24 December 2011

In Which I Swoon Against My Will

All of my ridiculous Christmas song posts so far have been about older songs. Today I'm looking at a more contemporary song. To be honest, this is a seriously guilty pleasure. I adore this song. I don't want to like it, but I do! In fact, this song makes me all melty inside. You know, like some old school Boyz II Men ballads or something, except it's.... come a little closer so I can whisper. I don't want everyone to hear. It's... *NSYNC.

Oh yes, dear readers. The boyish Justin Timberlake, the dreadlocked Chris Kirkpatrick, clean-cut Lance Bass, manly Joey Fatone, and silky-voiced JC Chasez. And yes, I knew all their names without having to look it up. My guilty pleasure Christmas song is Under My Tree, from their 1998 Christmas album, Home For Christmas. Before I analyze the lyrics, let's just listen:

Ah, the late nineties' boy band sound! The bad fashion! The frosted hair! What's not to love?

At first listen, it's a sweet, if cheesy, song that would make any pre-teen girl scream with glee. But let's look a little closer at the lyrics to see the unexpected sexiness - as well as the outright goofiness - that make me love this song so much.

It's that time of year
Christmas is here
Everybody's back together again
Spreading the joy,
Spreading good cheer
Toasting to another year's end
So thankful for,
All of our friends
When the party is over,
The night's just begun (oh hello... does this mean what I think it means?)
I promise the best part
Is yet to come
Slow dance together,
Two become one (yes, this is exactly what I thought it meant! *NSYNC, you naughty boys)
That's what we've waited all day for

No one else but me and you
Nothing I would rather do
Then hold you all through the night
Under my tree (aww, here comes the first swoon!) Bring along the mistletoe
Keep the music nice and low
I'll show you how good it could be. (oh my, did it just get a little warm in here?) I wish that Santa could be here to see (who knew the big guy liked to watch? That's kinky)
It's beautiful
Under my tree

The fire's aglow
We've got Nat King Cole
Singing us a song from his heart
Sleigh bells and snow
Makes us feel close
To the stars
When carols are sung and
The fire has died
The embers still burns with the love in our eyes (CHEESE ALERT! And yet... I bet you just swooned, didn't you?) We cherish the moment
We savor the night
That's what we've waited all day for

No one else but me and you
Nothing I would rather do
Then hold you all through the night
Under my tree
Bring along the mistletoe
Keep the music nice and low
I'll show you how good it could be.
I wish that Santa could be here to see
It's beautiful
Under my tree

No one but me
No one but you
See rendez-vous (under my tree)
No one but me
No one but you

When the party is over,
The night's just begun
I promise the best part
Is yet to come
We slow dance together,
Two become one
That's what we've waited all day for (Yep, can't you just feel that anticipation, like you have indeed been waiting all day?)

No one else but me and you
Nothing I would rather do
Then hold you all through the night
Under my tree (under my tree) (cue another swoon!)

Bring along the mistletoe
Keep the music nice and low
I'll show you how good it could be. (Oh yeah, show me how good it could be... Uh, I mean... yeah...)
I wish that Santa could be here to see
I wish that Santa could be here to see (Well... does Santa really have to watch?)

No one else but me and you
Nothing I would rather do
Then make all your dreams come true
Under my tree
Such a cozy rendez-vous
Just relax enjoy the view
I'll show you how could it could be.
I wish that Santa could be here to see
It's beautiful, beautiful, beautiful under my tree (Aww... and the final swoon!)
It's that time of year
Christmas is here
It's that time of year
Christmas is here
Full of love and good cheer.

So that's my ridiculous song guilty pleasure. What's yours?

I hope you've had fun looking at some silly Christmas songs with me over the past couple weeks. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

17 December 2011

Skating - Is That What Kids Call it These Days?

As my last installation in the ridiculous Christmas lyrics series showed, sometimes the meaning of a song can change when taken out of the social context in which it was originally penned. Certain words take on new connotations over time, which can make for some comical interpretation. There's this one song at work that everyone just hates. It's annoying. But it makes me laugh because of what was obviously not intentional innuendo. It's called I Wanna Go Skating with Willie. Yes, you read that right.  I assume the writer used the name Willie because it played off the other lyrics of "will he" and "willy-nilly", but considering the modern slang usage of willy, it just makes it sound comically obscene.

Unfortunately there is no YouTube video for this song, and I couldn't find anywhere to direct you to listen to it for free, except for places like Spotify, where you need be logged into an account to listen. So here's a Spotify link for it (Patti Page – I Want To Go Skating With Willie) , or you can search for it on Lastfm or any of those other places. Here are the lyrics:

I wanna go skating with Willie
Cause Willie is such a good skate
I wanna go skating with Willie
But will Willie ask for a date?

(Willie's a good skate, huh? Is that what the kids are calling it these days?)

That Willie's got me willy-nilly
My poor heart is ready to break
I would like to go skating with Willie, but will he?
Cause Willie is such a good skate

(Did you snort a little at willy-nilly? I know I did.)

We'd go gliding, sliding
Over the slippery ice

(Gliding and sliding, eh? I guess Willie understands the importance of lube.)

We'd go sliding, gliding
Gee, but that Willie is nice

(She really likes her Willie.... *wink*)

We'd go gliding, sliding
Gosh, but that Willie is great
I would like to go skating with Willie, but will he?
Cause Willie is such a good skate.

(Willie must really know how to use his, uh, well, you know.)

We'd go gliding, sliding
Over the slippery ice
We'd go sliding, gliding
Gee, but that Willie is nice
We'd go gliding, sliding
Gosh, but that WIllie is great
I would like to go skating with Willie, but will he?
Cause Willie is such a good skate
Cause Willie is such a good skate.

Please, if you're on Spotify, click the link above and have a listen, or find this song elsewhere on the internet. If you think the lyrics are hilariously awful, just wait til you hear it with the music.

Next time, I'll be talking about a modern Christmas song that I'm ashamed to say makes me swoon a little.

14 December 2011

Write Me a Song

Since I've been talking a little bit about Christmas songs, I thought I'd take a slight detour and talk about how songs relate to writing in general. This post originally appeared on 11/10/11 at From The Write Angle as Crossing the Bridge: Song Structure and Plot. I'll be back in a few days with more silly Christmas songs!

I was marveling the other day about how some of my favorite singer-songwriters can really tell a whole story in a four-minute song. I love a good ballad, especially. The music, lyrics, the singer's voice, everything works together to take you on a roller coaster ride of emotion. I tend to write character-driven stories, and it's that same gut-wrenching ride that I strive to impart to my reader. This got me thinking. What can fiction writers learn from songwriters? The answer, I believe, lies in structure.

Thinking back to your elementary and middle school English classes, you may remember charting the plot of a book using something like this:

Look familiar? Was I the only one who felt constricted by this particular diagram? Exposition and rising action were no problem. For the most part, falling action was a no-brainer, and denouement was easy peasy. But I often faltered around the climax. (Please, no psychoanalysis of that statement is necessary.) In many books, the climax felt more like a series of events—a plateau, if you will. And that straight line of rising action is really more of a procession of peaks and valleys. When you break it down, it looks a bit like a song. (For these purposes, "song" refers mainly to current popular music. Song structure varies greatly, not only within but across genres as well.)

The exposition is your basic intro, and the rising action starts with the first verse, followed by the chorus. The verse tells the story, and the chorus gives you the overall theme of the song. (Don't ask me why, but I'd never realized this basic premise of storytelling vs. theme until I read it in those concrete terms, and then I thought of just about every song I'd ever heard and—whaddya know? It's true!) Many songs also have a bridge, which I have come to realize is my favorite part.

Let's take a listen to one of my recent favorites, Take it All, by Adele.

The verse does indeed tell you the story, and the chorus gives you the theme. When the chorus comes in for the first time, there's a burst of new emotion, like a mini-climax, before we come back down a notch for another verse. The bridge starts around 2:08—this is where you hear things change, and instead of coming back down to the emotional/dynamic level of the verse again, we start another build of emotion. It's not a one-note type of climax, it's a gradual build toward and satisfying release from the point of highest emotional impact. The repetition of the chorus closes the song and drives home the general theme again. Was it as good for you as it was for me? A great song has you yearning for that bridge, for those few bars where it all comes together and makes the hair on your arms stand up.

So let's go one more time. Gravity, by Sara Bareilles, is another song that gives you the same ebb and flow of tension in the alternation of verse and chorus, then knocks your socks off with a great bridge (which starts at 2:25). I dare you to try not to get swept up in the tension. I've listened to this song hundreds of times, and I still take a deep breath at the peak of the bridge, when she sings the word "down," and hold it until she releases. Exquisite.

So what can we take away from this (besides learning of my penchant for soulful female singer-songwriters)?

Instead of a three-act structure, or the linear rise and fall in those old plot charts that seem to turn on a dime at the apex, think of your story as a song, or a series of songs. Tell your story in the verses, intertwined with conflicts that help us understand the overarching themes of your novel (the chorus). Build toward that spine-tingling climax. I want you to take me over the bridge. Give me a few moments to savor the dizzying heights before you wrap me up in another cozy chorus and send me on my way.

You can use this structure on both a micro and macro level to weave a story rich with tension and emotion that reaches nearly addictive highs. If you can do that, you'll have me coming back for more of your product again, and again, and again...

What other aspects of songwriting can you apply to fiction? What songs intoxicate YOU with their emotion and powerful storytelling?

11 December 2011

The Date Rape Song: It's All About Context

Let me start with a disclaimer: you should read this post with tongue firmly planted in cheek. I don't believe this is actually the meaning of this song, and neither should you.

Baby It's Cold Outside is one of my favorite Christmasy songs. I love the back and forth structure, and it's just a cute little song. However, when you've been hearing it over and over again for two months (and it's still not even Christmas yet), you start to read a little more into the lyrics than perhaps you should.

The song was written by Frank Loesser in the 30s (not the 40s as the video states). We're talking 75 years ago. It's all about context here. Lyrics that made perfect sense back then feel a little different today. Take a listen:

Cute, right? Well, let's see...

It's clear when the song starts that she's saying she should go, and he's saying please stay. Here are the lyrics, with my comments in bold.

 I really can't stay 
But baby, it's cold outside
I've got to go 'way 
But baby, it's cold outside
This evening has been 
Been hoping that you'd drop in
So very nice 
I'll hold your hands, they're just like ice

He really doesn't want her to go, does he?

 My mother will start to worry 
Beautiful, what's your hurry?
And father will be pacing the floor 
Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I'd better scurry 
Beautiful, please don't hurry
Well, maybe just a half a drink more 
Put some records on while I pour

She said NO, buddy, okay? Don't press your luck! And chica, don't let a man sweet-talk you with all that beautiful stuff into doing something you don't want to.

The neighbors might think 
But, baby it's bad out there    Yeah, we get it. The weather's bad. She's still trying to leave.
Say, what's in this drink?    ROOFIE!
No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how
Your eyes are like starlight now
To break the spell    WTF did you put in my drink... I feel funny...
I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell     No running away now...

I ought to say no, no, no sir    So say it! Don't let him bully you.
Mind if I move in closer?    What part of 'I really should go' would make you think that?
At least I'm gonna say that I tried
What's the sense of hurting my pride?    WHAT? Is this like the old-time equivalent of "If you loved me, you'd do it"?
I really can't stay
Oh baby, don't hold out   Don't hold out, PUT OUT!
Ah, but it's cold outside    No, don't succumb to his pressure!
Baby, it's cold outside    

I simply must go
But baby, it's cold outside
The answer is no    You tell him!
But baby, it's cold outside
The welcome has been
How lucky that you dropped in     (Cue maniacal laughter and evil hand-rub)
So nice and warm
Look out the window at that storm

My sister will be suspicious
Gosh, your lips look delicious
My brother will be there at the door
Waves upon a tropical shore
My maiden aunt's mind is vicious    In other words: People will be looking for me, you creep!
Gosh your lips are delicious     He just kissed her... even after her all her protests
Well maybe just a cigarette more    Where's your backbone??
Never such a blizzard before 

I got to get home
But baby, you'd freeze out there
Say, lend me your comb
It's up to your knees out there
You've really been grand    Has he, really? Sounds more like he's been a jerk.
I'm thrilled when you touch my hand
Why don't you see
How can you do this thing to me?    By 'this thing' I assume he means be such a tease.
There's bound to be talk tomorrow
Think of my lifelong sorrow
At least there will be plenty implied
If you caught pneumonia and died   WHAT?! This could be either another attempt to guilt her into staying, or a thinly veiled threat, as in, if you leave, you might "catch  pneumonia and die"
I really can't stay
Get over that hold out    He's gonna get what he wants
(Together:) Ah, but it's cold outside     

So, you see how a girl could misinterpret this little ditty as being an account of date rape, right?

Oh, and if you're really dimwitted enough to think this song is actually about date rape, please take a look at this.

In the next installment, I'll take a look at another very old song that makes me giggle with its unintended sexual innuendo.

06 December 2011

Totaled Up and Bagged: Ridiculous Christmas Lyrics

We've been playing Christmas music at my day job since... wait for it... November 1st. So I've had a lot of time to listen to and analyze a lot of lyrics. Instead of giggling to myself at work over some of the stupidity and/or unintended sexual innuendo in these Christmas songs, I thought I'd bring the joy to you, my dear readers. However, before I could even write my first post, a friend and fellow writer posted a brilliant note to Facebook picking apart the lyrics to a Dan Fogelberg song that I've always found annoying. His comments made me laugh, so I asked if I could post it here for you all, and he obliged (thanks, Ty!)

Give a nice Jello World welcome to Ty Unglebower, a freelance writer and actor who is just Too XYZ to conform to a typical nine-to-five kind of existence. And he loves power ballads. Can you say awesome? Check out his blog for more of his thoughts, and follow him on Twitter (@TyUnglebower).


Allow me here and now to lambaste, ridicule, mock, and overall hate that most holy of Christmas tunes…Dan Fogleberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne.” (Great homonym, huh?)

For the uninitiated, this ditty has nothing to do with Christmas, save for the events taking place on a snowy December 24. Beyond this, it has no holiday connections whatsoever. The lyrics are garbage, and the tune is so wispy and whiny that you can do nothing with it. You cannot slow dance to it, or make out to it or anything. Listen for it this holiday season on ANY wall to wall Christmas station. You are bound to hear it sooner or later.

And now, join me, as I follow Dan, assisted by his actual lyrics, on his chance encounter with a former lover, whilst at the supermarket. Here we go…

Met my old lover in the grocery store,
The snow was falling Christmas Eve.
I stole behind her in the frozen foods,
and I touched her on the sleeve.

For starters, who the hell opts to go to the grocery store on Christmas Eve? Even if I ever had to, (which I seriously doubt), few things would make the already hated chore of grocery shopping worse than running into an ex-lover. I may not be able to avoid it, but I sure as hell would not call attention to myself.

Either way, who “steals” behind somebody? What kind of creepy bullshit is that?

Also, the term “frozen foods” is extraordinarily unsuited for just about any song, a ballad in particular. (Which, in theory, this is.) I am not saying it would never be appropriate, but any song that would meld these words successfully into its story arc should not posses the pretense that this song does. Moving on…

She didn't recognize the face at first,
but then her eyes flew open wide.
She went to hug me and she spilled her purse,
And we laughed until we cried.

I’ve laughed until I have “cried”, that is to say, had tears in my eyes, three, possibly four times in my whole life, including childhood. Point being, it doesn’t happen often, and while I grant that different things tickle different people, what sort of sheltered existence do these two people have to be living to find transcendental hilarity about a spilled purse?

We took her groceries to the checkout stand,
The food was totaled up and bagged.
We stood there lost in our embarrassment,
As the conversation dragged.

If this were any other song, “frozen foods” would be the worst lyric in the piece. But Fogleberg tops himself with what has to be the only such reference in ANY song ever, by singing the phrase, “totaled up and bagged”.

Lost in embarrassment as the conversation dragged…that’s generally, when I say, “nice to see you, goodbye.” Or in this case, I suppose I would add, “Merry Christmas.” Either way, I’d leave. Why push an already awkward moment? But do they leave it at that? No…

We went to have ourselves a drink or two,
But couldn't find an open bar.
We bought a six-pack at the liquor store,
And we drank it in her car.

Couldn’t find an open bar on Christmas Eve. You don’t say.

But no problem…you can drink a 6 pack IN HER CAR! Where is the missing verse describing the two of them being hauled off and booked for public consumption?

If I were actually dating this girl, that would feel a bit tacky to me. Even worse when it’s an ex…

Then the first of what seems like 90 recitals of the chorus…

We drank a toast to innocence,
We drank a toast to now.
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness,
But neither one knew how.

If spending time with your ex in her car at the parking lot of a liquor store in the snow on Christmas Eve away from your family while throwing back a few doesn’t get you past the emptiness, nothing will.

And by the way, how fucking ridiculous would it be to lift up a beer can, or any drink for that matter, and utter the words... "To innocence!"

She said she'd married her an architect,
Who kept her warm and safe and dry,
She would have liked to say she loved the man,
But she didn't like to lie.

So you’re keeping her away from her family as well?

And sweetheart, get a backbone and leave if you don’t care for hubby…there are other places to stay dry. Perhaps it’s shit like this that forces her to drink…

I said the years had been a friend to her,
and that her eyes were still as blue.
But in those eyes I wasn't sure if I
saw, doubt or gratitude.

It’s doubt, if she’s got any taste. But then again, she’s sharing a 6 pack in a parking lot with Dan Fogleberg, so all bets are probably off.

Also, what a hatchet job Fogleberg did with the rhythm on this verse! Even if you know the song, you’ll choke on this verse. And why keep it? The message of this verse was so profound he couldn’t part with it?

She said she saw me in the record stores,
and that I must be doing well.
I said the audience was heavenly,
but the traveling was hell.

I quote verse two of this same song…”she didn’t recognize the face at first”.

But if she knew your face from the record store, why didn’t she recognize you at first?

A slightly altered chorus follows…

We drank a toast to innocence,
We drank a toast to now.
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness,
But neither one knew how.

We drank a toast to innocence,
We drank a toast to time.
Reliving in our eloquence,
Another 'auld lang syne'.....

Please, PLEASE tell me that any reference to “eloquence” as it pertains to these two jokers is very much tongue in cheek. If I had to choose 1,000 words to describe this song, “eloquent” would not even make the list…

The beer was empty and our tongues were tired,
And running out of things to say.
She gave a kiss to me as I got out,
and I watched her drive away.

Just for a moment I was back at school,
and felt that old familiar pain.
And as I turned to make my way back home,
the snow turned into..........rain.

The finale.

To begin with, “beer” cannot be empty. A can can be empty of beer. Or a beer can can be empty. But beer itself is not empty. I’d forgive it as poetic license, if Fogleberg hadn’t pushed the boundaries of the English language about 14 times in this song already by this point. Or if there were any proof he was a poet.

Also, hard to believe you ran out of things to say, when there is no indication at all that either one of you said a damn thing of substance in the first place.

So she kissed you and you get out. Hey, babe, how about at least a ride back to the grocery store where he left his car?! Not that it matters; he appears to be walking home, not back to the grocery store anyway.

And Danny boy, nice way to treat the woman you loved so much; let her down three beers at least, and drive away as the snow turns into rain. Nothing dangerous there.

Not to mention the fact that he left the grocery store without getting whatever the hell he went in there for in the first place. Less surprising is the complete lack of any entourage on the part of Fogleberg at what was supposedly the height of his popularity. (When nobody, I suppose, could get “Leader of the Band” out of their heads.) Says something that even then, he was alone and void of human contact, except for a chance meeting with an ex.

Ironically, he describes his life as being nearly as vapid, aimless and pathetic as the song itself turns out to be.

I love Christmas Spirit…

16 November 2011

Observations on Book Marketing: Cheri Lasota

I'm thrilled today to have author Cheri Lasota guest posting at Jello World. I met Cheri some time ago through Authonomy, and she recently released her first novel, Artemis Rising, which I wholeheartedly recommend you all read.

Observations on book marketing from a converted enthusiast.

I used to be shy. Don’t quite know what happened…

I’ve been writing since I was a wee tyke, mainly because I was an introverted outcast that nobody wanted to play with. I lived my life in stories and it is there that I still remain. But along the way, as I grew in the craft and learned more about online and offline marketing, I began to feel comfortable in my own skin and was able to interact with people without becoming exhausted. This was a two-decade long process, but I’m here to tell you that it certainly needn’t take that long for you (even if you are the classic introverted writer).

Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned the hard way, but perhaps these five insights below will help your journey toward publication success run more smoothly than my own did.

Think of your book as a product.

When I finally figured this out (and yes, the moment was complete with choirs of angels singing and lightbulbs flashing obnoxiously over my head), here’s what happened:

  • I learned how to cut fifty pages of extraneous crap from my manuscript. No, no! Not my darlings. Yes, oh yes. Snip, snip, snip… By the end, I was wielding my bloody red pen with terrifying glee.
  • Marketing became a joy, not a masochistic form of exhaustive torture.
  • Agent rejection letters became a reason to send out three more. Seriously, I was thrilled to receive these. It just meant I no longer had to wait for a reply from that agent.
  • Critiques from writing groups, publishers, and friends became exercises in growing my craft. I took the good advice, ignored the bad, and stuck to my guns when it came to keeping my vision for this story intact. I didn’t take the opinions of others personally.
  • I started to have the overwhelming desire to learn every aspect of writing: marketing, business development, and craft as well as ebook and website design.

Now doesn’t that all sound wonderful? It is! And you can do it too. But it isn’t an easy mental process. Our novels start out as our babies, our ‘lil dawlins. How to kick them to the curb and make them earn their keep? Make the decision to see your book as merely a product that will soon be for sale. And keep making that decision until you believe it, through and through. Every choice is a decision you make over and over. Until you choose something else, of course. But hey, you’re next novel…let that be your baby and let this one go. Never thought I’d say this but…Be Your Novel’s Pimp!

Take stock of what you love to do.

When it comes to all the things that make up a writing career, what do you love most?
  • writing
  • editing
  • social networking
  • book design
  • handselling
  • socializing (commiserating?) with other writers

If it’s none of the above, you’re seriously in the wrong career. =) If all you chose in this list was writing, I hope you have a lot of cash on hand. Here’s the thing, you can do one of two things—especially as an indie author: learn to do it yourself or pay someone else to do it. Neither option is inherently wrong. But assessing your strengths and weaknesses will help you create a game plan for putting together a quality product (there’s that dirty word again!).

You’ve got to know what you’re good at and also what you love to do. Usually those are synonymous but not always. Once you know, you can focus on putting those strengths and talents to work for you as you go about selling your book.

Pay attention to what you aren’t good at.

As for me, I love everything but that writing bit at the beginning of the list in Section 2. Funny I should say that, right? I know that for me, the writing part is the most difficult and tedious. I’m an editor by trade after all. So here’s how I get around that tiny insignificant issue… I only write during National Novel Writing Month. Yup. It’s true. (I’m working on my second novel right now.) NaNoWriMo keeps me motivated, inspired, and away from my evil editor pen. I know this about myself and took a positive step toward working around it.

Ironically, I’m also not the best blogger. I tend to write very detailed, informative posts which take me a week to put together. Because of that, I procrastinate and don’t write them very often. I am very well aware of this. So I choose to focus more of my time on social networking and other marketing plans. If a blog topic just won’t leave me alone, I’ll carve out some time to get it written, but that might be once every two months or so. I’m fine with that.

Figure out what’s taking too much of your time and energy or what you aren’t currently skilled at. Can you spend less time on that task? Can you pay someone else to do it? Spend the most time on the elements of your career that bring you satisfaction, motivation, joy, and sales, and you’ll find that book marketing isn’t as hard as it first seemed.

Decide what you have the time and desire to learn.

I knew how to write, edit, and market by the time my book was about to be published (though I still continue to educate myself on all three whenever I have time). What I didn’t know and had a deep desire to learn was ebook design. At first, I was afraid to attempt it. But then, I found Lynda.com.

Never heard of it? Oh man, when I discovered it, I went hog-wild. It’s an educational website of online video tutorials for any software you can think of. I learned basic HTML, iMovie, InDesign CS5.5, Photoshop Elements, Photoshop CS5, and Illustrator CS5. And I hope to learn HTML5, Advanced Photoshop, and Flash sometime soon. You get unlimited access for $25 a month (and you can cancel at any time).

I sound like a saleswoman, but we no longer have an excuse for not learning these things if we want to. And I can’t tell you how much this knowledge has aided me in producing my ebook from scratch (with advanced HTML coding to design graphical titles and interactive features), creating and manipulating sales materials and graphics, and upgrading my website with new and improved design elements.

It’s empowering to learn a new skill. Don’t assume you can’t learn new computer skills. Take the time. Cultivate patience. Don’t give in to frustration. Ask questions. Google for the answers!

Assess, assess, assess.

I’m still stuck on this step myself. What exactly am I harping on? Well, all the book marketing time you use up isn’t going to amount to much unless you know which of your marketing avenues are paying off and which aren’t. As published authors, we need to analyze the time we spend on
  • communicating on our social networks
  • advertising on book lover sites like Goodreads.com
  • working the traditional marketing angle (like beating the pavement at conferences and writers faires)
  • cultivating ebook vs. paperback sales

Why? To ensure that you’re not wasting time on activities, which aren’t making you any money. It’s like paying thousands of dollars for an ad that’s directed toward an audience that isn’t even part of your target market. Stick with what’s working. In fact, double up on what’s working and spend much less time on what isn’t.

Here are some questions to get you thinking:

  • Study your Amazon.com sales figures. Are your ebook sales far outclassing your paperback sales? Is the cost of shipping the paperback outweighing your actual sales?
  • How many hours a day are you spending on Facebook and Twitter? Are you actually communicating with your target market on those sites or just your other writer friends?
  • Do you know how to effectively use these sites for marketing or are you too lazy to read expert articles and learn from your friends on how to do it better?
  • Are you paying attention to sales numbers each time you roll out a new marketing campaign?

Focus on the end result so you can fine-tune the time and money you devote to marketing. The end result of that? More time for writing. Isn’t that what we all want? Good luck!


SpireHouse Books launched Cheri Lasota’s first novel, Artemis Rising, in Sept 2011. The book is a YA historical fantasy based on mythology and set in the exotic Azores Islands. Currently, Cheri is writing and researching her second novel, a YA set on the Oregon Coast. Over the course of her sixteen-year career, she has edited fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and short stories for publication. Cheri also has twenty-four years of experience writing poetry and fiction. Learn more about Artemis Rising at http://www.cherilasota.com or buy it at http://bit.ly/ArtemisRisingNovel.

09 October 2011

Sample: Confessions of a Non-Believer

Confessions of a Non-Believer
Mainstream/Women's Fiction
Chapter 1

Carl is dead. If ever there were a day I wished there was some god to comfort me, to welcome Carl's soul to paradise, today is it.

I lie in bed, sure the last few hours have been a cruel dream. After all, young, successful attorneys aren’t supposed to die of undiagnosed heart defects. They aren’t supposed to die two months before their wedding, three months after buying a house with their fiancée. If they’re going to die in the middle of the court room, it’s supposed to be sensational: the result of a crazed defendant or disgruntled victim taking justice into their own hands. Especially Carl, who always had to do the best and be the best, who had to make a name for himself everywhere he went. He’s probably looking down on the whole thing now, pissed that he hadn’t been able to deliver his brilliant closing arguments before fate ripped a hole in his heart and sent him falling to the floor of Judge Aberman’s court room. He probably wouldn’t have thought of me on the way down—of how he was making a widow of me even before I became a wife—only how he’d never get to make partner now.

Our bed seems much bigger than it used to. The edges stretch farther and farther away from me, drowning me in expensive organic cotton. Taunting me. Telling me with all the softness and compassion of an automaton that no matter how many times I roll over, I’ll never again feel Carl beside me.

Still, I heave myself over, and over again, searching for a warmth that isn’t there. Or, at the very least, a cool empty space just over the edge that might tell me our bed hasn’t really grown to infinite proportions I can never escape. I find the latter, in the form of a three foot fall onto the hardwood floor. I hardly try to brace myself, my hip thudding gracelessly against the golden pine, my elbow cracking against the nightstand on the way down.


I swallow the metallic taste that has sprouted from the tip of my tongue, curl my knees up to my chest, stare at the dust bunnies that have collected under the bed. I should get up, I think. Should wipe the stream of unladylike snot sliding across my upper lip. Instead, I let my forehead drop to the floor and continue scanning the shadowy void under the bed as if my fiancé might magically appear there.

Every time I try to imagine his face, I see him as I saw him in the hospital.

When he left the house this morning, he was wearing a dark grey three-button suit. Pale blue shirt. Grey and blue striped tie. But when I pushed through the hospital doors, the only grey was the ashen color of his face; he was wearing only a white sheet.

I’ll have to change the sheets on our bedmy bed now. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to sleep on plain white sheets again.

My cell phone rings from somewhere unseen. I roll over onto my back with every intention of getting up and answering it, but by the time the white ceiling comes into view, the ringing has stopped. So I stop trying to get up.

Minutes later, it starts again. I don’t know how long it rings, only that it keeps on ringing. And ringing. When it finally does stop, for good, it’s replaced by a loud knocking at the door.

“Bree!” The deep voice is somewhere outside my bedroom, but in the house. Apparently I didn’t lock the front door. “Brianne!” My brother-in-law calls to me again. At least he would’ve been my brother-in-law. Not anymore.

“Luke.” I mean to call out, but my voice fails me, emanating as only a cracked whisper. The bedroom door bursts open anyway, and Luke is suddenly on his knees with me.

“Jesus, Bree, why didn’t you pick up?”

“It’s not real, right?” Arms encircle me. I find my face pressed against his neck, a day’s worth of stubble scratching at my forehead. Definitely real.

“You should’ve called me first. I would’ve gone with you to the hospital.”

I hadn’t thought to call. When someone told me my fiancé had collapsed in court, I wasn’t thinking about who I should call to meet me at the hospital. I was thinking about the designer gown that would be arriving at a local wedding boutique in a week for a fitting. I was thinking about the nearly 200 guests we were expecting at the wedding in 8 weeks.

“Gloria,” I said. I was thinking about her, too, on the way to the hospital. Carl and Luke’s mother. Somehow, she would make this out to be my fault.

Luke squeezes me tighter and for a moment I imagine I might feel better if he would just squeeze all the breath from my lungs.

“I called. They’re trying to get a flight out.”

I hadn’t called anyone at all. The drive home is a blur. Someone at the firm must have called Luke.

“I have to call Father Granger.” He was supposed to marry us. Now he’ll have to perform another ceremony. I try to scramble to my feet; Luke scrambles with me. His arms are the only thing that keep me steady when my knees turn to jelly.

“Bree, stop it.”

“I have to call.”

“You can do it tomorrow.”

“I have to—”

“You don’t.” His grip is firm. I try to push him away.

“There’s so much I have—”

“Bree, just stop. It can wait.”

“He’s dead!” I scream, saying it out loud for the first time. “What am I supposed to do, huh?” I pound my fists against his chest. “He was supposed to marry me, and love me, and be with me forever, and now he’s dead!”

He’s dead.

Luke sits on the couch all night and watches me make phone calls. Sometimes he protests, tells me it can wait, I should sit down. Eat. Something. Anything.

But I can’t, because every time I slow down, I can feel the world spinning beneath my feet. It’s always been turning, changing, buzzing with the hum of millions of busy lives. But before now, my life always hummed right along with the rest, one ballerina in a carefully choreographed dance. Now I’ve lost my place and can only mimic the movements of the other dancers, frighteningly aware of how fast everything is going by, until I can find my way again.

I call my parents back home in Seattle and they promise to get on the first plane they can catch. Mom tells me to hang in there, not to stay the night alone, to surround myself with friends. She, like Luke, tries to convince me that all my phone callsto cancel wedding plans and make funeral arrangements—can wait until morning. But I keep dialing. Wedding’s off. Carl’s dead. No other reason, and why should there be?

Call the caterer. The florist. Maybe the florist can…no, don’t think about that. Keep dialing. The reception hall. Should’ve started cancelling things yesterday, or the day before, but my lips couldn’t form the embarrassed excuse then. It’s more difficult now to spit out this tragic news instead. This isn’t what I wanted when we decided… How was I to know?

Call the ceremony site. And the guests. So many guests. I can at least start calling my side of the list tonight. The rest will wait.

Can’t stop to listen to the silence or look at Luke’s expressionless face. I haven’t seen him cry. He sits there and watches me pace across the living room, cell phone pressed to my ear. When my fingers run out of numbers to dial, when my lips can no longer bear to form any words, Luke watches me cry.

I stand in the middle of the living room, sniffling, wiping at the tears as fast as they come. I don’t even have the luxury of denial because I saw him, covered from toes to neck. I felt his skin, not yet cold, but not as warm as mine. I can’t delude myself that he might come walking through the door. I cry because he won’t.

And I cry because a selfish part of me is relieved he can’t.

Sample: Sorry's Not Enough

Sorry's Not Enough
Commercial Fiction
Chapter 1

Sanguinolent sunset. Now there's a word you don't see every day. Charlotte circled it with her red pen and drew a smiley face at the end of the line, just below where she'd called out a different phrase for being trite. She continued making notes in the margin as the rest of the group took turns giving their feedback. By the time she was done marking up the poem, the paper was also sanguinolent.

She looked up when the group grew quiet. Her turn. She looked down at the poem again and hoped its author wouldn't be offended. She had to look at the paper to remember his name. Steven.

“It's a little confused,” she said. There was a pause and a shuffle of papers.

“What don't you understand?” he asked.

She snapped her chin up to look at him and was taken aback by the force of his gaze and the color of his eyes. There wasn't an adjective to describe the shade of green staring back at her.

“I'm not confused. Your poem is.”

His gaze dropped to his copy of the poem. She could almost see his brain struggling to acknowledge that there could be any imperfections. He probably thought it was soooo amazing! as proclaimed by Aubrey, the bubbly redhead to his left. She had gushed to an embarrassing extent, obviously more interested in getting his number than saying anything meaningful. It had been sad and funny at the same time. With a pang of something she refused to believe was jealousy, Charlotte realized that, of the two of them, Aubrey would be the only one taking any numbers.

Whatever. She certainly didn't want Steven's number. Not when he looked at her again with an aloof, almost cocky grin, apparently waiting to hear more of her thoughts about his poem. Well, if he insisted.

“The style isn't consistent. The first stanza is really concise, like you chose each word for a reason.” The red smiley face she'd drawn next to sanguinolent sunset caught her eye, but she ignored it. She'd let Aubrey pad his ego. “But the last couple of stanzas have some ornate description that's just a waste of space. And some clichés that need to go.”

“Lots of authors use clichés,” Aubrey said and shot a hopeful glance at Steven. “It can be an effective tool.”

Charlotte shrugged. “Except it's not. Not here. They don't help create a tone or anything, and this isn't satire. A cliché without purpose is still just a cliché.”

Aubrey frowned, but Steven nodded slowly, like he was seeing her point.

“Easy on the poor lad, Charlotte,”Alexander McAnulty said. He was a portly gentleman, and one of the oldest workshop participants. Charlotte liked to think of him as her long-lost, really awesome Irish uncle. The kind who might've let you take a puff of his pipe when you were barely twelve, with a warning of don't tell yer mum. She'd gotten to know him during a previous workshop. “Wasn't there anything you liked about it?”

She softened a bit. She wasn't trying to be mean. “I never said I didn't like it.”

“No, it's okay. I appreciate the honesty,” Steven said.

She would've gone on to mention what she did like about it, but Deb, the instructor, called for the small groups to break up and reform one large group.

At the end of the day's session, Charlotte met Deb at the front of the classroom.

“Ready to go?” Charlotte was looking forward to a cream soda float at the campus creamery.

“In a minute. I asked Steven to come along,” Deb said.


Deb laughed and shook her head. “What'd he do to rub you the wrong way?”

“Nothing. He's just very sure of himself.” She watched him pack up his messenger bag from across the room.

“Since when is that a fault?”

She shrugged. Aubrey bounced over to Steven, grinning like a fool. Charlotte couldn't deny she was cute. A thick mass of red curls, fair skin, a smattering of freckles. Her voice was a little nasally, though. It carried across the room. She was asking Steven to get lunch with her and a few others. He smiled and looked over Aubrey's head to where Charlotte and Deb stood. Aubrey's gaze followed. Charlotte couldn't hear Steven's reply, but the pretty pout said it all.

He slung his bag over his shoulder and approached the front of the room, acknowledging them with a nod. As they walked across campus, Deb and Steven chatted about his job search while Charlotte felt like the odd man out. She trudged alongside Steven, trying not to resent his presence. She had been looking forward to chatting one on one with Deb this afternoon. Deb was like a mother to her, and they hadn't gotten to talk as often as usual in the past month or so.

She perked up a bit when she finally had her cream soda float in hand. Before she could hand the cashier her check card, Steven stepped in front of her and thrust a twenty at the cashier.

“I'll get it.”

“It's fine, I can get my own.”

“For all three.” He ignored her protest. The cashier hesitantly reached for the money.

“I said I can get it.” She gritted her teeth.

“I heard you.” He took his change and smiled his thanks to the girl behind the counter, who promptly blushed. Good lord. Was she the only one not all that impressed? She stalked out to the patio without another word.

She didn't like being indebted to anyone, even if it was for less than five bucks. Especially not some smug guy who thinks his recently earned college diploma makes him an authority on life. After a moment, he came out of the building and sat down next to her. Deb trailed a few feet behind, but before she reached the table, her cell phone rang. She stepped further away and took the call.

“Pistachio is so pretentious,” Charotte said of Steven's double-dip waffle cone.

He laughed and shook his head. “Is that better or worse than being trite?”

She flushed against her better judgment and hoped any color on her cheeks would be mistaken for the effects of the sun. She gazed out across the green stretch of campus between them and the main academic buildings. The Common Grounds is what everyone called the open space. In the middle of summer now, there were more sunbathers than study groups clustered on the lawn. She studied each one that was close enough to see clearly, but no matter how hard she concentrated on tanned bodies and colorful blankets, she couldn't ignore the weight of his gaze.

“You're staring,” she said, without meeting his eyes.

“Why cream soda?”

“What?” She looked at him that time, and immediately regretted it. Didn't he ever blink?

“Root beer float, sure. Coke float, even. Why cream soda?”

The sun glinted in his eyes. At least she thought it was the sun. Eyes couldn't naturally possess that much sparkle, could they? She looked down into her cup, then silently cursed his ability to make her uncomfortable.

“It's what I always get.” The melting ice cream formed a frothy foam on top of the soda. She scooped some up with her spoon and brought it to her lips. It began to fizz and melt away the moment it hit her tongue. She loved the mellow caramel flavor of cream soda as opposed to the almost spicy bite of root beer. Vanilla and caramel. Few things worked so well together. “Why mess with perfection?”

“I agree.” He reached toward her and wiped the corner of her mouth with his thumb. His eyes bore into hers like he was looking for something.

At the brush of his fingertips across her cheek, her spine shifted into a sensuous curve and the hair on her scalp prickled. A flutter of eyelashes obscured her vision for a moment. She couldn't keep looking at him if he was going to keep looking at her like that. She averted her eyes, feeling like a part of her was showing that she'd much rather keep under wraps.

“Sorry.” His voice tickled the base of her spine even as his hand dropped back to the table.

“It's okay.” His hands she didn't mind. It was his eyes she wished he would keep to himself.

Deb finally joined them at the table, oblivious to the tension of a moment ago.

“Sorry about that, guys. Gary is taking the boys to the lake for a little while and couldn't find Gregory's swim trunks. I swear, if the man bothered to move something, life would be a little easier.”

“The lake sounds really good right now,” Charlotte said. Her cheeks burned. From the sun, of course.

“Maybe you can come with us some time next week,” Deb said. “The boys have been asking about you.”

“I miss their little faces.” After seeing them and helping care for them every day for more than two years, she was having cuteness withdrawal after moving out of Deb's house earlier in the summer. She glanced at her watch and sighed.

“What? Oh, you don't have to leave right now, do you?” Deb asked.

“I have to get ready for work.”

“Where's work?” Steven asked. She pretended not to hear.

“I left my uniform in the dryer last night, so I’m going to need to starch it to death.”

“That's too bad. I wanted to ask you guys how you liked working in small groups today.”

“I got some great feedback,” Steven said, grinning.

Deb looked at him, then Charlotte.

“Apparently I’m trite.” He still smiled when he said it, but she blushed anyway. God damn, she wished he'd stop making her do that.

“Not you, the poem. Although you're getting there.”

“Charlotte doesn't hold back when it comes to criticism,” Deb said, smiling.

“Oh come on, you say that like I get some pleasure from it.”

“I said no such thing. But maybe it says something that that's what you heard.” Deb winked and nudged Steven with her elbow.

Maybe she was right. She shrugged it off and stood up.

“Call me tomorrow,” Deb said. “There's something else I wanted to talk to you about.”

Charlotte stiffened. The air grew thick, as though the humidity had doubled. She already knew what the something else was, and she didn't want to discuss it any more.

“I told my Aunt no. I’m not changing my mind.”

“Honey, I just want you to understand--”

“No.” She angled her body more toward Deb, in an attempt to remove Steven from her peripheral vision. “I have nothing to say to him and want nothing to do with him. He has no legal standing over me anymore. I made sure of that.”

“I know. I get that.” Deb stood and embraced her briefly. “Sorry I brought it up here. Just call me, okay?”

“Okay.” She smoothed her shorts over her hips, more as a way to iron out her irritation than to rid herself of wrinkles. “Give the boys hugs and kisses for me.”

“Of course.”

“See ya, Charlotte.” Steven's voice made her pause mid-turn as she was leaving. She looked back over her shoulder. His smile worked some of the tension out of her shoulders. She nodded and smiled back. He'd at least earned that much.

06 October 2011

This Isn't About Steve Jobs

[We interrupt your regularly scheduled Jello World programming of all things writing-related for a moment of personal reflection.]

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past 24 hours, you know Steve Jobs (co-founder and CEO of Apple) died yesterday, following a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was only 56. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been flooded with quotes, pictures, remembrances, tributes, etc. related to this fact. It has been touching. And I have to admit, it's hit a little harder for me than I ever thought possible. I'm not spiraling into depression over it or anything, but still. It hurts. But it really has very little to do with Steve Jobs at all.

I do not own - nor do I really have any particular affinity for - any Apple products. Seriously. Not even an iPod. While Jobs was certainly an innovator in his industry, and is an iconic figure of this generation, he's hardly the most influential, important, or inspirational person to have graced this earth. I don't say that to detract from his accomplishments or diminish the grief felt by so many at his passing. On the contrary, I think it elevates the public outpouring of sympathy and grief. We grieve for the loss of human life - you don't have to have worshiped the man to feel a sting of pain now that he's gone.

Like I said, it's not about Steve Jobs at all. It's about us, and the thread of humanity and life that connects us all as we each try to find our way. It's about recognizing in someone else a hint of something you feel strongly within yourself. What struck me about Jobs' passing is the fact that his last public appearance was in June, and then he stepped down from his position in August. Two months ago. That's no time at all.

This drives home two powerful lessons for me. First, the human spirit is something fierce. He was hard at work - doing a job that would probably give most of us ulcers - until mere weeks before his death. Patrick Swayze, who also died as a result of pancreatic cancer in 2009 at the age of 57, was hard at working filming a TV show within a year of his death. In the face of such obstacles, we - human beings - can still do so much.

My mother-in-law, Elizabeth Dolk
Second, pancreatic cancer is a bitch. It's unfair. It sucks more than any amount of expletives can possibly convey. My mother-in-law passed away from pancreatic cancer a few years ago. It was only a few short months between diagnosis and her final days. She was 62. I've been pausing to wipe away tears the whole time I've been writing this post, because there's still a lot of grief and anger there for me. Pancreatic cancer is a beast of a disease that can steal the light from a person's eyes in such a short amount of time. It can overtake even the strongest of spirits and before you know it, the person is gone. My mother-in-law, Elizabeth. Steve Jobs. Luciano Pavarotti. Patrick Swayze. Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch. And so many, many more. Just gone. That's terrifying.

But as much as this isn't about Steve Jobs, it isn't about cancer, either. It's about the dichotomy of being connected to the world while carving out your own space. It's about the ability to feel sorrow (or love, or anything, for that matter) for someone you may have never met, whose life may never have even impacted yours in any significant way, but who you know has touched others, and who is like you if for no other reason than you belong to the same species. It's knowing that none of us is a solitary creature (no matter how much I try to be, sometimes.) Some of us make waves while others make small ripples, but always know your life - my life - affects someone. Sometimes the thread of humanity that connects us all is there, glinting in the sun so that we can't deny its existence, but other times it's barely discernible. But it's always there. I have moments where I feel it so strongly it nearly suffocates me and I push it away, out of sight, afraid of what that connection means - afraid of what potential commitments or obligations (or opportunities to hurt, disappoint, or injure) I fear are hidden in that little thread.

Sometimes I feel crippled by the simple fact that you are human just like me. There, I said it. But what does that even mean? It means I live a cautious life - one full of admiration and love and affection for others, but one where I'm afraid to make those waves, or even tiny ripples, for fear of adversely affecting anyone else, because I sure as hell don't want to be negatively affected by anyone else's actions.

One of the quotes from Steve Jobs that I've seen a lot of since last night is this:
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.
How much more fitting does it get? It's such a duh sentiment, but it's still like a punch in the gut. It was like Steve Jobs was speaking to me from the grave. I did a little digging and found more of his speech from the 2005 Commencement at Stanford:
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
I didn't hear or read his speech when he gave it. It took his death to bring those words to me. It's been an emotional 24 hours inside my head. And even though Steve Jobs said those words, I'll say this again:

This isn't about Steve Jobs. It isn't about cancer. It isn't even about death.

This is about life.

So if you'll pardon me, I have some living to do. I hope you do, too.