Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Top 10 Reasons I Will Never Be Good at Writing Erotica

Damn, now I'm gonna get a bunch of stupid crap mail because I said erotica.

Anyone who knows me for more than a few days will know that I get stupid when the topic of sex comes up. I'm stuck as that 12-year-old prepubescent girl at that party where all the kids were making out, and I freaked and called my mom to come get me. First, because it was gross to be listening to the slurping and groaning of a bunch of hormone-crazed 12- and 13-year-olds; second, because I was the only one who didn't have a partner staring at her un-chest (I didn't wear a bra until high school, and even that was only because the boys made it a game to run their hands down girls' backs and then make fun of them when there was no bra in place--that shit would NOT fly today. Can you IMAGINE? Do you know how many boys I could've sued--AND BEAT--for sexual harassment, starting in, like, fifth grade? YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE. By the way, I have BOOBS now. They ain't huge, but they also don't sag to my knees like YOUR wife's 'cuz she's pushing 40 and those plump little fun pillows were great when you guys first got together, you rubbing your face in between 'em like they were kittens, and now she's pumped out a few kids, and HA! Her boobs sag. And I don't have neck and shoulder problems because of my size Z boobies, and they're not disgustingly wrinkled or stretchmarked like your wife's. Who gets the last laugh now, hey, bitches? *ahem* Sorry. Digression.); and third, no smoochy-smoochy for me because I was scared shitless that someone would look at my un-chest and then, out of desperation because all the best girls were already liplocked, he'd try to slip me the tongue or something. Boys that age wear braces. Braces attract food particles and bacteria. French kissing means tongues. Ergo, I'd be sucking that kid's lunch and dinner out of the metal patchwork in his mouth. I'm nothing if not a germaphobe. It makes me gag a little just to think about it, in fact.

Your future is poking you in the face. And elsewhere.
So, as a grown-up, miraculous as their conceptions may be, I have four children. Hence, I had sex four times. (That's the story we've given the kids, so let's just go with it, in case they ask you.) It's not that I don't like the S Word ... I just have other things I could be doing. Like laundry. Or writing. Or reading. Or writing. Or organizing my book collection. Or writing. Or answering one of Kendon's 4128 daily questions. (He's very clever, that boy. And he loves his penis. It makes me uncomfortable. I'm trying not to pass my neuroses onto him, so relax.) Last year, when I was clawing my way through the 18th draft of my book, one of my critique readers came back with the comment that there wasn't enough mushy love between the characters. Uh, they're teenagers who just met. I don't want them getting friggin' pregnant at 18. Been there, done that, screws everything up. (Love you, my boy. It's not your fault your dad said he only had one working testicle. Omigod, I smell a defamation lawsuit coming on.) ANYWAY, I did what every self-respecting young adult novelist would do: I put on my warmest coat and my fingerless gloves, took myself to the local Tim Horton's coffee shop parking lot (hey, Americans, Tim Horton's is Canada's answer to Starbucks + Dunkin Donuts ... DOUGHNUTS!!!), and I blushed through two pages of my main characters making out. I used the requisite love scene words--"warm, soft, full"--and Gemma and Henry macked on each other for a few minutes. I felt so NAUGHTY watching them, writing down their smoochy, touchy-gropey antics. It was, like, so voyeuristic. 

That's why I don't write erotica. I can't. I'm not one of those gals who watches porn, not for any particular moral reason -- it just grosses me out. I've pretty much giggled through every example I've ever seen, always watching between squished fingers, laughing loudest in time with their groans and screeches. Yeah, real mature, I know, but ewww. No one has boobs that big, a wiener that long, or does It for so many unprotected, unfinished hours. Really? Really? It's almost as bad as telling girls they can have a stalker, bloodsucking boyfriend who will love and protect them for all eternity and all they have to do is act weak and pathetic, and then their futures will be full of fancy yellow Porsches and tuition to Dartmouth. ICK.

This doll's mouth looks like a cervix. Seriously. It does.

So, the Top Ten Reasons, beyond the ones I've already given you, that I will never be any good at writing a bona fide love scene:

10. I cannot say the "M" word. Say it in my presence, and I turn four shades of red and cram my fists into my ears. Don't tell me I've done it, and I'm just being immature because self-pleasure is the ideal form of safe sex. That's my business, not yours. But I can tell you, the amount of Purell involved will negate all the fun. (Besides, if God wanted me to pleasure myself, he would've made me a hermaphrodite.)

9. The church people when I was 8 told us that kissing and touching was very, very bad, and that God will always be watching. As such, my entire sexual life, I've envisioned a creepy, pervert God sitting in the corner of the room, flanked by nuns as they cluck their tongues at me. Yeah. Real romantic. THANKS, God.

8. I can't think of other words to use in place of the scientifically correct terminology. Nothing says romance like writing a hot, steamy love scene and then plugging science into it. That's why romance writers come up with words like "manhood" and "joy stick" and the aforementioned "fun pillows." (No serious writers really use that one. It's just funny.)

7. Again with the giggling. I don't know where it comes from, or why I giggle. But I do.

6. I have a hard time lying to readers, telling them something other than the absolute truth. And penises are funny looking, no matter what size/shape they're in. Omigod, I'm giggling again.

5. In line with the truth mentioned in #5, nothing spoils a love scene faster than the characters being interrupted by their 6-year-old who is thirstier than a Bedouin and who just had a dream the Reeks from Geonosis are invading his bedroom. (That reference will be useless unless you live with Star Wars geeks. Reeks are scary creatures with horns and slobber.) Talk about a buzz kill ...

4. You'll notice that romance writers never talk about the post-coital clean-up process. My love scenes would be so clinical: She rose from the bed, stuffed an Egyptian cotton towel between her finely shaved but moderately cellulite-puckered legs, and made her way into the rose-scented bathroom to tidy her girlie bits, to be sure to pee for at least ten seconds like the gynecologist advised so that she was sure to sterilize the area to avoid a bladder or yeast infection. ROMANTIC, huh? Yeah, you're hot now, aren't ya?

3. My DAUGHTER reads my work (and someday, my sons might, too). Think of your parents having sex. Once you're done retching, think about writing a sex scene and then handing the book to one of your kids and saying, "Here, honey, enjoy." Can't. Do. It.

2. I don't care how many times you say that "those shops" sell "marital aids," and "marital aids" are meant to spice up your love life, that "it's normal and indicative of a normal, healthy, loving relationship." Omigod, we are NOT spending money on THAT when there are plenty of good books I don't have yet. You were just kidding, right? Yeah, that's what I thought. Now get me to the bookstore.

1. Cynics make the worst lovers. "That's it? You want me to get excited about that? Oh, baby, baby, do me. Yeah, just like that. Okay, good. Satisfied? Now can I go have some ice cream cake?"

Save your comments about how I've obviously not met the right lover -- I've had my share, thanks (WHORE!) -- or that it's not the size of the hat but the magic in the rabbit. I know for a FACT that rabbits possess no magical abilities whatsoever. Neither do cats, dogs, llamas, goats, sheep, or bears, just for the record.

And don't feel too sorry for my husband. Remember ... I'm a writer. I earn money by making shit up. :o)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Get Punc'd: Get to Know the ELLIPSIS!

Dots, dots, everywhere. A writer in my Facebook feed the other day was going off on how much she hates the ellipsis, suggesting that writers who rely on them are somehow inferior or deficient. Sort of how I feel about folks who rely on adverbs to make their writing more interesting. Adverbs do not make your writing more interesting. Adverbs make you sound like a fart head. But, I didn't disagree with Miss Anti-ellipsis on the FB wall. What's the point? Opinions about the mechanics of grammar and writing are as varied as facial hair counts between an Asian and a Greek boy in the throes of puberty. It's not something to get your knickers in a knot over (the grammar, not the hairy--or unhairy--boys). And omigod, before you get all up in my grill about me being a racist because I pointed out the obvious (stereotypical) hair count disparities among two separate races of human being, STOP. I'm not a racist. I make fun of all races equally, including my own. Which is, uh, white? A sad mix of blood stemming from stereotypically drunk, cheap, and cold-hearted bastards? (SEE--now you know where my family is from. You're a RACIST!) Yeah, something like that. Save your hate for when I say something truly offensive. Because I might. I've been known to do it, especially while driving.

So, back to the dots. The ELLIPSIS, ellipses plural. Let's start simple. According to Wikipedia:

The most common form of an ellipsis is a row of three periods or full stops (...) or a pre-composed triple-dot glyph (). The usage of the em dash (—) can overlap the usage of the ellipsis.
The triple-dot punctuation mark is also called a suspension point, points of ellipsis, periods of ellipsis, or colloquially, dot-dot-dot.

For those of you who are not grammar geeks or writers in need of a more solid answer to this dotty conundrum, scan forward. From the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition, an ellipsis is defined as such:

An ellipsis is the omission of a word, phrase, line, paragraph, or more from a quoted passage. Such omissions are made of material that is considered irrelevant to the discussion at hand (or, occasionally, to adjust for the grammar of the surrounding text. Chicago style is to indicate such omissions by the use of three spaced periods (but see 13.51) rather than by another device such as asterisks. These points (or dots) are called ellipsis points when they indicate an ellipsis and suspension points when they indicate suspended or interrupted thought (see 13.39). They must always appear together on the same line (through the use of nonbreaking spaes, available in most software applications), along with any following punctuation; if an ellipsis appears at the beginning of a line, any preceding punctuation (including a period) will appear at the end of the line above. If they prefer, authors may prepare their manuscripts using the single-glyph three-dot ellipsis character on their word processors, . . . usually with a space on either side; editors following Chicago will replace these with spaced periods.

CLEAR AS MUD, right? You guys wouldn't believe how much debate happens around this pesky grammatical beaut. (Need proof? Here's a comment stream on Typophile.) But hark -- wait -- what is that fascinating little note about the suspension points? Perhaps I'm just splitting hairs (again with the HAIR references!), but lads and lassies, THAT IS WHAT WE DIALOGUE SCRIBES USE MOST OFTEN. Suspension points, NOT the almighty ellipsis. So stop hating on it. It's mean and makes you look evil and sinister. Hatin' on innocent little grammar marks. I mean, seriously, what did they ever do to YOU? Someone's got some mommy issues. (I can give you the number to my therapist. Email me separately.)

Seems we writers are using suspension points, and not the ellipsis, when our characters are stumbling over their tongues. (I know Bella has a lot of stumbling abbity abbity doh! moments -- am I the only one annoyed by that scene in Twilight in the hospital where she sounds like she's about to stroke out when Edward says he's bailing? Yeah. I thought not.)

Let's see if this helps -- and I will quote the section I think is closest to what we all tend to use. If you want specific info about how to use the ellipsis in a formal document, to represent missing quoted material, spend the $65 and get your own Chicago Manual. You know you spent at least that getting a subpar mani-pedi last month (which has now totally grown out and you're looking all Sasquatchy again with that hair growing out of the tops of your toes). It's high time you invest in your grammatical future. I mean, at least get the Associated Press style guide, at the very least -- but hiss hiss, scratch scratch -- AP doesn't espouse the serial comma. I heart the serial comma, and unless you tell me otherwise, I will edit all your crap with serial commas intact. 

(Sections referenced for your viewing ease.)

FIRST AND FOREMOST: Section 13.39 addresses most closely what we writerly types are faced with, so much so that it may serve to answer our most pressing dialogue/quotation issues (I wonder if the mother of certain sparkly vampires referenced this section . . . likely not. She didn't have to. That's what a team of editors is for. *envious sigh*):

Faltering or interrupted speech: Suspension points--also used to indicate an ellipsis--may be used to suggest faltering or fragmented speech accompanied by confusion or insecurity. In the examples below, note the relative position of the suspension points and other punctuation. (For the use of suspension points to indicate ellipses, see 13.48-56.)

"I . . . I . . . that is, we . . . yes, we have made an awful blunder!"
"The ship . . . oh my God! . . . it's sinking!" cried Henrietta.
"But . . . but . . .," said Tom.

Interruptions or abrupt changes in thought are usually indicated by em dashes. See 6.84. (Let me know if you need to know what the hell an em dash is.)

Notice how there is a space after the last word, between it and the first dot, as well as before the first letter of the subsequent word. It's a confusing place to be because I inserted the spaces between dots here manually (Blogger doesn't modify them for me), but Word does. When you type three periods next to one another, Word modifies it into a proper ellipsis. But then to add a space after that third dot makes the sentence realllllly spaced out. It looks weird, especially if you click on the little button that shows you all the nonprinting typographical markings (you can do this by clicking on the "" icon in your Word menu. Turning this on shows you the markup in your document and is helpful to avoid double spaces or unnecessary hard returns). What do you guys think about the spacing and the way it looks, rules be damned?

IF THIS SCRATCHES YOUR ITCH, scan down. Skip the next really boring part. I'm nothing if not thorough.
Jovie, ready for action. Coffee, check. CMoS, check. Great hair, check!

Thus, more rules to cross your eyes:

13.50: When not to use ellipsis points: Ellipsis points are normally not used (1) before the first word of a quotation, even if the beginning of the original sentence has been omitted; or (2) after the last word of a quotation, even if the end of the original sentence has been omitted, unless the sentence is quoted as deliberately incomplete (see 13.53).

(*Interestingly, I had this situation come up in a recent edit when one character walks into a room where another is engaged in a heated conversation on the phone. The author had used an ellipsis at the front of the dialogue to indicate that the conversation was in progress and ongoing. As a matter of style choice, I left it intact. I liked what it suggested to the reader.)

13.51: Ellipses with periods: A period is added before an ellipsis to indicate the omission of the end of a sentence, unless the sentence is deliberately incomplete (see 13.53). . . . (<----Here, the period comes first, and THEN the ellipsis happens to indicate missing text.)

13.52: Ellipses with other punctuation: Other punctuation appearing in the original text--a comma, a colon, a semicolon, a question mark, or an exclamation point--may precede or follow three (but never four) ellipsis points. Whether to include the additional mark of punctuation depends on whether keeping it aids comprehension or is required for the grammar of the sentence. . . .

It does not build, . . . nor cherish the arts, nor foster religion. (<---- See how the comma happens according to the actual quoted material, and then the ellipsis follows?)

As to Endymion, was it a poem . . . to be treated contemptuously by those who had celebrated, with various degrees of complacency and panegyric, Paris, and Woman, and Syrian Tale . . . ? Are these the men who . . . presumed to draw a parallel between the Rev. Mr. Milman and Lord Byron?

(That's a super-long example, but notice where the punctuation is placed according to the needs of the writer.) 

13.53: Deliberately incomplete sentence: Three dots are used at the end of a quoted sentence that is deliberately left grammatically incomplete.

Everyone knows that the Declaration of Independence begins with the sentence "When, in the course of human events . . ." But how many people can recite more than the first few lines of the document? 


There are MORE rules. Oh, so many more. What YOU have to decide, O Writerly One: Are you using an ellipsis, or suspension points? Hmmmm? I think I'm using suspension points. (Likely too often. DAMN! Adverb alert. Whatev . . . ) I'm gonna stick with that and hence follow said rules. Oh, I feel so happy and smug now. Miss Anti-ellipsis was hatin' on the wrong punc all along.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO DO: No matter what style you are using -- Chicago, AP, MLA -- be consistent. Throughout. Don't flake on yourself halfway through the document. Find what works for you and COMMIT. Oh, and communicate your needs/wants/desires with your editor (because you ARE paying a professional editor, aren't you? I mean, if you are, then he/she/it should be able to follow up on this stuff for you. If you're not hiring someone to look over your stuff, then you're a boob who is going to make us all look like retards. OMIGOD, she used the "R" Word. Someone call Becky from Glee!).

A few other wee bites:

~FYI: The word "copy editor" is often spelled "copyeditor." I prefer the first. Either is fine. I think Chicago uses "copyeditor," but I don't like the "y" and the "e" squished together like that. It makes my palms sorta itchy. Bill Walsh, likely the World's Most Amazing Copy Editor (author of Lapsing Into a Comma, Elephants of Style, long-time copy editor for The Washington Post -- check out, uses the two-word method. Even though he's a newspaper man, and thus doesn't use Chicago but likely AP, I adore him. Thus I will use the same two-word method. Just to clarify, you know, for you purists trying to trip me up with your "copyeditor" rhetoric. Blah, blah, blah, go bark at someone else.

~When you find yourself unsure of something really basic, USE A DICTIONARY. Dictionaries are amazing sources of information. I recommend Webster's New World College. Pretty much any Webster's product is awesome and is considered an industry standard.

~When using the word "awhile" vs. "a while" (copied from Webster's on my Mac for simplification) -- READ THIS CAREFULLY:

awhile: adverb
Means "for a short time": stand here awhile. ORIGIN Old English āne hwīle "(for) a while."
Usage: The adverb awhile, meaning "for a short time," should be written as one word (we paused awhile). The noun phrase, meaning "a period of time," especially when preceded by a preposition, should be written as two words (Margaret rested for a while; we'll be there in a while).

Is it an adverb or a noun phrase you seek?

~Check your use/overuse of the word "half." Do it. I dare you. Do a word count in your document and see how many times you've used it. Now go back and figure out if it's necessary (unless you're writing a cookbook, and then, disregard). It's not. Change it. You sound ineffectual and your character sounds wishy-washy.


Enough boring grammar shit. I'm totally snoring on my keyboard. (Okay, I'm so not, but that's because I'm into this stuff, like some people are into Star Wars or Dr. Who (I've never even watched a single episode of Dr. Who, despite the fact that I live in Canada and folks here are sorta rabid about it).)

I write/edit for LitStack. Check us out and feel FREE to recommend topics. 

I'll have a review coming up for The Maid by Kimberly Cutter. BEAUTIFUL BOOK, guys. Seriously. And I'm not just saying that because I have Joan (Jehanne) of Arc's autograph tattooed on my left forearm. Cutter's book is beautiful, haunting, and inspiring. I don't typically read historicals, but this one pulled me right in.

I don't know what else to talk about. I could complain about not having adequate uninterrupted time to get anything of import accomplished secondary to the needs of my family, as evidenced by the fact that my last blog entry was almost two months ago . . . But then someone will whine at me and tell me that I should be grateful that I have kids/a family because there are lots of folks in the world who don't have either who wish they could. Yeah, I know. Thanks for making me feel like an asshole. Like I don't spend enough time every day flailing the cat-o-nine tails into my squishy flesh.

I read other folks' blogs about how they have time to write and work out and volunteer at Various Social Events, and it floors me. You people have clones, right? That's it. You're cloned. There are at least two of you being wonderful, losing your post-baby fat (especially since said baby is now seven), serving peanut-free cupcakes at the Halloween party and doing community crafting sessions ahead of the school's annual Christmas craft fair and delivering Meals on Wheels to the elderly and infirm and sitting in as treasurer for the PTA and organizing a team for the Cancer Walk/Global Cleanup/Food Drive. It's awesome that there are folks who have the ability to do all this shit lovely stuff, but maybe, could you just develop a little crack dependency or vodka-for-breakfast problem so that the rest of us don't look so damn lazy and uninvolved? Wait. You're a hoarder, aren't you. That's IT! I knew it! Oh, I feel so much better now. Instead of growling at you when you walk by tomorrow, I'm going to paste on that self-satisfied smile I'm so good at, knowing that you have to crawl over mountains of hamster poop and old magazines to get to your half-buried crockpot. VICTORY!

One last thing: Sleight's sequel, Stratagem, has obviously been delayed. Remember your manners, kids. I had some bad mojo happen this summer and thus have run into a few issues getting the book done, especially once September hit and I was faced with the piano/acting/soccer/work schedules of the four other members of my household. Just for an example, it has taken me three and a half hours, with about 412 interruptions to break up fights, clean up messes, make breakfast, reload a stapler, find someone an eraser, help someone find warm socks without holes, change laundry, give the cat treats so he'd stop yanking on my sweater, and deal with iPod issues to write THIS post alone. Imagine how effing frustrating it is to find more than 32 seconds strung together to finish a 120,000-word book. (I curse a lot.) Oh, and I've been working, too. I'm a copy editor, remember? SO, look for an early 2012 release for Stratagem. I'll let you know if anything changes. And yeah, I'll get a cover soon. I just am sorta particular about what I want, and I have to find a graphic designer who isn't going to cost the equivalent of my daughter's first year in college. But thanks for asking. Sorry I'm not like other indie writers who release books every 27.2 days. (Then again, my books are always over 100K words. Many writers hover in the 50-60K range. I wish I knew their secrets. Oh, right. Write less.)

Now someone tell me a joke.