As we move further into 2023, we realized it was time to redo the Hawkshaw Press site (home of our crime fiction novels and collections). The site has gotten a fresh makeover, and we’ll be updating Gravelight and Out of This World soon as well.
Meanwhile, please drop by Hawkshaw Press and meander a while, Flatfoot.
It’s no secret. I have “battled” my weight my whole life, and I think almost nothing is as fun as trying a food I have never tried before. I’m getting better at accepting my body as it is, but I still want to try that food I’ve never had before. Like this one, pure coconut yogurt.
I might also be called a foodie too, and perhaps a bit of a super-taster, because I tend to like foods with strong flavors, weird textures, and the like. I adore anchovies. I do not find them to be even remotely too salty. I like to treat myself to an occasional can of herring in mustard sauce, or sardines in mustard. I can drink the cold black over-cooked coffee from the bottom of the percolator with not only ease, but even joy (it’s certainly going to kick that migraine!) And, between us here on this blog, I love a all things dairy. One of the dairy things I love is Leyden cheese, cheese that has cumin seeds in it that I call “kitty-cat” (I use another word actually) cheese, because to me it has a certain scent of a woman. Yep. I just wrote that. Dairy, wow. Ice cream and milk don’t agree with me as much as they did when I was a child, which is fine, actually, though I do miss the occasional glass of chocolate milk with something to go with it like a liverwurst and onion on pumpernickel with mustard. I love sour cream, and buttermilk, could eat a tub of one and drink gallon of the other, and I also like plain yogurt. Plain, not flavored with fruit or, heaven forbid, artificial sugar. Oh yogurt! What have they done to you? I also would prefer to live off of animals less than I do, and so when I saw this plain, unflavored, coconut yogurt, I had to try it. I believe I found it at Sprouts, a ridiculously expensive market that I go into (now that I am back in CA) occasionally just to see what new “healthy” delights have been created.
This stuff is delicious. Yes, I think I could throw it on some too-spicy Indian food or put it on a taco in place of sour cream. It has a colder feeling on the tongue than yogurt or sour cream, almost icy, and it has just a slight sweetness to it, very slight, and just a slight sourness to it. So if yogurt or sour cream are too sour for you, you may like this. Sadly I do not remember if it was pricy. It is thicker and smoother than both sour cream and yogurt (and I usually eat the skyr kind of yogurt). There is no wetness to it. Very dry. No jiggle, no glop. It’s very much like kindergarten paste from the 1970s. I didn’t eat kindergarten paste (though I do remember tasting Play Doh. Not bad, salty, but like sweat salt, not my favorite.), but the texture is bang-on: paste. Thicker than coconut cream , which I have made whipped cream and icing out of. I’m guessing you could do that with this too.
This is a four ounce container at one hundred and ninety calories. Not too many calories in what looks to my eyes like a big container; I don’t think I can eat more than half (it is my afternoon snack). BUT, and this is a big but, speaking as a person with a big butt, look at the fat. 18 grams, and 15 of them saturated. That’s coconut for you. Man, I love fresh coconut. If I ate a whole coconut, which I could not but let’s just say I could, I’d be eating 1400 calories and 144 grams of fat. But, I’d also get fiber, 36 grams of it, and over 50% of my daily iron needs. This has only 2 grams of fiber. So, an actual hunk of coconut may be better for you than this. But if you want it for a treat, you could do a lot worse, and I think it’s really yummy.
Tell me, what are you making for dinner tonight? Sometimes I am so inspired, but I have been editing my tushie off the last few days, and I am a bit brain-fried. I just want someone to hand me a meal. LOL.
This is a writing advice column. If you don’t want my unsolicited writing advice, do not, I implore you, read on. Fair warning. 😉
I belong to one or two Facebook groups, and recently, in one that is writing focused, another author and I discussed em dashes, which I do not like and she does, and all the kids are using them, and Jane Austin used them in Emma, so there. And she’s written a bucket of novels, so she is not a new writer.
“Yes,” I wanted to say but didn’t, “and I bet you have written them all in the last three to five years.” That is a new writer. Sorry.
And there is a group I belong to (a different group then the first one) called 20 to 50K that is all about writing as many books as you can as quickly as possible because that is how you (20 books) make a lot of money (50K) fast.
And that second group is great because it has a lot of good information given by generous people who have realized that lots of people want something very particular to read that scratches their particular itch (and I do recommend the group, and am not commenting on the fiction the members are writing, but rather their good advice on selling the fiction). The members have realized that if people want more, they don’t care about the quality of the product. If they loved “Beauty and the Beast,” and they want more monster love, with sex, and you give it to them, they don’t really care about plot holes or grammar. Just get the monster and the person both naked as quickly as possible, and do a boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl-boy-gets-girl-back-thing as quickly as you can, and on repeat, for them, as much as possible. Publish it yourself, and to hell with people like me. In fact, get AI to write it, or some guy in another country, seems to be Africa or India, slap your name on it, and mic drop!
This is very difficult for me. All of us eat at McDonald’s sometimes, even if very rarely. As I have written previously, I am a person who has spent the better part of her life studying what makes writing not just entertaining, but good, like To Kill a Mockingbird good, which is different from Emma good, but can be the same as Good Omens good, or even When You Are Engulfed in Flames good. Emma, well, it’s not Austin’s best, IMHO, and even Austin is, really, a glorified and now dead romance novelist, as are the Bronte sisters. And while I adored Jane Eyre as a teen, I never liked Wuthering Heights, could not finish it actually, though I tried over and over, and that was back when I was finishing everything. And from there I never read another, because for me, ultimately, romance is boring and full of tropes. Austin has some good books for that genre, I prefer Persuasion, but she also quickly gets wrapped in her own tropes and bores me, and while I would love to take the time to read Tale of Two Cities again, which is in the same century as Austin, I’m not going to pick up Persuasion again in this lifetime. And Emma? Apologies ladies. Apologies.
And I believe that if you have written a novel in a year, you are some kind of miracle. If you have written over ten, and not used AI or that person across the ocean, you have stamina beyond my ken. (If you used AI or that person across the ocean, I make no bones about scraping you off the bottom of my shoe, having accidentally stepped in you.) I celebrate your hard work, and your dedication to your writing, and your making money at it, and all the wonderful things.
I now I wonder if I can, as in my previous post, promise you, that the number of books that will be written that change all conventional rules (or just the ones that particular author doesn’t like or understand) and do well out of it will be small. Because if all the newly minted folks start mass-producing the same genre of book over and over, written to a niche, but rabid, group of readers, and they fill them with clumsy em dashes because they think they make their work look more important, or Austin used them, or whatever, then em dashes instead of commas are going to become a thing, whether I like it or not.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. But the rest of us could end up stuck with it as convention because that is how language works.
You have to be especially educated about the rules to break them and do it well, in an effective way. Yes. But you just have to be part of a huge onslaught of people doing the same thing to change the rules, and run them right the heck out of town.
Can I be annoyingly prescriptive here for a moment? I want to tell you that you have one job: to tell a good story.
All that other stuff that may seem super important to you is fluff to your audience, and could stop them from loving your story. It will stop me. If I drive down a road full of potholes, and I have any other alternative, I will not drive down it again. If I drive behind shopping center that has a long straight run of asphalt that the owner of the shopping center has dropped speed bumps all over to force me to slow down, I am going to curse myself and not do it more than once.
When you have a thought to convey, and you feel the need to interrupt it and stick in an extra bit of information, you can use em dashes to emphasize it, but commas work for that, and are less intrusive to the reader’s eye.
When you have a thought to convey- and you feel the need to interrupt it and stick in an extra bit of information- you can use em dashes to emphasize it- but commas work for that- and are less intrusive to the reader’s eye.
Em dashes are doing this:
How many times do you think an author who is putting words together in a clever, meaningful, or irresistible way is going to need to drop in a giant pointing finger?
I am a well-trained reader and a decent and slightly clever author, so my advice to you is that you should endeavor to find a way to write your sentences so that you’re not constantly interrupting them to stick in information, whether you do it with commas or em dashes. Jane Austin is always trying to pump up her scenes and get her readers very invested in the little romances and petty slights of people who are often rich or privileged enough to sit around doing needlework all day. These are boring people with nothing going on. She is throwing anything she can at it to inflate the lack of drama, and for all we know she genuinely felt the drama. Maybe to her it was tremendously exciting. Maybe she was hot and bored and stuck in a stiff dress that did not lend itself to walking or having fun and this was how she made it through. Maybe every word she wrote was “stop and look” worthy to her. Still, dash away, dash away, dash away all, I’m not interested.
As I get to know the world that is writing and publishing today I find myself sometimes feeling a bit like Inspector Morse. He likes poetry and the classics and classical music and all those around him do not and make fun of him for it. He is a principled dinosaur.
My daughter says my arms are short and calls me a T-rex. Maybe I am a principled dinosaur too.
And my best advice is to also think about the life your story will have without you- when someone is reading your book- and you are not in the room with that person to answer a question or explain. Will the life your book has- without you in that new home- be a good and celebrated one- or a sad and relegated one- or somewhere on the spectrum in between? I would truly like to see us all reach our writing dreams- and- therefore- my advice is because I care- and not because I am competitive with you or want to stop you- or fence you in. And I have to- again- give you the same piece of advice- you have to tread a line between what you want from your book- and what your reader will want.
Same paragraphs as last time-with all dashes. What do you think of the dinosaur’s advice?
“Would you welcome now, to the midnight special, the fabulous Bee Gees!”
“Nights on Broadway” is one of those wonderful “stalker” songs from the 60s and 70s. If you’ve ever been stalked, it isn’t even remotely funny, so, ignore my rude post, and I apologize. And, in the 50s, 60s, and 70s (not all of which I was alive for), and probably many decades previously, stalking was A-ok. It was how a young man professed his obsessional love for HIS woman. Got it? It was okay; nobody thought anything of it beyond, “Why is she being so cruel to the one who truly loves her?” I’ll tell you why, now, as a grownup, in hindsight, it’s because of the stalking.
Yes, yes, okay.
But, this is a freaking great song! And so just ignore the stalker bits and take the words with a grain of salt.
Robin reminds me of Neville Longbottom, and he dances about as well as I would expect Neville Longbottom to dance, but as Jamal says in this video, he isn’t using anything artificial to get himself to those high notes, and neither is Maurice.
Maurice is, IMHO the cutest Bee Gee, which of course does not count their absolutely scrummy younger bother who was not in the group, Andy Gibb. Whatever genetics were doing in that family, they got it perfect with Andy, but Andy, sadly, did not survive Rock & Roll.
I love, BTW, watching Jamal watch the Be Gees. Jamal’s kinda scrummy too, easy-on-the-eyes, and he’s adorable watching music he hasn’t heard before.
I’m just trying to keep the whole “stalker vibe” going you know.
And I just have to wax poetic about the harmony going on here. The Bee Gees usually have three layers of vocal going on, which makes sense. And I really enjoy singing along to this one and jumping from branch to branch, level to level. I’ve become a mezzo in my old age, but once I get warmed up, I can still hit those Maurice high notes. “Oh yeah yeah. Yeah!”
Because of those levels, it’s a song most singers can sing along to. You just find your range. It’s there.
I love the idea, too, of blaming the behavior, the “out of control” on the nights on Broadway. I have had those moments, more when I was younger I admit, where I was so pumped up and excited (nothing to do with booze or other substances, this pumped-up must come from your own endorphins), that I felt sure that something magical was going to happen, or that, if I did something reckless, like grab someone and kiss them, it would not be my fault.
I actually did grab someone and kiss them once. Adrian Smith (I think it was Smith) had gone to Paris with me and a bunch of other kids in 9th or 10th grade. In Paris I was many things that I really enjoyed: I was proficient in the language (at the time) with a good accent; I was free of my f-ing parents; I was free of my “boring weirdo nerd” status in high school; and I was, for the first fucking time in my life, autonomous, because my French teacher was a delightfully absentee landlord. I went wherever I wanted in Paris, and my friends followed because I was the best at French, reading maps, navigating subways, and asking for directions, and I also had a lot of ideas about where we should go.
Getting on the plane to go home was like walking to the gallows for me. It was like I had finally been able to breathe, and the universe was insisting I get back in the damn box. I could have cried my heart out the whole flight home, surrounded by other kids who had had enough, and could not wait to get back to Mom and Dad. I failed, I knew it, when that plane took off, because I could not, the whole time I was in Paris, come up with a plan to escape the school trip and stay in France. It was, I think, my first time realizing I could get out of my co-dependent family situation, but I didn’t have the smarts to figure out how I would: get work, get a place to live, avoid the authorities, and, most of all, hide from the long arm of my mother. As good as I was at all those other things, I was hopeless at saving myself. In fact, I think I’ve only just got there now, in my old, mezzo-soprano fucking age. *sigh*
When we got off of the plane in Philly, the parents of all of us were there, and mine were in my face. They wanted me to be soooo excited to see them. They wanted me to be more interested in them than anything else. And my mother wanted me to tell her every detail of the trip, because I wasn’t allowed to have private adventures.
At some point, feeling like my life had ended and I’d never be free again, I came upon fellow student and traveler, Adrian. He stopped to say something to me, and I walked up to him, slid my hands up his cheeks and into his hair, and pulled his face to mine, and laid one on him, just like in the movies. Just like you would expect a person to do in Paris, of course. Just like that guy in that photo from when the war is over, and he just kisses that nurse, and she just has to take it, accept it, give in to it, because it’s all beyond anyone’s control, but it is loose and reckless in a forgivable and not at all stalkery sort of way.
Yes it is.
And you can blame it all, on the nights on Broadway.
When you’re “singing them love songs, singing them straight to the heart songs.”
I wonder where Adrian is today. I certainly wasn’t in love with him, but he was a very nice guy, and I was in love with the me who could just lay a guy out with a kiss. I wonder if that girl’s still in here somewhere.
Ultimately I think what I did with all the co-dependence and control was to find a way to live with it. A therapist once told me that we’re all in a rubber fence with our families, and maybe even a rubber cage is better to say. We can never be free. Not all the way. And some don’t have families they need to be free of, and others do. And those that do probably learn to live inside the lines, a bit of a shrunken life, or they escape in some other way, which could be substances, and was for my brother, and I am glad, as boring a human as I may be, that substances was never where I went to pop the top on the cage. If someone keeps yelling at you, and you just walk away, well, you’ve pretty much taken the weapon away. But, I don’t think you can go back. I don’t think you can accept the cage sometimes and ignore it others. I think, in all honesty, I finally just realized the cage was a construct, like the Matrix, that I no longer needed to believe in.
Or maybe I just got swept up by the “Nights on Broadway.”
May you not stalk or be stalked, but may you have a little romance with yourself, and if you get a little tipsy on love, may you be able to blame it all on the “Nights on Broadway.”
This is a writing advice column. If you don’t want my unsolicited writing advice, do not, I implore you, read on. Fair warning. 😉
I belong to one or two Facebook groups, and recently, in one that is writing focused, someone asked whether a character’s thoughts always had to be in italics.
“Yes,” I responded, “that is standard.”
And then another member jumped up my butt to tell me how all kinds of “world-building” is happening now and people can do whatever they want!
Both are true.
But, listen, Author, even as you create new, far-out worlds, and that is so much fun for you, you have to judge a few things: Is it fun for your editor, your publisher, your agent, and your (hopefully) eventual readers? One piece of advice I might give you is that you have to tread a line between what you want from your book, and what your reader will want.
“I’ll publish myself!” you might yell back.
And yes, you could, and that is what is absolutely happening: lots and lots of people are publishing whatever they want with no feedback from anyone else, and publishing it anywhere they want, and I (me, personally) can just go scratch.
True, until nobody buys your book, or people buy it in a Kindle (or other) online format and you see by their page views that they don’t finish it, or it gets bought in paperback and never read, or they buy it, read at least some of it, and leave you a crap review.
I can promise you, the number of books that will be written that change all conventional rules (or just the ones that particular author doesn’t like or understand) and do well out of it will be small.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
You have to be especially educated about the rules to break them and do it well, in an effective way. And you need some of them anyway, because your reader (if you self-publish and don’t care about the editors and etc.) will need some rock to put his/her/their feet on, or they have no place to stand with the book. Yes, you could drug me, and wake me up in a foreign country with zero information, language, or money, and, depending very much on which country, I might make it out alive with an interesting experience that I enjoy discussing with friends, but few of us would choose that experience, and choose it multiple times.
Can I be annoyingly prescriptive here for a moment? I want to tell you that you have one job: to tell a good story.
All that other stuff that may seem super important to you is fluff to your audience, and could stop them from loving your story.
Another fair warning, this paragraph is about me, exclusively, my qualifications and my ability to be prescriptive in this way, and you can skip this if you don’t give a hoot: I was lucky that I read every freaking thing I could get my hands on when I was a kid. If you read an earlier post about my Kindle Vella I mentioned that I read The Godfather, by Mario Puzo, when I was under ten years old, by which I mean nine, because we were in our old house. I was not a genius, but I was a precocious reader. I also read my way through The Bible quite a few times while I was bored in church. I preferred the Old Testament. I read The Stranger (Camus) in sixth grade, and it was very upsetting, and I became really overwhelmed by existential dread until I got a new Encyclopedia Brown. I also tried to write a book report on The Stranger, and my teacher admonished me and said my parents should be monitoring what I read. My parents did not monitor what I read, and my middle school had annual used book sale where kids collected books from their neighbors and gave them to the school for the high used book sale, and I bought a book of S&M pornography there in seventh grade because my parents did not monitor what I read, and the school did not monitor what I bought, and, to this day, I think both were the best thing, the not being monitored, not the porn book, which was a parody of A Tale of Two Citiesand about Marie Antoinette, I remember. I also remember buying complete collections of comic strips like Battle Bailey and The Lockhorns, and novels like M*A*S*H, and The Wide Sargasso Sea. For $20 bucks, which my parents would give me, I could get around 20 books, and I was done them in a few weeks. When I got to high school I was in advanced English, where we really took apart the books we read, and in college I majored in English literature, where we did so much more of that, and then, when I went to my MA writing program, my two teachers, Luann Smith for fiction and Chris Buckley for poetry, taught us how to write by making us read and analyze the writing of other well-respected really good authors like T.C. Boyle, Tim O’Brien, Philip Levin, Czesław Miłosz, Diane Wakowski, and Amy Hemple, among many others. I am long-time trained, by my educational experience and my own varied and precocious reading habits, to be very good at spotting what makes work work, and what makes it flop. This is one of the things that concerns me when I see a person on FB say, “Hey folks, I’ve decided to be an editor. I’ll do your book cheap because I’m just getting started!” And people hire them, because they’re cheap. Okay. You get what you pay for, but you may never know what you’re not getting. This is just to say that I am well-prepared, and probably have advice that is not fluff or uninformed. And “This Is Just to Say,” interestingly enough, is one of my all-time favorite poems.
You’re the author. Do whatever you want. And publishing it yourself is always an option.
And my best advice is to also think about the life your story will have without you, when someone is reading your book, and you are not in the room with that person to answer a question or explain. Will the life your book has, without you in that new home, be a good and celebrated one, or a sad and relegated one, or somewhere on the spectrum in between? I would truly like to see us all reach our writing dreams, and, therefore, my advice is because I care, and not because I am competitive with you or want to stop you, or fence you in. And I have to again give you the same piece of advice: you have to tread a line between what you want from your book, and what your reader will want.
Your story should be good, and, if it suits the story and the genre, maybe it should be complex. The mechanics, the things the reader has to do to reach that story, to get that ride or message or what-have-you, should not be the things that cause or add to the complexity.
K.I.S.S. It’s advice that serves me well, all the time, in all situations.