Writing’s like a candy allusion, amiright?

dark-chocolate-vanilla-caramels-with-sea-salt_2Recently a friend sent me a manuscript she was reworking after having received a so-called “good rejection” from an editor. In case you’re not familiar with such rejections, that’s when the editor thinks the submission is good enough to warrant another look after some changes are made. Sometimes the changes are suggested, sometimes not, but most editors do include some illuminating commentary, and if you have to receive a rejection, they’re decidedly the best kind. This particular editor didn’t offer anything specific other than she’d like to see some more insight in the beginning, and perhaps something a bit incendiary a little farther along.  Well, not only did my friend comply–she did so in spades, injecting enough plot complications this no-longer sagging saga’s got more twists and turns than a whole bag of Twizzlers, and boy-oh-boy does it snap. But this reworking also leaves her with another wholly unintended consequence: she’s created a Genre Cocktail. Though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

So what am I talking about? Okay, let me use her story as an example. She started out writing Romance, and the story has all the components: meet cute, solid conflict, steamy couplings, de rigueur happy conclusion. Though to keep it interesting, she tossed in a bit of suspense–a medical mystery, an employee theft, a woman on the run. But when the editor found it lacking, she heightened the stakes, adding a red herring, jaw-dropping duplicity, corporate espionage, and a breathless chase that leaves you guessing until the end. Three-quarters of the way through, when I got smacked by yet another twisty-turn, I was nearly certain I was no longer reading a Romance. Or was it a Romantic Suspense? No, it was more like a Thriller. Or howabout a Romantic/Suspense/Thriller? Not quite sure, I told myself as I kept flipping pages. What did it matter anyway? Whatever it was, it was good.

Should it matter? Or should whatever you write be able to be found under a keyword or a specific genre header? Usually it does–when you’re writing in a specific genre: Romance, Mystery, Thriller, SciFi, Fantasy. But these days you have Romantic Suspense, Historical Mystery, SciFi Thrillers and many more cocktails that are less easily identifiable. So how do you categorize them? Which search keyword do you use, under which header sign do you look? Do we create subgenres of subgenres? And moreover, how do we present such a work to the acquiring editor? By lumping together genres, do we confuse the issue–or do we clarify it? Especially if it’s so out there, we fear we may never be able to grab an editor’s eye and get an in.

The first time I had a salt caramel I was in a candy shop in Philadelphia that makes their own confections. The candy itself was a standard cube of buttery caramel dipped in dark chocolate, but centered on top was a delicate pinch of sea salt. In theory, such a combination shouldn’t work–separately, maybe–but together? And then I took a bit and ohhh…what exquisite fusion! the sweet playing off the salt, and visa versa. It shouldn’t work, but it did, as one taste flowed into the other, a mutual appreciation of each other’s attributes that ultimately produced magic. It can be the same with crossing genres, as within the story I read over the weekend, the twists and turns that heightened the stakes ultimately complicated the conflict, and that made surmounting the insurmountable so much more satisfying in the end. The trick, and this is where the execution can be dicey, is when you add Historical and Mystery elements to a Thriller, or Romance and Horror aspects to a SciFi and so on in any direction. Like salt to a caramel, they need to fuse all the elements together and advance the plot, or they’ll just seem gratuitous. And above all, don’t forget your core audience. If you’re mainly writing a Mystery, you’ll still need to have the case solved, or with a Romance, you’ll still need the happily-ever-after. The upside is if you integrate these other elements well, you’ll have the bonus effect of expanding into another genre, which of course, makes for more readers–and buyers–of your book.

In the end, with whatever genre, and however it’s achieved, it all comes down to writing a good story. And there isn’t an editor in the world who’d argue with–or reject–that.


Yep – NaNoWriMo Fail

nanowrimo-failYessiree — that’s me. A big ol’ smoking NaNoWriMo fail. I mean I tried–I really did. But I’m just not a verbal vomit type of writer. I’m deliberate. I ponder on a point. I edit, And re-edit. And edit again. That’s what I seem to do best–editing. Can’t stop myself. I just keep going back and forth until I get it right. And I eventually do. I have been published, so there is documented proof. But I just can’t keep writing until my fingers bleed and there’s pus crusting up my eyelashes. And apparently I’m not the only one. I found this on the Oxford Dictionaries blog about other ways to fuck up, so I know I’m not alone.  I feel so much better now.

1) Discover a television show you really have to binge watch

‘TV is a great way to learn about crafting dialogue,’ you say to yourself, planning to make detailed notes while watching a modern classic like The Wire or The West Wing. Eighteen hours later, you’re watching the finale of America’s Next Top Model with gummy sweets stuck to your face and empty bottles of wine littering the floor. Yes, great writing can happen on TV – but maybe ration the scenes you want to observe.

2) Get too calculator-happy

To reach that target of 50,000 words in November, you have to write 1,666 words per day. Oh, and another 2/3 of a word on top of that. My first step was working that out, then calculating how many words I could write per hour, how many words I would want to erase per hour, how many words were in the average paragraph, how many words were in the average sentence, and whether I had enough milk for all the cups of tea I’d need. I was exhausted before a word was written.

3) Use literally everything as a reason to cancel

‘I’m a busy, cool, important person,’ I mused, sitting alone in my room and wondering if ‘new BuzzFeed quiz’ was an event worth noting in my diary. My life was definitely too hectic to fit in anything like writing. Yes, sure, cancel if you’re going to your BFF’s birthday party or undergoing emergency surgery, but reasons for cancelling probably shouldn’t include online quizzes, trying out a new recipe, or staring blankly at a wall.

4) Get too obsessed with greatness

I recall the day (aged about 24) when I realized that it was unlikely I’d ever be a child prodigy. I’ve come to terms with that crushing blow, more or less, but I’m still apt to wander along my bookshelves past Austen, Dickens, and Woolf, and get despondent about the fact that my name won’t go down in the annals of history as one of the All Time Greats. That’s ok: there are plenty of other authors out there too.

5) Get overly absorbed, engrossed, occupied, and buried in a thesaurus

Nobody likes the same word several times in a paragraph – well, unless you’re Britney Spears singing ‘Womanizer’, of course – but you can save the finer points of synonym-hunting for later in the process. I got so bogged down in finding a synonym for ‘once’ that I never got as far as ‘upon a time’.

6) Do all the research

While some research is a good thing, too much research is dangerous. While some have the mind for this sort of prodigious content digestion and distillation, most of us don’t. So whether you are deep in a Wikipedia spiral reading about mathematical paradoxes (and plotting the metaphorical significance thereof) or lost in the dusty stacks of your local library cracking open dusty tomes (there might be a reason that book hasn’t been opened in decades), be careful not to get too lost, or you’ll never get anything down on the page at all.

7) Get down with doubt.

Doubt sure feels like your friend at times! The friend who lazes next to your keyboard and tells you to cut that word … oh, and that one also … and maybe that entire character? Really, that whole page/scene/chapter is garbage – far better to just start all over again. Maybe a novel isn’t the best venue for this idea? Maybe a play, or a movie script, or a poem, or a — Eh, you get the picture. (Picture! What about a photo essay?!)

8) Not hitting CTRL + S every five minutes.

Nothing kills the mood like a spectacularly written – and spectacularly unsaved – paragraph. If you’re clever enough to be using a cloud-based document editor, then, well, good for you. I wasn’t.

  • The opinions and other information contained in OxfordWords blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.

Thanksgiving? Seriously? At least there’s pie

blogger-image-727342139Tomorrow’s  Thanksgiving, but also the kickoff to what’s euphemistically referred to as the “Holidays.” All over the U.S., porches, front doors, topiary and gutters will be stripped of all evidence of the traditional “harvest” icons, ie, mums, hay bales, dried corn and cornstalks, as well as those apple-cheeked smiling scarecrows (and quite frankly, their sun-toasted perkiness does scare me), to be summarily replaced with dangling icicle lights, revolving reindeer, inflatable Sno-Dome elves on Merry-Go-Rounds, and other assorted yard horrors that symbolize the high-water mark of tackiness until we ring in the New Year. As for me, I’ll save my Yule celebrations until around the 24 of next month to focus on the holiday at hand, ie, family, friends, turkey and pumpkin pie, maybe even giving a thanks or two I’m still highbrow enough to cringe at the sight of Santa on a Harley.

So that’s it. No soapbox, no bitching on the obvious, just full-frontal indulgence and Pepcid post pumpkin-pie. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, and you have my permission to suspend NaNoWriMo for one day. As if you needed an excuse.


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The mindset of a writer, the morning after

trump-family-portraitSo the election’s over and Donald J. Trump won, even though at this writing, it’s looking like Hillary Clinton,  may come out winning the  popular vote, much like fellow Dem Al Gore in 2000.  All over the Blue States people are clutching their heads and wailing, and I must admit I lost some sleep last night too, staying up late to watch the returns and laying awake wide-eyed, contemplating what it all means. The end of the two-party system? The return to institutionalized racism? The acceleration of global warming? Another stock market convulsion? The collapse of democracy and the world economy?

The improbable has suddenly become possible. How could a country that has elected someone as elegantly intelligent and steadfast as Barack Obama spin a one-hundred-eighty and end up with someone as bombastic and narcissistic as the thin-skinned Trump? You ask me, it was inevitable.

Hello–American and French Revolutions. Hello–American Civil War. Hello–Brexit. People pushed down, can only take so much pressure.  It’s not that I agree with the method, but Trump is only a symptom, not the disease. There is a real income inequality in not only this nation, but in all of Western Civilization, and the Middle Class, once the shining symbol of our economic affluence, has contracted to the point of breaking.  Like a bridge without suspension, its collapsed under its own weight.

But like Barack Obama said last night, “the sun will rise in the morning.” But it’s a cloudy day in New Jersey, and a little while it started to rain. Still, I’m not losing hope. Not completely, that is. Being a bit of an optimist, I’m trying to remain so.  The comedians will have at least four years of good material. Alec Baldwin must be especially happy.  The Republicans won’t have the Dems to blame anything on now, and they’ll have to perform. Here in New Jersey, we have a new governor to elect next year. Perhaps we’ll get the chance sooner if Christie finds a place with the new administration. (Fingers crossed.)

As for me, I have a new book to write. I’ve been zipping right along with NaNoWriMo, making great word count, and the ideas have just been flowing.  It’s set in Atlantic City in 1983, back when the new casinos were rising, back when The Donald had two of them and Ivana was doing the decorating.  If anything, the A.C. of then and the A.C. of now makes great copy, and being a veteran of the casino scene of yore, I have some of my own truths to tell. You see, with distance come clarity and back then, as with now, once you sift through all the noise, the flotsam and jetsam, the hyperbole and the shouting you can get at the truth. Things always get clearer in the light of day, after the sun rises in the morning.

Another NaNoWriMo, Another view from the bleachers

ac7c06ef35a71959b153e428bc5aae21November 1 hails the start of NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. During this time writers are encouraged to write a novel in a month, also known as pounding out 50,000 words with arbitrary attention to plot, spelling, grammar, characterization, and form, which all in all pleases my professorial heart. Truth be told,  I’ve just about had it up to here with my red pen and all that it entails, and would love to go all in with ur and and ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) , and enough emojis 😺 😸so I wouldn’t ever have to correct a misspelled word or misplaced modifier again.  See, that’s the beauty of NaNoWriMo, having the freedom to tap out all that wheat and the hell with the chaff — we’ll sort it out later.  And don’t think I won’t. I’ve got a new novel banging around in my head demanding attention. And November 1 seems as good a time as any to indulge it.

Ass in chair time, folks!

Been a bit occupied, but better late than never.

mess-with-me-and-youll-get-what-forYes, it’s true. I’ve been a bit preoccupied this week. I mean seriously, with all that’s going on with the election season, I’ve got to be a writer and a college professor, too? Boy-oh-boyo — there’s just too much to comment on this cycle. Since I can’t, I’ll just sit back and let this shitstorm roll over me. Makes for great media, though, no matter what side of the aisle you sit on. One thing’s for certain, if I were ensconced in that particular House, I’d know what side of the aisle I’d WANT to be on.  and laughing my ass off, for sure.

Graphic courtesy of Periods for Politicians, formerly Periods for Pence. I mean come on. Why should he have all the fun.

How can you call yourself a writer when writing’s the last thing your doing?

vintage-frustrated-writerOver the summer I started a new book, banging out enough for a proposal then kind of put it aside when the sagging middle showed up early. Being well-acquainted with that particular pain in the ass, I knew it was just a plot problem in search of a solution. So I went to a writers retreat, and with the help of a friend, hammered the issue into submission. With copious notes and a new outlook on the project, I felt ready to jump back into the swim, then my day job reared its ugly head. Suddenly, time became of the essence, and again, the manuscript moldered. Still, I told myself I’d get to it as soon as things eased up, and then another work-bomb exploded immediately followed by a family crisis. All of a sudden,  writing became as superfluous as whipped cream and a cherry (in most circles anyway),  and I knew if I was ever going to get back to it, I’d need to resolve what was in front of me first. Not that that realization made me feel any better. I fact, I still felt quite the slacker. Because In the back of my mind I knew it wasn’t the day job or the family or anything else I could use as an excuse.  I knew it was facing that sagging middle again, and I was terrified the plot prop I devised would hardly lift it an inch. And therein laid the rub.

To be a writer, one has to write, and no one has shouted that louder than me. But how can I preach the mantra of writers’ write when I had a novel just lingering in my hard drive, bereft? Was there something genuinely wrong with me, or was I just a hypocrite? Because surely one can’t still be a writer and not write at all?

Real life intrusions aside, every writer faces dark moments when the impetus eludes them, and I’m not referring to what’s commonly known as Writer’s Block. What I mean is when the will to write is gone, when doubt overwhelms you, when you can’t even think of yourself as a writer. Most often, times like these occur after a rejection, whether from a teacher, editor or agent, but more likely from a rebuff totally unrelated to anything literary. Rejections of this kind cloud judgment and sap confidence, eating away at the one fact that should always keep our writing mojo in perfect sync: that in the literary world, it’s never about you.  It’s always about the work, and it’s that work that sustains us. No matter how terrible or disappointing or unreliable things seem, at least there’s the writing, being the one reliable recourse that will always shape itself to our moods, and more than likely, become better for it.

Okay, enough wallowing in it. Ass in chair, bitch. Now.

Seriously Snark

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