Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Beginning

The story of this picture: These are the Guilty Pleasures authors, the Doves, my writing group from 2000 to 2007. We got a book accepted in 2002 and published in spring 2003. In August of 2002 we had a group author photo taken. We fooled around with all sorts of different "guilty pleasures" props (tiaras, etc.) and were inexperienced enough to choose as our jacket photo a more serious one than this, but this remains my favorite. The original is indeed in black and white -- remember, I think all book-jacket photos should be black and white! Left to right: Patti Smith Jackson, Jane Holwerda, me, Cathy Luh, Holly Silva, Karen Hammer, Sue Caba and Laurie Vincent.

This blog has been moved to classier quarters: the Sanity Bubble at I'm still posting there! Every visit, every comment, is an honor for me. Go there, be confident, and take care of yourself, because....

. . .you are fate's finest instrument.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pseudonym! Gesundheit!

One Halloween when I was in grad school, I borrowed a suit and tie, glued on a mustache and went about disguised as a man. What fun that evening was! What power I felt! What confidence! So different to feel sure that the whole street was mine, instead of feeling that muggers and harassers owned it. The whole world was mine! (Because of the double takes I got, I know I looked at least somewhat like a man.) Told people I was George. (Who else remembers George, from the Nancy Drew books? I do! Who remembers that when George Orwell (pseudonym)'s school chums saw his obit, they said, "Eric Blair? He was George Orwell?") For one evening, parts of my psyche that are usually undercover got a chance to play the field.

I'm trying to rationalize my use of two pseudonyms. I research, revise, polish to a sheen the work that appears under these names -- but "what certain people will think" does matter should the work be linked to me. Others' power to judge, to grant and withhold, is a fact, and I would be stupid to flout it just to be reckless or "be myself." Yet I like writing and publishing these things and don't feel like stopping. It could be said that a pseudonym means I'm cowardly -- or that it cleverly gives my entire array of traits and impulses a chance to play the whole field.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Invisible Writers

For the past seven weeks I've been reviewing online horoscopes twice a week and posting reviews -- 20 of them now -- that have been read over 2,000 times. I'm an astrology student from way back, and one day started doing this both to write and to perform a public service. I exposed two fake astrologers and dug up the truth for two others, honest and sincere people who had no idea how their work was being exploited. Laugh, but it's no joke: Astrology is big business, and specifically it's a writing business. There are astrology sweatshops where young writers -- the job description solicits recent college grads -- churn out horoscopes according to style sheets. It sounds like the porn factory a schoolmate spent a summer working in, where he was required to write a certain number of sexual acts per page.

Doing this work I'm amazed all over again by how much we depend on the written word for our opinions and personal guidance as well as our education and entertainment. The Internet has made us more dependent on the written word, not less. What we hear on TV, or from politicians, or read on the side of a cereal box, is all scripted. ("Talking heads" go on camera having studied written lists of "talking points"; their ideal is to get us to believe there are no writers behind them at all.) Somebody selected and wrote every word you see. Who says writers are a tiny, powerless minority? How were we ever made to believe that? The sum total of our power just bowls me over.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Touring a Bookstore

Every writer should tour a bookstore in the company of a manager. Did this yesterday for a class. The manager had 24 years' experience in the business. Bookstore facts:
  • A new book's lifespan on the displays "up front" is seven to 21 days. The book then moves to "the stacks" or regular shelving.
  • A new book's lifespan in the stacks is 90 days.
  • After 90 days the bookstore and publisher begin the process of returning the unsold books to the publisher for credit.
  • The bookstore's "bestseller" rack may be the bookstore's bestsellers, not the NYT's.
  • New hardcovers can be priced at 20 to 30 percent off the cover price because the publishers have given the bookstore a promotion subsidy.
  • Today's big-box bookstore carries about 95,000 titles. At peak in the 1990s, it carried an average of 135,000 titles. What got cut? Books from small publishers.
  • At a chain bookstore, the displays at the ends of aisles, called "endcaps," are subsidized by publishers.
  • On the shelves, some titles are displayed facing front, while others show only their spines. The publishers of the full-front books have paid the bookstore for the privilege. "It really sells books."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Girls and Goals

I asked a classroom of adult women writers what their writing goals were. They all said, more or less, "I'd like to publish a book one day."

"Great," I said. "Why do you want to publish? To make money? For fame? To leave a mark on the world?"

"Just for my own personal satisfaction," was the response, and everyone nodded. "Just to know that someone else, one publisher, thought my writing was good."

"Just one book?" I needled them. "No plans for another? Or for a series?"

They said, "I can't envision my next project until I'm finished with the current one." "Just one book would make me happy." "I've spent years writing my book, and don't plan on writing more." "I'm just starting out."

"But still, you could dream big,"I pleaded. "Just picture yourself--"

Then I realized their ambitions were modest and their dreams very small because they were women.

This was a job for SuperAdjunct.

I said, "No male writer would ever say what you just said. Men dream big, think big, and go after what they want. Even the crummiest male writer foresees himself writing tons of books, shaking hands in New York, and raking in money. It starts with dreaming big."

And we're going to practice doing just that and shedding our quiet modesty, a virtue not appreciated in the publishing business.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Paid at Last

Is it a coincidence that the same day the blog below appeared, complaining of an account gone 12 weeks unpaid, that I received an email from the account in question, saying sorry for the delay but the check was on its way? It arrived in the next day's mail. All settled now.

This teaches me: Don't give up!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Stiffed at Last

Since 2000 people have asked me to edit their manuscripts, both people I knew and those I didn't, and unless it was clearly a long and massive job, I did not bother to ask for money up front.

Then I was asked to spend half an hour on a manuscript sample I found so sorely in need of editing, formatting, and fact-checking that correcting the first two and a half pages took up the whole thirty minutes. I returned the heavily annotated manuscript with with an invoice for half an hour's work. I have now billed the author every week for 12 weeks, adding, "It is not too late to pay me." It is the first time I've been stiffed, fortunately for only a small amount, but there's the principle of the thing. (The manuscript was about principles, and how "these are the times that try men's souls.")

New rule: Strangers pay up front for a minimum of one hour's work. Make that your rule too!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

You Never Know...

When the money or spirit gets low I begin to lose my trust in the universe or whatever gave me the desire to write and some talent. I know it does not give these things and then fail to support you. But things bottomed out about a week ago: Unpleasant bills and notices arrived. My Internet was down for four days. Doctor visits left my arms tracked up like a junkie's. I was draggin' my wagon (and people would have said to me, "Why the long face?" had I bothered to raise my eyes from the pavement). And then in the space of a few days almost everything changed:
  • More work -- four almost simultaneous requests -- came my way!
  • Internet connection repaired!
  • Awesome financial news!
  • Good health report!
  • Pushcart Prize nomination (my first, I heard about it yesterday) for a poem to appear in November in the annual Kansas City Voices
  • Gift of bagful of pears direct from a tree!
O me of little faith!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reaching a Balance

As writers, our work can go on all day, all night. Always something to revise, send out, work on, create, prepare, organize. Always the research, meetings, workshops, deadlines. I have a great work ethic. And this is work I like to do.

This summer my mind rebelled. It wanted to see friends, have a glass of wine, go fishing, cook an elaborate recipe, watch stupid TV, shop, go on a date.

I said to it, Oh, no -- YOU are supposed to be working! Every minute counts! No glass of wine for you! No time off for you!

That was a good way to get my whole being to go on strike and acquire a cough, an infection, an injury, hayfever, depression. No appetite, no energy. Too much trouble even to read a novel. (I felt obliged to read this novel.) Energy only to play the video game "Jewels" on my droid.

Last week I was out doing errands and had no choice but to take myself to lunch; either that or I wouldn't get any food until after 10 p.m. Wow, I had a sandwich and coffee, wasting my time and money (I should have brought a bag lunch to eat in a park!!) -- and how great that felt! This week I took 24 hours to drive downstate seeking beauty (even though I actually brought work along!). Felt much better.