is the whippersnapper's fourth birthday. The past four years have been quite the ride--full of challenges and frustrations, and of course laughs and love. Mothering is hard. Damn hard. It's not for everyone. But watching your kid grow up is great, especially when he's being cute and not demonic. As the whippersnapper grows into Mr. Big Boy, he's gotten a lot chattier.

In fact, just yesterday he had quite the palaver. Palaver means to talk unnecessarily at length, or have a prolonged (and usually idle) discussion. Little Boy Palaver is great. The whipsnap's palaver tends to be filled with stories about us riding in helicopters. But Four Year Old Palaver is even more special.

So my birthday is approaching too--this coming weekend, and that meant that Mr. Sierra had to go buy me a birthday present this week. When he asked me what I wanted, I promptly answered, "Super Mario Galaxy 2 for the Wii," as any other normal and sane woman would answer. And also, because I knew asking for a diamond tennis bracelet or this little number that I've had my eye on for quite a while would be futile.

Mr. Sierra used yesterday to go out shopping after work. It was clever to go yesterday, because I commute into the office on Tuesdays and therefore would be home later. I was enjoying some "Clean up your toys" time with the whipsnap yesterday evening and the whipsnap gibbers away with his usual palaver, and mentions that he and Daddy went to Toys R Us and bought a Yoshi video.

"Oh, you did, did you?" I asked, instantly surmising that Yoshi video meant Super Mario Galaxy 2, since we're not in the habit of buying videos or indeed even DVDs about Mario.

"Yes," the whippersnapper said, "And Yoshi was flying like this upside down and his arms were back and also we saw a whole pack of Mario and Yoshi guys and..."

I called to Mr. Sierra, "Your son has a big mouth."

Mr. Sierra was not pleased, because as it turns out, he'd specifically instructed the whippersnapper not to tell Mommy.

We didn't really reprimand him, because he's four, and because four year olds palaver. In fact, Mr. Sierra recounted a time when he was a kid that he spoiled his mother's surprise party with the clever line, "It's not a surprise party that we're going to." And I definitely had four year old palaver when my parents decided to divorce, and instructed carefully not to tell my grandparents, and the second I walked in my grandparent's house I broke the news.

Do you have any good kid palaver in your past? Tell me in the comments. And meanwhile, happy birthday, my darling little boy. (And thanks in advance to Mr. Sierra for my copy of Super Mario Galaxy 2.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Do it! Do it now, this way! Here!

A company my company works with is putting on a luncheon for our staff, and as the marketing person at my company, I am helping to coordinate. The person I’m working with at the other company (let's call her Anna) sent me several emails asking me to pick a menu, after which she would circulate the menu to her company. This was followed by several requests to pick certain menus.

None of Anna's emails contained menus; I couldn't for the life of me figure out what she wanted. When I asked, she reiterated, Pick a menu! And then finally attached one. But she attached ONE menu, with several choices on it. At this point, she'd given me so many vague directions that I was flummoxed. I needed a GPS (or satnav for my UK readers) to figure out where to go here.

What it came down to, after several back and forth emails where I basically went “Duhhhhh,” and one phone call during which she was far clearer than she'd been in her emails, is that she wanted me to pick two entrees from the list of entrees on the menu. We would both then ask the people attending from our companies which of the two entrees they wanted.

Okay, picking yummy food: that I could deal with. So why couldn’t I understand that this is what she wanted in the first place? Because she never said so!

It was a good reminder that when you’re asking someone to do something, be it an agent respond to your query or whatever else, be clear about what you’re asking. Here are three ways to get that done:

1. Give them steps if necessary. This is a trick from my technical writing days. Using numbered steps gives people an ordered sequence, and is much more concrete than bulleting lists out, or jumbling your request in a paragraph that might be skimmed.

2. Put it clearly, and at the end. It’s a call to action. Many people skim email. Put at the bottom (and don’t hide it in your signature either), “So please do X,” or “may I send you the manuscript?”

3. Watch the pushiness. It’s a fine line between requesting certain actions from someone, and directing them in a style more suited to a dictatorship. Don't assume the person knows what you want and don't assume they'll guess what to do without explicit instructions. I have assumed what I thought were incredibly basic inferences in email at work, only to find that the recipient had not made the connection and therefore didn't do what I wanted.

So, apart from ending your query letters with calls to action--which I think most agents know how to respond to queries, how does this relate to writing? Vagueness, an affliction I suffered from hugely in my early stories (and even a current one). I tried to hide an important plot element because I wanted it to be a surprise, but in fact the reader had no idea whatsoever what I was talking about and had to make her own connections, which didn't work. Be clear. Say what's going on. And in business correspondence (including queries), making it clear what you want. You wouldn't want to waste almost two weeks, email time, and ultimately phone time to have to figure it out.

(The food that I chose, by the way, was: Tuscan chicken stuffed with Boursin cheese and topped with roasted tomato couli and served with Israeli cous cous and seasonal veg, OR Grilled hanger steak with blackberry ketchup, roasted Yukon gold and garnet yams, and seasonal veg. Oh, and I got to pick the dessert, too--once I'd spoken to Anna and found out that I could-- and I chose pound cake with fresh berries and whipped creme. I get to eat this food next week.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • Kidlit talks about how she evaluates full manuscripts. Very interesting stuff for those of you who have fulls out there under review. You're waiting, wondering, and here's what's actually going on.
  • Jessica Faust has another good post, this time about a ragey email from a writer whom she rejected. I'm including it in this roundup because I really hope no one reading this ever acts on the anger that might be caused by rejection. It's so wrong.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday Word: Sangfroid

When I was about 16, my mother and I left Massachusetts, where we'd lived for three years, and drove across Canada with a car load of our stuff and our cat back to California where we plopped back down with a sigh of relief. Well, I did anyway. I'm a Californian girl at heart and always have been, although now as an adult I have an appreciation for Mass.

For some reason, the high school wouldn't let me start on the first day of school even though we arrived in town a month before. They made me start on the second or third day, which meant that I had to enter every class as the new girl and disrupt everything while I handed my pass to the teacher and she or he wrote me into their book and then directed me to one of the last empty seats. In other words: a ton of attention drawn to me.

I hated this because years earlier we had arrived back in the US from our time in Greece. We landed then in West Virginia of all places (my mother had family there and it was easy), and let me tell you: the West Virginian kids were not at all pleased to see this little flashy girl come in from Athens. The teachers all thought it was great of course and asked me allllll about Greece while I stood in front of the class, no doubt hoping to use it as a teaching lesson, but the only thing I got was daily threats to be beaten up for being "preppy." (Because, as everyone knows, arriving from Athens means you're preppy. Or something.) It wasn't a good time.

Then, as years later in California in my junior year of high school, I quaked with fear having to draw so much attention to myself. So imagine my surprise when in that Californian school I entered my US History class and a girl named Anita invited me to work on a project with her. I said yes. I said that I'd been really nervous having to come into class a few days late. She said, "Really? Cause you looked totally confident and together."

This was huge news to me. Apparently, I had some kind of sangfroid outer shell. Sangfroid is your word today, by the way. It means coolness or composure, especially under strain or stress. At first I thought that this unknown sangfroid ability was just a fluke, that maybe Anita hadn't seen me shaking or anything because she was sitting too far back. But as time went on (and we became very good friends), I came to believe her-- that I had some kind of confidence or coolness that I could exude. I mean, hey, it's better than sweat-stains in your arm pits, isn't it?

I don't actually know if I've been sangfroid in other stressful periods of my life. I do know that I didn't quite manage it on my wedding day when I walked down the aisle. My lips were quivering because I knew all eyes were on me, and let me tell you--I was not sangfroid about it. I pursed my lips and clamped them shut so no one could see me shaking, but that didn't look so cool-- as you can see in the picture. Also, a family friend told me that he spoke to me right outside the church before we went in to walk down the aisle and all I did was stare at him like a deer in the headlights when he spoke to me, but I have absolutely no recollection of that.

(In the picture, yes, it looks like a coy little expression doesn't it, but it is not, NO it is not, it is me pursing my lips to keep them from trembling from nerves!)

Even so, I don't know whether Anita, who is still a dear friend today, knows what effect her words had on me back then on my first day in a new school in a new town when she extended kindness and friendship to me, allowing me to think I'd been sangfroid even if I'd been a mass of nerves inside.

Bonus: In contrast to walking down the aisle, here I am being accosted by a lion on my wedding day and I'm totally sangfroid about it. (Yes I have blurred out Mr. Sierra and covered his head with an arrow because I didn't ask him if he would like to be put on the web to protect his privacy.)

Did you know this word? Tell me about it in the comments.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Support for your writing, in the form of a bus

Last week was our yearly camping trip. This year's trip was a bit of a disaster as it rained and was freezing the first two days and nights. But it was heaven being among the tall coastal redwood trees and hiking the numerous trails into the mountains. (Although to be truthful, we didn't hike as much as I wanted because the whippersnapper is a bit anti-hiking, being that his legs are much shorter than ours.)

Because we camped after Labor Day, the campgrounds were not full. There were just enough people so one didn't feel lonely, but also few enough that you had your space. There were a lot of campers and RVs. During one of our walks through the campsite, we saw a Westfalia. Mr. Sierra has always been rather enamored of these things, which are tricked out Volkswagon buses. To him, they are camping shangri-la. He quietly drooled over the thing and we passed it by.

The rest of the trip had some drama -- I made us leave a day early on account of the weather, only to find that once we finished packing the camp site up, the sun came out and all the clouds went away and it became gorgeous. But it was too late. Back out of the mountains we went, but then car began blinking its warning lights and performing all sorts of alarming shenanigans. We used our smart phone to find a Honda dealership, which thankfully was extremely close, and brought the car in. Turns out the transmission was operating in safe mode! Gah! So we rented a car and left ours at the dealership, and headed down to the beach town of Santa Cruz for a day.

While we were tooling around Santa Cruz, Mr. Sierra said to me, "When your book hits the bestseller list, I want a Westfalia."

I stared at him, a little surprised. Mr. Sierra, while generally supportive of the inordinate amount of time I spend on the laptop writing and (ahem) blogging and tweeting and the like, has never indicated before that he thought I would have some success. So it was really cool to hear this. In fact, I went squeeeeeeeeee inside.

"Just because a book is a bestseller doesn't mean the author earns piles of money," I cautioned.

"Even so," he said. "I don't care, when your book hits the bestseller list, I'm having a Westfalia."

Well. I was pretty flattered that he had schemed ways to get himself a Westfalia based on my success. I mean, he wouldn't have put that statement out there unless he believed in me.

Having your loved ones, especially the ones closest to you, support you is super important. But having them believe in you is something else entirely. It warmed my little heart, I tell you. It made a lot of things worth it. I was reminded again though of how important the writing blogging community is, because when you family has stopped asking you what you're writing, and your friends have stopped talking to you about novels, and your cat has started avoiding you because you haven't washed in some time (because you're writing, obvs), you know that the friends and connections you've made through blogging and other social networking platforms is super important. Hey, we can't smell you. You're good.

More important than not smelling you, though, is the fact that the most amazing support and connections and referrals can be made through friends you meet in this relatively small writerly community. So many of you have gone out of your way to help me and I appreciate you so much, through advice, critiques, supportive email, tweets, and blog recognition. If I had a fleet of Westfalias, I'd give you each one. I hope all of you have similar connections online, and I hope you have that support at home. Tell me about it in the comments.

In the meantime, though, I'd better get back to writing. I have some serious work to do if Mr. Sierra is going to get that Westfalia.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Best of Google Reader Roundup

Today I am off camping with Mr. Sierra and the whippersnapper, so I will be catching up on my blog reading later and giving you an extra long GRR next week. But this week, I thought it might be nice to do a Best Of post for all the GRRs I've done.

But first, let me say hi and welcome and thank you to my new followers (hi! welcome! thank you!), some of whom are here because of the guest post I did on Roni's blog on Monday.

So, now, on to the Best of Google Reader Roundup! If you're new to the blog, every week I link to the posts I liked best in my Google Reader.

  • Query tips from Roni at Fiction Groupie, learned at a conference

I just completely pooped out. Dude. These links only took us back to November 2009.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wednesday Word: Prurient

I really have to say, I hate it when I don't know what a word means. Inevitably I spiral into a swirl of worry and self questioning and wonder if I would have had the presence of mind to pull it out and use it if I did know what the word meant. Partly, this is because I don't use $10 words in everyday speech. I hope it's not because my brain is the size of a tiny peanut. It's phenomenally embarrassing because I'm a writer and I'm supposed to be able to select words, whether simple or complex, like a book off a familiar library shelf. Then I worry about age, and then I worry about how maybe having kids has led me to lose my mind, etc.

I heard the word prurient the other day, and thought that if it had been me, I probably wouldn't have thought to use the word prurient, but that's because I wasn't entirely sure what it meant. (Hence its excellent candidacy for a Wednesday Word.) Prurient means having to do with arousing or interesting sexual desire. Probably, it's most familiar when coupled with "thoughts." (Did you see what I did just there? I said "coupled." This is very prurient of me, tee hee!) Prurient needn't be nasty, but it certainly implies references of a sexual kind.

Did you know this word? Could you have pulled it out (pulled it out, tee hee!) and used it in conversation? Could you have nailed the definition? (nailed -- hee hee!) Come on (come, snicker!), leave a comment!

P.S. If the picture amuses your prurient mind, then Failblog has many more like them under the tag "Things that are doing it."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Acknowledgements and Other Wishes

Hi guys! Happy Labor Day. In addition to today's post, Roni at Fiction Groupie has graciously invited me to guest blog today-- so please go read my post over at her blog!

Remember when you were at your very beginning stage as a writer and hadn't yet learned about the publishing industry? If you were at all like me, seven-figure advances and six-book deals danced in your eyes, and your biggest imagined obstacle to fulfilling your book contract was thinking of enough ideas to fill six books (although, of course, you'd be writing many more than six--after all, you had a NYT bestseller position to hold!).

After reality set in and expectations adjusted accordingly, you might have dreamed of simple things: book-signing parties with four different kinds of goat cheese and bread and other nibbly things, or maybe being interviewed in your local paper, or maybe telling the guy at work who takes every opportunity to "edit" your writing that yes, actually, you've published a book, so there.

My simpler dream is writing my acknowledgments section. This is the place to thank everyone who helped you get where you are (a published author), and if you're like me, that's a long list. There's all kinds of things to dream about this section: should I write it like an awards acceptance speech? Gimmicky and cute, saw it done once. Should I list all the relatives who helped along the way in addition to everyone who ever gave me feedback? Oh, and then there's the dedication. I'm fairly sure Mr. Sierra will get my first book's dedication. But subsequent books? Good thing I have lots of ideas in me, because I have a list of people to dedicate books to.

What do you dream about after becoming a published author?

Don't forget to read my post at Fiction Groupie--so there won't be any crickets chirping on Roni's blog!

Image credit: "Always Dreaming" by B1D1.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • Eric at Pimp My Novel has another type of cautionary tale, mainly about meeting deadlines. He reports the story about Adrian Wojnarowski failing to meet a deadline from 2007 (you read that right) and having been paid a $140,000 advance out of $400,000. I'll meet your deadline. Just saying.
  • Agent Kristin Nelson has a very good reason for pseudonyms. Incidentally, I couldn't agree more that you may want to separate your writing life --even if published -- from your professional one.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wednesday Word: Iconoclast

When I was a wee girl and my mother and I lived in Greece, English reading material was hard to come by--unless, like me, you read your fifth grade English textbook because it had some stories in it. Mostly, we relied on loved ones sending us (me) care packages of books. I also got a Mad Magazine subscription, of which I saw sporadic delivery. (We lived on Santorini, and mail was delivered to a poste restante address. I always thought the subscription department at Mad must have gone, "This is a far out address, who is getting Mad there?") Usually we could get an Athens-based newspaper in English that was produced for ex-pats (I thought it was The Athenian, but Google reveals nothing of the sort). A magazine shop that I knew of in a certain part of the island tended to stock comic books in English. I was never into comic books, but man I devoured those. I had to.

There were a few presses in Athens that printed English books, some for Greeks learning English as a second language. I was about eleven, and I remember getting an ESL copy of Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, and I absolutely loved it.

One book we got that was written by an Irish travelwriter and printed by an English Athenian press was called The Greek Gods: An Iconoclast's Guide. The book delves into the myths and each God, and gives a nice, short, and quite humorous roundup of the Gods and their often bad behavior. I still have this book.

I never fully understood what iconoclast meant until I looked it up, despite thinking I understood it because we had this book. Being eleven, I thought I'd go ahead and figure it out; didn't I teach myself what the semicolon was used for based on reading books and watching its use? Hadn't I learned many things I didn't really need to learn at age eleven by reading the bodice-ripper novels discarded by tourists at the hotels? Hadn't I discovered that fine literature can and did include fan books on Culture Club when one is a voracious reader and starved for reading material? Indeed. So, I assumed iconoclast referred to someone who was an independent thinker.

Actually, it means one who attacks and seeks to overthrow traditional and popular ideas or institutions or one who seeks to destroy sacred religious images. (I guess you could say that's an independent thinker.) Oh my. Now this is a much different meaning that I ever thought. But, in reference to the most excellent guide to the Greek Gods, I can't say that the author, one Maureen O'Sullivan, was truly challenging ideas of the Greek Gods or overthrowing the traditional myths. No, from what I understand and from other Greek myth study, Ms. O'Sullivan was merely condensing the myths and descriptions of the Gods into palatable and humorous doses. Perhaps her use of the word was tongue-in-cheek.

Either way, the word iconoclast is beautiful, if perhaps somewhat specific in its use. Did you know this word? Do you have any experiences with it? Please leave them in the comments.

And P.S. I know my Nemesis is thinking "Ooooooh, Sierra is iconoclastic against me," but whatevers, we all know he is iconoclastic against me, so pbbbbbbbhhhttthh.