Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nope, the printed word's not doomed

Technology is terrific, isn’t it? At least when it works.

I don’t have much time to read these days, at least not the “sitting down and turning the pages of a book” kind of reading. That’s hard for a girl like me, who used to scarf down three or four or even five books a week back when life was saner.
As a kid, I’d always read at least two books at a time – that way, if Mama confiscated one book when she caught me reading instead of doing my chores, then I’d have a back-up. I also learned, by sheer necessity, that if I were going to read at my house, I needed to speed read.

But even speed readers need time to finish a book. Way back when my to-do list started pushing my reading time out the window, I realized that I was cranky and grouchy and just plain hard to live with when I didn’t ingest the printed word.
So I picked up an audio book from the library to listen to in my car. Back then, the books were on cassette tapes (yes, I do realize that tells you that I am old enough to have driven a car with a cassette tape deck.) It took me a little while to get used to the weird transition of having someone read to you – it’s not as passive as TV, but I did miss the interaction with the printed word.

But at least I was “reading” after a sort, and doing it during a time when I wasn’t accomplishing much else. I hung on through bad narrators and shredded tapes, because at last I was getting my “fix.”

Fast-forward through CDs – much better than cassette tapes – and onto to the lovely, lovely leap of an iPod and free downloads from the library. No more CDs to worry about, no more having to leave the story’s characters hanging off a cliff – now I could just unhook my iPod and take it in with me, to listen to while I folded clothes or cooked supper or vacuumed. (Ha, you say, that’s a lie, because we know you hate to vacuum.)

I’d noticed though that sometimes in the downloading, though, that the last little bit of a chapter would get chopped off. No problem. I could usually figure out the last little bit as I listened to the first part of the next chapter.
But then I outlasted my odds. I came to the end of a book, and bam! The last little bit, when I was supposed to find out whether the guy was going to get the girl, it was all gone.

That just about drove me crazy. Still, I can’t knock the fact that I’ve gotten loads of good books – complete books with no glitches – downloaded from the library. I guess, though, that tells me that the printed book will never die, as at least it doesn’t require batteries and the page isn’t dependent on kilobytes cooperating.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Not Dead, Just Buried

Nope. I'm not dead. Just buried.

I know the blog-stage has been darkened for a bit, and this is not even a proper blog post in and of itself.

But it's been a crazy roller coaster ride, what with me getting used to the new dayjob, and the holidays, and trying to find my way.

We've all got the same 24 hours in a day. We may not have the same amount of money, we may not have the same amount of talent, but we've ALL had EXACTLY 24 hours in the past day. That being the case, I'm really wondering what I blew my 24 hours on, because I honestly can't see that I've done much besides survive.

Sometimes, though, you get a gold star for just surviving, just treading water until the Coast Guard can scoop you out of the murky deep. And that's how I've felt lately. Sooner or later, though, just surviving isn't enough.

I read something once that made me realize how useful priorities were in making life decisions, no matter what those decisions involved: family, money, time, stuff. I believe it was a Dr. Phil book.

I'll roughly paraphrase here: say you wanted to go to Miami, and you started from DC. You're tooling down the interstate, and you take a wrong turn. Instead of going down I-95, now you're heading west. You go about two miles down that road, realize what you've done, and say, "Self, I've got to turn around."

Now a flashback to your dreaded word problems in math class. Just how far off course have you strayed? Nope, it's not just the two miles ... it's the two miles down the wrong road, the two miles back to the initial wrong turn, and the fact that you could be at least four miles further along your path and closer to your goal if you hadn't made the wrong turn in the first place.

The thing about priorities is that they make you ask this question: Is this choice leading me closer to my goal? Or further away?

Theoretically in a perfect world, we'd never choose a priority that takes us away from our goal. But we aren't computers. We don't make calculated choices. Our choices are steeped in emotion -- which is not all bad. We don't even, sometimes, recognize that whatever the choice is DOES affect our priorities.

But it's back to those 24 hours in a day. Like my "stuff" in my closets, only so much can be jammed into those 24 hours. I have to figure out what I want to get accomplished long-term. And then I have to be disciplined about using my time wisely.

That's what I'm doing now -- my brain is busy cogitating the top three things I want to get accomplished in the next year. After that, I'll be able to give a flint-hearted, cold-eyed stare to a decision and say, "Yup, that's gonna help me get there," or "Nope, that's taking me west when I wanna go south."

Monday, November 22, 2010


I'm tossing again.

Back when I first started claiming home office expenses related to my writing on my income tax, I had a lightbulb moment of why my house was so cluttered. In order to claim expenses, you have to provide what proportion of your home office is of your total heated square footage, right?

So I did. And I was aghast to find out that my heated square footage was about 1, 100 square feet. No wonder I was walking around piles of stuff with no home. I joked with The Husband that I had 3,300 square feet of junk crammed in 1,100 square feet.

Maybe we don't have quite 3,300 square feet of junk, but we have way too much stuff for such a little house. So since then, I've been going through spells of decluttering, with the hope of one day getting down to a Zen-like bareness.

To that end, I checked out a book from the library called IT'S ALL TOO MUCH, by my hero of decluttering, Peter Walsh, the guy from CLEAN SWEEP.

It's more of the same message -- you can't put three cubic feet of junk into one cubic foot of space -- but I like the way Walsh puts it. Sometimes I'm so dense that I have to hear the same message in about a million different permutations before it really sinks in.

His big push is that form should follow function. A person or family should decide what the mission is for a particular space, and then subtract out everything that doesn't promote that mission.

It was so basic and fundamental a principle that I put the book down and tackled the top of my bureau, a no-man's land of stuff that didn't really have a home. And I thought, as I did it, about life and writing.

Why is it that we tolerate so much clutter in our lives -- not just real, physical clutter, but "issue-type" clutter? We tip-toe around it and make what my mom used to refer to as "pig-paths" around the heaps. We can't do A because someone's feelings might get hurt, and we can't accomplish B until we accomplish A. We need X, but first we have to stop doing Y, just so we'll have the money or the time or the space for it.

Same thing in writing: it was such a lightbulb moment, a better way to look at it than the "kill your darlings" old saw that writing teachers always talk about. Instead of looking at your darlings, or as Peter Walsh calls clutter, your stuff, look at what you want to accomplish. What's keeping you from it?

So hopefully from now on, as I'm writing a scene or a chapter or a book, I can look at the purpose of a scene, the mission of it. What's that purpose? What am I hoping to accomplish? What do I need to get rid of to make that path clear?

In the meantime, I am back on the tossing wagon at home, so if you're hanging around my house, consider yourselves ordered to duck!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Beyond perfection

The Kiddo has a Perfection Complex. I know this because I have to avert potential thermo-nuclear meltdowns on more occasions than I would like. She thinks she needs to make a 100 on every test. She thinks her hair has to be perfectly straight and glossy every day. She thinks her clothes need to match not only in color, but also to the exact temperature of recess -- never mind that recess is clocking in at 72 degrees, while school drop-off is clocking in at 39 degrees.

I swear, we don't push her. We don't nag. We don't even fuss. We don't have to. She beats herself up far more severely than we ever could.

But her perfection complex is not completely value-less for me. It provides me with a continual life lesson for me and my life and my writing.

When I was in middle school, I never worried about grades. I got what I got, which except for math were usually pretty good, at least a solid B.

Then a fateful moment occurred. A fellow student who had eeked out an A- was bewailing her grade. I glanced from the 83 or so that I'd scored on the same test and asked what the big deal was.

"My mama says that an A- is nearly a B, and a B- is nearly a C!" she explained.

I looked aghast at my 83, which was indeed numerically cheek-to-jowl with a C+. Quietly I folded my paper, tucked it in my messy book bag and vowed never again to have a B, save for math which came with a lifetime exclusion from any such blood oaths.

Fast-forward to high school. By then, even with a C in math (hey, that was a miracle for me, believe me!), I was making honor roll. Most of my grades were in the mid-90s.

That memory of the lowly station of an A minus, though, haunted me. If A minus was cheek-to-jowl with a B, then a 95, was neighbors with an A minus. That would not do.

My grade inflation slowly ratcheted upward, where no grade below a 98 in any subject save math would satisfy me. Oh, yes, I know. I was a tightly wound child.

It was college that saved me -- a psychology lecture on the Bell Curve. Suddenly I realized that statistically I was an aberration. Most people would fall within that heretofore hated C grade.

It was a lightbulb moment for me. No, I didn't start slacking and earning C's. But I stopped beating myself up about it so badly.

That's why seeing The Kiddo go down this same road is so painful for me -- especially when she started down it so much earlier than me.

Writers in particular can be just as severe on themselves. They kick and scream and wad up paper and let their internal editors convince them that any word they put to paper or commit to kilobytes is worthless.

Remember this, however. For most of the world, the prospect of writing a brief note to a teacher or a boss is only slightly less terrifying than having to speak in front of people. If you are a writer -- even a greenhorn newbie who still leans on adverbs and the passive tense -- you are already head and shoulders above most of the world.

So I give you the same advice that I give The Kiddo and myself: be kind to yourself. Be forgiving. Cut yourself a little slack. If you're doing the best that you can, it's all you can do ... and all anybody can expect of you.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Unfathomable attraction

So just what IS the attraction of the UnDead?

Vampires and zombies have been so common for these past few years on deal announcements for book sales that I know someone out there thinks they're sexy -- lots and lots of someones, actually. My hat's off to any writers who can pull it off, that transformation of stinky zombies with falling off body parts or blood-sucking bats with legs into the guy you'd just die (pardon the pun, I just couldn't resist) to have a date with.

When I first started seeing the announcements, I thought, "Hmm, this is the new chick-lit fad." But vamps and the zombies that followed closely on the tails of their sexy black capes have hung around a lot longer than lattes, high heels and gripes about the workplace.

It's not that I'm judgmental. No, not at all. It's kind of like the "yawn" I feel when I see the blond-haired surfer god that some of my friends would drool over. Give me Pierce Brosnan over the newish James Bond fellow any old day.

Same thing with the UnDead. I simply cannot wrap my head around a concept like loving up on a dead-ish body, at least not long enough to suspend my disbelief and get into a book to give it a fair shake.

All of which makes this an amazingly good thing that I am not an editor -- boy, the sales I would have missed these past few years. And it seems that vamps and zombies have taken hold of the general population's consciousness, kind of like great white sharks did back in the JAWS days. For instance, a digital traffic sign in Arizona was reprogrammed by a zombie lover recently to warn, "Caution, Zombies Ahead."

I am reminded about the wisdom a furniture store owner shared with my parental units many years ago, about how he chose his inventory. "I pick a quarter of what I absolutely love, a quarter of what I absolutely despise, and the rest?" he said. "It's stuff I feel 'meh' about."

If editors chose it the same way, then they've certainly hit the jackpot with vampires and zombies ... and I would appreciate anyone who could educate me on the finer points of what makes the UnDead irresistable.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Forward, MARCH

Lots of folks are hopping on the NANO bandwagon this month, and I wish them well. The whole spirit of NANO is to write a novel (or at least a good start) during the month of November, which requires you to fire your internal editor (or at least give her a month-long vacation if she's like my internal editor and won't be fired).

I've written the first draft of a novel in a month -- a full length, 80K word novel, so I know it can be done. Frequently the best approach for me in writing IS to write in a blitzkrieg session, getting it all done down in a month. Only then do I go back and tear it apart and revise it.

This month, though, it just doesn't seem doable, so I'm standing on the wharf, waving goodbye to all those aboard the NANO ship. I wish them bon voyage, but, what with a new dayjob and getting settled into a new dayjob schedule, I've just got too much baggage to go trucking across the gangway onto Good Ship NANO this year.

Still, I highly recommend it. Even if you can't do NANO in November, with the rest of the nation, take a look at your calendar, pick the least busy month (preferably one with 31 days), and set that aside for YOUR NANO.

The thing about writing, the thing that I've experienced first hand many times, is that the process of writing a novel bears a striking resemblance to walking in thigh-deep muck. As long as you keep moving, you're fine. The going can be slow, your steps frequently inelegant, but progress is assured.

Stop, though, and you sink. What's more, the mud locks you in a body cast sometimes so tightly that not even Houdini could break free.

I experienced that with every single novel I started way back before I finished my first one. I'd get to a place where I was full of doubt about where to go next, and I'd stop -- usually about Chapter Three. There, my poor project would die a death of starvation and neglect.

I'm not saying I march through the muck all the time now. In fact, I feel that muck clinging to me just now, as I've had to stop writing to adjust schedules and routines with this new dayjob. Maybe then, I'm preaching more to me than you.

Whatever the case, I know if I'm struggling with something, at least one other writer is also battling the same demon (those demons are fantastic multi-taskers.). My faint hope? That it will be of some use to you, O Struggling Writer, that I, too, have to point a stern finger at myself on occasion and bark, "Forward, MARCH!"

Monday, November 15, 2010

Money, Money, Money

The one thing The Kiddo loves more than spending money? That would be making money.

The Kiddo has always been a saver, and a strategic spender: she spends other people’s money and saves her own. She’s probably got a career in politics ahead of her, no?

Her usual standard operating procedure is to put most of her money in the bank, while leaving a little mad money in her piggy bank at home. But sometimes the piggy bank oinks out a red alert signal.

Such is this case this weekend. The Kiddo wound up falling in love with one of the new “jelly” watches that all the kids are just in love with. It’s a great big man-sized watch, encrusted with rhinestones and graced with a red and black rubberized “jelly” band. She picked red and black because, unlike her dad, The Kiddo likes the Georgia Bulldogs … but she was quick to point out that it was our high school’s team colors, too.

The only problem with her watch (besides the fact that I say red and black DON’T go with everything) was that it absorbed all of her mad money. That being the case, The Kiddo quickly launched a fund-raising campaign.

Before breakfast on Sunday morning, the child had already drafted a menu of awesome opportunities, designed to part pocket change from whomever might wander past. Examples?

Well, she’d sweep three rooms (no carpet, as she hates to vacuum) for 50 cents, six for a buck. She’d trade five minutes of raking leaves for three dollars (she hates raking leaves almost as much as she hates to vacuum.)

A back or shoulder rub for a minute and a half (strictly timed) would set you back just two thin dimes – and she hooked you with free five second samples. Do you have only a dime to spare? No problem. She’d write you a very short story for just ten cents.

If you were of the female persuasion, you could have your toenails and fingernails painted for just 20 cents – you can tell that she likes painting nails, right?

The artistic stuff was the high priced items. She’ll draw a picture of your face for a dollar, and even two people for the same price. But if you wanted your wiggly pet tarantula in for a portrait with you? That will be a buck and a half, thank you very much.

I remember doing much the same when I was her age. I wonder if my mom and dad got as much of a kick out of it as I did when The Kiddo approached me with her first five-second free shoulder rub sample.

So far, she’s got a quarter out of me … that would be for the blue-light special shoulder rub she gave me – 50 seconds of pure bliss for the princely sum of 25 cents. I hope as she goes through life, she won’t forget her willingness to work hard to earn money – and to realize that some things are so fun (those fingernails and toenails, again) that they don’t even seem like work.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Times, they are a changin'

Except for the early dark evenings, I never mind saying goodbye to Daylight Savings Time, especially not this year.

Not only did I get an extra hour of sleep (or goofing-off time, actually, as I didn’t REALLY sleep), but this year, because Standard Time starts so late, it’s barely more than a month before the days start getting longer.

I’ve long had a running feud with the otherwise sensible Benjamin Franklin – or his ghost, more accurately – because he decided that fiddling with the clock would make us think we had more time.

Maybe back in the day when the sun ruled the way people lived, Franklin’s idea would have merit. But now? With Wal-Marts open 24/7? And each Wal-Mart having more lights than two or three football fields? Nope. Thomas Edison’s light bulb made Daylight Savings Time pretty much useless.

In years past, the time change was not something that netted a whole lot of discussion from The Kiddo. She just took it at face value that the grown-ups in the household knew what they were doing.

This year, no such credit was extended. The Kiddo needed an in-depth explanation about what the time-change was all about, why we did it, how we knew when to do it, who told us what time we should set our clocks to … in other words, the works. She sounded a lot like she does in the backseat whenever I’m mumbling about where I should turn if I’m in an unfamiliar area. Her question then is, “Mommy, are you sure you’re not lost?”

Getting to stay up an hour later did mollify her a bit Saturday night. Still, she kept stopping in her playing and coming to ask me, “Now, the reason I can do this is because of the time-change, right?” It was again as though she didn’t quite trust the grown-ups in the household to get the rules right.

I let her stay up because I knew that the Sunday morning after we bid adieu to Daylight Savings Time is the only morning that I ever wake up early, night owl that I am. I wanted her to sleep in, in the vain hope that if I did wake up, nothing would keep me from rolling over and indulging in a little lie-in. After all, it’s the only day of the year that I can honestly escape being called a slug-a-bed for sleeping late.

Indeed, I did wake up early, the early light bright and shining on my face at 6:45. The Kiddo slept like the log she was impersonating and seemed quite disappointed that the whole time-change ordeal had gone by painlessly for her.
Over our Sunday morning pancakes, she scrunched up her face and asked, “So Mommy, when do we get the REAL time back?”

Leave it to The Kiddo to think of Daylight Savings Time as the “real” time.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Cold and writing do not mix

Let’s face it. I am strictly a sub-tropical variety.

I thrive under conditions with balmy weather, with temps hovering around the 85 degree mark, clear skies, white puffy clouds, and the gentlest warm breeze (I don’t like drafts at ALL.)

Any hotter, and I can tolerate it. Not happily, but I can tolerate it.

Any colder? Forget it. My feet turn into size 4 foot-shaped ice blocks. Forget that old wives tale about keeping warm if you keep your head covered. Me? I must have warm feet to feel any smidge of metabolic activity.

And if it’s below the mid 50s, with a gray sky and a chill wind? I start exhibiting definite signs of hypothermia.

My intolerance to cold has generated all sorts of responses over the years, from the mild eye-roll to the gnashing of teeth as my own teeth chattering disturbs someone in their peaceful enjoyment of the thermostat set on 68 degrees in the summer time. In my previous dayjob, I always took a big ugly fleece jacket that I zipped over whatever suit blazer I was wearing. The hideous thing evoked all sorts of teasing, as I wore it year-round: indoor climes of hot-natured office staff generally hover in the mid to upper 60s.

The Husband and The Kiddo are both hot-natured, and I have learned how to wrap up just short of looking like a mummy in order to survive their ceiling fans and preferred chilly temps.

When it comes to writing, it’s almost impossible to think creatively while one is shaking uncontrollably. So as I wrote the book that wound up being my first sale, I would wrap up in warm fuzzy socks and a big old jacket that The Sister had accidentally left at my house.

But then my computer became so old that I couldn’t upgrade the browser any more, and I moved operations to my laptop and my bedroom. There, ensconced in layers of warm fluffy blankets, I wrote in comfort. Not so for The Husband, as the light from the screen kept him awake.

So I cleaned out the office of all the detritus that had landed there upon my abandonment, and it’s a great place to write. Except for my cold feet. And my cold body.

I’m now in the midst of plotting the stealthy retrieval of the aforementioned big old jacket from The Sister’s house, because it was warm enough to thaw my brain, but light enough in weight to allow me more freedom of movement than a mummy, and of course, it also led to a sale. The combo of warmth and good luck is hard to beat!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Lies our English teachers told us

We writers learned from an early age to revere our English teachers. After all, our English teacher was the one teacher we could count on to beam at approval when presented with our work.

I for one couldn’t count on that during, say, algebra, or ye gads, chemistry. My history teacher gave essay exams, so I could count on a beam on occasion from him, provided I didn’t confuse any dates. My high school Spanish class was the last class of the day, in a room with no air conditioning. That, combined with the sedative effect of conjugating irregular verbs, lulled me into a slumber so many times Senora sent a note home, so no smiles there.

But my English teacher … ah, I could count on her. When everyone else groaned about essays and themes, I hid a secret smile. When the rest of the class seemed completely flummoxed at the prospect of diagramming sentences, I could diagram a compound/complex sentence complete with gerund phrases and appositions.

So it is with a heavy heart that I tell you the truth. Many English teachers lie. Well, not lie, exactly, but certainly teach you habits that don’t translate into marketable fiction. And no, I’m not talking about how they crooned over THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE as a wonderful example of literature.

Thus follows a list – not a comprehensive one, but a good start – on the lies your English teacher (may) have told you.

Never write a fragment. This sounds like a wonderful command that should always be obeyed. However, try writing dialogue in complete sentences, and at once you’ll discover that your characters sound like stuffed shirts. Even in the narrative, a judicious use of a fragment is sometimes required.

Never end a sentence with a preposition. You remember the old grammarian’s favorite comeback after you ask, “Where’s something at?” She will (and I confess, I do this, too) invariably snap, “Behind the at!” and then cackle maniacally. But such a rule leads to some mighty convoluted wordsmithing. For instance, your character is asking, “Which bin should I put this in?” and suddenly, from the dusty recesses of your brain, you remember Mrs. English rapping her ruler at such a question and correcting with, “In which bin should I put this?” Like I said, you listen to Grammar Grouch and your characters will sound like stuffed shirts.

Adverbs are our friends. If there was one thing I wish my English teacher had told me, it was that the exact opposite is true. She had the right idea, of course: we need to use description and crisp imagery. But the beams that I got from Mrs. English came in response to essays and compositions larded with the hateful –ly family. I had no idea, when I first started writing toward publication, that adverbs were inferior crutches used to prop up lazy verbs.

So there you have it, just a few of the misguided notions that English teachers might possibly have let slip over the years. Yes, they were technically correct, but alas, when it comes to fiction writing, sometimes you have to bend the rules.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Honey-darlin' and other atrocities

One thing I had to get used to when I was writing for the Non-Southern World?

Having my characters call each other by name.

I know. For you Above-the-Mason-Dixon-Line folks, this sounds kind of weird. But we Southerners don't always refer to each other by name. In fact, about the only time we do is when we want to indicate that little Sarah Mary-Kate Johnson or William Joseph Baines (usually referred to as Billy Joe), is in hot water up to their eyelashes.

The rest of the time? Lord bless us, but we fall back on endearments.

Each Southerner, you'll find, has his or her particular pet "fill-name" for anybody younger than 16 or so -- and sometimes younger than 60. (Hey, when you get to be a certain age, you experience a lot of those "Some-timers" moments.) A common one in the south is Sugar.

We get teased about this quite a bit, us calling every man, woman and child "Sugar." But down here, it's an efficiency method, not meant to be sexist or insulting. We can concentrate on what you're actually saying, rather than trying to frantically recall just what your name is.

You have to remember that, at the same time we're carrying on this conversation with you, we're also juggling a double-handful of etiquette rules and regulations. For instance, most every conversation requires some reference to a person's mama, and how she's doing, which requires us to recall at an instant whether (a) someone's mama is actually still on this earth and (b) whether the person is currently on speaking terms with her mama (in the south, never a given, although we do revere our mamas).

This is generally covered by another short-cut, a simple question of, "How are all the folks doing?" Such a short-cut can backfire, as in the situations where we are treated to the wholesale discussion of someone's horrid sister-in-law's daughter's antics and Great Aunt Mabel's hemorrhoid surgery. It can even touch on how Buster, Big Willie Joe's bird dog, is sorrowing away since Big Willie Joe has had to take a night shift job and is no longer able to go bird hunting.

When you start bumping around someone's family tree, the limbs of said tree are apt to knock you a bit loopy. Thus, rather than accidentally insulting someone by calling her the wrong name (God forbid the dreaded sister-in-law), we just resort to Sugar.

I could have sworn I didn't use this method, that I never called anybody by a nickname that hadn't been earned by some cute little action he or she'd done while still in diapers. However, in the wake of my classroom volunteer experience, I was dished up a nice plate of crow.

Nope, I didn't call all the little people "Sugar." I called them "Sweetie." Boy, girl, or spotted giraffe, didn't matter. They were all Sweetie to me.

And I understood then the use of such an endearment, either Sugar or Sweetie or some other similar name (I've been called Honey, Darlin', Sweetie-Pie, and even Sugar-Foot, and those are just the ones I can easily remember). It wasn't just a memory device. It was another time-saver, a contraction of language.

What we might start out saying would be: "Be sweet as sugar and do X, Y, or Z for me." We Southerners have all heard that from our mamas or our grandmothers or some person acting in a parental way. Pretty soon, as slow as we talk, that got to be way too time-consuming, and it was truncated to: "Sugar, would you ..."

Translated? That meant, I'm going to assume you're going to be sweet as sugar and do X, Y, or Z, and if I call you that, you'll hopefully live up to your name. Since Southerners are always asking people to do something for them (not commanding or demanding), and since we're always juggling an arcane set of rules and regulations about social deportment, the use of the blanket endearment was born.

Back to my problems with writing. I went to the Wal-Mart School of Dialogue, where I soaked up dialogue and regurgitated it on the page. That gave me authentic Southern dialogue, complete with all the honeys and darlin's and sugarfoots that people might (and did) insert into their conversations.

Of course, when non-southerners like my critique partner Tawna Fenske or my editor would read such lovely appellations, they recoiled in horror. How COULD I allow my hero to be so sexist as to refer to my heroine as "darlin'" or "honey" or "sugar?"

It took awhile, but I learned that (a) either Non-Southerners have the thinnest skins in the known world, or (b) we Southerners, for all our hospitality, can be a bit dunderheaded. Since I"m Southern, I'll just blame myself and do a search and destroy with Word's find command on all my "sugars" and "darlin's" and any combination there-to.

Monday, November 01, 2010

First Day Jitters

I write this BEFORE my big day ... my very first day of my new dayjob, after I've been out of a dayjob since August. I cannot tell a lie: I'm a puddle of nervous jelly.

Firsts are always hard for me. I always dreaded the first day of school, the first day on a job, the first time I had to do anything new by myself. Over the years, I've made a conscious effort to turn that negative energy into something more positive. Sometimes it works and sometimes, well, it doesn't.

Authors have a lot of firsts, just like anybody else. I still remember the weeks following my first sale -- I was a complete noodly wreck when it came to how I should approach something as simple as a talk with my editor. Should I call her? Should I email her? If I called her, was first thing in the morning better, or should I wait until after lunch?

No worries -- my editor turned out to be a complete doll who exchanged emails and jokes and was just the absolute dream editor a newbie writer could have ever wanted. I've been really blessed that both the editors I've worked under were open to me calling them up and saying, "Uh, dumb question, buuuut ..."

Then of course came a whole series of firsts: my first book on the shelves, my first book signing, my first book club talk, my first you-name-it. I got myself through those "firsts" by telling myself it wouldn't all be fresh and new the next time, that I would know what the heck I was doing.

Errrr ... not true. Everything changes. And everything stays the same. That feeling of nervous jelly -- the idea that you are a complete and total fraud and that if your editor/publisher/readers ever take a good look at you, they'll figure it out? Well, it's a friend for life -- or maybe I should better classify it as a long-lost relative that attaches itself to you and won't shake loose. It's you -- but not you, if you know what I mean.

The one thing that I've learned over the years is that "firsts" of anything are just plain nerve-wracking. Knowing that, I give myself lots of prep time, so I won't do what I did on my first day of teaching 20 ga-jillion years ago -- leave the house without brushing my teeth. Yep. I forgot to brush my teeth. Lucky for me, it was just pre-planning, so the only people I subjected to Gorilla Breath (freshened with Doublemint gum bought in a hurry at a convenience store) were my fellow teachers.

I'm hoping that my first day, which I'm experiencing as you read this, turns out okay. And I'm SURE hoping that I remembered to brush my chompers.