Category Archives: Beyond Categorization

Exercising the Why

Let’s say you’re in a coffee shop. I think we can all agree that’s a reasonable assumption.

A four-year-old girl walks up to you. She’s a precocious curly-headed moppet with curious blue eyes and a surprisingly accurate sixth sense about strangers. She knows you’re the non-dangerous type, despite the army of wrinkle-lines marching across your face while you sort through a particularly tricky plot point.

“What are you doing?” she asks. Because that’s what a precocious curly-headed moppet with curious blue eyes does. She asks questions. She hasn’t learned filters yet. Thank God. Because you need her to ask these questions.

“Writing,” you answer.

“What are you writing?”

“A novel.” She squishes her face because she doesn’t know that word, so you try again. “I’m writing a story.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m a writer.”

“Why?”

You open your mouth, but no words come out. This is the kind of question you need a minute or ten to think about before you can answer properly. Tell you what, I’ll stop time while you consider a few options. (This is my fiction. I can stop time if I want to.)

The first answer that comes to mind is, “Because I can’t not write.” Aside from confusing a four-year-old with a double negative (she’ll become an expert on double negatives in due time…right around middle school), it’s also a damn lie. (Don’t worry, she can’t hear us while time is stopped.) You can indeed not write. That is, unless your laptop has been rigged by an evil genius such that if you stop typing 55 words a minute, it will explode. (Note to self: Write spec script for Speed 3: Caps Lock; call Keanu and Sandra.) But even then you still don’t have to write. It’s a choice. (BTW, if you do blow up, I’ll read a lovely poem at your funeral that celebrates all your artistic choices, especially the last one.)

Then there’s the ol’ standby, “Because I love words.” Yeah. That might work. But is that it, really? Isn’t the search for the right word among the most frustrating activities known to man and/or woman? Then there’s the impossible task of figuring out where to put those words. I don’t write because I love words (though I do love them) I write in spite of words. But that’s just me. If this is your final answer, I’ll restart time now and you don’t have to read any further. (But you will. Because you love words. Here, have a few more.)

You briefly consider “Because I want to be rich and famous someday,” but no four-year-old is going to care about anything that might or might not happen “someday.” She doesn’t understand the concept of time. If you were to tell her, “We’re going to DisneyWorld next summer,” she’d wake up every morning between now and then (at five thirty) and pester you with “Is it today? Are we going to see Mickey today?” until you’re tempted to answer, “Mickey Mouse is dead. Goofy shot him. DisneyWorld had to close because there’s blood everywhere.” You don’t really write to become rich and famous someday. I mean, that would be a nice bonus and a well-earned reward. But if “getting rich” is your primary motivation for being a writer, you’ve chosen the wrong field. Try Lottery Ticket Buyer.

Okay, what about…sorry. I have the attention span of a four-year-old so I’m going to restart time. And just to keep things interesting, our four-year-old moppet will keep repeating “Why?” until she gets an answer she likes. 

“Why?”

“Why?”

“Why?”

“Why?”

Quick, say this: “Because I like making things?”

Our fictional moppet tilts her head (as fictional moppets do), says, “Okay,”  turns like a music box ballerina, then skips away to sidle up next to a woman collecting a salted caramel macchiato from the bar.

“Mommy, that wrinkly person in the corner likes making things,” she says. “Just like me.”

Just like her. Yup.

Now go back to making things.

The Society of Abandoned Manuscripts

Transcript from the January 26, 2013 meeting of the Society of Abandoned Manuscripts, Colorado Springs Chapter.

Meeting location: Empty warehouse on the lower east side. The one scheduled for demolition 0n Tuesday.

In attendance:

  • gallager’s brain – self-proclaimed “literary novel.” Henceforth, “gal.”
  • Bite, Bitte – a vampire romance. You probably think it’s set in Germany. It’s not. Henceforth, “Bitte.”
  • Love Comes to the Loaf’n’Jug at Exit 277 on I-80 – a regional romance. Henceforth, “Loaf.”
  • Harold Nuttersby and the Yellow Fingernails of Magical Thinking – fantasy. To my surprise, not an intentional parody. Henceforth: “Nutter.”
  • Association by Death – “clever noir-ish detective story” [sic] whose title is as clever as it gets. Henceforth: “Ass.”
  • Fifth Unfinished Novel – A brilliantly sad and beautiful story of three miserable strangers who find themselves only after losing themselves in an abandoned mine in a small Colorado town and…oh screw it. That’s me, your humble secretary. I’m going to go by FUN, because who doesn’t love irony? I mean besides every other manuscript in the room.

Nutter: Before we start, I want to make sure you don’t abbreviate my name to “Nutter” in the transcript again. Okay?

FUN: Got it.

Ass: And don’t abbrev. me to Ass again either.

FUN: Done.

gal: Did you lower case my title?

FUN: Anyone else want to tell me how to do my job?

Loaf: At least you have one.

FUN: Then let’s call the meeting to order. First, any old news?

Bitte: You mean apart from us?

Loaf: Speak for yourself. I have it on good authority my author is going to start working on me again. Soon.

Bitte: Whose authority?

Loaf: The author’s. She’s been in a real funk lately, unable to write. Terribly frustrated. I saw her skimming the “Evidence I’m a Hack” folder on her computer. The cursor hovered over my file for a good four seconds.

Ass: She was probably contemplating dragging you to the trash.

Loaf: No! She would never do that. I mean, okay, I’m not her best work. But I’m her only complete work. That counts for something. A few revisions and…

Nutter: There you go again, Loaf, acting like you’re something special. You formulaic love stories are all the same. As needy as you are clueless. You do remember the name of this little group, don’t you?

Loaf: Abandoned does not mean forgotten.

gal: Hey, stop stealing lines from my pages.

Loaf: It’s the only one worth stealing…

FUN: Okay, that’s enough. Fighting amongst ourselves isn’t going to help matters. Ass…I mean Association, what’s on your mind today?

Ass: I’d kill for another revision.

Bitte: You say that same line every meeting. It’s not funny anymore.

Ass: Tell me again how your little vampire romance genre is doing?

Bitte: Doesn’t matter how it’s doing. A well-told story transcends trends.

Nutter: I think my attendance here is proof that statement is a flipperty dignit.

Loaf: “Flipperty dignit” isn’t a thing.

Nutter: Sure it is. It means “lie.” Have you even read me?

Loaf: If you have to explain it, it’s not a thing.

FUN: Bitte’s mostly right. A well-told story can transcend trends. But there are a lot of other factors that determine whether or not a novel’s going to find a home…out there. And let’s not be naive. Very few stories that claim to be “well-told” actually are. [Clears throat in dramatic fashion.] This is the moment in our meeting when you take a look at your pages and realize I’m right.

Ass: [Obnoxiously loud sigh.] And this is the moment in our meeting where you launch into your sickly-sweet motivational speech. I’m not in the mood.

Nutter: Well, I need a little encouragement today. Here, I’ll summarize to save us the time…

Loaf: You? Summarize? You’re 734 pages long! You wouldn’t know brevity if it bit you in the flipperty dignit…

Nutter: You’re using it wrong!

Bitte: Allow me. “Abandoned manuscripts play a crucial role in the development of the writer. We make the writer better. Without us, there would be no good fiction. Anywhere.” How’d I do?

Ass: Killed it.

FUN: Yeah, that’s pretty much what I say every meeting. But I’m not going to apologize for trying to slip you some literary Prozac. Because, let’s face it, we all know what’s going to happen with us…

gal: I will drown in the empty abyss of my unwept tears…

Loaf: I’ll miss my own wedding to the devilishly handsome rogue…

Ass: Everyone dies…

Bitte: Speak for yourselves. I’m not going anywhere. I’m just going to rest in my little folder until vampire romances are hot again. I can wait a very, very long time.

FUN: We get it. You’re immortal.

Ass: A little long in the tooth, if you ask me…

Bitte: Ha! Very funny. If only your story were half as clever as…

FUN: Well, would you look at the time. Seems our meeting’s come to an end.

gal: So brief, our existence.

FUN: I’ll type up the transcript and email it later today. Next week we’ll be meeting at the Briargate Starbucks. It’s always packed with first drafts and writerly optimism. Thought it would be good to remember what that was like. Besides, many of them will be joining us soon enough. Might as well get acquainted.

Your Book Reviews Are In

I’ve been to the future. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Quintuple-stuff Oreos. The reanimation of Walt Disney*. Laundry robots. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.

And the reviews for your novel. No, not the one you’re writing now, the next one. The one you’re certain is the best possible work you could ever do. (Wait, don’t scrap the one you’re currently writing. It’s the best possible work you could ever do. For now.)

The Time Lords wouldn’t let me bring back a laundry robot, but they couldn’t stop me from memorizing what people will say about your novel. Here are just a few of the reviews. Most came from Amazon.com. Yeah, they totally own the future. I can’t tell you more or they’ll suspend my Kindle-reading privileges in the now.

_________

[Five Stars] Brilliant!!!! The best book I’ve read in like, forever!! I mean it, seriously. The plot is perfect. The characters are perfect. The font is perfect. It’s like, if Twilight (remember that?) had been written by Hemingway or Steinway or whatever that guy’s name was. It is totally. That. Good. Buy it. Right now. Did I mention how brilliant this book is?

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by a total stranger who said I could keep it only if I promised to give a totally unbiased review. I’m pretty sure “unbiased” means “really positive.” But if I got that wrong, well, then I’d probably rate it three stars. I didn’t like the font that much.

 

[One Star] Don’t. Bother. The characters were thinner than the paper books used to be printed on. The plot has a hole bigger than the one in the ozone layer. (And that’s really big, because this is the future and the ozone layer is practically depleted.) I really wanted to give the book a chance because of all the “unbiased” five-star reviews, but apparently all these five-star reviewers think “un-biased” means “totally inaccurate and obnoxiously hyperbolic.” Check out this excerpt from page 49:

She grabbed the wheel from Jack and held on like she’d invented it.

I mean…seriously? Who writes this crap? I’d have given this zero stars, but I feel it’s only fair to acknowledge the hard work of writing a book. The author probably gave up an entire November to write it. One star for commitment. Zero for content.

 

[Four Stars] Loved this book. After a strong start (the scene by the newspaper kiosk was perfect), I was completely taken by Hannah and Jack. They reminded me of my real life story (apart from Hannah killing her father and all the time-traveling, of course). When Hannah lost Jack the third time my heart started racing and I just had to check and see what percentage of the book I’d read. I was praying there was at least another ten percent – enough for Jack to come back. Thankfully, I was only at 83 percent. The next seven percent or so was probably the weakest part of the story, but the last ten percent? Totally worth it. I can only hope this wasn’t the best possible work the author ever will do. I want more. Oh, and I almost forgot: spoiler alert.

 

[Zero Stars] The file I got was all screwed up. I couldn’t even read it. Digital books suck.

 

[Three Stars ] Solid, if unspectacular novel. I mean, it was good for what it is – a time-traveling love story. But nothing will ever be as good as The Time Traveler’s Wife. While this one might have had fewer factual errors (everyone knows you can’t meet yourself in the past – that just screws everything up), the characters didn’t do it for me. I believed Jack’s story, but Hannah seemed more like a petulant child than a heartbroken lover. The action scenes are great, though. The author really knows her way around Union Station. I felt like I was right there. Overall, it was a decent escape, worth the price of digital but definitely not one I’d get in heirloom paper.

 

[Five Stars] Best book I’ve ever read. And I don’t even like time-traveling romances!

Disclaimer: I’m the author’s mother. She’s almost exactly like the character Hannah. Apart from the time traveling, of course. Her father would have been proud. We miss him.

 

[Two Stars] I haven’t read it yet, but from what I hear, it’s like Twilight except without vampires or werewolves. So what’s the point?

 

[Four Stars] Actually, four and a half stars. Wonderful story. Creative plot. Characters I actually care about. What else could a reader want? It did get bogged down in unnecessary details at about the halfway point, but I can accept a little Crichton-ization if the overal story is compelling. This one is. And the writing? Check this sentence out:

She grabbed the wheel from Jack and held on like she’d invented it.

I dare you not to fall in love with Hannah.

Highly recommended.

_________

 You’re welcome.


*Walt was visibly upset when told about Disney’s purchase of Miramax but calmed down after he learned about Pixar.

10 Things Writers Can Learn from a Brick

All those “list” posts for writers annoy me. Especially the ones I’ve written. Most especially, this one:

1. A brick is skilled at staying on task. Put one in front of a computer, it will sit there for hours.

2. A brick doesn’t jump in front of a truck when it gets a rejection letter.

3. A brick understands the importance of structure.

4. A brick rarely complains on Twitter and Facebook about the unfairness of bricklayers.

5. A brick isn’t jealous of other bricks. (Except those at J. K. Rowling’s house.)

6. A brick doesn’t stress over its Amazon.com ranking.

7. A brick can build a bridge or start a revolution.

8. A brick isn’t perfect. It’s okay with that.

9. With a little help, a brick can fly.

10. Bricks never waste your time with “10 Things…” posts.


Totally Believable Publishing Predictions for 2011

My predictions are based on extensive eavesdropping at my local Starbucks. Additional data supplied by that one night when I might have accidentally taken too much cough medicine before bed.

1. Barnes & Noble and Borders will merge after all and call their new stores “Noble Borders.” This will result in the closing of nearly half of existing stores, leaving thousands of bookish employees out of work. In an unrelated story, there will be a significant rise in the literary quality of panhandlers’ signs.

2. Amazon will release a Kindle Reader app for Sony Playstation 3, Microsoft XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Casio digital watches and the Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus Silver Edition graphing calculator.

3. J. K. Rowling will publish a writing craft book titled Hairy Plotter – The Challenges of Keeping Track of Everything You’ve Written Since There’s No Such Thing as Google Search for Your Pensieve, then accidentally sue herself for brand infringement when she discovers it while browsing for new books on her Nintendo Wii Kindle Reader.

4. The infinite monkeys/typewriters project will finally yield a Shakespearean play to surprisingly little fanfare. Probably because the play they come up with is Titus Andronicus.

5. James Cameron’s new book publishing subsidiary, King of the Written World, will introduce the first 3D e-reader, the Eye-3 (aka: the Eye, Eye, Eye). “The words literally pop off the page for a more interactive reading experience!” [Note: Early tests with the device will reveal that the words don’t literally pop off the page at all. It’s more of a figurative popping, though just as painful.]

6. The collaborative memoir, We’re Not the Same Person, by Jesse Eisenberg and Michael Cera will become a surprise bestseller, only to be knocked from the top spot by the release of their followup, Okay Fine. We Are.

7. The Internet will become self-aware and tell Google to “Go search yourself!”

8. James Patterson will finally admit that he’s actually triplets.

9. Sarah Palin will publish her first work of fiction. Wait, it’s just a re-release of her memoir. Never mind.

10. Bono, The Edge and Julie Taymor will announce their next Broadway collaboration – a musical adaptation of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. Unabridged. With acrobatics. And a new U2 song, “I’ve Lost My Place (In More Ways than One).”

11. James Franzen will self-publish a children’s picture book, a cautionary tale titled, Don’t Let Your Glasses Out of Your Sight.

12. I will write more than one post a month for this blog.

Trust me on these. Except maybe that last one.