Thursday, March 31, 2011

Smells Like Teen Boys

I read the funniest post ever by Crazy Writer Girl about "the olfactory problem in YA writing." (I'd put a link to it, but the blog seems to have been removed--or else Blogger's messing with me again.)

Anyway, the point of the post was that boys stink.

It was written by a wife and mother of two boys, and she noted that there's a Big Lie being perpetrated in YA literature where the overwhelming majority of male love interests emit amazingly pleasant odors.

Naturally, she wanted to know where all these fantastic-smelling teen boys were hiding as her brood ... well, according to CWG, they don't smell like fresh-cut grass (or fresh-cut anything for that matter).

As I was snorting in my coffee, I realized it's true! And I read them that way all the time without ever thinking about it (or looking over at JRM and going, "Why don't you smell like a field of clover all the time?")

Seriously, though. The reality is teen boys don't typically worry about how they smell. But if I'm writing a swoon-ey crush scene, I can't say Hot Johnny smells like a dirty gym sock.

On the other hand, I also don't want to describe his manly musk. Ew. (Am I the only person who finds the word musk extremely unappealing?)

That's a picture of a musk (or three). --->

Seriously, folks. Not hot.

Fictional males need to smell attractive. And in fairness, CWG wasn't saying to make them more realistic (i.e., stinky), she was asking for writers to associate guys with more believable guy smells.

I gotta confess. I might just stick to suspension of disbelief on this one. And I think meeting the right person can have transformative powers on both the sniffer and the sniffee.

On a related note, one of my Book Club ladies, after reading The Hunger Games, said she was bothered by the fact that none of the girls ever had a period. Seriously. The lack of menstruation stood out to her.

I told her they were so malnourished and under such extreme stress, they were all suffering from amenorrhea. But what am I? The Suzanne Collins apologist?

As a writer, again I was stunned. Do readers really notice these things? Apparently the answer is sometimes Yes.

So I have two questions for you:

-What do you think about staying that true to life? 
-Should we include the nitty-gritty details in our writing? 

(Do your females skip periods and your male characters smell like daffodils?)

I'm suddenly feeling the need for some light revisions... Have a great weekend, reader- and writer- friends!

Til Monday~ <3

Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Trailers & a String Bridge Contest!

Book trailers are one of the newer ways of marketing books. I don't know when or who actually started them, but they're exactly like movie trailers.

Except they're for your book.

And everybody's got one now. Just go onto YouTube and start searching.

(OK, disclaimer, I haven't searched for every book on YouTube to see if it has a trailer, but you get the point. Truth is, if the publisher/author doesn't make one, the fans probably will!)

Now for the exciting news! One of my new writer-friends, Jessica Bell, "The Alliterative Allomorph," (link) has her first book, String Bridge, coming out in November.

And I have the brand-new trailer below!

I haven't read the book, but it sounds very powerful and moving. It's for adults (non-YA), and it's about a woman who gives up her career as a musician to have a family. Then later, she starts to wonder if she made the right decision.

And if I know anything about Jessica and her writing, it's gonna knock our socks off. 

As for the Contest, Jessica needs our help spreading the trailer around the Internet. So if you visit her blog here (link), she's giving away books, etc., for posting or linking to the trailer, and you can read all about how to join in the fun and win prizes!

Without further ado, the trailer! And a cool little tidbit: That's Jessica singing a song written by her mother. (She comes from a musical family and is a musician herself.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Ugly Ones

I come from a family of witty people. In my Scotch-Irish (Jewish-German-British-hello, this is America), south-Mississippi-native family, I'm probably the least clever verbally of the bunch.

It was either my Bobie or my older brother who liked to say beauty was skin deep, but ugly was to the bone.

I'm thinking it was my Bobie, but my brother liked repeating it. He also called one of my sorority sisters "mascara Sara," so don't think he ever used kid-gloves. Least of all with me.

There was a deeper meaning to that adage, but that's not why I'm repeating it today. I did a post last week (or a few weeks ago--it's all running together these days, kids) about Aaron Spelling and The Beautiful Ones.

My premise was that people just want to read and watch stories about bad stuff happening to beautiful, rich people.

Never more was my suspicion confirmed than when I read Lisa Schwarzbaum's review in Entertainment Weekly of the movie Rango (link).

Can I just say, until I read her review, I had zero desire to see that movie? But then they did this whole thing about all the old Westerns it borrowed from, and well, I hate Westerns.

But I love my dad.

My dad knows the name of every horse of every cowboy that ever graced the silver screen or the small screen from the years 1950 to 1965. I am so not kidding.

He also shares my love of movies. When I was about 12, we got cable and he urged me to sit and watch two movies with him I'll never forget. One was Scaramouche with Stewart Granger and the other was Stalking Moon with Eve Marie Saint and Gregory Peck.

In Liberty, Miss., the small town where he grew up, they had a dime theater that he would go to as a little kid and watch movies.

He told me one time about how he'd stayed late to watch something and then ended up having to walk home alone, in the pitch darkness, the two to five-mile distance to my Mammaw and Pappaw's house.

 I still find that hard to believe. He was like 12 himself.

He also told me a story about taking a date to see Gone With the Wind there, and when they arrived, she looked so pretty. By the time they left, he said her eyes were so swollen and smeared with mascara from crying, she looked terrible.

I've met that woman. She still has an enormous crush on my dad.

Anyway, so Schwarzbaum wrote the following: "The biggest strike against Rango, though--for both the movie and the hero--is that the lizard is so damn ugly."

It got me to thinking about my post. And about my dad. My dad because now I want to see Rango because of his love of Westerns. You can't grow up with someone like that without a little of it sticking.

My other thought was this: If beauty sells, does ugly kill?

For me, the answer is Yes. I'm sorry, kids, but if a work of literature is just gross, gross, gross, I can't keep reading. I just can't. (OK, except for The Hunger Games series. But I had one eye closed the whole time.)

But What say you bloggie friends? And have any of you seen Rango? Think I'd like it?

Have a great weekend. I'm actually headed to south Mississippi where I'll see my older brother (in town from Key West), my dad, and several other of my witty relatives. I expect it to be a hilarious time.

Til Monday~ <3

Monday, March 21, 2011

Restless Anchovies

Once again, Elle Strauss had this amazing video on her blog Friday (link, in case you missed it). This time it was Margaret Atwood talking about the evolution and future of publishing. She compared writers to anchovies growing restless in the new publishing waters.

She talked about the United Artists model where actors Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglass Fairbanks, etc., started their own production company to have more control over their careers and get a bigger percentage of the money for their work.

Atwood's point was, in this new world of electronic publishing, it doesn't make sense for authors to be paid less for an ebook than a paper book, and her implication was that authors could band together to produce and market their own books.

It sounds fantastic. And Atwood is a writer talking to an audience of writers. So there was a lot of love for this idea. Heck, I even loved the sound of this idea!

But reality check: this was Margaret Atwood talking about self-publishing. I'm sure if she and Stephen King and John Grisham all decided to start doing it themselves, they'd have a pretty easy time producing books and being profitable. I'm not so sure it would work for the real anchovies like you and me.

And I have to come clean about something else: I'm not a big fan of self-publishing.

Sure it's great for small projects for a set audience--like a family reunion book, or a book of recipes, or my mom's Bible studies--but in general for mass-market consumption, I think it has... control issues.

Most of you know I worked as an editor for more than a decade in the academic setting and most recently at a local magazine, so perhaps I have a bias. But publishers actually do do more than just make money off writers. At the very least, the editors do.

I edited manuscripts for Ph.D.s, non-Ph.D.'d smart people, experienced writers, very good writers, and I can tell you this: every writer needs a good editor. Even Margaret Atwood. Heck, even Stephen King. (Who's read Insomnia? I haven't, but JRM did...)

If you continue watching through to the Q&A portion of Atwood's lecture, she explains what a good editor does and why she still needs one. So that's the main reason I don't care for self-publishing.

But there's also the marketing side. Imagine having to spread the word all by yourself to the billions of readers out there. Going up against the billions of books already published, the free books, the ones being pushed by the establishment and/or hired publicists...

There's also a quality control element. Self-publishing opens the floodgates to all the garbage out there just waiting to be washed ashore. All the needles, plastic bags, condoms, oil. Remember that guy who wrote and self-published through Amazon the "how to" guide for pedophiles?

Think about it, people. All those inappropriate, unproofed, repetitive, plot-holed, earnest, and sometimes brilliant works of literature.

Yeah, I know, Is that really an argument? That stuff happens anyway, and what? Am I over here advocating the suppression of ideas? What is this? Hitler's Germany?


I don't know. Maybe it could work. As I already confessed, I really like the United Artists model. Mostly because I've got critique partners that include these guys (their names are links):
Every one of these ladies is a fantastic writer, and when they send me a MS to read, I send it back to them covered in notes on where something could be stronger or where they must rework a section or where they repeated themselves, where I got lost... but more importantly where I laughed, cried, punched JRM and a read a passage aloud to him it was just. that. brilliant.

And/or they do the same for me.

So maybe we could do it together. We could be editors for each other, help each other publicize...

And after Talli's successful ebook launch via social media, and Nathan B.'s heads up about Amanda Hocking and Kindle millionaires, maybe it could be profitable...

Sigh. I'm still skeptical. I'm not ready to declare a mutiny just yet. But at the same time, it really doesn't make sense to me that authors should get paid less for a cheaper medium.

What do you guys think about the United Artists model? Self-publishing? Editors, publishers and the future of publishing? Restless anchovies?

Personally I lament the loss of bookstores. Til Thursday, reader- and writer-friends~ <3

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Are you feeling lucky?

Well, are you?

It's St. Patty's Day... but I don't feel so lucky. At the beginning of the year, the world was my oyster, and I just knew that It (exclamation point) was about to happen. By January's end, the bottom had fallen out.

Now I'm working constantly, it's gone radio silence on the MS-front, and we're preparing for an 800-mile move due north.

It's been hard lately to feel anything other than I'm last week's news. Washed up, done for, motivation gone... etc., etc.

Then I read my dear friend Jessica's post yesterday (link), and thank you, thank you, thank you, my dear bleep, for that much-needed kick in the pants.

Sure, it's easy to get beat down in this business--in any business where the results are so tied to individual opinions and the whims of the market. And when one is a touch OCD on top of that (a'hem), it's easy to become ridiculously focused on one thing to the exclusion of all others.

Always Bad.

So instead, lets look at the ways we're lucky.

  • Big one--I'm not suffering through the aftershocks of the largest earthquake in my nation's history. Nor was I (or any of my loved ones) swept away in a tsunami. 
  • Big two--Me, my family, my loved ones and friends are happy and healthy and safe in their beds.
  • Finally, as far as I know, most of us are all making ends meet and still managing to pursue the thing(s) we love. (For me it's that silly dream of being a published author--not dead yet!)

I'm surrounded by a heap of blessings, and I will take today to hop off the pity party train. No promises about tomorrow. *wink*

Have a great, fantastic and very lucky St. Patrick's Day and a super weekend, reader-friends!

Green beverages all around--and don't forget to check out the Supermoon Saturday night (link)~

Til Monday! <3

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blogfest of Doom - Beware the Ides of March

I love stuff like this. It's like Halloween in March, and all thanks to the lovely and talented Tami Hart Johnson, a.k.a., "The Watery Tart." Now for the Delusional Doom...

"The End"
by LTM

I know now how the end will come.
It will not be at the point of a gun.
It will be in the little daggers there.
The errant charge, the tangled hair
That causes one to scream, "Take care!"

Another day navigating frustration.
I did not say "new product registration!"
My work lies dormant, my paycheck empty
And the children's school needs another twenty!

But now calm rests my troubled mind.
The Ides of March, the perfect crime.

These throbbing pains I could endure
With a word from you, the single cure.
The one thing my trembling hand would stay...

Still nothing.

et tu, Brute?

* * *

Now what is this Delusional Doom that has caused me to wax poetic about my untimely demise? It's all explained here along with a list of participants (link).

Now scoot around to the other players and have some fun! But remember... Beware the Ides of March~

Til Thursday! <3

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Reviews - Anna & the French Kiss; Sarah's Key

Je ne sais quoi, parlez vous francais, il y a nes pas, voulez vous, zut, and je suis? That's all I know about French--not much more than the main character in Anna & the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. (And I'm sure all misspelled!)

But I grew up in south Louisiana, and JRM accuses me all the time of being a French-lover. So it's possible my love of this book is rooted in that, but I doubt it. Perkins's debut is a delightful love story, and by page 20, I was hooked.

When we meet Anna, she's being left at the School of America in Paris (SOAP) by her pretentious, nouveau riche writer-dad and her teacher-mom for a senior year abroad.

She's crying and is befriended by her neighbor--a bushy, bushy blonde soccer player named Meredith. Then we meet Etienne St. Clair, Meredith's secret crush and ultimately Anna's. He's very attractive, with great hair and a British accent. All major pluses.

Once St. Clair appears, the book tends to focus primarily on Anna's growing feelings for him, but that's okay because while it's happening, the reader gets this amazing trip through Paris as St. Clair shows Anna the city and helps her venture out of her shell.

Perkins does a great job with this part, and I enjoyed "seeing" the sites with these guys and learning about historic landmarks. Great writing here.

As the story progresses, it's clear Etienne likes Anna, too, but they face some challenges--he has a college girlfriend he's reluctant to break up with, Anna has a crush back home she still has feelings for, they both know the end of the year will be the end of their time together. It's an engaging set-up that works... for most of the book. And that brings me to my only small quibble.

I felt like Perkins did a great job creating realistic teenage emotions--the intense awkwardness and insecurity (also the clumsy, embarrassing moments when sex comes up). The characters' feelings are palpable and very relatable. But after Christmas break and particularly after Anna's birthday night out, I grew weary of St. Clair's dithering.

It's a pretty long book (384 pages), and perhaps some tightening would've helped. But! This isn't a major detraction, and the great chemistry between Anna and St. Clair keeps you wanting to know how it will end.

The cover is totally deceptive, just fyi. To me, it looks like Gidget goes to Paris, and the characters are not that square. Anna's got a bleach stripe in her hair and wants to be a film critic, and her best friend's a drummer in a punk band.

Heads up to moms: there's an F-bomb, there are references to characters having sex and sexual parts (but in a totally immature teenager way), and there is alcohol use (and misuse). But I think all are handled realistically and appropriately, and consequences as well as responsible behavior are presented.

Overall, I give Anna & the French Kiss a solid B+, and I think fans of YA romance will love this book. I know several of our bloggie friends have given it quibble-free raves, so don't let my minor complaints deter you. Run grab a copy (link)!
* * *

For fun, I'm throwing in a short, bonus review of my book club selection for this month, since it's also set in Paris. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay is just a fantastic adult novel (non-YA) I probably would've missed if not for book club. So I'm giving you all the heads up!

It's a fictional story of a child who escapes the non-fictional round up of Jews living in Paris during World War II. I didn't know anything about what happened on the morning of July 17, 1942, so this was another educational read.

But again, the learning was easy as it was couched in an engaging story of an American journalist writing (and learning) about the events while dealing with her own personal challenges--her husband's deteriorating affection and her discovery that she's pregnant at 45.

The book is a super-fast page-turner with strong, emotional moments, and I highly recommend it. Julia Jarmond is a sympathetic main character who becomes obsessed with little Sarah when she discovers her husband's parents moved into Sarah's apartment-home after her Jewish family was deported (and later gassed).

I give this one an A, and I say definitely pick it up. It's about obsession, it's about choices, it's about growing older, it's about history and how events should be remembered... And I loved the ending. It was perfect. (link).

That's it for me reader-friends! Have a super week. Til Thursday~ <3

Thursday, March 10, 2011

On Finding Your Niche & Knowing the End

It's Thursday, so I'm all gearing up for 30 Rock. I'm a late fan of the show, and I only watched the first episode years ago because I lurved Tina Fey.

The pilot was good, smart and snappy. And even though I didn't much care for Alec Baldwin back then, in that first episode, he had me giggling. Of course, now I think he's among the funniest humans on the planet.

But that was in the days of L O S T, and my life only allows for one to two (tops) hours of regular TV viewing a week. More = nothing gets done.

I'd drop in on 30 Rock from time to time, and it seemed funny. But it was hit and miss. Once L O S T ended, I started watching it more, and for the last two seasons, it's become clear--the writers have found their niche.

Making fun of NBC and "Politics as Usual," are home-runs for these jokers every time. Which brings us to the first part of my blog title.

I've written or started a MS in almost every YA sub-genre. (I don't have a dystopian or a paranormal.)

As of now, I think they're all strong and show promise--some are more works in progress than others. But I often wonder if there's one style that's going to emerge as more "mine" than the others. Like that comes more naturally or whatever.

Like will it be the Sci-Fi that's still unfinished? Or the angsty teen drama? Will it be the rom-com that's currently being shopped. Or the historical romance that's being revised? Will it be the mystery-family saga-series that needs revision?


As for the other part of my blog title, L O S T just got better and better once they finally set a date for the last episode. Fans and critics agree that the second and third seasons floundered and introduced several characters and situations that didn't go anywhere and were ultimately dumped.

I get that as a writer. L O S T was such a novelistic-style show that it was impossible for them to write ad infinitum. They needed an endpoint.

Only one time have I written a novel where I didn't have a good idea how it would end. And it showed.

I floundered around for pages and pages trying to wrap it up, and it was just awful. I knew this, and thankfully I was able to fix it in a way that I think is satisfactory.

So what about you guys? Have you found your niche yet? Ever written without knowing the end? Care to share?

Have a great weekend! Til Monday~ <3

Monday, March 7, 2011

Reading Also Makes You Smarter

Mardi Gras is Wednesday, and it is full-blast carnival time in south Alabama (and south Louisiana). The girls are out of school, and I'm actually out of town.

It's a great time to have fun, so here's a short post on some humorous errors reading will help you avoid...
  • "Once a Pony Time" is actually "Once Upon a Time."
  • The point is not moo. The point is moot.
  • Ideas do not dong on you. (Like a doorbell.) They dawn on you. (Like the sunrise.)
  • You don't get Crawfish Tale dinners for $5 in so-La. (Unless Thibodeaux tags along chatting your ear off about his escapades on the bayou with Boudreaux.) It should be Tail.
  • God's name is not Howard. (Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.)
  • Nightmares are not night bears. (Don't scare the children more than they already are.)

And just because this makes me blow coffee through my nose every time, the citizens of Ghana are not known as Gonorrheans.

I don't know what they're called, but it's not that.

I'll cut it off there, but please share yours! I lurv reading stuff like this. And while you're out, save a bookstore--buy a book and read it. Then buy another...

Happy Mardi Gras, reader-friends. Til Thursday~ <3

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Spring Rerun

We've been struck by illness, and I'm a single mom playing catchup. Yik! Hats off to you full-time single parents out there.

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted the following. It's new to most of you, but it's a little "About Me" for your weekend enjoyment. I'm behind on my rounds, but I'm on my way.

Until then, have a great weekend. Til Monday~ <3
* * *

I was jogging this morning, and it was so nice. The Bradford pears and Japanese magnolias were blooming and it was 60 degrees outside. Wow.

There were still little bursts of dead leaves that would rain down every so often while I ran, and it made me think of my first boss as an editor at LSU, Susan Rogers. She was a neat lady. 

Susan was Irish. Actually, she was Jewish, but she was born in Ireland and then raised in London. Very multicultural. 

Still, she had this great British accent and she was extremely refined. She had a little teapot, and she liked to observe tea time. She said it was important to pause and reflect at some point every day.

She taught me to write sentences that began with "would you please" and ended with "thank you" in the letters I sent back to professors with their edited manuscripts. 

(Rather than "do this" and "do that" and "explain this" and "you stopped using English here.")

Susan also used fun catch phrases such as "we live in hope" and "keep calm." (Yes, there were times when those catch phrases were needed.)

Our offices were in Prescott Hall right next to the offices for this government program Law Enforcement Online (LEO). I never was quite sure what LEO did--busted hackers? Used satellites to track spies?

I did know we weren't supposed to go through their double-glass doors for security reasons. But the hall bathroom was just on the other side of their little suite of offices, so we ignored that rule. Sorry, federal government.

The lady in charge of LEO was this obnoxious redhead. She liked to stand in the hall and have loud conversations with her underlings who were in their offices. Her yelling typically involved lots of cursing, and it drove Susan nuts. 

The redhead drove me nuts because every day after lunch she would go in the bathroom in her office and spray the crap out of her hair.

The building where we worked had been a dorm in a past life, so the bathroom of this woman's office was connected to my office, but the door had been sealed shut. (I'm sure to keep me from going postal on them.) 

The only problem was it wasn't airtight, so after she finished her grooming, my office was awash in Aquanet. 

I would seriously have to stand at my door and fan out the hairspray. Rex Rose, my first graduate assistant got the brilliant idea of using clear packing tape to seal all the cracks around the door. It actually worked. 

Oh, if only he weren't better at editing the manuscripts I gave him. He was actually pretty terrible. Susan was always calm and rational, but once he provoked her to say "bugger." That was So. Funny.

Susan had a daughter Rosie and an autistic son Seamus. Rosie called the office once and I answered the phone. Our conversation went like this:

Rosie: Is my mom there?
LTM: She's not in the office. Is everything OK?
Rosie: Keep calm.
LTM: Ooo-kaay... What's wrong?
Rosie: There may or may not be peacocks in our yard, and Seamus may or may not be chasing them.
LTM: (Well, which is it?)

That situation worked itself out. Seems their neighbors kept peacocks. Baton Rouge is also a quirky place to live if I haven't already mentioned it.

Seamus didn't talk and he wasn't toilet trained. He was also nine years old, and quite a handful. Some days Susan had to call in sick because he'd been up all night. She was a single mom. Her jerk husband had left her after they found out Seamus was autistic. 

I say "jerk" because she implied that he blamed her for their son's condition. Seems that used to be the school of thought--autism was somehow the mother's fault. Jerks.

But Susan was always so upbeat and positive, and the few conferences we attended together were a blast. She was a lot of fun, and I admired her very much. 

The reason I was thinking of her today was because she taught me to catch leaves. 

Susan had lots of fun Irish folklore, and supposedly if you catch a falling leaf, it's very good luck. I managed to do it once when we worked together. I caught my leaf and then tossed it aside. Susan later informed me I had thrown my luck away. (You're supposed to keep it, silly!)

Catching leaves is hard. If you try it, be sure you've got an open, flat space to practice. Looking up and runing around is a great way to get hurt. 

This morning when I was jogging I caught a leaf. I smiled and thought of Susan. She moved back to a little village in England several years ago. I like to imagine those guys are doing great, having fun, enjoying life, observing tea time. Rosie would be grown now. 

St. Patrick's day is coming. Get outside and catch a leaf!