Monday, December 12, 2011

now that INTERN has turned in her latest revision...

...she is going to:

1. Check herself into the nearest Sanitorium.

2. Change out of and possibly wash the black fleece Revision Pants she has been wearing for six weeks.

3. Eat something that hasn't been sitting in a #%@$#$ crockpot for a week and a half.

4. Apologize to the people she has alienated, snarled at, and/or wept on over the course of said Revision.

5. Learn a new juggling trick.

6. Identify a new sort of wild mushroom.

7. Make plans to write a second novel that is infinitely simpler, neater, and more obedient than the first one. A foolproof novel! A novel that will require no Revision whatsoever! A novel that will come out of the box pre-assembled and smelling like glue!

8. A novel that won't wrap INTERN up in a poisonous cocoon of self-doubt and despair! A novel that will leave INTERN feeling like a genius every time she writes instead of a bumbling hack! A novel that will assuage all INTERN's fears and insecurities! A novel made of gold!

9. Search India suitcase for leftover Valium.

10. Watch some Christmas specials.

11. Go for a walk.

12. Look up "perspective" in the dictionary.

Friday, December 2, 2011

everything INTERN needs to know about revision, she learned from her phlebotomist

A few days ago, INTERN wandered into a blood drive and signed up on a whim. The day was young; the cookies looked good; INTERN had nothing better to do.

The phlebotomist was a sandy-haired Viking in a long white coat who entertained INTERN with phlebotomy fun facts as he set her up on a rolling table and installed the needle. However, things got less fun from there.

Once the needle was in, INTERN lay on the table for what seemed like forever. Her arm ached like hell. Her blood dawdled out sluggishly. The lights on the ceiling buzzed. The phlebotomist wandered away to gossip with the Red Cross volunteer at the sign-in table. But INTERN's spirits were held aloft by the idea that all this discomfort was for the greater good.

When the phlebotomist came back from chatting up the sign-in volunteer, he unceremoniously yanked the needle out of INTERN's arm.

"What happens now?" said INTERN. "Is my blood going into the blood bank?"

"Nope," said the Viking, tossing INTERN's bag of blood aside like a loaf of moldy bread.

"What do you mean 'nope'?"

"We can't use it. Too thick. Next time, drink more water before you come in."

INTERN couldn't believe her ears. After all this waiting...all this aching...

"So what happens to blood you can't use?"

"We throw it out."


This was an outrage! This was unbelievable! Nobody throws out INTERN's blood! Especially not after making her lie on some table for an hour and a half!

INTERN's facial expression communicated as much, whereupon the Viking handed her a Star Wars band-aid and let her in on a little secret.

"Don't worry, lady. You'll make more."


Editors have been saying the same thing to writers from time immemorial.

When INTERN feels reluctant, indignant, rageful or wistful about cutting yet another scene from yet another draft of a WIP, she tries to remember that words are to writers as blood is to...well, everyone: We make more. That's just what we do.

Even though it's hard to see your blood thrown on the stink barge, it's good to know there's more where that came from. And if you drink more water this time, it might even end up in the bank.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

all your e-mail are belong to us: in which independent bookstores get digital rabies

The other day, INTERN found a trampled but still legible coupon on the sidewalk for 15% off any book at a charming local bookstore on the little island she is temporarily calling home.

"Huzzah!" exclaimed INTERN. "What a find!"

She stuck it in her purse along with various other sidewalk finds (feathers, pennies, someone's bifocals) and went along her merry way.

Today, INTERN went to the bookstore and picked out a book to give to her big sister for Christmas (The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes, in case you're curious—INTERN's big sister is a crafty lady). When INTERN took her purchase to the counter, she presented the friendly clerk with her coupon.

That's when things got peculiar.

"Write down your e-mail here so we can keep you updated on our events," said the (really very friendly) clerk.

"Oh, no thanks," said INTERN cheerfully. "I'm just visiting."

"You'll still want to know about our events," said the clerk.

"Oh, but—I mean, I'm not going to BE here. I'm moving to California," explained INTERN.

"Yeah," said the clerk, "but you'll want to stay updated on our events."

This was turning into some kind of bizarre stand-off. INTERN began to flail a little.

"But—I'll be living in my van. In California. This is literally the only time I'm ever going to be near this store."

"Doesn't matter."

She tapped the sign-up sheet for the e-mail list.

At this point, INTERN decided there must be something sinister going on. Perhaps the store had some kind of policy whereby employees would be fed to the hogs for letting customers escape with their contact information unharvested. If so, INTERN certainly didn't wish to responsible for this nice woman's demise. She scribbled down her e-mail address (yes, her real one—INTERN will never learn...) and hurried out of the store before the clerk could shake her down for a Facebook like as well.


This was a fairly benign experience as such experiences go, but it speaks to a larger phenomenon of people, businesses, and institutions jumping on the e-newsletter and/or social media bandwagon in an ineffective and slightly ridiculous manner.

The e-mail harvesting craze reminds INTERN of the time last winter she decided to make acorn meal. Like a greedy squirrel, INTERN gathered all the acorns she could find, conveniently overlooking the fact that some of them had black spots, some of them had been sitting on the ground for months, and some of them weren't the edible kind at all. At the end of the day, she had an impressive pile of acorns, of which only a tiny handful were actually suitable for human consumption. They ended up rotting in a bowl until Techie Boyfriend threw them outside.

You can have ten thousand newsletter subscribers and not reach a single person. What matters more than numbers is connecting with people who actually care. And for that you need to be a discerning squirrel, not a greedy one. Certainly not a rabid one!

INTERN is all for bookstores (and writers, and publishers) doing everything they can to connect with readers. But unless we're smart about it, all we're going to end up with is a pile of rotten acorns—or a bunch of newsletters for events happening 800 miles away.


Are you weirded out by having your e-mail address wheedled, bullied, or bribed out of you? Does anyone actually READ e-newsletters? Where do you draw the line between reaching your target audience and reaching some poor sap who doesn't know you from a spammer? INTERN wants to know!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

thank you

...for all the tweets and comments and celebratory e-mails. INTERN feels like she has hundreds of fairy godpeople helping and poking and waving their wands as she stumbles her way towards published noveldom, and that is a magical feeling indeed.

In case you are curious, here are some questions and answers about INTERN's forthcoming books!

Q: Isn't summer 2013, like, a year and a half away? Why the long wait?

A: The summer 2013 pub date is timed to coincide with INTERN's release from the maximum security women's prison from which she has been writing this blo—oh wait, that's some other intern.

It would take an entire post to explain the logic behind pub dates. Most importantly in INTERN's case, the summer 2013 pub date for Book 1 gives INTERN more time to write a brilliant Book 2 (not a sequel) in time for summer 2014.

INTERN is still getting the hang of novels. She's inefficient, delusional, and frequently confused. This timeline gives INTERN more time to develop as a writer—well worth the longer wait.

Q: But publishing as we know it won't even exist after the 2012 apocalypse!

A: This is why MIDNIGHT AT THE RADIO TEMPLE is written entirely in Mayan characters.

Q: Is the manuscript finished?

A: Actually, INTERN is up to her nostrils in revisions and is at this very moment grappling with the dreaded Athenian Novel Paradox. Every night, Techie Boyfriend talks her out of yet another genius completely wacky revision "solution" (what if the novel is REALLY supposed to be told from the point of view of the azalea bushes?!?), hiding INTERN's laptop as necessary.

Q: How long has this been in the works?

A: Oh, let's see. INTERN had the idea for the novel about a year and a half ago, wrote most of it while living in this van, did her queries while living on Rattlesnake Ranch, and accepted Harper's offer in August just before leaving for India.

Now that the proverbial squirrel is out of the suitcase, INTERN is happy to answer questions about her own experiences with querying/going on submission/etc, although such things vary so wildly from person to person that they are better saved for entertainment purposes than used as a roadmap for anyone else.

Q: What's in the future for INTERN?

Lots of revisions. Lots of freaking out. Lots of going for long, distracted walks through muddy Northwest forests. In another few months, INTERN and Techie Boyfriend will be living in their van again, leading INTERN to rename her novel MIDNIGHT AT THE WALMART PARKING LOT.

In short, nothing has changed...


Have more questions? Fire away in the comments! Otherwise, INTERN wishes you a very happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

midnight unmasking ceremony

*eats dragon fruit*

*burns sage*

*dons ceremonial robes*

*shakes ceremonial rattles*

*reads relevant passages from the Tao te Ching*

*steals glance at clock*

*counts to three*

*scampers into the moonlight*


At this point, participants who wish to discover INTERN's "real identity" (as well as a totally unfounded rumor about this blog being defunct) are spirited over to this page (scroll down to the fifth item in the list).

Otherwise, here's the news:

Huzzah! Novels! Gamboling! Dragon fruit for all!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

hedonic treadsorcery!

INTERN was so impressed by this thought experiment at Kristan Hoffman's blog that all she feels like doing today is telling every writer she knows to try it.

And that is SERIOUSLY all.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Help a Writer Out: In Praise of Mutual Aid

When INTERN was in college, she had the extreme good fortune of having a best friend whose parents were writers and well-connected in Vancouver’s small press scene. When INTERN expressed an enthusiasm for all things literary, they casually and with no great fanfare took her under their wing.

Over the next three years, they introduced INTERN to poets and editors in their literary circle. Lent her a constant stream of obscure books. Helped her produce her first chapbook. Let her tag along to readings and book launches. They were (and are) great people and the best mentors an aspiring writer could have asked for.

INTERN spent the weekend visiting these mentor-friends in Vancouver and also soaking in/trying to get a grasp on the Occupy fervor that has bubbled up in that city like so many others (have you guys seen Occupy Writers? Lemony Snicket!). And it made INTERN think about all the ways we can help each other, as writers and as people.

1. Introduce writer-friends to one another!

Sometimes it feels like the only way to gain access to Serious Writers and writer-friends is to join an MFA program. The other pros and cons of MFA programs aside, this is downright ridiculous. We shouldn’t have to buy the company of other writers because it’s too hard to meet one another on our own.

Instead, let’s play match-maker ourselves. Introduce a poet to an editor to a short story writer to a critique partner to a Pulitzer-winning novelist. We shouldn’t need to take out massive loans to make fruitful literary connections—all we need is one another’s good will.

2. Lend a writer-friend a book!

Let’s thrust books into one another’s arms, yelling READ THIS! Let’s raid each other’s libraries on a weekly basis. Let’s drop books in the mail at the slightest provocation.

3. Take a writer-friend seriously!

Serious Writers come in all different forms—published, unpublished, self-published, old, young, university professor, highschool dropout. Taking someone seriously no matter where they fall on that spectrum can make all the difference between launching a new writer-friend into the world and watching them give up.

4. Help a writer-friend in crisis!

We’re all crazy and broke and uninsured and dying of lyme disease and on the verge of becoming homeless. Let’s give each other a ride, a meal, a safe place to stay, and a friendly ear.

5. Share your skills!

Help a writer-friend with book promotion! Design a self-published writer-friend’s cover! Show a writer-friend how to use a printing press! Look over a writer-friend’s residency application!

6. Share the cake!

Umm, literally. If INTERN comes to your book launch and there’s no cake left, things WILL get messy, mutual aid or no mutual aid.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

in which INTERN wrestles with a viper

INTERN is bored of Scandalous Revelations (and talking about herself in general) so today let's talk about snakes.

The poet Rumi has a great story about a traveler who was about to put on his shoe when an eagle swooped down and snatched it.

"Goddamit!" said the traveler, shaking his gnarled fist. "Stinkin' eagle stole my stinkin' shoe!"

Just then, he watched as a poisonous viper fell out of the shoe the eagle had snatched, and realized that the loss of his shoe had prevented an even greater calamity, namely being fanged on the toe by a poisonous viper.

Sometimes things that feel like setbacks are actually benevolent eagles swooping down to stop you from doing something really, really stupid. And sometimes things that feel like successes are actually tests of your ability to wrestle with the viper on your own.

Sometimes, INTERN feels like each person has a different question dominating his/her life—"Am I a good person?" or "Am I living right?" or "Am I striving hard enough in my art?". And sometimes you freak out and instead of those big questions, your life gets taken over by small ones: "Do I have enough Twitter followers?" "Am I popular enough?" "What if that eagle comes back and steals my other shoe?"

INTERN read a short article in the New York Times yesterday by author Thomas Glave, weighing in on Amazon's push into the publishing world:
And now, as things become more dire for writers who want to develop into actual artists, Amazon, the behemoth that fears no one, enters the fray. Can Amazon’s profit-centered forays provide a healthy space for writers?

Amazon aside, this left INTERN's skull ringing: What DOES constitute a healthy space for writers who want to develop into actual artists? And to what extent do any these shiny things we dabble in—blogging, online writing forums, Twitter—actually hinder our development as artists?

Sometimes, INTERN frets that her writer-friends who toil in internet obscurity are somehow purer as writers than INTERN can ever be. They must be so much less distracted by superficial worries or equally superficial victories. They must really, truly worship at the altar of literary Quality, in the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance sense, in a way that INTERN is terrified she slips from. The internet provides writers with such a lively and supportive community—but are we helping each other ask the big questions? Or unwittingly fueling an endless parade of small ones?

Now, more than ever, writers can bombard themselves with comparisons. All you have to do is jump on Twitter to see who just got an agent, who just signed a mega-deal, who's having their novel turned into a play turned into a movie turned into a video game turned into a McDonald's toy. You find yourself thinking, "I NEED to get HUGE!" instead of "I need to work humbly for as long as it takes." And when you see the eagle swooping down out of the corner of your eye, you jump up and say "Fuck off, eagle!" And you tell yourself whatever viper's coiled up in there—vanity, emptiness, losing sight of the big questions—is worth keeping that shoe on your foot.

INTERN worries about these things. She worries about them all the freaking time. But she also believes that we CAN create a healthy space for one another to become true artists, no matter which technologies we're using, or else she wouldn't be writing this.

We can help each other ask the big questions, and we can help each other strive to be better artists, and we can help each other shake the vipers out of our shoes.

And we can do it in the digital age.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Week 'o' Scandalous Revelations, Part 2: Truth and the Anonymous Blogger

One of the most frequently asked questions INTERN has gotten about this blog since its inception in April 2009 is "How much of it is true?"

When people ask this question, they are often referring to the more outlandish tales, such as yesterday's scandalous revelation or the time INTERN accidentally ingested part of Vampire Roommate's evil spirit absorbing tablets in her midday snack.

The funny thing is, the stuff that makes you say "Reaaaaally?" is the true stuff. It's the mundane details that INTERN has fiddled with—dates/times/genders/locations/ordering of events/identifying details of people and institutions—in order to respect the privacy of the people and institutions she's depicted. When she started this blog, INTERN was downright PETRIFIED of being discovered by her place of internment (she remains sworn to secrecy to this day). She therefore took great care to anonymize the crap out of every possible detail. Publishing's a tiny world, and there's a reason so many publishing bloggers are anonymous. Also, it's just plain fun.

There is also the matter of the untruths cooked up by readers' imaginations, which INTERN cannot control. Newcomers to this blog tend to assume that INTERN currently resides in New York City, when in fact she is writing this post from an abandoned houseboat on a small island off the Washington coast (and getting DAMNED SEASICK in the process). Recently, INTERN has seriously considered about adding some kind of sticker to her blog that says DOES NOT LIVE IN NYC, but that seems unnecessarily belligerent...

Then there are all those posts about writing, which are, of course, entirely fictitious.


INTERN will be taking a break from Scandalous Revelations tomorrow but returning on Thursday!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Week 'o' Scandalous Revelations, Part 1: An Uncensored History of This Blog

As you may know from Friday's post, INTERN's days as an anonymous blogger will soon be coming to an end. In approximately a week's time, INTERN will be forced to step out from behind her Wizard of Oz smokescreen and reveal herself to all of you as the lowly Helga von Spinklehorn, hunchbacked, far-sighted, and possessed of the most enormous set of fangs you've ever seen.

INTERN is scared shitless. But also a little relieved. Because while anonymity bestows many freedoms, it can also make things feel a little, oh, impersonal after a while, and for a long time now INTERN has been craving the ability to share herself in a way she has so far been unable to do.

But first, INTERN promised you Scandalous Revelations. So here is the first one.

Scandalous Revelation No. 1: What's the Deal With That Photo?

If you've been reading INTERN's blog for a while, you may have noticed this photo in the upper left hand corner:

The appearance of this blog has remained unchanged for so long that INTERN has long stopped noticing it herself. But the truth is that this highly undignified photo contains the scandalous backstory of how INTERN ended up dabbling in publishing at all.

A few months before starting her first publishing internship (and this blog), INTERN was an itinerant hitchhiker seeking her fortunes in the USA post-university. She had recently landed in a certain illustrious City and commenced a whirlwind romance with Techie Boyfriend, and was now in need of both Funds and Gainful Employment.

After searching unsuccessfully for Real Jobs and failing to hear back from several internships, a fed up (and slightly manic) INTERN saw a job posting on craigslist for actresses for a (quote) respectful, safe, and all-female Adult Movie company. The pay? A thousand bucks per six-hour session.

"WHY NOT?" said INTERN, barely twenty-two and hungry for adventure. "Beats temping at some boring office!"

She ran across the street to the payphone and set up a meeting with the director, then ran back to the apartment and enlisted an extremely reluctant Techie Boyfriend to take a few photos proving that she was more or less female and not so hunchbacked as all that.

The very next day (these things move FAST when you're twenty-two and recently off meds and very, very gleefully stoked on life) INTERN met the Adult Movie Director at a pizza place, then went for a tour of the Studio. The director was a barrel-chested European man with long curly porn-director hair (conveniently the only non-female member of the company). INTERN, being a curious sort of person, asked a million questions and was generally delighted just to get an inside glimpse of the Adult Movie world, even though she had no prior interest in or experience with Adult Movies and hadn't thought any of this through for a single nanosecond.

That night when INTERN checked her e-mail there were two messages.

One was from the Adult Movie company offering INTERN a thousand-bucks-a-session job.

The other one was from a publishing house offering INTERN an unpaid internship.

Hot damn!

Opportunity was really knocking now. Was it going to be brains or booty? Had there ever really been a choice?

INTERN wrote to the publisher saying she'd come in on Monday, and to the Adult Movie company saying she'd had second thoughts about her career.

But the whole experience made INTERN think. If people were willing to pay top dollar for her scrawny, snaggle-toothed body, SURELY she could find a way to make a living off her brain.

INTERN started this blog as a way to keep that promise. The photo in the corner was INTERN's idea of an inside joke—a wink to all the crazy, impulsive, gloriously irresponsible whims at the heart of every adventure.


Stay tuned this week as the Scandalous Revelations continue to fly. And, um, please don't tell INTERN's mom about the real reason she ended up in publishing.

Friday, November 4, 2011

a very short post about a very big decision

Due to a variety of Recent Developments of which INTERN will explain more in due course, INTERN has arrived at a point where it will soon no longer be practical (or indeed, desirable) to keep this blog anonymous.

INTERN is therefore declaring a Week 'o' Startling Revelations starting on Monday, culminating in a dramatic and shocking Unmasking to take place slightly later this month. Ladies and Gentlemen who are prone to fainting spells are encouraged to bring their own smelling salts.

But WHY?




Not to mention, WHO?

Stay tuned as the revelations start to fly...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

the kindle swindlers; thoughts on ebook piracy

When INTERN and Techie Boyfriend were trekking in Nepal, the heaviest thing in INTERN’s pack was a copy of Vikram Seth’s 1500-page A Suitable Boy, recommended by several clever and tasteful readers of this blog. That book was the size of a dorm room mini-fridge—INTERN could have survived in the Himalayas for weeks just by licking the ink. Attempts to sneak it into Techie Boyfriend’s pack resulted in immediate discovery and expulsion.

So when INTERN spied a fellow trekker reading a Kindle at the tea house that night, she accosted him immediately.

“How d’you like that thing?” INTERN said, helping herself to a chair at the table.

He looked up, smiling. He was a blond-haired sales and marketing type from somewhere in the southeast. His face spoke of leadership seminars and rugy.

“It’s great!” he said. “Ever since I bought it, I haven’t paid for a single book.”

“Oh, like you’re reading classics on Project Gutenburg?” said INTERN. She had met a butcher, once, in small-town Oregon, who read Dickens on his Kindle when business was slow.

Sales and Marketing beamed.

“No, there’s these websites where you can download new books the same way you download movies.”

INTERN’s expression shifted from friendly curiosity to suspicion. Her formidable eyebrows knit, and she leaned forward on her elbows.

“You mean you pirate them.”

He nodded, unaware of INTERN’s growing wrath*. “Yup. I figure the Kindle’s paid for itself about three times over already, just from all the money I’ve been saving on books.”

He took a sip of his Everest, giving out a yelp of surprise as the bottle shattered in his hands, the beer spilling all over his Kindle, which began to hiss and smoke and then melt into a puddle of black plastic and metal on the wooden table.

“What? WHYYYYY?” Sales and Marketing shouted. “Why did you do this, INTERN? Why me?”

But INTERN was already stalking away, her laser gun clinking softly at her side.


E-book pirating makes INTERN mad for obvious reasons: INTERN is a writer and has many writer-friends. But it’s a sheepish, ambivalent kind of mad: after all, INTERN downloaded music in college (though she has since sworn off it) and still enjoys the occasional ill-gotten movie (but does using your friend’s Netflix account now and then really hurt anyone?). Come to think of it, there’s probably a program or two on her computer that wasn’t strictly paid for (but it’s OK if it’s from a giant corporation, right?)

Laser gun fantasies aside, the truth is that INTERN can’t summon up as much righteous ire for people who download pirated ebooks as she would like to. Because she understands only too well their justifications. In a culture where “everybody’s doing it,” you feel like a sucker for paying for something everyone else is getting for free. Eventually, you get so used to getting that something for free that you feel downright outraged when someone asks you to pay for it.

“I’m not paying seventeen ninety-nine for a friggin’ album,” you sputter, as if someone told you they were going to start charging you three dollars a night to sleep in your own bed.

Somehow, it’s started feel like you’re the one in the right, and the music business is the greedy interloper trying to snatch back something that “should” be free.

INTERN and Techie Boyfriend have a younger friend, a real scrappy kid who isn’t above stealing a bottle of wine or a bike part here and there. One day, Techie Boyfriend asked him how he psyched himself up to steal something. Didn’t he feel guilty?

“No, man,” said the kid. “You just need to believe you deserve to get it, and it’s easy.”


How do people who wouldn’t steal a book off the shelf at Elliot Bay justify downloading pirated ebooks?


Digital products (like ebooks or mp3s) are like a big outdoor concert. You and your friends want to see the bands, but you don’t want to buy a $35 wristband, so you sneak in. Who does it hurt? It’s not like there’s a finite amount of music. The paying customers don’t get any less because you snuck in. As for the band? Well, if you hadn’t been able to sneak in, you wouldn’t have bought tickets anyway, so it really doesn’t make a difference either way.

Whereas stealing a physical book reduces a finite amount of books on the shelf by one, ebooks and other digital forms seem infinite. Stealing one doesn’t appear to reduce the stock—so how is it stealing? Besides, you wouldn’t have bought the book anyway…(or is that bullshit? Maybe you would have bought the book in 1980, but now you feel entitled to it for free. Better not think about that…)


How big an impact will ebook pirating have on writers and publishers over the next few years? And is there any way to preserve a mindset of book-buying in a culture that sees digital theft as harmless?

As someone who has seen her own work available for download on a torrent site, INTERN will be watching the ebook revolution with some wistfulness. But as a person whose own hands have been far from clean, INTERN can’t deny her own culpability in creating the culture that put it there.


How concerned are you about ebook pirating? Have you seen your books on pirate sites? Can authors do anything to reverse the tide? Will the benefits of ebook sales outweigh the losses of ebook pirating? INTERN wants to know!

*At this point, you may be wondering if INTERN invented this anecdote simply to serve the purposes of this blog post, but INTERN can assure you that so far everything she has related is 100% true. The culprit’s favorite book in the entire universe? “The Four Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferris. Which should tell you something about his aspirations. *sniffs snootily.*

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Special: INTERN's Guide to Royalty Statements

This morning, INTERN found a blood-stained envelope stuffed under the door of her cabin. When she opened it, a royalty statement tumbled out, accompanied by a frantic note:


When INTERN inspected the royalty statement more closely (as you can do by clicking on it), she began to see why...

The royalty statement contained all the usual contents (a quick glossary is included below to jog your minds). But how to explain the sinister royalty rate of 6.66%? Or the curious use of the number 8 in the word "St8tement?"

INTERN wanted to believe that this chilling royalty statement was the work of a psychopath...but alas, it was practically indistinguishable from pretty much EVERY royalty statement INTERN has seen, right down to the blood stains.

Confused? Here's how to decipher the statement:

Royalty Statement Glossary

Regular sales – Low Discount: The number of books sold at a "low discount" to bookstores etc.

Regular sales -High Discount: The number of books sold at a bigger discount to
chains, book clubs, etc.

Regular sales – Five Finger Discount: The number of books stolen by local hoodlums

Reserve Against Returns: Amount of $ your publisher is witholding in case bookstores send back unsold boxes of books.

Reserve Against Martinis: Amount of $ your publisher is witholding for Happy Hour.

Total Copies Sold: The number of books your adoring readership has shelled out for.

Total Copies Sold To Your Mom: The number of books your mother has secretly stockpiled in the basement.

$100,000,000,000: The amount of money you figured your book would probably make in its first year.

$40,000: The amount of money you WOULD be making per year if you had chosen a reasonable profession like teaching or dental hygiene.

3.14159: Pi.

1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21: Fibbonaci sequence.

14, 6, 22, 31, 5): Your lucky numbers as revealed by a fortune cookie the accountant was munching on while preparing your royalty statement.


INTERN wishes you a happy Halloween—trade you snickers for reeses...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

don't shoot the acquisitions editor: a traveler's guide to rejection

When traveling in places like India and Nepal, you are quickly and quite against your will forced into the role of a Rejector (unless you want to come home with six dozen sarees, an altar's worth of Ganesh figurines, three or four dubious musical instruments and a pound of hashish). This gave INTERN new sympathy for the Rejectors in publishing, whose experience, INTERN imagines, must be something similar...

Imagine yourself in a crowded marketplace where you are shopping for shoes. Spread out before you are dozens of stalls where local cobblers are hard at work, surrounded by heaps of colorful shoes in all different sizes and styles.

"Oh man!" you think to yourself, your heart tingling with anticipation. "This is going to be the BEST DAY!"

You LOVE shoes. Nothing makes you happier than finding the perfect pair. You take shoe shopping so seriously it's practically your job. You stride towards the first stall, drawn at once towards towards a leather sandal in a style you haven't seen before.

Noting your interest, the cobbler immediately begins pitching his ware.

"This is the most beautiful sandal!" he sings. "Made with the finest leather! Ostrich leather, extremely rare!"

You turn the sandals over in your hands, inspecting the workmanship. You're a little dubious about the cobbler's claim about ostrich leather, but the leather is quite lovely. As you run your fingers over the stitchwork, the cobbler continues his stream of talk.

"You are most beautiful lady!" he says. "I give you good price! Unbelievable price! You try them on, beautiful lady!"

Charmed in spite of yourself by the cobbler's flattery, you sit down on the low wooden stool and slip the sandals on. Or rather, you try to slip them on. It turns out they're two sizes too small.

Giving the cobbler an apologetic smile, you put the sandals back on the pile.

"Too small," you say.

"Too small?" he says. "OK beautiful lady. Come again tomorrow, I'll have sandals two sizes bigger ready for you."

"That's OK," you say.

"You come back tomorrow! I work all night to make bigger size for you! I won't sleep until they are ready! Beautiful lady!"

"Really, I don't think I want—"

"Beautiful lady!"

You scurry off and try to melt into the crowd before he can make any more promises for things you didn't even ask for.


At the next stall, an irate cobbler chases you all the way down the block waving a pair of dilapidated plastic Dora the Explorer thongs in your face, despite your repeated shouts that you are NOT in the market for children's shoes.

At the next stall, you spot a pair of heart-stopping red stilettos. But they're just too similar to a pair you bought last month, and there's only so much room in your closet. You force yourself to put them back on the shelf, giving the cobbler your highest compliments.

At the next stall, you find some amazing clogs carved out of local wood. The cobbler is a genius, a craftsman of the highest order. But when you call up Harry at your personal Shoe Approval Panel to tell him all about them, he cuts you off mid-gush. "You've already blown the budget on clogs this season," he snaps. "You're supposed to be looking for running shoes with decent arch support."

At the next stall, you try on a pair of alpaca boots decorated with sea shells. Harry at the Shoe Approval Panel gives you the go-ahead to make an offer, but just when you're laying your rupees on the table, a rich New Yorker appears out of nowhere and throws down a stack of hundred dollars bills. The cobbler's eyes bulge out of his head. You frantically dial Harry. "I need more money! This New Yorker's trying to steal my sea shell boots!"

You appeal to the cobbler. "I can't offer you more money, but I really CARE about these boots. I'll wear them every day!" But the cobbler is already bagging up the boots. The rich New Yorker sniggers at you and swaggers away, boots in hand. Your sense of loss and disappointment is so acute you start to cry right there in the marketplace. The cobbler looks away in embarrassment. You slink off for a restorative cup of chai.

Once you've pulled yourself together, you head back into the marketplace to look at more shoes.

At one stall, you really hit it off with the cobbler, who is smart and friendly and gives you a fascinating history of shoe-making while you're browsing. You really WANT to buy shoes from this person. You could see yourself becoming good friends, and visiting her in her workshop, and making her shoes famous all over the world. But when it comes right down to it, you're just not a platform heels kind of person. They make you look ridiculous. You make THEM look ridiculous. And doesn't this extremely talented cobbler deserve to sell her shoes to a person who can do them justice?

The next few stalls contain shoes that are fake versions of brand-name shoes, shoes that are hopelessly overpriced, and shoes that look neat but just don't fit your feet. You chat with dozens of cobblers, most of them delightful people who are devoted to their craft. Every time you walk away from such a cobbler without buying anything, you feel a little twinge of guilt—but what are you supposed to do? If the shoe doesn't fit, it doesn't fit. And if you bought shoes from every cobbler who came along, you'd end up with a closet full of shoes you never wear.


By the end of the day, you've "rejected" countless pairs of shoes. It feels like half the cobblers in the marketplace are mad at you. Even the monkeys swinging in the treetops bare their teeth and hiss when you walk by. You try to remember where you saw that pharmacy. You could use some tylenol. And possibly a Valium.

Why do cobblers need to take everything so personally? If you were an octopus hat vendor and you went around to the cobblers' stalls trying to sell them octopus hats, most of them would almost certainly reject you. Nobody OWES it to you to buy an octopus hat, no matter how frustrated you feel.

You start to fantasize about becoming an octopus hat vendor, just to show all those cobblers what it's like to have to turn someone down.

"Beautiful octopus hat!" you would say, slapping the octopus onto their heads. "Made with finest tentacles!"

You wonder if you are becoming delirious.

You wonder if you have malaria.

You hail an autorickshaw and head back to your room for a nap.

The next morning, you head to another shoe market, where another crowd of cobblers are waiting to woo, frustrate, and enchant you with their infinite piles of shoes...

Monday, October 24, 2011

the real actual truth about traveling in India

INTERN is back!

INTERN is back!

*hands out packets of incense and yak cheese*
*inquires as to whether or not postcards mailed three weeks ago have arrived*
*makes elliptical references to someone called Guru G. without explaining who this person is or why it is suddenly necessary for INTERN to dress in orange robes and eat only "high-vibrational" foods*

INTERN missed you all very, very much. She is delighted to be back and spent the entire plane ride home composing all sorts of posts in her head. But before she returns to things writing and publishing-related, she wanted to share a few insights gleaned on her travels, just in case you yourself are planning a trip to India or thereabouts.

The Real Truth About Traveling in India

When you tell a veteran traveler that you are going to South Asia for the first time, they will invariably tell you two things:

1. The roads are c-r-a-a-a-a-a-z-y.

2. You are going to get the trots like you wouldn't believe.

These two claims are followed by a knowing chuckle, and perhaps an anecdote involving crazy drivers and/or gastric distress, often both at the same time.

However, after spending roughly a month and a half in the subcontinent herself, INTERN found that the picture her informants painted wasn't entirely accurate. Here are some slight corrections:

Old Claim #2: You are going to get the trots like you wouldn't believe.

Real Actual Truth:

Over the course of your time in India, you will experience fever, headache, insomnia, loss of appetite, minor cuts and bruises, sunburn, upper respiratory infection, delusions, hallucinations, and temporary deafness.

You will not, however, get the trots.

Your host's family will include one retired medical doctor whom INTERN will refer to as Dr. Sandesh. Noting your shivers at the breakfast table one morning, Dr. Sandesh (who speaks no English) will slip you a small white pill, which you will gulp down with your chai. A little while later, you will start to feel sort of--better.

The next morning, you will be reading Rabindranath Tagore poems on the couch when white-haired Dr. Sandesh will shuffle in and press two more little white pills into your palm, giving you a magnanimous smile as he does so. Although your fever went away in the night, you have a bit of a headache, so you thank him profusely and take them right away.

A little while later, you feel--like--totally better, and you go wander around the neighborhood sniffing the tropical flowers by yourself and have a very good time.

Over the next few days, you and Dr. Sandesh establish a friendly routine. You try refusing the pills 'cause you're really not sick anymore, but he's so sweet and it's so nice of him to reach out like that, across the language barrier, so you always end up taking them.

In the afternoons, you go out by yourself and splash around in the Ganges, drink chai from little clay cups, and gaze at temples until the monks shuffle you out. You never thought India would be this mellow. You never thought you'd FEEL this mellow in such a new and overstimulating environment. But it's like everything is soft and rosy and OK, even when you get caught in some kind of protest and your Metro station gets shut down and there are police shouting into loudspeakers and you can't's like, just roll with it, man.

You start to wonder if India really does cause spiritual transformation like your friend who's into meditation claims.

Then one day Techie Boyfriend will leave for work a little late, and he'll witness your morning ritual with Dr. Sandesh.

"What are those pills?" he'll ask. Several younger members of your host family will be called in to confer.

It will emerge that Dr. Sandesh is slightly senile and that you have in fact been taking a high dose of Valium every morning for the past week and a half and not cold medication as you had presumed.

You will be mildly disappointed that your rosy outlook is not, in fact, due to a spiritual transformation.

You will feel mildly depressed for the next few days.

You will not, however, get the trots.

Old Claim #1: The roads are c-r-a-a-a-a-a-z-y.

Real Actual Truth:

Yes, the roads are cr-a-a-a-a-zy. The drivers honk once, then put the pedal to the floor.

However, you will have taken so many of Dr. Sandesh's little white pills that here's the thing: you don't give a flying $@%#.
You're so mellow you could be thrown out the front seat of an autorickshaw when it takes a corner too fast, and instead of feeling upset or shaken or at all ruffled, you will pick yourself up, smile dozily at the wide-eyed autorickshaw driver, and wander away to find some of those nice Bengali sweets before it gets too hot.

That is the Real Actual Truth about traveling in India, and now you know.


What have you all been up to while INTERN was away? Who's working on a new manuscript? Who got an agent? Who found some interesting mushrooms in the forest? Let's catch up! INTERN wants to know!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

yodelings of imminent vanishment

As you can probably tell from the sparseness of blog posts this month, INTERN has been rather distracted lately. For those of you who missed INTERN's elated tweeting a few weeks ago, here's why: INTERN and Techie Boyfriend are going to India and Nepal! On, um, Sunday. It's all very surprising and a little bewildering (Techie Boyfriend got a last-minute contract doing Incomprehensible Computer Stuff that mysteriously involves spending a few weeks in Calcutta) and INTERN has been sorting out visas and typhoid vaccines and looking for the perfect India Notebook in which to scribble her thoughts.

INTERN will not be taking a laptop, so this post might be the last you hear from her until mid-October. INTERN is not ruling out the possibility of checking in with a state-of-the-Indian/Nepalese-book-scene post or two, but you never know. Sometimes, INTERN feels the need to disappear completely for a while, if only to reconfirm that the writings she's writing and the schemes she's scheming and the direction she's heading are all the best and truest and freshest they can be.

INTERN will be back around October 10th, unless she and Techie Boyfriend buy a pet yak and move to the Himalayas.

In the meantime, INTERN wishes you long walks and surprising mushrooms and pages that flow and manuscripts that sell and many highly stimulating conversations.

Ten thousand delights to every one of you!


Friday, August 19, 2011

never mind the bat nests: on fixer-upper manuscripts

When INTERN was in high school, she longed for a part in the school play, Shakespeare’s As You Like It. She was awkward and graceless and made a completely ridiculous Acting Face whenever she practiced reading the script, but she cared, goddamit, and on the day of the auditions she delivered a passionate rendition of Jabberwocky to the bemused directors. INTERN’s best friend, who was listening from the hallway, declared the performance “psychotic” and suggested that perhaps acting had better be left to the regular drama kids, none of whom had a singular and unchanging Acting Face but were in fact capable of a full range of actorly expressions.

A week later, the cast list went up. INTERN was shocked to see her name at the very bottom, cast in a minor role (but a role nonetheless!) as a foppish Frenchman named Le Beau.

INTERN was thrilled but mystified. Wasn’t it ill-advised to allow such an inexperienced actress even a minor role in the production? She was well aware of how clumsy her audition had been.

But when she saw the director in the hallway later that day, he grinned. “We just had to cast you!” he said. “That face!”—and he literally howled with laughter as he kept on walking down the hall.

As luck would have it, Le Beau is perhaps the only character in the history of the English language for which INTERN’s accursed Acting Face is perfectly suited. As for her many (other) shortcomings as an actress, well, the director was willing to work on them. He had fallen in love with The Face; it was a fair bet that INTERN’s posture, her projection, and all that other actorly stuff would come into place in time for the show.


A little while ago, INTERN heard from a writer-friend who had just gotten his first-ever revision letter from his agent.

“She started out by saying what an amazing concept I have and how much she adores the novel. Then she basically said the entire plot doesn’t make sense, the ending is one giant cliché, and she almost stopped reading after two pages because the first chapter’s so bad.”

How, wondered INTERN’s writer-friend, did his agent decide to sign him at all, when the manuscript was rife with so many embarrassing problems?

INTERN encouraged him to ask his agent this very question. A few days later, INTERN heard from him again: “She just fell in love with the concept.”

INTERN has heard similar stories from other first-time novelists, often substituting “voice” or “writing style” for “concept.” Conventional wisdom states that your manuscript should be as perfect as possible before going on the hunt for an agent. In truth, though, plenty of less-than-perfect manuscripts find representation—as long as they’re less-than-perfect in the right way.

Just like INTERN’s experience with the school play, these manuscripts don’t have everything going for them. But they have SOMETHING going for them, and that something is special enough to convince the right agent to work with the author on the less-special bits. Like a bat-infested Victorian with a breathtaking view of the ocean, fixer-upper manuscripts are all about potential.

But how many bats are too many?

INTERN has spent all afternoon trying to come up with a scientific-looking table: If you have X, you can (maybe) get away with a little Y.

For example: If you have an incredible voice, you’re more likley to get away with a couple fixable plot holes.


If you have a big enough platform, you can probably get away with feeding your pet monkey some Adderall and having IT write the manuscript.

But this kind of generalization could cause all sorts of trouble, so INTERN decided to ditch the project.

INTERN does not mean to suggest that writers ought to toss their manuscripts in the mail, bats and all, trusting that their ever-so-brilliant voice/concept/platform will cause agents to overlook the problems. On the contrary, manuscripts should be as polished as humanly possible before going in the mail.

But if you’re a little experienced, or a little awkward, or if there are a couple misplaced boards in the otherwise impressive house of your manuscript, don’t despair. The great thing about being a fixer-upper (as opposed to, say, a Demolition) is that your manuscript is capable of being fixed. And with the help of the right agent or editor, that’s exactly what you’ll do.

Monday, August 15, 2011

too many agents, not enough gin: the truth about multiple offer situations

In the past month, INTERN had the pleasure of supporting not one but two editing clients-turned-writer friends through the strangely harrowing process of choosing between multiple offers of representation.

"Multiple offers of representation?" you say. "How delightful! Surely these writer-friends did not require much in the way of emotional support."

Multiple offers of rep are the bizarro version of rejection letters. Instead of dashing your hopes, they suddenly make them seem possible. Instead of limiting your choices, they present you with a dazzling array. For the first time, you're the Rejector. You become *responsible* for your fate—capable of making the wrong decision (whereas if you have only one offer, it is always going to seem like the right decision).

As far as INTERN can tell, multiple offer situations are not particularly rare. Before it happens to you, please be advised of the following myths surrounding the multiple offer situation, and the hard truths that lurk behind them.

Myth #1: You will be ecstatic.

Have you ever seen one of those ads for antidepressants or heartburn medication, with the happy people twirling around in a field of daisies 'cause they feel so dang GREAT, when you know in reality they're barely hanging on by their fingernails?

There's this idea among yet-to-be-published writers that getting multiple offers of representation will look something like one of those ads: beautiful, well-groomed you will dance through the nearest meadow in an ecstasy of spiritual and intellectual fulfillment.

In fact, you will experience the mangiest week of your entire life. You will sit by your computer, hollow-cheeked and stringy-haired, reading your potential agents' Publishers Marketplace profiles, blog posts, and interviews until you can recite their stats in your sleep. You will be unable to sleep or eat. You will leap out of bed to Google "one last detail" until your significant other exiles you to the couch.

In short, you will be miserable and you will make everyone around you miserable.

Myth #2: You will ask useful questions during your Agent Phone Calls.

The internet is full of lists of Essential Questions to Ask Potential Agents. You will dutifully copy these lists down. You might even make a chart with which to organize and compare the various agents' answers.

When you're on the phone with the first of the agents, you will look down at your list, only to realize that the colors in the gently used children's birthday party napkin on which you copied the list in the name of eco-friendliness have begun to bleed in such a way that you can no longer make out a single word.

In a vain attempt to remember those Essential Questions, you will ask your potential agent such penetrating queries as "Who will photocopy—it—if it needs to be—um." And: "When can I expect the delivery?"

Myth #3: You will weigh the pros and cons.

It is astonishingly hard to find downsides to any of the agents who are offering you representation. After all, you queried them for a reason—if they had freaking DOWNSIDES, you wouldn't have queried them in the first place!

Instead, you will be overwhelmed by the upsides. And, oh, how many upsides there are:

Big Corporate Agency: "We have offices in New York, Paris, and the MOON!"

Wee Boutique Agency: "We only take on three new extra-special clients per year!"

Up-and-Coming Agent: "I've only made two deals so far, but they were major three-book extravaganzas!"

Established Agent: "I've made two hundred deals in my day! Stick with me, young whippersnapper!"

Uber-Agent: "Never mind the background noise, I'm calling from my private Lear jet en route to NYC to negotiate a major deal for a very special client of mine who just wrote a—oops, can you hang on for a second, Princess Diana's on the other line."

Friendly Agent: "Why don't you come over for apple crumble and we'll talk about your manuscript in person?"

Shady Agent: "I've already got Dreamworks on the line. All you have to do is fill out this money order as a small retainer"

Gangster Agent: "Welcome to da family. HarperCollins don't buy it, we bust some kneecaps, know what I mean?"

Myth #4: You will go with your gut.

When all the (botched) questioning and (impossible) pro-versus-con weighing and (increasingly incoherent) one-sided "discussions" with your friends and family are done, it will be time to make a decision. When that moment arrives, all you have to do is go with your gut.

But can you really trust your gut? What if your gut's a greedy little stinker? Should you go with Uber-Agent because she makes the biggest deals, even if all evidence suggests she's not only incompatible with you but downright insane? Should you go with Friendly Agent because you got along so well on the phone, even though you don't recognize any of the authors on her list?

This is your career, after all! Your career! Are you really supposed to trust your career to a friggin' INTESTINE?

You weep and fret and writhe until you're a shadow of your former self.

Then you sit down at the computer and start typing four rejection e-mails, and one acceptance...


Have you ever dealt with multiple offers of rep? How did you make your final decision? INTERN wants to know!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

writing advice books INTERN would like to see

Elements of Guile by Strunk and White: Tips on tricking agents and editors into representing/buying your manuscripts.

The Forest for the Bees by Betsy Lerner: An editor's advice to—OH MY GOD BEES!

Writing the Breakout Grovel by Donald Mass: How to beg famous writer-friends to blurb your book.

Building the Breakout Hovel, also by Donald Maas: How to build yourself a wattle-and-daub shack to live in once your breakout novel fails to break out.

On Smiting by Stephen King: Sick of writing? Learn the techniques of the bestselling smiter.

Nerd by Nerd by Anne Lamott: How to write science fiction and/or programming textbooks that will seduce the brainiest of readers.

Curd by Curd, also by Anne Lamott: An extended metaphor on writing as cheesemaking.

Writing Down the Clones by Natalie Goldberg: Clones are the new zombie-vampire-angel-trolls. Zen-style tips on cashing in on this hot new trend.


Which writing advice books would YOU like to see? INTERN wants to know!

Happy, happy Wednesday to you all.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

little jars, tasty jams: thoughts on making it big

There's a delightful French expression INTERN heard once which goes "les bonnes choses viennent dans des petits pots" (or something like that). Literally translated, it means "good things come in little pots," but INTERN has always read it as "tasty jams come in little jars."

Lately, INTERN has been thinking about what it means to be successful as a writer, and how different-sized jars of success each come with their own particular brand of delights. You don't "make it big" one time, but over and over, leaving a sticky jam trail in your wake...


Jar #1: You hand sell 10 copies of your poetry book Ode to a Bolete and make out like a bandit (fifty BUCKS!), which you gleefully spend on pints for you and your poetry buddies. You can't get over your good fortune, and in the following weeks you write your best poetry yet.

Jar #2: You win a small poetry contest for your chapbook Lament for a Lactarius, and the prize is publication by a micropress run out of a friend's friend's basement in Portland, OR. Now this is it, this is the bigtime—somebody ELSE is publishing YOUR POEMS. Sure, your "publisher" is a tweaky hipster boy with those earlobe extender plugs, and the name of the press is Sour Kitty Editions, but you are being published just the same.

You still have to buy your own pints at the launch party, BUT STILL.

Jar #3: After submitting your new poetry collection Sonnets for a Suillus to just about every small press in Writer's Market, you just about get a heart attack when Waterbrook Press, a tiny but established house based in Elora, Ontario (where's that? oh, who cares! you think to yourself) offers you a real. live. book deal.

They send you a three hundred dollar advance which you use to buy groceries, just so you can brag to your friends that your Book Royalties are paying your grocery bill and not be flat-out lying.

The cover design is a little clunky and you notice a few typos when you're paging through your poems, but there it is—your book. Your first real book. This time, the launch party takes place at your local library, where are you advertised as a Local Poet. The library springs for cookies and coffee. Six people show up, three of whom buy your book at the end. Later that week, you are interviewed by a community radio station.

Basically, you're famous. You never stop feeling proud of yourself, even when Sonnets for a Suillus only sells 62 copies over the next three years.

Jar #4: You get a Very Exciting E-Mail one day. An editor at one of the better small presses happened upon a copy of Sonnets for a Suillus at a garage sale and "fell head over heels in love with your voice" (her words! she actually said that!) If you have another manuscript ready, please consider submitting to Better Small Press.

You jump up and down. And squeal. To be perfectly honest, things have been pretty quiet for you since Sonnets for a Suillus came out. Waterbrook Press shut down when Bill and Mary, the couple who ran it, retired to Florida, and you've been too busy with your job to enter any more contests.

Over the next few weeks, you scour your poetry folder for good poems, poems worthy of sending to Better Small Press. You work day and night, writing new poems, better poems, the best poems of your entire life. You send them to that editor and hold your breath. When she comes back two weeks later (two whole weeks! it's cruel!) with an offer, you're so relieved you faint on the carpet.

Your editor thinks your working title, Dirge for a Deadly Amanita is a little heavy for the overall tone of the collection, and together you come up with the new title Ghazals for Gomphidus.

Better Small Press really has their act together. You're actually a little embarrassed when you think about your experience with Waterbrook Press, which wasn't a real publisher after all. With Better Small Press, Ghazals for Gomphidus get some attention—you do a dozen radio interviews and read at six different libraries and two highschools. A few poetry websites run reviews of your book. A month after Ghazals for Gomphidus comes out, you get your very first piece of fan mail. You're so touched you actually weep.

Jar #5: Things are going well. Extremely well. You release another book with Better Small Press (Cinquain for a Chanterelle) and it wins some kind of award. Suddenly, you're getting REAL attention. A writers' conference invites you to be their guest poet. A local poetry festival invites you to be their featured reader. The local highschools invite you to run poetry workshops with students. Somehow, you've become a real poet. A poet with a Bio that contains more than a list of your hobbies. You've made it. Really made it, this time.

You get a two more pieces of fan mail. One of them is from another poet, a poet you've HEARD of—ohmygod, did THAT POET actually read YOUR BOOK?

You can't believe how successful you are, how charmed and magical this whole ride has been. You are so, so grateful and lucky.

Jar #6: Your third book with Better Small Press wins a Lannan Literary Award. That $150,000. One. Hundred. And. Fifty. Thousand. Dollars. For writing poetry.

Suddenly, you're not just local-poet famous. You're famous famous. You get interviewed on NPR and CBC Radio Canada and some other big stations. You are invited to be a guest poet at Bread Loaf and the Sewanee Writer's Conference. Creative Writing departments at a few small universities get in touch about openings as a poetry instructor. You do readings at independent bookstores and more than six people show up. Plus, your editor at Better Small Press takes you out for pints, and Better Small Press pays for them (even though you are now the proud owner of $150,000).

Fan mail turns into fan e-mail. People are really READING your poems. People you don't know and haven't met. You have a Following. You spend hours crafting heartfelt responses to every e-mail.

The Lannan Award lets you quit your job, and you designate an entire room in your house as your Writing Room. You thought you'd made it before, but all that seems like kid's stuff now. Now, you really know what it means to be successful.

Jar #7: Your next book, Pleiades for a Psilocybe, wins both the Nobel Prize AND the Griffin. Has that even happened before? Suddenly, you're being interviewed in the New York Times and Atlantic Monthly. Even crazier, your book is chosen as an Oprah's Book Club selection, and you're invited as a guest on her show. Apparently, grown men who have never read a book of poetry in their lives start weeping uncontrollably when they read Pleiades for a Psilocybe.

For the first time ever, chain bookstores start carrying your book (it has that fancy Nobel Prize winner thingy on the front cover). Not only that, they start carrying your older books—and people start buying them. The sales figures on all your books go up. People even start hunting for that embarrassing piece of juvenalia Sonnets for a Suillus. One day, you come across an extremely rare copy of Ode to a Bolete for sale on eBay for three hundred bucks (three hundred BUCKS!).

You accept a position as the Distinguished Chair of Poetry at the creative writing department at NYU. Your calendar swiftly fills up with engagements—poetry festivals, writers' conferences, keynote speeches. When you're not teaching, you spend all your time on the interminable book tour that has become your life.

Your inbox is flooded with e-mail. You receive dozens of e-mails a week from people who have been touched in some way by your books. But now, people are also sending you THEIR poetry and asking for advice, and you're not so into that. Some people also e-mail you about their personal problems and you're not sure why—you're a poet, not a therapist, and you don't even know them! You still write back to every e-mail, but it's taking longer and longer, so you mostly keep your responses to a one-sentence thankyou.

Jar #8: You spend all your time touring, speaking, teaching, and being wined and dined. After years of toiling in obscurity, you are now rubbing shoulders with John Ashbery, W.S. Merwin and Sharon Olds. You really do pay your grocery bills with poetry money—and your rent and car insurance, too.

Then one day you get a call from an editor at W.W.Norton. She knows you've been working with Better Small Press for a long time, but isn't it time to move to a bigger publisher who is better equipped to handle your needs as a famous poet? At first, you are adamant in your refusal. Then she drops some numbers.

You agonize for weeks. When you finally call your editor at Better Small Press and tell her you're moving to W.W. Norton, she breaks down weeping on the phone. You feel like a murderer.

But W.W. Norton really does do a better job of managing your career. Your books get co-op at Barnes & Noble, your print run goes way up, and there are full-page ads for your books in the pages of the New Yorker. Universities make bulk orders of your books for use in literature classes.

People write essays about you, about your work. There's talk of a biography. You've become so famous that being you is a bigger job than one person can handle, so your significant other quits his/her job to help manage your career. You get so much e-mail (so much WEIRD, overly personal e-mail) that you stop responding altogether. You also start turning down speaking engagements—if you accepted them all, you'd never have time to write!

You get a reputation for being "reclusive". Indeed, you rarely go out in public unless you're being paid six figures. You go to sleep at night confident that if you die before you wake up, your poetry will go on being read for generations and generations.

You've made it. You've finally made it...


So when did you really become successful? When you won the Nobel Prize? Or all the way back at Jar #1, when you were still stapling your poems into chapbooks at home? If you feel like you've made it when you reach one milestone, why does that achievement feel silly as soon as you reach the next one?

And the hedonic treadmill rolls on...

Monday, August 1, 2011

first draft contest winners!

Just a short post today, as Techie Boyfriend has kershwaggled the power cord to INTERN's laptop and gone to Seattle for three days. Battery life remaining: just enough to announce the winners of the International Sh*tty First Draft Week Contest!

INTERN is so proud of everyone who entered the contest and is so impressed by everyone's nerve, daring, and drafting skills.

Without further ado...

Sarah B has won the first 50 pages critique!

Kimberly Gould has won the revision survival kit!

Matthew C Wood has won the twigs and string!

Winners can e-mail their INTERN at internspills [@] gmail [dot] com to claim their prizes.

Off to INTERN's charmingly decrepit and squirrel-infested writing cabin to bang on the Smith-Corona...

Friday, July 29, 2011

International Sh*tty First Draft Week-CONTEST!

All week long, fearless authors have revealed excerpts from their sh*tty first drafts. We've seen scenes like Christmas sweaters the manuscript outgrew; scenes that didn't carry their weight; scenes that have been cut and reinserted and cut so many times they don't even bother unpacking their suitcases any more.

Sh*tty First Draft Week was a misnomer in many ways. For one thing, much of the so-called shitty material in first drafts isn't so shitty after all. In fact, sometimes a scene or chapter is just perfect in its original context—but when you change other parts of the story, the context flexes and morphs until that "perfect" scene or chapter doesn't even make sense any more.

In this respect, drafting a novel is a bit like cooking a pot of soup: you can't throw in one new ingredient without affecting the flavor of everything else in the pot.

Another reason Sh*tty First Draft Week is a misnomer is the word "first". What about second, third, fourth, and fifth drafts? INTERN remembers hearing a director say that for every minute in a play, his theatre troupe does an hour of rehearsal (or was it ten hours?) INTERN feels the same way about writing: for every word that makes it into the final draft there are at least three words discarded. That's 300,000 words of drafting for a 100,000 word novel. This ratio is different for everyone, but it speaks to the huge amount of exploring, delving, mistake-making, playing, and who-are-you-kidding that goes into a finished creative work.

So anyway. On to the shitty first draft contest!

The Rules:

To enter, all you have to do is post a short excerpt from your own sh*tty first draft in the comments of this post.

You don't need to tweet about the contest or put it on a t-shirt. You don't need to follow this blog. You don't need to take out a Sh*tty First Draft Week ad in your local newspaper.

Just paste your goddamn draft excerpt in the comments.

The Winners:

INTERN will randomly select three winners by assigning each commenter a number and then drawing the numbers out of a bowl.

INTERN will not be judging the entries on any axis whatsoever, so don't fret about whether your entry is too shitty/not shitty enough/etc—winning is a matter of luck!

INTERN will announce the winners on Monday, at which point winners can send iNTERN their contact information to claim their prizes.

The Prizes:

One lucky winner will receive a first 50 pages manuscript critique by INTERN!

One lucky winner will receive a mysterious Revision Prize Pack!

One lucky winner will receive some twigs, bits of string, and perhaps a book or two!


OK, everyone! Ready to reveal your sh*tty drafts? As promised, INTERN will share a snippet of shitty draftery too.







INTERN's first draft snippet:

This is the story of a girl who was pregnant with a cat. The cat lounged inside her, lapping at sunlight, until the girl awoke in pain one morning; the cat was dragging its claws all the way out.

This is the story of a girl who gave birth to a spider. Her belly swelled up so that people thought she had twins, triplets, quintuplets. But no; all that happened when she went into labor was a very tiny black spider crawled out. After hours of pushing, a tiny black spider. After all that blood, a tiny black spider. After all those months of eating, a tiny black spider. It crawled away on quick spider legs and though she called for it the girl never saw it again.

This is the story of a girl who gave birth to a rat...

etc. etc. etc.

Explanation: INTERN often feels daunted by first drafts, so she'll use poetic devices like repetition to make things "easy" until she hits on an idea she wants to follow. For INTERN, drafts are full of experiments like this that help INTERN discover who her characters are and what they want to say.

So what's your sh*tty first draft about? To the comments!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

International Sh*tty First Draft Week—Day 4

The fourth and final Guest Author in the Sh*tty First Draft series is Alexander Chee, author of the novel Edinburgh. He has been at work on his new novel, The Queen of the Night, for several years. Since there is no cover art for The Queen of the Night yet, here is the cover of Alexander's previous novel, Edinburgh:

What a Tangled Web We Weave...

Revising The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

This is one of The Queen of the Night's oldest sections, and dates from March of 2004, a first draft. I revised it and eventually discarded it, though most if not all all of the themes here are at work in the novel still—a love triangle with at least one other hidden triangle inside of it, i.e., a secret other third party. The royal insignia, that is still significant in the novel, but differently.

The novel is about a young woman who is in sexual and artistic bondage to an older man, who uses her for various purposes, sexual, romantic, political. When I say bondage, I mean, he bought her from a brothel, paying off her contract. He is a tenor singer and a spy, and was looking for someone who had already been discarded, who he could then discard as he wanted to, when he was done with her. But in the process of his use of her, he eventually makes her over into a singer also, a soprano, and he falls in love with her. Or at least, that's what he believes. Because who wouldn't fall in love with someone who basically did whatever you demanded, and had to, in fact, because he owned you?

But by the time the tenor realizes this, he has lost her to a young composer, and she is intent only on escaping him. In this scene, she's preparing to go and preview parts of an opera the composer has written on a commission from the Russian empress, who intends it as an entertainment for the young Alexander's birthday. She is creating the lead role in it at the composer's request. She and the composer are preparing for the trip, which allows them a moment together—they are each with other, more powerful lovers. This trip allows them to sneak off together.

But the cufflinks will offend the empress, or at least, that was the intention when I wrote this first draft. That a gift which was first an affectionate one, from the prince to the tenor, then became an offhand one, practically a discard tossed to a mistress, who should have refused it. But she didn't, she kept it, and then it became an affectionate gesture once more, and obeying the gift's precise instructions. But this, I decided, would bring about what they sought to avoid, albeit unintentionally—the discovery of and sundering of their affair.

In that early draft it was the beginning of Chapter 8.

I'll say that I wouldn't be surprised in the least if I returned this to the draft, or some of it, but for now, neither version is in it, and I hope it's instructive. When I take something out of a draft, it's often because it doesn't belong where I put it---but it still belongs somewhere. So I save it.

They had been the cufflinks of the young Prussian prince, the beautiful young prince, who was now the beautiful young king. He had sent them to Niemanns, the tenor, after one of his performances, along with a cross he still wore on his neck when he offered me these. They were ivory swans on a sapphire field and set on white gold.

The young tenor at that time a lover. Of us both, as I would learn.

Was there an audience with the prince, I asked.

He made no answer. I blushed.

Take them, he said. Don’t you like them? Take them. Just don’t wear them in Germany.

I did as he asked.

He had found me at the Pillon, in my swan mask. He took me from there and set me up with his friends in an apartment near the Paris Opera; for him, really, though the others found it convenient. He was the one who paid for my voice lessons, took me to see the great operas, and in them, the great divas. He was the one who brought me to see the Lucia at La Scala that made me reach for all of this, who laughed afterwards, when I imitated her on the street. They think you are her, he said, of the passersby staring, as if perhaps I was the woman I imitated⎯for I did look like her, though younger. I remember how I laughed at him. Do you really think so, I said.

20 years later, when the composer needed a pair for our audience with the Russian Empress, I brought them out, thinking they would bring us luck. He examined them carefully. They’re lovely, he said.

Don’t wear them in Germany, I said.

Alexander Chee is the author of Edinburgh. He blogs at Koreanish.

To mark the conclusion of International Sh*tty First Draft Week, INTERN will be holding a Sh*tty First Draft contest tomorrow (Friday) open to everyone! To enter, simply post an excerpt from your own sh*tty first draft in the comments of tomorrow's post. INTERN will randomly select three winners—because the whole point of a sh*tty first draft is to write first and judge later.

Happy drafting!


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

International Sh*tty First Draft Week—Day 3

Today's guest post comes from Kat Zhang, whose HYBRID trilogy recently sold to HarperTeen in a major deal. Kat is an esteemed member of the League of Illustrious Interns (not that that had anything to do with it!)

No Slackers Allowed: Making Each Scene Count

I’m the sort of person who underwrites scenes the first round through. Which isn’t to say that I don’t need to cut things once I go back to revise, but when I revise a scene, it tends to get longer (and should). My first drafts of scenes are bare bones…sometimes not much more than dialogue and some sparse action shots.

Here’s a good example. This scene still exists in the final draft…much of the dialogue is word for word the same, but otherwise, the scene has changed quite dramatically. But I’ll talk about that later. First, let’s see how the scene was the very first time I sat down and pounded it out:

“He’s Will right now,” Lucy said as we came in the door. She was sprawled on the carpet, coloring with a reckless abandon. Hally dropped her book-bag on the counter and smiled at the little boy tottering up to us.

“Hi, Will,” she said, dropping into a squat despite her skirt. “How are you?”

Lucy looked up. “Who’s that?” she said. “Is she going to play with us too?”

Will jerked on the bottom of our shirt before Adie could answer. He ignored Hally entirely and looked up at us with petitioning eyes.

“We’re hungry,” he said.

“They’re not really,” Lucy said. “I just gave them a cookie. They just want another one.” She stopped coloring and climbed to her feet. “Is that girl going to play with us?” she asked again.

Hally smiled at her. “I’m here to help baby sit.”

“Who? Will and Robby?” the little girl asked. “They don’t need two people.”

She stared at us, daring someone to say that she, at seven, still needed a baby sitter.

The way it was, the scene isn’t too bad…nothing that makes me cringe, anyway. But it’s pretty bland. Okay, so Lucy is asking about Hally. There’s a little boy. Baby sitting. Yay?

I’m a big believer in every scene doing as much as it can, especially a scene as early in the book as this one is. So in the current (almost final!) draft of the book, the scene itself lasts longer. It no longer begins with Lucy’s first sentence but with the girls entering the house. That way, everything they see, from the size and layout of the home to what Lucy and her little brother are watching on TV, helps with the world building I’m trying to achieve.

Overall, when I revise, I outline the change I want to make, including which scenes will need to be inserted, which will need to be changed, and what will need to be cut. Then I write the new scenes, cut the old scenes they replace, and tinker with the results until it’s smoothed over well enough to seem like there was never a disturbance to begin with :)


The first novel in the HYBRID trilogy (entitled What's Left Of Me) will be coming out...actually, there's no official release date quite yet. Visit Kat's blog here for updates!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

International Sh*tty First Draft Week—Day 2

Today, International Sh*tty First Draft Week continues with a guest post by Sarah Pinneo, whose forthcoming novel Julia's Child takes a humorous look at the organic food movement. Like that complicated recipe for arugula-flax chips, novels don't always work out on the first try...(OK, INTERN is about the cheesiest/worst MC ever. Stepping out of the way now.)

The Dog Should Eat My Homework by Sarah Pinneo

My comic novel, Julia’s Child, incorporates some themes which are both fun and dear to me. Julia, the main character, is deeply involved with the organic food movement. (So deeply, in fact, that she’s a bit neurotic about it.)

So in love was I with the milieu of farmers, foodies and obsessive sustainability that I put all of it into the book. I put it in often. Early readers said “I love it, but there’s too much about the business in there.” So I parted with a few lines and called it even. My agent said “I love it, but the book shows its homework too much.” So I cut out more. I cut out plenty. I was sure of it.
Guess what my editor said? Yes—you win! She said the same darned thing.

Here is a before and after bit from Julia’s Child:

Chapter 4 Opener, Take I:

Fashion had never been my thing. One might argue that I’d gone out of my way to avoid it. Even though I lived in a city where fashion designers outnumber yellow cabs, I often managed to dress like a scarecrow. My long, straight hair had been cut the same way since I was a teenager. And with cooking and toddlers, my wash and wear uniform was essential, if uninspired.

My lifestyle, however, had lately become quite fashionable. Suddenly it was hip to be a “greenie weenie” like me. It was cool to reuse your shopping bags. It was cutting edge to carry around a water bottle, and refill it straight from the tap.

In fact, Green was suddenly so cool that cliques had formed, each with its own brand of righteousness. There were the “locavores” for example—people who wouldn’t eat anything grown further than a hundred miles from home. Then there were the “freegans,” who wouldn’t buy anything new. They get by with clothing and house wares rescued from the landfill. It’s dumpster diving for the new millennium.

But being hyper conscious of the environment wasn’t easy. Checking up on the sources for everything you buy, and going out of your way to find local products took a lot of effort. And it was often a thankless task. The earth never sent Thank You notes. In that way, it was a lot like parenting. (Chapter Continues.)

Chapter 4 Opener, Take II:

“Get this. The new toothpaste I bought you has a childproof top.”

“Groovy,” Luke answered. He hit the car’s turn signal and steered us toward the exit off the interstate.

“I also bought you a different shampoo,” I told Luke. “This one is organic and not tested on animals.”

“I’m fine with that,” Luke said. “Just as long as you don’t make me smell like a woman.”

“I promise if anyone at work asks to borrow your perfume, you can switch back to the old one.”

“But seriously—just don’t switch the toilet paper,” he warned. “First of all, I don’t like the idea of recycled toilet paper.”
“They don’t mean recycled from toilet paper.”

He just shook his head. “Even so. I try to be ‘green’ too, Julia. I’ll plant some extra trees in Vermont if you want. But I’m not using sandpaper in the bathroom.”


The first version is essentially a lecture by the main character. Who wants a lecture? The second version features the main character’s same personality traits, but done in (what I hope is) a more interesting way.

I’d like to say that this will never happen to me again, that I’ll never fail to hear the obvious truth when a string of readers repeats the same bit of critique. But alas, (nerd) love is blind.


Sarah Pinneo is a food writer and the coauthor of The Ski House Cookbook. Her first novel, Julia’s Child, will be published by Plume in 2012. If you ask her whether it was easy or difficult to make the leap from published non-fiction writer to published novelist, she will laugh and point out the fact that her two books have publication dates which are more than four years apart. Sarah also edits Blurb is a Verb, a blog entirely devoted to book publicity.

Monday, July 25, 2011

International Sh*tty First Draft Week—Day 1

Every day between now and Thursday, exciting authors will be revealing excerpts from the first drafts of books you may have read (or might be reading soon!) Today's fearless author is Nova Ren Suma, whose YA novel Imaginary Girls has been getting rave reviews from Kirkus, the L.A. Times, and everywhere in between.

But writing an acclaimed literary YA novel doesn't happen in one draft...

A Scene Sliced Out of IMAGINARY GIRLS

by Nova Ren Suma

I write long. My first drafts are a study in endlessless and an experiment of how many times I can have my characters discover and rediscover the same thing and face up to the same epiphany. In first drafts, apparently everyone I write about has amnesia. That, or it takes me a few times to get a scene down right.

This means that when it comes time for revision the first thing I do is cut. I cut, then rewrite, then cut some more. (Then I do it again. And again.) The snippet of the scene I'm about to share isn't something I cut out of horror--this does happen; I've been known to cut-and-cringe--this scene was simply something that didn't fit the more I kept writing.

Imaginary Girls, my first YA novel that came out this summer, is the story of two closely entwined sisters: Ruby, the magnetic older sister, and Chloe, the little sister and narrator of the book. Technically they're half sisters, since they have different fathers, but Ruby would punch you in the face if you said they weren't fully related. Here's a piece of a scene I cut about Ruby's dad:
The car jolted to a stop on the curb.

“Another errand?” I joked.

Ruby looked at me sideways. “Have to stop here,” she said. “Always have to stop.”

I looked to see where we were--the house just before the hill, the one with the funky sculptures scattered around the front lawn. A fence separated it from the sidewalk--painted blue with fluffy white clouds. Ruby despised that fence. It forced you to be cheerful, she said, when maybe you weren't in the mood. No one should force a feeling on someone who's just innocently driving by their house.

“Remember this place?” she said.

I nodded. Sure, I remembered. She always liked to mess with this house. It gave her such glee. If Ruby was ever depressed, drop her here and let her have at it.

She despised more than the fence. She despised the purple the house was painted; the fact that someone dared paint their house purple; the colorful deck chairs on the lawn; the fact that there were even deck chairs set out on the lawn when there wasn't a deck to put them on, so strangers could just walk on in through the happy fence and kick back on the chairs and be happy; and especially the “art” on the lawn, abstract sculptures made from items probably scavenged from the nearby dump. It was the ugliest art Ruby had ever seen and it bothered her so much, she had to avert her eyes when driving past it.

But that really wasn't the point, and I knew it even if Ruby wouldn't say it. This house happened to be where that man lived, the one we saw around town sometimes, the one she said was her father.

Ruby caught the look on my face.

“Don't be so serious,” she said. “I just need to do one window.”

See, I liked the idea of Ruby wrecking her estranged father's house, to let him know she's well aware of who he is. But if I did that, it puts weight on Ruby's father--a character who barely merits mention in the book. I'd have to tie him into the plot later. Also, it means that Ruby actually cares. And anyone who's read the book knows Ruby only cares about herself, and her little sister. The deeper I wrote beyond first draft the more I realized that it was a detour I didn't need. (Props to my wise editor who must be given credit for helping me come to this and other realizations.)

So I cut this scene free. In truth, I cut so many pages from the first draft of Imaginary Girls--about 200--and rewrote them that I think this shows how sometimes when you're writing a first draft you're not really writing your story yet. You're writing toward your story.

Your first draft may be bloated and repetitive and out of character and utterly random, as mine often are, but you toiled to get those words down on the page for a reason…

…So you could cut them and make room for the better words--and the true story--meant to follow.


INTERN here. As you can tell from Nova's excerpt from an early draft of Imaginary Girls, there are many reasons for cutting a scene besides shitty writing. Sometimes, scenes with GOOD writing need to get cut too, because they simply don't fit the story anymore. Visit Nova's website here.

Stay tuned as International Sh*tty First Draft Week continues tomorrow with an author whose passion for food led her to cook up a book deal with Penguin!