Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Five

Very random this week:

1. Common Sense Media: OK, this topic has been kind of tweeted/blogged to death this week, but I just wanted to add my two cents. As a parent, I understand how difficult it is to filter through all the television shows/books/movies kids might be interested in. Organizations like CSM attempt to highlight the potentially objectionable, to save parents some time and uncomfortable questions. I understand the motivation; however, I think the process dehumanizes both the art and our understanding of art. Plucking odd moments from a story and attaching a label to them (lying, alcohol use, sexuality, consumerism) does nothing to communicate the worth of a story, or its potential impact on a child. If my mom saw the CSM label for "Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret," a book that made me sigh with relief that maybe I was normal, I wouldn't have been allowed to read it (emerging sexuality, Playboy references, etc.). That would've been a travesty.

2. Dandelion Greens: I know how good dandelion greens are for me. In fact, I've known for a long time, but until a few weeks ago I never tried them. What I couldn't get past was the image of my 86-year-old neighbor obsessively spraying every budding dandelion with the gleeful intensity of Chemical Ali. He hates them, and is none too happy with me when I let some pop out of the ground and turn to seed so my kids can blow on them, spreading the love. Last spring I considered eating the ones found on my lawn, but then my OCD took over and I imagined all the pesticides from my neighbor's lawn seeping into mine during the heavy spring rains. Anyhow, I was at Whole Foods about a month ago, found myself in front of the dandelion greens and, feeling brave, bought two kinds, regular and red. I love them so much I'm adding them to every recipe I can. So good!

3. Rewards: I believe in rewarding myself after completing a writing project. The rewards need not be material, but hey, they usually are. I'm not quite done with my revision yet (I'm sure my crazy smart agent will have even more ideas for making it better), but when I am, I'm buying myself this.

4. Olympics: Continuously awed. Amazingly proud. Totally inspired.

5. Recycling: This week our family did not have one bag of regular garbage to throw out come garbage day. Everything was recycled/composted, etc. Yay, us!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Stepped on a Pop Tart

For most of my adult life, I thought the line in Jimmy Buffet's song Margaritaville, I blew out my flip flop, stepped on a pop top, was actually ...stepped on a Pop Tart. Someone kindly pointed it out to me while I energetically sang along at a concert (OK, maybe not so kindly. It was more like, you dork!). I also thought that in U2's Where the Streets Have No Name, our love turns to rust, was actually our love tends to rush. I went to see them when they toured for the Joshua Tree, like, seven times but didn't discover my mistake until last year. A week ago, while listening to the radio on my way to work, Carol King's song Jasmine came on. I like to sing in the car. Loudly. I cranked it up and realized, OMG, she's singing Jazz Man. This song is clearly about a jazz musician, but I probably warped the other lyrics because I reaaaally like the smell of jasmine. Go ahead, say it...dork.

I thought maybe my hearing was bad. But then I realized, I heard what I felt was right. And now, even though I know the proper lyrics, it takes everything I have to hear them the right way.

For the past few weeks I've been working on a tough revision project. My friend Alexa called it a reimagining, which is probably more accurate. I just stared at my original draft on Day 1, thinking, how in the heck am I going to do this? Then I realized I shouldn't be looking at my earlier draft at all. In my head it was a finished product, and, like with the song lyrics, it was excruciatingly hard to train my brain to hear it differently. I opened a new doc and typed Chapter 1.

It made a world of difference.

So, to all my writer friends out there tackling revision projects: my thoughts are with you. Just don't ask me about the lyrics to Poker Face (You don't want to know what I thought...)

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Beatles on Query Letters

OK, I don't claim to be an expert at writing query letters. But I did do pretty well with mine, so all those hours spent combing the Internet for examples must have paid off. I could have saved myself a lot of time, though, if I'd just listened to one of my favorite songs, Paperback Writer. Turns out Paul McCartney knew a heck of a lot about what not to do when querying agents. Check it out (and my apologies if someone has done this before):

Paperback Writer

Dear Sir or Madam, Will you read my book? (Too general a salutation--personalize!)

It took me years to write, will you take a look? (Not relevant.)

Based on a novel by a man named Lear (This makes the book sound derivative.)

And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer, (Desperation is never attractive)

Paperback writer.

It's a dirty story of a dirty man, (Repetition=poor vocabulary)

And his clinging wife doesn't understand (Vague. Why doesn't she understand? We need plot! What is the basic conflict?)

His son is working for the Daily Mail, (A laundry list of characters. Again, what happens?)

It's a steady job, but he wants to be a paperback writer, (Lack of originality.)

Paperback writer.

It's a thousand pages, give or take a few, (Word count, not pages!)

I'll be writing more in a week or two. (Only query one work at a time.)

I can make it longer if you like the style, (Only query completed works.)

I can change it round, and I want to be a paperback writer, (Find a critique group. Revise. Then Send.)

Paperback writer.

If you really like it you can have the rights (Copyrighting your material = amateur)

It could make a million for you overnight (No room for bragging in a query.)

If you must return it, you can send it here, (Agents need full contact info!)

But I need a break, and I want to be a paperback writer (Let the book speak for itself.)

Paperback writer.

Paperback writer--paperback writer. (Again, repetition=bad.)

So there you have it--the Fab Four on what not to do when writing queries!