Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nathan Bransford's blog: Required reading for writers

Nathan Bransford is a literary agent with the San Francisco office of Curtis Brown, Ltd. If you're a writer and don't already subscribe to his blog, I strongly suggest you do! You won't believe how much you can learn about what agents do, what they like/dislike, and what's going on in the publishing world today. Check him out!

Click his link under "Resources for Writers."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How to attract good luck -- I'm open!

Last Sunday morning I was floating in the pool reading How to Attract Good Luck, a book written by A.H.Z. Carr and published in 1952. God knows where I picked up this little gem, but I know I bought it second hand; it still has the $2.00 sticker on the cover. I want to share some simple principles from Chapter 2, “How Zest Exposes Us to Luck.”

According to the author, in order to attract good luck, we must first be exposed to it. Carr states that most of the time a lucky episode occurs when somebody says something important to us, and that a high proportion of luck comes to us through strangers. “Between ourselves and those who cross our path,” Carr says, “chance throws out an invisible thread of awareness, a ‘luck-line.’ It is not too much to say that any new acquaintance to whom we throw out a luck-line represents a possible gain in our future luck and happiness.”

Carr goes on: “To say that to expose ourselves to luck, then, means in essence to come into healthy human relationships with more people.” This means the more luck-lines you throw out, the more luck you’re likely to find.

The author contends that “unexpected friendliness” is the secret of much of the luck of life and offers this verse from Edwin Arlington Robinson:

“There came along a man who looked at him
With such an unexpected friendliness
And talked with him in such a common way
That life grew marvelously different.”

Unexpected friendliness. Are you leaving yourself open to it?

I often say that writing is a lonely endeavor; the overwhelming majority of us are soloists. But think of the luck that could happen if instead of writing at home, we move to a café or other public place.

Unexpected friendliness. Are you offering it to others? That's the key, if you ask me. You're really, really lucky when you've been able to make someone else's life "marvelously different."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Punctuation and quotation marks: Inside or out?

Here are a few simple rules about where to place punctuation in sentences with quotation marks. If you’re a writer, this is something you really should know. And if you’re not a writer, this is good for you to know as well because there are a lot of writing snobs out there who think a command of punctuation is directly correlated to one’s IQ. I’m not kidding.

Commas and periods always go INSIDE closing quotation marks. Always, always, always!

(Well, maybe not always. British usage calls for the period outside the closing quotation. But if you’re an American writer, commas and periods always go inside.)

Incorrect: “Altoids”, I said, “are the heroin of breath mints”.
Correct: “Tic-Tacs,” I continued, “are nothing but a gateway mint.”

Colons and semicolons always go OUTSIDE closing quotation marks.

Question marks and exclamation points go OUTSIDE the closing quotation mark unless they are part of what’s quoted.

Correct: My mother is the only person who steps off the plane in Las Vegas and asks, “What time does Jeopardy come on here?”
Correct: Do you agree with the saying, “All’s fair in love and war”?

In the second example, the entire sentence is a question and the quoted material does not pose a question. That’s why the question mark is outside the quotation mark.

Now here’s a tricky one. When you have a question outside quoted material and inside quoted material, use only one question mark and place it INSIDE the quotation mark.

Correct: Did your mother just ask, “What time does Jeopardy come on?”

Get it?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

God loves everyone, even the apolitical

Last Sunday night one of my dear friends hosted a gathering at her house. A political gathering. Representatives from Barack Obama's campaign were there to answer questions and, of course, promote his run for presidency.

I should say that I have long sworn off Tupperware, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, and every other type of home party where attendees are expected to do anything but... party. But I hadn't seen my friend in a while and I really wanted to give her a hug, and so I went.

The Obama folks were nice enough, and the short video they played really was inspiring. Afterward they asked everyone in the group to share their reasons for coming out and offering their support. I panicked a bit, wondering what the hell I'd come up with. When my turn came, I simply told the truth: "I know nothing about politics. I'm only half kidding when I say Tony Blair was a lot funnier when he was in Monty Python."

To their credit, there was no collective gasp of horror, and a few well-meaning folks tried to ease me into a discussion. But I just sat there wishing we could talk about something interesting, like Brad and Angelina's newborn twins.

It's amazing how unapologetic I am for my lack of political convictions. Yes, I do vote, and I realize how lucky I am that my life is going so well that I don't feel compelled to get involved. But not everybody has to be a political activist, though I sure am glad some people have that calling. Just as I'm glad that some people are called to be nurses or garbage men—where would we be without them? But as noble as they are, those professions aren't for everybody.

It's not that I totally don't give a shit; I do. Maybe for me, politics is like religion. Just as I have my own way of connecting with God, or the Universe, or whatever the hell you want to call it, I have my own way of trying to make the world a better place. Really, I do care.

And I also care about Brad and Angelina's twins. But, oy! Those names!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My first experience with rejection

This is a short excerpt from my book, Bastard Husband: A Love Story. I've been querying agents (with varying degrees of effort) for close to a year now and have racked up a lot of rejections. Fortunately, I learned a bit about rejection early on...

I grew up in Albany, New York, where I lived for the first forty-three years of my life. I’m the oldest of five kids spaced over a fourteen-year period, which means I was in ninth grade when my little sister was born. My mother and the girl who sat next to me in French class were pregnant at the same time. Yuk.

I was a shy and quiet child, a bookworm with big dreams. At age eight, I wrote a letter to whomever I thought was in charge of the TV show Bonanza suggesting they write in a part for a younger sister, to be played by me, of course. I offered some possible storylines and assured them that although I had never actually been on a horse, I was certainly willing to learn. In response, I received a colored glossy photo signed by all the Cartwright men, but alas, no offer of an acting contract.

A year later, I sent Johnny Carson a few of my favorite jokes, fantasizing about how the audience would roar when he opened his monologue with, “How did Captain Hook die? … He wiped himself with the wrong hand!” Fancying myself as quite mature for my age, and to address Johnny’s older, late-night demographic, I also included what I thought was a solid demonstration of my ability to write adult humor: “What’s pink and squishy and lies at the bottom of the ocean? Moby’s Dick!”

Those were my first experiences with rejection, which even back then I regarded not as a reflection of my own shortcomings, but the result of someone else’s lack of insight.
I still think that way about the agents who've said, "No thanks, not for me"!