David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: writer Page 2 of 3

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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Antonia Crane Talks About Sex Work, Slut-Shaming, Biting Matthew McConaughey and Her New Book: Spent

To read on Huffington Post click here.

I met Antonia Crane when I was putting together an anthology I did about sex work & sex workers. From our first correspondence it was clear she was smart, articulate, funny, talented, ballsy and didn’t take herself too seriously. I knew she had a book in her. Now the book is out of her and into the world. It’s called Spent, and I’m happy to say it’s smart, articulate, funny, talented, ballsy and didn’t take itself too seriously. So I thought I’d pick her brain about sex, money, work, stripping and moms.

David Henry Sterry: I noticed that a lot of pieces in your new memoir Spent were published in other places first. How did that happen? Did it help you become a better writer? Did it help you get your book published?
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Antonia Crane: I started writing nonfiction in grad school about being a sex worker and raging about my mother’s death. I was grieving. I was doing sex work. I have been braiding those two narratives for a while and that texture/tone became the basis for my book. The first great thing that happened was I pitched a column to Stephen Elliott for The Rumpus and he said Yes. Stephen is a Yes man. He seems like he wouldn’t be — but he is such an energy source: an innovator and loves fresh ideas and voices. I sent out essays to a gazillion places, hungry for more yesses. What I got were hundreds of no’s but I kept trying. I kept pushing. I kept writing and I got better. That’s what happens when you work hard.

DHS: How did you learn to become a writer?

AC: By becoming a voracious reader. I have always been in love with books and in love with stories. As a youth, it probably began with Dr. Suess and then Lewis Caroll’s “Alice and Wonderland.” Then I went crazy for Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” and fell in love with J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey.” To become a writer, I simply had to write badly until it gradually got better.

DHS: You reveal such intimate personal things about yourself, stuff that is forbidden in our culture, things that make people uncomfortable. Were you worried about how people would react? Have you gotten any slut-shaming as a result of this book?

AC: The slut-shamers have been disconcertingly quiet. Frankly, the part I was worried about the most was not the sex or sex work at all. I am a grown-ass woman who made her decisions: good or bad. The euthanasia chapter was my biggest concern because there are legal issues and personal issues regarding who was in the building; who was in the room with my mother and I. My step-father was amazing about it. He is a good man who does great things and he and I are on the same page politically. Also, I wondered how my actual Dad would respond but he’s been very supportive. Right after a therapy session recently, I flat-out asked him not to read it.

DHS: There’s long been a raging debate about whether sex work is tantamount to slavery, or on the other end of the bell curve, empowering. Where do you stand on this?

AC: I’m so glad you asked that question. It’s a hard question and one I have been thinking about and writing about for a long time. In fact, this article just came out in <a href=”http://www.thenation.com/article/179147/why-do-so-many-leftists-want-sex-work-be-new-normal#” target=”_hplink”>The Nation</a> that I plan to respond to this week. The article criticizes the “sex work as ‘normal’ work” battle cry of many educated feminists, of which I am one. And I don’t fully buy into that line of thinking either. Some sex work is slavery, for instance, when it is. That line is not confusing to me. Sometimes women are enslaved and this is a horrific tragedy that needs to end. Because, the picture of the woman on a billboard who graduated from Mills College and is a sex worker looks really different from a girl sold by her family into prostitution or a young girl from the tracks here in LA. When it’s a choice, Sex work can be empowering, validating, fun, sad, lonely, humiliating and lucrative. So can waiting tables. But, they are very different jobs because when you throw sex into the mix, all of a sudden people get uncomfortable and threatened. People don’t go get a plate of pasta in a restaurant because they are dying of loneliness. But they will come to women in the sex industry for that reason. It’s a troubling enigma. I stand in the crossroads of this debate and think you should ask a sex worker if she thinks it’s slavery. Then go ask an employee of Walmart and compare answers.

DHS: The stuff in your book about your mom is so vivid and beautiful and sometimes excruciatingly painful. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried when I was reading parts of it. Was it hard to write? Was it liberating? Painful? Or all of the above?

AC: I love tears. I am glad you cried and am honored my writing had this effect on you. I love reading stories that make me feel strongly. My writing sucks when I am not crying while writing it. Tears are my jam. It makes writing in public places embarrassing for my friends.

DHS: It’s really hard to write a good sex scene, but I really like your sex scenes in the book.  They seem so real and vivid. How do you go about constructing a sex scene?

AC: Thank you. I’m always trolling for good sex scenes. Sex is dirty, messy and awkward. There’s this crazy moment in Miranda July’s story “Roy Spivey” where he asks her to bite him out of the blue and he’s a celebrity, like Brad Pitt or Matthew McConaughey (who I would totally bite). I love that moment so much because it’s strange. I think about what was awful and what was awkward and then what I felt like in my gut and go from there. Steve Almond writes great sex scenes because he seems most interested in that little box of shame that happens whenever two people get naked together. I try to remember that and make him proud.

DHS: Is it harder to be a sex worker or a writer?

AC: Writing is the hardest thing in the world. I just got 3 big rejections this week that stung. And the writing is not only excruciatingly hard work, it’s impossible to get paid for it and it’s never done. I was just telling my publisher, Tyson Cornell over coffee that I am too good at stripping and it makes it hard to leave. Sex work is a hard job, but I have clocked in my 10,000 hours so I suppose that makes me an expert. Maybe I should write a self-help book for strippers: A Stripper’s Guide to Making a Killing Every Night.

DHS: You say that you became addicted to sex work. What do you mean by that?

AC: Sex work has saved me so many times in my life and this pattern can become addicting. Stripping and sex work has bailed me out, provided me with sexual validation, attention, money, filled me with desire, made me feel confident, smart and pretty. Also, in terms of direct service, this is a service job, when I make others feel desired and good, I feel like I have purpose. It’s a lot of topless 12-stepping lately, meaning, I find myself babysitting a lot of rich drunk men. I call them cabs and they send them away. Offer me their father’s planes or golf trips to Ireland. But sometimes they cry in my arms. Sometimes it gets very very real. Sometimes I kind of fall in love with them for their vulnerability and I take that into my actually pretty great big life and learn from it.

DHS: I hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for sex workers?

AC: Do something else. While you are there, save your money and invest in your future. Play the long game. Try to remember to be of love and service.

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

AC: The best way to serve your writing is to read. The best way to serve other writers is to actually help them in a solid way. The only way to become a better writer is to write every day like your hands are on fire. Write and dig deep. Deeper. Deeper still.

Antonia Crane is a writer, performer and visiting professor at UCSD. She’s a columnist on The Rumpus and editor at The Weeklings and The Citron Review. Her work can be found in: Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Salon, PANK magazine, DAME, Slake Los Angeles, The Los Angeles Review and several anthologies. Her memoir, Spent is published by Barnacle Books/Rare Bird Lit.
You can Tweet her @antoniacrane and find her book here: Spent.

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.

The Book Doctors on Books, Writing, How to Get Published, & May 22 Pitchapalooza at Word Bookstore Jersey City

The Book Doctors talk about publishing, pitching, how to successfully get your book published, & May 22nd Pitchapalooza at Word Bookstore Jersey City, in the Digest.

http://bit.ly/1fud9w6

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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.

PITCHAPALOOZA WORD JERSEY CITY May 22, 7PM

PITCHAPALOOZA WORD JERSEY CITY May 22, 7 PM

Read coverage of PITCHAPALOOZA WORD JERSEY CITY in The Digest Online

 anderson's pitchapalooza

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: May 22 7 PM

WHERE: Word Jersey City 123 Newark Ave, Jersey City, NJ 07302 · 201-763-6611

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,

 

 

How To Not Pitch a Book: LOL Cartoon

Here’s how to NOT pitch a book!

Chicken Staff Pick @ City Lights: “Hilarious & sad…serious thinking about family & sexuality & addiction.”

“Just published in its 10th anniversary edition, I’ve never read anything quite like this memoir.  David Henry Sterry performs a high-wire act in his vaudevilliain telling of life as a prostitute in 70s Hollywood.  Alternately sad and hilarious, Sterry provokes serious thinking about family, sexuality, and addiction.”
Picked by Stacey chicken 10 year anniversary cover

Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent, Ten Year Anniversary Edition

“Ten years ago, this debut memoir from Sterry burst upon the literary scene with an energy and inventiveness that captured his little-known subject matter—teenage life in Los Angeles as a rent boy working for a benevolent pimp named Sunny whose “rich, generous, horny friends,” Sterry explains, “pay good money to party with a boy like me.” Now back in print, Sterry’s memoir still crackles with its unsparingly honest approach: “I catch myself in the mirror, seventeen-year-old hardbody belly, pitprop legs, zero body fat, and huge hands. I’m seduced by the glitter of my own flesh.” Scenes from Sterry’s early dysfunctional family life not only add pathos to this tale of fall and resurrection but assure readers that he never sees himself as better than his clients, such as Dot, the wealthy 82-year-old, whose only desire is to experience cunnilingus for the first time—a desire that Sterry readily fulfills. “Even though I have no home and no family except for a bunch of prostitutes and a pimp, even though I have no future… at least I’m good at this.” (Oct.) – Publisher’s Weekly

Find Chicken at your local independent bookstore:  Indiebound Amazon

“I walk all the way up Hollywood Boulevard to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre: past tourists snapping shots; wannabe starlets sparkling by in miniskirts with head shots in their hands and moondust in their eyes; rowdy cowboys drinking with drunken Indians; black businessmen bustling by briskly in crisp suits; ladies who do not lunch with nylons rolled up below the knee pushing shopping carts full of everything they own; Mustangs rubbing up against muscular Mercedes and Hell’s Angels hogs. It’s a sick twisted Wonderland, and I’m Alice.”

This is the chronicle of a young man walking the razor-sharp line between painful innocence and the allure of the abyss. David Sterry was a wide-eyed son of 1970s suburbia, but within a week of enrolling at Immaculate Heart College, he was lured into the dark underbelly of the Hollywood flesh trade. Chicken has become a coming-of-age classic, and has been translated into ten languages. This ten-year anniversary edition has shocking new material.

“Sterry writes with comic brio … [he] honed a vibrant outrageous writing style and turned out this studiously wild souvenir of a checkered past.” – Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“This is a stunning book. Sterry’s prose fizzes like a firework. Every page crackles… A very easy, exciting book to read – as laconic as Dashiell Hammett, as viscerally hallucinogenic as Hunter S Thompson. Sex, violence, drugs, love, hate, and great writing all within a single wrapper. What more could you possibly ask for? -Maurince Newman, Irish Times

“A beautiful book… a real work of literature.” – Vanessa Feltz, BBC

“Insightful and funny… captures Hollywood beautifully” – Larry Mantle, Air Talk, NPR

“Jawdropping… A carefully crafted piece of work…” -Benedicte Page, Book News, UK

“A 1-night read. Should be mandatory reading for parents and kids.” -Bert Lee, Talk of the Town

“Alternately sexy and terrifying, hysterical and weird, David Henry Sterry’s Chicken is a hot walk on the wild side of Hollywood’s fleshy underbelly. With lush prose and a flawless ear for the rhythms of the street, Sterry lays out a life lived on the edge in a coming-of-age classic that’s colorful, riveting, and strangely beautiful. David Henry Sterry is the real thing.” –Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight

“Compulsively readable, visceral, and very funny. The author, a winningly honest companion, has taken us right into his head, moment-by-moment: rarely has the mentality of sex been so scrupulously observed and reproduced on paper. Granted, he had some amazingly bizarre experiences to draw upon; but as V. S. Pritchett observed, in memoirs you get no pints for living, the art is all that counts-and David Henry Sterry clearly possesses the storyteller’s art.” – Phillip Lopate, author of Portrait of My Body – Phillip Lopate, author of Portrait of My Body

“Like an X-rated Boogie Nights narrated by a teenage Alice in Wonderland. Sterry’s anecdotes… expose Hollywood at its seamiest, a desperate city of smut and glitz. I read the book from cover to cover in one night, finally arriving at the black and white photo of the softly smiling former chicken turned memoirist.” -Places Magazine

“Snappy and acutely observational writing… It’s a book filled with wit, some moments of slapstick, and of some severe poignancy… a flair for descriptive language… The human ability to be kind ultimately reveals itself, in a book which is dark, yet always upbeat and irreverent. A really good, and enlightening, read.” – Ian Beetlestone, Leeds Guide

“Brutally illuminating and remarkably compassionate… a walk on the wild side which is alternatively exhilirating and horrifying, outrageous and tragic… Essential reading.” – Big Issue

“Visceral, frank and compulsive reading.’ –City Life, Manchester

“Sparkling prose… a triumph of the will.” -Buzz Magazine

“Pick of the Week.” -Independent

“Impossible to put down, even, no, especially when, the sky is falling…Vulnerable, tough, innocent and wise… A fast-paced jazzy writing style… a great read.” -Hallmemoirs

“Full of truth, horror, and riotous humor.” -The Latest Books

“His memoir is a super-readable roller coaster — the story of a young man who sees more of the sexual world in one year than most people ever do.” – Dr. Carol Queen, Spectator Magazine

“Terrifically readable… Sterry’s an adventurer who happens to feel and think deeply. He’s written a thoroughly absorbing story sensitively and with great compassion… A page-turner… This is a strange story told easily and well.” – Eileen Berdon, Erotica.com

“Love to see this book turned into a movie, Julianne Moore might like to play Sterry’s mum…” – by Iain Sharp The Sunday Star-Times, Auckland, New Zealand).

San Francisco Writers Conference: HOW TO GET PUBLISHED SUCCESSFULLY MON FEB. 17 9AM

9 a.m. – Noon to register click hereAandDwithBooks

HOW TO GET PUBLISHED SUCCESSFULLY
This is the greatest time in history to be a writer. The barriers to publishing have been torn down and now anyone
can get published. But getting published successfully is a whole other matter. Arielle and David will take you
through the entire publishing process. This step-by-step, soup-to-nuts workshop will demystify the murky world
of publishing and give you a map and a compass to publishing success. Handouts.

You learn to:
Choose the right idea
Craft an attention-getting pitch
Find the right agent or publisher
Self-publish effectively with ebooks, print-on-demand or traditional printing
Find your audience and build a following through social media

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry have helped dozens of writers become published authors. Their book is
The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully.
Arielle Eckstut, an agent-at-large at the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, co-founded the iconic brand Little Missmatched, and an author of eight books. David Henry Sterry is the author of sixteen books. His books have been translated into ten languages, and one appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. David and Arielle have been featured on NPR, in the New York Times, and have taught everywhere from Stanford to Smith College, and presented at more than 100 bookstores, and book festivals from Texas to Miami, Brooklyn, and Los Angeles.
Fee: $125

Getting Your Children’s Book Successfully Published, with Agent Extraordinaire Jennifer Laughran

As The Book Doctors have traveled all across this great land, we’ve made a startling discovery.  A staggering number of adults want to write books for kids.  And approximately 99% of them have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. They don’t know the rules.  They don’t know the players. They don’t know anything except that they have a great idea for a kid’s book and they yearn with a burning fever to get it published. Between us, we have we’ve thirteen books, four being nonfiction books for tween girls, and the other a middle grade novel aimed at boys.  And Arielle has agented dozens and dozens and dozens of books in her 18 year career as a literary agent.  But so much has changed in the world of children’s books, and so many people seem all fired up to write them, that we thought we’d get the inside skinny from one of our favorite children’s book resources, Jennifer Laughran. Jennifer’s had a fascinating career in the publishing industry, because she’s gone from hand-selling books to readers in brick-and-mortar bookstores, to finding writers who have the right stuff, then figuring out how to present and sell their manuscripts to publishers in the increasingly ridiculous book business.

Book Doctors: How did you manage to end up in the book business?

Jennifer: My first job was in a bookstore, when I was twelve.

Book Doctors: Ah, they got you young.

Jennifer: Exactly.  It may have been child labor; as I recall I got about five dollars a day plus all the stripped copies of Sweet Valley High I could read.

Book Doctors: Who could resist that?

Jennifer: Certainly not me. I spent the next eighteen years working as a bookseller, and then events coordinator and buyer, for bookstores all over the country. I was also a reader and assistant for literary agents for a couple of years before I became one myself. Then I joined Andrea Brown Literary Agency as an agent three years ago.

Book Doctors: So, everyone wants to know, do you need an agent to get a children’s book published?

Jennifer: Ten years ago or more, the answer would have been no. These days, trade publishing is ever-more competitive and none of the major publishers accept unsolicited (i.e., un-agented) submissions. If you are very lucky, very persistent and very well-connected, you may not need an agent. But most authors don’t fall into that category. That said, if you are looking to be published in a niche market, by a specialty educational publisher, regional or smaller independent publisher, you may not need an agent.

Book Doctors: What are the standard age groups for children’s books?

Jennifer: Board books: 0-3. Picture books: 3-7. Chapter book/Early readers: 5-8. Middle Grade: 8-12. YA: 12+ or 14+ (depending on content)

Book Doctors: Does your book have to be a particular length to sit on a children’s book shelf?

Jennifer: Sure. But that varies depending on the age group; picture books are usually less than a thousand words, YA is usually less than 100,000 words.

Book Doctors: Can you sell a book for kids of all ages? How would you go about doing this?

Jennifer: In general, children’s publishers pick one age group that the book is for and publish it accordingly, and if there is crossover, that is all to the good. Every book I can think of that is supposedly “for kids of all ages” does in fact fall into one of those categories above, or is an adult gift or novelty book in disguise.

Book Doctors: If a writer has ideas for illustrations, should she put them on the page?

Jennifer: No. Illustration notes are distracting and almost always unnecessary, and will expose you as a newb.The only time you should put them is if there is some sort of visual joke or device that is totally necessary to the plot of the book, but impossible to deduce from the text alone.

Book Doctors: Is a good idea to have your uncle’s friend’s 18-year-old son who’s pretty good at art illustrate your book?

Jennifer: No.  Let me say again:<em> No!</em>

Book Doctors: Is it ever okay to team up with an illustrator before going to a publisher?

Jennifer: There are some successful folks who are husband-wife or sibling teams or even best-friend teams, where one party is a professional illustrator and the other writes. They work well together and create awesome projects together. That said, these sorts of collaborations aren’t the norm. The much more likely scenario is that a publisher will prefer the text or the art and might be fine with publishing one but not both. Publishers almost always really want to choose their own illustrator.

Book Doctors: If you are an illustrator that has an idea for a kid’s book, but you have no writing chops, how would you go about getting your book published?

Jennifer: I’d learn to write, or get enough published as an illustrator of other people’s works that I developed a reputation with publishers. A big-name illustrator has a much better chance of getting help from publishers in developing a project.

Book Doctors: What are the top 3 mistakes you see in author submissions?

Jennifer: Impatience, Poor Presentation, General Cluelessness. Folks often shoot themselves in the foot by not taking the time to craft an effective pitch, or to target agents specifically, or to query in small batches. They submit material that is deeply flawed, not revised, not finished, or in some cases not even started. They submit material that is totally inappropriate and not what I represent at all because they are blanket-querying every agent in the world simultaneously. I only do kids & YA, fiction yet I daily get queries for erotica and narrative nonfiction.

Ideally, authors would do their homework before they start querying, and their work would be as finished, polished, as close to being ready to sell as possible.

Book Doctors: Does it help to come up with a publicity and marketing plan for your book when querying an agent or publisher?

Jennifer: Sure, though I wouldn’t lead with that; it’d just be a cool bonus if they loved your work enough to publish it already. Most marketing plans sort of grow organically as the book progresses in the editorial and design process and as buzz builds in-house.

A book can take anywhere from a year to several years to be published, and the content of the book, as well as the way it is positioned in the marketplace, are definitely subject to change in that time. That means marketing and publicity pushes that come about just prior to or just after publication will likely look a lot different, and be a lot more effective, than what was being imagined at the query stage. That early in the game, most folks don’t really know what their book is going to be when it grows up.

Book Doctors: Jennifer, on behalf of the Book Doctors and clueless children’s book writers all over America, we thank you.

Jennifer: You are all certainly welcome.

Jennifer Laughran worked in bookstores for years, and is now an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.  She is also the founder of the Not Your Mothers Book Club.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, aka The Book Doctors, are the authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.  They’re hosting Pitchapaloozas–a kinder gentler American Idol for books–at bookstores and libraries all over America. Check out their website http://www.thebookdoctors.com/to see their tour schedule, and for free helpful hints on how to get successfully published.

 

 

Does an Author Really Need a Website? The Book Doctors Interview Annik LaFarge on How to Be a More Effective Author Online

“Do I really need an author website?” We get asked that question every day by an author, or someone who wants to be one. Having spent lots and lots of time and energy constructing one ourselves, we are big believers in author websites, but we decided to take this question to the person we consider the expert on the subject: Annik LaFarge. Annik is the author of The Author Online: A Short Guide to Building Your Website, Whether You Do it Yourself (and you can!) or You Work With Pros. She also happens to have spent twenty-five years as an executive in the book publishing business, working at Random House, Simon & Schuster, Addison-Wesley, and Bloomsbury USA. She began her career as a publicist, and went on to become an associate publisher, marketing director, senior editor, and publishing director. And she was involved in the early efforts to create e-books and develop strategies for digital publishing. In the late 1990s, at the height of the dot com boom, Annik took a year away from publishing to join entrepreneur and journalist Steven Brill in the development and launch of Contentville.com, where she published an original series of e- books and oversaw the website’s bookstore. In 2008 she left publishing to start her own company, Title TK Projects, which specializes in website project management, editorial work, and consulting on digital strategy. Author websites she has project-managed include MitchAlbom.com, FrenchWomenDontGetFat.com, MireilleGuiliano.com and TaraParkerPope.com. Clearly, Annik knows what the heck she’s talking about. So we asked her to share with us the benefits of author websites. She was also kind enough to share with us her 10 ½ tips for being a more effective author online.

THE BOOK DOCTORS: In this age of social media, why is a website still important? Is it possible to just get away with a blog/Facebook page/Twitter presence?

ANNIK LAFARGE: Even in this age of social media, having a website is really, really important. A recent study by the Codex Group showed that that websites are one of the key ways people find out about books. Surprisingly, in terms of new book discovery, Facebook and Twitter are much less influential than author websites. Some of the reasons for this have to do with SEO (search engine optimization) and keywords. When you type in an author’s name, his/her website is first thing that comes up. To be the first result that pops up in a Google search is reason enough to have a website. This visibility gives you the opportunity to control your message and to craft the experience that you want that person who is interested in your work — that person who has taken the time to Google you — to see. Your website also gives you the opportunity to capture people’s email addresses and to build a newsletter list. Your mailing list is extremely important, even if you’re a literary fiction writer. People who give you their names and email addresses are telling you that they’re interested in you and your work and want to know more about you; they want to be kept up to date. Even just a 100-person list matters because you can use it as a mini-focus group, testing book covers and plot ideas, and you can easily alert your fans about new releases. And over time that list will grow and grow.

THE BOOK DOCTORS: What are the top mistakes authors make when designing their websites?

ANNIK LAFARGE: The biggest mistake I’ve seen is building a website and not using it. People get excited, build the engine and then let it just sit there. You need to have a plan for your website — a monthly and yearly plan: what sort of content will you launch with? What will you add as time goes by? How frequently will you post new material? Enough to blog? If so, what will the voice of your blog be? What will be the first 10 things you write about? I tell authors to plan for their website the way they do for a new book: write an outline, like a book proposal, that includes not only the “big think” — the overall substance and point of view of the website — but also a list of all the different pages and what they’ll contain. Think of it as a business plan for your site. Or to put it in more literary terms, it’s like mapping out a long piece of nonfiction — for both the hardcover and the paperback edition.

THE BOOK DOCTORS: A lot of struggling writers are concerned about the costs of setting up a website. I know you write about doing it yourself, but if you don’t have the time or inclination, what’s the minimum a person can spend and still have something that looks professional?

ANNIK LAFARGE: Anybody should be able to get a fine looking blog/website using WordPress, Sandvox (only available for Mac) or Squares Space; these are content management systems that allow you to customize a site off an easy-to-use template for nothing (in the case of WordPress, which is purely open source) or less than a hundred bucks. If you’re working with WordPress pick a theme you like at themeforest.net— my favorite of the theme sites but there are zillions on the web. And if you’re intimidated by technology then hire a designer who can create a nice banner and who knows how to do the basic programming (so you don’t have to hire a separate programmer). This can be done for as little as $500 and most designers these days are very comfortable in WordPress particularly. BUT, there is a very strong argument to be made for building a website yourself. Writers care enormously about how they present their ideas and their presence on the page, and having control over their own “content” is extremely important. Understanding how your website or blog works — how to post new material, set up new sections, add photos and videos, link up with Facebook and other social media venues — means that you can always make changes and additions whenever you like; you’ll never be dependent on a webmaster or an overworked publicist again. For many authors a website is their beating heart in the public space. Creating one can feel daunting — anything more technical than Microsoft Word intimidates many writers — but it’s enormously empowering and creative, and the technology has evolved to the point where honestly anyone can do it. You can map out the structure for your website — e.g. create your own “wireframe,” which is to a website what a blueprint is to an architectural project — at a cool new site called GoMockingbird which is very easy to use and inexpensive. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way, using a pencil and an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of manuscript paper. But sketching out a site — putting your plan on paper — is a great way to work through your ideas about who you want to be on the web, and it can save you lots of time and frustration later on.

THE BOOK DOCTORS: You are now a self-published writer. What platform did you use? What was the costliest part of the process? What was your favorite part of the process.

ANNIK LAFARGE: I went the more complex route by setting up my book at many different retailers. I used Amazon’s Create Space for the POD (print-on-demand) paperback version of my book and am very happy with them; they have great customer service and excellent help documentation. Early on I decided I wanted my book to look like a real book — even the ebook version — so I paid a designer to do a proper interior and a cover. I thought I could do the Kindle conversion myself but I made a real hash of it, so I sent the manuscript to ebookconversion.com and let them create the ePub edition. Then I set up accounts at Apple’s iBookstore (using iTunes Connect), Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! for the Nook), and Google Editions, and I simply uploaded the file at each place, created all the metadata (description, bio, etc.), and I was in business. For awhile I even sold a PDF of the book myself, on TheAuthorOnline.com, using an online tool called e-junkie, which allows you to sell digital products very easily and inexpensively. I could have gone to Lightning Source, which is a great company, and they would have streamlined the whole process for me, but I wanted to learn about each and every step along the way myself, and I make more money this way on every sale. It was time-consuming, but generally fairly easy to do. The most complicated part was dealing with Bowker who you have to go through to acquire an ISBN (the unique identifier for your book that retailers use to display and sell your book). But I’ve trained myself to go into what my partner Ann calls “the Sufi state” and become deeply patient before I visit any e-commerce site I want to partner with. I’ve found that eventually I can slog through and figure out just about everything I need to do, and there’s a particular satisfaction in that. Call it author empowerment. What I love about ebooks and POD is how nimble they allow an author to be. You can update the content any time you like, and also change the price at will. You don’t get locked into decisions. And if you set up your own website, as I did with TheAuthorOnline.com, you get the benefit of the huge amount of traffic data that Google Analytics provides — for free. So you can learn a great deal about who your readers are. My advice: start slow, be smart, have fun, and just get on with it.

Annik’s 10 ½ Tips for Being a More Effective Author Online

No. 1: Think Like An Author

One of the things that authors (unlike other mere mortals) do is organize their thoughts and ideas. You don’t just sit down and write a book from page 1 to 300; you do a lot of thinking, researching, and planning. Tip #1 is to approach your web project in the same spirit. Put on your author hat and make notes and an outline. Start with several general questions that will help inform the overall organization of your website or blog:

Who am I as an author? If you were writing the opening graf of a newspaper profile of yourself, what would you consider the ideal description of your work? Where would you place the greatest emphasis? Where the least? And then: What do my readers want? What sort of questions do they ask you when you make public appearances? What do they say when they write letters or emails to you? And: What do I want my readers to know about me that they may not currently know? This is your chance to write the Ur Q&A. Consider it a work-in-progress: post it, then keep adding to it as time goes by and your writing and career develop.

No. 2: Make a Content Plan, Part 1: Static Elements

Make a list of static elements that you want to include on your website: content that doesn’t get constantly updated or newly created like entries in a blog. First focus on things that you already have or would be easy to create: sample chapter(s); biography; reviews; Q&A; etc. Then start another list: stuff you’d love to add in the future (The Author Online contains an exhaustive list of features that readers say they like on author websites). Then go back and prioritize your master list and arrange the items into broad categories that could serve as the navigation on your site: Books (do you subdivide Fiction & Non-Fiction?), Bio, Journalism, About, etc. These are the categories that make sense to you, based on the work you did in Tip No. 1.

No. 3: Make a Content Plan, Part 2: New Elements

Consider where your new content will come from. Do you want to blog? (Do you have time to blog? Will you run out of steam after 3 months?) Will you write occasional articles/essays to post on your site? Will you share early chapters with your fans? Invite them to vote on jacket art from your publisher? Will you constantly post new links to bloggers, videos, new studies/research in your field, etc.?

No. 4: Be Smart Today and Plan to Grow in the Future</strong>

Websites evolve. The best thing you can do is be smart and focused at the beginning, and assume that you’ll grow your online presence with time and valuable feedback from fans, traffic data, and other sources. So if you’re just starting out be honest with yourself about how much time you can devote to your site; be ambitious but also realistic about your plan for adding new content. Focus on quality of content not quantity, and always circle back to the questions you asked yourself in No. 1: what do your readers want? What do you want them to know about you? Then think about what’s the best way to deliver that on your site and map out a plan for the coming months. And be sure to keep a handy list of “Future Features” and ideas for new content. Tip 4a Set up a Dropbox account and keep your list in the cloud so you can always access and update it. This is particularly handy if you travel a lot, and you can install Dropbox on any mobile device. (See here for more about how Dropbox works. While you’re there, check out Evernote, another great app that helps you keep track of stuff you find online.)

No. 5: Build a Mailing List

Even if you don’t intend to send out an email newsletter create a sign-up form and place it conspicuously on every page of your website or blog. Do this on Day 1. You may not see a reason to have an e-letter today, but in a year or so you may. People come to your website because they like your work or they’re interested in your subject; give them a simple way to stay in touch. An author’s email list has tremendous value, and it will grow over time. Start now.

No. 6: Use an ESP

Use a professional email service provider (ESP) like MailChimp or Constant Contact. Some of these services are free until your list reaches a certain size (like MailChimp) and there are many benefits: they provide simple templates for creating professional-looking emails; easy opt-out links for your subscribers; and vast riches of analytic data about who opened your emails, what they clicked on, how many times they forwarded it, where they live, etc. From that data you will learn to do things better and more effectively in the future.

No. 7: Be Creative About Your Newsletter Signup

You don’t go on the radio and simply say “buy my book, it’s a great read.” You say: “buy my book because I describe all the best tools and strategies for killing a zombie and tell you how to prepare yourself in both an urban and a rural setting.” So in your newsletter signup offer some specifics about what your emails will deliver. For a very good example of a smart newsletter sign-up see the form that  SocialMediaExaminer.com uses. They promise a value-add (a free video tutorial on using Twitter), and the text has a real voice. Another example of a creative newsletter signup is the blog CrazySexyLife.com. The first signup box I saw there (in 2009) had three separate options: daily, weekly and monthly, so the reader could choose how much of author Kris Carr’s stuff she really wanted. Recently Carr updated her newsletter signup and it’s still great, but very different and now she also offers a free piece of content for folks who sign up. You’ll find screenshots of all these examples at TheAuthorOnline.com/newsletter

No. 8: Use Google Analytics

Set up your Google Analytics account on Day 1 and get addicted. As you gain traffic you will find this a terrific editorial tool because you’ll know what your readers are looking for, what they actually spend time reading, where they come from (country, state, city), and much more valuable data. Nothing will teach you more about how you’re doing online than Google Analytics, and it’s free. Don’t forget: launch it on Day 1.

No. 9: Visit Your Own Site Regularly

Go to your website at least once every few weeks and test your links (they have an uncanny way of breaking for no apparent reason). While you’re there, chances are that something will strike you: “gee, I could do this better,” or “that featured article is feeling a bit long in the tooth, it’s time to replace it with something else.” Be objective, be critical, be creative. Test new things and check the results in Google Analytics. Then lather, rinse, repeat.

No. 10: Have Fun, Be Empowered</strong>

Websites are stressful — everybody knows that. But remember all those times you had a great idea for your publicist and it just never got off the ground? Well, guess what: with your own website you can do a whole lot on your own. And once you start understanding how to use it well, and you get in the groove (and you build up your mailing list, social networking fan base, RSS subscribers….) you’ll be able to reach your readers directly whenever, however, you want. And you can invite them to provide their feedback, both publicly (through blog comments, message boards, and of course in social networking environments) or you can keep things quiet and just enable people to email you via the site. You can start small and grow. Most of all, can you can do it yourself. Visit TheAuthorOnline.com for a rich (and constantly updated) list of resources, sample author and book-specific websites, online tools, articles, links, and more. Please email me and tell me what you think I can do better, or simply alert me to your web project. I’m interested, and many others are too. Most of all, have fun.

Good luck with your project!

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.

Society for Children’s Book Writer’s & Illustrators Gives Great Review of the Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published

We just got a wonderful review for The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published  (to buy click on link).  Here’s the Essential Guide in SCBWI Bulletin.

The essential guide cover_

NaNoWriMo Webinar: Making Editing Your Novel Fun: Jan. 29 8PM EST/5pm PST

Making Editing Fun: How to Enjoy Revising Your Novel Successfully $60

The first 200 writers who sign up by January 28 will receive invitations via email to participate in this webinar, which will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 29, from 5:00 PM – 6:30 PM Pacific. If you can’t join the webinar live, we’ll happily send you a link to the recording afterward.111411_nanowrimo-1

About the Webinar

One of the hardest thing for Nano writers is to take their beautiful but unshaped pieces of clay and turn them into glorious works of art that agents, publishers and readers will fall in love with.  But what may seem a confusing and slightly terrifying task
can actually be a systematic and easily understood process. And yes, it can even be fun!

Join the Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, who have helped talented amateurs become professionally published authors. Between them, they have over 30 years of experience in the publishing business, and have authored, agented and/or midwived hundreds of books, including The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully.

The Book Doctors will show you how to:

•      Start off with a bang

•      Check character arcs

•      Pace properly

•      Build suspense

•      Open and close chapters

•      Avoid repetition avoid repetition avoid repetition

•      Trim fat

•      Make the most of your title

•      Know when to show and when to tell

•      Avoiding clichés

•      Keep dialogue real

•      Check for words you use over and over and over again

•      Read aloud

•      Kill your babies

•      Find beta readers

•      Get objectivity

•      Use your pitch to perfect your plot

The Book Doctors will also randomly select a number of first paragraphs from attendees’ manuscripts during the webinar to demonstrate what a professional edit look likes. Send your first paragraph in the body of the email to nanowrimo@thebookdoctors.com when you sign up.

Register now!

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.

Jerry Stahl With the Skinny on Fatty, Republican Sun Gods, and Happy Mutant Babies

To read on Huff Po click here.

interview-jerry-stahlI first met Jerry Stahl at the Los Angeles Book Fair, back when it was held at UCLA in Westwood, the second happiest place on earth.  It was blazing hot, and Jerry was sitting in a booth trying to promote his book, squirming like a bug under a microscope as all the happy peppy people passed by.  He looked like something out of a Kafka novel written by William Burroughs, a writer about to be transformed into a junky cockroach.  Which is basically how I felt, having been in a booth trying to promote my own book next to Hollywood legend Janet Leigh, who was signing her new memoir, and had a line of adoring fans snaking around the block.  While I sat there sweating like an amateur smuggler being interrogated at customs while a hundred bags of junk clogs his colon.  Jerry is one of those rare writers who goes between Hollywood screenplays and novels.  He writes dark subversive stories and he somehow continues to get away with it.  I should, for the sake of full disclosure, admit that he is one of my favorite writers.  Steeped in the grand tradition of Noir which has spawned such writers like Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy and Dennis Lehane, he also brings a wicked black LOL comedy to the table.  Which is a very hard thing to do.  <em>Happy Baby Mutant Pills</em> is his new book, a scathing, rollicking indictment of the pharmaceutical/chemical industry told from the perspective of a dope fiend hack who writes the horrifying disclaimers which come with almost all modern drugs.  So I thought I’d check in with Mr. Stahl and pick his brain about Big Pharma, killing someone with a paperclip in the bathroom of the downtown LA Bus Depot, and the sick sordid business of publishing.

David Henry Sterry: What made you decide to write something about the wretched pharmaceutical industry?  And why did you choose to attack the subject from the POV of the guy who tells us that being bitten by a werewolf may lead to “mild euphoria, feelings of newfound power, sudden appearance of full-body pelt and canine incisors during a full moon.  Some patients report disturbing ‘incidents,’ followed by memory loss and occasional incarceration.  See your doctor if you experience rapid ‘bulking up,’ four-legged gait, urge to urinate outdoors or kill and eat people”?

blog-stahl-080813Jerry Stahl: The question would be “why not?” Sometimes a voice just feels right for the time. During a period of world-class insomnia, I found myself zoning on Morning Joe at four in the morning. But as soon the commercials came on — inevitably remedies for torments of the depleted testosterone, excess fat or frequent urination variety — I found myself riveted. Beneath the blatant comedy fodder of a product supposed to boost your manhood that can actually shrink your testicles, there’s a deeper unspoken and ultimately soul-crushing message: sure we might give you bleeding eyeballs, rectal ooze and suicidal thoughts — but guess what? Apparently your life is so hellish that busloads of people just like you have decided the only way to survive it is to take our pills — no matter how grotesquely unpleasant the side effects. If you want to understand America, follow the pharmaceuticals. Ironically, the reason I had insomnia is that I was on a toxic cocktail of drugs as part of a pharma-company trial to try and cure the Hepatitis C I’d had for decades, from being a junky. The non-FDA-approved medication wiped out my virus in a week. But the pills were so toxic, the doctors told me I couldn’t so much as touch my pregnant wife’s skin after I’d touched one. We either had to separate or have sex in bee-keeper suits. Think about that. One wrong move and the baby could’ve looked like a jellyfish with Tony Robbins teeth. Of course the pharmaceutical industry is appalling, but they also saved my life. It’s a moral dilemma. What if you have appendicitis and Joseph Mengele takes out your appendix? Do you shoot him once you’re up and around? The eternal question.

DHS: I was trained as a writer in the Disney system, where everything is plotted out beforehand to the point of strangulation.  Which explains, in part, why Disney movies suck so hard, and why the nickname for the company inside those hallowed halls is Moushwitz.  Do you spend a lot of time outlining and working on plot before you start writing?

JS: Wow. I’d heard Walt Disney was anti-semitic, but I didn’t know he ran a camp. Anyway, outlines give me hives. Somewhere Mailer said writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see about 20 feet up the road with your headlights, and once you cover that twenty feet, you can see the next twenty. You don’t know what you’re going to do next until you find out what you just did. For me voice is more important than plot. If I fall in love with a voice, I’ll follow it anywhere. In Nicholson Baker’s new novel, the narrator is riveting on the subject of lawn sprinklers. Burroughs can spend ten pages talking about his big toe, and I’m in. Mary Gaitskill, Raymond Chandler, Flannery O’Connor, Rick Moody — I’m not sure I could tell you the plots of any of their work, but I could probably recite entire sentences, because the voices got in my head. Screenplay-wise, outlines are a necessary contrivance. The people giving you money want to know how you’re going to get from A to whatever comes after A. In real life, plot is something you don’t see until its over and you look back, trying to figure out what the fuck happened.

DHS: You write with such gruesome, grotesque Grand Guignol style, are you ever tempted to try to tame the beast and write something that won’t offend, upset and turn off a huge chunk of the fly-by states?  And do you ever get pressure from your publishers to do so?

JS: One man’s Grand Guignol is another mans’ weekend with the family. My favorite DeLillo line, from <em>White Noise</em>, is “the special grotesquerie of sane men leading normal lives.” Who gets to be arbiter of offensive vs. non-offensive? The inventory manager at Walmart? It’s a lame construct. (Not to mention, the Walton family keeps hundreds of thousands of employees in gnawing poverty, while they themselves live like Republican Sun Gods.) Fuck that. You want upsetting: how about, everybody you ever know and love is going to die, many in less-than-felicitous fashion, and there’s not a fucking thing you can do about it? It’s right there in the Bible. Beyond that, while they may not be reading me, I would guess there’s just as much gruesome in so-called flyover states as there is anywhere else. Don’t the Cheneys live in Wyoming? For the record, don’t think I never write about sunshine buttercups. For a while I’ve had a column in The Rumpus, OG DAD, about being a late-life second-time-around father. I’m a font of adorable tot anecdotes. Plus which, trust me, you haven’t gone near Grand Guignol until you’ve been front and center when your baby’s tearing out of the birth canal and your wife is screaming obscenities that would make Linda Blair blush and there’s enough gore on the sheets to make In Cold Blood look like Ellen. When my first child was born I was on heroin, and when my second was born, I remembered why I needed the shit. It looked like an axe murder. The most beautiful moments in life are not the most genteel, except in romance novels. To me, the scariest artist on the planet was Thomas Kinkade. As for my publishers, I’m lucky. They realize by now that I’m not Mitch Albom.

DHS: You’ve written a real memoir, Permanent Midnight, and a fake memoir, I, Fatty.  Is there a difference as you approach this material, as you were writing these similar, but clearly different kinds of books?

JS: It’s funny, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who at one point was going to play Arbuckle, told me when we met that he read I, Fatty as another memoir — except in this one I’m disguised as a fat silent movie star. Which rang so true it made me squirm. Sometimes the author is the last to know. At readings, there are always people who tell me they found Permanent Midnight brutal and I, Fatty almost, you know, sweet. To me it’s the other way around. I recently had to re-read <em>Permanent</em> — out loud, for the book-on-tape. What surprised me is how, reading it now, PM has a kind of naiveté that I couldn’t see when I wrote it… But then I look at Fatty’s story, which — on the surface — couldn’t be more different than mine. Here’s an abused and abandoned fat boy who grows up to be a wildly successful and visionary baby-man movie star. The first actor to make a million dollars. Loved by the world until the world decides he’s a virgin-raping pig and publicly shames him into prison and penury. Hands down, I Fatty strikes me as a much more brutal book. Maybe Hoffman was right. Because I was emotionally naked behind the fat-suit — like Anton Scalia under his robes on Casual Court Fridays — I was able to show all the pain, without all the fireworks, in a way I didn’t have the chops, or the heart, to do in Permanent Midnight. Picasso said “Art is the lie that reveals the truth.” To me it’s the other way around.

DHS: <em>Happy Baby Mutant Pills</em> is written in the first-person, and it feels, in form anyway, like a memoir.  What advice do you have for writers who want to take material from their own life and turn it into fiction?

JS: I’m a sucker for an unreliable narrator. And there’s an immediacy to first person that I love. Advice-wise, I would only say that, in my life, there are moments that have felt more like fiction than reality. Or maybe it’s just that I had to dissociate to survive. (I think it was Robert Stone who said writing a novel is like sanctioned schizophrenia — or maybe it was Cher.) In any event, those are the moments that inspire. On some level, the real subject of any first-person fiction is how the narrator sees the world. Whatever happens after “Call me Ishmael,” Melville lets Ishmael hold the camera.

DHS: What was your inspiration for the paperclip in this temple murder scene, which is somehow a hysterically funny and disturbingly graphic attack on all the senses, particularly the olfactory?

JS: I should probably say that, as I was writing the novel, I found myself idly performing a lobotomy with my Number 4 pencil. (I actually typed “slobotomy,” which is a better word.) But why lie?  I can’t remember where that came from. I just remember why it came. My theory has always been, when you don’t know what to write, write something you’ve never read before. As for the olfactory issue, let’s just say, death doesn’t smell good. If you’ve been there, I don’t have to explain. If you haven’t, God bless, are you in for a big surprise.

DHS: They say you should write what you know.  Clearly you know a lot about ingesting, injecting, being addicted to and getting clean from heroin.  But did you do a lot of research into the pharmaceutical industry?  Because it seems like you have a keen insider’s insight into that giant soul sucking industry.

DHS: I love to research. I always over do it, until I’m crushed under stacks of shit I absolutely have to get in the book — but which, if I included even half of, would choke the thing to death in five minute. What gets in is half random, half obsessive. For example, with a baby on the way I was obsessed with breast milk, which it turns out now includes everything from toilet cleaner to lithium. And that’s the healthy alternative. I have no insider’s insight, just an outsider’s obsession. Every time I see the olestra ad, with the famous “anal leakage” side effect, I think, some guy had to get up in the morning, drag his ass to the subway, get to the office and sit down with his Dilbert mug and his shitty MacDonalds apple turnover and actually write that. To some extent, this novel is my way of saying “Hats off!”

DHS: Who are some of your favorite writers, and why?

JS: It’s a changing roster. The last ten books I read and loved were Sam Lipsyte’s The Fun Parts; Michelle Tea’s Valencia; Lit by Mary Karr, Me and the Devil by Nick Tosches; Gun Machine by Warren Ellis, The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus; Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, by Joe Sacco & Chris Hedges; I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan and — a couple of yearly re-reads — The Demon by Hubert Selby Junior and Denis Johnson’s Jesus Son. You couldn’t think of more disparate writers. But what unites them — for me — is that they all say things no one else is saying, in ways no one else is saying them. That’s what I crave in writing — and any other genre: artists who say the unsayable, or try to.

DHS: You move back and forth between writing for the screen and writing books.  How is your approach different in these two mediums?

JS: For me, scripts are harder because they require more social skills. You can hide out in your pad and bang out a 800-page novel and never have to speak to a soul you don’t want to speak to. With movies — and I say this with love — when you’re not writing you’re talking to people all the fucking time. Sometimes they’re talking while you’re writing. That’s the nature of the beast. You can’t have a character blow his nose in his tie without justifying it. Which isn’t necessarily bad, just a different process. The best thing about movies & television- when it’s not the worst thing — is collaborating.  I’ve been on a good run — I worked a couple years with Philip Kaufman on Hemingway & Gellhorn, which was like being paid to go to film school. Larry Charles and I have been writing together, working, among other things, on turning Pain Killers into a cable series, Manny & Mengele. LC’s got so many great show biz stories, I keep bugging him to do his memoir, because I’d kill to read the fucking thing. A couple weeks ago I did an episode of Maron, which meant hanging in a room with Marc Maron and a bunch of comedians. Fucking heaven.

DHS: Why did you choose to reveal to the American public that you were a heroin addict?  What with the repercussions?

JS: The repercussions? I can’t say I thought about them. I was so desperate, I didn’t think about the pros and cons of ‘revealing’ anything. I was trying to survive. What can I say? I got a book deal and I didn’t look back. Once the check cleared, I got the money to stop living in the electricity-free, no plumbing basement of a crackhouse and actually get my own apartment. I got to stop going to the bathroom in restaurants. I bought a bed. The little things. People think just cause you give up dope, your life works out. In fact, once you give up dope, it just means you have to deal with all the shit in it without any buffer. On the natch. Which is harder, in some ways, than being on dope. The negatives? Inadvertently hurting some people I cared about by how I handled them in the book. I could have done a better job. And wish I had. But I’ve tried to make amends — and pay back all the money I borrowed or stole. That book, and every thing that happened after, was a miracle, but the bigger miracle was getting off dope in the first place. Getting clean doesn’t mean you’re Mr. Happy Guy the rest of your life. It just means you stop being Mr. Junky Asshole. As for the public, I don’t think we spend a lot of time thinking about each other.

DHS: Cocaine was my drug of choice, and I swear whenever I see someone snorting up a big fat juicy line, my nostrils start twitching and all I want is to perform the sacramental ritual: the chopping, the smoothing into lines, the rolling up of the $20 bill, and the Great Suck.  I’m just curious, when you see someone on TV or in the movie shooting up, do you get a knee-jerk nostalgia for banging dope?

JS: Occasionally I see some skeek nodding and drooling at a bus stop, and I get a little jealous. You know that fucker isn’t sweating the mortgage. He’s living the dream. Usually when somebody shoots up on TV, they’re doing it wrong — jabbing the rig in and slamming the plunger down without getting a register, which takes me right out of the scene. One of my first jobs in the movie business was needle wrangler on Permanent Midnight. Not to brag. I had to show Ben Stiller how to draw blood back in the syringe. It’s been downhill from there.

DHS: Who would you rather party with, Fatty Arbuckle or Ernest Hemingway?  Why?

JS: Budd Schulberg told me that whenever he met Hemingway, Hemingway wanted to box. But if you were a better fighter than him — which Schulberg  was — Hemingway would get pissed off and sulk. So I’m gonna go with Roscoe. I don’t know about party, but I would have loved to hang with Arbuckle after Hollywood chewed him up and spit him out. After he’d been smeared by Hearst and jailed and — despite being found innocent three times — universally shunned. He couldn’t buy a gig, and just being seen with him made you socially suspect. But he made a comeback — not because he needed redemption — but because he wanted to make movies. Imagine the kind of heart that takes.

I don’t trust anybody who hasn’t been to hell. And Arbuckle survived an inferno, public and private, I can’t even begin to contemplate. I don’t necessarily want to meet those who achieve “greatness.” But I am in awe of people who survive the unsurvivable.

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

JS: Don’t do it if you don’t have to. But if you have to, have no expectations. And don’t listen to any advice anybody has about writing. Just get your ass in the chair. The best thing anyone ever said to me on the subject was Bruce Jay Friedman, who wrote two of the funniest books in the English language, Stern and A Mother’s Kisses. He said, “When you write a sentence that makes you squirm, keep going.” I’ve been pretty much squirming ever since.

Jerry Stahl’s memoir, Permanent Midnight, was made into a movie starring Ben Stiller and Maria Bello, and his novels include Pain Killers, Perv — A Love Story, Bad Sex On Speed, Plainclothes Naked,  I, Fatty (optioned by by Johnny Depp)  and his latest, Happy Mutant Baby Pills (optioned by Ben Stiller.)  Among other places, his much-translated fiction and journalism have appeared in Esquire, Playboy, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, The Believer and Details, where he was Culture Columnist for three years — and his blog, “OG Dad,” appears irregularly on The Rumpus. He has written extensively in film and television, including, most recently, the HBO film, “Hemingway & Gellhorn” & the odd episode of the IFC series, “Maron.” (He also appears in this tiny movie directed by Larry Charles, with whom he is collaborating on a cable series, Manny & Mengele.)   Anthony Bourdain said, “Jerry Stahl should either get the Pulitzer Prize or be shot down in the street like a dog.”

David Henry Sterry is the author of 15 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, and activist. His new book, Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition, has been translated into 10 languages. His anthology, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. The follow-up, Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks</a>, just came out. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Penthouse, Michael Caine, the London Times, Playboy and Zippy the Chimp. His new illustrated novel is Mort Morte.  He is also co-founder of The Book Doctors, who have helped dozens and dozens of amateur writers become professionally published authors. They edit books and develop manuscripts, help writers develop a platform, and connect them with agents and publishers. Their book is The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.

Top 10 Tips for Making a Great Pitch (with Bonus NPR Interview)

The essential guide cover_ Your pitch is one of the most powerful and underrated arrows in your quiver as you attempt to scale the walls of Publishing Castle.  Here are just a few helpful tips.

1. A great pitch is like a poem.  Every word counts.
2. Make us fall in love with your hero.  Whether you’re writing a novel or memoir, you have to make us root for your flawed but lovable hero.
3. Make us hate your villain.  Show us someone unique and dastardly whom we can’t wait to hiss at.
4. Just because your kids love to hear your story at bedtime doesn’t mean you’re automatically qualified to get a publishing deal. So make sure not to include this information in your pitch.
5. If you have any particular expertise that relates to your novel, tell us. Establishing your credentials will help us trust you.
6. Your pitch is your audition to show us what a brilliant writer you are, it has to be the very best of your writing.
7.Don’t make your pitch a book report.  Make it sing and soar and amaze.
8. A pitch is like a movie trailer.  You start with an incredibly exciting/funny/sexy/romantic/etc. close-up with intense specificity, then you pull back to show the big picture and tell us the themes and broad strokes that build to a climax.
9. Leave us with a cliffhanger.  The ideal reaction to a pitch is, “Oh my God, what happens next?”
10. Show us what’s unique, exciting, valuable, awesome, unexpected, about your project, and why it’s comfortable, familiar and proven.

Here’s a link to interview I did about pitching for NPR.

We’re offering free 20-minute consultations (worth $100) to anyone who buys a NEW copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published.  Just email sterryhead@gmail.com and we’ll set up your consultation.

Book Clubs: Read Chicken & Have Me as Your Special Guest

Book Clubbers: I found out recently that three different book clubs are reading Chicken. One is right here in my home town of Montclair, NJ. I’m going to speak with them after they finish the book, something I love doing. So I thought I’d offer this to all Book Clubs who are bold and brave enough to choose Chicken to read.  I will come to your group if it’s in the NJ/NYC area. Or I will Skype with you if you are anywhere else on Earth. And I will give away FREE personally signed book plates for everyone who wants one.  Thanks, Daviddavid encyclo haPPY

chicken 10 year anniversary coverChicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent, Ten Year Anniversary Edition

“Ten years ago, this debut memoir from Sterry burst upon the literary scene with an energy and inventiveness that captured his little-known subject matter—teenage life in Los Angeles as a rent boy working for a benevolent pimp named Sunny whose “rich, generous, horny friends,” Sterry explains, “pay good money to party with a boy like me.” Now back in print, Sterry’s memoir still crackles with its unsparingly honest approach: “I catch myself in the mirror, seventeen-year-old hardbody belly, pitprop legs, zero body fat, and huge hands. I’m seduced by the glitter of my own flesh.” Scenes from Sterry’s early dysfunctional family life not only add pathos to this tale of fall and resurrection but assure readers that he never sees himself as better than his clients, such as Dot, the wealthy 82-year-old, whose only desire is to experience cunnilingus for the first time—a desire that Sterry readily fulfills. “Even though I have no home and no family except for a bunch of prostitutes and a pimp, even though I have no future… at least I’m good at this.” (Oct.) – Publisher’s Weekly

Find Chicken at your local independent bookstore:  Indiebound Amazon

“I walk all the way up Hollywood Boulevard to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre: past tourists snapping shots; wannabe starlets sparkling by in miniskirts with head shots in their hands and moondust in their eyes; rowdy cowboys drinking with drunken Indians; black businessmen bustling by briskly in crisp suits; ladies who do not lunch with nylons rolled up below the knee pushing shopping carts full of everything they own; Mustangs rubbing up against muscular Mercedes and Hell’s Angels hogs. It’s a sick twisted Wonderland, and I’m Alice.”

This is the chronicle of a young man walking the razor-sharp line between painful innocence and the allure of the abyss. David Sterry was a wide-eyed son of 1970s suburbia, but within a week of enrolling at Immaculate Heart College, he was lured into the dark underbelly of the Hollywood flesh trade. Chicken has become a coming-of-age classic, and has been translated into ten languages. This ten-year anniversary edition has shocking new material.

“Sterry writes with comic brio … [he] honed a vibrant outrageous writing style and turned out this studiously wild souvenir of a checkered past.” – Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“This is a stunning book. Sterry’s prose fizzes like a firework. Every page crackles… A very easy, exciting book to read – as laconic as Dashiell Hammett, as viscerally hallucinogenic as Hunter S Thompson. Sex, violence, drugs, love, hate, and great writing all within a single wrapper. What more could you possibly ask for? -Maurince Newman, Irish Times

“A beautiful book… a real work of literature.” – Vanessa Feltz, BBC

“Insightful and funny… captures Hollywood beautifully” – Larry Mantle, Air Talk, NPR

“Jawdropping… A carefully crafted piece of work…” -Benedicte Page, Book News, UK

“A 1-night read. Should be mandatory reading for parents and kids.” -Bert Lee, Talk of the Town

“Alternately sexy and terrifying, hysterical and weird, David Henry Sterry’s Chicken is a hot walk on the wild side of Hollywood’s fleshy underbelly. With lush prose and a flawless ear for the rhythms of the street, Sterry lays out a life lived on the edge in a coming-of-age classic that’s colorful, riveting, and strangely beautiful. David Henry Sterry is the real thing.” –Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight

“Compulsively readable, visceral, and very funny. The author, a winningly honest companion, has taken us right into his head, moment-by-moment: rarely has the mentality of sex been so scrupulously observed and reproduced on paper. Granted, he had some amazingly bizarre experiences to draw upon; but as V. S. Pritchett observed, in memoirs you get no pints for living, the art is all that counts-and David Henry Sterry clearly possesses the storyteller’s art.” – Phillip Lopate, author of Portrait of My Body – Phillip Lopate, author of Portrait of My Body

“Like an X-rated Boogie Nights narrated by a teenage Alice in Wonderland. Sterry’s anecdotes… expose Hollywood at its seamiest, a desperate city of smut and glitz. I read the book from cover to cover in one night, finally arriving at the black and white photo of the softly smiling former chicken turned memoirist.” -Places Magazine

“Snappy and acutely observational writing… It’s a book filled with wit, some moments of slapstick, and of some severe poignancy… a flair for descriptive language… The human ability to be kind ultimately reveals itself, in a book which is dark, yet always upbeat and irreverent. A really good, and enlightening, read.” – Ian Beetlestone, Leeds Guide

“Brutally illuminating and remarkably compassionate… a walk on the wild side which is alternatively exhilirating and horrifying, outrageous and tragic… Essential reading.” – Big Issue

“Visceral, frank and compulsive reading.’ –City Life, Manchester

“Sparkling prose… a triumph of the will.” -Buzz Magazine

“Pick of the Week.” -Independent

“Impossible to put down, even, no, especially when, the sky is falling…Vulnerable, tough, innocent and wise… A fast-paced jazzy writing style… a great read.” -Hallmemoirs

“Full of truth, horror, and riotous humor.” -The Latest Books

“His memoir is a super-readable roller coaster — the story of a young man who sees more of the sexual world in one year than most people ever do.” – Dr. Carol Queen, Spectator Magazine

“Terrifically readable… Sterry’s an adventurer who happens to feel and think deeply. He’s written a thoroughly absorbing story sensitively and with great compassion… A page-turner… This is a strange story told easily and well.” – Eileen Berdon, Erotica.com

“Love to see this book turned into a movie, Julianne Moore might like to play Sterry’s mum…” – by Iain Sharp The Sunday Star-Times, Auckland, New Zealand).

Huffington Post: The Book Doctors Interview Roxanna Elden on Getting a 2nd Shot at Publishing Success

SeeMeAfterClass_2ndEditionCover-1To read on Huffington Post click here.

When we first met Roxanna Elden during our workshop at the Miami Writers Institute, she said she had an idea for a teacher book. This made us skeptical at first — we’ve run publishing workshops for years, and in that time we’ve met hundreds of teachers who wanted to write books. Quickly, though, we realized Roxanna’s idea was different: a book that debunks Hollywood-movie teaching myths (see Hilary Swank, Edward James Olmos and Michelle Pfeiffer), and shares honest, funny stories and practical advice from teachers around the country. She described it as “Hard Liquor for the Teacher’s Soul.” Arielle and I were impressed, but we know writing doesn’t work like Hollywood either. Many talented writers give up before their work gets into the right hands. That’s why, along with quality writing, thorough research, and smart networking, our workshop emphasizes a fourth component: Persistence. Roxanna took this message to heart.
See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers was first published in 2009. Unfortunately, just as the book was beginning to gain national attention, the original publisher stopped printing its entire line of career books. Situations like these, as we mention in our book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, can test even the most persistent of authors. But take heart, orphaned authors. The book caught the attention of Sourcebooks — one of our favorite publishers. A second edition of the book is out this month with an even better cover, a top-notch publisher, and an author with several years of experience promoting a published book. We are now checking in eight years since we first met Roxanna when she was a writer dreaming of being an author at our workshop. We asked her about teaching writing, writing about teaching, and getting a second shot at publishing success.

The Book Doctors: Congratulations on the second edition, but let’s start at the beginning. When did you start writing your book and why?

Roxanna Elden: My younger sister began teaching three years after I did, and during her first year, I started writing the book I needed during my first year — a funny, honest, practical collection of stories and tips from veteran teachers. There are so many books that share heartwarming teaching stories, but on a day when a second grader curses at you, you don’t want to read a heartwarming success story. You want to read a story about a kindergartener punching a teacher in the eye. You need to know that teachers can bounce back from their worst days and still go on to become successful. Then you need to know the next manageable step you can take to be a better teacher in the morning.

TBD: What has changed for teachers since the first edition of your book came out?

RE: New teachers today spend a ton of time comparing their unedited footage to other people’s highlight reels. They are also caught in the middle of political debates about education that have become much more public, polarized and angry. New teachers are usually not interested in getting caught up in politics, though. They just want to focus on getting kids to stop throwing wet toilet paper at the bathroom ceiling.

TBD: What has changed in your life since you first became a published author?

RE: I’m now a relatively experienced teacher, but I have recently become a rookie parent. It’s been a long time since I’ve been a beginner at something where the stakes are so high, and it kind of brings me back to that feeling of being a beginning teacher.

TBD: How does being a new parent compare to being a new teacher?

RE: Both teachers and parents need humor, honesty, and practical advice. The most important difference, however, is that there is that there are very few parents who quit within five year. Nearly half of all teachers do quit within five years. At low-income schools, half of all teachers leave within three years. Students at low-income schools are much more likely to have a rookie teacher at the front of the classroom. Any lessons new teachers learn the hard way, they learn full of a class full of kids. <em>See Me After Class</em> lets them know they are not alone.

TBD: You have attended the Miami Writers Institute for many years. How did that community help you with the writing and selling of your book?

RE: People travel from all over the country to attend the Writers Institute at Miami Dade College. I’m lucky enough to live ten minutes away. The Writer’s Institute has been like an express train, moving me to each new publishing milestone faster than I could have gotten there on my own. They offer workshops and opportunities that help with every part of the process. My first time attending was the year the Book Doctors were presenting. Your book and workshop gave me a map to follow that kept me from taking unnecessary detours. In later years, I attended workshops on structure and revision that helped make the book everything it could be. Four years into the process I met my agent, Rita Rosenkranz, at a workshop she was presenting on non-fiction book proposals at the conference.

TBD: For many authors, finding an agent is one of the most difficult parts of the publishing process. What was the process like for you?

RE: It was the longest part of the publishing process for me, and the most difficult, ego-wise. I spent many weekends eating pizza in my pajamas and reading “The Rejection Section” of your book. Then, each time, I would decide I’d put in too much work to quit, and start researching other agents. Most of my early queries led to one-line emails and rejection form letters. Then I started getting personal rejections with feedback. Later there were agents who showed interest at first and then said no after months of preparation on my part. This was frustrating, but their demands forced me to strengthen my platform — I launched a website, began performing standup comedy, and began finding public speaking opportunities. I also became a National Board Certified Teacher, which enhanced my credibility within the teaching profession. When I attended Rita Rosenkranz’s workshop about four years into the process, I immediately had the feeling that all of my experiences with other agents — even the frustrating ones — had prepared me so I would be ready when I met her. I handed her a business card and followed up by email the same day. Within a week we had a contract, and less than a month later she got a great contract with our first publisher. Later, when the book went out of print, she acted immediately to get the rights back and find a new home for the book at Sourcebooks, who has done an amazing job with the second edition. Without Rita’s help I would never have had the courage to switch publishers, and even if I did I can’t imagine I would have ended up with such a good one.

TBD: What is different in your promotional plan this time around?

RE: For this edition, I am starting with a much larger network of people who have read the book and are now happy to help promote it. The past four years have also provided a tremendous opportunity to connect with other writers and organizations that work with teachers, which has also helped in promotional efforts. Best of all, in the process of speaking to spread the word about the first edition, I’ve realized I love speaking to teachers and others interested in education. The past few years have brought many new offers for paid speaking opportunities, which has led to an unexpected side-career speaking on a variety of education-related topics.

TBD: We usually hate to ask writers to give writing advice, but you teach writing at a high school — what advice do you give students based on your own experience as an author?

RE: I usually don’t tell students that I’ve written a book until late in the year. Then I do a short unit on the publishing process and also try to relate it to other careers in which people advise you to “keep your day job:” music, acting, art, dancing, etc. I have a Xeroxed packet of my past rejection letters that I pass out early in the talk. Then I tell students the happier parts of the story. In the process, I try to reinforce the same four points your workshop emphasized four years ago, adapted for a high school audience: Put in the time to do it right, make an effort to meet people who can help you, and do your homework to see where you fit into your market. Most of all, be persistent: even if you hit roadblocks along the way, the story is not over until you say it is. But also keep your day job.

Roxanna Elden is a National Board Certified high school teacher. Her book, See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, is a funny, honest, practical guide with tips and stories from teachers around the country. Elden also speaks on a variety of education-related topics. For more information visit www.seemeafterclass.net.

The Book Doctors have helped dozens and dozens of amateur writers become professionally published authors. They edit books and develop manuscripts, help writers develop a platform, and connect them with agents and publishers. Their book is The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Anyone who reads this article and buys the print version of this book gets a FREE 20 MINUTE CONSULTATION with proof of purchase (email: david@thebookdoctors.com). Arielle Eckstut is an agent-at-large at the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, one of New York City’s most respected and successful agencies. Arielle is not only the author of seven books, but she also co-founded the iconic company, LittleMissMatched, and grew it from a tiny operation into a leading national brand that now has stores from Disneyland to Disney World to 5th Avenue in NYC. Her new book is The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet.  David Henry Sterry is the author of 15 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, and activist. His new book is a 10 year anniversary of his memoir, Chicken, an international bestseller, which has been translated into 10 languages. His anthology, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. The follow-up, Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks, just came out. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Penthouse, Michael Caine, the London Times, Playboy and Zippy the Chimp. His new illustrated novel is a coming-of-age, Mort Morte, black comedy that’s kind of like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, as told by Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. He loves any sport with balls, and his girls.  www.davidhenrysterry.com

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.

 

The Art of the Memoir: Rebecca Tells Her Dirty Little Secret

51312Kszf2L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_ Rebecca has a dirty little secret. And now she’s telling the whole world. Because it’s a dirty little secret that way too many girls and boys, men and women carry around with them, locked away in their closets. And she wants to do something about that. We first met Rebecca at our Kansas City Pitchapalooza. When she pitched us her book, it was clear she had something special. But it wasn’t ready to be published yet. There was work to be done. Lots of writers tell us they’re serious about getting their book published. But they don’t build the house brick by brick. Rebecca is one of the hardest working writers in show business. She just kept grinding away and grinding away. Yes, she has tons of inspiration. But she also cranks out the necessary perspiration. Now that her first novel, My Perfect Little Secret, is about to come out, I wanted to ask her about what it was like to write her book, about the publishing process, and yes, her dirty little secret.

The Book Doctors: What made you want to write about such a difficult topic?

Rebecca Glenski Coppage: I wrote about a teenage girl struggling with an eating disorder because it’s something I am very familiar with. It was easy for me to write about something I know and understand so well. I also wrote about this topic because I feel like there are not enough novels out there for teenagers that have a strong character who is dealing with an eating disorder. There are tons of self-help books and textbooks about eating disorders, but I don’t think that’s what teens want to read. I wish a book like mine had existed when I was in high school, and that made me want to write it for teenagers now.

TBD: How did having an eating disorder change your life, and how did you get over it?

RGC: Having an eating disorder impacted my life in every aspect. It made high school and college a very difficult road for me. I protected my secret at all costs, which meant building walls and not getting close to people. I kept friends, boys, and family at a distance because I couldn’t let them find out about my eating disorder. It made it hard to socialize, to make new friends, to keep the friends I had. I didn’t get to have the typical college experience because halfway through my first semester, I had to leave to get treatment for my eating disorder. It made my dreams harder to accomplish, and it took away some really amazing opportunities. I missed out on building strong relationships, I missed out on dating opportunities, and I had to start college over. Keeping a wall up around you is exhausting and it makes every part of your life that much harder. That said, it made me a much stronger and more secure person after having gone through it. It has shaped the person that I have become today. It took many, many years for me to “get over” my eating disorder. The process has been long, with several relapses. Essentially, it consisted of learning to see myself in a different light and retraining my thought process regarding my body and my relationship with food. I credit my family and my husband for their support, love, and open minds with helping me heal.

TBD: Was it hard to write about such a painful thing when it’s so personal?

RGC: To be honest, writing this book was very freeing for me. An eating disorder is a difficult topic to write and talk about but so many people suffer from this in silence. It is a problem that touches so many teenagers all over the country, and all I had to do was remind myself of that when the writing became difficult. I want my book to be a voice and to help teenagers feel like they have someone to relate to.

TBD: Why did you choose to make a novel instead of a memoir?

RGC: For me, there was never a thought of a memoir. I didn’t want to tell my story. While having an eating disorder is a subject very familiar to me, I didn’t want to write about myself. I wanted to create a character, explore her life, and tell her story. It was fun to have the creative freedom to develop Lilly and to not worry about if I was getting the facts straight. I’m not going to deny that Lilly’s character and her life have many similarities to mine when I was in high school, but this novel is not the story of my life.

TBD: Tell me about your road to publication — what were some of the pitfalls and what were some of the joys?

RGC: The road to publication was so incredibly long and difficult. It was filled with a lot of rejection and a lot of waiting. The worst parts of trying to get your book published are the rejection letters from agents saying they aren’t interested in your book. It is also hard to hear criticism of your book when you have spent so much time working on it and developing it. It was especially difficult for me because many of my rejection letters stated they weren’t interested in my book because it was an “issues” book. Essentially, they don’t want to represent a book about an eating disorder because it’s a controversial topic. Even with all the pitfalls, I kept my head up and persevered until I found people who were excited about my book. Now here I am with a published book! I think one of my biggest joys on the road to publishing was receiving my first few reviews! Reading all the positive feedback and finding out that teenagers really enjoyed and related to my book was amazing!

TBD: What do you hope people take out of reading your book?

RGC: I hope that people, especially teenagers, walk away from my book with a sense of being understood. Part of having an eating disorder is that it is this huge secret. No one talks about it but it is around us everywhere. So many people I talk to about my book reveal that they suffered from an eating disorder or that they struggled with poor self-image. If they didn’t, they know someone who did. I want readers to know that they are not alone. I also want the reader to know that having an eating disorder does not negate the fact that she is a normal person with hopes and dreams.

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.

 

Writers, You Need a Platform: Or the Power of Facebook for Authors

 “Is’t possible that on so little acquaintance you

should like her? that but seeing you should love

her? and loving woo? and, wooing, she should

grant? and will you persever to enjoy her?”
— William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act V, Scene II

s-GET-PAID-TO-WRITE-A-BOOK-smallEvery day published, self-published and unpublished authors breathlessly ask us, “Do I really have to have a Facebook page, and if so, what the heck do I do with it?” We will endeavor to answer these questions. But there are also a lot of questions we are not asked, but we think authors should be asking. Our goal is to present a roadmap that will help any writer navigate this increasingly complicated — and crucial — cyber-landscape.

While we get our Facebook on every day, we turned to two experts, Annik LaFarge and Antonella Iannarino, to give us the skinny on the latest and greatest ways to use this monster of a tool.

Annik spent 25 years in the publishing business in senior marketing, editorial, and publishing positions. Today she runs her own company that specializes in online project management, editorial work, and consulting on digital strategy. She recently wrote The Author Online: A Short Guide to Building Your Website, Whether You Do it Yourself (and you can!) or Work With Pros. Antonella, an agent and digital media maven at the David Black Agency, has helped authors like Mitch Albom get their websites and Facebook pages up and running. Here Annik and Antonella offer us both the Big Think about how to use Facebook and also some more granular how-to information (just follow the links…) that will help you get started today.

First, Annik addresses the most popular questions The Book Doctors hear from authors about Facebook:

1) How many Facebook fans is enough to impress a publisher?

What seems like a lot of fans to one publisher might seem paltry to another, so rather than think in terms of actual numbers I urge you instead to think about growth. Facebook’s analytic tool called Insights allows you to easily track the number of monthly active users, Likes, wall posts, comments and visits that your page receives, along with the increase or decrease on a week-to-week basis. So pay attention to that data and aim to present your publisher with a percentage of growth rather than a fixed, context-less number. More impressive will be the fact that with active use and engagement you grew your key metrics by ten or twenty percent over a period of several months or a year. That shows dedication on your part, and demonstrates that you understand how to provide high value content to your readers. Even more impressive will be the number of Likes your page has garnered from fans. Read on and you’ll understand why.

2) Should I set up a fan page for my book or just use my personal page?

You should set up a fan page because these are accessible to anyone on the web, whether or not they’re Facebook members. And they don’t have to be your friends to access it; the page is open to anyone. This way you can post special content or links on your Facebook page and mention it in media interviews. For all of you Luddites out there, Antonella wrote a great primer about how to do this: The 7 Essential Elements for an Author’s Fan Page. Everything you need to know is there, along with screenshots plus a link to a piece that outlines all the important settings for your Facebook page. At the end of this article we’ve offered a few examples of author fan pages that you can use to generate ideas of your own.

3. When should I set up my Facebook page — when I start writing/once I have a book deal/once my book comes out?

It takes time to build an audience. The sooner you begin the more time you’ll have to grow your fan base and start learning — by studying your Insight analytics — what sort of content resonates with them. Start as soon as possible. How about tomorrow afternoon?

4) How often should I communicate via Facebook? What is too much?

You’ll know when it’s too much because the postings will feel forced. Communicate as often as you have something worthwhile to say. Being consistent is good, but not essential. Some people insist that you should post to a blog or Facebook page at least once a week. I think the better rule of thumb is: always default to quality, not quantity. Your friends and fans have other things to read; just make sure that whatever they find on your page is worth their time.

5) I’m worried about privacy issues. What should I do?

You don’t need to include personal information on your page. You do need to provide some details when first signing up for a personal account with Facebook, but that’s for registration and you can keep that information private through your privacy settings. But for your Page, the only details you can elect to include on your “Info” tab that might be of concern are your birthday and contact information. Think carefully about posting your birthday online. The upside is that your friends can send you nice messages, wishing you a happy birthday. The downside is that your date of birth is used by banks and other institutions as a legal identifier, and so there are reasons to keep it private. Antonella points out that some people include their zodiac sign and list their publisher’s address or a P.O. box for fan mail. As for managing information on your personal profile, our best advice is to closely monitor your settings and stay up-to-date on changes that Facebook makes. They happen often, and are widely discussed online. Often, Facebook’s default options are not pro-privacy. So pay attention, and ask your friends what they do if you’re unsure. And of course, use common sense about what information you share. Anywhere.

6) Should I put up pictures? Video? What kind of picture should I put up for my profile?

If your pictures and videos enhance what you’re sharing on Facebook then sure, use them. But don’t post any visual media just because you have it. Post it because the stuff is worthy of being posted — because it helps you amuse, entertain, educate, engage. And use something dignified. A goofy picture of you and your dog is okay for your personal page but not, perhaps, the image you want to leave potential book buyers with. Many authors (myself included) use their book cover instead of a photograph. That’s fine too, just try to keep the image relevant to you and your work.
Now that Annik and Antonella have covered the questions The Book Doctors get on a daily basis, we want to introduce the questions you should be asking, but aren’t. Take notes!

1) So now I know I need to get people to “Like” my page. What’s the best way to do this so I can build my list of friends/fans?

Two ways. First, post relevant, engaging content: questions, insights, books you’ve read, etc. Give people a reason to visit your page, make it interesting, interactive, and a true reflection of you and your work. Then tell people about it in all the ways available to you: link to it from your website or blog; place a link in your email signature; mention it on the flap or back cover of your books; send a message with a link to all your personal Facebook friends asking them to join your book page by clicking the Like button; etc.

2) What’s the deal with the “Like” button and why is it so ubiquitous?

As you may have noticed, the “Like” button that appears at the top of a fan page, is now showing up in lots of other places: on people’s blogs, next to products on online stores, and in nooks and crannies all over the World Wide Web.

I recently had a conversation with Greg Lieber who runs business operations for GraphEffect, one of the fast growing social advertising platforms that Facebook works with closely. They develop and manage Facebook campaigns for large brands that go way beyond the spookily targeted ads you see in the right column of your Facebook page.

He helped me understand the basics of how Facebook works by explaining that its algorithm, EdgeRank, gives a value to all of the items that appear in your News Feed and that a huge component of this is the number of Likes and comments that are associated with it.

So let’s say you have a blog and you’ve installed a Facebook plug-in that places a Like button alongside each post you write. When someone clicks the Like button your post appears in that person’s Facebook News Feed and becomes visible to all of their friends, plus it includes a link back to your blog.

This allows people to discover your work and enables them to either like the post directly in the feed or to click on the post and like it directly from the post itself. As the likes increase via Facebook’s viral channels the value of the post increases in EdgeRank and makes the post more likely to appear in your friend’s News Feed. However there are other factors at play: for example, if there’s a friend or page you interact with frequently on Facebook, then this person or page’s post will likely appear towards the top of your News Feed. Another factor is timing: the older your post, the less likely it is to appear in the News Feed of your friends. Finally, the “weight” of the post’s feedback plays a role, meaning that comments on a specific post are going to have a greater impact than ‘Likes’ of that same post.

[Side note: you may have recently seen that new “Send” button on Facebook. It’s similar to the Like button, but allows you to share a link privately with a friend or Facebook group using Facebook email. Whenever someone clicks it, it does increase your total like count, but it will not show up in the newsfeed.]

3) What sort of landing page should I have?

Creating a special “landing page” that people will see when they first come to your page is an effective way to use Facebook almost as you would the home page of a website. You can convey the “voice” of your site (in words and images) and tell folks what sort of regular content you’ll be providing there. A good example of this is a company called Global Basecamps, a popular eco-tourism business. See how their landing page expresses what the business is all about, tells you a bit about what they offer (weekly travel quizzes!) and, most important, encourages you to hit the Like button. Once you’ve Liked their page you’ll start landing, in future visits, on the wall page where they post all kinds of useful, interesting, amusing, content. The more good stuff they post, the more their visitors hit the Like button. And the more they hit the Like button… well, you know about that now.

But be warned: Facebook recently changed — and made more complex — the programming language that members use to customize their pages. Today creating a landing page requires some knowledge of basic programming. Antonella’s 7 Essential Elements for an Author’s Facebook Page article has some very helpful background information and tips for how to get started (see #7), and she also includes links to third party apps that you (or your developer) can use.

4) Should I connect my Twitter feed or my website to Facebook?

Probably, but if all you feed to Twitter is your Facebook status updates you’re not making your Twitter account unique. Best of all: create unique content for each platform and give people a reason to follow you in both places.
Now that we’ve laid down the basics, look around at some author pages on Facebook and see what you like (lower case…) and admire. Some people share a lot, others very little. But it bears repeating: follow the quality over quantity rule and post your updates and links with care. Offer value to the people who come to your page, and remember that because you’ve made it public anyone can come there — it’s not just your friends and family. Think about all the many different kinds of people who might end up there — young or old, familiar with your work or not, interested in just one aspect of a subject you cover, etc. Visit your page periodically like you’re a perfect stranger, and consider how the content, style and look may strike those different audiences. Then review, update, revise. And for goodness sake, whatever you do, have fun!

Tegan Tigani, Kid’s Book Buyer: How to Successfully Publish Your Children’s Book

2013-06-13-tegan.jpg We first met Tegan Tigani a few years ago while we were on tour in Seattle. She was so excited to give us the grand tour of her kingdom: the Queen Anne Book Company kids section, where she is the book buyer. Her enthusiasm and passion for books was completely contagious, she was exactly the kind of evangelist you want selling your book. We’ve subsequently used her to edit several of our clients’ children’s books, and she is one of the most knowledgeable people we’ve met when it comes to books in general and kids books specifically. So we thought we’d pick her brain to find out some of the secrets to successfully publishing a children’s book.

THE BOOK DOCTORS: So, how did you get started in the ridiculous business of books?

TEGAN TIGANI: Serendipity!!! I’ve always loved reading, bookstores, and libraries; I volunteered and worked in my high school library back in the day. When I moved to Seattle from Rhode Island after college, I thought I was going to work in museums and education. (I studied History of Science in school.) My first day in town, the first place my then-boyfriend-now-husband took me was Queen Anne Books. As we left, new purchases in hand, I commented to him, “I’d love if I could get a little part-time job in a place like that until I find my real job.” The next day, the owners posted a sign that said “Book lover wanted.” I started working there that week. That was over 14 years ago.

TBD: Tell us what you do at Queen Anne Book Company.

TT: I am a bookseller and the Children’s Book Buyer. We all wear many hats, so I help with event coordination, website design, and all sorts of other things, but I spend most of my time recommending books, ringing up purchases, and meeting with publisher reps to decide what great new books we’ll carry in our kids’ and teen sections each season.

TBD: It’s been an incredible saga, what with the closing and re-opening at Queen Anne. What the heck happened?

TT: I wish I really knew! In April of 2012, a new owner bought Queen Anne Books, which had been beloved in the community for over 20 years. By the end of October 2012, she closed the store. After a truly sad holiday season, the community got the great news that a new owner and management team wanted to start a brand new bookstore in the location of the old Queen Anne Books, and Queen Anne Book Company was born. The new owners were able to hire four staff from Queen Anne Books, so we have some continuity even with our fresh, clean start.

TBD: What grabs you in a children’s book?

TT: In picture books, I tend to gravitate toward books that beg to be read aloud but also stand up to hours of flipping pages independently… I want something that uses clever, age-appropriate language and has illustrations that really contribute to the story. I find that good picture books are so crucial to readers’ developing comprehension; I love a book that makes the adult and child look at the picture and text again and really mull things over.
TBD: Why is there a prejudice in the picture book world against rhyming?

TT: Ha– I almost put “great rhymes” in my previous answer! So I don’t think there’s a prejudice against rhyming; I just think it’s very hard to do it right. If it’s not just right, you shouldn’t force it, so it’s better to go with prose. One of the biggest delights during my bookselling career was discovering Skippyjon Jones. I remember when that first came out, the rhymes were so good, we couldn’t stop reading it aloud to each other in the store. If you can get the rhythms of poetry to work in a kids’ book (Dr. Seuss!), it’s magical. If it’s not, even the youngest listeners will cock their heads, know something is off, and choose another book to read next time.

TBD: What mistakes do you see children’s book authors make?

TT: I have a very hard time with children’s books that are too preachy. Some kids and parents enjoy a concrete lesson, but most readers I know like to draw their own conclusions from books. I also wonder if some children’s book authors actually read their books aloud before they submitted them. Pacing and language are tremendously important in picture books, and I think reading aloud is one of the best ways to check if you’ve gotten it right.

TBD: What advice do you have for people who want to write a children’s book?

TT: Think about the audience. Before, during, and after, children’s book authors need to consider who they want to reach with their book. If they keep the audience in mind, voice, vocabulary, pacing, even subject matter will match, and the book will be more successful. My other piece of advice is to let the professional illustrators do the illustrations. I’m delighted by the layers of meaning well-done illustrations can add. The right illustrator can make a good book great.

TBD: Thanks, see you at the bookstore!

TT: Thanks, you too!

Tegan Tigani loves connecting readers and books, whether as bookseller and children’s book buyer at Queen Anne Book Company, tutor, freelance developmental editor, ghostwriter, editor of nwbooklovers.org, vice president of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, Seattle Book Examiner, blogger at tsquaredblog.blogspot.com, or party guest. When she isn’t reading or talking about books, she enjoys traveling, cooking, eating, and walking (sometimes all at the same time). She lives with her husband in Seattle.

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

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The best, most comprehensive book for writers is now completely revised and updated to address ongoing changes in publishing. Published in 2005 as Putting Your Passion Into Print, this is the book that’s been praised by both industry professionals (“Refreshingly honest, knowledgeable and detailed. . . . An invaluable resource”—Jamie Raab, publisher, Grand Central Publishing) and bestselling authors (“A must-have for every aspiring writer.”—Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner). With its extensive coverage of e-books, self-publishing, and online marketing, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published is more vital than ever for anyone who wants to mine that great idea and turn it into a successfully published book.Written by experts with thirteen books between them as well as many years’ experience as a literary agent (Eckstut) and a book doctor (Sterry), this nuts-and-bolts guide demystifies every step of the publishing process: how to come up with a blockbuster title, create a selling proposal, find the right agent, understand a book contract, develop marketing and publicity savvy, and self-publish. There’s new information on how to build up a following (and even publish a book) online; the importance of a search-engine-friendly title; producing a video book trailer; and e-book pricing and royalties. Includes interviews with hundreds of publishing insiders and authors, including Seth Godin, Neil Gaiman, Amy Bloom, Margaret Atwood, Larry Kirshbaum, Leonard Lopate, plus agents, editors, and booksellers; sidebars featuring real-life publishing success stories; sample proposals, query letters, and a feature-rich website and community for authors.

Praise for the First Edition of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published (Previously published as Putting Your Passion Into Print)

“A must-have for every aspiring writer . . . Thorough, forthright, quite entertaining.”—Khaled Hosseini, bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns (Riverhead)

“Before you write your own book, read this one. Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry understand the process of publishing—their advice will help you envision and frame your work so that publishers will be more likely to perceive its value.”—Jonathan Karp, publisher, Simon & Schuster

“I had no idea that the code of publishing would be as hard to decipher as the secret language of adolescent girls. If only I had Putting Your Passion into Print when I started writing!”—Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabees, the book that inspired the movie Mean Girls (Three Rivers)

Putting Your Passion Into Print changed my life. I read and reread each of your chapters, lived by your organizational and promotional advice, and, despite all odds, my rather uncategorizable book is a success. With no track record or cash, we’ve gotten onto TV and into national print media, been blurbed by the LA Times and the Village Voice, and sold out a third of our print run within three weeks of launch.”—Molly Crabapple, author of Dr. Sketchy’s Official Rainy Day Colouring Book (Sepuculture Books)

“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.”—Timothy Ferriss, bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek (Crown)

Putting Your Passion into Print has been absolutely invaluable through this whole process! It’s on my bedside, with dozens of post-its peeking out!”—Veronica Wolff, author of Master of the Highlands Series (Berkley)

“Arielle and David did a masterful job at deconstructing our complicated, often irrational industry. Putting Your Passion into Print is fun to read and brutally honest, but it’s also energizing and inspiring.”—Lynn Goldberg, CEO, Goldberg McDuffie Communications

“I curled up in a big chair and read Putting Your Passion into Print like a novel. Written with insight and humor, it takes us through the writing process from idea to sequel. I wish I had a book this thorough and thoughtful and downright indispensable for every aspect of my life.”—Karen Cushman, author of the Newbury Award winner The Midwife’s Apprentice and Newbury Award runner-up Catherine, Called Birdy (HarperCollins)

“This is a terrific book. It’s practical, it’s fun to read, and it totally demystifies the publishing process. Whether you are just setting out to write a book, or already have several published books under your belt, you will find this an invaluable resource. There is no doubt in my mind that it will become a standard of the industry, sitting right alongside Writer’s Market and The Chicago Manual of Style. (And let me tell you—it’s a much better read than either of those books could ever dream of being!)”—Rick Beyer, author of The Greatest Stories Never Told Series (Harper)

“I took myself to lunch today and brought along Putting Your Passion Into Print, and I’ll be damned but it made me remember why I love this business and why the suffering is all worth it in the end. It’s a terrific book that finally put me in a good mood again.”—Annik LaFarge, former publisher of Bloomsbury Books

“You know all those books sitting on your shelf about how to get published? Well, you can finally unload them at your garage sale because this book is all you’ll ever need. A-to-Z, Soup-to-Nuts, this is the most comprehensive guide available on how to become a published author.”—Nancy Levine, author of The Tao of Pug (Penguin)

“These two know everything about the book business and share every detail in this fabulous book. Putting your Passion into Print answers every question you have with playful charm, wisdom and savvy. If you’ve written a book, are writing one or are just thinking about it, you NEED Putting Your Passion Into Print. It will make a marvelous gift for all of your writer or would-be writer friends. You’ll love it.”—Susan G. Wooldridge, author of poemcrazy (Three Rivers Press)

“This book is a must-have! I cannot say enough about how helpful, inspiring and dead-on it is.”—Tracy Davis, author of My Husband Ran Off with the Nanny and God Do I Miss Her (self-published)

“I got an agent and a publisher for my book within 3 weeks of submitting the proposal—and not a single rejection letter! When would-be authors ask me for advice I send them to the store to buy Putting Your Passion Into Print! Bravo to the authors for a comprehensive guide to writing, publishing and marketing your book.”—Donna Cutting, author of The Celebrity Experience: Insider Secrets to Delivering Red-Carpet Customer Service (Wiley)

“I recommend this book to every author I know, at any stage of their careers. I’m such a vociferous advocate, some of my friends may think I’m in a cult!”—Melissa Kirsch, author of The Girl’s Guide to Absolutely Everything (Workman)

“As a consultant, I make my living by understanding how companies and industries work from the inside out. To succeed as an author, you need an inside-out view of how publishing works. For that, there’s simply no better guide than Putting Your Passion into Print.”—Geoffrey Moore, author of four Wall Street Journal and Business Week bestsellers, including Crossing the Chasm and The Gorilla Game (Harper)

Putting Your Passion into Print offers aspiring authors refreshingly honest, knowledgeable and detailed advice on not only how to get published, but how to deal with every phase of the publishing process constructively and realistically. It’s an invaluable resource for anyone who dreams about having his/her book not only published, but published well.”—Jamie Raab, publisher, Grand Central

“If you’ve ever thought about writing a book, are in the process of writing a book or have written a book and are contemplating another, stop what you’re doing right now—and buy this book. It contains everything you need to know to proceed, especially how to press your own enthusiasm button.”—Sandra Blakeslee, author of The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce (Harper Perennial), Phantoms in the Brain (Hyperion), and On Intelligence (St. Martin’s Griffin)

“This honest, comprehensive and inspiring book is the best description of the contemporary publishing world that I’ve seen. It should be at the center of every writer’s reference shelf for decades.”—Neal Pollack, author of Never Mind the Pollacks and The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature (Harper Paperbacks, Harper Perennial)

“From coming up with an idea to promoting the finished book, these insiders tell you what you need to know and inspire you to do it—with wit, charm and a thorough knowledge of what they write.”—Amy Cherry, editor, W.W. Norton

Putting Your Passion into Print is a Rosetta Stone for authors, a guide that takes the mystery and uncertainty out of getting your book published. This book takes you inside the publishing industry and reveals what makes it tick. Prospective authors, listen up. This is the definitive manual on taming this lumbering giant. If you want your book to see the light of day, read this one.”—Larry Dossey, M.D., author of The Extraordinary Healing Power of Ordinary Things, Reinventing Medicine (Three Rivers), and Healing Words (HarperOne)
“Finally, a comprehensive, compelling, hilarious and amazingly insightful book about the painful and wonderful world of getting a book published. It’s as much about passion and teamwork as it is about royalties and advances. I loved it!”—Patrick M. Lencioni, bestselling author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass)

“I wish I had had this book when I started writing for publication. It’s got the perfect blend of right-brain creativity and left-brain strategy to help you succeed as an author.”—Dr. Betty Edwards, bestselling author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (Tarcher)

Excerpts

Featured Books by David Henry Sterry

chicken-10-year-anniversary-cover-198x300 Master-ceremonies-cover-199x300 essential hos
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Slashed Reads Interview on Making Yourself a Better Writer by Having Lots of Great Sex

To you the interview on Slashed Reads, click here.

mort morte coverx3000wDavid Henry Sterry is the author of Mort Morte, an absurd, hilarious, tragic and disturbingly haunting comedy published by Vagabondage Press in January 2013. David is the author of 16 books and a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.

What is your book about?

On my third birthday, my father, in an attempt to get me to stop sucking my thumb, gave me a gun.  “Today son, you are a man,” he said, snatching the little blue binky from my little pink hand. So I shot him.

 So begins my novel Mort Morte.  It’s a macabre coming-of-age story full of butchered butchers, badly used Boy Scouts, blown-up Englishman, virginity-plucking cheerleaders, and many nice cups of tea.  Poignantly poetic, hypnotically hysterical, sweetly surreal, and chock full of the blackest comedy, Mort Morte is like Lewis Carroll having brunch with the kid from The Tin Drum and Oedipus, just before he plucks his eyes out.  In the end though, Mort Morte is a story about a boy who really loves his mother.

Is the book based on events in your own life?

Strangely enough, Mort Morte was my attempt to tell my life story. Fortunately, I didn’t kill my father on my third birthday. But my real life story is even more sick and deranged. Eventually I did tell my agent about my real life story and she urged me to write a memoir. This became Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent. The 10 Year anniversary edition of that book has just been released. As a result Mort Morte got put on the back burner. For 20 years. That’s why I was so excited when Vagabondage agreed to publish the book. 20 years is a long time to go between writing a book and getting it published.

What twists did the book take that surprised you?

The first twist came when I wrote the first sentence.  Honestly, as I said, I was trying to tell my life story, and the first sentence just came out fully formed.  I have no idea how or why.  Clearly I must have some sort of repressed desire to shoot my father.  Fortunately I have been able to repress that desire.  For now anyway.  Actually, the whole book was a series of twists.  I didn’t plan it out or outline it or plot it in any way shape or form.  It just came flowing out of me.  The first draft took me three weeks to write.  Mind you it took me over a year to revise and edit the book.

But it was almost like being in a fever dream.  It just kept pouring out.  All I had to do was get out of the way.

 Are you a people watcher? If so, are they in your stories?

Absolutely.  I learned most of the things I know about humans by watching them.  I was a professional actor for 15 years before I wrote my first book, and I spent a lot of that time learning how people walked, talked, what they were saying with the language of their body, what was being communicated between the lines.

I moved around a lot when I was a kid, I never went to the same school for two years in a row until I was in college.  So I was always the new kid, the outsider, the person who didn’t have friends.  So I watched.  I observed.  I learned how to act like everybody else.  And whenever we moved, I learned how to imitate the local accent.  It was great training as an actor.  It was also great training as a writer, to get the rhythms of the way people really speak.

One of my pet peeves is when you can actually hear the writer writing as a character in one of their books is talking. Almost all the people in my books are human beings I have observed.  When I’m writing a memoir of course I try to remember exactly what they said, exactly what they looked like and exactly how they acted.  When I’m writing a piece of fiction I take what’s there and let my imagination run wild.  Either way, it starts with the way people really look and talk and act.

 Do you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert?

Yes.  I am a Gemini.  But I don’t really believe in all that astrological crap.  Even though that’s exactly what a Gemini would say.  But as a Gemini I have two very distinct parts of my personality.  I’m a hermit and I love holing up in my man cave and escaping into my imagination.  Woody Allen once said the only things in life you can really control are art and masturbation.  I try to keep my fingers in both those pies every day, in the privacy of my subterranean lair. But I’m also kind of an exhibitionist, and I love to go out and do book events and go on tour and present at writers conferences and book fares.  So I kill both birds with just the one stone.

What are our thoughts on writing as a career?

In addition to being the author of 16 books I’m also a book doctor.  I help talented amateurs become professionally published authors. So I’ve consulted with literally thousands of writers.

And I tell them all that by far the most important thing you can do if you want to have a career as a writer is to figure out how to make money.

It’s very hard to make money as a writer.  I’ve been lucky in that way. But I’m also a hustler.  That’s one of the things I learned in the sex business.  How to hustle.  Lots of writers don’t know how hustle. Let me be clear, I don’t mean hustle as a way of scamming, grifting, or ripping someone off.  I mean hustle in the sense that you get someone to do what you want them to do.

I want publishers to give me money for my books.  So I identify which publishers I want to work with who are most compatible with what I do, then I research them to the point of stalking.  And of course I want readers to buy my books and fall in love with them.  So I identify individuals and groups who I think will love what I’m doing and be passionate about my books.

As is the case with all hustles, you actually have to have Game.  You have to make a good product if you want someone to buy it over and over again.  If you try to pull the wool over someone’s eyes, eventually they will stop buying what you’re selling, and in the worst case scenario they will come at you with a lead pipe and try to split your skull open.

The great maxim of businesses as far as I’m concerned is: “Find out what people want, and give it to them.”

Mind you, I have books that I write for love, and books that I write for money.  Mort Morte was more of a love book.  That being said, I have made money off it.

What is your advice for other writers?

Research.  Network.  Persevere.  And oh yeah, write.  Write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write.

 What inspired you to write your first book?

I was a drug addict and a sex addict and I knew I was going to die unless I changed who I was and what I was doing.  After a long search I finally found a hypnotherapist.  She helped me get my addictions under control.  I was a professional screenwriter in Hollywood at the time.

My hypnotherapist suggested I write about my life, since it was so much more interesting than the stupid ridiculous screenplays I was selling to Hollywood.  I took her advice.

I found I really enjoyed it.  And it was absolutely essential in staring down and overcoming the demon monkeys inside me which were destroying my life.

 What do you want to say to your readers?

Buy my books.  Tell your friends to buy my books.

 How do you prepare to write love scenes?

Fall in love.  Have lots of great sex.  Have lots of bad sex.  Get dumped.  Rinse.  Repeat.

Author Profile

David Henry Sterry

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor.

His new books are Mort Morte, and The Hobbyist (Vagabondage, 2013).

His memoir,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 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, 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.

Art of the Memoir: Sherril Jaffe on Daughters, Husbands & Defense Against the Chaos

To commemorate the publication of the 10 year anniversary edition of my memoir Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, I have decided to do a series of interviews with memoirists I admire.  I’ve known Sherril Jaffe for many years.  Not only is she a brilliant writer, she’s also an amazing teacher of writing.  She is a tenured professor at Sonoma State University, has won a 2001 PEN award and was a 2010 MacDowell Fellowship.  She is the author of many books, novels, short stories, poetry and yes, a memoir.

David Henry Sterry: Why in god’s name did you decide to write a memoir?

sherril-jaffeSherril Jaffe: When she was fifteen, my older daughter became rebellious and ran away from home.  My husband and I were terrified and mystified by her behavior.  Advice and blame came at us from every direction, and we didn’t know what to do, so finally I began to do what I have always done in order to process experience; I began to make narratives out of what was happening.  I thought if I could do this well enough that she would read it and understand my concerns for her and how much I loved her and she would stop acting in ways that created so much anxiety for me.  I was writing a letter to her and I was also managing my anxiety by giving form to it.  Toward the beginning of what became Ground Rules, my agent sold the book on proposal.  Selling the book validated my attempts to take the straw of each day and weave it into gold each night, to give form to the chaos we were experiencing.  If I could do this, I thought, I might be able to grasp what was happening so I could address it.  We were all suffering, and I wanted the suffering to end.  I was now writing a book, and books have ends. I had set up things so I would have help getting it right—acquiring an editor when I sold the book. Other people with teenager crises were relying on counselors.  I had tried that without success, so now I was banking on my editor.

I worked on the end of the book endlessly, tinkering and tinkering.  My editor was rigorous, however, and wouldn’t accept anything that didn’t really ring true. But then finally the true ending appeared—everything begins to turn around finally when the parents learn to see, respect, and support their daughter for who she actually is, rather than who they have wished, assumed or feared that she was.

I speak here of “the parents” instead of “me and my husband,” because as a fiction writer it is difficult for me to think of a character based on me as me.  I had sold the book as a memoir but I didn’t give much thought at the time as to what that really meant.  I was very afraid for my daughter and eager for this situation to resolve. Unusually for memoir writers, I was writing as the situation was unfolding.  The consensus of opinion is that the more distance you have on your material, the better chance you have of getting a proper handle on it, but I couldn’t afford the luxury of waiting for my material to age like a fine wine; my daughter’s life was on the line.  As I worked, I kept wishing I could peek ahead to the end of the book to see how things were coming to turn out.  I called what I was working on “The Uncertainty Principle” after Heisenberg’s discovery that the act of observation changes the measurement of what is being observed.  I could not take any of the draconian measures some were advising us to adopt with our daughter: all I could do to effect a change eisenberg’s fin our circumstances was to observe them as closely as possible, distill and transform them until their meaning was revealed and we were all saved.

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

SJ: The worst thing about writing my memoir was that I did not know if there was going to be a happy ending.  Although I was the author, every time I attempted an ending that was one that I wanted but which wasn’t exactly true, it wouldn’t work artistically; my editor would catch it, and I would be sent back to the drawing board.  Meanwhile our struggle with our daughter resolved just as, in the book, the parents come to see and love their daughter for who she really is, and that is where the story ends.

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

SJ: Since I was writing my memoir— though not in letter format—as a letter to my daughter, it gave me a way to try to reach out to her who had become so mysteriously distant, so I felt I was doing what I could to keep her safe and to stay connected with her.

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

SJ: Indeed, it was my only defense against the chaos.  I was also trying to shape the narrative as I went toward a happy ending, trying to make happiness the inevitable outcome of the story, for there are endless possibilities in chaos.

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

SJ: There was no problem, since I believed the book was simply being delivered to me, chapter by chapter, and that though the events transpiring seemed random, the work of bringing the book into being was the act of discovering in what way the events were actually not random at all.

DHS:  How was the process of selling your memoir?

SJ: I had recently signed up with an agent I loved, so I was not surprised that she sold the book on proposal in short order. There was some suspense as to what the offer would be, and I was disappointed that it was only $15,000, but, on the other hand, knew that $15,000 was the inevitable figure, for at that time I had a magical calendar, and the picture for that month was a painting by Charlie Demuth of a target with one five in the bull’s eye, one in a middle ring and another on the outer band. They offered me five thousand upon signing, five more when I handed in the manuscript and a final five upon publication.

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

SJ: Very poorly!  However, I don’t think it was entirely my fault.  The publisher rejected my title, “The Uncertainty Principle” and made me call the memoir “Ground Rules,” and so the public misunderstood what the book promised. The public expected this to be a guide to controlling teenagers by doing concrete things, like grounding them, for example, not a testament to living with uncertainty.

DHS:  Did you have difficulty speaking in public about the intimate aspects of your memoir?

SJ: No; I have never had a problem speaking in public about anything; my problems came from people speaking to me in private—people I didn’t even know feeling it was okay to give me their opinions about me and my daughter.  I was used to people giving me a critical response to my writing but not to me, personally. This was a shock. I vowed to never again write another memoir.

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

SJ: I know now that it was very hard on my daughter, being in the public eye, like that, and I very much regret any pain I may have caused her.  But the plain fact is, the story was written with great love, solely with the intention of keeping her safe by daring to look closely at the terrible reality of life, for nothing looked at squarely can hurt you. And our troubles did end—whether because of the effect of the book on reality or because, like a virus, they had run their course.

DHS: I hate to ask you this, but you have any advice for people who want to write a memoir?

SJ: Yes.  My advice is, watch out, unless you are an extrovert and the point for you is to have everybody talking about you, passing judgments about you and projecting onto you. It feels good when you are admired, of course, but I’m a writer, not a model; I would rather it was my work, not my person, that was getting the attention.  I felt invaded, and it made me queasy when readers I had never met believed they were intimate with me.

 

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 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.

chicken 10 year 10-10-13

 

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Art of the Memoir: Josh Hanagarne, the World’s Strongest Librarian, on Tourette Syndrome, Choosing Stories & Being Strong at the Library

To commemorate the publication of the 10 year anniversary edition of my memoir Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, I’m doing a series of interviews with memoirists I admire. I’ve read lots of great things about the world’s strongest librarian, so I thought I’d track him down and see what he has to say about writing, memoirs, and being strong at the library.

To see piece on Huffington Post click here.

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David Henry Sterry: Why in god’s name did you decide to write a memoir?

Josh Hanagarne: I didn’t do it in god’s name, but here’s an answer: I’ve always liked to write, but I wasn’t trying to become a writer. I had started a blog called World’s Strongest Librarian, just for fun. I was writing about Tourette Syndrome, strength training, books, and a few other things, and there were a few readers (friends and family).  Two months in, the author Seth Godin wrote me an email and said “You should be writing a book! I’m sending your blog to my agent!” Forty eight hours later, I had a literary agent for no reason, and when she said “So what’s the book?” I said, “What book?” And that’s how it started.

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

JH: Spending a lot of time thinking about parts of myself that I don’t like. You really get to know yourself when you write a memoir. When you start turning over those rocks, you don’t get to choose what you find underneath them.

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

JH: Making myself laugh every time I sat down to write. Paying tribute to things I love. Honoring the people who have helped me have the life I have.

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

JH: Nope. If anything, it made me throw up my hands and say “It all really is chaos.”

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

JH: A memoir is not a life, it’s an aspect of a life. The stories are the illustrations of themes. Once you decide which themes you’re trying to illustrate, choosing stories becomes much easier.

DHS:  How was the process of selling your memoir?

JH: Long! It took three proposals. The first two went nowhere and took almost four years. The third proposal was the one that sold and it got picked up immediately. By that time I had figured out what the book would be and it was an easy sell.

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

JH: My primary driver is speaking. I still work at the library, but I’m giving over twenty talks in October alone. I blog. I’m on Twitter.

DHS: Did you have difficulty speaking in public about the intimate aspects of your memoir?

JH: No. Speaking is what I enjoy most, and it’s by far what I’m the best at.

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

JH: With incredible support. Although my mom says that I made her out to be way nicer than she actually is. She’s wrong.

DHS: I hate to ask you this, but you have any advice for people who want to write a memoir?

JH: Yep. Two things.

  1. Write. No matter what you’re doing, if words aren’t appearing on the page, you’re not writing yet. Don’t worry about people’s reactions during the first draft. Just get it down.
  2. Read The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith. It was the last book about writing memoir that I’ll ever read. And it’s short, if that tells you anything about Marion’s approach.

Josh Hanagarne believes in curiosity, questions, and strength, and that things are never so bad that they can’t improve. At first glance, Josh seems an improbable librarian. He stands 6’7″, competes in strongman contests, and was diagnosed in high school with Tourette Syndrome. But books were his first love: Josh’s earliest memories involve fantastic adventures between the pages of Gulliver’s Travels and a passionate infatuation with Fern from Charlotte’s Web. Everything in Josh’s life–from his Mormon upbringing to finally finding love to learning to control his tics through lifting–circles back to a close connection to books. His upcoming book, The World’s Strongest Librarian, illuminates the mysteries of Tourette Syndrome as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. Currently, Josh is a librarian at the Salt Lake City Public Library and lives with his wife, Janette, and their son, Max, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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 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.  https://davidhenrysterry.com/

 

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