Monday’s Pet Peeves

Cake with cherriesRomance Pet Peeves:

In many manuscripts, I encounter the repetition of “thing.” It’s what you use if you can’t bear to take the three minutes to identify a better word. George had some things to say to Rick. The thing is, Rick had something on his mind as well. I just want to make up a “thing” song to go along with the sentences. Thing, thing, thing, thing, thing, THING, thing, thing.

Romance requires the use of these sensory words: look, hear, touch, taste, feel. They’re all weak if overused, especially look. He flashed her a look while she looked at him. He looked at her.  I find myself (another pet peeve–really, you find yourself? How cool is that? Where did you find yourself, at the ice cream truck?) consulting the thesaurus for alternatives. Watch, stare, gaze, eyed. Maybe I’ll save 1/2 of the looks.

Desert vs. dessert: There’s a way to remember this spelling. In the desert, there is a lack of water. Less. Less S. With dessert, you always want more. Two pieces of cake are better than one. Two Ss. Why am I always thinking about dessert (see picture)?

A paucity of physical description: This is especially true for multibook writers, those who have penned 10+ books. You may describe the romantic Greek villa, but leave out what hero and heroine look like. The more physical traits, the better for me. Oh, but you want the reader to imagine her version of the characters? Sorry to say, I’d rather more details. You don’t have to describe every freckle or say she looks like Mila Kunis’s twin, but if I can’t visualize them, I imagine these bald mannequins running around the Greek isles.

Fragment fatigue: Sometimes I like fragments. They can put emphasis on a passage. Even after hours in the jungle, escaping the dreaded Galzar monster baby, Jake Hunter almost cried with relief that he’d escaped the miles of poison ivy. Until he saw the rash on his abs. Some writers do it. All the time. It gets. Kind of annoying. Like so annoying. Why not craft a nice sentence, with several clauses, and make the fragment a rare thing?

General Pet Peeves:

“Literally” is like literally everywhere! (That usage is wrong, by the way) Is it so awful to say, “And he was like literally calling me every two seconds…?” No way is he literally calling you every two seconds. You can remove literally and let the hyperbole stand on its own. Or is it that we want to sound literary by using literally? It’s much hoity-toitier than “basically” or “actually,” last year’s “literally.” I’m going to mutate this word and see if it takes off: Obliterally. I’m obliterally losing it.

From my magazine reading: Is it just me or does the phrase, “flaunting her curves…” really mean, “jiggling expansive body mass all over the place?” There are just certain celebrities who get the “flaunting her curves” treatment in the media. I flaunt my curves all the time on the treadmill. They are flaunting literally everywhere as I run. If I eat too much cake, I find myself flaunting myself over to Anthropologie to buy bigger clothes.

Just saying. I’ve become allergic to this one. It’s that smart-allecky I’m rude but, hey, at least it’s honest. I can’t wait for Just saying to become Just over.

My First Book Truths

10152008_687069621331318_7133920326405154149_nNow that some time has gone by since Romance Is My Day Job came out, I made a list of what I learned. Since age nineteen, I’d always wanted to publish a book, many books. Was it all that I’d thought it would be? Yes and no. The best parts were the process of writing/editing, holding the hardcover in my hands and seeing my loved ones at my B&N reading. The hardest part was wrestling with change, my ego, and the voices in my head. Luckily, I had so much help throughout the process, to the extent that my book publishing experience was a happy one and I dealt with exceptional professionals who carried me the whole way there and beyond. But for next time, and I think there will be a next time, I will know better the following*:

  • Not everyone is obsessing about your book. You start to feel stupid for bringing it up in every conversation. But it’s all you can think about. Make an effort to understand that other issues need your full attention.
  • Just because your dream came true, your problems won’t magically disappear. In some ways, you develop even bigger or new problems.
  • Great milestones reveal who your real friends are. They are happy for you and show it. People you’d least suspect might shock you with their unflagging support. It puts relationships into perspective.
  • You spend money on crap because you think you have a little more, until you realize the massive check you have to write to the IRS. If you write a book, your taxes are seriously screwed forever. But it’s not about the money. It shouldn’t be. No big deal if you can’t have daily trips to Anthropologie. Maybe one a week.
  • The people who contact you out of the blue will surprise you–and even lift you very high. Some stick around and become real friends. This is such a joy.
  • Getting reader mail is a blast! You want readers to smile and feel good. It’s one of the main reasons you wrote the book. Making these connections brings more happiness into the world.
  • You will be canceled on, postponed, ignored, forgotten, with hopes raised and deflated. Others will follow through. All of this happens even without a book.
  • Those who treat you like garbage will still treat you like garbage even though you’ve written a book. Conversely, your champions will cheer you on from beginning to end. Remember to champion your champions, too.
  • Your loved ones might see you as this sparkling human for a day or two until they realize that you’re the same lazy butt playing Candy Crush on the couch. And this is awesome because, to paraphrase Popeye, you are who you are.
  • The voice in your head that says everyone hates you gets a little louder when you put yourself out there.
  • But you shut it down faster because you wrote a book. Who cares what people think?
  • Did I mention the paranoia? With a memoir, airing your dirty laundry, you continue to watch your back everywhere you go. By the way, this is author self-absorption since your rational mind understands you’re a speck in the cosmos and did not write The Satanic Verses.
  • You have to deal with reviews and they all love, feel meh, or hate different parts of your book. There’s nothing you can do and if it doesn’t benefit your future writing, why not just read the glowing reviews? You can decipher those from the publicist’s emails (bless her) and file away the rest. Respect free speech, the effort made by critics, and that life is dull without opposition. But there are enough bad reviews in your head.
  • You have wasted days tracking sales, thinking of ways to increase sales. You react with either manic strategizing or total paralysis. Everyone has a product these days, so you feel silly adding to the heap. Next time, don’t look at numbers for a few months and just go, go, go, publicize even if you’re sick of yourself.
  • Plan indulgent events for the two months after the book’s release. There will be a crash.
  • The weight of that second book looms, you have several ideas but no Frankie Avalon to tell you what to do. After working so hard on one book, you might feel depleted, which means the short moment in the sun is gone. No manager is whispering in your ear. There’s the reality that writers need to develop their own ideas. What a concept! Start a new project ASAP.
  • Enjoy the wild ride and whatever gifts it brings. Not everyone can write a book. With hard work and creativity, you can do it again. You really should.sam

In the meantime, go back to your normal life, which is a pretty charmed one since you like what you do, writing is fun, and, best of all, you get to look at this sweet mug every day.


*Here’s another list by author Matt Haig, with some similar points.

The Birthday Wish Candle

Do you keep things? I cerphoto (37)tainly do. It’s a little much. I keep a penny from every year I’ve been on this earth. I’ve saved the embarrassing diaries, sentimental poetry, pictures from every cringeworthy phase, and, yes, all my ticket stubs from Jersey Boys. I still have the shoes I wore all over France in the 80s–they fit but are more a museum piece–and I can’t seem to throw away the notes Sam leaves me, even if they’re scrawled on Post-its. When I clean, I go through these items and cherish fond memories…and my clutter grows.

Speaking of clutter and fond memories, in my book, I describe a birthday wish made during a moment of jadedness. At 41, I had decided to stop dating–but perhaps amp up my romance reading pace. Real-life dating just wasn’t fun anymore. I was dead tired after twenty-five years of dating and heartbreak. Of course, this was when I dared myself to jump even though I was afraid of heights. My birthday wish was that I’d wind up engaged within a year. Talk about fantasy-land! The idea of my settling down seemed ludicrous so I felt comfortable making this wish. Of course, I pocketed the candle then went about my business. As a single gal, I had found the path to Happy–in my own moody way–but what transpired three weeks after the birthday wish only broadened the scope of that happiness. I’m incredibly grateful Sam showed up.

During my spring cleaning–and a little sentimental journey through my wedding album–I found said candle taped inside with a note to myself. I’m learning to let go of some items (like my ticket stub to Anchorman 2), but I’m really glad I kept this candle!


Ps. Up until last year, I’d kept all my baby and wisdom teeth, but Sam happened upon them and they’re now gone. (I think)

Conferencing Weekend

photo (35)I always have mixed feelings when leaving my couch, but the part of my brain that governs good choices knows that a change of scenery usually brings cheeriness. My quick visit to the Washington Romance Writers Retreat did not disappoint! In fact, it was just what the doctor ordered after a long winter indoors. The carbo-loading buffet alone chased away those weather blues. I got to meet colleagues I’d admired from afar, talk a little about what I do, quietly worship some of my favorite writers and listen to some impressive pitches. Llliana Hart and Robin Perini gave inspirational speeches about their journeys to publication. And, as usual, I talked the ear off of bestselling author Mary Burton, one of my all-time faves to read and hang out with–and she’s always very patient with my rambling*. This is such a great conference. If you ever want a weekend packed with workshops, friendship, and a little hedonism (what happens at the Best Western stays at the Best Western), this is a great retreat.  Lastly, there’s a Waterworld pinball machine in the vending machine room at the hotel. What more could you ask for?

And now it’s back to reality–editing a book FAST.

*She has a new book out. Go buy it!

My Real Desk

photo (34)On my Facebook page, I often post nice pictures of my immaculate desk at work. Because of limited and shared space, I try to keep it neat (between you and me, I hide everything in the filing cabinet). At home, my true desk is a disaster. For decades, I was neat, Pledging my desk and clearing out unnecessary clutter. Now, I have piles upon piles, baskets of whatever, bowls of coins, paperclips, a mountain of scratch paper and three mugs of pens. Why do I keep buying new pens? It’s funny how I keep thinking I need to use different glasses for water. Then there’s the yarn. Not only are there three knitting bags in my closet (down from five), but also, a growing heap of yarn lives behind my computer monitor. This picture is tame.

I thought I would clean my desk over my vacation, but eight episodes of Californication later, my work table still held the spoils of editing war. I’m too busy to clean. Right? My book just came out, and I should be able to coast on this for another six months. My junk yard can stay intact, right?

Please tell me I’m not the only one.  Oh wait, an epiphany–my mother’s desk is like this and she even uses the floor as her filing cabinet. There, it’s genetic.


Using or Losing Vacation Days

Woman in swimming poolMost years, I use up my vacation days by December 31st. This past year, I economized and saved five days for this year. Sadly, I don’t travel much because I’m lazy, destination vacations are expensive, not always a vacation, my husband has different scheduling needs, and I need to work up to a trip psychologically. Since I had to use up my extra week by the end of the month, I found myself in a rare position (don’t hate me) of needing to take days before they disappeared. I didn’t realize this until the last minute–sort of like forgetting to eat lunch. These last 2 and 1/2 days I’ve been “stay-cationing” but still doing what I usually do — editing, checking email, updating my lists. It’s tempting to post pictures of an editor’s exotic time off: reading More magazine, staring at the face serums I’ve amassed in the last year, my FitBit data, and screen-grabs of my web-surfing (TMZ, DListed, Anthropologie). Because my work/life situation is often unbalanced, I forced myself to step away from the computer this afternoon. I did the dishes, made the bed, ironed everything, caught up on Scandal (who knew Scott Foley could be so mean?). Now it’s the weekend.

I’m still not sure what to do. This is why people go away for vacation.

Vanishers and Resurfacers

Young man congratulates his girlfriendThis topic isn’t at all pertinent to my work. In fact, it is the anti-thesis of romance. I only bring it up because some readers have relayed similar “vanishing” and “resurfacing” stories. In Romance Is My Day Job, I discuss my experience with Vanishers and Resurfacers, those love interests that disappear without warning and months later show up again to throw you back into a tizzy. This happens a lot with dating in Manhattan–and I’m sure everywhere else!

Vanishers are so common and easier to get over because they’re just…gone (Berger on Sex and the City–big Vanisher). Sometimes, your Vanisher will vanish even before that first getting-to-know-you coffee date. My favorite Vanisher was Mr. Spinach. He seemed really nice, took a long train ride in for our first date in the city. During dinner, I made the mistake of telling him that he had spinach in his teeth. Gone like the wind! The most preposterous Vanisher had to cancel our first date twice. Then, on the third attempt, his car broke down on the way into Manhattan. I said to my Vanisher, “This isn’t happening.” He protested a little but then vanished. No tears were shed.

Resurfacers were always the most confounding to me because I never knew when an ex would resurface or which ex it would be–The Wordsmith, The Finance Guy or An Old Flame I’d Forgotten About. For a good twenty years, I was deeply flattered by resurfacing flames (there weren’t many, Mom–I swear). Resurfacing resembled a reunion romance, in how the hero has second thoughts and really does want you. But Resurfacers really, usually don’t want you back–they’re just bored. Yes, I spent many hours consulting my older brother, my girlfriends and my Tarot cards over this silliness. I tracked Resurfacers’ reappearances, calculating that they tended to bing* between October and January 1st–time better spent buying not-lame presents for my relatives. As the years passed, I could almost predict the email a week before Thanksgiving, when one might feel sentimental about the past: What’s up, Paysh?  This effortless reaching out would make me as giddy as flashing Christmas lights, bring me back to that sad cycle of high expectations and inevitable deflation. Sadly, I’ve been guilty of both vanishing and resurfacing, which is why when the favor was returned, it really stung. I knew it all meant nothing.

In the 80s, with a lot of time on my hands, I resurfaced through letter-writing, an ancient form of texting–with a 0% success rate. In the 90s, because I had a car, I could accidentally show up where he was–50% success rate depending on whether he was onto my devious “surprise run-in” plan. Even better in its subtlety, with old email systems, I’d “forget” to remove him from my distribution list when I wanted to send around what is now a Buzzfeed quiz or Someecard snarky quote. New email correspondence would ensue, back together, and then realize it’s the same old pits. Moving to Manhattan and discovering the dating scene put V&R into overdrive. With advanced technology, V&R-ing can happen at the press of a button (though Googling exes never makes you feel better). It is now such a tidy, fast way to enter and exit a person’s life without fuss, just to see if there’s hope for a quick fix before another adieu. Finally, in my late thirties, I grew absolutely tired of Vanishers and Resurfacers and had no desire to reconnect with the past…or anyone who wasn’t fantastic. The delete button has been my good friend ever since.

Now that I’m married, this whole issue is moot, but I do get the occasional email: Hey, Freckles. Whatcha up to? And then I tell Sam about it–and then I tell the Resurfacer about Sam. Usually, this causes immediate flight, and I feel sad, only because I know the feelings behind resurfacing (loneliness, boredom). One guy came up to me and said, “I just resurfaced the other day! I don’t know why. I just did it. I wrote to her out of the blue, ‘Hey baby, what’s up?’ I’m a total Resurfacer!”

Looking back, I see my efforts as a big waste of a brain and heart. Instead of reaching out or entertaining a DOA reunion romance, I should have read more books, worked harder, taken up crocheting. But, what can I do? I’m just grateful that I don’t care about any of this now!

*an official term my friend Joe and I use to mean “surprise visit.”