Christmas shopping tip

Don’t buy these wacko toys.

Get a Sugar Daddy Ken instead!


Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope yours was happy.

What am I going to DO with all this leftover squash?!

*dragging out cookbooks–the new Rachael Ray ones are rehashes of the old ones, so skip those, but there’s a Nathalie Dupree and a couple of church cookbooks. The church cookbooks are SUCH a hoot because they’re old and the recipes were typed in all different fonts and styles and the phrasings can be totally hilarious and confusing. Also, many recettes begin with, “Melt a stick of butter.” Woo!*

Ranty McRant on the OhNoes for today

“Miss America will no longer pole-dance using her formal title. While reigning as the symbol of purity, she will be Miss America; while dancing, she will use the name Fifi La Boom-Boom. Catch her at the Boom-Boom Room, twice nightly! She’s here all month!”

Ahem. Also, last week Harlequin opened a vanity press branch called Harlequin Harlots or something like that–but after a huge hoo-hah* about it that threw everyone from the RWA to the MWA and SFWA into a complete tizzy and caused tantrums on Smart B*ches and Dear Author and Making Light and other writers’ hangouts, they realized the error of their ways. They’ll be changing the name of the new press to not have the magic word Arlecchino, I mean “Harlequin,” on it. Better? Oh, and they’ll still be sending the info about how to publish with Harlots to every author they reject. It’s just the smart business decision.

* [Don’t get on me about “hoo-hah,” because it means a big kerfuffle and much ado. It doesn’t mean what you THINK it means. That’s “hoo-hoo.”]

Now . . . most of us reading this blog already know that self-publishing, POD publishing, vanity presses, or whatever you want to call these enterprises (if a smeep leaps like a bunny, twitches its nose like a bunny, and makes those hard little catfood poopies like a bunny. . . .) costs an awful lot these days (even XLibris of Philly was ruined years ago and is now under the control of the Evil Masters, so Lulu is about the only sane option remaining) and isn’t going to give your book the best chance. So I’m not too worried about that. I don’t believe tons of people can be scammed with this, because MOST people do some research before ever subbing to Harlequin, and lots of them join RWA first for the crit groups and contests. Still, it’s kind of ridiculous.

But you’ve gotta admit it’s a sharp business idea. The new CEO of Torstar, the parent company of Harlequin, probably came up with this one day after a visit from the vanity press people (“Make even MORE money on the ones you reject through our kickbacks!” or some such line) and thought it would be really cool. He probably isn’t a descendant of a publishing family of olde and doesn’t realize all the side issues here, such as dilution of the Harlequin brand and profiting from the people you reject and so forth.

Still . . . should our watchwords be, “What’s moral is whatever you can get away with” and “It may be considered Right Action if you don’t get caught”?

I don’t know. *IF* these books would come up whenever a search on Amazon for “Harlequin” was done, it would be worth the $500 and up, because there are people my own mother knows who will order all five of the books coming out of whatever Harlequin line every month . . . or who will just order whatever strikes her fancy out of the Harlequin lineup for that month. You would have that book sitting on many night tables across America. BUT . . . they’ve admitted that this will not happen. Even more NOT so since they’ve taken the Harlequin name off of it to try to appease the existing Harlequin authorbase and RWA (it didn’t, much, but they made a show of it all.)

I think for the moment we should just write without worrying about selling the stuff (which is really tough for me). We need to see how the e-book thing shakes out. I still believe it is going to sneak up on us all of a sudden, and take traditional publishing for a ride. (Although people tell me they aren’t at ALL worried.)

Right now, I don’t think it’s worthwhile for an unpubbed unwashed like me to even query around. For one thing, many agencies are closed until the end of January and are clearing out the existing stack of queries (Rappaport Agency is one), and several have just plain come out and said you cannot submit a query if you are unpubbed (Ashley Grayson Agency is one) unless you are being referred by an existing client of the agency . . . you know the drill if you’ve been submitting. Kristin Nelson of Pub Rants (that’s “Publishing” rants, not drinkin’ bar rants, dear) said in a recent blog post that she had rejected a book that she knew was really good, but that she didn’t think she could sell–and that this wasn’t the first or the only time, either. I’m sure this is going on at every agency. And because the agents are the primary gatekeepers, editors won’t be seeing and buying our work for a while.

An acquaintance of mine received a somewhat surprising reply to a query yesterday: “Thanks so much for querying us, but we are unsure that this premise would work in this tight market. All said, we would encourage you to do what many of our clients have done and self-publish with a reputable, and recommended, publisher. This is a new age in publishing, and as evidenced time and time again, neither The New York Times bestsellers [sic] list nor major booksellers discriminate against the self[-] published. Oftentimes, authors choose to get proactive in order to build a sales record and boost their chances of being picked up. I would like your permission to pass along your information to someone who can help you get started on your path towards [sic] getting published.” [It goes on.]

Um, no. Already know how to do that through Lulu and Smashwords and Amazon Kindle submissions and so forth. Don’t want to go to the guy who’s giving you a kickback, thanks anyway.

So now most of the queries I’ve sent out for my (new) manuscripts have been answered with rejections that say, with a vague hand-wave, “I enjoyed reading your pages, and it’s obvious you are very talented. However, I {didn’t love it enough/am not the right agent for your work/find that in this market, I am limiting my offers of representation so I can take care of existing clients/hoohoohoo whatever}.” They usually end with, “Prove me wrong! I’m sure someone else will pick this up.” Which is vaguely insulting, in a way. “It’s not you–it’s me–I don’t want to marry you, but someone else will want to! Okay, bye!” (grin) I’m hearing similar tales on others’ blogs, as well.

Here’s my question. (I always use this weird thing called “logic” and “reasoning,” so bear with me.) Where is the crystal ball that tells them, “What you are seeing now is not something that will sell to readers two years from now”? How does anyone know that a particular book cannot POSSIBLY hit big? Who would have predicted that “Twilight” could even get published, let alone become the gold standard? What if coming-of-age novels make a big comeback? (It COULD happen!)

I believe that the market can change quickly, and it usually does. There’s a difference between what publishers think they can sell to readers right now (which dictates what agents believe they can sell to editors) and what they really WILL be able to sell eighteen months from now, when the books hit the shelves. Will vampires lead to zombies? Who knows? Chick lit was the steamroller of all time, but it suddenly snapped when the market got flooded with stuff that wasn’t really very good. (Hmm, how many vampire series are out at the moment? And how much longer will people be out getting “Twilight” tattoos before the Next Big Thing hits? Fickle finger of fate, you swivel without warning.)

No one is interested in publishing 15 midlist novels that are well written and that might end up being long-term sales (you know, the kind of book that stays in print rather than selling well for a while and then having cartons and cartons of it remaindered for $1.) They want ONE BIG SELLER that will get the advance all of the 15 novels should have gotten, and if it fails, oh well. Everyone’s looking for this magical squee-worthy Next Big Thing, but of course nobody knows what that is.

People have told me, “Just write a better book.” But how is “better” defined, specifically? I suspect it’s NOT about the quality of the prose. Even if your prose is polished and eloquent, your book will be rejected if the STORY won’t sell. The public doesn’t appear to have any appreciation for cadenced prose or even for non-clunky prose, as long as the story grabs them a certain way. Simply being a great prose stylist with a new and appealing voice doesn’t mean anything.

What is the essential appeal of the BIG BOOKS that publishers are looking for? Commercial potential, right, but how do you know what that is? Crash-boom-flameout, unbelievably huge conflict where the WORLD WILL END if the person who has just realized she is the ANOINTED SAVIOR OF THE WORLD doesn’t do X by time Y–while having lots of exciting humps? So many of the pitches that I have been reading on the various contest blogs (yes, many editors/agents have been holding contests on their blogs in which authors post a pitch and first sentence as a comment, and then there are “winners” who get to send in their pages, amen) have been outlandish, and the opening paragraphs are too abrupt (IMHO). But this may only be confirmation that I’m not right for this post-postmodern world.

Whenever publishing pros blog about why they take on a book, they assure people it’s all about the writing, EXCEPT they also have to LOVE IT SO MUCH and believe that they can sell it, meaning they need to know an editor who likes this sort of thing (they think) and who has an open slot. How many slots are open? Not too many, I should imagine.

So perhaps I should stick to my vow of Query Silence until after the first of the year. It’d be less frustrating. I’m waiting to see how the e-books perform over the holiday buying season.

But please, all of publishing, just keep cranking out all those vampire and werewolf clone books. We neeeed them as stocking stuffers! Or possibly kindling, should the home fires die down during a snowstorm.

CONTEST OPPORTUNITY: Why do you write?

Do you know why you write? Can you put it into words? Will that make a compelling essay? Do you ever enter contests?

Well . . . if you just yelped “Yes!” four times, come join me in entering the essay contest that Smashwords and Maria Schneider are sponsoring. It might be interesting to see all the reasons people give for writing. I’m working on an entry in the background, behind the NaNo writing and the “getting the heater fixed” real-life activity.

I used to be able to win contests all the time. Heck, sometimes I still can–I became a finalist in the Scotch Brand Most Gifted Wrapper Contest last year on the strength of my essay. But the judges are getting younger, and their worldview is different, and they value different things when reading. So who knows? I’ll still have an interesting essay when I’m done.

Speaking of the Scotch Brand contest–a finalist in this year’s contest sought me out to see if I had any suggestions for her! I thought it was so cool and flattering that she found me on the Web. There are still several articles online (archived) on the Dallas News and Denton newspaper sites that feature my little foray up into Yankeeland, and there’s a cute mention on the D Magazine site (an admirer says he agrees with my evaluation of NYC as “it’s like Texas-OU weekend if both sides lost and they ran out of beer.”) I had some advice for her, though I don’t know how much it helped. Mostly, my advice is to consider the trip your prize, and anything else gravy. The experience is the prize here. “The journey is the reward.” She’s a professional gift wrapper, so she has a real chance! Would it not be COOL if she won?! I would sort of feel as if I won along with her! (Irrational as that may seem.) She has published a book and puts out a video all about wrapping. We both like to make packages look like something else. How weird is that? Pretty dang weird, as is the contest itself. People always did double-takes when I explained why we were in NYC or why we had gone. “A contest for wrapping presents?” Well, why not?

I was a bit concerned that 3M wouldn’t want to sponsor it again this year. But yay! They did!

Wish I could be there. Y’know . . . there’s nothin’ like the place. God help me, I love New York. *ducking tomatoes* Yes, yes, I still love California best, and Texas as well. And the top of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. But the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd on Broadway–it’s magical. Especially around Christmastime. Did you realize they’ve changed the route of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year? I’ll bet they’re already working on setting up the floats. I would LOVE to be there looking down on the preparation from a hotel window. Man!

NaNo: Dialect and characters’ speaking differences

I’ve often pondered the way that my characters seem to speak differently from one another. When I started out (at age eight or thereabouts) to write my first serious story, intended for a Real Audience, all my characters sounded like me. Eventually I realized this wasn’t perfect, and I graduated to having some sound like my dad and his professor friends. This still wasn’t enough to distinguish them in readers’ minds, though.

By the time I was in my late teens and writing a Bildungsroman of juvenilia, I’d figured out that some form of “talking tic” or even an accent/dialect was a good way to single out a character. Nowadays, I’m not so sure it’s good, because the politically correct crowd would probably jump on anything you did to let readers know that this character is from Russia/ Jawja/ Joizee (especially if you used eye dialect, about which more in a moment.)

Dialect. Does it help you or hurt you?

Obviously, we’re not talking about the Mark Twain-Br’er Rabbit school of dialect. Many readers can hardly stand to look at those collections of characters on the page without grimacing, and often you can’t hope to know what was meant until you pronounce it aloud. “Ah’m a-goin’ thar drecktly, but Ah dunno if’n I’ll git anythin’ a-tall outa dem.” HUH?!

In my first serious fantasy tome, PALADIN SPELLBOUND, written around age twenty, my dwarves spoke in a mildly eye-spelled dialect that is reminiscent of a Tennessee farmer of the 1930s. In the prologue to PALADIN, I wrote something like:
The dwarf continued. “Oncet we git the ransom, thur’s no need for more finaglin’, is thur, now? Fiddlin’ around with them boys jus’ too dang’rus for us, y’see.” His thick, lumpy fingers caressed the dented pewter tankard. “Besides, oncet she’s saf’ly home, I’ll warrant they’ll be out to kill ever’ dwarf in th’ Kingdom, just t’be sure they git us.”

I know you will not believe that DAW asked to see the full back in 1986. But they did. Unfortunately, I had made other beginner mistakes, so this story (which should have been three books) never saw print. However . . . the dialect was a bit heavy, like two inches of peanut butter on a poor little quarter-inch slice of banana bread.

I did tone it down greatly before I sent the book out again, which wasn’t until 1989. I think it worked better the newer way.

The dwarf continued “Once we get the ransom, there’s no need for more finaglin’, is there, now? Fiddlin’ around with them boys ‘ud be too dangerous for us, y’see.” His thick, lumpy fingers caressed the dented pewter tankard.
“Besides, once she’s safely home, I’ll warrant they’ll be out to kill ever’ dwarf in the Kingdom, just t’be sure they get us.”

Whether you have a character who is from New Orleans (N’Awlins) or New Earth (T’Zillon), you will eventually have to deal with dialect or an
accent. Usually, you’ll want this characteristic to belong to a minor character, rather than one of your main characters. The reader is “in” the mind of the POV character, so he or she is understood to “hear” that stuff as the baseline-normal voice. Dialect will tag some of your more colorful and beloved character actors, and can do it well.

You’ve heard that the greatest fiction is that in which you can tell which character is speaking with no dialogue tag. Well . . . sometimes that’s true. (grin) But sometimes we can overdo it.

MIRANDA’S RIGHTS has that Russian Gypsy/Rom character whose origins are purposely kept sketchy (she tells people she is Rom, but she has an Eastern European/Russian accent, which would make sense, but no one really KNOWS) with the funny way of talking. I don’t know whether that is hampering its chances, but you can tell when Tatyana is talking, and sometimes she will get an idiom wrong in a humorous fashion.

That’s with contemporary novels, non-fantasy.

Since ALL the conversation in a fantasy novel is not-English, but is assumed to be translated for our understanding, sometimes it is convenient to have several languages in the world. You might want to occasionally [ADVERB ALERT–no, I’m not taking it out] have private conversations between characters wherein they go into dialects or languages: “[s]he said in Wrennish,” or “They spoke in their common language, Ailorre,” and/or even the occasional “he said in the Western dialect.” That saves the reader’s translation gland a lot of trouble.

Or tell the conclusions you want the listener to draw (although that’s supposedly a big no-no, it would take pages and pages to “show” it, and they really aren’t needed):

“Her accent had the polish of an educated city-dweller.”

“He had the slow cadence and colorful imagery typical of country folk, and so she surmised he had never been to university–or at least that he had not let urban life ruin him for country-lawyering.”

“The thieves’ cant susurrated all around them in the tavern. Alyx took a step back. Perhaps she shouldn’t have come into this place alone. . . .”

The one thing you probably *shouldn’t do* is “do it like the movies and TV.” They are NOT good examples. Worst thing in the world is to have your MS look like a recycled set of Babble-On Five outtakes. “Would somebody tell me what in the Sardinian flapk is going on here?”

Readers can be annoyed by “eye dialect,” even with single words, such as having a character say “gulls” or “wimmin.” If you want them to catch on, you’ll have to repeat the way they mispronounce the word in the next sentence, instead of respelling it inside the sentence.

“All them barren women.” _Wimmin._

A little also goes a long way; dialect tends to wear on the reader’s inner ear quickly [*ADVERB ALARM SHRIEKS*], unless done very lightly and skillfully [ALARM BREAKS DOWN CRYING]. If the book is set in the contemporary U. S., it’s better to have everybody speak standard American than to load up the cast with Aussies and Scots (as in a book I just read) for no reason other than to have them talk funny. I’ve seen this when judging romance manuscripts, and it’s kind of . . . weird.

Whatever you do, DON’T try to reproduce dialect syllable by syllable, or even word by word. Don’t try to reproduce pronunciation, unless there is some key element that ties into it. What happens is this: your reader (henceforth known as “he”) sees the first clues to the way your character(“she”) speaks, and thereafter will imagine that accent. So if you have constant strange spellings and “reminders” of the accent, the reader might hear a more and more exaggerated accent, and the whole thing will become ridiculous, no matter how accurately you portray the dialect. If you indicate just enough to suggest to the reader that
the character is, say, a ringing Southern belle, he will hear a normal accent, particularly if the character’s grammar or word order or slang reminds

The same question three different ways:
“Do you want me to do it?”
“Would you prefer that I do it instead?”
“You want I should do it, G-d forbid you should break down and ask?”

You just “saw” three different characters, right?

Suggest an accent through the occasional respelling of a word after the dialogue, or, in the narrative accompanying the character’s quotation, add some descriptive comments.

“Let me have one of them mint juleps.” _Mi-yunt jewlips_. Mocking Alanna’s accent, the customer winked at her date. Alanna shifted, feeling her bunions ache.

“Where at?” He’d never stop adding the unnecessary preposition, mostly because he knew it bothered her. If he wanted to say “whurrat?” like a hick, fine. Didn’t mean she had to talk that way when she knew better.

Or one character can make fun of the way another talks, so we know the pronunciation is supposed to be exaggerated.

“Oh, you are in the space muh-reeens_? When are you come-EEN back Planetside?”

The main character in one of my novels has a 100% Latino/Hispanic mother, and I occasionally have the mother speak a few words in Spanish. The rest
of the time she speaks English, with a few un-idiomatic phrases here or there that might show she isn’t native-born. As such a character
speaks, she will use phrases or words or syntax in a way that reminds the reader she’s not a native speaker (not EVERYONE who’s Latino will–this CHARACTER will). If you have a long bit of dialogue, she can speak standard English, but do something with flavor to keep your character’s voice in the ear of the reader. I don’t want to have people taking offense and saying I’m stereotyping, but in reality people DO this, so I’m kind of between Scylla and Charybdis [*Classical allusion alarm screams*].

You don’t necessarily need French words, though, to suggest a French accent. The way a character answers questions can be telling. One French visitor we had when I worked at Alcatel Lucent started many answers with “mais oui” or “mais non” or “eh bien” (which is like “uh”); in English, the idiom would translate as in Grey Poupon’s ad–“But of course!” “But no!” “But yes!”

“That is not the French way, _ma cherie (mon cher)_!” Don’t go too Maurice Chevalier, though. I had an Arabian character once, and I suggested his broken and accented English by having his grammar
slightly fractured, like the cartoon 7-11 clerk. This turned out to be an error. I still don’t know how to “do” that so it’s right without being hurtful to people.

Careful–don’t let it drop into parody.

Also, a steady stream of poor grammar out of characters’ mouths grates on the reader like sandpaper. A little goes a long way to suggest what you mean. It doesn’t take much irregular diction to get the idea across. Believable dialect comes, for the most part, out of using a collection of key phrases and eccentricities as the character’s verbal idiosyncrasies.

Many moons ago, an acting teacher (Mrs. Margaret Robison–rest her soul) told me that if a character has a certain trait–a stutter, a limp, whatever–an actor should display it to good effect during the first few lines of her first entrance. After that, just hint at it, without exaggeration or emphasis. Subtlety is the watchword. “A nuanced performance” rather than “she chewed up the wallpaper.” I think the same method works well in fiction. After all, you are all the actors as well as the playwright
and director here.

You can also have a character drop into his/her “down-home” way of conversing in response to certain situations (STRESS) or when talking to
certain people (THE BOSS INTIMIDATES HIM). It is a subtlety indicating the character’s comfort
level. Similarly, you can have her “unconsciously” or deliberately drop into the dialect of another “social class” (for want of a better descriptor) when talking to him. (She starts talking all uppity, and it sounds wrong.)

These are mere suggestions to take into consideration as you do NaNo. I don’t have the answers, as you know. Hope some of this applies to your dialogue problems (or non-problems.)

A hawk just flew over our side yard outside our kitchen window. NO, REALLY. (I know the painting above is of an owl, but it’s a similar vibe.)

What does this SAY? A serious question!

I was soooo proud of this necklace. Bought it on Etsy and thought it was just the bee’s knees. But when I wore it a few weeks ago, Hubby started to laugh and made remarks. So what I need to know is:

What is this word, to YOU? At first glance?

I dunno . . . what he said (and the true mirth on his face) made me really ashamed of having even thought of wearing it. But the way I write cursive, the word IS what I originally said it was and what the maker said it was. That’s the way I make the first “e” if I’m coming off a letter that ends up near the mid-margin or whatever they called it in handwriting class years ago, and the second “e” starts at the bottom line. But if others are going to gasp and point and throw fits, I can’t have that. That has to remain the bailiwick of my other body parts.

I *was* looking for earrings with little sparrows or other birdies in silver, to go along with, but now . . . eh. *sigh* I am sooo stooopid. I thought I was being so original and junk, and . . . well, y’know. I’m not the world’s fashion plate, anyway.

Amazing how something can come across so differently to different peole. And how upsetting it is to realize that what YOU read is not what others read. . . .

(But that’s part of the writer’s eternal problem, isn’t it?)

P. S. I also got this jacket. Yes, I see that it makes the model look fat. This is also the case with anyone else who wears it. Too bad, as I like the fabric and the little buttons. . . .