Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Ticking Clock

On Friday I went to the premier of the play, The Ticking Clock, written by Jody Gerhman and directed by Rose Bell. Early last year, I was a member of the development team for this project, which interviewed hundreds of women from diverse backgrounds about their feelings around motherhood and their biological clock. Those interviews were then transformed into several different monologues, strung together by Jody to create a script that is both poignant and funny. Unfortunately I wasn't able to keep working on the project for more than a few months (drat that school of mine!), but I continued to meet with Jody when she needed to bounce ideas about her script, and then later joined in a reading of the play at the director's house. Watching the process of the play's creation has been fascinating. So many women were a part of it, as developers, interviewers, interviewees, writers, and actors. Throughout the project, I was struck by how different all of us are, in age, background and politics, but how connected we are by those tiny, almost invisible parts of ourselves: our eggs. A woman only gets so many when she's born, and no matter who we are, every time an egg falls from our ovaries, it sets off a gong saying "Now. Have a baby now!" The female body has its own agenda, whether we want to become mothers or not.

I was one of the women who was interviewed and I knew my story about giving birth to a child who is severely disabled was one of the monologues in the play, so I was curious to see how it would feel to watch "myself" talk about raising "my daughter." I know the story isn't really about me, but the emotions in the monologue when I read it were so true to how I feel, I felt vulnerable. Do the other women who were interviewed feel that way?

When they started rehearsals for the play in October, I regretted that I had to drop out of the project. I wanted to continue to be a part of something so creatively profound. And it would be fun to be on stage again. Nope. Back to school I went, only hearing about the play from Jody and my friend Kristen, an actress reading one of the monologues. (Why did I want to go back to school? Oh yeah, I need a job.)

Anyway, opening night came this past Friday and I went with Jane and another writing friend of mine, a man who proudly calls himself Republican. Not that there's anything wrong with being a Republican, but I wondered how he'd like a play about women's choices around fertility. On stage was a fantastic, multi-leveled set of oversized clock faces connected together to form stairs and platforms. We took our seat, the lights dimmed, and the play began.

What an incredible show! Under Rose's direction, Jody's words jumped to life, telling the story of the struggle we women have around our fertility. Should we have a child, or not? And if we get pregnanat, should we keep it, abort it, or give it up for adoption? How do those choices impact our lives? A teenage girl decides to give up her baby for adoption while across the stage the adopting mother worries that the girl might change her mind. A mother wants her daughter-in-law to have a child, but the daughter-in-law, an artist, doesn't want children. Two sisters talk about how the fact one of them has three kids and the other is infertile has ruined their relationship. A career woman decides to get pregnant which alienates all of her friends. A lesbian tells the story of how her child was conceived and a Mexican woman talks about the way her culture made her feel when she couldn't have children. And then there was the monologue from the mother of the disabled child, surrounded by beautiful moms dressed like they were in a pageant, bragging to each other about what perfect children they have.

I cried. Not just during the monologue based on me, but during many of the stories. And I laughed, a lot. So many of the scenes were hysterical. Half the cast were amateurs but they managed to become the characters with honesty and strength. I was definitely impressed. And my Republican friend? He loved it. Even a man not known for being "touchy-feely" was moved by this show.

This is one of the reasons I love the theater so much, and why I like to publish other writers. I love collaboration, working with a group of people to create something new. The Ticking Clock exemplifies that creative energy superbly. Not only is it a play that includes actors, directors and designers, but it includes the collective creativity of hundreds of women and a writer who wove their stories together.

The Ticking Clock premiered in Mendocino County, but is now available for other communities to perform. Go to The Ticking Clock website for more information (link is at top of this post).

You can also read a good review about the performance, written by Reid Edelman, here.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Back of book info, revision number 178

Okay everyone, tell me what you think about this version for the Punk Anthology. It's still rough, so I know I need to polish it more, and I know my copy-editor will have a few words to say about it, but do you think this is closer to the type of copy that speaks to our target reader as well as compelling enough to make you want to buy a copy?

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

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

"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

Here are the true stories from people whose lives were transformed and empowered by the frenetic, questioning, creative energy of punk rock; stories and poems written by punks from the USA and Europe, who share their own unique vision on what it means to be punk. Written by musicians, teachers, artists, librarians, nurses, bakers, parents, and social workers, the stories are funny, sometimes tragic, and always surprising.

Punk Rock Saved My Ass explores the strength of the punk movement to positively impact an individual’s life by providing a community to those who feel lost, and by inspiring them to push the boundaries of their own creativity. You may never hear a punk rock song the same way after reading Punk Rock Saved My Ass.

Your comments are much appreciated.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Medusa's Muse earned a profit! Why do I feel so guilty?

After checking and double checking all the receipts and sales numbers, I discovered something very exciting. Medusa's Muse had made a profit last year. A slim profit, less than $50.00, but a profit nonetheless. Book sales were low, but so were costs (funny how those two go hand in hand). This means under the rules of the IRS I get to keep calling Medusa's Muse a business. According to the IRS, a business must make a profit in three out of five years. However, it doesn't say how much you have to make, just that you made profits. I lost money my first two years in business, which is to be expected for any type of business. In fact, most businesses will lose money far longer than just two years, so there are ways you can prove that you're a business even if you lose money for five years. The rules are complicated, so that's something you'll need to talk to a tax professional about. You can find information on IRS Publication 535 - Business Expenses.

I found a good article that explains more about small business tax rules in this article on About.com.

Regardless of the fact that I need a day job to support it, Medusa's Muse is a real, sanctioned, honest-to-goodness, chamber of commerce eligible, IRS kissed, seal-of-approval, gold-stickered, business.

Why do I feel guilty?

That's the weird part of success: it can stir up all those feelings of unworthiness and insecurity we've had beaten into our psyches since childhood. Some people fear failure, while I obviously fear success. Who am to make a profit doing something I love? Who gave me permission to be successful? Yes, I know, earning less than $50.00 in a year is not exactly a high level of success for most folks, but to me, the fact that I earned any profit at all is enough to make me uneasy. Profit? You mean my little publishing venture might end up actually paying for itself? Impossible.

I've run this venture as a business from day one, even writing a book on the subject to help others do the same. I didn't go into publishing willy-nilly; I took classes on business management and studied the publishing industry for over a year before attempting to publish a book. This wasn't a whim, it is a passion. I am dedicated and devoted to my company and my authors. Earning a profit is what I dreamed of and now that it's happened, I'm feeling guilty for earning a small level of success. And it's such a tiny amount of money that the press earned! I might have a nervous breakdown if I earn more than $100.00.

Have any of you experienced this sensation? And if so, how do you handle feeling unworthy of success at any level?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

Take this kiss upon the brow!

And, in parting from you now,

Thus much let me avow

You are not wrong, who deem

That my days have been a dream;

Yet if hope has flown away

In a night, or in a day,

In a vision, or in none,

Is it therefore the less gone?

All that we see or seem

Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar 

Of a surf-tormented shore, 

And I hold within my hand 

Grains of the golden sand

How few! yet how they creep 

Through my fingers to the deep, 

While I weep - while I weep! 

O God! can I not grasp 

Them with a tighter clasp? 

O God! can I not save 

One from the pitiless wave? 

Is all that we see or seem 

But a dream within a dream?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Die Vampire Die! Stop sucking my creative juices

A friend sent me this song from You Tube about dealing with all those psychic, ant-creative vampires who keep you from writing, painting or anything else artistic you love to do. Very funny. Contains some cursing, so don't play this at work.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Is there a way to do it all?

Thank you Melinda and Corrie for leaving those great comments for my last blog post. You got me thinking about how we creative types juggle our families, jobs and writing. What is the secret for "doing it all?" Can a woman write a book, raise her children, work a full time job, and keep her sanity all at once? Back in October, 2008, I wrote a blog post about taming my to-do list. Today, I'll write about taming my life.

Growing up in the 1970's, we girls heard over and over that thanks to Women's Liberation, a woman could "do it all." Be a mother, have a professional career, a thriving sex life (according my mother's Cosmopolitan magazines which I secretly read), be creative, master aerobics and gourmet cooking, and look great doing it.

Yeah, right.

Maybe we can do it all, but I have yet to meet a woman who is, let alone happy doing it. But I obviously keep trying. I am the mother of a teen-aged girl with multiple disabilities, requiring extra paperwork and energy just to keep things organized so she gets all the support she needs to thrive. Plus, she's a teenager with all the typical angst, joy and worry. I'm also a full time graduate student which requires me to travel to San Francisco once a week for classes. When I'm not raising my daughter and studying, I publish books and manage my company. And then, if I've stayed supremely organized, I grab a few hours a week to work on my own writing. I've been managing this crazy schedule for over a year with some success, and now I have extra gray hair to show for it. People ask me how I do it all, to which I say, "I just do." Not very helpful, I know. This time, I'll do my best to write down some of the things I've learned that allow me to keep working so hard.

Doing it all while keeping a semblance of sanity

1) Read the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, by Stephen Covey, and follow his advice. His system of identifying what is Urgent, Important, and not Important helped me learn to prioritize successfully. It was after I read his book and then completed the accompanying workbook that I was able to successfully create a publishing company.

2) A lot can be accomplished in only 15 minutes. You don't have to wait for a free hour: grab a few minutes to work on a task. 15 minutes is enough time to load the washer, respond to a few emails, jot down notes for a story idea, edit a paragraph, write a few sentences, pay some bills, read a few pages of my textbook... not all at once of course. Those 15 minutes stack up throughout the day and before you know it you'll have several things crossed off your list.

3) Don't worry about perfection. I can do a lot, but I can't do it all perfectly. Sometimes "good enough" needs to be enough. Know when to let a task go and move on. If you spend all your time fretting over the details of one task, that single task will eat up your whole day. I keep all the Medusa's Muse paperwork up to date as much as possible, but that doesn't mean it's all in perfect order. As long as all the receipts are in one place and I keep an ongoing tally of sales, I'm ready for tax season. I could spend hours updating and tweaking my Excel files, but for what? My records are organized, but not exactly pretty. The same goes for my writing, or when I'm working on a manuscript for the press. I can spend (and have spent) hours revising a page, changing wording, adding and deleting sensory detail, fretting over every comma, until days have passed. It's important to create your best work, but it's also important to know when to stop. Let go and move on.

4) Appearances don't matter. My house is clean, but not tidy. I'm a stickler for a clean bathroom and kitchen, and since I'm allergic to dust I vacuum and dust regularly, but otherwise, I don't worry so much about the clutter (I'm writing this during a major de-cluttering project, so obviously I do have a clutter tolerance level). I haven't washed a window in two years and my yard is full of weeds. When I have time, I pull some of them and clean something that really needs it (the wall behind the garbage can sure needs it!), but for the most part, I don't worry about what the neighbors or my mother think. Am I really going to waste some of my precious time fretting over the fact that my car needs washing? When I have a spare 15 minutes, I'll wash the car. Otherwise, I let my neighbors gossip all they want.

5) Decide what's most important. Prioritizing is the key to getting things done. And those priorities can change from day to day. Is it more important today to update your blog, or edit your manuscript? Of course both are important, but which one takes precedence NOW. Do you need to organize all your receipts for H and R block, or balance your check book? Do you need to watch The Lord of the Rings, or clean out your closet? Sometimes, watching a movie is the priority.

6) Be nice to yourself. Occasionally you'll need to flop on the couch and zone out with a movie and a bowl of popcorn. This is important brain down-time. Do not beat yourself up with guilt for watching a movie; guilt will undermine the purpose of brain down-time. Tell yourself, "Right now I'm going to watch this movie and when it's over I'll return those phone calls." Then fully enjoy that movie.

7) However, procrastination is the enemy. When you need to get something done, do it. Don't sit on the couch and watch TV when there's an important task needing your attention. At the end of the day you'll feel guilty for not getting anything done and your to-do list will keep growing until you feel completely overwhelmed, which can create the urge for more procrastination. Do what needs doing.

8) Take care of your body. Don't allow yourself to sit at your desk and snack on cookies and drink coffee all day. Drink water. Avoid sugar. Go for a long walk. It's easy to skip exercise because you think you don't have time, but remember what I said about 15 minutes. If all you have is a short burst of time, then crank up the tunes and dance around your living room. Doing this will not only help your body feel good, but will shake the cobwebs out of your brain from staring at a computer screen too long. I find that the better I care for my body, the more she'll do for me.

9) Keep your sense of humor. If that goes, you're done for. You need to laugh at the chaos and at yourself now and then. When I've got myself in a tail-spin because I've decided that 6 things on my list are urgent but there's only time to get 4 tasks done, I laugh at myself for trying to be Wonder Woman. Instead of hyperventilating, I laugh loudly, which breaks through the stress and helps me see things clearly again. Laughter has carried me through some hard exams and a few very long nights.

10) But most of all, ask for help when you need it. I know it can feel like a personal failure when you get stuck and have to ask someone to help you, but it's the best thing you can do for yourself. There is no failure in trying your best and needing support. I ask for help all the time, from my writing group, my husband, my copy-editor Jane, the publisher's associations I belong to, my brother, my college professors, my therapist, people on the internet, and my real world friends. Without all of these people and their various expertise, I would be unable to do 1/4 of what I do. It is through their support that I am able to go to school, be a publisher, take care of my child, and keep writing.

That all being said, I've recently discovered one more important thing about doing it all: sometimes you simply can't. There are periods of time when you'll be forced to make some tough decisions because your life is too complicated. Despite your best efforts, it will be impossible to accomplish everything you're trying to do. Sacrifices will have to be made, and it will become extremely important to know where your priorities are. For me, I discovered that I can't publish any more books until I finish grad school. This was a hard decision because I love acquiring new manuscripts and working with authors. It's the whole reason I started the press. However, no matter how much I love the work, it is impossible to keep publishing right now. I'm not shutting down the press, I'm just not accepting any new books. Instead I'll focus on school, my child, and my own writing for a while.

My own writing. That could be fun.

What helps you stay creative while juggling all that you do? Any good ideas on keeping your sanity?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Preparing my Profit and Loss Statement for 2009 - How did Medusa's Muse do?

2009 was a quiet year. Sales were down, but so were costs. Happily, that makes the paperwork easy.

I've been organizing and totaling the receipts for last year, updating my inventory, calculating sales, and figuring royalties, all to prepare my Profit and Loss Statement. Last year at this time I wrote a blog post explaining what a Profit and Loss Statement is and how to create one. Click the link to read that post. There is also an explanation of how to keep the records of your publishing business and how to prepare for tax season in my book, What You Need to Know to be a Pro: The Start-Up Business Guide for Publishers.

How did Medusa's Muse do in 2009?

Laura Fogg's book, Traveling Blind: Life Lessons from Unlikely Teachers, sold 132 copies, 8 in the UK. This brings the number of copies sold since publication (Nov. 2007) to over 700. This kind of dip in yearly sales is to be expected, especially two years after printing, but Laura's book has now paid for itself and continues to steadily sell several copies a month, mostly on Amazon. In small press circles, Laura's book is a success.

My book, however, is another story. What You Need to Know to Be a Pro has sold 45 copies since it's publication in March, 2009. Although these sales numbers are typical for a small press book, it is far lower than I had hoped for (of course). We all know why my book has sold so poorly: no marketing. Selling 45 copies of a poorly marketed book is practically a miracle and I'm grateful for those sales, grateful that my book has been useful to 45 people. But I need to sell 140 copies for the book to pay for itself and start generating income for the press. At this rate, assuming sales remain steady, I'll break even in 3.5 years.

Overall, Medusa's Muse broke even this year, despite low book sales. That's because I kept costs frozen to make up for 2008's overspending (Book Expo was fun, but expensive). Plus, with me being in school full time, I was unable to do much marketing or networking, activities which cost money, but also generate sales.

What can we learn from the numbers for 2009?

First, not spending any money can be good for the bottom line, but it can be a disaster for sales. Without at least a small marketing budget, you cannot generate buzz for people to find and buy your book. You can do a lot on line for free, but for a how-to book like mine, you'll need to spend a little on networking opportunities, such as conferences, which is where I sold the most copies of What You Need to Know.

Secondly, low sales numbers can make your record-keeping easy, which is great when you don't have a lot of time. But the reason your sales are low is because of that lack of time. If you want to grow your business, you need to put in more time/energy/money, which then requires more time/energy/money to keep your business organized. What's my point? Be certain about how much time you realistically have to devote to your business, then work within that. It's all about balance. The more you put in, the more you get back. The more you put in, the more your business will require. Where is your balance point?

Third, look at those sales numbers. You want to know how many copies of a book you can expect to sell from your small press? Those numbers are about average. Most books published by self or small publishers sell less than 150 copies in their entire life in print. Not 150 in a year, 150 copies period. So a book like Traveling Blind is a success, practically a best seller for a small press. A book like What You Need to Know is more the norm.

Fourth, keep careful records all year, or you and your tax preparer will be hating life right about now.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Letting go

Mumbling feverishly to myself, I edit a manuscript as quickly as I can. "Gotta get this done before school starts."

My muse walks silently into my room and watches me for a while, then she says, "It's time to stop."

I turn around and see her standing in the doorway. "What?"

"Time to stop."

"Stop what?"

"Stop trying to do everything."

Pushing my glasses higher on the bridge of my nose, I say, "What are you talking about?"

She walks to me and sits on the edge of my desk, folding her hands neatly in her lap. "I want you to take a break from Medusa's Muse."

I stare at her so hard the snakes look like their getting nervous and retreat behind her head. "Are you joking? Wasn't this all your idea? What the hell are you saying?"

She looks up at the ceiling and sighs, then slowly nods. "Yes. It was my idea. All of it. I urged you to start a press and become a publisher, but the reality is you can't do it right now. It's impossible. No one can do everything that you do."

"I'm not gonna quit."

Looking at me, she smiles. "I'm not saying quit. I'm saying stop. There's a difference." She bites her lip as if deciding how to explain herself. "Quitting would be shutting it all down and never publishing again. Stopping is taking a break to reevaluate your situation." She points to the bookcase beside her which is crammed with text-books and binders. "You are a student now, which is good. It's important that you do that and study hard so you'll have a good paying job helping people, something that will make you happy. But that means you have even less time running Medusa's Muse, and it was hard enough to do before you started school."

"But if I stop now what will keep Medusa's Muse going? I don't want it to end."

"It won't. You have three books published which will still require attention and energy. As long as those books are in print your company will survive."

I slump in my chair. "Look at my own book. Sales have been dismal because I haven't had time to market it."

"Exactly. And look at the punk anthology. Look how long it's taken to be published and how many delays there have been because of lack of time and money. The biggest problem you have is trying to do it all on your own. All the publishing, marketing, and managing, on top of graduate school and being a mom. You are not Wonder Woman, no matter how much you pretend to be one."

"So what do you want me to do?"

Leaning back, she crosses her arms and sighs. "Stop being so hard on yourself. You've accomplished a great deal, even more than I thought you could. You have nothing more to prove."

"I'm not trying to prove anything..."

"Yes you are. You always are. You have to be the most productive and efficient or you're a failure. Time to let that idea go."

"I don't..."

She holds up her hand to silence me. "Finish the anthology and then stop publishing books for a while, at least until you're done with school. Give your limited attention to the books that you've published, but encourage the writers to do more of the marketing. Pour your energy into your child and school. Let yourself feel proud of the three books you've helped create and the dreams you helped come true. And trust that Medusa's Muse will survive without your constant attention."

"Is that all?" I laugh wearily.

"Yes. That's all." She smiles and stands. "It's time to enjoy what you've created."

Enjoy what I've created? How do I do that? All I know how to do is create. I don't know how to relax and not long for the next project, the next creative endeavor? I doubt I'm capable of relaxing. But just the idea creates a tiny glimmer of happiness in my heart. What if I let go a little, stopped imposing impossible deadlines on myself, and sat back to enjoy some of the so-called fruits of my labor? Can I learn to just be proud of what I've already accomplished, without demanding more from myself?

Why do I push myself so hard?

"I'll think about it," I say.

"Good." My muse stands and walks out the door as silently as she entered. I sit back in my chair, stare at my laptop, and wonder what it would be like to stop running this race I've created for myself.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

I have too many books

It's a terrible thing for a book publisher and writer to admit, but I have to say it: I am a book addict. I LOVE books. If I could, my entire house would be nothing but a library with a bed and a bathroom in the back. I'd order take-out because a stove would take away space from my wall to wall book-shelves. Unfortunately, I live in a thousand square foot house with two other humans and a dog and they insist on keeping the kitchen.

Today, I stood in my cluttered, dusty, paper strewn office and said, "I can't stand this any more." My room, which should be my sanctuary, the place where I can create and dream, had obviously been transformed into the place where I toss piles of crap waiting to be "dealt with." And my book collection had grown beyond my shelves to multiply into precarious stacks braced against corners, my bed, and my shoe collection. I'd stubbed my toe on my Harry Potter collection. It was time to do some weeding.

First I dealt with all those piles and discovered the reason I hadn't dealt with most of the stuff was because I didn't need or want it: out it went. Once I'd cleared the floor and my desk of clutter and garbage, I turned to my two, solid-wood, tall, legal bookcases with their glass doors which were unable to close from all the books sticking out.

This was gonna hurt.

Oh my darling, beautiful books. Hundreds of books on hundreds of topics, everything from Sci-Fi, historical, fantasy, "chic-lit," political non-fiction, sociological exposes, ghost stories and Celtic legends, comics, classics, Buddhist philosophy, Jungian theory, scientific studies, travelogues, how-to, text-books, comedies... so many books! I'm an omnivorous reader; I wouldn't have a clutter problem if I didn't want to read everything.

I was tough. I purged almost mercilessly, only keeping my most favorite books and dumping the rest. Sure, I really liked Into the Forrest and Emotional Intelligence, but they weren't among my favorites. In the interest of a little more calm and sanity in my life, I had to let them go.

Why am I so mesmerized by books? Lord only knows how much money I blow on books. I practically drool in bookstores and spend way too much time surfing the Powell's books website looking for new authors and interesting stories. I don't understand people who don't read books. A house without books is like a classroom without windows: oppressive and sterile. When I was a young woman, I'd always fall for the guy with the most books, even if he was a total jerk. And if he showed me his copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was a gonner, complete putty in his hands.

Obviously, I have a serious book problem. Why else would I start publishing the damn things? Certainly not for the money.

Some of my friends are doing a "sober January," during which time they abstain from all alcohol. Perhaps it's time for me to detox from books, do a "no book-buying January." I need to get a grip on this need to surround myself with books until there's no room for me to sleep in my bed.

I will not buy another book for the rest of the month, no matter how good it might be or whether or not there's a good sale at the bookstore. Nor will I accept any free books from friends.

Why did my palms just start sweating?

Monday, January 04, 2010


I just discovered a great tool called Odiogo. It converts your blog posts into pod casts with an auditory reader. The great thing about it is the speech software is very clear, making it an excellent tool for people with Vision Impairments. I'm trying it out now on my blog and I hope VI readers will find it useful. I haven't tried it out through ITunes yet, mainly because I'm not sure people will want to listen to an electronic voice reading my posts. Instead I'd like to record my posts myself and upload them via ITunes, but that will have to wait until I have more time. Which will be...?