Skip to content

How To Blog Without Burning Out

(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

If you’re writing a blog, it’s easy to find basic tips all over the internet.  Leave comments on other blogs.  Promote yourself with other kinds of social media.  Use key words that show up on search engines.  Become a credible source in a specific niche.  Those tips can be useful, but some of them are time-consuming and can take the fun out of blogging.

I’ve been blogging for a little over 5 years, and I’ve noticed that a lot of writers who had blogs 5 years ago have either slowed down or no longer blog at all.  I think some of them burned out because they were trying too hard to follow the usual guidelines, and doing all of that isn’t very fun.  Self-promotion is time-consuming when you just want to write.

In my five years of blogging, I’ve accumulated lots of writing.  I’m embarrassed by some of it, but that’s part of the process.   I’m not famous, and I haven’t made much money, but it’s fun, and that’s why I keep blogging.

I have a few disadvantages as a blogger.  I haven’t told anybody I know about my blog, so I can’t get readers that way.  When I put out an e-book, I can’t get friends/family to buy it (except Mom sometimes).  I have a full-time job and a family, so the blog is a low priority.

My writing goal is 15 minutes each weeknight, and two hours a day on weekends, but none of that is always possible.  Even though I can’t follow all my tips all the time, here are my basic rules to blogging without burning out:

* Be ready to be ignored.

Being ignored isn’t fun, but it’s easier when you’re emotionally prepared for it.  It’s tough to write something and then realize a week later nobody has read it.  During my first year of blogging, hardly anybody read what I wrote.

I even wrote a blog post that was completely unread for three years.  The only reason anybody eventually read it was because I wrote about it, mocking the blog post that nobody reads.  Then several people found it.  Somebody even “pity liked” it.  I’ll take a “pity like,” but I don’t like it.

* Don’t stress yourself.

It’s true that new content is important, but it’s just a blog.  If you don’t post something that particular day/week/month, nobody really cares.  I don’t think anybody who reads this blog notices when I take a vacation.  It’s just a blog.

*Write about a variety of stuff.

Most blogging advice suggests that you stick to a niche, but that bored me when I tried it.  Once I branched out into anything I wanted, I began writing more.  Sometimes I write about books and writing.  Sometimes I write about pop culture.  Sometimes I write about my family.  I even wrote a 60 episode blog serial about an ex-girlfriend called “The Literary Girlfriend.” And then I wrote an ebook sequel.

Writing a variety of stuff stimulates my brain and keeps my creativity going, and I rarely get in a rut.  If anything, I usually have too much to write about and can’t find the time to get to it.

*  Write short posts.

Some bloggers start off by writing stuff that’s thousands of words long.  Then they get frustrated when nobody reads it.  If there’s the possibility of being ignored, you’d rather rather be ignored at 600 words than 3500.

Plus, readers appreciate shorter posts.  If you have a topic that requires thousands of words, split it up into several posts and link them.  You increase the chances of being read, and when people enjoy your thoughts, they can read your other blog posts.

*Ignore social media when you’re writing.

Since I’m a blogger, I try to stick to blogging.  The other stuff (Twitter, Instagram, YouTube) is okay, but they can end up wasting a lot of time.  If I had more time, maybe I’d spend more of it on Twitter or Instagram.  If I didn’t need to be kind of anonymous (or if I was more attractive and had a better voice), I’d try a YouTube channel.  But doing too much other stuff can drain your writing energy, and if you’re a blogger, then writing is probably your thing.

When I use other forms of social media, I give myself a time limit (usually five minutes).  Anything more is a time waste.

*****

Following these tips probably won’t make you wealthy from blogging, and you might not get a huge number of followers.  But if you just want to blog and see what happens, these tips may help you to enjoy your blogging experience for a long time, and that might help you keep blogging for a long time.

*****

What do you think?  What tips do you have to make blogging an enjoyable experience?

Awkward Sex Scenes in Books III

Even the cover looks a little awkward.

Even the cover looks a little awkward.

A normal sex scene between two characters in fiction can go wrong for a lot of reasons, but a solo sex scene is automatically awkward.  Self-gratification is awkward.  There’s a stigma to it, even though it’s normal behavior for most guys.  Any guy who doesn’t engage in it will be miserable, but it’s also forbidden to talk about.  If a guy admits to this behavior, he gets mocked.

If a woman admits to it, it can be seen as empowering.  It’s one of the few double standards where women have the advantage.  A woman engaging in self-gratification can be portrayed artistically.  With a guy, it’s going to be gross, no matter what.

The following excerpt from Here I am by Jonathon Safran Foer didn’t make the final cut in 2015’s Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award, but it earned a mention, partially because of the subject matter.  It’s a sentence describing self-gratification.

 ‘He jerked off with the determination of someone within sight of Everest’s summit, having lost all his friends and Sherpas, having run out of supplemental oxygen, but preferring death to failure.’

In this case, I disagree with The Literary Review that this is a bad sex scene (except for two words that I’ll discuss later).  I believe this excerpt was meant to be humorous, intentionally exaggerating the intensity of a male’s efforts while gratifying himself, and the Literary Review might be missing the point.

Sometimes humor doesn’t come across in the written word.  If a writer expresses an idea in a tongue-in-cheek fashion and readers take it literally, the author can’t slap the reader across the head and yell “I WAS BEING FUNNY!”  The reader can just hit back and yell “I COULDN’T TELL!”  There are no facial expressions or vocal inflections to add to the audience’s interpretations of the words.  That’s what makes writing humor so difficult.

The author’s problem here was the long metaphor.  When a writer has to use to start a description or metaphor with the word “someone who…,” the expression is probably going to be awkward.  The words “someone who” automatically stops the flow of the sentence.

This problem is easily fixed.  Replace “someone who” with a noun, and the reader can continue with ease.  Maybe “someone who…” can be replaced with “…an explorer” or “…mountain climber.”  I’m sure an author like Foer (or an editor) could come up with a better replacement.

As long as the sentence is, the rest of the excerpt is spot-on.  It might seem over-the-top, but that’s Foer’s writing style.  And if an author is going to engage in hyperbole, then self-gratification is the perfect topic.

The Literary Review probably chose this excerpt because it made them laugh uncomfortably.  Self-gratification often makes people laugh uncomfortably.  It’s like farting or the title Moby Dick.  Even Mark Twain wrote a book On Masturbation. Yes, the original title of Twain’s speech was The Science of Onanism, but nobody today knows what that means.  Sometimes humor goes over the audience’s head.

Everybody laughs at the title On Masturbation, but nobody has read it.  At least, nobody has admitted to reading it.  More people have read Tom Sawyer Detective than On Masturbation (I’m actually making that up, so I could be wrong).

I’m tempted to buy a copy of On Masturbation and walk around with it just to see people’s reactions.  It’s something Mark Twain might have appreciated.  I could also walk around with a copy of Here I Am, but it’s not as obvious.  With humor, sometimes you have to be obvious.

Donald Trump’s Reading List

image via wikimedia

This might be a short article. (image via wikimedia)

President Donald Trump doesn’t read books.  At least that’s what everybody says.  I don’t trust what everybody says anymore because everybody seems to be wrong all the time.  Everybody said that Donald Trump would never be president, but everybody was wrong about that.

That’s one thing I’ve learned recently; everybody is an expert, but nobody really knows what they’re talking about.

Maybe President Trump reads all the time and just doesn’t tell anybody.  That sounds like something he might do.  He might read a lot of books but doesn’t tell anybody because he doesn’t want his opposition to know what he’s thinking.  That sounds like Donald Trump.

Donald Trump tweets a lot too, but nobody knows if he reads anybody else’s tweets.  You can write and send tweets out without reading anybody else’s, but that’s rude, and that also sounds like something Donald Trump might do.

President Trump writes a bunch of executive orders.  I hope he reads everything that he writes.  That’s kind of important.  Sometimes the executive orders are unclear, so maybe he needs to read what he writes more clearly.  I understand that.  I make mistakes on my blog all the time.  But if I make a mistake on my blog, it doesn’t change anybody’s life.  It doesn’t even change my life.

Even if President Trump doesn’t read books, I’m not bashing him for it.  When President Obama put out his summer reading list , I accused him of being pretentious.  His book list included a bunch of literary fiction that people usually aspire to read to but can’t quite get to.  There weren’t any Stephen King or JK Rowling books on his reading list (at least not on the list I saw), so I don’t trust the authenticity of a summer reading list that doesn’t have anything mainstream.

President Trump should put out a reading list just to make authors angry.  Authors don’t like him, and they would probably be offended if Donald Trump recommended any of their books.  They’d probably be afraid of being lumped in with white nationalists and alt-right and would freak out.  Authors with books on Trump’s reading list would have to publicly disavow President Trump more than they already do.  I’m not sure how they could do that.  You can write only so many open letters.

President Obama used to fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket every year, but I don’t think President Trump is going to do that either.  Filling out brackets of 64 requires a lot of time, and he might not be done with his executive orders by tournament time.  Then again, the way he writes executive orders, he could fill out a bracket in under five minutes.  And if his bracket doesn’t win, he could say the system is rigged.  If his bracket DOES win, his opponents can blame the Russians (or the officiating).

That’s one thing Trump supporters and Trump opponents can agree on; the officiating sucks. Basketball officiating always sucks.

Donald Trump says he likes reading All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.  It’s a classic, and it’s an anti-war book, so if you’re worried about President Trump starting World War III, maybe you can take comfort that he reads an anti-war novel about World War I.  It might not be much, but it’s a start.

President Trump’s Reading List:

The Bible– by God

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

More pending?

*****

What do you think?  How many books should be on a presidential reading list?  If President Trump put your novel on his reading list, would you disavow it?

The Literary Rants: George RR Martin’s Writing Pace

Why is Martin making public appearances? He should be writing Winds of Winter!! (image via wikimedia)

Why is Martin making public appearances? He should be writing Winds of Winter!! (image via wikimedia)

As an aspiring writer, I probably shouldn’t criticize author George R.R. Martin much.  He’s more successful than I’ll probably ever be.

As a potential reader, however, I can criticize him a lot.   George R.R. Martin has been writing his Game of Thrones series A Song of Ice and Fire for over 20 years, and he still has two more books left to finish.  At the pace he’s going now, nobody is sure when (or if) he’s going to finish.

When Martin began the series, the first three books came out at a reasonable clip.  The fourth, fifth, and sixth books, however, have taken at least five years each, and they’ve been long and convoluted, and to some fans, unsatisfying.  Take a look at the list below, and you’ll see what I mean:

A Game of Thrones  August, 1996

A Clash of Kings  February 1999

A Storm of Swords  November 2000

A Feast for Crows  November 2005

A Dance with Dragons  July 2011

The Winds of Winter  2017????

A Dream of Spring    ?????

At some point, Martin had hoped to have Winds of Winter completed by the end of 2015, and now supposedly he’s hoping to have it done sometime in 2017.  Critics say that Martin is taking too long to finish this series.  Fans say he should take his time and make the final two books as awesome as possible.  Critics then respond by saying that the longer the books take, the worse they are.

Since I haven’t read them, I don’t have an opinion about book quality, but five years between books seems like too long.  When I was a teenager, the three years between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi was an eternity.  Five years as an adult is shorter than three years as a kid, but a movie should take longer to make than a book (I don’t know if that’s true).

One problem is that Martin writes a bunch of stuff that is Game of Thrones related but isn’t Game of Thrones.  If I was waiting for Winds of Winter (and I’m not), I’d be pissed.  In fact, I’m pissed and I’m not even reading the books!

I’m pissed that Martin writes Dunk and Egg stories instead of finishing Game of Thrones.

I’m pissed that he writes Targaryen history instead of writing Game of Thrones.

I’m pissed that he’s involved with short story anthologies when he should be writing Game of Thrones.

I’m pissed that he does a bunch of speaking engagements when he should be writing Game of Thrones.

I’m pissed, but I’m not a danger to anybody.  I’m not going to riot in the streets and break windows and pepper spray people who disagree with me.  I’ll go read the Tom Bombadil chapter from The Lord of the Rings.  That always calms me down (or puts me to sleep).

To me, Martin’s one job should be to finish the last two books of Game of Thrones.  No more Dunk and Egg.  No more Targaryen history.  No more speaking engagements.  Just Game of Thrones.  24 hours a day.  7 days a week.

If Martin can’t do that, he should get James Patterson and his coauthors to finish Game of Thrones. They could be done with both books by summer.  I have a problem with a lot of what James Patterson does, but at least he doesn’t make fans wait long between books.

****

What do you think? Will you read a series even if you know the series isn’t finished yet, or am I the only person who does that?  How long is a reasonable wait between books?  What do you read to calm yourself when you’re angry?

Is Dick a Bad Word?

(image via wikimedia)

He wasn’t called Tricky Dick for nothing.  (image via wikimedia)

Dick has the reputation for being a bad word.  Like most bad words, dick has four letters and refers to a body part or body function.  Unlike most bad words, dick is also a name, usually the short nickname for a man named Richard.  This can be a problem, when a name becomes a derogatory term for the male body part.

Even though it’s a bad word, dick is not exclamatory.  You don’t yell out “Dick!!” after you stub your toe or hit your head on a cabinet.  You yell out other four-letter words instead.

Dick is often used as an insult to a male.  Usually a dick is synonymous with being a jerk.  Jerk is a strong word to use, but dick takes it a step further.  “Jerk!” is what you say when you’re in an environment where you could get in trouble for saying “dick!”

There usually aren’t too many adjectives used before the word dick.  The most somebody might say is “What a dick!” but you usually don’t get the string of profane adjectives like “That sh**-eating motherf***ing dick!”  Dick is best used a stand alone.

Everybody knew dick was a bad word back when I was a kid because if you called somebody a dick, he would want to fight you, and parents would punish you if they heard you say it.  The only time you could use the word dick was if it was somebody’s name, and even then, you had to be careful.  You had to be very clear with your parents that Dick was really that guy’s name.

There were a lot of famous Dicks when I was growing up.  A guy named Dick Clark hosted a show called American Bandstand.  A syndicated comedy called The Dick Van Dyke show was on TV every afternoon.  Even the U. S. President Richard Nixon was nicknamed Dick.  So you could be named Dick and still be successful… if you were an adult.

In my elementary school, the entire 1st grade mocked a boy named Dick.  He might have gotten away with being named Dick, but he had a funny last name too, so it was impossible to resist.  If you’re named Dick and you have a funny last name, you’re screwed.  Looking back, I feel bad. Dick with the funny last name, I’m sorry for making fun of you in 1st grade.

Today, even adults laugh at the name Dick.  The latest movie based on the classic novel Moby Dick wasn’t called Moby Dick because everybody laughs at Moby Dick.  In a moment of irony, a co-worker of mine named Peter laughed at the name Dick.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him what Peter means.

Like most profanity, dick has been around longer than some people realize.  According to the dictionary, dick has been slang for the male appendage since at least the early 1800’s, so calling somebody a dick is nothing new.  If anything, dick has shown great endurance by lasting this long as a bad word.

Dick isn’t the only male name that comes with a negative connotation.  Jack is a car thief, and John is a guy who pays for prostitutes. The only reason John and Jack aren’t thought of as bad words is because they don’t refer to a private part.  Society seems to think that being called a male appendage is worse than being called a thief or guy who pays for sex.  Otherwise, we would consider John and Jack bad words too.

It’s okay to name your kids John and Jack now.  If you’re a kid, it’s okay to randomly say “John” or “Jack” without getting punished.  Adults can talk about a John or a Jack without anybody trying to suppress immature giggling.

But dick?  If you’re a polite person, you probably don’t want to say “dick” in public.  And you probably don’t want to name your kid Dick either, unless you expect him to be a jerk.  In that case, Dick would be the perfect name.

The Literary Rants: Must-Read Novels

Whenever there's a must-read list, this one's on it.

This novel is on almost every must-read list, so it must be pretty good.

Whenever I see a Must-Read Novels list, I automatically don’t want to read the books on the list.  It’s a stupid knee-jerk reaction, I know.  The authors probably didn’t ask for their books to be put on the list.  I just don’t like being told what to read anymore.

There are only two legitimate reasons for a book to be a “must-read.”  You fail a class if you don’t read it.   Or you get fired from a job for not reading it.  I don’t have to worry about failing classes anymore, and I don’t have to read books for my job (I have to read stuff that’s worse than most books), so there are no must-read books anymore.

I understand that using the term must-read is hyperbole.  I have nothing against a little hyperbole.  And I usually don’t like it when people take hyperbole literally.  During the political season, politicians use hyperbole, and then other politicians accuse each other of lying when they were using hyperbole.

Even if the term must-read is hyperbolic, the idea is that these books are better than other books which haven’t made the list.  A must-read book has something that other books don’t.  A must-read novel has to have some cultural significance.  There has to be a reason everybody “must read” it.  It has to be more than good.

To Kill a Mockingbird shows up on almost every American Must-Read Novels list.  It’s a little unfair because To Kill a Mockingbird is assigned reading to a large part of the U.S. population.  Plus, there’s a fairly decent movie that goes along with it.  Calling a book that everybody has to read must-read is unnecessary.

Several lists also consider Ulysses by James Joyce to be a “must read.”  To me, Ulysses is a Must NOT Read Novel.  I’ve tried reading it a couple times because I’ve seen it on so many lists, but I’ve never gotten past the first few pages.  I wonder how many people have read Ulysses to the end, and then I wonder how many of those few have actually understood and enjoyed it.  I think Ulysses is one of those novels that people claim to have read but haven’t.  There’s no way to prove that, unless you walk around with a Ulysses test and hand it out to everybody who’s claimed to have read Ulysses.

No book can be a must-read before it comes out.  Every list that proclaims “New Books You Must Read!” is a lie because because nobody knows yet if a book is a must-read (if there is such a thing).  Maybe readers can look forward to those books, but anticipation is not the same as must-read.

In fact, a book should be out for at least a decade before it reaches must-read status.  A few years ago, The Fault in our Stars by John Green was on a bunch of Must-Read Lists.  Now, it’s gone.  If a book is a must-read, it should stay a must-read.  If a book is only temporarily a must-read, then the list compilers should admit to their error.  To be fair, there was nothing wrong with The Fault in our Stars except that it might have been a bit overrated, but sometimes it’s not the book’s fault that it becomes overrated.

There are so many must-read lists, and all of them have different novels.  If you tally all the novels on all the must-read lists, it’s into the hundreds and hundreds.  I don’t have time to read all the books I want to read, so I definitely don’t have time to read must-read books.  The list compilers should respect their readers’ time enough to at least have the same books on all their lists.

Below is a list of novels that seem to be on most of the Must-Read Novels lists.  These aren’t my must-read novels.  I’m not saying anybody has to read these.  If you’re interested in which books tend to make Must-Read Novels lists, here’s your general guide:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling

1984 by George Orwell

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

*****

What do you think?  Is there really anything such as a must-read book?  If so, which books do you think should be on that list?

Don’t Change the Meaning of Literally

It's literally an uphill battle when you disagree with a dictionary. (image via wikimedia)

It’s an uphill battle when you disagree with a dictionary, but not “literally” uphill. (image via wikimedia)

“This is literally the worst day in my life!” my youngest daughter said when I returned home from work.

Literally?  I started to think of my daughter’s other bad days.  There have been deaths in the family, serious injuries, and broken friendships.  I prepared for the worst.  Instead, my daughter explained that there’d been some school drama and a teacher had yelled at her for running in the hallway.

“That’s it?” I said.  “You had me scared at literally.”

“You literally take literally too seriously,” she said.

I didn’t argue with her. I’m glad my daughter knows the meaning of literally, but that knowledge shouldn’t excuse her for misusing it.

When it comes to changes in the meanings of words, literally should be the line in the sand.  I don’t mean we should literally draw a line in the sand because that would be stupid.  I mean, we should remain stubborn against those who would willingly change the meaning of literally to something that doesn’t mean literally.

Even the dictionary has acknowledged the recent change in the misuse of literally.  The first definition of literally in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is fine:

in a way that uses the ordinary or primary meaning of a term or expression

So far, so good.  That’s pretty much what literally has always meant (and should always mean).  Then, in an attempt to explain the new ironic meaning of literally, Merriam-Webster describes  definition #2 as:

 “in effect: virtually.” 

To me, virtually is almost a simile for literally.  So Merriam-Webster then has to clarify with:

used in an exaggerated way to emphasize a statement or description that is not literally true or possible

I was told to never use a word to define itself.  This new pseudo-definition of literally is so senseless that the dictionary can’t even define it without using the phrase NOT literally.  If a new meaning of a word requires that the word itself be used in the definition, then the new meaning is disqualified from being taken seriously.

That’s not really a rule, but it should be.

Merriam-Webster even tries to sidestep the issue, when it posts this at the bottom of the literally definition:

Should literally be used for emphasis?

Sense 2 is common and not at all new but has been frequently criticized as an illogical misuse. It is pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis, but it often appears in contexts where no additional emphasis is necessary.

That’s a cop-out.

Here’s how that section should have looked.

Should literally be used for emphasis?

No.

See?  That’s responsible use of the power that Merriam-Webster has.  What’s the point of having authority if you’re not willing to take a stand for something so obvious?

Maybe if Merriam-Webster changes the definition of literally on the website (or in its print edition) without using the phrase “not literally,” then I’ll reconsider my metaphorical line in the sand.

Some might call me a language prude, but that’s just name-calling, and name-calling isn’t really an argument.  I write porn jokes and dissect sex scenes in literature, so I’m immune from being called a prude.  I even believe in language evolution.  But I have my limits, and literally is my limit.

*****

What do you think?  Should we let the evolution of literally go unchallenged?  What other word meanings do you think should be preserved?

The Literary Rants: Standardized Reading Tests Suck

(image via wikimedia)

Students getting ready for the big test.  (image via wikimedia)

Almost everybody agrees that standardized tests suck.  Teachers don’t like them.  Students hate them.  Parents aren’t thrilled about them either.  There are only two groups of people who like standardized tests, government officials and the test makers.

I understand why test makers like standardized tests.  Test makers make a ton of money off of standardized tests.  I’d like something too if I made a ton of money off it.

I’m not sure why government officials like standardized tests so much.  Standardized tests are unpopular.  If government officials got rid of standardized testing, their approval ratings would automatically skyrocket.

If statewide (or national) standardized tests just disappeared, would anybody care?  Would there be protests?  Would there be outrage?

It’s not like Social Security or Medicare.  If you take those away, people notice.  I’m pretty sure students wouldn’t get angry that they never had the opportunity to take a standardized test.  Everybody in the public education system would celebrate.

Even authors whose literature appears on the tests don’t like the standardized tests.  When poet Sara Holbrook saw one of her pieces being used as a reading selection on a Texas test  (the STAAR, whatever that means), she wasn’t really happy about it.  Even worse, she got the answer to one of the questions based on her poem wrong.

A part of me wants to make fun of the poet for missing a question about her own poem.  I’m not trying to be mean.  On the contrary, I’m very empathetic.  When I was in junior high, my math teacher made us write our own story problems.  He then used one of my story problems on the story problems test, and I didn’t get the answer right.  To make matters worse, the teacher announced to the class that I had missed my own test question (Thanks, teacher!).

I give Sara Holbrook credit for admitting that she missed a question about her poem.  It makes a statement.  I too should have made a statement.  I should have used my moment in math class to denounce story problem tests, and I could have used my experience as an example of how a test-taking education system is ruining our generation, but my teacher would have told me to shut up, and everybody would have laughed at me.  Nobody liked protesters where I grew up.

I understand that standardized tests can be used to measure achievement consistently across the state or country.  That’s a decent purpose, but dagnabbit it, I see my kids take too many of them every year.  I don’t even have to take any standardized tests, and I still think there are too many of them.

Maybe there should be only one standardized test per year, and that’s it.  Give schools a day or two to implement it and be done.  And schools can judge the results, but nobody gets fired based solely on those results, unless there’s cheating.  But without so much pressure, there would be less pressure to cheat.

As an aspiring writer, I want a lot of people to read what I write, but being on a standardized test would probably be one of the worst things that could happen.

I mean, my books could get banned (this one for its use of profanity), and I wouldn’t care (it would be great publicity).  The critics could proclaim that my writing is crap, and I wouldn’t care (I might care a little, but not if I’m making money from it).

But please, please, please, never let my writing be used on a standardized reading test.  Everybody hates standardized tests, especially the authors whose works appear in them.

*****

What do you think?  What are some of your standardized test horror stories?

Awkward Sex Scenes in Books II

Bad breath can make anything awkward.

Bad breath can make anything awkward.

When it comes to awkward sex scenes in books, sometimes an author tries too hard.  Instead of explaining what happens in a straightforward way, the author might attempt to get too fancy and use a crazy metaphor where simple language would be enough.

The following excerpt from A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin was a runner-up for The Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award  in 2016.  Unfortunately, the Literary Review article gives only the excerpt and doesn’t try to explain what makes the scene bad (or awkward).  If we aspiring authors are going to improve our own writing, we should examine the excerpts from a writer’s perspective, and see what we could have done differently.

Here is the awkward sex scene excerpt for this post:

The act itself was fervent. Like a brisk tennis game or a summer track meet, something performed in daylight between competitors. The cheap mattress bounced.

First of all, the author describes the act as “fervent.”   The word “fervent” implies intense, but then the author compares the sexual activity to tennis and track. As intense as tennis and track can be, the competitors aren’t physical with each other.

There’s distance between athletes in tennis and track, and that image of distance contradicts the concept of intensity.  A better sports comparison would be to that of MMA fighters.  Now THAT’S intense.  Plus, the image of grappling might be similar to what the sexual participants were going through.

Bad similes can ruin a sex scene, especially a long simile.  When I wrote a sex scene in my own ebook,  I avoided long similes and metaphors, and I stayed away from sports references.

But if an author is determined to compare sexual activity with a sporting activity, another choice would be professional women’s tennis.  Those women grunt and groan so loudly that a guy can close his eyes and imagine it’s a certain kind of pornography.

I don’t know if guys do that anymore, though.  20 years ago, before the internet and free porn, guys with no money would have to close their eyes during televised women’s tennis matches.  I never did that, but I heard that other guys did.  I never heard about women watching women’s tennis for the same purpose, but I guess it’s possible.

The second problem with the excerpt was the bouncing cheap mattress.  The most notable characteristic of a cheap mattress during sexual activity is that it’s really uncomfortable.  Plus, a cheap mattress doesn’t bounce, no matter how much activity takes place on it.  It just thuds.  Two adults could jump up and down with impunity on a cheap mattress, and it would thud instead of bounce.  I have a lot of experience with cheap mattresses (though the experience isn’t necessarily sexual in nature).

From my experience, it’s the expensive mattresses that bounce.  Maybe the author was wrong about what kind of mattress was being used.  Journalists get their facts wrong all the time, so maybe the author got his own facts wrong too.

A cheap mattress might not bounce, but it will squeak, and a squeaky mattress during sexual activity can be distracting.  It also lets the neighbors know what’s going on (if you live in an apartment or dorm room).    The author might have more credibility if he’d simply written “the cheap mattress squeaked.”

So the lesson from this awkward sex scene is clear:  Keep your sports metaphors short, and test out mattresses before you write about them.

And for more about awkward sex scenes in books, read the blog post Awkward Sex Scenes in Books.

My Co-worker Just Published a Book

(image via wikimedia)

The cover kind of looks like this a little bit. (image via wikimedia)

“This is it,” a female coworker said as I passed her cubicle.  She was reading a paperback novel with a weird alien and an attractive woman on the cover.  My coworker probably should have been on the computer doing actual work, but I didn’t mention that.

“This is what?” I asked.

“The book,” she said.

“Your book?” I said.  She didn’t strike me as the science fiction type.

“No, it’s ________ book.”  I didn’t recognize the name she’d said.

“Whose book?” I said, still confused.

“You know, from the ____________ department.”

I still didn’t know who she was talking about, but when she showed me the author’s photo on the back cover, I said, “Oh, THAT guy.”

I recognized the author as a guy who works at our company.  I see the guy a lot at work, but I’ve never talked to him.  He doesn’t talk to me either.  That made me feel like I wasn’t obligated to read his novel.  If he had been within my small circle of acquaintances at work, I would have felt obligated.

Out of curiosity, I bought the book on Amazon anyway and began reading it.  As far as science fiction goes, it’s okay.  It doesn’t do anything I haven’t seen or read about before.  I mean, that’s not what I’m going to say to anybody who asks.  I have a few complimentary comments ready which will show everybody at work that I’ve actually read the entire book.

The coworker author set the book up as a series, so there’s a cliffhanger at the end of the book, and I might give the coworker grief if he takes too long to finish the second book.  He doesn’t know me well, so if I start calling him George RR Martin for taking too long, he might not understand where I’m coming from, and that could cause friction at work, even though we don’t really have anything to do with each other.  My sense of humor doesn’t go over well with people who don’t know me.

The paperback sells for just under $15.00 and the Kindle is $3.99.  It’s kind of overpriced for its size, but I don’t think the coworker author has much control over that.  I would put it up on this blog, but I’m trying to sell my own ebooks (like this one right here!!  If you like this blog, you’ll probably like this too!).

It would hurt my feelings if somebody else’s book got more attention on my blog than my own ebooks.  Plus, the coworker author has already gotten a lot of people from work to buy his book.  To be fair, I don’t know how hard he pitched his book to everybody in his department.  He’s not a boss, so he can’t threaten anybody.  But it seems like he needs friends and coworkers to keep his sales rank up.  He has a few Amazon reviews (all 5-stars), but I recognize the names of a couple reviewers (coworkers), so I’m curious how this book will do once the friends/family/coworkers are done buying it.

I would ask the coworker some questions about his publishing experience (and how it’s going), but it would be awkward.  Again, he doesn’t know me, so there would be no reason for me to come up to him out of nowhere and pester him about his book, especially since I’m not ready to tell people (coworkers and friends) about my blog and ebooks just yet.

I’m curious how successful this author will be in the long run.  He’s going about things in a different way than I am.  I’m going the indie route and using my blog, and in a few years when my kids don’t need me watching over them/driving them around all the time, I can devote more time to writing and trying new social media strategies.  In the meantime, I hope he’s successful, and I’ll probably buy his second book.

But I hope he can drop the price a little next time.