Fiction School

Fiction School
Check out the podcast I host with two other writing professors

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sunglas Hickeys?

About a week ago, I got the following message:

“jody, i've thought of something that needs a word, and for some reason i just can't think of anything that would fit. have you ever taken off your sunglasses only to find those little red indented lines underneath? horrifying, i know, but i think it's just about time that somebody came up with a word for them...and i know your the only woman for the job.
i believe in you. we all do. don't let us down.”

I feel so honored to be trusted with this charge. I have to admit, though, I’m stumped. I mean she’s totally right; we really do need a word for this phenomenon. It’s like discovering I’m a superhero, then failing miserably on my first mission.

So far I’ve come up with the following candidates:

Prong punctures
Shade marks
Sunglass hickeys

I don’t know, though. Somehow none of the above quite satisfies my yen for the perfect neologism. Help me! We all know what she’s talking about, we all know there should be a word, but what is it?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Before I say anything, I just have to point out that Stephenie Meyer held me captive for 754 pages with her latest book in the Twilight saga, so criticizing her storytelling seems a bit petty. I mean when you can’t put a book down, it means something, and I have to recognize Meyer for her gifts as a writer. Getting sucked in doesn’t mean every sentence is exquisitely rendered, but it does mean that the book itself has seized your imagination, and we readers of fiction value that above almost anything, right?

Okay, from here on out don’t read if you haven’t finished it and intend to, because this will be full of spoilers. All of my disclaimers aside, Breaking Dawn left me mildly bummed. Renesmee the super-baby didn’t do much for me, and the thought of Jacob imprinting with her of all people seemed…kind of creepy. I mean I guess the wolf-imprinting thing is supposed to be vaguely romantic in a love-at-first-sight sense, but when you’ve got a super hot, virile young guy trailing after a baby who is locked into being his mate someday, that just smacks of pedophilia-crossed-with-arranged-marriage, no? Like I know Jake wasn’t looking at Renesmee in a sexual way, but still…. Giving up the exquisite (though torturous) tension of the Bella-Edward-Jacob love triangle in favor of Jacob-imprints-on-her-baby really drained Jacob of his appeal for me.

Also, as someone pointed out to me on myspace in her comments, Bella really didn’t feel like Bella through much of the book. To me she seemed almost…middle-aged. Obviously she went through two major changes that altered her radically: she had a kid and became a vampire. After that, I just couldn’t even connect her with the Bella of earlier books very easily. Her face changed in my mind—her whole vibe changed. Obviously character transformation is part of what keeps the plot moving, but I found this leap a little too extreme, and they became separate characters in my mind (old Bella vs. new Bella).

I have mixed feelings about the final showdown. I loved seeing Vamp Bella channeling her rage and being powerful, so that totally worked for me, even though (as I said) it was such a different Bella that it hardly seemed like a victory for the Bella of old. Alice providing a loophole at the eleventh hour (ala Merchant of Venice) was kind of satisfying, but also a touch anti-climactic. I mean I’m not a habitually violent person, but let’s face it: we’d spent so many pages building up to this, it was almost impossible not to feel cheated when there wasn’t a full on battle. I know, I know, give peace a chance, but I guarantee that if they make Breaking Dawn into a movie it won’t end the way the book did. Film producers know better. Once you’ve stacked up the protagonist-antagonist tension like that, a frenzied battle (at least a quick one) is the only way to have a real catharsis. That might be pandering to our more base instincts, but I can’t see any way around it when you set it up in that way.

I could go on, but as I said, I hate to be petty and pick away at the loose threads. Meyer has a crazy gift for creating a world you just want to burrow into. Her skill at developing characters that feel so real and vivid is astounding. It’s precisely because of this gift that readers like me get so attached to characters like Jake; his fate really mattered to me, so when his happy ending wasn’t what I imagined for him, it bummed me out. That’s a testimony to Meyer’s storytelling, and for that I have to thank her.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I'll Take Jake

So Breaking Dawn, the fourth book in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, hits stores Saturday, right? Although I know I’m in the minority here, I’ve got to add my vote to the fever-pitch riot of opinions popping up all over the internet about Edward and Jacob.

For those who haven’t read it, the series features a love triangle of sorts. We’ve got Bella, the main character, choosing between the stately, traditional, impeccably polite vampire, Edward, and this grease monkey kid from the rez, Jacob who, through no fault of his own, happens to be a werewolf. I know, it all sounds insipid to outsiders, but somehow Meyers makes it work.

The point to all of this is that I love Jacob, man. He’s funny, hot blooded, sweet and raw. He’s torn, faded Levi’s to Edward’s tuxedo. And let’s face it: I’m a sucker for a bad boy.

Although I’ve had mixed feelings about the series and about Bella as a protagonist, I’ve got to say I found it all compulsively readable. I never read a single word of the Harry Potter books, thus effectively missing out on a major cultural movement, so it’s been kind of cool to accidentally get swept up in this one.

My central theory about why the Twilight saga works so well is this: girls want to be worshipped. I know I do. Whenever I feel the slightest complacency from my boyfriend I’m like, “Listen, babe, I’m just not feeling the worship.” Bella’s insecure and clumsy, she’s totally human, yet she’s got two incredible, supernatural hotties worshipping her no matter what she does. Who can resist that fantasy?

I know I’m in the minority when it comes to loving Jake. Come on Cullen-heads, bring it on!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Writer Wanted: Must be Chronically Irresponsible

There are many things to adore about being a writer. One of the chief delights is the license it gives you to do just about anything and call it research. Have the yen to travel erratically, indulge in unhealthy vices, fall in and out of love? Do this as a regular Joe and you’ll be labeled frivolous; do it in the name of art and you’re just…well, a writer. It’s the perfect excuse to stay immature and impulsive forever.

In particular, novelists and playwrights get off scot-free on this score. Nobody expects you to be logical or methodical when your job description reads “must tell colorful lies.” An acquaintance of mine writes for the New York Times and several prestigious science publications. She obviously has to be a bit more grown up, since people count on her to deliver hard facts. I, on the other hand, am only expected to deliver entertainment. It’s the difference between a nutritionist and an inventor of ice cream flavors.

I just got back from a business trip that included visiting the American Library Association conference in Anaheim. I dedicated all of three hours to the conference, most of which I spent eating ice cream with my editor. The rest of the time I was at the beach. Well, why not? A crowded beach in the summertime is a writer’s dream laboratory; it’s overflowing with opportunities for clinical observation. There are so many conversations to overhear, fashion disasters to note, smells to smell, not to mention the wealth of memories any one of these stimuli can unleash. Really, it’s research of the highest sort—participant observation. Just call me the Jane Goodall of Huntington Beach.

On the way home, my boyfriend Dave and I got distracted by a seedy little surf town. We ended up staying several days in Pismo Beach, which charmed us with its incredible waves and offbeat characters. As a California native, I found it astounding that I’d never even been to this funky surfers’ enclave. It was totally stuck in the eighties with its arcades, saltwater taffy, and astounding lack of Starbucks. It was the perfect place for a couple dreamy-eyed hipsters to spend two totally unplanned days frolicking in the surf and eating cheap, decadent foods only people on vacation can justify.

Except we weren’t on vacation, remember? We were working.

When we got there, the surfers were taking to the water en masse. It was going off, as Dave would say, and barefoot boys with ratty blonde hair were steering bikes with one hand, gripping boards with the other as they pedaled toward the sand. We’d been stuck in the car most of the day, battling LA traffic to meet with my agent in Beverly Hills, then battling smug Malibu locals in search of just the right break. At last, with the sun melting like a messy yolk into the hills, we’d found our Nirvana. The only thing left was to score a cheap room.

“Do you offer corporate rates?” I asked the woman at the desk. I’d just stumbled on this concept that day by accident; apparently, people traveling on business under the blessing of a corporation can get rooms for about half what the tourists pay. Since my writing business just went corporate, I figured it was worth a shot.

The desk clerk peered over her spectacles at me. “You’re here on business?” she asked, a sour note creeping into her voice.

Her skepticism was hardly surprising. I was wearing a stained tank-top, flip flops, and my hair was so windblown I looked like a troll doll after too many twirls; Dave was already halfway into his wetsuit, impatiently craning his neck, looking past her to the glorious swell. We hardly fit the corporate profile.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m here on business.”

“What company do you work for, exactly?” Her eyebrow was so cocked it had mostly disappeared beneath her bangs.

“Myself.” I added, a little sheepishly, “I’m a writer.”

And that was that. We got our half-price room, which had a postage stamp-sized balcony and a screen door that never worked. I bought a used beater board with a couple dings—from close encounters with sharks, I like to think. We held our corporate meetings in the frothy waves or conked out on the sand or drinking pitchers of beer at the greasy pizzeria on the corner.

And it was totally legit. In fact, corporate America never felt so good.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Finally, I'm getting to the Werewolves and Mermaids

I read this really interesting article once in the New York Times about how every decade has a monster du jour—like a mythical creature that rears its ugly head in pop culture, then dies down so a new one can take its place. If memory serves, the article said the 70s favored mummies, 80s were all about werewolves, the 90s were vampires, and the new millennium thus far has been wild for zombies.

The author presented various theories about why this is, the details of which escape me now, but basically he implied that certain eras favor certain monsters because the creature speaks to us right then—it becomes the mascot for our unconscious thoughts and desires. For example, he argued that zombies are hot now because brain-dead consumerism and mind-numbing jobs make us feel like zombies, so we gravitate toward books and movies that speak to that.

Of course, some monsters just won’t die. I heard from a publishing insider that five or six years ago most editors were convinced that vampires were dead; Anne Rice had milked that trend to its limit, and the bloodsucking icon no longer had any selling power. Then Stephanie Myer came along with the Twilight saga and they had to admit they were dead wrong (ouch! Those dead/undead puns are just so bad! Forgive me…)

Lately I’m flirting with the idea of writing fantasy, or at least incorporating more magic into my realism. I’ve developed a certain yen for whimsical monsters of all sorts—werewolves, zombies, vampires, you name it—but my real love is mermaids. I wrote a story once in graduate school that featured a mermaid, and though one pretty out there girl totally dug it, most of my workshop classmates were like, “Jesus, what were you thinking?” Alarmed by their disdain, I backed off the mermaid thing. Now I’m reconsidering.

What do you think? Do you buy the hot-monster-of-the-decade theory, or is that just some New York Times reporter filling space in the Sunday paper? If you do think it’s plausible, any predictions about the decade ahead? Who will be the next Monster of the Moment?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Neologism #3: Fanny Packery

Fanny Packery: noun (fan΄ē pak er ē) 1. Hideous lack of style, epitomized by wearing a fanny pack, though not limited to FP display. Other examples of fanny packery include commenting during movies on the characters’ emotions or motivations, wearing socks with sandals, and cutting one’s hair into any variation on a mullet. 2. Attitudes that express or embody said lack of style. 3. Philosophical stance characterized by caution, practicality and/or fear of the unknown. i.e. Did you hear that dude going off about how a skate park would bring drugs to the neighborhood? Man, that was some serious fanny packery!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Neologism #2: POOPHEMISM

Okay, I’m on to neologism #2 on my summer word-making odyssey.

Preamble to today’s entry: Someday I plan to have my own factory of words, with think tanks filled with bobbing lexiconnoisseurs (thanks, Cory, for that gem!) and high powered business meetings where we feverishly discuss the declining morale of the verb department and strategies for dealing with adjective inflation. This is all just my warm up before I conquer the world with invented language. (Mua-ha-ha-ha!)

POOPHEMISM noun (pōō`fə miz`əm) 1.The substitution of a mild, indirect or vague expression for one thought to be vulgar, especially those related to the excretion of bodily waste. 2. The expression so substituted: “After drinking that triple espresso, I felt a definite knocking on my cellar door.”

Epilogue to today’s entry: My boyfriend and I are experts in poophemisms. I mean lets face it, romance and bowel movements just don’t go together (unless you’re of a particularly marginalized subculture, which we aren’t, okay?). In an effort to communicate about these topics without totally killing the magic, we employ an ever-evolving arsenal of poophemisms.


Me: (barring bathroom door) Man, I wouldn’t go in there right now.
Him: Why not? I have to shave.
Me: Because I just had an enchanted April and it was really enchanted.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Here's word numero uno in my Summer 08 Neologism (i.e. Gehrman-coined word) series. There'll be a new one every week, so stay tuned!

POPTROPICS noun (pop΄trop΄iks)
1. A land filled with beautiful people who dye their hair sorbet hues, display sparkly bellybutton piercings, and have icy beverages surgically attached to their hands. The weather is always eighty degrees, with just enough humidity to make hair dangle in desultory waves but never frizz. The region is also characterized by the constant presence of bad eighties music, remixed and pumped through gargantuan speakers with chest-rattling subwoofers.
2. Representations of such a place, as in film, design, fiction, or bad eighties music.
3. Of or relating to those who inhabit the Poptropics. See also Poptropicarians. (2008; ME Popp, ME tropic, fr. L tropicus, fr. Gk tropikos, fr. trope turn, as in a record)

Monday, May 19, 2008

My Big Summer Plans: Neologisms, Baby!

Okay, so I just started this blog and if you ever read my stuff on myspace or on rocketgirls you’ll have figured out by now that the posts below are somewhat random and recycled. My apologies.

Fret not, though! This is going to be a really cool blog. I plan to post reviews of YA novels and thoughts on the publishing industry (not boring thoughts, though—exclusively interesting thoughts, naturally).

I also want to look into werewolves and mermaids, since I’m toying with the idea of trying out YA fantasy and let’s face it, werewolves and mermaids are like the coolest mythical beings ever, besides zombies and vampires and sirens and stuff like that.

But here’s my big summer challenge: At least once a week (though I’m hoping for once a day) I’m going to create a NEW WORD. The fancy term for that is NEOLOGISM, and I’m going to go neologistic on your ass! (Okay, technically, neologistic isn’t a word—oh, which makes it a neologism, right? In other words, I just made it a word.) If you’re rolling your eyes, believe me, Shakespeare did it all the time, so don’t knock it.

If you have neologistic tendencies, send me your WORDS, man! I want them. I crave them. And yes, I’ll give you credit here, okay? I’m not a neologistic nabber, afterall.

Touring High Schools: Did it Hurt Much When You Fell From Heaven?

A couple weeks ago I did something no one should have to do: I went back to high school. Yeah, I know. Like that dream you’re always having—scratch that, nightmare—where you find yourself sitting in Algebra, naked from the waist down, totally clueless about the spelling of your own name, let alone quadratic equations. That was me, except I wasn’t dreaming.

I was promoting my first Young Adult novel, CONFESSIONS OF A TRIPLE SHOT BETTY. Standing there regaling my audience with Tales from the Writing Life, I cringed as they cracked their gum, yawned, and smirked at each other mercilessly. It was horrifying to face, but the evidence was right there: I wasn’t cool. All my old high school insecurities came back like a swarm of flesh-eating locusts.

Okay, to be totally fair, not all the schools I visited were like that. One was filled with kids so into reading and writing, I left with a serious contact high from their enthusiasm. Others were more like visiting a coma ward.

For these tougher crowds, I passed around a hat and scraps of paper so anyone too shy to ask questions aloud could scribble theirs down and deliver their query anonymously. Any idiot can see where this is headed.

“Okay then,” I said, fishing around in the hat. “Let’s see what we have here.” The first one I pulled out read “Can I stick two fingers in your butt and stroke your balls?”

Apparently, not only had I failed to impart the importance of reading, but (much more crushingly) I hadn’t even conveyed that I am female.

Ahh, well, details, details.

The next scrap of paper was even more cryptic. I read it aloud: “Did it hurt much when you fell from heaven?”

Here I thought I was so well versed in the language and customs of the under-twenty set, and so far one hundred percent of their questions were a total mystery to me.

The third one I more or less understood. It was a drawing, actually. It depicted the prominent feature of male anatomy in a state of excitement. When I showed it to the English teacher afterwards, she nodded. “Yeah,” she said wryly. “We get a lot of those around here.”

Putting the FUNK back in dysfunctional

A number of critics who have reviewed my novels categorize the families I write about as “dysfunctional.” I’m not going to be coy and pretend I don’t know what they mean, but I’m also not entirely sure I agree.

Sure, my characters often find themselves having dinner with their divorced parents and said parents’ bizarre lovers, sometimes with disastrous results. And yes, my characters’ family members often indulge in various forms of substance abuse and (sometimes under the influence of said substances) dole out questionable advice. Still, I’m not sure this makes them “dysfunctional.”

Looking the word up, it’s defined as “(1) impaired or abnormal functioning (gastrointestinal dysfunction) (2) abnormal or unhealthy interpersonal behavior or interaction within a group (family dysfunction).”

I don’t really think the families I depict are all that abnormal. Talk to just about anyone these days about their loved ones and they’ll admit their entire family tree, from the nuclear unit to the ancestral archives, is more or less fucked up. I’d say that makes those of us with a few kinks and eccentricities among our clans more normal (statistically speaking) than abnormal. And anyway, how often do you hear people refer to any family (their own or someone else’s) as “functional”? It brings to mind a home filled with factory workers, well-lubricated cogs in a slick, efficient machine.

I’ll take my offbeat characters—and my beautifully quixotic real-life family—over that sterility any day!

magic leopard coat

I got this really cool leopard print coat at a vintage store in North Beach about a year ago. I’ve been wearing it a lot lately, though I don’t like to make it an everyday thing, since saving it for days when I’m in a particularly feline mood ensures it won’t lose its special occasion sparkle. Also, I’m a very messy girl, and I live in terror of the day when this vintage specimen that’s survived any number of divas before me gets its first coffee stain.

Seriously, that would be tragic.

I’ve noticed that when people see me in it, the cool ones tend to let out a big cat growl and turn their hands into claws. Isn’t that a great way to be greeted? I bought it because at the time I was writing NOTES FROM THE BACKSEAT, a novel about Gwen Matson, a costume designer and vintage clothing store owner who knows how to work leopard print like a mod goddess.

Here’s a little teaser from the book: “It’s widely understood that Gwen only designs for period pieces, and only when the period is somewhere between 1952 and 1963. Everyone’s learned not to even call her unless their show falls between those dates; otherwise, their Juliets always end up looking suspiciously like Jackie O.”

Anyway, back to my magic leopard coat. Wouldn’t it be so fab to find out who owned it before me? It’s from Paris supposedly (at least, that’s what the shop owner told me—am I a sucker?) I’d so love to trace its lineage and find out from its previous owners their favorite moments spent wrapped in its animal magic.