Detonation #23: On Professionalism

You are not special. If nothing else, this is the takeaway. You are not special. I’m not saying you don’t matter as a person or even that your book isn’t any good. Jesus Christ, stop crying… this is the tough love we all need. Lots of folks have written books. Lots of folks have talent. These things are neither rare nor unique. I’ve written books and I promise you I’m loads happier knowing how unspecial I am.

All that is to say that as writers, we need to get over ourselves. Because you know what will serve you better and longer in this biz than any amount of specialness? Professionalism, that’s what.

“But Lola?” you might ask. “Why should I listen to you?”

And the answer is that you probably shouldn’t, but here are a few reasons why you might want to.

  1. Writing professionally for 10yrs with 4 published books
  2. Teaching/Editing professionally for 7 years
  3. Bookseller for 7yrs
  4. Publisher for 4yrs
  5. Wrote a college admission essay for a kid. A freelance gig that, while ethically dubious, got him into Cornell and got me $1000USD

See? Aren’t I special? The answer is no. Always no. But am I qualified to speak to the fundamentals of professional competence as a writer? You bet your sweet ass.

“Cool story, Lola. But maybe you could arrive at your point sometime before 2023?”

Right, I’m getting to it.

While my tentacles bristle at anything deemed to be a rule, I really like the idea of blasting MY rules into stone, so here they are.

Lola Silkysocks’ 10 Commandments of the Professional Writer

  1. Though shalt read all information and guidelines provided by the folks you hope to work with, be they publishers/agents/editors/reviewers/booksellers. Trust me, we know if you haven’t read the material and it displeases us.
  2. Thou shalt acquire basic computer literacy. “I’m not good at computers” will not fly. Get good at them. And trust me, if you have the wherewithal to go on Facebook and spread vaccine misinformation, you can email a high-res image file of your front cover.
  3. Thou shalt not talk shit about rejections on social media, even if they’re anonymized. Rejection is not fun for anyone, but it is part of the job. So be cool.
  4. Thou shalt accept critique gracefully. Once your work is out there, people get to have thoughts about it. Any thoughts at all. My advice? Stay off Goodreads.
  5. Thou shalt not hassle people for reviews. I get it, algorithms and all that. You can ask politely, but if someone bought your book, they’re already supporting you, so don’t be a dick about it.
  6. Thou shalt read. I’ve said this before, at length, and with a lot of profanity. But read, or listen, to a fucking book once in a while. I’m quite serious. We all have ADHD and dyslexia, but find a way. Reading is essential professional development for a writer.
  7. Thou shalt support others. Locally and virtually. Go to literary events, tweet up your fellow inkslingers, spend some money at an indie bookstore because they are a vital part of your cultural community.
  8. Thou shalt learn to compose a clear, concise, and pleasant email. It AMAZES me, ASTONISHES me, and has me UTTERLY SHITTING MY BRAIN how many grown-ass adults don’t know how to communicate professionally by email. I could write a whole detonation about this. I still might.
  9. Thou shalt meet thy deadlines. Yes, life happens and we’re all doughy flawed humans blah blah blah. But deadlines aren’t put in place for funsies. As the name would suggest, projects live and die on the basis of deadlines, so the second you’re aware that a deadline is in peril, you communicate that shit.
  10. Thou shalt cultivate the ability to speak in public. Don’t give me that look. I get it. Extroverts suck so why would you want to be one? But this is something you must be able to do. A professional writer gives readings, answers questions, and has the capacity to exist in front of a crowd without fainting. I’m not asking you to change your fundamental nature, just like…suspend it for half an hour. Do what you have to do to make it happen. Don’t torture your audience by making them sweat through your anxiety attack.

Don’t be overwhelmed, this is good news! These commandments require no talent at all and will ensure you’re putting your best foot forward in a business that turns entirely on first impressions. Maybe some writers are special. For sure some are lucky. But whatever pacts they’ve made with their devils, the fact remains that nothing will shut a door in your face faster than behaving like a boob. You want to be a pro? Then goddamn well act like one.

Detonation #22: Why So Serious?

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, right? Nope. Not since 1963. If they remade that classic Spencer Tracy flick now, it would totally be called It’s a Sad, Sad, Sad, Sad World. A world choked with endless wastelands of gut tearing grief. No joy to be found. Not in the important things like five-gallon pails of hagfish slime lube, not in the minor things like senior discount McDonald’s coffee nursed for sixteen hours. Instead of a madcap, zany, over the top flick where greedy idiots rush around in search of cash buried under a big W, it’d be about a bunch of bullied earless albino orphans desperate to find both their identities and lost parents who abandoned them due to crushing poverty and substance abuse and who died horribly in a Moldovan prison carving literal regrets into soviet era concrete with toothbrush shivs fashioned from their own femurs.

I’m going to write the novel version to that one, by the way. Probably snag myself a Pulitzer or Booker or, heaven forbid, an Aurora if I’m unlucky. People will snap it up, devour every wretched, miserable word, comforted by the knowledge that they aren’t the only ones suffering in this cold, terrible planet. Commiserating. People love to commiserate. It’s become a top tier hobby, right up with doomscrolling and trying to find something to watch on Amazon Prime video.

So… while I’m not saying that the world’s Boomer mangled and storm ravaged corpse isn’t becoming a forlorn, dreadful hellscape, cause it most certainly is, what I’m saying is I’m fucking tired of reading about it. The last two years have been rough for a lot of people, do we really need to dwell on the emotional wrecks we’ve all become? I say NO! Cast off those chains of loss and grief and read (and write) something less forlorn, whether it be cheesy pulp or twisted erotica or weird fiction involving combines and Mexican Mennonite tacos.

Now I can tell you’re totally thinking “but Noggy, that’s the shit you write. Are you sure this isn’t just a cheap plug disguised as a timely rant?” Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But my friendly neighborhood psychoanalyst bar tender assures me that at my discount McDonald’s coffee age, self-promotion and yelling at clouds are valid coping strategies. And my writing can’t sell itself. Apparently…

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, so many goddamn loss and grief riddled books feel like award bait these days. And yes, I’m sure I’m exaggerating, but those are the books that get all the press and attention and critical acclaim. Lola loves them, of course. She leaves them lying around to tempt me into reading them, talks about the exquisite writing and fabulous depth. How the authors turn a despondent phrase. How they rock gloomy readings. How they dress like 70’s era drapes. Flashes her… exquisite covers.  I never fall for her tricks. Grief and loss. Loss and grief. Real god damn life!

No thanks.

I’ve had my fill of real god damn life and I’m hungry for Mexican Mennonite tacos. And you should be as well.

Today’s non-grief filled Detonation happy hour(s) cocktail is the appropriately named A Short Trip To Hell.

  • 2 parts Peach Schnapps
  • 2 parts Strawberry Schnapps
  • 2 parts Wildberry Schnapps
  • 1 part Jagermeister
  • 8 parts Energy drink of Choice.

Shake the energy drink and Schnapps in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Strain into a tumbler. Put the Jagermeister into a shot glass, drop in the shot, and take the express elevator to Hell.

Detonation #21: When Life Gives You Lemons…

You learn a lot about yourself. The first thing I learned is that I am undoubtably in the shit. It’s up to my neck. And I put myself there.

I’m debating over how specific to be. This is personal. It’s the hugest thing. To me anyway. Others have been through worse. There are refugees who’ve walked away from a lot more than I have. I can live in Noggy’s Pontiac Aztek if I have to.

But my creative engine is completely busted. I miss writing. I miss coaxing something real out of a few nebulous thoughts. Everything is sour now. I’ve always been the kind of person who can’t write if I’m too down or too giddy. I gotta be on an even keel.

When life gives you lemons…. Jesus, can I be real for a second? You likely gave those lemons to yourself. Life doesn’t have that kind of agency or punitive zeal. You made choices. You know what you did. Idiot.

So that’s the first thing you do. Kick the shit out of yourself. When life gives you lemons, shut up and eat your fucking lemons. Such is your penance, you villain. Taste good? You want some more? Here’s a whole goddamn ass ton. Pucker up, dirtbag.

Eventually you get will tired of eating shit. Or sour citrus. I’m confusing the metaphor but stay with me, I promise this will make sense. If you’re not in therapy by now, you probably should be, because this is when your shrink, with an empathetic head tilt, will say, “be kind to yourself.” Takes a few days or weeks for this to sink in, but when it does it’s a relief. Pour a little sugar in your glass, babe. You don’t gotta take it straight anymore because punishing yourself doesn’t actually fix anything. Drink up and watch Netflix.

With a little sweetness reintroduced into your life, you can make some room, a little space in your noggin where the creative magic can happen. But it doesn’t. And you don’t understand. You’re calm, you slept a whole 6 hours, your eyes are no longer swollen shut from crying. You study yourself in the mirror and sure it’s not the best you’ve ever looked but three drinks and you’d probably fuck you. So it’s not a self-esteem thing. You don’t hate yourself, yet there’s that flatness. Lemon juice and sugar. It’s nice, but not magical. Honestly the idea of lemonade is always better than the reality. Try that Netflix again.

Here’s the worst part, if I may be so vague. I can’t say everything will work out okay, because I have no clue. This isn’t a tidy step-by-step for how to navigate the biggest trauma of your life and keep working on your dumbass novel that seemed so important three months ago and has now dropped to the sub-basement level of your priorities.

But I miss my work. I can’t even watch Netflix because I can’t pay attention, even to the shower scene in Sex/Life. I miss writing more than I miss dick.

I said this isn’t a guide. More of a journey thus far and now you’re caught up. This is the first creative work I’ve done since my life exploded. It’s not creative magic, but I’m getting my thoughts down at least. The lemons though. They’re still here. They keep coming. And this, my friends, is what the sidecar was invented for.

2oz Cognac

1oz Triple Sec

1oz Lemon Juice

1/4oz Simple Syrup

Shake it up and shake it off. I just wrote something, bitches. I’ve still got it and so do you. Let it never be said that we don’t know what to do with our lemons.

Detonation #20: Sour Grapes

Everyone loves the idea of an egalitarian prize bestowed on a truly meritorious work of literature as determined by The People. Something like the Goodreads Choice Awards should be the ultimate in democracy, yet isn’t, for… reasons. So many reasons. Like Stephen King winning the horror award every year, even for his crime novels, ‘cause he’s the only fucking name anyone recognizes.

Next rung down this wretched ladder are the awards created by readers and writers, for readers and writers. Unfortunately, what follows in practice is an award by writers for writers. Which sounds close enough, but in fact couldn’t be further afield.

The bullshit mechanism of reader’s choice awards is not often discussed openly. It’s considered bad form to acknowledge honourees as anything other than purely deserving. Fortunately, Lola and Noggy don’t take anything that seriously and will always find a way cut off their nose to spite their face.

Noggy: So… writers submit to these snobby awards AND vote for them?

Lola: Yeah, by paying to become members of the association organizing the award. Publishers can and should submit, but in practice it’s writers, especially for anthologies and self-pub’d work.

N: The writers nominate and vote through long lists and short lists and then?

L: As voting members they typically get a package containing digital copies of all the shortlisted works.

N: Wait, isn’t that like…dozens of books? You have to read them all?

L: Jesus Christ, no. Who has time to read?

N: No one writing horror poetry and tweeting 89 times a day, that’s for sure. How does voting work then?

L: Easy. In categories where you’re a finalist you vote for yourself. In categories you aren’t, you vote for your friends. Chances are the only book in the pile you’ve actually read is your own. Isn’t that wild? The short story categories are the best though; for that one I’d recommend roulette, a lottery, or pin the tail on the jack ass.

N: So much for democratized literary utopia…

***

We’ve ranted about this before. The dirty secret of how little most writers actually read. And those of us who do read a lot are not going to waste our time consuming a reader’s choice award voting package because most of the material is honestly not that good. But we’re all too busy blowing each other to say it.

Yes, juried awards have their flaws but at least you can be reasonably certain the adjudicators have read the fucking book they’re voting for.

Reader’s Choice Awards are equivalent to The Emperor’s New Clothes. We ooh and ah at the grace and dignity with which he carries himself in his exquisite robes. When in fact he’s naked and eating a chili dog while fucking a pelican. But hey, we weren’t actually at the procession that day, and he’s our friend, so he’s got our vote.

***

N: You done ranting? It’s time for Arby’s.

L: Not even close. The other thing I’m going to get mad at. Awards for best anthology. An honor that belongs to all and to none. As an editor you can say you’re a winner for a book you didn’t write. As editors we consider this a dickwad move, considering the actual authors can only say they contributed to the project, which is hardly worth wedging into their bio. So, this award sits like a square egg in a kind of purgatory for unclaimed miscellany that no one quite knows how to handle. Is there even a word for adjacent congratulations?

N: I’m sure there’s a German word for it. A long, angry German word. Hmm, probably something like Beglückwünschung – that’s sort of terrifying.

L: Germans have more efficient things to do than acknowledge reader’s choice awards.

***

You could accuse us of being fucking jealous. Sour as hell. Green little goblins, ejaculating envy in thick bitter ropes. And you’d be right. But it doesn’t mean we’re wrong. And if you think we’re sore losers? God forbid we ever actually win anything.

Detonation #19: This is Not Censorship

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

On March 2, 2021 six Dr. Seuss titles, published between 1937-1975, were pulled from publication by Dr. Seuss Enterprises due to portrayals of people deemed to be “hurtful and wrong” aka racist as hell. The most recent title being a Cat in the Hat companion piece called The Cat’s Quizzer. I’ll save you the math, that’s 46 years ago, and my point is:

A) These are old-ass books

B) You’ve probably never heard of them

But holy shit! Folks get wind that a few obscure books are going away and suddenly it’s Fahrenheit 45-fucking-1. Even more wild is that there’s virtually no disagreement over whether these depictions are racist or not. They totally are, and some of us just really want to show them to our babies. White nostalgia vs. institutionalized racism isn’t a problem I’m going to solve with a few paragraphs and a bunch of swear words, but fuuuuck me side-saddle…

Instead, let’s take a minute to talk about censorship.

Books go out of print. All. The. Time. That’s right ducklings, most books will eventually be lost to the shifting dunes of the cultural desert, with the lucky ones growing spores in a used bookstore somewhere. Why does this happen? The details may differ but it all funnels down to the same reason: no demand. Modern readers have little appetite for the vast majority of what was written decades ago, even if it’s not explicitly racist. With zillions of books flooding the market every goddamn day, their lifecycle is shorter than ever. A midlist book published just five years ago has even odds of being out of print today.

So, if you were hoping to pick up a copy of the 2015 zipper-ripper Donkey Dick Dan’s Billionaire Bride – brand new, without half the pages stuck together – you’re likely out of luck. It’s not banned. It’s just that no one wanted the thing.

Here’s the straight dope. Declining to publish is not censorship. Declining to be published is not censorship. Those with rights to the work get to decide where it does or does not appear. Libraries get to curate what they do and don’t want in their collections. Bookstores get to decide what they will and won’t sell. This is not political correctness on ‘roids. Equating loss of platform with muzzling, cancelling, and attempting to sanitize history is fallacious. We’re smarter than that. Pulling a few Dr. Seuss titles most people didn’t know existed until a few days ago is NOT censorship.

Censorship is government suppression of free expression, and this is not that.

And I get it, y’all love Dr. Seuss and want his wonderful books available to your children and their children and on and on. I do too. And great news! As long as there’s demand, they will be! What the frothing mob screaming about book burning and other nonsense doesn’t seem to get is that Dr. Seuss Enterprises made this decision to protect Seuss and his legacy of delighting children for generations. Instead of, y’know, risking the cancellation of his life’s work because they continued to publish racist imagery and just, like, hoped that people would tell their kids that shit’s not cool anymore.

Why not read your kids some books that portray different colors, and cultures, and identities, and abilities with nuance and compassion rather than lazy ignorant stereotypes? There’s great stuff out there and this is just a short list. Check it out, then if you’re still hungry, you can have your Green Eggs and Ham.

Detonation #18: Living at Ludicrous Speed

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

Typically we use this space to yell at idiots, and rarely exclude ourselves from that classification. Today is no exception, except we’re excluding all of you. Feel free to self-include in this public castigation, but today we’ll largely direct our vitriol inward.

Forward thinking is good, mostly. You don’t want to see your best days trailing behind you, winking out like ancient stars. That’s never been my style. I’ve got my eye on the road ahead, on what dreams may come, and mostly it’s served me well. I guess because the alternative makes me sad to the point of illness. People who are like, “Ugh, 2020 is the shittiest year ever!” bother me, because you know they said the same thing about 2019, 2018, 2017, and so on. For that person, no matter what year it is, it’s shit. Every day is the worst day of their fucking life, and I don’t even wanna speculate what that must feel like.

I can be cynical when it comes to human nature, but when it comes to the arc of my own existence I am an incorrigible optimist. Believe me, no one is more surprised than I am. Single days may vary in degree of suckage, but over time I believe each year will be better than the last and you know what? I haven’t been wrong yet. I went through a dark period in my thirties when I had young children and no personal identity outside of Chief Juice Pouring Technician, but even at my lowest point, I never wished to go back to some better time in the past. The future is unwritten, you know? You can fill it with all the good exciting stuff you want and so long as it remains in the future you can’t rule it out. It’s how I’ve learned to thrive in high stress environments, to keep cool in the cut, to be happy when there is objectively little to be happy about — because there is always something to look forward to.

And in this way, by rolling at a breakneck pace towards that brilliant light on the horizon, I cheat myself out of taking pleasure in where I’ve been and where I am.

A case study: Lola and Noggy are not ambitious in the traditional sense. They aren’t type A. They aren’t climbers out to prove how much better they are than anyone else. They’re more like those annoying kids that won’t sit still at carpet time. Most of the time they’re barely aware there IS anyone else. They’re just…busy.

Lola: I see you’ve made a spreadsheet of all our projects and tasks for the next few months.

Noggy: Launch two books, finish our novel drafts, edit forthcoming publishing projects, and make more spreadsheets. Think we can handle it?

Lola: What’s the worst that could happen?

Noggy: We’ve spent the length of a pregnancy working on these two new releases for The Seventh Terrace, it’s so cool to see them birthed out into the world.

Lola: That was yesterday, Nog. We got drunk on zoom, ensured both authors will never work with us again, what’s next?

Noggy: NaNoWriMo!

Lola: Wow, did we really just launch two books and do NaNo?

Noggy: That was yesterday Silkysocks, shouldn’t you be editing our next book for TST?

Lola: And then we have to work on that new Purgatorio book

Noggy: And then we’re going to run every single day in December

Lola: And then I’m going to get back to my novel

Noggy: And we have the winter running scavenger hunt

Lola: And then we should co-write another story, and it’ll be race season again!

Noggy: And then I’ll make more spreadsheets!

And then

And then

And then…

If you ever wanted to see goblins on Adderall, this is it. These two are fucking exhausting, and the problem becomes evident.

There’s nothing wrong with having goals and a plan for the future, but at a certain point I find I’m moving too fast to take any real satisfaction in what I’ve accomplished. Maybe I’m even more afraid of getting stuck in the present than I am in the past.

I don’t do resolutions, but this is more about evolution. I still believe my best days are ahead of me, but I’d like to develop the skill of being still, to lose the fear of losing momentum, to hang out unhurried, look back and be like “Wow, we really did some cool shit, didn’t we?”