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30 posts from September 2005

September 30, 2005

Celebrity Author Dish

By Sarah

Okay, all week I've kvetched about the book touring - the plane screw ups, the paltry showings at signings, the overwhelming feeling that one is a failure. But today is Friday and so I have a little treat - what those Celebrity Authors are really like. Info you really can't get anywhere else but on book tour.

How do I know? Well, I don't really. I'm just going by the gossip I get from the media escorts who drive around everyone from the Rolling Stones to, well, me. Aside from meeting fans, squeezing media escorts for dish is my favorite on-the-road activity. Usually the escorts hold their proverbial cards close to their proverbial chests. The car rides are long, however, and as a genetic pest and a former reporter I'm ruthless. This is what I've been able to find out over the five years of touring. You'll have to guess who the unnamed authors are - hey, maybe we can run a contest!

David Sedaris - Probably the escorts favorite passenger. Takes copious notes in a little wirebound notebook he carries in his shirt pocket. Has a "tip jar." Writes thank you notes on his lap in the car as soon as he leaves a signing. Believes tobacco is a vegetable of which he consumes copious amounts.

Unnamed prominent politician - Once made a pass at an escort after she refused to corral nubile women up to his hotel room. Travels with a posse. Despite that, made the escort carry in tons and tons of books by herself. Tried to French kiss her afteward in front of gang before hopping plane.

Unnamed drunken big author - So blotto that escort realized she could not put this woman on the air. When she was instructed by the publisher to just "pack her up," the escort was pelted by expletives and ashtrays thrown by author who continued to drink from mini bottles, watching through slitted eyes as escort collected underwear and PJs.

Julia Child - Gracious sweetheart with a blue vocabulary. When young chef accidentally tripped while bringing in a beautifully prepared sea bass that flew across the table and landed in Julia Child's lap, Julia chortled, "That's why I never cook the f*^#ers."

Richard Simmons - Voted most fun/most bizarre. Given to taking limos and stopping at curbs, inviting strangers in for rides. Carried large Barbie-ish make up case and referred to himself in the third person as "Dicky." Totally uplifting.

Unnamed fantasy writer and husband - Claimed to be devout vegetarians who only consumed filtered water and whole, organic food. Demanded that escort find such at midnight. When such could not be found after a 90 minute search, ate cheeseburgers and drank Coke lustily. Matching purple fingernails.

Unnmamed "sensitive" male author of women's fiction - A ten hanky tear jerk. Strapping and fit, called escort at her home on the other side of the city and demanded she to take him from his hotel to the gym. When she pointed out that the gym was across the street from the hotel and that the hotel ran on-demand shuttles to and fro,  Ten Hanky Tear Jerk remarked that he "didn't do shuttles" because he was simply too famous. Often asks readers to guess what he prefers - boxers or briefs.

Most favorite authors - Nora Roberts hands down. Candace Bushnell. Harlan Coben. Laura Lippman. Sue Grafton and many others. (Generally - they are nice.)

Least favorite authors - Comedians. Any author of a self-help book. Cornwell. Evanovich.

John Grishman - So unknown at the beginning had to carry around his own books which he sold out of back of car.

JK Rowling - At first signing sold 9 books. Same store one year later, 10,000.

Weirdest Request from an Author - Nonfiction author of "exposes" staying in a European five-star hotel called her contact in the states demanding that said contact call the busboy in the lobby of her five-star European hotel to get him to come up to her room and collect her bags. I kid you not.

Hey - Now I'll never get any dirt from the escorts. Oh, well. If you're in Houston, why not come on down and see me at Rice Epicurean Markets on San Felipe tomorrow. Should be fun.

Sarah

September 29, 2005

Achieve Excellence, Avoid Success

By Sarah

Detroit - Book Tour Day 3 - The Nadir of My Career (I hope)

I am resolved to not be bummed that no one is showing up for my signings, though self flagellation is very appealing. Why did I not arrange all my mailings last summer to be sent off the week before Secret Lives came out? I seem to have taken the summer off and cannot remember what Idid though, surely, it must have had something to do with the children. That was yesterday, I say. I cannot live in the past. Today is the first day of the rest of my life.

I embark on my new life by making amends with Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor by buying them not just a case, but a 30-pack of Stroh's beer. Three years ago, caught in a power outtage that swept the Northeast, I'd been unable to make a signing there, though they had waited for me in the sweltering darkness with a case of beer. I had prided myself on getting up the next morning at 3, dragging my luggage 6 miles to the Sheraton and snagging a rental car so that I could head north and make two signings in upper Michigan. But that's not what PW wrote about. What PW wrote about was how I did not show at Nicola's. The thing is, they didn't tell me there'd be beer.

Leaving Ann Arbor Wednesday morning, I find myself in a rental car driven by a distant relative of John Gotti Jr. who, pounding the dashboard, proceeds to inform me of the many passengers he has threatened to push to the curb or, if necessary, onto the highway due to their rudeness. I try to steer him to more pleasant topics, such as Cleveland, but that reveals an even more unappealing side as he bemoans the lack of white faces he sees whenever he bets on the ponies at Thistledown.

Having made it to the American Airlines terminal unpushed to the curb and with no cement on my shoes, I check in to find my flight has left. Actually, it hasn't left. It is Northwest which is in a different terminal (read city) away. I must take a bus, first on the upper level and then the lower level. No one is really sure though, according to their tags, this is where they work day in, day out, at the curb of American Airlines.

When the empty bus arrives, I mention to the driver my screw up, actually my publisher's screw up, which causes him to slam the brakes. "Are you a writer? I've got a book." This, I realize, is not good as we are creeping along while he describes his masterpiece, a "book of observations," such as: "Why do people complain about the rain? If we didn't have rain, we'd be dead." And, "They used to call seven percent racketeering, but now they call it real estate commissions." I encourage him to keep at it, but he complains about how much agents will take from him when this "book of observations" becomes a raging success. Yes, I say, that is a concern.

The flight from Chicago during thunderstorms and high winds is delightful. Our stewardess chastizes passengers for not saying please. She has long black hair and blood red fingernails and has a handy dandy evil eye. She grips the beverage cart as we plummet in an air pocket. I comfort myself with the thought that if this plane crashes, I will die a midlist author and, somehow, that's okay. When I touch down I find there is no one to pick me up because I've been forgotten, there are just so many friggin authors traversing the country right now.

But here is where the story takes an upswing.

Because I've been forgotten, I am picked up at the airport by the legendary Bill Young who is married to Elizabeth Berg. He has just dropped of Andrea Mitchell. He will have Nora Roberts on Friday and somewhere between he has me. It is pouring. For some reason I am not in Chicago proper, but in the burbs and so Bill takes pity.

For the next five hours he drives me through bumper to bumper traffic and lightning, high winds to every bookstore he can find so I can sign stock. Along the way he gives me career advice about the value of Bubbles and my fans The Bubblesheads, about making sure Bubbles appears in the next book (Bubbles Saves Author's Career can be the headline, he says), about mailing lists and promoting reciprocally (though I'm still not sure what he means by this.) When he produces a bag of peanut M&Ms I want to hug him.

At the signing outside Chicago I meet one new fan and an old one who exclaims that meeting me was better than meeting Sinatra. I am so thrilled to see her I feel tears.

"Achieve excellence, avoid success," Bill says, when he drops me off at my little hotel. "Also, remember that each morning you wake up you're one day closer to death."

I tell him that when I get back to Vermont I will embroider that for him on a pillow. Then I hit the sheets and sleep like a rock.

Sarah - who is off to St. Louis where I'll appear at Left Bank Books. Come see me!

September 28, 2005

The Unreal World

The Unreal World

by Susan, Reality Show Participant...Sort Of

When I dished the dirt the morning after to my agent's assistant about the photo shoot for St. Louis Magazine, she said it sounded like a reality show.  And she was right.  It really was.  I mean, the studio where the photos were shot for the November "top singles" feature made a fabulous setting:  loft-like, only on the ground-floor, with a huge kitchen and bar stools, a pool table, large set, offices, and rooms for makeup and wardrobe.  The cast was also pretty colorful, considering there were plenty of the magazine's staff on hand, like the art director and editor, and the studio's staff to boot, including the photog, assistants, makeup artist, stylist, and the requisite mascot, a cute doggy who kept running around and sniffing everyone's crotch.

Also in the cast: the twenty "top singles" selected by the magazine, who'd been asked to arrive around five or as soon as they could after work.  I'd gone to my friend Suzy Bacino's house first to get prettified, as Suzy did my makeup for my author photos in June.  (We were supposed to come in an outfit that we'd wear "on a first date," with hair and makeup done, although we'd be touched up at the studio).  I got to Meoli on time, and I wasn't even the first Cowboy_1there.  Actually, there were hordes of cowboys on the scene, wearing their cowboy uniform of jeans, buckles and Stetsons.  They approached to say, "howdy," and played a little pool as their shoot for Budweiser wound down.  We sort of wondered if they might stay, but they just gave us a nice display of some fine cursin' before they said their "adieus" and moseyed on...okay, adieu wasn't exactly the word they used.  It was kinda fun being called a "little lady" though.

As the cowboys departed, introductions were made to a handful of the other selected singles, all of them women.  Yeah, we're supposed to be the ones who take the longest to get ready, yet the guys trickled in well behind the chicks.  I figured I'd be the oldest one there, so I was thrilled to meet a lady who told me she was "almost sixty"--and didn't look anywhere near it.  No Botox or facelift in sight, thank God, just cool vintage clothing, wavy hair and funky glasses.  I do so want to be her one day.  The rest of the femmes were twenty- and thirty-somethings (by my guesstimate and outright asking).  Very pretty, too, so that I was sure some of them had dabbled in modeling (yes, they had).  The guys were a good looking lot and nice as could be.  I found myself easily drawn into conversations with various groups and individuals, all so interesting in different ways:  a computer software applications engineer, a healthcare consultant, a doctor, CEO, counterterrorist expert, basketball coach, and on and on.  The fact that I was a mystery author went over pretty well (and, yes, I did get the counterterrorism guy's card for my Rolodex...I'm not stupid).

There was food, wine, beer and music (I was tempted to slip in my Def Leppard "Rock of Ages" CDs, but was afraid the photographer might notice it wasn't Sade and kick me out).  I volunteered to be shot first, as every crime fiction writer should.  The makeup artist retouched me after Suzy had already made me up, so I kinda felt like a wall that got a second coat of paint when one would have sufficed.  My skin was already screaming, "I caaaan't breaaaathe!"  So, extra paint and all, I went over to the red backdrop which coordinated beautifully with my pink patterned jacket (you'd think I'd planned it).  My pink heels looked awesome on the red, too, and I kept asking, "Can you get my shoes in the shot?"  But they didn't make it into my individual pic, though a few of the group shots did show them. I pray one of those makes it into the magazine so all of St. Louis can enjoy my Kenneth Coles--they are truly works of art.  (I do hope y'all know that I'm joking.)

You'dBugeyes_1 think I would've been experienced at this modeling stuff by now, having done my eight-hour shoot with Suzy Gorman for my new author photos in June (remember, "The Shoot That Wouldn't Die"?).  Oh, I could move my hips and position my twiggy-self like a pro.  It's my eyes I had trouble with.  As Suzy G told me, "All your frigging tension goes into your eyes, man.  You've gotta relax."  Relax to me is a four-letter word.  I can barely say it much less do it.  So, yes, despite my fine posing, the images I could see on the flat panel monitor on the edge of the set mostly showed my eyes in mid-blink.  Or staring like a deer caught in headlights.  Where the hell was my eye double when I needed her?  Probably at the ophthalmologist.  Dang it.

Thankfully, a few of the shots looked decent enough that I was allowed to return to my new friends and watch the next "top single" go at it--which she did, looking gorgeous, like she'd been born for that close-up, Mr. DeMille.  I can tell you right now it ain't gonna be my bug-eyed mug on the cover.  The other women were such naturals at posing, it was almost scary.  I think I spend way too much time at my keyboard and not enough practicing my expressions in the mirror.  I will work on that, right after the fourth Deb book has been written and turned in January 1 (and, yes, I will start it real soon--promise).

I hung around, getting to know the other peeps, who were really great folks.  We laughed our heads off over the silliest things--like, what we'd written on our questionnaires, some of which will be turning up in the magazine with the feature (can I take a few things back?).  It was like a party with old pals you'd just met, and four hours passed like lightning (really, they did).  Finally the initial group of 10 who'd been photographed first asked--nay, begged--to leave.  There were still at least a half dozen left to shoot, and we'd had it.  My spackle was cracking, and it was getting rather frightening (took three washings to get all that gunk off--yuck!).  So...that, as they say, was that.

I'm told the special issue of the magazine will hit the stands in late October.  If you hear me screaming all the way from St. Louis, you'll know one of those bug-eyed pictures made it in.  Or maybe the shoes were cut out.  Either way, I'll be properly horrified, of course, and will buy a hundred extra copies to send to all my family and closest friends.

Tomorrow, I'm off to Kansas City...while Sarah comes to St. Louis...passing like Tarts in the night.  I hate when that happens. 

Cheers,

Susan

September 27, 2005

Notes from a Book Tour

By Sarah

It's raining and windy on Sunday when I'm to leave for my 8-day book tour to promote my first stand alone novel THE SECRET LIVES OF FORTUNATE WIVES. The whole house is out of sorts as I pack my laptop and mailing list and eye the 100 letters I'm to send to Houston. I wonder if sendng out flyers urging them to "C'mon down to Epicurean Markets" on Saturday would be crass, considering the hurricane, and decide against it.

During a two-hour delay at the airport, I flip through People magazine and read a rave review of a paperback book that sounds identical to the one I am writing. A chilling panic overcomes me and I take the chance of leaving the airport, getting my car out of the parking garage and driving to Barnes and Noble to pick up a copy.

When I return, I find that my flight has disappeared from the Departures screen and has, in fact, left. Running through the airport wondering how I will explain this to my publicists, I discover that the flight has not left, that it has changed gates and people are boarding. While clicking my seatbelt I overhear that the two hour delay was caused by a small plane that crashed on the runway in high winds which have not abated.

Book touring, I think, is fun.

Arrive in Cleveland to the Embassy Suites, which used to be the apartment building where I lived when I first moved here in 1987 at age 24 to take a job at the Plain Dealer. For kicks I ask for my old apartment and get it. It's much smaller than I remember, darker too, and I can't imagine how I ever lived here for a year. In the elevator whores are riding up and down making appointments on their cell phones with members of the military being lodged here courtesy of the federal government. Our tax dollars at work.

Wake at 5:45 to appear on Lanigan in the morning at the prime slot of 7:30-8:00. MK picks me up and we discuss the old Cleveland blue bloods and I remember why it was that I wrote SECRET LIVES. I am set up in the booth with The Boys who don't know what to do with SECRET LIVES except remark how the woman on the cover is hot. Lanigan calls me Susan - a lifelong curse which I quickly correct. They proceed to treat me like a naive Desperate Housewives wannabe until I point them to the chapter based on a true story about rich wives caught in a lesbian tryst and how they met when their husbands put them together so "they could watch."

This shuts them up.

Back at the hotel I spend the day writing 20 pages in my new book which I like a lot more than the book I grabbed from Barnes and Nobles. Hers is a perfectly fine book, but I am tired of reading about girls drooling over the busboys they work with at Starbucks and how their friends from high school are dissing them. I much prefer my "hen lit" to the "chick lit" which I am quickly beginning to despise as a genre.

My characters are debating whether it is worth risking their marriages to stay alive. Mature women, I realize, are much more interesting to write and be. Childbirth, insensitive husbands, being mothers to kids on the edge while holding onto friendships and dreams create depth and soul. Lusting after the busboy who reads Sartre and sips capuccino just doesn't cut it for me anymore.

The sun breaks through the clouds and I go to the signing which is well attended by old fans and, especially, new fans, family and friends. One woman tells me how hot my husband used to be - still is. A couple we used to hang out with when our babies were small shows up and it's as though no years have passed. She has had breast cancer - he has had a stroke. They are both dynamic doctors in their forties and I think how insignificant book sales are in the grand scheme of life.

Then again, I always learned a lot of lessons in Cleveland. Some of which I wish to hell I could forget.

.... Sarah (who is off to Ann Arbor)

September 26, 2005

How Hard Can it Be? (The Final Chapter)

By Harley

Last week’s Adventures in Turning A Novel into a Television Series left off with insomnia, rats in my basement, and general befuddlement.

This week, the Pitching Season clock started ticking and “getting exactly the right combination of writers/producers/showrunners for this special book” became “who’s left?” and suddenly it was no longer Harley and Wendy, it was Harley and Wendy and 3 guys. Nice guys. Amigos. 3 Amigos with the track record to get some network to sign us up, assuming we could create a polished, inspired, and sublimely entertaining 5-person pitch to be delivered the next morning. And so now I’m in bed—uh, business—with guys whose names I’m still using mnemonic devices to recall.

I’ve spent more time picking out towels at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

This next level of pitch meeting is attended by The Dating Dead Men Five, plus studio people and agent people and network people and the dress code alone becomes uncrackable. We’re all like strangers on an airplane—business suits, Hawaiian shirts, Jimmy Choos, bedroom slippers. And there’s tension. What’s at stake is everyone’s taste and judgment and standing within their own company, and maybe the house they bought two seasons ago when money was rolling in, and private school for the kids versus sending them off to learn long division with the Crips and the Bloods.

So how’d we do?

First, a flashback to my sister Ann and the birth of her rallying cry, “How Hard Can It Be?” (see title)

Ann once had to write a term paper on FAUST. In a classic case of procrastination, she waited until the night before it was due, then discovered that the library and bookstores were out of FAUST, except for one lone copy in German. Ann snapped it up, along with a German-English dictionary, and, despite knowing no German, went home to start translating. Because she had all night, after all, and—How Hard Can it Be?

So how’d we do? Well, no one from the network leaped out of her/his chair, knocking over the acre-sized conference table, crying, “Yes! Yes! Let me give you many hundreds of thousands of dollars to go into production this minute!” But no one lost their lunch either.

I did see one executive masterfully stifle a yawn.

Two surprising things happened to me. One, I experienced a Zen-like detachment about the future of DATING DEAD MEN. The thought of cannibalizing my own novel and turning it into a 60-page teleplay was never repellant, but neither was it on my Absolutely Must Do Before I Die list. And with the arrival of the 3 Amigos, I’m now pretty much along for the ride. (Were I as wise as Nancy Martin, I could’ve accomplished the same thing and gone to Aruba.) Secondly, I felt right at home. It was like auditions I’ve done all my life as an actress, except that I got to talk like a normal person, as opposed to pretending to be held at gunpoint while choking out some hack writer’s cheesy dialogue, complete with real sobs, while everyone watches with a kind of “when’s lunch?” numbness, having seen 16 other actresses do the same scene in the last two hours. Thus, I had fun.

But that’s it for now from the trenches of Hollywood. Assuming everyone signs his/her contracts, DATING DEAD MEN is now optioned by Spelling Television, Inc. Whether it goes through the next 318 steps required to actually get on the air is another story for another day, perhaps years in the future. (as my sister Ann eventually learned, the translation of FAUST took . . . yes. Years.) For now, as we say in these parts, “That’s a wrap.”

PS: There’s a new issue of Ms. Magazine out today with Charlize Theron on the cover, and a short story of mine inside.

Happy Monday!
Harley

September 25, 2005

The Impractical Writer

The Impractical Writer

by Susan (the only Book Tart not traveling this weekend)

After reading Nancy’s post about the practicality of making money as a writer, I felt the urge to stand up and confess that I’m one of those “write from the heart” people, so I’ve never approached this gig as Donald Trump Dollarsigns_1 would a deal to snap up another block of Manhattan to build a skyscraper.  Yes, yes, I realize dollars and cents are at the crux of everything these days and that publishers are in it to make money, so it’s logical to think writers should make money, too.  Please, don’t think I’m against that (really, I’m for it, big-time).  I figure we deserve to be millionaires, what with all the endless hours we put in before we make a dime and all the days and weekends after, being away from home and families, traveling and promoting when we should be wordsmithing.

Of course, it's important to understand that we’re part of a larger entertainment industry, so it's doubtless wise to figure out strategies for maximizing profits in the early stages of the game (man, it sounds like I’m talking about investing).  It’s also beneficial to be aware of trends, though it’s danged hard to anticipate them, and I’ve always been told not to do that.  Because, by the time you’ve got a project done, that particular trend is old hat and something fresher has taken its place.

Which is why I write from the heart.  I can’t help it.  I just do.  I really must feel what I’m writing, or it’s like the time after college when I figured I’d crank out a couple skinny romances for Silhouette or Harlequin, just to make a fast buck.  Only my heart wasn’t in it, and the editors who read the manuscripts could see that.  I got long personal notes back about how I was technically proficient and a good storyteller, but something was missing.

What was missing was my passion for the stories I was telling.  I didn’t have it. 

Writer When I write, whatever I’m working on has to mean something to me.  I have to love the characters and the situations I’m putting them in.  I have to want to spend time with them, to itch to get to my computer everyday and see what happens. (Though I’m not implying in any way, shape or form that authors who approach this business from a financially practical angle aren’t enjoying what they do.  I’m sure they are.  What I'm talking about is my perspective, that's all.)

Maybe I’m a fool, but I never thought in terms of dollar figures except to pray that someday I'd be able to support myself as a novelist.  My goal was always to put words to paper and tell my stories, blindly assuming someone would eventually pay me for them.  Call me a dreamer, but it was one of those "I'd just as soon stop breathing" deals.  I wouldn’t have hung in there for eleven years before I got my first contract otherwise, supporting myself by selling lingerie at Victoria’s Secret, playing secretary to a psycho psychotherapist, and doing medical transcription, which I ended up being very good at.  (I did have to ignore my father occasionally reminding me, "I put you through college so you could sell underwear?")

What’s ironic is that I’m an extremely practical person when it comes to real-life: paying bills, investing, owning a home, and generally approaching most facets of my life as a responsible adult. 

But writing is a whole different ballgame.  It runs through my blood, feeds my soul.  I do it for love, truly, which kept me going well before I made any money worth talking about.  I know that’s the reason so many writers get taken advantage of; because, like me, it’s your passion and you would do it gratis (and have).  I’m not naïve.  I knew how hard it was going to be to support myself on my book earnings after having two books out with a small press and realizing that selling out a 2,500 print run would amount to royalties of right around $2,500.  I was spending twice that much on promotion and traveling.  So the pay-off was more emotional than fiscal, but at least it was something.  I felt like I was getting somewhere.

When my then-agent called with an offer for a three-book deal from HarperCollins, I was ready to accept ANYTHING.  Honestly, I was so thrilled that such a terrific publishing house wanted me that if they’d suggested an advance of three bucks a book, I would’ve screamed, “Take it!” 

My current agent who handled my second contract got me a much better deal, and I almost fell out of my chair when that one was being negotiated.  I’m hardly a millionaire (not even close), but it was a big step up, swoon-worthy on my scale.

Call me dopey, but I still can’t believe people want to pay me real money to write the books I enjoy writing.  Every story I tell is one I’m dying to get out of my head.  I can’t say to myself, “Well, what’s commercially viable, what’s trendy, and I’ll do that,” because I’m not built that way.  I am glad someone sees my series as commercial--or else they wouldn't have bought it--but if I sat around analyzing why or how to duplicate it, my brain would blow up.  This business doesn't make much sense.  No one seems to have rational explanations for why some books succeed and some don't.  So I do what I can to write the best novels possible, and I promote them the only way I know how...and anything beyond that is out of my hands.

Don’t get me wrong.  I want to succeed.  I’m a born overachiever.  Anything I do, I want to do well, and I’ll work my ass off to try to make it happen.  I think every writer dreams of having readers all over the world, people who sit down in airports with your book in their hands or recommend it to their book clubs merely because they can’t wait to dig into another of your stories.  But it’s more about spreading the joy of what you’re doing, sharing your fascination with the worlds you’re making up, as opposed to dollar signs.  At least in my mind.

I'm not advising anyone to ignore the business.  Definitely, use your brain, be well-informed.  Einstein_4As my fellow Tart suggested, be aware of what publishers are offering on average, so you go into negotiations with your eyes open (but don't count on much wiggle room if you're new and without a track record, aren't a porn star or Pamela Anderson, or you're not a celebrity hawking a "hot" children's book).  Don’t expect your friends to share the details of their contracts with you.  No matter what it takes, find an agent who will look out for you and go after the best deal humanly possible.  Do ask your editor for point of sales numbers, particularly early on after your book’s release, and stay on top of things, like print run numbers, reprint numbers, sub rights sales, sell-through numbers, anything that has a direct impact on your career.  Wearing blinders is more than impractical—it’s idiotic.

Still, when it comes down to my own motivation for writing, God knows, it ain't the dough.  It’s self-fulfillment, satisfaction...love, pure and simple.  My mother ingrained in me her mantra of “do what makes you happy,” and I’m doing it.  The rest is gravy.

If that makes me impractical, I can live with it.

Cheers,

Susan

P.S.  The photo shoot for the St. Louis Magazine “top singles” issue is Monday night.  I’ll finally get to meet the other nine chicks and ten guys they selected, so I’ll spill all in Wednesday’s blog!

September 24, 2005

Body Buried in the Back Yard

By Sarah

Okay, this doesn't have to do with writing, per say, though it was a heck of a mystery. I mean, how many times does your cleaning woman walk through the door and say, "So how come the Forensics Lab is parked next door?"Neighbors_1

Next door is the old broken down rental, the original farmhouse in this area, that has been home to various forgettable and infamous families. There was the lesbian couple who so outraged the owner of my own home that he sold it to us - after their mutual restraining orders failed to keep the peace. One of the women had a 17-year-old boy who was later convicted of molesting several children in the neighborhood. They moved out and other families moved in, including an old couple who fled in the middle of the night, several months of rent payments in arrears.

But few topped the latest crew, a fluid bunch of boyfriends/girlfriends and various children united by a common bond of cursing, drinking, fighting and the smoking of cartons and cartons of cigarettes. Oh, and drag racing loud, broken down cars.

As the cops would say, this crew was "known to them" having been called in several times to haul family troublemakers to jail. Once, after the angry young man in the house smashed all the windows of his sister's car, we were awakened at 2 a.m. to find our house surrounded in flashing blue police lights. And then there was the time the same angry young man literally ran away from the local FAST squad who'd been called in when he passed out behind the wheel of his car. They followed him all the way down the street until he headed into the woods. But perseverance does have its rewards. Our angry young man is lodged in jail for now, a temporary respite from a world he simply can't hack.

And then, after a summer spent tending an eternal burn fire down by the shed, this bunch moved out last weekend. On Saturday there was a U-Haul. On Sunday they were gone, taking the range with them. Nothing was left behind except assorted plastic children's toys, an overflowing can of garbage, one of the old broken down cars and, apparently, a body in the backyard.

I don't know who called in the tip but it was enough to prompt the state police to "secure" the house Tuesday night. At the crack of dawn Wednesday morning, Vermont's only mobile forensics lab - a large white bread truck - pulled into the driveway followed by seven troopers including the head of the Bureau of Criminal Affairs, distinguished by his suit. At three p.m., the large green Mobile Command Unit arrived along with two "cadaver dogs" imported from Connecticut.

Cadaver_dogs_1 This was all the more disturbing - to some people, not to me. I loved it! - because the house is in sight of our quaint elementary school. Vermont's the kind of place people take salary cuts to move to so their children don't have to see cadaver dogs pawing the earth. I've always felt that was one of its drawbacks, personally.

As a former crime reporter, I couldn't tear myself away even though I'd been informed the day before by my editor that the book they wanted to publish next fall would actually be published in June and would it be okay if I could turn it in by December? Yes, despite this, I hung out with the reporters from the local newspaper and traded speculations.

Could it be Francine, the older woman in the family who inexplicably moved out to, supposedly, go to Connecticut? Or, what if it was one of the two preschool children I'd seen playing outside, sometimes in 60-degree weather in nothing but underwear? What if the angry young man went too far?

And then as though hearing the dinner bell, it was over. Shortly after the 6 p.m. news, the state police announced that the cadaver dogs had found what they were looking for. The tip had been a buried infant. The result was a buried fetus.

Blushing, the state police spokesman in his ill-fitting suit, explained that a couple in the house had buried a miscarried fetus and then, while moving, searched for it to take it with them. Not able to find it, they'd left a mound of dirt that someone had mistaken for a grave.

It was actually a touching story and part of me felt bad for misjudging them. It was sad they'd so wanted the miscarried fetus that they'd gone through the trouble of digging it up. Or trying to.

But mostly I felt bad because there wasn't a body in the backyard under the apple tree on an autumn day.

Sarah - who leaves for her book tour tomorrow.Secret_cover_2

September 23, 2005

Making a Buck

By Nancy

A while back I was offered the grand sum of $15,000 to write a mystery that was going to take me about a year to complete.  I turned it down because--although I love writing and can't imagine doing anything else with my life--I have to make a living at this business. A few re-writes and and six months later--not to mention a lot of hustle by my agent--I scored a more reasonable advance.  But lately some hard numbers have come to light, and a lot of young authors are wondering if they'll ever be able to quit their day jobs.

Go to fullsize image Yes, but maybe not yet.

Here's a link that shows what writers earn at various publishing houses in the biz. Take a look, then come back.  The website is that of author Brenda Hiatt, who has graciously posted some well-researched financial information under "Show Me the Money."  Take a look around the rest of her website while you're at it.  Hers is a good one.  (Insert Jeopardy music here while you're over at Brenda's site.)

Now that you've seen the numbers, you are wondering what insanity moves writers to work in a field that requires many of us to live below the poverty line.

Well, there are ways of making a living in the business of genre fiction, believe it or not, even with advances as low as the ones you just saw.

The first trick is to write fast.  When I wrote romance novels, I tried to write 2 books every year.  One year I wrote 6.  (I re-read one of them recently and didn't remember having written a single word of the story.  Just as well.)  Go to fullsize image If you write 2 books a year, you earn two advances.

The next trick is to choose your publisher wisely.  If you want to make a living writing cozy mysteries, for example, don't sell to a company that only prints a couple thousand copies.  Tinker with the story until it suits a company that prints tens of thousands of copies or more.  The artistic differences aren't that big, but the financial rewards are.  Yes, I know You Have To Write The Book Of Your Heart, but sometimes an artist is forced to be sensible.  I wrote romances from 1983 to 1995 (when sales were much higher than you see today) and I discovered I could write a romance for the now defunct Second Chance at Love line and earn about $10,000, or I could write the same book with 25 more pages of sex for Silhouette and earn $20,000.  Well, duh! (I am ashamed to say I wrote 11 books for Second Chance before that particular anvil landed on my head.)  If I added another 100 pages to the story--that's a couple of sub-plots and an extra love scene--I could make $30,000 if I sold the manuscript to Harlequin Superromance.  You gotta do your research about publishers.

Third trick:  Keep up the pace.  Once you've gotten yourself on the 2 books a year schedule, the cash flow becomes easier. You earn 2 advances yearly, plus--if you've chosen your publisher wisely--you'll start receiving royalty checks for books written in previous years. (It takes a couple of years for a book to earn out these days, so figure every book you write has the potential of paying you a few thousand bucks twice yearly for 2 years.)  Once you're on the treadmill, so to speak, your income becomes more steady.

My next suggestion is to recognize the trends before they happen.  Once the sales of romance novels started to sink, I knew it was time to bail out.  It's not too difficult to see the writing on the wall in publishing. Bestseller lists come out every week.  Smart friends will share their information, too. And you can ask your editor what your sales are, and don't take any of that mumbling they do when they pretend they don't have access to those numbers. Baloney. Sometimes they just don't want to be the bearer of bad news--it's human. Maintaining a cordial and business-like relationship with your editor is maintaining a pipeline of all kinds of useful information. The point is that writers must keep tabs on the business. As my favorite philosopher, Kinky Friedman, says, "When the horse dies, get off."  Personally, I think you need to take the horse's temperature often and get off as soon as he starts coughing.

Last of all: Work at becoming a better writer.  (Sure, go ahead and cite lousy writers who are big success stories, but you'll have to admit those are few and far between.)  Good story-telling will be rewarded. It may take a couple of decades, but eventually the quality of your work will boost you up into those six and seven figure advance brackets.

A career in publishing is like a career in any other business.  You start in the mail room and work your way up.  It's an agonizingly slow climb, too.  You don't get to be president of Tyco in---well, okay, bad example.  You must work hard and put in your time to reap the big rewards.

I'm sure other professionals can share their own tips on how to make a living at writing.  Maybe they'll post some comments.

Thanks to Brenda for the info.

Nancy, tossing SECRET LIVES OF FORTUNATE WIVES into my suitcase!

September 22, 2005

Nancy Lectures

Nancy lectures....            Go to fullsize image

Tomorrow I am one of three Distinguished Alumni Lecturers at the annual Homecoming at my undergraduate college.  Of those three words, I think alumni is the only one that’s really true.  I am not going to lecture anybody unless someone intentionally runs down an elderly woman in a crosswalk or steals a handicapped parking space, which really burns my toast, but that’s another blog.

As for distinguished?  Well, authors who venture out from behind their desks and put on clothes other than their pajamas to meet the public don’t usually get tagged with “distinguished.”

The first time I was ever asked to attend a mystery convention, I gleefully packed my suitcase full of grown-up clothes and set off for a weekend of networking and note-taking at an event for mystery professionals (hereafter referred to as “fanatics”) called Malice Domestic, which took place at that time in Bethesda, Maryland. My wonderful agent—who was helping me make a career change--asked me to attend the conference so I could meet, among others, Mrs. Very Famous Mystery Writer and Her Majesty, Mystery Editor Supreme and a few nameless underlings from Extremely Important Publishing House.  Since I know what fork to use, I confidently agreed to a breakfast meeting with these august personages.

However, I made the fatal mistake of bringing along my children and my husband for what was pitched to me as a weekend of togetherness in a fun city. My girls were in that stage of under 12 hyperactivity that meant they needed some form of new entertainment or stimulation every 15 seconds, but my husband promised he’d take them to the zoo while I attended workshops. What could go wrong?  It’s good for children to see their mother looking businesslike and doing something other than slapping peanut butter on soda crackers for their lunch because she’s forgotten to do the grocery shopping again and who on very, very, very, very few occasions forgot to pick them up after their Brownie meeting. And besides, there was the look on their little faces when their dad mentioned the zoo. So I agreed to togetherness.

Breakfast meeting: Friday,

7am

.  Husband, who had driven the minivan all the way from Pennsylvania in a dark, driving rainstorm the previous night, would prefer to sleep until .  Which left Mommy in the bathroom, quietly trying to get ready to meet Mrs Very Famous and Her Majesty while 2 little girls bounced around asking for breakfast every 3 minutes and played with their mother’s limited supply of makeup.  Multiple mirrors reflected blinding light into my eyes, stirring the beginnings of a migraine. My hair refused to dry as the bathroom quickly reached the atmospheric conditions of the Amazon jungle. My the blood pressure simmered at a level barely compatible with life. Temper: barely in check.

Finally the heat, the noise, the light and the exasperation got the best of me. I gave up on my hair, burst out of the bathroom and woke my husband—not by throwing my hair brush at him, but it was close. Trailed by hungry, yammering children, I bolted for the door. I confess, I may have been a little short with my loving family. I slammed the door and ran.

The breakfast meeting was gracious, but …okay, scary as hell.  I tried to act like a grown-up. We all paid homage to Mrs. Very Famous, who wore an enormous hat and one of those fur thingies with the fox face with a jaw to clamp the whole, eccentrically grand garment around her shoulders. She was not especially receptive to the homage and didn’t like her food. Her Majesty, Mystery Editor Supreme was the kind of cool, sophisicated New Yorker who intimidates anyone with an address west of the Hudson River. We talked books and sized up each other.

Fifteen sweaty minutes into the meeting, I saw my husband and children enter the hotel restaurant.  I don’t have to tell most of you that motherly instinct functions at a very long distance, and I immediately saw that Daughter Number 1, the one with the delicate stomach and zero sense of timing, was going to be sick.  Furtively, I watched as they were seated across the dining room and given menus. In an effort not to look shifty to my own dining companions, I tried not to steal too many glances at the drama unfolding across the room.  I watched my husband urgently try to calm Daughter and distract her with the promise of butter pecan pancakes. But finally Daughter jumped from her chair and ran out into the hallway where she upchucked on the carpet at the feet of the restaurant hostess. 

With every ounce of self control, I averted my eyes.  I was not the parent on duty.  My husband is/was an adult.  He could handle it, I told myself.   With nerves of steel (ha!) I continued with my breakfast meeting.

An hour later, ordeal over and family long gone to the zoo, I rushed upstairs to the hotel room to pull myself together. I wanted to splash water on my face and calm down. Breathless, I slammed into the mirrored bathroom, flipped on the light and looked at my reflection---the reflection, I had dreamed, of a soon-to-be published mystery author, edited—I fervently hoped---by Her Majesty and eventually respected in the field every bit as much as Mrs. Very Famous.

The woman who stared back at me from all those mirrors had a gigantic pink plastic curler in her hair.

Distinguished? 

Obviously not.  So please say a prayer to your god of choice for me tomorrow.  I can use all the help I can get.

Fortunately, I leave for

Aruba on Sunday, so I’ll have a week to recover from the humiliation I will undoubtedly bring down on myself as I attempt to deliver a distinguished lecture tomorrow in the academic world.. 

I hope the Tarts behave themselves while I’m gone.  But of course I’m taking my laptop.  The hotel room is wireless ready. You don’t think I could leave The Lipstick Chronicles totally unsupervised, do you?

Nancy  Go to fullsize image

September 21, 2005

Because Inquiring Minds Want to Know!

Because Inquiring Minds Want to Know!    

By Susan, the Book Tart with Adult ADD (not really, but it's close)                              

This has absolutely nothing to do with writing, except to show what a great procrastinator I am when I have work to do.  As my grandma used to say, “You’re so easily amused.”  So easily distracted, too, particularly by all the latest celeb doings, some of which have me deeply concerned.

I’m still reeling over Rene Zellweger and Kenny Chesney’s annulment.  My God, why did I send them that super expensive waffle iron from Williams-Sonoma so quickly after they got hitched?  You don’t think they’d give it back if I asked, huh?  Don’t have a waffle iron myself.  Besides, they probably already used it, making each other breakfast during the gooey honeymoon phase which, by all rights, should still be going on, except that the marriage didn’t last much longer than the honeymoon itself.   

On the bright side, I know a very attractive commitment phobic guy I’d love to hook Rene up with.  I think they’d be perfect for each other.  Sometimes, buying the cow is just too damned pricey.

TomandkatieI'm still holding off on getting an engagement gift for Tom and Katie (once burned and all that).  I keep hoping someone will put her brain back in her head, and she’ll realize that five million dollars isn’t worth being anyone’s beard.  All right, yes, yes, I’m jealous!  I applied to be Tom’s beard after Nicole fulfilled her contractual obligations.  I followed all the proper instructions, sending in my CV and photos, only to be told I’m "too ripe on the vine" and not "brain-washable enough," per the rejection letter.  To add insult to injury, I didn’t even qualify for the Scientology Good Driver’s Insurance Discount.  Dammit. Once I saw the Cruise Cabal had picked Katie Holmes, I realized they wanted a neophyte as pliable as Play-Do.  I’ll have you know that I’m filing a discrimination suit with the EEOC.  Not that I have hard feelings.  Honestly, playing Tom's love interest would've taken way too much time away from my writing.  Katie's a much better actress than I am anyway, so good at those pretend kisses on the red carpet. Though I will wait until the wedding’s broadcast live from Oprah’s couch before I print out their gift registry at Target.  (That’s pronounced Tar-jeh, for those of you with rusty French accents.)

As if that's not enough to worry me, there’s Britney and Kev’s baby.  It’s a boy, you know.  I’m told his name is Preston, though Brit swore her choice was “Popeye,” as in Popeye’s Spicy Fried Federline, after all her trips there when she was preggers.  Personally, I think Popeye Federline would’ve been perfect, and I already ordered a sterling silver rattle from Tiffany with “POPEYE” engraved on it.  Rats.  That’s what I get for being so ahead of myself.  Next time, I’ll wait.  Although surely one of my celebrity buds will snap up the name as soon as they realize Brit and Kev didn’t use it.  (Hello, Moon Unit?  Have I got a baby name for you!)  So perhaps that rattle won’t have to become a cat toy after all.

It’s like the thing with Jen and Brad.  Sadly, I believed in them, thought it would last forever; or at least until the extended warranty on my washing machine expired.  I had tears in my eyes when they wed (well, sure, I was hanging out of a helicopter, watching the ceremony upside-down, so maybe it was the blood rushing to my head and/or the wind from the chopper blades that made me weepy).  Doesn’t matter now, does it?

As soon as I saw that awful “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” I figured something was up.  That turkey was so bad that I realized Brad and Angelina got something far more out of it than their eight-figure paychecks.  Good girls like Jen just can’t seem to win over, um, exotic women like Angie, not with all those stories swirling around her:  wearing Billy Bob’s blood in a vial around her neck, swinging more ways than Tarzan, and doing her best Mother Teresa impression with all that U.N. ambassador stuff, not to mention motherhood.  Plus, she has legs up to her ears, for God’s sake.  Jen never had a chance.

Quickie Trivia on Mr. Pitt:  I’d heard a rumor that Brad smelled a little, er, ripe.  Though Harley once worked with him and assures me he’s not stinky at all.  (That’s the last time I believe anything I read in the National Enquirer, except that thing about Hilary Clinton bearing the child of an alien…or was it the child of Pat Robertson?  Hard to tell the difference these days.)

Speaking of aliens, I’ve got Mary Kate Olsen in my thoughts lately, too.  (Or is it Ashley?  I can’t keep Marykate those two straight.)  Those oversized sunglasses and bag lady outfits make her look like an escapee from Ye Old Loony Bin.  What good is it having a billion dollars and a fashion line for K-mart (or wherever), if you can’t even find clothes that fit?  Or match your socks?  Or comb your hair now and then?  Whichever the other twin is (and you know who you are), please, do an intervention.  Have Anna Wintour kidnap MK (because I think it’s MK) and force-clothe her at Neiman Marcus or Barneys.  While she’s at it, Anna can stuff some chicken fried steak with cream gravy down her throat.  Or maybe Britney can give her a transfusion of baby fat (she could write it off as a charitable donation).

Celebrities.  They’re just like us regular folks, only not so much.

I did get the galleys for THE LONE STAR LONELY HEARTS CLUB proofed and FedExed to NYC, so it's back to revisions just as soon as I finish thumbing through the inch-thick fall issue of InStyle.  (I like to call it "research").

992412a_smallCheers,

Susan

P.S.  Here's me, looking very serious, contemplating my rewrite and wondering if Mark has gone to Naomi's house to make sure she made her deadline.