Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Mrs. Grey will see you now (3 things I learned coming out of the hair color closet)

Continuing the extended metaphor I began back in 2011 with this post on My Publishing Career as Illustrated by My Hair, in which I detailed a circuitous journey that began in the 1970s. Back then, a slow-to-blossom tweenage flower child, I was ironing my hair straight and selling erotic short stories in the girls' bathroom at the local roller rink.

My long auburn locks disappeared during chemo when I was in my early 30s. For ten years, I kept my hair super short and colored it various shades of red in an attempt to ward off the bad cancer juju. During my 40s, I let it grow, gave up on the auburn and went with an ash blond that made the increasingly ashy roots less noticeable.

When I hit my 50s, I decided to stop coloring my hair and embrace my grey. That was easier said than done, but here I am, and along the way, I learned three important lessons, which I intend to apply to life and writing as I enjoy my hard earned silver era.

Thing #1: It's a process. Whatever "it" is, it's a process.
I suppose it would have been easier to just cut the hair off and start over, but I've done the micro-short-to-hippie-long hair transition before. There's a lot of bad hair days as you hang in there through the awkward stages. The temptation to cut (like the temptation to abandon a book that becomes a struggle) is always lurking.

In order to keep the length, I had to allow a few inches of roots to grow out. Years of hair color had to be stripped away. Then I had to nurture my hair with cold water and conditioner for several weeks before the final process of low-lighting, high-lighting and toning to match my true color.

As a structural editor/book doctor, I've held the hands of several authors as they did a similar strip, recovery and restoration process on a book. The key is that natural root. Once you can see the authentic soul of the book, you know what to do with the rest.

Book process, life process, color process, whatever. Patience and persistence will be required. Bet on that and assemble a great team. Which brings me to...

Thing #2: A lot of experts are terrified of change. Because it means they won't be experts anymore.

For years, stylists kept telling me there was no way to go grey without cutting off my long hair, but I started seeing young women doing it for themselves on YouTube. Apparently that's a thing now, young women with grey hair, and as soon as that trend took hold, well, whadya know! Shut up experts. Young women do what needs to get done. (Which brings me to Thing #1 subsection B: Young women, you have a lot more power than you think. Use it wisely.)

This is reminiscent of the dragging acceptance of indie publishing in the traditional publishing world. Agents and publishers were loathe to accept this new universe because it meant the crumbling of the system in which they were super comfy, even though the vast majority of authors were not. Lamest battle cry ever: "That's the way it's always been done." Whether I'm looking for a colorist, oncologist or freelance copy editor, I want someone who has ten years of experience, not one year of experience ten times.

I knew I'd found the right guy when Sergio Sepulveda at Visible Changes told me, "There's always a way to do something. It's just a question of 'has somebody figured it out yet'." Apply this to publishing big time. The only thing we know for sure about anything is that it is not the same as it was yesterday. Expertise in the way things have always been done is a great foundation for the purpose of exploring, building and inventing the way forward. It's less useful when it becomes the La-Z-Boy recliner from which experts advocate for status quo.

Thing #3: If someone tells you not to be yourself, they are wrong. 

Before Sergio, every stylist I consulted tried to warn me off the idea of embracing my grey with the same dire (in their minds) prediction: "You'll look older." The thing is, I AM older. I'm thrilled to be older.  Why invest time, energy or money in not looking like myself? For whose benefit would I be doing that?

Sergio's take on it: "There's nothing more beautiful than a woman who's happy about who she is." Can I get a "Amen" up in here?

It kills me to see authors jumping through hoops to please agents, acquiring editors, theoretical readerships and nebulous trends. It's like trying to reinvent yourself to please an indifferent boyfriend. Down that path lies despair. Your power to create, your best hope of happiness, and yes, your marketability lie in your uniqueness. Embrace it with joy!

Here's the new older me with the amazing Sergio, awesome haircutter Hua, their shampoo-slinging sidekick Justin, and a totally fabulous photo-bomber rocking her own silver streaks.


Monday, July 06, 2015

Goodbye with enormous gratitude to my friend and editor Marjorie Braman

Stunned and sad to see this news today:
"Marjorie Braman, 60, died July 2 at her home in Taghkanic, NY of complications from breast cancer. She began her 26 years in publishing as an editorial assistant and worked her way up to svp, publishing director at HarperCollins and then vp, editor-in-chief at Henry Holt. She has worked as a consultant at Open Road Integrated Media. Authors she worked with include Elmore Leonard, Michael Crichton and Sena Jeter Naslund. Most recently Braman worked as an independent editor and was a member of the independent editors' group 5e..."
It's an understatement to say that Marjorie changed my life. She acquired my memoir Bald in the Land of Big Hair for HarperCollins in 2001, my doorway to what was then The Big 6 and my first crack at the bestseller lists. While it was in the pipeline, she encouraged me to start a syndicated newspaper column and, even though it was way outside her job description, provided feedback and advice that shaped the direction of that column ("Earth to Joni") and a national magazine column that followed.

HarperCollins published my third novel, The Secret Sisters, in 2006, and Marjorie's feet-to-the-fire editing took my craft sense to the next level. In the years I worked with Marjorie, I learned most of what I know about the art of writing, the craft of editing and the business of publishing.

Elmore Leonard had this to say about how she worked:
"Marjorie was never a pushover, we talked all the time while I was at work on a novel. She would question the identity of pronouns wandering through a paragraph, or cite passages where I was telling rather than showing what was going on. But for the most part Marjorie liked my style and let me run with it." 
It says a lot about Marjorie that this perfectly describes my experience with her. She worked with a lot of big names, but she made a little nobody like me feel like my work was just as important. And she would sharply correct me for calling myself a little nobody. Every once in a while she would send me a fax (and later email) with instructions to print it out and post it on my office wall. One that remained there for almost 15 years simply said: JONI RODGERS: YOU ARE NOT A HACK.

Whenever I felt deflated by the industry slings and arrows, she would chastise me for "acting like an orphan in the storm" and remind me that an author has to be the bravest champion of her own work. We can't depend on the editor or the agent or the PR department. She is solely responsible for kicking my ass into the big girl pants that make it possible for me to thrive as an indie author and freelance editor. And I often hear myself repeating time-proven Marjorie-isms to my editing clients.

When I started putting myself out there as a freelance editor, Marjorie encouraged me and sent me some great advice in the form of this incisive PW article she wrote on the changing roles of in-house and freelance editors:
In this changing landscape, as publishers look more and more at their bottom lines and continue cutting back on in-house staff, I can envision a model in which the in-house editor is the jack-of-all-trades that the publisher requires, while still editing select projects. For other projects, the in-house editor might need to work with a trusted freelance editor to help move things along. But publishers have to acknowledge what every editor—in-house or freelance—knows: editing is crucial and can make the difference between the success or failure of a book.
Marjorie's sure editorial hand made an enormous difference in the books we did together. Her advocacy and mentorship made a huge difference in my career. Her friendship made a profound difference in my life.





Wednesday, July 01, 2015

"Artists lead and hacks ask for a show of hands." (A blast from the past and peek at the new #SteveJobsmovie)

When a ghostwriter friend mentioned she was suffering from increasing pain in her hands (hazard of the profession), I told her, "I just posted something about that on BoxOcto last year." When I searched it out, my mind was blown a bit. It was actually posted in October of 2012.

Here's the post, followed by an update:
Gary sprained his hand last night at work, and it's swollen up like one of those old fashioned baseball mitts. For years I've always kept bags of frozen peas specifically for the purpose of icing my aching wrists, fingers and hands after hours of typing. I got one out, and it was frosted solid. I suddenly realized I haven't had to ice my hands since last Christmas when Gary gave me a MacBook Air.
I'm not one of those rabid Apple heads, but this was a profound improvement in my quality of life. There are times when my ghostwriting schedule forces me to crank out 3K words a day (and if you're a writer, you know that 3K good words means also typing 5K off-the-mark words that end up cut or reworked.) Many was the midnight hour that found me lying on the floor fighting tears of agony, my hands and forearms piled with the fruit of the Jolly Green Giant. 
The realization that it's been 10+ months since I had to plan for and facilitate that pain - it just blew me away. How did I not notice that? How was I not celebrating it every day? I suppose it's because the MacBook allows me to focus on (and celebrate) what I'm writing. The presence of pain is impossible to ignore; the absence of pain is something we take completely for granted. 
A hallmark of great technology: it disappears into its own functionality. Instead of cluttering and upstaging life, it provides a vehicle for it. Like a really good bass player (or a really good ghostwriter), it provides structure and soul without calling attention to itself.
UPDATE: My MacBook Air is still going strong, and I eventually hunted up a matching low impact keyboard for my desktop PC. Typing is virtually pain-free and dramatically faster. After switching to the MacBook Air, I actually started transcribing interviews in progress. It's super slim in the bag and quiet enough that it doesn't register on the digital recording, and I'm able to insert my own thoughts and questions on the fly rather than depend on my sieve-like memory.

And now for the trailer. Can't wait to see this movie, because anything written by Aaron Sorkin is pretty much a masterclass in dialogue and plotwerk. My motto for the foreseeable future: "Artists lead and hacks ask for a show of hands."




Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Monday, June 29, 2015

“My fear,” said Venus, “is that the discovery...



“My fear,” said Venus, “is that the discovery of the matrix will lure her even farther from reality.”


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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sorry, storage unit, #kitsch lives at my house. #JewelT


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#KeepItDown Two eloquent statements that changed my mind about the Confederate flag

Living in Texas, I've grown used to the image of the Confederate flag on everything from pickup trucks and beer cozies to dorm rooms, children's lunch boxes and baby jammies and onesies. For years, I've just rolled my eyes, assuming that living in the South meant having to accept the Confederate flag as if it's as innocuous and unavoidable as the roadside Cracker Barrel.

Last week, two things changed my mind about that:

The first was this bluntly cogent statement by my nephew, Jared Sacramento, which he posted on his Facebook page:
If you don't IMMEDIATELY recognize why the confederate flag is racist and offensive, then you are completely delusional. "Southern pride"? "Southern heritage"? Why are you proud of your racist ancestors? Why are you proud of the time when America went to war over the right to own and torture people? Why are you proud of the people who kidnapped Africans from their home countries, dragged them here kicking and screaming, murdered them, raped them, whipped them, oppressed them, and if that's not enough, after these people lost the war, they spent the next 100 years openly hunting black people down like dogs to lynch them or beat them to death? I'm sorry if that was your great great grandpa, but he was wrong, and we don't need to keep celebrating that. 
In Germany people are ASHAMED of their Nazi ancestors after what they did. Why, 150 years later, is the south still celebrating their worst moment in history? If it's not about racism then why are ALL of the states that fly this flag the most RACIST states in the nation? If it's about "southern heritage" then why don't black southerns fly the confederate flag? If you consider yourself non racist and look at this flag as a symbol of your heritage, you need to get real. 
This flag represents a time in our country where my father would have been HUNG FROM A TREE for loving my mother. It represents a time in our country when I could have been forced to fight other black men to the death so white people could watch, laugh, and bet on it. It represents a time in our country when the entire police force of some cities dressed up in white robes at night looking for people like me to torture and kill because of the color of my skin. Why should African-Americans have to grow up in a world where we are constantly reminded that slavery happened and half the country is still proud of it? 
If this is the heritage you're so proud of, then you are a racist. Stop pretending. Stop clinging on to a symbol of hate when we have a beautiful flag you can fly with 50 stars on it that represents ALL of us.
The second is this video of Bree Newsome, possibly the most awesome woman on the earth or 30 feet above it, taking down the Confederate flag posted at the South Carolina statehouse in 1961 in response to the growing civil rights movement. And then it shows her quietly, proudly going to jail for something the rest of us--as voters, as a culture, as decent human beings--should done a long time ago.

THANK YOU

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Joni