Going on Hiatus

Greetings friends,

Yes, it’s true:  I am taking a break for a while.  For the past several weeks, I have been battling some pretty serious depression and I feel that the time has come for me to take stock of my values and consider where I should go from here.  I do not feel that my writing has improved of late and I have become increasingly less confident in my abilities and uncertain how to move forward.  In order to take my writing to the next level, I feel I need to devote a level of time and money that, unfortunately, I simply cannot afford in my current situation.  Writing will always be among my foremost passions but I have found my enjoyment in it waning of late because I have had to stretch myself between two jobs, studying for my upcoming exam, searching careers and business schools, and helping to take care of my family.

Something has to give in order for me to be happy and, though writing has always been my fondest hobby, I feel it needs to be put aside for the time being.  I think I will be happier in the long run taking a step away from it and I think my writing will also benefit from the break.  This week marks the first time in four years that I have not been working on a novel.  I think I need to take this time to reevaluate my writing/publishing goals.

If you were excited about The Last Cup, I am considering making it available on this website as a free download starting October 1st.  That may change.  Although I am happy with the story and themes that I have crafted, I know the book would benefit from a professional editor and I have neither the time nor the money to pursue one at the moment.  I am hoping that will have changed come November, but I have no way of making that prediction.

Thank you 1,000x to those of you who have supported me and helped teach me since I started this page in May.  Your praise and criticisms have given me much to think about.  Even while I am away, I hope to press any useful writing/editing/publishing articles I happen to find.  If you should want to converse with me about ANYTHING related to this site or writing, in general, I hope you will contact me using the links at the top of the page.  I hope this will not be interpreted as the end of a conversation; I’m only taking a breath to make sure that when I choose to speak again, I have something that is truly worth saying.

Thank you and, if you’re of a religious persuasion, God bless.

 

Requiem for a Meme: “Grammar Nazi” (2003-2012)

It has come to my attention that I may have reached my bellyaching quota for the week, so today I would like to turn my attention to something completely different:  Grammar Nazis.  To many people who are not authors or aspiring authors, Grammar Nazis are notorious snobs who eavesdrop on conversations like linguistic vultures waiting to feed on the carrion of our 21st Century syntax.  But among many writers I know, the term is worn as a badge of honor, despite the fact that—and I think this goes without saying—no phrase with “Nazi” in it should be worn as a badge of anything other than shame.

Perhaps you just take pride in your own mastery of the finer points of our language.  I can respect that.  No, really, I can!  In fact, I applaud you.  However, I believe the time has come to retire the phrase “Grammar Nazi” from our lexicon in order to search for a term that is less insulting, less antiquated, and also something that is more proactive and beneficial towards the very language we profess to want to defend.

But how did the phrase “Grammar Nazi” come into being anyway?  If you’re like me, you probably thought the phrase originated decades ago as natural fallout from World War II.  If you’re like my girlfriend, you may have thought it sprung from TV’s Seinfeld, where phrases like “Soup Nazi” suddenly made the “Noun + Nazi” equation vogue for anyone looking to ascribe ironic ruthlessness to some ordinary concept, i.e. “Barbecue Nazi”, “Trout Nazi”, “Unicycle Nazi”, “Lamp Nazi”.  The possibilities are endless!

Not to be confused with “Gramma Nazi”.

As a matter of fact, according to the website “Know Your Meme”, the expression is only about 9 years old.  It was traced back to 2003 and, strangely, I can’t quite remember having heard it earlier than that, although I admittedly would have been only 17 or 18 at the time.  If anyone else can distinctly remember the phrase going back farther than that, you may want to gather your proof and make “Know Your Meme” aware of the error.  The definition, according to KYM, is “someone who believes it is his/her duty to amend any grammar and/or spelling mistakes made by others in conversation.  In most cases, the term carries a negative connotation of either being a buzzkiller who ruins a good joke by getting too technical or a n00b that’s fallen into the Grammar Trap, an intentional practice of using incorrect grammar for the purpose of spotting a Grammar Nazi.”  I’ll adopt that as my definition moving forward since it seems pretty accurate.

So why am I up in arms over the phrase?  Well, for starters, I absolutely believe that there is a dire need for those of us who are willing to help preserve the English language in an age of texting and Jersey Shore slang, because beautiful poetry like “parting is such sweet sorrow” written in text speak would be “PISSS” (gross.).  Therefore, I think it is a public duty for us to help defend what, in my opinion, is not necessarily the world’s most beautiful-sounding language (I would probably bestow that honor upon Spanish, citing the works of Cervantes and Pablo Neruda) but is the world’s most descriptive and versatile language.  However, I want to repeat that my problem is with those of us who seem to proudly declare ourselves “Grammar Nazis”, which I think is not only belittling to our cause of defending our language but also insensitive to those who suffered the depravity of the political group who inspired the term.  We are not Nazis.  We should not aspire to be Nazis.  We should not even co-opt the term.  Only one person in history has ever been “Hitler” and it was Adolph Hitler and no people except those who were members of the Nazi party should call themselves Nazis.  Period.

But my purpose here is not to chastise those of you who may have used the expression flippantly and declared openly, “I’m a bit of a Grammar Nazi”.  My purpose here is to proclaim that WE CAN DO BETTER!  We are better than disgracing ourselves at parties or social functions by making uninvited interruptions to correct a grammatical faux pas.  We are better than lambasting writers in comment forums across the web for incorrectly using “they’re”/“there”/“their”, even though the very sight of such mistakes may make you want to sling holy water over your keyboard, cross your index fingers, and hold them towards your computer screen while shouting “The power of Christ compels you!”.  Such passive aggression is not going to endear people to our cause; we will only annoy the crap out of people who probably come by their poor grasp of the English language honestly.

Let’s explore that statement.

I have several pretentious friends—the very sort of folks who are self-proclaimed “Grammar Nazis”—who, upon hearing poor grammar, keel over as if they have just been stabbed in the stomach.  They take every grammatical error as some sort of personal attack and usually go off the deep end as they wage their assault.  It’s like fighting an ill-timed water balloon with a napalm bomb.  What happens when the assault is over?  Feelings are hurt and my grammar-defending friend pompously moseys away from the conversation, holding his or her head high to have defended the language, and meanwhile everyone else in the group declares: “What an ass,” turns back to the person who had been telling the story, and says, “Now, let’s get back to you’re story.” GAHHH!

Here’s a kitten. I just thought maybe you could use a kitten.

The point is that most people do not like to have their grammar publicly corrected and doing so rarely does anything to actually fix the error.  Furthermore, it has been my experience that many people are not solely to blame for their poor grasp of the language’s more difficult intricacies.  Take my own students, for example.  I tutor for a wealthy private school in Kentucky and many of my students are among Lexington’s brightest but even my best students have an astonishingly poor grasp of proper grammar.  When I try to explain the difference between “who” and “whom”, I can see their eyes glaze over.  They swear to me, time and time again, that their English teachers never covered the concepts we discuss.  Why?  Because their class spent 4 months discussing Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Four months!  Now, I would have no problem devoting such time to Shakespeare if I saw any proof that the payoff was worth the investment.  Instead, I end up with throngs of tutoring students who have read Hamlet about 9-10 times, still don’t understand exactly what that story is about, divined nothing from the book with regard to “proper English”, and who have read nothing else of note in that four-month span.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark Kentucky.

I have met students who have gone their whole lives without a single formal grammar class.  In fact, I happen to fall into that category myself.  I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that my own grammar, though far from perfect, is what it is because of the tireless efforts of my mother and grandmother to refine my grammar from an early age.  By the time I was five years old, I could never have thought of getting away with “Me and my friend are going to the park”.  By the time I was eight or nine and already writing short stories, it would have been a cold day in Hell before I mistook “your” for “you’re”.  Not all young people are so fortunate.  In fact, millions throughout our great country are not.  I am positive that there are children in Kentucky, for example, who go their whole day without hearing proper grammar spoken by an adult or having their own grammar corrected by one.  This is not an indictment of our teachers; it is merely a reminder to “Grammar Nazis” that they should be eternally grateful to the adults who helped nurture their grammar in youth—not openly critical of all those who never had such a mentor or mentors.

So how do we reconcile the points I have listed here?  How do we retire “Grammar Nazi” and look to the future?  The first thing we can do, clearly, is to make a point of instilling good grammar in our children.  In this age of texting, we should not let our own kin get away with the erosion of our wonderful language.  We should teach our young to be proud of our words and how they fit together.  We should make them aware of English’s rich history and motivate them to keep that legacy alive.  And, finally, we should bestow upon them the gift of our language’s most profound voices—encourage them to read the classics.  Help them appreciate Shakespeare or Chaucer instead of ramming it down their throats as an educational obligation.  Four months of Hamlet are no better than four minutes of Hamlet if the student is not open to learning.

What is my alternative for the phrase “Grammar Nazi”, you ask?  I don’t have one!  The truth is that I could care less what people call us so long as our work is done.  You could call me “Grammar Doctor”, “Grammar Knight”, “Grammar Guardian”, or “Grammar Advocate”.  The point is that nothing would honor me more than being declared “A Keeper of the Language”.  Doesn’t that sound so much nobler than being dubbed a tyrant or criminal?  Hit me with your suggestions.  The age of “Grammar Nazi” is dead.  What should we call ourselves instead?

seanmchandler:

West Coast fans? Have a look at this!

Originally posted on Author Solutions - The Indie Book Writers Blog | Self Publishing | Get Published:

Writer’s Digest has hosted one of the most respected conferences  in New York City in January for quite some time. This year, they are also holding a writers conference  in October on the West Coast.  In fact, this is the first time this event has been this close to the Pacific. The registration web site gives more details. Here’s what it says:

For the first time ever, Writer’s Digest Conference brings its real-world publishing knowledge, writing inspiration and networking opportunities to a West Coast audience in 2012. Join us in Hollywood to find out how publishing and tech developments affect writers, how you can make your work and your pitch irresistible, and what you can do to get going, get discovered, and get published.

I will be speaking and sitting on a panel at the conference.  In my seminar titled, Seven Secrets of Successful Self Publishing, I will share all…

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4 Soul-Crushing Realities Indie Writers Must Learn to Face

The Sauron comparison makes sense: I’m about one more rejection letter away from trying to enslave the human race.

I’ve actually been sitting on this article for several months now, but I never published it because it came from a pretty dark place.  This piece was sort of like Sauron’s ring for me.  I was content to let it sit in the shadows and never speak of it and at one point I even considered destroying it.  How did it come into being?  Well, I was pretty damn disheartened when I could not find an agent or publisher for my first book The Notice.  I spent months slaving away on that book and every person who read it told me it was wonderful.  Maybe that was part of the problem.  My mother cried like four times while reading it.  I was 99% certain I had a bestseller in my hands and you can probably guess what happened:  Not one agent wanted to read it.  I could have written the next Crime & Punishment but it was irrelevant—seemingly because it featured ghosts and Eastern European ethnic tension instead of vampires and/or zombies.

I was defeated.  I was dejected.  I thought about giving up.

Instead, I moved on to Naked in Korea and The Last Cup and wrote this article as an outlet for my frustrations.  For the purposes of including it on my website, I’ve cleaned up its content quite a bit.  I’ve humbled my language and padded out the content.  It’s long, but also funny and, well, mostly TRUE.  I wouldn’t be posting this if I didn’t feel like readers could benefit from it and I want you all to take my advice with a grain of salt.  The 4 points I’m about to lay out will not be 100% true for all of you but they ARE all obstacles that every indie writer must be prepared to face.  You’ve been warned.

Now…enjoy.

4 Soul-Crushing Realities Indie Writers Must Learn to Face

January 26th, 2012:  When deciding that you want to become a writer, you’re probably sure of one thing:  All you have to do is actually sit down and write your book and you will be famous in at least a week—two weeks TOPS.  Within a month, you will be playing epic games of squash with a surprisingly spry Stephen King and drinking champagne out of J.K. Rowling’s navel at author parties while Daft Punk spin the turntables.    DAFT PUNK!  You have probably known for years that this is the kind of life that is out there for you; all you have to do is put in the time and wait for your membership card.

“Yep, good ol’ J.R.R. Tolkien… still in his prime, no less!”

So you write your first novel—an epic fantasy tale that ends up totaling 300,000 words spanning 38 chapters of convoluted history and realms so awesome that Tolkien himself visits you in a dream just to high-five you like Maverick from Top Gun (come to think of it…he even looked an awful lot like Tom Cruise, but you’re still almost positive it was Tolkien).

Okay, you may have overshot that first attempt at a novel.  A little too ambitious, right?  No takers?  Fine.  You can scale it back.  You can reel this in.  You broke the book up into two separate novels, cut out tons of fluff and crafted a perfectly good standalone masterpiece that would set up the next great fantasy series for all ages.  You shipped it off to agents and publishers and waited for the letters to come rolling in.  You eagerly imagined clichés like “breath-taking”, “stunning”, and “a landmark achievement” being hurled in your direction in such volume you’d have to swim through the praise like Scrooge McDuck in coins.

But, of course, nothing happened.  Now it’s time to reevaluate your perception of the publishing world with 4 soul-crushing realities.

“We can wait all day if we have to.”

1.  Agents/Publishers Don’t ALWAYS Know Quality When They See It:  First, I see a need to qualify that the definition of “quality” here refers to “this is a best-seller” and not “this is a very well-written book”.  The distinction is important because this piece is about to refer to Stephanie Meyer as a—grimace—“quality writer” and any literary/English scholars who might be reading this are going to s*** a collective brick at that statement.  No, the point is not that literary agents are idiots.  Agents are usually pretty adept at spotting decent writing.  Of course, they’re better at spotting lousy writing.  But the truth is that agents have no choice but to seek the next best-seller despite the fact that, sadly, predicting popular trends when it comes to literature is kind of like guessing which pigeon in a tree is suddenly going to drop a bomb in your convertible.

If you don’t believe that, just ask J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer.  Both women are two of the highest-grossing authors of our time, but both had to shop their books around almost as much as I did before someone finally rolled the dice on a multi-billion-dollar franchise.  It makes you wonder how many other billion-dollar franchises never found that one agent who took a chance on something others considered “risky” or “derivative”.  The problem is not necessarily with the quality of your work; the problem is that, as a result of being hopelessly jaded by the industry, any given agent may be going into your book with a number of ill-conceived assumptions, including that you have an awful idea, your characters are stereotypes, your grammar is horrendous, your story is cliché, and YOU are an imbecile who scribbled half of your chapters on Arby’s napkins.  And (unfortunately) 95% of what they receive probably fits that bill.

I couldn’t find a funny picture for this paragraph, but my pursuit of one led me to some awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan art. You have GOT to click this link, guys.

Even more frustrating is that in this global age of communication—with wealthy foreign markets on the rise and endless volumes of earthshaking ideas constantly at our fingertips—you would think that there ought to be a hungry mass of people out there looking to give almost any topic a chance.  And that is perfectly true—if you’re wealthy.  The fact is that there is a market for everything, because the only thing that needs to happen for a market to be born is for someone like Oprah Winfrey to say “Buy this book.”  Suddenly, a billion people will buy “Mutant Caveman Summer Vacation Attack Squad!” tomorrow and dub you the next J.D. Salinger.  The first time you picked up “The Kite Runner”, was your first thought “Holy crap!  A book about children in Afghanistan?  I’ve been waiting for this novel my whole life!  This book is so marketable.”  Of course not.  Now there’s a movie and probably a prequel in the works: The Kite Maker.

Looking at Michael Crichton is like staring into the cobalt eyes and reassuring smile of an angel. R.I.P., Sir.

2.  “Write What You Know” Isn’t a Free Pass to a Book Deal:  There may be no more “tried and true” cliché in the whole publishing world than this little gem that you will find in exactly 100% of books offering advice on how to write that first great novel.  It seems like sage advice.  If you’re writing some kind of medical thriller, you had damn well better know your science and medicine—just ask Dr. Michael Crichton, author of The Andromeda Strain and Congo and Jurassic Park.  Clearly his medical degree gave him expertise in pissed-off apes, space viruses, and making giant dinosaurs.  He was an expert!

The trick here is that writing about what you know can only get you so far if part of what you know doesn’t include how to write a freaking marketable novel!  You could be writing your fourth book on a topic in which you have two degrees, years of fairly immersive personal experience, and a prior history of conducted research, and you still may not get a single person in the industry to read a word of what you cranked out.

When it comes to writing a novel, writing about what you know only works if A) you are a vampire or zombie, B) already marginally famous or rich, or C) you lived through something absolutely horrendous and the literary world kind of feels like they owe it to you.  Basically, if your book tells the story of your CPR-certified, firefighting, Vietnam-veteran, Holocaust-survivor uncle who died on 9/11 after plummeting from one of the Trade Centers like Hans Gruber while strangling a terrorist and saving a family of kittens, you are set for life.  Honest, how many of you are thinking back through your family trees right now searching for an obscure relative who nearly fits that bill?  I know I would.  The real problem is that, in writing a book, you may only discover how agonizingly boring you are.

I’m like 99% sure that Aron Ralston deliberately rolled a boulder onto himself and cut half of his arm off just because it was a less painful way of getting published than trying to write a great book and going through the proper channels.

This is what a published author looks like. Yes, it’s okay to start crying hysterically. I would judge you if you didn’t.

3.  Being Professional Is Not a Surefire Way to Get Published:  Another piece of absolutely garbage advice that you’re going to hear from experts who write books about how to get published is that professionalism is the key to getting published.  Okay, that’s being unfair.  Don’t get me wrong; being professional can’t hurt your chances as much as being insanely unprofessional.  But if being professional or respectable were the only way to get published, you wouldn’t have books by Paris Hilton and the Kardashians lining shelves across the country.  The fact is that you can do absolutely everything right and get rejected 30 out of 30 times because your book is not about Justin Bieber or what it’s like having 23 children.

It bears repeating that literary agents ARE NOT IDIOTS, but they can be tremendously unfair and cynical.  I don’t feel like that’s a secret anyone is rushing to cover up.  Deep Throat in a trench coat didn’t whisper that to me between cars in a shadowy parking complex through a haze of cigarette smoke.  Agents are oftentimes overworked, depressing people who are terrified of taking a genuine risk on the high-concept idea of a first-time writer.  That’s bad for us, but probably not bad for business, strictly speaking.  But I once read an advice column from an agent who proudly said he rejected “any book that came with a prologue” and (GRAPHIC VISUAL ALERT) my testicles slammed into each other like the moon colliding with the Earth.  That’s like saying, “I don’t adopt orphans if I know where they come from”.

How dare you, Mr. Indie Author, for having a prologue!  Your audacity ASTOUNDS ME.

This is your best friend. He loves that you wrote a book. He has no intent to actually read it.

4.  “At Least My Friends and Family Will Read It” – If you think this is a given, you should probably go ahead and click this link.  Go on, I promise it’s safe.  This can be a very painful truth but your friends are probably lying to you when they say that the idea for your book sounds “really interesting”.  Your friends are lying to you and maybe even looking you in the eyes while they do it.  Some might even have their hand awkwardly positioned on your inner thigh.  Why?   Because they love you.  That’s right, your friends know how much this means to you and they care enough about the hours you put into your book that they are absolutely scared s***less by the idea of dashing your hope or giving you any gleaming of the reality-check you so desperately need in order to find some semblance of a life and make up for the hundreds of days you may have wasted researching your “masterwork” or “manifesto”.  Ay, caramba!

Of course, another possibility is that your closest friends don’t care at all that you wrote a book because society now takes for granted what were once considered lofty accomplishments.  It used to be considered bragging rights to know someone who had published a book or made a video or recorded a song, but nowadays even your roommate’s little sister is dropping an entire album’s worth of nasally Rhianna covers on her Myspace page.  Thanks to pages like YouTube, every other jackass in your apartment building has probably put out at least one video that scored over a million hits which means your own friends can no longer be held responsible for separating the very real achievements of people they know from the superficial ones of those they don’t.

Besides, your friends and family are the last people on Earth who you’re going to trick into buying your crappy novel.  They’ve read your clumsy Facebook notes about how awesome the new Ke$ha album is.  They’ve seen you mercilessly confuse words like “their”, “there”, and “they’re” in your Facebook statuses or Tweets with such animosity that you could almost be brought before a UN criminal tribunal and accused of war crimes.  Now you expect them to suffer 200 pages of garbage tinged with all the inane banter, political or religious rhetoric, shallow social commentary, and terrible jokes with which you annoy them on a daily basis??  If your closest friend randomly comes up to you tomorrow and punches you as hard as he can in the face, you are obligated to let it go.  You probably earned it.

If you’re reading this, I’m not saying your writing is automatically that awful.  I’m just speaking in hyperbole.  But I guarantee that at least one person who happens across this entry is writing a book his or her friends and family will hate.  If I hurt someone’s feelings with this post, here’s a nice cartoon I found on the Internet to make it all better :)

It’s a Trap! Admiral Ackbar’s 6 Indie Author Traps to Avoid

If my most recent post (“Sean’s Top 7 Indie Author Annoyances”) is any indication, my fine readers seem to love when I vent about the frustrations we indie authors endure.  And why not?  After all, we face so many of them—everything from agents rejecting our masterpieces to critics telling us our masterpieces aren’t actually even masterpieces in the first place to Microsoft Word telling us a green-underlined portion of our manuscript is a “fragment” when we’ve double-checked it a million damn times and it’s not a bloody fragment, MS Word!!!  Whew.  Yes, on any given day we indie authors are probably given a million reasons encouraging us to jump ship on this whole adventure, and these reasons can leave us susceptible to falling into a handful of indie author traps.

Oh, and if you don’t know who Admiral Ackbar is, he’s that character from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi who looks like a cross between a catfish and the actor Peter Lorre (at least he does to me).  It’s not really all that important from here on out.  Let’s continue:

1.  Falling Into Query Limbo – No, this isn’t what happens when you’re querying potential agents/editors in Jamaica (although maybe it should be…).  This is what happens when you get sucked into the black hole of query submission, during which you are not working on other projects.   You send out the first slew of query letters, you hear nothing.  You work a little more on your book, tweaking and editing a few things, and then you send out another batch of letters.  You hear nothing.  This cycle could go on and on, for all you know, and this is a LONG process:  Some agencies require up to 6 weeks to review queries and that’s a long time to wait!

I know as well as anyone that it can be difficult to admit defeat on a project, but if you have sent out 20 query letters without a single response or request for material, you should really reevaluate your project.  Why?  Because it seems evident that you have a fatal flaw with one of the following:  Your query letter, your story, your writing, your genre, or the agencies to whom you are submitting.  I will elaborate on some of the finer points of this bullet below, but the point is to be exploring other projects and writing outlets even while you’re shopping agents/editors for a completed manuscript.  For all you know, the NEXT book you write will actually sell!

Disclaimer: I do not know Dean Koontz.

2.  Period Publishing – When I say “Period Publishing”, I’m not talking about trying to publish a period piece; I’m talking about shipping sample chapters off to agencies and editors the second you type the final period at the end of your manuscript.  I don’t care if you’re Indie-author Jones or Dean F***in’ Koontz (Mr. Koontz and I go way back; he insists that I call him that), your book is not ready to be dropped in the lap of someone in the industry the moment you finish it.  Your book should be treated with all the delicacy and scrutiny as if a friend told you a burglar broke into your house one night, sat down at your computer, opened up your manuscript, and dropped “1-3” absolutely unutterable racial slurs somewhere in your 300 page manuscript and they aren’t ones you’ll be able to find just by hitting CTRL+F.

3.  Refusing to Sell Out – As much as I hate to say it, you also should not be afraid to just sell out.  Maybe you have an absolutely fantastic idea for a vampire, werewolf, zombie book, but you don’t want to write it because the genre is so tired.  Pump the brakes!  Are those genres still marketable/popular?  Yes?  Is your idea really a great one?  Yes?  Then WRITE THAT BOOK.  Write it now!  If there is one thing the YA market has taught us it’s that the world always has room for one more vampire love-triangle.  Is it awesome that you have the integrity to not want to write something that’s already been done?  You betcha, but I would rather pet myself on the back all the way to a paycheck than keep living in squalor with the knowledge that I could have written a book that sold a million copies.  That’s what sucks about integrity:  You can’t purchase things at Best Buy with it.

I’ve tried.

If you’re concerned about selling out, might I point you to the landmark case of Furtado v. Music.  Nelly Furtado burst onto the music scene in 2000 with her popular album Woah, Nelly! which sold a ton of records, had a couple of hot singles, and made her like a bazillion dollars.  Her follow-up to that album?  A more folky, stripped down album that, I’ve always heard, was more of a passion project in keeping with her roots and values but didn’t sell very well.  After THAT album?  A sexed-up, hip-hop album that made her another bazillion dollars, which she ALSO followed up with a more independent, Spanish-language album that didn’t bring her mainstream success but was also probably more in keeping with what she wanted to do, like her folky sophomore effort.  The point is that sometimes you have to sell out in order to write the books that YOU want to write.  Focus on the market first and if you have a passion project in mind, develop that separately.  DON’T ABANDON IT!  Just wait for the right time to release it.

4.  Devoting Too Much Time to Social Media Promotion – I’ve had quite a few fun conversations in the talkback on this site about social media.  Everyone wants to know how to use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to increase sells, promote new projects, and establish a market for one’s work independently.  Am I an expert?  Hell no!  Twitter has been invaluable for helping me attract interest in this blog and in my books, but this has been a LONG process and not one that has been extremely beneficial to me in any financial sense.

However, there is one thing that I know for certain:  When I’m screwing around on Twitter or Facebook, I am absolutely NOT writing anything worthwhile.  When I’m tweeting, I’m not editing.  When I’m bookin’, I’m not working on my actual books.  That is a problem for writers!  I have come to realize that, for all my efforts in social media, I will probably never be as successful at promoting my own books as those in the publishing industry, so my incentive turns back to writing something good enough to be formally published.  Unless I get extremely lucky and happen to write the next 50 Shades of Grey (that seems highly unlikely), I will never be able to make a living doing everything on my own.

5.  Falling into Editing Limbo – One aspect of my site that I’m trying to remedy is that I speak mostly to prospective authors like myself who plan to make a long living writing multiple books.  However, I do not wish to alienate the many writers I’ve met through this website who confess to having the noble goal of writing only one book.  Sometimes I downplay what an accomplishment it is to write a book.  Most people do not have the discipline to embark on this journey and anyone who does should be commended.

But why am I mentioning this here, under the headline “Blah blah blah Editing Limbo”?  Because it has been my experience that indie authors who are focusing all their energy on one book are also those who tend to fall into the black hole of editing.  Maybe this isn’t true for you; I only came to this conclusion based on the writers who I met at my most recent conference.  Most of those writers were older than myself and had fallen into the limbo of either endlessly editing their manuscripts or throwing out and rewriting chapters they had already written.  Let’s just lump that ALL together under the same “Limbo”.

If you have fallen into this trap, the best advice I can give you is to seek out a writer’s group.  It sounds like you don’t have confidence in what you’ve written.  The feedback of a writer’s group should give you a better understanding of whether or not you have been right all along to throw out your material and how you might improve going forward.  Such a group might also help bolster your confidence so that you can move forward and write new material or finally wrap up your edits and begin the querying process.  I could keep going for another 5,000 words on this issue, but I need to wrap up this article.

6.  Avoiding Networking – Whatever you do, do not alienate the writers around you.  The writing community can be your greatest resource in pointing you to agencies, editors, peer reviews, writing groups, conferences, theme parks, best hot dogs in town, etc.  If you’ve ever applied for a job in the U.S. in this economy, you have probably learned that 90% of success is who you know.  The same can be true in the publishing industry.  Make a name for yourself, be friendly, and become your own brand.  I have yet to find an industry that has no place for kindness and honesty.

Earlier in this piece, I remarked that on any given day we indie authors are probably given a million reasons encouraging us to jump ship on this whole adventure.  You might agree with that or you might reject it.  Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, I only receive about 400,750 reasons a day…”  Whatever.  There is only one thing I can tell you as reassurance:  In spite of all the frustrations we face, all it takes is one perfectly-chosen word, one startlingly clever piece of dialogue, one period at the end of a newly completed chapter to remind us why we do this.  If every sentence you’ve written throws some fuel on your fire—some burning desire to want to reread that sentence a hundred times and make it better and better and BETTER—then you have the passion and that passion is a gift you should cherish.  If you can look yourself in the mirror and see, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that you have such conviction, never abandon that passion.  Just try to refine that passion and, with any luck, some day you will reach your goal.

Odds & Ends (AUGUST 2012)

Howdy, Readers & Well-Wishers!

While I’m working on my next full post for this page, which should be available sometime today or tomorrow, I just wanted to tie up a few loose ends here and there.

First off, there is a wonderful new interview with me from the charming Miss Kim over at the SOS ALOHA blog.  I may not be making it over to beautiful Hawaii any time soon, but I’m glad my books are.  You can find the specific post about me here.  Her website combines all the awesomeness of promoting indie authors with the cynical, bitter reality or remembering that most of us do not live in a tropical paradise.

I will shortly be conducting another interview with the fine ex-pats (always reminds me of X-Men) at The Displaced Nation, which seems like the perfect tie in for Naked in Korea.  Keep an eye out for that and I’ll let you know when the interview lands.  In the meantime, cruise on over to their page and have a gander at some pretty cool travelogues and memoirs.  They run a very fine-looking site.

In other news, I apologize sincerely to anyone who I have been pestering on Twitter lately.  I’ll be honest; I got a little greedy and upped my Twitter-Bot to 250 posts a day.  This actually had the reverse effect for my site that I had intended, plummeting my views from 750 a day to a meager 300. Oh well, this is how we learn.  I took it upon myself to experiment a little and it backfired.  Fortunately, I’ve already scaled my tweets back down so as not to annoy the crap out of everyone.  I’m considering starting a separate Twitter account for all of my book promotions, but I have yet to figure out how exactly that might be a less obnoxious alternative.

I also apologize to you if you’ve happened to find yourself blocked by me on Twitter.  Honestly, I think the odds are very remote that this has happened to any of you.  But I do routinely block people for posting hateful, divisive, and (chiefly) ignorant propaganda against Democrats OR Republicans.  I’m also not on Twitter to be religiously persuaded, so I routinely block folks who do nothing but SPAM me with messages from various deities, holy books, or what have you.  I’m on Twitter to follow and be followed strictly by other writers and readers; anyone else is collateral damage, so far as I’m concerned.  Thank you for understanding.

Finally, everything seems to be coming together for me to have The Last Cup published on about August 29th, marking the culmination of my long-awaited (I’m speaking primarily for myself) return to fiction.  The official release date is September 1st, 2012, but I would not be surprised to see it drop a bit earlier.  Edits are going really well and, above all, I think I’m finally truly happy with the story I’ve crafted.  Obviously, I’ll be making huge posts about that in the coming weeks and, if all goes according to plan, I should have at least one more book out by Christmas.  It might even be another pseudo-science-fiction endeavor.

Thank you again so much to those of you who have followed this blog religiously.  I’m trying to do a better job at replying to comments.  Some of you are just too awesome for me to keep ignoring and I’m thrilled to have shared some laughs with many of you.  Luckily, I’ve even had a few agents poking around here and there in response to some of my articles.  If you’re listening, agents, I’M STILL LOOKING FOR ONE OF YOU TO REPRESENT ME!!!  WHAT’S IT GONNA TAKE???

Okay, I’m out of here.  …Starting to sound desperate now.

Peace,

Sean

Sean’s Top 7 Indie Author Annoyances

A mass of writhing arms and desperate fingers all outstretched and grasping for lifeforce clamors around me.  The lights are blinding and all we can hear is the incessant droning of some pacifying music in the distance.  I hear orders being spouted left and right from the void.  It is impossibly hot in the crowd.  Every surging movement of the horde ripples across me and I feel like I am trapped within the hull of some ancient ship churning on the darkest seas.  Black liquid pours through tubes on the walls across from us and, though I know its foul taste well, I feel drawn to it in my despair.  The world around me is fading.  The black fluid is the only substance that might sustain me…

No, that’s not an excerpt from my upcoming dystopian novel.  I’m just at Starbucks.

Starbucks is one of those places that reminds me why I might have picked the wrong hobby.  There are few things on Earth that I enjoy more than sitting peacefully—usually with my fiancée—enjoying a cup of coffee and just talking for hours on end.  When I’m trying to write, I usually seek the sweet, silent refuge of my local public library, but just for today I ventured over to Starbucks to enjoy a different atmosphere.  Here, everything is loud and tense—a loudness and tenseness ironically soundtracked by the soothing serenade of some laid back indie group I’ve never heard of.  People keep giving me scathing looks because here I am sitting alone in the madness just enjoying a cup of coffee by myself.  Most of these folks who look so annoyed haven’t even purchased anything; they’re just staring at me, laptops in hand, waiting to see if I’ll finally move so that they can have the outlet next to me.  Oh, I’m sorry!  Am I in your office???  Excuse me for drinking coffee…at a Starbucks.

And, before you say anything, yes I realize that I’m obviously writing this on my own laptop and, yes, I’m still at Starbucks.  I’m not that clueless.  I actually did give up my original spot so that someone could have the outlet.  I’m now typing in one of the cushy chairs by myself.  The point is I BOUGHT COFFEE.  Also, it would appear that everyone’s just looking for an outlet.  That’s kind of profound, right?

But since I’m at Starbucks and since I’m quite annoyed by the vibe here, I thought I’d weigh in on a few of my indie author annoyances and see what others have to say.  This list could (and probably should) go on and on and on.  Tell me your annoyances in the comments!  I’ll bet I share most of them :)

1.  Facebook – Facebook has probably cost me more time as a writer than any other force on the planet.  Why?  Because every single author my age does this:  Sit down, prepare to write, pause, check Facebook just one last time, keep checking Facebook, Facebook stalk, play random Facebook game, make note to write tomorrow, go to work.  Okay, I’m not that bad.  But you know why Shakespeare was so damn prolific?  Because he didn’t have to worry about Facebook!  As writers, we have to learn to resist that temptation to check our email or Facebook “one last time” before we start writing. I say, reverse your state of mind.  “Today, I think I’ll write just one more page before I check Facebook”.

“AGENTS, WHY YOU NO GIVE ME HONESTY?”

2.  Form Rejections – We all receive rejection letters.  If you aren’t enduring rejection, you’re doing something wrong.  Rejection is not failure; it is only a divot on the road to success.  That might sound pretty contrived but I actually just thought of it and I stand by my statement.  Believe me, I get the need for rejection letters from agents.  I even understand the need for form rejection letters.  No one is more sympathetic to the amount of work that falls into agencies’ laps every day than I am.

It’s the lack of accountability and bulls*** that irritates me in form rejection letters.  I only want to hear one thing from an agent who doesn’t want my book and doesn’t have time to tell me why:  “No.”  I’ll be annoyed by that, too, believe me, but I’ll understand and respect the agent’s terseness.  It’s the following statements that I hate hearing from agencies:  “It’s just not a good fit for us.” “It’s not right for us at this time.” “Our rejection should not be taken as an indictment of your work or ability.”  That last one always gets me.  Oh, I’m sorry for interpreting your rejection as rejection.  And what is “not a good fit for us” supposed to mean?  “We aren’t currently accepting good writing”?  I would rather receive a form rejection telling me my book is “absolutely terrible”.  At least that would tell me to regroup and start from scratch instead of leaving me to tread water because an agency could not afford to take accountability for its own dismissal of my book.  Finally, that brings us to “not a good fit for us at this time”, which implies to me that an agency is basically telling me “We could conceive of a future or parallel universe where perhaps your work would be considered publishable.  We advise you to seek out a time machine or the device from Sliders.”  I’ll get right on that, agents.

Four shots of espresso and I start talking like him, too.

3.  This Chick’s Voice at Starbucks:  This wasn’t originally going to be on this list but in the twenty minutes now that I’ve been writing this entry, her voice has climbed to #3.  This barista’s voice is somewhere between Bill Cosby, Gollum, and Rosanne, I s*** you not.  It would almost be impressive if it weren’t so damn grating.  And for some reason she keeps shouting German and giggling.  Thank you, Starbucks, for hiring only America’s finest.   On the bright side, sitting at Starbucks actually reminds me of a funny thing a friend of mine said a few months ago.  I told her one of my friends was studying to become a “barrister”.  My friend pauses for a second and looks me square in the eye before saying, “She’s studying to work at Starbucks?” (rimshot)

4.  Writer’s Block – It had to be on the list somewhere, right?  I did a whole entry on WB a few weeks ago so I’m not going to dwell on it all over again.  One thing is certain:  There is nothing more annoying than being in the middle of penning a great novel and suddenly not knowing what happens next.  When you have two really exciting scenes, but you don’t know how to connect them, your instinct might be to just throw up a bridge and hope for the best.  If you’re like me, though, doing this is usually what brings your narrative to a screeching halt because the bridge is built on a solid foundation of boring.  Never settle for a rickety wooden bridge when your mind is capable of The Golden Gate Bridge.  Sometimes all you need is patience, but the experience itself can be quite annoying for sure.

BRAIN, WHY YOU NO WORK WHEN I NEEDS YOU NOW???

5.  Forgetting to Write Down a Great Idea – I think this is the twentieth time I’ve mentioned on this blog that I get most of my really good ideas just as I’m laying down to sleep, which is terrible for sleep, but great for productivity.  A few years ago, when I was just embarking on my first attempt at writing a novel, I used to just let those ideas sit until morning.  Usually, I would remember the really great ideas and forget some of the smaller detail stuff at about 65% success.  But let’s just say I forgot to write down five great ideas in my lifetime.  Well, that’s FIVE great ideas that I’ll never get to see blossom.  That could be FIVE opportunities that I missed—FIVE books I failed to publish.  Nobody likes to linger on the one that got away, but the best way to keep those ideas from falling into that oblivion where you keep “that one guy’s name from high school”, “the place with that awesome cheeseburger”, and “the name of that one movie…you know which one I’m talking about…it had the guy doing the thing,” is to WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING.  Here, I’ll get you a pen.  You should probably write that down.

6.  Cardigans – Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.

7.  Other Indie Authors – Oh, don’t get indignant.  We’re supposed to be laughing WITH each other.  There is no question that this article would not be complete without us.  If you’re following me on Twitter, you’ve probably been annoyed by the like 180 comments that my Tweet Bot posts every day.  Trust me, I wouldn’t be insulted if you told me that.  I’m annoyed that I have to do that to you folks, but it’s the only way I know to consistently promote this website and my books and make money.  I’m 26 years old and I have bills to pay.  I know for a fact that I annoy some people.  It can also be annoying for some of us to receive constant questions from other writers regarding fairly mundane things like “how do I format an e-book?” or “what’s the best way to get published?” There are HUNDREDS of books and websites on both of these EXTREMELY COMPLICATED issues and, as for the second one, I pretty much devote a whole freaking website to it so WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME DIRECTLY???  I love aspiring writers and I love sharing battle stories and lessons, but I do get annoyed by people who act like they expect me to do their homework for them.  Fortunately, 98% of you don’t meet that description.  Why?  Because 75% of you are awesome (!!!)…and the other 23% of you are spambots trying to sell me hair products.

Sean Quote:  “Landing a literary agent is not about catching the biggest fish; it’s about making sure your paddle is big enough to knock out whatever you happen to reel in.”

 

The Summary of All Fears: A Few More Points on Writing Your Synopsis

UPDATE: I fixed the title.  I meant to play on “Sum of all fears”, not evils.  Guess I had it confused with “Root of all evil”.  I’m not sure what a “Sum of all evils” is, however (in keeping with the tone of the article), I’m fairly sure it has something to do with the Kardashians.

Readers, you’ll have to excuse me this morning if my writing bounces around a lot.  My Bosnian Editor Girlfriend made me some authentic Yugoslavian coffee this morning—I dubbed it “Bosnian Motor Oil”—and now I feel like The Flash.  I swear to Krishna that time is moving at about half-speed and I think I probably look like a hairy orange blur to everyone else around me (I’m wearing an orange shirt and I’m especially hairy).  However, I want to do my best to focus on one topic this morning:  The infamous synopsis.

I know some people absolutely hate the process of writing a synopsis; I actually quite enjoy it.  For me, writing a synopsis is like fondly remembering the book I’ve just written.  I get to pay tribute to the crux of my book’s story, I get to clearly outline the best attributes of my protagonist, and also paint a simple portrait of my antagonist/conflict.  While I will admit that this is no easy feat, it is becoming an easier process with experience.

Nevertheless, I’ve always wondered about the synopses written by some of our greatest authors to describe some of their classics.  Does anyone else agonize over this?  Anybody else ever wonder how Tolstoy could have summed up War and Peace in a page?  Or, for example, I’m reading 1984 right now (I know, I know…should’ve read it when I was like 17 or 18 but the opportunity never came along) and I can’t imagine Orwell writing a synopsis for what I’ve read so far.  The book is so dense and “Big Picture” that it would be a challenge for me to summarize the challenges faced by Winston—how do you characterize a conflict/antagonist when the conflict is the very system itself?  I know how I probably would have written that synopsis, but I would be much more interested in Orwell’s characterization of it.

Also, I can’t help but wonder what Orwell would think about pop media today.  I wish I could sit down with him and enjoy Jersey Shore and Kardashians.  I believe he’d probably think he painted too rosy a picture with 1984.  I wonder if he would also get a kick out of us having a reality show called Big Brother or if his head would implode from the irony.  I apologize to any of my readers who love reality TV but, to me, watching TLC or MTV nowadays is kind of like looking at the Ark of the Covenant.  End of rant.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, the synopsis thing!  (Damn you, coffee!) Some people recommend that you have two versions of a synopsis—a short one-page version and a longer 3-5 page version.  I say, why not—better safe than sorry—but I’ll also admit that I have yet to find a single agency that requests the longer version.  I have never submitted a synopsis that wasn’t of the one-page variety.  This makes sense because in this Go-Go-Go economy that finds agencies understaffed, overworked, and inundated with (let’s face it) more pyrite and coal than gold, agents need to hear your story Now-Now-Now so that, not unlike Jay-Z, they can move on to the next one.  Personally, I find the short synopsis easier to write because of the limitation.  If I can be a little bit graphic, the process of writing a short synopsis is kind of like deboning a chicken, whereas with the longer version, you have to decide which meat to keep, how to cook it, and which meat to throw out.  If that analogy doesn’t make sense, keep in mind that I don’t cook very often.  Most of my meat comes deboned.

…Then again, some agents would probably say the synopses they receive do, too. (rimshot)

So you need to do everything in your power to keep the bones of your story intact.  Never forget the rules of query letter writing.  You need to mention your most important character first, as well as the antagonist.  You should outline a very brief description of the attributes of your character that are important to your story, but don’t dwell on things like hair or eye color.  The next part is absolutely essential:  Clearly describe the challenges and conflict that your protagonist will face.  This is not as easy as it sounds.  I know from experience that many people think they are doing this when they actually aren’t.  An agent needs some idea of why a challenge is of profound importance to your main character and how that character’s arc will be influenced by said challenge/obstacle over the course of your book.  This is the most important aspect of your query letter and of your synopsis, and it should be complemented by a characterization of your protagonist’s emotions, motivations, outlook, etc.

Usually, we see these sorts of qualities in a great movie trailer.  Think back to every Harrison Ford or Liam Neeson movie of the past decade.  The trailer begins with a shot of the protagonist sharing a happy moment with a daughter or wife—a token “loved one”.  What happens next?  Cue ambiguously ethnic criminal or terrorist mastermind to kidnap that loved one, followed immediately by a close-up of the emotional response on the protagonist’s face.  Uh-oh!  They exchange some sort of one-liners with each other:

Neeson: “I will find you.  I will kill you.”

Terrorist: “Good luck.”

Neeson: “No, really.  I’m serious.”

Terrorist: “Oh, I know.”

Neeson:  “Really.”

Terrorist: “I believe you.”

You would not believe how hard it was to find a picture of a villain talking on a phone.

Neeson: “…(Silence)”

Terrorist: “…Are you still there?”

Neeson: “Oh, yeah…Sorry, I dropped the phone…Damn thing…(fumbling, scratching noise in background)…Just charged the battery, but it’s beeping.”

Terrorist:  “You shouldn’t leave it plugged into the charger overnight.  It really drains the battery.”

Neeson: “Oh.  Thanks.  Recap:  Give me back my daughter or I’ll kill you.”

And we all know what happens after that:  Frantic, brief shots of Liam Neeson kicking all sorts of ass (if Liam Neeson were a country,  his number one export would be the amount of ass that he kicks, resulting in the most robust economy on Earth), interspersed with explosions, death-defying leaps, some indication that things will go bad for him, etc.

Your synopsis should go just one step forward.  Without giving away the plot, you will give some nuanced indication of how your story is resolved.  This does not mean spoiling the ending, only giving an agent some indication that there is a resolution.  I’m leading into another extremely contentious point among the agents with whom I have discussed synopses:  Should you just give away the ending?  Some agents say “Absolutely” and some say “Of course NOT”.  Since they couldn’t give me a clear answer, I can’t give you one.  All I can say is that Writers’ Digest tells you DO reveal the ending while I prefer to lay out all the ingredients to the ending and give the agent some idea of how it will taste, but I don’t actually send them the finished cake.  I want them to have some idea that Liam Neeson probably gets his daughter back, but I don’t want them to know exactly how many gravelly-voiced Persians, Saudi Arabians, Chechens, Serbians, Armenians, Somalians, etc. he had to punch in the face to get her back.

Taken is a racist, racist movie.  Fun, but racist.

A few closing points:  Your synopsis does not need dialogue.  Remember that over-the-top, confusing dialogue exchange I wrote earlier in this article?  Yeah—nothing like that has any place in your synopsis.  Also, you should write in the third-person, even if your novel is in the first-person, unless you’ve written a memoir, in which case your synopsis should read like a novel synopsis but it’s okay to go FP, based on what I’ve read from the experts.  And, of course, only highlight the most pivotal plot points in your synopsis.  “Pivotal” means anything that propels the plot forward:  Twists and turns welcome.  “Pivotal” means anything that increases the stakes or forces your character to adapt to new challenges.  “Pivotal” means “Not only does Liam Neeson discover that a ragtag team of European/Middle Eastern stereotypes have kidnapped his daughter, he also discovers she is also a robot sent from the future.”

Man, that series just writes itself:  Taken 2: Retaken, Taken 3: Retaken…AGAIN, and you could even do a prequel Taken Aback or a comedic reboot, Look Who’s Taken.  I can’t wait to see more movies set in this rich and colorful cinematic universe.  My only requirement:  Liam Neeson must star in all of them.

ATTENTION: Help a Fellow Indie Writer and Friend

Hey everyone,

So my dear indie author comrade Emily Walker is kickstarting a Kickstarter campaign for her book, Zombified, in order to help pay an editor and cover some of her other fees.  She would greatly appreciate your donations to her cause and why SHOULD you give her your consideration?  Because she’s a fine writer, a good human being (to the best of my knowledge), and a phenomenal interviewer of indie authors, and she could use our help!  You can view her campaign at the following link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/635182599/publishing-zombified

This is also a great chance to familiarize yourself with Kickstarter, which has blown up in recent months as a way for indie artists in music, film, and literature to help fund their dream projects in this difficult economy.  Support Emily and help her reach her goal and you will literally be helping to make dreams come true.  If you’re a writer yourself, you may want to consider founding your own project.  Kickstarter could very well serve as a crucial avenue for us indie writers to help build a network of funding and moral support in these lean times that would promote risk-taking and originality in a publishing climate that seems bent on saying “No” rather than “Yes”.

5 More Genre Clichés That Need a Stake Through the Heart (…Or Are They Immortal??)

Sorry I’ve been M.I.A. for the last three or four days.  My plate is pretty swarmed at the moment with wrapping up The Last Cup (second round of edits now underway), designing artistic content for The Last Cup (more on that in the coming weeks), and studying for the GMAT in preparation for my upcoming business school applications.  I was also sidetracked by my high school’s alumni soccer game, which was a heck of a fun time for me, except it led to a rather startling revelation.  Just before the game, I was rummaging through the darkest recesses of my childhood closet in search of a bag for my equipment (I was staying at my parents’ house for the alumni game) and somewhere in the shadows my fingers scraped unblemished cardboard that had been neglected for 13 or 14 years by my estimate.  I stretched farther into the abyss and wrapped my fingers around the mysterious form and withdrew from the depths of oblivion a weapon the likes of which man, I fear, was not meant to wield:

“If you aren’t humming ‘Duel of the Fates’ in your head right now, there is something seriously wrong with you.”

If you aren’t sure what that is, it’s an unopened, plastic, dual-bladed Darth Maul light saber toy replica from Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.  Considering that that sword was the one thing from that movie, in my opinion, that actually worked, it was kind of a big deal that I abruptly found this object which was clearly meant as some sort of Christmas gift for a happy-go-lucky 14-year-old Sean Chandler, who was HUGE into Star Wars back then.  But somehow time forgot the precious light saber that was supposed to be mine and now I demand a mulligan on my entire childhood.  I could have had a light saber???  What the f*** is that bull****?!  The one toy that my mom evidently forgot to give me was the one toy that could have erased this chronic narcissism and sardonic outlook on life that has been with me since puberty.  It was like finding out you actually did win the lottery way back when, but you never checked your numbers because you thought:  No way is there a lightsaber IN MY OWN F***ING CLOSET!

My first instinct was to assemble my closest geek friends and bring them together around a table upon which the device would be placed.  There would be Battlestar Galactica geeks, Star Wars geeks, Star Trek geeks, Dr. Who geeks…all the geek races I could assemble, and we would discuss the fate of the toy.  Inevitably, I would probably bring together a…let’s call it a “fellowship” to take the lightsaber back to its place of origin (Wal-Mart, I’m guessing) and cast it back to whence it came.  The Star Wars geeks, of course, would insist that I keep it and use it as the great chick magnet it was destined to be.  The Star Trek geeks, however, would tell me that no one geek was ever meant to wield such power.  And, of course, The Battlestar Galactica geeks would just be sitting there waiting eagerly to slip “So Say We All” or “Frak” into the conversation as soon as possible.  So say we frakking all.

I can only assume that God must have intervened to keep the weapon away from me.  College probably would have gone a lot differently for me if I had shown up freshman year with my double-bladed lightsaber in tow—carrying it to class, wielding it at fraternity parties, turning it on just before my finals.  I either would have been the most popular student at Centre College or…No, I’m pretty sure I just would have been the most popular student at Centre College.  Ever.

Anyway, I’m writing on the seat of my pants today so I’m going to weigh in on five clichés that I came up with while contemplating my dystopian clichés article.  People seem to enjoy these sorts of pieces and it also gives me an excuse to be funny and biting without actually making anyone mad.  So, hope you will enjoy this, folks!  Here are Five More Clichés That Need a Stake Through the Heart (…Or Are They Immortal??)

Also, whose bright idea was it to rename werewolves “Lycan”?   They now share their name with the cold-weather fungus primarily consumed by the terrifying caribou.

1.  Vampires vs. Werewolves – Stake through the heart!  And you’re to blame!  You give vampirism a bad name!” Sorry, when I wrote the title to this article, it got me singing Bon Jovi for some reason.  Anyway, when did horror/tween-horror writers all come to the consensus that vampires and werewolves are like sworn enemies or something?  Do bats and wolves regularly fight each other in the wild?  It doesn’t seem likely.  First you have Twilight and the Underworld series of movies, and I’m sure there are probably a thousand knock-offs that I don’t even know about (mainly because I tend to stay away from those sorts of books), but if there is one thing even True Blood has taught us it’s that when you get a bunch of vampires around nowadays, you can bet your bloody bottom that werewolves will be joining the party sooner or later.  If you ask me, somebody needs to take one of those sticky-roller things that my mom uses to get dog/cat hair off our furniture and take it over the entire library of modern vampire fiction.  It’s nothing against werewolves.  In fact, I think every dog should have his day…just maybe in his own book.

2.  Split Personalities – How many times have you seen this scenario:  An author or detective or, let’s say, professional masseuse is trying to come up with an idea for a horrible murderer, is trying to find a horrible murderer, or, um…is trying to massage a horrible murderer (I probably should have picked a better third example…) when suddenly that person discovers he HAS BEEN THE HORRIBLE MURDERER ALL ALONG.  Oh, the humanity!  A few examples that come to mind are Chuck Palahniuk’s (who is now celebrating the twentieth time I’ve had to look up the spelling of his name on Google) Fight Club and the movies Identity, Secret Window, High Tension, Hide & Seek, Perfect Stranger, The Number 23, and, I believe, Babe: Pig in the City.  If you’ve never heard of half of those movies, it’s because most of them were deemed terrible (except for Fight Club, which still rules to this day) because of this totally exhausted twist ending, which is now viewed as the ultimate copout in murder fiction.

3.  The Damsel in Distress – Growing up, I must have played Mario Bros. for Nintendo about 3,000 times.  Maybe that’s why I have such a problem with “Damsel in Distress” narratives.  That’s just not the world I live in anymore and, frankly, I’m tired of seeing characters run from castle to castle trying to rescue princesses that probably should never have gotten themselves kidnapped in the first place.  It’s the 21st century, people!  Where are our “Mansels” in distress?  I think there’s more than enough room for strong heroines in this post-Ripley, post-Samus Aran, post-Erin Brockovich, post-Jane Eyre, post-Hermoine, post-Katniss, post-Dora the Explorer world!  If you all will take the pledge to portray more strong female characters, I promise to uphold the oath, as well.

4.  Mentor Trains Young Destined Hero – Another tried and true formula of many a genre is “Elderly sage offers free mentoring and wisdom to younger, naïve, destined hero”.  You don’t have to stretch far to find a thousand examples here:  Mr. Miyagi, Dumbledore, Gandalf, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Morpheus, Aslan, and I could keep going.  The whiter the beard, the better.  Of course, as I pointed out before, if the hero is truly “destined”, why do we even need the mentor?  I say, “Step aside, Beardy—I’ll figure it out.”  Wax on, wax off, my ass (Karate Kid, in case you don’t get the reference).

5.  Dark, Stormy Nights – One of my favorite clichés and something has haunted literature ever since Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.  Dark, stormy nights are a cheap and tired way to lend suspense or menace to a scene.  Imagine this: “It was a dark and stormy night when the alien spaceships descended through the clouds and began obliterating New York with their cosmic death rays, murdering thousands in one fell swoop as lightning roared throughout the sky.”  If alien spaceships wiping out humanity doesn’t lend enough menace and sinister tone to your novel, then there is some other problem with your book—and it ain’t the weather.  Your writer will not read that sentence and say, “It wasn’t enough that the aliens were invading and killing everyone, but the weather sucked too??  Boy, what a rollercoaster ride this author has crafted!”  By bringing weather into any narrative, you’re implying some sort of unnecessary link between the action and climate, as if the characters in that scenario might be thinking:  “The spaceships and aliens I can handle, but this storm?  Oy vey!  Why couldn’t the aliens have picked a nicer day to invade?”  If you’re a Seinfeld fan, this sort of writing can only make me imagine that you are George Costanza’s parents.

But Are These Clichés Immortal?  Having laid out five more clichés that frustrate me in fiction, I do want to ask the big question:  Can all of these clichés ever truly be eliminated?  Can hero stories operate without the mentor, who serves as a crucial plot device in usually providing the reader with necessary exposition and a clear explanation of what’s at stake?  Speaking of stakes, are vampires unfairly limited by operating in worlds where they are the only monsters?  Do werewolves and vampires need each other because, as tired as vampire-werewolf wars might be, those wars are still better than retreads of Dracula and The Wolfman?  Do we need the split personality cliché to continue because there are few fears more profound than the thought of losing one’s own mind?  I might be tired of these clichés but I can’t help but be drawn to the question of why they have endured, so I ask you this:  In what bold new directions can we take these exhausted gimmicks?  How does one break the cliché?