WRITING: Why I Curse

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Writing: A Brief But Most Impassioned Missive on the Subject of Vulgarity

A NOTE: If you have a problem with strong language in novels, that’s just fine. It’s your right to feel the way you feel, just like it’s my right to say fuck a lot in my story. My anger here isn’t directed at you. Unless, of course, you’ve felt the need to get all up in arms with me about it. In which case: fudge off.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I hope this epistolary concoction of mine, now commonly called a ‘weblog’ or ‘blog’, finds you and your spouse exceedingly well. I hope weather in the place you currently reside is good, and your friends and family have suffered no misfortune since we last had one of these strangely public private chats.

My health is good, and my family is very well, and the weather is delightful, thank you for wondering.

You may have begun to wonder, with suspicion I fear is common to all my readers, what fantastic and whimsical Turn this missive is about to take. Why, you may ask, eyes round, is this sovereign Person, previous empress of the word F-, writing in a fashion which suggests longhand, fountain pens and inkwells, and swirling my own farts in a vintage brandy glass before inhaling deeply?

Because I’m making a point, sweethearts. Life without vulgarity–it sounds different to me. It sounds like a Victorian novel, without the occasional ‘damn’ thrown in there. The lengths a writer can go to to avoid vulgarity can ruin a novel–nothing pulls you out of a world quite as fast, after all, as a group of tough soldiers standing on a battlefield around their recently dismembered comrade, whispering ‘oh sugar’ in shocked tones.

I see this question asked a lot around the Interwebs: ‘should I use cursing/vulgarity in my book’? And my answer is, and always will be:

I don’t know. Why don’t you want to?

If the answer to that question is ‘because I’m not sure it belongs in this story/coming out of this character’s mouth’, then no. No, you probably shouldn’t. Because it doesn’t belong in the story.

If the answer is ‘because Aunt Mabel would unfriend me on Facebook/I’m worried I’d lose readers/it’s not appropriate to the age group I’m trying to reach/someone might be offended if I say ‘damn’ in it/etc.’, pull your head out of your ass and do it.

I curse. A lot. I’m not proud of this fact or ashamed of it, it’s just part of who I am. The curse words in my linguistic flow are like the exfoliating beads in my morning cleanser. A brief, momentary brightness. A typographical em-dash. Mix metaphors as you will.

As I’m the sort of person who cusses, a lot of my characters are also the sort of people who cuss. They’re ordinary people, common people, people of small means and low circumstances. Soldiers, innkeepers, convenience store clerks, fifteen year old kids (who cuss more than the rest of us. Sorry, moms.). Prostitutes. Magicians.

People who don’t, by and large, say ‘sugar’.

Of course, when one of my characters is the type of person who says sugar, or doesn’t curse at all, then they’re portrayed that way. Because story.

My language is, when in novel form, not uniformly bad. I drop an f bomb or two and, okay, sling more shits than a plumber’s supersoaker. But my vulgarity is fairly limited, and, outside of language, there’s little that keeps my book from being pretty clean. Here are some comments I’ve gotten (always in private, tch tch!) on my usage of the mother tongue:

1) ‘Vulgarity just makes you look less intelligent.’
What?

Did you not bother to read the rest of the words? ‘Cause I have a pretty big vocabulary. And I use those words too. When they’re the right word. (I’m sitting on a post about archaic words I’ve learned from my recent dive into Dickens. I am excited as fuck and you should be too. You’ll learn what a pettifogger is, and more on the best word ever: megrims.)

2) ‘It makes you look so common.’
So what. Nice attempt at shifting the blame onto ‘society’, that elusive bugbear, however.

This is the unisex companion to one girls used to get a lot: ‘it makes you look like less of a lady’. Hang on, let me check something–yep, vagina still there. However, oh my goody gumdrops goober goodness. You mean I’ll never be presented into society?

You couldn’t figure that one out earlier, like when I was born?

3) ‘People won’t like you as much if you’re vulgar.’
And there it is again! Not you, the commenter, but people. All of them out there. You know, them. The same people who, I assume, shot JFK, and rigged 9/11.

Here’s the thing, person who certainly isn’t people. As far as my novel goes, I don’t care. If someone’s shallow enough to like or dislike me based on my language choices in a novel, let ’em. It’s not like they were close friends of mine to begin with.

You read the book. You either like it or you don’t. Don’t get me wrong: I love my fans, and I respect all my readers. If someone reads my book, sees the f word, gets offended, and puts it down, well, I’m sorry we didn’t get along better. This person is making a choice for themselves and not complaining to me about a choice I made for myself, and I can respect that.

But for the person who whinges about my language to me, as though I’m a customer service department fielding complaints: I don’t take requests. You get what I give you.

4) ‘People won’t trust/respect you as much if you’re vulgar.’
Again with the people. These people. So judging, so limiting. Especially when expressing an opinion you don’t want to tell me you also hold.

And, again, the same reply: if you don’t trust or respect me, a person you barely know, because of my language choices, and you feel the need to tell me this out of some misguided sense of earthly duty, you’re a few steps higher on the ladder of pseudo-literary shame than the Grammar Nazi. You’re like the Goebbels of the English Language. And that’s your right. No one’s saying you can’t make your choice that way. Yep indeedy. Jawohl.

Also, when you’re in jail and you need to make that one phone call to someone who you absolutely know will bail you out, I’m willing to bet your first worry isn’t whether or not he says fuck a lot.

5) ‘You’re damaging your career options by being vulgar in public.’
This is the one I’ll give some credence to, because it’s true. You won’t ever be able to work somewhere superconservative if you, like I, have a filth-smearing online presence that, in addition to expressing intelligence and good communication skills through a written medium, says fuck sometimes. (And how nice of you, person who isn’t in any way people, to be so concerned).

However–how much money is it worth to you to substitute ‘sugar’ every time someone says ‘shit’ in your novel?

Answer carefully. Your sellout point is a good thing to know, just like your safeword.

I’m mentioning all this because, yes, I get a little tired of fielding it, but also as a word of wisdom for you kids who aren’t sure if ‘sugar’ is the word you’re looking for.

These people who’re telling you it’s ‘disgraceful’ to use a naughty word. These people who’re telling you it’s not what ‘well bred’ people do. These people who, in the least vulgar way possible, are implying that you’re a vulgar piece of shit, and certainly don’t deserve induction into whatever passes for proper society these days:

These people are censors, bigots, and bullies, just the same as the dickhole who cut you off in traffic and called you a cunt. They’re just keeping a G-rating on it, which doesn’t mean it’s any less bullying or censorious. It’s the same ugly thing in a prettier and more self-righteous wrapper. And, again–perhaps it doesn’t deserve to be in such a shiny wrapper when, you know, out and out telling somebody they’re worth less because of their language choices is such an ugly fucking thing.

The choice as to whether you should use shit or sugar is up to you. It is your choice, and yours alone. And it has nothing to do with you, or the Neighbors for a Purer Tomorrow who’re lurking out there, waiting for something new to be outraged by.  You’re not shouting it out to the rooftops, where everyone can hear it–you’re writing it down in a book, where people can choose whether or not they’re exposed.

No. This choice has to do with your story.

Does your long haul trucker say fuck, or fudge? If he says fudge, why? Because, let’s be honest–we all kind of expect a long distance trucker to say fuck. The opposite for a grade school teacher, a pastor, Aunt Agnes with her knitting needles and coke bottle glasses. And again, if they do say fuck: why?

If there isn’t a reason for it, it pulls us out of your story. It reminds us that there’s some little person at the typewriter, plugging away, praying like hell she isn’t (or is!) going to offend anybody. It reminds us that those pious braggarts, those constant offendees, those people whose quavering constitutions are so delicate they can’t even bear the knowledge that someone, somewhere, is saying fuck, are out there.

And they call enough attention to themselves without your help.

So cuss at will, soldiers. Cuss laissez-faire. Because if it’s the right word for your story, it’s the right word, and fuck everybody else. Anything else–any adaption, modification–would make it a lesser story.

And that’s a bigger sin than saying damn every once in a while.

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HUMOR: Disagreement, The Flowchart

Here is your flowcharted guide to disagreement. In case you needed help disagreeing with somebody. Which, okay, I never do. But you know.

Sadly, I left out the side branch of ‘Why Don’t I Have A Girlfriend? Girls Always Pick Assholes, And I Know This Because They Aren’t Picking Me.’

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Writing: The Production End of Your Business Plan

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WRITING: Writing as a Business

So, obviously, I don’t have enough to do today. You’re getting two blogs, you KNOW I don’t have enough to do today.
As a result of my laziness, I’ve been online googling and Pintresting things related to writing as a business. My sales are down, I’ve got a mini-launch coming up. I need to be thinking more about the business side of things.

I’m not the best person at businessing (yes, I just turned that noun STRAIGHT UP into a verb), but I try. When I DON’T sell, I generally know why–I’m not putting enough effort into advertising my wares. I can say this, of course, until I’m purple, but the fact remains: I have a full time job, a long transit time. I have people in my life who want to see me periodically. And…

And.

I HAVE SHIT TO WRITE.

The reason this is in all caps is simple. Paging through suggested business plans for indie authors, I saw a lot of what you’d expect–use social media x number of times daily, make  number of public appearances, set advertising budgets and goals, take the business side of this seriously, save your goddamn receipts. All the stuff you’d expect. And, then, some stuff you wouldn’t: spend a few minutes each day clearing off your desk. Give thanks to the Lord for your successes every night. Once, memorably: don’t forget about your family.

All right, that’s all well and good. Very thoughtful. But there is one thing–ONE THING–almost every single one of the ‘plans’ I checked out neglected.

Can you guess what it is? I bet you can.

It’s the production plan. You know, your manufacturing end of the business spectrum. You know. WRITING.

Not a SINGLE ONE of these plans (and I looked at five or six before throwing up my hands) allotted time, or even SUGGESTED time, for WRITING A BOOK.

Once I realized, I was horrified. Have we gotten so involved in social media, patting ourselves on the back and looking like internet-educated professionals, that we’ve forgotten how important it is to ACTUALLY WRITE A BOOK?

Don’t get me wrong. If you want to sell copies, you absolutely DO need to treat your writing endeavor as a business. You need to have selling goals and ideas. You need to advertise. You need to tweet your little heart out.

But before all of that, you need to sit down and write something.

And if you want that thing to sell, you need to not be thinking about how many social media likes you’re going to get, what suit you need to wear to your book signing, whether or not you’ve given thanks for your successes today, whatever. You need to be thinking about your story, your characters. You need to be writing, at least a few words a day. And you need to enjoy it. Because otherwise, why are you doing it? For fame? Gosh, good luck getting famous with a self published novel on the internet. I know, I know, some people have done it, but they’re few and far between.

And their books were good. Because they took the time to make them good.

I promise you, before they started coming up with elite social media strategies, these people wrote. And they enjoyed it. Because they’re writers, and that’s what they do.

A lot of ‘writing as business’ blogs tend to shame writers a little for ‘not treating their writing venture as a business’, and this, frankly, is toxic and unwise, and IMO part of what kills indie quality. It isn’t a damned business. It’s a book. What happens AFTER is the business, and yes it’s part of your business plan, but so’s production. Can you imagine a toothbrush-making company’s business plan without x number of toothbrushes required for success? No? Of course you can’t. Because in order to sell, they need a PRODUCT. So do you.

I’m begging you guys. Don’t lose sight of your writing for the sake of ‘business’. Selling copies is important if you want to make a living, yes–but it’s a means to an end. It comes after the product. And, while it should be respected, your writing deserves the first respect.

Because, as a retail veteran and not as a writer at all, I will tell you–if the product’s no good, or just plain isn’t there, no one will come back for seconds.

So, when you’re coming up with your business plan, please take a few seconds and allot some time to creating the product you plan on selling. Because, if you’re really busy, that’s the thing that should come first. You might want to consider adding a ‘production plan’ section to your business plan, detailing roughly how much and when you need to write to stay on track. You might not stick to it, I know–but this way, at least you’ll know when you haven’t. And just having it in there will remind you, in all of this mess, about what’s really important.

Because you aren’t writing to get famous (and most of us aren’t doing it to pay the bills). You’re writing to write. Because you have to write. Because you’re a writer.

Thanks,
EFR

WW: Extirpate All Pirates

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Writing Wednesday: Extirpate All Pirates!

So I’m through with Mistborn now, and I’m on to Piers Anthony’s Bio of a Space Tyrant. First volume, of course. Refugee. It’s–entertaining. It’s certainly that. There’s a lot of blood and mayhem and people getting raped and killed and such, as well as some awkward allegory concerning America’s immigration issues. Very sensational.

And, ultimately, very ineffective.

I should preface this by mentioning I’m not the biggest Piers Anthony fan. (Yes, this will be a writing post. Give me time). The reason for this can, in fact, be summed up in a little nugget about three quarters of the way through the book (if you want to read it, and haven’t yet, stop here, because I’m about to spoiler the SHIT out of it).

Some background: the narrator, who had very few interesting traits save for what Anthony TELLS us but doesn’t bother to SHOW us is interpersonal and leadership ability, has lost his entire family, save for one sister, to space pirates on a lackadaisical and rather drawn-out refugee ramble through the orbit of Jupiter and its moons. He has also, mere pages before, lost his One True Love, who is startlingly beautiful in spite of being in drag for most of the novel, by forcing an airlock open while she is unsuited. He did this knowingly, coldly, for the betterment of his small surviving group. He’s Mighty Fucked Up about it. And, howling his vengeance into the vacuum, he makes this chilling statement:

I remembered my oath: to extirpate all pirates. They surely deserved obliteration.

And, right there–and I was on public transportation, mind you, while I was reading this–I giggled.

Yes, you read that right. I giggled.

Because COME ON. Extirpate? REALLY?

He also, earlier in this novel about the narrator’s fifteen year old self, uses the word ‘pulchritude’ in reference to a sister. Aaawkward.

I have to mention this because it ties in so very well to what I was saying in a previous post, The Right Words, which more of you should’ve read, because ENGLISH. I think I even TALKED about pulchritude. As one of those words which is, overwhelmingly, probably not the right word.

I don’t believe a fifteen year old boy, newly orphaned, his soul struggling to mature under a crunchy candy-coating of rage and depression, looks to the stars and comes up with the word EXTIRPATE. I don’t care how good his education was. I don’t care if he went to Harvard and graduated summa cum laude whilst still suckling on his mother’s teat. I don’t care if the story is actually being told by an older version of this boy. Fuck ‘extirpate’. Just…fuck it.

I do not buy an emotionally charged statement containing the word extirpate. And that ‘remember’ doesn’t help, either. Remember is a distant word, a past-tense sort of word. It doesn’t give the statement any immediacy–the fact that I keep referring to it as a ‘statement’ says something about how I took it.

And the ‘surely’. Is there a need for that adverb? Is there REALLY? ‘Surely’ is almost as nasty as ‘very’, if you ask me. Nothing leaks the immediacy out of a statement quite like an unnecessary adverb. Unless it’s the word ‘extirpate’. Or ‘remember’.

I’ll take the colon. Colons have immediacy. Especially if you haven’t pooped in a while.

But anyway, this is just me coming up from my reading with a friendly reminder and perfect example of why THE RIGHT WORD is important.

As to fixing this paragraph? You can fiddle with it all you want. It’s so awkward and redundant I don’t think anything will do much good. I might try something like this:

I had sworn to destroy all pirates. They deserved it.

But, frankly, I’d just as soon see it struck from the ranks entirely. It’s awkwardly placed, and I don’t think we need reminding that a boy who’s lost this much (whose name, for the record, is the incredibly giggle-inducing Hope Hubris) wants to destroy the people who’ve taken it from him. Especially in the middle of what is, essentially, a laundry list of activities.

Done ranting now. But take this as a living example of what difference the wrong word can make. Take it and learn from it. Learn from it. Learn.

Fat Girl

This is one of those Emily rant posts.

To explain, in brief: I’m sick of all of you–ALL of you–talking about ‘body image’. As though this were a great social course of action.

Let me explain. I went to the doctor recently, and stepped on those shiny scales for the first time in a while. And, lemme tell you, I’m fat.

Hang on, hang on. The first person to post anything REMOTELY resembling ‘aw gurl, but ur beautiful just the way you are!’ gets a ham-handed slap in the face. I AM beautiful. It has nothing to do with my body or my face. Neither because of, nor in spite of.

I’ll also dope-slap the well-meaning person who says: “no ur not fat!!!oneone”

I’m many things in this world. I’m intelligent, witty, kind of an asshole, well-intentioned, socially stupid, fond of whiskey, women, and song. Or, well. Women and whiskey, anyway.

I also happen to not be blind. And those numbers told me, with a quick cross-indexing of the BMI chart taped to the weighing room door, that I am–

–in all actuality, devoid of any sentiment, while failing to suffer from ‘negative body image’ or the surprisingly societally prevalent idea that peer pressure, for some reason, is MORE LIKELY to affect overweight women than any other demographic in history–

FAT.

Fascinatingly enough, I had trouble dragging this delicately worded truth out of my doctor. My DOCTOR. Who is the one person, in the world, who should be able to tell me with NO FEAR of offense if I’m doing something unhealthy.

No, I don’t need your shoulder to cry on. I don’t need you to dress me up in pinup costumes and photograph my soft mounds of flesh in an attempt to make me ‘feel positive’ about myself. I don’t give two blue balls in the innermost circle of hell about whether or not I match up to the picture society has painted for me to fit into. Frankly, I’ve never given much of a damn WHAT picture society paints. Of anything.

What I care about is that, for the first time in my life, I am unhealthily overweight. And I don’t look good, or feel good, about myself this way. Some girls can rock a little extra cushion. Some girls look stunning. I am not one. I look like a poached pear floating in a sea of ass.

Again–NOTHING to do with ‘society’. I’m very tired of ‘society’. It’s me. Just ME. This is how I feel.

So I’m dieting.

Cue the worried voices. Somehow, ‘dieting’ in our society has become associated with ‘starving yourself, giving in to the pressure of the masses, and stepping away from the ‘true you’ into the bigoted, stereotyping realm of the cultural whore.’ What it actually means, ladies and gents, is ‘exercising healthier habits and portion control in an attempt to get rid of the worst of your flab’.

Because your body and figure aren’t the ‘true you’. Associating these two things, in fact, is some of the MOST image-negative, shallow, and inappropriate nonsense you can foist upon  your feel-good media feed of choice.

Any man or woman on earth has the right to diet, should they so choose. And, while it’s good that there are positive examples of bigger people in the media today–and while no one should ever have to feel bad about themselves because of their physical shape–I think we tackle this ‘problem’ the wrong way.

The problem isn’t the targeting of overweight people in the media. It isn’t coddling negative body image. It isn’t accepting yourself as you are–because sometimes, you just aren’t happy with how you are, and you’re not going to BE happy, and you’re better off devoting your energy to change than to meek acceptance and borrowed gratitude.

No. The problem is in the sheer amount of time and effort we devote to TALKING about body image.

Maybe you’re happy with how you look. Maybe you’re not. But either way, other people can’t see for you, and you can’t try to take their viewpoint as your own. Only you can see you the way you do.

And therein, perhaps, lies the secret. Yes, I’m overweight. Yes, I’d like to lose a little weight. Is this the sum total of my existence? Would I EVER let this tiny facet of the manifold presence that is myself become ME?

No.

Nor should you.

My final view on the subject of ‘body image’: you should be happy with what you see in the mirror. If you’re not, work on it until you are. But don’t let it become WHO you are, happy or not.

You are just as much of a person–just as much of a full and complicated human being, whose views contain just as much complication and resonant depth–whether you’re fat or thin.

To this end, next time you give a compliment–especially to a lady–remember that there are things in this world other than attractiveness. Perhaps this person is also funny? A good dresser? Wrote a poem or story you think is great?

It’s natural to feel bad about yourself sometimes. If you’re a few pounds overweight, if you were mean to a coworker at lunch, if your hair looks like shit, if you pronounced ‘Prague’ to rhyme with ‘vague’ in conversation.

But you work on it, right? If it really bothers you. If you’re happy and healthy with a larger figure, go you. If you think Prague and vague is the only rhyme you can justifiably use, use it. If your coworker deserved it, fuck ‘im.

Because it’s all up to you.

WW: All Five Senses

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Photo by Amanda Samdlin, via Unsplash. Speaking of smell.

Description With All Five Senses

This might be a little grade school for some of you. Or you might think it’s a little grade school. Frankly, I think we could all stand to be reminded. So there you go.

When you are describing something, it looks a certain way. Yes indeedy. We get that. We got it three paragraphs ago. We got the visual flavor of this city through your description of Corinthian columns, crenellated parapets, vast marble blocks that take twelve oxen a week to tow anywhere useful. Your description of classical statuary was helpful. I am very much educated by your sighting and detailing the French toe on the shoes of that passing nobleman. I don’t know if I needed all that information about the form and purpose of the city’s irrigation system, but there it is.

And yet, with all that detail, I’m still left with a burning question. And that question is, of course:

What the hell does this place smell like?

Is there incense drifting in a leisurely cloud over the temple district? Does the market smell like olives and spices and not-so-fresh fish? Is there a miasma in the air, like that which was present over Victorian London? (You want to learn about the Great Stink of 1858. Trust me, history is awesome.)

And feel. Are the cobblestones uneven, the graveyard ground squelchy? Does the wind blow hot and dry, or humid and cool? Do the stone walls sweat with the weight of the weather?

Is there a spot across from Madame Muessler’s bakery that smells uncannily of apple pie? Are there a lot of people gathered in it, jostling each other, looking for relief from the not-so-fresh fish smell of the rest of the market?

Description, like anything else, is a matter of reactionary chain. People have a spot in a nasty smelling market that brings olfactory piedom. Do they crowd to it, or avoid it? Do they think it’s cursed by the shade of the Mad Baker, who added most of the neighborhood’s children to his pies five years ago, and who was hung hard and long from the Trewithy Bridge when constables found the grisly remains in his garden?

But you know how I feel about all that stuff, if you read my blog. You know I’m going to tell you to ask why, create flowcharts, etc.

I want to keep this as a simple reminder: you have five senses. Possibly six. When describing something important, use at least two of them.

Note: I’m not telling you to cram as much sensory effluvia into your description as possible. This is tiresome. People want description discreetly, and want it to flow along with the story. If you have a descriptive passage that goes more than one sizeable paragraph without some small action occurring, it’s too fucking long.

But when you see your character–or your setting–what else strikes you? What else is important to the scene?

Yes, she has auburn hair and laughing green eyes. I hope her eyes aren’t really laughing–that’s kind of surreal–but otherwise, great.

But what does she smell like? Does she have a tinkling little laugh? Is her voice softer than a baby’s whisper on the private parts of a spiderweb? Is her skin soft and smooth, so smooth buffing with a chamois would leave it red and raw?

Think about what you notice on a day to day basis. Red cars aren’t just red cars–especially not if something’s wrong with their mufflers. Brakes squeak, tires squeal, exhaust leaves a tangible reek in the air. Your supermodel friend might have an incredibly annoying laugh. Your fluffball Persian cat has tangles underneath her topcoat, and every time you try to stroke her, your fingers get caught and she scratches the shit out of you.

Not only does multiple-sense description add to the realism and depth of your story, it’s also an excellent way to foreshadow conflict. A whiff of rotten scent in a beautiful city can hint at the corruption and decadence beneath. A scarred and muscle-bound mercenary with a sweet mild voice might not be such a bad guy after all. Or it might be the precise opposite–maybe he uses his voice to lure people in.

There you go, just a friendly reminder post. Because I keep reading stories that forget: garbage has a smell. A fire has heat. Magic, in addition to flashing lights, would doubtless also have a sound and a stench. I know, I know, we all do a lot of our research online nowadays, and might not be able to pinpoint precisely what gefilte fish smells like, whereas appearance we can see in JPEG form.

But it might be time to leave the internets for just a second. Or–in fantasy context–extrapolate on what you know.

Cheers,
EFR

A Note: Did you guys know my book came out a while back? Well, um. Now you know. Read it and weep. No, not literally. Please, not literally–those tears will fry your keyboard.

Writing Wednesday: Retail and Writing

It’s that season again. I won’t say the C-word, because I’m not a big C-word fan. But it’s that time of year.

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You know, the time of peace and love and brotherhood. And rampant consumerism.

I work a day job that combines retail and shop work, and this means I’ve got to make sales and do the work for them later. I mention this because it totally wipes me out from December 1st to December 24th. It’s a lot of work. A lot. And do I like it? No. I barely get time to see my family and friends.

But here are three big reasons all this mess helps me with my writing. And, as a lot of you probably work jobs also affected by a C-word rush, I figured it might give you something to think about, too.

1) EMPATHY

Whether or not Aunt Tillie gets the red blender or the blue blender for Christmas might not be a big deal to you, but to somebody else, it’s worth screaming about. Should this person perhaps not have waited until December 23rd to purchase said blender? Indupitably so, Watson. Should they have taken a moment, reflected on the nature of the season, and kindly said hey, it’s okay, I can still rush-order it online? Si. Your mother has no part in this, aside from birthing you however many years ago, and probably shouldn’t have been mentioned in a blendiferous context. We know.

However, people behave as they’re going to behave. Sometimes it’s the wrong way, sometimes it’s the right way. And, when you’re wearing that name tag/apron/polo/whatever it is, you aren’t in any position to tell them how to behave. So what do you do? You deal with it, understand it’s nothing personal. If it’s still tooth-grittingly difficult, try and put yourself in their shoes. Maybe Aunt Tillie has terminal cancer. Maybe this is the last Christmas she’s spending on Earth, and all she wants, for some reason, is a chocolate milkshake made in a blue blender. Maybe our poor invalid Aunt Tillie only said this last night.

If all else fails, go to the back room and bitch about it for a while.

I mention this because empathy is an important quality for a writer to possess. Not only do you need to understand why your characters are doing things, you need to sympathize with them. Even the villians. Everyone’s story, up close, is relatable. And guess what? To themselves, everyone’s a hero in it.

2) PATIENCE

Yes, Mrs. Nozzlebuff. We think the off-cream is a much better shade for your walls than the off-white. No, we don’t think the off-white is ‘too mauve’. It’s off-white. Yes. We’re fairly certain it will go with anything. Except maybe more off-white. Oh, damn. We shouldn’t have said that. Now you’re thinking of the taupe? Well, it’s nice and neutral, taupe. Yes, we’re fairly certain it will go with anything. Brushed aluminum fixtures? Really? Well, we repeat. It’ll go with anything.

We’ve all had that customer who takes forever. Maybe they’re holding up your line at a cash register, maybe they’re keeping you from important work in the back room, maybe your eyes are crossing from looking at the same two paint samples for an hour and a half.

Here’s the thing: you’re getting paid to stand there, just the same as you are to do anything else.

This is one of the hardest lessons in a combined retail/shop sort of job. Though helping Mrs. Nozzlebuff make her paint selection might seem like a pain in the ass, you’re still doing your job. You’re still getting work done. Maybe not as much work as you could get done otherwise, but you can’t rush some people.

Here’s using lesson number one for lesson number two: put yourself in her shoes. I know I for one hate to be rushed. Rushing will make me, purposefully and angrily, take longer to do something, out of sheer bitchy pique. If someone takes two hours, let ’em take two hours. I mean, try and make it a little quicker, by all means. But don’t force a decision on somebody when they aren’t ready to make it.

People who’re slow making these sorts of decisions will be grateful to you for your patience. Most people won’t have had it with them. You might make a customer for life, or a new friend.

And writing is the same way. Write your first draft, second draft, third draft, fiftieth draft. Write as many drafts as it takes for you to be satisfied. If a scene isn’t right, don’t rush it along–slam out a working draft of it and ponder it in the dark watches of the night. The answer will come to you eventually, don’t worry. Don’t throw down your pen because everything isn’t perfect right away. If you do, you’ll sure as hell never finish the story.

Which brings us to:

3) KNOW YOUR STOCK.

This one doesn’t get mentioned enough in either context. Knowing your stock–whatever it may be–like the back of your hand gives you the chance to know exactly what works for exactly what person. More options give you an increased range of flexibility in sales and keeps a customer from walking out the door.

In writing, knowing your stock is knowing your options. You should have plans, not only for what your characters say and do, but also for what they didn’t say or do. Each combination of elements creates a different outcome, a different emotional background, a different chain of events. Don’t say some character must do something–say that a character must do something in this set of circumstances. Understand that, if circumstances change, so does that must. If, in a story, your climactic moment involves a character killing his mother, use your writerly inventory to create a chain of events that leads up to it, and not the other way around.

And, bonus number four:

4) BITCH IN THE BACK ROOM.

Sometimes, you have to bitch. You’re not supposed to, but you have to.  The key is, make damn sure customers can’t hear you. And make damn sure, DAMN sure, they can’t see it on your face. And go back there, light a cigarette or grab a coffee, and let fly. Your coworkers understand. Hell, they’re probably doing the same thing.

When writing, don’t let the emotions of the day color the emotions of your story. Save the complaints about your boyfriend for your mother, the complaints about your mother for your boyfriend, and the complaints about work for the goddamn stockroom. When you write, you’re creating an artificial environment of sorts. It may be an environment based on your day to day life, but it’s not so based on it that you need to change emotional charge from paragraph to paragraph, depending on how work is going. If you’re in the middle of a happy crowning scene when your grandfather dies, maybe you need to set that scene aside for a while. Or: plaster the mental retail smile on and plough through it. It won’t be as good if you do this–hell, everybody knows the Retail Smile is more like a grimace frozen in time–but it’ll serve you until you listen to item number two and rewrite it later, when you’re in a better mood.

There you go. Hope this helps somebody else who writes while bearing the incredible cross of working straight through this hopped-up overly consumer driven holiday season. You’re probably not getting much writing done right now–I’m not, I’m honestly kind of amazed I had the time to post this in the first place–but it’s something to think about.

Happy holidays, guys. And a note: if you’re the lady screaming about the blue blender somewhere deep in the bowels of a Bed, Bath and Beyond, take a moment, think about item number one, and stop. You’re not making anyone’s season better, including your own, by throwing a tantrum in front of a salesperson.

Now get yourself together and, red blender or blue blender, try to spare some of that peace and love you’ve been vaunting in your Christmas cards.

Love,
E

Obligatory Ferguson Post

I had a whole writing blog post cooked up for you guys today, but, honestly, I have something else I’d rather say to you. It’s been pressing on me for a while now.

It’s about Ferguson. It’s not about Ferguson.

My main comment on the events–as I’m only internet-educated on it–is to say, with heartfelt sadness, that I am so very sorry that young man died. That lives have been lost and ruined. That people are angry enough to protest in the streets–that their needs have been ignored long enough that they feel they have to.

That said:

My social media feeds are covered in commentary on Ferguson, and the death of Eric Garner. They’re covered in bathos and pathos, responses ranging from the angry and outraged to the smug and unchanging. They nitpick details–tiny details–that are, at best, fourth or fifth string in relation. Everyone, it seems, has found a soapbox.

A young man died. He is dead. He will never, ever, speak or walk or run or listen to music ever again. He won’t go to college, or get a new job, or marry and have children. He won’t grow old, have a midlife crisis, listen to his grandchildren playing out in the yard.

And yet here we sit, bathed in electronic light, debating the minute points of the last minutes of his life, debating whether or not he deserved to die, whether or not he was a ‘thug’. We post our opinions–hateful, sometimes, on either side–and we get another beer, or we give our husbands and wives a kiss, or we go on in to work.

We continue, in essence, to live.

None of us–well, okay, almost none of us–are crime scene investigators. We are not lawyers, doctors, police officers. We are not experts. A keyboard, internet access, and a few newspapers don’t make you an expert. The only person who knows, one hundred percent, what happened is Darren Wilson, and he’s told his side of the story. You either believe him, or you don’t. A jury made its decision. You either believe it was fair, or you don’t.

If you have something to say, make it constructive. Make it helpful. Show support and kindness, love and understanding. Help those who need help.

If you have an opinion, don’t refrain from sharing it–of course not, where would we be if we did that?

But remember.

This media giant, this sailor’s knot of anger and discussion that is Ferguson. This is the story of a man’s last few minutes on earth. The same with Eric Garner.

Say what you want about the behavior of protesters, the state of policing in our country, race relations. Say what you want about the fairness of the judicial system, precisely when an unarmed man poses a threat to an armed policeman.
But please, stop speaking ill of the dead, and quit dissecting their corpses.

Black lives matter. They do. And these lives weren’t those of celebrities. They didn’t plan on being famous. And when these lives end–early, abruptly–they deserve respect, and compassion, and restraint.

I don’t know these people, and I know they’ll never read this, but my best goes out to the friends and families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. I know this must be a terrible and trying time for them, and I hope they find, if not happiness, peace.

The internet–and, by extension, the world–needs a few reminders of humanity, and basic human decency. Please provide them by being a civil human being, and remembering that everything you say online–everything–is public. The friends and families of these two men could–probably won’t, but potentially could–read everything you have to say. So have some respect in a public forum, because, for all you know, someone’s mother might be reading it.

WRITING WEDNESDAY: Literary Po-Po

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A Brief Word to the Literary Police

I just had someone–a friend of four or five years, who I am hoping to Christ right now doesn’t read this blog–refer to my latest story, when I showed it to them, as ‘chauvinist’.

I’m a voting, reading, cooking-when-I-damn-well-feel-like-it, full-time-working sort of woman. I’ve never worried about how to ‘catch’ a man, and the thought of whether or not men find me attractive doesn’t keep me up at night. It certainly doesn’t set me to water cleansing or tummy tucking or insane amounts of exercising, either. I’ve never looked at men as being, by nature, my superiors, nor do I put up with that attitude in anyone I come across. I have a wonderful boyfriend. I shave my legs when I damn well feel like it.

This said, you can imagine my surprise.

Then I reread it. I flipped through the pages, entranced. And–by damn–it was sort of chauvinist.

Because the main character, a sad and empty man, is a bit of a womanizer.

Because he isn’t a whole person. Because he had an absent father and a mother who was often too busy with other concerns to spare him much attention. Because he needs, in the course of the story, to learn and to grow. Because he doesn’t treat anybody well, up to and including himself.

The story, so far, doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test (if you don’t know what this is, check out Chris’s post here at Modern Fantastic about it). This isn’t to say there aren’t some strong and independent women in the course of the story, but it doesn’t. The sole viewpoint character is male, and is therefore a part of or overhearing every conversation in the story.
But does this mean it’s chauvinist?

I don’t think so. It might surprise you that I, a woman, have a fairly positive view of women overall (except the assholes, of course. But there are always assholes). My character, even, would, if he took a minute to think about it. His chauvinism hurts him, in the course of the story. The way he looks at women, in the complex tentacles of the Orestian myth, ultimately causes his downfall.

Because this is a story of his corruption, loss, and decrepitude as a moral human being. He isn’t ‘likeable’ in a lot of ways, though he is in some. He isn’t a friendly face. He’s a haunted and disturbed man.

I’m bringing all this up because I was very surprised at my own reaction. This person–again, a friend, who I’m sure knows I’M no chauvinist–put a damning word in front of my story.

I think, in our politically correct era, we tend to do this too much. A story that calls attention to chauvinism isn’t necessarily chauvinist. A story that calls attention to disparities between races or classes isn’t necessarily racist or classist. Literature was once the tool satirists used to flay open our society, expose the ugly bones and beating heart for what they were, bits and gristle. Sexism or racism or classism–all those isms that we decry regularly on social media sites, and hopefully also in public–are ugly things, and they belong to ugly people.

But even the nicest characters–even your viewpoint characters–are often a little ugly inside. And there are racists in our world, boys and girls. There are sexists, classists, homophobes and nationalists. These are ugly things, but they are a part of the world we live in. And, sometimes, these people don’t even recognize what they are.
And, sometimes, these things have to be shown too.

When I stub my toe, or cut my finger, or break a glass, I don’t say ‘sugar’. I say ‘fuck’.

Somebody else might say sugar, but I don’t.

That’s just how it is.

If I were writing a story about myself–if I were my own character–I wouldn’t have me break a glass and then go ‘oh, sugar biscuits!’. This isn’t true to my character.

I’m not condoning any of the isms we’ve mentioned. I’m just saying: sometimes, they exist.

Sometimes, a story is about people who look down on women, or who are racist, or homophobic. You might not be proud of this–you might not like it–but it’s a part of your characters. You can trust your audience, hopefully, to recognize that this isn’t a positive part.

And if your story holds an ugly truth, you shouldn’t sugar-coat it. If the ‘ism’ is part of your story, make it a part of your story. I lose a lot of respect for a writer who can’t bring themselves to tell the truth. I know I’m not the only one who does.

REVIEW: Why I’m Not Doing Reviews Anymore

Today, we’re doing something different and making an announcement.

I don’t think I’m going to continue doing Friday reviews.

I know, I know, this makes me a terrible person somehow. I’m sure it does. But I started doing it because I wanted to use the time to point out some of the very best things I’ve seen in indie pub, especially fantasy indie pub. I wanted to give some recognition to the good guys, people who have written and carefully edited a great story, and who’re brave enough to try and get it going on their own.

I’ll still do these reviews when I find these books. They’re out there, and I love them. I still stand by everything I’ve recommended so far. But I have to say: once a week is killing me. There aren’t a lot of these truly great stories, and I have difficulty finding them. The sheer amount of money I’m spending on indie books is unsustainable for someone in my (very low) income bracket, and I’ve been hurt too much, too much.

My standards are pretty high. I read books like some people chainsmoke, or like alcoholics drink. If there was professional gear for reading–some sort of sacred polar bear hide laser-honing bookmark, maybe–I’d own it. I’m a far better reader than I am a writer. I admit this freely.

There are plently of good indie books out there. Loads of them. But, let’s face it, there are also plenty of not-so-good ones. I don’t want to talk about these, because I’m an indie writer and I recognize fully that my book might be one of them. But I’ll say this for myself: at least mine is fairly well-edited.

Yes, I’m aware I’m not making any friends here. I am painfully, painfully aware. But if I said things just to make friends, I not only wouldn’t be me anymore, I also would be successful. (Did I mean ‘wouldn’t’ be, you ask? No. Just…no.)

Wading through fantasy indies (or, worse, free fantasy indies) I’ve noticed one thing that keeps me gritting my teeth throughout. I wanted to bring it up here because, though I see it talked about in other blogs, I never see it discussed from the point of view of a reader.

Folks:

When you self-publish, you are still very publicly publishing a book. You are, whether you expect to succeed at it or not, releasing a potential bestseller onto hordes of possible buyers. Your book should, therefore, be professionally formatted and edited, carefully designed, and made completely ready in all ways for that one random bored person in Ahoskie, NC to click the ‘buy’ button and, not knowing you or your writing from Adam, fall in love. Even if this isn’t what you’re expecting–even if you’re just doing it for friends and family mostly–you are still committing to a public endeavour.

Let me recap: THE INTERNET IS A PUBLIC FORUM. See those capital letters? See how intense I’m getting about this?

When I see bad grammatical errors, plaguey typos, and obvious misspellings, tears well up in my well-seasoned reader’s eyes. One look-through–ONE–would have taken care of the worst of these. And readers DO judge you based on these. I know I do. Not because I think you’re stupid or untalented, no. Because I think you haven’t taken the care necessary in creating a final product that is, truly, worthy of the name ‘novel’. If I read your story on Fictionpress ten years ago, I might’ve liked it. If I came across it on Wattpad, I might’ve liked it. But will I be buying the paperback version of something you couldn’t even bother to sort out your lies and lays in? No. Hell no.

A finished novel, especially one you’re proofing yourself or relying on your friends to proof for you, might have a few errors in it. This is fine. I understand this: we all do the best we can. I’m no different. But if, deep down in my crunchy little soul, I am struggling with the urge to grab a red pen and return a proofed copy to you, you quite simply didn’t take the care you should’ve taken in showcasing and preparing your work for what is indeed the big bad world outside your word-processing program.

We all have different ability levels. If we’re all writing novels, I assume we all have at least a decent level of writing ability, we’re all capable of defining simple English-major terms like main character and setting and climax. We are all, likewise, capable of reading over our own work once or twice, or finding someone who is and paying them in money or beer.

I recap: I will not read or review something that is not at least passingly edited, unless it is your unpublished draft and you’re coming to me for advice.

Not because I hate people who don’t have the same grammatical stick up their arses I do. Not because I’m a hateful know-it-all (as was once suggested to me on a writing forum. I mean, I am, but that’s neither here nor there). Because, my loves, if you can’t take the time to make your end product pretty, I can’t take the time to read it. Why should I?

The Internet is a public place. It is, even better, a nest of anonymous vipers who are waiting, waiting, for something to chew up, spit out, and dump on like an overweight starlet after a two-week senna purge. Do you really want to release
something half-assed on this simmering cauldron of hate and violence and, possibly, fandom?

Do your best. Edit like a grown man/woman. People will respect your best, and, for the most part, treat it with all the honor anyone who has done their best deserves. And if they don’t: fuck ’em. You did your best.

A last note–

‘Publish’ comes from the Latin infinitive publicare, to make public. To make public. This is how I always learned it, at least, in school–but looking it up on the Intarwebs, I’m seeing an added definition that never showed up in the back of Wheelock’s, at least as far as I remember. To confiscate.

I want you to sit on your bottom and contemplate that for a second. While I’m not sure of the original meaning or usage beyond that point–the interwebs are short on Latinate answers, and I have a feeling I’m going to be researching this for hours–I think I can make it apply here. When you publish your work, it is being confiscated by the public. It is no longer your own work. It is the property, also, of the reader, and the reader can say what they will and form the opinions they want to form.

So make it ready. Make it good.

Love,
E

PS–Here’s a useful list to get you started. I know my spell-checker is frequently inaccurate, so I just try to spell pretty well in general. I recommend you take up the same practice: and, just so you know, my spell-checker just told me I spelled ‘recommend’ wrong. I didn’t. Other words in this document spell-check is telling me I’ve misspelled: learned, starlet, passingly, crunchy, showcasing, practice, and, hilariously, misspelling. It’s enough to make you very nervous.

100 Most Commonly Misspelled Words