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All Novels Are Love Stories (But This Post Isn’t)

All Novels Are Love Stories (But This Post Isn’t)

I think it’s Monday. Is it? I had these great plans to write a clever post about how every novel is essentially a love story in disguise, but those plans got derailed by Real Life. So instead, I’m just going to offer this bit of writing advice (I’ll get to the “love story” post another day): Sometimes you just don’t have anything to say.

I don’t mean “sometimes you don’t have anything of value to say.” I mean sometimes you just don’t have anything at all to say. When these times come, it’s not about writer’s block – it’s about being empty. There are lots of reasons for this, most of which are related to the Real Life we live apart from putting words on paper. Maybe your cousins showed up unexpectedly and in the midst of the noise and chaos your muse not only ran away with all those brilliant ideas, she took your laptop, too. Maybe you’re over-tired because your child has been sick or the dog keeps puking in the middle of the night or your spouse suddenly decided it was a good time to take up snoring. Maybe your One True Love left you, and while there are a thousand broken-heart stories lining up in the queue and preparing to spit and spill onto the page, in this moment you are simply stunned to silence.

Whatever the reason, you’ve just got nuthin’.

If you have a deadline and that deadline is today, you’ll have to find a way to put words on paper. Even if they suck. (Unless you can buy another day – but you know my feelings about deadlines, right?) What if you don’t have a deadline? Or if the deadline is self-imposed (like the one for this blog)? Then it’s perfectly okay to say nothing at all. Don’t beat yourself up for not meeting your word count.

It’s just a season.

Meanwhile, deal with the Real Life stuff in front of you. Catch fireflies with the cousins. Take a long nap. Or curl up in the fetal position and cry. Whatever the Real Life stuff calls for.

When the time comes, you’ll have plenty to say again. Probably more than ever before.

And remember: Just because you aren’t writing right now doesn’t mean you aren’t a writer.

You are.

And so am I. And maybe tomorrow I’ll write that post about Love Stories.

Or not.


What Your Editor Is Thinking

What Your Editor Is Thinking

Ever wonder what your friendly editor is really thinking when she emails or calls to talk about your manuscript? Here’s a handy-dandy guide to help you understand the deeper meaning behind her words.*


When your editor says: “I really like the basic plot. Nicely done!”

Your editor is thinking: “Okay, there are 90,000 words here, so that’s a start. And the story has characters and they do stuff. That’s a good thing, too. But whoa baby there’s a ton of work to do. I’m going to have some long nights with this puppy.”


When your editor says: “I’m not sure the subplot about the missing orangutan is working as written.”

Your editor is thinking: “The subplot about the missing orangutan is unsalvageable.”


When your editor says: “I think I see what you’re trying to do with this…”

Your editor is thinking: “I have no freakin’ idea what you’re trying to do with this but surely in the next draft it will make some measure of sense… surely then…?”


When your editor says: “This paragraph on page 94 is amazing!”

Your editor is thinking: “I wish there were more paragraphs like the one on page 94!”


When your editor says: “The middle section drags somewhat…”

Your editor is thinking: “The middle section needs a complete re-write…”


When your editor says: “The word count is a little high.”

Your editor is thinking: “We’ll have to cut 50,000 words.”


When your editor says: “Don’t be too put off by all my editorial notes.”

Your editor is thinking: “Please don’t hate me, please don’t hate me, please don’t hate me…”


When your editor says: “If you cut phrases like this one you’ll have a much stronger narrative.”

Your editor is thinking: “I just know you labored over these phrases. But the thing is – they’re overwrought, distracting and pretentious. If only you would read them aloud you’d see just how unwieldy they are. I hope you don’t fight to keep these. Choose a different battle. Okay?”


When your editor says: “The dialogue is clunky.”

Your editor is thinking: “The dialogue sounds like it’s coming from soulless cardboard robots.”


When your editor says: “Thanks for all the hard work you’ve put into this.”

Your editor is thinking: “Thanks for all the hard work you’ve put into this. Really, I mean it. Writing and re-writing is no picnic and I’ve been throwing you curve balls and stirring the pot and invoking dozens of other clichés and yet you’re still standing. I will now drink a glass of wine in your honor. You should have one too. No, a glass of wine, not an entire bottle. You can put the bottle down now… really, put the bottle… okay, fine. Yes, you are a damn good writer. Better than Faulkner. And Fizzy Gerald, better than him, too. What’s that? Yes, I love you too. Go to bed now.”

*This entire post is a mild attempt at humor. Seriously, I mean it. In truth, all editors are painfully transparent and almost never hide what they’re really thinking.

The Contest. Just click here and enter. Okay? Because if you don’t, the terrorists win.

Free Book Ideas For You

Free Book Ideas For You

A few years back when I was working in a real office and enjoying the perks of the cubicle life, I had a particularly prolific creative season during which I came up with lots of ideas for books that I was going to write someday. (Note to former boss: All these ideas occurred during my lunch hour.) So I compiled a list. (Um, during my lunch hour, of course.) When the season of idea abbondanza was finally over, my list had grown to 150 titles.

Yes, 150.

Last night, after accidentally looking in the mirror and remembering how old I am (don’t ask), I realized I might not live long enough to write all those books. In fact, based on my writing pace for the current w.i.p. (50,000 words in the past four years), it appears that I’m going to end up about 1000 years short.

So, rather than let these C-list…I mean quasi-brilliant ideas go to waste, I’m going to give them to you. Go ahead, take one. Don’t be shy. All I ask is that you mention my name during the tearful speech you give while accepting the Pulitzer. Or the Hugo. Or the coveted top prize in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

This Isn’t the End of the World (But You Can See It From Here) – A former best-selling author who is suffering from a 20-year case of writer’s block turns suicidal and plans a dramatic demise by jumping out of a plane without a parachute. But just as he leaps into the sky, he has a brilliant idea for a book that could change the world. He writes the whole thing in his head on the way down.

Out of Ideas – What happens when there are no more original ideas? The world ends. This is a story of the last dozen original ideas in the history of mankind. And the end of the world. (This is not a sequel to the previous book about the author who runs out of ideas. But it could be the “book within a book” that he writes in his head. If you like that sort of thing.)

Sending Picasso to His Room Without Supper – This is the story of a young boy named Jeremy Picasso (no relation to that other guy) who is always getting in trouble for playing with his food until quite by accident it is discovered that he’s not playing at all, he’s creating perfect reproductions of famous sculptures he’s never seen in real life. Eventually, he gets his own show on the Food Network. (Just a suggestion.)

Crossed (S)words – In this novel, a small band of post-modern Catholics stepping into a subway car are suddenly sent back in time to 1200 AD when the words “transubstantiation” and “train substation” unexpectedly switch definitions on Wikipedia. This puts them smack dab in the path of Pope Innocent III’s Fourth Crusade and provides them with an opportunity to change history. (Based on a true story.)

Do-Over – This is two books in one: the first tells the story of a man who makes a series of horrible decisions and ends up homeless and destitute; the second tells the story of the same man making a series of really good decisions and still ending up homeless and destitute. (I see it as a funny book. Nick Hornby funny.)

Expectant Leigh – This is a parable for adults disguised as a children’s picture book. It’s about a young girl, Leigh, who, against all odds, is hopelessly optimistic in the midst of the most horrific of circumstances. SPOILER ALERT: She dies in the end. But we all learn Something. Really. Important.

Dividing Time – Some guy who probably looks like Nicolas Cage finds himself sent backward and forward in time at the very same time in a race against time to stop the detonation of an atomic bomb that is the very reason he is sent backward and forward in time. (Alternate title: Brain Whiplash.)

White Space – This is the literary equivalent of John Cage’s musical opus, 4’33”.

Have fun kids. I’ll send more ideas your way soon!

Okay, so they’re not the top-drawer ideas you were hoping for. What did you expect? They’re free.

[Three or four of you might think you recognize some of these ideas from a post you’re reasonably certain I wrote for a different blog more than two years ago but you’re sadly mistaken and suffering from some sort of mass delusion. Hey, this sort of thing happens all the time. I read about it in a book once.]

10 Stages of Grief: The Editor’s Note Edition

10 Stages of Grief: The Editor’s Note Edition

So let’s say you’ve made it through the first hoops and now your Amazing and Brilliant First Novel is sitting on the desk of a Real Life Editor at a Real Live Publishing House.

Your contract has been framed and placed on the fireplace mantle between your dusty wedding photo and dustier 5th Grade Spelling Bee Champion trophy. You’ve spent the first part of your advance on the clothes you just have to have for that inevitable booksigning at the Barnes & Noble in Lincoln, Nebraska. And you’ve ordered business cards that list your occupation as “Author” to replace the ones that said “Writer.”

Then you get the email. The one from the Super Sweet Editor you met over the phone that one time you sort of remember but not really because it was all a blur since you were still drunk with the news you’d been signed to a three-book deal. The email reads something like this:

Dear New Best Writer Friend,

Hey, I really enjoyed your novel, The Heart of the Matter of Things. So many good ideas and some nice sentences, too. Now the real work begins. I’ve attached my editorial notes for the novel. Don’t be frightened, it’s only 27 pages long. That’s pretty good, actually. Sometimes my notes are longer than the book itself. So, yay for you! Anyway, read my notes, do exactly what I tell you to do, even when I preface my comments with phrases like ‘it might be better if…’ or ‘here’s a suggestion…’. K? Great! It’s gonna be so much fun working with you. I see bestseller written all over this novel!! (When it’s done, I mean.) Oh, and I love the title. But it will have to change. We’re thinking something like ‘Under the Blue, Blue, Blue Sky’ or maybe ‘Monkeys of Heaven.’ TTFN.

-Your Super Sweet Editor

This is it. The moment of truth. The attachment is staring at you from the tail-end of the Super Sweet Editor’s email. Wait, don’t open it yet. First, take a look at the 10 Stages of Grief that typically accompany the editor’s note.

Read. Learn. Prepare.

The 10 Stages of Grief

1. Fear – You don’t want to open the attachment. You don’t want to open the attachment. You don’t want to open the attachment…

Symptoms: Sweaty palms, pacing, much prayer.

2. WTF?* – Upon opening the attachment, you discover that someone has accidentally broken a pen because there’s red ink all over your masterpiece. Surely these notes were meant for someone else, like a writer who doesn’t have a contract for a Three Book Deal.

Symptoms: Swearing, more swearing, a sudden desire to print out the editor notes so you can run them through your shredder and use them to line your hamster cage.

3. No, Really, WTF?? – You are now 100 percent certain that the publisher assigned a clinically insane person to edit your novel because no one in their right mind would suggest the changes this loony is suggesting. Kill the subplot about the lingerie salesman who lives with his mother?? WTF???!!

Symptoms: Still more swearing (including the creation of new compound words that would make Christian Bale and Susan Boyle blush); kicking things until they break; looking up the address of the editor and searching Google for a florist that delivers dead flowers and rotting fish.

4. Avoidance – You walk away from the computer for an hour, then a day, then five.

Symptoms: Yell “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” when friends ask if your book is in the bookstores yet (which they’ve been asking since the moment you started writing it).

5. Denial – You compose an angry letter to your editor explaining just how wrong she is with everything she suggests. Your novel is perfect as is. After all, you’ve been writing it for six years. Your finger hovers over the “send” button.

Symptoms: Constant head-shaking; finger cramp from hovering over the “send” button.

6. Dream Abandonment – You decide you’re not a writer after all. You don’t send the angry email because “what’s the point? I don’t know what I’m doing.” You call Dr. Hoofersnarkington and ask if you can have your old job back as dental assistant.

Symptoms: Start speaking in absolutes, especially sentences that begin “I’ll never” and end “write again.”

7. Contemplation – You begin to think that maybe, just maybe, some of those editorial notes have some value. Yes, in fact, you were planning on making some of those very changes yourself, now that you think of it. And a few of the other ideas – the ones you hadn’t thought of yet – well, they’re not so terribly off the mark. You can always save the subplot about the lingerie salesman for your next novel. Hey, maybe it could be the main plot of that novel!

Symptoms: Ability to read the editorial note without swearing, kicking things, or shedding more than six or seven tears.

8. Negotiation – You trash your original angry note and compose another one describing how thankful you are for the great suggestions but also challenging some of the notes (politely, but firmly to re-establish the fact that this is your book first and foremost). You send this one right away without regret.

Symptoms: Ability to laugh a non-maniacal laugh when friends ask “so how’s that book coming?”

9. Acceptance – You and your editor agree on changes that need to be made, and you begin making them. As you do, you realize your editor probably isn’t clinically insane after all.

Symptoms: Removing that box of new business cards from the trash; fixing things that you broke earlier when you kicked them; making repeated visits to local bookstore to find out who your shelf neighbors will be.

10. Chocolate – You’ve sent off the last revisions. So you eat chocolate.

Symptoms: Chocolate fingerprints on your spouse; a happy spouse.

*If you’re abbreviationally squeamish, feel free to read “WTF” as “Where’s The Fun?”

My Brilliant Idea

My Brilliant Idea

Pride and Prejudice  and Zombies by Jane Austin and Seth Grahame-Smith was a stroke of genius. Argue all you want about whether or not the book is any good, you can’t deny the brilliance of the concept. This got me thinking – what if, instead of merely adding zombies to an existing property, an author took the best of two novels and wove them together with a few twists of his own to create an Entirely New Work of Fiction? I mean, it would be at least two times better than either of the originals, right?*

Here are the ideas I’ve had so far:

Great Expectations and the Art of Racing in the Rain, by Charles Dickens, Garth Stein & Stephen Parolini

Concept: Pup, an orphaned dog adopted by Mr. Joe Swift, begins a lifelong quest to discover his humanity; a quest measured by the exhilaration of success, the disappointment of deception and the ache of suffering, and that culminates in a dogged acceptance of his station in life.

Tender Is the Night of The Shining, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Stephen King & Stephen Parolini

Concept: Danny “Redrum” Diver, A promising psychoanalyst, develops a drinking problem and is eventually forced by circumstance to trade his job at a swanky Swiss clinic for a job as caretaker of the Overlook Hotel where the ghost of a young actress he once slept with sends him into a maze of despair and his eventual frozen death.

The Sun Also Rises at Twilight, by Ernest Hemingway, Stephenie Meyer & Stephen Parolini

Concept: Aimless vampire Jake Barnes falls in love with the beautiful Lady Bella Ashley and follows her on a class field trip to Pamplona for the running of the bulls, where he spends most of his time in a bar drinking Bloody Marys and whining about his impotence.

Brilliant, right? Okay, so tell me your mash-up ideas. I promise I won’t steal them.

*Please note that I haven’t fully researched the legality of this brilliant idea. It is highly probably that copyright issues could impede my plan to make millions of dollars off of other people’s novels. In other words, don’t try this at home.