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3.25.2014

How it goes: A stop on the "My Writing Process" blogtour


This week I’m writing as part of the “My Writing Process” blog tour. I’d like to thank Rebecca Lawton for inviting me to write my story as part of the blog tour. You can read more about Becca at http://beccalawton.com/ and http://beccalawton.com/blog/.

1)     What am I working on?
Currently I am hard at work transcribing diaries from 1930. I’ve been editing and publishing Doris Bailey Murphy’s diaries for about two and a half years now; I’ve published two books about the 1920s and am heading into the Great Depression, 1930-33, now. I transcribe her fountain-penned pages and laugh at her thoughts, and then I stop and go look for background information to tell me what she means. Sometimes I learn a lot about one thing – like grapefruit farming in the Arizona desert in 1930. Or the real estate business as the economy was crashing in 1928. Or Portland architecture.
I’ve also got two novels under construction. One is in the resting phase before major revisions begin; it’s a literary contemporary novel. The other is a work-in-progress as we speak, about 32,000 words of a genre romantic suspense about a girl reporter and her sidekick on the trail of some buried Native American bones. I’m aiming to finish that and get it up on Kindle later this year.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My work is a little niche-y – or cross-niche-y. I’m a journalist by training, so I write fast and generally pretty cleanly. I don’t struggle over sentences or word choice; I keep writing til the thing is done. This comes from years of hard deadlines, editing my own and others’ work, and no time for revisions. One learns to write well in the first draft, or one doesn’t keep one’s job long. 

I was early on the scene in the blog world; I had been writing a column in the newspaper since 1996, and it was an easy step to take it to the Internet. I’ve been blogging for 11 years now, and have kept my main blog (Modern Muse) alive all that time. That has given me a facility with the conversational style that newspaper writing or literary writing haven’t. I’m also a literary scholar; I’ve written for publication about Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West, and the Harry Potter phenomenon. My training in literary research has helped me immeasurably in the Doris Diaries project. 

When you put all this in a cocktail shaker and agitate it, you get my conversational novel style with rich literary allusions. My editorial reportage tends to be more readable, and so does my literary work, I've been told. So there ya go.

3)     Why do I write what I do?
Short and sweet? I have stories to tell. And I am pathologically afraid of being una dona priva di narrativa. I hate being censored.

4)     How does my writing process work?I write early and late in the day, with down-time in the middle of the afternoon. I let the pot boil, as it were, for some time, and then sit down and just pour out the story. I wrote my collection of short stories in just a few weeks, but I’d been stewing on them for about six years. If I get stuck, I start typing notes. I work on the story, leave a gap with a note like “add conversation here” and keep going. Don’t let those things slow you down, writers. Just keep telling your story. Come back and fill in later. 

I’m a good editor, but I need editing, because I often can’t see my own errors. So I will do the first or second pass, then hand off my work to other trained eyes. I do a lot of editing for others, and it’s a pretty fair exchange. I’m used to being told what to fix. My ego is not involved. And if I think the editor is wrong, I won’t change it. 

You are the god of your story. Do what you want.


2.23.2014

What I've Learned: Publishing and the March of Times

When I was in my twenties and reading voraciously and spewing poetry on the page like a hydrant hit by a drunk driver, I wanted to get published more than I wanted a happy marriage, a suburban house and 2.5 children. In fact, I didn't have a happy marriage, although we did get that house, and three whole children; my desire to be published outlasted everything but the children, who are grown up and doing very well on their own now; thanks for asking.

I subscribed to Writers Digest and Byline Magazine, and kept a journal and wrote every single day, if I could, if I didn't have sick babies or sleepless nights, or, you know, life in general, which means I wrote a couple of times a week. Mostly about how tired I was. But I wanted, oh, how I wanted to be a writer. It was the being, not the doing, that I wanted, more than anything. This was before the Internet, and email, and the writing I did consisted of me with a notebook, scrawling verses, and me, with stationery, sending letters. I wanted to be a published writer now, today, not tomorrow, and not, by all that is holy, when I was forty, or fifty, or sixty, with Birkenstocks and a gray ponytail, just getting my first book of crappy poetry published. I wanted precocity. And I wanted it yesterday.

Then we got a computer and a modem, and email.
And we got the Internet.

I made a few email pals via chatrooms and I joined some listserves, and about that time I went into college classes and started working on my Masters' degree. There were no MFA programs yet. And then, almost overnight, there were MFA programs everywhere. My university switched over from the MA in English with a creative writing concentration to the MFA in (whatever) the semester before I graduated, so I could have paid for another three terms, or just finished up and been done. I finished.

I submitted work, and it was rejected. I went to open mics, where I sat through the horrors of other people's work, and the horrors of reading my own. I went to writers' conferences, those soul-sucking, money-sucking ventures where sci-fi poetry dudes in tweed with elbow patches flirted awkwardly, and my goody satchel contained a copy of Writers Digest, an emery board, a couple of free pens and a Visa application (kind of like the first day of college, minus the condom). I sent out work, and some of it was accepted. More and more, as I went on. My rejections were better, and then my acceptances were easier, and then I learned to target my subs, and my ratio increased.

So I was published.

Then I wrote a novel. I sent it out. I sent it out. I sent it out. I sent it out. And I sent it out. I gave up. I got a call, I got some letters, and I sent it out some more, and then I shelved it. I got divorced. I went back to newspaper work to earn a living, and then had the opportunity to start an indie newspaper with some smart people. Within two years, they wanted to expand the publishing business, and to print a novel. I showed mine, and they agreed it was a good start for the company. It was published.

You've never heard of it, so you know how that went.

But I was published. Right? And I was working as a writer, and I was writing, so I was being a writer. Right?

Guess how old I was? 40.

And over the next few years, I pushed that novel around, I taught some classes, I found a new project, I spewed out a couple more projects, including indie publishing my women's history project, and working in a women's publishing consortium. And this thing called social media popped up on the screen, and indie publishing was no longer a filthy abomination, and I'm still writing every day, and I don't wear Birkenstocks and my hair is not quite gray yet.

On my self-made book tour for the Doris Diaries last fall, one of the book stores dismissed me, saying, "She's not Stephen King." A reviewer dissed the books and the project, because "It's not like Anne Frank's diary." I had readings that went awry and events where the mic or the computer or the slide show didn't work. I tore out the entire back of my vintage dress just getting out of my chair at a reading in my hometown.

Still no red carpet. I rode in the 4th of July parade last year dressed as Doris. Dorky? Yes. My idea of fame and fortune? Not exactly. But what the hell?

At some point along the way, I realized that I couldn't be precocious because although back then I had the will, and a lot of the skill, I didn't have the experiences, the treasure trove of life to explore. I didn't have the goods. No material. Somewhere, I realized that all of those struggling months and years were my apprenticeship. And I mine that shit on an almost-daily basis now.

About three years ago I stopped using the words "submit," "acceptance" and "rejection" with regard to my writing work. I stopped giving the power of my worth as a writer to people who might or might not like it. Now I send out my work, and they like it or they don't. It serves their needs or it does not. My work is good. I wouldn't have lasted this long in newspaper, which is about as fiery a crucible as you'll find for a young writer, with deadlines and editors who won't worry about crushing your little feelings to get the story right. Editors who kicked my ass about word choice, grammar, punctuation and spelling eons ago. Before Spellcheck. Before Autocorrect was a thing.

So here I am. Not as successful as you, and way more successful than you'll ever be. I'm somewhere in the middle, making a living at it. I'm writing what I want, sending it to people who will probably like it, helping others who ask for advice or "new eyes" on their work. I mentor those who ask for it. I share resources. I support my sister and brother writers. I keep working at it. I might get "there," wherever the hell that mystical place is, someday. I might even have a gray fricking ponytail.

It doesn't matter as much, knowing, as I do, that at least I'm on my way.

1.11.2014

wet paint

I just did my nails in the uber-fashionable, yet timeless, design of blue sky with white fluffy clouds. I once painted my daughters' ceiling like that, with a roller and sponges, so they could lie in bed and dream of sunny skies. This looks the same, on a very small scale. I appreciate the nudge for a new look from my 20-something daughters (I have four of them) because I tend to get in the rut of pink or red nails. Same as last time, because it's so easy. Too easy, maybe.

That's how we do -- same as last time. I'll have the usual. Whatever's easy. But sameness isn't going to teach me anything. All it will do is leave me behind. In a world that is changing all the time, whether it's technology, fashion, trends, politics, the weather -- you don't have to jump on every bandwagon, but awareness of where we're headed seems like a good idea. You don't want to self-publish? That's fine. But you do have to self-promote. Don't want to post selfies? No prob. But be aware of what a selfie is.

For writers, it's part of the job (one of the many, many facets) to stay relevant. With social media apps and the Internet changing on a weekly basis, if not daily, it helps to stay on top of things. Read the news. Follow some blogs. Check into current topics so you know what's going on. I have a number of Google alerts for various topics dear to my heart -- like the environment, the Roaring Twenties, and my own name, in case I get any random publicity. I read the news every day, and retweet topics that intrigue me. You can do more than repaste the same tired (not so funny) meme. Have you checked your Klout score lately? Have you looked into Twylah for a free Twitter analysis? Updated your cover photo or headshot? Figured out what a hashtag is?

But for yourself -- have you tried a new cocktail lately? A new snack? Added a squirt of wasabi or Sriracha to your plate? Ordered something different from the menu of your same old favorite hangout, or tried a new place? Had coffee with someone new? Bought a different colored lipstick? A different kind of shoe than your same-old Keds? Watched a new program on TV that you've heard about but never seen? Listened to the new Beyonce album -- even a smidge of it for free on iTunes? Actually read a book on your Kindle or other e-reader? Tried your coffee black instead of sauced up?

It's a new year. New things for you this year? Why not? What are you doing to "new" your life?

#AmWriting #marketing #bookbiz #MondayBlogs


10.28.2013

NaNoWriMo in Just Three Days

Dude. Where did October go? I was sitting over there filing my nails and making glib promises to write a novel in 30 days, and suddenly Halloween is here and I have to get started writing. Like, soon.

I have a title. It’s called “That Thing I’m  Gonna Start Writing.” I have no outline. I figured it would come to me in a dream. I have nothing simmering in my head, waiting to burst out onto the page.

The last few times I NaNo’d, I knew exactly what I was going to do, and I was revved up and ready to go. This year I am mid-book-tour, with a reading, an author fair and a research trip to another state planned (hello, Albuquerque!). In other years, I had been blogging about the book ideas. Once I wrote creative nonfiction. Another year I wrote 30 poems in 30 days. I’ve used NaNoWriMo in my writing classes to inspire students, and have guest-spoken in a middle-school classroom to budding authors on the delights of NaNo. I felt utterly confident about the ease of the project.

But here, now. In three days. I have no excuses. I have been working on other people’s projects. I have been producing nonfiction. But I haven’t been writing – my own sweet words. And chances are, as with many other areas of my life, that what I really long to do would get pressed to the side or nudged to the bottom of the list while I deal or manage or fix it for others. So. No title. No outline. Just a general idea, little more than an elevator pitch. One sentence with which to start a novel.


I’m not ready. But I’m ready. If you know what I mean. 

Read all about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) here.

9.30.2013

12 Tips to Make the Most of Your Book Fair (and 3 Ways Not to)

Friends in low places:
Truman the Reading Dragon says "Hey."
As independent authors, we have to promote ourselves, and one place to do that is at a book fair. After a few unsuccessful book fairs, I began to dread and loathe them as crowded and noisy – or deadly dull – and I sold few books. Not only was that frustrating, it was a waste of my time and money – to get there, to stay overnight somewhere if it was a weekend event, and the time away from family and deadlines. But a recent book fair changed my outlook.

The Sonoma County Book Festival was set for outdoors, but unseasonable rain changed the entire day’s plan. Book vendors, authors and publishers were squeezed indoors, along hallways and in the cafeteria of the college, and gave me the opportunity to see what other authors and publishers do to succeed at book fairs. Here are some tips I picked up for the next book festival.

1)      Hang a banner. The banner says at a glance who you are. Indie-Visible, our publishing collective, has a distinctive bright green silhouette of a girl reading, and from across the room, you could really see that and get a sense that women and books were of utmost importance. And since you can’t always choose your placement, an eye-catching banner helps pull you into view more than no banner at all. (Order one from an online print service for less than $50.)

2)      Give it away. Always have something with which the public can walk away. Postcards or bookmarks, business cards, or other printed material are ways to keep your title in mind after they head for home. Hand out stickers or pens with your book’s title, logo, or a motto from the book. Candy? Yes. Kids head for candy, and the parents follow. One of the most memorable takeaways from my most recent book-fest was a bubblegum eyeball from Damnation Books/Eternal Press. My son loved it, and I remember their name, don’t I?

3)      Don’t get trapped behind your table. Authors and vendors who stand in front, to the side, are able to engage with readers. The sound level may be high in the authors’ hall and readers may not be able to hear you across the table. You can actively speak of your book, or give away your stickers or postcards, rather than leave it to passive patron “takeaway.” Use at least some of your time to stand up and engage instead of sitting the entire day.

4)      Offer a discount for fair-goers only. You can tweet and post about this ahead of time, even giving a discount code for followers, if you like. “Mention my Twitter feed and you can take 20 percent off at the San Francisco Book Fest.”

5)      Think vertically. Your book table is horizontal. Add visual interest with an easel to hold a large-size book-cover poster. Some authors hang quilts or display upright items like a full human skeleton, a costume or flag. On the table, think tablescape: Use a small stand to display up your book, and keep the additional books under the table, out of sight. Use a cake stand, a footed dish, a tiered rack – anything that looks more than flat on the table. Even a vase of flowers adds vertical interest.

6)      Wear a costume. Why not? If you write historical fiction, for example, dress the part. Author Linda McCabe dons her Italian Renaissance gown and draws readers, especially with children who want to “see the princess.” Her costume is an excellent way to interact with patrons. My Doris Diaries books take place in the 1920s, so I often wear a cloche hat, long beads and a dress or sweater that brings the era to mind, even if it’s not exactly full costume. Writing for children? How about hiring a teen to dress as the character for all or part of the day? You don’t want to look ridiculous, but if it sets the tone, cos-play may be right for you.

7)      Use props. My candlestick telephone or Victrola are props I often take to readings or to book fairs. They set the mood for wandering fair-goers to see these items from the 1920s. Other authors use teddy bears, a rolling pin, a skull, a typewriter, or anything that might play on the theme or subject of the book. A globe, a bowl of goldfish? What prop could you use on the table to start a conversation?

8)      What’s your name? With so many people coming and going at a book fair, it’s difficult to tell who is official, who’s an author, and who is a member of the reading public. Make one in advance in case the book fair doesn’t provide you with a nametag. “Julia Park Tracey, author,” tells the wandering reader exactly who I am without having to guess. This is especially important when it’s noisy in the hall. Trying to shout your name across the table is rather demoralizing.

9)      Take a friend: ideally, another author who will share expenses and space with you. Two people can take turns manning the table when one wants to eat, drink, stretch legs or make a phone call. Hosting a table with Christina Mercer, a sister-author from Indie-Visible, changed my whole experience. I had someone to talk to, we shared our ideas about writing, and were able to tag-team tweet, post and snap photos with ease.

10)   Trade your book for another author’s if you see something you like – or that might be similar to yours. It’s a good opportunity to see what worked and what didn’t in someone else’s work. I met Patty Kogutek of Phoenix at the San Francisco Book Festival this year. Our books had similar themes of guilt and Catholicism. We are planning to read together when I head to Arizona later this fall.

11)   Start a mailing list on a clipboard. Write a few of your friends’ or children’s names on the list to get it started. For some reason, people won’t write on an empty mailing list, but will jump at a list that looks popular.

12)   Make eye contact. Say hello. Stay engaged with the patrons instead of tweeting, playing a game on your iPad or reading. If asked how it’s going (business or the fair), answer enthusiastically (even if you have sold nothing). People don’t want to buy from a loser; they buy from a winner (basic sales psychology here), so say, “It’s a great festival – I’m meeting so many fans! Sales are fantastic!” Who wouldn’t want to buy a book that “everyone” is buying?

A positive attitude – combined with realistic expectations (you might sell a lot and you might sell nothing) will set you up for success at your next book fair. And because I’m generous like that, here are a few Don’ts for your book fair, too.

1)      Don’t eat. Biting into a sandwich or scraping at plate of food at the booth is unprofessional. Even munching on chips (or gum) can be very unattractive to prospective buyers. Step away from the table to eat, and no gum! A covered cup of coffee or bottled drink are fine.

2)      Don’t bring your dog/baby/teenager, unless your book is about dogs (Nancy Levine takes her pug Wilson to book fairs, as a star attraction); a breastfeeding author with a book about same is an advertisement. Otherwise, leave your little ones at home and give your full attention to the books. Make sure teens are there to help, not hinder with a surly or disruptive attitude.

3)      Don’t be rude to your fellow/sister authors, who may hear your elevator pitch 200 times that day. Don’t wear heavy perfume or play music without permission; don’t take the extra chair or space under their tables without asking, etc. Good boundaries make good neighbors.



8.17.2013

Big plans, big big plans

Busy days. (Note to self: why is "busy" spelled this way but sounds like "bizzy"?) I know, I'm addicted to busy, but life is full and there's always a lot to do. Indulge me, will you?

April and May were full of Tongues of Angels adventures, because Indie-Visible released the novel as a 10-year anniversary edition, and I was all over the place online, in several blog-carnations. It was good. It was busy, but it was good. That firmly under way, I turned to finishing off the second of the volumes of collected diaries, and all the proofing, indexing and final approvals needed.

All to good ends, friends, because the second installment of the Doris Diaries is here: Reaching for the Moon. Yes. It is finished, and ready for your approval and delight (click that little link and it will take you to Amazon, or print the page and take it to your indie bookstore and ask for them to order it special via Ingram.) And if you read it and like it, why PLEASE do go to that Amazon page, or Goodreads, and post a review? Because it is fresh and new, there are zero reviews yet.

And lord knows, I love a review.

I'm in the midst of planning what's next, that is -- book tour! I have a handful of dates in the Bay Area this fall, and a week in Portland set for September. Southern California and Arizona visits are also in the works. Very exciting events coming this way:

  • Sept. 3-9, a giveaway on GoodReads (5 copies of Reaching for the Moon)
  • Sept. 7: Neptune Beach Festival, Alameda -- I'm reading (in costume) 1-1:30 onstage, between bands!
  • Sept. 8: Art Deco Society's Gatsby Summer Afternoon (costumes required! hosting a table, signing books)
  • Sept. 21: Sonoma County Book Fest (at Santa Rosa Jr. College), all day; Indie-Visible book table (signing books)
  • Sept. 22-28: Portland via Coast Starlight train
    • Sept. 24: Architectural Heritage Center: speaking on "The Works of Luther R. Bailey," Doris's father (my great-grandfather) - 7 pm
    • Sept. 25: Hollywood Theatre, Sandy Boulevard. "Wings" silent movie featuring the accompaniment of the Columbia River Theatre Organ Society. Complimentary Champagne and book launch, brief reading before film. Book signing, 6:30. Film at 7. $10/general; $8 seniors/students, $7 members of the Hollywood Theatre.
    • Sept. 26 (tentative): Cocktail reception at Heathman Hotel, featuring no-host bar, costumed reading.
    • Sept. 27: Eugene, OR: Tsunami bookstore reading, with other women writers. 7 p.m. Book signing after.
  • Oct. 6: Sonoma County book launch, Occidental Center for the Arts, 4 p.m. Slide show, author interview and Q&A. 
  • Oct. 25: Doris in San Francisco; The Rabbit Hole, 7 p.m. Featuring costumed bartenders, reading, music of the Jazz Age.
  • TBA: Books Inc. Alameda reading.

So there you have it. A busy schedule, with travel, meeting far-flung friends and more. Watch for updates....those TBAs and Tentatives will turn to solid gold soon.