Friday, October 31, 2008

updates

Awesome haiku so far! Some seriously funny poetry going down here. Winner will be announced next week and outstanding entries published!!

Just a reminder that Sherry Jones is stopping by tomorrow for the JEWEL OF MEDINA book club event. I hope you'll drop in, regardless of whether you've read the book, because there's just so much to talk about!

Love and kisses,

mr

Thursday, October 30, 2008

oh my gawsh (CONTEST!)

Yeah, yeah, Halloween, election, yadda yadda. You know what's somehow been under-publicized?!?! My two year blog anniversary!! Woohoo!

Let's observe a brief sentimental moment, during which I reflect over how much things have changed in two years--I used to write this blog for only myself!!! And then for one other person!! For like 6 months!! Then there were like 10 readers. Then there were 60. Etc, etc. It's kind of crazy. I read all the comments (yeah... I do... they all get emailed to me) and watch as some people come and go, but a lot of us have been trolling around these parts for a long time--you read Ed Ass, I read your blog, much good-natured mutual stalking. I've made a lot of friends. Not like in an "awww, I wuv you guys" kinda way--I mean, ACTUAL friends. You know?

To celebrate, we're having a contest! Between now and November 5th at 5 pm EST, email me a haiku (or as many haikus as you want) on one (or multiple) of the following topics:

-delicious foodstuffs
-my boyfriend Michael Chabon
-gin
-laundry
-other things

For those who ask, YES I'm a stickler for the syllable count, so haiku that follow a strict 5-7-5 formation will have an advantage. But so will haiku that make me pee my pants.

The prize: One guest post on Ed Ass on anything you like (although, you know, no eating puppies etc).

Email me your haiku!!! moonratty@gmail.com

I wait with ratty breath!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An agent told me I'm not a great writer! How do I survive?

I got this email, which I wasn't going to share because I thought it was private. But then the author encouraged me to post it and my response. So all accomplished with permission.

Dear Moonie,

I've been querying agents the last couple of weeks and so far have received some polite and/or encouraging passes. Today, though, I got my first painful rejection. This was what the agent wrote:

Thanks for sending me [TITLE OF MY BOOK]. The premise and setting are exciting, but I didn't feel the writing was special enough. And while the main character's actions are understandable and realistic, I thought he was a little too unlikable to pull in readers.

My writing is not special enough and my MC is unlikeable. Not good, Moonie. I can fix my main character's likability, but my writing...? That's not really something I can fix. I'm very, very sad. What are your thoughts?

Love,

XXX


Oh, XXX, don't be sad. There are a couple of things to unpack here, but sadness shouldn't be one of them. I'll explain why.

I need to frame my argument with three important points.

1) taste in writing is subjective
We all know this. You've read one person's take in this letter--and let me go back to the earlier part of your note where you mentioned the constructive and helpful feedback you've heard from other people. I, for example, would have passed on Stephanie Meyer's TWILIGHT in half a second because the writing isn't to my taste... and I would have been out 8 bajillion dollars. You know? You absolutely cannot let one person tell you you can't write. However, there's one thing you can remember to make sure as few people as possible tell you can't write:

2) writing is an evolutionary process
One incorrect point in your letter to me is that your writing isn't really something you can fix. LIES. Writing is a growth process, and even if you were the best (or the worst) writer in the world, your natural instincts become better with every project you work on. I look back on blog posts from a year ago and wince at word choice; it's because (I hope) I'm a better writer now. You WILL develop as a writer, and it's important you keep that in mind, and that you also remember to focus on developing craft and reading other people's good writing as you go along to capitalize on natural growth. But regardless of natural growth, you have to remember the most important thing of all:

3) you wrote originally because you loved it, and you should keep writing for that reason and no other
Whether or not this agent or any other agent picks up this book or any other book you write, you're not in it for the agents or their opinions. Don't lose sight of this. And because you love it, try to let other people's opinions roll off of you. I know this is easier said than done, since it's hard when everyone else doesn't love what we love as much as we do. But remember that YOUR love is the most important and satisfying thing, and any other successes and rewards should be secondary. And, frankly, probably will end up being secondary. Regardless of what he thinks, for example, I don't think anyone loves Salman Rushdie's writing quite as much as he loves it himself.

I hope this made you feel a little better. Kudos to you for one really big thing--you aren't saying "Humph! This agent just doesn't get my book! What a jerk." Writing is subjective, and you're clearly open to doing your best in a subjective arena. Congratulations on your energy and flexibility, and my very best wishes for your future success!

Love,

Moonie

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

someone else's really good idea (or Rats!)

The Book Club Cookbook

Was everyone else already familiar with this site? It's a book club forum online. The authors put together a cookbook of things you can prepare for and eat with your book club so the recipes match the book content. Genius. Now if only I belonged to a real-life book club. I don't know where we'd serve the food around here. But their list includes a couple of old favorite books of mine that I can see would be really good book club options (you know, if I had a book club).

Anyway, apparently the featured authors each submit a recipe to go with their book--Elizabeth Strout (author of OLIVE KITTERIDGE) is featured today because of a donut recipe. It also looks like they're trying to grow their list. I can't believe I've never heard of this--I'm writing to my publicity department right now.

Monday, October 27, 2008

free speech

In preparation for next week's Book Club conversation about the controversial The Jewel of Medina, I'm wondering--what is your response to this quotation?

"I may not agree with what you say, but I would defend to the death your right to say it."
--[falsely attributed to Voltaire]


A difficult quandary for me personally. You know I'm a big proponent of responsible media; but you also know I'm a proponent of free speech. On one hand, I was furious that the publication of The Jewel of Medina was stymied for the reasons it was; at the same time, I hate books that, for example, glorify cat-fighting back-stabbing mean girlism, and speak out against them and their authors. Am I a hypocrite?

Is there a line between right and wrong? Is it safer--or righter--to put the responsibility on the reader to choose what to believe or take from what they've read, or to not allow them the choice of being exposed to questionable material by not giving them the chance to be exposed it it?

What's YOUR idea of censorship?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Happy 87th Birthday, Aunda



She's a stylin' lady. Watch out, though. She swears like a sailor.

for those of you with a fiscal investment in my friend with lymphoma

There was a report today that 75% of the cancer is gone after her first two months of chemo etc.

(25% to go!)

:)

Love in the Time of Laundry

[on the way to the laundromat]

Rally Monkey: We only have $10. I might have to get more money.
YT: No, $10 will be more than enough.
RM: With all this?! I bet it won't!
YT: Trust me, it will be just fine.
RM: You can't go and jam all of this into one washer!
YT: Wanna bet?
RM: You really remind me of my mother sometimes.
YT: *I* remind you of *your* mother?!
RM: Yeah. She always wanted to do everything her own way, even when she didn't know what she was doing. Then she would go and screw everything up and my father, who was right all along, would have to come and fix everything.
YT: Don't talk to me about your father and laundry!! Your father is the one who reserved all the bacon fat and lumpia frying oil and made soap out of it!
RM: You're right, that was stupid.
YT: You kids walked around smelling like fried breakfast!
RM: That was one time only.

[later, coming home]

RM: I can't believe you rushed off from the laundromat without drying any of your clothes just because you can't stand around and wait for a dryer to be free.
YT: Dude, I have to be somewhere in like an hour. I don't have time to dry. I'll hang these up to dry at home.
RM: Everything will smell like mold!
YT: It will be just fine.
RM: Your life is toooo important to have clean clothes and to not smell like dirty socks?
YT: That's right.
RM: You know what you remind me of? The little kid story with the grasshopper and the ant. The ant works hard all summer to save up for the winter, and the grasshopper just plays around.
YT: Then the kids come and fry the ants with their magnifying glass?
RM: No, then the grasshopper comes and steals the ant's socks.

[later, hanging up all the undried socks and underwear everywhere in the house]

RM: You really need to do your laundry more often! Then you wouldn't run out of your own socks and have to steal mine like a sock monster.
YT: You know, maybe you should seek help for your persecution complex. After all, look at all the trouble a persecution complex got Nixon into.
RM: I recognize these socks! I bought them with my own money!
YT: Wow. How troubling. I'm really worried about you, because I think that you actually believe that these were once your socks. The most insidious kind of persecution complex of all.
RM: [weeps]

[suspending socks on a shoestring tied between doors]

RM: This will never work! This was a bad idea!
YT: You wouldn't know a bad idea if it hit you in the head. Or you wouldn't have gotten mixed up with me in the first place.
RM: You're right! Bad idea!

[He's now on the phone with my mother. Boo.]

Saturday, October 25, 2008

guess who's crazy.

That's right. Me.

I just signed up for NaNoWriMo, which I'm going to lose because I don't have time. Even under the best of circumstances I could never write 50,000 words in a month. But if you're signed up, friend me so that, surrounded by victors, my defeat will be less lonely.

I'm (shocker) "Moonrat."

watching SIXTEEN CANDLES for the first time

I thought my sister and I were the only ones who got felt up by grandmothers!! Apparently this is pervasive grandmotherly behavior.

pickup line of the day

"You have the most beautiful Bedouin eyebrows."

[Received by a friend of mine, alas. My eyebrows are apparently decidedly un-Bedouin.]

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Afternoon Life Thought

"By then, John understood that some things mattered and some things did not and that happy people in this world were those who could easily and rapidly distinguish between the two. The term unhappiness referred to the feeling of taking the wrong things seriously."

--Arthur Phillips, Prague

Thursday, October 23, 2008

why does it take so long to get to "no"? (or, love your agent)

The second half of the reader's question from yesterday--
When you know it's going to be a no, how soon do you tell the poor bastards? It seems to me "Yes" comes fast and "no" takes forever. As they say in Tinsel Town, if you haven't heard, you've heard.

Ok, well. A confession about editors. We hide our heads in the sand.

Can you blame us? Would you want to pick up a phone and call someone and tell him or her (or even his or her agent) that you didn't like the project in question?

No. No one likes giving bad news (or geez, no one I ever want to work with) so most of us avoid it.

I pass on a project when the agent calls or emails me to follow up. That way, it's not a cold call.

However, I have to say this--in a lot of cases, the first time your agent calls to follow up I won't even have reviewed the project yet. I get tons of projects, and unfortunately a lot of them are from agents who practice the sticks-to-the-wall method (you know, throw it ALL at the wall and hope something sticks). These agents will frequently send really worthless projects or projects that don't match my tastes or my company's list (and lots of them) and then never follow up. (I can't even tell you how many agents never follow up--I have no idea why. I just. don't. get it.)

Sure, there are those crazy stories about "I read it in one night and I knew I had to have it!" and "I was desperate to outbid the other houses--I made my entire department take it home and called an emergency editorial meeting the next day!"

But you know why those editors read it overnight?... Because an agent followed up. Yeah. Seriously. That overnight read was most likely a product of an agent's calling the editor and saying, "Just to let you know, I've been getting tons of interest on Project X and I'm expecting an offer to come in on Thursday." Or something along those lines. Another good honest tactic is calling and asking around for feedback--then the agent can pretty legitimately say that they've had good feedback from other editors, as long as one editor said something positive. But anyway, it's all about the agent.

So, the moral of this story (how did we get here? Oh, I guess I always get here): get a pro-active agent who makes calls. Otherwise, you'll never hear anything at all.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

too many submissions? (or, be nice to the Ass)

Someone posted this comment on my recent celebratory book success post.
Moonrat,

As someone with a novel currently on submission, I was momentarily heartwarmed by The Little Novel That Could. But then I saw your post from a few days ago - 17 submissions in one week - and a cold chill went down my spine. Any one of the Gang of 17 still alive to tell a tale?

Fair question.

Don't worry about the 17 projects. The number of projects I get in has no relation to the number of projects I acquire. I only acquire things I love; if I don't get anything I love, then I don't buy any projects. If there are a lot of things I love, I bring them all up to Robert the Publisher and buy the ones that pass our board meeting. If 16 of the 17 projects were life-changingly awesome and we all agreed on it, I'd buy them all--honestly. There will be a time of proposal famine in the future and it will balance out the flood.

Also, I never read a project right away (and maybe you think I'm a slacker, but I promise most editors are like this). My fabulous assistant reads them all and gives me reader's reports first. That way I can prioritize the projects that have real promise and I'll have two, not one, reads on the manuscript when I go into ed meeting. (So yeah... incentive to be really, really nice to editorial assistants.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

smart kid. (or, internet book publicity)

M.J. Rose gets online promotion. She's giving away her book, The Reincarnationist, for free for the next 9 days. You can download it from her website (and read her well-put rationale) here, or you can get the Amazon Kindle, also free for this window.

As she puts it, she chooses the shampoo and the socks and the cookies she buys and loves because at some point someone gave her a sample.

The internet is a beast that will do nothing for you but steal your content. It's a conglomerate of people, everyone of whom is equally empowered and of roughly equal resources, with differing interests and desires. Because of all the choices available, no one has to waste time looking at things on the internet that they don't want to.

All this means you can't use the internet to make it do what you want. YOU have to do what IT wants. YOU have to offer a good or service that people want to come to you for. Meanwhile, there's all kinds of free content online that can replace books people used to buy. How does an author lure in readers? Give it away for free. They're gonna get it anyway if they want it; if you give it to them directly, at least they'll love you for it, and maybe pass the love on.

M.J. gets it. So does Sherwood Smith, of whom my publishing mentee is a big fan. Sherwood offers her devoted blog readers on her friends-only live journal community an opportunity to beta read her manuscripts and react to them before she submits them. My mentee signs up for the beta read--and then buys all the books when they're out. (Wouldn't you?) Sherwood has also been known to offer a book, A Stranger to Command, for free download on her blog (before it was picked up by a publisher and became a "real" book).* So not only does Sherwood not compromise her book sales with her generosity, she builds a die-hard fan base with her personal attention and eye-level accessibility. Smart cookies.

Instead of going on with my thoughts, I'll open the floor. What are your thoughts?

*Edited to clarify. Thanks to my mentee for writing in.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Story of an Underdog

Dear Little Debut Novel,

This is an ode to you.

First, your author submitted you to agents. No one quite got you.

Finally, an agent thought maybe she got you. She needed your author to make some significant changes.

Your author totally rewrote you, and sent you back to the agent.

The agent took you up and went out with you. She was a good agent, because even after you were rejected by sixty million companies and imprints she kept trying, every time she met a new editor.

Finally, she ran out of editors. But she put you on her side table and asked your author to maybe work on something else.

Your author was sad. You were her heart and soul. She didn't think she wanted any other book. She wasn't sure she wanted to write anymore.

Finally, your agent, who hadn't quite gotten the hint that you were a failure, tried one last place. The editor there had misgivings about you, and passed on you. She liked you a lot, though, but thought you needed some major work.

Your agent pleaded and kicked and stamped her feet. You needed an editor to work with you on your development, she said. Think of what we could make together.

The editor went to her publisher, who agreed to make an extremely modest investment in this book that everyone else in the world turned down, and which still needed a lot of work.

You worked really hard, little debut novel. No one was giving you any credit for being anything other than a very little very debut novel, but you didn't mind. You went chugging along.

Then the galleys went out, and people started to talk about you.

Then the rights sales started coming in.

Then the sub rights bidding wars started.

Then the reviews started coming in. You were, they declared, a work of crazy daring genius.

Suddenly, everyone wanted you.

Suddenly, everyone was repackaging and repositioning you as their lead title.

Suddenly, all those publishers who had rejected you initially were coming back with subrights offers that were (literally) exponents of what you actually sold for the first time around.

Suddenly, bookstores were quintupling their buy-ins so that there would be much more of you available on their shelves.

Suddenly, full-page articles about you and your author were running in major national publications.

Whoda thunk?

Actually, the funny thing is... in retrospect, it seems so obvious. Like no other outcome was ever possible.

Go you, little book. Sure, you had a team of awesome people (ahem) working for you. But you also clearly rocked all along. Go you, for not giving up.

your book in the national chains

You know how I always go on and on about the importance of book sell-in and making sure an author does everything possible to help his/her editor on it? Now Andrew Wheeler has gone and written this fantastic essay about sell-in and why your book might get skipped. Thanks, Andrew.

alas

"In business school, you know, the phrase had a distinct meaning: 'I'm going into publishing' meant something very specific. Like when you came out of an exam and someone asked you how you did and you knew you blew it, you just said, 'It looks like I'm going into publishing.' Or someone gets nailed with a professor's question on a case study, unprepared, and they fumble it, you can hear other students in the class singsonging: 'Looks like someone's going into publishing.'"

(Prague, Arthur Phillips, p 279)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday morning Spanish pop moment

It's a departure from the indie rock moment, but we haven't had a music video in awhile.

I love Gian Marco, a terribly cute Peruvian, and I especially love this song, "Se Me Olvido."

No se puede olvidar.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

from THE HISTORY BOYS

In honor of Maud's trip to Oxford and all the wonderful people there. Everyone should go out and watch The History Boys, a 2006 movie about 7 Yorkshire state school boys who want to go to Oxbridge.

(And also a shout out to all my fellow lady historians.)

"Can you imagine how dispiriting it is to teach five centuries of masculine ineptitude? Have you never wondered why there aren't more women historians on TV?... History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind. With a bucket."
--Mrs. Lintott, The History Boys

warn your loved ones!! there's a baked goods lady on Houston Street in front of St. Anthony's church and she's trying to kill us all!!

I saw her again this morning when I was wandering around in Soho with the monkey.

"I know you!" I told her. "You sold me that piece of carrot cake last Saturday. It was the size of a basketball! It almost killed me!"

"You didn't have to eat the whole thing," she said, shaking her head sadly. "That's why I packed it up for you in that container, so you could take it home."

"Oh, so now you rely on your customers to provide their own willpower? That's very unfair and mean of you."

"Today I have quishe," she replied.

Curses!!! We've only met twice but apparently she knows me well.

Consider this a public service announcement. Stay away if you value your waistline! Delicious, ludicrously cheap baked goods at the fleamarket on Houston Street every Friday and Saturday morning and afternoon this fall. Run for your lives!!

sitemeter!

Sorry to be an internet geek. But I share my quiet joy (loudly) with you.

So I just checked my sitemeter... I had logged in exactly at 99,700 hits.

Since I get 300-500 hits a day, I think today is the day of topping 100,000 hits!

Thanks, everyone who helped make this happen! (emotional tear)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

was it the full moon?

In the last business week, I have received 17 proposals from agents.

For some editors this is probably a small number. For me--I spend my time hiding under a rock and never, ever solicit things--this is rather huge. I mean, that's more than three proposals per business day, on average.

Why the sudden popularity? My assistant is stumped. At the end of the day, she came to my desk and informed me she would not log a single other proposal for me today, because she knows perfectly well I don't have time to read anymore.

Sigh. Wisdom from the mouths of assistants.

My favorite proposals are the nonfiction ones. Why? Because you know right away whether or not you're going to like them. The idea appeals to you and fits your list, or it doesn't.

With novels, you might have to spend an hour or more reading before you know if you like it. And then you might love it and have it struck down by your ed board for whimsical reasons or differences in taste. In which case an hour or more for nought.

I didn't have much to say. My brain hurts a little from editing so I thought I'd post to break up the monotony.

literary glossary for the rest of us

Hahahahahaha. Check it out.

Via Bookninja.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

follow up: re: the raffle

A certain politician tonight during the debate spoke of the "fundamental decency" and goodness of the American people. Which a couple of weeks ago I would have rolled my eyes at.

Today, I passed along the money we earned in the raffle last week. There were tears and shock when the final total was disclosed, similar to my reaction.

I wanted to thank you guys again.

I have officially read ZERO of the National Book Award noms

Fiction or nonfiction.

Any recs on where to start?

Anyone feel something is flagrantly missing here? What was the best book you've read in 2008? (I'll think on mine and get back to you.)

your information

I went to a spectacular book event last night--it was a talk in a tiny indie bookstore about this book, a guide to understanding modern American domestic politics by an aggressively non-partisan from North Dakota. Conrad is from a half-Republican half-Democrat family--although she explained at the event last night that in many parts of the country "liberal" and "conservative" are unhelpful labels, since many voters are populist, libertarian, or other political denominations that don't fit comfortably under either of our stupid major umbrellas--and the book does its best to explore every facet of issues and distill the spin both parties are guilty of inflicting on us.

This is not a political or partisan blog, and let's please strive to keep it so--I'm only mentioning this book because I believe it doesn't take a partisan angle. I haven't finished reading it yet, but the book is fascinating, especially for people who want to understand why they should vote (the first chapter is a breakdown of the voting process--which is definitely worth reading about to understand how and why and where your vote counts).

But anyway, that's a long enough plug for a book. But the discussion that came out of the event was interesting for many reasons.

Jessamyn Conrad, the author, brought up the difficulty of modern spin and the fact that a lot of times people just don't have empirical data to come up with answers that would inform a wise leadership decision. The fact is, she said, any forecasts for the future (particularly economically) are made operating under the assumption that people, by and large, behave rationally. Which, as I am living walking proof of, is not necessarily true.

Her example: a poll was recently taken of expert economists* who were asked whether a raised minimum wage would increase or decrease unemployment. It wasn't that they weren't sure, or that there was some discrepancy of opinion--fully 50% of the polled economists said raised minimum wage would increase unemployment, and 50% said it wouldn't.

Great.

But the story doesn't end there.

Among the attendees was a sociologist, whose name I didn't catch (sorry :( I wish I had) but who told a story about how he had been invited to audition for THE O'REILLY FACTOR as an expert. In the end, they dismissed him as a possible guest because he was, quote, too "data driven."

Being a king of data, he offered a study that has been obscured by media buzz and other strategies that may have distracted or confused the polled economists. There IS data available, he insisted. He cited a study of two neighboring states, one of which raised minimum wage while the other didn't, and talked about the concrete effect it had on employment (unemployment went down in the state that raised the minimum wage, how about that).**

The problems with modern politics, the sociologist guest said, is not the lack of concrete information available--the data exists. Rather, the problem is the availability of false or discrepant data.

Aside from network allegiances, corporate sponsorship, and media monopolies, there are two reasons you can't ever get any straight answers about a lot of things (things that should be straight available data):

1) Spin-meisters (on both sides) offer contradictory data so that two very different numbers or results are available to answer the same question, causing both of the numbers, the true and the false, to get thrown out as suspect.

This is accomplishable even through honest ways--Jessamyn mentioned the example of national debt. The national debt varies immensely depending on whether or not you include social security. How do you believe either number, when they vary by hundreds of millions of dollars?

2) Modern American journalists attempt professional balance--which is bad for the rest of us. In order to seem like they are emphatically not taking sides, journalists frequently feel the need to support a point with an opposing viewpoint immediately following. And while balance and neutrality are a good thing, with the (above discussed) availability of discrepant data, that means most of the news you read is basically non-information.

The whole media playing field is vastly different from the way it was even thirty years ago.

So how do we get cold, hard facts? Most of us don't have enough time in our daily lives to work our jobs, take care of our households, and distill real media from crap and non-information.

But I think we have to try.

The hosts asked at one point if there were bloggers in the audience. I didn't raise my hand (you know. What with the anonymity.) but this woman did. She described a similar phenomenon on her blog--about allergies--that I've experienced here over the last two years: people (mostly people I don't know) showing up and forming a friendly community simply because they want real information. Clearly, we're all thirsty for real answers, and most of us are frustrated about the fact that they're so hard to tack down. (Eg my 7000 post--who knew answering a simple question would be so revolutionary? But apparently no one else had answered it before, and it got linked to and commented on all over the internet.)

Of course, I write about boring things like publishing, not about politics. But (sorry to keep bringing this up, it just doesn't stop being true) you have to remember that working in publishing is a media arbiter--no matter what your role, so I'd say this includes just about anyone who has ever been or who wants to be involved in writing or bookmaking at any level, and certainly involves all bloggers. You're in a position of great power to offer information--responsible information--in an era of spin and misinformation.

Any thoughts?

*I'm sorry I'm not putting better citations here, but the poll data is available in the book if people are interested in more.

**Again, I hate citing this without knowing more details. If anyone who reads this knows/remembers more, please drop me a line and I'll repair the post.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

adventures in cooking dinner

I hereby declare the yam the most intractable of vegetables.

Although to be honest I didn't even dare face the turnip. I just stuck it in the refrigerator.

Monday, October 13, 2008

one of my authors has passed.

This is such a strange feeling.

This particular author was not young, and this death was not a tragic surprise. He was a recent backlist (but nevertheless backlist) author with whom I hadn't corresponded with, even casually, in at least several months. Yet I am truly shaken by this.

I am saddened to hear he has passed. I, like others who were not his editor, wonder what else he might have produced. But unlike others who were not his editor (at least, I don't think there are other people who feel this way), I have to wonder if I wasn't partially responsible for his death.

You can probably imagine my reasons, but I'll go ahead and elaborate on my thought process in that over-literal manner of mine. My editorial relationship with the author, which started when I inherited his project from a predecessor who had inherited it from a predecessor, was stormy. I had been warned that the book needed tons of work, and that he could be prickly about changes. I persevered with my indefatigable niceness, and eventually we came to agreements on the manuscript, but not without some certain amount of screaming, strongly-worded emails, and, even once, with me putting down the phone mid-conversation and having to take a walk to cool off from some of the things he said to me.

The thing is, I *am* sympathetic to authors who take every word of their content seriously. I regret that he felt the need to be mean to me and tell me I was stupid for making suggestions, but intuitively I understand his gut reaction. At the time, I was frustrated with him, and angry at him for making me upset. Now, I wonder if our interaction didn't take years off his life.

It is strange--to me--to have these feelings of sadness, guilt, and (fight it, Moonrat!) residual frustration. I feel like I never got to show him how much we could have accomplished together. If he had listened to me about this or that, maybe his reviews would have been better. If his reviews had been better, maybe he would have had the inspiration for his next project. If I hadn't made him sad and angry, maybe he wouldn't have died.

This is the first time this has ever happened to me, so maybe these feelings wouldn't come as a surprise to other people who've been in the trenches awhile longer. I am pretty young and have been blessed with a life that has included few funerals. So yes, perhaps my naivete is talking here. But still.

RIP, Mr. Author. May I have contributed more good than bad to your last two years on earth.

Friday, October 10, 2008

November Book Club Pick: THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, by Sherry Jones


I'm pleased to announce that Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina is our November Book Club Pick.

The book is a fictional treatment of the life of Aisha, the Prophet Mohammed's second wife, his "beloved." The topic is admittedly contoversial--there are various accounts and opinions of Aisha, who is a sacred figure in Islam but whose story in the Koran has been interpreted in a number of ways, some of them potentially unflattering to the Prophet. But no one thought it was going to be as controversial as it already has been, pre-publication.

For any of us who work in publishing or follow publishing blogs and news, you'll surely already know all the backstory behind this book, and why it's an unusually interesting book to have an opinion on. It's hard for me to gauge (what with my lack of perspective), but I believe this is actually one of those publishing stories that made the *real* people news, too. But for the innocents, a brief synopsis of The Jewel of Medina and its very interesting road to publication:

In May of 2007, the book sold to Random House for a large sum.

Publication was scheduled for August 12, 2008.

In May 2008, Random House cancelled publication because of the possibility of threats and/or against the publishing company by "offended Muslims" (I put this in quotation marks because the assumption that offended Muslims would exist and that they would cause something like threats and/or terror was made by an outside party). RH, in an extremely awkward position, was worried enough to back down.

The story broke in the Wall Street Journal in August 2008. Scores of people came forward to add their two (or ten) cents, some of the most provocative voices being those of Muslims supporting the publication of the book (particularly affective, I thought, since I think Muslims have been the most maligned out of anyone because of this entire watershed). (Some of the less unappealing reactions, in my opinion, were intensely right-wing statements about the shape of our country that aren't going to find themselves repeated or linked to here.)

Most recently, you've probably heard about the firebombing of Gibson Square, the UK publisher that picked it up.

Despite the uproar, The Jewel managed to find a publisher--Beaufort, of If I Did It fame--who was able to whip the book out so it's already in stores, not terribly behind its original pub date.

For more information, you might look at these:

the book's website

the Wall Street Journal article, "You Still Can't Write about Muhammad"

the Washington Post article, "Censoring..."

Someone else's write-up of the whole thing

There is much to be fleshed out in this story, from various people's and groups' motives, their actions and reactions, and the pressures of modern publication. But of course some of the prominent issues concern free speech, free press in an era when fiscal metrics and party politics seem to interfere with everything, racial profiling and racism disguised as sensitivity, and whether or not there were real risks.

I have read the entire book, as well as a lot of background material on Sherry's research and writing process, and I believe she wrote this book honorably (otherwise I wouldn't be recommending it here). But on top of the darn good story, there is a lot--a lot--we can talk about regarding this book and its publication. I hope those who have had a chance to read about the book (or read the book itself) will join us on November 1.

occupational hazards

I have a paper cut on my nose.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Happy Birthday, John Lennon

It's "A Hard Day's Night" in Yiddish, via Book Inq.

I know we're all poets at heart

Forget French people and Swedish prizes! Today is Poetry Appreciation Day. Lisa kicked off celebrating your favorite poem with her post on Robert Frost's "Road Not Taken."

My favorite poet at the moment is Anne Carson, who wrote an amazing novel in verse called AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RED. One of my authors turned me onto Anne, and I am constantly amazed.

I would love to put up one of her poems here, but, being an editor for the establishment, I'm all freaked out about copyright infringement. However, you can read it here on Google Reader.

Have a poem! Leave a poem (in the comments)! I'm a sucker for rhyme, particularly cheesy rhyme.

(Cheesy? Cheesey? Does anyone else find my inability to spell utterly endearing? Please say yes.)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Raffle winners

Some winners have curiously not yet come forward to claim their prizes! Folks who haven't already, please zip me an email and we can talk about getting you your prize!

Full manuscript: Joe
Partial manuscript: Pamela
Query: Valerie
YA/MG first chapter: Amy
Picture Book: Randall
Library books: Linda, Cindy, Precie, J, Robin

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

seriously, people...

When I started the Mischief Fights Cancer raffle, I didn't tell my friend. The reason? I thought I would make about $60 from it, and I didn't want to embarrass her by playing it up. I figured I could stick the cash in a greeting card and mail it to her.

Boy, have you guys spoiled my plans.

The total, as of this moment, 12:51 am October 7th? I can't retype it. Look here.

This is through no advertising or plugging on my part. I mentioned it here, and put a sidebar on my blog. But that was it. I never posted any ads, or linked on any other sites. However, so, so many of you did. All the traffic was traffic you drove here.

There's another thing, which isn't represented in the money. So many people have come forward to offer goods, services, and stories about their own experiences fighting this horrible disease.

For the rest of my life, if I ever feel bleak about the state of human affairs, I'll have this to think back on.

Thank you.

Monday, October 06, 2008

check out


What Aerin made me.

<3

Running total: $2,800 and change.

You guys rock.

Friday, October 03, 2008

I went to a delicious Shanghainese restaurant and ate so much I'm not sure I'm going to survive the night.

Ouch.

how does a stay-at-home mom go about creating a platform?

Or how does anyone, for that matter?

I had this question from a reader a couple of weeks ago, and more than once in the past, and it's high time I answered it.

Platform is a tricky thing, since it's largely nebulous and only defined (it seems) by what you don't have. The good news: you can actually build a platform, and in many cases cobble one together out of what you have.

This is going to be a long post, so here's my plan for what I'm going to talk about (so you can skip to what's relevant to your case):

1) What is platform?
2) What kind of platform you should focus on if you're writing a debut novel?


1) What is platform?
To define platform, I'm going to quote heavily from an earlier post:

The ideal author platform consists of all the below points, but in the real world we rarely work with ideals, and in most cases we can make do with a combination of some platform elements.

Passion and knowledge about a subject. Since it's nonfiction we're taliking, you have to be willing to do good research and to write evocatively/provocatively about your topic. If you're a really great writer, you have the good book author trifecta (knowledge, passion, talent!). All the best books have the trifecta but some of the best books don't actually have other platform (although that's harder, I'll admit).

Academic qualifications. This is crucial for any prescriptive books--that is, if you're giving health, self-help, or relationship advice, you really should have a doctorate in the applicable subject--an MD is absolutely essential for most health books; a psychology degree is better for self-help. A social work degree or spiritual counselor training (for example, a priesthood or rabbinical degree) helps a lot for self-help and relationship books. Josephine made a good point about this--a couple extra classes in a topic go miles toward establishing you as an expert. Not everyone has the time and money, but if you have academic qualifications already, consider capitalizing. (What did you major in in college? And who cares that you haven't dabbled in that topic since? Could you pick it up again now, with maybe a little work?)

Writing creds. If you've published before, you're more likely to get published again (in fiction and nonfiction). So dabble in things like articles. Everyone needs informative copy in their publications; master a small topic, write an article about it, become an expert that people start consulting, and next thing you know you've been published in NEWSWEEK and that looks great in your author bio. From this standpoint especially nonfiction is the route to fiction. Publishing an article on homeopathy in LADIES HOME JOURNAL actually looks better to people on my end than publishing a short story in a literary magazine--even though you're submitting a novel. Think of Mark Kurlansky and his topical history projects. He was an article writer for 30 years before making a killing with COD and SALT.

Connections.
Do you know Oprah? Are you best friends with the NYT Book Review editor? Did Natalie Portman or Jerome Groopman or J.M. Coetzee promise to endorse your book because you used to date each other's sister/brother? TELL US. Because those kinds of things become platform. Hence Seinfeld's wife. Whose real name no one (myself included) seems to know.


2) What kind of platform you should focus on if you're writing a debut novel

There's a rumor going around that you don't need any platform at all to publish a debut novel. This isn't exactly true, for the simple reason that (per the definition above) if you're working on a novel you probably don't have zero platform. Furthermore, if you're a writer, you're probably also a spin artist, and you should be able to take what you have and make it work for you.

Just a note, though: the bigger your platform is the better you're going to do, regardless of the quality of your book. So while you're working and waiting, as we all do, make your job easier for yourself, and then your agent, and then your editor, by doing what you can now to continue to grow your platform.

What's going to help you most as a would-be novelist is our writing creds. Start putting together a publication list now--where have you published? Think back to college, even high school. List everything.

What about online? Do you have a blog? If not, think about starting one (I tell all my authors to blog a little--not so much that they can't find time to do their own work, but enough to establish a little net authenticity and make sure google searches redirect to their sites). Because also then your blog might start getting excerpted or cited on bigger sites, and then those become publication credits. One of my authors started a blog at my encouragement and is now frequently quoted by major national (print!) publications as an expert on her subject. Platform begot platform right there (as these things are wont to happen).

Submit. Write some articles for your local newspaper. Seriously. Can you? I bet you can. Because then the next step is your state newspaper. This even you, Stay-at-Home Mom, can do. There are also newsletters that will cater to an audience of people like you--one of my stay-at-home mom friends got a book deal after she became a regular columnist in an online magazine for...stay-at-home moms! Seriously, if you try writing and submitting some nonfiction stuff, you'll find more open doors than you will for fiction.

I hope this helped. Let me know if I can clarify anything.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Book Club: THE SPANISH BOW, by Andromeda Romano-Lax


Welcome to the Ed Ass Monthly Book Club! The October Book Club book is The Spanish Bow, a debut novel by Andromeda Romano-Lax. Andromeda has also recently started a blog, 49 Writers, No Moose, about writers and publishers in Alaska.

THE SPANISH BOW is a rich and lovely debut novel about a Catalan cellist born at the turn of the 20th Century. Feliu Delargo, crippled at birth and raised in the impoverished wake of a fallen father, knows he is meant to play a cello the first time he hears one. The talented and unrelenting Feliu makes his way to Barcelona and then the royal palace before meeting his best friend and nemesis, a larger-than-life concert pianist and would-be composer, Justo Al-Cerraz, who drags Feliu across Europe.

Feliu seems to have an uncanny knack for appearing in the right place at the right time for every major event in 20th century Spanish history to rub elbows with Queen Ena, Franco, Hoover, Hitler, Picasso, etc. But Feliu is much more than a Spanish Forest Gump. His story is the winding tale of a lonely man who must negotiate his own rigorous ideas of right and wrong in a society where scruples are not rewarded.

The book is masterfully researched and leaves you fulfilled on many levels--yes, you'll learn all about Spain and its many pockets, about the civil war, about music and politics and history, but it's all disguised in a most beguiling pageant of unrequited love and complex and blighted friendship.

I chose this book for Book Club this month because it is one of those rare books in which everyone can find common ground. I've bought it as a gift for at least fifteen unaffiliated people at this point, because I know they have an interest in one or more of the following themes: Spain, music, friendship, 20th century history, unrequited love, danged good writing.

For me, the theme of the occasionally hostile friendship between Feliu and Al-Cerraz is the most compelling theme in the book. I'll quote here again from one of my favorite passages:

A shroud of bad luck still seemed to hang over him, but he appeared to be taking the news astonishingly well. "What lasts?" he asked rhetorically, as he had so many times before. Then he laughed. "Good looks, rarely. Money--never."

"And friendship?" I asked cautiously.

He fingered his mustache. "Sometimes. I suppose I'd put it in the same category as love: flawed and messy, and of questionable duration, and yet somehow irresistible."(336-337)


As is my unfortunate habit, I had a lot of good book club discussion questions, but then I asked the author all of them, and she obligingly replied.

Interview with Andromeda Romano-Lax

MR: I have to ask you our famous debut author questions, since what I always want to know is how your whole book deal came about. How did you come to work with your agent?

ARL:
A dream scenario. I went to my first out-of-state writing conference, at Aspen, Colorado in 2002, and signed up for one of those 15-minute meet-the-agent spots. That day I paid attention during the editor/agent panels to how the visiting agents were talked about, and I picked out the one agent who seemed to get a lot of respect from editors (i.e. “When ES sends me a manuscript I’ll pull over on the side of the highway to read it,”) and requested her for my personal meeting.
She read a few pages of my fiction – the novel was really in its infancy -- and expressed enthusiastic interest. I promised her 50 or 100 more pages and sent them a few months later, worrying (as many writers worry) that she would forget about me. In the meanwhile, another agent I hadn’t had time to meet personally at the conference, but who had gotten hold of a soon-to-be-published nonfiction book of mine, offered to represent me as well. Now I was in the unexpected position of choosing between them. I researched the agents, their lists and recent sales, and made a choice. (Research any prospective agent is the advice I give to others.)

Let me add one more thing about that particular writing conference. Going there was well beyond my budget. Each time I went to an ATM to withdraw money, I wasn’t sure any cash would come out and I knew my family was back home, eating tinned beans while I (somewhat guiltily) soaked up the Aspen sun. But there comes a time when you have to aim high and invest in yourself, let the checks bounce where they may.

The full novel took three more hard years to finish. Writing a novel is a lot like pregnancy: if you could really picture all that’s involved, you probably couldn’t endure it. Luckily, a sort of amnesia masks each completed stage of the process.

MR: What was the sale of your novel like?


ARL: My favorite words ever said by my agent via long-distance phone call: “You might want to sit down before I tell you this.” Words I’d only heard uttered in a movie! Then she told me the advance. And a few minutes later: “Congratulations. You’re a novelist.” All that excruciating effort and voila, a living thing emerges!

Most of the hubbub of the book sale happened in about a one-week time period, which happened to coincide with the Jewish high holidays, in fall 2005, so (being Jewish through marriage) I was running back and forth between synagogue and checking my phone messages. The manuscript went out to lots of places simultaneously, two houses made offers, and I chose Harcourt. Actually, it was a local Alaskan writer who called to tell me Harcourt was seriously interested before I heard elsewhere. I’d never even met her but she lives just a few miles up the road, and happened to be a Harcourt author, and had heard the buzz.

I surprised my husband with the final news by taking him out to dinner and handing him a card in which I’d written, in very tiny print, the amount of the advance. My kids were in on the secret and had a ball with it. A month later there were lots of foreign deals made at the Frankfurt Book Fair. (THE SPANISH BOW is being translated into 10 languages).

Great happiness aside, for all of autumn 2005 I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was sure that somehow the good news would dissolve. I’ve mentioned already that we’ve lived hand-to-mouth for many years, due to my career choice and our unconventional family life. (We homeschool, which is not so rare in Alaska, and travel at every opportunity with our children; my husband works an odd schedule.) It took me a long time – one year, in fact -- to realize I could throw away my Hanes cotton underwear with holes in awkward places and buy a few new pairs.

MR: So you're an Alaskan writer... what took you to Spain for your debut novel?! Do you have a secret connection to Spain we should know about?

ARL: Write what you’re passionate about: I believe that with all my heart. I was feverishly attracted to the cello and was trying to write perhaps the world’s least marketable book – a nonfiction book about my own experience learning to play the cello, while also freelance-writing some depressing doomsday science stuff, involving climate change and the oceans, because that fascinated me, too. Then 9/11 happened. I asked myself what I would write if I had only one chance left, and suddenly, it wasn’t a doom-and-gloom story, nor was it about me.

I knew almost immediately that I wanted to write a hopeful, heroic story, and the first that came to mind was the story of a cellist who becomes a political figure, based on the life of Pablo Casals. Given that I’d only recently seemed poised to earn decent money from my nonfiction, this gave my husband a good laugh. A book about an old cellist! Now we were firmly on the downwardly-mobile track, he believed. I did, too, but I didn’t care. I was following the story I wanted to read.

My research began in early 2002 with a trip to Puerto Rico (where Casals lived for years in exile) and continued with research in Europe. Very quickly I found myself wanting to tell a larger, fictionalized work based less on Casals than on musicians in general, with room for plotlines about love and friendship and art (Picasso makes an appearance in the story) and family and more. What does all this have to do with Alaska? Nothing, except perhaps that Alaskans really do have a frontier spirit; we like taking chances and we like to travel.

Oh yes: the secret connection to Spain. I did travel to Barcelona, by myself, at the age of 15. The scenes in the novel that portray Barcelona as both invigorating and intimidating were no doubt inspired by my adolescent visit, during which I spent a lot of time on the Ramblas (which was a lot grungier in the 1980s than it is now, with more prostitutes and anti-terrorism squads). My evenings were spent people-watching and trying to make a single watery sangria last as long as possible.

MR: Debut novels are historically autobiographical. Yet you've written a literary historical novel wherein the main character is male, and Spanish. What made you pick a protagonist who is, ostensibly, so far from your own personal experience? And do you feel at all that Feliu is a lot like you in less superficial ways?


ARL: Feliu’s voice came so easily to me; I must have a shriveled-up, self-denying-while-still-inwardly-passionate little man living inside of me. His yearnings, confusion, desire to do good and egotism are all a part of me, too. But I related to his mother just as much. I can imagine how hard it is to protect a talented child. And I related to Queen Ena, trying to behave as one is expected to behave. They’re all me in some ways, except perhaps Al-Cerraz (a playboy and opportunist), who was originally cast in the villain’s role and became one of my favorite characters in the end. His joie-de-vivre and sense of humor (the book is not all serious) won me over.

MR: The reason I love THE SPANISH BOW as much as I do is because it is (to me, at least) the perfect intersection of several great themes: history, music, friendship, literature, etc. I want to talk about each one of those a little.

The book is intensely rooted in history, and yet very vibrant. Did you have to do tons of research to make the setting and events come to life so naturally?


ARL: Yup. Many books read, historic homes toured, musicians interviewed and (via videotape) analyzed, liqueurs sampled, turn-of-the-century clothing analyzed. At one point I was spending weeks trying to figure out: if Feliu and his anarchist tutor used a chamberpot, would it be emptied weekly outside Alberto’s building in such-and-such a way? (Left that section out, luckily). Mistakes are still made in every novel, but I immersed myself enough to make that world feel more real – to me -- than my own.

MR: Feliu is a cellist. You are also a cellist. I've never heard you play, but my guess is you must be a really fantastic cellist, because if YOUR musical learning experience was anything like Feliu's, you must be really naturally gifted. I say this because I studied violin for a bajillion years (well, until I was 16) and the whole thing was tooth-pulling and tear-drenched folios and debasement and mournfulness. Feliu's musical education, at least, goes much more smoothly than mine did. Was your personal path toward music anything like Feliu's?


ARL: A good guess but precisely wrong, Moonrat. If I were a skilled cellist, I wouldn’t have had this desperate urge to try to turn music into words. It is my appreciation for – but lack of skill at – playing the cello that stoked my literary fire. I fell in love with the cello at the age of 6, played on and off (insufficient practice, lessons and parental oversight – I think I wanted to play more than anyone else cared whether I played; life was tricky enough without a big wooden instrument to tote around). I re-started as an adult amateur when my daughter was born 10 years ago. Listening to the cello played beautifully gives me an actual physical pain inside my chest. Ah well. The great thing about writing is that it lets us explore so many paths and passions – it is the closest thing we get to having multiple lives. There is a part of me that believes in some kind of fate and I hope that when we are denied something it just makes us more passionate about channeling that disappointment into another, perhaps even more fruitful, activity.

MR: I find the friendship between Feliu and Justo to be the most powerful theme in the book, and in many ways I see THE SPANISH BOW as a tribute to life-long friendship. Did you mean it to come off this way, or is that just me reading my personal biases into it?

ARL:
I’m thrilled you enjoyed the friendship in the book. I heard the same from some male readers who recognized some of the rhythms of the competitive Feliu/Al-Cerraz friendship, which made me very happy. I’m writing another book right now that, once again, involves an uneven mentorship/friendship. I think that kind of relationship, where two people are learning and growing together (and sometimes challenging each other as well) is a tricky and powerful thing. Don’t you find that friendships get short shrift, as versus romantic love, in literary fiction? (I’ve already read your blog, so I know that you do.) I’m still trying to understand my friendships, past and present. The ones that failed still torment me; the ones that are surviving sustain me.

MR: Tell me about it. I couldn't agree more--I think books about friendship are the most provocative. But yeah, you already know that.

Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by today! Can't wait to hear more about this next book as it comes to fruition.