Monday, February 19, 2007

Rejection Letters

Quick takes:

Snow: Sucks!
Cold: Sucks!
Remodeling: Sucks!


The oddest board book ever!


That's a bit of a lie, actually. This book is just one of a series called Baby Be of Use, published by the fine folks at McSweeney's. They do nifty stuff.

The blurb from Amazon: Many people are parents, and many parents are thirsty. Yet too many parents allow their infant sons and daughters to lie about idly: napping, drinking milk, and whatnot. Why not put them to work? Observe how tots enjoy the shapes and colors, all the while learning how to mix a variety of basic cocktails. Thanks, Baby!


I never taught my sons to do anything weird when they were babies. My youngest son, when he was but a toddler, developed the weird habit of breaking into a butt-shaking dance whenever he heard "Bad Boys," the theme from Cops. For a long time I worried that he might become a Rastafarian, but instead he became enamored with Alice Cooper, which must go over great at his military school. We currently have a deal that if he makes the honor roll, I have to hire Alice Cooper to play a concert in our back yard. I'm not sure how Alice would feel about that. I'm pretty sure the neighbors would hate it.


Email of the day:

Dear Dr. Missy,


I get a lot of rejection letters. Where do they all come from?

Linda (not my real name)


Dear Linda,

You think you get a lot of rejection letters? Hah! I just talked to my agent and she said that in 2006 I received 944 rejections. That's bad enough right there, but 765 of those rejections were from publishers who hadn't been sent any of my stuff. It appears that they heard about my work and sent preemptive rejections in case my agent decided to send them something.

All rejections come from a large, low-slung black building on the outskirts of Shumway, Illinois. There's no signage on the building, and the few windows are blacked out and covered with bars. A 12-foot tall electrified steel fence topped with razor wire surrounds the property. The perimeter is patrolled by heavily armed guards and attack dogs. Three Apache helicopters armed with Hellfire heat seeking missiles and dual Gatling guns constantly hover over the building. There is only one entry gate, and anyone who wishes to pass through is strip searched and their cars examined with minute care. Sometimes the cars are completely dismantled right there at the gate. Sometimes the cars are set on fire.

Entry to the building itself is gained only by having one's retina patterns scanned and then inserting an electronic card impregnated with the user's DNA into a solid titanium lock. After that, there's a cavity search and the admittee is forced to sing a popular show tune in a minor key.

It's called the Black Hole. It's the place where all submissions go, no matter to whom they are sent. Every submission, large and small, good and bad, ends up in the Black Hole. No one knows what goes on inside. The only people seen entering and exiting the building are a few elderly women and a short, heavily-built man wearing one of those spiked German army helmets from WWI.

There are rumors that in 1998, an author managed to gain entry to the Black Hole. He was caught almost immediately. Soon after, the air around Shumway was filled with his agonized screams. Many residents say they can no longer sleep at night because they can't get those screams out of their heads.

They say the president wanted to visit the facility but was turned down. So was the vice president, and the governor of Illinois. Interestingly, David Hyde-Pierce, star of TV's "Frazier" was allowed inside, but no one knows what he did there. It was later reported that he was treated at a hospital in Funkhouser, Illinois for a badly infected paper cut.

All of the trees within fifty yards of the Black Hole have spontaneously burst into flame. A catfish was caught in a nearby pond that was normal in every way. This was a serious problem, as Shumway had long advertised itself as the "home of the three-eyed catfish pond."

Take my word, Linda. The Black Hole is an evil place.

Your friend,
Dr. Missy

A note about the CD of the Week. Every time I look at the cover, I hear this conversation in my head:

Man: Hello, Mr. Gibson, how are you getting along?
Mr. G: Just fine. How about you?
Man: Couldn't be better. Say, what's your son Harry doing these days?
Mr. G: He's a hipster.
Man: Ah. Is this a good thing to be?
Mr. G: Damned if I know.

Ta.

Friday, February 9, 2007

How to Write Dialogue

Quick takes:

Belgian waffles: Hanging on at #1!
Cold weather: Stinks!
Going on a diet: Really stinks!

Many people write to me asking for advice and sometimes I don't think it through very well. I'm terribly sorry about the advice I recently gave to a woman wanting to save her marriage. Here's what you do, I wrote. Get yourself a wig, a bag of adult diapers, a couple of dozen garbage bags, fifty feet of rubber tubing, and a BB gun. Nature will take care of the rest.

Well, we all know how that turned out. Dang. I feel horrible.

Okay, writing stuff. More than anything, I love writing dialogue and I think I'm pretty good at it. Thing is, the dialogue in books is nothing like real life. Take, for example, this bit of typical conversation that happened at the breakfast table some years ago. It features my sons Sean and David, my partner, the Resident Brit, and myself. I was fooling around with a micro recorder that day and captured this:

Sean (singing): Bob the Builder, can we build it, Bob the Builder, yes we can...
David: Are you gonna eat that bagel?
Brit (fighting with Scooter the bull terrier, who's come inside muddy): Get down! You're not going to track mud eveywhere.
Sean: Go Scooter! Beat the British!
Me: Eat your cereal.
David: Are you gonna eat that bagel or not?
Sean: Bob the Builder, can we build it? Bob the Builder, yes we--
Brit: Dammit, Scooter! Quit biting me!
Me: Sean! Eat your cereal.
Sean: I didn't take my medicine until just now.
David: I'm gonna eat this bagel.
Brit: Scooter! Down!
Sean: Can we go to Chicago now?
David: I need to get on the computer to see the Rumble Robots website.
Me: Sean, eat your cereal or something horrible will happen to you.
Brit: Great. I've got mud all over me.
David (singing): Dave Letterman, your TV friend!
Sean: I need some paper to write a story.
Me: It better be about a little boy who eats his cereal.
David: Where's that CD with the Monkees concert on it?

If I wanted to a win a Newbery, that scene would go like this:

Brit: Boys, I have bad news. Your mother is dead.
David: I didn't do it.
Sean: Can we bury her in the back yard?
Brit: Now you'll have to live with your horrible relatives who will beat you and feed you scraps.
Sean: I'm not going to school anymore. I'm going to act out my anguish in antisocial ways.
David: Me, too. Plus, I'll become withdrawn and moody.
Sean: Hey, I said I was going to be antisocial first.
David: Did not.
Sean: Did too.
David: Can we play a Monkees CD at her funeral?
Brit: I suppose the dog will have to be put down. I never liked that dog anyway.
Sean: I just set fire to my Bob the Builder set. Now who's antisocial?
David: Hah! I'm going to eat all the bagels to repress my anger.
Brit: What's burning?
Sean: I threw my cereal against the wall.
David: Big deal. I got my bagel to stick to the ceiling.
Brit: I'm going off to a seedy bar to get drunk.
David (singing): Dave Letterman, your TV friend!

See how that works? Of course you do.

Website of the day: Kitty Goes Potty: Watch These Cats Poop

The name of the website pretty much says it all. I especially like the part where people rank the pictures of cats sitting on toilets doing their business: Oh yes, this is definitely a four-star picture. Much better than that other one.

Remember, I don't make these things, I just report.

Ta.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

How to Get an Agent

Quick takes:

Belgian waffles: Still tasty!
Chicago Bears: Still proud of you!
Mayor of Boston: Needs a brain transplant

It is snowing in central Illinois today. That just stinks. I should be in the warm climes of Florida throwing jellyfish at tourists. We don't have jellyfish here, nor tourists or warmth. There's nothing quite as satisfying as watching a drunken tourist run around in circles with a Man 'o War stuck to his face. "Yaaaah! Yaaaah! Yaaaah!" he screams. "That'll teach you to pee in my driveway," I tell him.

It is tourist season, after all. Be vewy, vewy quiet. I'm hunting tourwists. Hehheheheheh.

Just received a shipment from Amazon UK. It contained a Terry Pratchett book, THE CARPET PEOPLE, an MG book by Dominic Barker, BLART II: THE BOY WHO WAS WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE--OR BOTH, and a new and massive Michael Palin tome, DIARIES 1969-1979: THE PYTHON YEARS. The box got here faster from the UK than it took me to send one book to my son at his school in Indiana. He decided he couldn't live without his copy of THE LAST TEMPTATION OF ALICE COOPER by Neil Gaiman. Strange book. I was iffy about it but my son is a fiend for anything about Alice Cooper.

I am currently reading BORN TO ROCK, by Gordon Korman. I met him a couple of years ago at a book signing and we had a nice chat. He said that his books had sold over a million copies and I realized I had started to drool a bit. I like to read first person books when I'm writing in first person, as I am with SUPER! If anyone wants to recommend a first person MG or YA that isn't about dead mothers, please do so.

I just finished a nice scene where my hero has to run away, and so he flies to the top of the Ferris wheel at the Navy Pier in Chicago. He sits in the top gondola and broods because being a superhero has really screwed up his life. Later, my hero lands on the pier and meets an old man who gives him a Life Lesson and ten bucks.

Quite a pleasing scene, if I do say so myself. One of those quiet scenes my agent is after me to write, because I'd rather write about riots and chaos and stuff exploding.

And now, the email of the day:

Dear Dr. Missy,

I want an agent but it's so hard to get one! They're slippery and slimy and have glands located near the base of their tails that can emit a painful electrical shock. What can I do?


Linda (not my real name)

Dear Linda,

You are messed up. You're talking about electric eels, not a literary agent. What is wrong with you?

In reality, agents are shy creatures who can often be found in heavily wooded areas. It is possible to capture one, but only with the right bait. I recommend using a finely blended coffee and a pastry of some sort. It is important not to touch these items with your bare skin because you might leave a scent that could scare the agent away.

My technique for capturing an agent begins with walking softly through the woods, making cooing sounds so as not to appear threatening. This is key—most agents are afraid of loud noises and will skitter away in panic if you aren’t careful.

I remember the day I first spotted an agent. I’d been walking though a forest for quite some time and was nearly ready to give up and go home for a bottle of wine or two.

Then I saw her! She lurked a few meters away, her wide, white eyes staring at me through a gap in a hedgerow. I caught my breath, willing myself to remain calm. Moving slowly so as not to startle the agent, I removed a cup of fresh latte and a chocolate ├ęclair from my backpack. I set them on the ground and then moved to a safe distance.

It is important to be patient and not make any sudden moves. I found a seat on a tree trunk and watched as the agent sniffed the air, and after a couple of false starts, warily approached my offering. She gave me a quick glance and then greedily consumed the ├ęclair, washing it down with the latte. Then she scuttled back into the undergrowth.

I returned to that spot in the forest every day for two months, always leaving fresh bait. I discovered that the agent particularly liked iced pastries with cream fillings and double-shot espressos. I gave her what she wanted, slowly gaining her trust.

Over time, I was able to move a bit closer to her, little by little, until the glorious day came when I held out my hand so she could approach and get my scent. After another month, she allowed me to stroke her head as I made soothing sounds while she gulped down yet another espresso.

My patience paid off. Six months after I first encountered the agent, she approached without hesitation, prancing happily in a circle around me, nudging my backpack for the goodies she knew it contained.

Finally the right moment came. As the agent sat next to me, her mouth wrapped around a chocolate-filled Bavarian. I carefully reached into my pocket and withdrew a blowgun preloaded with a tranquilizer dart.

She never saw it coming. I bound her hands and feet with soft rope, and with the help of another author, we attached her to a pole and carried her back to my truck.

After a year in captivity the agent finally signed me on as a client. It took a great deal of dedication, not to mention a small fortune spent at Starbucks, but it was all worth it.

Your friend,
Dr. Missy

Now I have to go outside and shovel the (*&$(*!)(! snow.

Ta.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Perils of Being a Writer

Quick takes:

The mayor of Boston is an idiot.
Go Bears!
Belgian waffles are tasty.

You hear writers go on and on about the perils of their work:

"I have butt pimples from sitting in my chair too much!"
"I have writer's block and I've fallen into a deep clinical depression from which there is no escape!"
"I spend so much so time alone that I no longer know how to socialize! Yesterday I forgot how to shake hands and ended up licking a man's nose instead!"
"I can't sleep. I toss and turn in a cold sweat while my characters invade my mind, demanding that I include another dead mother in my story so I can win awards!"

Big deal. How many writers have to do deal with this:


The attractive beige thing in the lower left corner is my knee. The large black thing in the center is Scooter, a Staffordshire bull terrier. He weighs 95 pounds and has approximately 342 teeth. The thing is, bull terriers like to show affection by gnawing on their people. Not hard enough to draw blood. Well, not much. But it is difficult to write while a bull terrier happily chews on one body part or another.

It was worse when he was a puppy and had razor-sharp baby teeth. He was especially fond of biting toes, so we quickly learned to sit cross-legged to avoid the scourge of Scabby Toes. Not even Gold Bond medicated powder can help that.

Back to my original point. I don't want to hear your complaints about impacted butt pimples or crushing personal depression. You try writing a sensitive and potentially award-winning book about a mother being run down and mangled by a Zamboni machine while a large animal chews your flesh. Yeah, I thought so.

I'm still stuck in bed with a wonky back. This is payback from my body for those years when I stopped being responsible and quit my job to go to Hawaii and windsurf. Learning to windsurf involves a fair amount of heavy lifting, along with being thrashed by waves, stung by jellyfish, and running into the occasional yacht. They're all painful.

If you go to http://www.cso.org/main.taf?p=11,27 you can download a free copy of "Bear Down Chicago Bears" by the Chicago Symphony and Chrous, conducted by Sir Georg Solti. Whenever the Bears win, I blast this song at top volume and sing along. I have forced my children to learn the words so they can sing along as well. It's a stirring moment, let me tell you. Go Bears!

Ta.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Hello!

Hey, that's original. Hello, indeed. I'm mostly doing this because I'm stuck in bed after wrecking my back again and I'm bored. I'm sure my hordes of fans would like to hear that I hurt myself while engaged in a fierce struggle with my next-door neighbor, Mr. Bushida, or that I started a riot at Barnes and Noble and hurt myself trying to escape, or that I had a terrible accident with the anti-tourist jellyfish launcher.

The truth is, I was doing housework. There, I said it. Plain old housework with no monsters, enraged editors, speara guns, or exploding baristas. But boy, is my office clean! I shall post a picture of it in all its glory soon.

Here's the brave part. Even though I am wracked with hideous pain, I have managed to do my day's quota of writing, five pages to be exact. My current project is called SUPER! and it's about a boy who gains the ability to turn into an adult with amazing powers. Except that nothing happens like he expects, and he finds his life complicated in ways he never imagined. In other words, it's quite dark, a theme that appeals to me right now. Also, it doesn't appear to be a common theme for middle grade superhero novels. I've read a few, and they seem to take a lighthearted and fantastic view of the whole thing. I, on the other hand, shall take the more sinister and realistic road.

In other news, my big people book (as ace book reviewer Sue Corbett calls it) has had a couple of nice months, sales-wise. I'm not sure why, but people are buying it and that makes my agent and me happy. Not happy to the point where we've ordered up solid gold Ferraris, but happier than we were. No, I'm not going to say what book it is. I didn't spend all that time thinking up a cool pen name just to give the whole thing away.

A good MG book that I recently read: GROOVES: A KIND OF MYSTERY by Kevin Brockmeier. Interesting characters, weird plot, and lots of dry humor that had me chuckling. There's moist humor, too. That would the opposite of dry humor, right?

Another good MG: LARKLIGHT, by Philip Reeve. Jolly fun, that one. Lots of space travel, lots of pirates. I suspect that some of the humor will go over the heads of the target audience, as Reeve likes to tweak the British empire-building attitudes of the 19th century, but still, lots of action and colorful characters.

And now, today's email:

Dear Dr. Missy,

Sometimes your posts really scare me. Why is that?

Linda (not my real name)

---

Dear Linda,

They don't call me the Hunter S. Thompson of children's literature for nothing. Ha ha! Seriously, I have no idea why you are afraid of my posts. It's not like I know where you live or anything. Well, actually I do, but I've got the bad back thing going on and I have to stay in bed, so you're safe. Unless you read this, and then you'll be even more scared. I don't know what to do about that.

Your friend,
Dr. Missy

Okay, that's it for today! If I can figure out how to post pictures, then we'll really have some fun!

Ta.