Friday, December 29, 2006

Anniversary

We moved into our house exactly one year ago. Around noon that day, I took the dog for a walk and the wind, which was gusting at 60 mph, blew my left sunglass lens out, never to be found again. Little did I know that it was an omen of things to come.

That night, we discovered that the upstairs heating didn't work. It being New Year's weekend, we were stuck with the cold for days. (After the first night, I slept on the pull-out couch in the living room while hot-blooded Darling Husband toughed it out upstairs.) We subsequently learned that there was a Potemkin thermostat in the hall; instead of being connected to the basement boiler,
its wire ended in a closet just 6 feet away.

Since then, we had to get the heating redone, including all new thermostats; the leaky gas hookup to the range repaired; the kitchen waste pipe replumbed (it was slanted uphill); the downstairs toilet reinstalled; 28 windows replaced; the fill at the sides of the house regraded; storm doors installed; plus various "extra" carpentry and plumbing jobs. Now our concrete front steps are crumbling and must be replaced as soon as the snow clears. I'm praying that the roof stays OK.

And yes, if you can believe it, we had the house inspected before we bought it. We'd be throwing lawsuits around, only Darling Husband and I agreed that we've had too much tsuris already with my medical woes. Still, I refer to the seller (read: speculator) and the guy who did most of the work on the house as "those wankers." It's scant comfort, but it's something.

More Whiteness

East High School, the Boy Wonder's alma mater (also actor Don Cheedle's).

"His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."
--James Joyce, "The Dead"

The end of my block. The mausoleum at left is the Tattered Cover Book Store.

It's been snowing here in Denver since 10:30 yesterday morning, with no end in sight. On top of last week's two feet, we got 8 inches overnight and 2 or so inches today; 2-5 more is predicted tonight and another 3-5 inches tomorrow. During my last winter in Maine 12 years ago, we had more than 100 inches of snow. We got so sick of it that we called it "the S word." I'm close to that point now.

O Pioneers!

Still, it's pretty--as long as you don't have to go anywhere. And I don't. Expecting to host a party tomorrow in celebration of surviving (barely!) our first year in Denver, I did a mega-shopping on Wednesday. We postponed the festivities till next week, so we are well provisioned, particularly in the green salad department. Also soda and chips, to the great delight of the Boy Wonder. I'd put the kibosh on cracking open one of the 2-liter bottles of Pepsi, but was overridden by Darling Husband, who was craving some himself. (I loathe cola; also beer.)

Jenny explores the base of a monument at the Esplanade.

When I took Jenny out this morning, I felt as though I was in "Dr. Zhivago," with the rumbling and wheezing of traffic substituting for "Lara's Theme." The samovar is collecting dust in the basement, but all this s*** may have me hitting the vodka soon. Zdorov'ya! (See more Russian toasts here.)

I'd gladly stay hunkered inside, only Jenny is suffering from an as-yet-undiagnosed urinary malady, which necessitates taking her out every couple of hours. She's been leaking on her bedding like a canine Betsy Wetsy; I haven't done so many loads of laundry since the Boy Wonder was in diapers.

Max hasn't set foot outdoors today. At 5:45 a.m., I was awakened to the sound of distant, frantic mewing. After searching various closets and BW's room, I opened the front door to find a desperate, snow-covered kitty. Apparently he'd slipped out during one of the dog walks last night. He was very cuddly and friendly all morning.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Mr. Rogers Was Right

I am special. Apparently I'm the only Bella Stander in the whole U.S. of A., which makes me 1 in about 300 million. Here's how I found out for sure:

HowManyOfMe.com
LogoThere are:
0
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

According to the last census (which apparently didn't count me despite all the fun I had filling out the form), there were 1110 people with the surname Stander in the country;
8999 people with the first name of Bella. I think the second number will go up soon because there are lots of dogs named Bella these days (I knew of 4 in Charlottesville, VA, alone, from a harlequin Great Dane to a homely little black thing of very mixed parentage), and I've noticed that where dogs lead, kids soon follow.

Max and Hannah are popular names now, after being attached to several dogs of my acquaintance a few years ago. (Disclosure: My cat is Max; he also eats MaxCat food.) Bella, Max and Hannah were common in our (great-) grandparents' era too. My grandmother was Belle, called Bella, and there were any number of Max Standers 100 years ago. Though as I discovered to my frustration when researching family history, Max was a common Jewish nickname for a man whose middle name was Menachem or Mordechai--or most anything that began with "M." So there are some big question marks on the family tree.

Darling Husband shares his name with just one other person, though I'll bet that guy has a middle name, unlike DH. The Boy Wonder is much more common: there are 220 others with the same first and last names. They were bestowed upon him by his father, but after BW was born my father told me that his boyhood nickname was the same as BW's first name. I'll never know exactly why (I have my guesses)--another question mark for the tree.

Edit 12/26: Take the info at HowManyofMe.com with a BIG grain of salt. Per the comments, several people have discovered that they & their families don't exist. The Boy Wonder searched for the last name Rosewater, and supposedly there are zero people in the entire country who have it; whereas I found two in the Denver phone book. However, I still think I'm the one & only Bella Stander, as no one else comes up in Google & Yahoo! White Pages searches.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Around & About

After reading news, edtorials & opinions in the papers & online, I'm awash in words. So here are some pictures--OK, with some explanatory words--to cleanse the mental palate.


Shades of me (w/ camera) & Darling Husband overlooking the mighty Mt. Vernon Creek in Morrison, CO, a few days before Thanksgiving.

Telluride, CO, four days ago.


One of my favorite road signs, on I-70 heading D-O-W-N towards Denver, taken on the way back from Telluride. (Another fave reads "Correctional Facility. Do not pick up hitchhikers.")

Side view off my back porch yesterday. The big egg is the grill.


The Whiteness of Being

Lantern Waste...The view from my front stoop Wednesday night.
As reported, we got the Big Dump O' Snow in Denver, with some 2 feet falling from late Tuesday night thru Thursday noon. Though there wasn't a cloud in the sky all day Tuesday and the weather forecasts here are notoriously unreliable (I'm still fuming over the unforeseen -13 last February when our heat was on the fritz), I heeded the reports of a coming storm and stocked up on groceries. Good thing, too, as the Boy Wonder (nearly 6' 4", 132 lbs) seems to be eating for three these days, and he would have cleaned us out by yesterday morning.

I was feeling all safe and smug and toasty, hunkered down with Darling Husband, the BW, Jenny dog and Max cat, visions of a huge pot of stew dancing in my head. Then yesterday I went into the basement in search of my snow gaiters, which I'd stowed away somewhere really clever...and forgettable. (I'd already scoured the whole upstairs for them.) And what did I find but a large pool of water on the floor emanating from the kitchen waste pipe (repaired in the spring) which was steadily dripping onto a stack of cardboard boxes. Oh @#$%*!!!

I will draw a discreet curtain over the ensuing scene. The happy news is that nothing important was ruined and a large picnic cooler is now catching the drips until the plumber, who fortunately lives nearby, can dig out his truck and make his way here. And I found the gaiters in a waterproof bin, well away from the leak.

Jenny (rear) frolicking with a neighbor yesterday.
Max is electing to remain indoors.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Out on Reprieve

Brian, Chutney, Kristin & me at the Something-or-other
rest area overlooking the Whatchamacallit River.
For the first time since May, I'm away from home by myself overnight (actually 3 nights) and... I'm not in a hospital!

I'm in Telluride, Colo., along with literary agent Kristin Nelson, her husband and their little dog too. Kristin and I spoke at an author-agent conference, sponsored by the Telluride public library, on Friday evening and Saturday. The rest of the time we've been hanging out, dining out (sumptuously!) and gadding about.

Seems that right now is a quiet time in Telluride; all hell breaks loose on December 26th. I'm one of only 5 guests at my hotel, and we've easily gotten tables at popular restaurants during peak dinner time without reservations. A dog could have taken a nap in the middle of the main street at noon today, with little fear of being disturbed. (There was a dog asleep on the sidewalk in front of one of the bars; he was there yesterday too.)

View of lunchtime non-traffic from the Floradora Saloon.
There were hardly any lines at the lifts later this afternoon either; not that I was doing any skiing, given my recent injuries. We three took the free gondola up the mountain and had a drink at a (the only?) relatively inexpensive pub, not coincidentally frequented by a much younger crowd than elsewhere.

View from my hotel room balcony.

Telluride is a quaint little town with spectacular scenery and clean evergreen-scented air, but the racket of the nearby snow-making machines sounds as though Paul Bunyan is running his espresso maker. And I have never been so scared walking city streets anywhere as I have been here, at least until the newly fallen snow provided some traction today.

One would think that a pontzy ski resort town, with two (count 'em!) Sotheby real estate offices, and restaurants that fly in fresh seafood from both coasts every day, would have ice-free sidewalks and street lights. But NOOO!!! I crept around like a little old lady, terrified that I'd fall down and rebreak my arm, or something else. My heart was in my mouth Friday night as the three of us minced down the steep, icy and very dark hill to our hotels after a fantabulous dinner at the Excelsior restaurant.

Now I know why I haven't seen any old people in Telluride: They're all home with broken hips.
Street corner with sloped curb for handicapped accessibility (ha!).

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Author Go Happy

From Ginny Rorby, author of the YA novel Hurt Go Happy (Tor), who took my Book Promotion 101 workshop in San Francisco last year:

Hurt Go Happy came out in August, but I was already hard at work putting into practice some of the tips I garnered from your class.

I sent out 2500 postcards to all the deaf schools, all the zoos with gift shops, all the libraries nationwide, all the bookstores specializing in children's books, and hundreds of personal friends. I created Google Alerts, so that everything that came out about chimpanzees, sign language or deafness, the title of my book or my name, I got an email. I then researched each person mentioned in the article and sent them a postcard.

The results have been terrific.

Here in town [Fort Bragg, CA], I had to do two readings, both of which were packed with friends. Nearly 400 books have sold locally. I am doing a fundraiser in FL and a reading at Books & Books in Miami. The book was a Junior Library Guild selection (4500 copies), a Scholastic Book Fair selection (they order 63,000 trade paperback copies) and was voted one of the Top 100 children's books of the Year by the NY Public Library Assoc.

It's hard to know if what I did was successful and what would have happened anyway, but I can't help but think that getting it before all those eyeballs helped.

Self-Promotion: What Works & What Doesn't?

On Nov. 28, in "A Lesson in Self-Promotion," GalleyCat posted a link to How I Promoted My Book by David Louis Edelman, author of the sci-fi novel Infoquake. Edelman took stock as follows:
  • Promotional efforts that were well worth doing.
  • Promotional efforts that may have had some positive impact, but it's hard to tell.
  • Things I tried that have had seemingly no impact.
  • What lessons have I learned?
This is such a good idea that I'm going to "sample" it (y'know, like Ian McEwan did with that WWII nurse's memoir in Atonement). To that end, please make out your own lists as per the headings above and send them to me: {bella at bookpromotion101.com}. I'll post them here and cite them (with attribution, natch) in my workshops. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!

Recharge in the Desert

Sure wish I could go...

FINDING THE FLOW: Writing from the Inside Out

ARIZONA WRITING RETREAT, January 17-21, led by novelist Katharine Weber and clinical psychologist Lynette Danylchuk, Ph.D., with essayist and poet Floyd Skloot, and painter Beverly Hallberg.

For writers at any level of experience, this workshop is a rare opportunity to connect with your writing dreams in a nurturing group at Pocket Sanctuary, a restored dude ranch set in the spectacular desert landscape south of Tucson. The workshop will combine guided imagery, psychodrama, role play and other techniques, plus art projects, lectures, readings and private conferences to enable you to tap your imagination and find the flow for the writing you want to do.

Price for workshop, lodging & meals: $900. For more information, phone Lisa Griffin at Pocket Sanctuary 520-398-8073 or send email to {pocketsanctuary at earthlink dot net}.

On the Road Again

In light of my recent travails, it's going to be a while till I'm back in the saddle. In fact, I have to put in a few more hours on my shrink's couch till I'm able to even stop by the stable to say hello. And even more hours till I can watch any movie rough stuff without feeling panicky and nauseous, as happened when I saw "Casino Royale" last weekend. (There's a spectacular view of the mountains from that couch, so I don't mind sitting there.)

However, now that
I can carry my laptop with my right hand again--for a minute or two, anyway--I've set up workshops for this winter. Registration is limited to 8. Discount for Early Birds; I'll feed you good too. See complete details here.

LOS ANGELES
Saturday, January 27, 2007
9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Registration Deadline: January 13

Guest Speakers:
Guest Publicists:
Bonus: Poolside chat & refreshments after the workshop with Kathryn Jordan, Jennifer Kaufman, Karen Mack, Kerry Madden & Quong Pham.


NEW YORK
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Registration Deadline: February 24

Guest Speakers:
  • Jane Cleland, business speaker & author of the mystery Consigned to Death
  • Ron Hogan, co-editor, GalleyCat; founder, Beatrice; author, The Stewardess Is Flying the Plane!: American Films of the 1970s
  • Jen Singer, proprietor of MommaSaid.net & author of 14 Hours 'Til Bedtime: A Stay-at-Home Mom's Life in 27 Funny Little Stories
  • Eileen Winnick, media trainer & president, The Winnick Group

Guest Publicists:
Bonus: "Field trip" on March 7 to National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists Reading at the New School.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Latin Ending

Per the preceding post, Steven P. Hill, professor of Cinema Studies, Univ. of Illinois, wrote:
For future reference, you may want to adjust the little header on the next anniversary remembrance of LS's passing to the feminine accusative "-am" in Latin, that is, "In memoriam." ("Memorium" would make a gender switch to neuter...)
Therefore, in accordance with Prof. Hill's feminine accusative, I offer this edit:

In Memoriam
Lionel Stander (center) in an episode of "Hart to Hart"

Thursday, November 30, 2006

In Memorium

Lionel Stander in "The Loved One" (1965)

My father died twelve years ago today. According to the Jewish calendar, this year the anniversary of his death isn't until December 18, but I lit a yahrzeit candle for him last night, since I live by the Georgian calendar. Besides, he was resolutely secular and for all I know, any religious observance has him spinning in his grave in a private section of Forest Lawn Glendale, CA, where angelic elevator music plays in an eternal loop. (Call it Evelyn Waugh's revenge...or Hell.)

This yahrzeit is especially resonant for me because his death was the penultimate event in what, until this year, had been the most calamitous 12 months in my life: financial woes, flu, sick kid, pneumonia, nasty boyfriend breakup, pneumonia relapse, 2 sinus infections, pneumonia again (in August!). To cap it all off, just a week after Dad died, my therapist was killed in a car crash. I was so broke, I couldn't afford to go to Dad's funeral (I was living in Maine), nor find another therapist.

After some more tough months, my life improved immeasurably, due in great part to a legacy from my father. (I had to fight for it tooth and claw, but that's another story.) He was acting in the above photo, but it was nonetheless characteristic. As his friend and director Tony Richardson well knew, Dad always had a cigar and, more often than not, a bottle of something strong--preferably vodka--within reach.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Grateful Author Story #8: Smoky Memories

From Kerry Madden, author of GENTLE'S HOLLER:
I am writing in the garden. To write as one should of a garden one must write not outside it or merely somewhere near it, but in the garden.
-- Frances Hodgson Burnett
I was missing the South and seasons one very warm and sunny Los Angeles winter. My writing was going nowhere, and I longed for fields of wild flowers and thunderstorms and attics and lightning bugs and leaves that turn raspberry gold, and even snow. So I went back to the Smoky Mountains in my mind and imagined my husband as a little boy with his twelve brothers and sisters, and I began to write. Kate DiCamillo wrote BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE during an icy winter in Minnesota while missing Florida, and I took heart in learning this about her.

After several years of ghostwriting, health writing, and a few scattershot attempts at awful soap opera scripts, I knew that if I didn’t write something that I cared about deeply, something that mattered, there would be no more point in calling myself a writer. I know this sounds dramatic, but it's the truth. I also needed to write with love, instead of being clever or mean. I'd done that in fiction and failed miserably.

I wanted my children's novel to be written with love and joy and of course, doubt, fear, worries too--that's inescapable for me--but I let the love and joy for these mountain kids come first. And I listened to Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Mississippi John Hurt, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Kitty Wells, Lucinda Williams, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Reno & Smiley. Their music was a balm and salve--even though it sometimes drove my kids crazy, and the older kids dove for the volume button whenever I picked them up at school.

I'll really show my ignorance, but I didn't realize there was a difference between YA and middle-grade novels when I wrote GENTLE'S HOLLER. I just thought I was writing YA, but I've since learned that GENTLE'S HOLLER is more middle-grade because protagonist Livy Two is 12; even though her older brother is 14 and definitely experiencing my "YA" problems. I also didn't know it was historical fiction because of the 1962 setting. I just wanted to write a story about a kid who dreams of adventures from her mountain home and worries about her sister's eyes.

When writing GENTLE’S HOLLER, I studied flowers, trees, rocks and birds of the Smoky Mountains. I picked a religion that I thought best suited the grandmother who wants her grandkids back at church. I selected an old radio show that was popular in Knoxville, and I did research on Cas Walker and learned how he used to throw live chickens off the roof to attract customers. I listened to old banjo tunes, and I interviewed folks who worked at Ghost Town in the Sky in the town of Maggie Valley. I found the town of Maggie Valley purely by accident when our middle child pitched a fit at Thomas Wolfe’s home in Asheville, and we decided to take the back roads to Knoxville. I thought the name “Maggie Valley” sounded so beautiful, it had to be wonderful. And so we found Ghost Town and let the kids play in the mountains. That was how I came to select it as the setting for GENTLE’S HOLLER.

"I Don't Like to Write...I Like To Fish."
A boy told me that in my first writing workshop in Appalachia on my book tour. And I said, “Well, write about fishing. Tell me what it’s like. How much does a can of nightcrawlers cost?”

He was incredulous. “You mean I can write about fishing?”

I said, “You can write about anything!”

So he wrote of fishing, and how a can of nightcrawlers cost about a dollar-twenty-five, and they come twelve to a can, and losing one is like throwing a dime in the water, and there’s nothing better than catching a big old bass and bragging about it.

I believe kids are storycatchers and storytellers. I find I am most connected and alive when I am encouraging kids, teens, even adults, to find their voice as storytellers. To tell them, “Yes, you do have a story to tell! Tell your story!” And I'm so grateful to be able to tell mine through these Maggie Valley novels.

After GENTLE'S HOLLER was published and I finished my book tour, Viking was so pleased with the reception of the book and of my hard work in reaching kids through school and library visits, that they bought the next two companion novels. LOUISIANA'S SONG comes out in 2007 and JESSIE'S MOUNTAIN comes out in 2008. GENTLE'S HOLLER was recently named a PEN USA Finalist in Children's Literature for 2006.

I continue to try to write my Maggie Valley novels with love and joy, and I will be returning again to the mountains for more writing workshops for kids in the next few years. How lucky am I to be able to write about a huge family of kids growing up in the Smokies?

My favorite reading was at Joey's Pancake House in Maggie Valley, where a little girl, Caroline, read her stories with me. She had to stand on a chair she was so tiny, but on that day, I read from GENTLE'S HOLLER and she read of Egyptian princesses, and everyone ate pancakes in the heart of the Smoky Mountains listening to stories.
# # #

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Grateful Author Story #7: Naive Newbie

Judy Larsen just came across Bev Marshall's moving tale and wrote me, "She's one of the people I'm incredibly grateful to, one who has helped this first-time author." Judy shares this gratitude story for 2006:

My first novel, ALL THE NUMBERS, was published in July by Ballantine/Random House. I owe so many gracious, generous people for stepping in and helping this to happen.

First, in the summer of 2004, I went to a summer workshop at The University of Iowa. I'd been working on this manuscript for 5 years (while teaching full-time and raising my two sons). I wanted to see how my book fared in a bigger forum than the writing conferences I'd been attending in Missouri.

The man who led my particular workshop, Josh Kendall, was then an editor with Picador. At the end of the week, he offered to introduce me to some agents. He felt that my manuscript, while not something he would make an offer for, was good, and he wanted to help. He not only helped me with my query letter, but personally called several agents to tell them to expect my manuscript. Josh assured me that this might take several rounds, but he would help me every step of the way.

One of the agents I queried, Marly Rusoff, called me the day after she received it and said she wanted to represent me. I was so stunned (and so much of an amateur!), I stammered and told her I needed to think about it. What a complete idiot I was.

Marly was incredibly kind and patient, and gave me the names of several of her clients so I could call them as references. I had no idea how lucky I was to have her want to take me on as a client. We worked on the book for a few months and then Marly started submitting it.

Within a month, Allison Dickens, then at Ballantine, made us an offer. Again, Marly talked me through the whole process. Then she suggested that we ask Bev Marshall if she'd be willing to do the author interview that Reader's Circle includes in all of their books. Bev graciously took the time to work with me on the interview, and in the process she became something of a mentor/big sister to me as I nervously awaited publication.

This past spring, I went to the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival, which Bev helps run. It was the first time we met in person. I was attending, not presenting, but Bev and her husband went out of their way to introduce me to all the writers there, and the other organizers. For the first time I started to really feel like a writer.

I'm overwhelmed with the generosity of writers and those in the industry. I'd worried that when I left teaching to write full-time, I'd feel isolated. But what I've found is this wonderful community of writers who encourage each other, help one another, and learn from one another.

Grateful Author Story #6: Stranded on a Panel

From author and artist Jennifer Macaire, who lives in France:

Here's why I'll always be grateful to Marianne Mancusi and Cheyenne McCray.

I showed up at my first Romantic Times convention full of anticipation. After all, they were spotlighting young adult books and had chosen my book, SECRET OF SHABAZ, which was launching a YA line at Medallion Press, to put on the cover of RT magazine.

I decided to take advantage of this opportunity to meet readers. I was chosen to be on a panel for YA writers. Since this was, after all, Romantic Times, the subject we were debating was, "How much sex is too much sex in a YA book?" I sent in my application for the panel and was accepted. There were to be five of us on it, including the moderator.

I flew to St. Louis from Paris. My luggage actually arrived with me--an auspicious start, I thought. The panel was the next day. I was thrilled. There were so many people! And the panels were chock-full of famous authors!

I arrived early and sat through a first YA panel, with an editor and four authors. The panel host hadn't shown up, so I volunteered to ask questions for them. There was a nice crowd and the half-hour passed quickly. The panelists left.

Then it was my turn. I had been anxiously scanning the crowd looking for my fellow panelists. I took my place behind the huge table. And waited. No one joined me. I stood up and asked, "Is anyone from the second panel here?" Silence. Some people got up and left the room. I started to panic.

Marianne Manacusi must have seen the panic on my face. She jumped up and said, "I'll sit in on this panel too!" And Cheyenne McCray, who had just been about to leave, said, "I'll be the monitor and ask questions for you." Thank you, Chey, and thank you, Marianne!

And to answer your question: "How much sex is too much for a YA novel?"

Well, I asked my mother, who has taught English all her life. She said, "If you can imagine yourself reading the scene aloud for an 11th-grade class and not feeling that it is innapropriate, then it's all right. If it's making you squirm, then you know it's too much sex for a YA novel."

Thanks, Mom!

[I disagree, but unlike Jennifer's mother, I'm not teaching young men--many of them sex offenders--in a maximum-security juvenile prison. Context is everything.]

Dips & Twirls with a Thankful Publicist

From Janet Reid, founder, JetReid Literary Agency:

Years ago, I was one of the publicity girls that took authors around to their media appointments. It was lots of fun and I met some very interesting people. One day, the publicty director at Oxmoor House called and told me he was sending a cookbook author. “No problem.” I chirped, 'cause cookbooks were a total pain, but sort of fun (we did the marketing, and food prep, and set up for the TV cooking demos).

Then he told me the author was Jenny Craig. I about fainted. Of course she was pretty famous and all, but mostly I knew she was going to take one long look at me and say, “Get with the program, honey”.

The appointed day arrives. I have shopped, chopped, steamed and polished. I am ready. I am terrified.

And so is Jenny Craig. It takes all of about two seconds to realize that this woman, rich, famous, THIN and very self possessed is NOT used to doing live TV at all. She’s used to commercials with endless retakes. She doesn’t care if I’m fat, thin, green or chocolate brownie chewy at the seams.

I swing into uber-confidence building mode. I walk her through the piece. I show her the cooking utensils. I set it up so all she has to do is stir while talking. She relaxes visibly.

We have about half an hour before the show starts, so we chat about our lives. I mention I’m learning to tango. Jenny Craig’s face lights up in the first genuine smile of the morning. Tango! Turns out she and Mr. Jenny Craig are long-time ballroom dancers. Nothing to be done then, but give me a few pointers. With this, Jenny Craig takes me in her arms, and tangos me across the set of the local morning TV show. In front of the camera people, the director, the interns, the floor director. One-two-Three!

I’ve been forever grateful to Jenny Craig for the tango tune-up, and for helping me remember that no matter how rich and famous someone is, they too are afraid to fail or look stupid, and everything I could do to help them feel confident was a good thing.

Now, let’s dance!

Grateful Author Story #5: 4.0 GPA

Therese Fowler, whose debut, SOUVENIR, will be published by Ballantine, confesses, "I don’t yet have tales (good or awful) from my 'career,' per se." But she has a lovely story of how she became a novelist:

I was 33 years old and in my final undergraduate semester at NC State University. My favorite class that semester was science fiction author and critic John Kessel’s course on—what else?— Science Fiction. I’d chosen the class as the lesser of evils, filling a requirement for an integrated science-and-humanities class. Though not a reader of SF, I was convinced that ANY class where I got to read fiction was better than the alternatives. Mostly I was desperate to finish my degree and move on to “real life” and a career in the field of my major, Sociology.

Kessel’s course turned out to be one of my all-time favorites. Not only did I learn how smart and relevant good SF is, I learned that good writing and intellectual inquiry resulted in terrific stories. The course also turned out to be life-altering.

In reading really good fiction, my own latent desire to write was provoked. When Kessel gave the class the option to write a short story in lieu of a research paper at the end of term, I jumped at the chance—in part (I’ll be honest) because it seemed easier than the research paper, and I was trying very hard to finish my degree with a 4.0 grade-point average.

However, I’d never before written a complete story. I had notebooks filled with ideas and character sketches and story openings, but hadn’t looked at or added to them in many years. So I was anxious, but also determined to do well. I decided to get started on the story early so that Kessel could review it and make suggestions for revision before the due date.

When I had a draft ready for him to read, I turned it in and set up a meeting for a few days later. That day came and I arrived at his office with sweaty palms. Suppose he thought the story was awful? Suppose I had to scrap it and do the research paper after all? Suppose I got a lousy grade and blew my chance for a 4.0? Worst of all, suppose I had no writing talent whatsoever?

I sat down in the chair next to Kessel’s desk and waited while he found the draft and reviewed the comments he’d written out. And then he said the words that, in essence, gave me permission to try to become a novelist:

“Have you written fiction before?”

I told him about my notebooks. “This,” I said, “is my first actual story.”

“You’re sure.”

I was sure.

He said, “I think you have real promise as a writer of fiction.”

If not for John Kessel’s kind and encouraging words, I might not have ever taken my writing desires seriously. But because a professional, well-respected author told me I had promise, I believed I could take a chance. And now, six years later, I have a novel under contract with Random House/Ballantine and seven foreign publishers.

One moment of kindness and encouragement can go a long, long way.

Grateful Author Tale #4: Helpful Competition

SF Romance author Linnea Sinclair took time off from a howling Dec. 15 deadline to write:

I'd not be where I am--deep in blissful deadline hell--without the assistance of other authors. I'd not have my terrific agent, Kristin Nelson, if it weren't for the selfless act of RITA award- winning author, Robin D. "HeartMate" Owens, who, upon chatting with this little then-e-book author at a writer conference, whipped out her cell phone and called HER agent when she (Robin) found out I was unagented. Robin sent me to Deidre (THE DEIDRE) Knight, who gave me one of the loveliest rejections ever AND turned me over to HER friend, agent Kristin Nelson. Who contracted me and sold me within three months to Bantam. Now, how's that for a lovely bunch of happenstances, all based on kindness between "supposed competitors"?

Other delightful darling "competitors" who've embraced me and helped me: author Susan Grant recommends me to her readers. Along with Susan Grant, authors Susan Kearney, Cathy Clamp, Rowena Cherry, Colby Hodge and I swap bookmarks and share promo expenses. We all write for the same or similar genres. Theoretically, we're competitors for the same readers. But yunno, we subscribe to the belief that readers can read 'em faster than we can write 'em. So by banding together we're not stealing readers but doing all we can to keep readers interested in the exciting and fun genre of science fiction romance. No matter who writes it. [Authors in all genres, take note!]

Other Random Acts of Authorly Kindness:
Mega famous author Mary Jo Putney spends time in a one-on-one lunch with me at RWA National, when surely she could have been furthering her stellar career instead of advising me and my newbie-ness on mine. Romantic suspense author Monette Micheals (aka Attorney Babe Moni Draper in real life) answers my emails on legal issues whenever I send them, with delightful humor and aplomb. Author Catherine Asaro nommied me for the John W. Campbell Award a few years back.

I know I'm missing a lot. It's a blonde thing. A senior blonde moment.

Non-Author Act of Kindness:
My current WIP and source of my deadline mania has, as its protagonist, a Florida homicide detective. Yeah, I write science fiction romance and this is. I just have this Florida cop stuck in it. Working with me on this story as an advisor is a Florida sergeant who--bless him--works 11pm to 7am on patrol, has a lovely wife, two kids, an ailing mother and certainly does not need a lunatic author emailing him questions dang near daily. But he answers every one with thoughtful detail and a very genuine desire to help. For free. The man is not only a terrific resource but a wonderful person. Very much an unexpected kindness.

So that's the scoop for the moment. I need to get back to helping my homicide detective save Florida from evil outerspace zombies. But I did want to contribute my gratitude stories. I am grateful, not only to all of the above but to you, Bella, and professionals like you who take the time to interact with authors and share the journey with us.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Grateful Author Tale #3

Time to take a break from skankery and turn to Thanksgiving! Send your thankful publishing and/or publicity story to {bystander at bellastander dot com}.

Dianne Ochiltree writes:
My first book for kids, CATS ADD UP!, published in 1998, is due to the generosity, kindness and help of a famous author and an editor at Scholastic.

Way back in 1996, I was selected, via submission of writing samples, to attend a conference in which part of the day was a 45-minute critique session with a published author, editor or agent. When I arrived, I found that I was paired with the keynote speaker, Paula Danziger. This thrilled and frightened me---if anyone was going to find out that I had no talent for the business of children's writing, and let me know that I'd better go back to advertising, it would be someone as well-published and recognized as Ms. Danziger.

I found in my subsequent meeting that Paula was warm, supportive and full of insightful advice on how to fine-tune my story for submission. She reassured me that I had the basic "right stuff," a confidence-boosting gift I'll always treasure!

But Paula's gift didn't end there. Her last question to me was, "Where do you think your book belongs--which publisher did you have in mind when you were writing this?" I said Scholastic, definitely.

Later in the day, like a woman on a mission, Paula made sure I met every editor she knew at the conference, including one from a division of Scholastic. This editor agreed to receive my submission, with Paula's enthusiasic urgings. More surprising, this editor said that if he could not use the story in his imprint but felt my work had merit, he would send it along to other editors within the house who might be able to consider it for publication. No promises, of course. And I really doubted it would get that far.

Imagine my surprise months later when I got a phone call from an editor at Cartwheel/Scholastic who wanted to acquire the story for the "Hello, Reader!" paperback series.

So that's how CATS ADD UP! first saw print. After several years in the original series, it was reissued in the new Scholastic Reader paperback series this year, which means it's been in nearly continuous publication for over eight years. Another blessing to count!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Mondo Skank 2

GalleyCat has great coverage of the Judith Regan/OJ Simpson publishing debacle...oops! I mean controversy...here and here, and rightly points to today's Publishers Lunch as required reading. Michael Cader of Lunch organizes his reportage and commentary under these barbed headers:
    If You Can Believe It
    If She Really Wanted to Get the Message Out
    If He Confessed
    If He Wrote It
    If She Meant It
    If She Didn't Report to Someone Else
    If They Sell It
Cader links to Regan's extremely creepy so-called justification, entitled "Why I Did It." Though really a far more fitting headline would be "Why I Need More Psychotherapy--Lots of It!" Cader suggests reading the piece in entirety but I had to start skimming halfway through, at which point I was already screeching "EEWWW!!!" and feeling the need for a shower. A very long, very hot one. GalleyCat astutely observes:
somehow this has become all about Judith Regan and less about, oh, everyone else whose relevance to the story is far, far greater...
Cader notes that Regan's boss is HarperCollins head Jane Friedman, and asks:
So who is responsible? And where is Jane? So far Friedman and HarperCollins have declined requests to comment publicly. But Friedman has the power to do the closest thing left to making this right.
GalleyCat goes even further:
Maybe the time has finally come for Regan and HarperCollins to get a divorce. Or at least, making Regan an "independent entity" of NewsCorp so that she reports directly to Murdoch and is chiefly responsible for all marketing, promotion and distribution of future books published by the imprint.
But the last word belongs to the wiseguys at Something Awful, which has a news report from the future, A Look Back on the Regan Interviews, which recaps Regan's "series of award-winning interviews" in 2006-2009.
Regan raised eyebrows, as well as the bar for journalism, when she agreed to pay O.J. Simpson over three million dollars for a faux confessional book and an accompanying televised interview special. The Simpson interview was so successful that Regan embarked on a series of interviews in an effort to hold the cultural zeitgeist and enrich the field of journalism.
Four "interviews" are given: with OJ Simpson, Charles Manson, Idi Amin, and last but not least, Judith Regan. Yes, she interviews herself, and it's marvelously nasty and profane.

Comic Relief

Swallow your drink, cover the keyboard and shoo kids/boss out of hearing range. Then watch Martin Scorsese's Sesame Streets.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Mondo Skank

Now that the National Book Awards have been handed out (see fulsome coverage at GalleyCat), I am announcing a new competition: the First Annual Skank Awards.

Conceived by yours truly in the shower this morning, the Skank Awards honor women and men who have achieved the pinnacles of tawdry behavior, shamelessness and hypocrisy.

I've come up with a few categories so far, and welcome suggestions for others, as well as for nominees. First and foremost, there can be only one contender for...
  • Skank Publisher
    Judith Regan of ReganBooks, an imprint of HarperCollins. She is the newly announced publisher of O.J. Simpson: If I Did It, Here's How It Happened, due in stores Nov. 30. Incomparable Washington Post TV columnist Lisa DeMoraes observes:
    And who wouldn't love to find a copy of O.J.'s sordid sort-of hypothetical confession in his Christmas stocking on the morning of the day in which we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus?
    Or nestled by a plate of latkes for Hanukah? I just phoned Tattered Cover Book Store, and they'll be shelving the book in the "New Nonfiction" section. The helpful salesperson I spoke with asked whether I'd like to order a copy. I declined--vehemently--and hope many others do too. In fact, I hope that the public stays away from this book in droves. (Gee, I wonder if WalMart will stock it? They're always taking a moral stand on books and other popular entertainment.)

    Proof that great minds think alike, Publishers Weekly editor-in-chief Sara Nelson posted her weekly column four days early. Titled "Reganomics," Nelson suggests that "Judith Regan and her eponymous imprint should win a prize....call it the Most Brazen Publisher award." I think my award is more fitting.

  • Skank Ghostwriter
    Aw, c'mon! No one can actually believe that O.J. wrote the book all by his very own self. I hope that the money burns the hands of whoever did write it and, like The Monkey's Paw, brings him/her unforeseen misery.
  • Skank TV Network
    Fox TV, which, like HarperCollins, is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Judith Regan will be interviewing Simpson for a two-part special, to be broadcast at the end of sweeps on Mon., Nov. 27 and Wed., Nov. 29. Why not on two consecutive nights? Because, as DeMoraes points out:
    Fox airs 'House' on Tuesdays and nobody messes with 'House.' Not even O.J."
    According to yesterday's New York Times:
    ...the network quoted Mike Darnell, executive vice president for alternative programming, who said: “This is an interview that no one thought would ever happen. It’s the definitive last chapter in the trial of the century.”
    Per today's LA Times, quoting Fred Goldman, the father of Ron Goldman, who was brutally murdered with Nicole Brown Simpson in 1994:
    "It is an all-time low for television," Goldman said. "To imagine that a major network would put a murderer on TV to have him tell how he would murder the mother of his children and my son is beyond comprehension." Goldman said he thinks the outrage should extend to the entire Fox network. "Send a message to Fox that if Fox believes their viewers want this kind of trash on television, they must not think very highly of their viewers," he said.
  • Skank TV Producer
    Once again, Judith Regan, who moved from New York to put the "Ho" in Hollywood. Per De Moraes:
    TV industry executives yesterday expressed shock and awe, and the certainty that everyone in this country would be outraged that O.J. will make big bucks off his ex-wife's murder and Fox will run a promo for the book as a sweeps stunt.

    Except for their Hollywood colleagues.

    "No, not in Hollywood at all, because we're all whores, but in the rest of the country where they have morals -- sure," guessed one such exec, who conceded that the moral, non-Hollywood segment of the country probably would nonetheless tune in by the millions.
In an endless mental video loop, I keep seeing Dominick Dunne's mouth drop open after the O.J. verdict is read. Fear and Loathing forever...

Scar Strangled Banger by Ralph Steadman

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Always Look on the Bright Side

Me, Ralph Steadman, John Ensslin & friend, Nov. 6
Photo by Dick Nosbisch.

At last, my darkest days are over! My view of the world has changed immeasurably for the better. And no, it's not because the Dems gained control of both houses of Congress, though that cheered me up considerably. It's because yesterday at 4:46 p.m. MST, as the shadows of evening crept inexorably over Denver's bustling streets, I finally acquired a proper pair of eyeglasses with clear lenses.

Due to a perfect storm of errors on the part of eye doctor, opticians and optical lab--compounded by a lens that flew out and disappeared, and a frame that broke--for 18 days I'd been wearing sunglasses day and night. And I just want to say that nothing colors one's outlook as much as looking out at the world through glasses darkly.

I don't know how rock 'n' rollers can bear to wear shades all the time. No wonder there are so many depressing songs written. I even started to write one myself (apologies to Frank Sinatra & friends):
Looking at the world thru gray-colored glasses
Everything is dreary now
Yeah, shades look cool and hide telltale bags and wrinkles--not that I have any to hide, mind you--but they're hell at night. Darling Husband had to lead me by my good hand from the car to the school where we voted. "Great," I said. "Now I look blind and crippled!" (Hmm, maybe that's why everyone there was so nice to me.) Once inside, I read the Ralph Steadman book while we waited...and waited...and waited to vote. (My own Fear & Loathing at the Polls!) But it was tough going, as the dim light was made even dimmer by my eyewear. I had to give up making out the many illustrations, which are sadly murky and way too small to begin with, and eventually I gave up the reading as well.

Watching TV in sunglasses is a drag too. I'm farsighted, so at night I watched without them. Though due to astigmatism, I couldn't make out the credits very well; and not at all if they were in white type on black. Good thing I put the shades back on at the end of "Broadcast News," as I discovered that an old friend had been 1st assistant editor.

Today's song (apologies to Johnny Nash):
I can see clearly now, the shades are gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark specs that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.
So Sun-Shiny, in fact, that I'll have to wear my sunglasses outside. Or maybe not...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Grateful Author's Tale

This story got me all choked up. I was going to save it till Thanksgiving, but decided it's just too good to hold onto for that long.

From Bev Marshall, author of Walking Through Shadows, Right As Rain and Hot Fudge Sundae Blues:

Last fall, my third novel came out the day after Katrina hit. I'm from the Gulf Coast and live on the outskirts of New Orleans. Half of my planned book tour was eliminated by wind and water, and my heart was as broken as the levees in the city.

Nevertheless, I set out on tour with my kind friend Silas House. Birmingham was our first stop and the only book I sold was to a woman who had evacuated there after losing her home and everything she owned. Crying with her, I tried to give her the book, but she was having none of that. When I returned to my hotel room and turned on the television, I learned another hurricane was brewing and headed for Louisiana yet again.

With thoughts of my home being swept away, on the way to Fairhope, Alabama, my car broke down on the interstate, and since it was lovebug season, Silas's reddish hair was covered with co-joined black bugs as we stood on the road waiting for the wrecker. There was no rental car to be had and it would take a day to fix mine.

Then to my amazement, a woman I'd met at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in New Orleans showed up after learning at the bookstore that we were stranded, and she gave us a ride into town. She'd lost her home in Pensacola when Ivan hit there. She bought a book, too, and once again, I tried to give it to her, but she, like the woman in Birmingham, refused. My publicist at Ballantine/Random House called again and again with "Are you all right? What can I do to help?" I would cry and laugh every time she called. It was like an angel was flying along beside me wherever I went.

Back home the hurricane arrived, but there was no damage at my house except that we lost power again, so I caught my flight to Lexington, Kentucky, where Silas and I were reunited. From bookstore to television station to radio station, the entire week was unbelievable. Every person I met, at every place I went was kinder than anyone could imagine. I was truly overwhelmed. My angel continued to call, "What else can I do? Are you all right?" We got caught in traffic and missed one television morning show, but otherwise, Silas and I kept all of our dates and showed up on time.

There were tears and laughter when we parted. We'd been on a tour like none either of us will ever have again. Did I sell a lot of books? Probably not enough to suit my publisher, but that seemed beside the point on this tour.

And after all this time, the owner of one of those swept-away bookstores just emailed me, saying Pass Christian Books had been rebuilt and could I at long last do a book signing there. I'm going; it's on my birthday.
# # #

I asked Bev how she and her home fared after Katrina. She responded:

There's a journal on my website [scroll down to "Hot Fudge Sundae Blues Tour"] that tells what happened on that tour day by day. I will forever be grateful to Silas House and to Cindy Murray at Random House, and to all those booksellers and readers who got me through that terrible time.

We were fortunate in many ways. I live in Ponchatoula, which is across the lake from New Orleans, and although we suffered a lot of damage in my neighborhood, we were very lucky and had to deal with only near-misses of trees, no water, food, gasoline, etc. My mother-in-law, who lives in Gulfport, was missing for four days, but we found her safe in her apartment. Other relatives and friends who live in New Orleans and on the coast of Mississippi weren't so lucky. Many of them lost everything they owned, and there's no way to say how differently we all view our lives now.

Since I'm an optimist, I'll end by saying that we're all just grateful that we all still have each other. Possessions can be replaced, but not our loved ones!

Friday, November 10, 2006

An Evening with Ralph Steadman

As previously noted, a few nights ago I went to mingle with Gonzo artist Ralph Steadman at the Denver Press Club, and then attended his presentation at the Denver newspapers' auditorium a few blocks away.

Edit: See a slideshow of the evening here. I'm the one in the sunglasses, sling & black leather jacket in the photo :20 from end, as well as in the last shot, which caught me blowing on the ink splatters gracing Steadman's autograph in my copy of the book. (My hair looks godawful, but at least my outfit coordinates perfectly with the book's cover.)

Steadman was proof positive that you don't have to read from your book, or even mention it much--or even speak coherently all the time--as long as you put on a good show. Which he most certainly did.

He came onstage in the persona of his long-time partner in crime, the late Hunter S. Thompson, sporting the latter's iconic white hat and cigarette holder (see above), and muttering unintelligible imprecations.

The audience--unsurprisingly mostly male, surprisingly mostly youngish--roared its approval, whereupon Steadman tossed aside his props and proceeded to give an illustrated (natch!) talk about his 35-year working relationship with Thompson. I imagine that Steadman (who to my surprise is age 70) is a quirky speaker at the best of times, but his remarks were made especially non-linear by his professed inability to make the laptop-powered images play in chronological order. So he hopscotched dizzyingly back and forth in time and space: from drawings made during his first New York visit in 1970, to photos of Thompson in his Woody Creek, Colo., kitchen in the 1990s(?), to 1971 "Fear and Loathing" images, to photos of the bizarre contraption that launched Thompson's remains, etc.--all accompanied with anecdotes and random impressions. After awhile, one just had to sit back, relax and enjoy the flights of memory and fancy.

Steadman described how he'd often make the drawings first, then Thompson would put them up on his walls so they literally surrounded him, and only then write the story. This began with "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," which explains why the words and illustrations fit so seamlessly. (I still remember how the images electrified me and my friends in high school when we first saw the story--published in two parts--in Rolling Stone.) In fact, the last such series that Steadman made still adorns the walls of Thompson's home office, waiting for the words that will never come. Steadman said the pictures will remain there indefinitely. "But," he said quite firmly, "they're still mine." I wondered at his making such a point of ownership; he also stressed that he never sells his original works. Now I know why.

In the chapter entitled "Fear and Loathing: Summer 1971," Steadman quotes the rights page of the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which states the copyright holder of his illustrations as Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner's Straight Arrow Publishers.
So, not a breath of copyright for me, Ralph Steadman. I didn't notice at the time, never read that page in the book, naturally, because the buzz was so great. Praise was overwhelming and chicanery was the last thing on my mind. The book was noticed mainly for the drawings and through the years, unknown to me, they were milked and used mercilessly....I was being gently screwed and separated, ever so silently, from my own baby. It never occurred to me that my work would be subject to so much greedy frenzy.
And what remuneration did Steadman get for his baby the milch cow? (Warning: Swallow before you read further.)
...Rolling Stone paid me fifteen hundred dollars for the use of all the drawings--about twenty-four of them--and then offered to buy the originals from me, which my agent urged 'was a good move!' He sold the whole damn treasure-trove to Jann Wenner for the princely sum of sixty dollars per drawing. I rue the day I let him convince me.
No wonder the subtitle of Steadman's memoir begins with "Bruised Memories"!

About an hour into Steadman's rambling, illustrated monologue, a youthful local journalist who covered Thompson for the last five years of his life interrupted and got onstage to ask questions of his own, as well as some that were written on cards by the audience. In response to a query, Steadman said that he considers his main influences to be George Grosz, Otto Dix and Francisco de Goya--not at all surprising, when you look at their work. He also answered movingly about the importance of his friendship with the famously difficult Thompson.

Steadman confounded the apparent desire of event organizers to conclude his presentation after the reporter had relinquished his spot. The slide-show commentary continued some while longer, during which at most a handful of audience members left.

Then when he had gone through every single one of his pictures--and only then--did Steadman open the floor to a few questions from his fans. Rather to my surprise, one fellow asked, "Ralph, would you sing us a song?" Apparently the guy was familiar with Steadman's shtick, because he launched into a music hall song-and-dance number that ended the night with rousing razzamatazz. For once, a standing ovation didn't seem overly generous.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yesterday was my birthday (multi-39th, if you have to ask), and for the first time in many months I woke up happy. That's because the night before I'd gone to bed with my first gift: a Democratic Congress.*

When I opened my email first thing, I found the lovely tale of gratitude from Tim Schaffert I posted just below, along with birthday greetings from all over. Then I scanned the news online, and saw that the Senate would likely go Democrat as well.

The riches continued: A friend took me to lunch at a lovely new Asian restaurant; then the Boy Wonder gave me a double CD by Funkadelic, appropriately titled "Music for Your Mother." After that, BW told me about a stupendous gift that had just come from the White House: Donald Rumsfeld's head on a platter. During all this, I was basking in the record-breaking 80 degrees and glorious sunshine. (We had 3" of snow two weeks ago, and depending on which weather report you believe--they all differ here in Denver--there's more coming in the next couple of days.) [Edit: It didn't snow, and temps weren't as predicted either. That's life on the Front Range.]

Later, Darling Husband came home with three (3!) bunches of flowers, which I fashioned into two exquisitely tasteful arrangements for our gracious dining room. Then DH, BW and I went to dinner at Casablanca Moroccan Restaurant, where BW discovered a monstrous affinity for fatoush salad, which I'd ordered for myself but was happy to share. We had foule (hot fava bean puree with chopped onion and tomato) as an appetizer, which prompted my labored joke: "What foule this morsel be!" BW also dug into the b'stella (flaky puff pastry layered with chicken, cinnamon & almonds, topped with powdered sugar), and made like Stanley Kowalski: "B'stella!!! I really love you, b'stella!" Once back in the car, we cracked "Casablanca" jokes that don't bear repeating (DH was "shocked! Shocked!"), though they were killingly funny at the time.

Though I didn't have any real birthday cake (too full!), the metaphorical icing on it was news of the split between Britney Spears and Kevin Federline. Just a few days ago, I wondered to DH how long it would be before she dumped him. On the way home from the restaurant, I said, "I just bet Jon Stewart opens with that story." Sure enough, he did. Am I psychic or what? (P.S. I love that "The Daily Show" comes on at 9pm here; back in Virginia we used to watch the rerun next day at 7, which often interfered with dinner.)

*Too bad I left VA last year, else I would have sent in an absentee ballot for Jim Webb, as well as avoided the horrendous scenes at the Denver voting centers. After bypassing the one nearest our home, which had a line stretching at least 100 yards--and that was just the people outside--we drove 30 minutes through heavy traffic and then spent 2 hours-plus in a school that was reputed to have the shortest wait. I passed the time on a providentially placed couch in the lobby, with my arm propped on a cushion, otherwise I wouldn't have made it. Darling Husband slogged through the line and phoned my mobile when he got near the front.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Grace Note of Gratitude

For Thanksgiving, I'm collecting tales of gratitude and satisfaction to counter all the publicity horror stories. Send yours now to {bystander at bellastander dot com}.

Here's a taste of things to come, from Timothy Schaffert, author of The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God, who hit the road last fall for his "Bad Tuxedo Book & Music Tour":

For my book tour, I teamed up with local musicians of the various towns I visited because music is a major element of the novel. The musicians would perform, setting the tone of longing and honkytonk, then I would read from the novel. Though at times the crowds were thin (in some cases, to the point of diaphanous) the musicians all performed as if to a roomful of the faithful.

In Indianapolis, Jeff Roberson performed a sweet duet with his young daughter as a nod to the songwriter in my novel, who also has a melodic little girl. At a bookstore in one town that forgot I was coming [argh!], the jazz singer J. Scott Franklin patiently set up the sound equipment himself, kept his cool as the equipment proved faulty, and performed a long lovely set on a rainy Sunday afternoon. And Thomas Trimble of the Detroit band American Mars invited me to crash at his pad for a few nights.

The day that I left to hit the road again, Thomas’s pre-school-age daughters, Mary and Frances, began to follow me out in their pajamas and bare feet. “Where are you going?” Thomas asked, and they nonchalantly explained that they were walking me to my car to say good-bye. Thomas picked them up and carried them to the curb and the girls waved their farewell, and continued to wave until they were no longer in my rearview mirror.

In Mississippi, I read to a crowd of 200 who had mostly come to hear the delightful Ruby Jane Smith, the 10-year-old fiddler and clog dancer. Despite the sizable audience that night, I only sold one book...to Ruby Jane’s grandfather.

Scotty Karate, the punk/country warbler of Detroit, generously hit the road to make the drive all the way to McHenry, Illinois, to join me on a double bill, but ended up doing a road tour of breweries along the way (which included the sampling of a new brew named after him—Scotty Karate Ale), getting into fisticuffs, and getting lost on the highway. So I’ve not yet met Mr. Karate, but we do keep in touch.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

We Need to Talk!

Yesterday evening I dragged my sorry carcass out of bed, where I've been spending most of my time since last week's surgery, and took a cab to the Denver Press Club. There, after fortifying myself with Acapulco Anesthesia (i.e., a margarita--tequila* numbs me more effectively than any pill I've been prescribed) , I joined in the private meet and greet with artist Ralph Steadman (THE JOKE'S OVER: Bruised Memories: Gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson, and Me), who went on to give a public talk in the nearby Denver newspapers' auditorium.

And how did these twinned events come to pass?

Because I PICKED UP THE PHONE instead of sending an email.

Yes! Back in June, I'd had a few back and forths with a Harcourt publicist on the West Coast about an author I wanted to get for an event at the Press Club. I had a bunch more questions, and decided that speaking with her would be more efficient than trading emails over hours...or days. Besides, I'd always liked her and it had been a long time since we'd spoken. So I called and we settled the business about the author (which finally turned out to be a bust due to scheduling conflicts).

Then I asked the publicist if she had any interesting titles coming for fall. She mentioned a couple of books, then said almost in passing that Harcourt was doing Steadman's memoir of Thompson in October.

"What?!" I shrieked. "That is the one book I'm waiting for! I even blogged about it in February, wondering when it would be picked up by an American publisher. This makes me so happy!"

I gushed a bit more, then asked the next logical question: "Are you sending Steadman on tour?"

"Oh yes," she said. "He's doing a national tour: New York, Washington, LA and San Francisco."

There was a pause while I tried to think of a polite way to point out that two cities on each coast doesn't quite exemplify "national." Funny how I notice that sort of thing now that I no longer live near a coast.

"How about sending him to Denver?" I said. "Hunter Thompson lived in Colorado; he even has his own shelf at the Tattered Cover. That would be a great event for the Press Club. I'll bet they'd get a good turnout."

The publicist said they hadn't thought of sending Steadman to Colorado (I was sure she could hear me rolling my eyes), but it was a good idea. She gave me the contact info for the NY pub who was handling the book, which I passed along to the Press Club events coordinator, who was just as excited as I was.

And the rest is now history.

Oh, and when I chatted with Steadman last night, he said he'd been touring all over the country. Next stop: Miami.

(More on the actual event in another post. Meanwhile, look on the right above to see what I started reading last night.)


*This marvelous audio, courtesy of Miss Snark's "Rx for Bella" of Nov 6, explains it all. Warning: Swallow before listening.

Publicity Terrible Tale #14: A Fright at the Fest

From Sally Nemeth, Book Promotion 101 workshop alumnus & author of The Heights, the Depths, and Everything in Between:

All in all, my very first book festival went pretty well. I met many wonderful authors and illustrators, and that's always a blast. It was this state's very first book fest as well, and their Center for the Book did a lovely job, and things ran smoothly, except...

THEY DID NOT HAVE MY BOOKS. None. Nada. Zilch. Zip.

I'd come clear across the country for this book festival and there were NO BOOKS.

This was NOT the organizers' fault, but was the fault of the Big Bookseller, who had been contracted to do the onsite book sales. The manager of Big Bookseller told me some incomprehensible story about a mixup at the warehouse where my books, which he swears had been ordered, were shipped back to Random House by mistake. Big Bookseller discovered this mixup Thursday p.m., said they couldn't get the books drop-shipped to them on Friday, and somehow it didn't occur to them to have the books drop-shipped directly to the fest on Saturday a.m. Huh?

The terrific organizers of the fest, who by the way were NOT informed by Big Bookseller that they didn't have my books, went into action and immediately got on the phone, calling every bookstore in the state. They were going to gather stock and have it sent by courier to the fest, which might have been a good solution since we discovered the "no books dilemma" at 11 a.m. and my presentation was not until 2:15.

However--and this is somehow even MORE disturbing to me--there were no books to be had instate. None in stock. The fest had placed a nice, big, front-page Arts Section feature article on me in the Sunday paper, since my book is, in fact, set in that very state. So either the article caused a buying frenzy, and EVERY other bookseller instate had sold out of my book, OR the books were never instate to begin with.

Luckily, I did have a BIG stack of book cards, which I put in the book sale tent so people could at least have info on the book, and I always carry bookplates with me, so I signed bookplates for people after my presentation. But it was somehow like kissing your cousin. [Such a good girl! This is exactly what I say to do in my workshops--except for kissing your cousin.]

Anyway, I'm sure this isn't the first time this has happened to an author at a book festival [sure isn't!], and I'm sure it won't be the last, but it's the first and last time it's gonna happen to me. Because from here on in, I'm traveling with at least a case of books, no matter how far I've got to schlep 'em!

This definitely goes down on the "live & learn" list!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Publicity Isn't All Scary

Though I'll continue to post publicity terrible tales as they come in, I'm now collecting stories of gratitude (interpret as you wish), which I'll post for Thanksgiving. See bottom of preceeding post for inspiration.

More Terrible Tales

Agent Janet Reid, of Jet Reid Literary, posts some horror stories from her publicist days here. My favorite:
a client who spent twenty minutes at a reading telling the audience why the review in the local paper was wrong wrong wrong.
But she also cites some authors who are Real Gems (see my Author Taxonomy), including:
JoAnna Lund, bless her dear departed heart, who said "you make it all so easy to do, thank you."

Friday, November 03, 2006

Publicity Terrible Tale #13: Age Appropriate

From author Karin Gillespie:

Once, on a tour of Florida, the Cocoa Library hosted me. My audience wasn’t large and most were retirees. The librarian apologized for the small turnout and one of the patrons overheard her.

“You should have been here last week,” the patron said. “There was an author here who had them lined outside the door. They were packed in like sardines.”

“Who was the author?” I asked, imaging Grisham, Pat Conroy or even Paula Deen.

“Well, I don’t recollect the name of the author,” the patron said. “But I do remember the name of his book. It was called Overcoming Incontinence.”

Publicity Terrible Tale #12: Flashed Fiction

From author Jennifer Macaire:

My YA book came out with a small press and was nicely publicized by the publisher on the front page of a trade magazine and with some full-color ads. But I'd always dreamed of doing a book signing, so, when my book came out, I immediately put my plan into action.

Nothing went as plannned.

I got flashed at my first book signing.

Before that, I was on cloud nine. I was a published author of a YA fantasy book! I was going to New York for the summer! What better way to kick off the new book than with a book signing in a big bookstore? I looked up a bookstore in the neighborhood and set the date. I asked all my family and my friends living nearby to come. I found a passage to read that was not too long, not too short and had some humor in it. Perfect. I found a little black dress that looked professional but cute. I brushed my teeth. I arrived on time.

The bookseller had set up a little auditorium with a table and my books sitting upon it. I had a poster the publisher gave me, which I propped up near the books. I sat on the chair. I waved to my parents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles...and several strangers. The strangers sat up front. My family, in an élan of generosity, left the whole front row free. I introduced myself, picked up my book, and started to read.

The man front and center opened his legs wide.

He had on baggy shorts. He lifted them a bit to make sure I noticed he was not wearing any underwear.

I lost my place in the paragraph and had to start over. My first book signing and I was getting flashed.

I was determined not to let that little detail ruin my book signing, but my glamorous life as an author was taking a beating. I was getting flashed at my first book signing! And then the bookstore's cat jumped on the table and sat on my pile of books. It wasn't comfortable there. It jumped down and prowled around the table as I read. There were several titters--and I hadn't gotten to the funny part yet.

I risked a glance at the audience. Wrong move. Flasher had pushed his shorts up and was practically waving his equipment at me. The cat jumped down to my lap, lay down and purred. I kept reading. The cat left. I finished reading and stood up, determined not to look at Flasher. There were more titters.

I looked down. There was cat hair all over my black dress. It looked like I was wearing a gray apron. Resigned to my fate, I asked if there were any questions. There was a long silence. One person raised their hand.

"Yes, Mom?" I said.

Luckily there was an ice cream shop nearby, where I propped up my sagging morale with a double chocolate-dipped cone with lots of sprinkles.

Publicity Terrible Tale #11: Demon Spawn

From Kevin Smokler, author of Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times:

While signing books at the Capitola Book Cafe last year, one very nice man was holding a baby. He bought two books, had me sign them both, then asked if I wanted to hold the baby, who was grinning a baby grin at me. I like babies and said sure. I handed the man his books, he passed me the baby. The kid looked at me, grinned and threw up.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

More Taxonomy

A book publicist wrote me as follows:

Gawker ran A Taxonomy of Book Editors a few weeks ago. I think it's worth highlighting this spot-on comment that someone left in response to the Taxonomy of Book Publicists post:
I've always felt editors should have to spend at least six months publicizing books before they have a right to utter one word of complaint. Once they've actually tried cutting through the noise out there from movies, music, politics, television, world events, etc--and had producers laugh at them/hang up on them/yell at them for wasting their time--then they can start complaining about the job publicists are doing.
Here are my contributions:

The Enthusiastic Editor Who Thinks All of Her Books Are Major Publicity Magnets
"This book is about the history of spices. Don't you think Martha Stewart would just love it?! It's also such a natural for the New York Times food section. They could do a feature at her home, which is really lovely. Oprah recently did a nonfiction book. This author would be SO perfect on Oprah!"

The Acquirer of Small Literary Books Who Doesn't Understand Why Her Author Isn't Being Sent on a 30-city Tour
Usually a whiny, mousey type who has a perpetual Charlie Brown aura. Has no clue how marketing, sales, or publicity works and feels she's always getting the short end of the stick.

The Editor Who Acquires One or Two Books a Season and Doesn't Have a Clue About Publicists' Workloads
When you point out that you are promoting 15-20 books at any given time, he still doesn't get it.

Back at Ya! Author Taxonomy

While I was unconscious yesterday, Gawker's curmudgeonly guest editor, "Unsolicited," posted A Taxonomy of Publicists, classifying the different types of inhouse pubs, many of whom "suck at their admittedly difficult and repugnant jobs."

This gave me the happy idea of asking publicists--inhouse and freelance--to list the author types they deal with. So herewith I present:

A Taxonomy of Authors

The Chiseler
Wants everything on the cheap and tries to haggle down your fees--while expecting topnotch service, of course. Asks, "Do you offer a divorce discount?"

The Whiner
Kvetches constantly about every little f***ing thing, but won't stand up for herself to agent/ editor/bookseller/media escort because, "I want everyone to liiike meee!"

The "Yes, but..."
Acknowledges the sense of your suggestions, but always has a reason why s/he can't follow them. "Yes, but I can't give any readings in my hometown because I've only lived there for 10 years and don't know anybody."

The Star
Won't lift a finger for him/herself; expects deluxe personal service day and night, weekends and holidays. Can't be bothered with petty details, such as establishing beforehand exactly who is going to pay for an unneccessary car rental at an event that offers volunteer driver-escorts.

The Space Cadet
Needs constant reminders about interviews, public appearances and travel. Couldn't come out with a cogent sound bite if his/her life depended on it. Shows up at the last minute for a reading--often without a copy of the book--and asks, "What do you want me to do?" Brings guitar to a panel discussion, expecting to sing a lengthy, off-topic song. Appallingly dressed, with even worse hair.

The Amnesiac
Confirms available dates for interviews and then forgets the commitments and takes a vacation to Australia without telling anyone.

The Socialite
Wants to do "lots" of media as long as it doesn't interfere with opera schedule, assorted plays, morning sleep, afternoon teas, trips to Miami, etc. Gets married or gives birth the same week as the book's publication date.

The Promoter in Author's Clothing
Thinks he knows publicity better than you. Calls producers and talks badly about you, sends review copies behind your back, secretly believes you aren't sending books out on his/her behalf.

The Know-It-All
Regardless of the author's primary field of endeavor (doctor, artist, actor, writer, lawyer, dog breeder, but especially politicians--and ONE in particular), they want you to know that THEY know more about book publishing, media, stores, etc., than you do. Note: Necessary to have doorways enlarged to accommodate author's head.

The Innocent (but secretly a Schemer)
"Aw shucks, I don't know anything about books and how it all works. Can you help me?" So, you provide some guidelines, tell her what you'll do, request that she NOT do certain things. Then you hear that she has done the direct opposite. When confronted, she says, "...well, I didn't know THAT would happen..."

The Rare Gem
Great attitude, can-do spirit, unfailingly gracious and courteous, demonstrates appreciation and gratitude all around. Asks how to best work with the publicist, then does exactly what's expected--and even more. Verifies in advance all dates and logistics, and who is going to pay for what. Shows up in good time for events and interviews, always well prepared, appropriately dressed and neatly groomed. Never cancels an appearance, no matter how sick s/he may be. Practices and times all readings, and never runs long. Brings pen and bookplates to signings (the latter is in case there isn't enough stock to sign). Hint: Sends thank-you cards and presents to hardworking publicist!

Pharmaceutical Fun

After staying up till 1:30 a.m. and waking up three hours later with a pounding heart and churning thoughts, I remembered why I stopped taking Demerol after my first surgery: It prevents me from sleeping. What's the point of taking a painkiller that keeps you awake? Might as well just live with the pain. Sooner or later you're bound to fall asleep, with no nasty side effects. And you can have a glass of wine (or two) without fear of falling down or ruining your liver.

A perky lady named Lynette from the surgical center just called to see how I was doing. "Just fine! Couldn't be better!" I told her in a fake hearty tone dripping with sarcasm. How else does she think I'd be feeling the day after having an already sore arm cut open from armpit almost to elbow, with a half-inch-thick bandage tightly wrapped around it and taped to my shoulder?

Lynette asked whether I was taking any pain medication. Just Celebrex, I told her, and recounted my problems with Demerol. "Oh, but you have to take narcotics!" she exclaimed. (It's been a long time since any stranger tried to force addictive drugs on me--and never by phone.) "But I don't tolerate narcotics," I growled. "Percocet and Vicodin made me itch so much I drew blood."

Pause.

"Oh, then take Tylenol," she offered brightly. "Yeah, OK," I said, not bothering to ask why I should do that when I have the Celebrex, which is way stronger and more effective.

After asking some more questions, Lynette wished me a "blessed" recovery. Oy vey, I thought. "Uh, thanks," I said. Never mind the meds, maybe I'll just have that drink.