No Comment

While I can prattle on endlessly about orangutans, sex robots and Applebee’s here on Do Not Get Sick in the Sink, Please, I often find myself at a loss for words when I’m reading your blog and fail to leave a comment.

Part of my reticence comes from a fear of being embroiled in internet drama, as I have a couple of times in my blogging career, such as the time I told one blogger he was full of hooey and that other time I told another blogger she was full of hooey.

Another part has to do with my anxiety over turning into an internet crank, you know, one of those people who spend their time on different websites, commenting on every single godforsaken article, even the daily horoscope. Does anyone really need to know about that disastrous blind date you went on during the first phase of Venus retrograde? No, I don’t think so. I only came here to get my lucky numbers for the day, not to hear about some loser who made you split the check at Olive Garden.

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It’s cake. No! It’s pie!

Next, I’ll blame my lack of comments on the fact that maybe I’ve matured enough to where I no longer feel the need to correct or confront people on the internet. For example, I’m happy to just let you go on thinking cheesecake isn’t a cake at all, it’s really a pie, even though you could not be more wrong, but, hey, it’s your blog, I guess, and, anyway, you just got 117 Likes on your “Cheesecake Should Be Called Cheesepie” post, so I must be the only person in the world who believes names matter, goddammit, and we shouldn’t call something one thing when it’s really another thing, so fuck you and your idiot readers.

Like I said, maybe I’ve matured.

Other bloggers have taken a different approach, such as the good folks over at Above the Law, who decided to turn off all comments, so even if readers are drama queens, or internet cranks, or immature, they won’t be able to display those tendencies all over that blog. In a post published a few weeks ago, the site explained its reasoning.

Today the comments are not what they once were. Although occasionally insightful or funny, ATL comments nowadays are generally fewer in number, not very substantive (often just inside jokes among the commentariat), yet still often offensive. They also represent a very small percentage of our total traffic (as we can tell because of the click required to access them).

After I read that post,  I started to question my understanding of blogging. I’d always thought the ability of readers to comment, to talk back to the author as well as talk to one another, was one of the unique features of blogging, and bloggers who did not want to engage with their readers would be better served by going to a public park and standing up on a soapbox than by this particular medium.

But what if blogging is not a conversation, like the folks at Above the Law have come to believe? What if blogging is just me droning on and on about cheesepie cheesecake and you saying absolutely nothing at all?

Can you blog without comments?

DJT_Headshot_V2_400x400

I’m sure he thinks his farts smell awesome.

While I was composing this post, the state of Indiana held its presidential primary. Donald Trump won on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders won for the Democrats. Looking for some insight into the race, I turned to the blog FiveThirtyEight. If you’re not familiar with that blog, I’ll explain that it focuses on the statistical analysis of politics, economics and sports. Lots of numbers, lots of graphs and charts, lots of smart bloggers blogging smart stuff. Here’s a comment that was left over there.

Chris Valentini

Haha Hillary lost. You were wrong but you can’t admit it, because your farts smell so awesome.

 

After I read that comment, I reflexively thought, “The bloggers at Above the Law are right!” and everything that I believed about the free flow of information and ideas and the tolerance of divergent opinions on the internet went out the window.

And I know there have been far worse (far, far worse!) things said on the internet, and I’ve blogged about how women, especially, are attacked and harassed (here and here and here) but this stupid comment just struck me as the poster child for disabling comments.

I guess that’s all I’ve got to say on the subject, other than I’ve enjoyed leaving comments in the past, and I always look forward to the comments left here, but now the Chris Valentinis of the world have got me wondering.

Anyway, what do you think?

Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at freeimages.com. The image of Donald Trump is believed to fall under the doctrine of Fair Use.

I Guess Maybe You Can’t Turn Women Into Insatiable Sex Zombies After All

Here’s a question for you: what do you do when you have a product no one will buy?

That problem currently faces Valeant Pharmaceuticals (among others. Hang on. We’ll get to that in a bit). Now, you may ask yourself, “Why is this blog, Do Not Get Sick in the Sink, Please, which is ostensibly concerned with sex and humor, interested in the sales problems at Valeant Pharmaceuticals?”

pills-tablets-2-1524560-1279x1540

One pill makes you smaller, one pill makes you tall. The one that Valeant Pharmaceuticals gives you doesn’t do anything at all.

Let me tell you why: last year Valeant acquired Sprout Pharmaceuticals, a company which readers of this blog may recall from the post Her Eyes Say Yes (It’s Just the Medication Talking) as the manufacturers of the so-called female Viagra, Addyi (flibanserin).

Not quite one  year and one billion dollars (the price Valeant paid for Sprout) later, it appears that most women don’t feel the need to be turned into an insatiable sex zombie (or whatever the drug is supposed to do), and  Valeant has been forced to slash the drug’s sales force.

So what will Valeant do with (I’m guessing) warehouses full of a product that no one will buy?

If you have the answer to that question, can you let me know? Like Valeant  I, too, have been trying to sell a product that no one wants to buy: my writing. Long time readers of this blog are familiar with my trials and tribulations getting published but mostly not getting published.

Is it time for me to realize that my writing is like the so-called female Viagra, a product no one really wants?

Maybe.

Last year, my blogging schedule tapered off from “Once or twice a week or so” to “Definitely at least once a week” to “Once a month or so” and finally fell into “Is she even blogging anymore?” status. A blogger friend noticed I had not been posting and asked, “Don’t you miss it?”

Truthfully, blogger friends, I can say that I did not. It helped (hurt?) that my professional career had finally stabilized, and I couldn’t justify spending what little free time I had working on my fantasy career.

If we turn the clock back even further, back to a year and a half ago, I finished a novel-length work during the annual Nanowrimo challenge. As I toiled at my dining room table that November, typing away on my laptop, my older daughter noted the National Novel Writing Month motto.

nanowrimobanner-1.png

Because she shares her mother’s slightly cruel sense of humor, for the rest of that month, my daughter would walk past me and say, “Don’t believe it, Mom. The world really doesn’t need your novel.”

And now I’m thinking, just like the world doesn’t need Addyi, maybe the world doesn’t need my writing or my blogging and the (I’m guessing) absolute fuckton* of posts I’ve composed over (nearly) six years.

While discussing the difficulty getting published and my readiness to chuck the whole enterprise unless someone, somewhere put a few dollars in my pocket, yet another blogger friend counseled me.

“You should keep writing because you enjoy it,” he said. “That should be reason enough.”

I considered his advice and posted irregularly, haphazardly.

I’m starting a new job today. Right now, as you read this post, I’m probably going through some sort of new employee orientation. In preparation for my new position, I moved all the files on my laptop to an external hard drive this past week. One of the files I moved is that novel I wrote the November before last. I opened the file and read a bit of what I’d written.

And I thought, “I really like what I wrote here.”

And I thought, “Why haven’t I pursued this the way I promised myself I would, back when I wrote it?”

Unlike Valeant, who hired a whole sales force to shill Addyi, I never did anything with the manuscript, except hand it off to two beta readers. One of them loved it, the other hated it, giving a single line of critique, as though she were a high school guidance counseler who spotted the class valedictorian working behind the counter of a McDonald’s.

“I expected so much more from you,” she said.

Glancing through the manuscript the other day, I remembered why I’d given up in the first place: I could no longer tell whether I improved the work with my edits, or if I just changed it. Now I see a lot of glaring errors: lots of passive voice, my usual trouble with commas, an ending that doesn’t quite work.

I don’t much like the title anymore, either.

I guess I’m at the same fork in the road as Valeant is with Addyi. Do I regroup and rethink my product, my writing? Or do I realize, like maybe Valeant should, sometimes the world doesn’t need insatiable sex zombies** what you’re selling?

Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at freeimages.com.


* For purposes of this blog, an “absolute fuckton” is 228 posts, apparently, because that’s how many I’ve written, counting this one.

**Perhaps if I had written a novel about insatiable sex zombies, I’d have a better chance getting it published.

 

Should You Force Your Child to Play the Cello or the Oboe?

rejected-1238221-1279x1881

OMG, make it stop hurting!!! Can’t you make it stop hurting?????

I got rejected, again, and it’s feeling a lot like that time this guy Kevin told me he didn’t want a “serious” girlfriend after I let him feel me up at that party in Bickmore Hall junior year.

This past week I sent out a short piece I wrote titled “Buy the Cow, Even if You Can Get Robot Sex for Free.” The next day, I received what my blogging friend Ross Murray from Drinking Tips for Teens would call a “kind rejection.”

Thanks for your submission and interest in our site! Great post, but not a great fit for us right now. Sorry about that! General humor is always in demand, so feel free to submit additional work.

Samantha A.
Senior Content Manager

I read and reread the rejection email, parsing each word, the same way I had parsed Kevin’s statement on girlfriends. He said he didn’t want a serious girlfriend. Samantha A. said great post. Surely there must be a way to interpret their words to mean something other than what they apparently meant. I just needed to stare at this email a bit longer, grasp at more straws, the same way I had held out hope for Kevin when he appeared to look my way in the dining hall, before he headed back into line to get a second slice of pumpkin bread.

“He didn’t have to look in my direction,” I remember thinking. “There are any number of visual routes his eyes could have taken to find that pumpkin bread, but he did, sort of, look toward me. That’s got to mean something!”

I kind of wish that both Samantha and Kevin had been more heartless in their rejections. I could have been spared several weeks of pining after him if Kevin had told me straight out, “Look, thanks for letting me touch your boobs, but I’m never going to ask you out!” Likewise, maybe it would have been better if Samantha said, “Karen, go die in a fire and never, ever, ever send out crap like this again!”

But she didn’t. She said “great post” and that got me thinking, just like all those years ago with Kevin.

“She called it a ‘great post,'” I thought. “Maybe it’s good enough to be published somewhere else.”

So I got it into my head to send the piece somewhere else. I made a few changes, and sent off “Buy the Cow, Even if You Can Get Robot Sex for Free” again, on its way to another editor’s inbox.

And that’s when I got what Ross Murray might call an “unkind rejection.”

We appreciate that you took the time to share your work with us and that we had the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not quite right for us.

No “great post” here. No “feel free to submit additional work.” Just a whole lot of “Die in a fire!”

Or at least that’s how it felt.

Rationally, I know that my piece is probably not a good fit for a website that’s publishing

Lesson 1: Drink out of the toilet.
Lesson 2: Sniff everyone’s crotch.

articles like, “Was I Wrong to Force My Child to Play the Cello? Or Should I Have Made Her Play the Oboe, Too?” and “10 Parenting Lessons I Learned from My Golden Retriever” and I kick myself for submitting it there, but I was awash in Samantha A.’s rejection compliments and not thinking clearly.

By the time I publish this post on Do Not Get Sick in the Sink, Please, it will be 24 hours since I got that second rejection and perhaps the sting will have worn off some. Perhaps I’ll feel better and I’ll be able to drag myself off the floor and out of the fetal position.

Perhaps I’ll even look up Kevin on Facebook to see if he ever got serious with a girl.

Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at freeimages.com.

Blogging: You’re Doing It All Wrong

Blah, blah, blah, blog!

Blah, blah, blah, blog!

Back at the end of July, I had a bright idea: I signed up for the WordPress workshop Blogging 101, a month-long series of assignments designed to introduce brand-spanking-new bloggers to the whats, hows, whys and wherefores of blogging, scheduled to begin August 3rd.

In my mind, I thought I might find some humor as an ancient experienced blogger working my way through daily assignments for creating, writing, and maintaining a blog.

Here’s the first assignment (I know, I know, it’s late. The dog ate my homework, or something):

Day One: Introduce Yourself to the World

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click “New Post,” and tell us why you’re here.

Today’s assignment: write and publish a “who I am and why I’m here” post on your blog.

I saw the assignment and thought if a reader wants to know who I am, he/she can click on my About page.

Now, if a reader wants to know why I’m here . . .  Well, that’s more of a mystery.

I started blogging 212 213 posts ago, back in 2010, when I couldn’t find steady work and thought I’d write to keep current on professional issues, but even the very first post on Do Not Get Sick in the Sink, Please is only tangentially related to law (and not even American law). By the way, you don’t need to go back and read that first post, it’s absolutely cringe-worthy, but I keep it in the archives because I’m a masochist to maintain historical accuracy.

So despite my intentions, I wound up blogging content that was very different from what I set out to blog.

Fast forward about five years, and it’s August, 2015, and I’m signed up for Blogging 101. One morning, two blog posts show up in my Reader that get me thinking more about this “Why We Blog” issue. The first came from Amiecus Curiae in Writer’s Life Wednesday–Blogging to Build an Author Platform and it’s a response to a post from Dylan Hearn over on Suffolk Scribblings. Dylan’s post shows up in my Reader, as well, as I scroll further down: There Are Easier Ways To Sell Books Than Through Blogging.

If you read both posts, and you also read Do Not Get Sick in the Sink, Pleaseyou’ll probably already have guessed that I’m mostly in agreement with Amie’s perspective on writers who blog in support of their writing careers.

But, and here’s the big but, the way to make this work, to actually build a following is to blog about something other than writing!

I’m reluctant to give writing advice (because, after all, who the fuck am I to give advice to anyone?) but let me share my experience as a reader: the last two novels I’ve bought were because I read op-ed pieces written by the authors on subjects that had absolutely nothing to do with the novels they’d written and that I (eventually) purchased. Ann Patchett wrote a very funny take for the Washington Post on what it’s like to own an independent book store (I bought State of Wonderand Diana Spechler wrote about sexual obsession in the New York Times (I bought Who By Fire).

And I mostly agree with what Dylan’s got to say–at least, I don’t disagree with it.

So why should writers blog?

Because it’s a wonderful opportunity to write something different, to let off steam, to connect with like-minded . . . to find comfort and community, to help others much earlier in the process than yourself and be helped by those further down the line. It’s a way of making new friends, for discovering excellent books and for improving your craft. It’s a place to be yourself, to be someone else or to be the person you’ve always wanted to be.

All good reasons to blog, to be sure. However, I’m not sure if Dylan’s approach is going to support a goal of making money (even just a little bit!) from writing, but I realize that’s not everyone’s goal. And while there are established authors who do not blog, and do not have much of a social media presence, any new author is expected to play the social media game (on FB, on Twitter, on Instagram, and on and on and on). I’m not sure if being all over social media sells books, either (you can read more of my thoughts on this topic in Is Your “Social Media Platform” Killing Your “Brand”?), but if you’re a novelist who’s blogging, you need to find a way to connect with readers, the folks you hope will buy your book(s). That’s my “big but” (heh! That sounded like I said “my big butt”) which is different from Amie’s, as I don’t have a tough time droning on about any number of topics other than writing (see my recent posts on adultery, ants, and, um, summer activities)–yes, blog, but find a way to reach readers of novels.

It would probably be helpful right here if I could tell you the ways to reach those readers, wouldn’t it? I’m sorry, I wish I knew. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t going to be offered the opportunity to write op-eds in the Washington Post or the NY Times anytime soon.

Anyway, if you came here looking for useful advice, you took a wrong turn somewhere.

Ok, so back to Blogging 101 and that question about why I’m here: I guess I’m here ’cause I got nowhere else to go.

Life is Short. Stay Away From My Husband.

There is no time like the present for cheating on your spouse, at least according to AshleyMadison.com.

ashley-madison-site

And life is short, I won’t argue with that, and I’ll wager it’s going to be significantly shorter if your spouse finds out you’ve signed up for a membership on AshleyMadison.com, the internet fucking dating site for cheaters married people.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with married-and-cheating websites, let me explain that there are a whole bunch of them out there, with names like Marital Affair and Illicit Encounters, and still others with names like eHarmony and Match.com (for those who want to cheat on their spouses, but not with other sleazy cheaters).

Anyway, back to AshleyMadison.com. Sanctimonious virgins Hackers broke into the website recently and made off with the personal information of the members, which is sort of like what happened at Home Depot and Target awhile back, only instead of your spouse discovering you’re painting the bathroom some weird shade of green or wearing Sonia Kashuk cosmetics, they just found out you’re trying to have marital relations with someone outside your marital relationship.

As you might imagine, the data breach sent a collective shudder through the internet, as adulterers around the world wondered what the hackers would do with the information. Would they leak all the registered email addresses, alerting the world (and that includes your spouse!) that you’ve been out there doing something you should not have been doing? Would the Ashley Madison hack be a sort of sexed-up version, with sex, of Edward Snowden releasing all those super-secret classified documents?

You can imagine why some folks were concerned. Not me (Are you surprised? Dear Reader, must you have such a low opinion of me?), as my familiarity with AshleyMadison.com comes mostly from that one episode of The Simpsons.

Since I’ve been researching this post, I’ve become more familiar with AshleyMadison.com (btw, remind me to clear my browsing history). The site is full of all sorts of interesting information, if by “interesting” you mean “depressing.” Here’s an infographic I pulled from the site’s Twitter feed, purporting to show the “top cheating neighborhoods” in Philadelphia.

CIclzPMXAAAuGFx

My neighborhood isn’t on the map, so I guess if I want to cheat, I’ll have to move. If I’m looking for a threesome, I’ll head to Mount Airy (that’s what the image included there, means, right?) and if I’m interested in a spirited game of Chinese Checkers before cheating, I guess University City is the place to be. Animal lovers cheat in Frankford, and I’m not really sure what’s going on in Chestnut Hill, but it’s nice to see that couple spend quality time with their young child, even if they are cheating cheaters.

Still, that chart has to be heartening for the faithfully inclined: there are over six million people living in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, and only 50 of them are having affairs, apparently (please don’t argue with my careful interpretation of the highly scientific data that has been meticulously collected by AshleyMadison.com). Let’s see, half of those must be women (again, please don’t argue), so it looks like there are 25 desperate home-wreckers out there who I have to guard against.

I think I’m up for the task, because, as I demonstrated in the post, Tales to Tell, I’ll hiss and claw at your face if you even look at my husband. Bitch, you do not want to go there.

The images in this post come from AshleyMadison.com and are believed to comply with Fair Use standards under U.S. and international copyright law.

Is Your “Social Media Platform” Killing Your “Brand”?

There’s an author I follow on Twitter who is so insufferable in her Tweets that I’ve sworn never to buy her books.

My two requirements for reading your book: 1. I have to be able to lift it. 2. You can't be a jerk.

My two requirements for reading your book:
1. I have to be able to lift it.
2. You can’t be a jerk.

I probably would not have bought her books anyway as she writes hefty (you’d think she’s being paid by the pound) 1000-page space operas (yes, that is an actual genre), only now I’m not buying her books out of spite, instead of not buying them out of disinterest.

My experience with this author has me reconsidering the advice you hear everywhere about “social media presence.” Just this morning, I read the profile of a literary agent who is looking for new authors with a “strong social media platform.”

But what if your “social media platform” reveals the hithertofore concealed fact that you’re a complete asshole? What good are 64M Twitter hate-followers?

I’ve been thinking more about my own social media presence now that I’ve been rejected for two blogging gigs over the last couple of months. The first job I don’t think I seriously contended for, despite a request to submit additional samples of my work. The second seemed to hold more promise when the editors slogged through voraciously read the past six months of my posts.

Screen Grab 2

A couple of weeks later, they came back to look at the two posts I’d published since their first visit.

Screen Grab

In the end, I didn’t get the job, as you may have already deduced, since this blog post is not titled “See ya!”

Now I’m starting to wonder whether the social media presence I’ve created with Do Not Get Sick in the Sink, Please is supporting or thwarting my writing goals.

And don’t think I haven’t considered the ramifications on other areas of my life, as well. Suddenly, I’m starting to think maybe this blog wasn’t such a good idea after all, what with my kids getting older and those damn public schools teaching them how to read. Now the older one is skirting the edges of puberty and it’s only a matter of time before she discovers this blog. Do you know how often Do Not Get Sick in the Sink, Please turns up in typical teenager internet searches such as “best places to have sex without your parents finding out” and “places to have sex without getting caught” and “best places to have sex in your car”?

You can’t even begin to imagine. Or perhaps you can.

(Also, for some reason, this blog comes up when you Google “vigina tattoo” which is another phrase I hope my daughter never searches only because I expect her to be a better speller.)

As I’m considering my social media presence, part of me feels like I should stop writing about anal sex and blow jobs controversial topics*, and another part of me figures that folks who are offended by anal sex and blow jobs controversial topics* aren’t going to be happy with anything else I write, either, so I should at least be true to myself.

What does that mean? I guess it means that I’m going to continue building my social media platform on controversial topics anal sex and blow jobs.

Royalty free stock photos, including the image in this post, can be found at freeimages.com. The screen shots are my own.

*For the record, I have never actually written a blog post about anal sex, although I have threatened to write one. Blow jobs, on the other hand . . .

What We Talk About When We Talk on the Internet

I’ve been reading your blog and I’ve been wondering about something.

Some people eat cabbage when it isn't even St. Patrick's Day.

Some people eat cabbage when it isn’t even St. Patrick’s Day.

Remember that post you wrote about your grandmother’s cabbage rolls and how you’ve been trying to recreate that dish for your kids, but you haven’t been able to get it just right, and anyway, your kids hate cabbage, and now the house smells funny, and the UPS driver just gave you a dirty look when you opened the door to sign for a package?

Was that post really about cabbage rolls?

I didn’t think so.

The other day, I got an email that mentioned the “crazy, weirdo Moms post” I had written. For a moment, I thought my email friend had mixed me up with another blogger. “What crazy, weirdo Moms post?” I wondered. Then I realized the emailer meant this post, “The Mom Race.” “Oh!” I thought. “She thinks that post is about crazy, weirdo Moms.”

And just like your post about grandma’s cabbage rolls, I don’t think my post is about crazy, weirdo Moms. If you ask me, I might say that it’s about running (that was the topic I intended to write about when I began drafting the post), but, after seeing what I’ve written, I’ll probably say that post is about alienation.

But maybe I’m all wrong about that post. Maybe it is about crazy, weirdo Moms. If you read the comments on “The Mom Race,” you’ll see that more than a couple of other readers reacted similarly to the person who emailed me. So, I have to ask, is a blog post what the blogger thinks it’s about or is it what the reader experiences?

I’m going to say: it’s what the reader experiences. I say that not because I think I’m a crappy blogger who is unable to convey my feelings of isolation and instead can only make lame jokes about those whacky Moms and their kids and, for God’s sake, cancer. Ok, well, that’s not the only reason. I think it’s also because what we talk about when we talk on the Internet isn’t always what we mean.

Nothing in life is free. They'll keep peeing on the kitchen floor until you buy that fancy cat food that you got one time by accident. That's what it's gonna cost you: 95¢ a can.

Nothing in life is free. They’ll keep peeing on the kitchen floor until you buy that fancy cat food that you got one time by accident. That’s what it’s gonna cost you: 95¢ a can.

So as a public service, I’m providing a free translation of all (well, most) of the blog posts on the Internet which you can refer to as you slog through enjoy all the blogs you’re following.  For a nominal fee* I’ll even come over to your blog and translate your latest blog post.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Universal Blog Post Translator

What You Wrote What You Meant
A Cabbage Rolls Recipe My kids only eat chicken McNuggets and does the UPS man think I filled my house with farts?
The Mom Race Good God, I’m insecure.
Top Ten Rules For Twitter Would you assholes stop clogging up my feed with your bullshit? Also, follow me on Twitter.
A Book Review of a Book I Read Look! I read a book!
The Whacky Things My Kids Do My children are psychotic. Call 911.
The Crazy Stuff My Husband Does I’m “this close” to hiring a divorce lawyer
My Dinner at Applebee’s My life isn’t really this pathetic, I swear. Seriously, though, don’t order the cedar plank salmon.
Why I Love/Hate A Celebrity Will this get me pageviews?
Why I Love/Hate My Body Will this get me pageviews?
Sex This will definitely get me page views.**

*an order of cheese fries.

**No, it won’t. I’ve been trying that schtick for years.

Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at freeimages.com.

This is Not My 200th Post

Just an FYI: I’m Camp NaNoWriMo-ing starting today.

Oh no! CampNanowimo

Oh no! CampNaNoWriMo

I’m already behind. I don’t know when I’ll catch up. Who knew that the economy would pick up so much that even a holder of a dubious graduate degree would find so much work?

Anyway, just a quick post to let anyone who’s torturing themselves participating that they can find me over there @ kayeraye. My cabin appears to be full of the usual creepy weirdos so I’m sure we’ll all get along famously.

One last housekeeping note: this is technically my 200th post but I had planned something much more fabulous than a  quick flyby about CampNaNoWriMo for that milestone. Of course, I haven’t written that post–oh, God, I suck so much I don’t even have an idea for that post! Anyway, let’s just pretend this CampNaNoWriMo BS is not  my 200th post and stay tuned for my 201st post.

I’m sure it will be wonderful, and who knows, maybe I’ll make it really special by including naked selfies or my credit card info or whatever. I’ll think of something.

Five* Reasons Why You Don’t Want Me in Your Book Club

There had to be a reason why I never joined a book club.

I never joined back in the day when Oprah Winfrey ruled the world, giving away cars and demanding that everyone prove their literacy by discussing her book club selections. And I didn’t join more recently, at the beginning of this year,  when Facebook founder Jesse Eisenberg Mark Zuckerberg, who has taken up Oprah’s mantle in his own attempt at world domination, announced his book club, A Year of Books. So, no, I didn’t rush out to read The End of Power, his club’s first selection (neither did anyone else. Zuckerberg’s book club isn’t going too well).

Instead, I preferred to host my own sort of book club, with a membership of one, reading non-fiction titles such as The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power and Genocide under the Khmer Rouge and Games for Learning: Ten Minutes a Day to Help Your Child in School.

Yes, I actually did read both those titles, and they’re each equally horrifying, in their own way.

While I do read lots of non-fiction, I’ve always wanted to write fiction. Long time readers of this blog are well aware of my struggles through National Novel Writing Month, the annual 30-day death march challenge to produce a novel in the month of November. This past Nanowrimo, I managed to finish the humor-mystery I’d been working on for way too long. Or sort-of finished. At least, I finished it enough that I felt I could move on to something new.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading. Dissatisfied with how my own story ends (“It reads like Scooby Doo, Where Are You fan-fiction!” I complained to a friend), I started reading lots of novels in the mystery genre, some current, some classic, to see how they ended. I felt a whole lot better about my own story after I re-read Agatha Christie’s A Murder at the Vicarage. I swear,  you could practically hear Scooby Doo say “Ruh roh!” as Miss Marple fingered the murderer in that classic novel.

Fast forward to last week: While I was mostly reading and not doing much writing, I discovered the Wall Street Journal Book Club.

And I joined.

Let me explain why.

I joined because someone I admire a lot more than Oprah Winfrey or Jesse Eisenberg Mark Zuckerberg picked the club’s new selection: author Erik Larson chose Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Larson writes engrossing non-fiction that reads like fiction, and I’m a big fan of his work, particularly The Devil in the White City and In the Garden of the Beasts.

Despite reading lots of stories from the golden age of detective fiction, I’d never read The Maltese Falcon, not even during my most recent immersion in classic mysteries as I tried to figure out if my own manuscript was any good, or if I should burn it straight away. Although I’d never read any of Hammett’s work, I’d given the name “Dashiell” to a character in my story, so it really seemed as though the stars had aligned for me to finally join an actual book club and read The Maltese Falcon.

Besides, I needed a new excuse to put off writing.

So I took the plunge and signed up for the WSJ Book Club, and down loaded a copy of the novel.

And much of the book is teeth-grindingly sexist,  but in the end, I think it actually works because the character of Sam Spade is out for what he can get, from where ever he can get it, and he seems to treat the male characters in the book with the same disdain he treats the females.

I guess what I’m saying is that Sam Spade is an equal opportunity asshole, and I’m okay with that.

Anyway, The Maltese Falcon is absolutely great. I finished the book wishing I could write dialogue like this, from early in the book, when Spade decides to confront his client, Brigid O’Shaughnessy.

“That–that story I told you yesterday was all–a story,” she stammered, and looked up at him now with miserable frightened eyes.

“Oh, that,” Spade said lightly. “We didn’t exactly believe your story.”

“Then–?” Perplexity was added to the misery and fright in her eyes.

“We believed your two hundred dollars.”

“You mean–?” She seemed to not know what he meant.

“I mean that you paid us more than if you’d been telling the truth,” he explained blandly, “and enough more to make it all right.”

This bit is terrific in that it reveals so much about both characters: Spade is both blunt and sharp, while O’Shaughnessy is a clever liar–clever enough not to let on what she knows until she hears what he’s thinking.

My delight in the novel was spoiled (a bit) by the discussion that’s proceeded on Facebook, which was very much like the seventh circle of hell I’d always imagined a book club discussion would be. First, there were a bunch of comments from people who admitted they hadn’t read the book, or hadn’t read the book in a long while, or who had seen the movie but hadn’t read the book. And yet they all felt the need to share their thoughts. Then there was a stream of comments complaining about “spoilers” from remedial readers people who had not finished the book yet (and probably never would), but apparently found it necessary to join the discussion, anyway. The WSJ Book Club FB page at least gave them a place to register their Internet Complaint of the Day.

And they’ve given me something to complain about on my blog today.

For my part, here’s my insightful contribution to the discussion on Twitter.

Images in the post are taken directly from my Twitter feed. You can follow me on Twitter @WPKarenBrowne.

*Do you really need five reasons to keep me out of your book club? Do you even read this blog? Why on earth would you want someone like me in your book club? Frankly, I can’t help but believe you must be really desperate, because I’m the last person you should want. Okay, okay, I promised you five reasons, so here goes: For starters, I’d always forget to bring the refreshments when it was my turn. And I’d probably start a fistfight over whether Brigid O’Shaughnessy was really in love with Sam Spade or if she was just using him, like she had used all the other men in her life. And I’d shout stuff like, “Show me in the text where your opinion is supported! In the text!” I’d steal the roll of toilet paper from the bathroom, and complain, loudly, about the smell from the litter box. There, that’s five, I think.

The First Step Is Admitting I Have A Problem

She was able to quit the pipe, but could never give up the comma.

She was able to quit the crack cocaine, but could never give up the comma.

Some people smoke dope. Other people pickle their livers in alcohol. Still others have casual sex with sketchy partners.

My drug of choice is the comma.

I can’t help myself. I compulsively stick commas everywhere, whether they’re needed or not.

See right there? What kept me from writing that last sentence without the comma?

I compulsively stick commas everywhere whether they’re needed or not.

That sentence doesn’t need a comma. It’s perfectly good without the comma. And still my middle finger wants to reach down on my keyboard and stick a comma right there after the “everywhere” and before the “whether.”

Like an alcoholic in the early stages of recovery, I realize I have a problem. And I’ve gotten better. If you scroll back through the archives of this blog, you’ll find torturous passages like this one from Sex Really Is Disgusting After All, Just Like Your Mother Told You.

Other than menstruation, my sexual education came from girlfriends, who generally knew less than I did.  Then, when I started dating, I learned a bit more from boys, who generally had more experience than I did.  I remember a friend in sixth grade explaining French kissing to me, and thinking there was no way she could be right about this.

Good grief, what was I thinking with all those commas everywhere? My writing reads like it’s being spoken by a three-pack-a-day smoker who just sprinted up a flight of stairs.

Vector parchment with a pen and ink. Icon for records

50,000 words and they’re all separated by commas!

As I said, I’ve gotten better. The comma key on my current laptop is not as well worn as the previous one. In fact, I felt I had mostly quit my comma habit until I got caught in the whirlwind of NaNoWriMo. In the rush to push out 50,000 words in 30 days (I actually did reach the goal Monday morning), commas flew everywhere. It’s almost as if I thought punctuation counted towards my word goal (it didn’t, unfortunately).

In college, I had a professor who wrote this comment in the margin of one of my papers.

While technically correct, your sentences are clunky.

More than a decade later, my sentences are still clunky. And now I’ve got 50,000 words, and 1,278 commas, in a manuscript that needs to be un-clunked.

 

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