Monday, July 15, 2013

I Met Neil Gaiman

When I heard Neil Gaiman planned to sign books in Cambridge, I
knew I had to see him. What I didn’t know is what it meant to see
Neil Gaiman.

First clue, tickets to see him were going on sale. I’ve seen some pretty big authors at Porter Square Books. They always talk right at the store. For free. This time, the tickets would be $5 each and the event would be held at a church.

The day before said tickets were going on sale, I called to ask what time the sale started.
7:00 am.
And they told me the tickets would sell out quickly.

I arrived at 6:45 am. There was already a long line. I needed to be on my way to work by 7:20 if I was going to make it on time.
On said line, two people offered to get me a ticket if I had to leave before I got in. I learned that they were waaaay bigger fans than me. I haven’t read every single book he’s ever written. I also don’t see him each chance I get. I was a Gaiman book tour attendee virgin.
Just like with the midnight sale of Harry Potter Book 7, Porter Square Books took us in quickly and efficiently. I got my tickets!

I went with the host from Kid Lit Drink Night, one writer I met at NE-SCBWI, and one woman from the Neil Gaiman Porter Square Event Facebook page.

Even though we had tickets, it was first come, first serve for seating.
We arrived an hour early.
There was already an impressive line.

It’s not a big church, so all the seats were good. Everyone was so happy to be here.

The Director of Creative Writing at Harvard movingly introduced Neil Gaiman. Clearly a HUGE fan. He started off talking about a boy who gave the author a “book” he’d written years ago. After telling more anecdotes about (slightly scary) fans, he ended with telling us he’d been the boy with the book all those years ago.

Neil Gaiman was gracious and funny and witty. He genuinely appreciates his fans maybe almost as much as they appreciate him. He doesn’t have to be like that. He’s just so… cool. It was hot and we were cramped together, but I could’ve stayed for hours. While he talked, I felt like he was in a room with a handful of people he knew instead of on a pulpit of a church before hundreds of people.


1)   He asked if anyone had been to previous stops on the tour. A few reluctant hands when up. He said*, “You’re not in trouble. I just want to know what you heard, so I don’t reread the same passage.” He then called on them to find out.
2)   He read a passage from chapter 3 from, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I could listen to him read all day.
3)   He also read part of an upcoming picture book. I’m already thinking of children to buy it for. It’s ridiculously funny.
4)   His Q&A was awesome. He told a story about a recent conversation with Terry Pratchett, who is in the first stages of Alzheimers, but is writing his memoir. This led to an old story of a joint interview they’d done when they’d toured for Good Omens. The interviewer thought the book was nonfiction. The producer in the background was going ballistic. Gaiman wanted to keep going with it, but Pratchett let the interviewer know.
5)   He said when he’d toured for American Gods, he often got booked in churches and wound up reading passages with curses.
6)   At one stop on this tour, he’d read further into the book, even though there would be spoilers because a thunderstorm roared outside and he wanted to read the with part with a thunderstorm.
7)   Advice to new writers: Keep writing and finish what you write.

I loved seeing the variety of items people brought to be signed, from boxed sets to first editions to laminated tickets from previous engagements. Everyone was in good spirits while they waited.

Thanks to a Facebook friend, I found out Gaiman personalized The Graveyard Book with names on headstones. I needed THAT.

When the bookstore employee asked what I wanted on the sticky note, I gave the names of everyone in my family, so we could all have gravestones. When I got closer, the next employee told me only one name (sad), so I chose mine.

When Gaiman saw the sticky note, he said, "You want all the names? I can add everyone in your family."
I said I was so happy to meet him. (Or something partially coherent, like that).
He replied in the most genuine voice, "Thank you so much for coming."

I didn’t shake his hand like so many others did because I wanted to give him more time to make the stones. I was rewarded:

Because he has so many books to sign, he can’t stop to pose for pictures, so I sort of snuck near him while the woman in our group took a picture.

As we left, we watched people enthusiastically being interviewed about their experiences. Some people had come from far away places just to see him.

I understood now. It was worth it.

It’s supposed to be Gaiman’s last book tour forever. I can only hope it’s like when I saw the “last” Rolling Stones tour back in the 1980s.

I hear he’s living nearby for a while. The only thing to top off that night would be to run into him and… I don’t know… maybe have a drink somewhere.

(I can tell him about the time I was so engrossed in his audio book, I forgot to make a telephone call to my dad to tell him I was an hour away. I didn’t realize it until I surprised my father by arriving on his doorstep. Or I can share a recent dark story I wrote based on his writing prompt in a British newspaper. Or... .)

What are the chances I’ll run into Gaiman?

Maybe as good as getting to read a scene about a thunderstorm during a thunderstorm.

* These are close to the exact quotes. I didn’t record anything, but I do have a good memory.

Update: This post is also on the Arlington Patch. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Critique Etiquette

When someone agrees to critique your work, they are giving you the gift of time and expertise. They have lives: work, families, hobbies, their own writing. Those heroes are putting their important tasks and loved ones aside for YOU. Aren’t they awesome? Let’s show them we’re deserving.

Please learn from my mistakes I’ve made and the mistakes I’ve seen made in many a manuscript.

1) Clean it UP!

Proofread BEFORE you send. Your critiquer isn’t your maid to clean up every little speck of dust you’ve left in the rug. Please use spell check. Make sure you read it through to fix those words spell check doesn’t catch. And if your grammar is poor, do the work BEFORE you send it out.

I’m guilty of this sin. When I first started writing, I thought my grammar was tighter than un-waxed dental floss. But I made the same errors over and over. I read a few grammar books. Then I took a grammar course. The rules started sticking! I still make mistakes. Which vs. That gets me sometimes, but at least I know to use a comma before which—not that.

And find out the rules about how dialogue is done. You don’t want to make your critiquer to spend all of their time hitting the return bar for you + playing around with commas and periods.

Here’s another sin I’ve committed. We all have demon words like: that, had, was, but, so. Whatever they are, do a find and replace. I find the demon word and replace the same word with all CAPS and an extra space, so a wiggly red line shows up. Then I will see each and every one. It’s easier to decide if they’re necessary or I need to reword.

2) Explain What YOU Need

Want plot holes covered so nobody falls to their death?
Should you be showing when you’re telling?
Has your story slowed down to school zone speed?
Are you throwing clichés around like (insert cliché here)?
Are your pages bogged down with minutia?
Are your blank-faced characters standing on a blank page?
Have characters who don’t stay true to character?
Does every character speak in the same exact voice?
Do your characters make it work or do they need some work?
Does the dialogue sound like anything people actually say?
Are tags creeping onto every spoken line like weeds?
Is it unclear which speaker is speaking?
Is the word said your BFF?
Are you so in love with your thesaurus that you want to marry it?
Is there a mundane action for Every. Single. Line. of. Dialogue?
Is the structure strong enough to hold your story up or is it crashing down?

Let your critiquer know what to look for. This way you’ll receive a critique tailored to your unique needs.

3) Keep Calm and Revise On

You’re going to receive the critique back.
Unless it’s been through a # of critiquers or you’ve magically created a clean manuscript (I hate you.), expect some feedback that (which?) will hurt.

You’re going to want to hit the delete button.
You’re going to want to argue with your cruel critiquer.


You’re going to dwell on every single negative bit written.
You’re going to gloss over the positive comments.


Instead of the impulse to argue,
Say, “Thank you.”

Seriously, ASAP.

Let the manuscript stew… like your feelings.
Open the document back up after a few days.
You’ll feel like The Little Engine that Could.

And if you know in your gut  you can’t—
If the manuscript truly has so many problems with structure, character, plot, and so on, that the whole 1,000,000,000k manuscript seems too broken to fix…

Take a deep breath.

Read the comments.

Keep them in mind.

Take what you’ve learned and write another manuscript.

Maybe you’ll revisit this hot mess in a year or five years.
Maybe never.

That critiquer spent time, energy, and expertise to make you a better writer.

Keep calm and write on.

Have anything to add about what makes a good critiquee?
(Is critiquee even a word?)

Check out Sharon Mayhew's post about developing thick skin when receiving a critique: