HYPHEN-MANIA | Or, How I Got B-Slapped* by My Copyeditor

(source: grammarpartyblog.com)

(*where “b-slapped” is a hyphen-manic word such that “b” stands in for the witch-rhyming word.)

After last week’s post, I promised I’d write something lighthearted this week. What could be better than hyphens? Those slivers of punctuationary (yes, I just made up an adjective) yumminess that allow for all manner of over-the-top compound modifiers, not to mention nouns you’d never find in the dictionary–(that’s supposed to be an em-dash, NOT, no-way-ever, a hyphen) like hyphen-mania, which as you might have guessed, is not to be mistaken for hyphen-phobia.

I used to think that I was a semi-colon* person, and secondarily, an em-dash (should that hyphen be there? I like the looks of it, so yes) person. I knew I had an issue with semi-colons when a friend informed me that using semi-colons within dialogue quotes was idiotic. “We don’t talk in semi-colon; just use a period,” he said.

Frankly, I thought what he’d said was a wonderfully semi-colon-ish (aaah, there are my pretty hyphens) set of statements. Talk about being in denial. After a sweat-soaked internal struggle, I gripped my mouse and fixed the dialogue before sending the manuscript to the copyeditor. I use em-dashes semi-correctly, so I thought I was safe.

But no! I have a hidden addiction. An insidious-sneaky-little-devil of an affliction. You inject a hyphen once, and before you know, you’re injecting them anywhere at anytime, leaving a swath of overwrought-and-trying-too-hard phrases behind you.

I had to accept my problem, face it head-on (kind-of), and accept my copyeditor’s sponsorship. Not that I don’t relapse, of course, but with her around, I hope to present many a hyphen-happy novel to the world…(Ellipses are good. I like ellipses, too, but I tend to avoid them in my fiction.)

To that end, Ms. Copyedit-trix, she b-slapped me from page 1 to page 369. Here are a few of the many ways I succumbed to my addiction: (Hi, Colon, didn’t want to ignore you!)


hen-pecked –> should be –> henpecked
mid-air —-> midair
wolf-like —-> wolflike
under-lit —-> underlit
old-world —-> Old World


bog-hole —-> bog hole
web-porn —-> web porn
sofa-bed —-> sofa bed
line-up —-> lineup
screw-up —-> screwup
half-mile —-> half mile

yet: hardass —-> hard-ass (my kind of word, hugs to you, Hyphen!)


re-shingle —-> reshingle
over-think —-> overthink

Even Interjections!

ah-ha —-> aha


Thankfully, no. Throw me out of the writing tribe if I ever use a hyphen after an -ly adverb. Even I know better than to write that kind of badlywritten badly written prose.

What about you, any punctuation addictions you’re ready to confess?

*Mmm-hmm, don’t you be yanking out my hyphen!

GOOD NEWS | I’m Officially a Debuting Novelist

KILMOON takes place in western Ireland. Old burial grounds like this provided tons of inspiration.
KILMOON takes place in western Ireland. Old burial grounds like this provided tons of inspiration.

(Read more about the novel here: KILMOON)

Yep, that’s me: debuting novelist! I’ve been debuting myself in my imagination for years, so it’s strange to be here with a baby book on its way through a gestation cycle — editing, and interior design, and cover design. Exciting!

My authorial cycle is just as hectic. Here’s the immediate to-do list:

1. New website. My current website is pretty stale now. Needs a revamp. So I need to find a website designer, decide on content, write that content…

2. Author photo! If you’re anything like me, the thought of having your photo taken — especially an official photo — doesn’t send you over the moon with enthusiasm. First there’s the pose. Shall I sit with chin on fist, looking contemplative? Or how about with arms crossed in an I’m-a-serious-writer pose? To be honest, I picture myself at a pub with a Guinness standing proud before me. Perhaps with a Guinness and with chin on fist?

And what about wardrobe? I might have to buy a few new tops, and I don’t like clothes shopping. Makeup?! Yee gads. I’m also not a fan of makeup, but I might need to buy — foundation? Hmm…I’d better ask for advice from my girly-girl girlfriends.

3. Last bits of the manuscript: acknowledgments, dedication, author bio. The acknowledgments are challenging because I’ve been revising the novel for years (off and on). I can’t remember everyone who provided feedback or research information. Lesson learned for the second novel: keep an acknowledgments list!

4. Figure out social networking, for real. It might help if I blogged consistently, eh? I hereby and with sincere hope vow to write a blog post once a week. (What’s today? Wednesday? So, every Wednesday? Do any of you dear readers have an opinion about which days are the best blogging days?)

Facebook – check. (Come find me if you’d like!) Do I REALLY need a Facebook author page? I’d better ask around.

Over the weekend, I Twitter-ized myself. Getting familiar with that. Just learned that “RT” means “retweet.” That’s a good start.

I think I might join Goodreads because I’ve been meaning to anyhow. And that’s it. No Tumblr or Pinterest or whatever the latest social-media outlet is. (I do need to finish revising the second novel in the series, after all.)

5. Most important: keep writing! It’s way too easy to get sidetracked by social media and the business side of writing. I’m feeling pressure to be out there in the see-and-be-seen way. I’m the friendly sort, so this isn’t too hard–and I like meeting new people. (Just yesterday I virtually met Kristopher of bolobooks.com, a book reviewer–nice and smart reviewer!) However, since I’m the easily distracted type, this could be problematic.

There are more tasks, but I’m feeling a wee bit exhausted having written up my top five. OK, off to write the acknowledgments!

Author Ann Littlewood’s Advice on Fear

After Ann’s book party, a bunch of us local writers (including Ann) convened for literary libations.

I’m going through, let’s call it, a phase with my writing. I call it my fear phase. It’s not writer’s block. Writer’s block I could handle. Last week I read the perfect explanation for my funkitude on Nova Ren Suma’s blog. As quoted from her guest blogger, debuting YA novelist Meagan Spooner: But sometimes the fear is all too possible—what if I send this out and it gets rejected, and the experience is so terrible that it kills my love of writing? What if by trying to reach for this dream, I destroy it?

I’ve been getting rejected for years, right? Right. Handling rejection is a job requirement for writers. Somehow, though, the agent rejections of the past year have been breathtaking, spectacular, crushing. Perhaps my ego isn’t as strong as it used to be — I don’t know — but it feels like something has withered. Picture a dessicated corpse, a tender fledgling that crash-landed during its maiden voyage from the nest. That’s why the quote above caught my attention: I’ve been grasping so hard that I fear I’ve destroyed my writing dream.

Last weekend I was pondering this fear crap as I drove to author Ann Littlewood’s book launch. She’s touring with the third novel in her zoo-dunnit mystery series. It’s called ENDANGERED. If you’re an animal lover and you care about conservancy, check out her books. Even if animals aren’t your thing, check out her books because you’ll dig her zoo-keeper protagonist, Iris. She’s just the right amount of feisty without being annoying.

I had a chance to ask Ann about fear, and here’s what she had to say:

Winston Churchill defined success as “the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” That’s hard to pull off. Failure is debilitating, sucking out energy and leaving nothing much behind. But it can be thwarted if you see the possibility of non-success. Here’s some strategies I’ve used, with varying results.

1. Acknowledge that only a certain percentage of new ventures will succeed, whether they are possible friendships, sales calls, new plants in the garden, or whatever. And that’s OK. To paraphrase what a friend once said, “Of course I fail more than other people. I do more than other people.”  This leads to ….

2. Have more than one growth point to your life. If one wilts, focus on another for awhile. Then maybe come back to the first with renewed energy. And…

3. Have the next step in mind. If this round of agents all reject the manuscript, my next step will be to…write a different book, try short stories, submit directly to publishers, self-publish, and so on. Always know what you will do next if the current strategy does not pan out.

I was one of the last to leave…:-)

4. Look for benefits that you weren’t expecting, that aren’t your primary goal, and savor them. Met new people? Learned something interesting? Had to try something scary and felt good about that?

This stuff isn’t easy. It takes all your self-knowledge and self-discipline to decide whether and how to stay in the game. The alternative of inaction and depression is, however, not the least appealing.

As for publishing, my take on it is that success requires a good manuscript, a ton of persistence, and a surprising amount of luck–a big random factor. The longer you stand out in the field, the better the chance that lightening will strike you. (And I really need to come up with a less  lethal metaphor!)

I’ll take some of that lightening, please. Thanks, Ann!

The Fine Art of Letting Go

Sometimes there’s no answer but to breath deep.

Last time I wrote a blog post, over six months ago, the ramifications of my mother’s dementia hadn’t sunk in. My sisters and I thought she’d maintain her then level of dottiness for at least a few years. Talk about ignorance being bliss! There’s nothing like senile dementia to make me–the daughter who didn’t sail into adulthood gracefully, the daughter who longed to remain forever a pseudo-adult–to…well…grow up. I’ve had to let go of the notion that I’m fancy-free, that I can succumb to my wanderlust at anytime.

Might as well have told me that I’d have to chop off a leg.

In the last six months, I’ve also let go of the notion that I can continue on with no health insurance, working as little as I can get away with so that I can write fiction. Full-time job, here I come, and, believe me, I’m ambivalent.

And, last but not least, I’ve let go of the notion that I’ll land the perfect agent and land a fabulous publishing contract. Not saying that it couldn’t happen, only that it’s not a slam-dunk, and that given the new indie world of small presses and self-publishing, I can now do what I want. I know so many established novelists who are self-publishing, yet, it’s like cutting off the other leg to let go of my dream of the fancy New York agent and editor.

Make decisions about Mom’s care…Make decisions about my financial and physical wellbeing…Make decisions about how to achieve readership. Sounds like full-fledged adulthood to me.

Truth: I’ve been holding on so tight to my cherished notions about myself, my lifestyle, and my dreams that I’ve squeezed the life out of them.

I titled this post “The Fine Art of Letting Go,” but I don’t know if there’s a fine art to letting go. It’s effing demoralizing and frustrating and depressing. In my case, there’s been a lot of screaming while I drive (cathartic) and crying into my pillow (not so cathartic).

What I do know is this: holding tight is all about the ego, and my ego is the ultimate harridan. She’s a beady-eyed, shriveled thing who points her finger at me, sneers, and says, Choke down that humble pie, oh unpublished novelist. You’re a failure at the one dream you’ve ever had and now what will everyone on Facebook think of you?

Hard to ignore the ego sometimes, but the truth is that I’ve got to deal with what I’ve got to deal with: family, finances, health care…All that boring, unspecial stuff. I’m just like everyone else, after all.

I may not know squat about the fine art of letting go, but I gotta hope that there’s a fine art of letting IN new possibilities. That’s what I’m working on now.

Blast From the Past: Another Sign?

Today I received an email from a fellow writer that I’d met four years ago at the Maui Writers Retreat. At first I couldn’t place her name. However, once I perused photos from the trip, it all came back.

I remembered our engaging retreat group and workshop leader Gail Tsukiyama’s supportive feedback. I remembered the suite that one of the other author-instructors donated to S- and I so we could throw a big party. I remembered running into the surf late one night (had I been drinking?) with B-, B- and a few others, only to lose my cool blue glasses — I loved those specs. I remembered the book-signing party for those of us included in an anthology. I remembered hanging out at a surfboard table with umbrella drinks at the end of the day.

Fun times. I don’t know if I’ll be a workshopper in quite that way again.

But the point of this post is that it’s now four years later, and Tanya Parker Mills sent her fellow retreaters an email message about her newly published novel, The Reckoning. It’s available on Amazon.com. Amazon’s “peek” feature should be available soon, but, meanwhile, check out her website for a synopsis. The story takes place in Iraq, and it sounds intriguing.

After reading her email, I thought about Mr. Gould (previous post), pronounced “gold’ not “goold”. Mills, like Gould, opted for self-publishing. She’s using Booksurge, a print-on-demand firm.

I also asked myself: Is there something to be said for gaining a following any way you can and then transitioning to a mainstream publisher later? I don’t know. I’m conflicted, but I applaud Mills’ decision to put her story out there.

Pronounced “Gold” Not “Goold”

Pause a moment, and I meet writers just about anywhere and in unlikely guises. The school teacher in step aerobics, the barista who also paints, the sickly lyme’s disease victim, and the Egyptian professor with the bipolar wife.

I sometimes wonder whether the proportion of writers in the population is the same as it’s always been or whether, given our calamitously crazy, loud, rushed world, there are more people than ever craving connection and resolution and recognition and self-expression.

Earlier this week, a retiree stopped at my table to comment on my left-handedness. I sat outside Capitol Hill Coffee House, which serves a mean northwest-style spinach salad (hazelnuts and blueberries). The man wore a blue baseball cap with a Vienna, Austria, patch on it. He related a few tales from his hard-drinking sports-writing days and told me his last name, Gould, pronounced “gold” not “goold”.

Then, he noticed the marked-up manuscript pages piled near my salad. “Oh, you’re a writer,” he said, and pulled a trade paperback out of his leather man-satchel. Just like that, boom, a man with a book of his own.

Before sports writing, Gould was a World War II German POW. And he wanted to write about it. And he couldn’t find a publisher. And so he self-published. And now he carries copies around with him everywere he goes, even up a hill to his local haunt called the Cider Mills Restaurant & Lounge. He connects and hopefully resolves and possibly receives recognition and self-expresses.

And I thought: Good for him.

And then I thought: Huh…What about self-publishing? Or, at least looking into small presses that my agent didn’t bother with when she was peddling my manuscript?

Gould stopped to chat with me because lefties have always intrigued him. How random is that? Seemed like a sign somehow. I like signs — believing in signs it like following a make-believe funsy religion. I have no problem with that.

Quick Petition for Advice

Sometimes I receive writing questions that I feel unqualified to answer. In this case, the question comes from a high-school buddy. He wants to know if I have suggestions for getting short stories published.

A basic question, isn’t it? But I don’t have a great answer!

The truth is, I don’t write many short stories so I haven’t plummed the depths of the literary-journal world. There are tons of them out there, I know that much, but how to get their names? Is there a central clearing house on the Net or elsewhere that lists literary journals?

So, short-story writers out there: How do you go about researching literary journals and their submission criteria? Do you send out multiple submissions? Any other tips?

WW, if you’re reading this: I do know that to begin with, I’d check out the 100 Best Short Story, Pushcart Prize and other annual short story anthologies — they’ll list the journals that originally published the stories. I’d also check out various writing magazines for listings. (I’d also read the short stories in those anthologies.)

It Really Does Come Back to The Writing, Part One

Last week after delivering bad news, my agent said something that reeled me back to my early 20s as a recent grad living the old adage that you can’t get a job without experience, but how do you get experience without that first job?

I face a similarly vicious cycle many moons later. Publishing houses are uncomfortable with first-time novelists, but how to get beyond the first time without a debut novel? It’s a conundrum, all right.

Surprisingly, I’m not obsessing about that side of the biz for the moment. The conundrum lingers on the other side of the writing. After all, I did land that first job, which led to the second, and the third…

I’ve always returned to writing as my primary solace. Whatever else occured in my life, I always had a journal, binder paper, scratch paper, anything-paper close at hand.

I remember my first career job, when I didn’t know I’d be anything but a business-type. I was a financial analyst in Ecuador, working for I.B.M. when I.B.M. was king of the conglomerate heap. What I remember most about that job was writing my first scenic vignettes, hoping all the while that no one would catch words rather than numbers marching across the monitor. I hunched over my trembling experiments in selfish fashion. I was secretive, and I lost large swaths of time to the words.

These were my first fictional reveries. I’d always been a journaler, a letter writer, a diarist, a bad poet. Expressing myself in fictional form was a revelation. The vignettes didn’t have beginnings or middles or ends. I was simply reimagining my ex-pat life in fictional form, taking my experiences out of myself, giving them a shinier life.

I moved to Brazil for another exciting finance job. I wrote a longer vignette, almost a novella, about a crazy Brazilian woman who bore a remarkable resemblance to my crazy Brazilian roommate.

Did I think of myself as a writer? Nah. But, by then, I’d discovered my creative calling, and I was an addict.

I’M SAD | My Manuscript Didn’t Find a Home

When I received the message from my agent last night, I knew I wouldn’t be in for good news this morning. She wanted to touch base to let me know where we are with submissions.

Where are we? Nowhere. Thirty seven — count them, three tens and a seven — editor rejections. My agent has come to the end of her efforts with this novel. And I can now add 37 more rejections to the long list I’ve racked up.

This is irrational (what else would I be at this point?), but I feel like I have to start from scratch now, that the past decade’s worth of work meant nothing, that I have to re-think my way of writing novels. Or something. I know this is a lot of baloney, but this is how I feel.

Worse yet, I feel like the past year’s work on the current first draft has been a huge waste of time. I feel like since the editors didn’t vibe with the previous novel (even though they agree that I can write), they won’t like this one either because it’s the same style with similar themes, pacing, and etcetera etcetera etcetera blah blah blah fooey.

Frankly, I’m disappointed by the editors’ short-sightedness. So my novel doesn’t fit all the formulas, so what?

I’ll get up tomorrow; I’ll write; I’ll finish the current first draft even if it feels like a waste of time, because it will bug me if I don’t, and I’m just about done anyhow. Then, I’ll read through a previous novel that’s been sitting around in revised form for years, and I’ll send it to my agent because she’s still my agent, after all, and she’s interested in reading whatever I have to send her.

I like my agent, that much I can say. I’m not pleased with editors at the moment, but I like my agent.

But still…I feel like I’m starting from ground zero and it will be a few days before that bummeriness (not a word, I know, but I don’t care) filters out of my system. Oh, I don’t know. I’m rambling, and I’m not going to edit this post for coherency like I usually do. My manuscript deserves publication, and that’s my final word on the matter, full stop.

Now I’ll have dessert for dinner, watch some asinine show on the telly, and read until as late as I like.

Hey, How’s Your Novel Doing?

It must be the time of year, because I’m feeling extra annoyed. Just now, the Mysterious Mr. M sent me an email in response to Monday’s post. He empathizes with my rejection agitation because he’s currently in search of a literary agent and received a thanks-but-no-thanks letter from an agent he liked.

In this agent’s rejection letter, she mentioned that editors are running after legal thrillers, zombie detectives, and urban fantasies (which means what exactly?). So, I’m annoyed on his behalf and extra annoyed at the moment because his email got me thinking about a conversation I had earlier this week.

This conversation mimics dozens upon dozens that have come before it, and it goes something like this:

Person I haven’t seen for awhile and don’t know well: “Hey, how’s your novel doing?”

Me: “Uhm, well, I finally landed an agent not too long ago and…”

Person, smile faltering: “Oh, I thought for sure your novel would be published by now.” (Or some variation of this theme with the unsaid thought: How hard could it be?)

Me, in my head: !!$#!%&!!!!

It’s true that hundreds of thousands of books are published each year. What outsiders to the publishing industry don’t understand is that the number of publishing slots available for debut novelists is tiny, in large part because book publishing is like any other big business: going after the surefire money as often as possible. Not huge on risk-taking, those multinational multimedia conglomerates.

Plus, seems like everyone with a computer is writing. Agents are inundated with crap, and even if a talented newcomer makes it out of an agent’s slush pile — not a given — he or she is likely to get rejected anyhow because of market trends. This is Mr. M’s current plight.

I’m one of the lucky ones who made it past slush and into the hands of an agent who believes in my work. And I do mean it when I say “lucky” because, given talent, sometimes it’s only luck that differentiates the published from the unpublished, or the agented from the unagented. (Actually, with some books talent was obviously not a factor, but this is a rant for another time.)

I don’t bother explaining all this to people who ask, “Hey, how’s your novel doing?” Instead, I sometimes want to wonder aloud why in the realm of creative pursuits, it’s considered easier to become a working novelist (by this I mean no day-job needed) than, say, a working painter or a working musician.

Frankly, I think we creatives who are truly going for it must be a crazy bunch. But we gotta do what we gotta do, right?