What if Carrie Bradshaw had Called Dan Savage?

Yes, I realize how lame this is. It’s been more than a decade since Sex and the City went off the air and it is stupid of me to write about it now. Or is it?

The thing is, I’m between freelance jobs and I’m bored. And in the 10 years after the end of SATC, I’ve read a lot of Savage Love, and I have to say: I don’t get why Mr. Big was so bad. If you go back and watch the show, it’s really about Carrie and her choices, yet everyone pins the blame for those things onto Mr. Big. If only Dan Savage had counselled Carrie Bradshaw. Let’s imagine, for a moment, just how that would go:

Carrie: My boyfriend is the amazing, sexy, rich guy. The sex is great and we have fun together. There is just one problem: he said he never wants to get married again (he’s divorced) and he won’t introduce me to his mother.

Dan Savage: The price of admission to be with this guy — this great sexy guy who is awesome in bed and makes you laugh — may be forgoing the marriage certificate. You have to decide what is more important — marriage or this guy.

Carrie: But what about the mother thing? He said he doesn’t want to introduce his mom to ‘another girlfriend’ and won’t do it until he’s ‘sure’, that he has to do it on his ‘timeframe.’ We’ve been going out for months. He should introduce me to his mom!

Dan: Look, he’s not ready to introduce you to his mom. You have to respect that. People arrive at different points in relationships at different times. You may be ready to say ‘I love you’ before he’s ready to hear it. You have to let him do that at his own pace. Besides, listen to what he’s really telling you — he doesn’t want to introduce you to his mother until he knows you two are serious. That means he knows what a big deal it is. I think you’re taking his comments about not wanting to introduce ‘another girlfriend’ to his mother too personally. It’s not really about you. After all, what do you really know about his relationship with his mom? Maybe she nitpicks the hell out of his girlfriends and doesn’t want his mom talking him out of being with you. Maybe that’s why he needs to be sure.

Carrie: But it’s been months.

Dan: Right, months. Six, seven, eight months is really not that much time. That amount of time would be way too soon to get married. And to some, meeting Mom is the first step toward marriage. So I think you need to give your guy a break. If you’d been with him for three or four years and he was still not bringing you home to Mom, it would be a different story.

Carrie: (sighing) So what do I do?

Dan: One of two things: accept that being with him means no big fancy wedding and respect his need to go slow re: his mom. Or break up. It’s really that simple.

Carrie: Ok. Thanks, Dan (hangs up.)

Now imagine how Season 1 of SATC would have ended if she had followed Dan’s advice.

Scenario 1: Carrie accepts the ‘price of admission’. Carrie apologizes to Mr. Big for following him to church when he asked her not to (seriously — why do people gloss over that?! He should have dumped her). She tells him she realizes he has to go at his own pace and promises to respect that. She tells him that marriage is something that she wants, but she enjoys her relationship with him and isn’t ready to let it go. Mr. Big is relieved and happy that she understands what he’s been trying to tell her. They go to St. Bart’s and have a great time.

Scenario 2: Carrie breaks up with Mr. Big but doesn’t get all dramatic about it, because it’s about her going after what she wants, and not about her crushing disappointment and unrealistic expectations.

It’s worth noting that Carrie would have had to call Dan during Season 1. Dan’s advice at that stage would be pretty much the same. Remember the scene where Big comes back from Paris and Carrie throws McDonalds takeout at him? People often interpret this scene as Big being an asshole (“I don’t want you to uproot your life and expect anything”) but how is he the asshole? He’s just saying what he’s been saying since Season 1 when he first reveals to Carrie that marriage isn’t something he wants. She claims he’s been stringing her along, but he’s not ever once promised her a ring. I imagine if Carrie went home after throwing her filet of fish at Mr. Big and called Dan Savage, Dan would have said something like: “You threw food at him? After he just told you something he’s told you many times before? Yeah, he needs to dump you.

And of course, if Carrie called Dan Savage after cheating on Mr. Big with Aidan, Dan would be like: “Sorry, lady. I cannot unscrew that pooch for you.”

Anyway. I do think Mr. Big gets a bad rap and that a lot of the problems in that relationship were actually Carrie’s. But I guess that puts me in the minority.


A Keyboard and a Basic Grasp of English is No Longer Enough

The days of health food store-owning quacks writing articles like “10 Ways to Cure Cancer with Turmeric” are O-V-E-R. Google is cracking down. If you want your site to rank, you can’t just toss a bunch of word vomit onto your webpages. You have to 1) write well and 2) know what the fuck you’re talking about. That’s right: articles about medicine, illnesses, etc, need to be written by people who actually know about these things, ie Doctors. And it doesn’t stop there. No matter what industry you’re writing about, you have to know your shit.

For writers, this can be good or bad. If you’re a freelancer and have never written about the oil and gas industry (for example) it will be a lot harder to land the job by saying “I can write about anything.” On the other hand, if you’ve been working for a client for a long time and have a good understanding of what they do, it will be a huge mistake on their part to give the work to someone cheaper and less knowledgeable.

So what can writers do if we feel like we’re not ‘industry experts’? Find a few things that interest you and read up. Or, if you see a job posting for a certain industry, learn as much as you can before you apply. You’ll beat the pants off anyone who goes in there uninformed. And uber low wage writers in 3rd world countries with their laptops and Google Translate — they are toast.

Why Everyone Should Take Writing Classes

I have to admit, literature classes are sort of pointless. What sort of professional goals can you accomplish by learning to identify symbolism in boring Russian novels? Lit classes are sort of holdovers from the old days when a college education was really about making sure rich kids had interesting things to say at parties. Nowadays, a lit degree will help you get a) job in publishing or b) a job as a lit professor.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t take literature courses. What I am saying is that writing courses are actually much more practical and will help you more in the long run. How? Check this out:

1. In writing courses, you learn to give and take feedback. Your future co-workers will love you for this. So many people give feedback that’s totally useless such as:

“I want to see more pizzazz.”

“Can you make that ‘pop’ more?”

“Tighten it up a little.”

Pizzazz, popping and tightness are all in the eyes of the beholder. If you want people to understand what you’re trying to say, you’ll have to be more specific. And that is exactly what you’ll learn to do in fiction workshops — learn how to give feedback that actually helps. Also, you learn how to give feedback without being a dick about it, which also helps.

Learning to receive feedback is really important too — your boss is going to make your work bleed and you really don’t want to go to pieces when that happens. In a fiction workshop, your peers will discuss your work while you sit quietly and listen to everything they have to say.

2. Your writing gets better. Even if you don’t want to be a professional novelist when you grow up, you can benefit professionally from writing classes. Writing courses challenge you to think about the words you choose. They also give you lots of practice in writing, which is how you get better at it.

3. Writing classes are fun! Even uber-serious physics majors can benefit by taking some time to access the creative sides of their brains.

If you’re a college student and currently searching for an elective, consider a creative writing class!

Latest Copywriting Job: Nol-Tec

Beware of the Consequences of Combustible Dust!

As you may or may not know, I’m a professional copywriter. Recently, I worked on some copy for a company called Nol-Tec. They wanted me to write a page on combustible dust. To get a sense of my work, please visit the page!

I’m really proud of this Nol-Tec job, because the subject matter is very scientific and technical and it’s not what I usually write about. If I had my druthers, I would write nothing but copy for tea rooms and dollhouse makers.

I kid, I kid.

I really enjoyed working on the Nol-Tec project. I interviewed the company’s CEO, who helped me understand the dangers of combustible dust and why it’s so important to mitigate that danger. Nol-Tec manufactures sophisticated venting and explosion suppression systems.

Nol-Tec has also developed technologies that help other  manufacturers reduce toxic emissions. The company is based in Lino Lakes, Minnesota. And I gotta say, they are pretty cool. (No, I’m not just saying that because they pay me.)

Herr Mertz’s Evil Dolls (Part 2)

Photo credit: windy_sydney / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: windy_sydney / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

The next night, Anna dreamt she was in the forest, running as fast as she could. Behind her, the dark shadow of the boarding school rose up toward the sky, thrusting a steep turret into the clouds.

Alarms clamored.

The whole school new that Anna had escaped. If she could get through the forest, she could get away from the school without anyone finding her.

As she ran, the trees seemed to shift, like they were dancing in a circle all around her. Anna was unsure where she should step. The alarms seemed to get louder. Had she gone the wrong way? She looked up. She was back at the boarding school’s front gate. The gates parted as if by magic, and the headmistress’s cold bisque face towered over Anna.

Anna woke up covered in sweat. The dolls on her shelf all stared at her. She tore the covers from her bed and yanked all of the dolls off of the shelf. She put them in the closet and shut the door.

She tried to go back to sleep. But she couldn’t. She heard whispering. There were several little voices whispering:

Anna. Anna. Wake up Anna. 

She covered her head with a pillow and squeezed her eyes shut.

Anna. Anna. Open the door Anna.

The whispers seemed to get louder and louder.

Anna. Anna. Let us out Anna! Let us out Anna! Lets out NOW Anna!

Anna got up. She ran to the closet. She picked up each doll and smashed them, one by one, against the wall. Anna looked down at the small pile of smashed porcelain on the floor.

Now she would have to explain to her governess — and to her father — what had happened to the dolls. The true horror story was just beginning.


Herr Mertz’s Evil Dolls (Part 1)

Herr Mertz made the best dolls in all of Europe. With their bisque faces, glass eyes and natural hair, they were almost lifelike. They wore silk and taffeta dresses, lace hair ribbons, and leather shoes with pearl buttons. Little girls in places as far away as New York, Melbourne and even Yakutsk clamored for Herr Mertz’s dolls.

Herr Mertz’s daughter, Anna, owned more dolls than any girl in Dresden. On a shelf in her bedroom sat three dozen dolls, and they all watched over her when she slept.

One night, Anna dreamt that her father sent her away to a boarding school deep in the Black Forest. The school was run by a cruel woman who forced Anna to lie on the ground, motionless, for hours at a time. The students weren’t allowed to speak to one another, and were hardly fed anything at all. If the students broke any rules, they were forced to sit alone in a dark box, or had to kneel with their noses touching the wall until they felt pain all over their bodies.

Anna decided to run away from the school, but before she did, she had to kill the headmistress. She stole a hammer from the tool shed and crept up behind the headmistress. The woman walked slowly, her long, forest-green skirts sweeping against the floor. Anna raised the hammer just when the woman turned to face her. She had a bisque face and no eyes.

creepy doll

Anna woke up screaming. As soon as her eyes adjusted to the dark, she saw row upon row of bisque faces staring back at her. Anna continued to scream until her governess rushed into her room. She asked Anna what the problem was, and Anna said, “The dolls — they’re evil!”

“Don’t be silly,” said the governess. “They’re just glass and fabric and horsehair. They can’t think or speak or harm anyone. Go back to sleep now.”

The governess left the room. Anna finally fell asleep again, but her nightmare about the boarding school wasn’t her last.

[End of Part 1. Check back soon for Part 2]



Dolls With Teeth

Halloween is nearly a month away, and that means scary stories. I love stories about haunted houses. An old house with a sinking foundation and a porch that leans the wrong way, a house that’s full of spider-webby furniture — that’s a story I want to read.

But as a kid, I also loved scary stories involving dolls. And no, I don’t mean “Chucky.”

There’s a story I remember from YMCA camp about a doll that drops a chandelier on someone’s head. OK, I actually don’t remember it very well. The only part I remember is the end, where the chandelier falls, and the narrator describes a tiny pair of hands showing through the hole where the chandelier used to be.

There’s another story I don’t quite remember, by the Puerto Rican writer Rosario Ferre. Again I only remember the end: bugs get inside the doll. The final image of the story is insect antennae protruding from the doll’s empty eye sockets.

It’s easy to see dolls as creepy. Especially those old German ones with teeth:

Photo credit: ymktmk918 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: ymktmk918 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Just imagine you share a room with these two. You’re asleep. In the middle of the night, you wake up. A slice of moonlight falls across their faces. Wouldn’t you think, just for a moment, that they might murder you?

I don’t know what the Germans were thinking when they made these dolls. Are they intentionally creepy? Did early 20th century dollmakers decide that these stern, vacant-eyed creatures would deliver subliminal messages to children: toe the line or be eaten?

Hey. That gives me an idea for a story. I think I’ll write it up! Check back soon for my story about the scary dolls designed to make kids behave.

Writers Gotta Write

Sometimes, to pay the bills, writers have to tackle some less-than-interesting subjects. I’ve written about everything from dog food to hog vaccines, from railroad cars to industrial water softeners. Of these four things, dog food is the easiest to write about, because you’re not really writing about kibbles. You’re writing about how much the consumer — the dog owner — loves his or her dog. Storytelling — which is what marketing copy is supposed to be — is easy for a product like dog food.

But for other industries it’s not so easy. For a lot of industrial products, like fasteners, low NOx burners and gas panels, the customer already knows what the product is and why he (or she) needs it. Beyond the product specs, there’s not much of a story to tell. All that’s left is to write about is why the customer should buy the fasteners or gas panels from this particular company.

When I work on projects like this, I try to focus on what sets the company apart. What is this company’s approach to service? What is the facility like? What manufacturing methods do they use? Can the guarantee on-time delivery or super quick turnaround times? Answers to questions like that are invaluable for industrial copywriting.

The hardest part for me is the dryness of it all. It can get old writing about industrial stuff. I never get to use like “glitter” or “swirl” or “sashay” or “waltz.” If I wrote about fashion, I could say, “waltz into winter in this glittery circle skirt.” If I wrote about food, I could write, “just like snowflakes, these buttery mint cookies will melt on your tongue.” Heck, even diapers would be more fun to write about than some of these industrial products.

But freelance writers don’t get to choose what to write about. We have to take whatever client comes along. It’s even harder nowadays, with people advertising writing services for as low as $1.25 an article. Of course, if you use that service you get what you pay for — the writer is likely someone whose native language is not English and is working out of somewhere like the Philippines. Do you really think you can get quality copy that way? You’ll wind up having to pay a stateside editor to fix the work. Why would you pay twice for the same project, when you could hire a good writer to do it right the first time?

That’s the tough thing about writing. People think it’s easy and therefore not worth paying a premium for. But quality writing comes only after years of dedication and hard work. It comes after lots of criticism and red lines. It doesn’t come from some guy in Manila pasting text in Tagalog into Google Translate.

Next time you need to hire a freelance copywriter, remember that.


Women Science Fiction Writers

Mary Shelley, arguably the first Science Fiction Writer. (This is relevant to this post.)

I love when the premium channels like HBO and Showtime run free preview weekends, because it reassures me that I’m not missing much not subscribing to them. Even if it does mean I have to wait until the DVDs come out to catch up on Game of Thrones. Or read the series of books full of spoilers that bearded guy is writing. Whatever—

Cue record scratch thought derailment sound effect. That (above) was the start of  a Movie Monday post, because my mother has started reading blogs, which is a blog post in itself, and she has been nagging encouraging me to blog more often. It goes like this: “That other blog has a theme for every day of the week. Why don’t you do that? You’re so smart and funny, you should write that in your blog. You would have a lot more followers if you posted more often. This guy has way more followers than you, and he’s a monk.” (I am not even making that up.)

So I sit down to write a Movie Monday post. I’ll write about Ender’s Game, which I watched during the HBO free preview this weekend. Only I went looking for that faux article about George RR Martin writing spoilers for the GOT TV show, and then I found the picture below.


Here follows my exact thought process from that moment until this:

1. Aw, that’s cute! GRRM has a little stuffed dire wolf.  Oh hey, that other guy has a little stuffed unicorn. Oh HEY, that’s Peter S. Beagle author of The Last Unicorn which is an amazing book (and an animated movie, so I guess this is still Movie Monday.) OMG The animals from their books are totally kissing noses! That’s so adorable!

2. Why is that funny? Two venerable old guys being dorks with toys from their books. That sort of makes them cooler. Authors! They’re just like us! Then I’m like, oh yeah, Ender’s Game.

3. Ender’s Game is kind of a venerable book itself, a military science fiction novel that explores the psychology of war and society, pretty much just like Starship Troopers (the novel) did, which also had giant bug-like aliens. I wonder why that is? Is it because the insectoid shape makes them seem true alien and icky, where a more mammalian thing might look like you could have it for a pet?

4. But Starship Troopers (the movie) was more action-y. It also had a lot more decapitations and impalements and also some brain sucking, if you like that sort of thing. Much more than the book.

5. This whole blog has become about venerable white guys who write science fiction and fantasy.  That’s just not right. I need to talk about some women science fiction writers.

6. Which women science fiction writers should I recommend? There’s Anne McCaffrey and Madeline L’Engle of course. Ursula L’Guin and Connie Willis. Would my blog readers be interested in them? I should go look up who are recent women science fiction writers (other than Suzanne Collins).

Literally the first line of A Wrinkle in Time. (This is the book that made me want to write books.)

7. This first Google hit is a list of science fiction FOR girls, which is not the same thing, especially since half these books are by men.

8. THIS list starts with The Handmaiden’s Tale?  Ugh.  Well, there’s Willis and L’Guin. Oh yeah! Octavia Butler. A woman AND an African American. Yes, there’s Andre Norton, C.J. Cherryh, Lois McMaster Bujold. Also Elizabeth Moon. Well, there’s Kristine Kathryn Rusch, those are a little less dusty, more space opera-y. Tanya Huff!  I love her books.

9. These are great books, but kind of… old fashioned. Well, not all of them. I should still recommend them. They’re awesome, and my readers aren’t intimidated by big books.

10. But, still, I should look at YA science fiction and find some contemporary things to talk about, too. Oh, here’s Kirkus’s list of the Best Teen SFF books of 2013. Excellent!

11. Wow, these sound really good. I should put this on my Goodreads list so I remember them.

12. And maybe read a sample chapter…

13: Or two.

14. THREE HOURS LATER, I still haven’t written anything about Ender’s Game.

15. And it’s not even Monday any more.

Relative Time and Space

I suspect I live in the TARDIS.  Sometimes I’ll be home and working (or whatever) and lose all sense of time and relative dimension in space. Well, in time anyway. One minute it’s the middle of July, the next its…. Wait. It’s July now, right? RIGHT?

There were fireworks the other night, so it must be July. Or maybe it’s November and I’ve teleported to Britain for Guy Fawkes day.

You know it’s bad when you have to put “Get out of house one hour a day” on your to do list. Or your MOM says things like, “Don’t you want to go out and get some… well, anything?” So I’m trying to go out someplace where there are other people, even if all I do is sit at my table in a cafe and doing the same thing I would be doing at home–drinking too much coffee and pounding inspired drivel onto the keyboard. Or making Pinterest boards for my latest project. That’s work, right?

I’ve actually got a few outings coming up.

This Saturday I’m teaching at the Yellow Rose RWA chapter in Colleyville. I’m teaching my “Pitch” class in person–the one that I teach online, but with more hand gestures and those weird expressions I make when I talk.

On August 9th at 3pm  I’ll be at an author event/booksigning with Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre at the Firewheel Barnes and Noble in Garland, Texas. Rachel, Ann, and I will be doing a question and answer thing before signing, so it’s a great time to come and have fun with us.

Saturday August 16 from 1 – 4pm I’ll be at the Author Roundup at the Fort Worth Public Library (Central Branch). Attend a panel discussion that will teach you to read critically and write confidently. Book signing to follow; authors’ books for sale at program. (All ages)

And the big one runs for 6 weeks. Go to the previous entry to find out more about the DFW Teen Writer’s Workshop, a writing workshop for, um, teens.

That’s what’s up. That and writing and stuff. Yay