Romantic Life Lessons

Day #28: From Sam

Patience has asked me to write a guest blog, or “golb,” as her stepfather would say in palindromic fashion. Palindromes are much more entertaining than pandemics, although really not that much. I have been resorting to more sarcasm than usual these past few weeks and suppose that that is owing to a higher-than-normal level of anxiety. It’s hard to narrow down the source of the latter, which might sound silly, given the fact that we are all more or less confined to our homes because of the coronavirus — new and improved!

But as one train hides another, so does one traumatic event another, and another, and another. 

Oh, where to begin? The birth canal? It was a tight squeeze, Ma, but I made it! Honestly, while I don’t remember that one, there are others that come to mind, in particular the summer of 2006 when crude Russian-made rockets rained down on Haifa for a month. There were air-raid sirens, like the kind you hear portrayed in World War II movies, and bomb shelters, neither of which would do you much good if you were in the wrong spot at the wrong time. And people died and you heard about it in the papers and on tv.

I suppose that fear is not such a bad thing. It is the natural adaptation that prevents most of us from standing too close to the edge of the cliff, pinching the cheek of the child soldier who stops up us at the roadblock or, today, leaving our homes without a facemask. That is not to underrate courage, without which we could never overcome our fear. If we lacked either, it’s safe to assume we would die off as a species. If firefighters were too afraid to fight fires, we would really be in a pickle; and, if, we threw caution to the wind and stopped looking in the rearview mirror before merging onto the interstate…. Well, you get the picture.

Without that delicate balance of hesitation and derring-do, we would hardly be of much use to one another, as couples, families, neighbors, citizens and human beings, in general. Living in close quarters – and I hope that Patience agrees — we learn to temper one another’s fear and courage. “Should you really be doing that?”, and “I think that’s okay” are really sometimes the only words that one needs to hear, bringing a loving perspective to the imperatives of day-to-day physical and emotional survival.  

Romantic Life Lessons, Whining

Day #24 of Staying Home

Greetings from Awfulville!

How is everyone doing and when is this going to end? Remember the days of *no* daily press briefings and packed streets on a Sunday?

I hopped off listening to the “coronavirus task force” updates and transferred my allegiance to local reporting since urban COVID has a different twinge and I just want facts. Today was the first day where the number of deaths had gone down from the previous day. A grizzly, sad but positive-ish sign.

Here are other positives about staying home indefinitely:

*It’s training for your future nursing home/hospice care. You make your own schedule. You get a fifth wind at 4am? Go for it. You have nowhere to be.

* Wearing a bra is optional. Sorry, Mom. You know it’s true. Your own mother is applauding this point from Heaven.

* Impulse (not affordable?) purchases are excused because mental health is crucial. I bought a trampoline and a sewing machine! In addition to wanting to help healthcare workers, I made Sam a shitty mask but it brings out his beautiful green eyes.

* Talking with loved ones rocks. I don’t need a lot of human contact. My phone convos are purely altruistic. Just kidding! I usually feel better after a good chat on the phone. It’s fascinating to learn that I actually miss people.

* Makeup tutorials are relaxing. Bobbi Brown’s MasterClass is excellent. I also enjoyed Kim Kardarshian’s five-minute contouring routine. Her use of bronzer to minimize her forehead is one I’ll attempt. Kim is a total face-Monet.

* RuPaul’s MasterClass releases endorphins. Best quote so far: “If you want money, wear a suit.” I want money. Not enough to wear a suit, but I get it: Get your lazy butt out of those pajama bottoms. Also, RuPaul recommends meditation to get in touch with one’s “frequency.” This in itself triggered deep vibrations to my frequency.

* The Tiger King! It’s depressing, entertaining, seedy, and binge-worthy in not a virtuous way. Sort of how you saw that one thing in the garbage, and even though you insist you never eat anything once it’s been discarded you go back and–ugh–wolf it down and insist this is your last depraved act. Once we finished the series, I went to my closet and gasped. Sam is terrified of me.

* You may find unexpected beauty in watching A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. This one will cleanse you after The Tiger King. Mr. Rogers was one of my fixtures while growing up. Hard to believe such an angel existed.

* Reading and editing heal. I never regret turning off the TV for a book. I am about to start Harlan Coben’s The Boy from the Woods.

* No more endless campaign speeches or debates. Remember when the most stressful thing was that upcoming presidential election? And the Russians. What happened to them?

In today’s briefing, our gov said that Cabin Fever will make people irritable and resentful. Because it’s now an official illness, I blame Cabin Fever for my irrational resentment of Influencers giving us advice and support, saying “We’ll get through this” and “We’re in this together.”

That’s true. But really, this is a never-before situation. We don’t know what will happen, which in itself can be bonding. Some are natural social-distancers. Some have coping skills to manage during gigantic disasters (just not the little ones). At the end of this spectrum, there are some whose suffering is on such an epic scale that “You’ll be okay” isn’t nearly enough. Healthcare, essential workers seem to be the ones who bear the brunt of everything horrific.

I don’t even know what to say except, “You’ll be okay.” What else is there when you don’t know?

There is always Yossi.

Uncategorized

Day #19

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.

May you find your silver lining.

Uncategorized

Day #16

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?

Uncategorized

Day #15

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.

Comforts:

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.

Romantic Life Lessons

Day #14 in the Hot Zone

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.

In the meantime, what are you up to? And how is your writing going? Not good? That’s okay. Harlan Coben says you should give yourself a break. Wishing you and your families good health. Please tell me your stories.

Writing Tips

5 Ways to Outsmart the Editor

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.

You made it through. It’s now time to work on the beautiful adventure that is your book. Do not click on this harmless yet tempting link.

I am waiting.

Romantic Life Lessons

Intimidation Motivation

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.

Writing Tips

Easy Romance Writing Tips

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.

Shameless Promotion

Catch and Kill and The Morning Show

If you find yourself utterly demotivated and remembering sad, quiet stories, may I suggest a double dose of just desserts with Catch and Kill and The Morning Show. Not only do both feature journalists working hard, but they also offer solid fuck yous to corrupt establishments that have gagged victims and those shepherding their important stories to the public.

Catch and Kill is a formidable account of a network’s not airing a story about a notorious predator’s (I won’t mention his name because he sucks) reign of terror. The Morning Show stars Jennifer Aniston, who, in my opinion, makes everything better.

But seriously…first I raced through Catch and Kill, appreciating its sober tone as Ronan Farrow details his experience of reporting a story that would have put me in the hospital in the first week. I have his other “foreign policy” book buried under other such books (three issues of Vanity Fair).

Over the last thirty years, I’ve read shelves of books about sexual assault and I was expecting something different from Catch and Kill, i.e. a bigger focus on the victims individual stories. Then I realized that these stories were not totally his to tell. In Farrow’s writing, there is this respectful space between victim and journalist, where he reports what is there, what is told, but he doesn’t assume the victim’s story or take it on as his. His story is about the behind the scenes of bringing forward his bombshell findings. He reveals the sick culture where he worked and the levels of treachery those above him fought to cover up.

While Catch and Kill may be a trigger for some, for me, it wasn’t. I admire journalists even more, especially the work that goes into writing the truth–and the danger. If you can’t tell your story, there are those who will go to ugly places with you and on your behalf.

On a sudsier note, there is little ugliness in The Morning Show, except for what beloved co-anchor Steve Carrell does to more than one accuser. Obviously, his role is inspired by a real anchor who was fired for bad behavior (that real anchor also sucks). “Asleep at the wheel” Jennifer Aniston is left co-anchorless and the male vultures (including the sociopathic Billy Crudup with his evil, twinkly eyes) want to pick her apart and leave her 50-something bones on the curb. We know from Friends that Jen does tantrum like no other. And so does Reese Witherspoon, whose outrage over lack of truth will buoy viewers.

While I’m only done with three episodes, I already know The Morning Show is the female empowerment pill that I need. It–along with Catch and Kill–gives me hope that the stories will come out, the good will win, the bad will go away (lose all their money and go directly to jail), and there will be no more coworkers who squeeze our shoulders and say, “Oh, I guess I shouldn’t touch you because of Anita Hill, right?” or much worse and lame.

I’d like to put aside every decade I spent looking over my shoulder and be excited for a healthier environment for everyone. Everyone. A few obvious things would have to happen first and I’ll give you three guesses as to what I’m thinking.

Here’s hoping you find inspiration in the books or shows you’re checking out these days.