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Writing

Building Bridges Made Of Breakfast

This is not going to be one of those RECIPE BLOG POSTS where you first must endure a wall of text about the author’s magical visit to Tuscany where they met Mime King Marcel Marceau and picked fresh herbs while simultaneously making love to a secret paramour who then cooked them a frittata so wondrous it made them pregnant with a baby Iron Chef. It’s also not going to be one of the ones where I provide you with easy-to-gather ingredient lists, because I am a monster. It’s mostly just, hey, breakfast is good. I like breakfast. You like breakfast, unless you’re a face-stealing Hellgoblin — are you? A face-stealing Hellgoblin? No? Then prove it with your love of breakfast.

Mostly I just figure, I want to talk about some stuff other than the nightmare pit that opened up underneath us in the prior 4-5 years, and it’s honestly been a while since I catapulted a “””recipe””” into your eyeballs. And we are in a country now in dire need of unity, and there is no greater bridge to build between people than breakfast. We all eat it. We all like it. Except goblins. And goblins aren’t Americans or even citizens of the world, but rather, creatures that emerge from the steaming sulphur sphincters that lead straight to Hell. They are joy-hating mine-crawlers, and you can tell they’re evil because they don’t like breakfast.

Hashtag, worldbuilding.

Anyway.

Here, then, are some breakfast foods I make in the morning for myself, my wife, my child, or the various people I have trapped in my cellar. Ha ha ha just kidding I don’t have people in my cellar. They’re in the attic! Where there’s a view!

B-Dub’s Breakfast Buddy

My kid is generally not a fickle eater. He’ll eat… nnnyeah, mostly anything. His first time eating calamari, we put the plate down and he didn’t even ask what it was, he just started eating it. We were like, “You know that’s squid, right?” And he shrugged and kept going. He’s a good eater. One of his favorite foods is Brussels sprouts (my recipe for those little demon cabbages here). Long as something isn’t too spicy, he’s in.

Except eggs.

I don’t know what happened there. He loved eggs. Eggs were a comfort food. Then he went over another kid’s house, and the Dad was both vegan and an asshole, and the veganism isn’t the problem, but the asshole part definitely is, and somehow our son emerged from that experience hating eggs. I dunno why. He swears nobody told him that eggs were bad. But we also know that guy has turned other kids away from eating non-vegan foodstuffs with some real horror stories. We tried to tell him, “You know you’re not eating baby chickens, right, there’s no baby chicken in here,” and he seems to get that? But he won’t eat eggs anymore.

(My grandmother, Mom-Mom, wouldn’t eat cheese, though she’d eat anything else. She could detect the presence of cheese on an incoming meal when the waitress was still twenty feet from the table. She also lived to 89, and survived with mesothelioma for six years after they gave her six months, so who knows. Maybe not eating cheese is good.)

(I mean, I’m still going to eat cheese. I mean, obviously, JFC.)

(This is fast turning into my Magical Visit to Tuscany, isn’t it?)

(Oh well. This content is free!)

POINT IS, removing eggs from breakfast options was tricky at first because, honestly, breakfast is a world built on eggs, at least in our house. Further, the kidlet still wanted a breakfast sandwich to eat, too, and one that did not include eggs.

So, here’s that sandwich:

Toast an English muffin. Bay’s is our brand, in part because I hate the ritual of having to fork-open the forkin’ motherforker Thomas’ English muffins version.

When toasted, you drizzle a little maple syrup on the inside of the one half.

Then: some manner of meat goes upon it. Bacon is great, but so are sausage patties — the Beyond Sausage patties are good, too, if you want something plant-based.

Upon that goes cheese.

The perfect cheese for this is Cooper Cheese, which is the greatest meltiest cheese known to man, and anybody who tells you different can get fucked. It is the best. It’s American cheese, and I feel you already buckling, but stop. I’ve ranted about this before, but get shut of any judgment you may have about American cheese and how it’s not really “cheese” and how it’s a “cheese product,” and STOW YOUR CHEESE CLASSISM, JUDGEY MCJUDGEYBUTT. Anyway, let J. Kenji Lopez-Alt tell you the truth about American cheese. I have also used a good sharp cheddar, but it does change the profile significantly, and cheddar doesn’t always melt as nice.

So, maple syrup, then meat, then cheese. Cheese on both halves, btw.

Toast again, just till the cheese melts.

Slap halves together, put into face, send me money to pay me for the delight I have given you.

If you like eggs, unlike my anarchist son, cook one to your liking and put it on before the “slap halves” stage of the sandwich construction.

Also, in the name, I understand this is not a proper British butty, so I have named it a Buddy so as not to falsely appropriate British cuisine. You should read that prior sentence as sarcastically as you like.

Cheesy Eggs And Rice

Our Chinese food place gives you a whole container of rice for every dish you order, and that usually means we end up with enough leftover rice to choke a bear. But I don’t want to choke a bear. I like bears. So, instead I try to use the rice in a variety of ways, chief among them is fried rice, which I just mistyped as “friend rice.” Which sounds nice until you realize it might be a Soylent Green thing? Whatever. But for breakfast, I do a different thing with the rice, and this is that different thing —

Skillet on medium-high heat. Toss in there the OIL OF YOUR CHOICE, which here I recommend either unrefined coconut oil (nice coconutty taste) or butter. Why butter? Because butter.

Then, take a bunch of rice and dump it in. How much? Jesus, I dunno. How do you measure rice? By the fistful? One FIST OF RICE. There. The goal of this is you want the rice to get cooked on the bottom but stay somewhat pillowy-ricey on top. Spread it out. Think: layer.

While that’s cooking, lay a slice or two — broken up — of melty cheese atop the rice. Again, I will recommend to you Cooper Cheese for this vital task.

Now, to the eggs.

I do this two ways, depending on my druthers. The fuck is a druther, anyway? It sounds like the last name of a nosy neighbor in an old sitcom. “Oh, no, here comes our landlord, Mister Druthers, again — careful, or he’s going to figure out that one of us roommates is actually a haunted mannequin!”

First way is, scramble the fuck out of it. Then, when you feel the rice is sufficiently ready, you use your spatula and get that eggy scramble into the rice. Give it a stir, keep stirring, don’t let it scramble too much, and then put it on a bowl.

But, I find the second way a bit more satisfying.

I make two nests — two egg craters, you might say — in the rice. Like a fish swooping out the riverbed to lay its future fishchildren. Then put in a little more fat in those culinary rice pockets, and crack an egg into each. Let it cook a bit, then flip each yolk. Once they firm up a little bit, so that they’re starting to get jammy (jammy is one of those food words that I find enticing when used appropriately, so like, with caramelized onions, or egg yolks, but not, say, tuna fish). Then break the jammy yolks, stir them into the rice, and serve.

The cheese should be melty. The rice will be both soft and chewy. The eggs will incorporate throughout, a kind of ricey-eggy-custardy pillow. I use a little sweet soy sauce (buy it separate or make your own with soy, mirin, bit of vinegar, bit of sugar, garlic, ginger). I sometimes use Penzey’s Fox Point or Shallot Pepper too to finish. You can do other stuff to dress this up, too: start with onion, garlic, ginger. Maybe add in a dash of sesame oil. Greens go well here, too, like spinach or bok choy. Shit, this would probably taste good speckled with lawn clippings and eaten out of an old shoebox.

It’s delightful.

Also to be clear, I’m quite certain there are Chinese or Korean breakfasts that are similar to this — I’m not attempting to appropriate or claim some kind of culinary genius. I just put things I like together and they taste good and hopefully they taste good to you, too.

Broken Yolk On Homemade Toast

This one’s easy. Even obvious. But it’s a favorite here. I make my own sourdough toast — er, I guess I actually make the bread because the toast part is always on us to make — so, okay, fine, I make BREAD, you pedants, and then I TOAST that bread.

Then I re-toast in order to melt some cheese on it. Cheese of choice.

Then, I fry two eggs, flip, and break open the yolks at the end, and yet the jammy (there’s that word again) yolks spread out like a blanket of goodness over the whites.

Onto the toast goes a bed of arugula.

Onto the arugula go the eggs.

Season accordingly (salt, pepper, and for me, more of that Penzey’s Fox Point). Then use a painter’s trowel to shovel it into your unhinged maw.

You can dress it up with avocado. Or a fried green tomato for that crunchy tartness. Or a little maple syrup under the cheese for a hit of sweetness. Or, or, or, sweet onion jam or some kinda savory chutney. I also like saying “chutney.” “Jammy Chutney.” That’s my spy name.

*kicks down door* JAMMY CHUTNEY, DOUBLE O CIFIBIA

I dunno. Fuck around with it and report back.

(Note, this image is kind of a combination of this and a breakfast sandwich.)

Oatmeal

My current oatmeal is this apple-based oatmeal. The apples require a special shout-out, I think, because the topping I make is particularly good on all kinds of things — cook the apples in cinnamon and butter, then add orange juice, maple syrup, and reduce down till syrupy. No mushy apples for this. Get something that’ll hold up, but that has a natural tartness. GoldRush, Cox’s Orange Pippin, even a Cosmic Crisp.

Also, oatmeal is really good if you cook it in oatmilk.

I know, that sounds like too much oats. Insert Xzibit meme about putting oats in oats. But trust me, it’s just right. It’s a whole oat galaxy, an OATIVERSE, if you will. An OATPOCALYPSE. Good too if you throw some berries on there, some cacao nibs, some walnuts, a salamander egg, a cursed chicken toe, ash from a burned Bible page, and ha ha no this isn’t a evil spell it’s just a “recipe” it’s “fine” don’t “ask questions” you fucking heretic.

Waffles, Pancakes, And Eating Babies

This is the waffle recipe I use: Aretha Frankenstein’s Waffles of Insane Greatness. Before now a lot of the waffle recipes I used required separating out the egg whites and whipping them before folding them in separately, but nobody has time for that nonsense. What am I, trapped in my house during a global pandemic? Sheesh. This recipe gets the same result but… doesn’t need that step, and so I use this with a Belgian wafflemaker. Note, it says “serves 2 to 4,” and that number for me is, “it serves 2.25” people, so if you have a quarter-human in your house, great. Otherwise, double the recipe.

This is the Dutch Baby recipe I use — it’s Alton Brown’s. It’s very good. I wish it and the waffle recipe above gave ingredients by weight (especially since his recipe here lists “digital scale” as useful equipment but gives you no weight measurements).

I don’t make pancakes, my wife does — I do 90% of the cooking, but she makes a few things I simply cannot manage to do well, like meatballs and pancakes. This is her recipe:

So, that’s 270g AP flour

1 TB + 2 1/4 tsp baking powder

2 1/4 cups milk (room temp)

2 eggs (room temp)

1/4 cup and 1 tsp butter, melted but cooled a little

Basic steps are: melt the butter, let it cool a little, mix dry goods together, marry eggs and milk together in wedded bliss, then make a throuple as you slowly pour and stir melted butter into egg-milk so as not to make scrambled eggs, then wet goes into dry, then onto cooking surface, flip when cooked on one side, eat eat eat. The crossed out stuff in the recipe is her old version — she’s been evolving this over a few years now. These are the best pancakes I have ever eaten, with the exception of maybe the pancake I had at the Mad Batter, in Cape May, NJ.

I don’t pour straight maple syrup on any of these, but rather, make a mix of melted butter and maple syrup whisked together right before pouring. It’s phenomenal.

(For maple syrup, I like Escuminiac, or Finding Home Farms.)

NOW GO FORTH AND BREAKFAST YOUR FACE

Categories
Writing

Writer’s Relief Named One Of The 100 Best Websites For Writers In 2021 | Writer’s Relief

Writer’s Relief Named One Of The 100 Best Websites For Writers In 2021 | Writer’s Relief

We’re repeating ourselves—and we’re thrilled! The Write Life has once again named Writer’s Relief as one of the top resources for writers: 100 Best Websites For Writers In 2021. You’ll find us listed alphabetically in the Publishing category.

Here’s some of what the nice folks at The Write Life had to say:

Writer’s Relief has been helping writers reach their publishing goals since 1994 by providing a submission service where creatives can submit their writing to literary journals, book publishers, agents, and more. Sign up to receive free publishing tips and leads in your email… peruse the enriching blog…

See the criteria Writer’s Relief had to meet in order to qualify as one of the best websites for writers, which article of ours was a favorite, and more here!

 

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Writing

5 Situations Where Writers Should Be Skeptical | Writer’s Relief

5 Situations Where Writers Should Be Skeptical | Writer’s Relief

We’ve all heard the phrase caveat emptor: buyer beware. And while it means shoppers should do some research before plunking down money on a dubious deal, in several situations it can also apply to writers! At Writer’s Relief, we’ve been around the publishing world long enough (over twenty-six years!) to know when something seems fishy. Here’s our list of situations where writers should be skeptical about “buying what they’re selling.”

Here’s When Writers Should Be Skeptical

Entering a writing contest: Reputable writing contests are a great way to gain publishing accolades worth mentioning in your cover and query letters. There are many legitimate contests for writers, but unfortunately, there are also fake contests only interested in getting your hard-earned cash. Anthologies that accept every piece entered and are only interested in selling you expensive copies; unusually large prize awards; advertisements in media not geared toward writers—these are just some of the warning signs to watch for before you pay that contest entry fee.

Trying to land a literary agent: Most literary agents are honest, respectable people who want to help good writers get their books traditionally published. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t so-called literary agencies more interested in your money than your writing. Legitimate agents make their money by selling your book. If an agent is asking you to pay fees for reading, evaluations, marketing, or retainer fees, these should all be big red flags, and you’d be right to be skeptical. And if you are approached by an agent whom you’ve never contacted, beware. Make sure to watch for unrealistic promises and the warning signs of an untrustworthy agent before you sign a contract!

Reading your e-mails: Fake e-mails designed to steal your account information, known as phishing e-mails, have been a problem for years now, and some of these scams target writers. If you receive an e-mail that looks like an acceptance from a literary journal or interest from a literary agent, your first reaction will be to start doing your happy dance! But before you put on those dancing shoes, double-check that e-mail. Did you submit to that literary journal or agent? Is the e-mail signed with the correct name? Is it full of typos or grammar mistakes? Here are more ways you can recognize and avoid scams.

Receiving feedback and critique: When you receive notes from an editor or a beta reader, you might think you have to make every change recommended. But put on your skeptic’s hat, because that’s not true. Each person will have a different reaction to your writing, and it will be up to you to decide if the criticism is useful or if it’s just one person’s opinion. Whether you decide to make the suggested changes or not, always be polite. Remember: It’s your writing, and you should be true to yourself!

Making excuses: Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy! If you’re constantly saying you don’t have time to write or can’t get over a case of writer’s block, it may be time to turn a skeptical eye on your reasoning. Are you already squeezing as much as you can into each day, or are you letting unimportant things take up the time you set aside for writing? Budgeting your time is a great way to banish the distractions that are keeping you away from your desk.

Or are you procrastinating because you don’t know where to send your submissions and don’t have any time for researching the best markets? Writer’s Relief can help! Our expert researchers will pinpoint the best places for you to submit your work and boost your odds of getting an acceptance—no submission spam, ever! If you’re still feeling skeptical, take a look at any one of the many reviews and testimonials from our very happy clients.

Being skeptical doesn’t mean you should automatically reject everything—just have a healthy dose of doubt and look into anything that seems suspicious or too good to be true. Keeping a wary eye out for unscrupulous characters will help you avoid any pitfalls on your way to getting published!

 

Question: What things do you think it’s smart to be skeptical about as a writer?

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Writing

Healing Takes Time, And Healing Is Painful

This morning, as Donald Trump left the White House for (*knocks on wood*) the last time, it was snowing outside. Just a light sprinkling of little sugar flakes, sticking to some surfaces but not to others. And then as he took off, the sun poked through for a moment — a patch of blue sky amid the gray. Half the sky is turbid gray gunmetal. The other half a cornflower blue.

Which feels about right to me.

I kinda thought this day would come and I’d just be pure elation. Blue sky for miles! It’d be Champagne corks-a-poppin’ and mimosas, it’d be hooting and hollering, just 100% unrefined, uncut bliss. Electric schadenfreude. Freedom glee. But it’s not all that. It’s not all the way there. I’m also sort of sad, and exhausted, and feeling a little frizzled out. Don’t get me wrong. I’m also happy as fuck. Fuck that guy. We’ve been trapped in the man’s mind for four years, all part of a human centipede chain connecting to his mouth, which is also his asshole, as he steadily forced us all to contend with his hot piping bullshit. Him being plugged into social media like he was meant we never had to wonder what he was thinking, because there he sat, on his golden toilet, petulantly rage-tweeting his every hateful, lackwit impulse right into our skulls. You could mute him, block him, but someone would screengrab it and show it to you. Or the media would unceremoniously just grab whatever false, inane claim he made and use it as their headline without context or clarity. We lived inside his head. It’s nice to have broken out. We beat him. We cracked open his forehead, kicked past the curtain of his naughahyde flesh, and ran for the goddamn hills. We won. Let’s run.

So, yeah, I’m happy. It’s good to see Biden rise to meet the challenge. Day one, he’s showing up with a laundry list of priorities and plans, and further, actual actions to start turning this big-ass ship around. That takes time, but he’s doing it, and I commend him. I also feel bad for him, because what a fucking shitpile he’s going to have to clean up. (Not to mention the smell he’s going to have to get out of the White House. Hamberders, body dye, and exuded human greases. Shudder.)

But I’m also just feeling fucked up, and on examination, I think that’s pretty normal, and I wanted to talk about it — because maybe you’re feeling that way, too.

I feel like a hollowed-out pumpkin. A jack-o-lantern with the candle blown out– my eyes wide, my grin manic, but my middle all empty. And in retrospect, how could we not feel that way? We have been in a war for four years. We’ve been fighting misinformation, disinformation, and cruelty in every direction. We’ve secured considerable political victories at every election since, but their sweetness never lasted long because some new fuckery was always on its way in, a rolling sewage wave crashing down on our beaches.

The parade doesn’t come the day you win the war.

The parade comes later.

Day you win the war, you lay on the sand, you look up at the sky.

You laugh, maybe. You probably cry. You curl up and kick at the ground. You go through it — you go through all those emotions, round and round, a carousel of feelings whirling too fast inside you.

Because here’s the thing:

We’re traumatized as a nation.

We’re experiencing a sociological, widespread version of a complex trauma reaction from chronic exposure to feeling… under assault, to feeling captive. And please be aware, that whatever it is I’m feeling is going to be felt a thousand times worse by those who were truly in Trump’s crosshairs: anybody not white and male and of some wealth. He fostered an environment of hate and restriction against transgender and non-binary Americans. He pushed the racial divide, especially for Black Americans, who are literally standing in the sights of police weapons. He mocked disability. He increased wealth disparity and punished the poor. And his threat against women was profound, too — they were his targets, his prey, his tools. Grab them by the — well. He was a bigoted, rapey piece of shit who should be rotting in an oubliette somewhere.

He stole so much from us. He stole our peace of mind. He stole lives, jobs, a sense of hope, he stole some of our actual democracy — he basically opened the castle gates to COVID-19, which further came in and stole friends and loved ones, it stole work, it stole productivity, it stole our sense of self, it stole our time and our sense of time. He has taken so much.

And now he’s gone. Gone from the White House, soon gone from the presidency. Taking all that he stole with him, carrying it away with him, the fucking loser.

And I think it’s okay to feel fucked up about that. Not sad he’s gone, of course. Fuck him. Fuck his feelings, as sure as he fucked ours. I just mean it’s okay to feel weird. This is healing. We haven’t had that chance to heal yet. It hasn’t begun until… arguably, right now. And healing is rarely comfortable. It’s a good thing, healing — but it’s not a pure thing, a perfect thing. It’s stitches, it’s resetting of bone, it’s relearning how to walk, it’s a limb in a cast, it’s the itch of cells rejoining. It’s uncomfortable. It hurts. It feels strange. That, I suspect, is where we’re at right now. At the point just past trauma’s last mile marker, and onto the healing road. But healing takes time, and healing is painful.

We’re still in COVID-19. We’re still at the cusp of true, dangerous climatic change. We’re still going to contend with all the demons Trump released. We’re still pickling in GOP treachery and the stain of the insurrection they incited. Many of us still have family members whose rational minds are literally lost to this guy, to FOX, to the GOP. So, it’s okay to feel fucked up. To feel sad and angry and not just happy. To be clear, it’s also okay to feel happy, because for real, fuck that fucking loser. It can be all of those things. We can hold many emotions in us. They often compete.

That’s what makes us whole, and human.

You still might wake up anxious.

You still might feel uncertain.

You still can feel happy one minute, and angry the next.

That’s trauma. That’s loss. That’s healing.

We’ll be okay, I hope.

But we’ve learned a lot, I think, about how… well, everything is a garden. Democracy is a garden. Empathy is a garden. Civilization is a garden. And gardens do not just grow on their own — there are invasive species that can take root, there are thieves looking to steal the fruits, the fence can rot, the wind can blow. All of this requires cultivation and curation. It requires a collective effort and if there’s one huge positive, it’s that we figured that out. Trump is gone because of all of you (and Stacey Abrams gets special note, here). He’s gone because our democracy held — barely. It’s the classic American situation: we get ourselves in a bind, plunging the plane toward the ground and then at the last minute we figure out how to pull up on the stick. It’s not a great way to be, but we did it, we made it. And at the risk of continuing to mix my metaphors (settle down, it’s a blog, you’re not paying for it), the garden will grow anew, and it will require our effort to keep it going and growing. We must commit ourselves to that vigilance, to stewardship over this country and its democracy.

That’s how we heal, too.

But committing, and recommitting, to that fight.

That’s how we fight the trauma, I think. By acknowledging it, seeing that it’s real, by mourning what was lost — and then getting to work, the constant work, the diligent work.

Walking that healing road.

Anyway, thanks all for being here, still, and for enduring… whatever this is. It’s hard not to be angry and raaaaar all the time, but I tried to do it in a way that was… at least funny and entertaining, if nothing else. It’s been a hard row to hoe and I appreciate you all doing it with me. We’ll keep walking this road, together, I hope. And finally we can maybe talk about something else for a little while.

Categories
Writing

Blurbing A Book: What It Is, What It Means, And Other Questions

So, I started talking a bit about blurbs on books over yonder hills at Twitter, and it became clear that a lot of folks, even other writers new to this whole CHAOS CIRCUS, don’t even entirely understand them. Hell, maybe I don’t even understand them. It’s possible they’re some kind of Idea Virus, some Memetic Parasite and we authors have been passing them around from book to book? Whatever. Point is, I figure since I hit my morning word count already, and I’m trying not to DOOMSCROLL, I’d talk a bit about blurbs, in a sort of FAQ style.

Note that I am not guaranteed to know what I’m talking about, and nothing I say should be considered Writ Law on any such matter. Everything I say is as unfirm as pudding. Mm. Pudding.

Let’s begin.

What the hell is a blurb?

It’s a terrible word, for one. Like BLOG, BLURB just sounds fucking weird. BLEURB. BLOOORB. BLIRRRRB. Anyway, what it actually is, besides a strange word, is — well, you know how you look at a book and it’s got some comment on the cover from another author? Like —

“THIS MADE MY NIPPLES SING LIKE HAPPY CRICKETS, A TRUE TOUR DE FORCE” — Chnurk Mandog, Topeka Times Bestselling Author of 151 Ways To Eat Ghosts

Yeah, that’s a blurb. Sometimes you get a real fancy one on the front cover. Sometimes it’s not from other authors, but from pre-reviews like from NPR or Washington Post or some such. You might see others on the back cover, and then sometimes a bunch more inside the book.

Wait, I thought a blurb was the book’s description?

Uhhh yeah that’s also true. The thing we sometimes call flap copy, cover copy, back cover copy, or just the “book description,” people also call a book blurb. Because I guess fuck you, that’s why? Shrug.

How does one get a blurb?

You ask. Or someone asks on your behalf, which is ideal. An agent, editor or authors asks the author — sometimes via their agent or editor — to take a look at the book and provide a sassy, marketing-speaky line of text about a book.

How do you prefer to get blurbs?

Well, in a perfect world, I’m not involved. Ideally, an editor says, “Here’s a list of who we think could blurb this, do you have any names to add/subtract,” and then they’re the ones who send out the message, HEY, CHNURK MANDOG HAS A NEW BOOK IT’S FULL OF WORDS THAT DEMAND YOUR MARKETING-FRIENDLY SONG OF PRAISE. And then when I’m asked, it’s also ideal when the request comes through either from an editor/my agent or some combination thereof. Again, in that perfect publishing world, the authors are largely removed from the exchange. This isn’t always the reality, and of course that’s fine, too.

How much time do you get to read and provide the blurb?

Often, not enough time, if I’m being a little complainy. Ideally, many many months. In reality, sometimes a month or two. Once in a while, even less.

Is there compensation for a blurb? Is it paid?

No. Gods, no. That’d be some hinky business. I’m sure some authors have treated their blurbers to some kind of reward, by proxy — HERE IS CANDY, you might say, because authors are basically children and children like candy. But I have never given, nor received, candy or other compensation for blurbs. *wink wink just put the bag of money under the park bench marked with the Ancient Wendig Sigil and then the following Tuesday look in the hollow birch tree for the elf that will hand you the blurb ha ha just kidding that’s not a thing wink wink*

So, you do it for someone, and then they return a blurb to you one day?

Well, no. I mean, maybe yes for some? But my view is that blurbs should never be transactional — as in, it’s not tit-for-tat, not scratcha-my-back-scratcha-you-back, it’s just a thing you do because you like books and you value a strong bookish ecosystem. We like to share Book Love and if we can do so in a rewarding official capacity, great. That said, I have no doubt some authors view it in a transactional way, which would be a shame. I think the trick to this is not viewing it as if it’s a favor. Because favors are returnable. You do it because YAY BOOKS, YAY AUTHORS. Again, ideally.

What is the value of a blurb?

I have no idea. Meaning, I don’t know how much it moves the needle on sales. They’re nice to have. I like them. Maybe there’s something to it — certainly if I see a blurb from an author I like, it at least gets me to look at a book. But I can’t say how much it affects actual sales.

I’m told that there’s an inside baseball industry function — as in, an outlet might be more likely to review the book if they see a blurb by a Chosen Author, or maybe that helps goose bookstore orders. But again, if there’s a practical, numbers-based reality to this, I don’t know what it is.

Do you actually read the books you blurb?

Well! This is one of those tricky questions, isn’t it? I do. Though I have heard not all authors do. And I’ve also heard that not all authors even write their blurbs. I’ve heard tell of agents or editors writing the blurbs for them. Now, before we all clench up our sphincters, there’s some value to this, because authors are not marketing people, which means we don’t always know how to coalesce our thoughts into succinct sales pitches. But that would still mean the author has read the book, and if they haven’t and simply sub out the task to an agent or editor… well, that’s weird. It’s also suggestive of the transactional component discussed above.

To be clear, I’ve never had my agent or any agent or editor suggest doing this. My practice is, I compose a blurb and I like to make sure that editors and authors are happy with it, and I note they are free to massage it as they see fit, provided I approve the result before it goes in or on a book.

Also to be clear, and very honest, though I do read every book, sometimes I am forced to read them very quickly, which is to say, not as well or as thoroughly as I’d like — I’m a slow reader by nature and if you don’t give me as much time to read it as I want, I do my best to pace and race through. But I read them start to finish and blurb accordingly if I liked it.

Do you blurb every book you’re sent?

Gods, no. I’m a slow reader, and this Current Era of Aerosolized Horseshit has put a serious drag on my reading time. Further, not every book is for me, nor am I for every book.

What if you hate a book?

I don’t think I’ve ever actively hated a book I’ve been sent for blurbage purposes — but I’ve certainly had some where I felt, as noted, this book just isn’t for me, and it’s not clicking. If that’s the case, you just let the asker know what’s up. You can politely decline, or say, this just isn’t for me, and I like to think that’s okay. The reality is, though, most books I’m sent I don’t blurb, and the reason I don’t blurb then isn’t because of the content, but because of the lack of time to read them.

Real-talk, blurbing feels a little like homework. “Here is a book you have to read in three weeks, and I need your micro-review by then.” There’s a bit of pressure and unpleasantness to that, at least for me. Other writers may find their mileage varies. Just the same, I should also note it’s an honor, at the same time, to be asked. It can be both things, because sometimes that’s how life works. I always try, and I don’t always get there.

Are there ever hurt feelings over that?

Maybe? Not from me, to be clear. I expect fully that any who get my book won’t blurb it, and again, for reasons beyond me. It’s because it didn’t click, or they didn’t have time, or whatever. Life’s hard. Everybody’s busy. We have DOOMSCROLLING to do, dontchaknow. Again, I think it’s why it’s best to remove any sense of “transaction” out of it and why it’s best when the author isn’t part of the exchange — that dulls any potential pain. I like to hope too that editors and agents aren’t burned by it. But, I’m sure some people are definitely Peppermint Petty about things, and I can’t control that.

How many blurb requests do you get?

Me? It ranges from one to four a week, usually.

Are there expectations carried by an author’s endorsement on a book?

A good and complicated question. For my very first book, I had one of the blurbers respond back quite politely that they adored the book (the book in question being BLACKBIRDS), but because they didn’t write books like that, they weren’t going to blurb because they were afraid it would send the wrong message to their readers. And I bristled at that, at first, but then I kinda got it. If a hard sci-fi author blurbs a thriller, there’s a risk — though what size of risk, I don’t know — that readers will see that, pick up the book, and then be salty that the book in question had no science-fiction elements. I think certain authors who write across genres may have an easier time with this, but I dunno. Again, I don’t know how serious a problem that is, but I do understand that if I blurb a book, people seeing my name may not just intuit that I think it’s a book of quality but that the book is in some way like mine. Unfair? Probably. True just the same? Shrug.

Are you proud of any particular blurbs? 

Well, I mean, listen, I’m very excited anytime any other penmonkey is like, HEY THIS RILL GUD, because… that’s just nice. They do what I do, and it’s nice to have that feedback. You hope and assume it’s real. It’s especially cool when it’s someone you regard well. If I had a blurb from authors I grew up reading, like Robin Hobb, or Joe Lansdale, or Stephen King — I’d definitely print that shit out and hang it on the fridge. For eternity, or at least until the next fridge. I am particularly happy to have a blurb from Erin Morgenstern, who is a friend and though one might assume that means the blurb is in some way transactional or “who-you-know,” she somewhat famously doesn’t prefer to blurb books by friends, so the fact that she felt Wanderers was of special enough note to earn the blurb regardless felt extra special. But all the blurbs on that book thrill me, because people took the time to read this 80-million page book and… then say nice stuff about it. It’s always an honor.

Hell, that Rin Chupeco blurb for Wanderers is *chef’s kiss* good. Like, that blurb is ART. (See above)

(I also have a couple blurbs in for Book of Accidents that, to be honest, are already pretty thrilling.)

(But those aren’t announced yet shh.)

Do you blurb self-published books?

I’m not opposed to it, though I’m rarely asked, and generally speaking I’d prefer to know you first, and have some semblance of a relationship/online friendship with the author, because self-pub can roam all over the map in terms of quality. Mostly I dunno that blurbs on self-pub books are even that much of a thing?

Do you blurb books that aren’t yet sold to a publisher?

This is a semi-recent thing to pop up — I’m asked occasionally, and no, I do not. It sets up dangerous precedent, asking authors to blurb books that haven’t even been vetted and edited, and also only further entrenches a WHO-YOU-KNOW problem. Editors and agents should stop asking this. It is a waste of time for the authors asked, and also a problematic ask for the author asking, too — it runs the risk of them burning bridges just as they’re getting built.

What makes a good blurb?

I have no idea. I try to walk that line between ooh enticing and here is a specific thing about this book and here are generic cool things people respond to. Sometimes you do that thing where you compare it to other popular touchstone stories like, “It’s like One Tree Hill and Blade Runner had a book baby!” or, “Fans of Ernest Goes to Camp will love this!” There are also lots of repeated words — Unputdownable! Tour de force! Magnifitrillifocent! Okay I maybe made that last one up. It’s fun to say, though.

I mostly wish I could just put YEAH I LIKED THIS A LOT YOU SHOULD READ IT because that’s what I’m saying every time.

Does every book get blurbs?

At a certain level, authors stop getting blurbs. You ascend to a special place where no blurbs matter, because you already sell a Gorgillion copies. I think debuts are probably the most vital place you find them.

And I think that’s it, for now.

If you’ve more blurb-related questions, poop ’em in the comments below.

Categories
Writing

Loving-Healing-Creating Summit for Writers and Artists! FREE from February 2-14.

I’m a presenter at the Loving-Healing-Creating Summit for artists and writers this February! You can get FREE access to it by registering here:

REGISTER HERE FOR THE LOVING-HEALING-CREATING SUMMIT

There’s a whole ton of cool stuff offered in this summit, with teachings on topics like:

Creating mindful mandalas
Using an art journal for personal expression
Watercolor painting
Embracing your sexual self to free your creativity
Making a self-portrait vision board

And of course…writing! I’m presenting on Intuitive Writing, and so is Alisha Weilfeart, whose work is amazing. My friend Sage Adderly-Knox is also teaching on writing and you seriously don’t want to miss her, she’s such a brilliant teacher.

You can buy a package where you get access to the Facebook group and a bunch of free gifts, but if you don’t want to spend anything, that’s cool too. Just register yourself and you’ll get access to the summit free for the days it runs, which is still a pretty good deal. Here’s the link again:

REGISTER HERE FOR THE LOVING-CREATING-HEALING SUMMIT

I’ll see you there and I can’t wait. Let’s get creating!

Categories
Writing

Epistemology vs Agnotology

By Maeve Maddox

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Once upon a time, I encountered the word epistemology and its forms only in academic writing. Lately, I’ve been seeing it all over the place, often unaccompanied by any definition.

Election-deniers are said to exist in a “parallel epistemological bubble.”

David Brooks writes about an “epistemological crisis,” the “epistemic regime,” and the “epistemic process.”

Lies spoken by a politician in a speech are described as “epistemological recreations.”

A piece about the proliferation of digital dashboards relating to the Covid-19 virus warns that “dashboards pose a range of epistemological risks.”

Note: A digital dashboard is an electronic interface that aggregates and visualizes data from multiple sources, such as databases, locally hosted files, and web services.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines epistemology this way:

The theory of knowledge and understanding, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.

Merriam-Webster gives this definition:

the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity.

Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten confesses that he doesn’t understand the meaning of epistemology even after reading the dictionary definitions, but he uses the word anyway and no one challenges him on the way he uses it. He concludes that his readers don’t understand it either.

I think that what journalists mean by epistemology is “what people generally believe to be true at a particular period in history.”

This kind of epistemology changes because the world changes and because people’s perceptions of the world change. In Galileo’s day, most people “knew” that the sun revolved around the earth. People who believed otherwise were considered nutcases. People who agreed with Galileo but wanted to get ahead politically and economically would likely pretend to go along with the contemporary epistemic regime.

One type of epistemology is natural and the other is learned.

We acquire a natural epistemology from personal experience. For example, I know that drinking a hot liquid can burn my tongue because I have burnt my tongue drinking hot liquids. That kind of knowledge remains the same from generation to generation.

Learned epistemology does change. For example, I know that the United States of America is made up of fifty states because my trusted sources of information tell me so. Before 1959, however, I knew that the USA was made up of forty-eight states. I was not wrong then, but I would be wrong now if I still believed what I believed then.

Something else that I “knew” in the 1950s—because trusted sources told me so—was that smoking is harmless, racial segregation is socially necessary, and the only suitable occupations for women are nurse, secretary, elementary school teacher, and housewife.

US society in general has experienced an epistemic regime change since the1950s, but because not everyone trusts the same sources of information, we have what Vox writer David Roberts calls “tribal epistemology.” Different sets of people in the same country hold to different accepted truths because they are getting their information from disparate sources.

Some trusted sources in this new regime deliberately disseminate misinformation and outright lies. Some sources carefully conceal certain information. There have always been cynics and doubters of established truths, but a majority usually agreed as to what was commonly believed. In this new age of doubt and mistrust, a companion study for epistemology has been born: agnotology.

agnotology: the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.

The term agnotology was coined in 1995 by Robert N. Proctor of Stanford University and independent scholar of linguistics, Iain Boal. An example of agnotology is the tobacco industry’s advertising campaign to create doubt about the ill effects of tobacco use. A more current example is climate denial, fostered and bankrolled by oil companies to downplay the effects of climate change.

Londa Schiebinger, an international authority on the theory, practice, and history of gender in science, contrasts agnotology with epistemology. She says that epistemology questions how we know, while agnotology questions why we do not know. She says that “ignorance is not merely the absence of knowledge, but an outcome of cultural and political struggle.”

If this is true, if what we don’t know is the result of information being deliberately manipulated or kept from us, then we must learn to ask the legal question, Cui bono? Who benefits if we believe this or that version of the news?

It’s not surprising that many people latch onto information sources that claim to know the absolute truth about everything. Uncertainty is stressful. Epistemology has many faces. Thinking is hard.

One can only hope that trust in observable fact will prevail.

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Writing

Julie Hutchings: Five Things I Learned Writing The Harpy 2: Evolution

Charity Blake became a nightmare. But there are far more dangerous monsters out there than her.

Train-wreck antihero Charity Blake thrives at being a winged avenger, but exacting vengeance takes as much from her as it gives. To retain the humanity she’s fought tooth and claw to keep, she tries to walk away from her monstrous side for good.

With no sense of purpose and a lifetime of failures haunting her, Charity struggles not to fall back into old, murderous habits. Until she meets a little girl who is more broken than herself. Rose presents a new direction for Charity. One where they can combine their carnal abilities to rewrite a horrendous history of wrongs that have impacted so many like themselves.

While Charity revels in the idea of following a new path, Rose drowns in her own power as she tries to piece together parts of her life her mind has buried deep. As Rose unearths hidden truths about her past, her catastrophic abilities spiral out of control, threatening everyone’s future. Overcome with debilitating grief and a world-altering rage, Rose becomes a danger beyond anyone’s control. A colossal threat that Charity must stop.

***

Go nuts, you’re an artist.

Not only is this book a sequel to some shit that a few pretty scary producers were afraid of, it’s even fucking weirder than the first one. There were *counts on fingers* 400 times that I thought who the hell do I think I am, writing this? It’s too much. Well, I’m too much. Henceforth, if my books aren’t too much then they’re not enough. I’m not the first person to write a book with Hell as one of its top 5 destinations—but I damn well had better be my own version of the best to do it. That means go bigger, go weirder, go the places nobody thinks of, and remember that the only boundary I need to know is the one I bust through like a hyena into a butcher shop. Or something.

Acquired Savant Syndrome is goddamn amazing.

You guys ever hear the story of Dr. Cicoria? He was an orthopedist, not like, an exciting doctor. He was in a phone booth when it was struck by lightning. Long story short, this foot doctor with no musical talent before the accident is suddenly waking in the night to write down the classical music he composed in his dreams. The guy goes on to become a pianist and composer in life. I read as many of these cases as I could find. To have unsurfaced abilities is pretty much the way of life—but many of these folks showed no glimpse of interest in the area during their pre-trauma lives. I fully subscribe to the old adage that we only use 10% of our brains. It accounts for all the glitches in our cranial Matrix(es). Like that time you dreamed of your aunt giving your cousin the same birthday present as you and then it happened, or déjà vu, or the ability to understand the new math. But I hadn’t ever wondered what else is in there. The brain is the depths of the ocean we can’t reach. Anything could be down there. The buried possibilities are endless.

The question becomes, Is there something hiding in me? Something I’m totally unaware of? What would I become?

Wendig’s right: Make it worse.

It’s a simple guideline: Whatever the crucial point, make it worse. If the character coughed, she hacked until her next breath was a question, not an expectation. If she’s freaked out by worms, she sees them everywhere—in the scrollwork on her bedposts, in every bowl of Ramen, they’re the eyelashes of the leering neighbor. Once this little girl, Rose, showed up in this sequel to The Harpy, she became worse in every way. It’s probably why I love her so much. Her secrets, once uncovered, don’t free her—they ruin her. She holds onto the worst and turns it on the monsters, the traitors, and the ones who tried to help but failed her alike. Her childhood wasn’t traumatic—it was good, healthy. Then destroyed. Then returned to her and destroyed again by her own hand.  I give you a special kid, with a tragic backstory which destroys her future, and she orchestrates part of her own doom. So, you’re welcome. *jazz hands* WRITING!

Pantster 4 lyfe.

I know HOW to write an outline. I’m actually pretty good at it, with college and all that. I try to start with an outline sometimes when writing a novel, but a chapter in I realize I’m still learning what the book is about. It’s like The Neverending Story that way, but without killing the horse. When it comes right down to it, I can’t create with boundaries. I have to construct the boundaries as I go because let’s face it—if I were good at following rules I probably wouldn’t be a writer to begin with. Not to mention that every book I write has a different process to it. I don’t have a formula. What the hell kind of response to our current world would it be if I wrote the same way all the time? The process has to change or the product remains the same. I can’t grow as a writer if I do the same thing every time. And it’s kind of a goal of mine to be able to stick to an outline someday. I wonder what that book will be like!

I can do it in the house. I can do it near my spouse. I can do it while I mom. I can do it when everything’s wrong.

I wrote Harpy 2: Evoloution during so much stuff. Both kids home 24 hours a day. The therapy and doctors’ appointments and filling of the prescriptions and trying to make sure they feel emotionally supported and get enough exercise and also eat. The over-the-top attempts at providing enriching experiences and celebrating the everyday things in life (I mean, at one point I even used the National Day Calendar to make up celebrations. There was a National Cake Day, that one was easy. But National One Cent Day?) I wrote this book while I worked my part-time medical supply warehouse job, which I loved—but going out every day during the pandemic because I was essential still scared me. And while I was there, my kids were in the same place they were every day, all day. That scared me too. I never want to see my kids complacent. The ability to bring them to all the fun places we go or even to play with their friends was erased, leaving only me to fill their social needs. And be their gym teacher. Yet, I loved it. To have them with me was all I’d ever wanted. Between March of 2020 and September I had not one moment alone in my own home. Not one, and I am a person who needs to be alone sometimes. My struggle wasn’t so different from so many others but what I’m getting at is this: I wrote a book in that time. Proving to myself that I don’t need the alone time, the special spot on the couch, the quiet, the right background, the clearest space in front of me, or any of the other things that make me comfy as a heated throw blanket. No. These are things I enjoy—but I didn’t always write under idea conditions, and truth be told, I was happier without the ideal conditions. I love the urgency of writing ideas on post-its. Nothing compares to the stolen feeling of typing a few paragraphs when no one needs anything and it’s just me and that laptop. The feeling that the book is always there, waiting for me to have a moment for it is intoxicating to me. A secret little world away from the chicken nuggets and bills. Writing isn’t an event, it’s a presence. That’s the kind of enveloping sensation that makes writing my home.

***

Julie’s a mythology-twisting, pizza-hoarding karate-kicker who left her ten-year panty peddling career to devote all her time to writing. She is the author of Running Home, Running Away, The Wind Between Worlds, and forthcoming The Harpy. Julie revels in all things Buffy, Marvel, robots, and drinks more coffee than Juan Valdez and his donkey combined, if that donkey is allowed to drink coffee. Julie lives in Plymouth, MA, constantly awaiting thunderstorms with her wildly supportive husband, two magnificent boys, and a reptile army.

Julie Hutchings: Website | Twitter

The Harpy (free until 1/20): Amazon

The Harpy 2: Amazon

Categories
Writing

The Best Poems For The Start Of This New Year | Writer’s Relief

The Best Poems For The Start Of This New Year | Writer’s Relief

During the first weeks of a new calendar year, it’s good to look back and also move forward. Poetry written for a new year can be filled with hope, regret, grief, and moving on. At bookriot.com, Writer’s Relief found this wonderful list of twenty poems to help you begin the year 2021—Maya Angelou’s “A Brave and Startling Truth” is a must-listen for its impactful delivery!

See the whole list of poems for the new year here.

 

Categories
Writing

What’s The Best Length For A Short Story Or Poem? | Writer’s Relief

What’s The Best Length For A Short Story Or Poem? | Writer’s Relief

Like it or not, if you want to get your short story or poem published in a literary journal, the length is going to matter. More readers are using mobile devices to scroll through short stories and poetry, and longer works are harder to enjoy on a cell phone or tablet. At Writer’s Relief, our research has shown that editors are tailoring their magazines to this readership by favoring shorter pieces. If you want to know the best length for a short story or poem, we have the answers for you here.

The Best Length For Your Short Story Or Poem

It is important to write well, but it is also important to write marketable work. A good estimate for a short story or personal essay is 3,500 words or fewer, since journal editors do not have the room to publish long pieces. And poets should consider limiting a poem to one page.

Literary journal editors want to publish as many writers as possible in each issue. Therefore, when forced to choose between two equally good submissions, they will often select the one that is shorter. Don’t assume editors will trim your work for you—these busy people have enough work on their plates. If you want to boost your odds of getting published, adhere to submission guidelines and avoid overwriting.

By submitting shorter pieces, you will be able to approach a greater number of publications. And the more places you can submit your work, the more likely you will be published!

Here are some suggestions that will help you trim your work to a more effective and efficient length:

Remove any excess description. Make sure any description you include is functional. If you are describing the convenience store clerk who has absolutely nothing to do with the story, this unnecessary character and the accompanying details can be removed. Focus on the pertinent characters who play a role in the overall plot or themes.

Cut flabby dialogue. Dialogue should be concise and efficient whenever possible. Rather than “The point I’m trying to make here is that I am unhappy with how many hamsters Joe has on his desk,” it is far more efficient to write “Joe has too many hamsters on his desk.” Dialogue can be loose and rambling to mimic everyday conversation and shape character, but try not to overdo it. Trim over-the-top verbiage when possible—efficient writing is skillful writing.

Eliminate action repeat words unless absolutely necessary or emphatic. “No,” he said is more effective than He shook his head. “No,” he said.

Make every word count. Instead of “in the neighborhood of,” write “about” or “nearly”; rather than “at the present time,” use “now.” Replace “owing to the fact that” with “because” and “in order to” with “to.”

Watch for redundancies. Attaching modifiers to certain words creates redundant phrases, such as “personal opinion,” “join together,” “new discovery,” “biography of his life,” and “advance planning.”

Use the active voice, not the passive. Passive: “The hamster was picked up by Nathan.” The active voice is better: “Nathan picked up the hamster.”

Use descriptive verbs. “She walked across the room.” This sentence gives us little information. But change the verb to be more descriptive, and you can learn so much more. “She staggered across the room.” This implies that the woman is sick, drunk, tired, or injured. Or “She shuffled across the room.” This sentence paints a different picture: perhaps the woman is elderly or in a drugged state.

Watch for excessive adjectives. Two strong and unique adjectives will be more effective than five adequate ones. If a man is “massive” and has a “scowl” on his face, it evokes more fear than a man who is “very tall, very big, and has an angry look on his face.”

Trim from the middle when possible. This is most often where the plotline of a story or essay sags and sprawls.

Consider a conversational style. If you’re stuck on a wordy, cluttered phrase, try rewording it the way you would actually say it, or try these exercises!

Eliminate the clichés. “I was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” Originally, this was a classic line. Now it is a cliché, and it is better to either produce your own simile or simply declare, “I was extremely nervous.”

Writers need every advantage when trying to publish a short story or poem. Make sure your writing is concise and powerful, and pay attention to word count—when it comes to successful submissions, length is an important factor!

 

Question: Which of these techniques do you use when editing your own writing?