Beware the Muse Killer!

Good thoughts from YA Author Debra Dockter – who, by the way, has a BOOK GIVE AWAY on Goodreads (yes, I know, I hate Goodreads, but here’s the link anyway: – but WHY do I have to GOOGLE the freaking thing? Why can’t I just do a proper search from inside Goodreads? Yet another . . . I digress. Enjoy!).

debra dockter

I don’t think writers need to be reminded of our frail egos. The validation of a personal response on a rejection letter, getting an honorable mention in a contest, having our writing group say more positive than negative things are like life support to the tiny muse who so often goes Code Blue on our shoulders.

We know writing is hard. We know that rejection is part of the process. We know that if we think we just wrote the most brilliant scene since Katniss handed Peeta the berries, that tomorrow we might read the same scene and think it could fertilize Iowa. The thing is, no matter how many down moments we have, no many how much self-doubt and how many times we have to perform CPR on that poor little muse, we don’t stop writing. We keep believing in ourselves. And thank goodness we do!

When struggling with…

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Photo Challenge: Reward

As I sit here, facing down the first real winter storm of the season in Kansas (I hear y’all in the East, yes! Sorry!), I’m trying to remind myself that there is a reward at the end of it, coming soon.

blossoms 1Blossoms on redbud tree – April 2014.

It’s Pitchapalooza Time – Online!

Wow, two posts in one day! I promise, it won’t happen again!

But this time, here’s a great opportunity (and yes, I’m going to try it . . . I think) to get your manuscript in front of people who can help whip it into shape, and maybe get it in front of the right agent.

For NaNoWriMo, the Book Doctors have offered their ‘Pitchapalooza’ in an online contest:  submit your 250-word pitch via email by March 6; 25 submissions will be chosen at random for review. The winning entry will get some (much needed in my case) help from Arianna and David, and a guaranteed chance with an agent.

Information and rules here:

Two Good Interviews With Two Great Authors

I heard two great interviews with authors this week on NPR.

The first is from the Diana Rehm Show, with the incomparable Neil Gaiman:

The second is actually one from last year, on Here and Now, with YA author Ransom Riggs. His first novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, is being turned into a movie, and apparently they start filming today.

Enjoy! 🙂

Why I Hate

I was talking with a friend yesterday about the importance of getting to know something before you hate on it. Obviously there are things you can hate without knowing them, like a serial killer. Or an animal abuser. Or a child pornographer. I think we can all agree that we don’t need to sit down to tea with people like this in order to dislike them. (Though as writers, we may find something in that teatime conversation that makes them into a well-rounded antagonist – again, something most of us probably don’t want to do.)

But I hate

There. I said it. I realize this is like saying “I don’t think Bradley Cooper is good-looking.” I realize that for a reader and an aspiring author, this is probably a Kiss of Death. So be it.

I’ve tried to get into it. I’ve tried to give it a chance. And to be fair, I did find my new favorite YA series, “Shades of London” by Maureen Johnson, there two weeks ago.

But there are so many things to hate about it. The layout. The font. (News flash:  the rest of the world uses sans-serif fonts for a reason.) The God-awful number of typos on the site (for a site about READING, the number of typos I can find on just one page of Goodreads’ own policies – not reviews, but content that they post, is ludicrous. Get. A. Proofreader. I cannot take a site seriously if it has that many typos.).

But most of it comes down to the PEOPLE on the site – the reviewers.

As far as I can tell, most of the people who leave reviews on Goodreads fall into the following categories:

  • People who spent most of middle school being shoved into lockers or trash cans. Or both.
  • People who turn to Goodreads to torment people because if they didn’t, they’d be well on their way to becoming serial killers.
  • People who SERIOUSLY need to go get lives. Who need to go volunteer in a soup kitchen or a humane society and see what life is really like outside four bedroom walls and the covers of a book.
  • People who are so pathetic that the only way they can feel good about themselves is to bring others down.

Goodreads’ own policies encourage this behavior. In their Review Guidelines, they come right out and say “Goodreads has some of the best book reviews anywhere. Our members are passionate, knowledgeable readers, and their contributions to the site are what make it such a vibrant and fun place.”

Another quote from their Review Guidelines: “Don’t be afraid to say what you think about the book! We welcome your passion, as it helps the millions of other readers on Goodreads learn what a book is really about, and decide whether or not they want to read it. We believe that Goodreads members should see the best, most relevant, thought provoking reviews (positive and negative) when they visit a book page. Our job is to show members those reviews, and not show reviews that we deem to not be appropriate or a high enough level of quality.”

In other words, we here at Goodreads are too lazy to figure out what’s trash and what isn’t, and intend to rely on the community to police themselves. Members *can* flag posts they feel are inappropriate and/or break the rules. But I’m willing to bet that none of these are ever removed.

News flash, reviewers:  A pathetic attempt to make yourself feel better by trashing someone else’s work – or worse, trashing someone else – is just that:  pathetic. It shows that you have zero maturity, zero self-control, and frankly, zero self-confidence. Your attempts to be clever are not clever in the slightest.

Those of us who truly love books and writing are out doing what we love to do, not wasting countless hours trying to convince everyone else that We Are Right and You Are Wrong by writing long, involved, and nasty reviews of books we may OR MAY NOT have read. We hold rational discussions. We recognize – because we’re writers, too – that the book you so zealously and callously demolish in your review is someone’s baby. As such, it deserves respect. That person got off their ass and wrote something, and finished it, and it was good enough to get published (unless it was self-published). That’s more than YOU have ever done, I’m sure of it.

(For clarification, here are links to Goodreads’ guidelines, as well as another page explaining in more detail what is and what might not be allowed. I still find these to be as fuzzy as a Persian cat wearing a mink stole.)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rule of Thirds

I’m so excited – all those funky off-center shots with the blurred backgrounds, filling up space on my hard drive, can be put to good use this week! Seriously – I never knew there was a technical term for them. Bokeh. I will remember this. Though I don’t think I’ve ever set out to intentionally use the rule of thirds in my photography before, I will definitely be thinking about how to incorporate it in the future. Like everything else, I’m sure it requires much practice.

So here are some attempts at this (though I didn’t know it at the time) from last summer: Some are more successful than others. I think the first one is too centered still.

white flowers 2One of the many wildflowers that were blooming last September.

thistle 1

A moth, resting on a thistle.

thistles hiding

I love this one – two thistles hiding in the thicket. Like two little kids playing hide and seek. I spent a long time getting that shot exactly right. 🙂

Academics, Papers, and Citations, Oh My!

I am SO tired – I’ve spent the last three weeks working on edits to this anthology. And I just want to make a few observations. This will mean getting out the old soapbox.

soapbox1.) PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PUT YOUR PUNCTUATION INSIDE THE QUOTE MARKS! This goes for periods, commas, exclamation points, question marks, colons, semi-colons, and anything else you can think of. Why are adult professors at well-known universities not doing this???? Why???? Just. Do. It. Right.

2.) Please see #1, above.

3.) Cite your quotes properly. If you say so-and-so said it, make sure they really did say it. Please. Do not, in your sentence, say “X says “blah blah blah,” and then in your end note or footnote, attribute it to someone else, UNLESS it’s being quoted in that other source. Then, say “quoted in _.”

4.) There are TWO spaces after colons. Colons look like this:  semicolons, on the other hand, which look like this; only have 1 space after them. I am pretty sure this is true even on Adipose 9. If, you know, little smiling globs of animated fat use colons, that is.

5.) See # 1.

6.) If you’re going to submit a paper for publication, YOU NEED A WORKS CITED OR BIBLIOGRAPHY PAGE. Trust me. I don’t care what your discipline is. They will want that. It’s sort of important. You know, so others can go find your sources? Make sure you didn’t just, I don’t know, make them up?

7.) In MLA format, block quotes are double-spaced, and indented 1 inch. Just saying.

8.) See #1.

9.) If you are, let’s say, a professor at a university, and your name is on this paper, please have someone proofread the thing before you send it in. Just have someone over in the English department give it a go-over, in exchange for a $20 Starbucks card.

10.) There are three basic forms of paper citation and formatting: MLA, APA, and Turabian. Pick one. An amalgam of all three is not correct. Making up your own style is not correct. I know people can make up their own religions, but you CANNOT make up your own citation style!

11.) See #1.

Thank you. I feel better now. Carry on. 🙂

“But WHY are the curtains blue?” A rant about ‘literary criticism’

When I first started college, I intended to go into English, maybe majoring in Literature. But I figured out pretty quickly that I lacked one major character trait that was absolutely necessary for being a Lit major:  I had zero ability to rip apart a work and analyze it for every last nit-picky thing. (Okay. Really, I should say “interest,” not “ability.” I had the ability. I just couldn’t be bothered.)

To be fair, I should have figured this out in high school. I didn’t need it all spoon-fed to me. I didn’t need to endlessly discuss each and every novel. Yes, I get it, Jim is Huck’s surrogate father. Yes, I get the symbolism of Hester Prynne’s beautifully embroidered A. No, I do not want to ponder the dichotomy between Heathcliff and Catherine; I want them to both die already so I can stop reading this god-awful book!

Currently, I’m editing a small anthology of literary analyses of HP Lovecraft’s stories. Ironic, yes, I know. Having never read Lovecraft, I’m intrigued by the depth and range of his work. But I’m even more fascinated by the people writing these papers.

If you don’t know Lovecraft, he is considered one of the very first sci-fi and fantasy writers. He wrote mostly in the 1920s and into the 1930s. His writing style is . . . odd. Though born and bred in America, he affects an 18th-century British ‘accent’ in his writing that even I, a dyed-in-the-Lake-District-wool Anglophile, find frustrating (in large part because half the time, I can’t tell if the person writing the analysis misspelled the word, or if they’ve got it right and it’s one of Lovecraft’s misspellings instead). However, I am coming to appreciate – deeply – his word usage, his sentence structure, his ability to create fantastical plots, and his descriptions.

And holy cow, can his fans find depth in his stories!

A few years ago – I forget exactly where – I heard a story about an author who was scheduled to give a presentation at a small college. Most attendees would be college students and instructors, and she was looking forward to an hour or so of give and take. But when she got there, they started bombarding her with questions. “Why are the curtains in Sarah’s room blue? What does blue MEAN?!” Etcetera, etcetera. She finally held up her hands, waited for the questions to stop, and then told them that – gasp! – it all meant nothing. The curtains were blue because that’s what she saw in her mind when she wrote the scene. That’s. It.

That’s how I feel about literary criticism. Who bloody freaking cares if the curtains are blue? Who cares what the red dress signifies (ahem; unless you’re in the 1950s and it’s a subconscious ploy to get you to think about Communism, that is)?

Take Lovecraft, for example. There are two papers in this anthology that deal with the same short story, The Colour Out of Space. These two papers make radically different arguments, come at it from radically different viewpoints, and – you guessed it – come to radically different conclusions. One is absolutely certain that Lovecraft was inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost and there can be no other explanation. The other is absolutely certain that this is a story about radiation poisoning. Both have good evidence (though as a historian, I find one a bit more convincing and interesting than the other). But what a contrast!

See, this is why I find literary criticism so pointless. A story means one thing to me. It means another thing to you. And it means something else to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Why can’t we all be right? Why can’t we just take our interpretations and conclusions, agree that we’re all brilliant, and go home with smiley faces on our papers? Why does the professor have to glare down his nose at some of us, heave a great sigh, and say, “Of course this isn’t right! This is a dribble of cold pudding! Try again!” I despise digging deeper into a story. I despise looking for meaning. Maybe the author didn’t have a deeper meaning. Maybe the blue curtains really are just blue because that’s what she was thinking of at the time. Maybe the curtains in her own room are blue. Maybe somewhere, the character said their favorite color was blue. Maybe, maybe, maybe . . . who knows?

More to the point, who cares?!

Seriously. I am happy to rip apart primary sources, picking apart words and sentences, to dig for the true meaning behind the words of the person who wrote it. It’s one of my favorite things, in fact. But picking apart a fictional story to discover the greater meaning, is just So Bloody Pointless.

By now, I realize I’ve destroyed any and all chance of ever being admitted to University of Oxford or any other schools worth attending. Oh well. To quote one of my favorite movies, “I said what I said, and I’ll defend it to the death!” (McLintock!)

So right here, right now, I make a plea to my future readers and critics. Do not do this to my books. There is no deeper meaning, I promise you. Kai’s eyes are blue because that’s my favorite eye color. I chose the name Abigail because I happen to like it, not because it means a particular thing relating to x in the plot. Likewise, the name Malachi signifies nothing more than a really cool name, which I could then shorten into an even cooler name. I am a totally superficial writer, and a totally superficial reader. I will not look deeper into a text for the Greater Meaning Of It All. And I won’t write esoteric Easter eggs into my novels, either. My Easter eggs are right there in the open.

I do wonder, though, what Lovecraft would think of the papers I’m editing, particularly the one I read today in which the word ‘phallus’ was used (I kid you not, I counted) 40 times in 4 double-spaced pages. See, that’s what I mean.

Please, people. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. Life is short. Read for enjoyment. I beg you.