Friday, June 29, 2007

Paris Hilton, John Street and bloody iPhones---Grrrrrr!

I am sick of the Paris Hilton crap passing as legitimate news here in the United States. Are fans of all things Paris Hilton now such a large demographic group that they're eclipsing what the rest of us want to watch? Adding to the freak fest was the fact she was invited on Larry King Live. That's truly disgusting. Is Larry King so desperate for the attention of this demographic? I really can't believe so. I watch his show and it's good in general.

Barbara Walters had the good sense to ignore the whole Hilton fiasco and refused the offer of the first interview after the talentless but media savvy Hilton was released and in a lather to divulge the specifics of her miniscule incarceration that included a "humiliating" strip search. Aren't all strip searches humiliating? Shocking to have
to watch her father drive into his house in a large BMW, stop before the electronic gates, and stick his neck out the door to a reporter to say something to the effect that his daughter is weathering the whole ordeal. Does this man or his family give back to society I want to know--in the way Bill and Melinda Gates gives back. If so, that's at least something mitigating.

And here in Philly, this morning, John Street, the mayor of a city that's rapidly approaching a murder body count of 200 for 2007 and we're only just passing the six month mark, decides he must join a line of kids probably playing hookey from school for the past three days (my friends are bringing me food" said one) and selfish yuppies waiting to buy the latest iPhone that's to be released at six tonight. There he was on the local news proclaiming shamelessly that he's an electronics junkie and has been camping out since three o'clock this morning. And Rome burns and burns around his ears.

It's outrageous what we have to put up with here in the states. Is the dumbing of America perhaps irreversible? Scary thought. Very scary. Too scary.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Taking the initiative

TNWhat I Meant...

My friend and a co-founding member of our writers group Rebel Writers of Bucks County, Marie Lamba, wrote a wonderful YA novel entitled 'What I meant...' that's scheduled to come out in July. It's receiving great reviews that'll post after publication and have selected it as a Summer Pick. (You can click to Marie's website via my sidebar.)

Marie learned yesterday from her agent that Random House will not be publishing What I softcover and her already approved sequel.

Naturally, Marie was devastated.

A fighter who takes charge of her destiny and aware that decisions can be reversed, Marie has developed a strategy to save her book and has emailed all her friends and requested them to help by buying the book from Amazon and B& as pressies for girls aged twelve through adult and it's working.

The day of an author sitting in an ivory tower churning out novels and/or nonfiction and insisting it's their publishers responsibility to market their precious darlings and their duty is only to write gorgeous prose is well and truly over in this age of the internet. Authors need to develop time-management skills and write as well as help their publishers market their work. But this is a double edged sword and publishers, especially the large commercial houses, need to reprogram and come to see that authors can be an integral part of the entire project, not just the producers of the raw material.(Granted some authors will be incapable of wearing a marketing hat or be clueless as to who the audience is for their work, but they are in the minority, I feel.) My publisher involved me in the process, sought out my marketing ideas, called me in to the sales meeting to present my book to the teams, and we brainstormed. Sell-in to the chains was excellent as a result of the synergy and A Son Called Gabriel became an ABA Booksense Pick with independents as a result.

There's just too many forms of entertainment competing for the consumers dollar so all steps have to be investigated within budget.

Here's my interview:

Hello Marie, thanks for dropping by and it's nice to chat about books in a forum outside see our writers group

Thanks! It's great to be here.

What's What I meant about...?

What I Meant... is the story of 15-year-old Sang Jumnal, who is crazy about a guy, but her Indian dad won't let her date until she is 16, maybe. And her American mom, who usually sticks up for Sang, suddenly thinks she's a liar, a thief and a bulimic. Sang knows why. Her aunt, who has been living with them for a few months, has been stealing food and money and setting up Sang to take the blame. But who will believe a 15 year old over an adult?

Who do you think the reader is for this work?

Girls ages 12 through adult (including the adult chick-lit audience) will get a kick out of this comic novel. There's lots of wacky humor, so it's a fun read, but there is also a more serious theme. Here a girl must fight to be believed, even when an adult is lying about her to everyone. When all the truth finally comes out, it's a humbling moment for her parents and a touching moment for Sang. I think this appeals to any teen who has told the truth, but wasn't believed or trusted.

The book will also will have a huge appeal to biracial kids, and Indian teens.

Tell us about the day your agent told you the novel had sold?

You know, all I remember is saying, "You're kidding," over and over again. Then I called my husband, and he said, "You're kidding," over and over again. I wandered around the streets smiling like an idiot for hours. All those years of struggle had finally paid off!

What has the editing process been like?

First of all, I have the world's best writer's group, with wise mentors like one Damian McNicholl on it. My group helped me focus my novel, and shaped it up before I even sent it out. Then the editor at Random House sent me this huge letter of suggested changes, and words of encouragement. No contract, though. This was clearly a test. I spoke with her on the phone first, to understand her vision. Fortunately I totally agreed with her suggestions! Then I set to work. The contract for a two book deal soon followed, along with several months of back and forth corrections. My editor was wonderful. She'd suggest changes, never demand. I usually agreed with them, though, because they made a ton of sense.

How have you found the process of working with a publisher? Frustrations, joys, laughs

For writers, working with a publisher really translates to working with an editor, which was great. I've never met anyone else at Random House, truthfully. And I just started working with my publicist there, a nice person who I've emailed back and forth with.

Okay, now to the turmoil of the other day. Tell us what happened and how you felt about it?

Two days ago, less than a month prior to publication of my novel, my agent called to tell me she had terrible news. My already written and accepted sequel What I Said..., which was to appear in 2008, was cancelled. The paperback of What I Meant... was cancelled. The hardcover of What I Meant... was being printed but at a smaller than anticipated number. The reason? Prepublication sales were low because the major chains mostly passed on carrying What I Meant... I don't know why. Perhaps they didn't know where to put a YA novel that was clean enough to be enjoyed by younger readers, too. There is nothing wrong with the book, which is being enjoyed by reviewers.

Naturally I am devastated and heartbroken. I haven't slept much since...

Would it have helped if you could have met with the salesforce and been able to have given them pointers, do you think?

Definitely. Who can pitch a book better than the author? As you can see, authors are simply not involved in sales at all. In a way I can understand it. Can you imagine the zillions of authors that'd be running around these meetings? All with varying degrees of abilities to pitch and speak to a sales force? But on the other hand, I certainly could have helped. This book has a huge market and a wide appeal.

Have you done or been allowed to do any marketing for the book?

The publicity department at Random House has been sending out press announcing the book's publication. Because it won't be seen in most chain stores, I know I have to get involved by really stepping things up if I want to get this book into the hands of readers throughout the country. I've laid a lot of groundwork on my own, and that is definitely paying off now.

I have a website A myspace page with lots of friends and groups. I've participated in blogs and contacted other authors. And I've just begun to spread the word that this book needs extraordinary support from readers in order to succeed.

One thing I'm doing on my own is helping out girl scout senior and cadette scouts throughout the area by offering a workshop. In 2 hours they can earn a Reading badge that would take them normally about 2-3 months to earn, and at the end of the workshop they each get a signed copy of my book. Various girl scout councils are getting excited about this, and it ensures anywhere from 10-100 book sales per event. I hope to do much more of these in the future, and will drive throughout PA, NJ and perhaps even NY or DE, depending on the venue, if any readers out in cyberspace are interested in setting up a date.

How did you come up with the strategy to 'save' your book?

I came up with this strategy because, quite simply, I had to. I couldn't let this book I'd believed in so much die quietly. Nevermind my poor sequel.

My strategy is this: I figure the only way to save What I Meant... is if there are massive pre-orders, followed by a groundswell of support. We need to quickly sell out the first smaller printing and go into reprint. We need readers, press, and bookstores to take notice. I'm contacting EVERYBODY I know and asking them to please pre-order ASAP through their local bookseller, or I'm asking people to talk to librarians and bookstore managers to tell them that this book is in trouble, not because it is a bad book, but because pre-publication sales were low. If we all ask them to champion this cause, help the underdog, great things can happen. A great time to ask booksellers about What I Meant... is when readers go in to pick up their copy of Harry Potter. What I Meant... will be out just three days after Harry Potter.

You know, without the Internet, it'd definitely be over. But now with a click of a button, thousands of people are informed. It is truly miraculous. I am overwhelmed with the support and kind words I've received. I watch my numbers on amazon and barnesandnoble improving by the second. I read about people who have bought 4 copies, forwarded my message to 100 people, to 14,000 people even, and I feel so lucky to have people like this in the world.

What words of wisdom do you have for a writer about to enter the process?

You know what? All I can say is be brave and believe in yourself against all odds. It ain't over till it's over. But then again, we writers already know that!

Thanks for these insights, Marie.
And let's wish Marie lots of good luck as she moves to turn the fortunes of her first novel around.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Obese cats and doggies: some thoughts

Now we're in the throes of summer, people are walking about the streets and parks with their dogs. I was watching one couple--a young man and woman in their early thirties and their young, very fat labrador (American breed because it was taller and had the boxy head)--the other day in a town near where I live and a thought suddenly occurred to me. Do people who are overweight also own animals that are overweight? I began to look around.

Sure enough, all the dogs that were fat belonged to overweight people? I couldn't believe it. Yesterday, I was in NYC to sign my Friday Project contract at my literary agent. Finding some time to spare, I went into Central Park for a bit of research. What did I learn? I learned it isn't just a Pennsylvania phenomenon. All overweight dogs in the park belonged to overweight people. And teh more overweight the dog, the more overweight the owner. So there was a decided correlation

Another idea popped into my head. If these owners managed their animals diets and exercise scrupulously, would they also begin to manage their own diets and exercise regimes too? It's very possible. Maybe that's the way toward a more healthy society. Focus on the fat percentage of our animals, not on our own weight. Hey presto.

The only other way I think the health of a nation can be improved is if the government mandates that we go to gyms in the same way they mandate that all children must be educated to a certain grade. As part of that initiative, they could give corporations tax benefits if they enroll their employees in gyms and pay fro the indigent to go to gyms, etc. they coudl alos impose higher taxes on corporations producing junk food, food with too many calories due to too much saturated fat and/or sugar.

It probably wouldn't go down well in the US where many people are hypersensitive about governmental interference in their private lives. But hey, we allow the government to set the rules for school kids attending school and we monitor their attendance. We do so because it's a legitimate benefit to society to have an educated population. So why can't we do it in this area. It's a legitimate benefit to society to stamp out obesity. It would produce a healthy population and we'd save billions of dollars on medical bills for heart disease, diabetes and a raft of other ills. And we'd have healthy dogs and cats, too.

Friday, June 22, 2007

On writing and a bit of news

For anyone aspiring to have their work published, there's a very illuminating entry in Scott Pack's blog today that's entitled What was the name of the chap who rejected the Beatles?

Scott is the commercial director of the The Friday Project, an independent publishing house in the UK. I'm delighted because they will publish A Son Called Gabriel early next year and my second novel, Unusual Steps, thereafter.

I love independent publishers and TFP is the perfect house for me because it has the energy, creativity and huge enthusiasm of a small house backed by the distribution muscle of Pan Macmillan which gets their books into all the places where books ought to be. Scott will be my editor for Unusual Steps and we've already begun the edits a few weeks ago. It's hugely exciting because he 'gets' the novel and he actually edits, as opposed to some at the larger houses who, due to corporate policy and/or lack of experience, do no editing at all. As I go through the process I'll post my thoughts.

Anyway, back to writing and the acquisition process. I think it's wonderful and very useful that writers are able to tap into insights like this from a publisher's perspective. And, while he's realistic and remarks how competitive the market is, he gives encouragement and hope to unpublished writers, which is vital. He also talks about writing competitions.

Without the net and blogging, it just wouldn't be possible to get such valuable info.

Here's the link:
Me and My Big Mouth

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Kudos to Sweden

Have been listening to a wonderful radio show in which I learned Sweden has been very diligent and busy accepting for immigration Iraqi refugees whose lives and families are being threatened by the insurgents for helping the coalition forces spearheaded by the US. This behavior one expects from Sweden. It is a country of people with a conscience, makes a good faith effort to treat all its citizens justly, and they've always been ahead of the curve in deciding how their laws should develop as society becomes more complex.

Another bit of the show was very troubling--dismaying actually. The United States has accepted only about seven hundred refugees. I was astonished. What is going on? Is procrastination linked in some absurd way to the immigration debate in Congress?.

I know we're currently being urged (and certain sections of the the media are buying it, to wit CNN) to fear immigration--read Mexicans and South Americans storming across our Southern borders--by the "small-town-America" brigade. But surely we have a moral duty to accept and speed up the processing of legitimate Iraqi refugees, people who have assisted the United States and who are endangered as a consequence. Why is Sweden, a country infinitely smaller than us, having to bear a disproportionate share of the burden?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Human quirks

It's amazing how anticipation and excitement affects us humans, how it causes a natural high that makes us act out of character sometimes.

On Saturday morning, someone whom I've seen at the gym for nearly two years but whom I've never spoken to approached as I was completing my first set of arm curls.

He's a man in his early sixties and is a friend of another guy who's Irish-American who once told me he's conservative and doesn't care for Hillary Clinton, couldn't imagine America being led by a woman. I'd imagine this chap feels the same way. We've passed each other on the way to the various pieces of equipment but never spoken or acknowledged one another. He's always come across as unfriendly, actually.

"You're Irish, aren't you?" he said, his smile as broad as Nellie's dresser. (an Irish saying.)
I had to clamp my mouth shut so as to stop my jaw from slamming into the floor. "Er...yes," I said after I finished the last rep of my set. "The genuine article." I tossed him a grin.
"My wife and I are going to Ireland."
"Really. That's very nice. When?"
" six." He smiled like a schoolboy who'd been praised for good marks.
"Out of Newark?" I said.
"Nah. Philly."
"Which part?"
"County Meath."
"I'm from the North. That's in the republic...but it's not far. Everything in Ireland isn't far from anywhere else."
He laughed. "Yeah, I'm Irish American and my relatives live in Meath."
"Well, have a good time."
"Thanks. Will do."
"Have a nice time."

I picked up the handles to start another set but stopped to watch the man walk away. He knew I was Irish yet we hadn't even traded names. This isn't the first time I've seen this sort of behavior. He was buzzing. I think the anticipation of something pleasurable makes normally reticent people drop their guard or shyness and approach others to share their news. It's almost a compulsion--a snap decision by the brain to act when an opportunity presents. In this case, the nexus was my Irishness and his trip to Ireland to see his relatives. Wonderful. It'll be most interesting to see if he speaks on his return.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Happenings in the American countryside

This is a pic of the house.

As you can see, I live in the countryside and it's teeming with wildlife at this time of the year.

There's a doe 'breakfasts' on the lawn every morning and the other day we came out to discover she'd had triplets during the night. I'm going to try and get a photo when they're less scared.

Early yesterday morning we had a bit of drama. Police and ambulance sirens shrieked in the stillness and a chopper arrived and began to hover above the house. We ran out to discover it was the news chopper from our local NBC affiliate out of Philly. Turns out our neighbor and a friend had decided to go on a fishing trip to Canada (only a couple of hours away by air) and his plane crashed within seconds of taking off from their house. Turns out his friend was a surgeon and he called 911 on his cell phone but the emergency rescue couldn't find the whereabout's of their plane because it was so foggy. An hour later they found it (and them) hanging upside down amid some dense trees. Both escaped with minor injuries, but the plane wasn't so lucky. Don't think it'll be flying ever again.

Sometimes we just sit on the front door steps drinking spritzers and listening to the bluebirds (beautiful bright blue with red breasts), chaffinches, red wing-tipped blackbirds and wrens some evenings. Occasionally a hawk will soars high in the sky and the birds go ape-shit.

This is a view of the iris beds. Fantastic this year, though they're now done for the season. Next come the lilies.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Adam will be in Manchester


It's thrilling for novelists when their first book is about to hit the book stores. From this side of the pond I've been watching and cheering and laughing at Caroline Smailes' journey as her already critically acclaimed novel In Search of Adam has been wending its path toward the day of publication, which will be June 14th.

On that day, Caroline will in Manchester (in a new 'launch dress') for her book launch party, as will members of her innovative and exciting independent publisher, The Friday Project. Caroline's novel is the first to be published by their Friday Fiction imprint.

She and I have been in touch and I will be reviewing her book on this blog soon and she will answer a few questions so you can get to know her a little better.

In the meantime you can check out Caroline's blog on my Authors who blog sidebar and catch up on her ups, downs and doings as she has traveled the path from unpublished writer to published author in two days time.

Way to go, Caroline. Enjoy your launch.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Twins offering their faces to the sun

Planted this clematis three years ago on one side of the archway leading to the front door of the house. For the past two years it's looked pathetic, but this year it just grew and grew and produced about twenty beautiful flowers the sizes of side plates.

These two grew side-by-side and I couldn't resist taking a pic. Twins, I guess. If you enlarge the photo, they look so vibrantly palpable, it's as if they can be touched. Incredible.

Took some pics of the house to put them up later on. To much time on my hands at the moment!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Turning it over

Yesterday afternoon after a marathon session--and it was a marathon session with no interruptions permitted and the imbibing of lots of cups of rich, fragrant Puerto Rican coffee, no switching over to the internet at the flick of a button (the peril of having high speed) to check pinging emails or surf fav' sites--I finished the first draft of what is still called America and Me:The first two years.

(I've decided the title stays until I come up with something I feel is the publication title, which will in all probability be in the US first as it's set mostly here. I know. I know what you're thinking. Publishers acquiring the work change working titles all the time. However, I lucked out with A Son Called Gabriel because my US publisher loved it and didn't consider anything else. My second novel, Unusual Steps, will also get to keep its title, but more about what's been happening when I have something concrete to relay.)

It really is so satisfying to enter that final period (full-stop elsewhere) on a manuscript and gaze at the screen and say 'I've finished the first draft.'. It came in at 87,872 words; 31 Chapters and 313 pages. It's also split into three sections--the first and tiniest dealing with London followed by New York and Pennsylvania in a more or less equal split. I'm pleased with it, but know from my experience of working on 'Gabriel' that scenes will be added and deleted. The difference is that I have lots of material to work with.

I am now turning the project over to my subconscious--which'll work behind the scene as I focus my attention on other things--editing, chopping, analyzing and rewriting so that when I take it out again I'll be able to start writing immediately. It took me a while to trust that this is a necessary part of the creative process. I look forward to it, though I'm sometimes accused of being too distracted or 'far away', not enjoying living in the present because my mind is indeed working out issues, toying with alternative words and improving descriptions,etc. and can tune out. One thing I do know is that, during the rewrite, I will give the chapters titles rather than plain old numbers, something I've never before done.

It's been a tremendously positive experience writing about how I came to America and my first two years here. I highly recommend writing about your past to everyone. Life moves so rapidly today, I think we forget to take stock and see where we've been and how people coming into our lives and experience has affected us. I'd forgotten so many of the downright whacky and funny things that have happened to me here and the struggle to assimilate and it's shown me how American I've become.

Friday, June 01, 2007

When is it art and when is it shite?

Though I mull this question often--especially when I start reading new books whose covers I find attractive--this question came into sharper focus when I learned the iconic album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club was released by The Beatles forty years ago today. Though I was far too young to understand its significance then, I am always deeply moved every time I hear one of its tracks played out of the blue on radio now. That it is still relevant and moving today is a sign of true art in my estimation.

I wonder if the same will be said forty years hence of another Brit's work. The artist Damien Hirst will exhibit his latest and most expensive piece at a gallery in London early this month. Renowned, admired or ridiculed for his steel and glass tanks containing a 'pickled' shark, sliced cows, whole sheep and sides of hogs, he has now cast a skull of platinum and encased it with 8,500 diamonds in collaboration with a Bond Street jeweler, which will sell for fifty million pounds to an art collector. The artist states the piece represents his 'to hell with death'--what better way to depict it than taking the ultimate symbol of death and covering in in something that represents absolute luxury, decadence and desire.

Already speculation is mounting as to whether the American financier Steve Cohen who bought Mr. Hirst's shark for millions (a shark that is now so deteriorated another replacement had to be pickled and installed) will now pony up for the skull. Or will it be new Russian money or a rich Arab, perhaps?

Some speculate that Hirst is taking the mickey, that by creating this piece from such expensive raw materials he is really deriding all the nouveau riche art patrons who fork out huge sums for his and other similar works.

Is a shark pickled in formaldehyde that rots and has to be replaced art? Or is it just a shark suspended in formaldehyde? Is the art the original shark or is it the replacement shark?

I don't have the answer. What I can honestly say is the following: if I had fifty million dollars I would neither buy a jewel encrusted skull nor a Jackson Pollack.

Turning my musings to the book world, I find I am confronted with the same dilemma when I begin a new book, most often fiction. Sometimes I will eagerly begin to read a work from a much celebrated writer, a writer who's feted and puffed in the review sections of newspapers, a writer who's won prizes, and a few pages in I slam it shut and set it aside in disgust. At first, I used to blame myself when I could not enjoy such a work. After all, he or she was critically acclaimed so who am I to judge that it's illiterate, plotless, whiney? (the latter relating to nonfiction).

Now I just say it's shite and move on.
Some might say that I'm a writer and thus jealous because these writers have received tons of exposure, sold millions of books, and their opinions are swallowed whole when they render them in public. But it's definitely not that. I love good writing. And shite is shite, whether it comes from an unpublished or much ballyhooed author.