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.