Review: The Action Heroine’s Handbook

Since I’m trying to organize my life, I’m also trying to read my way through the books that have accumulated in my TBR pile. And I thought that maybe I’d review the ones I read here because I need to organize this blog, too, and a review thread seems serious and focused. But the first book I picked up . . . well, even if I hadn’t intended to review things here, I’d have talked about this one: The Action Heroine’s Handbook.

My big problem was that I thought it was a sequel to The Worst Case Scenario book, so I thought I was going to learn something; that is, it’s a sequel to The Action Hero’s Handbook and I mixed that up with the WCS books which was what the publisher intended since the format is the same. So I was appalled as I paged through looking for actual content. Once I realized that it was supposed to be funny, I tried it again, but the problem is, it’s not funny. At least, it’s not funny the way the authors intended. So not informative, not funny, a real opportunity for a terrific book wasted.

The subtitle is How to Win a Catfight, Drink Someone Under the Table, Choke a Man with Your Bare Thighs, and Dozens of Other TV and Movie Skills, but even if you define “Action Heroine” as “Movie Action Heroine,” I am hard-pressed to determine why there’s a section titled “How To Hook A Millionaire.” Marilyn Monroe was not an action heroine. Or the section headed “How To Give Birth Under Pressure.” Because giving birth normally has no pressure. So this section is to tell the Action Heroine how to push and disarm the bad guy, too? How to give birth on the run? Nope, it’s just an explanation of how to give birth if you’re not near a hospital. So their definition of “action heroine” seems to be so loose as to be non-existent which pretty much makes the book about some things some women have done in some movies. Which means we get an appendix headed “Action Heroine Hairstyles,” including “The Ripley” (that was a hairstyle?). And a section on how to go undercover with three options: Beauty Queen, Prostitute, and a Man. Because that covers the kinds of situations a heroine might find herself needing a disguise for? How are we defining “action heroine” again? The instructions for going undercover as a man include the helpful advice to “assume a manly posture,” use masculine phrases like ‘What’s up?,” “Dude,” and “man,” and order beer not spritzers, so the sexism goes both ways. Not helpful, not funny, lame.

The thing is, this could have been a good, fun book. Appendix A is Handbag Essentials, and they could done some fabulous things with that. Instead we get:

Nail File:
A metal nail file has multiple uses for the manicured heroine on the move. A double-sided file may be used:
As a tool for eye-gouging
To file one or two nails to a sharp point
As a lock pick, in combination with a bobby pin.

Okay, what have we learned here, campers? Nothing we didn’t already know. Did they think they were the first people to look at a nail file and say, “You know, I could do some serious damage with this thing”? If this is a handbook, don’t tell me I can use a bobby pin and a nail file to pick a lock, show me how to pick the damn lock.

Or there’s “How To Win a High Speed Chase in High Heels and a Bustier.” Because those bustiers can really slow you down. Really, “How to Run in High Heels” could have been useful and funny but this is neither. Here are the section headings:

Assume the sprinter’s stance.
Push off from the ball of your front foot and hit your stride.
Regulate your breath.
If the bustier is not giving you sufficient support, alternate your arm action to restrict breast movement.
Create a diversion with your breasts.
When you catch your quarry, use your shoes as weapons.

Think how funny and useful this could have been–I could do two pages alone on how to create a diversion with your breasts–and then look what they did with it.

And it goes downhill from there. Use a panty liner as a bandage (those things are thin so I don’t think so); as a writing surface for jotting down notes (oh, please), and as sleep mask “after you’ve save the world” (if I’ve just saved the world, I’m getting more than a panty liner for my freaking sleep mask.) Use your nail polish to write notes (try this at home). Blow up twelve condoms and use them as a flotation device (I’m drowning, but I have twelve condoms in my purse so I’m going to blow them up one at a time as I tread water and . . .) And my fave, “How To Choke a Man With Your Bare Thighs” which made me first ask “Why do they have to be bare?” and then realize that for most of us it would be “How to Smother a Man with Cellulite.” And even then, you have to get him down there . . .

There’s some serious advice in here—the giving birth section is really informative and they had experts weigh in on some of the topics—but that jars with the ridiculous stuff that’s probably intended to be funny but isn’t, so I never figured out what kind of book it was, but as author, I’m looking at it and thinking, “It could have been so good.” It could have given honest, useful advice that was funny, too, so that people learned while they laughed. It could have really said something about what the archetype of action heroine means while keeping tongue in cheek and advice sound. Even the old, “Put your keys in your fist with the ends poking out between your fingers to turn your hand into a weapon” thing is better than 95% of the stuff in this book. Missed opportunities: The bookstores are full of them.

So because I know you’ll do this anyway, what entries would you put in the Argh Ink Heroine’s Handbook? Useful info, please. Funny optional and probably unavoidable.

Oh, and since this is a review, I have to say that I don’t recommend The Action Heroine’s Handbook. On a scale of one to five cherries, good being five, it gets none.

Things I Learned On The Road

I have one more road trip at the end of October and then my schedule is completely clear. And that one really is a road trip, so no more airports. I’m not anti-airport but . . . actually, I’m anti-airport. There was a time when I was truly afraid to fly; frequency pretty much knocks that out of you but the airport remains a stressful place except for Columbia, SC, where they have white rocking chairs and Krispy Kremes. So I made a running list of thing I learned on the road this time, and there weren’t that many. Must be getting the hang of it:

Tipping is more stressful than I realized. I don’t mind tipping from the cost point of view, but trying to figure out who gets tipped when and how much is just one more damn thing I don’t need to deal with. I didn’t figure this out until I got to Australia where there is no tipping at all. Suddenly, life was so easy.

There are a hell of a lot of books in the world. Bob and I would go into a bookstore, look at the “New Fiction” at the front of the store, and then look at each other and think, “We’re doomed.” I don’t know how anybody manages to claw out of the pack and get reader attention, there are that many titles out there. If the cover doesn’t do it, anybody without a major name is screwed.

From now on, I’m telling the hotel switchboard to hold all my calls overnight. Anybody who needs me for an emergency can call my cell, and that way I won’t get the obscene wrong number at 5:30.

Krispy Kremes are everywhere. There’s something really cruel about putting KK stands in airports. They’ve got them in the airports in Australia even. You’re trapped there, you’re hungry, you want comfort . . . I didn’t buy one, but it was weeks ago and I’m still thinking about it..

The O’Hare Hilton is the best place to stay if you have to go all over Chicago because the beds are great and you can walk to the airport. And there are Krispy Kremes in the lobby. Not that I had one. (I shoulda had one.)

There are a lot of fake flamingos in the world.

Bob is a little kid at heart: When we went to Coldstone Creamery in Chicago for ice cream and they asked what he wanted mixed into his vanilla, he said, “Sprinkles.” Bill the escort and I both said, “Awww,” but he stood firm and got his sprinkles.

I’m always amazed when people give me things at booksignings. I mean, my God, they bought the book, that’s more than enough, but then we get stuffed flamingos and great chocolate and home grown tomatoes and Agnes hats and t-shirts . . . I loved all of it, and thank you to everybody who gave us things, but really, if you bought the book, you gave at the office.

Traveling with somebody is infinitely preferable to traveling alone. Krissie made the long trip down under coherent and fun and was constantly supportive, and I have no plans to ever do another book tour without Bob. The tours are so hard, but partners make them easier.

Bob was in Amarillo two nights ago, Flagstaff last night, today was the Grand Canyon. Haven’t heard from him today, but I’m not worried. I’m a little worried about the Donner Pass which was on the route he was taking but he maybe he changed that. Still, that’s the way to see the country: on the road for real.

I have to build in more time to see things. I had the best time in Little Tokyo with Krissie, Inkgrrl, and her Prince of a Guy, who waited patiently, held stuff for us,and told Ink to buy the great jacket she found because she looked beautiful in it. She did, too, but he really is a Prince. I bought a striped bag with a skull with a bow on it. Because Krissie had Hello Kitty-ed me out.

There’s a lot of Hello Kitty stuff in the world.

Four wheels on your luggage is the only way to go.

Australia and New Zealand are amazing. Familiar but not, exciting but friendly, just wonderful places with wonderful people.

Traveling broadens you: I came back almost ten pounds heavier. SO worth it. But I’m so glad to be home. And I don’t have to go anywhere until . . . oh. Tuesday. Business trip. Airport.

This time, I’m gonna buy the Krispy Kreme.

The Writer-Reader Relationship Beyond the Book

Boy, you go out to get a haircut and when you come back, your funny spur-of-the-moment blog turns into serious action. Lots of good stuff there, emphasis on “lots.” I went through all the comments from the beginning, trying to synthesize the various positions and by the time I finished five more people had posted. So I may not be up to date on the responses here.

First, I’m the one who posted the e-mail not X. So all flack should be directed at me; she’d just have let it go. So now I’m asking myself why I posted it. It was a spur of the moment thing: she sent me the e-mail, I spit my Diet Coke across the keyboard, I said, “Can I have this for the blog?”, she said yes, and I posted it.

So why? I mean, obviously I thought it was funny, but clearly there was more going on than that. I’ve gotten other funny e-mails from readers and never posted them, gotten weird responses on Amazon and never called attention to them, had people say incredibly strange things to me in person and never blogged about it. Why this one?

Most of the published authors who’ve commented on the post and who’ve e-mailed me off-loop are pretty much laughing their butts off at X’s response, and I’m wondering if in part it isn’t because the response was intended to frustrate, and we’ve all been so frustrated for so long with receiving this kind of criticism and doing the smart thing and ignoring it, that maybe the frustration is what’s fueling at least in part the anti-letter-writer reaction. Whatever it is, it’s real and it’s widespread, so there’s something there that’s hitting a nerve in writers, and in me particularly.

But just as real is the opposition. I’m not going to quote comments or use names here because I may be synthesizing the arguments incorrectly, but looking at my notes they seem to be these:

Everybody’s slamming the letter writer and congratulating X, and that seems unfair, “pummeling a gnat,” a Mean Girls’ action since the letter-writer doesn’t have the forum or the power that I do (leaving X out of this since she didn’t post the letter, I did).

If I had posted the letter writer’s full name and e-mail address (and I do regret posting her first name now), I think this would be more valid. My knee-jerk reason for posting it was not to say, “Go stone this letter writer,” it was because I thought it was ludicrous, so yep, it was put up there to provoke laughter, especially the laughter of recognition. That one I’ll give you and I don’t feel guilty about that, although I could probably have left off the paragraph that followed it; that was me chortling.

The letter writer sent a personal attack in an e-mail, and now I’m doing the same thing by posting the letter for public mockery, the posting itself and the comment I made after the letter constituting a personal attack.

I don’t think posting the letter was a personal attack. The gloss on it afterward was definitely uncomplimentary.

The letter writer is obviously writing out her hurt, disappointment, and frustration, and we should have been kinder to her.

Nope. You don’t get a free ride because you’re feeling ouchy.

My post was bashing fundamentalist red-staters.

Nope. I come from conservative red-staters. It’s probably fair to say that my post was bashing people who try to censor writers. I’ll go with that.

The letter writer has a point in trying to stop X from writing what upset her; it’s not enough to say, “If you don’t like it, don’t read it,” because other people will have access to what she sees is a slander on her community.

Nope. That’s censorship.

Any public response a writer makes to a personal attack from a reader is probably a bad idea from a PR point of view.

Good point. I am not known for my tact and discretion. You can take it as a guarantee that many authors have gotten much worse from many other readers and not published the letter or the response for that reason. On the other hand, I don’t think anybody reads this blog because I’m tactful or politically correct, so is this really a surprise?

You can’t share anything with me because you have no expectation of privacy; the letter writer’s was violated by my post, which means I am not on a higher moral ground.

This is so true, although I never claim the higher moral ground on anything or anybody except maybe Bob. But you’re absolutely right that you can’t share anything with me and expect it to remain private. As Bob always says, I’d last about two seconds in Special Ops; they wouldn’t even have to torture me to get the information, I’d give it to them chatting over a Diet Coke. So let this be a warning to anybody who e-mails me and tells me what I can and can’t write: You can’t trust me any farther than you can throw me. I know that’s terrible; what’s the world coming to when you can’t write a personal attack to a complete stranger and not feel secure that she’ll keep it to herself?

And then a lot of discussion over who has power in the writer-reader relationship which is what I’m really interested in.

What I think I’m getting here is that there’s an assumption that the power structure is so unequal that it was somehow bullying of me to post the letter here (I’m not going to bring X into this since most of the hoo-ra is about posting it on the blog, not her answer). It’s okay for the letter writer to write a bullying, condescending letter to X but it’s not all right for me to print the letter here and condescend back because she doesn’t have the resources and the audience I do. And I’m thinking that the mistake I made wasn’t in the paragraph following the letter, it’s that i didn’t use the letter to make a point. It really was just a “look at this ridiculous letter” instead of “here’s a letter and here’s why it’s important for me to show it to you.” It was not a thoughtful post and it didn’t give people anything to say except, “Boy, what a maroon.” Except of course that Argh commenters always have plenty to say; I could put up a blank post and you’d all run with it. So it turned into a good discussion anyway, just one without direction because I didn’t give it a context.

So here’s a context:

I’ll agree that this isn’t about “rights” as such. But it is about the writer-reader relationship. And in any relationship, people make assumptions that sometimes aren’t met, which I think is what happens when any of us get this kind of letter. Readers write personal attacks because they’re angry, and I’d be willing to bet that they’re angry because they feel betrayed, they bought the book or took it out of the library, curled up for a good read, and got THIS. I’ve been there so I can sympathize.

So then most readers throw the book against the wall, never buy that author again, and tell all their friends it was terrible. If it’s my book we’re talking about, I understand that. Not thrilled about it, but understand it. But for some readers the disappointment goes so deep, or their anger about other things in their life attaches itself to that disappointment, and they turn on the author and vilify her.

Which brings us to the writer, who half-killed herself writing that book. I’ve never heard a writer say, “Boy, that book was easy,” we all go through hell at some point with our books. And some people don’t like them, and that’s hard to take even though it’s reasonable since nobody can write a book everybody likes. So you take the criticism and you eat a box of Hostess Cupcakes and you move on. And then you get the one that tells you you’re vile and you shouldn’t be allowed to write X again, and that’s not all right. You put your book out there for criticism, you did not say, “And then come kick me.” But because you’re the public figure, you’re expected not to respond because you’ve got all the power, you should be on the higher moral ground while the people on lower ground throw stones. After all, you’ve got it all. And most writers do exactly that because it’s the smart thing to do, they do it for years, as the crazies come at them and the abuse keeps coming, and they find out that the more successful they get, the faster the abuse comes and the harsher it gets because people are angry about their success. So the assumption grows: if you’ve got that much success, then it’s okay for people to attack you.

So you handle it by looking at the whatever the attack was and telling yourself, “Deep breath, she’s her and obviously miserable or she wouldn’t be wasting her time spreading bile, and you’re you and you’re happy. Let it go. You win.” And then one day, you don’t let it go. Because it’s not okay. You cannot insult me (or in this case, my friend) and feel betrayed when I respond; you can not take the low road and then be outraged when I come down to join you, you cannot call me names and then say, “Not fair!” when I tell people that you called me names. Of course, the letter writer didn’t do any of this since she doesn’t know about the blog or at least isn’t responding to it, but she has many proxies here so I’ll make that argument for them.

This is not Mother Teresa’s blog. But it’s not Dick Cheney’s blog, either, so come on in and tell me how wrong I am:

Is the assumed inequality of power enough to excuse a reader from personally attacking a writer? Or to put it another way, how much does the fact that both parties in the relationship are strangers and one party is a successful public figure negate or excuse the need for civilized discourse? Is the inequality of power based on the fact that one partner has a public venue and the other doesn’t, or on the assumption that one party can say anything he or she wants without fear of reply because it would be disadvantageous for the other party to respond? And if the abused party responds to the insult, is that a violation of the relationship or a logical outcome of it?

Or whatever question you want to ask that I missed somehow.

You Have Not Got A Clue

You know, for the most part, readers are wonderful people and we love them. But as with any group there are some that are less wonderful. And from them we get letters. I’ve had my share of “you’re going to hell, you blasphemous slut” letters, those that accused me of not doing my research (my fave was from the woman who read Crazy For You and said, “You could at least have talked to a real teacher;” I wrote back and said, “Fifteen years in the Beavercreek School System, baby,”), even those who have accused me of not being me (“Whoever is writing your books these days, she’s not very good . . .”) and aside from that one about researching public school teaching, I usually write back, “Thank you for sharing, best wishes, Jenny Crusie.” But a pal of mine–no, really a pal of mine, not me–just got a letter that had us both in stitches. The letter is below with my pal’s name Xed out in case the letter writer is doing an internet search for her although given the content of the letter, I doubt it:

Hi, X, I picked up your book at the library and started to read it but was quickly disgusted by two things, your use of foul, vulgar language and disrespect for the quilting sisterhood that remains very strong today. We are a group of women who care about each other and would do anything for each other. And, we do not take the Lord’s name in vain as you do. Please do not put your name on anything with the word, “Quilt” ever again.
Quilting is a fine art and should not be sullied by people like you. And, of course, I should have know better than to think this would be a good book when I read that you are from New York. You have not got a clue how other people in the USA live and feel and think. Thanks, Y

Gotta love Y, who speaks for quilters and Americans everywhere against the godless upstate New York liberal commie blue-state romance novelists. I particularly love the “Thanks, Y” signature.

But even more, you gotta love my pal, who sent back this:

Dear Reader!

Thanks so much for writing! I am sorry, but because of all the fan mail I get, I can’t respond to every letter individually. But please know I do read them all, and I’m so glad you loved my books!


Is there any wonder I adore X?

And the Winner Is . . .

Dreamland A

Congratulations, Francois. E-mail your address to and she’ll pass it on to me. Oh, and tell me how you want the book signed (it’s already got my name and Bob’s in it) and whatever else I promised the winner.

Basically, I needed something that sounded like a non-intellectual fun park. Wonderworld sounded good as did Strangeland, but Dreamland just seemed more like a sweet old park. And then somebody buys into it and tries to turn it into Screamland, and we have a fight on our hands.

Dreamland C

There are a ton of things out there named Dreamland already–novels, movies, websites, parks, businesses–but since there are so many, it just makes the name more generic, which I like. I also like the whole Dream Time/Nightmares/Things That Go Bump in the Night and In Your Head vibe.

Dreamland B

I thought at first I’d have my own fight when Bob finally powered up his computer again, but he really is a romantic so I think he’ll like this. And if not, he can name the park. Because I like Dreamland.

We’ll probably be back to get you to name more things because I love Mel’s RollerGhoster and Absolute Cherry’s Ectoplasm slushies that Petal can make into Ectogasms. But I have to stop this and go back to AKMG since this one isn’t even for sure a book yet.

Except I already love Dreamland, so that’s going to show up somewhere, no matter what. So thank you all very, very much. I’m flabbergasted by your brilliance, all of you.

The Agnes Collage

Someone on the Forums was asking about the Agnes collage, and I came here to find the post with it–I KNOW there’s a post with a picture–and could not find it. So here’s the Agnes collage for the person who asked for it. The rest of you can look, too.

Agnes Collage

Name That Amusement Park

So Bob and I are brainstorming, uh, wargaming a possible next book–not sure, just talking about it, nothing to see here, don’t get invested–which would be set in a very small, very old amusement park in the middle of nowhere. And we’re both brain-fried and we can’t think of anything to call the park and I remembered the genius that is Argh Ink readers. So we’re having a CONTEST!!!! Yeah, okay, we’ve done this before, but this one is for a signed copy of Agnes and . . . uh, something else. I found a lot of stuff when I cleaned, so maybe a nice blank journal or an unopened set of retractable colored Sharpies, or I could go to the grocery and get some Hostess cupcakes. Because I’m hungry for Hostess Cupcakes, that’s why.

Anyway, the contest. We need a name for the theme park, basically, but anything else your fertile minds come up with is good, too. Here’s the premise:

There’s a very small, hundred-year-old (maybe 150) amusement park in the middle of nowhere somewhere in the US. Probably called Wonder Land or something like that; we’re open on the old name. It’s bleeding money and the current owner is hanging on by his fingernails when a guy comes in and tries to buy it. No deal, it’s a family business. So he says, “Okay, I’ll buy half and we’ll use the money to refurbish the park.” The owner goes for it but there’s a catch: the new guy wants to change it to a paranormal theme and give it a new name. For some reason, the owner agrees, and the Tunnel of Love becomes the Bermuda Triangle or something like that.

For the free signed copy of Agnes, name that paranormal theme park.

And then if you want to go ahead and name rides and funnel cakes and that kind of thing just for the hell of it, feel free. The contest is for a great theme park name. And it closes, uh, next weekend. Because Bob is going to be gone all next week and won’t be able to make any decisions. So contest closes Sept. 28.

I have great faith in you all.

Bob has just informed me that he’s leaving the first of this next week and he’ll be out for two weeks, so forget the 28th; we’ll close this on Monday the 24th so he can vote, too. Besides you’re getting tired.

The Office: Ta Da

So I took my birthday and the next day off except I did work on the bookcases in the hall. I didn’t get them finished of course, but I worked on them. I couldn’t help myself, the momentum got me. But yes, there should be before and after pictures.

So here’s where we started:

And this is now:Office Back

And here’s the other view:

And this is now:


Okay, I accidentally focused on Wolfie who popped his head into the frame because he was sitting in the desk chair. Here’s the other end of the office in focus:


You’ll notice that while there are still books stacked in the hall beyond, they’re stacked more neatly. I feel this is crucial. And I will get them off the floor. So I can walk through the hall and clean up the living room. Damn, I have a lot of cr– stuff. But while I was cleaning up the hall, I found all the Mesopotamia books, so that’s good. Really, cleaning is a good thing.

Although that kind of shoots the “never have too much of a good thing” right in the instep, doesn’t it?

Office 12: Huh.

Well, that was . . . interesting.

Some of you have probably heard me talk about how I began writing fiction for the first time when I worked on my romance dissertation in 1991. Turns out that was a lie. That last box went deep into my past and along with several shocks came half a dozen folders full of typewritten mystery fiction–typewritten means the early eighties or even seventies–that i had completely forgotten about. After I read a couple of pages at random, I knew why: I was blocking the memory. Geez, it was bad. But still, there are folders of this stuff.

There were other inexplicable things. Like why I put my Literary Theory notes in a Garfield spiral notebook. I don’t even like Garfield. And some things weren’t inexplicable which was worse. Lotta memories in Das Box. Whoever said to give that box a Viking funeral without looking into it, that might have been good.

But still, there is now a place for everything and everything is in that place. And along the way, I cleaned out my closet, did my mending, and almost finished the baby blanket for my editor. I also put autumn leaves on the mailbox, did all the laundry, and cleaned out the car. I think there’s something wrong with me. Or maybe it’s just one of those turning points in life. Time to get rid of the old to open up the future. Anyway, I’ve still got an incredible mess in the studio–although it’s all art mess and fairly new so there won’t be any more historical time bombs–and boxes of books in the hall, and the kitchen needs cleaned and so does the bathroom. Too much stuff. But I’m on it.

But I’ll tell you, after Das Box, I had a drink. And i don’t drink. Do not look in old boxes, people. The dead walk again.