What to NEVER say to a writer. EVER.

tumblr_inline_n9g140tV701s1ll4kOr… how to earn a first class “E Ticket” into one of my stories.

I’ve seen lots of articles like this.  “10 Things To Never Say to a Writer“.  “Eight Things You Should Never Say to a Writer”  “19 Things You Should Never Say to a Budding Writer” (I like how that one tossed in “budding”).  People love lists.  And most of these cover the generic situations writers of all genres find mildly annoying.

Included in nearly every list are questions like “Will you write my paper for me?”  and “Can I be in your story?”  Personally, I’ve never met anyone bold enough to ask me to write something for them, but I’m often asked (sometimes joking, sometimes serious) if whoever I’ve just met can be a character in my book.  My friends know better.  If you end up in one of my stories, typically it’s not because I like you.  My stories are angst-fests so ending up in one generally means you’re either in for a lot of suffering (if I like you) or you’re a red shirt.

The last person I specifically wrote in was a stick-up-his-ass hotel manager in New Orleans.  I had asked if I could look around for a bit, because I’d love to use the place as a setting.  He – swear to God – had me escorted out of the building by security.  That earned him multiple appearances in several of my stories.  Usually  he ends up something like this:

Some days, it’s good to be a writer.

I found this note waiting for me on my NaNoWriMo account, from an admirer who will remain anonymous.

I thought that I signed up for the nano trial version of Scrivener and that it would last until december, however I went to use it today and was informed that the trial version was finished and would have to pay the full amount to continue.

Don’t tell me the moon is shining

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Anton Chekhov

I’m often asked “how do you become a writer?”.  Sure, they teach creative writing classes, but they’re nothing more than elaborate practice sessions.  Writing is an organic thing – it’s a feeling.  That being said, I just ran across this quote.  No one can teach you how to write, but if you understand what he’s saying on an instinctive level then you may have what it takes!

Air Force Jargon for Civilians

USAFI grew up in the twilight world of the Military Brat.  I wasn’t in the military myself, but because I was raised in that culture I have far more in common with them than I do with civilians.  40 years later I frequently pepper my speech with things I heard my father say when I was a kid.

When you’re writing about the military don’t forget that it casts a very long shadow.  There’s two sets of acronyms.  The first is the most common,  used by active duty personnel while at work.  It includes very specific terms to describe a weapon, a base, a plane etc. – you can find a ton of lists like this for all branches.

I’ve tried to focus on the second set, which is either used by active duty personnel when they’re off duty / off base, or by people who associate with active duty personnel (parent, spouse, child etc.).  Rather than describing a specific weapon or machine, the majority of phrases in the second set are situational (“SNAFU” is a great personal favorite).

warning_MCGPlease keep in mind a few truths about military speech – strong language is a given, and the phrases are often extremely misogynisticI’ve done my best to avoid the latter, but if you’re writing in a military environment be aware it’s just par for the course. Even females will use anti-female terms if applied to someone who is thought to be weaker than themselves. For example “BIB” would be the “Bitch in Back”. It can refer to a female copilot or to a whiny / weak male copilot while on base.  Off base “BIB” might describe a nagging wife, girlfriend, mother or daughter.

Edit:  My darlin’ Father added clarification to a few of these – thanks Dad!

ACC – for example, this is one that Dad clarified.  I grew up in the era of TAC/SAC (see below).  The last base Dad was stationed at was Langley Field in Virginia.  As of 1992 TAC/SAC merged to become Air Combat Command, which is one of the 10 major commands in the USAF.  Wow.  No more TAC/SAC?  The horror!!  Anyway, if your story is set before 1992 use TAC/SAC.  After – use ACC and carry on.

AFU – All fucked up – pronounced “Alpha Foxtrot Uniform”

AWOL – Absent Without Leave.  Civilian application = someone who isn’t home / where they ought to be when they said they’d be.

penguinBag of Balls / Penguin – a plane that’s always broken. Civilian application – a lemon.  When calling about a car in the shop, it might be: “How’s the Penguin?” “Tango Uniform”.

Barn – hangar. Hangars can be used for many things, so for example a “barn dance” is any recreational gathering held for a lot of people in an unused hangar

BFE – ‘Bum Fuck Egypt.’ Refers to a remote base. In civilian speak, it means “middle of nowhere”

BLQ / BOQ – Bachelor Living Quarters / Bachelor Officer Quarters – this one’s important! This is where most of the cute and available guys are concentrated, also where the majority of trouble starts (either there or the O Club)

Bingo – very low / close to zero, usually applied to fuel level. Bingo Fuel = just enough fuel to get home.  Though when used by civilians in casual conversation it could be “out of gas” as well.

BX – Base Exchange – it’s sort of like the base Walmart. The entire family would use this one easily.  This is “PX” in the Army.

Clusterfuck – this one is commonly used by civilians, but in the military it usually refers to one of two specific events – either the superior officer really screwed up, resulting in mission failure / punishment for all, or a woman is involved. (sorry, sad but true usage)

Commissary – that’s the base grocery store. Here’s some info on the BX / Commisary places a military spouse / family would know about.

Snoopy flying on his dog houseDipsy Doodle – this is when a pilot climbs to altitude, then suddenly dives for quick acceleration – usually to go supersonic. I include this one because any kid who hears it adores the term, and they’ll use it for all sorts of things. My brother and I called pill bugs “Dipsy Doodles” later shortened to “Doodle Bugs” just for the hell of it.  The last time I heard it, a guy with a motorcycle was describing riding on a very hilly road so fast that his butt left the seat a few times.

DOE – Date of Enlistment – this is important for any number of reasons – most have to do with pay or when you get out. This is one of the terms a spouse would be very aware of.

PatchAAF.0000.AAF.ArmyAirForceCadetSchoolDoolie – A freshman attending the USAFA.

Doolie Lookout – usually a balcony or other place where a parent can spy on a couple out on a date

Double Aught Dark – midnight (fwiw, “aught” sounds like “ought” with a sort of flat “ah” sound at the beginning)

FRED – Fucking Ridiculous Economic Disaster – It has a specific usage for military personnel, but for a military family / spouse this term can have some very creative usage.

FUBAR – Fucked Up Beyond All Reason

GMT – Greenwich Mean Time (see “Zulu”)

Grub Steak – this isn’t always present, but on several of the bases I was at, it’s sort of a military 7-11. Without Slurpies.

HUAW – Hurry Up and Wait

keep-it-simple-stupid-3KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid – never said aloud, but written in notes

NCO – Non-commissioned Officer – this is often a source of confusion outside military families.

O Club – Officer’s club – imagine a strange hybrid of a really run down country club and a bank.

OIC – Officer in Command – often a nickname applied to a military spouse

OTS – Officer Training School – this is different from Basic, just for officers.

PICNIC – Problem In Chair, Not In Computer; Used by help desk personnel to indicate user ignorance. This is the military version of PIBKAC (problem is between keyboard and chair – in other words, the user)

RTB – Return To Base – civilian application, “Go home”

SAC – Strategic Air Command – big rivalry with TAC.  Use this term if your story is set before 1992.

SNAFU – Situation Normal All Fucked Up

TAC – Tactical Air Command – big rivalry with SAC.  Use this term if your story is set before 1992.

TDY – Temporary Duty. This is when someone is assigned to another base short-term – say a couple of weeks, maybe for specialized training. One of the most common phrases I heard growing up.

Tango Uniform = “Tits Up” = “it’s broken” civilian application “How’s the car?” “Tango Uniform” (you’d say “tits up” if not in mixed company, in other words if your superior or children aren’t present – used by mixed genders around mixed genders)

USAFA – this wouldn’t actually be used or spoken by anyone normally, but it’s the official abbreviation of the United States Air Force Academy. If you have a character referring to it, they’d say “the Academy”, “The Zoo” (most common) or maybe even “C Springs”, but this is how they’d write it, and know what they’re talking about.

Zoo – Nickname for the Air Force Academy, home of the Doolie

Zulu – Standardized clock setting where all military clocks are set to the same time – usually corresponds with GMT

Also, if you’re writing military, be sure to know your phonetic alphabet! You wouldn’t say something like ATB – you’d say Alpha Tango Bravo.

The Publishing Dilemma

darkI’ve been writing for years.  I’m confident in my abilities.  I have a very strong story.  So why the heck am I still an “unpublished writer” rather than “… author of 75 Miles to Montauk”?

It’s simple, really.  From my perspective, I seem to be caught between two no-win scenarios.  Tell me if this sounds familiar.  Traditional route:

1. write a fantastic story

2. learn all you can about the publishing industry

3. submit standard materials to everyone you can think of

4. paper the walls with rejection letters

New fangled self publishing route:

1. write a fantastic story

2. sign up with a service like Create Space and hit “publish”

3. watch exactly nothing happen

4. endure withering/pitying looks as you explain you’re “self published”, which seems to equate a grade-school child bringing home construction paper artwork for mom and dad to pin to the fridge door.  It’s something a naive kid would be proud of, but no “grown up” would ever take it seriously.

(Incidentally – if you have trouble remembering how to spell “naive” like I do, remember this fun fact: “Evian” is “Naive” spelled backwards.  But I digress.)

agilityI recently met an author I already have enormous respect for.  Chris Pitchford is a delight to talk to.  His writing is crisp and witty.  He has a real knack for telling a tale, as you can discover in his new novel The Agility of Clouds.

When he isn’t writing fantastic stories, Chris  puts a great deal of thought into the business end of books, as explained in his recent article “Dream jobs.  Sometimes it’s not enough to have just one“.  Published by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Chris lays out the pros and cons, and explains why he made the decision to self publish.  A recommended read!


Writing Is a “Risky, Humiliating Endeavor”?

insecureThe New York Times recently published an “Opinionator” entitled “Writing is a Risky, Humiliating Endeavor”. In it, the author describes how his ex-wife unfriended him for what she considered an unflattering portrait of her in his book. He goes on to confess various insecurities about his writing, how it will be received, his fear of offending anyone. A friend of his called him in a panic – people had been talking about her online after being published.

Let’s face it: just writing something, anything, and showing it to the world, is to risk ridicule and shame. What if it is bad? What if no one wants to read it, publish it? What if I can’t even finish the thing? Every time I begin a book, a story, even a fresh page, I have a sense that it might go horribly wrong.”

At first I thought the piece was satire, a little comedy bit about papering the walls with rejection slips. It dawned on me about 2/3 of the way through the article that he was sincere. He really cringes at the thought of people judging him through his work.

3v1vhlThis is tough for me to wrap my mind around. Before I ever wrote a word I knew the horror stories told by Stephen King and William Golding. Not “The Stand” or “Lord of the Flies”, but rather the dozens of rejection letters they received before gaining the attention of a publisher. JK Rowling approached bankruptcy before “Harry Potter” became an international bestseller. Before the advent of the form letter, many rejection slips came with a personal warning. Zane Grey was told he had no business being a writer and to give up. Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) was assured he was just too weird to ever succeed.

As I mulled these statistics I remembered something else. Robin Williams. When I heard about his death it hit me as though I lost a personal friend. When I heard it was suicide, a part of me just started crying. It’s still crying.

The public reacted pretty much as one would expect. The first wave was of loss, sadness, pure grief. But the moment the news came out that it was suicide, the “social sneer” started to raise it’s head. Instead of “how horrible” I started seeing stories about how weak he was, how selfish. How could he do that to his public? To his family? What had started as a tragedy devolved into a character flaw.

I did what I always do when I’m mad. I wrote about it. I even submitted a shorter version to my local paper. To consider suicide an act of selfish weakness is to completely, thoroughly, utterly lack the slightest understanding of mental illness. This conclusion lacks empathy, compassion and…


David Gordon, author of the above article, I offer my apology. In my determination to become published, I have indeed forgotten the kind of personal risk that’s involved. I’ve armor plated my emotions these days when it comes to my writing. I take constructive criticism with a grain of salt and cheerfully feed flames to my Charmander. Maybe it’s just that I’ve fought so many personal battles over my health that I can afford to be a bit blaze if people reject my writing. No matter.

anne+frankTo you, David, and to every insecure writer out there I say this – we’re all in this together. The people who aspire to create for a living are already setting themselves apart from the “norm”. Most people can’t imagine how we do what we do. David, you say you used to cringe if someone described writing as “brave”. First responders are indeed very brave people. But so are writers, artists and anyone who would try to create something from nothing for a living, then offer it for consumption to the general public. Yes, those same people who can’t imagine how we do what we do.

It’s a scary, scary world, David. I’m not even sure why. There’s a way to tell someone “no” with kindness, to encourage them even while rejecting their efforts. Then there’s the fan who told me they wanted to give one of my stories the MST3K treatment, in a sincere desire to “help me improve”. Funny? Maybe. Constructive? No.

David, you’re published. I’m not. Your opinion piece ran in the bloody New York Times! In the world of profit and loss you’re already worlds ahead of me. But even more, even with all that insecurity, you still have the guts to go out there and just do it.

Thank you, David, not only for the inspiration, but for the best perspective check I’ve had in a long time.

How To Write: Am I too old to do this?

I won my first writing contest when I was 8 years old.  It was a cute little poem about my dog.  I was published at 18, and went on to have a steady string of minor publications for the next 10 years or so.

It has been my life’s goal to make my living as a writer.  I did not factor in an illness that would lay me so low it would literally carve decades out of my ambition without – quite – killing me.

JaneLooking around now, taking stock of what’s left of my ambition, I find myself closer to 50 than not.  This is the age when most are starting to really consider retirement and giving the hairy eyeball to their IRA.  Stephen King’s first novel was published when he was 27.  Interview with the Vampire?  Anne Rice was 35.   Charlotte Bronte?  She was 31 when Jane Eyre was published.

At my age my career should be firmly established, my name should be well known and I should be enjoying a comfortable income.  I should be, but I’m not.  Instead I still dwell in relative obscurity, still dreaming of one day getting published.

Damn.  Who does this when they’re 47?

This is what I woke up thinking today.  And wouldn’t you know it?  I ran across this article the moment I turned on my computer.  I like this a lot.  He’s got a great style, and it’s obvious he’s comfortable in non-fiction.  Anyone who blogs can (hopefully) say the same.  But to make the jump to a published novelist?

Yes.  He can, I can.  So can you.  GO WRITE!

Author Rights and Responsibilities

buried writerSo many of us dedicate ourselves to the craft of writing.  The construction of the novel, difficult though it may be, is still only one half of the battle.  I’m very confident in my writing, but I’m a babe in the woods when it comes to the wilds of publication!

Fortunately, there are people in the world like Rachelle Gardner.  Rachelle is a literary agent at the Books & Such agency.  Though the agency is based in California, she hails from my neck of the woods (or should I say Rockies)!  I just spent much longer than I intended roaming around her page, and I’m wiser for the experience.

The post that initially caught my eye is a doozy.  I’ve spoken with so many hopefuls in search of that sweet deal.  Many of them don’t have the slightest notion what’s expected from them, apart from that best-selling novel.  Get the agent and it’s as good as gold!  Wrong.   Deceptively simple, Rachelle explains in 12 bullet points not only the rights an author can expect when dealing with an agent, but also the responsibility that author bears to make the relationship work.

When you finish that article, look around her site.  You’ll be glad you did!

How to Write: Be Kind to Yourself

partyIn the last few weeks I’ve encountered some setbacks.  Drear Mundania (thank you Piers Anthony for that lovely expression!) has raised its ugly head.  I’m looking at a partially demolished condo.  I’m hiring a lawyer to sue my HOA re: partially demolished condo.  There’s construction outside that rattles my teeth.  My brother just celebrated his birthday, as did my father.  My own birthday was 5 days ago, and we tossed Valentine’s day in there.  Not to mention going to the gym, shopping, a few big snow storms….

With all that, how can I find time to really write?  Oh, I’ve tinkered with paragraphs, gotten in some editing, but really writing?  On the novel?  No.  Not really.

 Neil Gaiman says...

I’m sitting here thinking about all this.  It’s tempting to give myself a real tongue lashing.  You jerk!  You missed your Febno goal by 8,000 words, and most of that was non-fiction!  How do you think anyone will take you seriously when you can’t act like a serious writer??

Tempting, but… no.  Now and then, dear friends, I deserve a break.  So do you.  I’m all for self-discipline.  It’s a requirement of writing, and something usually in short supply for the creative mind.  However, I also believe in giving yourself a break.  Not an eternal break – this needs to get done and it WILL get done.  But keep things in perspective.  You’re ok.  Keep writing and when life gets in the way work to remove the obstacle, then focus again.

Remember, there are times to give yourself a swift kick in the pants, just as there are times to be gentle with yourself.  All things in moderation – don’t go exclusively to one extreme or the other.  Believe in yourself.  You’ll get there.

PS – this post is a good example, actually.  It has eaten itself twice for reasons unknown.  I could yell at myself or just re-post.  Nothing lost, keep perspective, I’ll get there. 🙂