Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Thrifted, Not Re-Gifted?

Thrifted, Not Re-gifted
A funny thing happen to me at the thrift store. As I was scanning the bookshelves for the lastest literary cast-offs my daughter cried out to me after unearthing a slightly worn copy of my debut novel, Soon and Very Soon-with a signature, no less. I haven't done many of these. This gave me pause. I was insulted. I felt the way I did when I found my favorite cassette tape of all time, New Editions's NE Heartbreak album in the bargin bin at Sam Goody record store. Surely, it was a mistake. The owner must have been like those clueless sad-sacks who give away one-of-a-kind artwork only to find iout its worth later on the Antique's Roadshow.
I made my daughter take me to the exact same spot where she found it. I examine the void it left on the shelf between an outdated volume of the Childcraft encyclopedia and another book as if it would give me some clue as to who could have given my baby away. I want to know this person's identity more than anything. See, my book only came out seven months ago, and we were in my neighborhood. I was sure I could crack the case. That's only a twenty-five to thirty mile radius to cover. Not exactly a case for Scotland Yard. I narrow the field of known residents that I had told about the book or sold the book to. Just when I think I have a list compiled, I think how ridiculous this whole thing is. How do you tactfully ask someone, did you happen to pitch my book out with your argyl sweater and Hammer pants? Was there no one you could personally give the book to? Ever hear of paperback swap, for goodness sake.
There had to be a logical explanation. The writer in me had me sit down at the kiddie desk set they were selling for just $7 to ponder a few possible ones. Maybe this person had a husband like mine who constantly threatens, "Don't bring another book in this house." But of course this person couldn't resist my realistic tale about two pastors that marry and combine their churches. So she took the risk and discarded the evidence immediately after the last page. Yeah, that's it.
Just when I thought I could rest a bit after a major signing at my sorority's convention at the end of this month. Yeah, maybe I'll do the Baltimore Book Festival in September, then the Capitol Book Festival. I've got a sequel to write. I can't possibly create and promote simultaneously. Soon and Very Soon will do alright. Wrong. I got a few more calls to make, connections to follow-up on and weekends to book with signings.
"Look mommy, you've got that book."
That's my six year old who has gotten good at reading the spin of books. She gets caught up on the last syllable of Terri McMillian's last name as she spots the hardback copy of A Day Late and a Dollar Short. I do own that book. I stood in line for hours while pregnant to get it signed at the crowded-to-overflowing Karibu books in the Bowie Town Center (Don't get me started. That's a whole nother lament). I would have loved to get it for $2.10. Just thirty more cents than my book was going for at the Waldorf Thrift Store.
God has a sense of humor. Just as I was about to grab my book up and discreetly pay for it at the counter like it was the last scandal sheet written about me left on the newstand, I realized I've gotten some real good books here. I wasn't thinking, poor Audre Lorde when I picked her book of poems up and added it to my library. I've found, read and treasured, Grisham, Jakes, Gaines, and Steele.
I could take it home, wipe the red colored pencil price tag off with a bay wipe and add it to the other books packed to go to Florida-for sale for $15 a pop. Genreic signature could easily be personalized on the spot. Dead wrong-maybe, maybe not. ( I put this is print so I wouldn't be tempted to do that)
I left the copy of Soon and Very Soon on the shelf next to the outdated volume of the Childcraft encyclopedia and the other book. God has plans for that book right there. My goal was that it would be widely read and that it would be a blessing to the reader. I couldn't think of a better place for that goal to be accomplished.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Hezekiah Effect for Writers

The Hezekiah Effect for Writers
Someone estimated that everybody gets about 15 minutes of fame. It would suggest that the recognition we receive as writers for our works will ultimately subside to make way for someone else's time. When does our 15 minutes begin? Is it when you have crystallized a theme or idea in your mind and proudly announce to friends and loved ones, "I am writing a book?" Is it the minute you learn to juggle the creative and business side of writing shopping your completed manuscript and securing a publishing deal. Or does it happen much later when you see your finished product properly bound with your name prominently on the packaging?
As writers we are all somewhere in that process. Even though we may not have submitted our offerings for recognition and fame, we ultimately want someone to read it, right? I mean, we did have something to say. Somehow we are lead to believe that our book's release date is the starting time and like a Domino Pizza delivery guy we are hell bent to deliver in 30 minutes or less. Is the clock ticking on our book's relevance? Does the amount of time our books sit on the shelves before being noticed and appreciated by the masses diminish its poignancy? Don't we all wish that we have written a classic and definitive novel in our particular genre that will receive steady sales that leave our publishers with no other choice but to go into a second, third or fourth reprinting?
New authors, especially those not use to running into that phone booth as a mere citizen of the creative world and emerging as a book marketing expert, are particularly concerned about their book's shelf life. They may still be on hold with the publicity department trying to figure out what their publisher is going to do to help market their book for them or in the line at Kinko's printing out a thousand homemade flyers. What is a press release? ..:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
In Biblical times, Hezekiah, the King of Judah faced the end of his life. The prophet, Isaiah was sent to tell him, "set your affairs in order, for you are going to die." A premature death was prescribed to Hezekiah. How does a man face his last and final days? Hezekiah had a mild breakdown, similar to the one many authors have when they think of the thousands of books in the bookstore, or worse, in their living room, that they have no idea how to move. Hezekiah didn't accept the timeline given to him. It is written that on his sick bed, he turned his faith to the wall and prayed to the Lord, reminding Him at the same time of how faithful he had been.
"Father, remember the countless hours I have spent, writing, researching, editing and re-writing this novel. I got up every morning and completed my morning papers like Julia Cameron suggested in The Artist Way. I cut my ties to the literal and tried my best to show-not-tell as outlined in the Elements of Style, by Shrunk and White. Not to mention the money I spent in conferences, writer's workshops and retreats. I understand its all part of the deal. The books are not going to sale themselves. Please don't let them send my book back to the publisher. Please, Lord, I've got to make back my advance."
The Lord heard Hezekiah's plea and agreed he was indeed faithful to his craft. God promised he would heal him and added fifteen more years on to his life. Another fifteen. What could we do with another fifteen minutes of fame. Maybe we could truly make a coast to coast book tour. That might be just enough time for the producers at Oprah to unearth your book from the slush pile of perspective Oprah Book Club picks. Heck, you need that extra time just to explore the infinite possibilities of on-line marketing-the real new frontier.
So we can learn a thing or two from Hezekiah: don't let critics mark the time of death for your book, stay faithful to your craft, and take a kneel beside your laptop or PC, stare at that that wall cluttered with pin ups of character sketches, outlines and literary contacts and pray for mercy.

I am not sane, I am a writer.

Sometimes my husband gives me the strangest looks. The kind where his eyes dart fertively about landing on me occasionaly. He doesn't want to ofend me, but he thinks I'm crazy. It's the same kind of look I get when I am mulling over a storyline to myself out in public or I blurt out a twist in my plot line like an "aha moment" in the grocery store. My husband has caught me scribbling on my tabletop notpad in the early morning hours or have held entire conversations with me before he realizes I haven't been paying attention. I can be with him, but not with him (knowwhatI'msayin'?) There are worlds fully populated going on inside my head. There are charcters attached to my insides like tapeworms dependent on me for basic nutrients. There are governments that need to be overthrown, conspiracies that need uncovering and countries that need to be evaded and I am the commander-and-chief. Excue me if I appear a little scatterbrain. No, I'm not just starring at the acreen although my work has been covered over at least 30 minutes by the screensaver. Yes, I need those little scraps of paper, napkins and bathroom tissue I've written on . Yes I take your threat of, don't bring another book into this house, as a personal challenge.
When we first met I told him I was a writer. I am almost certain now that he didn't know what that entails. I made a deal with him then. I'll allow you (and our susbsequent offspring ) in, BUT I have this task, this mission that I must accomplish. It's never ending. It's all consuming. It's unexpalinable. Don't ask, you won't understand the process. BUT if I want to share a piece of my offering, lap it up like a faithful dashhound, sit at my feet until I dismiss you with a pat on the head. My area is of limits. It is a mess, and yes, it ate up your magazine. You laid it on my desk at your own risk.
I told my husband I was a writer. That makes me the worst crackpot. I have more personalities then Cybil. In some of my works I've been a pastor,grocerry store mangaer, personnal trainer, pyschatrist, police chief and a teenaged boy.
I told my husband I was a writer. I didn't say I was sane
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Soon and Very Soon Book Trailer