A Mascara Massacre

When I received the usual fistful of useless bits of dead tree along with my receipt from Walgreen’s I almost chucked the entire lot in the trash, but decided to do the environmentally responsible thing and chuck them in the recycling at home.  Imagine my surprise when, once home, I realized that one of the coupons actually had value to me. That never happens. It’s always twenty coupons for spam and baby food or spam baby food. I read and re-read the coupon, checked the fine print – it really was a coupon for a FREE mascara.  But, but, but… I love FREE.  And mascara – I love mascara!  This can’t be right.  I read the coupon again.  Yes, it definitely said free mascara.

The next week, I trotted in, picked up my mascara, handed in my coupon and waited for the other shoe to drop. Nope, still free.  I walked out with a tube of Revlon Ultimate All-in-One mascara and floating on a cloud of euphoria that can only be generated by free make-up products.

A week later that cloud had evaporated under the wilting heat of real life testing. This mascara is possibly the worst mascara I have ever used. At first glance it looks OK, the formula seems a little thick, but hardly unsual.  But two hours after applying I look like the member of Our Gang known as Freckles.  The mascara leaves a nuclear dust cloud of black particles strewn across my face and clothes. I would have less mess on my face if I simply threw the mascara brush at myself.  This more than any other product I have ever owned has caused people, including strangers, to say, “Um… you’ve got a little… something?” while tapping awkwardly at their face.

Conclusion: Yes, I got free mascara, but I got what I paid for. Definitely NOT Carrie Mae approved.

DisavowedStamp

There’s a Double Meaning in That

In Much Ado About Nothing Beatrice and Benedick, the worst of rivals, are set up by their friends to fall in love.  So that by Act 2, Scene 3, when Beatrice says, “Against my will I am sent to bid you come into dinner,”  Benedick believes that Beatrice is madly in love with him, while Beatrice believes him to be an ass.  After she exits, he says in all smugness, “Ha! Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner. There’s a double meaning in that.”

Someone I know once asked an English teacher how he knew the author intended the symbolism the teacher was accusing him of.  The teacher replied, “It doesn’t matter.”  As an author this makes me want to poke him in the eye just a little bit.  But in the end he’s right; stories mean something to a reader independent of the writer’s intentions.  Each reader brings their own experiences to a book and a writer can’t predict them.  So how can an author prevent his readers from pulling a Benedick and seeing double meanings where none are intended?

It’s a very secret and advanced technique called (wait for it): educated guessing.  And good beta readers.  As an author I try to learn about other points of view, so that I can write stronger more realistic characters and then I rely on my writers group to read through a piece and throw up flags around text that might unintentionally carry a subtext that’s either offensive or poorly thought out.  It’s hard to think that something I’ve written could be construed as offensive, because after all, I am I and I’m awesome and I have only the best of intentions.  But we all have prejudices or periodically spout unexamined notions that have been fed to us by society.

An easy example is “pink is only for girls”.  This statement is both observationally false (been to the mall lately?), and historically inaccurate (pink used to be a boys color). Color is a product of light bouncing off a surface or being absorbed (we see the portion of the spectrum bounced back); any deeper meaning has been assigned to a color by humanity. So unless my character is a sexist and I need him or her to say total nonsense about gender roles, I probably shouldn’t write that and a good beta reader should flag it as a problem.  With any luck I can keep the unintentional double meanings to a minimum.  I don’t want to be a Benedick.

The Accent Mark Goes… Here

You know how Madonna now talks with a British accent?  And everyone kind of mocks her?  It is annoying to have someone you know grew up in Michigan try and sound all posh, but at the same time… I would be the same way.  I once realized that I had been watching twenty minutes of a cooking show with an Australian host and I had no idea what was being made.  I’d spent the entire time watching her mouth trying to figure out how she was murdering pronouncing her vowels that way.  I sounded like a monkey on the couch as I clenched and unclenched my teeth trying “ehhh-oooh-uh” my vowels.  I was two seconds away from throwing a shrimp on the barbie when my husband came home and gave me the look that implied that while our marriage was a joy and a blessing, it was also occasionally weird.

The unfortunate thing is that, just as I’m addicted to copying other people’s accents, I find that I’m also prone to picking up the language of whomever I’m reading.  I’m sure my writing/reading group can tell when I’ve been reading Regency Romances.  One cannot help but be addicted to the opulent turn of phrase.  And if I could work some sort of line about puce satin and a cravat into the paragraph all the better.  What if I’m reading fluffy chick lit?  Pretty sure that my character needs to mention her thighs and a cupcake in the next sentence.  Taut thrillers? Sentences get shorter.  Characters become brutal. And adverbs?  Kill ‘em.  Kill ‘em all.

The brutal snuffing out of “suddenly” aside, this habit does real damage to my narratives.  Characters don’t sound like themselves (why does that Texan sound English?) and plots can veer wildly off course as I spend a page (or three) describing clothing.  So when I’m writing I have to take a bit of a hiatus from reading unless I can find that wondrous book that matches the tone that I’m writing.  I think it’s incredibly unfair that my reading has suffered as a result of my writing, but currently it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.  Of course, if I could just figure out how to retire with a million dollars so that I could segregate my year into reading quarters and writing quarters life would be awesome.

Author Diaries: Day 1

I was recently sitting with a group of friends discussing a book we’d all read recently (Perfect Likeness by J.M. Phillippe – group consensus: two thumbs up, funny and touching!).  But then the conversation turned to whether or not the author had left room for a sequel.  Some thought there was definitely going to be a sequel, while others read the slightly open-ended conclusion as the perfect metaphor for the books message about depression.  Since we happen to know the author, it was a simple matter of waiting until she returned from the bar with her cocktail, so that we could ask her.  But the entire argument reminded me of the very first public reading I did of my own writing.

I was 19 and I’d just won third place in a contest for Just Between You and Me, a short-story of a high-school girl who sells her English teacher a sense of humor.  There was an awards ceremony and the top three all read their stories.  I was incredibly nervous.  I’d practiced, but still read too fast and killed one of the jokes.  But by the time I was done, I felt triumphant.  I’d read, and people had clapped.  And not just people in my family.  Actual people.

And then the audience was allowed to ask questions.

Whoever invented audience participation was a sadist.  Who wants the audience to participate?  Don’t you know that when they participate they ask questions?  Questions that I had never considered in the entire breadth of my imagination that anyone would ever actually ask.  A few years later, I discovered that I might be a masochist, because audience particpation suddenly seemed fun.  But this was my Day 1 as an AUTHOR and I was totally unprepaTheCollective_Kobo-1126x1800red for THE QUESTION.  It was delivered by forty-something guy who seemed to have really enjoyed the story, but asked this doozy: “Did she really sell a sense of humor?”

But… but… that questions the very foundation of my story.  If you didn’t buy into the premise how could you like it? I left ambiguity on purpose.  Did you not enjoy the ambiguity?  Does this mean the story was bad?  How do I answer that?  What does this meannnnnn???!!! <- insert author confidence down spiral here.
A few years later, with more writing and more experience, I would have replied, “Yes, she did.  How did you enjoy your first visit to the Fantasy section of the bookstore? There are many more books like this out there – don’t be afraid to experiment.”  Instead, I sort of fish flapped my mouth for a second or two and said something vague like, “That’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself.”  Which, again, with more years and writing experience later, I’ve recognized as sub-conscious code for, “I wasn’t able to decide either, but I’m not telling you that, you impertinent person.”

I did eventually decide.  Ariana, the young person in question, really did sell a sense of humor.  You can read Just Between You and Me and more about Ariana’s adventures in my collection of Tales from the City of Destiny.  And as for the sequel status of Perfect Likeness?  Well, you will either have to read and decide for yourself, or follow the authors suggested solution – bribery.  Preferably with cocktails and cake.

Everybody Rotate

It’s almost time to change the art in my office.  I’ve had the same art since I moved in five years ago and it’s now covered in layers of other art.   It’s time to relocate, re-shuffle and change up.  Maybe you are not one of the people who feels that deep need to redecorate periodically, but I happen to have it in my genes.  Returning home to find my mother peeling wallpaper was cause for eyerolling, but not surprise.  It works both ways though.  On more than one occasion in my teen years I decided to re-arrange my bedroom after midnight.  My mother never once questioned these decisions.  Because she fully understands that sometimes life would just be better if the furniture were NOT where it is right now.

These are also good occasions for spring cleaning and decluttering.  Someone once said that clutter items are just decisions you didn’t make.  If you had decided where that item needed to go, it wouldn’t be lingering there on the desk or kitchen table.  Although, I suspect that the person who originated that idea never had children.  Because the garbage can is not lingering on top my desk; it’s hiding from my toddler.

The problem with decluttering art, is that I’m either removing my own work or the work of an artist I admire.  It’s unfortunate, but apparently, I cannot have ALL the art, ALL the time.  I’m not a Getty.  I don’t get to have my own museum.  This makes me infinitely sad.  My perfect house would probably look like a library mated with the Guggenheim and married the Orsay.  Unfortunately my current house looks more like the product of a library and a 1910 bungalow who married a carpenter in the 1950’s. Which means we have books in piles and art in piles and we had to remove the weird scalloped molding over the sink when we moved in.

So some art will have to go back in the closet and some new pieces will have to get matted for display.  And then, maybe, I can get back to writing.

Holiday Strategy

It’s that time of year again. The holidays.  Starbucks is apparently hating Jesus because they continued their paired back design aesthetic and put out simple red cups.  (Yes, because from Hell’s heart they stab at Christians with a red cup filled with the artfully foamed blood of the saints – muwahhahahahah!!) Black Friday ads are starting to pop up everywhere (stampede!!) and relatives are booking flights and scrambling to arrange schedules so that everyone can see everyone and be annoyed by everyone all in a very short amount of time.

As yet, I have made no moves on the great holiday game board. I’m still trying to determine strategy. Do I try and ride the “I have a baby” thing for another year and do practically nothing? Or do I pull out all the stops and try to get the best gifts EVER for everyone?  Should I shoot for every holiday party I’m invited to, or do I try and find out everyone’s dates in advance and RSVP according to the level of food awesomeness at each?  Generally, I try and do a really fun Christmas card, but that takes energy, forethought, and great idea for some artwork.  Maybe I’ll just skip that one and move straight to the Christmas letter stage where I make friends and relatives barf with the saccharine sweetness and absolute perfection of my life. BECAUSE YOUR ENVY FEEDS MY SOUL. That’s definitely what the holidays are all about, right?

Below are the following factors I’m using for determining my holiday event strategy:

  1.  Pie. 
  • Is there pie?   If the answer is yes, move to the top of the list.
  • Is it home made?  If the answer is no, then I don’t go.

 

  1.  Sleep.
  • Will it cause my baby to be awake far longer than a tiny human should be?  If the answer is yes, your event will not be considered.  Unless there is enormous amounts of pie.

 

  1.  Husband.
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how badly is he going to complain about this event?  If the answer is ballet, then he will not be attending.
  • Can I bribe him with pie?

 

What are your strategies for coping with the oncoming storm?  Hunker down or go fly a kite?  What is your favorite way to do the holidays?

The Reality of Research

On Sale Nov. 17, 2015!

On Sale Nov. 17, 2015!

I don’t always go on vacation, but when I do I prefer to call it research. Part of the fun in writing the Carrie Mae Mysteries featuring a group of super-spy girls is that my characters travel around the world to exotic locales. Which means that if I want to have authenticity in my writing I also need to travel to exotic locales. The problem with this experiential approach to research is that you find yourself thinking, “Where can I find an AR-15 to shoot?” or in the case of my latest manuscript, “Where can I find a plane to jump out of?”

Don’t ask about the boots. I emulate my characters actions, not their keen fashion sense.
As it turns out, the AR-15 is not so hard to find (I called my brother). But jumping out of a plane is a little more expensive and even if you get a Groupon you still only get to tandem jump. And since I have an 18 month old, I don’t really have $200 to throw around on random research. Also, when I mention my new research need (my need for speed) suddenly everyone’s all “But you could die!” Apparently when you become a mother people become even more likely to judge your actions – who knew? And in response I would like to point out that, number one, of course I could die! That’s the point of doing 90% of the fun things in life. And number two, I’m not going to. In 2014 there were 3.2 million jumps and 24 deaths. I’m literally more likely to get hit by bus.

SkydivingBeing the person that I am, that kind of nonsense makes me want to jump out of a plane more just to prove that I won’t die. But that doesn’t change the fact that I still don’t have to $200 to waste on jumping out of a plane for a not truly accurate experience of what it feels like to fly yourself. (But hear this world – I’m not jumping out of a plane because I said so, not because you said so.) But then my genius mother-in-law came up with a great idea (and a great gift): indoor skydiving. It’s a giant wind-tunnel, less than half the cost, and all of the free fall experience. And what did I learn? It’s a lot harder than it looks. And uses a lot more muscles than you might think. And it’s fun. That’s my kind of research.

Chart Watching

He looked at the chart but he look in vain

Heavy cloud but no rain

Sting, Heavy Cloud No Rain, Ten Summoners Tales

Originally, this was a post about publishing.  I’ve been singing this song for the better part of a month feeling that it related to my efforts in self-publishing. Having the ability to have live updated sales results is not really as fun as it sounds. Or at least it’s not good for ongoing peace of mind. The world of publishing has changed. Now every author must do the work that previously was performed by publishing houses – namely, marketing. And the secret thing about marketing that every marketing professional would prefer you not know, is that you can never quite tell what’s going to work. So with every fresh effort, I flip back to the chart to see if there’s rain or not. Some sprinkles, some gushers, some droughts – and that is the way of the writing life now.  But there’s more to that song, and the rest of the lyrics are more applicable to the real world right now than they are to any personal concerns I have about my writing and sales.

Turned on the weather man just after the news

I needed sweet rain to wash away my blues

He looked at the chart but he look in vain

Heavy cloud but no rain

Much of the state of Washington, my state, is on fire. This song isn’t much of a metaphor; it’s what we’re all doing. We’re literally out of firefighters and the ones that are on the line are working days in a row with little to no sleep. Firefighters from Australian and New Zealand arrived on Monday to help and we couldn’t be happier to see them. We literally need all the help we can get.

There is a line of mountains between the fires and my house and still the sky is frequently a hazy yellow from smoke. Yesterday, I could look at the sun directly because there was so much smog that it was only a burning circle of orange in the sky.

Sometimes my state feels culturally divided by that chain of mountains, but this fire has turned us all into obsessed weather forecast watchers. My facebook feed is filled with pictures of rain – a virtual rain dance for our home and our friends. Weather forecasting has taken a giant step forward due to computing speeds and modeling, but Washington is still one of the toughest places to forecast. All the data in the world can’t entirely predict if rain is going to fall. We all watch the chart, but so far, heavy cloud, no rain.

So, if you’re a praying person, pray for some rain. If you’re a donating person, you can view this article from local reporter Jesse Jones, for where to send donations. Washington thanks you.

Dear Brain…

Originally published on The Stiletto Gang 07.22.15

Dear Brain,

While I appreciate your many efforts and strong creative solutions, I would very much appreciate it if you could focus on the problems at hand. Thanks so much.

Sincerely,

Self

 

I have a writing calendar that tells me what I’m supposed to be working on. Outlining, editing, actually writing, it’s all scheduled out. Since the release of High-Caliber Concealer, third book in the Carrie Mae Mystery series is right around the corner (November 17!), that means I should be busy working on draft one of book 4 – Glossed Cause. That also means that last month I should have finished an outline of said fourth book. Do you know what I have not completed? Yes, that’s right – the outline. I had completed  about 75% it and stopped because… Well, I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. And then last week I realized what was wrong with it. Not that I know how to fix it, but at least I know why I’m not excited about it. So I’ve been twiddling my thumbs, enjoying the summer, pretending that I have all the time in the world, and hoping that inspiration would hit.

Then last night it did hit. I woke up with a fantastic idea.

For a different book.

I came up with a great idea for the sequel to my recent release – An Unseen Current. I even have a great name for it, which practically never happens. It’s really, really exciting and not at all what I need. But if I’ve learned anything about creativity it’s that if you fight it sometimes it stops all together. What do you think? Should I work on this new idea for a bit and see if inspiration strikes for Glossed Cause or should I set the new idea aside and focus, focus, focus

That Editing… So Hot Right now

It’s that time again. The editing time.  The time when I get back all the stupidy stupidy line edits and have to go through and approve them. That’s the worst part.  I have to approve them.  OK, I don’t absolutely HAVE to, but the truth is about 8 out of every 10 line edits are the correct decision. Of the other two, one is probably a matter of preference and the other is absolutely right the way it was the first time. Why don’t you understand my genius you piddling moron who is merely paid to sift through the words and divine my sheer awesomeness?

It’s possible that the last sentence there was a bit of an overstatement.

But my secret internal Mugatu doesn’t think it was.

Mugatu, for those who haven’t watched the hilariously improbable Zoolander, is the fashion designerKungFuNuns / evil genius, played by Will Ferrell, who is attempting kill the prime minister of Malaysia by brainwashing male model Derek Zoolander. Many writers, myself included, seem to yo-yo between the states of modesty (I write pretty well), ego (I’m a genius!!), and self-hatred (why would anyone read the crap I produce?). I picture modesty as the quiet saintly type – a Buddhist nun (who secretly knows Peter Lorre2kung fu) and self-hatred as the goggly-eyed guy from the Maltese Falcon who says the worst things in the sweetest voice.

And nowhere are those states of being more quickly cycled through than the editing rounds. Each tweak of the text from the editor is like some sort of judgement from on high that can send me off into a Mugatu-esque rage or goggly-eyed shame spiral.  It’s up the the Kung Fu nun to bring balance and harmony. Although, admittedly sometimes the nun needs a little help from a glass of wine and a jog around the block.