If you love it, eat it.

There is an article from FlavorWire that I stumbled across on Twitter (thanks to Debbie Ohi, @inkyelbows) earlier this week that I wanted to share with you all. It’s about authors writing to their young fans. My favorite snippet:

“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, ‘Dear Jim: I loved your card.’ Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.” –Maurice Sendak

The letter from Harold Pinter is also pretty funny. Sometimes, a shed is just a shed.

Read the full article here.

1,000 Words: III

Reflecting pool in Luray Caverns.

This is a picture I took a while ago in Luray Caverns. I always love visiting caves–they are so eerie and fascinating and still. I think it’s the stillness that gets me; here we are, hundreds of feet below the earth. No light but what we bring ourselves, and the only natural sound is the constant dripping of water. It’s so far from what we know of life, so alien, but it’s all part of the same world in which we live. It inspires wonder.

Where do you all find wondrous things? How do you incorporate those experiences into your writing?

Be jealous. Be fabulous.

Want to know a secret? shifty eyes Come in closer. That’s it, a little closer. Okay, there, that’s good.

Someone, somewhere is jealous of you.

That’s right. At any given moment there is at least one person in the world that is jealous of your looks, your talent, your relationships and your lifestyle.

Think about it. How many times has someone eyed that pair of shoes you’re wearing? Or remarked on how your hair is always perfect? It’s a good feeling.

Sometimes, that knowledge–the knowledge of someone’s jealousy–may be the only thing that gets you through the day, and that’s fine. Cling to that thought like a lifeboat off the Titanic if you have to. It isn’t very enlightened, or kind, but it makes you feel good.

So let the haters hate on, because you’re fucking fabulous.

Hey, are you jealous of someone now? Good. Take that, make it the fuel for your awesomeness. Tell that person how much you are inspired by his accomplishments or style. Because it would be the truth. Everyone wins!

Jealousy is motivation.

I mean, let’s face it. There is always someone better than you at something, and if for one shining moment you’re the best, then there will be someone hot on your heels to take that title away.

But that’s okay. It’s necessary. Greatness is built on the shoulders of those that came before. So, if you’re jealous of your buddy because he is a literary genius and a stellar human being to boot, well then, use him as an example. Look at the bar he set, and aim higher.

Strive to be better–not because you want to “show him up,” or out of some misplaced sense of revenge, but simply because it will make you better. Let your jealousy be a measuring stick for your greatness. Let it motivate you to do more. Be more.

Here’s an exercise for you:

Go on Facebook, or Twitter, or comment on a blog and find that person you are jealous of and secretly admire. Fortify yourself with food or beverage of choice and then say “I am jealous of you because ___ , and it’s made me better at ___ because I want to be just as good as you are. You’re awesome.”

And on days when you can’t do that, well. Just remember someone feels the same about you.

Murphy’s Law

Okay, my doves, I’m about to explain to you the weird plague of klutzy that has haunted me the past couple of weeks. Be advised: this is not so much complaining as it is sharing incidents of ineptitude that I hope you find amusing, because DAY-UM. I know I laughed.

Let’s rewind to the end of last month/beginning of this month. If you were not already aware due to IRL friendships, I am more than a little fond of “The Boondock Saints.” It’s my “I’m-feeling-shooty” movie and I find it therapeutic. Also, there is a wee bit of eye candy on-screen at all times.

Oh, wow if this was Murphy-Murphy’s Law, I’d be okay with its (his) persistence. 

Norman Reedus is on AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” He kills zombies. He is also Murphy in “Boondock Saints.” He is my hero.

Hey there, Norman. *eyebrow waggle*

Ahem. Uh, anyway. I was joking around with my cousin, re-enacting a scene with a folding hair-dryer. I brandished it like a gun, and said–quoting the movie–“Get your stupid fucking rope,” and the hair-dryer promptly folded over my finger. I collapsed to the floor in giggles and howls of pain, because, you know, it hurt. That was incident number one.

The next week, I was cleaning up the floor of the laundry room, sweeping with a broom. I’m trying to do this quickly because I had some writing to do. I was also feeling silly, so I was singing Sara Bareilles’ version of “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” at the top of my lungs, like some modern and tone-deaf Disney princess and not really paying attention. Then, smack. I hit myself in the nose with the broom handle. I stared at the broom for a good 30 seconds in disbelief, and then asked of the ceiling: “Really?”

Incidents three, four  and five happened Wednesday. Oh yes, three at once. Triple whammy. It started innocently enough: I got up right when my alarm went off at 4:30 a.m.  about 20 minutes after my alarm went off and stumbled into the bathroom to put on my contact lenses (I have Coke-bottle glasses. For serious). I must have somehow scratched my cornea the day before because the moment I put that lens in my eye  there was EXCRUCIATING PAIN.

I want those who don’t have contacts to understand the gravity of this situation. It’s like having a sharp, prickly twig that’s doused in kerosene rammed into your eyeball and then lit on fire. It burns and pokes and hurts all at once, and your eye seizes shut and you flail around for ten or fifteen seconds screaming before you get your head in the game and think “Hames, get that fucking thing OUT of your EYE.” But, you guys, I tried, and the lens wasn’t there. 

It had shimmied up into my brain pan somehow and my fingers just scraped over my eye. So, for five whole minutes–which seems like a lifetime in these situations–I stood, bent over my sink, tearing up in the one eye, praying (and cursing) and hoping (and cursing) that the tears would slide it back into place and I could remove it. Finally, after an age of man, I managed to remove damn thing and I shoved it back into its case. I wore my glasses instead.

And then. Oh my. I bring a granola bar to work for part of my lunch. Totally cool, right? It’s a granola bar. It’s healthy. I’m an adult, I can chew and swallow my food like a champ. I’ve got this. Ha! Wrong. I took a bite, got a little oat-chip stuck in my throat and started to cough a bit. The light coughing made me swallow more of the granola, which made me choke a little. Which made me exhale through my nose. Which made a piece of granola get lodged in my nostril, from the inside.

Yeah, you read that right. I had granola in my freakin’ nose. You ever choke on orange soda and have it spew out your nasal cavity as a kid? Well, this is similar. Only solid, and it sticks.

Once I had that situation handled, I thought everything would improve. I’d done so many stupid things that day, surely I had met my quota. Oh, I was so mistaken. I was slicing vegetables for dinner and to add insult to injury, I totally nicked my finger with the paring knife. It wasn’t bad, but it’s like the cherry on the ice-cream sundae.

Sigh.

This isn’t all that bad in the grand scheme of the universe, I understand. In fact, I find it quite funny. You know, now that I’m not clawing out an eyeball or blowing granola-boogers. I think this would make for excellent writing material at some point. There is a clumsy character within me that will be playing around and whack himself in the face with a broom. It’ll be awesome.

The moral here, kids, is that you are dangerous at all times. Mostly to yourself. Exercise the act of life with caution. And maybe a helmet.

Rerun: Ease up on the backstory, tiger

Full disclosure: This is a repost from my former blog, which talks about snakes. There are no actual snakes pictures in this post. Don’t be scared.

I, Jackie Hames, blogger, writer and quasi-journalist, am guilty of writing too much back story. My professor told me so.

I know! I know, you all didn’t realize I how low my lows really were. But, there it is; I begin at the beginning, and sometimes, that just ain’t right. No, really. It isn’t. Allow me to demonstrate.

Which of the following seizes your interest immediately?

  1. My friend and I went out to Prince William Forest Park today to take some pictures. We got there, parked, and found a trail we both thought would be idyllic. The day was sunny and warm, and we were in high spirits. We were walking along the trail, taking pictures of random shadows and mushrooms, when we came upon a snake.
  2. My friend and I were out taking pictures in the park. We followed this one trail that was down by the water, and soon came upon a snake.
  3. “SNAKE!” I bellowed. “Holy Moses, it’s huge! Take a picture!” Friend gestured with her camera. “I hate snakes! You take a picture!” “Fine, I’ll take the pic—OH MY GOD IT MOVED! Get a park ranger!”

If you didn’t say C, I think I may need to have a chat with you. Let’s analyze this, shall we? Excerpt A, while detailed, is pretty much unnecessary. Yawn. I don’t care how sunny it is if you found a king snake. Snakes are much more interesting than idyllic, sunny trails.

Excerpt B is decent, but there’s still a little too much back story in this instance—the idea here is to grip reader’s attention.  And excerpt C does that (or I think it does, at least). I mean, if someone yells “snake” at the top of her very capable lungs, aren’t you going to be paying attention? It conveys urgency. And, through the dialogue and small-detail narrative, you can piece together generally where these two are, and what they may be doing.

Once your characters have moved past the main action, there will be time for a bit of back story. But keep the mystery going, don’t reveal too much at one time, and reveal it through different venues: narrative, dialogue, action, that sort of thing. Of course, if you need to reveal a key detail before proceeding with the story, do so. Just remember that too much back story may make your readers lose interest.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course, and some writer’s masterfully place the back story right in your face and are successful—mostly because the back story is full of action. But, if you stick to revealing the past gradually, and through the characters’ actions or dialogue and interaction with each other, readers will stay interested longer. Which is the central goal: keep readers entertained.

I can’t tell you how many times I was guilty of excerpt A, or how often I still find myself doing that sort of thing. It’s a nasty habit to break, but that’s what first drafts are for, after all. Bad habits.

When I discover way too much back story, I cut it out and save it as reference for character development. Or, repurpose it and insert it elsewhere in the story. That seems to work well for me. How do you all deal with excess back story or other bad habits?

PS: All this talk of snakes reminds me of a cool book from gothic artist Brom, called “Plucker.” It’s like a twisted version of “Toy Story,” with voodoo and king snakes.