Talk About Your Toxic Work Environments

Back when I was first writing for publication, Jim Macdonald and I wrote a number of YA novels, mostly for book packagers (that was one of the entry points back then, before packagers turned into high-profile wheeler-dealers and were instead mostly borderline sleazy providers of work-for-hire content to publishers who were too dainty to make such deals themselves.)  Some of the stuff we did I’m still quite proud of; and all of it was the best we could provide given the sometimes-weird constraints we had to work under.

But my golly, I’m glad I’m not working in that end of the business right now.  We’ve come to a place where a pre-publication social-media campaign can — shall we say, bully? yes, we shall — bully an up-and-coming author into withdrawing her own book before it can be published.  And that sort of thing can happen more than once.

Whatever happened to publishing the book and letting actual readers decide for themselves whether it’s a Bad Thing or not?

(Right.  I forgot.  This is YA literature, and therefore falls under the purview of all those good-intentioned people who want to Protect Impressionable Young Minds.  Thank God for all the impressionable young minds who are already way ahead of them in finding the stuff that young minds actually want to read.)

A Thing to Do With Gift Tomatoes

One of my brother’s friends cleared out her garden in advance of the frost, and as a result we ended up with a large bag full of fresh tomatoes — more tomatoes than we could possibly put into bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches, or add to salads. Letting them deliquesce in the refrigerator until they could be thrown out as inedible would be tacky, but neither did I feel like doing any of the things that would involve peeling and coring and scooping the innards out of that many tomatoes, either.

Then I found a recipe for marinara sauce in the instant pot that called for pureeing whole tomatoes skins, seeds, and all, and said to myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

And myself replied, “Well, the recipe could turn out to be a total failure even if you execute it correctly.”

“Yes,” I said, “but even if it is, these aren’t tomatoes I’ve paid out actual money for . . . so what do we have to lose?”

“You’ve got a point there.”

So I limbered up the food processor, and then the Instant Pot pressure cooker, and I’m pleased to report that the recipe was not, in fact, a failure. The end result definitely counted as tomato sauce under the meaning of the act, and it now sits in my freezer in zippered freezer bags, awaiting the day when they’re needed.

All that being said, I’m not such a committed foodie that I’ll be going out of my way to purchase tomatoes to do this thing again. But now I know what to do the next time I’ve got a veggie drawer filled with somebody else’s tomato crop.

(Obligatory writing reference:  Sometimes your subconscious presents you with the creative equivalent of a pound or so of gift tomatoes.  Even if you don’t have a use for them right now, it’s always a good idea to preserve those ideas in some fashion — a scrapbook file on your hard drive, or a printout stored in a physical folder and kept in the bottom drawer of your desk, whatever works for you — to keep your subconscious happy and willing to serve you up ideas when you need them.)

The Things That Rattle Around in Writers’ Heads

One of the things I used to wonder about when I read C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle was that literal died-in-a-train-wreck ending . . . it always seemed to me like a rabbit pulled out of a hat. Then one day while idly mousing around the internet, I found out about the 1952 Harrow and Wealdstone railway crash, a three-train collision where 112 people died and 340 were injured, and I thought, “Yeah . . . for a book published in 1956, something on that scale that happened in 1952 would have still been taking up space in the author’s mind during the writing process.”

Writers aren’t necessarily in control of what sinks into their memories, and they don’t always have a say in how it may bubble back up to the surface later.

A Brace of Peeves

(Because I’m waiting on a dishwasher-repair person, and that sort of thing always makes me peevish.)

Peeve the first: It’s vocal cords, people, not vocal chords. It’s an easy mistake to make, given that cord and chord are homonyms, and given the association with sound-making and hence with music . . . but the items in question were named by anatomists, not musicians, and for the anatomical mind the notable thing would have been their physical structure. Wikipedia has some good pictures, which I’m not going to reproduce here because while interesting, they aren’t particularly handsome or appetizing.

Peeve the second: This one’s a bit more subtle. If you’ve got a character listening in on another character or characters talking about something, but the listener isn’t quite able to make out what’s being said, the conversation isn’t undecipherable or illegible.

Undecipherable and illegible are adjectives for something that is, or is meant to be, seen or read. Something that’s undecipherable is, taken literally, unable to be decrypted or decoded; by extension, it refers to something drawn or written or otherwise seen, the meaning of which cannot be determined. (You can have an undecipherable letter, or an undecipherable carved inscription, or — speaking metaphorically — an undecipherable expression.) Something that’s illegible is something written that cannot be read, such as an illegible signature (though not — because it isn’t written down — an illegible expression.)

If what you’re dealing with is something that is, or is meant to be, heard, the words you’re looking for are unintelligible (the listener can hear it, but not well enough to make much sense of it) or inaudible (the listener can’t hear it well enough, period.)

I run into this one oftener than you’d think, and it drives me batty.

Food for Plot

While idly mousing about the internet the other day, I followed a link to this page, which is all about an artist in Texas who’s been re-imagining images of classic Western heroes using female models, with awesome results:

And my thought, instantly, was “Damn, I want to read the books that those are the covers for!”  Because behind every powerful image is a good story.

Two More Days

Just a quick reminder that my seasonal winter sale ends at midnight on the 5th.

In other news, it’s cold up here.  And if you’re living in the continental United States, or in Canada, it’s probably cold where you are, too.  (It’s probably also cold in northern Europe and Asia, but I don’t know if it’s unseasonably so.  If it is, here’s some profound fellow-feeling coming at you from the northern end of New Hampshire.)  In any case, here are a trio of blog posts about surviving, and driving, in extreme winter weather conditions: Cold Blows the Wind Today, Fimbul Winter, and Dashing Through the Snow.

This is the kind of weather that inspired the cautionary tale of Young Charlotte, who thought that a silk-lined cloak would be proof against hypothermia on a fifteen-mile sleigh ride on New Year’s Eve.  She was, alas, fatally wrong.

An Early Opportunity

In honor of Nanowrimo, and of the onset of the winter heating season,† I’ll be running a seasonal sale on editorial and critique services from now through the end of Thanksgiving weekend.  My usual rate of $1500 for a line-edit and critique on a standard-weight novel goes down to $1000 for the duration, and rates for epic-sized doorstops will be similarly discounted.

As always, you can purchase a gift certificate – as a gift for a friend, or for yourself – to be redeemed at a later date.


The snow that fell last Friday? Is still here.

The Free Speech Bargain

Every so often, a voice from the back row asks the plaintive question, “In today’s publishing climate, what am I, as an [insert identify marker or lack of one here], allowed to write about?”

Okay.  Here’s the deal, at least as far as the US of A goes*:

You’re allowed** to write about anything you damned well please.

And everybody else – your mom, your best friend, all the other people in your writers’ group, your editor, the New York Times Review of Books, and total random strangers on the internet – is allowed to say out loud and in public what they thought about it.

The thing about the deal, you see, is that it goes both ways.  And a writer who can’t handle the deal is probably better off pulling an Emily Dickinson and keeping their stuff locked up in their dresser drawer for posterity.


*The world is a large and varied place, and I make no claim to pontificate for all of it.

**With the usual narrow exceptions involving nonexistent fires in crowded theatres, and the like.

 

Some Useful Thoughts from Outside the Field

Eric Owyoung is a composer and musician who performs with his band as Future of Forestry.  Like many another creative type, he also does teaching gigs (hey, my co-author and I have done them; it’s a way to even out the income stream), and he blogs about a recent one here.  It’s got some good insights, not least this one:

Do you have a creative goal like making an album of ten great songs?  If so, the worst idea is to try to write ten great songs. Set a goal to write 60 or more songs… no matter how bad they are, just barrel through them.  Chances are that 10%-15% of them might turn out pretty good. Learn from your mistakes.

Handy advice, I think, for the sort of writer who tends to obsess over crafting the perfect sentence in the perfect paragraph in the perfect story, only to end up crafting all the life out of it.  (The fast-and-slapdash types have, I sometimes think, an easier row to hoe:  They only need to learn how to do second and third drafts.)

And if you’re interested in Mr. Owyoung’s music, you can listen to some of it on his web site.