Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Readers Want to FEEL

A book is not a screenplay. Well! I'll take "Obvious Crap" for $1000, Alex.

Yes, you THINK that's obvious, but you'd be surprised how many writers of BOOKS don't understand that concept. You know why? Because they're already envisioning their books as movies.

Hands up who hasn't done that. (My hand is down, just so you know.)

But one of the biggest mistakes a fiction writer can make is to say, "This scene is great, because it's exactly how I picture it on the big screen." Oh, boy. Too bad the rest of the world isn't privy to the pretty pictures in your head. Actually, it's a really good thing the rest of the world isn't privy to the pictures in my head most of the time. But anyway...

Do I envision my books playing out like a movie in my head when I write them? Yes, of course. We are a movie-watching society. Our brains have been trained to work that way. I even go so far as to decide which actors would play my characters if it were a movie. Because that's just fun. But it would be a major mistake to treat a book like a screenplay during the writing process. That's because screenwriting purposely takes the emotion out of the equation.

A talented screenwriter recently told me that a true screenplay doesn't contain anything in it that you can't see on the screen. So, you can give stage directions, such as, "Jane frowned," but you can't say, "Jane's stomach dropped to her feet, and she felt like all the happiness had been sucked from the world." You can't say that, because you can't SEE that happening onscreen. You shouldn't write that in a book, either, because it sucks on sooooo many levels. But the point is... screenwriters write to show, because moviegoers need to SEE what's happening. Plus, actors will provide the emotional interpretation.

Books don't have the luxury of talented actors providing the translation of actions into emotions. That's the author's job. It starts with setting the scene with physical descriptions, but that's only the beginning. If a writer describes the action in a book like a passive observer, the reader will never relate to the characters. And what's the point of that? 

Books are nothing without feeling. And there's no way I can truly know how a character is feeling by "watching" him or her go through a bunch of stage directions. You may know when you read, "Jane frowned," that she's unhappy about something; however, a writer's goal is to make the reader feel what Jane's feeling, to describe what it feels like to be unhappy. Unfortunately, we all know. But not everyone can put it into words and make someone else remember how it feels, even when he or she is feeling far from unhappy (because they're reading a good book). But it's absolutely essential that the writer makes the reader feel what the character is feeling so that he or she can relate to that character.

Yeah, it's fun to imagine my novels being played out onscreen by beautiful actors who will meet me and want to be my best friends (sorry... those positions are already filled). BUT I gotta write the books first. Because I don't write movies. I write emotions.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Chop, Chop!

Here's my typical book-drafting process:
  1. Come up with brilliant idea.
  2. Obsess about brilliant idea.
  3. Create incredibly elaborate world around brilliant idea.
  4. Immerse myself in incredibly elaborate world based on brilliant idea.
  5. Decide brilliant idea is crap.
  6. Rethink entire idea.
  7. Find one detail that fixes it all.
  8. Re-immerse myself in imaginary world.
  9. Write, write, write, write, write.
  10. Despair when I get to end of story and realize I've written 105,000 words, nearly twice the number of words in an average chick lit novel.
Oh, dear!

Time to be ruthless. Time to hack and slash. Time to make that backspace key my bitch.

Only... I love every single word! How do I choose which ones can stay and which ones have to go? More specifically, how do I choose which 15,000 words aren't going to make the final cut?

This is when I spend about a week or two deleting a word here or there on each page. Then I graduate to full sentences ("Oh, that's redundant, I guess"), and eventually, I progress to paragraphs. Pretty soon entire chapters are gettin' the ax! Everything must go! It can get pretty gruesome.

I've learned the hard way over the years to save the 105,000-word monster before I start hacking off its limbs. That way, if I get too carried away, I can resurrect the beast. Or at least part of it. I know I've truly made the right choices for the story if I can cut something I loved but that didn't add to the finished product. I have to say, though, it's even better if I can find a way to make the parts I love indispensable to the plot.

And if everything goes well, the briefer version ends up being twice as good as the original. Verbosity does not necessarily equal quality. So often, less is more. And nothing feels better than finally figuring out where to cut, where to condense, and where to keep the original brilliance, as-is. Those are the kind of days that remind me why I love to write.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Decompressing

I recently took a rare weekend off. It. Was. Awesome. Between my day job, my writing, my editing side job, and marketing my books, I've been working upwards of 18 hours every single day for weeks. It's like I forgot how to relax. More accurately, I thought that if I let up on the pace, I'd get lazy and not want to work again. Ever.

Courtesy: Lifetime Entertainment Services, LLC
That's me on the left. Yeah...!
So this weekend (which I've dubbed the BEST WEEKEND EVER), I treated myself to a Drop Dead Diva marathon (thank you, Netflix). If you're not familiar with this show, I highly recommend you acquaint yourself with it. Heartfelt thanks to a friend who wouldn't shut up about the show and made me curious enough to spend my entire weekend on it. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

And I remembered there are lots of other things I like to do when I'm not writing. *Gasp!* Writing is NOT the end-all and be-all? That may be true. Now before anyone gets all judgey-judgey or starts thinking I'm losing my passion for hanging out with imaginary people, calm down. I have a reasonable explanation for this seeming break with my personality. Decompressing is important, even for someone like me, someone who uses writing as a means of decompressing. It's been so long, though, since I've taken any extended breaks that I'd almost forgotten my favorite off-hours activities. Here are my top five:

  1. Watch British period pieces. Oh, yeah. There's nothing like a good viewing of Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow to recharge the batteries. Or better yet, Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth. Unfortunately, I rarely have five hours to devote to decompression, so CF often loses out to more snack-sized bites of fine acting. I hear he's terribly broken up about this, but there will be plenty of time for us to hang out together later.

    Photo Courtesy: BBC
    Really, Colin. Stop giving me the stink-eye.

  2. Play The Sims3. Mostly, I build epic houses. But every once in a while, I create Sims based on the characters in my books. Hmm... doesn't seem as much like "taking a break" when I admit that. But trust me when I say it's fun for me.
  3. Host game nights or movie nights with friends. Again, this is a big time commitment, so I don't get to do this as frequently as I'd like, but there's nothing like acting ten years younger (at least) and laughing until my sides ache. Not to mention, it's always fun to be with real people for an evening. At least, it's a nice change of pace.

    I think green's my color.

  4. Read Chick Lit. This may seem a little too closely related to writing Chick Lit, but it's nice every once in a while to let another author figure out how a story is going to work out.
  5. Goof off on Facebook. If I have to embrace the forum, I might as well enjoy myself. I've met some really fun, funny people. I like interfacing with them. And they're sort of real, right?
Wow. I sit on my butt a LOT. No wonder it's started to closely resemble the size and shape of my couch. You know what? Don't judge me.

Anyway, the point of this weekend was to get some rest and hit my reset button. I was relieved to discover I still know how to do that. And I hope tomorrow I'll be equally relieved to discover I'm okay with getting back to work.


Check out my website for all things Brea Brown (at least the stuff related to my writing). There, you'll find links to my Facebook and Twitter pages. You can also point and click your way to buying all my books from there, so you'll have something to read the next time you take some time away from it all. Happy reading!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Marketing is Hard

At the risk of whining... I'm tired! And this is coming from the woman who can write for eight to twelve hours straight, barely coming up for air, food, and bathroom breaks. In other words, I don't shy away from hard work. I know how to put my nose to the grindstone. But this marketing stuff is grueling! "Hey, everyone, look at me! Love me! Follow me so you can read my tweets about nothing! Tell everyone you know how awesome I am!"

Yeah. I don't feel awesome.

I feel like someone's been keeping me awake for a scientific study and then asking me to do Sukoku while playing Scrabble, filling out logic puzzles, and balancing my checkbook. I've always prided myself on being a good multi-tasker, doing lots of things at once but never any one thing really well (isn't that the definition of "multi-tasking"?), but in this case, I'm supposed to do it all at once while maintaining a quality of work that has heretofore not been expected of me. I mean, even in journalism, I was told "You get the idea" so many times regarding fact reporting that the pressure to perform well eventually lessened to tolerable levels, even for my Type-A personality.

Unfortunately, "You get the idea," doesn't fly in marketing. Because unless you cram yourself down people's throats 24/7, they don't get the idea. See, I'm not very good at "cramming." I had an unfortunate experience with one of my kids at Thanksgiving one year and have avoided force feeding at all costs since then. You don't want a bellyful of me? Okay. Fair enough. Moving on. I don't want anyone puking on my Facebook page. (Please hold while I have a traumatic flashback.)

Anyway, in the past two weeks, I've joined the ranks of tweeters and designed and published a website, all at the constant urging of someone who knows a lot more than I do about marketing. In the meantime, I've also blaarghed, edited a book for a fellow writer, published my latest book, and started editing and rewriting one of my other books. In addition, I've sort of held down a full-time brick-and-mortar job. Please, don't ask me where my kids are, however. I have no idea.

It's fine, though. I mean, sleep, food, and personal relationships with real-life people are overrated anyway, right? This is my dream we're talking about. It's not going to happen by magic. The stories (a.k.a., "myths," perpetuated by marketers) about success and fame landing in the laps of undiscovered authors, are sort of like the stories about people winning the lottery. And anyway, even those people had to play to win. So, I'm playing. I'm playing hard. And until now, only a few people had the misfortune of listening to me bellyache about it. I thought it was time to spread the wealth. After all, there's plenty to go around!

All griping aside, though, I understand that marketing is a necessarily evil. And I'm not doing it all by myself. I have some generous individuals behind the scenes doing some things for me that I just don't have the time or desire to do. I don't know what I'd do without their support. And by that, I mean putting up with me. What they're doing to get the word out about me is also pretty freaking fantastic and humbling. That way, I can focus a little more on what I do want to do: writing.

Because I LOVE writing. I mean, I'd totally marry it if I could. No offense to the guy I'm already married to. I think he'd understand. He'd probably welcome it, at this point, come to think of it. "Hey, Writing, she's all yours. Good luck with that. Uh... word to the wise: never let her Fancy Cakes supply run out. Ever."

Would it be great if I could drop the full-time day job to focus on writing? Heck yeah! I think that would make a world of difference. Can't do that, though, until I get my name out there and sell more books. Or find a fairy godpublisher to make all my dreams come true. Until then, I'm stuck in go-go-go mode, switching hats often and hoping I don't bathe my laptop or put a diaper on the dog we don't have. Because that would be awkward, at best.

Fire up the Keurig!


If you want to contribute to my dream, buy my entire catalog of published books on Amazon. Or you can start with one. Or two. Or you can send me a personal check. I also accept cash. If you're in more of a social mood than a spending/giving mood, pop onto my website. There, you'll find links to my Facebook page, my Twitter whatever-you-call-it, and my email address. It's really quite amazing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The F-Word

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but... people use the f-word a lot nowadays. Christian people. Non-Christian people. Flawed people. Happy people. Sad people. And my imaginary people have been known to use it, too. Apparently, several readers think my imaginary people use it too much.

"What is [Brea Brown's] obsession with the f-word?" Someone recently posed that question in a review of one of my books on Amazon. She's not the first one to criticize my books for it, either. I'd probably make more money than I do on royalties if I had a dollar for every time a reader said something to the effect of, "I liked the story, but the potty language was a turn-off."

Easy fix, right? Stop using profanity in my books. Not so fast. But I will offer this explanation for why the characters in my books use "salty language:"

First of all, I don't have an obsession with the f-word or any profanity, for that matter. What I am, obsessed with, however, is realistic characters. You won't find the f-word in any descriptive passages in my books. You will find it in dialogue and exposition that can be attributed to characters, though. You know why? Because real people talk like that.

It's true! I wouldn't lie to you. I like you, even if you think I'm a foul-mouthed, dirty pirate hooker.

I'm sure some of the dismay about bad words in my books stems from the fact that many readers have mistakenly perceived my Secret Keeper books to be Christian fiction. Please see blog post "I'm a Christian WRITER , but not a CHRISTIAN Writer." I used to think this wasn't my problem. Now I'm beginning to see that... it's kind of a problem. Because fans of Christian fiction see the word "Pastor" in my book descriptions and make assumptions I can't live up to. Then they post lukewarm to poor reviews, because they want characters who say "Gee whiz" and "golly goobers" and "fiddlesticks," and that just ain't gonna fly for most characters in my books. I think it's fake and silly and ridiculous to hold fictional people to a standard that just doesn't exist anymore.

And anyway... they're just words! Words that we as a society have attached negative connotations, for sure, but man-made words nonetheless. We as a society need to learn how to put on our big girls' and boys' panties and stop making it everyone else's job to protect us and our children from those things that may be distasteful to us. No more banning American literary treasures from school libraries because they contain the n-word. Rather, let's teach our children that all language has context. The intent behind the language is far more important than the word itself.

Plus, I'm a word nerd, and I can't help but be fascinated (not obsessed) by a word that can function as every part of speech in the English language. It can be used to express just about every sort of emotion, too. Joy: "Eff yeah!" Anger: "Eff you!" Sadness: "Oh, eff..." Frustration: "Eff me." You get the idea. I think it's a funny word, and I think it's equally-amusing how much stock some people put in it. Do I make it a habit to use it around my children? Negative. It's not a polite word, and anyone who knows me knows I'm all about manners. (*cough, cough*)

But I do use that word in my books. Do I do it to shock and offend people? No. I use it--and other profanity--to lend credibility to my characters and my stories. Perhaps I should put a disclaimer in the front of my books: "Warning! This book contains realistic characters who say bad words when provoked. Please turn back now if this will offend your sensibilities."

I understand that a minority of people choose not use profanity. If you're one of them, good for you! I'm sure you have wonderful, altruistic reasons for abstaining. For example, I've heard people say it displays a lack of intelligence and suggests a narrow vocabulary. I will have to politely and without any curse words disagree with those people. But that's a debate for another blaaaaargh post.

Today, I simply wanted to address the seemingly endless number of readers who feel the need to tell the world what a great writer I'd be and how much they would have enjoyed my books if only I'd make my characters a little less realistic and a little more one-dimensional. My mom reads my books. If that's not motivation enough to keep it squeaky clean, then that's a pretty good indication my characters are never going to conform to some people's strict ideals regarding decency. And if anyone ever writes a critical review citing language as their only reason for not liking one of my books, with the aim of receiving an apology from me, they'll be disappointed. But you know what? That's life!

If profanity doesn't offend you, check out my books. I publish them exclusively on Amazon. It's the bleepity-bleep best place to get e-books. I bleepin' love it! Also, come visit me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. I'm pretty good at controlling my potty mouth in most posts and tweets.
 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

PLAIN JAYNE Publication Day

I'm getting cocky. Second Pub Day of the summer for me, and it might as well be just another day. I mean, I haven't had diarrhea once. I even left my house to have brunch with some friends, which means I couldn't sit at my computer and hit the "refresh" button on my sales reports. Or obsessively monitor Facebook for encouraging comments from readers, friends, and family. I hit that "publish" button like I was hitting "send" on an email to a friend. No biggie. Plain Jayne is out there for all to see. All 93,000 words of it.

cover image copyright 2012 by Laura Sellars
Yeah. It's really long. I'm sort of worried about that. I mean, readers of my books often say, "I didn't want it to end," but you want to elicit that response. You want to leave them wanting more. You don't want to have them continuously checking to see how much further they have to go. "Is it over yet?" is not something you want them asking themselves. We'll see if I've pushed the envelope too far with this one. Obviously, I think every word in the book is necessary. I think the story's complete and that every chapter has a purpose. I hope readers agree.

If they don't, I'm sure they won't be shy about telling me. Very publicly. And none-too-gently. What did one reader recently say about The Secret Keeper Confined? "It felt like a book-length epilogue." Ouch. In my defense, it is the second book in a very character-driven series. It's not supposed to be action-packed. But still... Ouchie. Shake it off, Brown!

Today, though, I feel good about Plain Jayne. I didn't even panic when I found out AFTER publication that there are a few other books with the same title. Same spelling of "Jayne," and everything. And I thought I was being so clever. Hmmm... Ego alert! Where's Smart Guy when I need him to knock me down a few pegs and tell me to keep working, keep tweeting, and stop resting on my laurels (and stop using cliches)? I'll have to settle for having boogers wiped on me and Pop Tart pieces sneezed into my face. It's almost as humbling.

Anyway, all kidding aside, I'm really not taking Publication Day for granted. I'm currently closely monitoring sales and wondering how long it'll take for the first reviews (for better or worse) to come in. I'm nervous, hoping I didn't forget something huge or overlook a bunch of typos. Brunch was a lovely diversion, but as soon as it was over, Pub Day was the first thing on my mind again. I've tried to work on my next book in the pipeline, but I have the attention span of a hyperactive dog in a rabbit hatchery. Every encouraging comment I get on my author Facebook page is greatly appreciated. I sort of need a hug. I'm as needy as ever.

The good news is, I have a lot to keep me busy, if I'll only focus. And this Pub Day will pass like all the others. And I will have survived. It's only fiction, after all. Can you imagine if I had a really important occupation? I'll pause here for the collective shudder amongst family and friends. Yeah. Writers are so weird.



Wanna spend even more time with me? You know you do. "Like" my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter, or drop me an email. My chick lit is available exclusively on Amazon, to the chagrin of the six NOOK users out there who keep trying to persuade me to give up my cushy exclusive Amazon benefits and publish on NOOK, too. Probably not gonna happen for a while. Sorry. In the meantime, you can download Kindle apps for FREE and read my books on your PC, Mac, smart phone, or tablet. I hope you will!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Plain Jayne" Sneak Peek

I can't wait another second for everyone to get at least a glimpse of the book I'm about to publish, so here's Chapter One of Plain Jayne. Enjoy. The rest isn't far behind.


Chapter One

   Permanent pause. That’s what’s become of the moment I first saw the burned-down ruins. I’ll forever be standing there on that roughly-asphalted and pot-holed road, clutching the slick polyester of my graduation robe, feeling and seeing my hair tremble in time with my knocking heart and ragged breath. 

   Up there is where my window used to be. The night before, my hot pink polka-dotted curtains probably reached through the broken glass, as if trying to get away from the flames devouring them. I’m sure the aluminum siding framing the window burned white-hot, warping and melting. And black smoke competed with the orange flames, as both desperately sought oxygen. 

   There’s a poem in there somewhere, or at the very least, a haiku. If it hadn’t been my gutted house, my dead family, I probably would have sat in the grass verge next to the road and scrawled some words to add to the bulging accordion file that served as my writing portfolio. Maybe I’d have run home and eagerly shared the new scrap with my mom. Or, if she was too busy, I would have pestered one of my sisters, neither one of whom understood my zeal for the written word but both of whom humored me, nonetheless, when I was bursting with inspiration. 

   But it was my family. It was my house. Gone. Forever. 

   That doesn’t mean I didn’t eventually write about it. My family, however, will never read it.

*****

   Exactly twelve years after my high school graduation and the fire that killed my entire immediate family in their sleep, I nervously fidget outside the office of my brand-new editor at Thornfield Publishing in Boston. If someone wrote this detail into a book I was reading, I’d laugh and put the thing down. Twelve years to the day? Really? The coincidence is too hokey, too cheesy, too… twee, as the English say… to be believed by someone with even the most willing suspension of disbelief. And if I were to write another book based on my life (continuing where I left off in the book currently being published), I’d change this detail to make it more believable. I’m pretty sure any editor worth his or her salt would force me to change it, anyway. 

  What is it about May 23 that brings about such massive change in my life? Is it fate? Is it destiny? Is it the result of a curse? Or is it merely what it seems to be:  an eerie coincidence? Anyway, maybe I’m being too dramatic or putting too much stock into today’s meeting. 

   Or maybe my friend, Gus, is rubbing off on me, even though last night was the first time I’ve seen him since graduate school. As much as I love him, I’d hate to think I was turning into him. He gets all a-twitter and sees signs and omens at the slightest provocation and flaps his hands and croons, “Oooooh, creepy!” about 50 times a day, for occurrences as mundane as his Burger King order ringing up as an even dollar amount. He has a regular tarot card reader and psychic, despite the fact that he sometimes has trouble paying the rent on his postage stamp-sized studio “apartment” in a trendy part of Beantown. Let’s just say that staying with Gus is bringing back many of the reasons that graduate school was such a stressful time in my life. 

   Back then, I thought it was simply the nature of the beast, but having been long-distance friends with Gus for the better part of the past five years, I’ve had an epiphany since reuniting with him last night:  he’s one high-maintenance drama queen. It makes for some hilarious Facebook status updates, but it can wear a girl down to be in the presence of the real Dupuis.

   We parted ways for the day at Starbucks a few minutes ago, and I’m still shaking. I have a feeling it’s not from the half-caff latte I drank, either. I knew from earlier research that the publisher’s offices were less than a mile from Gus’s apartment. All I needed was a verbal refresher and maybe some landmarks so I’d know I was on the right streets. But he turned it into a recitation that ended up resembling something close to a game of Twister with an auctioneer. 

   “So… You’re gonna go out there and then you’re going to make a right at the light… right at the light, right at the light, right at the light…. Going straight, going straight, going straight… past the fruit stand, which is not a fruit stand in the winter, but it is right now…straight for a while, straight for a while…” 

   So far, it sounded a lot like his love life in college. 

   Then he startled me with a loud, “STOP! At the butcher’s that looks like a bakery—I totally thought it was a bakery for, like, the first three years I lived here, until this one day, there was a hog-pig-thing hanging in the front window, and I was like, ‘Huh? What does that have to do with cupcakes?’ Anyway, you’re gonna cross the street there, because… well, trust me, this is the easiest place for you to cross, because they’ve got all these shrubs they’re growing in the middle of the street, in the median-like—probably some environmental effort, which I’m all for, but sheesh! Sometimes it makes it hard to get around. Then when you get to the other side, you’re going to walkwalkwalkwalkwalk, past the shoe repair place—the nice one, not the crappy place—past a ton of law offices, a church, a church, and another church…” 

   At this point, he paused to suck in a huge breath, and I almost told him that I’d look it up on my phone, but then I noticed he was actually sweating, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was going to all this effort for nothing. Plus, I had to admit it was impressive how he had such a vivid recall of all the places in his neighborhood. 

   “Now you’re almost there; you just have to wait at two more crosswalks, and don’t be confused when there’s a Starbucks at one of the intersections—you’re not walking in circles; it’s a different one; this one’s so much better, though, or I would have taken you there this morning, because then all you’da had to do was walk next door and voila! Thornfield Publishing! Where your future awaits!”

   I smiled weakly at his enthusiasm, feeling gray and lackluster next to him. “Okay. Got it,” I fibbed, giving him the thumbs-up. 

   Grabbing his messenger bag from the back of his chair, he stood, giant coffee in hand, and said, “Now, I gotta scoot. My new boss is about to flip her lid at what she calls my ‘little tardiness problem,’ and when I joked, ‘No one’s complained ’til now, little missy,’ she said she did not appreciate my familiar tone, so I guess I’m on some sort of probation and woooo, Mama, I do not want to test this girl’s temper. You can tell she’s one of those people who keeps such a tight rein on her emotions that someday she may surprise the heck out of us all and poop a diamond during one of our story idea meetings! And if that’s the case, I wanna be on her good side, if you know what I mean.” Suddenly, he tilts his head and smiles, “She kinda reminds me of you, come to think of it.” That makes him laugh so hard that he rocks forward at the waist and almost spills his coffee. “Oh, shit. Now I really gotta go. Good luck! I’ll call you on my lunch break—if I get one—to see how things went. Ta-ta!”

   And he was gone, leaving a residual shaking in my hands and the faint scent of cologne probably inspired by David Beckham or someone equally sporty-yet-metrosexual and costing about $100 an ounce.

   As soon as he was out of sight, and I was sure he wasn’t coming back, I plugged in my current location and the publishing house’s address into Google maps and got some straightforward walking directions. It told me that my walk would take less than fifteen minutes, but I left the Starbucks with thirty to spare, not wanting to be rushed and panicked if something kept me from getting there that quickly.

   Big mistake. I would have rather rushed than sit out here with too much time to think about what might happen behind that huge wooden door with the brass nameplate pronouncing the room beyond to be the professional domain of:

Lucas A. Edwards, Ph.D.
Senior Editor
Editorial Arts

   Lah-dee-dah. 

   I talked to my agent, Tullah, this morning, before my hair-raising coffee shop tête-à-tête with Gus. She was extremely supportive and encouraging, although something she let slip has been nagging me ever since:  “And so what if he’s not thrilled about this new assignment?” 

   When I’d questioned the statement, she’d laughed nervously and played dumb. “What? Oh! Nothing. Sorry… I have you confused with another client. My bad. Listen, Jayne, I have to go. Big… meeting.” Never mind that it was four a.m. in her west coast time zone and hardly prime time for “big meetings.”

   Now only a wall and a door separate me from someone who’s pissed off at me before we’ve even met, for reasons I’m not even clear about. And this someone is most likely a person who’s used to getting his way. And despises anyone who prevents that from happening. Crotchety old crone who farts dust, probably set in his ways, always on the verge of retirement but never leaving, much to the chagrin of his colleagues. 

   Yeah, I can tell by the nervous look of his administrative assistant that he’s a real piece of work. Her face looks frozen in apprehension, like she spends so much time wearing that expression, it’s taken up permanent residency on her face, at least when she’s in this building, behind that desk, waiting for His Nibs to outline his latest demands. He probably shouts them at her, too, standing uncomfortably close, breathing his halitosis into her face, daring her to make even the slightest grimace, even when the spittle starts to fly.

   I’m wincing sympathetically for the young woman—who introduced herself earlier as Sally—when the door swings open as if by remote control. Nobody comes forward, but Sally glances at the open door and then says pleasantly to me, “You can go in now, Ms. Greer.” As I pass her desk, she asks, “Are you sure I can’t get you a glass of water, a can of soda, anything…?”

   I stop and look down at her, trying to interpret the motivation for this repeated offer. Is it my imagination or does she look like she’s pitying me? Like she’s mercifully offering me what could be my last beverage… ever?

   Well. There’s absolutely no need for that. I’m a strong woman who can take care of herself. I’ve done nothing but that since I was eighteen years old. Buried my parents and my little sisters. Worked my way through college and graduate school. Beat out sixteen other applicants for a special fellowship in London as part of my post-graduate work. Waited tables and delivered pizzas. Scrubbed toilets, picked up trash, and schlepped popcorn at a movie theater so that I wouldn’t have to touch the money my parents left me, money that I want nothing to do with, anyway. 

   So if this Mr. Edwards (or Dr. Edwards, I suppose) thinks he’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever faced, he’s sorely mistaken. Maybe. And his intimidation tactics are wasted on me. Mostly.

   As I enter the office, which I notice right away is surprisingly devoid of the expected dusty books, autographed author photos, and ostentatious, cut-crystal awards, he turns slowly from the window, where he’s been standing with his back to the door, looking intently at something outside on the street way below.

   “Ms. Greer,” he says flatly, giving me a half-hearted wave.

   Okay, so I missed the mark on the “old and crotchety” bit. He’s decidedly young-ish and… un-crotchety-looking. He’s quite the snazzy dresser, too, in his gray three-piece suit, one piece of which (the jacket) is draped over the back of his chair, therefore revealing what appear to be solid-looking arms in a white dress shirt and a broad chest covered by a dapper vest. If it weren’t for the scowl on his cleanly-shaven face, I’d say he was quite handsome. If you like that brooding look. Which I don’t. Not really.

   Now he sneers, and I see he has nice teeth, although they’re wasted on someone who can’t even muster a smile when meeting someone new. Fake it for me, okay, Dr. Edwards? Just this once. And then at every meeting we have after this, you can show your true colors.

   A stickler for manners, I step forward and reach out my hand, forcing him to either shake it or offend. 

   “Dr. Edwards,” I return his curt name-only greeting. 

   “Nobody calls me that,” he says shortly without offering an alternative. He seems to consider not shaking my hand, but then he takes a tiny step toward me and gives me one of those cold-fish handshakes that men are so fond of giving to women. I make a point of grasping firmly and pumping our hands with feeling. He withdraws as soon as possible and waves me in the vague direction of a grouping of chairs and a sofa centered under a hideous light fixture made of deer antlers.

   When he sees me warily eyeing the chandelier, he mutters, “Gift from Tom Ridgeworthy. Supposed to be a joke, but it’s kind of grown on me.” 

   He turns his back to me as he searches his messy desktop for something, so he doesn’t see the shocked look on my face at his mention of one of the most successful writers of political thrillers today. He didn’t say it in a name-dropping manner; as a matter of fact, the nonchalant way he said it made it sound as if he wouldn’t be surprised if I told him Tom Ridgeworthy had given me an equally-bizarre gift once, as if everyone’s received a gag gift from the bestselling author. 

   He eventually finds what he’s looking for and, pen, notebook, and iPad in hand, crosses the room, choosing the seat opposite me in the grouping that would be cozy if it were in the office of someone a bit cuddlier—like Ebenezer Scrooge.

   “Well, then,” he says, his attention on the touch screen of his little toy as he swipes and taps away with his long, graceful fingers. “Here we are.”

   I think he’s stating the obvious, at a loss for anything else to say, but then I realize he’s arrived at his iPad destination. Turning the gadget around so that I can see it, he shows me a screen with a lilac and yellow book cover. The title of my book, The Devil I Know, rests in the center of the cover, the words nestled in the slender pale arms of a faceless woman.

   In response to my wrinkled nose, he says, “Not to your liking? What about this one?” With a swipe of his finger, a different book cover slides onto the screen. This one is mint green with the title in hot pink letters between the tire marks left behind by a 1950’s-style convertible driven by a red-haired woman in a yellow headscarf, which trails behind her in the wind as it appears to be coming loose from her hair.

   “Uhh… Hm.” I try to figure out how to diplomatically phrase the question that’s on the tip of my tongue after seeing both cover designs. 

   “These are simply some preliminary designs.” He swipes to the next one. “No?” he asks again, as I barely glance at a cover that features a rearview mirror with pinky fuzzy dice hanging from it and the eyes of a woman in dark Jackie-O sunglasses in the reflection.

   Before he can continue with this nightmare slideshow, I say, “But… those… don’t have anything to do with what happens in my book.”

   He looks surprised. “They don't?”

   I narrow my eyes at him. “No.”

   Puzzled, he turns the iPad around so he can look at the images right-side-up again. “Well, I… Hmm… Interesting.”

   I chuckle nervously. “Of course, you’ve read the book, so you know that. Right?”

   When he continues to stare at the fuzzy-dice version, I prod, “Right?!”

   Startled, he looks up at me and blinks. I think the animals who donated their body parts to his light fixture must have worn the same expression in their final moments. Imperiously, he answers after he recovers his usual bored look, “Well, yes. I’ve… skimmed… the first few—”

   “Chapters?” I finish hopefully for him.

   “Pages,” he corrects weakly. 

   “You’re kidding!”

   Instead of responding, he redirects my attention to the horrible cover designs. “You’re right; these are hideous. As soon as our meeting’s over, you can bet I’ll be having a stern talk with the folks in Art Design. These covers are absolute shit, no matter what’s between them.”

   I tense. “What do you mean?”

   He sets the iPad aside and scribbles a note on his pad of paper. “I mean, I’ll make sure they know I’m not happy they wasted my time with such irrelevant covers.”

   “No. Not that. Although… they’ve wasted my time, too.” When he simply stares blankly at me for pointing that out, I continue, “No, what I was referring to was your comment about ‘no matter what’s between’ the covers. As if my book deserves a nicer cover than those, in spite of its inferiority.”

   He waves away my claim and says irritably, “What? I didn’t say that. You’re putting words in my mouth.”

   I sit back and regard him skeptically. “Yes… I must be,” I pretend to concede. “Since you’ve only skimmed the first few pages, you wouldn’t be able to make a fair judgment of it, anyway.”

   “I’ll have you know,” he replies, puffing out his chest, “that I’ve been in this business nearly twenty years and can spot a bestseller from the first sentence!”

   “Impressive,” I say, finding courage from somewhere previously unknown to me as I boldly state, “Then I guess you’ve read all you need to read of my book. And you know it’s a winner.” At least, that’s what everyone’s been telling me for the past few weeks.

   “It has potential,” he allows smugly. I want to punch his square jaw.

   Instead, I snap, “Oh, do tell!”

   Returning to the blasted iPad, he pulls up some text, which I immediately recognize as the middle of the first chapter of my book. Using a fancy feature, he circles in yellow one long sentence.

   “Your sentences are too damn long.”

   “I will not dumb it down for any reader,” I instantly bristle.

   Ignoring me, he continues, “In emotional passages such as these, short, brisk sentences are more powerful. They make the reader read at the same pace that the protagonist is thinking. Or even breathing. Think about it:  when you’re upset, do you feel in long, prosaic sentences? No. You think like this:  ‘I hate this fucking asshole. Who does he think he is? When can I leave?’ I know I think in short bursts when I’m angry or annoyed.  ‘I can’t believe this. Saddled with a no-namer. She writes fluff, for fuck’s sake!’ See?” He looks up at me and holds my eye contact, as if we’re talking about nothing more emotional than the price of unleaded gas.

   I blink in a way that probably makes me look insane. But I honestly don’t know how to respond to what he’s said to me. To my chagrin what finally falls from my lips is a lame proviso about the version of the book to which he’s currently referring. “I’ve changed a lot since that version. I tweak it all the time. I like to tweak.”

   “Not anymore, you don’t,” he informs me. “From here on out, you don’t touch a damn syllable in this manuscript unless I tell you to.”

   “Anything else?” I snip.

   “Yeah. Since you’ve pointed out I don’t have the most current copy, you need to email that to me by the end of the day. Preferably by 2 p.m. Or if you have a copy with you,” he nods toward my ever-present laptop bag, “you can leave it with Sally on your way out.”

   Dismissed, he effectively says by standing up.

   “You’re going to actually read it?” I ask caustically, taking my cue from him and rising from the sofa. There’s no way I’m going to let him look down on me.

   Disgusted with my childish question, he sighs and answers, “Of course I am. It’s my job, isn’t it? If you get it to me by two, like I’ve asked, I’ll have my first run-through completed by the end of the day.”

   “How gracious of you.”

   Maybe it’s my sarcasm. Or maybe it’s the traitorous wobbling of my voice when I say that. Either way, he seems to soften. 

   “Listen. Ms. Greer. Don’t take it personally, alright? Your manuscript doesn’t fit into my usual genre. And I’m a bit annoyed that I have to divert attention away from my other authors—who are established writers with proven selling power—to hold your freshman little hand.” When I say nothing, he finishes in the same patronizing tone, “Surely you understand.”

   I loop my laptop bag over my head and drop it from such a height that I grunt when the weight settles on my shoulder. “Totally,” I tell him in a stone cold tone of voice as I walk alone to his office door. Then I make sure it’s wide open before I turn back to him and loudly say, “And you are an asshole,” before stalking from the room with my nose in the air.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Twitterpated

I've always considered myself a birdbrain, but I just don't get Twitter. With or without an understanding of how it works, I (sort of) get that it's a good marketing tool, if for no other reason than you can overexpose the heck out of yourself on it and make a ginormous ass of yourself in a hurry. Sounds like something from which I should run far and fast. Very far. Very fast.

However, recent events have spurred me to join Twitter. (Wait... Do you "join" it, like Facebook?) Okay, more accurately, someone a lot smarter than I am told me, "You need to get on Twitter. Now." Then I whined about it and said I didn't understand the point and said that I don't have anything to say on there and said a bunch of other things that basically confirmed my ignorance about anything having to do with social media and marketing. My lame arguments got me nowhere. They did get me a harsh reminder, however, of how much my marketing sucks and how I should probably listen to someone who knows a little something about it.

Minutes later, I was the proud owner of a Twitter account. BreaBrown3 has arrived. I've been informed that the three previous BreaBrowns on Twitter are... interesting, so make sure if you want to follow the most boring tweeter (ha! I know that term!) on the planet that you follow @BreaBrown3 (ooh, score another one for me, for the crazy Twittery "at" symbol thing... I think). My avatar (hee hee) is the cover of The Secret Keeper.

So, Smart Guy (who will remain nameless, because I plan to take major liberties with how this really went down so that he looks like a bully and not the person who's saving me from perpetual anonymity) said, "Okay, you need to start following some people." Following. I'm good at that. "That way," he continued, "when you interact with them, the people who follow them can start to follow you, if they like what you say." At least, I think that's what he said. I mostly heard, "Blah, blah, blah... people will think you're a moron... blah, blah, blah... and here's the key to the secret language that you'll never understand... blah, blah, blah..."

I was already lost. But I pretended like I was on top of it, because up until this point, he still thought I had a brain (a short-lived misconception, for sure). "Got it." LIAR!!!

There was a lull in the Twitter convo (during which he was frantically setting up my account for me before I chickened out), so when he came back to me a few minutes later and asked, "What authors do you like?" I thought we were onto more interesting topics and tossed out, "Jane Austen." He informed me that Jane Austen probably isn't a big tweeter. We laughed at my stupidity off and on for the next... hell, we're still laughing about it.

See? I can't do this. I'm too dumb to do this! I can't even pick a legitimate person to follow. And I so routinely make an idiot of myself in everyday situations that this can only bring about more humiliation. Facebook gives me plenty of electronic opportunities for that.

Smart Guy pushed on, though. He even posted my first tweet, which sounded nothing like me. I promptly pointed that out to him, but he said, "We're going to attempt to make you sound classy." Oh, great. So he's setting me up to fail. Big-time. I wouldn't know "classy" if it dive-bombed me with serviettes and shrimp forks. See? I can't even think of classy things to be dive-bombed with. Smart Guy says this is because I'm from Missouri. But the joke's on him... because I'm originally from Kentucky. Ha!

Since my first tweet (and then another unauthorized tweet by Smart Guy that made me continue to look classy), I've taken charge of my own account and have "followed" 24 people. I have THREE followers. This is working out great so far (sarcasm heavily intended).

I'm also thoroughly overwhelmed any time I go on there and look at my tweet feed. (I don't care if that's not what it's called. That's what I'm calling it.) The people I'm following seem to have nothing better to do than hang out on Twitter all day long and speak to no one in particular in this freaky language that involves the type of symbols that used to be reserved for curse words in Beetle Bailey comic strips. Are they cussing me out? Are they cussing someone else out? Who the heck is their audience? Do they even care?

Now, Smart Guy promises to teach me all about Twitter, because he's not going to let me give it up. But he's busy (cuz he's smart), so in the meantime, I have to just stay away from it, because it's stressing me out.

Plus, I have nothing "classy" to say.

I'm much more comfortable writing real words in works of fiction. You can find all my published works on Amazon. I also have a Facebook page. Come on over and say hello. In English. With no symbols.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Big Bone Lick State Park

That's right. I knew that title would get everyone's attention. Pervs! But seriously. There is such a place as Big Bone Lick State Park. Click the link and see for yourself (it's not a porn site, I promise). Big Bone is a State Park in Union, Kentucky, on Beaver Road... even I couldn't make that up. It's more than just a funny name, though. It's a place that holds a lot of my childhood summer memories. I always feel nostalgic about it this time of year. Sometimes the sounds of the cicadas at night remind me of it. Other times, it's the smell of a campfire. Something as simple as the flash of a lightning bug can set of a string of memories, though. I loved that place.

We camped there as a family every summer that I can remember. The campground was a second home. From the minute we woke up each morning, there was so much to do! At breakfast, we huddled in our sweatshirts at the picnic table as the morning dew evaporated around us, and the temperature quickly climbed. My younger brother, our friends, and I tended to stick together throughout the day, until the girls decided to read poolside or do something else much too sophisticated for stinky boys. That usually lasted about fifteen minutes. Then we'd meet back up to ride bikes (which we pretended were muscle cars or sleek convertibles) along the blacktop roads. After we'd had enough of the muggy exertion, we'd swim in the pool until our lungs hurt from holding our breath in our underwater challenges, and our eyes burned from the chlorine. Then it was on to the Rec Center, where there were all sorts of organized activities and arts and crafts. Then we'd ride our bikes down to the general store, where we'd spend our allowances (for doing what?) on candy, ice cream treats, and dollar games of miniature golf.

And the dares! We dared each other to do some really stupid things, like make the pay phone ring using a special trick. How that's a dare, I don't know, but it amused us greatly to challenge each other to do it. It probably annoyed the crap out of the lifeguards, considering the pool was right by the phone. Another dumb dare: crush Smarties into a fine powder and snort them. No, we weren't aspiring drug addicts; we were just dorks who liked to see each other moan and groan in pain, our eyes watering as the endless sneezes took hold. But my personal favorite was the dare to--man, I wish I was making this up!--sniff the butt of the large, plastic Native American figure on the mini-golf course. It was plain even at such a young age that I was destined to be a classy individual. Seriously, though, that dude's butt reeked.

But the scariest dare related to what we all called the storm cellar. It was a stone structure that covered a set of dirt stairs that led underground. At the bottom of the stairs was a dark, dirt-floored room, of sorts. It was a musty haven from the hot summer sun, but none of us liked to stay down there for long. It had a definite creepy vibe. Naturally, we constantly dared each other to go down there for predetermined lengths of time. Then it was the job of the people not down there to try to do things to spook the person down there (howling and moaning down the stairs like a ghost, tossing stuff down the stairs, etc.). We were kids. Nine times out of ten, we managed to psych ourselves out and come bounding up the stairs, swearing we'd seen a ghost or felt a spider crawl up our legs.

The storm cellar was also where the campers were supposed to gather during severe weather. Not my family, though. My mom once saw a gigantic black snake slither from up those stairs and slide into the nearby grass, and from that day forward, she vowed she'd never again go down there. That promise was put to the test one night, too. The weather was stormy, but it always feels like the end of the world when it's raining or windy, and you're in a pop-up camper. This was no ordinary storm, though. There was a tornado outbreak. The park rangers were patrolling the park, announcing through their megaphones that campers were to evacuate to a safe place. Looking back as an adult, I'm sure there was somewhere besides that one little cramped storm cellar to take shelter, but at the time, that was the only option being offered. My mom said, "Not just no, but Hell no," and we got into our two cars to drive home, thirty minutes away. I can't remember which parent I rode home with (probably my dad), but I'll never forget that whoever it was kept telling me to watch the sky during the lightning flashes, and if I saw a funnel cloud, I had to tell them right away so we could take cover in a ditch. Yeah. I'm sure there were no snakes in those ditches. I was absolutely terrified. We made it home without seeing any tornadoes, but they were all over the news the next day. But my mom did NOT go down in that nasty storm cellar.

But what I remember the most about Big Bone were the people. We weren't the only regular campers; it seemed like the same people came back every year at about the same time. The Stewarts and the Simons had daughters roughly my age, so we often rode bikes or swam together. The Simons keep in touch with my mom to this day; John and Maryanne plan to visit this summer. We knew Betty and Elmer, an older couple, from church, but they were also summer residents at Big Bone. We spent many an evening around the campfire with all of them.

The friends we had at the park were just as familiar to us as those we played with at home or at school during the rest of the year. My best friend, Billie Jo, lived in Cincinnati, about an hour from the park. She and her mom camped there together during the week, and her dad joined them on weekends. Billie had a way of laughing so loudly and throwing her head back so far, her mouth opened wide, that you could literally see the tonsils on the back of her tongue. Her uniform was a bikini top and a pair of shorts, and she was constantly spritzing her black, curly hair to prevent it from frizzing in the humidity. My mom and Billie's mom were friends and spent a lot of time at the pool. Bo-ring! During the heat of the day, Billie and I would hide out in her air-conditioned camper (a luxury!) and read the steamy parts of her mom's Harlequin romance novels.

Yes, we were boy-crazy. We giggled about other campers our age and gossiped about the high school- and college-aged guys who worked at the campground as recreation counselors and lifeguards. Tim and Tom were twins. Tim had one blue eye and one brown eye. I thought that was neat-o. Jason was a quiet ginger. He bandaged my foot once when I sliced it open on an exposed piece of PVC while playing hide-and-seek. Brian and Travis, brothers, were lifeguards. Brian briefly dated my older sister, who also worked at the Rec Center for a summer or two (or three... it all blurs together). Travis... hmm... I don't think Travis ever talked. I don't remember him talking, anyway, other than to yell, "No running!" at us when we got carried away at the pool. He was mysterious. And cool.

Before you get to thinking I was some sort of campground hussy (I was a pre-teen!), it's more accurate to say that those guys were like big brothers. Well, not really. But they surely felt that way towards my friends and me. All the staff members were very much like a big, crazy family. And my family was a part of that family. My sister wasn't the only one who drew a paycheck from Big Bone; my mom occasionally worked in the general store, too. I don't know why. Just for something to do, maybe? Or maybe we got a discount on our campsite, or something. But because she worked there, the other park employees treated us like their own kids. Stan and A.J., the park rangers, took time to talk to us and kept an eye on us during their patrols. Karen worked at the store with Mom and sometimes let us play mini-golf (and sniff the course decorations) for free. Betta worked in maintenance. She had the most beautiful, curly blonde hair I'd ever seen. She was also about 5'2", amazingly tan, and tough as nails. I'm sure I'm forgetting people, but it's amazing to me that I've remembered this many, considering I sometimes forget my own children.

My love for camping died when it became less fun and more work, because now I'm a grownup. Adulthood ruins everything!!! It's not all bike rides and butt-sniffing and Smarties-snorting for grownups, ya know? didn't hate camping with every fiber of my being, I'd take my own family back there now, so they could experience maybe a fraction of what I did all those years.


Plus, how many people can say, "Thanks for the memories, Big Bone!" and not be talking about something sordid? Can you? If so, share some of your favorite Big Bone memories. If not, then please keep your other big bone memories to yourself, thanks.

Someday, maybe I'll write a book about a place like Big Bone, but until then, take a gander at the books I've already written (I'm not a machine, people!). You can find them on my author page on Amazon. I also have an author page on Facebook that's pretty fun. Drop by and say hi!