I started my first fast food job three days before I turned sixteen. When your in high school, fast food's flexible hours are attractive. The work sucks, especially closing the store when all the friers have to be broken down and film of grease scrubbed off the floors with a product called degreaser.
My lot in life kept me in the front of every story I worked out. I was a damned good cashier and I was polite to customers even when it hurt.
As a consequence I've seen people go berserk because their special order burrito or hamburger wasn't perfect. Once customer tried to pull a girl I worked with right through the driver's window. In this case he was rabid over a taco and when she leaned out to take the bag of mistakes back, he grabbed her. She screamed and seven of us dropped what we were doing to come running.
It was late, just before closing and I don't think he realized how many people were working. Seeing it happen taught me a lesson about leaning out of the window too far. Don't do it. I also learned how to avoid quick change artists, free food scams, and that customers would orders that weren't theirs. Some would even return shamelessly to the counter for their order.
When I worked at Pals, a strange but delicious regional joint, we had this one customer who always got the wrong order. Her special hamburger was not rocket science and yet every time she ordered it, we managed to screw it up by epic proportion. More often than not, she got a sandwich she hadn't ordered or paid for. She was never belligerent, because we always apologized and gave her the correct food. But one day, she broke. She cursed up a storm about how we never got her order right.
It's unfortunate, but until she threw her fit, she had been just a face in the crowd. I didn't actually believe her as she screamed at me-- customers have been trained to claim this in hopes of free food. I recoiled from the verbal abuse, hollered what I needed and directed her to pull up indicating we'd bring her the food.
Her order was not complicated. What exactly, I don't know. But I remember being shocked when she came back and it still wasn't right. Three tries, and we got it. I've worked joints with crappy management where repeated mistakes but for a well oiled fast food machine, which Pals is, this many screw ups is not ordinary. And whether you believe it or not, accuracy is point of pride for many fast food workers. This is because even when a job sucks, employees can't divorce themselves from the warm glow of a job well done. Management has to be radioactive to create total apathy in the staff.
At Pals there was true pride extending beyond this. The full time staff had not resigned themselves to the fact that life had not let them be whatever they wanted to be but embraced it. Patty could sling burgers like nobodies business. When she wasn't on shift, it took two people to do what could handle all on her lonesome. There was one full time staffer for each position and during peek hours where cars wrapped around the restaurant and spilled into the main street, Pals functioned like a well oiled machine. No matter how long the line was, customers never hesitated to stop.
We couldn't wallow in our repeated mistakes over the woman's order, but because we had pride, we felt it. We snapped at each other to make sure we each did our part and at last we delivered everything correctly. The next time she came through, I remembered her and issued an order to make sure the food was correct.
It wasn't. These happened a few more times before it dawned on me that this was a thing beyond our control. This woman had a lot in life. Every time she ordered food, it would be wrong. It's such a small thing that God, the great creator, fate, whatever couldn't be bother with such. Well, perhaps the powers that be have a whacked sense of humor, but I think everybody has a thing they can't avoid. For me it's crazy neighbors. The joy of my first apartment was marred by the schizophrenic living next door. Actually, he seemed pretty nice and I tried to keep an open mind when he told me about his issue and said I had nothing to worry about because he was on medication. I could not keep my mind open after he showed up, knife in hand, banging at door one night. Suffice to say, I didn't answer the door.
Well, he had a legitimate mental condition. Most of my neighbors since have been sanely nuts. Despite overwhelming evidence, it wasn't until recently that I realize wherever I move, if my I have sane neighbors to start with, they will promptly leave and the crazy folk move in.
This is just a theory of course. I can't prove it's true, but I think, despite free will, people get a parcel. Life's lot means your friend can do x and nobody will say mum and when you do x you get arrested. There are just certain ways things work and don't work for you. Perhaps it's fate keeping us on our path or perhaps the powers that be have a fucked up sense of humor.
So what's your lot in life? Does it frustrate you? Have you made peace with it?
Agents have been relatively mum about my Meat Head queries, and I don't mean form rejections. I mean silence but since no response is becoming the agent preferred method of rejection, I can't read too much into that. But of course being a needy writer, thoughts like "Oh, my God it's so bad, they can't even reject me!" Of course, I give that head voice an ultimatum.
"Shut up or I'm going to make you stand in the dark corner over there."
This is a visualization technique I've used to deal with Fear. People who know me now are surprised to learn that I'm terrified of everything, and just a few years ago this was especially true for escalators. I could not even look at one without breaking into an anxiety induced sweat.
As you can imagine, when I announced I was going to live and work abroad, my friends who knew me then were like "Um, there's a lot of escalators in the airport and the world is full of things you're terrified of."
"Well, I've ridden horses for years," I said.
"Yeah, and you're still terrified."
I shrugged. Slightly less than I was fifteen years ago."
Because I'm afraid of everything but I refuse to let it rule my life, I'm well practiced in putting the cowling head-voice, Fear, in the corner, where it can observe but not intefere. I think when writers get the negative head voice barking about this or that, it's not really neediness. It's actually Fear.
Fear isn't useless-- there is a time and place for it-- but of all the emotions, it probably is the least needed emotion for modern humans. There are no monsters, lions, wolves or, and I'm terribly saddened by this, zombies,waiting in dark alleys to eat us. Fear is an overlooked employee, exploited a few times a year at theme parks and regularly by thrill seekers. But it's unimportant in our day to day lives, so it creates crisis and gets revenge by interfering with our dreams.
I can without reservation, that you can throw yourself at escalators regardless of Fear says. Now, go ride an escalator... or write something that you're afraid to write.
I'm not talking about technique, grammar, or plot. I'm talking about habits.Not what you put on paper, but how you put it there?
From me, this is not working on one story until that story is finished, but working on many until they are all finished--staggering completion dates so the rotation doesn't begin to feel stale. I've realized that in five years I might produce zero novels but after five years and two months, I might have seven.
To do this I dedicate one week M-F, to story X. The next week I work on story Y, circling back to story X. Saturday and Sunday are my free days. Every writer needs time out. But if your like me, a writer who tends to get ourselves bent out of shape because things aren't progressing fast enough, you really do need to enforce down time.
Finding the right writing habits increases productivity and quality. Trying to write under the wrong conditions, makes writing itself a chore. So while, I agree that authors should try advice from other others on this, I'd add the caveat that you have to keep trying new things. When you find the right habits, you'll know them by the end result.
How do you like to write? Do you try techniques of other authors? Do you feel inept when your method doesn't match the ideal habits of your favorite author?
When I was in college, I started an internet business. The business did not exist. I did make a website with products such as Lard Lips Lip Balm and personalized straight jackets. Membership cost $13.13 for thirteen months and got you a rubber monkey. The name of the company was Ruber Monkey because I misspelled rubber when I set up the website. I cared not one whit about spelling at the time and so I embraced this error in our slogan. RuberMonkey.com the misspelled website that doesn't exist. I involved a friend in a variety of antics. We produced a few videos, some of which we paid to air on public cable, very late night on channels few people watched when they were sober. Being imaginative souls, we got a kick of the idea that people were scratching their heads, and asking themselves WTF at 1AM. Perhaps we even broke some laws by doing this.
These days, I'm starting to query agents in a spartan fashion. Part of this is my finished novels needed CPR. Writing short stories has given me the novel and plot recitation skills I need. I have decided that I can't write any more short stories. My focus is getting the longer works into circulation.
Writing short stories also taught me that I like to work on multiple projects at the same time and how to do that successfully. Because novels cannot be finished in a week, I'm rotating three projects. This has been My Father's Heart Weak. So in three weeks, I'll work on it again. One of the tricks to doing this is to note everything you do. I used to work in a call center where everyday I summarized about 70 conversations into the computer so the next rep would know what the costumer called about. Every skill, everything you ever do will teaches you something you can use later.
Here is this skill from a job I hated, making it possible for me to pick on large works right were I left off. I use Notezilla, which allows you to stick notes to files or files to notes whichever you prefer, to track my progress and out look to manage my writing schedule.
Right now I have one novel (Meat Head) in circulation. I don't consider this an easy sell for a first novel. But it won't be an easy sell for a second or a tenth novel because it's the only book I have like it. I can't say, "this is the kind of author I am. This is the kind of books I will write."
Because of this, I recently decided to submit a query that deals with this issue (I am less concerned with landing an agent-- I either will or won't, and if it's the latter, I'll go the indie rout-- than how best to deal with my 31 flavors.) I have developed an analogy involving ice cream. I say that I can serve chocolate and vanilla, but that I also serve mocha-tuna-wtf.
I've talked about this before-- should I have pen names for different styles? This analogy triggered a realization about my own reading habits. I pick up Stephen King because I like his flavor. I read Christ Crutcher because I like his flavor. I return to the same authors because they each offer a flavor I like and I read the flavor that suits my mood.
Then, I realized in all of this, if I publish my 31 flavors all under the same name, I'm going to be such an unreliable author that readers won't ever been in the mood M.R. Jordan. Before, I thought it was matter of trust readers to not be confused. Now, I think it's a little more complicated than that.
And it truly does complicate the agent hunt. Should I be up front about my eclectic tastes or surprise them with a humor book that proves selling personalized straight jackets was not profession not so far off the mark. I don't know. I suppose I'll try both ways and go with what works.
Below is the Lard Lips Lip Balm commercial.
(pst, Lard Lips Lip Balm is 100% natural because it's made from lard. The items came from the back of a cake mix and some other random food products. To my knowledge, none of the ingredients are in lip balm. And yes, if anyone had been willing to pay $2.99 for 1/4 oz jar of lard, I would have sold it to them.)
When I was in second grade the book fairy took the tooth I had placed under my pillow and left me a book. "Mom, what is this!"
"It's a book."
I burst into inconsolable tears. The book fairy had stolen my tooth. Now the tooth fairy would never come and leave me a quarter. I was forced to eat last year's Halloween candy.
This never happened.
I don't know why I love books. There is not a single member of my family that loves books -- or literacy in general-- besides me. Look, I'm not being hard on them. They are who they are. But nothing makes a child wonder if they were adopted like trying to read Chris Crutcher while their Uncle is teaching their sisters and cousins how to set a fart on fire without burning their butt cheeks.
This really did happen.
My inspiration for this meandering blog post was my trip to the used bookstore. A month ago I had left a big old bag of books because the owner was not in and purchased three books at full price.
I waited for a call about the store credit. It never came.Today I saw many of my books on the shelves. There was zero credit in the computer. I started to overact. (By overreact, I mean heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and steam came out of my ears.)
They advertise that they give 1/2 of the cover price for titles. Shipping aside, I should get about $3.50 for a book that costs $7.99. I get closer to $1.00 per book. Because I need to limit the amount of books I have-- my apartment is small -- I've decided to see it more like a swap that's good for me. I give them four books I have read, and they give me one book I haven't.
There is a limit to how much I'm willing to overlook. So, I took a deep breath and calmly shifted the stack of books I had picked out to the side, making clear that I wouldn't be spending any money.
This got the girl's attention better than if I'd shouted. She called the owner. When she returned she said, "you have twenty dollars credit."
I happily spent all of my credit plus another twenty dollars cash.
Here are titles:
The Invaders Plan by L. Ron Hubbard
Your Heart Belongs to Me by Dean Koontz
Lisey's Story by Stephen King
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
The Face by Dean Koontz
Rant by Chuck Palahniuk
Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup
And to improve my Korean for which there are no links:
Grim's Fair Tales in English and Korean
A collection of Poe's short stories in English and Korean.
Now, Book Fairy, please trade in some Laura Lipman!
On August 25th, the New York Times ran an article on Book Reviews for Hire. As always I'm a day late and a buck short on keeping up with the news.
To short of it:
A man by the name of Tod Rutherford charged authors $99.00 for one review, $500.00 dollars for 20 reviews and $1000.00 for 5o reviews.
To get some perspective. Kirkus changers about $500.00 for one review. The difference is Tod Rutherford, guaranteed positive reviews and Kirkus charges for the review but you are not buying the reviewers opinion.
Eventually Amazon caught on to what Tod was doing and removed his reviews. His website Gettingbookreviews.com was blocked by Google and he now sales RV's somewhere in the Midwest. He does not hang his head in shame.
I understand the ethical issues but what is the difference between paying MR. Rutherford $99 dollars for his opinion on your book and lets say paying Joe Namath to promote Noxema. Well, there are two differences: Joe got paid a lot more and his review was via commercial. It's the latter that probably matters. People know that when they seen a commercial that it is an add. That the celebrity is being paid for their opinion.
Well sort of. If you ask most people if they believe x product that y celebrity is selling is a good product, they'll say yes. They'll say they trust in the celebrity's opinion.
And of course we have infomercials which are commercials disguised as purveyors of information. Testimonial of testimonial will be given by members of the audience who will also oo and ah over the product of the hour. And this is a legitimate form of advertising. Take away the commercial, and you have left is a bunch of bought reviews.
So what really is the difference between a review given freely and one paid for? It comes down to customer expectation. Customer reviews have largely been written by actual customers where commercials and infomercials have not.
What do you think? Is it unethical for writers to purchase opinions in order to sell books?
For the last couple of years the publishing houses have been duking it out between each other and the heavy weight of all things e-commerce Amazon.
Before the Kindle, there really wasn't much of an eBook pie to divide. Amazon that there never would be an e-Book market without an easy way to consume the content.
(There really wasn't much internet shopping going on before Amazon taught people to shop online so this is an old party trick of Amazon's.)
None of the publishers and few book sellers thought that e-Books would ever have a market, but once there was one, the gold rush was on.
A few years later and six of the big houses publishing houses are under investigation by the DOJ for price fixing along with Apple. Each of these companies are giant's in their own rights, but they claim to be victims of "predatory pricing," which is a euphemism for free trade.
The author's guild has thrown their hat into the ring, choosing to focus on Amazon who is NOT part of the DOJ lawsuit. Their most recent attempt to tar and feather the internet retail giant named Publish America as one of Amazon's victims.
If you don't keep up with these things, Publish America is currently involved in a class action lawsuit for defrauding authors. The result has been that many authors have serious questions as to whether the Author's Guild is serving writers, especially their members who have been encouraged to partake in a program to publish their back lists to royalty rate of 15%. Smashwords for example, gives author's a royalty rate of 70%.
Is the Author's Guild acting on behalf of authors are has it become a modern day Captain Ahab in pursuit of the white whale? What do you think?
Not the TV show, sheesh. You'd think I wrote a lot about TV or something.
No, I'm talking about the gawky, knock-kneed post fledgling stage in a writer's life. You've written just enough and been through critique groups just enough to feel like your stories are ready for submission. So you submit and get so many form rejections you could paper your office with them.
At the same time, things that you were previously given praise for (perhaps just last week) has suddenly been the thing your critique group is now suggesting needs revision. If you're like me, you howl at your computer screen. Your indignation is then replaced with the your self deprecating head voice.
"You'll never be a writer," it whispers.
Well, here's little insight (and perhaps you can take heart in knowing) about what's going on. First, let's state the obvious. The critique experience is imperfect. It's imperfect because people know you can't take the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Writer's know better than anyone else how a writer feels when people give feedback on their story. So, what writers do is not compare your story to say Ray Bradbury, but to itself. For the story, as it is, what needs the most work. Then writers pick on that thing. And because the story is being judged against itself, when a writer compliments you on this thing you did, it's often true only when the story is judged against itself. Later, as you grow the things you once got compliments will eventually become the things people critique.
Growth is painful and frustrating. But this is also a kind of milestone. It means you're writing has progressed to such an extent in other areas, that writers don't need to comment on them any more. The better you get, the more nit picky your critique group should be. So set your ego aside, make like a Chia Pet and grow.
As regular blog readers will know, I replaced a buy ridden LG Ultrabook with the Samsung Serious 9. As you can see from the photo it's sleek and thin. You can read the technical specs from any number of sites but what I want to talk about is what it's like to write on.
For years, I've felt that manufacturers neglect writers when they design laptops. So first, the Samsung gets really high marks for being comfortable to type on... for hours. The the keyboard is spacious and very responsive. It's also back lit for those who like that kind of thing. But the best feature about the keyboard is that it sits slightly lower than the palm rest. You'll find that your hands rest in a way that prevents most unintentional bumping of the track pad.
Samsung took it a step futher. The track pad itself is slightly recessed, too. Combined it's nearly impossible to bump the pad by accident. But if you do bump it, the track pad isn't slippery. I've hated all the track pads on every laptop I've owned over the years. I hated how they'd highlight text while I was typing but I especially loathed the LG because it would highlight, delete the entire passage, open several programs and on a few occasions close out the word processor. But even though I'd take a sticky track pad over a slippery one, the Samsung has balance. Gone or the frantic searches in my bag for the portable mouse. With my fingers on the keys, I flick my thumb and scroll around my manuscripts with now fear of anthing being deleted.
The final feature that every writer will love is the anti-glare screen. It's not just a fancy word for matte finish. Writing is pretty seditary, but it's not an issue with this laptop. I tuck my Samsung 9 in my backpack along with a few snacks, and hit the trail instead of the local coffee shop. The screen looks great inside our out, just adjust the brightness levels to suit. This is the first notebook that has trully let me be a writer on the go.
The Samsung 9 is also supper light at 1.16 kilos and I was told it has about 6 hours battery life. But just using it to type, I find I get between 7 and 8 hours. And whether you're writing or downloading music and movies, or all of the above with 4 gigs of RAM and 128 gigs of SSD there's pleanty of power under the hood.
This computer won't come cheap. Stateside I think it sells for 1499.99 but you can make up some fo the price by going to the park instead of the coffee shop. Plus there's no compisees with this machine, making it well worth every penny.
I'm perturbed today. I'm perturbed because in the process of catching up on Janet Reid's blog I followed a link to the Solon article "My book was a bad idea." This is a well writing article but the conclusions the author draws... hit a nerve, so much so, that I'm about to refute several points of the article. To be fair the author simply wrote about her personal truth.
Summary (For those smarmy individuals who are too busy using pirate words to read the article.)
In the article the author talks about how she secured an agent based on her experience as a journalist and her pitch to said agent. While I'm sure that there are lots of details left out, for writers such as myself ... ones who have received so much rejection it's practically a national past time-- a story such as this seems mythical. The author quit her job and moved abroad to write her book. The book took four years to finish, wasn't fun to write, and her agent dumped her. Subsequent agents rejected the manuscript. In the meantime she had a baby and the baby led to an epiphany of sorts. The author concluded that her love for writing wasn't as pure as her love for her child. Based on this conclusion she wrote a second book about raising her baby. This book was rejected resulting in her final conclusion that both books were a mistake.
I think that there are a lot better lessons that can be learned from this story.
Don't count your chickens before they're hatched. You know I'm a reality TV fan and so I can't resist using So You Think You Can Dance. On this show dancers of every style try out. The really good ones go to Las Vegas where most discover they have no talent for irritating little things like choreography, hip hop and ballroom. Just like ballroom and contemporary dancers hone sills specific to their style, novelist hone skill specific to writing a novel and journalist hone skills specific to writing for magazines an newspapers. Moreover there are a thousand reasons why books don't get published just as their are a thousand reasons why the dancers don't get on So You Think You Can Dance. A lot of good dancers don't make it and its not for a lack of talent. The author assumes that she didn't sell the book because it is a bad book. A lot of first books are. But I really don't like saying that. First books are first books. They're a first attempt at something very hard. Remember the first time you rode a bike? Tried roller blades or tried to long division on your own. Was it pretty now. Remember the first time you had sex. Ugh, you groan. But it got better. So do second books and third books. A first book generally doesn't hatch into a chicken with a fledgling rooster fertilizing the the prose.
Let's look at So You Think You Can Dance again. There are always a handful of people who quit their job to be on the show. This brings me to lesson two. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. The dancers who quite their job to be on the show not only have to deal with the let down of rejection but also the void of nothing to go back to. And there are all the people to whom they announced "I quit my job because I'm going to be on the show." Argh, that's painful. You know how I know. Because I've done this a time or sixty. It's never fun to admit failure. But it's only failure if you look at it that way. This brings me to lesson three. Look on the bright side.
At the end the selections on So You Think You Can Dance, the judges remind the 15 to 20 contestants that don't make it on the show, that this isn't a failure. It's a triumph.
Out of nearly a million dancers who try out every year, they made it to the top 30 or 40. Or in this case, you finished a friggin book. Yikes that's awesome. Time for BEER!
But you still made the mistake of putting all your eggs in one basket and you counted your chickens before they hatched. And you broadcast your folly to the world so that now when they ask you if your book is published yet you get really embarrassed and a little defensive. Lesson four. Don't feel embarrassed. Take ownership of your mistakes, learn from them and move on. If your a writer it should be to your next book or short story or whatever floats your boat. If your a dancer and you really want to be on TV you try out for every casting call between here and Timbuktu.
This brings me to my last lesson. If you do you always did you you'll always get what you always got. While there might not be a dancing connection, there is a great example of this in the character of Rick in The Walking Dead. He continues to make the same tragic mistake again and again. Even on the last episode where he finally steps up, he's doing it for the same reason he risked lives to save the boy impaled on the fence. He continues to repeat the behavior while expecting a different result.
There's a lot I don't know about what the author didn't put into her article. But it seemed to me, barring the motives for the book, she approached it the exact same way, expecting it to be successful. When it wasn't she drew the same conclusions that she drew when her first book was rejected. Writing the book was a mistake.
I spent 11 years writing my first book. Well, if I'm to be candid, I spent the bulk of those years grandly dreaming and boasting. I made a lot of mistakes during those years, not all of them related to the book, though it influenced a surprising number of choices. I suppose this is why I have so much to say on this subject.
I can't imagine looking upon that book as something I wish I'd never done. I learned a lot, not only from writing the book, but from all the screw-ups. In many ways I'm a reformed royal screw-up. Okay, so not really all that reform. I 'm a glutton for punishment, what can I say.
To summarize: Writing a book is never a bad idea. The things you do based on what you think will said book's success are another matter. Now go drink a beer. Make that two. One for you and one for me.
Mariel R. is an ESL teacher, horse trainer, writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. She lives in South Korea with two house cats, three horses, a German Shepherd and three barn cats .
Bear (Gom in Korean) )
Geumbi (Goldy in English) R.I.P February, 23, 2018