Writing Excerpt: The Ice Diver.

I’ve been playing around with this story. I like it. I like it so much I made a little cover for it, just so it looked fancier on my page. What do y’all think? Basic premise: Aunat of High House lives out a bleak exile on Falen Island, where folk of the Warm World banished her ancestors over a hundred years ago on counts of treason and sedition. When a mysterious young man is shipwrecked on the island, Aunat begins to question her place, not only on the island, but in the Warm World denied her people. If she makes the decision to leave, however, she’ll find that there’s much more keeping her on the island than bad weather and tradition.

I’ve always been fascinated with traditional hero’s journey type stories, and have never understood why the traditional hero’s journey couldn’t be made to apply to a woman. The ‘heroine’s journey’ you see offered as a consolation sop is mostly a sad and boring story of self-sacrifice and self-discovery: well, fuck that, I want ladies with swords earning respect and place in society. I don’t understand why that’s apparently weird.

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Photo by Rajmund Barnas, at freeimages.com. Ruined by myself.

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AUNAT OF HIGH HOUSE

There was a house on the side of the mountain, beside the rocky hills known as the Jaggers. It was not a remarkable house, being roofed in turf and built of stone just like every other house on the island, though it was a little bigger than some of them. The only thing that made it interesting, in fact, was that it was over an hour’s walk from the village, and therefore the house of an outcast.

The folk of the village stuck close together. It was, after all, a matter of them against the icy wind and frozen tundra of Falen island. There were perhaps a hundred people in the village, and there wasn’t a one of them who didn’t have some dealings with the other ninety-nine. The village loomed below the caverns, humped turf-roofed houses and the mead hall and the flat postage stamps of farmland, icy white in the winter and green only for a short time in Scythemonth. The villagers were a hard people, low-slung and hearty and always working. They had a smithy, for the land of Falen Island had proven rich in iron ore, and when it was especially cold the whole village would cluster around it, cheeks pinking in the white-hot fire of the forge.

The owner of the house by the Jaggers had not been born in the village. She had been born in this house, High House, as had her father, and his father before him. The people in the village did not remember why this was so, but so had it always been–there was always a Lord in High House, or, at least, there had been until Karmike Redshouldered had the bad grace to die after issuing only a girl. Now they treated her with a sort of benign neglect, visiting only to trade: no one was sure, really, what to do about Aunat of the High House.

They did not quite trust her: she was not, strictly speaking, of the village. But it was a small village, and there was no one else, so they were obliged to have some dealings with her. She was an ice-diver, the best in the settlement, and when a village family had ikli on the table it was like as not because of her diving.

So they said this about her: you cannot trust Aunat of the High House, but her ikli are fresh, and she does her part.

It wasn’t a compliment, but it was as close as they were going to come.

*****

It was strange, Aunat thought, how human memory worked. From what she had observed in the village, folk had two types of consciousness–extremely long term, and extremely short.

The extremely long term consciousness remembered the sagas of the Elders, the pain and agony of the Naysayers cast from their home in the Warm World. It remembered the ancient smithing songs, the chant of harvest, the slow and seeping ancestral guilt of a castoff people.

The short term remembered, more or less, what the person possessed of said consciousness had been doing five minutes ago. It remembered such a thing for just long enough to complete the task. It remembered precisely what was in the storehouse, but not how it had gotten there, or what trades had been made to get it.

What was missing in the village, Aunat thought, was the middle ground. For instance–when Sevil the Icebreaker owed her trade for threestone of ikli from last winter, Sevil the Icebreaker was likely to forget until some divine agency, such as herself, reminded him.

Right now, he was looking around her living area, at the tall black hearth and the skins on the floor and the battered shield over the hearth, the only ornament Aunat had allowed herself to keep. He was thinking, doubtless, this is a rich house, richer by far than mine. He would be bitter, deep down, over the high portion of wood this single woman claimed when it came time for the lumber expeditions to the spruce islands in spring. He would not remember why, by Naysayer law, she was allowed to claim such a portion.

“I have to get by too, you know,” Aunat said at last. “It gets cold up here. No more until you pay me, Sevil. I am sorry, but you know the law.”

Sevil sighed. “Each has his own,” he recited. “And no one else’s. Yes, Aunat Icediver. I know. But I have no memory of such a debt. If, perhaps, there was a record–”

Aunat smiled at him. She smiled mostly because, if she didn’t smile, she would be rushing for the big sealskin book in her trunk, and she would shove the written record of his debt under his nose until all he could smell was cloudberry ink.

But that would do no good, and she knew it. Sevil was illiterate, like most of the village: as a rule, only those in the High House and the priests of the Watcherblad knew their letters.

So she smiled. And smiled. And smiled. And she reached for the whale vertebra she used as a stool, and pointed to where the three carven lines of Sevil’s debt had been engraved on it with a knife and sealed, in the style of the Naysayers, with three drops of his blood.

“See,” she said. “Three lines, put there last Frostmonth. One for each stone.”

“Ah,” Sevil said, as though that proved everything. “Yes. I remember. I apologize for forgetting–the frost-sickness touched me earlier this winter, and I’ve yet to quite recover. I’ve some seal fat frozen at home–would twostone of that and a pebble of salt be equal payment?”

“It would,” said Aunat, knowing she could expect no better. Besides, she was low on salt.

It was a delicate dance, with the villagers. They didn’t trust her any more than she trusted them, and they were always testing her–forgetting their debts, packing light stones, performing payment tasks poorly or not at all. She had learned to account for herself, up here. She had to, to keep her life comfortable.

“Then the debt is washed away?” Sevil asked, a note of hopefulness tinging his voice.

“It will be washed away,” Aunat said, emphasizing the important parts, “when the fat and salt are delivered to my door.” It was a poor trade, but the villagers had not done as well this last Scythemonth as they often did, and Aunat did not wish to be unfair. Every steading needed nourishment and warmth. Otherwise, all suffered.

“It’s a long walk up here,” Sevil said, wheedling. “Cold and rocky.”

“It would be the same for me, coming down to the village. It’s your debt, not mine.”

Sevil sighed. “As you wish. Look for me tomorrow, during the suntime.”

They shook hands, in the manner of the Naysayers of old: palms stiff, fingers extended, only thumbs locking over each other. A fair deal, the handshake was supposed to embody. Nothing hidden.

Nothing, Aunat reflected wryly, except years of animosity and necessity.

“Would you care to stay for a cup of tea?” Aunat asked, as the ritual required. “I have golden root, left over from last Scythemonth.”

“I shouldn’t wish to deprive you,” Sevil said. The politeness ritual required, and no more.

He left quickly, and Aunat watched him began the downhill journey from her stone porch. He moved rather quickly, she thought, for a man whose excuse for an unpaid debt was frost-sickness in the limbs.

It was pleasant, standing outside. The sea breeze pinched at the small strip of her face left exposed, and each breath was like ice crystals in the lungs. Not very many people, perhaps, would have thought it pleasant, but Aunat knew the secrets of such a day: blue porcelain sky, clear and hard as an upturned bowl. Snowcapped rocks of the island thrusting up to meet it. The sealine below her was quiet, a deep and brooding blue. The village beside it, turf-humped houses clustered fearfully together, didn’t bother her one bit.

It was a good day for ice-diving. If she went in before the sun set, there would be many ikli. They liked this sort of cold, dry weather, where there would be little sediment stirred up on the ocean floor.

If the ikli liked the weather, Aunat liked it, too. Such were the lessons of life in the High House: men were fickle, prone to schemes and betrayals. Only animals spoke the truth, with their movements and habits, and the truth of animals always led to food.

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I’m Getting Married!

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Aaand one day after taking this picture, my hands were all scarred up again.

So.

We’re taking a break from our usual programming to make an announcement–I’m getting married.

I know, I know. This has nothing to do with writing. But hey.

Definitely Not Dave, my magicianly counterpart, proposed on Valentine’s Day. He went down on one knee in a restaurant and everything. He had the good grace to not include a magic trick in his proposal–for which I’m forever grateful.

So I’ve been sitting on my arse mostly since then, talking to my mother and looking at Pinterest wedding boards. If you’ve never had the need to look at Pinterest wedding boards, I can tell you right now that there are few things more depressing than reading a slew of articles entitled ‘Ways to Plan A Wedding for ONLY $10,000!’, one after the other. Until you lift your eyes, you enter this cream-puff-and-sugar-plum fantasy land where you can spend $10,000 dollars on a wedding.

Then you put the Kindle down. You realize you still have to pay taxes, and you have like eighty bucks in your bank account.

And you say something like oh Jesus what have I done.

And then you say something like how much blood can I sell. Followed, sometimes, by can I donate eggs? How does that work? Do your eggs sit there, like, on consignment? Does my egg-harvest have to sell for a payoff?

And then you realize, that, a week ago, you hadn’t ever really even thought about what your wedding is going to be like. Half your relatives are telling you, sanctimoniously, that ‘what really matters is that you love each other’. Except for Aunt Agnes, who’s sanctimoniously telling you ‘what really matters is that your bridesmaids have matching dresses’.

You witness women in comment threads tearing each other apart over the appropriateness of using (legasp!) a cake server for your wedding cake that has already been used. You debate whether or not ‘virgin’ is a term that can really be used to describe a cake server, and whether it’s more or less ironic when it’s used to describe said item in a wedding context. You’re uncertain, actually, what a cake server is. You would ask the brides-to-be in the comment thread, but actually, they seem really mean, and you suspect they can smell blood from like three miles away.

You wonder, fleetingly, if you’re really a woman at all. You’ve given so little thought to this. Aren’t you supposed to have dreams about this sort of thing? Actually, weren’t you supposed to start that Pinterest wedding board about when you hit fifteen? Was there Pinterest, when you were fifteen? Probably not. Oh, God. You’re an elderly bride. Luckily there’s an entire board of ‘modest wedding dresses’, and it’s followed by like half a million people. ‘Modest plus size vintage lace’…oh Jesus. Two hundred thousand other people are interested enough in ‘modest plus size vintage lace wedding dresses’ to follow the fricking modest plus size vintage lace wedding dress board.

It starts to seep in, after a few hours of horrified Pinterest browsing, that people spend way too much money and time on this. Which you kind of get–I mean, it’s a big day, right? You debate stuffing your fiancee into a hunter green suit with a bow tie. You realize he would unengage you faster than a quasar rotates, should you try to stuff him into a hunter green suit with a bow tie. (And maybe he should. How would you like it if some pushy broad tried to stuff you into said suit?)

You know you should be making a sanctimonious post about the depth of your love for each other, preferably with some Instagram-filtered graphic and a retro handwriting font. ‘Two hearts, one soul’ or some other hackneyed bullshit. You know you’re not supposed to focus on the wedding. This means you’re shallow and detail-oriented. Well, hell, you knew you were shallow and detail-oriented. Obviously, this is something your fiance likes, or he wouldn’t have proposed.

Right?

Right?

Maybe you can just get your wedding photography done at Wal-Mart. There’s a setting with a rainbow in the background, and you’re ninety percent certain they’ll add in an eagle if you pay a little extra. Rainbow-eagle themed wedding! Fuck yeah!

Wait, you’re not allowed to have a sense of humor about this.

Are you?

That’s the thing. You don’t really know. And, judging from all the wedding stuff you just perused, the one thing you definitely aren’t allowed to be on your wedding is you, if you isn’t particularly graceful and lovely.

So I’m starting another blog. A wedding blog. It won’t be updated very frequently–especially not right now, since we’re not having the ceremony for at least a year–but I need something to help me through this, and I need somewhere to vent about all the puffy taffeta-and-lace foolishness I encounter along the way. Because from what I’ve seen online, everybody pays five thousand dollars for a photographer, and everybody is a size four, and everybody has strong opinions about stupid shit like whether or not an antique cake server is acceptable for a wedding, and nobody drinks cocktails which are not served in vintagey Instagrammed splendor.

Yeah, it’s ‘my special day’. There are fifteen dollar glossy magazines that cram that fact down my throat quite well. But it’s got to be possible to have a nice wedding without creating a salt-circle and selling your soul to a wedding planner. I don’t ever want to be one of these people who jabber on endlessly about wedding colors and bridesmaid dresses and blah blah blah. I just want to have a happy event to start our lives together.

And, okay. I want to have it catered.

Here’s the link to my brand new wedding blog, if anyone wants to follow it–it’ll be entertaining, prommy proms:

The Bastard Bride: A Wedding Blog for Girls Without A Favorite Disney Princess.

You’ll notice the first post on there is this post. Because obvious reasons.

And, a last aside:

So I found a quiz online, purportedly to tell me ‘what style of wedding dress fits me’. I clicked on it, thinking it would ask for things like my height and weight and body type. Nope. No. Instead, it asked me questions like ‘which Disney princess would you like to be’, ‘which of these four movies (all romantic comedies) is your favorite’ and ‘what’s your favorite type of wine’. Ugh. Ugh. UGH. This industry clearly needs an enema. It needs to have the Sex in the City flushed out of it in the same way a trumpet periodically needs its spit valve exercised. Ugh. Ugh.

Occam’s Phaser: Simplicity in Fantasy

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Photo from wikipedia. Text from the sick depths of my soul.

Occam’s Phaser

Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding!

All right, people, I want you to take a moment and appreciate the fact that, after long practice, I may have just typed the nerdiest letters of my career. Occam’s phaser. Sheesh. Shove me in a locker, somebody, cause I ain’t makin’ it to senior prom.

With that out of the way…

(Occam’s phaser! Hurr!)

I want to have a serious talk.

You guys have all heard of William of Occam, right? Born in…well, probably Occam. A mendicant friar and a logician of the 14th century, who posited, among many logical principals, the idea that the simplest solution is probably the correct one. There’s more to it, but that’s how we non-logicians usually express it.

And a bunch of people took offense to that. Wouldn’t you? I mean, you’ve got this fancy theorem that took you like five years to embroider into factfulness, what business does this punk monk have coming around and going naw, simpler is better, dawg, and then you’re all like my name is Immanuel Kantstopdis, and I think nature is diverse as hell. And then, they see you whip, and possibly nay-nay, and by God–

Okay. Overcompensating. I’m going somewhere with this, I swear. Or I’m trying to.

Occam’s razor is the idea that the simplest solution is probably the correct one. Occam’s phaser, which is my idea, is the same general principal applied to your fantasy novel: the simpler you keep it, the more your story is likely to work.
We’ve all read those epic fantasy novels. You know, those ones. Where there’s a thousand pages of scenebuilding before you get to the plot, where you need the Cliff’s notes to keep up with the list of characters, and where everybody, everybody, gets paired off with either a romantic partner or a small country by the end of the novel.

When you write your Amazon review for this novel, it probably features the phrase ‘excellent worldbuilding’, mostly because, well, somebody did spend a lot of time, and that much literary real estate has to be worth something. Trick is, you can sell an acre of swamp and call it ‘real estate’. You can sell a shotgun shack (doors and windows not included) and it’s still fricking real estate.

But that’s not what you want real estate to be, is it? You want your novel to be in Beverly Hills, to have a midcentry modern dream house on it. You want lights to turn on when you clap. You want Jennifer Lawrence next door, and you want her to bring you casseroles when you move in. (Or organic cruelty-free parsnip chips. Or whatever hip people eat now).

My point is, you only need to:

1) Have a character in your story if that character is necessary to the plot,
2) Describe the setting in detail if the setting is plot-crucial or particularly unique,
3) Add in a plot twist when that plot twist is natural, and doesn’t take a lot of work to fit in.

That’s it, baby. That’s Occam’s phaser.

It’s easy to get carried away with your own descriptive powers whilst in the throes of composition. Problem is, it isn’t readable to do so. We don’t need to know the name of Lord Aston’s squire if this is the only scene she’s in. And a few descriptive terms–surly, for instance, or sunny–will probably suffice, if you need them at all. When you spend a paragraph or two describing this squire, you’ve indicated to the reader that she’s going to be important later on in the story. That’s what description does. And when you make that promise too often, and don’t stand by it, your reader doesn’t know what to pay attention to anymore.

Same goes for settings. As an adult human being, I know what a field of grass looks like. I know what an oven looks like. Now, unless there’s something important about this oven–the main character’s mother has cooked every dinner he’s ever eaten on it, and it represents his sadness over leaving home–or something unique–it’s a magical oven that only cooks children–I don’t need more than a little bit to know what I’m looking at. Woodstove might tell me enough, or gas oven, or big white oveny bastard brooding in the corner.

And plot twists? Oh, Jesus, plot twists. There is nothing, nothing more annoying than an unneeded plot twist. Ask yourself, always: is there some question here that hasn’t been answered by the course of the story so far? If there is, twist the night away. If there isn’t, hold off. It’s just going to throw your reader off balance, and leave him expecting a major shift in the plot…which, since your plot twist doesn’t go anywhere, you’re not going to give him.

So. Only have Bertie the Bertblandished carried off by the dragon if it’s going to change your plot. Does it make him see the importance of fire-proof wizard’s robes? Does he become friends with the dragon, take him back to the castle to help them win the war? Does he realize, uncomfortably, that the dragon is actually his mother, and maybe that’s why everyone he has a burping contest with seems to spontaneously combust.

If it does one of those things, that’s great. But even then, it better do one of those things because that question has been raised in the natural course of your plot. Maybe this annoying wizard-chickie has been harping on him about fire proof robes for the entire story, and now he gets the reasoning, and starts to talk to her more–and it turns out she’s just awesome, an incredible person, and she has a lot of really good ideas for defending the castle, and he winds up marrying her or something. You get the idea: a plot twist has to answer a question and move the plot forward. Otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone’s time going retrograde. Remember Ptolemy? Time waster. Yeah, you heard me.

(If you got that joke, please join me on this schooner full of people who aren’t getting dates for prom. It’s warm here, and we have twelve-sided dice.)

So, when you write, consider the beauty of simplicity and pare accordingly. But remember: even William of Occam didn’t mean something had to be bare bones to be correct. Embellishment can be beautiful and effective, too–as long as you keep it in moderation.

Skin Deep: Beauty in Fiction

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Skin Deep: Beauty in Fiction

A NOTE: I talk about women in this post, but a lot of this is true for men too, on a different level. While men in fiction are occasionally allowed to be bald, potbellied, and old, there are still unrealistic standards for them–they tend more towards the static masculine than anything beauty related, but it’s a problem nonetheless. I’ll leave discussion of these to a man who isn’t traditionally ‘masculine’. He’s better suited to the task, for obvious reasons, than I.

I want to take a second and talk to you a little bit about life as an ugly woman.

A note: I don’t want your sympathy pretties. I don’t want to hear about how beautiful I am in a voice that steadily descends in octave to denote sincerity. It’s untrue, and I don’t need the pity. I’m aware it’s untrue, and there is still no lack of confidence in me. Would you tell a man with an IQ of 79 that no,  he was so intelligent, no really?

You wouldn’t. The evidence to the contrary would be right in front of your face. He might be many other things–among them, handsome–which you could compliment, but if he can’t get through his times tables at forty, calling him intelligent would seem like an insult. He might even think you’re being sarcastic. You might, in fact, sting him, and he’s an okay guy, so you certainly don’t want to do that.

On the other hand, there are a lot of women on this earth. If every single one of us were as beautiful as our friends (and the body-positivity movement) tell us we were, Vogue would run out of cover space.

Why–why–is it so important, whether or not you’re beautiful?

Well, because ugly women get the shaft. You’re not insulted twenty-four seven, or often at all–ugliness is such a taboo thing in our society that an ugly woman might go her whole life without ever hearing the phrase ‘ugly’ thrown at her. Don’t be silly, all her friends say. You’re beautiful.

Life as an ugly woman is like life in a zoo with a narcoleptic zookeeper. You’re subjected to a sort of gentle, well-meaning neglect, simply because no one notices you. You can’t count on heads turning when you walk into a room, or the watchful eye of an interested bystander to keep you happy. When you need or want things, you have to ask for them, and you have to be willing to wait the normal amount of time for these things to come to fruition. A lot of us, I think, accept early on that a glossy magazine-style life with expensive accessories and trendy makeup probably isn’t the way to go. There are, after all, no ugly women in the glossy magazines.

It’s–not that bad. It’s just life. You simply have to develop a voice, learn to be a little more aggressive in expressing yourself. You have to let people know, in a way your face and body can’t, that you’re there, and you’re there for a reason. (I feel like, were this lesson taught widely, our self-confidence issues would all but vanish. The cue isn’t to wait for media to bestow the title of ‘beauty’ on you, it’s to go out and express yourself regardless of whether or not you have that title. Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder, so whether or not you claim it for yourself doesn’t really matter. Taught feminine passivity, etc, garbage you’ve heard a million times before).

I could talk a lot about body-positivity, and the way my hackles raise every time I see the phrase ‘you’re beautiful just the way you are’. No, some of us aren’t. It’s hard to accept, because of the importance this culture places on beauty, but some of us simply aren’t. Again–it’s in the eye of the beholder. Time, maybe, to stop clinging to such a passive attribute for validation.

And beauty is, actually, rare. Slightly more common, maybe, than a genius level IQ or Mother Theresa-like kindness, but rare nonetheless. It’s also an evolutionary advantage, much like intelligence or strength, which you can train and sharpen somewhat, but which, in the end, you’re either born with or you aren’t. I want to repeat this, so all my smarts-loving readers understand: beauty is exactly the same kind of advantage as intelligence. Being smart isn’t inherently ‘better’ than being beautiful. Being beautiful isn’t inherently better than being smart. You didn’t work for either one. You received a gift, and did with it what you would.

And yet, if you believed movies (or television, or books–pick your media) this world is populated almost solely by smart attractive people, thirty-five or under, who have picked a variety of interesting professions and lived strange checkered lives.

Being average-looking is living in a majority that is treated as a minority. You’re underrepresented, unacknowledged, in spite of the fact that you make up a large percentage of the population. It’s knowing that when ‘your type’ is cast in a movie–usually as ‘average woman’ or something similar–it will be played by a beautiful young actress in not quite as much makeup. If, in five hundred years, aliens land on our war-scoured and desolate planet, the artifacts they unearth will indicate that average people–real average–simply didn’t exist.

There are ‘unattractive’ women portrayed, of course. The most famous example, probably, is JK Rowling’s Hermione Granger–though even she ‘pretties’ as the series continues, transforming in the dance scene of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire into a mysteriously attractive creature whom even her friends don’t recognize at first.

What I want from fiction–what I think would constitute real body-positivism, and not just the ‘naw gurl u pretty’ sham of it we have now–is more women who are not described head-to-foot, more women who are not attractive, even in makeup and a ballgown. More women, maybe, who don’t give two shits whether or not they are beautiful. More ugly women who don’t feel the need to put lingerie on to assure the world of their worth (a note–every time I see one of these articles bandied about on Facebook, the woman therein is actually just larger, but very pretty anyway). Women who are, frankly, ugly, and who are called ugly, and who know they’re ugly–and who do something important anyway. Women with lazy eyes and huge noses and tiny thin lips, whose lives don’t, not once, feature a hatred of said body parts.

Women who might not be perfect representations of sexual attractiveness, but who nonetheless deserve–and have earned–respect. Because respect, like self-confidence, is a thing earned and not given. And it’s a thing, weirdly enough, you can’t earn from something you simply have, like beauty or intelligence–it’s a think you can earn only through your employment of said traits, the way you conduct yourself in society. And, deep down, respect is what we all really want, and what you need, rather than the much-vaunted ‘likeability’, for a beloved character.

I’d like to live in a world where two people can spot a woman across a room, and identify her: ‘Melanie’s the one with the big nose’. And that’s okay. She does have a big nose, and now we know which one Melanie is. Melanie also takes care of shelter dogs, earned a PhD in Russian Lit, but you can’t see those things, so it’s not how we identify her in a crowded room. Her nose is noticeable, so we notice her by it. No need for discussion.

If we really think feminism and body-positivity are about increasing self-confidence, we’re wrong. Self-confidence can only be increased by one thing–determination to be self-confident. Movements don’t exist to make you feel better about yourself. They exist to increase representation, increase dialogue–increase that respect we talked about. They exist to help you show the world you’re important–no matter what you happen to look like. Feeling good about yourself comes before all that shit. Not after. Not during.

So, next time you’re writing a lady character, maybe step back for a second, and think about self-worth and respect. No, she’s not beautiful anyway. She’s not beautiful no matter what. There’s no chrysalis moment where she slaps on lipstick and a slinky dress and becomes bizarro-world desireable.

But if you want to write her, she matters, right? Maybe attractiveness doesn’t need to enter into it at all. Maybe she, like the vast majority of us, gets stepped studiously around in coffee shops, has to learn to interject opinions into work discussions.

And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe, when casting your ‘average woman’, you should stick to the realism you otherwise so studiously cling to–and represent her as, truly, average.

Not because she’s beautiful, inside or out, but because she, too, is worthy of attention.

I know, I talk about this stuff a lot. But it’s been a while, so here are the most recent thoughts. If anyone’s curious, this post was inspired by this article, which a friend shared on Facebook, and which I found utterly, utterly refreshing: Kaila Prins says you don’t have to care if you’re beautiful, and I think she’s right.

How to Look Like You Know What You’re Talking About

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Sorry I haven’t been around so much, guys. Stuff’s come up. Give me about another week of lax posting and I’ll be back, bright-eyed and bushy-arsed.

In the meantime, I wanted to do a post on writerbloggish professionalism, such as it is.

Why?

Because I have very meager standards. You know this: you read my blog. However, there are a few things that don’t meet even my negligible criteria, and when that happens, you need to seriously rethink your life and why you’re in it. I don’t post regularly, I curse like a sailor, and I’m mean. I don’t even have my own tidy little domain name. What could be so awful even I’m straight-faced advising you against it?

These things, baby bear. These things.

(A NOTE: This advice is meant specifically for people with craft blogs, not personal blogs. Your personal blog is your business, and you can post that stupid cat video as many times as you want there. But I do expect certain things from a blog that calls itself ‘about writing’. They are, unsurprisingly, that the blog is about writing, and written by a more-or-less expert in said field.)

1) It’s Not Your Emotional Dumping Ground.

You’ve started a blog for the purpose of promoting your book and giving yourself a sort of home base in the writing community. This means that you are writing about writing. You are sharing writing related things. Occasionally, you provide some of your own writing.

And you get off-topic occasionally. Of course you do, and you should. You do things other than writing, obviously, and some of those things are fun and infinitely shareable. When you get married, have a baby, get sick, etc., it’s up to you how much of that you want to tell your readers, and there’s nothing wrong with sharing a little. People want to know more about you.

But here’s the thing, Shareable Sheena. If you are writing more blog posts about the epic repercussions of your boyfriend walking out on you in a Denny’s than you are about writing, this is no longer a writing blog. And you should stop, dear Jesus, stop, using all the writing tags. When I check ‘writing tips’, the first thing I see shouldn’t be a post containing IT WAS ALL FOR U in caps and an Adele video. No. Ain’t nobody got time for that. At least, people searching writing tags don’t, so tag appropriately.

Speaking of having time…

2) Check Your Sources.

You have the internet, obviously. More than likely, you have some sort of smart device that puts it at your fingertips whenever you are, wherever you are. So take the thirty fucking seconds necessary to make sure that it actually was Cortez who stood upon that peak in Darien. Keats had an excuse. Keats didn’t have the internet, and Keats had a meter to think about. You have neither mitigating circumstance. Check your sources.

I know, I know. We aren’t journalists. Except, oh, wait, we kind of are. When you write that bitty eight hundred word article to enlighten the world on proper use of past tense, you are performing a journalistic function, organizing information and life experience for an easily digestible thing people can peruse on their lunch breaks.

So, please, if you make a factual statement, do at least a cursory Google to make sure you’re telling the truth. Even stuff you’ve thought you know your whole life–f’rinstance, the other day, I found out the windward side of a dune is actually the side the wind blows on, not the sheltered side. Been using it wrong my whole life, and I’m from the beach. How’d this happen? I never fact checked. Don’t be like me: someone on the internet will know the truth, and correct you, and there you’ll be, credibility injured.

3) Stop With the ‘Deleting Inactive Friends’ Stuff.

I see this post, more or less verbatim, quite frequently on all social media forms, and it annoys the shit out of me.

Dear Friends,
I’m deleting/blocking a whole mess of you because you’ve never commented on my blog or liked anything. I just can’t stand having all these followers. So if you don’t want to be deleted or blocked, this is a passive-aggressive attempt to draw your attention and get more likes and comments. Thanks!

Okay, so maybe not verbatim. But anyway.

What are you trying to prove with this post? Why do you think the world owes you feedback?

A lot of people have read my book. I’m frequently amazed by the number of people who’ve read it. Not all of them left a review. Not all of them friended me on Twitter. Not all of them even bought a copy: some of them borrowed it from a friend, who maybe borrowed it from their friend, etc.

That’s cool. Books are expensive. And when these people tell me ‘I loved your book’, whether or not they left a comment on Amazon to that effect doesn’t matter. I still get tickled pink. It’s not good manners, from an authorial standpoint, to enjoy a book and not write a review, but these folks aren’t necessarily authors, now are they?

When people leave feedback, they do it voluntarily. This isn’t a test group, and they aren’t being paid for their time. If they want to read your blog silently–or, even, never read it–so what? They’re sure as hell never going to read it if you block them. And, while you certainly have the right to choose who you follow, making a production out dropping followers just suggests you’ve got serious time on your hands publicly.

If you must delete followers, I suggest not mentioning it in the blog itself. If someone asks you, say your feed was too full to follow, and you want to just use it to keep up with your closest friends. Low drama. If this person then unfollows you, there’s not a damn thing you can say about it. It’s not personal, after all: it’s just the Internet.

A note: this also goes for all ‘reblog if you care’, ‘reblog if you’re a real ‘, and ‘I need your help’ type blogs. Yes, you should encourage commenter participation. Of course. But this is not the way, Pamela Passive-Aggressive. And it most assuredly doesn’t look professional: it looks desperate.

4) Grammer I Ammer

Now, I’m no grammarian. I couldn’t give less of a shit whether you employ the Oxford comma or don’t. Matter of fact, when you mention the Oxford comma, my immediate reaction is to find a locker to stuff you in.
However, let’s visit item two again. You have the Internet.

We all make typos and mistakes occasionally, but you should do yourself the favor of reading over your post before you hit publish, and checking anything you aren’t sure about.

Why?

Because when your headline is ‘Grammar: Your Doing it Wrong’, people are going to suspect you’re less than expert in your chosen field.

Writers need good grammar. Not perfect grammar: that’s what editing is for. But you need to be able to type a coherent sentence, relatively well spelled and grammarized, fast enough that, before you shuffle off this mortal coil, you’ve produced at least one complete short story. If you can’t manage eight hundred words without a grammatical faux pas sixth graders could recognize, you’re not looking very good on paper.

Which is where, as a writer, you need to look good.

5) Be Cool.

Let Elmore Leonard be your guide. Shoot somebody.

I mean, be cool.

If you’re posting something pissy–an angry rant about a friend, a response to a review or criticism, a reply to an argumentative commentor–take a second to think, before you hit publish. Actually, take three hundred seconds. Take five minutes to go smoke a cigarette, read a few pages, pour yourself a drink, whatever poison calms your nervous system. After you’ve self-sedated, ask yourself these three things:

1) Is my response productive?
2) Is it important that I respond?
3) Will this make me look like an ass to the rest of my readers?

If the answer to the first two is yes, and the answer to the third is no, hit send. If the answer to any of these three isn’t as stated above, don’t.

Your blog is a public space, and it’s one where people will come to learn more about you. Is the fact that you’re a shitty, angry person really what you want them to learn?

Welp, there y’go.

A note: I can’t tell you how to write your blog. That’s your business, and you can do as you please. But I promise you: if you want to look like a professional, these five things are more important than having a domain name or a nice headshot. Professionalism is, after all, a way you interact with others. It’s not just a good suit or an appropriate haircolor. You can have the prettiest web design in the world, but if you post shit all over it, you still aren’t being professional.

So be professional. Minimize your shitposting.