Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Don Draper Would Punch You In The Face If He Heard You Talk Like That

I have a book coming out. I’m trying not to be obnoxious about it, but this blog is about my life as a writer. And right now that life is consumed by my novel. I’m self-publishing, and those of you who’ve gone that route know what it’s like to realize just how much you have to do to get a book ready for primetime, so to speak, and then wake up the next morning and realize there’s about a hundred more things you have to do that you hadn’t even though of. So forgive me if I keep bringing it up.

don-draper-imageThis week’s anxiety-sponsored ramblings revolve around everyone’s favorite part of the writing process: marketing.* Is there anyone out there who got into writing with the lifelong dream of platform building and putting together a market strategy? If there are, God bless you, but for me, it’s been the most stressful part of the process. I’ve been mulling over the options: a grassroots blog-based campaign, a subtle “coming-soon” style buzz-builder, maybe even hiring a professional. Right now, I’m considering possibly the most revolutionary of all marketing strategies:

Not marketing at all.

Why do we do this? Writing, I mean. What’s the drive, the endgame? Is it the money? There’s lots of easier and quicker ways to make money. Is it to be read? Maybe. But why? Is it because a book isn’t really complete until someone reads it, or is it so people can tell you how great you are? I’ll be honest: I’d love to hear people tell me how great I am while cashing checks with more zeros than the Republican primary field. But is that what drives me? No.

Somewhere in the universe, there’s at least one person who’s going to buy my book (or borrow it, or pirate it, whatever) and who’s going to fall madly in love with it. I’m not saying it’s great; she may be the only person in the world who even likes it, who even buys a copy, but for whatever reason, she’ll love it. That’s who I’m writing for.**

I don’t need a glossy ad campaign or a marketing strategy design to penetrate every last corner of the web. If this elusive reader exists, and I’m sure she*** does, then the book’ll find her, or she’ll find it. She might even feel she “discovered” it.

And that’s fine by me.

*seriously, where’s that sarcasm font?

**this sentence is so blatantly incorrect, I know, but the alternative is, “That’s for whom I’m writing.” And who wants to read that shit?

*** or ‘he’. Just trying to keep it simple.

Monday, December 5, 2011

I Want a Blog, Just Like the Blog…

So I changed things around. Again. I’m trying to capture a professional look for my blog while still keeping it personal and unique. I don’t know if I’ve achieved that, but I’m satisfied with the look for now. I look at other people’s blog’s and I think there’s some ”make my blog awesome” button that I’m missing. Maybe it’s just because it’s mine, and I don’t have an objective eye. Maybe my contempt only comes from my familiarity as Mr. Clemens might have suggested. At any rate, no matter what I do with my blog, I’ll never be completely satisfied. I’ll never be able to view it as an objective observer and say, “Man, dude knows what he’s doing.” In short, I’ll always feel it’s not quite good enough.



Sanguine Musings 1.0


Have you figured out yet that this really isn’t about my blog at all?

All the above is true: I’ll really do feel design-wise my blog doesn’t quite cut it. But I don’t care about that. Yeah, I do my best to make it the best, but what matters is the content, and I’m generally satisfied with that. What the real issue is, is that the top paragraph sums up exactly the way I feel about my novel.

I read pretty much any type of book: classics, nonfiction, genre novels, self-pubs, even books off the supermarket checkout racks. Some are really good, and some are…well, not. But they all have something in common, whether paper or plastic, whether published by Smashwords or Simon and Schuster: they’re all professional.

And then there’s mine.

Don’t me wrong. I’m not saying book is crap. I’m going line by line with a red marker, and then I’m passing it on to a professional, so it’ll be as clean as it can possibly be. All the plot holes are gone. The characters are alive, at least to me, and the action seems to flow pretty well. In short, it’s a novel. And a professional one, at that.

I just find it hard to view it that way.

Maybe it’s just me. I haven’t had a lot of feedback, probably not as much as I should have, anyway, so I’m kind of flying blind a little. Maybe it doesn’t even matter. My book is either good or it isn’t. More likely, it’s both. Some people will like it and some won’t, that’s just the way it is. In short, I’m satisfied with it. I always though that if I could get amnesia and read one time without any previous knowledge of it, that would help a lot.*

Well, in a few months I’ll know exactly what people think about it.

In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for the “make my book awesome” button.

*I don’t really want amnesia.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Watch Out, He’s Got a Binder!

I’m kicking it old school* these days.  After months of fits and starts trying to work through the final edit of my MS on my laptop, I decided to print it out and tackle it the old fashioned way. I’ve got my red pen and my rainbow of highlighters, and I’ve been tearing through paragraphs like a machete-wielding psychopath at an abandoned summer camp.

DSC05035This is the final stretch for me: I’ve decided to self-publish, and I’ve targeted early 2012 for release. Is my book good enough? I don’t know, but it’s been complete for nearly two years now. Since then I’ve cut out nearly a quarter of the text, changed names, races, concepts, eliminated characters, and pretty done everything I can to squeeze as much life out of every paragraph and every sentence as possible.

Now it’s ready for the world, no matter how much I might want to lock it in an airtight case and bury it under seven miles of concrete. It’s a book; it needs to be read.

Is it good? Again, I don’t know. I like it, but I’m biased. It’s hard impossible to read it at this point with anything close to objectivity, and despite what people say, it’s pretty damn hard to find objective readers, too. It’s not so much that putting out a bad book worries me, it’s that I haven’t done everything I can tell the story of Thea, Talus and everyone else in the most effective way possible.

So that’s why I dusted of the old binder** as well as any marketing ability I might have tucked away in the dark recesses of my brain. I’m going to publish. On my own, no less. Very soon, I’ll even have a date set. No going back.

My book might suck, or it might be good but completely ignored. But If I don’t risk those things, it’ll sit in a file collecting virtual dust until it disappears, never having seen the world. I don’t want that to happen.

It kind of feels like jumping out of a plane. I know because I’ve done that, too.

I think this is scarier.

*kids still say that, don’t they?

**three rings to rule them all.

Monday, October 17, 2011

NaNo Seconds

Participant2_180_180_whiteI took part in NaNo last year. For those of you unfamiliar, that’s National Novel Writing Month. It’s an event that encourages people to write an entire novel in a month. November, specifically. As I said, I participated last year. Didn’t finish, sadly. I had been looking forward to it this year, the plan being to get every bit of preliminary out of the way around summer and let the story gestate through early fall, so when November came around, my novel would hit the ground running.

Not only did none of that happen, but I’ve been wondering if a writing career is still the path I want to follow. Despite that, I’ve decided I’m still going to take part this year. I love the process, especially the early stages of creation. Of creating characters so bold and vivid that eventually they tell you what to do.

I think it would be good for me: a specific goal, and a deadline so tight I have to focus most of my attention on it. Also, I’ll know going in that failure is an option, at least by NaNo’s measure of success. The process is what’s important; victory is not a word count, but a reawakening of my passion for putting the world that exists only inside my head into those strange, jagged patterns called words.

So I’m jumping in, and if the water’s too cold, I’ll jump back out. Most of all, though, there’s no pressure. What I get done, I get done. And as we all know, it’s never about quantity; it’s about quality.

So wish me luck,…got any ideas?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

In Which the Author Attempts to Turn a Football Rant into a Post about Writing

peyton-manning-super-bowlIf you follow football, or for that matter, if you’ve ever seen any commercial, ever, you know who Peyton Manning is. For those that don’t, he’s the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, which also happens to be my favorite sports team. Manning is one of those rare athletes who came out of college with high expectations and managed to not only meet them, but completely blow them away. He’s won the league MVP award four times. No one else has ever won it more than twice. He belongs in conversations with the likes of Johnny Unitas, Dan Marino, and Joe Montana. Or to put it another way: they belong in conversations with him. In short, he’s arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game.

And he’s hurt.

Manning, who in thirteen previous seasons had never missed a start and had only missed one snap due to injury,* is out probably for the season due to complications following neck surgery in the off-season. No problem, right? He’s just one guy, right? How important can he be?


The Colts are currently 0-5 and last week blew a seventeen-point lead at home. They haven’t shown any signs of improvement, either. In fact, sadly, they’re probably already playing the best football they can.

So what happened, and what does this have to do with writing?

Well, Manning is clearly the protagonist of this team, and he’s also not only their most valuable player, but his worth has never been more evident. His very presence turns mediocre players into Pro-Bowlers, and Pro-Bowlers into future Hall of Famers, even on defense. He compensates for shortcomings and hides weaknesses. His will and force of character pervades the entire team and turns a 6-10 ball club into perennial Super Bowl contenders.

And that’s what your Main Character has to do.

Your MC is your novel’s MVP. It doesn’t matter how strong your prose is or how fantastic your plot is, or even the originality of the concept, if your MC is dull, generic, or clichéd, he’ll drag your whole MS down with him. On the other hand, a strong MC can turn a pedestrian tale into an enduring classic. Think about your favorite books, the ones you truly adore. What made you fall in love with them? The plot? The sentence construction? Or were they peopled with lively, original, three-dimensional characters so real you could almost have a conversation with them?

Stories are the life blood of humanity; they truly separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Yet without a Don Quixote, a Holden Caulfield, or an Odysseus, without a living, breathing person to root for (or against), the plot is just a bunch of things that happen.

Who is the MVP of your novel? If it’s not the MC, who is it and why?

*a broken jaw(!)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sanguine Musings: Year One, or How to Succeed in Blogging without Really Trying

images (4)Today is my one year Blogiversary (yeah, knew that squiggly red line was coming). October 1, 2010 saw my very first post. Of course, no one else saw it; I had no followers save my family members who I made follow me to prime the pump, so to speak. I’ve written several posts about how I’ve been a lone wolf or solitary witch. Without any formal schooling or apprenticeship, my only real knowledge of the industry came from writing books and websites. But that by itself did little good. So I hit blogosphere. I started with agent blogs, and then went after their followers: fellow writers, aspiring or otherwise. Soon I had a blogroll chock full of helpful hints, peeks into the publishing world, and just plain moral support.

So here it is: twelve months, 86 posts, and 678 comments* later. I’m up to 258 followers now – an astronomical number to me back then - and I appreciate and admire every last one of you, even though I don’t comment or reply nearly as much as I should. In fact, I haven’t done much of anything with this blog lately. There’s been speculation among my board of directors (consisting mostly of my cats and a partially eaten Boba Fett) that maybe Sanguine Musings won’t see a second birthday. I hope that’s not the case, but really, my heart’s not been in it lately. But S. M. is my baby; I want it to succeed. My biggest fear, though, is that if it does disappear, no one will notice.

Anyway, now that I’m done peeing all over my own birthday cake, here it is: my very first post as was. Hopefully, you’ll think it sucks, which of course means I’m getting better, not worse.

Or, I just still suck. Smile

* and 72 footnotes


Yesterday, after six months revising and nearly three years writing my novel and over a decade before that of failed attempts, aborted story ideas, and general foot-dragging, I finally took my first baby steps into the business end of the book world. No I’m not published yet not by a mile, but for the first time, I interacted (sort of) with an honest-to-goodness literary agent and a tiny piece of the literary world. It may not seem like anything to those actively immersed in the world. To me, however, Publication* is now no longer a mythical city on a hill, but an obtainable, albeit challenging, reality.

I’ve spent the last ten years working on an ambulance. Wonderful people, but not exactly the literati. It’s been difficult just finding people to read my manuscript, finding like-minded souls to muse about the peculiar life of a writer, particularly an unpublished one. I work a crazy amount of hours, and of course there are no writing groups in my immediate area. My friends are all paramedics, EMTs, and firefighters; it would be tough starting a reading group, much less one for writers. Therefore, like the solitary witch, I write without a coven; I edit with only an inkling of feedback. And as I put the finishing touches on my manuscript and prepare with trembling hand to send that first query letter into the world, I do it alone.

Which was why this seminar was so important. To hear from an agent in her own words exactly what she’s looking for, to have her address my questions and even look at my pitch proposal gave everything weight; it made it all real. I can get Published; it’s hard work and could take years, but I know it’s possible. There are people like me, no experience, no background in publishing, that every day are selling their manuscript, or finding that perfect agent who’s passionate about their work. I’m in the game now. It’s the fourth quarter, I’m down by three touchdowns, and my offensive line has snuck off to Applebee’s, but I’m in the game.

As I get older, so much about life seems to involve endings. This, however, is a beginning, and a big one. And beginnings are so much better.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Waking Up From Your Lifelong Dream

wake-up-earlyI haven’t written anything in a while.  No big shocker there; the lion’s share of my writing “career” has been filled with long chunks of not-writing, sometimes measured in weeks, sometimes in years.  Generally I’ll get on a tear and write a ton in a short amount of time, then piss away my gains with a month or two of inactivity.  That’s always worked for me.  I’ve never been a do-the-same-thing-at-the-same-time-everyday type, but not for lack of trying.  Binge and purge, so to speak.  That’s my way.

That’s not to say, though, that those spurts of inactivity are completely wasted.  I’ll mull over projects, think my way through a tough patch, even cast the film version of the book that hasn’t even found its way out of chapter one.  Most of all, though, I lament.  And admonish.  And urge: I have to write, I have to write, I have to write.  And then I do.  And if I may say so, the stuff that gets written is all the better for having waited.  The point is, though, in the same way scientists suggest the vacuum of space is actually teeming with activity, the empty spaces between productive writing sessions are usually anything but a cold, silent vacuum.

Until now.

Over the last few months, I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to my writing, except a generic, “I really need to write something”.  I hate say this, but I just haven’t been that into it lately.  A big reason behind that is my new job, and the inherent stresses involved there.  I’ve been busy, but there’s more to it than that.  My blog used to push out all my other responsibilities, but now I find myself there less and less.  I’ve always procrastinated in my writing, but much of that was about getting the words right, not about lack of interest.  If I didn’t always have a story on the page, I always had one in my head.  And if all else failed, I usually found time to at least worry about writing if not actually do it.

Until now.

So what’s changed?  I don’t now, maybe nothing.  Maybe this is an advanced, mutated form of writer’s block, attacking not only my ability to write, but my desire as well.  Maybe I’ll get over it once my life’s settled down.  Or maybe I’m too settled down.  I’m happier and more content than I’ve ever been.  Maybe that’s the problem: maybe the drive’s gone away.

Do I still want to write?  Hell yeah.  Do I need to?  I thought I did, but now I don’t know.  The real question is: to be successful, not necessarily in monetary terms, but truly successful, on the page, do you need to need to?

I don’t know.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Insecurities Exchange

InsecureWritersSupportGroupAlex J. Cavanaugh, author of CassaStar started this wonderful thing called the Insecure Writers' Support Group.  The idea is that we all need someone to lean on from time to time.  Some of us are lucky enough to be surrounded by fellow writers, be it in college, a literary-related job, or just the bookworm-stuffed coffee house downtown.  For the rest of us, though, this group is pretty much all we’ve got.

My main problem, I suppose, is not so much my ability to write, but my ability to stand by it.  In other words, I think my writing’s pretty good.  Difficulties arise, though, when it comes time for me to defend my work, or worse, “sell” it.  Giving out my work is the hardest thing to do, and when my prospective beta-readers blow it off, or forget about it, or otherwise ignore it, I can’t help but feel that my writing is crap.  No one’s come out and said point blank that it sucks, and I know most people just don’t read these days, and for every “blow-off” I usually three or four positive responses.  Still, I can’t shake the negative feelings I get when faced with less-than-enthusiasm.

Ultimately, I just have to learn that words are what’s important, not the approval of others.  Obviously, writers write to read, and without readers, what’s the point of us?  More important than even reader, though, are the words themselves, and if I let my insecurities psych me into not writing in the first place, then I’ve truly lost.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hitting the Campaign Trail

campaignShe’s at it again.  Rachel Harrie at Rach Writes the Third Annual Writer’s Platform Building Campaign.  Signup is through the end of the month.  What’s a Third Annual Writer’s Platform Building Campaign, you ask?  Remember the Crusaders?  No, not those.  More recent.  Anyway, it’s a way to increase traffic on the web by combining forces with like-minded bloggers.  It’s also a great way to discover new blogs and meet new people.  Who knows, you might even make a friend or seventeen in the process.

This comes at the perfect time for me.  I just went two months without a post.  Hopefully this will get me off my butt and prevent that from happening again.

Anyway, that’s all I have, so here’s a video of a cat doing something.


Monday, August 22, 2011


*WARNING: EXPLICIT NERD CONTENT!  If you've never heard of a tricorder or think Jersey Shore is really good television, you might want to reconsider going forward.  For the rest of you, welcome aboard!

Dan's blog, Stardate 65107.4.  We're all nerded up here at SM for Ellie Garratt's Star Trek as We Know It Blogfest.  Rules are, gush about Trek: movies, TV, old, new, whatever.  It's all fair game.  While you're at it, make a list of your five best Star Trek episodes and five best Star Trek characters.  Mine are down below if you want to skip the gushing.

I've been a fan almost as long as I can remember.  I remember seeing The Motion Picture around when it first came out, but it was Wrath of Khan that really drew me in.  I lived off the movies and reruns until high school when they announced a brand new Star Trek series.  Talk about a nerd depth charge, or rather a nerd dog whistle: drove us geeks crazy while going unnoticed by anyone else.

Of course, "Encounter at Farpoint" sucked, as did most of the first two seasons.  But as we all know, not only did it get better, it eventually became the Gold Standard of Trek.  Deep Space Nine came next and told stories Next Generation never could.  The franchise continued with more shows and more movies, but it peaked in the mid-nineties, I think.  The franchise will continue with the new movie versions, but whatever made Star Trek Star Trek is probably gone forever.

But then again, as long as nerds are there to irritate "normal" people, to tell their co-workers to "make it so," to remember important events by their stardate, to impress would-be love interests with their fluency in Klingon, as long as they are there (and trust me, we're not going anywhere), then my friends, there will be, and ever shall be, Star Trek.

Enough gushing.  Here are the lists, starting with the episodes...

The honorable mentions:
20. Tapestry - TNG
19. The Galileo Seven - TOS
18. Chain of Command - TNG
17. Blink of an Eye - VOY
16. The Trouble with Tribbles - TOS
15. The Best of Both Worlds - TNG
14. Children of Time - DS9
13. Trials and Tribble-ations - DS9
12. Year of Hell - VOY
11. The Menagerie - TOS
10. His Way - DS9
  9. The Inner Light - TNG
  8. In Purgatory's Shadow/By Inferno's Light - DS9
  7. The Wound - TNG
And now the top six...(WITH SPOILERS)

5. (Tie)  "This Side of Paradise" - TOS
Synopsis - The crew discover what should be a desolated human colony, but not only are the inhabitants not dead, they're in perfect health and abnormally happy.  Turns out it's the plants, and one by one the crew succumbs, abandoning the Enterprise.  Will even the emotionless Mr. Spock give in to unqualified bliss?*
Why it's here - He hangs from a tree, he makes out with a hot blonde, he beats up Kirk.  This is your science officer; this is your science officer on drugs. Any questions? There is one reason this episode is here: Leonard Nimoy.  In what could have been a campfest on par with "Spock's Brain", Nimoy transcends the somewhat obvious material - an allegory about wasting one's life on chemical happiness - and turns it into a study of what is lost living a life constantly in emotional check.  We almost root for Spock to stay on the planet because he's earned any kind of happiness, even the empty kind, and also we know that can never happen.  One of the saddest lines in all Star Trek is when Spock reflects on his time on the planet and says, "I was happy."  And did I mention he beats up Kirk?
5. (Tie)  “Darmok”TNG
Synopsis - Captain Picard is beamed against his will to a planet’s surface presumably to face off against an alien whose race’s language is completely incomprehensible even with the Universal Translator.
Why it’s here – This story is essentially a love letter to not only the power of myth but the powerful beauty of language itself.  Unraveling the allegorical language of the Children of Tamok alongside Picard is great fun, and Paul Winfield is brilliant as Captain Damon.  Oh, and if that weren’t enough, how about a young Ashley Judd looking…um…perky in her Starfleet uniform?
 4. "The City on the Edge of Forever" - TOS
 Synopsis - After accidentally injecting himself with a medication, Dr. McCoy goes berserk and leaps through a time portal, inadvertently altering history.  Kirk and Spock follow him back and realize McCoy's action involve a social worker named Edith Keeler.  But did he kill her, or save her?  And what must Kirk do to set things right?
Why it's here - Kirk was never the thinking man's hero; he was a man of action.  Why negotiate a treaty when you can break someone's clavicle?  In this original but oft-imitated story penned by the great Harlan Ellison, the man of action must do the one thing he normally can't: nothing.  For the sake of history he watches as the woman he's fallen for dies in a traffic accident.  I've never been much of a Kirk fan, but he's always at his most sympathetic when he's helpless, and never has that helplessness been so heart-wrenching.
3. “The Visitor” – DS9

Synopsis  Jake Sisko spends the rest of his life (literally) agonizing over his father’s death.  But is Ben Sisko really dead?  And can an elderly Jake prevent something that happened decades earlier?
Why it's here - Science fiction is at its best when it's not about science at all.  Sure, this episode is triggered by a subspace thingamajig, but does anyone really care about that?  This episode is about a son who can't let go after the death of his father, and a father's heartbreak at what pain and loss has cost his son. Tony Todd is a revelation as older Jake, and the bookends scenes with Jake and the young girl are just as compelling as the flashback scenes: "Oh, that's right; you want to be a writer someday."  Although only three on my list, this is the episode I use to show non-Trek fans just how good Star Trek can be.
2. “All Good Things…”TNG
Synopsis – In TNG’s series finale, Picard finds himself moving back and forth through time.  He soon finds out the shifts are not only not random, but could ultimately lead to the end of the human race.
Why it’s here -  Despite one of the most glaring plot flaws in the history of, well, anything, this is arguably the best series finale I've ever seen.  "All Good Things..." is essentially a thank you note to the fans, particularly the ones who had been there since the beginning.  Like seasoned travel guides, Stewart and director Winrich Kolbe deftly take us from one time to the next, never letting us get lost along the way.  Not only do we get to revisit moments from "Encounter at Farpoint,"** we also get a glimpse at a possible future, one in which things hadn't quite worked out for everyone. When they all gather for the card game at the end, we know everything's going to work out.  It's a fitting end to a terrific series.  When Q says, "Goodbye, Jean-Luc.  I'm going to miss you... But then again, all good things must come to an end," he's speaking for all of us.
 1. "In The Pale Moonlight" - DS9
 Synopsis - After posting his fourteenth casualty list, Captain Sisko turns to Garak to help him bring the Romulans into the war against the Dominion.  What begins as simple espionage draws Sisko down a slippery slope of deception, coercion, and worse as he must decide if he's willing to do whatever it takes to win the war.
 Why it's Here - This is what DS9 is all about, and what made it the best of the Treks.  DS9's mission is not to seek out new life and new civilizations; it's to boldly stay put and keep those civilizations from killing each other.  This episode deals with the complex realities of war and the terrible toll it takes, not on the battlefield but on one's soul.  Sisko is a good man who does bad because he has no choice.  He's willing to sacrifice his self respect and inner peace for a shot at saving billions of lives.  This episode is a tight, fast-paced political thriller with great acting by Avery Brooks as well as Stephen McHattie as the smug Romulan Senator Vreenak ("It's a FAAAKE!!!") and Andrew Robinson as Garak, the secret mastermind behind Sisko's plan.  Also, the bookend storytelling style (Sisko recalling the events into a personal log) which can often be intrusive, carries the story well and showcases the weight Sisko now must carry forever.  "I can live with it..."

         And my favorite characters...
  1. Dr. Julian Bashir
  1. Rom
  1. Khan Noonian Singh
  1. Commander Worf
  1. Montgomery "Scotty" Scott
  1. Commander William Riker
  1. Gul Dukat
  1. Ensign Ro Laren
  1. Kira Nirys
  1. Quark
  1. Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy
  1. Q
  1. Lt. Commander Data
  1. Captain Benjamin Sisko
  1. Elim Garak
  1. Odo
    The comparisons between Data and Spock have been numerous over the years, and for good reason, but the character that's truly taken up Spock's mantle is Odo.  He's out of place, swimming with emotional turbulence, but keeping it in check  out of his overpowering sense of duty.  He wants what he wants, but  he rarely pursues it, instead watching others enjoy their happiness while drowning his sorrows in security logs.  Eventually he does get the girl, in one of the most surprisingly awesome episodes ever.  "You're right, who needs dinner?"

  1. Emergency Medical Hologram (The Doctor***)
    He doesn't have the well-roundedness of Picard or the emotional turmoil of Odo or the iconic status of Spock; the EMH is here because he's a pure joy to watch.  Since his first scene in "The Caretaker" when he gets huffy at Ensign Kim for handing him a regular tricorder instead of a medical, he stole that series.   Despite the inherent logic flaws involved with a self-aware hologram, there's never a moment that doesn't seem real, and Robert Picardo's nuanced performance carries us through even the goofiest moments, like losing his arm fighting a holographic Grendel.  Combine the best parts of Data and Dr. McCoy, add a healthy dose of curmudgeon, and you have one of the most original and delightful characters Star Trek has ever produced.

  1.  Chief Miles O'Brien 
    Chief O'Brien also wins my Star Trek Character Special Achievement Award.****  Do you remember "Encounter at Farpoint"?  I know you've tried hard to forget that episode, as have I, but remember the helmsman when they separated the saucer section?  That's O'Brien, though they hadn't given the character a name.  That was as throwaway a role as you can get - he even had a red shirt - yet O'Brien came back, little by little, an "energizing now, Sir" here, an "I can't get a lock on him" there, until he became a fully fleshed out human being, one of TNG's few recurring characters.  There's nothing flashy about him; he's a regular working stiff with a family trying to get by like the rest of us.  And that's his appeal.  It's like someone snatched the local mechanic out of O'Leary's Pub and dropped him onto a space station.  One of the best moments in Star Trek is in "The Wounded" when O'Brien has to talk down his former captain and the two of them sing "The Minstrel Boy" in memory of the fallen comrades.

  1.  Captain Jean-Luc Picard
    This is really more of an acting accolade than anything else.  Without Patrick Stewart's brilliantly nuanced performance in what could have been nothing more than a wet sock/stuffed shirt role, Captain Picard might not have made it of that Borg Cube in Season Three.  Instead, he became the symbol of cool presence under pressure.  Very rarely rarely did we see Picard flustered, even when we did, he never lost control.  He was a Renaissance man in a Renaisance time: a military man, an architect, a diplomat.  The creators clearly wanted an anti-Kirk, and what they got ended up being so much more.  We also got to see his dark side in episodes like "I, Borg" and First Contact.  He nearly sacrificed everything feeding his obsession with the Borg.  Picard was an icon, a role model, a giant among men.  But he was by no means perfect, which is good.  Perfect is boring.

  1.  Spock 
    Really who else could it be?  If I were to make a list of best TV characters period, Spock would have shot at number one.  Here it's no contest.  Spock is who drew me into Star Trek.  I wanted to be Spock.  While Kirk was out having pissing contests with half the galaxy, Spock's reserved wisdom and cool yet somewhat sorrowful introspection made the show and set a template for other iconic Trek characters.  We wouldn't have Data or Odo without Spock.  Hell, without Spock, we wouldn't have Star Trek.

 * Um...yeah.
** And it didn't suck this time!
*** No, not that one.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    You’re So Vain, I Bet You Think This Post is About You*

    will-ferrell-anchorman-258x130A little more than ten years ago I lost my job.  It was a massive layoff, and being new to the company, I was an easy choice for the axe.  It was rather devastating, since I had just entered a field I thought was pretty secure.  Anyway, I moped around for about two weeks and finally decided I needed to get a job.  I didn’t figure there’d be any openings in my field since about a third of company had been sacked and was out there looking, so I opened up the paper to see what else there was.

    I answered one of those obscure “make up to $1000 a week” blah blah blah ads.  Turns out it was a company training people to sell Kirby vacuum cleaners. 

    Yes, I was a vacuum cleaner salesman.  Sort of.

    The Kirby Vacuum Cleaner is an amazing machine.  You could vacuum your carpet with the top of the line brand available in stores then have it professionally steam cleaned, and the Kirby will still find dirt.  If I remember correctly (and don’t quote me) it runs about $1400, and tightwad that I am, I still don’t think that’s overpriced.  In fact, I could talk to you all day about how awesome this machine is.  I could even demonstrate its wonders for you.  But could I sell it to you?

    Hell no.

    I can’t sell.  Period.  I’ve never been able to.  You could have something in your hand on the way to the cash register to pay for it, and I could say, “Hey, you should buy that.”  You’d probably put it back.  That’s how bad I am.  Naturally, my personal Willie Loman Experience died a still birth as I realized this simple truth.  Fortunately, two weeks later I found a real job.  A good one, too.

    I won’t even tell you about my one week telemarketing career.

    Anyway, that’s one of the reasons, at least one of the initial reasons, I started this blog and why a lot of writers have blogs: to sell themselves.  “Build a platform,” they say.  But a platform isn’t just about being seen; it’s about convincing people you have something to offer.  Another thing you hear a lot, a caveat, is don’t be vain.  Don’t let your ego run amok.  Be humble.

    I’ve never been a “Hey, look how awesome I am,” or “Let me tell you about the time I did something amazing.”  I’m just not wired that way.  For people who spend time with me or who read my blog, that’s wholly a good thing.  An out of control ego is not something anyone wants to be around.  On the other hand, in our line of work, a little ego is a good thing, even a necessary thing.  Would I be blogging if I didn’t think I had anything to say?  I’m good at it, if I can say that.  I’m no master, but I think it’s worth the five minutes or so to stop by and check it out.

    Selling is hard, though, and that’s what we are: salespeople.  Please buy my book, please review my book/interview me, please finish beta reading my MS before you disappear off the face of the earth.  We have to have egos; we just need to learn how to use them for good, not evil.  An acting teacher of mine said you have to keep your ego in your pocket and only pull it out when you need to, then put it back.  I think my ego pocket has a hole in it, or else my ego got ruined in the wash.  On the flip side, some people don’t have pockets at all, and their egos are always on display.  So where’s the line?

    I think it starts with confidence, but it’s more than that.  I’m confident in my book, and in myself as a writer.  I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t.  But to shout my own praise from the rooftops?  That takes a kind of boisterous, extroverted confidence that maybe I just don’t have.  But since that’s kind of necessary to the whole selling-your-book thing, I’m going to give it a try.

    So here goes:

    My book is good.  I’ve never been more proud of anything I’ve done.  When it becomes available, you should buy it.  I know you’ll like it.

    I joke around on here a lot, and I like to keep the mood light, if not downright flippant.  However, I say this with complete honesty and zero snark: that was hard for me.

    It’s not because I don’t believe in my work.  I do.  I love the world I created, and I think others will, too.  But I’ve always felt the product should speak for itself; if something is good, it shouldn’t need to be sold, right?  Also, I hate tooting my own horn.  My least favorite part of job interviews is when they want you to list your best qualities.  I’d rather just be myself and let my best qualities show through.  But it doesn’t work that way.  People want you to tell them why you’re so great, why your book out of the hundreds of thousands out there is the one they should plunk down their hard earned coins for.  It’s not enough to say, “Hey, here’s my book; check it out if you want, or not.  Whatever.”  People need to be sold.

    That’s not me, though, never has been.  But then, if I want a writing career, I have to make it me, don’t I? 

    I can do it, though, because I’m awesome.  Just ask me.

    * Don’t you, don’t you?

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    Letting My Geek Flag Fly

    Hi.  My name is Dan, and I’m a nerd.*  This should come as a surprise to no one who knows me, or has ever had a conversation with me, or has ever read a word I’ve written.  And that’s fine.  I embrace my nerd-hood.

    On Tuesday, my oldest son took me out for an early Father’s Day.  We ate out, saw Thor (highly recommended), and spent time at both a book store** and a comic book store.  It was a lot of fun.  One of the things we bought at the comic shop was a Dungeons and Dragons starter kit. 

    Yep, the truth is out: I role-play. 

    Actually, I haven’t role-played in nearly twenty years, but in my youth I played everything from Heroes Unlimited to Cyberpunk to Paranoia.  It was a lot of fun, and in the pre-online, internet, X-box world, it was how it was done.


    Comic from

    For those of you not familiar with role-playing, here’s how it works.  Anywhere from three to seven or eight guys (and, yes, they’re usually guys, but not always) get together with their game system of choice.  One guy’s the Game Master, which means he runs the adventure, and the rest play characters.  Essentially, the GM narrates a story in which the players are the central characters.  They describe in detail or even act out their actions, the GM gives them a goal to accomplish, then throws conflict and obstacles at them, and they work together to accomplish the task set out for them.  In the process, they build a story together, a tale of personal growth, conflict, triumph of the will, yada yada.

    In short, role-playing is like acting out your own book.

    Say what you will, but role-playing truly stimulates the imagination.  These days all kids have to do is plug in an internet connection and stare at screen all day, a screen filled with a ready made, pixelated world.  Traditional role-playing requires you to use your imagination, to work together with your mates to create a world unique to that place and moment.  Traditional role-playing is never about the objective; it’s about the experience.

    Anyway, I want my boys to have they same experience.  I want them to lift their noses out of their computer and X-box and iPhones, and not only see the world around them, but also the fantastic worlds that exist inside their imaginations.  Imagination is a muscle,*** and it’ll atrophy if not used.  Or worse, it’ll never develop in the first place.

    Speaking of nerds, I want to give a plug to my friend “Lennon” (don’t know if he wants me to use his real name, he’s kind of incognito).  He recently, with my urging, started a blog called Titan’s Folly.  It’s all about Geekdom: Sci-fi, horror, comics books, role-playing.  Anything nerdy is fair game.  If you’re into that kind of stuff (and admit it, you are) go check him out.  He’ll be glad you stopped by.

    *Hi, Dan.

    ** Yes, they still exist.

    *** It’s not a muscle.

    Tuesday, May 31, 2011


    Hi.  I’m back.

    Why was I gone so long, you ask?  Oh, you didn’t.  Didn’t actually realize I was away?  Oh.  I see.  Hmm.  No, good, that’s…um…good.

    Well, I’ll tell you anyway.  You see, I was up in my parents’ attic, and we found all this really old, really cool stuff.  Well, one thing led to another, and we found ourselves at this abandoned restaurant.  Only, it wasn’t abandoned; a gang of crooks was using it as a hideout.  Well, they discovered us, and to get away from them, we had to navigate these caves that were littered with boobie traps, and… no, wait, that’s The Goonies.  The real reason I’ve been gone?

    Work and stuff.


    I’ve made some changes here, streamlined a bit.  I’m trying to make it look more professional, whatever that looks like.  I hoping to increase not only my followers but my presence on the web.  I’m ambitious these days, which is a new sensation for me.  Though I’ve lacked it, I’ve always felt ambition, not talent, was the key to success.  There are a lot of talentless celebrities, but few, if any, successful types without ambition. 

    I love to write, and love connecting with people particularly through my blog.  The rest of it, though, not so much.  I suck at querying, no other way to say it.  And surprisingly, I’ve not yet fallen in love with the process of actually sending out those queries.  On a good day, it’s monotonous.  On a bad day, it’s like a root canal on your soul. 

    The point of the above paragraph?  Wah!  Get over it.  If it was all fun all the time, everyone’d be doing it, right*?  I’ve already taken some key steps on the road to publication (fingers crossed that they work out), and I’ve got more plans brewing.  Also, I’ve been writing again, a lot**.  What’s the opposite of “when it rains it pours”?  “When the sun shines it goes nova and we all die”?  Sure, why not.

    I’ve also made changes to the content.  I’ve tried hard to keep this blog focused on writing as well as publishing in general.  I’ll still stay true to that, but writing is about experience, it’s about commentary.  It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a YA romance, or the next product off the James Patterson assembly line.  Or a science fiction tale of a girl struggling to save her planet.  We write about life in all its glory and all its hideousness, and damn it, I plan to talk about it.

    I may even touch on tricky subjects like politics and religion, but don’t worry, these are basically my views:

    Politics: Why can’t we all work together?  We tried the other way.  It doesn’t work.

    Religion: Be nice to each other.

    Anyway, the reverse of “Welcome back”.  I’ve missed you.  I’ve missed this.  Hopefully you’ll stick around for more.  And as always, thanks for listening.

    Oh, and let me know if this font’s too small.

    * Although doesn’t it seem, sometimes, that everyone else is doing it?  Seriously?

    ** For me, anyway.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    Alphabet Soup

    A-Z April[1]Well, if you haven’t already noticed, I kind of fizzled on the A to Z challenge.  Had I been able to preschedule the posts as I’d planned, it would been no problem.  But between work and home life and trying to write actual books, posting everyday (sans Sundays) became too much of a load. 

    I haven’t given up on blogging, though, and some of the posts I had planned will find their way into my blog in the coming weeks.  For now, though, I’m going to focus on being a reader.  I’ve got a blogs to catch up on.

    Saturday, April 23, 2011

    Not for an Age

    A to Z BLOGFEST – click sidebar button for more ‘A to Z’ers

    T: Theatre as Literature

    4959I write novels. I guess that makes me a novelist. You would think because of that, my favorite writer of all time would be a novelist – you know, following-in-the-footsteps kind of thing. Yet not only did he never write a novel, but the very concept of the novel didn’t exist while he lived. He was a poet and a playwright (of which I am neither), and today is his birthday.


    Despite a childhood dominated by Star Wars and an adolescence influenced by Star Trek, Monty Python, and Comic Books, there’s not a time when I don’t remember at least knowing about William Shakespeare. Not until my teens did I actually begin to understand him as well as the awesome potential of the written word. I devoured all his works; I saw every Shakespeare film I could get a hold of. I acted in Shakespeare’s plays.

    Now that I’m “grown up,” and no longer think it’d be a great idea to write a play in iambic pentameter, my love of Shakespeare has only grown. Through contrived plots, stylized dialogue, and low brow humor to rival the Farrelly Brothers, Shakespeare somehow managed to create a window into the human condition like no other writer before or since. He explored the psychology of his characters centuries before anyone knew what Psychology was. He wrote plays that were both fantastic literary achievements and completely accessible to all audiences, even a rowdy auditorium of high school students four centuries later. He was a master. The master.

    Happy Birthday, Will.

    Friday, April 22, 2011

    Secret Stash

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    S: Story Ideas

    images (2)I’m not really paranoid about protecting information. I bank online; all my contact info (barring home address and phone number) is readily available on this blog. And since the beginning, I’ve not only used my real name here, but I haven’t been shy about throwing it around. What’s the point of building a platform if no one can see who’s standing on it?

    I also haven’t been shy with my MS, either. I talk about it a lot, the query is posted here in three different places, and I even named three of my dogs after characters from it. Again, the more people know about it, the more they may want to know. I want people interested; I want people to talk about it.

    Maybe I’m being naïve about internet safety, but I just don’t feel the threat most people do. My mantra: “I’m not important enough to steal from.” Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, but it works for me.

    On the other hand, I have three projects I’m actively working on, and several more ideas after that, and you know what? I’m not saying a word about them. No overview, no blurb, no hints. Nada. Maybe I’m being paranoid, and to this point, as far I know, no one has actually stolen an idea from me, but countless times I’ve come up with a great idea only to discover it had actually been done years ago.

    I recently had an idea for a dark version of Hansel and Gretel taking place after the fact. Guess what? Hansel and Gretel, Witch Hunters coming to a theatre near you, Spring 2012.

    The point is, original ideas are hard to come by, and I’m a slow writer. Someone could latch onto my idea and bang out a query-ready MS while I’m still halfway through the first draft. I’m not saying anyone would intentionally steal my idea, but where do our ideas come from? I accidentally stole from Firefly and didn’t even realize it until years later when I Googled “Unification Day”.

    What do you think? Am I wrong to keep my ideas under lock and key, or to think anyone even cares about them? Or is it smart to keep your WiP’s under wraps under they’re fully prepared to face the world in all their glory?

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    I Want to Write You Like an Animal

    A to Z BLOGFEST - click "next blog" or "surprise" button on sidebar for more "A to Z"ers

    N: Nonhuman Narrators

    320Last summer after I’d finally finished my first MS and after I thought I had finished revisions (note for those just starting out: you’re never done with revisions*) I did what logic and the 19,000 writing books I had told me was the next step. I researched the hell out of literary agents. Everywhere I could find info on an agent, I went. Eventually I developed a fairly efficient system and had come across probably several hundred agent sites. I bookmarked the ones that showed an interest in adult SF from an unpublished author and began researching them in detail.

    Along with the usual detritus: proper query format, no attachments, don’t ever, ever, EVER call us, I noticed on several agent sites a very unusual and specific caveat: no animal narrators.

    Why? Has there been a glut in animal narrator submissions, or is there just something anathema about Fido (or Fluffy, or Trigger) telling a story? If there can be 700 million** vampire novels, and a clamor for more, then what is it that causes agents and publishers to slap a “no dogs allowed” sign on the proverbial storefront window?

    I happen to like stories told from an unusual POV. I also like characters I can root for, characters struggling to survive (literally or figuratively) against overwhelming odds.  Who doesn’t love the underdog, and who’s more of a underdog than animals, who are at the mercy of their environment?  Pets get abused or abandoned (or worse) everyday; wild animals suffer not only from the harsh realities of nature, but also from human encroachment. 

    I find stories of survival against impossible odds and perseverance through terrible events fascinating and fulfilling.  Your character doesn’t have to be human to epitomize the triumph of the human spirit, whether it’s a group of homeless rabbits, a pampered pet who suddenly finds himself a sled dog in Alaska, or Robert E. Lee’s trusted horse, an entire kingdom (literally) awaits the intrepid writer (and reader) willing to ignore convention. 

    Although I’ve read plenty of books with animal narrators, I never considered writing a book from an animal’s POV.  At least not until I’d read those decrees forbidding me from even thinking about it.  Since then, several furry-themed notions have been dancing around my head.  If they coalesce into a solid MS, I guess I’ll have to go it without an agent.

    Unless, of course, I made them vampires, too, then I’m home free.  Because, you know, there’s never enough of those, apparently.


    **just the ones I’ve seen; there may be more.

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    I Am in Blogs Stepped in So Far…

    A to Z BLOGFEST - click "next blog" or "surprise" button on sidebar for more "A to Z"ers

    M: Midway Point Check-In

    A-Z April[1]It’s April 15th, Tax Day (although it’s been pushed back to Monday this year). I could have used M for “Money” and written a post about it, but why bring everyone down? Besides, I took take of my taxes in January, then took care of the refund in February.

    No, this is a quick first half review of the A to Z Blogfest, for which all these April posts have been written.  So far, I’ve managed to post all the letters, despite being what some people refer to as a “pantser” (not sure if I like that term).  My directory’s taken a few hits as some of the posts are not on the subject I’d originally intended.  Also, I’ve copped out a few times, posting a rerun for K and a video from Sesame Street* for I.  Still, I’m not only am I squeaking by on my letters, but I’ve written a few decent posts (if I’m allowed to say that) that I wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

    On the other hand, I’ve really sucked at commenting.  I started out pretty good, but lately I’ve only managed to get to a few blogs a day, if that.  In fact, I’m backlogged on responding to the comments I’ve gotten.  I think I’m just now on the H’s.  I will get to them all, though.  Hopefully.  Maybe.  In the meantime, I offer a blanket thank you to everyone who’s commented and/or followed since this fest began.

    The bottom line: I’m having a good and writing more (blogs, sure, but writing is writing), so I’d call it a success.



    *yes, Sesame Street.

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    A Thousand Points of Lit

    A to Z BLOGFEST - click "next blog" or "surprise" button on sidebar for more "A to Z"ers

    L: Literature

    I was never an English Major.  I was a theatre major, an education major, and even that last refuge for the truly undecided: a communications major.  For some reason, though, I never tackled the big E.  I loved books and thought myself a writer-to-be, but I never thought to go that route academically.  As a result, I only took the basic English classes, and my only Literature class besides the theatre-related classes like Shakespeare was American Lit 101 (or however they numbered it).  As a result, I never got the academic deluge of literary theory that most writers get. 

    Comic from Check ‘em out.

    Does it make me a lesser writer?  I don’t think so.  If I am a lesser writer, it’s because of my talent level, or because I don’t spend as much time as I should on it.  It’s not because I didn’t spend my twenties reading critical essays on Dickens or analyzing the use of the letter “R” in Thomas Hardy’s later works.*

    One thing I did lose in the exchange, though, was my ability to discuss the ins and outs of literary theory with any kind of intelligence.  In fact, I struggle to answer the basic question: what is Literature?

    What makes a book literary as opposed to just a good book?  Beats me.  I can give you examples: Moby Dick, Fahrenheit 451, The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay, and can give you examples of those that are just good books: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Watership Down, The Shining, American Gods.  What I can’t tell you is why.

    Does it matter?  For practical purposes, no, not really.  I don’t have any designs on writing literary fiction; I just want to write good fiction that people enjoy.  As for reading, my tastes are eclectic, and I really don’t care what others think of them.  I’ll read Terry Pratchett if I want, or I’ll read James Joyce.  Actually, I like to switch between quick reads and things a little more challenging.

    Anyway, not being able to offer a concrete definition hasn’t adversely affected me or my writerly pursuits so far.  Maybe there is no true definition after all, maybe it’s as subjective as art.  I read a comment on another blog that argued passionately that The Hunger Games was literature.

    So at least I’m not the only one that doesn’t get it.

    * I made that up, but there’s probably a book out there.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Requiem for a Grumpy Kitty (Redux)

    A to Z BLOGFEST - click "next blog" or "surprise" button on sidebar for more "A to Z"ers

    K: Kitty

    The A-Z’s have officially kicked my butt.  If this were an official contest, I’d probably be disqualified for cheating.  Since it’s not, what follows is a rerun – er, “classic” post.  Since I posted this in late October when I had like, five followers, it’s probably new to most of you.  It’s also my favorite post.



    As I type this, it’s T-minus twelve hours to the start of NaNo; by rights, I should be scribbling  a post about writing: my anticipation and trepidation about the month ahead, personal tips or maybe a pep talk, even an anecdote from my writing life.  However, circumstances have intervened, and this post has nothing to do with writing.

    rgk2It’s Halloween morning, and I’m in my back yard burying a cat (a dead one – I’m not like that).  Early yesterday morning our oldest cat, Digit, died.  It came as no surprise and in fact, was something of a relief.  He’d been sick about a month, a tumor-like growth that he’d had on his side for years ruptured and slowly began eating away at him.  I’ll save save you the gory details, but eventually it was just too much for him.  Even before he got sick, we new his days were numbered; he’d been on a sort of “death watch” for a couple of years now.  I guess I should mention he was twenty years old.

    Digit was a shelter kitten.  My brother-in-law, Chad, got him as a birthday present for my sister.  Digit and Leonard, a female tabby mix, stayed with Michelle and Chad for five years until the couple’s first baby was born.  Neither cat took to the new arrival, and Michelle and Chad scrambled to find a home for them.  Almost to the week of their asking me, I had broken up with my live-in, allergic-to-cats girlfriend, and with a suddenly empty apartment, I took the refugees in.

    Over a month into our co-habitation, I still had barely seen either cat.  Only the tousled litter of the cat box and the dwindling food and water levels were the only hints that I even had cats.  Eventually, as we all do, they came to terms with their situation; the mom and the dad, and even the strange crying, pooping thing that had been their world were gone.  rgk3This apartment with that strange guy they kind of knew was their world now.  Leonard was fat and happy; she loved attention, especially if she didn’t have to move to get it.  Digit, however, wanted nothing to do with anybody.  He accepted the apartment, and later the house, as his home, but it was just that: his home.  I heard it described somewhere that dogs have masters, but cats have staff, and that was true of Digit, who was soon to earn the affectionate nickname “Grumpy”.

    Routinely, he’d sit on a desk or counter and face the wall, staring at it for hours.  He’d let you pet him, sometimes, but only on his terms.  Every once in a while, I’d violate his house policy, and he would voice his displeasure in creative ways.  Once, he peed on me while I was sleeping.

    Leonard’s death changed him, however.  He was still grumpy, but he became more tolerant.  Instead of the jerk that kicks your chair out from behind you, he became the old curmudgeon, cranky and irritable, but always willing to sneak in a kind word or deed when no one’s looking.  He was with me when my first marriage fell apart, and through my sometimes disastrous attempts to put my life back together.  Eventually we found Kristy and her boys, and her cat, Keiko.  We added three dogs and a few more cats to the mix, and Digit was recognized by all as the elder statesman of the four-legged family members.  He even became the alpha dog somehow.  He would never admit it, but he was happy.

    rgk4Digit collapsed Friday night walking to the kitchen (food was his passion).  I gave him a bath, redressed his wound, and put him in bed.  The last few hours of his life were as comfortable as I could make them, wrapped in blankets and snuggled between his mom and his dad.  When I woke up in the morning he was gone.  His eyes were open, but there was nothing in them.  I let him rest there a while longer, then wrapped him in a towel and put him in a box.  When I went to gather all the linen for the laundry, I noticed a wet spot on the bed; death must have released his bladder.  Digit’s last act on this plane was to pee on my bed.

    He would’ve wanted it that way.

    Thank you for indulging me.  He was more than a cat; it’s hard to explain.  My next post will have something remotely to do with writing, I promise.


    Digit the Cat


    Thanks for letting me cheat.  No more reruns for the rest of the month (maybe).

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    Jenny Say What?

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    J: Je ne sais quoi

    FerrisSo what makes a good novel? Better question, what makes a great novel? An entire industry has sprung up over the years to try to answer that question, or at least to convince the askers that it even can be answered. I have a whole shelf, a long one, dedicated to books about writing. They teach you the craft. They can even give you advice on how to maximize your natural talents. But not one of them can teach you how to make even one person fall in love with your book. And that’s what we want, isn’t it? Sure some people are about the money, or the awards, but ultimately, we all want to be read. We want readers to embrace our writing, to devour our words. We want them to fall in love with our books.

    How do we that? By honing our craft? That’s part of it, I guess. A book that can’t convey its message because the author doesn’t understand the fundamentals will be hard to read, much less embrace. But does mastery of craft guarantee undying adoration? No, of course not.

    How about plotting, or storytelling? Maybe it’s the slick use of metaphor or irony or even alliteration that takes their breath away. Maybe not. So what is it? What’s the secret formula that can take your book from a pretty good book to a book whose characters people will name their children after?

    The answer is, I don’t know what. Like, literally, that’s the answer. The French call it je ne sais quoi, or “I don’t know what”. It refers to a quality that exists but can’t be defined. Millions of teenage girls don’t love with a passion the Twilight series because of the way Stephanie Meyer crafts her sentences or her use of imagery or dramatic irony. They love it because they love it. Are there other YA books out there that are just as good or better? I’m sure there are. But something about Twilight speaks to them the way the others just don’t.

    As writers, we spend small fortunes on writing books, we attend conferences hoping the price of admission includes the secret to writing books people love, we agonize over query letters that ultimately mean nothing, since a good query does not necessarily mean a good book, and vice versa. So how are we as writers supposed to not only recognize this elusive something but capture it, giving our books that same immeasurable appeal? Well here’s the answer:

    I don’t know.

    What I do know is, you should write what you feel, write with passion, write with the writerly equivalent of Vincent Van Gogh, who painted with such fire and passion, it was as though he were leaving his entire being on the canvas, write as though your heart will explode if you don’t. If your voice is strong, if it’s bursting open with fire, people will hear it. Think about craft and structure and “the rules,” but don’t agonize over them. Write a book for you. Empty yourself into it, and people will find it. And they’ll embrace it.

    And they might not even know why.