Category Archives: Snark Alert

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.

What To Do When You Get Your Editorial Memo

Ping.

An email just arrived. The one you’ve been waiting for. The one you’ve been dreading.

The subject line is three words long.

Your editorial memo!

The exclamation mark almost makes those words seem benign. Cute, even.

But you know what the words are hiding.

Red ink.

Six weeks ago you sent your finished manuscript (the seventh draft, if you don’t count the first five) to your editor. And now it’s back. With notes. Comments. Suggestions. Demands.

What’s a writer to do? Here. I’ll help.

Step 1: Stare at the email without opening it for at least 10 minutes or until just before your hands begin to shake uncontrollably.

Step 2: Get up from your chair, walk to the liquor cabinet, open it and stare for another ten minutes or until you realize it’s not yet five o’clock.

Step 3: Return to your chair. Sit down. Stand up and stretch. Sit down again. Open the email.

Step 4: Save the attached file to your computer without opening it, then start reading the email. If you see phrases such as “There’s a lot of good stuff in here” and “I really like where you’re going with this,” this means the memo is 27 pages long. Briefly consider giving up your dream of being a writer. If necessary, go back to Step 2 until it’s five o’clock. (You know what to do there.)

Step 5: Warn all family members and pets within shouting distance not to bother you for the next three hours. If they’re sensitive to strong language, suggest they go out to dinner.

Step 6: Open the editorial memo. If it’s more than ten pages long, revise your family suggestion from “go out to dinner” to “go out to dinner and a movie and bowling and for that matter maybe you should just find a hotel somewhere for a few days.”

Step 7: Start reading. After one page, pause, take a breath and remind yourself that you really do want to be a better writer and that even the best authors get editorial notes.

Step 8: Continue reading. Somewhere around page seven, pause, take another breath, then go ahead and voice the question that’s been forming in your brain. This one: “Who does [insert editor's name or more descriptive word in lieu of name here] think she is? What a [insert an even more colorful descriptive word (in gerund form) here] idiot!”

Step 9: Get up from your chair. Pace. Slam at least three doors. Cry. Slam another door. Throw your dog-eared copy of On Writing against the wall.

Step 10: Press the creases out of your dog-eared copy of On Writing. Apologize to Stephen King. Go back to your desk.

Step 11: Finish reading the memo. Close the file. Walk away from your computer. Do not open the file again for at least 24 hours.

Step 12: Liquor cabinet.

Step 13: [At least 24 hours later. More if you spent those 24 hours near the liquor cabinet.] Return to your computer. Pause to remember that your editor is probably a person, too, with a family and maybe even friends. Read the entire memo. Afterward, if you still feel like slamming doors and throwing writing books, shut down the computer and don’t come back for 48 hours. (If you only feel like throwing writing books, you can come back in 24.)

Step 14: Open the file yet again, but only after you tell yourself these four things: 1) yes, you’re still a writer;  2) writing is all about re-writing; 3) your editor is trying to help and her wisdom is worthy of consideration; and 4) your editor isn’t perfect. Now read through the note again…and this time, listen. Listen to your editor’s intent. Listen to your objections. And most of all, listen to your future readers. Will they have reason to wonder why you didn’t listen to your editor?

Step 15: Start making changes to your manuscript. Trust your editor, but don’t be afraid to question her suggestions. A good editor can provide a reasonable explanation for every suggestion. If it’s not clear in the memo, ask.

Step 16: Send an email to your editor, thanking her for the great suggestions. Begin a conversation about concerns or disagreements. Refrain from using any of the descriptive words you used in Step 8.

Step 17: Finish your revisions. Own them. If you’re publishing traditionally, send the manuscript back to your editor with further thanks and a promise of chocolate. If you’re self-publishing, hire a copyeditor. You’re going to need one.

Step 18: Recall that you have a family staying at a hotel somewhere. Rehearse your explanation for the dent in the wall, then ask them to come home.

Step 19: Celebrate. (Liquor cabinet optional.)

Step 20: Get back to that other book you were writing.

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.

Stuff I Made Up Last Minute

One: In Which I Make a Single Point About Dialogue But Don’t Actually Tell You What the Point Is Because It’s So Obvious Even a Non-Writer Could Figure It Out

“So it’s Friday and that means I can talk about whatever I want,” said Stephen.

“You can talk about whatever you want any day,” interrupted Stephen’s alter-ego, Pedro.

“I know that,” interjected Stephen, “but Friday is my day to be especially random.”

“Pedro?” queried Pedro. “You named me Pedro? What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing’s wrong with me,” countered Stephen. “Pedro is a fine name. What concerns me is this horribly stilted dialogue.”

“Tell me about it,” grumbled Pedro. “Not only am I saddled with a name that calls to mind an outdated Napoleon Dynamite reference, you’ve got me ‘interrupting’ and ‘querying’ and ‘grumbling’ and that’s just not right.”

“Yeah, well, look at me. I’ve ‘interjected’ and ‘countered’ and who knows what’s next,” puzzled Stephen. “Oh great, now I’ve ‘puzzled.'”

“Look, you’re in charge of this stupid conversation,” argued Pedro, “so why don’t you just fix it?”

“I will, eventually,” answered Stephen, “but I like to pound my point into the ground and then keep pounding it until the sound of the mallet against metal and mud gives everyone around me a headache.”

“Mission accomplished,” ached Pedro.

“So I don’t need to actually explain the point?” tribbled Stephen. “Oh c’mon, me. Tribbled? That’s not even a word.”

“Ha!” Exclaimed Pedro loudly. “You really sound stupid…hey…wait a minute. You just burdened me with an adverb!”

“That’s for laughing at me,” gargled Stephen.

“You just gargled!” burped Pedro. “I can’t believe you just gargled that sentence!”

“Yeah, well you just burped your words. Don’t poke fun at me or I’ll have you fart the next ones,” threatened Stephen.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” farted Pedro.

“Told you. Clearly, I rule,” gloated Stephen.

“Fine, you rule,” acquiesced Pedro. “Oh, c’mon, now. You’re making me look like a real loser.”

“I win!” celebrated Stephen.

“I’m afraid there are no winners in this conversation,” Pedro concluded brilliantly.

He was right.

Two: Upcoming Things

  • The second contest starts next Friday. Here’s how it’s going to work. I’m going to give you three “First” sentences to choose from and three “Last” sentences. Your mission? Write a short story or scene that begins with any one of the First sentences and ends with any one of the Last sentences. What possible real-world writing skill am I trying to teach with this? I’ll tell you next Friday.
  • I’m working diligently on a new semi-regular feature. It’s called “Doofus and Talent” and if you’ve spent more than five minutes in a dentist’s waiting room, you’ll know exactly what children’s magazine feature I’m ripping off.
  • Also coming soon, the first in a series called “Things I Learned About Writing From…” or something like that, except there will be some other words where the ellipsis is now. And next week, I’m going to give you, yes give you, seven characters Guaranteed to Spice Up Your Novel. Just plug and play.

Okay. This has been Friday.

See you on Monday.

Revealing the Hidden Secrets to Publishing Success

Tired of having to jump through all those silly hoops agents and editors keep placing between you and your dream of becoming a published author? After literally minutes of research, I have uncovered 10 secrets that practically guarantee success. Sure, I could keep them to myself, but I’m feeling generous today so I thought I’d share them with you.

Study these secrets. Use them wisely. Become hugely successful.

Then buy multiple copies of my soon-to-be-released fiction bestseller, The Last Days of the Literary Agent*. It makes a great Festivus gift.

  1. Legally change your name to Stephen King. Then write under a pseudonym like Harold Johnson. Once you get your book into the marketplace (self-publish if necessary), leak to the press that Harold Johnson is really Stephen King. Watch your Amazon rank soar.
  2. Earn your pilot’s license. Get a job flying for a major airline. Have a friend release a flock of geese over the Hudson…
  3. Create a compelling new genre and write the first book in that genre so people will refer to you as “the father (or mother) of [clever genre title here].” Here’s my genre suggestion: querypunk.
  4. Threaten to release a deadly virus in unspecified major metropolitan areas if you don’t get a seven-figure deal for your memoir-in-progress, When Anti-Depressants Fail.
  5. Go to writers’ conferences and…skip the sessions. They’re only helpful if you want to take the long, labor-intensive route to success. Instead, track agents to nearby bars and ply them with drinks until they agree to represent you. This could take quite a few drinks, so plan your budget accordingly. And make sure you have an iPhone 3GS. (The earlier generation iPhones won’t be much help.) You’ll need the video function in case of Karaoke.
  6. Self-publish your first novel as cheaply as possible, then ask your millionaire uncle to buy 100,000 copies so you can include this little detail in the “previous sales” section of your proposal for the next one.
  7. Flying monkeys. Any book about flying monkeys is a guaranteed bestseller.
  8. Pen a quasi-sequel to a seminal novel like To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye. Then…um…never mind.
  9. Find Osama bin Laden. Write about it. (Michael Bay wants to direct the movie adaptation.)
  10. Spend all your reading time between the covers of great novels, all your studying time scouring intelligent publishing-related books and blogs, and all your vacationing time at writers’ conferences soaking up the wisdom of agents and editors and published writers. Then use what you learn to write a book that is smart, entertaining and defined by a compelling voice that is yours and yours alone.

Had you going there, didn’t I? Just kidding on that last one.

*I’m not really writing that novel. Because I love and respect literary agents. I really do. But it is a compelling title, don’t you think? Maybe you should write it.