Monday, December 31, 2012

What Craigslist gave me for Christmas

The holidays, what with their departures from schedules and late nights of mulled wine and gingerbread, aren't always the most productive time for regular work, but they can be great for other projects.

For about a year, I've wanted to put together a treadmill desk, but I hadn't (yet) felt like hacking it together myself, and the desks made specifically for the purpose tend to be expensive. Great was my delight when I checked Craigslist and found a TrekDesk for a fraction of its original price. Cheap treadmills also abound.

Now, two pickup truck expeditions and many Lysol wipes later, I have turned the fruits of other people's garages into a new workstation.

I've only been using this setup a few days, and I can already tell you that it is awesome. A walking desk is great for someone like me because:

  • I tend to pace while talking on the phone.
  • I sometimes pace while having a conversation face-to-face, provided there is a kitchen island to orbit.
  • I have often wished it were possible to pace while writing.
  • The two o'clock lull hits me with a vengeance.

May you find something that excites and energizes you in the new year.

*Note: TrekDesk did not compensate me in any way for this article. Nor did Lysol, for that matter. If I had found Steve-O's homemade OSB masterpiece on Craigslist and the price was right, I would just as likely be writing about that.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Queries: winning.

Most writers who have done their research obsess over the query letter like nothing else. We read countless templates, lists of dos and don'ts, agent blogs, and examples of successful query letters. The blogs and guidelines tell us to be brief, be clear, avoid rhetorical questions, don't get into backstory, prove we know something about the agent, give a word count (and it had better not be more than 100,000 words), and, above all, get the story on the page.

So, what do the successful queries have in common? Quite often... not much.

Take this recent GalleyCat post listing successful queries from a wide swath of genres. They're attention-grabbing (which is really what matters), but several of them break at least one rule that an agent blogger somewhere has railed about.

Let's start with the adventure query. The novel is about 50,000 words longer than many publishers will accept from a novice, and the writer appears to be querying a young adult novel (though this isn't totally clear) based on the agent's interest in "adult fiction."

Then there's the fantasy query, which has one paragraph full of rhetorical questions and another that is almost as long as some query letters. While many agents insist that 250 words is the target, this query is over 400. The thriller is 500, and a large chunk of that is author bio.

The literary fiction example has plenty about themes and Big Ideas, but almost nothing about the novel's plot.

Of course, one of the most memorable winning queries for me was a letter read aloud at the recent Backspace Seminar. There were three or four agents on the panel, and after explaining why several query letters failed (no sense of the conflicts or story, rhetorical questions, beginning with backstory, vague pronouncements of doom, too much scene-setting, etc.), they read a handful that had enticed one or more of the agents at the conference. And then they got to an Iliad of a letter that had been chosen... by an agent who was absent.

It broke just about every principle they had just discussed. It was sprawling in length (almost two full pages) and meandering in its content (the plot summary described several different settings without giving any idea of how the characters or stories connected). As they read, you could see the agents struggling to explain how this one had succeeded.

In the end, the answer was that there wasn't a specific reason--something in this query had just resonated with the agent who had picked it or matched with something she was looking for. And that was the same explanation the agents gave when they disagreed at other times during the panel. A character description would strike one agent as vague and another as clever. One agent liked a chatty bio, and another thought it was too personal. Several queries were nixed because they contained too much backstory and set-up while another of the winners had a long paragraph that was nothing but world-building.

My takeaways from this are threefold:

  1. As in writing, you can break the rules if you break them well. In most cases, however, it's probably safest for me to assume that I'm not going to break them well, so I'll stick to the guidelines as much as is feasible.
  2. You'll be forgiven some query-writing sins if other aspects of the letter are excellent. But again, I'd rather avoid giving any agent a reason to say "no," so I'm going to assume that I'm not the exception.
  3. Most importantly... a certain part of this process seems to rely on getting the right query to the right agent at the right time. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Perfect Christmas gift

I'm not trying to advocate extravagant Christmas gifts, but this would be awesome.

Or I could just buy a $100 treadmill off of Craigslist and hack the rest of it together.

Monday, December 17, 2012

An unexpected trailer

GalleyCat reports that select theaters played the book trailer for The Wheel of Time before screenings of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. This is a great idea, since movie theaters already run ads for cars, soft drinks, and all sorts of other products. Not to mention that Robert Jordan's epic fantasy series will appeal to many Tolkien fans. What baffles me is the nature of the trailer.

Picture this. You have theaters packed with moviegoers, each of whom has a stadium seat view of your trailer. This is the film's first weekend, so you've got the attention of the most avid fans. The Hobbit may be The Phantom Menace to the original trilogy, but who cares, these people want more medieval magic! And, by golly, you've got fourteen* books for them.

So you show them... all fourteen books. Including pans of COVER ART. With epic music in the background.

While it says something about a person's attention span and love of narrative that he/she will wait in line to be one of the first people to see the first of three three-hour movies (which are themselves prequels to three other three-plus-hour movies) that doesn't make a list of fourteen books inherently enticing. You want to focus the comparison between the books and the movies on the thrills and adventures, not the amount of time it will take a person to get through them.

If you're going to spend the cash to put a book trailer in front of a major holiday film, why not make it an interesting trailer? This feels like a print ad in motion. It doesn't make good use of the big screen, unless of course you consider fitting half of the book covers in the series on-screen at one time a good use.

Some book trailers feel like previews of low-budget movies that will never be made. But there are plenty of ways to make good use of the limited medium.

  • Embrace the camp and do something tongue-in-cheek. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
  • Leave the soap opera actors out of it and communicate the feel of the book through moody art and music. A Monster Calls
  • Many people buy books based on a recommendation, so let the author tell the story of how she found her story. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
  • Let a quirky or unusual narrator tell the story... especially if this is one of the book's selling points. The child narrator's straightforward description here is chilling. Room
  • There's always the Denis Leary Ford commercial. Make words do interesting things while the narrator says them. You Are Not So Smart
  • Do something unexpected. WTF! How Did You Get This Number

*Excluding the prequel, of course.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Too much of a good thing?

When it comes down to it, most people will say that books are usually better than their movie adaptations. For one thing, you can't pack all of the detail and richness of a 400-page book into a two-hour movie.

But what if you have three three-hour movies? NPR film critic Kenneth Turan suggests that this is giving the filmmakers behind The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey too much time to draw events out.

I'll reserve judgment until I've seen it myself. Preferably with a drinking horn in hand.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Doing the impossible: a (mostly) spoiler-free Wool summary

Scanning GalleyCat today, I saw a story about Hugh Howey, author of the self-published Wool series, signing a book deal with Simon & Schuster (you know, to go with his movie deal).

What struck me most wasn't Mr. Howey's incredible (and incredibly unique) success, but rather a paragraph reprinted from Simon & Schuster's press release. It's a near-perfect example of the kind of book summary paragraph we try to write in our query letters. Here it is:

Wool is the thrilling story of a post-apocalyptic world in which a community lives in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. Inside, men and women live within a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them from the toxic outside world. But a new sheriff is about to be entrusted with fixing her silo, and she will soon learn just how deeply her world is broken. The silo’s inhabitants are about to face what their history has only hinted about and never dared to whisper: Uprising.

What makes this example so impressive? Let's make a list.

  • Satisfying plot tease. I know enough about what's going to happen in this book to be interested. Things gone awry in an underground silo? Political uprising? And... A NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN? Yes, please. 
    • One could argue that "how deeply her world is broken" is too vague (and what is she "fixing her silo" from?), but the setup gives us an idea of what's gone wrong ("regulations they believe are meant to protect them").
  • No spoilers! I'm most of the way through the Wool Omnibus Edition, and each of the five stories contains at least one major surprise. This summary doesn't really give any of them away.* What it does give me is a feeling of envy that whoever wrote this managed to walk the line between teasing and spoiling.
  • Succinct setup. One of the hardest things in writing a query letter for speculative fiction is explaining your setting. You have to give the reader some sense of when and where you are (Narnia? The Horsehead Nebula in the year 30,000?), but you can't spend all day doing it. As the author, it can be hard to know when you've done enough. Your readers need to know that your story takes place in a silo. 
    • Wait, a silo? Why? Well, see, bad stuff happened, and now the outside air is all toxic-like, and so people have to live in a silo to be safe.... 
    • Here, the writer gave us just enough information for the rest of the description to make sense. "Post-apocalyptic" is a good signal, and the "toxic outside" comes up in the context of mentioning the (problematic?) rules that govern silo life. I don't need to know what happens if people go outside. I don't need to know how long people have been in a silo. I don't even need to know why the outside is toxic. I know that the outside is toxic in a post-apocalyptic kind of way, and that explains why people live in a silo. Any sentence beginning with "In the years after [terrible crisis or something]..." would be too much of a digression.
*Unless you're think it's a spoiler to say that Charlton Heston travels to the future and finds talking apes in Planet of the Apes.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Blogging Lessons 101: The Deadline

I started blogging for lots of reasons, but one of the big ones was locking myself into a commitment of writing (and publishing) something every day. It forces me to think of something to talk about and then to put the words on the screen.

Even if it's short.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Be unapologetic about what you love

Loving openly makes a person vulnerable, and we all learned in middle school that this is dangerous.

So it's sometimes easier and cooler to snipe at the things we don't like. There is value to this sniping as part of a longer conversation about what makes certain ideas and pursuits worthwhile, edifying, or interesting. It's also helpful to get the crankiness out of one's system on books, movies, and ideas, which can't feel.

But sometimes we need to remind ourselves of what we like, and we need to share it with other people. We need to keep the things that motivate and inspire us front and center, even if that means hanging them out there for the world to see. Because it's rewarding to share the things that get you going, and it's even better when someone stops you just to say, "Hey, that think you love? It's awesome."

Some of the things I unapologetically love are:

  • classic Sierra computer games
  • Aliens (I was slightly devastated when my spouse pointed out how 80s some of the dialogue is)
  • Neal Stephenson books
  • skiing moguls
  • mulled wine
  • indoor rock gyms
  • Battlestar Galactica (the re-imagined series)
  • bread pudding
  • the f'ed up worlds of China MiĆ©ville
Mask of Eternity didn't count, anyway.

Happy Monday.

Friday, December 7, 2012

WTFriday: Brett Easton Ellis

While it's tempting to just ignore it and deprive Ellis of the attention he seems to be seeking, the biggest WTF moment for me today was his tweet that "Kathryn Bigelow would be considered a mildly interesting filmmaker if she was a man but since she's a very hot woman she's really overrated."

It's fine to say that you don't like her movies, but if being a "very hot woman" were really such a boon in filmmaking, I suspect Ms. Bigelow wouldn't have been the first lady to win the Oscar, BAFTA, and Directors Guild of America Awards for Best Direction.

You can still argue that the Oscars (or whatever other award ceremony) are political/overhyped/biased/etc., but there isn't really much to support the idea that attractive ladies get a big break in the director's chair from critics or anyone else.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The question new writers hate

Being an unpublished writer is kind of like being a high school senior in that there is one dreaded question everyone asks you. You feel bad about hating this question, because most everyone who asks it means well and is genuinely interested in your answer.

When you're seventeen and primarily focused on surviving exams and clearing up your skin before the prom, everyone wants to know:

Where are you going to college?

This question reminds you that you have a stack of applications to fill out and you'd rather just enjoy your virgin eggnog right now. Or that you've applied and you're still waiting to hear back, and the suspense is killing you enough as it is. Maybe you've received a string of acceptances (lucky you), and you're agonizing over a decision that will affect the rest of your life, no pressure, by the way. Maybe you didn't get in, and you haven't figured out how to say this. Maybe you got in, but you don't know where the tuition money will come from.

And sometimes, you loathe this question simply because you get it so much that you have prepared a stump speech, and holy crap you just discovered the Harry Potter books and you love them, can't you just talk about that (or anything else) for a change?

When you're an unpublished writer and people who know you know this, they ask:

How is the book coming?

Until you get to the point where you get an agent or a publisher, the answer is usually some variant of "still critiquing/editing/revising/rewriting and resubmitting." That makes it sound like you really haven't been doing anything. And if you drill into specifics ("I wrote 3,000 words yesterday!" or "I completely rewrote the first two chapters!" or "I am in the process of switching to a first-person POV."), it's going to get boring unless your interlocutor has read your book.

But what really makes the question awful isn't that it's a small talk dead end, it's that it reminds you of your lack of measurable progress. It reminds you that you've been churning away since the question was first asked, and you still don't have a shiny New York agent or publishing contract to show for it. It reminds you that you may continue this way for years without getting any closer to achieving those things.

As an unpublished writer, I do solemnly swear that once I get an agent and/or a publisher, everyone I know will know. You will not have to ask me. I will volunteer this information shamelessly and enthusiastically, in the way that mothers-to-be reveal that they are pregnant and have already painted the nursery in Behr Pumpkin Butter. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The modern serial part 2

Yet another sign that the publishing industry is changing: on Monday, we looked at the Wool series for its unique success as a sequence of novella-length books. Today, there's news of Cosmopolitan and romance publisher Harlequin joining forces to produce 30,000-word contemporary romance ebooks. 

Cosmo isn't the first magazine to jump into ebook publishing: Newsweek, Playboy, Esquire, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post are also publishing content for ereaders. However, of these new endeavors, the Cosmo program focuses the most heavily on (new) fiction. Esquire, Playboy, and The Washington Post, in particular are using digital platforms to repackage and resell classic content.

While 60,000-100,000-word novels seem to be the safest bets for publishers, shorter forms could be more appealing to readers who don't feel they have the time for a full-length novel. And it will be interesting to see if an affiliation with a well-known brand (like Cosmopolitan) entices new readers.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Don't water down your own Scotch

One habit (of many) I've worked to break is that of letting certain words dilute my prose. Words like really, kind of, very, somewhat, sort of, a bit, a little, and rather.

I used to like them because they inflated my word count, but they're like air pockets in cement. Sure, they fill space, but you can't build anything on them.

Words that don't serve a critical purpose slow the reader down. And dilutive words are like the friend from college who crashes on your couch for a month: not only do they avoid adding anything useful, but they also take away from their surroundings. Nobody is interested in kind of epic mountains or somewhat bloodthirsty werewolves.

And I cut "very" and "really"-type words, too. They seem at first to add emphasis, but like adverbs, they're usually a signal that I need a stronger word or phrase. Consider the following.

Imagine that a friend has set you up on a blind date. Which description sounds more promising?

  • "He's really nice. He's also very funny. And he's really, really (ridiculously) good-looking."
  • "He's one of the kindest people I know. He's also a riot. And he's got a smile that could stop traffic."
Writers usually aren't on the witness stand. A little exaggeration is fine. But if I have to be precise, I'm going to be precise. I won't say "a pretty tall girl" when I can describe someone as "a six-foot Amazon." If the steak was only a bit tasty, I'll say that it was on the favorable end of the charred rubber to grilled perfection spectrum, but I won't be making reservations again any time soon.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The modern serial

There are some books that get self-published because they're not well-written enough for traditional publishing, and there are some books that get self-published because they're not initially perceived as marketable enough for a traditional publisher. The Wool series falls into the latter category.

Please, sir, may I have some more?

Back in the good old days of deerstalker-wearing detectives and orphan boys-turned-heirs, many works of fiction were serialized. We don't see this so much any more, but Wool makes a good case for reviving this tradition in the age of ebooks.

The first Wool novella is free to download on Amazon, and subsequent stories are available for between $0.99 and $2.99. This allows the reader to try the series with no monetary commitment and little time commitment (the first segment is short and reads like a self-contained story).

You can see why printing and distribution costs would make the first-segment-free strategy untenable for print books, and serialized novellas are a bit too experimental for most traditional publishers. But this is perfect for e-publishing, where authors can offer a cost-free preview.

I'll be surprised if more writers don't make use of this format, even if it means offering a free sample chapter of a 90,000-word novel. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

WTFriday: Women in combat

Few topics are more likely to incite internet stupidity than "the role of women in X." The Guardian is running a poll that asks readers, "Should the US military allow women to serve in ground combat roles?"

And just in case I thought the discussion might be dull and grounded, here's the first reader comment:
at the risk of sounding sexist....women are the GIVERS of life, not the takers.
Because we should really have conversations about careers, gender roles, and military policy based on some basement philosopher's symbolic thinking. I've heard this comment before, and the speaker invariably puts it out there and then backs away from the conversation, as if this line of thinking is deep and completely self-explanatory. It's like these folks think that women fighting and women having babies are two contradictory ideas in a Large Hadron Collider and that, were they to meet, the clash would render all women barren. Or something.

Yes, some women give birth, and some women may have the opportunity/skills/inclination to fight. Some women may wish to give birth AND fight. Some men become fathers AND fight.

But then there was this:
I had read a paper in which the Native American writer tells about how the Native American women told men to stop warring or else no sex. It had a positive effect, according to the author. May be the American women in the military should emulate their example rather than seeking combat command. Just a thought.
We'll ignore that this comment is a non-sequitur (no one's asking whether or not we should have war) and focus on the two glaring logical fallacies.  

First, the author seems to assume that all women are (or should be) against war. Because, as we know, the Council of Womanhood has an entire platform laid out for women that determines where they stand (and how they vote) on a range of complex issues.

Second (and similarly), this is yet another comment that suggests that women somehow don't enjoy sex. Or don't enjoy it as much as men. Or don't "need" it as much as men. And this idea gets bandied about in a whole host of other discussions (many of which justify rape and adultery when committed by unfulfilled men), but the most interesting thing about it is that the people who so strongly assert that men's and women's needs and drives are so have never undergone a sex change. Nor are they experts in human psychology or biology. And they never cite such experts to back up their assertions. They lean on this idea as an unexamined yet common understanding.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gatekeepers open an Archway

Simon & Schuster, one of the big five-going-on-four publishers, has launched a self-publishing branch called Archway Publishing. 

So, what will Archway clients--er, authors--get? The basic fiction package is $1,999, and authors get a list of services related to book production and a few others with tantalizing designations like "channel distribution to 38,000 retailers worldwide" (which appears to mean that books will be available for order, and that mostly through and and "editorial assessment" (that's a sample chapter edit for you to assess Archway's editors, not for the editors to assess your book). 

A writer can get the premium package for $14,999, and that includes a "concierge service" with an Archway representative who handles, among other things, "manuscript submission," although I'm not sure where the manuscript is being submitted since the agent and traditional publisher are already out of the loop.

Perhaps the most important thing these authors are buying is the Archway logo, which includes "From Simon & Schuster" at the bottom.

Going the Archway route seems a bit like staying at the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace. You're paying a lot to stay at a fancy hotel in the green space just outside Versailles, but you're still not staying at Versailles. 

It will be interesting to see (1) how many authors decide that the Simon & Schuster affiliation is with the price and (2) whether Archway raises the profiles of its author clients or lowers Simon & Schuster's profile overall.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Maybe it's the competition for holiday shoppers' cash, or maybe it's the bitter memory of Amazon's price check shenanigans this time last year, but the indie bookstore faction is seeing red. Not that they shouldn't--too many of them are also seeing it on their balance sheets.

There are lots of reasons to support indie bookstores. It's good to have a local reading culture, and part of that is having a place to buy, exchange, browse, and discuss books. It's good to have local businesses that are responsive to community needs and tastes and that can partner with other local businesses and nonprofits. And more players in the market is usually a win for consumers.

But the bookstore vs. e-book conversation is often framed in terms of "either/or" rather than "a little of column A, a little of column B." This is a mistake.

The goal of authors, publishers, and retailers (brick-and-mortar and online) should be to get people to read more. Whatever the format.
  1. Readers are the best marketers. I might read most books on a Kindle nowadays, but when I discuss a favorite with a friend who loves the smell of paperbacks in the morning, he has another reason to visit his local bookseller.
  2. Most e-book readers are not wedded to their devices. A Pew Internet study reported that e-book readers tend to read more overall, and "On any given day, 49% of those who own e-book readers like the original Kindles and Nooks are reading an e-book. And 59% of those e-reader owners said they were reading a printed book."* This tidbit alone could imply that e-book readers are reading the same number of books as they always have but that e-books are horning in on a larger share of the pie. However, the next fact gives us cause for optimism.
  3. From the same study: "Fully 42% of readers of e-books said they are reading more now that long-form reading material is available in digital format."
  4. Pew also reports that e-book readers are slightly more likely to purchase books than print readers. The difference between 61% and 54% isn't huge, but when you consider that e-book readers on average go through almost 10 more books yearly than non-e-book readers, it's a meaningful divide. Of course, readers of e-books are also more likely to come from higher-income households, so it could be that these people were always spending more money on books. But, speaking personally, I've scanned my library card a lot less since getting a Kindle, and I can't be the only one.
Many non-chain retailers are fighting for their lives, so some vitriol is to be expected. But the "shop local" movement isn't going to bury e-books any more than farmers' markets have done away with Kroger. The Kobo-indie bookstore partnership suggests that some booksellers are realizing that the market has changed and that retailers will have to change with it. For their comparative convenience and (sometimes) cheapness, e-books are opening a wedge for more reading and more readers. It's up to local sellers to find a way to fit into it. 

*I'm going to interpret this math to mean that some e-reader owners read print and digital books at the same time. And there are probably some e-reader owners who used their device once and haven't touched it since. But the Pew study is clear that active e-book readers haven't given up on print: "88% of those who read e-books in the past 12 months also read printed books."

Monday, November 26, 2012

Small Business Saturday at the local bookstore

President Obama managed to save America this weekend, and apparently by shopping at a local bookstore for Small Business Saturday. And while we don't really need *another* excuse to go shopping, at least Small Business Saturday doesn't involve packing turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches for the midnight vigil at Best Buy.

Indie bookstore owners around the country were understandably pleased to get more customers into their stores, particularly with so many brick-and-mortar bookstores closing.

But Carmine Gallo at Forbes thinks that small business owners need to look beyond the one-day discounts and think of the year-long customer experience if they want to keep up:
"The bookstore Obama visited with his daughters is called One More Page Books. Owner Eileen McGervey clearly understands that to keep dollars local she needs to offer an experience that’s impossible to replicate online. Each week One More Page bookstore hosts discussion groups, young writers workshops, visiting authors, as well as wine and chocolate tastings."
I don't know about you, but I could easily round up a small army for a wine or chocolate tasting. There are lots of consumers who like the idea of supporting local businesses, but they need something more than a sense of civic duty, particularly when it is often easier and cheaper to visit Amazon or Barnes & Noble(.com). Indie bookstores must offer something special.

And, no, a bookseller's "knowledge and experience" doesn't count.  Too many store owners seem to think this is a selling point for the indie experience. When I go shopping, I usually know what I want before I set foot in a store. And when I need a book recommendation, I'm more likely to talk to friends who like the things I like.

That's not to say that staff who read widely and enthusiastically aren't important for a bookstore. They are. But there needs to be more. More author readings, more book groups, and yes, more wine tastings. More to get people in the door in the first place.

Friday, November 23, 2012


The Guardian ran an article about Black Friday strikes by Walmart employees. As one would imagine, the article generated vitriol on both sides of the (shopping) aisle, but the most interesting reader comment was this:
"WalMart and the Dallas Cowboys. Two of a kind and representational of the way the U.S. in general is going headlong. Wringing every dime out workers and putting nothing into education, infrastructure, quality of life issues - just take the money and run. Jerry Jones and the Waltons do nothing but take while squandering the one resource that day after day keeps them oh so comfortable. You won't catch me in a WalMart or at a Cowboys game. I'm done."
Mostly I just found the Dallas Cowboys comparison amusing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kill (some of) your darlings

Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving and many of us are about to be surrounded by family members, today is a good day to contemplate bad advice.

One hallmark of bad advice is that it's associated with a phrase that has been repeated to the point of meaninglessness. Bonus points if it's a familiar metaphor or otherwise threadbare figure of speech. It's the kind of phrase that people toss around on reflex without discussing specifics.

When someone says he's going to "seize the day," I assume it means he's just going to avoid surfing the web at the office.

When someone says that "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," I wonder why anyone who can catch a bird with her hands would need advice on anything.

One irksome phrase related to writing is "kill your darlings."

This was probably brilliant advice the first 467 times people gave it. And it was probably brilliant because the people giving the advice had to provide context and specifics to explain what they were talking about. They couldn't just spout it off, lean back, and wonder whether you also caught the reference to Faulkner/Stephen King/Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch/whoever they think said it best.

At first glance, it seems to suggest that all stories should end like Hamlet. It's actually a lot more confusing.

When someone says "kill your darlings," he or she usually means that you should cut your favorite bits of writing. Which is why advice like this needs tons of context.

Sometimes my favorite part is my favorite because it's good. Usually, I want to keep the good parts. Here are the exceptions:
  1. It's not actually that good. 
  2. I'm altering the characters and the natural progression of the story to fit in this paragraph I love. I want to tell readers how my protagonist is like an owl at midnight when he's really nothing like that, but it's a great description.
  3. It's out of place. I have ventured, all Victor Hugo-like, away from the story to give you my brilliant and lyrical thoughts on convents. 
There are solutions to these problems that don't always go as far as murder. I can:
  1. Make it actually good (surgically enhance your darlings).
  2. Put it in a different part of the book. Or save it for a different book altogether (relocate your darlings).
  3. Keep my darlings out of convents.
The hard part is that a good diagnosis requires context and judgement. It's hard to have these things when I'm drafting, so I love blindly while I'm writing and look for these problems by the harsh light of revisions. And if my critique partner recommends murder, I make sure she can also recommend a motive.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In the news

With the ink barely dry in the recent Penguin/Random House merger, I want to say "too soon." But it now appears that News Corp., which owns HarperCollins, is looking to acquire Simon & Schuster. This makes me think of that rom-com-esque moment in which a bunch of mid-thirtysomethings realize they are the last single people in the room and start pairing off.

Friday, November 16, 2012

WTFriday: Women in costumes?!

The place of women (or attractive women, or women who think they're attractive) in the Fraternal Order of Geekdom has already been much-discussed, yet this issue keeps raising its head. Joe Peacock's article from CNN's Geek Out blog ignited controversy a few months ago when he complained about the supposed ubiquity of "'hot chicks wearing skimpy outfits simply to get a bunch of gawking geeks’ heads to turn, just to satisfy their hollow egos" at conventions. Comic book artist Tony Harris posted a Facebook rant against cosplaying women who think they're hot that added nitroglycerin to the fire. And now Joe Peacock is reconsidering the issue.

Seems to me that this weird animosity towards ladies at conventions is born of misogyny ("Attractive women don't like nerdy stuff"), insecurity ("Attractive women don't like me"), and logical fallacy ("Because attractive women don't like nerdy stuff and don't like me, they must be here to tease me").

Sure, most people would be reasonably offended if someone approached them at a convention and said “You know what, that thing you love? I spit upon it. I’m here to be the most desirable person in the room because you people are desperate for someone like me.” But does that ever actually happen?

On John Scalzi’s blog, Peacock refers to one blog post from a professional model that more or less expresses the above, and he claims that “booth babes” have admitted that it’s just a job (surprise!).* Then Peacock uses this rather limited evidence to conclude that sexy lady-poseurs are spreading among the cons like a bad case of mono. Here are the problems with Peacock’s argument…

1. You’re building a straw woman out of limited, anecdotal evidence and using her for target practice. By doing so, you promote an idea that attention-hungry lady-poseurs are much more prevalent than they probably are.

2. Your assertion that “pretty girls pretending to be geeks for attention” are infiltrating the cons assumes that you recognize the enemy on sight. How is one supposed to recognize a lady-poseur? Because she’s hot, and no hot women actually like nerd stuff? Because she doesn’t know as much about nerd stuff as you do, and people who don’t know as much are poseurs? Because she doesn’t want to date you/sleep with you/talk to you?

3. Women who don’t want to date you/sleep with you/talk to you aren’t teases. They’re just not into you (for any number of reasons, and no, they don’t have to give you one). Maybe it seems frigid for an attractive woman at a convention to refuse conversation with a geeky guy. But maybe it’s also obnoxious for her that she really just wants to talk about Spiderman, but conversations with strange men frequently turn to her cup size, her phone number, or what she’s doing later that night. And maybe it sucks for you because you really just want to talk about Spiderman. But that’s life.

4. The tone of these articles suggests the most problematic convention infiltrators are hot women (or average women who have the audacity to think they’re hot). Never mind hot men or rude, condescending people of either sex.

Here's the big irony: all of these folks defending their geek status by belittling "fake" geeks? What they really want is for the larger geek community to acknowledge and validate their superior knowledge of superhero canon, their repertoire of fan fiction, and their hours of experience playing every Final Fantasy game ever made. If that's not a fierce hunger for attention, I don't know what is.

PS, this business about guys harassing a woman in a Black Cat costume at a convention? And then the people actually justifying the harassment? Here's a shorter list of things to note.

1. People dress and groom themselves to look nice, and that's generally more about a person liking what he or she sees in the mirror rather than pleasing or attracting others. It's not about you as the onlooker.

2. Even if you find a woman's costume provocative or revealing, since when does that give anyone license to behave like a douche? To comment on her breasts? Note that the woman didn't complain about men wanting to talk to her, men checking her out, or even men wanting to take pictures with her. She complained about men saying things to her that wouldn't be acceptable anywhere. I don't think anyone would ask a bikini-clad woman on a beach about her cup size. Nor would anyone ask a woman wearing a miniskirt and heels at a bar for a spanking. So why is it open season at a convention?

3. People sexualize the female body much more than the male body. Tons of superheroes wear spandex, yet it's the female superheroes (and the women who dress like them) who are viewed through the lenses of cleavage and curves. Exposed backs, bare midriffs, and tight pants signify a female character's sexuality, yet a similarly-bared male character is showing his strength. Conan wears less than Red Sonja, yet no one is going to accuse a Conan cosplayer of baring it all just to show off. And no one's going to complain that a guy with a less-than-stellar physique has no business wearing a chain mail Speedo.

*"Booth babes” are paid to be there. So let’s not include them in the sample of “people at the convention who don’t like the nerd stuff.” Attractive women are frequently hired to sell convention stuff, pharmaceuticals, and hot wings.  The sexism/objectification/efficacy issue there is a separate discussion and one that implicates the suits who make it happen and the consumers who make it profitable.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reality books

At some point in the early 2000s, the American viewing public decided that 45 minutes of gag reels of "real people" made better television than story arcs and crafted characters. It seemed silly to me at the time, but maybe the competition from reality TV is partly to thank for the rise in fantastic, traditionally-scripted shows like Modern Family, The Walking Dead, 30 Rock, Breaking Bad, etc.

But now I wonder if the larger-than-life versions of everyday (or not-so-everyday) drama are affecting what people look for in books. Are people more drawn to an interesting story if they think it's true or if it's connected to some real-life commotion?

Take James Frey's A Million Little Pieces. I'm not talking about the part where Oprah learned he'd made up most of his "memoir" and outed him. I'm talking about the part where Frey shopped his book as a novel to more than a dozen publishers before being told by one that it could work as a memoir. Is a story like this more interesting if it's true? Or is the lack of punctuation and original characters more forgivable if it comes from a drug addict?

Or take the more recent response to All In: The Education of General David Petraeus. Reverb from the affair has buffeted the book from 76,792 on to 102. Scandal sells, but... really? That well? The book's reviews were largely mixed. It's bizarre that people will read a 300+ page biography when the part they're really interested is already on the internet, but maybe I should just be happy people are buying books.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Logline critique, or another defense of vulnerability

Since yesterday's post concerned the picking-apart of my query letter, this seems like a good time to pick apart the logline.

One of the most interesting and hands-on segments from the recent Backspace Agent-Author Seminar was Lane Shefter Bishop's logline workshop. Ms. Bishop took our loglines and transformed them from primordial muck into wicked little hooks.

If this sounds useful (and it is), take a look at Gabriela Pereira's write-up at DIY MFA. She addresses the qualities of a tantalizing hook and the pitfalls that leave most of us with a mouthful of mush. She also dissects my logline-in-transition, showing how we progressively trimmed the fat and added meat in the workshop.

If you attend Backspace in May, look into Ms. Bishop's workshop--she's back by popular demand. And if you attend any conferences and have the opportunity to submit your work--first pages, query, logline, etc.--for critique in front of your fellow writers, jump on it. It's generally less horrifying than it sounds, and you'll learn a lot (at no extra charge!). Who knows, if there's something promising in your submission, you may even generate some interest from agents in attendance. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Getting skewered never felt so good

Yesterday I said that push-ups are a good motivational tool because they're hard and because they're potentially embarrassing if you don't do them properly. I'd like to follow up on that thought.

Late last week, I submitted my query letter to the Evil Editor. EE is an anonymous blogger, and he and his minions offer feedback on submitted query letters and synopses. That feedback tends to be very blunt or very humorous, and it's frequently both.

How horrible, you might say, to have one's (admittedly flawed) work torn to pieces for an audience of the blog-reading public. Yes, but that's the whole point. Because when someone has taken your work apart, it's easier to see how to put it back together. And if you're getting form rejections, you may need this.

The feedback is useful, but so is the humiliation. It's worthwhile to have someone publicly say why you're missing the mark. It's even more useful to feel that someone is poking fun at your work for entertainment value.* That's what negative reviews are.

Critiques are always painful, but I don't understand writers who shun them because of the embarrassment factor. That's like saying you've got this marathon coming up, but of course you're not running practice miles, that chafes your toesies. If you aspire to have your book published, your opus will eventually be out there for public comment, and at least some of those comments will be negative. Prepare yourself early to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous reviews.

Thank you, Evil Editor and Evil Minions, for spending time writing feedback for total strangers. And thank you for making it so damn entertaining. If anyone reading this is interested in query letter feedback, consider this a hearty endorsement.

*My spouse laughed aloud at EE's critique. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Do push-ups

People who get enough sleep have told me that I don't get enough sleep. I frequently intend to get an honest eight hours, but I look at the clock at night and see time to Do Things. So rather than tuck myself in, I watch an episode of Arrested Development. I read. I scan the news. I do "one more" chore. (And yes, sometimes I write.)

Perhaps because of this, I get sleepy now and then. Best case scenario, my attention wanders after lunch. Just as often, I feel blinks turning into pauses. So what do I do? Go for a walk around the office?

No! I do push-ups.

Walking doesn't wake me up. I have fallen asleep on my feet in my architecture school days. You know when I never fall asleep? During a push-up.

Push-ups are hard. There is no resting position. And yes, you look silly if you do weak push-ups.

So what do you do if you work at a desk in view of other people? You say, "Pardon me, but I am going to do a few push-ups here." You may be embarrassed about doing push-ups in front of other people, but this will force you to do respectable ones. Back straight, no knees on the ground.

At the end of the ordeal, you will be awake. You will also learn to do better push-ups.

What am I trying to say, other than that a collective 5 minutes a day of push-ups is a good investment of one's time? Just that, if you need to jolt yourself into action or spur yourself into something creative, it helps to apply pressure. To raise the stakes. To challenge yourself.

What do you do for a jolt?

Friday, November 9, 2012

WTFriday: Women?!

The title alone of this New Yorker article, "What's up with white women? They voted for Romney, too," makes me think that today's WTF should really be about this article. Because, really, don't all (white) women have the same priorities?

Right, abortion and contraception. Because all women are pro-choice. Good thing there's this helpful category called "women's issues" to distract women from manly things like the economy, foreign policy, and taxation. No woman would EVER vote on something like that.

And then John Cassidy diagnoses the issue:
White men may be particularly prone to Obama-phobia, but they aren’t the only ones. Unfortunately, many of their wives, daughters, and girlfriends feel the same way.
Because the only thing that would spur someone to vote Republican in 2012 is "Obama-phobia." The quaking and the foaming at the mouth usually give it away. I'm not defending the Romney/Ryan ticket, but I generally try not to assume that anyone who disagrees with me on highly contentious issues is an unapologetic mouth-breather.*

We've always had a reasonably even Republican/Democrat split across the voting population. Why would anyone expect 2012 to be different? Those folks who have always voted Republican will probably still vote Republican because they feel that Republican policies will benefit them the most.

It's fine to debate which economic and healthcare policies will be the most beneficial.** And I agree that the Republican party needs to step back from the whole legislating morality thing. But voting isn't just a matter of where one comes down on the big issues. It's also a question of how one prioritizes those issues. And the obnoxious thing about most of these commentators is that they assume that everyone is voting on the same suite of positions when they cast a ballot.

Some voters would love to see a socially liberal candidate push a fiscally conservative agenda. Some would prefer the exact opposite. That's why this whole *gasp* I-can't-believe-anyone-would-ever-vote-this-way reaction is kind of silly. Because most of us, if we could construct our ideal candidate, would probably not have picked Obama or Romney. But we try to make the best of what's in front of us.

Even the women voters.

*Okay, sometimes I do, but not on something as broad as political affiliation.
**And the most beneficial for specific segments of the population. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

World Book Night list announced

World Book Night US's 2013 list of books has been released. World Book Night, for the uninitiated, is an annual book evangelism event that takes place on April 23 of every year. Volunteer "givers" choose one of the books on the list and hand out free copies that are printed specially for the event. The idea is to bring folks who don't read (or don't read much) into the fold.

I wondered what kinds of books the librarians and booksellers curating the event would choose to seduce the nonreaders. Not surprisingly, the list is dominated by recognizable bestsellers and classics, but it includes a broad spectrum of genres, styles, and subjects.

While part of me wanted to see more work by up-and-coming and under-appreciated authors, there's value in drawing more attention to a familiar canon. It's useful to introduce new readers to books that are already part of a large and ongoing conversation. Most of my peers read Fahrenheit 451 around high school (many also read Willa Cather and Mark Twain). My spouse read Moneyball, and while I didn't, I saw the movie (and the film adaptation of The Girl with the Pearl Earring). And while I haven't read The Alchemist (yet), about half of the people I went to college with have sung its praises. Even if I haven't read the John Grisham on the list, I've read other John Grisham. And various excerpts from David Sedaris. And Bossypants has received enough attention that, even though I haven't read it, I'm familiar with Tina Fey's retort to Christopher Hitchens's boorish, overwritten, fallacy-ridden Vanity Fair article.

The point is, even thought I haven't read some of these books, I'm familiar enough with them that if some newly-minted reader started talking to me about one of them, we could have a conversation. In fact, this new reader could have a conversation about lots of these books with lots of people. And if he wanted to find something similar at his local library, the librarian could probably offer a recommendation. Shyer folks could Google books by the same author and find useful comparisons on review sites. And thus begins a life of reading.

What book from the 2013 list would I recommend? The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. It was one of those books that I found myself taking extra-long lunches to finish. It presents a kind of dystopia that feels plausible, and even though it lacks the high-octane action and heroism of many other dystopian novels, it's still got that train-wreck horror that you can't peel your eyes from. And maybe part of what makes it so interesting is the focus on the micro-reactions of people who are complicit or complacent with a frightening new order:
"I hate to see what they put you through," he murmurs. It’s genuine, genuine sympathy; and yet he’s enjoying this, sympathy and all. His eyes are moist with compassion, his hand is moving on me, nervously and with impatience.
This makes the suspense of the protagonist's plight all the more vivid, whether you're wondering how she'll keep a stolen object in a house where she has no privacy or if she even has the momentum to resist her situation. This is the kind of book that's not only great to read, but great to share and discuss.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Not the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Who knew that book-lovers were such a contentious lot. Round 42 of the Amazon vs. local bookstore battle brings news that many traditional bookstores are more-or-less* boycotting Amazon-published books, particularly Tim Ferriss's The 4-Hour Chef.

What's interesting (though not surprising) is that Amazon has made enemies among both publishers and book sellers. And since publishers generally depend on retailers, this may explain why Amazon Publishing isn't experiencing the same success as its online sales divisions.

A quick scan of Amazon's current top 40 paid Kindle bestsellers yields several recognizable names: Nora Roberts, John Grisham, James Patterson, Suzanne Collins, Nelson DeMille, Patricia Cornwell, Jeffrey Archer. And while they share space with a handful of self-published authors, only one AmazonCrossing title (Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End) appears on the list. Needless to say, Barnes & Noble isn't selling this one.

What conclusions can one draw from this grossly unscientific analysis? Perhaps that most books still require presence on shelves and in display cases to sell well. Or maybe just that books need to be available from a variety of retailers to enter the conversation for most readers. It could also be that the spread of other tablets and eReaders (iPads, Nooks, etc.) means that eBooks will have to be available on more devices if they are to achieve bestseller status.

Whatever it means, it will be interesting to see how Amazon dukes it out with other publishers and retailers and how the outcome affects publishing options for writers.

*More-or-less because some stores will stock it quietly, some will allow customers to special order it, and some won't touch it. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Whoever wins, we lose..."

Is it just me, or does the run-up to the election feel kind of like this?

...and it felt so good!

I just voted. It was kind of like this. Minus Akon.

Find your local polling place and you, too, can experience rhapsodic delight.

The kids are alright: Breed by Chase Novak

Halloween may be behind us, but if anyone needs a second dose of spooky, pick up Breed by Chase Novak (also known as Scott Spencer).

I fell in love with Spencer's writing when I read A Ship Made of Paper, so when I read that he'd donned a pseudonym and ventured into the world of horror, I was intrigued. I do love me some genre-bending, and it tickles me to see respected "literary" writers jump on the speculative fiction train. And I was curious--was this straight-up horror or social satire?

More of the former, but there are definitely strains of the latter. The first 20-25%* sets up a high-functioning, professional couple. Alex and Leslie have money, prestige, and just about everything they want... except a biological child, of course.** Their quest to breed--I mean, have children--taxes their marriage, their bodies, their personal lives, and their finances. It foreshadows the fervor and single-mindedness with which they will approach parenting and the destruction it will wreak.

After the first quarter of the book, we jump ahead and into the lives of Alex and Leslie's 10-year-old twins, Alice and Adam. They know their parents as doting, possessive, and volatile. The once-pristine Upper East Side townhouse that was part of Alex's family legacy (and part of his impetus for wanting a biological heir) has deteriorated even though Alex and Leslie rarely leave it. Their careers have fallen apart as they've lost the attention for anything outside the home.

And then you learn why Alex and Leslie lock the twins in their bedrooms at night.

As a horror/suspense novel, Breed does not disappoint. Novak/Spencer is good at establishing characters with a few deft phrases ("But he keeps his problems to himself, keeps them not only from the world at large but, as much as he can, from Leslie as well.... In every way, Alex is the marriage's designated driver."). While these sorts of observations about characters might seem to distance readers from them, Novak/Spenser gets so involved in his characters' plights and horror that he manages to draw you in anyway.

In the age of helicopter parents, it's hard not to see an element of satire in the book, as well. During the short time when Leslie and Alex have something resembling a social life, they seem to be surrounded by wealthy parents who obsess about getting their toddlers into preschools where "the Legos were specially devised in a top secret laboratory carved into the side of a mountain in Switzerland, and readings of Goodnight Moon included actual trips to the moon" and who "at dinner parties, actually sat the gorgeous little baby girl at the table and insisted guests make eye contact with her during conversation so ... the little flame of her self-esteem could begin burning brightly." The privilege and entitlement that clings to Alex and Leslie and their ilk comes into play later, too.

Pick up Breed for a quick and, uh, tasty read.

*Can you tell I read this on a Kindle?
**Yes, the characters discuss adoption, and their attitudes toward it are telling. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

There and back again: a writers' conference

As last week's frantic and sporadic posting indicates, I managed to make it to NYC for the two-day Backspace Agent-Author Seminar. Like so many folks in New York, the conference staff worked hard to keep things running under less-than-ideal circumstances. Around fifty writers attended, and a dozen or so agents managed to appear in person at some point during the event. Most of the agents who couldn't make it called in for their scheduled page critiques, even if it meant dashing to a local Starbucks for phone reception.

The structure was a mix of workshops, agent panels, and page critiques from the agents (both in groups with other writers and one-on-one). Thursday's panels were more or less a catch-all for questions about contacting (and working with) agents as well as what they're looking for. On Friday, they addressed query letters. The panels were engaging, but many of the questions they answered were the kind of thing you can also piece together by reading agent blogs. Still, there's a lot to be said for getting face-time with the agents, even if it's just an opener for your future query letter.

The two workshops were headed by Lane Shefter Bishop of Vast Entertainment and Donald Maass of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Ms. Bishop works primarily in film and television, so her workshop helped us polish our loglines. Many writers dread being asked, "So, what's your book about?" The vague, rambling musings that most of us (myself included) were using as answers explains why. It was no mean feat that Ms. Bishop was able to show us how to turn EVERY one of those terrors into a compelling hook. There was an actual chorus of "ohhhh!" when she worked her magic with one particular women's fiction logline.

Donald Maass led us in a kind of rhetorical question-and-answer session with an eye to developing our characters' inner lives. He gave us ways to round out our characters by developing their motivations, strengths, fears, and inner conflict. He's a natural presenter with a conversational style of speaking. This makes it all the more terrifying when he asks, "In what way are you not the person you'd like to be?" and looks at you as if he expects an answer (he doesn't).

The critique sessions were also a highlight for many of us. On Thursday, they grouped us by genre and had us read our first two pages in front of a jury of our peers and one agent (with another one or two on conference call). This was a lot less terrifying than it sounds, and it was the source of some helpful, specific feedback from the agents. Many of us had also registered for one-on-one agent critiques of our first ten pages.

For folks wondering why it's worth it to pay conference fees when email queries and local writing groups are free, here's the value proposition:

1. You get feedback from agents. Note that there's a big difference between pitch sessions and critique sessions, and I'm talking about the latter. Like most writers, I've sent queries and received form rejections, but no one's ever told me what wasn't working. This is an opportunity to get candid responses.

2. You get face time with agents. Yes, most of us will still conduct most of our writerly business via email, but when you're first trying to get an agent's attention, it helps to distinguish yourself, even if it's with a line about having met at a conference.

3. Agents are more likely to give you a second glance. I actually got a couple of manuscript requests this weekend from the critiquing agents. I've maybe gotten one request for a partial in all my querying. While this doesn't mean that I'll land an agent (most conference attendees don't, even with full requests), it does mean I got my foot in the door. Agents had to read my first few pages, and they had to read closely enough to give feedback. And then they met me in person, and since I brushed my teeth and showed up on time, many of them probably thought that it couldn't hurt to read a few more pages, even if it still means that they'll end up rejecting it after chapter one.

4. You make writing friends. This happens to be #4 on this list, but it could just as easily be #1. The group critiques gave us the chance to appreciate and be appreciated by other writers. Yes, most of us come to these conferences to meet agents, and after the panels we all line up to think of a question to ask Agent X so we can later mention in our queries to Agent X that we met her at a conference. But hopefully you're also talking to the writers sitting next to you and telling writers in your critique group (sincerely) what you loved about their voice, their characters, and their writing. Because these are the people who will read your manuscript cover to cover, who will give you feedback beyond "this isn't a good fit for me," and who will encourage you when the rejections stack up. I have two new critique partners after the conference, and hearing these folks (whose writing I loved) tell me that they wanted to read more of my story, and that they would actually like to hear what I thought about theirs, well, that felt as good as the requests from the agents. 

Friday, November 2, 2012


It took two flights to get to Boston, a bus ride to get to New York, and then a ride from pitch-black Chinatown to get to Brooklyn, but I made it in before midnight on Wednesday.

As I was looking out of the bus windows to see what Sandy had wrought, I realized I couldn't see the damage. I couldn't see anything.

There's nothing like seeing the city that never sleeps in darkness. As I made my way through town, I saw plenty of police and members of the Army Corps of Engineers on the streets. I'm thankful for these folks and for the city engineers working to get the city back online.

It's meant early-morning bus rides into Manhattan and, but I've made it to the Backspace Conference. And I'm grateful for all of the agents who have braved the traffic and the environment to come meet with us. It's been a rewarding experience, and I'll have more to say on it later, but I'll save that for another day. A day that doesn't involve pre-dawn mornings, midnight returns, and hour-long bus lines.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Into the unknown

First off, let me just say that I am thankful that the only losses I have suffered due to the hurricane relate to my travel plans. My loved ones are safe, and my home is still standing.

I have been looking forward to the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar this weekend and also to hassle-free and on-time air travel, but it now appears that only one of those things is in my future.

Like everyone else in the world whose travel plans included New York City, my original flights have been cancelled. Since I live more than a day's drive away, the only feasible option that didn't involve melting into a puddle of self-pity was rebooking a flight for another hub on the eastern seaboard and hoping that Greyhound resumes service to New York tomorrow afternoon.

So this is what I have done. It may not be glamorous or fragrant,* but it will give me something to talk about during cocktail hour. If you are a fellow writer making the trip, I look forward to seeing you there. If you are an agent, witness my determination! I will go the extra mile! Or 200.

*Neither is air travel.