Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Guest Star: Not Ready For Prime Time

Today's Guest Star post is from Sela Carsen, romance writer and the newest Underlord with the Literary Underworld. She has some wise words about being ready to publish - i.e., not as soon as you think. -ekd

I read a post this morning from a young writer who couldn't understand why no one was buying his book. Pricing was certainly an issue, which he fixed, but he was still puzzled.

I clicked over to the book and read the "Look Inside" feature. Ah. I saw the problem.

He's not ready.

Every author I know wrote for years before we even considered putting our work out for publication. We acknowledged that our first works were not up to par. Their quality was not at a professional level and not ready for publication, but we kept writing. Not publishing, writing. We spent years learning our craft: plotting, characterization, word choices, sentence structure, pacing... honing our most basic grammar and punctuation skills.

And finding your voice? For many of us, that's not a destination we reach once and settle. It can be a lifelong journey of discovery.

This young man said he had taken down and republished his story (book one of five) more than once, acknowledging that even the current version was only about halfway decent. He published a story he knew wasn't ready - wasn't even close to ready. Now, I don't know that any of us are ever 100 percent satisfied with everything we publish, but I also don't know anyone who would put out a book that they feel is only 50 percent ready.

And then expect people to pay for it.

And then come back to buy books 2-5.

I don't know this young man, so I don't know how well he takes direction, or if he's ready to listen to someone tell him that his book is ... not good. Not ready. Not where it needs to be to succeed. But I had so much I wanted to say.

I wanted to tell him to continue writing the next book. And the next one. Write a million words. But don't publish them. Use them as learning tools. With every word he writes, strive to improve. By the time he's written those first million words, he'll be ready. He'll have experience. He'll have picked up a lot of information about the market, and about how to market along the way by hanging out with and learning from other writers doing the same thing he's doing. Learning, striving, and improving.

I wanted to tell him to compare the last 10,000 words of his million words to the first 10,000 of his current work, and he'd see a difference so great that he'd hardly believe he's the same writer.

Based on a review of his work by someone he's acquainted with, he didn't seem open to criticism, so I didn't tell him. Someone else will. Someone he knows better than a stranger on the internet. And he'll either listen or he won't.

But I hope he does eventually heed the voice of experience. I hope eventually he writes a story that changes the world, or at least makes people smile and feel better.

I hope that for all writers.

Sela Carsen was born into a traveling family, then married a military man to continue her gypsy lifestyle. With her husband of 20 years, their two teens, her mother, the dog and the cat, she's finally (temporarily) settled in the Midwest. Between bouts of packing and unpacking, she writes paranormal romances, with or without dead bodies. Her latest works include A Wolf To Watch Over Me and Runespell, both available at as well as Amazon and other fine booksellers.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016


ME: I cannot believe he ate all those cookies.
MAN: What?
ME: There are several chocolate chip cookies missing this morning.
MAN: Well, I had a few.
ME: James!*
MAN: They were there! I thought they were for the family!
ME: They were not for you!
MAN: Who were they for?
ME: The Relay team! We have a meeting! I bake for meetings!
MAN: There wasn't a note or anything! You know, the cookies were just sitting out there looking all delicious, and there was no note or force field or magic spell protecting them so...
ME: That's what I forgot. Next time I need to cast a magic spell over my cookies. How many did you eat?
MAN: Four.
ME: James! That means Ian didn't eat any! You have less self-control than a teenage boy!
MAN: You should've cast a spell.

SCENE: Boy has just completed his nightly shower, complete with musical renditions from the late 80s.
ME: One of these days I'm going to record you singing in the shower.
BOY: Okay.
ME: And put it on the internet.
BOY: And I'll get likes because I'm awesome.
ME: *sporfle* Hurry up, I wanna watch Buffy.

BOY: Wow, Riley's huge! He's a giant!
ME: That's just because he's standing next to Buffy. She's little.
BOY: Yeah, she's teeny, but he's enormous.
ME: *googles* The actor is Marc Blucas, and he's six foot two.
BOY: ... I'm an inch taller than he is.
ME: Uh huh. Of course, that doesn't mean he's not enormous.

ME: *creaky step*
MAN: Where are you going?
ME: Up to my office.
MAN: Noooo.
ME: Oooookay. Do you require some husband maintenance?
MAN: Yes. It's another dimension up there.
ME: It is not.
MAN: It is too. You'll go up there and never come back.
ME: Dear, there's no bathroom in my office. I have to come down. Besides, coffee.
MAN: You'll disappear and never be seen again!
ME: Oh brother...

* His real name is Jimmy. It's on his birth certificate as Jimmy. It's not short for anything. So naturally, when he annoys me, I call him James.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

I married a werewolf

SCENE: Getting ready for work after sleeping on the couch last night. The reasons for this will shortly be made clear. From behind the closed bedroom door...

MAN: *sleepy cry of protest*
ME: *enters bedroom* Problems?
MAN: You went away. Why did you go away?
ME: I did my best, dear. But I gave up about five a.m. and slept on the couch.
MAN: Why?
ME: I can hang in there through snoring, and the CPAP makes interesting hissy sounds. But when you started growling and humming in your sleep, that's when I gave up. The couch is not comfortable, but at least it's quiet, and I got to say goodbye to Ian.*
MAN: Growling?
ME: Seriously. You're a werewolf now?
MAN: Am not.
ME: Are too. You were growling.
MAN: I can't help it! I was asleep!
ME: Growling! I knew it. I married a werewolf. I should have known when you were writing your series that it was autobiographical.
MAN: Andrew is not a werewolf.
ME: Honey, he's a werewolf.
MAN: He is not!
ME: He's a shapeshifter who turns into a huge furry beast that can kill anything with a swipe of his claws. He's a damn werewolf.
MAN: Who flies.
ME: Fine. He's a werewolf who flies.
MAN: If you're going to use that word to describe Andrew you have to say he's a werewolf who flies.
ME: Absolutely, I can see how that makes a huge difference.
MAN: *snuggles* I'm sorry I growled.
ME: I think there was even a full moon last night. I'm going to ask our friends if they have any silver.


* Boy leaves for school at 5:30 a.m. Nobody is happy about that, especially Boy.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Snippets, Buffy edition

Boy: Can we watch another episode?
Me: No.
Boy: Why not? 
Me: Because it's 3 a.m.
Boy: Oh crap.
Me: Yeah. 
Man: *snore*

Boy, watching evil ventriloquist episode: "Uh uh. Boarding the train to Nopeville."

CHARACTER: Well, we didn't get a busy signal, so we know she wasn't online.
BOY: Huh?
ME: *press pause* Okay, back then when you wanted to get online, you had to dial up through the phone line.
BOY: Wait, what?
ME: *long technical explanation*
BOY: Why didn't you just use wifi?
ME: Okay, let me start again.

The Buffy Binge has now reached season two, "Innocence." Boy says he now understands why everyone says Joss Whedon is so mean to his characters.

Me: I told you it got darker.
Boy: And they delivered.
Me: Right between the eyes. 
Boy: And then they all went home to kill themselves?

Me: What is taking so long?
Boy: I'm getting a snack!
Me: Again? You're missing Xander/Cordelia kissing!
Boy: And I walk slower.

Upon watching Angel...

BOY: Yes! Yesyesyesyes!
ME: *pause* Excuse me!
BOY: It's That Guy! The guy from Leverage! Yes!
ME: And The Librarians now, but those came later.
BOY: Yes!
ME: ...And at the time, I was saying, "Hey, it's that guy from Angel..."

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hobbies at which I suck

I have pretty much one inescapable talent: Choosing hobbies at which I suck.

I love to hike. I am the world's slowest hiker, and was even before my health issues. I used to weight-train before the Knee Incident, but you'd better believe I'm not posting my lifts. We won't even get into my "dancing."

I played the cello from second grade until midway through high school, and still have my cello (albeit in grave need of repair). I was a terrible cellist.

I learned the basics of piano from my mother, a virtuoso classical pianist who has performed at Carnegie and Tanglewood. The apple fell very far from the tree.

I like to do needlework, and color, and decorate cakes, and keep plants, and various crafty things that help keep Michaels in business. I suck at all of the above (and I'm so slow on needlework I still haven't gotten to Boy's Christmas stocking by age 17). I have the creative heart of an artist without the... what's the word... talent.

Sucking at a hobby doesn't really remove the joy from it, at least, not if you remove your ego from the equation. It just limits the opportunity. I still like plunking about on the piano, but I don't do it where ears can hear. I decorate cakes for my family, and at least they're tasty. And the remains of my attempts at gardening make for good mulch.

One thing at which I don't entirely suck is photography. It's turned into a small side business, and with the acquisition of my new Nikon (thanks Dad!), I'm hopeful to expand my skills to do much better work. In the meantime, convention season is looming...

ME: So, funny story.
JIM: What
ME: I needed to order the canvas print rack before the next show so I can efficiently display the prints. The rack was finally on sale for $35 plus $10 shipping. But if you bought certain products that the site had on sale, your whole order ships for free. Devious weasels.
JIM: Yep
ME: So I wandered around the site looking for products that offered free shipping at about the same price as the shipping. And I found a set of acrylic paints that costs $12. Well, if I have to pay the extra cash anyway, why not get something for it instead of wasting it on shipping?
JIM: ...
ME: Which is how I ended up ordering paints approximately 400 years after the last time I painted anything.
JIM: Lol
ME: I am the world's worst painter. My paintings are buried in the basement where they won't get loose and hurt someone. Someday I need to develop a hobby at which I don't suck.
JIM: Lol
ME: That was your cue to name a hobby at which I do not suck.
JIM: Oops.
JIM: Writing. Cookies.
ME: Writing - not a hobby.
ME: Cookies - form of sustenance required for life.
JIM: [redacted]
ME: Well, now that makes this conversation unfit for the blog.

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Dear Joss Whedon

You're making my life difficult, and not in the usual leaf-on-the-wind manner. (Too soon! Too soon!)

We're in the middle of a Buffy rewatch, which doesn't really count as a rewatch when Boy has never seen it. Well, technically that's not true. A few years ago I tried to introduce him to the ways of the Buffster, but it seems I tried a little too early. He couldn't relate to "high school as a metaphor for hell" when he hadn't been to high school. He gets it now.

It was fairly simple up to the end of Season Three (which was just as awesome as I remember). But now we have the complication of Angel. It's a good show as well - it had its stumbles, but it's a bit more mature, a bit less black-and-white with its morality and has some interesting and complex storylines.

There's also mega crossovers.

And this is where you're making my life difficult. How do we handle it? Do we watch all of Buffy through (uck) Season Seven, or do we stop and watch Angel through its five years, or do we trade off, watching each episode in airing order?

The latter is what we've chosen. (Heh. Chosen. Shut up, I amuse myself.) First episode 4.1 of Buffy, then episode 1.1 of Angel, and so on. (By the way, Jim, that's where you have to catch up. More binging this weekend!)

This is awkward binge-watching, but how else will I explain the Faith, Spike and Oz crossovers in the first season alone? And then Buffy shows up, and then there's other wackiness that starts on one show and ends on the other, and whoa spoilers that time Willow shows up and...

I think the crossovers pretty much ended once Buffy switched networks, but by then we're committed. I suppose if we really wanted to get silly, we'd spend Buffy S7/Angel S4 interwoven with Firefly SOnly *sob*. Then we could get the full Joss experience, and possibly go mad.

Best part: My mother bought Boy a Sunnydale High t-shirt for Christmas, per his request. (He says thanks, Grandma! Loves it.)

Worst part: He wore the Sunnydale High shirt to school. And no one got it.

The earth is doomed.

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Thursday, January 07, 2016

Go home, Amazon, you're drunk.

In early December, I ordered a gift for my stepson. Time went on and it didn't ship, and it didn't ship, and it didn't ship.

Finally I got an email that said it was backordered. By now, I knew it was far too late for the item to arrive in time for Christmas. Therefore, I replied with my wish that the order would be canceled, and the money restored to my account. We offered our apologies to my stepson, and waited for the refund so that we could order a replacement, belated, Christmas present.

Imagine my surprise when I got an email this evening that stated the gift has actually shipped. Even better, the tracking shows that it is estimated to arrive on December 28. Oh really? Does Amazon now ship via The DeLorean? Or perhaps they use a TARDIS to deliver packages.

I guess we'll see if the gift finally shows up, or if I get my refund instead. Either way it will officially be the latest present I've ever sent a family member. Probably. Maybe.


Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Happy (17th!!) birthday to the Boy

It's that day again, the Epiphany in which I became a mom and boarded the rollercoaster.

I already wrote about how my Boy came into this world, and the requisite newborn picture, and a few years ago I did the Life of Boy photo slideshow on Facebook. What else can I say on the occasion of his birth, considering that he doesn't read blogs or Facebook because "that's for old people"? (What a mouth.)

I remember when I turned seventeen. It's got this misty fog all over it, because it was a long time ago in a galaxy far far away and there was about half as much of me and a whole lot more energy and brainpower. I'm pretty sure there's a picture somewhere...

My friends threw me a giant surprise party, and yes, it was a real surprise. The official plan was eating out at a restaurant with my family, but I was staying after school to donate blood. Yes, I was very excited that my seventeenth birthday fell on a blood drive day (NERD), because I was finally able to do so, and I gave blood then and as often as I was allowed going forward until my health problems barred me from donating in the future.

Thus I was about a pint low when my friend Cindy gave me a ride back home. I walked in the door and immediately smelled food. "Crap," I thought. "Mom forgot we're going out to eat. Maybe I can talk them into taking me out tomorrow?"

And I walked into my living room, where my family and all my friends - seemingly everyone I knew - yelled "Surprise!"

It really floored me, that this many people were there to celebrate with me. Seventeen was a good year, between the girlish insecurities of sixteen and the burgeoning responsibilities of eighteen.

Boy doesn't have a surprise party, alas. My parents had a co-conspirator in their plot: Jason Tippitt, who kindly coordinated the "friends" part even though I'd just broken up with him, and he gets major kudos all these millennia later for being so gracious, folks. Alas, I wouldn't even know where to start in hunting down Boy's nefarious cohorts for a surprise party.

Instead, we took him out this weekend: I gave him a list of Things To Do in St. Louis, and he picked the St. Louis Science Center followed by ice skating in Forest Park. I had to do the SLSC in a wheelchair (illness) and fell asleep a few times in the skate rink's waiting area, but he had a good time. Tonight there will be cake and presents, and he and I will go to his favorite restaurant (Jim has to work).

It doesn't seem like enough. Not because he expects a giant celebration or because he's a spoiled brat who wants more presents - in fact, he was willing to cancel the whole outing Saturday if I wasn't up to it. He's a good kid well on his way to being a good man, and if he makes me tear my hair out sometimes with the state of his room and his wildly uneven grades, that's part of being a teenager, I suppose. ADHD boys tend to be about two years younger in emotional maturity than those with normal brain patterns, and he's no exception.

But that's not it. It doesn't seem like enough because I have this whole sense of things coming to an end. I know it's a good thing; he's almost done cooking, and soon he's going to be an adult. Sometimes I look at this six-foot behemoth in my house, with a deep voice and an easy smile, and I wonder where the little boy went who used to climb into my lap and suck his two middle fingers during nighttime cuddle. I wonder if I did a good enough job raising him, if I made the right choices. If I had done this or that differently, would things be better for him?

Stephen King says that all children eventually turn in a mental report card on their parents, and I don't know if I made the grade or not. But I guess none of us really know. I just feel this cascade of "lasts," of things that won't happen again or that will happen differently in the future. It hit me on Christmas Eve, when I realized it was the last time I will have a child in the house for Christmas. (Next year it's his father's turn.) A friend of mine whose daughter is graduating this year says she's been crying at everything: last homecoming, last Christmas concert with the school orchestra, last this, last that.

Boy is still a junior, so all that's for next year. There will be the confirmation ceremony, and graduation, and all the attendant nonsense. There will be parties and celebrations and a lot of pictures. And we'll love it, because it's celebrating the Boy becoming a Man.

Being a mom is the best rollercoaster I ever rode. It's good for him to grow up and plan his future. It just feels like it went by much too fast.

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