Adverbily Yours (She Signed Saucily)

If you’re the type of broad who’s trying to make a go of it as a serious writer, I’d venture to guess that there’s a chance you’re terrified of adverbs. If you ever took a course on short fiction (or worse, short-short fiction), I have a feeling it’s quite possible that adverbs feel like curse words to you – and not the kind of curse words that make you feel great and badass to say; the kind of curse words that just sort of pop out of your mouth at inappropriate moments in front of the wrong people. Like, you know, saying ‘balls’ in front of your sweet old grandmother, on accident.

Or, you know, accidentally saying ‘balls’ in front of your sweet old grandmother.

I live in fear of adverb slippage. Letting an adverb out in a piece of short ficiton has come to feel like the writer’s equivalent of being an actress and having your boobs pop out on a red carpet event (stay with me here, I know I’m just a few paragraphs in and have already said ‘boobs’ and ‘balls,’ but I’m going somewhere with this). This fear of adverbs goes back to an introductory fiction course I took in undergrad where, prior to the lesson on, ‘hey guys, don’t use adverbs,’ we turned in pieces to our professor, and she circled every adverb on the page before returning them to us. And then wrote the number. And circled the number. Ouch. (To her defense, I think she had mixed our class up with another class in which she *had* covered the adverb faux-pas a week prior, but that critique still stings to this day.)

And I get it, I truly do. Why say ‘he whispered quietly,’ when we all know that the word ‘whispered’ implies the ‘quietly’ bit? It’s drilled into our brains that adverb-use is a lazy writer’s coverup. “Oh, sorry editor, I didn’t have time to find the word ‘shouted,’ so ‘said loudly’ was just going to have to work.”

But I know that adverbs have their place. They must, or they wouldn’t be something we dedicate lessons to in school. (Although, I admit it made me a little bitter to have learned how to use adverbs only to be later told that I *shouldn’t* be using them. Confusing!) The problem is, how on earth do you know when you’re doing it right?

Okay. I know. Writing is subjective. What one person enjoys, makes another person cringe. Somewhere out there is a dude who just waits for adverbs to slip themselves into sentences. Somewhere, there’s a dude who’s mad at our writing professors for shaming us into a lack of adverb-age, and I’m sure he views each and every ‘happily’ and ‘excitedly’ like an old friend returning from the war.

But for those of us who are just average people without boners for adverbs (I am so, SO sorry about the lack of naughty-language-filter I’m employing tonight, by the way), there’s a fine line of adverb use. And where do we draw the line?

Personally (haha!), I think genre and point of view have a lot to do with this. I primarily write YA, and I always write in first person. This leads my narrators to use more adverbs than I immediately feel comfortable with – they’re teenage girls, and everything is ‘totally’ and ‘really’ and ‘seriously’. Were my characters lawyers or introspective astrophysicists, they wouldn’t talk that way. But they’re not. They’re teenage girls who get a little overdramatic a lot of the time. They also shrug and sigh and make lists about ‘must-have’ qualities in boys they want to date. Seriously.

How do I know too many ‘totallys’ are too many? I don’t. I try to go with what feels natural. (Just for my own curiosity’s sake, I totaled these up in my present WIP: we’ve got 42 ‘totally’s, 18 ‘seriously’s, and 34 ‘absolutely’s across a 76,000 word novel. So yeah, maybe some of those could go, but they make up a percentage of a percentage of the words in the book.) Should my book fall into the hands of an editor, and should she ask me to cut out some of my girls’ Valley-speak (I mean, they’re totally not that Valley… err… nevermind), I wouldn’t fight her. Or, I wouldn’t fight her too much. But they don’t feel like they’re cluttering up the text, just giving a little piece of style to the voice of the girls, who are absolutely the coolest gals I’ve ever written.

I’m curious as to what other writers think about this. Since I don’t read by e-book, it’s hard for me to look at other comparable books and see where they stand (I’m not so curious about this question that I’m going to go through all the Beautiful Creatures books and highlight adverbs), but I do wonder. What rules do you have about adverbs? Do you try to avoid them at all costs, or do you embrace them when the moment strikes? Do you find yourself using them more when writing certain genres than when writing others? Are you also an almost-30-year-old who just realized, while writing a blog post, that she might still speak like a 19-year old? And if so, do they have support groups for broads like us?

Graciously, Curiously, Absolutely Totally Sincerely Yours,
Fox

Where Are You Going

Oh, why hello! Fancy that – I’ve got a blog out here in the… err… blogosphere. Who knew?!?

Okay, okay. I knew. I knew all this time (almost 2 months!) that I had this blog sitting here, and that I was abandoning it. But it was all for some really good reasons – I swears it! Here’s what I’ve been up to:

~ I went to a blogger conference in NYC. It was really not the right conference for me, the writing/food/wine/local interest blogger. It felt like it was more for business owners who wanted to learn how to do blogging and social media for their companies (interestingly enough, the conference actually announced a name-change at the end of the week which removed the word ‘blog’ from the title entirely, which I think makes sense).

~ More importantly, I spent a lot of time cutting classes at this blogger conference to do things like run along the Hudson River, ride the Central Park carousel (tipsy!), and hang around in bars drinking Cosmopolitans and working on my book. Oh, and I also crashed a Tuesday night karaoke and totally won over a crowd of New Yorkers with my rendition of “Edge of Glory”!

~ I tried (and failed!) to read 50 Shades of Grey. Couldn’t do it! Each sentence I read was like a reinforcement of the ‘Fox is actually a 12-year-old boy trapped in an almost-30-year-old woman’s body’ theory. I couldn’t stop giggling! She said words like ‘shaft’ all the time! (I’m giggling now, sitting in this crowded coffeeshop, just thinking about the word ‘shaft’ haha!)

~ I worked on Back Yardageddon, the multi-year yard project my husband and I have been tackling. We dug a driveway (well, he did most of the driveway bits, but I did help!) and leveled out an uneven patch of our back yard, and this weekend will hopefully have the right weather to be able to plant grass seed and make my backyard a little more-finished.

~ I watched my Los Angeles Kings finally win the Stanley Cup (from the comfort of my own couch, in the presence of my tiny Luc Robitaille shrine, since, you know, we don’t live in Burbank anymore)!! I’ve been a Kings fan since the ’90s, and it was so exciting to see them actually be good. May have developed a mini-crush on Jonathan Quick. That dude is a beast between the pipes! (Ha! That sounds dirty! 12-year-old Fox is cracking up!)

Oh, and then the past two weekends… It’s been a total Dave-fest.

In the event that you aren’t Dave-sessed (see what I did there?) like me, what I’m talking about is the fantastic and always inspiring Dave Matthews Band. I know I talk about the Red Hot Chili Peppers quite a bit in here, and how inspiring they are to me, but there are three other bands that have that same life-preserving effect on me, and one of them is DMB (the other two are the Cure and the Slip, since I’m sure you’re wondering ;)). I’ve been going to see Dave live since the year 2000, and this past weekend marked my 25th show!

While I like listening to their studio stuff from time to time, there is nothing quite like the experience of a live DMB show. Each member of the band is insanely talented, and their songs have a way of sweeping you from the earth and into some mystical jam-land where life is wonderful and everything makes perfect sense all of the time. For me, going to a Dave show is like going to church: I come out feeling spiritually, creatively, and emotionally refreshed. When I get home from a show, I just want to bust open notebooks and run all of my pens dry scribbling down stories. (And make hush puppies, apparently. True story, we drove all the way to Wisconsin to see two shows at Alpine Valley Music Theater, and I toted my little deep fryer the whole way there so I could make hush puppies after the concerts. Dang were they good.)

And so now, here I am, post-summer-tour (got our four shows of the summer crammed into two back-to-back weekends by random chance this year), with all of this positive energy swirling around in me, and… nowhere? to let it out.

But it can’t be ‘nowhere.’ I have to use this energy, use this drive, to get back on the writing wagon.

You see, although I’ve been busy in the past two months, and I have done a bit of writing here and there, I haven’t… ::very quiet inside voice:: really been doing enough.

Hello everyone, my name is Fox, and I’ve accidentally let my characters fall into a state of disrepair, much like the poor NeoPet I adopted in 1997 and haven’t really fed since. (Okay guys, don’t judge me, I just spent the last 15 minutes remembering first my username and password so I could log in, and then what foods Kacheeks like to eat, because poor RutherfordTheBrave was ‘dying’ from lack of food! And now he’s unhappy, so I’m going to have to spend another 15 minutes playing ball with him!)

Ummm…. right. Where were we? Oh, that’s right, talking about how I’ve abandoned Bridget, Simon, and Alex the way I’d abandoned poor little Rutherford up there!

But look – I just invested all those minutes and NeoPoints to bring my baby Kacheek back to fighting form, so isn’t that a good sign? Aren’t I now going to feed and nourish and play with my characters? (You know, it would really help if your novel’s characters could appear with a sad, cute graphic and stats like ‘unhappy’ and ‘famished’ to motivate you!)

All joking aside, the answer is yes. Yes, I am going to recommit myself to taking care of my kids. Because in the end, isn’t that what our characters are, our kids? A very wise woman (my therapist) said to me, “You’re like Bridget’s older sister. If you don’t go out there and tell her story, no one’s going to get a chance to know it.” And that makes sense. We writers are the spokespeople for our characters, the creators of their biographies. And if I’m not there to tell the world about Bridget and Simon and Alex and their adventures, then no one is going to know.

And I know I’m biased, since, well, I made them up, but I think it would be a real shame if no one got to know them!

So to answer the (DMB-inspired) title to this blog entry, where I’m going is back into the world of my novel. I’m going to rededicate myself to making this story known. I’m going to write little notes on a calendar that say ‘writing date!’ and then I’m going to take myself out for them (even if they occur in a bar at noon). I’m going to delve back into my list of agents and send that query letter out like I’m a hippy outside a concert venue with a stack of show flyers (except that the agents will hopefully *want* my book more than most people want those show flyers). And I’m going to keep this thing updated with my progress on all ends.

Where am I going? Tomorrow, I am going to my calendar, my planning notebook, and a coffeeshop. And, most importantly, I’m going to Bridget’s house, and we’re going to have a nice long chat (over some good Dave tunes).