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.

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.

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.

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.