Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking back, stepping forward

As the hours of 2010 wind down, I think of the old saying, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.”

Although this wasn’t a particularly prosperous year for me, it was an amazing education. I’ve learned more about the art and business of writing in the last twelve months than I have in the previous five years. I’ve tried new things that scared the crap out of me, kept going when things felt rough and discovered a sense of accomplishment I never thought possible. The world of queries, proposals, partials, short stories, anthologies, beta reading, critiquing, marketing, branding and yes, rejection, has opened new possibilities for me. Thanks to all my friends for the sharing, caring, advising, poking, sympathizing, urging and laughing on Facebook, Twitter, Absolute Write and real life.

2010 may not have given me what I wanted, but it gave me something better than I could imagine in the first place. I became an Erma, a zombie poet and a braver person. To those who saw their dreams come true this year, congratulations! To the rest of us, 2011 has left the door open wide. All we have to do is charge in, jump on the couch and order room service. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Three (Free!) Gifts for Writers

There are so many wonderful gift lists to help you surprise your favorite writer this year (Stacey Graham and Cindy Myers wrote two of my favorites) but what if you’re short on cash and have extra time on your hands? If you can’t swing the latest must-have gadget or even a B&N gift card, don’t sweat it; there are three things you can do for a writer that will mean more to them than anything you can buy. Try one or all three this year; I guarantee you’ll make it a holiday to remember.

Make a space. If your writer has been balancing the laptop on unstable knees while perched on the couch or waiting until dinner is done to steal a little tabletop real estate, make some room for a desk. Rearrange the furniture and create an area just for your wordsmith. You don’t have to buy a desk, but you do need some ingenuity. Erma Bombeck wrote her columns on a door balanced on cinder blocks. Make it yourself if you have some spare lumber and know your way around a hammer. If you don’t have anything suitable, check Freecycle.org. Who cares if it’s particleboard? It will be a little slice of Heaven for someone with a vivid imagination. Like a writer. Extra points if you can round up a few office supplies too, like a mug from the kitchen to hold a few pens or a couple of file folders from the dollar store.

Help with research. You can do this a couple of ways: go the traditional handmade coupon route with redeemable certificates for an hour’s worth of web engine searches, or, if you know what kind of material your writer needs, clip or print articles and interesting tidbits year-round and give them occasionally in a brightly decorated folder. Extra points for rounding out a coupon book with an afternoon of child care when deadlines threaten, a few mandatory days off, a walk in the park when the plot is stuck or (if said writer is your sweetie) a sexy coupon good for a little afternoon delight. After all, everyone needs a good Googling now and again (bow-chicka-wow-wow!)

Ask to read some work. Then read it. Take your time. If he or she wants a critique, fine. Find one good thing for every bit that needs attention. Writers work in solitude, and they always end up asking people to read their stories, articles, poems and posts. Sometimes they feel awkward about it. If you volunteer to read for them, it’s like showering them with sunshine. Your attention and interest in a writer’s scribblings will make his or her day complete. Extra points for family members: collect your writer’s clips after they are published. A scrapbook made up of articles or stories not only show how far a writer has progressed, it demonstrates that you care. What better gift is there, really?


Photo credit: Idea go and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

ThankScreaming Day: Book Reviews for Apexology Horror and The Undead That Saved Christmas


Thanksgiving afternoon and you’re already wishing the relatives would go home? Instead of listening to Uncle Fred’s proctologist stories, sneak away with something even scarier than your family. Both of these books are available in e-book form, so you can hide in the bathroom with your smartphone or e-reader until the last dishes are done.

I read horror much like someone who is discovered with ill-advised substances: “I’m holding it for a friend. Really.”

That said, I do like the non-gory stuff, especially if it’s funny. When I saw the phrase “Cthulhu comedy of manners” on Twitter one day, I had to know more. Apex Book Company was kind enough to share Apexology: Horror, a huge horror anthology which I quickly realized could only be read during full daylight with all the lights on. These are old-school scares done right; no sparkly undead here, just enough creepy terrors to make you crave a Snoopy night light. I did find that Cthulhu story, “To Every Thing There Is A Season” by Dru Pagliassotti, and loved it! If she turned it into a full book, I would snap it up. Her writing is funny, freaky and a better read than “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.” I also enjoyed “The Spider In The Hairdo” by Michael A. Burstein, which gave an old urban legend new, frightening life, and “Transylvania Mission” by Lavie Tidhar, a satisfying twist on Dracula. Some stories weren’t my taste, but there is something in this collection for everyone, so it is a great bargain for any scare-seeker.

For the second book, this is part review, part plug. The Undead That Saved Christmas is a zombie holiday anthology featuring stories, art and poems by Stacey Graham, Jason Tudor, Angie Mansfield, and oh yeah, me! Need more awesomeness? It also has an introduction by S. G. Browne, author of zombie hits Breathers and Fated. Proceeds from the anthology go to the Hugs Foster Family Agency and editor Lyle Perez-Tinics has selected a diverse undead lineup to keep readers entertained.

In addition to great folks and a great cause, the book has some stellar zombie action, from mad scientists and killer elves to zombie Santas and AK-47s painted like candy canes. “The Legend of Zombie Claus” by Joe Fillippone has some of the best dialogue I’ve ever read in a horror story, and several stories have a delightfully twisted sense of humor; Graham’s “To All A Good Fright” made me laugh out loud from the first line. The Undead That Saved Christmas is also available as an old-fashioned print book, just in case you want to share the drippy, gooey, brain-eating fun with someone special.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Not Even Close to Almost Famous

“If you ever get lonely, just go to the music store and visit your friends.”-Penny Lane, Almost Famous

I started freelancing the same year that movie came out. A friend taped it off PPV for me since it was about a magazine writer. I watched it every day during a long lunch break between scouring the Internet for writing opportunities and creating press releases and newsletter copy for local businesses. Aside from the fact that it featured a tiny part by my fave musician, Peter Frampton, it showed the writer’s life to be hopeful, delusional and frustrating all at the same time. Virginity-popping threesomes and epic rock tours aside, it still resonates with me today; the main character is constantly worried about deadlines and getting the job done.

I remembered the movie quote above when I could finally go to the bookstore, pick up a magazine and see my name. It became more relevant as I gained writer friends online; I began to look for their bylines too. Magazine articles became books, and I loved each rare time I found a friend’s name on a shelf.

Now, 95 percent of my writing community is online and those names are bountiful in the stacks. Last time I went to Barnes & Noble, I bought four books, each one by someone I already knew via Absolute Write, Twitter or Facebook. I learn from them, admire them and feel like I’m in on something special. It’s a delicious thrill, one that I’m eager to share whenever my book finally finds an agent, a publisher, and a space on that shelf. My time is coming. Until then, I have social media, texting and e-mail.

But when I feel lonely, I still go to the bookstore and visit my friends.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

'Essential' Winners!

Mr. Random has made the selection, and the winners of a copy of THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED are.... Michelle from Clover Hill Book Reviews, and Andrea! Congratulations, please email or DM us your addresses, and we'll get the ball rolling on those prizes!

Thanks to everyone who entered, and a big thank you to Workman Publishing for making this giveaway possible!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Book Review and Giveaway: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published


What’s better than one blog giving away a book? Two blogs giving away books! I’ve partnered up with friend and very funny fellow writer Stacey Graham (from Betwixt & Between) to review the latest must-have writing tool from Workman Publishing and help a couple of folks receive their very own free copy. Giveaway details are listed just after the review.

If someone had handed me a copy of THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry when I was sixteen, my professional writing career would be very different—and better—today. (For one thing, I would have known about the Internet and E-books back in the 1980s, ka-ching!)

I have been a writer for most of my life so far, and I’ve read a LOT of books on the subject. Usually, at some point during the book, I’ll find a passage or idea and call bullcrap on it. That didn’t happen with this book. Eckstut and Sterry covered every base I could think of, and added a few I didn’t know about.

Building platforms, getting an agent, working with editors, understanding contracts, untangling the web of ebooks, tackling marketing and publicity: it’s all here in clear, honest and often funny language. As a humor writer, it takes a lot to make me laugh out loud, and this book did it several times. The authors hooked me with an up-to-date social media section, including an interview with noted author and Master Tweeter Neil Gaiman conducted over Twitter.

As a multiple-year NaNoWriMo winner, I also loved seeing Chris Baty’s proposal for his book, NO PLOT? NO PROBLEM! The book even wraps up with the very proposal Eckstut and Sterry used, so you have two winning examples to use as blueprints.

The self-publishing section is comprehensive; the subject has its share of champions and foes in the publishing world, and I find my own opinion changing depending on the time of day. They explain the different types of self-pubbing, what to avoid, and how to sell successfully.I think one of the most important sections is the explanation between vanity presses and legitimate self-pubbing; if you don't know the difference, you must read it.

No matter what type of book you want to write and see published, this guide will help you through the process better than any combination of Scotch and prescription drugs.

And now for the best part! Winning your very own copy of THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED! There are several ways to enter:

  1. Follow me @plaidearthworm and Stacey (@staceyigraham) on Twitter and mention the giveaway with a link back to our blogs, using the hashtag #GTBPgiveaway
  2. Give both sites a "thumbs up" using StumbleUpon
  3. Tell us on both blogs why you need this book in our comments section. Be sure to tell us if you are following us on Twitter - please leave your @ID and your email address so we are able to contact you if you win!
  4. The winners will be chosen on November 2, 2010, by Random.org and announced on both sites.

Good luck to all of you!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Book Review: How to Survive A Garden Gnome Attack

Chuck Sambuchino invites you to a garden party....of Death!

His first humor release, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK from Ten Speed Press, is a twisted, fun read aimed at protecting your ass from those so-called innocent statues lurking on your lawn. Sambuchino creates an intricate little world of danger hidden in everyday life, a world so detailed that I wonder if he has some hidden Dungeon Master experience in his past.

The 106 pages are broken down into sections: Assess, Protect, Defend and Apply. Thwarting the tiny demons involves a multitude of actions, from using commercial fertilizer on your lawn to keep it green and make gnomes crazy to removing all sharp implements from your kitchen, especially “those small pointy little corncob holders.”

Baseball bats, flamethrowers, chemical warfare, moats and even a big @#$% dog come into play as weapons against gnomes, along with advice from gnome defense experts. Find a tiny crop circle in your garden? That means a gnome home invasion could happen at any time.

In this secret, evil gnome-ridden world, paranoia becomes your protector and friend: did you really leave the wheelbarrow out of the garage? Why is the dog acting weird? Advice on keeping a logbook of suspicious activity also adds a nice Cold War-style touch of fear. HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK is a sharp parody of today’s polarized “killers and bedbugs behind every corner” culture. It’s also a slight tweak on modern in-your-face horror literature of zombies and other creepy things that go bump in the night.

Now we just have to figure out how to kill a vampire with a tiny corn cob holder.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Love Rejections



(Above: my favorite clip ever on making the most from rejection.)

Yes, I love rejections. Think I’m being sarcastic? Not at all. While we all want to see that magical ‘Yes,’ rejections are an essential part of writing. I’ve received many rejections in my career as a freelance writer. I’ll be honest: the first few I cried over, the next fifty or so required margaritas and chocolate. After that, I learned to study rejections and even take away some encouragement, especially with personal rejections including a quick note from the editors. Did the editor have a specific idea or suggestions in mind? Ask me to submit again? Receiving something besides a form rejection became a chance to improve my work.

When I began my adventure into the world of book publishing this year, I discovered rejections are almost considered door prizes. Querying an agent has become ridiculously easy thanks to e-mail, and most agents take e-queries. Some only take e-queries. But the huge amount of queries stuffing inboxes (I imagine the inboxes swelling, cartoon-style, until you hear a ‘Pop!’ and words explode out of the computer like confetti) means that many agents will only contact you if they’re interested in your project. I completely understand why this is done, but for the hopeful writer, it can suck. A polite ‘No thanks’ can give a writer some closure and let you move on.

This is why I love rejections even more these days. It’s a notch in the belt, a bit of experience earned. Form rejections are fine; personal rejections with comments or suggestions are wonderful. Some agents are so good at form rejections, you’ll think it’s a personal note written just for you. To learn the difference, I highly recommend signing up with QueryTracker.net, where other seekers often leave examples of form rejections in the comments section so you can compare notes.

As for me, the search continues, but these days my lip doesn’t even quiver when a rejection shows up in my inbox. I know someone took the time to reply to my query, and I’m one more step closer to that ‘Yes.’

Saturday, August 28, 2010

TV Icons Who Boosted Reading


While television receives a well-deserved beatdown for blasting away the literate skills of Americans, there are a few incidents when the piƱata ducks the stick. The boob tube may not transform into the brain tube anytime soon (not until a handful of adults can actually conquer ‘Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?’ but thanks to some unforgettable TV personalities, there were a few brief moments when America was all on the same page.

King of the Wild Frontier
Eat your heart out, Harry Potter. In 1954, the kids went crazy for a different kind of hero: Davy Crockett. A patriotic little Disney-produced mini-series playing up the mythical status of Crockett hit the waves, causing a year-long Crockettmania that swept the country and cleaned out parents’ pocketbooks. The five-part series starring Hollywood favorite Fess Parker was televised three times over the course of 1954-55, and the reruns pulled stronger ratings than the first showing. For the very first time, Disney’s merchandising reached Hanna Montana-like proportions, and books were an important part of the pre-VCR, whats-the-Internet hysteria. Some reports claim that fourteen million books were sold that year, from re-released biographies of Crockett meant for adults to dime store comic books. One little picture book of Crockett’s television adventures garnered a million pre-orders on its own; not bad for a country with 150 million people and six million television sets in 1950. After the third showing of the series, the fad died out, and people turned their attention back to Ed Sullivan and ‘I Love Lucy,’ storing up those books for countless yard sales.

Aaaaaayyyyyyyyy.
While the country was infatuated with the late 1700s in 1954, when the seventies came along, America was in a nostalgic mood over the 1950s. The comedy ‘Happy Days,’ and its spinoff, ‘Laverne & Shirley,’ topped the ratings in 1977 and made Henry Winkler’s character, The Fonz, into a television legend. Not only could he light up the jukebox with a slap, he could fill libraries across the country with a sentence. According to Winkler himself in various interviews, after the Fonz received a library card in a September episode that year, registrations for library cards jumped 500 percent. There’s only one catch: neither he nor the American Library Association can prove it. While the actor maintains that his character had a tremendous influence on a reading surge, the ALA admits that new card registration statistics weren’t uniformly collected as data. The ALA even lists the incident in a webpage FAQ, and says while the data isn’t there to back up Winkler’s claim, they can’t disprove it, either. Given the massive influence the Fonz had back in the day, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility. Hey, would you doubt a man whose jacket rests in the Smithsonian?

You buy a book! And you buy a book!
Any discussion on the impact of television on books wouldn’t be complete without the big O herself. Talk shows have featured authors and their books for decades, but in 1996, Oprah Winfrey took it to the next level by starting Oprah’s Book Club, a regular feature on her self-titled show. Each book featured in the club received the host’s personal thumbs-up and more than sixty books in thirteen years were devoured by a cultish, two-million-strong readership. Since each selection also received a re-printing with the official Oprah logo as well, authors saw their books zoom up the bestseller lists. Many became millionaires just from book club sales, and eight books were turned into movies. Although there’s no conclusive data on how many books Oprah is responsible for selling, the total would likely be in the millions. The club hit some bumpy patches, such as Jonathan Franzen’s revolt or James Frey’s slight, ahem, foray into exaggeration. But there’s no doubt that when Winfrey’s show wraps up in 2011, her literary claim to fame will be hard to top.

Photo credit: Flickr:bobster855

Friday, August 13, 2010

Take This Job and Fluff It


Within one week, the country discovered two incredible stories of people leaving their jobs with flair. Before they could even tell us that they don't like to talk about their flair, both were busted.

The story of Jenny quitting her skeezy boss via a white board and email was funny, imaginative and inspiring. It was also too good to be true, since the whole episode was quickly revealed to be a prank. (Although I still hope that out there, somewhere, a few downtrodden assistants took notes.)

So we were left with Steven Slater, a JetBlue flight attendant who apparently reached a personal tipping point in the delicate balance of job vs. crap and exited his employment in true blue, American, Johnny-Paycheck-Take-This-Job-and-Shove-It style by baring his soul, grabbing some suds and sliding into the sunset. Now 'apparently' may be the operative word in that entire folk-hero scenario, since other passengers on the plane claimed that no argument happened, Slater just snapped on his own and decided to start his weekend early.

In a tense economy, catching crap is now built into a lot of job descriptions. If you want to eat, then you keep a drawer full of fake smiles, vodka and Prozac. But both tales captured our collective imagination because they made us laugh, nod and be glad that no one was shot. Too bad both may turn out to be as genuine as the E! Channel reality show lineup.

There is one person, however, that may take the prize: an unnamed Lufthansa flight attendant. She didn't quit her job; in fact, she had fun with it. She started a pillow fight, lightened the passengers' mood and even received applause at the end. (Go ahead, read the Consumerist story and watch the clip.)

Maybe shoving that job isn't the answer when it all it needs is a good fluffing.

Photo credit: Flickr, via f_mafra

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fact-o-Vision and Hemlock Mojitos

Socrates said an unexamined life isn’t worth living, but I believe too much self-examination can lead to a nasty rash, plus a crick in your neck from all that belly-button staring. But, since Amy at Mind Over Mullis has so graciously bestowed this Versatile Blogger award on me and hightailed it for the nearest exit, I’ll share some randomness and make Socrates regret those words as much as that last hemlock mojito.

First, the ground rules (which would have been an awesome name for Newton’s garage band):Thank the blogger who passed this award on. Thanks, Amy!

List seven things about myself? Good grief, even I can’t take that much of me. How about four? Done.

Pass this award to five other bloggers.I choose Jen at Creatif, Marguerite at Marguerite Says, and Michele at Writing the Cyber Highway, because I'd love to see her post there again. If Amy gets a pass on counting, so do I. So there. Nyah.

Fact in the Crowd: I have one of those faces. If I’m not smiling, people think I’m mad. If I am smiling, they think I’m up to something. I also give off an assistant manager vibe: plop me down in any grocery or discount store, and strangers will wander up to me, asking about directions, specials, or the bathroom. On a bad day, I’ll send all three requests to the same spot.

Factoid Celluoid: I love cartoons. I’ve seen ‘The Incredibles’ more times than I can count, and I can quote from nearly any original Scooby-Doo episode. When I discovered that the artist who drew the new Darkwing Duck comic was on Twitter, I squeed out loud. My faves are a mix of new and old: Hong Kong Phooey, Spongebob, I.M. Weasel (oh, that deep Michael Dorn voice!), the Penguins of Madagascar and, of course, Scooby Doo.

The Fact-Word: There is a time and place for blue language, but I’m far more impressed when comedians exercise some brain cells instead. A dirty thought said in a clean way can be very funny, and the sly wordplay required is wonderful to watch; a ballet of double entendres never bores me. That’s why I still watch old ‘Match Game’ reruns.

Fact d’Art: Last week, I tripped over something in the living room while Ovation TV was on; I looked closer, and it was a little piece of twentysomething artistic soul that I thought had been cleared away years ago. After running it through my home CSI kit, I realized there is still a tiny part of that young me who read plays, dreamed of seeing the Louvre and thought seriously about attending the Kansas City Art Institute. Instead of crushing it under the heel of reality, I popped that little fragment into a terrarium, and read art appreciation books to it whenever I can.