Sunday, August 30, 2009

Going Negative

Myra, at her blog Writing Finally, brought it strong today as she scolded bloggers/wannabe authors who trash published writers and their work. I encourage you to read her post, but since some of you are afraid of links, her main points were these:

1. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.
2. The publishing world is small, and when you attack a writer you may be hurting your own publishing chances, because not only are you ragging on the writer, but on every person in the industry that championed the writer's work.

I'd like to respond, and in doing so, I intend to denounce a trend I've both read about and witnessed on writers' blogs.

First, some of the criticism is out-of-bounds. Myra uses Stephenie Meyer as an example. Full disclosure: I read the first three Twilight books and didn't especially care for them. It's not that I have a problem with vampire books. I could even overlook the often purplish prose and the overuse of certain adjectives (smoldering). I didn't care for the main character, Bella. I was hoping one of the Cullens might enjoy her with some fava beans. For me, that did it, but I'm a picky reader.

I think the above is fair criticism. I think far more critical criticism is also fair. What is not fair is to personally insult the woman who wrote the book. Ripping on Ms. Meyer for being a Mormon or for being a stay-at-home mom before she hit it big or for what she chooses to wear to the tabernacle is below the belt and just looks petty. That said, when you write something as popular as the Twilight series, you're going to bring out the crazies on both sides.

What bothers me are the bloggers/wannabe authors who take Myra's advice too far and never, I mean flat-out refuse, to write anything critical of any book ever. A lot of these folks claim to be book reviewers.

Roger Ebert did not only review movies he liked. John Green does not have the luxury of reviewing only those books he enjoys.* If you're going to claim to be a reviewer, you have an obligation to share both those books you think are excellent and those you think blow a big one. Otherwise, you risk losing all credibility and end up like my Uncle Dell,** who has never seen a movie he didn't love. When Uncle Dell talks movies, I smile politely and think about something else. (How much bread we have left, for instance.)

To not review a book because you're worried about hurting your own chances in the publishing industry strikes me as particularly weaselly. It also doesn't say much about your opinion of those in the publishing industry. Writers, both published and unpublished, regularly soothe their own egos by telling themselves that this is a "subjective business." Agents tell writers the same: "Don't take it personally; it's very subjective." Yet we assume that if writers (or agents or publishers) read a bad review they're going to forget all that subjectivity crap, add the reviewer's name to their enemies list, and make damn sure that little punk never gets published. Come on. Writers (and agents and publishers) are grown-ups. They can take a little fair criticism. And if they can't, maybe they're playing in the wrong game.

Agent Michael Stearns says it better than I can when he explains why he hates not ranking books he "loathes" on Goodreads:

But I hate doing that. Feels monstrously cowardly to me. Part of what Goodreads is about—the part of it that I love—is that it is a dialogue about books and how well they work (or, if they don’t work very well, why they don’t). It is not a bleacher full of cheerleaders. It’s a giant book club, and my friends and I, we’re there to discuss what we read. I may not love your novel, but who cares? I am just one person. (And have you met me? I’m a tin-eared crank, “nothing but a young curmudgeon” according to one old lady who shook her cane at me after the Rutger’s One-on-One a few years back. Who cares if I like your published novel?) But politeness suggests I need to play nice with others and never say a word against anything by anyone who may later be a position to help one of my clients. So I censor myself.

It seems that of all the people who should not be censoring themselves, those who ardently defend the First Amendent and become righteously indignant when a book is banned should be at the front of the line.

And they should bring their bad reviews with them.

*In this link, John apologizes for a bad review he wrote of Lauren Myracle's ttyl. It's a good post, but my favorite thing is that Lauren Myracle responds in the comments. Her view is in line with mine: Sure, bad reviews stink, but writers have to deal with them. As Ms. Myracle says, "Only whiner babies make a stink."

**I don't have an Uncle Dell, but I do know someone who thinks all movies are great. I've used "Uncle Dell" to protect the guilty.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Message Sent and Received

I hear you Murphblog readers. When I brilliantly connected the greatest song in the history of rock and roll to writing, you yawned. When I bared my soul and shared one of my precious gastrointestinal distress poems, you checked your watch like a former President listening to his wife talk. But when in the context of a midly entertaining anecdote about swimming with my cell phone I mentioned that we at the Murph household do not have a land line, impassioned discussion took place in the comments.

So I hear you. You obviously do not visit this award-winning blog to read about the craft of writing. You do not wish to be subjected to my poetry. You're far more interested in the minutiae of my life. Fine. I understand. Really, I do. My life is fascinating.

Why, just last week I went shopping at Kohl's and promptly misplaced the "Kohl's Cash" that The Wife was going to use to buy new clothes for our daughter. She seems to think Little One should be attired in clothing that actually fits. I couldn't find the "Kohl's Cash" anywhere, so I was forced to look in the only place I hadn't--the curby. But when I opened the curby, what did I find? Maggots! Scores of them! As we had never had maggots in our curby before, I think it's safe to assume the Kohl's Cash was somewhere in there and that it had attracted flies.

And then, just yesterday, I went to Office Max to buy folders for my classroom. And they had them! For one penny apiece! As I needed about a hundred, this was an exceptional find. Until I read the sign notifying me that there was a limit of six per customer. I asked an Office Max guy if I was missing something and he said no, they were in fact one cent. "But you can only buy six," he warned. I responded, "Whose brilliant idea was that?" He said, "Not ours."

I've yet to unravel the logic behind this strategy. Normally, products get priced low because a store wants to get rid of them. Since that's obviously not the reason in this case, perhaps they were attempting altruism. In their little, pea-sized minds, they were helping struggling familes who only need to buy a couple of folders for their kids. But I'm pretty sure a family who needs a couple of folders would be willing to pay ten, twenty, maybe even fifty cents per folder. Folders don't typically break the bank. The best I can figure is that Office Max is using the one penny folders to lure educators like me into the store in the hopes that I buy something else, because who in their right mind is going to only spend six cents? They then hope that I will keep returning to the store, buying six folders and other assorted Office Max crap each time, until I have acquired the total number of folders needed and they have taken me for a swift ride on the Fleecing Express.

Well they're not going to get me. I have a way to punish these foolish retailers. It is called my debit card. I did a little online research and it seems that retailers pay between $0.35 and $0.55 per debit card transaction. So if I only buy the six folders, Office Max will lose 29-49 cents each time. Bwahaaahaaa! Maybe, after ten visits, they'll see the light and let me buy in bulk.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Poem for Your...Uh, Enjoyment?

My stomach is a’rumbling

But I’m stuck here in the car

We’re out in the middle of nowhere

The next bathroom’s pretty far

My forehead is a’sweating

My insides sure do ache

I’d feel better if I farted

But that’s a risk I just can’t take

Cause something might start running

Down the insides of my jeans

So I guess I’ll have to bear it

And swear off Grandma’s beans

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The "Get Away" Moment

I'm just going to assume that, being the ultra-hip people you are, you agree that Chicago's "Hard to Say I'm Sorry/Get Away" is probably the best song ever recorded. I'm sure you also know why, but I ask your indulgence anyway.

"Hard to Say I'm Sorry" is nice. By itself, it's a better than average song. You've got Peter Cetera and his smooth voice and even smoother hair. You've got the piano at the beginning. You've got the song slowly building throughout and getting more awesome by the second, until Cetera sings, "You're gonna be the lucky one" and the piano dribbles out a few more notes and you think it's over. Ahh, what a satisfying song, you say to yourself.

And then--BOOM!--the greatest minute-and-a-half in rock and roll history. "Get Away" is unleashed and the song goes from mild-mannered ballad to a head-bangin', horn-blarin', "When-we-get-there-gonna-jump-in-the-air"-shoutin' masterpiece.

Go ahead and click below. You can skip ahead to the 3:25 mark if you must (believe me, I'd understand), but "Get Away" is more effective if it's experienced in context. You need that slow build.

It strikes me that the song has what all great novels have. Many books I read start out okay. They're good enough to keep me interested. But the memorable ones, at some point, have something that knocks my socks off. There's a chapter in The Art of Racing in the Rain where the dog rides in a race car with his owner. I know nothing about racing, but that chapter made the hairs on my arms stand to attention. When I got to the end, I wanted to shout out, "Yes!" It was that inspirational.

Sometimes the "Get Away" moment is beautiful and true writing, sometimes it's a plot twist, sometimes it's an unforgettable secondary character, but I think all of us strive to write something like Chicago accomplished with that last minute-thirty. Something that makes a reader scoot to the edge of his seat, say to himself, "Ooh, this is different. Here is something. This is good. Honey, you've got to read this."

(Of course, let's not forget the importance of execution. To see a truly horrific version so that you may appreciate Chicago even more, watch this. (And don't forget to read the comments. You have to love Youtube comments.)

Stay tuned: I can't get the song out of my head and I'm 90% sure I can sing better than the guy in the above link, so I'm going to embarrass myself for your entertainment. Probably tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Sometimes Episodic YA Novel

Now that my middle grade novel is off and sitting cozily inside Secret Asian Man's electronic reading device, I have turned my attention back to my young adult book. I wrote the first draft last August and September and have reread and tinkered with it off and on for the last year. I always hesitate to label it as "humorous" because that seems a little too self-assured. Yes, I think it's funny, but that doesn't mean anyone else will. (That last sentence pretty much sums up how I feel about this blog. Good thing I write it mostly to entertain myself.)

So let's say it's a "supposed-to-be-humorous young adult novel about a seventeen-year-old boy on vacation with his parents."* (Hyphen Alert!) It has many warts. The largest wart is that it's often episodic, especially in the early going. The family's in a car for twenty hours, and to make that part interesting, I wrote in some supposed-to-be-funny scenes that don't have a whole lot to do with anything else in the story.

So I need some advice. (Although be forewarned: I may ignore it.) Should I:

A. Take out the offending scenes and replace them with something more plotty?
B. Try to find a way to make the scenes that are already there more relevant to the rest of the story? (Most likely by adding things later in the story that impart significance on the earlier scenes.)
C. Say the hell with it and leave it as is.

And what are people's opinions on episodic novels anyway? Do they bother you? When you read, do you feel that every scene (no matter how unbelievably hilarious) must contribute something to the plot? Must every scene move the story forward? Are these expectations lowered at all for a supposed-to-be-humorous book?

And one more thing: I'll be needing readers in another few weeks. This one won't be as polished as the middle grade, but it's close to being presentable right now. I'll mostly be looking for the answer to these questions: Does this story work for you? Should I continue working on it? And because in real life, I'm actually insecure: Is it funny?

*It's about more than that, but this post isn't about my pitch.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Yet Another Blogging Award

Long time readers of Murphblog know that this is, in fact, an award-winning enterprise. Newer readers surely suspected as much. So it should come as no surprise that I've been recognized yet again for my blogging brilliance.

The lovely Myra has once again demonstrated impeccable taste* by presenting me with the Superior Scribbler blog award. It is, of course, much deserved.

The problem with this award is that it comes with cumbersome strings attached. There are five rules I'm now supposed to follow, which sucks, because as everyone knows, people who win awards shouldn't have to follow rules. [Exhibit A] Therefore, I'm going to ignore them and do as I wish. GUIDELINES ARE FOR THE UNCREATIVE.

Instead of passing this award on to five deserving bloggers whose work I enjoy, I am going to give it to blogs that I've never read. Instead of adding my name to the "Mr. Linky List" (as if I'd want my name associated with such foolishness), I am going to make fun of the Mr. Linky List. (I called it foolish, in case you missed it.) And instead of posting these rules on this award-winning blog, I am going to flaunt the rules.

And now, I present the Superior Scribbler award to the following blogs, whether they deserve it or not:

1. Becca at Becca's Cross Stitch--she blogs about--you guessed it!-- cross-stitching.

2. Nameless at Reflexology-Foot Massage--a blog about foot reflexology written in English by a French person. I guess the French don't give a hoot about foot reflexology.

3. Star Wars Blog--This claims to be the official blog of It was last updated on January 21, 2009. I know there hasn't been a new movie in a while, but come on, you're Star Wars. You can't think of a single thing to blog about? Interview a Jawa or something.

4. Mary K. Greer of Mary K. Greer's Tarot Blog--That's tarot as in the cards. Click this link and watch Whoopi Goldberg getting her tarot on. Or don't. I wouldn't. Whoopi Goldberg's annoying.

5. Jeanne Carpenter of Cheese Underground--a blog about Wisconsin artisan cheese. It's no secret than nearly any food can be made better by adding butter, bacon, and/or cheese, so this is a blog that truly deserves the honor. Yea cheese!

*Previous example of impeccable taste: "When I was eight or so, I developed this thing for gnomes."

And we'll just pretend this didn't happen.

Let's Have Fun With Generic Descriptors!

Yep, that's what some people call them. You can read more here. (It's actually kind of interesting.)

The Rules:

1. Entries must be comprised of only one sentence. Please use semicolons sparingly, as I consider their use offensive. Plus, that's cheating. You may, however, be as liberal as you like with parentheses because parentheteticals are like chocolate milk, you can never have enough.

2. You may enter as many times as you like and I encourage you to do so. In fact, I strongly advise you to do nothing but submit entries to this... ah, let's call it a "game." You may, if you feel so inclined, pause in your entry submitting to write your own blog post that links to this game. You may also tweet about it or link to it on Facebook.

3. To qualify, you must include at least four generic descriptors in your sentence and your sentence must make sense. This provision does not attempt to squelch creativity. Surrealism, absurdism, and other appropriate isms are welcome. Just make sure your sentence has, like, a verb.

4. Your generic descriptors must be capitalized. Failure to do so will result in your entry being deleted. (Unless it's really good.)

If you were too lazy to click the link, here are many generic descriptors from which to choose:

AstroTurf, Baggies, Band-Aid, Beer Nuts, Breathalyzer, Brillo Pads, Coke, Dacron, Dumpster, Frisbee, Hi-Liter, Hula-Hoop, Jacuzzi, Jeep, Jell-O, Jockey Shorts, Kitty Litter, Kleenex, Laundromat, Liquid Paper, Magic Marker, Muzak, Novocain, Ping-Pong, Play-Doh, Popsicle, Post-it Note, Q-Tip, Realtor, Rollerblade, Scotch Tape, Scrabble, Seeing Eye (dog), Sheetrock, Slim Jim, Styrofoam, Super glue, Technicolor, Teflon, TelePrompTer, Vaseline, Velcro, Walkman and Xerox.

And here's a sample entry, just so we're clear:

While playing Scrabble with my Realtor, I accidentally spilled my Coke on his Jockey Shorts.

Have fun!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


  • Thanks again to all the people who read and provided feedback on my middle grade novel. Since Anita missed out on the public recognition last time, I want to thank her for her detailed suggestions on the first three chapters and for pointing out some important things later in the book. I'll get to work on those today. The book should be done* today and I'm sending it to Secret Asian Man tomorrow. Wish me luck.
  • Saw District 9 last night. Awesome, if you like that sort of thing. And by "that sort of thing," I mean sci-fi, aliens, and decapitations.
  • Just finished The Art of Racing in the Rain** and I'm now out of books. Headed to the library today. Any suggestions? Keep in mind that my local lending library has, like, 200 books, so you might suggest things that are a bit older.
  • So I took a swim with my cell phone and ruined it. Dried it out for three days and it still didn't work. Since we don't have a land line, it needed replacing, so I went to the Verizon store and explained my situation and the guy came out with a used phone that he sold to me for sixty bucks. The phone looks like this, except it's covered in scratches and generally looks like it went eight rounds with Tyson. I was disappointed, but then I got home and was complaining to my wife. I was all, "My old phone (meaning the one I had before the wet one) was better than this piece of [excrement]." And then that little light bulb went on over my head as I realized I still had that phone! I'd given it to my daughter to play with. So, found the phone and today I'm taking back the piece of junk and getting my money refunded. And the moral of this story is that I am often stupid.
*it will never actually be done. Even when it's done.
**I liked it. You should read it. There was one part where I almost laughed and cried at the same time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An Inside Look

I'm sure most of you read this blog for one thing and one thing only: To gain an understanding of just what it takes to be an unpublished author. If that's the case, then I guess I should apologize for wasting your time blogging about things men shouldn't wear and the superiority of chocolate milk. So, sorry.

Today, however, I am going to provide you with an inside look into my writing process. I'm at the tail end of the process now and when I get to this stage I like to make lists. I revise in myriad ways, but when I feel a novel is close to being done, I read the entire thing through and make lists of things I need to edit. Then I do that all over again. And again. And again. Until finally, my lists start to shrink and I'm left with fairly minor things that I just didn't bother with earlier on. So here is my list for today:


  • Kindergartener or Kindergartner? (I know, you'd think a teacher would know this.)
  • breath holding contest--hyphen or not?
  • Is "Styrofoam" capitalized? (I think it's a brand name, so yes, but better double-check.)
  • onto/on to (You would not believe the problems I've had with this.)
  • Gym--"gym class" is not capitalized, but what if you say, "After gym, I went to lunch." Capitalize it then?
  • two and a half--hyphens? If so, where?
  • Research humidity in Wisconsin
  • Fon du lac--spelling?
That's it. A pretty manageable list, and one of the things you never really think about when setting out to write a book. I didn't even know I didn't know the above stuff until I had to use it in a novel. I think that's one of the things I like about revising: you learn stuff you never planned to learn.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

If I Tweeted

You may have heard of this thing they have on the Internet called "Twitter." It's where people slaughter the English language in an attempt to briefly inform the world of their mundane existences. Or so I hear. I've never actually been on Twitter. As someone who laments the average attention span of the average American, to partake in any way strikes me as grossly hypocritical. So I abstain.

I've heard about it, though. Kinda hard not to. CNN loves Twitter. In fact, they love it so much they let Twitter cover the Iran election story instead of covering it themselves. What they did cover was how awesome Twitter was at covering the Iran election story. Ashton Kutcher likes him some Twitter too, and people are generally more interested in his vacations than they are in Middle Eastern politics. See how wonderful Twitter is?

You can't be an aspiring writer without reading how you should definitely be on Twitter. Agents and other writers love to talk about the importance of "building a platform" and "networking" and "getting your name out there." So of course, like every other writer, I've considered it. Then I stopped considering it because my life is really boring. Not like Ashton Kutcher's at all. Even more boring than protesting Iranians. To prove how boring it is, I recorded things I might have "tweeted" about today.

8:30 just woke up. Have 2 pee. TMI? LOL.
8:32 pee too yellow. Drinking H20
8:56 checking cell phone. Got in pool w/ it yesterday. Oops.
10:20 driving home. semi in way.
10:24 semi out of way.
11:00 speeding. hope no cops. LOL.
1:00 eating at los tres amigos. food is muy bueno, but is making me mas fatto.
2:00 home now. watching golf.
4:00 watching golf.
6:00 watching golf.
7:30 just bought groceries. was out of choc milk.
8:20 was going to text Brad, forgot phone is FUBAR.
9:00 checking fb
9:30 reading blogs
10:00 blogging about tweeting.

Yeah, I can see how that could lead to increased book sales. ROFLMAO.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bits and Pieces

Short items today--

  • I met with one of my critiquers today and received excellent feedback. Mostly positive, but he did a very good job of responding to the book as a reader, which makes sense because he doesn't write, but reads TONS of books for kids. He also found plenty of typos and grammatical screw-ups.
  • I want to publicly thank Tracy for his kind words about the same book. If you haven't checked out his blog recently, Tracy did a nice job of highlighting moments from his time at SCBWI Los Angeles. I'm also extremely jealous of him because he met both Chris Rylander and Ben Esch at the conference. No word on Ben's choice of sweater.
  • Speaking of Ben Esch, his blog is having a problem. If you go to it, you'll see an old post about Kanye West. But right under that you'll see a link to my interview of Ben. So maybe not a problem after all.
  • I subscribe to Writer's Digest (although I sometimes wonder why), and every other month they run a writing contest called Your Story. They give you a prompt; you write a 750 word story. I didn't enter last time because I thought my idea was too simple, but then I opened the mag last night and saw that the winner had used the same idea, even had the same "surprise" ending. (That's in quotes because one of the reasons I nixed the idea of entering was that I figured readers would see the "surprise" coming from a few furlongs away. And I did. See it coming, that is.) So this time I'm entering. I wrote my entry last night. If you'd like to compete against me, click this link and have at it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Old Guys

Most of the time I do not act my age. I laugh at my own farts, belch proudly at the dinner table, make up dirty lyrics to songs*, and always spend a few minutes in the action figure aisle when shopping. My job requires me to spend most of my time with nine year olds, and I write books for kids. I'm like a lewd Peter Pan.

However, there are times when I am rudely reminded that I am in fact thirty-three. (I know. You can't believe it either, right?) Some of these times:
  • Whenever I exercise. This includes jogging across the road because I misjudged the speed of an oncoming car, or climbing a flight of stairs because the elevator was taking too long or I was going to be stuck inside of it with a stranger and I didn't feel like going through the thirty seconds of uncomfortable silence associated with that.
  • While driving I find myself thinking, "Today's music sucks. I guess I'll turn it back to talk radio."
  • When it's Friday night and I fall asleep on the couch around nine o'clock.
  • When it's Saturday night, Little One is at Grandma's, and the only thing The Wife and I want to do is watch TV or read.
  • When everything on TV stinks, but instead of turning it off, I watch The Weather Channel, and then complain that the idiot forecasters are never right anyway.
But the real reality check is what I did this past weekend. Some college friends were in town and we thought it would be fun to relive the "glory days" of our youth.** So we went to a college bar at our alma mater.

When we were in college there was this guy who would show up at one particular bar and we would make fun of him.*** He wore a suit, carried a briefcase, and looked like Paul Simon. I'm sure he was trying to cultivate a successful businessman image, but he ended up looking like a lonely dude who thought his chances with the ladies would be improved by wearing that ratty-looking suit and carrying the weathered briefcase. We'd watch and laugh as he struck out with girl after girl.

Now we were the old guys at the bar. A few times we caught some girls looking our way and of course the waitress was really friendly. As guys do, we all told ourselves that we still had it, even though none of us had "it" when we were actually in college. More likely, we were being stared at because we were old, out of place, and a little on the creepy, Paul Simon side of things. The waitress was nice because, unlike most of the customers, we had real jobs and could afford to generously tip.

Here are five things that revealed our oldness:

1. Our receding hairlines. (Not mine, though. I'm still doing okay up there.)
2. Our needing to use the restroom at a far too frequent rate.
3. Yawning.
4. Our lack of familiarity with the most popular dance songs played. It seemed to us that there was a strong correlation between suckiness of song and popularity of song, the correlation being that if a song was really bad, like this one, then college-aged kids (God, I just called them kids.) responded enthusiastically.****

Of course, the theory was hard to test. We thought all the music sucked.


* I have amended Shania Twain's "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" to "Whose Head Have Your Boobs Been Under?" Genius, I know.

**The "glory days" usually consisted of going out late, drinking too much, spending a lot of time talking to each other while all the girls ignored us, egging each other on to go dance with a girl who had had a few too many, being too nervous to dance with said girl, talking some more, drinking some more, dancing by ourselves, leaving, stopping at Panchero's for a burrito, going home, talking about how hot the girls were, and falling asleep on a couch. Glory days, yeah they'll pass you by.

***Not to his face. We all preferred making fun of people behind their backs. Safer that way.

****The enthusiastic response usually manifested itself in a couple of ways. Girls would go "Whooo!" They would raise their hands in the air while doing this. They would then start dancing, usually with other girls, often in a circle. There was much smiling. Guys would grin and nod a lot, approach the circles of girls from behind, look over at their friends and grin and nod some more, get ignored by the girls, and eventually go back to their table.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Things I Don't Understand. At All.

Growing up I was under the assumption that as I got older I would understand more. Then when I was a teenager I was pretty sure I knew everything there was to know. And when I got out of college I realized I really knew nothing about anything except:

1. The 1984 Detroit Tigers
2. Some lyrics to a few Hootie and the Blowfish songs
3. A lot of Star Wars dialogue
4. My severe limitations as they related to girls, and
5. That beer was God's way of saying "sorry for saddling you with those severe limitations as they relate to girls."

But then I (thankfully) got older yet again. And now I realize that not only do I possess terrifyingly huge abysses of knowledge, but there are a whole slew of things that I couldn't understand even if someone really smart and good at explaining things explained them to me. A partial list follows.

1. The Human Body--Most bewildering of all. I hardly know where to start. I could talk about how there's no way eyes should be able to do what they do. Or ears. Or lungs. But let's focus on just one organ: the heart. During an average lifetime, the heart will beat 2.5 billion times. To put that into perspective, it's about how much more money the government is throwing into "Cash for Clunkers." Okay, maybe that comparison doesn't work, but it's a lot. And it never quits until, you know, it quits. It doesn't even take a break. It just keeps working for 80 years or whatever. Kind of like Barbara Walters. Amazing.

2. Air Travel--I actually kind of understand the physics behind this one. Shape of the wing. Air flows fast on one side, slower on the other, lift-to-drag ratio...but that still doesn't explain how something that big can stay in the air. Like Rosie O'Donnell staying on the air, it just shouldn't happen.

3. Big Boats--Kind of like airplanes. I get buoyancy, but there are some really huge boats out there. REALLY HUGE. Ships like cities. And to really blow my mind there are ships from which airplanes take off and land. That's just insane.

4. Space--Too damn big. Nothing that big should be allowed to exist. Who's regulating this thing? It takes sunlight eight minutes to reach Earth, which means that if the sun winked out seven minutes ago, we wouldn't even know it for another minute. Also, there's no sound in space, which means that when we have to go to war against some hostile planet, our laser guns won't make any noise. And speaking of lasers, you wouldn't actually be able to see the lasers unless there was a crapload of dust or chalk or something floating around. It'll make for terrible TV. We probably won't even bother to go to war with optics like that.

5. Medicine--So I take a pill, swallow it, it goes in my stomach, and that fixes my headache? How do these pills know what to do anyway? I've cut them open, there's no instructions, not even a microchip. It's like solidified dust and it knows how to fix my headache. That's some scary stuff right there. With stuff like this, we might not need lasers to defeat the aliens.

6. Phones--Old phones were bad enough. I talk into this thing and my voice somehow travels along a wire and comes out the other end, almost simultaneously, and another person can understand it. Even sounds moderately like me. But cell phones are a whole 'nother beast. I guess there are all these voices just whizzing around in the air now. Thank god they're invisible, like the lasers.

7. Microchips--Even if those pills I mentioned above had microchips, I'd still be really confused.

8. Live TV--I should not be able to watch a live European soccer game in my living room. First, because someone should take the remote control away from me and turn the channel, but second, because it should not be possible. I'm pretty sure live TV is like cell phones, but I since I've already admitted total ignorance, I could be wrong.

9. Recorded music--I sing a song and it gets, like, etched onto a record, and then this needle comes along and translates these etchings into sounds that are remarkably similar to the sounds I made when I was singing. And records are the media that make the most sense to me. I don't even want to think about cassettes, CDs, and whatever it is the kids are listening to nowadays.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Granting an Exclusive

Agent Janet Reid, in a blog post on Saturday, wrote about why exclusives stink. You can read the entire thing here if you want, but I'm going to respond to her main points below. First, in the scenario she presents, I agree with her larger point--exclusives stink for writers. However, since I granted an exclusive to Secret Asian Man, I feel the need to justify my action. (And in the process disagree with Janet on some lesser points.)

[Vocab lesson: Exclusive--when an agent (or editor) requests your manuscript after you've queried and wants to be the only one considering your work.]

One of Janet's arguments against exclusives is that "agents who ask or expect exclusives imply their time is more valuable than yours. That's hogwash."

No, it isn't. In fact, Janet spends the first two paragraphs of that post discussing how busy she is. Agents are extremely busy people. They must read through a ton of queries and respond. They must read requested partials and fulls. Many offer detailed editorial suggestions. They have to try to sell their clients' work. They have to keep up to date on industry news. Me? I work for 2-3 hours a day on my writing and it doesn't really matter if I finish a novel in eight months or twelve. It's a nice sentiment and it plays well to an audience of writers, but it's just not true. The agent's time is more valuable than most writers'.

Janet also says that, "Agents who ask for or expect exclusives imply there's no need to persuade you of the merits of signing with them." In the scenario she presents, I agree with this and if three agents responded with requests for fulls but one of those agents wanted an exclusive, I'd be inclined to say no.

But what happened in my case was quite a bit different. I'd queried five or six agents and received nothing but brief rejection emails. When Secret Asian Man asked to read the full, I happily sent it along. After reading it he offered me a deal: He'd write up a detailed revision letter if I would agree to work exclusively with him. This made a lot of sense to me for a couple of reasons.

First, I deep down knew that the book wasn't yet publishable and I really needed someone who knew what they were doing to offer editorial suggestions. Second, no one else had showed any interest. Third, he was willing to devote his time to helping me improve my story on the chance that it would eventually become good enough to represent.

It was a no-brainer. I was getting what amounted to a free, professional, full-story critique and the only thing I had to give up was sending my substandard story to other agents so they could reject it in record time.

And what's the worst that happens? Secret Asian Man says no thanks and I'm back in the querying game with a manuscript that's better and hasn't been rejected by everyone in the industry. We're both giving up time in the bargain, but if you're in a hurry to be published you're going to be disappointed anyway. Even at its best, the process is S..L..O..W.

Let's stop pretending that writers and agents are on equal footing, that the playing field is somehow level. It isn't. There are a LOT of people writing books. You need an agent more than ever to get your work in the right hands. It's simple mathematics. Lots of writers plus only a few agents equals a huge imbalance. The power rests with the agents and that gives them the leverage to make the rules. If you don't like their rules then there's a simple solution: Quit. The rest of us writers would appreciate the diminished competition.