Sunday, November 15, 2015

Pay-To-Enter #Literary #Book #Prizes: What's Your Beef, Bro?

It's always cool to win a prize, especially when its a book prize. The USA Best Book Awards are mainly for independent books, though I noticed some of the winners this year were from mainstream publishing houses, which is to say, maybe everyone with any kind of cash leftover in the promotional budget enters into what some people like to call "vanity award" contests. It's not an inexpensive proposal: $199.00 to enter a book in a specific category. Still, someone, or some panel, reads the books and picks a winner, so it's not entirely vanity.  ( I mean, if I paid and automatically became a winner, or if I picked my book as a winner, that would be vanity.) So, criticize all you want. I'm never going to win a National Book Award. So I am delighted that Miracle Girls won a USA Best Book Award. And I'm especially happy that it won in the Literary Fiction category. That just makes me happy. What can I say?

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Problem With #Family: A #Literary Dilemma

So, I've written three drafts of my next book based on this essay, but I hated the way it sounded (too whiny), so I started over entirely. Blank page. And now I am on page 234 of the new and improved version, which is from a much deeper point of view, much more internal. I am getting ready to head into the second half of the book, which deals with disinheritance. I have to say I'm a little overwhelmed at the idea of delving a new into such a hairy topic, but here I go anyway. What makes things all a bit unfun is the fact that my family wants me to stop writing about the topic. I think they wish I would shut the F*** up, or fall off the planet, but I have to write this book. I have to figure out what exactly happened to me and why. I've even found a decent literary method for never mentioning any of them by name: I write about my brothers as The Three. How about that for clever? But, whatever. They don't get it, and never will.
     If they had the capacity to understand, I probably never would have been disinherited (by surprise) in the first place. Someone would have warned me. Anyway, they are all seemingly insulted by the essay, which I think is fairly gentle, to tell you the truth, and not even technically about them. There's barely a mention of them, but everybody has a right to his or her own opinion. Mostly, I've heard from them on the fact that they think we didn't have THAT many guns in the house when we were young. (!) (!!) (Huh?!) (What are you loons talking about?!) We had plenty of guns, believe me, more than I ever hope to see again in one place.
     And you know what else is freaking weird? The members of my entire family have all managed to act like the novel I wrote and finally published did not ever exist. No one has said a word about it to me or to anyone else. They must not ever run into anyone from the old home time: like, the English teachers who have written me notes, or my classmates, or my childhood sweetheart's encouraging family who posted a picture of them holding my book in the local Barnes & Nobles. My family must not go to the dentist either, because it was right there in People Magazine next to Stephen King and Annie Lamott. (My novel did exist. It did exist. I know it existed.) Ah, forgive my crazy: I grew up in a family without mirrors. No one ever reflected anything back at me that seemed even remotely recognizable. Maybe that's why they don't recognize my written version of them. Maybe I am actually in the same bind as The Three; we are blind to one another. I wish we could join together to work our way out, but that is just another fantasy I sometimes have on a Monday afternoon when I am feeling a little blue.
     Sometimes all this is a bit of a head trip, as you can see, but I know I am not the only writer who has ever dealt with the literary dilemma of having a family. Anyone want to share some wise advice, or links on the issue, or general thoughts, encouragements, criticism? I guess I'm feeling a little lonely in all this. Hoping there are still some mice out there to respond.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

#Publishing A #Novel: What To Do When The Future Is Behind You

As you may know, dear mice, the effort to get my novel published has been a long and grueling, sweaty workout. I have spent many, many years looking ahead to the time when the book at last would have its day. Today, approaching the year anniversary of the novel's launch, it occurs to me that now all the forward-looking is behind me now.
     This is unexpected, friends.
     It's not that I am light on understanding the temporal and linear nature of the physics of time, or anything; it is, instead, that I am just so used to looking forward for glory, not backward. 
     It's all a bit disturbing to realize the thing I have toiled over has already come to fruition, had a lovely day in the glare of media attention, been read by several people in the world, and is now a thing, separate from me, and in my past.
     Now what?
     I need to look forward to something new. I am writing the memoir, but it's different--maybe just knowing that another book will not be the magic answer to all my human woes makes it so. I invested so much shiny hope into the novel; I believed so whole-heartedly that it would change my life once and for all!
     But no one ever tells you about the year after you publish your first novel. No one ever tells you that seeing the light of your first novel getting published will bring you to a sad realization. And the realization is that there is no actual "it" just around the corner that's going to change who you are and how fantastic your life is. Publishing a novel won't do it, nor will all the fame and fortune in the literary world. (And I'm guessing here based on a tiny, tiny taste.) Nothing does that. So you might as well get right with yourself as you are.
     This is one of the many secret they don't tell you.
     But I will tell you, oh rodents, because here I am, living proof that I am still I, still here, still the same with all the same issues and problems.
     I find this realization both comforting and depressing. I also know that you will not listen to me until you have gone through the experience yourself.  But when you get there, I hope, at least, you'll be a little more prepared for this cold splash of water in the face than I was.
     Peace out, for now.

Friday, September 4, 2015

#REJECTEDBOOKS.COM: A Call For Your #Rejected #Books (Sort Of)

Got an email from some enterprising young Swedish fellows, announcing a need for YOUR rejected book titles:
Established as well as unestablished authors from across the world are invited to contribute to the art project Bibliotheca Non Grata — an imaginary library of rejected and thus non-existent literature — with titles of their own literary works that have been rejected by a publishing house or an institution and thus have not been published.

We call for titles of rejected literary works in any language and of any writing genre, fictional as well as nonfictional. All submitted titles of rejected works will be included in the public online catalogue of Bibliotheca Non Grata. A selection of submitted titles of rejected manuscripts will be printed on the spines of 365 hardbound empty book covers—one for each day of the year—which form the physical representation of the rejected and thus non-existing literature which constitutes Bibliotheca Non Grata.

Titles can be submitted on the project's website, where you can also find more information about the art project.  Find out more on facebook
Bibliotheca Non Grata is a public art project by artist Måns Wrange and architect Igor Isaksson, commissioned by the city of Umeå in Sweden, in memory of journalist, activist and author, Stieg Larsson’s work for democracy and free speech as well as against discrimination and racism. The artwork Bibliotheca Non Grata will be placed in Umeå city library in the newly constructed and the Kasper Salin architecture prize awarded cultural centre Väven. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Why I Think You Should Not Purchase #GoSetAWatchman

There are several reasons why I am not going to purchase and read Go Set A Watchman (GSAW) by Nell Harper Lee. One of those reasons is the crooked agents she's had since her beloved agent, Maurice Crain, died in 1970.   Crain was the one who edited her work, advised her, and helped her develop To Kill A Mockingbird.  

Harper Lee really got the shaft at the agency McIntosh & Otis, particularly by Sam Pinkus, who made all sorts of dirty deals behind the author's back. The whole thing is detailed in Mark Seal's excellent expose at Vanity Fair, aptly titled "To Steal A Mockingbird."  This should be required reading for literary writers, students, and book authors. There should be a quiz on it at cashier counters wherever GSAW is sold. 

Additionally, the article reports the following:
A friend once asked Lee if it was true that she’d never written another novel because she didn’t want to compete with herself.
“Bullshit!” she snapped.
“Why then?” the friend asked.
“Because I wouldn’t go through all the terrible publicity and the strain of what happened with Mockingbird for any amount of money.”
Asked about the volume of Mockingbird sales, she replied, “Well, it doesn’t matter, because I only make 10 percent on it.”
She rarely talked about money and never handled it. Her checks bore the account name of Harper Lee and Alice Lee, and Alice balanced her sister’s books, paid her taxes, and reviewed her contracts.
I feel you, sister Nell; promoting a book is not for the faint of heart. The New York Times reported on the history of the book:
“Go Set a Watchman” would have been Ms. Lee’s literary debut, if her editor had not rejected it. She finished the novel, which takes place 20 years after “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in the mid-1950s. But her editor, Tay Hohoff, told her to write a new version from Scout’s perspective as a young girl.
I must say, I hope no one ever discovers the skeletons of books I have in my closet, completed or not! It is clear that GSAW was a stop on the road toward writing the excellent classic To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAB).

Here are some facts:
  • In 2007, Harper Lee suffered a stroke and moved home to Monroeville so her older sister Alice Lee could look after her
  • In 2011, Alice ended up in a different nursing home in town after a bad fall coupled with a bout of pneumonia
  • Alice Lee died last year, at age 103, and friends reported that Harper was sitting alone at the funeral and talking to herself. She did not seem to be aware of her surroundings
  • Alice Lee's law partner, Tonja Carter, carried on the work on behalf of Harper Lee and was part of making the decision with Lee's agents to publish GSAW in 2015
  • Tonja Carter also sued Pinkus (Lee's former crooked agent) to get back the rights to TKAM, which Harper Lee had been duped into signing away
  • Tonja Carter is also now Harper Lee's power of attorney and can make decisions for her in the case that she is unable to make them for herself
  • There are allegations that Harper Lee had kept GSAW in a safety deposit box to keep it safe and unpublished (See NYT article about who knew about the manuscript.)
  • It was widely known that Lee didn't want to publish again
  • The story of Tonja Carter "discovering" the manuscript in a pile of papers when Alice Lee was near death is suspect
  • Alabama investigators are looking into at least one anonymous complaint that Ms. Lee, who is now nearly 90 and infirm, nearly completely deaf, and visually impaired, was manipulated into publishing GSAW
For more, read Claire Suddath's excellent article, "What Does Harper Lee Want?" at Blomberg Business. The point here is that after Harper Lee's sister Alice died all bets were off. I think if she'd wanted to publish GSAW at any point in her career, she would have.  That it is being published now is just a bunch of agents and publishers making a bundle off of an old woman who is not able to make her wishes known.  In short, in my humble opinion it stinks of bad juju.

We live in a reality-TV time when everyone wants to know the story behind the story. Many readers will purchase GSAW just to learn about the book that Nell Harper Lee herself called, "The Parent of To Kill A Mockingbird." I don't watch Reality TV. I don't want to know how the magic trick was done. I believe it is the writer's prerogative to share or not share the behind-the-scenes of her wonderful published novel.  Of course, it's your choice whether or not you yourself purchase the book, but at least you know the shady issues surrounding its discovery and publication.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

#Literary Dispatch from The Front Porch

Mice: I am sitting on my front porch with no more readings scheduled and only a few more possible awards that Miracle Girls: A Novel could win as a long shot. It has actually done pretty well, having been honored with the following awards:
  • 2015 USA Best Book Award in Literary Fiction
  • 2015 Independent Publishers Book: Gold Medal  (See photo above with IPPY seal)
  • 2015 Spiritual Book Winner at the Paris Book Festival
  • 2015 Spiritual Book Winner at the San Francisco Book Festival
  • 2015 Spiritual Book Winner at the Amsterdam Book Festival
  • Honorable Mention in Spiritual Fiction at the 2015 Los Angeles Book Festival
  • Honorable Mention in General Fiction at the 2015 New York Book Festival
  • An IndeFAB 2015 Book of the Year Award Honorable Mention in the LGBT Book Category
  • An IndeFAB 2015 Book of the Year Award Nominee in the Religious Book Category
  • Lambda Literary Award 2014 Lesbian Fiction Category Finalist 
Anyway, the book and I are resting comfortably with not much else to do. I did find someone to bring it to the Frankfurt Book Fair on the off chance that I might be able to sell some foreign rights, but for the most part, I'm going to think that we are status quo as previously declared.

It's all a little weird.

I am working on the next book (Disinherited: A Memoir), which, honestly, why would I want to go through this again?  I ask that and I had an amazingly wonderful experience! But, then again, what the hell else would I do with myself? Luckily, I've got a bunch of paid work deadlines that will keep me off the streets for awhile.

Monday, June 22, 2015

R.I.P--The Happy Life and Peaceful Death of a Small #Literary #Novel

When I published my first book, which was a short story collection, I was 29 years old. I didn't know that books had a life, and inevitably (for most authors), a quiet and peaceful death (if you're lucky). I thought everything just went on forever: the readings, the interviews, the people who read your book and told you about it. I also thought that there would be a way to build on the thing in order to make the next book bigger, better, and read by more people, which is something that happens for a few people, but not everyone. Because I was dumb, everything that happened with the first book felt like a disappointment, and I missed all the magic.  Youth is they say, so what can you do? For most of us, a published book is like an island of ecstasy in an sea of pain. That was the experience I had in publishing when I was young. 

I published Miracle Girls when I was 48, much wiser about life and much calmer about my place in it (thanks to this blog). I know that every book that is born, also will die, and I am hoping for a peaceful ending to this lovely, lovely year. Everything that happened to the book felt like a total miracle, even though I was the one behind all the promotions and basically pulling all the strings. What I learned is that being arrogant and thinking you deserve something from the world is unhelpful and leads to unhappiness. On the other hand, being humble and feeling grateful for everything you get is a much more sustainable and comfortable position.  I had a year that was beyond my imagination with this second book, and I am so happy about it.  Still, though, now it is coming to a close, and I am faced with what appears to be a mixture of sadness and relief.  Mostly, I am glad to get back to writing alone at my computer, where I get to think and not have to comb my hair or look presentable, if you know what I mean.

To write, publish and promote a book well, you really have to have a wide range of many talents: you have to be able to sit alone and dig deep into the painful places; you have to be persistent and wear a bullet proof vest for all the rejections you will get; you have to also be nimble enough to know when you are getting good editorial advice; finally, you have to clean up nicely and do some tap dancing for the media, book buyers, and interviewers. Each effort and accomplishment is exhausting in its own special way. But for now, going back to my book on being disinherited feels like a treat, though it is not an easy topic for me.  (My third book is going to be a happy one, I hope). And when I feel unsure of myself, or beaten down, or exhausted in the writing way, I can still look over at my novel in its pretty pink cover and know that it exists in the world. Maybe somewhere out there someone is reading it.  And that is really and truly amazing, isn't it?