So our refrigerator door has a dent. Here’s how it got there.

This post contains a little profanity. I know it seems silly to warn about it here when my books contain a little profanity, but I just didn’t want to offend anyone when I’m speaking as myself. I’m including profanity here so you get the full scope of the situation.

Last year, my husband and I had a mouse problem. It took weeks to solve, and scared the crap our of our babysitter, but we got rid of them using sticky traps, snap traps, and lots of alcohol. (The drinking kind.)

(Side note: mice are strongly attracted to sugar cookies. Our babysitter at the time wore “Warm Vanilla Sugar” body spray from Bath & Body Works. The mice were ALWAYS out when she was around.)

Since last year, we haven’t seen a trace of the mice. We thought we’d gotten rid of them forever.

Well, Monday night, I went to make a salad. I love avocados, so I typically buy a bag of them at the store every weekend. You can’t keep avocados in the refrigerator (they go wonky), so they were sitting on the counter. When I picked up an avocado, it had a few tiny chunks missing. So did the rest of them. And the bag was torn.

I said to my husband, “I think we have a mouse again.”

We had a few glue traps left from last year, the small, mouse-sized kind, which are about the size of a deck of cards. I put four of them on the counter, with an avocado in the middle of them.

That night, my husband, who wasn’t feeling well, took a dose of Nyquil and went to bed. I wrote a chapter and went to bed.

Around 10:30pm, I heard, “Scratch-scratch-scratch” from the kitchen. I whisper shouted, “MIKE!”

My poor, Nyquiled husband sat up all groggy. “What? What is it?”

I said, ” Listen.”

Scratch scratch scratch.

There was clearly something on our counter.

We both got up and headed out to the kitchen. I was behind Mike. He said, “Holy. Shit.”

Then I saw what he saw. I saw a big brown furry back. ON. MY. KITCHEN. COUNTER. Emphasis on big.

It wasn’t a mouse. It was a RAT.

ON MY KITCHEN COUNTER.

Now, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m kind of a freak about my kitchen. (The rest of the house, not so much.) I regularly bleach my counters and my sink. I’m anal about food spoilage and unsanitary cooking conditions. I regularly throw out food that’s close to its date or even looks SLIGHTLY weird.

It’s a miracle I didn’t start screaming.

Honestly, it’s a miracle I didn’t start spraying IT with bleach. (That’s what I do to stinkbugs.)

So back to the rat on the counter. Not only is it on my counter, but those little glue traps aren’t trapping it, they’re just pissing it off. It’s also tangled up under the cord for my phone. Mike is trying to get some trash bags so he can get it into one, yelling, “GET ME A BOX. I NEED A BOX.”

Where the F am I going to get a box at 10:30 at night? There was a cooler in the corner of our dining room, one of those red plastic Playmate ones, so I open it and give it to him, thinking he can get the rat into it and slam the lid. So with one hand holding the cooler, and the other holding a plastic trash bag, my husband tries to get the thing into the cooler.

Remember the Nyquil? Not exactly conducive to sharp thinking skills or rapid movement.

The rat doesn’t end up in the cooler OR in the trash bag.

Instead, it bites my husband on the hand. ON. THE. HAND.

So now my husband is yelling, and I’m panicking, saying, “Ohmygod, did it bite you? Are you okay? Did it bite you?”

And he’s saying, “Yes. It bit me. It bit me.”

And there’s blood. All over the place.

AND THE RAT IS STILL ON THE EFFING COUNTER.

So Mike starts yelling that he needs a box. I run upstairs to find one. Upstairs is our finished attic. There are no boxes up there. I know this because we just cleaned it out a few weeks ago. I have no idea why I ran that way, instead of down to the basement, where we have about fifty plastic boxes holding toys. I could have dumped one of those in about half a second.

While I’m upstairs, I start hearing all these crashing sounds. I think my husband is attacking it with a frying pan (which was sitting right on the stove, which also probably would have been a good idea), but no. He’s trying to keep it from getting off the counter.

And then it falls off the counter, and it bolts under the dishwasher.

Now my husband, who is generally a temperate man, yells, “FUCK!” and throws the cooler as hard as he could. He threw it so hard that it flew over the cooking island and hit the refrigerator.

He threw it so hard that a few days later, I noticed the dent and said, “What do you think the refrigerator door ran into?” And Mike said, deadpan, “A cooler.”

So now it’s like 10:40pm. My husband is bleeding from his hand. There’s a rat under our dishwasher. My five-year-old is crying, wanting to know what’s going on. I’m trying to call my mom, a night nurse, to ask her what to do. I then call the ER, and ask them what to do. (Side trivia: rats typically don’t carry rabies, a lot of bleeding is actually a good thing, because it helps flush bacteria from the wound, and while my husband didn’t have to go to the ER right then, a tetanus shot would be a good idea.)

Once we eliminated the immediate worry — the rat bite — we still had to figure out what to do about the rat under the dishwasher.

There was no way I was going back to sleep. My reasoning: if a rat could climb onto a counter, it could climb into a crib or a bed. (All of our bedrooms are on the ground floor.)

So at 11:20pm, I got in my car and drove to the grocery store, and purchased every glue trap and snap trap that they had. I laid them out all over the kitchen to prevent that thing from escaping from the kitchen. Then we went to bed.

2am: we hear it again: scratch-scratch-scratch.

This time, it’s one of the glue traps by the refrigerator. It’s not the big rat.

It’s a baby rat.

O.

M.

G.

My husband got rid of it. The next day, I was on the phone to Orkin so fast it would make your head spin. I didn’t care how much it cost, we wanted someone to come out to the house and fix the problem. A guy came that night. (Side note: I cannot say enough good things about Orkin’s service. This gentleman was at our house for three hours, and did a tremendous amount of work sealing holes and patching areas that could provide access.)

This morning, one of the snap traps from the back basement caught the big rat.

I’m not naive. I know there may be more. But I feel like we’re closer to solving the problem.

This is the most horrifying event since we’ve moved into this house. Merry Christmas, right?

What’s the most horrifying thing you’ve ever found in your house?

(By the way, the contest is still going on! Have you entered? Scroll down to the next post.)

Working with an editor

I thought about titling this post, “Check your ego at the door.”

First, some disclosures. I have only ever worked with one agent, Tamar Rydzinski (fabulous editorial advice) and one editor, Alicia Condon (equally fabulous editorial advice), and I get along with both fabulously well.

So, you know when you send stuff out to beta readers, and it comes back with a bunch of comments, and you were totally expecting a landslide of praise, but instead you get a page full of of, “WTF?!?!?!?!”

If it’s a beta reader, you can ignore that commentary. You can do it arrogantly (“OMG. She was just JEALOUS of my writing GENIUS.”) or you can do it quietly (“Thank you so much for your input. I’m going to take some time to digest your comments.”).

If it’s an industry professional, you have to swallow your pride and really look at what they’re saying.

In my day job, my attitude tends to be, “No job too small.” We’re all working for the same team, we all want the same goal.

In writing, it’s the same. When I disagree with an editorial comment, I have to think about what my editor/agent is going for. This can be tough.

This can be really tough. I have the tissues to prove it. (Does anyone remember the post about Storm coming back from my agent fourteen pages shorter?)

But here’s where it’s important to check your ego at the door. It’s easy to get your back up and refuse to make changes. It’s easy to argue that you need that scene and that one and that other one, even though they all basically say the same thing. It’s easy to dig your heels in and be difficult.

But why? Same team, guys. Same team.

Your editor and your agent are trying to help make your book the best it can be. They’re also trying to help you make money. Half business, half art. Don’t get so tangled in the art side that you forget about the business side.

In Spark, one of my editorial comments asked if Gabriel could use a different phrase to avoid offending anyone. I could have refused to change it, saying it was true to the character and I needed those words in there. But really, it was one phrase, and it didn’t really matter.

The best part about being a writer is that there are always more words.

Sometimes you need to ask yourself if you really care about the change someone is asking you to make. Is it going to break your soul to change it? Then explain why.

In Storm, Becca is harassed by her ex-boyfriend. Throughout the first third of the book, I only talk about this in theory — the reader never actually sees it. Along the line, it was recommended that I should cut the actual scene where Drew gives Becca a hard time, but I dug my heels in to keep it — and explained why. It stayed, and it’s in the finished manuscript. There’s another scene at the end between Michael and Becca’s mother (you guys have no idea who these people are, but stay with me), and it was recommended that I cut the scene because it slowed down the pacing. That scene was so, so important to me, but I totally understood where my editor was coming from, so I cut half the scene and ramped up the tension.

Sometimes it’s about meeting each other halfway. It’s about communicating. If you disagree with changes, speak up. Explain yourself — but listen, too. Try to see your work from both sides. You know that saying about how life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it? This is never more true than in an editorial relationship. 

(Oh. And in marriage. Parenting, too. Look, it’s a great quote, okay?)

If you’re working with beta readers now, try to get in the habit of working with the advice you’re getting. It’s easy to fall squarely on either side of the fence: either rejecting every piece of advice because you don’t want to admit you need to change things, or taking every piece of advice until you’re completely overwhelmed and you don’t recognize your manuscript.

I’ve seen people in both camps. It’s never pretty.

Learn to walk that fence board. Learn to communicate and discuss what’s not working. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent something back to a new writer with comments, including the line, “I’m happy to talk this out, if you want.” Almost no one takes me up on that.)

Learn to see where your readers are coming from.

It will pay off later.

You know, after you’ve signed that first book contract.

~~

In other news, keep an eye on that countdown widget, guys. When we hit 60 days, I’m going to release the first chapter of Storm!

~~

On bullying

When I was growing up, my parents moved a lot.

Lest you think I’m kidding:

I was born in Omaha, Nebraska.
By the time I started first grade, we’d lived in Omaha, San Francisco, and a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.
By the time I started high school, we’d lived in Albuquerque, Washington, DC, and three different suburbs of Baltimore.

Between first grade and eighth grade, I only went to the same school for sixth and seventh grades.

Do you have any idea what it’s like being the new kid every single year?

Well, I don’t have any idea what it’s like to go to school with the same people throughout my childhood. I could talk about how I don’t have roots, how I’m not one of those women who has a close circle of friends “forever,” how if my husband said, right now, “The hell with the mortgage, let’s just pack up and move to San Antonio,” I’d be right there in a New York Minute.

I’ll do another post about my attitudes on permanence someday.

But we were going to talk about bullying.

When I was in fourth grade, I had to ride the school bus. There was a massive fifth grader named Antoinette who used to make my life hell. I hated her. She stuck candy in my hair. (Like, she’d pull a lollipop out of her mouth and stick it to the back of my head.) She ripped the glasses off my face and threatened to throw them out the bus window.

In short, she was a real bitch.

I have no idea what ever happened to her. The bus driver didn’t stop her. The school sure didn’t stop her. There were no interventions. I just had to put up with it.

The nice thing about changing schools every year was that I didn’t have to put up with her for long.

I remember this one girl named Minee (pronounced Min-AY) in fifth grade, who used to ask me where my mom bought my clothes, in this completely superior voice. Prior to that grade, I had never given my clothes one moment’s thought. I was eleven! I didn’t care about clothes. I cared about books and horses and my dog. But that precise instant was my first experience with that particular vein of disdain. Minee never did anything physical; she just constantly ridiculed me.

Again. Sixth grade, new school.

By sixth grade, I was starting to get it. I was a total nerd, and people knew it. Kids make snap judgments all the time. I remember going to a sixth grade mixer (read: dance), and after about three hours of standing alone in the dark, a boy named Ryan asked me to dance. While we were dancing, he said, “I felt sorry for you standing alone.”

I felt sorry for you! He said he felt sorry for me!

And the irony here is that I had called my mom to come get me, and after that, I called her back and said, “I think things are getting better! A boy just asked me to dance!”

Sometimes I want to go back and smack some sense into sixth grade Brigid.

But I was a straight A student, and I realized there was a way I could make people like me.

By letting them cheat.

I’m ashamed to admit letting cute boys copy off my paper. My mom probably doesn’t have any idea, and she’ll die reading this. But it was sixth grade, I was an outcast, and I needed some way to have friends.

Letting them cheat worked.

I stopped in eighth grade.

These stories aren’t all that horrible. Some of you guys had some truly terrible bullying experiences. I’m so amazed that you were courageous enough to share them with me.

I think it’s fascinating how some people say you should turn the other cheek, but I personally love when the underdog stands up for herself/himself. I love that scene in Stepmom where Julia Roberts tells the teen girl how to make the boy jealous.

What do you guys think? What’s the best way to combat bullying?

Pivotal moments

I’m working on SPARK (The Elemental Series, Book 2) right now, and I’ve been thinking a lot about pivotal moments. I know good plotting is always about choices (good or bad), especially when each choice leads to a new conflict.

About ten years ago, I was driving somewhere for work, and I knew I needed gas. I could have made it to my destination without stopping, so I considered waiting and going after. But I had a little bit of time to kill, and I kinda needed a stick of gum before meeting new people, so I decided to stop first.

If you’re familiar with Westminster, Maryland, you’ll know that Route 140 is basically a four lane highway, divided by a grass median, with lots of shops and gas stations and restaurants all the way from Reisterstown to Union Bridge — with lots of space between. I stopped at an Amoco Station, shoved the gas pump into the car, and walked into the little shop.

When I went in, the shop was completely silent. There was a guy behind the counter, and there was another man standing a few feet back, his hands in the pocket of his sweatshirt. Since it was Westminster, which is mostly farm land when you get past the shops, both guys were pretty casual, both needed a shave, and neither was older than thirty-five.

But they were just standing there. No one was saying anything.

So I grabbed a pack of gum from in front of the register, glanced at the guy with his hands in his pockets, and said, “I don’t want to jump in front of you.”

He hesitated and said, “No. No, you go ahead.”

And while I was paying, he walked out.

I stood there with cash in my hand, but the cashier watched the guy leave. Then he finally took my cash and rang me up.

While he was handing me my change, he said, “I’m glad you walked in. That guy was about to pull a gun on me.”

A gun! I’d walked in on an almost-holdup!

Now, I have no idea whether the guy really had a gun in the pocket of his sweatshirt. I was in my early twenties, and I lived a pretty sheltered life. The cashier could have been wrong.

But it was a pivotal moment in a lot of ways. That guy could have pulled a gun. He could have shot the cashier. He could have shot me. He could have held us hostage.

Moreover, I could have kept on driving, gotten gas after my meeting, and that guy could have held up the store without interruption.

I know this is a pretty boring story, now that you know how it ended.

But I think that’s why I keep thinking about it. Because it could have been so much more exciting (and not necessarily in a good way), just by virtue of one choice.

Can you think of any pivotal moments in your life? Any time that a choice may have seemed like nothing, but turned out to be huge?

~~

Peer pressure

First off, thank you for all the congratulatory emails, and tweets, and Facebook posts, and blog comments. You guys are great. And Baby Sam (a boy!) is doing really well. Here’s the obligatory cute baby picture.

I feel terrible about leaving you without content for the last few weeks. I’ve always been an industry blog addict, and it seems that everyone shuts down their blog during August. Lately, a lot of blogs are shutting down, period. I miss Editorial Ass. Editorial Anonymous. Even Pimp My Novel is shutting down for a while.

I’m crying. Do you hear me crying? I am.

But none of that has anything to do with peer pressure, which is what I wanted to comment on today.

I write YA. You know I write YA. But it means that I spend a lot of my time trying to remember what it was like to be a teenager. Sometimes, that’s really difficult.

Other times, it’s really easy. Like when I think about the guy I dated in high school. We dated for two years. I loved him. He was wonderful, and well-raised, and fun, and funny, and we had a good time together. He dumped me because I wouldn’t have sex with him (I wasn’t ready), and all his friends were pressuring him to “do it.” He went to an all boys’ school, I went to an all girls’ school. Every year, my school had a variety show called The Coffee House, and because I played the piano, I was called on for any songs people wanted to sing. My ex-boyfriend came to the show shortly after we’d broken up, for whatever reason.

Wait, I know the reason. To tell me, during intermission, that he’d started dating another girl. One who “did it” with him on their second date. In the back seat of his Nissan Sentra.

(Sexy, right?)

I was crushed. I almost couldn’t go back for the second half of the show. I remember sobbing in the darkened school library. I mean, it’s one thing to dump someone because you’re not getting what you want. It’s entirely another to come back and slap them in the face with the fact that you found someone who will.

And all because of peer pressure.

My four-year-old goes to pre-K at a local private school. In the morning, they have eighth graders who direct the flow of student traffic, and hold the doors for parents, things like that. This year, the boy who holds the door is very polite. When he opens the door for me, he makes eye contact and says, “Good morning.” When I leave, he says, “Have a good day.” From what I can tell, he does this for everyone.

Because I was raised to be polite, I always respond in kind.

A few days ago, his friends were hassling him. Mocking him. “Ooooh, good morning!” and making kiss-up noises, things like that.

He ignores them, and keeps doing it.

But it made me wonder. By the time he reaches his senior year of high school, are his friends going to break him down? Is he going to start being a jerk, just because it finally got to be too much effort to be polite? Is he going to break some girl’s heart, just because his friends kept mocking him?

The sad thing is, he’ll probably get more girls (or guys, no judgment) if he keeps acting with politeness and confidence. But I know it’s hard to see that when you’re thirteen. Or eighteen.

Or hell, when you’re in your twenties and thirties and beyond.

How have you guys been affected by peer pressure? Does it play a role in your writing? In your life? Do you ever regret following your friends, instead of following your heart?

~

In which I stand up for myself.

I’m not a confrontational person. You will never see me get in someone’s face and start a throwdown. I just don’t have that kind of personality.

While I have a keen BS-meter, it’s rare that I’ll call someone on it. I’ll smile and nod and let them think they’ve pulled one over on me — and then I’ll go on my merry way.

When I drive, I’m an assertive driver. Not aggressive, just assertive. When I used to teach horseback riding lessons, especially when teaching kids to jump, I’d always tell them to “commit to the fence.” If you’re going over a jump, you’re going over a jump. Once you’ve made the decision, there’s no time for wavering. The same holds true for driving: if I’m going to change lanes, I do it, I don’t dilly-dally about it. If I miss my turn, I go to the next one and turn around. When people are aggressive around me, I get the hell out of their way. Life’s too short to police the highway if you’re not an actual, ya’know, policeman.

On my drive to work, I exit the highway, go approximately half a mile to a U-turn area, and proceed to make a U-turn. This U-turn area is one lane, meaning only one person is supposed to make a U-turn at a time. Now, this U-turn area can also be used to turn left, so many times people will pull up next to me on my right, intending to go across the intersection, while I’m waiting to turn left into oncoming traffic.

Today, a man in a sedan cut inside me to my left. There was no road there — only grass and gravel. Clearly I wasn’t making the turn quickly enough for him. I drive a minivan, he was in a sedan. There was no way for him to see around me. When the traffic cleared and I started to pull out, he did the same.

I had no idea he was there.

I didn’t hit his vehicle, but it was really close. I had to swerve into the other lane. Oncoming traffic on this road is going approximately 50mph, so it’s not like I was turning left onto some tiny side street. His action could have caused a massive accident.

He was obviously furious that I chose to make the turn at the same time he did. I know this because he then hit his accelerator, swerved around my car, swerved in front of me, and crossed two lanes of traffic to make a left at the next intersection–which was also my turn.

This left me rather shaken. And I’m a pretty secure, solid driver. 

I then proceeded to watch him run a stop sign to beat me through the intersection, then swerve around another driver who had the gall to make a signaled turn into an office complex.

He kept going up the hill, and at that point I knew, I knew he was going to my building. (We’re at the top of the hill.) Sure enough, he turned into the same parking lot where I park.

Through sheer irony, we pulled into the parking lot at the exact same time. I wasn’t even rushing, and I made it into the lobby before he did — despite the maniacal driving.

When I got into the lobby, there was a man and a woman waiting for the elevators. I saw my driver friend approaching the building, so I decided to wait. When the elevator came, the woman held the door for me, but I said, “Go ahead, I’m going to wait for this guy.”

She must have heard something in my voice, because she held the elevator anyway. (Honestly, I would have done the same thing. Show time!)

When the man entered the building, he was a big guy. He was wearing a polo shirt and khakis, but still a big guy. I’m not a small woman, and I’m also seven-and-a-half months pregnant, and he had at least 100 pounds on me, and a good foot in height.

He was on the phone. He tried to walk around me. He was very deliberately avoiding eye contact with me.

I stepped right in his path and said, “Why would you drive like that? I’m seven-and-a-half months pregnant. Why?”

He hesitated, just for a moment, like he couldn’t decide what to do.

So I asked him again, a little more forcefully. “Why would you drive like that? Why? Tell me?”

He gave me a rude gesture — not quite the finger — then turned around, ducked into the stairwell (which is open — no doorway), and sprinted up the stairs. 

I was upset about this all morning. I worried that I should move my car. I worried that he’d be waiting in the stairwell with a knife this afternoon or something. I worried that he’d come after me.

But then, this afternoon, I realized something. He ran. From a big pregnant lady. He ran.

And I realized that this is how bullies have so much power. They’re used to people being afraid of them. They’re used to the impression of size and sheer badassness carrying them a long way. This guy probably drives like a dick every day, and no one gets in his face because he obviously has the size and demeanor to back it up.

Until you call him on it.

Now, looking back, I realized that my brain read the signals as soon as he came in the building. He could have made it into the lobby before I did, but he walked more slowly, probably hoping I’d be up the elevator before he came in. When he wouldn’t make eye contact with me, he didn’t want to have a confrontation. When he was in his car, he had a steel shield and the power of anonymity. In person, he was a scared little boy who’d been caught with his hand in the neighbor’s candy jar.

I didn’t scream at him. I didn’t get in his face. I didn’t even report him to building security, though I thought about it. I can guarantee you he’ll still drive like a moron.

But maybe he’ll think about it for half a second if he’s anywhere near a white minivan.

~

Demonstrating Strength

On my desk at work, I have this little list printed out. I got it from Seth Godin’s blog, but I can’t seem to find the entry again, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The list is titled “Demonstrating strength.”

The first thing on the list is, “Apologize.”

I love that.

The funny thing about apologies is that they seem to represent weakness. You’re admitting a failure, not only to yourself, but to someone else.

But they don’t really represent weakness. It takes a lot of guts to apologize. To genuinely apologize. How much gumption does it take to BS about something? To throw someone else under the bus? To make up a little white lie about why something wasn’t done, or why you acted the way you did?

I’ve been thinking about apologies a lot lately, especially since we’ve had this roofing problem in my house for YEARS. We’ve paid one roofing company $4,000 to replace our roof, then another $4,000 to repair our roof, and we’re still having a leaking issue. The insurance company sent out a new guy who gave us a quote to rebuild the back section of our roof for a third time — for another $2,000.

I called the original roofing company. What did I have to lose, right?

I wasn’t a bitch. I didn’t go in screaming at the owner. I just said, “Hey, we’ve paid you guys $8,000, and our roof is still leaking. Can you do anything?”

She came out yesterday to figure out the problem. She agrees that we need a flat roof system instead of the shingles they originally installed. It would have cost more money for them to originally install a flat roof system, but you know what she told me yesterday?

She apologized.

And then said they’re going to rebuild the back roof. For free.

That took strength. And money. It cost her something.

But you know what? It’s going to earn them a customer for life. And a considerable amount of word-of-mouth.

A heck of a lot better than a little white lie, huh?

~~

Plagiarism and theft, and why I don’t worry about either

After my last post on critique partners, I received a great email, with a great question. With her permission, I wanted to respond on the blog:

I’ve been considering publishing since last year, and I think I’m going to quit [my critique site] soon. It was pretty fun and helped me learn a lot, but it’s gotten to the point where posting online is no longer a good idea. I’m not really afraid of the little girls plagiarizing my stuff (which often is the case) as I am of the James Freys of this world.

For that matter, while I read your post about finding good CPs (which was a godsend, btw. I’ve been mulling over the need for CPs for a while), I saw you mention two writer forums where you used to hang out and swap critiques in. I don’t know if it’s because of the close encounters of the 3rd type with online plagiarism, but joining those forums is something that gives me the heebiejeebies. I know you persisted in the forums until you scored gold, and it’s not like I’m cutting corners. I’m merely and simply put: a coward. 

 I’m still hovering over that cliff between not starting the publishing process (revise, research, network) and starting it, so that’s also an obstacle I’m putting on myself. If I hauled my ass to finally get started and begun networking with people, the possibility of finding a CP that way would also open up.

 I edited the hell out of her email to lose any identifying details, so if there are any grammatical inconsistencies, they’re all mine. Bear with me, it’s 5am while I’m writing this post.

My boss said something to me the other day that popped into my head when reading this email: Other people rarely think of you as much as you think other people think of you.

In other words, I think there’s more of a tendency to worry about online plagiarism than there is actually evidence of it.

First of all, what’s the point? If you look at plagiarism cases that have hit the press, like James Frey, Cassie Edwards, and Kaavya Viswanatha, they all have one thing in common: they stole from published authors.

Seriously, this is a big distinction. They stole something that had already made it through the rounds of publication. They stole proven words. They didn’t go scouring the message boards looking for unpublished manuscripts. That’s like being an amateur designer and having someone break into your house to steal the half finished clothes you were sewing. Why bother? They’re not done, they can’t really be replicated, and who even knows if they’ll be a success?

Now, I know there are people on message boards who steal story ideas all the time, and then post them as their own. I remember a few years ago when I’d posted parts of my vampire story, and two days later, this other guy posted his vampire story, and said, “This was inspired by another story I read here on the forums.” And then he basically rewrote my scene his own way. I was pissed. I was furious. Seriously, I was ready to spit nails.

But you know what? His story was completely different from mine, despite having the same idea. He couldn’t write in my voice any more than I could write in his. My story didn’t sell. His story didn’t sell. Any harm done? No. As my husband likes to say, you make your own stress.

It’s just too much work to steal an untested manuscript, make it your own, and then submit it for publication. What happens when you’re going to have to write a sequel? What happens when you have to go through and revise, and the revisions aren’t in the right voice? And not just that, there are so many other creative steps along the way. The query letter. Brainstorming with your agent. Writing a synopsis. Writing an outline for the sequel. Chances are, even if someone steals your stuff, it’s not going to look very much like your stuff when they’re done with it.

The natural inclination is to think that our stuff is kinda, maybe, possibly amazing. Yeah, there are self doubts, but you’ve gotta have some confidence, too. I’ve said before, writers have to be a little bit arrogant to make it through this publishing game. You do. There are so many opportunities to get knocked down, if you don’t have a little arrogance to push you through, you’re never going to make it.

So let that confidence start now. Put some stuff out there. See what you get. Don’t be stupid about it: I never sent anyone my entire manuscript without knowing them first. I’m a chapter-at-a-time kinda gal. Even then, I wasn’t worried about plagiarism; I didn’t want an unpolished version of my MS floating around somewhere, so if I did sell it, there wouldn’t be evidence of crappier writing sitting on the internet.

And if you’re worried about your ideas being stolen? Well…isn’t there some saying about there only being seven stories in the world? I’ll admit, when I started writing Elemental, I was a little worried. There aren’t a lot of books out there about controlling the elements. I mean, there are, but they’re not exactly breaking the shelves at your local Barnes & Noble. I was worried about someone picking up my idea and writing their own. I felt fresh and original and new, and I didn’t want someone else snatching up my opportunity.

But then I realized that controlling the elements wasn’t that original. Anyone could write about that. Just like vampires aren’t all that original, or kids in a wizarding school, or writing about the south in the sixties. It’s the execution that makes a good story. It’s the characters, the passion, the moments that drag you along and won’t let you put a book down. People might pick a book up because of the idea, but they’re going to keep reading because of the writing. Just like that guy who was “inspired” by me on that message board years ago: he took my idea, but he didn’t write the same thing.

I’ll finish with Bobbie’s comment from the critique partner post the other day, because as always, she’s chock full of wisdom:

I’d just add to your list here that you have to BE a good critique partner to get a good one. It kind of goes along with your “Don’t be lazy” advice. But if you expect someone to take your writing seriously, you have to take theirs seriously. You have to decide their writing matters as much as yours, that their goals are as important as yours. (This attitude also helps you to be thrilled–rather than envious–as your partner progresses in the business.) When you step it up a notch, so will your more serious beta readers. I likely never would have come to care or think so much about scenes like the one with Gabriel and Michael if you hadn’t cared and thought so much about my characters’ scenes. You have to give at least as much as you want to get.

On a side note, Online Writers Workshop is another great site for finding critique partners. I’ve gotten some great help there as well as some hardcore, ego-crushing feedback, so you have to be prepared for that honesty you’re talking about.

So there you have it. Go out and be confident. (And careful.) And if you see someone steal your stuff and post their own version? Don’t be mad.

Be flattered.

~

Money talks, and … well, you know how the rest goes

So I was going to do a post about money this morning, but it’s early, and I’m tired, and I figured I’d just spend my thirty minutes before the kid wakes up reading other people’s blogs.

Then I stumbled upon this post by Tahereh Mafi, a very talented young writer who has a book coming out this fall. (Check out her blog, too.)

But Tahereh (can we be on a first name basis in the blogosphere?) talks about money. And since my mind was already on writing and money, I said to myself, “Dude. Respond.”

Here’s the question her reader asked:

I have a problem. I’ve always always always wanted to write, but I don’t think it’s going to pay too well unless I write about vampires or magical kids. So I’m thinking I’ll be something science-y. But I love writing, so I’ll miss out on it if I become something science-y. WHAT SHOULD I DO?!?!

 And here’s the link (same as above) to what Tahereh responds. 

Before anyone thinks I’m going the wrong way with this, I agree with every word Tahereh says in the response. Writing is not for the faint of heart. The media sometimes makes it seem like you can sit in your apartment for a few months, churn out a novel, and someone will hand you a million dollar check. It takes passion, and drive, and love for storytelling. If you want to write, and writing makes you happy, do it.

But here’s what I think Tahereh missed: this questioner can do both.

One of the greatest things about writing is that you don’t need a degree (I don’t have one), you don’t need anyone’s permission, you don’t need an office, you don’t need a coat and tie, and you sure as hell don’t need to do it between 9 and 5. All you need is the desire to write, and the passion to make your writing great.


I’m thirty-three years old. I have the corporate career, and I have a good salary. I have the single family house with the chain-link fence and two cars and two dogs and almost-three kids and every electronic gadget my husband convinces me we need.

I’m also a writer, and I also have a book deal.

So are a lot of people. You can do both.

Here’s the other thing: a book deal is not a guarantee. When the auction was over and I knew I had a deal with Kensington, the first person I talked to (after my family) was my boss. I told him exactly how much money I was getting, and I reassured him that I wasn’t quitting anytime soon. Just because I have money now doesn’t mean it’s going to keep flowing in droves.

Besides, say you land a big advance. Do you know how much of that money is going to taxes? If you make over $379,000 in 2011, 35% of that is going to taxes. That’s after you pay 15% to your agent. (Please note, I am not a tax professional, and this is solely for illustrative purposes.) But that’s 50% of your money, gone before you get to spend a dime. That’s not even taking into account what you have to pay the state! I can guarantee that’s not going to last for the rest of your life. It might last a good long time, don’t get me wrong. But that’s still not a guarantee.

Your book could bomb, and the rest of your contract could be cancelled. The market could change, and people could decide they only want to read books about cyborgs or something. (Or Elementals. Elementals are going to be huge in 2012. Huge, I tell you.) Just like playing poker, you need a lot of skill, but you also need a lot of luck. Some of this publishing game is all about chance.

Here’s my concern for this questioner: what if she forgoes college and that “science-y” career and focuses all her time on writing?

And then, what if she’s no good?

Just like promising athletes, I think an education and the potential for a career is a good thing. Think of it as a fall-back. Have something to do. Just because I don’t have a college degree doesn’t mean I didn’t scrape my way through years of learning the financial industry, and now I have a bunch of licenses that mean the same thing. Just because you love writing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother starting a career.

There is always time to write. Always.

This doesn’t mean it’s easy. You know that funny graphic of the triangle that represents college, and on each point, there are the following options: Good Grades, Social Life, Plenty of Sleep. Then below it, it says, “Life in College: You Only Get Two.”

Guess what? That doesn’t end when you leave college. Just replace “Good Grades” with “Lucrative Career.”

I say if she likes science, I say get that science degree and write in her dorm room. Or get whatever degree will make her happy and fulfilled and employed. Have something to do so you can make the rent while you’re churning out the next Great American Novel. I completely agree with what Tahereh says about not getting a massive degree with a bazillion dollars in student loans to make your parents’ neighbors happy. That’s silly. (Seth Godin has a great post about wasting money on buying a brand instead of buying a degree.) But don’t sit on your parents’ couch for five years and defend yourself that you’re a writer, damn it, either.

You can do both. All of you. Every writer out there can have a career and a child and a husband (or wife) and a house and still have time to write.

You don’t have to choose.

You can be happy and have it all.

I promise.

~