Romantic Life Lessons, Writing Tips

25 Things I’d Tell Myself If I Joined Publishing Today–The COVID Edition

Four years ago, I ambitiously worked up 50 things. Even 25 things is a massive undertaking and pandemic attention span says no way can I do this. Just resist the lists, people. Or say yes to an amber liquid on the rocks first.

Because of pandemic(s), there are things you won’t tolerate anymore. Honor the new truths that blossomed out of way too much tragedy. Knowing your boundaries will help you navigate any industry that tries to suck your well dry.

Balance the boundaries with an amazing show of skills–consistently. It will freak everyone out.

It’s easy–and temporarily satisfying–to get angry on social media at the many injustices in publishing, especially when you are doing more for less. Like Charmins toilet paper, you are nine rolls smushed into a four-roll package for thirty cents less. That’s publishing–and most corporations. Social media is one of the few places where you can let it rip. Do that–and take concrete action to further yourself: job search, join a group that does active things and speaks truth to power.

One of the best ways to succeed is to figure out every nook and cranny of your job and your boss’s. Anticipate the needs of your manager and conquer what they don’t even realize they need. A lot of knowledge is power, not to mention swagger.

It’s okay to edit late at night while heavily medicated or intoxicated. Just go over it again in the morning. Don’t tell anyone.

Reward yourself RICHLY for every accomplishment. Also, as I said in Fifty Things, write it down immediately. Not only do you have a living document of your achievements, but you can also relive how great you are at times when you really need it. There’s no greater pleasure than whipping out your Scroll of Excellence for The Aboves. Even though they won’t read it, message received.

Make friends/be friendly with anyone in Managing Editorial/Production departments. They are the best.

In life and at work, there is always someone you can’t stop loving even though they’re unvaccinated. But you shouldn’t have to work in the same office with them.

Avoid assholery of any kind, even though it’s tempting to engage because real life can be damned boring. This is not the 1950s or the 1980s or even 2020 anymore. Mad Men is just so…gross. You absolutely don’t need to bear the degradation of anyone’s bad behavior. Keep careful notes and visit HR as often as you need.

The best way to get through a remote workday is to break down the day by half hours (like Hugh Grant does in About a Boy) and take many window-shopping breaks. Bonus points for suggesting makeup tutorials to me since that is my heroin.

Always wait at least a day before answering a pissy email from a “professional,” especially the kind who doesn’t give two shits if you’re wheezing with COVID.

It doesn’t matter what you wear to work anymore, but it kind of does.

Email triage is a sick, twisted game corporations dreamed up to raise your cortisol levels, especially as we remote. Don’t fall for the flimsy communication with the human types we miss. As noted by work gurus, hyper-email-vigilance negates productivity.

Stay in touch with your work buddies who are resigning. It doesn’t have to be a daily email. Over a long career, you will see each other again and why not have more friends?

When applying for a job or sending a submission, write a charming and targeted cover letter. Even if they don’t ask for one. They are more fun to read than a resume.

Everyone’s social skills have deteriorated. Maybe there’s one person who hasn’t been affected by this whole mess, but let’s believe they are crying softly in a dark corner the way I was last week.

Many things can be accomplished by turning off all electronics and jotting down ideas on paper. It’s so simple it’s crazy.

You don’t have to explain why you listened to every second of the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard trial. As an editor, you need to know everything. Plus, you’re kind of a lawyer.

Always have a question in your pocket, but use it wisely and not just as the meeting is ending. Exception if your meeting is with one person, who is likely desperate to prolong human contact so please keep talking with the more questions.

Never ingest things from communal fruit plates, bins, urns, refrigerators unless you know exactly where the grub has been, who touched it, and in what century.

Get back to reading for pleasure. This can be one of the first things to go, but very easy to pick up again.

Do keep track of whether or not Kim Kardashian finishes law school. Your laser focus on this is everything.

Don’t beat yourself up for keeping twelve different notebooks tracking different versions of the same thing. I see you.

If you can envision working in a field other than publishing, investigate further. That quiet jotting-down-ideas thing works really well for this. Sometimes you don’t know another path even exists.

But if you love books and editing, you might be stuck with this complicated soulmate. Publishing is going through things right now–though it’s always been like a mission to Mars via roller coaster. Take a hard look at the years ahead. Do you believe in the work you are doing? Will you ever make a livable wage? This is where you pull out the self-awareness and determine what you want, what you can bear, and what you can do for books.

Now excuse me while I go back to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

Romantic Life Lessons

Birthday Endorsements

Yesterday we celebrated my 54th with isolation due to a short visit from the COVID fairy. It was a beautiful day with three pieces of cake, a big cookie, sparkling rose, endless murder shows, a puzzle, books, ironing clothes (because I love that), and the unintentional comedy stylings of my adorable husband.

I want to start out year 55 with endorsements to people/entities/things that have given me reassurance and pleasure this birthday week:

Shout out to those who work at the facility where my father-in-law and his cradle-robbing girlfriend reside. They are friendly, always there, and know exactly how to make my in-laws feel safe.

Even though it’s unpopular to praise an airline, I endorse Delta airlines for managing our uneventful flights to/from Florida last week. This is probably how the COVID fairy followed us home, but for me, old shaky-legs-on-a-plane, smooth flying is happy crying experience.

Writers always deserve heaps of applause and this past week, I must thank Jennifer Steil (Oberlin College classmate!!!) for The Woman Who Fell From the Sky and Candice Millard for The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. These stories thoroughly distracted me and I learned a bit about Yemen and Teddy Roosevelt respectively. I’m grateful.

It’s a good idea to have more than black garments in your wardrobe. In New York City, I’m under penalty of imprisonment if more than 5% of my clothes are non-funereal. For kicks, I’m a fan of getting a dress in that color you’re afraid to wear. For me, it’s a bold red! Here I am, feeling strangely great in red…and wearing heels for the first time in years. My motto: Get it.

I endorse not giving up when you’ve reach a certain age. It’s taken me a few years to believe this, but now I am ready, thanks in part to a kick in the butt from my mother, Empress of Never Giving Up, who is still working at her dream because she loves it. Thanks, Mom!

For those reading, don’t give up, okay? Bonnie Gene says so.

Writing Tips

Fleshing Out Yossi’s Journey

There are numerous places where editing and writing intersect. One of these is when a manuscript reads as if it’s been written in a rush. Action, action, line of dialogue, action. The scene might call for fast-paced movement, but weaving in a little description or POV won’t necessarily slow down the pacing. On the contrary, it can save your reader’s wandering eye.

When I edit, I read the jumpy, too rushed text “out loud” in my head. If the writer’s voice is consistent, shows command of the unfolding scene, I make mental smiley faces. But if the narrative feels vacant or confusing–with characters moving like robots–I wonder how the writer has skipped a few steps to get to the end and omitted adequate description. Sometimes writers (and editors) just want to finish their quotas for the day. I feel that pain myself and then suffer for it later when I have to go back and do the job right.

A few times, I’ve been given the task to flesh out stories (mine or someone else’s) where the need to rush to the end is strong. It feels fine when you’re getting down all those words. But then, it’s flat. Diagnosing the problem is easy, but sitting down to fill out empty spaces can be daunting yet thoroughly exciting. One suddenly has lots of room to play. Why not play?

As an example:

First of all, who is Yossi and why does he need to leave? He must be Alexander the Great since he needs to conquer. But also, he fears the elevator. How interesting that there’s only one adjective. Basically, the reader can only gauge so much. This is where you roll up your sleeves and go to town.

Don’t glossy moth carcasses sound awesome? You have to wonder if Yossi is about to engage in some kind of mating ritual. I don’t want to see what comes next. Or maybe I do? It’s not like I ever look away.

Maybe we need a sentence or two about why he needs to leave. Is it just because of the Bichon Frise or is it something else? What’s driving him–aside from what we could assume to be dog sex?

You never know where a story’s going to go, do you? This one definitely isn’t finished.

The moral of the story is to fill in those cracks even if you think your story is fine. In the end, Yossi may have a simple journey from Point A to Point B and we don’t need all this crap. That’s why the delete button is there for your pleasure. Part of the joy of writing is discovery. So what you feel is filler could be the darling touch that the reader will remember forever.

Glossy moth carcasses.

Romantic Life Lessons, Whining

My Mother Says to Write Something Outrageous

I have a Satan voice, which first revealed itself when I had to recite French poetry in first grade (as one does). At family gatherings, I get requests for Satan and my audience still wonders where it comes from. I’ll never tell.

What neutralizes this blasphemy is that my husband Sam, who is Jewish, can speak in tongues. It’s pretty amazing. You ask for it, and it’s like the divine is speaking through him. We’re trying to find a way to monetize this.

Here are some other outrageous things I want to say on this July 4, which is not really about independence but the lack thereof:

I don’t understand people who put just a splash of milk in their coffee. Do you think one splash will significantly alter the taste or color? It doesn’t! I’ve tried it so that I can see where you weirdos are coming from.

George Clooney and Brad Pitt–just barely handsome. Never have they been hot.

The Highline is just a walkway above the ground. That’s it!

Gross: hot chocolate, beets, 90% of soups (people who love tomato soup, I don’t even know you), acorn squash, melted ice cream, untoasted whole wheat bread, and whatever tilapia is.

There’s this orange/peach color that clothing stores try to get rid of. It looks like stomach contents. Don’t convince yourself that it’s peach–it’s just barf.

Can we stop ugly-shaming Mitch McConnell? Do we need to keep talking about how hideous he is both inside and out? It’s so cliche, but let me check one more time if it’s actually true.

The worst day in New York City is SantaCon, but since we’ve moved further uptown, we don’t encounter the staggering young Santas yelling and vomiting in front of our building.

Hemingway and Laurence Olivier–overrated!

I used to have some respect for the Republican Party. My grandparents were proud Reagan voters, and I could at least understand why they loved him (though I didn’t). The GOP has changed so much in the last ten years I don’t even recognize it as anything but a fear-filled, power-hungry mass of old guys and Patrick Bateman youth. The Democrats get angry and have some brilliant minds to convey outrage, though they need an action-hero to pull it all together and make change happen. I keep waiting for that moment when the good guys to win, but they seem to go home at night and tweet.

I hated Bill Maher in my 20s and 30s. By my 40s, I started enjoying him as a pissy truth-teller–even if he’s not everyone’s truth. I agree with him 80% of the time and like that he brings educators onto his show. Most shows invite big dum dums to say the exact same things. Hey, Bill, my mom is always available, but if you talk over her, she’ll cut you.

If I had to work on Below Deck, I’d want to be third stew doing laundry the entire time because I hate boats yet adore all things related to laundry. While working for Captain Lee, Sandy, or Glenn, I would iron their clothes with unabashed giddiness.

COVID has ruined so many things, the least of which is the award show format. It was hanging by a thread before COVID due to the blinding whiteness and nostalgia for Billy Crystal. We still love movies and TV, but it is overshadowed by understandable social awkwardness and general thirst for celebrities behaving badly.

Non-cartoon talking animals in commercials and movies, not cool. Scary, in fact.

When you’re talking about pubic hair on a soda can or sexual assault at a Supreme Court justice hearing, it’s time to set the bar a little higher.

There are angels in our midst. A few weeks after my friend and I were robbed and raped at gunpoint, we started taking self-defense classes. This giant red-haired dude drove us every week and went at a snail’s pace through scary neighborhoods–scary because I was petrified to be outside at all. During our ride, he reminded us that even though this happened to us, the monsters didn’t take our souls.

You can take away women’s freedoms, money, dignity, rightful places, power, but it’ll never be enough. Enjoy your July 4th with hotdogs, parades, and waving flags. It won’t cover up the atrocities this country has inflicted upon women, people of color (which includes women), other countries, and just about anyone who comes to this country seeking a better home.

I don’t buy this holiday, but thanks for the day off!

Uncategorized

Magic Moments

Because my parents liked each other, my brother was born.

Because they persevered through a few heartbreaks, I was born.

Because they divorced, I went to boarding school (I really wanted to).

Because I went to boarding school, I met Sam.

Many years, relationships, life experiences later–and because I joined Facebook–I accepted Sam’s Facebook friendship.

Because of all of this, we are married today.

Happy 11 years of Facebook friendship, Love of My Life!

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, Shameless Promotion

Weekend at Williams College

I’m a firm believer that leaving the house is a good thing. Two weeks ago, at Williams College, I sp18033806_1841392116120242_235358556887425489_noke about my employer’s global marketing program at a conference about romance. Following this, I signed my book at Water Street Books, a lovely bookstore that is too friendly to be your typical college bookstore. Where were the shotglasses and school banners? Maybe they were there, but I was too focused on the wall to wall books.

Given my new fearless status when it comes to travel, this whole trip was a labor of love: hopping on a train and getting into a car with like-minded romance-aholics. I had the pleasure of talking with stars of the genre: Eloisa James, Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Sonali Dev who writes Bollywood in a romance novel, Katy Regnery, Radclyffe of Bold Strokes Books, Alison Case who is a professor at Williams (and fellow Oberlin alumna!) to name a few. We had a blast, and not because of the constant Dunkin’ Donuts outside the lecture hall.

And now I’m packing for the RT conference in Atlanta. This is my first time going. Except, of course, I have three emergency edits to do. Is it me or are work and Crazy Life Events falling from the sky all at once? Well, this just means it’s time for chocolate and dessert.

 

Writing Tips

Time Management is BS in 2017

146Who has time for Time Management? No one, because if you’ve attended meditation classes at the Shambhala Center, you understand that time is as ephemeral as harmonious interaction between Real Housewives. I prefer to think of Time Management as an exercise in “Orgasmic Sharpie Worship.”

We all know that the best part about “time management” is crossing that thing off your list. It’s more official if you use a black Sharpie. You lift off the cap, take a whiff–a medium one–and make that dark line through the task. There are so many books about time management (notice I’m not capitalizing it anymore), but should I state the obvious about that?

I’ve read several of these books and have decided to face my ever-dwindling minutes and overflowing assignments with pleasure, silliness, and just a touch of violence. We’re all going to die. Why not leave a bigger legacy behind?

While creating an exhaustive list is pointless, it can be a pleasure to see how important you are. You have a list–and you can mostly spell the things on it. As I do this, I think, how fabulous that I’m such a busy person! The longer the list, the less I’m likely to accomplish but it completes my daily self-sabotaging routine. Plus, some days I surprise myself.

The second pleasure is knocking out those easy things, like: waking up. Done!

Seriously, though, I am not so fatalistic, at least not before Thursday. I do have a real system that adds complexity and a sense of accomplishment to my day. I call it my Guerrilla Day. Since I’m five, I’ve used the term “Guerrilla warfare” without knowing what it means but it sounds cool, the way “literally” used to before the flood of literallys (with vocal fry) killed it. Lest I offend someone when I’m forty-eight, I looked up Guerrilla warfare and, indeed, I’ve been using it correctly. My MO is an irregular way to work, but I do sort of attack the day in a way that is both invigorating and exhausting. I’ve vowed to get more done this year. No gentle-ing of the work process or strategizing on how to be more productive. I just get stuff done, period.

My GD starts by marking down the hours I’m awake. Next to each hour, I put down three tasks to finish in that hour. I go down the list, leaving a one-hour break here and there. An hour will look something like this:

9:00 am:

  • Answer 5 more difficult work emails
  • Edit 30 pages
  • Iron 3 shirts

And so on until about 8pm. It’s a race, one I check over when the day is done. I leave two-hour blocks for meals, which helps me catch up when I fall short. Quality is not compromised, but the key is to make good use of the sun’s journey (I keep forgetting time doesn’t exist). Notice that I combine work with household tasks. And yes, I like to iron shirts, so that’s a pleasure.

It’s a fatiguing day considering that no one really works a full eight-hour day, much less an eleven-hour one*. You do need time to agonize over the state of your nails. But on some days, I don’t know about you, but I really need to get stuff done more desperately and this kind of insane day does it for me. On a GD, I will drink a lot of coffee, get myself to the gym during one of the breaks, and forge ahead without lingering in front of the TV. It helps me make deadlines and create better work habits.

One thing to note: Every day should not be like this. Only for those times when one needs to produce. And there are even times when GD moves even faster. After this, I take time to smell the roses.

Now, how did this veer away from Sharpie worship?

*Unless you’re really, really important.

Uncategorized

Goodbye to 2016, the Year of No Fear

My year started with a celebration: 25 years of extra life. I didn’t say anything except quiet wishes to my friend (sister) who was with me one horrible night in early January. We are both thriving now, but it took a while, at least for me.

Then, I had a long flight for work, one I’d been sweating. Like Guinness, I don’t travel well and lose my bubbles. But when your boss shows confidence in you by sending you places, you say yes. Meeting with writers is fun for me. They feed you cheesecake and regale you with stories. All I have to do is get on the damn plane.

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We went to my thirtieth high school reunion in May, which was nice, low key, and I felt very fat. I thought that red dress would be roomier, but it wasn’t. More on my inexplicable weight gain from eating cookies below. %*$&%*! As you can see in the pic below, I’m half in love with my friend Di, who is mentioned in my book. She is a gifted artist and so full of the same warmth, moxie, and wisdom. Plus, she is rocking some serious braids. I wish she lived next door.

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I threw a surprise party for my darling husband, Sam. He had no idea what was coming and it blew him away. Maybe my favorite moment of the year, watching him walk in and see us. This whole marriage thing is pretty cool.img_1968

Sam–a French prof–decided it would be great to take students to Paris. Sure, you do that. Okay, so I managed to get on that plane again (thank you, Delta, for the amazing service). I went to France because when your husband turns 50 in Paris, you get on the damn plane to meet him there. We had an amazing time. The butter!!!

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I flew three more times after that. My fear of travel is now gone. It happened gradually until one travel day, as I strapped myself in the seat, I thought, “Oh this again.” No big deal. I ditched the tranquilizers and now just listen to music and knit. I’ll go anywhere. Except on a boat. Or a prop plane. Hate those.

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My childhood friend got hitched and I love her and her family. I rediscovered that warm fuzzy of seeing someone again and remembering deep bonds and memories. Here are some flowers from her big day.fullsizerender-003

This year, I rediscovered food. It’s weird, but food tastes good again after 25 years of not caring (and being thin). What happened? Were my tastebuds released from jail? Long story too long, I gained 15 pounds. I’m so startled not to fit in most of my clothes that I’ve upped my running. Love handles on me are not okay!

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Part III. August. As you get older, lifting weights becomes more important. Plus, I couldn’t open a jar of pickles, so I signed up with a trainer. On good days and bad days, M kicks my butt and I always feel better afterwards. (I’m not James Corden, btw)mgid-ao-image-mtv-com-207885It all seemed to be going okay, until…do I have to say it?

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On November 9, the fear came rushing back. The embodiment of my nightmares will be in office. How did that happen? I feel sick just seeing his face or hearing him talk–and I’m so so so angry. You can’t tell this broad to move on or accept the outcome. It runs too deep for many of us. I like that people think differently but this election was different–and not in a way that celebrates our differences.

It would be easy to stay indoors and sleep through the next four years. I’ve thought about it. What a waste, though. We can be a community of survivors, right? I will start by bidding au revoir to 2016. You’ve put us through a lot and I’m grateful for the lessons. Maybe not grateful in a gratitude way, but I get why things happened and how I can learn from them. But did you have to kill Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and David Bowie?

Sam and I are ending the year with a nasty bug that has left us bed-ridden and watching The Sopranos. We will recover from all upsets, sinus, stomach or the caustic Orange kind, and 2017 will be about badassery and La Resistance. Stay tuned.