Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Publishing scams

So you’ve written a book, or you’re writing one, or you’re thinking about writing one. You’re an artist. You’re a visionary. Or you’re at least very excited about the idea of creating something beautiful in writing and looking into getting it published. What do you do?

Ah, well, a lot of opportunistic companies out there are interested in you. Rather, they’re interested in your money, and in exploiting your idealism and naïveté to make you think you need their services. Or that their services are a legitimate, authentic road to becoming a published writer. Guess what? They aren’t.

I’ve written about The National Library of Poetry (and whatever else it's changed its name to nowadays), and how they try to rip off poets by praising their poetry and then trying to sell them a book containing their poems (and others’ poems collected the same way) for exorbitant prices. These publishing and editing services are in the same camp.

There are many scams out there to try to trick writers into thinking it’d be prudent to pay for some service. Now, editing services exist. (Might I recommend Taryn?) And I recommend having your novel heavily edited, even if you have to pay for it. But if you see someone charging reading fees to be considered for agency representation, offering to take your money to rep you to publishers, or praising your work (sometimes without seeing it!) and offering you vague statements about their “connections” which they will put to use for you for a small fee, run. The websites Preditors & Editors and The Absolute Write Water Cooler are excellent resources for writers trying to research the legitimacy of any professional in the writing industry. But here are some specific things you should know about these misleading services.

Sometimes vanity/self-publishing services will try to get your attention by openly claiming not to be vanity/self-publishing services. Sometimes they’ll just call it something else, and assure you that they are legitimate. If they are legitimate, they don’t have to say so. If they are saying so, it is probably because they have been called into doubt.

Sometimes vanity/self-publishing services will attack the Big Five or the mainstream publishing industry, and claim that they actually have a “secret” that will make your book very popular if you sign with them. They don’t tell you what it is, because it’s a secret. 

Actually, it’s a scam.

Sometimes these services have lots of testimonials from nobodies—many of whom are actual customers—but no lists of sales or numbers to back it up. If it’s an “agent” trying to look legit, sometimes they will claim that they can’t publicly divulge who their clients are. That’s bull. Legitimate agents always have a list or partial list of their clients. They can show you their success.

Dishonest services respond to queries with glowing praise and quick acceptances. They are looking to flatter you and make you think you were actually chosen for something. Well, you were. You were chosen because now you’re going to open your wallet. If you have had an experience with a “publisher” like this and you’re still unconvinced, try approaching with a different name and a different idea that is sincerely worded but terrible. See if you don’t receive an identical form letter. You may even try Googling one of the phrases from your acceptance letter and see if someone else got the same one. Protip: Rejection letters are often forms. Acceptance letters? Not so much. If a human has read and loved your book, they will explain why, and probably love on you pretty hard without the use of buzzwords. Their acceptance letter should leave no question about what they liked about your book in language that couldn't be applied to literally any other book.

Dishonest “publishers” often ask you to pay a fee for editing. Mainstream publishers, after accepting you, have their own editing departments and they don’t charge authors for their use. Authentic publishers are investing in the product and want to shine it up. Vanity services are out to make money only from the author; they will not be helping to sell your book for you, though they may have a special (discounted!!!!) promotional author website you can have hosted on their site or a marketing package you can purchase (and implement on your own, of course).

Scammy services frequently give authors tips on how to promote themselves, and pretend that promotion is solely the author’s job. I assure you that mainstream publishers are not going to stick you with the entire responsibility of grass-roots promotion. They know how to advertise, and while (especially with smaller publishers) you are expected to promote yourself, you are not the entire marketing department.

Scam services and non-legitimate agenting services frequently have terrible spelling and grammar on their sites and poorly managed digital presences. Scam agencies and publishers will sometimes actually tell authors that their manuscripts will be accepted as long as they have the manuscript professionally edited first. By this specific editor. Who works for them. If you refuse to agree to the edit, which you must pay for, you’re declined.

It’s not just publishers and agents who are posing as legitimate companies to get your money. One day on 43Things.com (a “goals” website where I had “publish a novel” listed as one of my goals), I was contacted by a stranger about how she could help me because she’s been helping emerging writers get published for years, and how I should look at her profile for more information. Of course, my first thought was “b.s.” Sure, people wandering around 43Things LOOKING for people who want to publish could be doing so out of the goodness of their hearts, but jadedness required me to say, “They’re selling something.”

Nevertheless, I looked at her profile, and I checked out their website. It appeared to be offering the services of a small group of people, claiming to be able to help you prepare your manuscript for submission to publishers and agents. Okay. And of course you have to dig a little bit to find the part about the money, and pretty much all they say is stuff like “Our rates are low” followed by more stuff about how every writer needs a second pair of eyes to read stuff no matter how great they are.

They had a long mission statement pretty much trying to convince you that no writer can prepare a perfect manuscript alone--yeah, that much is true--and that with the market as competitive as it is today you can’t expect a manuscript with errors to get past the first round of cuts. This I understand, and I actually agree that most writers who think they’re ready to submit ARE NOT. (I’ve edited a lot of stuff where the authors say they want me to give it a once-over before they start shopping it, and in my opinion it’s at first draft level!)

But I’m NOT an author who submits first drafts to publishing professionals, and I’ve had friends—both lovers of literature and people who are writers themselves—read my stuff, giving me opinions from their points of view, and I didn’t have to pay them. And I know not everyone has someone like that or has people whose advice can be trusted, but then . . . if you do end up needing to hire a professional to take care of this part for you, you probably want to apply some standards.

“You need a perfect manuscript,” blah blah. Okay, yeah, what if that idea sold me? Do I want to put my manuscript in the hands of people whose website has these errors, then?
  • You can count on expert advise [ . . . ] (Oh, you mean advice?)
  • Editors at publishing companies reject superbly written manuscripts everyday. (Oh, you mean every [space] day? “Everyday” is an adjective.)
  • Let a professional help make your story great – a story that agents and publishers want (I guess periods are passé? And hyphens are dashes?)
  • We specialize in emerging authors; those of you who have the drive to put you lore onto the page for the world to read and enjoy. (Is it just me or does this sound like it was written by someone who speaks English as a second language? Not to mention “specializing in emerging authors” is something predators often say. And what the hell is “you lore”?)
So I looked at a couple more pages of their site, and it just kinda made me wanna puke. They spent so much time on the page trying to kiss your ass and convince you that your writing is special and your special story needs their help to become refined and be perfect. They discussed the necessity of realistic dialogue in writing, but the example they gave was so horrible and cliché I wanted to find the person responsible and scream REALLY??? They suggested for an uneducated young “bad guy” that you give him a particular way of talking, such as “Hell no I ain’t gonna do dat! No way, man. What, you’s think I’m a freakin’ idiot? You really on my nerves, man. Hey man, I gotta a gun that’ll fit in yer fat mouth real good, if you’s don’t shut up.” Yep, that’s the example of GOOD dialogue. Let’s just see if there’s any possible way to get more offensive and cookie-cutter than that.

And as mentioned, a lot of the site sounded like its author struggles with words, like this one: “Having written and edited over 500,000 pages so far, and responsible for the publication of many of our clients, we are equipped to help you get there too.” Or this one: “All of the markets are studied on a daily basis so that we can pass on to you the most up to date information for your success.”

Not to mention that their site was hosted with some netfirms service that puts ads in a banner on the top, and all of their pages said “New Page 1″ on the window bar, and some of the links didn’t go anywhere. Beware terrible websites on suspicious servers. These are supposedly the people who are representing you. If they know what they’re doing, they know how to look good. If they themselves don't look good, how are they going to help you?

I’m sure glad there are people out there who will give me such expert advise to get my work published so I can be successful so I can have great success, you know?

Bottom line: If you use a vanity service to publish your book, all you know is your book was deemed quality by people who are not in the business of finding quality. They are in the business of finding money--YOUR money, not the consumers of the product. That is why these services have such a poor reputation. It doesn’t mean a book that is published by them can’t be good, but most people think their writing is excellent and most people are terrible at being objective and most people are not experts

If you wish to take a chance on a service like this--probably after rejections by more established services--you’re going to be navigating a world will not be very kind to you and may already be prejudiced against you. And if you encounter a service that insists you must pay for services like theirs as the only path to getting published, run. Run far, far away.

Monday, April 28, 2014

30-Week Writing Survey: Week 4: First Stories



Today's question: Tell us about one of your first stories/characters!

Hahahaha. Well, I guess I'll write about my first novel.

My first novel ever completed was called Double Vision. I've described this thing elsewhere and I'll just copy it here so I don't need to re-invent the wheel.

It was completed when I was fourteen (in 1992). All in all, the novel was pretty much terrible. I wrote it in one lump without doing any editing along the way—in fact I wouldn't even let myself read previous chapters until I got to the end, for some reason—and there was nothing remotely salvageable about the book.

The Plot: Thirteen-year-old fraternal twins Cristabel and Benjamen Saunders are put into a strange new school without being told why. Oddly, all the other students at the school are also sets of twins of all different ages. 

Working together to solve the mystery of why they have been collected here, they discover what they all have in common: Their parents conceived them with the assistance of an experimental fertility drug. Besides causing twins, the drug's other major side effect was causing each child to be born with a metallic substance in their tissues which settled in high concentrations in their skulls and extremities. After one of the experimental parents had a stillborn twin, the company that made the drug did an autopsy and found the substance, and concluded that it was toxic. 

They collected all the other twins under the guise of a boarding school to keep them for observation, but Crissi and Ben don't want to be their subjects. They make some surprising discoveries about the powers of the metallic substance—for instance, it can be activated to attract or repel light objects, and they can use it to communicate through private radio signals—and when they find that their parents won't cooperate in taking them out of what they consider a dangerous and unhealthy school environment, they decide to use their new advantages to escape by themselves.

Basically, this wasn't particularly good for a fourteen-year-old and the plot and characters were mostly badly conceived. Regardless, it was important because it was the first time I sat down to write a book and I actually finished it, and even though the plot was so silly it seemed demented at times, I learned a lot about the process and was able to write a more believable and more readable book on my next attempt. The book was handwritten in my teenage careful cursive and reached 202 pages. I don't have an approximate word count since it isn't typed.

Here is a little discussion of what I did badly and what I did right in my first foray into long fiction at age fourteen.

Good things:

  • In some ways the characters behave kind of realistically. There is a lot of bickering between the main character and her brother, and the rivalry is pretty authentic-sounding.
  • The punctuation and grammar are almost perfect and the spelling is very good. Though for some reason the main character's brother is named "Benjamen" instead of "Benjamin."
  • Because of my interest in naming trends, I managed to handle the naming of nine sets of twins in realistic ways.
  • There was some interesting diversity among the characters. I seem to have done the usual "let's throw in different races to make sure no one thinks I'm prejudiced" thing, and all the characters are white except a token pair of black twins and a token pair of Asian twins. However, there were other things that showed diversity in ways that aren't overused and silly: For example, one of the sets of twins was a white family that got in a car wreck long before the story started, and the parents and one of the twins died. The surviving twin was adopted by a black family, but nothing is ever said about that—like, nothing in my story indicated that I thought it was weird, and it wasn't a plot point. The adopted ex-twin refers to his adoptive mother's son as his little brother and is accepted as one of the family.
  • Despite the fact that the main character looks a little like me (blonde hair, blue eyes, light skin), she isn't very much like me at all; even back then I was good at not making the character just a copy of me. She likes things I didn't like (like cheeseburgers), has a brother while I don't, gets mad about things that wouldn't have bothered me, and has idiosyncracies of speech I didn't have. It's also nice that she has quite a few faults and sometimes does things like cheat and lie and refuse to admit things are true just to save face. It's nice that despite my young age I didn't just write a heroine who can do no wrong.
  • Occasionally there was actually character growth. The main character realizes she's being illogical sometimes, and her brother (who is sometimes the antagonist and sometimes the confidant) sometimes teaches her a lesson or learns one himself.
  • Sometimes Cristabel's emotions are well-written and realistic for a thirteen-year-old. There was a part where she lost her cool and cried while on the telephone, but was embarrassed that her brother saw her do it.

Bad stuff:
  • People often act in completely unrealistic ways.
  • The storytelling style is utterly embarrassing.
  • The "hijinks ensue" factor is very high. For instance, when a couple of the characters learn a hypnotism technique, they decide to try it out on a teacher at their school, and they succeed in hypnotizing her to go find another teacher and put an orange down his pants. Somehow this behavior is never investigated or touched on again; it's obviously written like you're supposed to find this hilarious.
  • There is some very bad science in this book. I'm not sure where I got the idea to say something like "The ions stopped being ionized."
  • There are sometimes long passages of completely unnecessary information, such as an explanation of how human female and male embryos start off the same until the male ones get "extra" instructions from their genes to start developing as males, or a very involved set of steps on how to do a complicated card trick.
  • If I had thought the plot out better, I probably wouldn't have left so many HUGE plot holes. If the experimental drug was taken off the market because Carmen's twin was born dead and the drug might have been to blame, why were there THREE MORE SETS OF EXPERIMENTAL PARENTS subjected to its use before it was pulled from the market? That doesn't make any sense.
  • All the "good guys" in this book are sets of twins from age fifteen to age seven, except for an eleven-year-old boy who no longer has a twin because of his dying in a car wreck and a nine-year-old girl who was born one of a set of twins but her twin was stillborn. Since everyone else has a twin, the "orphaned" twins sort of end up lumped together. But this does not mean it makes a damn bit of sense for the administration at their boarding school to PUT THEM IN A ROOM TOGETHER. Who puts an eleven-year-old boy in a dorm with an unrelated nine-year-old girl and thinks that's perfectly fine? And isn't it . . . kind of creepy then that they jokingly refer to one another as each other's "fake twin," yet they also have a crush on each other and have been seen holding hands?
  • The aforementioned two "orphaned" twins both happened to have red hair and amber eyes, which makes it easier for everyone to lump them together. What are the chances of that?
  • I worked out a class schedule for everyone at the boarding school, including the teachers. I suppose I thought since I did the work I had to include it in the book. Just in case anyone wants to know where Natalie Keno is during hour 3, you can sure find out. Despite all the work I put into the schedule, looking at it now shows it makes no sense whatsoever. SEVEN-YEAR-OLDS ARE IN THE SAME SCIENCE CLASS AS FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLDS. Even though the "school" aspect of their existence at this place actually IS a cover operation, it doesn't make any sense to be that obvious about it. The students themselves are going to notice very quickly that their education is not being taken seriously if the group classes make no sense.
  • There were an awful lot of lumps of narration that just went nowhere. We really don't need an explanation of what everyone did in the pool in what order. We're probably a lot more curious about what possessed everyone to independently decide to show up at the swimming pool at the same time.
  • Misti and Celeste do an awful lot of hanging out with other people and voluntarily interacting with them for girls who were described as painfully shy and supposedly only talk to their own family. And there is no reason for them to speak in stereo as often as they do. I do not care if they are twins. That is stupid. Similarly, dumb "twin things" like Craig and Mike wearing ball caps that they tilt in opposite directions is really, really dumb.
  • I made references to popular music, which is a GREAT way to unintentionally date your novel. Why is M.C. Hammer on the radio?
  • I apparently couldn't decide whether Cara and Sara's last name was "Britten" or "Brittain." Er . . . you should always pick a spelling and stick with it. . . .
  • Ben gets a big kick out of calling his sister "Crissi" instead of her full name. He also likes to annoy her by interrupting a conversation in which she introduces herself by warning the new person that she will puke on them if they call her "Crissi." I apparently REALLY thought that was funny and kept using it over and over again.
  • Despite the fact that I did a good job choosing "realistic" names that diverse parents would choose for twins, I did some really silly things too—most notably, I sometimes chose names (including last names) that were too fitting for the characters to be realistic. Laurel and Lilly Rivers were nature-loving twins, and somehow not only their given names but their family names relate to the outdoors. I guess that could happen, actually, though it seems a bit fishy. However, I think I completely cashed in my believability chips when I created a pair of twins who were very pale with frizzy white hair and light eyes—who were also very mysterious because they were shy and didn't want to talk to anyone—and then I went and named them "Misti and Celeste Light." Light? C'mon. That's just silly. And they randomly had British accents even though they'd been born in Florida. Not that that's impossible, but there was no explanation for it.
  • And speaking of names, it is not random and quirky to say that someone's real name is Jake but give him the nickname "Rupert" and have no reason for it. That's just weird and dumb.
  • There is also no explanation for why Ben and Cristabel are the only fraternal twins. If the drug their parents took "caused" twins, it seems impossible that they could be different sexes when nobody else was.
  • I did that horrible thing where I broke the fourth wall in the first chapter to have the main character talk to the reader and introduce herself. " . . . And my brother's name is Ben. He has blond hair, like me. He's thirteen, like me. Unless you're stupid, the idea might have entered your brain that we're twins." God, that's bad.
  • There is no justification for how poor my planning was in this thing. There is a big secret that's been hidden for years about these kids in the story, but nobody's ever told them or their parents (and, y'know, it would be a matter of National Security if anyone, including the kids themselves, found the secret out). But somehow it makes perfect sense for one of their teachers to pretty much take each student aside individually and tell them most of it, and of course there was no admonition that they must keep it secret, nor was there any acknowledgment that hey, they might actually TELL EACH OTHER and . . . have a problem with basically being held captive at a place that's pretending to be a school.
  • Being the protagonists, Cristabel and Ben were of course the first successful twins to escape their "prison." But did their plot to free the others have to be so damn DUMB? Yeah, let's raise a few hundred dollars with our homemade magic show and buy bus tickets for everyone. Not to mention that making a phone call and telling the other twins to "cover for us" does not explain why no one seemed to notice they were gone. Hello!
  • I attempted to make the unusual abilities the twins acquired be derived from some semblance of possible science, but really it was just my dumb excuse to give them neat powers. It could have been acceptable if I'd kept it restricted to sending and receiving radio signals (because hey, I've heard urban legends about people who can get the radio through their tooth fillings!), and MAYBE even the balderdash about attracting and repelling objects could have worked if I'd kept it to just metal things (erm, but I didn't). But there isn't any metallic substance that can bounce off of mirrors and read your thoughts, and there's no metallic substance that can predict the future either. Not to mention that it makes no sense that nobody except the Light twins figured any of this out on their own until they came to the "school."
  • Despite having no real bonding experiences, all the sets of twins are friends for life at the end. Ho-hum.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Personal Digest Saturday: April 19 – April 25

Life news this week:
  • I got my edits back from my publisher, and since my contract says I only get ten days to address the edits, I thought it was best to jump right in! I completed the edits on Thursday.

  • I rewrote an article about asexuality, making it longer because the editor requested that I do so. It ended up about 2500 words (more than twice the original length), and it was accepted. Yay, it will be published, though I don't know when.

  • It was Administrative Professionals' Week, so my boss got me a nice card and everyone at the office signed it. And I got a gift card too. Awww!

  • I helped my mom with moving some things in her house, which was hard work but also fun. I made a disastrous batch of couscous to eat at her house and I hope she doesn't hate couscous now because of me.

  • I got all the stuff together for my sister Lindsay's bridal shower gifts. It was a lot of fun collecting the stuff for it--I'll have to write about it next week when I have pictures from the event!

  • I had to work extra hours at the day job this week because of proposals all due at the same time. Normally I am asked to limit my hours to 28 a week, but this week I worked 38 and a half. Coming in in the morning is tiring and I didn't get much sleep!

  • I finally put my entire to-read list on my Goodreads author account, though I'm nowhere near done adding my reviews to it. You should follow me.

  • Ate at Red Elephant with Jeaux on Wednesday, and we watched two episodes of Orphan Black.

  • Met an online friend, Jimmy, to whom I've been talking for about a year. We finally met up and had Chili's food and talked about everything. I also got to spend gift certificates at Barnes & Noble--bought three new books!

Places featured: 
  • I was apparently not famous enough this week to be featured anywhere. ;)
Reading progress:
  • Finished Dangerous by Shannon Hale: ★★★★
  • Currently reading The Promise: Part Two which is a graphic novel from the Avatar: The Last Airbender series. It is by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.

New singing performances:

Recorded "Open Your Heart" by Madonna.

New drawings:

Webcomic Negative One Issue 0467: "Is It Real?"

New videos:

None this week.

New photos:

Selfie with a gnome in my mom's backyard.

Administrative Professionals' Day
I bought Julie Murphy's book! I met her when we were
both judges for one of Cupid's contests in 2012.

Social Media Counts:

YouTube subscribers: 3,272 for swankivy (47 new this week), 332 for JulieSondra (3 new). Twitter followers: 473 for swankivy (3 new), 370 for JulieSondra (6 new). Facebook: 248 friends (dropped one) and 124 followers (2 new) for swankivy, 333 likes for JulieSondra (1 new), 45 likes for Negative One (no change), 62 likes for So You Write (2 new). Tumblr followers: 1,289 (8 new).

Thursday, April 24, 2014

First Edits

Well, my life has been a bit overwhelming lately, largely because my day job had several large obligations on top of one another and I was instrumental in making all of them come together, so I had to work "long hours." I put "long hours" in quotes because my job is part-time and I normally work 28 hours a week, so anything over 30 hours feels quite long--and I worked my allotted 28 in the first three days of the week. But it was kinda cool that this week of stress was coupled with Administrative Professionals Day, for which my co-workers got me a sweet little card and gift card.

Anyway, besides that and PLANNING FOR MY SISTER'S BRIDAL SHOWER (whee presents!), I have been dealing with . . . dun-dun-DUN . . . MY PUBLISHER'S FIRST EDITS on the asexuality book! Yay.

After hearing the horror stories of rubbing up against a deadline to complete massive edits, I was expecting it to be a lot more difficult than this to deal with the first round of edits, but it was 100% smooth sailing. I mean yeah, I had a "within 10 days" deadline, and I didn't even open the edits until a couple days after I got them because I was buried with other things, but hey. There were like three minor questions from my editor about word choice, and other than that it was mostly consistent formatting and word usages she tweaked, including the following:
  • Deleting extraneous uses of "that"
  • Deleting unnecessary uses of "in order to"
  • Correcting misuse of "that" vs. "which" (I guess I have a grammar glitch of my very own!)
  • Adjusting the punctuation/superscript use around my footnotes
  • Putting words I'd quoted in italics instead (like "the term 'asexual' means . . .")
I have reviewed them all and just want to go over them another time before sending back to my editor.

She also told me she thinks it's a very important book and was very eye-opening, and that it wasn't dull to read (okay, well, good!!). She can't wait to get it out to the reading public, and I can't wait to share it. :)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Cover Reveal: DIVINITY

Hi people. So I have something really cool to share, and that is the new cover for the novel Divinity . . . by Michelle L. Johnson. Who happens to be my agent! Did you know she's a writer too?

Divinity will be published in September--just like my book, because hey, we're twinsies!--by publisher Spence City (the urban fantasy imprint of Spencer Hill Press).

First, a bit about the book--which intrigues me because I have also written a book about a character who has both human and non-human blood:

When Julia climbs into a flaming car to save a trapped child, she’s left wondering why either of them survived. Then she learns that her father is the Archangel Gabriel, and that she is half human, half Archangel.

With guidance from Michael, the most powerful Archangel, Julia sets out to discover her own history and explore her angelic powers. But her journey is cut short when an evil force, invisible to human and angel alike, tears her world apart.

Now Julia must fight through her despair, harness her newfound gifts, and risk her very soul to stop the A’nwel and protect the family she never knew she had.

What she doesn’t know is that Archangels have secrets too.

And now . . . the cover, which was designed by Mae I Design:

That's a pretty amazing cover, no? The illustration of Julia reminds me a bit of my Bad Fairy character actually. Just an attitude thing. And all the black clothes.

You can learn more about Michelle at her bio on the Inklings Literary site or by following her on Twitter @MJsRetweet. I can't wait to read her book (but I will have to wait, as I have other obligations, shall we say!).

Monday, April 21, 2014

30-Week Writing Survey: Week 3: Names



Today's question: How do you come up with names--for characters and for places if you're writing about fictional places? 

Wow, that's a rough answer since no one project has the same answer.


People Names:
Usually I don't deliberately look for a particular name for a character. I'll like a name and eventually it will belong to a character I make up in the future. I tend not to choose names to "mean" anything in particular if I'm writing a realistic story at all. I don't like it when I read stories featuring characters with names that are disturbingly well suited to them unless they are names the characters chose themselves or some kind of really weird coincidence or something that says something about that character's PARENTS (which then rubbed off on them).

I do tend to like unusual names for my characters, but a lot of the time those just kind of suggest themselves to me. In Bad Fairy I have a small but significant portion of the population being fairies, and while some of their naming traditions overlap with those of humans, they also are much more likely to give their children nature-related names. Protagonist Delia has a name that's traditional for either race, and I use the traditional names Gena, Beatrice, Chloe, Livia, Fiona, Brigit, Callum, Clarissa, Chelsea, Lila, Estelle, Sylvia, etc. But some of the naturey/flora/fauna names that pop up include Jasper, Basil, Drake, Rose, Opal, Zinnia, Briony, Wisteria (she goes by Teri). . . . Sometimes it extends to last names and chosen "working" names and whatnot as well. But sometimes I just made up names, like Myrilla, Orrin, Kagen, Kyrene, and Leahan. And I created some interesting names for fictional deities.

Finding Mulligan had a few peculiarities regarding names. Cassandra, the protagonist, goes by Cassie, but her other self in a dream land is named Dia, which is the Spanish word for "day." Cassie primarily hangs out with other people with fairly ordinary names--Jamie, Terrell, Greg, Gabi (short for Gabriela), and her sister's name is Haley. In dreamland, the characters usually have odd names I completely pulled out of my butt; some examples include Laro, Sondi, Milani, and Nickel, though there are also a few very ordinary ones too (Becky, Margo, Lisa, Barbara, Carlos). And there's Mulligan, but that's also a last name, and I will shut up about that.

Stupid Questions also has mostly ordinary names; it takes place in a contemporary, ordinary world (except for the fact that the protagonist is trying to date a girl who has superpowers), so probably the weirdest name I have there is the love interest, Summer. (Her mom was named Autumn, so they have a theme-named family.) The protagonist is Nick, with a best friend named Bart and a supporting character named Brian. This was definitely one of those stories where I figured out what people's names were when they appeared to tumble out of the characters' mouths when they addressed each other. Nick's boss actually addressed him as Harris, his last name, the first time he spoke to him, so I knew his last name before his first.

Joint Custody had some interesting choices for names, but I did that partly because one of the things the two main characters bond over is that they have sort of funny names. Main character Bay's full name is Bainbridge (yeah, I'd go by "Bay" too), but I didn't make that up. It's an actual Irish name. His friend that he ends up meeting is Marcella, who goes by Marz. Marz's family likes giving their kids weird names. She has an older sister named Vanilla (Nillie) and a younger sister named Tallulah (Lulu). Oh those Pagan hippies.

Wow, Adele found her name
on a keychain!
In the House That Ivy Built series that I wrote in college, I have several names you don't hear too often: Cecily, Dax, Weaver, Neptune, Thursday, and a girl named Bradleigh. (I don't know where I got the idea to name a girl Bradleigh. I think it's kinda cool.) I went on to make a webcomic out of this, and there are some interesting choices there too:

In Negative One, Adele's storyline takes place in another world at first, so everybody had an alien name. ("Adele" was the name her human teacher Tabitha called her; her given name is Ashnai.) Ailao (their world) was settled by neighboring Shio, so everyone speaks Shioan and I gave them names in that language. Adele's brothers were named Shoen and Falah, and her sisters were named Noaleen and Lafee. Her mom's name is Lalaf and her father's name is Samifi. She has a couple friends named Aleef and Shelshay. A little bit of thought went into those names because their language only uses certain sounds, and all the words in the language tend to use a lot of vowels with the occasional gentle fricative. I took that into account when I named them, but other than that there's not too much importance on the names . . . though the foreign names do have "meanings" in their language to some degree (like Adele's brother Falah's name basically means "of the head"--the Shioan word for "head" is "fala"--so it's a name that suggests intelligence).

In my first book that I wrote when I was fourteen, Double Vision, I had a whole bunch of sets of twins to name, and even though I was only fourteen I actually had kind of done my naming research and I thought I managed to handle the naming of nine sets of twins in realistic ways. Meaning that I took into account the fact that many parents are tempted to do goofy things to twins' names that they wouldn't do to ordinary siblings'. About half of the twins in the story either had names that rhymed (Cara and Sara, Dustin and Justin) or names that started with the same letter (Nadia and Natalie, Laurel and Lilly, Carmen and Candace). However, other twins were named with unrelated names (Cristabel and Benjamen, Craig and Mike, Zachary and Brian, Misti and Celeste). I don't know why I gave Benjamen an alternate spelling. Probably I just didn't know how to spell it right at that point.

And with regards to short stories, there were some interesting choices made for names.

"Bloom" had its protagonist Kamber Valerian. She belongs to a Goddess-worshipping alternative culture in the modern world called the Kinfolk, which I made up for the story. For her people I generally made up first names just kind of fiddling with sounds, and I gave them nature-related last names. (Valerian is an herb.) Other Kinfolk characters were named Seaira, JeLin, Shael, Zinc, LaRayen, Caitrin, Sandarin. . . . Just being creative with sounds or using names I knew/liked and altering their spelling a bit.

"The Curse" had its protagonist who went by the name Zarry, which was actually short for Balthazar. He was supposed to be a savior and stuff, so he got a pretty heavy name. Heh. In the story "Grace," a girl named Iris gets named "Grace" by her girlfriend when she comes of age; I reproduced the names when I rewrote the short story as "Her Mother's Child." "Mother's Day" has quite a to-do about names, since the main character is one of a rather large set of clones and really names are the only things that separate Hendrix from his brothers. To give them some semblance of individuality, they're each named after a musician and instructed to make themselves well-versed in that artist's music, so it's kind of an identity as well as a name. Hendrix's roommates are Copland and Simon. (Named for Aaron Copland and Paul Simon, actually. He never met the guy who got named Garfunkel.)

In "Wind," the main character ends up having to "name" his supposed Christmas fairy because she wants a name, and though he first names her Wendy, it sort of mutates into "Windy" or "Wind." Later in the story she goes by Solana/Lana after she goes out west. (Solana means "Wind from the east." But it's okay that it was symbolic because she picked it on purpose.) And in "On the Inside," everybody has a completely invented name because it's a completely invented culture; my protagonist is named Lihill (pronounced "LEE-hill"), and that's a boys' name in her society but she's a girl. (She's transgender, but she doesn't actually hate her name; she just hates that it's one of the things that helps people misread her as a boy.) Her sister is named Cyani (pronounced "sy-AH-nee") and her best friend is Mymei (pronounced "MY-may"). And a cool wise woman in the story is named Teinan (pronounced "TAY-nan"). I might write another version of this story from Teinan's perspective because she's neat. A few other people have names in the story but seriously, I was just mashing noises together.

Place Names:

I tend not to have to name places because I write in the modern known world for the most part. The exceptions are of course Bad Fairy and Negative One. I did something sort of weird in Bad Fairy regarding place names; they just aren't there very much. Delia's village is called Belkin, and it is one of four riverside communities, but I only named three of them (the others are called Augun and Deegan Mills). There aren't any other names. Like, the kingdom, the country--doesn't have a name. I guess I suck at this. 

And in Negative One I had a bunch of dimensions to name. I have some semblance of knowledge regarding the phonemes of the Shioan language, so I know what sorts of rules they have when they name places. Basically if a dimension's official name doesn't end in "o," the Ailaoans or the Shioans didn't name it. (The "o" on the end is kinda how people who speak English might use "-ville" or something.) So some of the dimensions they've named have names like Nuamio, Lin-nitho, Win-shilao, Minshao, Leisheilo, and of course Thee-ileo (that's the human world, guys! They named us!). Basically if a dimension already had a name they let them keep it even on the Shioan maps. So some other places in the multiverse are Ment, Gow, Zuvacha, Chiplance, Jian, and this cool place called Fae where faeries come from y'all. But anyway.

I'm not one of those fantasy writers who tends to have a grand old time naming stuff on maps or whatever, so I tend not to do too much in the way of place-naming. When I have to do it I try to just make sure it's got consistent rules. For the modern-time stories I very rarely invent any places, though there were a few exceptions in THTIB (I mean, New York and L.A. are in the story, cementing it as a "here and now" story, but I also invented a couple towns--Wensleydale in New Jersey, MacLaine in California, Ridgefield in North Carolina--mainly because I was making specific colleges or organizations there and I didn't want them to be said to be rooted in "real" places).

I am kind of a names nerd in real life, though. I have collected baby name books forever and am very interested in naming trends. I've used those books on occasion to grab names for characters. :) 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Personal Digest Saturday: April 12 – April 18

Life news this week:

  • I kinda wasted my weekend with marathon phone chats, partially because I was feeling kind of ill. I spent Saturday chatting with Sarah and Sunday chatting with Kari.

  • I submitted a nonfiction piece about asexuality and femininity to a popular blog last week, and this wek I heard back. The editor said she liked it (with three exclamation marks), but wondered if I can . . . brace yourselves . . . MAKE IT LONGER. She wants it to be twice as long. Can you believe that? Nobody has ever asked me to make things longer before! YAY!

  • I updated my questionnaire full of useful information and media contacts for my publisher. I wanted to send it to her after my UVa appearance. :)

  • Monday I did Skype with my mentee, who had finished reading my book Finding Mulligan and wanted to chat about it. We asked each other questions from a list for people who have finished reading your book. :)

  • Tax return showed up in my bank account, yee-haw.

  • I played DDR on Tuesday and did not die.

  • Still editing for Ryan, my first alternate from Pitch Wars. Slowly but surely.

  • Ate at Flippers's with Jeaux on Wednesday, and we listened to Night Vale and watched an episode of Orphan Black.

    Places featured: 
      Reading progress:
      • Finished Amalee by Dar Williams: ★★★
      • Currently reading Dangerous by Shannon Hale.

      New singing performances:

      Recorded "Manic Monday" by The Bangles.

      New drawings:

      Webcomic Negative One Issue 0466: "No Questions."

      New videos:

      None this week.

      New photos:

      My bridesmaid dress
      for my sister's wedding!
      And this week was the 15th so it's been two months since the big haircut. Comparison shots!

      2/15/14: Right After the haircut:
      4/15/14: Two months later

      Social Media Counts:

      YouTube subscribers: 3,225 for swankivy (31 new this week), 329 for JulieSondra (2 new). Twitter followers: 470 for swankivy (5 new), 364 for JulieSondra (no change). Facebook: 249 friends (no change) and 122 followers (1 new) for swankivy, 332 likes for JulieSondra (3 new), 45 likes for Negative One (no change), 60 likes for So You Write (5 new). Tumblr followers: 1,281 (14 new).

      Thursday, April 17, 2014

      "I don't like it" vs. "It's bad"

      Some time ago I developed a small following because I criticized a massively popular book.

      And I mean, I didn't just say it sucked and move on. I more or less eviscerated it. Because it was a bad book.

      And fans of the book, if you can believe it (gasp!), had a really hard time dealing with my criticism. They were so offended and so angry that I would dare to crap on their baby, which resulted in a disturbing amount of hate mail. Most of said hate mail amounted to "I LIKE THIS BOOK AND THAT IS MY OPINION. YOU SHOULDN'T TRY TO MAKE ME HATE IT."

      In case it's not clear, most people who dislike books and say so are not trying to make its fans change into haters. Most of us are reasonable people who simply disagree on what constitutes a good book, and if "THAT'S MY OPINION GOSH DARN IT" is good enough to justify you liking it, then it should also be good enough to justify me hating it.

      That said, I never trash a book entirely on the basis of personally not enjoying it. I have never once written a book review that amounted to "Nice writing, but I just don't like books about this subject" or "It was okay, but I'm giving it a low rating because I don't relate to the character." Oh no. Not at all.

      As a person with an editorial background, I have VERY frequently been in a position to read books I had no personal interest in. And I have retained the ability to keep my personal feelings out of my reactions (to a great extent, anyway); I won't go as far as to say I am objective (since most people who are biased think they're just speaking the truth and I know better), but I will say that whether I personally enjoy a book has very little to do with whether I judge it to be a good book.

      The trick is understanding audience and context. Who is this for? If I was less than enthused about the book because I'm not in the intended demographic, do I think being in the intended demographic would increase my connection to the material, or do I think that wouldn't help? For what reason is this written? If I don't agree with a message the author is trying to establish, do I still think they do a good job establishing the message for people who do? I keep these things in mind when judging the quality of a book. My own enjoyment does figure in, but it isn't the central aspect of my rubric.

      A while back I read a series of fantasy books aimed at young adults. Usually very much up my alley. But as I read the adventures of the four children who made up a magical group, I just didn't feel very connected, and as the climax of each book barreled toward life and death struggles for the characters, I didn't find myself invested whatsoever in their well-being. I was just following along, reading what happened, appreciating that it was well told but in no way feeling a drive to read on. In fact, if someone had asked me to stop reading right then, it wouldn't have bothered me to never find out what happened. And when the author began a second series including the same characters and based on the same premise, for some reason I picked up book 1 and started reading, only to be reminded of why I didn't care for the author or her writing style. I decided to stop wasting my time reading it since I would have described my emotional state while reading as perhaps one notch above bored.

      And yet, I did not think these were bad books. I thought they were well-written and smartly plotted, with a premise that felt innovative and a fantasy world that felt authentic. I don't know why I didn't care about the characters or find their adventures particularly interesting. If I were breaking up with this series, I'd definitely reassure it as follows: "It's not you, it's me."

      However, with most books I do not enjoy, there is a legitimate quality issue that limits my ability to feel satisfied. Usually it's inauthentic characters that alienate me, but sometimes it's obnoxious storytelling, or plot that feels driven by the author's outline rather than character choices, or crushingly predictable story elements, or feeling the author's word choices are pretentious or too present (as in, I hear the author's voice more than the characters'). And when THOSE things make me not like a book, well, were I to break up with THOSE books, I'd dump them for being bad partners, not for simply being too different from what I wanted.

      It's when a book is in the second category that I tend to heap more criticism on them. I call them out for their bad behavior, and when readers didn't see the flaws in their favorites (or enjoyed the books in spite of the flaws), they sometimes seem baffled that anyone would criticize. Well, sometimes you like something even though it's bad. But if I say I think something is bad and I give good explanations of why, I think it's ridiculous to react to my criticism by suggesting I am a senseless hater, am possessed of personal problems, or am not entitled to a negative opinion.

      Bad books are different from books I just plain don't like, though I usually don't like bad books either. That's it.

      And now, for fun, I will share some quotes with you from people who reacted inappropriately to my negative reviews. Observe how they attack me personally, assign me flaws, and insist that their own perspective is somehow beyond criticism in the name of FREE SPEECH AND PERSONAL OPINION while mine I guess is not. That and most of them assume I have never written a book myself--or that if I have, I must be bitter about my failures and am forced to get my jollies hating other writers for being successful. Hilarious.

      writing is not a simple thing to do. im sure you understand this as well as others. i dont think it very appropriate to down ones work when you have not produced your own. If you dont like the book then shut up about it, but if u really want to make a change how about you show everyone how a good book should be written in your eyes.Until you have produced a book of your own i think you are merely jelous that a young man is reaping the fruits of his work and that you can not do the same.

      Overall, I thought the book was very intriguing. I believe that you are searching for something to hate. Yes, there are some minor writing flaws, but beyond that it is a very fun book that I had trouble putting down.

      Your entire review had a bitter, shaky tone about it that made me think you’re just a frustrated little girl that can’t figure out why another young writer was so successful. The evidence is throughout this entire piece of unmerited garbage that you call an essay. Any serious writer that takes the time to shoot down a book is no writer at all.

      u r retarded ok if u r going to argue with everything about this book fine but find other ways of doing it. so its a little over dramatic with the said things and mabe it doesnt quiet equal tokien but it was a good book and the second was spectacular it has absolutely nothing to do with lotr and for your info i have read alot of great fantasy books now stop being retarded dont make a whole webpage about a book u dont like.

      Okay, you think the book is bad...GOOD FOR U! But why criticize, put down, and tease the author? He didn't cause you any grief...who cares about what you think ANYWAY? ?You're just an egoistic jerk...

      wow, your really mature. i'm not gonna draw this out because it will be pointless to try to talk some sense into you without u aving some "smart and witty" comeback but let me just say this. all that matters he's making money because people are buying his book and you arent. :)

      btw u cant really create something completely new and original these days. most ideas are used up and sometimes you might think you have and original idea but someone else might have already used it. basically what i'm saying is most authors get their inspiration from others but don't copy it. what's wrong with a good old-fashioned fantasy book?? its not like he completely copied it jesus christ. go ahead make your little quip or "smart ass" remark.

      Wow, your an ass. You don't like the book so this is what you say "omfgthisbooksuxkkthxbye" What is your problem? I thought this was an excellent book, and if you don't like it fine, I won't try and change your mind; However, you go to this and make an essay on how much you despise the book. That's just low and stupid. ...you have some serious problems. But back to the topic. This is a fantsy novel, I have no idea why your making such a big deal over it. I'm just sending this comment to just show what a complete ass you are. Hey, how about next, you do this for Harry Potter! Yeah, makes thousands of people hate you just because YOU suck at writing so YOU have to critize others writing and so YOU can look like a complete ass to the entire world. You stupidity in making this site is only exceeded by your crappy comments and most likely, crappy writing. Thank you, and have a nice day.

      Ok, boy-who-does-his-homework, if you really invented something completly diferent, never done before, i'm really want to read. NO ONE never did, some writers (FAMOUS CLASSIC WRITERS) even like to tell everybody about wich story they used as basis, and even then the book stil is a success.

      Do you ever heard about joseph campbell? well, this guy wrote a book caled the hero with thousand faces, an examination of the archetype of the hero. and you know what he says? exactly what i'm teling you, he wrote that almost all hero stories can be shown to contain at least a part of the same patterns. so it's not just me that's saing, there's a lot of other psychological reserches (campbel's the most famous) that comprove what i'm saying.

      Why are you sayng such nonsense? maybe you're just angry because [author] is becoming more and more famous. maybe(that's what i think) you're a litle jealous. after all, he mixed all these sources and made a best seler. after all, i would say that he did a pretty good job

      Your comments about many of the ideas in [book] originating elsewhere, while valid, do not diminish the value of the book. Your criticisms that the style and content are clearly indicative of the author's immaturity are similarly irrelevant, and seem to manifest your own envy at not having been published more than anything else. I note that nowhere is your full name or "pen" name revealed. The books are, although imperfect, more entertaining than a vast number of published fantasy books, and a fine first effort on the part of [author], from which he is fortunate to benefit, since this success will give him the means to hone his craft further, without worrying about living in poverty. Obviously, I need to hone my craft further, as well, to learn how to avoid run-on sentences. You and others would do better to focus on more positive exertions.

      He might not be able to write, but he seems to be doing pretty well for himself. Instead of writing mulitple criticisms, you might actually want to your time reading literature that you actually enjoy! Even though it's been done better, (which I agree whole heartedly that it has) the only the thing you gain from writing this is showing the internet the bitter side of you that would rather criticize an author who wrote an okay book than do something meaningful with your talent

      I sure wish I was doing something meaningful with my talent. Since after all if you see a negative review of something on a website, that's sure to be its author's entire body of work and is representative of everything they think or feel. ;)

      Tuesday, April 15, 2014

      Turning 30: 30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know

      I'm sure the minds behind the article "30 Things Every Woman Should Have And Should Know" weren't aiming to be stereotypical, petty, useless, heterocentrist, and empty of values despite writing an article about what we should be valuing, but I found this tripe to be an embarrassing load of garbage, and I'm gonna tell you why.

      The link to the actual article is above. Below are these so-called essential 30 things, with my objections.

      By 30, you should have ...

      1. One old boyfriend you can imagine going back to and one who reminds you of how far you've come.

      Great, let's define our human growth based on the people we've dated. At 30, we "should" have dated a man, stopped dating him, and can imagine going back to him. What? This is like an Ice Cream Koan. It doesn't mean diddly if you actually look at what it's saying. And by 30 we "should" have dated someone who was kind of a mistake? I mean sure that's a growing experience, and sure I have an ex I've sometimes fantasized about setting on fire, but we're going to define our successful maturity through romantic failures? Combine all this with the fact that this list specifies boyfriends, and lookie here, we seem to be leaving out lesbians. And people who date people who aren't women or men. And people who don't date. Sorry, over-thirty ladies who don't date or only date non-men! You have already begun to fail this list.

      2. A decent piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in your family.

      Are you serious? Now a sign of a successful post-thirty woman is her furniture? Come on, gals, look at your age . . . start classing up your house already. It's time, ladies. Don't be minimalists. Don't value other expensive items like high art or recording equipment. Get a really nice bedroom set. What's wrong with you?

      3. Something perfect to wear if the employer or man of your dreams wants to see you in an hour.

      Actually, guys, if there was an employer or man of my dreams in existence, he wouldn't give a crap what I was wearing. So I guess I have this covered. Oh wait, I don't? Oh. That's right. This is a sign of maturity--having an "it" thing to wear. That go-to outfit to make me look amazing. Girls, be ready to look your best--and get judged on it--with very little notice. This is something you need to have learned. 'Kay.

      Here's what I'll be wearing.

      4. A purse, a suitcase, and an umbrella you're not ashamed to be seen carrying.

      Well I seem to have passed this one with flying colors too! I don't feel one shred of "shame" at the judgment of any passing jerks if they don't like my umbrella (bought at the local mass-market retailer) with happy faces all over it, which literally still has the "$2" tag hanging off it. And a guy on the bus once was really impressed by that. He asked me, "Where did you get that $2 umbrella??" Of course, the insinuation here is that there do exist purses, suitcases, and umbrellas of which we should be ashamed. And that by age thirty, we should "know better" and buy better accoutrements. What do you think of mine?

      5. A youth you're content to move beyond.

      Oh look, another Ice Cream Koan. We're supposed to nod our heads sagely and say we're supposed to "have" a youth we can happily move beyond, as if we can change that now if our youth kind of sucked. Perhaps this is their way of saying we should be ready at thirty to acknowledge that we're not young anymore? You know, that sappy, trite "Age is only a number!" platitude is starting to sound better by the second. "You're thirty now. Move beyond your youth and be content about it" sounds really arbitrary to me. Why not twenty? Why not forty? Why not never? Immaturity is a great thing to leave behind, but I've seen nine-year-olds do that. I like to think I'm plenty mature enough at thirty to know that this is attempting-to-sound-sage bullshit.

      6. A past juicy enough that you're looking forward to retelling it in your old age.

      Okay, what. First, what's "juicy"? It should be full of mishaps, shenanigans, narrow escapes, and sexual tidbits? What is this juice of which you speak? It seems to be insinuating that I should have had an adventurous past--with sultry and steamy stories and perhaps hilarious recountings of drunken weekends--which should have helped me get all that JUICE out of my system so I can settle down and be thirtyish. Whatever.

      My juicy youth tastes of cranberry.
      7. The realization that you are actually going to have an old age -- and some money set aside to help fund it.

      I'll invoke the aforementioned mature nine-year-old again and point out that I was able to acknowledge that I'd be a "granny" one day when I was in grade school. I actually never thought thirty (and beyond) sounded "old," and though it's not like I did any fantastic job planning for retirement from my crib, I was never one of those kids who thinks everything's going to be like college forever. Having money set aside for retirement's a nice idea. Not everyone can manage to do that by thirty--student loans and mortgage payments, anyone?--but considering the previous list items regaling me with advice about proper attire, accessories, and furniture, it's pretty clear this list is speaking from some pretty serious privilege.

      8. An email address, a voice mailbox, and a bank account -- all of which nobody has access to but you.

      I'm not sure what this has to do with anything. If it's insinuating that women at age thirty and beyond should have their privacy and an emergency fund that isn't controlled by anyone else, sure, that's a good idea. (Why this has anything to do with being thirty still escapes me, though.) I could see shared bank accounts being okay, though.

      9. A résumé that is not even the slightest bit padded.

      This is so arbitrary. Some people pop out of college and do one thing for twelve years before they have to get a new job. I'm sure their résumé would look pretty bare. So this is suggesting that the most acceptable career path for a woman of this age will have been to dip her toes into various careers and/or hopped around to collect experience? Or are they saying it's just better for people to know better than to pad résumés at age thirty? I just don't know anymore.

      10. One friend who always makes you laugh and one who lets you cry.

      Now the list judges our social relationships. Just what I wanted! Oops, I might lack one of these things. I will put out a Craigslist ad! Attention: Friend needed. I am 30 and seem to have failed to make a friend who makes me laugh. Funny friend needed immediately. Please e-mail me at least three jokes, to this e-mail address which no one has access to but me. Wait, what if I'm a loner? Or what if I have MORE THAN ONE friend who makes me laugh but none of them ever let me cry? I kinda think most of my friends do both of these things reasonably well. I've noticed that a lot of women my age who take contrived advice to heart seem to have done the good girl thing and found a fella and alienated all their friends during the infatuation phase and married the guy, finally realizing four years later that they don't know why their friends disappeared. Maybe we do need some very very basic instruction on non-romantic human relationships. Yes, ladies, your friends really should be able to roll with your emotions. Without considering it a check mark on a top thirty checklist, right up there in importance with getting the right umbrella.

      11. A set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra.

      I think I might actually have a black lace bra somewhere around here. It's uncomfortable as shit. But wait, what is this item about? It's trying to be clever by offsetting the femininity of the Bra You Should Own against the backdrop of the tools' masculine symbolism? To do what, tell us we should be able to take care of ourselves in a handy fashion but without losing our feminine gentleness? Or is the black lace bra also a "tool"? (Or is the only tool the person who suggested this?) You decide.

      12. Something ridiculously expensive that you bought for yourself, just because you deserve it.

      Ah, I see. Money is the way you define being indulgent. Let's see. When's the last time I got something really expensive because I deserved it?

      Ah yes. My expensive $400 marker set.
      I got this primarily with gift cards. Maybe it doesn't count, because I didn't throw money away on something "ridiculously" expensive that I wanted. Know what? I "deserve" good treatment and love and respect. I don't know if I "deserve" random expensive things I want. I like rewarding myself as much as anyone, but I don't think it's a particularly good idea to say that by age thirty you should have spent too much money on something in order to drive home the idea that you deserve nice things.

      I love my markers. And I feel like buying them was indulgent. I do that sort of thing when I can handle it and when I really want something. I wouldn't if it would have been irresponsible to do so. I'm not sure why someone at age thirty should have found a window in her life where she decided the best use of her money would be to make herself feel deserving by buying something.

      13. The belief that you deserve it. 

      My self-esteem is sky-high without buying myself crap. I'm having trouble justifying the annoyance it would cost me to cough up a coherent rebuttal regarding what we're entitled to in our lives, so I'll just leave this here.

      14. A skin-care regimen, an exercise routine, and a plan for dealing with those few other facets of life that don't get better after 30. 

      Gosh, I almost thought I was reading a parody when I got to this one. Okay, there's nothing wrong with having skin-care regimens or exercise routines. But . . . I don't. And I refuse to accept that this is just something women are supposed to know better about by my age. Does "wearing sunblock" count as a skin-care regimen? If so, I've got it covered. Does "riding my bike to work" (even though I do it because I don't know how to drive) count as an exercise routine? If so, bingo. But considering that my skin and my physical fitness were lumped in with "those few other facets of life that don't get better after 30," I'm imagining this to insinuate that I should have a plan for dealing with not looking young anymore. Well, my "plan for dealing with" that is looking old when I look old. I tend to think the whole "age is only a number" philosophy is doing pretty well for me. Don't you think?

      Why yes, I am past thirty. u mad?

      15. A solid start on a satisfying career, a satisfying relationship, and all those other facets of life that do get better.

      I think we all make our own decisions on careers and relationships, and some of us change gears at different ages. I like to think I have "a solid start on a satisfying career"--which would be some of the headway I've made recently in the publishing world, including my published nonfiction and my prospects not yet in the hand for fiction--but the thing I actually make money from is a support position, and not exactly a "satisfying career." It's not going to develop into anything more than an admin position. I like it that way because it frees my creative energy for writing. As for the relationship, I'm by choice happily unattached. Have I failed to hit thirty properly? Because I don't have "a satisfying relationship"? (Considering the usual opinions of prescriptivists like the people who write these articles, I don't imagine the satisfying non-romantic relationships I hold dear would "count." I'm used to my capacity to love being called into doubt and dismissed as puppy love. We all know that what makes something REAL love is when sexual attraction gets involved!)

      By 30, you should know ...

      1. How to fall in love without losing yourself.

      I actually like this one. It's not really something you study or plan, but turning into someone else or forgetting/neglecting everything you used to hold dear before your love relationship is indeed something immature people often do when they're infatuated. The only thing I don't like about this is that it suggests that by thirty I should be in love and/or know how to go about it. Meh.

      2. How you feel about having kids.

      Uh, sure. I guess it's good to know whether you want to have kids by thirty, if that decision wasn't already made for you in your teens or twenties. But I know people who are undecided about this and are past thirty. I don't like hearing that there's something wrong with that. Again, "by thirty" sounds so arbitrary.

      3. How to quit a job, break up with a man, and confront a friend without ruining the friendship.

      Did all of these successfully by the time I was eighteen, thanks. Any rules on breaking up with people who aren't men, though? I know a few thirty-somethings who are aching for this article's approval on their non-heterosexual relationships, you know.

      4. When to try harder and when to walk away.

      . . . This is always very nuanced. Phrasing it like this, and framing it like it's something you should have mastered by thirty when you're not likely to have encountered all the situations in which you will need to apply it by the time you're thirty, makes it seem very empty. And I think there are some situations we'll encounter for the rest of our lives after which we'll wonder whether we should have tried harder or should have walked away earlier.

      5. How to kiss in a way that communicates perfectly what you would and wouldn't like to happen next.

      Uh-oh. I have that "I'm reading a parody" feeling again. Maybe this is (again) because I don't do romance and therefore by the standards of this article I am probably a complete failure of a thirty-something woman, but I find myself thinking that the best way to "communicate perfectly," to everyone, regardless of that person's ability to read signals, would be to simply open one's mouth and say either "Okay, goodnight" or "all right, to the bedroom!" I'm sick of these Cosmo articles that tell us how to wiggle our tongues and move our lips to "tell him" what we're thinking, when those lips and tongues can seriously be used to communicate this EXPLICITLY. Dude. If the person you're kissing isn't doing what you wanted, don't hone your kissing techniques to figure out better ways of conveying this subtly. Just use words! It's not difficult!

      6. The names of the secretary of state, your great-grandmothers, and the best tailor in town.

      ::eyeroll:: Yes to being marginally politically aware, if you happen to live somewhere that has a Secretary of State. Yes to knowing your family history, if it isn't obscured by issues you can't help. But "the best tailor in town"? I have to admit that the only time I've ever needed some equivalent of a tailor was when I needed my bridesmaid dress shortened.

      I don't remember the mall seamstress's name, but I guess it's moot since she definitely wasn't the best tailor in town. My shoulder straps looked weird.

      I don't really get clothes tailored. Am I a failure of a thirty-something woman? Seriously, on the rare occasion that I want to get something altered, my go-to person is my mom.

      7. How to live alone, even if you don't like to.

      I do like to. I know how. Next.

      8. Where to go -- be it your best friend's kitchen table or a yoga mat -- when your soul needs soothing.

      Not really much of a revelation that it's a good idea to have coping strategies. I think it's a good idea to develop this long before age thirty. Mine, incidentally, usually involves a computer chair and a blinking cursor.

      9. That you can't change the length of your legs, the width of your hips, or the nature of your parents.

      Aww, how inspirational. All these years I've yearned for a way to change my legs and hips, and by thirty, you know, I figured out what matters and accepted it. As for the nature of my parents, that's not actually terrible advice--that we should learn to get along with people we're stuck with--but if you're not as fortunate as I am in having pretty great parents, I actually don't think the best way to deal with actual problematic issues is to shrug and decide "that's the way they are and they can't change."

      As we mature, we figure out more about how to communicate with other people (hopefully), and while we can't change "the nature of" anyone, this item seems to be suggesting in a cutesy way that we're just going to have to accept how aggravating our parents are. Sure, I've had to agree to disagree a few times. But parents learn and grow and change too, even though mine are doing it in their fifties/sixties as I do it in my thirties. I hope they don't want to "change" my nature either, but this article isn't suggesting that mindsets can't be malleable if they belong to parents, is it?

      10. That your childhood may not have been perfect, but it's over.

      Oh, okay. Let's just ignore the fact that our childhoods are formative, wash our hands of it and consider our adult lives a clean slate, and get over it if our childhoods taught us lessons we can't unlearn. In my case, I had what would pass for an idyllic childhood when compared with that of most of my friends. I had a stable home with parents and family who loved me, and I felt safe there. I took it for granted and I flourished as a person. And despite the privilege within which I was cultivated as a person, I cannot look at others who were denied this and make a list instructing my fellow mid-thirties women to quit sulking and realize their childhoods are in the past. Ya think?

      11. What you would and wouldn't do for money or love.

      Am I supposed to have a list? Are the items on it restricted to those I'd perform under duress? What. I'd screw a guy dressed as a clown for $2000, but not $1500? I'd move across the country "for love," but not internationally? I'm not sure how you can have these things planned out until or unless the situations come up. I like the idea that the article is advocating women understanding their boundaries--deciding ahead of time how much bullshit we'll tolerate at a well-paying job, for instance--but phrased in this detached way, how does one make a plan for this? If a dude in a clown suit approaches me on the street, though, I definitely have my price picked out.

      12. That nobody gets away with smoking, drinking, doing drugs, or not flossing for very long.

      Nobody? Gets away with . . . ugh, I feel another "I can't even properly respond to this without making rude noises" rebuttal coming on. I'll try to work through it for you, though. So of course this is first insinuating that in my younger years I surely dabbled in these things, but in my thirties I'm to realize these are "things I can't get away with." But . . . first of all, drinking? This is a weird reversal because almost everyone I know who's an adult drinks (socially--some more than socially), and I'm often condescended to and mocked for not partaking because apparently this is just what grown-ups DO to have fun. I think people are generally getting away with drinking, thanks. As for smoking . . . I'm pretty sure my grandmother smoked until she died at age 84, or at least close to it. She got away with it. For long. Really long. She didn't die of anything smoking-related. She was a somebody. I get that they're saying it's an immature mindset that allows you to think abusing your body will never catch up with you, but it's incredibly poorly phrased and really taking a hardline stance on these things. But hang on a second, because I've got some flossing to do.

      13. Who you can trust, who you can't, and why you shouldn't take it personally.

      I shouldn't take it personally if I can't trust someone? Well, that's an awfully broad statement, isn't it? I have people of both descriptions in my life. I know who they are. I've never had trouble figuring out if I could trust people. If they betray me, I damn well do take it personally. Without a lot more context, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to say nodding, smiling, and shrugging is the proper, impersonal way to handle a breach of trust.

      14. Not to apologize for something that isn't your fault.

      I'm not sure what this has to do with the maturity of age thirty. I mean, some of us say "I'm sorry" when we know we're not at fault to express sadness for someone's situation, but that can't be what they mean here. Do they mean we're likely to have had to shake the tendency to blame ourselves for things that aren't our fault? Some of us have learned this behavior and can't so easily shake it. Some of us (like me) never had this problem. I think it's a good thing to learn if you can, but I don't quite see its purpose on this list.

      15. Why they say life begins at 30.

      Who says that? The people who wrote this list? I disagree. My life began when I was born, and lest you think I'm cheeky for saying so, I firmly believe that we become who we are through everything we experience. That includes life before thirty. That includes the childhood we can't discard and call "over." That includes our possibly juicy past, our boyfriends in their proper slots, our non-embarrassing purse collection, our collected knowledge which has enabled us to make that start on a fulfilling career, our experiences throughout life which have led us to form our attitudes. Life doesn't begin at thirty, and chucking it out there as an empty motivation called from the sidelines by vapid cheerleaders feels very insincere and meaningless to me.

      30 Things I Have and Know

      The thirty things I've acquired and learned by age 30. That I don't generalize and hand down with "shoulds."

      By 30, I had. . . .

      1. About 2.5 metric shit tons of books.
      2. A college degree.
      3. Incredible friends I can tell anything to.
      4. A collection of filled handwritten journals.
      5. At least ten recipes that have been repeatedly requested by friends and family.
      6. A living space of my own that suits my needs and displays my personality.
      7. A fearless approach to writing.
      8. The confidence to tell other people they were hurting me and the communication skills to make them stop.
      9. Dedication to my creative projects.
      10. Adorable children on the planet who consider me their auntie.
      11. Good comebacks for guys who hit on me while staring at my boobs.
      12. An appreciation for the rights, privileges, and abilities I possess.
      13. A strong ability to edit for others without hurting their feelings.
      14. A realistic understanding of my limitations.
      15. A burning drive to get my messages out there.

      By 30, I knew. . . .

      1. How much sleep I needed, and how to schedule my life so I could get it.
      2. That I don't have to find fulfillment through the same means by which I earn my living.
      3. The power that clear communication and a calm disposition hold.
      4. When to let a creative project take priority over nearly everything, and how to stay basically functional in the throes of such immersion.
      5. How to write a proposal or ask for a favor, and how to be courageous in an interview or audition.
      6. That it isn't bizarre, weird, or dysfunctional to value non-romantic relationships on par with those that are romantic.
      7. When it's okay to be selfish.
      8. When to get angry, and how to do it in a constructive way.
      9. That grief changes a person, and that I don't have to "get over" those I've lost.
      10. That my family members are very different from each other and from me in some ways, and that they're worth the extra effort it sometimes takes to see eye to eye.
      11. That I can be liked without trying to impress anyone.
      12. When I should just listen.
      13. How to organize nearly anything in ways that make sense.
      14. That maturity isn't a status that someone else confers upon you . . . that childish and childlike are two different things.
      15. What other people's expectations of me are, and when I can ignore them.

      Sounds at least a little more fulfilling than owning a really nice piece of furniture, right?

      But get back to me when you've bought that black lace bra and the right power tools, ladies.