Saturday, October 29, 2011

Further Adventures in Online Procrastination

My new favorite way to procrastinate as I attempt to write the soul-crushing document known as a synopsis of my novel is OkCupid. The tests are awesome (whoever wrote this reincarnation placement exam is brilliant), but there’s also the potential for meaningful interaction with people on the other side of the computer, like the following: 

Oct 28, 2011 – 7:23pm
Hi! I'm Michael. How are you? I was just wondering if you were interested in getting to know me? 

 16% Enemy 72% Friend 55% Match Message from Mikepb860 

Oct 29, 2011 – 1:13pm 

 Hi Michael

Not to put too much stock in the whole match percentage thing, but I'm thinking the odds don't look so good at 55%. Maybe we'd be good pen pals?  I'm always up for talking to new people.

Oct 29, 2011 – 1:32pm  

LMAO....Don't even bother replying with a ridiculous reply like that. I have a life and other girls that are actually interested.

Now  Forever


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Before YA was YA: Claudine

When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with Colette’s Claudine series.  I didn’t read much YA back then. At least, I didn’t think I read YA. Placing things in categories is tricky, but there seems to be a general agreement that YA as a category started in the 1940s-1950s, and the first Claudine novel was published in 1900.

I was into Claudine’s love of nature, the different settings (girl’s school, followed by Paris) and her totally wild relationships.  I’m talking S&M tinged sexual “friendships” with a series of classmates, followed by marrying the father of her nephew.  Nobody bats an eye at this marriage, by the way.  The rationale given is that her father is an out-of-touch scholar obsessed with snails, so Claudine kind of sneaks it by him.
There’s an awesome biography about Colette by Judith Thurman, in which she describes Claudine: “She was the century's first teenage girl: rebellious, tough talking, secretive, erotically reckless and disturbed, by turns beguiled and disgusted at her discovery of what it means to become a woman.”  In short—the Claudine series is totally YA!

So, if the Claudine series was published today, we’d call it YA. But because it was written before the category was invented, it’s Literature, with the appropriately capital L.  As a snobbish and insecure teenager, if Claudine had been labeled YA, I probably wouldn’t have read it. YA felt like books that adults had sanctioned as appropriate. I didn’t want appropriate—I wanted forbidden.  I stood behind the counter of the sporting goods store where I had my first job reading Lolita, simultaneously hoping and dreading that someone would notice my book.

Now, as an adult, I can’t get enough YA.   But where do (bookish) teenagers go to get that thrill of the forbidden read? I’m betting it’s not the YA section.  That leaves me, as an aspiring YA author, wondering who exactly I’m writing for. Other adults? Or is YA “cool” enough today for the literary minded teenager?  Does it even matter that I’ve written a book that I probably would have turned my nose up at when I was 16?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New To Me: Fungi

(Quorn image courtesy of Jan Ainali)
 I’ve been eating fungi recently. I bought this stuff called Quorn, thinking it was one of those soy products that masquerades as chicken.   While I was cooking it (okay, heating it in the microwave for 2 minutes), I read the package and learned that Quorn is largely made of mycoprotein. Cool, but unexpected.
I don’t like mushrooms and lichen creeps me out, so my only previous up close and personal experience with fungi was a missed encounter with “magic mushrooms” in my misspent youth.

I always avoided psychedelics, mostly because I had such strong reactions to pot (depersonalization, anyone?) that I was too scared.  A college ex-boyfriend, who was a boyfriend at the time, gave me a bag of “magic mushrooms” as a going away present, when he headed off to Latin America for a semester abroad. The bag sat in my fridge, until the day the slumlord made an impromptu apartment inspection.

He opened the fridge, picked up the bag of of shriveled mushrooms, and said, “Looks like you need to clean out this fridge.” 

About two seconds after he left, I flushed the mushrooms down the toilet (the toilet in the bathroom which had no door, because that’s how wretched that apartment was).  So that’s as close as I ever got to fun with fungi, until I found Quorn. Maybe one day, when I’m 80 or so, I’ll set off a psychedelic fueled journey of the soul.  It seems like something everyone should do before they die.

Hopefully you’ll be as happy as I was to learn that fungi are not underrepresented in the world of literature.  GoodReads has compiled lists of books featuring bad fungi (murder via poison!) and good fungi (adventures in idyllic musthroom gathering).  I also came across this cool kid’s book, Fungus The Bogeyman.  Burgin Streetman has an awesome review of the book over at her site, Vintage Childrens’ Books My Kid Loves. I’m still unclear on whether this Bogeyman is actually a fungus, but I guess I’ll have to read to find out!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Make Believe Mondays: Ask the Cranky Divorcee

People love advice columns, and they hate being lied to. So when an advice letter lacks that certain ring of authenticity, whether it be addressed to Dear Prudence or Cary Tennis or Dan Savage, readers tend to get upset.

But does it really matter whether the letters are real?  Matthew Felling points out, “Advice letters aren't front page breaking news. They're not Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass territory. Advice letters are exchanges that speak to general concerns that the readers will empathize with – like fables or "One To Grow On"s. You want an advice letter to resonate.”

In that spirit, the Cranky Divorcee will be doling out advice in response to completely false letters from totally imaginary people.  Today, characters share their burning questions about forbidden love.

Dear Cranky Divorcee,

I have this problem. I’m a young woman living in a supernatural mystery series by an incredibly popular author. I can find dead people, because I was hit by lightning. But that’s not the real issue.  I’ve got the hots for my stepbrother Tolliver, who I grew up with. Should I tell him how I feel? What happens if he doesn’t feel the same way? I can’t avoid him, because we work together. He’s the only one who can help me get through the anguishing experience of finding dead people.  I’m constantly jogging to burn off some of my sexual frustration, but it’s just not enough anymore! What  do I do if I find myself totally alone with him, like, say, stranded in a cottage during a blizzard?
In torment,

Good god. Honey, the question you should be asking is why you’re irresistibly attracted to your stepbrother.   Get thee to therapy. Now.  I don’t care if you find dead people; a good therapist will help you get to the bottom of your boundary issues. I’m revolted, but you need to have a quickie with your stepbrother and get the urge out of your system. Work through the shame and guilt and move on, because if you can avoid a relationship with your brother, you could go on to enjoy a long life. Your writer churns out umpteen novels about the characters she like (we're talking double digits), so don’t get on her bad side. But I have a feeling you won’t heed my advice.  So don't be surprised when you don't get another book. People do not want to read about step siblings skipping off into the sunset in matrimonial bliss.  On the other hand, you may have a future in a different medium. So if you do get a second chance, please--hands off your stepbrother!

Next: a complicated love triangle unraveled:

The Graveyard

We all know the writing dictum, “kill your darlings.” But I recently learned that the pithy phrase didn’t really originate with Faulkner. According to Melysa Martinez over at Kill Your Darlings ATL, 

“The expression actually comes from British author Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Born in 1863, the poet/novelist/critic is most famous for publishing the “Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250 – 1900″ and “The Sleeping Beauty and other Fairy Tales from the Old French.” . . . Couch argues that “style” is something which “is not—can never be—extraneous ornament.” In an effort to stay on course, he created a practical rule to follow: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’”

Now, the next time you’re playing in Quiz Night at your local bar, you’ll know the correct answer to who originated the phrase. The following is a bit that I had to cut from “The Rule of Three.” It didn’t fit, but I like it too much to let it go. Lucky for me, I can share my darlings here, and lay them to rest.

       The book store had a huge display window that held a miniature town. Every little store and house and church glowed with light. The roofs were frosted with snow, thick globs like the buttercream icing on the cupcakes at the bakery on Orange Street. Trees with long naked branches reached out over the buildings, each of which wore a red-bowed wreath.A banner above the town read, “Christmas in August.”
      The Pretty Penny Sister’s Lace Shop, a grey stone cottage with green shutters, was next to Thom Thumb’s Butchery, a white and red building whose sign was swinging in the chilly breeze. The brick chimney of the Eau de Beaute´ perfume shop puffed curls of white cotton smoke. Carolers stood on the steps of the bank, leaning against the ropes of evergreen threaded through its black iron railings.
      Girls in bright big-skirted dresses warmed their hands in muffs as they skated across a pond of glass.  Boys hid behind the perfectly cone-shaped pines at the edges of the pond, throwing snowballs at the skaters. A bunch of kids were building a snow castle, watched over by a snowman with a coal-toothed smile. In the center of the village square was a tall tree buried in ribbons and tinsel and popcorn garlands, glass balls and little twinkling stars. A gold angel spread her wings at the top of the tree.  A father carried a sack of presents on his back across the icy stones of the square, heading towards a thatched house where a mother with gold hair read by the fire to her children. Sticking out of the top of his sack were tiny copies of books I almost remembered—The Night before Christmas, The Polar Express.
      At the mansion on the hill they were having a Christmas party. A long line of carriages pulled by white horses waited in front of the house. A girl stepped out of one, helped by a young man in a fancy suit.  She wore a white hat over her black curls and carried a tiny dog. Above the village hung a regular-sized paper sign that said “Happy Holidays,” in glittery silver letters. I heard a little bell, and looked closer at the village, searching for a bell swinging in a church steeple or a caroler ringing a hand bell.
      But the bell hadn’t sounded in the little town. It was the door to the bookstore swinging open, the sleigh bells on the handle still echoing as a customer exited. I caught the handle and slipped inside.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New to Me: Cool Blogs


Have you ever found a book on a library shelf and thought, “Why the hell is this part of the collection?” This blog narrates the decision making process librarians go through in deciding to keep or weed a book like the gem pictured here.

Whenever I get the chance to go to a library book sale, I search for misfits like the books featured on this blog. I bought my favorite cheesy novel, Audrey Rose, at a library book sale. Apparently there’s a sequel to and a movie version of Audrey Rose. Off to update my Netflix queue!

The F Bomb

(Riot Grrrl zine show at Goteblud. Image via larrybofsf)

 The authors say The is a blog/community created by and for teenage girls who care about their rights as women and want to be heard. All young feminists who are just a little bit pissed off and very outspoken are more than welcome here.”

I could have used a site like this when I was a high school debater, one of a handful of young women in a sea of guys. One of the worst comments I ever got from a male judge was “the shorter the skirts, the higher the points.” Yeah.  Growing up as a feminist in the proto-internet era, there were lots of available resources about feminism. But beyond my circle of friends, there weren’t really any avenues to share my experiences, and to hear other girls’ experiences. It was the Riot Grrl era, but I never even saw a zine until years later. Anyway. The F bomb. Check it out.

Lots of people think about who’d they pick to play the characters in their favorite book, but this blog actually goes the extra step and shares the fantasy. The casting is usually spot on. At left is who Gina, the blog's author, chose to play Rhine in Wither.

 Fantasy casting connects back to writing for me.  I'm not a very visual person, so I have to work harder to "see" my characters. I often visualize a character as someone I’m familiar with, whether it’s in real life or TV/movies.Sometimes I even search for a Google pic of someone who looks like my character. If I find a good one, I'll stick it up on my magnetic board, for inspiration.  


Friday, October 21, 2011

Screw Slutoween

When I lived in Gainesville, a drunk guy once asked me where my Halloween costume was.  We were both standing on the sidewalk, waiting for the light to changes.  It was the night before Halloween, and the sidewalks were filled with college girls tripping around on their heels in their tiny costumes.

I had been out at a bar after an MFA reading, and I was wearing pretty standard attire.  Definitely not a sexy costume, which was really the question this guy was asking: why aren’t you scantily clad for my viewing pleasure?   

I went off on him in an impromptu feminist lecture—because I’m a woman, in public, you think you have the right to interrogate me about what I’m wearing? I don’t think so.  It felt good, but he probably didn’t even remember my diatribe the next day. 
It’s pretty well established that Halloween, for many, has become "Slutoween." I’m all about reclaiming the word slut, but it sucks that the expectation is now that girls and women will be HOT! HOT! HOT! on Halloween.

So if you’re needing inspiration, I say, go as your favorite fictional heroine.  Here are a few suggestions from books I've read lately (all YA dystopian novels):

1.       Lilah, the Lost Girl from Jonathon Maberry’s Dust & Decay and Rot & Ruin

She’s a spooky, bad ass zombie killer. Enough said. Plus, all you really need for the costume is a ripped shirt, a ripped pair of jeans, a spooky white/platinum blonde wig, and a broomstick modified into a spear.

2.       Deuce from Ann Aguirre’s Enclave

Deuce is a survivor who’s cold enough to be believable as a character in her world.  The outfit would be your basic post-apocalyptic uniform: dark, dull and dirty.  Wearing fake scars as the badge of the Huntress on your arm would definitely skew this costume towards the scary end of the spectrum.

                        3.  Teen Surrogate from Megan McCafferty’s Bumped

This costume would be so fun.  Stuff a pillow under your shirt (or go all out and get a fake belly), and spout slogans from the book like “fertilicous” and “do the deed, born to breed” all night.  There’s definite potential for a group costume here, too. 

                        4.  Rose from Lauren DeStefano’s Wither.
This was one of those books that left me wanting, (I really agree with this review by Sarah at I’mLoving Books) but if you feel like getting girlied up and wearing a big poufy dress, Rose would be a great character inspiration.  Add a little fake blood dribbling from your mouth, and you’re all set.  Dead Rose would be even better.

The Dread Query Letter

(The Fisherman and The Siren, by Knut Ekwall. photo: Creative Commons)

I've written a YA fantasy novel, "The Rule of Three," about a girl who discovers she's a siren. Now that I'm done with the actual writing and editing, I'm learning how to jump through the hoops that, should I succeed, will transform my novel from a file on my laptop to a book sitting on a shelf in a bookstore. 

Step one is to write a query letter. I've gone through lots of drafts.  Author and internet superstar Phoebe North was awesome enough to give my query letter its first read and revision.  I just found out that Evil Editor and crew graciously gave my next query letter draft a face lift.

As was my experience with the folks at Absolute Write, there were a lot of really good suggestions for improvement.  Not to get all gushy, but it's really cool that communities exist all over the internet who are willing to help complete strangers with all the nuts and bolts of trying to get your novel published. Go internet!

Now I’m moving forward to yet another query draft, and the creation of a synopsis.
I feel strangely calm about the synopsis, probably because I’m totally ignorant about how easy or difficult writing it will be. I can only guess that it’s a bitch, because condensing over 85,000 words into a few pages can’t be easy. 

My strategy is to pretend that I’m writing about someone else’s novel. If I achieve that level of detachment, I won’t feel that urgency to get in every last detail of the plot. I hope.

Procrastination is Your Friend

I procrastinate a lot while I’m writing. At first, I resisted the temptation to wander away from Word and onto the internet. When I did “slip up” and check out celebrity gossip instead of working on the next paragraph, I mentally beat myself up.

Over time, I realized that allowing myself online breaks was actually more productive. When I treated my writing time like it was a prison sentence, writing sucked. Granted, sometimes writing sucks no matter what you do, and you still have to sit in that chair and slog away at it. On the days that I just can’t get into gear, is my salvation.

But on the days that everything’s flowing pretty well, I shamelessly enjoy trashy internet getaways.  In no particular order, here are my top 5 destinations for procrastination:

1.       Daily Mail. Some people call this the “Daily Fail.” I call it tabloid journalism at its most delicious.

2.       Reblogging Donk. There’s nothing like schadenfreude to calm the anxiety that being on the verge of querying your first novel produces.  Okay, benzodiazepines are fairly effective, too. But online, RBD is the best.

3.       GetOffMyInternets. I’m a fascinated lurker.  There’s something so meta about a blog about blogs that suck.  Plus, it’s really funny, when the commenters aren’t plunging down a rabbit hole of vitriol. Or maybe that’s when it’s funniest?

4.      DListed.There are a million gossip sites out there, but this one actually has a point of view. Sometimes I read it while I’m having a snack, which is a bad idea, because I’m a delicate flower who gets grossed out easily. 

5.       Free Katie. This site analyzes the lives of Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise, and Suri Cruise, through an anti-Scientology lens. If it sounds a little crazy, that’s because it is.  But the archives are totally addictive. For me, a thread that investigates the “suspicious” pregnancy of Katie Holmes via a tabloid photo collage is the holy grail of internet procrastination.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Marry, Fuck, Kill: Teen TV Edition

Everybody knows the game.  Given three people, you choose who you’d marry, who you’d fuck, and who you’d kill. I like to apply the idea to different things—TV shows, books, restaurants, stores.  Really, it’s a fun way to categorize almost anything. So tonight, I’m choosing between The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, and The Secret Circle.

It’s a little bit tricky to evaluate the shows as a whole and decide which belongs in which category. But I’m going with fuck for Vampire Dairies for two reasons. Obviously, you’ve got a whole host of attractive characters—Damon, Stefan, Alaric, Elena, Katherine, Klaus, Matt. Pretty much everyone on the show is wildly gorgeous. But the whole vibe of the show is sexy, too. Sometimes it’s over the top, cheesy, and tries too hard to be sexy.  Sometimes Ian Somerhalder overdoes the whole crazy eyes thing.  But overall, it gets my vote for Fuck.

This category is a tough one, because I think of it as the show you’d stick with long term. Clearly, Pretty Little Liars has backed itself into a corner in terms of the implausibility of the character(s) of “A.” But there’s something about the show that makes me want to stick with it, even when I’m yelling at the computer screen.  The variety of characters, the setting, the actors who look like they’re in the mid-twenties—it just hits all the sweet spots for a campy YA TV drama.

I almost always hate to put a person/place/thing in the Kill category.  Maybe it’s because The Secret Circle has only had five episodes so far (with number six airing tonight!), or maybe it’s because there’s very little character development so far. But, with regret, I’d push The Secret Circle off a cliff.

Destroying the Mandala

This past Sunday, I went to a sand mandala destruction ceremony at Amherst College that I heard about through Hilltown Families.

We got to the Frost Library right as the ceremony was starting, and the place was crowded.  There were rings of people around the table that the mandala was constructed on.   The monks talked a little about their experience constructing mandalas, the variety of sand mandalas that exist, etc.  All throughout the ceremony, people kept taking pictures.  At one point, a woman pushed her way to the front row, knelt down, and started clicking away with a professional looking camera.  It struck me as funny that we try to capture the images of a ceremony that’s meant to be about the impermanence of things.  Not that I was above it all in some serene detachment from the material world.—I thought about taking a picture, too.

They took little pinches of sand from each area of the mandala.  I wondered if they were going to deconstruct the whole mandala this way, bit by bit.  But then one of the monks took this tool that looked a little like a pizza slicer, and cut into the mandala, slashing diagonally across the mandala until the sand blurred together.  It was really moving; I don’t think I was the only one in the crowd on the verge of tears.

(Image of similar ceremony courtesy of nimpitja)
The two monks gathered up the sand into a ceremonial urn, and a big crowd of people followed the monks down to this stream on campus, where the sand was poured into the water.  Then, it was all over.  The monks and everyone following them trooped back up the hill.  I watched by the stream, with a few other stragglers. It took a long time for the sand to spread through the water.  

It was such a cool experience; I wish there were weekly mandala destruction ceremonies to attend.  But then again, I guess that would counteract the whole impermanence theme.  

Oregon Trail & Thirteenth Child

I have great memories of playing Oregon Trail, back in the late 80s, when the game looked something like this:

Now, Oregon Trail looks something like this:

Something to keep in mind if you’re considering playing the updated version with a young child who will name the people in the wagon after best friends, family members, and pets, only to see them rapidly die, followed by overwrought burial scenes.

In a giant leap of free association, playing Oregon Trail reminded me of this YA book I read a few years back: Thirteenth Child, by Patricia Wrede.  It’s the first book of the Frontier Magic series, and apparently the second book, Across the Great Divide, came out at the beginning of August.  I wanted to like this book so much, but it felt like the novel was perpetuating stereotypes and rigid gender norms, rather than exploring or exploding them.   I’ll have to check out the second book to see if this problem gets worse or better. 

Even though I was disappointed by the book, I'm positive that if you spliced spliced together Oregon Trail and Thirteenth Child, it would be one awesome, child-unfriendly game.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Would Emily Dickinson have blogged?

 I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one's name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Now, I’m not trying to compare myself to Emily Dickinson.  But the big question is, can you be on the interwebs and still be a Nobody? After all, a blogger has to pose as a Somebody who others should read. 
Even more frightening is the idea that in transitioning from a Nobody to a Somebody, my half-baked thoughts will be preserved online. I’m envisioning the quarantine amber of Fringe here:

Image courtesy of MochaShakaKhan at

As they say, the internet is forever.

So, I’m taking a leap of faith, and shedding invisibility.  I’m Tarah Dunn—writer, mom, reader, and pop culture junkie—and this is my blog.