Category Archives: Unlikely Stories

My New Tintype Author Photo

On a recent trip to Astoria, Mr. Waite and I were walking back from dinner when we quite literally stumbled over a man on the sidewalk outside a tattoo parlor. He had a butane torch and was running it along the back of a small metal rectangle, held carefully in his fingertips. Beside him on a tripod was a tall antique box camera with a bowler hat. As he torched the metal, it tilted and I saw a greyscale, grainy portrait, lush with depth and rich with texture.

I couldn’t believe it: this man was making tintypes, right out in the open.

His name, we learned, is Giles Clement of Clement Photograph in Portland, Oregon. He was charming and talented and willing to describe each step of the photographic process while he worked. The results are beautifully ghostly — I feel like I somehow stepped backward in time.

Tintype photograph of a dark-haired, fair-skinned woman. She has her head tilted slightly and looks slightly mischievous.

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The Perils of Estate Planning for Writers

The lawyer was doing an excellent job at explaining the different structures available to Mr. Waite and myself. He’d clearly done this before, with people as or even more clueless than we were, and he had multiple color-coded graphs with lists of pros and cons for things like wills, living trusts, and everything in between. He was especially good at finding oases of clarity in the desert of legal terminology, and would occasionally spice things up by hinting at the ways in which the system could provoke familial conflict or trouble for relatives and spouses of the deceased.

This was not, however, a good way to keep short a meeting with a writer. It was great fodder for a mystery plot.

“Your wedding ring, for instance,” said the lawyer. “Right now it’s yours, because you brought it with you into the marriage. But if your kind husband were to add stones to it, it would become joint property, because he’d put money into it.”

“Really?” I perked up my ears. “What about, say, a family heirloom like my grandmother’s ring? Would it become joint property if he just had it resized or polished, or would he actually have to add stones?”

The lawyer blinked at my sudden enthusiasm. “He’d have to add stones,” he said.

“Ah,” I replied, jotting this down in my notes.

The lawyer cleared his throat and continued explaining. I interrupted a few more times to ask about “trust mills” (a shady practice whereby couples are sold a living trust but the trust isn’t funded, so that the seller keeps a boatload of cash and the surviving spouse is left with nothing on their partner’s death) and sapphire mines in Australia (which I normally think of as exclusively opal country — this was a bit of a detour, but really interesting). Soon we got into the meat of probate and post-death-of-a-spouse legalities. I waved off concerns about my own assets — I’m a writer, so: what assets? — and asked a lot of questions about the line of inheritance, trusts generally, the various opportunities for civil suits in inheritance law, that sort of thing.

And then, mid-note, I caught a sharp glance from the lawyer and realized: what I was doing was building up a pretty sizeable motive. This lawyer would definitely go right to the police and tell them all about my suspicious behavior. And then, officer, she specifically asked me to explain how to legally prevent someone from contesting a will. 

I’d better hope nothing untoward happens to Mr. Waite.

Ominous music.

Clap of thunder.

Shifty eyes.

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Stop The Presses: Tired Writer Cannot Write

Okay, so it’s been two weeks now that I’ve been working full-time at the bookstore. Nights and weekends. It’s fun, I get to look at pretty books all day and alphabetize — I am one of those nerdy types who finds alphabetizing a soothing and engaging activity — and help customers find books as best I can. Even the foot-killing four-hour register shifts haven’t really dampened my enthusiasm.

Except…

I haven’t been able to write since I started.

It’s not a question of inspiration. I still have all my ideas, I’m still doing research, still fine-tuning outlines. The stories are somewhere, waiting. But every time I sit in front of the keyboard, all I can think, over and over, like the phonograph inside my head is stuck on this one groove, is this:

I’m so tired.

I’ll try to push through — I know that voice can be made to go away — but every time I put down a sentence I know it is wrong. Know, deep down in my bones, that there is no life in it. Everything feels so absurdly shallow, suddenly — not in terms of subject matter, but in terms of my own engagement. And a writer disengaged from what she’s writing is not going to write anything worth reading. Especially not in romance.

And it hurts, because I like to think of myself as disciplined, as determined, as a writer who works and does not wait for inspiration to strike. I’ve gotten stuck before — who hasn’t? — but when one story is stuck another one is sure to be working, so I bounce from one to the other until the first one unsticks itself, like they always do.

This is the first time I can ever remember where nothing is working.

And it feels as though I have failed on some profound moral level. Chuck Wendig, penmonkey patron saint, would certainly disapprove. But it seems, to my shame, that I am somehow fundamentally incapable of working full-time and also doing anything substantive in the wordsmithery.

I tell myself to just get on with it. But the listening half of me has that same gut-level revulsion as when your coach in the sport of your choice looks at your broken ankle and tells you to walk it off.

Other writers do this. They do this all the time. 

What on earth is wrong with me?

In comments: please leave sympathy, tips, and any good jokes you may have heard lately. Bonus points if they involve terrible puns. You see what I’ve been reduced to.

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Bigger versus Better

Reader, I like ’em long. And meaty. And powerful. And Latin, frequently — though I’m not terribly picky about nationality. Greek and French and Finnish are pretty great, too. I have a particular fondness for the bastard ones.

Of course, I’m talking about words. Where else did you think this blog post was going?

There’s a specific mantra of writing advice — in this great piece, among other places — that I can never quite bring myself to abide by, and it is this: longer words will intimidate readers.

The reason I can’t stand this maxim is that, as a reader myself, I know it to be false. Or at least false enough.

I was that kid who read dictionaries for fun. I memorized obscure terms for groups of animals (a smack of jellyfish) and poetic meters (trochee, spondee, anapest). I’ll never forget the time in college when I first stumbled over the word crepuscular. (It means ‘relating to twilight or dusk’ and I have to hold myself back from using it when people bring up sparkly vampire stories.)

There’s a general idea that shorter words are better for use in fiction. (I blame Hemingway, among others.) The trouble with this is that even if two words mean the same thing, the fact remains that they are different words and will do slightly different things. As Sideshow Bob Terwilliger taught us in the best Simpsons episode of all time, sometimes you want to disembowel someone, and sometimes you want to gut them.

Plus, sometimes the rule about using short words comes off as demeaning the reader’s intelligence. I mean come on, people, we Regency romance devotees all know what a pelisse is, and that’s hardly a useful word for today’s modern gal on the go. (To do: draft memo, present proposal, wear pelisse.)

You know what’s always long in romance novels? That’s right: the ever-popular Mighty Wang. Sometimes it is too long to be practical, or even plausible. But usually it is long because that’s what’s going to get the job done.

Same goes for words. Don’t use them just because they’re long, or just because they’re short. Use them because they’re right for the job. (The Goldilocks Theory of Writercraft?)

So I’ll keep mine long — and strong — and down to get the fiction on.

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