David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Month: August 2015

Melissa Cistaro on Horses, Mothers, Bookstores and How She Got Her First Book Deal

We first met Melissa Cistaro when she pitched her book to us at a Pitchapalooza we did for Book Passage (one of America’s great bookstores) in Corte Madera, California. We’ve been doing this so long we can usually tell when someone has a book in them and is capable of getting it out successfully. And we knew Melissa had the right stuff as soon as she opened her mouth. Arielle then made a suggestion to Melissa that she calls perhaps her greatest move as a Book Doctor: she told Melissa that she should get a job working at Book Passage. This is what separates the doers from the talkers. Melissa actually did it; she got a job at Book Passage. Eventually she became the person who introduces authors when they do events at Book Passage. Some of the greatest authors in the world come through that bookstore. Now Melissa gets to move from being the person who presents authors to the author being presented. So we thought we would pick her brain to see how she did it.

To read this interview on the Huffington Post, click here.

2015-08-24-1440444117-2297160-MelissaCistaro.jpg 2015-08-24-1440444172-3706305-melissacistaropiecesofmymother.jpg

The Book Doctors: How did you get started as a writer?

Melissa Cistaro: This may sound odd, but I think that becoming a mother is what turned me into a writer. Even in college, I still considered writing one of my greatest weaknesses. But when I saw my own child for the first time, I knew I had to figure out how to tell the stories that had been hiding inside of me for so long. I started taking classes at UCLA Extension, and it was there that I caught a glimpse of my writing voice–and after that, I couldn’t stop writing. I’ve always believed that motherhood opened a portal inside of me that gave me permission to write. If I hadn’t become a mother, I don’t know that I would have become a writer.

TBD: What are some of your favorite books and why?

MC: In the house I grew up in, we rarely had access to books. I was not a child who discovered books early–they came late for me, and when they did, I had a lot of catching up to do. One of the first books to completely mesmerize me was Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. The language was magical and the story deep, evocative and riveting. I am often pulled into stories through language. Fugitive Pieces is another book that I drew me in with its incredible poetic narrative. Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje and a short story collection by John Murray called A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies. Oh this is hard! I could go on and on with favorite books.

TBD: What made you decide to write a memoir?

MC: I started this story as a work of fiction. It was easier for me to dive into it as someone else’s narrative rather than my own. For years, I wrote calling myself Paisley Chapin in the story, but eventually I realized that I wasn’t very good at drifting away from the truth, as I knew it. Early on, I showed my oldest brother some chapters, and he said to me, “Sorry Sis, but this ain’t fiction you are writing.”

TBD: How has your family reacted to seeing themselves in print?

MC: The book was very difficult to hand to my father. There were many facets of our childhood that he wasn’t aware of–and it was definitely emotional for him to take in our story on paper. He has been exceptionally supportive of the book and, ultimately, a proud father. My brothers also have been generous and supportive. Naturally, there were some details that we recalled in different ways, and we have since had some great conversations about our childhood.

TBD: You attended a number of writing programs, do you recommend this? What are some of the benefits and liabilities?

MC: Classes and workshops were crucial along the way, as was being in a writing group. But I eventually got to a place in the process where outside input began to stifle me as a writer. The feedback was always helpful, but I also had to take responsibility for what I ultimately wanted to write. If there are too many voices and opinions, it can get overwhelming. I’ve become less fond of workshopping and more of a fan of having a few select and trusted readers.

TBD: Which helped you more as a writer, being an equestrian or a mom?

MC: Whoa–this is an interesting question. I don’t know if I’ve ever considered how riding has informed my writing. Communicating with an animal requires a great deal of paying attention and observing, and I think that certainly translates into the writing process. I once had to throw myself off of a horse that was running at full speed back towards the barn. I could see the low awning of the barn ahead, and I knew I had lost control of the horse. I didn’t want to end up trapped under the awning or thrown dangerously sideways–so I made a decision to pull my feet out of the stirrups and make a flying dismount. I skidded and tumbled across the hard summer dirt, landing safely (and sorely) between two spindly birch trees. I think, whether we are parenting or writing or on a runaway horse, we have to make big decisions and sometimes we don’t know precisely what the outcome will be.

TBD: Did working at a bookstore help you as a writer?

MC: Absolutely. If you love books as much as I do and you want to surround yourself with likeminded people, go work in an independent bookstore. Bookstores are magical places. You get to meet authors and discover new books all the time. I also learned how sometimes great books thrive and other equally beautiful books can sometimes wither on the shelf. I quickly gleaned how subjective the world of books can be. This armored me with very humble and realistic expectations as I entered the publishing arena with my own book. I had a completed draft of my memoir when I started working at Book Passage, and I decided to put it in the proverbial drawer for a year so that I could focus on other books and writers. This turned out to be a great plan. Two years later, I met my agent during an event I was hosting.

TBD: You’ve now seen hundreds of authors do events as event coordinator at one of the great bookstores in America, Book Passage. What mistakes do you see writers make? What do you see successful writers do to help themselves?

MC: I have a wonderful job at Book Passage. I introduce authors, host their events and read their books. I find that, for the most part, authors are truly grateful and gracious when they come to Book Passage. I learn something new at every event I host. I take a lot of notes. We always appreciate when an author stands up and thanks independent bookstores for the hard work they do, because we certainly don’t do this work for the money (which is essentially minimum wage). We do this work because we love working in the landscape of books, ideas and creative minds.

TBD: What did you learn about finding an agent and publisher that you think unpublished writers would like to know?

MC: Finding that one agent who falls in love with your work takes a lot of time, patience and perseverance. Expect a lot of rejection. Grow extremely thick skin. And keep writing what you are passionate about. When you find that agent, he or she will help get your manuscript to the right publisher.

TBD: What was the most frustrating part of the publishing process from idea through publication for you?

MC: The publishing process is full of surprises, and I had to carry my publishing “Bible” with me everywhere. (That would be your book!). There are so many things you can learn in advance about how publishing works and all the ins-and-outs of contracts, deals, agents, etc. It was a tremendous and challenging education going through the publishing process. The landscape is changing so fast that it’s important to keep informed.

TBD: How can writers best use their local bookstore to help them in their career?

MC: Support your local bookstore. This means buying books from them. Attend their events. Introduce yourself to the booksellers and tell them you are a writer. Ask them for advice and book recommendations. Let them know you are not going to get a recommendation and then go purchase it for a few dollars less online. Today there are many ways a writer can professionally self-publish their books, and this is a perfectly respectable way to publish. Just make sure that if you self-publish, it’s on a platform that is compatible with independent bookstores. (This is kind of homework that authors need to do when looking into their publishing options!)

I love meeting writers at Book Passage, and I appreciate when they tell me they are a writer because I know how challenging this path is. I also know that one day they may come in and tell me that their book is being published–and guess who is going to make sure that they get a reading at Book Passage?

TBD: What advice do you have for writers?

MC: If there is a story you need to tell, you must do it. You must keep writing and writing until you are both empty and full. No story is too small for this world.

Melissa Cistaro‘s stories have been published in numerous literary journals, including the New Ohio Review, Anderbo.com, and Brevity as well as the anthologies Cherished and Love and Profanity. She works as a bookseller and event coordinator at Book Passage, the esteemed independent bookstore in Northern California. Between the years of raising her children, writing, bookselling, teaching horseback riding, and curating a business in equestrian antiques – Melissa completed her first memoir, Pieces of My Mother.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, June 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

Author Alice Carbone

Alice Carbone on Building Community, Writing, Sex, and Getting a Book Deal

I first met Alice Carbone when we connected about sex and addiction. I spent a lot of my life being addicted and having sex. Then trying to not be addicted and not have sex. We soon found out that we were cut from the same cloth, in many ways. She told me she was working on a novel. But then, everyone tells me they’re working on a novel. Approximately 0.1% of the people who tell me they’re working on a novel actually write the novel and get it published. But that’s the kind of person Alice is. Not only did she tell me she was going to write a novel, she wrote the novel and got published by a fantastic publisher. Now that her book is out, I thought I’d pick her brain to see how she’s doing with books and sex and addiction.

To read this interview on the Huffington Post, click here.

 Author Alice CarboneBook cover of The Sex Girl by Alice Carbone

David Henry Sterry: This is your first novel. How exciting was it when the box of books showed up?

Alice Carbone: It’s funny that you ask that, because due to uncontrollable circumstances, I still haven’t received the ‘famous box.’ But I did hold the actual book in my hands during the book launch at Book Soup in Los Angeles a few weeks ago. In fact, during the event I talked about learning how to accept life obstacles as part of our path, and I guess the box is one such obstacle. I can’t wait to open it.

[Aside from interviewer. This came in a couple of days ago from Alice: “I just wanted to tell you that I have just received THE BOX and I am beyond excited. I cried. It finally feels real and makes me feel very proud and hopeful for the future — something that doesn’t necessarily come easy, natural to me. There is a book on my lap as I’m writing this, and a smile on my face.”]

DHS: How did you go about getting your first novel published?

AC: After an endless number of rejections and almost giving up, my publisher, Tyson Cornell at Rare Bird Books, took the time to read it and shortly after emailed me back; he wanted to publish The Sex Girl. And the most interesting part of the publishing process was working with an editor for the first time. I looked forward to it for a long time, to learning more about language structure and writing; English not being my native language. My editor, Julia Callahan, and I had a very productive dialogue that helped shape the novel.

DHS: I hate to ask you this, but did you draw a lot from your own life when writing about difficult subjects like sex and addiction?

AC: I understand why people ask. At the end of the book, I wrote a personal message to my readers where I say that I have myself suffered from alcoholism, depression, addiction and eating disorders; as a consequence, my sexual life wasn’t idyllic. What a portrait, huh? However, the story is fictional; the main character, K, is fictional. What is not fictional are the feelings in the book. They are very personal and — hopefully — at once universal. I always felt voiceless growing up. So with this novel, I took my voice back and tried — at the same time — to give a voice to all those women I met along the way, women who have not been blessed, like me, with recovery, tools and some serenity. It was a healing process, too. I am very different from the Alice who wrote it five years ago.

DHS: Your book was the number one novel at one of Los Angeles’s most influential bookstores, Book Soup. How did you go about building community, arriving as you did a few years ago in such a strange place from another country, another world?

AC: When I moved to Los Angeles in 2010, I started a blog called WonderlandMag. The publication then became Coffee with Alice, but the purpose of what I was doing has never changed, which is to communicate with my readers with honesty. I’ve never been afraid to show my vulnerability when it came to the written word. At times I wish I were, because looking back to the essays I wrote over the years, I often feel somewhat naked.

Now, to give you an example and possibly explain why The Sex Girl jumped to number one at Book Soup, during the celebratory afternoon I shared with the audience about my recent, severe depression, with humor and yet candid truth. I also told them what I was doing to heal and go back to regular life. I discussed the many obstacles this book has encountered and admitted that seeing obstacles in life is something I unconsciously (or consciously) tend to do. I wrote The Sex Girl in a language, English, that isn’t my native one. But instead of being proud and enjoying the journey of learning, I felt stupid and dragged my self-imposed burden with shame. Some readers have identified with my story since day one; others have grown to appreciate my slow improvement with time. I believe that the key is always speaking with your heart, whether you are writing fiction, interviewing an artist or making music.

The heart never lies; people pick up on truth more than anything else. It may not pay off right away, but it never goes unrewarded.

DHS: How did you learn to become a writer?

AC: Ah! I am still learning and always will be. But I always lived in my own world, in my own head, since I was a kid and did not particularly like the world around me. I used to tell impossible stories. I tried to be a singer; I wrote my own songs, and yet my singing voice isn’t at all extraordinary. But writing has always been healing for me, whether in the form of poetry, short stories or lyrics for a song. The world of the novel opened up a new, fantastic universe of possibilities.

DHS: What are your some of your favorite books and authors, and why?

AC: Joan Didion has been a teacher from a distance since I moved to the United States five years ago. There is something unique about the way she weighs the sentence, the number of words, the paragraph. Her rhythm is what I am after, something I try to learn from every day. And then Norman Mailer, Don DeLillo, Raymond Chandler, the Italian Italo Svevo — The Zeno’s Conscience is one of my favorite books, Cheryl Strayed… I am currently reading Chanel Bonfire by Wendy Lawless, simply heartbreaking, utterly moving. But the list could continue almost ad infinitum

DHS: You’ve interviewed tons of writers for Coffee with Alice. How has this affected the way you look at writing, books and life?

AC: It has taught me about patience and humility. Every great artist that I have had the honor of interviewing for my podcast, from Janet Fitch to Jerry Stahl and Nayomi Munaweera or Royal Young, just to name a few, has taken me by the hand to show me their journey. You gave me a fantastic interview as well; it was a terrific hour of learning for me. By doing so you all gave me hope. Looking back, I realize that during the writing of The Sex Girl, at times, I aimed for the top of the mountain to such an extent that I forgot about the journey. I am trying to not make the same mistake again the second time around, now that I am writing my second novel.

DHS: How do you get such cool and interesting people to talk with you for your podcast?

AC: I ask the same question of myself! They were all kind and humble enough, from the very beginning of my career, to give me a chance. They liked my writing and believed in me. With time passing by, the podcast has gained more attention, and today I am considered more legit. For the many terrific music guests, I am lucky to have a husband, Benmont Tench, who’s a well-known keyboard player; I get to hang out with many talented artists on a daily basis. I am blessed. However, the rejections I get far outnumber the guests that appear on it. Coffee with Alice is about to go on a hiatus nonetheless; I have two more guests and then I will concentrate on just writing for a while.

DHS: What are some of the joys and difficulties of being a writer for you?

AC: What a terrific question this is! I find many difficulties, especially because my brain still goes through some kind of translation process and because my vocabulary is constantly expanding. Everything is difficult for me, in English. Having discipline is difficult for me. In fact, I try to wake every morning at 7:00 to write, to build a routine. But curiously enough, that’s also where the joy comes from — having a purpose and having written at the end of day — something that has a meaning for me, or that I know will, eventually.

What Joan Didion says in her essay “Why I Write,” “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear,” is something I can very much relate to; the more I write, the more I deepen my relationship with myself, people and this world. When I write I grow as a human being. I don’t know how this happens, but it’s fascinating, and it also helps me hold on during difficult times, when all I want to do is give up.

DHS: I hate to ask you this, but what advice you have for drug addicts? Immigrants? Interviewers? Writers?

AC: I don’t like to give advice, because I am still in the process of learning myself. But I would probably tell writers to never stop writing, that the job is difficult, sometimes frustrating, often painful, but if you are a writer it will be worth the journey. Addicts and alcoholics…there is another, beautiful life that I had no idea existed. The perfect life doesn’t exist, but the one I have today is the most beautiful I could have ever wished for. Seek recovery. Immigrants…Good luck, truly, with all my heart!

Alice Carbone Tench is an Italian-born author and journalist based in Los Angeles. Former translator and interpreter from Turin, she moved to Los Angeles in 2010. Her debut novel–The Sex Girl–is out now by Rare Bird Books. She also created the interview podcast Coffee with Alice that airs twice a month on iTunes. In 2014, she was a weekly contributor to Anna David’s recovery website After Party Chat. In October 2014, Alice Carbone was the subject of a documentary aired on the Italian network RAI with Moby and bestselling author Jerry Stahl. When nominating her for the Shorty Awards 2014, radio legend Phil Hendrie defined her literary voice as ‘Columbia’s… in love with America again.’ Alice is currently working on her second novel. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, keyboard player Benmont Tench.You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.


Suadade on the Diamond

photo(1)Suadade. It’s a Brazilian word which roughly translated means: a profound melancholy mixed with a deep euphoria. Ever since the last out on Sunday that’s exactly how I’ve been feeling. Yes, the object of this is to win, but it’s really too feel the joy of life, the misery of life, to be out on a hot summer day and commune with men. To play. & I’ve been playing organized all since I was eight years old. That’s 50 years. This was one of my most satisfying you seasons. To come from where we started and win eight games in a row, in all kinds of ways, with defense, with baserunning, with pitching, with hitting, it was a fantastic ride, and before I go any further I would like to thank all you men who made it possible. It has been an honor and a privilege willto go to battle with you rogues and gentlemen. Now let’s get down to particulars. One of the strangest things about Sunday’s game, to me, was the fact that we played with such relentless shittiness, and only lost by two runs. Through five completed innings we had five hits. No matter how you do the math that’s one hit per inning. In slow pitch softball against a pitcher who, although he appears to be a very nice fellow, let’s face it, he’s more belly-itcher than Clayton Kershaw. Through five innings we scored 3 runs. Even as I write this it seems impossible with the talent that we have in this team that we could only score 3 runs through five innings. In slow pitch fucking softball! Granted, we did hit some balls at their guys, but we also popped up miserably and grounded out weekly with shocking regularity. & to be fair, we must give the devil his due, they made some plays. And they had some balls. By the way, their big bruiser lashed a line drive down the right field line, and I don’t know you guys could see it, but the chalk flew like LeBron was doing his pregame ritual, it literally could not have been more obvious. At that point I thought, Well, this is destiny, where the chosen team, this is a portend, a symbol of our rise to the top of the mountain, we will soon be champions. The best laid plans of mice and men. And then when you factor in how much difficulty we were having catching and throwing the ball, well, that’s a potent cocktail guaranteed to make one drunk with failure. But there were rays of sunshine in the dark storm of helpless hitlessness. Barry was 3-3, with a huge hit in the sixth inning that knocked in two runs. Peter was, what else, 3-3 while looking like he was in his jammies and hadn’t had his morning cup of coffee. And the old pro Steve Mish Masher was 4-4 just raked the ball all day. He also demonstrated incredible acumen, skill, and hustle, as he always does, just when we needed it most. Through sheer will, he turned a routine single into a double by taking an extra base, and when he did they threw the ball away and he got all the way to third. It was just the sort of wake-up call that the moribund zombie-like Craters needed. And for as badly as we played in the field, apart from two innings we only allowed four runs. Against a bunch of mashers like they have, that’s great. Naturally I keep going over in my head all the different things I could’ve done that would’ve won us the game. One of their Big Hitters whacked a hot shot right up the middle, I swear it’s like the ball went right through me, and yet I couldn’t get a glove on it. I always make that play. On Sunday I didn’t. If I make that play 2 runs don’t score. Then we end up tied after seven innings. And a play that for me was a symbol of our day. Hard hit grounder up the middle. I leapt like an old gray cat instinctively rolling and diving, my wife said it looked like I was 57 again, I was ready to throw the guy out at first and be a hero. One problem. The ball trickled off the end of my glove. If I’d just left the ball alone Jason could’ve fielded the ball quite easily. If we just gotten one more timely hit. & on & on & on. My mother, who was an immigrant from the old country, had a great expression: If ifs & ands were pots & pans, beggars would be kings. Marinate on that. But one of the things I love about this team that we never threw in the towel, bloodied and beaten as we were. There was always a feeling that we could get the thing going again. I love that. I’ve played on so many teams that would fall behind and just kind of give up, consciously or unconsciously. Sure enough, in the last inning things got very interesting, they started throwing the ball around, we started hitting, and I was thinking, if we could just get one more guy on base, that would bring Joey Bag O Hits to the plate, and the way this season was going, he’ll hit a grand slam and we’ll win, because we are the team of destiny. Needless to say, it was not to be. After Grink put himself out of his misery and ended the game, Joey turned to me and said he had been imagining that exact scenario, he come to bat with the bases loaded grand slam, walk-off. Idiots think alike. And by the way, Jason, we love you, and we will always love you. It’s amazing to think that we mercied the Maniacs, who look like the best team in the league. We beat the Overlookers twice I believe. I really like how evenly matched all these teams are. On Any Given Sunday, right? Parity has finally hit Montclair ball!

As I look back on this season I see Gelman smoking ball after ball after ball, it would be monotonous if it wasn’t so wonderful. I see Meranus raging in from deep in the outfield like a Jewish Dick Butkus and laying out to make yet another bullish yet balletic diving catch. I see Rob Davis grinding out ABs, playing all over the field, and wiggling his butt, sometimes in my dreams, which, I’ll be honest is more than a little disturbing. I see Glenn gritting his teeth in utter agony and still making a spectacular play at second base when we really needed it: Fuck you Pain, I will not be your bitch! I see Barry playing second base shortstop third-base, & yakking a grass cutter down the third base line in the playoffs with the game on the line, balling-up big time. I see Ryan launching not one but two balls into the pool Splish Splash! & I hear him racing in from the outfield, heaving a world-class grunt as he snags another ball and breaks another heart. I see Dave striking out, getting a ticket, and then hitting a Titanic shot into the stratosphere while his kids reminded him of just how much he sucks. I see Mish with that whole surreal almost Dada-esque pre-AB Ritual, pumping the bat, lifting the leg up and smashing it back down, hoisting the hands up by his head high, coiled like a cobra about to strike, taking a couple of little quick Joe Namath stuttersteps and then BAM! the little yellow ball is punished. I see sleepy-eyed Peter raking all day every day, ho-hum I am just rip another shot over the shortstop’s head and trot on down to first base, that I think I’ll have a little nap. I see Jason reaching out like Mister Fantastic, Reed Richards, the scientific genius who can stretch himself indefinitely, snag a hotshot liner & nab the guy at second, a spectacular double play that changes the entire game in an instant. I see Hip hip Jorge! racing like a runaway train around third-base and throwing himself face first across home with absolutely no regard for his body, or what’s left of it anyway. I see Tim channeling his inner Mark McGuire and launching a missile, throwing out a guy at second base from the outfield, giving out tremendous amounts of shit, and taking tremendous amounts of shit like a real man. I see Mike Madman Buchanan fire his cannon of a right arm, unleash his sweet The Natural swing, and take off from first base on a suicide mission that left him looking like an extra on The Walking Dead. I see CJ teaching his children how to hold their nose in the international symbol for: STINK! after Ryan popped out to third: so very important to teach the children how to express their disdain & disgust, they are, after all, our future. I see Phil filling in at shortstop and pulling the old Phantom tag play on some unsuspecting shnook of a mook of a jamoke. I see Junior smacking a walk-off dinger, and racing around the bases like his hair and his house were both on fire, getting pummeled with congratulations and looking like he just won the lottery. I see Raj stroking balls all over the diamond, everywhere they ain’t, like a very dark Wee Willy Keeler. I see myself being a raging dickhead only a few times, instead of a few times every game, which I consider a major triumph. I see Joey getting another Bag O Hits, when he’s not being my mate in battery, my better half, keeping me calm, pumping me up, making me better. And that, as they say is that. Another season has come, and it is gone, and I am so very alive even as I am one step closer to death. Suadade.

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