Friday, July 30, 2010

my own personal bridesmaid update

So for those who still care about my bridesmaid saga, I only have one more wedding left this summer! This one, for some reason, has proved itself the most stressful, though. I can't quite put my finger on why, but this is the one that's been giving me anxiety dreams.

A month ago, I had the anxiety dream in which I showed up at the wedding and still hadn't bought the correct shoes (I ended up marching down the aisle in combat boots; my brain decided to add the creative detail to the dream of having all the bridesmaids carry candles instead of bouquets. "Just don't let the candles blow out," the bride's mother warned us as she sent us down the aisle. Of course mine kept blowing out and I in my combat boots would have to scurry over to the sconces on the chapel wall and relight it several times during my short journey. None of the other bridesmaids had any such difficulties.). This was the dream that inspired me to go out and buy the damn shoes, which of course almost gave me gangrene (so did anyone want me to post the pictures I took of my foot infections?).

I thought I was done with anxiety dreams after that. But this week, they came back. I guess we're just getting to close to the actual day.

In the first, on Tuesday night, I showed up--late, of course--for the wedding and realized I wasn't wearing the correct EARRINGS (because yes, in real life, the bride has mandated matching earrings as well as eye shadow--so maybe the dream isn't totally without relevance). I needed a pair of pearl studs, and the bride was SO disgusted with me that I hadn't managed to by them already.

But then, saving grace! my friend Karen--who, by the way, the bride doesn't know in real life, and who had no logical reason to be at her dream wedding--showed up. Karen happened to be wearing EXACTLY THE CORRECT EARRINGS!!!

"Karen, you HAVE to give me those earrings!" I begged.

"If you want them, you have to earn them," she said.

"How?" I would have done anything.

"Well, for the left earring, why don't you give me a verbal essay about the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and your opinion on the best global strategies for moving forward." Maybe I should mention Karen is a high school teacher.

"But Karen," I protested, "I'm not really up on current events! I haven't read much about it since--"

"You're just going to have to do your best," she said.

Luckily I woke up then. I don't think I could have delivered that essay.

The next night, I had another dream. In this one, I realized on the Thursday of the wedding week--as in, the night of the bachelorette party--that I had actually commited to being a bridesmaid in two different weddings that same weekend, one in DC, one in Vermont. I just hadn't realized until that moment that they overlapped. Woops.

After mulling over my options--could I somehow teleport between duties?--I realized I would have to cancel on one of the brides. My dream-self opted to cancel on the fake bride (ie, the one whose wedding I'm not actually in). This turned out to be a girl who'd sat at my four-person lab table in 8th grade science, although I hadn't seen her since then. My dream self didn't remember her name; I had to look her up on Facebook the next day.

Science Girl cried when I lied that family obligations had come up. It turns out I had made the right decision, though, since all the bridesmaids were wearing elaborate theater costumes for Roman-era tavern girls. There would have been extensive make-up required. As the bride sobbed about how much my participation would have meant to her, I woke up. Phew.

Anyway. That's where I'm at right now. Off to get me some pearl studs. Have a great weekend!

Monday, July 26, 2010

just finished reading

Two books featuring Mormon Fundamentalism/polygamy: Brady Udall's The Lonely Polygamist, and David Ebershoff's The 19th Wife. My double review here. Anyone else read either?

some very quick thoughts on the present tense

So I've been getting a TON of submissions in the present tense lately--normally, they're speckled throughout (maybe a 1:4 ratio, present to past). But lately EVERYONE seems to be writing in the present tense. So I felt the need to make a public service announcement.

First off, let me say that present tense is not a reason I categorically reject a novel submission. But it often becomes a contributing reason, because successful present tense novel writing is much, much more difficult to execute than past tense novel writing. Most writers, no matter how good they are, are not quite up to the task.

I'm not just being conservative here. It's true that historically, most novels have been written in the past tense. This is not purely convention--there are practical reasons for narrating in the past tense:

IN THE PRESENT TENSE, YOU MUST KNOW AND INCLUDE EVERY TINY DETAIL--there is no room for skipping forward. By placing the narrative in the immediate present, you're investing every moment and every breath with importance. Using past tense allows us to glibly skip forward and cut out of scenes easily once they have been milked for their interest. But in the present tense, you've already chosen the importance of, well, the present, which makes it much more difficult to escape artfully from the many boredoms that pad the interesting parts of our day-to-day life. This means that unless you are very, very skillful indeed, the format of your narrative may force you to include content that bores your audience, either directly or gradually.

THE PRESENT TENSE IS VERY STRESSFUL FOR YOUR READER. The flip side of the above point: if you haven't bored your reader, you've probably stressed them out. Think of the incredible tension of following every moment's move and thought and emotion--either there's not enough going on, and it's boring, or there is enough going on, and it's totally exhausting for the reader. Actually, this technique can work really well for high-energy thrillers, but if that's not your genre of choice, think about the unwelcome side effects. Frankly, life is exhausting to live--that's why we seek escapism in a nicely written novel--so don't make your book exhausting to read!

So present tense narrative is very difficult to execute. Can your story support moment-to-moment narrative? And if it can, can your reader handle it? Two questions to ask.

THE PRESENT TENSE CAN JAR UNCOMFORTABLY WITH SUBJECT MATTER. Somehow, present tense narration has a very modern feel to it. So I can put my finger on no more scientific reason for my aversion to reading certain stories in the present tense than that sometimes it can make the writing seem to contemporary (or too edgy) for the subject matter in the book.

ARE THERE NOVEL GENRES WHERE IT'S OK TO USE PRESENT TENSE? Yeah, actually--playing off the subject matter point, I've read a couple scifi and crime novels/thrillers where the author pulled off the present tense. However, that does not make it a less difficult feat to accomplish.

CAN SHORT STORIES BE WRITTEN IN PRESENT TENSE? Sure! In fact, many great short stories are present tense. The reason the shorter genre is ok for present tense: you're sustaining the narrative for a shorter period of time, and often focusing on tense moments or short but deep plot arcs. A short story is a great place to explore moment-to-moment action or emotion.

DO NOT FLIP-FLIP TENSES. This is like flip-flopping perspectives. You may feel you NEED to do it to best showcase the drama or action in your story, but eventually it's just laziness: if you had worked a little harder, you could have figured out how to say something as powerful in the same tense that you started writing in. Remember that above all things: flouting many conventions is actually laziness. Sometimes it's not, but try to be your own harshest critic here.

In summary, when you embark on a writing project, the present tense may seem like a good idea. But please think carefully about all the above points--it would be sad to think that the wrong tense choice was what got between you and a book deal.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

back from bridesmaiding what turned out to be the most beautiful wedding in the world (apologies to those hoping for horror stories! Better luck next time ;). It was seriously like being in a regency-style remake of Pride & Prejudice. 1100-year-old English church, seven miniature flower girl cousins in shades of pinks and purples, groom in top hat, barefoot Scottish dancing in a hayfield late into the night. Everything (everything!) was done by hand in an incredible show of teamwork by the bride's family and friends (her mom made the bridesmaid dresses and grew the sweet pea flowers, which her grandmother arranged and used to decorate the church; one extremely talented family friend made the professional-looking cake, did the bride's hair and make-up, and slaughtered the cow from her own herd to cook the steaks for the rehearsal dinner, etc). It was really incredible to see all those people come together.

As you know, I'm a big sap, and basically cried the entire time. Except while dancing. The only major casualties of being a bridesmaid for me were tearful dehydration and majorly sore calves from reeling and romping for eight hours. Definitely, definitely both worth it.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, the Aunda was also at a wedding--a traditional Afghan-style Muslim wedding, quite an exciting experience for her. Many years ago, when my brother and sister were babies, my mother hired as a babysitter an Afghan woman, whose family had evacuated under extreme duress--they had to ride camels through the desert to Pakistan before finding asylum (Fatima, the mother/wife, was six months pregnant at the time--an incredible story). The Afghan family was still getting their start in America at the time--they are quite prosperous now, but back when my bubbies were babies they were in a position where it helped a lot for Fatima to watch children. We are still family friends with them, but we aren't as close as the Aunda, who, as everyone knows, is a major meddler, and is now so involved with the family that she scores invites to all these awesome parties. She said the reception--300 people--was like nothing she had ever seen before, and she was extremely impressed with the food (hard to believe, but they didn't serve pasta! instead they had rice! how interesting!) and everyone's dresses. This morning she chatted to me for a very long time about all the points of Muslim weddings she had learned about--the most surprising part to her was that the bride has to pretend to be sad during the entire wedding. The Aunda, however, was NOT sad to be there, and a good time was had by all.

So all in all, an extremely positive weekend for weddings. HOWEVER, while I was away, I received THE MOST amazing horror stories about OTHER people's wedding experiences! So fear not, entertainment will commence anon.

I'll probably post a story a day for the next week. Thanks to everyone who submitted, despite the fact that I never officially even announced a prize. I couldn't pick a winner, because all the stories are hilarious. If you entered, send me your mailing address and I'll send you a little treat as a token of my esteem :)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

good news galore

Hello from sunny, temperate England (utterly unlike the New York I left, which was somehow both overcast-muggy and 8,000 degrees). And apologies again for the neglect in this time of Busy. But in the meantime, I have tons of things to announce.

First, you still have until midnight tonight to enter the contest! And let's be totally honest--I'm not going to be back at my computer again until Sunday, so if you're running a little late--like three days late--I'm probably not going to notice. No one has suggested a prize yet, either, so I'm still open for suggestions.

In other mischief, lots of of old friends have great news!

Ebony McKenna's debut novel, ONDINE, a fairytale-mystery, was just released in Canada. Congrats, Ebony, and I can't wait to see it in BNN as well as Indigo :)

Anita Laydon Miller, our friendly Colorado book reviewer, has landed a literary agent--she's just signed with Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary. You go, Anita! Let us know how your adventures unfold!

It's a hot day in Colorado. Stephanie Blake (also known as Colorado Writer) has just landed a book deal! Robin Benjamin at Marshall Cavendish has bought Stephanie's debut, THE MARBLE QUEEN, for publication in 2012.

I feel a special victory here because all three of these ladies have been online friends for a long, long time. It's, like, victory for everybody. Congrats, everybody! Keep making me proud :)

Friday, July 02, 2010

In which Moonrat is always (always, always) a bridesmaid

So I'm having a fun summer, during which EVERYONE I KNOW IN THE WORLD is getting married. The reason you haven't been hearing from me much is because most weekends between June and August have been devoted to either showers or engagement parties or bachlorette parties or the weddings themselves.

Thanks, guys. Way to stagger the schedule.

What all these brides need, I feel, is a managing editor. Managing editors control project schedules, make sure deadlines don't bottleneck, and check that there are either personnel or freelancers to cover all the work needed. I feel like no one is coordinating my various brides with one another at all!

But anyway, I love weddings. These should be interesting, too. One bride has selected a barn as her venue, and she and her groom will roll in as man and wife on a tractor. Another bride, who is an outdoorsy sort, is having her reception in a field, and guests are encouraged to bring sleeping bags. (YT, who is perhaps less outdoorsy, will be trundled very comfortably in a nearby hotel, don't worry. I'm not sleeping with any spiders, thank you very much.) But there will be much dancing and speechifying (and thank God, breaking announcement, an open bar! one of the weddings was looking hairy there for a while) and, if all goes well, the RM won't offend too many of my friends' parents with his, erm, off-color sense of humor. Actually I'm still debating leaving him at home. The last time I took him to a wedding... Never mind.

So I'm actually really excited about all this. Well, to be totally honest, there are one or two facets of being a bridesmaid I'm rather less excited about. But generally the pros way outweigh the cons.

Speaking of weighing. Being a bridesmaid is a physically hazardous prospect, for those of you who haven't tried it before. For example, say one is in a wedding overseas, and the international bride of yours has sweetly bought you a bridesmaid dress in a mystical British size.

"What British size are you?" asked the bride. Because I was going to know the answer to that question. Because I can even tell you what American size I am. (I can't. Really. The only reason I go to work clothed in the morning is because periodically people like the Rally Monkey or my mother go out and by me load of items from consignment shops. So my British size? Your guess is as good as mine. And you don't even know what I look like.)

The bride was not chagrined. "I'll just buy you a dress in my size," she said. It almost sounded rational.

So the short story is, I won't know until the week of the wedding itself whether the dress will even fit or not! To prepare, I went on a diet (I figured it's better to be too skinny for the dress than too fat, right?). However, for me, dieting amounts to starving sadly all day, then going home and eating trays and trays of cookies baked by the evil Rally Monkey. And sometimes also cheating and having dinner in Chinatown when no one is looking. And sometimes having milkshakes or giant cupcakes at Crumbs. But only sometimes. In the end, I am probably only one or two pounds heavier than I was at the beginning of my wedding diet, which, all told, is pretty good.

Will the dress fit? I will let you know how that all plays out anon. I have fairly long hair, so if the dress won't zip up the back maybe I can just let it hang and cover. It's good to have back-up plans!

Elsewhere in the "physical hazards of being a bridesmaid" column, we have "gangrene" and "limb amputation." Another bride of mine gave her maids delightfully flexible rules for shoe-buying; this means we can wear whatever we want, as long as the color is right, the heel size is low enough, and they are not made of plastic. Which actually turns out is pretty specific. I found two pairs at DSW that matched the description, and being a cheapo, went for the pair that only cost $25.

I chose to break these shoes in the weekend I was going to one of the engagement parties. Perfect! I thought. And fortunately I don't have to do too much walking, so in case they're uncomfortable, minimum damage will be incurred.

I wore the shoes for 7 hours on a Sunday. Let's just say... not as comfortable as one imagined. On Monday, I hobbled around on the outsides of my feet, feeling glad blisters heal so quickly. On Tuesday, I woke up in the middle of the night to wash the puss out. On Wednesday, I took pictures, but the RM forbade me from posting them here because he said it would drive away all my readership. On Thursday, patches of dead green skin started sliding off my feet, and the entire inner sides were inflamed. I called my father, as one does, and explained the situation, and he encouraged me to secure an antibiotic. Woops, I needed antibiotics to treat my bridesmaidfeet. It is now almost two weeks later and I still have thumb-sized scabs on either foot.

However, I am NOT paying ANOTHER $25 for a DIFFERENT pair of shoes of this description. After all, they might do the same thing. So I will just wear these again. After all, I'm only walking down the aisle. Right?

The RM says it's not worth losing my feet over this wedding. No friendship is worth that much, he says. I think he's a quitter, that's what I think.

Anyway, now you know about my adventures. Former (or current) bridesmaids, I invite you to share your stories of wonder and horror. In fact, don't do it in the comments--send me via email. In fact, let's make it into a contest.


Tell me your bridesmaid story! And so the fellas don't feel left out, you can tell groomsmen story, or the story of a loved one who was forced to bridesmaid. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, essay, letter, whatever you like. Feel free to include pictures if you think they will enhance. Entries will be judged on a rubric of stylish execution and outrageousness.

The prize will be... hmm. Any suggestions? I mean, I'll definitely post my favorites here. But what else would people like to be awarded with? I'm very open to suggestions.

Email me your story at moonratty AT gmail DOT com. There are no length stipulations, but remember I have a very short attention--what? A cupcake? Where?

The deadline: Thursday, July 8, 11:59 pm EST

For inspiration, you might read the essay "You on a Stick" from Sloan Crosley's I WAS TOLD THERE'S BE CAKE.

Ok. Off I go. Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Mystical Blue Yonder (Or, Book Publicity)

I got a note:

Dear Moonrat,

My book is coming out from a lovely indie publisher. Since they're small, I know I'm going to have to help out with book publicity. Any recommendations for where to start?


Um. Ok. How to tackle this?

I have been working in publishing now for... at least three weeks, let's just say. I have seen a lot of people trying a lot of things to make books sell. I've seen companies and authors spend tons of money and sell zero books, and I've seen no-name midlist books that no one believed in or stood behind totally take off. So what's the secret to book publicity?


Ok, but besides magic, do I have recommendations for what you can do to help your own book? Sure.

Successful book sales are a combination of two factors (and this is literally all it comes down to):

1) Accessibility of book
2) Word of mouth

Accessibility is something that you can't do alone. You need your publisher to help you as much as possible, which means helping your publisher as much as possible. If you can, get your agent to request a publicity meeting with your publisher a year to six months before publication. This shouldn't be a "what are you going to do for me?" conversation, but rather a brainstorming session--remember that ultimately you all have the same goal (selling your book) and sometimes a meeting/conversation like this will help your company think of new ideas based on your personal connections and experience, and maybe also help you realize you have connections and experience you didn't realize you had. Good for all. Also, it's always good to show you are smart, positive, and enthusiastic.

Now if all things line up well and you start way in advance, your publisher will have more ammo to go in with when they have to sell the books in to the accounts (the chains, indies, etc). The more your publisher knows about you and your publicity plan for the book, the more copies they'll be able to get into stores, and the more successfully they'll be able to target the right market for your book.

Now, for more personal things you can do, I'd offer the following bits of advice:

Make a website
If you don't already have one. In case people want to come to you for publicity, they need to have a place to go. Your blog will do just fine, as long as there are clean and accessible pages of info about you. Just... don't leave yourself without go-to internet presence. Make sure there is contact info there, and make sure you don't put up anything time-sensitive (because nothing looks worse than logging onto an author website and seeing "Wow! Can't believe 2007 is here already!").

How do I create that "word of mouth" thing you were talking about?
Well, people have to talk about your book. Ultimately, if we really want things to take off, people you don't know have to talk about your book to other people you don't know, and then THEY have to talk to people you don't know. But this chain of events can start with people you know; for this reason, remember your family and friends.

For authors publishing with small or indie presses, or self-publishing, or who know for whatever reason there are not going to be a whole ton of copies of their book going out, I recommend a book party as a good starting point. Even if it's intimate, it's nice to celebrate your accomplishment while reminding people you've been published. It's also a good way to get the ball rolling. We talked here about throwing a good launch party.

You can also give stuff out. Cheap and nice solutions include bookmarks, buttons, pens, and postcards; you can get fancier, but usually the cheap stuff works just as well. Don't be shy about asking your friends to give your thingies out at work, too. That's what friends are for.

Plan to spend a little money.
Guidelines I have heard include 10% of your advance--but of course this is only relevant in some cases. Don't go bankrupt, no matter what you do; think of it as hobby money (I might have spent this on vacation or buying myself tropical fish, but instead I'll use it on gas money to drive to Houston for that book signing, etc). But use your allotted funds on things like your giveaways, visiting indie bookstores and introducing yourself to owners, etc.

Should you hire a publicist?
There are pros and cons. Publicists are expensive. Very, very expensive. But if you are in a situation where you're getting zero backing from your publisher--which, let's be honest, happens a lot--you could benefit from one. Just make sure it's worth your while. Also, make sure the publicist is a good choice for you--if it's someone rinky-dink, they may get nothing done. If it is someone huge, they may end up ignoring you for bigger fish. Get recommendations from author friends.

I hope this helps. So much of publicity is case-by-case. Let me know if any specific questions/scenarios come up--or if any authors want to volunteer stories on what worked for them, that would be great.