Even when writing fiction, honesty is the best policy

imageBeing a humor columnist, I am often asked:

“Where do you get this stuff?”
“How did you even think of that?”
“Do you just make this [censored] up?
“Isn’t marijuana legal in Oregon?”

The answer to all of those questions is a definitive “Yes,” particularly on Ballot Measure 5. However, each of the first three include an important addendum that reads as follows:

While the consumption of humor shall be made available to everyone regardless of race, color, creed or whatever they happen to be eating that may unintentionally exit a nostril, the distributor of said humor is required to provide a basic standard of truthfulness, therefore guaranteeing consumers a more pure grade of laughter. At least until they try passing mixed-berry yogurt through their nose…

If we cut through all that legal jargon prepared by snooty lawyers making seven-figure salaries somewhere in the back of my mind, there is a point: Elements of truth play an important part in all forms of good fiction.

There is also a secondary point, which is that I will probably never get a Dannon Yogurt endorsement.  Continue reading

Writing is like weightlifting: If you’re not careful, you’ll pull something

imageIt struck me this morning at the gym while diligently pumping iron from a seated position at the smoothie bar. There are a number of similarities between reaching your fitness goals and writing goals. In both cases, you will likely fail if you attempt too much too fast. Especially if you’re trying to show off and accidentally flatulate while attempting a power lift.

OK, now that the obligations required by my Gas-X sponsorship have been met, we can move on to how the same principles that make up a good fitness regimen can be applied to achieving your writing goals.

(Make sure to stop in next week, when Trojan will sponsor tips on expanding your readership.)

Just like many people who enter the gym for the first time and see the dozens of different torture devices designed to make you look weak and destroy your self esteem fitness apparatus that can sculpt your body into lean muscle capable of opening even the most stubborn mayonnaise jar, those entering the world of writing often find themselves being crushed under the weight of their own lofty goals by not building up literary muscle first. And by this I don’t mean technique, style or developing your writing voice. I’m talking specifically about easing into writing project(s) and commitment(s) in a way that strengthens your writing endurance so you can avoid “injuring” yourself creatively.

This isn’t to be confused with creatively injuring yourself, which I also know about. But that’s a totally different, embarrassing post.  Continue reading

That time I decided to quit writing

image Over the weekend, I had the chance to work with some young writers, one of whom asked me the proverbial question, “Did you always want to be a writer?”

I smiled, nodded my head and replied, “Oh, hell no.”

After an awkward silence, I went on to explain that I had been writing stories since I could chew a pencil eraser. And while it has always been a part of me, it wasn’t until making the conscious decision to give it up for a while that I truly understood the importance of writing in my life — and how, without it, I wasn’t completely me. However, without that experience, I would still be thinking of writing as a pursuit rather than what it really is:

Something that finds you. 

I quit writing  back in 2006. For almost a year. It had nothing to do with the typical kind of frustrations every writer faces, such as not having a readership or being told it’s time to “get serious” with your life by family, friends or every publisher on the West coast. It wasn’t the result of drug addiction or alcohol abuse, although I did find myself addicted to watching Grey’s Anatomy, which made me WANT to drink.  Continue reading

It’s a Wonderful Life… er, I mean time to promote your book

imageDaddy, every time a bell rings, an author sells a book!

That’s one of my favorite lines from the Frank Capra Classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It always makes me smile and never fails to offer hope and…

What?

That’s not how it goes?

Well, that’s embarrassing.

But still! The holiday season is one of the best times of year to get your book out there in front of prospective readers and buyers. Everyone is looking for something unique to give their loved ones and friends. And if they can’t get a Star Wars waffle iron before they sell out, why not your book? The key, of course, is to use a light coat of cooking oil in the batter and then…

Sorry. I got sidetracked. Continue reading

Selling books is great; making an impression is even better

(I’m guest blogging over at The Write Stuff today, where Marcia Meara has graciously invited me to share the experience of attending my first book festival as a published author — as opposed to the ones I went to because of the free bookmarks…)

image Two years ago tomorrow, I attended my first book fair as an author. Today, I’m going to share that experience in a post I’m calling:

Reasons to Hide Liquor Under Your Book Fair Table

Admittedly, it’s very exciting to walk into a room of 50 or so booths with publishers and authors offering their latest releases and services. And when you see your own booth tucked among them, with your book cover on display and a large photo of yourself hanging on the wall behind your table, you can’t help but pause and quietly think: I have ARRIVED as an author and, judging by its size, my nose arrived about an hour before I did.

My point is that book fairs are about taking the opportunity to become three-dimensional to readers and making a connection beyond the printed page; it’s about revealing yourself to people in ways that are spontaneous, real and unrehearsed, and giving them an experience they can take with them and talk about with others. This led to another realization almost simultaneously: Why is there no liquor at this thing? (More at The Write Stuff…)

My Long Awkward Pause interview with self-proclaimed best-selling author Ima Knowitall

image With the release of her highly anticipated online novel Time-Traveling Vampires of Love just a few days away, I held little hope of getting an interview with Ima Knowitall when I called her private number this morning on behalf of Long Awkward Pause. Knowitall is the author of more than 40 online novels this past year, and has received multiple awards, including the coveted Prolific Speller Award, the Hemmingway Award for “longest run-on sentence of 2012 and 2013” (same sentence) and, most recently, was honored by the Society of Illiterate Columnists (SIC) for her contributions to “…the advancement of people who write without the shackles of proper grammar.

Despite knowing I had almost no chance of landing an interview with an author of Knowitall’s caliber on the eve of her latest release, the fact that I had acquired her private number meant I had to at least try. According to my source, Knowitall’s secret phone number is part of an elaborate system of security measures created to protect her from hoards of overzealous paparazzi and fans. Nervously, I called the number and was ready when a man who identified himself as “Shizzle” answered from what sounded like the inside of a phone booth.

What’chu need?

Carefully following the security code instructions I had been given, I replied, “Looking for Ima, B**ch!” then hung up and waited five minutes before calling again.

This time, Ima answered. “Who is this?

My name is Ned. I’m with Long Awkward Pause.

Do I owe you money?” (More at Long Awkward Pause…)

Writing tools for thought (or food for your tool box?)

image A while back, I talked about three of the most important tools a writer wields when it comes to establishing their “voice.” Does anyone remember what they were?

For the sake of time, let’s just assume all of you remember what those tools were and, in a series of uncontrollable outbursts, begin shouting out:

TIMING!

TRUTHFULNESS!

and…

CUERVO!

No, the third tool is RELATIVITY — not Cuervo. Even though I think we can all agree Cuervo does have a way of making even the most abstract things seem relevant.

In this case, however, Relativity means ensuring the reader can relate to what we’re writing about. This is especially true when it comes to personal experience and family anecdotes. For example, that hilarious story about how Aunt Frida got mad and stomped through the garden won’t be nearly as entertaining to readers as it is to you unless, like you, they already know Aunt Frida was a mule. I realize that’s an overstatement, but unless you take time to lay the foundation of your story in a way that involves the reader, they will likely sit down and refuse to follow. Continue reading