Sunday, October 30, 2011

NaNoWriMo Tips

November is National Novel Writing Month (and National Play Writing Month too). Since I've written almost 20 novels (most of which are published, though I've still got a couple of failures in the drawer too), not to mention a buttload of plays, this time of year I always get hounded by people who want to know how they can write a novel or a full-length play in a month. Mind you, these are people who are not writers----in fact, they often can't even claim to be wannabe writers.

Nine times out of ten, those same people are not even remotely serious about getting started in the novel-writing process, and the ones that do start often do not finish. (And we're not even getting into their success rates on publication, which are even lower.) So, suffice to say that I am generally pretty cynical when these Johnny-come-latelies interrupt my very limited free time asking for writing advice.

To bypass that, I've come up with a list of 10 tips. So, read these tips, and don't bug me for free advice. TYVM.

1) Write every day for at least 2 hours. Bare minimum. No excuses. And that means EVERY SINGLE DAY, including holidays and weekends. You need to get down at least 1700 words per day for 30 days to have a 50,000 word manuscript (which might be a piece of crap, but at least it's something). Ditto for a play. So get cracking.

2) Don't bother with a bunch of writing "exercises" like outlines or brainstorms or character profiles. That kind of garbage is just stupid busy-work invented by bad writing teachers. Just write the damn novel (or play, or whatever). You can always go back and revise a first draft, but without an actual first draft, you've got jack nada.

3) Don't quit your day job. Unless you already write for a living (and I highly doubt it), do not expect your as-yet-unfinished novel or play to start paying your bills for you.

4) Don't expect to get published. It is very, very, very hard to get published. (Self-publishing and vanity publishing don't count). The brutal truth is, the vast majority of first novels do not get published. Your first completed novel is really more of a training exercise that helps you learn how to write a novel. (Mine was.) Oftentimes, the "first" novels of published authors were in fact the third or fourth (or more) novels they actually finished. (The same goes for plays----don't expect your first play to get produced.) Mind you, I've had dozens of my plays produced and published, and I've still got a ton that I can't even give away---and just FYI, the new play market is worse than the novel market, and it's getting worse every year.

5) Be prepared to give up most of your leisure activities. That means turn off the TV, stop playing World of Warcraft, stop screwing around online, stop going to parties, stop gossiping on the phone, and sign out of Facebook. All of it. That book isn't gonna write itself. If you're not willing to do all of that, then you should probably quit right now.

6) Don't bother me. I am a full-time professional freelance writer with bills to pay and deadlines to meet, I don't have time to answer a bazillion stupid writing questions from strangers (or even friends that I know aren't serious about writing). If I choose out of the kindness of my heart to give you some of my time and expertise, please appreciate it.

7) You are not God's gift to literature. If you've never written a book or play before, then this should be obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people think the exact opposite.

8) No publisher is going to show any interest in an unfinished novel manuscript. So stop reading my blog and finish it! And the market for unfinished (or even finished) plays is approximately equal to the market for used belly lint, so keep your expectations well in line with that.

9) Do not ask me to introduce you to my agent and/or publisher, because I won't. This would be in line with Tip No. 7, but given how many audacious people have asked me to do this, it merits its own tip. (And the one time I did it, I got totally burned, so I will never do it again).

10) Don't say that you "don't have time" to write. I am sick to death of hearing from people with half-finished manuscripts who complain that they would like to finish them, but they "don't have time." Bullshit. You have the same number of hours in the day as allotted to Ghandi, Voltaire, Gore Vidal, J.K. Rowling, and Jesus Christ, and look what they managed to do with it. So, stop making a bunch of bullshit lazy excuses and go write.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pasteups, Part Deux

These days the closest thing I get to doing a pasteup is linking my latest articles to my portfolio page on my professional website. I always put it off because it's a pain in the ass, but it's a necessary pain in the ass since as a freelance journalist, you're only as good as your latest article. I have a bunch more articles to post this weekend, it's on my list of (procrastination) things to do this weekend, along with some PR copywriting work I'm not in the mood to do right now.

Since I'm waxing philosophical anyway, allow me to continue my post from yesterday about writing for yourself versus writing for an audience. We've already established that amateurs write for themselves and pros write for others. But what happens when a pro gets stuck in a self-involved rut and can't see the forest for the trees? Well, I've got an anecdote to share.

A former coworker and acquaintance of mine wrote and published about 30 pulp sword-and-sorcery fantasy novels (think Conan the Barbarian type stuff) in the 70s and early/mid 80s. Although he never made enough money to give up his editing day job entirely, he did quite well and had an international readership for those books. At one point, he even had the same agent as Stephen King. (No joke). Then, in the late 80s the market changed and nobody wanted to read those kinds of books anymore. Readers' tastes' changed, and the market changed with it.

But instead of exploring new things to write about (which is how any writer grows professionally), my acquaintance just kept writing the same damn book over and over again. Small wonder his novel-writing career was dead in the water. His agent dropped him, his publisher killed the rest of his contract, and he couldn't even give his work away.

And so it went for him for about 25 years. He stopped writing altogether because he was bitter. Then he started writing again, but he was still covering all the same old ground. He went the self-publishing route, at great expense to himself and his family. He reached out and mentored younger writers like me (and since he'd been tutored himself by the great Leigh Brackett, I appreciated that---for a while anyway), but his own career still went---you guessed it, nowhere.

Still, I liked the guy. He was smart and funny and knew a lot about books and movies, so he was fun to chat with, and his much-younger wife had a child about my son's age. We would hang out sometimes. Then we got the idea to have a monthly writers' group meeting, where he, I, and one of his hanger-on friends who also wrote on the side would discuss our work.

I went to a few of those meetings, but pretty soon figured out they were a waste of time. First of all, this guy's writer friend was completely self-absorbed, not to mention kind of creepy (he once threatened bodily harm on me for disagreeing with him on something), and second of all, we didn't really talk about writing or discuss each other's work. Mostly the two men talked about old movies, with smatterings of sex and booze and assorted other misogynistic topics, and then they'd switch gears to talking about all the self-publishing projects they had going. They were "investing" thousands of dollars of their own money into vanity-press contracts, not to mention slick, expensively produced book trailers, going so far as to hire professional actors to appear in them. (And neither of them could really afford to be doing that, either).

They would insist doing this was the "wave of the future" of publishing, and neither of them wanted to hear much about how I had managed to land multiple book contracts that paid ME advances and royalties instead of the other way around. Not to mention that I earned a steady full-time living as a journalist. No, neither of them wanted to hear anything about how I'd accomplished that. No, they just wanted to talk about how cool they thought their new characters and plots were and how much fun they were having writing them. But there was still plenty of complaining from the both of them about how they weren't making a living as writers and how they thought the whole publishing system was bogus, and people were stupid not to want to buy pulp sword and sorcery books anymore.

The one time I brought up to them that they were not succeeding as writers because they were thinking too much about themselves and not about readers, well, I didn't get a good reaction.

So, suffice to say I ended that friendship. But I learned a great deal from it nonetheless. And I'll leave you with this. Yesterday I got copyedits back from my editor on two articles I wrote about mental illness in the United States. My editor said,"Wow, these were great pieces! Really made me think, and even made me outraged. I can tell you're really passionate about this topic."

And it's true, I am very passionate about it. I have multiple family members who struggle with mental illness so it's a topic close to my heart. I told her that, and also said that I try to do my part as a journalist to keep people informed about it. She replied, "Wow, that's great. By the way, my grandfather committed suicide, I wish we could have gotten him some help. It's nice to see journalists like you take that topic on."

And that, my friends, is what makes my job worth doing. I don't write for myself, you see. I write for others. Peace.

Friday, September 9, 2011


I don't blog these days as much as I "micro-blog" on Facebook, but I try to post longer, more thought-out posts here. Still, today I'm sort of cheating since this post is more of a compilation of some recent Facebook conversations.

I've been working some long hours writing-wise, with lots of deadlines and competing projects. I just landed a new long-term freelance client, just upped my monthly article load, and also spent about a month and a half on an intensive edit of my latest novel release, which was especially arduous. (But in a good way, since I made that editor very happy and she's made it clear she wants to buy more of my books so she can keep working with me. Always a bonus.)

One thing that a lot of aspiring writers (and even some writing teachers) will tell you is that you should always write "for yourself first." Which has got to be the worst piece of writing advice ever, especially from a career perspective. If you really want to make writing your full-time paying career, you have to learn to write chiefly for OTHER PEOPLE. (In other words, readers.) If you want to get paid for writing, you have to be able to write something other people are willing to pay for. Unless, of course, you're planning on just paying yourself all the time, and that's not a good career strategy unless you're a billionaire.

If you want other people to pay you for the privilege of reading your work, then it helps if you actually have some idea what other people want to read. How do you do that? Well, you could probably start by reading everything you can get your hands on. Newspapers (online or print), magazines (online or print), books (print or digital). Go to the bookstore, or the book section of WalMart or Target and see what's on the shelves. Go to your library and ask the librarians what books are most popular with patrons. Read, read, read. Think about what you yourself like to read and what kinds of writing you plunk down your own hard-earned money to purchase. Then apply that to your writing. Always write with an audience in mind.

There is a certain amount of selflessness involved in writing for a living. Only amateurs write "for themselves." (If you write only for yourself, you'll likely have an audience consisting only of yourself.) Pros write for others.

An old friend of mine and I had a Facebook conversation the other day about when she used to work for a print magazine in the old days of paste-ups and column typesetters. She said, "We had a group of heavyset older ladies who would typeset out and paste up everything into columns [ahead of printing.] Boy, you did NOT want to piss off those ladies with last-minute changes!"

Publishing used to be a lot more labor-intensive than it is now. The digital age has removed a lot of the barriers to writing for an audience by taking a lot of the physical work of publishing out of the equation. But that's not necessarily a good thing. As my old friend pointed out, in the old days you thought a lot more about how what you did affected other people in the publishing queue. Maybe we need to go back to that a little, because too many people these days think only about themselves when it comes to their writing, and not about others. And they wonder why they don't have an audience.

More on this topic tomorrow. Peace.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Recession? What recession?

I've been plugging away at this self-employed freelance writer thing for a few years now, and I'm proud to say that I'm now very, very successful at it. Almost too successful, in fact. Because I now have so much good-paying work being offered to me by many different clients that I've spent the past 2 weeks working 12-18 hour days. Not to mention proofing galleys and audiobooks for my published novels on tight deadlines for my book editors. It's grueling, but rewarding. And not just financially. Having people come out of the woodwork completely unsolicited offering you good money to write for them sure is a confidence booster.

It's odd, though. Even though I'm thankful for the success, in today's troubled economic times I can't help but feel a little guilty to be doing so well. (Especially when I was struggling myself not that long ago.) I know lots of unemployed writers, many of them former newspaper reporters and magazine/book editors who've lost their jobs in publishing, some of whom had been working as professional writers for 30 years or more and now don't know where their next meals are coming from. Plus there are tons more writers who struggle to write on the side while working day jobs they hate (if they're lucky enough to have day jobs at all), and they seldom make more than the price of a Chinese dinner for their writing---if even that much. But for me, this year has been a banquet, and it keeps getting better and better.

But then again, it kind of follows my longstanding pattern of going against the grain in life. In the late 90s, when the economy was on a tear and people all around me were making money hand over fist, I was barely getting by. I worked staff writer/editor jobs that paid a pittance when I was lucky, and waited tables/worked in retail when I wasn't so lucky (staff writer/editor jobs are the last hired and first fired even in good times). I did freelance writing on the side, contributing articles to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, and numerous magazines, but the pay for that was low and intermittent, though it helped me build a nice portfolio of clips. Plus I was living in a big expensive city, I was single, I had massive student loan debt (now mostly paid off) and a low/mostly unstable income. I had friends from grad school who had originally aspired to be writers choose different careers because they didn't want to live hand to mouth; they made more money than I did but weren't necessarily happier. But I wanted to be a writer, dammit, and I swore I'd never give up the dream. Seventeen years later, I still haven't, and now I'm the envy of many of those friends.

But I'm still not satisfied. I won't be until I have a book on the New York Times Bestseller list. Then two. Then four. Then all of them made into films. Then, I want my ultimate childhood fantasy fulfilled----I want one of my plays to get a successful run on Broadway, preferably to include a Tony (maybe even a Pulitzer, but one thing at a time).

Okay, okay, maybe I'm getting carried away now. But the thing is, even though this recession and job market are brutal for a lot of people, I'm doing better professionally now than I've ever done in my entire life. I'm thankful for it, I appreciate it. And I'll keep right on working my ass off. I've only been doing it for seventeen years now.

Gotta go, deadlines await.


Monday, August 15, 2011

A Grownup's Guide to Inner Peace

Lately I've been reflecting a lot on my own life choices, as well as the life choices of some of my friends and family. The old saying "the grass is always greener" is true---to a point. While I have single friends and family who have zero responsibilities and the freedom to gallivant all over the country and world at a moment's notice doing all sorts of crazy, glamorous things (and sometimes, I have to admit, I find myself envious of them even though I lead a very full life myself), I honestly would not trade places with them. Why?

Because in most cases, these are people who are older than me (sometimes MUCH older) but still don't have their "real" lives together yet. As in, no stable relationships (and/or multiple broken ones/divorces), blah-blah careers, no family or dependents, sometimes even no real financial stability. They spend their time jumping from one glamorous "adventure" to the next, jam-packing their schedules with every thrill-seeking activity they can possibly think of, without ever once stopping to notice what they're really doing is hiding from themselves. I can certainly understand the need to stay busy, since keeping busy is something that I do to address my tendency to get depressed if I don't. But there's a very big difference between finding productive things to do and running around like a chicken with your head cut off.

One thing I've learned as a Buddhist is to place a lot of value in keeping still. We all lead crazy lives, but at some point, we all have to slow down, sit down, and listen to ourselves, or we'll lose touch of who and what we really are. Not only that, a big part of being truly happy is serving something (and someone) other than yourself. Part of what it means to be a grownup is to consider yourself part of something larger than just your own needs and wants---whether that's a long-term relationship, a family, or even just your community. That can be hard to do when all you're doing is chasing the next thrill.

I can understand the appeal of the thrill-seeking life, since I spent the better part of my 20s pursuing it myself. But I also spent the better part of my 20s as a miserable emotional wreck who was full of anger and self-loathing. It wasn't until I slowed down and spent some serious time doing nothing but the basics of existence that I really figured myself out. All those years I spent travelling (I still travel, I just do it for the right reasons), jumping from one project/interest to the next, bed-hopping with umpteen-million boyfriends and casual one-night-stands did nothing for my self-esteem or for my character. Sure, they've given me some good stories to tell at cocktail parties, but that didn't make me me.

People often justify their crazy, impermanent, never-stop-to-smell-the-roses lives as "ways to find themselves." But that's not it at all. Really, what they're doing is running away from themselves. I know, because I've done it. All it got me was a major crash-and-burn in which every aspect of my life----personal, financial, spiritual, emotional----literally fell apart around me, and I was left with nothing.

How did I right my ship when that happened? (It happened about 10 years ago). I just stopped. I totally rebuilt my life from the ground up, and I did it by chucking all extraneous activities (other than work, exercise, and sleep) in favor of meditation. Seriously, I did that for almost an entire year. It worked. Within a year of doing that, I found myself married, with a good job, owning a home, and with a career that was going places.

Do yourself a favor. This week, get out your crazy-busy schedule, look it over, and then DELETE everything on it for at least one day. Or even a half-day if that's all you can do. Go out and sit on your porch or in the park or in a field and do nothing but just think, and breathe, and meditate (or pray, if that's your thing). Really take a hard look at yourself and your life, but don't attach any feeling or judgment to what you find. You might find yourself a little freaked out by what pops into your head while you do this. Be prepared to get upset, angry, maybe even cry a little. But it's worth it in the long run. When you're forced to look hard at yourself, you learn two things. One, that your own life really isn't all that important in the big context of the world, and two, that it's the people around you that really matter most. That doesn't mean you have to start sacrificing your own happiness, though. What you'll often find is, if you're where you should be, your happiness will just be there regardless of what you're doing or who you're with.

Easier said than done, I know. But you can start by inquiring within. And it sometimes it takes a major slowdown in order to speed yourself up for good.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Writer's Conundrum

You know what's great about being a successful writer/artist? You see and feel things that others don't, and when you express what you see and feel, people pay attention.

But you know what's also really bad about being a successful writer/artist? You see and feel things that others don't, and when you express what you see and feel, people pay attention.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Confessions of a Straight Talker

Facebook is great for a lot of things, including stimulating political debate. But one thing it can also do is piss people off. Especially when you're an outspoken, straight-talking Irish tomboy lass like me who grew up to be a professional writer. I've pissed some people off online with my straightforward, open, no-nonsense style of late. They weren't people who were necessarily important to my real life, though in some cases they were old friends I hadn't seen in years but had renewed correspondence with. Others were people I didn't really know well personally (though I'd met them, at least) but whom I'd grown fond of online. Then, one day I make one of my trademark blunt-as-a-dull razor statements (which they should have grown accustomed to by that point---indeed, many people actually become friends with me in the first place because they like this personal trait of mine) and poof! Gone.

I got all hot and bothered and anxious by that over the weekend, since in one case in particular the people in question really went after me personally (one thing I always try to make a point not to do whenever/wherever possible, even when I'm at my bluntest). But after the edge wore off, I decided that I just can't continue to let that sort of thing bother me. Here's some reasons why.

1) I am not going to censor myself just to please you. While this doesn't mean I'm going to go around spewing obscenities like a Tourette's victim, don't expect me to "shut up and behave like a lady," as one person choicely put it to me last week. I've always been more comfortable talking with men than women because I don't do the whole passive-aggressive/overly emotional thing very well. This is who I am. Get used to it.

2) And pursuant to No. 1, people who spew overemotional hot air with no rhetorical substance (usually women, though I've seen men do it too) do not tend to get along with me, so be forewarned.

3) I am hard-wired this way. I have been an upfront, straightforward, straight-talking broad since I was at least 2 years old, or so my parents tell me. I don't have the "off" switch in my brain that most people do. Some might say that's a psychological defect of some kind, but even if it is, I've managed to make a pretty lucrative profession out it. If I think something needs to be said, sooner or later it is going to fall out of my mouth (or my pen). So telling me that I need to learn tact is not usually a good piece of advice for me to follow. You might as well tell a blind person to get glasses.

4) I always think honesty is the best policy. Again, I'm hard-wired this way. Lies make me physically ill, unless I'm writing fiction. I think the whole reason I became a writer was because it was the only way my brain could process the natural human tendency for lying. (This is probably because I was always severely punished for "making up stories" as a young child, as young children are often wont to do.) So if you want to know if that dress makes you look fat, but you are really just looking for an ego boost, you should probably ask someone else.

5) I have more self-awareness than a lot of people, and that's not necessarily a good thing. If I censor myself (or even show restraint), my conscience often makes me feel guilty for being dishonest. Not only that, I spend a lot of time evaluating my faults and looking for ways to improve upon them, though I don't always succeed. (In other words, I beat myself up a lot, I set very high standards for myself, and I'm never satisfied.) As if that weren't hard enough, I also expect other people to adhere to my high standards, and of course they usually don't, so I'm frequently disappointed, and I frequently say so. Loudly.

6) Aren't you glad you aren't me? The neurotic writer who lives alone in a garrett is a cliche. But the scary part is, it's also true. I'm a neurotic writer who spends 10-12 hours a day working in an attic and not talking to anyone. You'd be a little "off" in the head if you were me, too.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011


So much about writing for a living involves patience. Lots of it. First off, it takes a great deal of mental discipline, concentration, and self-control in order to write. You have to shut out all distractions (not easy these days!), stay focused on a narrative throughline (in the case of fiction) or a topic (in the case of nonfiction or journalism). You even have to be "on" when you aren't writing, filtering through all the random thoughts and ideas that pop into your brain when you're housecleaning, or out jogging, or driving your car---and then keep track of which ideas are usable and which are not, and which can be filed away for possible future use. And if you're a features journalist like I am, you also have to "keep your finger on the pulse of America," as my editors like to say, so I can pitch them my monthly story topics that are timely and of interest to my publications' readership. Not an easy task, for sure.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Even when your writing is complete, you often spend a lot of time just waiting around. Waiting for interview subjects to return calls or to approve their quotes. Waiting for your editor to reply to your latest email. Waiting for your agent to get back to you on all those submissions she made to big publishing houses in the positively glacial world of New York publishing. Waiting for that quarterly royalty check. Waiting, waiting, waiting. And then more waiting.

I think the main reason most people who aspire to be professional writers simply don't have what it takes is a lack of patience. It often takes years and years of work, study, and self-defeating rejection just to get published, after all. And even after you've "made it," the waiting and the need for humility and reams of patience never really stops---if anything, it just gets worse. That's why when random half-committed (if that) people waltz up to me and say they want to do what I do for a living, I tell them, "No you don't. Go out and sell real estate, or get a job as a secretary or something. Don't do this." They usually give me a dirty look and walk away. But they always seem to take my advice, at least when it comes to getting a job.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Falling In

Last night I took one of my now-rare forays into the city of Chicago (where I spent the better part of my 20s and early 30s living) for a theater benefit performance gala that also included a rare Chicago performance of my most-frequently produced stage play, "The Devil Is In The Details." (Because of some of the odd peculiarities of the Chicago theater world, which I won't discuss here but I've blogged about in the past, I long ago stopped pursuing productions in Chicago in favor of more high-profile---and paying---play productions in New York City, Los Angeles, and nationally). I don't do this often for a whole host of reasons, let alone on a weeknight, but I did it not only to see my play on its feet, but also because I'm a longtime member of the producing organization, Chicago Writers Bloc, a playwrights' collective.

One of the great things about Chicago Writers Bloc versus some of the other playwrights' organizations in town (who shall remain nameless, ahem), is that most of the members actually make their living solely by writing (me included). We have several current and former (retired) Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times reporters/editors, people who've written/published upwards of 30 books, people who make/write successful documentary films and TV shows, people who've had their plays produced all over the country. The one thing we all seem to have in common is the Chicago theater "establishment," which tends to be very actor-driven, wants nothing to do with us. (Which doesn't seem to hurt our careers as writers, but whatever.) There were several very respected Chicago-area journalists and columnists there last night, and I got to shoot the breeze with them and "talk shop" about what it means to make a living as a writer in this town.

One of the cool things that happened was, I got to talk to one of my fellow Chicago Writers Bloc playwrights, Kenan Heise, at length about his life as a reporter, then editor, at the Tribune during the 60s, 70s, and 80s, as well as his time in the trenches of the 1960s civil rights movement. I knew of course that he'd done all of those things (he's retired from journalism now, though he still writes/publishes books and is now moving into playwriting), but I had never really talked to him about it. He shared some wonderful anecdotes of his old days at the Trib, but he also shared this interesting tidbit----he had absolutely no formal training or education as a journalist. As a matter of fact, he'd spent the better part of his 20s and early 30s as a Franciscan monk under solemn vows, living in a monastery not far from where I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio!

Wow! You could have knocked me over with a feather when he told me that. He said that due to his epilepsy and a disagreement with his father superior, he'd been made to leave his order. He got involved in the civil rights movement in the 60s, then eventually "fell into" news reporting at the Tribune. I told him about how I'd also just sort of "fallen in" to being a freelancer lifestyle reporter in the 90s for the Tribune's then-new online Metromix section, also with no formal journalism training, only a useless graduate degree in media studies/critical theory from University of Chicago and an undergraduate degree in literature. And yet, I make a full-time living as a journalist now, something that has become next-to-impossible to achieve, if all the out-of-work reporters I know are any example.

Kenan replied, "Of course you did. All the best reporters out there 'fall into' journalism. Journalism school is a waste of time." He went on to tell me that he has frequently been called in to address students at Northwestern's prestigious Medill School of Journalism, and he always told them, "If you want to make it in this business, break the rules."

Well, from a guy who got kicked out of the Franciscan Order, rode freedom buses and got beat up in the 60s, then went on to have a rich journalism career after doing graduate studies in Latin, I think he knows there's a lot of truth to that. So do I.


Monday, May 23, 2011


One of the realities of being a professional writer is deadlines. When you're a full-time freelancer like me, your ability to get paid centers on your ability to deliver usable quality work by a deadline. I am self-employed, providing clients with a valuable service (i.e., my writing). I am assigned article topics to deliver (I also pitch my own topics to editors) by a set deadline. If I don't do it, I don't get paid. It's that simple.

One reason that many people like to work a cushy job with a regular salary is they get paid whether their work gets done or not. I know this from experience. When I worked in the corporate world, oftentimes my own work was dependent on a whole bunch of other people who seemed to have trouble with deadlines. If they didn't get their work to me, I couldn't make my own deadlines. (Funny thing, a lot of the people who didn't make deadlines and also seemed to do no work in general often outranked me in both job title and salary; that kind of bullshit is one major reason why I prefer to be a sole proprietor).

I have tried to explain to people (i.e., aspiring writers, my three-year-old son, my mom, my husband, ad nauseum) that when I am on deadline, PEOPLE CANNOT BOTHER ME. My mother is especially talented about calling me up and wanting to chat for hours when I'm on multiple article deadlines. Her usual response when I tell her I'm too busy to talk is, "But you work at home! You can do whatever you want!" I have long since tired of explaining to her why I can't talk to her when I'm on deadline, and use caller ID just to screen my calls and not answer them.

People, if I don't make deadline, I DON'T GET PAID. Period. It's that simple. This is why I get irritated with people who think that just because I'm a freelancer who works out of my house that I can just screw around and do whatever I want all day. Some days when I'm not on deadline I do have a lot of freedom and control over my own time (which is one reason I'm self-employed) but not when I'm on deadline.

Also, I do self-impose a lot of my own deadlines, such as when I'm writing fiction. I tell myself that I have to finish that novel by Day X, and I do it. Self-discipline is necessary in this business. That's why I call bullshit whenever people tell me that they "don't have time" to finish that novel they've had sitting in a drawer for five years. They DO have the time---but they don't have the self-discipline to set themselves a deadline and meet it. We all have the same number of hours in the day everybody else does, it's all about how we choose to use them.

I think that we might solve a lot of the world's problems by forcing everyone to work the way I do. If you don't do your job, you don't get paid. What a concept. How many people out there would be totally screwed if that's how the world worked? I can name several hundred right off the top of my head.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fantasy Island, Part Deux

You probably remember my last post about people having the strange notion that writers/editors can and should work for free. I'd like to add another post about the strange fantasy world people seem to live in regarding my line of work.

Case in point: a week or so ago a friend of a friend whom I hadn't previously met came to my home to pick up some silk I had purchased for her friend when I was in China recently. (The person I actually bought it for couldn't pick it up herself, so she sent this friend of hers to do it since her friend was in the neighborhood.) She was a nice older lady who knew a lot about fabric and sewing, and had at one time worked in the fabric retail industry, so we struck up an interesting conversation about sewing, which was kind of fun. She also helped me with the formidable task of dividing up 40 yards of silk into 4 equal 10-yard pieces.

While we were visiting, she asked me about what it was like to write for a living. (our mutual friend had filled her in on my profession). I gave her a 2-minute rundown of what I do and how I do it. She then asked, "Do you need to hire a proofreader? Because I do that."

I just shrugged and said, "Well, I do that too." I don't generally proofread professionally anymore because the pay is too low to make it worthwhile when I can make more money writing, but I have done it for pay. But I do proof my own work religiously, and then once I've handed over a clean copy of it to my clients and/or publishers, they all have their own in-house editors/proofers who do the same before publishing it. When I explained this to her, she frowned. "Wow, that's not how it was back when I worked in publishing at all."

I pressed her for details, and it turned out she had spent some time working in the magazine industry about 35 years ago, back in the days when everything was done by hand on paper (and "cut and paste" literally meant get scissors and glue). She had worked as a manual proofreader and typesetter in those days. I politely explained that neither of those things are done manually anymore.

"So it's all done on computers now?" she asked. I nodded. "I remember when computers first came out in the 80s," she said. "I didn't want anything to do with them then, and I don't want anything to do with them now. But my husband died recently and I need a job, do you know where I can get work as a proofreader? I do everything the old-fashioned way, with a pen and paper. I take my time, too."

"Uh huh," I said. "Well, if you actually need to make a living, I would highly recommend you take some computer classes and then look in the online job classifieds for something."

She just stared at me. "Oh, I don't want to do that," she said. "I thought that if maybe I can't find a job as a proofreader, I'll go into business reading people's auras." (Seriously, no joke. She said this. With a straight face.)

I wished her luck and sent her on her merry way.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fantasy Island

I had a Facebook exchange about this today, thought it might make sense to blog about it.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people think that professional writers/editors should just work for free (or next to free). (I'm not alone in that sentiment, even big-name pros like Harlan Ellison frequently gripe about repeatedly being asked to work for free: check out this video to see what I mean). Just this morning I opened six different emails asking me to write stuff and/or edit stuff FOR NOTHING, and/or were complaints that rates I had quoted them for my professional services were too high.

Well, excuse me for fucking living, but I'm a professional writer, with a helluva lot of serious publishing creds, not to mention almost 20 years' experience being paid to write, either as a freelancer or an editorial staffer. I did not just fall off a turnip truck yesterday and hang out a shingle asking people to pay me to type and/or spew hot air. I have been published in major newspapers (Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, I could go on), have hobnobbed with high-level government bureaucrats, have published multiple books, have written speeches for CEOs, ad nauseum. If you want me to work for you, PAY ME.

Just because there are a bunch of clueless amateurs out there willing to give away their very questionable writing "services" for free does not mean that I should too. Just because you can hire some flunky in a Pakistani word-churning/plagiarism mill three cents an hour to fuck up your already unpublishable work (and make it even more unpublishable and/or illegal) doesn't mean that I should also charge only three cents an hour to do an actual professional, quality job. You wouldn't expect the guy ringing up your groceries or the nurse taking care of you in the hospital to work for free, so why should I?

And while I'm on the subject, before you decide that it's cool to criticize me for my choice of publisher/agent/tax accountant/level of writing income, perhaps it would be somewhat intelligent of you to first have some idea what you are talking about. (i.e., like maybe being able to claim you are a full-time writer earning at least $75,000 a year from writing, like I do). Just saying.

I am a professional freelancer who owns/runs a small business. I contribute to the American economy. I'm lucky to do so, and most (i.e., 95%) of the people who try to do what I do professionally will fail. But that's really not my problem. I'm a businesswoman, and I'm not running a bleeping charity. So don't ask me to work for free. And while you're at it, why don't you get off Fantasy Island and join the rest of us in the real world?

That is all.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Okay, so I've been away for a while. Sue me. The month of March was insane work-wise (I wrote 20-plus freelance articles for four different publications, including the Washington Post), then the first two weeks of April were equally insane as I tried to pack a full month's worth of writing work into half the time, since I was travelling overseas for the second half of April. On top of all of that, I finished writing a novel and sent it to my agent, as well as cared for a sick child and hubby, packed for a trip to SE Asia, did housework, yadayadayada.

The writer's life is never easy, but when you're doing it for a living (which is basically running a small business) and also running a household/parenting, little things like blog posts tend to fall by the wayside. Those of you who follow me on Facebook know I do some microblogging there, but it can't replace a longer, well-thought-out post. Which is not really what this is, but I digress.

Whenever you get back from an extended trip overseas, there's always lots of housekeeping to do when you get back. Like mowing the lawn, going through all the mail that's piled up, returning phone calls, etc. Except when you're self-employed like I am, it goes double. Plus there's that pesky little thing called jet lag, which is brutal when you're coming back from Asia. So I'm just now getting back on my feet, having caught up on my accumulated list of chores---such as updating my website, returning emails to my editors, alerting interviewees that the articles I wrote about them are live, cleaning up my dark pit of a house, unpacking 16 suitcases (okay, I'm exaggerating a bit, it was only 5 suitcases, it just seems like 16), catching up on bills, trying to figure out where some of my royalty payments went, etc.

It's very nice earning a full-time living as a journalist now, but it is sending the fiction writing (which I still get paid for, just not as much) to the back burner a bit.

Just before I left, I got my authors' copies of my latest novel release in the mail. It's slowly trickling into bookstores, and one of these days when I get a free minute I need to book some signings at my local Barnes & Noble locations. Two of them have already agreed to let me do signings at their respective stores, I just haven't found the time to call the store managers back to get on their event calendar. I'll do it eventually. I just need to remember where the phone is. (I think it's under a giant pile of laundry.)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Interesting week

It's been a cool week in some ways, and weird in others. First off, I got over being sick only to have hubby and kiddo get sick. We went from balmy springlike temperatures to a second winter. The USA invaded Libya. And just when I thought I had finished my freelance assignments for the month (all 18 of them) I got offered my 19th assignment----a chance to write a piece for the Washington Post.

Before you start picturing me as a future Pulitzer winner in All the President's Men, take heart---it was basically a puff piece for the Washington edition's (not the venerable national edition, alas) real estate section. The content aggregator that is providing me with most of my work these days actually sells content to the Post (among other respectable outlets) and offered me the job. After taking over multiple last-minute assignments for other freelancers who couldn't meet their deadlines, I guess this content aggregator now views me as the go-to person to save their ass and deliver good content on short notice. Since I've never once had to revise a single story that I've delivered to these folks (for multiple clients), I figured I had this one in the bag.

The story was basically a profile of how various Washington-area property-management companies are contributing to Japan disaster relief efforts. Pulitzer Prize material it definitely was not, but at least I was writing about charity work instead of say, Brangelina. The Post editors even gave me all my sources, so I didn't have to do any legwork or digging to find my own sources like I usually do for my other clients.

However, this assignment wasn't without a learning curve. All the sources were basically PR people, which meant they had canned responses and didn't respond well to probing questions. I had to conduct a second interview of one of them----which I never do, and journalists always say is a sign of a bad interviewer----in order to get the angle my editor was looking for. I also had to go through several drafts on the deadline wire until my editor was satisfied. Which was definitely new territory for me. But then again, this type of article was a bit outside my usual subject area, and as I told her, sometimes it's good to stretch your chops a bit. Multiple rewrites and a hat-in-hand second interview can be a good way to do that.

Besides, it's the Washington Post. I'd walk backwards naked through a receiving line of blowtorches to get a Post assignment. What journalist wouldn't? Sure, my piece will be running in a tabloid Sunday-only print insert that is mostly full of apartment advertising, but hey, it's a start.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Busy Bee, and Thoughts On Japan

My son has been in child care full time for about 3 weeks now, and I've been more productive in those three weeks than I have in three years. I've picked up another freelance journalism client, and when combined with my main client, I will have filed 18 different feature stories for the two of them in the month of March alone. I'll be filing the last two stories on Monday morning, which means I'll have completed all 18 March article assignments with a week to spare!

I'll be dedicating that week to catching up on some other things I've been neglecting, like some website development and fiction writing, and some other miscellanous administrative tasks (like preparing and filing my quarterly taxes, a must now that I'm a full-time freelancer). I've been working on my current novel for about a year now, and I'm really hoping it will be my "breakout" book that launches me mainstream into a wider audience. Of course, I've been hoping for a breakout novel for a while now, but I've really been working on this one with that explicit goal in mind. If I can finally finish the draft by early April and get it off to my agent, I'll feel really good about my fiction-writing career this year. I have another completed manuscript that's been percolating at my agent's office for a while now (she's finally going to pitch it to editors at a conference next week; the main editor my agent thinks will be interested has been on maternity leave, and she wanted to wait until that editor returned to work before shopping the book.) Plus I've got another book sitting in front of an editor at a major NYC publisher that's been there a while now, and I'm hoping they'll make a decision soon.

I've decided once I'm done with my "breakout" manuscript that will be the end of my fiction writing for the year. I'll need to focus more on being a journalist for a while, since that's by far the most stable income-producing line of writing in my life right now. I've put playwriting on the back burner entirely (no money, total pain in the ass, though I do still get productions of my published plays).

I also have decided I want to dedicate some time to looking for a "real" journalism staff job, instead of just being a freelancer. I'd like a salary and benefits, and everyone knows the staff writers get the best assignments, anyway. The recent events in Japan have really reminded me of just how important journalism and journalists are, and having traveled to Japan myself (it's a beautiful country and an ancient culture, and I follow Zen Buddhism, which is part of that culture), I am very saddened by the state of things there. Journalists can and do make a difference in the world, and I'd like to be part of that----at least more so than I already am.


Monday, March 7, 2011


My 3-year-old son has been in preschool for one week now. It's been a difficult transition for both of us, especially since he has never spent any time in daycare until now and I've been his full-time caregiver (often while also working from home) that whole time. But it's been good for him----I am already seeing him grow by leaps and bounds learning-wise in just a few days, and his behavior is much, much better---and good for me.

Good for me in that I'm so much more productive now. My work output has gone up by a factor of about 400%. Plus I'm getting to do things I haven't been able to do in a long time, like listen to whatever music I want while I'm working (instead of, say, The Wiggles), take long walks at noon, have CNN or NPR on while I'm having lunch, et cetera.

I have always been a high-productivity person, even when I was in high school (in fact, I even managed to stay productive when I was depressed.) And yet I continue to run into people who don't have even one-tenth of the amount of responsibility as I do----people who are single, childless, working part-time if working at all, etc.----who just can't seem to do even the bare minimum. I don't understand that at all. Lying around the house doing nothing is not a good way to pay your bills, for one thing. And productivity breeds productivity, for another. I've found that the more I keep myself busy, the more I get done overall---even if I'm just keeping busy with housework or childcare. Plus keeping busy is good for your health, mentally and physically.

Somebody told me the other week that I'm the strongest woman she knows. Which was a nice complement to get, but I didn't really feel like I deserved it. I know plenty of women who are much stronger and more productive than I am (Hillary Clinton, anyone? Michelle Obama? Nora Roberts? Jodi Picoult? Jacqueline Mitchard? Sara Gruen? I could go on.) I view myself as just an ordinary middle-class working stiff who does the best she can, which often still isn't good enough. But you'll never see me hibernating in my house doing nothing. (At least, not for more than an hour or two). I've got bills to pay, and a child to raise. Slacking is not a verb in my vocabulary.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Author Chat at the Romance Studio tonight

I'll be participating in an author chat at The Romance Studio this evening starting at 8 pm Eastern, as part of a cadre of Decadent Publishing authors. Hope you can stop by.

Friday, February 25, 2011

How Not To Win Friends and Influence People in the Facebook Age

The other day I blogged about a complete and total jackass ex-classmate of mine who contacted me out of the blue on Facebook looking for a favor (which I granted----several favors, actually), only to have her throw it in my face. I'm still reeling from the sheer audacity of this person, but having chatted with some other people about this very issue, combined with some other rude and/or disrespectful behavior that I've dealt with online lately, I thought I'd do another post about it.

The Internet and Facebook in particular are great for keeping people connected (especially people who've been out of touch for a while----Facebook has helped me rekindle several wonderful old friendships over the past couple of years), for spreading news (personal, national, and otherwise), for marketing (I've got 4000 Facebook friends and 2500 Twitter followers, most of whom read my books), and even for engaging in friendly political debates. Like anything, though, Facebook and the Internet in general are just tools. They shouldn't be used as weapons (but unfortunately, they often are). And they're also easy tools to abuse.

Over the past year or so (and the past couple months in particular) I have seen far too many people use Facebook chiefly as a means for using and taking whatever they can get (including people), without ever once thinking about the consequences of that behavior. It's just "me, me, me" all the time----and fuck everybody else, basically (sorry, but I think the F-bomb is appropriate here). If I get one more out-of-the-blue request for a favor/gift/advice/whatever from another ex-coworker who treated me like crap in the office when we actually worked together, or barely-remembered classmate who was one of the "cool kids" back in school (here's a clue: I wasn't one of the "cool kids"), or complete and total strangers who email me demanding that I drop everything and give them my full, undivided, and completely uncompensated attention (and then harrass me when I don't), I am going to scream.

Here's the thing, people. I'm a very busy woman. I work an average of 50 hours a week these days (my freelance writing business has really taken off). Plus I've got a toddler (and no child care, natch---though that's finally changing starting next week). And I've got a husband, and a marriage, and bills to pay, and a house to take care of , yadayadayada. Time is the absolute most precious thing I have. If you want some of it, be prepared to pay handsomely for it. And on the off chance I decide to give you some of my priceless time and/or expertise for free (and I'm known to do both on occasion), you sure as hell better appreciate it.

Furthermore, I'd like to talk a little bit about the true meaning of friendship and camaradarie. One of the things Facebook is great for is keeping you in close touch with your friends----new and old. As I've said, I've rekindled many wonderful friendships that way over the past year. On the other hand, some of those same friendships abruptly ended when people "defriended" me for no reason---at least no reason I could see. I've guessed it may have had to do with my strong opinions, left-wing politics, Buddhist/agnostic religious beliefs, tendency towards dry humor, whatever----but these are people who have known me long enough to understand that's a part of who I am. I certainly don't defriend people just for their politics (as leftie as I am, I count several right-wing Republicans as my friends), or their religion, or their occasional tendency to fly off the handle sometimes (after all, I'm occasionally known to do the same.). These same people wrote to me seeking advice, asking questions about things I'm an expert in (like writing)---which I freely gave, seeking nothing in return but their friendship----and I didn't even get that.

Then there's the people who ask if I can help them with something, which I agree to do (also for no pay). We agree on a time, which I set aside from my uber-busy schedule, and then they either don't show up or reschedule at the last minute. And reschedule again. And again. Ad nauseum. After a certain point, I am no longer interested in helping them (for obvious reasons) but yet, they still ask. Ask, ask ask, take take take----and they give nothing back.

You know what I call people who do shit like that? Users. Users and takers. Superficial, one-dimensional, self-absorbed people. The same types we all see on reality TV shows and laugh at/despise. They're not just on reality TV, folks. They're everywhere. (And if you don't see it, it might be because you're too busy staring at your navel.)

We've become too polarized as a society these days largely because people seem to have lost the ability to see things from anyone's point of view but their own. Both sides of the political spectrum spend a lot of time demonizing the other side, without ever once trying to understand where the other side is coming from or finding any common middle ground. I even have friends who refuse to associate with people who are not carbon-copies of their own political/religious/whatever selves (they're all lefties like I am---except ironically, I'm usually further left politically than they are). Which I think is a real shame. They're missing out on meeting some great people that way.

I don't expect everybody I know or am acquainted with to agree with me all the time. Hell, I don't even expect my husband to agree with me all the time (if I did, we'd have divorced years ago). I think I have a much richer life as a result of that attitude. People of diametrically opposed viewpoints and belief systems can be great friends---even lovers or spouses. (I know this well, trust me). And yet, there are people with whom I've had friendly online debates with (I wouldn't even call them arguments---and people who know me well know that I love a good argument, provided it's done respectfully) drop off the face of the earth, defriend me, block me, pretend like they never met me, without one drop of explanation----even if they wrote to me seeking advice/help/whatever just a week earlier. I've also noticed that these same people often seem completely unwilling to compromise on anything, ever (I think it's no coincidence that many of them are still single and/or divorced well into their 40s and 50s, natch)

People, can we not do this? Can we all at least make an effort to do better? I try to do better every day. I don't always succeed, but at least I try. And before you judge me or cry foul that I'm even bringing this topic up, know this. Anyone who has known me personally for any length of time knows that I am very generous with my friends and colleagues. I am thoughtful, I am loyal (almost to a fault), I respect people (including their differences), and I treat them with dignity. I go out of my way to do it, in fact. Is it too much for me to expect other people to do the same?

Think about it.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Seriously. Don't Do This.

Okay, so those of you who follow my blogs know that I like to post from time to time about writers behaving badly (or as I affectionately call it, Stupid Writer Tricks). Well, I have got the ultimate be-all end-all in Stupid Writer Tricks to tell you about. And in all fairness, I'm included as one of the stupid in this story, because it wouldn't have happened at all if I hadn't been such a sucker.

I get random emails and Facebook IMs from random people wanting me to help them get their books published, help them get agents, write their books for them, donate my organs to them (well, maybe not that one, it just feels like it) EVERY SINGLE DAY. Usually I just delete those messages, unless I actually know the person and have reason to believe said person actually has a chance in hell of knowing what he/she is doing. So when I got a Facebook IM from a high school classmate I hadn't heard from in 20 years asking me for erotica writing help, you can understand why I was tempted to delete it along with all the others.

But this message was different. It was very well-written, it showed the person had done a lot of background research into my work before contacting me (indeed, another high school classmate of ours suggested to her that she get in touch with me), and showed she had already done considerable research into the erotica publishing market. She asked politely for some publishing advice if I was able to offer it. Since this was someone I remembered as being pretty nice in high school, I thought I'd do the world a good turn and respond to her. We ended up striking up an interesting conversation, and I eventually agreed (against my better judgment, but more on that later) to take a look at a sample of her work.

She sent me some sample chapters to read, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that her writing was nothing short of excellent, as good as any of the best erotic writing anywhere. Having been an erotica editor myself, I know how rare that is, and (again trying to do the world a good turn) I offered to hook this person up with my agent. This was a very generous thing to do on my part, mind you, because a) my agent is currently closed to submissions, except by referral by one of her existing clients; and b) I do not refer people to my agents and/or editors unless I think their worth is top-notch, since it can reflect poorly on me if I refer amateurs or people who are not quite ready for prime time.

Needless to say, my old classmate was very appreciative of this---or so she seemed at first. She gushed about how wonderful I was, and how grateful she was, and she was practically in tears with gratitude. Which is nice and everything, but as I cautioned her, I just made the referral---there was no guarantee my agent would offer representation, of course. So after getting my agent's permission to pass along her contact information, I told my classmate to do the query submission, and I alerted my agent to look for it.

A couple of weeks passed. My classmate's submission was sitting in my agent's review queue (she's very busy). Then, out of the blue (again) I got a Facebook IM from my classmate, which went something like this:

"Hi, I've been doing some research and I've determined that literary agents are completely unnecessary. I don't want to give up 15% of my income to somebody else, and besides, I'm a lawyer [with zero publishing experience or creds, natch], so I can just do all of that work myself. [and other arrogant, idiotic misconceptions to that effect, yadayadayada]. So I wanted to let you know I'll be withdrawing my submission from your agent's consideration. Okay, bye!" Edited to add: this is my very watered-down paraphrasing of her email. The actual email was absolutely hair-curling in its arrogance and rudeness.


After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I typed a very polite yet firm response, in which I informed her of all the various and sundry reasons why her "research" (which I'm sure included a combination of disgruntled writers' message boards and scam publishers) into literary agents was incorrect. I also informed her that the decision to have an agent or not was hers alone (hey, it's her career, if she wants to throw it into the toilet, that's her business), and signed off. After I did that, I immediately fired off an email to my agent, informing her of this exchange, how rude this person acted, and to expect her submission (which she couldn't have made without my generous referral, natch) to be withdrawn.

Oh, and it gets better.

So about 10 minutes later, I get a very neurotic response from my classmate (NOT my friend, let's just be clear on this) in which she says "Oh, you must think I'm a total flake now." (Really? Ya think?) She blathered on about "this publishing business is so intimidating, I'm getting conflicting advice, but yours has been the most frank and informative" (maybe you should have followed it then, hmm?), "I'm such a doofus" (yes you are), blah blah blah. Then she basically said, "Maybe it's not too late to salvage this, I haven't actually emailed your agent yet."

To which I replied, "Oh, it's defintitely too late to salvage it, hon. Because maybe YOU haven't emailed my agent yet---but I have. I told her you were extremely rude, and arrogant, and all manner of other adjectives, and if she has half a brain on her shoulders (here's a clue: she does) she will not waste a single solitary minute more of her time with you. And neither will I. And by the way, don't email people at random for the first time in 20 years seeking advice and favors, then turn around and throw both in said favor-giver's face. Goodbye, have a nice life, and by the way, don't contact me ever again."

The moral of the story is twofold. One, there is a reason why most established authors don't go around granting favors to every random yahoo who emails them asking for one. (because the one time you do it, you can have THIS happen to you). And two, in the extremely rare event an established author goes out of his/her way (i.e., exchanging emails, giving publishing advice, taking hours out of her busy schedule to read your manuscript for no pay, making a very generous agent referral), it would generally behoove you not to behave like a complete idiot asshole.

Seriously, people. Don't do this.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More Blog Tour stops

Today I'm interviewed at Seriously Interviewed, and Part Two of my interview at Boxing the Octopus is up today as well. Enjoy!


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Blog Tour stop at Boxing the Octopus

I'm blogging today (as Jill Elaine Hughes; the first of 2 parts) on writing and ebooks at Boxing the Octopus:


Friday, February 18, 2011

Blog tour in progress

I'm spending the next month or so making "appearances" at various writer- and book-related blogs. I made my first appearance last week at Dusk to Dawn Romance, and I'll be doing several more. I'll be blogging about such things as the romance genre in general, what it's like to be a full-time freelance writer, how I choose my novel storylines, and more. I'll try to remember to post links to each blog appearance here, but for the latest news watch my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

In honor of the blog tour, TENDER IS THE KNIGHT is only 99 cents at Amazon Kindle, & FREE @ For a limited time only, so take advantage!


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Weird week

It's like something you'd see on TV----a frozen pizza sent me to the emergency room.
(Actually, it wasn't even the frozen pizza, it was a tiny piece of cheese the size of my fingertip that fell onto my kitchen counter after I put the damn thing in the oven that sent me to the emergency room, but I digress.)

I'm a good work-at-home/fulltime writer/housewife, and as such I cook dinner at home for my family most nights. Many nights it's a multi-course affair, and I frequently cook from scratch, but not every night. Some nights (like when I'm on deadline) I just pop a frozen pizza in the oven and make a side salad. Such it was last Wednesday, when I popped a locally-made Gino's frozen pizza in the oven, and like I've done so many times, popped one of the stray pieces of cheese that fell off the pizza onto the counter into my mouth. I did it without even thinking, like I've done hundreds of times before. (and I keep my countertops fastidiously clean, as anyone who's been to my house can tell you).

Almost immediately, I started feeling very strange. First off, the cheese didn't taste at all like cheese. It tasted more like Comet Kitchen Cleanser. Odd, since I know the company that made the pizza (a family-owned company in Crystal Lake,IL, just about 15 miles from my house) makes its own real cheese using milk from Wisconsin cows----one of the reasons I bought the pizza in the first place. Cheese isn't supposed to taste like Comet Kitchen Cleanser, that's for damn sure. Not only did it not taste right, I started feeling really weird. Like sick to my stomach. And dizzy, and then I began to gag, and even feel my throat swelling shut like it does when I go into anaphylactic shock after being stung by a bee. (I already carry an epinephrine shot everywhere I go because of that).

It immediately struck me that I might have been poisoned somehow----like the pizza I got was laced with cyanide or something. I called my husband's cell phone to see where he was on his commute (he was already late getting home by that point). Turns out he was still on the train, and the train was stuck in a snowdrift, so God only knew when he'd be getting home. So I bit the bullet and called 911, and told the dispatcher that I suspected chemical poisoning. For a little while I was worried I was going to die. (Death By Frozen Pizza---crazy, I know.)

So the ambulance and the fire truck show up at my house, followed by several curious neighbors (I live in a very quiet neighborhood). The EMTs say I need to go to the ER, and my next-door neighbor offered to watch my son until my husband got home. I get to the ER, and the ER doc tells me that I haven't actually been poisoned, but I have had an anaphylactic allergic food reaction, likely to the preservatives in the tiny crumb of frozen pizza cheese I ate. (Imagine what would have happened if I'd eaten a whole slice!) I got treated with prednisone and eventually left with instructions to go see an allergist.

I went to the allergist yesterday, and I'd say her job title would more accurately be described as Master Torturer. I got 48 different allergen scratch tests (24 on each arm), plus 13 (yes, 13!) subcutaneous shots (which hurt like a BITCH, by the way---this is coming from the lady who had 30+ hours of unmedicated labor with my son, mind you). After all of those tests, I discovered that I am not only allergic to multiple food additives and preservatives, but also chicken, soy, coffee, and peanuts. Who knew???

So now, I'm on an elimination "detox" diet, where I can basically eat only fresh foods that I prepare myself from scratch, with very little added to them. Chinese food is out due to the MSG (try that when you're married to a Chinese person), as is pretty much all frozen, canned, or otherwise processed food. I have to go back next week for more tests, and possibly even a year or more of allergy shots. Not only that, I've suddenly become hypersensitive to all sorts of foods and food additives---things are tasting different and strange, and making me have odd reactions (like today when I tasted a small amount of my son's Lofthouse sugar cookie and thought I'd eaten a mouthful of Drano).

I've never had a food allergy in my life, at least not until last week. How on earth did this happen? The allergist explains that as we age, we can acquire new allergies spontaneously, and that our bodies also can become hypersensitive following any anaphylactic event. Hence the elimination diet---I need to "reboot" my system so that I'll eventually not be allergic to everything I touch.

The bottom line is, this sucks. I love good food, and I love variety, and I also love the convenience some prepared foods offer me as a busy mom. But for the time being, I'll be eating nothing but unseasoned pork loin and plain white rice because that's all my body can tolerate. Le sigh.

Oh well. At least I'm not dead.


Monday, February 7, 2011

TENDER IS THE KNIGHT, as advertised in RENAISSANCE magazine!

Just got copies of RENAISSANCE magazine in the mail today. My publisher Decadent Publishing paid for a full-page ad in the February issue for TENDER IS THE KNIGHT. There's an article on the Society for Creative Anachronism (where the novel is set) on the next page. Nice placement!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stand back, folks. I'm a professional.

This week I've been weathering the Blizzard of 2011, an epic storm even by our tough Chicago winter standards. All in all I only lost about a half-day of productivity as hubby and I worked to clear the 2 feet of snow from our driveway and walk, but then it was back to business as usual. Not that we had much of a break---my husband was still expected to put in a full day's work from home for his corporate banking job, and I also put in a full day's work as a freelance writer-slash-mom.

Lately my freelance writing income has really picked up, to the point it is now roughly equal to what I earned working full-time in the corporate world. (This notwithstanding the fact that on a strict hours-worked basis, I am still only working part-time). People ask me how I do it. I tell them it's my livelihood, and since I have bills to pay, somehow I manage to muddle through. Which is not always easy when you're also caring for a busy three-year-old boy, mind you.

A while back a local playwright friend of mine marveled at the fact that I don't keep my "creative" writing and my "business" writing separate. In the theater world, it is pretty much de rigeur for people to have "day jobs" that they work their theatre lives around, and that's also true for many playwrights. But I'm a writer by trade and profession, and as such I consider playwriting to just be another kind of writing that I do for my livelihood, so I don't see any need to keep it "separate." (It's not as if I'm doing a lot of playwriting these days anyway, since I prefer to devote my attention to writing for a living, as opposed to for fun. I do get paid for my playwriting, mind you, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to what my other writing pays). This same playwright also doesn't have any children to worry about feeding, so I guess that probably plays into her decision to compartmentalize her writing life.

Some people in my playwrights' collective have been wondering where I've been lately since I don't make it to meetings much anymore, and I just tell them I've been busy working. "Doing what?" they ask. "Writing," I reply. Which is usually met with a puzzled look, then silence.

To me, either you write for a living or you don't. Plenty of people wax on about how they would love to write for a living, and yet they don't treat it like a job. If writing is your job, you get up every morning, and show up for work. (And if work is your laptop in your living room instead of an office, you still show up.) A typical day for me will include setting up interviews for the articles I'm required to file as a freelance journalist, writing an article or two and filing with an editor, then maybe plugging away at my current novel-in-progress. There might be an email or two into my literary agents or my editors, plus general housekeeping, keeping track of earnings and taxes, whatever. If I'm lucky I'll also have some time to read for pleasure (which I also consider part of my job as a writer, since reading other writers is the best way to keep your writing chops up). And remember, on top of all of this, I'm caring for a three-year-old, with no child care help.

So let's just say I really have no patience anymore for people who say, "Oh, well, I've been meaning to write, but I have writer's block," or "I really want to finish that novel I started, but I don't have time," blahblahblah.

Well, I've got the perfect cure for writer's block. It's called the mortgage payment. Deal, folks. And if you can't, leave this writing stuff to the professionals. I've already got enough competition as it is.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I've been neglecting the blog of late since I've been devoting a lot of my free time to some hobbies. Call it "refilling the tank," if you will. I'm a very creative person and always have been. And since my profession (writing) is also creative, it was a great career choice for me. But sometimes my writing saps my energy and drains the creative tank, as it were, and I get stuck. I need to change things up a bit in order to get the writing juices flowing again. Plus I have some neurotic tendencies (well, to say "some" would be a gross understatement) that tend to smooth themselves out when I'm working on making something from scratch----be it cooking a dish, baking a cake, sewing a dress, painting a picture, whatever. I really get into the "zone" when I make things by hand, and the whole world and my troubles just dissolve.

Some people take Prozac. I do crafts.

I was very into arts and crafts as a teenager, and my original college major was in the nationally ranked design and art college of the university where I would eventually pursue an English degree. I spent pretty much all of my free time in high school in one of two places: the art department and the theatre/music department. I took four years of studio art in high school as well as music/theatre/performing arts, and even got professional (paying!) art commissions and singing gigs as a teenager. I kept up with the music and theater throughout college and my adult life (doing both professionally, as well as writing professionally) but my studio arts interests kind of fell by the wayside after my freshman year of college. (I did eventually write art reviews and cover the Chicago art scene as a journalist, but that's not the same.)

I had originally planned to be a fine arts major in college, but my parents were terrified I'd end up starving to death, so I compromised and became an architecture major instead. I could draw, but I also was good at math and science and I thought buildings were cool, so I thought this was a reasonable compromise. Plus I'd actually stand a chance of getting a job when I graduated. I got admitted to the No. 1 architecture program in the country at the time (University of Cincinnati, which US News and World Report still ranks as No. 1) on a full scholarship. To say that the program was rigorous would be a gross understatement, too. Not only did I have to shell out literally thousands of dollars in drafting supplies my first quarter, I also pretty much had to give up eating and sleeping and spend my entire life "in studio." The program was hard to get into to begin with, but the first year was designed to weed out 60% of the incoming freshmen class. It was so very, very hard that I often I sat up nights at my drafting table and sobbed. Being one of very few women in a male-dominated major was also not easy to deal with. I also had bad experiences with professors and fellow students (and one other woman in particular, who harrassed me and destroyed my architecture models because she secretly liked the guy I was dating at the time).

After trying to stick it out for a while, I knew that architecture was not for me. I considered switching majors over to fine arts, but the fine arts studio was right next to the architecture department, and I wanted to get the hell out of that entire end of campus. So I followed my love of reading and writing across the quad to became an English major instead. To keep my parents happy I told them it was really since I planned to go to law school, but that was pretty much a lie. I just wanted to read and write and be left alone. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Speaking of history, I've always been a huge history buff, and one of my hobbies is historical reinactment. I'm especially fascinated with the history of writing, books, and publishing, especially old illuminated manuscripts. I had done some calligraphy and illumination as a kid but stopped doing it after the architecture-major fiasco. But lately I've been getting back into it, and I'm surprised how good I am at it after taking an almost 20-year hiatus. Spending an hour or two working on long-obsolete writing and publishing techniques has done wonders for my psyche, not to mention give me a newfound appreciation for just how easy it is for us to communicate in writing here in the 21st century. It wasn't always that way----reading and writing used to be a luxury enjoyed by very few, and books were luxury items that cost lots of money and also were a means to show off the great wealth of their owners.

I've been back into my artsy-crafty stuff for about a year now, and it's actually boosted my productivity as a writer tremendously. Whenever I get stuck on a writing project, I go paint something, or maybe do some sewing or leathercraft, which I also like. Eventually I want to put all three skills together and make a leather-bound medieval manuscript codex, but I think I'll have to wait until kiddo is a little older before I attempt something that ambitious. In the meantime, here's some samples of my work.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Discoveries

In celebration of a new year (and new beginning), I thought I'd share the following few lovely tidbits I've discovered recently. Hope they brighten your life as much as they have mine.

1) If you want to go shopping for some new stuff, but you can't because you're broke, go root around in your closets, cabinets and attics through the boxes and bags of crap you forgot you had in the first place. Chances are you'll find some great stuff.

2) Hotel shampoo makes great (and cheap) bubble bath.

3) The smell of lavender will make you happy.

4) Just because you disagree with someone's political/personal/religious/whatever beliefs, doesn't mean you can't be very good friends with that person.

5) When people make harsh judgments about other peoples' relationships, it usually means they have a history of bad ones.

6) What happened back in high school doesn't matter anymore. Except, of course, when you rekindle a beloved old friendship.

7) Sometimes crying can be a good thing.

8) Never underestimate the power of tea.

9) No one can judge you until they've walked two hundred miles in your shoes (and gone through labor, too).

10) Silence is indeed golden.

11) Most stuff that is labeled "As Seen On TV" sucks.

12) It's never too late to make things right.

13) Sometimes you just gotta spend a day in the house doing nothing but watching bad Japanime cartoons.

14) You're never too old to enjoy a good comic book.

15) If it sounds too good to be true, you should probably quit drinking and go to bed.

16) No matter how old you get, you'll never be as old as Dick Clark.

17) Nothing is quite as magical as the smell of gingersnaps baking during a snowstorm.

18) Snow angels are the best angels.

19) There's always someone worse off than you. Just look at Lindsay Lohan.

20) Remember that cute boy you had a huge crush on in junior high who wouldn't give you the time of day and called you mean names? Well, now he weighs 300 pounds and is unemployed and miserable. Karma, baby.

First-person, present tense.

Today on New Year's Day, I'm blogging about the challenge of writing in first-person, present tense at the Decadent Publishing blog. Check it out here: