A Near CAT-astrophe

As some of you may know because I know I occasionally mention it on Twitter/Facebook, we have cats. At one time, we had five, but one (a gorgeous black cat with the most wonderful personality) went missing a few months ago (sadly). Today, we darn near lost another, but it’s almost as funny a story as it is harrowing.

My husband rented a truck this weekend to move some furniture. He still had it for a few hours today and there was a bunch of stuff we needed to take to the dump. He opened the truck this morning and loaded it, then closed it up and we drove to the dump to pitch everything out. Shortly after we got to the dump pad and started unloading, we caught sight of something running away from the truck. It was one of our cats—Pumpkin Patch, a tiny little calico. Obviously, she climbed into the back of the truck when my husband wasn’t looking and got shut in.

So, there we were, watching in horror as she ran away from us right toward all the huge, noisy dump trucks and big rigs. The poor thing had to be terrified! I’m sure she was wondering where she was, not to mention how on earth she’d gotten there.

I jumped down off the truck and called her, but I had absolutely NO confidence she’d come to me in that situation. (Plus, I was pretty sure this cat has used up all her nine lives and then some, as she has stayed out overnight far too times because she refuses to come in at dinner time.) I had visions of having to tell my children she’d been squashed by a tractor or simply run away from us.

To my utter amazement, however, she turned and came toward me—slowly, tentatively, but close enough that I was able to lean down and nab her. Phew!

We got her into the cab of the truck, and then one of the dump workers pointed out a pet taxi that had been dumped by someone before us. It was perfectly serviceable, and although I have some worries about the possibility that it was discarded because the previous occupant had some sort of contagious illness, we took it and put her in it. Driving home with a loose, terrified cat in the cab of the truck didn’t seem like such a good idea.

Needless to say, she’s home now, safe and sound (actually, she’s sleeping on top the monitor right in front of me), but that was a close call!

Let’s Make a Deal: I Won’t Tell You How to Write Your Books…

…if you won’t tell me how to write mine.

This isn’t a big deal, honestly, but it does get on my nerves, especially at this time of year. Enough that I want to kvetch about it.

What am I talking about? The way authors are constantly bombarded with advice about how to write a book. And by how, I don’t mean from a craft perspective, i.e., grammar, characterization, plot, etc. I mean the actual WAY we go about writing books. And this drives me crazy because, I’m telling you right now, there’s no ONE right way to write a book.

Maybe there’s a right way for each individual author, but even then, I’m not so sure. I know I don’t always approach each and every book in the same exact way. For example, sometimes I plot a little more, sometimes I pants a little more, but in the final analysis, I’m neither a true plotter nor a true pantser, so the fact that I lean more in one direction or the other depending on the book shouldn’t be all that surprising.

But the eternal divide between plotters and pantsers isn’t what’s getting on my nerves right now. It’s NaNoWriMo and the unspoken implication that comes with it that the Nano way is the best way to write a book.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with NaNo for those who can/do write that way. And by “that way,” I mean those who are of the Nora Roberts “I can’t fix a blank page” school of writing. Those who adhere to this method are those who are able to, in their own words, “write crap” and worry about fixing it later. These are people who like to rewrite, revise, and edit a manuscript multiple times until it’s as close to perfect as possible.

In case you haven’t guessed, this isn’t the way I write a book. In fact, I’m physically incapable of it. I write very slowly and with my internal editor always firmly on my shoulder. I’ve tried to banish that bitch more times than I care to consider, and it never works. She’s always there and she won’t LET me write anything I know to be crap. (This doesn’t mean I never write crap; it’s just that I don’t always recognize it as crap until later!) And because I am a relentlessly linear writer, I can’t gain speed by skipping a “difficult spot” in a story and writing something that comes later. I have to know what came before to write what comes next, so my only option is to pick my way painfully through the current scene. I also tend to do my revisions as I go, often reading through the last few scenes or chapters (or even the entire manuscript) before adding new material. All of this means that I really don’t have a first draft, or even a second or third draft. I have the final manuscript and by the time I write “The End,” it’s pretty much done.

I’m sure there are plenty of other people out there who write like me, but I suspect they keep quiet about it because, honestly, there is a strong core of belief out there that says this isn’t the “right” way. The “rules” of writing, according to common wisdom, are that you have to set aside your internal editor to write, that you should write the whole book before you can rewrite/revise, that “writing is revising”, that every manuscript should be revised and revised and then revised again. If that’s not your method, it can feel a little like everyone’s telling you that you’re not a “real” writer.

So, to all those who don’t write the NaNo way–I’m with you. And whatever works for you is the ONLY right way to write YOUR book.

Writing Is Not My Job

I know a lot of authors who consider writing their “jobs.” I have nothing against this mindset. If it gets you to sit in your chair and put your hands on the keyboard on a regular basis, if it gets you to finish your manuscripts, if it gets you to take writing seriously, I’m all in favor of it. And for some writers, writing really is their job–after all, it’s their primary source of income.

In the past few months, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that writing is not my job and most likely never will be. A few years ago, I’ll admit that I dreamed of selling for good money and being able to quit my day job to write full-time. When I sold Behind the Red Door to Kensington, far earlier in my “career” than I ever anticipated selling anything to a New York publisher, I thought maybe I was on my way to achieving that goal. Now, not quite two years later, the possibility seems more remote than ever.

But my reason for concluding writing isn’t my job isn’t really because I haven’t made a lot of money from it. It’s also because, quite honestly, I don’t want to see writing as a job.

Here’s the thing about jobs. A job is something you do to earn money, to make a living. A job is something you’re obligated to do in exchange for a paycheck. And even if you love your job (and I do love mine), you probably wouldn’t do it if no one were willing to pay you a reasonable wage for it. I know if my employer suddenly told me they wanted me to earn my wages the way the publishing industry does–if they decide they like my work enough to buy it–I would quit. As great and rewarding as my job is, I wouldn’t keep doing it without a guarantee of remuneration.

And it’s for this very reason that writing is not a job for me. Sure, I can (and sometimes do) earn money from my writing, but remuneration isn’t the reason I write. I write because I’m driven to. Because I have to. Because if I don’t, I’m miserable.

On other words, writing isn’t a job for me. It’s an avocation. And no matter how “successful” I do or don’t become as a writer, I want it to stay that way.

Why Is It Wrong to Rate Your Own Book?

This morning, a writer friends IM’d me to show me a five-star review of a book on Amazon–posted by the author herself. I’m not going to tell you the title of the book or the name of the author, because it’s not relevant to the question and I don’t want to cause trouble for the author. But it did make me ask the question that is the title of the post. Becuse as much as I have a knee-jerk reaction and think rating/reviewing your own book is a bad practice, I’m not sure it’s an objective or reasonable reaction.

The thing is, authors are expected to promote their books. Promoting your book with commitment and enthusiasm presumes that you think it’s a good book, that it’s worth buying and reading. Is adding a positive rating for that book on Amazon or GoodReads or LibraryThing really so different from going onto a blog and touting your book’s merits there? I suppose you could argue that because it’s a given that an author loves her own book, giving it a five-star rating is a little redundant, but is it really so an issue? Especially assuming the author posts the rating/review in her own name, thereby allowing anyone who reads it to discount it as an indictor of how well readers liked it.

In fact, I’d argue that posting a review of your own book under an assumed identity is far, far worse than doing so openly because it doesn’t allow readers to consider the source. The problem is that, short of the author inadvertently outing the alternative identity of the sockpuppet, it’s prctically impossible to know whether an author is engaged in this behavior or not. Which is all the more reason I wonder if we are making the ratings system less honest rather than moreso by discouraging authors from rating their own books. We wouldn’t discourage politicians from voting for themselves in elections, so why do we think authors shouldn’t “vote for themselves” in the court of public opinion?

All of that said, I’m not exactly in favor of authors rating and reviewing their own books. It just seems desperate and even a little pathetic. I’m just not sure why it SHOULD. Maybe it’s really just honesty.

Am I wrong? Tell me why…