Imposter Syndrome, in Full Cry

To be a writer is to have imposter syndrome.

It’s not surprising, really.  Our vocation, and often our livelihood, depends upon convincing people whom we will most likely never meet to put credence in things which we have cobbled together out of our experiences and the experiences of others (if we have not, in the case of us genre romancers, made them up out of whole cloth – having first also made up the cloth as well.)  Small wonder, then, that we tend to lie awake in the grey hours before dawn, fretting that this time will be the time when our knack fails us, and the readers will see us for the shameless fakers that we are.

(The Anglo-Saxons had a word for that sort of grim insomnia: uht-ceare, meaning “the care or worry that comes in the period just before dawn,” or as a modern-day shrink might put it, “pre-dawn anxiety.”  Smart people, those Anglo-Saxons.)

This is why literary writers worry that they are writing for a narrow and diminishing audience, and their works will never find the wider recognition that serious writers got in times past; and why writers of popular and genre fiction worry that nobody is ever going to see anything in their work except the surface of it, and all their thematic and, yes, artistic concerns will go forever unnoticed and unappreciated; and all writers, everywhere, worry about money.

(This post brought to you by the short story rejection that arrived in yesterday’s e-mail, and by the concomitant necessity to nerve myself up for picking another potential market and sending it out again.)

Clash of the Titans

If anybody ever wants a reason (besides brain chemistry or childhood family dynamics) for why writers can sometimes be a depressed and paranoid lot, they need only to look at the latest round of hostilities between major publisher Hachette and major online seller of damn-near everything from books to baby booties, Amazon.

The two entities are currently in the midst of negotiations over terms, and Amazon – not content with such ploys as tweaking discount policies and dragging its feet on things like delivery and restocking – has now removed the preorder button from the listings of a number of Hachette titles.

I’m not wasting my time on sympathy for Hachette; they’re big boys, and presumably knew what they were letting themselves in for when this dispute started.  Besides, they are a major publisher, which means that they’ve played plenty of hardball themselves, and presumably have built up the calluses.

No, my sympathy is all for the authors, whose books – which is to say, their livelihoods – are currently being stomped on and tossed about in this battle between two giants.  Because in the end, Amazon will continue to make money, and Hachette will continue to make money – and a whole bunch of authors will have lost potential sales (and money) that they’ll never get back.

Today’s Bit of Amusement

A Guardian archive of digested (which is to say, condensed) classics – parody/pastiches by John Crace.

A sample, from the digested version of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness:

The flood had made and the only thing for it was to wait for the turn of tide. The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! … The dreams of men, the germs of empires.

Between us four was the bond of the sea, making us tolerant of each other’s yarns. Which was just as well when Marlow, sitting serenely as a Buddha, began his two hour, Freudian critique of colonialism.

And another couple of choice bits, this time from the digested version of Dickens’s David Copperfield:

“Mr Murdstone and I are now wed, Davey,” said my mother, “so if he wants to give you a good beating then I shall have to let him.”

“Indeed I do,” sneered Mr Murdstone, “for he is a disagreeable boy. And when he has been thrashed sufficiently, he shall be sent to Mr Creakle’s school in London to be thrashed some more.”


…the only break in my day was the invitation to take tea with an unattractive clerk by the name of Uriah Heep. “Most ‘umble,” he said. In truth, I did not much care for Heep, finding him a deeply aspirant member of the lower orders, but I bore myself with the dignity expected of distressed gentlefolk and treated him with a patronising contempt disguised as good manners.

There are over a hundred of these gems in the archive. Go have fun.


Nostalgia Lane, in Need of Repaving

The Fairlee Drive-In movie theatre in Fairlee, Vermont,  is holding a Kickstarter to raise the funds necessary to upgrade from 35mm to digital – a vital move if they hope to continue in business, given that the movie industry is rapidly going all-digital.  (Paramount has already made the switch.)

This is a drive-in movie theatre that’s been in almost continuous operation since it opened in 1950, and is one of only two drive-ins left in the USA with its own attached motel.  Furthermore, their snack stand features hamburgers made from Black Angus cattle raised on the family farm of the theatre owners, as well as other locally-sourced items.

They’ve got some really great rewards for their backers, too: a $200 donation gets a room for two on a Friday night at the drive-in’s motel, plus 2 movie admissions and free burgers and fries and popcorn from the concession stand.  For the “go big or stay home” crowd, a $5K donation lets you own the drive in for a night, along with as many of your guests as can fit on their 400-car field, and a $10K or more donation gets the drive-in’s original carbon-arc projector and related equipment, as purchased in 1950 and used at the theatre until 2003.

I have fond memories of going with my parents to the drive-in when I was a kid in Florida, back when vast herds of them covered the plains like the buffalo, and I’d hate to see another one vanish.

Peeve of the Day

(What can I say?  Storm-and-pollen weather makes me peevish.)

Today’s peeve is another entry in the Homonyms to Watch  Out For competition:  alter and altar.  Not the same thing, folks.  To start with, one of them’s a verb and the other’s a noun.  Beyond that—

To alter something is to change it.  The adherents of the Arachnophagic Heresy of the Cult of the Great Spider angered the orthodox Spiderians when they attempted to alter the liturgy.

An altar  is a table or flat-topped block used as the focus for a religious ritual.  The orthodox Spiderians disapproved of the Arachnophagists’ practice of setting up the main altar as a dinner table, with the centerpiece being a platter of deep-fried tarantulas.

It all ended badly, of course.  The attempt to alter the Spiderian altar resulted in the terrible and bloody Spider Wars of the Fifth Age, at the end of which the Cult of the Great Spider was no more.

Weather, Incoming

Or perhaps not.

Today’s promised thunderstorms failed to materialize, leaving us with only high humidity, a falling barometer, and that waiting-for-the-shoe-to-drop feeling.

The resulting general disgruntlement reminded me of one of the classic errors of fiction writing, one almost guaranteed to induce a similar disgruntlement in the reader:  the failure to deliver on a promised thunderstorm.

This is how it goes (or doesn’t go.)  You have the reader, trustingly reading along.  You have your foreshadowings of trouble to come, draped all over the plot in a shadowy manner.  You have Chekov’s Gun, displayed in a place of honor above the mantelpiece.  You have your dramatic tension, wound up tight.  And then—

Nothing happens.  The foreshadowed conflicts fail to materialize – or worse, they are sidestepped or handwaved away.  Chekov’s Gun remains untouched by human (or inhuman) hands, and its presence in the story turns out to be merely ornamental after all.  And all that carefully-built dramatic tension fizzles out like a damp firecracker.

At that point, you’re left with a severely disgruntled reader, one who was promised thunderstorms and didn’t get them.

Road Books

I’ve blogged before about the kind of audiobook that makes good road-trip listening: as I put it at the time, “a book that isn’t so complex you’ll lose track of everything else you’re doing, but with enough stuff going on that you’ll stay alert and not succumb to highway hypnosis.”

Our most recent road book discovery has been the Victorian mystery novels of Wilkie Collins.  Not only are they full of interesting characters and incidents, they’re also long and full of enough plotty goodness to beguile a couple of eight or ten hour round trip journeys each.  We started out with The Moonstone, which involves (among other things) a mysterious gem stone stolen from the eye of an idol, and have moved on to The Woman in White (which after only about a dozen chapters – out of sixty-two – is already promising us a Bad Baronet.)  The former is available for free from Librivox, and in several for-pay versions; the latter is available for free from Lit2Go.

An unexpected (by me, anyhow) bonus:  For a Victorian male novelist, Collins does some excellent female characters.  He’s definitely better at them than Dickens, whose female characters usually make me want to slap them silly.

Peeve of the Day

“Waive” and “wave”, people.

To waive something is to refrain from using or insisting on it.  A speaker can choose to waive his or her customary fee for a good cause; a school may choose to waive a particular entrance requirement for an otherwise promising applicant.

To wave something, on the other hand, is to float, shake, or move it back and forth.  The homecoming queen on the parade float will wave her hand at the crowd; the kids at the Fourth of July picnic will wave sparklers in the air.  (Or at least, they used to wave them.  For all I know, juvenile sparkler-waving is verboten these days in the name of safety.)

Not the same word.  And the spell-checker won’t help you – you’ll have to check for this one with your own two eyes.

Then I’ll Write it Myself, Said the Little Red Hen

There are all sorts of different reasons for writing, some of them more refined and elevated than others.  Sometimes the impetus comes in the form of a book laid aside (perhaps vigorously) in disgust, as the writer says, “Dammit, I  could write a better book than than one!” and then goes and does just that.

At other times, the book begins with a hunger for something – a plot twist, a story element, a certain flavor to the prose, a particular slantwise way of looking at the subject matter – that none of the books in the reader’s chosen genre has been able to provide.  Lots of readers experience this hunger; a few of them go on to address it by telling their own stories to satisfy the desire.  “I wrote the book I wanted to read that nobody else was writing” is a sentiment often found in authorial memoirs and interviews.

Which reminds me of the time when I decided I wanted a pork pie like the one that sometimes showed up as a lunchtime special down at Howard’s Restaurant.  This was a pork pie of the French Canadian, not the English, variety, because the small New Hampshire town I live in is about fifteen minutes south of Quebec and the local foodways reflect this sometimes.  Because this is the twenty-first century, I turned to the internet for help – and discovered (to nobody’s surprise, I’m sure) not just one, but dozens of recipes, all slightly different.  I ended up conflating several different recipes, and tweaking the result – much as a writer tweaks story elements and plot lines – until I got the dish and the flavor I wanted.

French-Canadian Pork Pie


  • Pie crust sufficient for a two-crust pie (I used pre-made, but if you’ve got a light hand for pastry and the patience to go with it, you could make your own.  Sources I’ve read say that for the ultra-traditional, a lard-based pastry is the way to go; I’ve never bothered.)
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped fine (I ran mine through the food processor)
  • 1.5 pounds ground pork
  • 3 medium-to-large white potatoes, cooked (you could boil them; I steamed them) and coarsely mashed
  • 1 cup beef stock (I used stock base from a jar and made it up double strength)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
  • dash of nutmeg
  • dash of cinnamon
  • two or three grindings of black pepper (the stock was sufficiently salty that I didn’t bother with adding more salt.)


Cook the ground pork and the chopped onions together in a frying pan until the pork isn’t pink any longer.  Drain off the fat.

Add the pork and onion mixture to the mashed cooked potatoes and mix them up.

Then add the beef stock, the beaten egg, and the spices, and mix them up some more.

Have your pie pan ready with the bottom crust in place.  Put in the filling.  If you’ve got a pie bird, this is a good time to get it into place.  Put on the top crust, and crimp it down.  Cut slits in the top to facilitate the escape of steam.  (At this point, I suppose one could do one or another of the various things one does with egg or milk to put a glaze onto the crust; again, I didn’t bother.)

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 and bake 45 minutes more.  (It’s probably a good idea to put a foil-lined baking sheet on the rack below, in case of spillover.)

When it’s done, remove from the oven, let cool for 10-15 minutes, then serve.

Given that Howard’s Restaurant is now closed, and also is in danger of collapsing into the river, it’s a good thing I worked out the recipe for myself.