5 Tips for Making Your Manuscript Way Better

1. Copy a few pages from Love in the Time of Cholera and slip them in between your own pages.
2. Staple a $100 bill to the last page.

3. Write the entire thing on edible rice paper.

4. Delete the last line. Then delete the second-to-last line. Work your way backwards until you reach the title.

5. Using decorative craft scissors, cut your manuscript into a paper bikini and wear it while dancing to Marilyn Manson’s cover of “You Spin Me Right Round.” As the song ends, light the entire thing on fire (make sure to have a fire extinguisher and a bottle of aloe vera lotion on hand).

Hipsters of the Heart

Today, my boyfriend and I got a very very very very very early coffee so that I could sob into his arms and plead, “Don’t go home for Th-th-th-thanksgiving! I NEED YOU!”

And as a matter of fact, I do need him, because I am staggering under the weight of how truly awful my writing is. If you thought Twilight was bad, YOU MUST CHANGE YOUR LIFE! I mean, YOU MUST READ MY STORY. I know I know, I’m quoting Kafka or whoever wrote that poem–oh yeah, Rilke, sorry, that k+vowel combo always throws me–and you must think I’m all smart and literary but I AM UNWORTHY TO PICK UP THE HUMBLEST OF PENS.

Very real emotional breakdowns aside, Charlie and I were snuggled up in a corner of the couch when who should walk through the door but Hipster Husband himself, fashionably late for his shift. He walked past us, averting his eyes at the sight of me with another man (we have an open polygamous marriage) but maintaining that so-elusive and ever-appealing hipster swagger (you know the type: the my-Toms-are-too-big shuffle, the I-can’t-see-where-I’m-going hangover eyes).

“That’s Hipster Husband,” I whispered to Charlie.

Charlie watched Hipster Husband shuffle away, and then turned to glare at me. “He’s an asshole,” he said.

“What? You don’t even know him! He’s totally shy and sweet!”

“I can just tell. It’s like how you can just tell when girls are biddies.” (Quick aside: Male intuition? Do we buy it?)

“Okay,” I said, meekly. “I’ll divorce him.” I took a forlorn sip of my coffee, somehow managing to look dewy and fresh despite the early hour and the heartbreak that was ravaging my eyes.

After a while, we got up to leave. I took my mug over to Hipster Husband. “Have a good day!” I said, although my heart was screaming, I’M NOT READY TO STOP LOVING YOU!!!!!

As I walked out of the coffee shop with my cruel, cruel boyfriend, he put his arm around me and said, “Actually, that guy is chill.”

I looked up at him, mute with hope.

“You don’t have to divorce him,” he said, and walked on, stoic and ever-cool.

He Said, She Said: A Mini Essay About Dialogue Tags

There’s a lot of annoyingly didactic stuff written about dialogue, and how you want active, iiiiiinteresting dialogue tags (but they can’t be too colorful–no “intoned” or “bawled,” please) and lots of little actions in media res, like having your character sniff a bouquet of lavender as they spout off a monologue. Apparently this will make your characters come to life–they’ll practically spring off the page, hide in your closet, and leap on top of you, fangs blazing, in the middle of the night! And who doesn’t want that?

First of all, I don’t like writing advice–you can either write or you can’t, I’m sorry if that sounds extreme but Extreme is my middle name. Second of all, I kind of hate dialogue tags in literary fiction, no matter how subtle they think they are. (I think they’re necessary in children’s fiction, but perhaps that’s because children are stupid.) They’re so distracting. Unless someone is screaming or whispering or perhaps lathering at the mouth from a bad case of rabies, I don’t really care if you rasp or groan or choke out your words or whatever. I am a huge fan of the simple “said.” I mean, do you really want to read something like this?

“I heard you ordered a tub cleanser, ma’am,” he mumbled, peeling an orange with his teeth.
She spun around on one slender toe and gasped, “The soapier the better!”

No no no no no. I like this:

“Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” she said.
He was cute. She was hungry. She ate him.

The PARANOIA!!! Diet and Exercise Plan

Tired of subsisting on lettuce leaves, of swaddling yourself in Spanx like a human sausage? Try the PARANOIA!!! Diet and Exercise Plan, the only FDA-approved way to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds in a few short weeks. The PARANOIA!!! Diet and Exercise Plan works with your body, not against it, by harnessing your skyrocketing levels of Seratonin: The All-Natural Meth (c) and using those rapid-firing neurotransmitters to melt away pounds and sculpt you into the Adonis or Artemis that you were meant to be. Of course it works. Why, did you hear something?

While we certainly can’t give away all our secrets (and in fact, we’ll be carrying our secrets to our graves and you’ll have to pry them out of our frozen fingers because we’re not vulnerable fools), see below for four FREE ways to lose weight: the PARANOID!!! way (c).

At work!!! Boss always takes the elevator, right? Dear Lord, what would happen you took the elevator–together? She’d see right through your “happy, hardworking employee” façade to the hollow, vapid, ghost of an individual that lurks inside, ravaged by self-doubt. It’s too terrible to think about but you’re going to think about it anyway: the awkward elevator conversation, the sudden unemployment, dying in front of your TV, your body slowly nibbled away by your cat. Sprint down the stairs with the sweat of true fear springing from your brow. Bonus!!! Scratching rapidly at your arms while sprinting can result in losing up to 3 pounds of unnecessary skin cells!

At McDonalds!!! What’s the one thing on this godforsaken menu that’s NOT made with rat meat? Definitely not the fillet of fish. Perhaps a salad? Oh no, the girl behind the counter is so skinny, she’ll think you’re ordering a salad because you want to be just like her. She’ll think you’re stalking her and soon you’ll know everything about her and wear her face like a mask. Why did you wear the black blazer today? Nothing says “I love you so much I want to cut all your skin off” like black, black, oh, this terrible black blazer that cinches you like a straitjacket. Order a cup of water and sip it slowly. Bonus!!! When in a public place, spin frequently on your heel, keeping those glutes engaged, to see if there’s anyone creeping up behind you.

On a date!!! Don’t look at her mouth don’t look at her eyes don’t look at her hands don’t look at her wedding ring don’t look at her boobs don’t look at the steak knife don’t look at the candle uh-oh that flame is flickering really close to her wrist, her wrist that looks as delicate as the bones inside a baby chicken, stop looking at her wrist don’t think about the candle is the flame actually touching her skin why isn’t she saying anything? Don’t think about the candle. Did you know rapid eye movement burns a shocking 300 calories an hour? Bonus!!! If she tries to leave early (and why wouldn’t she, you sick unworthy freak?), you’ll have to chase her out of the restaurant, pleading, “Come back! Why won’t anyone love me?” That’s an extra 100-200 calories right there.

On the sidewalk!!! Everyone looks so ordinary. EVERYONE LOOKS SO ORDINARY. Why is it so goddamn hard to spot them? If only they had some sort of identifying factor, like a tattoo or a colorful fez. Why are there so many people here, and why are they all looking at you? Clutch your neck and  sprint down the closest dark alleyway. When you feel that telltale burn in your thighs, it’s probably cancer. Ignore it, jump into the river, swim out to sea, grab onto a dolphin, and wash up a forsaken island, gasping, dehydrated, starving, bronzed, and ten pounds lighter. Bonus!!! The island’s jungle is full of caloric fruits, but you won’t want to go exploring once you realize how the light glints off the jungle leaves like hundreds upon thousands of unfriendly eyes.

Not the right exercise plan for you? Try the Commuter’s Workout.

Children are Stupid

You may have clicked on this link because you assume, based on the title, that this is some protofeminist rant about gender roles and the dated burden of motherhood. I have no idea what “protofeminist” means, btw. Is it real? Who knows.

But this has nothing to do with made-up words or feminism. Having children is not stupid. Children are stupid.

I work for eight children’s magazines. And let me tell you, those little suckers are D-U-M-B. We recently put out an issue on “trees.” I was like, SNORT. You idiots don’t know what trees are? “Why do the leaves turn golden in the fall, Miss Tori?” “I don’t know, Paulie-bear, why does your mom drink so much?” That’s how I handle little kids. WITH FISTS OF IRON. With whip-smart sarcasm.

Oh wait, using sarcasm on little kids is a total waste of time. You make a hilarious joke, they drool. You do some prime physical comedy (you should see my slapstick routine–I run into a wall and then fall down. It’s hysterical, and what’s even funnier is how little my health insurance covers!) and they start crying. You surprise them by jumping out from behind a bush and suddenly you’re off the babysitting roster. Know what I’m saying? It’s a total waste of time trying to get little kids to laugh, unless you’re the type of comedian that finds artistic fulfillment in putting your fist in your mouth.

Also, it’s time for little kids to GET THE EFF OVER MOTHER GOOSE. Can we all just MOVE ON, PLEASE? Jack jumped over the candlestick: FIRE HAZARD. There was an old woman who lived in a shoe: SANDUSKY. I will sail my little ship: SNOOZEVILLE. Children’s literature has been stuck in the decaying claws of Madam Goose for far too long, but of course kids are too dumb to seek out aesthetic innovation.

Here’s the type of poem that little kids like to read:

Flitting by
Pretty pretty to my eye

Here’s the type of poem that adults like to read:

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

ADULTS WIN. And no, I will not cite my sources. If you don’t know who wrote that last poem, you’re either an idiot or you have mercifully avoided the “I’m into Beat poetry” phase that we all wallowed in for about 2 years. If you don’t know who wrote the first poem, well, it was me.

To Love a Hipster

The saga of the heart continues. When we last parted ways, I was toying with the idea of reuniting with my ex-husband, the one who broke my heart by scoffing at my grandparents, the one who tried to kick me and his other wife out of his coffee shop a full minute before it closed. My polygamous dreamboat. I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated you on the state of my love life, and believe me, I’ve heard your screams: DID YOU TAKE HIM BACK?

Faithful subjects, there has been a twist. A new husband has arrived on the scene. His name? Hipster.

A few weeks ago, my sister-wife and I went to our favorite coffee shop, as we so often do, to complain about the bourgeoisie. Imagine our consternation—picture the blushes that played over our perfectly spherical faces like the aurora borealis over the Arctic snows—envision our wrists, trembling with nervous energy, encased in their rows and rows and rows of impossibly thin Cartier chains—are you still with me?—visualize the way our hearts reverberated in our chests like the wild, untameable leopards of the Brookfield Zoo, when we saw that there was a new barista behind the counter. His hair? Curly and black. His eyes? Hidden by square-framed glasses. His feet? Encased in weatherbeaten Toms. He was a hipster. And he was ours.

To love a hipster requires two things: well-worn Converse and a laissez-faire attitude about art. Thankfully, I possess plenty of both. I knew he was mine when he said in tones that could melt the most organic of butters, “I like the state of your Chucks.”

Cell phone tour of the coffee shops of Portland, OR, provided by your faithful correspondent.