Thursday, December 31, 2009

Trapped in the Christmas Time Warp

Whew! What the hell happened? One minute I was driving home from my last class, having completed my finals and feeling good, and now it's New Year's Eve. 2009 is just about over and I know there was a Christmas in there somewhere. I see remnants around the house: wrapping paper under the couch, half-burned Christmas candles, new stuff lying in piles around the Christmas tree waiting to be put somewhere, six more pounds of body weight on my frame. Six pounds! Yikes.

My muse decided what we needed was to get good and drunk for a few days and goof-off. "You've been working too hard, juggling school, the press, and being a mom. I want you to let loose, drink a lot of Saki, and dance around your living room in your underwear. Howl at the moon. Be silly. Eat a lot of popcorn at the movies. Forget work for a while."

So I did. My daughter went to visit her dad, leaving my hubby and I plenty of time to drink and make merry. We usually just run from task to task, playing tag-team child care while dashing to the next job. The greatest gift I got this year was reconnecting with my funny, sweet, slightly scroogish hubby. By the time our daughter returned, we were feeling hungover and cheerful.

Then my in-laws came for several days. Thankfully I really like them so the visit was great, but in the middle of all the presents and conversations I started to feel that familiar, writing itch. How long had it been since I updated my blogs? Wrote in my journal? Thought about the Punk anthology? Worked on my novel? I longed for two hours of solitude to create.

The family has left but my daughter has several more days of vacation, so I still don't have much time to write. Right now she's watching a movie, so I'm grabbing a few minutes to warm up my typing fingers and writing mind by updating this blog. My head is foggy from too much sugar and alcohol and my pants feel tight around my middle. Two weeks of creative inactivity has made me slow and insecure. Can I still formulate sentences?

You have to start somewhere. Pick up a pen, or open your laptop. Shake off the holiday pixie dust and stretch out those writing muscles. It's a new year, a brand new year to create.

I hear my muse yawn in my bed. She pushes the blankets from over her head, sits up and looks around. "What happened?"

"Christmas," I say.

"Oh right. Wow. That was a lot of fun. Lets do it again next year." She swings her legs around and stands, stretches, then shakes her mane of sleepy snakes until they start to hiss with irritation. Slowly she walks toward me and asks, "What are you working on?"

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Birthday Jane Austen!!!!!!

Today is Jane Austen's birthday and I'm celebrating by re-reading Sense and Sensibility, one of my favorite books written by one of my all time favorite writers. Jane Austen was highly successful in her time, despite the fact she was a woman and a spinster, and her work has resonated with people for 200 years. How did she create such timeless characters who still speak to us today? Their circumstances may be different, but the deeper drives and longings are not so different from our own.

Here is an interview with Andrew Davies about adapting Jane Austen's books for the screen.

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen. Thanks for the wonderful stories and the lessons you taught me about writing.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Who is the reader of "Punk Rock Saved my Ass?"

Toss out all the drafts I wrote for the back-cover copy in my last post. They were all tripe, mostly because I wasn't thinking about WHO the book is for. Thank you Tony and Annie for reminding me of that. Before I can write an engaging, compelling, back-cover copy for the anthology, I need to remember who I started the project for. Visualize the person I'm trying to reach: what does he look like? How old is he? What does he believe in and fight for?

The anthology idea first came to me as I was listening to my husband talk about how punk music saved his life. He was a depressed, overweight kid growing up in the South, feeling cut-off and alienated from everyone around him. Then he met some kids at school who listened to punk and taught him how to make his own t-shirts, and suddenly he realized he wasn't such a freak after all. Yeah, he was different, but so were a lot of people. No longer feeling alone, he overcame his depression, graduated high school, and moved to California where he could be as freaky as he wanted to be.

I realized there must be other people who were as empowered by punk rock as he, so I cruised the net looking for books on the subject. Most of the books were about dead musicians and addicts; none shared honest stories from ordinary people who's lives were positively transformed by punk rock. So I decided to create one. I put out a call for submissions and over a span of two years people sent me their stories. The process has been exhilarating and aggravating because the project became far more complicated than I had imagined. The stories and writers were also more complicated. The project grew as each author helped shape the overall book. But throughout the entire process I tried to keep a single reader clear in my mind: an overweight teen-aged boy who doesn't fit in anywhere and thinks he's too much of a freak to ever be happy. That imaginary reader helped me decide which stories would be included and in what order.

At the beginning of any writing project, every writer needs to ask herself, "Who am I writing this book for?" Keep that person in mind as you create the manuscript, revise it, edit it, and hone it into the finished, polished book. Your imaginary reader will guide you as you write and can help you as you try to reach your audience.

So now as I try to write the copy for the back cover I will keep that boy in mind. What does he need to hear to find this book?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Back of Book info

How do you write a captivating, informative, and concise back cover copy for a book?

I'm asking. Really, I need to know. Any ideas?

Punk Rock Saved My Ass is the third book I've published, so you'd think by now I'd have this figured out. But deciding what to write on the back of a book's cover to entice a reader to buy the book is tricky. The information must tell the reader what the book is about in only a couple of sentences and show the reader WHY they need this book (as opposed to any other similar book) all while capturing the tone of the book overall. The process takes a lot of trial and error.

So here's what I have so far:

Punk Rock Saved My Ass is an anthology of true life essays, interviews, poems, and photos about the ways Punk/DIY positively transformed a person's life. The stories are funny, tragic, political, and lyric, from a diverse group of individuals who all love punk rock. The anthology shows the reader that not all punks are self-destructive and that the chaos of the movement can be life affirming and empowering.

Pretty boring. It's just a collection of facts, lacking impact and completely ignoring the tone of the book.

So let's bump up the energy of the words.

Think all Punks are junkies and criminals? Think again. This collection of diverse, unforgettable stories written by Punks from all over the world will challenge your assumptions about what being Punk stands for. Libertarian, Queer, men, women, Gen X and Gen Y, all share their vision of Punk and show how those ideals have evolved since the first wave of the 1970's

Hmmmm... maybe. Still rough.

Maybe I should use quotes directly from the book.

"I realized at an early age that just because someone was older than me, or had more money than me, it didn't make them better than me." - Squallie Greenthumb

"...believe that what I do is right, even if it looks wrong, because at the very least I would be acting according to my own truths..." Silvia Escario

"That was one of my lessons; you don't have to fly your colors to be a punk or have a punk attitude." - Dick Wizmore

"The whole idea that punks are nonconformist is bullshit." - James Stewart

"My big sister had a convict fiancee... but she also had a subscription to Creem magazine. That was the first place I read about the Ramones, Lou Reed, the Sex Pistols." - Jennifer Blowdryer

"We're the 1% that don't fit and don't care." - Elie Falcon

"Everything that makes my life better is an offshoot or direct result of my having gotten into punk music." - Chestnut

"Punk is the only music genre I know that consistently opens its mouth about taboo social and economic subjects in our society. Nothing is more honest or relevant to me than that." - Mic Schenk

Yeah... I like it. Feels like I'm on the right track, but should I use them all? If not, which ones should I use?

So this is what developing the back copy looks like. It will take me several more tries before I find the right balance between informative and inspiring. Then I'll write two or three versions and get feedback from the designer and the copy-editor, and from you all, if you wouldn't mind, before I decide on the one we'll use.

Hopefully I'll decide by Monday.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Really cutting it close on launch date

We only now have the punk anthology cover mostly done? Are you kidding me? We launch in four weeks! How am I going to make our deadline with only a mock up of a cover, no back copy, and an uncorrected galley? Shyte!

This is what's going through my head right now as the Medusa's Muse deadlines crash into the end of the semester finals time and the holidays. No matter how organized I appear to be at the beginning (believe me, it's an appearance), everything becomes chaotic and disorganized by the end. This is my third publishing project and I still can't seem to get the final weeks before launch sorted out.

Luckily with Lightning Source I can cut it this close. It takes about two weeks to upload the files, get a galley copy, make any adjustments and then send in the corrections before three boxes of books will appear on my front porch. This gives us some flexibility when life gets too hectic, but it's still a lot closer than I would like.

I was hoping THIS project would be different. I imagined the book being finished and printed and those boxes arriving four weeks before launch date. I wanted to enjoy the actual launch, maybe do a little marketing before launch (what an odd idea!) and get copies of the book in the author's hands so they could brag BEFORE launch.

What do they say about best laid plans?

Oh well... the good thing about being a micro press is that you get to make up your own rules as you navigate the demands of a press and your personal life. We don't have to sell 1000 copies in the first three months to pay the print bill. We print what we need and build momentum. The marketing plan is word of mouth, which is how this particular reading culture functions anyway, so I don't have to worry about anyone else's deadline. I'll keep pushing to meet our New Year's launch, and if it's off by a day or so, no problem.

But no longer than that! The danger of not having the pressure of meeting other people's requirements for sales is you can get too flexible with your deadlines until nothing gets done. Pick a date and hold to it, doing your best to meet that date, then adjust if you have to, but only if you HAVE to.

I'm sticking to Jan 3rd.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The secret inside Christmas Jars

My muse is examining the book we got in the mail last week: Christmas Jars, by Jason F Wright. She turns each page slowly, studying the words, the font, weighing the book in her two hands, stroking the paper, turning it upside down to hunt for hidden message or more money.

"What are you doing?" I ask.

"What is the secret of this book?"


"Why did it inspire a total stranger to send you money?"

On the day before Thanksgiving, a mysterious package arrived in the mail addressed to my husband and me, with no return address or name. Inside was a slim book called Christmas Jars, and inside the book was an envelope with a check. We couldn't figure out what it was and thought maybe my husband had sold something on ebay, but why the book? After reading the introduction, I realized that the check was a symbolic Christmas jar, a collection of spare change in a jar that you save to buy Christmas presents. The book was about a family who anonymously gives money at Christmas to people who are in need, and that story has encouraged thousands of people to do the same.

It was hard to believe someone was kind enough to send us money. On the one hand, I felt happy knowing people really care about others and they wanted to help, but on the other, I felt ashamed that someone thought we were "needy." Yeah, I admit, things are tough. I was laid off from my day job two years ago and since then I've been in grad school trying to learn a new, employable trade. My husband was laid off in May. Every day is a struggle to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads and we were contemplating skipping Christmas this year, except for our daughter of course. We don't know if we'll be able to keep our house and we pray every day that our car will start (200,000 + miles is a lot of miles), but we don't really think about it. We just do what needs to be done. I suppose though, we really are needy.

Eventually I let go of the shock and shame and felt truly grateful for the gift from a total stranger, and grateful to the author of the book for inspiring someone to give it. And when we're back on our feet, my husband and I plan to do the same.

My muse is still staring at the book as if it contains the mystery of the Universe. "It's so small. Only 115 pages. Not even a full book."

"It's a novella."

"I know that. But how can a book with so few pages inspire so many people?" She sets the book gently on my desk. "It's like that book Eat, Pray, Love."

"How so?"

"Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a book that inspired thousands of people to think about their own lives and make changes. And Paolo Coelho wrote The Alchemist, which has a cult following, although it really isn't that great of a book." She twirls a hair-snake between her fingers rapidly, ignoring its hissing squeals.

I think for a moment, then say, "They all speak to the readers on an emotional, personal level, on what Jung would call the collective unconscious."

"I understand that," my muse snaps. "That's obvious. These books appeal to a large number of people on a deeply intuitive level. But mechanically, how do they do it?" She picks up the book again and wags it before my face like a frustrated teacher. "What secret does the author have while writing the story? Do they have a plan? Do they even know what they're doing when they write it? What is their process?"

Taking the book from her hand, I say, "I don't know."

She shakes her head. "I know you don't know, that's the problem. I need to talk to his muse."

"This really bothers you."

"Of course it bothers me. There is something in these books that I am not grasping, and that is unpardonable for a muse!"

She looks at herself in my mirror and straightens her snakes into an acceptable tangle on the top of her head, then she applies blood red lipstick. "I need to talk to his muse."

And she's gone.