Category Archives: J. Dana Stahl

The Tiger’s Tail

When you choose to pull the tiger’s tail, you sort of take your life into your own hands.  Ok, well maybe not your life, but let hyperbole work for just a moment.  Picture disastrous consequences—like gnashing teeth and growling and the spreading of rabies…or worse.
What’s worse than rabies, you ask?  Well, let me tell you.  It’s a mama who’s hell-bent on crushing your kneecaps with a whiffle bat (because that’s how we roll out here in the ‘burbs).  It’s a cyclone of fury all wrapped up in one little red SU, rolling right up the hill…just ready to take your ass out.  That’s what it is.
Oh yeah.  Have I had some wine?  Maybe.  Have I been provoked?  Hell, yeah.
You see, here’s the thing.  I’m pretty protective of my little cubs, and when someone comes knocking at my door telling me that one of my sweet little innocent furballs of love has turned all juvenile delinquent, I start to question things.  I start to wonder if maybe certain people aren’t stretching things just a bit, and that’s when mama tiger starts to stretch her claws.
Oh and it’s probably helpful to know that mama tiger is also a horribly hopeless reclusive troll.  So, when said accusers start using the telephone to corner the reclusive troll-like tiger, the troll-like tiger naturally retreats further into her cave, using the only means of defense at her disposal—curse words and, well, sharp objects.  (I’ve said ‘fuck’ a LOT during the last 24 hours, but honestly it’s because I’ve been cornered, and anyone in their right fucking mind knows not to corner an introvert, because who knows what you’re fucking gonna get, right?  Right.)
Anyway, so my kid (we’ll call him Bob for the sake of anonymity) has been apparently creating a helluva mess at school.  Apparently, they don’t teach this class in the advanced education classes at the university, because NO ONE, and I mean NOT. ONE. SINGLE. PERSON. knows what to do with him.
Here’s the deal.  He’s seven…as in seven years old.  And he wiggles.  GASP!  (I know…what the everloving fuck, right?  A 7-year-old boy that wiggles?  Say it’s not so!)  Well, apparently, that means he doesn’t pay attention, and we need to give him more drugs to calm him down.  Awesomesauce.  I love educators.
Any-hoo, I digress.  He also tends to get pissed off at kids when they make fun of him.  (Crazy, no?  I mean, I would totally sit there and take it, but you know, that’s just me.)  I would get mad at those little shits, too.  So it’s a little difficult for me to reinforce the socially correct “think sheets” that we have to do in the evenings after he’s gotten angry with the kids who’ve made fun of him.   “Well, son, maybe next time we should tell them to go fuck themselves instead of punching them?  Remember, we want to use our words…not our hands.”  Yay, think sheets!
But Mommy isn’t angry.  It’s more like Mommy feels backed into a corner, because when mommy gets four freaking phone calls in a single day from different educators, all of them wanting to increase her kid’s meds or talk about her kid’s issues or discuss her kid’s behavior problems, what happens?  And what if Mommy is a freaking introverted tiger who is now feeling quite backed into a corner?
Back off my kid, Lee’s Summit.  He’s a 7-year-old boy.  He’s happy.  He’s well-adjusted.  And he happens to wiggle a little.  Oh yeah, and math is freaking hard.
Ok, I feel better now.  I’m taking the kids for ice cream tomorrow.  Hallelujah.  Holy shit.

I Talk to My Dog

Don’t judge.  She’s actually my content editor.  She’s the first line of defense when it comes to what actually makes it onto paper and what gets scratched, so you can blame her for a lot of things.
She’s a very generous editor, too.  She has a non-verbal way of communicating her approval of various writings with me—mostly with a violent thrumming of her thick tail onto whatever surface is nearby.  (That could also be due to the fact that she gets lots of treats, but I’m going to take it as a sign that she enjoys whatever I’m reading aloud to her at the moment.)
You see, I find if I read things aloud, I can really weed out the ridiculous from the not-so-ridiculous, especially with dialogue.  For example, if I were to read out aloud, “Daughter, would you be so kind as to turn down your radio?” I would know immediately how ridiculous it sounds.  I would be much more likely to say something like, “Dammit, how many times do I have to tell you to turn down that damned noise?  I can’t even think up here!”  Or something like that, but that makes me sound really old, so I would totally rephrase.
Anyway, you get the point.  So I read to my dog.  A lot.  And she doesn’t even look at me like I’m crazy.  Because I’m totally not.  Crazy, I mean.  And besides, she knows that if she accused me of being crazy simply for reading to her, I would probably stop giving her treats all day long, so she’d be much better off just shutting up and sitting there on her comfy chair and taking the torture.  It’s a rough life, but someone’s got to do it.
Currently, she’s listening to revisions of Jilly McPeak, Science Freak, and she knows more about science than any dog I know.
Also, if anyone knows how to get a dog to stop licking my fingers while I type, I would appreciate your suggestions.
Content editor, finger licker, and tail thumper…a.k.a. Savannah

Reject-o-Rama: The Way of the Writer

I left the SCBWI conference full of vigor and ideas and imagery and just a whole lot of shit I needed to get on paper ASAP because I was suddenly aware that I was soon to become the world’s next great recognized writer.  (Notice the use of the word recognized in the previous sentence.)  I was sure that my ideas were well honed and edited and ready for the big-time world of agents and editors and publishers.  In fact, as soon as I hit the send button on my trusty MacBook, I sat back with a sigh and waited for the bidding war on my manuscript to begin.
It only took three weeks for the first rejection to come in.  Pretty fast, really, when you consider how long things tend to take in our world.
Well, crap.
Maybe my high school guidance counselor was right and I really was meant to focus on underwater landscaping.  (Not that there’s anything AT ALL wrong with that, lest I offend an underwater landscaper somewhere.  I just never really saw myself doing that.)  Ok, so I don’t really remember what my high school guidance counselor told me I should be, but I do remember learning at an early age that writing was not a career.  Pffft!  I’ll prove them all wrong.
I have only received one rejection this time around, which is a really good sign, but just in case, I have decided to come up with a list of helpful things I WILL do in order to gain an agent’s favor.  I’m still debating whether or not to place any or all of these items in my next query letters.
Dear prospective agent, if you consider my book, I promise to do the following:
  • Shave my legs.  IN THE WINTER!  Because I know how important it is NOT to look fuzzy at all those public appearances I’ll be making.
  • Wear something other than flannel pants.  I mean, that IS my standard writing attire, but I promise that when I go in public, I will wear respectable clothing.  I even pinky promise.
  • Walk your dog and clean your house.  I know how busy you will be helping to manage my blossoming career, so I am more than willing to help you out in any way possible.
  • Use my big words.  I have kids, so occasionally I slip and say things like ‘potty,’ ‘poo poo,’ and even ‘dawg.’  (I have a teenager.  Don’t judge.)  But when working as a big-girl-writer-person, I vow to only use big, intelligent-sounding words.
  • Remember to wear a bra.  It’s the first thing to go when I get home, so mostly I write without it, but I SO promise that I will ALWAYS wear one and be all professional-like if you just give my little book a chance.
  • Never talk to myself in public.  I realize this looks a little like something a crazy person might do, so I promise to only do this in the privacy of my own office when I’m working on character development.  A lot of peeps don’t understand the process.  Also, I don’t think I would like to be committed to a mental hospital.
  • Help you help me.  This sounds a little 12-steppy, but what I’m trying to say is I won’t sit on my butt and expect someone else to do all the work.  I’m more than happy to get out there and pimp my stuff.
  • Oh, and I’ll for sure scrub your toilets.

Thank you for your consideration.

So yeah, I’m cheap.  And rejection sucks.  But I guess what I’m saying is that one rejection isn’t the end of the world.  And if that agent wasn’t right for me, then maybe the right agent is just around the corner.  And gawd, I hope he or she doesn’t have a dirty toilet, because I’m pretty sure I just promised to scrub it.

My Muse Is Weird

And now I think I’m weird.  Ok, so both of us are weird.
Last night, I was ever so rudely awakened by my muse, who apparently thought it was necessary to impart life-altering information at the ungodly hour of 2:00 a.m.  My muse does not know me very well, because if he (or she) knew me AT ALL, then he would let me sleep, kindly write his fine ideas on a post-it note, and allow me to peruse them at my leisure at a decent hour.
And, as it turns out, the idea that I was given has absolutely nothing to do with what I am currently writing, what I have lined up to write, or what I have written and need to revise.  Maybe Mr. Muse got the wrong address?
The idea was ridiculous.  So ridiculous in fact that I had to huddle over my coffee this morning and force my mind to recollect the idea that was imparted to me as I sort-of-slept.  Was I even remembering it correctly?  Could the idea even work?  I had never even considered anything like it before, but maybe that’s the point.
What kind of writer would undertake such a ludicrous storyline?  I started to scribble and make weird notes.  It would be a weird story, but maybe a bit poignant.  Unrealistic, but ever-so-slightly close to home.  It just might work.
Damned muse.  Now I have this next-to-impossible idea-slash-project sitting on the runway, just waiting for takeoff.
My muse is definitely weird.  And I’m weird for even considering his idea.  Well, crap.

Stealing Jesus

I think the title of this post inherently implies that there is a hot rock in hell with my name on it.  It’ll be a nice little place for me to sit, actually.  However, it’s not as bad as it sounds.  This isn’t a religious post AT ALL.  So feel safe in reading further.
My parents should have known they were in BIG trouble when I was a teenager and I stole the plastic Baby Jesus from the Manger scene at our little country church.  Once more, it was NOT a religious statement at all.  It was more of an aesthetics thing.  I was trying to take a stand and make the world a better place by removing the gaudy faded plastic rendition of Baby Jesus that had graced the sanctuary for at least 25 years.
That Baby Jesus had been through a lot.  I’m pretty sure He had been on the lawn in an outdoor Manger scene, and I know He had been through several reenactments of the Christmas story.  The scenery always changed, but one thing remained the same—that little statue was old and faded and gaudy and needed to be dealt with.  (At least in my teenage mind.)
I was out to beautify the world.  I was going to right the wrongs of the universe, and as a teenager, it seemed pretty logical to me to remove the eyesore that had plagued the vestibule for so many Christmases.
Do you know what 85-year-old women do when they discover that their plastic Baby Jesus is missing?  Suffice it to say that if America’s Most Wanted had been around and in full swing, you might have seen my mug on TV.  It was serious.  So serious in fact that I had to eventually sneak the plastic deity back into the church for fear that the elderly members might soon begin suffering strokes or minor heart attacks.
What I’m trying to say here is, do your thing to beautify the world.  But you don’t need to go and steal Jesus to do that.   (See, I’ve grown a little since those teenage days.)
Do your thing.  Follow your dream.  Write a book.  Build your fort.  Make your art.  Encourage your kids.  Make this place awesome.