Today was hard. We went out around noon. The streets were empty, even around Union Square, and we couldn’t wait to get back inside. Though, really, who is having a good day? Maybe China, the country seeing the other side of the curve with positive cases slowing down. In NYC, the virus is ramping up for an almighty wallop in 7-14 days. To me, it feels as if we’re already there so a bedtime story from Dolly Parton is the long-overdue crack that we need. I signed “our children” up for a reading this Thursday.
Chris Cuomo now has the virus and is confined to his gorgeous basement. How manipulative of him to contract it and woo me away from Rachel Maddow! He must know that this Bloom household thrives on hypochondriacal symptoms and surgeries on Youtube. Damn you, liberal mainstream media (I love you)!
Right this moment, my husband is teaching an online French class and tending to our meatloaf dinner. He is a patriot and a rock. We are lucky that we’re not destroyed by this virus (yet). But I’m also counting the seconds before we can launch back into The Tiger King, where drugs, cat prints, and murder-for-hire abound! After a day of answering emails, editing, and reading, I’m ready for some trash and a margarita.
My brother and I–both bad with money–decided to buy sewing machines and sew masks. We also talk about doing an uninformed history podcast (funny because our parents are historians and we’re pretty dim). Our sewing could go the way of the podcast. Or we could save the world!
Governor Cuomo urges us to find a silver lining in all of this. Here is ours: We are employed. I’m grateful to writers who write books that I love to edit and read. We don’t starve. Our family is fine. We have a lovely cat, who is now making sweet love to my fleece sweatshirt. He is fixed, we don’t really know what’s going on, except it’s sort of, you know, obvious. I’m sorry, that was indiscreet of me.
Greetings from COVID central! I didn’t step outside once today. As always, it’s my mission not to make things worse. There is irony to this staying inside thing.
Six years ago, I spent several months mildly paralyzed inside this apartment. It was painful to leave, almost Sigourney-in-Copycat bad. I thought I was dying. With time, it got a lot better. Now I *have* to stay indoors when all I want to do is go out! But it’s cool.
My new deadly virus schedule is the following: Go to sleep at 2:30 am after binge-watching Law & Order: SVU (there are 400+ episodes). I see New York through the eyes of Mariska Hargitay and Ice T. Wake-up time is around 8:00 am after COVID anxiety dreams. Chill for hours and hours, do work, check the news–repeat. This is luxurious compared to what health care workers and parents are dealing with.
Sam and I are conquering the minutia. Laundry. Squabbling over where to get groceries. Trying to keep parental units from the virus (some of them want to touch produce). My brother and his husband said there are hours of entertaining failed Zoom meeting nightmares. Google them! So bad but so good.
Hope you are all okay. Is anyone feeling productive?
I had one of those “If I die of COVD-19” thoughts. So I’ll document what I can in dramatic fashion–and eat a Cadbury chocolate caramel Easter egg while my taste buds still work.
The psychological effects of COVID-NYC are real. Like many, I can’t focus on anything except the dulcet tones of Andrew Cuomo telling us that we will “kick Covid-19’s ass.” To get stuff done, I am trying a new game: putting my to-do list items in a bowl and picking tasks, then absolutely doing them or else. So far, it’s been unsuccessful. Sam tiptoes quietly out of the room.
As a devoted treadmill runner, I’ve had a hard time transferring to running outside. There is the uneven pavement and I am self-conscious.
It is eerie out on the streets, also. You can feel the anxiety with people moving away from each other (as they should). Sam and I don’t stay out for long so we are woefully lacking in cardio. Basically, this is all turning into an Emile Zola novel.
Last complaint, I am not sleeping. Because there’s no place to be, this isn’t too concerning, just annoying. Eventually, sleep will happen. And it will be glorious.
Don’t tell my mother, but I sneak into my deli every few days, wearing rubber gloves and holding my breath. The two sandwich artists behind the deli counter are always there. I’ve seen them almost every day since 2005–and now they’re wearing gloves and masks. I can’t quit them or their turkey club.
If anyone needs a sleep aid, I recommend Jeff Bridges’s Sleep Tapes. My subconscious digs it tremendously. You will find oblivion.
We’ve instituted an earlier cocktail hour. 4:31 is okay. Or even noon. Whatever works, right?
I’ve been knitting a complicated sweater for Charlie, a fellow editor. I started two years ago and am 60% done. But now it’s moving along. I think.
Counting my many blessings! Hope your TGIF leads to an easy and safe weekend.
A few months ago, I thought how great if the world stopped, just for a day or two. Everyone needs a break. Introverts often wish for relaxing home alone situations, but this? Friends, it’s my fault we are here. I willed the bat to spread its infectious turds.
In Casa de Bloom, we are okay. Most businesses are closed except for Walgreens, supermarkets, and delis, with many restaurants doing take-out. My husband and I have stayed inside with the exception of going out for groceries and walks. We regret not having medical skills and I’m debating whether or not to buy a sewing machine to make masks. Our experience is unremarkable. We are just scared. We want to help. And we miss my mommy.
I have no handy tips on how to work from home during a pandemic, except this: Don’t make things worse. My feeling is that if I can’t stay inside for the good of others, that’s pretty bad. It’s a small thing I can do, along with focusing on work and washing my hands. So here is a video of Yossi grooming himself to music.
This will end eventually. Right now, it’s terrible.
This past December, the list of “read immediately” submissions was longer than my winter scarf. We masochists love a challenge, especially if it involves staring at words. Reading for eons is a pleasure–not to mention my job.
I tackled this assignment because it was the end of the year and that’s what vacations are for. Open doc, read, make notes, decide yay, nay, or maybe. I got into a zone. Sometimes it took two pages or a whole chapter before I knew the verdict. After years of urging writers to focus on the whole book, not just the first three chapters, I’ve changed my mind. With our increasingly complex world of fast vs. thorough, we are in an age of just-get-me-through-the-door. On the traditional publisher path, here is what a writer might face.
I am a meaner reader than I used to be. It takes less time for me to decide if I want to keep reading, which is why I am now urging writers to pay extra special attention to those opening pages. Time is limited. Even as I write this, I am distracted by a new Cynthia Rowley sweater. It’s important that you grab an editor’s eye quick–and keep it. Read on, and don’t be distracted, not even by this.
Tip 1: Make that first paragraph, first page count, even if it drives you to eat twenty of these. Elmore Leonard has a helpful list of writing rules. Every little bit helps, right? I’m not a stickler, but weather descriptions are a bore unless you’re in an elevator and you have no idea what to say to your neighbor. And don’t be distracted by everyone’s tips, even these really good ones!
In this vein, if you start off with dialogue, it better sparkle like Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. No mundane comments, like “How does this dress look on me?” Start with a big moment, without throwaway lines. Instead of showing off a dress, maybe she sees a dead body on her doorstep; her test says Not Pregnant which is funny given the kicking in her stomach; as she walks down the aisle, she notices the man she actually wants to marry and he’s officiating the wedding…and you have no idea who your groom is. Or you can knock your reader’s socks off with irresistible points of view (Hello, every Kristan Higgins novel).
Tip 2: So I hear you detail your car. Do that with your first three chapters. Go over every sentence. Every word. Every feeling, movement, description, conversation. Is there balance and flow? Do you repeat “very” and “definitely” and “actually”? As your editor shrink, I suggest you and your book become intimately involved. Does your voice shine through? Do you find cohesion in your plot? This is the moment when you pare away unnecessary sentences, without going overboard. Bribe yourself with treats (candy, beer, cat nip) all the way through.
Tip 3: I love a romance checklist, though you can distill all advice into one question: Will your reader care? If you have those first three chapters the way you want them, have gone over them a million times, and you definitely feel, Yes, my reader (and future editor) will care, you could be ready. But read the next tip first.
Tip 4: Pretend you’re at a glamorous reading for your book. Your hair/makeup are perfect. You manage to appear scholarly and hip at the same time. You have the voice of Maggie Gyllenhaal or Colin Firth. Read your chapters out loud to an audience. As you listen, mark down parts that don’t sound right. Fix them! Read that part again like it’s your audiobook.
Tip 5: During writer/editor pitches, if the story appeals to me, I ask for the complete manuscript and a synopsis. So yeah, it’s better if your book is done. It shows you can write a complete book. But between us girls, you really should have those first three chapters polished and shimmering with wit. Readers like me will likely make a decision based on your beginning. If the writing is solid, she or he will eventually request the complete story. Send three chapters, synopsis and, while you’re waiting for an answer, get that complete manuscript in order.
Bonus Tip: Don’t worry that the editor has read so much and you can’t compete in the slush pile. You totally can! Even after reading 30 submissions, editors will keep reading if #31 is page-turning. We are professionals so we don’t reject an amazing story if we’re in a bad mood. A great book makes the editor forget the real world.
In olden times, before a date I cared about, I took three hours to prepare hair, makeup, clothes, agenda. This ensured failure, but still old dogs. Now I over-prepare to hang out with intimidating people and it is a joy. Intimidation makes me work harder, though the intimidator immediately senses my desperation.
Over the weekend, Sam and I went to visit two spectacular beings. He can vouch for my three-plus hours of hair, makeup, outfit preparation, though he was asleep until five minutes before we left. Half a century has cured me of expecting celestial bonds, talking till all hours about lifetimes past, present, and future, our own TV talk show. Now I do my best to see an intimidating person as someone who also spends three hours to prepare hair, clothes, and agenda. As my brother says, “It’s all about making friends.” Then you have some fun. I did not even spill coffee on the couch.
Other moments from my week:
While looking for non-violent content and came across Gary Gulman’s The Great Depresh on HBO. I could relate to growing up super-tall and skilled at basketball in the 70s and 80s–and also the journey with depresh. Very worth watching and moving.
If you need something to counteract any endorphins, I recommend ordering A Warning by Anonymous. Because we need more books about that person. My tolerance of prose re: this administration lessens with each tweet and book. Who is ready for a good primal scream until he is out?
But I’m grateful for the unique voices that have come forward this week. Here is one (Sam and I are big fans). Was inspired by some of the courageous witnesses in the impeachment hearings. The great Dr. Hill! Now she is someone I would have to prepare at least a day to meet. Intimidating in the best possible way.
In the last week, I read 40+ submissions. You may not believe this, but I love reading slush! It’s not fun to walk in when you’re wearing new shoes, but slush is an oft-tarnished term that means a submission from the publisher’s general pile. What’s wrong with that? Publishers need submissions to survive, end of story.
As I was reading, I noticed once again (as I do with non-slush pile submissions) easy fixes for those about to submit. So, before I forget, here are items you can revise in your sleep.
Clean up your synopsis. Let’s get out of the way that you can’t write a synopsis to save your life. We know that already–though some of you are pros at crafting a summary of your book. One tip is to be aware of how many times you begin a clause with “When”. Vary your sentences. Even if you can’t write a synopsis, do try to write a good one. 🙂
A comma of direct address sets you apart. Pet peeve alert! In the last ten years, maybe more, the comma of direct address has disappeared from many submissions. I don’t understand this. Or I do, but it’s still infuriating. For love of the English language, throw in that comma. I won’t say that leaving it out will make me reject a story, but…
Open your story in the right place. Often, there is an abundance of setup in the first few pages, which bogs down the pacing. I’m more interested in the voice, the character’s point of view as he or she experiences a remarkable event. I don’t care that she’s driving to a scene or getting ready for a party. I don’t need to know what she’s thinking as she goes up the hill in her Honda Civic, wondering if she’ll encounter her mean ex. I want her to be examining the zombie’s body and realizing it’s her lost husband. Some good examples of openings: The Morning Show, Mission Impossible 2, and The Bodyguard (the one on Netflix, not the Whitney Houston one).
Monitor your use of And, But, Actually, Apparently, especially at the beginning of sentences and paragraphs. Even with writers I’ve worked with for decades, I have to strike sentence misfires. It is so easy to start a sentence with And or But or He or She. And it adds to the flow of your paragraph. But it winds up sounding repetitive. And lazy! And did I say repetitive? At some point, you will need to go over every single word in your manuscript (don’t leave it to the editors). Be brave in getting rid of those easy words or at least use them sparingly.
So your villain calls your heroine a bitch. Do you envision a man with a twisty mustache, too? Since I first began reading romance novels, I encountered this same bad person. Forty years later, bitch is stale and dated. In the real world, don’t you think your villain would call her something…I don’t know…hard-hitting? Better yet, give your evil mastermind a creative way to insult the heroine. Think of Hannibal, who knew exactly how to push Clarice’s buttons without name-calling.
That’s all I’ve got on this Sunday. Happy Writing and those who are Nanowrimo-ing, keep on rocking those words! You can do it.