Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New Rocket Girls Post

Go to Rocket Girls to read a new posting from me about Writing and Aging. Or more specifically, how hard it can be to be published when you're over 50.

Friday, February 22, 2008


If I had any doubt that I am not cut out to be a publisher, that doubt was completely erased last night when I watched with absolute fascination a documentary about Helvetica. You know, Helvetica? The type face/font so popular in graphic design? Yes, I sat for an hour and half and watched interview after interview with designers from all over the world talk about the creation and development of a font. I am a nerd!

The documentary is called Helvetica and is distributed through Netflix. It examines how Helvitica transformed graphic design as part of the Modern arts movement in the 1950's and how it is still the dominant type used in advertising today. Look around. Everywhere you look, you will see Helvetica. Crate and Barrel, Target, JC Penny, Mervyns, the words on your Starbucks take out cup, all use Helvetica. Even IRS forms use Helvetica.

Helvetica is not a good font to use for books, but I still found the documentary riveting. Wow! I didn't know Helvetica was named after the Roman word for Switzerland. Cool! Which is proof positive that I am a font nerd. A book slut. Because to me, a book is more than just the story it contains. It is the font used to tell the tale, the paper it is printed on, the overall weight of the book, how it is bound, what the cover looks like, how the spine crackles when you open it, and what the cover design reveals about the story inside. A book is a work of art in itself, regardless of the story. Not that the story isn't important; of course it is. But everything else that goes into the creation of that book brings the story to life. And that's what I love. The nerdiness of that creation process.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mom's don't get sick days.

It's been quite a while since I've posted here. Blame it on the flu mainly, but also blame it on creative exhaustion. After my luxurious stay at a friend's house which got me focused into my own writing and creative energy, I'm back to feeling worn out and creatively fizzled. My Muse doesn't even want to be around me much right now. Who can blame her? I spend all my time figuring out how to squeeze a drop of advertising money from a dry well and revising my inventory and sales spread sheet. I stare at my multi-colored post-it-note to do list and feel nothing but questions. And as always happens when I get in this mood I start asking, am I cut out for this publishing life?

Just like a novelist who stares at her half completed manuscript and bemoans that she can't write, I too feel a loss of direction. What am I doing? Why am I doing this? Why don't just I go out and get a job at Starbucks and stop playing with books? Bad enough I try to write my own, now I think I can publish them? I must be insane!

"Yes, you are definitely insane," my Muse says. She snuck up on me while I was writing the above paragraph and rested one long fingered hand on my right shoulder. "But all artists are insane. What makes you think you're any different?"

"I don't feel much like an artist right now."

"I know. You're tired is all. You have a cold and you've been taking care of your sick daughter and haven't had enough sleep. No reason to shut down production."

"Maybe it is. Maybe I can't do it. Taking care of my girl while trying to work and be creative... it's too much."

"And I've never met a mother who didn't feel that way, too." My Muse sits down on the edge of my desk to look at me. "What else would you do?"

"I don't know. Clean the bathroom more often."

She smiles. "You would die of boredom in two days. Maybe less. No, face it my dear, you're an artist, and a mother, and right now you have a cold. Therefore you feel like all you want to do is hide on the couch and watch Northern Exposure reruns with four boxes of tissues."

"Why don't moms get sick days?"

"That's why I'm not a mom. I can't imagine giving up my entire existence to another human being, someone who is needy and whiney and never says thank you for anything you do. And then when they grow up they hate you. Sounds like hell."

I stare at her. "You know exactly what to say to make me feel worse."

"I try." She grins. "Come on. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Turn off this computer and make a cup of tea. Tomorrow you'll feel better and then you can finish up that contract for the new author."

"Oh God. The new author. Can I actually take on another author?"

"This author? Definitely. I have a very good feeling in my bones about her."

"But what if..."

"Enough!" My Muse reaches over and turns off my computer.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Medusa's Muse is starting to receive submissions from writers on a regular basis now, which makes me realize I really need to decide EXACTLY how to deal with them. So far, we've received just a few now and then, usually via a polite, but not very professional, email. One has peaked my curiosity, but I'm not sure we can even take on any more projects right now. So, how do I manage a steadily growing slush pile?

It's weird being in this position. I have written two novels and numerous short stories, as well as four plays, and from all that work I've received over seventy rejection letters. I've only been published once. Hip Mama magazine, 2001. I know how much a rejection letter hurts. I've been pummelled to the point I don't want to send out any more work. Ever! Now here I am, looking at a writer's work, trying to decide if I like it or not.

To like or not to like is a completely subjective thing. But I need to set up certain guidelines for myself when reading someone's query so that I can create the rules for how I want submissions sent. What am I looking for in a manuscript? What excites me? What annoys me? It's kind of like asking yourself what you like in a mate. My turn-on's are a well crafted, polished manuscript full of passion and honesty, and a sense of humor. Turn-off's are cleverness for cleverness' sake, poor spelling and grammar, and anything smelling of elitism. Translation: send me something that is beautiful and honest, but save the rhetoric. Write from the heart, not the ego.

Transforming Chaos into Art. That is the Medusa's Muse mission. What that means for a writer is that we like stories about people who have overcome some kind of challenge and have grown from it. If that person can craft a story around that challenge, whether fiction or non-fiction, then we're interested. It doesn't have to be a tragedy or an illness. Write about your love of baseball or dogs, just as long as it inspired a transformation in your, or the character's, life.

Do not send genre fiction such as Sci Fi or Romance, and please no Poetry. I like to read them, in fact I'm a huge Steam Punk fan, but I don't publish those books.

Now, the how to send a query part. I only accept queries via email. That is because the editor lives in Boston and the only way she and I can work together on a project is through email. If you send it to me in the regular mail, I'll just send it back. Send a query letter to, in the body of an email. No attachments. Your email should explain who you are, what your book is about, how long it is, how it fits with the Medusa's Muse mission, and if you've ever been published before. Don't worry if you haven't been, it's just nice to know. I don't care if you have an MFA or not, I only care if you can write. A well crafted query letter will show me that you are professional and know how to write a book. A rambling, disorganized email tells me you're not quite ready to work with a publisher, so really take your time with the letter. Look up examples of query letters. Have a friend help; sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can really help. I'll post a sample query later.

If your query grabs us, we'll ask for the first chapter and a synopsis. The first chapter shows us your writing ability and tells me if you can write a book that grabs a reader from page one. The synopsis shows us what your book is about and helps us see if it is a good fit for Medusa. Please finish your book before submitting. Half written books are not accepted. And send us your BEST work. Writing is a time consuming art that takes energy and focus. Take that time. It's worth it.

Can I take on any more projects? For now, we'll take query letters any time. There may come a point when we'll have to close the reading period and only accept queries at certain times of the year. We already have two projects (possibly a third) that will take up the next year, so any other book will have to wait until 2010.

I love discovering new, talented writers. It's the judging part I don't like very much.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Correction Regarding Etymologist's Corner

I was just informed by Ray Succre, another contributor to Blood and Ink, that The Etymologist's Corner isn't written by Elijah Brubaker, but is a contribution of newcomer Andrew King.

Thank you Ray for pointing that out, and my apologies to Andrew King.

Etymologists Corner

On the collective literary blog Blood and Ink (I should tell you that I am a contributor) there is a new writer, Elijah Brubaker, who posts a regular piece called "The Etymologists Corner." Etymology is defined by Webster as:

1 : the history of a linguistic form (as a word) shown by tracing its development since its earliest recorded occurrence in the language where it is found, by tracing its transmission from one language to another, by analyzing it into its component parts, by identifying its cognates in other languages, or by tracing it and its cognates to a common ancestral form in an ancestral language
2 : a branch of linguistics concerned with etymologies

Now this might sound like dull reading, but Elijah Brubaker is a very good writer who shares his thoughts and knowledge about words in clear and thought-provoking prose. And as writers and book lovers, isn't it the word that really captures our heart? The right word at the right moment, that's what great literature is.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Is a book-store reading worth the energy?

Laura had her second reading at the bookstore in Cloverdale; a lovely, small store across from the movie theatre called Cover to Cover books. The owner is very friendly and the space lovely. Big comfy chairs, lots of books, plenty of light. I dropped off a box of books for Laura to bring with her (I couldn't go. My family was throwing a birthday party for me that day) and explained that the owner would deal with the sales.

Afterwards, Laura returned the box with a note from the bookstore saying five were sold. I called Laura and asked how it went. She explained it was fun and six people came.

"Five books sold to six people is really good," I said.

"No. Two books sold. The bookstore bought three for the shop."

Laura and I chatted about how helpful the owner of the store was, and how appreciative the people who came to the event were. She had a wonderful time and we sold a few books. It sounded like a standard, normal, kind of book-store reading. And that's the thing... sometimes you start to wonder, is it worth it? Readings take a lot of energy to set up and prepare for, as well as the time it takes the author to come and read and meet people. The gigantic turnout we had for the book launch was a once in a book's life-time event. What normally happens at a store reading is a few people come to meet the author, listen to her read, eat a few cookies while waiting to chat with her, maybe buy a book, and then they leave. Total run time: one hour tops. Preparation time: 5-8. That doesn't take into account the amount of energy spent by the author figuring out what to read, what to wear, and what to eat to help her stomach stay down where it should while her heart starts pounding from nerves. Or how about the night before, when the author lies awake asking, "What if no one comes?"

That does happen sometimes. I have a friend with three succesfull books published by big houses and she had a reading at a store where only the staff attended. She waited around for a while, then signed some books for the store and thanked the staff for setting up the chairs and putting out cookies. This had been her biggest fear, and it came true one day. It will come true at least once for every author. And every author survives.

There is a lot of talk about cutting the traditional bookstore readings by authors all together. Economically, you sell more books on than at a live event, and you don't have to leave your house. Some bookstores have stopped hosting readings and some publishers don't bother setting them up. I think reading at a bookstore is a wonderful event that works in certain areas and at certain times, but shouldn't be the only thing the author does to promote her book. Do readings in your local area because your community will come out to see you and local stores usually like to support its local talent. But don't expect to get a big turnout in Cupertino if you are from Ukiah, not unless Oprah's just talked about your book. And think about other places you could do a reading. What is the topic of your book? Are there any conferences or festivals where your book would be a good fit? If you're book is about home improvment you might have better luck selling your book at a home improvement workshop than a bookstore. Don't forget libraries either. You may not be able to sell books, but you usually have a greatly appreciative audience.

Part of the dream about what being a published author is like includes standing in a beautiful bookstore, surrounded by adoring fans who rapturously devour every word we speak as we read to them from our lovely manuscript. There's nothing wrong with that dream. Even if only one person comes to hear you read, or if only the woman behind the cash register is listening, you are still bringing that dream to life. Whether 5 or 25 come to your book-signing, they are there to discover you and your book, so give them a great show, thank them warmly, and sign their books with a smile.

Later, you can go home and ponder whether bookstore readings are right for you.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Dryer Update

Okay, I promise I will get back to the serious business of running a small press soon. And my Muse is around, she's just been reading a lot (she's hooked on David Sedaris at the moment). But right now, I want to talk about how great my dryer is. It's hooked up (finally!) and I started doing laundry last night and I don't know what it is but I felt so much better about the chaos in my office simply by making progress on that gigantic pile of laundry. I read the manual, transfixed by different heat levels (delicate, normal, jeans...). I giggled over the fact that when I open the front door, there is a lip at the bottom of the opening so the clean clothes don't fall out all over the dirty garage floor. And there is an actual sweater rack. I had no idea what that was, but now I have one!

I seriously need to get out more.

My Muse has looked up from her book and is staring at me while shaking her head. "I wanted Henry Miller, and instead I got Suzy Homemaker."

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A New Dryer

Right in front of my bedroom/office door is a gigantic pile of laundry which has been growing since Saturday, the day I went to the laundry mat. My dryer broke, so we bought a brand new one, which Sears promised to deliver on tuesday. It arrived today, thursday. Through several scheduling mishaps and poor communication, it took two days to finally show up.

This morning, I made a cup of coffee and watched the guys haul it through the house to the laundry room, trying not to giggle about finally being able to do laundry. I know I need to get out more if I'm excited about doing laundry. But that pile of laundry has become a mental block to my sense of organization and creativity. Every time I go in and out of my room, I have to climb over dirty towels, jeans, t-shirts and socks while tripping over the idle laundry baskets. This chaos impacts the rest of the chaos in my room: the piles of paperwork. One pile for taxes. One pile for school. One pile related to book promotion. One pile of magazines and stories to read which I will never get to, but I can't throw them away until I do. But somehow, with a new dryer and full bottle of laundry soap, all those piles felt less threatening.

And then the delivery guy said he couldn't hook up the dryer because it isn't attached to the washing machine because the washing machine doesn't have the necessery holes to connect the stacking kit. "You just need to get some self-tacking screws, ma'am, to screw into your washer. I'm not allowed to drill into your exsisting appliance, but it's easy to do. Screw them in, stick the vent hose on and then plug the dryer in. You're good to go." Before I could kick him for calling me ma'am while telling me I couldn't use my dryer, he ran away.

So here I sit. I have a dryer, but I still can't do laundry. Which means I'm still tripping over a pile. Paperwork and dirty socks are intermingling. There are bills hiding under unwashed towels. My brain remains soiled, and not in a fun way.

What is a self-tacking screw, anyway?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Until The Violence Stops

V-Day is here again, a time to focus our energy on stopping violence against women. Across the country, The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler is being performed, including this weekend in Willits (Willits High School Auditorium, Sat. at 7:00, Sun. at 2:00), just north of Ukiah on hwy 101.

There is also a documentary about the worldwide performance of the Vagina Monologues, called "Until the Violence Stops." And I just learned that my author, Laura Fogg, is in it. Ukiah is a featured city in the documentary because of the Vagina quilts (see the movie to understand) and Laura is one of the quilt makers. I hear her interview is beautiful!

Here's a link for more info about the movie:

Monday, February 04, 2008

Happy Birthday

Today is my 41st birthday. When I look at the start of my 40's, I have to say, I'm exactly where I want to be doing exactly what I want to do. More money would be nice (isn't it always?) but really, when I take away the bills and budgets and other concerns, I realize that I am doing my life's work, which is what we all long to do, especially when we hit that big 4-0. Last year, I was daydreaming about "possibly" starting a small press. What would it be like to be a publisher? Then Laura arrived serindipitously, manuscript in hand, and before I could talk myself out of it, I asked her if I could publish it. Thank goodness she said yes. A year later, Medusa's Muse Press has succesfully launched a book with two more in production.

Of course, the money part does need to be attended to, which is why I'm applying to grad school to find fulfilling work that actually pays the bills. And who knows, maybe some day, Medusa's Muse will pay my rent?

What am I planning to study? In another serindipitous turn, I am following in the footsteps of Laura Fogg and applying to my alma mater; San Francisco State's Orientation and Mobility Specialist's Program. Laura will be my master teacher.

Whose my real Muse? My daughter, of course, who is both Laura's student and my child, the person who brought Laura and I together.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Interview in Daily Journal

Dot Brovarney interviewed me about Medusa's Muse Press for the local paper. If you'd like to read that interview, follow this link

then click on Sunday (or Jan. 27).

scroll down to page two where you'll see the headline, Medusa's Muse.

Dot did an excellent job. She writes a regular column about local literary people and events called In Our Own Words.