Wednesday, April 30, 2008
So I've been going to the "Arthritis" class, which meets at noon on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. What with my various pains and surgery #7 looming, I've been feeling old lately. But as soon as I join the group in the pool, I feel like The Kid. I'm the only one who doesn't have gray or white hair. (I have a deal with my dog Jenny, who's turning gray for me. Woman's best friend!) There are three 92-year-olds; even the Mon-Wed instructor appears to be in her 70s.
Here's a question you don't often hear in an exercise class: "Are noodles kosher for Passover?" One of the oldest ladies asked that during my first session. I would have thought that by her age she would have known the answer is no--unless you're Sephardic and you eat rice noodles. I shouted the latter across the pool, but I think one of the guys may have disagreed with me. Welcome to the Jewish Community Center.
Today while we were warming up by bicycling our legs, the instructor said something about possible parking problems for class on Friday, as the lecture wouldn't get out till noon. There's noisy equipment in the pool room and it echoes like hell, so it's hard to hear what the instructor says. All around me people were murmuring to their neighbors, "Lecture, what lecture?"
"What lecture?" I hollered.
"John McCain is speaking here Friday morning," she replied.
"John McCain? Here? What for?" Everyone was incredulous. So was I, but also pissed off at the prospect of traffic jams and limited parking preventing me from attending Friday's class.
On my way out, I asked the guy at the reception desk what was going on. He said he'd read online that McCain was having a "town hall" meeting* at the JCC. (Apparently the Robert E. Loup Center doesn't keep its employees in the...um...loop.) We agreed that it would be a cool idea for us to drive up on Friday with big Obama posters on our cars.
When I got home and checked my email, I was greeted with a message from the JCC headlined, "IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT PARKING ON FRIDAY, MAY 2nd." Its penultimate sentence: "If you are planning on coming to the JCC Friday morning, we recommend that you come before 8am or after noon to avoid the crowds."
*The meeting is on health care, per 7 News. Maybe I'll go and give McCain a piece of my mind. Though I'm sure there'll be plenty from the JCC who'll do the same thing.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Prior to my publication date, I wisely took Book Promotion 101 and got Bella's handy dandy packet o' info. In that packet was the hilarious poem "The Book of My Enemy has Been Remaindered," which made me laugh aloud because I was sure that such a thing would NEVER happen to me.
Oh, how wrong I was.
But first, let me recap what the publicity department at my publisher did for me. They sent my book to reviewers. As far as I can tell, that's about it.
The book was universally well reviewed, and was placed on an important annual reading list for teachers and librarians nationwide. Not bad for a first-timer.
Beyond sending the book out to reviewers, I'm not sure what my publicity person did because I couldn't get anything else out of her. I tried to be helpful, I asked if there was anything I could do--if they wanted a bio or photo or anything, but they didn't seem open or receptive to that.
So I took the hint, and did else myself, including booking appearances at numerous book festivals, setting up signings and school visits, getting newspaper articles, teen targeted web reviews and NPR interviews and, of course, doing the things I knew I'd be doing myself anyway, like printing up book cards, and getting my website up and running.
My first book fest was an inhouse publicity eye opener. I booked myself into this fest which was in the state where the book I wrote is set. A no-brainer, if you ask me. Because my book was set instate, there was a feature article on me in the Sunday arts section of the newspaper.
I contacted my inhouse publicity person well in advance of the fest and made sure she knew it was happening so she could alert the regional sales rep to see that all went well. She congratulated me and assured me that everything would be fine. Weeks later, I contacted her again to give her the newspaper article and to remind her of the festival dates. Once again, congratulations and assurances. I figured all was right with the world.
Then I arrived at the fest. No books. None. Nada. Zip.
Luckily, having taken Book Promotion 101, I was prepared with book cards and book plates to sign for the many people who would have bought my book if they could have. When I returned from the fest, I contacted my publicity person and told her that the fest was wonderful, except...well, that pesky little detail: no books.
Her reply? I should have told her I was doing the fest so she could have been sure that books would be there for me.
Like a far too polite trouper, I refrained from forwarding her the entire chain of emails between us about the fest, and assured her that next time, by golly, I'd absolutely tell her where I'd be appearing and when.
Without going into any more gory detail, this is the rest of what happened between me and my inhouse publicity department. I set up more appearances. I contacted my publicist. My calls didn't go through and my emails started bouncing back. She'd left the house, I hadn't been informed and had, in fact, been without a publicity person for weeks.
I was assigned her former assistant. Another book fest came and went with NO BOOKS. Emails began to bounce back from the former assistant. She too had left the house.
I was assigned another assistant. She cheerfully returned emails, and made sure my books were at the next fest, though by that time there was little else she could do for me, although I asked. My title was now over a year old and the house had written me off.
A couple months later, the house remaindered my book, and offered me copies at deep, deep discount: $1.49 a copy. I promptly ordered 300 copies, since I figured I'd been handselling the book anyway and might as well continue to do so.
Then, mere DAYS after my book was remaindered, it was nominated for a state book award. With this award, the state puts forth a master list of titles, students throughout the state have a full year to read books from the list and then vote on their favorite. Of course, students have to be able to GET the book to READ IT. A conundrum, no?
Also, I've been told by an author I know who won this state award last year, that being on the master list generates lots of school visits and book sales, and that most books on state awards lists are at least two years old; it takes that long for books to filter through librarians and teachers. My book was a full quarter shy of two years old. Prematurely remaindered, methinks.
My agent asked my editor if the house was keeping books in stock through their own website so students from this state could at least order it from the house. Three weeks have passed. As yet, we've had no reply.
To add insult to injury, the day the 300 copies of my book arrived at my house, the FedEx guy knocked at my door and told me to sign for delivery of a pallet loaded with 25 boxes of books that was dropped at the end of my driveway because, and I quote, "It's a curbside delivery. You want me to break up the pallet? It's another $75 bucks."
Luckily I have a hand truck, a healthy back, and an attic that's high & dry.
So, the book is for sale on my website, I've donated copies to a teen readers website for a monthly contest, I'm doing a summer event at a local bookstore as part of a teen readers series and I'll handsell the book and, generally, I'm pretty sanguine about the whole thing now.
And I'm sure that, in time, I'll laugh at "The Book of my Enemy has been Remaindered," again. But not just yet.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Are you ready?
King had submitted a similar piece to the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, which was rejected by both. He figured "what the hell," and wrote another on Sunday night, which he emailed to the Times on Monday morning. "They got back to me right away," he says. And that was that.
Moral: Carpe diem!
Friday, April 25, 2008
Don't ever talk "off the record." NOTHING is off the record, and don't ever assume your conversation isn't being recorded. Beware of idle chitchat with reporters. You never know for sure when the camera or microphone is on and you're on the air.*See Reporters Are Not Your Friends
I like your blog and have been reading it for some time. My name is Gilbert King and my book, The Execution of Willie Francis, has just been published by Basic Civitas Books. I thought you might be interested in how I got published, because it really started with my website, www.williefrancis.com. I built it, sent it to agents, got lots of interest and signed with one I really liked after just a few days. The site, I think, was also instrumental in my landing a book deal with Basic, too.
If you think you'd be interested, I could send you a copy of my book right away. It's getting some strong early reviews (Starred Reviews in Kirkus and Library Journal) but I'm trying to do some marketing of my own!
The guy had me at "I like your blog and have been reading it for some time," but being a suspicious person I clicked on the link to King's site for the book. WOW! The very model of the perfect book website. King's email pitch is perfect too, except he should've included the book's subtitle: Race, Murder, and the Search for Justice in the American South.
We set up a phone interview for Wednesday afternoon. That morning, what do I read on the NY Times opinion page but Cruel and Unusual History, with the pull quote, "The death penalty's barbaric past, ignored by the Supreme Court." Byline? None other than Gilbert King.
Naturally when we spoke later, the first thing I asked King was, "Are you famous now?" He laughed. "Not quite, but I got about 30 emails from strangers, who must've Googled me." And the Basic publicist had him lined up for some interviews, including Air America that evening. (I counseled him to stand up for radio and phone interviews, and sent him a link to Ten Essential Tips for Successful Interviews by AuthorBytes founder Steve Bennett. King wrote me after the Air America interview and said that standing really helped.) Soon he'll be doing bookstore signings in New York, Chicago, Washington, Atlanta, various spots around Louisiana, and Boston.
King had a long and unusual path to publication. I assumed he wrote THE EXECUTION OF WILLIE FRANCIS because he was a history scholar, or had come across the story in his travels. Nothing of the sort. After working as an assistant to the head of Macmillan Books in the early 1990s, King got out of publishing and became a photographer (see a slide show of his fashion work at GilbertKing.com). He shot some books published by his friend Carlo De Vito, then the head of the Chamberlain Bros. imprint at Penguin, formerly publisher at Running Press. I'll let him tell the next part himself; I wish I could transcribe the gruff voice he put on for De Vito.
"One time Carlo hired me to do a golf book, and the writer quit in the middle of the project. He said, 'King you’ve gotta write this book.' I did and I enjoyed it, so I photographed and wrote some other books for him. Then he said, 'Go out and find a real book you can do. We’ve gotta find you a book deal, it’s the least I can do for you. "
"I couldn’t find anything. He said, 'Let’s look through this crime encyclopedia. You’ve always liked crime.' Then he found an entry on Willie Francis. 'King, you gotta do this: The man who died twice.'"
"I said I’d look into it, but it sounded like a gimmicky story. He said, 'You’re not looking into it hard enough; it’s a great-looking story.'" [Don't you wish you had a mentor/goad like De Vito? I want to meet this guy!]
"So I went down there to St. Martinville, Louisiana, and found the written confession of Willie Francis. Just eight words: 'It was a secret about me and him.' I came back to New York and said to Carlo, 'I think I can do it. You want me to write up a proposal?' He said, 'No, I’ll just give you a contract.'" [Don't you wish you had a publisher like De Vito?]
With no deadline (!!!) from De Vito, King worked on the book part-time for 18 months, between photography gigs. Then Penguin shut down Chamberlain Bros. , and in early 2005 King got the word that they were canceling all book contracts, including his. It was a setback, but he also saw it as an opportunity to sell his book to a higher-profile imprint. "I was determined, and just kept working."
You know how agents and everyone else (including yours truly) advise writers to finish their book first, then put up a website about it? Well, King
You know how agents and everyone else (including yours truly) advise writers to finish their book first, then put up a website about it? Well, Kingdid the website first, "which sort of inspired me to move forward." He told the friend who worked on it that he wanted it to look like an upcoming PBS special. It does.
One Sunday night, King sent a short email query with a link to his new site to about 20 agents. "By Monday noon, I had 12 responses to see the book and talk on the phone. By three days later, I think the rest of them had responded. The website was just so good."
Farley Chase at Waxman Literary Agency read the first couple of chapters and told King that he needed to have a proposal. "He was a little bit hesitant at first, which I liked. He said, 'Let’s get you involved with an editor, rather than hand in a complete book.' I thought that was a good idea. It gave me a chance to shape in my mind where the story was going." King signed with Chase, who "has a great narrative vision. He helped me for five or six months with rewrites on the proposal. That was invaluable."
King got a deal for THE EXECUTION OF WILLIE FRANCIS from Basic Civitas in the summer of 2006. "Basic was one of our dream submissions. It was really right up their alley." Other publishers were interested, he says, but often their response was, "Wow, that’s a great story, but I don’t know if it’s something we can sell. It looks too depressing. Is he innocent? Because if he’s innocent we can sell it." King says, "Our view is that it’s a really good story; it’s a lot more rich if it’s not told in black and white. I was confident that once the full breadth of the story was told, people wouldn’t care whether Willie Francis was guilty or innocent. "
As in the NYT opinion piece, King has been pushing the death penalty angle in order to have a news "hook." But now, "I’m trying to focus on readability, because reviews are saying this is a really good story." I've only read the first two chapters, but so far I'd agree. However, he's still brushing up on Supreme Court history so he can sound intelligent in interviews.
When, after the great fire in Rome [in A.D. 64], Nero had residential areas rebuilt at his own expense to a proper grid pattern, with broad streets and open spaces, people complained that they missed the cool shade of the old, narrow alleys and the towering, ramshackle apartment blocks.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Why yes, DH replied; that song is by John Prine and it's called "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore." And by the way, it was written in the early 1970s. "Wow," said Tom. "That was written for the Vietnam war? I thought it was about Iraq!"
The chorus goes:
But your flag decal won't get youSee Prine perform it HERE. Between verses, he says that he'd stuffed the song and put it up on his mantelpiece, as it had outlived its usefulness. But "within the last year or so, I got a letter from the President of the United States asking for this song. Seems he'd got nostalgic about his draft-dodging days."
Into Heaven any more.
They're already overcrowded
From your dirty little war.
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for,
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.
Which brings me to the subject of flag lapel pins. Why is Barack Obama unpatriotic for not wearing one? I haven't seen a flag pin on Hillary Clinton's lapel--or Laura Bush's. Why isn't anyone questioning their patriotism?
(Disclosure: I'm an Obama Mama. The Boy Wonder is now the tech guy for Obama's Philly office, after having worked for the campaign in Denver, Iowa and Texas.)
P.S. 4 hours later...Found out on Prine's website that he's playing at Red Rocks Amphitheatre with Emmylou Harris on June 6. I informed DH & he just bought tix. Woohoo!
My friend Stefanie, artistic doyenne of Schuyler, VA (home of Walton's Mountain Museum), sent this pic of my dog Jenny's old buddies. Stefanie writes:
What's really funny is that Onslow*, a 90-lb Doberman-greyhound (or maybe deerhound) cross, is the only official canine resident of Stefanie's Gracious Home. But Snickers (a Lab 'n' something) is there more often than not--especially when there's a thunderstorm--frequently joined by Brownie (who's black but "owned" by the Brown family) and others. It's not unusual to drive up to Stefanie's and be met by four or five dogs. Till it was latticed over, they all used to hang out under the front porch, where we were sure they had a poker game going.As you can see, Snickers and Onslow are undergoing an arduous practice session for the upcoming Synchronized Napping competition. The following day they did their left side workout.
*named for the layabout in Keeping Up Appearances
[Bravo TV show host] Patti Stanger, whose "Millionaire's Club" matchmaking agency renders every Gender Studies major's senior thesis about how 'dating' is a form of socially-sanctioned prostitution redundant, will co-write 'Become Your Own Matchmaker: 10 Easy Steps To Attracting Your Perfect Mate.' World rights to the book sold to Atria at auction for six figures.(We take a quick break while you scream/curse/groan that a dumb book from a creepy-looking celeb gets a six-figure deal.)
Note that Stanger will only co-write. Which doesn't surprise me, as she obviously had a co-writer for her "10 Dating Commandments for Women." GalleyCat links to #9, a portion of which seems to have been written by the author of the Emperors VIP Club* employee guide:
On the other hand, if a male client insists/complains that you pay out of your own pocket for any part of the date, please report this male member and the incident to the company. It is against company policy for a male member to insist or expect a woman to pay for anything.
*See profane & hilarious "ad" (absolutely NSFW!) on Funny or Die.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
See it here. It's the perfect video for Mother's Day, but I couldn't wait that long to spread the word.
I bought the photos from iStockphoto and the music from a stock music online site. We put it together on Pinnacle Studio. It’s been a big hit across the Net and at my publisher. The CEO sent it to all of Sourcebooks. They are working on getting it on Amazon for me. It’s now on YouTube, Facebook and MommaSaid.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Today's Guardian UK has a fascinating article, Waugh at the BBC: 'the most ill-natured interview ever' on CD after 55 years. The Beeb recently unearthed a 1953 radio interview with novelist Evelyn Waugh. As a British Library sound archive curator understated: "It's three interviewers pitched against one subject and they don't get on terribly well."
"May I say to begin with that I personally find, reading your books, that you are to me ... perhaps the most interesting, amusing, and at the same time depressing person now writing. Do you really feel that there is any future for mankind at all?"It went downhill from there. Given the revelations in Alexander Waugh's recent book, Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family, the following is pitiful, rather than witty:
On his family, Waugh says: "Thank God they don't live with me, except on holidays. They're most of them at school ... I don't see a great deal of them except in the holidays." Asked "do you play much with your children when they're young?" Waugh replies: "Not when they're infantile. When they get to the age of clear speech and clearness of reason I associate with them, I wouldn't say play with them. I don't bounce balls with them or stand on my head or carry them about on my shoulders or anything."However, here's a quote for all writers, for all time:
"There is no ordinary run of mankind, there are only individuals who are totally different. And whether a man is naked and black and stands on one foot in Sudan or is clothed in some kind of costume in a bus in England, they are still individuals of entirely different characters."
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Yes, folks, it's that time of the year again! Passover is coming next Saturday evening (along with agent Kristin Nelson's forever-29th birthday). Which means that it's also time to view my perennial favorite book trailer: Who Let the Jews Out?, made for Sam Apple's SCHLEPPING THROUGH THE ALPS.
As a public service for those who can't bear one more bite of Bubbe's (in)famous haroset, I offer my modification of "Uncooked Haroset from the Veneto," from Joyce Goldstein's marvelous CUCINA EBRAICA: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen. Makes a tasty Hillel sandwich (matzoh, haroset & horseradish) during the seder.
BEST HAROSET EVER
1 cup chestnut puree (about 1/2 can)
1/2 lb pitted dates, halved
1/2 lb dried figs, quartered
1/2 cup dried apricots, quartered
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup almond pieces
2 TBS poppy seeds
juice & grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup white grape juice
1/2 tsp rosewater
1/4 tsp cardamom powder
Put the dates, figs, apricots, poppy seeds, liquids, zest and cardamom into a food processor. Pulse till it makes a nicely textured slurry. Add nuts; pulse till it makes a chunky paste. Add chestnut puree; pulse again till fairly smooth. Best served at room temperature. Keeps in the fridge for weeks.
Yield: More than enough for 10 people, which means you can have some with a dollop of yogurt (I recommend Stonyfield Farms' French Vanilla) the next day, and the next, and the next...
I and Darling Husband searched all over Denver together and separately, and could not find canned chestnut puree--indeed anything chestnut. So I made the haroset without it. It's thick and sticky, like the mortar it's supposed to emulate, and tastes just fine. Whew! Another seder catastrophe averted.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
I gave her some presentation tips and told her to read NAKED AT THE PODIUM: The Writer's Guide to Successful Readings--and do every single exercise in it.
Lisa returned the favor by mentioning me in a Writers in Profile interview with Kelly Spitzer. Better still, she tells exactly what she and her publisher did to publicize WAKE, and offers terrific advice on promotion in general. For example:
...if you want to succeed, you definitely need to market yourself – it’s not just about the writing.
I think it is absolutely vital to have a web presence if your goal is to sell books or be read. If your goal is simply to say, “I have a book published,” then no web presence is necessary.
There are millions of people who would give anything to be in your shoes. How badly do you want this? Enough to step out of your comfort zone and go get it? Enough that you don’t want to have to start this process over again because you were too afraid to promote your first book and it’s failing? If you want it, if you want this life as an author, if you ever want to sell another book, your goal needs to be this: You must do everything in your power to make this book succeed, because if you don’t, and this book fails, nobody gets fired...except you.
Friday, April 11, 2008
“If you need a victory, you aren’t a fighter, you’re an opportunist.”They don't make 'em anymore like Abraham Osheroff, who died on April 6 at age 92.
--Abe Osheroff, Lincoln Brigade veteran
Per his obituary in today's New York Times, he started out in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the child of Russian Jews--his mother a sweatshop seamstress, his father a carpenter. A lifelong troublemaker, Osheroff tried to burn down Erasmus Hall High School, organized industrial workers in Pennsylvania, fought for the Spanish Loyalists, got into a fistfight with Ernest Hemingway, joined and then quit the Communist Party, worked in Mississippi in the Freedom Summer of 1964, protested the Vietnam War, aided Nicaraguan leftists, and battled real estate developers in Venice, CA.
The quote above is from 2000, but it could have been said today about John McCain's (and others') stance on the Iraq war.
Sometimes I forget how much I enjoy what I do, and the joy I take in being a productive part of the publishing process and its ensuing marketing industry. My partner Darcie and I are known for our "straight-from-the-hip" assessments of the publishing industry and the business of marketing books, and thankfully people like Bella create sites like this where we can come together to share ideas, express concerns and...hopefully...enlighten one another from time to time.
Authors are VERY brave people! Just the act of putting words on a paper can be nerve-wracking, but then sending a book out there (like a mother sending her child off for the first day of school) into the big world to be savaged by agents, acquisition editors, publicists and media, should come with a Purple Heart. So why do you do it? Being somewhat jaded (but we hope terribly charming with it) marketers, Darcie and I have come to view authors as brands, and the books they write as tools in a larger plan/agenda.
But this week I was reminded in a big way that sometimes an author writes simply to tell a wonderful story, and in doing so share a part of themselves that impacts millions. If you don’t already know who Randy Pausch is, I urge you to learn, hear, and read more about him. A highly acclaimed professor from Carnegie Mellon, Randy is making news daily, not for his academic accolades, or his vast knowledge in the computer science field, but because he’s dying.
A relatively young (at 46 just a year older than I), vibrant, father of three, Randy has an aggressive and terminal case of pancreatic cancer. In September 2007 he was told that he would have a relatively short time left to live. Faced with a diagnosis that would send most of us into a flood of tears and a tub of Hagen Daaz, Randy instead agreed to take part in an academic tradition known as “The Last Lecture”. The premise of The Last Lecture is what insights and messages would we share with the world, if we knew this would be our last opportunity to do so. Randy addressed a standing room only crowd at Carnegie Mellon and talked not about achieving greatness, but about realizing childhood dreams; not about dealing with mortality, but living each day with renewed wonder and joy; and most importantly, not about achieving personal success, but helping others achieve theirs.
If you haven’t seen the lecture Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, I implore you to invest the 76-½ minutes to do so, because it could change your life. Also please consider reading THE LAST LECTURE, which expands on Randy’s story, the lecture, and the impact it’s had on people throughout the world .
Randy’s lecture reminded me why I do what I do for a living. I want to promote books (though alas I am not promoting his) that have a meaning and a purpose that transcends Amazon rankings, bestseller lists, and units sold. I want to open the door to ideas and discussion. And I guess in my own way, I want to achieve success by helping others realize their goals.
So the point of my story is this: When you think about why you want to publish, why you want to promote, start by asking yourself why you write, and what it is you’re hoping your reader will really gain from reading your book. And when you have those moments where you’re bogged down with writer's block and insecurities, or when you’re that jaded (did I remember to mention charming?) publicist dealing with stress and media rejection, or when you’re that beloved publishing consultant dealing with everyone else’s hysteria while courageously dealing with her own issues and demons, perhaps Randy’s signature phrase will offer some inspiration: “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
As a counterpoint to the previous post, here are photos I took in Washington last April at Dumbarton Oaks, in Georgetown. It's been my favorite place in the United States since I first visited at age nine. Above is Lover's Lane Pool (my computer wallpaper); below is Forsythia Hill.
It took me a few minutes to calm down enough to pick up the paper again, but I couldn't even glance at the front page. I opened to the middle of the A section, hoping to read political news. On the right-hand page there were stories about the campaign, but on the left was the continuation of the equestrian feature, with diagrams of monster cross-country jumps and photos of more crashes. I caught the words coma, concussion, death before I melted down again and bolted upstairs to my office. No NYT for me today; I'll read the top stories online.
What gives? My ugly little secret is that I suffer from PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder.
On May 1 it will be two years since Gomez the Virginia thoroughbred (whom Darling Husband hopes has been rendered into glue) threw me into a steel-pipe fence. I was knocked out and came to consciousness in a helicopter, then spent a week in a hospital multi-trauma unit.
I suffered a severe concussion, nerve damage to head and face, smashed-up front teeth; broken right arm, two ribs, nose, brow bone, maxillary sinus, palate and palatinate bone. Since August 2006 I've had six surgeries, including two on my right arm. The first was to screw a 6" steel plate to the humerus (see Well and Truly Screwed); the second was to free the median nerve so I could regain function in my dominant hand (see Pharmaceutical Fun).
Since then, my thumb and first three fingers have become partly to mostly numb, the base of my thumb is atrophying, and my arm and shoulder hurt all the time. The solution--we hope; no one can figure out what else to do--is to remove the plate and do carpal tunnel release.
During this writing the orthopedist's office called to give me the surgery date: Friday, June 13. (It could've been sooner, but I didn't relish negotiating BookExpo with my arm in a sling.) I'm hoping this surgery will be lucky #7, and that the third time will be the charm for my arm. And most of all, that the PTSD will lessen once I stop being retraumatized by pain, surgeries and complications thereof (the latest is ringworm along the new scar on my scapula; go figure.)
The first symptoms of PTSD manifested in the car. I gasped in panic whenever Darling Husband--whose super-cautious driving usually drives me nuts--made a left turn across oncoming traffic, or if a car came at us from the right (the direction I was thrown in). When I started driving again, I was so anxious that I stopped driving on side streets with stop signs; instead only going on ones with traffic lights. When I passed an ambulance stopped by a fender bender, I had to pull over because I started sobbing uncontrollably. On the way to therapy one day, another driver stopped and honked wildly at me and I was enraged for hours. At an outdoor reception, a helicopter flew by low overhead and I had to fight back tears along with the urge to run inside.
I went to see "Casino Royale" six months after my accident and thought I was going to faint and/or throw up during the chase and torture scenes. Fuggedabout the final episodes of "The Sopranos," or TV shows--or even ads--with crashes, explosions, fights, contact sports, horse races. I'd never been a football fan, but the sound of a scrimmage made me feel faint; I hid upstairs during the past two seasons. Of course any news shows were out. The Boy Wonder made fun of my new G-rated sensibilities. DH, while sympathetic, grew impatient with my tendency to bolt from the room anytime there was something remotely disturbing ("Jumbo Trucks!") on TV.
I started watching only comedies and/or old movies, but even they weren't safe. A short sequence with squealing car tires in "Born Yesterday" alarmed me. I covered my eyes during a scene in "Office Space," in which one of the characters is all bandaged up in a wheelchair. I started crying at the opening of a "Medium" episode, set in a hospital room identical to the one I spent a week in.
My therapist referred me to a counselor who practices a technique called Somatic Experiencing, which helped me enormously. It took a few months, but, like Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, I knew I was "cured" when I could watch violence again. Till I was blindsided by a newspaper photograph.
My trauma resulted from just ten minutes of doing something I loved in a peaceful setting. What about all the soldiers and contractors serving in Iraq, many of whom have traumatic brain injuries in addition to PTSD? What about when they come home and read the paper, or watch TV, or get cut off in traffic, or are insulted by a drunk at a bar? What's going to happen to us all?
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
As I wrote in the previous post, the relationship between a publicist and author is a lot like a marriage. You meet, you date, you fall in love, marry, and live happily ever after – or not! Sometimes the happy marriage with your publicist starts to go downhill. Bickering ensues, then loss of confidence, and ultimately the traumatic divorce. But remember, there are ALWAYS signs that the relationship either wasn’t meant to be, or is in great need of counseling. With more apologies to David Letterman...
Top 10 Signs that the Honeymoon Might be Over--and What You Can Do About It
10) If the “baby doll” you’ve hired takes more than an hour to return a call or respond to email during normal working hours (it can happen occasionally, but should never be the norm), chances are she's desperately seeking out the freelancer to whom she outsourced a portion of your publicity campaigno. Remember: You hired that publicist – not her cheaper freelancer!
9) If after the first three months, your campaign isn’t getting the results and attention you were led to expect. Talk about this! If your publicist doesn’t want to entertain your concerns or hear your side, there may be trouble brewing in paradise.
8) If your publicist won’t talk to you about pitching ideas or campaign directions, you have a problem. Your “soul mate” should want to talk with you and SHARE ideas.
7) If your “sweetie” starts writing press materials and sending them to media without first showing them to you. This is a HUGE problem, especially if they're filled with typos and misspellings. You should be given enough time to add your comments and corrections.
6) Be wary if your “little darling” writes a press release containing incorrect information – or it appears that she didn’t read your book. No publicist should be pitching a book that they can’t discuss with the media.
5) If the press alerts or press release your “hunny” submits for your approval either starts off talking about the book rather than the issue(s) it addresses, does not contain at least 3-5 bullet points that frame story ideas and/or broadcast segments, is less than a page, or goes on for several pages, these are all signs that your publicist is a little green when it comes to pitching to the media. Talk her about what’s the most important aspect of your book [which means you'd better know it too!--Bella].
4) If your “snookums” provides updates without specific names of media people or specific outlets. Ask for that info; it’s not top-secret. You should know who has been sent your book. If the list includes “The Sally Jesse Raphael Show” or “Montel Williams,” watch out! Your publicist is either working off an ancient list, or isn’t really working on your book at all.
3) Your publicist is really the INTERN or has less than one year of experience. If this turns out to be the case, call the president of the company and complain. You are not paying high prices to work with the intern. When you start the "marriage,” you should find out who will be working on your book and how much experience they have in the business.
2) For whatever reason, you and your publicist don’t see eye to eye, don’t have similar goals, have “lost that loving feeling,” or you’re having more arguments with them than you do with your real spouse. It may be time to have a fresh set of eyes look over the project and see what could be done differently. We aren’t condoning cheating, but it wouldn’t hurt to see what the competition thinks of your successes and failures.
And the #1 sign that your publicist may not be “The One”:
She told you that you would “absolutely, definitely be on Oprah” [silly you for hiring her anyway!--Bella] but doesn’t have a strategic plan to make that happen. Help create one! No use in sitting around waiting for something to happen if your “loved one” doesn’t have a plan, a goal or a CLUE. And remember, when it comes to publicity, NOTHING can be guaranteed.
From publicist extraordinaire Darcie Rowan, McAllister Rowan Communications Group:
The relationship between a publicist and author is a lot like a marriage. You meet, you date, you fall in love, marry, and live happily ever after – or not! Often, an author will call just one publicist and decide on the spot to hire them without seeking other proposals or checking any references. This is like proposing to your blind date before you've met. We’ve said before that authors should approach hiring a publicist as a savvy, informed consumer. So with apologies to David Letterman, here are...
The Top 10 Signs a Publicist May NOT be Right for You
10) If a publicist takes more than a day to return your call or email inquiry, chances are she [or he, but we'll use "she" from now on] isn’t eager to speak with you. Or worse, is too busy to speak with you.
9) If she can't supply you with at least three references to talk with, you should stop and wonder why. Maybe she doesn’t have any clients that liked their campaign results?
8) If your publicist-to-be sounds like she doesn’t know or understand your genre, doesn’t have any knowledge of media in that area, or tells you that “relationships with the media don’t mean anything,” chances are she won’t know enough about your subject to do the best job for you. Move on, and find a publicist who is excited and thrilled to talk with you about your subject matter.
7) If your “intended” won’t offer a written proposal that outlines her vision and publicity plan for your book, you should stop and wonder why.
6) On the flip side, if a publicist offers to submit a proposal without actually seeing a copy of your manuscript, or shoots a proposal off within an hour of receiving it, chances are really good that you're looking at a boilerplate, “insert name here,” proposal that she uses for everyone and everything. A historical novel shouldn’t have the same PR campaign as a diet book.
5) If the “love of your life” PR pro doesn’t ask: "What prompted you to write this book? What is your publisher’s PR department doing for it?" and "What are your PR expectations?" she is not asking the right questions. And if she's not asking YOU the right questions, how is she ever going to come up with the right answers when PITCHING you to media?
4) If the publicist shows you sample materials/case studies with frequent misspellings, typos and severe grammatical errors, just imagine what your press release will look like! These bad habits will continue throughout the relationship.
3) If your "sweetie" is eager to work on your account without a written contract that outlines what you should expect from the campaign, be very careful. If you end up hating this relationship, you will have almost no legal recourse.
2) If you are told while you’re “dating” that you will definitely be on certain shows, but your contract doesn’t have any of that information, SPEAK UP NOW. Chances are the publicist only told you what you wanted to hear – not what is realistic!
And the #1 sign that your publicist may not be “The One”:
If she tells you, “Absolutely, your book will definitely be on Oprah.” Not only should she be avoided, she should probably be committed. Because she's either lying to you or to herself.
From publicist extraordinaire Darcie Rowan, McAllister Rowan Communications Group:
Monday, April 07, 2008
"The idea that the story is true is more important than being able to prove that it's true."--Ben Mezrich, author of BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE, in an article in today's Boston Globe, House of Cards by Drake Bennett.
Mezrich's bestseller (basis of the new movie, "21") is marketed as "nonfiction." Yet many of the characters and events in the book were invented outright.
Interesting that Meyrich turned real Asians into invented Latins and Anglos.
"I don't even know if you want to call the things in there exaggerations, because they're so exaggerated they're basically untrue," said John Chang, an MIT graduate and one of the inspirations for the character Micky Rosa, who in the book is the team's founder and leader.
The book is vaulting back to prominence at a time of big scandals elsewhere in publishing, and low public trust in the media. Recent high-profile revelations of exaggeration and outright fabrication in memoirs have rekindled a long-running debate about how much massaging of the facts is acceptable in a nonfiction book. While memoirists are being publicly humiliated and dropped by their publishers for fabricating incidents in their own lives, the Mezrich empire is prospering, and the actor Kevin Spacey, a star in "21," is developing two more of Mezrich's books into movies. Yet some observers say "Bringing Down the House" - and other books like it - are precisely the kind of storytelling that most threatens the important line between what is real and what is not....
Both Mezrich and the book's publisher, Simon and Schuster's Free Press, see nothing to apologize for. The book, they point out, was published with a disclaimer (in fine print, on the copyright page) warning that the names, locations, and other details had been changed, and that some events and individuals are composites, created from other events and individuals. Nearly all the details and facts in the book were culled from his research, Mezrich says, and where they were compressed or creatively rearranged, the fundamental truth of the story he tells is undiminished.
"Every word on the page isn't supposed to be fact-checkable," Mezrich said. Most readers and writers, he said, have no problem with that.
It is of course impossible to say precisely what readers expect when they read Mezrich's book. Yet Mezrich freely admits that only one of the book's main characters, "Kevin Lewis," is based on a single actual person, an MIT graduate whose real name is Jeff Ma. And Ma's character does things that Ma himself said he never heard of until he read the book. Whatever readers expect from a work of nonfiction, it is unlikely to be this.
In 2004 the Globe Magazine called Mezrich's work "imaginatively enhanced nonfiction." There's a word for that: FICTION; or better yet: LYING.
"I don't think narrative nonfiction exists without composite characters," [Mezrich] adds. Iconic nonfiction books like Sebastian Junger's "The Perfect Storm," he says, would be impossible without them, and Junger is one his idols.
At least Junger has standards:
"It's lying," he says. "Nonfiction is reporting the world as it is, and when you combine characters and change chronology, that's not the world as it is; that's something else."Read the entire article. It managed to raise my blood pressure up to normal.
Saturday, April 05, 2008
From the late 1960s thru mid-1970s, my father was an Italian movie star, appearing in such unforgettable masterpieces as Per grazia ricevuta and Paolo il caldo. OK, maybe not such masterpieces, nor unforgettable. But he was also in C'era una volta il West (Once Upon a Time in the West), in which he played a lovable barman named Max; and an episode of Robert Wagner's "It Takes a Thief," shot in Rome, in which he played a lovable thief named Max. In 1979, after 15 years in Europe, Dad moved to L.A. to play lovable major domo Max in Wagner's TV series, "Hart to Hart." (We named the cat in hommage to Dad, though he didn't like cats, and his mother and sister were felinophobic. Conveniently, Max will only eat Max Cat dry food, so we never forget what brand to buy.)
In September 1973 I visited Dad in Rome, where he was living on the Appian Way with wife & daughter #6. The villa he was renting, formerly inhabited by screen siren Gina Lollobrigida, was down a quarter-mile driveway, lined with fragments of ancient Roman funerary busts. Though technically in Rome, the villa was so far out in the country that it was surrounded by fields of eggplants--not quite the glamourous neighbors I'd envisioned. A sixties-ish couple, Bruno and Rita, tended the grounds and house, and frequently my baby half-sister. Arno, a big white Abruzzese shepherd, ferociously guarded the property and its inhabitants against anyone he considered an intruder; e.g., yours truly, despite my honeyed words and friendly overtures.
The memories of that trip came flooding back thanks to an article in today's NYT about the Appian Way, Past Catches Up With the Queen of Roads. During my visit, I ate a marvelous pasta dish--scrigna, I thought it was--at a restaurant by a nearby ruin, but couldn't remember which one, and a Google search came up cold.
But from the Times, now I know the ruin was the tomb of Cecilia Metella, just down the road (left). Then a search for "Cecilia Metella restaurant" turned up--presto!--Ristorante Cecilia Metella, one of whose specialties is...Scrigno alla Cecilia, which looks exactly as I remembered it (below).
I no longer have the photos I took then, but a search of the house address led to Parco Appia Antica, which has a document containing photos and descriptions of various structures in what is now a park along the Appian Way. One of them is at the foot of my father's old driveway (below):
Tomb with epigraph of Baricha Zabda and Achiba
Past the junction between via di Tor Carbone/via Erode Attico and on the right, opposite number 288, another concrete nucleus of a tower-shaped funeral monument has been preserved, bearing an inscription in front in memory of L. Valerius Baricha, L. Valerius Zabda and L. Valerius Achiba, freedmen of the Valerii family and clearly of Semitic origin.
How fitting that the only Jew on the block lived in a house with a Jewish monument out front! It used to have a little pine tree growing out of it--horizontally--about two-thirds of the way up. I gained an all-too-intimate knowledge of the edifice one day, when Arno decided that I was still a stranger. I clambered up as high as I could go and hung on till Bruno came along and called him off. After that I gave up on the sweet talk and kept well clear of Arno.
Friday, April 04, 2008
Most Americans of a certain age remember exactly where they were when they heard that JFK was shot. I was sitting in my third-grade classroom at PS 165 in Manhattan. My teacher, weeping like her colleagues, sent us home early.
Though I was 4-1/2 years older on April 4, 1968, I don't remember what I was doing when the news came out about King. He was shot at 6:01 p.m., so maybe I heard it on the radio, which was always tuned to WGMS (we didn't have a TV). What I do remember is the pervasive sense of fear and impending doom. And that began long before King was shot.
From August 1964 thru summer 1967, we lived in Washington DC, in Mt. Pleasant, the Northwest section now known as trendy Adams Morgan. It's a leafy, peaceful-looking neighborhood, with a mix of houses and massive pre-War apartment buildings. We lived in an apartment on Harvard Street, up a steep hill from the back entrance of the zoo. On early summer mornings, I could hear the lions roaring.
But the neighborhood became progressively less peaceful, and I learned that it wasn't safe to be white. Twice I and my friends were surrounded in front of the candy store on Lanier Place by gangs of black girls our age (no bigger, but a helluva lot tougher), who slapped us around and took our just-purchased goodies. One morning, on the way to Safeway for my mom, I saw some of the same girls hold up a South Asian boy for his money. I scurried away unseen, glad it wasn't me. Another time I was stopped on my way home from school by a group of boys and girls. They wanted to take the typewriter they thought I was carrying, but let me pass unharmed when I opened the oddly shaped case to show that it was only a lunchbox holding a none-too-clean Thermos.
Some nights all the street lights would go out and Harvard Street would be pitch-dark. An 82-year-old woman who lived in our building was dragged from the underground garage by three men and raped in the incinerator room. Up the street, a young white woman was abducted from her car and held in a church basement for many hours, where she was repeatedly raped by some 15 black men, who stood in line to take turns. (Now I'm wondering why, at age 11, my parents let me read that newspaper story.) One summer evening, I went with my stepfather to walk our beagle-mix puppy, and about a dozen black kids encircled us just outside our building, taunting, "Hey, Jew man!"
So in 1967, with me headed for junior high school and my new brother ready for a bedroom of his own (we'd been sharing), we moved to a larger apartment in Silver Spring, MD, just outside the District. I made friends with two black sisters who lived in the building. At school we were in different worlds, but almost every afternoon we'd hang out at their apartment to watch "Dark Shadows" (the only daytime soap I could ever stomach).
And then things started getting strange. My mother, who'd grown up in Chicago during the Depression, started filling up the walk-in hall closet with canned goods and other staples "just in case." She never said in case of what, but for months I knew that something bad was going to happen.
Then King was shot. DC erupted. Our old shopping area, 14th Street, went up in flames. School was canceled for days. There was a pall of smoke over the city. Martial law was declared: No congregating outside in groups of more than three. We stayed inside, except to walk the dog. Mom used the food from the closet. A few days (weeks?) later, we went to the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks (one of my favorite places on the entire planet), and near an ice cream parlor in Georgetown I saw National Guardsmen riding in an open Jeep, holding fixed bayonets. That scared me the most.
Two months later, Bobby Kennedy was killed and the sense of dread came flooding back; also profound grief and loss. Two months after that was the Democratic Convention in Chicago, during which we were on vacation in Bethany Beach, DE. While my mother made dinner, I sat in my sandy bathing suit, and on a little black-and-white TV watched Mayor Daley's cops smash protesters' heads.
A group called Re-Create 68 aims to "recreate that revolutionary feeling and pick-up where our predecessors left off" on the streets of Denver during the Democratic Convention this August. According to its website, "Sometimes we need to look back to move forward."
Not this time. If we keep looking backward, we'll just trip over the many stumbling blocks ahead.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Left, "The Corner" (actually a fairly straight street) by the University of Virginia.
Below, the Rotunda and statue of its architect, Thomas Jefferson.
Above: Glorious magnolia tree and chapel(?).
Right: Flowering quince spilling over a walled garden, as seen through Pavilion pillars.
Left: Courtyard garden by the Rotunda.
Below: Just like home...in my dreams!
Left: "The Lawn."
Right: Under a portico along The Lawn. Highly prized rooms (given as honors to students, though they're far from any plumbing) are along the left.
Below: Students studying in a Lawn room. I dearly hope that Mr. Jefferson is writhing in his grave, as in his day "Africans" were only allowed in those rooms to clean up.
The gentlemen scholars' servants (read: slaves) were housed under the Lawn rooms; hence the ventilation grill between the threshold and step in the photo below. History isn't always pretty when you look beneath the surface.
BEAMING DOWN: Roswell, New Mexico is rated ET, for "Entirely Tasteless Mocking of Beliefs Not Our Own." And check out Doreen's podcast page, where the current offering is "How a shrink became a writer." More are coming soon; can't wait to hear "Mobile Martinis."
While I was at VaBook last week, Doreen emailed me:
Celestial Seasonings just picked QUEEN OF THE ROAD as their June book club pick. (Bet you didn't even know they had one, eh?) This came about b/c I ran out of tea in Modesto, went on their website to order, saw they had a partnership with Random House for a book club and asked the marketing person there to check it out for me.I shared this anecdote during my "Promoting Like a Pro" panel as an example of how one has to be open to "outside the box" opportunities--and pounce on them as soon as they appear.
Per a starred review in Publishers Weekly:
"An enjoyable literary page-turner that also explores serious social issues. In crisp, lively prose, Tucker cleverly executes a series of surprising twists that, coupled with the Big Pharma backdrop and cinematic feel, make the novel as fast-paced as a thriller, but with astute and often humorous observations about the shifting morality of 21st-century America. An excellent choice for book clubs... solidifies her position as a gifted writer with a wide range and a profound sense of compassion for the mysteries of the human heart."
Alison will also be performing and signing books at a gala fundraiser for Journey To Me on Thursday, April 3, 7.00 pm at the Sheraton Denver West, 360 Union Blvd., Lakewood. Details and tickets: journeytome.com, the adoption gathering place.
Alison performed snippets from her very funny one-woman show, also called "The English American," at her launch party at the British Consulate in Manhattan last month. My official date for the evening, GalleyCat Ron Hogan, wrote about the event and captured some of her performance on camcorder here.
Simon & Schuster describes the book thus:
When Pippa Dunn, adopted as an infant and raised terribly British, discovers that her birth parents are from the American South, she finds that "culture clash" has layers of meaning she'd never imagined. Meet The English American, a fabulously funny, deeply poignant novel that sprang from Larkin's autobiographical one-woman show of the same name. With an authentic adopted heroine at its center, Larkin's compulsively readable first novel unearths universal truths about love, identity, and family with wit, warmth, and heart.
Here's a video of Alison's back story:
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
However, I'm wondering whether the big-bucks trailer for ON CHESIL BEACH, which was unveiled with great fanfare at last year's BookExpo, did much for the book--or author Ian McEwan. The film was supposed to replace McEwan (who could have used some performance coaching) on book tour. My inner Dr. Phil wonders, "How's that working for you?" I'm guessing not very well, as I haven't seen much--if anything--about other authors following suit.
On the other hand, I'm sure the animated "Who Let the Jews Out?" video for Sam Apple's SCHLEPPING THROUGH THE ALPS boosted sales.
And now my consulting client Sherry Thomas has produced this delightful trailer for her new romance, PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS. I'd be shocked if it didn't move some books:
Appearing on the back cover of the Colorado Free University catalogue--or as it is labeled today, Colorado Expensive University:
The Fine Art of Shutting Up
Do you find yourself getting off the elevator at the wrong floor because you can’t stop talking to someone you met on the way up? Do you avoid libraries and the ballet because the sound of “Shhh!” drives you crazy? Does the song "Sounds of Silence" make your skin crawl? Do you have nightmares about Trappist monks who serenely observe their vow of silence?
This workshop will help you overcome your fear of peace and quiet as you learn how to take a full breath of air into your lungs, talk without food in your mouth, tell a story that actually has a beginning and an ending, give “yes” and “no” answers, engage in conversation without people fleeing your presence, and actually hear what other people say.
Debra Fine is a bestselling author and internationally recognized keynote speaker who has had her own struggles with shutting up.
$149 Non-Member; $154 Member. Discounts given for early graduation.
Colorado Legislature General Assembly, State Capitol
8623X: Every Tuesday (until you shut up), 6-9 p.m. Begins 4/1.