Let’s Talk About Books, Baby

I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed by author and BookTalk TV host, Steve Seitz. We chatted about all things book: writing, editing, publishing, and marketing, to name a few topics.

Chatting with Steve got me thinking. As I mention in the interview, now is an exciting time to be in publishing. Indie authors are producing high-quality books they can be proud of and that are great contributors to the world of books.

Publishing gatekeepers no longer control what gets published and what doesn’t. The stigma of self-publishing is fading. Being an indie author isn’t about not being “good enough” to be published traditionally. Making the choice to self-publish is just that–a choice. I know of quite a few authors who have been approached by traditional publishers, and they have chosen to pursue their own path of self-publishing instead of going the way of traditional publishing.

I am proud to be a part of the indie community. I am honored each and every time an author chooses to work with me. Because working with me is also a choice. Authors aren’t waiting to be edited. They are being proactive in ensuring their books are of the highest quality. And I’m proud of those who strive to make their books excellent.

So thank you, indies. Thank you for letting me be a part of your journeys. Thank you for your bravery and your willingness to pursue your goals on your own rather than waiting for someone else to make your publishing dreams come true. As always, I appreciate those who choose to share their words with me.

(You can watch the interview at the SAPATV website.)

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Confessions of a 9.8

I have a birthmark. A beauty mark. An epidermal nevus. A little line on the left side of my face, beneath my lips.

It’s been called sexy, weird, beautiful, and special. It’s been spit-washed by a stranger, giggled at, pointed at, and kissed. Children often ask me what happened to my face. Adults do, too.

I’ve been told I have chocolate on my face, grease on my face, that I “left a little breakfast.” People (women mostly) have come over to me and whisper, “You have a little something . . .” Truly, none of this has ever bothered me. I answer kindly and say, “It’s a birthmark, I was born with it.” I’m often met with apologies. My response? “Don’t be.” End of story. No big deal.

I don’t remember when I first realized it was there, it just always was. My mom told me it was my beauty mark, that I was beautiful. A dear friend told me it was my angel kiss. People who know and love me don’t even see it. I certainly don’t. (I used to say, “It’s the first thing you notice about me when we meet, and the first thing you forget.” Apparently that’s not true, since my foul mouth and incredible wit often precede seeing the birthmark.)

My beauty mark was biopsied twice. Once when I was 17 and again when I was 28. Both times it was for health reasons. Since my angel kiss grew with me instead of staying the same size it was when I was born, doctors wanted to make sure it wasn’t posing any health risks. Both times the biopsies came back benign.

For the first biopsy the doctor removed the top part and put a band-aid (Winnie the Pooh, upon my request) over the wound. When I got to school someone asked if I had cut myself shaving. I was mortified. I had never been self-conscious about it, but that question was like a kick in the, er, face. Once I found out I didn’t have cancer, I got over the shaving comment.

The second biopsy was taken from the bottom. The plastic surgeon told me I should remove it. “You’re so beautiful and it’s a blemish,” he said. The biopsy came back benign and I only momentarily thought about the blemish comment. It was my blemish and I’d always had it. I was attached to it (figuratively and literally).) To me it’s not a blemish, it’s just there, like my nose, and fingers, and butt. A part of my body.

Yesterday I had a routine physical. Blood pressure: excellent (amazingly). Oxygenation: great. Pulse: great. Lungs and heart: present and accounted for. Birthmark: Let’s take a closer look. It has changed a bit since 2008 and has developed heat sensitivity. My doc suggested I visit dermatology to “check it out. It may be affecting your nerves and possibly causing some damage.”

Fuck.

Visions of numb, expressionless lips entered my mind. Or maybe a painful side of my face. Or maybe—oh my god—cancer. I made the appointment immediately.

Anxiety took over. Fear joined in. The question of what if? clouded my mind. Had my beauty mark turned against me?

In the exam room the nurse asked, “Are we looking at removal today or just . . . that?” She waved at my angel kiss.

“Eh, both, I guess,” I said thinking if “that” posed a health risk then removal was my only option.

Doc came in.  She was gentle. Went over everything with me. (She went through my hair looking for something. Whatever. It was divine. Like a little head massage.) She examined my bod (yes, the missing “y” is intentional) and chastised me for my tan. “There’s no such thing as a healthy tan,” she admonished. “More sunscreen.” (OK, OK. Hey, I live in Vermont. We see the sun for like 20 minutes a year. But I’ll get better.)

Then she got her bright light tool thingy and pressed it against my beauty mark, moving it all around, examining my angel kiss.

“It looks OK to me. And to be honest, I’ve never heard of a mark developing heat sensitivity. I’m going to do some research and talk to my attending, then he’ll come in and take a look.”

Before she left, though, she launched into explaining “removal options.” Wait, what? I had heard, “Looks OK to me,” and finally exhaled for the first time since I got to the office. My brow furrowed (I’m sure contributing to future wrinkles. Whatever.).

I sat and waited. My only remaining concern being the weird heat sensitivity issue. Otherwise, I was feeling relieved. She didn’t say the c-word, and I was good with that.

She returned with the man who I assumed was the Attending Doc (treated as a proper noun since I can’t remember his name.) Older than I am. White. Male. No visible beauty marks as far as I could see.

He validated my symptom and said he’d never heard of it either, but that didn’t mean it doesn’t exist. But he didn’t see a health problem. Breath and relief swept through me.

Then he, too, launched into a diatribe about removal options. An ENT (first word standing for excision) or laser. What the fuck? Why does everyone want to take away my angel kiss? It doesn’t pose a health risk so why the fuck should I undergo a procedure I don’t need? I was confused (a rare emotion for me).

“Wait, why would I remove it if I don’t need to?”

Attending Doc explained how my insurance would cover removal. I felt like I was on a tilt-a-whirl. Circling around the steering wheel thing, me on one side, the doctors on the other. We were not turning in the same direction. What the hell does insurance have to do with not removing my kiss?

“It’s unsightly,” he said. What‽  (That little piece of punctuation is an interrobang, FYI.)

I looked at my first doc who could only momentarily meet my eyes. “Unsightly,” I repeated. I’ve never felt unsightly. (Well, I’m not so hot in the morning, but even then I don’t consider myself unsightly. More, eh, disheveled.)

“Well, that’s what the insurance company would say,” Attending Doc added.

OK, brain overload. Someone from the insurance company is going to make an office visit to determine if I’m unsightly? Yet I was still confused about why we were still talking about removal. Was he being furtive about some health risk I hadn’t picked up on? I had already said it didn’t need to go.

“Wait,” I repeated, feeling like a jack-in-the-box. Every time they said “removal” I popped out of the box and asked them to wait.

“What is the benefit of removing it?” I asked for what felt like the hundredth time.

“You’d be a 10 instead of a 9.8.”

Silence. I stared at him. Well, it wasn’t a stare, it was a glare. (I’m sure, again, crinkling up my crow’s feet when my eyes narrowed—a harbinger of future wrinkles. Whatever.)

He was suggesting that the only reason I should remove my angel kiss was to be a 10. What. The. Serious. Fuck.

“Because I’m an object!” I managed. “Because I need to be rated,” I exclaimed. I looked again at my first doc, who remained silent.

I eyed Attending Doc.

“I meant it as a compliment,” he explained, color rising to his cheeks. (I’m sure there’s some sort of cosmetic result of reddening skin, but I have no fucking idea.)

“It wasn’t. Your delivery is a problem. I’m done. I choose not to remove. It stays. Thank you for your time. That’s the one I choose.”

I had never seen a 65-year-old man scurry until yesterday. He scurried. I fumed. My first doc started recapping while Attending Doc hustled out of the exam room, man on fire.

“I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry,” she said as soon as the door shut.

“Don’t you dare apologize to me. You did nothing wrong. That is what we women are sometimes guilty of—apologizing for our male superiors when they have done wrong. What if he had said that to someone who couldn’t speak up? Don’t you—”

She cut me off and continued her diatribe about something skin-related. I was deaf. Deaf and done.

My relief at not having cancer was replaced by something else. Fury. Blind rage. I was shaking.

I don’t remember what else happened. I left.

So, just to recap: I don’t have skin cancer and I’m not a 10. I’m only a 9.8 according to an unquantifiable, subjective scale created by a 65-year-old plastic surgeon. My beauty mark, my angel kiss, my unsightly blemish is keeping me from being a 10.

Except, I am a 10. I’m a 10 because I’m brilliant, funny, kind, loving, generous, and I recycle (among many other reasons). I’m a fucking 10 because I say so.

I will be writing a letter to Attending Doc’s superior. I will be lodging a formal complaint regarding what was clearly a sales pitch encouraging me to undergo a medical procedure that is in no way medically necessary. And I will address Attending Doc’s blatant sexism.

Please, people out there with angel kisses and beauty marks and epidermal nevi, choose to be a 10. For yourself. Because being a 10 is about so much more than the marks and “unsightly blemishes” that adorn our skin.

I’m a fucking 10. You?

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When You Think Your Writing Is Sh*t

Spring has finally sprung here in Northern New England (we’re always a little behind when it comes to warm weather). So BF and I took the opportunity to drive through the countryside with the windows down, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of spring.

 

With my arm out the window being kissed by the warm breeze, I inhaled deeply. I smelled lilacs, other nameless flowers and . . . shit. The harsh scent assaulted my nose as we drove by a farm whose fields were dotted with big brown piles of plop. Which got me thinking (a first, since I’d never mused about manure before).

 

Part of the beauty I was delighting in was spawned from the dark dung heaps surrounding us. The word fertilizer floated into my mind. (Shocking, I know, that I thought of a word.) I realized that the shit I was wrinkling my nose at was almost entirely responsible for the natural world around me. The feces fed the trees and gardens, which fed the birds and ants, which propagated the spread of flora and fauna alike. (Do you see where I’m going with this?)

 

No manure, no miracle. The word writing quickly followed my previous turd-related thought. Sometimes, our writing looks (and maybe smells, metaphorically speaking) like, well, shit. We write and write and write and sometimes yield what appears to be a total flop. Sighing, we hover our cursors over the delete button. Don’t do it! Instead, pause, take a deep breath (hopefully the scent you smell is sans scat odors), and let the word fertilizer waft into your mind.

You see, it’s possible that what you just wrote—crappy as it may seem (see what I did there?)—may fertilize your next draft. Maybe hidden in the muck is a seedling of the theme, plot, or character you’ve been trying to create. Maybe, just maybe, buried somewhere in that whole heap of what you’re about to deem waste is a tiny shoot waiting to bloom into the sentence that will be the first in your final manuscript.

Consider that what you’ve just written may very well blossom into the rest of the story. Sure it looks like shit now, but after you spread it around and sprinkle it here and there, the result could be the garden you were trying to grow in the first place. So don’t flush it just yet.

Save it in a folder titled “Shit Drafts” (I have one named “Shit Writing”) and save the file as “Fertilizer.” Let it lay dormant for a while then go through and pull the weeds out. You might discover the fruits of your labor are taking root in that big pile of shit.

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On Softball . . . And Writing

So, BF and I played softball this weekend. Co-ed, slow-pitch softball, but softball nonetheless. And the other teams picked on me. You see, my strength is at the plate. I can swing the hell out of a bat and smash the stuffing out of a ball (hyperbole is also a strength of mine, by the way). Unfortunately, my skills in the field leave a little something to be desired.

My editorial eagle eyes are no help when a bright yellow ball hurtles in my direction. Any thoughts about stopping it go right out, well, into right field (where I’m standing) and I watch it whizz by me. I do have enough sense to run after it, but it’s too little, too late when I can hear everyone cheering on the runner who just scored a homer because my standing in right field is the equivalent of a black hole. Ball goes in, nothing comes out.

I know I suck. My team knows I suck. But I don’t let that stop me. I ask for help and I keep trying. I never stop chasing the ball.

But after a painful half-inning in right field, I get to earn my keep, so to speak (or at least earn my spot on the team). I get up to the plate, I wiggle my foot around in the dirt (pretending I know what I’m doing), bend my elbow, get in position, and wait for the pitcher to wind up (not really, it’s slow-pitch, remember), and I squint. Confidence oozes from my pores. And I dare him or her to throw me a good one. The ball comes my way, I keep my eyes on it (those editorial ones!), and swing like there’s no tomorrow. I connect, I run, and I’m safe. Almost every time (got on base seven out of eight at-bats). The difference? At the plate, I know what I’m doing. In the field? Not so much. And the same is true with writing (you knew I’d bring this full circle, right?).

I encourage writers to keep in mind that they don’t have to be good at everything. Say you’re great with pacing, but sometimes you forget to describe what your character looks like. That’s all right. Takes practice. Say your dialogue shines, but you forgot what happened in chapter three, so chapter nine is a little lacking in the clarity department. That’s OK, too. You’ll get there.

The trick is to never take your eye off the ball (see what I did there?). Figure out your weaknesses as well as your strengths. You can’t have one without the other. When I play softball, I don’t get to only do what I’m good at—I have to suffer through watching the ball fly by in the outfield so I get my chance to shine at the plate. I know I struggle so I get help. I listen to the advice and try to apply it when I’m out there praying no one hits the ball in my direction. So, as a writer, keep your eyes open, pay attention to what you do well and work on what you don’t. Doing so will lead to a home run every time. (Sorry, couldn’t help it.)

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Some Like It Hot

So, BF and I finally had the talk. You know the one. The one that can be a deal-breaker, the conversation to end all conversations. We had to decide if we were going to get rid of my eleven-year-old microwave with only a few working buttons, or his $9 convection oven that burned everything. Guess what? I lost.

But only after putting up a fight, presenting (what I though was) a watertight case on the benefits of a broken microwave, and using the microwave to cook things that really didn’t need microwaving, just to prove my point. I decided he didn’t get it, and I was going to show him the light. And finally . . .

We compromised. Well, not really. He actually ably poked holes in my argument, including pointing out that his oven takes up less counter space, and I relented. I succumbed and my antique microwave is no longer among the living. And it was the right choice.

You see, sometimes we hold onto things that seem meaningful or even practical, when it is simply not the case. Take, for example, your writing (you knew this was going to come full circle, didn’t you?).

Sometimes you write a character you love. You adore her. There’s not a thing wrong with this beautiful person you created. She says and does everything exactly the way she should—the way you want her to. Then off goes your manuscript to your editor. Who disagrees with you and suggests making some changes. To your character, your baby, your darling.

So you fight. You stomp your feet. You pout. You create a watertight argument for why the editor is wrong. Your character is perfect, after all. Just the way she is.

Then you sit back and reread the editor’s notes. You see that maybe your character’s missing buttons aren’t endearing, but, rather, are annoying. Maybe you realize that she takes up too much space. And maybe you start moving some things around.

The editor-writer relationship can sometimes be about compromise. And sometimes that compromise ends up with the author scrapping the microwave—so to speak—only to realize that, in the end, doing so is a much better choice.

Now, I’m off to figure out how to warm up some soup in a convection oven.

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Recipe, Shmecipe: On Writing

I’m not one to follow recipes. Where it says, “Add a tablespoon of flour” I throw in a handful. Where it says, “Add one cup of sugar” I squirt in some honey and/or maple syrup or a scoop of the white stuff. Where it says, “Pour in wine and stir,” I drink a glass. You get my drift.

No, recipes are simply guidelines for me. I still do what I want after I’ve been inspired by the general idea of making something that sounds yummy for dinner. The same is true with writing.

There are myriad guidebooks, how-to books, self-help books that all outline or describe how to write.. Structure. Character development. Do’s and don’ts when it comes to diction. How can you keep up with everything you are and are not supposed to do and write your story? Frankly, I have no idea nor do I have suggestions about that.

But I do have a suggestion about writing. Write it. If you need a guide great—that’s fine. But I encourage you to write your story, your way. Where it says your character must walk a certain path, it’s OK to have him go the other way. Where it says you can’t do something within a certain genre, it’s OK to foray into something new and different. And where it says to take a break and have a glass of wine . . . Well, I say you should definitely do that.

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A Fart By Any Other Name

You know how much I love wordplay. And I’ve been thinking a lot about words lately (shocking, I know). Then I started thinking about how words connote so much for us. For example, the word “fart.”

What do you think of when you hear/read/say it? Does your nose wrinkle in distaste? Does your mind wander to the last time you suffocated due to someone sharing a fart with you? Do you think of well, you know? Fascinating, isn’t it, that one word immediately triggers both a sensory and/or experiential reaction, and you think of words that define/explain it?

SO: I started wondering if the same response would have happened if we suddenly swapped out words with each other. Just think if Bill (yes, Shakespeare—he and I have an understanding: He calls me Princess Hummingbird. It’s a thing we have.), had written “That which we call a fart / By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Ha! We would then like the smell of farts, as the word would refer to a beautiful, pleasantly fragrant flower that symbolizes love. We would tell each other to stop and smell the farts. Bon Jovi would tell us he wanted to lay us down in a bed of farts. (OK: I have to stop, but please feel free to add your own!)

My point is simply that words immediately make us think of other words. They are powerful enough to elicit a physical response as well. We as readers, writers, thinkers, and just plain humans have the amazing ability to sift through the words presented to us, derive meaning from the context, then insert those words and meanings into our own use of language. Awesome, right?

But I still think it’s funny to play around with our vocabulary as I think about the “what-ifs” regarding the phrases we use. And c’mon, really: The next time you feel flatulent, let people know that you have to “rose” and see what they say.

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