NaNoWriMo 2011!

It’s that time again! National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to those of us crazy enough to sign up for it. (My profile: jo_words.)

Last year was the first time I both signed up and tried to write daily for the entire month. I fell far short of the 50,000 word goal, coming in around 20,000 or so, but that’s still 20,000 words I didn’t have at the beginning of the month.

My goal for this year is 30,000 words: that’s 1,000 words per day. I’ve written 1,842 words in two days, so I figure that’s realistic. The novel I’m working on is one that I’ve had in my head for about a year and a half. I tried to produce a first draft at the beginning of last year’s NaNoWriMo, then gave up and started a totally new story instead. So perhaps this story is cursed? Oh well, doesn’t matter–I’m starting it again from scratch, and this time around it will get written. Or else.

Cat ownership tips for dog people

As a currently dogless dog person who happens to have two cats (still following?), I feel I’m in a good position to offer some advice to fellow dog people who, for whatever reason (don’t worry, I won’t judge… you poor bastards), find themselves adopting or wanting to adopt a cat.

Cats are furry four-legged companions, but their resemblance to dogs often ends there. So here’s what you should be prepared for when you bring kitty home…

How to Love Your Cat Without Sustaining Personal Injury

Dogs want to please you, but cats want to be pleased by you. Hint: cats find inconveniencing you to be incredibly pleasurable. For example, Sir William wants attention only when I’m otherwise occupied. As I started this post, he started meowing and looking intently at the top of the entertainment unit, threatening to jump up there (and possibly knock over the TV). This was my cue to get up and pay some attention to him (“Sir William! Don’t you dare jump up there, don’t you even think about it!”). Satisfied, he sauntered off.

Another tip: beware a cat who innocently exposes his tummy to you. You might think, “Aw, he wants tummy rubs, just like a puppy!” But there are two options: either he wants tummy rubs, or he wants to attack your hand. You won’t know which it is until your hand reaches his belly, and by then it could be too late. You’ve got a 50/50 chance in our house: one enjoys tummy rubs; one enjoys hand-ambushes (complete with fangs and claws).

Can you tell which of these kitties wants tummy rubs and which wants to sink his teeth into your soft, fleshy hand?

Sir William wants tummy rubs... OR DOES HE?

Is Comma sleeping... or PSYCHING YOU OUT?

Oh, and remember: both dogs and cats have teeth and claws, but cats are far more willing to use them on you. And not by accident.

Noms

Some cats are just like dogs and will wolf down their food right away, but many cats will nibble throughout the day instead. As a former dog owner, it was fascinating to give the cats their kibble and watch them eat for a while, then saunter off while there was still kibble left. Trust me, that did NOT happen with my yellow lab. His policy was “eat first, determine whether it was edible later.”

On the other hand, if you drop food on the floor, a cat will sniff it, then give it a little taste, then spit it out, then repeat until they decide whether they like it or not. So unlike a dog, a cat makes a poor vacuum cleaner replacement.

Exercise is for Suckers

Dogs need to run around outside or they will drive you absolutely nuts. Cats can go either way–some (especially as kittens) need exercise and will love chasing a laser pointer or a bit of string. Others are lazy and think exercise is for suckers. Our cats enjoy a rousing game of catch-the-laser-dot or mouse-on-a-string, and they also enjoy tearing through the house around midnight or one a.m. (I think they give themselves bonus points for keeping us up at night). At least we don’t have to go out in the cold or rain just so they can pee. Advantage: cats.

Toys, Toys, Toys

Don’t waste your money. Cats like boxes, paper (seriously, shred a few sheets of paper and watch them go nuts), bags, empty toilet paper rolls, pens (or anything that they can roll, like chapstick and USB sticks), laser pointers, string/ribbon*, tinfoil balls*, and attacking anything that moves under a blanket. (Confession: I buy my cats toys all the time. Especially little stuffed mice with catnip in them, and little balls they can chase.) *Note: do not leave your cats alone all day with string, ribbon, or tinfoil balls–they may eat them, and that could means a pricey vet bill.

Sometimes, my kittens even play fetch. It’s all on their terms, though: they bring the toy, drop it at my feet, and stare at me until I throw it. They only bring it back until they lose interest (usually two to seven times).

Sir William waiting to fetch the tinfoil ball.

Training Your Feline

Bwahahahahahahahahahaha.

No, really. You can train a dog because they want to please you. Good luck with cats. The best you can hope for is that you’ll be able to get them to behave when you’re around. They’ll still wreck your shit the moment you leave.

We prevent our cats from jumping up on the counters by yelling, “NO!” but I’ve heard some people find spray bottles (with plain water) to be effective. The trick is to catch the cat in the act so that they associate their asshole behaviour with the punishment. Anyway, just keep in mind that your cat’s desire to do something is often stronger than your patience to prevent him from doing it. Pick your battles.

Protecting Your Stuff

Dogs may be able to get up on couches and beds, but cats can go ANYWHERE. Have you seen how high some of them can jump? It’s insane. You will quickly learn to cat-proof your house as if you were baby-proofing for a toddler Spiderman. They can climb anywhere and squeeze into the smallest spaces (behind the refrigerator, for example). Anything light enough to be pushed over will be pushed over. Anything that dangles will be batted at and possibly severed. Anything on a ledge or shelf will end up pushed off said surface.

Like puppies, they also tend to chew stuff. Bitter apple spray may deter wire-chewing, but unless you want to coat your entire wardrobe in the stuff, just keep your clothes out of reach. (Some favourite chew toys: tank top straps, headphones, drawstrings.)

 Moody Little Buggers

What can I say… cats can be assholes. With time, you’ll learn to recognize what kind of mood your cat is in, and that will probably save you from a few bites and scratches. But still: expect cats to be unpredictable. They can go from purring as you stroke them to biting your hand.

If your cat seems pretty focused on you and his eyes are dilated, he’s probably all amped up and ready to Attack The Shit Out Of Anything That Moves. Exhibit A:

Comma demonstrates Crazy Kitten Eyes. Beware!

Some cats also hold grudges. I’ve heard of cats who display their displeasure with their owners by ignoring them or pooping in their shoes or on their bed. What jerks.

Sweet Dreams

Your cat will be at his most adorable when he’s exhausted from terrorizing you and passes out. Take pictures.

Don’t bother buying an expensive cat bed. Your cat will curl up in your laundry hamper amidst your dirty clothes instead, just to spite you.

Oh, and cats are nocturnal. So expect to be woken up at three a.m. by your cat doing one or more of the following: jumping on you, sitting on your chest, sitting on your head and chewing your hair, scratching you “by mistake” as he tears across the bed in pursuit of your other cat or one of his toys (or because he’s possessed), scratching your legs on purpose because they moved while he was stalking them, or meowing loudly about something.

Really, considering how long they’ve been domesticated, why aren’t there any diurnal cats? Get on that, cat breeders!

The Holy Grail: Dog-Like Cats

If you’re lucky, you’ll get a dog-like cat that runs to greet you when you come home, like tummy rubs and fetch, and doesn’t hold grudges. The best way to do this is to adopt an older cat so you can get a better sense of his personality (because it’s hard to really get a sense of a kitten’s personality beyond “hyper,” “insane,” and “sickeningly cute”). Or choose by breed–some breeds are more easy-going than others (I don’t know which… ask a cat person).

Any other dog people out there with cat-ownership tips to share? TELL ME. Or I will sic my cats on you at three a.m.

Author interview up at Get Lost In A Story

The talented Maureen McGowan (author of such hilarious fairytale mashups as Cinderella: Ninja Warrior), has interviewed me over at Get Lost In A Story. If you’ve been burning to know which stereotypical clique I belonged to in high school (hint: I wasn’t a jock), or whether I prefer salsa or guacamole, head on over!

Tell me about your bookmarks

Today the kittens watched me take a bath for the first time (er, it was their first time watching, not the first time I ever took a bath). They were fascinated (and a little apprehensive) about all the water, but they stayed as close as possible. By the time I was ready to get out, Sir William had progressed from observing the water at a distance to dipping a paw in the tub and splashing around. He’s also been fascinated by the toilet lately, so I should probably keep an eye on him.

Anyway, if you read the title of this post, it’s obviously not about kittens and baths. No, I’m posting because I need to know–readers, what is your relationship with bookmarks?

As an author and an avid reader, I’ve accumulated more than my fair share of bookmarks over the years. And yet, if you asked me to produce one for you right this moment, I don’t know if I could. Nor can I remember the last time I used one. I’m not anti-bookmark or anything–I think they’re wonderful book-accessories, and I’ve seen (and owned) some great ones. I just never use them, and I never seem to be able to find a good place to store them, and therefore they disappear. I’ve probably left a trail of hidden bookmark burial grounds in every place I’ve ever lived.

So what do I do to pick up where I left off? Either I use whatever’s closest at hand–usually a receipt or an empty envelope–or I just remember, somehow. It probably helps that I go through books quickly, so it’s not that difficult to flip through and reach the part that looks familiar. Sometimes, if the book has a dust jacket, I’ll use one of the flaps to mark my place (front cover flap at the beginning; back cover flap as I reach the end). However, I refuse to dog-ear pages. I’m more comfortable writing on a book (in PEN, even!) than bending the corner of a page.

So. Is this common, or do you have a trusty bookmark (or several trusty bookmarks) that are always close at hand? Tell me about your bookmarks. I don’t think I’ll ever use bookmarks regularly, but I’ll always admire them as little bookish treats.

Wedding update

I got engaged on New Year’s Eve last year, and was married in August. We had a book-themed wedding, with books as centrepieces, origami flowers made from book pages, and cupcakes topped with fondant books. You can check out all the details on Flickr.

Here’s my favourite detail: a custom cake topper we commissioned from the talented Sophia’s Workshop. As you can see, it includes our kittens, Sir William Purrington III (on his back, asking for tummy rubs as always) and Comma (don’t be fooled by his calm expression: he’s totally about to bite our feet if we move!).

Spam, spam, spam, wonderful spam!

Bonus nerd points if you know where I got the title from.

This website gets a lot of spam. 767 pieces in 11 months, in fact, which means I get about 70 pieces each month.  Thankfully, it doesn’t get posted, but it’s still annoying to delete. The only upshot is that many of the spammers try to slip under the radar by posting generic praise. Here are some of the lovely things that the nice people wanting to sell real Rolex watches, generic Viagra, and insurance have said about my website:

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So normally I just smile, pretend they really are talking about me for a second, and click “Mark as spam.”

But yesterday, I received a chilling comment:

  • naturally like your web site but you have to test the spelling on several of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling issues and I in finding it very troublesome to inform the truth however I’ll surely come again again.

What? So now along with all the yes-men I have a rogue critic? I don’t think so, spammer. I’m an editor and  an author, and I take great offense at your libelous comment. I dare you to find a typo in any of my posts (well, except this one, which is filled with spammers’ typos). For shame! Now go back to telling me how wonderful I am, and I just might let one of your comments slip by.

But probably not.

Anyone else out there reading a little too much into spam? Let me know in the comments!

Book vs. movie: which do you tackle first?

I’m about to go watch The Help, and for once, I haven’t read the book first. I was discussing books vs. movies with a coworker yesterday, and while we both agreed that a book is usually better than the movie based on it, I was having trouble putting my finger on why I prefer to read the book first. Either way, the ending will be ruined for me in one of the mediums, right? So why should it matter which comes first?

And yet it does. So without further ado, here are my top reasons to read the book first:

You get to imagine the characters and situations for yourself, without the actors from the movie overwriting your imagination. And you don’t have to worry about your imagined version of the story overpowering what you’ll see on screen, since film is a visual medium. Just try to remember how you pictured Harry Potter before you saw the movies!

It takes longer to read a book than to watch a movie. For example, The Help is 530 pages. I read about a page a minute, so the book will take me nine hours to finish. By contrast, the movie is only two hours and seventeen minutes. I don’t mind already knowing the ending if I’m only investing two hours, but I do mind if I’m investing more than four times that. Knowing the ending prevents me from getting lost in a book, but it doesn’t prevent me from enjoying a movie. Your mileage may vary, of course.

How about you? Do you prefer reading the book first, or watching the movie? Or do you choose one over the other? Let me know in the comments!

A confession about fan letters

Well, actually, my title is misleading. This post contains two confessions about fan letters.

Confession the first:

I have never sent a fan letter to an author, even though I often compose them in my head while reading. The closest I ever got was about fifteen years ago, after reading one of Amy Tan‘s books (I think it was either The Hundred Secret Senses or The Kitchen God’s Wife). I got as far as typing out a few paragraphs, but that was it. I abandoned the effort because (a) I was so saturated with her delicious words that I’d begun channeling her writing style, which was embarrassing, and (b) that was back before you could easily track down an email address for an author, or contact them through their website. I probably would have had to print off the letter and mail it. With a stamp and everything!

Anyway, the point is: I have never completed a fan letter to an author. Which is a shame because…

Confession the second:

Even though I am a barely-known author with one slim book to my name, I have received fan letters, and they make my day. Some of them make my entire week. I’ve also had the pleasure of reading enthusiastic reviews of my book, and those make my day/week/month too.

If my book had come out ten years ago, the same amount of people may have enjoyed it, but I probably wouldn’t have heard from them. Now there are tons of excellent book blogs–many of which are devoted to young adult lit–and communities like GoodReads where the book addicts hang out, and authors and readers coming together on Twitter to do neat things like #YAlitchat. People have always been excited about books, but now it’s easier than ever for those people to find each other.

So even as independent bookstores close and publishers struggle to figure out what an ebook-dominated future will mean for them, all is not lost. Today, writers can be closer than ever to their readers, and vice versa. So whether you’re a reader or a writer or both, get out there and tell your favourite authors how much you love their books.

And Amy Tan? I’m a huge fan.

Interview with Debbie Ohi

How could I forget to post this until now? I know, I know–I’m a horrible person. Anyway, last week, the wildly talented iPad-addict Debbie Ohi was kind enough to interview me on her website, Inky Girl. Click here for the interview!

She even drew some fairy tale characters discussing Fractured! How cool. Debbie is illustrating a children’s picture book by author Michael Ian Black, called I’m Bored, coming out next year. Debbie’s story of how this project came about because of a previous rejection is an interesting one: read all about it here!

Five bad traits writers can justify

One of the great things about being an author, besides the millions of dollars you get for your debut novel, is the privilege of claiming that your negative personality traits are actually vital to your craft. To get you started, here are five common bad traits that writers can easily justify.

Embellishment

Also known as “lying,” but embellishment sounds classier, doesn’t it? As a writer, you have a keen sense of what makes a good story… and sometimes the truth just doesn’t cut it. (And sometimes it does: see Gossip, below.) So if you’re right in the middle of regaling everyone with the tale of how you met Johnny Depp and your friend pipes up that it was just an actor in the Pirates of the Caribbean area of Disneyland, remember: you’re not lying. You’re working on your craft (specifically, narration and pacing).

My aunt taught me this trick on one of her visits. I was in another room when I overheard her telling my roommate that I’d failed my driver’s test six times before finally passing. I stormed into the room to correct her–after all, I failed twice, let it be known! But she just laughed at my outrage and said, “Yes, but six makes a better story, doesn’t it?”

Melodrama

“And they all lived happily every after” is the end of the story, not the middle. Without conflict, readers have no reason to turn the page. So if this instinct to find the drama in everyday situations spills over into real life, you’re hardly to blame, right? Sure, your mother may have simply forgotten to sign your birthday card because she was in a rush or distracted… but maybe it was because she’s passive-aggressively punishing you for taking so long to potty-train. And come to think of it, she always did like your sibling better, right? Now there’s a story!

So the next time you’re accused of making mountains out of molehills, you can reply, “Exactly. Because who would pay money to go see a molehill?” (Or you can say, “Why are you always so mean to me?” and collapse into a dramatic, sobbing heap. Both approaches work.)

Procrastination

Also known as “part of the creative process,” procrastination is endlessly justifiable. Disciplined writers may tell you that “butt in chair = pages”–which is true–but there are tons of ways to justify your procrastination: maybe your muse is silent. Or your subconscious is busy mulling over the story and you don’t want to interrupt the process until it’s done. Or perhaps your office is a mess and it’s impossible to organize your thoughts until you’ve organized everything else, right down to your pens and paper clips. In any case, the dog needs a walk and the cat is napping on your keyboard, so writing will have to wait.

Note: I am writing this blog post rather than doing my taxes, which are already late. But I figure I should get some points for writing to procrastinate rather than procrastinating about writing, right?

Daydreaming

Some may consider this a subset of procrastination, but it can be an art of its own. Daydreaming can range from your average head-in-the-clouds musing about life to wild fantasies about how you’ll spend the millions of dollars you earn as a famous novelist. And it’s productive: by coming up with all sorts of possible (if unlikely) ideas, you’re giving your imagination a good workout.

GOSSIP

Come now, how are you supposed to write convincingly about other people’s lives if you’re not constantly sticking your nose into their business? And what better way to learn about different personalities and voices than to befriend a variety of people, especially the ones that like to tell you their life story? It’s not petty gossip, it’s serious character study! But be discreet, or you may find your friends clamming up when you’re around.

An aside: One day, you will construct a single character out of the personalities of three of your friends, and none of them will recognize themselves–but a completely different friend will be absolutely convinced that the character is based on him. You will never be able to convince him otherwise.

Ok, I’m off to do my taxes… but if you need an excuse to avoid your work-in-progress, go ahead and leave your own favourite “writer trait” in the comments!