Words Have Meaning – Reason #1592 Why Editors Drink

writing 3

As a writer, I swear by on-line thesauruses (Thesaurusi? Thesaurus’? Who knows?). It seems to most of us that we probably could not work without Google helpfully bringing up three dozen of them every time we type “synonym for _______” in the Search bar.

You know what I mean, right?

You can’t use “fear” and all its derivatives alone in the climactic scene where the heroine has been kidnapped and threatened with torture.  You need apprehension, and terror, and distress, and fright, and alarm, and panic and…, otherwise, the scene will fall flat on its face.

I get it. I do.

As a writer.


But as an editor…

The thing is, you need to be careful. Just because Google says it is a synonym, it doesn’t mean it is the word you want.

Not all synonyms are created equal.


Case in point is the use of – no, more like the overuse of  – indeed,  the veritable tsunami/avalanche use of – the word “smirk”


I’m here to tell you that, Nora Roberts notwithstanding, smirk is not an all-purpose word for “slightly amused” or “sort of teasing”.

Every author I have ever edited has used this word, and used it often. And wrongly.

A smirk is not a nice thing. It’s condescending. It’s mocking in the most unkind way. It’s snark to the extreme. It’s the epitome of disrespect.

But every love scene I have read in the last three years has had the male love interest “smirk” something at his supposed love of his life.

(On top of which, a smirk is solely a facial expression. It is not a dialogue tag. You cannot “smirk” words. This is important.)

If a man or woman is smirking at you, they are telling you that they have the upper hand, that you are the lesser being in this situation, and that they are enjoying their superiority and intend to use it against you, if they haven’t already.

Not what I would call “loving”.


It’s important because, as writers, we say we care about words. We are depressed by the idea that other people maybe don’t have the kind of respect for language that we say we do.

We say we are deeply hurt by the current debasement of words in public speech and private communication.

But we give these sentiments the lie every time we hit that on-line listicle and grab the first alternate presented to us as “more or less the same thing” without stopping to consider whether the word itself, its common usage, and its cultural baggage, make it the right word for the purpose.

And we need to be better than that.

Otherwise, people might think we care even less than they do about the language we use.

And why would they pay to read words written by someone like that?


The Prudery Boom


“I was looking through some photographs

I found inside a drawer…”

-Jackson Browne, Fountain of Sorrow


Remember the skin-tight, hip-hugging jeans you wore in high school? Remember yanking a sequined crop top down to wear as a mini-skirt? Remember those lace-up, BDSM-styled boots over the top of your fishnet stockings?

That was the height of cool in the late sixties and into the seventies. Don’t deny it.

Last week at work, two women my age were standing in the Teen Fiction section of Cathel Books (in Camrose, Alberta! Come see us! We’re awesome!) and having a hugely judgmental rant about how “Young Women These Days Have No Self-Respect!” on account of the way they dress like, er, well, you know.

It was, apparently, not like that in THEIR day.

Except it totally was.

At one school I attended, the game was to see how high you could get your skirt before some teacher sent you to the office and then home to change (plus detentions). I won this a lot because proportionally, my legs are kind of long, and it always looked like there was still a lot more leg to reveal before I’d hit the invisible barrier.

I remember wearing a ballet leotard that left next to nothing to the imagination, just so that I could literally have jeans that sat right along the line of my pubic bone.

I owned a pair of brown suede winter boots that took a full half-hour to lace up, and protected me not one whit from the January elements.

I had a whole collection of fishnet stockings, fishnet tops, and those aforementioned re-purposed “mini-skirts”.

And so, I am almost certain, did the two women in the aisle of the used bookstore I work at.

I know it’s both fun and fashionable to diss the young and pretend you were as pure as Jane Bennett from “Pride and Prejudice” (So demure! So coolly beautiful! So…respectable…)

But it is also the height of Boomer hypocrisy, and I came extremely close to trying to google some Camrose high school pictures from those years and printing them out to see if those women recognized themselves, but good customer service rules kind of frown on that, so I just rolled my eyes (that’s supposed to be good for getting rid of wrinkles, btw) and moved on.

The point is you need to stop lying to yourselves.

The point is that when you are young, crazy-sexy (whatever that happens to be at the time) is where you want to be, clothing-wise. It’s where you *should* be, because chances are, your body is not going to remain in that healthy state that screams “FERTILE!” forever.

Youth is for the young to enjoy.

Old people should worry less about that, and more about their (willfully) failing memories.

The Mourning Rose (Teaser)


The Mourning Rose – First Chapter

The wind was not really that cold as it blew out along the beach, but the men clustered about the two small boats there were shivering, all the same.

“Just when,” their leader drawled, “Just when were you planning to advise me of these interestin’ facts? Eh, Peterkin? Speak up, man.”

Peterkin swallowed, hard. “Well, Jack, I just thought –“. He broke off midsentence. It wasn’t that Jack looked angry. Indeed, quite the reverse. The dark eyes gazed at him with a kind of sweet benevolence that was more terrifying than any rage might have been.

“You thought? Well done,  m’lad. I don’t believe I ever asked you to think, of course, although, my memory could well be at fault. I ask you,” and here, Jack stopped and looked around, as though appealing for help, “did I ask anyone to think?”

Collectively, they shuffled their feet, mumbling in a negative tone. Of course he hadn’t.

In general, when they were alone, they wondered just how it had come to this. How had they come to have Mad Jack as their leader?

It had happened so quickly. They’d heard of him, of course: a wild man, up for any risk, a smuggler other smugglers spoke of with awe, bringing in untold arcane treasures in the darkest of dark nights, laughing in the face of any danger, from armed troops of Excise men to the most horrific of storms – he was a legend in the smuggling world, Mad Jack of the North Beaches was.

And then, suddenly, he was there, in the flesh. Just come to help out old Joe for a few months, and wait for the heat to die down – the Customs Office was onto him, apparently, gotten a wee bit too close for comfort, and why should he not ally himself with them for a time? Brothers in arms, he’d said, comfortably, and Old Joe had fallen in with it, flattered, a bit, that such a famous fellow-traveller would throw in his lot with them.

At first, it had all gone well enough. Mad Jack was respectful, even deferential to Joe, and asked a lot of questions, as if eager to learn from them. And not a bit stingy – he’d stood them to many a mug in the taverns, and once, even, to a slap-up dinner brought in from someplace rather grander than they were used to.

But then, little by little, it had begun to change. There were quiet discussions, where he convinced Old Joe to do things just that little bit differently. There were moments when he’d simply barked out a command, and they had all, unthinkingly, obeyed.

And then that one night, when everything had gone so wrong, when it looked as if every single one of them would have been rounded up and headed for the noose, and only Mad Jack’s brazen nerve and quick thinking had saved them. They’d gotten away by the skin of their teeth, because Jack really was mad – mad with no care to his own skin or theirs, and he counted no costs.

They’d had to lie low for a couple of weeks, and when they’d met again, well, those soft words, those words that seemed so kind and reasonable, had convinced them that they had no choice.

It was time that old men took their ease, to live out their days in comfort, Jack said. Time for younger men to take the lead.

Sweet words, all of them, but there was something underneath them that struck terror into even the most stalwart heart. Because there were those other tales – those other stories, the ones about his temper, and about the kind of retribution that seemed to overtake those who crossed him. They had not quite forgotten them, not entirely, and suddenly, they remembered them much too clearly.

So much so that even Joe had looked at his feet and muttered, “Just as you say, Jack,” and now sat the watch for them, up at the headlands, and took his share like any of them, and made no sound of discontent.

Because you just never knew what Jack was capable of, did you?

“Well, Peterkin,” Jack said, still so sweetly that Peterkin began to tremble, “out with it! A new captain for the Excise men – he has a name, perhaps?”

“Harkness, Jack. Captain Harkness, was what I think they said. A real fire-eater, they said. Determined to ferret all the smugglers out, root and branch. Coming down from the City in the next seven-day. There’s a room bespoke at t’ Sun.”

Jack closed his eyes.

“Ah,” he said. His eyes opened. “Well, let’s be moving on, then. Cargo will be waitin’, don’t you know.”




The smaller withdrawing room at Number 4, Shalliton Place, had been given over for the use of the young ladies, and it could not be said that Lady Mayland had spared any expense in furnishing it to provide a most flattering backdrop for her daughter’s undeniable beauty. Miss Mayland’s fair locks and pale skin were set off admirably by the blue silk wall coverings and the rose velvet settee, so that she looked the very picture of an Imbrian rose. Indeed, several of her most ardent admirers had remarked upon it, and two had actually written poems, likening her to just that flower in its natural garden.

Miss Polyantha Mayland  came off rather less well. Her hair, named “auburn” by the more charitable, clashed awkwardly against the pink of the cushions, glinting as it did with strong hints of copper, and her complexion was more vivid and certainly less fashionable than her cousin’s. The very walls seemed to rebel against her, as if they would have quelled her brightness if they could.

It was early afternoon, and the pair had only just come in. Their mornings were spent with a Master of the Arts engaged specially to instruct them in the delicate practices of creating suitable Artifices for their future.

No young woman of Fashion could be said to be ready for marriage without such skills. They had formerly been taught by an extremely competent governess, learning the art of turning napkins into snow-white doves that could flutter elegantly down onto a dinner guest’s lap. They had mastered the difficult trick of the self-pouring teapots, and both had shown themselves adept at making glowing globes of coloured light float about a midnight garden with apparent ease.

The Master had more exciting spells to impart. His lessons on creating fireworks of dazzling glamour were considerably more taxing than keeping a half-dozen orbs waltzing decorously around the trees, and then there were the “silent footmen” he was teaching them to materialize, in order that no guest would ever lack for even the tiniest courtesy – well, it was all too exhausting to be imagined. Neither young lady had the least assurance that these were skills they could ever command, practice they never so hard.

Still, as Eglantine pointed out, at least they knew how it was done. With luck, they’d marry well enough to hire the Master to do it for them.

“You certainly will,” her cousin remarked. “I have no such hopes. If I cannot bring myself to latching onto some poor Scholar at the Academy, I am resolved to remain here in my single state, and be a Prop to my Aunt.”

Eglantine gave a whoop of extremely unladylike laughter. “As if she would countenance such a thing! You would quite cut her up if you did, Polly – you know she would dislike it of all things!”

Polyantha managed to retain her expression of martyred innocence. “Indeed, she would not! How many times have we heard her sigh over our come-out, and murmur about the passage of time, and how she misses our school-days?”

“Well, but that is only because we are so expensive,” said Eglantine, cheerfully. “Once we are safely and eligibly betrothed, she will not care a button for that.”

This was undeniably a fact. That very morning, the bill from the mantua-maker’s had been in the pile of letters delivered to Lady Mayland at the breakfast table, occasioning some heartfelt sighs and a long discourse on the sacrifices a Mamma must make to ensure her girls would show to advantage in their first Season.

“Not,” said Lady Mayland,” that I begrudge one copper to outfitting you both, for I do feel as a mother to you, Polly, and would not wish to stint in the least particular. But I must own, it is shocking what these people charge one, considering it is only a square of lace and a scrap of velvet, after all.”

Polly had murmured that her Aunt was all kindness, which was quite perfectly true, although it was equally true that the lace and velvet confection had, in fact, been for Lady Mayland herself. Still, considering that Polly was heir to only the merest competence and not likely, given the preference for quiet, well-mannered blondes with large fortunes, to make a particularly brilliant match, her Aunt had always been scrupulously fair in the matter of how she apportioned even the most trivial luxuries between “her girls”.

“For you must know,” she had often said to her long-suffering husband, “I counted your brother as dear as if he’d been my own, and assured him always that I would treat his daughter as one of the family, which she is, Robert! It is a great pity she is so – so high-spirited, for I am persuaded that she is the dearest creature otherwise, you know.”

“Gracious, look at the time,” said Eglantine, suddenly growing less amused. “I declare, those lessons go on and on. Is my hair mussed? You had better ring for tea, Polly. Mrs. Anwing promised faithfully to call today, and bring that new catalogue from Goderets with her. I would not be caught looking less than perfect – you know how she gossips.”

“You look adorable,” said her cousin, promptly. “Although I don’t know why you should care what the Anwing thinks. No one would believe her anyway – not even Lord Valremer.”

Eglantine blushed, looking more like an Imbrian rose than ever.

“Eglantine? You are not seriously, that is, you are not thinking –“

Eglantine’s cheeks grew even pinker.

“My dearest,” Polly began, but broke off as the door opened, and Mrs. Anwing herself appeared, pushing past the footman in a gushing excess of enthusiasm.

Polly, having been enfolded, the next moment, in a brief embrace reeking of some amazingly powerful cologne, retreated to the window seat. Mrs. Anwing’s attention was all on Eglantine now. Having clasped her to her bosom as if they had not seen each other for months, she had maneuvered her impeccably-attired and entirely entrancing self onto the settee, and patted the small space remaining beside her invitingly. Dutifully, Eglantine sat down beside her.

In due course, the promised catalogue appeared, and the pair of them began to exclaim over the latest fashions.

It was not, Polly thought, that she was in any way jealous, or even mildly envious of Eglantine’s undeniable charms. Lord Valremer might be the most eligible bachelor of this or any other Season, but Polly, having searched her heart, could find nothing that recommended him to her beyond the superficial.

Rich, he most certainly was. Attractive – even handsome – was an undeniable attribute of his. He was not young, of course. He must be all of thirty or more, although Lady Mayland had waved that away with the worldly-wise stricture that it was not uncommon and perhaps even preferable that one’s husband be an experienced man of the world.

But there was something about his lordship that unsettled her. He was known as having been, at one time, a singular and admired Practitioner of the Arcane – noted, apparently, when still at school, as being marked for Great Things.

That future had never seemed to materialize. Upon inheriting early (the Valremers were not noted for their longevity) he had embarked on a career of dissipation and debauchery.  Not, of course, that Polly was privy to any details, of course – one simply did not discuss such topics with sweetly unmarried and delicately nurtured Females – but the vague rumours still swirled around his lordship. They had been warned: he had occasionally set up some innocent as his Flirt, and engendered hopes that, alas, would not ever be fulfilled. Those games of his often led to heartache, and, more darkly, it was whispered, occasional ruin.

At first, it seemed that Eglantine had been marked out in much the same way, but she was much too sensible to have taken his overtures as anything but her due as this Season’s Non Pareille.  Lord Valremer was known to always be at the forefront of fashion – he paid his court to Eglantine along with a hundred other men, as a mere matter of course.

And then something had changed.

The entire City was agog. Had Valremer been caught at last? His behavior had moved from the merely flirtatious to the assiduous. Flowers were sent – not the gaudy bouquets of the ironic lover, but the well-chosen and meaningful posies of a man in earnest. A book of poetry was said to have been sent as well, and that had set tongues wagging in earnest.

And then there were Mrs. Anwing’s attentions.

Mrs. Anwing was a widow who had managed, for no adequately explainable reason, to remain at the forefront of Society. She was undeniably lovely, and much admired, at least from a distance. She knew everyone and had gained entrée everywhere, although what, precisely, her social attractions were remained unspoken. Her circumstances were a mystery, too, for while the late Mr. Anwing had certainly not been possessed of enormous wealth, his widow was always dressed in the latest of fashions and kept her own carriage.

She was also possessed of a scathing wit, and perhaps that was how she had maintained such a pre-eminent position. No guest list ever left her name off, and never once had anyone of note failed to acknowledge her when she drove in the Park.

There were some who sought her out over and above the merely courteous, reveling in the latest news that always seemed to come to her ear before anyone else heard a whiff of it.

There were many more, perhaps, who feared her. She was not above making cruel jests about those who displeased her, and she was quite capable of casting someone into social oblivion, shunned by all, should they happen to incur her wrath: hostesses did not lightly stay friends with the Anwing’s victims. Up until now, though, insipid little misses fresh out of the schoolroom had been very much beneath her touch.

Never before had Lord Valremer’s third-cousin-by-marriage taken even the slightest notice of any of Valremer’s flirtations, save to spread idle gossip about the girl if she lacked for other news. But quite suddenly, she had called at Shalliton Place, graciously leaving her card and an invitation to take tea with her the following week, and after this, to greet all three Mayland ladies with every sign of intimacy and pleasure whenever their paths crossed.

“And I own,” Lady Mayland said, when this began, “I do not understand it. She never paid me the slightest heed before, and I wish she would not now. My dear ones, pray, do nothing to upset her!”

As the weeks passed, however, and Lord Valremer’s attentions did not withdraw, Mrs. Anwing merely stepped up her efforts. She dropped so many hints that even Lady Mayland began to have some hopes.

Eglantine’s mother might continue to caution them both, reminding Eglantine to never be in anything even approaching a compromising situation with Valremer, or anyone else, and to treat his lordship as she would any other undeclared suitor: politely, and with good humour. She might warn them both not to permit any man even the tiniest intimacy, but these strictures were almost afterthoughts, sandwiched between speculations on how much the Valremer fortune actually was, and whether or not Eglantine would prefer to spend her days at Valremer Court down in Summersett, or preside over the staff at Orpington Circle.

Polly kept her own counsel, for once. She, too, was dumbfounded by Valremer’s continued interest: it seemed absurd. Eglantine was certainly the most lovely girl to have made her curtsey this Season, and she was as good-tempered and generous of spirit as she was pretty. She managed her would-be admirers with sweetness and tact, never allowing any of them to feel slighted, and she had, moreover, the Mayland pedigree. Not a single family in the City could have found the slightest fault with Miss Mayland as their son’s chosen bride.

But Valremer had seemed to be a confirmed non-starter in the marriage stakes. No less than twenty such girls must have swept through their Season with just as much to recommend them, and he had not fallen. Polly adored her cousin, but even so, in her heart of hearts, she could not see that there was anything so much different about Eglantine than those unknown others Valremer had passed by.

It made no sense at all.



The Mourning Rose — Coming in 2018

Manners meet magic in this tale where curses mix with curtseys, and Charm takes on a whole new dimension . Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen fans will love this romantic fantasy, set in a Regency that never was.

Eglantine Mayland is this Season’s Reigning Toast, and seems destined to make a good marriage. When the wealthy Lord Valremer, a confirmed bachelor, begins to court her seriously, Eglantine’s cousin Polyantha senses that not all is well. Too many of his actions seem to be part of a web of evil that twines itself around the Mayland family.

And why is a well-known rogue and smuggler so interested in their plight?

The Magic $20


If you are under the age of thirty, this is going to read like science fiction.


When I was in my teens and even into my early twenties, the minimum wage in Ontario was under $3/hr.

On Friday afternoon, I’d grab $20 out of my bank account, and go meet my friends at a bar (frequently the El Mocambo, but there were others) in time for Happy Hour, when glasses of draft beer were 15 cents. (This is not a typo.)

So we’d get happily gazoboed till they kicked us out at 2 a.m.

Saturday morning (well, around noon, to be scrupulously honest) I’d drag on some jeans and a t-shirt, and head down to Sam-the-Record-Man to buy a new LP, maybe hit a shop and buy a shirt or something, too.

Somewhere in that, a couple-three people would go in together on a nickel bag of pot (and it really was a nickel bag – the price was $5. This, too, is not a typo.) or a couple of hits of acid. If it was the pot, we’d probably buy some halvah or butter tarts for the munchies later on.

Someone would be having a house party somewhere…there always was one.

And then, on Sunday, I’d scrape together the last bits of that $20, and meet my friends for coffee and danishes at a Fran’s Restaurant.


Nowadays, you can’t order more than two drinks for that $20. I know. I know. That dollar amount on the minimum wage sounds like it offsets the worth of that twenty.


But you’re wrong.

My first one-bedroom apartment cost $160/month, everything but the phone included. The average house price in Toronto in 1970 was $30,426.

Bread was 30 cents a loaf (27 cents for “day-old”).

A pack of cigarettes was 25 cents. If memory serves, a case of 24 beer was under $5.

Do the math.


And stop complaining that “millenials” are entitled or spoiled. The shoe is on the other foot.

For Free – The double-edged sword of selling books in the digital age


I rarely have my books listed as free.

I do giveaways for contests, but frankly, I’ve never seen much point in sweating over my writing for months on end, having the manuscript edited professionally, having the final words properly formatted, hiring a designer for the cover art and layout, and spending my own funds to advertise — and then not receiving even a pittance in return.

A lot of writers do have free offers. They say it works for them, and I assume they are telling the truth.

Why wouldn’t they be?

They tell me that giving away the first book in a series “sells” the rest of the series.

But then I think of the swag bags I’ve gotten at conferences and events, and how I almost never even look through the stuff that’s in there, and how most of my friends don’t either, and how we eventually, weeks later, upon discovering the unopened bag, toss it calmly into the trash.

Because the music CD, the perfume sample, the desk organizer, the 1gig thumb drive with the free video course preloaded, and the six new keychains – I don’t care about them. I know, in my heart, that the music will be amateur and boring, that the perfume will be icky and/or trigger a migraine, I hate “video courses”, and I already own a really good keychain that also opens beer bottles.

(Disclaimer: I usually check in case there’s a pen. I can always use a new pen. But I rarely read the advert printed on it.)

There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that I am not unusual and that free stuff is self-defeating.

There’s some evidence that it isn’t, too.

One study suggested that “free” doesn’t equate to “undervalued”, but I question that study’s relevance to the book trade, because frankly, they used various pricing models (including “free”) for tracking usage of nighttime mosquito netting protection in countries where malaria and other insect-borne diseases were rampant.


A known and efficient deterrent for diseases that routinely kill was offered at a high price, a high price with subsequent discounts, and for free, to randomly selected people living in those countries, and – wonder of wonders! – people who got the netting for free were just as likely to use it as were the people who were comfortable with buying the netting at a high price, even without the later discount.

It’s not hard to see that there’s a huge difference between getting a potentially life-saving item that is simple and easy and proven as worthwhile for free, and being enticed into loading your Kindle with stuff that might be trash but in no way intrudes into your life or your living space.

And as a writer, I don’t ever know who actually read that book I gave away, and who didn’t, or whether having read that book, the reader bought the next one, so the freebie in no way gives me any sort of insight into where to target market.

But way above this: we live in a society that very obviously uses money as the marker for worth. There is no way that anyone can deny this.

As long as that holds true, then my own sense of self-worth demands that I attach at least some minimal value to my work.

So: sorry, readers.

The books still cost money.



You will note there is no accompanying photo for this blog post. Discretion is the better part of, ummm, whatever.

A few days ago, something came over the Twitterverse that really caught my eye.

It was an article about how, yes, it’s wonderful that at least some men are getting the message about consent –

(okay, I know: there are men out there already commenting “But what about THE WIMMINS who don’t understand “No”????”.  Don’t. Just, don’t, because unless you are verifiably working on social justice issues like campaigning publicly for more resources for male victims of domestic violence, it’s pretty obvious you are just jumping in to derail here. This is not about any of that, anyway. Move on, dude.)

– but the crux of the article was that despite this, women are still having a lot of — how to put this delicately? — sub-par sex.  Essentially, they wind up consenting to bad sex.

Not violent sex. Not sex they don’t want to have.

They just wind up unfulfilled and feeling like the hype and the reality are still continents apart. They agree, and then get left out of the agreement.

The article pointed out that male orgasms are still the end-all and be-all for 50% of the participants in hetero sex acts.

That women’s pleasure is still thought of/treated as a “bonus”, a perk, an afterthought.

It stuck with me. It seemed sad, and slightly unbelievable, but there it was. College-age women are still not getting what they want out of this. They aren’t getting what they assumed would be inherent in that happy, enthusiastic “Hell, Yes”.

But I’m not college-age, and I’m not up on current dating practices, so I convened a small, private panel in Facebook Chat, composed of people that might actually know about this.

It was an interesting discussion, but, like Arlo Guthrie before me, that isn’t what I came here to talk about today*.

The thing is, near the end of the discussion, one of the male participants said, “Well, it’s not supposed to be a competition, is it? It’s not the Orgasm Olympics.”

And that was the exact moment when my brain took a gigantic leap sideways, because…

What if it was?

What if sexual pleasure was an Olympic event?

And for the next 24 hours, I wrestled with the concept.

I mean, there’s a lot to figure out.

Would this be team events, or individual competition?

Would the IOC want to separate the timed events from the endurance tests?

Would the scoring be like the scoring for gymnastics or figure skating, with a section for style/interpretation/artistic merit?

Would this finally allow women and men to compete in the same event at the same time?

(Or, as my brain asked: would they finally allow things like “mixed doubles”?)

Would we finally have a reason to outlaw both recreational drugs AND massage oils in sport?


Frankly, given that men keep on telling us that they are naturally competitive, it seems to me that the Orgasm Olympics are way overdue. It might be the only way to get the vast majority to take their partners’ pleasure seriously, and make it the reason for that consent to begin with.

And seriously: do we not “O” it to ourselves to make this happen?


* See “Alice’s Restaurant” if you find this statement incomprehensible:


** UPDATE: Here’s another article that goes into a lot of detail about the socio-political side to the article that sparked the original post…


The Complaints Department

tom baker


Back in the late Neolithic, when I was at art college, we used to get life-drawing classes, several times a week.

That’s right. Naked  people. Lots of charcoal. Lots of muttered cursing under the breath.

This was a good thing for me, because I could augment my meager student funds by being one of those naked people, and then I could buy all that charcoal for those drawings.

The thing that I realized, over time, was that for beginners, the problems were utterly different than for the students who had gained some skill at this exercise.

When you were a beginner, the problems were so outside your experience, you misread the actual difficulty and identified the wrong problem.

“Could you know, like, not breathe so much?”

An inexperienced life-drawing student thinks that the problem is that the model is not perfectly still. It’s his/her fault that the artist can’t get those shadows absolutely accurate and make the drawing look even mildly like a human being, let alone the specific human being standing starkers in the middle of the room.

After a couple of years, the student begins to “see” differently. They need less perfection from the model, because they know that the problem isn’t that the model moves imperceptibly from time to time, but that they have failed to observe and transmit those observation properly. They actually do look directly at what is there, and they are a lot better at interpreting those tiny changes and accounting for them as they work.

Some people get this quicker than others.

Some people never get it.

And so it is with writers.

A beginning writer often wonders why their books are not best sellers.

They’ve done everything the way the authorities have told them to: vomited out a first draft, cut every adverb, and even shelled out the bucks for an editor and/or a proofreader.

But still….

And then they comb through the manuscript and find three typos and a misspelled word and decide that this is the problem.

The editor.

Now perhaps I am biased, being a part-time editor myself, but I think this might be the first cousin equivalent of wanting a life-drawing model to stop breathing.

It might not be the editor. It might not be those three typos.

It might just be the writing.

Oh. Excuse me? Was I not supposed to point out that just because you want to be a writer doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a good one?