Elle Cosimano

Angry Airplane Lady

Today’s post is about accountability.

And airplane bathrooms. But mostly about accountability.

On a recent flight, my five year old son tugged on my sleeve and told me he had to go to the bathroom. I glanced down the aisle. It was empty of passengers awaiting the “necessary” so I said, sure. No problem.

I followed Little Man to the front of the plane. Then made him wait while I checked the “Vacant” sign. Yep, the sign said the bathroom was empty, so I let him reach for the handle.

Whoooopps!

There was Angry Airplane Lady, still doing her business, and not very happy with my son. Little Man was very polite and immediately shut the door. He turned as red as she did, and I assured him he’d done nothing wrong. Angry Airplane Lady had simply forgotten to lock the door.

Hey. It happens.

Eventually, Angry Airplane Lady emerged, and she glared daggers at my little boy. She mumbled something at him under her breath and proceeded to huff and puff and glower at him through the rest of the flight. (She happened to have the seat right behind us… just our luck.)

As much as I tried, she wouldn’t look me in the eyes, because I am old enough to know and she is old enough to know — despite her behavior suggesting the contrary — who was actually responsible for the bathroom door debacle. It wasn’t the five year old’s fault. So why lay the blame on him?

We all make mistakes sometimes. If it hadn’t been my son, it would have been the next person to barge in on her business. And yet, she made it a point to show everyone, through her behavior, that she was not woman enough to take responsibility for her own embarrassing oversight.

I’m not sure where I was going with this post. But I guess my message is, remember to lock the door. And don’t point fingers at someone else who is smaller and incapable of defending himself if you know in your heart the mistake was your own.

And if you happen to walk in on Angry Airplane Lady, on a flight to or from Dulles International or Cancun, send her my warmest regards and a copy of my post.

Writing Like Real Estate

In my previous life, I sold houses. Lots of them. I guess you could say I was pretty good at it. The more time I spend immersed in the writing world, the more parallels I find between selling a book and selling a house. It’s just a different kind of property.

Lindsey For Sale Sign

This month, I’ve worked closely with my agent to determine the new direction for my book. As we explore new tones, new themes, new characters, and new plotlines, we’ve come to the decision that the book will be… well… entirely new.

I’ve survived the emotional loss and mourning process after the burial of my first completed draft. I am starting my novel again… nearly from scratch… knowing it will be stronger, tighter, and more gripping for the changes.

As I’ve shared this news with friends and family, people have asked questions, like why didn’t you just choose an agent that likes your book the way it is? Or why not just ask your agent to submit it in “as is” condition? Maybe it will sell?

I didn’t even have to think about the answer; it came as easy as breathing. Because if I think of my book in terms of real estate — it’s my property, and it’s extremely valuable to me, so it’s a reasonable analogy — my answer is no.

Here’s why…

Let’s say you have a house, and you want to sell it. You want to list it for the best possible asking price, and you want it to show well. Not only that, but you want the listing agent to be savvy, aggressive, and honest in their counsel. You want more than just a lop-sided “for sale” sign in the yard and a half-assed ad in the Sunday paper. You want the best possible contract with the best possible terms. So you interview and hire the most professional agent to list your home.

That über-agent will walk through your home, show you the comps, present a comprehensive marketing plan, and tell you what you need to do to make your home show-ready. If they’re good at what they do, they’ll be honest with their feedback. If the house really sparkles, then it will demand a higher asking price from the market, and maybe even yield multiple offers.

In my case, my agent told me the house has incredible potential, but it needs work. We can make it better… and this will involve a few pretty significant repairs. I had a choice. I could go with an agent who might be willing to slap a for sale sign on it and throw it out into the market without much due diligence. It would be a numbers game, a gamble on the possibility of a sale. Or I could choose the savvy agent (who’s going to expect some elbow grease from me) to make sure the property sells for the best possible price.

No contest. I chose Agent #2.

So this is me… stripping ugly wallpaper and threadbare carpeting, remodeling kitchens and baths, giving my story a stronger foundation with crisp decor and a shiny coat of paint. This story is a reflection of me and my choices. So, this is me… working harder, putting my best foot forward, even if it means taking a step back. Because anything worth having is worth working for.

 

Mar

18, 2011 |

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Interviewing Your Agent

“How did you land your agent?” This is the most frequently asked question I’ve heard from writer friends since I signed with The Greenhouse.

I’m not going to bore you with “how”. There are hundreds of insightful blog posts and websites devoted to this subject, and they all essentially say the same thing:

  1. Read a lot of books
  2. Write the best book you can
  3. Find brilliant critique partners
  4. Research agents, the industry, and the process
  5. Write a kick ass query letter (I can’t emphasize this enough)

 

That’s it. There’s no substitute for elbow grease, and no secret weapon. I am convinced there’s no love potion or Cupid’s arrow as effective as a solid query letter — and an intense amount of work and patience.

So let’s say you’ve made it this far. An agent loves your manuscript. Now what? You’ve been jumping up and down, waving your arms in the air, screaming “pick me, pick me” for years, and suddenly an agent is holding your beloved darlings and the tables are turned. What do you do?

Google wasn’t much help with this. There are so many of us out there trying to get through the first hurdle, it seems the next step is often overlooked.

The answer? You interview them.

With the help of agented colleagues and friends, I’ve compiled a list of interview questions I found helpful during the process, and a few words of advice to consider when choosing an agent.

NOTE: Revised 12/16/2011 – an updated list may be found in my guest post at Ink & Angst – No Such Thing As A Dumb Question.

Without further ado…

 

I received the greatest advice from a widely known, award-winning author while attending a conference last year. She told me to choose an agent I felt comfortable with.

Your relationship with your agent is a long partnership. You hold hands and take risks together (as my agent told me) and you should feel confident in that partnership. Your agent should be someone you trust to guide you through the publishing waters and keep you afloat. If they don’t return calls, don’t answer your questions, or if you feel uncomfortable picking up the phone or asking, there is probably a reason. Compatibility is important, in any successful long-term relationship. You’ve got to like each other, believe in each other, and trust each other.

If any agented colleagues are reading along, and have additional interview questions to add, or feedback to share, I welcome your comments.

Good luck out there!

 

Secret Superpower

In recent years, the YA market introduced readers to a broad spectrum of young people with super-human powers. I admit, some of these powers are pretty snazzy and would probably come in handy in a war-plagued dystopian universe. Like reading minds, or talking to dead people, never missing a target, manipulating the weather, or shooting laser beams from your fingertips.

All very cool.

All worthy of great tales of heroism.

A little known fact about me? I also wield a great superpower. It’s probably not worthy of a best-selling YA novel. And it would only come in handy in a post-apocalyptic world involving way too much water and Kevin Costner at the helm of an ark.

But it is a gift. And I am proud of it. So I will share my secret power with you.

Little Elle Fishing

I can catch fish.

Lots of them.

Anywhere.

And I don’t need an expensive reel to do it. (Sorry, I had an Allison Reynolds/Breakfast Club moment. Picture me digging a shiny Penn reel, a bag of frozen squid, and a package of double bottom rigs from my overstuffed handbag…)

I don’t know the meaning of the word skunk. And I’m no girlie-girl. I bait my own hook.

Ask my father or my sons. They’ve watched with wonder and amazement as all species of sea life found themselves snagged by my infallible hook (insert evil laughter sound clip here). True story of a mother’s love… I once caught a tropical fish in the shallows of a tidal pool using a tiny plastic sand bucket and a PB&J sandwich for bait. How could I say no when he looked at me with those big watery eyes and said, “Please, Mommy. You’re the only one who can catch him for me!”

And that’s no fish tale.

I like to think it would be an advantageous power to have if I suddenly found myself struggling to survive in Panem’s District 4.

I’m a believer that everyone has something they do really well.

So I’m curious. What’s yours?

Mar

07, 2011 |

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I promise you won't go blind…

(Disclaimer: This post is about masturbation. All those too chicken to talk about it may abort now. I promise you won’t go blind. But you may stay ignorant. I can’t help you with that.)

So here we go…

I have a Facebook page with a small clan of loyal followers (mostly friends, family, and old colleagues). My “Average Daily Users” hover in the neighborhood of five. One of them is usually my mother.

It’s cool. I get it. I’m not very important.

This morning, just because I was curious, I checked out my Insights Report, neat functionality that allows me to see a snapshot of activity (or lack of) on my page.

Here’s what I saw…

Active Facebook Users Feb 7 Daily Post Views

My “Average Daily Users” and my “Average Post Views” shot up to 85 on February 7th.

From 5 to 85 in one day! WTF?

What did I post on my page on February 7th? So I went back to my Wall and looked.

This huge spike in traffic occurred the day I posted a link to “Sticky The Movie” — a documentary about masturbation. I can’t embed the trailer, but here’s a link. If you haven’t watched it, go ahead and check it out now, and then come back… I’ll wait.

So I crunched a few numbers with a calculator (cut me some slack… I failed Basic College Math 101 all three times) and then I threw the calculator out the window. But here’s my best estimate:

Video link + masturbation theme = a big freaking increase in traffic in one day… for one post.

And yet, not one “Like” or one Comment. And not one person shared the link. Hmmm…

Obviously, everyone is very interested in the subject of masturbation. And we all know everyone’s done it. (Any brownie points you think you earn by denying it are wasted. You just wipe them out by lying about it.) Is it possible, that in this modern day of progressive and liberal thinkers, we are still too afraid to talk about masturbating? Seriously?

So, you might say “Elle, your followers are all teens who are probably just too embarrassed to talk about “it” [giggle into your hand and insert creative euphemism of choice here].”

But you would be wrong.

The vast majority of my followers are not teens. And I’ll prove it…

Facebook Page Gender and Age chart

So now you say, “Big deal. We’re grown ups and we don’t have to talk about it.”

To which I respectfully call bullshit.

Those of you in the big, fat column marked “Ages 25-44” are also probably parents. Many of you are parents of teenagers, or will be very soon. My guess is most of you have not, and will not, talk about masturbation with your kids. Most don’t. And we can’t rely on MTV or American Pie (as awesome as that movie is) to do the job for us. These are just vague references, watered down in bathroom humor and flashy lyrics. (Most of my adolescent friends and I thought Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop” actually was a dance move or a day-glow plastic o-ring bracelet, and The Divinyls “I Touch Myself” didn’t come on the scene until I was college-bound.)

So my point is, no one is really talking about it.

And here’s a true story about that.

When I was a freshman, one of my best guy-friends from high school called me. (For those of you who’ve known me that long, no, I will not share his name, so don’t ask.) For today’s story, we’ll call him Fred. Fred was a little late to bloom and struggled a bit in the cruel and sadistic middle school/high school social mix. He was distraught and crying on the phone (yes, guys sometimes cry).

Fred told me he thought there was something wrong with him and he wanted to kill himself. So I asked him why. He told me he’d touched himself. I asked him if it felt good, and did he make a big mess. He said yes. I assured him his plumbing was fine. There was nothing wrong with him, and not to forget to wear a condom if he had any plans to do it with anyone else.

That’s the problem, he said. Fred assumed his desire to touch his own penis (yes, I said it… go ahead and get your giggles out now. We’ll probably say it again… penis, penis, penis…) must be an indication of sexual preference. He assumed it meant he was gay. And he was devastated by the sudden and frightening implications of what he’d just done to himself.

So I asked him, Fred, what were you thinking about when you got excited? He told me he’d pilfered his Dad’s Playboy (back then, porn came delivered to your house in conspicuously inconspicuous paper sacks) and he was thinking about the centerfold, a blonde with particularly large breasts.

Scary dilemma #2 was solved. No, Fred, you’re probably not gay, I said. And touching yourself when you think of naked ladies is normal. And even if you were fantasizing about boy parts and hot guys, there would still be nothing wrong with you!

But it’s a penis, he argued. He didn’t like penises. Why did he want to touch one? And if it was normal, and all the other guys were doing it, why wasn’t anybody talking about it?

Fred raises a great question. Why isn’t anybody talking about it. Not joking or giggling or making up dance moves about it. Really talking about it. I couldn’t answer that question then. I still can’t. But here’s what still bugs me about this…

1- Fred was scared to death because he touched himself, and he felt dirty and guilty and wrong for doing it.

2- Fred wanted to kill himself because he thought he might be gay.

Now here’s the real eye opener…

3- What if Fred was your teenager? What would you say to him if you could? What if you never got the chance?

Three really good discussion points. Who volunteers to go first?

I know we can’t expect the schools to tackle this subject in Health Ed. And frankly, there are a few teachers I can think of who might be the exception to the “everyone is doing it” theory. Or maybe it’s just been too long since they’ve tried. Not sure how effective that class lecture might be, and a little afraid to think about it.

So where do we begin having some intelligent adult conversations?

Here’s a start. If you’re curious (don’t lie, we all know you are) here’s where you can watch the trailer, “Like” the trailer, and/or share the trailer. “But Elle,” you whine, “people will see I liked it on my Wall. What will they think?” Who cares what they think! You’re a progressive individual with an open mind, and you’ve got backbone!

And most importantly talk to your kids. If you need ideas, here’s where I plan to start with my boys once they’re old enough to hear it. I’m starting with two Health Ed lessons too often forgetten.

#1 – It’s okay to love yourself, both physically and emotionally.

#2 – You’re okay, and I will love, respect and support you, no matter who you love.

Feb

24, 2011 |

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Good Things Come…

To those of you patiently awaiting more “Welcome Back Kotter” clips, I extend my apologies. It’s been a very busy week.

I am giddy. I am exhausted. I have an agent.

Thanks to the power of The Query Letter, I am now represented by the extraordinary Sarah Davies of The Greenhouse Literary Agency, and officially promoted from struggling, starving writer to squealing, starving author.

Nearly’s finally found a home. She needs a little work (I’m not gonna lie) and I will be buried for the next several months under a mountain of revision notes. In the spirit of Daniel Day Lewis, I’ll stay alive no matter what occurs, but promise to come find me. And bring me Swedish Fish. All writer survival kits should come properly equipped.

For those following and waiting, Nearly’s book will also undergo a name change. Apropos (for those who already know her story). But fear not, no hotties will be killed in the re-making of the story.

All good things.

So thanks for being here. For helping me heft my bucket. I couldn’t have realized this dream without you.

Killing Baby Bob

“Don’t kill it, Mom!” My five year old son stomped his foot on the bathroom stool and fisted his little hands. A snot bubble swelled under his nose.

“Kill what?”

“My baby!” He stretched on his tip toes and grasped at the soggy dixie cup I held over the open commode.

I looked into the cup. One of his little ‘sparements (translation: experiments).

“What is it?” I squinted at the unidentifiable blob where it lay drowning under an inch of cloudy tap water.

“It’s Baby Bob!” The snot bubble burst. “You can’t put Baby Bob in the toilet!”

My son, Doctor Frankenstein, was making imaginary friends out of tiny balls of toothpaste, which — when soaked in water overnight — transformed into a swollen, marble-like substance. He assured me they were only ‘sparements, but it didn’t surprise me to see one fly through the house at warp speed only hours later. In his twisted amateur laboratory, he’d not only created a companion, but also invented a unique reproducible form of ammunition with which to pelt his unsuspecting older brother in the back of the head.

Of course, it all made sense. I understood completely why I couldn’t kill Baby Bob (and why — I noted, as Bob grew before my eyes — flushing him into our septic system might be a mistake I’d come to regret).

I set the dixie cup back on the counter, and his little shoulders relaxed. I identified with his pain. Because, figuratively speaking, I have Baby Bobs too.

My own babies aren’t terribly different. I collect little wads of sticky ideas. I paste them in empty notebooks and hope by adding enough sustenance and letting them rest in their literary petri dish, they’ll swell into something wonderful. Something bigger and harder-hitting. Something I can throw at the world, to make people scratch their heads and think “hmmm….”. My babies aren’t called “Bob” but they have identities. They speak to me and keep me company, taking up friendly residence in the quiet corners of my mind while they brew.

For all the reasons I understand my son’s obsession with his Bobs, I decided to let his babies take up residence in their quiet corner of my bathroom. For his sake, I hope they grow big, I hope they make him proud, and I hope his tiny dixie cup never dries up.

Feb

09, 2011 |

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Welcome Back

Facebook is such an odd juxtaposition. It’s all of our memories and histories brought to the surface using a technology we never could have dreamed about in those way-back years. I recently found my 5th grade teacher — the greatest teacher I ever had — here on Facebook, and have laughed and reminisced watching her reconnect with my old elementary school clan. Old stories are coming back to me, and I am feeling inspired to share.

This post is just a teaser really. Next week, I’ll roll out a series called “Lessons With Mrs. P.” And since I am a child of the 1970’s, my readers will suffer through clips of one of my favorite 70’s TV shows, about an inspirational teacher and the wacky students who loved him.

I won’t leave you guessing. If you’re a Kotter fan, stay tuned next week.

Welcome back,
Your dreams were your ticket out.

Welcome back,
To that same old place that you laughed about.

Well the names have all changed since you hung around,
But those dreams have remained and they’re turned around.

Who’d have thought they’d lead ya (Who’d have thought they’d lead ya)
Here where we need ya (Here where we need ya)

Yeah we tease him a lot cause we’ve hot him on the spot, welcome back,
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

Kotter Screen Shot

Feb

04, 2011 |

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My Pajama Road Trip

Copy of an upcoming Guest Blog post for the popular parenting blog “The New Perfect.” Release date to be determined.

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What, you ask, is a Pajama Road Trip?

Think of it this way… If you could go to a rock concert without fighting traffic, worrying about who will be the designated driver, scrambling for on-street parking, doing your hair, scheduling a sitter, cover charges, and worrying about the kids while you’re gone, would you go?

My answer was yes!

As a mom, I miss the freedom of a night out with the girls in the big city.  I miss live venues and being near adults who talk about things other than diapers and formula and which dangerous teether toys are on the recall list. I work from home and live in the middle of nowhere. I have two small children and a fabulous babysitter who’s not yet old enough to drive and has an early curfew. Needless to say, I don’t get out much, and most of my relationships are cultivated online. Some may argue that I have no life.

So last month, I attended my very first Pajama Road Trip into the world of Second Life to attend a live performance by one of my favorite bands. Second Life is a virtual world, in which you can assume a body, a costume, and a name, and role play in social hot spots via a totally online experience. Bands can book stage time at the various virtual clubs within the Second Life community, and live-stream their performances over the internet. I was skeptical at first, but after trying it a few times, I must admit, there are some very appealing benefits for those of us who are socially challenged by the daily burdens of parenthood.

I know what you’re thinking… only RPG geeks and basement-of-the-science-building types play around in virtual worlds. But honestly, what’s keeping moms from trying it too? Nerves? Fear of the unknown? Prejudices about the types of people who live in virtual communities? If that’s all that’s stopping you, let’s tackle a few myths…

I am afraid of online strangers. If you are reading this blog post, then you already understand the power of social networking, and have an appreciation for how the internet shrinks miles and brings opportunities within reach. You may even have online pen pals, bulletin-board BFF’s you’ve never met in real life. Really, when you think about it, it’s not that far-fetched a notion that you could take one more step into a virtual world. And I ask you… what is so different about the people you would meet in a club or a bar in real life? There are as many strange people out in the real world as there are inside the web. And there are potentially an equal amount of people just like you, who are just trying to enjoy themselves. Same safety and common sense rules apply. You don’t have to interact with anyone you don’t want to. And no one online is going to steal your wallet or slip a ruffie in your drink.

I’m afraid to go alone. Then don’t go alone. If you’re not the kind of person who would feel comfortable going to a concert by yourself in real life, chances are you might not feel comfortable doing so online either. Bring friends. Make it a Girl’s Night Out. Help each other pick hair styles and clothes and silly names. Dance and hang out together. It’s a social world and you don’t have to break into it alone.

My Significant Other wouldn’t approve. So take a date with you! My last date night with my husband was almost ruined by a case of the sniffles. It’s nice to know we could have cancelled dinner reservations, put the kids to bed early, and gone to a concert together on the couch, sitting in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine in our pajamas. Date night is just time spent together doing something fun. It doesn’t have to mean leaving the house. And for some couples, a virtual date in an exotic place in dressy clothes, can be a romantic escape from the tedium of parenting. We tend to think of cyber worlds as a secret place, something to hide, but there’s no rule saying you can’t explore these worlds as a couple.

What If I’m Not That Social? If you’re just in it for the music, then there are solutions for you too! Many bands now offer live-streaming audio of their shows through online chat rooms and even through Facebook. You can lurk, if you’re more comfortable doing so, or you can participate by “chatting” directly with members of the band. I regularly attend streaming shows of one of my favorite bands. I can comment on the performance, and even request my favorite songs as they play. It’s an intimate venue in the comfort of my own home. And best of all, if the kids wake up and need me, I can step in and out of a chat performance with the click of a mouse.

I’m not very technically savvy. How would I get there? Online road-tripping is a lot easier than I originally expected. Chat rooms are a great way to get started. My favorite band, drumfish, posts a link on their Facebook wall with simple instructions before each performance. It’s literally 3 clicks to hear the live-feed and jump into the chat room, and I can continue surfing other sites simultaneously. To actually attend a virtual show, Second Life offers a free membership into the online community. Once inside, you can search for music performances, times and locations, and then “teleport” directly into the shows. It takes some practice, and may be a bit confusing the first time, but once you have the knack, it’s easy.

I’ve learned countless lessons as a parent, but perhaps the most valuable are those that have taught me the importance of preserving and nurturing my sense of self and my own happiness. I try not to let my lack of physical freedom restrict my ability to make new friends or experience new adventures. Sometimes, by stepping outside our comfort zone and trying something new, we find we’re really not as isolated as we often allow ourselves to feel. My version of the Pajama Road Trip might not be perfect, but it’s a life, and I’m making it more satisfying every day.

SLdrumfish

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Image shown is a screen shot taken during a live rehearsal of drumfish in Second Life.
Note: I will be attending their real live concert this weekend at the 8×10 in Baltimore.

What's Revealed In Your Fortune?

Anyone who knows me knows my penchant for Chinese food (specifically Moo Shu Chicken with loads of hoisin, extra pancakes, and enough scallions to invoke dragon breath). I also look forward to my fortune cookie after every Chinese meal. I couldn’t resist writing a few scenes — complete with chopsticks and fortune cookies — into the manuscript for NEARLY MISSED.

Normally, my fortunes are pretty innocuous and I can’t say I’ve ever received the “tall, dark and handsome stranger” message when I’ve broken into one. But in January, I did receive two fortunes (back to back) that made me reconsider the power of this otherwise bland token treat…

Fortune #1: It is a great piece of skill to know how to guide your luck. Even while waiting for it.

Fortune #2: Today is a day to focus on one thing from beginning to finish.

Hmmm…. I opened these fortunes on the same day a very wise agent asked me to send her my full manuscript for review. Coincidentally, her advice to me when we met back in December? “Focus, young grasshopper.”

Creepy much?

So my question is… what is the best fortune you’ve ever received in a cookie and why does it stick in your mind?

fortune cookie

Jan

24, 2011 |

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