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Archive for the ‘Weirdness’ Category

When the audio book of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things went on sale, Audible sent me the ten promotional copies that were promised in my contract. “Use one for yourself and the rest to promote your book with giveaways” their overly cheery email suggested. I promptly did a couple of little giveaways and passed out a handful of the promotional codes.

audible-coverI didn’t plan to listen to the audio book, but then people kept asking me if it was any good. Writer friends were curious how the narration of sixteen different narrators turned out. So I downloaded it, intending to listen to a few snippets. Instead, over the course of the last week, I listened to the whole thing.

It is weirdly compelling. The narrator, Jorjeana Marie, did an amazing job, particularly in light of the fact that the sixteen narrators span from a five-year-old boy to a seventy-year-old woman, and include college girls, old men, drug-dealing heavies, and half a dozen random strangers. She makes it compelling. Nothing weird about that.

The weird part is to find myself compelled by my own work. I have been over this book so many times, I couldn’t give you an accurate count. A few hundred at least. I’ve read it aloud at least a dozen times, because that’s one of the best ways to do revisions. Read it out loud and really listen to the rhythm of it. I was sure that at this point in time there weren’t any surprises for me, but I was wrong. Hearing someone else read it reminded me of details I’d forgotten and introduced me to beats I didn’t even realize I’d written. Weird.

All this to say that I still have some promotional codes to give away, and if you’re willing to take my biased opinion, it is weirdly compelling. To enter to win, leave me a comment with your favorite audio book. Now that I’ve taken the plunge, I’m curious.

(Because Audible is world rights, this is open to international folks, too.)

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Among the unexpected responses I’ve gotten to All the Ugly and Wonderful Things are reviews and emails bemoaning Kellen’s physique. “Whyyyyy?” one reader asks. “Why does he have to be fat?” Also: “Ewwww, that’s so disgusting.” Plus: “It’s so sick that you made him a gross fat guy. What purpose does that serve?”

Many of the characters who describe Kellen in unflattering terms aren’t necessarily characters we ought to trust. Liam, that Prince Charming, is the one who calls Kellen a fat fucking slob. Dee refers to Kellen as sweaty and walrus-like, but then she also considers him slow. (I’d like to see her rebuild a motorcycle engine or solve a Rubik’s Cube.) Miss DeGrassi, a more reliable narrator, describes him as greasy and meaty.

Of course, even if we look through Wavy’s eyes of love, she’s the one who says, “I had nothing on my body like the warm damp crease between his tits and belly.” That line apparently makes some readers cringe. Man boobs are not on the list of desirable traits in our society.

It makes me sad when readers write to say, “I was so disgusted at him being fat that I just had to pretend he wasn’t,” but I regret nothing. While some readers may be turned off by Kellen’s size, it’s at the heart of Wavy’s physical attraction to him. His status as the Giant means that he can protect her. His size is safety. Also, as a skinny, hungry girl, she admires how he eats, and she desires the solidity and strength that his body represents. She goes so far as to compare him to food she wants to eat. For her, he’s attractive because he’s powerful but soft.

It’s not just as a writer that I’m saddened by this negative reaction to Kellen being something other than a chiseled stud on a motorcycle. Personally, it makes me sad to see so much hate for big boys. I readily admit that it was easy for me to tap into Wavy’s desire for Kellen’s flesh. Objectively I can admire a well-toned physique, but in my personal life, I’ve never been a big fan of sculpted abs. I like big boys. Guys who look like they could wrestle a bear and still make a good pillow. At a few of my book events, readers asked me to “dream cast” a movie of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. That’s a really hard question because for the most part Hollywood doesn’t offer any actors who are remotely like I imagine Kellen being. (As much as I like Jason Momoa, he’s not even close.)

In fact, to try to show you what I mean about the beauty and power of a big, beefy guy with a belly and tits, I had to go the wrestling route. My current favorite rikishi is Endō Shōta. Although he only clocks in at 6’1″ and 330 lbs (quite a bit smaller than Kellen), he embodies the kind of physical presence I imagine Kellen having. And while Kellen is Choctaw, and Endō is Japanese, he has an adorably shy smile and soft brown eyes. Although he’s carrying enough body fat that he would be called “fat” in America, he’s also carrying a whole lot of muscle under that protective fat. Nothing sculpted or toned about him, but he’s built for the hard work of wrestling.

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Or here, have some of my other favorite wrestlers, like André Roussimoff and Akebono Tarō:

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Of course, André was an actual giant, massive and formidable, but Akebono is 6’8″, and at the height of his career as yokozuna was 500 lbs. (A little bigger than Kellen.) He was magnificent and nearly unbeatable. Consider the incredible power stored in a body like that. To me, that’s gorgeous and sexy as hell.

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prairie shackWhen I was six years old, my mother sold me to a witch who lived in a tiny cottage out on the open prairie. I had to live in a lean-to next to the chicken coop, where I could hear the birds fussing and roosting at night. During the day, I tended her garden and worked over the open fire of her hearth, helping her prepare potions. Many of the spells she made were to help people, but a few were to curse people, like the old wizard who snored away the days in her front room. She kept him sleeping so that she could drain his powers for her own purposes.

I dreamed of running away, and eventually I did, fleeing across wheat fields on a stormy August night with a one-armed man who claimed to be a prince but was really just a common thief. Later, I had to run away from him and his life of crime. For several years, I passed myself off as a maid to a duchess, but I would never get free of the witchcraft I had been taught as a child.

Also, it turns out that what I considered a totally normal childhood activity–fully immersive daydreaming that spanned years and took up hours of each day–isn’t completely normal. According to this article in The Atlantic, it may be maladaptive daydreaming. Its author describes something similar to my life, including the pressing need for alone time, so that I could  live in my alternate reality. Or in my case, alternate realities. For her it caused excessive disruption to her daily life and she sought medication to alleviate it.

My initial solution as a child was to use it to fuel the tedious parts of my life. I did spend a lot of hours in my grandmother’s kitchen, helping her cook and can. My grandfather spent a lot of time sleeping and grouching. Drudgery was more bearable if I was shucking corn to make “potions,” or planning my escape from the witch while I pulled weeds. At school, where I was always the first one done with an assignment, my daydreaming kept me from getting bored, because I had somewhere to go for the half hour it took the other students to finish their work.

As a teenager and then an adult, I incorporated my daydreaming into my daily life by writing. Perhaps if I’d been trying to become a lawyer or a doctor, it would have been unbearable, but because I was content to be a secretary and eager to be a writer, it never struck me as a condition for which I needed treatment.

The article suggests that it’s related to obsessive-compulsive disorder or stereotypic movement disorder, which I can easily believe, and it makes me feel a bit conflicted of the role my obsessive and ongoing daydreaming plays in my life. I was relieved in my teens to shed many of the symptoms of my OCD. I don’t miss washing my hands a hundred times a day or engaging in the sort of repetitive behaviors that used to rule my life. (If I didn’t read the entire cereal box three times before I finished eating my breakfast, the witch would kill someone I loved.)

Now that I’ve found a role for my incessant daydreaming, however, I would not want it to end. It would leave a hole in my life. In my lives. Especially now that I’ve run away from my husband and come back to live in the cottage on the prairie. The witch is long dead, but the wizard is still sleeping in the front room. I keep him drugged so that I can use his power as I plan my revenge against the dance hall girl who cursed me.

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You might think the title of this blog post goes without saying, but considering some of the wacky things happening in the writing community these days, you’d be mistaken. We’ve had an author confess to stalking and harassing someone who gave her novel a poor review, and we’ve had a blogger apologize for years of harassment and threats against writers whose work she didn’t like.

As a passionate reader, I have always maintained a “review” of books I’ve read. In ye olde pre-internet days, I kept a little notebook in which I recorded the books I’d read with a few lines about the book. When Goodreads emerged, I joined and began to track my reading habits there. I viewed it primarily as a tool for me as a reader. Of course, as I connected with people on GR, I also began to see my notes on books as useful to like-minded readers. All the same, in the age of the internet, where data is perpetually retained and easily accessed, I have always tried to be polite when I write reviews of books. I am neither a professional reviewer nor someone who relishes drama. Just as I would hate to read a review of my books that was nasty or personal, I would never want a writer to read one of my reviews and feel that I was being anything but professional, even if I disliked the book.

Despite my policy of being polite, I’ve still received a few nastygrams, typically from people who loved a book I didn’t, and who wished to inform me that I was a stupid poopypants. I don’t think those were the exact words, but something juvenile and unnecessary.

Not a few people have cautioned me of late that as a published writer I ought to be more careful about reviewing and rating books, so as not to attract haters. I’ve considered it, and someday, maybe I’ll need to make a more anonymous Goodreads account, but in the interim, I’ve made a different choice.

I’ve always had a Did Not Finish shelf on my Goodreads account, to identify books that I did not or could not read through to the ending. Rarely do I remark on those books and never do I rate them. This week, however, I added a new shelf: Not Every Book Is for Everybody. Let’s call it NEBIFE. We know in our hearts that this is true, but it seems to get lost within the book community sometimes. A book isn’t bad, just because we didn’t like it, and a reviewer isn’t stupid or evil or many far worse things, just because they didn’t like our favorite book. I come face-to-face with this when I realize that almost 17,000 people on Goodreads have given Nabokov’s Lolita a 1-star rating. 1 star? One? Are you kidding me? I consider Lolita to be one of the greatest English novels of the 20th Century. I love this book.

ONE STAR?!?!?! OMGAAAAAAH!!?!?!?

ONE STAR?!?!?! OMGAAAAAAH!!?!?!?

Yet Goodreads reveals that two people whose opinions I respect have rated Lolita as 1 star. Huh. I guess we’re gonna have to disagree on that one, but I’m not going to send them emails to tell them they’re stupid poopypants. Primarily, because I don’t think they are. Secondarily, because I accept that even a brilliant book will not be the right book for every reader.

I was looking for an apt comparison, and found it quite by accident. I occasionally pull a recipe off allrecipes.com, and it struck me that even when people dislike a recipe and give it a low rating, I have never seen anybody get nasty or personal in a recipe review. I’ve never seen a recipe submitter called a stupid bitch, or a recipe called corrosive garbage, or seen someone wish the original recipe writer be raped to death, all things I’ve seen in book reviews. Similarly, I’ve never seen a recipe submitter get hostile with someone who didn’t like a recipe. Why? Because on some level, as a society, we’ve done well at accepting that not everyone has the same tastes. After all, my mother hates Indian food. Hates it. We’re still on speaking terms, because why wouldn’t we be? I think it’s silly that she dislikes an entire culinary tradition on the basis of one ill-fated buffet visit, but I’m not going to cut her out of my life over it. Similarly, I’m not going to kill a friendship over Lolita. Or even a potential friendship.

In this week, where madness is swirling all around us, I’d like to ask everybody to embrace the concept of NEBIFE. If you get a negative review on a book you wrote, keep in mind that not everybody loves the same books. You can’t expect everybody to love your book. If you read a book you disliked, try framing your review from the perspective that not every book is for everybody, and that this book wasn’t for you.

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The Skittle of Opportunity

The Skittle of Opportunity

As I came up the stairs to my office yesterday, I saw a red Skittle lying on the second step from the top. Sometimes, one finds a trail of candies on the stairs, Skittles, M&Ms, and on occasion, like a trap laid for an extraterrestrial, Reese’s Pieces. Usually, the majority of these lost candies have been smashed under the feet of hurried passersby. This is a university, after all, and its inhabitants live primarily on junk food, and they’re too busy on their phones to look at their feet.

Yesterday, however, the Skittle I found was alone. It had not yet met its fate against the worn sole of a Chuck Taylor, but at any moment, the last minute rush of students would scramble up the stairs to get to class on time. There was no time to hesitate.

I picked up the Skittle and checked it for signs of injury, but its candy shell was intact. Without bothering to look around for witnesses, I popped it in my mouth and chewed it.

Why?

Red Skittles aren’t even my favorite ones. I prefer the orange ones.

My current eating habits actually militated against consuming a stray candy. I have sworn off all added sugar for the month of September in a bid to kick my staggering sugar habit.

I don’t usually eat stray food. Free-range chicken, yes, but not free-range snack items. Although there was that one time in college, when I was working for the local zoo, and they had 20 lbs of frozen raptor meat that was past its expiration date. Not far past its expiration date, but the Association of Zoos and Aquariums has very strict rules about what food can be served to animals. I’d been instructed to throw it away, rather than feed it to the rehab owls and hawks that I took care of. I was a poor college student, and it was late in the month. I was staring down a week of eating beans and rice.

Reader, I took that 20 lbs of meat home and threw a barbecue for my friends. Or at least, the friends who weren’t afraid to eat slightly expired raptor food. It’s essentially ground beef (or possibly horse or mule) with extra nutrients and finely ground bone meal mixed in. Properly seasoned and formed into quarter-pound patties, it went down pretty well on a hamburger bun.

All of which to say, I have eaten some suspect food items over the years. Now that I’m a professional with a regular paycheck, however, I’m not inclined to scrounge up free food.

This Skittle, though, this one lone red Skittle, it wasn’t about sugar. It wasn’t about free food. It was about being open to possibilities, being receptive to opportunity. After I ate the Skittle, I went into my office and talked to my agent, who is all about opening up opportunities for me. Soon, I’ll have some news on that front.

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These days, I spend my lunch hour visiting my elderly aunt in the hospital. I’m always pressed for time, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have time to be a good person. That bumper sticker on my car is the truth. I believe in Random Acts of Kindness. At the intersection of Tennessee and 20th, I saw a woman on a bicycle, waiting to cross the street. She looked hot and tired, and there were half a dozen cars behind me, so it would probably be a while before she could cross. I came to a stop and waved her on, even though I knew I was already going to be late getting back to work.

She gave me a blank look and then pointed toward the stop sign at her corner. I couldn’t hear her, but I think she mouthed the words, “I have a stop sign. You don’t.”

Seriously, who does that? Who refuses a polite offer like that? It made me so mad, I pulled up across from her and rolled down my window, even though there were cars behind me, waiting to go through the intersection.

“I was trying to be nice,” I yelled. “You don’t have to be such a bitch about it.”

“How does calling me a bitch count as nice?” she said. So superior. Like she never lost her temper. Then she shook her head and said, “You’re blocking up traffic. Just go.”

I did, because screw her if she couldn’t take a favor. Screw her! It made me so mad, letting her have the last word, so even though I was through the intersection, I slammed on my brakes and yelled, “You fucking bitch! Fuck you, you fucking bitch!”

She threw her hands up in the air and shouted, “What are you doing, you moron?”

I would have said something back, but then the car behind me honked. Jerk was right up on my bumper. Some people.

***

Similar to how I look riding my bike

Similar to how I look riding my bike

That’s all true. It all happened, except in reality, I was the woman on the bicycle. I was the person who declined a favor. Because in my experience, that kind of favor is dangerous. It changes traffic patterns in ways the average motorist doesn’t comprehend. For example, I have to later cross the street that all those cars were backing up to. Also, it’s fairly common for the very people who try to do something nice by stopping traffic and waving me on, to later try to kill me. They get distracted by their cell phone, someone behind them honks, and having already forgotten they waved me on, they surge forward, nearly clipping me as I cross the street. After all, it takes a cyclist a bit longer to get started from a dead stop. After the third time this happened, I stopped accepting these kinds of “favors.”

Of course, immediately after it happened, I was astounded and eager to tell people that I’d been called a fucking bitch for turning down an act of perceived kindness. I wondered what would have happened if the car behind my would-be Good Samaritan had rear-ended her. Later, I did what I always do: I imagined the whole incident from the other person’s point of view. Almost no one sets out to yell obscenities at strangers over a minor incident, and yet she had gone from generosity to vituperative hostility in a second. As much as I didn’t appreciate her attitude, I recognized it may have come from a completely understandable place.

This is how I always approach my writing, and why I so often end up with multiple narrators. It’s not that I want two characters to tell the same story, but that I want them to tell their own story. I’m interested in how the different POVs intersect and diverge.

I date some of it back to my early days of writing. The first creative writing class I took was with Ben Nyberg, and his tried and true method is to force people to tell stories from other points of view. He tricks beginning students a bit, first asking them to write a story in which they are the protagonist. Then, he makes them tell the same story, from the POV of the antagonist. That is the story they are made to edit and polish until the antagonist becomes the protagonist. After all, you may be the hero of your story, but you’re probably the villain of someone else’s story.

PS: Nyberg’s book, One Great Way to Write Short Stories, though out of print, is still a great way to write a short story. Used copies are available in all the usual places.

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Most writers would like to think that our brilliant writing, clever premise, and skillful plot manipulation are the primary things that lead to a book selling. We want to believe this, perhaps even need to believe this, because it helps us feel that we have some control over our writing careers, such as they are. If it’s all about skills, we can just work harder to become better writers, thereby increasing our chances of being published.

That said, as many writers can tell you, luck is a big component to the publishing game. You have to write not just a good book, or a great book, but the right book. Then you (or the right agent) have to send it out to the the right editor at just the right time. If this weren’t true, then how would any of the great classics of literature have ever been rejected even once? If all it were about was the quality of the writing and the story, every great book would immediately sell, leading to accolades, fame, and wealth for the author. We know it ain’t so.

Yet sometimes I encounter writers who would have you believe that it was only their hard work that led to their writing successes. As though they alone controlled the outcome.

Today, I read a news story about a CNN producer who has won the lottery twice. She tells her own story here. Part of the story is touching, because she apparently won $100,000 the first time, just at the moment she most needed it. Those are wonderful stories, when crisis is averted by a sudden windfall.

The rest of the story is pure aggravation. Here is what she has to say about why she won:

“I believe that this blessing came to me because I have worked very hard.”

Scratch harder!!!

I have scratched lottery tickets before. It’s not that difficult. It certainly doesn’t qualify as “hard work.” Somehow, this woman believes that she won the lottery because she deserved it for working so hard. These are the words of someone who is either delusional or lacking in logic. Unless one is cheating, one wins the lottery, because through a process of random chance, one has purchased a winning ticket. It has nothing to do with hard work or being deserving.

The same is true with writing and publishing. To get published, you have to write a book (or in some cases, hire someone to write your book.) Hard work helps with this, because writing a book is not as easy as buying a lottery ticket. That said, the rest of the equation is all about getting your book into the hands of the right editor at the right moment. This rests a very great deal on chance.

What say you? How important is luck? In publishing? In winning the lottery? In everyday life?

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