Sunday, March 29, 2009

for poetry fans

Check out Heather Grace Stewart's blog and her book of poetry. Half of the profits from the sale of her book go to funding children's education via UNICEF.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

marketing and publishing your book

Last night's QRB event featuring Craig Popelars and Michael Taekens, Directors of Marketing and Publicity at Algonquin, respectively, was quite enlightening. As I learn more and more about bookselling as a business, I am more and more intrigued by it, and also realize that I still have A LOT more to learn.

But I came away from last night's event feeling confident that
a) I'm on the right track
b) self-publishing was still the right way to go for me.

Of course, my goal is still to be published with a traditional publisher and get the exposure that one can often get from a traditional publisher. And I am quite confident that I can achieve this goal. But I am equally confident that I can make strides as a self-published author as well, especially if I keep doing the kinds of things I've been doing.

Craig and Michael discussed promotion and publicity techniques that I'm already employing: online social networking, blogging, blog tours, etc. (ok, so I haven't done the blog tour yet, but it's at the top of my to-do list). They also talked about the importance of establishing relationships, especially w/ indpendent booksellers. I think I'm off to a good start w/ that as well. Other things I could look into: book clubs, distributing galleys (although that runs into a lot of $$), and local media (press releases, etc.).

Finally, I'm passing on a bit of a gem in terms of a new online resource called The Book Publicity Blog. I especially got excited when I saw all the links for book sites, etc. (blog tour! blog tour!)

Overall, to my readers who are aspiring to be published authors: keep doing what you're doing, and stay on track. A publicist and a publisher would be totally awesome -- it can be tough to wear all those hats. Don't wait for it all to come to you; but don't sit on the sidelines, either. There's too much potential just begging to be tapped.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

*Ordinary World* and the author evolved

I've just spent the last three-plus hours working on the formatting for Ordinary World, the sequel for Faking It, and reading it as I went along. And I'm tearing up at some of the scenes. It could be hormones, of course, but I prefer to think otherwise.

I love this novel. And that's saying a lot, given how much I love Faking It. Ordinary World is great because we see Andi at a different place in time-- evolved in some ways, devolved in others--and we feel for her just as much, if not more. And we see new and old faces as well.

OW digs much deeper. Andi is no longer reporting on her clothes, but rather exploring loss. And yet, her wit, her cleverness still exist, as do other gems of comedic moments, wonderful juxtapositions of texture.

I also love this book because I also see myself evolved as a writer. I see someone who's much more confident, who no longer has to rely on the crutches of what she knows. She takes more writing risks. She's more seasoned. I see an author now.

I'm releasing OW in the early summer (I hope) even though I'll still be promoting FI. I just can't wait. Neither can my readers.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Elisa Lorello and Jenna Forrest on *The Artist's Craft*

This episode will air sometime next month on the Raleigh Television Network. Check local listings. In the meantime, enjoy.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

"the length of this conversation has far outlasted my interest in it..."

I've been in an Aaron Sorkin mood lately. Earlier this week I took out the Studio 60 episodes I had taped when they aired two years ago (was also delighted to find John Mayer's VW commercial where he's rockin' out w/ a kick-ass 15-second solo) -- still have the same mixed feelings about that show. Then I Netflixed Sports Night. I vaguely remember when this show aired in the late 90s, but don't remember watching it. It wasn't until about four years ago when I watched most of season one w/ my friend in his MA River Road apartment (but that's another story). It's surreal and sad to see every opening shot of the Twin Towers, so innocent and unsuspecting of their fate.

There's some good stuff in Sports Night, although the laugh track drives me nuts. The thirty-minute format is another thing that throws me off. It almost seems like the show ends just as a story gets going. This isn't a criticism as much as it is a testament to how Aaron gets his audience hooked.

Anyhoo, it got me writing this week, which is always a good thing. He always makes me want to be better at what I do, which is the best part of Aaron Sorkin, really. All his characters and creations celebrate excellence from the perspective of passion. It's not only that these characters are so good at what they do, but they love doing it. We need more of that. I need more of that.

Thanks, Aaron.
(And yeah, I miss the Twin Towers. And that River Road apartment. But like I said, that's another story.)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

a question of audience

The question has come up once again regarding audience--namely, when to pay attention to audience and when to ignore it. My answer: it depends on what you're writing and why you're writing it.

Some texts are "reader-based" texts. That is, they are written for a specific audience in mind, and that audience needs to be at the forefront of consideration when writing. For example, a query letter to an agent. Certain nonfiction books, like How-to books, also require the writer to have a firm grasp of who her reader is.

Fiction (and creative nonfiction/nonfiction prose), on the other hand, is more of a "writer-based" text. Here I argue that the writer, especially in earlier drafts, needs to put the reader on the back burner and pay more attention to what the characters are telling her to do rather than what she thinks her readers want the characters to do. Even my good friend Aaron Sorkin (ha! I wish!) has stated that if his purpose is trying too hard to find the audience (rather than letting the audience find him), then it can lead to some bad writing/decision-making (one of the criticisms for the failure of Studio 60 included this).

I've said it over and over again: the best writers seem rather selfish in nature in that they write for themselves -- but look at the results. Look at The Simpsons or Family Guy. Look at the classic Bugs Bunny cartoons (those were NOT for kids!). John Lennon said he always wrote for himself. Toni Morrison said "I wrote the book I wanted to read." And so on. Even Mr. Rogers, God bless him, knew that his interaction with his audience wasn't about the many, but the one. When he looked into the camera, he talked to one child. And even now, all grown up, when I watch Mr. Rogers, I *still* feel like he's talking to *me*. Brilliant.

Ultimately, we want others to read what we've written, and more importantly, to *like* it, so audience awareness is going to factor in at some point. But in the same way we'll never be able to figure out the X-factor that will determine how to win the attention and affection of an agent, I think that X-factor exists in other situations, too (unless you know exactly who you're writing to an for what reason). Even my students tell me, "I'm not sure what you're looking for." I reply, "I'm not sure what I'm looking for either, but I'll know it when I see it." I think agents answer the same way.

Bottom line? The more aware of who you are writing to/for and why you are writing will assist you in how well you write. If you're too focused on audience, then perhaps you need to step back. If your audience isn't responding, then perhaps you need to consider them more. Know *what* you're writing, too. Know the nature of the text, the conventions of the genre.

Writing is about decision-making as much as it's about language and expression and persuasion and communication. Good writers make good decisions. Bad writers, well...

I think even Aaron would agree.

Monday, March 2, 2009

truth, lies, and artifacts

One of the things I'm constantly asked about regarding Faking It is how much of it is autobiographical. Those who know me especially seem to have a hard time w/ this because they hear my voice so clearly in the narration.

My answer is this: A lot of it is autobiographical. And none of it is autobiographical.

Keep in mind that when I wrote the first draft of Faking It, I was writing for an audience of one: me. Furthermore, I had never considered myself to be a fiction writer. I wrote, and taught, creative nonfiction. I taught the memoir. I suscribed to a theory of writing and teaching known as expressivism. But dammit, the idea for Faking It wouldn't go away, and I had to get it on the page. So I had decided to write the book that I would want to read. And I took the same advice I so often gave my students: start w/ what you know.

Thus, I created Andi Cutrone, Andi being my favorite girl's name, Cutrone being Italian and the last name of a guy I had had a crush on when I was in high school. I also wanted to use the nickname "Cutch" as a play on the last name. "Andrew" was my favorite guy's name, and the comedic possibilities of a couple named Andi and Andrew were too good to pass up.

She was a native Long Islander who lived in MA, just like me. She was a writing teacher, just like me, although I had no idea when I first decided to go down that road just how delicious that was going to be. Andi and Devin are wonderfully rhetorical together, and it led to the tagline that precedes Chapter One, which I absolutely love.

Other similarities? We like a lot of the same music, watch the same tv shows, etc. We both abstain from alcohol for the same reasons. We both love Junior's cheeseckae. We both have brothers who are musicians, although Andi's brothers are constantly on the road, so to speak.

Devin is pure fiction. Brooklyn U is fiction. So is Sam. And so is the story. Andi may have looked and sounded like me in the beginning, and I needed to rely heavily on what I knew in the beginning; but the more I wrote, the more the story came alive, Andi came into her own. It was *her* story, not mine. I don't deny that there was a truth that needed to be told (the idea was first conceived back in 1999, when Sex and the City just came out and I was envious at how open these women were about sex in contrast to my sheltered upbringing). But the truth became Andi's truth. It was about her upbringing. her fears. her insecurities. her secrets. Mine wouldn't have been nearly as interesting or as compelling. Trust me, I told someone recently, my autobiography wouldn't be half as fun to read. And the sequel to Faking It is a continuation of that story, quite removed from my own experiences in many ways, although re-interpreted in others.

There are one or two little references that really happened-- for example, when Devin tells Andi "we're not dating," this had co-incidentally been said to me by a friend I'd been spending a lot of time w/ months after I'd begun writing Faking It, and my reaction to him became Andi's reaction, because it was well suited to the story. Throughout the novel, Andi mentions the writer's use of artifacts to advance a story, to bring a truth to light. That's all I was doing. I used the artifacts of my own surroundings.

My work now uses a lot less of such artifacts (although my current protagonist is a former writing professor-turned-coffee-shop-owner living in Wilmington; I don't foresee such a career change in my own life); but I confess that often it's just plain fun to do so. I love that my characters are Gen-Xers, that they love cookies or read David Sedaris and quote lines from A Few Good Men. I love when I read something that a character says or does or likes and I am able to say, Me too! I like paying little tributes to people I know and love in ways only they will recognize. To me, that's what makes being a fiction writer so much fun.

Friends have insisted that Devin is an ex, or Andrew is an ex, or Sam is someone I had a crush on. They question if I really dislike my mother, or I ever secretly loved two men. They wonder if I knew anyone who ever used a male escort. And so on. I just politely remind them that this is Andi's story, not mine. A friend of mine once told me a story about a novelist whose protag had a twin sister who was killed. The author received letters of sympathy for the death of her twin sister, when the author had neither a twin, nor a deceased sister. People sometimes confuse fiction w/ nonfiction.

"Art is a lie which makes us realize the truth." -Pablo Picasso.
In Faking It, Andi and Devin debate the meaning of this statement. For me, it's quite obvious. And perhaps that's my most favorite part of being a writer -- in particular, a novelist.