Tuesday, May 31, 2011

...And the Business of Books

And doesn't everyone who loves books secretly want to write one of their own?  I have read so many books that I am now the worst kind of critic.  If a book bores me quickly, I will toss it aside.  And I have literally thrown a few, like "The Da Vinci Code."  I hated that book, which puts me into a minority, I know.  After throwing a blah book aside, I've many times had the thought, "I could do better."

So, I tried to.  My first novel, "Lights in a Black Forest," has been read in its entirety or in pieces by many friends.  No one hated it.  Brandon and Kyle made suggestions, Christine corrected my German text, but everyone who read it, thought it was good, and publishable.  Even one literary agent who liked it, but didn't love it with the requisite fervor required of an agent who handles only a few books per year, said she had no suggestions to make.  There was nothing to fix.  The book should be publishable. 

Two years later, however, I cannot find a publisher or agent.  The book industry is changing, publishing houses are closing, agents are struggling to make a living as consumers move away from print copies and toward ebooks.  This had me completely bummed, until three people intervened to make me see that what I perceived as a hurdle was instead an opportunity.  John and Trey both suggested selling my book online as an ebook, Trey even sent me the link on how to do this.  A few weeks ago, Ed told me of the seven largest publishing houses, four were expected to close soon, leaving three.  The head of  Warner Books has moved to Amazon to handle their online book print business. 

And so, ebooks it is.  I spent this morning looking around Amazon at how to self publish, and worked on designing a rudimentary book cover, which I need to show Becky for help and advice.  And now, I am pumped.  I can sell ebooks and also use a Create Space site to make print copies, meaning I can have book signings at area businesses willing to host me.  I can give my book as gifts.  And, the lack of an agent or publisher will mean less help, but also more control over my final product.  My book is my baby.  I hope it does well in the world.  I hope people other than my friends like it. 

We shall see, very soon.


When the girls were small, we used to read chapters each night, all curled up on my bed. I read aloud from the Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, and first four Harry Potter books.  After Cedric died at the end of "Goblet of Fire," I thought those books were growing faster than my girls were, and worried they would get nightmares reading the rest.  We read the Series of Unfortunate Events, and some excellent stand alone books, like the "Phantom Tollbooth" and "Nurse Mathilda." 

For a few years, after they had outgrown the age of being read to (I thought!), the girls did not seek out books on their own.  And that worried me.  They played the Sims, excelled at board games, and made movies on our PC.  But, they didn't read half as much as I did as a girl, with fewer distractions than kids have now.  But, eventually, they rediscovered reading.  On her own, Cathy read Gregory Maguire and Rachel Cohn.  Sarah liked manga for a few years, and then found Margaret Peterson Haddix and other authors she enjoys so much, she reads non-stop until the book is done.

What a relief, as a parent and lifelong reader, that my kids will be readers, too, even without Mom there to narrate the stories.  But, that nightly tradition has made a resurgence, too.  About six months ago, when Cathy was sick, she wanted nothing more than for me to read the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books aloud, and change the names of all the children characters to Dylan.  Last week, I read the children's book "I Love You Forever" to Sarah, and she cannot stop referencing it.  Her favorite part is when the mother of her grown son drives across town with a ladder on her car and breaks into his home to cuddle him when he is sleeping.  So, Sarah and I will text each other:  "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, When you are grown, I will break into your home Macgyver-style with only a ladder and some chewing gum." 

And this fall, I have one reading goal and I hope we can make it happen, despite Sarah's cross country and Cathy's basketball cheerleading.  There is a book titled "The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear", which is 700 pages long, but full of adventures, like Minipirates and dragons.  I want to read this to the girls like we used to, a few pages a night on Mom's bed, like midnight travelers on our own little raft, which sets sail on the first page, and takes us whereever the book does. 

Which is what books are supposed to do. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Things Undone and Things to Do

After five years at HPB (she just got her anniversary pin!), Leah is leaving us for a library directorship in Montana.  I am happy for her, as she has wanted a job which better uses her degree for ages, and also to move back home, to the nine month long winters with neighbors five miles down the road.  It's not my dream, but it's hers, so I commend her for achieving it.  BUT, before she goes, we have to do one thing together, something we've talked about doing for years and I've always chickened out.  We are going to sing.  At a karaoke bar.  Leah can sing and does it well.  I can't.

But, I don't want this idea of us singing together, or better yet, of Leah singing with me playing air guitar in background (t'would be much funnier), to simply never happen.  For everything I accomplish, I have more things I want to, and don't.  I wanted to join roller derby, but really can't skate anymore worth a darn.  I wanted to go to Germany, but that partly depends on the largesse of my oldest brother, who is preoccupied lately with going to Aruba, or perhaps Juarez (see previous blog).  I did see the Pacific last summer with Christine and Darren, and plan on going to California for the first time with Beck this summer.  I have written a book and now have plans on how to publish it. 

So, I'm going to sing karaoke, after drinking enough to fortify myself, and check that off my list.  I am also going to be a bridesmaid next spring, and am already writing out toasts for the bride and groom.  Some are unusable, like my story about how the happy couple met on eharmony, and are so lucky.  I was less lucky,  met a guy on eharmony with a soundproof room in his basement, manacles on the wall, and a gimp suit which didn't look exactly empty.  Just kidding, actually the soundproof room was for sound editing and the man was very nice.  But, my version sounds better, doesn't it?  Just perhaps not good for a mixed crowd at the reception.  So, my gift to Abbi and John will be a book of unusable wedding toasts and I have a year to come up with this (about the length of a Montana winter.  Hmmm).  I will not leave this undone. 

I guess that my dreams and list of things to do keeps changing is not a bad sign, just that life itself changes, sometimes the people in our lives change as they move on, or we do.  Celebrating the moment is the thing, whether with a beer in my hand at a karaoke bar, or a glass of champagne at a wedding reception.  I can't wait. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why Not

Last week, I took home to Sarah a book I had heard Clare talking about at work.  It's a young adult novel, titled "Th1rteen R3easons Why", about a young woman who commits suicide, but leaves thirteen cassette tapes listing her reasons to a friend.  Sarah loved the book, read it in two days.  And then, on Tuesday, another boy at MVHS committed suicide, the third in five months. 

So, today's blog lists my reasons, thirteen in homage to the book NOT to commit suicide.  This blog is for all the kids in my life, my own and those I borrow to fill my house with fun and surprises.  Don't do it.

1)  YOU'LL MISS YOUR OWN PARTY.  I think sometimes kids have a strange notion of time and permanence.  I believe most kids who do something impulsive want more than anything to hear the outpouring of love which happens at their funerals, and then somehow undo the suicide and return to a world which finally appreciates them.  It doesn't work that way.  You won't be there, and you won't come back.

2) LIFE GETS BETTER.  It truly does, though whether it's because as adults, we have more freedom than you do to make our own mistakes and suffer the consequences, or because the raging hormones settle down enough to make the pains we suffer hurt less, I have no idea.  But, life does get better.  Just wait it out.

3) TIME HEALS ALL PAIN.  Whatever seems so dire right now, won't be so bad next year, or even next week.  Friends come into your lives, frienemies leave it.  You will change teachers, and maybe even schools.  A bad grade or a bad breakup can be all you think about for a few days, but it will get better.

4) YOU WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU MISSED.  You won't know who had a secret crush on you, who was going to ask you on a date or to meet his parents.  You won't have the great teacher all the older kids are talking about and see why they do. 

5)  YOU WILL MISS OUT ON THE BEST PARTS OF YOUR LIFE:  proposing to the one you love, or accepting that proposal, saying hello to the baby you've felt kick around inside for nine months, watching the SOLD sign planted in the yard of the first house you buy, taking care of your parents as they age, and feeling life come full circle. 

6) NO ONE CAN EVER REPLACE YOU.  Because you are special.  There will never be another you, no one even close to being like you.  Even your siblings are not copies of you.  No one can tell jokes like you do, can draw like you do, can give hugs like you.  No one.

7) NOT EVERYTHING IS YOUR FAULT.  Bad things happen in the lives of kids, and it can be hard to make sense of things.  But, for every bad event you've suffered, I bet I know an adult who has gone through the exact same thing.  Maybe not the combination of tragedies, because your life is your own, but most adults have also suffered, learned from it, and grown into empathetic people who love others. Just because bad things have happened to you, that doesn't mean you deserve bad things.  The pendulum will swing the other way and you will be happy again. 

8) MOST PEOPLE THINK ABOUT IT AT SOME POINT.  And they don't go through with it.  If you have thought about it, don't be ashamed. Just find someone to talk to and tell how you are feeling.  Like I wrote in #7, there is someone in your life who will know exactly how you feel.

9) "YOUR LIFE IS NOT YOUR OWN."  I give this speech to everyone now.  It's something I just learned myself a few years back, but it resonates although it was hard learned.  You don't own your life.  You belong to everyone who loves you, who would be heartbroken if anything happened to you. 

10) ALL THE GOOD IN LIFE OUTWEIGHS THE BAD.  Make a list of everything about this world that you love, from blooming flowers, to driving fast with your windows down, to your favorite foods, to getting a funny text in class, to your favorite band, and so on.  You don't take that stuff with you.

11) IT COULD BE CLINICAL.  If you are sad, and nothing makes you feel better, ever, then it might be time to ask a doctor why.  Sometimes our brains let us down, stop producing certain chemicals we need to judge situations correctly, and let happy things make us happy.  There is no shame in getting prescribed help if we need it, no more shame in that than in the shots I take every day to stay alive.  Doctors are here to help.

12) SO DON'T DO IT.  Don't let the last decision of your life be the worst one you ever made.

13) BECAUSE I LOVE YOU.  If you are getting this blog on your page as a link, I think you are special.  You may not need this intervention, but everyone needs to be told they are loved, especially my girls and their posse of friends.  I always thought I would have a big family, and I did get one.  You are part of that family.  Don't do anything stupid. 

Love, Mom

Friday, May 13, 2011

Books and Why I Love Them

Four years and one week ago, I started work at HPB.  My first real job was working in a bookstore, my first (and only) business owned was a bookstore, and working with books is my favorite way to make money, especially working with used, old, dusty books. 

These books have stories all their own.  Some hundred year old Bibles arrive at our store with names inscribed inside, gifts from those long dead to others now dead, too.  Some have old photos stuck between the pages, or flowers picked a half century ago and pressed inside.  Some are rare and valuable, with provenance, like those owned by Clara Barton and gifted to a Jones County resident and Red Cross founder. Some are chewed and drooled upon baby books.  We have found many cards and letters inside books, some love letters.  Once, I found a long letter from a husband to his wife:  "I tried everything.  Why don't you love me?"  I tore it up.  The wife had not cared enough to keep it, and the man's secrets should be his own.  Poor guy.

And, then, there is the timing and luck involved in finding the right book at the right moment.  I blogged a few months back about finding "There Are No Accidents" on a clearance shelf in Minnesota, the first place I went to on our Thanksgiving vacation, after wanting to buy a copy in Iowa, and letting that copy go. I was meant to have that book.  It made me think long and hard about why things happen, why I do things, and what the possible meaning could have been in writing into my novel the names and characteristics of many people I did not know at the time of writing, but met later.  My friend Z was especially nailed, down to place of employment and city where his mom lives, maybe why I feel so protective of him, like I made him with words.

So, I meant to write this blog last week, on my actual four year anniversary, about how (most days) I love my job, how I love the books themselves, and love the autonomy of deciding if Tibet goes on the China shelf or in "Other Asian Countries".  (I opt for Other Countries.)  I find it amusing to receive a call, like this morning, from a customer at 8:10 in the morning frantically needing a book on how to make your own chain mail.  At 8:10, in the morning, a pressing need for chain mail. 

But, last week on my four year anniversary, I was distracted.  My earlier blogs about finding love when I wasn't looking for it will not be deleted, just because that love ended sooner and more badly than I imagined.  It was, however, highly distracting all week, as I pondered the whys and wondered what the meaning of it all could have been.  And then... at power hour, when we all work to empty stacks of books into our cubes in record time, I grabbed one off the counter.  It was "Everything Happens For A Reason."  I looked up.  Seriously, God?  Again? 

I took it home, started reading with skepticism.  When the author wrote we all are given hurdles to overcome as a growing experience, I raised my eyebrows.  What about the Holocaust? I wanted to ask the author.  What did those who died learn from that?  On the next page, were the words, "As a Holcaust survivor..."  And my cynicism failed me.  The lessons I can learn from every event which does not seem to go my way, according to this book, can be summed up as opportunities to make us happier people who understand our purpose in the world.  I think I am pretty happy, because I don't need stuff, or people, or events to make me happy.  I try to make others as happy as I am.  But, as for my purpose in the world... 

Well, maybe that is not to be a half of a couple.  I'm starting to think that is not my purpose in the world, as good as I am at being a girlfriend and wife.  Maybe, it's just to make sense of things for myself first, and then to share what I've learned with others.  And I do this best with fiction.  So, maybe the lesson from my recent heartbreak is just to encapsulate all the good from that into fiction, and write my little heart out, and then, not to give up getting my work published. 

I want my dusty books on shelves in HPB one day.  Love to my friends, and thank you, Melinda for lunch today and listening to my theory about this book.  It helped me think through quite a bit. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mom's Day

My first illustrated blog, told with pics and rambly captions, instead of rambly musings. 

My first Mom's Day gifts arrived last Wednesday:  silk flowers, Dove chocolates, body lotion from Linz, picked flowers from Cath, Sarah, and Spencer, and notes from Matt and Trid.  Linz shared a story, about how she texted Sarah asking what smells of lotion I would like.  Sarah responded "dogs and boys".  Linz chose a flower scent instead; Bath & Bodyworks were all out of dog and boy smells.

 On Mother's Day itself, I had breakfast with my fambly.  Mark shared a funny story about how he had the option with Homeland Security to transfer to someplace amazing, like Aruba, but only if he takes whatever they give him at the end of his stay in Aruba.  He might well end up in some warzone bordertown like El Paso, across from Juarez.  He could also transfer to DC, and then end up in Juarez.  Loren says all roads lead to Juarez.  I say all roads lead to my house.

Karl thinks the Detroit Lions are a shoe-in for this year's Super Bowl.  Heh heh heh heh.  Still laughing.  He is such a dreamer. 

Most of the family went up to Mount Vernon's Chalk the Walk, where I took great pictures of my best friend Becky, who is an amazing artist, as well as Cathy's friend Matisse.  Cathy was originally supposed to be chalking the walk with Matisse, but ended up going with her dad this weekend, instead.  This made me very sad, even when I picked the girls up, until...

Cathy and Trid surprised me with a Mother's Day cookie!  The nicest surprise was that, despite going to see her dad this past weekend, Cathy and Trid had been plotting my Mother's Day gift for days.  I even got to pull out old baby photos to show Trid.  That is every mom's dream. 

So, after some bad moments with Cathy, when both our feelings were hurt, mine because I had felt forgotten by my girls, Cathy because she is not the type to forget holidays and thought I should know her by now, the night ended really well, with my mothering instincts guiding me through a bad situation, and Cathy's emerging maturity allowing her to move on and end the day on a good note, camping outside.  Though just barely outside.  And then we got cold and came in.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What Didn't Go Wrong This Week

Many things went wrong this week, so many things it began to feel surreal. 

My beloved, six speed, cherry red riding mower got a flat tire, which wobbled on the rim until I got it back into the garage.  The printer ran out of ink at a critical moment, and when I tried to print out fifty pages of my book for a literary agent interested in seeing more.  I dropped and broke my glasses at Trey's house, and although he offered to fix them, I was too blue to try.  I've rocked the nerd tape before on broken glasses, and I wasn't sure super glue would fix something which slides down my nose a hundred times a day.  I burned my hand pulling cookies out of the oven.  Abbi and I locked ourselves out of her house, and after circling her home, decided I should pull myself up and through her living room window.  We got back inside, but I showed off my least favorite side to Abbi and whomever else was watching, as my bum teetered on the windowsill and my legs dangled.  Becky came over and drove her son's moped, which my dog may or may not have knocked over, and it would not restart for us, so we wheeled it into the garage next to my broken mower.

But...  This was also the week I ran the first race of my life, two years after my first episode of singular sclerosis, which unfortunately multiplied and was aptly renamed last fall.  I ran the Drake Off the Roads 8k (5 miles) in 52 minutes, a respectable time.  I had an agent respond favorably to my query letter, and sent off some pages.  Becky's moped restarted, my mower will be fixed, my hand will heal, and Abbi and I got back into her home, me with the knowledge that I can lift my own weight. 

Everyone has down days, and I had my share this week.  But, the highs were so great, I think these will be what I remember.  And in the lives of others, Sarah will remember this is the week she painted Harold with his purple crayon on our basement wall.  Trey will remember his niece's prom march.  Abbi will remember a doppelganger boy cat coming to stay, until she saw his testicles, which meant he was not her Chloe come back home.  Cathy will remember her stay with the Griefs in their cabin. 

And so it goes.