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Two Kings

December 3, 2010

An up-and-coming local publication, The Berkshire Beat, has published a short story of mine, entitled “Two Kings.” As a writer who has been struggling to find a home for my fiction for a while now, this is completely awesome. For those of you who think I’m just a snarky blogger taking digs at the publishing industry (and the entire concept of poetry as an art form), here’s your proof that I actually do write creatively from time to time:

Two Kings – Page One

(Yes, there is more than one page…)

Anyway, enjoy!

ETA: as of late tonight, this is not the full story…stay tuned!

ETA: The full version is now available!

Me > You

November 30, 2010

Most people I know hate applying for jobs. It’s a humiliating and anxiety-provoking process that can make one feel like a small dog forced to dress in a stupid outfit and jump through hoops for the amusement of circus-goers.

As a freelancer, any day that goes by without me looking for new potential clients is a wasted day. I often have wasted days, and they fill me with shame. But, like most people, I hate applying for work. As a writer, I’m pretty hardened against the idea of rejection, so I don’t think I suffer the same kind of anxiety that many other people do while waiting to hear back from a potential employer. I send off my cover letter and my samples and then I stop thinking about them. Often, I don’t hear back at all. Ultimately, this does not bother me.

What does worry me is that I often find myself walking a fine line between making myself sound as awesome as possible and insulting the intelligence of my potential clients. In my experience, many people are aware that the act of writing is at best something that makes them feel vaguely uncomfortable and at worst something that might be a prelude to total nervous collapse, and yet they are still unwilling to hire a professional to do it for them. It is therefore my job to convince them that they NEED a professional writer.

My best argument so far as to why businesses should avail themselves of my services is another food analogy (I like food, so that’s where most of my analogies go). The analogy is this:  no one would hire a professional chef to warm up a can of Progresso soup for him. However, if a person were planning a big banquet in honor of his daughter’s wedding, he would be crazy to attempt the execution of said banquet by himself. So it goes with writing: when someone sends a personal email, it doesn’t need to be a brilliantly crafted literary gem. But when the piece of writing in question is really important, it might be wise to consult a professional.

The subtle insult here is that you, the businessperson, are NOT the professional chef of the analogy. You’re the schmo heating up a can of salty minestrone. I’m the one dressed in a frilly white hat, delicately poaching shrimps and caramelizing onions for your daughter’s big day. You are average and uninteresting, even sad, with your solitary bowl of soup. I am flashy and amazing, and someone else does all my dishes for me.

Perhaps due to my extreme feelings of awkwardness when telling someone just how awesome I am, I occasionally imagine myself having the following conversation with a potential client:

Me:  Hello, Mr. Frankenstein. My name is Greer Hed and I’m a freelance writer. I sent you a portfolio of my work last week and I was wondering if you might be interested in working with me.

Mr. F: Well, we took a look at your portfolio. It’s quite impressive, but I think for now we’d prefer to have our copy written in-house.

Me: (barely disguised snort of derision)

Mr. F: I’m sorry?

Me: What?

Mr. F: You snorted.

Me: Well, it’s just that I assume when you say “in-house” what you really mean is “in the monkey house,” because your copy reads like it was conceived of and typed by a chimp. I’m also guessing that this chimp was typing not with his little chimp hands, but instead with his freakishly large chimp testicles. This image is funny to me, so I laughed, but I didn’t want you to know I was laughing, so I snorted.

(awkward silence ensues)

Me: So…do I get the job?

What a Long Strange Trip

November 29, 2010

Well, it was a stressful month, but I finally did it!

I Win!

I’m particularly proud of my win this year because not only did I exceed the 50k goal, but I also managed to bring the story to a conclusion. Yay!

Tomorrow I promise I will return to my regular blog posting schedule (in other words, whenever I feel like writing a blog I’ll write one). Good luck to everyone still working towards their 50k, and congratulations to anyone who has finished!

Laura Miller is Kyle’s Mom

November 4, 2010

I wanted to take a little break from posting about my own personal WriMo experience to bring up this article by Laura Miller of (thanks to my friend Summer for posting a link to this,  by the way). Miller thinks that people who participate in NaNoWriMo are illiterate attention whores engaged in a self-indulgent and pointless exercise.  She wants all of us to stop writing and start reading (because apparently it’s OUR fault that the majority of people would rather watch TV than pick up a book). According to Miller, the writer’s market is already flooded with bad writing and there are “more than enough novels” out there.

On the LA Times blog, one can find an eloquent and mature rebuttal to Miller’s insulting tirade. I appreciate many of the points made in this article, but since I don’t work for a newspaper and I don’t have to be professional OR mature, I thought I’d write a rebuttal of my own.

Miller’s article is riddled with assumptions about the people who participate in NaNoWriMo. Interestingly, although there are tens of thousands of us, apparently we all have the same habits and motivations. Now, I realize that the author of an op-ed piece is free to make some generalizations, but if I were a co-founder of like Miller is, I think I would want to avoid appearing bitter and misinformed if I possibly could.

Assumption Number One: People who participate in NaNoWriMo do not read books themselves.

Says who? Says Laura Miller, who has apparently met EVERY NaNoWriMo participant and quizzed them about their reading habits. The sad truth is, people in general do not read as much as they used to these days (I am also guilty of this), but this trend really has nothing to do with NaNoWriMo, and it’s preposterous to call out thousands of would-be novelists in this way, as if our participation in this event is at the core of the not-reading trend. I would argue that NaNoWriMo probably forces its participants to read MORE, not less, even if the majority of that reading is in the form of research for their novels.

To me, Miller’s argument smacks of sour grapes. She’s bitter because she’s a reviewer, and if no one is reading, that makes her obsolete.  She does try to impress upon her readers how important and laudable reading is, and I agree with that, but she also seems to imply that the solution to the not-reading problem is for writers to STOP WRITING. Right, that makes perfect sense. Stop producing books, and people will definitely be encouraged to go out and buy the ones that already exist that they weren’t buying before. Miller also makes a point of mentioning the fact that she herself does not write fiction. She reads and analyzes and writes ABOUT writing. I’ve often heard the saying, “Those who can’t do, teach,” but personally I would amend that to say, “Those who can’t do, become critics.”

Assumption Number Two: NaNoWriMo writers are seeking attention and praise.

I truly wonder what Miller was seeking when she wrote this incendiary article. Could it possibly have been…attention? Posting an article like this in the early days of November when WriMo is in full swing is the equivalent of going to a church on Sunday and pissing in the holy water font in front of all the parishioners. Seriously, Miller might as well have posted a video of herself naked, jumping up and down and screaming “LOOK AT ME!”

Well, I am looking at Laura, and I don’t particularly like what I see. She comes off as fatalistic and, let’s face it, kind of crazy when she says that there are “more than enough novels” already, so why bother writing more? Oh, sure, and why bother making music, painting portraits, or breathing in and out for that matter? She completely ignores the fact that for many writers (myself included), NaNoWriMo is NOT about receiving attention from our peers or from publishers. It’s about practicing our craft, overcoming the voices that tell us that we suck and should stop writing (sounds familiar, eh, Laura?), and challenging ourselves. Laura Miller is apparently the type of person who would tell a young child who aspired to scale Mt. Everest one day, “Oh, don’t bother challenging yourself, Susie. It’s been done before.”

Not only do I NOT expect anyone to read my NaNoWriMo draft, I am terrified at the thought of someone getting a glimpse of it, even by accident. I would NEVER submit it to a publisher without heavy editing, because I am not an idiot. I know there are a lot of idiots out there, and some of them are NaNoWriMO participants. But condemning the entire event just because a few people submitted their draft of “Swamp Thing and Jane Eyre Go to Vegas,” is absurd and moronic. Furthermore, Miller would have us weep for all the poor editors and publishers out there who have to slog through all the post-NaNoWriMo crud. I’m sorry, but these are the people who have been underpaying and rejecting me for years now. I don’t really feel bad for them because they have to read some lousy drafts. In point of fact, it is actually an editor’s JOB to read submissions, regardless of their quality.

Assumption Number Three: NaNoWriMo is pointless.

Ok, I admit, I sometimes feel the same way. My drafts from previous years of participation sit on my desktop, unread, unedited, and unloved. But you know what, I set a goal for myself, a bloody difficult goal, and I achieved it. The happy accidents that occur while I’m working on a WriMo novel remind me why I enjoy writing and why I want to continue to pursue it. When the month of November is over, hopefully I will have succeeded in writing another 5o,ooo words, and I’ll feel empowered and inspired to write more material.

Miller also asserts that “writers will keep pounding on their keyboards whether we support them or not.” This is mostly true, but does that mean that we SHOULDN’T support writers just because we don’t have to? She tells her readers that novels will be written with or without NaNoWriMo, which is also true. However, for amateur writers who have trouble working up the courage to just sit down and WRITE, WriMo can be a great release, a free pass to be crappy and awful but get the writing DONE.

So, after completely missing the point of NaNoWriMo, insulting its participants, and implying that writers are basically nothing less than the scum of the earth, Miller exhorts us all to celebrate readers, because they are “the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built.” I’m sorry, but I can’t accept that a culture must be built on the foundation of those who CONSUME it rather than those who create it. In reality, the bedrock of literary culture is writers AND readers, as well as all the critics, analysts, essayists, publishers, and editors out there.

Isn’t it funny, though, how Miller wants us to extol the particular group of which she happens to be a vocal member? Those people who write books get all the attention, and she’s pouting because she and her book club have yet to have a month entirely dedicated to THEM. Therefore, in her honor, I would like to designate December as National Laura Miller is Better Than You Month, or, if you prefer an acronym, NaLauMillBetThaYouMo. And what a month it will be! We can all celebrate by not trying to challenge ourselves and not making any new creative works, and by making offerings of bricks and broken glass to Laura Miller: offerings which she richly deserves.

An edit: I am not implying that anyone should actually chuck bricks or broken glass at Laura Miller. That would be a waste of bricks and broken glass.

Day Two: Oh Sweet Mystery of Life at Last I’ve Found You

November 2, 2010

Writing highlights from today:

No, the problem with Pedro is not that he is a caramel skinned Adonis with the musculature and penile girth of a particularly fine racehorse who happens to come from Mexico. The problem with Pedro is that he is a drug dealer and an all around bastard criminal, and that he was secretly plotting to murder Tina and steal all her money, and that is why HE wants to keep their relationship a secret. But Tina has no knowledge of this, so technically it should not be included in the story. We can therefore go back to thinking Pedro is the bee’s knees, just like Tina does. Do bees even have knees? Why is that even a thing?  It’s totally because it rhymes, I understand that, but couldn’t it be bee’s cheese, or some other random rhyming word that bees patently do NOT have?

Right now I’m in the honeymoon phase of the NaNoWriMo process. My characters are all buxom young virgins running across a meadow strewn with buttercups, and I am the dapper young suitor reading courtly poetry and trying to keep up with them as they run because I am overweight. I know that somewhere around the bend my characters will start snoring like drunken walruses and that I will develop extreme irritation over their tendency to leave their socks in a little wad on the bathroom floor. But right now, all is possibility, all doors are open, and all I can see is a field of buttercups that have sadly been crushed because me and my characters have been busy running around all day in the field with romantic abandon.

I don’t think I’ve ever written a character who I didn’t start to hate. They all seem so awesome and full of potential at the beginning, and then they turn out to be total bastards whose values are at odds with mine and whose behavior makes me want to stick my head in an oven. This must be what having children feels like.

It’s hard to pay attention to the inevitable end of the honeymoon while the honeymoon is in full swing, however. So I’m going to savor it and love my characters while I still can. I’m at 5000 words and counting, and my protagonist is an angel with wings made out of candy.

Day One: Do Not Trap Characters in the Phantom Zone

November 1, 2010

Alright, I’m done wallowing in smoke-free misery. It’s November 1st, and you know what that means…

It’s day one of NaNoWriMo! This will be my third year participating in this month of novel-writing insanity. I’m one for two so far, having failed the first year and succeeded the second. For me, the first day of November finds me filled with  a mixture of excitement and fear as I embark on yet another quest to write 50,000 words (or possibly more) in 30 days.

I know that my writing doesn’t have to be good. If you read this blog, you know I’m not above ridiculous metaphors or drawn-out parenthetical phrases that occur for no real reason at all. As much as I value brevity, I’m not too good to shamelessly stretch a simple, basic sentence into a lengthy, comma-laden monster that virtually stands on its own as a paragraph by liberally tacking on an overflowing cornucopia of superfluous adjectives and adverbs. Since my standards are so low, one might wonder what exactly it is about starting a new Wrimo draft that frightens me.

There are several things about beginning a new creative project that are scary, not the least of which is that whole “beginning” part. I’m actually not bad at finishing things once I’ve gotten started, but I’m also really good at staring at a blank piece of paper for hours, on the verge of tears and totally unable to write. So apart from my issues with starting something new, here is a list of what frightens me most (for the next 30 days, at least. On December 1st the list reverts to the following: 1. Heights, 2. Enclosed spaces, 3. People who are shorter than I am, 4. Having to ask someone to repeat themselves more than twice, and 5. Scott Bakula’s eyebrows).

1. Total, abject failure

I signed up to do Script Frenzy at the beginning of this year and failed utterly. I had an idea for a screenplay involving a suicidal cross-dressing Mexican janitor and an alien named Poon. I wrote maybe three pages and then just stopped. There was no real excuse for this, I had other stuff to do and never bothered to make time for more writing. This fall, I’m a bit nervous about a repeat of this terrible performance. I don’t want to start out strong and then watch my novel fizzle, like a bottle rocket being swallowed by a camel (I don’t know why a camel would swallow a bottle rocket, but I’m pretty sure it would fizzle).

2. Finishing 50,000 words of meandering crap with no ending

Again, I know my writing doesn’t have to be good, but to me a major part of writing a novel is crafting a manuscript that has a clear beginning, middle and end. Last year, even though I technically “won” Wrimo, I didn’t actually FINISH the story. I wrote a couple of thousand words past the 50k mark, and then it was the end of the month so I stopped. I effectively doomed my characters to floating around in Incomplete Plot Limbo forever and ever, like General Zod trapped in the Phantom Zone (except not really, because General Zod got out). This year, I’d actually like to attempt an ending, but I’m not entirely sure I can do it.

3. My subject matter requires me to read books and think about stuff

For past WriMos, I’ve gone the extremely easy and mindless route and written fantastic science fiction that required no research or forethought on my part. This year, my planned setting is a mental institution and my planned plot requires that I know something about psychology. I am fascinated by psych, which is why I decided to use this particular plot idea, and I’ve studied it a little bit, but I’m not as knowledgeable about it as I am about, oh, say, poetic meter. Usually I can bang out my requisite 1,667 words a day in just about an hour, maybe two if I’m slow that day. My fear is that this year I will be frequently interrupted by the need to research a particular disorder or medication and so my speed will be reduced, which may directly contribute to Wrimo  Fear #1 becoming a reality.

4. Post-Nano Depression

As much as I enjoy NaNoWriMo and I think it’s a great way for me to overcome my inherent perfectionism and unwind from work-related writing, at the end of it all I usually feel a little disappointed in the entire process. I know some people are actually able to ever look at their NaNoWriMo drafts again, but I tend to consider it something of a throwaway exercise. That’s the only way I can get through the month, because I’m often so ashamed of the quality of the writing that I would probably just stop trying if I thought I actually had to correct all the mistakes.

So I don’t reread my drafts. I don’t even try to revise or edit. It’s probably for the best, because I can imagine weeping and tearing of hair when I reach the point in my first Wrimo attempt where the main character gets amnesia and the plot starts all over again. But it also makes me feel like I’ve wasted a month of writing. I know this is stupid, because practice is practice, whether or not it yields anything usable. It’s just that, in the fantasy land that is my head, writing a novel in a month means creating a pristine draft that makes SENSE and has structure and brilliant characters and plot twists the likes of which this world has NEVER SEEN! I can dream…

Anyway, good luck to all of you who might be participating along with me this year. May your characters not need to get amnesia and start all over again at the beginning for you to finish your novel.

This Space Reserved for Something Clever

October 26, 2010

I feel bad because I haven’t written anything for a while but my writing abilities are pretty much in the toilet right now. I’m trying to quit smoking, I’m on the patch, and the constant nicotine leeching into my skin makes me twitchy like a rabbit on crack. Without the patch, I feel like punching the wall or setting my cat on fire. With the patch, my powers of concentration are destroyed and I can’t sit still, but at least I’m not irritable and crazy.

Either way, this is about all the coherent writing I can really manage right now.