Monday, February 27, 2012

Writer/Moms are multi-tasking divas

In Anand Giridharadas' NYT op ed A New, Noisier Way of Writing, he reports that Jonathan Franzen is “doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”

Maybe he should check out a few "her" workplaces. The writer/moms I know are multi-tasking divas.

Fortunately, while I wrote my first two novels - Crazy for Trying and Sugarland - I had no internet. All I had was two small children, various day jobs, bill collectors, a cross-country move and blood cancer.

But twitter? Oh, no. Thank God, I didn't have to deal with the distraction of that. I’m such a hothouse flower.

I wrote about becoming a writer and other strange side effects of chemo in my third book, Bald in the Land of Big Hair.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

“Think Jane Eyre with rock’n’roll.” (new CRAZY FOR TRYING trailer)

Crazy for Trying


“Think Jane Eyre with rock’n’roll.” Houston Press


With the ghost of her infamous activist mother over her shoulder, Tulsa Bitters, zaftig, bookish and freshly orphaned, takes a westbound train, determined to reinvent herself. Mac White Wolf MacPeters, half Blackfoot and half raging Irish, hears her voice on the radio late one night, and before he can remind himself that he’ll never fall in love, he does.

In Montana in the 1970s, people aren’t accustomed to hearing a woman’s voice on the radio. But to Tulsa, far away from all the people who loved and hurt her, midnight rock’n’roll feels like home, especially once she finds out who's out there listening.

Crazy for Trying is a brave debut novel that fairly explodes with love-struck energy and sharp-tongued tenacity. Joni Rodgers loads up a tight circle of lovers, adversaries, dysfunctional family members and comically flawed friends, driving them down a fresh road through hard-earned love, a dangerous western solitude, and the old sexual politics.

Read it FREE with Kindle Prime.

Barnes & Noble Discover Award finalist (1997)

“Terrific…a rollicking ride through emerging feminist sensibilities.” Billings Gazette

“A fresh pleasure…Rodgers writes unconventional love scenes that scorch the pages.” Orlando Sentinel

“Refreshing and provocative…” Houston Chronicle

“Truly captivating…Rodgers’ prose and style are unique.” Texas Books in Review

“Joni Rodgers can write sex scenes that’ll make your toes curl and your hair stand on end. At her best, her prose is dazzling, risky, and intoxicating, and at its heart, Crazy for Trying is an inspired debut.” Pam Houston, bestselling author of Cowboys Are My Weakness

 

What if Psyche & Eros were Texas trailer trash?

As children, Kit and Kiki Smithers performed and the Sugar Babes, but those glory days are long gone. All that remains are the blues the sisters sing as they cope with withering marriages, cheating spouses, lost opportunities, and the demands of motherhood.

Sugar Land is a verdant novel about the healing power of forgiveness, the seemingly impossible task of loving, the resilience of family ties, and what happens when a tornado meets a double-wide trailer house.

PMA Benjamin Franklin Award finalist (1999)

“Every character in this novel resonates with life. This talented author knows how to bring pen-and-ink people to flesh and blood fulfillment…poignantly authentic.” Southern Living

“Alternately wrenching and humorous…Rodgers’ strength is her knack for realistic characters…and a womanly wise, laugh-through-tears appreciation of life.” Publisher’s Weekly


“Richly appealing…” Library Journal “Bittersweet…priceless…” Chicago Tribune 

“Pure charm…compelling…full of humor and compassion. Sugarland is a delight to read, and Rodgers is a terrific discovery.” Tampa Tribune-Times

Lisa Kudro captures COMEBACK vibe: "I Will Survive"

I've been watching Lisa Kudro's fantastic faux reality show THE COMEBACK with a lump in my throat. It's agonizingly hilarious and even more true to Hollywood than ENTOURAGE. I know exactly what it feels like. Trying too hard. Giving too much. Wanting nothing more than the opportunity to do the work, which is hard to come by. And even harder to come back to.

Hibernaculum

I am waiting for the bat.

In July, when we moved in, he was here.

He roosted in a corner of our screened attic window, wadded tightly, a velvet sock rolled into the lower right corner.  Sometimes he hung upside down, a hooded bulb.

Smaller than the paper lanterns hanging above him, the two empty wasp-nests.

Heavier than the dried leaves clinging in the spiderwebs.

Little brown bat.

I ran to the computer, looked him up.  Little brown bat.  That was his name.  Myotis lucifugus.  American little brown bat.  Male because solitary.  Sleepy because summer.  Works for four hours a day.  Flies and darts and catches.  But it's hard work, so he must rest much of the time.  I understand this.  I am a writer.
 
I fell in love.

Although I knew I shouldn't, I visited him daily. I have never lived with a bat, and I couldn't help myself.  I opened the door, ducked under the beam, crept toward the eave to stare.  Often I couldn't see his face.  It was hidden like a pea in a mattress.  When I could see it, it was small and strange and sharp, like something I should be comfortable with, but wasn't.

Little brown bat.

You are not allowed to kill the little brown bat.  He is protected.  When the exterminator came to the house, I made sure he knew.  There are some things, of course, you are allowed to do--like turn on the light three times a day to look at him--but you probably shouldn't.  Eventually I got a hold of myself, cut back like a smoker.  I came late at night, to see that he was gone, off hunting and catching.  I came in the morning, too, to see that he was back.  Every time, this terrible dread that he wouldn't be.

One may fret over a bat in the same way one frets over a lover or an idea.

"The little brown bat can be distinguished from the Indiana bat by the absence of a keel on the caclar and the presence of hairs on the hind feet that extend past the toes"--but I have no idea what this means, and I never got close enough, and I am vaguely resentful.  I may fret over it, but there are some things about a bat that should remain a mystery.

One day, late in fall, he didn't come home.  I scurried to my computer (I wasn't at my computer because there is always something you can do that is easier than writing, and looking at a little brown bat is one of those things).  A little brown bat must hibernate; he will fly south to find a mate, procreate, and seek a hibernaculum.  The beauty of that word made up, a little, for the loss.

The little brown bat is now, I assume, in a cave or an abandoned mine.  I too am drawn to caves and abandoned mines, and often go and live in them myself.  Sometimes, it's important to not even try to do anything.

Now I am waiting for the bat.

The computer says he might not be back until May.  It says nothing about whether the little brown bat likes to come back to the same roost, each year, it says nothing about ambition or variety.  The little corner where he slept is an empty yoke.  I don't go and look every day.  The last time, I mistook a fresh leaf for his body.

We wait for the moment imagination grows skin.

The wingspan of the little brown bat is eight to eleven inches.  Its membrane is dark brown.

What is the definition of little?


--MD

Nihilist Words With Friends



Playing WWF with my niece who's on active duty in Kuwait. Not sure if this refers to the Middle East or publishing. Both can be hard on optimists like us.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Social networking for the antisocial

People keep pushing this whole agenda of auto-tweeting as a way to game the Amazon ranks, and I know it works. You do sell books, but... do you still have time to write books? (Do you still have a soul?) I get that twitter is about "building relationships," I'm just not clear on the quality of a relationship based on spam.

My thought all along has been to use twitter with a less aggressive stance, using hashtags to insert my two cents into a conversation that actually interests me.

Like this:
For women in the 60s, life began at #contraception. BT Sissel on the bad old #aspirin days. http://bit.ly/xctmgF

I've been assured that this is pointless. But I remain hopeful that "teachable moment" marketing that links the right message with the right moment has an effect that is perhaps less obviously and instantly measurable but ultimately more powerful, because it's about building a culture instead of a terribly impressive house of cards.

Twitter is an insanely great idea, and it's a powerful marketing tool, but it requires a certain personality type, and I'm not sure that's me. Does that mean I won't sell books? Maybe. I'm sure it means I won't sell as many. And at the end of the day, authors want to put their books in readers' hands.

So I'm determined to give it a shot.

I'll start by implementing this list of 5 Twitter Secrets to Become Highly Visible in Your Niche, one each day this week. Next, I'll take a crash course in Book Marketing 101 from World Lit Cafe founder, Melissa Foster.

Just in case, I bought the T-shirt.



Does this book cover suck? #TellMeTheTruth and get a free book!

Does this book cover suck?

Seriously. I need to know. So far I've gotten conflicting opinions from a variety of people whose opinions I respect.

What do you think? Email me at jonireaders{at}gmail.com, and I'll flip you the ebook free as a thank you! (Ignore the funky framey thing. The blog does that.) Yes, you get a free book even if you say it sucks. And no, the book does not suck. (I'm pretty sure.)


Here's what it's about:
During the record-smashing hurricane season of 2005, a deadly game of cat and mouse unfolds amidst polarized politics, high-strung Southern families and the worst disaster management goat screw in US history. 
As Hurricane Katrina howls toward the ill-prepared city of New Orleans, Dr. Corbin Thibodeaux, a Gulf Coast climatologist and storm risk specialist, struggles to preach the gospel of evacuation, weighed down by the fresh public memory of a spectacularly false alarm a year earlier. Meanwhile, Shay Hoovestahl, a puff piece reporter for the local news, stumbles on the story of con artist who uses chaos following major storms as cover for identity theft and murder. Laying a trap to expose the killer, Shay discovers that Corbin, her former lover, is unwittingly involved, and her plan goes horribly awry as the city's infrastructure crumbles...

You can read the first chapter here on Amazon.

The art of book cover design has fascinated me since I was a kid marveling through the stacks at the library. Check out this incredibly cool collection I spotted on the web site of branding designer David Airey. God pulled my name out of a hat when HarperCollins assigned Chip Kidd to design the cover for my memoir, Bald in the Land of Big Hair.

Really, I've been lucky with in-house designers throughout my traditional publishing career. Only one seriously fugly cover. I loved the gal who designed it so much, but... wow. Fugly. I was a wimpy liar and said I loved it, and then I had to live with that fugly cover for several years until the book went out of print. Meanwhile, the German cover was kinda cool. (Sheesh. Germans, right?)

They always bring in top talent for the celebs, so my ghostwriting projects always have great covers. The paperback design for Rue McClanahan's memoir, My First Five Husbands, knocked my socks off. (As did the late great Rue.) I always made a point of asking questions, listening in on conversations, learning how choices get made and why. That was my opportunity to get schooled by the best in the biz. 

As an indie publisher, I'm now responsible for my own covers. As with all other aspects of self-publishing, you have to either know enough to do it yourself or know enough to determine if the person you're paying is doing a good job. Good art/bad art is an entirely subjective matter, but there are certain fundamentals you can't get wrong.


The title must be clear and legible. That used to mean how it would reproduce in the newspaper; nowadays it means how it looks on a iPhone, Amazon widget or Facebook ad. Physical books come in all shapes and sizes; Kindles don't. A 4x6 ratio looks best on most ereaders, but you can cheat it a little wider if you want to show up larger on your Amazon page.

The imagery should evoke tone and content without being painfully obvious or literal. Or be obvious and literal in a way that reflects the obvious and literal tone of the book.

Think in thirds. A designer at a Big 6 publisher pinged a lightbulb over my head when he told me, "If a book is face out on a store shelf, the most likely place to be visible is the middle. If it's below eye level, the top third will be shadowed or obstructed. If it's displayed with a plate rail or shelf-talker, the bottom third is partially obscured."

We don't have to worry about that online, but the book-buying eye has been trained to look at books in thirds: middle first, top second, then the bottom.

Brand thyself. Because I moved from one publisher to another, my books were all designed by different people, so now that I'm gathering my backlist under my own wing, I'm thinking about how to make them look like a cohesive body of work. That's going to take some time and money, but it's important.

Which brings me to the big question: Does this book cover suck?

Seriously. I need to know.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Success Trajectory


Is Amazon the Death of Literary Culture?

JA Konrath always puts me off with his blowhard tone, but everything he says in his blog post, "Amazon Will Destroy You" is pretty much on target.

A powerful example of the attitude he's decrying can be found here: Six Degrees Left: Is Amazon the Death of Literary Culture?

Here's my response to that dialogue (I guess you could say I'm "Konrath lite"):

Thank you for this extremely interesting conversation, in which — for my taste — Laura Ellen Scott stands out as the voice of reason. (Aside to LES: Drop the Kindle in a Ziploc bag for bathtub reading.)

Since my first novel was pubbed by a wonderful literary press (now called MacAdam-Cage) in the mid-90s, I’ve done over a dozen Big 6 books as an author and ghostwriter. During that time, I watched fiction acquisitions become increasingly constipated, while nonfiction acquisitions became increasingly obsessed with celebrity, and creative writing majors were pumped out of grad school with not a clue about how to make a living writing — creatively or otherwise.

For all the hand-wringing about the fate of booksellers, I heard very little concern for those of us who’ve dedicated our lives to the creation of books. It never seemed to occur to anyone that the health of literary culture might be maybe possibly kinda related to the health of authors.

My first Kindle breathed new life into my reading; 20 years of writing has taken a serious toll on my eyesight. First, I consumed all my favorite classics and loved them more than ever. Then I started working my way through recently ballyhooed fiction, and I’m sorry to say it, but I was bored out of my effing skull.

So I started digging into some of the works being indie/self-pubbed on KDP. Not the 99 cent mosh pit. (I believe the 99 cent price tag was brought to the publishing industry by amateurs, the way sailors brought syphilis to Hawaii. Those who introduced it had a great time; those who live with the legacy, not so much. The gold rush will end by 2013, I think, as readers click to the reality that most of the .99/free books are crap.)

I read JEWBALL by the hilarious Neal Pollack; THE DEADWOOD BEETLE, a gorgeous, long out of print, literary novel by Mylene Dressler; THE VOLUNTEER by Barbara Taylor Sissel, an amazing voice who refused to make the compromises that would have made her novels easy grist for the traditional mill; THE LONG DRUNK by Eric Coyote, whose agent believed in the author’s quirky brilliance but never quite managed to get this bordering-on-Henry-Miller, reprobate-noir novel past the gatekeepers.

Left to the wisdom of “book culture” and indie booksellers, not one of these novels would be available to readers today. This is what Amazon hath wrought: authors allowed to push the artistic envelope, readers allowed to think for themselves, a democratized literary ecosystem.

Last year, I started a digital imprint to indie pub e-editions of my out of print backlist, and it went so well, I recently pubbed my latest novel myself. This year, I started forming a coalition of seasoned, professional authors who are stepping off the edge of the map to create a new brand of literary career that hybridizes the best qualities of indie and traditional publishing.

We’re maintaining and building relationships with agents and publishers, but we’re our own gatekeepers now. We hold to the importance of traditional editing and professionalism, but now we have creative freedom we never had, because traditional publishers can no longer afford to take the creative risks we’re prepared to take. And they never could afford to pay 70% royalties.

This revolution was inevitable. It is exhilarating to me, as both a reader and a writer. And it’s the healthiest thing to happen to literary culture since Gutenberg.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

#FreeKindleBook BT Sissel on THE VOLUNTEER and life before #birthcontrol


"Shannon was a class beauty. She was a homecoming queen nominee. But it was the Sixties; nice girls—class beauties, homecoming queens—didn’t get pregnant..."
In response to the recent political flap surrounding free access to birth control, author Barbara Taylor Sissel writes this timely post on her blog, relating some of the heart-wrenching stories she heard while researching her novel The Volunteer.

"Regardless of our beliefs on the issues of premarital sex and pregnancy," says Sissel, "silence is not the answer. Neither is judgment against or consignment to hell. That was life before birth control."

Sissel, who has a talent for putting issues into powerful context (a la Picoult and Shreve), is hoping to bring the message home, offering The Volunteer free on Kindle this weekend.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My publishing career as illustrated by my hair


This is me at the time of my first professional writing gig. In 1976, I was an 8th grade misfit at an academically boffo but ideologically stifling Evangelical school. Girls in my class consumed True Confessions Magazine every month. (Who loves porn more than Puritan's, right?) Reading the stories typically titled "My Father Sold Me" or "A Sophomore's Secret" or some such, I thought, "Heck, I can do that."

Because I knew virtually nothing about sex beyond the vague "pulsing" and "engorging" alluded to in True Confessions and the "manroot" physiology of my book-a-day Gothic romance novel habit, my erotic tragedies relied heavily on witty dialogue and lush descriptions of locations, current pop music and fast food.

For $1/page, I wrote customized stories starring a classmate and her made-to-order crush. In cases where the crush was a real boy who failed to live up to expectations, a brief epilogue featuring his untimely death could be had for a quarter. Word spread, and I expanded my business to a local roller skating rink, passing off the folded pages in the privacy of the grimy girls' bathroom like a drug dealer.

On the first day of 9th grade, I was ironing my hair on the ironing board and branded a broad stripe down the front of my nose. This pretty much set the tone for my high school years.

Here's me at the time I started writing my first novel, originally titled MacPeter's Midlife Crisis. I'd given up ironing my hair, and apparently, it was particularly humid the day this photo was taken.

In 1981, I was a late night DJ at a rock station in Helena, Montana, crazy in love with a brilliant but damaged Vietnam vet, and supplementing my income busking at bars and tourist attractions. The novel started as a script I intended to enter in a playwright competition. During my super-useful college career as a theatre major, part of my Stanislavsky acting training included writing character studies, and mine usually ran about 12 times the recommended length, spinning out elaborate backstory and imagining offstage scenes.

I was still reading a book a day, but had moved on to Tom Robbins, Irving Stone, Eudora Welty and all things Bronte. I worshiped authors, and it never occurred to me that I could have a book published. I was writing this story purely for the love of laying words in a row, and needless to say, it was about a late night DJ and the brilliant, damaged Vietnam vet with whom she was crazy in love.

Here's me when I started writing my second novel, Sugarland.

I was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1994, shortly after my husband and I moved to Houston with our two small children. After years of dabbling, I'd finished my first novel, now titled Last Chance Gulch, queried it to six dozen agents and publishers and collected six dozen rejections.

I had zero hope of ever being published, but in the crucible of chemo, I suddenly understood why I was writing: because I'm a writer. So I wrote.

I got my first book contract in 1996. Gary started shaving his head to be in solidarity with me during chemo. And no we're not on the same cricket team; the sweats were 3/$10 at Wallgreen's, and we were flat broke. And that's not a wig; my hair came back jet black and kinky a la Shaft.
The amazing Fred Ramey (now at Unbridled Books) pulled my first novel from the slush pile, masterfully edited it from a 124K word swampland to a lean, mean 93K word fiction machine, and literally saved my life.

Fred gets the credit for the most fitting book title of my career: Crazy For Trying. The advance was $4,000. We promptly took the kids to Disney World.

While Crazy For Trying was in the pipeline, I lost my remission and turned to adjunct therapies to supplement the chemo. Above my desk was posted Isaac Asimov's famous two-word answer to being asked what he would do if he knew he had one year to live: "Type faster!"

Here's me in Good Housekeeping Magazine in 2001, when they featured a Book Bonus excerpt from my memoir Bald in the Land of Big Hair, which got my name on the bestseller lists for the first time.

My second batch of regrown hair was straight and mostly gray, so I was a different shade of red almost every month. I was also exploring my new publishing career, which was wide open, because I'd stumbled into it with no preconceptions, expectations or plans. And nothing to fall back on.

Marjorie Braman, my fabulous editor at HarperCollins, encouraged me to write a syndicated newspaper column while I got busy on another novel. That led to an advice column for a national magazine.

In 2004, I was invited to do my first collaboration at Simon & Schuster, which led to a collaboration at Random House, which led to a whole lot of other stuff, but I did eventually finish my third novel, The Secret Sisters, which was pubbed by HarperCollins in 2006.

Ghostwriting was something I'd never really thought about until I started doing it, but these great stories came along, and I'm a writer, so I wrote them.

And here's me today. I've done more than a dozen books, several of them NYT bestsellers, and worked with fantastic editors at five of the Big 6. I've learned that publishing, like personal style, is a process of constant reinvention, adaptation and a whole lotta get over yourself.

The decision to indie pub my backlist ebooks and forthcoming fiction has opened a thrilling new chapter. I'm not leaving traditional publishing behind. I plan to work hand in hand with my agent and transition my indie pubbed ebooks to print deals with standing houses. But I've grown up a lot. I've been to the puppet show and seen the strings, as they say. I began my writing career delivering stories directly into the hands of readers, so indie publishing feels like coming full circle. On roller skates.

I've given up trying to color my hair dark. The few strands that aren't white are bleached blonde to blend in. The only thing that hasn't changed is that daily longing to find the right words, the compulsion to set them down on paper. And so I write.

Brainstorming Doesn't Really Work--Or Does it?

On twitter tonight, someone tweeted Jonah Lehrer's article from The New Yorker about the history behind group brainstorming and how 60 years of scientific studies have shown that the traditional style of group brainstorming just doesn't work. The whole article is fascinating, but what most interested me was Lehrer's discussion of Brian Uzzi's forty-five-year study of the collaborative processes behind Broadway musicals. Uzzi found that the more commercially and critically successful musicals were created by teams comprised of people with strong, but not too strong connections:

According to the data, the relationships among collaborators emerged as a reliable predictor of Broadway success. When the Q was low—less than 1.7 on Uzzi’s five-point scale—the musicals were likely to fail. Because the artists didn’t know one another, they struggled to work together and exchange ideas. “This wasn’t so surprising,” Uzzi says. “It takes time to develop a successful collaboration.” But, when the Q was too high (above 3.2), the work also suffered. The artists all thought in similar ways, which crushed innovation.

This got me to thinking both about creative writing workshops and about writing groups in general. As both a veteran of such groups as well as a creative writing teacher, I've noticed the same thing. There has to be at least some level of trust and intimacy in a group in order for the exchange of ideas to be formative and not punitive or crippling. But if a group knows each other too well, sometimes the tendency is to become softer with one another, or perhaps just to think, as Uzzi found, too similarly.

That said, I know several thriving writing groups (one in particular involving people on this blog!) who have a longstanding history of meeting together. They cheer each other on, support each other through the hard times, and help each other filter out the bad writing and the not so great ideas. They celebrate each other's successes and help mollify the sting of rejection. They still keep doing these things, year after year.

So what gives? What do you think helps writing groups not only survive, but continue to thrive through the years? What is the best group atmosphere for fostering creativity? And how do novelists, who in the end are always going to be a bit solitary, find the creative spaces Lehrer's talking about, spaces which "hurl us together" often uncomfortably, into the "human friction that makes the sparks?"

Monday, February 13, 2012

Go with God, Jeff Zaslow

According to an obit in the WSJ: "Jeffrey Zaslow, a longtime Wall Street Journal writer and best-selling author with a rare gift for writing about love, loss, and other life passages with humor and empathy, died at age 53 on Friday of injuries suffered in a car crash in northern Michigan."

Zaslow was one of the most successful people in my particular neck of the woods (though I don't think he called himself a ghostwriter), best known as the smaller name on the book jacket. He was the co-author of Gabrielle Giffords's GABBY: A Story of Courage and Hope, THE LAST LECTURE, THE GIRLS FROM AMES, and several other bestsellers.

I'm a big admirer of what he accomplished and how he worked with his clients. This job is far more a personality type than it is a skill set, and "normal" writers (if there is such a thing) have no clue about the challenges it entails. After hearing Zaslow speak about how he approached this work, which is all about the personally creative act of facilitating someone else's voice, I held my head a little higher and (candidly) raised my fees accordingly. It's important work, when it's done right, and Zaslow set the bar high for the rest of us.

His own book, THE MAGIC ROOM: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters, was published about six weeks ago. According to Publisher's Marketplace, Zalsow was heading home after an event at McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, MI Thursday night, lost control of his car on a snowy road and was struck by a truck.

I guess that's either the best way or the worst way for a writer's life to end. Depends on the turnout at the bookstore. I hope it was a good one.

Go with God, Mr. Zaslow.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Get Your Free On: Spies, Lies and Innocent Deceptions!

Need some great, free weekend reading? Get Innocent Deceptions free for Kindle from Friday, Feb.10 through Sun. Feb. 12th. A historical romance written under my Gwyneth Atlee pseudonym, Innocent Deceptions is based on the fascinating true story of a Memphis belle turned Confederate spy who became engaged to multiple Union officers! Download your free copy of this Romantic Times 4 1/2 Star Top Pick and Multiple award nominee while you can and please don't forget to let your friends in one this sweet deal!

Hope you'll help me get the ball rolling with a quick download! Thanks!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

It's a book! Valerie Frankel's newborn scores with PW

Congrats to Valerie Frankel on her bouncing baby book! Delivered to stores this week, Four of a Kind, scored this rave from PW:
"In this engaging novel, seasoned author Frankel creates four compelling female characters who lead wildly different lives but have one thing in common: their children all attend the same New York private school. Under the pretense of creating a Diversity Committee, blonde beauty Bess Steeple invites the three other women--Robin, Carla, and Alicia--over to her Brooklyn townhouse for a meeting. To break the ice, the women engage in a poker game where the betting currency isn't money but secrets. ...Three-dimensional characters, and fast-moving plot lines are solidly entertaining."

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Jacques Brel "Our Deepest Fear" Poem animation in French & English

"My wish for you is that you have a never-ending series of dreams and a furious desire to realize a few of them..."

Friday, February 03, 2012

My response to "Publishing Ecosystem on the Brink"

There's been a lot of comments on the Authors Guild article "Publishing Ecosystem on the Brink", and for reasons I don't understand, my comment was removed. Here's what I said:

I'm frankly sick of all this sturm und drang.

As a reader, I'm discovering independent authors who (like me) have come out of traditional publishing backgrounds with serious craft skills and are now free to take the creative risks traditional publishing can't afford. Seven of my top ten favorite books in 2011 were indies.

As an author, after a dozen books at Big 6 publishers, I've started my own digital imprint, released my backlist and a new novel, and started gathering a coalition of seasoned, professional authors who are ready to stop bitching, take control of our careers, and build our brand in a way that brings added value to our continuing relationships with our agents and traditional publishers.

Our goal is to make the most of the creative and financial opportunities offered by indie publishing, while bringing with us the best qualities of traditional publishing: craft excellence, artistic integrity, careful editing and thoughtful presentation.

Next month, Neal Pollack and I will be participating in a panel at SXSW -- "Self-Publishing: A Revolution for Midlist Authors" -- and I can't wait to brainstorm about the amazing possibilities for authors, publishers, agents and especially for readers.

I think this is the most thrilling time in publishing since Gutenberg, and I'm incredibly grateful to be part of it.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Flash forward 29 years

Groundhogs Day 1983. I went backstage to greet some friends after their performance of "Fiddler on the Roof." This strange guy told me he loved me. Then he introduced himself and asked me to go for a walk. I had a can of Mace in my pocket, so I figured what the hey.

Flash forward 29 years...

Please get the facts about Planned Parenthood and Susan G. Komen for the Cure

First the Facts: During their last fiscal year, Planned Parenthood grossed $1 billion in annual revenues. The gross revenues of Susan G. Komen for the Cure were less than half that amount. Grants from SGK to PP were less than one tenth of 1% of PP funding. The perception that PP is somehow the pitiful stepchild of evil queen SGK is patently ridiculous.

SGK has a policy that prohibits funding of any organization under investigation for misuse of funds. PP is currently under such investigation. Is the investigation justified? Personally, I don't believe it is. I think it's anti-choice politicos abusing the system. But that doesn't change the SGK policy, which is in place so they can maintain the highest level of accountability to the people who support the organization with their money, love and hard-earned 60-miles-in-3-days sweat.

These are two very different organizations with very different missions, both doing important and largely thankless work on behalf of women around the globe. I’ve given money and time to support both SGK and PP, and I will continue to do so, but I’m disgusted by the way this has been twisted by MoveOn.org (to whom I’ve also given money and time, but will not continue to support) and other organizations that specialize in mobilizing ignorance to support their political agenda.

For years, SGK and their founder, Nancy G. Brinker, have taken horsewhippings for their funding of Planned Parenthood. Where was the kneejerk Facebook outcry then? Did those who are now ranting through the blogosphere write a single letter in support of SGK? Give a single dollar? Speak one word in their defense?

While coauthoring Nancy G. Brinker’s memoir, Promise Me, I did hundreds of hours of research on this amazing organization, spoke with dozens of staff members and volunteers, got to know Nancy’s son Eric, an SGK board member, and her mother, Miss Ellie Goodman, who is a force of nature in her own right. During the research phase for this book, Nancy sat with me for several weeks, recording conversations about a great many things.

The first day at her apartment in Washington D.C., I needed to make a copy of something, and she asked me to wait and do it at my hotel later. The copier and paper in her home office belonged to SGK, and she didn’t want SGK paper used for her personal project--even though she was donating the lion’s share of the money from this book to SGK. That's the level on which she cares about the proper spending of SGK money.

When Nancy left for the Middle East, where she and SGK were fighting for health care for women who had no voice or means, I remained in her home with her permission to look at anything and everything in her personal photos, files and archives. I’ve never had that level of access with a memoir client, and I doubt many people in the world have lived with the level of integrity that would withstand a snoopy writer digging through everything from their baby book to their divorce papers.

Nancy Brinker has. She is the real deal.

I’m not saying she’s a saint, and if you read her book, you’ll see that she’s not even trying to pretend. But in the wake of her sister Suzy’s death, Nancy founded this organization on her own shattered heart with nothing but a shoebox and the driving desire to help women and families devastated by this disease, and every difficult decision she’s made has had a single litmus test: Will this help women with breast cancer?

I don't know the particulars of how SGK funding is allotted from year to year, but I give money to them with absolute confidence that that litmus test is the defining factor. They put money where it's needed, and it occurs to me that, while I support the important work of PP, the PP budget and operating costs dwarf the budget and operating costs of SGK, so it doesn't make a lot of sense for SGK to turn their back on smaller organizations in order to support this massively funded behemoth. I'd rather see that money go to organizations like The Rose, an amazing little engine that could--and does, with the help of SGK--here in Houston.

 Before you react to baseless kneejerk political rants, I urge you to read what Nancy has to say about SGK's relationship with PP in her book. Promise Me is Nancy’s memoir, but the story of her life is far more about other people than it is about herself. Woven between the chapters is the history of breast cancer dating back to its first appearance in ancient Egyptian medical papyri, because in order to understand what happened to her and Suzy, you have to understand what breast cancer is, what it does, and you have to meet some of the millions who’ve been rescued by and contributed to the work of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

 Political activism requires getting the facts straight, and a life of love and service takes more than clicking “Like” or retweeting an easy pop of hate and ignorance.

Update:(February 3, 2012) – The national headquarters of Susan G. Komen for the Cure® released a statement this morning in response to the recent controversy regarding Planned Parenthood, revising the guidelines that prevented it from funding the organization.

The statement read in part, “Our only goal for our granting process is to support women and families in the fight against breast cancer. Amending our criteria will ensure that politics has no place in our grant process. We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.”

I was relieved to see SGK change their position on funding for PP, but it doesn't change any of the above or the fact that women's health care was the loser here because of the way it was handled on all fronts. The one silver lining: All the people who were bashing Nancy last year, bellowing about her "terrorizing" women into needless screening are now bellowing about how important screening is, which is what Nancy's been trying to tell people for 30 years.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

"The greater the artist, the greater the doubt."

"The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize." Robert Hughes

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