Author, Actor, Playwright, Excellent Parallel Parker


Rules of the Lake and Ashes to Water are now available for Kindle and Nook!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Text, Context, & Subtext: How to Talk About Something Without Talking About it.

Subtext is like a donut hole. It exists, but only in the context of something else.

You don't really write subtext, because that's the stuff people don't say. To put it another way:

1. The stuff that people say is text.
2. The stuff that people mean, is subtext.

Let's say I give you a present for your birthday. All aflutter, you rip open the box and what do you see? A pair of Crocs. "Nice," you say. "I don't have a pair of these. Thanks a lot." But what you mean is, "If I wanted a pair of butt-fugly shoes made from tires, I'd become a liberal. Thanks a pantload."

That's subtext.

If you were writing this scene, the subtext will be lost on your reader if she doesn't know this character hates Crocs. That brings us to:

3. Subtext exists within a context. The more we know, the more the subtext resonates. Here's an example.

A MAN is ordering at a fast-food counter. The young cashier stares, expressionless. Here's the dialogue without further context.

MAN: Wait, no. Did I say double cheeseburger?
KID: Yes, sir.
MAN: Changed my mind. Single.
KID: Yes, sir.
MAN: With catsup.
KID: Yes, sir.
MAN: But not a lot of catsup. Just enough to taste it.
KID: Yes, sir.
MAN: And fries. No, onion rings. No, wait. Fries.
KID: Yes, sir.
MAN: Fresh ones. I don't like when they've been sitting under a heat lamp.
KID: Yes, sir.
MAN: And no salt.
KID: Yes, sir.
MAN: Well, maybe a little salt.

You get the idea. Pretty darn pedantic, right? That's because the dialogue is on the nose. That is, they say what they mean, and they mean what they say. Boring, boring, boring. But what happens if "the camera" pulls back to reveal the customer holding a gun beneath the counter, and it's pointing at the young cashier? The whole picture shifts,and with it, the meaning of the dialogue, which is suddenly very, very interesting. And it begs the question, "What happens next?"

Another example: Four people playing poker. Again, imagine the most pedestrian dialogue imaginable. Now, pull the camera back to reveal a bomb ticking away beneath the table. The four play on, unaware.

See? It's not the text that's interesting. It's the subtext. Subtext is what makes dialogue FUN. Does that mean you're supposed to write uninteresting dialog and let context do all the work? No, but when subtext does come into play, dialogue is enriched. It becomes the sort of dialogue that actors LOVE to say. Another example:

HE and SHE are at an expensive restaurant, celebrating their first wedding anniversary. Here's the dialogue without further context.

SHE: Wow. Fancy place.
HE:  Happy anniversary, honey.
SHE: You too. (Smiles and picks up her napkin.) Look at these napkins. They're huge. Feels like linen.
HE:  I wanted it to be nice.
SHE: Can we afford this place?
HE: Don't worry about that. Let's try to have a good time for once.
SHE: I'm underdressed.
HE: You look beautiful.
SHE: Excuse me. (Pushes back her chair.)
HE: You okay?
SHE: Fine. I'll be right back.
(SHE goes into the bathroom. It's a luxurious bathroom, and looks as if it had been dipped in gold leaf. SHE stumbles into a stall and throws up in the toilet. She pulls herself together, looks at herself in the mirror. After a short while, she returns to the table.)
HE: There she is. I thought maybe you fell in.
SHE: You should see the bathroom. It's bigger than our entire apartment.
HE: Try to relax, honey. (Raises a glass) To us.
SHE: To us. (She throws back the wine in a single gulp.)
HE: I love you.
SHE: I love you, too.

It's not bad, but not particularly interesting. Let's add some context and see what happens:
Just before coming to the restaurant, this couple argued about money.
Okay, that's not bad. Suddenly, the line "Let's try to have a good time for once," takes on more meaning. Let's add more context:
SHE is pregnant. HE doesn't know it.
Whoa! That's why she threw up! Now, when she throws back the wine, it seems a reckless, risky act, instead of someone "trying to relax." Let's add more context:
HE plans to file for bankruptcy in the morning. SHE doesn't know it.
Yikes. The money situation is worse than we thought. And she's going to have a baby? No wonder she's a wreck. Now, look what happens if we add one more bit of business while she is in the bathroom: 

(SHE goes into the bathroom. It's a luxurious bathroom, and looks as if it had been dipped in gold leaf. SHE stumbles into a stall and throws up in the toilet. She pulls herself together, splashes water on her face, and reaches for a hand towel in a basket by the sink. The hand towel is thick, expensive cotton. She fingers it longingly. She looks at herself in the mirror. Then she opens her purse and puts all the hand towels in it, closes her purse. After a short while, she returns to the table.)

Suddenly, those few lines take on weight:

HE: There she is. I thought maybe you fell in.
SHE: You should see the bathroom. It's bigger than our entire apartment.
HE: Try to relax, honey. (Raises a glass) To us.
SHE: To us. (She throws back the wine in a single gulp.)
HE: I love you.
SHE: I love you, too.

When SHE looked in the mirror, did she make a decision? About the hand towels? Or about the baby? We don't know.

Yet.

See how subtext can heighten tension, raise stakes and create anticipation? And nobody has to directly address any of the circumstances we observed. The dialogue is now interesting, important, and loaded. Pretty neat, huh?

In ASHES TO WATER, there's a scene where the Sheriff is talking to the Judge in her chambers. He's got news she doesn't want to hear, and she wants to know who let him in. Clarence, the bailiff, let him in, he says. Throughout the conversation, the Sheriff is swatting at a fly that keeps buzzing around his head. He finally kills it. When they are through talking, the Sheriff gets up to leave and says, "Do you want your door open?" She replies, "No, close it. Clarence has been letting in flies."

Wha-? Did the judge just call the sheriff a fly? Yup. Did she say the words? Nope. Did she need to? Nope. Why?

Subtext, my friend. As intriguing as the concept of a donut hole, and every bit as delicious.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

See You in Seattle!

If you're in the neighborhood, please stop by the Seattle Mystery Book Shop, 117 Cherry St. on Friday, July 30, and say hello. I'll be signing Ashes to Water. I'm giving away free cars to the first 10 people who buy my book.

And if you can't make that one, I'm in Portland the next day at 1:00 pm, at Murder By the Book, 3210 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. I'm giving away 3BR ranchers to the first 10 people who buy my book.

And then I'm coming home.

Your free cars and ranchers will arrive within three days by USPS.

(All claims made on this blog post are satirical and meant to be taken with a grain of salt, which I will also be giving away to the first 10000 people who buy my book.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

When it Comes to Writing Dialogue, "Women are From Venus, Men are From Bars"

Men talk funny. They say stuff like, "Do these pants make my butt look big?" I mean, really, would you ever hear a woman say anything as weird as that? Fiction writers love hearing that sort of thing, because men and women talk differently, and it takes a tuned ear (or a crash course in Gender Communication Studies) when writing dialogue that captures those differences.

I frequently hear men say, "I can't write good women's dialogue." Maybe that's because they're too busy looking at their butts in the mirror.  More likely, they think that women are from Venus, or some such Oprah-fired crappity crap. Women aren't from Venus! We're from the same place men are from, only the toilets are cleaner.

But yes, there are gender differences in the way men and women communicate. Most of these dialogue tips are based in solid research. Others I've made up. All are true.

1. Men interrupt more.

Whenever I say this in male company, someone makes a point of interrupting me the next time I open my mouth. I will give money to the first man who does NOT do this, as it would suggest they are undergoing a self-evaluation to determine if they, indeed, fit the pattern. If that sensitive male has all his gender equipment intact, then yes, he indeed will fit the pattern.

2. Men use less words.

Ask me if I want a sandwich. Go ahead. I'll wait.

If you're a woman, you probably said, "Would you like a sandwich?" If you're a man, you probably made a gun with your hand, pointed the index finger at me, and said, "Sandwich?" This word-quantity difference is neither good nor bad, unless, that is, you're stuck on an airplane with "loud talking cell phone woman." Then it's bad.

3. Men call 'em like they see 'em. Women seek agreement.

A man says, "I'm disappointed." A woman says, "I'm disappointed, aren't you?"
A man says, "It stinks in here." A woman says "Do you smell that?"
A man says, "Do these pants make my butt look big?" A woman says, "I am secure in the way I look, and don't need constant reassurance from my emotionally stunted spouse."

Not really.

4. Men seek status; Women seek intimacy.

A man says, "In order to assert my dominant status, allow me open that door for you." A woman says, "And then will you hold me until I fall asleep?"

5. Women listen to every word; Men listen selectively.

A woman says, "Hi, Dave. I'm Irene. If you're thining of upgrading your heating and cooling system,you've come to the right place. Since 1981, weve been designing, engineering and installing complete systems in homes and commercial buildings, and we take great pride in our work."

A man responds with says, "And you are?"

6. Men are almost always the heroes in their own stories. When women tell stories, they downplay themselves.

"Hey, did you see me take second place in the egg toss?"
"If I hadn't been your partner, you probably would have come in first."
I wish I had a nickle for every time I've had THAT conversation.

7. Men talk louder, swear more, have more eye contact.

"Holy s**t! Did you see those maracas? F**king AWESOME!"
"Yes, she certainly had nice posture."

(In the above example, if you substitute "chest contact" for "eye contact," the tenet still applies.

There are many more examples of gender differences in communication, and becoming aware of them will help you write keener, more colorful dialogue. Deborah Tannen is the woman given the most credit for studying these gender differences, so google her name, then read what she has to say, because the best writers are also the best students of human behavior.

And if you don't believe me, that's okay, because I'm probably full of doody and don't deserve readers like you, wouldn't you agree?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Save 40% on Ashes to Water

Click here to take advantage of a coupon, good through Monday, July 26 at Borders. If you use it to buy anything other than my book, Ashes to Water, your eyeballs will fall out.

Not really.

Enjoy!

(Ashes to Water is available in their online store only.) 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Suffering Artist in the New Millennium

Okay, I'm just going to say it.

I'm tired of suffering for my art. *awaits thunderbolt* See? I didn't get struck by lightning. Suffering is not sacred, morally excellent, or mandatory. Nowhere is it written that an artist must have brown teeth, phlegmatic lungs or a wooden leg. Nor are we required to wear our gray hair in a ratty ponytail, reside in the attic, or talk to pigeons. Of course, many of those conditions/situations tend to arise from extreme poverty, which is still the artistic lifestyle, but that doesn't mean we have to wear Crocs and attend gallery openings in search of free food if we don't want to.

Does it?

I was talking to my friend, Kelly. She's an actor, and currently starring in On Golden Pond at Barksdale Theatre in Hanover, VA. She had a looong lay-over in Philadelphia, and thought about stabbing herself in the neck with a plastic fork to relieve the torture. She suggested that today's suffering artist is not shivering in a basement somewhere, wearing fingerless gloves and dabbing frozen paint onto stretched canvas. Instead, (s)he is disrobing in airport security and getting ushered from the free booze line in the Delta lounge. (Unless you have the credit card dipped in gold leaf, they don't like you guzzling their chardonnay. Who knew?)

Today's suffering artist develops stooped shoulders by spending so much time hunched over a keyboard. (S)he becomes paranoid when someone un-friends her on Facebook. Her skin becomes more leather-like with the appearance of each online review. She develops a unsightly flattening of the forehead from banging her head against the social media wall, trying desperately not to appear desperate, trolling for potential readers in nebulous online groups whose last activity predates the new millennium. She wakes with the horrifying realization that (shudder) it's time to open a vein and compose yet another blog post. As for living conditions, well, I could show you dust bunnies that would make you pee your pants.

This is all very French, you know, this suffering artist thing. They started it. The Revolution really did a number on their psyches. Victor Hugo even named his masterpiece after their preoccupation: Les Miserables. No,not the musical. The book .Sigh. I suspect American ex-pats picked up the lifestyle in Paris, then brought it home in the form of divine dissatisfaction and a tendency to sabotage personal relationships. But I only know what I read on Twitter.

So, yeah. I'm not going to do this suffering artist thing anymore. I'm going to rummage through the trash for my gym clothes and start thinking about beginning to start a potential work out routine when I get a chance to stop procrastonating, maybe. I'm going to recite daily affirmations and eat non-organic food. I'm going to floss.

And THEN I'll be happy.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why I'm No Longer Considering Becoming a Grave Digger

I just got an email from someone I don't know, telling me she loved Ashes to Water. Let's call her Extremely Intelligent Woman, or EIW for short. The email made my day, of course, and I was thrilled. I assumed EIW was a professional reviewer, someone to whom I'd sent the book.

But no.


EIW saw me on a four-minute television appearance on a local morning show, and actually bought the book on her own. She may very well be the first person to buy my book who is not a friend or relative. In other words...

POP THE CORK! I just sold my first book to a stranger!

This is big. The average unknown author sells maybe 300 books, a sad statistic I got from Publisher's Weekly. If an unknown author has an extended family that wraps the globe, perhaps 500 books will leave the distributor warehouse. In the circles I run with, anything more than that is considered a break-out.

Yesterday I learned from a librarian in Florida that she tried to order several of my books, but they were on 'back order.'  To me, back order means that Victoria's Secret doesn't carry granny pants, so they have to order them special. But no, the librarian said it means "one or two things; one, the company only had a few copies and they sold them, or two, due to the high demand of the title, the books have sold out and are waiting to be replenished." Not to downplay this, but I suspect the explanation more closely resembles number one. But, either way, there're both good things.

Hey, Mom! An extremely intelligent woman bought my book! And I'm on back order!

Now for the part that has me putting this stranger on my Christmas list: she asked if I would be writing any more books with my two protagonists, Annie and Leigh. I told her yes, I had another book in mind, but did she know there was a prequel? And guess, just GUESS what she went and did.

Yup.

She immediately went online and bought the prequel, Rules of the Lake. And while she was online, she posted a review for Ashes to Water. Sigh. I feel so...so...read.

All the time, you hear people say "Oh, I don't do this for the money. I do it for the readership." Whenever I hear this I nod politely and agree, because if you disagree, you're basically stupid. Really. Nobody makes money writing books except for the 2-5% who do. I'm not in that 2-5%, and the odds are, I never will be. Last week, I hit the wall with all the promoting I've been doing. I've been whining about it, too (so has my husband), wondering why I'm spending every waking moment in front of the computer, tweeting or friending or linking or blogging, trying to find a way to connect to would-be readers in a way that isn't obnoxious. I hate it when people constantly wave themselves in my face, and I don't want to do it to other people. So when an EIW sends an email out of the blue and says, "You were great [on TV] and my friend and I really felt as if we had known you for years," then truly,

TRULY

there is nothing better than that. Because a readership is all a writer can ask for, and means everything once you get it.

Even if it's one stranger.

Who happens to be really, really smart.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rules of the Story

I grew up on Lake Byron in DeLand, Florida where my journey as a writer began. Both my books are set there. My father was an avid fisherman, and gave me my first tackle box when I was six. He was also a man who respected water, and because my sisters and I spent so much time in it, insisted we obey his rules of the lake: No Swimming Alone, No Diving in Unknown Waters, and the one that got me in the most trouble, No Using Dad’s Rod and Reel.

Remembering my childhood, I am flooded with images of water. Water was my playground and deathtrap; sustenance and enemy, and today, is the dark pool of memory into which I cast my hook. One particular, dark incident over forty years ago, brought forth a wellspring of creativity still bubbling today.

When I was nine years old, the man next door, whom I knew as Mr. Fischer, sexually molested me. (I’m fine, and he’s dead.) For years the incident lay dormant in my memory, a monster fish I couldn’t see but knew was there, waiting to bite me in the behind. Then, in 1982, I went trolling for that monster fish, dragged it into the light, and wrote it down. “Hooked” was my first short story.

“Hooked” won the Irene Ryan Short Story Award, was published, and on the strength of that same story, I was granted a fellowship in creative writing from the University of Virginia. “Hooked” was also the anchor story in my solo performance piece, Rules of the Lake, which won the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award in Drama. Then it became part of a collection of stories, Rules of the Lake, which was named a Best Book for Young Readers by the New York Public Library.

I mention these milestones not to toot my own horn, but to mark my journey as a writer. I turned a “monster fish” into an elevated version of itself, suitable not just for public consumption, but for critical praise. Rawest memories, then, are often seeds for fiction because, as we all know, monsters make good stories.

Although fiction may begin with real life, it cannot dwell there. Fiction is crafted; real life is not. And when drawing from memory, a writer must always be guided by the Rules of the Story.

The line between fact and fiction may be a fine one, but it must exist. Real life is incidental, fiction is planned. Real life unfolds slowly; fiction has pace. Real life isn’t fair; fiction evens the score. Writers interpret “what really happened” and transform it into “what happens next?” Facts are set aside, events reordered. Characters take the place of real people, who behave according to the writer’s plan, not their own. And the words used to describe characters, settings and events do not live in the mundane terrain of the real. They are carefully chosen so as to elevate the reader’s experience in a perfectly balanced world.

I created Annie Bartlett and dropped her into the setting of my life. Her story, like mine, unfurls in water. Her memories and monsters melt and swirl into a faded picture postcard of a Florida I once knew, but now belongs to her. Annie’s journey, while inspired by real life, is firmly grounded in Rules of the Story: No Sticking to Facts, No Naming Bad Guys For People You Don’t Like; No Writing Dialogue Exactly as Heard; No Telling it Like it Was.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In Which I Learn What Not to Do on a Book Tour

I've completed the first leg of my book tour. How'd it go? Mixed. The good news is, I learned what NOT to do on a book tour. The bad news is, there's no do-overs.

My first stop was in Ann Arbor, MI and Aunt Agatha's Bookstore. That was fun! This is me and my friend/editor, Laurie Walker, who helped shape both Rules of the Lake and Ashes to Water. My hosts, Robin and Jamie Agnew were very gracious, and I owe them a lot for taking a chance on a first time novelist. Thank you.

I shared the venue with Julie Kramer, author of Stalking Susan, who deserves special thanks for putting up with me and my made-to-order crowd. Ann Arbor is up the road from Ypsilanti, where I went to graduate school, so some dear friends got on the phone and asked EMU alumni to stop by and say hello. The house was packed (SRO!), and it was wonderful to look out and see people I hadn't seen in a long time, some in over thirty years. Some friends traveled for hours to get there. Afterward, we went to the Corner Brewery where I ran into even more old friends and had a wonderful reunion. What a great evening. I'll never forget it. Thank you, Dennis, Laurie, Ray, Wendy, Chris, Pat, and to all who came and wished me well.
Then, it was off to Milwaukee and Boswell Books. Daniel Golden and my good friend, Tracy Aszkotsky gathered an impressive house of readers and writers for the Saturday afternoon event. I'm grateful and indebted to both of them.

Riding on the adrenal coattails of the Ann Arbor event, here's where I made a strategic mistake. I extemporized my presentation. Terrible idea. What's so annoying is I knew better. I don't know what I was thinking. After ten minutes of rambling, I finally picked up the book and read the prologue, and that part went well, as did the Q&A, but I'm disappointed I didn't anticipate the need for a sharper message and a more formal presentation. Daniel, who has hosted tons of these author events, advised me well. "Get in touch with the reasons why you wrote this book in the first place. Find the thing you're passionate about, and let us share it with you." Excellent advice. On the flight home, I thought about my journey as a writer, the dark moment that would become my creative wellspring, and how Ashes to Water fits into the larger story I want to tell. When I got home, I wrote it all down, then shared it with my friends at Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, VA.
Thank you, Kelly Justice, for hosting this event. Like you, I was touched to see other writers in the audience. Peer support is so important to a writer. That's why I'm a fan of James River Writers, a group that nurtures Virginia's published and unpublished writers through a number of wonder programs and events, including a writers' conference which takes place every October. Many of my fellow actors stopped by as well, which made me feel great. I delivered the presentation I'd just finished, and I was proud of my message, my books, and my myself. Thanks to all who bought a book and made it a profitable evening for Kelly and Fountain Books.
 That's Kelly on the right, and Rebecca Schinsky on the left. Rebecca is a co-founder of SocialMediU, and taught me how to use social media as a promotional tool. She's also a great shoulder to cry on, as I did recently when I was ready to throw in the keyboard. Thanks, you guys, for helping me out.
There was one more event, hosted by my longtime friend, Lynda Calderon.  Lynda is on a new journey of her own, having just converted her home into a wonderful B&B in New Glarus, WI. It's called the Helvetica Inn, and it is perfect.  Get this: Lynda bought 30 books from my publisher, threw a party to show off her B&B, and gave signed copies of Ashes to Water to her friends and clients as a gift. Some left a donation, which was kind but not required, and everybody benefited from her unbelievable generosity, especially me. So when next you're in New Glarus, WI, (a sweet little Swiss town) stay at the Helvetica Inn, which is on a quiet side street right in town. People who support writers deserve our patronage. And friends like Lynda (you know who you are) deserve my undying gratitude.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Review in Style Weekly Magazine

 
, Posted On: 7/6/2010

Goodnight Irene


Author translates life in the new “Ashes to Water.”
by Valley Haggard
Irene Ziegler’s new book is part whodunit and part character study. “I love it when I read a character and can tell so much about who they are by the way they talk.”
Irene Ziegler knows dialogue, dialect and how to create a scene that compels you to flip the page in a hurry. An actor and a playwright, she’s used all of the well-honed tricks of her trade to write her seventh book and first novel, “Ashes to Water” (Five Star, $25.95).
“I think it’s inevitable that one informs the other,” says Ziegler, who’s had roles in numerous plays, television series and movies, including “The Contender” and “GI Jane.” Author of the play “Full Plate Collection,” and founder and director of Virginia Arts and Letters Live, Ziegler is adept at translating life — and fiction — onto the page and the stage. “I enjoy writing dialogue because I would love the opportunity to say this stuff,” she says. “I love it when I read a character and can tell so much about who they are by the way they talk.”
Think “The Wire,” 1980s-style, before cell phones or the Internet, and set in Hades. “Ashes to Water,” deemed a “pitch-perfect literary thriller” by acclaimed Southern writer Pinckney Benedict, is the sequel to “The Rules of the Lake,” a collection of short stories that Ziegler published in 1999. Suicide, murder, arson, ghosts, evil spirits and drug addiction play starring roles alongside the feisty but troubled sisters Annie and Leigh Bartlett, who live in the fictional town of DeLeon, Fla. It’s a place that’s based on Ziegler’s hometown of DeLand.
“A lot of it was semiautobiographical, and then I got better at making things up,” she says. “I used the setting and then imposed the relationships and conflicts. My father is not a feckless womanizer and my mother is still alive. But I did grow up on a lake and I did live next to a pedophile.”
Moved by the fires that ravaged Florida every summer during the early part of this decade, and a family member who struggled with addiction, Ziegler gives as much weight to the fast-paced detective whodunit as to the internal struggles of her characters. Pyromaniacs and firefighters, womanizers and women scorned, dope fiends and recovering alcoholics, Seminole Indians and land-starved developers all have their secrets, their motives and their days following the mysterious lakefront murder of Ed Bartlett.
What began with a tightly wrought 32-page outline that took Ziegler two years to write, two years to sell and a year and a half to put into print, deviated from course. “Round about page 18,” she says, “the book went its own direction and I let that happen. It sounds so disingenuous to me when writers say, ‘the characters just take over.’ The characters don’t just take over. You have to make choices and I made choices grounded in solid scene building.”
“Ashes to Water” finds its resolution, but it certainly isn’t packaged neatly with any sort of shiny bow. “I am fond of the story where the evil forces do, in a way, win, but they’re harder to write because you have to make sure it’s still extremely satisfying,” the author says. That Ziegler has begun scheming about how to turn her sequel into a trilogy is satisfying indeed. S
Irene Ziegler will read and sign “Ashes to Water” at Fountain Bookstore on July 13 at 6:30 p.m. and at Page Bond Gallery on July 21 from 6-8 p.m.

Monday, July 5, 2010

In Which I Counsel Serena Williams About the Girls

Dear Serena (may I?),

What are you, about a 38 triple D? Was that too personal? Gosh, I'm sorry, but ever since you threatened that lineswoman with severe bodily harm, I've felt a deep personal connection to you. In fact, I wonder if I can have your cell phone number, because there's a woman at the DMV I'd like you to visit on my behalf.

But that's not what I wanted to talk with you about. (Do you dislike people who end sentences with prepositions? I sure hope not! Hahahaha.) I wanted to talk to you about, well, your rack.

No, not your racket, your rack. You know, the girls. I see you take after your mom, while Venus has a body type more like your dad's. I happen to believe that Maria Sharapova's build is more reasonable for tennis, but that's neither here nor there, as this isn't about me. It's about you and your gadoinkers.

What was that? Yes, gadoinkers. No, that's not offensive. It's only offensive when a man says it. Women are allow to call their ta-tas anything they like, and I happen to like gadoinkers, although blouse bunnies and love puppets are grand names as well. In fact, if you were to write down all the names for breasts that you could think of (you may team up with your sister, if you wish), you might be surprised how ably our language caresses the two secrets of our success, and by our, I mean your.

Serena, I must be blunt. In the name of fair competition, I think its time you hobbled the girls.

Hear me out.  At Wimbledon, your fastest serve was clocked at close to 130 mph. No woman has ever hit a tennis ball that hard. And no other woman has had a torpedo deck like yours, either. Coincidence? I think not. Didn't you hear the commentators talking about the "new technology" and how enormous people with tree trunks for legs will set the new standard? If this keeps going, tennis is going to be all about big breasted women serving bullets. I don't know about other fans, but I like to see you guys run around a little bit. How long did it take you to mop up Zvronareva? An hour and six minutes? I barely had time to finish my fifth martini!

Now that I have established the link between large breast size and first serves, I calculate each cup size puts an extra 5 mph on your serve. If you were to reduce the size of your chest, Serena, you would slow down this ridiculous escalation. Something in a modest B+ or C- would stop the madness.

No, I'm sorry, I don't see what Dolly Parton has to do with anything. The day Dolly Parton grabs her guitar by the neck and swings the business end at Shania Twain's head, then you can talk to me about Dolly Parton. Until then, shut your pie hole, Serena, because I'm trying to help you here.

I'm worried about you. It's a wonder you don't pitch forward. In fact, remember when you were up by a hundred set points and you netted the ball with an uncharacteristically graceless forehand that pulled you off your feet? I believe slow motion revealed gravitational pull on your upper torso. Face it, Serena. They are getting in the way. Soon, you'll be stepping on them. The next thing you know, those whoppers will be floppers, and no amount of woulda, shoulda, coulda will help you then.

Talk it over with Venus, your mother, your coach. See if they don't agree that a more streamlined silhouette will help your game. You owe it to the future of the sport.

Excuse me? Your game doesn't need any help? Well, maybe not right now, but...oh, I see. You like yourself just the way you are, and you're not responsible for the future of tennis. Well, it sounds like you've made up your mind then. I'll change the subject.

About your badonkadonk...

Friday, July 2, 2010

In Which Maya the Wolf-dog Sticks her Nose Where it Doesn't Belong



I have a dog named Maya. She's part wolf, and a sweetheart. When Maya wants my attention, she has a habit of coming up behind me and sticking her nose in my boo hole. (Don't worry, that's as graphic as I'm going to get.) I must say, it's effective. Appreciated? No so much.

Maya would make a good book publicist. With her wolfy little brain, she has grasped the concept of a hook. Her follow-through is a little lame (she assumes the belly up, scratch-me position), so my reward for shifted attention is all about her, her, her. If Maya were smart, she'd follow up that poke in the keester with a book giveaway. (Spellcheck didn't recognize keester, bohunkus, or badonkadonk. Clearly, Spellcheck needs to be dragged into the 21st century.)

Maya's attention-getting device may be a little over the line as far as personal boundaries go, but we all work with what we've got. I'm still testing my boundaries. Since March, I've been heralding the advent of ASHES TO WATER as if it were the literary messiah, because that's what all the conventional wisdom tells you to do. In the four months leading up to publication, you're supposed to create anticipation and build momentum: "It's coming!"

Can one over-saturate a targeted audience in this first publicity phase? Yes, one can. And one should rightly take care to dial back the trumpets when one observes one's friends placing hands over their ears.

I read a blog in which a writer's friend flat out told her, "We know you have a book coming out. Enough, already." The blogger heard the complaint, did a little soul-searching, and ultimately concluded she'd rather lose a friend than a potential reader. Why? Because, when an author's book arrives, it has a shelf life of about three months, six if it's popular. (Anything longer than that either has a vampire on the cover, or the author's name above the title in bigger letters.) Only three months to get that book in the hands of readers! If you don't build pre-publication momentum, you've lost review opportunities, event opportunities, and any hope of building a fan base through social media.

But the blogger's friend had a valid point. Even if a book is the best thing since Spanx, a self-promoter can appear conceited, self-absorbed, rabidly fixated, and if you behave like a pop-up ad, you're going to get treated like one. I've sensed it's time for me to pull back, not because of anything anyone said, but because it's starting to feel, well, insignificant, frankly. The odds are getting to me. World news is getting to me. My own mortality is getting to me. In short, there are more important things to do than sit at my computer five hours a day, following up on reviews I'll probably never see, and looking for like-minded bibliophiles on Twitter.

Fortunately, my burn-out is well-timed. My book went live last week. No more pre-publication horn-blowing. Time now to switch to a new stategy:

The Book Tour!

In which Irene now gets to say, "It's here!" And if Vox Populi answers with a resounding "so what," I'm going to have to adopt Maya's tactic. So, if you sense me coming up behind you...well, 

you know.