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21 posts from April 2006

April 29, 2006

TLC Customer Service

Do blogs sell books?  Create communities? Distract or attract or repel readers?  Or are blogs over already? This discussion has come up around our neck of the woods lately. So we here at The Lipstick Chronicles, in the never-ending effort to stay cutting edge, thought we'd ask you, our visitors, what you think.

Of course, this particular method of info gathering means we don't get the opinions of people who've wandered in and decided we're not their cup of tea.  But we've never been accused of being the scientific types anyway.   

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So...what's your thinking? How did you find us in the first place? What do you like while you're  here? What do you dislike? What brings you back? What turns you off? What other blogs do you read and why? What blogs have you visited once and never bothered to return to? Why? Have you suggested our blog to anyone else?  If not, how come??

What subjects grab you? Too much author angst here? Too much mindless entertainment? Not enough nekkid pictures? Are we too political? Not political enough? Tell us what you think.  No hard feelings. 

We just wanna keep our devoted readers happy. 

April 28, 2006

Geesh, What Ya Gotta Do to Get into Harvard These Days.

By Sarah

Who knew?

Who knew that you could hire an "Ivy League" consultant for $10,000 to $20,000, who had her own agent at William Morris, who could read your daughter's college application essay and get her a $500,000 book deal based on that alone? Because the idea will come from the book packager, and maybe so will the plot and the characters and the cover and the copy editing. It's the "author" they've got to find, and she better be pretty and marketable. I can hear the conversation now - "She's attending Harvard. She's adorable. And Indian!"

Well, now I know. And as a writer, as a mother of a teenage girl, and as a former teenager who was once rejected by Harvard because - as the Harvard admissions geek told me - my high school was "really lousy," I'm disgusted. I tried to be amused. Then the angels took my red shoes. Whoops! Speaking of plagiarism.

But mostly I'm very disappointed in the more cynical members of the publishing industry who are treating teenage girls like junkies, feeding them a destructive anti-feminist fix of sex and meanness and designer name dropping. And the cost is nothing short of our daughters' brains. Maybe, one wonders, their very souls.

In case you haven't heard the story of Kaavya Viswanathan, you can click on her name and read it in detail in the New York Times. In short, Kaavya was an ambitious New Jersey student bent on getting into Harvard. After she strikes a deal with a book packager (Alloy Entertainment, creators of such fine series as the A List and the Gossip Girls), she gets a deal with Little Brown, which pays her a rumored $500,000. Somewhere along the way she gets into Harvard, too. Happy times at the Viswanathan house.

The problem is that Kaavya's a kid. She might even be a devious kid. Or not. The thing is, she's a freshman at Harvard and she hasn't written the book yet. And she doesn't know what the hell she's doing even though she's just been paid this obscene sum of money. So she turns to her inspiration, for lack of a better word, the chicklit books of Megan McCafferty, a Cosmopolitan editor with a heck of a lot of experience. According to McCafferty's people, Kaavya ripped off no fewer than forty scenes from McCafferty in writing her own book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. First print run - 100,000.

Gasp!

For her part, Kaavya claims to have a photographic memory and she just "internalized" McCafferty's passages. Well, that's the thing about being a teenager, isn't it? I went through a Hemingway period in college and suddenly my stuff was bad SUN ALSO RISES. Then I read David Mamet's plays and my dialogue was bad Mamet. That's Mamet. David Mamet. Mamet? Yeah, Dave. That's it, Dave. Mamet. But I didn't have a $500,000 book contract, either. I had a Tandy computer that came with a delete button. Thank GOD!

Apparently, Kaavya's excuse wasn't good enough. Little Brown announced last night it was pulling every book off the shelves and requesting that previously sold copies be returned. We'll see how that plays out on Ebay. In the meantime, part of me feels sorry for her. Charlie thinks I'm an idiot. But maybe it's the mother in me. I see a kid who was pushed too hard, too young. In my heart, she's a metaphor for a lot of privileged kids in that situation. Too much pressure.

And this is why I blame certain members of the industry, whether they're from Alloy Entertainment or William Morris. Everyone wants to find the prodigy. The brilliant, gifted child with instant talent. It's not good enough to be a workhorse, trudging out to pasture day after day, getting the field just right. You've got to be a Man O' War. You've got to be a genetic freak.

This my bottom line opinion of the case: I think first and foremost about all the kids whose parents can't afford a $10,000 to $20,000 "Ivy League Consultant." I think about all the kids who can't afford to send out the 18 to 20 applications that have become standard or the trips to exotic places or the expensive private schools or the houses in prime public school districts or the tutoring and SAT prep - all of which certainly put you at the top of the list in getting into exclusive joints like Harvard.

Then I think of the struggling Young Adult authors. I meet them all the time because Vermont College runs an excellent YA program. They are so sincere. They are working so hard. And their aspirations are so modest. My friend, Patty McCormick, attended that program. Later she published CUT in a small press. It became a national sensation, the paperback rights for which were bought by Scholastic. I love her books. Her books stick with me.

Other YA books do not.

There are great contemporary authors out there for teenagers. So many more than when I was that age. I read AVALON HIGH by Meg Cabot and loved it. I'm reading Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn and my fifteen-year-old daughter, Anna, adores Louise Rennison and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Laurie Halse Anderson (SPEAK) and Betty Smith (more on her later) as well as Meg and lots of others. I'm sure you can add your own. Curtis Sittenfeld's PREP, though not technically a YA novel, was superb and spoke to Anna as well.

What good can come of this? Well, Kaavya is going to learn a lesson the finest professor at Harvard couldn't have taught. So will her classmates. I feel sorry for Megan McCafferty, kind of. On the plus side, this scandal will send her numbers rocketing. On the negative side, who wants to be in the position of blowing the whistle on a kid like this?

But what I really, really hope is that teenage girls stand up for themselves and refuse to be manipulated. I hope they find the great authors who are out there, whom they will think about and draw strength from for years to come. Like Betty Smith. Not a day goes by when I don't think about A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, about Francie and Sissy and Katie and, especially, Johnny. Smith didn't have a book packager. She had a voice. And a gripping story about ordinary people who tried their best and often failed and sometimes achieved a minute of happiness if they were lucky. She is Anna's favorite author, too. That says something about what the YA market should be publishing. We want stories about real people, not The O.C. knock offs.

Sarah

April 27, 2006

Hey, Girlfriends!

by Nancy Martin       Go to fullsize image

Quiz:  You're stranded on a life boat dying of thirst, and somebody figures out you can strain sea water through a brassiere to create drinking water to survive.  Unfortunately, you had to jump off the sinking cruise ship without your Victoria's Secret, so who among your fellow thirsty passengers do you ask for the crucial piece of equipment?

          a.  Eleanor Roosevelt

           b. Hillary Clinton

           c. Julia Roberts

           d. Your best girl friend

No contest, right?

The Good Girl Friend is the person you want on your life boat. Not only will she immediately whip off her push-up and get to work, she'll make you laugh about it. In every day life, she's the person who will tuck the tag down into your sweater so you don't go around looking like a dork. She's the one who stops on the way to the grocery story to ask if you can pick up anything for you and comes back with a rotisserie chicken in half an hour. She tells the truth when your pages don't work. She sends your good reviews and doesn't see the bad ones. She insists you go out to lunch because she hears a certain note in your voice. And you do the same for her.

One downside of being a writer is that the solitary work of writing can make for a solitary life, and Good Girl Friends can be hard to come by.  They must be found, vetted, nurtured, trusted, loved, entertained, appreciated, occasionally forgiven, always supported and forever enjoyed. Which takes time and effort.

That fact came home to me bigtime this weekend at Malice where I was disgustingly sick with a headcold and missed out on getting to know potential GGFs better because I didn't want to infect anyone with the plague.  A few GGFs risked their own health to be with me. (Elaine Viets, if you started your book tour with a slight case of the sniffles that will soon escalate into coughing up a lung, I am profoundly sorry.) But I wanted to spend quality time with several GGFs. By the time I got into Pittsburgh for Monday's Festival of Mystery (check out this fun report) though, I was feeling a little better and had houseguests to enjoy, not to mention a few more friends for breakfast the following morning.

Not long ago, the Rottweiler came to visit me, and during an afternoon of showing her the sights (Mystery Lovers Bookshop was the first stop on her wish list) and--by extension--my life, she asked me straight out, "Do you have good girl friends?"

Yeah. I do. Women who make me laugh.  Make me crazy sometimes, but usually in the pursuit of something good I will discover about myself.  Women I trust and appreciate. Who help me diet, but know when massive amounts of chocolate are needed. They provide therapy--which would otherwise cost loads of money and take up years of my life--with the opening line, "Wanna go for a walk?"

Ramona and Hannah and I used to spend Sunday mornings scrounging flea markets for antique table cloths and McCoy vases, telling ourselves the treasures would be used for the weddings of our children. But we were actually teaching each other how to raise those children.

Mary Kate--my best friend dating all the way back to 4th grade--is the person I can see every five years and pick up the conversation where we left off. Just to tell you how much I trust her: I allowed her to cut my hair two hours before my high school senior picture. She also helped me find the first bra that actually fit me.  And I mean helped. And she was the one who knew how to dry my bra after a late night swim--by tying it to the antenna of the car before cruising into the drive-in movie theater.

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With Mary Kate, I learned how to get along with members of my own sex. That if I want a friend, I have to be a friend. That competition is stupid. That boys aren't worth the heartache, but real men are. That petty squabbling might seem important at the time, but life is long. That sex might be forbidden and mysterious, but it's actually pretty great. That it's more important to listen to the silence than the words sometimes. That courage isn't as hard as it feels.  That red and pink really don't look good together.

On Monday after Malice, Harley and I made a dozen pots of coffee and talked about craft and substance and our  mutual urge to write about things we haven't quite discovered in ourselves yet.

Vicki Thompson and I talked about "overnight success" that takes 25 years but still feels pretty fabulous, especially if you've got adorable pictures of grandchildren to show off.

I have a pact with another friend that if I die, she must come to my house immediately and clean out my underwear drawer.  I trust her.

In junior high, maybe you felt competitive with your girl friends--for boys, for grades, for attention, for all those adolescent needs and desires that are best forgotten now--and there are grown women who haven't quite left those days behind. In our mystery world, there aren't many of them, because feeling good about herself requires making other people feel bad about who they are or what they write. Anyway, you know such a woman when you meet her. Maybe she flirts with your husband.  Go to fullsize image  But she's the one missing out on the really good stuff.

Sure, we all have valuable, layered female relationships with our mothers, our sisters and our daughters. And family is important, not to mention your inner, spiritual life, and your work and philanthropy, too.  A partner to share it all with is the proverbial icing on the cake. As writers who work alone most of the time, we have to make a greater effort than some people to create a life worth looking back on with pride and satisfaction.

Good Girl Friends are the ones who help provide that satisfaction.  Or at least put it in perspective. And, if necessary, they will give up their bras to do it.  So I'm making more time for my girl friends now. Slow down, I'm telling myself. I shouldn't be in too much of a rush to get somewhere unless I've got good girlfriends to help me process it all.

Oh, and after the weekend I found a bra in my laundry room that doesn't belong to me, but it certainly provided the inspiration for this blog. The owner shouldn't worry because I'm putting it into the mail to her tomorrow with thanks for the idea.

Tell me about your best girlfriend.  And maybe what you learned from her.

April 26, 2006

A Coupla Hundred (Write) Chicks Sitting Around Talking

A Coupla Hundred (Write) Chicks Sitting Around Talking...About Murder

by Susan

Like the rest of the Book Tarts, I spent the past five days with a whole slew of women (and, yeah, a few guys), discussing such delicious topics as "Stalking Your Prey" and "Killing the Cat."  I had missed the Malice Domestic convention last year because RT was here in St. Louis, so it was great to be back.  Malice is the perfect time to catch up with old chums and bump into new ones, to schmooze with folks from your publishing house and your agency, drink margaritas, and laugh.  Okay, mostly laugh, because I did that a lot.

Alesia Holliday and I roomed together, and, after our pub dinners on Friday night (can you say, "too much food!"), we stayed up until 2 a.m. yakking.  Just like slumber parties in the good old days where not much slumber was involved.  Our late night gab session even caused Ms. A to miss a "new authors" breakfast, which I told her she could completely blame on me.  Saturday was crammed with appointments and the panel I moderated about "pink" mysteries...oh, yeah, and Nancy brought up Kegel exercises (which Alesia told a curious man was "a pastry" during the Q&A).  Harley discussed researching sex in a Bentley, and Elaine Viets brought up Lulu, the scene-stealing model pooch.  Malicepanel Alesia mentioned having an FBI file on her lil' ol' self, and I reminded her she had three (I swear, she even wrote about it on the Literary Chicks' blog).  Man, that was a hoot!  I rounded up the crew for a picture after our signing on the heels of the insanity.  That's Nancy on the far left, then Elaine Viets, me, Harley and Alesia.

After skipping out for dinner nearby instead of attending the banquet (though I heard the rubber chicken wasn't bad at all), I snuck in during the Agatha Awards presentation.  My fellow Mystery Chick and buddy Laura Durham snagged the Best First Novel teapot for BETTER OFF WED, and her mom was right there to share the moment with her (which was very cool to see).  Friend o' the Tarts Marcia Talley won her second teapot for Best Short Story.  Katherine Hall Page, the Guest of Honor, Sarahdurand was awarded Best Novel.  Our editor, Sarah, pictured at left (who cracks the whip on Katherine, Marcia, Laura and me, among others, including Agatha nominees Heather Webber and Shirley Damsgaard), celebrated at the bar afterward with many, many glasses of wine...okay, all of those aren't hers.  I think most belonged to Jim Born (all right, no, he wasn't there, but it's always fun to blame him!).

On Sunday, it was check-out time, and I bunked at Laura's house with Alesia after a signing at a nearby Barnes & Noble with the Mystery Chicks (me, Alesia, Laura, Mysterychicks Ellen Byerrum and Nancy Cohen).  I think we all hit the sack at ten o'clock that night, which accounted for my waking up before six the next morning, just in time to have cereal with Emma (Laura's adorable baby) and Jane (Laura's equally adorable mother).  Then it was a four-plus hour drive to Oakmont, PA, for the Mystery Lovers Book Festival, held annually post-Malice by the fab folks at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop.  There were 52 authors there this year, and 49 of them managed to arrive on time...um, Alesia, Jonathan Santlofer and I got lost, of course, using MapQuest directions from the hotel.  Aaaaack!  Someone, please, blow up MapQuest and just save everyone on the planet a lot of grief!  Though, during our trek, Jonathan gave me a great idea for something in my fifth Deb book...so, really, maybe getting lost was a good thing (even though, when we finally arrived at the church where the event was being held, I had people come up and say, "How are you?  We heard you were sick and had canceled!"  Nope, just directionally dysfunctional).

Flew out of Pittsburgh on Tuesday morning, changed planes in Chicago--where it was 36 degrees!  Brrrr!--and arrived back in St. Louis mid-afternoon.  After unpacking, two loads of laundry, lots of email and snail mail, I barely had the strength to type this blog (cue the violins!).  If you don't hear from me for another week, it means I'm in a coma.  Or at least taking a really long nap.

Zzzzzz,

Susan

April 25, 2006

How to Kill Anybody with Anything and Never Get Caught

DISCLAIMER: The information in the following piece is for mystery readers and mystery lovers who enjoy learning about poisons for the sole purpose of driving plot. It is not meant as a technical primer. And I'm so bad at science that it's probably useless anyway.

By Sarah

It's obvious from the title of the conference - Malice Domestic - that murder, especially cozy, homespun murder, takes center stage. That's where we, the Book Tarts, spent our weekend meeting fans, er readers, yapping on panels and catching up with our fellow mystery writers. There are lots of librarians and crazy ladies in absurd hats and quiet people who enjoy Agatha Christie and Carolyn Hart and Margaret Maron. An innocent enough group, no? Registered voters all, I'm sure. Cat lovers most likely.

And yet where else can one openly gab about the benefits of killing a spouse with common household mercury, the kind you can (or used to be able to) find in thermometers? With one innocent silver ball of mercury placed on something hot - for example, a light bulb - any ditz can win a million dollar inheritance.

Pretend you're the trophy wife of an old wealthy codger who, let's face it, has lived a good life and should have corked off long ago. You want to get rid of him, yet you also want his portfolio. In this case mercury is for you. When the lightbulb heats up the mercury vaporizes. The old codger breathes in the gas and rather quickly goes insane. Though not too quickly. It takes about a month, during which you can get power of attorney and grab all his dough. He will die soon afterward, thankfully, leaving only one telltale sign a true sleuth can discern.

This trick and many others I picked up at Malice Domestic from perhaps the most fascinating person in the universe or, at least, Texas. Luci Zahray is a pharmacist and toxicologist who calls herself "The Poison Lady." She travels around the country with her poisons, many of which are tucked into her carry-on baggage and yet are never apprehended. She is a font of lethal information, from describing the stages of strychnine poisoning (you don't want to endure that) to the dangers of children roasting hotdogs on oleander twigs to the simple process of murdering someone with pure oxygen.

Pure oxygen kills because the brain needs an influx of CO2 in order to trigger lung function. A gallon and a half of water ingested quickly will do in most adults. Strychnine causes death by inducing violent muscle spasms that peak and subside four or five times until the poor exhausted victim's heart gives out. Usually the corpse is in instant rigor mortis, in an absurd arc, and wearing a forced smile on his face.

Calling Sherlock Holmes.

One would expect Luci to be a Victorian Lemony Snicket character. She is not. She is a tall, vivacious, loquacious, pretty blonde who rattles off poisons and their effects in a Texan accent that is so cheerful the casual listener might assume she is trading recipes for barbeque, instead of explaining the toxic effects of Tylenol and gin.

Speaking of Tylenol, don't get her started. Honestly, as soon as I get home I am throwing out every bottle. That stuff is lethal, worse than people know. And the long, slow death is not pretty. As Lucy said, the liver is a pretty forgiving organ. It can sustain 80% damage and keep on filtering. Cross over to 81% and you're cooked. Twenty tylenol taken in a four-hour period can induce that kind of damage. I know this first hand since my brother, never entirely sober, used to drink a lot of vodka and take Tylenol to prevent a hangover the next day.

It killed him over a two week period. Okay, this is my last warning. Chuck it!! Sure, aspirin is lethal, but an overdose is more likely to make you throw up than kill you.

As for the single telltale sign of mercury poisoning? Blackened gold fillings in the victim's mouth. Ahh, the beauty of the so-called cozy mystery.

Sweet dreams,

Sarah

PS - Hi everyone I met at Mystery Lovers yesterday. Thanks for stopping by!!

April 24, 2006

Some Day My Prince Will Log On

Some Day My Prince Will Log On

By the Semi-Anonymous Guest-Blogging Tartlett

One of the interesting parts of this online dating, as I have discovered now that I am almost a month in, is what you learn about people. If I hadn’t signed up for this, I never would have guessed at the existence of the person who considers the comic book character Silver Surfer his role model, or the (Asian male) rent-a-cop whose most recently read book was about the body-image issues of African-American women. Really, it’s very educational.

By this point, a few of my matches have contacted me (eighteen at last count) and they aren’t all bad; though I remain discouraged at the range of guys who consider me in their league*.  I don’t mean to imply that I have eighteen potential boyfriends here—a good two-thirds of them have mysteriously vanished, possibly due to foul play. Mostly they seem to drop out in the long-answer stage of the communication, though some make it through to the actual introductions before falling into a black hole and getting eaten by sharks. Of course, it is possible that my dedication to total honesty in my responses could be a factor.

So, who are these gentlemen, ages 25-34, who have enough taste or simple desperation to contact me?

Several engineers, a couple of aspiring writers with reasonable day jobs, a forester (former California state chainsaw champion!), a few business types, a doctor and a forensic toxicologist (easy, ladies, I think I scared that one off). They love their families, their cars and/or their iPods, and thankfully very few of them were that impressed by The Da Vinci Code. Almost invariably, they claim to be shy at first but then open up, and their average height is 5’9”. All this and a guy named Bear.

I also find that I’m being more critical and at times even downright snarky about some of the guys who cross my e-threshold. And I suspect it’s not just me. Aside from the poor grammar and total lack of punctuation in some of the profiles, a number of the people I have been introduced to have posted things that could be detrimental to their mission to find a mate. (There are hidden dangers too, like the guy who lists Jerry MacGuire as his personal hero, unaware that that was the movie I saw with my first college boyfriend when he was in the process of dumping me by slow degrees.) So, since I’m in a generous mood, I thought I’d list a few helpful hints for anyone who feels like publicly posting their personal specs might be a good idea:

There are different kinds of openness. Telling me about how much you like cleaning your ears with a Q-tip is not the good kind.

Even if you think it is a really good picture of you, do not post a photo that you have cropped a previous girlfriend out of.

In a dating context, it is perhaps not the best idea to list Bill Clinton as your role model.

Not having read fiction by any author besides John Grisham should not be a point of pride.

You really don’t need to list the programming languages you work in.

Do not post pictures of yourself with a better-looking friend; you will suffer by comparison. (Forward-thinking daters maintain relationships with unattractive people for just this purpose.)

Say your latest obsession is your new puppy and you love tiramisu and cheesecake, and I may start wondering if you actually exist.

‘Venerable’ and ‘vulnerable’ are different words.  Also ‘regiment’ and ‘regimen’.

“I am able to communicate very wrll.”

If you take several photos of yourself, and one of them is good and the others not so much, only post the good one.

No matter how much time and effort you have spent on it, do not post a link to your website devoted to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s relationship.

My take-home lesson? There are a lot of fish in the sea, and not all of them are keepers.

* This is because I am a very shallow person.

April 20, 2006

Margie's in Charge!

The Book Tarts have gone to Malice!

Sarah's driving two days from Vermont.

Nancy's traveling with a headcold.

Susan's traveling without Ed.

And Harley's leaving her family for eight whole days!

Which means . . . .

Yessssss!!!  Margie's in charge here at Command Central at The Lipstick Chronicles!  Let the mayhem begin!   

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Ten Things Authors Do at Malice

Because Nancy Go to fullsize image 

is busy having the nervous breakdown otherwise known at Deadline Madness, she is not blogging today.  Instead, The Editor provides a list of 10 things she will do in the next 72 hours at the Malice Domestic convention when she should be at home pounding out the final pages of her book . . . which was due March 30.

Nancy will:

1. Attend a party where at least one author will explain in excruciating detail how easy it was to dash off chapters, plus get exercise and eat healthy while on an extended book tour where s/he chased customers around the aisles of Barnes and Noble to harass them into buying his/her latest inane release.  Which hit bestseller lists despite having no redeeming social or literary value whatsoever.

2.  Have drinks in the bar with understanding friends who manufacture serene expressions when she mutters possible lines of dialogue instead of actual conversation.

3. Listen to 9 out of 10 panelists complain about the time and/or day of their panel. The 10th will have an opinion next year.

4. Sit up until midnight struggling to make intelligent notes for a panel that will digress into all the other panelists being way more funny than Nancy is anyway, and maybe she should just steal their best lines for her WIP.

5.  Sign copies of HAVE YOUR CAKE AND KILL HIM TOO brought by a handful of kind readers who have actually read Nancy's books, and who offer Kleenx after they unsuspectingly inquire when a new book might be forthcoming and she bursts into incoherent weeping.

6.  Wonder what demented person chose the banquet menu and did not select a chocolate dessert because there can only be a handful of Agatha winners and the rest of us need comfort food.

7.  Discover that book room dealers are selling copies of Blackbird Sisters mysteries which are already autographed--meaning they have gone unsold since last year's convention.

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8. Attend an awards banquet for which--like 80% of all attendees-- she has read fewer than 3 of the nominated books (a failing for which Nancy is profoundly ashamed but doesn't dare admit in public) and afterwards contemplates starting a career in mixology as she stands in the bar in uncomfortable shoes celebrating the winners and at least one person asks, "Did you have a book out last year?" 

9. Get a headache listening to overcompensating authors talk about how famous and/or busy they are while at the same time listening for the quiet ones who might self-deprecatingly murmur something worth listening to.

10. Spend an otherwise pleasant breakfast with her editor who makes upbeat conversation until the inevitable, "When can I expect to receive the new manuscript?" which sends Nancy speeding home to attack the book that will not allow itself to be finished.

If you see Nancy at Malice, donations of Prozac and Tums will be gratefully accepted. Meanwhile, she is fighting battles with her outline, her muse and her own anxiety.  It's called Deadline Madness. Recommendations for good, theraputic chocolate are appreciated.

April 19, 2006

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog

by Susan (lying about that "stop worrying" part)

It’s wild to think I’ve been blogging for nearly a year.  Yep, as of May, the Lipstick Chronicles will be celebrating its first anniversary.  When we started this thing, I had no idea what to expect (much less what to do), or what the end results would be.  Like anything else, sometimes you just dive in and figure out the details later.

Needless to say, I’ve learned an awful lot, about people, about myself, and my writing.  I’ve figured out that I honestly love doing short essays every week, and I’m like a kid on Christmas, waiting for comments to go up.  In my opinion, the best blog pieces share information or experiences that may prove helpful to others; or they throw out some commonality of everyday life that we all understand.  It’s such a blast when a column gets the conversation rolling, and the comments turn into dialogue between strangers and friends.

Or strangers who become friends.  Yes, I’ve met some wonderful folks out there in the blogosphere; people who are talented and funny and who've become like neighbors I want to hang over the fence and chat with everyday.

I’ve also been introduced to other blogs that I enjoy reading, many written by pals who regularly visit Lipstick.  I read these blogs in the morning with my OJ, like I used to read the paper, and I find out things going on in the book world that I otherwise wouldn’t know (thanks to places like GalleyCat, Beatrice.com, and Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind).  A peek at Manolo’s Shoe Blog always gets me chuckling.

I’ve discovered, too, in my year of getting around the blog world, how revealing some bloggers are about very personal aspects of their private lives.  At least, they peel back the curtains far wider than I ever would.  Call me bashful, but I’ve read things that have made me blush and shake my head, wondering what the person was thinking.  I’ve learned details about surgeries, Brazilian bikini waxes, and sexual escapades…mostly people I don’t know from Adam, except in the blog universe.

Although, some I know well.

I’ve occasionally had to warn Ed, “Please, don’t let your mother go to Lipstick today,” and I’ve found myself grateful my mom can barely get online to email.  Those are the days I’ll get notes behind the scenes, asking, “How could she say that?  Why did you let her?”  And I’ll remind folks that that I never know what’s going up on the blog until everyone else does.  Every blogger at Lipstick--including the guests--is free to write about whatever he or she chooses.  We certainly don’t censor each other.  So, if you’re surprised by a particular piece on a particular morning, chances are, I am, too.  But just because there are places I will never go in my columns doesn’t mean that it’s wrong for others to explore topics that intrigue them.

Like, well, sex (since we're talking about it already...okay, I'm talking about it).

You’ll never catch me spilling pillow talk on Lipstick.  But others bloggers often do.  In Ayelet Waldman’s case, it landed her on Oprah.  And who’s that ho’ in D.C. who blogged about servicing the politicos and got a book deal out of it?  If sex doesn’t sell then why are Jessica Simpson and her DDs still on the covers of so many magazines?

Sell, sell, sell.

Isn’t that what it’s all about these days?

It’s a topic that recurs frequently on author-driven blogs, namely how to peddle faster than a Lycra-clad zealot in a spinning class.  What’s working to sell more books? How do I get my name out there?  What’s the secret for hitting the best-sellers lists (besides getting a stratospheric advance and all the press that goes with it)?

I’ve seen a host of opinions on the subject, some wonderfully informative (particularly when it’s advice from business insiders, like booksellers) and the rest a bunch of blather that doesn’t offer up anything new, except the old “you have to spend money to make money” mantra.  Ho-hum.

It’d be nice, for a change, if readers blogged on the topic of how they found new authors.  What makes someone pick up one book versus another?  Is it the cover art?  The jacket copy?  The blurbs?  A review in the paper or online?  Did a friend say, “You have to try this series!  It rocks!” 

Now that’s the kind of information I’d love to hear. 

Lately, I find myself increasingly dwelling on this:  for all the time spent fretting over the blog and writing pieces for it, does it actually sell books?  Does it create greater reader awareness of a particular author or series?  Does it increase an author’s web site traffic?  Does it give you exposure in ways that appearing at conventions and book stores can’t?

I’ve been checking my web site stats to see if visitors and hits correlate with the appearance of my essays on Wednesdays.  You’d think that would be the case, right? 

I did, and I was dead wrong.

Wednesday is typically the third or fourth most active day of the week on my web site in terms of visitors and hits.  Hmmm.  And while the blog does send me traffic, it’s nominal.  Hmmm again.

So should I be spending time writing books rather than blog pieces?  Is it worth it professionally?  Or should I just be happy for the personal pleasure I derive from doing these essays and interacting with the wonderful folks who come to Lipstick?

I’d really love for y’all to weigh in.  Have you discovered new authors via blogs?  Does getting TMI from some writers on their blogs actually turn you off to their books? 

And, finally, who might you want to see on Lipstick in the future?  More authors from all genres?  Non-authors?  This inquiring mind wants to know!  And not because I’m constantly asking questions like a three-year-old (okay, that, too, not to mention my tendency toward overanalyzing everything...but you probably already know that from my past blogs, don't you?).

Cheers,

Susan

April 18, 2006

The End of the World and I Feel Fine

By Sarah

Call it deadline madness, but I've been yearning for endings lately. So you can imagine my relief when I learned this week that we're in for a Nuclear Jihad. If all calculations are correct the end of the world will occur in six years, which brings us to the infamous 2012, the year the Mayan calendar ends and the year I turn 50. So much for worrying about liposuction and bad hips!

"Nuclear" and "Jihad" are two words that simply should not stand next to each other. I hadn't thought  - or maybe I hadn't dared let myself think - about the possibility. Nuclear Jihad = We're Screwed in any language. And just when I was about to make a major bestseller list, too. Damn.

Of course, every generation has its own end-time theories. As I've taught my Episcopal Church Sunday school class, who would much rather play Scattergories than listen to me rant, the Apostles assumed they'd live to see the end of civilization, if indeed one can live to see such a thing. Mormons believe the end of the world will occur in Jackson, Missouri, where Big Love will be cancelled despite promising ratings. Perhaps the most interesting eschatological theory belongs to the Hopi Native Americans who predicted railroads, freeways, oil and a nuclear bomb, which brings us back to We're Screwed.

(By the way, I don't know how Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad feels about Big Love - I can't even pronounce his name -  though I bet he doesn't like the show. One more reason to keep on watching, especially now that Nikki's trying to get pregnant.)

Having accepted we're toast, I've decided it's time to do some rethinking. I mean, this Nuclear Jihad stuff really takes the pressure off. Credit card bills? Pay them with those now unnecessary retirement savings. Or, better yet, don't pay them at all! Yes, credit card companies are ruthless, thanks to new legislation that can send you to debtors prison for missing late payments, but not even Visa and Mastercard can outlast a holocaust, though they were able to find me after I moved twice in Jersey, so maybe I'm wrong.

Giving up a vice? Fuggetaboutit. Eat, drink and be merry. Stay up all night! Skip work. Hang out with the family doing what you want, when you want. Take the red eye to New York to see a show. Blow the bank on a last minute trip to Maui. Ice cream and brownies for dinner. Why not? What, you need to live another twenty years? I don't think so.

And that's another thing for you Boomers who've been in the gym, staving off the Reaper. This idea of living on 500 calories a day so you can see your 120th birthday is for the birds. If you have any sense ,you'd be ordering a tiramisu right now and washing it down with a creme brulee. By the way, that money you've been hoarding needs to be distributed, fast. Remember it's easier for a rich man to go through the eye of a camel. Wait. That's not right. Oh, well. Something along those lines.

Personally, I'm working both ends. I'm still with the deadline, turning in the manuscripts on the off chance the Jihadists don't want to be nuked any more than I do or that maybe they're secret Bubbles fans who are sticking around to see whether Bubbles marries Stiletto.

Yet, I am mindful of the alleged  This Is Your Life video that supposedly plays in the afterlife, with special emphasis on where you were good and where you were nasty. Kind of like a health film on sexual dos and donts. I'm hoping for an A average, which means I have to be super nice for the next six years. I don't know if six years can make up for forty-some years of being a conniving bitch. But the way I look at it, I don't have a choice. Besides, I plan on doing extra credit.

Before that I'm moving to Scotland. Or maybe Cornwall. I'm a big Daphne du Maurier fan. If I'm going to die in a nuclear showdown, I'm dying on a moor, goddamnit. And I want my husband by my side in a long-sleeved white pirate shirt ripped down to the navel. He's also got to grow his hair so that it blows in the wind and I've got to dig up a bodice to be ripped.

So much for my End Times plans. How about yours?

Sarah, signing out, for now.