Saturday, November 21, 2009

Oprah Ends Show, Millions of Would-be Authors Must Find New Pipedream

When Oprah Winfrey announced the end of her show this week, the fallout extended beyond the millions of inconsolable viewers who will soon be jonesing for their next ‘A-ha moment’ fix. Thousands of writers who spent their time staring out the window and dreaming about touting their wares on the Oprah show now have to find a new dream.

“It’s such a blow to my irrational expectations of immediate success,” said Arpdoodle Whipcan, author of several works-in-progress. “Without Oprah, what can I hang my hopes of instant literary stardom on? My talent? Please.”

Looralou Fishbucket also shares Whipcan’s pain. She’s the author of the unauthorized sequel to “1984” by George Orwell. Fishbucket’s epic “1999” mixes Orwell’s shades of inescapable doom with Prince’s soulful party beats, all set to a “Big Funky Sister is Watching You” theme. Or it would, rather, if she actually finished the manuscript.

“Dreaming about my book scoring a spot on Oprah’s Book Club is what made me sit down at the computer every day,” she said. “What kept me there was constant updating on Twitter and my Farmville wealth on Facebook. Without that dream, what am I supposed to do now? Actually write?”

Other authors are picking up the pieces and moving on. Some scribes have reportedly tried dreaming about an appearance on “The View,” but these dreams ultimately prove unsatisfactory, with less than stellar results for their book on the imaginary New York Times bestseller list.

“I’ve tried daydreaming about pitching my book on “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report,” said Dickson Dungbeetle, would-be author of “I Know I Am, But What Are You?”

“The problem is, I’m not snarky or intelligent enough to verbally spar with Stewart or Colbert, even in my mind,” he said. “I keep getting nailed by Colbert, and my book never receives the fake bump.”

While would-be authors still have many months to keep procrastinating with dreams of Oprah-sized success, many have accepted their fate and are actively searching for new pipedreams, such as being discovered by Stephen King at an elementary school book fair. A brave few have even taken the drastic step of working once again on their manuscripts, with surprising results.

“Once I started writing again, I realized this book was crap,” said Dungbeetle. “Maybe I’ll take a course on creative writing or try out for some VH1 reality shows to fill the time until the next Oprah phenomenon comes along.”

Friday, August 21, 2009

Quiz: How 'Green' Are You As A Writer?

Overall, the writing lifestyle has its environmental perks; many writers work from home offices, sighing with relief at avoiding carpools, long commutes, and rising gas prices, but we also stockpile enough books and magazines to start our own libraries. Are you a truly green writer, worthy of the recycled trash laurel, or do you walk around with Godzilla’s carbon footprints? Find out if your thriftiness and eco-friendly ways truly mesh into a lifestyle so earth-positive, the penguins will sing glorious songs about you in decades to come with this quiz.

When your printer runs out of ink, what do you do?
a. Get out the latex gloves and CSI syringe kit; it’s time to refill!
b. I turn in my ink cartridges for recycling and buy reconditioned cartridges.
c. Pop a new cartridge in and throw the old one in the trash; recycling that little square won’t save the earth.
d. Since ink is more expensive than printers, I just buy a new printer and use the old one as a yard decoration.

How do you prefer to do interviews?
a. By phone, and I type notes while using a digital voice recorder and rechargeable batteries.
b. By e-mail, although I have to watch my spam filter and make sure nothing gets trapped with the massive manhood ads.
c. Face to face, especially if I can ride my “Jimmy Olson cub reporter” super-scooter.
d. I’ll hop a plane to get the ultimate interview, even if it’s just the county fair recipe winner two cities over; I need the frequent flyer miles.

When you’re ready to get a new computer, what do you do with the old one?
a. I find a charity or group that refurbishes computers and gives them to the needy.
b. I pay the extra fee to have the components recycled, even if it still works.
c. I give it to my hacker nephew so he can continue his plans for online world domination while stealing my identity.
d. I keep my computer until it’s a useless doorstop, then pile it with the others out back to use in building my fort.

If you have to go out into the big, bad world to do an interview, which mode of transportation do you use?
a. Subway or bus all the way, baby!
b. I drive a vegetable-oil-powered vehicle, and knock everyone off their diets with the smell of French fries as I pass by.
c. I live in a rural area where there’s no public transportation, so I drive a Ford Escort with a gun rack.
d. I drive a Hummer with a spotted owl hanging from the rear view mirror, and I’m selling off body parts on eBay to buy the gas.

How do you back up files and manuscripts?
a. I archive files to an external hard drive and back up works-in-progress on a USB flash drive; I hardly use any paper.
b. I save most files on a CD, and use recycled paper to print out drafts that need proofreading.
c. I print out everything, from the forwarded joke my mother sent me to market guidelines, but I do turn the paper over and use it again.
d. What do you mean, back up files?

When you need new office supplies, do you:
a. Save some gas, check online at Freecycle and see if someone has a chair to give away.
b. Hit the yard sales! There’s got to be a five-dollar filing cabinet in good shape out there somewhere.
c. Ask my friend’s cousin Vito if anything has fallen off a truck lately.
d. Call up Staples and see if they’ll deliver a single ream of printer paper to my door.

Plagiarism: reduce, reuse, or recycle?
a. Reduce! Generating new thoughts leaves no carbon footprint, and strengthens the brain.
b. Reuse! Why think up new stuff? It may be illegal and bad for the karma, but it’s good for the earth.
c. Recycle! I can re-write that article and sell it online. All I lose is a little chunk of my soul and my self-respect.
d. This is a silly question. I’m not answering silly questions.

How freely do you give away business cards?
a. I write down a person’s email address and send them a virtual business card.
b. I have one business card with a tiny bungee cord attached; when the person walks away with it, the card snaps back into my pocket.
c. I’ll give one out if an editor, agent or Stephen King asks for it.
d. I go to writers’ conferences, find a balcony, and shower the crowd with them like Mardi Gras beads.

How big is your book and magazine stockpile?
a. Pretty small; I find what I need to know through e-books, websites and blogs.
b. Small to medium; I look up markets online, read back issues at the library, and only buy something if my article is in it.
c. Medium to large; I still like having something in my hands to read, but I give out old publications to nursing homes, doctors’ offices, and as treats for Halloween.
d. Huge! My picture hangs in a place of honor in most advertisers’ offices, and the subscription clerk has me on speed dial.

Has the eco-friendly movement changed your writing habits?
a. Yes, I only submit work to online magazines or publications printed on recycled paper.
b. Yes, I’m writing queries for all magazines about living the green life.
c. Yeah, I’ll probably churn out a quiz just like this one. How hard could it be?
d. No; if global warming happens and half the earth is covered in water, my chances for getting published just shot up into the stratosphere.

Scoring: A-5 points; B-4 points; C-3 points; D-2 points

Your score:
40-50: Congratulations, Al Gore is bicycling over to your house now to give you a compostable Certificate of Accomplishment and your lovely Green Pen award, made out of corn.

30-39: Pretty good; you’re cutting down on resources, and saving some money. You might need a few more deductions come tax time, though.

20-29: Not bad, but not great, either. Kick it up a notch and slap some solar panels on that laptop computer, or the polar bears will be bunking with you.

2-19: Watch out when crossing the street; Ed Begley, Jr. has his electric car all charged up, and is gunning for you. When he strikes, you won’t even get an interview afterward.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Book Review: The End of Overeating

It should come as no surprise that Americans overeat, but learning all the reasons behind those size 24 pants may startle you. In 'The End of Overeating:Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite' by David A. Kessler, M.D., you'll go on a calorie-packed ride through the haunted house of food and fault.

The first forty pages are heavy with animal study evidence, where scientists stuffed rats with Froot Loops, Cheetos, and fat-laced sugar water, then did things like shock them to see if the newly-rotund rodents would continue to seek out snacks. (I guarantee this is an unrealistic data model, because if they tried that on me, I’d be eating a Twinkie with one hand, and holding up a geek by his throat up against the wall with my other hand, electrodes blasting his balls every few minutes while I ask him “Do you feel like frying fatties now? ZAP! How about now? ZAP!”) I started feeling bad for the literal furballs, and wondered if anyone called Jenny CritterCraig for them.

Eventually Dr. Kessler does add in more human anecdotes, and explores the Harry Potter-worthy arcane art of food science (It’s a pile of chemicals! Poof! It tastes like chocolate!) along with breaking down the menu items of places like Chili’s and Outback with the ‘How Many Times Has It Been Fried?’ game. I learned a lot, and I’ll never touch a Chicken Tender again, not even if it asks for it while dressed in sexy Ranch sauce.

The children’s consumption studies he cites are truly frightening; every parent should be required to read those pages before stepping into a fast food restaurant. I don’t even have kids, but my ovaries cinched up just learning about how food habits have changed across the generations. Of course, when I was a kid, if someone had a nugget, it was because they’d struck gold.

At the end of the book is a section called ‘Food Rehab,’ and I agree with most of his suggestions. Through years of trial and error, I’ve stumbled into many of them on my own, and found success. While ‘eat what you enjoy’ sounds like a no-brainer, once you step into the funhouse-mirror world of dieting and food cravings, especially with trendy diets pushing butter and meat while forbidding carrots, common sense goes out the window. I do disagree with the idea of flipping the switch, as it were, and creating negative emotions with food to break the conditioned hyper-eater’s reward system. Eating without attaching emotion to the experience is what worked for me, and I’m seventy-five pounds lighter. So there, nyah.

‘The End of Overeating’ is an eye-opening read; even if you don’t have hips that could knock out turnstiles and bruise toddlers, peruse this book to see what happens to your food before it goes into your pie-hole. You’ll be surprised, and maybe a little healthier.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

MicheleT and the Winners

There's a lot of reasons to like Michele Tune, and not just because she hands out free stuff on a regular basis. She's a prolific writer, top-notch blogger, and has the enviable position of always been passionate on whatever subject she's writing about, a true gift for anyone making their living via keyboard. She's survived domestic abuse, obesity, and recent family tragedies to become a strong woman who espouses healthy living and doing the right thing for yourself and others. After being through so much in her life, Michele retains a heartening innocence and charm that makes me want to shield her eyes from the nightly news. She also loves arranging contests on her blogs, so consider this a blatant plug.

Her blogs Healing With Juices and Writing the Cyber Highway always display a positive, sunny yet realistic outlook on life, the universe and everything, but at the same time, her writing is professional and jam-packed with information. She also writes for Raw People and is featured in the new Uncle John's Certified Organic Bathroom Reader. In addition to all that, she offers freelance writing services as well. If my abs were as strong as her work ethic, I'd be wearing belly shirts all year long.

She's on every social network under the sun, quite an accomplishment for someone who lives on an Amish farm. You want 'green' information and news? She's the real thing, baby. Check her out today, network with her, learn from her. You may not win a contest, but you'll definitely win a friend.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Agog over the end of analog TV

A few years ago, we were riding the bottom loop of life's roller coaster and had to give up several luxuries, including satellite TV. Our digital set wouldn't pick up stations off the antenna, so we hauled an old Montgomery Ward set out of storage and hooked it up. With some coaxing, it pulled in one station; an NBC affiliate that I hadn't watched since I was a kid and getting three stations on your TV was the norm. The picture was fuzzy, but we had TV! I remember how much I looked forward to the earthquake miniseries, '10.5,' that year because it offered a brief respite from the endless Law & Order and Dateline episodes. Having that old analog set was also valuable because we had several close calls with tornadoes that year and seeing up-to-date radar maps kept me calm through many bad storms. We could use that set because with an old tuner, you can inch through a signal and receive something. With our digital set, it's all or nothing; you either have a digital lock on the station, or you don't. I kept the old set up and running even after we subscribed to satellite again, because we still couldn't receive local stations.

That's why I have more compassion for the three million people who haven't made the switch to digital TV. June 12th is fast approaching, and I've seen so many impatient, rude comments on forums like the Consumerist about these affected people. According to the latest survey, most of the sets due to go black on June 12th are owned by the elderly and the underprivileged. Far-flung rural areas and jam-packed urban areas will both be affected. Yes, there's been a non-stop campaign of information for more than a year. There are commercials by the government, plus spots by cable and satellite TV companies which seem to tout their own wares as a solution. There are coupons, true; there's also been coupon shortages, converter box shortages, and people taking advantage of the situation by selling folks equipment they don't need. That's a lot of confusion for people who have depended on the same basic technology in the same basic format since the 1950s or 1960s.

Here's what I'm asking from all those tech-savvy complainers who insist that the remaining three million are morons or just lazy: get off your own butt, use your own smarts, and help. Ask your elderly neighbors if they're ready for the digital switch, and explain exactly what they do--or don't--need. Help them set it up. Check with local senior centers, food banks and community centers to see if anyone needs assistance in getting a converter box. Television provides news, weather and even company to a lot of solitary souls out there, and I can tell you from experience that it can give you a much-needed diversion from your problems.

Have some compassion, make a difference and be part of a positive solution.

(And thanks to my Plurk buddy RS for making me think--and act--on this matter. A mental poke with a sharp stick is sometimes what we all need!)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Can This Creativity Be Saved?

She was sitting by my desk when I walked in, her violet cotton skirt barely brushing the hardwood floor. I pulled up my office chair, and sat down beside her. I could tell she was miffed about something, so I decided to bluff my way in with cheerfulness.

“Ready to get to work?”

“No.” She sniffled, then turned back to stare out the window.

“Aw, c’mon, what’s wrong?” I edged my chair closer.

“You never take me anywhere,” she pouted. “It’s always work, work, work with you.”

I leaned in with my best come hither smile. “C’mon, baby, you know you’re the only Muse for me.”

She turned back to face me, her pale eyes brimming with tears.

“I have needs, too,” she said. “What about my needs?” She pulled out a book hidden in the folds of her skirt.

Aw crap, she’s been reading again. I take the book and look through the pages. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Well, at least she’s not watching Oprah. Yet.

“She says that you need to take me out once in a while.” She pointed at the book. “An artist date, like when we first met.”

“I remember,” I said dreamily. “You couldn’t keep your ideas off me.” An odd thought crosses my mind. “Just how many books do you have stuffed in that skirt?”

She pouted again. “You won’t be finding out anytime soon. Articles, poems, books, stories…I have a lot to give. I’ve got some really great original stuff in this imaginary outfit. I could just go out and find another writer, one who will take care of me.”

I sigh. I need this Muse too much to lose her to some uninspired hack. If she leaves, I will be that hack.

“Okay, go make yourself creative, we’re going out.”

The Muse giggled and clapped her hands. “This is going to be so much fun! I’ll be right back!”

“Do me a favor,” I say as she twinkles out of sight. “Leave the skirt. You know what it does for me.”

That was two weeks ago. Now, she sprinkles ideas on me every day like candy. The perfect words, the best phrases…all mine. I just have to take her out on the town every now and then, let her go wherever she wants to go. And boy, does that Muse have some exciting notions. Thanks, Ms. Cameron. You’re the best Muse Counselor we’ve ever had.