10 Guilty Pleasures

What I love about guilty pleasures is the way they humanize us. Could you even imagine that your firebrand English Lit professor reads romance novels like popcorn? Or that your macho, beer-guzzling neighbor melts while watching Disney princess movies with his little girl? In fiction as in life, these traits define a character. They can help your reader fall in love with a protagonist or empathize with a villain. Remember the nasty, obsessive-compulsive writer Jack Nicholson played in As Good As It Gets? That first scene of him stuffing his neighbor’s dog down the trash chute should have sealed our opinions of him. But then we find out he not only writes romance novels, but hand-feeds that same little dog bacon later in the film. This helps transform him from a cardboard character into a complex and much more interesting one worthy of our empathy. A well-placed guilty pleasure in your characters’ lives could do the same. Here are a few of mine:

1. The Wedding Singer. There are very few Adam Sandler films I like, but I could watch this one over and over. And I have. It’s a cheeseball poke in the 80s’ eye, but I love it. Adam Sandler is sweet and funny as a heartbroken, struggling musician. Drew Barrymore is adorable as the naïve waitress he courts. All of this and a cameo by Billy Idol, too! Aw, now I want to watch it again.

2. Lindt white chocolate truffles. Yes, they’re overpriced and not very good for me, but so smooth and creamy it’s like velvet on your tongue. I have to buy them individually, or I’d down the whole bag.

3. Awards Shows. Oh, make some popcorn and get cozy as the glitterfied and glamorous take to the red carpet! I know some people vilify them as self-congratulatory puffery, but the puffery is why I watch. Some eight-year-old girl inside me is squealing, “Look at all the pretty dresses!”

4. Miss America. This is sort of in the same category as awards shows, as it catches my eight-year-old self in its glitter zone. Beauty pageants, unlike awards shows, have a special cheeseball factor: the interviews. Bliss!

5. Lady Gaga. Finally, a vocalist comes along who understands marketing and branding herself as well as Madonna. The kooky get-ups, the wild videos…and she can sing, too.

6. Legally Blonde. Reese Witherspoon goes to Harvard! So fun!

7. Gilmore Girls. A little saccharine, you might say? But I think this show is brilliant. It’s got quirky characters and great lines, amusingly obscure cultural references, and it’s a kind of comfort food for me. I have the first few seasons on DVD, and the night before my mother-in-law had a radical mastectomy, I chained-watched episodes until I could no longer keep my eyes open. I still watch, nearly every weekday, while I’m on the treadmill.

8. Family Guy/South Park. If either of my parents caught me viewing these shows, they might question the astronomical checks they wrote for my college education. But some days, you just need to laugh your ass off like no one’s watching.

9. Bugs Bunny cartoons. Tell me this isn’t one of yours, too. I double-dog dare you.

10. The Ten Commandments. I loved Ben-Hur, but at the risk of getting bombarded with mail accusing me of heresy, The Ten Commandments is probably one of the most mock-worthy movies ever made. Where to start? The overacting? The ponderous, pompous score? Edward G. Robinson and Vincent Price as Egyptians? Or the memorably cheesy lines that make this movie the Greatest Drinking Game Ever Told? (Don’t blame me. Seriously, I went to a Ten Commandments party where people downed a shot for each iconic, but stupid, line.) I still love to watch it.

Okay, now that I’ve embarrassed myself in front of everyone and invited public scorn, it’s your turn. What are some of your guilty pleasures? Why do you like them?

7 Things Bugs Bunny Taught Me About Writing

Since childhood, I’ve been a huge fan of the cartoon rabbit that animator Chuck Jones called “an amalgam of Dorothy Parker, Rex Harrison and D’Artagnon.” Watching Bugs and his Looney Tunes pals again (thanks to a friend’s gift) reminds me of all the lessons that Wascally Wabbit taught me over the years. Some even about writing. For instance:

1. Get your chops down. A daily writing practice keeps you sharp-witted and ready to face down any adversary, including despicable villains, faint-hearted protagonists and loud-mouthed ducks.

2. Don’t take any guff. Is your internal critic jabbering up a storm? Or is some muscle-bound galoot robbing you of your beauty sleep or threatening your carrot patch? You can take them. All it takes is a good strategy and a little charisma to get everyone back in line.

3. No experience is wasted. Even if you miss the left turn at Albuquerque, have to fight a raging bull, or return a crying penguin to the South Pole, try to enjoy the ride. And take a few notes for your next story. After all, it worked for Kerouac and Hemingway.

4. Persistence pays off. You may have to play a lot of bit parts in the chorus before you get your starring role. Is writing is the love of your life? Stick with it and stay in the market for a better chance of becoming happily published.

5. Know when to improvise. Sometimes the script isn’t going the way you want. Acme Instant Holes, exploding cigars, distracting kisses, or cream pies all give you a handy exit strategy.

6. Research rules. Your hero has to stare down a lineup of burly sluggers or play a round of golf to settle a bet with an irate bagpiper, and you know nothing about either sport. Find an expert. Or learn on the fly. Just be prepared to chop up the golf course or give up a lot of homers until you get the feel for it.

7. Rise to the challenge. There are hunters, agents, critics, coyotes, Tasmanian Devils, and other saboteurs around every corner. Animated rabbit or aspiring writer, it’s not an easy life, but a most rewarding one if you choose to accept the challenge.

What about you? Are you rising to your challenges? Or are you searching the Acme catalog for reinforcements?

One Man’s Freedom Fighter Is Another Man’s Antisecrecy Group

Listen to the news sometime. I mean, really listen, beyond the sound bytes, hairstyles, and the cringe-worthy way some of them pronounce “often” and “inundated.” Or that one American network that thinks we’re so stupid, a world map graphic is now used to show where each news story is occurring, even those in large US cities. Try to catch the way anchors, correspondents, and political officials pronounce the names of countries. Take note of the adjectives used to describe potentially inflammatory individuals, situations, or groups. It’s really fascinating. Can you imagine the groupthink that went into those decisions? I see a bunch of suits in a room, bandying about various phrases, cringing in anticipation of the angry letters they might get if certain terms are used. It’s lead to some interesting tweaks of the English lexicon.

For instance, my Journalism 101 professor, who looked exactly like J. Jonah Jameson, said the word “try” is a big tip-off to media bias. As in, “The president tried to rally foreign leaders to get behind his peace agreement.” Meaning, “Our editorial slant is that we disapprove of the president and hope his flawed, imprudent agreement fails.”

But that’s old news. With a 24-hour news cycle, who has time for subtlety?

How newscasters and politicians pronounce the names of Latin American and Middle Eastern countries is also a clue. The late Peter Jennings, Canadian by birth, suddenly became Latino when he had to say “Nicaragua” or “Ecuador.” It’s silly, really, a politically correct nod to our neighbors to the south, whom I’m sure are lovely people, but probably wouldn’t mind if we pronounced their countries’ names with our American accents. Do you hear that on the BBC? I don’t think so. Listen now, as President Obama pronounces “Pakistan.” PAH-ki-stahn. Are you guessing that news outlets rooting for his failure probably doesn’t pronounce it that way?

Certain terms are also buzzwords pointing to editorial slant. Remember Ronald Reagan? (Google it, kids.) Remember his dealings with the Nicaraguan Contras? This band of fighters resisted the Sandinista government that took control after dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle was overthrown in 1979. Taking a cue from the French Resistance in World War II, the contras were called “freedom fighters” by the CIA and the Reagan administration. The contras themselves preferred to be known as “commandos.” And I’m pretty sure the Sandinistas (and those on the American left who supported them) didn’t call the Contras “freedom fighters.” Probably more along the lines of “rebel scum.”

The US media had a little tussle with itself after 9/11, about the use of “terrorist,” an emotionally charged word that was often applied indiscriminately to refer to people who weren’t “actual” terrorists. This led to terms like “enemy combatant,” which the Obama Administration dissed in 2009.

And now, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange has journalists scratching their heads again. Some outlets debated the use of “whistleblower,” and if Assange is truly thus. The New York Times now calls WikiLeaks an “antisecrecy group.” Sarah Palin, Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden call him a terrorist. So now, one man’s terrorist is another man’s antisecrecy advocate. Just doesn’t roll off the tongue.

What euphemisms have you heard rolling off the tongues of those on the news? How do you think we should pronounce Pakistan? Join the discussion!

Wackiest Writing Advice I’ve Gotten

I don’t know why, but tell someone you’re a writer and more often than not, you will walk away with unsolicited advice, maybe from a tidbit that person heard on Oprah last week. Even asking for advice can be trouble. Some of the head-scratchingest advice I’ve gotten has been from those in the book industry. Here are some of the wackier things I’ve heard: (Note: Your actual experience may vary.)

1. Write what you know. Pretty much every writer has been hit with this one. Yes, writing about people, places and situations you are intimately involved with might make your writing more immediate and more powerful. (How could Mark Twain have pulled off so many of his great novels if the Mississippi didn’t course in his veins?) But this type of dogma can limit your creativity by forcing you to focus solely on what and whom you’ve been exposed to. What about science fiction and fantasy writers, who imagine worlds so palpable it’s hard to believe they don’t exist in “real life”? How could Gene Roddenberry have created Star Trek or Frank Herbert written the haunting, sandworm-infested world of Dune if they’d stuck solely to writing what had passed by their eyes and ears? Perhaps we could tailor that phrase, as many have suggested, to read, “Write what you want to know.”

2. Comedy doesn’t sell. Augh! And me, a (mostly) comedy writer! Yes, comedy is subjective. This may be why some agents are reluctant to take it on. But there sure are a lot of people buying Carl Hiaasen, Janet Evanovich, Sophie Kinsella, Rita Mae Brown, Nick Hornby, Dave Barry, and this guy, who you should not read, apparently, if you have a heart condition or are drinking any liquids.

3. Adults don’t want to read stories with teen protagonists. An agent told me this, as I shopped around a novel with a sixteen-going-on-thirty-year-old protagonist. I think it’s ridiculous. Had she never heard of Holden Caulfield? Or maybe Bella Swan? Twilight readers aren’t all teens. Many of them are mothers of teens.

4. The novel is dead. Are you kidding me? We could argue about the possible disappearance of printed novels underneath the wave of e-book sales, but story itself? No. We humans want to read stuff about other human beings. Or Romulans, depending. Sales figures show that. Categories may shift in popularity (vampires this month, cheeky British singletons the next) but taken as a whole, novel sales are not horrible, with romance novels at the lead.

5. Women can’t write male POV characters (and vice versa). This is a fascinating bit and I could probably write a whole blog (or two) about it. A teacher of mine, for whom I have nothing but respect and admiration, regularly lectures women writers to stay out of men’s heads. That we couldn’t possibly know how men think, and if we asked one, they’d lie. I have a problem with this. Yes, I’ve read many stereotypical, cardboard or just plain WRONG female POV characters written by men (Steve Martin’s Shopgirl in particular disturbed me), and I imagine you guys could give me a few examples of off-key male characters written by women. But have you read Memoir of a Geisha? Arthur Golden did his research, interviewed geishas and even made himself up as one so he could get closer to the characters he wrote so brilliantly about. Jonathan Franzen took some heat for writing female POV in Freedom. NPR’s Terry Gross asked him if, as a man, he’d found it challenging to write Patty, his female POV protagonist. Franzen merely replied that he’d grown up around women. So, what’s not to know? I grew up with a father, two brothers, and later, a whole bunch of stepbrothers. And mostly (judging from the feedback of guys who’ve done my crits), my male characters are authentic. Unless they’ve been lying to me.

I hope you won’t lie to me. What is the wackiest advice you ever got about writing, or about anything else?

Keeping A Reader’s Trust: It’s All In The Details

I am a detail person. Others define this as a “picky pain in the ass.” But I see it as a positive attribute. It’s important to have a detail person on your side, someone who will find your errors before your readers do. For every Captain Picard there must be a Wesley Crusher, saying why the First Officer’s suggested fix for the wonky warp drive will lead to disaster. For every emperor strutting about in his invisible finery, there must be someone to say he’s got no clothes. And every writer should have another set of eyes on his or her work, particularly a sharp set of eyes belonging to someone who isn’t your spouse or your brother, unless that person can give you the dead-nuts truth. A sharp set of eyes may prevent the following small, but significant errors like:

1.  The dreaded anachronism. This is devilishly hard for people who write historical fiction. Especially those who write stories set in recent decades that many readers might have lived through. I once read a manuscript set in the early 70s (yes, sadly, in our age of immediate gratification this is considered historical fiction) in which a character was drinking a Diet Coke. No. No, no, no, no, no. I am a recovering diet soda addict. I know my products. Diet Coke did not come on the market until 1982. This character would be drinking Tab. Yes, it’s a small, picky pain in the ass thing, but if a reader catches it, this can compromise not only his or her experience but your credibility, too. Do your research. Even for the small things.

2. The location flub. That old bit of writing advice, “write what you know,” is sometimes correct. I don’t put total faith in it, otherwise, where would science fiction and fantasy come from? But if a scene in your book takes place somewhere you’ve never been, particularly if this is a well-known location in that area, learn all you can about it. In the best of all possible worlds, you would go there and take a walk around, absorbing all the details from the sights and smells to the sound and the fury. Then you would know, for example, that the Poughkeepsie train station (see photo), is on the National Register of Historic Places, has been maintained in its original, 1918 style, with wooden benches, and gives off a particular smell that’s somewhere between wet wood and old urine. It would not contain rows of blue plastic seating, as one novelist has described. Since I live near Poughkeepsie and have been to that station many, many times, hearing that novelist’s description made her a much less reliable narrator in my eyes.

3. Why is that character wearing a down coat in the middle of summer? This happens to me at times, especially after multiple drafts of a novel. Playing switcheroo with scenes can often mean little details get ignored. Watch for consistency. If you moved the pivotal argument scene between the protagonist and antagonist from an outdoor skating rink in winter to the protagonist’s cabin in Ecuador, she’s going to be awfully warm in that coat.

Have you come across anything in a novel that’s left you scratching your head? If you write, what do you do to make sure some picky pain in the ass won’t write you a letter about your protagonist’s choice of beverage?

Sling A Little Slang

I’ve always loved listening to the music of language, especially those words and phrases outside the tidy boundaries of Merriam-Webster. Somewhere in the Exurban Dictionary of my brain, I filed them away, the associated gray matter swelling with each new person I met and each new place I visited. Here are some of my favorite slang expressions:

1. Slide it, Earl
I first heard this from an old boyfriend who came from the pseudo-Appalachia of way-upstate New York. He said it when someone-usually someone behind the wheel of a pickup with a gun rack on the back window and a dog riding in the cab-was driving too slowly for his taste. He didn’t outright say he’d invented the phrase, but strongly led me to believe so. (Hey, I was young and gullible.) Not only had I adopted the phrase, but after he disappeared from my life, other future boyfriends picked it up from me like a nasty, embarrassing rash. Which annoyed me. What annoyed me even more? While watching an old episode of Match Game on the Game Show Network recently, Gene Rayburn gestured to the manually-operated bonus round answer board and said, “Slide it, Earl!” Feh! I’ve been HAD.

2. Half a bubble off plumb
Ah, this has a beautiful sound, just kind of rolls off the tongue, which is the best thing about great slang. This is a wonderful phrase for someone or something that isn’t quite right, albeit probably in a good way. As in, “My aunt’s half a bubble off plumb, but that quirkiness is probably what I love most about her.”

3. Sea change.
This came to me via an uncle, who was actually not an uncle but one of those friends of the family my parents insisted we call “uncle.” We were having a political discussion and he said something like, “To get that kind of legislation passed, we’ll have to see a real sea change in Congress.” He couldn’t believe I’d never heard the term before. Apparently, according to his explanation, people in the pre-aviation days, seeking relief from a broken heart, consumptive illness or other assorted shattered dreams, would board an ocean liner for Europe, hoping their bad humors would dissolve in the Atlantic. Hence, sea change. Or it could have been from Shakespeare. To-MAY-to, To-MAH-to.

4. PITA
Early in my advertising career, a colleague coached me on how to quote jobs. We were working on one for a particularly obnoxious, petty nickel-and-dimer (speaking of slang). “And then, of course,” she said, “We add the five percent PITA tax.” As in “pain in the ass.” When I went client side, I was particularly conscious of not needing this tax added to my jobs.

5. Buzzkill
Another word I love for the sound. I can just hear a mosquito being vaporized in a lamp. Which is also, for the mosquito, anyway, a real buzzkill.

6. Grok
I love this word, as it encompasses so many activities at once. Coined by Robert Heinlein in his 1961 sci-fi classic, Stranger in a Strange Land, it means understanding something all in one gulp. Or, from the novel:

Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed-to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science-and it means as little to us (because of our Earthly assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

Unfortunately, this word is slipping out of favor and, at times, is being replaced with the unctuous, camera-ready “aha moment.”

7. Frack (original series), Frak (reimagined series)
One of my favorite words ever coined, this was a Battlestar Galactica writer’s way of getting away with a juicy expletive on television networks that frowned upon juicy expletives. Frak is currently bobbling into over- and mis-use. Please help me save “frak” by using it as judiciously as you would any other f-bomb. Thanks. And thank you to the environmentalists of New York State, for another definition of this slang term: “Frack” is short for hydrofracking, or hydrofracturing, a potentially water-table-contaminating way of fracturing sedimentary rock to extract natural gas. To which many of my fellow New Yorkers respond, “No fracking way.”

8. Spiffanilla
I think I made this up. Means, roughly, “awesome.” Please feel free to correct me if, say, an old boyfriend copped it from a game show.

What are your favorite slang words or expressions?

(Thank you, Plinky people, for today’s prompt, “What’s your favorite slang word?”)

Imagine, as you hold it in your hands…

(Note: this sprang from a Plinky prompt, “What are you looking forward to?” Thank you, WordPress.com Post-A-Day people!)

Years ago, at a writing workshop, I did a guided imagery exercise that involved visualizing my first published book.

After the workshop leader took us through a relaxation sequence, we began. I imagined the heft of the novel, because my manuscript stretched on as seemingly endless as a John Irving tome, and was weighty enough to make a fine doorstop or a traction-control device for the back-end of my car. Then I imagined the cover: the bright colors, the illustrated scene, the inlay of the title and my name. My name. My name. My name on a book. I never thought it would happen.

It didn’t, at least for that project.

But this year, I’m looking forward to seeing that old dream become reality. This time, the book will be thinner, as I have learned how to carve away the excess marble. This time, I know exactly what the cover will look like, because I watched my husband design it. (It’s adorable and quirky, like my protagonist. And my husband.) This time, I am just as excited, if not more. I can already see it on store shelves, and as a tiny icon on Amazon. I can imagine flipping through a copy to find the marked page, clearing my throat to begin readings at local bookstores.

I’ve watched so many writers do this, from TC Boyle to Audrey Niffenegger, from Valerie Martin to Joyce Carol Oates. I watched eagerly, at the edge of my metal folding chair, as the writer du jour pushed hair behind an ear, slipped on a pair of reading glasses, did any number of those nervous little gestures that ready them for interaction with the crowd. I made note of wardrobe choices. (I especially loved TC Boyle’s Chuck Taylor cons and Joyce Carol Oates’ knee socks.) I studied posture, body language, and whether they put on a fake reading voice or sounded more natural.

I watched as, clutching my book, I waited on line for a signature and maybe a word or two. Some were better at this than others. Some knew better how to engage a crowd. Some were shy and disappeared as soon as possible. Some did not appear to hold up well under the stress of a national book tour. Some reveled in it. When I told TC Boyle (while I was trying not to throw up or wet myself, because I adore him) I love his novels because he invariably sends me to the dictionary, he grinned slyly, then signed my book in Latin.

I wonder how I will be on the other side of these equations. I’m a little shy, and not very comfortable in crowds. But I want to meet people. I want to learn how to engage an audience. This is hardly going to be a national book tour, but still, I’ll be doing events wherever I can arrange them. I have this vision of standing behind a podium and despite feeling slightly queasy, reading my words with power, pathos, and gentle amusement when warranted. Maybe people will laugh in the right places.

I have a feeling that once this process starts, with reviews and appearances, virtual and hardwired, it may pass in one fun house blur. But what I do so want to remember is every sensation surrounding the moment when I have a printed book in my hands. I’ll be upstairs, squirreling around on Facebook writing my next novel. I’ll hear the groan of the UPS truck hauling its boxy self up my driveway, then the squeal of its brakes. Then the shuffle and thump of the delivery person’s boots, the thud of a heavy package landing on the landing, and an aggressive ring of our bell. My stomach will tighten. (Because I’ve worked in printing, and know what horrors can result.) I’ll wake my husband, and we’ll trot downstairs and get the package. I’ll cringe as he approaches it with his Leatherman.

“Will you relax?” he’ll say, huffing out exasperation as his hand slices through the tape.

Finally, after much too long, he’ll get the thing open. We’ll both grab a copy. He’ll examine the cover for printing errors. I’ll just hold it in my hand in silent gratitude and wonder. Then notice I’ll something odd on the front. Is that…an Oprah Book Club sticker?

I know. That sticker won’t really be there for this novel. Must be my powers of guided imagery working it for the next one. Hear that, Ms. O?

What are you looking forward to this year?

Side Effects of Writing Fiction

A few weeks ago, Health magazine came out with a ranking of the ten most depressing jobs in America. Writing came in at number five, right after Justin Bieber’s bodyguard and Lindsay Lohan. Reasons cited were frequent rejection, irregular pay, and that moody, creative thing that makes many of us want to eat chocolate and cry.

I understand all of these and yet I still write. I write because I have to. If I don’t, that moody, creative thing will kick in, and I’ll want to punch holes in the wall and knock people’s hats off, then eat chocolate and cry. Here are some other side effects I’ve suffered as a fiction writer. As with anything else, your actual experience may vary.

1. Spontaneous combustion. Attempting to operate heat-generating kitchen appliances while writing may result in scorched pots, wailing smoke alarms and the need to create alternate dinner plans. (See Appendix A, Fire Extinguishers, and Appendix B, Take Out Menus.)

2. Training accidents. Training your roommates, significant others and/or children to respect your writing hours must be done firmly and consistently. As with puppies, inconsistency leads to accidents. Yelling at someone who knocks on your writing room door and says, “I’m going to get the mail” is a perfectly normal response, as you would have figured that out on your own following his or her return with various envelopes and flyers, and still gotten your writing done. (See Appendix C, Training Accidents Leading To Spontaneous Combustion, or Appendix D, Apologies For Every Occasion.)

3. Alienation of affection. You may, through no fault of your own, fall in love with your characters as you write them, and will want to sneak away to spend quiet moments alone with them. This is normal, although your significant other may feel otherwise. (See Appendix D, Apologies For Every Occasion, or Appendix E, Flowers and Chocolate)

4. Antisocial behavior. You may find yourself increasingly reluctant to attend social events, especially those far from home, preferring instead to lock yourself away in front of your computer or notebook. (See Appendix F, How to Feign Illness)

5. Unreliability. Even if you desire to attend a social engagement or agree to pick up a friend at the airport, you might have trouble leaving your characters behind. You may sink back into their world, only to be reminded of your previous commitments by an angry woman’s voice calling you a “douche” on your answering machine. You may then drift back into your room, musing about the etymology of the word, thinking you must write a blog about it soon. (See Appendix D, Apologies For Every Occasion or Appendix G, Brain-Piercing Alarm Clocks)

6. Utter and complete joy. Finding the perfect words, putting them together just the right way, and stringing those sentences together like exquisite glass beads may lead to unexpected feelings of euphoria similar to eating chocolate. (See Appendix H, Does This Mean I’m Cured?)

Having any side effects of your own?

5 Things The Designated Hitter Rule Taught Me About Business

On January 11, 1973, Major League Baseball’s American League enacted the Designated Hitter rule. It’s a stupid rule, in my opinion, and many baseball purists agree with me. The rule states, in part, that the position in the batting order normally taken by the pitcher may be replaced with a “designated hitter,” and therefore the pitcher may remain an active player (on the mound) without having to hit and, you know, break a nail or something. Since professional baseball, outside of its art and poetry, is also a business, here’s what the consequences of this rule have taught me about the business world:

1. Keep your skill set updated. Have you ever watched an interleague or World Series game and noticed that the American League pitchers (when they are forced to step up to the plate at a National League team’s park) look like little leaguers taking their first swings at the ball? Since they don’t have to bat, they lose the ability, while some of the National League pitchers, like current free agent Dantrelle Willis, are pretty decent at the plate. Therefore, if you’re in the market for a pitcher for a National League team, one who doesn’t embarrass himself in the batting box is a much more attractive option.

2. Think strategically. Part of the manager’s job is to think strategically. The game of baseball has many moving parts, including where you position your fielders, how your batters fare against left- or right-handed pitching, and how to keep tabs on a speedy baserunner like the New York Mets’ Jose Reyes. The designated hitter rule removes from the manager’s purview decisions about keeping the pitcher in the game as the ninth spot in the batting order grows closer. This is a huge part of a National League manager’s responsibility. Letting the American League managers off the hook is doing them a disservice. Yes, it can be said that relieved of this responsibility, AL managers can better focus on other parts of the game, but I believe a NL manager is more well-rounded in his strategic thinking. At work, too, if you opt out of some aspects of strategic thinking, you could be letting your competitors hit your hanging curve out of the park.

3. Change can be good…if you allow it to happen. In the American League, a heavy hitter who is no longer as effective in the field, like Boston Red Sox DH David “Big Papi” Ortiz, is very often put into the designated hitter position. This allows a player who has grown slower or battles chronic injury to extend his career. This, some say, also saddles a team with yet another player on the roster with limited abilities when they could shop for a player who can hit and field well. In the business world, many people are afraid of change, even hanging on to concepts and practices that no longer work as well as they used to.

4. Don’t hide your talent. If a pitcher comes up to bat with a man on first, he may attempt a bunt to move the player into scoring position. Because this happens so frequently, many National League pitchers are excellent bunters. In the National League, a random position player may not be able to lay down a killer bunt or even an effective one. American League pitchers, although they might have this ability, rarely get to try. It deprives them of a chance to show that they have other ways of helping their teams win than just on the mound. Maybe you can help your business succeed by using some hidden talent.

5. Life isn’t fair. Historically, American League teams score more runs than National League teams, and some say have an advantage in interleague and World Series games. This is, I believe, because National League managers are saddled with more responsibility. Until Major League Baseball decides to either enact the DH rule for the National League or get rid of it entirely, this inequity will continue. But that’s life, and the faster you accept that some things are not fair, the better you can focus on continuing to do your best. And maybe work on correcting those inequities for the future.

If I Could Turn Back Time

Normally, I don’t spend too much time looking backward with regret, but this nifty little writing prompt from the Plinky people got me thinking.

Do you remember Elfquest? It was originally a series of comic books and graphic novels launched in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1978 by the husband and wife writer/illustrator team of Wendy and Richard Pini. (WARP Graphics, collectively.) Elfquest stars Cutter, an elf on a mission to unite his fellow-elves, and a forest full of colorful creatures from Sun Folk to trolls to humans (called “High Ones”) to an extremely annoying, tiny, fairy-like creature who speaks in italics with a syntax that would make Yoda proud. (Currently, this gnat-with-a-wand is used as a cursor graphic on their website.)

I started reading Elfquest as a college student and went on to collect most of the original series, because I loved the story and felt a special bond with the couple, since I grew up just a few miles from Poughkeepsie.

Now let’s skip forward a few years. I’ve moved from Syracuse to Boston and have returned to the Hudson Valley. By day I’m a mild-mannered graphic designer. By night I’m working on my first novel, the behemoth I’ve previously written about, the one of the 138 rejections. The underlying theme of the tome is a comic book caper, and I’d even included bits of comic book text I wrote as one of the characters.

I read chapters of this book to my writing group weekly, and get a lot of useful feedback. One Thursday night, our faithful and fearless leader/moderator, Laura Jan Shore, invites a friend to sit in on a session.

It’s Wendi Pini.

I don’t know whether to wet myself or throw up. It’s not enough that one of my comic book heroes is sitting in Laura’s living room when I walk in, I (gulp) will be reading my work in front of her. That is, unless I faint after I wet myself and throw up. Then I realize what I’d brought for that night’s review: a scene from my novel about a comic book writer, most of which is a chapter of comic book writing.

Yay.

I smile, shake her hand and generally, I hope, act like a normal person. When my time comes to read, there’s a knot in my stomach so big I’m surprised no one can see it through my clothes. I get that damp-palmed, jaw-quivering, one-bead-of-sweat-dripping-down-my-chest feeling. Working my feet against the planks of Laura’s dining room floor, I begin to read. I try not to think about Wendy’s reaction. I try to forget she’s in the room. My voice shakes and my heart’s thumping, but somehow I get through it.  She gives me good feedback, including some real-life inside baseball of the comic book industry.

Then she offers me a job.

Holy crap. I think my heart has stopped. Wendy-freakin’-Pini has offered me a…job? Me? Or is she talking to the guy across the room, who is a real writer, while I… well, I am about two thirds of the way through the first draft of my first novel. I am a neophyte. I am a chrysalis. No, I’m the slimy little thing inside the chrysalis…

So I mumble something about not having the experience.

Then I turn her down.

And cry for about a week.

If I had taken her up on her offer, who knows how or even if my life would have changed? Would I have grown into the apprenticeship, gotten a title of my own, maybe won awards? Would I have given up on the novel, given up on novel-writing completely? Would it have changed my personal life in any way?

What if I got into that time machine, took the job, and hated the person I turned into? Although I’ve got my flaws, my quirks and my hypocritical idiosyncrasies, I like who I am. My journey at times has been rough, but I’ve earned those battle scars and they’ve made me stronger.

I still want that time machine, though. I want to revisit the moment I made my decision and kick my mealy-mouthed, floor-scraping ass. Turning down a job is one thing. But turning it down because I was too scared to imagine my inevitable failure?

That’s totally and completely human.

What would you do with your time machine?