Friday, October 24, 2008

Every Writer Needs a Roomba, or Another Way to Entertain Your Muse by Terena

As I write this, my floors are being expertly cleaned by our new family member, the Roomba. She's a lovely thing, small, cute, hard working, round, and she does a better job on my floors than I ever did. Plus, she gives me more time to write, therefore, I love my Roomba.

My Muse is fascinated by it; she can't stop watching it move across the floor picking up bits of debris and dog hair, bashing into walls and furniture, figuring out how to navigate those obstacles, and then proceeding on its quest for cleanliness. She likes to throw more bits of detritus on the floor to see if the Roomba can pick it up. She cheered when it managed to vacuum a crushed Fish Cracker.

"Did you see that? It actually got every bit! What a marvelous invention."

When she came back from her summer hiatus, she dumped several ideas into my lap. "Here. I've been working on these for weeks." I flipped through each one, growing excited by the possibilities. Three plays, a novel revision that saves the plot and therefor might get my novel out of its hiding place, the entire philosophy of The Guru, and two ideas for essays.

"These are great! But I don't think we're going to have enough time to do all of this! School starts on Monday."

"So. You'll manage. How's the play coming along?"

"With these ideas for The Guru, it's practically done."

"Great. So what's next?"

"I'm waiting for the notes on the Business Book."

"And then..."

"I guess I'll start in on one of these ideas."

"Excellent." And then she saw the Roomba sitting on its charger. "What's that?"

The Roomba came from Tama, my newest author. She adopted my cat, so I adopted her old Roomba. It needed a bit of tweaking, but luckily my boy is a tinkering wizard. After reading a few websites and ordering another Roomba for parts, he got the thing chugging along beautifully. In fact, he's ordered a costume for the Scooba (the mopping Roomba) and is trying to decide whether to dress up the Roomba as a French Maid, or a Tiger.

See, Roomba's are a beacon for creativity. Buy one today and your own personal robot will give you new opportunities for writing. Or would you rather vacuum?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sunglass Hickeys?

About a week ago, I got the following message:

“jody, i've thought of something that needs a word, and for some reason i just can't think of anything that would fit. have you ever taken off your sunglasses only to find those little red indented lines underneath? horrifying, i know, but i think it's just about time that somebody came up with a word for them...and i know your the only woman for the job.
i believe in you. we all do. don't let us down.”

I feel so honored to be trusted with this charge. I have to admit, though, I’m stumped. I mean she’s totally right; we really do need a word for this phenomenon. It’s like discovering I’m a superhero, then failing miserably on my first mission.

So far I’ve come up with the following candidates:

Prong punctures
Shade marks
Sunglass hickeys

I don’t know, though. Somehow none of the above quite satisfies my yen for the perfect neologism. Help me! We all know what she’s talking about, we all know there should be a word, but what is it?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

On Line Survival, by Terena

While on my quasi hiatus over the Summer, I collected several interesting articles about publishing, book marketing, and social networking. Here's one of the more interesting ones:

From Business Week - Book Publishers: Learn From Digg, Yelp—Even Gawker
Book publishing could keep itself vital by taking a page from Web 2.0 technologies, but it has a long way to go. Here are some lessons.

This article intrigued me because I am interested in the way the Internet and other forms of technology are changing business, especially the book business. Look at the Music Industry. For the last fifteen years Music Companies have struggled to retain control over their property, the bands they produce and the music those bands create. Anyone can download music for free with ease and share it with all of their friends, on-line and off. Plus, a band doesn't have to be "signed" anymore to find exposure and listeners. Thanks to I Tunes and My Space, your weekend garage band can be listened to by a world wide audience. However, with so many bands competing on line for your attention, how do they stand out from the white noise of the Internet?

Now it's the book industry's turn to figure out how to survive in a digital age. Some publishers are wondering if books are dead. If so, what's next? Many smaller publishers are only creating e-books because they believe e-book readers and on-line zines are the future. In ten years, paper books will be obsolete. The article implies everyone will be reading on a Kindle.

Rather than be afraid of all these technological changes and the impact they are having in the book industry, I want to learn and strategize so Medusa's Muse will survive into the future. So should every publisher.

Just like the music industry, the book market is flooded with books from small presses and self-publishers, all competing for the attention of a decreasing reading market. How can we find our audience? This article discusses that.

From the article:

Reading a book is an incredibly solitary experience. That's both a blessing and a curse. Like most busy professionals, I don't have a lot of downtime. What little free time I have could easily be filled by other pursuits—chiefly, time with a husband I rarely see. When I do commit to a book I love, I want to talk about it. This impulse explains why book clubs were all the rage in the 1990s.

There has to be a way for Web 2.0—a movement whose raison d'etre is to connect people—to meet the ongoing need for building community around books.

What's your online strategy?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Live a Little lives

My first 5 Spot book is out. I feel...the same. Okay, maybe a little thinner.

Here are some of the funniest reactions from people I know:
  • "Omigod, where can I get it?" (Whispered under breath, as if could only be pubbed by extremely marginal, nay, illicit publisher.)
  • "I bought it already! On Amazon! I pre-ordered it!" (Aiming for Best Fan. Is Best Fan.)
  • "Did you get any, like, reviews?" (Self-explanatory.)
  • "Is it pink?" (Fuuuuuuuck.)
  • "Is it better than your other ones?" (Much.)
  • "It's a comedy about cancer?" (Demoting me to C-list friend.)
  • "Will you just give me a copy?" (If I was Danielle Steele, I sure would.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why I Wrote This Book by Kim

So, I was asked to write a blog post recently for a site that chronicles the origins of books. To clarify: How authors conceive their ideas.

I found thinking about this weirdly rewarding. That's probably because it ended up being all about, well, me.

Here's what I wrote:

Live a Little
, or rather, Raquel Rose, the book’s fortysomething, frustrated heroine, emerged out of my own experience as a harried mom of two. Sometime around the thousand-odd days of parenthood mark, I started to realize that not only is parenting not about your (the grown-up’s) fulfillment, it’s actually about the complete abnegation of self. Kid need a toy while you’re in the first shower you’ve had in six days? No problem; hygiene is overrated. Sleep deprivation got you feeling paranoid or perhaps even homicidal? Read an attachment parenting book; it’ll explain that you’re just being selfish.

One day, while was stuffing my writhing offspring into my raisin-littered sedan while yet another writing deadline came and went unmet, I thought: What would a terminally unappreciated mother do to feel good again? How far would she go?

That’s where Live a Little came from. Now, maybe I’m a cynic, but I tend to think most of us are liars in one way or another. Maybe we just string together small fibs, or perhaps we’re more inclined toward the occasional whopper or self-aggrandizing feint and dodge. I think it is very possible for an otherwise ethical, normal person to spin a web of lies she can’t extricate herself from easily. This precept was the baseline for Raquel’s misadventure, and I demanded a lot from it (and, probably, my readers). I wanted to see how far I could take this idea and still make Raquel relatable (according to Publisher’s Weekly, not as far as I thought, but, hey, what do they know about pathologically lying moms with spare tires and a weakness for surfers with crooked teeth?).

That said, at its core, Live a Little is a suburban satire. It pokes fun at the trials and tribulations of married life, parenting, keeping up with the Joneses and raising high-end(!) children. Although I wouldn’t align myself with Raquel as a character in any specific way, writing this book was a way to shine a light on my own pathologies as a wife and mother. It was an exercise in approaching the challenges of marriage and parenthood with more levity and less zealousness. And, on those terms, for me at least—and I hope some of my readers—it was a success.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Did I Stutter?
by Jordan E. Rosenfeld

I am a social being for the most part, but at times I can become deathly shy or self-conscious, like when meeting new people I hope to impress, or when I'm presenting a workshop or class, bringing out a kind of super-chatty, "look at me" style of conversation that is over-eager and over-compensating and makes me slap myself on the head later for not being more myself.
When I get like that, I pull out this little line to save my ass: "I'm a writer, not a talker."

Now I get to use a brand new line: "I have a new baby" to explain away everything from shyness to my newly acquired stutter. Days and even weeks after giving birth I stuttered so significantly I worried that I had suffered a small stroke during labor, unaware that this was just my brain on total sleep deprivation. Even my worst night's sleep--college cramming, insomnia or stress related--didn't compare to the constant waking of a newborn baby every couple hours or less. Being articulate simply was not an option.

The only thing to cast aside my fears that I had lost a crucial set of brain pathways in the birth process was that I could still string together intelligible sentences when writing. The words still flowed, even though writing a paragraph was a major achievement.

As I've always said--thank god for writing, or I'd be a terrified mute with absolutely no self-awareness.
But it's worth it. See for yourself:

Twilight Saga: I'll Take Jake

So Breaking Dawn, the fourth book in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, hits stores Saturday, right? Although I know I’m in the minority here, I’ve got to add my vote to the fever-pitch riot of opinions popping up all over the internet about Edward and Jacob.

For those who haven’t read it, the series features a love triangle of sorts. We’ve got Bella, the main character, choosing between the stately, traditional, impeccably polite vampire, Edward, and this grease monkey kid from the rez, Jacob who, through no fault of his own, happens to be a werewolf. I know, it all sounds insipid to outsiders, but somehow Meyers makes it work.

The point to all of this is that I love Jacob, man. He’s funny, hot blooded, sweet and raw. He’s torn, faded Levi’s to Edward’s tuxedo. And let’s face it: I’m a sucker for a bad boy.

Although I’ve had mixed feelings about the series and about Bella as a protagonist, I’ve got to say I found it all compulsively readable. I never read a single word of the Harry Potter books, thus effectively missing out on a major cultural movement, so it’s been kind of cool to accidentally get swept up in this one.

My central theory about why the Twilight saga works so well is this: girls want to be worshipped. I know I do. Whenever I feel the slightest complacency from my boyfriend I’m like, “Listen, babe, I’m just not feeling the worship.” Bella’s insecure and clumsy, she’s totally human, yet she’s got two incredible, supernatural hotties worshipping her no matter what she does. Who can resist that fantasy?

I know I’m in the minority when it comes to loving Jake. Come on Cullen-heads, bring it on!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hunter S Thompson Documentary - "Gonzo"

I went to San Francisco to see "Gonzo - The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S Thompson" with my dear friend Jane, another HST fan. It felt like a sort of pilgrimage because Jane and I had driven two hours from home to sit in that theatre and pay homage to the genius that is Hunter.

I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when I was a freshman in college. My first taste of Hunter. The wildness of the story held together with precise prose and blunt truths made an impact on my own writing and life. This was also the time I had discovered Dead Kennedies and was exploring punk. I was shaking off my small town immaturity and ideals, expanding my world view, and embracing that part of me that howled at the moon. My inner need for chaos was strummed by the writing of Hunter.

Since then, I've read most of his books and much of his writing, and his energy has stayed with me, imprinting on my concepts of art and politics. However, I have no illusions about him. My admiration is not romantic; he was a drug-addict, alcoholic, manic-depressive prone to violent outbursts and when he killed himself I was angry. It felt like a betrayal of everything he wrote. If only he'd had the courage to face the era of George Bush! What wondrous words he would have thrown at the White House!

The movie helped me understand a little better why he felt like he had to die. I saw the human behind the art, the troubled boy behind the angry man. I saw his goodness and compassion and I understood what drove him to ride that edge for so long. He lived his life peering over it until he finally lost the energy to hang on. Over he went, leaving behind his words and his ideas which will resonate forever.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Play in Twenty Four Hours

The festival was a blast! Exhausting, but so much incredible, focused, collective energy, not just from our own team, but from all the teams working at the same time, trying to create art, or a semblance of it.

On friday night at 6:30 everyone gathered at the Ukiah Player's Theatre to meet, sign in as a team, make a plan, and find out the theme. We got lucky. "Death" was chosen. My writing partner Natasha Yim had an idea that fit perfectly so that gave us a head start. She and I went to her husband's office, put on the coffee, and started brain storming.

I've never worked with a partner before, so it took me a while to figure out how to proceed. I tend to just write everything down in one expulsion, sort of like vomiting words, not worrying too much about each line of dialogue. Once the structure is there, I go back and fix the words. Natasha sets up an outline first, going line by line, making sure she's staying on track. In took about an hour before we were in the zone, finding that balance point where we were both contributing. We spent as much time laughing as typing. By midnight, we had a play. By 3:00 am, it was a good play. I got to bed at 4:00, then up at 7:30 to meet the actors and director.

8:00 am the whole team got together outside the theatre and did the read through. The actors loved it. It sounded better when they read it than how I imagined it in my head. Right away, the actors embodied the characters, adding nuances to the dialogue I hadn't foreseen. Natasha and I were exhausted, but happy. We left to get more sleep while the actors got to work.

At 3:00 pm I went back to the theatre to watch them on stage. Incredibly, they knew most of their lines already! I can write a play in one night, but there's no way I can learn lines in 7 hours.

8:00- Showtime! It was a good turn out. All four plays were about death, but every team had a different idea about it. There was a campy Sci Fi comedy about reigniting the sun, a play written by a group of high school students about Canada nuking Ukiah, a play about ghosts messing with a fake psychic, and one about a mad taxi driver on his last night of work. Our play was about Vampires in a support group to help them fit in with humans. The vampire therapist has a nervous breakdown after listening to them "whine for the last millennia." After all the players took their bows, I found my teammates and we hugged, everyone feeling high on fatigue and excitement. It was an incredible experience.

To celebrate, my hubby and I went to the Ukiah Brewery to dance to The Mad Maggies, an eclectic, polka, ska, celtic, zydeco, rock band; the kind of music you MUST dance to. By the time I made it to bed at 1 am I felt that I'd climbed Half Dome in a day. But what a day!

If you've never done a 24 hour play fest, I highly recommend it. Exhausting, yes, but it's incredible what can be created in a short amount of time. I plan to do it again next year!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mendocino County is On Fire

On friday, we had an incredible lightning storm. I was out that night with my writing group and as we left the cafe and walked across the overpass, we watched the flashes of lightning strike through the treacherous black clouds which were smothering the hills. Fascinating and beautiful. And then I thought, Uh Oh. I bet there's a fire burning now.

Not only is there a fire burning, there are over 130 fires burning in Mendocino County, one just ten miles from the city of Ukiah where I live. Every fire is burning out of control because there just isn't enough man power to deal with so many fires at once, especially when you realize that all of Northern California is threatened by fire. Cal Fire is on overload, so Mendo Fire Crews are battling the blazes mostly on their own. There are a lot of Community Volunteer fire crews, inmates from the County Jail, and homeowners out there, battling thousand acre blazes with garden hoses and shovels.

In Ukiah, we are mostly safe, but of course, not completely. Besides the heavy smoke dimming the sun and reducing visibility to less than 1 mile, a fire could reach this town. When I was in the seventh grade I lived in Lakeport in Lake County. That summer, Cow Mountain caught on fire and the fire blazed almost unstoppable toward the town. My family and I stood on a hill in town one night and watched the flames crest the hill and race toward the freeway. We were all praying the flames wouldn't leap the four lanes of asphalt, but the fire was burning so hot and the air was so dry, the town was on high alert. No one slept much that night. We had suitcases packed, waiting for the evacuation order. Somehow, CDF and local fire crews managed to keep the fire from reaching the freeway, saving the little town of Lakeport. A few days later, the fire was out.

I have a list of things to take, just in case. Documents, medications, some clothing, food and water, dog food, both computer towers, my lap top, and Paul's letters. If there's time I'll grab the photos. Both vehicles have full tanks of gas and we have friends in the Bay Area we can go to if need be. Odds are, Ukiah will remain untouched by anything more than dense smoke, but just in case, I'm ready.

This is California. We all need to be ready. If it's not catching fire it's falling down in an earthquake. I've lived here my entire life, so droughts, wildfires and earthquakes are nothing new to me, but the loss of life and property is tragic. You can't take anything for granted, not even in California where the weather is gorgeous 80% of the time and the views rival the French Riviera. Enjoy the beauty, but watch for smoke.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Good enough by Kim

So, I have submitted my, er, name -- and rep -- as a candidate for presidency.

Just kidding. Actually, I have submitted my candidacy for Litquake, SF's highfalutin' yet edgy literary festival. But it might as well be the presidential race, because it feels like there's a lot at stake here.

The issue, as I see it, is Am I Good Enough? Or, more accurately, Do They Think I'm Good Enough?

Such are the trials, tribs and baggage of the Chick Lit writer. Now, I think I'm good, and my mother thinks I'm on the verge of cracking the literary canon -- but does the rest of the literary world concur? There's still a double standard when it comes to commercial fiction, especially women's fiction, and especially women's fiction penned by women that is packaged in jackets that might include some shade of pink.

And it still yanks my chain.

As anyone who's read Jody Gehrman, Jennifer Belle, Jennifer Weiner, Candace Bushnell or a long list of other writers who -- I'm guessing -- are writing largely for women (and are read largely by women) can tell you that they're dealing quite evocatively with universal human themes. So why the derogatory labels? I'm not going to get into a deep discussion of the Chick Lit moniker here; let's just say applying to a literary festival gives one pause. It gives one Deep Thoughts. It also gives one an upset stomach, but what's a girl writer to do?

According to the Litquake Web site, their criteria for consideration are: Is the author local? Check. Does the author have a book coming out this year? Check. Can the author provide an entertaining reading experience? Checkalicious, baby (not sure how they know this, because I did not have to submit a video of myself doing stand-up or nude burlesque).

Hooray! I'm overqualified for the first time ever! But seriously...this is one of those situations where I want it so bad I can taste it. Why? Well, I want validation from the stinking edgy SF literary establishment, that's why. Also, I want dozens of sycophants to slobber all over me as I mince around in my (edgy) platforms drinking copious amounts of Stella and blathering on about universal themes. Why pretend otherwise? I would go so far as to say that a certain segment of the author population thinks as much about peer admiration as they do about, er, universal themes. Is that so wrong?

Thankfully, I'm a Capricorn and a 3 in the Enneagram personality profile so I don't blame myself too much.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Obviously I didn't do my BEA homework well enough, because despite my plans and goals for the event, I spent most of the time wandering around the LA Convention Center, hopelessly lost. Spending time at BEA is a lot like spending time on the internet. You intend to do research on a particular topic, say Beverly Hills shoes, but you start clicking on other links and exploring more sites and before you know it two hours have passed and you now know everything there is to know about South-East LA weather patterns. I missed all but one of the workshops I'd signed up for and missed every author signing I was interested in. Attending BEA became a test of Zen.

However, I don't think it was a complete waste of time. I did get a glimpse of the bizarre and somewhat elusive book industry, and I was pleasantly surprised by how polite everyone was. Not once did I get mowed over or ignored. Even rep's at the Simon and Schuster pavilion were cheerful and chatted about books with me. They graciously accepted a flier about Laura's book while offering me a pre-release book of their own, some of which I accepted. That's one thing about BEA I learned very quickly: say no to an offered book or you'll quickly spend the day hauling around 30 pounds in your bag. But behind the smiling reps at Simon and Schuster and Random House is where the real purpose of BEA is. At numerous tables in each pavilion sat well dressed men and women making deals and taking book orders. Their heads were bowed close together as they looked over contracts and papers, speaking in quiet voices, and finishing their discussion with a firm handshake. I heard snippets of conversations: "that's not very many units..." "he doesn't know what he's talking about..." "I'm not sure about these numbers..." "this display alone cost one thousand dollars." I felt that I had wandered into a secret society's secret convention and the secret members were speaking in a secret code. They even had secret handshakes.

I also learned that I was under-dressed. Despite the fact BEA is a convention, people were dressed in black suits and sleek dresses, and most wore impractical, high-heeled shoes. Because I'd been warned over and over to wear good shoes, I noticed people's feet. 60% chose style over comfort. In my jeans, Medusa's Muse t-shirt, and red Keens, it was obvious I wasn't an "insider." Several times I was asked if I was a librarian. I guess librarians like to be comfortable.

Speaking of librarians, I couldn't find any. The American Library Association booth was abandoned and there was no "library section." I spent all Saturday morning hunting for them, eager to hand out free copies of Traveling Blind. No luck. That was the same time I lost my cell phone, so by lunchtime on day two of BEA I was ready to sit on the floor and cry. Happily, an exhibitor found my cell phone and when I called my number I found them. Thank you so much, Interlink Publishing! After the cell phone fiasco I found librarians in a workshop called "What Librarians Wish Publishers Knew." An interesting talk, and I'll go into more detail in my next post. I gave free copies to two of them and handed fliers to the rest.

I did manage to find the Independent Publishers Section and Writer's Row, both located in the very back of the West Hall, about as far from the Main-South Hall as you can get. All I can say is these people are brave. While walking up and down the two aisles, I got very depressed. There were table after table of writers and publishers, practically leaping into the aisle and thrusting a book into my hand, as if begging me to take one. I took too many, and while a few were poorly produced in my opinion, I did find some treasures, especially a book by Simhananda published by Orange Palm and Magnificent Magus Publications. I will write about more Indy publishers I met at BEA in a later post.

The highlight of the event for me was the 20 minutes I chatted with Gordon Burgett while drinking champagne during the PMA Fortieth Birthday bash at their booth. He wrote one of the books that helped start Medusa's Muse: Publishing To Niche Markets.

The other wonderful, as well as humbling moment, was when I found Laura's book on the PMA shelves. At first, I couldn't find it, but then, hidden amongst the other biography/autobiography books, was Traveling Blind.

Overall, I'm glad I went, but I'm not sure I'll go again. Or if I do go when it returns to California, I'll just buy a day pass. And I definitely won't go alone! Jane was planning to come with me, but circumstances kept her away, so I had to go solo. I'm not a naturally outgoing, gregarious person and a shy person at BEA doesn't stand a chance. I'm sure I would have had more fun if I'd been there with a pack of friends and we schmoozed our way into some of those after-hours parties. Also, I would dress better. Nicer outfits, skirts with stockings, but I'd still wear my comfy shoes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Day in the Life of The Medusa's Muse Publisher

Wake up at 6:30. Get child up and ready for school while at same time trying to get me ready for the day. Take child to school by 8:35, then stop at Cafe nearby.
Take out journal and write for an hour, trying to capture my wild thoughts, plans and ideas into some kind of workable order. Spend a lot of time gazing out window and wishing my Mocha was bigger. Wonder if I've had too much coffee.

Go home and check personal email account. Answer several posts from friends. Switch over to the Medusa email account. Read several emails from Publish L group, spam from a couple of marketers, the Book 2 Book post, and Galley-Cat. See post from PMA. Follow link to their website. Try to log-in but can't remember my password. Have to set up new one. After sorting that out, I discover my membership information is out of date. Update info with website link and submission info. Hunt down their BEA info and decide to go ahead and pay for a spot on their table at the conference for Laura's book. See the American Library Association will also have a PMA table at their conference, and after checking price decide to do that as well. Deduct $190 bucks from checking account. Make a pink note to send two books to PMA for both conferences and put that note on the task tracker under "Marketing." Sigh over the fact that section is overflowing.

Back to email. Read Laura's response about her upcoming trip to Washington. Her friend recommended three bookstores in the area, and her niece sent a link to the University in Seattle for their "speakers and topics" section. Wonder if Laura should really do a book reading up there? She's not so excited about lugging books around for the four people who will probably show up. Can't say I blame her. I wonder what the radio stations are near Seattle and if I can get her on one as a guest? Wonder if I have enough time to do this?

Read Jane's email about being too busy with other editing gigs (yay, Jane!) to help me contact the San Francisco State Magazine with info about Laura's book (sad for me). Laura and I are alumni, so this is a good place to promote the press and her book. Make a pink note to contact magazine myself and put it under "Marketing." Sigh because that this section is overflowing.

Call the Phoenix in Petaluma. Wonder why no one calls me back? I want to give them money. Why won't they call me back? Think about other places to set up a royalty gift. Wonder about Gilman St? Too bad, I really like the Phoenix.

Call Audio book contact at AFB to ask for help with Audio version of Laura's book. I sent him an email last week. Leave a message. I hope he calls me back.

Dog is whimpering. Let her out to pee. When she comes back she wants to play. I throw her bone for a few minutes, then go back to computer. Check personal email. Plan another trip with buddies.

Check Google alerts for Orientation and Mobility and Blindness to see if there are any good possibilities to help spread the word about Laura's book. Nothing today.

Send email to Bookshare to ask how upload of Laura's book is going. They are having technical troubles. I offer to send the book as a PDF file, the same one I sent the printer. They say they'll get back to me.

Let reviewer at the Lighthouse know what the hold-up is. He needs a Bookshare version. I think he's blind.

Glance at clock. 11:48. Time to eat. Must remember to eat.

Rick comes home and we chat as we eat lunch, then he dashes back to work.

Research books on Amazon. Looking for books similar to Tama's. What do they have in common? What do their covers look like? What makes Tama's book different? What other books are they linked to? Who are the authors? How much do they cost? Who is blurbing? Again, what makes Tama's book different from all the others?

Hands are getting numb. Sitting too long. Take dog for long walk, even though the pollen count is very high. Someone is mowing their lawn which makes me wheeze. Even the dog sneezes. We go home.

Read more about Google Books and wonder if they are a viable option to replace for selling books?

UPS drives up. Four more boxes of books! Yay! Chat with UPS guy while he carries in books. He's the husband of a friend and their expecting their first baby. So happy for them.

Check email. Go to MySpace. Update blog.

2:30. Pick up child from school. Give her a snack (banana and juice) then put in Arthur DVD. She laughs. Check Medusa email again. More updates from Publish L, but nothing I really need. Read an article on SPAN about making your press kit stand out and get noticed by Radio people. Hmmm...

Check Medusa's Muse submissions account. Four new querries. One looks like a possibility. Wonder if anyone actually reads and/or understands what a query IS.

Check personal email. Heard back from Mendocino Coast Writer's Conference. They will keep Medusa in mind for 2009. That's nice.

Really need to get up and move now. Been sitting all day. Do laundry, take out garbage, clean kitchen. Child's movie ends. We chat, color, talk about learning Sign Language. Rick comes home. Dinner needs cooking. Time to shut down Medusa's Muse for another day.

Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Dreaming of Blurbs from Stephenie Meyer

Last night I had a dream that I was at Stephenie Meyer’s house—yeah, that Stephenie Meyer, creator of the Twilight series, named one of the most influential people of 2008 by Time magazine. She was gracious and elegant, in spite of the obnoxious fans who came right up to her doorstep and harassed her. I was ridiculously giddy. Me, in the home of a superstar YA author! I kept trying to subtly suggest that she blurb my next book.

When I awoke, my boyfriend told me he had a dream that some shock jock made fun of my book on the air, and that I was having a nervous breakdown as a result. Conclusion? There’s just way too much anxiety about book publicity in my bed these days!

It’s a quandary: You’re a writer, so you want readers. You love what you do, and if you don’t make money at it, chances are you won’t be able to go on doing it—at least, not as much as you’d like to.

But at what point does self promotion cross the line into whoredom? I want people to read my books, but I don’t want to turn into someone so obsessed with publicity that I abandon the quiet, imaginative core that gave life to those books in the first place.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Touring High Schools: Did it Hurt Much When You Fell from Heaven?

A couple weeks ago I did something no one should have to do: I went back to high school. Yeah, I know. Like that dream you’re always having—scratch that, nightmare—where you find yourself sitting in Algebra, naked from the waist down, totally clueless about the spelling of your own name, let alone quadratic equations. That was me, except I wasn’t dreaming.

I was promoting my first Young Adult novel, CONFESSIONS OF A TRIPLE SHOT BETTY. Standing there regaling my audience with Tales from the Writing Life, I cringed as they cracked their gum, yawned, and smirked at each other mercilessly. It was horrifying to face, but the evidence was right there: I wasn’t cool. All my old high school insecurities came back like a swarm of flesh-eating locusts.

Okay, to be totally fair, not all the schools I visited were like that. One was filled with kids so into reading and writing, I left with a serious contact high from their enthusiasm. Others were more like visiting a coma ward.

For these tougher crowds, I passed around a hat and scraps of paper so anyone too shy to ask questions aloud could scribble theirs down and deliver their query anonymously. Any idiot can see where this is headed.

“Okay then,” I said, fishing around in the hat. “Let’s see what we have here.” The first one I pulled out read “Can I stick two fingers in your butt and stroke your balls?”

Apparently, not only had I failed to impart the importance of reading, but (much more crushingly) I hadn’t even conveyed that I am female.

Ahh, well, details, details.

The next scrap of paper was even more cryptic. I read it aloud: “Did it hurt much when you fell from heaven?”

Here I thought I was so well versed in the language and customs of the under-twenty set, and so far one hundred percent of their questions were a total mystery to me.

The third one I more or less understood. It was a drawing, actually. It depicted the prominent feature of male anatomy in a state of excitement. When I showed it to the English teacher afterwards, she nodded. “Yeah,” she said wryly. “We get a lot of those around here.”

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Book Tour: Three Authors, Three Cities, Three Days

I spent the better part of this week on my first official book tour. Penguin teamed me up with two other Young Adult authors, Polly Shulman (Enthusiasm) and Robin Benway (Audrey, Wait!) then sent us off to do events in San Francisco, Seattle, and LA. I have to hand it to the geniuses in publicity for putting together such a funny little trio. We were like the three points on a very long, skinny national triangle representing three very different regions: New York, LA and San Francisco. Each of us are natives of the culture we were representing, and though I’d like to say we aren’t walking stereotypes of our respective homelands, we definitely look and live like the places we come from, if that makes sense.

Three authors, three days, three cities: my favorite number all around. While taking random writers who are complete strangers and putting them on a rigorous (albeit brief) schedule of airports, hotels, and bookstores could be a recipe for disaster, the truth is we got along beautifully (sorry, no juicy catfights to report). Each of us brought something different to the mix, and I learned so much from each of them. Robin comes from the publishing/author event world, Polly has mainly worked as an editor and journalist, while I’ve earn my non-writing income in academia. It was enlightening sharing what we know about reading, writing, editing and promoting from those totally different spheres of influence. Plus, they’re both totally fun. You should definitely buy their books.

It was a strange and lovely adventure, though I have to say I’m glad to be home. Whizzing through three cities in three days is pretty unnatural; you barely have time to check into your hotel before you check out. It’s good to be back in my cozy writing room with my neglected plants and my pissy, paunchy cat.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Editing for the Big Picture

Pencil in hand, I am reading the first draft of the manuscript sent to me by my new author, Tamarian Graffham. This is my absolute favorite part of being a publisher and is the number one reason I do this work. It's also the reason I keep looking for more authors, even though I have more than enough projects right now. Still, being the first to read these words, the two sides of my brain working cooperatively with my heart and gut, my Muse eagerly snatching each page as I finish them, the excitement of beginning to create a new book... this is why I am a publisher.

A lot of what I do is instinct. I have a knack for finding the heart of a story; discovering the threads that tie it together while cutting out what doesn't. But I've been trying to pin down what exactly it is I do.

I begin with what the writer told me the story is about. I'm not the writer, so I don't want the author to write like me. I want them to write in their own voice. My job is to make sure they're doing that. So if the author tells me her book is about a man who hunts the world for his lost love only to discover he never really loved her in the first place, then I'm going to look for those bits in the manuscript that perpetuate that. I ask lots of questions, like, why did he go to Cuba? What is it about this girl that haunts him? How did he discover he doesn't love her? Lots of "Why" type questions, and then even more "What if..." If I read something in the book that doesn't add to the story directly, then no matter how beautiful or inspired the prose, I say cut it. When the man goes to Japan and meets a woman who teachers him how to play pin-ball, that might be a fun part of the story, but how does it tie in with finding his lost love?

When I was working with Laura, she had many pages of beautiful prose about the landscape of Mendocino County. Really well written and lovely, but how did it help the flow of the book? Setting is important, but was the book about Mendocino County, or the students who live there? She slowly cut those passages down. It wasn't easy and I know it probably hurt "killing her darlings." But in the end, we both agree it tightened the pacing of the book and directed the focus on her and her students, which was where it needed to be. And now she has several pages of beautiful prose sitting in her laptop, waiting for the next book she wants to write, which will be perfect for those descriptions.

Tama's book is more about personal finance and day to day life. It's funny and well written, full of helpful advice about getting out of debt. So I am reading it with that in mind. What is the focus? Is this book a "how-to get out of debt" book or "personal essays about getting out of debt?" That question has to be answered early because both types of books have a different tone. Plus, Tama's voice is very strong and unique, so I am looking for the places in the writing where that voice is true, and highlighting the places where the voice is timid.

My strength at seeing the "big picture" is also my weakness in my own writing. One day, I went to Jody's house for a mocha and writing time. We worked together on our own projects for about two hours, then Jody decided she needed a break. She stretched and smiled and then told me about the scene she'd been working on in which the protagonist is trying to find her imaginary dog (read "Triple Shot Betty" to see why the protagonist is pretending to have a dog). She asked me what I was working on.

I said, "My characters have met, fallen in love, got engaged, got married, met his parents and are now setting out to find their own piece of land to farm."

Jody's eyes widened. "Wow! How many pages did you write?"


She stared at me for a moment, then she laughed. I thought about what I'd just said before I started laughing myself.

Um, Terena, I think you need to slow down.

So the "little picture" details aren't my strong point. That's why I work with Jody (who is the queen of sensory detail) and have my good friend Jane do the copy-editing at Medusa's Muse. The characters in my brain move too fast for me to write everything down. I always feel like I'm frantically chasing them across the page, which is actually an interesting reflection of my life, but that's another story.

When I work with another writer's work, I can see the patterns they've created and I can immediatly see the places where the pattern gets tangled. I love finding those knots and untangling them. My mom used to love untangling knotted up shoelaces and thread. You could give her a tangled knecklace you haven't been able to wear in months and she'd happily sit for thirty minutes gently pulling the knot apart. A story is my tangled knecklace.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pub Day Weirdness

Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty, my first YA novel, hit stores yesterday. I had a good pub day, mostly. My editor sent me the sweetest little slideshow thingy. I googled myself incessantly. Our tractor finally got delivered. (I know. Tractor? But that’s another blog.) I went out to lunch with My Man. All things considered, it was lovely.

Okay, this is going to sound really ungrateful, but let’s face it: pub day is incredibly anti-climactic.

There’s a phenomenon that happens when you get something you’ve wanted for a long time—something you’ve waited for and built up to ridiculous proportions. It’s like Christmas when you’re little, or having sex for the first time when you’re a teenager: there’s so much build-up, so much pleasure in the experience of imagining what it might be like, that the actual event is just…not all that.

Like have you ever planned a vacation for ages and then you get there and your hair’s all flat from the plane and the tropical plants aren’t quite as…tropical as you imagined, and you flop down on the hotel bed going, “Is this it?”

Anyway, that’s kind of how pub day is. I’ve been through it four times now, and it’s always a little flat-hair-fresh-off-the-plane-strange. Just like with Christmas and sex and tropical vacations, you get past the sad little disappointed kid feeling and then you’re into it again, but somehow that moment has to be there. We need a word for that feeling.

I don’t know why we humans are built like that; I really don’t. My mom always used to say, “Anticipation is greater than the realization,” an expression my grandfather used before her. That little nugget of homespun wisdom conceals a deep human mystery. Maybe it’s that our imaginations can fly so high, our waking reality just can’t keep up with our sense of possibility.

Or, you know, maybe I’m just a spoiled little bee-atch…

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Boyfriend Deserves Better

I’ve decided my boyfriend needs a title upgrade. I just can’t decide what his new label should be.

As a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about words (i.e. obsessing over them). Since I started writing Young Adult fiction, I’m particularly preoccupied with slang, that underground wellspring of youth culture that flows beneath the surface of Standard American English. I’m all for neologisms—we should definitely create words when nothing in the dictionary quite fits. Basically, I’m a connoisseur of weird and wonderful language, the more out there the better.

Despite these qualifications, I can’t find the right moniker for one of the most important people in my life: my boyfriend. David and I have been living together, writing together, making music together for more than seven years, so I feel like he deserves something a little less juvenile than "boyfriend," which was fine in sixth grade but feels a little weird now that I've hit my mid-thirties.

Here are the options I’ve considered and why they just don’t do it for me:

Standard Terms:

1) Husband: Well, for starters, we’re not married, and a huge part of why we’re not married is our mutual dread of what pops into our brains when we hear the word husband (and its counterpart, wife). I’m not dissing the happily marrieds out there—seriously, if it works for you, go for it—but for us, these words are tied to June and Ward Cleaver associations that are pretty much our antonym of sexy.

2) Partner: Ambiguous, sexless, politically correct, dry and way too 90s. It leaves the listener wondering: who am I referring to, exactly? My business associate? My lesbian lover? My buddy who works the same beat with me? It fails to communicate effectively, and it doesn’t even remotely sound like someone I plan to have sex with.

Less Standard, but still…not it:

3) Sweetie: Yikes. This one’s just a little too cute. It elicits images of puppies and big pink butt bows, neither of which belong in my love life.

4) My Guy: Suffers from the same issues as sweetie, with the Motown hit just adding to its singsong cuteness.

5) Lover: Though I often call him this in private, I’m just not comfortable using it in other contexts. It has the opposite problem of Husband and Partner; while those are virtually sexless, Lover is all sex. If I whip this one out at a faculty meeting or during lunch with an editor, it’s just way too graphic, implanting kinky images whether or not the listener really wants those mental pictures in their psyche.

I’m ready to coin a term, but it has to be fairly self-explanatory; otherwise it will require translation, during which I will inevitably end up using one of the despised synonyms listed above. Come on, fellow word-freaks, help me create or discover a word that grants him the respect and linguistic precision he deserves!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Everyone's a critic

One thing that happens after you sell/publish a book is that people ask you to read their manuscripts. Sometimes fellow writers are seeking feedback or constructive criticism; other times they're looking for blurbs to help them in their effort to sell their book. Sometimes, other published authors come a callin' to ask for blurbs for their front or inside covers (as I recently approached a number of successful and I guess I'd say, even more successful, authors).

The rate at which I've been asked to read manuscripts has increased a little lately, and it's got me thinking about how to approach this task with the attention, openness and humility it deserves.

First, there's critique. What sorts of feedback are really useful to a budding writer (or experienced auteur)? What kind of comments will keep them going rather than shut them down? At what point does attention to detail become nitpickiness? At what point in a work should you even ask for feedback? Is it better to offer your impressions in broad strokes, or line-edit/comment the manuscript? What do you think?

I have found that the approach that works best for me as a reader is to identify the manuscript's strengths and its weaknesses, and then look for concrete examples of these patterns to show the author. Although I may not find a manuscript to be a scintillating read -- either because it's not my preferred genre, or because the writing just isn't my cup of tea -- I can generally find several examples of good writing or technique, and I don't hesitate to share them with the writer. I think identifying patterns or tendencies is important, because it takes a long time to spot them in your own writing (good or bad).

It's quite humbling for someone to place their work in your hands. It's a brave act. I still have a terrible problem letting people read my work early on, and I believe my work has sometimes suffered for it (i.e., I have, on occasion, turned in what amounted to first drafts to my editor instead of polished manuscripts, thereby embarrassing myself). I'd like to help other writers be less precious about their work and learn to depersonalize critique to the extent that they can, in part because I think it will help me on my mission to do the same.

Finally...I would suggest that you take any critic's feedback with a grain of salt. It is highly subjective stuff, after all. It's almost impossible to consummate a work of fiction without some deeply felt convictions about character, plot or premise. Cling to those convictions even as you hear others' critiques of your work, because you'll need to return to them time and time again to remind yourself why you entered this mad escapade in the first place; the purity of the original idea motivates as no other factor can.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Naked, but Still Writing

We all have our personal equivalent of the “naked dream” where your vulnerable anatomy is revealed to an auditorium of peers who publicly humiliate or unmask you in some way.

Lately I’ve been exploring the feelings that come up around bad reviews and negative criticism since publishing my two new books, Make a Scene, and Write Free. Fortunately for the sake of blog post material, I received another crappy review, this one asking the very question that pulls at the seams of my tightly sewn writer’s persona, rendering me naked to the jeering crowd.

Why, asked the gentleman, should he have expected a book on writing to offer him anything useful when the author had not published a novel to speak of? (I paraphrase)

Was I, the gentleman pointed out in his cocksure manner, another example of the old axiom, “those who can’t do, teach?” (my words).

I’m afraid to admit this one stung precisely because I have asked myself this same question, waiting to be revealed as a fake. What if all those novels I’ve written—the prerequisite “5 or 6 unpublished novels hiding in a drawer” are all I will ever have to show of a literary life? What if all the hours I’ve spent building structures and implanting characters within them, spinning out tales and stories and yarns, never produce a saleable work of fiction?

Should I then turn off my analytical eye, blind the part of me that is, for some reason, pretty darn good at seeing and understanding the elements of the craft of fiction even as I struggle to make them work for me?

My answer is that I believe there is a difference between someone who teaches but does not practice their subject, and one who teaches and practices and still has a ways to go along the path, maybe a lifetime. I may not be "there" yet, but I'm still on my way.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Terena on KMEC

Terena and the Medusa's Muse editor, Jane Mackay, were interviewed on KMEC radio last week. The show is now on line on the KMEC website. KMEC is a low power, community radio station in Ukiah, Ca. 105.1 FM

The Midnight Society

(3-21-3008. The interview is split in two with lots of great Punk tunes)

Toward the end of part two, Terena explains how to submit your work to Medusa's Muse.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Review of Audrey, Wait! Robin Benway's debut novel

Audrey, Wait! by debut Young Adult novelist Robin Benway hits stores in April. Should you rush to your local bookstore and order it this minute? The answer is a resounding, musical YES, with heavy bass beats and non-synthesized drums in the background.

This is precisely the sort of YA fiction I hunt for but don't find often enough. It's fun without being vapid, fast-paced without sacrificing well-developed characters, and sweet without ever veering into saccharine land. The pacing is tight, and every scene delivers humor, tension, or pathos in just the right doses. Most of all, though, Benway manages to nail the voice and mindset of a modern teen girl with startling honesty and spot on accuracy.

Here's the premise: Audrey breaks up with her self-absorbed musician boyfriend on page one. Good riddance. He proceeds to write a breakup song called "Audrey, Wait!" The catchy number shoots to the very top of the pop charts and Audrey finds herself thrust into a brand new existence, one filled with paparazzi, online discussions about her love life, and teenie-boppers imitating her offbeat fashions.

The plot has momentum and moves nicely, but my favorite aspect of this book is definitely the attention to detail in Benway's character development. Every one of the main players, and even a few of the minor ones, are quirky, intriguing, and endearing. In particular, Audrey's best friend Victoria has such zest and energy she leaps off the page. She's also deeply human with very believable flaws, which makes her even more memorable and affecting.

Don't take my word for it, though. Get thee to thy bookstore and reserve your copy now. Robin Benway is a mega-talented writer, and if there is any justice in the world of YA fiction Audrey, Wait! will shoot to the top of the charts the second it hits the shelves.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Small Press Month

Not only is March Women's History Month, but it is also Small Press Month, celebrating the contributions of small and independent publishers to the book industry.

Small Press Month, now in its 12th year, is a nationwide promotion highlighting the books produced by independent and small publishers. The website calls it "An annual celebration of the independent spirit of small publishers, Small Press Month is an effort to showcase the diverse, unique, and often most significant voices being published today. This year's slogan is Celebrate Great Writing."

What is a small press? There are several definitions depending on what country you live in, but in the U.S. it means a book press that publishes less than 10 titles a year and earns less than $50 million. If that's the definition of a small press, Medusa's Muse must be a Minuscule Press, with just one or two books a year and earning less than a thousand bucks. Is there a mini-press category?

Wikipedia has an excellent definition of a small press . Here is part of that definition:

Since the profit margins for small presses can be narrow, many are driven by other motives, including the desire to help disseminate literature with only a small likely market. Small presses tend to fill the niches that larger publishers neglect. They can focus on regional titles, narrow specializations and niche genres. They can also make up for commercial clout by creating a reputation for academic knowledge, vigorously pursuing prestigious literature prizes and spending more effort nurturing the careers of new authors.[3] At its most minimal, small press production consists of chapbooks. This role can now be taken on by desktop publishing and Web sites. This still leaves a continuum of small press publishing: from specialist periodicals, short runs or print-to-order of low-demand books, to fine art books and limited editions of collectors' items printed to high standards

There are thousands of Small Presses in the United States alone. One of my favorites is Soft Skull, which put out the funny, fantastical story "The Good Fairies of New York," by Martin Miller, the tale of two Irish fairies who get lost in New York City and create havoc as they compete with each other over who "has the best human." Woza Books produces the excellent children's book, "The Call to Shakabaz" by Amy Wachpress, which was a finalist in the USA Book's National Award for children's fiction. The award winning British press Dedalus Books has been in business since 1983 creating haunting, visionary, and beautiful works and is on the verge of closing shop thanks to the end of the British Arts Grant which has helped support their work since the 1990's. Be sure and grab one of their books before they disappear. If you're in the mood for fairy tale or romance,go to Drollerie Press. Their books are as beautiful as their website. And did you know that the works of Henry Miller were published by New Directions Press, one of the pioneers in the Publishing industry?

Independent publishing has a long and prestigious history, from Anais Nin painstakingly typesetting each page and self-publishing her book, "House of Incest," to the now famous "Chicken Soup" books. I am proud to be a part of this tradition. As Walter Mosley says on the Small Press Month website, "The life’s blood of contemporary and modern literature is in the custodianship of so-called small publishers. Without them, there is no future for literature."

Embrace the spirit of independent publishing and pick up a book from a small press today.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Too old to be published?

I read an article in the latest Writer's Digest called "Publish your first book after 50" by Scott Hoffman (Writer's Digest. April, 2008). It states, "As difficult as it is to publish a first novel at any age, does it become more difficult as you get older? The honest answer is yes..." What the...? The article then focuses on how to beat the bias against older authors, which is great, but the whole topic made me stomp around the house with that magazine crumpled up into a violent looking tube, shouting, "Are you telling me I only have about 9 years to get my novels published before my writing is considered expired? Before I become too old to market? I just figured out how to write, for #$&^$* sake!"

Turning 40 was bad enough. I'm no longer considered sexy or attractive by popular culture's standards. My boobs droop and my tummy won't stay tight, no matter how much I suck in my gut. Getting gray hair was another annoying fact of life I've had to live with. I am no longer in the demographic for "Bust" magazine and am supposed to read "More," which focuses on career women over 40. I'm no longer a "Hip Mama." But I lived with it. I embraced my 40's with excitement and vision, ready to let go of my own youth obsession and claim my full fledged womanly power, along with my growing womanly figure. I started a publishing company and am going back to school to learn a new, better paying career. But this? Too old to be a writer? This is too much!

Why is an older writer considered a bad risk in the book industry? Part of it has to do with the idea that people over 50 don't know how to use the internet, are afraid of email, and run screaming from MySpace. In this technological age, being internet savvy and willing to self promote via social networking is mandatory. So right there, younger writers with their blackberries and interactive blogs have the edge over older people who are just now figuring out how to use a cell phone. When books are being written in Japan on cell phones in text messages and published to acclaim, you know technophobes are in trouble.

Fine, I'll accept that, but don't lump all us so called older people into the technophobe category. I for one am learning everything I can about the internet, even going so far as to learn XHTML. Yes, I know the difference between HTML and XHTML. See, I know my internet.

I finished the article, noting every myth about older writers and how to overcome them. Remain energetic. Don't mention the "R" word (retirement). Keep your ideas new and fresh. Yeah, yeah... good advice. Advice for every writer, so why is this pointed at ME? I know I'm not 50 yet, but the idea that my writing-clock is ticking like my biological clock did in my 30's is extremely disturbing. Tick-tick-tick... you'd better get published soon or you never will. Hurry, hurry. Find a good idea. Finish that last novel. Go out there and hunt down a good partner/agent to get knocked up/published before it's too late. Eeeeeeekkkkkkk

I'm calm now. Got a little dizzy there for a minute. These mid-life panic attacks are overwhelming sometimes. I wonder if it's like menopause? Instead of hot flashes, I get heart palpitations thinking about how fast my life is going. I was supposed to be a famous writer by now. Instead I'm a 41 year old publisher with a drawer full of stories no one will read. Then I remember Tillie Olson. For one brief Spring when I was living in San Francisco and going to college, I worked for Tillie Olson, one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. She raised a family while writing stories and wasn't published until she was in her 60's. She was one of those beautiful, intelligent, fiery women I idolized and I decided to be like her someday. Maybe I am? I'm not as well spoken or intelligent as she, but I'm still young and I'm learning. I have at least 20 more years to achieve the goal of being like Tillie Olson.

Aging sucks. It really does. When my knees hurt and I have to squint more to focus when trying to read a street sign, I really hate getting old. And yes, I know, it beats the alternative. I know how lucky I am to still be here on planet Earth, living a creative and fulfilling life, watching my daughter grow up, while sharing this journey with wonderful friends and a man who loves me. So I will try very hard not to take that article to heart. I will try not to let the idea that my creative time clock is about to strike midnight and my chance to go to the ball will be over.

Because when you examine the pros and cons, being 41 is a lot better than being 16.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Surviving the Bad Review

I would like to update an old axiom today. It will now go: Into every writer's life, a bad review must fall.

Naturally this is not something we writers want to hear. As we construct our opuses out of fairy-wings and vodka shots, we all secretly hope to be catapulted not only to fame and vast wealth--but to be canonized. I don't care if you write trashy romances with badly stitched plots--I'll bet you want it too: to be loved, idolized, held up as the standard to which all other books in your genre should aspire. You're only human after all--which means, ruled by your ego,that sleazy little car salesmen in all of our souls.

The bad review, I have come to believe, is the universe's way of trying to reel us in. And no matter how plainspoken or thoughtful said review is, ultimately, to the one who is on the receiving end, it is inevitably the meanest thing ever written by a clearly inferior person.

Still, it makes you feel like crap.

And yes, I've just gotten one this week. Fortunately it wasn't from Kirkus or Booklist (as if they would ever review trade books on the craft of writing anyway), but from some anonymous member of the masses at With democratic forms of marketing come democratic forums for voicing opinions--it is par for the course, in other words. Like Bob Marley sang so righteously: "You can't please all the people, all the time."

Aside from the fact thatthe reviewer got my gender wrong (even though the bio clearly states that I am a SHE) I ask you to look at the contradictions contained in said review. How can he say THIS:

"Make a Scene is packed with helpful concrete suggestions and information..."

and at the same time, say THIS:

"His passion for state-of-being verbs and qualifying adverbs turns the the book into a 270-page drone in which nothing is more important than anything else."

If the book is indeed "packed" with "helpful concrete suggestions" in what reality can it also be a "drone" in which "nothing is more important than anything else?"

My only answer is that the reviewer is a quantum physicist and comes from the point of view that a particle exists both somewhere and nowhere at once. Therefore, my book is both helpful, and not helpful at all to him. This is the only way I can understand it.

Either that, or my conspiracy mind thinks that maybe one of my "competitors" in the field of scene writing (who shall remain nameless) hired someone to write a nasty review of my book to make it seem less palatable. Therefore, perhaps he never even READ it! Yes, maybe this is it!

What you are seeing are the stages of reconstruction that the sleazy-little car salesmen of my ego must go to in order not to feel like a total hack. Who cares that a publisher felt my book was worthy of being published, or that many others have had very nice things to say about it. I am a writer--therefore I hear the worst first.

The only thing that saves me from looking for a full-time gig in some soul-sucking retail mall is humor. And the knowledge that for every bad review, the good ones still balance out the scales.

(That, and imagining force-feeding my entire book to the reader while he is tied to a chair.)

I remain open to suggestions.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Forever Young by Jody Gehrman

One of the many things I love about writing young adult fiction is it gives me the power to be sixteen again. If you're one of those people going, "God! Sixteen? Why would you want to go through that again?" I totally understand. The putrid smells of high school hallways, the rigid social caste system, the longing, the angst, the gym teachers. Who would relive those horrors voluntarily?

The operative word here is fiction. I don't revisit my teen years the way they actually were. I mean sure, flecks of memory get lodged in there, tiny autobiographical moments, but the thing that keeps me coming back is the chance to be sixteen again the way I should have done it the first time.

It's one of the more seductive aspects of writing fiction in general--the power to revise history, fast forward through the boring bits. When I write my character's journal, I don't dither in the circular, self-obsessed, overly-philosophical masturbation my real high school journals are filled with. At least, I hope I don't. No, my heroine, Geena, is way too smart for that. She tells stories, she spouts pithy observations. Most of all, she keeps her sense of humor, which is something I'm afraid I frequently lost sight of when I was sixteen.

In real life I'm thirty-six, so there's twenty years between me and my sixteen-year-old self. It's an interesting stage in life to be holding a magnifying glass up to youth. Mid-thirties is the first time many of us pause to really absorb the idea that Forever Young isn't exactly an option. I mean sure, we all know in theory that aging happens, but somehow, in the dewiness of youth, it always seemed like it happened to someone else. As my thirties wear on, the idea of aging is slowly becoming much more palpable: crow's feet, weird little facial hairs, being looked through instead of at by twenty-something hotties.

Like most writers (and, come to think of it, superheroes) I live a double life. I spend my early mornings as a funny, precocious sixteen-year-old, full of fresh vitality and verve. I spend my afternoons as a thirty-something English professor trying to make writing interesting for the flesh and blood youth culture who wander into my classes. It's a strange life, I guess--inhabiting two very different people all in the same day--but it works for me. Maybe it's a little like commuting by plane. You wake up in L.A.; it's springtime every day. Then you get in your little jet and fly to New York, where the buildings are colored with age and the gothic spires reach for the gloomy, clouded sky. You can moan about the jet lag, worry about how different these cities are, or you can sit back and enjoy the ride.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The pain of discipline, by Kim

No, this isn't about S&M, though it sort of feels like it.

Actually, I've been realizing that my work ethic has suffered since I had my second kid 11 months ago. Yeah, yeah, okay -- I had to raise him and nurse him and being a mom is a fulltime job and all that. I'll bite. But the fact remains: I want to be a writer. Writers write. Nobody in publishing cares if I haven't slept more than five hours straight in 12 months. They don't care if I was dealing with impetigo, mastitis, pinworm and rotavirus (don't worry -- not simultaneously). It doesn't matter to them that I have to consume three cups of black tea just to put on my (quite possibly soiled) underwear, or that the babysitter makes more bank than I do. No. They don't give a rat's ass about any of that.

What they care about: Did I write a good (okay, sellable) book, and did I do it on time?

Thus the headline.

I used to be really fucking disciplined. Annoyingly so. Sure, I would laugh with everyone else when they started bemoaning their deadlines, but inside I was like, What's wrong with these people? Do they really think rotting on a beach with a mai tai is better than hunching over a laptop for twelve hours in a cafe filled with pretentious hipsters in skinny jeans? Nuts!

Of course, discipline came easily to me mainly because of one thing: not working seems to give me panic attacks and bouts of self-loathing paranoia. So, really, working is a pretty easy choice.


So, back to the kid and how it's ruined my great discipline. I just don't have the stamina for those long, glorious sessions anymore. I don't have the focus. Sense of humor is somewhat intact, but the smarts? Fuuuck. Can't remember my name, let alone a $100 word.

The question: how to get it back?

I think I know. Lately, I've been toying with going back to basics. How did I finish my first book, when I still had a day job? I'll tell you: I became a miserable, obsessed, ritualistic hermit! It was bliss, I tell you, bliss! I did the exact same thing every day for one year: woke up at the buttcrack, sat down at the computer in PJs, drank green tea, took a pee, wrote for 1-2 hours, depending on whether my hair was forming dreadlocks and needed washing. The key, I think, was the non-negotiability of it all; it was simply so, like brushing your teeth.

My mantra? NO DAYS OFF, BITCH. And I'll stick to it. And never have a kid again.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Just Whose Party is This, Anyway? by Terena

On November 1st, 2007, I launched the first book from my press Medusa's Muse, a memoir entitled "Traveling Blind; Life Lessons from Unlikely Teachers," by Laura Fogg. Laura is an Orientation and Mobility specialist and the book shares the lessons about life and joy she learned from fifteen of her remarkable, visually impaired students. This book isn't about pity or putting people with disabilities on some kind of inspirational pillar. It's about life and hope and grief and all those messy things we all share and I am proud to be her publisher.

On November 17th, Laura read from her book at our local bookstore. That whole day I tried to decide what to wear, how to fix my hair, how early should I arrive at the bookstore, what should I bring, and do I have any shoes without scuff-marks? I was so excited I could hardly eat. Then suddenly, the cold voice of reason broke through my happy thoughts and said, "Wear what you want. No one is coming to see you."

I literally froze and dropped my shoes. It was true. No one even knew who I was. This night, this entire book reading and signing, is for Laura, not me. I am just her publisher, the support staff, while Laura is the star. I realized that I had put in hundreds of hours editing and developing her book and more money than I actually could afford printing and marketing it and no one knew or cared. It didn't matter if I went to the reading or not; no one would miss me.

Quick, name a publisher. Not the publishing house, but the publisher; the human, not the company. Bet you can't. I'll bet you can't even name a single editor. Who is the head publisher at Random House? No cheating with Google! Don't know? Me either.

Being a publisher gives me a great deal of joy, or I wouldn't do it. I love helping create a beautiful piece of art and all the parts that go into it: the cover design, font used, type of paper, edits, images, and number of pages. I love the marketing piece as well because it's like a puzzle in which I'm trying to get the book into the right hands so they'll read it and tell their friends. I love being the person who brings the author, editor, and designer together and figures out what needs to be done, when, and how much. I have the final say, even over the author, and I love that creative control. But sometimes, it is very lonely work.

Oh well... I got dressed and went to Laura's reading anyway. The bookstore was so packed with people they had to peek around shelves and calendar displays to see Laura read. So many of her friends came! And Laura absolutely glowed with the excitement and joy of launching her book. Watching her, I knew exactly how the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella felt. The cold voice of reason was replaced by a warm, soft whisper that said, "You helped make this happen." Then Laura said with pride radiating from her voice and face, "...and this is MY publisher." People clapped, making me want to burst with happiness. That warm fuzzy feeling stayed with me for weeks.

Even though the editing and design work is often hard, money tight, deadlines demanding, and marketing annoying, I will continue to do this work. I am a long way from a Rock Star. I'm not even in the stage-lights. But the next time you see a Rock Star standing on stage thanking everyone for her award, look to the sidelines. See that woman clasping her hands together tightly with the huge smile on her face, looking like she's about to cry with joy? That's me.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Fame Fetish Fades
Jordan E. Rosenfeld

After many long years of lusting after fame as a writer, I’m finally taking a look at exactly why I would ever want such a thing. I’m not sure where I ever got the idea that writing a book could translate to the luxury and privilege that only high denizens of our culture ever seem to earn, but somehow as a little girl that idea came in like dust on a hot breeze and fastened itself inside my brain. It’s likely the fault of TV that those seeds were planted, because who gets famous in this culture? That’s easy, right? Movie/TV stars, athletes, and girls who flash their boobs at anonymous cameramen (or maybe the latter is infamy, a topic for another day).

When you think of fame—the kind that engenders sycophancy and fan clubs—you don’t really think of writers do you? Oh I know, you’re raising your hand impatiently shouting: “Hello! Stephen King! JK Rowling!” I’m sorry—do you think the paparazzi follow Mr. King to the pharmacy or the mall (were he actually to go to a mall)? Do you think he regularly must hire bodyguards to prowl the grounds of his estate in order to keep stalkers from finding out what color his underwear are? Now I’ll admit Ms. Rowling is quite lovely and photogenic, and that Harry maniacs probably do accost her from time to time, but pleasantly—in a demure English manner—but in both cases these are the uber-famous of scribes. Their scenarios don’t quite count because the odds are simply against the average writer. I am pretty sure that most Pulitzer and Booker-prize winning authors can pass into a crowd completely unrecognized.

But there’s another kind of fame that writers often attract. Famed snobbery. These are the writers who are SO much smarter than everyone else; SO much more steeped in deep literary history than you and frankly have won so many prizes and fellowships and scholarships that it’s hard to see how any are left. That’s a kind of fame I am simply never going to achieve because I’m just not ambitious or intelligent enough. These are the people I am slightly in awe of, mostly afraid of, and who, I fear, often keep that sharp line of division firmly carved between “high” and “low” literature, a line that in many cases is utterly arbitrary.

I prefer what I think of as an old-fashioned concept of fame. People have heard your name. They have heard your name in a positive light and are therefore inclined to purchase your books. Or even better, they’ve heard about your book—your book is famous, and they catch up to finding out about you after the fact. That kind of fame doesn’t come with crowds parting in a sea of red roses; it doesn’t involve limousines dropping you off at gala events where you trade air kisses with other designer-clad famous people; it also, I’m told, doesn’t even necessarily last, and if you’re lucky enough to be known and read for a short time, a couple of years, then that’s really something, something you can feel proud of and probably grateful for—at least you don’t have to hire bodyguards.

This is what I tell myself as the odds of my own fame diminish slightly every year. Good reasons for writing are, in my book, as follows: writing because it fills you with joy or provides context to your complex feelings, or makes you feel privileged to be privy to these wild and spontaneous leaps of creativity. The best reason I have for writing these days is because it gives me pleasure and meaning, and maybe, hopefully has the chance to do the same for a few of you, too.