Sunday, January 31, 2010

With the help of friends....

For me, writing is solitary and, once engaged, pleasurable. I like to be in a quiet place, alone, and I like to keep at it for three or four hours at a time. Even if I stop to pour a cup of coffee, I avoid anything that could break my concentration. I don't turn on the radio while reheating coffee. I don't check e-mail. I don't glance down at newspaper headlines. I don't even let the sound of my own voice escape. Silent sneezes! Toilet flushes? OK, I do that out of courtesy to Jim. Cats meowing? Well, I haven't tried muzzling them yet but I have made Lila a bed beside my computer to keep her off my keyboard and by extension, off my
Lisa, Scot and I get ready to record a clip for YouTube
and my Web site (to come mid-February).

Here, we talk about the questions Lisa will ask.
hands that are working to export my thoughts. A 12-pound cat that insists on napping on my forearms can be accommodated for maybe a graph or two, but after that, enough.

There's something I do in my head, too, a kind of brain activity holding pattern where I stop thought momentary while I tend to my physical needs. Then, once back at the computer, I open the spigot again. If I do it right, I can re-enter right where I left off.

The part of the writing process I'm thinking about this morning has to do with how you get your writing to be read by an audience. Writing must not remain a solitary experience. The process isn't complete until you publish and subsequently interact with your readership. Publication and readers inform the process, like a circuit that completes and reinvigorates itself. Until "Free Fall," I've had ready-made audiences — through a magazine or newspaper's circulation, for instance. "Free Fall" has no readership awaiting when it rolls off the presses. It's up to the publisher and me to let people know that "Free Fall" is available and worth checking out (publication date: April 6).

A lot of this is done, not on book tours, but virtually. It's a proven tactic and I need to embrace it and find a way to develop social media habits that feel authentic. That's hard when you've not done this for yourself before or when you aren't even sure if your friends, often Baby Boomers, tweet and blog and create Facebook pages. It turns out some do and it occurs to me that part of the process is educating others like myself who are sandwiched between work and parenting and significant others and parents who need their attention, as well.

This post-writing process with "Free Fall" has been much harder than I expected. I have amassed hundreds of links — "you should read this before you start tweeting" or "develop a presence on this Web site" or "get to know these excellent book bloggers" — that are important to be aware of when you start publicizing your book. Also, Jim and I bought a bunch of books from Amazon about marketing books, blogging, tweeting, Web site design. One book alone provided a lifetime's worth of excellent tips. Combine all the research and learning with getting a Web site up, a blog or two going, figuring out how to get a Twitter following when most of your friends don't tweet, etc., and my reliably calm, organized and systematic functioning exploded. I've been a zombie, groping about, day-in, day-out, in a state of paralytic static. It's been awful.

There's simply too much to do that's new. And (this is huge) one link leads to another link to another link and before you know it, a precious hour has passed and that first task on the to do list is still unchecked.

So I picked up my phone and began calling friends and asking for help. The Web site alone has been a major stumbling block because I vacillated between using an iWeb template and designing it from scratch. I attended several iWeb workshops in SoHo and realized there was no reason for me to re-invent the wheel when all I had to do was use the software I already had. My very creative friend George (his design business is called, in fact, Courage Creative) agreed to help and since then we've made great progress. I think I'll have the Web site up in another week or so.

Every person I've turned to has said or done something I feel I couldn't have thought of or done on my own. My daughter Ardis, a feisty and smart library manager who has a large Twitter following of authors, bookstores, librarians and others, and uses social media often and deftly, came to Chelsea and sat next to me for three days as I got this blog, my Twitter and Facebook accounts up and running. I'd still be spinning my wheels if Ardis hadn't conducted this rescue mission!

I got a great idea for a Web page from Lisa. That one idea takes my Web site from "normal" to something fun and playful. Stephanie told me to be sure to work in the right search words and more importantly, she advised me about how much is too much. George is doing a second round of wonderful, colorful design. Hope, our library director in Rockport, has given me many of the most important and useful of all the links I've come to amass, as well as names of author Web sites to check out, and so much more.

And last night Lisa and Scot, two editors and journalists I've known and worked with for years, came to my house in Rockport. I provided a Tex-Mex repast, Jim made the fine martinis, and Scot taped the interview Lisa conducted. What I thought would be scary and downright impossible turned out to be easy and fun. From his winter digs in the Florida Keys Rod Philbrick (just awarded the Newbury Honor Award for his book "The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg") has been sending me suggestions for proven publicity tactics. Lynn, Rod's wife and a good friend, calls and writes and offers stabilizing assurances and information I act on.

Jim is the best cheerleader on the face of this earth. Last night he stood beside Scot, as Scot set up the camera, to help out. He reads my book reviews, even via pdf from his truck on a construction site, to make sure there are no typos. He brings me coffee when I won't do it for myself. He cleans the cat litter and washes the dishes and takes my side, even when I screw up.

My publicity agent Andie from Seal Press has given me hours of her time and made numerous calls and conducted investigations on behalf of "Free Fall."

Authors of first books and readers everywhere: Moving the book from the printing press to the hands of not just any reader but the readers for whom the book is intended is a big and daunting task. For me the paralysis wouldn't have relaxed had it not been for friends, family and the help of Seal Press.

This blog post is one way I can say thank you this bright Sunday morning.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Describing "Free Fall"

The 'erotica' tag

I've publicized books, events, art exhibitions, plays and even a movie. So when the time came to help with the publicity of my own work, I wanted to be an asset to my publisher. My own expertise was only a part of why I thought I could be helpful. I quit my job to become a full-time writer. I need to prove to myself that the last two years were worth this investment. And I, like most of us, need to earn money. I've earned very little in the last two years and cannot afford to put my home or my life in financial jeopardy. Finally, "Free Fall" is my baby. I want to work hard for her.

Writers can certainly help, if not drive, their book's publicity campaigns. But before that can happen, they need to step back from their work a bit and look at it from varied perspectives. I wrote "Free Fall" as a story about a love affair that ignited as my 18-year relationship with my mate flamed out. One of the themes has to do with the vulnerabilities we all experience when mental illness touches us in some way. After I wrote "Free Fall," I ran a focus group in NYC, only to discover that the participants disagreed with my take on the book as the story of a passionate love affair. They said the book was about a heroine's struggle to make moral choices under chaotic circumstances, when nothing seemed black or white. They were more drawn to the themes of mental illness than to the love affair, it seemed.

Then, more recently, I noticed that on the back cover of the bound galleys, my book had been categorized as erotica. In future postings I want to talk about what has been like to write erotica and how erotica is seen in this society. "Free Fall" will become available on April 6. Then I will begin to see how it's received and how I will deal with it.

For now, though, I need to stick with this one thing: "Free Fall" is erotica and that changes things for me. A month ago, I sent several authors I know, some fairly well, requests for endorsements for the back cover. Many have not responded, which I find uncharacteristic. Now I realize they may have seen what I did not, that the book is erotica and they are not in a position to endorse erotica.

To properly market anything, whether it's an artificial sweetener or a baby diaper, you need to understand the product's intrinsic value and create the brand from that core understanding. I needed help understanding what "Free Fall" was about.

A friend, also a marketer and a writer, talked to me about this the other day. "That 'Free Fall' is classed as erotica is to be expected." I agree with her. Intense erotic bits wind through "Free Fall." "Free Fall" is a year in which I lived an erotic life, after all. I was highly sensitized, sexually. The substance of my sexual experience — a certain relinquishing of personal power — was the metaphor for the new way I had chosen to conduct my life. "Psycho-sexual" is an apt descriptor of my mindset, the world I inhabited, the view from me, so to speak.

Yes, I wrote "Free Fall." And, yes, I write a book review every week that runs in newspapers around the country. Writing book reviews means that in 500 to 1,000 words I try to glean a book's essence and pass it on to people interested in reading about books. But artists can never really know how their own work is going to be perceived. In the twelve years I wrote a weekly personal essay called "Opening Remarks" that ran in some of the Ottaway newspapers, I was often surprised when readers would come up to me or write me about something I wrote. What they took from my essay and what I intended were sometimes quite different.

So now, no doubt, my mission will be to find a way for "Free Fall" to take its place, at least in the way I present it, side by side with other contemporary literature. I think its value is in the way sexuality is integrated with day-to-day life. It's said that women think of sex once a day while men do so every 54 seconds. In "Free Fall," I hope to remind Baby Boomers how much pleasure our bodies can bring us. To do that, I have to come to terms with what my book is about. I'll be a better marketer and messenger once I can comfortably discuss the book's intrinsic value.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Free Fall with bounce

Every day, it seems, I'm starting over. Why? In large part because I don't have a "real job" to go to anymore, I have a new lover and I spend more time at his place in Manhattan than my place in Rockport.

Before, my life was defined by my responsibilities. To-do lists, sticky notes and various computer and smart-phone calendars took me by the hand and walked me through my day. Partly because of habit, I still use all that stuff but it no longer occupies a place at my core. It's like a motor without gas. If I want to use it, I suppose I can fuel it up, add volition to the exercise of penning "want to's" that magically transform to "to do's" should the need arise. That stuff can structure a day and a life. It's lucky but it's scary to live a day without it. Try a couple of years...

— In Free Fall, you get used to the feeling of vertigo
Nowadays, to-do notes can be ignored with little consequence. I'm starting over, not just today but every day. Continuity, like meaning, is something I have to invent. Or, should I say "reinvent" since nothing is the same and what happened yesterday is relegated to simply that — yesterday.

In Free Fall, I've learned continuity doesn't come naturally. Life for me is more random, though I find I move from association to association as if problem-solving. I find a recipe I like on Epicurious, for instance, look for something yummy I want to serve with it, head down to Chelsea Market to buy ingredients, cook, eat — a food chain of sorts! This is also how I write and think. It may frustrate some of my readers because I like to grab these associations when they happen, fill them out, move on. I can't write chronologically and I suppose I'm saying I'm finding it hard to live chronologically. Can you live like one of those super bouncy balls, careening from one thing to the next. Order? Process? No, it's free fall, but with vigor.

I haven't imposed much discipline beyond the essentials: feed cats at noon; go running sometime during the day; read the paper (if I get to it); submit my book review by 10 a.m. on Wednesdays. There aren't hard links that draw me through the minutes of my life like before. I didn't leave behind a half-filled cup of coffee or a magazine proof that needs a third review or a boss pacing, waiting to deliver the next big job. Continuity, then, is something far more amorphous, than I've known. Nowadays, staying confident requires a strong component of faith (not religion).

If you read Jim's (my lover) blog (, he says the same thing. He's starting over. But he's 70 so maybe starting over at 70 and being a man is different than starting over everyday at 61 and being a woman in waiting for the next really cool thing to happen. And it always does.

See for a related blog, where I share my day-to-day adventures. You never know what you'll bump into when you're in free fall.