Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Banned Book Week

Sorry for my failure to post yesterday -- I thought I would have time to blog despite my packed schedule, but I had less time than I expected, and I didn't want to rush the topic.


The American Library Association has released its list of the top ten most frequently challenged books for 2008, and I have to say that I was particularly saddened by the appearance of two of the books on the list. Go read the list, then come back, and we'll discuss.

(Whistling patiently.)

Okay. So, what did you think? Have you read any of them? (Perhaps the one that's been on the NY Times bestseller list for a couple years?) I've read four, and the two that I'm going to mention here are on my wish list for my 2.5-year-old daughter. They were on my must-buy list before I realized someone else wanted to ban them.

And Tango Makes Three is the true story of Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins from the Central Park Zoo who successfully hatched an egg and raised a baby female penguin together -- that would be the titular Tango. (Sadly, after 6 years together, Roy and Silo broke up in 2005.) As a former New Yorker, I was always going to buy this book. It went on my own wish list years before I even had a kid. (I am also a guaranteed customer for books about NYC hawks or NYC polar bears.) This book has been the #1 challenged book on the ALA's list since the book was released.

Uncle Bobby's Wedding is a story about a little girl guinea pig who is worried that her favorite uncle will treat her differently after he gets married. I cannot tell you how much I love this little book. It expresses a young child’s concerns about family relationships and change. It stresses the power of love to encompass both old and new. The fact that Chloe will be getting two uncles instead of an uncle and an aunt is pretty much incidental to the story, and it makes me so amazingly happy to see that in a kid's book (instead of a story that talks about how different such a thing might be, not that there's anything wrong with it.)

Someone wants to ban Uncle Bobby's Wedding? Dammit! It breaks my heart to think that there are people out there -- other parents, probably, according to this pie chart showing Challenges by Initiator -- trying to make sure that my kid doesn't have the opportunity to read this book, when in fact I am constantly on the lookout for books exactly like this one: books that CASUALLY show a little bit of diversity. (Similarly, I am always on the lookout for books that CASUALLY show strong women. Not, oh, wow, here's the one princess in a million who doesn't need a prince to rescue her, isn't that so rare and amazing, because it shouldn't be rare, okay?)

If I didn't live in a liberal town that puts these books in the front of the display, if I didn't have enough money to own a computer and be able to buy books online, these sweet and wonderful books might not be available to me or my daughter. This saddened me more than the idea that Huck Finn was on the top ten most challenged list for 2007, because I always kind of assumed that all challenges to that classic are going to fail. But... the more I read on the ALA website, the horrified I'm becoming. Check out the ALA's list of banned or challenged classics and the reasons for the challenges -- To Kill A Mockingbird was banned from the Lindale,Tex. advanced placement English reading list in 1996 because the book "conflicted with the values of the community." What values might those be, if you please?

I joined the library committee for my daughter's preschool last month, because I love books and I want to make sure that the best books are always available to my daughter. And I am now going to send a big fat donation to a public library. I practically lived in the NYC public libraries growing up, and this week is as good as any to give a little back. I'm also going to go pay full price for those two books, new, right now, instead of waiting for a used copy to become available.


Is there any situation in which you think banning books is appropriate? This is not a trick question, I promise. Nathan Bransford took a poll about whether children's books should have content ratings, and 38% said it's a good idea, so obviously there are plenty of people who don't want their kids reading certain books at a certain age. But how do we collectively decide what is available, and where? Is there anyone you would trust to decide which books should be banned from your community library or public schools? Who?


Monday, September 28, 2009


Wordle: Blog
Last week's blog, according to Wordle

Ah, Wordle and its "beautiful word clouds." It's like a tie-dyed concordance and a computer-charged set of poetry magnets all in one. (For those of you who don't know how this works, a concordance as presented by a word cloud gives greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text... so, because I was writing about "bad behavior" lately in my blog, the word bad became very large in this Wordle of my blog as it existed at the end of last week. I suspect the words book and think would stay prominent over time.)

I love "reading" these word clouds to find unexpected language. In my own Wordled blog, I found the following phrases:

"Get going right away"

"Bad readers writing final ideas"

"Behavior like two postcards"

"Sometimes always business first"

"Parents talk, still prefer self-promotion actions"

"People eventually just getting everyone reading"

"Creative characters important"

"Okay fiction"

Now, mostly this is just silly fun, but I have a suggestion for beginning writers that uses this program. Wordle your work-in-progress, then look at it. Is it what you expected? Are the names of some characters HUGE, when in fact you didn't think they got that much time on the page? Do you use fiction's "meaningless words" too often: apparently, very, or really? Or perhaps some good news... a theme of your book appears to you, written but unnoticed until now. It's suprisingly cool how much this reveals about your use of language.

Go Wordle something! Your blog, your WIP, a spam email... and come back and tell me what you think of your results! Better yet, post a link so we can all see which font, style, and colors you chose. I promise to view them all.

Friday, September 25, 2009

James F@*%ing Ellroy

Warning: this post is for mature audiences only.
Profanity ensues.

Wednesday night, I went to hear James Ellroy read from his new book, Blood's a Rover, and event hosted by Harvard Bookstore (independent since 1932). When I came home, my husband asked how he was, and I said profane and magnificent. I stand by my evaluation.

I was going to try to summarize the event for you (I took notes), but yesterday I was delighted to discover that it is available online, so you can hear him for yourself. Thank god, the pressure is off, and I no longer have to try to remember the entirety of his description of how, at birth, the Alfred A. Knopf borzoi (tall, slinky, and ruffle-coated) appeared to him in a vision and told him that he was the only one who could save the printed word...

Don't worry, I'll still summarize a few things for you. Italics indicate a summarized quote from my memory and notes, whereas block quotes indicate precise quotes transcribed from the podcast recording.

The words of James Ellroy:
  • Nowhere is more important to kneel than a place where books are read and sold.
  • This book guarantees your front row seat in heaven, where I guarantee you will be able to have sex with all the people you desired in this life who told you to fuck off, so you better buy this fucking book.
  • When asked if he had any choices words for the Kindle, Ellroy simply growled. Then he added: This book has a great author photo, it cost me five grand to get that photo and three years to write the book, not to mention all the marriages and extraneous girlfriends it cost me, so don't fucking stiff me by reading this book on something that looks like an Etch-a-Sketch. The borzoi will hunt you down.
  • Lesser writers may need to travel to do research. I only need to dream.
I took the opportunity to ask Ellroy something during the Q&A, but I'm going to give you a little background before I tell you what I asked. On Wednesday, Nathan Bransford asked his readers, Do you need to be well-read to be a good writer?

I responded in the comments:
I don't know HOW well-read you need to be... and I don't know how much you need to read in your own genre... but I do think that staying away from writing because it will "influence" your own writing voice is poppycock.

If your voice can't handle a little exposure to other voices, then it's probably not strong enough to write a good novel yet. Exposure helps you find your voice, just like debate helps you clarify your own beliefs.
And then, a little while later, I responded again:
ACK! I'm going to see James Ellroy read tonight, and I just looked up his Wikipedia entry, and apparently he "never reads books by other authors, aside from Joseph Wambaugh's The Onion Field, for fear that they might influence his own."

Can that be POSSIBLE? Surely not. It must just be part of his public persona to claim such a thing, right? RIGHT?
So, during the Q&A, I asked Ellroy if this was true, or if he just said it because it made him sound so much cooler than the rest of us. Here's part of his response:
I largely ignore the world, and it's proven quite efficacious for me... I have no cultural input. I limit my perspective... so that I can live obsessively the themes of my personal life... and the history that I write about.

...I lie in the dark, brood, think about all manner of crazy shit, and wait for the phone to ring... This is the way I live. I'm not shitting you. I've blurbed some books, I haven't read them.
Another audience member followed up, asking if he had any writing influences, and he said: his ex-wife Helen Knode, Erika Schickel, and Beethoven (who will play for you personally in the afterlife if you buy Ellroy's book).

All I can say is this: it works for him. I seriously doubt it would work for anyone else. Like Will Smith walking away from M.I.T. to become a rap, television, and film star. He's the only person that plan will work for. Ever.

At the very end, Ellroy was pushing us to ask "the metaphysical questions," and when we failed to satisfy him, he prompted us further, asking, does anyone want to ask me, "Why do I write?" (Yes, I'm the one who stepped up to ask it.) He answered by quoting Dylan Thomas.
In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.
Now THAT is a man who can self-promote.

When I came up to get my book signed, I told him that I think he's a fucking dialogue genius. He thanked me, and asked if I'd read the new book yet. I said no, because I had a two-year-old who thought all books should be read to her, and that I figured I should wait a year or two before reading his books to her. He agreed that, really, you had to be at least 3 or 4 for his work, and he signed my book "To Carrie, Don't Read To Your Daughter Yet."

It was a blast, and I'm thrilled that I went. I hope some of you will listen to the podcast, even though it is about an hour-and-a-half long with the Q&A. You can pause it up and listen in sections if you like, it will be still profane and magnificent.

The hive mind is still mulling over those self-promotion issues! Rachelle Gardener blogged about it today, linking to a relevant Washington Post article on novice authors from Thursday.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mama's got a brand new gig

I am proud to announce that I am the new assistant for Mur Lafferty's brilliant podcast I Should Be Writing! I've said it before, I'll say it again: if you have any desire to write fiction, this is a podcast to which You Should Be Listening.

I'll be writing the show notes and "proof listening" for Mur, so if there are any screwups in the show (un-censored expletives and the like), it's now my fault, not hers. But I get to work on a project that I totally believe in... and I get a free t-shirt! Viewers of Pinky and the Brain know that humans will do anything for a free t-shirt.

Do you have any favorite podcasts? I'm also a fan of Writing Excuses and the Barnes & Noble Meet the Writers podcasts... and for non-writing themed listening, I'm all over the Savage Love podcast (if you don't already know what this is, don't click that link until you've read the Wikipedia entry for Dan Savage, because it might not be the sort of thing you're interested in listening to) and also the Sesame Street video podcasts for my daughter.

I also have some French language podcasts (One Thing In a French Day is fun), some podcast audiobooks (Mur's Heaven was the first I listened to, and I loved it), and NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me!. Have I mentioned that I love my iPod? LOVE.

Tomorrow: I meet James Ellroy,
and profanity ensues.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ruthless Self-Promotion

On Monday evening, I took a class at Grub Street (local creative writing center) called "The Bestselling Author's Guide to Ruthless Self-Promotion," taught by Jenna Blum. Why does Jenna know what she's talking about? Because her debut novel, Those Who Save Us, was published by Harcourt in 2004; four years later, in October 2007, it jumped onto the New York Times paperback bestseller list, and then it stayed there for over a year. The woman hustled.

Now, I'm not going to give away everything I learned in the (3 hour!) class, but I am going to share one big idea: the book business card/postcard. This is something that I firmly believe any writer can do, no matter how shy, no matter how much they think that selling the book isn't their job. Get little business cards or postcards (I like VistaPrint for their low cost and ease of uploading images) with your book cover on it, and whatever other information you think is important -- author contact info, your blog url, the book's publisher and release date -- and hand them out like Tic-Tacs. Today's post over at Pimp My Novel discusses the importance of face time and suggests that authors go make themselves known to their local bookstore proprietors at the very least. I realize that some authors are reclusive enough that even this seems like a big deal. But imagine this:

You go to your local bookstore. You ask to talk to someone in purchasing. You hand them a postcard and say, "I'm a local author, and I've got this book coming out soon. I wanted you to know about it, and I'd be thrilled to sign any stock you might have coming in." If you're more social, I'm sure you can do more, like perhaps asking about doing a reading, but I have to think that even the most retiring wallflower can hand out a card with a picture of a pretty book on it.

"But I'm not published yet," you say. "What good does this information do me?" Well, I'm not published, but I made myself some "writer" business cards with my name and blog address on them. I handed them out at the class on Monday to the other students and to the instructor (although I now know to keep a lot more of them on me at all times). And, I made postcards (100 for free at VistaPrint) just for kicks with a cover that a friend designed for me. No, it won't be the final cover. Heck, it might not even be the final title. But when I get an agent, I'm going to send them to my friends to let them know that I wrote a book, and that it might eventually hit the shelves someday. And then they can eventually take my postcards to their local bookstores...

Writers, how do you feel about self-promotion? Do you have any plans for marketing your book, either before or after it comes out? Share!

ETA: there's some kind of hive mind thing going on today. There's also a self-promotion post over at The Swivet.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Truth AND Consequences

So, let's move away from the specific incidences of bad behavior that have been making the media rounds lately, and talk about bad behavior in writing. Specifically, consequences.

Young adult author Elena Johnson blogged today about the responsibility of authors to show authentic consequences for bad actions in fiction, and this got me thinking. I wholeheartedly agree that character actions should always have authentic consequences -- after all, authenticity is what I think all fiction writers should be striving for. But.
  • Sometimes people DO get away with bad behavior. Authentic consequences are not always the precise consequences we hope for. I tend to believe that bad people will eventually get their comeuppance... but man, sometimes the universe takes its sweet time getting that karmic retribution in gear.
  • Not everyone agrees on what constitutes "bad behavior." Take sports as an example. I think good sportsmanship is more important than winning the game, but plenty of parents would abandon good sportsmanship in a heartbeat if it meant winning the game and maybe getting that college coach to notice their kid... these are the parents who think they're RIGHT to punch the referee over a bad call! What would a YA book written by those parents look like, I wonder?
My daughter is two and a half. I sometimes seriously wonder about how I'm going to teach her right from wrong, because in real life, I often find that I am the only one playing fair in a given situation. I think I have the moral high ground, and everyone else in the game clearly thinks I'm weak and an idiot. Authentic sometimes really blows.

Additionally, I am a social liberal (leaning towards libertarian) who believes in many things that other people clearly think are atrocious. Again, I think I have the moral high ground... and so do the people who disagree with me. I'm sure, for example, that many writers (and readers!) would prefer that a young adult novel show some negative consequences befalling a teen character who had premartial sex. However, I don't think there's anything per se wrong with premartial sex among (mature, responsible) teens, and if I ever wrote book about such characters, I would write accordingly.

Authors, do your characters consistently suffer for their misdeeds, or do some go unpunished? And what about those controversial deeds where not everyone agrees on what's right or wrong? Do you worry about reader reaction, wondering if your ideas of right and wrong will come across as too conservative, or not conservative enough? Does this issue play into your ideas of who your ultimate reading audience will be?

Readers, would you prefer authentic consequences even if the bad guy gets away with it, or do you prefer the morally satisfying tales where good always triumphs and evil always fails?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Drumroll, please

Sorry about my failure to post this on Friday, everyone. I was sick. Linda-Blair-in-Exorcist sick.

I'm better now.

And, finally, for the winner of the September Fiction contest:

It's a tie!
Congratulations to Reesha and Jordan!!!

They are truly genre-blending geniuses.

Jordan has brought us children's male ennui picture books:
And then the sad, lonely bunny said, "They're all a bunch of phonies." And hopped away to take his medication.
And Reesha will surely write the first Southern Gothic Medical Murder Mystery ("like Flannery O'Connor meets NCIS").
"He might be mental, but he's still the best on the team we have." She remembered these words just before breaking down the door of the house, as if her memory was trying to warn her with a bad omen.

Rose-water wafted out to her, reminding Betsy of a funeral home and her grandma's at the same time. She squeezed the handle of her gun, swiveled around a corner and yelled "Clear!" Brad rushed past her in swift military fashion into the next doorway. Looking around, she noticed everything was floral or dusty pink. She heard Brad discharge his firearm.

"Red is such a lovely color." he said from the next room. Curious and confused as to what he could possibly be doing when a killer could be around the next corner, she cautiously approached. She smelled the blood before she saw it.

Brad was bending over a small pool of fresh blood, his hands covered in it. He pressed his palms down on the floor until the blood covered his knuckles, then held them up, dripping.

"You caught me red handed." He laughed.

Betsy was about to scream until he stood up, revealing that he had only shot the cat. He gently stroked her cheek, leaving a smear of red on it.

"This is your first time seeing something get shot, isn't it?" Being new to the force, she wasn't sure what to do and was frightened of her superior.

"Well then. It's only natural you should blush. Darn thing nearly startled me to death."

He wiped his hands on his dark pants and proceeded with the operation, leaving Betsy alone in the room with the dead thing, a horrified look on her face and two red half-moons of blood on her cheeks.
Plus, think of the licensing potential. I see a new Law & Order spin-off in the making!

Okay, we'll be back to our regularly scheduled blogging tomorrow. Hope you all had a great weekend, and congrats again to our creative winners, who will be getting a yummy fudge recipe via email, and thank you to everyone who entered the contest!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bad behavior

CONTEST ROUND-UP: the genre-blending contest is officially closed! I will be announcing the winner tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm going to proudly declare that I won two writing contests myself lately, both resulting in free books for yours truly: Janet Reid's haiku contest, and, as of yesterday, the Redlines & Deadlines worst first line contest (I'm especially proud of that one, for obvious reasons). If I can't make money off my writing yet, at least I can score myself some free reads in the blogosphere!

And now for the real topic of today's post: BAD BEHAVIOR. Is there something in the water? Joe Wilson heckling the President, Serena Williams threatening a lineswoman, and the Kanye West debacle which is so big that I can't even find an actual clip of the incident on YouTube right now, only about a million personal response videos... and to think that a few months ago we thought the Alice Hoffman Twitter incident was bad.

What is going on here? Can any of my readers shed some light on what must have possessed these people?

And, let's talk about anger. When is it okay to express it? How do you apologize afterwards? The main character in my book loses her temper at a client, and again at a stranger on the subway, but I like to think that she's still sympathetic even after these outbursts, because the reader is already well into the book and knows what's going on in her head... is there any excuse for this kind of thing, if only we knew more? Or, are they just jackasses?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Contest? Oh, RIGHT, the contest...

I completely flaked on you guys, didn't I? I threw up my genre-blending contest on the first Friday of September, and I never told you what the prizes would be, and I never told you when the contest would be closed...



Okay, y'all get one more day to enter. And the prize will once again be my coveted fudge recipe.

And then next month I'm going to do a poll or something else instead, because I apparently can't keep up with even the simplest blogging responsibilities...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Oh, hell.

I'm sure everyone else has already posted the Dirty Dancing clips... so here's Patrick dancing with his wife.

I'm bummed. Patrick Swayze was so awesome. I mean, besides the acting and dancing, for how many Hollywood stars could I get a clip of husband and wife dancing together in 1994, and have it be the same couple that was together at the end, fifteen years later? They were married for thirty-four years. AWESOME.

On a writerly note, I'd like to point out that if Dirty Dancing was a book, it would be classified as chick lit. But, oh, it's not just a chick flick, is it? It deals with growing up, finding out who you want to be and who you are, the importance and risks of telling the truth, class issues, sex and love -- and the importance and risks thereof -- and friendship and family...

This is why I've written chick lit, I think. Because there's so much good there.

And how about Ghost? If anyone is dumping on you writers of paranormal romances, you just tell 'em to shove it, 'cause if it was good enough for Patrick, it's good enough for you.


Okay, here's a link to take your mind off things. You see that section over in my right-hand column that says "authors I know and love"? Well, one of those authors (Mur Lafferty) just interviewed another one of those authors (Felix Gilman), and it's like an awesome-writer jamboree, I tell you! If you're not already listening to Mur's podcast, I Should Be Writing (and if you have ANY interest in writing fiction, you must get yourself over to iTunes and subscribe NOW), you can listen to the interview here:

Mur Lafferty interviews Felix Gilman & others
(Gilman's interview runs from ~minute 28 to ~minute 48)

I hereby open the comments thread to discussions of Mr. Swayze, his movies, and/or what you're doing today to cheer yourself up. I think I'm gonna go watch that SNL skit with Patrick and Chris Farley auditioning to be Chippendale's dancers...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Finding joy in ordinary places

Taken with my camera phone, one block from my house.

So, today we are going to talk about happy stuff. That little brick smiley face is on a patch of street that I must walk over at least 6 times a week, but I never saw it before Friday. I took the photo about an hour after my last post.

Would anyone like to share a recent, small, unexpected happiness? Or something you're looking forward to? My daughter has her first day of preschool today, and I'm really hoping that she'll find something joyful in that classroom, despite her stranger anxiety. And if she doesn't, well, then we'll just come home and re-read all our storybooks about kids going to school, and how they're scared at first but it all turns out okay. I know she'll be fine, it's just a matter of taking the time to adjust. Or, maybe she'll just fall in love with the school turtle and never want to leave. (She has two stuffed turtles that are her favorite toys in the whole world. The last time we went to the zoo, she tried to climb in with the giant tortoises.)

Let's get the week started off right. Tell me something good.

Friday, September 11, 2009

This is not going to be a nice 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.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

And I already HAVE green eyes...

Here's the first chapter of Ms. Lithwick's book. Zippy and fun, right? Yeah, now I hate her.

(Kidding! Kidding, I swear.)

The Accidental WriMo

For those who aren't already familiar with the genius that is NaNoWriMo, a "WriMo" is a person participating in National Novel Writing Month. And although she's not waiting until November to do it as part of the organized event,
I am fully aware of the raging battles between those who take pink books seriously and those who do not. This project seeks to sidestep that entire literary debate by being fun for its own sake. will be. She can't sidestep it. The vast majority of people who read about her efforts will probably not think, "wow, she loves the genre, it makes her happy, so she's going to just go for it and see what she can write in the little time she has available, and we should all think about similar ways to go for the gusto in our own lives." Nope. They'll think, "funny women writers are, I believe, the book world's greatest gift to 21st-century women" (damn straight!), and I appreciate her choices as to which plot traditions she hopes to embrace, and which she hopes to avoid or subvert.

And, it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who has obscure legal texts next to mommy lit on her bookshelves...

You can follow along with Ms. Lithwick's efforts on her Saving Face Facebook page, and if you're new to my blog, you can click here to read my previous chick-lit genre rants.

Belated edit: Let me make clear that I don't think writing chick lit in a month is easy. Let me make clear that I don't think DAHLIA thinks it's easy. I simply fear that the publicity of the attempt will accidentally encourage people who don't get the genre to dump on it more. My actual feelings on the project are summed up by my hypothetical quote above: "wow, she loves the genre, it makes her happy, so she's going to just go for it and see what she can write in the little time she has available, and we should all think about similar ways to go for the gusto in our own lives."

And we shouldn't blame Dahlia for doing something cool, just because other people might misinterpret her efforts. Although I reserve the right to be a jealous harridan if she knocks it out of the park on her first try. Just sayin'.

Also, my own novel, as many of you know, started out as a NaNoWriMo project, which means I did the EXACT SAME THING by trying to write a chick lit book in a month. I failed on the time frame, but got it done eventually.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What does your book say about you?

I am one with my books.

Yesterday TLH blogged about audience -- who is your hoped-for audience, how broad is your appeal, are your beliefs reflected in your work, would you change your story to get a bigger audience (or, to get published at all), etc. And Tabitha commented in response, saying that:
There is no line between my belief and my work. They both come from me and so I see them as one and the same. But that's just me. I don't take issue with others who see things differently. Does that mean all my characters would have to believe what I do? No God no. That would be far too boring. But if the book as a whole really contradicted my essential beliefs about life and love then... well I doubt I would have written it.
This is exactly how I feel. And this is what enters my mind when I think about people reading my novel who have very different philosophies than I do. My book does not contradict my essential beliefs about life, about what is right and wrong, and about what is important in this world. So, what, specifically, does it say about me?

For example, no one thinks that Stephen King in any way advocates the kind of violence that occurs in his books, but his books definitely do reflect some of his underlying beliefs and "deep interests":
These deep interests include how difficult it is--perhaps impossible!--to close Pandora's technobox once it's open. Why, if there is a God, such terrible things happen. The thin line between reality and fantasy, and most of all, the terrible attraction violence sometimes has for fundamentally good people.
(from On Writing)

So, we can read his work and glean some of his feelings about, say, small towns, family, and technology. Some of the writing is "just fiction" and some is really about the author. This, I believe, is as it should be. And, naturally, some people will write books that are more on the side of pure fiction, and some people will write works that are closer to their hearts.

So, what would you think if you read a novel by a friend or family member that clearly revealed a contrary world view? Maybe you already know what that person believes, and so it wouldn't be a shock at all, but I'll admit that I have a knee-jerk tendency to think that people see the world in a similar fashion as I do, and so I can be genuinely surprised that someone disagrees with me on an issue even when I know, objectively, that I hold a minority view. The brain's funny that way.

Would such a novel make you think differently about that person? Or would it just give you more to talk about? Yes, yes, "it depends" on the book, and the particular differing philosophies... but, what do you think? What is your expected and/or hoped-for audience (if you're not writing a book, tell us about your blog audience), and what do you think would be the reaction if someone outside that core audience stumbled upon your writing?

Don't forget to enter this month's fiction contest: make a new genre! Can you come up with something better than the Southern Gothic Medical Murder Mystery or Splatterpunk Chick Lit?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Good reads

Well, I only did a little writing during my vacation week, but I did a lot of reading! And it was awesome.

I am an extremely fast reader, but I am also the mother of a two-year-old. She thinks that all books should be read to her. And if she doesn't like the text of my book, she will declare, "and they all lived happily ever after!" and try to get me to read another book to her now that mine is "done." Cute, to be sure, but ultimately not helpful.

Worse, when I have free time, I often fall prey to the siren call of the internet. Or I go to bed early. Or I watch a movie with my husband, because if we try to read at bedtime, chances are we'll fall asleep and end up going to bed early when that wasn't actually what we wanted to do. I've made an effort to prioritize reading more this year, and I'm definitely improving, but man, the flashing t.v. screens and computer monitors are tempting. We cut off cable, but there's always NetFlix...

But this week, I read five new books, most while Serious Girl was swimming with my husband in the pool. Better yet, there was a mix of genres because I only brought two books with me and then selected the rest from the shelves of the place we were renting. Popular commercial fiction! I read my first Dean Koontz in years, and my first James Patterson book ever! I can see the appeal.

In particular, I can see the appeal of the recurring main character -- this week I was introduced to Koontz's Odd Thomas, and Patterson's Alex Cross (moviegoers know him as Morgan Freeman). This is sort of new to me, as I don't read that many books that have recurring characters. I mean, I've read Harry Potter, but that feels different to me, because the books were always intended to be a 7-novel set and then end. I mean, if you read Lord of the Rings, you're not really reading "books with continuing characters," you're reading the LotR trilogy. It's a package deal, and I'm used to seeing that format in YA and sci fi. You get a few years with a young character (Laura of the Little House, the Great Brain, Harry & co.) and then it's over.

Alex Cross and Odd Thomas, however, could just go on forever. There's no multi-book story arc, there's just a cool guy, and the potential for multiple stories within that cool guy's world.

Until last week, I couldn't have told you the last time I read a book that reads as a stand-alone novel (no hints of sequels or an ongoing pre-planned series) and thought, "I want to know what happens next in that person's life." But I plan to track down another Odd Thomas novel because the character held enough interest for me, all by himself, that it really doesn't matter what plot hits him next, I just want to learn more about the guy.

Are you a fan of the recurring character? Do you eagerly await the next Alex Cross or Odd Thomas novel? Or Jack Ryan, or the Shopaholic, or... umm... okay, I can't think of any others right now. Enlighten me!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you to everyone who came by the blog while I was away last week, and a special thank you to T. Anne and Reesha, who each came back to comment more than once: this "You Don't Say?" comments award is for you!

And, I'd like to also say thank you to my followers. (Forty-one as of today! Woo-hoo!) It makes me ridiculously happy that you guys get enough enjoyment from the blog that you not only visited but that you want to come back!

Our vacation was lovely, thank you. Our family spent the vast majority of our time in the pool, with a little bit of beach thrown in. Serious Girl, thanks to her dad's genetics, got an amazingly beautiful tan even while covered in 60 SPF sunblock, whereas I am just grateful not to have turned lobster red. SG also figured out how inner tubes work, and started swimming all over the pool, hanging on to an inflatable zebra instead of requiring us to hold her at all times. We are SO proud of her!

Back to writing-themed fun tomorrow, and I hope everyone had a lovely weekend, especially those who got the long weekend for Labor Day. Thanks again!

Don't forget to enter this month's fiction contest! Just scroll down to the next post below to learn more...

Friday, September 4, 2009

First Friday Fiction Contest... #3!

Welcome to the First Friday of September, and welcome to my third monthly fiction contest. You have a week to enter, and I'll announce this month's prize on Monday or Tuesday.

For people new to my blog, July was Flash Fiction (winner here). August was a Worst First Line Contest (entries in comments, winner here). And September brings you:


Regular guest blogger Lauren over at Pimp My Novel has brought us Amish Vampire fiction and a Hitler Romance. What do you think hasn't been brought to the market yet, but totally should be? Steampunk YA mystery romances? Horror pop-up books? Autobiographical fan fiction? (For example, did you know that author Felix Gilman went to Hogwarts? Click his biography -- refresh the page repeatedly if necessary, because it changes -- and you'll see proof.)

I've already called dibs on zombie chick lit. What's your big new idea? Extra points go to any entries providing sample sentences from their chosen genre.

This is my last day of auto-posts. See you next week, everyone!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Weird things you find when Googling yourself

Meet CKHB. Specifically, the Smith & Wesson CKHB Extreme Ops Hawkbill Knife. Why is it model number CKHB? I have absolutely no idea. I use those initials because, well, they're my initials. Duh.

What's the weirdest thing you've found while Googling your own name or screen name?

Reminder: I am on vacation this week, and this is an auto-post. I may not respond to your comments until the week of September 7th, at which point I will do a "feedback" day to catch up. But I will read everything! I promise!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Class of 2013

The college students are back in town! The vendors are hawking their wares (in particular, the banks are trying to get their customers-for-life to open new accounts), and the Welcome Class of 2013 signs are up.

Man, I feel old.

How about your characters? How old are they? What college class will they be, or have they been... or are they even going to college? Are they older or younger than you? My protagonist is younger, and she turns 27 during the course of the novel. And she went to the same college I did.

Comments about your own age and/or feelings of oldness are welcome, but certainly not required.

Reminder: I am on vacation this week, and this is an auto-post. I may not respond to your comments until the week of September 7th, at which point I will do a "feedback" day to catch up. But I will read everything! I promise!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Things my husband says

My demographic, according to my husband.

Husband: How's your book coming?
CKHB: Good, thanks.
Husband: Are there any ninjas in it?
CKHB: Not right now.
Husband: Car chases?
Husband: An increasingly complex series of riddles that must be solved in order for the bomb to be disarmed and the world to be saved?
CKHB: {sigh} Sweetie, you are not my demographic.
Husband: Oh, I get it. I don't have enough cats to be your demographic.
CKHB: Smartass. Now I'm going to blog about this.
Husband: And that's why you'll never get a man.

Reminder: I am on vacation this week, and this is an auto-post. I may not respond to your comments until the week of September 7th, at which point I will do a "feedback" day to catch up. But I will read everything! I promise!