Monday Funny: Pachelbel Rant

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I'm busily bludgeoning my chapter one from ten years past in an attempt to get it ready to post on Wednesday as part one of the critique series. It's actually kind of scary. Present tense, a 4000 word first chapter, and oh the telling. At one point I even described the pro via the pov of a poster on the ceiling. Sigh. 

So here's how I was thinking it would go since this will be my first series. 

Tuesday: A techy article explaining the word processor features used in critiquing.

Wednesday: Some tips on Critiquing along with something to put you to sleep by in the form of the old chapter. 

Thursday: Thoughts on the crit partner, both good and bad. 

Friday: Critique groups both big and small. 

And one last note. I've been making my way through the archives and cutting down on the tags so that things are easier to find so expect to see that tag list to the right slowly shrink. 


Now then, on to the funny.

Because I was chastised for not connecting last weeks funny to writing, this weeks funny reminds us that we shouldn't be worried about being original because it's all been done before. And since there won't be a rant this Friday, this should take care of it. 

Spread the Word Saturday: Agents Hate These

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Happy weekend to you! Of course if yours is anything like mine is shaping up to be, it's not going to be much of a weekend. It's sad when even events that you were looking forward to, say my buddies birthday bash, are approached with a groan because all you really want to do is lay about the house all day and relax, or in my case write. Ah well, such is life. 


I've got two blog links for you today. Since there was a brief mention of literary agents this week, I thought I might share a couple of posts that might be helpful. These two agents have posted a "Where I stop reading" list. 


Janet Reid started this concept back in 2005. Janet Reid's list of 5 cues for her to stop reading your query sparked BookEnds, LLC's Jessica Faust to put up her own list of 9 reasons to stop reading a query.


I've finally had forward momentum with my short, so I want to try and finish that up this weekend, attend to some crits, and work on the blog a bit. I'm also hoping to have time to but together a series on critiques for next week, but that requires forethought and preparation. We'll see. Maybe a post on critiquing, receiving criticism, crit partners, and crit groups? Wait, did we just plan it out? Sigh. I feel the heavy weight of commitment baring down on me. 


And as an extra special addition to the crit series, I'm going to take the first chapter of a story that I wrote ten years ago when I first started my writing journey and critique it as if it were someone else's. That should be entertaining. For those of you knew to the game, it will give you an idea of how I crit, and for those of you already used to critiquing, it will give you you a good laugh at my extremely poor prose. 

Supporting Writers

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It seems that the way of things has been that I rant on Fridays. I choose something from the long week that got on my nerves and rail against it. I'm not going to do that today. A better idea came to mind, and so I'm going to go with it.  


This is one of those strange creative accident ideas that came to me over the last couple of days. A collision of events got me to thinking about things in a new light, so I'm going to share it.


I know that I often give all sorts of advice about how to do things, I go off on rants, I defend my opinion to the last, but there comes a point where you just have to stop. In this case it's when someone is going to give submitting a shot. There's a case of a guy that I and one of my crit partners knows about. He told everyone that he was going to stop working on his novel and start submitting it. My response, “That's great, good luck.”


My crit partner's response to me was, “What's the matter with you? Are you getting soft on me all of a sudden.”


Honestly, I don't think he should be submitting just yet. The story is good, but . . . it starts with a dream sequence. Dun dun dunnnnnnnnn.


That said, I realize that the situation is sort of like when a good friend of mine made the decision to move away for school, or when my other crit partner had to move across the country because of a job opportunity for her husband. In both cases I really didn't want them to go. I wanted to keep them close by and enjoy in their company. But I didn't say so. What I said was, “That's great, you should go for it.”


We have to be able to stop and assess a situation, look at it, not from out view, but from the view of the person living through the decision. Consider when you've made your own mind up about things. You've weighed the choices, and though the decision you've come to is the difficult one, it's the one you're going to do come hell or high water.  


Once that decision has been made the people around us can choose to help or hinder. In all of these cases we want the people we care about to succeed. Although we would much rather keep them near, or help them polish their work a little more, we have to accept that this is the course that they need to take and we need to be there for them.


And on the same day that one author decided to dive into the submission process, another got back the dreaded pass on a second read of her book. In the same span of a week yet another writing friend is going through tough times with her family. As I was typing away at writing group, working on figuring out how I was going to get my character Cara to the hospital in Spark, I overhear her say something about Kara grief support. Mind you, I don't do much talking at writing group so there's no way she could have known that was what I was doing. So that's just . . . weird.


But it led me to their site http://www.kara-grief.org/ On the right hand side of the homepage they have a list of what to Do and Don't when it comes to comforting a loved one dealing with loss. It occurs to me that this is one of those cross over situations where we can take something from counseling and apply it directly to writing.


Indeed, losing a loved one is nothing like receiving a rejection letter. I'm definitely not trying to infer that. But I think we can learn from it. When we hear about that rejection our automatic reaction is to jump in with “I know how you feel.” If you check Kara's Don't list, the third one down reads:

DON'T say that you “know how they feel.” (Unless you've experienced their loss yourself you probably don't know how they feel.)


How true is that? We don't know. We don't know how much of themselves they pored into their story. We don't know how many of their characters are based on people from their life that they hope to pay homage to via their book. We didn't sit there with them through all of the revisions and doubts. So no, we don't know how they feel. But it's still the natural reaction to say so.


I think we can all learn a lot from the Kara site. Any time one of our friends gets that dreaded rejection letter for something that they obviously feel strongly about, we should high tail it over to http://www.kara-grief.org/ and brush up on how to be there for them. Maybe that will carry over to the more devastating losses in our lives and prepare us with how to be there for our loved ones as well.


This Friday I'm wishing everyone all kinds of success. I hope your ventures come back fruitful, that we can support you along your way, and if per chance that's not how the great divinity has it planned out, that we can be filled with the grace to be there for you in your times of need.


And don't forget to smile. :)


Today's Artists:

The Joy of Summer by trickell, trickell's doing site templates, logos, signatures, and typography design with names in trade for a three month subscription to dA.

Trickell's image is based off of stock art provided by the lovely ballelleb-stock.


Unfairy Tails: Grief by ShouriMajo, Want a unique mugshot? Shouri makes them for $10 a pop. Awesome deal. Follow the link back to her dA page for everything else she does.

A Writer’s Review of Open Office 3.1

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We are a culture that grades value based on hype as opposed to actual substance. As such, we tend to place our trust with whatever costs the most. After all, you get what you pay for, right? 


Well, I want to say that my wife and I dropped two-hundred plus dollars on a Home edition of Office 2007 back in 2007. Currently they’re running a special $99 sale, down from $149, for back to school (must be getting ready to unveil a new edition). New Office Vista to the XYZ Cubed 2100 Edition!!!


As I noted in my post, The Word Crash, apparently all that money doesn’t buy you a stable system. I’ve now had to delete that registry file twice and there appears to be no fix for it. It also appears to be a rather big problem because that post is this blog’s biggest search term hit. More people make it to this blog because they’re trying to figure out how to get Word to work than they do for anything else.


My second bout with Word being crap and the annoyance of having to back save files to 97-2000 format led me to downloading the latest version of Open Office. Why was I back saving? Well it seems that Microsoft, in their profound wisdom, decided to tack on some extra code to their files in 2007. That extra code makes it so that you can only read a Word 2007 file in . . . Word 2007. That’s right, you can’t read it in Word 2000, or 97, or anything else that Microsoft has sold to you over the years. Apparently you can download some kind of patch to make it so that your older version of Word will read the new docx file, but how many people actually do that? Heck, how many even know about it? Not many. That’s why any time I send out a file to others (read: my crit partner using Word 2000 or anyone on a forum) I have to back save so that they can read it.


Obviously the added ‘x’ means super fantastic awesomeness, right? Well, from what I’ve read, it really doesn’t give you any kind of added functionality. It was just a way for Microsoft to try and squeeze out competition.


GASP! Noooooo, Microsoft would NEVER. *rolls eyes*


After using Open Office for the past month, I can honestly say that I’ve got a pretty gOpen Officed idea who that competition is.


ADRIAN!

Mind you, I don’t use all of the features in Word. I write. Writing doesn’t consist of a whole lot of added features. So this review is geared towards folks like me (hence the title). While I’m sure that Word is a much more robust program, I’m grading it solely on my needs.


Let’s look at some cons and pros.


Felons

Office Crash, Go BOpen Officem: Office is just as buggy as Word, just in different ways. I’ve had it crash on me about four times over the past month, more than Word, for sure, but it’s always recovered my documents for me just as they were before the crash. That is, until today.


“Error Saving the Document.” Seems Open Office just up and decided it wasn’t going to save all of the work that I’d just slaved over. I could still work on what was open, I could select text and do everything that I could think of, what I could not do was save the damn file. What I ended up doing was opening a Word document and pasting my work from Open Office into Word. (How embarrassing). I then restarted the program and everything was fine save for the fact that it did not recover my documents. Two timing was a good idea after all.


Double Clicking: I’ve gotten used to double clicking a word, hitting the delete button and watching not only that word but also the extra space that went along with it, vanish. In Open Office, the extra space is left for you to clean up. I know, it’s petty, but it bugs me.


Squigglies: There are those out there who totally ignore those little squiggly lines when they write, especially the green and blue ones that refer to grammar. I don’t because I’m not that great at grammar. In cross checking documents from one program to the other, I notice that Word catches more questionable content than does Open Office. And it would make sense that Microsoft can afford to employ more specialists to fine tune that feature for them.


Hyperlink: Open Office does hyperlink, but they don’t have it as an option in the right click menu.


Point That Thing At Me: Another small gripe. When you hover your mouse to the left of a sentence in Word, you get an arrow that allows you to select the entire sentence. You can then drag up or down and highlight huge sections. You don’t bet that arrow in Open Office and I want it.  


One Man’s Junk: I’ve heard a few people complain about the new setup in Word 2007. Granted, it was confusing at first, but I’ve grown to like it. I like the little pop-out menus and the scrolling tabs, I even like that stupid little circle in the left hand corner. Open Office has none of that. It’s much more like an older version of Word. So for some of you this is going to be a plus, not a negative.


 

Specialists

FREE! That one never gets old.


Compatability: Just about everything you want to open, it can. Even that damned Word 2007 format. You know, the docx file that only 2007 users can open unless they download some patch to their older version of Word. Trouble is, it can’t save it in a docx format, but it can save it as a doc and that’s good enough for me. And yes, it can open them with comments and all. I also just read that you can change the settings for your preferred saving format in Open Office so that removes some of the irritation.


Paragraph Breaks: I don’t know why this is, but when I copy a document from Word and drop it into Blogger, my paragraphs get all screwed up. With Open Office I can drop it in there and have it show up just like I laid it out in the processor.


Reviewing Features: While not as robust as Word’s reviewing features, Open Office definitely has more than enough to get the job done. You can still number lines (although you can’t control how that numbering happens), leave notes (ctrl+alt+N), and track changes.


One Upping the Competition: One of the reviewing features, ‘Comments’ which I use when doing critiques, is both better and worse than Word. It’s worse because Open Office doesn’t number them, and it doesn’t highlight what your commenting on; however, it does allow you to comment on the comments, opening a dialog between you and your reviewer, which I find intriguing.


Sticking it to the Man: I like to be contrary from time to time so that I don’t feel like a total sellout. If everyone else is listening to an Ipod, I buy a Zune (gotta love that comparison for this particular post). When I get a chance to tell the man, “thanks, but no thanks,” I take it.


You did it Rocky, you did it.

Okay, so Rocky loses the fight in the first film. He lost it on the score card, but he won it in the hearts of the spectators. He went round for round with Apollo and finished the fight. He proved what he needed to and so too has Open Office 3.1 proved what it needed to in the eyes of this spectator. As I mentioned in the Browser Wars 2009 series, we use different tools for different tasks. I’m not abandoning Word 2007 outright (I did pay good money for it), but I won’t be relying on it exclusively anymore. I’ll likely continue to write my stories in it because of all of the formatting options, but my blogging and notes will be done in Open Office. I’m also looking forward to trying out the comment on comments feature with others who use the program.


Should you try it? Of course you should. It’s free! Download Open Office 3.1 here. Take it for a spin and see what you think. I can honestly say that unless the next version of Word comes with “Auto Breakout Novel” and “Sexy Secretary Making Coffee” buttons, I’ll likely skip paying for a new version and make do with what I’ve got. At this point I can’t see any other features that would be worth $150.


Obviously, I’m not as intimate with these programs as some of you. What did I miss? Any more strengths or weaknesses that need to be noted? Please share them in the comments. And as always, thanks for reading.


Today’s Artists: Values by BlackLillian, Greed by liol, and Rocky by ing1.

Talking Through Writer's Block

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You've hit that inevitable road block. You've written to a point that you can't get past. Characters have stopped talking to you, scenes aren't appearing in your dreams anymore, and even though you know where you're supposed to end up you can't seem to get there. Time to brainstorm, right? What happens when your brainstorm misses the lightning rod? You've got all kinds of dead cattle in the field and charred trees but no forward progression. What do you do?


Brainstorming itself is a solitary solution to writer's block. Heck, writers tend to be solitary by nature. Our craft demands it. How many writers can sit down and write out a scene while carrying on a conversation with someone else?


Surprising people with what we come up with adds to our own personal imprisonment. We're like magicians who can't tell our secrets. As such, we keep our stories hidden under lock and key until we think they're ready to be seen. We have to struggle through all of the troubled spots on our own otherwise we're not really writers. It relates to the Novel in a Day post from yesterday.


For the longest time I've had the notion stuck in my head that unless I do it on my own, unless I come up with all of the ideas, all the twists and turns in the story, all the witty turns of phrase, then I'm a hack. With help the end product ends up as hollow as the eyes of my early drawings.


It might be another one of those daddy issues that I have. When your father was abandoned as a child and then raised by a jerk who barely tolerates his presence in 'his' family, you find that he grows up not expecting help from others and finding ways to do everything on his own. That inevitably gets transfers to the children and is reinforced when the parents divorce and both of them have to make it on their own. I saw family help out when I was a child, but rarely was it heartfelt barn raising kind of help, more like begrudging “I've got too much to do to bother with this” kind of help. I also can't remember friends of my parents being called on for help. Heck, I can't really even remember friends of my parents. Divorces have a funny way of shattering things. And maybe that's why when someone who is not family offers to lend a hand I say, “Thanks, I'll keep that in mind,” and then never call on them.


It becomes even trickier with your writing, when every suggestion can come off as criticism. I don't know about you, but I find it easier to prepare myself for criticism once the story is done. In the middle of the work there is a good possibility that the wrong words might derail me. And so I hang on to my troubled spots, trying desperately to work through them on my own.


Recently, my two crit partners have been there for me, helping me work through things that I was avoiding. My writer's block had derailed me and I was going to sit there and let it happen, trying to heave that entire train back onto the tracks all by myself if I had to. But thankfully both of these young ladies are as stubborn as I am, and they insisted that I talk things out with them.


It was sort of like losing your keys in the trunk lock. You rushed home, got the groceries out of the trunk and now you can't get into the house because you've lost your keys. They're right there clear as day but for the life of you, you can't see them. It takes a kind neighbor walking by to point out, “Hey, did you know your keys are in your trunk lock?” The solution to my problem was that obvious, but I honestly don't think I'd have seen it had my crit partner not mentioned it as an aside, sort of like, “So you'll have him do this?”

“Huh?”

“Well he does this next, right?”

“Oh my god, that's it. That's what I'm missing.”

“Really?”


I don’t think we can dispute that we need help. The question is; how do we get ourselves to open up to the possibility?


Prepare For Criticism: Often we’re not ready to hear criticism at this stage of the game. We don’t want to hear that something is not working or that it is hackneyed. But know that if a friend doesn’t tell you, you’ll likely never hear it because an editor is not going to take the time to point it out for you.


Trust in Friends: Have crit partners that you can depend on, people who know your work and your style. You need to play a friendly game of mental ping pong, and who better to do this with than a friend.


Be Clear: Clearly define what you need. Don’t throw the entire piece up for a critique if you’re not ready for it. Outline where you’ve been and where you’re going and then talk out the moments leading up to the scene that you’re stuck on.


Open Up: Remember, the only way you’re going to make progress is by being straightforward. You might want to keep some things hidden from your crit partner because you want to see how the surprise you have in store works on them, but be aware of what you’re holding back and how that might limit their ability it give you good feedback.


Putting People Out: My biggest problem with asking for help is that I often consider it to be bothering others. It never occurs to me that they might actually enjoy helping. I for one love helping my crit partners work through a problem. It’s sort of exhilarating, like trying to solve a mystery. And it can be quite satisfying to get to the solution and hear, “Oh my Gaia, thank you. I never would have come up with that.”


And yes, once again a topic that I thought was going to be short has turned into yet another “opus” as one of my crit partners so affectionately puts it. Therefore I’ll save the witty ending for another post. Besides, I have to get to the update below.



On an unrelated note. Last week's rant was about the first-time-unpublished-series-author. There was a lot of back-and-forth in the comments about whether or not my advice was sound. It just so happens that literary agent Rachelle Gardner recently blogged about the Five Myths about agents. Myth number five? “Most agents won't consider any manuscript over 120k words in length.” How depressing for me, wrong again.


Oh, but wait! She was pulling a fast one on us. She goes on to say that this is “NOT a myth - this one is true! Until you've proven yourself with a couple of books that sold well, you're not likely to sell an epic or saga much over 100k. There are always exceptions, of course. But if you're trying to break in, your 180k-opus is probably not the ticket.” (It should be noted that Rachelle does not represent Sci-Fi or Fantasy).


Not trying to pat myself on the back too hard here, (although I am in need of a good massage after the pounding I took during Sunday's biweekly basketball game with the fellas). I just wanted to point out that I don't pull ALL of this stuff out of my ass, just most of it. :)


Today's fantastic artists: Smell of Solitude by KatjaFaith, and Derailed by emmajeanjumpingbean


Novel in a Day

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My first drawings as a child were of zombies, but this was not by choice. I started out drawing the typical disproportionate to heads, limbs of varied length, each character with the same facial expression, eyes hollow and soulless. I did this because I didn't how to draw, not because I liked zombies. I moved to tracing for a while, mapping my pencil over the lines of professionals until I could eventually draw by sight, but still the lines I drew were not my own, they were second rate copies of someone else's imagination.  


I never inked or colored any of my drawings. I never did anything more with them because I was afraid of ruining them. Each one I signed and saved for fear that I would never be able to draw another picture of equal quality again.


I honestly don't know what I was so afraid of. My young mind could not grasp the concept that I was getting better. Yesterday's work might have been better than today's but last month's wasn't. So I stayed trapped at the same level of artistic ability because I refused to take chances.


One of my problems was not having a mentor. I looked at art and assumed that it came out just as I saw it. I thought this all the way up until art school, and even then I didn't really get it. Slowly, as I watched and learned. I started to realize things about these godlike figures and their ability to produce art that made me look like a hack; they were hacks too.


I'd been out of art school for about five years when this finally dawned on me. I was watching videos on YouTube of comic artists working at their craft. All around them were reference drawings. Facial expressions, hands, bodies from extreme points of view. These guys didn't sit down and have excellence spill from their pens. They brainstormed, sketched, narrowed their ideas down, then drew from reference materials. When they did produce a fantastic sketch on a whim it was of a character that they'd drawn a thousand times before in a position they'd drawn ten thousand times.


Every artist has reference material. If they get a character into a position that they can't remember how to draw, they look it up. When I'd get to that same point I'd throw up my hands in defeat and admit to myself that I had no idea what I was doing. I wasn't an artist, I didn't know how to draw. I could mimic someone else's work, but couldn't create my own.  



Those videos helped me to realize that I was holding myself back with my own perception of how art was created. And just the other day I was watching the video included in this post. I watched how the artist repositioned the nose, drew and erased lines, added and tweaked, took away. I related it to my own writing, how I'll write out a story in one go, likened to a sketch, then have to go back and tweak it, polish it off. I'll jump around, reworking the beginning, then hopping to someplace just after the middle.


I think all artists have a tendency to forget this, especially writers. Writers can't look back over a sketchbook and say unequivocally that what we produced today is better than what came before it. We can't sit down and watch a video of another writer's process in hyper speed. We don't go to classes with other artists, set up our easels and write out stories that everyone around us can see taking shape as we go, with an instructor walking around the class and whispering over our shoulder compliments and suggestions.


I think that we too often assume that the words have to come out perfectly. If we can't achieve beauty in a single stroke then it's not art. If anything, I've found that art is not so much an expression of perfection, it's an experiment in patience and perseverance. It's hanging in there to make all the little corrections and changes necessary to make the end product look effortless. It has to do with that notion of not actually being an expert but making it look like you are. Remember this as you pull out something you shoved into a desk drawer long ago. We all have those stories, stories that we were so enthralled with until we realized that what we'd created was crap.


Unlike an oil painting that dries and can't be reworked after a certain point, our stories can always have life breathed back into them. We can always come back to those soulless eyes once we've learned how to draw them, once we've found reference material to pattern them after. So allow yourself to sketch and experiment and remember that writing is an experiment in patience and perseverance.

Images: 1) Zombie Tramp by toxiccandie, 2) terrible sight drawing done when I was 13, 3) Quick sketches I did during a literary criticism class back around 2002, I was not nearly as focused as the young lady I sketched :).


Monday Funny: Make it so dry

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"No, that is the opposite of what is good." I've wanted to post this for so long but have been afraid to. Finally, my wife asked, "When are you going to post the 'I'm going to make it so dry' video?" So here we go. And thanks again for all of the comments and visits last week. It's so nice to see discussions start up and varying viewpoints come out. 


Warning: While this video is by no means graphic, the subject matter might be considered offensive to some. If you find yourself easily put off by sexual topics, you might want to skip this. However, if you're up for a good laugh this will do it. 



Spread the Word Saturday: Emo Critics

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So I'm going to start a new feature for the blog. I've been finding so much great content out there in the blogosphere that I want to share with everyone and I don't want it to get lost in the sidebar. Since I don't do anything on the blog during the weekend anyway, I'm going to rename Saturdays to "Spread the Word Saturday." (Oh so witty, I know. Pft.) 


I'm going to highlight one blog post that I thought was ultra witty, snarky, or just plain ol' good advice. Most often they'll be people I know, so be looking for a link to your blog. Today's is not going to be someone I know. Today's relates to my own personal emo experience from this week. 


Dahmijva shared this with me today to cheer me up. Seems there are people out there that truly dislike me and I can only figure it is because I give it to you straight. That said, here's a link to critique guides for those fluffy bunnies who can't stomach my straight forward style. It's from Wired Magazine. 


Alt Text: Genius Strategies for Defanging Web’s Harshest Critics Please pass it along to all the fluffy bunnies in your life and let them know that we lubve them, we weelly weelly do. 


And thanks for all of the comments on yesterday's post, it made me feel warm and fuzzy in spite of finding out that I'm a know-it-all jerk that no one likes, oh, and that I'm apparently wrong (thanks Dahmijva). Friday's will likely be filled with snark from now on so read with caution. :) 

First-Time-Unpublished-Series-Authors

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The first-time-unpublished-series-author. When I first started writing I too only thought in terms of series. My first book was a part of a series, my second book was the first in another series, in-between those were two other stutter start novels that were also a part of series and the current book … is a stand alone. 

 

You see, quite a while ago I realized something when I was looking up books from some of my favorite authors. If you go back far enough and find the first thing they published it’s often a standalone. While some agents and publishers will take on a first time series, many do not. Series are the exception, not the rule. So when I spin through my various online writing forums and find so many writers talking about working on book two of their unpublished series, I can only grown to myself and offer up a little prayer to the writing goddess in hopes that they will soon see the light.

 

As I understand it, the publishing industry wants to make money. And while, yes, series make more money than standalones, they only do so when the author is known. Not many readers want to invest time into reading the first book in a series that they’ll never get to the end of.

 

The other issue you’re dealing with is contracts. Who wants to sign a contract for three or more books when they’re not sure that they can sell the first one? That’s just bad business sense.

 

Now, for those of you getting ready to start book two of your series, I’d like to offer up some advice: Don’t.

 

I’m not saying don’t write a series, go ahead and write the first installment of your three part epic. What I’m saying is that while you’re out shopping for someone to buy it, spend your writing time working on a new project. The book industry is a fickle friend, one day they can be all about your urban YA and the next day they’ve jumped over to paranormal (I know, not much of a jump, is it).

 

Pay attention to the agent blogs. Take note of how they will specifically ask for a certain niche, or exclude others outright. “Sorry, not accepting Urban Fantasy at this time.” Now, I know that we are all writing genre redefining stuff, I mean who isn’t, but if the people you’re hoping to sell it to just aren’t reading it, then you’re out of luck. Sure, you could wait around until the market swings back in your favor, but why? You can continue to try and sell your story while trying to sell others. Look at it like an investment portfolio, you have to diversify. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Don’t sink your company’s fortunes into SUVs and then cry for help when gas prices rise (because it defies reason that a finite resource should ever rise in price as it becomes more difficult to find) resulting in no one wanting your gas guzzling clunkers anymore. Sorry, tangent within a tangent.

 

Also, understand where part of your apprehension about starting a new project comes from: fear. You’ve invested all of this time into a world, you’ve peopled it, lived within it, you said “let there be light,” and there was. The idea of starting that all over again can be overwhelming. What if you don’t have it in you? How can you possibly create anything to rival it?

 

I have news for you, you can. Your best stuff hasn’t been written yet. And when you come back to that first novel in your series, after you’ve written all the books that come after it, you’ll realize that you are a much better writer and that the first book doesn’t stack up to those that came after. But it doesn’t matter if that last book in the series is out of this world because no one is going to read it. The reading of that last book hinges on the first book. Therein lies the pitfall of the series. It’s not that your series isn’t any good. It’s that the first book pales in comparison to the last.

 

I wonder where this drive to produce three, four, or even five and six part epics comes from. Is it because we’ve all been raised on movie franchises and Tolkienesque tomes? Or is it just the spiritual connection to the numbers three and seven that seem to live within the collective unconscious? Whatever it is, keep in mind that something came before LoTR, a little hobbit by the name of Bilbo. And remember that Tolkien started his great epic in 1937 and that it was not published until 1955. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have twenty years to gamble on one story. What I do know is this, I have yet to see an agent post that they are looking for “first-time-unpublished-series-authors” in any genre.


Edit 090826: 

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner recently blogged about the Five Myths about agents. Myth number five? “Most agents won't consider any manuscript over 120k words in length.” How depressing for me, wrong again.


Oh, but wait! She was pulling a fast one on us. She goes on to say that this is “NOT a myth - this one is true! Until you've proven yourself with a couple of books that sold well, you're not likely to sell an epic or saga much over 100k. There are always exceptions, of course. But if you're trying to break in, your 180k-opus is probably not the ticket.” (It should be noted that Rachelle does not represent Sci-Fi and Fantasy).

 

Directing Story Criticism

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This post wasn't going to be about that, but I had a dream. And as we writers do, when we dream, we write it out. No, not that kind of dream. What kind of blog do you think this is? Sheesh. I'd actually be making money if it was that kind of blog. (Image: Strange_Dream_by_Sander_Seto)


In the dream my father stops by with a new truck. Well, it's sort of a new truck, new to him anyway. Let's just call it a different truck. It was a monstrosity of a machine. Late model American nineties when things were built “Ford tough” and not “Like a bailout.” On the back where the bed should have been was some kind of hand made shanty house. It wasn't an old shanty house that some one picked up with a crane and dropped there, it wasn't being moved. No, my father had built it.


In typical dad fashion, he didn't build it like one of those wooden tear drop trailers that some people make, it wasn't aerodynamic, didn't meet any kind of safety standards (no cardboard, no cardboard derivatives, paper's out, no cellophane or rubber . . . you really should watch the Monday funny, it was great). Nope, his knowledge of house building and applied it directly to this truck design.


I groaned but humored him when he invited me to check it out. We stepped in through a regular sized door and looked in on a kitchen area. Now mind you, it's the size of a truck bed on the outside, but on the inside there are standard size rooms. The guy's freaking amazing.


Then he takes me on the “tour” because this place is two stories with what I would say are two 12 by 20 rooms. Very spacious. And each of the rooms serves a double purpose, like kitchen and dining, then living room and sleeping. I think they were 10 foot ceilings too. He's still working on it, but what's there is impressive and I tell him as much.


Then I woke up.


I know, I know, what does that have to do with anything? Right? Well in real life my dad is very sparse with praise. He feigns interest in anything your working on just long enough to tell you about what he's working on. While my mom reads the blog, I have no illusions as to my dad reading it. It's not that he's not a nice guy, and it's not that he doesn't love me, it's just that he isn't interested and has too many of his own projects to worry about. And it also likely has something to do with his not having a father in his life when he was growing up, so he simply doesn't know how.


The dream reminded me of all of this. I'd been thinking about it a week or two ago when I was working with my dad on the garage. I noted how important it is that we give praise to others, how picking out positives can inspire a person to push forward where as criticizing will only lead to dragging them down. Often the criticism comes in the form of “helping,” we're just trying to point out the things that need work, but too much of that can be detrimental.


Then again, too much positive is also detrimental. We can't go around thinking we are the best that ever was either. That's just be delusional and it doesn't lead to growth. Or, conversely, it leads to our not respecting the opinion of the person giving it. It becomes a mother's unconditional praise (don't worry mom, mothers can get away with it, others can't) and therefore loses value.


Now, while it's all fine and well to talk about how we can encourage others in our life, this blog is supposed to be about you. How does me telling you about this help? Quite simply, you have to be able to recognize these things when you run into them in life. You have to be able to not only see it when it happens, but be able to predict it.


I no longer go into a situation with my dad hoping that he'll take note of something that I did and say, “Wow, you did that? I'm really impressed. Tell me about it. How did you get those miters to match up so well? And you say you built the entire door frame from scratch? That's slick.”


No, I go into those situations expecting this: first he's not going to recognize anything unless I point it out, and second he's going to have this kind of response, “Looks good. How long did that take? I'd of just bought a pre-made one. Why waste the time doing it yourself? Looks good though.” That's not a compliment, it's a euphemism. My ability to recognize this doesn't shield me from it entirely, and understanding why he does it helps some too, but being able to predict it helps most of all. Combine them and I can pretty much shield myself from any ill effects by avoiding the situation altogether.


Does this mean that I never go to him for advice? Not at all. I am fully aware that there are things that he knows much more about than I do. And so I ask for advice knowing that I will likely get good information that can start me off on my path, I just don't turn to him for encouragement while I'm on said path, or praise when I finally reach its end unless of course it's a path of his choosing.


As writers we need to learn to notice these traits in others, understand them, and then understand for ourselves what we need from whom. Don't open yourself up to everyone's criticism, figure out who is good at what and then turn to them at the point in your journey when you need them. Say you're all finished up with your story. You've had it critiqued a hundred times and revised it a hundred more. You can't look at it anymore. It's as good as it's going to get. Don't then turn around and take it to your most critical of friends whose pastime it is to find flaws in the Mona Lisa.


In our stories we can simply make characters act the way we need them to or come up with the appropriate character to put in the situation. In life we don't have such luxuries. We have to look around at the cast of characters available to us, figure out which roles we need them to play, and then turn to them when it's time for them to say their lines.



Baby Steps to Completing Your Story

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I've never understood spring cleaners. The sun is out longer, the air is sweet with wildflowers, why in the world would you want to be inside cleaning? I'm a fall cleaner. The way I see it, I'm about to be stuck inside for a very long time, hiding away from short days filled with rain and long, cold nights. There's no better time to get the house organized if you ask me.  


With my wife heading back to school and our son now able to entertain himself, this stay at home dad finally has time to clean and organize. But oh my what a daunting task. It's overwhelming the amount of work that needs to be done just to get it to the point of being maintainable. Then a lesson from Your Own Worst Enemy sprang to mind.


In the book the author talks about how we often don't start projects because they appear too large to tackle. He suggests that you work preemptively and put things away as you go. One of the core lessons is, “never put off for tomorrow what can be done today.” But let's say it's too late for preventative measures. What then?


That's when you break things up. Take the house, for example. I started in the kitchen on my wife's first day back to work. We had a sink piled high with dishes, with even more dishes left around the house. They'd built up over the last few days because we were trying to conserve hot water because the propane tank was almost empty and we were waiting for the gas man to come fill it back up. Well, he came and went, and with him went my excuses.


So rather than looking at the whole house when considering my house cleaning project, I decided to look at just the kitchen. Beyond that, I looked at just the kitchen sink. Once those dishes were done and drying, I turned my attention to a counter. Then I moved to another counter. Each time thinking to myself, “Well, I'll just do this one spot, even if I do just this one spot the whole rest of the kitchen will look a lot better for it.”


After the counters were cleared, scrubbed, and reorganized I looked at the floor. Oh how it needed to be scrubbed. But there was so much of it. “What if I just do this section right here? I can always do more tomorrow.” And so I did just that section. Today I scrubbed all the rest of the floor and worked on another counter. Just a few small things, a little extra work each day, and I'm starting to catch up.


When I sat down to write tonight I thought about all the things that I had to do, the blog, Spark, revising my flash piece, revising another short, the novel, so much to do. But I took the lesson of the kitchen and applied it to writing. “What can I work on that doesn't require a huge time commitment?”


My crit partner (see adjacent photo) had shot me back a crit on my flash fiction piece. I'd been putting off looking at it because I was dreading rewriting things and didn't think that I could find the right words. So I started out by saying, “Alright, I'll just look at the line edits. I won't worry about rewriting anything or coming up with new prose, I'll simply go through it and clean up the comments, errors, and anything else that is small and requires little thought.” 


What resulted was very satisfying. Essentially, I moved from one counter to the next and then to a third, made my way to the floors . . . by the end of my the time that I thought was too short to work on anything I'd finished my revision.


It's often difficult to look at writing in this way, especially when it comes to novels. They can seem so oppressive. But what if we break our writing down? We take the novel and split it into three acts, then split those acts into chapters, the chapters into scenes, the scenes into character exchanges. Suddenly we don't have this oppressive novel looming over us, we have how Silas looks at Jan the first time he meets her. That leads us to consider how Jan reacts to his look? So on and so forth until a scene is completed, then a chapter, and so on.


It's just a subtle change in the way we look at things, but it's one that can make all the difference in the world when it comes to getting things done and staying caught up.


Here's your assignment for today (since I don't do writing prompts): Take whatever you've been avoiding working on and break it down. Say it's submitting. Figure out all the steps that need to occur before you can submit your story and then pick the easiest one and do it. Let's say it's finding a single publication to send off to. Once you've done that you might as well open a document and type the header for a cover letter. Come to think of it, you've pretty much got the experience section already figured out, might as well do that too. See if that doesn't snowball. Who knows, you might get through this little exercise and find that tomorrow's small task is going to be getting to the post office to mail a query.

Demotivational Poetry

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So I was sitting at the cafĂ© tonight, head plugged into my Zune, electronic music putting me into a writing groove. A track came on with spoken words. My knee jerk reaction was to flip the song but the words were so pleasant. I continued listening, falling into a trance, letting the words wash over me. 


Then I broke out into laughter. Talk about your bait and net. 


The Blue Light of the Underwater Sun

by Richard Melville Hall (Moby)


Now close your eyes and relax

Feel the warmth of the sun

And imagine yourself as a beautiful dolphin


You are swimming and playing in the vast ocean

You sail up and over the waves, glistening in the warm sun

And snapping your strong tail


Now you're going deep, swimming and exploring

The wonders of the mighty sea

Schools of brightly colored fish and banks of coral

All illuminated by the blue light of the underwater sun


There in the distance you see a vast school of fast Tuna

And you start to chase them

And suddenly you're caught in a drift net

Laid by commercial fisherman and you start to panic

Creating Critique Guides

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As writers, nay, as humans, we inevitably have to come to accept that we need help. I'm not just talking about self-improvement help, I'm talking about help in general. Our society, for the past two-hundred plus years has been built on this notion of self-reliance. I mean, the American dream is that you can have it all, all on your own. There's no clause in there about needing others. No one ever talks about anyone that might have helped Benjamin Franklin along the way when he arrived here with nothing to his name. Nope, do it yourself or you're a failure.   


As such, I think we often forget about how important it is to keep the lines of communication open once we start reaching out to others. We take things for granted, expecting the people around us to know what we're thinking. I've noticed this with regards to critiquing.  


While on the one hand we often want a virgin reading of our WIP, we don't seem to take into account the fact that we're all different and bring different things to a reading. We also write to vastly different audiences.


I think that in the last couple of weeks I've done about five critiques, mostly for people whose work I've never read before. What I noticed is that I found myself backpedaling at the end of my critique. I'd say my piece and then add in that I wasn't sure where they were headed with it, what kind of work it was, and that those things could greatly sway my opinions.


It does no one any good to take a Lamborgini to a Ford dealer to have it repaired. Sure, they might be able to keep it running, but they won't be able to fine tune it. They're just not familiar enough with the workings of the machine. You have to be upfront about what the mechanic is going to be dealing with, and the mechanic has to be up front with you about what services they can provide.


This got me thinking that the way we do critiques needs to be changed. We've all had classes or been apart of groups, where we send our story off with strangers and wait for their feedback. We then get upset when all of the reviews on our Stephanie Meyer inspired teen, vampire romance come back with suggestions for more historical accuracy from those that love historical fiction, more suspense from the thriller crowd, and more purple in our prose from the poets of the group.


While good writing does tend to simply be good writing no matter its genre, you can't please everyone. That's just a fact of life. We don't necessarily have to find only those who are in our proposed niche audience to do readings for us, we just need to be up front with each other about what to expect. When you take the Lamborgini in, the Ford dealer will tell you straight up, “If you really want us to work on this we will, just don't expect much.” And you have to be upfront about what you're bringing in too.


So I set to work creating my own personal critique guide.


“Like how to critique? Psh. I know how to do that.”


No, like a guide that explains to the person you are critiquing the sorts of things you look for. Here's a run down of mine. Right now it has five sections:


Disclaimer: Talk about your limitations, what you can and cannot offer and how you might be limited by what has been provided. For instance, I note that unless the author has a clear idea of what their Story-Worthy Problem is (SWP), I'm not going to be of much assistance to them. And without a general outline of what the story is, I can only grade it based on what is in front of me.

My Writing and Reading Style: This is where I go into the things that I appreciate in writing. I note that I am a slow reader and that affects how I take in information. Prose weighted down by heavy description are going to draw more criticism than those that are fast paced.

Books I've Enjoyed (and Short Stories): One of the easiest ways to convey to others the kind of writing you enjoy.

How I Crit: We all have different subtleties in how we go about conveying our suggestions. For instance, repetitive words, or consecutive sentences all starting with the same word just get a highlight by me. I don't comment on it, I simply highlight them. I also comment heavily in the beginning of a piece and then taper off. These explanations can help to do away with a lot of confusion.

List of Terms: Another time saver. There are certain things that occur often in writing and we all have different terms for them. My crit partner will note show don't tell as “write it fresh.” The first time I saw that I had no idea what it meant. Luckily, I had her right there in front of me to explain it, but in most cases we don't have the other person at our disposal when we read over feedback.


Click this link if you want to see what my critique guide looks like. It's a work in progress, so it will be updated from time to time.


Once you've created your Critique guides you can attach them to your crits and reader copies. This way everyone is on the same page as to what to expect. As I get a new story ready for submitting to readers, I will work on coming up with a Reader Guide, so be looking for that in the future. I'm also trying to figure out how to host files so that I can put this guide up as a download in case you're interested.


So remember, open those lines of communication and I'm sure you'll find that life gets a little easier.   




Monday Funny: The Front Fell Off

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This is an excellent example of playing with dialog to create humor. The seriousness of the guy on the left is absolutely hysterical. I wonder if it would be just as funny written out as a ping pong dialog. 



When To Be Satisfied and Submit

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Today I would like to totally contradict myself. You see, I love playing devil's advocate. I like arguing a point from as many angles as I can. It helps us to open our minds, to see where others are coming from. Without that ability we cannot know empathy. Without empathy mankind is no better than the basest of animals. Although, sometimes I think that even the basest of animals is better than some of mankind.


I also believe that it is impossible to be a good writer without empathy. How can we build rich characters whose actions are believable and heart felt, even if said character is our villain, unless we can honestly see things from their side? And so, with regards to yesterday's post, I was wrong. Be satisfied.


I Can't Get No

Sometimes we also have to be satisfied in order to find success. It's a balancing act really. Yin and Yang. Go too far in either direction and you find yourself with an empty life. I think we do this a lot when we date.


For years I had this idealized expectation of the perfect woman (I would like to take this moment to say that I ended up marrying her and that anything said from this point on is mere conjecture and hypothesizing and definitely not admissible in a court of law or the even less forgiving court of feminine analysis. . . love you, dear.) If any one of my preferred traits turned out to be missing in a prospective girlfriend I used it as a reason to start over or to avoid starting in the first place. More often than not it was the latter of the two.


Part of the cause of this was the common male attribute of fearing commitment, but we all fear commitment for different reasons. It was not until an ex of mine, who was getting onto the path of understanding herself better, snapped at me on our way back from my first and last joint visit with her counselor. “You know, maybe you should think about seeing a counselor too.”


Gasp. “What? I don't need to see a counselor.” I think I had been pointing out things that I felt were a part of what she was dealing with. That of course gets translated into “this is what's wrong with you.” Never a good idea. Women want to be heard, acknowledged, not analyzed.


You have a pretty big fear of commitment,” she said. “Where do you think that comes from?”


I know where it comes from. My parent's divorce.”


And you think you're just going to fix it on your own?”


Damn her and her logic. We men have a different way of handling analysis, we button up and close ourselves off. At that point in time I brushed it off, but soon thereafter I started thinking about it. How was I ever to be happy if I wasn't willing to work on the things in my life that prevented me from finding happiness?


That's when I started searching for answers. I found a book called, Adult Children of Divorce, by Zimmerman and Thayer, a book that I suggest anyone dealing with divorce to read, both parents and children. It's very enlightening and a quick read.


I eventually postulated that I was using my great expectations as a way of preventing commitment. Not fitting my mold or finding impossible situations was my way of making sure that I didn't commit and therefore open myself up to abandonment later on.


Can we see how closely that relates to our own dissatisfaction with what we write? You've all heard me talk about Spark over and over again. I continuously revise it, making change after change. I just sent it to a friend as an example of my writing and told her not to worry about critiquing it because I wasn't going to be making anymore changes after I finished the ending. I need to be satisfied with it at some point, if I'm not it will never be submitted. There will always be something that I can do to make it tighter, more exciting, flow just a little better. Maybe there's a better hook for the beginning or an amazing twist for the ending that I missed.


And maybe, if I just sent it in, they would appreciate it for what it is and publish it. This weekend I am going to sit down and finish Spark. I'm going to be satisfied with whatever it ends up being on Sunday night, and then I'm going to start submitting.


I'll go through the process of dating. I'll court for a while and if I'm rejected too often I'll stop thinking that it's something wrong with them but rather with me or my approach. That's when I'll pick Spark back up and revise it again. Of course I might have moved on by that point in time, and that will be just fine.


That's the beauty of being on the path of self-improvement, there's always something better yet to come. Your best piece of writing won't be written today, only your best so far. So be satisfied with what you have, send it off, and start something new. If the courting process doesn't work out for that piece, when you come back to it you'll be a far better and wiser writer.


Here's wishing you a weekend filled with free flowing words. See you on Monday. I've got a good one in store for our funny and can't wait to share it with you.



Writer Satisfaction and Self Sabotage

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Satisfaction is another way of saying, “I quit.” Or at least that’s what I’m going to be telling myself from here on out. 


The thought occurred to me as I watched the analytics for the blog climb. More and more people are making their way here, far more than I honestly anticipated. Sure, I started the blog with the idea that it would be a way to reach out to others and make connections in the world of writing, but deep down I expected it to be a failure like so many other projects I’ve half started.


In fact, along the way I’ve tried to sabotage myself by saying things like “Oh, well those are just people I know who are nice enough to stop by.” Or, “Mom must have found a way to drive up page views.” And then there’s the, “Well those people aren’t really hanging around, they stop in for a second, think it’s a bunch of rubbish, and then leave.” But the numbers keep going up, and I’m finding fewer and fewer ways to dismiss them, (and trust me, I’ve tried).


So I went and found a new way to try and sabotage myself. “The blog is doing so well, why do I really need to keep worrying about getting my work published? It’s such a hassle. Why not be satisfied with what I’ve already accomplished?”


I stopped myself. Realized what I was doing. I was trying to get out of taking a chance, to turn something else into a non starter. After all, as an old soccer shirt of mine once said, “You can’t score if you don’t shoot.” And if you score, well, people might expect you to score again. Or what if you don’t score the next time? What will they say? It was just a hat trick. Nothing really special about that guy.


Then again, if we never shoot, never score, never try, we can never be told that we are not great. We can always fall back on, “Well, I could have gone places if it hadn’t of been for that knee injury.” And you know what, no one can say, “No you wouldn’t have.” And therein lies the beauty of never really trying.


“If I just wouldn’t have waited to the last minute to do that paper, it would have been great.”

“If I would have left on time for that interview I would have landed that job.”

“If I just would have gotten enough sleep the night before I could have won that race.”


Admittedly, being satisfied is a good thing. It brings a great deal of peace to our lives. We just have to be careful with what we decide to be satisfied with, or more aptly, why we choose to be satisfied. If you decided to be satisfied with the amount of money you earn because frankly the extra hours to make more would take you away from your family, I’d say that’s a good reason.


It’s hard to believe, but sometimes small successes stand in the way of the big ones. My small success senior year of high school was breaking the school record for the 400 yard dash. I grew cocky. Let my grades slip, dropped a class that I thought was too easy for me and then mid way through track season found myself cut from the team because of poor grades. I was able to get my physics teacher to change my grade for me after a few weeks of dedication to his class and being outright pathetic in everyone’s presence. But by the time I got back on the track I was weeks behind in training. The night before league I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning working on a Spanish presentation that I should have done earlier in the week.


The next day I broke the school record again. It was the fastest I had ever run. But it wasn’t fast enough. To this day I still hold the school record for the 400, but that doesn’t get your name on the gym wall, winning at league does. Not sabotaging yourself so that you have excuses gets your name on the wall.


Maybe there was some part of me that thought that having an excuse would help. Honestly, it doesn’t. At the time it did. Oh the excuses I made: “the other runner was a year older than me because he was held back,” “I heard they oxygenate their blood before they run,” “I didn’t get enough sleep,” “I didn’t get to train as much.” While those excuses helped at the time, looking back on it, I see it for what it was, an embarrassment.



I can even remember being disgusted with the other runner for not showing up at subsections a week later as the top two spots always do. Third place got to run in his stead. First place didn’t show because he was sleeping off a hangover that he earned from a wild night of partying at their Jumping Frog Jubilee the night before. Maybe he was sabotaging himself too. Who knows. What I do know is this, he already proved what he needed to, I didn’t.


I’ll never know what would have happened that day if I’d given it my all, if I’d come prepared. And frankly, that hurts more than the losing, because you know what, I lost anyway. Better to lose but know that you gave it your all than to always have to wonder about “what if.”  


So I ask, are you standing in your own way? Are you doing things in your own life that amount to self sabotage? If so, be wary of it. Because in the end, we all want our names on the wall but we have to write them there ourselves.

Don't Inoculate Your Story

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Not all specialist know what the hell they're talking about. You’ll take this for granted up until the point you have kids, then you suddenly see through everyone’s bunk. That’s when people start telling you how to raise your child. They’ve all got different POV’s on how to do this. “Now I know that he’s small, but don’t let that fool you. They’re smart and they know how to manipulate you to get what they want.”



We got that gem when our son was about six months old. Darned manipulative little six monthers. I knew I shouldn’t have let him con me into getting him that new car seat. All that talk about, “Don’t you want me to be safe in case of a car accident?” Pfft.


You really start to catch on when you learn to see through professionals. It’s like pulling down the curtain on the wizard of Oz. I realized this the other day at my son’s one year baby well visit.


Scare Tactics

I have to admit, my wife and I had pretty much been caught up in the vaccine scare that has infected our culture as of late, so for the first year we skipped them. Now, that he’s mobile and starting to socialize, we realize that it’s probably a good idea to have at least some of the inoculations. And so, what do you do in a time of need like this, ask your doctor.


Ours is a very helpful guy despite his nearly hour wait to see him, grrrr. He’s very open to working with people no matter what they decide with regards to vaccines. After doing more research on my own I found references to a very touted book on the subject, so I asked him about it.


“I turn to the CDC and the government’s website on vaccinations for my information.”


Well, that’s not what I asked, Doc. I wanted to know if this guy was a credible source. But apparently you don’t do any reading on the subject. The debate with regards to vaccines is that the government is approving things that are dangerous or excessive, why would I take the governments word for it?


We talked about my doing a bit more research on the subject and then starting a modified immunization schedule. There was also a question about our son’s speech development and if he interacted enough. The doc sounded a little concerned, and of course I as the parent got all kinds of worried. But he assured me that “he looks healthy, we just need to watch some things.”


“Alright then, I’m going to go, I don’t like to be in the room when they give the shots, that way the kids don’t associate them with me.”


My brows furrowed. “Wait, what? What shots?”


“Don’t you have your yellow vaccine card?”


Was this guy not in the room with me for the last half an hour? “No.”


A look of slight annoyance as he was about to go get me one, then he saw his chart of scheduled vaccination shots on the wall. “Ah, here we go. It will be the 12 month shots, so . . .”


Clueless

I tuned him out, then reminded him that we weren’t getting any shots that day, I was going to research each of the shots and then we, as the parents, would decide which ones our son was going to get and that we would likely start the following week. He was fine with that, but I couldn’t believe the car salesmanship he wheeled out. The old bait and switch.


That day, I purchased the book in question, The Vaccine Book, by Robert Sears. And so far I’m very impressed with it. It’s the most unbiased info I’ve seen on the subject, simply laying out what each vaccine is, what it does, the side effects and the likelihood of having them, what harm actually catching said sickness poses, and finally it tells you the likelihood of ever catching the sickness. It basically lays out the pros and cons in as even a way as possible and says, “You are now empowered with the knowledge, you decide.” How a person in our doctor’s position could not know about this book or have an opinion on it one way or the other is beyond me.


I found this bit in the preface as most enlightening: “Doctors, myself included, learn a lot about diseases in medical school, but we learn very little about vaccines, other than the fact that the FDA and pharmaceutical companies do extensive research on vaccines to make sure they are safe and effective. We don’t review the research ourselves. We never learn what goes into making vaccines or how their safety is studied. We trust and take it for granted that the proper researchers are doing their jobs. So, when patients want a little more information about shots, all we can really say as doctors is that the diseases are bad and the shots are good. But we don’t know enough to answer all of your detailed questions about vaccines. Nor do we have the time during a regular health checkup to thoroughly discuss and debate the pros and cons of vaccines.”


Hence my doctors suggestion to just “go look at the CDC website.”


Enlightenment


The next day I took my son to Borders while his mom was getting her hair done. While there he met a 19 month old little girl, Emily, all pigtails and sass. They played and growled and grunted at each other. She stabbed her finger out at him and scolded him in baby talk when he tried to take Elmo from her. He ran around and found stuffed animals that he brought to her almost as if they were courting. What struck me about this interaction is that this little girl appeared to me to be just fine, but her speech development was on par with my son’s. So what does that make her if our doc thinks that my son is delayed?


I thought a bit more about it and realized, “You know what, that guy didn’t spend any time with my son. He didn’t watch how he interacted with people. He just came in and spouted off generalizations ” It came down to, “You should watch for this,” and “You should watch for that.” Well what the hell do I come to you for then? Here’s this specialist getting me all worried about my son’s development, something I did not question before stepping into his office, and the guy doesn’t really know anything about son.


The Moral of our Story

And that, my friends, reminded me of a critique I did recently for a friend from the message board. It was the first chapter of a novel. During the crit I couldn’t help but feel like I did not know enough about the story to weigh in on it, and I said as much. The reply I got back with regards to it was that some of the things that I took issue with were intended. I wanted an element explored more, the author wanted it forgotten about for a reason. Fair enough, it is her baby after all.


But, just like with my flesh and blood baby, our literary babies deserve more than taking the word of a specialist. While, in the end, we know what’s best for our children, we also owe it to them to inform ourselves as best we can with regards to their wellbeing. Seek answers from everywhere then weigh your choices. Not all advice is equal and not all suggestions can be trusted.


So go forth and learn. And be ready to say, “Uh, wait. What shots?” when some specialist wants you to obediently inoculate your writing.