Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snowflake: a high-resolution image.

Actual snowflake, magnified 162x -- image found at Cosmic Log

I resolve to look at ordinary objects with new eyes.

I resolve to see the beauty in the everyday.

I resolve to pay attention to detail.

I resolve to respect the fragility of the world around me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The best story you're not listening to. (And a CONTEST. Or is it a raffle?)

Mur Lafferty's Marco and the Red Granny is an utter delight. Imagine a world where aliens have revolutionized art by combining the senses, such that wearing a certain suit can make you taste strawberries, or sipping a certain drink can put an entire Sherlock Holmes story into your head. Imagine a frustrated writer-artist who finally gets his chance to go to the moon and produce his art under an alien patronage. Imagine that his only friend is a little old lady who is the winner of a deadly reality television show.

Get the free audio podcast through Hub Magazine's iTunes feed (it's 7 episodes, but episode 4 is in there twice due to technical issues), or directly from the Hub website: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7. Read the story for free at Mur's website, or buy the Kindle version, or buy it on Smashwords.

So here's the contest/raffle: the audio version is running on a donation system, and there's also a donations button on Mur's website. If you send me your receipt for a donation IN ANY AMOUNT to Hub Magazine for Mur's story, or to Mur's own website for the story (you may also get free goodies for donating to her directly, depending on the amount), or if you send me a receipt showing you purchased an electronic version of the story, I will enter you in my contest to win a copy of Mur's superhero novel, Playing For Keeps, which is also awesome. I know the holidays are upon us, and y'all are busy, so I'll keep the contest open until Monday, January 3rd, midnight EST. After that, I pick a name at random, and someone gets a book.

I've written before about the Total Awesome that is Mur, especially her I Should Be Writing podcast (for which I am the show notes writer), but I don't know that I've talked about her fiction before. I should have. She has a number of podcast novels, plus at least one of her novels was given away for free as a PDF as part of her podcast feed... she writes great stuff and gives it away for free, y'all.

Go listen to a great story. Then send the author some cash for her talent and hard work, IN ANY AMOUNT, and you might get another great story, for free. You can email those receipts to carriekei [at] gmail [dot] com.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Prodigy vs. Genius

I'll explain this image in a minute.

Okay, everyone. The time has come for me to make a shameful admission: I was a child prodigy.

Most notably, I was able to read at the age of two. This is not an exaggeration. My parents weren't sure if I was really reading or if I had just memorized all my books, so for my second birthday my mom bought me a copy of Go, Dog. Go!, a book I had never seen before, and I read it on the spot. I grew up hearing versions of this story over and over again: how my mom apologized to a preschool admissions director that I read "painfully slowly" only to be told that most kids my age TALKED "painfully slowly." How I stunned elevator passengers at age 3 by pointing out the No Smoking sign and telling everyone that it said "No smoking under plenty of law."

As a result of this impressive start, it was assumed that school would be easy for me. I was raised with the philosophy that anything less than an A was unacceptable because that would obviously mean I wasn't really trying... because I was SMART. This seems like a recipe for achievement, but it really wasn't. In the gifted elementary school program, sure. But once I got into my crazy-advanced magnet high school where I personally knew 16 kids who got perfect math scores on their SATs, "really trying" was not always good enough. And it hurt to have to "really try" next to other kids who didn't have to try at all, because calculus (for example) came so easily to them. That was supposed to be me.

So, when things got too hard, sometimes I'd stop trying entirely. After all, better to say you didn't really try than to say you tried your best and still failed. To try my best and still fail would mean I wasn't SMART. And being SMART was more important that working hard.

What a total crock.

Listen, all of this was subconscious, okay? My parents would never in a million years have said that I shouldn't work hard to achieve my goals... but at the same time it was kind of assumed that I would find my goals pretty quickly and have some kind of head start on the work because I was gifted.

Look at the world around you right now. Do you hear people talking about how hard that sports celebrity guy trains, or do you hear about how he's so naturally gifted? Do you hear them talking about the pianist who spends hours at the keyboard, or do you hear about the wunderkind who's amazing despite having "no formal training at all!"


Sharon Stone once said it took her ten years of paying her dues to become an overnight sensation. I think Jim Carrey said something similar. People notice the breakout, and gloss over the failures. Even stories that seem to discuss past failures and hard work often end up glorifying the moment when things became easy. Would J.K. Rowling's personal story be as exciting if she had been a mid-lister for several years before Harry Potter? No. Her years of living in a car and working her butt off while single parenting have been reframed as, "She was secretly gifted all along, and just needed to be discovered." (Note that Rowling herself does not pitch her story this way. She talks very openly and eloquently about her failures and hard work.)

Here's what people forget:
...there's a stark difference between prodigy and genius.

Prodigies can very quickly learn what other people have already figured out; geniuses discover that which no one has ever previously discovered. Prodigies learn; geniuses do. The vast majority of child prodigies don't become adult geniuses.

-- An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
I was a prodigy. So. Freaking. What.

I'm 37, and my peers? By now, they have also figured out how to read. I'm probably still at an advantage for standardized testing, but again... so freaking what? That doesn't mean I'm immune to office politics, or nationwide economic factors, or fear of failure. In fact, it probably makes my fear of failure worse than average, because failure doesn't feel like a single event, it feels like a reflection on my entire person.

What a crock.


I caught myself a couple days ago telling my daughter how smart she is. I stopped myself. I told her how proud I was of her for working so hard, for practicing, for being resilient, for trying again.

Write. Revise. Revise again. Fail better.

Submit. Be rejected. Submit again. Fail better.

I don't know what 2011 holds for me. But I know I'm going to try to do things that are hard. Things that are SUPPOSED to be hard. And maybe, somewhere along the way, I'll start being smart enough that it won't scare me anymore.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Can't... stop... laughing...

My favorite line... "So, do you think that being able to read and write your native language makes you qualified to write a novel?" (Sue Williams and I were talking about exactly this over the weekend. Yes. Yes, some people really think that.)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

You say it's your birthday

Hooray! I'm so glad to see you! Did you come back for my party? We'll be posting photos of ourselves at age sixteen, talking about the good old days... or maybe chatting about how we would rather die than be 16 again and how we in fact have very high hopes for age 37... or is that just me?

So, did you bring your photo? It's okay if you didn't, but if you did, I've created a Shutterfly account JUST FOR US to use today: of course, if you want to post your photo on your own blog, or in an existing online photo album, and then put the link in the comments, that's totally fine. But, if you don't have any place like that already set up, you can just log in to Shutterfly using the email [deleted for security]. I've already got a few photos in there just for this "event."

Now, before you see my sixteen-year-old photo, here are a few disclaimers:
  1. Turns out, we actually can't confirm my age in these photos. Sorry about that. I might be 17 in these. And the ones with short hair in the Shutterfly album might be from when I was as young as 15. Close enough, right?

  2. My mom took these photos.

  3. Some of you may remember that I used to be a child actor. Accordingly, these photos are actually part of a series of headshots my mom took for me to use professionally.

  4. My mom was semi-professional. These disclaimers are actually not to explain why the photos look bad. They're to explain why the photos look good.

Yes, yes, there are dozens of high school photos where I look like crap. There were ill-advised haircuts. There's that charming group photo in my high school year book where I didn't realize that my shirt was basically see-through with the light behind me... and there's nothing to see. There are the photos where I've tilted my head down and given myself a double-chin. But it's my birthday. I feel like looking good today.

This may be my favorite photo taken of me, ever. Would it be wrong to use it as my author photo, given that it's two decades out-of-date?

Okay! Wish me a happy birthday! Post photos! I'm off to find myself some cake.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

So, what are you getting me?

What? You didn't remember that my birthday is in one week? Wow. Just... wow. I'm so embarrassed for you.

But seriously. Last year I hosted a poetry party that was a roaring success with 42 comments (that's a big deal for me), and this year I'd like to top it.

Now, recently a number of my writer friends participated in a Twitter meme called #tweetyoursixteenyearoldself and shared pictures of, you guessed it, their sixteen-year-old selves. I couldn't find my own photos in time to play the Twitter game (things move fast over there), but on December 7th, I'm going to post 'em, and I hope you'll join me. Come on, help me celebrate getting another year older by laughing at how ridiculous we looked when we were younger! Or, in the alternative, by showing off how fabulous we were and always will be, dammit.

I mean... as of next Tuesday, there will be an entire person of legal drinking age between me and my sixteen year old self, so I think my plan of drinking and posting photos of myself at 16 sounds totally reasonable. Back me up here. Come play along.

Other childhood photos are welcome if you (1) can't find a photo of yourself at 16, (2) currently ARE sixteen, or younger, or close enough that such a photo would not be sufficiently nostalgic, or (3) just really, really, like another photo more. If you have stories to accompany the photos, so much the better! I'm going to try to get a shared photo album going somewhere that we can all post into, or you can just do a link in the comments once the birthday post goes live.

Hope to see you back here in a week...

(Also, last year at this time I had 83 followers. Today, I have 196. Thank you so much, really. You guys rock.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Greatest Book Ever Written

Perfumes: the A-Z guide

You think I'm kidding. I'm not kidding.

I first heard about this book from Grub Street writing instructor Chip Cheek, who highly recommended it for all writers. He said that although we try to involve the senses on the page, we so often overlook the sense of smell; this book describes nearly 2,000 perfumes in spectacularly evocative ways. Read it, and you will never think of scent the same way again.

He's right. And on top of that, it is a joy to read.

One perfume is described as the olfactory equivalent of a man you can't talk to for more than 30 seconds without checking your watch. Another is "like spraying Glade on strawberry-flavored cotton candy." Smelling an old favorite is "like meeting an old high school teacher who had a decisive influence on my life." And, picking a 5-star (highest) rated scent at random:
...it has the haunting, outdoors witchiness of tall pines leaning into the night -- a bitter oakmoss inkiness, a dry cedar crackle, and a low, delicious, pleasing sweet amber, like the call of a faraway candy house. Lulling and unsettling in equal measure...

The two-word scent summaries accorded to each scent are also pithily resonant: pale floral, coffee lavender, woody vanilla... but also burial wreath, watery lemons, fresh nothing, crap jasmine, and mango raincoat. Ever been at a loss as to how to effectively insult someone? Read the 1-star reviews in this book and hesitate no more.

I bought the paperback version but am wondering if the e-book is fully searchable, in which case I'll probably buy a second copy in electronic format. The excerpt page on the book's website has a link to the less-recent hardcover edition on Google books, so that may do the trick for now when I want to search for a particular scent-keyword (almond, rose, vile).

I spent all of last night quoting sections of this to my husband. He told me to buy everything the authors had ever written, but of course they don't write fiction, they are just (just!) experts and passionate devotees of perfume. He was disappointed, and a little stunned. Because who wouldn't want to read a short story by the author who wrote: I believe that men who smell like this must grow a 5-o'clock shadow every day by eleven.

Wait, I didn't get that quote exactly right, they said it better...

And it's not in the Google books version. Damn. I'm going to have to buy that e-book.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Meeting Chuck Palahniuk (redux)

The written content of this blog post first "aired" on May 3, 2010. I am reposting because I have had to link to the original post four times this week for various reasons, and honestly, the URL for that version is too long, and I'm sick of doing the bit.ly/ow.ly shortening thing. Plus, dammit, this was an AWESOME experience, and I will retell it as long as anyone is willing to listen. Sorry if it's a rerun for some of you. For the rest? ENJOY.

A little background: Chuck Palahniuk (pronounced with the same inflection and first syllable as pollinate: POL-ah-nik) was the keynote speaker at this year's Muse and the Marketplace literary conference hosted by Grub Street. I attended. We met. Fabulosity ensued.

I first saw Chuck signing a stack of his books in the conference's welcome area on the mezzanine of the hotel where the event was held, right around the time the first session of the day was starting.*

Even knowing Chuck's author photo, I would not have recognized him; indeed, I leaned forward to make absolutely sure that he was signing a copy of Pygmy before approaching him with my book. I'm sure others have said this before, but Chuck is unambiguously reminiscent of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. He is tall, skinny, clean-cut, tidily-dressed, and has an impressively gentle manner. In short, you don't see him coming.

I asked him to sign a copy of Fight Club for my husband. He asked me to tell him something embarrassing about my husband to work into the inscription: he tells a story, I tell a story, and the circle is complete... plus the book-as-gift has additional resonance.

I blanked. (Okay, I thought of one thing, but it was mean-embarrassing, not funny-embarrassing.) Chuck told me to take a minute. I did. I said that there was nothing I could say about my husband that didn't also incriminate me. He asked if my husband had any scars. He asked about vacations. I accepted these writer-prompts and began free-associating. And then we landed on something.

Chuck's eyebrows raised, and he asked for clarification. I gave it. Smiling, he signed the book, with detailed references, ending it with the single word, Dude!

Let me repeat: I managed to come up with something that raised Chuck Palahnuik's eyebrows. And that made him write an appreciative DUDE! in my husband's book.

And then, having thoroughly incriminated both myself and my husband, I collected the book, and asked someone to take our photo. The expression of laughter on Chuck's face is pretty much the one he had through my entire confession. I look good because I'm vaguely flushed with embarrassment instead of my usual shade of pasty white.**

(Sadly, that is as big as the photo gets, for inexplicable reasons only understood by my cell phone. It swears it took the photo at the largest resolution, and yet the image is practically thumbnail-sized. Sigh.)

His keynote speech was f---ing brilliant, go check out the video. At Q&A time, I asked What is on your bedside table right now? He thought for a while, laughed again, and answered, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. Apparently he'll have a book coming out next year, called DAMNED, about an 11-year-old girl who wakes up in Hell, isn't quite sure why she's there, but is determined to make the most of it. (Side note: when Chuck talks to you, he looks at you. He didn't direct his answer to this question across the audience. He answered me. I am so doing this when I become a famous author.)

I eventually got a signature for myself on a copy of Haunted (since he'd gotten a 2-for-1 embarrassing story, I figured I ought to get a second book signed... my inscription is tame, and references the fact that I'm at this moment also trying to write a story set in Hell). He said he hoped I wouldn't get in trouble over the other book. I said that I was sure I would, and thanked him for his time.

Mr. Palahniuk, it was an absolute delight meeting you. ( And my husband's cool with you knowing.)

No, blog readers, you can't know what I told him, or what the rest of the inscription says. Sometimes, what you tell the author of Fight Club stays with the author of Fight Club.

Unless he decides to write about it. Oh, crap...

* First rule of literary conferences: consider going to some of your lecture-sessions late, or leaving some early. The awesome keynote speaker is not in the sessions. I know other people who had their best conference interactions in similar circumstances: going for a much-needed coffee at the same time as the dream editor, or sitting with a group of agents relaxing after all the pitch session attendees had scattered to their seminars.

** Let me clarify that (1) no one and nothing was harmed in the events described to Chuck Palahniuk, and (2) it was not "I would never do that again" embarrassing, it was "I would almost certainly do that again, but I don't usually tell people about it" embarrassing.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

In which I tell Salon to go %^@& itself.

It's all fun and games until you expect someone else to read it.

Yeah, I know, it's NaNoWriMo and I should be writing a million words a minute, but instead I am here today because I have taken great umbrage at Laura Miller's recent Salon article, Better Yet, DON'T Write That Novel, in which she declares that NaNoWriMo is at best unnecessary, at worst a total waste of time and energy.

She's wrong.

Laura, you admit that the program is "an event geared entirely toward writers", and that you are "someone who doesn't write novels." So, with all due respect, you don't know what the hell you're talking about.

Laura recognizes that "[t]he purpose of NaNoWriMo seems laudable enough..."
Above all, it fosters the habit of writing every single day, the closest thing to a universally prescribed strategy for eventually producing a book. NaNoWriMo spurs aspiring authors to conquer their inner critics and blow past blocks. Only by producing really, really bad first drafts can many writers move on to the practice that results in decent work: revision.
And yet, she feels the need to rain on the parade of everyone who is trying NaNoWriMo by saying that "Nothing about NaNoWriMo suggests that it's likely to produce more novels I'd want to read." (Oh, except for New York Times bestseller Water for Elephants.)

She talks about "the selfless art of reading" as compared to "the narcissistic commerce of writing". She says that "I'm not worried about all the books that won't get written if a hundred thousand people with a nagging but unfulfilled ambition to Be a Writer lack the necessary motivation to get the job done. I see no reason to cheer them on."

I do see a reason to cheer them on.

Look, lady, you said that even if a WriMo -- as some of us call ourselves -- manages to get published, no one will read what we've written. (Oh, except for New York Times bestseller Sara Gruen.) And that's mostly true. The REASON you see people on Twitter complaining about bad and inexperienced writers prematurely submitting their novels for publication is that NO ONE WANTS TO REPRESENT OR PUBLISH THEM. If someone submits a GOOD novel that was written during NaNoWriMo, then the agents and editors don't complain. (Like, for example, the people who repped and published the New York Times bestseller Water for Elephants.) You may bitch about commerce, but the reason capitalism is supposed to work is that little thing called supply and demand, and if no one wants to read these books (no demand), then they won't actually hit the stream of commerce because no one will buy them. The market is not about to be flooded with 100,000 shitty novels, and your precious reader's eyes will not be marred by having to read the contents therein.

Laura says that these writers need no encouragement because,
Writers are, in fact, hellishly persistent; they will go on writing despite overwhelming evidence of public indifference and (in many cases) of their own lack of ability or anything especially interesting to say. Writers have a reputation for being tormented by their lot, probably because they're always moaning so loudly about how hard it is, but it's the readers who are fragile, a truly endangered species.
You're partly right, Laura. SUCCESSFUL writers are hellishly persistent. Plenty of other writers, however, fade away without you ever knowing about it. I don't think the world is harmed by 100,000 badly written first drafts, but I do think the world is a better place when people chase their dreams, if only for one month out of the year. I think 100,000 wanna-be writers who always said "some day" but never gave themselves the permission to try and to make mistakes would be a horrible shame, a waste of spirit that more than balances out the waste of paper you fear. (And by the way, there can be no "selfless" act of reading if we don't "selfishly" write the damn books for you.)

Anyone who actually reads the NaNoWriMo website will see that the people behind the program DO advocate revision: December is National Novel Finishing Month, and March is National Novel Editing Month. The people who write crap novels in November and try to submit them in December? They were going to do it anyway. In fact, if they didn't work up the energy to actually write a novel, they were going to be the ones sending letters to agents and publishers saying that they have an IDEA for a novel, and would the agent like to write it for them and split the profits? In short, NaNoWriMo does not create stupid, sloppy writers desperate for attention. I doubt it even encourages the stupid, sloppy writers desperate for attention -- those writers were going to talk about their genius novel ideas whether they tried to execute them or not. Maybe trying to write 50,000 words actually humbles some of these would-be novelists, hmm?

Finally, Laura says that "I'm confident those novels [the ones worth reading] would still get written even if NaNoWriMo should vanish from the earth."

I'm not so sure of that.

In October 2005, I first heard about NaNoWriMo. And it woke something for me. I had always had a clear focus on writing in my life... until I graduated college. Somehow, without anyone telling me, I got the idea that writing ended when real life began; I didn't pursue my MFA, therefore I was not going to be a writer as a career, therefore I stopped writing, even though I loved it. NaNoWriMo reminded me that I could write anyway, even if I had another career entirely.

I wrote half the novel in November of that year, and took my sweet time finishing and revising it. I did my industry research. I wrote and revised my query letter. I have since gotten back into the writing classes that I loved as a college student, and I've had a number of short pieces published. I'm not in it for "the glory." (I mean, really, what glory? There's a starving artist stereotype for a reason.) I'm in it for the literature. I was always a reader. NaNoWriMo reminded me that I could also be a writer.

NaNoWriMo reminded me that there IS no perfect "some day," there's only today. It reminded me to write like little kids paint: with joy, and without self-consciousness. It reminded me that there's something I love to do that I should be practicing daily, that I should be learning to do better. It got my first novel written, and the dozen-plus agents who got my query letter and asked to see the full manuscript don't seem to think I wasted their time, even if they eventually said "no." (Full disclosure: some said no, some still haven't gotten back to me.)

So, when that novel finally gets published, let's see if anyone reads it. Let's see if anyone likes it. Let's see if some "selfless" readers maybe pay $8-24 bucks for it and have a perfectly lovely time as a result... if they enjoy a book that would not exist if not for NaNoWriMo. Let's see if my NaNo efforts -- which may have actually helped me change careers -- were a waste of anyone's time, or if maybe they make me a better mom because I'm not moping around the house, creatively unfulfilled because I forgot how to dive into something with bad financial odds and high emotional reward, just because it makes me happy.

To sum up: NaNoWriMo saved my life. Y'all at Salon can go screw.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

That's right. I'm talking about National Novel Writing Month. A month of collective insanity and literary exuberance during which time we try to remember:
  • You can't edit a blank page.
  • Don't get it right, get it written.
  • Write so fast, your inner editor can't catch you.
You can find my NaNoWriMo profile here, if you're playing too, and want to be my "writing buddy." You can find my NaNo posts from last year by searching for the NaNoWriMo tag... and here are some of the more substantive ones that I plan to retweet over the course of the next month even if I get no other blogging done:
I'll be writing at the coffee shop across the street from Serious Girl's preschool every weekday morning next month. My record in one month is 30K words... let's see if I can top it. Let's see if YOU can top it.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How To Train Your Muse (guest post)

Today's guest blog is written by K.M. Weiland! She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in the sandhills of western Nebraska. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her writing tips, editing services, workshops, and her recently released instructional CD, Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration.

I first "met" K.M. online through her blog Wordplay -- her videos in particular give solid advice, and I highly recommend that everyone drop by and check it out!

How to Train Your Muse (The Demerit System)

We’re accustomed to think of our muse as a whimsical and erratic fairy-like creature, or perhaps a wise old prophet forever stroking his beard and poking his spectacles up higher on the bridge of his nose. Either way, the muse often seems untouchable. Fairies and prophets aren’t likely to listen to the entreaties of mere mortals like ourselves, so all we can do is wait around until they start thinking kind thoughts about us. Right?

Actually, I tend to think of the muse more along the lines of a child prodigy: brilliant, but still in need of a firm guiding hand. Just as it’s our responsibility as parents to train our children to develop good habits, it’s also within our capabilities as writers to train up our muses in the way they should go. And, as I discuss in my recently released CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration, they should also go toward making our jobs as writers that much easier.

Just as with bringing up children, the best way to train our muse is to map out a course of punishments and rewards—a demerit system of sorts, if you will. Actually, this isn’t so much about training our muses as it is training ourselves to have to good habits. It’s a proven fact that humans are motivated exclusively by two factors: pain and pleasure. So let’s put that knowledge to good use, shall we?

The first step is put some goals in place. Figure out what it is you and your muse need to achieve. Finish that novel? Write on a more consistent schedule? Come up with a new story idea? Submit your finished manuscript to twenty new agents? Whatever the goal, you can then break it down into bite-size pieces, perhaps adding deadlines where appropriate. For example, if your goal is to finish your novel, and if word count goals work for you, you might assign yourself a certain word count every day.

Now that you’ve sat your muse down, given it a talking to, and explained what you expect of it, it’s time to start putting that reward/punishment system to work. What’s going to happen if you fail? Perhaps failure means no more television for a week (now it really sounds like we’re talking about kids, doesn’t it?). Maybe it’s something as radical as the word-erasure punishments on Dr. Wicked’s ridiculously effective Write or Die interface. Whatever the punishment you decide on, make sure it’s something you’re going to regret going without.

But don’t forget the fun part of this exercise. The rewards! If you knock down those word count goals like so many bowling pins in a strike, you deserve something splendiferous at the end of the game. Chocolate and ice cream are always good motivators. But maybe you’ll want to reward your muse with something extra special: that hardbound book you’ve been craving, a vacation, a new laptop? If the punishment should fit the crime, then the reward should fit the triumph.

The whole point of pushing and pulling your muse via the punishment/reward system is to convince it to develop good writing habits. Once the habits are in place, they’ll be hard to break. Not that you still can’t reward yourself with ice cream after every good writing day!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

No pedant, I.

But I still reserve the right to correct bad grammar I find in graffiti.

'Cause that's just fun.

Friday, October 8, 2010

It Gets Better.


Ellen Degeneres

Dan Savage & his husband Terry

Neil Patrick Harris

Tim Gunn

Friday, October 1, 2010

There Are No Words.

Neil Gaiman. Me. Amanda Palmer.
In that order.

It was probably a few weeks ago that tickets for ART's production of Cabaret starring Amanda Palmer went on sale. Shortly after that, I saw Neil Gaiman tweet that he'd gotten a couple VIP tickets for himself. And I may have tweeted this, and may have just thought it... "I'd spring for a VIP ticket if it meant I got to see Neil Gaiman on top of getting to see the show. Anyone know which night(s) he's going?"

And then the thought went out of my head. I tried to schedule a night to buy a regular ticket, but Husband has been doing lots of traveling for work, and Serious Girl has not been amused by my attempts to find babysitters other than her beloved nanny (who now has another family as her priority), and it just never came together. The show sold out, and I was S.O.L.

Naturally, I was disappointed, because Cabaret is one of my favorite musicals. First of all, I am a fool for the really dark and disturbed musicals (see also Sweeney Todd). But I also took "Broadway Dance" classes at Crunch Gym in NYC during my first year as a practicing attorney; in these classes, the gym hired Broadway dancers to teach the stage choreography for the shows they were currently in. As a result, I actually learned the Broadway routines for "Don't Tell Mama" and "Mein Herr." So, I love this show because part of my brain insists that I've actually performed this number, yes, I am one of you, cabaret dancers, and life is beautiful.


Then, on Monday, Neil tweeted that he had two VIP tickets for sale for Wednesday night, first come, first serve. After some frantic texting and emailing, it turned out that our nanny COULD babysit that night, and wait, even better, Husband's overnight trip was postponed and so he could just stay home with Serious Girl if I wanted to go out that night, and HOLY CRAP the ticket is still available, YES, I will buy it, MINE, The Precious... ssss... ssssssss...


So I got to go to the show. And I got to say hi and thanks-for-the-ticket to Neil during intermission. (Turns out his daughter and his assistant both bought tickets for the same show, and obviously he was going to sit with his daughter, so the tickets his assistant bought are the ones that became available at the last minute.) And because it was a VIP ticket, I got a free drink and an awesome little swag bag. And then I got to hang out and chat with Amanda and the other 3 VIP ticket-holders after the show. During which time Neil got me another drink. And then I got to meet the two women who were going to GET MARRIED ONSTAGE during the late-night cabaret after-show. Here, I took photos:

Rosalie is in red, Sarah is in black.

Punk cabaret lesbian wedding, can I get a HELL YEAH?

No exchange of rings, just clasping hands.



Congratulations, ladies!
It was amazing.

And after all that, I was finally able to grab both Neil and Amanda at the same time for a photo in a manner that I hope did not disrupt their night (because, dude, she was running a show, and he was with his daughter, I was SO OBVIOUSLY not their priority) and Neil's daughter Holly took the picture, and it came out great even though she had to use the flash... and then, even though it meant I had to miss the second half of the late-night cabaret, I ran home before I could turn into a pumpkin.

And that, honey, is why I didn't make it home until after midnight. And why I was barefoot with my shoes in a pink swag bag. Thank you for understanding how awesome this was for me.

And of course Amanda's performance as the Emcee was spectacular -- although I have to say I think the actor who played Fraulein Schneider was the best of the evening. He was heart-breaking and mind-blowing and there are no words.

Okay, apparently I lied. That was a LOT of words. But I still fall short of describing it all.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Art of Anticipation

Before I say anything substantive about last night's Grub Street class, I would like to thank our instructor, Hallie Ephron, and my classmates for being so patient and kind with me... and with Serious Girl. I actually brought Serious Girl to class with me last night, because Husband was in South Dakota overnight, and I was unable to line up any of the babysitters SG trusts (it's not a long list).

So, from 7-9:30pm, SG sat on my coat in the corner of the classroom, eating dinner and watching The Backyardigans on the iPad. In this (intentionally) dark and low-res photo, you can see her holding one headphone to her ear, while holding her spoon with the other. There are two stuffed Backyardigans along the wall, and she's actually under a large easel. Class went until 10pm, but I decided not to push my luck or SG's bedtime any further and left at 9:30, taking the last writing assignment home with me.

Serious Girl, you were a nearly silent all evening, and you were a ROCK STAR. Hallie and my fellow students, thank you so much for giving us a chance and I hope we never disturbed your class experience.

So! Last night's class was called Writing Suspense. I am simply going to share some of Hallie's insights in bullet-point form:
  • Suspense is the potential that something bad is going to happen. When something bad actually happens, that's not suspense, that's conflict or action.

  • Suspense often involves taking ordinary objects and imbuing them with a sense of menace.

  • Suspense requires a clear sense of scene (time, place, etc.) because you cannot build suspense if the reader isn't grounded.

  • Suspense requires the laying of groundwork... if the reader doesn't have the critical information before the moments of tension, it's not suspense, it's surprise. As a writer, chances are you won't know what this critical information is until you've written the key scenes. That's what editing is for: go back and put that gun in the closet, that cell phone in the hospital room, that cliff near where the car chase will eventually happen.

  • Explanation ruins tension, which is another reason why the writer must provide any critical information and/or backstory before the suspenseful scenes, not during them.

  • Suspense can often be created by giving the reader information that the characters don't have (although some people can't read this kind of story at all).

  • The writer must raise the stakes so that characters will do things no normal person would. You know how you scream at the movie screen for characters in a horror flick not to go down to the basement? Make it so that the reader understands why the hero has no choice but to go into that basement.
Suspense and tension can be built through slowing the pace, creating a vivid sensory setting, putting the reader side-by-side with the character in peril (the "closeup" camera angle), juxtaposing the innocent with the unnerving, having the critical elements already established, and raising the stakes.

Suspense and tension can be eased by action, the anticipated bad thing actually happening (the payoff), something unexpected but harmless happening (the false payoff), humor, distancing the reader from the story (the "long shot" camera angle), summarizing or cutting away from the scene, or providing back story in the scene.

This class was a delight, and I'm picking up a copy of Hallie Ephron's Never Tell A Lie today. Hallie also authored Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, which a mystery-writing crit partner of mine recommends most highly.

Any suspense-writers here? What are your favorite techniques? Or, like me, do you just like the have the occasional moment of reader anticipation thrown in? What are your favorite suspense books?

Friday, September 17, 2010

You are NOT lazy.

Image found at the Visual Ambassador

On Sunday I took (yet another) Grub Street class, called "Time of Your Life." Taught by Hillary Rettig, the class focused on ways to find time to write for those of us who cannot give up our day jobs and/or are unwilling to sacrifice family, friends, and everything else in the name of our art.

Hillary spoke to us about living a conscious life: if you do not manage your time, someone else will be happy to manage it for you, and you'll end up working hard to fulfill someone else's dreams, not your own. She also spoke to us about PROCRASTINATION.

She spoke of the "laziness myth." Writers don't procrastinate because writing is "too hard." If it was really just too hard and we were lazy, well, we'd probably just give up trying to write altogether, and focus on watching t.v. instead. We could embrace the lazy lifestyle. But no, we want to write. We want to do this hard thing because it fulfills us and gives us joy in some way. We know that the work pays off with rewards. So then why do we put it off?


It's not going to be as good as it is in my head. It's not going to be as good as that other author who writes in the same genre. The first 20 pages came out magically awesome, and the rest won't be as good. The first 20 pages came out kinda crappy, and surely the rest will be worse. I don't have the knowledge I need to write this well enough. I only have a few minutes, that's not enough time to write anything worthwhile... and suddenly we're doing the laundry instead of writing. Or doing more research when we probably have enough to get started. Or surfing the internet looking for a new blog that will give us the secret key to writing like James Joyce and getting published like Stephenie Meyers.

I don't have the answer to help you figure out which fear is yours, but I do know that this is a powerful message, and it should be passed along: YOU ARE NOT LAZY. Procrastination doesn't make you a bad person or bad writer... in fact, it's a pretty common-sense defense mechanism that protects you from feeling terrified of failing. But if you face the fear down? Then you can write anything you want.

Hillary has an ebook available for download on this subject as well: The Little Guide To Beating Procrastination, Perfectionism and Blocks (she told us that she no longer teaches the section on "hypersensitivity", but that the rest is still recommended material).

I've gotten some positive feedback on a project, and I'm scared of messing it up. But I have to edit, and have to finish, or I'll never get any further. And this project DESERVES to go all the way. HOW ABOUT YOU?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Oh, thank goodness.

Finished First Draft Badge
from Merit Badger's badges for writers and readers

I finally finished my edits to a short story that I adore. In some ways it's a first draft, because it's the first version that didn't have actual story gaps in it. In other ways, it's almost a final draft, because I almost never write anything straight through. When I write longer pieces (more than 1K words), I pretty consistently end up at some point with a draft that is 85-95% complete, mostly revised and edited, but still missing some connecting scenes that would get the reader from Important Plot Point A to Important Plot Point B. This is apparently my style.

So, once these last scenes finally make it into the draft (in this case, saved Version #4), I'm actually, well, done. Those scenes are freshly written, but they've been mulled over for quite a while, and they're of a pretty reasonable quality to begin with. But I'm making sure to leave it alone for at least a few days just in case. I'll let it settle, try to forget about it, get beta readings from the two writers who were with me when the idea for this short story was inspired, and THEN do a final polish before submitting. And then I will have earned this badge:

The Finished Final Draft Badge.

I can't tell you how glad I am to have this done. This is the same short story I was telling you about when discussing methods of editing, and it's also the one that was inspired by my Monsters & Mayhem class at Grub Street back in Jan-Feb-March of this year. That's long enough to be working on a 7K-word story.

Seven thousand words! Most of my short stories are fewer than 1,500 words. Have I mentioned how thrilled I am to have this written?


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Maybe we'll get it right next year.

This post first ran in my blog on 9/11/09. I thought that since 9/11 falls on a Saturday this year, maybe I'd get to skip blogging about it. But I'm seeing the same inanity and self-serving posturing and misuse of real tragedy and other people's pain... and so I'm going to repeat myself, too. Goddammit.

Here's last year's post.

I wasn't going to write about this. I had a bad and insecure day yesterday, and I was going to blog about how you pick yourself up when you feel like you've made an ass of yourself all day long... and this is a writing blog, not a political, or social, or personal one... but then I read a few posts this morning on the subject... and now I have to talk about it.

If you don't want to read about 9/11, stop here.

If you don't want to read profanity, stop here.

I am from NYC. On 2001, I was working at a law office in midtown Manhattan, but on September 11th in particular I was part of a group of attorneys doing document review in Newark, NJ. My train that morning went under the WTC pretty much moments before the first plane hit. I arrived at the NJ location to see people glued to a tiny t.v. that was black & white, and full of static. But we were just over the river and could see the towers out the floor-to-ceiling windows in the back of the NJ office. We kept on the radio, and the t.v., and we saw the towers collapse as we watched through the window.

I had a cell phone, and my then-boyfriend-now-husband relayed messages between myself and my parents as we confirmed everyone was safe. NY-to-NY calls wouldn't go through (too many local cell phone towers down, I guess), but my husband was out of state, and we could call him.

One of the attorneys on site that day had a boyfriend in NJ, so we stayed at his place overnight. I wanted so badly to get back to the city, but even just across the river, it couldn't be done. Our hosts drove me to the train station, but the trains weren't running. I just wanted to go home. Not to my boyfriend in Boston. Not to my parents, even, because I knew they were way uptown and safe, but to MY home. My home in Manhattan. My apartment on 63rd and First. To my little green parrot. I wanted to be alone with my small pet, in my city.

I came home the next morning. I've never seen the city so empty. Silent. Even when there were people on the street, there was no noise. No cell phones, no chatter, nothing.

And then there was the smell. The haze of the smoke that enveloped everything, even miles uptown. I remember the smell.

I went back to work right away, I think. Everything felt hollow. Our company donated office space to lawyers displaced from downtown, and asked us to spend the company money in the WTC area whenever possible. We did all our business lunches downtown, from the first moment that the area was open to us.

There was an earthquake in Manhattan not too long after 9/11, and that vibration was the most horrifying thing I'd ever felt. And a month or two later I saw a low-flying plane disappear behind the Prudential Center Tower in Boston, and I screamed.

There was a tribute concert on television shortly after the attack, and it ran on damn near every station, and it made me furious. Who did these people think they were? Who did they think we were? If a New Yorker had time or money or blood to give, they'd already given it. I didn't want to think about this shit anymore. I didn't want to watch Celine fucking Dion singing in front of a backdrop of how my city used to look. I didn't want to read on the internet about how traumatized people were, when they lived in totally different states where there was no chance of a similar attack ever happening, had never so much as known a single person in NYC. They saw it on television, and I'd seen it out my goddamn window, and I smelled it every day, and I saw how empty the subways were every day, and I saw the military presence on the streets, near the courthouses, in the 14th Street station on the platform for the 6, every day. And I didn't even think I had any particular right to be "traumatized," because I didn't have any damn bodies falling on me. I didn't lose anyone I loved.

My dad was already retired, but his company had an office on the 105th floor in the South Tower. Some of his friends got out. But he went to funerals for about 3 weeks straight. I went to dinner with one of his best friends, who had lost one of her best friends. The friend she'd lost had also been her weight-loss buddy, and now she knew exactly how little his remains had weighed after he'd jumped out the window. That is some fucking trauma. So who were these shitheads singing on my television? I switched to the SciFi channel, then a DVD.

People like to talk about how the crisis brought out the best in people in America. Hell, all over the world. (And, personally, I think we squandered some of that potential, but I'm going to try not to get political on top of being morbid.) But I saw it bring out the worst as well. One of my coworkers that day lived right in the shadow of the towers. Her kids went to school right next door. She couldn't get back to the city, so she called her ex-husband who was still in the city, and asked him to pick them up and take them somewhere safe. He agreed.

And then he kidnapped them. Custodial interference, technically. But he took those kids out of the state, and enrolled them in another school and moved to get new custody papers -- claiming his ex-wife abandoned the kids during the 9/11 crisis -- because the NYC courthouses were completely out of commission, and there was no paperwork available to contradict his new story. (Yes, she got them back, with a little assistance from some lawyer friends and a cop or two.)

There is no grand lesson to be learned from 9/11. People can be evil. Life can be short. We already knew that. If you were motivated to do something great after 9/11, or after Katrina... can you go do it again, now? Donate blood, donate time to a homeless shelter, visit kids in a hospital, something? Just do it. It's not about a motivating crisis. I think New Yorkers know this. It has a reputation as a harsh city, but it never really was. New York is certainly more welcoming to strangers and visitors and new residents than Boston is. (I love you Boston, but seriously, you're pretty clique-ish.) New Yorkers got on with life because we had to. We don't forget, we just don't fucking talk about it. If 9/11 made you want to be a better person, then just get off your ass and go be a better person.

I had a bad day yesterday, and I may well have made an ass of myself on multiple occasions. It doesn't fucking matter. I'm going to go do something worthwhile today. And maybe tomorrow. And hopefully the day after that. Not because of 9/11, but because it's the right thing to do.

I was born in Tokyo. I grew up in Manhattan. I live in Boston.
I am from New York City.

This is my city.

This is my city.

This is my city.

This is my city.

To read the comments to this post from last year, click here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I am here to share a cautionary tale.

Once upon a time, there was a reasonably intelligent writer-type who happened to have grown up in New York City (Manhattan, to be precise), where driving is unnecessary, and owning a car -- let alone trying to park the damn thing -- is actually a burden. Once, when this writer-type was a child, someone asked her what color her family's car was, and after some thought, she replied "Yellow." Neither of her parents had a license, and her mother had never learned how to drive.

And still, there came a time in this young writer's life when driving seemed like a Thing To Do. A universally-required Life Skill To Be Learned, even. So, she bravely went down to the RMV to obtain a learner's permit. This permit would be granted upon the correct answering of 18 out of 25 multiple choice questions, most of which were insulting to said writer-type's intelligence. For example, "What color is a stop sign?" The writer-type additionally has a history of handling standardized testing quite well (see, e.g., SAT, LSAT, NY bar exam, MA bar exam).

HOWEVER. This writer-type is also 36. Therefore, when preparing for this exam she thoughtlessly skipped the section on Junior Operator Licenses and the rules governing the drivers holding such licenses, who are exclusively between the ages of 16.5 and 18. "I'm thirty-f*cking-six," she said to herself, "None of this will ever apply to me."

The computer that chose her 25 questions, however, had no way of knowing if she was 17 or 77. And so, the computer (and possibly the gods of hubris) "randomly" chose a large number of questions regarding the rules of drivers in possession of Junior Operator Licenses, with an additional emphasis on the non-intuitive state-specific penalties for underage drinking and driving, drag racing, and driving past curfew without being accompanied by a parent. This very clever writer-type then failed her driver's permit exam, much to her embarrassment and annoyance, and her husband's great amusement.

This writer-type learned her lesson. She proceeded to restudy the driver's manual, reading everything in it, no matter how random it seemed to her at the time, which was a good move, because the next day she was able to retake and pass her learner's permit exam despite the bizarrely disproportionate number of questions about motorcycle safety. She tells this story so that you will also READ EVERYTHING (such as, perhaps, any submission guidelines when querying or submitting a short story to a lit mag for consideration), so that you will not be similarly embarrassed or annoyed, or have to pay another $30 exam fee plus babysitting costs to sit in the f*cking RMV for 4 hours on a busy Friday in order to rectify one's sloppy mistakes.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Editing Hits the Wall

One of my current WIPs

Many, many weeks ago, I took an excellent intensive course at Grub Street, entitled "From Revision to Submission."
Intended for the writer who needs a final push to submit their work, this class provides one last objective look to make certain that the writer is in the best possible position for publication. The first half of the class will be a revision workshop, focusing on the art of sanding down, smoothing out, and touching up the writing. The second half will help students discuss and find markets for their work. The last class will partially be devoted to assembling submissions and celebrating finished pieces.
The instructor was James Scott, who among other things is an editor at One Story, which is possibly the best lit mag out there right now, I think. The man knows his stuff, is what I'm saying here. He especially was a good instructor for me, because he has a natural instinct for plot and structure, where as I am more of a language-and-character writer, finding structure rather challenging.

So I am here today to share with you the single best piece of editing advice I got from the class: cut and paste, and stick it on the wall.

See that photo up there? That's a 20-page short story, which has been cut-and-pasted by scene (yes, actual scissors and tape, not computer-clicking) and spread out on the wall. I pasted certain scenes higher or lower based on the focus of each scene -- Character #1's POV was the baseline, omniscient narrator POV went slightly lower, Character #2's POV was taped slightly higher. Jim writes a lot of flashbacks, so he tends to tape sections higher or lower based on whether a scene is in the present or past. You may think of other ways to use the vertical as well as the horizontal.

Step back. Take a look. What do you see?

When I looked at the short story in that photo, I saw a lot of imbalance. Okay, it makes sense for that fourth scene to be super-short, because it's really just a teaser/introduction to the second character's POV, but the sixth scene is crazy long. Especially if the fifth scene is also that long... I want the narrator POV and 2nd character POV scenes to be places the reader can catch his or her breath in the story, and if scenes 5 and 6 are back-to-back enormous, that just won't happen. Scene 6 needs to be cut into at least 2 parts.

And look how front-loaded the story is! Scenes 3, 5, 6, and maybe 8 are the long ones, and then it's short-short-short all in a row at the end. No wonder the damn thing feels like it ends abruptly. Now, I already knew there were some plot elements that needed to be added to the story towards the back third, so some of those additions were already planned, but now it's even more obvious where this extra information has to go.

Depending on the nature of your story, you may also want to highlight sections. Is your dialogue evenly spaced throughout the story, or weirdly clumped in the center? Is your action where you thought it would be? Jim showed us one of his works-in-progress, and we saw that all the flashback was up front -- not good. The reader will want to know who everyone is and what the stakes are before they start dipping into reminiscences. How else will the reader know WHY those reflective moments are important?

Now, just because I'm talking in terms of balance of course does not mean that the story needs to be totally even throughout. Maybe the action really does belong all at the end. Maybe the story should start with all long sections and get increasingly tighter as the tale progresses. Only you know what your story needs, but this is a very good way to figure out what your story is already doing. They might not be the same thing, and sometimes it's just too hard to see the forest for the trees on the computer screen.

Jim swears that he's sold every story that has gotten this revision treatment. We'll see how my story fares when I'm done with it...


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Better Book Titles

aka The Odyssey

They just keep making more, and they just keep being funnier than the last... Better Book Titles.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Should Be...

I am the show notes writer for Mur Lafferty's amazing podcast, I Should Be Writing. I am also several shows behind. Which means that yesterday I started listening to a nearly six-hour backlog. I'm here to officially apologize for my failure to prioritize this work sooner, because I think Mur's podcast is a truly wonderful resource for writers, especially writers who are still learning the craft. (And if you think you've got it all figured out, she has interviews with people like Neil Gaiman.)

I was going to write more about Mur's genius, but Serious Girl just woke up from her nap, it's 4pm, and we have no groceries in the house, so we're going to have to go shopping if we want to eat dinner. SO! Please go check out ISBW. Because ISBAISBW (I Should Be Assisting I Should Be Writing. Like the t-shirt says.)

ALSO! Episode #146 starts with a hilarious "I Should Be Writing" anthem, and then at about 24 minutes in, there is the additionally hilarious song "George R.R. Martin is Not Your Bitch" based on Neil Gaiman's now-famous blog post on reader entitlement. Go listen: George R.R. Martin is Not Your Bitch on John Anealio's SciFi Songs website, and also in YouTube format (fan-posted).

Monday, August 16, 2010

High School Teacher Appreciation Day

Hunter College High School
(formerly the Squadron A Armory)

I was having a talk with someone about mentors and influences, and I hadn't really thought I had many "official" mentors... but it has occurred to me that one need not explicitly and personally take a student under one's wing in order to be an influence. So, here's to two English teachers who I now realize were, in fact, inspirations to me, simply by loving their jobs and doing them well.

Daniel Rous

In addition to being an English teacher, Mr. Rous was also an opera-quality singer, although I don't know if or where he ever performed. When I hear Kelsey Grammer singing show tunes as Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons, I think of Mr. Rous singing for us in class (maybe once a year, when all exams were over) and how damn good he was. He also managed to tell my class -- twice! -- that his wife was in labor with their son for four days. (Perhaps obviously, they just had the one.) He was unwaveringly passionate about the books he taught. He clearly adored all his students, and when they didn't adore him back, he just let it roll right off him. I cannot remember ever once seeing him in a bad mood. It was a joy to be in his class, and I hope he thought it was a joy to teach me in return. I remember hating (and having no respect for) at least one book in every English class I ever took... except his. Somehow, he made it so that I appreciated them all.

Parker Baratta

Parker was profane, sarcastic, and fabulous. Rumor had it that he'd had an affair with a senior at one point, and ended up married to her. I have no idea if this is actually true, but it fit nicely with his persona as the teacher who treated his students like adults. He let us in on all the jokes (in particular one obscene joke about a dolphin, but that's not the point). By the time I took his class, I was coasting pretty comfortably in all my English classes. I was getting As without even reading the materials by twisting the assignments into what I really wanted to write about, and I did it with enough flair to carry it off in most cases. But Parker busted me. On my third-semester report card, he gave me a 65. A sixty-five. Now, I'd gotten a couple bad grades from him (one in particular for a truly abysmal Great Gatsby paper about that damned green light), but not D-minus bad. I went to him to ask WHY? He looked me dead in the eye and said, "Because you can do better." The third-semester report card didn't count on the permanent record, and he was using it to make a point. He was right. I could do better, and he f*cking knew it. I got something in the high 90s for my final grade from him that year.

Gentlemen, THANK YOU.

P.S. Elena Kagan, HCHS class of 1977! WOOT!

Friday, August 13, 2010

HuffPo Loves Me

In yesterday's Huffington Post article The Making of a Novel: Can You Write a Real Person Into a Fictional Story?, author Jennie Nash mentions this blog. Specifically, the guest blogger post by Audrey Beth Stein: Writing About Real People.

Okay, so if you read the article you'll see that HuffPo really loves Audrey; my blog was just the incidental host. But I loved Audrey first. So it totally counts.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Conversations with my family

Conversation #1:

Husband: Serious Girl, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Serious Girl: I don't know.
Husband: Well, you could be an astronaut, or a doctor...
Serious Girl: A doctor!
Husband: Yeah! Or a writer, or a fire fighter...
Serious Girl: I want to be a writer.
Husband: What are you going to write?
Serious Girl: I don't know.
Husband: Are you going to write stories?
Serious Girl: Yeah!
Husband: What kind of stories are you going to write?
Serious Girl: Stories about elevators and toys.
Me: Serious Girl, did you know that you really can do that? There are some really famous and wonderful stories about exactly that -- elevators and toys.
Serious Girl: Also, I want to be a turtle.

Conversation #2:

[Husband finishes telling Serious Girl the story of Pandora's Box.]

Husband: Serious Girl, do you know what that story's about?
Serious Girl: Did everything get away and go way up in the air?
Husband: Yes. But really, it's about telling girls what to do. Every culture has some story that tries to tell girls that they shouldn't be smart or curious. You should be both. You should open every box.
Serious Girl: Really?
Husband: Really. You see, it was a trick. The gods would have let out all those bad things anyway, but they wanted to blame it on Pandora. Never do what you're told just because someone else says you have to. It's up to you to figure out the right things to do.
Serious Girl: Really?
Husband: Really. Can I have a smooch?
Serious Girl: Of course.