Mark My Words–Even the Confusing Ones

I promise you.

You promise me.

That is the bare basics of a contract.

We both sign on the line that’s either too short, too narrow or too good to be true, promising we’ll each do our thing and come out smelling like roses on the other end of it.

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Well, that’s what’s supposed to happen, right?

Although the Chinese Zodiac has determined that this is the year of the sheep, I, personally, would take issue with this. This is not my year of the sheep or the goat, or any other cloven foot animal. It is the year of the treaty. It is the year in which I have spent a good portion of my time, hunched over paperwork with a magnifying glass, or peering onto my monitor and growing ever closer all with the hopes that if I can move near enough to the words, they will magically make sense with the intensity of my gaze.


They will make sense only if we stuck to something like a common language.

Or if I backed up two decades and decided to go to law school.

Or if maybe Plato, in all his soft and flowy robed glory was sitting beside me and explaining each Latin-based line as we moseyed through them.

Some contracts are wonderfully exciting—like the one I’m scanning with a fine-toothed comb right now—the one that says, We, publishers of great stories big and small, want your book, and then a second to follow the first, and quite possibly a third one to boot.

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These pieces of paper are exactly the kind of documents that make authors realize they are actually gymnasts because of all the back flips and flying Dutchman leaps of joy that ensue. But sometimes you discover that you’re going to have to become an extraordinarily flexible gymnast—like Cirque du Soleil Chinese acrobat flexible because of the Silly Putty stretching you’ve done to come to an agreement.

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And most authors I know are so excited to get published they would be willing to exchange their bones for rubber bands if it would launch their books onto the other side of obscure.

It helps to have a clever agent who speaks contract law, or studied Latin, or can easily recall her past life when she lived in Ancient Rome and clerked for Cicero. So, thanks, Jennifer. Super glad you’ve got my back.

Other contracts will keep you awake at night with a backlit calculator under your pillow for easy access.

Refinancing a mortgage. Need I say more?

Okay, I will.

You own a home. Correction: you live in a home the bank owns. The bank has you sign a contract that states: If you want to live in this home and pretend it belongs to you, you can pay us x amount of dollars for y amount of time.

Now this would all work out fine and dandy if they’d all just leave you alone until you either run out of money, pay off the debt, or run away to open a lobster kabob food truck on the island of Saint Kitts.

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Instead, before the ink has a chance to dry, you’ve already received three offers from a few other financial institutions who announce they’ve got a slightly better deal—at least on the first page of the glossy brochure and as long as you don’t read the fine print. And I think we’ve all been in plenty of situations where because we didn’t read every word of the fine print, we realize something unpleasant is about to hit the fan and we immediately start scouting eBay for that ‘lobkabob lorry.’

A few contracts are meant to make your life considerably easier. The tax accountant who you visit once a year and beg to make sense out of your refrigerator-sized box of receipts. A box which happens to be balancing a plate of homemade cookies on top—cookies you hope will convey the depth of your appreciation.

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Or your health insurance agent who sends you a card on Christmas and your birthday with a fridge magnet and a 500 mg vitamin C tablet taped to the inside of it.

And how about your automobile insurance agency who sends you a monthly email in recognition of payment saying, “Thank you. Now don’t drink and drive. In fact, just don’t drive period. It’s a beautiful day. Go for a walk.”

There are also the everyday ordinary contracts that have become such a part of our mindless existence we don’t see them as contracts any longer.

The library—you give me a snazzy, plastic card and all the books I could possibly shove into six bags each week so that I may read them all for free and in return I will tell you: What? I’m not late with that book. What do you mean I owe twenty-five cents for an overdue book? I KNOW I handed that story in last week. I’m POSITIVE this is your clerical mistake and it’s sitting right now on your shelves—just go take a look … oh, wait. Here it is.

The garbage collector—you come every week on Thursdays to pick up my wretched refuse and do with it what you will, and once a month I’ll send you a check for thirty dollars. Fingers crossed I remember to do it and the check doesn’t bounce.

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The internet provider—I will hemorrhage money your way for the promise of magical world wide connection beyond my wildest dreams, you will occasionally come through with that promise, but not in any reliable fashion, and I will regularly scream bloody murder at those who work within the company, imagining painful, fiery deaths for you all, but in truth have absolutely no recourse.

So there we have it. A cross-section snapshot of my ink and paper maelstrom thus far this year—not a farm animal in sight.

And umm … hey, kids? Head’s up: I may or may not have just agreed to give my new publisher both of your first babies by signing this linguistic puzzle. Time will tell. But I give you my word I won’t do anything like that again.

I promise.


*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click) 

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

74 thoughts on “Mark My Words–Even the Confusing Ones

  1. I’ve often wondered why I could not be attached to a contract that whoever would sign if they wanted to be my ISP or my banker or my builder ………. It seems fair doesn’t it? It could maybe be called an ‘Individualised Lifestyle Programme’ [ILP] and all these companies would bid to be able to provide said lifestyle requirements ……….. This would of course apply to a writer ready to be published. Can you imagine? 🙂

  2. Congrats on the contract. Of course the whole blog gave me a nervous attack. How many books in what period of time? How many children? Are there wolves involved? Probably referred to in some latinate jargon…but howling in the background nonetheless. You can outrun them, contract in hand. This is stretching yourself. Love the bouncing check, btw. 😉

  3. Woohoo!! Even if you have signed away all of our children, you got a book deal, it’s totally worth it. Bloody exciting news. Yes ma’am! The bouncing check cartoon is snortworthy!

    • Turns out the kids are totally fine with it, Cheergerm. Especially since I cooked them each their favorite meals as an apology and told them that my grand master plan is to put a few dollars away every week from any royalties that come through in order to eventually buy back their offspring.
      We’re all good.

  4. Contracts. Red Tape. Legal blah. Hate it.
    We paid off half of our mortgage following my redundancy and had to pay an extra £800 for doing so. Why? Because we were paying more than an additional ten per cent of the debt in the financial year.
    Last year, we had to prove our address when on the road to the bank who had sent us a letter we didn’t want and that couldn’t be redirected. They blocked our accounts. Luckily our friend was prepared to let us use his address, though HE also had to prove who he was and produce a utility bill. That opened a can of worms as Hubby received a letter saying his signature didn’t match their records (yet we had produced photo ID and passports at change of address time).
    Best one to date has to be the building society of late having reduced the maximum deposit guaranteed should the company fail. Accounts that are excluded are those of depositors who have never been identified as money launderers. I took that up with the building society as I am a law abiding citizen and squeaky clean in the money earning stakes. They couldn’t help me and referred me to the financial institution running the compensation scheme. Their email address is invalid, and in telling you so, the second email address they request you resubmit your enquiry to is also negligible as four requests later AND a letter, I am still awaiting some kind of response. Following a letter to the building society for clarification, they have confirmed that I am ‘clean’ and my money is protected. They didn’t say how long I would have to wait though should the financial system go belly up.
    Loved Rob’s cartoons this week, especially the bouncing check!

    • Good grief, P! What a bucketful of problems you two have been through in the financial halls of hell. I’m so sorry.
      It does make you want to untether that boat and make your way to open waters and the thought of a place with palm trees and no politics. Although, does that place even exist any longer?
      I’m glad you at least had a good chuckle with Rob’s toons. Grab some comic relief wherever it falls close to you, right? Cheers to you.

      • Hi Shelley. Oh it could have been much worse (and was before I met Hubby), but we came out above it all smiling.
        Doubt if we’d find palm trees, but there are plenty of weeping willows and with all the ducks and geese on the river we wouldn’t starve!

  5. Where’s the mention of the contract you cannot cancel: (monthly Direct Debit)paid to a monopoly (BT for all telephone, internet provision) or (Electricity for everything else) whose call centres are in Mumbai, with staff whose impenetrable accents just about manage ‘We appreciate very much your calling, pliss try later’.

    Or is that not the US way?

    Congratulations on this whatever mortgage of your wit and wisdom for all time. Hope it survives!

    • Oh, no, Philippa, you nailed it head on. The US has more than its fair share of that unpalatable piece of pie. It is the way of the world, is it not? I suppose we’ll all just muscle through this section of life that appears blatantly absurd and will remain so until someone finally has a simple bright idea to remedy it. Until then, we humor writers will poke at it like a piñata.
      Cheers to you!

  6. A book deal! Yeah! Marvellous. Congratulations! Sorry, was there more to it than that? I didn’t read the ‘small print’ i.e. the rest of your post. Must have been the sighting of the word ‘contract’ zzzzz
    Only kidding of course. Entertaining post as always and heartfelt congratulations from me.

    • It’s all blah, blah, blah for the most part, Anne. Filler words that make my eyes glaze over too. So no worries, I wouldn’t blame you. 😉
      Now, if the contracts or blog posts contained battle scenes with highland warriors, blaring bagpipes and a giant speared haggis at the end, then maybe … maybe I’d perk up and read it all through from one end to tother.
      (he he he)

  7. Great post Shelley and great news re the book deal !! (I think deal sounds friendlier than contract but perhaps has too many overtones of narcotic substances for comfort these days?! o_O ) Anyway I just lament the end of the gentleman’s handshake, used to be good enough for my Dad who did a lot of business like that and at the 19th hole of the golf course! People take themselves way too seriously these days…. 🙂 :/ 😕 😀

    • I still have a couple of agreements like that too, Jane. And one that’s working out beautifully simply because it’s been done with the right person. There’s a measure of character that needs to be sized up before extending that hand and deciding to leave the pen capped, and I’ve certainly not trusted my gut early enough. But with experience, I think I’ve grown a little more confident to enter into an arrangement of that sort.
      And I’m totally with you regarding the lack of letting our hair down these days. I’d like to live life a little bit more like a giant pajama party and a little bit less like the night before taxes are due.

  8. Contracts get scarier by the minute. Blissfully I stay this side, letting the “adults” handle it all or worse letting the future me handle it.
    Just keep going and march ahead. Great going 🙂

    • I love when you offer up your perspective, Prajakta, as I find you’re in such a similar place as my 19-year-old. My words to her – which I attempt to make as reassuring as possible, are simply to start slow, but start now. Baby steps. Independence can be frightfully nerve-wracking, but also heady and delicious if you just prepare a teensy bit.
      And then yes. I agree. Let the adults handle all the big contracts. Now if I can just find one to do it for me …

    • A thousand thank yous, Martha. And yes, I’ve tossed aside my BIG BOOK OF LATIN LEGAL LINGO and I’m now only surrounded by a dictionary a thesaurus, and a catalogue of all the single malt scotch I’ve got sequestered away in the wine cellar. I’m good to go. 😛

  9. A contract! Hooray, provided you didn’t have to sign it in blood and your firstborn child is not referenced therein (might want to take a closer look at that Latin).
    The library scenario you mention is eerily familiar to me 🙂

  10. Legal contracts suck giant donkey gonads. Each time I’ve bought or sold a house, I’ve thanked my lucky stars that my cousin is a real estate lawyer. My eyes glaze over somewhere around word #17 in a contract, so it’s good to know someone else is actually reading it and advising me.

    And YAY for a contract for you, because that’s a good thing, right???

  11. Hey Shelley,

    Congratulations on the book deal! Woohoo!! Let that marvellous single malt / red wine / chocolate sauce flow – for a little while anyway – and worry about your grandchildren later. 🙂


  12. (sigh of relief). i had (4tyoo (n)8lee nkey-wrecklee) assumed you were getting to the point of the story where the contract with the publisher went sour. (so far): whew! (symbollically wiping forehead). maybe they’ll want yer grandkids and not the axual kids. 4 now …

  13. MORE Dear Opl? 😀 Yayyyyyy~ I am excited. :3 But yes, contracts are hard and most of the time, suck. 😛 Especially things like financial aid contracts, which for some reason can’t be argued or adjusted, and force you to accept any mid-year changes to the tuition fees, et al. 😛 *grumbles and shakes fist at University that hiked my loans from 6% to 8%, on top of a $2,500 mid-year tuition increase*

    • Actually, no. Not more Dear Opl. This contract is with a different publisher, for different stories. Announcement in PW coming shortly!

      And I think it’s outrageous–all that which is happening regarding student loans and the absurd interest rates. There are times when I look at our world and truly believe that evil and greed has won out. I crave the moments when I see great humanity rise to the surface, but clearly, common sense and fairness hasn’t touched the issue of the cost of education just yet. I’m feeling for you, Alex.

      • Ooooo, by PW, do you mean Publisher’s Weekly? I’ll have to keep my eyes open for it! That’ll be a treat. 🙂

        And thank you. Luckily I had the sense to do half my schooling at a community college, so I’m not COMPLETELY crippled, but it’s still a lot of money for me to think about.

  14. You’re right. Most contracts are pure gibberish. Like, have they been updated since the Declaration of Independence… or…? lol. Speaking of getting published, please give me advice… I mean, I haven’t written the book yet, completely, but once I’m done with that… then what? Find a publisher? Publish it myself? I’m not quite sure if I’m at the “get an agent” status… idk. (:

    • Step one: write the book. 😛
      Then if things go well with step one, you’ll know if you are for the publishing world or no. I’d also suggest you might want to find yourself a local (or online) writer’s group who write within your genre. That way, you’ll be surrounded by support, information, learn how to edit, and receive some (hopefully) marvelous constructive feedback on your own masterpiece.
      It’s all a process, and an effortful one, but finding your voice through another art form is a magical experience, Carsla.
      I’m sending you huge amounts of encouragement from my side of the screen. Go forth and write!

  15. Oof, that legalese, bringing up more questions than it answers. What luck that your agent has the background that she does! At the literary agency I worked for, the main agent had been a lawyer for many years, so it didn’t matter that I had no idea what our clients were signing up for when I read over their contracts. Ah, memories…

  16. You have a book deal? Woo hoo! How fantastic. As for contracts, they’re such a headache to understand. Just staying awake until you read to the end is a severe trial. Maybe we can boot them out in favour of plain English?

    • Oh, yes, I vote yes on the whole kick them to the curb idea, Laura. Now … how do we make it so?!
      I suppose we could go with the bard’s suggestion … The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

      • Or offer them reprieve on condition they work for free undoing all the chaos they caused? I’ve known a fair few lawyers and some of them were almost human! I’m sure with the right rehabilitation they could be made useful to society. Some of them, anyway. 😄

  17. Hurrah for you, Shelley, on your book contract! 🙂 I confess I am one of those (surely annoying) people who insists on reading the fine print. I remember that back-breaking stack of paper that came with buying my house. I read the ENTIRE thing and came back to my lawyer with a list of questions about the wording of certain sections. (Clearly I was destined to become an editor.) He looked at me and said “Wow, no one ever reads those parts.” Poor guy was working on a flat fee! I’m sure he loved me, though. 😉

    My personal favourite is the fine print on the back of fitness club memberships. They encourage you to not do any exercise at all, just in case you suddenly keel over from heat exhaustion after doing one rep. Maybe they should be called anti-fitness forms!

    • I can totally see you spending countless hours combing through the wording–maybe even red-lining it in places, Sue. Makes me laugh.

      And I love the revelation about the fitness memberships. Funny, that’s one I never read. I blindly sign away all rights and responsibility because I would follow my yoga teacher to unfathomable depths if she asked it of me. But I just might take a peek come renewal time. Now I’m curious.

  18. first of all congrats on that contract you bagged! 🙂
    As for me, I hate reading those uncountable words in any kind of contract – be it on papers or those we need to tick while registering in some new websites….they are such headaches i tell you!
    I hope you get many more contracts to sign in future & survive each one of them…… wishes! 🙂

  19. I’m so tardy to this post, that for all I know you’ve published another book. (You didn’t, did you?).

    I’ve missed your wonderful prose and graceful sense of humor, and Rob’s delightful illustrations as well.

    I’m immediately suspicious of anything written in fine print. It may as well say “here is the part where we stab you in the back…pay not attention to the man behind the curtain and TRUST me…I’ve got your back.” Ha!

    Contracts: can’t live without them and you just can’s shoot em.

    On the plus side, you’re a published author! With a contract! And more books will follow! And I saw your book at Hicklebees!

    • Oh, Alys! I leapt out of my chair and did a little happy dance at your last sentence. What a joy that is to hear. Thank you all sweet Hicklebee peeps–I’m brimming with gratitude!

      And I’m guessing this has been a super busy time for you–I’m so hoping the transition to uni has been a smooth one, although there’s no denying it, it can be wretchedly tough for all involved. I’m thinking of you. Always, always. ❤

      • Thank you. It was a tough few weeks with my son off at school. The tiniest thing set me off in weepy, soft tears. He came home for a brief visit one afternoon and also dropped in on my birthday for a few hours, the benefits of attending college in a nearby community. He’s managing really well and amazing me at every turn. The growth and maturity in those few weeks away is stunning? Did you observe that as well when your daughter first returned home?

        She seems remarkably poised and confident. Is your son applying to college this year, or is he still a few years off?

        • It’s tough whether they’re ready or not. (and whether WE’RE ready or not!).
          And as far as seeing the growth and maturity … well, there are times I think to myself that my kids have a hidden switch they could flip on where when needed (and they needed access to it a great deal whilst growing up in this household) they exuded the confidence and finesse of a career diplomat. And then I just need enter their bedrooms and I’m reminded that they still believe that if they ignore the mess long enough fairies will come to whisk it away.

          And yes, my son is applying for university this fall. I find myself continually humming the chorus of “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler. Oy veh. 🙄

          • Life moves along, doesn’t it? It seems that the first decade of parenting moved at a slow pace, while the second decade moved at warp speed. Did it seem that way to you? It’s a bit disorienting.

            I’m impressed with your off-springs diplomacy and finesse, but can relate all to well with the disconnect one finds inside their inner sanctum. With my younger son we’ve finally agreed to a closed door.It helps this neat-nick keep her sanity.

            Best of luck with applying to college: 2.o. I’m sure it will be equally complex. I hope he finds his way too.

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