My main character swears, and other confessions.

Cursing in fictionIt’s always a little awkward when relatives read my books. A couple of years ago, one of my in-laws bought copies of my books for everyone on that side of the family as Christmas gifts. It was a really wonderful gesture, and I was flattered. I was also terrified because oh my god, my in-laws —  lovely people I share a meal with maybe once a year when we are all dressed up and on best behavior — were going to read a sex scene I wrote. They were going to be exposed to my politics. They were going to read ALL the swears.

I’d been through this with my own family. In fact, I always feel compelled to warn my relatives about my fiction. When I’m writing, I try not to worry about what anyone thinks, because that would cripple the work itself. When I release my work to an editor, I’m ready for the public to read it. Once it’s out, I don’t care so much about what strangers think. But family? I care. Oh god, I care. Because I don’t want them to think that I am my characters.

Take swearing, for example. In life, I don’t swear all that much.
Which is not to say that I don’t swear at all. I do. But our child is learning to talk, so the big curse word in our house right now, when we stub a toe, or drop something, or get an unpleasant email, is “Benedict Cumberbatch.”

But when I’m writing? I swear a lot. Case in point: Beware the Hawk is 48 pages long. You can get through it in one sitting. But if you took a drink every time the main character says “fuck,” you’d be passed out by page 30. That’s just the kind of person that character is. She swears like a Big Lebowski cast member.

That’s who she is. But that’s not who I am.

You see this concern a lot in writing communities: often readers assume that works of fiction are about the author. There’s a little bit of truth in that. My political beliefs do inform my political thrillers. And all authors do put something of themselves into every character they create. But that doesn’t mean the protagonist is always a stand-in for the author. I’ve found that characters have to be built out, so that they make sense, fit into the framework of the story, and interact believably with the other characters.

I can actually think of one author who was writing a biographical novel. The main character was originally an author stand-in, and the novel wasn’t working. One day, the author realized that was because both the story and the protagonist had evolved. The character could no longer continue to parrot the choices the author had made.The character had to be allowed to do what the character would do, not what the author had done. After that, the story worked, but the character was no longer a substitute for the author.

This sort of transformation happens a lot, but readers don’t always know this. I’ve had people think that Beware the Hawk is about me (it’s not) and a even couple of readers think that it’s about them (guys, no.) So naturally I get freaked out when people I want to impress (my in-laws) read it.

Will I ever get over my in-laws reading my fiction? Probably not. Will I be okay with my son reading my books someday? Oh, Benedict Cumberbatch, he will, won’t he? Well, I’ll leap from that bridge when I come to it. Will any of this stop me from writing unlikeable heroines who cuss and fight and make bad choices? Nope. I was born to write fiction, and I believe in writing characters who are hot messes.

Looks like there’s nothing to do but write another chapter, and watch my language at the next family gathering.

 

photo credit: Fuck via photopin (license)

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Undertow: the first piece in my short story experiment.

undertowSome things take me a while.

More than a year ago, I decided to release some of my previously-published short stories electronically on Amazon. So I waited for an evening when my husband was out, then climbed into the bathtub with a handful of seashells, a tube of red food coloring and a camera, because that’s what committed authors do.

Then I asked people to vote on the bloody seashell photos on my Facebook page. And then I started working on the short story itself, which was published in 2003 by a journal, but which I wanted to tweak.

I ended up tweaking it a lot. It took me a good year, and I didn’t post much about it, but I’m happy to announce that it’s done, the cover art is complete and the story itself is finally posted on Amazon.

Thank you to everyone who voted on the images last year. I look forward to my next project, which will probably involve me taking photos of rusty tools in a dark basement with just a flashlight as a light source.

 

Time to come clean: last year’s resolutions.

punctuality new years goal.

I had to dig this jar out of a drift of papers in my office.

I don’t think I can put this off any longer. I’m going to have to face up.

Last year (and the year before) I posted my New Years resolutions online and checked in with them monthly to hold myself accountable. This worked pretty well in 2012, so last year I got ambitious and included many goals.

Weeeell, things didn’t go as planned and I stopped checking in last May, and without monthly accountability, my goals of deteriorated from there, and in fact, I stopped publishing on this blog so much because – though many things were going on in my life – I didn’t feel comfortable sharing many of them online.

But, because part of the deal was holding myself accountable, I need to close the book on 2013 by reporting my progress and lack of progress with last year’s goals. So here we go.

My novel: This year I’m resolving to spend the first hour of every weekday working on my novel until it’s done, no matter what other projects come along.
Ouch. Okay, this one is mixed. The first hour of every weekday didn’t exactly happen for me, however, I did rewrite more than half of my novel in 2013 and I am still working on it, even though it feels like it will never be done.

Marketing: My goal is to spend an hour of each weekday working on marketing projects, including the upkeep of this blog, my social networks, reading up on marketing and emails to bookstores and libraries and reviewers.
I marketed throughout the summer for my second book, and then when school started in September, fell off pretty badly.

Making a marketing plan for my new book: See my above status.

Publishing: My goal is to publish three things that aren’t my upcoming book this year.
I sent out some essays and wrote for Geek Eccentric, but as far as stories? FAIL.

Reading: My goal is to read 33 books in 2013, including one by Jane Austin and one by Charles Dickens.
I read 26 books in 2013. One was Pride and Prejudice by Austin. I did start Bleak House, by Dickens, in December, but finished it in 2014, so I don’t know if that counts.

Conferences: Attend at least one new conference or retreat.
I went to AWP. So this resolution was a fail.

Grants: Apply for at least three fellowships or grants.
I applied for an NEA grant, and the State of Connecticut’s arts endowment program. As the great philosopher Meatloaf once sang, two out of three ain’t bad.

Weight: I feel most comfortable when I weigh within a certain five-pound range, and I am always two pounds away from that five pound range. For 2013, I would like to get within that range and stay there.
This is why I felt weird about posting these resolutions after June. (Read: this was my excuse for not following through with the whole posting progress thing.) I became pregnant in June, so this resolution went out the window.

Punctuality: I’ve been a late for everything since childhood. In an effort to put a stop to this, I’ve decided to put a dollar into a mason jar whenever I’m late for anything, and donate it to charity in a year.
I was better than usual with punctuality, despite the fact that I lost the mason jar half way through the year under a drift of papers and had to uncover it during a massive cleaning of my office. That said, I was better about being punctual this year, maybe because I spent five months of 2013 agonizing about being on time. As of now, I’ve got $12 bucks in the jar, which is an awkwardly small amount to donate, so I am trying to figure out what to do with that.

My big-picture goal: I’ve planned to look into all political issues I can, and make up my mind about how I really feel about them.
This goal was too sweeping to be effective.

As you can see, this list didn’t work very well for me last year. So for 2014 I think I will concentrate on one goal, which is a big one and which will also be a challenge when our son arrives in March. My goal this year is simple: write.

I am not the Buddha.

This is NOT me.  photo credit: priyaswtc via photopin cc

This is NOT me.
photo credit: priyaswtc via photopin cc

I wasn’t going to post about this. In fact, I was going to try to keep silent on this entire topic. However, something really does need to be said. So here goes.

I’m pregnant. (Yeah, yeah. I know.)

My pregnancy is not the reason I’m angry. The reason I’m angry? My “delicate condition” has provoked an unwelcome response among people I hardly know.

In the past month, since I’ve started showing, I have been poked, prodded, rubbed, inappropriately questioned and, in one case, interrogated in front of a roomful of my students by a co-worker.

I am not a person who invites personal contact. I never have. My personal bubble is large and – I thought – difficult to penetrate. I was lucky to have been born tall and I’ve always been a little aloof, and that was always more than enough to keep unwanted physical contact at bay. I’ve also been able to dance around personal questions I don’t want to answer. I’m good at it, or at least, I was.

But now, it seems that my pregnancy has made me and my body public property. People dart in for a quick bellyrub on the sly, like X-wings attacking the Death Star. It’s like they know I don’t want to be touched, but they can’t help themselves. The excuse I hear most? That touching my belly is “lucky.”

It’s not. I am not the Buddha. (If you can’t tell the difference, I’ll give you some hints: the Buddha is bald, laughing and nonviolent.) Your superstitions are no reason for you to touch me uninvited. You are not ever entitled to touch another person’s body, even if that person is pregnant.

Worse than those who feel like they can touch my abdomen are those who feel like they can now question me about every life choice I’ve ever made. “You don’t smoke, do you?” “You have a pediatrician, right?” “You’re not coming back to work?” “You are coming back to work?” “Is your husband good with X, Y or Z?” “Is he good, period?”

While I don’t mind answering questions when they’re asked by a friend, I do mind when I’m being asked by someone who barely knows me. And I’ve been asked a lot. I don’t even mind answering a few questions or having a conversation about my pregnancy, but some strangers have been downright confrontational with me about what choices I’m making when I’m not in their lines of sight. (I’m tempted to answer that yes, I smoke, drink a six-pack a day, and use recreational drugs in the parking lot at work before driving home without a seatbelt on, but I’m actually a little worried that someone might call social services on me if I gave them that answer.) I’ve tried to defuse these encounters with evasive maneuvers and humor, but my interrogators have been dogged.

And weirdly, most of the people who have been invasive, both physically and verbally, have been male. I didn’t expect that. I figured that women  – who have been through pregnancy and childbirth and might feel they had some right to touch and question – would be the offenders. But they haven’t, by a long shot. It’s been mostly men who question my choices, and men who grab at my belly.

This may be a matter of being blinded by privilege. Are these the same people who feel entitled to touch people of color or question people because of their age? I have no way of knowing, but now I suspect.

The case against “snark.”

snark

You don’t have to hunt it. You just have to kill it. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jim_and_kerry/3066976334/

Time for some tough love, guys. I need to talk to you about that word. The one people have been in love with for a decade. The vaguely British synonym for sarcasm. You know the one: Snark.

Look, I loved it at first too. It’s like a wittier form of sarcasm, yes? At any rate it sounds better than sarcasm, which (perhaps rightly) sounds like a terrible skin condition. Snark sounds like dry humor: quirky, funny enough to make you snort, and yet scathing. If something is snarky, it has a little snap to it; a little bite.

Except, no.

Snark has been bandied about so much that it’s lost that charm, and for me, it no longer means what it meant when I first heard it.

What seemed refreshing about snark in 2003 was its perceived wryness. At the time, society needed a healthy dose of skepticism and  — in hindsight — for me and Americans of certain political leanings, borrowing a word for that from another country was just the thing.

But in the last 10 years, thanks to overuse, snark has dulled. It’s used to mask bitterness (the same fuel  that powers and poisons sarcasm) has become overly caustic at times, and, as a synonym for sarcasm, may entering cliché territory. Like any trendy word, snark  has lost its sparkle. It’s become just another part of our slang, another lazy word.

Don’t believe me? Go look at your social media accounts. A perusal of Twitter will show you people applying snark to everything from bad puns to their own wit. Some go as far as identifying snark as a lifestyle. This, to me, is a sign: It’s time for snark to go.

In 2003, snark seemed to be riding the Harry Potter-inspired wave of Britishisms that infected my geeky little enclave. Snape (when he wasn’t being downright abusive) was snarky. When Doctor Who started up again in 2005 it seems that a whole new batch of Americans became infected with snark. And then along came Sherlock in 2010.

Despite the fact that I can’t remember once seeing or hearing the word snark in any of these books or shows, snark seems to have ridden to the New World aboard these franchises like a plague rides a rat, because all of a sudden everyone in the U.S. seemed to be infected. (Weirdly, I actually haven’t heard my British friends use snark that much, if at all. But maybe that’s because I don’t live in the U.K)

But guess what? Snark is much, much older than Harry Potter, or Doctor Who or the sexy new version of Sherlock Holmes.

It is, however, contemporary with the original Sherlock Holmes, and the original definition fits the original character.

According to Webster, the word snarky first appeared in the UK between 1910 and 1915, and it didn’t mean sarcastic. What it meant was “testy or irritable.” It could also mean “to nag, or find fault with,” which means I just snarked at my poor husband about our grocery list. (Sorry, honey.)

While I don’t know when exactly snark stopped being about nagging and started being a synonym for sarcasm (It’s not listed at all in a 1970s edition of The Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English)  it’s interesting to note that Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark was published in 1876 and possibly helped to bring the term into the language.

Who knows? If snark continues to travel one of its current paths, acting as a mask for discontent, it may end up once again meaning “testy and irritable” in which case, this whole post has been an exercise in snark.

Let’s put it out of its misery before it ends up being an indicator of ours. Let’s resign it once again to the yellowing pages of Webster’s Unabridged Encyclopedic Dictionary, so that our great-grandchildren can find it and repurpose it as we have done.

Sometimes you just have to let something you love go.

May: 2013 goals

It’s May! Winter is over for real-real, not for play-play! And it’s time to check in with my goals for this year. But first, let me distract you with the happiest music to come out of the ’90s, Moxy Früvous’s “King of Spain.”

What? You’ve never heard of Früvous? You didn’t know ’90s music could be happy? Click on the video below and learn, young padawan. (It’s not my favorite version of this song, and the video was clearly shot by the same cameraman who worked on The Blair Witch Project, but still.)

My novel: This year I’m resolving to spend the first hour of every weekday working on my novel until it’s done, no matter what other projects come along.
I’m up to chapter 20. Which is good, but not quite good enough. I need this draft done by the end of August.

Marketing: My goal is to spend an hour of each weekday working on marketing projects, including the upkeep of this blog, my social networks, reading up on marketing and emails to bookstores and libraries and reviewers.
I need to up my game with this. I have a month until my new book comes out. That means more blog posts and more status updates that are real updates and not spam.

Making a marketing plan for my new book: See my above status.

Publishing: My goal is to publish three things that aren’t my upcoming book this year.
I have not sent out anything. I’m writing on the semi-regular for GeekEccentric, though.

Reading: My goal is to read 33 books in 2013, including one by Jane Austin and one by Charles Dickens.
I started reading Game of Thrones last month and ohmygod, I haven’t stopped. Because Game of Thrones is Made of Crack. I basically spent April reading Game of Thrones, Clash of Kings and Storm of Swords. And as soon as I’m done with the third one, and caught up to the television show (and not afraid to read my HBO-watching friends’ Sunday night status updates for fear of spoilers) I will take a break and read something without dragons in it. Like maybe that Charles Dickens book I said I was going to read. But I will come back to Westeros. Oh yes, I will.

Conferences: Attend at least one new conference or retreat.
I went to AWP. I’m considering Thrillerfest in NYC, but I’d rather see what the New England Horror Association and Sisters in Crime are doing for events.

Grants: Apply for at least three fellowships or grants.
I’ve applied for an NEA grant, and the state of Connecticut’s Scholarship program.
Also, I got an email thanking me for applying for a grant I completely forgot about, and letting me know that though I didn’t win the grant, I should take heart, and also purchase the organizer’s new poetry collection for the low, low price of whatever she’s charging for it. Huh. Stay classy.

Weight: I feel most comfortable when I weigh within a certain five-pound range, and I am always two pounds away from that five pound range. For 2013, I would like to get within that range and stay there.
I’m holding steady at a reasonable weight, but I’m not terribly fit. Time for yoga again.

Punctuality: I’ve been a late for everything since childhood. In an effort to put a stop to this, I’ve decided to put a dollar into a mason jar whenever I’m late for anything, and donate it to charity in a year.
The only time I was late for a thing this month was intentional, so I don’t think I have to put a dollar in the jar for that.

My big-picture goal: I’ve planned to look into all political issues I can, and make up my mind about how I really feel about them.
I might drop this goal. I’ve been more or less ignoring it.

April: 2013 goals

Well, I’m a few days late on my new year resolution update this month, which is appropriate, since March was a month of backsliding for me. I was not on time at least three times this month, I barely blogged, ate a lot of desserts and have been behind on marketing.

The bright spots this month were writing and reading which are really the important goals, so that’s something. And I attended one of my conferences and applied for one and a half grants, and that’s something more.

Don’t care? That’s cool. Watch this video to see if you’ve got moves like Jabba.

My novel: This year I’m resolving to spend the first hour of every weekday working on my novel until it’s done, no matter what other projects come along.
I’m working off daily goals now. I try to write 500 words a day at least, and it is paying off. I’m well into the middle of the second rewrite, but I’m afraid that I might not be getting anywhere fast enough because I want this rewrite done by August.

Marketing: My goal is to spend an hour of each weekday working on marketing projects, including the upkeep of this blog, my social networks, reading up on marketing and emails to bookstores and libraries and reviewers.
I was doing well with the social media until I came back from AWP. Then I fell right off the wagon. I could blame a busy month, but everyone is busy and since I carry around a device that lets me post to the Internet in my purse at all times, really have no excuse.

Making a marketing plan for my new book: I have not put together a marketing plan yet.

Publishing: My goal is to publish three things that aren’t my upcoming book this year.
I didn’t send anything out in March. Best to wait until the AWP furor dies down.

Reading: My goal is to read 33 books in 2013, including one by Jane Austin and one by Charles Dickens.
I’ve read four books this month, Neil Stephenson’s 900+ page Anathem (despite the fact that I have a short attention span), Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, From These Ashes by Tamela Ritter and Bad Apple by Kristi Peterson Schoonover. Now, I’m now reading the 800+ page Game of Thrones, because I don’t learn from my attention-span mistakes. Although I must admit, Game of Thrones is moving quickly.

If it ends up disappointing me, at least it will up my page count.)

Conferences: Attend at least one new conference or retreat.
I went to AWP. I have another retreat coming up in July, but I need to find something new.

Grants: Apply for at least three fellowships or grants.
I’ve applied for an NEA grant, and I’m applying for a Connecticut Arts Endowment grant.

Weight: I feel most comfortable when I weigh within a certain five-pound range, and I am always two pounds away from that five pound range. For 2013, I would like to get within that range and stay there.
Still within my weight range. I did pop right out of that range in the middle of the month because when things get busy I gain weight, but I’m back where I want to be now.

Punctuality: I’ve been a late for everything since childhood. In an effort to put a stop to this, I’ve decided to put a dollar into a mason jar whenever I’m late for anything, and donate it to charity in a year.
Whoops. Seven bucks in the jar, and the sad thing is that I didn’t even remember to put this month’s three dollars in the jar until I had to type this up.

My big-picture goal: I’ve planned to look into all political issues I can, and make up my mind about how I really feel about them.
Meh.