Friday, August 29, 2008

Make 'Em Laugh

My first couple of books were serious, thought-provoking pieces that made you think about the nature of religion, parenthood, and politics. They were the kind of heavy books with lots of pages that make a person look really really intelligent when they read them in a coffee house. They also had about as much entertainment value as the average biscuit.

I'm not ragging on serious books by any means. I like books that make me think; it's just that I have to laugh at books like my first few that try so hard to be insightful and end up being unintentionally ludicrous.

So finally, I had this brilliant idea that maybe I should write the kind of books that I like to read. I really deserve a MENSA membership for that little burst of inspiration. Anyway, thus ensued books about superheroes, zombies, and stalkers (oh my!). Thus ensued books that are funny. Because man, do I like a good laugh.

So now, instead of wanting to be the next Oprah's Book Club pick, I really just want to give people the giggles. Honestly, I'd like to be the Terry Pratchett of YA, except that Terry Pratchett now writes YA so I guess he's got dibs on the title.

Comedy is a lot more difficult than people think. I remember watching an interview about Rowan Atkinson, who played Mr. Bean among other things, and they were talking about how meticulous he is about being funny. How exacting he is, so that when he's doing a sight gag and is covered in pooh, he very seriously evaluates the pooh coverage ratio to make sure that it is at exactly the right level to get maximum laughs. And that is exactly what a comedian needs to do. It's easy to make your friends laugh. It's not so simple to make strangers bust a gut.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Making Things a Little TOO Realistic

So recently I finished reading a werewolf book, because I find werewolves about as amusing as zombies. Almost but not quite, because they don't lurch quite as much, and lurching is just plain humorous. Anywho, this book had a great premise and a pretty interesting plot, but I got a little squicked out by it. See, the author made a real point of making the werewolves have wolfy instincts, only the one wolfy instinct that kept cropping up the most was absolute submission to the alpha. Yeah, THAT kind of submission.


But the whole thing made me think about the concept of werewolves and got me laughing pretty good. See, werewolves are really nothing more than big hairy Cuisinarts. They're huge, and snarly, and they'll quite happily tear your head off and wear it as a bonnet to keep out the sun. What if THEY went overboard with some traditional wolfy type instincts? I'm not thinking submission, although a big hairy Cuisinart rolling around on the floor showing his throat is funny. But even funnier is licking.

Can't you just picture it? The high school couple on a date to lookout point, the full moon emerging from behind a cloud, and Junior turning into a big hairy Cuisinart, fangs and claws glistening in the night. She screams. And then he pounces on her and proceeds to cover her in werewolf slobber.

And seriously, if dogs have doggie breath, what does werewolf breath smell like?


Lick lick lick lick lick.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What's in a Name?

Yesterday, I got compliments both on the names of my kids and the names of my characters. Apparently, I am name-tastic. Name-erific. Namazing. Something like that. But now the whole name thing intrigues me, and I'm wondering how other people do it. My naming procedure goes something like this:

1. Whether it's babies or characters, I think through every person I have ever met in my life. This takes a while but is worth it, because if I've met seven people with the name Kartoffelsalat and didn't like any of them, then the name has negative connotations and I can't use it. This of course would never happen, because "Kartoffelsalat" means potato salad in German and it's my experience that people named after potato products are always nice.

I've never met a potato I didn't like.

2. For babies, hubby and I then argue vehemently about the names. If it's a boy, he suggests a bunch of completely inappropriate names that refer to male private parts, but once we start making serious suggestions we come up with something pretty easily. If it's a girl, he suggests a bunch of names that sound like strippers, only this time he's serious and we argue for weeks. Then I make a completely reasonable suggestion like Penelope, nicknamed Penny, which is really cute, only he says that he thinks "Penelope" should be pronounced to rhyme with "antelope," and that sounds like another pervy name when you say it like that.

3. Back to characters. I just kind of play around with my major character names. Usually I pick something that I know hubby will never go for (i.e., there will eventually be a Penelope in one of my books, and hubby can call her Pee-ne-lope all he wants). Or something that will never, ever sound good with the last name "Harris." Like Harry. Maybe Pee-ne-lope and Harry should get together. I'll make a mental note.

4. For minor characters, I usually hit up random names of former acquaintances. My feeling here is that I can't possibly offend anyone by doing this, because a) I don't talk to these people any longer and b) the character doesn't really do much of anything that might reflect on them personally. Although when I put it that way, it does sound a little offensive, like I'm calling them useless or something, so maybe I'd better stick to picking names out of the phone book.

5. And the last but not least important name rule I've got is to steer away from the middle name Wayne, unless I really want my character to be a serial killer. For baby names, though, it's completely out of the question. Not even if you pronounce it to rhyme with antelope.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's Party Time!

I like to throw parties. My specialty is those murder mystery parties, only I think that the boxed ones are lame so I write them myself. In fact, the Slayer of Bees story from the previous post happened during a murder mystery camping trip that I set up. It was a slasher film murder mystery, and the campground we stayed at had an old church and graveyard on the grounds where we played. I was in charge of the whole thing and even I got a little spooked out!

But one of my problems was always finding enough people to invite, because unfortunately my friends have this tendency to relocate to far-away places. (Is it my deodorant?) Or they lived in far-away places in the first place, like my fabulous critique partner Ami, who has the gall to live in Oklahoma. Funny how you can become so close with people you've never met face-to-face.

But it doesn't really help me with my party problem.

So I've decided that I will throw imaginary parties from here on out. My first party will be the Characters From Books dinner party. Here's the scoop: you can invite five book characters to your dinner party. Who would you choose? My list is long and distinguished:

1. Lord Peter Wimsey, from the Dorothy Sayers' mystery series. Because really, the guy can quote prolifically from classic literature, has a self-deprecating sense of humor, and wears a monocle. And if there's a murder at the party, the killer is totally in for it. Does it get better than that?
2. Miles Vorkosigan, from the Lois McMaster Bujold sci-fi series. Because he's one of the most complex characters I've ever read, and the guy just oozes charisma through the page.
3. C. Thomas Flood, from Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story by Christopher Moore. Because he decides to be a writer and then goes off to the city to starve. Hey, isn't that what writers do? Seriously, though, this book made me laugh my socks off.
4. Granny Weatherwax, from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. Also made me laugh my socks off. I need to buy stock in a sock company. But seriously, when I grow up? I wanna be like Granny Weatherwax.
5. Crowley, from Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Yes, he's a demon, one that didn't quite fall but sauntered vaguely downwards. But when it comes down to it, he's not so demonic after all. Free will, baby. (Aziraphale, his angel counterpart, comes in a close sixth.)

You'll notice that for a YA writer I'm pretty short on the kid lit invites, but that's because I like to cook grownup food for my parties. I refuse to be doomed to a life full of fish sticks and tater tots. (Well, maybe the tater tots.) But I could definitely do a kids' table:
1. Turtle, from The Westing Game. Because she is a shin-kicker extraordinaire. When I was a kid, I wanted to be her when I grew up.
2. Ender, from Ender's Game. Because he's just so damned cool, and I identified with him like I never have with a character before.
3. Jane Jarvis, from Devilish by Maureen Johnson. Because she's not scared by a demon with a cupcake.
4. Meg Murray, from The Wrinkle in Time and sequels. Because we could have been sisters.
5. Witch Baby, from The Weetzie Bat books. Because she's lovable and doesn't know it.

Let's get this party started, eh?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Today is my hubby's birthday. Hubby's a man of many names. He's Silly Acronym Man, the one I turn to when I need a silly acronym for one of my books but am coming up empty. He's Captain Puntastic, keeper of a veritable library of ridiculous puns. And he's just plain Studly. I'll let that one speak for itself. But my favorite nickname of his is Slayer of Bees, which can be abbreviated as Slayer to sound really intimidating or as SOB if you want to tease him. So in honor of his birthday, I'm going to tell my most favorite story in the world: how hubby got his name.

So here's the setup: We were camping with a bunch of our friends, and that morning we decided to go on a hike through this absolutely gorgeous gorge. (Heh. Gorgeous gorge. Sometimes I make myself giggle.) There were two paths running along the length of the gorge: one at the top and one at the bottom. Our group split up; I was in the middle of the top group and hubby-to-be was somewhere at the bottom.

If hubby were here right now, he would insist that I also tell you that I'd had the gall to break up with him before the trip, so we weren't even dating at the time, which makes what he did in the subsequent paragraphs even more cool. So now I've told you that.

So we're walking, which is generally what you do when you go on a hike, and that's when things got weird. Because at one point I looked down, and I was covered in bees. Quite literally covered. There were no bees on the person in front of me. None on the person behind me. Just me.


Anyone who doubts that telepathy exists needs to get stuck in a swarm of bees sometime. Because those suckers quite literally all started stinging me at once, and I didn't do anything to set them off. They were in my hair. One was stuck in my ear. They were up my shirt, crawling on my belly. They were crawling over my mouth.

But luckily, I am a strong woman. I am not afraid of bugs. I am calm and cool under pressure. So I squinched my eyes shut, threw up my hands, and ran along the edge of the gorge screaming my fool head off: "Bees! Bees! Bees!"

Hubby-to-be was like Spiderman. He ran up the side of the gorge, which was a good two or three stories high and a sheer rock face. He stopped me from imminent splattage on the rocks, whipped off his shirt (which was nice), and started whacking the bees off of me. They immediately turned on him, because he was messing with his lunch.

That would be me, of course.

Now, you may already know this, but dead bees release a hormone (I think) that attracts other bees to protect the hive. So the problem kept getting worse and worse; we were in the middle of a swarm, and he grabbed me and pushed me along the trail: "RUN!"

So we all ran from the bees and ended up in a little clearing in the forest, huddled into a group, whispering like the bees might hear us: "Do you think they followed us?" Which seems funny except that they did, and so we did it all over again with the screaming and the swatting and the running, and we eventually ended up in the middle of a blacktop parking lot, which was a good 100 degrees in the heat. If any of those buggers tried to chase us, they would have been toast.

And then hubby-to-be bought me a SnoCone for being "brave." He even remembered my favorite flavor: blue raspberry.

We got back together a couple of weeks later. Because really, how could I not?

And that's the story of Slayer of Bees, my own personal hero. Happy birthday, Slayer. I love you!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Why Didn't I Realize This Before?

When I was in high school (y'know, a long time ago in a galaxy far far away), I was dead set against the whole private school thing. In my adolescent mind, private school girls were snobby little clones. They didn't get to see boys on a regular basis. They had to wear knee socks. All of these were bad, bad things, and I flat out refused to go to a private school. The parental units were plenty pleased by this, because that meant that they didn't have to pay tuition. The problem, or lack thereof, was solved.

But now I'm starting to wonder if I made the right choice. See, the YA shelves are full of books set in private schools, and said books seem to fall into one of two categories: 1) Book is set at an ultra-exclusive private school where the girls ride in limos and wear the latest and greatest fashions. Boys seem to grow on trees in these books, and they are always rakish young fellows with cocky grins. Full on smiles are not allowed in the male species in these books. 2) Book is set at a private school for "special" people. And by special, I mean faeries, vampires, spies, or young adult authors.

Okay, the last one is wishful thinking on my part. But still, why didn't anyone tell me? I was such a sucker for a cocky grin at that time; I would have sucked up all of the soap opera-esque drama at school #1 for the right cocky grin. And #2? That's a no brainer. I would have happily gone to faerie school. Or spy school. I'm not so crazy about vampire school, although back then I probably would have pounced on the opportunity if the vampires passed the cocky grin test.

Books to read: If you haven't checked out Ally Carter's I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You, where have you been all this time? Stuck in a paper bag or something? Two words for you: spy school. Two more words for you: cocky grin. It's a no-brainer.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

All About the Motivation

I'll admit it: I think zombies are cool. I think Shaun of the Dead and Resident Evil are freaking hilarious. I do not particularly like Rob Zombie, but that's because he just doesn't get the campiness that is the hallmark of the tried and true zombie. Because really, when you think about it, zombies are not scary. What's to be scared about? An old lady with a walker could outrun these dudes. And I'm not really convinced that "uuungh" is a battle cry fit to strike fear into the heart of the intended victim. No, I think that the fun of the zombie is that really, as far as monsters go, they're just plain silly.

But that's Hollywood's take on zombies. I, like just about everyone else in the world, decided that I wanted to write a zombie book. I started it, and lo it was good, but it's not done yet because I don't think the camp factor is quite high enough. Anyway, during the whole writing of the zombie book thing, I did a lot of research, because you've got to decide what kind of zombie you want. Is it going to be an unexplicable rise from the dead? A voodoo kind of thing? A virus? Zombie purists would argue that virus afflicted zombies aren't actually zombies. I would argue that said zombie purist seriously needs a life, but that's just me. Anyway, the point is that I did a lot of zombie type research.

And I came upon this. (Warning that this link is decidedly PG-13... but then again so is this blog, I think.)

And to me, the salient point of that website is simple: some dude somewhere is so persuasive that he can convince people that they're lurching, flesh-eating monsters. Yes, he's got the assistance of frightening levels of mind-altering drugs, but still. Imagine how freaking persuasive this guy is. This is not the average you're-getting-sleepy-and-will-quit-smoking kind of thing. This is more like serve-me-mindlessly-and-lunch-on-your-neighbors.

I think we ought to win that guy over to the good side of the force and make him a motivational speaker. Can't seem to (quit smoking/lose weight/stop picking your nose/whatever)? Go see George the Former Voodoo Bad Guy. Yes, you might end up with a tendency to lurch when you walk, you might moan at random during important conversations, but otherwise your problems will be solved.

See? Why don't world leaders come to me for solutions? Because really, I've got all the answers right here, bay-bee.

And the book tie in for this post is yet to come out, but I'm itching to read it: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. Because let's face it, it's a zombie book written by someone named Carrie, which means that it's got to be good.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

About the Book

I know that edits will rear their ugly heads some time in the near future, but I'm kinda hoping that the basics of my book will stay the same (says she, with tongue planted firmly in cheek). As in, I'm willing to make many changes, but not any changes. For example, I might protest if someone suggested that I change my seventeen-year-old girl narrator into a seventy-six year old Swedish goatherder. Although it probably would be funny, now that I think of it.

Anyway, with no further ado, here is the basic plot for my book, currently and tentatively titled Superbly Useless:

In a world where Supers are commonplace, having powers doesn’t make Mira Mason’s life any easier. Mira has problems up the yingyang. She’s smart as bleep but turns into a monosyllabic moron every time she tries to talk to her crush. Her father is quite possibly rat-in-a-coffee-can insane. Bubbles McMasters, aka She of the Stupid Name and Evil Disposition, won’t stop picking on her. Just when it seems like things can’t possibly get worse, a voyeuristic new supervillain starts peeping at Mira’s classmates, and Bubbles tries to convince everyone that it’s Mira in disguise. Mira must prove once and for all that she is not Princess Peeps-a-lot, and to do that, she’ll have to catch the real perv.

Can you tell how excited I am? I'm going to start annoying myself if this keeps up much longer.

Severe Weather Ahead

So I'm a writer. Obviously. And after about a billion years of writing, or more accurately, twelve years of writing, I finally wrote a novel that didn't suck rhino rocks. I sent it out to an agent that I thought might like it. I sent it out again. I repeated that blasted sending out process about a million and one times, and finally, over a year after I started writing the book, I got an offer from an agent.

And lo, there was much rejoicing.

Unfortunately, I have learned something new about myself during this whole process, and the something is as follows: for me, good writing news and freak weather problems come hand in hand. When the wonder that is my agent called, the sky was blue, birds were chirping happily, and children played on the sidewalk. About fifteen minutes after said phone call, hail the size of nickles pelted down on the sidewalk. I feel really sorry for all the kids and birds, because that stuff had to hurt.

Unfortunately, I was unable to photograph the hail, since my son took my digital camera swimming. Instead, I've recruited some stunt double hail for this photo:

A couple of days later, I spoke to another agent who was interested in me, and once again, moments after hanging up, the skies opened and Zeus started hurling thunderbolts at me. I don't understand what he has against my book, but apparently it's offensive. It may have something to do with all of the testicle references in there, but I'm not sure.

So now, I'm starting to work on edits and getting ready for the whole submitting to editors thing, and I wanted to make sure that you all are up to date with what's happening. Because if you live in Southern Michigan or Northwest Ohio, you've potentially got a problem. I predict a tsunami will occur on the day that someone buys this book. That's right, a big ol' tsunami is going to form right in the middle of the freaking Great Lakes and come for me. Because something tells me that Poseidon doesn't like my testicle references either.