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Mean girl karma payback story

This morning on the wonderful KEXP, the equally wonderful John Richards was talking about the nasty effects of bullying and mean kids, and sharing stories listeners had sent in, which made me decide to write up this little anecdote. It’s not as dramatic or harrowing as many a mean-kid story, but it’s ultimately rather satisfying. And maybe it’ll make some other fellow nerd feel better.

So: in middle school, in the late 1980s, I was probably the shortest kid in my class, due to being also the youngest. (I had skipped first grade. I don’t recommend anyone do this to their kid, especially if the kid is already small and shy.) Nonetheless, I had a sweet friend—we’ll call her Sara—with whom I hung out at lunch break. As you know perfectly well, having someone with whom to hang out at lunch break is EVERYTHING. 

In seventh grade, this savvy popular girl, whom we’ll call Jen, befriended Sara, and with her flankers of popular friends, started hanging out with us at lunch too. Cool!

Or maybe not cool. Because one day during lunch break, Jen said to Sara, “We need to talk about…” and made a friendly wince, which somehow I knew was about me. Indeed, she then turned to me and said, all apologetic, that while we were still friends, “they” just didn’t want to hang out with me anymore. Sara, to her credit, was looking unhappy and mumbling, “I don’t want to do this.” 

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Inspired by this episode of the Writing Excuses podcast, in which a legal expert discussed what writers get wrong about the law, I recently asked on my e-newsletter: "Those of you with legal know-how: what bugs you that fiction (books, TV, etc.) keeps getting wrong when it comes to law? Or do you let it all slide in the name of entertainment?"

My longtime online friend Aaron Schwabach, who is not only an exuberant fanboy of many of the same things I love, but also a law professor, gave such a wonderfully detailed and entertaining answer that I asked him if I could run it as a guest post. He agreed, so here it is, for the edification of all us writers, or just for anyone who's curious. Thank you, Aaron!
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Law in fiction: I tend to overlook most of it for the sake of storytelling, especially in a movie where time is limited.  The same is true for police work, medicine, espionage, or most other “exciting” professions.  Most cops never shoot anyone or get shot by anyone; doctors don’t discover cures for previously unknown diseases and halt epidemics within 48 hours; real life work at the CIA involves hours, days, and months of sitting in a cubicle looking at documents and photographs.  All of those make for a boring story, as would watching a real life lawyer practice law most of the time.  

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Delay on the upcoming book

My upcoming book Dramatically Inclined will not be published this summer as I had originally planned. I have asked Riptide Publishing to return the rights to me, and today they have complied. They have been issuing rights reversions for many authors lately (at the authors' requests), after a lot of press has come out involving questionable behavior (sexual harassment, borderline racist comments, and more) on the part of some editors. It did not feel like a wise decision for me to stay with the press after this has all come to light, so I will be seeking publication elsewhere. This will unfortunately mean a delay in the release date, which I find frustrating and saddening, but I am relieved to have been able to make this choice before the book's release rather than after.

Once I know more about this novel's future, I will definitely update you. I hope to have a plan soon! Meanwhile, if you wish to help any of the many authors whose works have been affected by the problems at Riptide by supporting them elsewhere, here is a handy list of who they are and where to find them.

This doesn't affect any of my other existing books--which, I'm especially relieved today to say, are under other publishing houses.

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I've always struggled with the three-act plot structure. Where to draw the lines between acts isn't always clear to me; the so-called turning points can too often seem too numerous and I'm not sure which one counts as "the important one." (It's a turning point for Frodo when he flees Bag End for Bree, but also when he volunteers in Rivendell to take the Ring to Mordor, but also when he leaves the Fellowship with Sam, but also...wait, is this Act Two yet?) SO, I was excited to read a different theory that puts the typical character arc into FOUR parts instead, which make far more sense to me:

1. Orphan (the character in the beginning, with their life lacking something)
2. Wanderer (the character after the initial shove into the main problem, figuring things out but still half likely to reject the whole quest)
3. Warrior (the character taking on the quest and finding new courage as well as dangers)
4. Martyr (the character being willing to put everything on the line to achieve the goal, though they don't actually have to die [but can if this is a tragedy])

This is based on Carol S. Pearson's The Hero Within, and has been adapted by lots of writers. This post claims that these four character stages can be overlaid onto the three-act plot structure thus:

In Act 1: ORPHAN...lost...needing a quest.
In Act 2A: WANDERER...chose the quest...but unsure how to achieve it.
(stick in here a MOMENT OF GRACE (MOG) where S/He discovers what the story is really about)
In Act 2B: WARRIOR...having discovered through the moral premise how to actually get what he needs.
In Act 3: MARTYR for what he and his village back home needs.

This lines up a lot better for me, for the stories I write. Whew!

As for Frodo...hmm, does he become a Warrior at "I will take the Ring to Mordor," or not until the breaking of the Fellowship? Still undecided for me, but maybe the latter. It's only then that he realizes (moment of grace) that he can't do this with the whole Fellowship along, but must do it anyway. Plus then the LOTR trilogy breaks more nicely into the three acts too. :)

Best of 2017

2017 was...difficult, I think most of us would agree. Not my favorite year ever, for sure. But in the interest of highlighting the positive, here are some of the good things for it in my own personal life!

It was the best of book releases, it was the worst of book releases. The Goblins of Bellwater was released this fall. Publishers Weekly and various librarians and booksellers liked it, which is awesome! Others hated it, largely book bloggers—though certainly not all book bloggers; several nice ones adored it. In any case, the ups and downs were cruel to take at first (well, the downs at least), until I decided that, by my own admission, this is one of my weirdest books, thus it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste. And the shiny silver lining is that despite the “meh” thrown at it, this book has already gotten more exposure and sales than my others, and some people who did like it have started reading my older titles. So now more people have heard of me…which is probably good for the career, at least?

Bonus shout-out to my extroverted younger sister Peggy and (also extroverted) editor Michelle for helping me hand out signed books at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Trade Show this October!



Guinea pigs: We adopted two guinea pigs! Blizzard and Cinnamon are brothers, have soft fur like cats, and are insanely fond of vegetables and will squeak their heads off if they hear you open the fridge. Satisfying and low-maintenance as pets go.



Monterey: Summer trip to Monterey with family was that rarest of things: a vacation where basically everything went well. Monterey and the surrounding California coast are astonishingly gorgeous, with a perfect climate: chilly and foggy in the morning, clear and in the 60s in the afternoon, pretty much year-round. There are sea otters playing in the surf at all times, and sometimes whales. We pedaled a family-size bike surrey to Lovers Point and lounged on a white-sand beach under cypress trees and watched teeny fish dart in the shallows. Want to go back and explore more!



Audiobooks: In a bit of serendipity, my publishers started signing up my titles with Audible this year, not long after my friend Melanie began narrating audiobooks at ACX (part of Audible). Thus, Melanie became my narrator for my first audiobook: she read aloud The Ghost Downstairs and did an awesome job of it! More audiobooks of my stories to come in 2018, if all goes according to plan.

Total eclipse of the sun: We went to Corvallis, Oregon (my hometown), to be in the totality zone for the August 21 eclipse, and it was so worth it. (Traffic getting there actually wasn’t that bad anyway.) I didn’t try to take photos on my phone of the two minutes of blazing corona in a deep blue sky; I just stood in the street with everyone else and gaped at it and staggered around going, “It’s so beautiful!” But it looked about like this (photo as credited from this person on Instagram). Next time there’s an eclipse, get to the totality zone if you can. I mean it.



High school reunion: On three separate and unrelated occasions, I saw three high school friends this summer who I hadn’t seen for years, and it was a delight in each case. Kevin the former altar boy and his daughter came to Seattle and dropped by to visit me; then in Portland at my sister’s party I got to see Tom who is also, in a hilarious coincidence, writing about goblins; then in Corvallis at eclipse time I hung out with Astrid, nowadays an illustrator and comic artist, and we talked about writing fantasy as well as awkward high school moments. You all turned out awesome! Which is no surprise to me whatsoever.

New book contract: Given how long I’ve worked on the guy/guy romance novel about Sinter Blackwell, off and on over the years, and how long this particular year I waited for feedback from beta readers and editors, and then how hard I worked on revising it, I am damn-near ecstatic to finally have this contract on my desk, and can’t wait to introduce you all to this book in 2018. I am betting it will have slightly better average reviews than The Goblins of Bellwater, but we’ll see…

And I haven't even listed all the many, many times I was soothed, inspired, or cheered by a book, film, TV show, piece of music, or other creativity. Art saves sanity and thus saves lives. Keep revering and loving and creating it.

New book to come!

If you've ever found yourself thinking, "Molly, these goblins and Greek gods are lovely and all, but you need to put them aside for a bit and write me a swoony contemporary coming-of-age male/male romance with a lot of new wave song references in it," then you are in luck! Because I have written one, and I've just signed with Riptide Publishing (who specializes in the whole rainbow of LGBTQ stories) to get it out next summer! It will probably be titled Dramatically Inclined, though its working title was Boy in Eyeliner, so both of those are possibilities, as are any last-minute ideas we may get.

I've loved my small press experiences so far--with Central Avenue Publishing and The Wild Rose Press--so I'm confident I'll have a similar happy experience with Riptide, another excellent small press. And I can't wait to have you all meet Sinter and Andy.

[A few of you will remember them from 32 and Raining, an earlier incarnation of this story, though it is much changed since then. It now has a more "rom-com" feel (romantic comedy) and includes a lot more text messages. You might also know Sinter from Relatively Honest, in which he was Daniel's dorm roommate with a theater major and a goth fashion code. So technically this could be counted as as a spinoff novel, but is also completely a stand-alone and requires no knowledge of Relatively Honest.]

More info to come, naturally! For now, happy holidays and thank you for listening to me through all my strange creative projects. :)

I rewatched Stranger Than Fiction today, because of course that film is a delight for any fiction writer, and Emma is hilarious as the reclusive, pessimistic novelist. HOWEVER, here are my "oh come on" gripes (which don't include a character coming to life, because I'm apparently fine with that):

1) Publisher wants author to write something new so badly that they send a full-time all-expenses-paid editorial assistant to make sure she finishes her book? Has that ever, ever, ever happened? I mean, if that were how publishing worked, they would have assigned someone to G.R.R. Martin ages ago.

2) I don't get why Dustin Hoffman is so intrigued when he learns that the phrase "little did he know" cropped up in the narration, nor how he could teach an entire seminar on it. Sure, it signals third-person-omniscient, but so what? It's still a cliche of a phrase, and a rather melodramatic one at that.

3) Typewriters? Still? Hollywood, please. Novelists have come around to using computers, just like your screenwriters have. But yes, I admit it's much more cinematic to use a typewriter, as you get that nice clacking sound, and papers you can rip out and crinkle up and toss aside, and all that.

Anyway. Still. The concept is really fun, the performances are all excellent, I'm moved and entertained, the cookies look delicious, and "I'd Go the Whole Wide World" is a catchy song, so I like this film lots on the whole. I just needed to say the above.

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(This is my personal list, reflecting my own bad writing habits. Use or add to as you like. Obviously you don’t have to delete every instance of the verb “be” or other similarly common and useful words, but in at least some cases you can replace them with more vivid phrasing. E.g., “It was raining” can become “Rain lashed against her face.”)

seem
could
that
this
just
look
glance
stare
know (knew)
hear
feel (felt)
reach
move
watch
was (were, is, be)
-ing
-ly (adverbs)
keep (kept)
have (had)
anyway
actually
paused/hesitated (have them do some action instead)
peek (for an inanimate object)
now
em-dashes –
spin/turn on one’s heel
thought to herself/himself
picked at invisible/imaginary speck of dust/thread/etc
quite
very
pretty (to mean “fairly” or “kind of”)

And let's not forget "let out a breath she didn't know she was holding."

Kids these days are not destroying English

Every time I see a thread of “don’t you hate it when people mispronounce/misspell/misuse word X,” I feel the need to weigh in with this, as That Person Who Majored in Linguistics:
“Kids these days” are not, in fact, destroying the English language, and in fact fears of kids these days destroying the language go back all the way to early written records in the ancient world. No language has ever fallen apart and gone extinct from being regularly used, I promise you. Quite the contrary; popular usage only makes a language stronger and more innovative.

Could most people stand to learn a little more about etymology, and read over their written documents more carefully before calling them done and sending them? Sure, absolutely. Again, however, this has always been the case. It’s just that in the past, lots more people couldn’t read or write AT ALL, so we have fewer records of the people who would’ve had “worse” language usage. And with the internet, we now have far, far more examples of language usage every day–every second–than we ever did before. The amateur writer, the professional, and the in between. This is, for linguistics, a WONDERFUL thing, because it’s far easier to track usage than ever before.

And though the grammar Nazis hate hearing it, common usage is what decides a word’s meaning. Not some sacred language council at a university, not the lexicographers who compose the dictionary’s editions, not The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Lexicographers track usage, and tally it up, and faithfully record it, AS IT’S USED, not as it “should” be used, and that is that.

Language is strong. Language changes. It always has. It’s fine. Don’t panic.

Don't punish me with fruit IDs

I just had a good misheard-lyric moment. In Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," I swore I heard "don't punish me with fruit IDs." (Looking it up, I find it's actually "don't punish me with brutality.") But you know, my misheard version is essentially what the "Goblin Market" poem does.

Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—

There, don't you feel punished with fruit IDs?

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