Tag Archives: Carol’s age

The New Year and Flap Copy

I’ve never been good at corporate politics, and that in part explains while I languish in the lower decks  at Throwing Up Words, Inc. as a mere token male Junior Apprentice Co-Blogger.  It’s been brought to my attention that this is an actionable discriminatory situation in at least three categories.

Discriminatory Category #1:  Gender Discrimination.  Yes, I have suffered emotional and professional distress by being the Man about the BlogHouse.  You have no idea the number of sexist comments I’ve endured from Carol, Andy, and Kira.

Discriminatory Category #2:  Nepotism.  The three of you who read this blog may not know that Kira is Queen Carol’s princess (aka daughter), and her familial position has given her preferential advantage over me.  And it’s possible that that Carol is Andy’s grandmother, and that would explain why Andy is the COO and Vice Blog Mistress in Charge of Throwing Up Words and why I’m left scrubbing the decks without pay.

Discriminatory Category #3:  Ageism.  Neither Carol, nor Andy, nor Kira are my age.  Kira and Andy are a couple years younger than I am.  And if Carol were a few years older than she really is, she’d be older than I am, and I’m certain that when the Royal Bloggeresses of Throwing Up Words, Inc. get together to do their nails and gossip, that my age is a frequent topic of discussion.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve overheard whispered, giggling conversations like, “Look at him . . . he can barely manage that bilge pump,” and “Is he using that mop as a cane or to swab the decks?”

So one of my new year’s goals is to rise above the gender discrimination and nepotism and ageism and abuse and neglect and unfair treatment and overwork and lack of appreciation and lack of pay that are inflicted on me at Throwing Up Words, Inc.  I will embrace as my own 2012 mantra, the put-upon, downtrodden male disco anthem made famous by Gloria Gaynor.  Yes, “I Will Survive!” despite all that Carol, Andy, and Kira will do in 2012 to break my indomitable spirit.

While I’m talking about 2012, I’ll share four of my goals as Commander Carol has ordered us to do:

1.  read a book a week.

2.  finish the revisions as soon as I get my editorial letter

3.  finish a new novel by the first of June

4.  rid the world of cats

But on to today’s topic:  flap copy.

Flap copy is the content of the book cover flaps of your book.  Typically the front flap copy is written by your editor, perhaps with some assistance from the marketing folks at your publishing house.  Front flap copy is usually a plot summary told in a way that entices readers to open the book.  You don’t have to worry much about front flap copy except, well, that you first have to finish a book before any front flap copy can be written.  Back flap copy is a different matter because it’s usually written by you, the author, with assistance from your editor and the marketing staff.  If you’re a rookie or an unimportant writer (that is, if you have the clout of a Junior Apprentice Co-Blogger) your bio-note will be brief and mugshot-less.  If you’re a bigshot, fabulously wealthy and famous Author, your bio-note will include a photo and a list of your previous big books and their awards and other stuff about you.  In the off chance that you will one day rise to such prominence, I offer some advice about your future back flap copy:

1,  Do NOT use a cheesy glam-shot of yourself.  Nor should you use a gag-shot.  Too many author mugshots look like posed airbrushed colorized photos of mannequins.  Unless you are a mannequin masquerading as a human being, avoid such photos.  Likewise, avoid stuffy posed photos of yourself gazing into space with your chin resting on your fingertips.  Likewise avoid weird and silly photos of yourself chasing lambs on the barren Canadian Tundra.  Likewise avoid photos of you with your flock of children and/or grandchildren and/or flock of dogs or cats or fish.

2.  In the flap copy itself, you should include a personal detail or two, mention of other books you’ve written and other jobs you’ve had.  It’s not unusual to also mention whether or not you’re married and whether or not you have kids.  But do NOT fall into common trap of ending your backflap copy with a mention of your pets.  Not only is such mention an obvious bow to PETA and their army of book reviewers and buyers, but it’s irrelevant.

Imagine, if you can, if the actual backflap copy for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that ended like this, “Ms. Rowling lives in Edinburgh with her daughter.” were instead “Ms. Rowling lives in Edinburgh with her daughter, her hairless Sphynx cat Noodles, her herd of Scottish Shelties, and a pirhana named Wanda.”  Who CARES if an author has a pet or pets?  What can pets possibly add to a book’s qualities?  And how is it relevant or interesting to readers that you choose to share your abode with grimy, drooling, smelly, shedding creatures?

So, please, keep the livestock out of your backflap copy.  Leave the beloved pets in the pasture, kennel, or pound where they belong.  If animals can’t READ flap copy, they have no business being mentioned in your backflap copy bio.


Filed under Chris

Dedicated Writing

OK, I’ve managed to retain my precarious position as junior apprentice co-blogger for THROWING UP WORDS for another week, though Carol and Andy have informed me that my actual title is assistant junior apprentice co-blogger.  “You gotta pay your dues, kid,” said Carol.  “Every wanna-be mountain climber starts at the bottom,” said Andy.

So I’m going to share some things that you can do when you’re writing a novel—actually for when you’re supposed to be writing a novel—but you don’t feel like it, the muse is sleeping, the brain is cramped, the writing blocked.  You can be an optimist and write some of the front and back matter for your as-yet unwritten book.

There’s a great article, “How to Dedicate a Book,” by Louis Phillips that appeared in the March 1987 issue of English Journal.  It’s a whimsical piece that looks at a variety of actual dedications (“Note the element of desperation or weariness in F Scott Fitzgerald’s dedication of The Great Gatsy:”

Once Again



Phillips goes on to advise writers about the necessity of writing dedications to the right people.  Of course, he provides plenty of examples of interesting dedications from famous writers.

In that spirit, here are some dedications from a stack of new books in my office:

“For Rachel Griffiths”

“To John. David. And Kate”

“To my dear friend Merle, for turning her home into a writer’s getaway.  And to my family, for being so understanding and supportive while I got away.”

“For my agent, Laura Langlie, with love and many thanks for her endless patience, kindness, and most of all, her sense of humor!”

“For Mom, every great thing I ever learned from you was taught by example.”

“To my faithful readers, because a book is like a pie—the only thing more satisfying than cooking up the story is knowing that somebody might be out there eating it up with a spoon.”

“Jen, this one is for you, with love.”

As Louis Phillips pointed out in his article, dedications are incredibly important; all wise writers carefully consider the object of their dedication before composing that bit of front matter.  “If you thought that the act of writing had brought you heartache before, you have not felt real pain until the moment of truth dawns like an umbrella collapsing in the wind.”

Are you married?  Well, then, you have little choice says Phillips:  “If you are married and do not dedicate the book to your spouse, divorce is certain.

Single?  You’d better be just as cautious:  “Nor is it a bed of roses if you are an unmarried writer.  If you do not dedicate your book to your parents, you will be loaded with more guilt than you can bear.”

But, Phillips points out, writers have other patrons, other folks they’re beholding to:  “And then there is your agent, of course.  Of course.  If you do not dedicate at least one book to your agent, he or she will never seek out an editor on your behalf again. . . . If you do not dedicate your book to your editor, he or she will feel that you are an ingrate for overlooking the fact that your book would have been illiterate and completely incomprehensible to the most generous reader.”

I am grateful that I read his article years ago and that I’ve spent countless hours writing dedications for imaginary books because when I finally had to step up to the plate for real, I didn’t have the decades of experience that Carol Lunch Williams has or the crackling, sharp wit that Andy Ellis has.  But I did have practice, loads and loads of it.  And so, dear reader, I advise you to go and do likewise, to put away that book project for a while and spend a few contemplative hours writing carefully crafted dedications for books yet to be born.  It counts as writing, honest.

My newest book, Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game, comes out on January 24th, and I gave the dedication to that book my best shot.  You see, I have a gorgeous, smart, and long-suffering wife, and I needed to score a few points to make up for the many times I caused her to practice that long-suffering part.

Here’s the dedication that appears in the book.  I’m hoping it’ll impress her, even a bit:

“For Elizabeth: Marrying you was better than a World Series game-seven walk-off grand slam!”


Filed under Chris

“The Book Job”

Here’s the Simpsons’ expose on the dirty secrets behind middle grade and YA novels.  Neil Gaiman plays himself on this hilarious, and at times painfully accurate, episode that explores the business of publishing and the business of not-writing.

Last week—depending on who you talk to—I retired, resigned, got laid off, or got fired from my high-profile blogging position with THROWING UP WORDS, Inc.  It was all Carol’s fault, well, Carol and the Fates who control the Ethernet.  It might have been Andy’s fault as well.  And Kyra’s.  And Bart Simpson’s.  And especially Lisa Simpson’s.  Neil Gaiman, fortunately, had nothing at all to do with my retirement/resignation/lay-off/firing.

The good news, for the two of you who may still actually be reading this woe-begotten blog, is that I have been reinstated to my high-profile position as a junior apprentice co-blogger for THROWING UP WORDS, Inc.  The bad news, for me, at least, is that the pay remains the same.

If I’m able to retain my position in this highly competitive, cut-throat business, I’ll probably post another blog next week.


by | December 7, 2011 · 9:20 am

Want to Improve Your Writing? Check Out These Writing Rulebooks

E. B. White was a famous writer long before he published Charlotte’s Web.  As a regular contributor to The New Yorker, he was soon recognized as a master stylist for his wonderful essays.  On more than one occasion, White credited William Strunk, Jr., one of his professors at Cornell, for schooling him in the basics of writing well.  Strunk had published what he called “The Little Book” with the official title of Elements of Style as a required handbook for many writing courses at Cornell.  White so admired the book that he was instrumental in having it updated and republished under the same title, Elements of Style, but with his name as co-author for the updates and additions he added to his mentor’s original work.

One of the handbook’s notable rules was number 13, “Omit needless words,” and it made such an impression on White that he later wrote, “I have been trying to omit needless words since 1919, and although there are still many words that cry for omission and the huge task will never be accomplished, it is exciting for me to reread the masterly Strunkian elaboration of this noble theme.”  Then White quotes William Strunk, Jr.:

“Vigorous writing is concise.  A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.  This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

I’ve owned the 1959 edition of Strunk and White for many years now, and, like E. B. White, as a writer and a teacher, I’ve benefited from its rules and suggestions for writing well.

There’s another book, though, that did more for my own writing.  It’s clearly a cousin to Strunk and White—its tone and style echo the same practical common sensibility of The Elements of Style, but key principles from Lucile Vaughan Payne’s little masterpiece, The Lively Art of Writing, still come to mind anytime I write a sentence.

I don’t know if it’s a better book than The Elements of Writing, but I came to know it better, much better, because I used it as a textbook for many writing classes I taught in the 1980s (yes, the 1980s—before Andy was born and around the time when Carol turned 40).  Like Strunk and White’s handbook, The Lively Art of Writing is based on some simple rules for writing, but each rule is accompanied by interesting elaboration, spot-on examples, and a series of practice exercises that give aspiring writers opportunities to try out the principles in their own writing.  As a book designed for use in English composition courses, it focuses on writing the essay, and as a book published in the mid-1960’s, it promotes some stylistic moves that today might be considered stuffy or old fashioned.  But it still has plenty of advice for all kinds of writers.  Here are some of its rules for style:

  1.  Do not use first person.
  2. Do not use the word “there”—ever.

Obviously, I’m still having problems following the first rule, but the second rule is one I have followed pretty conscientiously for decades, and it’s helped tighten and improve my style.

This little gem goes on from its chapter on style to discuss “The Size and Shape of Middle Paragraphs,” “Connections Between Paragraphs,” “The Passive Voice,” “The Sound of Sentences,” “Parallel Structure,” “A Way with Words,” and other practical writing principles.  My students and I especially benefited from Chapter 9, “The Sound of Sentences,” because it taught us how to start with what Payne called “the basic statement” and develop into more interesting sentences that she called the “strung-along sentence” and the “periodic sentence.”  Of course, these two forms can be combined to make other interesting kinds of sentences.

Here are the key ideas.  The basic statement is a sentence reduced to its bare bones.  If you remove even one word from it, you damage or destroy the meaning.  For example:  “Bells rang.”

The strung-along sentence is a basic statement with details strung along after it.  For example, “Bells rang, filling the air with their clangor, startling pigeons into flight from every belfry, bringing people into the streets to hear the news.”

Finally, the periodic sentence is a basic statement that has additional details added inside it.  From the basic statement “Love is blind,” a periodic sentences morphs into “Love, as everyone knows except those who happen to be afflicted with it, is blind.”

This isn’t complicated, earth-shaking stuff, but words and sentences are the bricks we use to build the mansions of our stories.  The better the bricks, the better the stories.

OK, kids, it’s homework time.  Here are some sentence writing drills from The Lively Art of Writing’s cool little chapter, “The Sound of Sentences”:

A.  Write a strung-along sentence at least 20 words long using each of the basic statements below as a starting point.

1.  The moon rose.

2.  The man was dead.

3.  He longed to be free.

4.  She liked the song.

5.  They had a good time.

B.  Using each of the basic statements below, write five periodic sentences at least fifteen words long.

1.  Mary left the room.

2.  The world’s greatest invention is the safety pin.

3.  Hate is based on fear.

4.  The man was dead.

5.  The circus was his life.

For more practice and insight, pick up a copy of The Lively Art of Writing: http://www.amazon.com/Lively-Art-Writing-Mentor/dp/0451627121

The 50th anniversary of The Elements of Style is also available for purchase, and it’s worth the price: http://www.amazon.com/Elements-Style-50th-Anniversary/dp/0205632645/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1320854297&sr=1-2


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