Still trucking along

Okay, today was heinous . . . pulling everything out of the kitchen cabinets here at Casa el Dumpo, taking APART the island and reassembling it across the room, etc. But at least I got to see David Spade singing “Suffragette City” on his TV program tonight! That was awesome. I wish Comedy Central’d put that clip up on their site as streaming video.

It’s cool indoors and out compared to last week, so this is probably a good time to undertake this spiffing-up stuff. Also, I don’t really have to cook (just mix up the approved foods . . . shakes, soup, chili, or power bars, plus a salad with 5 oz of meat a day), so that eliminates a timesink that we usually have. But it takes away from THIS timesink (sob). I gave up on sending something to a couple of those silly contests. Couldn’t whip out the synopsis before July 1, and I imagine that is a “received by” deadline, because they don’t say that it is a postmark deadline.
* * *
For your amusement while you wait for me to produce more wordage about the Fascinating Life of Shalanna, some more links!

Belly dance music master Mr. Eddie “The Sheik” Kochak (He sells CDs of his fantastic “vintage” belly dance music albums on his site! Buy!)

Music theory on the Web, courtesy of a prof at my alma mater

Grammar and Usage Tips that I can actually agree with

Help your kids write stories–or become a teacher of fiction

Identify books in diff genres


Where have I been?

Right here, mostly. Running around working on stuff around the house. Writing on the “new” books. (I’ve dumped the idea of a kidnapping in the “new suspense” for a much better idea. It’s working well.)

Mailed two queries and three contest entries today. One contest is for just the query letter. That’s the one that Evil Editor liked and improved upon, so we’ll see. Wouldn’t it be a kick if the score sheet comes back really sh*tty (with the Evil Editor version failing the contest judge’s worksheet)? Hmm. No, I think I’d rather see it win.

BUT!! Where have I been when I’m on the computer?

Well. Hubby found a place selling reconditioned iPod Shuffle players for $50. If you haven’t seen these dealies, they look like a white plastic pregnancy test stick. You wear them around your neck on a string and carry all your jazz with you. He “got me one” (and then took it, so he went back and got me another one.) I have spent the weekend and evenings surfing around websites with free MP3s and downloading songs. I’ve collected some vintage junk songs, some vintage belly dance music, some vintage jazz and folk. I finally found that “Boogie Woogie and Bongos” jazz album that my dad used to listen to in the days of Space Age Bachelor Pad Jazz! It was on iTunes for only $10. I couldn’t download that fast enough. I then burned it to a CD and ran into Mama’s room with the CD player.

“Aaah,” she said. “That’s not music.”

“Don’t you remember this record? I’ve looked for a copy for twenty years!”

“Aaah.” She waved it away. “It’s noisy. I want something to make me happy!”

I then offered her the “Emperor” concerto of Beethoven and the “Elvira Madigan” concerto #21 of Mozart. These did not make her happy, but she couldn’t call them “not real music,” as they are Western art music at its pinnacle. What did she want to hear?

Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Joan Baez, John Gary, and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Except she said, “But I don’t want to hear them NOW. That’d be too depressing.”

I left her to watch Lifetime Penny Dreadfuls Movies for Women. She looked happy.

HOWEVER. I’m gonna start belly dancing again. My best friend from college teaches dance and coaches troupes. I’ve collected some music for practice. I’ll sign up for her course when registration starts again (probably late summer or early fall). By then, I should have lost some more blubber. That way I won’t be limited to dancing to “That Must Be Jelly, ‘Cause Jam Don’t Shake Like That!”

Go listen!!!

Main page of really cool vintage beledi (belly dance) music site:

Go to her “playlists.” They are Webcasts of sorts (what happens is that WinAmp will open and will start playing the playlist you have clicked on, from her server. It is going to be ALL vintage Middle Eastern tracks, except for her narrative breaks. We’re not talking the country we’re at war with, by the way. Greek, Moroccan, Egyptian, Lebanese. World music fusion. Cool.)

Listen to Susu’s Cairo Cats drumming samples here (but it’s only snippets). Imagine me shimmying.

ON SECOND THOUGHT, don’t . . . you want to enjoy the drumming!

Also some free Middle Eastern music (and much other stuff) at

Here’s the crazy “novelty” stuff and jazz and stuff out of the thrift store and bargain bin.

Classical piano is free everywhere (including sheet music), it seems.

There are so many performances of classical, Romantic, and Baroque period piano works that it’s tough to limit oneself to pieces that one would actually be able to play. And they’re FREE! (Some are MIDI files, but some are MP3s.) Google them up.

I’ve GOT TO STOP . . . STOP . . . STOP

A hollow voice says, “Plugh”

Because in the Very-Recent-Past I may have given the impression that it is not all fun and games having one’s elderly mother living with one and one’s hubby . . . I present an amusing anecdote or two.

Yesterday our lawn service people came to mow. (It was fairly cool and pleasant, overcast but not raining.) The guy who owns the business speaks English, but not all of his worker bees do. Some are temporary workers who either don’t speak English or don’t want you to think that they do. ANYhow, my mother wanted to tell them to go back over some section or another or get some of the Audrey the People-Eating Plants out of the flower bed, so she ran out there to talk to the guy who seemed to be in charge. The whole time, he kept trying not to laugh. He couldn’t help smiling and then grimacing as he tried not to burst out laughing. “I don’t think he heard a single word I said,” she said as she stomped back into the house.

I looked at her. She had pulled on her shorts and then grabbed the first top off the stack of folded T-shirts. Which was a red “Superman” T-shirt with a big yellow “S” in a diamond right on the chest.

“I guess they were unaware that, like Santa, Superguy has a number of helpers,” I said.

She looked down at herself and fell out laughing. “No wonder he couldn’t concentrate. Well, I hope they don’t run over the good hose again.”

They’d BETTER not.
# # #
For no reason at all, this reminds me of a family story about the first person in the family to get a car. Uncle Dewayne had gotten a Model A that cranked to start (with an actual crank) and which was the pride of Ed Huby (the small farming community outside Bonham, Texas.) This was back in the 1930s, when my mother was a baby. Anyhow, he got the car started (despite the crowd pressing in around him) and got going down the road. The car soon sputtered to a stop, and he jumped out over the side holding the steering wheel. He ran back toward the house carrying it.

“What happened?” yelled everyone.

At a loss for words, he waved his free hand at the wheel. “My guideas rod broke!”

So that’s why, whenever we have any car problems, we refer to the “guideas rod” breaking.

Yesterday afternoon I had to get the van’s tire on the driver’s side front patched. We had been exploring some of the new housing developments to the north, and I’d had this weird ESP message that a nail had gotten into one of the tires. Well, the “Check Tires” light came on yesterday morning when I was on my way to CopyMax to photocopy some insurance reimbursement forms and a few pages of antique sheet music. (Can’t play from the originals; they exude mold or dust and crumble at the touch. But I wanted to play through them, so I copied them. The originals go back into their acid-free bags. I suppose I could frame a few more, but we’re out of wall space.)

Guideas rod, on the other hand, checked out just fine.
# # #
I am also reminded of the time I was in a troupe of amateur belly dancers (when I was fresh out of college) and we were all decked out, looking up at our leader in the front, ready to copy whatever she did. So she says, “Put your palms flat together over your head,” and demonstrates, assuming one of the classic “I Dream of Jeannie” positions. Then she says, “Spell the word ‘image’ out loud and say, ‘light bulb.'”

Imagine the consternation of eight grown women when they realize they have just all announced, “I am a GE light bulb.”

Okay, so I was the leader who did that. At least I didn’t have to remain the leader for very long after that. And they DID learn some veil work, despite the prank.

And that’s the latest episode of Life of Riley for tonight. What a revoltin’ development!
# # #
I will probably be flamed for this, because we all know that money makes the world go around (if you don’t know this, rent “Cabaret” and listen to the songs) and that promotion works well when we scratch each other’s backs, but I’m going to ask it anyway.

What is the POINT of having a weblog/journal in which you do nothing but pimp the other pubbed writers you’ve formed a “clique circle” with in return for their doing the same for you (and the others)? I’m talking about the people whose entries are usually some enthusiastic promotional material for some author who is a Close Personal Friend of theirs (or who is repped by the same agent), and if you look at that other author’s entries, there’s usually a rah-rah in return. It can’t be “just networking” and nice people, as the reviews are too happy and everything’s too canned and perfect. Is anyone fooled by this? Doesn’t anyone have any respect for themselves any more? No? Bueller? Anyone?

No? All righty, then. Just wanted to clear that up. Don’t bother telling me all about how healthy this is for everyone’s career. I lose respect for people after I see this happening a few times. If you see me talk nice about somebody in this journal, it’ll be because the book really WAS good. And I’m not telling you that I believe that EVERYONE who mentions a great book or another author in a journal entry is pimping. I think you know the difference . . . I think you know that when you see it. And I just don’t see how anyone thinks the readership can be fooled like that.

On the other hand, since I’ve never had a writing clique (and thus never had the opportunity to band together and say, “Let’s promote each other’s work and get a wider audience that way,”) for all I know it’s the standard practice. My bad. What a dipshit I am for not joining eagerly in. What a loser for not having anyone to do this with. Just wait until I get MY chance to do this, and I’ll be the biggest pimp of all. “Never mind,” said the voice of Roseanne Roseannadanna.

[EDIT: Yes, I know you’re offended. You were just reviewing your friend’s great new three-book contract and her book signing in your journal, all innocently, and here I came along casting aspersions. Heck, I praise Dennis’s work (but only because I always like it), and I know that I might be tempted to mention my books and my friends’ books in some “casual” posts. But when I go to read your journal, I’m not there to read advertising copy. If I want a commercial, I’ll turn on the TV.

Maybe the problem is that people need to soft-pedal it a little and make it seem more like the For Real stuff. Seriously, I have a tough time buying the idea that thirtyish and fortyish authors have a close-knit clique like the one I had in junior high school, where we used to gush over one another’s clothes and hair and ideas and so forth. Make it more of a thoughtful reviewer’s type pitch, and I’ll pretend it doesn’t bug me so much.

If you ARE doing it as a promote-me/I’ll-promote-you deal, well, then, *grump* I wonder what I would do if I were invited to join? It seems about as dignified as wanting a date and going around singing:

(to the opening bars of the Gilbert and Sullivan song from H. M. S. Pinafore about being the ruler of the Queen’s Navy)

“I know this mi-ight sound a lit-tle crass,
But I’m in the market for a piece of a**. . . .”

However, maybe it’s time for new lyrics.

I can hear the “unfriending” clicks across the nation even now.

And no, those aren’t my hands in the piano icon. Mine are even *smaller*. Yet I can reach an octave. That’s because I started playing that old Hammond organ when I was but a pup, and they stretched.
# # #
Knitting for psychopaths. Warning: black humor, poor taste, stuffed animal fu. 3 heads roll. Joe Bob says check it out, but only if you will laugh and not cry.

Research time!

I am so totally up against the wall in both “exciting” stories I’m writing.

The first is that Ranch Romance. Cody (the boy twin) took Emily (the new girl he has a crush on) hiking across the grounds, and took her over into the state forest where he is NEVER SUPPOSED TO GO with guests or alone, and they went along a trail to see a collapsed grotto that is SO beautiful, and on the way back she slipped on a rock on the muddy trail (got her tennies wet at that grotto) and slid down into a pit. She turned her ankle and said she couldn’t stand up on it. He climbed down to rescue her, but he can’t make it back UP that steep slope carrying her or with her leaning on him. So he called on his cell phone for rescue. He called his twin, Jen. Who called 911 and called out the volunteer fire department, who said they’d call the Texas Rangers. Of course Our Heroine and Her Love Interest (Emily’s dad!) come running after Jen and follow the rescue truck. So now I need to get these two out of the pit.

Problem? No! Only that I have NO idea how to do this. I googled and nothing’s useful. I suppose the ol’ fire truck will have a winch. Bub and Dutch and Ernie (the firemen) don’t think they need the Rangers, and are going to throw down a harness or go get them. The whole time there are sparks flying between the various pairs. It should be interesting, if I can figure it out. The pit walls have to be muddy/slick and the kids have to be tired so that they can’t get up by themselves, and though Cody is strong and Emily is only around 130 lbs, he can’t be able to carry her. . . . I don’t know how to describe the rescue, not having seen one. I suppose I could SKIP that scene and go on with the yelling that takes place afterward.

In the OTHER novel, _Wrong Hostage_, I need to figure out where to go with the plot. I don’t know what’s going to happen yet beyond the confusion of identity. Makes it tough to write scenes!

Also, I had a carjacking in the opening. Now there’s going to be a kidnapping. Maybe we’re getting TOO action-movie-flick.

In other news, I decided to learn one of the longer Beethoven sonatas this summer. Need to find a teacher who’ll do a few summer lessons. There are so many teachers who teach only kids/adolescents. The master teachers (who teach advanced adults above my level) are too expensive (though worth it). Nowadays they have piano parties and group lessons in addition to the private lessons. They let you listen to CDs with your pieces on them. (In the olden days, playing by ear and/or hearing a piece you were working on was strictly verboten. That’s one reason I never got very far with various teachers, in fact . . . they would go crazy if they suspected you were just playing back what they’d played by ear, rather than following notation. Or if you transposed a classical theme to the “wrong” key. Horrors! Now that kind of stuff is encouraged, according to the piano teaching websites.)

Anyone in the Plano/Richardson/Dallas area taking lessons is welcome to comment and recommend a teacher. Kickbacks are possible, depending on the teacher. (GRIN)

Survey says–trivial, whimsy, personalzine stuff

Twenty firsts. Copy and paste in your own answers before pasting into your own journal or into an e-mail to a friend, if you’re bored and interested in sharing answers.

1. Who was your first homecoming/prom date?
Tim Cassidy. Are you out there, Tim? That would be Timothy Arthur Cassidy who went to junior high and high school in Plano, Texas, and who attended North Texas State University in Denton.

2. Who was your first roommate?
My parents! After that, hubby. Never actually had a roommate.

3. What alcoholic beverage did you drink when you got drunk the first time?
I’ve never gotten drunk. People used to take me out with the intention of getting me drunk, but I had signed a pledge in elementary school and really wasn’t interested in acting worse than I usually do. (I’m a control freak, in case you hadn’t noticed.) I did drink some ice cream drinks at TGI Friday’s when I was in college–they had creme de menthe in them, along with Cookies’n’Cream ice cream–but they only gave me a headache and made me sleepy. I don’t see the appeal of drinking, really. My uncle does it to kill the pain of his regrets and his anger, and to escape, but it doesn’t solve anything and does make things worse. So . . . he’s not improving his situation. But I suppose to be numb for a while is his goal.

4. What was your first job?
Not counting the stuff I did when I was a high school student–I did some tutoring and I helped with an inventory at my friend Michelle’s parents’ business–I guess it was working at the computer center in college. You could work as a user consultant and get paid by the hour. I did that most semesters. The work at that time consisted of taking people’s huge boxes of punched cards and showing them how to put jobcards and account cards in front so they could run them. Or going to the keypunches to help people punch cards. Or going to the few terminals we had and showing people how to log on to time-sharing. The IBM PC (the first “legit” personal computer) didn’t come out until the year I graduated!

The first post-college job was as a software engineer at Rockwell International, Defense Electronics Operations. Worked on several large programs. Learned that people mostly stood around the coffee pot and shot the bull all day, until the customers showed up, and then they’d turn into busywork bees.

5. What was your first car?
The first one I owned? 1982 Chevy Camaro.
The first one I drove? 1964 Dodge Dart station wagon with pushbutton transmission. Drove that one to high school.
The first one I drove to work (after high school) and to college: 1970 AMC Hornet, color metallic green, thus a “Green Hornet.” That was my late father’s car, and my mom pretty much had to let me drive it. She had two other cars.

6. When did you go to your first funeral?
Daddy’s funeral in October 1974. I was just a kid. Don’t remember a thing. Well, not that much, anyway.

8. Who was your first grade teacher?
Mrs. Fischer. Tall blonde woman. Loved her. Looked like Elizabeth Montgomery in “Bewitched” (including the same hairstyle and the “mod” miniskirts and polka-dotted dresses) with John Lennon glasses and talked like a Southern belle. She read to us. She had such perfect handwriting, too.

9. Where did you go on your first ride on an airplane?
San Francisco (Palo Alto), California.

10. When you sneaked out of your house for the first time, who was it with?
I never needed to sneak out. My mother didn’t like it when I went anywhere, but if somebody showed up at the door to pick me up, someone she knew, she didn’t really impose a curfew. If she trusted the guy, she’d just say, “Have fun!” Or if it was with “the girls,” she’d make sure I was driving. (*grin*) We were such nerds anyhow. We went to plays (community theater), theme restaurants, SCA events, bookstores, the mall, tame little bars/restaurants with live music (“Strictly Tabu” in Dallas, “Magic Time Machine” in Addison, etc.), rock concerts downtown, and places like that. Nowhere crazy. Mostly, people would come to our house to sit around and talk and eat the snacks my mother likes to make. It was the Psychotherapy Room and she was the Earth Mother with all the answers. That was fun.

11. Who was your first best friend?
Clare Ann Jones of Conifer Drive in Houston, Texas. Are you out there, Clare Ann? You basically lived at my house until we started first grade. You lived next door with your little sister Jennifer and two big brothers, Bobby and Billy. We lived on the corner and had 3/4 of an acre of fenced yard to play in. We were put into different classrooms the first day of school, and since I was yanked out of the first day of first grade and put into an accelerated program (Gifted and Talented to modern readers) as soon as they realized I was reading the stuff on the blackboard and doing it, I met new people and Mama instantly started arranging play dates. We moved at the end of first grade and I lost track of you (and all my new friends.)

12. Where was your first sleepover?
At my cousin Patty’s. With friends? With my friend Holly Brown in Houston near the end of first grade. The weekend before we moved, Holly stayed over at my house, and we were playing “spin until dizzy” on the driveway. She fell down and broke her collarbone. I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye and lost touch with her. Always have felt guilty about the collarbone! (I fell on the grass . . . she hit the concrete.)

Most memorable sleepover–our 5th grade Girl Scout troop stayed at Leslie Smith’s house, slept in sleeping bags on the living room floor (some under the grand piano, some on the sofa, etc.), and played “Truth, Dare, or Desperate” for the first time ever. Her little brothers spied on us all night. I learned a lot about those girls playing that game.

13. Who is the first person you call when you have a bad day?
Hubby. Or if he has reached his limit (you can tell by looking and listening to the muttering), my cousin Patty. I used to call my friend Terry, but we broke up. (Long story. Problems at work, and the boss kind of pulled a fast one, and I ended up blowing up at Terry for telling stuff about me to the boss–but she was manipulated into doing it, if she even really did it at all.) Before that, I called Diane, but she moved to Kansas City. Now we e-mail.

14. Whose wedding were you in the first time you were a bridesmaid?
Linda Cook’s. The dresses were absolutely gorgeous. Our moms considered us family. My mom (another teetotaler) drank some spiked punch at the reception while chatting with their priest and got kind of tipsy, and when we left to get into the car after the reception, she stumbled over the curb and fell in the gravel parking lot. Lost her diamond earring and skinned both knees. Ruined a good dress. It was very upsetting.

The next time I was a bridesmaid was the following year, for my other best friend Linda. It was a very elegant affair at Highland Park Methodist Church, and the bridal couple rode in a restored Model A down Mockingbird Lane to the Hilton, where the reception cost her dad out the wazoo and he walked around handing out the little bags of birdseed and pulling his pockets inside-out to show how empty they were. I brought home a slice of cake (stealing the plate to boot) and slept on it that night so I’d dream of my future husband, but I couldn’t remember my dreams the next morning. Not saying I didn’t have the promised prophetic dream, just that I forgot it before waking up.

15. What is the first thing you do in the morning?
I put on my glasses. Then I take the dog out to tinkle in the front courtyard.

16. What was the first concert you ever went to?
Paul Simon. My best friend Ann (I miss her, too) and I got front-row tickets to a concert he played in 1975 or so at SMU in McFarlin Auditorium, a small venue. That was awesome. She took lots of 35mm existing-light photos. I have a few dark Instamatic shots. I wish I could see those photos she took. But I’d like it even more if I could find her and her new husband Jim and their new daughter. They’re in Austin, or were the last time I heard.

Hmm, there are quite a few people I’d like to get back in touch with, it seems.

17. First tattoo or piercing?
Pierced ears, age 17, at local strip mall salon. Got these gold “studs” that you turned three times a day and dabbed with alcohol on a cotton ball. They were SO adamant about not using other earrings for three months. But the piercing did fine and is still intact lo these many years later, even though I often pull off earrings and leave them out for several days in a row. Never had one problem with them.

18. First celebrity crush?
Alvin, of “Alvin and the Chipmunks” cartoon. When I was four. I had the Alvin doll that I dragged everywhere.

After that, Jerry Lewis. And Micky Dolenz. And Paul McCartney. And Bobby Darin. . . .

19. Age of first real kiss?
Sixteen. New Year’s Eve.

20. First crush? First actual crush?
First crush, Michael Keegan, who sat next to me in first grade.
First actual crush that I ever did something about, Tim Cassidy (the aforementioned).

In 2000…
How old were you? (censored)

Where did you go to school?
I wish I were still in school. I enjoy the intellectual stimulation and the silly little projects and the class discussions. Most of the time.

Where did you work?
Right here at home.

Where did you live?
Richardson, Texas

How was your hair style?
Fine, thank you. Oh, you mean what is it? Hippie hair, long and straight. The same yesterday, and today, and tomorrow.

Did you wear glasses?

Who was your best friend?
Hubby. Best non-family friend–Linda D.

Who was your boyfriend/girlfriend?
Now, now. One must have one’s secrets. This reminds me of an invitation I once got to a party: “Bring your wife or your girlfriend,” it invited, and below that was scrawled, “BUT NOT BOTH!!”

Who was your celebrity crush?
Ron Reagan.

What was your favorite band/group?
Aaaaah, who can say, any more. How about the Beatles or the Vince Guaraldi Trio?

Had your heart broken?
Patched and mended so often it looks like a quilt, but is stronger for it

Had you broken someone’s heart?
So it is claimed. It was murmured that I did this in junior high and again in high school, but I was blithely unaware of it. Sorry, Bob J. Sorry, Chuck. Didn’t even realize you were interested. . . .

CRAFT: Musings on revision; what “they” are saying

Advice from a contest judge (published) who was surfing one of my craft-of-writing lists and delivered some advice (7 lbs., 5 oz.):

“I have noticed some things about the subs here, and on a
couple of other crit lists. The same things are turning up. I’m just trying to help a bit and hope this will lead to a general discussion.”


1. Delete the backstory that appears up front. Perhaps you are warming up the engine, clearing your throat, discovering a lot of things about your character right after you begin the book. That’s good; put it in the “reference” or “scraps” file and refer to it so you can sprinkle pertinent items throughout the book.

Why? If you start your story with an infodump, telling us scads of information about your main characters, you can bore readers. Stephen King notwithstanding, when authors do that, readers wonder why they should care before they know the character. And some readers will feel that you’ve destroyed the forward motion that creates tension. Now that readers know everything, some may feel that there’s not much point in reading on (rather than being intrigued and wanting to read more to answer the story questions that have been raised.) Tell the reader only just what she needs to know now, not what you think she ought to know.

2. Avoid all those POV switches and ALL head hopping.

I don’t want to get into a detailed discussion here and an argument. But most editors and agents prefer the third person limited “intimate” POV (with a “close-up” psychic distance) now. One scene, one POV.
Practice until you get it right. Yes, I know that “Nora Roberts head-hops,” but when you are Nora, you can do it too. Until then, figure out how to control POV.

This is not to say that you can’t have different characters narrate different scenes. But you’ll need to use a scene break or chapter break and perhaps further indicate the transition. Don’t hop more than twice during a scene, if possible, and use scene breaks. Or start a new chapter. Short chapters are okay.

[NOTE FROM SHALANNA: Today someone told me that instead of three asterisks or pound signs, we should be using only ONE pound sign as an indicator of a scene break. Whatever . . . Patrick Nielsen Hayden at Viable Paradise didn’t object to my set-of-three, and that’s what Writer’s Digest used to preach and what Warren Norwood (SF writer and college instructor) used to teach. I don’t think it makes that much difference to editors. Whatever floats your boat. Just indicate those POV shifts with a scene break.]

3. Correct any howlers. Misused words (“I do not think that word means what you think it means”), homonym errors, misspellings that the spelling checker doesn’t pick up (possibly because Someone has added the misspelled version to the custom dictionary), missing words, grammar that just isn’t right. To quote the source: “For heaven’s sake, people, mantles don’t belong above fireplaces, and people don’t wear mantels. Discreet and discrete mean two very different things!”

3a. Lay/lie is one of Our Editor’s particular bugbears. Learn the rules (yes, there are rules about lay/lie; prescriptivist grammarians win this round) and get it right.

4. Eliminate every speech tag that you can. Same for thought tags, if you’re forced to use them at all. Editors are against them at the moment, and aesthetically, they are a distraction, especially when we’re reading something written in deep-third POV. Replace them with action tags, if you can, but make sure your characters don’t fidget too much.

[NOTE FROM SHALANNA: When I made this particular modification to my style back in 1987 or so, I started getting encouraging personalized rejections instead of form rejections. I also sold to two anthologies soon after that. I found that I didn’t need “she said.” However, I had to go back and make sure that my character didn’t “smile,” “blink,” “sigh,” or “nod” in every other paragraph. This comes across as twitchy fidgeting to a reader. Have characters grimace, pout, and spit if you must, but don’t do it every few minutes. And the past tense of “spit” is “spat”!!]

Again, the source says: “This is what agents have been saying recently at conferences and when I have chatted with them personally. As I have said before, if your story is good enough, all bets are off. You’ll be able to sell anything if it’s so amazing and you manage to get it in front of the proper editor. However, I asked my editor how many of the books she had on her long “My Books” shelf in her office came out of the slush pile, and she pointed to ONE. ONE book came out of unsolicited slush. Sheesh. Your chances are bad enough. Try to maximize your luck.”

5. Activate that “passive” hero or heroine. Is your heroine a procrastinator, moper, whiner, and so forth? Tough, tough sell. [SC: Yep, I know, even if she changes over the course of the book and that’s the entire point!] Is your hero only along for the ride because he’s too lazy or whatever to stand up and get out of the car? No-no.

Both of your main characters (or however many you have) MUST have an interest in the central plot. Forget about the heroine who is dragged into the story by virtue of being kidnapped, or accidentally drawn in, or simply present when something that has nothing to do with her (that she has no stake in) happens. That way you end up struggling with a heroine who doesn’t care a great deal and does as she is told, because she hasn’t got a stake of her own in the story. Escaping isn’t enough, or just eluding death at every turn, because she’s just reacting–she’s not taking charge or taking responsibility. [SC: I purged the original notes I took of the word “pro-active” as a service to the community. “Active” is supposed to mean that; the prefix is stoooopid, IMHO. HATE that neologism.]

Same with the hero. If he’s just helping the heroine, he’s a big bad
Alpha who’s wasted. Like Fabio at a . . . never mind.

[Shalanna adds: One of the writers in Wednesday’s critique group had written a chapter that he was about to trash, but decided to run it by us. The hero’s wife is going by plane to a conference to present a paper and he’s going to go with her, but at the last moment his boss (he’s an expert witness) calls and insists he be present to talk to a judge instead. He thus misses the plane. The bad guys, who want to buy time to eliminate all witnesses and thus win the case, sneak a bomb onto the flight, thinking that the hero is on it; they want to cause a delay in finding another expert witness. However, what happens instead is that the wife is zapped, meaning that the hero now has a personal stake in nailing these bad guys. No longer is it just because he thinks they should be prosecuted for the computer crimes they are doing–now it’s personal. I told him to definitely keep the chapter, a very powerful chapter that shows us the activities of the hero, the bad guy, and the airport security people who get fooled (with proper scene breaks, to boot); another writer told him to use it as chapter one! So you never know what you have until you get someone else to look at it. This made the hero into someone with a real stake in finding these bad guys.)

In brief: start with a big hook. Some editors only read the first page
before moving on to the next submission, and an experienced editor can usually tell by the end of the first page if this one is a YES or not. Make your characters vivid and memorable. End your chapter with a hook or cliffhanger when you can (but don’t make it irritating by doing it every time). Watch what the market is doing, but don’t be ruled by it: just let it guide your choices. For instance, if you write in two genres, favor the genre that is doing best at present. That’s only good business sense. Unless you’ve come up with that Breakout Superduper Idea . . . then, all bets are off.

That’s all, folks! As Jennifer Crusie might say, “go forth and write your good book.” And that’s all there is to it.

(Yeah! Sure! Okay!)
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Wisdom from Tim Powers (first winner of the PKD award), via his student :

When you are learning to become a writer, don’t forget the importance of remaining a decent human being. Never try to get close to people only because you think they are the cool in-crowd people and could “help your career.” That kind of behavior is just beneath you, and it makes you look small and petty if you are obviously angling to hang out with them. Never ever scorn people because they are not important. Instead, spend time with people–whether the humblest neofan or the Biggest Name pro writer–only simply because you enjoy their company. If you don’t enjoy their company, it’s okay to avoid them, but always be polite, and never badmouth them. This field is small, and word gets around. Someone you badmouth today may be an editor considering your book manuscript next year. Be kind to others, and treat them with respect and forbearance.

This advice works in ALL situations, not just for those becoming a writer. However, a lot of people aggressively schmooze, wheel, and deal–without having any regard to the ones they’ve elbowed out of the way and stepped on, the ones they’ll meet on their journey back down the ladder. Whoops.
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Rip Torn’s character in “Men in Black”: “You’re exactly what we’ve come to expect from years of government training.”

Happy Summer Solstice!

Marking the Summer Solstice this morning at 9:25 AM Central Daylight Time.

Hope it doesn’t get even hotter and drier. We’re in a 20-month drought!

Writers’ group today at noon. I only had seven pages done on the ranch romance to submit. I’ve been working on queries for other novels and have started the Very Low-Calorie Diet. *ugh* Not that I’m hungry, but what am I going to do now when I need to vent? Can’t possibly express anger. Too dangerous.

Maybe I’ll write a violent book. Seems to work for a friend who is a writer. Mildest-seeming person, rage on the page. Hmm. . . .