2010: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Joni's year in writing, reading, and publishing)
I've been learning addicted since my dad's stint selling World Book Encyclopedias back in the early '70s. Research is my favorite part of this job, and I did a LOT of it in 2010. I started the year immersed in the strange and fascinating history of breast cancer, segued into the over-the-top drama of pop music, then moved on to the intense dynamics of death row politics, and finished up with a deep-dive into the emotional economics of palliative care. Such is the life of the ghostwriter.
This fall I wrapped up a 17-month writing/rewriting marathon with three book releases - two memoirs and a YA mini-mem - plus a few magazine articles. Between May '09 and August '10, I never took a full day off, and most work days blazed from 6 AM to midnight. I kept bags of peas in the freezer to ice my typing muscles at noon and dinnertime. It was heaven. But I was glad to take a break this month.
Total words published (not counting this blog): 226K
Bestsellers: 2 NYT, 1 national
Cover credits: 1 (I usually prefer to remain invisible but was incredibly proud to be included on the cover of Promise Me: How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer.)
In the course of doing biz, I hobnobbed with a lot of wonderful publishing folks in the US and abroad as well as some very articulate and cool celebs, ranging from Usher to Dita von Teese to the delightful Dawn Wells, who played Marianne on "Gilligan's Island". I finally found an opportunity to travel to Sicily where I met the quirky and delicious Janet Little, author and illustrator of my daughter's all-time favorite children's book Hecate the Bandicoot.
We had a lot of fantastic authors visit the blog, and I was buried in ARCs from publishers - an embarrassment of riches - too many to read, all of which I tried to at least taste-test, several that I LOVED. More on that this week.
Favorite moments of 2010:
1) Working on "Promise Me" edits in the downstairs apartment at my parents home in Montana with Mom and Dad upstairs singing and jamming on guitar and mandolin.
2) Playing chess in a bar in Montmartre with the Gare Bear, blues music and animated working class French conversation swirling around the room. Happiness Is.
Books I most enjoyed:
So Cold the River by Michael Koryta
The Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths by Charlotte Gordon
Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear
Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue
The Wilding: A Novel by Benjamin Percy
The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss (Blast from the past. It holds up.)
The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel
The Prestige by Christopher Priest (I don't care if you saw the movie, you need to read it.)
The forthcoming Reading Lips: A Memoir of Kisses by Claudia Sternbach (Watch this space. Over the next few months, Claudia will be chronicling her journey to publication here on BoxOcto.)
My First Five Husbands, my dear friend Rue McClanahan suffered a stroke and subsequently died. I wrote this article about our collaboration for the Houston Chronicle. Rue was the personification of Shaw's "spark of divine fire". I miss her terribly, and I'm heartbroken that she didn't get to blow the doors off Broadway one last time.
My professional low point this year (lest you think, as I once did, that once you get published or once you can plug "bestselling author" in front of your name or once you [insert imaginary milestone here], then you've arrived and everything's smooth sailing from there): a proposal on which I worked long and hard bit the dust. This was a project of the heart. I was paid nothing for the 200+ hours I put into it. I've entertained various theories on why it didn't sell, none of which change the reality that it didn't. A serious punch in the face on several levels. But I knew the risks going in. I learned a lot from the research, and I never consider time spent writing to be time wasted. If nothing else, it makes you a better writer. I still firmly believe that every rejection, no matter how painful, is a stepping stone to where I'm supposed to be. (I don't always like it, but I do believe it.)
It's not circumspect for me to say anything more about that or other challenging issues in this space, so I'll sum up, in the words of Jerry McGuire: "This job is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about."
There's a lot of doomsaying about the book biz right now, but there's always a lot of doomsaying about the book biz. I got used to being in the optimistic minority about ten years ago. For my taste, the most disturbing thing about the tectonic shift in the industry (and in our culture) is the oil slick of self-promotion and oversharing that people seem to think is necessary to survive. The stench of neediness is utterly soul-choking at times. I love the potential for networking on Facebook and Twitter, but for the most part, it's a time-hoovering vomitorium of people gossiping about themselves.
In forming my business plan for 2011, I tried to quantify what I was getting out of the various ways I spend my time, and frankly, I got a lot more benefit from 200+ hours working on a doomed proposal than I did wading through online BS and blather. I don't reap any financial benefit from this blog, but I definitely get a lot more joy out of promoting the work of other authors than I would get out of constantly waving my hand in the pick me! pick me! mosh pit and obsessively checking to see if it that tweet about my macaroni and cheese had any effect on my Amazon ranking.
I've heard this little parable in various versions - rabbi, priest, monk, generic seeker - and I think it translates well to the publishing industry:
A monk asked God to show him heaven and hell. First, God showed him hell: a banquet table laden with a great feast. But the people at the table were shrunken and famished, wailing in frustration. They had spoons melded to their fists, and the handles on the spoons were longer than their arms, so they couldn't put the food in their mouths.I look forward to featuring more author interviews and book reviews on BoxOcto in 2011, tweeting accordingly, and staying true to my hippie-dippy ambition to be a purveyor of shalom for my ghost clients and industry colleagues.
Then God showed him heaven: an identical table with an identical banquet and the same spoons with impossibly long handles. But the people assembled were healthy and strong, laughing and feasting, having learned to feed each other.
Happy holidays and a joyful, prosperous New Year to all!