You really don’t need a bigger boat

(Photo: AP)

I’ll be spending the Fourth of July weekend down the Shore, on the beach, and for a fair amount of time, in the water. Growing up there you’re taught to respect the ocean, namely by local elders who are only too happy to school you with horror stories of those who didn’t. You hear all kinds of things, and a lot of the time I’m sure they were exaggerating, but there were some things that just came down to good old common sense. Above all, one of the first things you had to learn was to how to swim and I did, courtesy of the local Red Cross. After you had that under your belt you were forewarned to abide by these three rules:

1. Never swim alone.

2. Never swim at night.

3. Never swim with an animal.

Now, two of the three were actually pretty easy for me. I never swam alone because I never went to the beach by myself as it was too boring. When I did go, it was usually when the lifeguards were around from 10 to 5, because before ten was way too early, and by five o’clock I was usually working a summer job and being way underpaid to miss any hours. I also never swam with an animal as dogs aren’t allowed on the beach in the summer, and my horse was 35 miles inland (yes, I had one. His name was Max and he was a palomino.)

Okay, truth be told I DID swim at night a couple of times, but it usually was after the bars closed and a bunch of us would go to the beach and there was this guy who…  I think you get where I’m going with this, right? In any event, the older I got the more common sense prevailed and I stopped swimming at night. Because even after the bars closed and even with all that Coors Light in me I knew to keep to the dry side of the beach because the wet side of it probably had sharks in it.


Okay, here’s the thing: sharks live in the ocean and the ocean is on the wet side of the beach. The ocean is their home, and if you walk into their home there is a random chance you could meet up with one.  But just so you don’t think even dipping a toe in the ocean will set a shark to snapping at it, here’s a bit of sanity courtesy of National Geographic:

– 93%  of shark attacks from 1580 to 2010 worldwide were on males.

– Surfers accounted for 50.8% of all attacks in 2010.

– Snorkelers and divers accounted for 8% of all attacks in 2010.

– Inflatable rafts/inner tubes accounted for 3% of attacks in 2010.

– Over the last half-century, there have been more unprovoked shark   attacks in Florida (27 out of a total 139) between 2-3 pm than any other time of the day.

– You have a 1 in 63 chance of dying from the flu and a 1 in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark during your lifetime.

–  Over 17,000 people die from falls each year. That’s a 1 in 218 chance over your lifetime, compared to a 1 in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark.

– In 1996, toilets injured 43,000 Americans a year. Sharks injured 13.

– 1n 1996, buckets and pails injured almost 11,000 Americans. Sharks injured 13.

– In 1996, 2600 Americans were injured by room fresheners. Sharks injured 13. (How do you get injured by a room freshener?)

– The US averages just 19 shark attacks each year and one shark-attack fatality every two years. Meanwhile, in the coastal U.S. states alone, lightning strikes and kills more than 37 people each year.

– For every human killed by a shark, humans kill approximately two million sharks.

Okay, let’s get to my side of the world There hasn’t been a fatal shark attack in New Jersey waters in more than 32,000 days. In fact, there have been only 15 confirmed, unprovoked shark attacks on humans in recorded history along the Jersey Shore. So does that mean it’s safe to strip to the skinny and take a midnight dip? Well, if you’re planning on it, think of this: the impetus for Peter Benchley’s book Jaws was based on the 1916 shark attacks that happened off the coast of New Jersey.

Will that keep me out of the water? I think not. But neither will it keep me out of the bars.

Happy Fourth of July weekend!

Arrgh! Please don’t make me write a synopsis!

screamIt’s a sad, sad fact of the writing life that every book needs a synopsis if you want to sell it. I’m sorry, but synopses to me are like carbuncles on top of boils, about as compatible to my literary mojo as coconuts are to refrigerators. When I know I have to write one, it’s like I have creative mono I’m so not able to start. Fact is I hate hate hate the little bastards, as after all these years, my brain still fights writing one. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, then welcome to Writer Hell, sweetheart. Your angsty little life is about to get so much worse.

A synopsis is your book boiled down almost to its skivvies. At the most it’s about five pages, but lately the going length seems to be around two. With such a tight page count, you might think it makes the writing easier, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Actually, it makes it so much harder. How hard? Let me search for a difficult enough analogy. Have you ever tried to gather a bunch of peeled grapes with one hand? That’s kind of what it’s like. (Actually, the literal version of that would be easier, but don’t let me disillusion you). You need to encapsulate all those slippery plot points from start to finish, naming your major characters, their conflicts and motivations, holding nothing back.  Don’t want to divulge everything? Then just include something like, Intrigued? Then request the full manuscript to find out what happens next! and you’ll win the race to the ‘delete’ button. (Please, just–no.) Do include a hook at the beginning and a satisfying ending, and no being cagey or overly creative, either. It’s just the facts, ma’am, and do remember to keep it in the present tense, and state your word count and genre under the title at the top. Also, it should go without saying to make sure it’s proofread, spell-checked, grammar-checked and formatted until it’s pink and screaming.

A synopsis, above all, is a selling tool. You need one to get an agent as after you do, she’ll need it to sell your fabulousness to an editor. A synopsis not only spells out your book, it tells an editor you’re capable of finishing one, as very rarely will she have your whole manuscript in front of her at the first pass. Because of their brevity, synopses, at least when they’re written well, can be succinct little works of art. With a well-written synopsis, you’re straddling the fence between novelist and journalist, as it’s a sign of polish and skill to write eye-catching florid-free prose when you’re concentrating strictly on the main points. When it’s done effectively and efficiently, it can make all the difference between rejection and acceptance.

Now go get ’em, tiger. I hate suffering alone.



Research-related road trips and other coincidences: a Pictorial

Great Bay Turtle X-ingI just passed the sagging middle of my work-in-progress, so to celebrate–er, rather as to verify some of the locales I wrote about, I decided to take a trip to see how close I came to their reality. Google and Google Earth will only take you so far, and the committed writer shouldn’t ever rely solely on virtual reality over the real thing. So my husband and I packed up the car and headed for coastal Jersey, which to this South Jerseyan, is not the same as the more celebrated Shore. Parts of Southern Coastal New Jersey consist of a vast tidewater region of creeks, rivers, and salt marshes or what what the locals refer to as meadows (“meddas,” as my Piney husband calls them), which are varied and lush as some of their inhabitants are hard-shelled and truly, well, bizarre.Great Bay. meadows

Our first stop was just past Tuckerton near Mystic Islands, in an area we simply refer to as Great Bay Boulevard. It’s a long, straightaway (more or less) though the meadows teeming with fish, crab, egrets, osprey, songbirds, even the occasional eagle, and especially this time of year–April to August–turtles all over the place. In fact, I’ve never seen SO many wild turtles in one place. They were in the water, the reeds and most especially, crawling all over the road. Great Bay - Turtle 2The locals take this mating period quite seriously, and are very protective. Everywhere we saw not only official TURTLE CROSSING roadsigns, but Great Bay Turtle X-ing Be Awarehand-scrawled and painted ones by the dozens. And for the amount of turtles we saw scampering (if that’s what you can call it) across the road, and believe me, they were EVERYWHERE, in two days we only saw one dead.  Pretty miraculous if you think Oyster Creek Inn. Meadows 1about it. We also saw at lot of them swimming in the bay at a place we went for dinner called the Oyster Creek Inn (fabulous) in Leeds Point. And if you don’t know what Leeds Point is legendary for, then I Oyster Creek Inn. Swimming Turtle.1suggest you look it up, or troll old episodes of The Leeds Point Rd.X-Files. (An aside: if you have ANY kind of aversion to greenhead flies, do NOT venture anywhere near here.  They are huge, vicious, tenacious bastards with wings, and they will hunt you down, then proceed to chaw the skin off your bones. I truly believe this is where the legend of the Jersey Devil began. A photo cannot even begin to do Great Bay - Flowersthem justice.) I should also mention that all around us the spring flowers were in full bloom. I’m pretty dumb when it comes to naming flora, but I did recognize a profusion of honeysuckle as well as wild rose, plus a bunch of other stuff I won’t embarrass myself Great Bay - honeysucklestrying to name. There was also a lot of pretty good fishing and crabbing around, as I could tell from the amount of people hanging off the bridges that link the various sedge islands. And apparently the shellfish must be doing pretty good as well, as my husband fell into a food coma after a dinner of Barnegat Bay broiled scallops. Oyster Creek Inn.Marina(A note about the picture to the right: it is the boardwalk below the Oyster Creek Inn where my husband’s arm was nearly chawed off by a greenhead. No sympathy. Kill. Them. All.)

Anyway, I could go on and on, but I’ll end this pictorial by letting the snaps below speak for themselves. What follows is what we encountered on Route 9 just past New Gretna. It’s a mansion that sits on the southbound side of the road, but luckily enough has a big enough shoulder on the opposite side, otherwise traffic would surely be snarled. It is out-and-out the purest display of WTF I’ve ever seen, crawling over and atop and in front a seven-foot-high concrete wall. Classic Weird New Jersey. Enlarge, enjoy.

New Gretna WTF Mansion.3New Gretna WTF Mansion.4New Gretna WTF Mansion.5New Gretna WTF Mansion.7New Gretna WTF Mansion.1New Gretna WTF Mansion.2New Gretna WTF Mansion.8New Gretna WTF Mansion.9New Gretna WTF Mansion.10

Frustration, you ol’ sycophant

22bdcd424ceaf4cf9d7b2f114d7e462dIf you’re going to call yourself a writer, then please acquaint yourself with the meaning of frustration. There’s so many applications and levels of it, the longer you contemplate the word, the more varied the strains. There’s the frustration you feel when you start, with your characters, the opening line, the title, the voice. Then there’s the continuity, the plotting, the criticism you get when you get cocky enough to let someone take a peek, or when you have to toss out a whole chapter because your research was flawed. Then you get to the inevitable saggy middle where you get frustrated trying to dig yourself out of a black hole, and when you finally do, you find that half of what your wrote has to be rewritten. Then as you’re sliding down that slippery slope to the mandatory Dark Moment, you find it’s more café au lait than espresso, and you’re going to have to turn that Everyman into a bastard if you’re ever going to make your plot believable. But nothing’s worse than tying it all up at the end, when in order to avoid that oh-so-easy Dickensian conclusion, you have actually have everything make sense, which, let me tell you, is about as easy as straining tar. Still, somehow you eventually make it all work, and before long, you’re exhaling a big sigh of relief and typing the end. But isn’t all the cruelest cut of all, because then is when the real frustration begins.

Rewrites, edits, proofreads, rewrites, edit, edit, edit. Format. Submit. Reject. Submit. Reject. Submit. Reject, reject, reject. Beat yourself up. Tell yourself you suck as a writer, spend the next three days binge-watching Family Guy and eating tater tots and canned frosting, until you can’t stand it any longer. So you pick up that paperback that spent more time being hurled against the wall than in your hands, but which ultimately restores your writing mojo through its horribleness when you cry, “I can fucking do it SO much better!” ignoring, of course, it spent three months topping the New York Times List. (Sigh…there’s JUST no justice in the world, is there?) So what’s a writer to do?

Listen, sweeties, if you came here looking for answers, I honestly don’t know what to tell you. Except maybe if you’re going to call yourself a writer, you just might as well get used to frustration. As patronizing as it sounds, you’re also going to have work around it if you’re ever going to get anywhere, so you might as well just keep writing. Though you should remember that just because frustration is a writer’s constant companion, it doesn’t mean you have to make it your BFF.

Hang tough, stop bitching, ass in chair. Writer’s write, after all.

BEA 2015 – A Pictorial

Nothing like a 90 degree day in New York! But then there’s nothing like a day in New York anyway–doubly so when it’s BookExpo America. They’ll be in Chicago next year, so after five years running, I wasn’t about to miss my chance to catch it one more time while it’s on the East Coast. This year, me and and my sister, Gretchen Weerheim, went, trolling the aisles and generally looking for hot trends, dealmakers, and free tote bags, finding a lot of the first two, but precious few of the last. Didn’t help we were trolling a bit too late in the day, but it was fun nonetheless, and try to keep us away when it comes back to NYC!

BEA Dorothy and AnnieBEA Downtown StageBEA Madison           BEA Gretchen Selfie            BEA Dummies GwenBEA HCGretchen and Creepy ThingBEA Whatever

Book Expo America 2015! I’m going, are you?

BEA-Book-Author-v2Nirvana comes to New York’s Javits Center for BookExpo America 2015 from Wednesday, May 27 – Friday, May 29, 2015. BEA offers three event-packed days, 600+ authors, hundreds of new titles, hundreds of exhibitors, four Author Stages, and access to the latest digital technologies at the Digital Discovery Zone (D2Z) brought to you by IDPF. Hop to it because the skinny is BEA’s traveling to Chicago next year.

BookExpo America is the leading book and author event for the North American publishing industry. It’s the best place to discover new titles and authors, network, and learn the latest trends during the BEA Content & Digital Conference. See you there, and see you in two weeks!

My Life in Text

Post-opThis is what happens when you spend life with your face either shoved in a book or a screen–you end up getting cataracts when at a (relatively) young age. It doesn’t help you’re born really near-sighted either, which, I’ve been told, is a contributing factor. In any event, yesterday I got the one in my left eye removed, and had a high-tech intraocular multi-focal lens implanted which will allow me to see at multiple distances. Right now, the day after, my eye is still dilated so the vision is still a bit off, not to mention stepping outside this morning was like–whoa! the sun!–but for the first time in my life I was able to see out of my left eye without correction. It was truly bizarre. As was the operation.

Let me say right from the onset–the fact that I was to have my eye sliced open and had to be awake during the procedure left me nothing less than…may I speak bluntly? FREAKED THE FUCK OUT. Yes, it scared the crap out of me just to think of it. Not the pain–as I’ve had root canals where I’ve nearly fallen asleep in the chair. It was the fact I do not like anesthesia. I don’t like that feeling of being there but…not. Knock me out and I’m fine, but I don’t like that semi-conscious state where you can’t react. But this wasn’t like that at all. In fact, it was even kind of pleasant (for a medical procedure, let’s get real). Let me elaborate.

Above’s what I looked like two hours out of surgery. (The plastic shield is off and only has to be worn for a week at night.) My husband and I got there at 12:30 AM, and due to a glitch with an elderly patient (she was 95 and they couldn’t get her blood pressure down), I was stuck in the waiting room for two hours. But once they took me, it was really fast. I changed into a hospital gown then laid on a table where the nurse took my vitals and an EKG, then an anesthesiologist came in and inserted a stent in my hand and numbing drops in my eye. After they were through, I sat in a chair outside the operating room. Right before I went in the anesthesiologist asked me how I was doing. I said I was a bit nervous. He said he’d take care of that, then shot something with a needle into the stent. Within seconds all I felt was….really good. Not high, not loopy, just…good. He said it was called Versed, but to me it was just happy juice, as all it did was calm me and make me feel kind of nice. The surgery itself was truly bizarre. All I remember is a series of colored lights. In a way, it reminded me of pictures from the Hubble telescope, these brilliant multi-colored swirling shapes. TRIPPY!! Combine that with the happy-juice and it was quite an experience, and over before I knew it. NO PAIN AT ALL, and I walked out of the operating room awake and alert.  I go back today for and evaluation by the optometrist, but right now I’m writing this with only a contact in my right eye. The left is a little blurry, but then it’s still really dilated.
To all those who need to have cataract surgery let me  say: DO NOT FEAR IT. I’m not ashamed to say I was terrified–let me repeat that–TERRIFIED of that laser coming at my naked eye! But after going through what I did yesterday, it was almost easy, the actual procedure less than ten minutes. The hardest part for me was the fear of the unknown, as I allowed myself to imagine all sorts of scenarios that in actuality never materialized. I’m sure there’s someone out there about to have surgery who’d say it’s easy to feel as I do now that it’s over. Yes, it is, as I read similar accounts and I still arrived at the doctors’ office yesterday afraid. It anything, you can take comfort in the fact that when you do go through it, you’ll feel as I do now, and the worst part, if there is one, is everything your mind imagines beforehand. Remember that, because when you actually get to the operating table you’ll know the worst is past you, and there’s nothing but crystal-clear clarity ahead.

A face made for radio

Gwen Jones
Gwen Jones

Maybe this is why I’m a writer! Because my voice on paper sounds sooooo much more effusive. I don’t know, maybe you need to decide. That’s why you should go to this Livestream  link and see for yourself. It’s about a two hour video of the Words from In the Hole Internet radio show I was on, on Sunday, May 3 with fellow writers Gretchen Weerheim (who just happens to be my sister) who writers spec sci-ti, and romance writer Allison Merritt, who joined us from Missouri via Skype. It was a lot of fun, talking about writing and the process for two hours, and I even got to read from one of my books and some flash fiction, all 361 words worth.

Gretchen read an except from her work-in-progress, a speculative sci-fi series that will most likely make any fan of such drool with delight. Allison regaled us with a selection from her latest book, Her Heart’s Surrender, a juicy Viking romance. All in all it was a lot of fun to be able to talk about yourself. Thanks to host Karen Smith and her radio show “Words from In the Hole” that spotlights up-and-coming and established authors. I’d do it again in a heartbeat! And a big shout out to Liberty States Fiction Writers (which we plugged incessantly!) for giving us the platform to bring us all together. You guys are the best!

Karen Smith
Karen Smith
Gretchen Weerheim
Gretchen Weerheim

Seriously Snark


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