Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Mayflower Landed On Ellis Island And Other Things I Learned From Snooki

Okay, I admit it. I read the Snooki book. I couldn't help myself, all right? The few priceless quotes I heard let me know this was too good to pass up.

Yes, A Shore Thing is no literary gem, but that doesn't mean it's without merit. I actually learned a few things.

I'll start with examples pertaining to the craft of writing:

"I'm not a slut, I'm a whore. There's a difference." 
Of course. Wasn't it Mark Twain who stressed the importance of using the right word instead of the almost-right word? The advice is timeless.

"But now, like a chronic STD, Gia was back." 
Advice every writer has heard--write what you know.

"'Don't be fooled, Isabella. Even tough guys like Downy softness. One cupful of this'--he held up his bottle--'can make the difference between a good day and a bad day. Life is tough enough. Might as well do the easy stuff to make your life better.'
Isabella nodded, frankly amazed. She'd never heard Tony speak more than a sentence or two at a time at the gym, but here he was rhapsodizing about philosophy." 

Don't be embarrassed if you can't remember if it was Plato or Aristotle who discussed fabric softener. Focus on the writing lesson here--this is a complex character. 

"Yum. Johnny Hulk tasted like fresh gorilla." 
Sensory details can have a big impact on your reader. Most of us don't have a problem describing what characters see and hear, but it's harder to show what they feel, smell, and taste. The descriptive language here brings to mind the taste of gorilla, a fresh one...wait a minute, what the hell?

Moving on. Let's take a look at some other examples that illustrate the importance of figurative language. No tired old cliches here--you won't find these anywhere else. Ever.

"From the outside, the two-story, two-bedroom bungalow looked like an aging Atlantic City hooker. For a month, this hooker would be home." 
That sounds cozy. Can you sublet a hooker?

The main character, Gia, after her spray-tanning session: 
"She left little orange footprints all over the floor of the bathroom, as if a melting Oompa-Loompa had padded through."
I hate it when that happens. Once an Oompa-Loompa melts on your tile, the floor will never look the same again, no matter how much you scrub.

"His chest muscles strained the fabric of his tank top. It fit across a tummy that was hard and flat enough to slice salami on." 
That's quite an image! Sure, it's an image of a guy getting his abs repeatedly sliced with a kitchen knife, bleeding all over your lunch meat, but still.

"When we kissed, I felt like a stick of butter on a subway rail. I melted."
I know, I know, you've never seen a stick of butter on a subway rail, never even thought about it before, but you're thinking about it now, aren't you? Never mind why it's there, it's melting, right? I mean, unless it's winter. Then the rail would be cold. Until a train comes. Then it will be squishy.

"The Seaside Heights drunk tank--on a weekday afternoon--was as clean and quiet as a church."
A church that reeks of vomit and urine.

And the book isn't without its life lessons. (I know, you thought the Downy softness lesson was enough).

"She could pour a shot of tequila down his belly and slurp it out of his navel without splashing any on her face." 
Find your strengths, kids.

"As soon as her boss left, Gia did a victory lap dance on the arm of the sofa....If only her mom could see her now." 
Dance like no one's watching, or like your mom wouldn't be disturbed if she were watching you simulate a lap dance.

And the novel was educational, too. I learned things about the legal system, for example.

Police and firemen show up at Gia's workplace after the landlord noticed smoke pouring from the windows. When they discover the smoke was caused by marijuana, here's what a policeman tells Gia and her co-workers:
"On behalf of the Seaside Heights police and fire departments, we expect some compensation for our efforts. Your choice. You can either pay a fine for creating a public disturbance, of you can volunteer to do community service." 
That's right, there's no DA, no court system, no tickets even. It's the police who decide on the charges and punishment, right there on the spot. 

And later, when Gia and Bella are arrested, Gia's love interest Fireman Frankie springs them from jail. No, not by paying their bond to bail them out, silly. That's not how it works:

"Slow down," she said, laughing. "How did you get us out?"
"I asked the chief of police to drop the charges.
Again, it's all up to the police. Well, police and a hot fireman. I can't believe how little I knew about criminal justice.

My favorite quote of all offers a history lesson. Here's where Gia describes a group of hippies sitting together on the beach:

"They were huddled together like a family of Ellis Island immigrants just off the Mayflower."
I still don't know if Plymouth Rock is on Ellis Island or if the Mayflower made multiple voyages from Europe to the colonies, but I maybe we'll find out in the next book.

As important as it is to know the rules of writing, it's just as important to know when to bend those rules. Or break them. Or completely shatter them to pieces so they're unrecognizable.
Sentence structure, for example. Trust your reader to figure out what you mean, no matter how you arrange your sentences.

"Gia stood up and started dancing on the spot to music that, like dolphins and small dogs, only she could hear." 
Yes, only she can hear dolphins and small dogs.

"They took a break from dancing on the red couch." You thought they'd been dancing on the couch, right? And now they're taking a break from that? Wrong! They were dancing--on the floor, like everyone else--and now they're sitting on the couch to take a break from that. Clearly.

And don't worry about sticking with one point of view. This book is told from six points of view by chapter 14, and yet another shows up in chapter 28. Usually the POV changed with a new chapter, but sometimes you're treated to more than one in a paragraph. In one chapter that's told mostly from Gia's point of view, we switch to the hotel manager for a few sentences before hopping back into Gia's hungover head.

You've probably heard too that to be a good writer, you have to read. Well, Snooki admits she's read only two books in her life. And look how that worked out. So there, sluts.


  1. Lynne,
    You are a sit down and write comic. What a terrific post on a not so terrific subject, celebrity publishing!

  2. That's hysterical! I figured she had a ghost writer, but thanks to you, I've got proof! After watching the past season of the Jersey Shore (a sin that would cost me my PhD if my alma mater ever found out), I'm confident that Snooki doesn't know the definitions of words such as "chronic," "rhapsodizing," and "philosophy."

    Thanks so much for taking one for the team!

  3. And then with some of the quotes, it's hard to believe she DID have a ghostwriter. And an editor. Here's an interview with the ghostwriter!

    If I had that job I'm afraid I would have started drinking a lot.

    Thanks for the comments!

  4. Wow! That is spectacular. I am sensing new slogans for real estate agents all over the world: 'Rent with us! This hooker could be YOUR new home!'

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. And THIS is why the Today Show snubbed the Newbery Winners?

  6. I thank you for reading this difficult work so the rest of us do not have to. You bravely traveled dangerous waters, like George Washington, sailing from Spain to the Oregon Trail. (Seriously, thanks for posting this, I laughed sooooooo freaking hard!)

  7. Thank you for writing this. I had to take a break from reading this on the red couch because I was laughing so hard.

  8. Laughing too hard. Have fallen out of chair and can barely reach keyboard to tell you how awesome this was. Thank you. Dying of rofl over here...

  9. Carrie, I love the Rent-a-Hooker idea. You may be onto something there.

    Nora, hard to believe, isn't it? Still want to see those ALA winners!

    It was a difficult and treacherous task, Josh, but this is how much I care about my readers.

    Careful while you're on that red couch, Shaun--people could be dancing on it.

    Hope you're all right after that fall, Kate. Thank you for dragging your bruised body to your keyboard.

    Thanks, everyone, glad you've enjoyed the pearles of wisdom!

  10. Omg, thank you for this, pure brilliance. Still wiping away tears over fabric softener philosophy and hooker homes :D

  11. That is hilarious. I so didn't want to read it but was intrigued by what the heck was in it. So thank you. And still, whores and red couches and all. She still had to have had a ghost writer help. There's no way in Jersey that she knows the words philosophy and rhapsodizing.

  12. Tears of joy, right, Friday?

    Kelly, see the earlier comments for a link to the ghostwriter (not so ghostly, I guess, since she's doing interviews about it.)

  13. Can I borrow your copy of the Snooki book? You make it sound like a "must read."

  14. I got the e-book, Alan, so you'll have to get your own! Maybe you could put on a disguise and check it out from the library.

  15. Hi there! I'm new here, and what a brilliant post to swing by for. Thanks for the laughs!

  16. I can finally wipe the tears from eyes and stop laughing. Thank goodness the rest of my family was gone when I read this or they'd be ready to lock me up. Maybe I could offer to slurp some tequila off a cop and he'd spring me from the nuthouse, though. It's always good to know that's an option

  17. This post is FTW just for having the word rhapsodizing in it.

  18. Until now, I thought Snooki's book was a memoir.

    Thank you for being brave enough to read it and give us the best parts.

  19. This is a public service- not only are you an interpreter but you speak Snooki! We need you, we really do. We need these things to be broken to us gently- or at least I do.

    I am also grateful to you personally for making me feel even better about the Snooki-book related rant I posted awhile back on my blog.

    You've taken a bullet for us, and we, as fellow writers, thank you for it and owe you, big. New Follower!


  20. I want to read her book, I really do.

    But now I'm not so sure I have to! This is great!

  21. Janna, the blog's fairly new too, so you're not late to the party! Glad you're here.

    Shelli, that sounds like a brilliant plan. He'll not only spring you from the nuthouse, he'll arrange for all charges to be dropped.

    Matthew, I owe it all to Snooki. Well, and her ghostwriter. As a couple commenters suggested, we're pretty sure the ghostwriter came up with that word.

    Theresa, it is "fiction," but I think it's pretty much memoir.

    Lora, I put my favorite quotes in the post, but there wasn't room for all the gems of wisdom, so you'd probably enjoy reading it too to get the full experience.

    And Bru, what if I really were a Snooki interpreter?! I did a Snooki book/day job mashup video showing what it might be like if I went to work one day and heard the dreaded words, "Guest speaker Snooki."


  22. This is great! Loved reading your post! Oddly enough my great-grandmother DID actually come from the British Isles on a ship called the Mayflower. Not to credit Snookie for her knowledge of this or lack there of but definitely coincidental:)