Friday, May 31, 2013

A good critique partner is hard to find...

My parents are opposites. I mean, really opposite. My dad was an electrical engineer, my mom was a philosophy major. So yeah, not too much in common there. But clearly, it's worked out okay for them as they'll be celebrating their 46th wedding anniversary this year.

The best part about having a spouse that's your opposite is that they often complement you in a variety of ways (and hopefully compliment you too!). Where you are weak, they are hopefully strong, and vice versa.

Critique partners are kind of like your spouse. In some ways, you want them to be your opposites. You need them to balance you out. If you're fantastic at writing dialogue, but weak at description, you're going to want a partner who can be really good at figuring out where to put description.

So what I'm saying is that you shouldn't pick a critique partner who is exactly like you. Yeah, it's helpful if they like to read the kind of stuff you like to write, and there are no doubt going to be some similarities no matter what, but make sure you find the partner who works with you, not for you.

Some helpful hints:
1. Don't pick someone who only compliments your work. While nice for the ego (hi, mom!), it doesn't help improve your writing. You need someone who points out your weak points and helps you get better.
2. Don't pick someone who is overly critical. Yeah, you need criticism, but CONSTRUCTIVE criticism, not the kind of insults that leave you depressed and never wanting to write again.
3. Realize that you may not find all the qualities in a single critique partner. You may have one person who reads for dialogue, and one for description, and one for... I don't know, commas (I LOVE commas). Or something. This works out better than creating your own Frankenstein monster of a critique partner (and it's easier on the electrical bill).
4. Realize that if a critique partner isn't helping you, it's time to move on. I still use my original critique partner, who is also a great friend, because she's good at what she does. But no matter how good a friend she is, if she'd not helping me when she reads my books, I'd kick her to the curb. I'm just a bitch like that, I suppose.

and most importantly:
5. YOU MUST HAVE A CRITIQUE PARTNER!! I don't care how brilliant you are (I'm quite the genius myself), your writing will be made better by having someone else read it. Trust me.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Baby Evil Writers 101: Using Triggers to Write

Using Triggers to Write
Julie Butcher

How many times have you sat down to write and the glittery shininess of the internet  swept you away? (Kind of like Calgon-take-me-away, right?) It is oh, so easy to just pop onto twitter for a few seconds and end up staying for two or three hours. Then, you’ll only accept the gifts from the fun neighbor games on facebook, and not actually play. Then an hour later it’s time to tuck the kids in bed or do the dishes. Real life takes over and you have zilch wordage for the day.

There are several different things to use to get working. I use audio, visual, and space for prompts.

When I begin a manuscript, I use one song where the beat and lyrics sing the story in my mind. I play it on repeat for the first several chapters—until I don’t really hear it anymore. Then, when it is finally time to write (remember, I have six kids) I play the song a couple of times and the story jumps back into my head. Even if I fall from grace and wander over to twitter or facebook, the song sticks the story into my brain. The downside of this method is that when you’re in the car and the song comes on the radio, you start getting story and you can’t write it down. (Very, very irritating)

Make a story board or character sheets. (I already told you how to do that here.) Look at them before you begin writing. It really does help to make the characters full-fleshed. Then you won’t give them the wrong eye or hair color and they won’t use another character’s slang words. This saves on editing later
You need a place where you write. It needs to both be so familiar that it isn’t distracting and uncomfortable enough that you don’t fall asleep. It needs to be safe so that you don’t worry if people come in or out. Preferably, there needs to be a door you can lock or a ladder you can pull up. I’m lucky enough to have a clubhouse—with ferocious guard dogs and cannons and a moat. Okay, no dogs or ditches but I do have a clubhouse. You might have to make do with a locked bedroom door.

The thing is that by using prompts, you’ll save a few minutes, or hours. That’s a good thing, right?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Get Your Head Out of Your Ass (& Dip a Toe in the World)

A week ago a horrible tornado ripped through Oklahoma (and others through many other states as well), killing many--including children--and devastating every place it touched. On social media, there was the usual "Guys, it's time to turn off your promotional auto-tweets--it's not appropriate right now."

You know...maybe we shouldn't have promotional auto-tweets to begin with?

That's a rant for another day and not really what this post is about, though. Instead I'd like to point out this: as writers, we live in our head (duh, right?). If we're fortunate enough to be able to work from home, many of us don't interact with people outside of the ones in our heads. It tends to make us isolated and, I think, more likely to forget there IS a world outside of us.

Along comes some tragedy to remind people of that but I think the more isolated we are, the less likely we are to respond in a way that's, well, helpful at best and non-douchey at worst. But we are not isolated--my published writer friends, you have readers. Some might even be full blown fans. Even if they're not talking to you, they're out there. Further, you have colleagues and peers and other industry professionals you interact with.

When you say something tone-deaf or inappropriate, yes, there are actually people who hear you. When that "Short review quote from nobody' [link] #kindle #review #book #sale #bestseller #randomgenre #omgdoesSkylahavetotakeyourhashtagsaway #CUTITOUT" pops up in the middle of thousands of people calling for Red Cross donations and prayers for the families affected, it doesn't matter if you accidentally scheduled it--it makes you look like an insensitive douchecanoe. And, you know, maybe you ARE an insensitive douchecanoe, but maybe you shouldn't be broadcasting that publicly?

Or I distinctly remember during the Boston Marathon--a day that had thousands of people, including one of our members, waiting by the phone for hours, hoping for news about loved ones at the race--people making chipper comments late in the day/evening about what a beautiful day it was and how things were looking up.

I get it. Sometimes we have good days when other people are having bad days.

And sometimes it's best to keep mum on celebrating for a day or two lest you sound like an insensitive twat. Because it's one thing to announce you just got a promotion to your friend who you don't realize just lost her job; it's another entirely to sing and dance and broadcast your good fortune outside of a funeral where there's a sign in full view that says "Dead Children Within". And if you go to that same funeral and shout once an hour about how your book is on Kindle? Someone should punch you in the face.

The internet has brought us that much closer to one another. Being connected to people across the world means it's that much more important to know what's going on in the world. And for published writers, no matter how obscure, it means someone is always listening.

We all have bills to pay and mouths to feed but when the FUCK did self-promo become more important than compassion? When was the last time you were focused on a tragedy, saw someone say "Buy my book on Kindle!", and thought "Wow, yeah, what an appropriate time to go shopping--I'll get that straight away!"?

"But Mama Bitchstress, there's always some tragedy somewhere!"

That is true, however, if you're someone who writes for English-speaking audiences, it's fair to say that you're probably alienating a lot of people who follow you if you act like a twat during tragedies hitting large groups of people in North America, parts of Europe, Australia, etc. So, you know, start there--when your timeline explodes with mention of mass casualties, either RT some links to support or maybe STFU? This isn't rocket science, even for a socially inept bunch like us writers.

Really, the title of this post is the tl;dr of it all:

  • Get your head out of your ass, and at least dip your toe in the vast world around you where your readers and colleagues are. 
  • Realize that you are connected, are involved, just by virtue of being a public person.
  • There are more important things than your self-promotion--like being a fucking decent human being, for starters.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Shop Talk

There's a reason people tend to socialize with folks who do the same thing they do. Writers, like other artists, have their collectives, their guilds and groups, their gaggles and congregations. A lot of people will claim that we gather for practical purposes. We are advised to "network" and to build a creative circle for many business reasons.

Actually, this is good advice, but I'm feeling humorous today, and I want to talk about an even more important reason to have a group of authors with whom you can socialize. So let's put aside all those valuable and valid reasons to seek out a writing circle and talk about something else: the safety and well-being of your friends and family.

By this I mean that you need people who "get" least I do. I need someone that will give me the correct responses to my complaints and cheers, my bitching and whining, and who will appreciate any hard-won celebrations. For instance, when I tell my husband that I have to write a one page synopsis of my 300 page book and he says, "shouldn't be too hard" or "that sounds like fun," I need to be able to NOT beat him to death with our toaster. Having someone who I know will say, "ah shit," and then throw chocolate at me goes a long way toward keeping HIS forehead toaster free.

You get what I'm saying, I'm sure. But just for fun, here are a few more.

Writer: I think I may be stuck on this book. I haven't written in three days.
Well-meaning family member: You should take a break. Take some time off and give it a rest.
Writing Buddy: Oh, is the poor author feeling lazy today? Books don't write themselves, you weenie, get back to work.

Writer: I'm thinking of making the villain a robot monkey.
Mom: I never get tired of those.
Writing Buddy: Another monkey? Why not, right? I mean, you wouldn't want to actually put something original in this one.

Writer: I just got a partial request from an agent.
Family Member: When they make the movie, can you get me a part in it?
Author friend: Here, have this big ol' glass of tequila.

Your author friends will mock you when necessary, encourage you when it's absolutely mandatory, and understand your insane babbling about plot arcs and motivation without needing an interpreter.

Just remember that your family is trying their best, and that you probably don't get the responses to their comments right either. Because I've seen the toaster look in his eyes too, and I can only hope he has someone he can tell about lures and flies and the difference between hatchery raised and wild salmon who will give him the right reaction. My forehead hurts just thinking about it.

Play safe. :)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Recycled Post: Speshul Snoflakedom

We interrupt our regularly scheduled "Ask Dr. Dina" series to bring you a recycled post from 2011, as Dr. Dina is busy for the rest of the month. Enjoy!

Hello, evil readers!

Today we're going to talk about Speshul Snoflakedom. If you're not aware of what a Speshul Snoflake is, well, I'll enlighten you.

There are several definitions, so you can head on over to Urban Dictionary if you're curious about all of them, but today we're going to focus on the syndrome.

A malady affecting a significant portion of the world's population wherein the afflicted will demand special treatment, conduct themselves with a ludicrous, unfounded sense of entitlement, and generally make the lives of everyone around them that much more miserable. (via Urban Dictionary)

How does this apply to your writing?

*evil grin*


Let's start with "demand special treatment," shall we? Slushpile Hell. #queryfail. Jessica Faust says it beautifully here in her post on Bookends, LLC's blog, titled Thought for The Day:

I love it when people start their query with something along the lines of "I know a query should get to the point, but that's not my style and I like to do things my own way," or "I know you don't accept unrequested manuscripts, but that's not my style and I like to do things my own way," or "I know a mystery should really have a mystery in it, but that's not my style and I like to do things my own way."

Isn't that a little like me saying, "I know I shouldn't get fall-down drunk at writers' conferences, but that's not my style and I like to do things my own way"?


Are you seeing a pattern here? People who do these things – who think, for whatever reason, that they should be an exception to the established guidelines or rules or procedure - fall into the category of Speshul Snoflakes.

A perfect example of this is a writer (and I use the term very loosely and only
because they spend considerable time at their keyboard poking keys and forming something that looks like words, despite the fact that they have been told – both gently and not-so by both professionals and betas alike – that they have no ability to do this whatsoever) who uses their medical diagnosis to get people to read their work.

I'll pause here to let that sink in.

Listen up, writers. You do NOT use ANYTHING, and I mean ANYTHING, to garner sympathy readers. Asking (or demanding, in this person's case) that you buy anything because of < insert medical condition or other pitiful situation here > is what I call "pity soliciting." You're selling something to people/wanting them to buy stuff by playing on their sympathy.

Also known as a GUILT TRIP.

Now, there are exceptions to this, HOWEVER – they can only be made by someone other than the writer themselves without making it a pity solicitation. If someone else says, "hey, buy Writer X's work please – their house just burned down and they could use the help," that's fine. Perfectly okay. BUT! If the WRITER says, "buy my books because my house burned down, my dog ran away, I have irritable bowel syndrome and my kid needs therapy," that's something else entirely.

Fundraising is one thing. It's fine to write something with the intent to sell it to have the proceeds go to something specific. It's a whole different thing to ask people constantly to buy your work BECAUSE of something out of your control/you want them to feel sorry for you.

You don't want people to buy your work because they feel sorry for you. You want them to buy your work because it's what they want to read.

Using your medical diagnosis or life tragedy to sell your work (ANY work, not just writing) is a cheap shot, in my opinion. Why would you put in your author bio that you're a breast cancer survivor? Who needs to know that? What's the aim there? Why is that important to tell people? Do you want people to buy your book because you had cancer? (If you do, then more power to you. I'm just saying it's a lame reason to get people to buy your stuff.)

Now if your book was ABOUT living with cancer or coping with it or whatever, THEN it's relevant to say. THEN it's a credibility thing. But if you're writing a mystery story that has nothing at all to do with anything remotely related, there's no point to putting that kind of information in your author bio other than to garner sympathy.

Your writing is about telling a story. It's about escapism, not reality. If you want people to buy your stuff, then write something they're interested in reading. Don't go for the cheap shot/pity buy.

This behavior has the complete and total opposite effect on some people. Like me. Even if I'm interested in buying your story, if you've thrown in a "poor me, buy this book" thing in your bio or on your back cover or even on your blog, I'm not going to bother with you ever.

"Buy my book! I have six kids to feed!" Um, well, that sounds like a personal problem to me. It's not a reason for me to buy your book.

"Buy my book! I have < insert medical condition here >!" Again, not a reason for me to buy your book, and NOT – I REPEAT, NOT – a justification of your lack of writing skills. It's like saying, "Here, I did something that sucks, now pay me for it because it was really hard for me to do because I _____."

Um, how about "no?" Does "no" work for you? Because it does for me. That might work for charities, but you're a writer, not a charity. Making yourself into a charity case doesn't earn you points here.

Also, this isn't something you should put in your query letter. I don't know a single agent who will want to represent you based on the fact that you're a < insert medical condition or personal problem here >. You never see in submission guidelines "special priority granted to persons with < insert condition or situation here >." Submitting your writing is about YOUR WRITING, not YOU as a person. Now, again, if your medical diagnosis or life situation has something to do with your story (i.e. you've written a cancer survivor coping book and have survived cancer yourself), you can put a line in the query about "what qualifies me to write this." Then it's relevant. But don't just say "I'm a cancer patient with six kids to feed and looking for someone to buy my book." (First of all, agents don't "buy" your book - they represent you and present your work to those who would potentially buy it. Just sayin'.) Trying to evoke sympathy will not get you an agent. It will most likely end up getting you rejected. This isn't because agents are heartless. It's because you obviously don't know how to write a query letter and are trying to guilt them into representing you. Emotional blackmail is STILL blackmail, and it's abusive. Don't be that kind of writer.

Now, if you've crafted a brilliant story/followed the submission guidelines/done everything well, it may or may not get representation. If it does, you can tell the agent LATER, personally, that "oh, by the way, this might interfere with things...." It's all about relevance here, people.

Sympathy isn't a way to get anything. See the part in the Speshul Snoflake Syndrome definition about "entitlement."

YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO ANYTHING, EVER. You are not entitled to an agent, a book contract, a six-figure deal, publication, or anything at all, for any reason. Those things are earned, not given. (Unless, of course, you're a celebrity – then they'll just give you a book deal. Well, not YOU…a ghost writer because you're too busy being a celebrity to write anything, let alone write something coherent. Exception to Anthony Bourdain, who can write like a motherfucker.)

Well, that's not entirely accurate. I shouldn't say that Speshul Snoflakes aren't entitled to anything, because they are. They're entitled to mockery, derision and an award. A Speshul Snoflake Award (hereafter referred to as an "SSA").

It's been decided that Speshul Snoflakes are SO SPESHUL that we will occasionally feature one on this blog. I can't promise that there will be no names or links (this will depend on the infraction and obviousness of the Speshulness). Mostly it will just be drawing attention to How Not To Be A Douchebag Author. Our resident Photoshop guru may be making up this virtual award, and we will present it to the "lucky" recipient with our mockery. There is no shortage of "winners" here.

Why would we do such a thing? Because not only should stupid hurt, douchebags should be beaten. Then stabbed. With double-pointed knitting needles. (Wait, those are mine….)

Also...evil. Hi, evil writers here!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Um... Yeah, I'm totally OCD

My family will happily attest to the fact that occasionally, my craziness reaches bizarre heights. Usually about needing round numbers or alphabetizing stuff. Recently, they all mocked me because I couldn't handle the fact that my mom set her alarm for 4:57. Why not just do 5:00?  Seriously? I can't be alone in this
Anyways, I got sidetracked. I'm here to talk about how my OCD relates to books. Series, mostly.

Here's how it plays out: I start reading a series, fall in love with it and devour every available title. Then I hit the end of the series and have to wait, like normal people, for the next book. By the time that book arrives, months later, I buy it eagerly. And then I have to decide. Read it on its own? Or read the rest of the series again. I do this with movies too.

For example, my husband and I recently went to see Iron Man 3. What I really wanted to do was sit down, watch Iron Man and Iron Man 2 in quick succession, then head to the theater. It didn't happen, partially due to being busy, and partially due the mocking I get whenever I suggest things like that  :)

This problem mostly relates to 2 things, I've decided. One, I'm SUPER sequential (part of my OCD charm). I hate watching TV shows out off order, reading books out of order. I'm not sure why, other than a vague suspicion that I read something out of order as a kid, either got a nasty spoiler or had no idea what was going on, and it scarred me for life. So I like things to be sequential.

The other contributing factor is that I'm a really fast reader. Which is great, but it means that justifying spending time re-reading a series just to read the latest book doesn't take me all that long. Or least, it didn't, when I had more free time. But now, when I'm super busy and can usually only squeeze in a couple chapters before bed, I'm spending an awful lot of time re-reading books I've read before.

Mind you, I'm not totally crazy. If I've read the books in the last couple months, I don't usually re-read the whole series. And some series are long enough that I've read the first few books enough times that I can start my re-reading in the middle somewhere.

But yeah, that's my confession. What about you guys? Anyone crazy enough to admit that they re-read so they remember what's going on too?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Ten Comandments of Query Letters

The Ten Commandments of Query Letters
Julie Butcher
  1. Verily I say unto you, it is forbidden to mass query to Agents. Thou shalt not put many names and email addresses in the address line nor in the Carbon Copy nor in the Blind Carbon Copy. For each agent has a name.
  2. And thou shalt personalize thy query to each agent with a name and each has a name.
  3. Thou shalt put thy email address and thy street address and thy phone number on the query or thy children and thy children’s children shall rise up and call thee Stupid for missing an opportunity.
  4. Thou shalt not send a query for an unedited manuscript even in the enthusiasm following Nano for thy name shall be Mud and thy query rejected verily.
  5. Thou shalt respect the silence of Agents who have posted no response means no on their websites on pain of losing the opportunity to query to them forever and of taking the privilege from thy brothers.
  6. Thou shalt go onto the internet to research agents and to follow their guidelines lest thy query be lost to the evil of spam folders.
  7. Thou shalt keep thy query letter to one page for Agents have eyes and eyes can be broken.
  8. Thou shalt only send a query letter to an agent who represents thy genre which has a name.
  9. Thou shalt not hassle an agent about thy query on twitter or facebook or any social networking sites for they are there to be social. They are people and they have a name.
  10. And on the seventh day if a rejection shall come, thou shalt rejoice for thy skin is thicker with each rejection and thou shalt need a thick skin when you have a name, for lo and verily there are reviewers.

This is a repost some of you might remember from the #amwriting website a year or so ago. I have the flu of doom. I'll make a pretty new post next time, mkay?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How to Please Everyone

See that title? Are you all excited because I've come to you with the answer of how to make everyone happy with your work?

Okay, here it is...

You can't.


The fact of the matter is, when it comes to your writing (your singing, your art, your calculations of long division) you cannot please all the people...not even most of the time. After reading a review yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine and she said, "I get dinged for too much sex and not enough the same book."

At first I thought "Well at least that has never happened to me." But it has. That review in question? Didn't like the lack of sex in a book and felt that as a romance, it should have had some. Fair enough. (I fully believe that everyone has the right to their opinion on a book. So my undies are not in a bunch. Promise. Anyway...) I started thinking about it and realized while it wasn't specific to sex, there had been people who didn't like how much romance was in the book and would have preferred I stick to the action and gadgets.

(Now granted, if it wasn't a romance at all, reader #1 probably wouldn't have read it and wouldn't have been disappointed. But...that isn't the story I wanted to tell. So, romance it is.)

After that, I started thinking about reviews for my other books. And then I started reading reviews for books I either loved or hated. (Pretty much I read the opposing reviews. If I loved it, I read the 1 stars. If I hated it, I read the 5 stars.) Crazy thing. Turns out that on a pretty regular basis, the stuff I loved was the stuff someone else hated (or vice versa).

This makes sense (it just takes being able to step away from your own work to see it sometimes) because people are individuals. We each bring our own expectations to a book.

For myself, if an urban fantasy has romantic elements and there is sex, I expect to "see" the sex. Closed door in UF doesn't work for me and will yank me right out of a story. No sex is fine. Explicit monkey sex is fine. Finding out they previously had sex is even okay. But working up to the point and then jumping to the afterglow makes Sel a cranky reader. (In fairness, it's okay if it happens upon occasion in a book with a lot of sex because, you know, too much sex is no more fun than not enough sex.)

So, as a writer, you need to be able to take a step back from your work once it's out in the world. You need to let readers have their own experience with your book. Because, in that regard (and not any that would allow for pirating--we hang pirates around here), once you release the book, it's not your story any more. It's like when your kids go off to live their own lives. You don't get to control that. Your mistakes are on full display for the rest of the world. And so are your non-mistakes that people still don't like.

And that is okay. They have a right to like and not like whatever the fuck they want.

So you want to know how to please everyone?

You let them feel what they feel and don't try to own that. It's not yours; it's theirs.

In other words, don't be a douchebag author.

Monday, May 13, 2013

She Works Hard for the Money

Do you have Donna Summers' voice in your head yet? No? Here you go.

You're welcome.

A year ago, I was in a pretty rough spot. Despite having three novels and a short story collection out in a year (with a book and another short story collection coming), sales were non-existent and royalties were abysmal, so when my dog was dangerously ill right after my bunny had surgery, I was broke and freaking out about how I'd pay rent after dropping everything I had at the vet office.

Today (well, last Thursday as you'll be reading this), some of the critters went in for checkups and I got some not great news about my beloved cat. The vet warned she wanted to run more tests but they were costly--together they were going to run about $300.

I let out a breath of relief. "Oh, no prob, I can do that."

'No prob.' From me. Coming out of my mouth.

I've gone from being homeless to living below the poverty level to just barely going over the poverty level to..."no prob" when a couple of sudden tests popped up. The biggest difference from May 2012 is that I spent a year writing for the money. And that shit's paid off.

When I started last year--after drunkenly agreeing to it in a moment of high impressionability--I was filled with shame. I whispered it to close friends. I guarded this secret as I imagined college girls do when they strip to get through med school. Because all writing must be ART, yes? It must have a piece of our soul? It must never, ever be for the dirty cold hard cash we need to survive?


You know who told me to be proud? Our very own Bad Horse. She said there was no shame in making a living from writing.

And today, that's what I'm going to tell you.

It's really nice to work hard on a book you love, that you put your blood, sweat, and tears into, and have it do well. And sometimes it happens.

Many times it doesn't.

So what are you going to do? Are you going to moan that Life Isn't Fair? Are you going to bitch about readers not liking what you write? Or are you going to pick yourself up and write what will make money, giving readers what they want? Because here's the thing: no one owes you a living in writing. You are not owed a certain amount of money just because you wrote a book. Readers do not owe you their time or money. And if they are not buying what you're peddling, you find something else they might want.

And it's not an either/or situation, folks. I still write what I love. I still hope to sell and making a living from what I love one day. But in the meantime? In the meantime, I have no shame. Skillz to pay the billz, as the Gothic Goddess says.

It's okay to write things you don't love if it's paying well. Art doesn't always feed your kids. It doesn't always pay your rent. And let me tell you, if it means the difference between life-saving medication for one of my babies or letting them die? I know what I'm choosing.

I'm not rolling in it. Yet. I'm not about to quit my day job and if it comes to my furbaby needing a big ticket item, like surgery, I'll have to do some strategizing. But I've got a nice supplemental income that's eased the strain from living paycheque to paycheque. And I'm not ashamed of it.

I worked hard for it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Writing Out Loud

Objectivity isn't easy when you're dealing with your own creation. We try, of course. We know it's necessary for the truly effective editing, revising, rewriting phase. We put the freshly shiny manuscript aside and let it perk, we ignore it, we try to fall in love with a new story before approaching it again. But the words on the paper are still ours. Even though the "set it aside for some distance" strategy works (and I highly recommend it) we're still so close to our words. Deep down, we still gloss over them.

They are very hard to see clearly.

It turns out what really helps bring them into focus is to HEAR them. A lot of people suggest reading your work out loud, I know. But for years I took this advice in, processed it, considered it, acknowledged its validity and then consistently ignored it. I mean, it's embarrassing, talking to yourself. Even completely alone, I found it uncomfortable to read out loud. I got the theory, but to actually do it seemed silly, goofy, possibly slightly insane.

Then I signed up to do a public reading. (eep) After my initial panic attack subsided, I started to practice. I read and re-read. I recorded. I read to the mirror, to my family, to anyone I could get to sit still for me. Nothing like the fear of looking stupid in public to motivate me, let me tell you.

And despite the fact that I survived this public reading thing, (and even actually enjoyed it) the big revelation in the process was how much crud I discovered hiding in my manuscript. I found goofs I'd never seen. I found typos. I could hear the rhythm of the story and even when I didn't find an error, I found a thing or two I'd have liked to word differently.

I'll be damned.

I hate it when that happens. I mean, if I'd taken the stupid advice years ago....well, you get it. Reading out loud works. It works really well. I highly recommend it, but then, so did everyone else long before I came around. Will I read everything I write aloud from now on? I doubt I'm that devoted, but I might give it a try.

I'll definitely be talking to myself more than usual. Edit, edit, edit, read!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Series Post: Ask Dr. Dina - Bruises

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I do not hold a current medical license or certification (I let them lapse because I no longer work in the medical field and don't intend to ever again). What I do have is an extensive medical background in various fields. Everything you read here is the result of either education, training, research and interpretation, or personal experience. The information in this post is not to be taken as a substitute for professional medical advice or examination. Seriously, if you're having an immediate medical problem and you're reading this blog for help, get off the damned computer and call an ambulance! 

Today we continue my "Ask Dr. Dina" series with a post about more kinds of soft tissue injuries with a post about bruises. I was going to add cuts and scrapes in this post, but there's enough about bruising that cuts and scrapes are going to need their own entry, lest this turn into a medical lecture, and I'm not a substitute for your med school classes. Onward!

We've all had bruises. Anything with skin or soft flesh gets them (you've seen bruised apples at the store). A bruise is a common way of identifying bleeding under the skin. You bleed under the skin, it makes a spot. That spot can be all sorts of colors, and the color will change as the bruise either heals or worsens (depending on circumstance and location).

Bruises have all sorts of medical names, but the most common are "contusion" and "hematoma." They all mean the same thing - "bleeding (hemorrhaging) outside the vessels" - but the different terms indicate the varying degrees of the bleed (from now on referred to in proper medical context as "hemorrhage." I know. You hear "hemorrhage," you think "OMG bleeding to death!" No. "Hemorrhage" just means "bleeding," in any amount. It's the severity that's the important thing. "Hemorrhage" is colloquially accepted to mean "severe," but it's not technically correct. *The More You Know star*).

Let's start with your regular, run-of-the-mill, "I bumped my leg on the corner of the coffee table" bruise. Contusions are generally caused by trauma, but something as simple as kneeling down on the asphalt to pick up your dropped car keys can give you a contusion. All this means is you've broken some blood vessels and they've hemorrhaged their contents beneath your skin.

Sometimes these contusions hurt, sometimes they don't. Sometimes you don't even notice them until they're a pretty purple color hours later, or a funky green spot days after you bumped the coffee table. Either way, you've hemorrhaged under your skin, either a lot or a little, and it's made that spot because it takes awhile for the blood under there to be removed by your body's clean-up crew (your immune system).

Now, you can also bruise muscles (but the same still applies – it just means you've broken the blood vessels in the muscle and hemorrhaged) and bone. Yes, you can bruise your bones. Your bones have blood vessels running through them just like every other part of your body. These types of injuries usually involve intense pressure/crushing, like car accidents and so on.

The type of blood vessel that's hemorrhaging indicates the severity of the contusion. The tiniest vessels are called "capillaries," the next largest ones are referred to as "veins." ("Arteries," while also blood vessels, have a different job, and while it is technically possible to bruise an artery, it takes a hell of a lot more than just banging into a coffee table to do this, so we're not going to talk about arteries for the purposes of this post.)

While most contusions are benign, some can lead to complications, such as subdural hematomas, or "hemorrhaging under the dura." The dura is the little sac that encloses that squishy organ we like to call YOUR BRAIN, and there's not a whole lot of room in your skull for things that aren't where they should be. Hemorrhaging around your brain isn't a good thing and can kill you if it's not properly taken care of.

When you fracture a bone, you're going to have bruising around the injury. The severity depends on the break, but it's an injury, there's bleeding (hemorrhaging), there's a contusion. Contusions are what are called "closed" injuries (under the skin – not open wounds or broken skin; we'll talk more about these when we talk about cuts and scrapes), and generally stay beneath the tissue they're affecting.

Hematomas are a little different than your basic bruise. A hematoma is still a hemorrhage under the skin, but instead of diffusing into the surrounding tissue making it turn pretty-but-flat colors, it collects in an area and makes kind of a pouch. Hematomas are kind of little blood-filled sacs, and they're generally fairly large. Muscles are affected by hematomas more than skin, because your skin is good at letting the leak (hemorrhage) spread out. Muscles not so much. Hematomas are often called "deep bruises" for that reason. Sometimes you can see them under the skin (they look something like an egg under the skin – you know, like a "goose egg" on your head when you whack it hard? Yeah, that.), sometimes you can't.

What does all this have to do with your writing? Well, if you have to ask, you're doing it wrong. When was the last time your character sported a bruise? Had a black eye from a fist fight? (Hint: "black eyes" are generally hematomas – the blood collects underneath and around the eye socket and that's why they look shiny/puffy.) It's not much to have your character notice a bruise, or have it noticed by another. Also, if you're going to beat up your character, remember there are consequences.

If you're going to have your character break anything, remember there's going to be bruising from the trauma.

Join us next time when we talk about cuts and scrapes!

Questions about medical issues with your writing? Leave them in the comments below and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. (THESE MUST APPLY TO FICTIONAL SITUATIONS ONLY. I AM NOT YOUR DOCTOR, NOR A SUBSTITUTE FOR ONE.)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Ugh. Exercise.

I am, as you know, a writer. I'm also a lawyer. Both of these professions involve spending a lot of time in front of a computer. Which means I'm also overweight. Super fun.

And like most of America, I often wish I weren't. So when my best friend called me in March and told me that I was doing a triathlon with her in May, I reluctantly agreed. Partially because I needed a reason to get back into shape and partially because you don't say no to my best friend and live to talk about it (she's scary!).

So I reluctantly got back on the treadmill and the exercise bike. I haven't practiced swimming, which may be a problem tomorrow when I leap into Lake Havasu early in the morning, but I'm assuming I remember how to swim. If not, I'll sink peacefully to the bottom of the lake and not have to worry about the biking or running parts.  Win-win  :)

At any rate, time has flown by quickly and, if you can't tell, I'm petrified about my expedition into the world of triathlons tomorrow morning. Really early. Have I mentioned I'm not thrilled about this whole prospect?

My trials and tribulations aside, remember that just because you're a writer doesn't mean you should leave a sedentary life. Make sure you get up and move around or brainstorm while walking or something. I want you to live a long full life so that I can read your books  :)

That's my basic message today: Don't forget to exercise. Think good thoughts for me tomorrow, obscenely early in the morning when I'll be struggling to remember what to do with my arms and legs in the water. After that, I'll just be muttering terrible things about my best friend as I struggle to complete the triathlon (and you guys thought I was evil!). Whee!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Beating a Dead Horse - Publishing? It's WORK

Okay, I’m sure this has been done before (and probably better than I’ll ever do it), but suck it up, Buttercup.

We could talk for days about the things no one really considers when pursuing publishing, but today let’s talk time. Yes, time.

You see, most of us little writer types go into this gig dreaming of the time we’ll be able to flip our day job boss the bird and make a living off the blood, sweat, and tears we pour into our books. And sometimes, if you’re lucky and bust ass and put the time and effort and the plethora of other shit that goes into getting published, you are able to take that step.

Which is awesome. Pat yourself on the back. You’ve made it. Now it’s time to spend your days in Starbucks, sipping your coffee of choice while making insane word counts because you’re no longer tied into a 40hr week doing something else.

Yeah. Not so much.

You know what comes with being published? A whole lot of shit that never would have pranced through your starstruck mind. I know this because I had no freaking idea and I’d been chasing the dream for YEARS.

That blog you have? Well, it’s no longer professional enough. Upgrade. Your book’s coming out? Guess what? If you’re lucky, your publisher has put the time and effort into pushing promo for you (which you will have to put time and effort into as well). If you’re not? That’s all on you, Cupcake. That email account you used to stalk in hopes of seeing The Letter? Now it’s overflowing with business stuff that has nothing to do with the actual writing of your book.

A lot of people – myself included – walk into this under the mistaken impression that all you have to worry about is the words you put on the page. And that’s a huge ass deal, because if your book is crap, people aren’t going to buy it. But once you have that beautiful little publishing contract, the writing/editing/etc of a book becomes only PART of the process.

I know you’ve heard this before, darlings, but hear it again.

Publishing is a whole shit-ton of WORK. Really hard, occasionally depressing as all get out, WORK.

That said, I think it's totally worth it.

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