Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.
— Dalai Lama
J.J. Probasco – Without Adult Supervision
Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.
— Dalai Lama
Bill Heavey writes a humor column for Field & Stream magazine, and he’s hilarious. He also writes informative articles, and they usually have a healthy dose of humor, too. This one is just the thing to help solve the TP Apocalypse.
It’s also a really good example of writing humor, not to mention a little relief from the general all-around tension of the times. Thanks, Bill.
Can’t find any bathroom tissue thanks to coronavirus hoarders? Don’t worry, the outdoors has your backside
As I write this, Charmin, Cottonelle, and Downy Soft toilet paper, to name a few, are “currently unavailable” on Amazon. This verifies what you’ve always suspected: When things get scary in the U.S., the first thing most of us think about is pooping. The average American goes through 30 rolls of t.p. a year, which is kind of impressive but still not a reason to stock an entire wall of your basement with them. Seventy percent of the world’s population doesn’t even use bathroom tissue. They use a variety of things, including, in some countries, the left hand. I have no intention of covering that technique here.
People have always devoted a lot of thought to cleaning their backsides. As early as the 6th century, the Chinese scholar Yan Zhitui wrote that he preferred not to use paper containing quotations from the sages. The first task-specific toilet paper was invented in China in 1391. The sheets were initially intended for the royal family. They were big and perfumed. A 16th century French writer recommended “the neck of a goose that is well downed.” Doesn’t sound like a bad idea. On the other hand, it’s tough stockpiling goose necks.
The Romans pooped communally—just like they did most things—and used a sea sponge attached to a stick to clean themselves. Between uses, the stick was plunged into sea water. This, incidentally, is where the phrase, “the sh*tty end of the stick” comes from. The Vikings used old sheep wool and smooth pottery shards. They were hardy people. The Eskimos used two of the better t.p. substitutes: snow in the winter and tundra moss when it was available. Snow, incidentally, is often ranked both as one the best and one of the worst alternatives by natural-bathroom-tissue experts. On the plus side, it is fantastically effective, both smooth for comfort and mildly abrasive for effective cleaning. What’s more, it can be custom-shaped. On the minus side, it’s really cold. It’s also wet. A wet butt is not a good thing.
In this country, until the late 1800s, it was common to find a corncob hanging from a string in the outhouse. I know, I don’t want to think about it either. Seems like it would start out too smooth and end up too rough. And, of course, it was communal. Really, I have no idea why it was so widely used.
The Sears catalog changed everything and was a quantum leap in bathroom technology. It was free, contained hundreds of soft, uncoated pages, and gave you something to read in the meantime. The sort of toilet paper we use today wasn’t commercially available until 1857. Gayett’s Medicated Paper for the Water Closet contained aloe and was marketed as being good for hemorrhoids, which were called “piles” back in the day. The patent for rolled t.p. was granted in 1891. Fun fact for settling bar bets: The original patent drawing shows the paper unspooling from the top rather than the bottom. This is the only sensible way to do it, but some people like to quibble.
If you find yourself in a survival situation—or if you just can’t buy toilet paper anywhere right now—you’ve got options. Believe it or not, smooth stones, like river rocks, of a fairly small size are considered one of the better choices for the task. Not particularly absorbent, but better than a corn cob. The cones of Douglas fir trees are recommended because they are said to be comparatively soft. “Comparatively” is the key word here. A handful of grass stalks, all carefully and tightly bundled and then folded over to create a “brush” is another popular alternative on survivalist websites. It actually looks sort of doable.
But if my ass were on the line, I’d reach for one of these six options, at least one of which is available anytime and almost anywhere in the great outdoors.
The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family.
— Thomas Jefferson
Just a few thoughts.
First of all, we need to recognize that we’re in a serious situation here, but be grateful that it’s not something like Ebola or Spanish flu. We’re in for somewhat less dire consequences, but we’re getting a wake-up call. The people who catch it are getting much more than that — it’s frighteningly fast and furious and a lot of people are suffering and dying. Have some compassion.
Second, I don’t care if you call it COVID-19 or Coronavirus or the Vacation Virus. I’ve never heard anybody called a racist for saying Ebola or MERS or Spanish flu, so I’m certainly not wrapped around the axle if somebody calls this the Chinese virus, but some people are. If you want to argue about it, go ahead but take it someplace else. We all know what we’re talking about no matter which term we use. The term that offends me is Legionnaire’s Disease, because it sounds like veterans are just old & moldy and probably have leprosy or something all on their own. If you want to get uppity about changing disease names, change that one back to Philadelphia fever like it started out and let the Philly folks fuss about it.
There are a lot of us who aren’t infected but are still affected, because we’re isolated and the world is in turmoil. We need to take advantage of our time. Writers don’t have as much trouble as normal people with the isolation, because we tend to sit by ourselves and stare at walls anyway, so we should use the time to sharpen our pencils, wits, and skills. We can write, research, and contemplate. Everybody else can do the same, really. Get better at what you do, or learn to do something new. Our pastor is learning to live-stream his sermons and is now on Facebook for the first time. If he can do it, you can do it. Be bold.
Communication is important in one way or another for all of us, and the most important communicating we can do is to make sure our loved ones know that’s what they are. We may not be able to see them or be with them, but we can call, email, message, text, Skype (whatever that is), write a letter…so many choices. But let them know, because there’s a lot of uncertainty out there and if you wait until tomorrow, it might be too late.
Let’s not be knee-jerk negativists. Don’t think the worst of somebody without knowing the whole story. It might just be possible that somebody with a cart full of toilet paper is shopping for a homeless shelter, or a nursing home, or an assisted living facility, instead of being the poster child for greed and selfishness. On the other hand, if you’re being greedy and selfish, knock it off! We’re all in this together.
Like Gunny Highway says, “Improvise, adapt, and overcome!” When your deepest fears are realized and the world actually runs out of toilet paper, google “cloth diapers,” which everyone who had kids in the 70s or earlier are quite well acquainted with. Almost everything else has an equivalent work-around if you look for it. You can do anything you have to do when you don’t have another choice.
It’s possible all the high school seniors have had their last day of school already. However, if the last 13 years hasn’t prepared them to face the world, the next two months won’t help. Yes, they might miss getting their diplomas handed to them in front of a crowd. Be sorry for them, take pictures and share them on social media, and tell them how proud you are. But most of them will realize that a couple minutes of ceremony will not define who they are and who they will become. And they’ll have a story to tell their grandkids.
You can quit laughing at the preppers now. Now you know what it’s all about. Think about having some food and supplies stocked up in your closets or under your beds in case it happens again…or something worse. You really don’t know when an earthquake might happen. Or a volcano, meteor, comet, solar flare, tornado, chemical spill, electromagnetic pulse, nuclear accident, or alien invasion. You just don’t know. Do you know how to build an emergency shelter? Start a fire? Set a snare? Defend yourself and your family? Survive? Think about it.
If you do survive this event, a lot of the reason will be the doctors, nurses, scientists, EMTs, police, firefighters, military, and others who can’t stay home from work and have to carry the rest of us through this. Thank them.
Be nice. Keep your distance. Wash your hands.
Any other thoughts? Let’s hear ‘em.
This too shall pass. It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.
I’ve blathered a little about queries for the last couple of weeks, but the subject demands mention of the Query Shark, and then I’ll have self-actualized on the subject and can move on.
Query Shark is the superhero identity of the mild-mannered metropolitan literary agent, Janet Reid. She’s well-known and respected in the publishing world, has represented many awesome authors, and has sold many, many books. Most of her considerable rep, however, comes from her efforts to drag aspiring authors, kicking and screaming if necessary, into the publishing world by helping them figure out how to interface with agents.
The basic interface, of course, is the query letter. You use it to explain to an agent how delightful your book is and convince them to hawk it around to the big publishing companies. Janet Reid wants you to succeed in your quest, and has developed at least three web entities that help.
The first is her regular blog, which has discussions and archives and many things that are informative or helpful, or maybe just funny and witty, which is helpful in itself. She discusses queries there a lot, answers questions, instigates flash fiction contests, and contemplates the foibles of the industry. You can find links to her other blogs there, too. It’s definitely worth a look, and you can find it HERE.
The Query Shark blog itself is a separate but inextricably intertwined project. This is VERY worthwhile to authors salivating after a lucrative career, because it gives you a tremendous amount of examples of good and bad queries, and what makes them either way. At least in her opinion, which is quite highly regarded. You can even send in your query to have her look it over and provide feedback under the right circumstances. Go there, look around, study, ponder. You can find that one HERE.
And lastly, she has a website specifically for private review, analysis, and feedback for your query. This one will cost you money, and given her range of experience and reputation, it’s most likely quite worth the expense if this is what you need. You can find that one HERE.
One big help from Janet Reid is a quote I saw in one of her interviews several years ago: “Write. Read. Never give up. Learn, rest, rethink, but never quit.” Good words. You might want to write them down and refer to them often.
Always keep in mind that every agent is an individual and they all have different desires and quirks. They’re frequently working for agencies that also have different desires and quirks. As an example, Janet Reid has said that different agents at an agency may have differing tastes, so you should query every agent at that agency who represents your genre of book. Some agencies I have queried state right in their websites that they share queries back and forth if they think a different agent might be interested, so DO NOT query more than one or they’ll toss you in the dumper.
So even for such an authoritative figure as Janet Reid, don’t just take everything any agent says as the final answer. Research each one and personalize your approach to them. And don’t limit yourself to just a few — the more you try, the better your chances of succeeding.
And always remember that the publishing business is fluid and if you don’t succeed today, you just might tomorrow. Always take all advice with a grain of salt…yes, even mine…and remember the immortal words of George R.R. Martin: “Just when you reach the stage that you understand how publishing works, and how to build your career, then all the rules change.”
Good luck out there.
Not that I’m aggressively pushing my first book, since it’s been out there for a while and may be getting a little stale for some folks, but I’ve seen several people mentioning on social media that they’re staying home because they’re afraid to go out in public due to the CoronaVirus, COVID19, whatever you wish to call it. So I did a Countdown Deal for the Kindle version of my book to see what happens, and maybe some people will find it a good way to while away some time. And of course it’s not particularly noble of me because I just might make a whopping 60 cents out of it if I’m lucky, so there’s that. But I’m not holding my breath, though that’s not a bad idea with all the virus particles wafting about. Anyway, we’ll see how this works. Looks nice, anyway. Whaddaya think?
I don’t really care how time is reckoned so long as there is some agreement about it, but I object to being told that I am saving daylight when my reason tells me that I am doing nothing of the kind. I even object to the implication that I am wasting something valuable if I stay in bed after the sun has risen. As an admirer of moonlight I resent the bossy insistence of those who want to reduce my time for enjoying it. At the back of the daylight saving scheme I detect the bony, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier, and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy and wise in spite of themselves.
— Robertson Davies
I wrote last week about the need and purpose of query letters — to get an agent for your masterpiece. This time I have a good article by Robert Lee Brewer at Writer’s Digest, which explains a little more about the query concept and also gives good examples of query letters that were successful in snagging agents. The snagged agents also give feedback on what captured their interest, and the examples are across several genres to add different perspectives.
While you’re taking a look at the samples, always keep in mind that agents are humans just like some of the rest of us, and therefore have a pretty wide range of what might get their attention. They are also looking for different subjects, concepts, or styles of writing at different times. Sometimes they want something different from what they normally see…and some of them want to see the same format every time.
What this all means is that you have to research each agent before you send them a query. Look at their websites, their social media pages, interviews they’ve done, and articles they’ve written — whatever you can find. This does make it a very tedious process, but everything worthwhile takes time and work, and you are so much more likely to succeed if you do your homework.
But here’s another caution: the entire industry is dynamic and what works for you one day may not work the next day. Some agents put out their rules and likes and whims, and then accept a writer who gives them a query that breaks all the rules, simply because it piques their interest.
So learn all you can, polish your manuscript as shiny as it can get, and most of all, persevere. Some days you’re the bug…some days you’re the windshield. Research and perseverance make you more windshield.
Here’s Robert Lee Brewer with much wisdom:
(Click here to learn how to find a literary agent.)
The mission of your query letter is to convince an editor or agent that they want to invest time in you and your writing project. In that sense, a query letter is the first impression you make in what will hopefully blossom into a much longer professional relationship. No pressure.
In this post, I’ve attempted to share tips on what needs to go into a query letter and provide links to several queries (across several writing genres) that were successful.
For all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into query letters, it’s actually a pretty straightforward document that consists of an opening pitch (or hook), more (but not all) info on the project, and a little about you as the author. The order of these elements can differ, but I’m going to share the most common structure.
(Click here to learn how literary agents agree and differ on submissions.)
The Pitch: The pitch (or hook) is a concise statement that sums up the essential nature of your book. This concise statement is usually achieved in one or two sentences, and it gives your audience a sense of what the book is about and why they should get excited about it.
More Info: After a compelling pitch, many successful queries offer up a paragraph or three of evidence that supports that your book project is worthwhile, has an audience, and is worth their time. If your pitch doesn’t already include it, then this is a good place to include your book’s category (or genre) and word count.
(Click for the definitive post on word counts for novels and children’s books.)
About You: This is a concise statement sharing why you’re the perfect person to write this book. It could be that you have personal or professional experience that lines up with the subject of your book. It could be that you have good sales in the genre or an incredible author platform from a blog or YouTube channel.
However, avoid stretching the truth to make yourself seem more important. If all you have is an amazing book (and no other credentials), then just say something along the lines of, “This is my debut novel,” and leave it at that. If your pitch is on point, your manuscript will get to do the talking when they request more pages.
Of course, most writers know it’s better to show than tell (in most cases). So I’ve told you about query letters; now, I’m going to show you successful query letters—so you can see how others did it. Just find your category (or genre) below and click on the links to see successful examples.
Contemporary Fiction Query Letters
Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.
— Groucho Marx