July 29, 2011

Made It Moment: Clarrissa Lee Moon

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 1:42 am

Celeste Nites

We have indie authors here on the blog, and traditionally published ones as well. Today author Clarrissa Lee Moon talks about finding her way from one path to the other, and the unique fit of a small press. It’s a Moment for this age and time, when more publishing options than ever abound, and a writer can truly find where she belongs.

I knew I ‘made’ it when I held my first paperback in my hands. It’s not easy for a lot of people to figure out how to get their book in print once it’s written. You sit staring at the stack of papers thinking, “Now what?” Some try to follow the traditional paths of finding an agent and submitting their works to various publishing houses. But, after hearing about the long waiting periods and horrors of what can happen to an untried author, not savvy in the world of contracts and interpretation, it can make a few want to hide their manuscripts under the mattress.

The internet, however, has opened up a lot of new ways of getting your book into paperback, but again there are places that can trap you and your work so you really have to be careful.

I started out self-pubbed and had a good time doing that. But as my series grew, I needed someone else to take the bulk of the burden off of me, so I could focus more fully on finishing my series.

My small publishing house fits me just fine and I am having a wonderful time being published with World Castle Publishing. As I hold each new paperback being released in my hands, I know I have made it.

Clarrissa Lee Moon would like to live like a tumbleweed going from different states often. An avid reader and owner of more books and DVD’s then any used book shop; she also enjoys Martial arts, swimming, riding Harleys and raising pure bred Japanese Chins. She has written as a journalist for two E-magazines. Author of Memoirs of The Nightwolves Series and Celeste’s Nites Novelettes, she considers herself unique, unusual and unconquerable!

July 27, 2011

Made It Moment: Melodie Campbell

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 12:49 am

Rowena Through The Wall

Melodie Campbell made me laugh with her Moment–read on to find out what is The Worst Mistake Ever Officially Made by a Human–and then punched me in the gut with the poignant truth of her last line. Some would say that’s comedy (Melodie got her start as a comic). Others would say, that’s life.

Melodie Campbell

How did I know I had made it?

First reaction: How did I know I had made what?
Oops…you mean as a writer. And I suppose as the author of the book, Rowena Through the Wall. The one I actually finished. The answer starts long before Rowena, although she won’t be pleased to hear that.

I got my start writing comedy. Didn’t mean to, but somehow every time I tried to write straight, the gremlins took over and twisted the words. Okay, I’ll go back; yes, I was the class clown. Always getting in trouble for quipping in class.

But you asked when I knew I had made it. I had glimmers of ‘making’ it back in the 90s, when a producer from fledgling HBO saw my play, ‘Burglar for Coffee’, labeled it “Completely nuts,” and offered me a spot writing pilots, which I stupidly turned down. (This goes on record as one of the worst mistakes ever made by a human not officially insane.)

I knew I had made it in comedy when I was asked to open the Canadian Humor Conference in Hamilton in 1999. I wrote short for years. Had over 200 publications, including 100 humor columns, 30 short stories and 3 awards for fiction. Was invited into the Toronto Press Club. Drank a lot of scotch there. Then some newspaper guy said, “Why don’t you write a novel? You’ve never written a novel.”

Never one to turn down a dare (did I mention I was not officially insane) I wrote Rowena. Or rather, she dictated, I typed. But as far as making it…one early reviewer said “OMG I love this concept in Rowena!” Another author said, “I’ve never read anything like it, and I love it!” That’s a start.

But truly, the way I will know I’ve made it is when that first reader comes up to me and says, ‘Thank you for writing this novel.’ That’s making it, in my books.

Melodie Campbell has been a bank manager, marketing director, comedy writer, college instructor and possibly the worst runway model ever. Melodie got her start writing comedy, so it’s no surprise that editors have called her fiction “wacky” and “laugh out loud funny”. She has over 200 publications and has won five awards for fiction. She is currently the General Manager of Crime Writers of Canada, and has taught fiction writing for ten years.

In 1999, Melodie was opening speaker at the Canadian Humor Conference. She was invited into the Toronto Press Club in 1994, and there is no truth to the rumor that she once did a somersault off the Press Club billiard table.

You can find out more about Melodie at http://funnygirlmelodie.blogspot.com

July 26, 2011

Nature & Nurture

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 3:30 pm

Books and bookstores were some of the finest treasures on the westward leg of our journey, but there were a few other things worth mentioning, too.

Colorado RiverFirst of all, traveling with kids–even with ones who consider a trip to a bookstore a high point of the day–necessitates scheduling in some stretch time, or time to get their sillies out as my daughter’s first grade teacher puts it.

We learned our lesson on this front last year on the drive. It’s not that the kids wouldn’t be perfectly happy by hour six, it’s that me and my husband would be pounding on glass to get out of the car.

The back seat was at that point turned into a combination funplex/football field/comedy club–comedy being a generous term for jokes pitched at the five-seven year old set.

Red Cliffs Of UtahThis year the kids could do even more hours in the car, so long as we planned in some playground stops. And swims. And even an all out hike.

It’s funny, our youngest learned to ride a bike this year and we are about one tight turn and getting-the-thing-started away from being able to ride as a family. Both kids are getting more comfortable in the water, although I wouldn’t call them swimmers yet. But I can imagine being able to do some of the more rugged stuff we had to put on hold during the baby years. It’s not here yet, but it’s coming.

Wasatch Mountains
Which is an identity shift of sorts. I still need to assist with shampooing after swim lessons–but I won’t for long. Not for always anyway. Once it was impossible to picture *not* needing to do these things; now it’s impossible to pretend that I always will.

I’ve nurtured them, and now we’re reaching a point where they’ll soon bike faster than I do. They’ll be pushing to take the longer hike.

Taylor Swift, Speak Now
Across the country we listened to Taylor Swift. I like her–and was glad to read Stevie Nicks’ view that she’s really much more than a creation of the pop music machine–but my kids *love* her. One activity that kept them occupied on the road was learning the lyrics to the songs on her latest album.

Album. A word for something my kids have never even played. Another sign that one day what I know will be outdated–and the next generation will come in. Hike in.

Here’s one that pretty much sums up our voyage out–and maybe even sums up all of our voyages.

if we’re lucky, we got nurtured along the way, or we nurture our little ones, or maybe somebody else.

But only for a time.

July 25, 2011

Made It Moment: David Antrobus

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 1:53 am

Dissolute Kinship

David Antrobus planned to depart for NYC from his home near Vancouver on September 11, 2001, a road trip of discovery and hopefully an antidote to the depression he was struggling with. When the towers came down, David decided to go anyway. To learn what his journey was like, you’ll have to buy his book. To learn how he knew he’d made it, read David’s words below.

David Antrobus

In one very mundane sense, I made it when I uploaded my book to Amazon and Smashwords—my first published book! exciting times!—but in a more profound sense, I made it when I actually wrote the book, which was in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001. At the end of 2000, I’d been forced to take a stress leave from my job working with street kids, and when my emotional health showed no signs of improving through the summer of 2001, I decided kind of randomly that a road trip to New York City from my home near Vancouver, Canada might somehow help. I had friends along the way, as well as a friend in Brooklyn, and I had never been to the Big Apple, so it seemed like as good an idea as anything, and infinitely better than brooding at home on antidepressants.

Only problem was—and here’s the sole justification for a unique book on this topic—I picked Tuesday, September 11 as my departure date.

But I won’t recreate it here; suffice it to say, the experience of driving to that wounded city across a silent, shocked continent was apocalyptic and unforgettable. Yet for me, the key was writing it. Writing is a calling that I’ve heard, and occasionally even resisted, since I was a young child growing up in England, although there are long years when I wrote almost nothing—working with damaged kids, as rewarding as it is in other ways, tends to suck the creativity out of you, or at least channel it in different ways. So this short redemptive book was my proof that I could change tack, turn it around, move in a different direction.

I may never publish another nonfiction book again, as my passion lies more in dark, literary fiction, but this book is my heart laid bare, essentially, and for that will always be treasured by me, its very existence proof that I (all of us, in fact) can “make it”.

As a former youth worker, in the United Kingdom and in Canada, David has continued his life’s work of trying to understand others and to be understood. Communication is at the root of everything. And to do it with both humour and elegance, or even beauty, would be the most fulfilling of all.

July 23, 2011

Declaration of Independents

Filed under: Declaration of Independents,The Writing Life — jenny @ 4:58 pm

And now for something completely different. While there may be nothing to do for Borders but mourn, I am happy to say that what we found on the wider bookstore front, traveling cross country, is that things are not only thriving, but proliferating.

I don’t mean that bookstores are opening second–and third–branches, though that is indeed happening. But also that the purpose of bookstores, their role in the community, is becoming more complex and multi-faceted.

In Midway, Utah, a small gem of a town in which I would love to vacation, a bookseller named Judith runs ReBook. The setting is a turn-of-the-last-century house that’s been added onto at least three times, and Judith has books in all of the additions as well as the house proper. The former kitchen is filled with cookbooks and volumes of cooking lore! It is a truly marvelous place.

Judith told me that not only does she host author events and book clubs, but she also has a mahjong circle, which meets regularly for an ongoing competition in her store. And in this largely LDS community, community meetings are held at–where else? The bookstore.

When a large bookstore recently closed, I was told that its owner hung a sign in the window: Need a bathroom? Try Amazon.

But as a commenter yesterday said on this blog, in order for bookstores to survive, they must do more than offer a clean bathroom.

Amazon has its place, and bookstores have theirs.

Booksellers like Judith–and Whitney and Bruce at Rediscovered Books in Boise; Rachel and Jennifer at The King’s English in Salt Lake City; Paul and Meg at Prairie City Lights in Iowa City; the folks at The Tattered Cover in Denver; Murder by the Book here in Portland (more on these good folks and others to come)–understand this. And they are making their stores into places where people come together over not just a shared love of reading–but a shared love of living.

Western Bookstore Collage
I was corresponding with a writer recently, and he feels that from the number of e readers he sees on planes, plus his sense of the industry, digital reading will vanquish print fairly soon.

My take is a little different. Perhaps Kindles abound on planes–a pretty good use for them, I’d agree, though as you know from yesterday’s post, I travel with books even when they weigh me down some–but bookstores all across the country abound with something else.

Not readers (e or otherwise). People.

July 22, 2011

An Ode to Borders

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 3:03 pm

Each night, once we’d unloaded the car of its many, many bags (we haven’t mastered the art of traveling light, especially given the bags of books we accumulated along the way), and got the kids into their pullout sofa or rollaway bed or sleeping bags, I would write notes about the bookstores we’d seen that day.

I was just looking them over and found a scribbled line–written in a moment of jubilation after a day of visiting a total of six chains and independents–that almost made me cry.

The line said, Long live Borders!

At the Borders in Champaign, IL, I met a manager named Amanda. Amanda was so enthusiastic about Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day that she began making plans for how her store could celebrate it later this year while i was still talking to her. And she went to the trouble of finding this blog and leaving a comment after we’d left.

Later in the trip, I went to the Borders in Provo, UT, and met Kirsten. Kirsten took the bookmark for my forthcoming novel and said with an expression that I can still see, a look of earnestness and worry and plaint, “I really hope I’ll be ordering this 18 months from now.”

What is going to happen to all these people who don’t just sell books like they might sell tires, or groceries, but who have a genuine affinity for their product? (Some people might love to sell tires, or groceries. Kirsten and Amanda love to sell books). Will they find jobs at other bookstores? Will they feel disillusioned by an industry that can wipe out 11,000 employees in a single stroke?

A student wrote me the other day to ask about the impact of the loss of Borders on his publication dreams. I mentioned that once there was a Waldenbooks in virtually every mall, and now there isn’t, but other bookstores abound. I said that this industry is constantly in flux, but the one perpetual seems to be that books keep getting sold and everyone is always looking for the next big thing, which should give all authors hope and sustenance.

It’s not that the loss of Borders makes me worried for books, or even bookstores, let alone publishing. It’s that it makes me worried for a slice of our…humanity.

Books more than other products–tires, to my mind, not that there’s anything wrong with them–seem truly connected to people. The people who write and read and sell them. When a massive branch in this industry is cut, the trunk bleeds a little, too.

Maybe the one constant isn’t books or bookstores, but storytelling, as human a need as our need to eat.

This is a sad chapter in our story.

July 21, 2011

Made It Moment: Ian Barker

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 1:16 am

Fallen Star

This is the first Made It Moment since we’ve settled out west. But Ian Barker’s words are special for another reason. They illustrate the truism that writing is rewriting–that no matter how good we hope our work to be, we can always make it better, especially when we come through luck and happenstance to wind up in expert hands. Read on…

Ian Barker

A funny thing happened on the way to the 2009 office Christmas party. I was about to get changed ready to go out, when I decided to check my email. There in the inbox was a message from Rebel e Publishers accepting my novel. Needless to say that night’s party was a pretty good one – even though I couldn’t actually tell anybody until I’d signed a contract.

Like most writers I’ve collected a fat rejections folder over the years. There were a few successes too, with short stories and with radio sketches – you kind of know you’ve made it when you hear your words spoken by professional actors, but that’s another story. A novel, however, is a different ball game. I’d submitted to Rebel some months previously because I knew another Rebel author, Cat Connor, via the Internet. They’d initially rejected Fallen Star, but had made suggestions for changes which I followed before resubmitting, so the acceptance came at the second attempt.

Of course getting the email is only the start of the process. There then followed almost a year of editing before the release date. If you’re looking for overnight success don’t become a writer! Yet the editing was the most interesting part of the whole thing, and definitely resulted in a better book by the time it hit the shelves. You don’t realize how much difference a good editor makes until you’ve worked with one. The edits didn’t change the overall arc of the story, but they contributed so much to bringing out the key elements and emphasizing the different layers of the book.

Of course what really brings home the fact that you’ve done it is when the box arrives from the printers with your author copies. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having something you can hold in your hand with the words, “I did that.”

Ian has dabbled in writing since leaving school. However, he spent almost 20 years working in IT before he discovered that writing about computers was easier than fixing them. He is now editor of PC Utilities magazine and lives and works in Greater Manchester, UK. Fallen Star is his debut novel.

July 19, 2011

Reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated: How bookselling is alive and well across the country

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 9:46 pm

Well, we have finally landed in (that is, driven up to) OR and after several adventures and misadventures, including what I feared would be a flash flood in Denver–you know someone has a big imagination when she’s envisioning flash floods in a city that boasts 300 days of sun a year, but it was raining *really* hard–and an almost-breakdown in Park City, Utah, I can weigh in with one sure and certain conclusion.

Bookstores and bookselling are thriving across this nation.

I want to do each store, each manager, owner, and salesperson we met, their due, so I’m going to compose a series of posts that will take you across the country with us, rather than try and sum up our trip. This may take a little while, so please bear with me.

And in the meantime, know that in every store we went into there were always other customers, no matter the day or the hour. There were young people and old. Asking questions, buying, browsing, waiting for events. Rooms were painted, often with quotes that tingled the imagination; shelves were laden; coffee perked or muffins baked. There was a weight to the air, a sense of both contentment and occupation.

Don’t tell Americans in Pennsylvania, or Illinois, Indiana, Salt Lake City, Utah, Des Moines or Boise, Idaho that bookselling is on the wane.

Reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.

July 11, 2011

A Tribute to Loretta Lynn

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 12:48 pm

When I was unpublished–I mean, I still am unpublished, since my novel won’t be out for about 18 months–but before I knew I had a prayer of being published, I used to dream of Loretta Lynn.

I remember one day driving home from my parents’ house, in one of the bleakest moments, when I was banging my head against a brick wall that had no intention of breaking, and thinking, why? why? when plenty of wonderful writers are publishing independently and going great guns. Anyway, Coal Miner’s Daughter came on the radio–and I don’t listen to country, not when I’m in the crowded northeast anyway; it’s indie college radio for me there–and so of course, I took it as a sign.

Well, here we are driving across the country, and that sign has come to fruition, but better than any way I ever expected it. But doing what Loretta did so stupendously–trying to get yourself known–is incredibly hard, whether Ballantine is backing you, or whether you’ve launched the coolest new press in town. We’re inundated with content in this country, overwhelmed by it on a daily basis. It’s hard if not impossible to know what’s worth valuing.

So when I go into bookstores, Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day bookmarks in hand, and try to describe what we’re up to–how it started last year, over eighty bookstores involved, I was a mom of young children, taking them to story hours on an inordinate basis, and all of a sudden thought, Some kids don’t do this–I always wonder if I will be seen as just another purveyor of unwelcome content.

Take Your Child to a Bookstore

It’s not really my personality to do this. I love meeting new people, but it’s hard for me to try to sell, even if what I’m selling is something like getting kids into bookstores. And of course during this trip in addition to Take Your Child Day, I’m mentioning that I have a novel coming out one of these days. I even have these clever little candy tins–designed by my tech guru husband (without whom this blog would probably not be)–to hand out. Is that selling or giving? Is there any difference these days when content is given away for free?

Only one thing has saved me from struggling with how Loretta did it–asking to be on radio stations when no one had ever heard of her and didn’t know if she’d ever make them one penny in return–and that’s the warmth and welcome of the booksellers I’ve met. How enthusiastic they are about getting kids into bookstores, not because it’s good business, but because it’s good life. When I push myself to move onto mentioning my book, and get to see the light in the eyes that’s unique to all book lovers, my doubts melt away.

Borders, Champaign, IL
I’m here, I think. It’s okay. I’m home.

This post is in tribute to the great Loretta Lynn, and to the booksellers I met yesterday, Amanda at Borders in Champaign, IL, whose enthusiastic reception and obvious love for the game gave me visions of fun nights to come, and Jeff at Barnes & Noble.

July 10, 2011

Hello from the road!

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:41 am

Here we are in Richmond, IN, having only gotten one hour and seventy miles behind in the Plan (you know…that great plan of travel, the most fun of which happens when it gets a little bit lost). Having done this once before now, there are already familiarities to it. The land opening up in Ohio. Road food. The sun setting and my children, who are normally asleep long before, gasping at what the sky can do.

We’ve stopped at four bookstores so far and it’s been wonderful on three counts.

  • Bookstores are alive, well, and filled with customers.
  • Our reception has been warm and welcoming at each one. One proprietor complimented us on how “alert the kids were”. I thought this was code for running around the store asking to buy everything in sight, from a book listing the names of every single passenger who had boarded the Titanic to no fewer than eight Rainbow Magic books, but when I thought of the 11 year old girls I had just seen, waiting for a movie to begin, each individually absorbed in their own electronic devices instead of interacting with each other, I sort of got what he meant.
  • Although the focus of each visit has been telling booksellers about Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, I’ve also had the inordinate, eleven-years-in-the-making gift of getting to murmur that I have a novel coming out, and dropping off a little early, early swag. It’s not every day you get to tell a complete stranger your dream has come true.

Here are the bookstores we’ve been to in case you’re nearby and looking for a great place to stock up or wile away a few hours. Tell Greg, Jeff, Dana, and Glen (respectively) that I was raving about ‘em.

The Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg, PA–where you can get a delicious snack or cup of coffee while you’re poring over the mixed up jumble of used books

The Whistlestop Bookshop in Carlisle, PA–whose owner has seen an astonishing parade of literary lights, including Edward Albee, Mario Vargos Llosa, and this November, Margaret Atwood, into his gorgeous event space. If you come to see Margaret, look for me–I will be there!

Books-a-Million in Triadelphia, WV–which represents the best a chain bookstore can be: bright, shiny, enormous, and stocked with every book you’ve ever heard of and about a zillion you have not.

The Book Loft of German Village in Columbus, OH–this might be the most stupendous sight we’ve seen yet on this trip. You enter down a path of uneven brick, with roses overflowing fences, and fountains burbling to the side. Once you get there, you find that ‘there’ is a warren of thirty-two–yes, that’s 32–rooms of books divided roughly by readership and genre. You could get lost in here–and what fun that would be.

Enjoy your travels this summer, everybody, and please keep your emails coming! Already we’ve got new stops to make and new friends to meet.

But no pithy nomenclature for readers of this blog yet.


Hmm, that doesn’t sound good. I’ll stop now.

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