Monday, November 25, 2013

Made in the USA

It's no secret (or maybe it is) that my day job is at a domestic Christmas ornament designer and manufacturer. I think Christmas year-round. I also think a lot about products: where they come from, who is making them, how they're making them, and what they're putting into them. Every time someone buys an imported Christmas ornament, they are taking food right out of my baby's mouth. As such, I do my best to support other US manufacturers. This Christmas I am urging everyone to do the same, because let's face it, we need some help here.

Let's start with Christmas ornaments, and really, there's only one place to get them...

Gloria Duchin.
Gloria Duchin, Inc. is a thirty-four-year-old company based in Rhode Island. Fifteen feet from my desk is the factory, where I can walk out back and see the finishing touches applied to each ornament. When you call our company, your call does not go to India, it comes right here, to the front of the office. Chances are, you'll speak directly to me at some point. When you order an ornament from us, it usually ships out same day, because IT'S RIGHT HERE. Everything we sell is lead-free, cadmium-free, and made to last. No excuses that they're hard to find either, because our ornaments are sold in mass market retailers nationwide. So what are you waiting for? My baby is hungry.


Green Toys.
My son loves trucks, and when I saw these, I practically had a heart attack. Not only are these Green Toys made in the USA, they are MADE OUT OF RECYCLED PLASTIC. Good God. I can save American jobs and the Earth at the same time?? We already got my son the dump truck and he loves it. It was affordable, and so far, pretty durable. He has thrown it around quite a few times and it's still in one piece. If you have a child who loves trucks, he or she needs one of these.


Books.
I already buy a bazillion books anyway, so it feels good when I see the little line, "printed in the USA." Do you know what that means? My eight-dollar book purchase bought paper from a paper mill in Vermont that was then sent to a printer in New Jersey. They received the art files from a designer in New York, and then the books were shipped to a US book retailer, in a shipping carton made from more Vermont paper. Just make sure, when you are buying books, to check the copyright page for that "printed in the USA," line because not all of them are. In that case though, you can buy the digital copy that was usually written by an author from her basement in Cleveland.

More ideas
I hate double-doing work. It's a waste of time when someone else has already done it better and with more detail. This blog is great: USA Lovelist. They have stories, products suggestions, gift guides, and their own Amazon powered store featuring domestic products, a lot of them you already know and love.

And don't forget, this Saturday is Small Business Saturday, so buy your favorite USA-printed books from your local bookstore!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Wrong place, wrong time

I am currently reading a book that everyone loves, and I just don't see it. I'm having trouble getting into it and I think it's because it started in the wrong place.

How can I tell this? Well, because there is a lot of backstory. What is backstory you ask? Backstory is the history of your characters. It's what has happened to them prior to the beginning of your story, and every character should have a history, a rich history, but a good writer knows when and how to present this history, and often leaves much of it out of the manuscript.

Here are some ways to present backstory. Let's take a new character, Olivia, she is fifteen-years-old and her brother died last year in a drinking and driving incident. Now how can we tell this to the reader?

_____________________________________________________

Straight-up tell them
Matt had been the most popular boy in school. His best friend, Liam, had dragged him to the party that night. Matt didn't want to go. The two of them got into Liam's VW rabbit, but only Liam came home alive. I always wonder what today would be like if Matt hadn't gotten into that car.

Dialogue
Justin leaned into my ear. "Why don't you and I go somewhere else?"
God, he reeked of stale beer. How could he possibly think this was a turn-on? "No, thanks." I tried to walk away, but he followed me.
"I've got my dad's car." He waved his car keys in front of me while he wobbled from foot to foot. He was wasted.
I snatched the keys from him. "Fine, but I'll drive."
"Okay, sure." He smiled. "Where are we going?"
"To your house," I said as I unlocked his door.
"But my mom is home."
"This isn't a hook-up, Justin. I'm just trying to keep you from killing yourself."
"Shit. Sorry, Olivia. I had forgotten about that."
"Well, I can't. He was my brother, Justin, and now he's gone because he thought it would be a good idea to ride around with a drunk like you. Now get into the car." I shoved my hand through the open door, and he dutifully climbed into the passenger seat.

Flashback
I pick up the picture of Matt and me taken last last year, when we went apple picking. That was just a week before he died. I remember the funeral. I remember Liam crying into Beth's shoulder, and I remember hating him. Murderer, I thought. If he hadn't been drinking that night, if he hadn't made Matt go with him to that party, I wouldn't be here, looking down at his pasty corpse.

_____________________________________________________

All three scenarios express the same information, but through dialogue we also reveal more about Olivia and introduce a new character, Justin. In the flashback, we see a little of Olivia's personality. There are a million ways for a person to react at their brother's funeral. Olivia chooses hate. What does that say about her?

As you're editing, look for huge chunks of backstory and see if you can't share that information in another way. Whenever I get stuck reading a book, it's always for the same reason, the author is telling not showing, so show more and tell less.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday, September 13, 2013

Stereotypes

I recently read a review on Goodreads, and in it the author complained that the antagonists in the story were blond cheerleaders, and that YA antagonists are ALWAYS blond cheerleaders. I didn't disagree with her. I couldn't. YA antagonists are often blond cheerleaders, and I don't have to wonder why.

Leanna. My antagonist during my four years of high school, and she was a blond cheerleader. We had to work together on an English project once, and she, Rebecca, and the other girl I can't remember (who were all blond by the way. Other Girl was also on the cheer squad) used to make fun of me for not having my driver's license yet. I think they spent more time coming up with new insults about my inability to drive than they did working on the paper.

I've come to terms that stereotypes exist for a reason. YA authors write the antagonists as blond cheerleaders because that was exactly who terrorized them in high school, and I can only assume are still terrorizing the bookish, quirky girls around the country. That is why they terrorize them in YA literature.

Now, one thing the reviewer didn't say about the book, was that the author actually gave this blond cheerleader a legitimate reason for her cruelty, and I think, as authors that's what we have to do. You can keep your platinum nemesis, but you need to breathe life into her. She can't be cruel for the sake of being cruel. She needs a backstory. (Although I'm convinced Le
anna was just cruel for the sake of being cruel.)

Friday, August 23, 2013

Say What You Mean

It is so easy to get caught up in your own frilly language that you lose sight of what it is you are actually trying to say. I'm in marketing. I do this all the time. I get PAID to delude people into thinking things are more than they are by throwing superfluous adjectives around them. (see what I did there?) Sadly this bad habit has leeched its way into my creative writing. As I've been going through my latest MS, I've been able to cut five thousand words by taking out the unnecessary. (I wished I had saved an excerpt to show you, but I am on this new kick of deleting without care.) However, I recently came across a marketing report that, in my opinion, is one of the worst offenders of marketing jargon I have ever seen. Let's see what it is they're really trying to tell us....

Marketing Jargon: ...to seamlessly provide differentiated but consistent experiences across all touch points.

Oh yes, they sound very knowledgeable and educated. Look at all those big words! But what the hell does it mean?

English: Make your website and in-store experience similar but unique.
--------------
Marketing Jargon: When consumers feel confident that they will be receiving the brand experience they expect, no matter which channel they use to access the brand, then they will feel more loyal to the brand and will be more likely to buy today and in the future.

Whatever you do, don't do this. Your readers shouldn't have to follow you through a maze to figure out what you're trying to tell them. They're likely to get lost.

English: When consumers have a consistent brand experience, they will be more likely to buy.
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Marketing Jargon: While showrooming is not a new challenge for retailers, the proliferation of smartphones in recent years has drawn some worrisome holiday forecasts for brick-and-mortar stores.

Look what happens when you make the subject more active. You can actually read it and understand it!

English: Brick-and-mortar stores are worried about smartphones taking sales away.
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Of course, creative writing is supposed to creative. We love adjectives and those devilish adverbs! Just use them sparingly, and make sure when you're editing that you mean what you say and say what you mean.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Facebook Things that Annoy Me

Statuses that start with "I am so blessed...."
I just hate the idea that the Universe hands out good jobs and cute babies and helpful friends like it's a lottery or something. Take some credit for yourself! It was your good genes and good parenting skills that gave you that sweet baby. You worked hard and earned that job. You have good friends because you are a good friend. All you are blessed with is the sense to value what you have.

Not-So-Vaguebooking
"I trusted you, and you broke my heart. Karma's coming for you...blah blah blah." Everyone knows who you are talking about and we are  friends with your cheating boyfriend too. Facebook is not the place to announce your break-up and it most certainly isn't the place to air your dirty laundry. My friends are in their thirties. About fifteen to twenty years past this bullshit. So why am I seeing it?

Oh Baby
It's like a veritable baby fiesta on my Facebook status, and yes, I do like seeing pictures of your children, and I like to know what you and they are doing, but I don't need to know about every shit your child takes, and I absolutely do not want to see the photo of them taking it.

Some moments are meant to be private, like your labor. I do not care if you took an epidural or not, and when you blast out what a champion you are for surviving 1800 hours of labor with nothing except a splintery piece of wood gritted in your teeth, it sounds like you are trying to put us sane mothers to shame for not being masochists. Trust me, we think you're crazy. We just don't have the need to point it out on Facebook.

Game Requests
Is there anything else that reeks so strongly of desperation? Every time I get a game request, I shake my head in shame. It's like an advertisement you're sending out about how sad your life is, and now, you're trying to drag me down with you. No, I'm sorry. I do things. I go outside. I have friends. I do not need to crush candy or kill angry birds to be fulfilled. What's worse is you keep sending them over and over again, in the hopes I'll give in and you'll get those last few precious points you need to move onto the next level. Oh dear friend, I won't give in. I'll only weep for you.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

First Page

This is the first page of my WIP. Since it is most likely going to be deleted or at least heavily edited, I thought I would post it here for posterity because I really like it. I'd love to know what you guys think.

Adam decided it was time to visit his sister in Leominster. He made the decision for the impromptu visit when the bell rang at the end of the last horse race, after Whistling Dixie, who had been leading the entire time, fell back and crossed the finish line a nose after Rolling Thunder. In that single second, Adam lost three grand. Three grand that he had borrowed from Joe.
His wallet was filled with a handful of losing bets. He only needed Amelia to loan him a couple hundred bucks. With a few lucky picks, he would be back on top. Amelia would give him the money, even though she’d swore she’d never give him another cent. He was her baby brother. It would take a few days to talk her into it, but Joe wouldn’t come looking for him for another week or so.
            Had he ever told Joe about his sister?
The latest race stats churned through the garbled speakers on his truck. Lead Foot crossed the finish line first. That had been his top pick. If only he’d had the money to place the bet, he’d be on his way to recovering his losses by now.
The next race was about to begin. He twisted the dial on the volume as the announcer’s voice broke into pieces underneath static. Adam strained to hear what was happening. Was Coal Miner in the lead? Or was it Roadside Diner? He drove around a sharp bend and lost it all to static.

He flipped the radio off and slammed his hands against the steering wheel. It had seemed like a good idea to take back roads to his sister’s place. Now he wondered if he should cut over to the highway. It would be faster, and he could keep an ear on the races.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A trail of tears: My writing journey

I had a thing for puppets. And cows. Especially cow puppets. I made this one myself, hand stitching each delicate eyeball and hoof. I even added a miniature quilt for my puppet to hold. The extra work paid off. This puppet won honorable mention at the Arizona State Fair. I was a big deal.

As aspiring writers, we all strive to get our work out there, for people to see and appreciate. It's the ultimate goal. But what we don't think about while we're toiling over laptops, writing numerous eyerolls and awkward glances is what happens when our work gets out there. Probably because we don't want to think about it. I speak from experience when I say it's not always as glamorous as an honoroble mention ribbon at a state fair.

In the sixth grade, I decided to run for class historian. My parents had given me a Polaroid camera and I loved taking pictures. I thought it would be fun to use my expert camera skills to capture the 6th grade experience. But I knew to win, I needed to be different. I needed a stellar speech with lights, fireworks and dancing bears.

I did not have dancing bears.I had puppetry skills.

I stitched two new puppets, a ferret and something else I can't remember, but I am certain it had nothing to do with ferrets. Once my two actors were complete, I wrote them a miniature play, in which they discussed why I would make a wonderful historian.

I stepped up to the podium, coated in sweat, clinging to my furry friends for support. The beginning was shaky, but when everyone started laughing, my confidence swelled. They loved it! As I stepped down from the stage, glowing with pride, I pulled my puppets from my hands and suddenly realized, my little ferret had been on backwards the entire time.

I did not win historian.

Fast forward to middle school. As an English assignment, we had to write a two minute speech. Again, I put my creative gears in motion, coming up with the brilliant idea of writing a speech about procrastination and incorporating a diagram with a cow. (See the cow obsession!) My teacher loved it. Too much. She wanted me to present my wondrous speech to the entire school.

This was me.

As you can see, I was voted 3rd Most Intelligent Girl in the entire school, aka 3rd Biggest Female Nerd. I only achieved this title because I let everyone copy my homework, and I only let them copy my homework because I wanted to live to see high school. As fabulous as my four-inch thick glasses and bad perm were, I was not popular. I did not want to stand up in front of the entire school to present my speech, especially since the trauma from my failed puppet show still gnawed at my psyche.

I had no choice. My teacher would not back down, likely thinking she was helping me by forcing me to overcome my fear of performance. Since I was not the kind of kid to go against a teacher, I did it. And my expectations of disaster were confirmed when everyone in the gym started "booing."

I ran out of the gym with tears staining my thick glasses, and called my mom to pick me up. Only later did I find out they had been "mooing." (Damn me and my cows!) But it was too late. The damage had been done. I would never expose myself to a crowd that large again. Not even if a firing squad were perched at my back.

So in high school I decided to step back from writing and sewing puppets in order to pursue a loftier goal: popularity. Apart from a small arrest for curfew and a case of mono, it was successful. I had friends. I had cheerleader friends and skater friends and student council friends and most importantly, I was friends with the school bully. No one would ever laugh at me again. Abandoning my future had all been worth it!

Until I went to college and all of my "friends" disappeared.

No problem. I would make new friends. I had done it before, and it had been harder. I'd had to change a reputation of "dork" into "cool girl." At a University of 46,000 students, I was no one. I could easily convince a select group of people I was "cool."

And that worked too. I made a group of good friends, and with those friends, my confidence slowly began to return. I was able to bury the tragedy of the backwards ferret puppet deep into the recesses of my brain. That had been someone else's failure.

As I was flipping through the University newspaper between classes, I saw a writing contest in one of the folds. The topic was "Why I Love ASU." As soon as I saw it, I smiled. I did love ASU, and after years of straight 'A' papers, I had become skilled at writing exactly what people wanted to hear.

The prize was $250 at the campus bookstore. Basically a semester's worth of books. With my new friends, the forgotten failures, and the desperation of being broke, I decided to enter. I wrote a fantastic piece of crap about loving ASU because of its diversity. How everyone could be accepted regardless of race, color, or preference. How it was a veritable utopia, an island of perfection in an otherwise imperfect society.

I was not surprised when I received the call that I had won.

When I went to the State Press office to collect my gift card, they asked if they could take a photo to print with my essay. I agreed, thinking it would be one of those blurry, two-inch, black and white pictures that they normally posted with their articles. I smiled for the picture and then went to the bookstore with my $250, not thinking about it again until the next issue came out.

When I flipped to my essay, I didn't even see the words. They were buried somewhere behind the half page of my face. I guess they were short on advertisers and thought my crappy picture was as good as anything else to fill the white space. As I folded the paper and tucked it in my bag, I told myself not to worry about it. No one read the school paper.

But they did. And they read my essay.

First, I received an anonymous hate letter in my campus mailbox. She was offended I had taken in upon myself to speak about diversity when I was a priveledged white kid. I wished she had signed it so I could've told her it was all a load of crap. But sadly, it didn't end with the one letter.

I went to a frat party that weekend and everyone recognized me. "Hey aren't you that girl who wrote that article?" Yes. Yes, I was. In a school of almost 50,000 people where to remain anonymous, all you had to do was keep your head down and go to class, I had effectively given myself a reputation: The snotty white girl who thought she knew everything about being downtrodden.

I figured in a few months, no one would remember it, but I swear to you, up until graduation, at least five or six times a year someone would come up to me and say, "Hey didn't you have your picture in the paper?"

I was, at that time, a "real" writer. I had gotten paid for something I had written. And hated it. It took me quite some time to go back to writing, but now I have no fears. One of my first rejections on my first novel included the line, "There's too much wrong with it to go into detail." I laughed. Was that all she had?

My journey here was long and embarrassing, but I'm grateful for it now. Each step built up my armor. Reject me all you want because one day I'll be accepted. I'll be published, and thankfully, my book won't have enough page space for a full size photo.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chelsea

While doing some reorganization in our house, we discovered an ancient relic: the last surviving copy of my zine, Chelsea.

Chelsea only had two issues, and shockingly, didn't do that bad. I had a paid advertiser in the second one. If you don't know what a Chelsea is, it is a haircut, for punk girls, where you shave most of your head except the side burns and bangs. At one point in my life I had one. At one point in my life I considered myself "punk rock." At one point in my life I was too cool for everything. At one point in my life, I was a total D-bag, as evidenced by this photo taken during the short-lived Chelsea days, a photo taken on a camera with actual film inside.

Now, even though the "design" is atrocious, (I did it all in Microsoft Works)and the content is highly pretentious, the writing isn't completely vomitous. So for your enjoyment, a rare excerpt from the Punk Zine: Chelsea.

Stalks Aren't Just for Celery Anymore
(This title makes me want to go back in time and kick my own ass)

Starting a band can be a fun, but a punk needs to be aware of the risks of hitting punk stardom before he makes the commitment. Yes, it sounds appealing to all of us to have enough money to buy the expensive cigarettes rather than the GPC's, and to be able to buy a new pair of combat boots rather than used, and to perhaps upscale the Vespa into an actual car, but just be reminded there are risks. There can be nasty falls from the stage, putting an eye out with a drum stick and the ever inevitable STALKER.

Some of you guys out there, probably at this point, may think it sounds cool to have fifteen year old girls following you around creating avid sexual fantasies about you, but think again. Picture this. You awaken in your room, stretch your arms and arise from the dirty mattress on your floor. Since you have no clock in your room, you go over to the window to see if it is morning or night, and as you peer outside, you are met with a pair of lonely puppy eyes. The same eyes that watched you pass out in your bed the night before, hoping that your torn shirt would slide over a mere inch as you slept so that one pierced nipple may be exposed. She constantly pops up at every turn, and after a while, you begin to go mad.

Believe me, she has a file on you that contains all of your secret details from birth, and she has visions of capturing you and keeping you in an oversized bell jar in her garage. This is not fun. "It's cool at first," says Mike from the Dietrichs, "'cause you're all 'Ha ha, I have a stalker. I'm rad.' But no. It gets scary when she finds your house and shows up at your work and other creepy things like that."

If you do find yourself in this situation, as Mike has, here are some tips for ridding yourself of your newfound parasite.

1. Try to dump her off on one of the other band members. Tell her that "Jimmy" saw her at one of the shows and thought she was the cutest thing. Stalkers are only in love with the "idea" of you, so one band member is as good as the next.

2. If you have a girlfriend, let the girlfriend rid you of the stalker. And if you don't, have a female friend pretend to be your girlfriend and tell the stalker off. If you tell the stalker off yourself, she is likely to become violent. Let your girlfriend deal with it.

3. Things not to do are tell you are gay or try the acting like a total jerk to make her hate you. If you boys have not figured it out yet, these things merely attract women more.

Having a band can be fun and profitable, but having a stalker is not. Use these tips to remove her or think of your own. Or you could always use the stalker to wait on you hand and foot. Just remember, with fame comes stalkers.