Tag Archives: ME Kinkade

From the Desk of Dr. Harleen Quinzel

To Whom It May Concern:

Please accept my submission to the esteemed American Journal of Psychiatry, “No Laughing Matter: Humor & the ‘Criminally Insane.’” I realize this submission is unconventional, so I have provided further information to help you make your decision.

I am Dr. Harleen Francis Quinzel. I began my career at the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane after concluding my studies at Gotham City University. As an intern, I interacted with many of the famous inmates, but one in particular seemed worthy of additional study: the man best known by his nom de guerre “the Joker.”

Because of his many exploits and the extremity of his manner, many of the staff feared the patient. As a result, I noticed the patient was frequently isolated and demonstrated a depressive affect. Feeling that all patients deserved a high level of care, I volunteered to analyze and treat him.

In him, I found one of the most fascinating subjects I have ever encountered. My patient presented a challenging case, his only clear characteristic being his instability.

Indeed, while under my supervision (lasting several years), the patient has been labeled psychopathic, manic depressive, schizoid, schizotypial, histrionic, antisocial, socially deviant, manipulative, suicidal, and, yes, homicidal. But I have been led to believe, despite off-the-cuff analysis, that the patient is not afflicted by any of these disorders (or others found in the DSM-V), but rather is merely an underappreciated intellectual with a highly developed sense of humor. (A full analysis can be found in my attached article.)

Some may try to discredit my research because of my close association with the patient. I believe that such devotion was necessary in order to more closely study and learn his ways. It is not my fault that to know him is to love him; it is merely a sign of how thorough my research has been. It is true that it was my familiarity and affection for the patient that led to my current circumstances; however, I do not believe that is at all an impediment to my work.

Though I have recently taken my career in other directions, psychiatry was and always be my first love. I also hope my recent incarceration is not too large a burden for your great institution. In fact, my time here at Arkham Asylum has been a boon, finally allowing me the opportunity to fully process and prepare my research.

I hope you will consider publication of “No Laughing Matter: Humor & the ‘Criminally Insane’” in the American Journal of Psychiatry. (Please keep in mind that, if you don’t, my puddin’ might take it personally. He put a lot of himself into this research!)

Smiles,

Dr. Harley Quinn
Arkham, #12
Gotham City, DC 91192

Pretty please?

 

 

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Whatever You Do, Don’t Push ‘Publish’

You’ve finished NaNoWriMo! You’ve completed a whole book in a month! You are seriously hot stuff! Go get a cookie. No wait, get two. You’ve earned it, kiddo.

“But wait,” you’re saying, “I’m busy right now. I was just about to publi–”

STOP RIGHT THERE, YOU! Yes, you.

Don’t push that button.

This post was originally going to be called “Advice to Past-Me,” because I have SO been there — and still step over there when the flights of fancy get a bit giddy — but I realized this feeling probably applies to a lot of people coming down off that writing euphoria.

I know the feeling, believe me I do. You have just written the most amazing piece of writing the world has ever known. You are going to be so famous. Your book is like the lovechild of J K Rowling, Isaac Asimov, and all the best parts of your favorite movies. It’s gonna be so big, you guys.

Coming down off that writing high is exactly like being a 15-year-old who just had a first date and held hands for the first time. OMG! That was, like, the best ever! Your heart is all fluttery and it feels like it must burst if you don’t show the world RIGHT NOW because this is your moment and you owned it and nobody understands.

But I beg you: Don’t publish right away.

You may be right. I hope you are! I hope your book really is the next best thing. But if it is, then it won’t be hurt by what I’m going to recommend, and it might save you from the pain of rejection.

The first thing you should do? Walk away from your work for a month, minimum. Go on, you’ve earned the break! And if you still want to keep writing, go do something else. NOT a sequel or whatever. Just something totally different.

After that month, gently crack open your manuscript again, give it a read. It may not look as shiny as it did when you put it down; that’s ok, just do some edits, put in the work. If it does look amazing, first of all, you are a lucky duck. Second, get another opinion. It can be the opinion of your mom or your husband or your kid or your neighbor down the hall, but do tell them to be honest with you.

They’re not going to be honest with you. They’re going to try to be nice to you. But they might try to gently tell you they didn’t “love love” that one little teensy part. This will feel like ultimate betrayal, but this is what you need. Go work on that part.

Then, share your work with someone else, someone less close to you, if you can. Someone who can more reliably destroy your feelings for the sake of good work. (Warning: these people are often hard to get to actually read the danged thing). Take it to a critique group, if you have one.

This is going to feel like someone is stepping on your heart, crushing it into jello. But that’s okay. Your work will be better for it.

Then get your work edited, by someone who is not you. If you are exceptionally lucky, you know someone who is gifted in this area who will do it for free, but these people are special snowflakes, so don’t be discouraged if you need to pay for it. In fact, I don’t trust any unpaid editors, personally. If your work really is the best thing ever, you want it to shine! Stories with typos do not shine, as a rule. Put your money where your mouth is!

(If you don’t know where to find an editor, start Googling. I like Writer.ly. I also happen to be a copy editor, and editing is one of the things I love to do… )

Now, after you have gotten your manuscript reviewed a few times and it’s edited, now maybe it really is the best work ever.

It’s also probably been at least six months since you finished writing it. Maybe it’s a year. But that’s okay! A novel is not a mayfly, emerging whole overnight. It’s an ant colony; it takes time and coordination and help to build it up into something incredible.

Now… now you can publish. Or you can start the process of contacting agents and trying to be traditionally published.

I know that all might sound mean and/or out of touch, because that initial excitement is SO heady. Don’t lose that excitement, but do try to put it in its correct context. That’s really hard to do, particularly when it’s your first rodeo. Slow your roll, new writer. It is more rewarding then publishing prematurely and facing the barrage of poor reviews.

Don’t do it. Not yet, anyway.

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Waiting Marathon: Harper Voyager Open Submissions Top 12%

I submitted my first book, Alt.World, to the Harper Voyager massive open submissions experiment back in October of last year. They were completely overwhelmed by the huge response–which just shows how many eager authors there are still struggling to get an agents’ attention–and their original plan to finish by January was completely abandoned. So we’ve been waiting awhile.

There was another update this week, which is great! They are now down to 550 submissions out of the original 4,543 (no wonder it’s taking awhile!), and–as far as I know*–I’m still under consideration.

For those rare birds who can do both math and English, that puts us at 12.1% remaining, and the odds of making the final cut (assuming they stick with keeping only twelve) have greatly improved, from a 0.264% chance to a 2.2% chance. So, woo!

Now I say “as far as I know” because they offered up an email address by which the contenders could ask the status. I did that months ago, and never heard back, and it turns out that the manuscript of one guy waiting patiently all this time hadn’t actually gotten into the system, so that’s scary. But I did get an email confirmation that it got to HV originally, so best I can do is keep hoping my dystopia stands a chance.

But no matter what, top 12% says something, right?

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Is There an Echo in Here? Editing Out Repetition

Inspiration can come from the damnedest places, and so today’s editing lesson comes from a rather old inspiration: the Bible. Specifically, the book of Daniel, chapter 3.

You’ve probably heard this one, the story of the three guys who refused to worship a golden idol and were thrown into a blazing furnace but didn’t die because God was down with their loyalty. (Veggie Tales has a pretty fun take on it if you want a refresher–Rack, Shack, and Benny).

But this is an editing lesson, not a Bible lesson. Bear with me here.

If you go read that first link, you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about. Daniel Chapter 3 is really repetitive.

  • “the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials” –stated 3 times
  • “the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music” – stated 4 times
  • “Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” -stated 4 times (one has a different tense, but close enough)
  • “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego”–always listed together, just like that, is repeated 11 times.

To be clear, it’s not that long a chapter. Let’s just say the congregation got pretty restless during the reading. It was like “come ON already, get to the point!”

Shel Silverstein does repetition right. I love “Lazy Jane.”

Repetition has its place–it’s a fantastic way to provide emphasis, and you should certainly have repeating themes throughout your book. Stephen King in On Writing talks about how he specifically went back and added more mentions of blood and blood-related imagery to Carrie to help sneakily prepare the reader for the bloody mess at the end.

But often writers end up a bit more like the book of Daniel, just repeating things for the sake of it. I mean, I don’t think this chapter would have been changed at all had some of those “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego”‘s been changed to “the three men” or, heaven forbid*, “they.”

A lot of the time, our repetitions are smaller: “crutch words.” Every writer has a certain proclivity to use the same word over and over and over and over. (Mine is “actually.” I shudder when I reread my manuscripts and find it everywhere. Bleah.) Another one I see a lot in my editing is “seemingly” or “seemed to.” (For the most part, if something “seems to be,” you can just cut it out entirely…if you’re locked into a character’s perspective, everything they perceive can just be reported.)

The problem with this kind of needless repetition is a) it bores your reader which b) makes them less likely to keep reading. It slows the pace down dramatically, which can kill your pivotal scene. Even if you don’t notice your crutch words, I guarantee the reader will.

Repetition, particularly of “crutch words” because they’re harder to notice when its fresh, is one of those things that justify an editor, or at least a second read after you’ve put it down for awhile. Your grammar and spelling can be perfect, but if you’ve got a bunch of repeated phrases, it’s going to throw the reader out of the flow. But take the time (and, often, money) to get it thoroughly edited, and you’ll cut down, if not outright cut out, a lot of the problematic repetition.

 

 

*This is a joke. Get it? Heaven forbid? Bible? I’m hilarious.

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My Plan for the Zombie Uprising

The other day I was talking to my Significant Other about how we would best survive the zombie apocalypse (you know, like you do), and I think we’ve hit on a winning strategy. See, my brother has already identified the Home Depot-next-to-a-grocery-store he’s planning to hole up in–his plan is to use the construction materials to build a giant elevated platform on which to live and store his oodles of canned goods which he’ll be stealing from the grocery store next door. I’d bandied about several ideas, but until that conversation, I hadn’t decided (though I know all the reasons it’s a great idea to go to your favorite bar…)

But now I’ve got it. I’ll be riding out the zombie outbreak at…the nearest pharmacy.

It’s perfect. Here’s why.

Reasons to Ride Out the Zombie Apocalypse in a Pharmacy

1. Food

Most retail pharmacies not only carry drugs and stuff, but they also have a lot of ready-packaged food. This kind of crap grab-and-go food is normally a terrible thing to eat, but this is going to be exactly the kind of food you’re going to need in the event of a no-power, no-water situation. Plus, there’s lots of candy!

2. Other Assorted Goods

The downside of a grocery store is a) a lot of other people are going to think of it, b) a lot of that stuff is going to spoil pretty quickly, c) they’re really big and therefore hard to defend and d) other people are going to think of it and try to get in, too. But they also mostly just have food, which is good for when you want to buy dinner but bad when you are trying to ride out an outbreak in some kind of comfort. But your local pharmacy has all kinds of bizarre stuff! Sure, you may be making a bed out of three pillow pets and a dog bed, but you’ll have that option, and that is great!

2a. Camping Supplies

They sometimes even have random camping supplies in my pharmacy. Why? I don’t know, but I won’t ask too many questions in this situation. Plus they have hair spray, too, so we can combine that with a lighter for some awesome zombie barbecues.

3. Defensible

Your average pharmacy is a bit worried about theft, so there aren’t many doors and the locations I know of don’t have huge walls of windows (unlike Walmart, Target, or any grocery store). You’ll have to bar the door at the back and the two glass ones at the front, but otherwise, you’re set, no problem!

4. First Aid

In addition to worrying about zombies and possible infection, you’re going to have a lot of non-zombie injuries. You’re going to need a sanitary way of dealing with that, and you’re going to need supplies. Hopefully your average zombie survival kit comes at least with a first aid kit, but that will eventually run out. A pharmacy as your home base will ensure you have a lot more supplies when things start to go bad.

5. Prescription Drugs

Until this week, I actually thought my survival odds for an uprising were pretty danged slim, but not for reasons directly related to zombies. No, my problem is a reliance on things you can’t get when the normal distribution channels are disrupted: prescription drugs. I take two drugs every day just to keep going, for things I was born with (thanks, genetics!) and a third because my allergies are over-the-top. I doubt I’ll be good at fighting off zombies when I’m gasping for air with snot dribbling down my chest–this is a very practical concern. So I need to find a way to maintain my access to these medications as long as possible…and that means taking over the pharmacy. They have a much bigger storehouse than pretty much anywhere else, so I’ll last longer with this supply near by.

Plus, in the long term, having access to prescription medications of all kinds is going to be highly valuable. You won’t be able to see a doctor when there are zombies slogging through the streets, so you’ll have to fight off that cold on your own–or make friends with the folks guarding the pharmacy. I figure that will be really handy if it comes down to a barter system for survival.

 

So that’s my plan, and retail pharmacies seem common enough that I don’t mind sharing the idea. Where will you be hiding out when the zombies come knockin’?

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Seeking Advice: Overcoming Stress

Lately, things in my day-to-day non-writing personal life have gotten a bit hectic. Things completely out of my control happened and caught me by surprise, plus I had a great big list of Things That Must Get Done.

Shockingly, this change actually left me with more free time, but a great deal more stress, too. I managed to blog during my vacation (thank you, delayed posting!) but after I got back, and facing a scary look at the future, the spinning plates I’d been maintaining for awhile (including updating the blog regularly) started to slip.

I had time to write, so I can’t beg off with that excuse, but I had absolutely no inclination. It was like I had been zapped by a writer’s block ray gun. But more than that–I didn’t even want to write. I started to resent my laptop, even, skirting the room and glaring at it hatefully, because a tiny easy-to-ignore part of me was insisting that I needed to be there, writing away, keeping to “the schedule,” when I wanted nothing more but to go be a gypsy or something. (“Something” often meaning “lying pathetically on the couch in a hot sweaty puddle”–this is Texas, after all, and it’s bloody hot.)

Eventually, the stress abated, which is why I’m here again, writing, and similarly why I yet again have clean dishes to eat off of, freshly painted fingernails, and some well-organized personal files.

Every time I turn to the internet or Twitter for support, it seems I just find more “soldier on,” “write every day or else!” type posts, which just leaves me feeling sort of bad about myself. But I keep thinking: I can’t be the only one this has happened to. I can’t be alone in being paralyzed, rather than invigorated by, stress.

Or can I? Tell me, and tell me true.

Have you ever faced a time of stress that affected your writing? How did you handle it? Do you really believe in those “write every day” aphorisms?

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Literary Summer

This month has been epic in a rather literary way. From the last week of May until this week, I have been lucky enough to hear and meet Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett from the A Way With Words radio show, author Margaret Atwood, and author Neil Gaiman.

I think I’ve hit some kind of trifecta there. I’m not sure of what, exactly, except perhaps the Jeopardy category of “People Who Make Your Heart and Brain Go Pitter-Pat.” I love the radio show (you can listen online!) and Atwood and Gaiman are both so high in my tier of favorite authors that I’m not even sure which gets the “best” appellation. Atwood was first and perhaps more influential to my personal writing style, but Gaiman is just so prolific and varied that I always feel like I’m discovering something else new (and often scary).

A Way With Words

If you haven’t heard it yet, A Way With Words is a nationally syndicated radio show about language. They do word jokes, explain the etymology of interesting words both colloquial and professorial, and, most of all, answer word questions from callers of all stripes. They have a philosophy of verbal flexibility (meaning that it’s ok that words change meanings and spellings over time and geography) and are incredibly kind and so shockingly learned. It’s like they’ve swallowed the OED and can now regurgitate on command.

I saw them at a special benefit for the Aberg Center for Literacy, an organization I’d not heard of previously, but they are advocates for literacy and therefore I like them. I had expected the show to be mostly a real-life version of the radio hour, but the organizers had mixed it up a bit. Greg and Martha each had a talk, with a game show format in the middle. Greg discussed the ways his young son was teaching him things about language and about how forgiveness is an important part of learning (and teaching). Martha’s talk was about a professor who really taught her to love language, and who became a teacher of more than academics, but of life. It was a very moving presentation.

They took questions from the audience, and I was stunned that my question was the first drawn. But it was too good a question, and they were stumped (“Does the phrase ‘brain-child’ have anything to do with the myth of Athena, who was born from the skull of Zeus?” Answer: “We dunno. Maybe? Sounds good, let’s say yes, sure, why not?”)

The question-and-answer bit really showed how much they knew off the top of their heads; they answered questions without any resources and without having known the questions ahead of time.

Atwood signing

Margaret Atwood

The first book of Atwood’s I discovered was “A Handmaid’s Tale,” arguably her most famous because it is both required reading and banned in schools, depending on your region. It was assigned in mine, and I did perhaps the most unconventional book report on record for it. Well, at least my most unconventional. I asked my teachers if I could “act it out.” They were very obliging souls, so they said yes.

When it was my turn to present my “report” on “A Handmaid’s Tale,” I solemnly walked to the front of the class, explained that the president and Congress were dead, and I was now in charge of the class. Several classmates turned and stared at our teachers, who just shrugged and said we’d all better listen. I broke up couples, confiscated religious jewelry, separated girls from boys, explained that the girls would now be divided into groups based on their ability to procreate and that the boys, if they were lucky and loyal enough, might one day get the privilege of a wife. One classmate protested my act, and I said that was fine, and he would be hanged. I had my “bodyguard” (who had previously volunteered, and thus got himself a wife) “execute” him, and he was mock-hanged in the front of the class, as an example for the rest.

Like I said, the most bizarre book report ever. I certainly won’t ever forget it.

I’ve since read and enjoyed many other of Atwood’s books (I have a particular fondness for “Oryx and Crake” and “The Penelopiad”), but “Handmaid” was revolutionary for me. It was bleak…really really bleak. Most of even the apocalyptic stories I’d read had shown a strong light of hope. It was all the worse because it was set in such a realistic version of our world, and it scared me on a level no book ever has.

Atwood came to speak as part of a Dallas Museum of Art Arts and Letters presentation. Ostensibly she was there to talk about mythology, but she did this only tangentially. She did show us lots of pictures of her drawings, at various ages. (Apparently she is also an illustrator, and I’m crushed that the copies of her books I have aren’t those she drew).

Mostly, she talked about her childhood. She grew up in the woods of Canada, and didn’t have running water or electricity for most of her childhood. Books were of preeminent importance because they needed things to do.

I think I told my dad that night that I was now upset that we’d had water and electricity, because how would I ever be a fantastic author now?

He didn’t seem that bothered by it.

Atwood took questions from the audience, and I happened to be sitting right by the microphone, so I leapt up and asked about her feelings on technology. She gave a very lovely and funny response about how her use of social media was like a biologist studying mosquitoes: she is offering her flesh up for consumption to test it out for the future benefit of authors and twitterers.

She was lovely and far funnier than I had ever expected and her brilliance really shown. And when I got up to the front of the signing line, I had no idea what to say and just sort of quietly thanked her for coming.

I still can’t believe it happened.

Gaiman signing

Neil Gaiman

And then, adding to the list of Things I Never Imagined Possible, I got to meet Neil Gaiman.

Well, me and about 1,500 other people (seriously. That theater was PACKED).

Gaiman is on his last-ever book signing tour, for “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” his newest book that is sort-of fiction, sort-of adult, sort-of magical. (I’m only a third of the way in, because I had to do things besides reading today and I’m very very upset about that, but I’ll be finished this weekend for sure).

Gaiman read to us from his new book, and I wanted his lovely sonorous English talking to go on forever, particularly when he tried on different British accents as appropriate.

I just read, tonight, the passage he’d read to us last night, and I hope it always stays this way, but I heard him again in my head, each syllable rolling around between my ears.

He then took some questions from the audience, and unlike Atwood they were all previously written down and presented to him on cards (and I’m bummed because I was stuck in the interminable line and did not get the chance to even ask a question via card). He joked that a huge stack of them were all “What was it like to work on Doctor Who?” so he’d removed those.

He only answered a few questions, and I admit I was a little disappointed; I wanted him to keep talking. But he was lovely and so kind and humble.

Then we got lucky, and he read from his next children’s book “Fortunately, The Milk.” It’s about a dad who has gone off to get milk for his children’s breakfast and…encounters some rather odd difficulty along the way. It was hilarious and I found myself leaning forward, forward in my seat trying to soak up more of it. He’s delightful. I’m definitely going to buy that one when it comes out in September!

And I was lucky enough to be seated in one of the nearer rows, so I didn’t have to wait too long to get my books signed.

Again, I got up there and just gaped like a goldfish. What do you say to your idol? I just almost-whispered “Thank you for coming out.” And he drew a heart in my book and I was so happy I had a Kristen Bell sloth moment as soon as we walked out. Seriously. Neil Gaiman made me cry.

 

So that’s been this month. I don’t know that I will ever be able to top that.

Provided you’re actually able to speak when given the moment (since I wasn’t), what would you say to your idol? And who would it be?

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