David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: how to get published Page 2 of 4

Winning Pitchapalooza by Gloria Chao

This is originally from a great website called Novel Pitch

Gloria Chao was the winner of the 2015 Pitchapalooza contest put on by The Book Doctors. She and I connected via twitter. The following is her experience from the event. 0wjqQGQB

I am honored that NovelPitch has invited me to share my experience pitching in The Book Doctor’s 2015 Pitchapalooza contest. I’m a strong supporter of writers helping writers, and am excited to give back (though I wish I could give more!) to the community that has helped in my journey thus far. Thank you, Ralph, for your Novel Pitch efforts, and thank you, fellow writers, for your constant support.

I heard about the Pitchapalooza contest through Twitter and submitted my query. Based on The Book Doctors’ comments, I believe my pitch stood out because of the specifics—namely, the wording and humor. Since my novel is multicultural, I used words that gave a taste of Chinese culture, e.g. “sticking herself with needles” and “fermented tofu.” I also highlighted the wacky characters with phrases such as “expiring ovaries,” “unladylike eating habits,” and “Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer.” I think capturing the manuscript’s voice in the query was why my pitch was chosen.

Winning Pitchapalooza gave me confidence and the courage to keep fighting. It also helped bring my manuscript to the next level. I had struggled with my genre, pitching NA contemporary for the contest. The Book Doctors helped me realize this was the incorrect categorization, pointing me toward adult with suggestions to age up my manuscript by changing from first person to third. This released a flood of ideas, and I spent the next several months rewriting—adding 24K words, changing the POV, and writing with a women’s fiction audience in mind. I ended up with a manuscript that finally felt right.

The journey to publication is infamous for being long and relentless, but enjoying the small accomplishments along the way (and the writing, of course!) is what keeps me motivated. Putting ideas into words, sharing work with others, getting a personalized rejection, receiving a request, winning a contest—these are all achievements that require courage and are worth celebrating. And the writing community, including myself, will always be happy to celebrate with you!

Here are some of my tips for making your query stand out:

  • If you’re new to querying, check out Query Shark, published authors’ blogs, Writer’s Digest, and craft books.
  • Keep the 250 word count in mind, but only at the end. When you first start, just write. You’re more likely to have gems if you’re whittling down.
  • Avoid clichés, generalities, and obvious stakes. Use unique words to convey your voice (and do this in your manuscript as well).
  • Cut out every word that’s not essential. Too much detail bogs the story down.
  • When you think your query is ready, get fresh eyes on it—family (my husband read a thousand versions of my pitch), friends, and other writers you meet through Twitter. Start with those familiar with your book, then end with people who know nothing about it. The latter will help identify confusing elements and will let you know if the pitch as a whole is not grabbing enough. Then, seize every critique opportunity by entering contests.

You can read Gloria’s winning pitch for AMERICAN PANDA here.

About Gloria:

I earned a bachelor’s degree from MIT and graduated magna cum laude from Tufts Dental—the perfect Taiwanese-American daughter. Except I wasn’t happy. To get through practicing dentistry, I wrote. It took years to gather the strength to push my dental career aside, against my parent’s wishes, to pursue writing full-time. Our relationship suffered, but my most recent novel, AMERICAN PANDA, strengthened our bond by forcing me to ask questions I never dared before. Now, my mother and I laugh about fermented tofu and setups with the perfect Taiwanese boy (though I think she still worries about my expiring ovaries).

You can find out more about Gloria at her website and on twitter.

Website: https://gloriachao.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/gloriacchao

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.

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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.

 

Jenny Milchman

Jenny Milchman on How to Get a Book Deal After Only 11 Years of Bitter Rejection

We first met Jenny Milchman when we heard about some crazy book tour she was doing that seemed almost as ridiculous as the book tour we were doing. Essentially, The Book Doctors have been on tour for seven years, during which time we’ve done over 300 events. We wanted to connect with Jenny to see how she was doing it, and maintaining her sanity. When we reached out to her, we found out she was not only a wonderful writer, but also a wonderful human, generous, smart, funny, down-to-earth, full of joy and expertise. Now that she has a new book out, we thought we might pick her brain about books and writing and yes, touring.

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

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The Book Doctors: How did you first become interested in being a writer?

Jenny Milchman: I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be one. In fact, the desire, or predilection, or bug apparently predates conscious memory. All of my [failed] college essays began with the line, “I wanted to be a writer before I knew how to write,” which came from an anecdote my mother told about how she used to write down bedtime stories that I dictated at the age of two.

TBD: How did you learn how to become a writer?

JM: I did a lot of workshop-type things between high school and college. Summer Arts Institute in New Jersey was formative, and I studied with poets like the late Kenneth Koch and Robert Kelly in college. But the way I learned to write a novel, a whole, structured work of long-form fiction, instead of just scribbling lines and starts until I’d lost interest, was by reading every book on craft I could get my hands on. I called it my self-inflicted MFA and during the years I was inflicting it, I must’ve read every book in the Writer’s Digest catalog. And a whole lot more. Albert Zuckerman of Writers House fame wrote a great book called Writing the Blockbuster Novel. Donald Maass wrote The Breakout Novel. Anne Lamott, Bret Lott, Stephen King, James N. Frey–not the scandalous one–the list goes on and on and on and on. Those authors schooled me more than any class.

TBD: What are some of your favorite books, who were some of your favorite authors, and why?

JM: Oh, gosh, this is always the toughest. Impossible really. I loved the great short storyists growing up. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw.” Anything by O. Henry. I studied the Victorians in college and all three Bronte sisters, George Eliot, and Henry James were great favorites of mine. But perhaps the most visceral authors, the ones who really took my heart in their hands and squeezed it into a ball, were the great horror writers of the 1970s. Ira Levin, Frank De Felitta, David Seltzer, William Peter Blatty, and of course, Stephen King.

TBD: How did you get your first book deal?

JM: It took me 11 years, 3 agents, and 8 novels before I finally landed a book deal with Ballantine. How it happened required all eleven of those years: reading those books on craft, going to events at bookstores and seeing how real authors did it, building a circle that included people like you, David, and Arielle. But in the sense that big events do come to one single moment in time…this one rested on a favorite author, Nancy Pickard, who read my eighth novel in manuscript form and passed it on to her editor. I’ve been with the same editor for both books since my debut, and I hope we never part. My third novel is dedicated to Nancy and our mutual editor.

TBD: How do you deal with rejection?

JM: I stomp around and cry and whine and scream. I break computer screens. Seriously–when a much loved bookstore declined to do an event with me, I fell over my computer sobbing, and the screen cracked. Don’t be like me.

Rejection is part and parcel of this business–I just never got good at accepting that.

TBD: What is your new book about?

JM: If I tell you that As Night Falls is about two convicts, one huge and one wiry, who escape from an Adirondack prison, would you believe me? But on a deeper level, it’s about how a mother’s love can go awry, twisting and thwarting the generations to come in one unending double helix. When the convicts encounter a family contained by a snowstorm in their mountain home, only unveiling the secrets from the past will allow for true escape.

TBD: Why did you decide to go on the longest book tour in the world, and how did you go about setting it up?

JM: You mean not every published author rents out her house, trades in two cars for an SUV that can handle Denver in February, asks her spouse to work from the front seat while the kids are car-schooled in the back, and hits the road for 50,000 miles? What??? Oh right. My publisher was skeptical, too.

But when it takes you eleven years to get published, you either make a lot of friends or a lot of enemies along the way. I was lucky enough to make friends. And when I finally had a book released, I wanted to go out and thank them. Face-to-face. The world’s longest book tour–as Shelf Awareness called it–made the virtual world come alive, and that’s when true magic sparks, in my opinion.

And since my debut novel wound up going into six printings in hardcover, people became a little less skeptical. I wouldn’t say that sending authors around the country for seven months has quite become standard operating procedure for the Big 5, but by this third tour, my publisher is helping with some of the events and cost. I also have a crack independent publicity team, a husband who is heck at the traveling salesman problem, and a whole country full of bookstores, libraries, book clubs, writers’ organizations like Sisters in Crime, and readers who know how to unroll one beautiful red carpet.

TBD: What are some of the things you love and hate about being a professional writer?

JM: At the risk of sounding Pollyanna-like, I love almost everything about it. This might be due to the whole eleven year thing. I’m so grateful to be where I am–I get paid to make up stories, and people actually want to read them–that sometimes it’s hard to see straight. Seeing a book of mine on a shelf catapults me back to the time when I was a small child, reaching for a title, and knowing that a whole other world awaited me inside. Getting to meet other writers, readers, booksellers, librarians, reviewers, journalists, interviewers, radio personalities, TV hosts, editors, agents, publishers…the people who keep this world of words churning, is an honor every single time. Writers’ conferences are sheer bliss for me. There’s one coming up–ThrillerFest–and I get tingles of excitement imagining being there. I honestly can’t think of a more thrilling industry–and we’re not as mean as Hollywood or Nashville.

But one thing does bum me out. I have trouble getting past a bad review. At least I haven’t broken any computer screens over a review. Yet.

TBD: When you win the Mary Higgins Clark award, does she come to your house and hang out with you? Who do you have to pay to win one of those awards?

JM: Well, in all seriousness, Mary does hand the award to you herself. And let me tell you, she is the most elegant doyenne anyone could hope to meet. After eleven years of rejection, that night provided balm for some wounded nerves. I would’ve paid a lot for it, but the truth is I think the awards process is fairly pure. A few years ago, I judged a major award and was a conduit for the most representative taste, not the big hits, nor the expected favorites, or the books that got the biggest push. It’s gratifying to me, especially as we come up to a big election year, that some things really can’t be corrupted.

TBD: I hate to ask, but what advice do you have for writers?

JM: Do ask! Please ask! I love this one. First, come find me, either virtually or on the road, because sharing, not advice (what do I know?), but a compendium of perspectives, tips, and stories gleaned from meeting many, many writers, struggling and successful, as well as publishing people, is one of the things I most love to do.

But if I had to boil all advice down to one single nugget it would be this. Know that anything we write can always use more work. It is never as good or done as we think it is. Critical feedback is like gold. Whether we accept it or not. Hearing different takes on what we create is the only way we will make it appeal to a broad range of readers. And that’s what we’re all hoping for, isn’t it? That’s why we write and read. To find the story that will carry us away.

Jenny Milchman is the author of the summer thriller, As Night Falls, a July Indie Next Pick. She has just hit the road on her third “world’s longest book tour.” Find her–literally–at http://jennymilchman.com/tour/bring-on-the-night-2015.

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OG Dad: WEIRD SHIT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON'T DIE YOUNG BY JERRY STAHL

Jerry Stahl on Voltaire, Cher, and Being a Dad When You’re Not Wacked Out on Heroin

I’m lucky enough to say I’ve now known Jerry Stahl for over a decade, and we’re both still alive. Ten years ago you could’ve gotten very good odds betting against that happening. Now we’re both OG Dads: Old Guy Dads. So it was with great joy that I found out he had compiled a book out of the filthy and sweet, perverted and lovely, hysterical and horrifying columns he wrote for Rumpus about becoming a father in what should be the beginning of his Golden Years. I had to find out why he was willing to strap on the diapering hat while in a position to be adult-diapered himself. By the way, if you’ve ever been a parent, or ever been a kid, and you’re not squeamish (hell, even if you are squeamish, especially if you’re squeamish!) you need to read this book.

To read Jerry’s interview on the Huffington Post, click here.

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David Henry Sterry: First of all, what were you thinking becoming a dad when you are well over the age when that sort of thing even remotely makes sense?

Jerry Stahl: It didn’t make much sense the first time around either—when I was strung out like a lab rat. Maybe the little fuckers just need to show up. If people waited for the right time, the world might be underpopulated, instead of over. But regardless of logic or circumstance, you love them, and you get to love them, in a way that you can’t or don’t or never will love anyone or anything else. Not sure making sense is part of the package.

DHS: Do you feel it’s easier to be a good parent when you’re taking heroin on a regular basis, or when you’re not?

JS: No getting around it, it’s easier to be up all night and you stay pretty even-keeled on smack. I was never a nodder—I could function on it—the problem was functioning without it. (Like Burroughs said, when asked about why he did dope, “So I can get up in the morning and shave.”) That said, it’s impossible to be kicking heroin—when you are in the ultimate needy baby-state—and also taking care of a baby. (There are no bigger babies than junkies.) The two needinesses can’t co-exist. I wouldn’t advocate for heroin-fueled parenting.

DHS: I love that you invoke Yates at the beginning of the book about the “terrible beauty” of raising a girl. I myself have a seven-year-old, and every day I face the terror, and the beauty. Can you give us an example of those two things in your daily life?

JS: The examples are pretty much non-stop. I’m as blown away by seeing my 26-year-old navigate the world as seeing my rambunctious 3-year-old discover it. The terrible part is knowing what happens to beauty, and to all good things in this world. Nobody gets out alive, as has been said more originally and more intelligently before. Somehow you don’t—or I didn’t, any at any rate—feel it as profoundly until having children.

Today my little one cracked her head open at pre-school. It’s her third visit to the ER. The fragility of the whole enterprise—that, too, is terrible and beautiful. The unlikeliness that anything survives. And in our current epoch, and the even worse Naomi-Klein dystopia of parched earth, poisoned food, nuclear moronicism (and these are just the good things) that awaits, the terror is even more profound. The guiltiest thought of all is that older guys—older people—may be the lucky ones. Because what’s going to happen after we’re gone—that may be the worst terror of all.

DHS: I know that as a former addict, lunatic and indulger in high-risk behavior, I am worried that my crazy shit is going to be inherited by the sweet, innocent little child I have spawned. Do you?

JS: I don’t worry about it. Who knows what’s nature and what’s nurture? My whole theory of childrearing is “try and fuck them up the opposite of the way you were fucked up.” With any luck, knowing there’s that propensity for crazy, high-risk shit, you can try not to feed the beast. But if the beast is coming, the beast is coming.

DHS: This seems so much like a new Netflix show; have there been thoughts and inquiries about transitioning this from a book into a TV series?

JS: Always thoughts, always inquiries. You never know. Johnny Depp, God bless him, optioned my novel, I, Fatty, over a decade ago, and it’s still on the soon-to-be-never-made shelf. So I take it all with a big screen-sized grain of sea salt.

DHS: For me, one of the most challenging things about being a fifty-something with a young child is having to hang out with all the other parents. Do you have any techniques you like to share for dealing with the helicopter/over-entitling/attachment-disordering parents?

JS: I actually can’t. Beyond lighten the fuck up. I am not the helicopter guy. Maybe it’s because I have a an older child who’s 26 and one of the funniest, coolest, smartest, most beautiful, big-hearted and together people I know on the planet—despite having had me as a father. That is a long-winded way of saying, whatever one’s intentions, kids are such nuance-sponges that intentions don’t matter.

If I’m uptight she’s gonna sense it and it’s gonna make her uptight. I know what it’s like to be thus psycho-emotionally infected. Let’s just say my own parents were not on the cover of How To Parent And Not Raise A Neurotic Freak magazine. So, if nothing else, I know what not to do—and how not to be. Helicoptering and the rest of it is not the problem; the human condition, that can be a bitch.

DHS: Does it bother you when people ask if you are the grandfather? I thought it would, but it really doesn’t bother me at all.

JS: I haven’t got the gramps thing yet. I looked older at 39 than 59, thanks to the twin fangs of virulent Hep C and a monstro dope habit. (Or—who am I kidding—if not older, at least greener and moldier.) Maybe because LA is so morally bankrupt there are plenty of old fucks running around in my situation. Not that it implies moral bankruptcy. But it’s not exactly an aberration. DeNiro just had a kid, and he’s got a decade on me. The goalpost is forever moving.

DHS: Do you worry about when your child gets old enough to Google you and asks, “Dad, how come you used to like heroin so much?”

JS: That’s funny. I told my older daughter she could read Permanent Midnight when she’s 40. So far she’s had no trouble holding off. In the meantime, I don’t think kids, or even twenty-somethings, are overly concerned with their parents’ history. They’re too busy trying to make their own. At least I don’t have any secrets about the past. For better or worse, they’re all out there to read or watch on the Sundance Channel at four in the morning when they rerun the movie.

DHS: I hate to get all “happy happy glory hallelujah” on you, but when I look back on my life, I realize I should be dead a dozen times over by now, and I have a profound sense of gratitude that I somehow didn’t die young, especially when I look at my child doing something beautiful and spectacular. Does this happen to you, or am I just crazy?

JS: Maybe both. Much of my life was spent trying to endure life—as opposed to live it. But somehow, knowing what I do is for someone else, some tiny, beautiful weirdo who thinks rabbits live under the bed making fun-candy, I can rise above, can feel all the joy I could never feel when it was just me. Even if I don’t feel particularly joyful—I still have the temperament of a guilty survivor—I can still make it about her enough so it doesn’t matter what I feel. Nothing makes you forget yourself like a child.

And yeah, it’s fucking crazy. But it’s the best kind of crazy there is. We know the odds against all of it: being alive, having a child, having a healthy child … all of it. But here the fuck we are.

DHS: As the Book Doctors, Arielle and I are always looking for new and interesting ways for people to get published. What was the process of taking your column and turning it into a book?

JS: Pretty simple actually. I gathered up the stuff I had and wrote a bunch of new ones so people who actually read the columns on The Rumpus would want to grab a copy too. Then I asked a painter friend of mine, Shannon Crawford, who also did the cover an earlier book, Bad Sex On Speed, to come up with something for the cover: me holding a tiny, two-headed baby, who happens to have my own little girl’s face. Things rarely go that smoothly, but once in a while they do.

DHS: Do you have any tips about writing about your own life? Do you have any tips for Old Guy Dads?

JS: My only advice: don’t listen to me.

Beyond that, I don’t give advice. My experience, however, is if writing about your life (or writing in general) is a choice, you probably don’t need to be doing it. If, however, you’re doing this… thing—and are compelled to keep doing it—then you probably wouldn’t listen to anybody anyway. From the time I was 16 on, I had people telling me not to write, to get a day job, etc… etc… If I could have, I would have. But I have no particularly marketable skills, so of course I became a writer. I admire people who can come up with gimmicky ideas and make a shit-ton of money. I just don’t find them particularly interesting. At the end of the proverbial day, I’m always gonna take Raskolnikov over Romney.

As for Old Guy Dads—well, speaking for myself, I used to think we were only here for a cup of coffee, but that’s no longer true. Old guys, we’ve had the coffee, and we’re waiting for the check. Might as well enjoy yourself—and, more importantly, try to help other people do the same—before it’s time to settle up. And always tip big.

Author, journalist, and screenwriter Jerry Stahl has written eight books, including the memoir Permanent Midnight (made into a film with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson), and the novels Pain Killers and I, Fatty (optioned by Johnny Depp). Former Culture Columnist for Details, Stahl’s widely anthologized fiction and journalism have appeared in a variety of places, including Esquire, The New York Times, Playboy, The Rumpus, and The Believer. Stahl edited the anthology, The Heroin Chronicles, published by Akashic Books; and his latest novel, Bad Sex On Speed was released by A Barnacle Book, an imprint of Rare Bird Books. Stahl co-wrote the HBO film Hemingway & Gellhorn with Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman. His latest novel, Happy Mutant Baby Pills, was published by HarperCollins.

Lance Rubin Author Photo

Lance Rubin on Harry Potter, the Stinky Cheese Man and How to Get Your Debut Novel Published

One of the fun things about being a Book Doctor is that we get to travel to cool places and meet cool people. If you haven’t been to San Antonio, do yourself a favor and go. It’s a beautiful city. The San Antonio Book Festival was really a blast: great authors, great craft stuff for Olive, our daughter, and most importantly, lots of readers. While we were there, we met Lance Rubin at the party they have for authors. He explained what his first book is about, and it’s great. We decided to pick his brain about writing, publishing, and how he got his first book deal. To read on the Huffington Post, click here.

 

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

Lance Rubin: Since I was eight years old, I always thought I was going to be a professional actor. So the writing I did through most of my life was often in service of that. When I was younger, I wrote skits and short films with friends that we would perform. In college, I wrote and performed a one-man show. After college, I co-wrote and performed a sketch comedy show called The Lance and Ray Show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Then, several years ago, I was finding my acting career frustrating and unfulfilling right around the same time I read The Hunger Games. I really loved it, and I thought, “Maybe I’ll try to write a YA novel.” It wasn’t a fully rational decision, but I started writing, and I was having such a good time–feeling empowered and creatively fulfilled in new, exciting ways–that I kept at it. Even though I hadn’t written long-form fiction before, I think all the various writing I’d been doing my whole life completely informed this book.

TBD: What are some of your favorite books and why?
LR: Some favorites include:

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Such brilliant storytelling: magical situations always grounded in humanity; a complex story that weaves and intertwines through seven books; humor that comes from a place of love; and fully fleshed-out characters who truly care about each other. I could go on and on. Anyone who’s been resisting reading these is a fool.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Not only does Chabon spin the most delightful, acrobatic sentences, but he tells a completely engaging story of friendship, love, comic books, WWII, and superheroes.

The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire by Deepak Chopra. This nonfiction is all about the power of coincidences and synchronicity. I try to read it every couple years because it makes life more fun; you start to find coincidences everywhere, like a code from the universe you have to solve.

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. When I first read it as a kid, it made me aware of the way books can subvert narrative expectations and make you laugh out loud.

TBD: How did being a professional actor help and/or hinder you as a writer?
LR: As an actor, I was always trying to get inside the head of a character, figure out how that character thinks and responds to the world. When I started writing this book, with its first-person narrator, I realized there was a surprising amount of overlap, as I was essentially doing the same thing: figuring out how the main character (and all of the other characters, too) thinks and responds to the world. And it was even better because now I got to actually come up with what the characters say! That said, since I come from the world of acting and comedy, I’m often so focused on dialogue that the descriptive parts of my writing are severely lacking. But hey, that’s what rewriting is for!

TBD: The idea for your new book, Denton Little’s Deathdate, is so cool. How did you come up with it?
LR: I think about time a lot. I’m always taking inventory of my life in terms of dates. I’ll think things like, “What was going on in my life a year ago today? Two years ago today? Three?” And so on. And I’m usually able to remember. So one day I thought, “What if I could take inventory of my life in terms of a future date? Specifically, themost important date, the day I’m going to die?” I wondered how this would change the way I lived. Or if maybe it wouldn’t change a thing. And then I thought, “What ifeveryone knew the day they were going to die?” So then there was the idea: in a world where everyone knows their deathdate, the protagonist is going to die tomorrow. That was pretty much all I had for a few years. The rest came later.

TBD: How did you go about getting a book deal?
LR: I just Googled “book deal,” clicked on the first link that appeared, and signed up! Isn’t that how it works for everybody?

Apologies for that dumb joke. I did have a relatively charmed journey to a book deal, as my best friend since I was three, Zack Wagman, has worked in publishing for over a decade and is a brilliant editor, currently at Ecco. He was one of a handful of close people in my life who read the first draft of my book and gave feedback, and then was one of a duo of close people in my life (along with my wife, Katie Schorr) who gave feedback on the three or four subsequent drafts over the next year. Finally, once I had a draft that was in solid shape, Zack connected me to agent Mollie Glick at Foundry Literary + Media, who responded to the book and signed me. (I know getting an agent is not supposed to be such a smooth process, so I understand if writers out there want to spit in my proverbial soup. I’ve faced a ton of rejection in my life, too, if that makes you feel better. See: abandoned acting career.) Mollie is terrific, and she guided me through one last big rewrite before submitting to various publishing houses. In November 2013, Denton was sold to Knopf Books for Young Readers.

TBD: What was it like working with your editor?
LR: Super. I feel so fortunate that I ended up working with Nancy Siscoe. She’s smart and kind and funny, and she loves all the same things about my book that I do. By the time she got my first book, it had already been rewritten a lot, so her changes were minor but really insightful as to things that would make the story clearer and more satisfying. My second book, which comes out in April 2016, was pretty much a mess when she got it. So I was truly relieved when I received her pages and pages of single-spaced notes and they all resonated with me. It was like, “Oh man, she has great ideas about how to make this less of a mess. Thank god.”

TBD: We’re intrigued by the musical you’re writing. What exactly is Annie Golden: Bounty Hunter, Yo!?
LR: Hey, thanks for asking! It’s a musical I co-wrote with Joe Iconis and Jason “SweetTooth” Williams about a veteran musical theater actress named Annie Golden (to be played by veteran musical theater actress Annie Golden, known to many as Norma on Orange is the New Black) who gets pulled into the world of bounty hunting and starts kicking ass in ways she never imagined she could. It’s a comedy highly inspired by exploitation movies of the 1970s and ’80s–both story-wise and musically–but it’s also about breaking out of the boxes society puts people into. It’s been an exciting project to work on. We’re hoping it will have its first production in the not-so-distant future.

TBD: Did you outline your book before you started writing? What kind of a routine do you have as a writer?
LR: Thus far in the two books I’ve written, I haven’t outlined before starting my first drafts. I generally have some broad ideas about where the story might go and a page or two of notes on characters and potential plot points, but then I just start writing and discover as I go. In the case of my second book, I got about 15,000 words in, realized I hated where the story was going, scrapped it, and started again. Outlining might have helped me avoid that, but it’s still the way I prefer to work.

As far as writing routine, I have several coffee shops and libraries that I bounce between. Last year, I worked almost exclusively at the Tea Lounge in Brooklyn. Then it closed out of nowhere in December, which was quietly devastating. I now keep a rotation of several spots because I’m not gonna get hurt like that again.

When I’m working on a first draft, I’m always aiming for word count, which was something I took from Stephen King’s On Writing. With my first book, I tried to get 1,000 words a day. With my second, I aimed for 2,000 (and often only got to around 1,700).

I work way better in the morning, so it’s often an 8:30 am – 3 pm workday, give or take an hour (and sometimes I’m needed on Dad duty for my 1-year-old son, so that timing’s always subject to change).

I usually listen to music while I write, and the headphones going in is my indicator to myself: “Okay, stop dicking around on the internet. Time to work.”

TBD: I noticed your book has been translated into several languages. It was really fun for me when I saw my book in Russian and its different covers. What was it like seeing the book you wrote in a language you can’t read?
LR: That’s absolutely been one of the most surreal parts of the experience. Each cover has had its own wonderfully distinct take on the story, which has been so cool, but it’s the different-language part that is truly hard to wrap my head around. I heard an audiobook sample of the German edition last week, and I think my brain exploded. This story I plunked out on my laptop in random coffee shops has ended up in a recording booth in Germany, being read aloud by some talented German actor. That’s nuts.

TBD: We admire the fact that you publicly admit to loving the New York Knicks. How are you holding up during this very difficult time?
LR: Oh man, it’s been so rough. I mean, maybe there’s some historical joy in knowing I just lived through the Worst Knicks Season of All Time. No, there really isn’t. What a joke of a season. I miss Jeremy Lin.

TBD: I hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?
LR: Ha, I love the disclaimer at the beginning of that question. Here’s my two cents: whether you’re published or not, you need to start operating as if you’re a published writer. Make writing a part of your daily routine, as if it’s your job. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike; just sit down and do the work every day. If you don’t take yourself seriously in this way, then the universe won’t be able to, either.

Lance Rubin is a New Jersey native who has worked as an actor and written sketch comedy, including successful runs of The Lance and Ray Show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. He’s also co-writing a new musical called Annie Golden: Bounty Hunter, Yo! and loves Pixar, the Knicks, and Back to the Future. Lance lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son. His debut novel, Denton Little’s Deathdate, is out now from Knopf Books for Young Readers, to be followed by a second Denton book in 2016. Learn more at lancerubin.com and follow him on Twitter @lancerubinparty.

Ylonda Gault Caviness

Ylonda Gault Caviness on Being Black, a Mom, a Black Mom and How to Get a Book Deal

The Book Doctors first met Ylonda Gault Caviness when she won our Pitchapalooza at Words Bookstore in Maplewood, NJ. We were immediately struck by her presence, authority, wit, style, and the way she could string words and ideas together in exciting ways. We’re very excited her book Child, Please: How Mama’s Old School Lessons Helped Me Check Myself Before I Wrecked Myself is out, and we thought we’d pick her brain about the process of getting successfully published. To read on the Huffington Post, click here.

Ylonda Gault Caviness's Child, Please book cover Ylonda Gault Caviness

The Book Doctors: When did you start being a writer and how did it affect the way you see the world?

Ylonda Gault Caviness: I started being a writer at age 8 or so. I was in an all-white school at the time–which wasn’t as traumatic as you might think. I was treated warmly by 98 percent of the kids there. But a not-so-silent minority did call me the N-word occasionally and I could tell that a couple of teachers either felt sorry for me or didn’t quite know what to feel. So I always had this sense of “other-ness.” Writing assignments were my absolute favorite part of the day. In hindsight that’s not saying much because the other parts we were filled with things like either attending mass or reciting the rosary–honorable activities, of course, but at 8 or 9 not so much.

Still, writing made me an observer of life. It’s made me someone who tends to focus on the details and minutia of life. I blame all my most annoying qualities on the fact that I have a writer’s view of the world. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t see myself as a writer. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to be. Well, there was a brief period when I endeavored to be Samantha Stephens. I was young and I thoughtBewitched was a career option, like being a nurse or teacher. To my mama’s credit, she never dissuaded my aspirations. Never let on that despite all my nose twitching–practice, in this case, would not make perfect. Nor was there the most remote likelihood that a little black girl would grow up to be a white woman. I guess Mama didn’t want to be a dream killer. Either that, or she was paying me no mind. In hindsight, it was probably the latter.

TBD: When did you start being a mom and how did it affect the way you see the world?

YGC: Although the first of my three kids was born 16 years ago, I don’t think I really started being a mom right away. I was physically caregiving. But I don’t think I became fully present in mom-dom until much later. Until recently, Mother’s Day seemed to me a holiday for veteran moms. Even when my third was born in May 2007–two days before Mother’s Day–I was singularly focused on my mama, who was visiting us at the time. In my head, I hadn’t yet earned bona fide, official motherhood status yet.

As my oldest kids grew into pre-adolescence I think I gained a much deeper understanding of who they were as people. And it became really clear to me that it was my job to let them grow into who they were meant to be–not some pre-determined notion of who they SHOULD be. When I started to take my hand off the wheel is when I started to see that they were already all that–and a bag of chips. For example, it became clear that the eldest one didn’t need expert tips to make her strong. I thought she was a big ole sassy pants, but she actually has all the best qualities of an independent person who can resist peer pressure. My younger daughter didn’t need to learn empathy; she came here with a sensitive heart. Same for my third, who is one of the most kind and generous people I know.

TBD: When did you start being black and how did it affect the way you see the world?

YGC: I’m really fortunate that I’ve been so black for so very long. And I was born during a time when, as far as I could see, anybody who was anybody was also black. In the early 70s, there was the Black Panther Party–badasses, Mavis Staples, Curtis Mayfield and–forget Beyoncé; I don’t care what Jay Z says–the baddest chick in the game was and still is Pam Grier. I mean, to have anything at all in common with Pam Grier clearly made me a bad mamma jamma by association. So I think growing up black gave me confidence and strength and a fighter’s mentality. I recall so clearly James Brown singing on the radio songs like “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and–my fave–“I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothin’. Open up the Door I’ll Get It Myself.”

These days a lot of people, especially famous people, will say “don’t label me as black; I’m a person.” And I get that in a way. But I’m really into being black. I feel like it makes me wise; makes me strong; makes me creative; and makes me cool. Of course, one need not be black to have all these great qualities. But if you really own your blackness, you see it as an attribute not a burden. So I’m very happy to be called black.

TBD: What were some of your mother’s mothering techniques?

YGC: Not sure it was a “technique” so much. But Mama rarely paid us any mind. The beauty of that approach was that we knew our place. We never thought we mattered all that much to the world unless we achieved something. Kids now seem to get major props just by virtue of the fact that they exist. Kids in the playground are surrounded by moms cheering their descent down the slide: “Yay, Sofie. You’ve mastered gravity!” My brother, sister and I knew that we had to earn praise. She was not cheering our descent down the slide. She wasn’t giving us extra cookies for doing well in school. Or worrying over us, which forced us to figure life out. It seems harsh by today’s standards, but it was–from what I gathered–pretty much the same in all of my friends’ homes.

TBD: How did you develop your writing skills?

YGC: If I have a skill at all, I think it’s that I know how to work relentlessly to place truth at the center of anything I write. Pretty prose is great. And I love a good turn of phrase as much as the next person. But in the end, if it’s not really, really real, I know I have to dig deep and maybe even start all over from scratch. My life as a writer is very tortuous because of it. Mama–being the cut and dried person she is–used to say to my siblings and me: “If you’ll lie, you’ll steal.” She always made you feel so worthless and despicable–even if you told a little bitty lie about eating the last fig newton or some such that I guess it stuck with me.

But when you think about it, if you can’t tell the low-down and dirty truth about yourself, at least as much as you know of it, why bother? Who are you helping? I’m not saying I’m some kind of superhero, but I honestly believe my writing is supposed to help people. It’s supposed to touch somebody in a dark corner of their heart and heal a wound. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sort of weird, confused and broken soul. I know I’m charged with sharing that.

TBD: Your book started out as a general parenting book, not necessarily about race. How did it become a memoir that has so much about race in it?

YGC: I didn’t realize when I started writing the book how much of my motherhood was rooted in my blackness. Like anyone, my mother played a huge role in how I mothered and her experiences, growing up in the Jim Crow South and such, clearly shaped her parenting.

What I learned in the writing of my memoir, though, is that one of the things that makes our country great is the mix of cultures. They don’t exactly melt into a pot, though. And that’s not a bad thing. We bring cultural differences to our cooking. We bring cultural differences to celebrations and holidays. And, guess what? Although we don’t talk about it much, we bring cultural differences to child rearing. My hope is that we can lift up those differences and begin a new conversation, instead of pretending the differences don’t exist.

TBD: What was it like writing for The New York Times?

YGC: It was cool, because I didn’t know I was going to be picked up by the New York Times. I wrote my essay with the idea that I would submit it to a bunch of outlets. Had I known I’d be writing for the New York Times going into the whole process, I might have been intimidated. And the end result might not have been so bold.

Ignorance truly can be bliss. Once the Times accepted the piece and I went through the editing process, I am not sure I understood the power of it all. And, it’s funny. At every turn a part of me kept thinking someone high up on the Times masthead was going to come along and say, “We’ve changed our minds. This piece sucks.”

TBD: How did you get your book deal?

YGC: I won a Pitchapalooza event–which is sort of like American Idol for authors, in Ridgewood, NJ. It was crazy: a room filled with, like 200, would-be authors. And each contestant got a number. Then one by one, you get up in front of the crowd and pitch your book idea to a panel of judges made up of publishing pros.

There is no Simon Cowell and none of the panel members call out “Yo, dog!” But you and your wife Arielle Eckstut definitely have a shtick. And I remember being so nervous! I practiced for hours. And I rolled up in there with my writer’s group crew in tow. For me, I’d already won simply because I fought my doubting thoughts and got up to participate. That’s why, at the end, when the winner was announced I sort of looked around–waiting for this Ylonda Gault person to stand up. Then I suddenly realized it was me! I was the Ylonda Gault person–the winner.

From there Arielle worked with me to whip my proposal into shape. And it’s important to note that the book I pitched was not a memoir. I had absolutely no plans to tell my story. I was just going to write a parenting book and include a few personal anecdotes. It was Arielle who insisted that the personal stuff was the actual book. It took me about a year to come up with and write the Child, Please proposal. Then Arielle introduced me to Jim Levine, of Levine Greenberg Rostan–her mentor.

TBD: How did you go about developing your platform?

YGC: Hell if I know! Seriously, each time I took a job or an assignment I thought I was simply going from one job to another–not at all conscious of any sort of platform. I laugh my butt off when people say, “Wow! Your resume is great!” I think to myself: “Where were you in 2009 when I was laid off?”

I think the best thing anyone can do–and this sounds corny, I know–is do the work you believe in. And stick with it.

TBD: What do you do to make a hook that gets your book everywhere from National Public Radio to Essence magazine to The New York Times?

YGC: In no way did I get her alone, first of all. I have no formula. A lot of this stuff is just how the stars align in a certain moment in time. It’s not something you can forecast really. It’s like that Kanye West & Drake collabo, you know? Blessings on blessings on blessings. There are wonderful people all around me. I’m really fortunate that smart people, like Arielle Eckstut, helped me navigate the book proposal process. I have Jim Levine, the agent of agents, who has believed in me from the start. And Tarcher, the Penguin imprint, has the best editor in the game in Sara Carder. She has the support of publisher, Joel Fontinos. And the publicity team, Brianna Yamashita and Keely Platte, “got” Child, Please from the word “go.” Everyone did, really.

TBD: What advice do you have for writers?

YGC: You’ve gotta go for what you know. It’s the only way to be truly authentic. And if people don’t get it, the hell with them. You have to keep on keeping on.

TBD: For mothers?

YGC: Oh my goodness, I just realized, it’s the same drill! Following your instincts in everything. Mothering is a heart experience more than anything. So I follow my heart. I figure, even if I’m wrong (and I am, often) I have peace of mind. And I truly believe if I have honorable intentions that will be rewarded some how. I don’t believe kids know how good you are at this. It’s not like another mom took the stage before you and killed it–left the crowd screaming for more. But they can totally tell if your heart is not in it.

And in the end, I think we want them to see our truth. So they’ll know how to honor their own.

Ylonda Gault (@TheRealYlonda) is an author, veteran journalist and education advocate. Over the course of her 20-year print and digital magazine career, she has been a senior producer at iVillage; lifestyle and parenting editor at Essencemagazine. CHILD, PLEASE: How Mama’s Old-School Lessons Helped Me Check Myself Before I Wrecked Myself is her first book.

Gault’s feature writing and editing has appeared in a variety of publications including The New York Times, Redbook, Health and The Huffington Post. Best known for her coverage of family, parenting, women’s and lifestyle topics, she has been a frequent guest on NPR, TODAY, Good Day New York ABC News and other broadcasts. She lives in Northern New Jersey with her three amazing children.

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, 2010). 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.

THE BOOK DOCTORS BRING PITCHAPALOOZA RETURNS TO MONTCLAIR NJ OCT 25 2pm

YO NEW JERSEY COME FIND AN AGENT! MONTCLAIR PUBLIC LIBRARY OCT 25th 2pm

anderson's pitchapalooza AandDwithBooks

WHAT: Pitchapalooza is American Idol for books (only kinder & gentler). Twenty writers will be selected at random to pitch their book. Each writer gets one minute—and only one minute! Dozens of writers have gone from talented amateurs to professionally published authors as a result of participating in Pitchapalooza, including Genn Albin, our KC winner who got a 3-book mid-six figure deal with Farrar Straus & Giroux.

WHO: Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to helping 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, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for over 20 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of nine books and the co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 16 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. His first book has been translated into 10 languages and optioned by HBO, his latest book was featured on the cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. They’ve taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today.

HOW: At Pitchapalooza, judges will help you improve your pitch, not tell you how bad it is. Judges critique everything from idea to style to potential in the marketplace and much, much more. Authors come away with concrete advice as well as a greater understanding of the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Whether potential authors pitch themselves, or simply listen to trained professionals critique each presentation, Pitchapalooza is educational and entertaining for one and all. From Miami to Portland, from LA to NYC, and many stops along the way, Pitchapaloozas have consistently drawn standing-room-only crowds, press and blog coverage, and the kind of bookstore buzz reserved for celebrity authors.

PRIZE: At the end of Pitchapalooza, the judges will pick a winner. The winner receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for his/her book.

PRICE OF ADMISSION: To sign up to pitch, you must purchase a copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. Anyone who buys a copy of receives a FREE 20 minute consultation, a $100 value. If you don’t want to pitch, the event is FREE.

WHEN: Oct 25, 2pm

WHERE: Montclair Public Library http://www.montclairlibrary.org/

50 South Fullerton AvenueMontclair, NJ 07042 973-744-0500

Washington Post: http://www.thebookdoctors.com/the-book-doctors-pitchapalooza-in-washington-post

New York Times article: http://tinyurl.com/3tkp4gl.

Pitchapalooza mini movie: http://bit.ly/vm9YSu

Pitchapalooza on NBC: http://www.thebookdoctors.com/the-book-doctors-pitchapalooza-on-nbc-television

Here’s what people are saying about Pitchapalooza:

“We came to Pitchapalooza with an idea and six months later we got a book deal with a prominent publisher. We simply couldn’t have done this without this opportunity and without David and Arielle. We had been working on this project for several years, on our own, and struggling without any guidance. We were really discouraged by the entire process. Winning Pitchapalooza, and working with these two, really helped us focus and renew our enthusiasm in the project. And now we’re going to be published authors!”—Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu, Pitchapalooza winners Litquke, San Francisco, Oct. 2010

Here’s what people are saying about The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published:

“I started with nothing but an idea, and then I bought this book. Soon I had an A-list agent, a near six-figure advance, and multiple TV deals in the works. Buy it and memorize it. This little tome is the quiet secret of rockstar authors.”—New York Times best-selling author Timothy Ferris, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich,

Pitch tip: Show How the Characters Change

Today’s pitch tip: I need to know how the characters change in the course of the story. What happens in your story and how do your characters develop?

That’s not to say we want to know everything. Time and again, we see amateur authors pitch by trying to tell the plot of their entire novel or memoir in excruciating detail. Here’s the kind of thing we’ve heard about a squazillion times: “My main character, Frodo Potter, gets up one morning and decides to have breakfast. So he invites his pet rat Bobo to eat an egg with him. But the egg is slightly runny, so they decide to cook it a little bit more….” This pitch, which we heard a few months ago, might still be going on if we hadn’t emphatically put an end to it. Broad strokes combined with specific imagery should display how exciting your characters and story are. Universal appeal should be implied via the mention of themes rather than an endless recitation of events. And, again, the pitch should be the amuse bouche that gives your audience a tiny, delightful taste of the delicacy that is your writing.

Once you’ve figured out the words, then you’ve got to practice your delivery. Rehearse on your own, then start pitching everybody, everywhere. The more often you pitch, the sooner you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. Get feedback. Join The Book Doctors for Pitchapalooza and we’ll critique your pitch. At the end of each Pitchapalooza, we pick a winner who receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for their work.

From The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully! 

More pitch tips

Pitch Tip: Stakes and Danger

Pitch Tip: Villains We Love to Hate 

Pitch Tip: Convince Me They’re Charming and Sexy

Pitch Tip: Word Pictures

Find more pitch tips at thebookdoctors.com and in The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.  Watch this short cartoon to find out how NOT to pitch your book.

 

Pitch tip: Build your world through word pictures specific and sharp

Pitch Tip: Word Pictures

Pitch tip: Build your world through word pictures specific and sharp

A strong pitch helps writers successfully query literary agents.

Today’s pitch tip: Build your world through word pictures specific and sharp, not general and vague.

Your world building needs to be as vivid as your heroes and villains. We need you to show us this exotic world you’re taking us to with word pictures. That’s part of the joy of a book.

Your pitch is your audition to show us your skills as a prose stylist. Just telling us that it’s a rich backdrop doesn’t really let me know that you’re capable of weaving gorgeous word pictures that make your book come to life. For example, instead of telling me that your story is set in lush southern Louisiana, you have to show that landscape to me. Wow me with how beautifully you can portray this part of the world.

Make the pitch for your hardcore, authoritative business book hardcore and authoritative. Make your tear jerker jerk some tears. Make the pot boil on your potboiler.

Once you’ve figured out the words, then you’ve got to practice your delivery. Rehearse on your own, then start pitching everybody, everywhere. The more often you pitch, the sooner you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. Get feedback. Join The Book Doctors for Pitchapalooza and we’ll critique your pitch. At the end of each Pitchapalooza, we pick a winner who receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for their work.

From The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully! 

More pitch tips

Pitch Tip: Stakes and Danger

Pitch Tip: Villains We Love to Hate 

Pitch Tip: Convince Me They’re Charming and Sexy

Pitch Tip: Show How the Characters Change

Find more pitch tips at thebookdoctors.com and in The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.  Watch this short cartoon to find out how NOT to pitch your book.

 

Pitch Tip: Convince Me They’re Charming and Sexy

Telling us that someone’s charming and sexy doesn’t convince me they’re charming and sexy. You have to paint vivid word pictures, just like you do for your villains.

Need examples on how to do that? Read flap copy and, particularly, the backs of paperbacks, where the whole kit and caboodle is limited to a paragraph or two, tops. You’ll see how concise those copywriters had to be, and how they managed to describe a book — and sell it — in only a few sentences. Online bookstores are great resources as well, and they have an added benefit: Because nearly every book is accompanied by flap or back cover copy, you can cut-and-paste phrases you like into a document and then use these phrases to craft your own pitch. Just be sure to study copy that represents the writing style of your book. (And don’t copy copy. There’s a word for that: plagiarism!)

Remember, once you’ve figured out the words, then you’ve got to practice your delivery. Rehearse on your own, then start pitching everybody, everywhere. The more often you pitch, the sooner you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. Get feedback. Join The Book Doctors for Pitchapalooza and we’ll critique your pitch. At the end of each Pitchapalooza, we pick a winner who receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for their work.

From The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully! 

More pitch tips

Pitch Tip: Stakes and Danger 

Pitch Tip: Villains We Love to Hate 

Pitch Tip: Word Pictures

Pitch Tip: Show How the Characters Change 

Find more pitch tips at thebookdoctors.com and in The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Watch this short cartoon to find out how NOT to pitch your book.

Pitch Tip: Villains We Love to Hate

Give us a villain we love to hate. Show us someone unique and dastardly whom we can’t wait to hiss at. It would be great to give tiny little physical descriptors to your main characters. Show us that you’re capable of painting beautiful and realistic tableaux as you make your story world come to life.

Remember, once you’ve figured out the words, then you’ve got to practice your delivery. Rehearse on your own, then start pitching everybody, everywhere. The more often you pitch, the sooner you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. Get feedback. Join The Book Doctors for Pitchapalooza and we’ll critique your pitch. At the end of each Pitchapalooza, we pick a winner who receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for their work.

Writer beware

Yes, we did use Lord Voldemort as an illustration, but your pitch must be selective about comparable titles and characters. Do not overpromise. Have you called your opus the next Eat, Pray, Love? An even better version of Harry Potter? Early Philip Roth with a dash of Jane Austen? If so, you’ve got trouble. Better to underpromise and overdeliver. As Daniel Greenberg of the The Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency says, “Anytime anyone compares himself to a big bestseller, it’s a big turnoff. While it’s not impossible that there’s a real comparison to be made, it raises my suspicion that the person is overhyping himself.”

Instead, construct a pitch that specifically explains how your book will speak to the audience of those über-authors: “What happens when the repressed male sexuality of Alexander Portnoy meets the strong-minded, spunky joie de vivre of Elizabeth Bennett? Watch the sparks fly in The Shiksa of Herefordshire, a new twist on the old battle of the sexes.”

From The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully! 

More pitch tips

Pitch Tip: Stakes and Danger

Pitch Tip: Convince Me They’re Charming and Sexy

Pitch Tip: Word Pictures

Pitch Tip: Show How the Characters Change

Find more pitch tips at thebookdoctors.com and in The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.  Watch this short cartoon to find out how NOT to pitch your book.

Show us stakes and danger pitch tip desert

Pitch Tip: Stakes and Danger

Show us stakes and danger pitch tip desert

Get an agent with a strong pitch

Show us stakes and danger on an immediate level and on a mega quest level.

Don’t underestimate the power of the pitch. Your pitch will be both the backbone and lifeblood of your book, from idea through (and past) publication. When you approach an agent, you will have to explain what your book is about. When your agent approaches an editor at a publishing house, she will have to explain what your book is about. When the editor presents your book at his editorial meeting, he will have to tell his editorial colleagues as well as his colleagues in publicity, marketing and sales what your book is about. And they will all be evaluating his pitch to determine whether or not to buy your book. If you’re lucky enough to sell your book, the sales force will go out to large retailers and small booksellers alike to pitch your book. And the publicity and marketing staff will be pitching your book to the media. If you get on the Today show and Matt Lauer asks what your book is about, you better have a very good answer.

There are two kinds of pitches:

  1. The elevator pitch, which is over by the time the elevator gets to the next floor
  2. Your long-form pitch

Never, ever, let your pitch go longer than a minute. Whenever pitches go longer than a minute, eyes start to glaze and boredom sets in. Hey, most people are willing to give you a minute, but often not a second longer.

Once you’ve figured out the words, then you’ve got to practice your delivery. Rehearse on your own, then start pitching everybody, everywhere. The more often you pitch, the sooner you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. Get feedback. Join The Book Doctors for Pitchapalooza and we’ll critique your pitch. At the end of each Pitchapalooza, we pick a winner who receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for their work.

From The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully! 

More pitch tips

Pitch Tip: Villains We Love to Hate 

Pitch Tip: Convince Me They’re Charming and Sexy

Pitch Tip: Word Pictures

Pitch Tip: Show How the Characters Change

Find more pitch tips at thebookdoctors.com and in The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book PublishedWatch this short cartoon to find out how NOT to pitch your book.

 

Webinar Postponed til 2/12 Get Your NaNo Novel Published Successfully!

The Book Doctors show you how. 2/12, 4PM PST
http://bit.ly/1ADUqCF

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PITCHAPALOOZA Main Point Books: September 21, 3PM

PITCHAPALOOZA MAIN POINT BOOKS  Bryn Mawr, PA

SUN. SEPT 21, 3PM

SPECIAL GUEST JUDGES: CARLIN ROMANO & ANNE WILLKOMM

Copy of pitchapalooza Naperville

WHAT:   Pitchapalooza is American Idol for books (only kinder and gentler). Twenty writers will be selected at random to pitch their book. Each writer gets one minute—and only one minute!  Many writers have gone from talented amateurs to professionally published authors as a result of participating in Pitchapalooza, including Genn Albin, our KC winner who got a 3-book mid-six figure deal with Farrar Straus & Giroux.

WHO: Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to helping 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, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 18 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of seven books and the co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 12 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. They have taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today.

HOW: At Pitchapalooza, judges will help you improve your pitch, not tell you how bad it is. Judges critique everything from idea to style to potential in the marketplace and much, much more. Authors come away with concrete advice as well as a greater understanding of the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Whether potential authors pitch themselves, or simply listen to trained professionals critique each presentation, Pitchapalooza is educational and entertaining for one and all. From Miami to Portland, from LA to NYC, and many stops along the way, Pitchapaloozas have consistently drawn standing-room-only crowds, press and blog coverage, and the kind of bookstore buzz reserved for celebrity authors.

PRIZE: At the end of Pitchapalooza, the judges will pick a winner. The winner receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for his/her book. 

PRICE OF ADMISSION: To sign up to pitch, you must purchase a copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. Anyone who buys a copy of receives a FREE 20 minute consultation, a $100 value. If you don’t want to pitch, the event is FREE.

WHEN: Sun Sept 21, 3pm

WHERE: 1041 West Lancaster Ave Bryn Mawr, PA 19010 (610) 525-1480

New York Times article: http://tinyurl.com/3tkp4gl.

Pitchapalooza on Kansas City Public Radio: http://bit.ly/eBlMUy

Pitchapalooza video trailer: bit.ly/mVj4uA
Pitchapalooza mini movie: http://tinyurl.com/3jr8zte.

Pitchapalooza on NBC: http://www.thebookdoctors.com/the-book-doctors-pitchapalooza-on-nbc-television

Here’s what people are saying about Pitchapalooza: 

“We came to Pitchapalooza with an idea and six months later we got a book deal with a prominent publisher. We simply couldn’t have done this without this opportunity and without David and Arielle. We had been working on this project for several years, on our own, and struggling without any guidance. We were really discouraged by the entire process. Winning Pitchapalooza, and working with these two, really helped us focus and renew our enthusiasm in the project. And now we’re going to be published authors!”—Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu, Pitchapalooza winners Litquke, San Francisco, Oct. 2010

Read more testimonials

Here’s what people are saying about The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published: 

“I started with nothing but an idea, and then I bought this book. Soon I had an A-list agent, a near six-figure advance, and multiple TV deals in the works. Buy it and memorize it. This little tome is the quiet secret of rockstar authors.”—New York Times best-selling author Timothy Ferris, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich,

 

Pitchapalooza

PITCHAPALOOZA South Dakota Festival of Books: September 26, 2PM

South Dakota Festival of Books

Holiday Inn, Skyline

Sioux Falls, SD

2:00-3:30 PM

Click here to visit South Dakota Festival of Books website.

ADMISSION REQUIRED TO PITCH – Purchase The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published ($16.99) and receive a 20-minute personal consultation with The Book Doctors. Observers attend free!

 

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WHAT:   Pitchapalooza is American Idol for books (only kinder and gentler). Twenty writers will be selected at random to pitch their book. Each writer gets one minute—and only one minute!  Many writers have gone from talented amateurs to professionally published authors as a result of participating in Pitchapalooza, including Genn Albin, our KC winner who got a 3-book mid-six figure deal with Farrar Straus & Giroux.

WHO: Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to helping 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, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 18 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of seven books and the co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 12 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. They have taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today.

HOW: At Pitchapalooza, judges will help you improve your pitch, not tell you how bad it is. Judges critique everything from idea to style to potential in the marketplace and much, much more. Authors come away with concrete advice as well as a greater understanding of the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Whether potential authors pitch themselves, or simply listen to trained professionals critique each presentation, Pitchapalooza is educational and entertaining for one and all. From Miami to Portland, from LA to NYC, and many stops along the way, Pitchapaloozas have consistently drawn standing-room-only crowds, press and blog coverage, and the kind of bookstore buzz reserved for celebrity authors.

PRIZE: At the end of Pitchapalooza, the judges will pick a winner. The winner receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for his/her book.

PRICE OF ADMISSION: To sign up to pitch, you must purchase a copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. Anyone who buys a copy of receives a FREE 20 minute consultation, a $100 value. If you don’t want to pitch, the event is FREE.

WHEN: September 26, 2PM

WHERE: Holiday Inn, Skyline, Sioux Falls

New York Times article: http://tinyurl.com/3tkp4gl.

Pitchapalooza on Kansas City Public Radio: http://bit.ly/eBlMUy

Pitchapalooza video trailer: bit.ly/mVj4uA
Pitchapalooza mini movie: http://tinyurl.com/3jr8zte.

Pitchapalooza on NBC: http://www.thebookdoctors.com/the-book-doctors-pitchapalooza-on-nbc-television

Here’s what people are saying about Pitchapalooza: 

“We came to Pitchapalooza with an idea and six months later we got a book deal with a prominent publisher. We simply couldn’t have done this without this opportunity and without David and Arielle. We had been working on this project for several years, on our own, and struggling without any guidance. We were really discouraged by the entire process. Winning Pitchapalooza, and working with these two, really helped us focus and renew our enthusiasm in the project. And now we’re going to be published authors!”—Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu, Pitchapalooza winners Litquke, San Francisco, Oct. 2010

Here’s what people are saying about The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published:

“I started with nothing but an idea, and then I bought this book. Soon I had an A-list agent, a near six-figure advance, and multiple TV deals in the works. Buy it and memorize it. This little tome is the quiet secret of rockstar authors.”—New York Times best-selling author Timothy Ferris, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich,

Read more Pitchapalooza testimonials.

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James River Writers Conference: October 18-19

October 18-19, 2014

Richmond, Virginia

To register click here

One of our favorite writers conferences in the whole world, pound for pound possibly the best, James River Writers Conference.  If you want to learn about writing, if you want to meet writers and agents and publishers and have a great time, this is the conference for you.

Since 2003, the James River Writers Conference has attracted prize-winning authors and highly regarded editors and agents from around the country to share their wisdom about writing and publishing. More than 300 people attend this multi-day event, known for its inspiring, collegial atmosphere and Southern hospitality.

Read about our first visit to the James River Writers Conference.

Watch The Book Doctors in the conference video.

CONFERENCE EVENTS

WHAT:   Pitchapalooza is American Idol for books (only kinder and gentler). Twenty writers will be selected at random to pitch their book. Each writer gets one minute—and only one minute!  Many writers have gone from talented amateurs to professionally published authors as a result of participating in Pitchapalooza, including Genn Albin, our KC winner who got a 3-book mid-six figure deal with Farrar Straus & Giroux.

WHO: Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to helping 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, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 18 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of seven books and the co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 12 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. They have taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today.
HOW: At Pitchapalooza, judges will help you improve your pitch, not tell you how bad it is. Judges critique everything from idea to style to potential in the marketplace and much, much more. Authors come away with concrete advice as well as a greater understanding of the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Whether potential authors pitch themselves, or simply listen to trained professionals critique each presentation, Pitchapalooza is educational and entertaining for one and all. From Miami to Portland, from LA to NYC, and many stops along the way, Pitchapaloozas have consistently drawn standing-room-only crowds, press and blog coverage, and the kind of bookstore buzz reserved for celebrity authors.

PRIZE: At the end of Pitchapalooza, the judges will pick a winner. The winner receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for his/her book.

PRICE OF ADMISSION: To sign up to pitch, register for the conference. 

WHEN: Sunday, October 19, 2:00 p.m. Sign up at the conference registration desk all day Saturday, October 18, and Sunday, October 19, from 9:00 to 1:30pm. Sign-up is required to pitch during Pitchapalooza. 

New York Times article: http://tinyurl.com/3tkp4gl.

Pitchapalooza on Kansas City Public Radio: http://bit.ly/eBlMUy

Pitchapalooza video trailer: bit.ly/mVj4uA
Pitchapalooza mini movie: http://tinyurl.com/3jr8zte.

Pitchapalooza on NBC: http://www.thebookdoctors.com/the-book-doctors-pitchapalooza-on-nbc-television

Here’s what people are saying about Pitchapaloza: 

“We came to Pitchapalooza with an idea and six months later we got a book deal with a prominent publisher. We simply couldn’t have done this without this opportunity and without David and Arielle. We had been working on this project for several years, on our own, and struggling without any guidance. We were really discouraged by the entire process. Winning Pitchapalooza, and working with these two, really helped us focus and renew our enthusiasm in the project. And now we’re going to be published authors!”—Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu, Pitchapalooza winners Litquke, San Francisco, Oct. 2010

Here’s what people are saying about The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published:

“I started with nothing but an idea, and then I bought this book. Soon I had an A-list agent, a near six-figure advance, and multiple TV deals in the works. Buy it and memorize it. This little tome is the quiet secret of rockstar authors.”—New York Times best-selling author Timothy Ferris, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

The Book Doctors: How to Get Successfully Published TODAY: Big 5, Indy, or Self-Publish?

It’s the greatest time in history to be a writer.  There are more ways to get published than ever before.  While it’s great to have so many options, it’s also confusing.   But when you break these many different ways down, they sort themselves out into just three primary paths:  1) The Big 5: HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette and Macmillan, 2) Independent presses that ranges in size from the hefty W.W. Norton to the many university presses to the numerous one-person shops. 3) Self-publishing.  In our over 35 years experience in the publishing business as agents, writers and book doctors, we have walked down all three paths–and we have the corns, calluses and blisters to prove it. To help you avoid such injuries, we have mapped out the pluses and minuses of these three paths in order to help you get successfully published in today’s crazy Wild West world of books.

1) The Big Five:  Since publishing has gone from being a gentleman’s business to being owned, run and operated by corporations, you have a much better chance of getting your book published if you are Snooki from Jersey Shore hawking your new diet manifesto than if you’re an unknown (or even established but not famous) writer who’s written a brilliant work of literary fiction.  And since the corporatized publishing world continues to shrink at an alarming rate, there are fewer and fewer slots available, even though the competition is every bit as fierce for those ever-dwindling spots.  Add to this the fact that, unless you are related to and/or sleeping with Mister Harper or Mister Collins, you will need to find an agent.  Most of the best agents only take on new clients who are at the very top of the cream of the crop. Even new agents who are trying to establish themselves only take on a very small percentage of what they are pitched.

Writers who haven’t been published by The Big 5 assume that once they get a deal with one of these big fish, they’ll be able to sit in their living rooms and wait for their publishers to set up their interviews with Ellen and Colbert.  They assume they’ll have a multiple city tour set up for them where thousands of adoring readers will buy their books, ask for their autographs, and shower them with the love and adoration they so richly deserve.  We can tell them from hard-won experience that this is absolutely, positively, 100% not the case.  Our first book together was with one of the Big 5.  We won’t mention their name, and when we’re done with the story you will see why.  When we went into our meeting with our publicity team, we were full of grand and fantastic ideas about how to promote and market our book, and were wildly enthusiastic about having a giant corporation that specializes in successfully publishing books behind us.  Turns out our “marketing team” consisted of one guy who looked like he was 15 years old, and had 10 books coming out that week, and 10 books coming out the next week, and 10 books coming out the week after that. When we told him our grand and fabulous ideas he said in a cracking voice, “Well, good luck with that.”  He did what he does with every book that comes out of this giant publishing corporation (unless of course your name is Stephen King, Bill Clinton or Snooki from Jersey Shore).  He sent out a bunch of press releases along with a few copies of our book to all the usual suspects.  Our book died on the line.

2) Independent Publishers.  These publishers almost always specialize in a certain kind of book.  They usually appeal to a niche audience.  As opposed to the Big 5, who are generalists, and in theory at least, publish books for everyone.  Again, these independent publishers are not owned by big celebrity-obsessed bottom line-driven corporations.  That’s not to say they can’t be big companies.  Workman, who published our book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, is one of the most successful publishers in the world.  They’ve published everything from What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Bad Cats to the awesome Sandra Boynton oeuvre. But many independent publishers tend to be small, and run and/or driven by individuals who are passionate about the subject which they are publishing.  A good number of these publishers are very well respected, and their books can be reviewed in the largest and most prestigious publications in the world.  There are many stories of small publishers having gigantic successes.  Health Communications, Inc., which published Chicken Soup for the Soul. Naval Institute Press, which published Tom Clancy’s first novel. Bellevue Literary Press, a publisher affiliated with New York University’s school of medicine, which published Tinkers, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel.  Greywolf, Tin House, and McSweeney’s are all small independent publishers who regularly produce beautiful high-end fiction that wins awards and garners great press.

Chances are, you’re going to be the big spring book from your independent publisher.  We speak from experience that it is so much better to be the big spring book from a well-respected independent publisher than it is to be book number 2,478 from Penguin Random.  Because they’ve got Stephen King, Bill Clinton and Snooki from Jersey Shore to promote.

And the great news is, you don’t have to have an agent when querying most independent publishers.  Almost all indies expect writers to submit directly to them.  If you go onto their websites, they almost always give you very explicit instructions on how to submit.  Do yourself a favor, give it to them exactly how they want it.  Even better, try to research the editor at the press who would be best for your book and send your query directly to him/her.

Yes, there are limitations to many independent presses. Most independent publishers have limited resources.  Most of them won’t send you on a tour because they don’t have the money, so you will be called upon to do your own book tour and events.  That being said, our publisher Workman, sent us on a 25 city tour, which they paid for in its entirety–hotels, airfare, escorts (don’t get the wrong idea, these are book escorts, not industrial pleasure technician escorts).  But there’s a good chance you’ll get to work with at least a decent and maybe even a great editor, who will help you shape your book.  They will proofread your book.  They will copyedit your book.  They will design and execute a cover for you.  And often times they’re much more flexible about author input than the Big 5.

The other issue with fewer resources is that if, for some reason, you should happen to catch literary lightning in a bottle and your book blows up, an independent press may not be able to capitalize on your book’s success.  They may not have the bookers for Ellen and Colbert on their speed-dial.  And often they have to do very small print runs, so there’s a good chance your book will sell out of its printing very quickly and there will be no books available.  Whereas if you’re with one of the Big 5, and your book blows up, they’ll do a giant print run, and they’ll be making calls to all the big guns.

3) Self-publishing.  William Blake. James Joyce. Virginia Woolf. Rudyard Kipling. Edgar Allan Poe. Ezra Pound. Mark Twain. Gertrude Stein. Walt Whitman. Carl Sandburg. Beatrix Potter. What do these authors have in common? All self-published. What a cool group to belong to. The fact is, self-publishing can be a ball. It can launch you into superstardom and turn you into a millionaire (okay, rarely, but just ask EL James, author of the fastest selling book in the history of the universe, Fifty Shades of Grey).

Self-publishing has recently been dubbed independent publishing, not to be confused with independent presses.  This is in part because self-publishing has for decades been the ugly duckling/redheaded stepchild of the book business.  Janis Jaquith, an NPR commentator and self-published author of <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Birdseed-Cookies-A-Fractured-Memoir/dp/0738849111″ target=”_hplink”>Birdseed Cookies: A Fractured Memoir</a>, says, “When I announced to my writer friends that I was planning to self-publish, you’d have thought I’d just announced that I had syphilis or something. Such shame! Such scandal!  I’m glad I didn’t listen to the naysayers, because I’ve had a ball.” The bottom line? This is not your daddy’s self-publishing.  The onus of the ugly duckling redheaded stepchild is gone.

“Nowadays, because there is no barrier to publishing, we’re seeing people give up faster on the traditional route. These are people who are writing good books and turning to self-publishing. This means the quality of self-published books has gone up,” says Arsen Kashkashian, head buyer at Boulder Books. More writers are, indeed, seizing on the new technologies and low costs of publishing on their own because try as they may, they cannot break through the gate of the castle that holds agents, editors and publishers.

More than ever, we are talking to writers who are not even going after agents or publishers, because they don’t want to spend years being rejected.  People are publishing books on their own because they choose to–because they see opportunities in the market and want a bigger share of the pie than publishers offer; because they want full control of their book; for some, because they just want a relic of their work to share with friends and family.  And many writers choose self-publishing because they don’t want to have to wait for the sloooooow publishing machine.  If you start looking for an agent or publisher right now, it can take years to find one.  Maybe you’ll never find one.  Then after you get a book deal, it’s typically going to take between 18 months and two years for your book to come out.

Here are some good reasons to self publish:
1)    You have direct access to your audience
2)    You want a bigger chunk of the retail dollar of your book
3)    You have a time-sensitive book and want to publish fast
4)    You want full control of your book inside and out, from your hands to your readers’
5)    No matter how much you rewrite and how hard you market yourself, you can’t find anyone to agent or publish your book
6)    You’ve written a book that falls outside the bounds of typical publishing–either because of its niche audience, regionality, experimentation of language, category, theme, etc.
7)    You really want to publish a book, but you just don’t have the personality to market it to an agent/publisher.
8)    You’ve written up your family history or the lifetime of a loved one that will be of great interest to Aunt Coco, Cousin Momo and a handful of other blood relations but no one else

The good news about self-publishing is that you get to do everything you want with your book.  The bad news is that you have to do everything.  Which means that unless you are a professional proofreader, graphic designer, and layout expert for printed books and e-books, you’re going to have to get someone else to help you.  And writers can only edit their books themselves so many times before they lose all objectivity.  We highly advise, if you’re going to self-publish, get a trained professional to edit your book.

As with any entrepreneurial project, you can spend between $0.00 to $100,000.00.  David bartered with a top-drawer cover designer, proofreader, editor, and specialist who formats printed and e-books.  It cost him exactly $0.00 to produce his <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Maniac-David-Henry-Sterry/dp/0985114908″ target=”_hplink”>self-published book</a>.  So he started making a profit immediately.  As someone who is an instant gratification junkie, it was absolutely fabulous how quickly it all came together.  And when that box full of his books showed up at the door, he felt a special kind of life-affirming, rapturous ecstasy.

The good news is that anyone can get published.  The bad news is that anyone can get published.  So whatever you choose, you have to be the engine that drives the train of your book.  And the same principles underlying a successfully published book are remarkably similar.

1)    Research.  Before you give up any rights or money or agree to work with anyone, make sure you research them thoroughly.
2)    Network.  Reach out to readers and writers, movers and shakers.
3)    Write.  Yes, it really helps if you write a great book.
4)    Persevere.  One of David’s most successful books was rejected over 100 times, by everyone from the top dogs of the Big 5, to some of the greatest literary agents in America, to countless University and independent presses.  100 top publishing professionals told him his book had no value.  But tweaking and polishing and making it better, he finally landed a deal. That book ended up on the front cover of the <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Hookers-Call-Girls-Rent-Boys/dp/1593762410″ target=”_hplink”>Sunday New York Times Book Review</a>.

To find out more about how to get your book successfully published today, ask questions about your book and your various options, and perhaps get a chance to pitch your book to The Book Doctors, sign up for their <a href=”http://bit.ly/1mzSGY7″ target=”_hplink”>webinar</a>, which will be on July 16.

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, 2010).

Peter Reynolds, Picture Book Master, Talks to The Book Doctors about Books, Kids, Writing, Twins & How to Get Published Successfully

We met Peter Reynolds at the New England Society for Children Book Writers and Illustrators Conference, when he gave one of the best talks we ever heard.  Whimsical and serious, passionate and jovial, wise and yet curious, Mister Reynolds was everything you’d want in a wildly successful picture book writer.  Plus, he was inspiring.  Much like his books.  The Dot, which has become a classic, is deceptively simple.  Like all great books, it works on many levels.  It can be read as a simple romp.  It is also a child’s coming-of-age story.  On a deeper level it’s about Art, how people become artists, and how the Artist torch is passed from one generation to the next.  So we thought we’d sit down with him and have a little chat about kids, writing, art, and life.  By the way, if any writer has an interest in writing a book for kids, all the way up to Young and New Adult, you’re crazy not to join the SCBWI, and going to their conferences.  They have chapters all over the country.  They are awesome.

The Book Doctors: How did you get into the business of professionally writing books for kids?

1IQEfSIQEuyTY94stlBnnB9RcYwx_ak_0cqvdhRgzUEcpP_mOKydlrGatExgba9W0ahcQ3pcZCo76o-hXMb8n1VgUO7RrMQMiw=s0-d-e1-ft preynolds21HiRes_approvedPeter Reynolds: I took the Long and Winding Road at the junction of Serendipity and Daydreaming. So many things “set the stage” for me being a writer for children (and grown up children), but I owe a lot to my daughter, Sarah Reynolds whose voracious appetite for stories demanded that I start coming up with stories to supplement what we could fit on her shelves or take from the library.  Writing for her reset my creativity compass. You can get lost among the forests, swamps, and thickets of possible plots and characters, but she helped me focus on telling her a story- and instinctively I felt a need to give her something worthy of her intelligence and perhaps a scrap or two of wisdom I had clumsily gathered along the way.

TBD:  Teachers have played such a big part in your development as an artist (& a human it would seem), why do you think we undervalue teachers so radically & horribly in our society?

PR: How long do we have? Seriously, I could go on for days on this subject.  I actually think most of us DO value the role of teachers, but we allow politicians and policy makers–who spend little to no time with children in learning environments–to strip away the resources and flexibility for great teachers to “do their thing.” If our government could control restaurants the way they do schools, you’d find Gordon Ramsey working as a fry cook at McDonalds.  America takes pride in being independent and innovative. Our public education system-being a system–inherently strives to be efficient and in doing so, chops out all the “messy bits.” It’s this very “fringy” stuff that is required for innovation.

Book Doctors, you’ve inspired me to go out and hug the nearest teacher and cheer them on. Actually, the creative teachers DO know how to sneak in the good stuff. That, combined with the fact that technology is getting cheaper and into the hands of kids, is about to transform radically the world of schools as we know them.

TBD:  How do you go about developing a picture book story?  What’s your process, from idea through publication?

PR: We should have booked a week long Caribbean cruise. Here’s the nutshell version: My “story radar” goes off, I jot the idea down, and sometimes just one image or even a rough version of what the cover might look like. I roughly storyboard the images and add captions. I share with a few people. I read it out loud. Finesse and tweak. Then I share it with my agent, Holly McGhee at Pippin Properties who is a fabulous editor, thinker and guide. Then it’s on to find the right publisher. Once the book has a “home,” I work with the editor and art director to refine. The sales team gets into the mix when it comes time to confirm or change the title of the book and create the cover. When we’re all happy, it goes off to the printer and the long wait begins before getting that first preview copy. It may be a few months after that before the book shows up on bookshop shelves. That whole process can be squeezed into a year, but most often–from spark to finish–it can be about two years.

TBD:  You seem to have many projects going on, how do you juggle all of them, running your business, and having a life?

PR: I do indeed, but I have great people around me to help get it all done. I have my wonderful team in Boston, FableVision, my bookshop staff at The Blue Bunny, my agents at Pippin Properties, among other great friends and colleagues. Balance though is key. I’ve worked hard in the past few years to get the formula right. Less is more. Less travel, more time with my 3 year old son. I have a new studio called The Sanctuary which, in theory, is my very own thinking and creativity temple, but I do occasionally find my son sprawled out painting mostly on sheets of paper, but also the floor. He actually reminds me of what freedom really looks like.

TBD:  I’m so jealous that you have a twin.  What’s that like?

PR: For me, it’s amazing. We both feel blessed. Not sure how you “singletons” do it. The journey is so much easier when you have a twin to share it with. While we are technically “identical” twins,  Paul is not a “duplicate” of me. He is the being who is connected to me and able to extend my sensing of the universe (and vice verse.) It’s like two spaceships shooting in opposite directions to explore the universe, but in constant communication and transmitting to the one database back at ground control.

Our advice to everyone, if you don’t have a twin- go out there and find one!

TBD:  So many picture book authors stress the lesson they’re trying to teach kids instead of character & story. Could you address this?

PR: I think that is a common trap. That “being on the nose” is a fear that kids won’t “get it.” Kids are mighty smart and they can smell “a lesson” a mile way. Hey, sometimes it’s a place to start, so whatever works for you, but then try to find a more creative way to get the audience to “connect the dots” after they’ve closed the book.

TBD: Why do you think there is a prejudice against rhyme in the picture book world?

PR: Well, on a practical note, rhyming books make it difficult to translate into the many other languages on the planet. It would be a real doozy to find equivalent words for “kale” and “pail” in Persian.  Having said that, I think you can put that on ignore and just make a rhyming story that works. Rhyming books, done well, are a lot of fun to read aloud. My upcoming book collaboration, YOU & ME is a rhyming delight from Susan Verde. Do what makes you happy and the kids around you.

TBD: What are the greatest joys & frustrations about writing picture books?

PR: It is mostly JOY. I absolutely love sharing my stories with so many people around the world. Seeing the “ripples” that just one story can make is a “wow.” International Dot Day is a great example. Over a million teachers and students put down their regular work and tests on Sept 15th to celebrate creativity.

 

The frustration is having to schedule creativity. The publisher might have a deadline for a book due in September which means that I have to be ready to roll and really feel it in January. Trying to find that “surfer’s perfect wave” in the middle of a cold, winter’s day might not happen.  Eventually, a wave appears and you ride it in to shore.

TBD: How did The Dot become such a great success?

PR: The Dot was my way to come to rescue of children (and adults) whose creativity and confidence had been steamrolled. As it turns out, there are plenty of folks facing this challenge. While it often gets labeled as an “art book,” the idea is really about bravery. Bravery is a universal concept. That helps a book find a big audience.

TBD: What advice do you have for beginning writers trying to break into the picture book racquet?

PR: Start with a real story. A startling memory of your own. A wee bit of advice your Dad shared. A wish you have for yourself – or for the world. Find the idea you know or believe in. One that you’d be very sorry if you lost along the way.

Find your network. Could just be your “twin,” or it could be a gaggle of Twitter friends, or the kids at the local library, or an organization like SCBWI .

Be brave. Make ONE book where you throw out all the rules, all the advice you have been given, all the notes in all the writing workshops, and create something just for YOU.

The most important advice I can give is this: KEEP GOING, NEVER STOP.

I’m planning on doing the same.

Peter H. Reynolds is the author and illustrator of the Creatrilogy series which includes The Dot, Ish, and Sky Color (Candlewick Press/Walker Books) Other books in his collection include I’m Here (Simon & Schuster), The North Star (Candlewick Press/Walker Books), as well as many collaborative works, which include The Judy Moody series (Candlewick Press/Walker Books) with Meghan McDonald. He is also co-founder of FableVision, a children’s media studio in Boston. His family runs The Blue Bunny Book & Toy Store in his hometown of Dedham, Massachusetts.

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, 2010).

Pissed Off at Amazon? How to Help Your Writing Career with the Power of Your Purse

To read on Huffington Post click here.

As Book Doctors we always say that independent bookstores are vital to any unpublished author. Right now, as Amazon is standing over the major publishing house, Hachette, threatening to crush them like a fruit fly, independent booksellers couldn’t be more important. Let us explain why.

A few years back, we met a lovely, talented woman at a Pitchapalooza, an event we created that’s like American Idol for books. She didn’t win, but we could see that  she had the goods. She contacted us after the event because she wasn’t having any luck finding an agent. We worked with her to get her manuscript and pitch in shape. This wasn’t hard. She was an exquisite writer with a great story. What was hard was our number one recommendation to her: Go work at an independent bookstore. She didn’t have a lot of time to do this. She had three kids and another part-time job. But she wanted to get her book published, so she took our advice. The bookstore hired this lovely, talented writer because she was a customer, a great reader, she knew about what was on the shelf and how to hand-sell a book. She ended up working with the events person, introducing authors who came to do readings at this store. Through this work, she met the agent of one of these authors. An agent who just happened to be perfect for her book. They chatted and in the conversation, our client was able to pitch her book (a pitch she had been working on for almost a year). The agent asked her to send it. The agent took the book on. And last week the agent sold the book to a top-notch publisher.

No matter how many books you order through Amazon, you’re not going to get an agent and then a book deal by clicking “buy.” As Robert Gray, retired bookseller, once told us, independent booksellers are the last three feet of the publishing business. That means you can go talk to someone in the book industry, without a connection and without paying them, by simply walking into an independent bookstore. The problem is, if you buy your books on Amazon, soon there won’t be any independent bookstores. For those of you who don’t follow the publishing news, Amazon won a major suit against several of the biggest publishers for “price fixing” (though there is much debate about whether this was so), allowing Amazon to take control of the e-book marketplace in what is now damn close to a monopoly (or rather a monopsony, as a recent N<em>ew York Times</em> <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/31/opinion/how-book-publishers-can-beat-amazon.html” target=”_hplink”>editorialist</a> pointed out).

As our world turns more digital, the lack of competition for ebooks and Amazon’s domination will mean less and less money and opportunities for authors. Right now, authors are already getting the short end of the stick royalty-wise on e-books. This inequity is due to publishers, not due to Amazon, but the more market share Amazon has, the easier it will be for them to determine what they want to keep and what they want to give away. Do you think they’ll want to keep more or give away more? Not a hard question to answer.

If you’re thinking, I’ll just self-publish, then think on this: If you self-publish, Amazon is your number one marketplace for sales. If Amazon controls the percentage of what you receive per sale, and if Amazon is doing what it’s doing to Hachette — which, by the way, is owned by a multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporation — do you think they’re going to give one hoot about you? No! They’re going to take whatever they feel like and you will have no leverage whatsoever. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. And if things continue to go in the direction they’re going, you’ll have nowhere else to go where large numbers of shoppers are looking for books.

If you think we hate Amazon, you’d be wrong. Amazon is an extraordinarily run, inventive, forward-thinking company that has nearly single-handedly led the way in e-book growth. They’ve increased the sales possibilities for any author — for some exponentially. For self-published authors, they’ve created a marketplace that for the most part didn’t even exist. What author wouldn’t be excited by — even grateful to — such a company? We just don’t want Amazon to be the only choice. While Amazon has sold thousands of copies of our book, <em>The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published</em>, so have independent booksellers. And most of the latter sales have come through booksellers recommending our book to customers who never even heard of it. Who may have not even known they were looking for such a book. We don’t want that choice to go away. We want authors to be able to meet their readers face-to-face within the walls of a brick and mortar bookstore, just like we met the lovely and talented writer who now has a book deal. We also don’t want there to be an unbridgeable divide between authors and the publishing industry. If there are no independent bookstores, this is precisely what will happen. There will be no free advice from industry professionals. Just that interminable moat between writers and agents, writers and publishers that has kept so many from getting published.

The result will be books that aren’t as good, writers that are less informed, readers who have to depend on algorithms to know what to read next. So if you’d like to keep your indie in business, think about your purchasing power. That’s the one power you have as a writer. Use it well.

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, 2010).

Diana Abu-Jaber on How to Write Literary Yet Commercial Prose

To read on Huffington post, click here..

After three different people recommend the book to me, I always try to read it.  This is the case with Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber.  It was one of those rare books that I found literary yet page turning.  A work of art but also a work of commerce.  So I thought I’d reach out to her, to find out exactly how the heck she does it.

The Book Doctors: What is your writing process from coming up with the idea through writing the first draft and then revising and working with an editor?

Abu-Jaber, Diana credit Scott Eason birds of paradise mech.inddDiana Abu-Jaber: The Book Doctors: I write my novels long hand in the first draft. I used to transcribe them myself, which of course is wildly time consuming. These days I hire a typist and then revise on the computer. I try to get several eyes on a manuscript before it goes to my agent–I’m often in some sort of writing group and will inflict hundreds of pages on them, begging for feedback. My agent always has excellent editorial advice, and my editor is–I say this with a smile–extremely involved. She is brilliant and I’m lucky to have her guidance and support.

TBD: Having written memoir and fiction, how do you approach these two forms differently?

DAJ: Novels I understand better. They’re about trying to get the story down–which is never easy, but the process makes more sense to me. Memoirs are more elusive to me. I’m trying to write a new one now and first I wrote it as straight chronological narrative, then I had to go back over the whole thing, bust it into sensory fragments, then pull up the big themes, then try to weave it together again. There must be an easier way, but I haven’t found it yet.

TBD: What kind of training did you get in learning how to be a professional writer?

DAJ: My father was a story-teller and my mother was a reading teacher, they really gave me my foundation. I took a lot of writing classes and workshops in high school and college, but I think they were most valuable in giving me the justification for pursuing this madness and instilling the sense of an audience.

TBD: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you about writing?

DAJ: Start with yourself, work out from there.

TBD: I love the way you use food in Birds of Paradise, how did you come up with & implement the idea of weaving food through the narrative?

DAJ: Thank you. I’ve been writing around and about food for a long time. I come from a line of serious cooks and it was something I thought I’d do professionally to support my writing. I used to keep little writing books in my pocket when I worked in kitchens and it naturally became one of the lens through which I saw the world.

TBD: It seems one of the themes in Birds of Paradise is how disconnected Americans are from each other. Family. City.  Country.  What made you want to write about that?

DAJ: That’s interesting– I hadn’t been conscious of that as I was writing! But it makes sense as it’s a bit of an obsession for me. I think it comes from a lifetime of listening to the Arab side of my family complain about the American side. It’s a real Old / New World divide, the tradition of gathering, talking, cooking, and eating together is still very strong in other countries and I see it getting winnowed away in this country– everything sacrificed to the great American time crunch. I think it’s one of our great and most catastrophic losses.

TBD: What is it like to judge writers for the National Endowment of the Arts?

DAJ: Enormous fun and crazily exhausting. The piles of manuscript boxes that come in before the judging kind of makes you want to weep. But then the actual week of judging is so intense and interesting– the other writers I worked with were so smart and talented, I’m grateful to have done it.

TBD: What advice do you have for writers?

DAJ: As much as you’re able, don’t worry about what others are doing– try to keep your head in the work. Read widely and continually and work on your writing on a daily basis. It’s a marathon not a sprint.

Diana Abu-Jaber’s newest novel, Birds Of Paradise, is the winner of the 2012 Arab-
American National Book Award. It was also an Indiepicks selection, named one of the
top books of the year by National Public Radio, the Washington Post, and the Oregonian,
and a finalist for both the Northwest Bookseller’s Award and the Chautauqua Prize.
Diana was born in Syracuse, New York to an American mother and a Jordanian father.
When she was seven, her family moved to Jordan for two years, and elements of both her
American and Jordanian experiences, as well as cross-cultural issues appear in her work.
Her novel, Origin was named one of the best books of the year by the LA Times, the
Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post. Her second novel, Crescent, won the PEN
Center Award for Literary fiction and the American Book Award. Her first novel,
Arabian Jazz won the Oregon Book award for Literary Fiction and was a finalist for the
PEN Hemingway Award. The Language of Baklava, her cooking memoir, won the Northwest Booksellers’ Award, was a finalist for a James Beard Award, and has been published in many languages. Diana teaches at Portland State University and divides her time between Portland, Oregon and Miami, Florida. She can be found on Twitter at: @dabujaber and on her website www.dianaabujaber.com

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of <a href=”http://www.thebookdoctors.com/” target=”_hplink”>The Book Doctors</a>, 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, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 20 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of eight books and co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 16 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. His books been translated into 10 languages, and he’s been featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  They have taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today. Twitter: @thebookdoctors
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Phil Donahue on Books, TV, Mohammed Ali and Erma Bombeck: David Henry Sterry on Huffington Post

To read on Huffington Post click here.

In the 70s my mom went from being an immigrant housewife stay-at-home mom to a bra-burning consciousness-raising feminist to a card-carrying the same-sex loving lesbian.  And she loved Phil Donahue.  So from a young age I had a deep fondness and respect for Phil Donahue.  He represented things we believed in our household.  Progress, inclusion, valuing individuals over corporations, trying to get at the truth of what makes America a great place, and how we as average citizens can shape this country into a place where freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not just ideals, but concrete building blocks to a better life for everyone, regardless of race, creed, color or how much money you have in the bank.  So when I found out we were both appearing at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop I jumped on the chance to pick his brain.

Donahue-Phil-200x300David Henry Sterry: You basically invented a type of television where the host asks questions about the emotional life of other human beings and it spawned everyone from Oprah to Jerry Springer, and I wondered what your thoughts were when you watch some of these shows and reflect on your part in this and how the whole thing has evolved?

Phil Donahue: Well, I think I said this before that I love them all equally. They’re all my illegitimate children.

[We both laugh]

PD: It’s been fun watching the evolution. We didn’t know it then. We weren’t smart enough to know but very early on, we brought to the day-time schedule a revolutionary idea called democracy. We let the people who own the airwaves use them. I said many times there would’ve been no Donahue show without the studio audience. That was a happenstance; we inherited the audience of the show we replaced. They had tickets for the preceding show, so when they showed up to the studio that day in Dayton, Ohio, they found that the show they’d come to see had been canceled.  And here I was with two talking heads, me and the guest. Everything else we were competing with was spinning wheels and “Come on down.” Monty Hall was giving away about a thousand dollars to a woman dressed like a chicken-salad sandwich. It was visual. It was exciting. People screamed and clapped. But our audience was so involved in the conversation and wanted to get in.  I realized they were asking better questions than I was! During the commercial break during the third day, I jumped out of my chair and went out into the audience with a mic.  We did put the audience up front and put the cameras behind the audience. That was new. Audiences were not that popular among the blue suits that ran the stations. In our case, we really highlighted the audience. Since we had a visually dull show anyway, just two talking heads, we suddenly realized we had something nobody else had. It was a very fundamental idea.

DHS: I feel like this was a precursor to the Internet, where everybody has a voice.

PD: Yeah, you could say that. Somebody who represented you sooner or later showed up in the audience and said what they thought, what you were thinking.  It was a daytime show so usually a woman. We started our show in 1967, locally in Dayton, Ohio. Our first full year on the air Martin Luther King was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, the cops beat up the kids in Chicago, gays fought back at Stonewall. We really got very lucky and found ourselves riding the crest of the wave of the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement. We put a live homosexual right here on my show in November, the first week of the show. In 1967, nobody was out.

DHS: Liberace was a huge star, women of all ages confessed to having a big crush on him.

PD: Absolutely, Liberace was in the closet. Of course, all the mothers thought their kids would catch it if they watched it.  It was November 1967, and I had never seen such moral courage in my life. Here is this guy—live. “Yes, I am gay, and it’s none of your business. We are people, too. We have every right anybody else has.” I was scared to death. I thought everybody would think I was gay and it would be the end of my career. We did it anyway because even back then we realized this was a civil rights issue.

Then there was the women’s movement…these women coming out and say, “Children in this culture get too much mother and not enough father.” I thought, “Jesus, they’re talking about me.”

We did Madelyn Murray, the atheist, and it made you think about the separation of church and state. Why? You don’t want somebody in the Oval Office who talks to Jesus everyday and Jesus talks back. You know? The framers were correct on the separation of church and state. We have more churches, synagogues, mosques, temples; we throw more holy water and burn more holy smoke than any nation in the history of civilization. It is because of the separation of church and state. People miss that. Having been raised Catholic and a graduate of Notre Dame, it really opened my eyes. It made me appreciate other faiths and that they were just as sincere as mine was. Then, suddenly, you begin to see the sins of these institutions, and how the Christian church, especially, promoted all of them–it promoted homophobia. “The church does not approve of gays, then I sure don’t.” It made it easier to beat them up. You realize the church may be the number one promoter of homophobia on Earth. It’s also the institution that has the largest closet. All these ironies come crashing down on my head and the viewers and our audience.

DHS: You were one of the first shows that featured writers prominently. What did you observe that writers did successfully?

PD: Obviously we wouldn’t put you on the show if we didn’t think the book you wrote was compelling and of interest to the people who were watching the show, especially women. So, first, you know, write a great book that lots of people want to read.  And you have to know your audience, be in touch with your audience. We got pretty good at a knowing what would be compelling. Our audience was mostly women, so I felt we should practice what we preached, and I hired women. They brought a lot of insight about the audience that you couldn’t really expect from a man, especially in 1967. Many times if I balked at an idea it turned out to be fabulous. I knew I didn’t have all the answers, and I was often wrong. The women I hired knew stuff I didn’t know. They had insight I did not have. I went to an all-male institution—high school and at Notre Dame. I came from an all-male world, from a house presided over by a mother who stayed at home, a father who got up and went to work every morning, worked 9 to 9 during Christmas retail season. It was definitely a man’s world.

DHS: When you had an author as a guest, what characteristics make someone a good guest who is an author?

PD: There’s a certain visual dramatic necessity if you’re going to succeed on the air. You’ve got to look the part. You’ve got to be enthusiastic about the subject. The best guests were the ones you had trouble shutting up. The worst guests were the ones I’d ask a four-minute question and the guest would say ‘yes.’ Most of them were scared, and I would be too. The best, most exciting guests for me were the ones who had a fascinating story to tell and were politically inclined to say how they feel, to make statements without regard to being popular.

Nobody wants to make anybody mad, but some of the best shows we did featured people who made people mad. Muhammad Ali is an example of that. A woman in front row said, ‘Why are you always throwing your blackness at us.’ He said, ‘Why do you always throw your whiteness at me?’ She said, ‘I’m not throwing my whiteness.’ He said, ‘Take that white Jesus off the wall. You made Tarzan white. You made angel food cake white and devil’s food cake black. I know plenty of black women who are prettier than your Miss America.’ I’d never seen a man who’s so thoroughly skilled and filled with insight. I stood there really awed at what he’d done for a billion young black males all over the world. You don’t have to take it. Inspire people.

Not that many years later, I actually went to Muhammad Ali’s ranch. He owns the ranch owned by Al Capone, that’s what I hear anyway. I drive in, and I park in a little parking spot in a little parking lot. There’s a little sign that says, ‘GOAT.’ G-O-A-T. What the hell’s that? I’m walking in the front door and I realize it’s, ‘Oh, Greatest of All Time.’ I knock on the door, walk in and he gives me a big hug and kiss on the cheek. What a thrill that was!  So he says he had a teacher told him, ‘You’re never going to amount to anything.’ He goes to the Olympics and wins the gold medal. He comes back and he walks into her classroom and dangles the medal in front of her. He said, ‘You said I wasn’t going to be nothing.’ He tells me that as a child that was the thing that changed him. An insult. He went to the Louisville armory as a teenager to see Gorgeous George. Gorgeous George walks out in a red mink coat with white lining fur and yellow hair, and he says, ‘Don’t you touch my pretty face.’ The boos erupt all over the arena. ‘Don’t you touch my pretty hair.’ More boos. He said he looked around and there wasn’t an empty seat. And he realized: that’s how he learned to sell tickets. What insight this teenager had, and then for him to move on and evolve into the Greatest of All Time, which, honest to god, I don’t believe is an overstatement. I think he was the athlete of the 20th century, and I think he should’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize. ‘I ain’t got nothing against no Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.’ He was pilloried for this. He lost his championship status. Talk about moral courage, he was a rock.

DHS: Let’s talk about Erma Bombeck. I hear you have a long and fascinating with Erma Bombeck, who I consider one of the greatest comedy writers America has ever produced.

PD: She was extremely gifted. In the list of the top ten best-selling books of the 1970s, Erma had two. It is true we lived across the street from each other on Cushwa Drive in Centerville, Ohio. This was one of the first cookie-cutter, suburban community. All the houses were the same: detached, same floor plan, no basement, three bedrooms. Diagonally across the street were the Bombecks. We both belonged to the same church. I was doing the radio program (this was before November 1967), and I worked for the news department of WHIO, the TV and radio.

Erma wrote an op-ed for the Dayton Journal Herald. The executive editor of the Journal Herald recognized her talent. He gave her a job writing her own column. So she comes across the street to interview me for her column. I was doing much of what we began the Donahue Show with: feminist issues, what our children are seeing, daddy goes off to work with a briefcase and mommy does to the basement to do wash and what is this doing to our kids. We’d do shows like that. Obviously Erma had tuned in. ‘Hey neighbor, I’ll do a piece.’ I’d never been this excited in my life. No one ever wanted to interview me. It was very flattering. At that point it meant so much to me.

DHS: I’m curious, why do you think America took to Erma Bombeck? What about her captivated people, besides her obvious talent, in terms of her message?

PD: I eulogized Erma in 1996. It wasn’t just that she was the best; she was the only. Erma was irreverent in many ways. Motherhood was sacred then. There was a lot of pretense. There still is. Motherhood was sacred. How blessed you are to have children. Erma came along and said, ‘Oy, I want to sell my kids.’ Erma said if a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead. Erma said coat hangers breed. And she could also be very thoughtful. Her work was attached to millions of refrigerator doors around the English-speaking world. Erma could be very poignant. She could spot pretense across a crowded room. I remember once we were in St. Louis. Big crowd and little Erma is on the stage. You can hardly see her. They had like three balconies. There she was all by herself. I’m running around like mad with a wireless mic—the big time now. A woman in the balcony, way up, said, ‘Erma, I understand you were Phil Donahue’s neighbor. What’s Phil Donahue really like?’ And she said, ‘He peeks in windows.’ Of course the building falls down.  Years later, after she moved, they had a beautiful home in Paradise Va  ley, Arizona.. She’s walking us through the house, and this is on TV. There was a huge fountain in their home I said, ‘That’s a great fountain, Erma.’ She said, ‘Yeah, the grandchildren pee in it.’

One of the women who eulogized her said she was going to communion and Erma was in front of her. She turned around and said, ‘Be careful. You don’t know where his hands have been.’

She credited Phyllis Diller. That surprises some people, but Erma was very impressed by her. Phyllis Diller said radical, crazy things, like she’d stuff the turkey from the wrong end, and make fun of the wonderful privilege of being a housewife and raising kids.

No one was being irreverent then. Not only did she have that sense and that courage, it took a lot of nerve to obscure all the sanctity and pretense that accompanied discussions about motherhood and being a housewife. She had a brilliant comedy sense. Those two things together made her very unique, evidenced by her book sales. Two of the bestselling books in the 70’s. Her titles were brilliant: If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?  When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time To Go Home. Things like that made women scream. The wisdom and insight. She wrote a very honest but painful piece about women who’ve had catastrophically challenged children and how it would be so hard for her to not be bitter, angry, not to say ‘why me.’ Her syndicate asked if she was sure. Yes, I do, she insisted, and they published it. A woman called her, ‘I’ll never forget that, Erma. I had a child. I can’t lift her anymore. She can’t walk up the stairs. I want you to know your article spoke truth to me and I felt a little less guilty.’ There were another piece she did about being upset that the grass was tramped down and not growing as vigorously because the kids were rolling on it and running on it. She’d plant a little more seed, water it, and then the kids would roll on it and it would become barren. Pretty soon the kids went away to school and got married. She looked out the window and the place where the kids had played was green and the grass full and vigorous. She missed the bare spot where they were playing.

DHS: That’s beautiful.

PD: It made you cry.

Phil Donahue changed the face of daytime television, pioneering the audience-participation talk format as the host of the Donahue Show, a 29-year run which stands as the longest of its kind in U.S. television history. His TV journalism earned him 20 Emmy Awards — 9 as host and 11 for the show — as well as the George Foster Peabody Award; the President’s Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus; the Media Person of the Year Award from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance; and induction into the Academy of Television’s Hall of Fame. TV Guide named Donahue one of the Greatest Television Shows of All Time. Donahue has frequently been lauded for his groundbreaking interviews with world leaders and newsmakers — including Muhammad Ali, Johnny Carson, Ayn Rand, Nelson Mandela, Madalyn Murray O’Hair (his first Donahue guest), Margaret Meade and all of the presidents since Jimmy Carter. He was the first Western journalist to visit Chernobyl after the nuclear accident there. Donahue has also headlined numerous network and public television specials, including the Emmy Award-winning children’s special, Donahue and Kids, the landmark Ryan White Talks to Kids about AIDS and The Human Animal; an exploration of human behavior which was also a five part, prime time series that aired on the NBC television network. In 2006, Donahue co-produced and co-directed Body of War, a documentary film about a young Iraq War veteran left in a wheelchair by enemy gunfire who begins questioning America’s involvement in the war.
Universally hailed by critics (“almost unbearably moving,” wrote Time magazine), Body of War captured, among others, the Best Documentary award from the National Board of Review; the Grand Jury Prize at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival; and a People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. Donahue is also an admired writer, whose opinion columns have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times. He is the author of the best-selling memoir, Donahue: My Own Story; and The Human Animal. A native of Cleveland and the father of five and grandfather of two, Donahue is married to award-winning actress, author and activist Marlo Thomas. They live in New York.

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, editor and book doctor.  His anthology was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  His first memoir, Chicken, was an international bestseller and has been translated into 10 languages.  He co-authored The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published with his current wife, and co-founded The Book Doctors , who have toured the country from Cape Cod to Rural Alaska, Hollywood to Brooklyn, Wichita to Washington helping writers.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.  He has appeared on National Public Radio, in the London Times, Playboy, the Washington Post and the Wall St. Journal.  He loves any sport with balls, and his girls.  www.davidhenrysterry

 

 

 

The Book Doctors in new James River Writers Video

one of our favorite writers conferences in the whole world, pound for pound possibly the best, James River Writers Conference.  If you want to learn about writing, if you want to meet writers and agents and publishers and have a great time, this is the conference for you.

Jonestown, Kids, Gorillas & Tragic Death: Fred D’Aguiar & Children of Paradise

To read on-line click here.

I’ve long been fascinated by the events surrounding the Jonestown tragedy. I’m particularly interested, as a parent, in what would lead someone to poison their own child. It seems unthinkable. And yet we all know it happened. So I was drawn to Children of Paradise, and I found the treatment of this very disturbing and real-life tragedy beautiful and compelling. The New York Times said, “D’Aguiar depicts the plight of Trina and the other children with heartbreaking immediacy.” So I sat down with its author, Fred D’Aguiar to talk about Jonestown, kids and how he wrote this wonderful book.
ChildrenofParadise hc c
DAVID HENRY STERRY: What was your inspiration for writing a book about the Jonestown tragedy?

FRED D’AGUIAR: Jonestown happened in Guyana. My parents are Guyanese and I grew up there. I was in London when I heard about the murder suicides. In 1998, twenty years after the event, I wrote a long poem in an effort to understand why so many Americans ended up in such an idyllic landscape — the Amazonian basin interior of Guyana — only to die en masse. I made a radio program for the BBC about Jonestown in 2003 and it occurred to me that the psychology of faith had to be explored by me in a sustained work driven by character narrative rather than the lyric of the poem. I’ve been writing (and rewriting) the novel since then until now with breaks for poetry and plays, teaching and life. But don’t ask me about my failed novels — writers hate to air dirty laundry (this writer does).

DHS: You write from the perspective of a gorilla with shocking verisimilitude, how did you research the inner mental and emotional landscape of Adam the gorilla?

FDA: I’ve always believed that the danger of a reflex tendency for anthropomorphizing nature (of always seeing things in terms of our own primate and primary conceits) brings with it an over-assumption of empathy when all that is gained is a domestication of the unknown in terms of our limited, superior colonization instincts. We have an encounter but learn nothing from it. And not only a colonization of nature’s prowess in terms of our limited human understanding of it but a gesture of intuitive admission that nature has a language that we need to learn in order to really function in harmony with the planet. Right now our civilization is built on using up the earth and finding some other location for the future of the species (a stupid gamble, look at Las Vegas; think of Shelley’s poem <em>Ozymandias</em>). I’ve maintained my interest in nature writing from my first encounter with the works of Desmond Morris during my teens to the euphoric and vatic veneration of nature by Barry Lopez.

I wanted Adam (what’s in a name?!) to be the outside figure, in the commune locked in a cage but outside the commune’s reasons for being together, and in league with his Edenic surroundings as he witnesses a slice of humanity spiraling towards self-destruction. I’ve been to Jonestown and seen a bit of the landscape in the Amazonian region. The jungle with its rock escarpments, rivers, trees and waterfalls and flora and fauna, is a cathedral in its grandiosity (here I am anthropomorphizing but in keeping with the Romantics), it is a place of worship, a spiritual reliquary (if only we paid attention to it).

DHS: For that matter, how did you get into the mindset of a kid who was at Jonestown during one of the most unspeakable tragedies of the 20th century?  And the POV of Preacher, who seems very much to be Jim Jones in this scenario?

FDA: I trained and worked as a psychiatric nurse way back in my early 20s and the work experience has remained with me ever since in the focus of my writing on the psychological and psychical aspects of a character’s experience. There are writers who have helped me to frame this in my fiction. First, Wilson Harris (b.1921). His  fiction reacts to the landscape as if it were a structural determinant of his prose. Meaning, when you read him you feel as if the jungle’s architecture dictated his sentence structures. Harris is Guyanese and worked as a surveyor in Guyana’s interior and he wrote a 1996 novel titled <em>Jonestown</em>, which connects the tragedies in the jungle to a tradition of dying and sacrifice going back to antiquity, to Olmec Mayan times. Second, Derek Walcott. He handles imagery with metaphoric zeal. He ties the blood rhythms of thought to a sensuous instruction gleaned from our world. Three other seminal texts have been Alejo Carpentier’s <em>The Lost Steps</em> and Juan Rulfo’s <em>Pedro Marano</em> and Jean Rhys’s <em>Wide Sargasso Sea</em>.

DHS: You gave your novel the same name as a very famous film about the German occupation of France, why was that?

FDA: That happens to be my second most favorite film ever! The definite article in the title of the film means a lot. The sly mechanisms for defying despotism while it surrounds you, all rooted in art has to be instructive or my whole grain bread and peanut butter breakfast consumed this morning for its goodness is a cruel hoax. I wanted to connect with a former period of despotism in history and prompt the reader to think about children in history and how childhood is constructed and destroyed in turn and made anew by the experience of the arts.

Don’t laugh, but my first most favorite film ever happens to be one I got into in my early teens — <em>Roots</em>, the TV series. Yes! Don’t ask me why! Ask me why! Well, Alex Haley’s <em>Roots</em> (include the book as well) made me aware of the importance of knowing about black history and the necessity of art for a vital and examined life, and storytelling, character, landscape, emotion, intuition and persuasion as ethical frames for understanding (though puzzlement endures) and improving (though the work is never done) the world (and what a beauty it is) in a short life (and how prized).

DHS: Why do you think, in the end, people were willing to kill themselves and their children when their messianic leader told them to?

FDA: By the time the moment of murder-suicide arrived the people in the commune had experienced a prolonged period of indoctrination and torture (sleep deprivation, starvation and humiliation through public beatings and public shamings). They were at the end of their tether, nerves strung out, exhausted and ripe for manipulation. Add to that their isolation in Guyana’s jungle interior from the scrutiny of the outside world and the communards entirely subjected to the maniacal will of Jones. What was left of their will had been systematically eroded by Jones’ technique (think of Erving Goffman’s Total Institution) of repression to a point of hypnotic obedience (though it must be said that there was resistance by some to the bitter end as proved by the group that escaped by running into the jungle). They were told to drink or be shot, some choice.

DHS: Do you outline your plot before you start writing?

FDA: No. I began this lucky artsy-fartsy life that I now lead way back in my youth when I was a hungry and angry poet (hungry for meaning, angry for justice). As a result, I continue to write from a feel (mostly of terror) and a string of images (that play havoc with my nerves). The feeling is deeply linked to the imagery. Next, I find the people in the picture who might best exemplify that mood and exude the things that I am feeling. In the case of this novel the plight of the children attacked my nerves and left me wanting to replay their probable instances of childhood before their inevitable and painful deaths.

DHS: You are also a poet and playwright.  How did poetry and writing for the stage affect writing <em>Children of Paradise</em>?

FDA: Poetry is the art of compression, of distillation; fiction appears to expand like an accordion pulled open limitlessly for a beautiful sequence of sound and meanings. Plays speak through characters on a stage in a suspension of real time for a dramatic carve-up of time as feeling and instruction. I crave instances of articulation in all mediums depending on my mood. I blame my multi-genre body on my experience of three landscapes, my birth and long residence in the UK, my childhood spent in Guyana and the adult realities of settling for life in the US.

DHS: You were teaching at Virginia Tech when a student went on a shooting rampage.  What was that like, and how did this lead to you writing about Jonestown?

FDA: April 2007 was a nightmare for me. (I’ll count is as such until I die.) I lost a student who was in my Caribbean class. She was shot dead while in her French class. I happened to be on campus that morning. I have always loathed guns due to my residency in the UK where guns are blessedly rare. But after 2007 I am now so very much desirous of a ban on the possession of all firearms by private citizens — they belong to a primitive remnant of our warlike bodies. And we have a standing army anyway. I worry about the ready availability of personal firearms and the lack of respect for mental illness. It is a serious affliction in need of structural investment by this remarkable country. But what do I know? I think the education budget should be swapped with the defense budget.

DHS: Why do you think “drinking the Kool-Aid” has become part of our everyday vernacular?

FDA: It is a cruel misnomer extrapolated from Jonestown and one of the reasons why I wrote my novel to depict resistance rather than blind obedience to messianic sadism. We apply the term to denote a total surrender to an idea or force. In Jonestown there was resistance to Jones and that is why he needed a remote location and a regime of mental and physical torture that resulted in an erosion of the will of his followers. It seems as if the media has succeeded in its cookie-cutter way of leaving the popular memory with an unimaginative phrase to represent a tragedy. I took pains in my novel to chart the stages of this breakdown of the will of the community and I showed pockets of resistance to Jones as well. The cool aid was just the final act in a play of death, along with bullets, beatings, sleep deprivation, starvation and marathon sessions of Jones’s preaching that was recorded and relayed on speakers around the compound, all hours of the day and night. I wish it amounted to more than yet another example from recent history of a failed ecumenical tool.

DHS: After living with this story for so long, what are your final takeaways?

FDA: I quote as an epigraph, 1 Corinthians 13:13 and I stick with that. If I say it, people will hear the Beatles tune, “all you need is love” pah dap-pah, pah bah-dah, because it is so obvious that it precludes speech. But I’ll say it anyway for the record. Love (with cooperation) is a stronger (and preferable) force to hate (and competition). The evidence for the latter is technological advancement at a price of a dying planet… some advancement when we’ve mortally wounded the host of all species.

DHS: What advise do you have for writers?

FDA: First, Oscar Wilde’s adage that, ‘advice is an excellent thing not to follow but to disregard.’ Second, that they should read, read, read and get involved in something other than writing, and write, write, write. The arts of the imagination help us to understand the present and the past, and live coterminously with the planet and everything on it. Doing so should affect in positive ways what the future will be; not doing so merely accelerates our terminal decline. The literate imagination may well be our most powerful asset of our naturally inquisitive bodies and it is free.  Go for it!

Fred D’Aguiar is an acclaimed novelist, playwright, and poet. He has been short-listed for the T.S. Eliot Prize in poetry for Bill of Rights, a narrative poem about the Jonestown massacre, and won the Whitbread First Novel Award for The Longest Memory. Born in London, he was raised in Guyana until the age of twelve, when he returned to the UK. He teaches at Virginia Tech. Children of Paradise is his newest novel.

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, including <em>Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex</em>, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  His new book Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition</em></a>, has been translated into 10 languages.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.

The Book Doctors & Erma Bombeck Writing Conference in the News

To read online click here.

A magical moment happens when a writer takes a deep breath and launches into a passionate one-minute elevator pitch of a book concept before hundreds of other would-be authors.

“It’s very touching,” says literary agent Arielle Eckstut about the emotion-charged atmosphere at Pitchapalooza. “These writers are wearing their hearts on their sleeves.”

Adds her writer-husband David Henry Sterry: “This is the first time some have said in public, ‘I’m a writer.'”

At the April 10-12 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, 20 randomly selected writers will get the opportunity to make a one-minute pitch — and perhaps write their own perfect ending. One winner, selected by Eckstut, Sterry and two other publishing experts, will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for the book idea.

Welcome to Pitchapalooza, billed as the “American Idol for books, only kinder and gentler.” Since 2005, Eckstut and Sterry have taken Pitchapalooza to approximately 150 bookstores, writing conferences, book festivals and libraries — from Cape Cod and Chicago to the far-flung states of Hawaii and Alaska. It has drawn standing-room-only crowds and captured attention from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NPR and other media outlets.

“Our whole goal is to help people improve. There’s never a sense of humiliation,” said Eckstut, an agent-at-large with Levine Greenberg Literary Agency in New York and the author of nine books.

The event also illustrates the importance of tenacity. “In 2010 at LitQuake in San Francisco a woman pitched an idea for an anthology by American-Muslim women writing about their secret love lives,” Sterry recalls. “You could hear the murmur throughout the room. That pitch is a book waiting to happen, but an agent had dropped the idea.”

The lesson: an initial rejection doesn’t always determine a book’s fate.

“There’s a great expression, ‘Don’t quit five minutes before the marathon ends,'” says Sterry, who’s written 15 books himself. “I called up a publisher I knew, and it took about 10 seconds to sell that idea.”

The couple came up with the idea for Pitchapalooza after co-writing The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published and trying to figure out how to creatively promote their own niche book. They’re the founders of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to helping authors get successfully published.

“We were at a party in San Francisco, and writers in the room heard the rumor there was a literary agent in the house. People started buzzing around Arielle like moths to a flame,” says Sterry with a laugh. “There were some great drunken pitches made that night. Later, we realized we might have hit upon something that could help us help writers and sell our own book.”

When the couple introduced Pitchapalooza at New York’s iconic Strand Book Store, “we thought it would be a terrible bust,” concedes Sterry. “We show up, and there’s a line out the door. We looked at each other and said, ‘What’s going on here?’ If it’s not Michelle Obama or a celebrity, it’s hard to get more than 15 or 20 people at a booksigning.”

Over the years, Sterry says they’ve heard “some amazing and some horrifying pitches.” One writer tried to pitch five book ideas in a minute. Another had an idea for a 30-book series. Another didn’t win at Pitchapalooza, but still ended up with a book contract.

“The writer was an arborist who had an idea that took off on The Elements of Style — only for fruit trees,” Eckstut says. “She had incredible expertise, and I knew just the right publisher.”

Writers don’t have to win or even participate in the Pitchapalooza contest to receive a professional critique of their book ideas. Eckstut and Sterry are offering writers who buy their book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, a free 20-minute telephone consultation after the workshop.

The two offer these tips for making a great pitch:

1.When pitching a narrative, memoir or creative nonfiction, make sure you have a hero we can fall in love with.

2. Don’t tell us your book is funny. Make us laugh.

3. Compare your book to a successful one. Show us where the book fits on the shelf in a bookstore.

And finally, “Don’t say you’re the next Erma Bombeck,” Sterry says with a laugh.

Book Doctors Early Interview on How to Get Published Successfully

7 Minutes a Day: Using Social Media Tools to e-Networking without Being Swallowed by the Timesuck

The essential guide cover_Flop sweat erupts on foreheads.  Faces go pale and bloodless.  Hands tremor.  Eyes widen in terror.  These are all symptoms suffered by writers when I tell them that they have to engage in social media.  They moan, they groan, I’ve even seen grown men cry.  Many are still living under the misguided fantasy that they can sit out in their cabin by the lake and write their magnificent opus, send it off to him Mr. Harper and Mr. Collins, get a book deal, then wait for Oprah to call, and watch the checks roll in.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten queries from writers that actually say, “I’d be willing to go on Oprah.”  Who wouldn’t be WILLING to go on Opra?  Apart from Jonathan Franzen of course.  The question is: how are YOU going to get YOURSELF on Oprah?  Just the other day, I sent a proposal for a beautiful, moving, touching, well-written memoir to fantastic, cutting edge, alternative independent press.  The editor said she wouldn’t even read the proposal because the author didn’t have a Platform.  Platform, for those who don’t know, is the new publishing buzzword.  It means the method you are going to use to connect with the tribe of people who are passionate enough about you and your ideas to buy your book.  I often say that the greatest pitch you could give for a book is in this day and age: “I have 1 million Twitter followers and they all want to buy my book.”  It doesn’t matter what your book is.  Agents, editors and publishers will line up around the cyber block to be in business with you.  But for many authors who don’t have a website, aren’t up on Twitter, and only have a Facebook page where they can post pictures of their kids and/or grandkids, the idea of building a platform, tweeting every day, friending people they don’t know, and spending hours and hours and hours of their one precious life networking socially on the Internet sounds as appealing as getting a root canal from a Nazi without Novocain.  That’s why I devised the 7 Minute Rule of Social Media.  Every day, spend 7 minutes connecting with your tribe.  It’s like brushing your teeth.  Washing your face.  Make it part of your daily routine.  Make it a habit. Habits are incredibly powerful.  Bad ones and good ones.  If you need to, set the timer on your smart phone for 7 minutes.  It’s not much out of your day.  Out of your life.  But the trick is, you have to do it every day.  EVERY DAY.  Like a habit.  So, how do you get started?  The first thing to do is research.  Check out the various platforms available to you.  The obvious ones are Twitter and Facebook, but as you dig deeper, you’ll find cool sites for writers like Redroomhttp://redroom.com/, Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/, Writers Digest Forumhttp://forum.writersdigest.com/category-view.asp, and National Novel Writing Monthhttp://www.nanowrimo.org/.  Poke around, see who’s there, see what they’re talking about. You should engage in the social media that suits you best.  I happen to like coming up with 140 character messages.  It appeals to the poet in me.  My wife on the other hand is Jewish, and can’t possibly express yourself in 140 characters.  She likes Facebook.  And so it goes. Then start engaging with people who you think are funny, smart, entertaining, etc.  Make comments on their posts.  Be generous.  This is one of the big misconceptions about Social Media.  It’s not about asking other people to do nice things for you.  I get so sick and tired of people I don’t know asking me to like them, to love them, to vote for them, to buy things from them.  You would just walk up to someone on the street and say, Love me.  Well, you might, but if you did it often enough, there’s a good chance you’d be arrested.  The guiding principle for successful Social Media is Good Samaritanism.  If someone does something nice for me online, it’s my natural inclination to do something nice for them.  In a utopia, this would the world would work.  Once you get comfortable on the site that suits you, start making a couple of friend requests every day to like-minded people.  For example, if you’re writing a book that’s like Game of Thrones, go to the Game of Thrones page on Facebook and start cherry picking people who seem simpatico.  These sites all have wonderful search tools also.  So you can put in words that are related to your book, and find people who will be passionate about what you’re passionate about.  This leads us to Key Words.  Search terms.  You should identify 5 to 10 words that apply to your book.  I have a new illustrated novel that just came out called Mort Morte http://bit.ly/12FTPQ0.  It’s reminiscent of Lewis Carroll and The Tin Drum.  It’s filled with black comedy.  It has cheerleaders in it.  It’s a coming-of-age story.  It’s illustrated.  Some of it takes place in Texas.  It’s about a boy who really loves his mom.  All of these ideas can be boiled down to phrases and words.  Those will be my search words or Key Words.  That’s how I’ll find people who gravitate toward my book.  I also make a list of 10 or 15 leaders in whatever field I’m writing.  And I try to connect with them.  Again, first I write little reviews of their books on Amazon.  I make comments when they post a blog, or they’re interviewed online.  And I make sure I let them know that I’m doing nice things for them.  You’d be shocked how much people pay attention to what’s happening online.  Or maybe wouldn’t.  But you absolutely will be amazed by how accessible people are if you ask them nicely for something that’s easy for them to do.  A lot of people ask me if they should have a website.  You should only have a website if you’re prepared to make a really good website.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t have to have a lot of bells and whistles.  But it has to look good.  And it has to be user-friendly.  Easy to navigate.  And “sticky”.  In other words, when someone goes onto your website, you want to give them reasons to stay there.  And the only way a website is valuable is if you water and feed it on a regular basis.  You can do this by making comments on what other people are talking about.  Put up book reviews, movie reviews, write about what’s going on in the world, let people know your book is progressing.  You can put up little paragraphs from your book.  You could have one of the characters in one of your stories have a blog on your website.  Pictures, movies, so many fun things that you can use this content.  Debbie Gallant, a wonderful writer and a friend of mine, had a book coming out that was about romance in cars.  I suggested that she have people writing stories about their romantic adventures in cars.  So she actually got her readers to create content for her.  Make sure you have a great bio that’s fun and interesting and describes you thoroughly.  Have a resource section we post items of interest to you and your readers.  Calendar of events and appearances, a future project section.  Contact information.  It might be fun to do a series of interviews with people you admire.  It’s a great way to connect with their audience, and the connected with their agent, editor, etc. If you’re not very computer savvy, just find a Child Mentor.  Someone between the ages of 10 and 17, the young person who was raised on computers.  Most of them will be able to create a Facebook page in about 10 min.  And the good news is, they work for candy bars. When you do make set up an account for yourself on a website, make sure you give as much information as you can about the books you like, the writers you enjoy, the movies that entertain you, the social causes you’re engaged in, your hobbies, we went to college and high school.  These will all help people find you as they search for stuff they are interested in. But perhaps most importantly: HAVE FUN!

 

1) Befriend a Child Mentor

2) Figure out which Key Words best describe you and your project.

3) Find the online platforms that suit you best.

4) Connect with members of this community.  Categorize them by geographic location and interest.

5) Become an active and generous member of that community.

6) Build your own home on your favorite website

7) Connect your website with your Facebook and Twitter feeds.

8) Get other people to put your website up on their website in their resource section.

9) Make sure you have a very good profile picture which shows us her face.  Please, don’t put up a baby picture of yourself.

10) Be consistent with the way you describe yourself.  Make sure your name is always the same wherever you put it up.  And write a great description of your mission statement as a human being and as a writer.

11) Give, give, give, give, give.  Giveaway stuff on your website.  Spread your time and love all over the cyber world.

12) Only after you’ve given till it hurts should you should you ask gently and politely and persistently for what you need

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor.  His new book Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition, has been translated into 10 languages.  He’s also written Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  He is also the author of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.  He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been employed as, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney screenwriter, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Penthouse, the London Times, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp.  He can be found at www.davidhenrysterry.com.

To read on Slashed Reads click here.

The Book Doctors Pitchapalooza Video: Surprise Teen Winner

This is a Video from when we did Pitchapalooza in our hometown, Montclair NJ.  Watch for surprise teenage winner.

911: The Power of Small Town Independent Book Stores

DowntownSisters911 said the sign as we edged into the central Oregon town of Sisters.  We weren’t sure if that was the population, or a cry for help.  It was Saturday afternoon, and we were booked into Paulina Springs Book Company as part of our Putting Your Passion Into Print Tour.  In fact we had put together this event to sell our books Satchel Sez: the World, Wit and Wisdom of Satchel Paige, and Pride & Promiscuity: the Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen, because our publishers, Simon & Schuster, and Random House, had told us it would be very difficult to do a successful event in a bookstore revolving around Satchel Paige or Jane Austen, both of whom are dead, and most likely will remain so.  But Kate Cerino at Paulina Springs seemed to think differently, and had insisted on doing an event about Satchel Paige, instead of Passion Into Print.  So there we were.

We walked into the store at 4:40 for our 5:00 event, and apart from Kate, none of the 911 Sisterites were there.  Our expectations, which had been extremely low to begin with, plummeted as we spied the 30 empty seats sadly facing one lone chair, which was staring off into space self-consciously.

As we strolled around Sisters, we noticed that all the shops were closed, and no one was around.  It was like a Twilight Zone episode.  We began to wonder if there really were 911 people in Sisters, or if we were going to be abducted by author-starved aliens who would make us write books day and night for the rest of eternity.

Well, imagine our surprise at 5:00 when we returned to find Paulina Springs Bookstore packed with 35 of its 911 occupants.  3% of the population.  If this was LA there would’ve been 300,000 people there.  Our jaws hit the floor.  Those melancholy chairs were now full and happy, brimming with Sisters bottoms, all waiting for us to say something intelligent, insightful and witty about Satchel Paige.

I scanned the crowd, and it suddenly hit me: there were only two people under the age of sixty in the audience.  Talk about your target audience.  Afterwards, the crowd asked great questions, and many of them shared their own Satchel Paige stories.  It was America at its best, oral history flying all around us, right there in Paulina Springs Book Company, Sisters, Oregon, population 911.  Turns out almost everyone there had seen Satchel pitch, which is not as strange as it might seem, since he barnstormed North America from Moosejaw to Miami.  One woman told a story about when she was a little girl and her father took her to Comiskey Park in 1948 so she could see Satchel pitch against the Cleveland Indians.  As she told us, her eyes glowed like gold as she lit up the room.

Towards the end of the event the Oldest-Man-in-the-Room raised his hand.  In a voice weathered with age but still going gangbusters, he said, “I was the batboy on Satchel Paige’s team.  My uncle was his manager.  I used to ride in his car with him.  He was fast.  He would have made a great race car driver, Ol’ Satch.”  He stole the whole show in about twenty seconds.

After the event, the Oldest-Man-In-the-Room approached me.  He had several hundred thousand miles on him, but his smile was wide, his mind was tack-sharp, and he had incredible posture.  Made me stop slouching just looking at him.  He thanked me for writing the book.  Then he told me that he had one of Satchel’s old gloves.  I said I would love to buy it from him.  He said, “No, sir, I want you to have it.  Give me your address and I’ll mail it to you.”  I insisted on paying for it, but he wouldn’t hear of it.  He gave me his pen, and I wrote down my address for him.  He carefully folded the paper and put it in his pocket.  Then he stuck out his hand and I took it in mine.  It was old and thin, but the grip was strong, with a little pump at the end.  I hope I’m shaking hands as well as that when I’m 80.  After we said our heartfelt farewells, I was distracted by someone asking me to sign a book, and this led to another signature, then another.  As I signed the books, I was so happy when the buyers asked me to make the inscriptions out to their grand-sons and grand-daughters.  Then it hit me: this is why I wanted to write the book in the first place, so the next generation would know about Satchel and his 6 Rules for Staying Young.  As I signed, I felt a tug on my sleeve.  It was the Oldest-Main-in-the-Room.  I smiled to myself.  I figured he probably forgot something.  “Sonny, you got my pen.”  I cracked up, handed him the pen, and smiled as I watched him walk away slow but steady, overjoyed at 44 to be called Sonny.

We thanked Kate, she thanked us, then we all patted each other on the back for quite some time.  We promised her we’d be back when my memoir Chicken comes out in February, and she said she was looking forward to it.

Everyone in the store bought a book.  It was the most successful event on our whole 13-stores-in-15-day tour.

As we packed up to leave Sisters, population 911, Arielle turned to David and said, “You never know.”

 

D & A: Why did you buck conventional wisdom and bring an event revolving around Satchel Sez: The Wit, Wisdom, and World of Satchel Paige into Paulina Springs Bookstore, when most publishers say in-store events about baseball players don’t work when the ballplayer is dead?

K: Someone in the store heard David being interviewed by Scott Simon on National Public Radio, and thought it would make a good event.

D & A: Why did you think an event about a Negro Leagues legend would work in your store when there are so few African-Americans in your town?

K: I don’t really think about it like that.  We try to only bring in great events, so when people come to see an event here, they know it’s going to be interesting.  Like all independent bookstores that have managed to survive, we have very loyal customers, and they support us.

D & A: So, you don’t make automatic assumptions of which books will draw crowds, and which won’t?

K: No, not really.  We just try to bring in high-quality authors we think will put on really good events.

D & A: Your store has such a nice feel in it, it seems very intimate.

K: I think that’s important.  A lot of people are intimidated by writers.  A woman came to an event here and she said she’d always wanted to go to one of these events, but she felt intimidated.  We have a very casual feeling here, and I think that makes a big difference.

D & A: And you had books I’d never seen before.

K: We’re able to hand-select the books we sell.  I think almost every book in this store has been read by someone on the staff, or was recommended to us by a customer.  One of our customers lives most of the time in Berkeley, and she comes into our store to buy books.  I asked her why and she said, “You guys always have seem to have great books I can’t find anywhere else.”  And she’s from Berkeley, where there are so many bookstores!

D & A: Your event was the most successful on David and Arielle’s 13 stores-in15-days Northwest Tour.  Why do think the event such a success, in a town with 911 people?

K: Well, that’s a little deceiving.  There are actually about 10,000 people who live in and around Sisters.  But I think Paulina Springs Book Company is in many ways an intellectual center here in Sisters, and, in fact, for the larger Central Oregon community.  The store’s owners, Dianne Campbell and Dick Sandvik, have worked very hard over the past nine years to develop strong audiences for our in-store events.  People really pay attention to who we bring in.  Like a lot of small towns all over America, many well-educated, interesting people live here.  People have chosen to move here because it’s such a great place to live.  We really work hard to get the word out on our events, and we benefit a lot from word of mouth in the community.

D & A: Do you think that publishers sometimes underestimate small-town bookstores’ ability to sell books and stage successful events?

K: Most definitely!  We have a very hard time getting publishers to send their authors here.  We’ve been very persistent, especially at making direct contact with writers.  Authors like Sandra Dallas, Barry Lopez, Ivan Doig, and Craig Lesley came to Paulina Springs despite reservations of their publicists – and had great receptions and wonderful experiences.  We think it’s time publicists and publishers took note that their authors might make a bigger splash here, rather than being part of the background noise in the big city.  I was cleaning the files the other day and I found a note from Pete Fromm addressing this very point.  “…the entire way to Boise, where the Barnes & noble experience was pretty much a bust.  Meeting you guys, the dinner and the reading at your store turned out to be one of the high points of the entire trip.  Thanks for pestering the publisher to get me there.”

D & A: That was our experience, too, Kate.  Thank you so much for talking to me, and thanks for making us feel so welcome.

K: Thank you.

Art of the Memoir: Laura Schenone on Shooting High & Raw Parts: Bonus Video

ravioliPB

To celebrate the release of the 10 year anniversary of my memoir, Chicken,  I’m doing a series of interviews with memoirists I admire.  I first met Laura Schenone when I saw her read from her James Beard Award winning book, A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove.  She’s a beautiful, lyrical writer, who is somehow as good at reading her work as she is at writing it.  She manages to be one of those rare hybrids, a writer who is literary and page turning simultaneously.  I recently read her spectacular memoir, The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken and I totally fell in love with it.  And it’s not really my kind of book.  I prefer writing where people are getting their heads blown off and/or are engaged in acts of insane depravity which showcase the darkest heart of humans.  Him but these books are so thoughtful, the storytelling so riveting, and the characters come to life in such a beautiful way, you feel like you’re floating down a warm river through a breathtaking countryside, with some crazy rapids waiting up ahead.  And she also writes about big subjects like family and food and love, using her own experiences often as a jumping off point to illuminate deep human truths.  She’s working on her next memoir, and we thought we would check in with her about what it takes to turn your life into a book.

David Henry Sterry: Why in gods name did you decide to write a memoir?

 

Laura Schenone: I don’t know that I decided.  I think I was writing it in my head my whole life.

 

DHS: What were the worst things about writing the memoir?

 

LS: Complete embarrassment of writing a memoir.  But also trying to make a character out of myself and be honest.

 

DHS: What were the best things about writing the memoir?

 

LS: That’s any easy one:  Italy.  Specifically, Genoa.   My memoir was a quest tale about the search for a long lost family recipe and involved travel there.  I studied the language, and that was wonderful.  I loved the place, the people I met, and the food.

 

DHS: Did writing the memoir help you make some sense out of the chaos we call life?

 

LS: Absolutely.  I felt far more at peace over some things once I’d finished it and still do.  I have much less of a need to look backward.

 

DHS: How did you make narrative out of the random events that happened to you?

 

LS: I had three interwoven themes.  One was the forward momentum of the search for something and an obsession with that.  The other was the flashback associative part in which the past flies up.  The third was me meditating about the present.  I wove them together in the most natural way I could.  In terms of sequence, there was mention of a love story between my great grandparents that had to go more toward the front of the book to hook the reader.

 

DHS: How was the process of selling your memoir?

 

LS: I’d just had a book that had done pretty well, so it was fairly easy.  I loved my editor at W.W. Norton and wanted to stay there.

 

DHS: How did you go about marketing and promoting your memoir?

 

LS: I cooked and made ravioli everywhere.

 

DHS: Did you have difficulty speaking to the public about the most intimate parts of you memoir?

 

LS: The raw parts I never read in public.  But there were times I was uncomfortable when people asked me questions I didn’t want to answer.  Sadly, my book didn’t have much sex in it, so that was no problem.

 

DHS: How did your family, friends and loved ones react to the memoir?

 

LS: Some loved it.  Some really did not appreciate it in the least.  There were some very painful moments.

 

DHS: Any advice for someone writing a memoir?

 

LS: There are many memoirs out there.  Most are not good.  Your memoir really isn’t supposed to be just about you.  Before you begin, try to really understand the form.  Study the ones that manage to elevate personal experience to something far greater.  Shoot high.

Bonus Video:

How to Get Your Book Published When Everyone Keeps Rejecting It

201201-b-love_inshallah_coverWe first met Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mutta at our Pitchapalooza during San Francisco’s legendary LitQuake. Lots of great writers pitched lots of great books that night. But when Nura pitched her anthology revolving around the love lives of Muslim-American women, we were blown away. She took charge of the room like a seasoned professional, she was funny, charming, articulate, and she had that indefinable It that makes people go: Wow! Plus, the book was so timely, so valuable, so necessary when the world is trying desperately to move from combative intolerance to respectful inclusion. From war and terrorism to peace and understanding. We helped them develop their proposal, hone their pitch, and when the time was right, we introduced them to a fantastic publisher who does exactly the kind of book they wanted to write. This is a mistake so many writers make. They don’t get their book into the hands of the person who is most likely to love, represent and/or publish it. In this case, that publisher was Laura Mazer at Soft Skull. As we suspected, she fell in love with the proposal, and offered them a contract. Right place, right time, right stuff. Nura and Ayesha gathered 25 Muslim-American women writers, and lo and behold, their pitch is now a book. Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women came out last week, and already they’ve had a feature in the New York Times written about them, and the demand has been so large, they sold out of the first printing practically before the book was even out.

THE BOOK DOCTORS: So, this must be a very exciting time, congratulations, we’re so excited for you.

NURA & AYESHA: Thanks, it is. We worked so long and so hard on this book, and there were so many times when we were sure it would never happen, so to have all this great response been fantastic

TBD: So many writers don’t consider who their audience will be, or in fact if there is even an audience, before they write their book. Why did you write your book, and why did you think there would be an audience for it is?

N&A: People are fascinated by Muslim women, but we didn’t see ourselves or our opinionated, independent and intelligent friends reflected in media stories, TV plotlines or movies. We decided this was the perfect opportunity to raise our voices and begin telling our own stories. And what better stories to tell than love stories? As Muslim women, our roadmap to love may be unique, but the destination is universal.

TBD: Most writers don’t understand how important a pitch is. It’s what a writer uses to get an agent and/or a publisher, it’s what the publisher’s marketing team (if they have one) will send out to the media, what the sales team will use to get bookstores to carry your book, what will entice readers on your author page, and on the back of your book, it’s what booksellers will tell customers when they’re looking for a book like yours.

N&A: Exactly! That’s why we spent so much time writing the pitch and practicing it aloud, to make sure it flowed well, that it really displayed what was unique and valuable about our project.

TBD: We always tell people to pitch their book as often as possible. To friends and family of course, but to your mailman, your waitress, your priest, total strangers, whomever. Every time you pitch your book, it’s an opportunity to test market your product. To figure out what works and what doesn’t, and how to make it better. And we meet a shocking number of writers who are afraid to talk about their book because they’re scared someone will steal it. Or hate it. But if you don’t tell anybody about your book, there’s a good chance it will and up just being a file buried in your computer. And you never know who’s going to be friends with somebody in publishing. That’s how David got published. He told an old friend about his book. Unbeknownst to him, her goddaughter was a literary agent. She took him on as a client. Then she married him.

N&A: That’s so romantic!

TBD: In a very book-nerdy way.

N&A: Exactly.

TBD: Since you won Pitchapalooza with your kick-ass pitch, go ahead, lay it on us, what’s your book about?

N& A: Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women is a groundbreaking collection of 25 writers speaking openly about love, relationships, sexuality, gender, identity and racism for the first time. Everyone seems to have an opinion about Muslim women, even (especially!) those who have never met one. We thought it was about time you heard directly from Muslim women themselves. You’ll be captivated by these provocative, funny, moving and surprising stories — each as individual as the writers themselves.

TBD: What made you decide to pitch the idea at our Pitchapalooza?

N&A: Our book proposal was dead in the water, publishers were unwilling to take a chance on this book. When we heard about LitQuake Pitchapalooza in September 2010, we thought it might be an opportunity for us to go public with our hunch that our book’s simple but intriguing concept — American Muslim women’s lives and loves, told for the first time by the women themselves — would have a broad appeal. Pitchapalooza helped us refine our message and hook. The judges’ feedback was invaluable in developing our book proposal. And the audience was so excited about the premise that we knew we’d been right about its appeal!

TBD: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about American Muslim women, dating, and sexuality?

N&A: Muslim women’s lives and sexuality have been politicized by both non-Muslims and Muslims for centuries. On the one hand, we’re seen as oppressed, submissive, and voiceless, and on the other we’re asked to live within a limited definition of the “good Muslim girl”. Neither of these paradigms allows us to celebrate our personal lives, which are full of joy, creativity, beauty, challenges, doubts and mistakes. Both extremes seek to box us into a narrow “real Muslim woman” frame, but by telling our own stories, we are revealing a reality that is far more complex and compelling.

TBD: What were some of the challenges in putting together an anthology with all these women?

N&A: Editing was the most challenging and most rewarding experience of all. We spent a lot of time supporting our writers in taking their stories to the place of honesty and vulnerability that resonates with readers. And, through the process of editing, we developed wonderful relationships with each writer. We deeply love and respect them all!

TBD: Are you afraid that some fundamentalist Muslims will take offense at your book?

N&A: Fundamentalists certainly aren’t limited to Muslims, as we saw with the recent controversy generated by a fringe group in Florida over the TLC show All-American Muslim! There are some people on both sides who want to keep Muslim women tightly inside a box. That said, a filmmaker friend of ours visited over 200 US cities recently and brought back this message: People are tired of the politics of fear and are hungry to connect with each other in more meaningful and compassionate ways. We believe her, and we believe that the overwhelming majority of Americans are going to welcome and be excited by this book for that very reason. Any book is going to have its critics, but we’re confident that most people are going to celebrate these unique, thought-provoking and beautiful voices.

TBD: What’ve been some of the difficulties in dealing with the publishing world?

N&A: A Pitchapalooza judge said that large publishers are leery of taking risks on unknown writers or an untested market.

TBD: That’s why I thought Soft Skull would be perfect for you.

N&A: Absolutely. They’re a independent, cutting-edge publisher, and they respected our context and viewpoints on everything from the stories to the cover of the book, which can be a contentious and difficult issue for writers of color. In fact, the cover is a wonderful example of our partnership: The conventional image on most books about Muslim women is of a veil or veiled woman, even when it has nothing to do with the story or writer. After we explained why that was inappropriate, we found a gorgeous, novel and provocative image to use instead: lingerie! The lingerie strewn across the bed is a metaphor for the book: Muslim women revealing their most intimate thoughts and experiences to you.

TBD: What do you hope your book will communicate to the world?

N&A: We are proud to offer this book as our contribution to contemporary, multicultural American literature. We believe these stories will start conversations in families and between communities about the similarities that bind us together, and the differences that enrich us. We hope that this book inspires dialogues in the American Muslim community, particularly among women, who have been waiting a long time to have these discussions. We’re so ready to engage with each other! Regardless of our differences, we can choose to interact with each other in a compassionate and respectful way. By reading these provocative, funny and moving stories, you’ll discover that what we all have in common is the desire to love and be loved for who we are.

Ayesha Mattu & Nura Maznavi are the co-editors of the anthology, Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women” (Soft Skull Press, 1/24/12). Facebook. Twitter. Amazon.

Tamim Ansary, the Wisest Man I Know, on What America Should Do About Afghanistan

Tamim Ansary is the wisest man I know. Don’t get me wrong, in many ways he’s as big an idiot as you or I. For example, he’s not nearly as smart as his smartphone. But I know lots of clever geniuses who can make their smartphone dance the chachacha while reciting the Gettysburg Address, but none of them are very wise. Tamim says things that make you kick yourself and go, “Why didn’t I think of that?” And because he spent his Wonder Years in Afghanistan, and has a large web of family (many of whom, apparently, he has no idea he’s related to) in Afghanistan, he knows things that hardly any of us know. About how they think, how they live, who they are, what they want, these people with whom we are so intimately involved yet understand so little. Since he spent the last year or so writing a book about the history of Afghanistan called, Games Without Rules: The Often Interrupted History of Afghanistan, I thought I’d pick his big brain about a subject I want to understand, one which will, I hope, make me seem smarter at parties.

DAVID HENRY STERRY: Reading your book, it becomes more and more clear that Afghanistan has a long history of being invaded. Is there something particular about the people, the culture, the country that screams: Invade me?

TAMIM ANSARY: Afghanistan is the land in between. It’s the place where the age-old “great powers” to the north, west, south and east overlap. It’s the real estate that empire-builders have had to march through over the centuries to get to other, more desirable places. In the 19th century, Russia had to take this land to get to the Arabian Sea, which they coveted because it would at long last give them a year-round port and access to the oceans. Britain was determined not to let the Russians sink roots here because time and again over the centuries, empire-builders have swept down from this platform to conquer India — which was now Britain’s prize possession. In all the tussles of the twentieth century, the powers trying to invade didn’t care about Afghanistan per se. They invaded it so that their rivals would take it. In the mid-twentieth century came the Cold War. Now, Afghanistan was the nut between the pincers of the Soviet Union to the north and the U.S. and its allies to the south. Pakistan and Iran were firmly under U.S. control but Afghanistan was in play — non-aligned. If the U.S. could get it they really have a fence around Soviet power; if the Soviets could get it, they’d poke a hole through that “containment” fence. Once again, Afghanistan mattered for strategic reasons and no one (except Afghans) cared about who or what was actually in this territory. And strategically, Afghanistan still matters today. Oceans aren’t so important anymore, but Afghanistan makes a perfectly situated air-base. Planes taking off from here can reach Iran, China, India, all the Central Asian former-Soviet-republics, and even Russia.

DHS: In America we seem to have turned the Taliban into the bogeyman, like if we could just get this one group of evil villains under our thumb and into Guantánamo, the problem would go away. Reading your book, I now suspect that this is wrong. Who are the Taliban exactly? Who are they not?

TA: When they first emerged, the Taliban were a single, specific, cohesive group. They had a leader, they had top officials, they had cadre, they had an ideology. They were organized by elements in the Pakistan military, were bound together by a radical Islamist ideology, and served as a tool for Pakistani domination of Afghanistan. Their period of rule was, to some extent, just another foreign invasion of Afghanistan, just like those the British undertook. But then in 2001-02, the United States toppled and scattered that Taliban and they fragmented. Today’s insurgents, so frequently and so casually labeled “the Taliban,” are a motley hodge-podge of anti-government rural folks, remnants of guerrilla armies that roamed the land for two decades, drug traffickers, tribal lords whose power is threatened by the reemergence of a central government, newly emerging criminal networks, fragments of the original Taliban that have re-congealed as rural gangs, and so on. A few al-Qaeda-type Jihadists from the Arab world are sprinkled into the mix, and saboteurs from Pakistan are said to be active in Afghanistan as well; but then, “Talibanist” saboteurs from Afghanistan now roam into Pakistan as well, to make trouble. Basically, the area once divided by a distinct border between two countries (Afghanistan and Pakistan) has dissolved into a belt of unruly, anti-government (any government) militants whose power derives from local sources and amorphous demographic is who we are calling “the Taliban.”

DHS: When you hear about Afghanistan in American media you get the impression there is the Taliban and those against the Taliban. Is Afghanistan really divided like this?

TA: Afghan society features a continuum of values, attitudes, beliefs and affiliations. At one extreme are radical reactionary fundamentalist Islamists, and outward-looking, secular-tending, modernist urban folks friendly to Western values and ideas at the other extreme. But these are merely the extremes, Between the two you’ll find every shade of grey. So it’s not a case of the Afghans being one group and the Taliban another group, with the one attacking the other. It’s more a case of a culture torn by its own contentions and contradictions, a contest that goes a long way back into Afghan history.

DHS: What is my moral obligation as an American, when it comes to Afghanistan?

TA: When the U.S. went into Afghanistan they established a plan that would transform Afghanistan into a secular, Western-style parliamentary democracy and a society in which women participated in public on a par with men and enjoyed equal rights and opportunities. Many Afghan men and women staked their lives on this American project succeeding. They bought into it. They went into businesses that depended on the country moving in the direction the West had laid out. Women dared to emerge as activists, they ran for and won parliamentary seats, they challenged laws, they led demonstrations, they became public figures. If Afghanistan crumbles back into the sort of chaos that wracked it in the 1990s after the Cold War ended and all the foreign powers completely withdrew not just military but civilian and economic involvement in Afghanistan, the people who bought into the project are probably going to be in trouble. Many of them may perish. The U.S. has no choice but to move forward with a withdrawal of at least most of its forces, but this withdrawal has to be conducted in a responsible manner, with some guarantee that America’s partners in Afghan society won’t simply be overwhelmed.

DHS: How much of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is self-serving? And how?

TA: The U.S. has strategic interests in Afghanistan. For one thing, this will be the corridor through which oil and gas from the Caspian Basin will have to pass, in order to reach the West once that oil comes into play; so it’s important that Afghanistan be safe, stable and peaceful in that near future. Also, this land holds the key to the stability of the region as a whole. Chaos in Afghanistan would almost surely trigger chaos in Pakistan, would invite Iran to rush in, would bring China into the picture, which would trigger a reaction from India… Pakistan has nuclear bombs. Even as it stands, Pakistan is unnervingly reckless; if even this simulacrum of a state dissolves, there is no telling who of the many potential successor groups in the country will end up with those bombs. Powerful elements in Pakistan nurse an almost crazed paranoia about India, a hostility that has brought these countries to the edge of war within this decade — if an irrational group fueled by paranoia and hatred gets possession of Pakistan’s bombs, it might decide to settle matters once and for all with India — which also has nuclear weapons. (And now Iran could get such weapon-capability.) What America doesn’t seem to have, particularly, is a self-interested motive related to Afghanistan’s vaunted mineral wealth — the trillion-plus dollars worth of copper, iron, rare-earth minerals and such. The United States has made no move on those minerals, at a time when others, such as China, have worked vigorously to acquire the rights to them.

DHS: What do people think of Americans at this point in Afghanistan?

TA: Over these last few years, a number of events have eroded goodwill toward America among Afghans. Of course sporadic mistaken bombings of wedding parties, of rural children grazing herds, and of other civilians have contributed to this erosion. Of course, Sgt. Bales’ massacre of 16 civilians didn’t help. The NATO policy of conducting “night raids” to arrest suspected terrorists has been a public relations disaster. But to my mind, the single most consequential error was the incineration of Korans in a trash fire by soldiers at Bagram Air Base, especially because Western observers never really understood the gravity of this act in the eyes of Afghans. And yet… and yet… even though many people I spoke to there wanted NATO to leave, some of those very same people expressed the hope that they wouldn’t. All this, however, is in the cities. In the countryside, especially in the south and southeast, I imagine people are more uniformly hostile to the American presence.

DHS: What will it take to have peace in Afghanistan?

TA: There is no certain path to peace. Every road passes through difficult terrain. In the long run, the foreign powers have to find a way to declare Afghanistan a non-aligned zone whose neutrality all outside parties pledge to observe and respect. At the same time, an international consortium needs to oversee continued aid to Afghanistan, ideally to help the country take control of its own vast, rich mineral resources and to develop that wealth. Once outside interference in Afghanistan is curtailed, Afghans will begin to settle scores among themselves. This might be very painful for outside observers to watch, and it might be very tempting for one party or another to intervene in order to make sure the struggle comes out “the right way.” But the outcome in Afghanistan will be meaningful only if Afghans attain it on their own.

DHS: What should America do about Afghanistan?

TA: Build connections, contacts and relationships with all the various factions and forces in the country, leaving a door open to have a diplomatic relationship with whoever emerged as the ruling group, do the hard work of global negotiating needed to ensure Afghan neutrality in the global contests of today, and play a peacemaking role as best it can while gradually easing out of the scene. But that’s easy for me to say. The devil is in the details.

Tamim Ansary can be found at his website. His new book is available online or at a bookstore near you.

 

Bob Calhoun Dishes the Dirt on Comicon, Star Trek, Mitt Romney, Westboro Baptists & Bigfoot

cover_indexfirst met Bob Calhoun when we were on the same bill at one of the greatest literary dives in America, the Edinburgh Castle, deep in the seedy groin of San Francisco’s Tenderloin. Bob is a genuine force of nature. He talks like he has a megaphone in his mouth, and I’m sure that somewhere in his family history a giant procreated with one of his ancestors. He’s lived a wild life, full of extreme wrestling, beer, blood and cornmeal. Combine that with his mad skills as a bona fide wordsmith, and you got a man who’s as fun to listen to as he is to read. He’s got a new book out called Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay, and Conflict on the Expo Floor, and we thought we would pick his brain about the crazy world of fan boys and girls, expos, trade show and conventions.

DAVID HENRY STERRY: What made you decide to write a book about the crazy world of conventions?

BOB CALHOUN: Conventions. I can’t get away from them. I end up going to toy shows or comic cons without even really trying to, and then there are the tradeshows that my job at UC Berkeley sends me to. A week ago I was at the Latino Comics Expo in San Francisco, and at the end of the month I’m going to the California Advancement Researchers Association Conference at the Long Beach Hilton. I’ve finished writing Shattering Conventions and I’m still living it! But at the time I started this book, I thought that since I’m going to cons all the time anyway, what if I went to even more cons? I still ended up going to Comic-Con and “Star Trek” cons, but I also went to a Republican Convention, a conspiracy con, a gun show, a hemp expo, a livestock show, a Bigfoot hunters’ con, and a Twilight con in Portland. I went to every con I could get into. I even got chased out of Moscone Center in San Francisco for trying to get into a Congress of Plastic Surgeons without a press pass.

DHS: What were some of the most ridiculous/fascinating/crazy/sexy/insane things you saw?

BC: Crazy would have to be the Mad Fag for Christ — his words, not mine. He just circled around the parking lot of the Santa Clara Hyatt to protest the California Republican Convention in a white van that had the words “Mad Fag For Christ” painted on one of the sides. I was about to flag him down for an interview, and then this town car pulled up, and Mitt Romney got out of it. It was still a year or so before he was the frontrunner in the GOP race so there was only one woman in a power suit there to meet him. Mitt didn’t have Secret Service protection yet either. That guy in the van could’ve just plowed straight into him. Sexiest would be a bar full of drunk green women at the Vegas Star Trek con. Why didn’t this happen at sci-fi cons when I was a teenager?

DHS: Why do you think people are so obsessed with the world that is embodied by fan conventions?

BC: Well if you can’t be obsessed about obsession what can you be obsessed about? But really, the main reason people go to cons is to be around people just as obsessed as they are, and where they won’t be judged for this obsession. This is true not only for fan cons, but for about any convention really. You go to World of Concrete in Vegas and people are so happy to be around other people who are just as into cement as they are. I talked to a woman at a Twilight con in Portland who told me her favorite con was the raw foods show in Arizona, mostly because everyone there was passionate about raw foods. It was the only place in the world where she didn’t have to negotiate a menu.

DHS: You’re a big guy, but were you ever physically or emotionally scarred by anything you saw or encountered?

BC: I was at a Conspiracy Con at the Santa Clara Marriott. This guy named Texe Marrs was speaking. His whole shtick was that what he called “Satanic Jews” had taken over the world. He started listing the names of Jewish government officials. He’d say “Rahm Emmanuel,” and everyone in this conference room would chant “Jew!” “Ben Bernanke!” “Jew!” They had a mini Nuremberg Rally going on in there. It was pretty revolting. I also had to spend a day with the late Andrew Breitbart at a Republican convention and he called me out during a Tea Party Express rally. That was pretty jarring, but the little Nazi rally at Con Con (they really called it this) was the worst.

DHS: Did you see a connection between the extreme wrestling world of your first book, Beer, Blood and Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Wrestling, and this extreme world of conventions?

BC: The big connection is cosplay. We all like playing dress up. When I was talking to the guys in the 501st Legion, a Star Wars cosplay group, or some Klingons from Daly City, Calif., I had to remember all the time I used to spend digging through fabric remnant bins to put together outfits for the wrestling show. And the reason for that was because of the power you get from masks, uniforms and crazy outfits. Those people dressing like Klingons and Stormtroopers become Klingons and Stormtroopers, at least for a day or two during these cons. A little bit of leopard print made me into Count Dante, the Deadliest Man Alive. When I wore a burlap tunic, I was an ancient Christian fighting a guy in a in lion suit. If you think about it, the Tea Party was able to take over the Congress by dressing like George Washington or Ben Franklin. Cosplay is some powerful, powerful shit.

DHS: How did being in the world of conventions change you?

BC: It made me realize that I’m a lapsed fanboy in the same way that I’m a lapsed Catholic. I can’t get all that excited about the next superhero movie trailer like everyone else at Comic-Con. I don’t have the adulation for this stuff that I used to. There’s a sense of loss with that, but every so often I can sync up with that magic for a moment or two.

DHS: What did you learn from spending all that time in the world of geeks, fan boys and fan girls?

BC: I learned that the discovery of dark matter may make warp drive possible from an early morning lecture by a NASA scientist at Star Trek Las Vegas. I learned that the lighting systems you’d install in a mega-church don’t always work for small congregations at the Christian lighting seminar at the National Association of Music Merchants Show in Anaheim. But the main takeaway was the lengths that people will go to feel a sense of belonging — that often they don’t find this in their own homes and marriages, and that they go searching for it in hotel conference rooms of all places.

TBD: What are some of your favorite conventions?

DHS: My favorite convention by far was the unfortunately named NAMM Show, for the National Association of Music Merchants. They throw this huge tradeshow every January in Anaheim. All the music instrument manufacturers are there with these mega booths. Fender Guitars, Gibson, Marshall amps, and even the makers of bassoons and accordions and sheet music publishers. But what’s amazing about the NAMM Show is that Carlos Santana or Gene Simmons are pressed into demonstrating these companies’ new guitars and amps, so it takes these big rock stars and makes them into product pitchmen, not much different from a Maytag sales rep doing a washing machine demo at a home appliance show. They also have jam sessions that go on past midnight at the two big hotels next to the convention center there, and all the top people from rock, jazz, metal — you name it — end up sitting in on those things, but they always take time in between songs to thank their sponsors.

My other favorite con is the Big Wow Comicfest in San Jose. It’s just an old school comic book convention. It still has that swap-meet feel that the San Diego Comic-Con lost years ago. You can still buy a big stack of 1970s Devil Dinosaur comics there for a few bucks and walk away happy. Comic books still matter at Big Wow, and you can talk to your favorite artists there. Comic-Con is an ordeal, but Big Wow is like old home week.

DHS: What advice do you have for convention goers to maximize their convention experience?

BC: A lot of convention goers spend all of their time rushing from panel to panel — especially at something like the San Diego Comic-Con. They adhere to their schedules and spend a lot of time waiting in line for things. I say free up the schedule a little bit and allow for some random, crazy shit to happen to you. I snuck out of one the Star Trek cons to the hotel bar, and ended up getting chewed out by Gary Lockwood from 2001. That’s a magical convention moment right there, but this wouldn’t have happened if I’d kept my butt glued to a chair in the conference room.

DHS: After spending so much time in the world of conventions, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of mankind?

BC: I’m actually going to go out on a limb and say optimistic. When Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptists showed up with their “God Hates Fags” signs to protest Comic-Con, it wasn’t long before all the fanboys and geek girls inside the convention center were out there counter-protesting with their own signs that said things like “Odin is God; Read Mighty Thor #5” and “God Hates Jedi.” I was in the middle of that thing only a few hours after I’d interviewed George Takei about the struggle for marriage equality. A couple of weeks later and I was at that science lecture at a Star Trek con. No matter how bad things get in this country, Trekkies and sci-fi fans still give me hope for the future.

I do want to add a cautionary note to this however, and that’s to resist the temptation of nerdy triumphalism. I’ve been to sci-fi cons where Adam Malin of Creation Entertainment or Wil Wheaton boast about how nerds have all the best jobs now; how nerds have won. That’s great. We’ve all had enough sand kicked in our faces. But I think nerds need to use their powers to create jobs and opportunities for even their former tormentors; otherwise we end up with the Tea Party threatening to destroy the science and education that we all thrive on. Nerds need to decide if they’re going to be super villains or superheroes right now.
Bob Calhoun used to wrestle men in Sasquatch suits while drunks threw food at him. He chronicled these days of glory in the punk-rock/lucha-libre memoir Beer, Blood & Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling, a national bestseller. His work has appeared in Salon.com, The San Francisco Chronicle, AOL News, Filmfax, Giant Robot and Inside Kung-Fu. He is also the co-author of The Godfather of Grappling, the autobiography of martial arts and Hollywood stunt legend “Judo” Gene LeBell. Calhoun is currently a Sr. Research Analyst at the University of California, Berkeley.

Shattering Conventions Website.

To buy Shattering Conventions.

 

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