Sunday, January 25, 2009

Crap and Friggin': The Real Obscenities

I had a professor once who was an extremely controversial writer in his day. His debut was a reportedly autobiographical novel about a young male prostitute, so that gives you some idea of his milieu. It came out in the early sixties, a time when the drag queens and transsexuals he wrote about weren’t pop culture staples like they are now, but super edgy glimpses of subversive fringe culture.

We used to have class in his dining room in LA, even though it was a course offered through a prestigious (and somewhat stuffy) university. That was where he wanted to be, so that’s where we went—he was just like that. Whenever someone became uncomfortable because of his liberal use of obscenities, my professor used to say in his flamboyant, ecstatic way, “People, language is meant to be free! That’s why I use all of it! Don’t be afraid!”

I love this attitude. I know lots of readers are offended when they see certain words on the page, though, which I guess I can understand. If you come from a religious background, especially, it can go against everything you’ve been taught. Still, I long to be as free and unapologetic about language as my professor.

In Young Adult fiction it’s particularly confusing, because the under-twenty lexicon practically revolves around swearing, yet it’s still slightly taboo in print. I guess in part this is because parents flipping through the pages might find it inappropriate and hesitate to fork over bucks for their thirteen-year-old to read language they’re discouraged from ever uttering. Hence, substitutions like crap and friggin’ now abound, not just in YA but in the majority of commercial fiction, which I find deeply fuddy-duddy and offensive. I mean, if your characters don’t swear, then they don’t swear, but do they have to use those horrible little placeholders?

How do you feel about crap and friggin’? Do they make you want to retch, or am I just totally alone in my abhorrence?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Every Writer Needs a Roomba, or Another Way to Entertain Your Muse by Terena

As I write this, my floors are being expertly cleaned by our new family member, the Roomba. She's a lovely thing, small, cute, hard working, round, and she does a better job on my floors than I ever did. Plus, she gives me more time to write, therefore, I love my Roomba.

My Muse is fascinated by it; she can't stop watching it move across the floor picking up bits of debris and dog hair, bashing into walls and furniture, figuring out how to navigate those obstacles, and then proceeding on its quest for cleanliness. She likes to throw more bits of detritus on the floor to see if the Roomba can pick it up. She cheered when it managed to vacuum a crushed Fish Cracker.

"Did you see that? It actually got every bit! What a marvelous invention."

When she came back from her summer hiatus, she dumped several ideas into my lap. "Here. I've been working on these for weeks." I flipped through each one, growing excited by the possibilities. Three plays, a novel revision that saves the plot and therefor might get my novel out of its hiding place, the entire philosophy of The Guru, and two ideas for essays.

"These are great! But I don't think we're going to have enough time to do all of this! School starts on Monday."

"So. You'll manage. How's the play coming along?"

"With these ideas for The Guru, it's practically done."

"Great. So what's next?"

"I'm waiting for the notes on the Business Book."

"And then..."

"I guess I'll start in on one of these ideas."

"Excellent." And then she saw the Roomba sitting on its charger. "What's that?"

The Roomba came from Tama, my newest author. She adopted my cat, so I adopted her old Roomba. It needed a bit of tweaking, but luckily my boy is a tinkering wizard. After reading a few websites and ordering another Roomba for parts, he got the thing chugging along beautifully. In fact, he's ordered a costume for the Scooba (the mopping Roomba) and is trying to decide whether to dress up the Roomba as a French Maid, or a Tiger.

See, Roomba's are a beacon for creativity. Buy one today and your own personal robot will give you new opportunities for writing. Or would you rather vacuum?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sunglass Hickeys?

About a week ago, I got the following message:

“jody, i've thought of something that needs a word, and for some reason i just can't think of anything that would fit. have you ever taken off your sunglasses only to find those little red indented lines underneath? horrifying, i know, but i think it's just about time that somebody came up with a word for them...and i know your the only woman for the job.
i believe in you. we all do. don't let us down.”

I feel so honored to be trusted with this charge. I have to admit, though, I’m stumped. I mean she’s totally right; we really do need a word for this phenomenon. It’s like discovering I’m a superhero, then failing miserably on my first mission.

So far I’ve come up with the following candidates:

Prong punctures
Shade marks
Sunglass hickeys

I don’t know, though. Somehow none of the above quite satisfies my yen for the perfect neologism. Help me! We all know what she’s talking about, we all know there should be a word, but what is it?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

On Line Survival, by Terena

While on my quasi hiatus over the Summer, I collected several interesting articles about publishing, book marketing, and social networking. Here's one of the more interesting ones:

From Business Week - Book Publishers: Learn From Digg, Yelp—Even Gawker
Book publishing could keep itself vital by taking a page from Web 2.0 technologies, but it has a long way to go. Here are some lessons.

This article intrigued me because I am interested in the way the Internet and other forms of technology are changing business, especially the book business. Look at the Music Industry. For the last fifteen years Music Companies have struggled to retain control over their property, the bands they produce and the music those bands create. Anyone can download music for free with ease and share it with all of their friends, on-line and off. Plus, a band doesn't have to be "signed" anymore to find exposure and listeners. Thanks to I Tunes and My Space, your weekend garage band can be listened to by a world wide audience. However, with so many bands competing on line for your attention, how do they stand out from the white noise of the Internet?

Now it's the book industry's turn to figure out how to survive in a digital age. Some publishers are wondering if books are dead. If so, what's next? Many smaller publishers are only creating e-books because they believe e-book readers and on-line zines are the future. In ten years, paper books will be obsolete. The article implies everyone will be reading on a Kindle.

Rather than be afraid of all these technological changes and the impact they are having in the book industry, I want to learn and strategize so Medusa's Muse will survive into the future. So should every publisher.

Just like the music industry, the book market is flooded with books from small presses and self-publishers, all competing for the attention of a decreasing reading market. How can we find our audience? This article discusses that.

From the article:

Reading a book is an incredibly solitary experience. That's both a blessing and a curse. Like most busy professionals, I don't have a lot of downtime. What little free time I have could easily be filled by other pursuits—chiefly, time with a husband I rarely see. When I do commit to a book I love, I want to talk about it. This impulse explains why book clubs were all the rage in the 1990s.

There has to be a way for Web 2.0—a movement whose raison d'etre is to connect people—to meet the ongoing need for building community around books.

What's your online strategy?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Live a Little lives

My first 5 Spot book is out. I feel...the same. Okay, maybe a little thinner.

Here are some of the funniest reactions from people I know:
  • "Omigod, where can I get it?" (Whispered under breath, as if could only be pubbed by extremely marginal, nay, illicit publisher.)
  • "I bought it already! On Amazon! I pre-ordered it!" (Aiming for Best Fan. Is Best Fan.)
  • "Did you get any, like, reviews?" (Self-explanatory.)
  • "Is it pink?" (Fuuuuuuuck.)
  • "Is it better than your other ones?" (Much.)
  • "It's a comedy about cancer?" (Demoting me to C-list friend.)
  • "Will you just give me a copy?" (If I was Danielle Steele, I sure would.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why I Wrote This Book by Kim

So, I was asked to write a blog post recently for a site that chronicles the origins of books. To clarify: How authors conceive their ideas.

I found thinking about this weirdly rewarding. That's probably because it ended up being all about, well, me.

Here's what I wrote:

Live a Little
, or rather, Raquel Rose, the book’s fortysomething, frustrated heroine, emerged out of my own experience as a harried mom of two. Sometime around the thousand-odd days of parenthood mark, I started to realize that not only is parenting not about your (the grown-up’s) fulfillment, it’s actually about the complete abnegation of self. Kid need a toy while you’re in the first shower you’ve had in six days? No problem; hygiene is overrated. Sleep deprivation got you feeling paranoid or perhaps even homicidal? Read an attachment parenting book; it’ll explain that you’re just being selfish.

One day, while was stuffing my writhing offspring into my raisin-littered sedan while yet another writing deadline came and went unmet, I thought: What would a terminally unappreciated mother do to feel good again? How far would she go?

That’s where Live a Little came from. Now, maybe I’m a cynic, but I tend to think most of us are liars in one way or another. Maybe we just string together small fibs, or perhaps we’re more inclined toward the occasional whopper or self-aggrandizing feint and dodge. I think it is very possible for an otherwise ethical, normal person to spin a web of lies she can’t extricate herself from easily. This precept was the baseline for Raquel’s misadventure, and I demanded a lot from it (and, probably, my readers). I wanted to see how far I could take this idea and still make Raquel relatable (according to Publisher’s Weekly, not as far as I thought, but, hey, what do they know about pathologically lying moms with spare tires and a weakness for surfers with crooked teeth?).

That said, at its core, Live a Little is a suburban satire. It pokes fun at the trials and tribulations of married life, parenting, keeping up with the Joneses and raising high-end(!) children. Although I wouldn’t align myself with Raquel as a character in any specific way, writing this book was a way to shine a light on my own pathologies as a wife and mother. It was an exercise in approaching the challenges of marriage and parenthood with more levity and less zealousness. And, on those terms, for me at least—and I hope some of my readers—it was a success.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Did I Stutter?
by Jordan E. Rosenfeld

I am a social being for the most part, but at times I can become deathly shy or self-conscious, like when meeting new people I hope to impress, or when I'm presenting a workshop or class, bringing out a kind of super-chatty, "look at me" style of conversation that is over-eager and over-compensating and makes me slap myself on the head later for not being more myself.
When I get like that, I pull out this little line to save my ass: "I'm a writer, not a talker."

Now I get to use a brand new line: "I have a new baby" to explain away everything from shyness to my newly acquired stutter. Days and even weeks after giving birth I stuttered so significantly I worried that I had suffered a small stroke during labor, unaware that this was just my brain on total sleep deprivation. Even my worst night's sleep--college cramming, insomnia or stress related--didn't compare to the constant waking of a newborn baby every couple hours or less. Being articulate simply was not an option.

The only thing to cast aside my fears that I had lost a crucial set of brain pathways in the birth process was that I could still string together intelligible sentences when writing. The words still flowed, even though writing a paragraph was a major achievement.

As I've always said--thank god for writing, or I'd be a terrified mute with absolutely no self-awareness.
But it's worth it. See for yourself: