My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Mailbox: 3 Bits of Insight and 3 Implications From an Author Marc Lawrence on Reddit

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer them each Thursday as long as I have enough to do.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox.  My mailbox is currently empty, so don't hold back.]   

Mike says:

This seems like one of those stories that would fit in very well with your blog.  http://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/17k0wp/prince_of_thorns_1_best_selling_fantasy_for_a_day/

"So Amazon.com ran a promotion on Prince of Thorns before Christmas and I was very glad to get it. For a day they offered the ebook at $1.99 and put it on their daily deals...."  (Read Marc's thoughts at the site itself...)

My reply: 

It was a slow week in my inbox, so I'm actually putting up something that someone shared with me on my Facebook wall.  (Be sure to send me questions, or I'll have to do more jazz hands and hairography like this.)  The link here is to an Ask Me Anything Reddit written by Marc Lawrence about his experience with Amazon on his book Prince of Thrones.  Though he does very well for a fantasy writer, on the day Amazon put his book on sale, and blew the charts away, selling a thousand books (and even beating G.R.R. Martin for just that day), his actual royalties were only $120.  Then, as a cherry on the sundae, one of his fans wrote to him saying that he illegally downloaded the book because it was too hard to find.  If you dare to read the comments, you will find that many of the replies are quite unapologetic about illegal downloading.

I'm also going to let Ima Lister field this one with one of his lists since tomorrow is the first of the month and we'll be putting up polls, poll results, and end-of-the month reports and all that crap.

This is actually a great link.  It exists at the intersection of so many things that are going on here on this blog and it's worth thinking about it.

1- This is not a glamorous industry.  If you have a vision in your head of your idyllic life of writing, four hour work days, sipping coffee in a cafe with a smashing view of the river while the people two tables over argue about whether it's really you, threesomes with groupies (are you reading this Chris?), power negotiations with movie moguls fighting over the rights to your books and you insisting on writing the screenplay and a cameo, a salon of your enthralled fans hanging on your every word, and royalty checks that rocket you into the next tax bracket, I'll put this as simply as I can:


You can make some money in this industry if you work very, very, VERY hard, but statistically speaking, you're probably never going to break minimum wage.  The tiny fraction of writers who can get by without some kind of day job (even something like editing anthologies or writing reviews) or are famous in any meaningful way is minuscule.  Odds are, even if you have pretty decent writing career, you're going to end up doing a lot of your own marketing in nearly-empty book stores, and dealing with harsh realities like Amazon sales that cost you money.  You'll be confused for "that guy on that one show" if you're recognized at all (which you won't be).  The only position of esteem you will have is being the person in your social circles who everyone is chomping at the bit to argue with about something you wrote to prove they are better than a writer.  You'll do all this for what would be, in any other job, less money than sweatshop labor exploitation.  And then you'll be confronted by some asshat proudly bragging to you how they stole money out of your pocket.

1a- So it's really important to love writing.  So you better love writing for its own sake.  The bliss should never be dependent on royalty checks and fans.  Because the minute you're wordsmithing as a means to an end (like fame or fortune), you're not only power-deluding yourself about what being a successful writer even means, but you are literally picking one of the least efficient ways possible to go about achieving fame.  You are the writing equivalent of the girl from Iowa getting off the bus in Hollywood with the hopes of being discovered.  What you should be doing is trying to surf your pick up truck into a tree or singing along with Numa Numa.

Fame.  Fortune.  They are his. 

2- Piracy is really, really easy.  It takes about 3 seconds over high speed wifi to transfer an entire book--I know this because that's how long it takes me from impulse by to instant gratification on my Kindle.  Mmmmmm.  Lending a book is not quite the same. You can pass a single book to a lot of people before it disintegrates into paper-dust and leaves the original owner screaming "KHAN" (in planet-cam), but each time it is given to a new person, it does not replicate itself; it leaves those before without their own copy.  Someone can file share a book thousands at once with the press of a button, and each person has their own copy at that point.  Those people can then do the same.  There are also no consequences.  If someone has stolen a book by illegally downloading it, nothing happens.  No security guard will approach them outside the store and ask them to produce a receipt.  No federal agents will come looking for them at work.   They won't have their picture window shattered as a canister of tear gas flies into their living room, an instant before S.W.A.T. smashes the door and bursts in with laser scoped submachine guns.

Hey, these thieves don't even have to feel bad. Stealing content isn't just logistically a snap; it's emotionally and mentally easy as well.  There are entire cultural movements dedicated to justifying and rationalizing illegal downloads as doing artists a big, big favor of exposure at the expense of publishers or distributors. Because everyone knows it's really great for an artist if thousands of people aren't paying them.  ("Brah, you know someone will support the artist.  Just....you know....not me, brah.")

If you can stomach it, read the comment thread on this story.  Just don't eat a lot of rich foods before hand.  Some commenters are flat out telling Lawrence that piracy is good for him and he should be happy as a pig in shit for every smug e-mail he gets telling him that he was denied even his meager 17 cents.  (Because...you know...everyone who steals a file online will do the moral thing if they enjoy it and either buy a physical copy or donate to the author.  Totally.)  Even when the author says, "Yeah, that's crap.  Please don't steal my stuff," people continue to argue with him that he should be thrilled to be illegally downloaded for all that free exposure.  ("Free exposure"...where have I heard that before....oh that's right--that's what companies say when they don't want to actually pay a writer for freelance work).  File sharing is ubiquitous, most artists have lost thousands to piracy.  Sadly for writers, book sharing and web plagiarism is easier than some other mediums.

2a- So don't don't pretend it's going away any second or that people will get over it.  It's a new world.  We live in interesting times--in all the full fury, Chinese-curse sense of that word.  Artists will get ripped off in a world where the press of a button provides guilt-free, perfect copies of their hard work.  Get over that fact and move on.  (You can acknowledge that computers just make stealing media too damned convenient without necessarily agreeing with the little buttcrack sweat drips who claim it isn't actually stealing because...well....because they don't want it to be.)  Offering free or extremely low price access to art (knowing that it will be stolen) is becoming more and more common.  The music industry went through the same thing until they rethought the whole system from top to bottom and started letting people buy just one song.  (It's not a perfect parallel--I doubt people will pay $0.99 for just their favorite chapter.)  Illegally downloading something is easy, consequence free, and doesn't even cause wibbly wobbly feelings, so it's time to stop pretending that the industry hasn't been fundamentally altered by computers.  Yes, it's good to know the pitfalls of the emerging industry and precisely how hard Amazon will be lubelessly butt-fucking authors, but it doesn't mean the 1979 playbook is still good.

3- The numbers (for the writer) in traditional publishing are a little terrifying.  Notice the numbers?  Lawrence gets 25% of what the publisher makes.  Lawrence gives 20% of that number to an agent.  Leaving him with 80% of 25% of what the publisher nets--usually 70%....AFTER COSTS.  That's not the retail price.  It's AFTER things like shipping and distribution (which is one of the biggest reasons to go through traditional publishing, just FYI.)

Now it's true that every day isn't an Amazon special deal day, so I looked up a full price copy:  $8.

Let's assume a generous post-publisher cost of $5.  (Publishing costs are usually more like half the cover price, but $5 makes for a rounder number.)

Lawrence says that the publisher usually makes 70% of that number= $3.5.

Lawrence makes 25% of that number= $0.87 per copy.

He gives 17 cents to his agent

Leaving him with a little over a sixty cents per book he sells if I did the math right.

But that's only for new books bought through a retail distributor--not for anything bought used from Amazon, used bookstores, or downloaded illegally.  Lawrence is correct--he is doing quite well for a fantasy author.  Well enough that his agent was able to negotiate a better deal than some of the new author contracts which would probably be closer .40 or .50 cents per book-not including special discounts and third party licensing.  So if you had a damned respectable 20,000 book run, you'd be looking at about $10,000 (give or take) for something that probably took you a year or more of hours long days to finish.  Let's say you put in six hours a day on your novel (a decent clip that would probably be the absolute minimum to go from the very first word of rough draft to second draft through revision through edits through proofs to finished product in only a year).  Congrats!  At this extreme pace, you would be making just over $4.50/hr.  Federal minimum wage for the U.S. is $7.25 Also, your chances are better than a face-planting six year old losing a tooth that you're going put in a lot more hours both before and after publication--not including time spent doing your own marketing (like book signings and readings and stuff).  Especially if you want to sell 20,000 copies and your name doesn't end with a K Rowling or Phen King.

3a- So think about how you want to monetize your writing.  There is no longer one route to be a paid writer.  Computers are changing EVERYTHING.  The days where you simply had to go Short Story Publications-Cover Letter-Agent-Publisher-Book Deal-Book are gone.  That is ONE route--and it has its merits and flaws, but now there are other routes with their own merits and flaws.  E-publishing, self-publishing, and even print-on-demand does not carry the social stigma that vanity press did a couple of decades ago.  These have become viable ways to make a living with writing as more and more successful self-publishers can attest to.  (Many who have had books traditionally published as well and can compare and contrast.)  When an author's share of a book is 50%-75% of the price, rather than something closer to half a dollar, they can offer cheaper books, sell fewer copies, and still make more money than through a more traditional route.  Many authors are using paid blogs and offering up writing for free or as cheap as possible.  There are all kinds of new ways to write creatively and make money doing it.  It worth taking the time to learn the industry and not simply fetishizing the single approach of a generation ago.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Happy Birthday Writing About Writing

My little baby is a year old today.  Sure, my first post  on January 17th of last year, but that was more a test.  You might even call it...the conception.  ~snerk~  But W.A.W.'s actual content began on January 30, 2012.  Back in those days it wasn't uncommon to get ten, five...a couple of times even TWO pageviews on a post.

I remember when my blog was just a young thing dreaming of triple digits in a day.  Back then I asked it about this day.

"How many pageviews do you think you'll get by the time you're one, Blog?"  I asked.

"Ten THOUSAND!" it said.

"Well, look who's ambitious," I said.  "That's a good goal, and I believe in you.  But just don't you forget that if you don't make it, that's okay."

Of course, Blog passed ten thousand months ago,  and now we're very close to 85,000.  So Blog runs around a lot and does the "I told you so" dance when it's not rocking out to Big Time.  These days, Blog has moved beyond thoughts of busting five figures, or even six figures, and entertains fantasies of reaching a Wheaton (that's half a million followers-- I currently have 0.00003 of a Wheaton.)  I would tell Blog that it isn't very realistic to its fantasies, but I've had egg on my face before.  Instead, I've just learned to go to my happy cave when Blog listens to Big Time on auto-repeat for three or four hours.

"What do you want for your birthday, Blog?"  I asked.

"More followers!  More subscribers too, but mostly more followers.  And a hundred thousand page views!  And people to turn off their ad-block for this domain.  And millions of dollars in donations so I can pimp out with some serious bling.  And you to have groupies so--"

"Okay," I interrupted.  "Those are all things I have no control over.  What do you want that I can actually do?"

"Hmmmm," Blog thought about it.  "Well there might be one thing...."

Happy Birthday to you.
Happy Birthday to you.
Happy Birthday Writing About Writing.
Happy Birthday to you.

Monday, January 28, 2013

It's Really Okay Not to Write. Really.- Part II

Remember, this picture of a pencil is only here to
bolster my authority.
Link to Intro and Part 1  

Part II Chesslectric Boogaloo 


You Don't Have to Do Everything You're Good At

When I was young, I was really good at chess. I actually mean really, really good. I was beating my step-dad by the time I was six or seven, and some of my friends' parents who played regularly by eight or nine. For a while there, I was so good I that there was talk of a weekend class and even a momentary thought of one of those special schools where there's a chess class and all the young boys (it's a hugely male-dominated sub-culture) take an oath to never know the touch of a woman.

I like saying "Check THIS" before I jump over    
two other guys and land....ON YOUR FACE.
But I also had terrible A.D.D. (which back then they called "hyperactive"), and so getting me to sit through a whole game instead of playing Adventure on Atari was not easy. And I say “not easy” as a euphemism to obfuscate how many broken wills and shattered dreams lay in the wake of that little square with its little arrow. If I played a game of chess, it was usually like that scene in Searching for Bobby Fisher where the kid runs up, moves a piece and runs back to what he was doing. Except with me it was trying to beat my high score on opponentless Combat with the three little planes against the one big one. (I think I broke 200 once.)

Not to mention the lost chess pieces from when I played Starbattle Warriorblasters with them and they were involved in a simulation of a “really big explosion.” It was a common sight for my step-dad to have to set up the chess board with a lego dude for the white knights because Roadblock and Thundar the Barbarian had ridden the original chess pieces into battle against Skeletor driving the AT-AT while telling him (in rhyme) exactly what he could do with Starscream's fuselage. Lemmie tell ya, the Baroness knew what side her bread was buttered on by the end of THAT battle, boy howdy.

And the less said about my narrating the game like it was some cheesy battle, the better.

Don't you die, Private Pawn!  Don't you give up on me!
You're gonna give that letter to Jane yourself.  You're gonna meet your son.
Do you hear me?  Private?  Private?  ......James?
You....   You monsters killed him.  You...ANIMALS!!!
I'm going to go positively diagonal on your asses!  DIAGONAL!!!

In the end I didn’t go to chess school or even take a class. I didn't like chess. I was good at it, but it wasn't enjoyable to me. It wasn't fun. In fact, I grew to hate it more and more because it always involved my step-dad yelling at me to stop being such a "spaz" or "an airhead" and to calm down.

Here's a hint: if you want an eight year old to hate anything for the rest of their lives, force them to sit quietly and do it for hours while yelling at them any time they lose attention. Bonus hatred ponts if they are "hyperactive."

I still don't like or enjoy chess. As I grew older people who had (perhaps) less innate "talent" than me at chess got to be better than me by practicing and studying. In my teens I started to lose the occasional casual game. By the time I was in high school, anyone interested in playing was probably going to beat me simply by virtue of their interest meaning they had played far more than I. I played one or two games a year if I couldn't avoid it. I probably haven't played a game of chess in fifteen years. I would rather play Cosmic Encounter with a bossy game theory expert than play chess.

I like the musical though.

Oh right. I should probably make this metaphor about writing at some point soon.

If you’ve watched more than a couple of blogs for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with this type of entry: “Oh hello. It’s been ages since I’ve written. I feel so guilty that I haven’t written in so long...” In fact, there are a non-trivial amount of blogs that are comprised mostly of such entries--apologies for not writing, promises to do better in the future, rinse repeat. You go back and find thirty of the last thirty five entries (spanning a period of four years) all essentially express guilt.  A lot of times these entries are comprised chiefly of "Why I am not writing" inventories. ("Dear Diary. Sorry I haven't written. Crack is a hell of a drug. But I should have LOTS of time to write after the arraignment.")

Why do these people think they have an obligation they are failing? To whom are they apologizing? Why do they feel guilty? Seriously, think about it for a second. Even if it's to their readers, why that sense of failure? Why the contrition?

There's a strong ethic in our culture that if God (or whatever you attribute such things to) gives you a talent you are under a moral obligation to use it. The Biblical parable of the talents (Luke 1:19) goes so far as to say that it would be irresponsible of you not to do something you are good at.  Peter 4:10 pretty much spells this idea out explicitly. In fact, I'm probably going to burn for not joining "Checkmates 4 Jesus" and becoming the chess player known on the circuit only as "The Rook of The Lord."

Never before has the straight and narrow path been quite so literal.
Now you might not be Christian or even religious, but these values seep into our culture regardless. How many times have you seen a movie or show where someone said "God gave you a gift, and you have to use it"? How many times have you seen a movie about a prodigy who is really GOOD at something and no one in the course of their travels EVEN ONCE actually asks them if they enjoy it? Can you think of a single story where the prodigy says "I really enjoy knitting even though I'm not good at it," and then goes on to knit their lives away--blissfully happy and content to have crooked gloves and misshapen hats. These "use-your-talents" stories are everywhere, whispering to you even when you can't hear them. In fact, the way we embrace (never reject) innate talents is a theme in our culture's arts and entertainment in everything from Dune (weirding) to Star Wars (The Force) to Harry Potter (magic) to most sports movies. Being good at something simply means doing it. Period. End of story. No questions. Even if the protagonist rejects the gift/talent at first, they end up realizing that it creates a moral obligation later on ("with great power, comes great responsibility"). Our cultural narrative has this idea on auto-repeat.

It's not about what you love. It's not about what brings you happiness. It's not about what fulfills you. It's simply about what you're good at. What talents you have. "Do what you're good at," culture says "whether you want to or not."

And that's kind of fucked up if you think about it.  It might not be so bad if you're just hanging out in this life as an audition for eternity (and I'm not here to evaluate such a claim), but if any part of your life proceeds under the assumption that you only get ONE life, or to hold precious the moments you're given, you don't have time to live the whole of it under some kind of cosmic obligation to be great at the things you don't like doing.

I know it might go against that cultural mantra, but it will really be okay to do a few things that you enjoy in life. Do the things you love. Do the things that bring you joy. Especially if you're talking about something you may never do as more than a hobby (which writing is for most of us).  If you don't enjoy it, there's no reason to do it. I'm a writer because I love writing, not because I listened to my childhood aptitude scores (which were ALWAYS higher in math than language). I imagine Writing About Algebra would be a significantly less interesting to most people.

A lot of people have the linguistic skill to be "good" at writing. But if that creates a sense of onus in you that you are somehow obligated to write, it's really okay to find something you enjoy more and do that instead. Knit, cook, watch Scrubs, play Fallout, go to wine tastings, read, have blistering hot oral sex (but not blistering oral sex, FFS). Chase your bliss. Do what makes you smile. Follow your passion.

And if your passion is not writing, it's really okay. Really. If you find writing looming over you in the same way as that dental appointment for a deep cleaning, it's really okay to just not do it. (The writing, that is. Skipping a deep cleaning means you'll need bridge work when you're 45 or something.) Just because Mrs. Klerpeinski-Winters told you in fifth grade that you have "talent" after you turned in that ten page Easter story (about the kid who accidentally killed the Easter Bunny and had to take over its job of hiding eggs) doesn't mean you are obligated to write. I promise that Mary Jane and half of New York won't get blown up by an explosive pumpkin if you don't write, so this is one "great responsibility" you can just blow off. Trust me no one's going to make you take a bow in front of your class for a long, long time so if it was the attention and the fame you loved, you probably want to get it some other way.

The writers I talk to who have successful creative writing careers or trajectories that are obviously headed towards such, love writing. They just love it. They can't wait to get writing each day.  It is their bliss. It is their passion  It's not that they always love every second of it or never have a part that feels like a chore, but if you ask them what they'd rather be doing next Thursday, they'll probably answer "writing." Even most tech writers, content writers, or internal communications writers, who aren't necessarily writing creatively, often describe profoundly enjoying the writing part of their job. In the same way some people fire up Call of Duty MCXXVIII, they fire up their word processor to get a good session of wordsmithing in.

So...even if you're good at writing--even if you're really, really good--it doesn't mean you have to do it. If it feels like a responsibility, makes you miserable, and looms when incomplete, do something else. YOLO (or something).

And I leave you with One Night in Bangkok which is actually from the musical chess, and is one of the only show tunes to actually rock the top 40.

Check (or checkMATE) out part III- The Search for Sporadic

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Writing Prompt: Significant Detail Eulogy

This writing prompt dovetails with the Significant Detail.  If you are unfamiliar with that concept, you should probably take a look.  As with any writing prompt, don't forget to have fun.  

First read this.  If you can't make out the words on the image, you can Google "You want a physicist to speak at your funeral" or "Aaron Freeman eulogy," and I'm sure you will find the source text.  This is a completely viral meme.  In fact, chances are, you've actually seen it before.

This image (and dozens like it) are impossible to attribute.
If this is your image, let me know who to give credit to, or if you'd like me to take it down.
This not only rocks beyond the telling of it, but it is a very powerful example of how significant detail works in characterization.  By deciding how a focalizer observes the world--which details they will notice and which they won't and what words they they will use to frame those details--the writer not only describes the event or person that is the subject of the description, but also the character acting as the observer.  Here we see a beautiful, poignant description of death and even some mourning family described, but also a crisp description of the physicist and how they see the world.

Prompt- You can generate a character for this, but you will probably have an easier time with an existing one that is dear to you.  If you do generate a new character, really flesh them out in your head before you do any writing.

Have your character give a eulogy about someone close to them who has died.  Using a second "known" character may help to make this eulogy more concrete and less cliche sentimentality.  Don't just do the "to know them was to love them" stuff, but describe some specific characterizing events in the deceased's life.  But make sure you describe these events through the filter of the one giving the eulogy. The way they describe the events should characterize not only the person they are eulogizing, but also the speaker themselves.

Doubled spaced pages can be read out loud at roughly one minute per page, so your eulogy should be 4-6 pages double-spaced.  (1000-1500 words)

If you're enjoying this blog, and would like to see more articles like this one, the writer is a guy with a rent and insurance to pay who would love to spend more time writing. Please consider contributing to My Patreon. As little as $12 a year (only one single less-than-a-cup-of-coffee dollar a month) will get you in on backchannel conversations, patron-only polls, and my special ear when I ask for advice about future projects or blog changes.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hitler Doesn't Want to Write Every Day

I'm just having some silly fun here.

Props where they're due.  I used a Make Your Own Hitler Video meme generator that can be found here.


Chris Brecheen's Fortune Cookie Wisdom for Writers Part III

 Prior fortune cookies of wisdom
When we consider that fields like anthropology, linguistics, and psycholinguistics are only beginning to discover just how much language shapes (and limits) our worldview, and how the connection between language and culture is so strong that it may not even be realistic to consider them separate things, it becomes very comforting that language changes and evolves--sometimes even quickly.  No matter how the purists grouse about words having meanings and needing a standard of communication, I would feel much worse living in a world where we couldn't culturally change because our language literally held back our ability to imagine new concepts.  We have difficulty enough with social equality's oftentimes glacial progress.

Never stop reading.

The fact that the arguments over a particular grammar rule are basically identical to the arguments for whether the toilet paper should go over or under is very telling to me.  ("How I learned it/I was taught," "Most people with sense agree with me," "It just makes sense," and of course, "Here is a source I found that verifies my position.")

Those guys that get together once a week and play baseball don't wonder why they're not in the majors.  If you only write a few hours a week, and that makes you happy that's fine; just don't turn around and wonder why you're not a world-famous novelist.

The internet is amazing, but it has limits. The internet gives us data. Data is merely information of any quality good or bad. Information is not knowledge. And knowledge is definitely not wisdom. Our predilection to call the modern era the information age is, in this context, very revealing.

There are going to be days where writing feels less like flying and more like crashing--like you're flying straight towards the ground at mach II.  But as long as you don't hit the bottom...just keep writing.

Just keep writing.  Just keep writing.  Just keep writing writing writing.  What do we do?  We write, write, write.

When you realize that arguing about grammar comes across in exactly the same way as arguing about manners, it's easier to be compassionate. Once you understand that everyone just learned things things differently (probably from a teacher who insisted on one way) and are simply starting from different points, it's easier to understand. Context and compassion are key.

When you (really) stop seeing writing as a path to fame and fortune, some very interesting things will start to happen.

Imagine yourself as a successful writer for a moment.  Go ahead.  Do it.  Did you do it? What did it look like? If you didn't actually imagining yourself WRITING, you might want accolades more than you love the act itself. If you imagined a book signing or putting up your feet on an Ottoman in the den of your mansion, or negotiating the movie rights with Hollywood moguls, you might consider that THAT is actually what you want and there are probably easier ways to get it than writing. Most serious writers I've ever talked to (pre or post success) say that their vision of "making it" means they can quit a day job and write more.

There might not be any real shortcuts, but there are many, many, MANY ways to prolong your journey.

No matter how much of an asshole you think the grammar wanks are being, you still have to learn grammar to be a writer. And that probably means you're going to be in a position to BE the asshole at some point. (Grammar jokes can be funny when your world is language.) Just think hard before you make those jokes at anyone's expense.  Remember how it felt when people were pedants to YOU.

If you pick up the right book, a person who walked the Earth years, decades, even centuries ago is, in a very real way, speaking directly to you from across space and time. Their exact words in your head....  It gives me chills just to think about it.

Thoreau was right.  Proceed confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Though, having a sugar parent helps.

More fortune cookie wisdom 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Twizzlefizzlepop: Book Recomendificationer Extraordinaire

Hello there you fine, fine readers of Writing About Writing.  My name is Twizzlefizzlepop and I'm a 85th level Gnome.  I once called myself a pimp but it turns out that's a little on the misogynistic side so now I'm a Recomendificationer.

You might be asking yourself what the hell I'm doing here on Writing About Writing.  Well, I'll tell you.

Somewhere around level thirteen, when I was spending talent points to reduce the cool-down on my "Backhand Slap" ability, I discovered a bit of a problem with my choice to be a book "pimp."  See, I'm a feminist.  (In fact, I've changed the name of that particular power to "Back Handed Compliment of Doom" because I don't like the linguistic patriarchal overtones that a woman can't even set reasonable boundaries in her life in a way that is considered bold or assertive for men or that any level of physical abuse is okay whether it is back handed or not.)  I have the radical assumption that women are equal.  I've been pwned by way too many pink pigtailed Necromancers in Warsing Gully not to know that.

So I decided to recomendificate books instead.  Don't worry, I won't recomendificate classic literature. I did that back when I was taking candles from Gnolls near my starting city. And pimping out a book that's all the rage or has been made into a movie is no more a challenge than killing 50 Young Tigerlings for That Ernest Hemingway Anagram dude. No, I need more of a challenge. I'm going to recomendify books you may not even have heard of.  New books.  Unsung books. Debut authors. Books that are worthy of my level 85 recomendificationizing skills.

Leela Bruce is on Walkabout

Dear Writing About Writing Readers,

Our esteemed guest blogger Leela Bruce has gone on a Kung Fu style walk about.  Leela was pretty close with Lt. Lambaste as they both did a lot of ass kicking and liked to compare notes, so her death hit Leela pretty hard.  In fact, Leela's eulogy at the Lieutenant's wake was moving.  ("Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels....her's was the most.......human.")  Leela really hoped that she and Lt. Lambaste were going to help Writing About Writing pass the Bechdel test.

Her last words to me before leaving were particularly poignant: "I'll find your next guest blogger, Brecheen," she said.  "I'm not going to be the only woman in your fucking sausagefest."

I nearly wept.

Anyway, I'm taking the time to set up Twizzlefizzlepop who will make semi-regular appearances, but is not a full fledged guest blogger.  And there may need to be some cosmetic changes to incorporate W.A.W.'s growing content.  So if you see some things changing throughout the day, it's just me fiddling with the knobs.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Mailbox: Why Don't You Become a "Real Writer"?

You're pretty snotty about MFA programs. Are you afraid to become a real writer?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer them each Thursday as long as I have enough to do.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox.  And if you write me bitchy little anonymous torpedos, it will be, as they say, "so on".]  

Anonymous writes:

You're pretty snotty about your disdain for MFAs in Creative Writing and the literary world.  Is that because we're real writers and you're not?  Are you jealous?  Are you afraid that if you tried to apply for an MFA program, you wouldn't even be accepted, never mind getting published if you had to face *GASP* a gatekeeper.[?] 

My Reply:

[Remember, I'm NOT anti-MFA. I'm really not. But when anonymous asscrumpets from the with-us-or-against-us brigade basically beg me to go to the mat, I've got some game.]

You know...if you had signed this, or had the courage to take responsibility for it in some way, I might have tried to slather some aloe vera all over this burn you gave me before replying to you, but I've been sick for nearly a week, I spiked a fever Tuesday night and since you decided to take a callow anonymous snipe, I'm not going to feel bad about unleashing the full fury of my crankypants. You will learn what apparently even an advanced degree among your own kind has not yet taught you: writers can be vicious if annoyed. I will not be kindly setting aside my writing persona to offer a sincere, conscientious reply.  Oh no. I'm turning this bad boy up to eleven.

So let's take your first question: "Is that because we're real writers and you're not?"

I realize that you're surrounded by people who are very busy sleeping with each other and attending every literary event they can find where there is free wine from a box, so you might have some slightly skewed perceptions about what your writing life is going to be like after graduation, but exactly what, to your mind, makes a writer "real"?

I wake up every morning and start writing. I write for four to six hours. Then I go about the business of my day, cleaning the house, reading, and maybe playing a video game or something.  Twice a week during the school season I go to teach English and ESL for night school at a community college, but every other evening involves a couple more hours of revision. Periodically, I will spend entire days in front of my keyboard.

I have passed my 10,000 hours more than three times over.  Much (but not all) of my writing in the last year has gone into this blog.  Writing About Writing is coming up on its first birthday and there are 417 posts averaging about 2-3 pages each.  If this were a book, it would be the length of War and Peace (and drafted in just under a year--suck it Tolstoy!). It wouldn't be as GOOD as War and Peace, but it would be as long.  I have also been tooling away on some fiction manuscripts when I'm not working on the blog.

Picture of me holding paycheck has been replaced
with a picture of just the amount part.
JUST in case the routing number or account number might
be something I don't want a picture of online.
This is a picture of a paycheck sent to me by Google for the ad revenue this blog has brought me.  I'm covering up the address to avoid stalkers, but rest assured that the cute groupie kind is welcome to message me privately. It's not much, but added to the "Tip Jar" donations, I could pay a bill. This month, it could even be something like the phone bill. My blog is largely creative in nature, including bloggers whose existence is somewhat questionable and events that may not have happened quite exactly the way I said them--like interdimensional wars and stuff.  Mostly it is what I want to write. It is not what someone else wants me to write. What this means is that I have made actual money from creative writing.

This is a picture of my analytics for the life of the blog.  As you can see, hundreds of people stop by every day. On really good days, I break a thousand. Eighty thousand people have come by my blog since I started it. I have articles on Stumbleupon with thousands of "likes" and by tracking my analytics I can tell you that I have lots of return readers and lots of people who find my site and then stay to poke around rather than immediately leaving.  If you look at a graph of my analytics, they look like a mountain that people would climb to prove how awesome they are. My fiction pieces, Falling From Orbit and Penumbra, have been read by hundreds.

So, let's take an inventory. I write every day, I'm read by thousands, and I'm even starting to make a little tiny bit of money at it.  So here is my question back to you, Anonymous:
Seriously? What bellwether? What yardstick? How are you defining this phrase "real writer" that I don't measure up? Is the self-congratulatory circle jerk within the Ivory Tower so cloistered that you've managed to actually convince yourself that your average grad student is the unsung literary hero of the writing world and that all other writers aren't "real"? Or is there actually some secret handshake definition you use that I'm missing like, "must use prose rhythm about being gay in as banal a world as possible and publish in a literary review" that I have failed to meet?

Your next question: "Are you jealous?"

Are you the creator of How I Met Your Mother (the early seasons), for you are making me laugh.

I've talked to a lot of MFA program faculty over the years, and asked about their program's success in generating writers who go on to some measure of success with writing. They all say the same thing. (After hemming and hawing and telling me about how they really teach "critical thinking within the field of humanities that come into play in any job" and "conveying the aesthetic of high artistic integrity" and something about "you should study what you love and let the rest fall into place".) The numbers are abysmal. Unless you're in a program like Iowa City, Ann Arbor, Madison, Brown, Cornell or some other program on the short list of awesomesauce, the number of writers who will go on to make a career from creative writing is something like one in every four or five batches of graduates. Not one in every four or five students, mind you. One person in every four or five graduating classes. 1% would be a Scrooge-on-Christmas-morning generous estimate. It's more like half a percent...or less. With programs LIKE Iowa and Ann Arbor, it is difficult to claim correlation proves causation as their programs are so hard to get into, it requires some pretty fierce dedication to writing and self-selection bias just to be there.

Fuck, the faculty at SFSU are still bragging about Anne Rice. She graduated before most of them even got there.

Lots of students publish a short story or two (I'm told that number is roughly around 25%) and a few even publish a single novel through small press (which doesn't pay) but very few keep writing after graduation and a fraction of a percentage of MFA graduates ever make money at it. Most take their MFA's and go manage restaurants or sell real estate. Many end up writing in some other capacity like freelance writing or tech writing, but not creative writing. Some get into the Creative Writing field as publishers, editors, or literary events managers but do very little of their own writing. A few will try to get into academia where they will compete with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of their peers for a single position. They will then struggle to be faculty instead of lecturer and make tenure essentially by outlasting their colleagues in a years long endurance race where they must tolerate the intense demands of their position teaching undergrads while making less than the janitors. They will be tested against each other in various "Survivor-esque" trials like power ass kissing and how fast they can tell undergrads that science fiction isn't real literature. They will also be up against a flood of recent graduates of the newly formed PhD of Creative Writing programs that are starting to pop up, so they may not even be considered to have the terminal degree appropriate to teach college within a few more years.

The average MFA publishes "a couple" of short stories, and I am assured that this is very much an average as most MFA students publish nothing (just wanting to get their degree and get out) and the occasional student publishes several. These are usually submitted to literary journals, which are prestigious publications with fierce gatekeepers who make Cerberus look cute and fluffy.  These journals are mostly purchased by other MFA students, graduates, proud mothers, and supportive friends and are very much "literary" in focus.  Esoteric would be a kind word. "Experimental or Avant Guarde" is more common. You can imagine what it's called outside the very insular world of literary fiction. I kind of like it myself, in small doses, but it's easy to see why it doesn't have much mainstream appeal. It is not because of the myth that there's no money in good writing either, as the sales for Catcher in the Rye or Catch 22 can attest to.

A good literary magazine will have a circulation of 2000-2500. Most are actually even smaller. A few are bigger, but those are very difficult to get published in. Usually you find that it is faculty of other institutions (not graduate students) publishing in them. They do this to keep up their publication requirements where they teach. Occasionally it is graduates who are still writing. The reviews most grad students get published in have even more modest numbers. And while it is a kick to see one's name in print, these journals often lose money for the universities where they are published, and are mostly considered to be a learning experience for the editors and staff rather than a revenue stream for the college. The literary magazine for which I was managing editor considered it a kick ass semester if they could keep their losses to only three figures. No one gets paid for submitting to these kinds of journals. Ever. Usually they get something like three to five copies of the journal itself. All these journals really give the writer is the promise of exposure and something to put on their resume. (And if that sounds vaguely, unsettlingly familiar, it's because it's the same thing people say when they don't want to actually pay freelancers.)

I would have to have published 64 stories in the last year into some fairly decent journals to get as many readers as I've had on Writing About Writing. (I'll assume that every proud mom and and supportive friend of all the other authors still read the lit mag cover to cover if you'll assume that everyone who stopped by my site for a herpes picture search read an entire article--each seems equally implausible.) That's more than one successful submission every week.  Most MFA's are feeling pretty writerly if they earn themselves a rejection slip a month. A REJECTION slip, mind you. But, by all means, please let me know if a thousand people a day are reading your work (and not just the folks who will fail the class if they don't).

Most publishers will gleefully tell you they have absolutely no interest in the CV of a writer. None. They are interested in the writing itself and maybe past publication. This isn't like professional theater where the question isn't IF you have an MFA, but rather where you got it from. An MFA will not raise anyone's chances of getting published. And, in fact, many MFA's who do go on to writing success will tell you the MFA itself was pretty damned useless to them beyond just the continued structured writing practice, something most writers need to learn to do for themselves at some point anyway.

If all that doesn't convince you, I have written a list of reasons NOT to get an MFA in Creative Writing. Please feel free to take a gander at it if you still have some sort of doubt about how much my heart really, REALLY does not yearn to be fettered to most MFA programs.

Oh my goodness lord, I almost forgot. An MFA is about $30,000 (on average) and takes two to three years at minimum.

So...I have more people reading me by an order of magnitude.  I'm a year into my career efforts instead of a year into a 2-3 year degree that will probably produce nothing more than an unpublishable thesis in a genre I don't enjoy and no actual job prospects.  And I am up by roughly $30,000 bucks.

Oh wait...$30,000 plus a cell phone bill, actually. My bad.

So am I jealous?  No.  No, I am not.

Am I afraid of gatekeepers?  No.  Mostly I feel sorry for them, for their power is in rapid decline but they're still acting like...well important gatekeepers. Some have managed to walk into the new century and make careers that even involve these newfangled internet contraptions, but many still seem to think that writers have no back alleys or cobblestone paths around those gates they're so busy keeping, so they can be as eccentric and anachronistic as they want. And when they get port rounded by something like The Martian, or Cory Doctorow, they scratch their heads...again....and again...and again. They aren't noticing that electronic media are changing everything and are acting exactly like the music industry did about ten years ago when they thought they could do anything they wanted.   Some of these fucking fossiles won't take submissions electronically or update their websites OR EVEN KNOW THEIR OWN SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.

I made a very deliberate decision to approach writing in a way that factored in the many changes to the industry that are happening RIGHT NOW.  I listened closely to the cutting edge people explain how market shares were shifting into e-publishing, electronic readers and multimedia, and paid a lot of attention to how the old guard sounded as they denied the changes. ("Oh, I don't publish my writers on Kindle. Who would want a book they couldn't smell?" Then later: "Well...sales are down. People just don't read as much anymore!") And what the new guard said. ("Well if you account for Kindle sales, up to 20% of the market and growing, book sales are actually up from five years ago.") I heard cutting edge publishers talking about how zines were not the stigma of a decade ago, and many writers lament that it is actually their worst work, rather than their best, that readers will find from Googling their name. And I listened to several people tell me about marketing in the new world through electronic media. It wasn't fear that motivated me to start a blog. It was a very deliberate, "maximum yield" calculation.

Honestly it's more like I have 80,000 gatekeepers now. My art is out there and people can either love it or hate it without any ONE person ever having to decide if it's going to make money and/or advance their personal aesthetic of good art. No one approved it before it went out, but sometimes that means there's no real quality control either. I get feedback--good and bad--from all over the country and even the world. And if you think that any gatekeeper, who can still maintain a semblance of professional decorum while rejecting something, would be as uncivil and juvenile as, say, a nasty anonymous comment asking me if I'm jealous of "real writers," you would be very, very wrong. I am ten times more nervous about anonymous comments than submission replies. That shit stings.

As to your last question:  Am I afraid that I wouldn't be accepted into an MFA?

No. I'm not. I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a 3.94, so I could probably get into most graduate programs with a couple of cleaned up stories, and I even have a few from my undergrad efforts that aren't "nasty genre" that I could revise and have professionally edited for my portfolio. I already teach too, so I could probably even get a fellowship and not have to cover so much of the cost myself. No, that's not what I'm afraid of.

What I'm afraid of is that I would be bored...for the entire three years. I would be bored by workshops where people haven't really read my work (and then only because it's required for the class--not because they wanted to). Bored by the fact that I'm grouped up with readers not by mutual interest or writing style, but by where I chose to sit on the first day of class or my last name. Bored by the transparent ways in which people who simply don't have a taste for what I'm writing, and try to twist it to be more like what THEY'RE writing. Bored by the homogeneous writing that is being produced in MFA programs today that somehow manages to be linguistically "experimental" and still all alike when it comes to tropes and cliches. Bored by the hyperfocus on language and character and disdain for plot and setting.  Bored by tiptoeing around departmental pedagogy that forbids genre fiction despite its considerable merit. Bored by how the hazing process for Creative Writing faculty is so long and difficult and filled with such sycophancy that the end result becomes cookie cutter faculty with no real fresh blood or ideas. Bored by being told what to write and precisely how to write it rather than simply being given skills to write anything I please at a higher quality level. Bored by spending two to three years in a program that won't actually give me a skill set that might improve my chances of employment. Bored by being told what I ought to like rather than the tools to make my own informed decisions in that matter. Bored by the elitism of people who think that because they're not commercially successful, it somehow makes them better writers. And mostly bored by people like you, who have their heads so far up the asses of this arrogant, elitist, circle jerk mentality that they think they're in a position to decide what makes for a "real writer."

Hope that answers your questions.

If you're enjoying this blog, and would like to see more articles like this one, the writer is a guy with a rent and insurance to pay who would love to spend more time writing. Please consider contributing to My Patreon. As little as $12 a year (only one single less-than-a-cup-of-coffee dollar a month) will get you in on backchannel conversations, patron-only polls, and my special ear when I ask for advice about future projects or blog changes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Random Creative Writing Terms Beginning With the Letter L

Random Creative Writing Terms Beginning with J and K

Creative Writing Terms- A-E
Creative Writing Terms- F-J

Lead Time- The time between an article's submission and it's publication.  This may be a very important bit of information for seasonal or other time sensitive articles.  No one will read an article about this years officially designated cut off points for "proper" and "whorish" skirt lengths in late September, and your definitive rating system of all the pumpkin spiced foodstuffs offered in the entire tri-state area will be less awesome in March.

Limerick- A short, five-line poem usually of anapestic meter with a strict aabba rhyme scheme.    It usually follows a pentameter (but with anapests) for the A lines and bimeter with the B lines, though often it is enough simply to have the B lines be shorter.  Limericks often have sexual or at least humorous subject matter.

There once was a horny young blogger
Who gave up his dream to kill Hogger
He envisioned a fan
Who'd find him quite a man
And would scream not if he wanted to snog her

Linguistics- The study of structure and variation within language, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, and pragmatics.  It's two principle approaches are descriptive and prescriptive.  Descriptive linguistics focuses on how a language is used and prescriptive linguistics focuses on how language should be used.  It is extremely important for a writer to understand both approaches and why they are important.  A prescriptive grasp of linguistics (and grammar) is important given how much of the world, including many gatekeepers, will judge a writer's writing ability according to how many errors they make.  Descriptive linguistics is important, however, to not come across like a sanctimonious religious asshole.  Plus, honestly, most creatives are more interested in playing with language than being helplessly constrained by it.  They bend and break the rules for effect.  (Which should never be confused with not KNOWING the rules.) Stridently prescriptive writers tend to be better suited to editing and non-creative forms of writing.

Literary-  Technically this means nothing more than "of or related to a body of written works of a language, period, or culture," but it has come to mean so much more among the humanities trenches of academia where the really important battles are fought--battles like what books people who are really cultured and sophisticated ought to be reading.  (And those other departments waste their time on cold fusion and social injustice!)  Though literary sommeliers and the ivory tower (which we are using to symbolize a giant white man's penis, you understand) would like to think that "literary" is a term that applies to a work's quality, regardless of content, they have an unreasonable prejudice towards genre fiction, which they make no effort to hide, despite the fact that it comprises much of the canon.  They defend this prejudice staunchly, though it has no more logic than declaring all impressionism and abstract art to be "not real".  Despite the claim that theirs is a quest merely for literary quality, they are blind to the tropes and cliches of their offerings and how it forms its own genre in much the same way that mainstream culture sometimes isn't aware of itself or how people have trouble hearing their own accents.  Writers like Poe, Wells, Orwell, and more recently Marquez, Ishiguro, and Murakami actually require them to invent new sub-genres in order to keep soft-shoeing and jazz handing through their backpedal.

Creative Writing Terms Beginning with M

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Writer is Sick

I may have to finish and post today's article a little later in the week.  Unsupportive Girlfriend read my mailbox about her and decided to retaliate by getting sick, pretending to be Supportive Girlfriend (which is easy since they look identical), and peppering me with millions of influenza infected kisses.

I have to admit, I never thought she'd stoop to biological warfare.

Normally I would just write sick, but fever is an issue with this particular nasty bug and my wordsmithy is less than awesome when my brain is cooking in its own juices.  So I will spare you all a bout of struggling with incoherence.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

LAST Quarterfinal Round of the Ultimate BEST SciFi/Fantasy Series Poll

Now for the last quarterfinal round in the definitive Best SciFi/Fantasy poll here on Writing About Writing.

Here are the results of the first quarterfinal round.

Here are the results of the second quarterfinal round.

Here are the results of the third quarterfinal round.

This will be the last quarterfinal round poll.  I'm also only going to run this poll until the end of the month before I close it.  Many of the write-in suggestions do not seem to be generating the kind of interest that the more mainstream entries did.  I love letting everyone write ideas in (and I have suggestions for great reading for probably years to come) but as things get more "geeksoteric" they are less interesting to all.  Our most recent poll had a fraction of the votes of the one with more recognizable titles.

It's my fault for having all the mainstream titles on the first two polls and all the write in titles on the second two.  I will fix that in the semifinals by mixing and matching our write ins with the "internet's picks".  But, I'd like to get there as soon as possible.  So vote soon!

Technically there are a couple of slots for write in suggestions remaining (they will be "dark horse" additions to the semifinals) but mostly the write in portion of the uberpoll is over.  I think I got every write-in suggestion in there at some point.  Whew!  I'll only add more suggestions if multiple people write in with the same OHMYGODHOWCOULDYOUFORGETSUCHANDSUCH.

The poll is in the usual place down on the left.  As usual, you will get THREE votes, but if you only use one or two, they will be less diluted.

Results of Third Quarterfinal Round for BEST SciFi/Fantasy Series

The third Quarterfinal round poll is closed.  Here are the results.

The series that will go on to the next round are:

Vorkosigan Saga
Foundation Series
Garrett P.I.

It seems that Name of the Wind is actually part of the King Killer Chronicles (which was already on represented) so I'm going to save a single slot for the inevitable cries of OHMYGODHOWCOULDYOUFORGETABOUT from folks who weren't paying attention during the write-in phase of the quarterfinals.

The next poll will be up in an hour or so.  Don't tarry, for it won't be up long.  I was very glad to have write-in submissions and get everyone involved and hear about some of the less mainstream (but truly excellent series), but they haven't generated as much interest, so I'm only going to run the last of the quarterfinal polls until the end of January.  No time to waste!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Introducing Hen Wen

This is Hen Wen.  Everyone say hi.  Hen Wen predicts a good year at Writing About Writing and even though she's a little vague on the specifics, Hen Wen's predictions tend to come true.  I'm cheered by this auspicious portent, even if Hen Wen assures me that my good fortune may mean her terrible demise.

"I love consuming the illusions of value from within your capitalist/consumerist culture."
"I see a Workforce Drop Forged hammer and a lot of litte pieces of piggy bank."
Not a lot of ambiguity here.
You see, Hen Wen believes she has a tragic destiny.  Even though she came equipped with a bottom plug like the new "weak willed" piggy banks, she is here to enact a cliche.  The cliche of saving money.  And all those cliches end with the piggy bank being broken (not simply opened, gutted, and reused).  Hen Wen is oracular and foresees that the end of her days as a cliche might be the most horrible piggy bank cliche of all.

I'm not sure about her predictions, but I hope, for her sake, there's some "dead zone" in her vision that might make this story have a better ending.  Perhaps, as has become the saving grace for other famous pigs, I will make so much money due to Hen Wen that the idea of her death becomes abhorrent to me and I will fling myself into the path of the oncoming hammer like....well, like every self-sacrifice in a movie movie from 1995 to 2005.

"Reach into my box, Chris.
Wait, that didn't sound right."

"Stuff me in my slit, Chris.
Wait, that didn't sound right either."

Why did Hen Wen come to me in the first place?  Well, the story starts with my Financial Pledge.  I promised everyone that ten percent of all proceeds would be reinvested in the blog.  Webdesign at first, perhaps one day a web domain and a Wordpress site.  And if it ever get a steady income stream, I might one day try to actually hire a copyeditor.  If I could just make a a hundred billion dollars from Writing About Writing, this site would be so fucking fly you guys would like be asked in a soft female voice what you'd like to look at.  And that's only if you didn't get the latest computer with the mind reading suction cups.

But at this point, none of those things is on the table because I haven't made enough to do any of them. But I did make make enough to save $13.50 when I got my first paycheck from Google.  I was so excited about this that after I wet myself, I decided to save a whole $20.00.  

"Stick it in me, Chris!
Wait, that didn't sound right."
Despite appearances, I do not have a tumor on my lower lip,
but I am, in fact, sticking out my tongue.
(My lack of hair has NOTHING to do with "evil Chris."  Nothing.)
But I couldn't just open an account.  I couldn't just stick it in a special place.  I needed to embrace a money saving cliche as a cheap gimmick to put on the blog.

And so Supportive Girlfriend heard my cry and enlisted the computer expertise of Uberdude, and they took advantage of this place called "Amazon" which not only produces great rivers and Wonder Woman, but also just about anything you could possibly want--including cliche pink piggy banks.

Now I have a place to put all the 10%'s until they add up to an actual amount large enough to hire some kind of web designer.

("I was actually saying, 'Shove it in me, big boy,' but that didn't sound right.")

Here's to many more $20 bills, and when we've saved enough, a blog that isn't so shoestring.

Since I'm a complete sellout, I will let you know that you can get your own Hen Wen wannabe bank delivered to your door.  (They are actually kind of hard to find--especially ones that are just pink.)  However, unlike Hen Wen, any Hen Wen knock offs will have cheerful smiley pig faces since none of them are gloomily contemplating their own hammer-filled end.