Finishing NaNoWrimo: Last Thoughts

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Finishing NaNoWriMo

So I just, less than an hour ago, finished NaNoWriMo.

I wrote 50,076 words, at final count. I had to fluff a little to get the last bit out and make it 50,000 words. With how I write, this’ll some day turn into a 100,000 word novel, so I’m not too upset about it.

But I feel a little funny.

Y’see, after all that effort–after all that work–I’m not sure it was worth it.

I know. Betraying the cause, etc.

But here’s the thing. I’m a professional. (If I keep chanting that to myself, it’ll one day feel like it’s true). I’ve written over 50K in less than a month before, and it wasn’t during NaNo. So the wordcount honestly doesn’t mean much to me. I already had proof of my own productivity, long before I did this.

The hard truth of it is, I don’t know if this is a story I would have finished, if not for NaNoWriMo. And I don’t mean that in an ‘I would’ve fucked off because I never finish anything ever’ way.

I mean it in a ‘this was not my best story idea’ way. In the last 25K, it lacked inspiration.

Editing can cure a lot, but I don’t know if it can EVER cure a lack of inspiration.

There’s a lot of talk on writing blogs about inspiration not being a real thing, but I think, deep down in our hearts, we all know that isn’t true. Inspiration is what happens when you write the good stuff, and yes, some of your stuff is better than other bits of your stuff.

You can still write without inspiration. I think I just proved that for about 25K words. The question becomes: should you? Really–should you?

I’ll be honest, I usually pick up the pen whenever I have that ‘a-ha!’ moment. Whenever I’m sitting around, thinking about that scene I left my characters in, and I suddenly know what should happen next. This isn’t to say I’m not a productive writer–I’m plenty productive. I know how to force the in-between moments when they need to be forced. In addition to my NaNo novel this month, I wrote two 6K stories, about 5K worth of blog posts, and, oh, we’ll say about 10K on a beloved side project. I can make the numbers add up no problem.

But, in the end, I don’t think NaNo quite leaves you enough time for those ‘a-ha!’ moments. And, while I think being able to force out 50K in a month is a good exercise, and might help folks who have trouble with it with productivity, I don’t know that it’s the right way to go about things for me.

Creative writing isn’t about cranking about copy. That’s an element of it, sure–but it’s an element in the same way composition or perspective are elements in the artistic process. Is it important to understand these things, and be able to use them? Yes. Undoubtedly. You wouldn’t get very far without them.

But a simple understanding of perspective does not a masterpiece make. Like good writing, good art is extremely subjective–and illusive. Long story short, if you don’t think you’re going to paint a masterpiece, don’t stretch the goddamn canvas in the first place.

Because, trust me. If you can’t fool yourself into thinking you’ve got a masterpiece in you, you sure as hell won’t fool anybody else.

With the last half of this one, I haven’t fooled myself, and that is NOT a good sign.

So we’ll take our sad little NaNo novel, and we’ll let it rest for a month. And then, when the holidays are over, we’ll see if we can edit it into the story it should have been. More likely than not, it’ll have to be rewritten: but there’s the germ of a good story in there, and Rome wasn’t built in a day, etc. etc., aphorism aphorism.

So I won NaNo, but I don’t FEEL like I won. And all the chirpy little automated NaNo messages in my inbox–‘OMG u finished! Wow! We’re so proud of you for some reason!’–wind up ringing false.

I’m hard on myself, a little. But what I’ve done WASN’T an incredible thing, and writing isn’t about wordcount.
And that’s just how it is.

See you on Friday, kids. Happy Thanksgiving to my American followers.

Affordable Christmas Gifts for Writers

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A NOTE: There are a lot of links in the post. Mostly because, after writing it, I got curious if some of these things actually existed. Lo and behold! Internet magic! You can buy plot dice, an E.E. Cummings tshirt, AND a stupidly expensive fountain pen all in one fell swoop! I don’t necessarily encourage you to buy these things–hell, it’s me, I encourage you to buy as little as possible. Links are included fo’ yo’ edification.

Affordable Christmas Gifts for Writers

We’re coming up on Christmas.

I know, I know. It doesn’t feel like it. But the Santa Seepage has already begun–the craft stores have Christmas endcaps, and Target has its oblique we-know-it’s-not-time-for-this-yet-but-buy-stuff back Christmas wall up, lurking like a hungry red and green shadow behind the current commercialized holiday section, Thanksgiving. For those of us who work retail, the nightmare has already begun. I’m basically getting this post over with early, as resident Grinch.

For those of you who DON’T work retail, and therefore like Christmas, you can start humming ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ under your breath. What’re those lyrics, again? Does anybody actually know the lyrics to Jingle Bell Rock?

Anyway.

I see ‘Christmas lists for writers’ a lot online, but y’know what? A lot of times, they’re things like t-shirts with ‘I’m a Writer’ written on them, which is pretty much useless in the art of writing, except possibly to blot your blood, sweat, and tears on (or, alternatively: if you hit your head pretty hard on something, and forget who wrote all those half-finished stories on your laptop). Or, it has the Hemingwrite on it. Because gadgets. I mean, who doesn’t like expensive gadgets? Who doesn’t like to buy them? Everybody has the money for a twenty dollar coffee mug and a Hemingwrite.

So I wanted to take a minute and give you guys a useful (and, hopefully, slightly more affordable) list of things you can get your pet writer. Here we go:

1) A Coupon Book.

Broke this year? Saving all your money to buy Granny that five-speed blender? It happens, buddy. And, when it happens, the homemade coupon books appear.

However, for your writer, you might want to consider going above and beyond the standard free back rubs and Netflix n’ chill night ideas. Here are a few authorial coupon concepts for you:

1) One FREE night of you telling me all about your novel. I’ll ask questions. I’ll get into it.
2) One FREE night of locking yourself up in your room to write. I will not ask you why dinner isn’t ready. I will not ask you why you aren’t keeping me company.
3) One FREE dinner left obliquely by the door of your room while you’re writing. I won’t complain about making it. I won’t ask you to join me at the table. I know you’re writing.
4) One FREE read-aloud. Read me your story!
5) One FREE accompaniment to the convention/signing of your choice. I’ll stand there next to you and be super supportive, even if I don’t know what’s going on and I had to take the day off work.

2) Services Rendered.

No, not sexual services. You dog, you.

Do you have a skill that might help your writer buddy out? Are you a graphic designer, a photographer, an editor, have a job in marketing, etc? (Even if you’re none of these things, you could always be a beta reader).

If your writer buddy is trying to self publish, or publish through a small indie press, he or she could probably use some help, and they may have been too shy (or too introverted, whatever the popular term du jour is) to ask. So this Christmas, if you’re broke but want to still make somebody smile, offer aid.

3) Kindle Unlimited

Does your writer read a lot? If he or she doesn’t–are you sure he or she is still alive? Poke this person a few times with a stick. Whisper the words ‘Fifty Shades or Grey’ or ‘E.L. James’. If this doesn’t provoke a strong reaction of some variety, your writer friend has passed on, and your Christmas gift should probably be a mourning bouquet and help with the burial.

If your writer friend is still alive and vociferous about Shades, you might want to consider a Kindle Unlimited subscription. KU is a great program on Amazon by which certain ebooks (a lot of solid bestsellers among them) can be ‘borrowed’ for a month. It gives your Kindle-possessing writer the chance to read whatever kind of books, and as many of them, as they please.

A note: Amazon now has a reading app for all smart devices. So, yeah, your writer doesn’t even need to have a Kindle for this one, though it is recommended.

4) Supplies.

Writing isn’t a profession that requires a lot of stuff. You don’t need a two hundred dollar leatherbound notebook to write. You don’t need a pricey fountain pen. And, honestly, if a lot of us had these things, we wouldn’t use them, or probably look at them ever. (PS–if you haven’t reached your ‘humanity is ridiculous’ quota for the day yet, check out that fountain pen link).

But your writer does use something to write. Moleskine notebooks? A tablet? A laptop? You can buy a passel of Moleskines for pretty cheap. A keyboard case for a tablet. Long story short, if you want to buy your writer an actual writing related item, make sure it’s something this person will use. I’d recommend staying away from plot dice and Hemingwrites and clever t-shirts with E.E Cummings jokes on them: these items are more or less useless (unless, of course, your writer has expressed a desire for one of them. For instance, no E.E. Cummings t-shirt for me, but I’d love something with a quote or two on it from A Confederacy of Dunces. Or this Henry Miller Library poster: ohmigod, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life. I get what they were going for, artsy bastards, but this has to be one of the FUNNIEST accidental truisms ever manufactured about Henry Miller. Look, the gal in the picture is even asleep). 

5) Support.

Did I mention love and encouragement? No? Well, they’re cheap, and in the end they’re the best gift you can give anybody.

Note, I’m not suggesting you give your writer a Christmas card with ‘You Get My Love For Christmas!’ scrawled on it in Sharpie. That’s kind of an asshole move, man. At least make a coupon book, or something. But, nevertheless:

Self and small press publishing is pretty horrible. It’s difficult to build a following, difficult to keep a following once you’ve built it, and almost impossible to make money (at least, in the golden way your writer dreamed of before actually self-publishing). So the best gift, and the best way to keep up the spirit of the season? Be there. Be supportive, be a fan, be a friend. Like stuff on social media. Leave a glowing review of your writerbuddy’s book on Amazon. Help out. For all you know, you might be helping somebody keep their dreams alive.

6) Money.

You have enough to give it to other people? Oh, man. What’s that like?

If you do, money is pretty much appreciated across the board by everybody. And, for your writer buddy, it might be your best option, if they haven’t given you any hints on what else to buy. Money’s such a cheap gift, you say? Really? It’s worth exactly what it’s worth. How the hell can it be ‘cheap’?

Sorry, that expression’s always bothered me. Anyway. Money can buy a writer advertising, listings, a five pound sack of gummy bears. Whatever this writer needs–which is something you might not necessarily know.

Or, if you just can’t bear to be that awesome friend or relative who just gives out money: does this writer go out to a certain coffee shop frequently? Perhaps a gift certificate to that coffee shop. Is there a conference he or she wants to attend out of town? Plane tickets, or a gift certificate to a really good restaurant you know there. Just published a book? A gift certificate for framing, maybe, so that book can go up on the wall where it belongs. An Amazon gift certificate is always awesome, too.

Long story short, give your pet writer a gift just like you’d give a gift to anyone. Listen to that person. What do they say they want? That’s. Um. Probably what you should give them. People don’t usually lie about that stuff.

Last words: just because someone makes a percentage of their income from writing doesn’t mean you have to give them a writing related gift. Maybe what your writer friend really wants is Granny’s five speed blender. In which case: skip the glittery pens and get this person a blender. After all, do you get your architect friends a t-shirt with ‘I’m an Architect’ on it?

See, kids? It ain’t half hard, nor does it have to cost you an arm and a leg.

NaNoWriMo: Biting the Bullet

NaNoWriMo: Biting the Bullet

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Writers tend to fall into two camps, this time of year: pro-NaNo, anti-NaNo. Everybody writes blogs about it (including me, apparently, hmm.). People who are doing NaNo write posts about how exhausted they are already, and how rude it is to not like something they like, and they’re totally writers omg. People who don’t do NaNo write about how irritating it is to see their pastime/profession turned into a sort of writerly social media feed one month out of twelve, how it encourages you to write crap, how they’re the ones who are totally writers, no really.

I roll my eyes and, like most years, decide to take a pass. I don’t know what makes someone a writer, but I’m pretty certain it isn’t arguing vociferously that, yes, you’re a writer. (Actually, on an aside–I’m pretty sure it’s writing that makes you a writer.)

But a few days ago, I thought again. I had a novel I’d started on the second, with a decent NaNo word count. Why not? If writing makes you a writer, I’m failing pretty hard at being a writer at the moment. I could use the boost and the competitive excuse to write. I’ve done NaNo before, when I was a kid–2003 and 2004, I think–and I won once. It was fun. I got all caught up in it. I talked to other people who wrote things. I was thoroughly proud of myself.

Of course, I was also like fifteen. I had no job, no car, nothing to do but sit around at my parents’ houses, splorting my daydreams out onto a keyboard while hoping, hoping, my boyfriend would get on AIM so we could talk even though he was grounded. Those were pretty prime conditions for writing–prime in a way that November could never be for me, as an adult.

Allison Maruska wrote this post about NaNo that sums up a lot of rock-solid reasons not to do NaNo. Chief among them, of course, being why November, why, why, why. November is a busy month. There’s stuff to do, people to see, houses to clean. If NaNoWriMo happened in, say, March, it’d be easier to deal with.

But here’s what made me stop and decide to do it.

I need to make writing a commitment. And I need to make good on that commitment.

I’m pretty prolific. Always have been, always will be. The recommended 1,667 words per day is probably about what I write anyways. But I’ve always had trouble finishing stories. I get distracted, I lose the plot, I lose interest. I come up with another idea that’s so much better.

The first real novel-length work of fiction I ever finished was that 2003 NaNo novel. And it was crap–I mean, total crap–but I was also fifteen. I had no idea how to edit anything. And rough drafts are always crap, especially if you leave ’em rough.

I was super proud. I told all my friends and family members. They said, “that’s nice”. I didn’t make anybody read it, because I think even at fifteen I recognized what total crap it was, but I sure did carry a printed out version of it around for a while, wrapped in writerly twine, and made red marks on it judiciously whenever I thought anyone was looking.

And, in that paragraph, you can see the reasons I posit for doing (and not doing) NaNo.

For Doing It:
–A greater commitment to your craft. Specifically, to finishing what you stared.
–Fun chance to meet other writers in your area
–Possibility, with months of editing afterwards, of producing a novel someone might actually want to read.

For Not Doing It:
–#NaNoWriMo twitter feed updates incredibly annoying
–Not particularly sure I understand what doing NaNo has to do with being a writer or not, or that I care if it does,
–Might make young writers a little too dependent on head pats and trophies, and not dependent enough on their own ability to keep a story going,
–There IS a lot of other stuff going on in November.

This year, I’ll do it. Some years I have, some years I haven’t. I’m not particularly interested in the rah-rah-lookit-you-you’re-writing aspects of NaNo, but it’s a good exercise, and it’s one I could stand to take part in again. The hard truth of the matter is, to make it writing, you need to be able to churn out a finished story sometimes, and it doesn’t hurt to do it fast. Do I think it needs to be your entire reason for living during the month of November? No. That’s sad. But that 1,667 words per day is, roughly, two hours of writing. Two hours a day. If it’s something you love to do, you can and should make that kind of time.

Much as the miniature NaNoSplosions all over my twitter feed might annoy me, it’s good to see people get excited about writing, even if I feel like it’s more the word count than, you know, the actual story. I guess as long as folks are happy, I’ve got no cause to complain.

This has been your account of an anti-NaNo writer doing NaNo, because putting your money where your mouth is is fun.

14,000 words and some change so far. Wish me luck.

Fright Week Flash Fiction VII: The Alternative

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Photo by joe burge at freeimages.com.

We’re ending Fright Week on a spooky yet blackly funny note–and we’re talking about the scariest thing in our modern world, student loan repayment. Ooo-wee-ooooo. Might not be the most startlingly original story in this collection, but it’s my favorite.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the week of spooky flash fiction. Have a happy Halloween.

The Alternative

“If your loan goes into default, your paycheck could be garnished up to fifteen percent,” the nice lady on the phone tells me, concern infused in every syllable. “If you get refund money at tax time, the government can take that, as well.”

I stare at the wall. I know I need to do something–something–but what can I do? I have rent and utilities to pay, just like everybody else. My parents won’t give me a cent. I’ve pissed off just about every friend I have.

I need to pay off my loan. I know I do. But I also need to eat.

“I just…I don’t have any money,” I mutter. This conversation is probably being recorded–don’t they record them? I want to scream, and curse, and throw things, but she’s a thousand miles away in some cubicle, and besides, she’s just doing her job. And it’s probably a shitty enough job already. I’m sure a lot of people do scream and curse.

“Times are pretty hard,” the lady says. God, that concern. Do they train them in the precise inflection necessary to make us scumbags feel like total wastes of breath? Do they play recordings of someone’s mother to them, educate them that way in disappointed sighs?

But what she says next catches my attention. It’s something no one has said before.

“Of course,” my loan lady says, “there’s the alternative.”

“What alternative? Bankruptcy?”

“We’re starting a program. It’s called A Pound of Flesh–you can look it up on our website, if you’re curious.”

“I’m curious.”

“Well, it’s one of our charity initiatives. If you’re lower income–if you make less than 15,000 dollars a year–you can donate a part of yourself for forbearance time. A piece of your liver earns you six months, an eye or a lung earns you a year. If you’re interested in loan forgiveness, you might want to look up our Kindly Kidneys initiative. The parts go to your local hospital, where they’re donated to a lucky person in need.”

I’m glad she can’t see me. I can feel my jaw hanging open. “You’re kidding me,” I say at last. “You people are accepting body parts in lieu of payment? Is that even legal?”

“We want to provide everyone the opportunity for good credit,” my loan lady says. Which isn’t exactly an answer.
I shake my head. I know she can’t hear me do it, but I imagine she’s had this conversation enough times to know it’s happening.

“Shit,” I say at last. I don’t care if they’re recording. They deserve to hear someone cuss over this–deserve to hear how ridiculous it is.

“I’ll email you one of our Pound of Flesh information packets,” my lady says, voice cheerful and carefully modulated. “It’s a good option, for someone young and healthy such as yourself. You won’t be disabled by the loss of one kidney, or one lung, or one eye. And the organs, I promise you, do go to a good cause.”

“Wait–how do you know I’m healthy?”

“Medical records.”

I don’t think my jaw can sag any closer to the floor without falling off. Hell, I kind of wish it would–then I could just give it to them and get some money back.

“I’m not interested,” I manage to say at last. “I’m–holy shit. I’m so not interested.”

And, for the first time, I hear a hint of personality in my loan lady’s voice. It’s sly, and amused, and I don’t like it one bit.

“That’s what they all say,” she tells me. “At first.”

“I’ll call you back once I’ve looked at all my options,” I tell her. I hang up.

For a while I just stand there, phone in hand, looking around my apartment. Dark, this late–I try to save money by only turning on one light at a time. Blank walls, unmade futon, empty mac n’ cheese boxes lined up like dead soldiers on the kitchen counter. The steady drip-drip-drip, from the bathroom, of a leak maintenance hasn’t been by to fix for two months. I hear money in that drip. With every liquid splatter against the sink, I hear a penny clinking, never to be seen or heard from again.

I sigh.

I open up my laptop.

*****

A few week later, I wake up in my own bathtub, surrounded by ice. Someone has placed a Sandy March Loan Company bathrobe on the toilet seat for me, next to a chocolate bar and a big glass of water. And, of course, a stack of papers. Seems like there’s always a stack of papers.

I can feel the stitches, like burrowing worms, in my abdomen. The ice has a pink tinge to it, a strange antiseptic smell–when I breathe the smell in I’m reminded of the medical personnel who filed in here a few hours ago, green scrubs bearing the Sandy March logo, full of smiles and good cheer and reassurances.

“You’re doing a great thing,” the doctor tells me. “Thanks to you, some kid’ll have kidney function for the first time in years. He’ll have a future away from hospitals, dialysis machines, doctors. He can go to college like a normal person. Now just sign here. And here. And here.”

Going to college, I want to tell him, is what got me into this mess. But I sign all the papers, I shake their hands.

What else can I do?

What other choice do I have?

“Enjoy your year of forbearance,” the doctor tells me, smiling. He slides the IV needle into my arm and there’s a little pinch, a few moments of waiting, and then–

–well. Then, I’m here. Strangely peaceful, lying in my tub of ice.

And the worst part about it is, the doctors were right. It doesn’t hurt so much, and I don’t feel any different.

And I’ve still got most of my liver, a lung, and a kidney to spare.

Fright Week Flash Fiction V: Pearl

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PEARL

It’s a pearl and it’s not a pearl. I was fooled at first, just like Miranda–it’s round, after all, and white, and it has a pearl’s milky smoothness. We found it in an oyster, albeit one that had already been cleaned. All signs, Miranda would say, point to pearl.

But it’s something else. I know it. I feel it most strongly late at night, after Miranda’s gone to bed–when the lights are all out, and the house is silent. I can see it glowing. I can see the projections it casts: faces, indistinct, on the bedroom wall. Sometimes the faces are human faces. Sometimes–most of the time–I simply think they want to be.

Come play with me, the faces whisper. Play with me. Come play.

I stare at the ghostly shadows until the rising sun divides them. Until the morning comes, and the pearl is once again just a pearl. Four days, it’s been. Four nights without sleep.

We found it at the Shuck’n Shack, where we go every year for our anniversary. It was just sitting there, on top of one of our oysters–a bed of gray snot underneath, tasting of the sea. The servers denied putting it on there, but one of them must have–we come there every year. A gift, maybe, from an anonymous donor. I tip well, and they know us here. It didn’t seem so unlikely at the time.

We took it home, and the shell we found it in. Miranda wants to get it mounted, put it on a ring–our anniversary pearl.

It was odd, looking back, how nobody said anything about it. Nobody came forth. A pearl that big–a pearl that round–it’s a kingly gift.

Even when I’m awake–when I’m at work, stretching at my desk, plugging numbers into a spreadsheet–I can hear it.
Come play with me. Come play.

Tonight it glows especially brightly. Lurid and pulsing, washing Miranda’s sleeping face in the fluorescent glow of a laboratory, or maybe a morgue.

I need to sleep. I haven’t slept since we brought it home. And there’s only one way that’s going to happen.

I get out of bed, as quietly as I can. I tiptoe over to the dresser. I take the pearl in my hand.

The light is almost blinding–how it doesn’t wake Miranda I’ll never know. I roll the pearl across my fingers, feeling the odd softness of it.

Come play with me.

I have a vision. Momentary. A schoolyard, brick walls and green grass and the laughter of children. A yellow tire swing, brown with dirt. A boy, standing in front of me, grinning. Look what I found.

Woah, I say. Cool. I feel the weight of the pearl, like the weight of ripe fruit, between my fingers.

In the throes of my vision, in the dark bedroom, my hand clenches. I crush the pearl.

It pops like a berry, and incandescent slime oozes out over the top of my fist. For a moment, I see Miranda’s face: sleeping, sleeping. Far away.

Things expand in a bright fluorescent bubble. The world rushes upward around me, the ceiling draws farther away. I’m in a rocky grey prison of some sort–the shell. I am in the oyster shell.

I try to move. I can’t.

My own face, bathed in the glow of the pearl, is bending over me. My lips open–have they always been that cracked, that ragged? Or is it only because they seem huge now?

“I’m really sorry,” I whisper to myself. Those giant lips are moving, the teeth inside like yellowed boulders.
My voice is the voice of a little girl.

“I had to get out. I’m bad. I know. I’m really sorry.”

I can feel the shell of the pearl around me. It’s soft–even inside, I can feel it give–but it’s unbreakably soft, like a thousand layers of paper pressed together. The glow of my prison fills me.

Desperately, I whisper.

Come play with me. Come play.

Across the room, a million miles away, Miranda’s eyes open.

Fright Week Flash Fiction III: The Chair

Definitely Not Dave, my magician manperson, wanted me to write one of these about a massage chair. So I did.

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THE CHAIR

The kiosk is disgusting, a deserted island of cracked leather chairs in the middle of the empty mall. On a folding chair, an old man–from somewhere in Southeast Asia, or maybe Mexico, hell if I know–sits snoozing, a paperback book loose in his lap. Lucky for me, I don’t need him: though I have to say, it might be worth a complaint to whoever management is. You put your money straight into the chair here, but still. Attendants should attend you. It’s what they’re paid for.

The sign by the old man reads ASSAGE. There’s a slightly cleaner patch of sign backing where the M once rested. I read the sign’s smaller letters, scrawled in Sharpie:

5 MIN=5 DOLLAR
10 MIN= 10 DOLLAR
30 MIN= 20 DOLLAR SPECIAL PRICE

I plunk my purse down by a chair and try out the surface with a tentative palm. It’s springy, and maybe I’m crazy but I could almost imagine I feel a little vibration in there already.

Lana from HR said I need to try it. She said I looked tired. I don’t know why the hell that’s okay now, telling another woman she looks tired–and Lana’s not the one to talk. She hasn’t gotten her hair done in months, and last time I saw her her panty hose had runs in them. Maybe I shouldn’t be talking to Lana in HR. Maybe I should be talking to HR about Lana. She’s a blight on the office environment. Not me. I just work hard.

But I took a long lunch today anyway. And I don’t have time for a real massage, but the mall’s right across from the office, and this, maybe…

Lana recommended the stupid chairs herself. And it’s so cheap! she said. And that giggle. That stupid airhead giggle. I don’t care about cheap. Doesn’t she know that?

I take off my jacket, fold it over my purse where it’ll maybe keep it hidden from purse-snatchers. Mall like this, you never know who’s around.

I sit down in the chair. I slide my money in–ten dollars. I don’t have all day. 

I close my eyes and lean back. It’s the funniest massage chair I’ve ever sat in, but it’s soothing–a faint prickling pounding, like millions of little pistons are wearing themselves out against my back. I should’ve brought some disinfectant with me. Woken up the Chinese guy, asked him for a towel. Who knows who sat in this thing before me? Some fat old housewife, probably. A hoarder, out at midday, puttering around the mall. Ugh. I don’t want the shit from some filthy house all over my skirt.

But I can’t help it. I press myself deeper into the chair. The feeling–it’s an interesting feeling. I like it. I wish it was just a little bit stronger, but there are no adjustment controls on the chair–no space-age technology, this.

I press in deeper. Christ. It’s almost working. I can almost feel the knots in my back releasing. Whoever designed this thing was an evil genius–I’m going to put another ten dollars in, I can tell it already. Maybe there’s a market for this, a product that almost works. Something people have to buy over and over again. Like cigarettes, but without all the bad PR.

I press. I can feel the cheap crappy leather against my hose, my skirt, my nice new work shirt. Probably going to wrinkle. I don’t care. I want more.

I press in as hard as I can, clutching the tattered chair arms and forcing myself backwards. That feeling, Jesus. It’s almost working, almost perfect. Like an itch you can’t quite reach.

Something in the chair shifts, and I feel an opening, slotlike, where the back of the chair joins the seat. Whatever. Come on. Just give me a massage. A real massage. Come on, chair.

The opening widens, and there are sudden needles of pain along my back. I don’t have much time to feel it before the opening gets wide, wide, wider than it should be, wider than it can be.

I see something on my way in.

Teeth?

*****

Out in the deserted shopping mall, in a lonely kiosk filled with shabby leather chairs, a sound rings out.

It’s a single burp. Low, sinister. Satisfied.

The man on the folding chair drops his book, jumps. He looks at the chair for a few seconds, stands up, stretches.

“Are you happy now?” he asks it. “Did Lana send us a good one?”

The chair burps again. A tiny bit of blood, fresh red, seeps out between the backing and the seat.

“Eh,” the old man says. “You fatty.” He chuckles.

He takes a towel from his pocket, wipes the blood away. He picks up the purse and the jacket, balls them up with the towel. He throws the whole mess in the trash, and returns to his book.

How to Find Good Advice Online

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Okay. Yes, yes, I’ll get to that post about accents in a few. Right now, I wanted to talk about a little problem I’ve been having–and the solution, which is more helpful to you than the problem’ll be.

My views, the past few weeks, have TANKED. I mean–TANKED.  It’s a negative feeling when that happens, especially for sensitive little shits such as myself: boo-hoo-hoo, I say. Am I being uninteresting? Does nobody care about the art of writing any more? Boo hoo hoo. Lesigh.

Of course, it’s nothing that personal. (Or–I hope it isn’t). I narrowed it down to three possible causes, all of which I’ll try to remedy:

1) I’m not posting at the right time of day/on the right days.(I’ve known this for a while. I just–I have a job.)
2) I’m not as engaged in my blogging (or Twitter, where a lot of my views come from) as I used to be.
3) The topic I’ve picked for my blog is perhaps not as popular as it used to be.

We’ll talk about two and three in time, but right now, I want to talk about number one. Why? Because I had REVELATIONS, man. Revelations.

There are, of course, particular times that’re peak times on social media. They’re different for each kind of media–if you want more information on this, check out the bottom of this post.

But when you’re doing a google search, a lot of things’ll pop up. And they’ll say DIFFERENT stuff. And it’s pretty confusing. And how the hell do you know who to believe?

The answer is important, and also useful when encountering shiny pretty memes on Facebook:

Use your common damn sense.

We’ll use this example: say you see a meme on Facebook informing you that voting for Hillary Clinton is like voting for your own death sentence, because she personally traveled to Libya and killed 5,000 virgins in Benghazi with a strange alien deathstaff, laughing all the while in bloodstreaked killjoy.

What? You say, horrified. That’s terrible. How on earth has the truth about this been suppressed? How could I not have known this? I’m definitely voting Republican now. Definitely.

Well, kids. A meme is an image with text on it. That image could be from anywhere, and so could the text. They’re not necessarily related. That text isn’t true, just because you saw it on the internet.

Again, start by using your common damn sense. If an American politician did something this shocking, why doesn’t everyone know about it? There are two possible answers:

1) Someone is, indeed, suppressing the story. Or:
2) Someone is telling porky pies.

Now, balance the likelihood of these two answers. People could suppress something like that, I suppose, but a picture of a gore-covered Hillary Clinton laughing amidst the carnage, glowing alien artifact in hand, is unlikely to STAY suppressed very long, in our age of internet sharing. (Or: is this why we’re seeing a meme about it now? Is it all a government conspiracy? WERE there two gunmen on the grassy knoll?)

Also, consider–if the truth is being EFFECTIVELY suppressed, there’s not shit you can do to find out about it sitting in your chair tooling around online. So you might want to play around with the other conclusion anyway, just to see if anything THERE convinces you.

Suppression aside, people lie on the internet every day. Every second. There’s no data for this, sadly, but I’d be willing to bet there are more lies told in the course of a day than babies born, or meals eaten, or fucking breaths taken. Why is it less likely to be a lie because it’s on the internet, with a picture tacked on to it?

Your next step? Take to Google. Image search for ‘bloodstained Hillary Clinton’. Image search for ‘Hillary Clinton alien deathstaff’. Query Google: ‘Hillary Clinton virgenocide Benghazi alien deathstaff’.

See a very similar image of Hillary Clinton, minus bloodstains and staff, giving a speech in Iowa? Hmm. Photoshop seems likely. See a photo of that same alien deathstaff in promotional material for a movie called Plan 8 from Outer Space? Hmmmm.

And I can almost promise you, someone else has seen that image before you, and done a more thorough investigation, hopefully with better sources. Find a few reputable sites (since it’s political, try and find a few with differing political biases). What do they think?

If a lot of sites call it fake, if they offer convincing evidence, then it probably is fake. See, kiddos? That’s using your brain on the interwebs. You should do it every time you see something that shocks you. ‘S what shock SHOULD do–it should make you think. Is it solid proof? No, of course not. Solid proof of anything is next to impossible. But if a lot of reputable people agree, well, you might want to cash in your chips on the reputable people.

What, you’re wondering, does this have to do with post times on social media?

You need to use the same set of problem-solving tools in figuring out which advice to follow about your blog.

This is the internet. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone with a keyboard can offer advice. Hell, I’m doing it right now. So what should you look for, in figuring out which advice to follow?

1) What KIND of advice do you want?

If you’re looking for advice on how to write well, likes and popularity aren’t important. Look for a post that you, personally, think has been written well. You might want to start by seeing if some of your favorite writers have blogs online–a lot of writers WILL write about their craft, and a lot of them (especially the indies) are more than happy to help you out, and would love to see your comments. Don’t be afraid to try and make friends: what’s the worst that could happen?

If you’re looking for advice on how to make your blog more popular, look for a blog offering this advice that is already popular. You don’t want advice on garnering more pageviews from someone whose posts have like three likes apiece. You don’t want marketing advice from someone whose book is in millionth place in Amazon rankings.

Advice on where to get nice legal images? Look for a blog whose pictures grab your attention.

Etc. You get my point.

2) Is the link timely?

This one, especially, if you’re looking for advice on social media use and anything involving popularity. A link telling you how to get more Facebook likes from 2008 might not be viable now: people change, and the average age of Facebook users has increased since then. This means people will be logging on at different peak hours, interested in different things. Always check the date of the post, before you make up your mind to follow advice.

3) Use Your Common Goddamn Sense.

I can’t stress this one enough.

See a shiny infographic telling you the most people log on to Pinterest at 5 AM EST? Woah, nelly. Hang on a second. Most Pinterest traffic is probably mainland American (as we’re the most wired-up nation in the world) and the earliest 5AM EST could be is 1AM, for those on the Pacific coast. Most Pinterest pinners are adult women, who have things to do like work or at least take care of the kids–how likely does even a 1AM peak time seem?

Some of you are wondering why I’m asking you to do ‘all that work’. You’re whining: ‘you can’t possibly expect me to fact-check everything I believe in’. After I cold-cock slap you, I’m going to be honest with you: I do. And let me just chuckle patronizingly and end this with a single statement:

If you don’t have the time to fact check it at least a little, maybe you should suspend motherfucking judgement.

For People Interested in Peak Posting Times, Here’s a Useful Current Link:

Julie Neidlinger over at CoSchedule is a fricking QUEEN for doing this one.

For People Interested in Not Believing Every Shiny Meme they See, Here are Some Fairly Reliable Fact-Checkers:

Factcheck–One of the oldest and most consistently reliable of the fact-checking sites online.

SnopesI know, I know. All the Republicans in my crowd can’t believe I’m listing Snopes as a viable fact checker. Well, it isn’t 100% reliable, but it’s better than that almost 100% FALSE chain email you’re thinking of right now that discredited Snopes (which was, in turn, discredited by FactChecker). A note for you: any time the phrase ‘Wikipedia finally got to the bottom of it’ is used, you might want to reconsider reliability.

Google–The best ‘fact checker’ of all: yourself. Spend some time looking stuff up under different search terms, so you get different points of view, and make up your own damn mind.

“It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”
Maurice Switzer

Writing: The Life Illiterate

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Writing: The Life Illiterate

Hello. My name is Emily. Occasionally, I do things other than write.

Shocking, I know! Even when I don’t have to do these things. Even when they’re not particularly tempting things.

Sometimes, I would rather play Piano Keys than write. Sometimes, I would rather stare at my Facebook news feed with my eyes unfocused than write. Sometimes, I would rather look at long lists of vapid celebrity gossip (27 Ways You’ve Never Seen Taylor Swift’s Hair Look Before! 19 Glorious Golden-Skinned Teenaged Actresses to Judge Yourself Against!) than write. And I hate celebrity gossip. Unless it’s about me. Which it never is.

Sometimes I come home from work–a day that, plus travel time, often runs twelve hours–and I am so brain-numb, so skull-fucked, so thought-fried, that the only thing I want to do is lie down in bed, pick out constellations in the popcorn ceiling, and never think about anything ever again. I frequently get less than five hours of sleep at night. Do you know what it’s like to be away from the house for twelve hours, come home at eight, clean up last night’s mess AND cook tonight’s dinner, with the full knowledge you’re going to lather/rinse/repeat this cycle five days this week, and fit some other stuff in there too?

You probably do know. You probably do it too. My story isn’t self-pity sob-sob, it’s classic Americana at this point in the economy.

Why am I telling you this?

Because it happens to everybody. And, while I am firmly of the sit your ass down and write school of literary craftsmanship, the fact remains–sometimes, you just don’t feel like it.

And I think we need to talk about this, too. Because, if you believed every blog you read, it would look like most of us were writing automatons, able to ignore the pressures of day to day life and ART CONSTANTLY, dammit.

And it isn’t true. It just isn’t. Sometimes, you don’t want to write. You don’t want to read. You don’t want to do something particularly literary and constructive with your time, even though you usually enjoy literary and constructive things. I’ve had entire days–days–where I did nothing, accomplished nothing, wrote nothing, talked to no one, ordered pizza for dinner.

They were awesome. Fucking. Days.

My point is: everyone needs some time off. Not just from work, but from writing. From being the upper-class literary butterfly we all know you are. And on those days, cutesily though you might protest, you’re glad you didn’t get anything done. You might tweet about it the next day with dramatic sadness (‘totes unproductive today!!! #frownyface #writerslife’), but deep down inside, you know you needed that time and you’re fucking glad. You enjoyed yourself.

I’m a fairly prolific writer. I usually write two to three thousand words a day, though this number is hard to judge, as I never look at my word count. I flatter myself I’m fairly good. I’ve read all the right literary books and hold with all the proper literary opinions.

But fuck that. Because, sometimes, you need a break.

Does my 2-3 K wordcount make me any more of a writer than someone who gets down eighty words a day? No, it doesn’t. Hell no. Let’s face it, ain’t none of us doing this for a living.

Does it make me more of a writer than someone who hasn’t picked up a pen in two years?

This is where people get shirty. Because I say yes, it does.

I’ve made it a priority. It’s slightly more groundshaking on the Richter scale of my existence than getting eight hours of sleep, but less than getting six hours (we fight for those six hours, baby). I squeeze it in. I’ve made sacrifices for it. It’s part of me, and a part that matters enough to make time for.

But even I, like I said, need a break every once in a while.

Enough with this fabricated pre-packaged pablum that is ‘the literary life’. Enough with trying to sell ourselves the story of our own greatness, our own literary involvement, our own Byronic wit. Enough with the self-branding, the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman bullshit, the idea that anybody, anybody, takes a writer without a six-figure book deal seriously as a literary fountainhead.

You’re a person who likes to write sometimes. You do it well, or poorly, or some combination of both.

And then, sometimes, you go out to a club, drink something pink called a Fuck It Bucket, and shake your ass to some Pitbull. Sometimes you buy groceries with coupons and haggle with the cashier over clearance gravy mix, prefer James Patterson to James Joyce, pick up a glossy magazine, paint your toenails. Sometimes your anniversary dinner disagrees with you and you spend what should have been a love-filled night in the bathroom, your husband holding your hair while you vomit whole kernels of corn into the toilet bowl. Sometimes you get fired, and it’s totally because you did something stupid. And you never learn your lesson. In fact, you never even figure out it was your fault.

You do, in short, unliterary things. ‘Unworthy’ things. You do things which are unwriteable, things which just don’t jive with your view of yourself as a coffee-drinking, hardcover book loving, mahogany-desk owning character in the story you’ve carefully composed about your author-self.

Keep doing them.

Keep doing them because they’re you, and you need a break from the Hemingwayesque hell you’ve made for yourself.

Keep doing them because you’re a person, not a writer-character in a story.

Should you write, devote time and care to writing and getting better at writing?

God. Yes. If you haven’t gotten that by now, the answer is YES. And you should enjoy doing it. Otherwise, why are you?

But you have to do other things too, to remain sane. And, if you’re wise, you won’t be ashamed of them, because they’re a part of who you are, and a part of your writing.

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

Writing: Five Tips to Funny

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Writing: Five Tips To Funny

You’ve all read that scene. Someone’s snot-nosed character says something lame and the whole damn gaggle of them start chuckling like it’s the funniest thing in the goddamn world. You grit your teeth. You instantly suspect the veracity of every character in that grouping, because that shit wasn’t funny, and if you know it so should they. Otherwise they’re just sad little puppets being yanked to the strings of author ego, yes?

And nobody wants that. If you want people to laugh at your jokes so desperately you’re willing to make them up yourself, you’ve got larger problems than I can handle. If, however, you just aren’t doing it right–well. I’m here for you, baby.

1) NO LAUGHING.
Jokes are instantly 200% less funny if all these motherfuckers are standing around laughing at them. I’m sorry, but they are. Think of the late Sir Terry–how many times does somebody laugh in a Discworld novel, when alcohol isn’t involved? Pretty rarely. Because the shit that’s funny to you isn’t funny to them. Either they don’t recognize the references they’re making–not being members of 21st century Earth, why would they?–or the stakes are too high and, not realizing they’re characters in a story, they’re not likely to take a break from policing/barbarianing/barely wizarding to appreciate the humor.

Now, the one exception here is: when your character is actually, point blank, telling a joke. In which case, a giggle or two will suffice, just like it would if your buddy Travis on the bar stool next to you told it.

2) RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN
The more detail you go into, in an attempt to turn why this shit is funny into your senior thesis, the less funny it will actually be. Repeat it with me, so I know you’ve got it:

The more detail you go into, the less funny it will actually be.

You don’t need to explain why Mordak the Mordblorter wearing a severed head as a hat is funny. If it is, it is, and people will laugh. If it isn’t, it isn’t. By all means, explain how he got the hat. Explain what the hell a Mordblorter is. Or: do this as long as it is important to the story. People might forgive you a joke or two falling flat. They won’t forgive you a joke or two falling flat as your plot crashes and burns around you while you try to resuscitate it. Which is why:

3) DON’T LINGER.
Your joke does not need its own separate subplot. Humor should work in the confines of your original plot–in other words, if a joke changes your story or some element of your scene-building, ditch it. I repeat: folks’ll forgive you a dead joke. They won’t forgive you a stumbling, lurching, club-footed Igor of a plot.

4) THINK ONCE.
Don’t second guess yourself. Some of the worst jokes I’ve made in the course of a story have happened because I looked at the original and my stoopid brain parts were all like ‘OH WAIT I CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT.’ The result is convoluted, overexplained, worthless. Or, worse, censored–I took out the ‘shit’ or the ‘damn’ and the joke lost the little punch of crudity that made it work.

4) TIMING IS EVERYTHING.
Here’s my favorite talking muffin joke, done two ways. Which is funnier?

1) There’re these two muffins in an oven. One muffin turns to the other muffin and says, “is it hot in here, or is it just me?” To which the other muffin says:
“HOLY SHIT IT’S A TALKING MUFFIN.”

2) There are two muffins in an oven. One is strawberry and one is blueberry and they’re next to each other. The strawberry muffin turns to the blueberry muffin and says: “is it hot in here, or is it just me?” And the blueberry muffin gasps and says:
“Woah! You can talk! That’s crazy!”
And they have a conversation about being muffins in an oven.

D’you get my point here? The second joke fails for a lot of the reasons I’ve described here–it’s too wordy, there’s too much detail, someone’s censored my motherfucking muffins. Blueberry muffmuff’s overstated dramatic reaction takes too much away from the actual punchline. These are all fail reasons, yes. But the biggest reason the second one fails, and the reason we’re talking about here, is:

THERE’S JOKE AFTER THE PUNCHLINE.

Let me make this into a little italicized blurble blurb for you.

A joke is not a story. Humor doesn’t need a denoument and a fifth act. After the punchline happens, get out of it. Because, after the punchline, IT WILL NOT BE FUNNY ANY MORE.

You’re beating a dead horse. A redheaded stepchild. Furthermore: you’re beating a dead redheaded stepchild found in the woods gently rotting amidst the remains of an escaped racehorse.

So don’t do that shit.

There you go. Love in the time of cholera,
EFR

PS–As always, I am here bound to promote myself mindlessly. If you want to witness some pretty funny stuff, you might enjoy my novel, Aurian and Jin.