Tuesday, May 28, 2013

GrammatiCats: Suggest a Topic, Win a Book!

You know, I really didn't intend to go a whole month without a GrammatiCats post.  It just took this long for me and the cats to rest, regroup, and/or make bail.

BUT!  It's almost June, you guys, and high time to get back in the proverbial saddle! Here's the game.

GrammatiCats needs new topics!  And I want to know what YOU want to know.  Do you lie awake at night, agonizing over when to use "that" versus "which"?  Are you wracked with guilt every time you end a sentence with a preposition?  Would your life be utterly complete if only you knew when to use a comma before "if"?

Well, suffer no longer!  Comment on this entry with a grammar/style issue you would like to see covered here, and you could win a copy of June Casagrande's hilarious how-to: It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences: A Writer's Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences.

Here are the rules:

1.  One entry per person. (You can suggest as many topics as you like, but your name will only go in the hat once.)

2.  Contest ends at midnight (Central Standard Time) on Tuesday, June 4th.

3.  The winner will be drawn on Wednesday, June 5th, via random.org, and announced here.

4.  The winner will have 72 hours from announcement to e-mail tex at thetexfiles.com with a valid mailing address.  If the winner doesn't claim the prize, I'll draw and announce a new winner, as in #3 above.

5.  International entries are welcome - if Amazon ships to you, you can enter!

6.  By entering, you certify that you're at least 18 years old, and that sweepstakes are legal in your jurisdiction.

But that is not all, said the Cat in the Hat - no, that is not all!  Even if you don't win the book, you can still get a bona-fide shout-out.  Please include the URL of your blog or social media account in your comment if you'd like me to link back to you.  If I use your suggestion for a future GrammatiCats post, I'll make sure you get the credit!

And as always, cat pics are always welcome: see the GrammatiCats FAQ to find out how your favorite furry friend can be shamed immortalized forever as a champion of literacy!

(Speaking of which: many thanks to today's quasi-GrammatiCat, Éowyn, and her pet human, Dani F.!)

This sentence rocks.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fear. Rarities. Ratites.

I have a confession to make.

Sometimes - a lot of times, actually - I worry that I won't make it as a writer.

Okay, I know - boring, profoundly unoriginal confession.  But feel me here: this fear is a Protean beast if there ever was one, and everyone who's ever set pen to paper knows it.

First it's a giant cyclopean "can't write."

Then you suck it up and crank out some words, and the fear shapeshifts into a three-horned "can't write worth a damn."

Then you work some more and start getting some spit in your polish and it coalesces into "won't ever finish the novel."  When you finally do type 'The End', the fear morphs into "isn't good enough to publish."  (From there I hear it's "going to get mangled in editing / terrible cover / no marketing," followed by "will get terrible reviews" and "will sell worse than New Coke," and ultimately, "the next book is going to be a huge letdown.")

Anyway, right now my fear is a giant sasquatch called "unsaleable concepts."   You know, when you can't easily point to five bestselling series and say, "like that, but with zombies, and more cowbell," you start to wonder if that oh-so-shiny genre-bending/breaking/fusing idea you had was really such a good idea after all.  You may, in unguarded moments, feel like the biggest ostrich-riding cowboy on the whole Island of Misfit Toys.

Yippie-ki-yay, motherplucker.

This fear is, of course, insurmountable.  It's the reason why we don't have YA sci-fi novels where clever heroines dual-wield Christianity and quantum physics to save their dads from alien groupthink.  Or why nobody has ever successfully published an intricate literary/historical English fantasy novel... as an 800-page debut.  Or why you can't build a career on redneck vampires, hard-boiled robo-cabbies, and couch-surfing raccoon gods.

Actually, let me stand on that last part for a sec.

The older I get, the thirstier I am for novelty - for one-of-a-kind stories that make me sit back and think, "Damn.  I am really sad that's over, because I know I'm not going to find that anywhere else."

This is part of what amazes me about A. Lee Martinez.  Every one of his books is its own independent fictional planetoid, circling no larger cohesive star.  I loved Emperor Mollusk versus the Sinister Brain, because it's exactly what it promises - complete with Venusian lizard-warrioresses, irradiated dinosaurs, and the most sinister of disembodied brains - and with real thought and heart under all the pulptacular spectacle.  But I dreaded turning the last page, because I already knew that Amazon couldn't sell me anything remotely comparable - not even from Martinez's own catalogue.

(But no longer!  He's Kickstarted a short story anthology, Robots vs. Slime Monsters, featuring a new story from each of his novels - and it is within a truck-driving werewolf's whisker of being funded.  If you've enjoyed his stuff in the past or want to support the barn-raising community approach to getting great stories out into the world, stop by and kick in!)

This stokes my fires something fierce.  I want to write like these people here.  I want my books to be rarities, limited and exceptional works that are an extra pain in the ass to market and publish precisely because they don't lend themselves to glib comparisons and easy replacement.  That is a tough honor to earn, and worth wrestling the fearbeast every step of the way.

Anyway.  Coming laboriously around to the point, I think we've got ample evidence here to prove that:

1.  You really, truly can write anything.  There's nothing stopping you from being more daring and unconventional than everyone else - just as long as you're also more persistent and pound-for-pound skillful than they are, too.  (This is the part I'm still working on.)

2.  If your fear is evolving, you're probably doing something right.

3.  Win or lose, you gotta love your ostrich.

"There's a yeti in the freezer," he observed.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ike and Tina: A 20-Gallon Love Story

This is Ike and Tina. 

I'm pretty sure they're inbred. 

They came from the same tank of baby zebra-striped angelfish.  Then they grew up, paired up, and started spawning like crazed cichlids in heat.  (I had to take the third angelfish back to the store because they were beating on him so relentlessly.) 

They raised one batch of fry, which was an epic adventure for me and my roommate.  Since then, they still spawned constantly, but they've been careful to eat all the eggs.  I guess one round of parenting was enough for them.

They survived the Great Tank Leak of '08, lived in a bathtub for two days afterward (and somehow didn't die from the soap scum, which is a minor miracle in itself), and then did a three-week tour of duty in a plastic goldfish bowl while I glued and re-glued the seams of their swanky glass penthouse. 

Anyway, last month, Tina started swimming in weird loops.  Usually that's a sign of a swim bladder problem, so I consulted the experts and tried what I could: shelled peas, epsom salts, antibiotics, you name it.  Nothing worked.  I figure she's got a tumor of some kind pressing on her swim bladder, or else (more likely) she's full of eggs she can't lay. 

This weekend, she started crashing out on the bottom of the tank - still getting up to eat (oh my God, does she eat), but then falling back to the bottom, totally knackered.  At this point, she's been sick for a month, and she's only getting worse.  So I figure it's time.

As I write this, Tina is drifting off to sleep in a vodka cocktail (tank water, clove oil, and a splash of Smirnoff.  Tears optional.)  And although I'm even more sad than I thought I would be, the thought I keep coming back to is this:

We love our cats and dogs (and horses and ferrets and chinchillas) because they're great little buddies.  We play together.  We have lovey times.  We're friends in the truest sense of the word.

That's not really true with fish.  To them, I am merely the Great Shadowy Force that causes food to appear in the Holy Purple Floaty Ring.  But Ike and Tina didn't need a human person in order to live big, amazing lives.  Growing up, parenthood, a bona-fide love-triangle, danger and hardship and adventure on the bathtub seas... and here at the very end of it, Ike poking Tina relentlessly to try to get her to swim again. 

In a way, it is immensely comforting to know that there are dramas and epic stories unfolding all around us, ones that don't need our attention, much less our intervention, to play out in grand form.  And sometimes I think all we really to do is learn how to notice them.

--We still have to name them...
--You wanna name all of 'em, right now? All right. We'll name this half Marlin Jr., and then this half Coral Jr.  Okay, we're done.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

String Theories

Today, the Internet is full of people talking about how they have the best mom ever.

I always feel a little weird posting about Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, and even Christmas, because it seems like the culturally-mandated Celebratory Period doesn't leave much room for the people who don't have a big shiny happy Norman Rockwell parent / sweetheart / family to gush about on Facebook.  (This holiday paranoia is probably a result of having watched Gremlins at much too young an age.  Chimneys, you guys.  Don't go down them.)


The universe has been kind enough to issue me a truly stellar mom.  This deserves recognition.  So in the spirit of "show, don't tell," here is something of her that you can enjoy for your very own.

See this here?
This is a crude replica of something I found while I was helping her clean out her office one day: a little piece of cardboard with two sets of strings glued onto it.

So I said to her, I said, "Hey Mom, what's this?"

And she said, "Oh, that's from a workshop we did a few months ago.  They gave us little pieces of string and told us to use them to illustrate a problem, and show how we would solve it."

"Oh, I see.  So the problem was that they were all in a jumbled mess together, and you straightened them out and organized them."

"No," she said.  "The problem was that they were all separate and lonely, so I put them together."

...I was originally going to use this as a stepping-stone to wax philosophical about something.  On reflection, I'll just say this: my life has been immeasurably enriched by people who arrange their strings in ways that never would have occurred to me.  Thanks for keeping it funky fresh, Mom.

Okay, this screw is important, so I'm putting it here with the oranges.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ten Things I Learned From DFWcon 2013

1.  There are more terrific people in the world than you can handle knowing.  

2.  David Corbett can bring new meaning to your life, and Michael Capuzzo has friends who can end it.

3. Quality floats.  Quality makes heads turn.  Your audience can smell laziness, ignorance, and slapdashery like sun-ripened mayonnaise.

4.  Entropy has a net positive effect on tres leches cake.

5.  Until we can be in literally seven places at once, there will never be enough time to do everything we want to do. 

6. Heaven is other people.  Hell is figuring out how to talk to them.

7. On Loop 820, as in life, the road to success is choked with traffic and permanently under construction, and it takes f***ing forever to get somewhere.  Perseverance is essential.

8. High school never ends.

9. Being complimented is good, but being helpful is GREAT.

10.  Anonymous friends are everywhere. Even in the toilet.

And actually, if I can loop the Blogging A to Z Challenge in here for a second, just one more:

11.  It's not all about you.  And that is indisputably a good thing.

That's the big one for me personally.  My own headspace is full of insecurities and inadequacies and the nasty nibbling brain-hamsters of doubt.  I freaking know this (I've lived in it for three decades now!)  And yet I'm always surprised at how fun and interesting and and alive and powerful I feel when I link up with other people - especially ones who are all pulling in the same general direction I am - and take the time to say, "gosh, you sure are neat - what's big in your world right now?"

To recap: I spent the entire month of April beating myself into the ground to produce daily blog content, and the first week of May punching myself in the face to get ready for a writing conference.  There are plenty of things I did poorly or not at all.  There is a veritable pantload of things I want to do differently next time.  But I've never had less sleep or more fun, and I am so, so excited to set my sights on the next round of self-inflicted accomplishments.

In the meantime: bed, chores, friends.  I got old ones to catch up with and new ones to study up on, and that is a GREAT problem to have.

I got 99 problems, but a pitch ain't one.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

From Blogging to Hot-Dogging

What a month, you guys.  I can't believe I ate blogged the whole thing.  And next week, I'm gonna sit down and write a really good navelgazing post about the merciless month-long thrill that was the A to Z Blogging Challenge.

Right now, though, the DFW Writers Conference is happening this very weekend, and I am 100% booked until then!  I'm doing this class, see, and I am so freakin' stoked about it:

It's going to be educatastrophic!  You know, in a good way.

Anyway, I'm all nostalgic just now, because at this time last year, I was busy barfing on my shoes just thinking about going to my first-ever conference and pitching to actual agents.  If you're going to this or some other great literary event and feel your penny loafers are likewise in imminent danger of meeting your lunch, take solace and learn from my mistakes!  Here are a select few of my bloggy baby pictures posts from DFWcon 2012:

Cue Training Montage - in which the reality of the upcoming event sinks in, and "Eye of the Tiger" starts playing in the background.

DFWcon 1: New Neighbors - or, how writers' conferences are basically Hogwarts Disneyland Woodstock carnival-prom (for book nerds), and why that is so important.

DFWcon 2: Lessons - the do's and don'ts and remember-for-next-times

The Dry Heaves of Destiny - in which, almost three months after the conference, I finally send my manuscript to the Agent of My Dreams

By the Power of the Crimson Couch... - the climactic moment, almost four months after I had originally pitched to her at DFWcon 2012

So there you have it, happy people: do your homework, eat your Wheaties, and remember that Mr. Rogers likes you just the way you are.  It's going to be a grand time!

I feel good.  I feel great.  I feel wonderful.  I feel good.  I feel great.  I feel wonderful.