Friday, June 27, 2008

Today's Writerly Kitchen Musing...

What’s for Dinner? Chicken Salad: chicken, celery, onions, dill pickle, poultry seasoning, mayonnaise...served open-face in sandwiches or just plain by itself! ...that is, if I don't decide to do cheese ravioli instead! Whatever you have, wash it down with a glass of killer wine. Janny

"Thrilled" Is Not Too Strong A Word...

...for my reaction to the Bulls' draft pick!

More to come....

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Beware! Writer in Kitchen!

What’s for Dinner? Cornmeal-coated Perch Fillets, sautéed in olive oil and served with…well, that part’s to be determined. But I do know There Will Be Fish. (This space for drooling) Yup, you’re seeing what I hope will be a new feature here at CWC, and something to take our minds off all the associated writer-angst that so often fills these pages, and our everyday writing existences. What better to cheer us all up than FOOD? (Hey, as a good Italian mother might say, “Ya gotta eat.”) If I actually have a recipe for what I mention, I’ll include it. But I’m one of those instinctive cooks who measures by the “pinch” and “handful” and “when it looks like enough…” so don’t hold me to teaspoons and tablespoons unless it’s someone else’s recipe! My favorite cook at the moment: Barefoot Contessa. More to come, but in the meantime, what’s for dinner at your house? Janny

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Needed: Some Good Old-Fashioned Ideas…

…and the pluck, energy, and optimism to sit down and write them! I found myself muttering this morning while reading Publishers Lunch Weekly, when I saw that a prominent novelist, NYT bestseller and recent emigrant into spiritual nonfiction has just sold another nonfiction spiritual book…in auction. At which point I began to wonder why. I try not to begrudge anyone success. It’s hard not to, but I try not to. But I’m starting to get a little fed up with people who already have all the success, fame, and goodies in the world…who then allow their latest books to be sold in auction. Many of these people have long passed the stage where they needed to keep producing books fast, because they had kids’ college tuition to pay for; they’ve kept writing anyway. Some of their books are very good. Some of their books are, at best, derivative. Some are even inferior, or in some other way, disappointing—and not worth the money asked for them. But because their name is magic on a book cover, most of those books will make more money than they, their spouse, their children, or their grandchildren will ever be able to spend. So I have to wonder: when does it get to be no longer a matter of a writer’s giving the public what it wants…and evolve into just plain excess? Is there a point at which, when said author has her agent call up and say, “Guess what. We’re in a bidding war”…that she can speak up and say, “No, we’re not”? Or is there some unwritten law in the profession that says you’re not “for real” unless you go for the most money you can, on every single book you can, regardless of whether you need it, have a use for it, or—and this is the part I really wonder about—even really believe in your heart of hearts that what you’ve put on paper is worth seven-figure ransoms? Is it your duty to always clean up top dollar for every project? Or is that a failure of some internal check-and-balance system in human nature? Isn’t there some principle or gumption or something within all of us that knows when to say, “Enough is enough. Take a reasonable offer. Don’t pit two publishers against each other. My ego doesn’t need it, my bankbook doesn’t need it, and my public doesn’t need to pay the outrageous price that will result on the book cover if we go this route”? Isn’t there? Or is that somehow…un-American? Is it somehow “underachieving” to reach a point where one says, “Enough”? Am I missing something obvious? I have to wonder. And again, I’m trying not to begrudge this author her success. An auction, by and large, is what most of us writers dream about. We all would love to wake up one morning, pour ourselves a cup of coffee, and get a phone call with those wonderful words, “Are you sitting down?” But, truth to tell, this morning, it hurts more than usual to see the rich get richer in this writing biz…because this woman’s one of many who have had more than their share of those kinds of phone calls, and then some. Which makes me think, “It’s someone else’s turn. Take a vacation, fercryinoutloud.” :-) Even nonstop work ethics aside, though, I think what bugs me most about this whole sequence, with this author and many others, is that what they’re doing isn’t rocket science. You look at the subject matters of some of these soon-to-be-monster bestsellers, and you think, “Dang, I could have come up with that idea.” But you didn’t—at least not before Suzy Prolific did. And so she’s going to pick up the bucks for it, and you aren’t. Whether she develops the idea as well as you could have, the die is cast. She’s got it, you don’t. And if you propose a similar idea to hers—even if your story/advice/knowledge is knock-one’s-eyes-out good—yours will be the one considered derivative. And yours will be the one sold for also-ran dollars, if it sells at all. So how to beat this? Idea generation. Brainstorming. How do you do this in your own work? Have you found particular things that spur you better than others? And are you willing to share those ideas with the world? Who knows, maybe you can then write a book on ‘em and end up…er…in a bidding war. (!) But please do share, if you would. I’ve been known to reward good ideas with chocolate. Just so you know. :-)



Monday, June 23, 2008

“Hammered”…and Not

One small aside on the title of this post: a few weeks ago, I remarked to my dh something along the lines of anticipating being “hammered” on the job, and he sweetly observed that it was about time I had the sense to drink my way through this gig. I set him straight, but not without difficulty. And it is a nice thought, albeit it would make staying awake in mid-afternoon tougher than it already is. (!) Anyway, this is one of those rare interludes in the publishing biz—when an editor has projects in the hopper, but for the moment, the next steps involved in said projects are something for which she’s not responsible, something someone else has to accomplish. This likeable state of affairs usually occurs a couple of times a year; it can last anywhere from a few days, or less, to a few weeks. Such lulls are usually preceded by the kind of couple of weeks I just went through, hence the reference to being “hammered.” As in, “put the hammer down.” As in working oneself, literally, to the point where one’s eyes no longer function. I arrived at that point last Thursday afternoon. Fortunately, the most intense part of the work I had to get done…was done. By Friday morning, I had turned over one of the last Fall books to Production; I still have one out there that’s going to require some detail work and some waiting, and I have one last manuscript to start on this afternoon—but this book should be short, sweet, and fairly simple to do, which means I should make my deadlines with time to spare… So I finally have time to put some blog posts up for a change. Which will be good news to that pair of you out there who are regular readers. :-) In the meantime, what are we reading this summer? Or writing, if we’re lucky enough that the Muse has not gone en vacance somewhere and left us holding a blank screen? And what else are we looking forward to this summer by way of nonwriting fun? Thoughts?


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"All Brian Tracy's Fault," part II

And then we came to the second part...
First of all, I feel a disclaimer is in order. If you happen to have stumbled upon this entry by Googling Brian Tracy, you need to know up front that actually, I have nothing personally against Brian. I’ve been listening to him since Earl Nightingale first introduced him on the old “Insight” series of tapes from the Nightingale-Conant Company (and they were cassette tapes, an admission which dates both me and Brian, although not necessarily in that order). That first speech I heard—about the difference between high achievers and those who fell short—was delivered at a rapid-fire pace that conveyed either a) a breathless passion for the subject matter, or b) a script with too many words to fit in the allotted time period …
…or both. :-)
I just knew that that frenetic, enthusiastic young man had a message that was inspiring, convincing, and challenging all at once. I bought it. And that, in the long run, has become my problem.
Brian, and most motivational gurus like him, preach one consistent theme when it comes to work: “Do what you love.” To this day, I can hear his voice in the back of my head saying, “If you don’t love your job enough to want to be the best at it, get out of that job and find something you do love. Life’s too short to waste it doing something you don’t love.”
But the best part about that was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If you found what you loved to do and became the absolute best—indispensable, in fact, at that job—good money would absolutely follow. Some of you scoff at this, but in the 80s, this was leading-edge. This was what all the business/career/self-actualization books said.
Trouble was, it’s never happened.
When I first got out of school, I was convinced my husband and I would both make our living as musicians. We graduated from good schools, we were good at what we did, and we were in Chicago, a place that offers myriad performing opportunities. So we went on auditions—one memorable one in particular, a Civic Orchestra audition my brand-new husband went to on the day after we got back from our honeymoon. (He probably played with a big smile on his face, but the judges didn’t know…they were behind a screen. :-) ) I, too, did audition circuits—to the point where the people at some of these places may well have muttered, “Oh, no, not her again.”
This, mind you, was around moving twice, having a baby, and all the rest of that newlywed-stuff. And I did keep singing; I joined an early music ensemble that sang Palestrina and other great stuff all over the Chicago area.
Of course, none of this paid. Which became a whole ‘nuther problem.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I did get the occasional stipend for a wedding or the like. But most people think singing is easy, and so except for union professionals who work major opera houses or the like, singers as a whole are lucky they make grocery money, even in major cities. Most of them actually live on teaching lessons and directing church choirs, not the performing itself. And there are only so many church gigs to go around, even in a city like Chicago.
So music wasn’t paying, not in any way remotely close to the “abundance” that was supposed to come from doing what I loved in an excellent fashion.
Much the same thing happened in the writing trade. After staying home with kids for years, writing and polishing fiction, I had a nice collection of rejection letters but very little else. Finally, faced with losing everything, I went out into the work world and found (what I thought was going to be) a great job being an administrator and newsletter editor. The sky was the limit with this organization…or so I thought.
Unfortunately, that sky turned out to be a heavy overcast as well.
So it’s not like I haven’t tried the formula, in various guises: full time. Freelance. Contractor. I’ve been a newspaper columnist, written for magazines, and tutored writers “on the side.” I even did one of those slightly-shady “term paper” jobs for awhile. But the bottom line still was that I worked for years providing “excellence” for people who went on European vacations, lived in neighborhoods I could only dream about, or sponsored Romanian orphans, while I worried about whether I could hang onto a two-bedroom townhouse and keep my utilities on.
So was the promise hollow all along?
And what do I do if it is?
If I talked to Brian about it, he might well say, “Have you truly given this your all? Have you done your best 100% of the time? Are you willing to pay any price, go any distance, to be the best?”
To which I’d have to say Yes. Maybe I haven’t been able or willing to hop on a plane at the slightest provocation to do endless “informational interviews.” But I have hopped on planes to go to writers’ conferences where I’ve networked…which in essence is the same thing. And yes, I’ve practiced visualization. And affirmation. I’m a positive-attitude person enough to choke most people I know. So this isn’t “not happening” because I give up too easily.
Trust me on this. :-)
I entered the Golden Heart for ten years before I even finaled, and that year I not only finaled but won. Persistence ain’t my problem.
So what is?

Here I am, in a career I’m still giving my all…and the brass ring keeps going to someone else. I’m still struggling just to pay my bills. European vacations? Providing for orphans? Don’t make me laugh. And it ought not to be this way.
So I’m wondering…what does Brian say to people when that happens?
Does he plead exceptions to the rule?

Or did I just waste my time for the last twenty-some years, chasing dreams that had no chance of ever paying off the way I’d been promised they would—sold to me by a man (and many others like him) who’s made multimillions off telling me I just need to “work harder” and “believe better”?

Many of us already think professional motivators are selling nothing more than snake oil. That they know a certain percentage of us will never get where they promise, no matter how hard we work, smart we make ourselves, or persistently we try. As long as some of us make it big, that’s good enough for them to keep peddling that same oil to the rest of us, and they don’t much care about the results.
I don’t want to think that way, for many reasons.
But I do have to wonder.