The only writing advice I should probably ever give.

Because eff it…who am I? What the heck do I know? To quote Robert De Niro in "This Boy’s Life": Pal, what you don’t know would fill a book.

So this is it. Are you ready? It’s oh-so-simple, and oh-so-easy to forget. Here it is.

Bring the fun in.

That was it. Did it blow your mind? Of course not. But it’s all I’ve got, and it’s the piece of advice I most need to follow. Look, writing is hard. It wrings you out in its best moments. And it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind that is social networking, and getting deals, and hearing about other people’s deals, and market expectations, and reader expectations, and what everyone else is doing. Sure, that’s one interesting whirlwind, but if you’re in front of your computer one day and realize you want to bang your head against the screen and break all the bones in your fingers…Don’t. Stop. Bring the fun in.

That’s when you love it. That’s when it’s worth it. Will it make your writing better? Maybe. I have no idea if it made mine better. The Girl From Hell might go off to the editor next month and be promptly declared garbage. Could happen. But it could’ve happened if I’d hated writing the whole thing, too.

So next time a scene is trying to kill you, crank the tunes. Laugh maniacally. Dance, if no one’s watching. Or even if they are; whatever floats your boat.

This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.

I can’t get Fight Club out of my head. Because every time I walk past a poster of that Angelina Jolie/Johnny Depp travesty, The Tourist, all I can hear is Edward Norton yelling at Helena Bonham Carter. "I know what you are you tourist, you fucking tourist…" Something like that. Anyway…

Everyone should go see The Fighter and Black Swan. I pulled a double feature yesterday and holy crap. Fantastic films. For completely different reasons. The Fighter is full of so much damn inspiration, and so much FAMILY, and each character is a horrible a-hole in their own special way, and yet you can somehow like them in spite of it. Maybe a little bit because of it. Christian Bale should win awards. He’s fricken transformative, and draws you into the pattern of crack addiction like he is your very own…crack addict. Sure, I might be biased because of American Psycho, but after a performance like this, I don’t think the talent can be denied.

Black Swan, on the other hand, is obsessive and gorgeous, all pursuit of perfection and devotion to your art. It is crazy, sick, awesome and transcendent. I didn’t even care that the theater was packed and I had to sit in the front row and crane my neck. Natalie Portman should win, too.

These are maybe the first new films of the year that I’ve been compelled to recommend. In book news, January is a big YA month. Lots of interesting stuff, including Maurissa Guibord’s Warped, which I foolishly pre-ordered with something that doesn’t come out until February, so now I have to wait another month. I’m such a dope.

So many people got Kindles for Christmas. I’m still trying to decide between Kindle and Nook. Anybody have a Nook and love it?

Finkle is Einhorn! Damn you, Twitter.

What does Finkle being Einhorn have to do with anything? Well, nothing. But when I hear it in my head, it makes me smile. Besides, I think it’s a completely appropriate thing to say when unearthing a frustrating realization. So here’s my realization.

I’m going to join Twitter.

Dammit all to Hell! Finkle is Einhorn! There. I feel better. And I’m not joining now. But it’s going to happen. I know because I’ve been to the sign-up page twice in the last week, and sat scowling at it for thirty, forty seconds. Why do I hate it? Mostly because the first time I heard of it was when news coverage reported that members of congress were tweeting at inappropriate times, like during Presidential Addresses and such. It left a bad taste in my mouth that not even Tang can clear.

But, since then, I’ve discovered that there are some very interesting people tweeting very interesting things, and I’ve had fun stalking them as an anonymous non-user. I sort of don’t want to put the effort into all that stalking. Joining and just following them makes more sense. So I’m joining.

In ten years.

Or less.

Or more!

Damn you, Twitter. Finkle is Einhorn.

Time for Changes…and my Top 5 Picture Books for Anyone

The blog gets a new title. Because I can no longer share with that damned dog. Truthfully, now that I’ve relocated halfway across the country, it’s just too difficult to keep the dog on task. It was never that easy in the first place. So the website is getting an overhaul, and the Stuffed Dog Book Reviews are no more. He says he might pop in with one last review of His Dark Materials, because he’s almost finished with it. But he said that a month ago. R.I.P. Puppy J. We are no longer getting married when we are eighty.

Now on to other things! Picture books are in decline. Everyone says so. This saddens me. I spent days in the library as a kid. It was a memorable childhood highlight. And picture books are still excellent. I know, because I refuse to buy any gifts for my friends’ kids aside from books, and I only buy the ones I will also enjoy reading to them a million, gagillion times (that’s the minimum number of times they’ll demand it.) So here’s a top ten list, and some tips for making them fun, even after the millionth read.

MY TOP 5 PICTURE BOOKS TO READ WHILE PRETENDING TO READ TO KIDS

5. GOODNIGHT MOON, By Margaret Wise Brown

I’ll admit, I don’t even know what it’s about. The only important thing is to read it in Christopher Walken’s voice. It’ll be awesome, trust me.

4. I NEED MY MONSTER, By Amanda Noll, Illustrated by Howard McWilliam

An adorable story about a kid who can’t fall asleep without his monster. This one’s too new to know if it’ll hold up for the adults upon numerous readings, but I think it will. The illustrations are beautiful, too.

3. FOX IN SOCKS, by Dr. Seuss

I read this even when they don’t want me to. It’s an obsession. A challenge. This damn fox will not beat me. To spice it up after numerous readings, try throwing a stopwatch into the mix. Or yelling it. Let me know if you pass out.

2. THE POLAR EXPRESS, by Chris Van Allsburg

Couldn’t get the image to upload. But you know what it looks like. Chris Van Allburg is a master. Read the Polar Express with hot cocoa and giant marshmallows. When you’re finished, look around at the children and realize that it sort of sucks to be an adult. Great holiday story.

1. SKIPPYJON JONES, by Judy Schachner

This Siamese kitten who thinks he’s a Chihuahua is fantastic. The songs are kid pleasers, and as a bonus, you get to do some of it in a Spanish accent. So what they will hear is, "Oh my name is Skippito Friskito…" but what you will hear is:  "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya."

BTW, is anyone else pissed that it seems like Prince Caspian switched accents in The Dawn Treader? The Inigo accent was half the fun the first time.

Take these recommendations or don’t. But reading to every kid you know, is not a bad thing. Unless you are reading them this:

Which is just hilarious.

His Name is Random Task. (Writing as giving birth. Again?)

Random Task has nothing to do with this post. I haven’t even watched Austin Powers lately. But it’s hilarious. Oddjob becomes Random Task. I love it. Moving on.

You hear it over and over. People compare writing to giving birth. It’s a labor of love, yada yada yada, we’re all tired of it. I usually steer clear of the metaphor, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fairly accurate. Today, it strikes me as accurate in a way I never thought of. I’m waist-deep in The Girl From Hell, and the going is…by turns euphoric and gear-grindingly painful. At times like these, it’s tempting to say that it’s the most stubborn thing I’ve ever written, that it’s a breech-birth; it’s easy to hee hee hee and hoo hoo hoo and say nothing has been more difficult or bumpy. Yet, if I think about it, they were all like this. They all hit that point where I distinctly referred to them as breech-births. Even Secret Project S, which in retrospect feels like it ran like god damn bastards (Tremors) once it found its footing.

I’ve heard from those who have babies that you don’t remember the pain of the birth. After all, you’ve got a new shiny diaper-filler to show for all the huffing and puffing. So the struggle fades from memory and even moves into the realm of nostalgia. Such is the case for books. In a few months, I’ll bounce The Girl From Hell on my knee, and a few months after that I won’t even remember that I once wanted to shove an epidural through my fricken eyeball. Interesting, this human function of forgetting. I am continually fascinated by it. Which is why I want to read Angie Smibert’s Memento Nora, which has roots in that vein, and why I love Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. In my literary work, it’s a perennial theme.

Sidenote: If you watched Fringe this week then you heard the coining of a new fantastic word: Vagenda. As in, "that femme fatale is trying to seduce him…and she’s got a definite vagenda." Let’s make that fly. Urban dictionary, activate!

Let’s Cut the Chit Chat, A-hole! (To profane or not to profane)

No, I’m not calling any of you a-holes. That’s a line from Nic Cage in The Rock, and one of the only lines I can remember that uses a swear-word substitute and is better off for it. Today, I’m considering swear words. Most notably, the f and s words, because apparently, manuscripts which contain those are not eligible for certain book clubs. So, decisions. Take them out, or leave them in? This question came up also with Sleepwalk Society, where the publisher scaled back the profanity. I gritted my teeth a little, but ultimately, enough of the natural language was left in that it didn’t hurt the book. However, what we’re finding now is that parents still aren’t going to jump on the Sleepwalk Society bandwagon, because of the sex and drug treatment.

So what to do with Anna Dressed in Blood? To be eligible for the aforementioned book clubs, all of the f and s words need to be cut. Or changed to "shoot" and "frick". No thank you. After sitting here for several minutes, I’m going to leave them in. I don’t think they’re gratuitous, or that any of my characters could be construed as a "potty mouth". And let’s not forget that the book is loaded with witchcraft and gore, so it will probably rub censors the wrong way anyhow.

Plus, Cas is still talking to me in Book 2, and I don’t want to institute the swear word jar and make him drop a quarter in every time he wants me to type it.

I’m curious about how other writers feel regarding profanity. Anybody got a project with questionable language? Anybody run up against objections? Why not leave some fuckin comments in the fuckin comments section. (See, now that was gratuitous.)

I was a one man wolf pack. (Signing at Courtyard Hall, Holiday Book Fair)

Last night I finally watched The Hangover. It took me a long time. You see, when it came out, it was one of those situations where I was busy and all my friends went without me. But now I have seen it. So now I get all the jokes about the satchel. I feel better now.

The news of the week is, I guess I’m going to be signing copies of Sleepwalk Society at the WNBA Holiday Book Fair at Country Village in Bothell. So if anyone is in the Bothell/Seattle area and wants to stop by a book fair with local award-winning authors, please do. I think the product is going to be pretty varied. Some non-fiction, some lit fiction, some women’s fiction, one paranormal romance, and also me. With my YA literary novel. My small press publisher is going to be in town from Atlanta also, so I might get to meet her in person, which is cool.

This is my first book fair. I don’t anticipate going to another until the London Book Fair in April. Tangent here…I’m roasting garlic to make roasted garlic, bacon and sun-dried tomato cream sauce for some chicken tonight. And I’m typing with garlic fingers. This is going to linger.

He wasn’t just a horse. He was the best.

Okay, so he wasn’t a horse at all. He was a dog. A miniature husky who liked to play with horses and thus ended up with only three legs. A tripod, who once, in his meowly husky voice, looked at my mom and said, "Ma Ma." Seriously. I was there. The quote above is from the movie Phar Lap, about an Australian race horse who died from colic. I couldn’t think of a better one. Last night, this husky tripod named Bosco died from poison. He’d accidentally gotten into some of it in the neighbor’s shed.

Some people, will be inclined to say, "It was just a dog." But I don’t understand those people. In fact, I suspect that I would enjoy spending one on one time in the Thunderdome with those people. However, I will avoid going into a tirade of violence that would put my avatar to shame. Because that’s not the point. The point is to say so long to a little guy who took care of my parents, and who volunteered every week at a nursing home, sitting at the feet of the elderly. He didn’t much care for fetching, being of the three-legged variety, but he had eyes that could beg a hot dog off a starving man.

Wish you hadn’t gone, little fella. But you did good.

Poop to That!

Saw Red yesterday and was pleasantly amused. It wasn’t epic or moving, it wasn’t a cavalry charge for glory, but it was a fun romp for actors I love. John Malkovich is a delight. And when Bruce Willis had the obligatory lip-lock at the end, I made the same face that Malkovich did.

Midterm elections are over. But politics never goes away. The debates and the irritations will continue. I miss being in grade school when I didn’t really care about all this shit. My home state of Minnesota re-elected the abhorrent Michelle Bachmann. What? Was she running against a goat? Well even if she was, it should have been Welcome to the House Mr. Goat! So, Poop to That.

Halloween has come and gone. If anyone had an excellent costume, let me know. I love to hear about excellent costumes, as it has been many years since I’ve been able to scrap one together myself. Have I mentioned just how behind Neil Gaiman’s movement, All Hallows Read I am? Well I am. Check it out.

ALL HALLOWS READ

Though not really in keeping with the horror theme, I did send my dad a copy of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, a book that I haven’t read, but the crime thriller plot seemed right up his alley. Next year, I will of course be slinging copies of ANNA, and perhaps some other excellent Elevensie scares.

A lot of writers I know are working on new projects. And feeling the pressure of daily or weekly word counts. We all do it. And it’s a bucket of yuck. Some of us, have real deadlines breathing down our necks, and the aforementioned bucket can’t be avoided. But I don’t. Deadline is way, far off. And yet I still feel bad when I don’t write something. I tell people I didn’t manage to write one day and they say I failed. FAIL! But no, poopypants, to fail would be to write a thousand words of crud I didn’t feel like writing only to delete it all the next day.

Earl explained it to me: we plan ahead, that way we don’t do anything right now.

Oh, Valentine (from Tremors), how I relate to you. Unfortunately, not all of us can pole vault through the desert using homemade cannon-fuse bombs to eradicate gigantic underground monsters. Some of us have to write.

But when I am "planning ahead" there are numerous other things I can be found doing:

-Watching The Best of the Joy of Painting. Because it is amazing how Bob Ross can turn a black spot into a three-dimensional rock by poking a brush at it. And how he just drops in happy trees that live right back there. And how he makes instant water by dragging paint specks down. I think Bob Ross might have been a demon.

-Watching my cat steal a spare rib off of my plate and drag it off like a lion retreating into the brush with a freshly killed zebra. Naughty cat.

-Watching the effing PRESIDENT sit across the desk from Jon Stewart. Obama can talk his way back into my head in the span of five minutes. But basically, politics these days makes me want to hold my breath and stomp my feet and pitch a hissy fit the likes of which the world has never seen.

-Playing Final Fantasy XIII, which I really enjoy despite mixed reviews and an admittedly hair-brained storyline.

Honestly, these are all things that I do, not to avoid writing, or even to procrastinate, but to balance it out. Forcing the issue is never a good idea, as I discovered this past week when I tried to cram 10,000 words into the space of a week. What am I, an idiot? It was bad, and ended up being re-written about eight times. I was all about deadlines and sweating the what-ifs and worrying about expectations and the performance of the first book that isn’t even out yet. And that doesn’t work. So I said Fuck it. I write what I want when I feel like it. And almost as soon as I did, it became fun again. And good to boot.

And the whine of the day: now that the Yankees are dead and ground into the dirt where they belong, I will no longer care about baseball until the Twins and Rays go back to training camp this spring. So can Fringe just come back now, please?