Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thirty years ago today: Remembering Harvey Milk

Thirty years ago today, while sitting with my algebra class at Carlmont High School in the San Francisco suburbs, my algebra teacher turned on the classroom televsion and we all watched as a shell-shocked Dianne Feinstein recited these words: "As president of the board of supervisors, it's my duty to make this announcement. Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed." Moscone and Milk had been assassinated by San Francisco Supervisor Dan White, a former SF firefighter and police officer, a notably conservative politician who'd publicly clashed with Milk several times over zoning rights and Milk's fight for a gay rights ordinance in San Francisco.

We were all stunned.

It was an understandable reaction; after all, folks in the San Francisco Bay Area were still reeling from the news just nine days before that Bay Area Congressman Leo Ryan had been gunned down in Guyana while investigating the apparent suicide of more than 900 members of Jim Jones' People's Temple, most of them former Bay Area residents themselves.

When I was sixteen, I wasn't yet aware of what an extraordinary loss Milk's death was. I hadn't yet figured out my own sexual identity, and it would be several years more before I educated myself on the history of gay rights activism.

But on this day of giving thanks for so many things, I wanted to also take a moment to give thanks for the courageous work that Harvey Milk did, laying the foundation for bigger and bolder gay rights activism on a national level. He certainly wasn't a saint, but he was a true American hero. And he is still missed.

Anyway, I just wanted to say...Thank you, Harvey.

Giving thanks for so many things today.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"What are we protecting you from, a wrong cheeseburger?"

My colleague Janet Reid has just posted the absolute FUNNIEST audio clip of a 911 call that you will ever hear. Seriously.

Apparently nobody told Otto Penzler that he couldn't acquire manuscripts anymore.

Which begs the question: Do the folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt not talk to one another at all?

If you are looking for real-time coverage of the events in Mumbai...

Go here.

What happens after the manuscript is acquired but before it's published?

A really great post by Jane Lindskold over at Tor.com on what happens after an editor acquires your manuscript. Pay attention, new authors!

Reader Question: "When should you list your publishing credits in your query letter?"

Dear Agent -

When should you put published short stories in your query letter? There are paying markets that are relatively easy to get into, and non-paying markets with incredibly high standards. What do you (or agents in general) care about, and when does it seem like the author is trying too hard?

Best,

Cory

Dear Cory -

Agent Nathan Bransford addressed this very nicely in a post on his blog a few months ago, but it's worth discussing again.

Short Fiction/Essays/Narrative Non-Fiction: If you've published in a nationally known periodical (The New Yorker, F & SF, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Realms of Fantasy, etc), by all means, list this in your query letter. If you have published in a well-known literary journal, online or print (Rain Taxi, Three Penny Review, Story, etc), list this in your query. If you have published in a paying online market (Fantasy, Strange Horizons, etc), list this in your query. There are also legit non-paying venues, but if you've published a short story in a non-paying venue, it really needs to be one that is well-known to agents and editors in the genre for which you are querying. (Your best friend's blog doesn't count.)If you have been a journalist or a columnist in a newspaper/online venue that more than a handful of people have heard of, list this in your query. (This does not apply if you wrote a column about, say, stamp collecting or gun cleaning. Use your head!) And if you have a blog, that also doesn't count as publishing credit. Even if 10,000 people read it. Sorry! But if you have a blog that 10,000 people read, it means that you already have an audience, so an agent probably does want to know about it. (Unless, of course, your blog is about, say, stamp collecting or gun cleaning. See above.)

Other Non-Fiction Credentials: If you are querying for a mystery or science fiction or fiction, etc, then listing your credentials as a technical or business or medical writer is pointless. Leave it off your query.

Poetry: This is a tough call. I'd say that if you have published a significant collection of poetry (like, in an actual book, yo!) through a legit publisher, go ahead and list it, especially if you are querying for literary fiction. But if you've had three poems published in your school paper, I don't want to know about it.

Screenplays: The only time that you should ever list a screenplay as a credit is if that screenplay has been purchased and turned into a film. Otherwise, it's the same as saying that you've written ten books that weren't actually published. It doesn't count as a publishing credit.

Self-Published Authors: This has been said countless times, but I'll say it again. Self-publishing doesn't count as a publishing credit. PublishAmerica, iUniverse, Lulu, BookSurge, etc...any mention of these names (or the nine-thousand various other self-publishing companies out there) will only work against you on your query. Leave them off.

Books: If you're a previously published author, through a legit publisher, you should list the title of the book and the publisher. Unless you've written an accounting book, and you're querying about fiction, for example. Again, use your head. You may have written 27 textbooks but they won't really have helped you hone your novel-writing skills, and the sell-through history on those books will have no bearing on any novel you may publish in the future.

Okay, I think that's about it. If I've forgotten something, let me know.

Hope that was helpful!

Colleen

JetBlue discovers the furry community.

Their response? Best Twitter post ever.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

And, from the Dept. of Unnecessary Quotation Marks:

"Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)"

An oldie but goodie from my former boss (from when I was a freelance reviewer at the San Francisco Chronicle, lo these many years ago) Pat Holt: Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)

Pat has recently resurfaced and is writing again at her blog, Holt Uncensored. In her most recent post, she talks about the idea of having online royalty statements for authors.

Why you shouldn't panic about the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt buying freeze.

The announcement yesterday that newly-merged publishing giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt would temporarily stop acquiring new manuscripts seems to have set the book industry in a panic.

I'm not in a panic, and you shouldn't be, either. Here's why: publishers do this kind of thing all the time, for all kinds of reasons and especially at the end of the fiscal year. And they've been doing it for years.

What they don't do is make a public statement about it.

::: face palm :::

Look, when two large publishers like Harcourt and Houghton Mifflin merge, it only makes sense that they'd put a temporary hold on further acquisitions until they've had a chance to assess all of the properties they already own. After all, they've just doubled their editorial inventory. One thing a newly-merged publisher is going to try very hard not to do is to cancel contracts; canceling contracts leads to a lack of confidence in the publishing company and that's never a good thing.

So if canceling a lot of contracts isn't an option, then what?

A smart solution might be to just slow down or stop buying for a while. Take a fiscal breather, as it were. Because the truth is that - right now - there's probably no room for new manuscripts in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's inventory.

Really, the sky isn't falling, people. Just chill out, will ya?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Reader Question:
"How do I format emailed pages in a query?"

Dear Agent -

How to format manuscripts for submission is easy to find these days, but when agents ask to have the first five pages included in the body of the e-mail, how should it be formatted? Double spaced? Indents? All that good stuff?

Thanks,

Cory

Dear Cory -

First, let me stress this: every single agent has different preferences so anything I write here should be taken with a mighty large grain of salt. The first thing you should do is to check each individual agent's submission guidelines for this information. That being said, here's what I would suggest (as this is generally what I do when I cut and paste anything into email).
  • Turn off your formatting altogether and send your email as plain text. Period. No bolding, no fancy fonts, no weird sizes, no colors. Nothing. Why? Several reasons. 1.) Formatting protocols on every email program differ and what looks pretty and formatted on one computer may come across as gobbledygook on another. 2.) Overly-formatted text is distracting to read and tough on the eyes. 3.) Don't asume that the agent is reading your query on a computer. A lot of us are reading them on Blackberries and iPhones and Treos and other smart phones where email formatting gets stripped away autmatically anyway, so you're wasting your efforts.
  • Single-spacing for a five-page email sample is fine; usually agents and editors ask that manuscripts and partials be double-spaced so as to make it easy to mark-up and make notes.
  • Indents aren't necessary. Use an extra space between each paragraph to add white space, indicate paragraph breaks and make the flow of text easier.
  • Check your grammar and spelling. Then check it again.
  • Do not mark your emails as "high priority" or flag them. It's annoying.
  • Make sure you have no attachments at all, including v-cards or windat files; some agents (like me) have set up their email programs to automatically delete any emails containing unsolicited attachments.
  • If you're still unsure once you've put your query together, email it to yourself or a friend to make sure that it comes through as readable text.
Hope that was helpful!

Colleen

Reader Question:
"Whom do I query for my 'tween novel?"

Dear Agent -

I have what I think is a tween novel. Who should I query for that? I can't find many agents who say they specifically want 'tween--lots of MG agents, lots of YA agents, but 'tween is still so new that I am having trouble finding a 'tween agent. Who should I query? Both MG and YA agents, and hope that I find one in between? Should I call it a 'tween, or just pick MG or YA?

Thanks!

Beth

Hi Beth!

Technically - at least as a marketing term - middle-grade and 'tween are the same thing: kids who are somewhere between the age of about nine and twelve. But many folks in publishing consider 'tween books to be middle grade that's aimed strictly at girls. Not sure why this is.

My gut reaction is that you should just call it a middle grade novel if it indeed skews younger, and a YA if it skews older. You won't really need to say much more than that as your query letter should be able to give the agent or editor all the rest of information that s/he will need to position your book.

Hope that was helpful!

Colleen

PS: Yes, I guess I'm open for questions today. Fire away!

Query update.

Just a head's up that if you have a query sitting in the hopper waiting for a response, that response won't be coming until sometime next week at the very earliest. I'm taking the whole week off from reading queries so that I can catch up with the backlog of partials and fulls that I have sitting in my inbox.

Interesting fact: the number of email queries that I've been receiving has increased drastically over the past six weeks, going from an average of about 175 queries per week to an average of 500 per week. Over the past 72 hours alone, I've received 146 queries. I'm not sure to what I should attribute the sudden increase in queries; it doesn't seem to make much sense.

But one thing I've noticed is that the quality of those queries is in inverse proportion to the quantity. In other words, a lot of you are hitting "SEND" way too fast. Lots of typos, grammatical errors, complete disregard for my submission guidelines, queries for inappropriate categories, and just plain badly written.

Please, folks! Double and triple-check your queries before you send them off to any agent. You'll be doing yourself a favor in the long run.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Bad Sex Award nominees have been announced!

Never has passion been so purple on the printed page. This year's esteemed nominees include Russell Banks, Alistair Campbell and Paulo Coehlo, who was nominated for this bit of fornication silliness in his book Brida:
"At last, she could no longer control the world around her, her five senses seemed to break free and she wasn't strong enough to hold on to them. As if struck by a sacred bolt of lightning, she unleashed them, and the world, the seagulls, the taste of salt, the hard earth, the smell of the sea, the clouds, all disappeared, and in their place appeared a vast gold light, which grew and grew until it touched the most distant star in the galaxy."
Yes, I'm sure sex is like that for most people. (No, really.)

We got yer punk right here. (And it's free!)

Like punk? Like free music? Yeah, we got yer punk right here.

My old pal and former San Francisco roommate "Max" (names have been changed to protect the innocent) out in Portland, OR, pointed me to his band's website, where you can download some awesome, loud, thrashin' speedy, insanely-fast, pop punk. Fer free.

Check out Hit & Run now!


(Max is the drummer, btw.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Guest blogger Matthew Cheney reviews The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Vol. II

In Which a Guest Blogger Ponders
the Limits of Reviewing,
and in Particular Certain Books,
viz. Octavian Nothing, Volume II


In 2006, I wrote on my own blog about M.T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; vol. 1: The Pox Party, one of my favorite books of recent years, a book I have no reservations about calling a masterpiece and even, perhaps, a work of genius.

I put off reading the second volume, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; vol. 2: The Kingdom on the Waves until recently, mostly because I feared disappointment. There is often talk of the difficulties writers have with a second book -- "the sophomore slump" -- but there is a similar difficulty for readers, one that occurs not only with sequels, but also with any second encounter with an author who once blew your mind. Merely replicating the experience is not enough. Once a mind has been blown, it develops tough scar tissue, and a larger force is necessary next time.

Or, rather, I should say, "Once my mind has been blown..." I have no doubt that there are readers who have much less durable scar tissue than I. I've met them. Some of them are my friends. I envy them all. They enjoy reading much more than I do, because it provides reliable pleasure. Reading, for me, provides an immense amount of disappointment, frustration, and vexation. The scar tissue is just too thick, and Kafka's axe needs sharpening after each successful blow. The reason I keep reading is that when I do encounter something like the first volume of Octavian Nothing, the effect is overwhelming -- the joy of reading the book has stuck with me and returns even now when I hold the memory of that reading experience in mind.

I am stalling. Dissembling. Dithering. I am reluctant to say what I should say, and what I should say is that, yes, the second volume of Octavian Nothing disappointed me. Worse, I sometimes found it tedious, a word I would never associate with the first volume. I want to explore that response here not in the way I might in a review, which at least tries to appear to rise above the reviewer's own particular tastes and situation. Here I want to indulge the very subjectivity we so often hide in reviews, since the job of the reviewer is to make the (futile, perhaps) attempt to speak to more than one person's experience of a book. No, this experience is mine alone.

I have seldom had a more complex reaction to a book than I have had to Octavian Nothing II. It is an impressive novel, as assured in its technique as the first volume, and I have no trouble saying that the two books together are equal and perhaps superior to one of my childhood favorites, Johnny Tremain. Only a few other new novels published this year (that I am familiar with) are as richly textured or as deeply thoughtful as Anderson's. It should solidify his place not only among writers for young adults, but among the pantheon of important American writers.

And yet, of the 561 pages of text in the beautifully-produced Candlewick Press edition of the novel, I found somewhere around 300 of them generally unengaging and sometimes utterly, painfully dull. I don't expect the majority of readers will have this experience, though, and many will probably enjoy the second book more than they enjoyed the first.

One of the great virtues of the first book, for me, was that it was not primarily about action. Certainly, plenty of events occur and actions are taken. But the actions and events are scaffolding for ideas -- in fact, I have no hesitancy about calling the first volume a novel of ideas. This particularly makes sense given its setting: Octavian is the subject of experiments by philosophers who seem, to our 21st-century eyes, insane and cruel, but who operated from perfectly justifiable beliefs by 18th-century standards. Part of the joy (and horror) of the first novel derives from how beliefs different from our own lead to various actions, and how characters respond to those actions in differing ways, producing new ideas that also lead to new actions.

The second volume continues to have actions that derive from ideas, but there are fewer ideas, and most of them are familiar from the first volume. The second volume has at its center Octavian's time as a soldier with Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment, a group of (primarily) freed and escaped slaves recruited by the British army to fight against the rebels in the American Revolution. Neither the Loyalist viewpoint nor the experience of African Americans in the Revolution has been common in fiction (Kenneth Roberts wrote from the Loyalist POV in 1940's Oliver Wiswell and notable recent examples of the POV of slaves include Christian Cameron's Washington & Caesar and Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains). It is important for us to see the Revolution from these perspectives, though, because the exhortations of "liberty" and "freedom" that fueled the rebels rung hollow for African Americans, and the debate about slavery was an important part of the debate about independence from Britain. The British, particularly Lord Dunmore, understood this, and Dunmore's November 14, 1775 Proclamation had a tremendous effect, helping to cause what historian Gary B. Nash has called "the greatest slave rebellion in North American history -- one almost too shocking for the American public to contemplate even now."

Dunmore's proclamation was not a key to perfect liberty, though, and there was no easy choice for slaves during the Revolution, because despite fine words from both sides about natural rights, most Americans and British were only willing to emancipate the other side's slaves. Anderson does an excellent job of showing the dilemma's Octavian faces as he contemplates freedom (the idea and actuality), and the last sections of the second volume are powerful, presenting us with an Octavian who has experienced great loss and disappointment and who struggles against an entirely justified bitterness.

The hundreds of pages that caused me such disappointment, though, were the middle ones. Octavian and Dr. Trefusis escape Boston and go to Virginia, where Octavian joins the Ethiopian Regiment and reunites with his friend Pro Bono (who has renamed himself William Williams). The beginning of this section is fascinating, because Octavian now moves from the rarified, upper-class atmosphere of the College of Lucidity and must live and work with people who have experienced the more common and ordinary forms of slavery. His manners, his words, and his ability to read all raise suspicions. Anderson is smart and informed enough not to make these encounters simple, and he convincingly imagines other rifts within the group -- tensions between, for instance, people who have recently been brought to the colonies from Africa and people who have never set foot on the continent of their heritage, as well as tensions between people of different ethnic groups within Africa. What unites people? becomes a potent, nagging question throughout the novel.

The central section of the book is important, too, because there is so little historical evidence of what the members of the Ethiopian Regiment experienced. Their stories have been forgotten, neglected, lost. There are various reports of what happened to and with the Regiment (reports to which Anderson is faithful), but just about nothing reveals the inner lives of the slaves and soldiers at the time. Here is where historical fiction, carefully and responsibly imagined, enters, presenting us with educated guesses about daily lives lost to a historical shroud.

The problem for me as a reader was that Octavian's experience is oftentimes one of waiting and wondering, and very little of his waiting and wondering allowed new insights into the world or characters, insights that I had not gleaned from the previous book or could not have figured out on my own. This is a particular problem for me as a reader: I quickly grow bored when the writer spends time describing or explaining things I could have imagined or figured out without much help. The brilliant strangeness of the first volume disappears in the second, when Octavian is in situations familiar from other historical fictions. Similarly, the many scenes of disease are less powerful in the second volume because the scenes of disease in the first volume were so effective, both agonizingly sad and achingly suspenseful. The second volume's central story is so much one of "and then this happened, and this happened, and this happened..." that I often found it difficult to care much for any of the actions or the characters attached to them.

And here the reviewer must stop and emphasize that first-person singular pronoun. I have become peculiarly indifferent to the sorts of narratives that are fundamentally about what happens next. Or rather, I have become indifferent to these sorts of narratives in written fiction -- I'm still perfectly capable of enjoying them in movies and TV shows, which is a good thing, because that's what 99% of movies and TV shows are based on. I used to be able to read such stories with at least a little bit of pleasure, but not in recent years, despite my attempts again and again. I like my fiction to gain its momentum from something other than action and event, partly because when I desire action and event, I watch a movie or TV show -- a quicker, easier return on the time investment.

What the second volume of Octavian Nothing has going for it beyond the questions of freedom and history, beyond the actions and events, is the language, and had this been my first encounter with M.T. Anderson's faux-18th-century style, that probably would have been enough to keep me going strong through the middle section. Here is where the first volume most obviously got in my way as a reader -- the language of that first book thrilled me because it was such an excellent performance, and because Anderson, like all great performers, made it seem effortless. The second volume is equally excellent and seemingly effortless, but it is no longer new. Indeed, I even began to quibble with it in a way that I did not when reading the first volume. (Why, I wondered, did he employ so many short paragraphs and short sentences? When reading the first volume, I thought this was a fine strategy for creating a version of 18th-century style that is more accessible to modern readers than a more accurate approximation would be -- Anderson generally gives us 18th century vocabulary within 21st century structures -- but by the middle of the second volume, I kept pining for [if faux] Pynchon or [if real] Sterne. I swatted these thoughts away with a qualm-swatter built from my respect for what Anderson really had accomplished, but nonetheless, they buzzed through my head throughout the second half of the book.)

All of which is just to say that there is no justice in continuing to write well after writing a masterpiece. Or, more accurately, that the reader who has perceived the previous book as a masterpiece is a reader unlikely ever to be pleased by what follows. Or, still more accurately, that when I am that reader, I am unlikely to be pleased.... (Here is where the reviewer is little more than a child whining: "But I want it the way I want it!")

Finally, I thought I might end all this divagating with an example of Anderson's extraordinary writing, because though the second volume had me swatting at qualms and left me wishing for something to blow through the scar tissue of my mind, it is moments such as the following that make me think, despite my own inability to truly appreciate it, the book is nearly the masterpiece of its predecessor:
When it was ordered that the soldiers should bathe in saltwater twice daily to fend off disease, I saw a reigment walk into the sea at dawn.

The ocean was ruddy, as were they, and some passed into the sea from the shingle, and others rose from the sea and waded to shore. They came forth dripping, shivering, naked, and made for the land, lit by the first sun, as if the Creator had determined to make a new race of men from the foam, this one perfected, gentle, and dandled by light.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

NASA tests first deep-space Internet.

Nice to know that even if you move to Mars, your spam will follow you. (Via Cheryl M.)

New ways to stay in touch with the Swivet!

You may already have guessed that I am a serious nerd, especially when it comes to social networking and finding ways to connect with new readers. I've added a few things over on the side bar that will give you some options if you want to follow the Swivet but don't feel like using an RSS reader (why? why? why would you not learn to use an RSS reader???).

So, in no particular order:
  • Twitter: I generally post a link to each blog post on Twitter (in addition to having serious debates with authors about the merits of bats vs. werewolves). You can find my Twitter feed here.
  • MyBlogLog: A wonderful tool that allows me to see what people are actually clicking through to on the blog, and what they read most often. You can join the Swivet community on MyBlogLog here.
  • The Blogger "Follow Me" service, or what I like to call "The Box of Tiny Heads": This is a good tool as it feeds all the Blogger-hosted blogs that you follow onto the Blogger dashboard when you log in. To add your tiny head, click the link to the right that says "Follow this Blog".
  • Subscribe by email via FeedBlitz: Yeah, if you're truly that lazy, you can now just have Swivet blog posts emailed to you. Head over to the sidebar on the right to sign up.

Colleen Mondor interviews Ellen Datlow

Chasing Ray's Colleen Mondor interviews legendary anthology editor (and my friend) Ellen Datlow. This is a wonderfully in-depth interview; well worth your time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Blueberries for Sal: Bigger, Longer, Uncut.
(Special guest appearance by Timothy Treadwell.)


Via Ron Hogan, this hilarious story about a third-grade teacher trying to read the classic childrens book Blueberries for Sal to her class. If you don't remember the story, it involves a confrontation between a small boy and a black bear, both of whom are after the same patch of blueberries. Here's what happened when the teacher asked the class what they thought would happen next:

So what do you think happens next, Mrs. G. asked him brightly.

What do I think? I think Sal is a goner.

Oh, no no no no no, said Mrs. G. quickly, I've read this book hundreds of times. Sal doesn't die. The mother bear is a nice, loving bear.

The kid wasn't having any of it.

I saw a show on the Discovery Channel, he said, bears are unusually aggressive. A mother bear is called a sow, and a sow is very protective of her offspring. A sow will always attack if she thinks she or her cub is being threatened.

To bring it on home, the boy took his finger and slowly slid it across his throat.

And it gets even funnier! Read the whole thing here.

Is there a future for genre fiction in print magazines?

Via John Scalzi, a link to this thoughtful article in PBS's MediaShift magazine about the slow decline in readership of the SF/F print magazines and what the future holds for them. This one's a must read, gang.

Secret Agenting...or, How to Make 42 Prospective Authors Bite Their Nails All At Once

The lovely and gracious Authoress Anonymous, creator of the helpful writing blog Miss Snark's First Victim, asked me to judge a contest over at her blog last week. I had to read the first 250 words of 42 different manuscripts and decide whether I was "hooked" or not. It would have been 43, but one of the lucky contestants was offered representation before his/her work even appeared on the website. So, congrats to the Author of the Missing Entry!

In any case, Authoress just posted my list of winning entries over here if you would like to read them for yourself.

A big thank you to Authoress for letting me participate! It was a lot of fun!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Guest blogger Courtney Summers debunks four myths about writing YA fiction.

Colleen called Jeff Probst a hosebag to my internet face last week! I thought you all should know. Also, this season of Survivor is amazing. I thought you all should know that, too. Some people might think it's been a boring slog so far, but by golly, do the contestants seem to really hate on each other in a way that's different from past seasons and it's pretty damn watchable, I must say. Admitting that to you Swivet readers makes me worry about my soul a little bit, but I'm just keepin' it real.

Originally, I was going to write a guest blog about how publishing is like Survivor and Jeff Probst--who is not a hosebag!--would represent agents and Mark Burnett would represent editors and all the writers of the world are (get this) SURVIVORS, but I couldn't tie it all together, so just pretend I did and it was clever. Instead, I'm going to talk about writing YA, the responsibilities therein, and debunk a few YA myths born of said responsibilities along the way... so I guess that means if you don't write YA, I got nothing for you. Sorry. Didn't mean to get all exclusive there. But if you scroll down to the last paragraph, I'm sure there will be ~*sparkles*~ and those are for everyone!

So I write YA novels because--as I said in my first guest post here--I love it. I love doing it. There's a fantastic sense of immediacy in the genre that I'm very drawn to as both a reader and a writer and I could read and write it all day. Pretty straightforward, right? Right.

One of the most interesting things about writing young adult novels is the sense of responsibility that can be and is projected on you by others because you're writing for young adults. I've gotten into some pretty intense discussions about this topic with people from all walks--writers, readers, that poor stranger I accosted on the street--and there never seems to be a consensus about this. If you write YA, are you responsible for your teenage readers? Do you have to be worried about your words unintentionally negatively influencing the Adults of Tomorrow? Do your novels and characters have to serve as a kind of moral compass for them?

Talk about your loaded questions, huh? And it's amazing the way they can and do inhibit people who are interested in writing YA. Consequently, a lot of the questions I've seen from those who want to write for teenagers often begin with, "I can't do X in a YA novel, can I?" And even though there are so many groundbreaking, amazing YA novels out there right now that blow all these can'ts outta the water, they still seem to persist and so I'm going to present to you four old hat "Why Are They Still Common?!" myths about writing books for and about teenagers that personally drive me nuts:
Myth #1: You can't swear in a YA novel
I see this unintentionally hilarious question a lot for some reason. "Can you swear in a novel written for teenagers?" Why yes, Virginia, you effing can. Whether or not you should depends entirely on your character and your story, though. Swear with care--that's my motto! Which, rest assured, has absolutely nothing to do with moderation.

Myth #2: If someone has sex, they must a.) die or b.) contract an STD or c.) end up pregnant in a YA novel.

Not so! Judy Blume totally tackled this one and Judy Blume is the Law. It's okay to portray teenagers having sex, enjoying it, even, and what's more, living to tell the tale. Some people might insist otherwise, but... they're not Judy Blume and like I said. She's the law.

Myth #3: If a character does something 'bad' (ie underage drinking, drugs, stealing, murdering people/puppies etc.) they must be punished for it.

Nope. When writing YA, certain people will want and demand expected consequences when it comes to portraying the grittier parts of life, as though presenting anything but is to lead your teenage audience astray and to glamorize negative behaviours they will then go out an emulate. But the fact of the matter is, sometimes people drink in excess and they don't wake up hungover, sometimes they do drugs and they don't get addicted, sometimes they steal and they don't get caught and sometimes they do something Very, Very Bad like kill a puppy and they walk away without looking back. It's okay if one of these types of people happen to make an appearance in your YA novel.

Myth #4: If you write it, you are advocating/endorsing it.

One word: seriously?!
So in case it wasn't obvious, my answer to all those questions in the fourth paragraph is a straight 'no' across the board. I've personally always felt my responsibility is to my story, my characters and to be as honest and true to them as I can. Anything less feels like an insult not only to them, but to the people that will be reading.

But I'm very interested in hearing from other YA writers and readers on this matter! What say you? Are YA writers responsible for their readers? Should they worry about unduly influencing them? If you write YA, do these things concern you? Weigh in, please!

And, as promised: ~*sparkles*~

Jeffrey Ford discovers giant floating space vagina!

No, really. I mean, what does it look like to you?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Toyota's "Saved by Zero" ad campaign is making people homicidal.

This is a great example of advertising agency and their client clearly not getting it.

Yes, I hate the Toyota ad, but not nearly as much as I hate the utterly-insulting-to-every-Latino-on-earth super-ghetto Optimum Online musical puppet ads that have been airing in the Northeast, ads that truly make me want to shove knitting needles in my ears.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

50 Facts You Might Not Know About Barack Obama

The Telegraph UK gives us some fun behind-the-scenes facts about our new Prez Elect and uncover the shocking secret that we all secretly suspected anyway: Barack Obama is a nerd.

Did you know?
  • He collects Spider-Man comics.
  • His favorite TV show is The Wire.
  • He is totally a Mac person. (Take that, Microsoft Vista!!!)
  • He auditioned for a black pin-up calendar at Harvard...and was rejected. Yes, rejected. You will never see that bony little ass of his coming back to haunt him when he comes up for reelection in 2012. (Thank God.)
More here!

Edit to Add: More evidence of Obama's nerdiness here!!!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Davd J. Schwartz writes a birthday letter to the late Kurt Vonnegut.

David J. Schwartz writes a loving tribute to the late Kurt Vonnegut on what would have been Vonnegut's 86th birthday. I swear, I have to stop reading these emotional blog posts before I've had my coffee.

PS: And if you haven't already, you should really check out David's book Superpowers, which is filled with pure awesome.

Keith Olbermann is my new hero.

Listen to this extraordinary commentary by Keith Olbermann on the passing of Prop 8. Seriously, this just made me start crying over my coffee.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A thirteen-year-old boy tells publishers what he and his friends really want to read.

The always fabulous Sarah Weinman turned me onto this: over at Publishers Weekly, thirteen-year-old Max Leone has written a letter to the publishing industry telling them all exactly what he and his peers would like to read. It's a very funny letter, but he also makes some great points:
  • Don't write down to your audience; kids are more aware of the world than you think they are
  • Don't try to use your book to cram morality down their throats; they get enough of that at school and in church
  • Vampires rock, but not romantic vampires. Make them mean again, please! (I laughed out loud at this, because I'm frequently thinking the same thing when I read queries.)
My favorite line (and the one that almost made me suspect that Cherie M. Priest had actually written this letter):
Also good: books with videogame-style plots involving zombie attacks, alien attacks, robot attacks or any excuse to shoot something.
I couldn't agree more, Max!

Guest blogger Matthew Cheney: "If Only I'd Known: Writing Advice to My Younger Self"

When I was in the fifth grade, I discovered the library had books that told people how to become better writers. I wanted to become a writer, and so I read all the books I could. My parents gave me a subscription to Writer's Digest for Christmas and I read each issue with intense fascination. I even started sending stories to my favorite magazine, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. The form rejection letters I got back in my SASEs at first gave me great joy because they meant somebody had looked at my manuscript, thought about it, and decided it wasn't quite right for them at this time. (I ignored the impersonal salutation, and I thought the editor's signature was real.)

By seventh grade, I was somewhat frustrated as a writer. I had failed to find anyone who would publish my stories, and I began to think this whole writing biz was rigged. I'd done what all the guidebooks told me to do, I thought. I'd memorized each month's WD (we'd become so close we thought of each other by our initials). Why wasn't I published? What did those other people -- all those published people -- have that I didn't, aside from a few years?

I first sold a story the summer between the seventh and eighth grades, though not to Asimov's. Instead, I had lowered myself to doing what I'd sworn I wouldn't do -- I had submitted a story to a magazine aimed at (gasp!) kids. It was called Merlyn's Pen. One of my teachers had suggested it. The story they published, "The Nauga Hunters", went on to be reprinted in anthologies and even, about fifteen years after it first appeared, was adapted as a "reader's theatre" play performed by a professional company in schools throughout New England.

I sold a few more stories as well as some poems to Merlyn's Pen, but Asimov's continued to reject me. So did everybody else, for that matter. Occasionally, I got an encouraging rejection slip, but mostly I got form letters. I didn't start publishing fiction with any regularity until I was in my late twenties. Some of the reason for that is that I got sidetracked, spending about five years trying to become a playwright, then a few years trying to become a poet. (My genre ADHD frequently proves to be a handicap.)

Looking back, I often wonder: What didn't I know then? What didn't the guidebooks and Writer's Digest prepare me for, or what of their advice was I blind to?

Sure, some things had to do with my youth, but I think a lot of what I wouldn't learn until later could also be applicable to many aspiring writers, and so here are some musings on a few differences between my aspirations, my perceptions, and the realities of the world, some things I wish I could tell my younger self...
1.) Let your weaknesses be your strength.

The lesson I should have taken from the success of "The Nauga Hunters" (a story about two kids in rural New Hampshire) is that writing about what you know isn't as bad as it sounds. I thought my life was boring and spaceships and aliens were more interesting, but I didn't know how to write convincingly about spaceships and aliens. Some writers have a great talent for imagining worlds and landscapes and all sorts of weird stuff. I don't. The things that interest me -- and this is as true of "The Nauga Hunters" as of every story that has been successful for me over the last twenty years -- are language and psychology. I like to explore how people express themselves, how they develop ideas of who they are and who other people are, the stories they (we) tell each other to justify behaviors, the ways words can complexify life, the ways reality is expressed and obscured by how we talk about it.

I could never write a plot-heavy commercial novel that was in any way interesting. I kept trying to write commercial science fiction when I was young because I thought if I just practiced enough, I might get it right one day. If I had put even a little bit of that energy more toward writing about language and psychology, I probably would have gotten more personal rejection slips than I got, and I might have even sold a story or two. I definitely needed to keep writing and writing, because there's no other way to learn to write, but I was trying to claw my way up a cliff when there was a ladder right beside me.

2.) Writing programs are sometimes useful, sometimes not.

I've been to all sorts of different writing workshops over the years. I'll probably go to more in the future. I like being around people who care about writing, and I love talking shop. But when I started going to workshops, and at first when I was an undergraduate in NYU's Dramatic Writing Program, I thought workshops would teach me The Secret. I'd read the writing guides -- heck, I'd memorized them! -- and I hadn't learned what The Secret was, so I figured it must be kept by the teachers of writing workshops.

Here's The Secret: There is no Secret.

I really learned that when one of my NYU teachers, a wonderful writer himself and a marvelous teacher, asked me how I wrote so consistently. I was flabbergasted. "Practice?" I said sheepishly. "I thought so," he said, apparently disappointed. He thought I'd found The Secret and could tell it to him.

Other people have written plenty about the risks and benefits of workshops, so I won't rehash all that. I've gotten the most out of them when I've had the least expectations, when I've kept an open mind, and when I've had the luck to have the right workshop leader at the right time. The most profound workshop experience I ever had was with Barry Lopez at Bread Loaf -- I arrived at a time when I didn't think I should keep writing fiction or anything else, and Lopez convinced me that writing can be a noble activity when done carefully and honestly. Some of the other people in our workshop disliked his approach, because he did not stick to workshop protocols. Instead, he led us to discuss why we did what we did, what we wanted to do it for, and what we expected to accomplish. (Outside of class, we got one-on-one feedback on our stories, but I didn't find that half as useful.) At another time, I might not have been ready for Lopez's wisdom; that summer, though, it did more for my writing than 100 critique sessions would have.

I feel similarly about MFA programs. Curtis Brown literary agent Nathan Bransford recently wrote a post titled "If I Were Running an MFA Program...", and it's worth reading, particularly the discussion in the comments section. There can be a bit of a disconnect between what students think an MFA gets them and what schools intend the students to learn -- most (but not all) MFA programs do not spend a lot of time on the nuts and bolts of publishing, for a few different reasons (one of which is that this information is relatively easy to find on the internet and in libraries), but a lot of students leave MFA programs thinking they now know all they need to know about the industry they've been studying for a few years as an art. There's a difference, though, between the art and craft of writing and the art and craft of getting that writing published. This is something that all the writing guides I read when young really did teach me well -- from an early age, I knew the basics of agents, contracts, etc. The information is out there, and it doesn't require an advanced degree to find it.

3.) Diversify.

My lack as a young writer was not so much a lack of skill as a lack of knowledge of myself and the world. I thought if I could just write nice sentences, I'd win a Pulitzer by the time I was 20.

I desperately wanted to major in playwrighting as an undergraduate because I thought the workshops would teach me the skills to get my plays on Broadway. I was annoyed to find many of my peers at NYU writing pale imitations of Pulp Fiction (the hot movie among aspiring screenwriters at the time), but it took me a little while to realize I was writing pale imitations of Christopher Durang and Samuel Beckett. We all imitated because we hadn't figured out how to tap our own experiences and interests, and our interests and experiences weren't yet broad enough to produce work of much depth. A little bit of this had to do with our age and various levels of talent, but much more of it had to do with our inability yet to tap into the deep currents of our lives. Chris Shinn, who was a couple years ahead of me at NYU, was smarter than the rest of us and figured this out early, writing Four while we were still trying to figure out what we wanted to say. But it isn't a matter of age so much as of personality -- we all discover our subject matter at different times, and bloom at different rates.

If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, I'd say: "Don't worry about it so much." I thought if I didn't accomplish x, y, or z by a certain age, I'd be a failure.

Actually, I might have been happier if I had been able to give myself permission to study something in college other than writing. But I was convinced the only way to become a good writer was to major in it. Not so. For many people, in fact, the best way to be a good writer is to spend some time doing things other than studying writing. My writing benefited more from my time working in a high school on Manhattan's Lower East Side than it did from the classes I was taking when not at work.

Some of the best writing advice I know appears in the introduction of Barry Lopez's (yes, him again) About This Life:
"Read. Find out what you truly believe. Get away from the familiar. Every writer ... will offer you thoughts about writing that are different, but these are three I trust."
4.) Publication will not solve your problems.

I read Sue Erikson Bloland's "Fame: The Power and Cost of a Fantasy" too late. I had already learned or intuited many of its lessons by the time it was published in The Atlantic. If I had read it when I was fifteen or sixteen, it might have given me some comfort. Or not -- at fifteen or sixteen, I probably wouldn't have understood how much it explained. I wanted to be famous. I wanted the world to love and admire me. I wanted to show everybody ... something:
Many writers about narcissism ... have suggested that narcissism (or grandiosity) is, essentially, a defense against shame -- with shame defined as a sense that the self is deeply flawed or deficient. To feel shame is to experience the self as small, weak, insignificant, powerless, defective. It is the experience of the self as not good enough.
I had plenty of self-hatred as a kid, and I wrote to try to escape it, to try to prove that I was good at something, good for something. I thought being published frequently would turn me into a worthwhile person, somebody other people might even want to be around, somebody people might revere. In my most grandiose moments, I wanted to be a guru -- I wanted people to come to me for advice and wisdom. I sought advice and wisdom from writers, and so I thought if I became a writer, I would then achieve a kind of wholeness.

Alas, it doesn't work that way. Publication can be fun, but I don't think a healthy psyche finds it much more than that. If you haven't been able to find balance and contentment in your life, publishing won't help you, and, if anything, it may hurt. It may encourage arrogance or it may cause new neuroses -- the common fear, for instance, among many successful artists of all sorts that one day somebody will find out "the truth" and prove to the world that you are a fraud.

I really sympathize with J.D. Salinger these days, writing but not publishing. It's not a bad option.

5.) You'll be fine.

There's more to life than writing, but writing can be a way to discover life. Use it for that, and you'll surprise yourself sometimes with what you find. Those occasional moments of discovery make all the false starts, clunky sentences, discarded pages, missed opportunities, embarrassing mistakes, and creative failures disappear just long enough to stop stinging.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Introducing guest blogger Matthew Cheney, editor, short story writer and literary blogger

Since so many of you out there writing novels or hoping to write novels usually start out by writing and selling short fiction - particularly those of you who write genre or literary fiction - I thought I'd invite someone who is best known for his short fiction to be my next guest blogger here at The Swivet, my good friend Matthew Cheney.

I first met Matt as I have met so many great people in the book industry: virtually. In 2003, I was working at Del Rey and - as always - was trying to find new and non-traditional venues for promoting writers like China Mieville and Alex Irvine. More and more often I found myself turning to then-fledgling network of literary bloggers, critics who tended to embrace anything that was good writing without holding the fact that it was genre writing against it. I came across Matt's wonderful literary blog, The Mumpsimus and discovered someone who was writing elegantly about genre fiction, blending the passion of a true fanboy with the critical eye of a literary theorist. (Of course I started bombarding him with books immediately and he still blames me for the roughly four thousand review copies he gets in his mailbox every week.) It was only afterward that I discovered Matt also wrote fiction himself; indeed, that he was a wonderful - and prolific - short story writer whose work was widely-published and well-respected in the industry.

This past Saturday, Matt and I got into a conversation online about a wonderful post that agent Nathan Bransford wrote last week about MFAs and their shortcomings in preparing writers to actually become published writers. Tomorrow's post by Matt is a direct response and a great addendum to that post.

More about Matt, in his own words (because I made him write this last night at midnight!):
Born under a rock, where I was left to fester until discovered by roaming Jewish Mormon Indians of French descent, who stuck me on the Mayflower and hoped I'd teach some Puritans a thing or two. I didn't.

Actually, the above is a lie. I'm sorry.

I'm not related to Dick Cheney. Or, rather, I asked my father about this, and he said that sometime in the 18th century, the family split into two strands: the successful strand of doctors, lawyers, and politicians; and us. Big Uncle Dick came from the successful strand.

I grew up in a gun shop in central New Hampshire. I fled at age 18 to NYU to study Dramatic Writing at the Tisch School of the Arts, because I wanted to be a playwright. I left after 3 years, disillusioned and bitter, to finish up at the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in English, though, being burnt out, I avoided all writing classes there.

After graduating from UNH, I taught English at the New Hampton School for 9 years and also became the Director of Performing Arts, because nobody else was crazy enough to do the job. I got a sabbatical year at New Hampton and used it to do the class work in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program at Dartmouth College, where I wrote my thesis on the early writings of Samuel Delany. In 2007, left New Hampshire to teach at the Frisch School in New Jersey, but returned home a few months ago after the death of my father. I'm now selling off his business and teaching at Plymouth State University.

I'll probably be in New Hampshire for a while, because every time I leave it does something to make me have to return.

Past publications include work in English Journal, One Story, Failbetter, Las Vegas Weekly, Locus, Web Conjunctions, Rain Taxi, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, SF Site, Pindeldyboz, Abyss & Apex, Ideomancer, the Internet Review of Science Fiction, the anthologies Logorrhea and Interfictions, etc. I also write a column for Strange Horizons and am the series editor for Best American Fantasy (Prime Books). Upcoming work includes stories scheduled to be published by Weird Tales and in an anthology edited by Paul Jessup, as well as introductions to reissued editions of Samuel Delany's The Jewel-Hinged Jaw and Starboard Wine from Wesleyan University Press. And I probably still owe somebody a review of something...

I was nominated for a World Fantasy Award in 2005 for The Mumpsimus, and my story "Blood" from One Story was listed in Best American Short Stories (Stephen King, ed), Best American Mystery Stories (Carl Hiaasen, ed.), and The Pushcart Prize as one of the stories they almost included in the book, but God told them not to.
You can read a wonderful interview with Matt here,and sample some of his published short fiction here, here, here, and here. You should all be regularly reading his blog The Mumpsimus as well. And, lastly, you can read a loving tribute that Matt wrote about his [recently-deceased] father over at Strange Horizons here.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's column.

Looking for a new job? Obama's hiring! (Yes, seriously!)

The Prez-Elect is hiring for positions within his shiny new administration.

And you can apply online.

(Myself, I'm applying for the new official puppy-sitter position. Squeeeeeeee!)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

Today I got nuthin'....

So, in the tried and true tradition of fellow-agents-skirting-their-blogging-duties, you get.... A PUPPY! :-) Happy Friday!

An editor discusses "What went wrong with publishing in October?"

Secret Editor Moonratty writes a thoughtful and informative essay about what exactly went wrong in book publishing last month, and why you should care.

Bascially it boils down to this: In order for a big box retailer to be able to purchase the heavily-hyped Fall 2008 titles - the titles whose sales will make up the bulk of their income for the year, by the way, thanks to good old-fashioned holiday consumerism - they must come up with cash by returning pretty much everything they bought in Spring and Summer 2008. Which means that publishers must eat those books. Which means layoffs and other Really Bad Things.

An excerpt:
In October, bookstores returned so many books that most publishing companies had more coming into them than going out of them. For some companies, the incoming number was more than several months' outgoing.

Although bookstores are suffering (and how), it was the publishing houses that had to absorb the cost of this cash flow creator. This is why Impetus, a relatively new indie company without the history to survive this shock, folded. Some houses lost so much money in returns in October that profits from the entire rest of 2008 have been negated. Can you imagine? Losing enough in a month to destroy your entire year? (Keep in mind that publishing is a very low profit margin enterprise in the first place; now see how if one month involves more outgoing than incoming money you can easily undo the good of an entire year or more.)

Now you can see the ripples that are happening, the layoffs, the dwindling advances, the precautions about acquiring anything in this climate. If publishing companies are shelling out money to publish books that bookstores only bother to stock for a minute and a half, we are all going to hemorrhage money until there is nothing left standing.

This would be a bad situation for more than the sake of my job or your future novel. It's about a lot of things--education, hampered information dissemination, conglomerations swallowing mass media, censorship. Whatever. I could extenuate, but I'll spare you. The point is, when you have a problem, the best thing to do is try to solve it.

For anyone who cares about the book publishing industry and wants to do their part, there's one simple action step:

Buy a book this weekend.
Great advice. Now go read Moonratty's entire post!

An open letter to Barack Obama about the civil rights of queer Americans.

My book-industry colleague Rose Fox has written an eloquent and impassioned letter to President-Elect Barack Obama reminding him that queer Americans are still Americans, Americans whose civil rights deserve to be defined and protected.

A brief excerpt:
This election, which was such a tremendous success for progressives, was also a disaster for the gay (and bisexual and transgender) Americans you made a point of thanking in your acceptance speech.

We made phone calls for you. We knocked on doors for you. We voted for you. In return, all we ask is this: Be our president. Protect our rights.
Read the whole letter here, and pass it along to your friends

Thursday, November 6, 2008

As I was trying to say earlier...
Stop blaming people of color for passing Prop 8!!!

I'm seeing a disturbing trend online in blog posts, news commentary, etc, one in which an awful lot of uneducated people are claiming that the reason Prop 8 passed in California is because of black and Latino voters. And my response to this is "Huh? What kind of Fox News dope are y'all smoking?"

Seriously, folks, stop it. Stop it right now.

Stop blaming black and brown voters for what was overwhelmingly a WHITE CHRISTIAN voting bloc.
Fact: Blacks in California make up about 6% of the population.*
Fact: Latinos in California make up about 35% of the population.
Fact: Native American & Asians in California combined make up about 14% of the population.
Fact: Pasty-skinned white folks like myself make up the rest of the population of California.

and lastly:

Fact: The largest percentage of voters who voted in favor of Prop 8 were from predominately white inland counties.** For example:
  • Orange County: 483,132 for Prop 8; 360,740 against
  • San Bernardino County: 318,338 for Prop 8; 156,140 against
  • Riverside County: 266,159 for Prop 8; 147,918 against
Fact: Of the 58 counties in California, only 14 voted against Prop 8. Of those 14 counties, all but two of them were along the more liberal coastal communities. The two inland counties that voted it down were Alpine and Mono, counties that - combined - accounted for less than 6,000 actual votes.
So you're going to sit there and tell me with a straight face (no pun intended) that the very wee and tiny 6% black population and the so-so sized Latino population of California somehow miraculously spread itself over FORTY FOUR counties and managed to magically provide all of the 52% of the voters who voted in favor of Prop 8? Really???

No, I don't think so.

For the love of God, people! Get your facts straight before you start pointing fingers at one another!

* Source: U.S. Census Bureau
** Source: The Los Angeles Times

More faces of California's Proposition 8: Meet Jo and Anna-Marie

Last night I received the following letter and - with the author's permission - I'm posting it in its entirety here. Meet Jo and Anna-Marie, a same-sex married couple from Los Angeles:
Jo and I met in our freshman year of college, a few days after moving into our first dorm rooms. We first bonded over memories of watching "Murder, She Wrote" with our respective grandmothers, and the fact that we both called purses pocketbooks. We've now been together for over four years, and were married yesterday afternoon.

For the past few months, Jo has been a field organizer and I've been a volunteer with the No on Prop 8, Equality for All campaign. Like so many other volunteers, we've been in the streets, in the office and on the phones reaching as many voters as we can to make sure they know about Prop 8 and know that it takes away rights for millions of Californians.

These past few months have been meaningful for us not only because of our sexual orientation, but also because we are a mixed-race couple. A friend of ours recently wrote in a letter that the people we saw on street corners waving Yes on 8 on signs were the ghosts of those who opposed interracial marriage four decades ago. I have no doubt that one day Americans will look back on today as they now look back on the years of anti-miscegenation law, years when Jo and I would not have been able to get married not only because we are both women, but because Jo is white and I am Latina.
Attached is a picture from our wedding yesterday; Jo is on the left, and I'm on the right. Yes, we're both wearing No on Prop 8 shirts; we took about a half hour off from Election Day campaigning and our pastor married us, with a few members of our church looking on, including our goddaughter. They took photographs on their camera phones, read from the first chapter of Ruth, and played "Here Comes the Bride" on kazoos they borrowed from the Sunday School room.

Jo and I hope to have a traditional wedding someday, one that includes flowers, cake frosting, and as many family and friends as we can get in one place. But November 4, 2008, is the day I became a wife, legally, if only until those who voted for Prop 8 decide that they haven't taken enough.

Next year, Jo will begin law school to continue her career in LGBT rights. We may have lost on this one proposition, but we will win this, this fight to be people not only with rights but also with faces, because there is no other option. As our nieces and nephews grow up, and as we one day have children of our own, we will be able to tell them that we fought for a world where equality has no prerequisites. And the people on those street corners who opposed us, insulted us, and threatened us will have to tell their nieces and nephews and children that they did everything they could to give them a world where hate, fear, and ignorance could take hold. Because of that, I feel far sorrier for them than I do for us.

As a writer, I greatly appreciate your blog for its advice, perspective, and insight. But right now, as a member of the LGBT community, I appreciate your blog for making people think.

Sincerely,
Anna-Marie & Jo
Los Angeles, California

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dear California voters: Let me introduce you to two of the people whose rights you want to strip away.

Dear California Voters who Supported Prop 8 -

I realize that to you gay marriage must rank up there with bad things like storms of locusts and boils and bloody plagues and a second season of The Bionic Woman. I get it. Somehow the idea that two gay people who love one another and whom would like the right to be able to become legally committed to one another is abhorrent to you. I'm also guessing that most of you who voted for Prop 8 don't actually know any gay couples. How do I know this? Because it's always easier to dehumanize someone and take away their civil rights if they don't really exist to you.

So, with their permission, let me introduce you to one of the married gay couples whose civil rights you're working so tirelessly to strip away:

This is my baby brother Craig (on the right) and his husband Jack (left). They've been together as a monogamous couple for more than fifteen years. Longer, in fact, that most heterosexual couples that I know.

So what can I tell you about these two big scary homos, hmmm? Well, when he was a kid, Craig had a love affair with the Titanic and all big ocean liners. He collected Titanic books and memorabilia and had Cunard and White Star Line posters all over his room. Now, as an adult, he actually gets to sail on all those big ships he loved as a kid; he and Jack go on several cruises every year. (I kinda don't get the whole cruise ship thing so I tend to tease them mercilessly about it, but hey, they don't understand my love of San Diego Comic-Con, so I guess we're about even.)

And Jack? Jack loves car races. He's an unapologetic Nascar fan (yes, gay Nascar fans exist - shocking!), and has an enormous collection of Matchbox cars that he's had since he was a kid. Craig and Jack both love Christmas; they go nuts every year decorating their house for the holidays and they create spectacular and realistic tableaus for their huge collection of Department 56 Dickens houses. (They also both have questionable taste in sweaters on occasion, but I suspect that's from being exposed too early to The Cosby Show. Shhh! Don't tell them I said anything.)

Jack and Craig were introduced by Craig's friend Eileen, who has been one of his best friends since eighth grade. (Totally heterosexual, in case you were wondering.) They were married fifteen years later in Eileen's backyard, surrounded by friends and family (and margaritas). It was a wonderful day.

And you've been trying your damnedest to invalidate all of that. Why?

No, I don't really think that this post will change your minds. Bigotry is a pretty ingrained mindset. But I thought I'd at least remind you that the people whose lives you're fucking with? The men and women you're choosing to relegate to the status of second-class citizen? Well, they're actual human beings.

Fed up with the hate,

Colleen

PS: If there are any other gay couples out there - married or otherwise - who'd like to come forward and introduce themselves, feel free to drop me an email with a photo and your story. I'd be happy to post it here.

Ralph Nader calls Barack Obama an Uncle Tom. WTF?

Seriously, folks. WTF?

Michael Crichton dead at 66 years old.

Sad news for the book community: Michael Crichton has passed away, apparently from cancer. He was 66 years old.

Transcript of Obama's victory speech:

NPR has kindly posted the entire transcript of Obama's victory speech:
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled — Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of red states and blue states; we are, and always will be, the United States of America.
Amen, Mr. President.

As always, The Onion is fast on its feet:

Every day I love The Onion even more:
Nation Finally Shitty Enough To Make Social Progress

After emerging victorious from one of the most pivotal elections in history, president-elect Barack Obama will assume the role of commander in chief on Jan. 20, shattering a racial barrier the United States is, at long last, shitty enough to overcome.

Although polls going into the final weeks of October showed Sen. Obama in the lead, it remained unclear whether the failing economy, dilapidated housing market, crumbling national infrastructure, health care crisis, energy crisis, and five-year-long disastrous war in Iraq had made the nation crappy enough to rise above 300 years of racial prejudice and make lasting change.
More here.

Only a song by Bruce Springsteen would be right for an incredible night like tonight...

Enjoy! (And, remember: new puppy in the White House!!!)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Guest blogger Courtney Summers on social networking sites & self-promotion.

I guess I can only write about agents and Jeff Probst for so long before that gets pretty tired, huh? Even though they're both fascinating subjects. Jeff Probst did not contact me, in case you're all wondering, even though I had it on good authority he reads The Swivet. Whatevers, Probst! I'm moving on. Phil Keoghan 4-EVA!

Today I am going to share with you some stuff I've learned about self-promotion on the internets.

So my name is ~*Courtney*~ and I heart the internets. This is a good thing, seeing as it's my primary way of putting myself out there as an author with a book coming out. The world is at my fingertips, and I've chosen to take advantage of that in as many ways as I can without annoying the frick out of people. Most people. Ideally, I hope I'm entertaining readers whilst simultaneously reminding them at perfectly timed intervals my book is available for purchase on...

Oh, what was that date again*...

I had a website and blog before I had an agent or a book coming out because I guess I'm just one of those people who chooses to believe THE INTERNET CARES WHAT I HAVE TO SAY, so when it came time to start waving my book around, I had that ground covered. My online self-promo journey began in earnest when my editor suggested I get a MySpace. It all kind of snowballed from there. At the time of my writing this, I'm on five bajillion social networking sites. It's been a learn-as-I-go type experience, and in the end, I think it'll have been worth it, especially in terms of 'meeting' some pretty darn awesome people and knowing that I did what I could when the opportunity arose. Both of these things are very important to me.

Lately, I've been seeing a few incredibly helpful blog posts about self-promotion and marketing your novels. They are absolutely fabulous and everyone should read them. I decided I wanted to give back a little as well, and that this guestblog entry would be my contribution to the topic. I can't and won't even pretend to be in the same league of helpfulness of Michelle Moran and M.J. Rose, but I humbly offer this social networking site guide up to you guys and hope you all get something out of it.

A BRIEF GUIDE TO (SOME) SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES
with which to promote yourself

by ~*Courtney*~
01. MySpace

Why you don't want to do it: it's MySpace.

How it can be fun: It's awesome featuring your favourite song of the moment on your profile, which will give you an inflated sense of self-importance, at least so far as your musical taste is concerned. Also, it will take hours upon hours to pick the perfect song--which also has to match your MySpace layout perfectly, of course--so by the time you do, you'll feel pretty accomplished. MySpace = learning to foster a sense of accomplishment in yourself and we could ALL learn to pat ourselves on the backs way more often, let's face it.

What you'll get out of it: It's a good way of getting on other author's radars because apparently all authors have MySpaces. Connecting with readers? Uhm. I'll let you know after December...

Tips: MySpace isn't as interactive as you'd think, what with all the adding people and thanking them for the adds and stuff. Bulletins are good for important news updates, but for the love of God, do not SOLEY blog on MySpace. Not enough people will see it because they are drowning in profiles. Cross-posting is the best way to go.

Cheat: If you friend lots of bands, you look way more MySpace Popular than you actually are.

Something you may never understand, but that's okay: Why people thank you for the add.

02. Facebook

Why you don't want to do it: Well, you actually did until it became The New Facebook. And now it sucks. You also run the risk of being found by your old 'friends' from high school.

How it can be fun: ... I guess trying to figure out where the hell everything is since The New Facebook was implemented could constitute as a type of fun?

What you'll get out of it: If you're MySpace wary, I've found Facebook is--or should I say was--a less overwhelming version of it. I guess it still can be! There are many opportunities for interaction. You can comment on everything. Status updates, posted items, walls. You can join groups, create groups, message lots of people in one go. Communication ease is not a problem on Facebook. It's a great way of making your presence known without being totally obnoxious.

Tips: But it's way easy to be totally obnoxious on Facebook. Do not message people every single minute about your book. It's okay if you don't pimp yourself out for 24 hours. Do not blindly send people flower growing applications and zombie bites and things like that. Save the attention grabbing for the stuff that needs attention (like your release date). I personally keep the flowers and zombie bites for close friends and even they tell me to back off sometimes. Now, I'm not saying to cut out the stuff you enjoy from the sites you're on (because you should enjoy them), but I am advising you to send your zombie bites wisely. And whatever you do, DO NOT mix your personal Facebook with your professional one or you will likely end up crying at some point.

Cheat: I don't really have a Facebook cheat, but I feel like if you got drunk before you logged onto The New Facebook, you could have a super easier time understanding it?

Something you may never understand, but that's okay: WE WEREN'T FRIENDS IN HIGH SCHOOL. WE HATED EACH OTHER. WHY ARE YOU ADDING ME?

03. GoodReads

Why you don't want to do it: What! Someone doesn't want to be on GoodReads? WHAT?

How it can be fun: GoodReads is so awesome, you guys. It's a social networking site about books! You can share what you're currently reading, what you've read, give opinions on it and connect with authors. I heart GoodReads. It's so classy. I wish there was a GoodMovies exactly like it. Somebody get on that.

What you'll get out of it: Book talk!

Tips: Do not just blindly add people on GoodReads. It's not a social networking site about accumulating as many names on your friends list as possible (indeed, you can be booted off of it for doing just that). Reading is fun, reading is intimate and sharing a good book with people is like sharing a secret. It's not a place to be LOUD, basically. Don't be MySpace Loud on GoodReads. You know what I mean.

Cheat: I also do not have a cheat for GoodReads, but get all of your friends reading Twilight at the same time. It is guaranteed fun, I promise.

04. Tumblr

Why you don't want to do it: You don't know what it is. And it sounds scary.

How it can be fun: From the website: "If blogs are journals, tumblelogs are scrapbooks. You can also look at tumblelogs as slightly more structured blogs that make it easier, faster and more fun to post and share stuff you find or create." This is all true. Tumblr is a GREAT solution for those who want an internet presence but can't keep up with the demands of a regular blog, and it's a fun supplement for those who DO blog and don't want to clutter their blogs with more scrap-booky type stuff (youtube videos, LOLcats, quotes, etc). Re-blogging might be one of the best things that happened to the internets, in my opinion. Oh, the time I have saved!

What you'll get out of it: The satisfaction of doing the blogging thing in a few quick clicks while being able to connect with people at the same time just can't be beat.

Tips: If you are writing for younger audiences, you might want to reconsider re-blogging that R-rated LOLcat. Maybe.

05. Twitter

Why you don't want to do it: IS there a world in which people do not want to tweet?

How it can be fun: How do I tell thee? Let me count the ways! I love Twitter. Every tweet is like a punchline in 140 characters or less and I know some pretty hilarious people, so my Twitter account keeps me very entertained. It's like IMing people without feeling guilty for hanging around on an IM program. You know. When you should be writing.

What you'll get out of it: EVERYTHING. My life is richer for having a Twitter account (I can't be objective about this one, you guys). News travels fast on Twitter. That's a good thing, mostly. Especially if it's good news and it's about you.

Tips: You can use your Twitter as a career update feed, but I think it's a thousand times more fun if you're using it to interact with people. I think it must be nearly impossible to follow over 100 people though, so if you want to stay on top of things, keep your Following list to a manageable amount.

Cheat: If you do follow a lot of people, double-check the @ Replies on the Notice setting. You can select whether you want all @ replies, no @ replies or @ replies to the people you're following. This can cut out some of the clutter and prevent you from overlooking the important things.

Something you may never understand, but that's okay: Why people hate Twitter. WTF is up with that.

06. Friendfeed

Friendfeed is what you need when you are on five bajillion social networking sites like I am and you want to make sure people have a one stop shop to find out what you're doing at any given moment EVERYWHERE. If you're a busy bee, go Friendfeed. You'll be so glad you met.
THE END

So there you have it. In closing, I would like to say that in a perfect world, books would ~*sparkle*~ for themselves, but as I am sadly reminded every day I wake up and Jeff Phil is NOT MY HUSBAND, this is not a perfect world. My book is not going to ~*sparkle*~ for me.

But I am totally going to use the internet to ~*sparkle*~ for my book.

And so should we all.

(~*sparkle sparkle*~)

* IT'S DECEMBER 23RD!