Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ho Ho Hum, Or a Holiday Survival Guide for Writers and Their Caregivers

Gift Ideas for Writers

© Simon L | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Is there a writer in your life? Are you struggling to come up with that perfect Christmas gift for him or her?

If so, my condolences, because I'm a writer and I know full well what a morose bunch of budding alcoholics we writers usually are.  I'm constantly staring off into space, oblivious to the world around me until the front bumper strikes something solid and the air bags deploy.

That can't be good company.  I know from experience that the Highway Patrol is seldom thrilled.

Every year, it's the same dilemma.  What to give for Christmas?  What will make your writer's eyes light up, or at least open halfway?

As usual, I'm here to help.  My list of suggestions follows, in order of descending utility.

1) BOOZE.  HOOCH. ROTGUT.  That's right, kids, the Demon Rum himself.  Why?  Simple.

A writer's job is to plumb the depths of the human condition, or at least convince a harried editor that he or she is plumbing said depths long enough for the ink to dry on a contract.  And the first thing you'll learn when you start taking a really close look at the much-vaunted human condition is that doing so induces a sudden, powerful urge to have a drink.  Or three.  Or maybe just leave the whole bottle and start running a tab, because right after the urge to drink comes the realization that it's going to be a long bad night.

2) A THESAURUS. Because nothing works better as a coaster for the drinks mentioned above than a really thick book.  I'd counsel against actually using a thesaurus for writing, because no one wants to read sentences in which characters advance, meander, promenade, traipse, or wend one's way across the room.

3) A CAT.  Hemingway had a cat, right?  He had a cat because a cat is the only creature on Earth more vain and self-centered than the average author.  While other more social animals might feel neglected or ignored by an author, who is probably staring off into space or rummaging in the cabinets for more liquor, a cat is perfectly comfortable being ignored because it doesn't know anyone else is in the room anyway.  The cat's 'I don't care if you exist or not' attitude is perfectly suited to the author's mindset of 'What? Huh? Who?'

4) AN ELEGANT LEATHER-BOUND JOURNAL.  We all know that writers, and I mean serious professional writers with book contracts and everything, are always prepared to whip out a convincing character or a heart-wrenching plot at the drop of a dangling participle. So give your author the most expensive, ornate leather journal you can find, wait a year, drag it out from under the whiskey-stained thesaurus, and give it to the writer again.  They won't ever know, because each and every page will be as blank as it was the day you bought it.  Seriously, people.  I tried the whole notebook by the bed schtick for years, and I recorded exactly two notes in it, which read:

"Char. A sees the thing, intro. other scene w/char B, str. exc. Plot hole & 9 days."
"Why G. not cld/not E?"

Which explains why Hemingway's cat had six toes, for all I know.  But leatherbound notebooks make pretty good coasters too, and if the glasses sweat on them, you can tell people the stains are from a solo hike through Guatemala which you took to 'reconnect to my muse.'

I don't have a Number 5.  You should probably stop at Number 1, because gift-wrapping a cat is nearly impossible and writers can spot a gift wrapped thesaurus from across a crowded room anyway.

(originally published here December 2011)

The Perfect Face for Radio

Last Saturday I was a guest on the Steve Bradshaw Radio Show. If you missed the live show, the interview (minus commercials!) is now online for your listening pleasure. Click here  and then click on the play icon by by name. My accent is sure to amuse children and calm restless emus. We talked about writing after my accordion audition went horribly wrong.

A Writer's Christmas Carols

© Vlawton | Dreamstime Stock Photos

It Came Upon a Manuscript Clear
(Sung to the tune of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear)
It came upon this manuscript here
Fatal problems with the pace,
Then beta readers bending near
Did make that WTH face.
This plot is contrived, they sang with glee,
the shallow protagonist weak,
Not a theme or an ending anywhere in sight,

God Rest Ye Merry Editors
(Sung to the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen)
God rest ye merry editors,
and bless thy weary eyes,
For NaNoWriMo just ended 
Now begin your painful sighs.
The flood of just-completed books 
Shall wing to you its way,
Bringing forth sparkly vampires in love,
vampires in love, and hungry zombies every day!

We Wish You Would Format Correctly
(Sung to the tune of We Wish You a Merry Christmas)
Word's Smart Quotes, your editor notes, 
should never be used, any way.
But even though you turn them off,
they sneak back in to stay!
A global replace will always fail,
Oh Word, why hate me so?
I'm now going line by terrible line,
Smart Quotes, why won't you go?

We Three Writers of Fantasy Are
(Sung to the tune of We Three Kings)
We three writers of fantasy are,
Considering putting out a tip jar.
Sales are slowing, bills are growing,
Yes I think we need that tip jar!

Jingle Bells
(Sung in ragged gasps accompanied by the rending of clothing and the gnashing of teeth)
Jingle bells, bloodshed sells,
Why didn't I write Game of Thrones?
(Song only has these two verses, followed by long bout of inconsolable weeping).

Silent Night, No Email Tonight
(Sung to the tune of Silent Night)
Silent night, no email tonight,
Hope is lost, no sales in sight.
Agents are burning my manuscript whole,
Laughing and laughing at the gaping plot hole,
Why didn't I see it before, oh?
Why didn't I see it before?

Of the songs above, God Rest Ye Merry Editors was inspired by author PN Elrod, whose quips concerning editing are rapidly becoming legendary. 

And may I suggest that anyone who enjoyed my Markhat series should check out Elrod's Jack Fleming series? Great books, with a genuine film noir flair and some fine writing.

Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, Wherever You Are

Remember, every time you buy an e-book, and author gets to eat.

That's it for this week. Thanksgiving put a huge dent in my word count, but the new Markhat (The Darker Carnival) is at the one-third complete point. 

Let's stay safe out there, people!


  1. Love the thesaurus gift for writers - excellent. Also, how about $20 in free editing services - find a great person that does synopsis and see if you can give a gift certificate. Or BUY their books and give a review! Best one out of all of them.

  2. Yes, a sale and a review is priceless!