Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Thousand Pardons!

I have no excuse for such a gap between posts except...a copywriters' seminar on Thursday, housecleaning on Friday, a new assignment from my freelance job, singing in church on Sunday morning, the Memorial Day cooking-out, working on trying to write again, and celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary TODAY. (Or maybe more accurately, tonight, once I'm home from work. ) So other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, I haven't done a danged thing. Talk at you all tomorrow, I dearly hope! Janny

Monday, May 21, 2007

Be Careful What You Pray For, Third Part…or, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

For years, I’ve enjoyed a certain ability to help people with their writing. I have some skill in editing, some skill in storytelling, a pernicious and truly frightening grasp of spelling and grammar…and I don’t hesitate to use them. But I didn’t come to this spot overnight. And no one does. Which leads me to a few words about an incident I had over the weekend. If you spend enough time online, you get to know people. Their styles. How they work, if they work, if they really care about writing or if they’re just hanging out. Doesn’t take much more than oh, say, three or four excursions into a chat with someone to tell where they are on the Writer Spectrum. Some of us don’t care if we write for anything but our own amazement, and that’s fine. Many times, these people who’ve decided to do this thing for fun are among the happiest of us (!)—but also, curiously enough, they can tend to be the most understanding of the ups and downs of the writing life, and just how hard it can be to make it in this business. Maybe that acute understanding is precisely why they don’t pursue it as a business/career. They know how hard it is, and they don’t want to work that hard. God love ‘em—they do us all a great service with their positive attitudes, their sheer enjoyment, and sometimes their safe shoulders. (Not to mention their occasional chocolate!) Then there are all the rest of us. We want to sell our work, to progress in the craft of writing so that we eventually get a) past the form rejection postcards, into the b) realm of longer notes, encouraging and sometimes even signed by an editor…and inviting us to send something else (!), and finally, c) to a sale. Or many sales (from my keyboard to God’s ears). Those of us in this group are also in a wide spectrum of ability and experience. We’re all over the place. But there are certain things we learn, over time. We learn that our high school English teachers didn’t necessarily know whether we could write. Those who thought we could, and those who told us we couldn’t, are often equally right. It’s what we start doing after high school that ends up counting. :-) We learn that if we’re ever going to grow as writers, someone besides our mothers and best friends needs to read what we do and offer us feedback. We learn that sometimes that feedback isn’t very polite, or doesn’t spare our feelings. If we’re lucky, we learn that our worst “enemies” probably help us grow the most. We learn that sometimes that feedback is just plain wrong, but it’s still worth listening to because it can often point to a potential reader problem. We learn which people in our lives are really good at pinpointing what will improve and strengthen our work, and which of them aren’t really good at that…yet. (This doesn’t mean they might not get good at it. This whole craft is a work in progress.) But above all…we learn that writing is work. Note: this doesn’t mean it’s not fun, or that it need be drudgery, or that it has to somehow “hurt” to be “real art.” Few things are more irritating than hearing either whining about how “hard” the “artist’s life” is, or how now that you’re “serious” about writing, “it’s not fun anymore.” If you’re hurting, see a helper. If it’s not fun, get out of the pool. Sometimes that’s the kindest thing you can do for yourself, not to mention everyone else. But make no mistake about the other side of this, either. Writing is work. It’s hard work. It’s the second-most fun you can have with your clothes on (music is first), but it’s also work. Succeeding in this work takes time. And commitment. And effort. It also takes something the athletes among us know well—something called coachability. And that’s where many people fall down on the job. They simply aren’t coachable. If you tell them their writing needs work, they tell you they’ve done that work. Only problem is, the writing shows no improvement. Which means that somewhere, there’s a disconnect. Somewhere in there, they’re lying to themselves. And that special form of denial is not a good place to spend your writing life. I had an incident over this weekend that illustrates this to a tee. A particular writer acquaintance of mine sent me a message late Saturday night asking for advice/help/etc. We had a long IM conversation, during which I got sent a link to the potential publisher she was thinking of…and then a second link that I thought would take me to another publishing site. Instead, it took me to a chat room where she was hanging out with her friends. Now, keep in mind, this is 11:30 PM and counting. And I’ve been up and on the road that day since 5 AM. I’m in fact in my hotel, winding down after Day One of some family stuff. Good family stuff, but still…tiring. I don’t mind talking writing for a few minutes before I go to bed. And that’s what I thought I was doing…talking one on one with this gal. For a few minutes. Instead, I end up in this room with these people yakking—people who obviously think I’m there for a visit!—and I’m wondering where the focus of the first gal went to. So after pretty much resisting sticking around in the chat room, I exchange a few other words of advice with her, and we call it a night, okay on both sides. Or so I think, until I get home from my trip, boot up my e-mail and discover this woman has written me to tell me that I have done something not even a destructive parent could…I have convinced her she has no talent. So after claiming 50 finished books, she is going to stop. She's going to destroy it all, and stop writing forever, because she obviously is never going to be published, because no one cares for anything she'd want to say. Boys and girls, can you spell overreaction? What had I said to so totally finish her off? That she needed to go back to her synopsis, strip back everything that wasn’t central to her story, and see what she had left. She had gone into numerous side trips, most of which were backstory, and I told her that. I also said something along the lines of, “No one is going to care about your characters unless you give us a reason to. So find those reasons. Tap into those. There’s your story, not all this detail about haunted castles and ghosts and curses and all the other stuff. Latch onto the story.” I had good reason to say this. She had supposedly sent this material to 30 other places, editors and agents, and she couldn’t figure out why none wanted it. So I told her. I wasn’t necessarily gentle about it, but neither was I brutal. I was frank. The way I always am…and most of all, the way this gal knows I am, because she knows me. And I probably was less patient with her than I could have been, had it not been 11:30 PM (when my body thought it was 12:30 AM!), had I not been basically led down the garden path into this chatroom, where I had no intention of being… …and if this whole thing wasn’t just another manifestation of this gal’s lack of ability to take advice and actually use it to improve. You see, she was going to use my editorial services, not too very long ago. She was going to pay for them and everything. (!) As soon as she got a certain check she was waiting on, we were going to go for it. That was December of 2005. She never executed that agreement. Prior to that, she sent me a query letter and synopsis and asked my feedback. I was glad to give it. Only problem was, prior to her getting the feedback, she sent the thing off, flaws and all. And then she was surprised when it was rejected. She has received critiques from many of us, specific, pointed stuff, aimed at helping her get better. Only when she submits her material to us again, supposedly revised…it’s no better. This woman claims that at times she’s spent 12 hours a day at the keyboard. But 12 hours a day at the keyboard is just exercise, and not very good exercise at that, if you can’t discipline yourself to stop believing your friends who say your work is “wonderful” and start believing people who are really trying to help you, even if what they’re telling you will only “slow you down” to put into practice. The fact that those people see the same errors over and over again should tell you something. And that something isn’t that those people are too picky. Nor is it that anyone is saying you have no talent. But raw talent does nothing for you unless you’re willing to be coached. Really willing to be coached. You also need to be willing to take the time to grow. Not to try to force it, to try to adhere to some timetable you have in your head, or the like. Goals are fine, but they take time to get to. And if you're not willing to give yourself and your work that time, you'll only spin your wheels. As my dh and I learned long ago in music school, it’s not just how long you practice. It’s how well. It’s how intelligently. If you claim to want publication, part of that intelligence is a generous dose of humility and patience to go with a work ethic that could shame a Puritan. If you can’t muster up the intelligence, the humility, the patience, the work ethic and give it all time enough to take root, for growth to occur…maybe the answer is that you really do need to quit the "business" end of this and just do it for entertainment. But the one thing you don't have the right to do…is blame someone else for that. Needless to say, I won’t be trying to help this person anymore. That’s a shame, but it’s also freeing. As I said to my own crit partner, “There may be a lot of clueless people in the writing world—but boy, is it nice to know I don’t have to fix ‘em all!” Amen, and amen. Life's too short to play denial games. If you aren't going to run with the big dogs, it's okay to rest on the porch. Just don't project onto other people reasons for decisions you make yourself...either by your conscious effort or by your unwillingness to do the work needed to get to where you say you want to go. Thoughts? Janny

Friday, May 18, 2007

Thank you, Bulls!

This is gonna be a real, real short post... But I just wanted to say THANK YOU to the Chicago Bulls. Even though their season is over (they became the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight last night, and it cost them), oddly enough, I truly feel that this was a successful season anyway. Maybe it was getting off the mat last Sunday when the entire world had written them off in the series that did it...maybe it was that they finally made it to the semis for the first time since Michael held sway. Whatever it was, though, it was a heck of a ride, and I can't wait for next year! Heck with these other impostors. When does the Bulls preseason start again???? :-D Janny

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

WOW!

...the best way to express what happened between the Bulls and Pistons last night. WOW! for the Bulls' shooting 72 percent during the first half. :-) WOW! for the take-charge attitude by every Bull on the floor. ("Go ahead, call fouls on us...there are plenty more scorers where Ben Gordon and Luol Deng come from.") WOW! for the way the Bulls took off and never looked back. THAT's Bulls basketball as I love it. but mostly... WOW! for the way this Little Team That Could walked into The Palace and took first the Pistons and then their crowd out of the game...literally. With a little over six minutes left to go in the ball game, people started for the exits so fast you could have sworn the Palace had just been lifted at one end and shaken. They couldn't have left any faster if they'd been ordered to evacuate. And THAT is always a pleasant sight to see. Especially in Detroit. Here's to going into the United Center on Thursday night and playing Bulls basketball, once again, the way it should be played. And then, go back to Auburn Hills and make history. WOW! Janny

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Now if I just knew where New Scagglethorpe is...

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Empress Janet the Surreptitious of New Scagglethorpe
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Why I Love the Marx Brothers, vol. I

...was watching a bit of A Night at the Opera on my daughter's computer (I am a technological baby, and it never ceases to amaze me that we can watch movies on a laptop! Hello!), and came away wondering why it is that I can watch most Marx Brothers movies over and over again, to the point where I know most of the lines...but I still laugh. (Wanna see this in action? Just say “Help is on the way!” at the right time. Trust me on this.) There are a number of reasons for this that have to do with my personality, of course. I just love their brand of humor. I especially love Groucho. (Like, who doesn't love Groucho?). He can set me off with one arch of those classic eyebrows, not to mention the one-liners… Why aren’t people funny like that anymore? You have to wonder. Have we really grown so “sophisticated” as a culture that we can’t appreciate classic Marx Brothers humor? I don’t think so, because the last time I rented this movie from a video store, the guy behind the counter—considerably younger than I—took one look at the title and said, “Ahhh, one of the great ones.” After which we both said, in unison, “The stateroom scene!” I take heart that every new generation seems to rediscover the Marx Brothers, if they’re lucky enough to have smart parents and/or friends who introduce them…although it’s sad that they have to be “introduced” at all to this classic comedy. I mean, we have Comedy Central on cable that’s devoted to nothing but being funny, right? So shouldn’t they be showing those movies as routinely as breathing? They’re not—for reasons that baffle me, if indeed they have any—so it remains to those of us who “know” to introduce the kids to this kind of humor. And it seems to me we’re doing them a service every time we do. Why? Because those were the days when comedy was still fun. Because as double-entendre laden as Groucho’s flirting always was, it never crossed the line of decency. Because Harpo could fall all over a pretty girl—literally—and it was perfectly innocent. Because Chico was free to talk with an accent all the time—a good Jewish boy, faking a hard Italian accent (!)—and no one thought it “ethnically insensitive.” Above all, though, this kind of humor needs to keep being interjected into the marketplace to counter all the crap. Because in those days, they all knew they didn’t really need to use even one word of strong language to make anyone laugh. Because Margaret Dumont, God rest her, was the “straight man” to end all straight men. She didn’t need to use any phony devices to telegraph to you that “this is funny, so you’re supposed to laugh now.” You knew it was funny. You didn’t have to be told. Kids of all ages need to be reminded that you don’t have to say naughty words to be funny. That being funny doesn’t have to happen by means of being cruel to someone else. That “snotty” and “clever” are not the same thing. And that bodily functions cease being a source of humor somewhere before seventh grade, so if you’re still laughing at them… They need to know that before Borat said outrageous things for laughs, Groucho was saying better ones. They’re still better, and they’ll always be better, if for no other reason than you can watch a Marx Brothers movie and not feel like you have to take a shower afterward. Wish I could say the same for most of Comedy Central. Thoughts? Janny

Monday, May 14, 2007

Actually, there really was supposed to be something else here...

...but I couldn't get the code to paste it in right! And yes, it was one of those days. :-) Argh, Janny

Friday, May 11, 2007

Be Careful What You Pray For, Continued

To answer the questions about the career/job/stuff that I mentioned before... all I can say is, the particular thing that popped up and whomped me upside the head may not be as good as it looked to be at first. Long story short, I was reading Publishers Lunch (which as writers you all should, IMHO, if for publishing gossip if nothing else) right after having prayed for something to "shake up" my work life...and in the jobs section was an Associate Editor position at one of the five or so places that I literally would drop everything to join. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I started buzzing around like crazy. I think I buzzed all afternoon. I was so buzzed I nearly went in and talked to my supervisor along the lines of "I'm looking at this new thing, how bad do youse guys wanna keep me?" This would not have been a great thing to do, but fortunately in my case, neither would it have been the disaster it might have been in other places. :-) Then I reread the job description and started to see red flags. One of them was a heavy emphasis on "direct mail campaigns" and marketing. Another was a mention of "helping editors with correspondence." (Hello? That's an editorial assistant or secretary's job, not an "associate editor's.") Another was mention of the need for proficiency on Microsoft Office software, Outlook, Excel, etc. Now I can tell you something about my job. It's NICE that I know Excel...but I don't need it. I use Outlook for e-mail, which is a piece of cake. I use Word, of course, for the bulk of editing work...which while counterintuitive in so many ways, at least isn't unworkable like so much other software I could mention. But the job description I answered for this position didn't ask about Excel, didn't mention direct mailing, and didn't talk about "assisting" anyone with "correspondence." So I broke down and sent an e-mail to the HR people at this employer, asking for clarification. They can do one of three things. They'll either ignore it entirely because it doesn't have the resume and salary history attached, so they won't even bother to READ it... They'll send me back a form e-mail thanking me for sending my application and telling me they'll only contact me if they want to hear more... Or they'll actually answer the questions I asked. If they do the third one, a) they really are a place I wouldn't mind working at, in that they treat people as human beings... and b) I'll actually have enough information to decide if I want to put in a resume in the first place. I suspect, however, that more likely the first or second will apply. Which, considering I wouldn't even do the job in the first place on anything but a telecommuting/remote/traveling basis anyway, probably means this thing is dead in the water. However, that doesn't mean that God isn't looking to perk up my work life in some OTHER way...something that this could lead me to, or through, to another turn entirely. So keep watching, and waiting....and I'll post if any other lightning strikes my bottle. Janny

A small collection of goodies...

Some wonderful stuff from cyberspace: Danielle Bean, Catholic mom and blogger, tickles the funnybone with this heartfelt question...who ate all the chocolate? I am a great Ann Coulter fan (her occasional off-the-deep-end stuff notwithstanding), and this is reason for hope. And another couple of reasons... And finally, a book that could change your life. It's still working on mine. Results TBA. Other than the fact that I'm a Bulls fan, and therefore, it's not a good day...it's a good day. All we need now is a four-game win streak. (Which if we can do it will make NBA history...which, I think, will fit this young, scrappy team wonderfully.) Surely we can do that against a team we beat three out of four during the regular season? (sigh) More later... Janny

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Yeah, I Was Brutal

A short postscript on yesterday's post... Yup, I was brutal. And nope, I don't take back a word of it. All you have to see to justify my sentiments is watch how Jason Marquis handled a one-run lead...for nine innings last night. And darn near had a no-hitter in the process. WTG, Jason. You and Rich Hill get to give the clinic this week. :-) More later, Janny

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Ryan @^#%$+ Dempster: How Much is Enough?

Memo: To Cubs Management Subject: Ryan Dumpster—er, Dempster—and "Oh, no, it happened AGAIN." Okay. As a Cub fan, I have to say this. You can spout all the PR you want, you can apportion the blame for last night’s loss as many ways as you need to, you can decry the lack of offense at key times…but enough is enough. The plain fact of the matter is, you gave the ball to your closer, and he couldn’t close the game for you. Ryan Dempster lost that game for you last night. No one else did. Quit blaming the lack of offense. Quit blaming mental errors. Quit saying “we missed opportunities to win.” RYAN DEMPSTER LOST THAT GAME FOR YOU IN THE NINTH INNING. PERIOD. Harsh? No. Unrealistic? No. He’s a CLOSER. By definition, that means you hand the ball to this guy, and his job is to get outs. And if he does his job right, he only has to get three of them. What’s so dadblamed hard about that? Yes, I know he’s facing major league hitters. But that’s why he’s a major league pitcher…because he’s supposed to know how to face these guys and get them out. This is where, and why, he earns his living. Yes, I know he “only” had a one-run lead to work with. But that's part of a closer's job...to work with what he's dealt. He doesn’t get the right to complain about the lead being too small. One run is plenty for a legitimate closer. A closer closes. He saves leads. He thrives on the challenge of getting those monstrous three outs. And he doesn’t “tip his cap” to the other guy for being able to hit a fly ball and tie the ball game, as Dempster did to his opponent. Because a real closer hasn't put the tying run within range of scoring on a sacrifice fly in the first place. A closer’s job is to finish. Keep the lead, keep the bases clear, and get people out. Not put runners on base. Not flirt with disaster, time after time, by walking guys, hitting guys, or throwing wild pitches. Dempster makes a habit of this. Has for a few years now. If we have a six-run lead, he’ll come in and give up three. If we have a two-run lead, he’ll come in and give up one. If we have a one-run lead, WE CANNOT GIVE THE BALL TO HIM. HE CANNOT DO THE JOB. Yes, technically this year this is his first “blown save.” Let’s look at that for a few minutes though. Really look at it. You tell me if it’s not the stupidest piece of cockamamie illogic to enter an already illogical field (i.e. professional sports). Under the “blown save” rules, you can come in with a three-run lead, blunder your way through an inning and give up two of those runs, and have the tying run at third base…but if the team still manages to win the game somehow, you get a save. NONSENSE. “What else would you call it?” someone may ask. “He saved the game.” To which I would have to say, “You mean he just didn’t find a way to lose it.” A closer’s job isn’t to throw pitches not to lose. A closer’s job is to pitch to win. In one inning. Game. Set. Match. Done. A closer’s job isn’t to mount up drama by putting his team in danger, time after time, by letting the other team get men on base. Closers don’t come into games to make them exciting. Closer’s jobs are to make the game boring at that point. I repeat...Game. Set. Match. Done. A closer’s job is to get those other team players out. Period. It’s called CLOSING for a reason. Every once in a rare while, a closer gets “dinged.” Mitch Williams has probably one of the most famous “dings” in history, an unfortunate end to what was a great career. But even Mitch had started to put himself in precarious situations way before that happened. So one could even say, in that particular World Series case, that the dynamite he’d been playing with so often just finally came back and blew his fingers off. That will happen with time, to even the best of them. Which is how they know when to quit. But what’s Ryan Dempster’s excuse? He’s not even a veteran yet. He hasn’t had the brilliant rise of a career, the World Series wins, the playoff finishes, the laurels to fall back on. He hasn’t been around long enough to claim that he’s on the denouement of a great pitching run. All he has right now is an official stat that says he’s “saved” X number of games, and “blown” one of those potential saves this year. But how many more games did he come close to blowing, and was rescued by the skin of his teeth? Or because his team had enough runs in the bank that even he couldn’t blow them all? The work he's done to get credit for all these so-called “saves” isn’t closer quality. It’s not even close to the kind of performance he’d have to put forth in a league championship or World Series game. And it won’t be, as long as we continue to run him out there and give him credit for saves that he just doesn’t manage to give away before the other side gets itself out. He’s not alone in this mediocre performance level, either. There are others. But I don’t have to hang my team’s record on their numbers, so how other teams deal with this nonsense is up to them. I have, however, a modest proposal for the Cubs. What I wouldn’t give to hear the GM pull aside non-closers like Dempster and say something like the following: “Ryan, we’ve noticed there’s a bit of a problem in the area of getting out of the ninth inning without the opposition crossing the plate. This is a serious problem. And no, the solution isn’t that your teammates need to score more runs. Ryan, to be honest with you, unless we have eight or more runs in our pockets, we can’t be sure you’re not going to find a way to fritter away the lead anyway. No lead, in essence, is safe with you…and in the playoffs, where we’ll be facing tough competition and close games, we simply can’t afford to gamble on you unless you make some changes. “So we need you to make a commitment to fix this. It’ll go like this. “For every runner that reaches base (on anything but an intentional pass we call from the dugout) while you’re pitching, you’ll owe us $10,000. “For every runner that scores while you’re pitching, you’ll owe us $50,000. “And if you blow the game for us totally, you will refund to us the day’s pay we gave you for that game. “Are we clear enough as to how bad this is? And how committed we are to making sure it doesn’t continue? “You say you believe you want to talk to the Players’ Association about this? Well, that’s certainly your right. But before you do, you might want to talk to some other folks in real labor unions. Folks who actually have to perform at their jobs to get paid. Folks who will never see the kind of money you make in their jobs…ever…even if they add up every single paycheck they make until they retire. “Because, Ryan, plain and simple…you’re already taking the money out of their pockets for that game they bought tickets for. You come in and blow that game, you owe them that money anyway. And sometimes it takes weeks, even months, for a working person to save up enough money or have space in the budget just to take their kids to the ballgame—at least partly because guys like you get paid so stinkin’ much. “When a guy like that sees what you do on the mound, he has to wonder about that. “So maybe if you have to give up an amount proportionate to the outlay a fan has to make, it’ll make you concentrate a little better on the mound. Maybe then you won’t take their ticket price and toss it back in their faces, and send them home unhappy, because you as a grossly overpaid Major League Baseball player can’t manage to get three lousy outs to give your team a win at the end of a ballgame…even though that’s all your job is. “So you go out there, son, and you talk to them about that. And then, you come back and tell me about unfair. Or harsh. Or unreasonable. But I don’t think you’re going to want to after that. “Maybe you’ll just want to earn your keep and do your job, like you’re supposed to be doing anyway. “Ya think?” --Janny

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Be Careful What You Pray For!...and some Good News, Indeed

Be careful what you pray for… …you’re liable to get it! More on this later, but suffice to say if you pray for something “new and exciting” to happen in your career, as I did yesterday during Mass, be prepared for just about anything to come your way. Some of it will leave you flabbergasted, a little confused, and more than a little dazed...and some of it may require you to do some heavy thinking. As I'm doing. :-) And be prepared to test anything that does come along, because Satan’s aware of our prayers, too, and he likes to counterfeit us and/or lead us astray if he can… Meanwhile, there’s great news from the fomer-Prod side of the fence: another evangelical has found his way home! Of course, he's getting a lot of heat for this. As would be expected for a man in a high-profile position. And of course, some of the attacks are ridiculously simpleminded; they reflect nothing more in some cases than some very active anti-Catholic prejudices, warmed over and served up yet again. There are some very, very tired arguments out there against Catholicism--most of which are based on erroneous impressions, second-hand accounts, or half-truths. But the longer many people spend looking into Catholicism, the more they come to love it. And that's ALL good. :-) Anyway, pray for HIM if you think of it. He'll need lots of us holding him up in prayer. And if you think about it, go to his blog and welcome him to the family, just as it suggests in this link. More later! Janny

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

You might want to...

...check these people out. Another market for those of us who write Christian, wholesome, clean, uplifting, positive...and so on, and so forth. They have a couple of contests going which I may be entering, and they are delightful people. :-) Be sure to tell them where you saw this link! http://www.sunpenny.com/index.html Janny

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The answer at last!


Now, you really have to love this one...
Janny