Chit Chat

Where we talk about random things that catch our fancy.
Interviews, cool lists, jokes, publishing news, stupid lists. That kind of thing.

I found this helpful…(April 10, 2022)

The Effigy Press Valentine’s Day Gift List has Arrived – 2022
Some time around Feb 2022 (yes, we were late to the dance)

Okay, let’s face it – our Christmas list was mostly booze. That won’t cut it for Valentine’s Day. So here we go with that top 10. In fact 10½ for some of you!

Valentine’s Cake Explosion Box with Butterfly Surprise. Sendacake $59.95. Expensive, but the burst of butterflies (they’re wind-up mechanical, not half-dead and looking for an open window) is really cool. Well, maybe once. Expensive, but a winner. Here.

The Night Sky. A picture/poster of the night sky on a certain date, a certain location, that is lovingly meaningful for you and your partner. I’m not going to ask, just keep it tasteful. I went to the website and it was too complicated to figure out how much these cost, but my guess is pretty cheap. Here.

BONUS: If you like The Night Sky idea, and you’ve made it as a Stephen King level writer, the Rolls Royce Phantom collection can put in a headliner with basically the same stars, generated by LEDs. Reported to be $17,000 which is actually good value when you consider the car costs $500,000.

Dedicated Stars. Dedicated*Stars $59. Alright, so we’re on a star roll here. In this case you can name a star after them! REALLY you say! (yes, there are billions of them out there). How about naming a star after the book they’re working on to inspire them? Not so good if they abandon it in despair, and the star is a dreary reminder for the next few billions of years. They also have fun add-ons like $19 if it’s “ultra bright” (so you can perhaps see it once a decade if you live in London or Cleveland).

Everyone has a story worth sharing. $89 Storyworth, but on the website discounts are flying! You sign up for this, and your partner gets an email of a romantic question once a month to which they have to reply; and at the end of a year it’s bound into a book (that’s likely, let’s face it, too embarrassing to read unless you’re super in love). No refunds if you break up or divorce during the 12-month period. The $89 price point certainly smacks of both love and capitalism. Here.

What I Love about You! Fill in the Love Journal. Amazon $8.43. Okay, sounds terrible in soooo many ways, but you’re a writer so you should nail it. Unless you have writer’s block, in which case this is a truly terrible idea. Also very cheap!

Reasons Why I love You Journal. Etsy $12.00. Like the last one, but more expensive. Here.

The Kissing Mugs. Uncommon Goods $65. What they say: “Shaped like faces kissing, these two mugs are the perfect companions to coffee with your perfect companion.” What we say: “If you can’t do better than that for $65, you probably shouldn’t even consider a romantic relationship, let alone be in one.” Here.

Heart Waffle Maker. Amazon $12.99. Staying in the kitchen, but going cheap. Pair with the above for, um, kitchen romance. At this price point, we don’t think you should leave the kitchen while it’s plugged in.

100 Dates Scratch Off Poster. Amazon $27.99. Sounds like a lovely idea, but I can also imagine the embarrassed looks from the kids/parents/friends/partner when you scratch off a circle to reveal… well, put it this way, it’s not for the risk adverse.

Luxury Bathtub Caddy Tray. Amazon $39,97. Not super-romantic as it’s clearly meant for one person, but if getting your partner to take a long bath means they’ll leave you alone to write, then have at it. As a bonus, it’s unclear if there are instructions about who has the responsibility to clean it off after use, so some room for dramatic romantic strife as well!

The Effigy Press Winter Holiday Gift List
December 15, 2021

Do you think Santa will bring you a book deal? Probably not, so instead here’s a list of 10 writerly gift ideas Jeanette and TSWS put together (mostly Jeanette). Gifts for you, or a novelist you love, that will cheer even the chilliest yuletide heart.

Rocketbook Reusable Notebook. Let your writer friend chart the arc of their characters and the drama. And in the case of this notebook, none of the pages will end up in the wastepaper bin for a change. And the microfiber cloth can also be used for wiping away tears of frustration.

“Write Drunk Edit Sober” Reminder Bracelet. Need we say more!

Writer’s Block Wine. The description of this red wine sounds like good writing – bold and structured. Pairs well with a juicy love scene!

Writer’s Tears Copper Pot Irish Whiskey. Apparently included in Ian Buxton’s publication “101 Whiskeys to try before you die” which sounds serious. And if you notice a bit of a booze theme here, well this is what we do at Effigy Press while we’re waiting for you to submit your first 600 words for a free critique – we think about alcohol!

Uni Pin Drawing Pens. A set of pens that have great flow simply makes writing easier. Buy a range of point sizes, and then settle on your favorite. Personally, I only use these, and only the 0.3mm point.

Writer’s doormat. It’s funny and useful, unlike most books.

Book Tissue Box. Tears seems to be another theme here. Anyway, this tissue box even has a lockable drawer for your secret plot twists.

Madeleines. They inspired Marcel Proust writing about Beau Monde France from his sick bed, so why can’t it work for your friend writing a thriller-sex-crime novel set in Dubai?

Absinthe Making Kit. Let your imagination soar (before you fall into a power blackout).

The Writer’s Electronic Corkboard. Plan chapters and scenes in this free download which has an adapted MS Word document.

Are You Boring?
November 21, 2021

With the many social gatherings of Thanksgiving and the winter holiday season upon us, you may be asking yourself:

  • Why do people mistake talking to me for being in a Zoom conference?
  • Am I so dull that if someone stole my identity they’d probably just give it back to me?
  • Will I ever be a ‘person of interest’ to the police?

So we at Effigy Press are delighted to offer this easy and totally unscientific self-assessment of whether you might actually have been the person that bored the turkey to death in the first place. Just rate yourself on these 10 topics as sometimes, often or (here’s hoping) never

 I like to talk about…NeverSometimesOften
1That weird dream I had   
2The time my smartphone/ computer was wiped out by some supernatural tech issue   
3A type of music (or a band) that I’m really into   
4A “I said” then “they said” discussion I had with my friend who nobody else knows   
5My children (when the person you’re talking to doesn’t have kids)   
6That time a workman fixed my faucet (or other minor home repair) all wrong   
7My deceased grandmother’s experiences during the war (any war counts)   
8The time I did or bought something when I’d drunk too much   
9The state of the roads   
10The weather!   

How to score this? Most importantly, be honest in your responses. For every topic you answered ‘never’ you clock up zero points. Every time you answered ‘sometimes’ you get 10 points. And every time you answered ‘often’ you get a whacking 50 points. And for question 3, if it involves live music, double the points. Total it all up and see how you rate.

0 to 50 points. You’re picking tons of interesting topics, or are sitting silent in the corner. Either way’s just fine with us, thank you, and congratulations.

50 to 150 points. You may be noticing that the people next to you at these big family dinners decide to take “an early nap” or are checking social media more than usual.

More than 150 points. You’re on the spectrum of being a pretty dull through to being mind-numbingly boring. We don’t have any cure for you, but you might want to try talking about politics and religion to spice things up. Still, hey, isn’t admitting you have a problem the first step on the journey to recovery?

Now you may be wondering why this matters to Effigy Press. Simply, in the first 600 words of a book critique we can spot many of the telltale signs of a dull read ahead, and these often correspond to items in your self-assessment. So here are our top-5 tips for avoiding being a boring writer.

  1. Never write dreams for your characters. It doesn’t matter how interesting you think those dreams might be… they aren’t. And for tech issues… nobody cares. Fortunately, we’ve not yet met a writer with a major plot point centered on an iPhone dropped in a toilet.
  2. Don’t give your main character a deep passion for, say, live anharmonic jazz and hope your readers will grin and bear it. Honestly, they won’t.
  3. As with the our earlier example of the poorly repaired faucet, always give the reader a reason to care about the existence of your main characters. However much you love them, without stakes they’re just about as interesting as pot plants… or a badly repaired faucet.
  4. Your grandmother was a lovely woman (we hope) but her experiences in the war aren’t very interesting until we can imagine her as a real person, with hopes and motivations. Characters aren’t just there to move the plot along, like workers in an Amazon warehouse shifting packages on Black Friday. Give your characters real hopes and motivations.
  5. Avoid pointless dialogue between characters, such as people saying: ‘I’d like a cup of tea’ and ‘Sure, would you like sugar?’ and ‘two please.’ Okay, extreme example, but making the topic more dramatic really doesn’t help. Same goes for characters complaining about the state of the roads… just because it’s true doesn’t make it interesting. And you guessed it, above all avoid dialogue between characters about the weather.

So here we go.

He pulled out the gun and held it to the head of the man with the badly scarred cheek. The music in his favorite anharmonic jazz club rattled to a jarring halt. All eyes were on him. The moment of decision had come. He knew what he had to do, and he knew it would define the rest of his life. He slowly applied more pressure to the trigger…
He awoke to realize it was only a dream. But it had strangely disturbed him.
He rolled over and saw Sarah was awake.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“Early enough. Remember we’re going to do the big heist today.”
“I know,” he muttered. “But I need some coffee first.”
“Sure. I’ll go make a pot, if you make the bed.”
He laughed. Sarah was a natural deal-maker.
“How’s the weather out there…..”

Okay, you get it!
Wishing you a Happy Holiday Season from Effigy Press

The Reviewers’ Favorite YA Books
November 6, 2021

TSWS: Given that we’re often critiquing the first 600 words of Young Adult fiction it’s no surprise that I’ve had a few questions about what we reviewers like – me, Jeanette, and Richard. And the most frequent question is what’s our favorite YA book. Richard is neck deep in editing, so Jeanette and I had a chat about that.

TSWS: You go first, what book did you chose?

Jeanette: ‘A Separate Peace’ by John Knowles.

TSWS: I don’t know that one, tell me more.

Jeanette: The story was set in a WWII era prep school, in Devon. The voice of the novel is the main character, Gene, as he experiences life as a teenage boy. Gene, an introverted, shy, intellectual, becomes best friends with Finny the charismatic, extroverted athlete. As often happens in high school friendships with clashing personality types, a rivalry begins between the boys, or at least in Gene’s mind.

TSWS: Now I feel rather ashamed of being low-brow. I chose Isaac Asimov’s ‘Robots of Dawn’ published in 1983. I don’t remember much – really anything – about the other books in the series, but this really stood out for me. I doubt it was intended for Young Adults, and that’s something I like about the best YA books, they’re accessible and engaging for readers in that age group. To digress, it begs the question of what YA readers are really looking for, and maybe writers are too much going by a check-the-box attitude to writing fiction for that audience. For instance, do the main characters have to be in the YA age group?

Jeanette: What’s the story about?

TSWS: I remember so little of it, and what I remember is probably incorrect. In the distant future a human detective on Earth reluctantly investigates the disappearance of an exploratory ship on some distant planet with resident humans that have evolved to become incredibly long-lived, and by the way there’s a cool plot twist in that. He’s accompanied by one of my favorite characters, the positronic robot Daneel and they solve this seemingly impossible crime where a different robot has had a mental shutdown, a roblock as I remember it. The Detective is generally harassed by the locals, and also enjoys a tasteful night of passion with one of the main players in the crime. It’s all just weirdly memorable. So, what made ‘A Separate Peace’ so memorable for you?

Jeanette: There’s a part of me that wonders if this book still stands out in my mind as strongly as it does because I transferred schools and ended up having to read it twice in high school or the story actually touched me. For this, and nostalgia, we’ll say I was actually touched. What did you like about this robot story of yours?

TSWS: I love that the story progression was so clear and the stakes so high: the unwanted departure from Earth, the dangerous arrival on this new world, the crime needing to be solved. Asimov doesn’t hold back on adding further stakes – the possibility of war between Earth and this other planet if the detective is unsuccessful. There’s attention to the logic of the robots – the three laws of robotics – and this sense of being in a new world that is like ours with fields and forests, and yet so different. There’s also a buddy aspect between the detective and the robot partner. It’s a page turner too, concise language and drama unfolding all around. And you?

Jeanette: For me this dichotomous friendship in ’A Separate Peace’ between Gene and Finny is common and relatable to young adults as they discover who they are in the world and how that translates to their interactions with other people. The story pushes past what’s normal and standard when Gene’s envy of his friend causes him to end his friend’s athletic career and eventually his life. Hopefully, teaching youth not to envy as the result could far outweigh what they are feeling in a moment. My entire life I’ve read stories that tug on my heartstrings, make me think, or feel attached to. For this reason, I’ve always been interested in realism and historically based novels over fantasy and fighting evil doers – sometimes it’s enough to address the evil in us all. Though don’t get me wrong, all genres have a place and an audience.

TSWS: I really agree with your point on realism, so it’s a little odd that I’d pick a futuristic robot story including evil-doers. But there’s a reality in there, it’s not total escapism and fantasy. And I’m not convinced, in retrospect, the characters were that well drawn – although the detective is flawed – he has agoraphobia – and reliant on the intellect of the robot – so he wasn’t some kind of interstellar James Bond.

Jeanette: What do you take away from this then?

TSWS: As a writer and reviewer what I zoom in on is the importance of stakes – what do the characters stand to gain or lose, and is it enough to push them from general apathy. Without stakes, Drama is just Events. It also helps the writer in developing character arc. In one of my books, the heroine is so desperate she climbs this huge decorative glass tree in the center of a futuristic city, and threatens to throw herself off to her death – and is willing to do it. Thinking more about stakes, I heard once that the ideal story charts the heroine’s unwilling or forced departure from home, wandering in dangerous forests, advice from a wise counsel, success in the form of fortune and wisdom – followed by returning to the village as a hero with gold and knowledge. I sometimes wonder if we’re wired for that arc, those stakes.

Jeanette: Stakes, then.

TSWS: Stakes and characters. Everything else is important but secondary.

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