Oh thank God!

I'm in the final stages of editing of one project, which I hope to release in the first quarter of next year, and during Nanowrimo, I finished the rough of the sequel to that project, but that draft needs to sit for a little while, like fine wine, so I can go back into it and tear it apart and fix all of the many many things that are wrong with it, so in the meantime, I am working on a completely unrelated project that I've had in draft for a while.

This is the first time I've revisited it in a while, and I opened the file with some trepidation, because you never know what you're going to find when you go back to an old project.  It is decent, or is it full of bad writing and problematic concepts and stupidity.

But this one is good.

Thank God.

I mean, it still needs a ton of work, and since it involves three viewpoint characters, that means three times the work, but they are interesting and fun and the plot is still solid.  What a relief.

I'm one of those writers that has to keep working, almost daily, or I get out of the habit quickly, so it's nice to have a project in this middling stage that I can shape into something.  I love starting things--starting things is always the easiest for me, as I expect it is for most people--but the messy middle is where the story really happens, where changes ripple out like stones in a still pond, where the characters really reveal themselves, and that's where I am with this project.  It's an exciting place to be. 

I'm in the process of editing one of my books, one of the final edits before I send it out to a third party editor for fresh eyes.  This is the edit when I make sure that the plot hangs together and the emotional beats make sense.  It's also the edit when I remove all the words I use too often out of laziness or habit or some combination of both.

This is my list of words:

1.  That.  This is a big one.  I cannot stop inserting "that" into sentences that don't require it.  (See the second sentence above.  Sometimes, "that" is necessary and important grammatically, and sometimes it's necessary for the rhythm of the sentence, and sometimes I'm doing it because my fingers insert it without me even thinking about it.  Most of the time, I can just delete it, but the trick is finding it in the first place.  (Thanks Find/Replace!)

2.  Some reason.  For some reason, I insert "some reason" into sentences when really what I need to do is either explain why the character is doing what she's doing or leave an explanation out altogether.  "Some reason" is a lame attempt at including character motivation and it needs to be deleted.

3.  Long while.  This is the temporal equivalent of "some reason," a placeholder for when I don't know or don't want to say how long something takes or how long it's been going on.  It also needs to go.

4. Deep breath.  This is not just me: a lot of writers have their characters "deep breath"ing all over the place.  I fortunately do not have the habit of replacing "deep breath" with "sigh"  but "deep breath" in and of itself needs to go in most cases.  Characters need to have physical business to do, but no one pays that much attention to their breathing, so this needs to be reduced down to occasional use.

5.  Remember.  "Remember" is fine when it needs to be in, but I tend to include it instead of relying on other clues to let the reader know that the character is thinking of the past. "Remember" should be used sparingly, like really hot peppers.

6.  Just.  Like "remember" this is another seasoning word, and like "that" this is another word I insert without even thinking about it, often in character dialogue.  Sometimes, I like the way it makes dialogue sound more realistic, but quite often, it's just a tic that doesn't need to be there.

7. Look/Seem; Turn; Push/Pull.  The rest of the words on this list are the ones that are fine, but also can be replaced by other more accurate words for particular actions.  I'm normally a fan of plain language, but sometimes plain language is just plain boring.  There are plenty of words in the world, and I should use more of them as long as they are accurate not only in denotation, but in tone and connotation.  In the course of revision, I've actually found paragraphs where I use one of these words four or five times, which is pretty ridiculous.

I don't worry about these words in my initial writing--if I did, I'd be completely paralyzed by all these prohibitions and never get anything finished--but it's always interesting to do this edit and see how a sentence or a paragraph or scene changes when I pay attention to them.

I'm back!

I fell out of the habit of blogging when Real Life (TM) happened to me, and perhaps I'll get into the details down the road, but for now, hi!  How ya been?

More to come...

One of the bands I totally love is My Chemical Romance. I've loved them since the first time I saw the video for their song "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)," which looks like a movie trailer for the best revenge of the nerds video, ever. Take a look:

That is a great video. And it didn't hurt that the song was just as great--a fresh and angry take on being abandoned by someone you thought really liked you.

That song, their breakout hit, was on their second album. Their third was the epic The Black Parade, which deviated from the emo rock template and was both bloated and grand. Everything about The Black Parade was big. The songs, the videos, the tour, and the post partum depression that followed it, which is why it took four years for them to make a follow-up album.

The album -- Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys -- came out last Monday, and is...well, from a hard rock emo band like My Chemical Romance, it's a surprise. A wonderful one. There are a number of amazing songs on this album, but this one -- "The Only Hope For Me Is You" -- is my current favorite, and was released as a preview, so I don't feel bad posting it here even though it's not the current single. Listen to this*:

It's beautiful, right? It's haunting, and somehow familiar, although there's nothing like it on the radio. And it's sad, but also hopeful. And, compared to "I'm Not Okay" it's positively mellow. Just lovely.

Sample Lyrics:

Where were you when all of the embers fell?
I still remember them,
covered in ash,
covered in glass.
covered in all my friends.
I still think of the bombs they built
A post-apocalyptic love song. Fantastic.

But after a few listens, and a little help from my iPod, I realized why the song sounded so familiar to me immediately. It's because of the first fifteen seconds.

Listen to the first fifteen seconds of "The Only Hope For Me Is You" and then listen to the first thirty seconds of this:

That's right, the beginning of one of the songs off MCR's new album is eerily reminiscent of the beginning of "Your Wildest Dreams" by The Moody Blues, released in 1986.

That's not to say that they're copies of each other, the way some Nickelback songs are copies of other Nickelback songs,** just that the similarities are enough that MCR's song made me recall the Moody Blues' song.*** And the songs are similar enough in tone that that recollection wasn't jarring--so natural, in fact, that it felt like I'd heard the MCR song before, even on the first listen.

Is it intentional? I don't know. MCR's always been one of those bands who wears its influences on its sleeve (take a listen to anything on The Black Parade--it's so full of Queen that you expect to hear Freddie Mercury any second), but The Moody Blues hasn't been on the list of influences that they've mentioned thus far (although Danger Days is very influenced by the 80s in general). I doubt that they thought "let's remake the first thirty seconds of 'Your Wildest Dreams.'" I suspect it happened the way that influences make their way into my writing -- you hear something or read something and somehow it sticks with you, in your subconscious, until it seeps out into the work. And then, someone like me comes along and says to you "hey, that's sort of like this" and you look at it again and say "holy cow! You're right!"

Either way, it's a kickass song.


* The song hasn't been a single yet, so there's not a video for it.

** No, really. COPIES. Listen to this:

*** In fact, after the first fifteen seconds, the songs diverge and aren't really similar at all.

I am a fan girl

Last week, Steph Bowe wrote a post about how she is not a fangirl. She's a fan of things, of course, but she's not obsessive. And it's a little embarrassing that I, a grown adult, am being out-matured by a 16-year-old, but there you go.

Because I'm totally a fan girl.

It started when I was 12, with a band, and then there was a book (and it's author), and then there was another band, and then a tv show, and another tv show, and now there's another band. I'm not one of those fan girls who falls in love with whatever's popular at the moment; in fact, the things I have fannish love for are about 50/50 split as to whether they're generally popular or not. But there's usually something.

And just like Steph can't explain why she's not a fan girl, I can't explain why I am one. Why do I spend hours of my life engaging with a cultural artifact that doesn't engage back? I've flown across the country, waited in line for hours, suffered through rain and sleet and dark or night, and spent money I shouldn't have spent to indulge my love for these things I love. I've even bought books in hardcover!

Some people think that this tendency in an adult is silly or immature. Maybe it is--I don't care. Because, honestly, part of the reason why I write, part of the reason why I'm so attuned to character, is because I'm such a fan girl. I hope that my books, my characters, turn teenagers into screaming fangirls and boys. Popularity is not something that the writer can control,* but if I as the writer could have the effect on one teenager that some of these books and bands have had on me? That would be the ultimate.

And now I have to go. The current love of my pop culture life has a new album out and I haven't memorized all the words yet.


* Lessons learned from fanfiction: you can never predict exactly what the audience is going to respond to.

Monday Miscellany

1. This weekend, I went to see Burlesque with Cher and Christina Aguilera. It was AWESOME. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a good movie, but it was hilarious, and campy, and had snappy dialogue, and Cher sang twice and Christina sang about a hundred times and the amazing thing that saved the tiny burlesque club from destruction is totally not the amazing thing you think it's going to be, and yeah...AWESOME. If you like Cher and/or Christina Aguilera, you should totally go see it.

2. When I am 69 years old, I want to look like Cher. In fact, I'm willing to look like Cher now.

3. Lately, I've been watching Law & Order UK, and it's fascinating to see the familiar cases from the original Law & Order remade from an English point of view.* The English legal system fascinates me, and the stories are just as good as ever. The original was on television for 20 years for a reason.


* And the barristers wear wigs! Really ill-fitting old fashioned ones that look crazy at first, like this:

But you get used to it quickly.

Recently, I've been seeing a lot of commercials that, superficially, seem to say one thing* but also saying another much less flattering thing. This cracks me up, because it seems like, if I'm seeing these things, shouldn't the people who get paid a lot of money to create the commercials see them, too? But let me give some examples, so you can see what I'm talking about:

1. The Swiffer Commercials

Look, I love Swiffer. I use Swiffer (the plain ordinary wipe-on-a-stick ones, not the crazy jet ones). But this series of commercials is way screwed up. Take a look:

There's a whole series of these, in which the broom or mop essentially stalks the woman (never a man, notice) who has switched to Swiffer. On the surface, oh, ha ha, the broom and mop are sad that you left them. What a cute-ish commercial! But even if we set aside the fact that the commercial is essentially making light of stalking behaviors (since stalking by a broom is, you know, not very likely), the commercial has another, even more disturbing implication, namely that the woman in question was...um...romantically involved with a broom. And a mop. That is at the very least an uncomfortable suggestion and at the most? eww.



2. The Microsoft "Windows 7 was my idea" commercials.

These are the commercials where various regular people take credit for inventing the new Windows operating system, which, as a Mac user, crack me up anyway, because really? You want to take credit for that? But even looking past my own Mac bias (which is large), the message of the commercials is odd. Take a look:

On one hand, the commercials along this vein are awesome, because each of them demonstrates a new feature of Windows 7 and makes that feature look easy to use. On the other hand, these commercials basically state that Windows 7 users are (a) stupid, and (b) not as attractive as they think they are. Oh, and that Microsoft steals ideas from its customers.

For real. The common features in each commercial are these: (1) a Windows user talks about how he or she had this idea for a cool new feature. (2) We see a flashback, in which a hyper-attractive version of the user (not played by the original actor cleaned up to look better, but a totally different, much hotter actor) has the idea. (3) The we're back in the present, where the schlubby user demonstrates the new feature, and (4) then the schlub takes credit for inventing Windows 7.

I'm sure they're trying to counteract those smug Mac v. PC ads that were so successful from a year or two ago** by reassuring their customers that PCs are for normal people. I get that. But really, what these commercials are saying is "PC users are deluded and maybe not so bright." And that's never a message customers want to hear about themselves.

3. The Clorox Mad Men Commercial

I love Mad Men. I do. I've watched it since day one, and one of the really interesting things about it is watching the social attitudes in the show about women's roles, and parenting, and masculinity in the workplace and all those other things that make it feel like a slice of life from the 60s (even though, you know, it's really not). But while I admire the show, many of the attitudes of the characters (about adultery and the treatment of women, especially) aren't things I particularly admire. Don Draper is hot, for sure, but I don't want to be his wife or girlfriend.***

So when Clorox bleach decided to run this ad, I can only assume that it was the result of an anachronistic three martini lunch. Take a look:

Yep, that's right. Here's a laundry detergent company, whose primary market is probably women, married women, suggesting that it's product is best for getting rid of the incriminating evidence of their husbands' affairs.

This one, unlike the two commercials above, isn't a muddled message, it's just a bad one. Unless the product is being marketed to (a) men who have affairs or (b) mistresses who do their partner's laundry before sending him home****, who the heck is this commercial supposed to be appealing to?

What commercials with mixed messages (or just plain bad ones) have I missed? I'm sure there are millions out there -- I do have a DVR and a tendency to skip them.


* That one thing being "this product is awesome and you should totally buy it."

** Although some people would argue that the Mac v. PC ads really just portrayed Mac users as smug hipsters and PC users as cool funny guys like John Hodgman (who, by the way, is a Mac user. True story.).

*** Jon Hamm is another matter altogether, though. Wow. That is an attractive man.

**** I've never been anyone's mistress, but it seems to me that one of the advantages of mistressing would be never having to do the guy's laundry.

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