Thursday, March 15, 2012

Heard Any Good Blonde Jokes Lately?

I joined my first online writer's group in 1994 and submitted Dead Witness for critique. Three writers read my manuscript and gave me great suggestions and comments. They also had some big criticisms.  The first one told me that she had to stop herself from hurling the book across the room. Lucky for me she was reading it from her computer. The second said I needed to toughen Valerie up so she was more proactive with her life. The third one wanted to know why Valerie had to be a typical beautiful blonde, and also why her kitchen was blue.

I was stumped over the last one too, but regardless, those three writers made a huge contribution to my career. Today, when I tell  non-writers about it, you can see the look in their eyes, the one that says Are you nuts? Why would you put yourself through that?

It's the same look we give those singers who march out in front of the Canadian and American Idol judges and sing their hearts out, then become incensed when they're rejected. In their minds, they hear a beautiful sound when they sing. It's the judges' job to tell them that's not the case.

Tone deaf singers can't learn to sing, but inept writers can learn to write vivid, compelling prose.

Here's a brief excerpt from Chapter Three of Dead Witness...

She pulled a blanket off the bed and curled up in a chair next to the window with the electric heater underneath. The policewoman, sent back with her, sat on the end of the bed, and watched a Jim Carrey movie. Her gruff moments of laughter added to Valerie's despair. During each commercial, she'd give Valerie a reassuring smile. 
Valerie wrapped the blanket tighter. 
The sun had long since set, and in its wake, a full moon rose in a cloudless sky. Valerie leaned her elbow on the windowsill and looked at the city lights, neon signs flashing promises of the most delicious steak and lobster dinners, the best computer sales, the friendliest car salesmen. Traffic streaked down I-5 and Madison, and a cruise ship left the harbour, lit up like a Christmas tree. She slumped back. 
An untouched plate of Vietnamese noodles and greens sat on the dresser next to the bed with the officer's empty plate beside it. Had either of the two victims liked Asian cuisine? Valerie tried to imagine them eating, but dead was the only way she saw them. Blood, exploding through the air while the man in the raincoat smiled. 
Her eyes blurred. She imagined the victims' families hysterical with shock, desperate to believe it was all a bad dream. Just as she had the night her parents had died. Only now there were visions to go along with their deaths, visions she'd never allowed herself to imagine before tonight. The sidewalk covered in blood. Her mum and dad falling to the ground. Did they think of her and Aidan and worry about leaving them? Did they suffer? Had there been some comfort in knowing they were dying together? 
Valerie wiped the tears from her face. Her sympathies went out to the wives, mothers, and family of the two dead men. She sent them silent condolences and told them she understood their grief. 
What she couldn't say was the repercussions of today would diminish every happy moment of their lives from here on, just as her parents' deaths had changed everything for her. Not just the births of Megan, Christine, and Brandi, but also every celebration, birthday, and holiday since. And she sensed it had been the same for Aidan. 
Their parents had died twenty-three years ago. And yet it felt like yesterday. 
* * * * 
May the first, nineteen seventy-three: Valerie, fourteen, had snapped at her mother, and was ordered to her room. Before leaving for their dinner reservation, her father appeared at the door for his usual goodnight kiss, and she'd pretended she was sleeping. Still, his kiss alighted upon her cheek, while her mother whispered at the door, “How can she seem so content in sleep, yet so miserable when awake?” 
“Honey, she's a teenager. They're supposed to be miserable.” 
She should have said goodnight. She should have apologized to both of them for being such a snot. I'll do it in the morning had been her last conscious thought. 
The next morning, she didn't get the chance. At two a.m., five Mounties, three of whom Valerie knew because they were friends of her dad's, and some lady from Victim's Services appeared at her front door. One of them said, “Let’s go inside.” 
“We'll talk inside.” 
The door opened wide. They filed into the front foyer. And somebody said her parents were dead. 
She laughed.  
* * * *

Write like there's no tomorrow. Read novels in your genre. Study your favourites. Believe in your gift. Know that you're doing what you were meant to do. And never ever give up.

--happy editing,

For 3 years I've been trying to figure out how I can send each of my followers a thank you note. I'm still trying. Until then, please know that I appreciate each and everyone of you very much. Thank you!


  1. "Believe in your gift. Know that you're doing what you were meant to do. And never ever give up."

    That should be some kind of motivational poster, Joylene! Thank you so much. :)

    P.S. I loved the excerpt!

  2. Thank you so much, Carrie. I know first hand how tough this business can be, so I want to continually encourage others to never give up and to never surrender. I hate to think what would have happened if I hadn't stuck with it. Oy.

  3. I've been away this past week. In between visiting friends and family I've poked away on revisions to a ms that required deleting an entire sub-plot. Thanks to a couple critiques, I knew it was something I had to do. It was time to "kill those darlings!"

    P.S. The only 'blonde joke' I've heard recently wasn't really a joke. I was told by my son that he was going to get his dad a tall blonde -- turned out to be Starbuck's newest coffee offering.

  4. Hey darlin'! You know, one of the best ways to judge folks is how they take criticism. You're a writer when you're not so in love with every word you write you won't consider changing it. I had one opening--no, two! absolutely cut to the bare-bones jugular by one writing friend, cut out a couple pages. And I marveled at how exactly, how precisely, those cut in fact made the story start at the bare bones jugular. So much better. That man turns me green with envy. Everybody's not right all the time. Got to keep your own voice. But not listenting? Don't bother writing. You'll stay exactly the same!

  5. #Carol, I normally wouldn't be caught dead telling blonde jokes. But as you know, tongue in cheek works great at catching people's attention. I love Valerie, and the fact she's blonde seemed very natural to me. Blonde deserve love too. LOL. Okay, that's as close to a joke as I'm capable of. Glad you're out having fun.

    #Gail, I know what you mean. Learning is hard work. Just too bad that we have to fail first to rise above our bad habits. I'm sure I learned more by making those mistakes and then having them pointed out to me. I also found doing critiques was a huge learning tool. Seeing how other manuscripts didn't work and why, helped my writing immensely.

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  7. Aw, well, we should all be thanking you for sharing your journey with us. We're lucky to know and follow you. That excerpt was fantastic! Loved it!! Now that I have and know how to use my tablet & the Kindle app, I thought I'd download Dead Witness, but there's no e-book shown on Amazon and the paperback is listed at $169. I'm guessing that's a typo. I'd get on that if I were you!

    BTW - here's a good blonde joke:
    A married couple were asleep in bed when the phone rang at 2 in the morning. The very blonde wife picked up the phone, listened a moment, then said, "How should I know; that's like 200 miles from here!" and hung up.

    Her husband said, "Who was that?"

    The wife answered, "I don't know. Some woman wanting to know if the coast is clear."

  8. #Mary, that's always great to hear. Thanks!

    #Nancy, I've been battling with Amazon for 3 years. I keep expecting my request to get fixed, but I'm losing faith. If you click on the e-book on the right side of my blog, it'll take you to either Smashwords or MuseItUp Bookstore.

  9. Joylene, love your blog and your book sounds wonderful. I am a blonde, one of Clarol's finest, so here you go:
    During her company's periodic password audit, a blond employee was found to be using this password:


    When she was asked why she had such a long password, she said, "The boss said that my password had to be at least eight characters long and have at least one capital."

  10. Hi Joylene,
    Um, did you hear about the blonde who swallowed bullets so her hair would grow out in bangs? Ignore me...
    Wise words from you, my friend. Indeed, believe in your gift and allow the passion, the magic you feel for the written word, flow through every fibre of your creative being.
    You are a lady of much inspiration and it comes through in what you write. I know that you will continue to let your fingers dance upon the keyboard and delight us all with the music of your words.
    I am most grateful for our interaction and I'm honoured to be a follower of your wonderful and thoughtful blog. May you and your loved ones have a peaceful, positive weekend.
    With respect and happy writing, your way, Gary

  11. Brunette goes to doctor and says, doctor my whole body hurts. Doctor had her touch all parts of her body asking if they hurt and she said yes. Doctor says, you are really a blonde, aren't you? Brunette says yes. Doctor says, I thought so: you're finger's broken!

  12. Nancy, Heather, Gary and Mary, you guys! I was being sarcastic when I said heard any good blonde jokes. LOL. Serves me right. Blondes are always getting picked on.

    #Nancy, that is too cute.

    #Heather, that's priceless. Are you sure it wasn't a blond man???

    #Gary, loved the joke. And thank you for those kind words. You are such a dear man. And yes, your cheque's in the mail.

  13. OMG, Mary, that's terrible. Poor blondie. Really. LOL. I can just see it now: 10,000 blondes barricade my backdoor and demand I ...? Hmm. Demand what?

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this.
    YES, believe in ourselves. And I'm the weakest in the world when it comes to believing in myself. But we really do have to.

    And...well...why IS Valerie's kitchen blue??? LOL.

    I sure recall those early critique days, and it is tough. Still is. LOL..

    But Dead Witness! Oh, how good it was to see an excerpt again.

    Again, thanks for the words. Much needed.

  15. Carol, I remember that sick feeling that being published seemed unobtainable. I wanted it so bad in those days. Not unlike every other writer I know. Sometimes I wonder how I lasted so long.

    Carol, great post over at your blog.

  16. I thought my skin had gotten tougher over the years, and maybe it has...but one thing has definitely changed. I now read the critiques and then put them aside for a bit while I mull them over (and until my head stops spinning!).

    Then I look at them again. Sometimes I can then take my writing to a better place. While other criticisms, (like the color of a room or hair!) can be "taken with a grain of salt."

    One critic told me that I needed to elaborate more on a description of a "decadent dessert," and then wanted me to describe a gooey chocolate creation. Well, I didn't take the description to that place, but I did describe it a little more.

    One person's chocolate is another person's creme brulee.

    Love that excerpt! I have the e-book on my Kindle and can't wait to read this one!

  17. Hi Laurel. You've hit on the most important aspect of receiving critiques. The author must allow enough time to pass in order to recognize what's valuable and what's personal preference. We have to listen to our instincts, really listen. I know in a loud and chaotic life, that's not always easy to do at first. But it can be a learned response. I know it's made all the difference with my writing. That and my dear critique partner.

  18. I appreciate your input and tips, Joylene. This writing life is such a process, isn't it? Something new to learn and practice all the time. Thanks also, for sharing an excerpt of your book. :)

    So glad we're blogging friends! Am very grateful for you.

    Have a lovely weekend,

  19. Blue kitchen? That's what troubled them? LOL

  20. Thank you so much, Karen. You are such a dear lady. I am grateful for you and your posts too. In fact, I'm going over there now to see which one is my favourite. Hope you're having a lovely St. Patty's Day.

  21. Amanda, at the time I actually thought of painting Valerie's kitchen another colour. LOL. Happy Patty's Day.

  22. Wonderful post. Great advice for writers.

    Have a great weekend.

  23. Why did the blonde stare at the can of orange juice for hours?

    Because it said concentrate.

  24. LOL. Stephen, thanks for the chuckle. Hadn't heard that one before. Very cute. Thanks for stopping by.

  25. A blue kitchen caused a hiccup? Humph! I had a blue kitchen once. Loved it! And Dead Witness is a drop-dead delicious read!

  26. I'm thrilled you enjoyed DW, Kittie. Music to my ears. Have a super great week.

  27. Hi, Joylene! I think it's smart of your to put excerpts of your book out there. Way to draw reader interest that will hopefully translate into book sales!

  28. I’m creeping back to admit that I tagged you in a Lucky 7 meme originally introduced to me by Laura Best. I’m hoping you’ll play along. It’s fun, and an opportunity to introduce everyone to a few lines of your current work in progress. Come on over and check it out at

  29. Thanks, Lauren. It's actually really difficult for me to do, but the more I 'fess up, the better. Thanks for stopping by.

  30. Thank you, Carol. I will definitely participate. Sounds like fun. Hope you're having a great week.

  31. Wow, what a constructive comment, huh? That she wanted to hurl the book across the room? Not! I'm sorry you had to hear that. I always wonder what critics are thinking when they say things like that. Do they think that's genuinely helpful? If so, in what way? As a Dead Witness/Valerie fan, I can honestly say that I LOVED that book. It was the perfect combination of plot and character development that's missing from most (male-written) thrillers today. :D I'm so glad you kept at it!

  32. Thanks, Adriana! As I look back now, I can actually smile. It's the old, You Can't Please Everybody. I guess my critiquer was as naive as I was in those days.

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