Sunday, May 29, 2011

Grammatical Errors in Major Ad Campaigns

Have you guys noticed that several recent ad campaigns feature messed-up comma usage?  I know it's seriously uncool to be a Grammar Nazi, but I can't help it.  I was an English major.  I worked as a copywriter and an editor.  I can't not notice these things.  What gives, people?

Exhibit A:
"Love.  It's what makes a Subaru, a Subaru."

Apparently, their copywriters still think their third-grade teacher's explanation that "you put a comma wherever you take a breath" is correct.  It's not.  Why didn't someone catch this?  I used to work in advertising.  Anything like this has to go through innumerable proofing meetings, getting approvals from the copywriter, copy chief, creative director, production director, and a VP, at least.  Does no one see that this is wrong?

P.S.: If you want to know why it's wrong, The Society Against Grammatical Boobery has a detailed explanation.

Exhibit B:
"The things we make, make us."

Makes me wonder if Jeep hired Subaru's ad agency. Same sentence pattern, same egregious error.

Exhibit C:
"What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."

These fools trademarked their incorrectly punctuated slogan.

What's wrong with the world?  Theoretically, really smart people are hired to become ad agency copywriters, copy chiefs, and creative directors.  Are they producing incorrectly punctuated sentences on purpose?  Or does no one understand the comma anymore?  I'm not sure which disturbs me more.

As a writer struggling to learn her craft, these things upset me.  If the world doesn't value grammar, why should anyone be bothered to learn it?  Why should anyone be bothered to write?  Why should anyone proofread?  There are things that still matter.  This is one of them.

Maybe it's not that big a deal to the average viewer or driver or Vegas tourist, but this is my life.  It matters to me.  And I can't take these companies seriously anymore.  Not like I was going to buy a Jeep or a Subaru, but now, even if I wanted to, I probably wouldn't.  Just to show them that my puny savings account is reserved for companies that still know how to use the English language.  It's just one person and just one voice, but it's all I have.  

Friday, May 27, 2011

Book Review: The Dangerous Edge of Things by Tina Whittle

I picked this one up at the library because of the blurb on its cover:  Kirkus Reviews said, "If you're wondering who can give Stephanie Plum a run for her money, meet Tai Randolph."  I love me some Stephanie Plum, so I grabbed it and ran.

The blurbs on the back cover are equally encouraging:

  • more from Kirkus: "Tai's next adventure can't come soon enough. She's adorable."
  • Publishers Weekly: "Mystery fans will welcome wisecracking characters that aren't trite and a twisting plot that isn't tired."
  • Gerrie Ferris Finger, author of The End Game: "Her prose is excellent, her dialogue crisp and realistic, and the plotline never wavers. A ripping good story with a gutsy heroine."

Unfortunately, I spent most of my time reading this book scratching my head and wondering if I was reading the same book these people were.  I wanted to like it.  The reviewers liked it.  What the hell's wrong with me that I spent most of the book confused and waiting for it to be remotely like an Evanovich book?  (It's not.  That might have been a bad marketing call.)

Here's the lay of the land:  Gun shop owner Tai Randolph gets sucked into a mystery when a dead body is discovered near her brother's home.  Her brother is out of the country and she's stuck talking to the cops and dealing with the mess.  There is also a private security firm investigating the murder thanks to some sort of connection with her brother (at first, Tai is unaware her brother works for this firm).  A mysterious man named Trey Seaver is her point of contact with this firm.  Trey has been mentally damaged by an auto accident, leaving him a shell of the person he was (personality-wise) before the accident.  He's brusque, precise, and trying to recreate himself based on a lifestyle magazine because he doesn't know who he used to be.

Let's start with the good points.  By the end of the book, the love story had taken hold firmly enough for me to root for Tai and Trey.  Instead of coming off as a gimmick, Trey's life challenges seem real and tragic.  I empathized with him, and the image of the Italian fashion magazine tucked in his desk drawer stayed with me.  Also, Tai's gay best friend, Rico, is kinda funny.

Now let's get to the not-so-good points.  I spent most of this book being confused.  What the other reviewers call "plot twists," I call "stuff that confuses me."  I felt like the characters needed firmer introductions, with it being more clearly stated who knows whom and how.  I kept getting the feeling that I was at a party and everyone knew each other but me.  Then, they stood around and told stories about times I wasn't there.  It's a very frustrating feeling.

Also, for a civilian, Tai seemed eager to call herself  a "girl detective."  When the cops and a private security company are already on the job, why would anyone throw herself into the mix so eagerly, unless being a girl detective is already a stated ambition?  For Tai, it is not.  I just kept wondering, am I missing something?  Was it her lifelong goal to be a "girl detective"?  In many such novels, the heroine is forced into the detective role by physical threats to her life.  The physical threats here were minimal and happened halfway through the book, after Tai had already thrust herself into the detective role.  I just found myself lost as to why she'd do it in the first place.  I think what this boils down to is motivation.  It's very secret here.  The private security company, the political couple at the heart of it all, the stripper, etc...I finished reading this two nights ago and I'm still puzzled how it all fits together and what their motivations are.

I had a strangely clinical vibe as I read this book.  Sharp and confident and competent, yes.  Engaging? No.  It's missing that spark, that sense of humor or empathy that really makes you sit up and take notice of the characters.  It might be because Tai reveals very few of her emotions.  It might be because I was too confused to let any deeper emotion (like empathy) sink in.

Let's cut to a bit of dialogue that might illustrate my point.  When someone slips Tai a printed bullseye with her photo in the middle (the second one she's received), she tells the cops and then Trey, her partner/bodyguard at the private security company.  Here's what ensues:

I exited Dylan's blog.  "Did Garrity tell you about the target with my picture in the middle?"
"He did."
"Did he tell you it wasn't the first time?"
Trey nodded.  "He thinks someone is threatening you."
"Or trying to scare me, I don't know which."
"Why would someone do that?"
"Your guess is as good as mine.  But I'd say it's because I'm getting close to something somebody doesn't want me close to." 

Three comments here:

  1. "He thinks someone is threatening you."  That's a pretty obvious response on Trey's part.  Is that really what his sharp, incisive, clinical mind would have answered with?  Is it really necessary for a character to clarify that a bullseye with someone's face on it is a threat? It's like saying ice cream is cold or water is wet.
  2. I've read these lines hundreds of times before.  These lines read as unoriginal.  There needs to be something spicier, something layered, something more to them.
  3. Again, back to the clinical feel.  Does this dialogue move the plot along? Yes.  Does it get the job done? Yes.  Does it make me ignore the siren call of the Mad Men disc from Netflix sitting on my counter? No.
I realize I've gone one for quite some time here.  I didn't mean for this to be such a long piece.  I guess I'm just trying to work out my own frustration at feeling like I just didn't get it.  Kirkus, Publishers Weekly...these are the big guns.  If they loved it, why didn't I?  What did I miss?  I just didn't see what they saw.  My apologies to Tina Whittle, because she's obviously earning a great deal of praise for this book.  I mean no disrespect.  As a reader, I'm just struggling to make sense of something that, in the end, didn't.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Book Review: The Snooki book. I tried. So help me, I tried.

Okay, so my original idea was to read a book that might actually be popular, and link to it to draw in a few readers.  So when I saw the Snooki book at the library, I grabbed it (face down, of course, to protect my integrity).  I started reading last night, but especially after finishing Gillian Flynn's Dark Places, I couldn't do it.

I put it down.  Permanently.

Bad sign #1:  All the blurbs on the back reference Snooki the person, not Snooki the fake author.  (Valerie Frankel wrote the thing, not Snooki, despite what the copyright page says.)

Bad sign #2:  I've never seen Jersey Shore.  I'm alive and have a pulse, so I know what happens there and who the people are, and the dumb things they do and say.  But any so-called charm the show exhibits would be utterly lost on me since I'm too poor to afford cable.

Bad sign #3: One of the main characters is named Giovanna Spumanti, which I can't say, read, or type without wishing it was "Asti Spumanti."  Now that would have been funny.

Now, I've actually read one of Valerie Frankel's other books, Smart vs. Pretty.  It was a long time ago, but I remember liking it.  I don't think my problem is her writing per se.  I think my problem is her writing as it has to be in order to fit the genre, the location, the characters, and the supposed author.  

But still.  No one should read this.  There's no humor, no charm, nothing sweet or sexy, as the cover flap proclaims.

The characters are dim, despite their flashy clothes.  I don't want to be them.  I don't want to meet them.  I don't hope they find the gorilla juiceheads of their dreams.  I remember people who behaved this way in college (one of them might have been me, but I'm not telling).  The lesson I've learned since then is that acting that way is only fun for the people being the idiots, not the people watching the idiots or listening to the idiots.  This rules out any possibility that this book will make you feel good.  

Of course, things might improve after page 70-something, where I crapped out.  It's possible.  La Frankel received a paycheck, and for that, I'm already jealous.  I blame whoever's idea it was to slap Snooki's face on a book and imagine people wouldn't make fun of it.      

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Book Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Since this blog should ideally be about more than me, I'm going to try to review some of the books I read for fun (no school books--most of them suck, anyway).

Let's start with Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.  I read the first 30 pages or so standing in Borders one day and I was hooked.  (Yes, there is such a thing as a literary thriller.)  I checked the book out from the library a few weeks later (sorry, Gillian--broke grad student, you understand, right?).  The book follows Libby Day, survivor of a strange massacre that left her mother and two sisters dead--and her older brother in prison, judged guilty by a jury of his peers.

After going through something so terrible, you'd expect Libby to be a bit damaged--and she is.  Deliciously so.  That's part of what made me remember this book.  Libby's voice is haunted yet apathetic.  She's a slacker, but forgivably so.  The first few lines tell you exactly what she's about:  "I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.  Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it."  Freakin' cool, right?

Libby's voice is what carried me through the book.  This presents a slight problem in that the book also contains numerous flashback chapters told by Libby's brother, Ben, and her mother, Patty.  These chapters lead you up to the infamous massacre, but they start to pall about halfway through the book.  Ben is tormented and largely inept--the reader pities him, but his voice doesn't have the snap that Libby's does.  Same for Patty--the reader feels pity, but at some point, it feels like enough is enough.  I'm not reading this book to hear about Ben's abominable girlfriend, pot-smoking friends, or Patty's money troubles.

These other events and voices must be present, but they didn't need to be *so* present, if that makes sense.  The novel seemed to drift away from Libby's voice and into the pull of the past, into the reasons for the massacre.  And while the book is incredibly well-written, it felt like a bit of a bait-and-switch.  I wanted every page to contain Libby's slacker-delusional thoughts and awesomely bad attitude.  I found myself rushing through Ben's and Patty's chapters, wanting to get back to Libby.  And then when I did get back to Libby, her chapters became mostly about the people she was interrogating.  Double whammy!

Flynn pulls it all off, however, by the sheer strength of her writing.  This woman does amazing things with verbs.  She doesn't grab the obvious; she thinks about what the character is doing and pulls a verb out of nowhere that instantly lets you picture the action just as it appears.  Here are some examples:

  • "A whoof of cigarette stink burped out of the cushions."
  • "My head was whirling, my eyes unable to hold on to anything: a tree, the sky, a rabbit spooking away from me."
  • "The woman's black hair speared down her shoulders, violent-looking."
  • "I pictured her hot breath tunneling into his tiny snail ear."
She's equally good with adjectives.  Just pick up the book and flip to any page--you'll find something unusual used to describe something familiar.  

The verdict?  A wonderful read, a wonderful writer.  I forgive the bait-and-switch and the way Libby's voice flattens and disappears toward the end of the book.  By that point, Flynn has you hooked and you can't wait to see what really happened during the massacre.  This would be unputdownable if more of the story were in Libby's angry, disillusioned voice.  Maybe next time?  I'm already looking forward to Flynn's next book.       

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

eBook Cover Complete!

Woo-hoo!  After hours squinting at my computer screen, I've got it: the awesomely tacky cover of my Southern Fried Mystery.  For your viewing pleasure, I humbly submit:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Designing a Cover for an eBook

So today I tackled what seemed like an impossible project:  designing a kick-ass cover for my eBook.  I started in Microsoft Paint, which proved impossible unless you have an exact design in mind.

Design tip: Do not place text unless you're absolutely sure you know where you want it.  Once you drop a text box, you can't get it back.  News that would have been useful YESTERDAY.

Anyway, I gave up on Paint and fooled around in PowerPoint instead.  Much better!  It's a million times easier to maneuver the shapes and text boxes and anything else you're using, like images.  Then you just save it as a JPEG, open the file in Paint to make sure it all shows up properly, and you're good to go.  I have to tweak the size in PowerPoint to make sure the pixels come out all right in Paint (since PowerPoint doesn't let you size by pixels, as far as I know).

Once I've got it all nailed down, I'll post the JPEG here so you guys can see what the heck I'm talking about.

Seeing the cover makes it all feel so real.  I'll have an eBook out soon!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Story So Far

Okay, let me get you up to speed on my novel writing career up to this point.  (It's brief.  Don't worry.)  It's not particularly fun to list a catalog of failure, but you need this background information to get a feel for where I am in the process.  Here goes nothing:

2006: Completed first novel, a vampire historical.  Tried to get an agent.  Had good initial feedback from several top NY agents.  One of them mentioned the book to a publisher after reading the first hundred pages, then passed after reading the whole book.  This got my hopes up, which is both a good and a bad thing.

2008: Completed second novel, a lighthearted mystery a la Janet Evanovich.  Tried to get an agent.  Only got one offer, from a man who had never sold anything before.  When the contract specified that I would be charged for travel expenses, I respectfully declined.  One full was never responded to.  Economy was rapidly heading into the crapper, so that may have had something to do with it.

2011: Completed third novel, a suspense/thriller. Am trying to get an agent.  Two partials, One full.  All rejections, plus 30+ more rejections based on the query letter alone.  Nearing despair and wondering what one earth agents are really looking for.  Put heart and soul into this one, revised it for eight months, and am confident it's better than a lot of what I've read in the same category from the library. Still, no dice.  

2011: Completed fourth novel, a category romance. Sent query, synopsis, and first three chapters to Silhouette Romantic Suspense.  Am waiting to hear back.  Probably won't bother with agent for this one because, well, let's face it--I'm agent repellent.

I've suddenly realized how negative the whole process sounds when I write it out like this.  I don't feel negative about my overall trajectory as a writer.  I learned so much during the process of writing the third book.  But it still stings when I see published books that suck or have sloppy sentences and outright grammar errors.

Where does that leave me?  Let's just say there's an ebook or two in my future. I would still like to find representation for my work.  I just am not sure the traditional agent-publisher system works anymore.  It feels broken.  Maybe it's up to the young writers out there to create a new system--one that actually works.

Monday, May 9, 2011

That New Blog Smell

So here it is:  your invitation to join me in the strange world of 21st century writing and publishing.

I'm a writer.  A struggling writer.  A writer who feels lost when she considers what it's going to take to "make it" in the digital age.  In fact, I spent most of yesterday sobbing and drinking because I didn't feel up to the task.  But today's a different day.    

I'm a good writer.  I know that.  I've spent years learning the craft and have learned to polish and edit like a motherclucker.  (Not swearing, Mom.)  I still have work to do, but I'm capable of it.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that I'm looking to break into the market at a time when no one knows where the market is really going.  Are we really headed for an e-book-only kind of world?  Are agents really necessary if that's the case?  Is it possible to get an agent if you're not Snooki and you don't have a blurb from Oprah and you're not writing YA paranormal novels?

I don't know, but I'm sure as hell going to try.