How to Have Fun with Telemarketers.

Chimney cleaners. Chronic disease organizations. Electric company suppliers. Cancer societies. Extended automobile warranties. College alumni fundraisers. Companies making vague promises to lower interest rates on loans you don’t even have. They call constantly; often at the most irritating times. Sound familiar?

You hang up as soon as you recognize the crackling pause after saying hello (the telltale indication it’s a telemarketing call). But this does not work. Stubbornly, they will call back the next day … and the next … and the next. Requesting they no longer call your number is laughable. These people are trained in the art of loopholes and tenacity. They have no scruples.

Giving money – no matter how small – to charities seeking donations in hopes the’ll leave you alone only provides respite for a brief period of time. Plus – many of these organizations sell your number to other charities, which means your “please go away” donation just opened up an avalanche of more pesky non-profit calls.

The National Do Not Call List is ineffective. Businesses  have found ways to circumvent the rules. Non-profits are excluded from the Do Not Call List, as well as political surveys.

How do we cope with such intrusiveness? If we can’t beat them, we must join them. In order to protect our sanity, I offer you The Underground Writer’s “How to Have Fun with Telemarketers”:

1. Inform the telemarketer (or charity) they have called just as Family Story Time is starting. You will need to have a children’s book by the phone at all times in order to make this work. Place the phone on speaker before you start reading the book out loud.

“I hope Pete The Cat is okay with you, it’s the book my son chose. Otherwise, we have Frog and Toad or Ferdinand The Bull.

2. Pretend you and your spouse are in the middle of a heated argument and get the caller involved.

“Boy, am I glad YOU called! Listen to this. My husband? He NEVER takes the garbage out. So, like, yesterday I put it on the back porch because I didn’t want it stinking up the kitchen -”

“Um … Mrs -”

“Wait. I’m not finished. So I put it on the back porch and some sort of animal gets into it. Now there’s garbage EVERYWHERE and he’s telling ME I need to clean it up! Since I put the garbage on the porch. But here’s the thing -“

3. Act thrilled that someone has called your home. This requires asking questions about the caller, and diverting their questions.

“Why, hello Maria from The National Protect Indigent Feline Association! Where are you calling from?”

“Indiana. Would you be willing to pledge just twenty-five-”

“Indiana? What part?”

“The middle part. Would you be willing to pledge just -”

“I’ve never been to Indiana. What’s it like?”

“It’s fine. Mrs. Underground Writer, there are thousands of homeless -”

“Know someplace I’ve never been? Alaska. Yup. Never been. Can’t say I necessarily WANT to go since I hate the cold…”

4. Invite the caller for dinner (since they always seem to call during meals). Literally: Put the phone on speaker and plop the receiver in the middle of the table and announce how you never have dinner guests. Then, act as though they are actually present.

“I hope you’re not a vegetarian. We’re having steak.”

or

“We’re so happy you can join us!”

5. Start singing – Broadway show tunes seem to freak telemarketers out quickest.

6. Have a child who plays an instrument? Wonderful! Have them play a song or two.

“Before I answer your question as to whether or not I’m happy with my electric supplier, my daughter wants you to hear her practice Hot Cross Buns on her clarinet.”

7. Ask their opinion on your new curtains. But they can’t see your new curtains? Exactly. Describe in great detail what these curtains look like: color, pattern, how they match the color on your walls. What we’re aiming for here is, boring. Much like their call.

8. Put your toddler on the phone – preferably one who is just learning to imitate animal sounds.

“Mrs. Peters? My name is Jason and I am calling from the Lower Your Credit -”

“Ohhhh, Jason! I am so glad you called. My two year old just learned to make all the sounds on Old McDonald’s farm! Listen…”

“Mooooo! Oink! Oink! Oink! Baaaaa!!!”

“MRS. PETERS??”

“Neigh! Mooooo! Quack!”

9. Seek medical advice. Persistent ache in your lower back? Lump somewhere? Hey, they called you.

10. In all seriousness, be polite. Thank them for calling, and ask that they remove your name and number from their calling list. Then inform them that you trace all calls, and you now know where they live and what kind of car they drive. And you hope they have a very nice day.

Young Shakespeare

After reading my post THE TRUTH ABOUT SHAKESPEARE, I received a request from a reader asking that I write about Shakespeare’s great grandson updating Shakespeare’s manuscripts for the sake of today’s teens.  

Chad Shakespeare hated his last name. It seemed he couldn’t make it through one single day without someone asking,

“Wait. Shakespeare. Are you related to the Shakespeare?”

“If you mean the Shakespeare, as in William Shakespeare, then yeah, I am.”

And the flurry of questions would ensue. Do you write? (No.) How are you related to him? (He was his great, great, great et cetera grandfather.) What’s it like being related to the greatest writer in the English language? (What’s it like being related to some dead relative you never met?)

Chad considered changing his last name. Chad Shake. Chad Speare. When he mentioned this idea to his mother, she clutched her throat as though she were choking. (At first Chad didn’t notice. He was in the middle of playing Grand Theft Auto and his mother had to bang on the coffee table to get his attention.) Changing his last name would kill her, she announced. Forget her high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes! Those were no threat compared to the notion of removing the beloved Shakespeare name from the family. That would put her in the grave quicker than any stroke.

Something had to be done. When Chad asked Kelly, a coworker at Moo Burger, out for a date, she wrinkled her nose and said,

“Umm, no thanks. I’d rather not go back to your mom’s house and play video games.”

Chad quickly realized he needed to use his last name to his advantage.

“How about going back to my place and you can read some of my Grandpa Shakespeare’s sonnets instead?” he asked.

Kelly paused, her hand suspended over the Moo Burger cash register. “Grandpa Shakespeare? You call him Grandpa?”

“I mean Grandfather. Would you like to read some of my Grandfather Shakespeare’s sonnets? We got all of them, since he was my grandfather. And all of his plays. Those too.”

Kelly studied him for a moment. “No thanks. I can read his sonnets anywhere. Plus, I’ve already read most of them.”

Chad’s shoulders slumped. He had been hopeful that Kelly would have agreed to the date after she helped him refill the ketchup containers earlier in their shift. He could have sworn she purposely brushed her wrist against his when they were stacking the paper Dixie cups into towers. But of course she had read the sonnets! Who hadn’t? That was the whole reason it was such a big deal being related to the old fart. Everyone loved what the guy wrote.

That night, Chad took one of the Shakespeare Sonnet volumes down from the bookshelf in his den. By looking at it, he would never have known he was related to the author. The pages felt brand new and were adhered to one another as though they had never been touched. In fact, the book still had the price tag stuck on the back (bought at a discount store, by the looks of it). Chad flipped through the pages and skimmed the words.

Whoa! What have we here? Faults by lies we flattered be? Forbear to glance thine eye aside? And thous shalt find it merits not reproving? What the hell was he reading?

Chad lowered the book. Chicks dig this stuff? Kelly had read all of these? Chad’s eyes flickered up to the portrait of Shakespeare hanging over the mantle. Suddenly Shakespeare’s eyes seemed taunting. Chad could almost hear his voice whisper,

“I can get the girls but you can’t” (though even Chad, in his confusion, knew Shakespeare would probably say, “I get the wenches whilst thou get nary!)

That did it. Chad stood and walked over to the desk. Pushing the household bills his mother had left in a muddled pile over with his elbow, Chad snatched a pen and flipped open the book of sonnets. He began to write. As his Bic pen touched the pages, images of Kelly punching the keys of the Moo Burger register danced in his mind. This was his inspiration. Every now and then Chad would pause and look up at his Great, Great, Great (et cetera) Grandfather Shakespeare and give him a triumphant grin.

Kelly was wiping down the Holstein cow patterned tables when Chad approached her the next day at Moo Burger. She straightened, cleansing cloth in one hand, cleanser in her other. Chad looked disheveled. His hair was greasy and he still wore his Moo Burger uniform from the previous day. He also smelled like Moo Burger from the previous day. Kelly took a light step backwards.

“Look,” Chad said.

He was holding a large book, and when he opened the pages Kelly could see text crossed out and words written in the margins.

“Since you read all of Shakespeare’s stuff , I thought I’d change it. Make it more modern.”

“Change it? Make it more modern? What do you mean?”

“His stuff, like, doesn’t make sense anymore. It’s all gibberish. With the ‘thous’ and ‘thines’. Who talks like that?”

Before Kelly could respond, Chad balanced the book on his knee and pointed to a sonnet with his finger.

“Like, listen to how much better this sounds now.” Chad cleared his throat. “Sonnet eighteen. You’re like a summer day. All nice and hot. It’s almost like you’re summer forever, which is pretty cool. Because then there’s no school. So, as long as dudes are alive, you’re hot. The end.”

He flipped the pages and started to read his next revised sonnet.

“Sonnet hundred sixteen. Two smart people shouldn’t get married. Things shake and there’s a star and a dog barks. Love changes ’cause the dude works a lot, and she’s got rosy cheeks and lips. And then there is doom – like this really bad ending. The end.”

“Or this one – I made this one a LOT better: sonnet one hundred twenty four. The kid didn’t have a father and looked like a weed instead of a flower. He also didn’t shower. But then he got into some bad stuff, like robbing banks.”

When Chad looked up at Kelly that perfect nose of hers was wrinkled again. She chewed on her bottom lip a moment before saying,

“That was interesting, Chad. But … um … I don’t think Shakespeare’s work needs any updating. That’s the beauty of it. So fare thee well in thy travels.”

“Huh? Travels? You going somewhere?”

And with that, Kelly turned and walked into the Moo Burger kitchen.

Special thanks to Stephanie Lewis for this creative request. Click HERE to read her wonderfully written confession on being an eavesdropper. 

More Sex and Vampires, Please.

The road to publishing is paved with rejection. Margaret Mitchel submitted Gone With The Wind for publication only to be rejected thirty-eight times, while Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was denied for publication sixty times. Sixteen literary agencies – followed by a subsequent twelve publishing houses – told John Grisham they were not interested in A Time To Kill. Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, authors of Chicken Soup for the Soul, were lucky enough to land a literary agent, but were then turned down by over one hundred publishers.

Best selling author Nicholas Sparks (who received twenty four rejection letters from literary agencies for his manuscript The Notebook) put it best, “Writing may be an art, but publishing is a business. When all is said and done, it comes down to dollars.” Literary agents and publishers are typically hesitant to take on first time authors – or books that aren’t considered in vogue. An extraordinary amount of manpower, time, and money goes into publishing books, and breaking even is not an option. Success and profits are a must.

I have received over a dozen rejection letters from literary agents for my manuscript. (This is only counting agencies that actually took the time to respond. If I include all the agencies I sent query letters to, it would easily exceed twenty.) As I tuck these rejection letters away, I can’t help but ponder the great literary classics. What if these now famous pieces of literature were never published, and were now trying to make it into the publishing world? What would the responses be? Let’s close our eyes and imagine …

Dear Mr. Melville,

Thank you for the submission of your work, MOBY DICK to our literary agency. Unfortunately, we can not represent you at this time. Who, exactly, is your target audience? Whaling is a thing of the past. Perhaps you should consider revising and instead of a whale, use salmon. (Wild caught. Not farm raised.)

Sincerely,

We’ll Get You Published Literary Agency

***

Dear Ms Bronte,

We regret to inform you that we are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts at this time. If interested in JANE EYRE, we will contact you. In the meantime, perhaps you should consider revising the lengthy descriptions of the English mores, and include some sexual scenes between Mr. Rochester and Jane. Or better yet: between Jane and Mrs. Rochester.

Thank You

Books R Us Literary Group

***

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

Thank you for your recent submission to Read Literary Agency. Due to the high volume of manuscripts we receive, we are unable to represent MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at this time. Because, honestly, it was much to do about nothing. We suggest self publishing.

Kindest Regards

Read Literary Agency

***

Dear Ms. Burnett,

Thank you for your submission of THE SECRET GARDEN. We kept waiting for zombies to enter this “secret garden” and because there were none, we regret to inform you we can not accept your manuscript for representation.

We wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavors.

Sincerely,

We Represent Only The Best, LLC

***

Dear Mr. Tolstoy,

Due to the high volume of manuscripts we receive, we regret to inform you that we can not represent WAR AND PEACE at this time. We strongly urge you to consider making your manuscript less than 1,392 pages. Such a large book is intimidating to most of today’s readers. Including us.

Thank you.

The Quill and Paper Literary Agency.

***

Dear Ms Alcott,

Thank you for your submission of LITTLE WOMEN. Enclosed please find your manuscript that we are returning. A book about a New England family of girls is dreadfully boring. Have you considered adding sex scenes? Vampires are always a welcomed addition. (Perhaps instead of Beth dying, she can morph into a vampire.) Trilogies are all the rage, too. How much better would the title of “Sexy Women” sound? Followed by a sequel titled “Naughty Women”, then “Angry Women”?

Sincerely,

Success Literary Group

***

Dear Mr. Joyce,

We have decided not to represent your manuscript ULYSSES. Please accept our sincerest apologies, but we need to understand what we are reading.

Warmest Regards,

Pen and Ink, Inc

Confessions

“My boyfriend is married,” the woman sitting next to me said.

I twisted in my seat and surveyed the room. Had I walked into the wrong workshop? I thought I was in How To Become A Published Author – not Confessors Anonymous.

“And I wrote a children’s book,” she continued.

So I was in the right room! I turned and faced the woman.

“Um … how interesting,” I said before staring straight ahead – praying she wouldn’t continue the conversation.

For whatever reason, people tend to confess to me and my husband. We’re not sure why this occurs, exactly. We don’t look like priests, or interrogators. Or therapists. Yet, there have been several incidents where complete strangers share rather personal information with us. And it’s not your run-of-the-mill too much information that we’re all accustomed to. (Coworkers sharing their recent bowel woes; a woman standing behind you at the grocery store rattling off what she is making for dinner; the man waiting for his sandwich at the deli telling you why he hates a certain political party.) No, we’re talking confessions.

“So … I got an executive massage,” the man installing our furnace told my husband when he had gone into the basement to see how the installation was progressing.

“Oh.”

“Yeah. It’s right off Exit 7. They give executive massages. Know what that is?”

“Uh … I have an idea,” my husband said, “So … can I get you anything to drink?”

“Nah, I’m fine. I brought a bottle of water. But I love going to that massage place.”

Why on earth would this complete stranger tell my husband such a thing?  (For those of you who don’t know what an Executive Massage is, let’s just say it’s illegal in most states. Including the state where Exit 7 is located.)

I wish I could say my husband and I look like really nice people who love to listen to others, and that is why random people tell us rather lurid secrets. But that’s certainly not the case. If these were supposed to be serendipitous moments, my husband and I ruined our chances of helping these people. In fact, I scooted my chair several inches away from the Home Wrecking Children’s Book Author. Likewise, my husband didn’t exactly seize the moment to provide much needed advice to this man who confessed to frequenting an underground prostitution ring. In fact, my husband didn’t venture into the basement again until the furnace installation was complete.

Could it have been fate? Well, if it were, I quote Lemony Snicket: “Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.”

Real Sex Wouldn’t Sell

Sex sells. If you truly doubt this, just look at the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. While I have never read any of the 50 Shades books, I have heard the trilogy being referred to as porn in print, and the plot is as riveting as a Pat The Bunny board book. Yet, it has sold over 70 million copies worldwide. 70 million.

Perhaps one of the reasons sex sells is because the scenes in books are so outrageously unrealistic. Let’s make them real for a moment:

Diane lit the scented candles and smoothed the satin sheets on her bed. Her husband entered the room and drew her in his arms. At that moment, the doorbell rang. His parents had decided to pop in for a visit.

While driving home from the restaurant, Andy reached over and squeezed Connie’s knee and gave her a knowing look. “Not tonight,” she said, “That linguine didn’t sit well with my stomach.”

“I’m ovulating!” Jessica sang as she waived the Clearblue Easy Ovulation Detector stick in the air. “Drop those boxer shorts and lets get busy,” She ordered her husband, “We have exactly 20 minutes before I have to leave for my dentist appoinment.”

Jennifer opened the front door to welcome Chris home from work.  As she stood there, Chris noticed their baby’s dried spit-up on her shoulder and that once again, she had been too tired to shower. Nevertheless, he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her in for a kiss.  As their lips touched, Jennifer could tell that Chris had eaten sausage and peppers for lunch. 

Sade played softly on the stereo. Ted lowered the blinds and turned to welcome his wife into his arms.  At that moment they heard their lawn guy weed-wacking underneath their bedroom window.

 The little black dress hugged her in all the right places. When Kevin saw her, his eyes widened. She looked stunning. He ran his eyes slowly down her frame before stopping at her feet – they were clad in black flats. “My mom has the same shoes,” Kevin said flatly.

The couple embraced in the solitude of their bedroom. Just then, a little voice emanated from the other room. “Mommy? Daddy?” The voice said, “I can’t sleep. And I’m thirsty. Can you get me some water?”

Michael dug furiously through his sock drawer. Where were the prophylaxis? He could have sworn he had stuck them here last time. “I guess you’re out of luck,” Anne said as she slipped her nightgown back over her head, “I need a fourth child like I need a hole in the head.”

Sound more like it? A few of the titles would be: 50 Shades of Dirty SocksMaybe Tomorrow Night (If We’re Not Too Tired), Lots of Sex And Still No Baby, Burning Hot With The Flu (So Don’t Even Think About It), and Once Upon A Time (Then We Had Children). Total sales expected to exceed no more than 10 copies.

The Truth About Shakespeare

Yesterday was William Shakespeare’s birthday. I confess, I am not one who enjoys Shakespeare’s works. When I read Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and Taming of the Shrew in high school, I had to borrow the equivalent of “Shakespeare for Dummies” from the library just so I could understand what I was reading. When I hear that he is considered one of the most prolific authors in history, I can’t help but furrow my brow and think, “Really? Him? I just don’t get it.”

Perhaps it is ignorance (or lack of culture) on my part. I want to like Shakespeare. Truly, I do. I would love to understand his sonnets and swoon over them. But the whole “doth” “thou” “mayst” “oft” “thy” parts throw me for a loop. Did they really speak that way back then? Or did they talk like we do now, and just wrote like that? Maybe he wasn’t the romantic that scholars claim he was. What if the historical accounts of William Shakespeare are actually myths?

Let’s picture Willy. (You know that’s what his wife called him. Admit it.) He’s sitting at his desk while trying to work through another case of writer’s block. A chicken is pecking next to his feet.

“Hey Anne!” he hollers, “grab me that quill pen, will you? I finally thought of something.”

“Hold your horses!” she yells from the loft, “I can’t drop everything when you suddenly think of an idea. I have to change the baby’s diaper!”

“Ehhh,” Willy grumbles as he peers at the chicken that is now scratching the floor. At last Anne brings Willy his pen. He snatches it out of her hand and frantically starts to write. The only sound in the Shakespeare home is Willy’s pen scratching across the paper. Suddenly, he pauses.

“Hey Anne?” Willy hollers again.

Anne, who is churning butter in the kitchen, rolls her eyes. “Now what?”

“What does ‘forsooth’ mean?”

Anne pushes her bangs (they were all the rage in 1583, too) out of her eyes with the back of her wrist. “It means ‘indeed’.”

Silence.

“It does? Are you sure?” Willy asks.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Huh.”

Later that night, as Anne is rocking the baby, she notices Willy’s manuscript lying on the desk. Shifting the baby to her other arm, Anne picks up Willy’s work and scans it. She then shakes her head in exasperation. After the baby drifts to sleep, Anne gently places her in the cradle before sitting down at Willy’s desk.

“First things first,” Anne mumbles.

She crosses out the title, “A Gent, A Maiden, and Their Two Familys Who Fite A Lot.” (Willy was a  terrible speller.) She changes the title to, “Romeo and Juliet.”

When she reads, “This was fun. We should do this again tomorrow!” Anne whips out a fresh piece of paper and writes, “Good night! Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow! That I shall say goodnight till it be morrow.”

“I can’t stop thinking about that guy” Willy had written. Anne closes her eyes for a moment, takes a deep breath, and writes, “Romeo, oh Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Yet, she can’t help but pound the desktop in frustration when she gets to the part where Willy had written, “She sure looks pretty!” Anne nibbles on her quill pen and then triumphantly changes it to, “It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear.”

It is dawn before Anne finishes her revisions. She wearily rises from the table and crawls in bed next to Willy, who is sleeping on his back with his mouth open, snoring.

“I made some changes,” she whispers before closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep.