Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Lily: On why Santa Should Bring Some Pepto

Lily was walking around the house looking stricken yesterday evening.

me: “Lil, you OK? You look really stressed.”

Lily: “I am. I am stressed.”

me: “Why?”

Lily: “My stomach hurts.”

me: “Oh, no. What from?”

Lily: “Nervous. It’s from me being nervous.”

me: “Honey, why are you nervous?”

Lily: [looks at me like I’m crazy] “Christmas, Mom. It’s, like, tomorrow. I can’t take the pressure. It’s just stressing me out. Elves are watching and there’s going to be presents and I have to be good and I don’t want to be good. I’m supposed to, like, go to sleep. Well, what if I don’t want to go to sleep?" [pauses, takes a breath and shakes her head] "Nervous. I’m just... nervous.”

me: “But you got a video. You’re on the ‘nice’ list. You don’t need to be nervous.”

Lily: “Tell that to my stomach.”

me: “I’m so sorry, honey.”

Lily: “Me, too. This whole thing is making me feel all gassy.”



(There’s really no good response to that, is there.)

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Wind that Feeds the Fire; OR, why it is a very good thing I studied all those "rare words" so hard for the ACT

Firestrom

English: Firestrom
French: Tempête de feu
Spanish: Tormenta de fuego
Portuguese: Tempestade de Fogo
Italian: Tempesta di fuoco
Greek: Πύρινη Λαίλαπα (Καταιγίδα)
Definition (EN): 
Strong inrush of wind at the base of a large fire induced by the buoyancy generated upflow above the fire.
Definition (ES): 
Fuertes vientos interiores en la base de un gran incendio inducidos por la flotabilidad generada corriente arriba por encima del fuego.



Too bad this word isn't in a lot of dictionaries, right? It ROX.

Why we don't remember being a baby: Cuz it SUX!

This obviously-written-while-feverish-and-drugged gem of a piece I wrote on July 24 this summer. If memory serves, that was after my first surgery (which TOTALLY failed) when I didn't yet know I was in the initial stages of a massively life-threatening MRSA infection which, after a week or so, was to land me in the ICU for a month and mandate two more surgeries. Awesome. 

I remember starting out to write a (funny?) list of reasons that being a baby sucked. (Because I felt about as helpless as a baby at the time.) Then in the middle it... morphs... into this biological clock thing. And then it delves into my childhood. And somehow ends with a plea for parents everywhere to give their babies some slack.

It's fascinating.

And, yeah, while normally I wouldn't post it (there's a reason it sat in the draft box for all these months), I think there's a tantalizing hindsight thing to looking at it from my (mostly-healed)(okay, okay, my partly-healed-and-at-least-not-feverish-or-stoned) perspective now.

So, without further hedging:

Why Being A Baby SUX
A little something to read the next time your little buddy has led you to a point wherein you find yourself ripping out your own hair from your own skull. 
(And possibly other people's too.)

Here are only some of the ways:

1. They have no control over how loud they fart. They haven't built those specialized American-Retentive muscles that allow more developed release of gas. They can't hold it in during a prayer, or when the doctor is looking right at their butt. Heck! They can't even do the squeezy thing we all do to slow the fart down and keep it quiet! Now, imagine that this was happening and you were a 33 y/o grownup. Awful, right?

2. Nobody loves diaper changing. But imagine that you're the one who has to splay your legs (so dignified!) so Daddy can make sure he got all the accidental spillage. Not pretty, folks.

3. Worse, though? It's when your abdominal muscles aren't strong enuf to keep you from peeing all over the carpet. Gosh it is just so gratifying to need your mom to scrub the carpet when it was your fault. Not. Shame inducing is what it is.

 4. When you're a brand new baby, you can't even roll over. So the only things you can touch are the things arm's length away. An arm's length away from you as you are pinned by your non-existent muscular development means what you can reach while you are flat on your back. This is? Not much. So you try to be OK with it. But being in a darkened room by yourself gets so boring. So you call out to Ma and Pa (aka you cry rull loud cuz you're not sure where they are.) When they come and figure out that all you wanted was that &^;@€£! Elephant, you can tell they're not happy to have been yanked out of the shower. But you didn't know about the shower, just that you rully wanted to grab something. You would have done it on your own, but you weren't physically capable! Being a baby = absolutely no independence = asking people to do everything for you = they have to drop whatever they're doing to help you = they get bummed when it turns out it was something stupid = you feel crazy bad about being so needy.  Which SUX.

5. The independence thing is huge, actually. Imagine that you couldn't walk on your own, roll over in bed on your own, get your own food when you're hungry. Forget being able to drive yourself anywhere, you can't even get in the car or get your own seatbelt on! And your dearth of physical capacity means even when you DO go somewhere, it is almost never somewhere you want to go. And let's just forget the whole peeing, dressing, showering, issues. Too humiliating to talk about again.

 6. Last of all (for now) let's talk about sleep. When you're a baby, you sleep ALL THE TIME. And it's not like you want to. It just happens to you. And when you fight it? Oh the crankies that result! So, you either miss EVerything interesting going on, or you stress the whole house out so bad, there isn't anything interesting anyway! (Except maybe that throbbing vein on Dad's forehead.) But the irony of it all? So many of your best "awake" hours are when everyone else is sleeping. And it's dark. And lonely. Does anyone love you? Why are you alone? So, the crying. And Mommy reappears! Yay! But... But... She doesn't seem happy to see me... [Ends with everyone crying.]

So, people yak and yak about this "biological clock" thing. Seems like possible hooey. Until, of course, yours starts ticking. Then it's this insane force of nature. Now, my oncologist has forbid me from having any more children. And I am totally OK with that. My two kids already kick my trash. Sometimes literally. (Kids don't usually have super developed senses of hygiene.)

Nevertheless, I am 33, so there is ticking. And it has played out pretty lovely so far. I am deeply in love with babies (I wasn't always that way. A prize to the first person to post the link to the "I hate babies" post from the archives!)

Now, although the love is as deep and pure as any biologically foreordained brain-chemical-palooza, I know I don't want to have my own new baby. For one, half of the joyful surge of dopamine comes from me knowing that soon enough, the baby I borrowed for cuddling goes back and DOESN'T come home with me.

Second, it's the babies who blind me with the oozy primordial lovey love. But when you have your OWN baby, they only stay that way for, like, 45 seconds. Then you have KIDS (who, incidentally, I happen to like better than babies) but your biological clock doesn't care about that, it's all babiesbabiesbabiesbabiesbabiesbabies!!! And you want more. You're never satisfied. The hunger goes on and on and on.

My solution to baby hunger: Baby Snacking. If you snack on other people's babies to sate your hunger, there's an ever-replenishing supply (I live in Utah) and you can just keep on snacking, staying (mostly) satisfied all the way to menopause. Not literal snacking, I'm not a cannibal. I mean, like, borrowing people's babies to love on. Other mommies like the break, I like the cure-to-the-hungries.

My point?

I heart babies. And want the best for them.

And after my surgery, I have had a most unique experience! Having (temporarily) lost the use of my abdominals (they call them your core for a reason; losing them is seriously paraplegic) and also the use of a leg [side note added later than this was written: by the end of the ordeal, it was TWO legs], I have gone back in time a bit.

All those things up there? (Plus a plethora more!) Kinda exactly what has happened to me. (Minus the "kinda" part.)

There has been one difference, though. My parents have been so friggin wonderful to me! Much more wonderful than I'd imagine they were when I was an actual baby. (At least... much more wonderful than *I* was when I had babies.) When I wake them up at 3a, they don't whimper (as is the normal, human, response). They smile at me and say, "how can I help, honey?" When various body fluids are spilled, there's no parental panic. There's just this sweetness and tenderness and devotion. Heck, my dad literally BROKE HIS FOOT taking care of me. But did that stop him? No. He was just as devoted and sweet and tender as ever.

Now, from what I recall about my own babyhood (I actually do recall some, buy, yeah, not tons) and from the babyhoods of my siblings (cuz I was older and I could watch), my parents' angelic aura as they have been taking care of me this summer is a bit... more glowing... than when we were actual babies.

And dude. I get it. I get it SO MUCH. Maybe I didn't realize how friggin awesome my parents were until the haze of parenthood hit me in the face so hard I saw stars for four years, but they were awesome and they loved us and helped us and were generally amazing parents.

They were human, though.

If I peed all over them, they'd make sounds of protest. If I woke them up at 3a, they'd be groggy and maybe even cranky (who wouldn't?). And I'm guessing that it wasn't fun to lose their independence because they were responsible for someone so... dependent.

So what's the difference between my parents (who were great parents) when I was a baby and with my supernaturally angelic wonders of human kindness parents now?

What I can come up with (post-surgical haze is like moving neurons through nano pools of molasses) is Understanding.

They get it. The get me. They know what's hard for me and what sux. And their empathy and parentally fierce love takes over. They had that parentally fierce love when I was a baby, but they didn't totally know me yet. (I was surprised when I had my own babies how I could be holding and loving these creatures who I knew absolutely. nothing. about.) I couldn't tell them what I was thinking/feeling/intending/etc. If they thought they understood me, well, maybe they were right, but maybe they were just guessing.

So this is my offering on today's celebration of our foremothers and fathers [Remember, this was written on Pioneer Day]: an inter-generational understanding of how much being a baby SUX. (In hopes that such understanding promotes empathy and stuff.)

Sounds all grand, right? I swear when I started this post I was going for funny, mixed with gross, mixed with over-share. But you can't trust those pills they send you home with. They take away pain (and your brain's filters), so u can't stop yourself from goin on and on and on. And as it gets harder to type? It just gets worse!) but when the pain is gone, you feel so damn....wise or something!

 So let's end with a recap: being a baby sux.

I know this WAY too well for someone in her 30's cuz surgery and cancery crappy crap SUX. And my bio-clock makes me want to love on babies.

So mothers and fathers be good to those adorably edible tiny round humans. They can't thank you right now, but there is a reason they adore you. (And they DO adore you. Even when they don't know how to let you know.)

Yeah, I'm alive (barely). Someday I'll tell you about it, but for now, here's a pitch.

I'm not sure how many of my friends may be expecting (or are planning on it), but for any of you who are, here's a shout out for banking your baby's cord blood.

I banked my daughter Lily's, never thinking that ANYTHING could POSSIBLY happen where I might need it. I remember thinking it was more money than I wanted to spend on a gamble, but then again, Steve was in grad school--meaning that it must not have been TOO much money, especially considering how sure I was that I'd never, ever need it. Things might go wrong for other people, but they always seemed to work out for me. Right?

Heh.

This is what I have learned since then: SH*T ALWAYS HAPPENS.

Life is long and families have a lot of people in them. Tons of the time, stuff is boring and happy and free from problems. But inevitably, stuff goes wrong. And it doesn't matter who you are or how smoothly your life has gone thus far, stuff still happens.

So, yeah. I am really grateful I made the decision to bank Lil's blood even though I was super naive at the time. (I was 25 and thought I was totally mature and wise and crap. Hahahaha!)

In case you're wondering what on earth you can do with cord blood: Blood from a neonate's umbilical cord is rich with stem cells. Stem cell therapies are already in use for cancer (which, for some strange reason, I happen to care a lot about... hmm...), blood diseases, auto-immune diseases, and certain genetic diseases. Future research may find therapies for diseases like Parkinson's (another one that hits close to home), Alzheimer's, MS, and many others.

Umbilical blood also has the added plus of letting you avoid the firestrom (not a typo) of controversy that goes with embryonic stem cell extraction. Or to use an equation since I haven't done that forever:

UCB = (all the benefit) - (that particular stress)

If you'd like more information, here's a link.
Or you can call 1-800-747-3319. Mention code MJL8 and either you or I will get some kind of reward. (They weren't entirely clear about that.)

You may never need the blood (here's to hoping you DON'T!) but it's really comforting to have it just in case. I think of it as part of my "emergency preparedness" because, turns out, cataclysmic disasters come in all kinds of forms. Some extremely personal.

You can message me if you have any questions or reservations or whatever. I'm not an expert, but I'll tell you whatever I know!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Going in for (another!) massive surgery tomorrow

and all of our little gang of Spencers is scared shitless.

apologies to everyone who doesn't like swearing.  I don't particularly like swearing either.  sometimes, there's just not a better word though. (and I have a PhD in English.  I know a LOT of words.)

I probably won't update for awhile--but that's not unusual lately, right?  Steve might update his Facebook status with details, though. (I don't expect to be terribly conscious for a month at least, and certainly not on Facebook; although, you never do know what shenanigans those post-surgery drugs effect, right?) 

prayers, of course, are welcomed.  from whatever god/goddess/deity you happen to ascribe.

we are not picky.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My New Retirement Plan

So, me and my kids are at Sam’s Club.  The kids are out of school for the day, Daddy is at work at his new job, and we’re filling the house up with a million little snacks that we put off buying when we were unemployed.

The cart is dang heavy, the kids tell me.

You’re the one who thought it would be a good idea to take turn pushing it, I tell them.  Consequences, I say.  Learn about them.

In response, they throw themselves down on the couches.  Not, like, the display couches.  But couches on the shelves.  When you think about it, Sam’s Club has weirdly big shelves.

I decide to sit down, too.

No one says anything for awhile.  It’s getting late and we’ve wasted all our energy on shopping and haven’t left any for checking out, loading the car, or getting home.  So I just relax—close my eyes and marvel at the fact that I have gotten to the point where my children are so grown up that they will sit in a recliner silently for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes.  Amazing.

You never think that they’ll stop being toddlers.  Stop screaming, or pooping on you, or hitting you on the head with a television.  (I think I’m exaggerating about the television, but honestly, it has a ring of truth to it.)  But they do grow up.  They grow up.  They have thoughts.

Thoughts like this:

Sam:  [head still leaned back relaxing, eyes closed]  “It’s been getting really hot,” he says.  “Not in here... Outside.”

“Yup,” I say.  Not because I really want to engage in a conversation about the weather, but because I’m the Mom.  I should encourage mental development in my children, acknowledge their observations.  Especially the true ones.

But then, something odd happens.

“Here’s what I’m thinking,” Sam says.  “People get thirsty when it’s hot outside.  Joggers get especially thirsty.  And, you know, there are a lot of joggers by our house.”

True enough.  We live at the mouth of Memory Grove.  But what’s he getting at?

Sam:  “What did that flat of water cost, Mom?  $3.00? 24 bottles for $3.00?”

I nod.  It's really $3.50, but why quibble.

Sam:  “But when you’re hot, and thirsty, and jogging, what would you pay for water?”

I think I stare at him, though it’s possible that I never open my eyes.  Maybe his question was rhetorical?  I don’t really want to push it.  The couches on the shelf are really comfortable.

He turns to Lily.  “We’ve got work to do,” he says.  “I’ll pay you the normal rate?"

In hindsight, this should have been a clue.

That afternoon, Lily sets up a shop on the grass—right at the point when three roads converge into a single, inescapable, entryway to Memory Grove.  I’m informed that of the three sites they toured, it was the one they thought would net the most profit with the least trouble.

“And I can keep an eye on you because it’s by our house,” I say.  She nods, but there’s this look in her eyes, like she’s placating my infantile need to pretend I have control over things.  When I push it further and set up a blanket nearby so I can sit with a book and protect her from any creepers, she just ignores me.

Soon enough, she’s used her red wagon to transport to transport the sundries of her operation, and her shop is up and running.  She has a blue umbrella, driven into the ground. (It keeps the sun away, and its bright color draws attention, she says.) She has a cooler of iced water.  She’s got some insect spray, because even the best real estate sometimes comes with a few mosquitos.  And she has a sign.  On it: a marker-drawn flower and a price.  Water Bottles: $1, it says.  

She smiles at joggers that pass.

She waves like a beauty queen.  (Well, since she is a beauty queen, I guess I should just say she waves, since the rest is implied.)

She watches as people come close, keeping eye-contact right up until she’s able to call out to them, “I have water for sale!”  She uses her cutest, sweetest, most innocent smile. I’m pretty sure there’s at least a little eyelash-batting.

No one but me seems to know it’s a put on.

People are too busy thinking she's cute.  Even cuter when she tries to upsell them.  “A banana would go really well with that water,” she sas.  “Don’t you think? It’s just another dollar.”

They hand her money.  Leave her tips.  (Tips!)

Eventually Sam—not having calculated the effect tipping might have on the ultimate profit-sharing—comes out, looking for his own share of the tipping.  He holds signs and waves—not quite like a beauty queen, but competently.  People stop to compliment him about his smile.

They do this two days in a row before the weather turns cold again.  In those two days, they work one hour a day.

They net $40.

Or, another way to look at it.  They spent $10 on supply (and you bet your bum I made them pay), they took that and grossed 500% better.

IN TWO HOURS.

As soon as the heat returns, they plan to be back out there.

Later on, when they are in their rooms, putting away their money and getting ready for bed, I think about it all.  I think about how I thought we were relaxing at Sam’s Club with our eyes closed.  But what was really happening was this: supply chain calculation, strategic pricing, strategic real estate setup, market-needs analysis, profit-loss estimation, division of labor, managerial supervision, salesmanship planing, marketing.  Some of it was spoken.  Some of it had gone on behind the scenes.  (They had a pre-arranged salary  for goodness sakes.)

And I realize:  these babies of mine... they are not cute little lemonade-stand babies.  They are not normal little buddies who are content to slosh around some crystal light for $0.05 a paper cup.  No.

They are friggin future moguls.  


And then, this thought leads me to another realization—a more somber one, in some ways.  That is: somewhere, sometime, as I was busy thinking my thoughts about how happy I was that no one pooped on me anymore...

Their quest to take over the world had begun.

I am their mother.  And I completely underestimated them.

So.

Wal-Mart?
Bill Gates?
Hugo Chavez?

Take notice.

Cuz otherwise, y’all won’t even see it coming.








Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On the Sudden Appearance of Stripes

I've never been the hugest fan of our Iris's aesthetics. They're not quite white, not quite purple usually. But they were planted by Steve's grandmother decades ago, so they're sentimental.  Especially since I never got to meet his grandmother.

Still.  Not quite white, but not quite purple?  Blah.

But this year, something strange happened.  I dunno if it's because of cross-pollination or because they were thinned recently, but one got stripes!

And I guess, in the end, it doesn't really matter how it happened. Something bland and blah and old that I thought would never change became super cool without any notice.

I totally approve.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

In Honor of her Sixth Year of Life(!), I Bring you this Snippit from the Lily archives

From November: 2009.  Lily: three years old. 

Scene: We're at Burger King, watching President Obama pardon the turkey. Neither of my children are wearing shoes and the smell of boiling fat permeates the air. BTW, Burger King is where we go for all of our sociopolitical enrichment. We're classy that way.

Me: "Do you guys see those girls behind the president? Those are his daughters. Wouldn't it be weird if your dad was president?"

Sam: "Um, the way it would *really* go, Mommy, is that *you'd* be the president and I'd have to call you 'Mommy President' and we'd live in the White House."

Me: "You make a very good point."

Sam: "But can girls even be president?"

Me: "Not that it's apparent historically speaking, but absolutely girls can be the president."

Sam: "Huh. Lily, do you want to be the president?"

Lily: [thinks for a moment.] "What I want is to be a giant and then to tower SO HIGH that I'm a voice in the sky. And I'll BOOM. I'll say 'PEOPLE! LISTEN!' And then I'll mush them."



[Six years in and her plans for world domination are still going strong.  As the back yard neighbor said last night, "That kid is something.  Either she's going to save the world, or blow it up.  I'm not entirely sure which yet." Sentiment: prettymuch right on. Happy Birthday, kid. You awe everyone around you.]

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

This Little Buddy is Getting Baptized this Saturday! (Easter Eve!)

If you're in the SLC area, we'd love to have you come. Send me an email for time/place. KerrySpencer At BYU Dot EDU.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Today is the last day to vote for my essay!

Here are the instructions. Note that you have to send an email, not post a comment. (But thanks to y'all who commented!) Also, if your vote doesn't have a "top 5" it won't be counted, so you have to read at least five pieces. But they are (by definition of the contest!) super duper short. They take all of 30 seconds to read.

In case you want some suggestions, I liked Sandra Tayler's and Emily Adams.' I'm also a fan of my friends Kathy Soper and Deja. And my SIL knows Jonathon Penny, so she'd love it if you read his!

(Mine is the best, of course. :)

Remember how I said my brain was back?

And how I was really happy about it?

Well, turns out it's only back sometimes. The rest of the time I'm in a fog of staring at the wall and not being able to think (or do) anything. Good times.

So it may be a week or two before I get to the "resonance" principles. (And actually, I really don't know when the fog will lift!)

[Post-edit Note: It's 2015 and my brain is a lot better, but I've never been the *same.* Which is the only excuse I'm going to give for the fact that I never actually did write that "lengthier explanation!"]

If you can't wait, here are a few super-summed-up basics about resonance:

[First, a caveat. Marketing was the #1, hugest, biggest predictor of sales. Magnitudes more important than any other trait. And the things that will get you more marketing are sometimes in direct opposition to some of these. Following *only* principles of resonance and not considering marketing will end up in a more resonant book, sure. But it won't get you more sales. At *best* you'll sell slightly higher than they expected you to. But no author in our study who didn't have good marketing--no matter how resonant their book was--had a "breakout" book. No one. Zero. Not, like, 0.01%. Zero. Which is why I was sort of surprised y'all wanted to know about resonance first. But all authors are a little deluded, I guess. That's how we got into this profession in the first place!]

1. 80% of the YA market is female. Write for them. Don't try to write something that appeals to both girls and boys, write to girls. Leave the 20% of the YA market of boys to the 30% of YA authors who are men. (And if you do write to the 20%, expect to have 80% fewer sales.)

[Post-edit Note: As of 2015, these numbers have shifted rather dramatically with the wild surge of popularity for YA Lit in the last decade. (Note: I was a fan BEFORE IT WAS COOL. :) Now, only 65% of YA audiences are female.  (I think. I don't want to look that up. I'm reasonably sure that's about right, though.) This may invalidate what I say in #2 about teen boys and their brains, or it may just show that the preference was, indeed, more culturally-based. "Cultural Constructions of Masculinity and Femininity" my grad school head-voice is yapping at me. Whatever *that* means.]

2. I know some of you are freaking out about #1 because you think it might say something about boys and literacy and OMG why aren't boys reading?! It doesn't. Boys are extremely literate by the time they go to college--as literate or more literate than the girls are. When they're younger, they do tend to lag behind the girls, but it's likely that's just a developmental thing. Teen boys are literate in many, many genres of writing. They just don't seem to like the novel so much. Now, before puberty, they love a novel as much as any girl does. (Harry Potter, for example. Coincidence that Harry was 11 at the beginning? Not so much.) After puberty, they start leaning toward more "visual" genres. Comic books, magazines, non-fiction with graphics, how-to manuals, the internet, etc. There have already been a bazillion attempts to write novels that appeal to teen boys. They never seem to work. There's a (strong) possibility, that the novel is, itself, a more "female" way of telling a story. Whether that's culture or nature, well, you'd have to ask the neuroscientists. Probably 20 years from now.

3. Emotion. Emotion on every single page. Every single paragraph. Teens--hell, who are we kidding--all of humanity lives off this stuff.

4. Relateability. Teens want to see characters that are like them. 99% of them do NOT have a million dollars and go to super-exclusive schools and buy outfits that cost $2000. More strikingly, 44% of the under-18 population in the US is of a non-white race. However, we only found non-white protagonists in 5% of our sample. Teens want to be able to put themselves right into the role of the protagonist. (Maybe explains why the 1st person was weirdly more effective than any other.)

4. Write about normal teens doing extraordinary things. Not about extraordinary teens doing normal things. Or extraordinary teens doing extraordinary things. Normal teens. With amazing potential.

5. Ask Big Questions. (This was the biggest predictor of resonance. The only relationship that scored higher was that of marketing to sales. That should tell you something.) Teens aren't much different from most of us. They want their lives to matter. They care about morality--right and wrong, good and evil. They don't like nuance so much, though they're OK with ambiguity (because so much of morality, when you really think about it, becomes ambiguous). The point is, they're not shallow. They care deeply about things that are deeply important. Self centered? Sure. But not shallow and not amoral.

6. Give them imagery of the female divine. That maybe sounds preachy and/or like something a Wiccan would say. But it's important. YA readers (mostly girls) have this deep... yearning is the best word for it. (In fact, the word "yearning" as a descriptor was correlated to increased resonance.) They want to see themselves in the eye of God. They want to know that they have divine potential. They DON'T want you to preach to them or get all "teachy." (They will throw your book in the trash and spit on it if you start preaching or overtly teaching.) But they do want to know that their existence matters... cosmically. Again, they want to see themselves in the image of God. (Maybe that's why it sounds Wiccan. Wicca has tons of goddess imagery. Christianity, for all its goods, typically fills its heavens--even its scriptures--with divine men. Girls aren't as satisfied by this as we'd think they would be.(Yeah, slight sardonic undertone there, sorry.))

There are a million other little things. Estrangement from parents, atonement with father figures, plot structure, pacing, polyvalent story lines, sex talk (but no swearing), romance, relationships, descent into the underworld (figuratively), and ton more.

But those are the basics. For now. Let's all hope my brain comes back soon. I miss it.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Vote for me!

The Lit Blitz voting has commenced. Instructions are here.

Is it just me or is asking people to vote for you kind of embarrassing? I don't think I could ever run for office. I would feel all shameful and stuff.

But vote for me anyway?

The voting closes March 15. They say you have to choose your "top five," which is a not-so-veiled-attempt to get you to read all 13 entries. Also a way to fight the "the winner is the one who has the most Facebook friends," thing, I guess. And that is good. I don't even really know how to use Facebook that well.

I promise I haven't forgotten that I said I was going to write about "Resonance"

Thingz are crazy here.

But I remember. And I will totally get it done.

BTW, does anyone know how to post excel tables on blogger? That's one thing I kinda need to figure out. I mean, I can tell you what the data says, but isn't it usually better to be able to see it for yourself, too?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Super Short, Super Creepy, Essay, “The Gloaming,” Is Now Posted!

It’s a finalist in Mormon Artist’s Lit Blitz, remember. The winner is chosen by vote, which means, really, whoever can get the most people to read it.

So read it! Post it on your blogs! Post it on Facebook! I will send you love and devotion!

The voting won’t be until all the essays are posted, which is in a few days. I’ll let you know when that is.

In the meantime, here is the link to the essay: http://mormonartist.net/2012/02/day-kerry-spencer/

It’s best read when you’re alone, in the dark, preferably when you’re going to the hospital to have a colonoscopy the next day. (Going to get a big mole removed counts too :)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Mormon Lit Blitz Has Begun!




That's the poster. Looks like you'll have to click on it to see the whole thing. I can't get it to shrink. [Oh, geez. I will not make a "she said" joke... I will not make a "she said" joke...]

My (super-short, super-creepy) essay, "The Gloaming," will be posted February 25. Which is also my brother's birthday, so happy thirties, buddy.

Not sure when the voting will be, but have no fear, I will tell you. Over and over and over and over.

Monday, February 13, 2012

There are two things particularly fascinating about this quote my Mom sent me:

I was called to act in the office of a Teacher and with my companion had a district assigned us, and Brother Heber C. Kimball and Joseph Smith were in our district. We hesitated to visit such prominent men, as we well knew we were not capable of teaching them, yet we could not find any excuse to pass by their houses, so we ventured. The Presiding Bishop, Newel K. Whitney, gave us a routine of questions to ask everyone in our district. Among the questions was, "do you keep the word of wisdom?" We found that Brother Joseph Smith was the most submissive of any in our district. After he had answered our questions, he called his wife Emma to answer also. I then asked him the meaning and purport of the word of wisdom, as at that time there was a great diversity of opinion concerning it. He answered and said, "I understand the Word of Wisdom to mean that we must get in wisdom all things. If I think a glass of Brandy will do one good or a cup of Coffee or to smoke a cigar I will use these things." Thus in short he gave us the meaning of the Word of Wisdom.

Fascinating thing one: Brother Joseph (the prophet) gives his wife equal time! (Can you imagine the drama at General Conference if Tommy called up Sister Monson to finish his talk?)

Fascinating thing two: A cigar? really? I mean, coffee and brandy I can see... :)

(Argh! I published this without a source citation first time and for an English Professor that is just NOT OKAY! It's from a book called “Remembering Joseph” by Mark L. McConkie. Dunno the page number, Mom didn't send it. Not to throw Mom under the bus. But she doesn't have to care as much as I do, so it's OK.)

Also, I see that y'all want to talk about audience resonance. Which is also fascinating. Because didn't I just spend however many kilobytes saying that the research shows it doesn't even matter?

(But tomorrow I'll try to tackle it anyway. Cuz I'm nice like that.)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

It's a POLL!


Dissertation part three: On Marketing

When it comes to books and how they sell, writers tend to think there are two main categories that influence the sales. FIRST: there is what the author has control over, the quality of the book itself. SECOND: there is what the author does NOT have control over, i.e., marketing budgets, reviews, media presence, cover art, etc. For practical purposes, let's call this category "Marketing."

So. What do you think? If you want to sell your book to the masses, is it more important to have a quality book? Or is it more important to have a lot of marketing?

I'm going to hold off answering for a minute, because you probably already know and you don't want it confirmed yet because it's depressing.

See, the writing world is full of optimists. (Otherwise, why would we write? Or, more specifically, why would we try to publish?) We all believe that we will be the rare exception to every rule! Yes, marketing would be nice, we tell ourselves. But if we can just get our books out there, i.e. PUBLISHED, then people will catch on! They'll see our brilliance! We'll be the next Stephanie Meyer!**

This belief is perpetuated in books-on-writing, talks, conferences, everywhere. You never know, people say. It could happen. No one wants to be the killer of dreams.

So let me kill your dreams: Books sell when they are well-marketed. Period.

Are there exceptions? Maybe one in 100. (Actual odds coming in a few paragraphs.) That's one percent, people.

Here's my research (with numbers! and graphs! and equations!):

FIRST, though, I want to make a caveat. Statistics like this can be tricky because of one fact: they can show correlation but they can't PROVE causation. They can certainly imply causation, but all they prove is correlation. What does that mean, practically speaking? It means that, yes, marketed books are the ones that sell. But what if ONLY really quality books get that kind of marketing? In that case, it might be quality that's the cause, though marketing is correlated. As to whether or not this is true? Well, just think about the last few super-hits you've read. Are they quality? That question is up to you. I will say, though, that one aspect of my study was to compare what audiences value versus what publishers value (i.e. what they market). There are some pretty big disconnects, though there is a LOT of variability among houses.

So, back to the question of MARKETING. As the abstract outlined yesterday, in my study we gave each of 200 books two scores: a marketing score and a sales score. (Actually, we looked at 210 books, but had to throw some out for various statistical reasons, coming to 197; let's just round and say 200 cuz it's easier to remember, k?) And when I say "we" I mostly mean "I," but, not only did I have wonderful volunteers from this very blog who helped read books, I also obtained the help of a very gracious statistics professor (Dr. Natalie) to make sure my calculations weren't full of crap. So I feel better when I say "we."

The statistics professor is important because I want you to know: you can have some reasonable trust in the way we scored marketing and sales. It wasn't just an English major playing with math, it was an English major playing with math who had a professional statistician to call her on her crazies and steer her toward the solid stuff.

Anyway, the way we scored marketing ended up being a semi-complicated algorithm (utilizing various data sources gleaned from many different places)and we came up with it together, though, yeah, Dr. Natalie helped a LOT. Is the algorithm perfect? Well, you know what would have been perfect? If publishers would have given me their marketing budgets directly. But when I asked them? They laughed. And laughed. And laughed.

So, like I said, Dr. Natalie and I had to come up with our own way. The resulting algorithm provided us with a way to compare marketing among the books and then to rank them. Books with the least amount of marketing in our sample were scored with a "1." Books with the highest amount of marketing were scored "11." Books in between had scores between 1 and 11. This way, even though we couldn't know the exact amount of marketing behind a book, we could know how its marketing ranked in comparison to all the other books in the sample.

(The cool thing? When I showed editors my results, they were freaked out by the accuracy. Let's give a WOOT to statistics!)

Okay, now that you know that, let's consider some disturbing stuff. Like, the very first calculation I did: The Pearson's Correlations which ultimately gave us the ability to perform a Linear Regression. Sounds scary, but all it is is a way to measure the tendency for one variable to increase linearly as the other variable increases, giving us the ability to quantify the actual relationship. In this case, we looked at how much sales increased with increased marketing.

This is the initial bar graph:


Further calculations showed that this was a strong linear progression. It had a simply calculated formula with a relatively small margin of error:

S = 0.63M + 2.58 (S = Sales; M = Marketing)

(I'd tell you the R-squared so you could judge the error margin yourself, but I think that would just make us all blind or migrainey.)

So what does that formula mean? It means that Sales increase in direct proportion to Marketing. Any other stuff? Like book quality? Simply do not seem to factor in.

It gets more disturbing.

In the sample of 200 books, there were about 10 "breakouts." That is, books that sold MUCH better than their marketing predicted they would. OK, you might think, I have a 5% chance of getting a breakout! All I have to do is get published...

Wrong again.

Consider this graph:
(are y'all OK with the graphs? would you rather I chat instead?)


Now, for some reason when I converted the graph into a picture, only one of the stars showed up. Can you do a little imagining for me? Do you see how the star marks a profound "jump" in the data? That's a sales spike. There are 9 other sales spikes, if I counted right (all used to have a star on them, I dunno what happened). Can you see them?

So, let's consider. The graph shows sales scores as marketing increases. The vertical lines in the graph (pink/red ones) represent the delineation between each "level" of marketing. Everything before the first line got a marketing score of one. Before the second? Two. And so on up till eleven.

Notice anything yucky?

First: the biggest category of books BY FAR is that made up of books with a marketing score of ONE. If you are a new author? This is where you will most likely find yourself.

Did ANY books "breakout" in that category?

No.

None.

Zero.

Zilch.

For a marketing score of two? There was ONE breakout. Sounds good until you realize the sheer number of books it took to get to that one breakout: more than 100.

Out of the first 100 books, there was ONE breakout. A success rate of one percent.

What does this mean? It means that not only will the vast majority of books fail to breakout, but that a full half of them never had a chance in hell of breaking out.

But what about the other breakouts? There were ten after all, right? Well, look closely at the chart. Almost all of them are in the top 20% by marketing score.

Meaning?

Books don't break out. Well-marketed books break out. And how often does that happen for those lucky well-marketed books? 20% of the time. A one in five chance.

To sum up:

80% of books don't get the kind of marketing that frequently leads to high sales. In fact, odds are that only about 2 out of every 150 books in this category might break out. Thems not good odds.

On the other hand, for the 20% of books that do get good marketing? One out of every five of those will be "breakouts."

To sum up even more:

In general, books will sell exactly in proportion to how much marketing they have. i.e. Strong linear relationship = Books are ONLY AS GOOD as their marketing. (Monetarily speaking, obviously. "Good" is a far more visceral, far less determinate value.)

And when it comes to the mysterious feat of writing the "breakout" novel? Well, you have to be in the top 20th percentile of marketing before that's even a remote possibility.

I've never met Dear Mr. Maas who wrote, Writing the Breakout Novel, and I truly mean him no offense when I say the stuff I'm going to say in the next paragraph. The only reason I'm picking on him, actually, is because he had the (mis?)fortune of having such a popular book on writing that his book ended up being one of the books we analyzed for "plot" advice. (Among other things, we looked for successful plot structures. Mr. Maas was in the company of people like Joseph Campbell!) And as you'll see if you ever want me to talk about the kinds of plots that sell, the stuff he said about writing was not bad. Some pretty good advice, actually.

But he also said a lot of stuff about marketing. Maybe to give authors the illusion they had some control over sales? I dunno. Anyway, one thing he emphatically emphasized is that it's a "myth" that a high advances mean higher sales. That promotion doesn't sell books, that the real culprit is bad writing(20-25). In fact, he goes as far as to say that "Ads in the New York Times Book Review are placed there mostly to make the author feel good"(23).

He's not the only person to tell writers this. He's one of many. But he's wrong. Indeed, I think he is doing a great disservice to writers. (It almost seems like, at some level, he knows that it's his industry's fault that certain books don't sell, and he wants to eschew the blame outside, to assuage his guilt, maybe? Am I off base do you think? Anyone know Dear Donald Maass?") Telling authors that their lack of sales is "their fault," is not only false, it makes authors feel like garbage when, all along, the real "fault" might not have had anything to do with their writing.

Is there is any lesson here? Any hope? Anything that an author can take away and actually apply to their own publication endeavors?

Yes, actually. I think there is. (Don't want to kill dreams entirely, I guess. What a softie I am.)

1. You need to leverage your publisher for as much marketing as possible. Since you are a mere author, this means...

2. You absolutely, positively, 100% MUST have an agent. Publishers don't want to spend money on you. They want as little output as possible on their part. "Save costs and it's easier to glean a predictable small profit," is their thinking. (Emphasis on the "small.") Unless you are Stephen King, you will not be able to leverage publishers into giving you the promotion and marketing you need. You MUST have an agent. The best damn agent you can get, preferably. (Think shark!)

3. If you get an offer for a book, you might be SO EXCITED just to know that your words will be in PRINT! It won't even seem to matter that the marketing will be a pittance. Here's the thing, though. There's something called "Bookscan." I know I didn't talk about it here, but this is what it means: bookstores keep track of how well your books sell. If you write a second book, they will look at how well your first book sold. And if you were so eager to sell your book at any price, most likely you did NOT get good marketing. Which means it's almost a guarantee that your book did NOT sell very well. So it becomes a cycle. For your second book, the stores only buy as many books as you sold last time. If that was 12? They'll order 12. This will go on and on until finally your publisher will give up. Maybe they'll try to blame it on you. "Your writing just isn't fresh anymore!" they might say. But it had nothing to do with the writing. It was all about the marketing. (Or the lack of it.) THE LESSON: Don't settle! If you can't get a good deal for your first book, there's nothing wrong with making NO deal and writing another book! Don't let your excitement get in the way of making a good business decision. That's what publishing is, after all. A Business.

4. Learn a little about marketing. Find yourself a marketing friend so you can get in their head. (I married a marketing guy, but you don't have to go that far for the sake of your career. I mean, not everyone is as cut-throat ambitious as I am. :) Figure out the types of subjects/genres/themes/etc. that appeal to marketers. i.e. Ask yourself: What would an MBA do with this? (Not a writer. Not a writing professor, even. An MBA. Someone concerned with sales alone. Repeat the mantra: publishing is a BUSINESS.) So package your writing in a frame that is easy to market. (This doesn't mean dumbing it down, or being any less lyrical in your writing. It means asking yourself, "In two words, why would someone buy this?" And then making sure that you frame the book according to the answer. Because that's all marketers can really work with: two words. And not cuz they're dumb, don't blame them. It's a psychology thing about advertising.) If you can get the MBA's in the publishing house excited? You have a much better shot to sell.

Now, to conclude, does all this mean that you don't have to write a GOOD book? That you can forget about quality? I wouldn't say that.

What I would say is this: you can't count on good writing to translate into good sales.

But you still need good writing. For one thing, getting a kickass agent is REALLY hard if you write like crap. For another thing, good writing still might help you get more marketing--especially if you do #4 and combine your good writing with a frame that's easy to market.

Good writing + Kickass Agent + Thinking like a Marketer = your best chance to sell a book.




**(Incidentally, Stephanie Meyer's Twilight would have scored about a 10 on our marketing scale. Meaning, the book's breakout was mathematically predictable. It had a 1 in 5 chance. Nothing magical about it.)

**(Also note: Stephanie had a kickass agent. Get yurself one, too!)


More to come. In fact, I'll post a vote to see what we talk about next!

Today was RUFF

por ejemplo:

[Actual Conversation]

interviewer: You have no experience with software.

me: I wouldn't say that. I designed and coded proprietary software for one of the biggest engineering firms in California. I may be an English major, but I can program in three different computer languages.

interviewer: What's a computer language?

[intense concentration needed in order to not bang my head against desk. cuz, dude. I'd like a full time job. interviews like this? not helping.]

I'm going to look over my marketing stuff. See if I can't pull a post off in spite of my ruffed up brain. If I can't? Come back in a day or two. Hugs.

Monday, February 06, 2012

This is the "SHORT" description of what I did in my dissertation. (Reminder: diss was, like, 600 pages long. I'm competing with the fantasty people here!)

Before you start, let me apologize for the academic death prose. I don't always use it, but sometimes they make you. I don't like it any more than y'all. Here's the thing to remember: I'm studying the crucial question: Why do books sell? If we can answer that, it's worth a little death prose wading, don't you think?
____________________________________
Abstract
In order to determine the extent of book marketing on book sales and the principles of resonance that may be linked to sales beyond that predicted by marketing, a demonstrably random sample of 192 books from the population of Young Adult (YA) books available from 2003-2008 in the national U.S. market were scored with estimations of marketing influence and total sales.

Three data analysis methods were used: first, a consideration of simple linear regression and variable correlation, termed the ‘linear’ method; second and third, the ‘difference’ and ‘quadrant’ methods, in which books with sales beyond what was predicted by their marketing scores were compared against books with sales below what was predicted by their marketing scores. In the ‘difference’ and ‘quadrant’ methods (the differentiation between the two methods will be discussed in detail later), statistically significant differences between the ‘beyond’ and ‘below’ sets of books were established as possible points of resonance or dissonance—i.e., key aspects of audience appeal or distaste. These aspects were then compared to the initial results from the ‘linear’ method and probable patterns of resonance were established. These patterns had important implications pertaining to issues of race, gender, and the belief-systems particular to teenagers. The nine main patterns established were: patterns of meaning/sophistication, patterns of emotion, patterns of estrangement, self-importance, gender, race, socioeconomic status, divine potential and moral identity.

Three auxiliary studies were conducted first to identify the extent of cover-likeability as it pertained to sales, next to establish that young adults (and not their parents or other adults) accounted for the majority of resonance points observed, and finally to estimate the overall effectiveness of self-promotion among authors. Results indicated that cover likeability may increase sales by up to 14.5%, that young adults can reasonably be assumed to be the primary readers of texts, and that author self-promotion is not significantly connected to increased sales.

As a final exercise, the list of possible principles of resonance was used to evaluate the publishing industry’s effectiveness at assigning marketing/promotion. Numbers indicate that publisher book marketing is disconnected with principles connected to sales somewhere between 3% and 55% of the time and a more accurate estimate may not be possible without another study.

Outcome Variables: Marketing and Sales Scores
In order to be able to factor out the effect of marketing/promotion on a book’s sales, each book was given a marketing score and a sales score. The marketing score was calculated based upon the following criteria: 1) the actual price paid to the author for initial rights; 2) how many additional books the publisher committed to publish in the initial deal; 3) whether or not there was a bidding war among publishers that either ended in an auction or was circumvented through a pre-empt; 4) the relative fame and/or reputation of the author; 5) whether or not School Library Journal or Booklist (two of the most influential reviewers of YA fiction) gave a starred review; 6) Whether or not one of 50 major review sources gave the book a full-length positive review; and 7) whether or not there was potential for ‘carryover,’ e.g. books about vampires published shortly after the success of Twilight.

In order to make an estimate of sales, the following three variables were considered: 1) The book’s Amazon ranking compared to how many standard deviations from the mean for the book’s year of publication ; 2) The book’s BN.com rankings ; 3) The number of weeks the book spent on each of thirteen bestseller lists tracked by the PM database.

When each book had a marketing and a sales score, the Pearson’s Relationship Coefficient of the marketing-sales relationship was calculated to be 0.6, indicating a moderately strong linear relationship between marketing and sales. Linear regression provides the formula:

S = 0.63M +2.58

By comparing residuals, assembling quadrants of sales vs. marketing, and considering differences between sales and marketing scores, the data were assembled into three basic categories: books that sold better than their marketing predicted, books that sold worse than their marketing predicted, and books that sold as their marketing predicted.

Independent Variables
Each of the 192 books was analyzed based on 150+ questions pertaining to plot, literary merit, morality, race, gender, and other categories of interest to YA authors. The aim was to identify book traits that may result in greater audience resonance/dissonance—specifically looking for important patterns of appeal and distaste.


Auxiliary Study One: Cover Likeability

149 students from a California high school (chosen because its demographics were analogous to the U.S. population at large) were shown pictures of each of the book covers from the sample. They were asked to quickly score each picture on a scale of 1-5, with lower scores corresponding to distaste. The average cover-likeability scores of books that performed better than their marketing predicted were compared to books that performed worse than their marketing predicted. Books that sold better than their marketing predicted had a cover-likeability score 11% (+/- 5%) higher than books that sold worse than their marketing predicted. This difference seems to be largely driven by the opinions of girls. When split into gender groups, the girls’ cover-likeability scores for books that sold better than predicted were 14.5% (+/- 6.5%) higher than books that sold worse than predicted. The boys’ responses showed no statistically significant difference between the two groups of books. The data indicates that a likeable book cover seems to help sales, but only if it appeals to girls. Considering that the vast majority of the YA fiction audience is female, this is expected.


Auxiliary Study Two: Library Data
In order to confirm that young adults were the ones primarily responsible for the purchase of YA books and, thus, that any data about trait resonance corresponded with young adult (as opposed to adult/parental) taste, 37 libraries from around the country were sampled. From each library the following was recorded: the number of each of the 192 books that the library stocked and the number of copies of those books checked out. The reasoning was that librarians (adults) were responsible for the stocking of books, and that books checked out were more likely to be checked out by young adults, themselves, than by their parents or other adults. The results showed a close correlation between all relevant groups. The number of books stocked mirrored the number of books checked out and both of these mirrored the number of books sold, indicating that divergent audiences of YA lit (teens, parents, librarians) either do not appear to have fundamentally different tastes or that all groups defer to the taste of the young adult reader.
____________________________________
Overwhelmed much?

Tomorrow: I will talk like a NORMAL PERSON again. What should we talk about? I think marketing. Why? Because it is more important than anyone will ever tell you. For all practical purposes, it's the ONLY thing between your book and a bestselling book, accounting for as much as 80% of a book's success or failure.

To put it another way: you know how Donald Maas, in his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, says that there is a disconnect between marketing and sales? That the real reason books don't sell is their quality?

He is wrong.

I have equations to prove it. This one is my favorite:

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Dissertation, part one! My Narrative Dedication to Dr. Tyler J. Jarvis: My Old Calculus Professor

[Exactly as appeared at the beginning of the dissertation.]

[But don't worry, I promise I'm not going to post the whole dissertation here. Just some interesting bits.]

[Also, watch for the super fun British spelling! Got my PhD in Wales, remember?]

Early on in my PhD programme, all of the Creative Writing students were gathered into an ancient-seeming room. We sat at a very long table in chairs with very high backs. The air was musty--both too hot and too cold all at once. Faculty members sat calmly at one end of the table, while Graeme--my soon-to-be-adviser--paced up and down the room in his normal frantic way.

‘Tell me...’ He spoke in an Australian accent, but being utterly unfamiliar with accents and utterly unfamiliar with Wales, I thought that maybe he was English. ‘What makes for a successful book?’

After a few moments of silence in which it became abundantly clear that Graeme wanted us to... answer... people began offering ideas.

‘One that leaves you feeling fulfilled,’ said a blonde woman from London. (She was, incidentally, married to a rock star.)

‘One that’s raucous and fun,’ said a man from Scotland who looked equally as raucous and fun until he sighed and slumped in an obviously put-on despair as he said, ‘Though I suppose you want me to say something about how it’s lit’ary.’

There were a few more answers, and I could tell that there was one, possibly obvious, answer that no one seemed to be saying. I raised my hand, feeling tentative as I did because I half knew what would happen when I said it. Graeme called on me.

‘Well...’ My speech was halted as I began. ‘I write young adult fiction... and YA is completely defined by rhetorical context... And if we look at it from a purely rhetorical stance... where you have the interactive relationship between the author/audience/text... and you judge the value of the text based upon the success of the author/audience interaction...’

I closed my eyes.

‘Then a successful book would be a book that... sells.’

One beat of silence.

And then least seven people erupted in protest.

One said something under her breath about ‘American capitalists.’

Graeme got a wicked smile.

And I wondered: if authors want their books to sell (and most of us do), why do we all protest so loudly against the idea that the success or failure of a book has to do with the book, itself?

Simple answer, really: no one wants to be told they’re rubbish.

Mix into that the fact that the sales of a book are ever so much more complicated than the quality of a book alone. We’ve all seen trash that hits the top of the charts. We’ve all read undiscovered gems.

What accounts for the difference?

Internalizing the protests of the room, my lingering questions about whether or not sales could be used as a measure of audience-resonance, and the wickedness of Graeme’s smile, I decided that it might not be a bad thing to figure out.

The question: how?!

All of the theorists that I’d read up to that point seemed to approach the question deductively. There are certain rules of fiction: plot, characterization, action, pacing, etc. If you can quantify the rules, you can evaluate books based upon their adherence or departure from said rules. The problem with deductive thinking, of course, is that your ability to be right or wrong utterly depends upon how correct your axioms and assumptions (i.e. rules) were in the first place. It’s the problem noted by Stephen King when he proclaims that ‘most books about writing are filled with bullshit’ (King xvii). We might think we know why something is, but when we have to measure it against something as solidly quantitative as the marketplace, if we limit our theoretical frameworks to those that are largely deductive, we can’t always make accurate predictions.

(Un?)Fortunately, however, before I began writing young adult (YA) fiction, I spent three years as an undergraduate engineering major--complete with hours upon hours spent in smelly laboratories wearing a stained lab coat with banana-shaped buttons. (The buttons seemed cool at the time.) My latent science instincts said that there might be a chance to make accurate predictions by utilizing something other than deduction. In other words, I’d have to look at books. I’d need a theoretical framework that allowed an inductive approach. Perhaps even one with a statistically-gathered sample, a blind process, a research procedure--i.e., one completely exhausting just to think about.

We creative writers aren’t known for our affinity to the inductively procedural, but the idea that an inductive approach might be the one way to say something new, immediately applicable, and relatively conclusive on the subject of sales versus resonance, was something that I couldn’t let go of. If I really wanted to know what makes a book sell, I was going to have to work within a theoretical framework that allowed a methodised observation of the book market. And that meant I was going to have to embrace the very thing I once rejected in favour of art: the scientific method.

[Go ahead and pause while we all shudder.]

The brilliance of the scientific method is the methodisation, itself. There is no making of pure guesses, no reliance upon emotion. And, ultimately, with the appropriate methodisation, you can study even emotion without becoming... well... emotional.

“Aw, crap.” I thought to myself. “I might actually have to use that calculus I learned after all.”

So that is why, Tyler, this dissertation is dedicated to you.

People! Did I forget to tell you about what I learned from my finished dissertation?

That isn't right, you know?

Because:

1. I never could have done it without all of your help and you deserve to celebrate the end! (even if the "end" was two years ago.)

2. Some of the conclusions were super intriguing! If you're a writer, you might actually want to know them!

3. It feels incomplete, somehow, right? I mean, you guys got the saga while it was happening, but you never heard the end!

So, why, oh why, did I not post this before?

It's obvious if you know me in person.

But it might not be obvious to people who only know me through the blog, and for that, I'm sorry. Shame is my only explanation. Misplaced shame, probably. But isn't most shame like that?

See, I sort of disappeared two years ago, maybe you noticed? My posts were shorter, when they appeared at all. Maybe you thought I'd stopped blogging, or stopped caring. But it wasn't that.

What happened was that I stopped being.

Here's how it went: I defended my dissertation exactly* two days before I had my ill-fated cancer surgery. I didn't tell y'all much about the whole cancer thing because, I thought, blah. Who wants to hear me whine?

And it wasn't going to be a big deal, I was sure of it. So why inflict it on you? It would bore you to death. I mean, skin grafts? No biggie. A little time off and then we can talk again. It'd make more sense to talk about the dissertation off drugs, anyway. And it can't take THAT long to recover, right? Six weeks? Maybe seven?

heh.

the universe loves to mess with me.

It's been almost two years since then. And you know when I first felt like myself again? The first time I was able to pick up my computer and really write? To feel my own thoughts connecting with words? The first time I could write like I used to?

It was three weeks ago.

I'm reminded of that "plans" thing they say. You know? You make plans and God laughs? I didn't plan on having to deal with a freaky-rare-cancery-lesion-thingy. And once I did have to deal, I didn't plan on having a bad surgery. I mean, I've run marathons, had two babies, I hiked 200 miles over 7 mountains while on IVF hormones! I gave birth to a baby 15 minutes after going into labor! And I'd had surgery before, no problem. I am tuff.

Turns out: none of us are tuff.

See,"tuff"is a delusion we cling to--one that completely ignores the fact that there are things in the universe (almost everything in the universe) we can't control. We're "tuff" because we don't want to acknowledge: all of us can be broken. And the things that break us? Never things our "tuffness" can prevent. No matter how "tuff" we think we are.

I didn't plan on a lot of things that happened these last two years, and I certainly couldn't control them. The grafts didn't take, there were gaping, oozing, open wounds for half a year, infections in places there should never be infections, ripping and tearing in places there should never be ripping or tearing, drugs causing language aphasia, legs that didn't work properly, a once awesome brain turned to mush. I didn't plan on any of that.

And the pain.

Well, you can't plan for something you didn't know existed. And pain like that? It's not even pain anymore. It's something ten exponents bigger than pain, something they haven't even named. I don't even know how to describe it. But here's a little of what I know: One part? Dissociation. (Who is the girl in that bed? Why is she screaming?) Another part? Your heart stops. Literally. The pain is so bad that your heart plunges into arrhythmia, unable to handle the bombardment of stress hormones erupting from the brain. They say pain can't kill you? They're wrong. Pain nearly killed me. Twice.

But that's not even the worst of it. Because it doesn't stop with death. It keeps going. Months and months and months and years it keeps going. And somewhere, in that mess of dissociation and hovering between life and death, and the years-long bombardment of hormones and pain signals, and death signals all rushing through your blood... Somewhere in all of that you realize:

you are gone.

The person you were? Not coming back. Everything you thought you were capable of? You're not. Everything you hoped for? Laughable. That's the worst part, really. When you lose the ability to hope.

We need hope.

We need to look at our babies and hope that we *will* survive to make sure they're okay. We need to look at the future and hope that we'll be able to smile again, if not walk normally. We need to look at our husband and hope that, someday, we'll be able to hold him again. Not as an invalid desperately clinging: as a partner showing love. And most of all, we need to be able to pray. To pray and really hope that someone hears us.

When you lose hope? You lose everything.

This post has officially digressed FAR beyond my original intentions, so I'll get on with it.

My point is, I meant to share some stuff, but life got in the way.

But my brain is better now, I'm better now. I didn't know I was going to come back, but I did. I'm not all the way back to the way I was, but I'm me again. I'm more surprised than anyone.

And that dissertation y'all helped me with? It was kickass. So maybe we can pick up where we left off. Maybe we can go back to the place we were. Back in time. And you know where we were? We were at the end of a kickass dissertation.

So in the next few days, I'll share some of it with you.

Assuming, of course, that life keeps it's distance for a bit.




*(okay, approximately two days; I'm too lazy to check, but it was superquick. didn't even have time to mention to y'all that I'd passed my defense. I think. I'm too lazy to check that, too.)

Friday, January 20, 2012

If you see it in your RSS feed

Ignore that last post. It was supposed to go on the course blog I keep for my writing students.

And just in case that blog sounds super interesting (hahaha), it's not. Unless you're a student. It's full of "don't come to class today"s, "the bookstore is out of our book"s, various student analysis papers, and very little about, like, writing. We do the writing parts in class.

But if you are just interested in seeing my students in embarrassing activities/costumes/situations? Particularly when they're trying to glean extensions/extra credit/various other favors? Well, then Windmill Watching is all the blog you'll need.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Evening Conversation: In Which Lily Makes Us Feel Stupid AND Manages to Induce an Existential Crisis At the Same Time

[we're driving]

Lily: "One."

me: "Huh?"

Lily: "What's it all about?"

me: "One?"

Lily: "Yeah."

me: "I don't get it."

Steve: "Maybe she means 'won' like winning or losing?"

Lily: "That's not what I mean."

me: "So what do you mean? Are we talking existential? Numerical? Numerological? Philosophical?"

Lily: [Looks at me like I'm very stupid indeed.] "I'm talking about the number." [pauses and speaks very slowly.] "One... what that about?"

Steve and I: [fumbling a lot] "Um... it's about present versus absent... totality versus partiality... it exists... but it's alone..."

Lily: [Another condescending stare.] "Yeah, but what really bugs me is the name. I mean... ONE. Who got to name it? It shouldn't even HAVE a name. It's a NUMBER."

Steve and I: [give up and look out the window.]

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Some Students From Last Semester Are Still Doing Extension Stuff!

Here are some seriously impressive un-shaved legs! (I forget how long I made her go without shaving... Hopefully she'll be done before summer!)

Morning Brush with Fame

So, I was walking in this mall, heading up the escalator, when I saw Tim Gunn heading down the escalator. 

Cool, I thought. It's Tim Gunn.

I don't get super excited around celebrities, but I like Tim Gunn, so I said, "Hey! Tim Gunn!" And I waved as our escalator paths crossed.

He looked at me and said, "Oh, hey, Kerry, how are you?"

And I went, "OMG Tim Gunn knows my name!" I was super excited considering I don't get that excited around celebrities. I mean, I knew we'd hung out before,* but I didn't think he'd remember me. I then decided that I should get home as soon as possible so I could write about it on my blog.

Just as I sat down to blog, though, filled with the thrill of being known... (By Tim Gunn!)

Steve started shaking me, plucking my night-time ear plug out of my ear. "Wake up," he says. "It's morning."

And I sat up and looked around and went D#*&IT!

It felt so real.

Groggy as I was, I thought... it did feel real. So it was only logical that this must be the dream. Steve wasn't really shaking me, that was just my neurons firing random images around. Which is why I turned over and left the conscious world for the "real" one.

A few minutes later, Michelle Obama was there, telling me how excited Barrack was that I was in the audience for his speech, but why didn't I ask any questions? He could have used a few questions from someone he actually liked.

I shrugged and went to drive home with my parents who were navigating a borrowed house down the road toward Napa. The couch was super comfortable.

Sometimes, the "real" world is pretty nice.


*I have never actually hung out with Tim Gunn. In the not-real "conscious" world at least.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Afternoon Conversation: Touché Dude

Sam (7yo):  "I've changed my mind about marriage.  I think I might actually do it one day."

me: "Oh? What changed your mind?"

Sam: [squints] "Well, it may or may not have something to do with, yanno," [voice gets really quiet] "an 'M' crush."

me: "An 'M' crush? That sounds very interesting. What is this 'M' crush?"

Sam:  "Don't talk so loud.  And I'm sorry, but I can't tell you any more about it."

me: [ignoring the "don't talk so loud" edict] "Why? You should tell me everything!  I'm your Mommy!" 

Sam: [shakes his head] "No. I had a dream about this. I told you everything and you know what you did? You went and you wrote all about it on the internet and told the WHOLE WORLD."

Thursday, January 05, 2012

I got 42 miles per gallon!

I thought mileage was supposed to get worse in the winter?  I've never gotten more than 32mpg before.

OMG the fact that this made me so excited really makes me a dork, doesn't it.