Friday, November 20, 2009

Hornet Gak (Yes, that's what we said.)

"The gold standard for financial thrillers."

*Publishers Weekly starred review of Top Producer

HANK: Coming up: Hornet Gak.

But first: Financial sharks take on a whole new meaning in Norb Vonnegut's acclaimed debut thriller. Let me just give you a hint: it begins with a gala party at the Boston Aquarium. And a certain large fish is no longer hungry at the end of the evening.

But swimming with the fishes is not what's on Norb's mind today. The female mind--if there's such a thing--is what's on his mind.

And also, Norb says:

Hornet Gak

To be brutally frank, I have an ulterior motive for being here.

For my next novel, I’m collecting words and expressions that only women use.

No guy, for example, ever says, “She’s adorable.” My buddies would hoot if they heard me say, “too cute,” particularly in reference to knee-high boots. Hank sent me an e-mail, signed it “xoxo,” and observed, “There’s another one, right?”

See what I mean?

Will you comment with a few expressions unique to women, as I recount what is perhaps the most horrific author experience of all time? I’ll send a free copy of my Wall Street thriller, Top Producer, to the person who submits the best word or phrase. (The contest ends at 11:59 pm on Friday, November 20.)

What about the author horror story?

In fact I was not a published author that Sunday morning during August 2007—just hopeful as I worked through my literary agent’s redlined edits of Top Producer. I heard an odd, semi-rhythmic clicking just over my desk, annoying as all hell. It sounded like dripping water, but it wasn’t raining outside.

Get ready for an “ewwh” moment.

I tapped the slanted ceiling over my desk, gently at first, nothing too aggressive. To my surprise the wallboard split, and hundreds of insect legs poked through the crack.


That’s when I decided to suck out with a vacuum cleaner. It worked great at first. The bugs made a pleasing and fairly regular “thump” sound as they barreled into the canister.

The calm before the storm.

A chunk of the wallboard gave way, though, and a thousand "bald-faced hornets" swarmed into my office. These yellow jackets sting repeatedly, not just once. They're vicious. When they sting, they leave a scent—a homing device for their brethren to attack the same spot. I got lucky. The hornets didn’t sting me once.

Even so, you could hear me screaming all the way to Boston.

With the yellow jackets buzzing everywhere, I ran from the room and slammed the office door shut. Using a rolled-up towel, I sealed the crack under the door so the hornets could not strafe the rest of the house.

An exterminator—a guy in a Hazmat suit fresh off the set of Ghostbusters—arrived several hours later with two tanks of poison strapped to his back. There was a pitched battle, man versus insect, winged carnage everywhere. And a three-by-three section of wallboard collapsed over my desk, exposing the mother lode of all nests.

There is no word in the English language that adequately describes the fallout. I'll go with "gak." Hornet gak–writhing wasps, wriggling slugs, and grey catacombs oozing with white maggoty larvae gasping their last breath–crashed onto Top Producer.

The gak buried my agent's redlined edits, his meticulous markings and thoughtful suggestions for improving the story. The gak dealt Grove O’Rourke, my fictional hero, a major setback in his quest to help a widow find her missing fortune.

I took one for the team, rolled up my sleeves, and fished the be-gakked manuscript from the slime. Things got safer, I’m pleased to report, post publication. There are no trace elements of hornets anywhere in the hardbound copy of Top Producer, just a few sharks.

When’s the last time you heard an author describe writing as a life-and-death experience?

Norb says he'll stick close to his computer today--isn't that--adorable? What a sweetheart, I mean, OMG. Cutie-pie. ;-)

He also told me a great story about his most embarrassing moment as a newly published author, so I convinced him to confess it to you, too. So come back tomorrow to hear all--and Norb will announce the winner of the free Top Producer during halftime of the Harvard-Yale game. (Shall we make a list of things only men would say?)

**NORB VONNEGUT is a wealth adviser who writes about Wall Street’s behavior behind the headlines. His first novel, Top Producer, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He is now editing The Fund, a thriller scheduled to print in the winter of 2010-2011. Norb built an extensive career with Morgan Stanley, Paine Webber, and other Wall Street institutions. His author’s website is His blog, Acrimoney, has non-fiction insights into today’s financial news.


  1. "You're so sweet!"
    {The classic} "Does this make me look fat?"
    "That's such a cute outfit."

    Glad you and the book survived the wasps - I look forward to reading it.


  2. Thanks, Edith.

    Love "the classic."

    With Top Producer buried underneath the gak, my only thought was, "Gives a whole new meaning to pulp fiction."


  3. Good ones, Edith!

    "I swear she's my bff!"
    Okay, so that's more for really young women.

    For men: "Yes, dear." "You did not tell me that."Yes, I was listening."

  4. Okay, Paula, you nailed the one about guys. But truth be told, I had to visit UrbanDictionary to figure out "bff." All of a sudden, I'm feeling Jurassic.

  5. How about, "I need the Spanx Mid-Thigh Shaper in a medium?" You never hear men talk about foundation garments, for some reason.

    Or,"Let's go shopping!"

    Or,"I'll have a Diet Pepsi with my 12-layer Chocolate Decadence dessert."

    Or, "Let's go see the new chick-flick with Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton. I feel like a good cry."

  6. I am so glad we're having this conversation in front of computer terminals. This seems like my morning to look everything up. I had to google Spanx Mid-Thigh Shapers to understand. And judging from the Spanx website, my sense is the models don't even look at 12 layer cakes. Laura, that's definitely a "grand slam."

  7. I don't believe I've ever heard a man say, "Well, if you don't know, then I'm certainly not going to tell you."

    "Oh, darn. I broke a nail."

    "Shh. Oprah's on."

    Another for a man: "If I turn it inside out, I can wear it another day."

    Something my smart husband has never said to me: "Honey, can you iron this for me?"

  8. Paula, I like the one about Oprah. But that one will be extinct soon, right? I caught the end of a newscast and heard she's leaving the television show. Is that right?

  9. "Hold my purse?" (And my hubby does)

    "Isn't s/he darling/sweet/precious?" (Talking about a baby/child/pet)

    Gak on the hornet invasion - we had that happen a couple years back. My son's bedroom is over the garage -- the hornets had nested between the inner and outer walls. (They got in through a tiny hole in the outside light) When the weather turned cold, they decided he was an excellent source of warmth. At least a half dozen of them crawled under his covers with him - yes, he exited screaming, and stung.

    Love the description of the Hazmat suit from Ghostbusters. We had one of them here too.

  10. I see there's a headline on Yahoo! about Oprah, but haven't read the article yet. Guess it's true.

    Thought of another one for women: "I'll be ready in a minute!"

  11. Leah, that's the worst story I've ever heard. Your son must have night terrors. Hiding under the blankets has always been like a safe house. Sacred ground from scary things in the closet or under the bed. But the hornets burrowed under the covers with him? They did this at night? I just can't imagine.

    In my case, I stirred up the hornets, not on purpose of course. But I stirred them up all the same. I've heard stories about mice getting under the covers, but hornets. That's awful.

  12. How about:
    "Are these tights navy or black?"

  13. Okay, here's the skinny on Oprah:

    BTW, Paula, "I'll be ready in a minute" works for guys, too.

  14. Hank, you're killing me.


    Did I get that right?

  15. Hornet nightmare, Norb.
    We experienced a similar, but not quite as gruesome thing once. I was coming back from 3 weeks of book tour, looking forward to sleeping in my own bed.
    On our front door was taped a message from my teenage son. THE HOUSE IS FULL OF BEES. I HAVE LEFT FOR FEAR OF DEATH.
    (He later becamse an actor!)
    We went in cautiously. He had set off an insect bomb before leaving. Bee carcasses were everywhere--piles on window ledges etc and from the chimney came an onimous buzzing. I decided, unwisely, to light a fire to drive them out.
    As the flames leaped merrily upward something started dripping. They were honey beez. The honeycomb was melting all over my fireplace. We had to get an exterminator to remove them from the chimney. Now it's capped.
    And we're currently battling termintes so it's one long man versus insect battle which I think he insects will ultimately win

  16. And a female saying, especially among Southern women as a put-down: "Bless her little heart."
    As in, "Did you see what she's wearing? Bless her little heart, she hasn't a clue."

  17. Rhys, are you from the south? I ask because of the "bless her little heart" quote and also the termite battle. I grew up in Charleston, SC and equate termites, perhaps unfairly, with lands south of the Mason-Dixon line.

    Bees in a chimney are not a good thing.

  18. No, I'm a transplanted Brit and I live in California where we have plenty of termites.
    But I also have Southern friends who constantly say, "Bless her little heart" and it's never something good!

  19. Rhys,

    Agreed. Never a good thing.

    Being from the south—I've always thought Southerners have an uncanny power to scald with words. Ann Richard comes to mind.

    I think Governor Richards inspired that famous ad campaign from one of the discount brokerage houses. She said, "You can put lipstick and earrings on a hog and call it Monique, but it's still a pig."

    Maybe the Governor's expression is widespread down south. But it's certainly not as common as "bless her little heart."

  20. "Hornet Gak"--love it.

    How about:

    "Holy balls!"

    "My stars, ..."

    "it's a wee bit ..."

  21. Laura, I'm so with you on the Diet Pepsi with high-calorie dessert thing. I know of..get it? And that worries me, too.

    And that makes me think ofthe ultimate woman-only thing: the "whatever" on the side.
    Dressing on the side. Sauce on the side. I do it ALL the time.

    Once I asked how many sage ravioli were in the side order that came with my salmon. Six, the waiter said. May I have just two? I asked.

    I thought Jonathan was going to crawl under the table.

    But I didn't want to waste them, you know?

    Just think When Harry Met Sally.

  22. Welcom, Pegge. You might win today's long-distance award if you're visiting Jungle Red from Alaska. Of course, I have no way of knowing for sure.

    Hey, "my stars" sounds like a line from Happy Days. :)

  23. How about two-fork desserts? I'm a big fan because I eat most and have no immediate guilt.

  24. Only women refer to a piece of clothing worn above the waist as a "top".

  25. And the winner is Laura DiSilverio for both the Spanx and Diet Pepsi phrases. Laura, please email me your mailing address and I'll put a book in the mail. My address is

    Thank you to everyone for your phrases. Tough, tough decision.