Thursday, March 29, 2012

And Now Some (Non-Sarcastic) Advice on Book Publishing: On Agents

Yesterday, I wrote The Sarcastic Guide to Book Publishing. Today, I'm ready to be sincere.

I've read many beautiful books that were rejected by agents, or accepted by agents and then rejected by editors, or even accepted by editors but subsequently dropped or lost in the shuffle of published books.

I know many writers who've published a first novel and maybe a second, but then were cut loose from publishing -- because of markets and sales -- and some lost heart.

There are many brilliant writers out there who have done everything right, put in the long and brutal hours with language and story and character; and yet, their books aren't on shelves. I respect these writers.

And I especially admire the ones who find a way to keep returning to the page. They are unsung and yet there's some pure grace in their daily commitment.

I've been lucky. I'm supposed to veer from that sentiment because it's what women famously say about any success. Luck. But it's the truth. I've had books rejected as well -- the hardest perhaps was my first, but many since. Yet I've had successes to buoy me. And my luck is linked to my bullheadedness.

(Now, I don't have really sound advice on self-publishing. I have one book, originally published by HarperCollins, and rights now belong to me again. The Nobodies is a Kindle Book on Amazon. I have another novel that I once again own rights to and haven't really proceeded to make it available again. I know that there are options here in self-publishing, but it's best to get that advice from someone with real experience in that field.)

And now ... let me give some practical advice... on agents. (I've said much of this before but here it is again, in bite-sized portions.)

Advice on Agents

Everyone's road to publishing is different. I'll tell mine -- the quick version -- and then get to the advice and why you SHOULD worry your pretty little head about your profession. At the end here, I give A LIST OF TIPS. Do with them what you will ...

My agent is Nat Sobel. He's been well-known in the industry for picking emerging talent from lit mags. And this is, in fact, where he found me. I'd pubbed a story in NEW DELTA REVIEW. Jill McCorkle awarded it a prize.

I was desperate at this time, I should note. I was a firm believer in the American short story and would never think of writing poetry or novels, which 100% of my books to date consist of. Novels! I held them in great disdain. If you can't write it in 20 pages or less, why call yourself a writer? Novelists simply lacked self-restraint. (I was young.)

But I'd heard, mainly reading Andre Dubus' BROKEN VESSELS, a great essay collection, that if you write stories, the agents will come calling, and when they do, they'll want only one thing A NOVEL. Don't give in, Andre told me. And I believed I never would.

However I'd published a dozen or so stories and had come close to publishing the book, but was dealt a harsh blow by a small press -- long story -- and so when Nat came calling, I was soft.

He asked if I was working on a novel.

I said, Yes and by sheer coincidence the novel was based on the short story he liked.

He said he wanted to see the first fifty.

I said I'd need to polish them but would get them to him in a month.

The story was 11 pages long.

I wrote the first 50, had friends read 'em, then sent them, assuming Sobel would "sign me" and then he'd sell my collection of stories while I kept putting him off on the novel that I'd be secretly ignoring forever.

He said that he loved the first 50 and couldn't wait to see the rest.

That's when I became a novelist.

A great way to become a novelist, actually, because I never sat down to write my first novel.
I sat down to write the first 50 pages of an undeniable novel I never intended to finish.

Over 10 years later with Nat, and my 18th book came out this year ... Not a single story collection. I stole from the stories to quilt novels.

I still haven't been "signed". My agent and I don't have a contract. He's been great to me, and I couldn't ask for better support and smarts and occasionally he'll bark for me when I need someone to bark.

I also have a manager in LA, Justin Manask. Over the years, I've become close with him, too. I rely on his take on my ideas, and I love having him on my side. He and Nat worked in concert, for example, to sell both film rights and book rights to PURE, which happened almost simultaneously.

I've learned over time to be suspicious of agents, however -- some of them -- and here are a few things -- some very basic -- to keep in mind.

1. First of all, I divide agents into two categories -- The Don't Worry Your Pretty Little Head About Agents and The Others.

Personally, I'd say BEWARE the DON'T WORRY YOUR PRETTY LITTLE HEAD ABOUT IT agent. They tend to not want any suggestions from you. They keep you out of the loop, purposefully. You're never sure who they're sending to or the timeline and they make you feel invasive for asking. They tend to tell you that this is something you don't have to worry about. It's THEIR job to know these things. They seem like they're protecting you -- the Artist -- from the headaches of big, bad publishing.

Now, maybe this is exactly what you want. But, for me, I want to know things. I want to be part of the discussion. I want to be involved ... In fact, it is MY profession as well, this publishing industry, and I'll worry my pretty little head one way or another so I may as well do it in consultation with the agent.

That said, I do let Nat work his magic. I don't get in his way because I respect his expertise, but, too, we talk about my suggestions and ideas. We work together.


2. NEVER pay an agent upfront. The agents should get 15%, standard, sometimes a little more for overseas deals. If you don't make money, they don't. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't possibly take tutorials with teachers, attend conferences, workshops ... With certain books, I still pay to have my work read by an outside editorial type and/or writer. But this has nothing to do with my relationship with my agent.

3. It's good to know if your agent has good overseas contacts and can sell those rights, if you agree that that's a good idea ... or if you want to sell those rights as part of you pub deal.

4. It's good to know if your agent has good LA connections. (Options and what not should still be 15% -- your agent and the LA agent should split that.)

5. It's also good -- from my perspective -- that if I make something happen, like a glossy mag piece, that I don't have to give 15% to my agent. But if I get a deal and ask him to step in to negotiate a better deal, I do give 15%. Some places -- and this is your call -- ask to make 15% on everything you earn as a writer, and I can see a certain rationale there if they are really raising your entire profile... But, frankly, Nat doesn't represent my poetry, for example; it pays so little, so he shouldn't really make 15% and doesn't ask to.


6. Some agents get involved in promoting you -- more like a manager -- after a book pubs. Nat doesn't and, well, I think this is simpler. Post pub can be a crazy heated time ... But I can see the upside of an agent who takes that on ...


7. I like an agent to be in NYC. There are some good non NYC agents but they've got to see it as something they should overcome. One thing I can't do is be in the city, having lunch with editors, hearing what their concerns and interests are ... I think of my 15% as paying for that access and attention, those well-built relationships.


There are other things ... I'm sure ... Write in questions over at Facebook in the comments section, and I'll try to answer ...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Sarcastic Guide to Book Publishing

So, I get a lot of emails from people who want me to help them publish their books -- sometimes these books are written down, sometimes they are simply great ideas still lodged (unencumbered by language) inside of various heads scattered across the US and beyond.

You all know that I'm devoted to giving genuine advice to committed writers -- click here for a lengthy list of examples. I've said every kind and cajoling thing I can. I've gently urged people to, well, work on their craft. I've urged them to invest in reading. But sometimes, I confess, Dave and I both go through spastic sarcasm-fests before we respond which brings me to

[drumroll!]

THE SARCASTIC GUIDE TO BOOK PUBLISHING
by
Julianna Baggott


An Excerpt from the Introduction

Dear Aspiring Writer --

Let's be honest. Only four-year-olds are ASPIRING writers. I mean, once you know how to make your letters and arrange them into words, you're a writer! I mean, you can write, right? So, first off, let's just get rid of the idea that writers are somehow more worthy of being published than kindergarteners. (Lesson #1: If you can write words, you're a writer! Now say it over and over, "I'm a writer. I'm a writer. I'm a writer.")

Other books will tell you that you should read books to figure out how to write them. But, listen, they're all written by writers who, OF COURSE, want you to read their books. They make money off of you reading their books, and one day, you should give the same advice so you can make money off of other people reading your books. (Lesson #2. Never Trust Writers -- and you are one!)

You don't need to read! I mean, published books are just filled with all the ideas that someone's already CALLED DIBS ON. They might as well be lists of stuff that's been done. Passe. (Lesson #3: Stop Reading! And if you've read a lot, try to forget it all.)

Another thing you'll hear writers mouthing off about in an advisory fashion is that you need to spend hours -- 10,000 hours or 3-4 hours per day of guided practice for 10 years -- trying to learn to write. Are you kidding me?

Here are a few things to debunk that myth.

A. Let's not forget that you're a writer because you can write AND you repeated it three times in Lesson #1. So, seriously, eff off, stupid myth.

B. Me thinks all you need is a good life story! I mean, Hemingway! He ran with the bulls! That's really all you need. And, listen, if you can't actually run with the bulls -- I mean, who would, right? -- all you need is to have had some weird stuff happen to you or to really not get along with your parents. Freud made a career off of that stuff. Weird things happens to you when you're LIVING, not sitting around practicing your craft!

C. If your BFF has told you you're funny or a really good storyteller, THAT is what really counts.

D. And wait. I take back B. altogether. You don't even need to have weird stuff happen to you. All you have to do is think up some weird stuff. Case in point: Dr. Who -- even though that's a TV show, it still counts.

E. And wait again. I take back B. and D. because Twilight came to Stephenie Meyer in a dream. Remember that! All you have to do is sleep.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My Shiny New 12 Year Old.

In addition to some great film work this year -- including starring roles in the gritty, violent Kids with Guns directed by Logan Rees & the really beautiful period piece A Pony for Connie by Tansy Michaud ...

(Wish I had a large shot of this.)







as well as some filming of his own, Theo might be best expressed in a montage of soccer pics this birthday ...


A. Here he is on the field. His footwork is key, of course, but, seriously, he's got some Christiano Ronaldo eyebrows in the making here.


















B. Like his old man, here he is politely requesting that the ref reconsider.


















And C. Here's some incredibly beautiful form:





Happy Birthday to my brand new (brilliant, funny, artful, athletic, well-eyebrowed...) 12 year old!

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Great (Subconscious) Sadness of our Era? The Greatest Challenge to Creativity and Productivity? How to Survive?

So ... I believe that the current issue that technology (speed, interconnectivity..) presents is its challenge to our abilities to insulate and go deep -- which are necessary for creativity and productivity. Those creatives who will survive will have to be the most adaptive ... So, here, I ramble a bit about the slow movement, but end with a pointed question.

The Atlantic has a Slow Reading manifesto -- much like this older piece in The Daily Beast.

I'm a disastrously slow reader. I tend to remember, however, in great detail. In fact, I can recall where the image I read appears on the page -- upper left a third through the book. I was even better at this when young. Not photographic, not at all. Everything had to enter. It's one reason why I get freaked by e-readers. Holding the book -- the kinetic shifting of page weight slowly from left hand to right -- is part of my brain's deep engagement. Without it, I don't FEEL the structure of the book itself. Of course my brain might be able to rewire to look at a counter at the bottom of a screen, but let's be honest. I'm no longer THAT young. Rewiring is rusty work.

A while back I wrote a piece on the rise of fat books for The Tampa Bay Times. In it, I wrote something I'd been feeling for a long time -- a notion of one of the deep sadnesses and longings of our era.

"Now story is everywhere — hundreds of TV channels, DVD rentals, on-demand stations, pay-per-views, Netflix, Webcasts, YouTube, the streaming narrative of the daily lives of friends on Facebook and Twitter, the 24-hour narrative of the news cycle, as well as embedded in almost every commercial....

"The proliferation of narrative puts each of our own singular narratives in stark contrast — so much so that it's my belief that one of modern time's greatest sadnesses is the glaring fact that, against this cluttered backdrop of narration, each of us is allotted only one life. There are so many stories bearing down on us at all times that our own, in comparison, appears small, puny, lonesome riding its single narrative track.

"Best-case scenario: We're young. We grow older. We die.

"Long ago, this might have been a little easier to accept. Premodern man might have heard narratives at the fire on the full moons. But now — while story upon story is thrown at us — how can we feel content with just this one measly life — much less appreciate it?" (Full piece here.)

In the piece, I argue that fat books are an antidote. I don't know if that's true or not. But my feeling is that along with all of the speed that technology has afforded us -- the great inter-connectivity -- there are going to be more small personal backlashes coming.

In fact, the people who are the most successful will figure out how to manage the demands of speed and inter-connectivity. The most adaptive -- those who learn to shut out and go deep -- will be the fittest, will survive the best.

Here's my question. (And we can duke this out over on Facebook, ironically.) How do we manage when and how to insulate and go deep? What will that look like? How do we teach it to our kids?




Sunday, March 18, 2012

Open Letter to You: The Things We Forget to tell Our Kids -- An Invitation.

This past week, we heard a friend's diagnosis -- he hopes to make it to the spring. He has an amazing wife -- strong and brave and loving -- and two fantastic kids. He is also an incredible soul, moving through this with true grace.

Of course, I've thought of my own mortality and Dave's, and one reflection keeps coming back to me -- all the things left unsaid. There are so many things I want to tell my children -- to write down for them that I haven't ... days pass and I don't get to it.

That procrastination ends today.

These are the stories I want to hand down -- part-fact, part-story handed down generation after generation, whittled and yet also made magical -- of the people they come from, how we got here, what they have locked inside of themselves.

I'll begin as far back as I can -- on my mother's side that brings us to a baby found in grapevines and on my father's side a sheep thief auctioned off on a dock.

Here's the invitation:
Think of all the stories -- all of the lives -- we've lost, words wandered off into thin air. Today, I start to keep. I hope each of you is inspired to do the same -- to write it down, not for money, not for publication, but just to keep it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

1/2 Dozen for Noah Charney

A half-dozen
for Noah Charney

(Art, fiction, crime, travel,
being a playwright or not, magazine writing, touring, obsessions ...
you name it, it's here.)

Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.

I get these a lot—in fact, it’s almost a chronic habit for me to immerse myself in a sort of homemade interdisciplinary course that becomes a temporary obsession. When I was younger and single, I lived all over Europe (in twelve different cities at last count), to become something more than a tourist but less than a full-time resident. I would set myself up in an atmospheric apartment for at least a month, in Madrid, Florence, Ljubljana, Leiden, Venice, and I would immerse myself in a variety of cultural and historical projects related to the place. In Venice, for instance, I found a suitably Bohemian garret with a mansard roof, and I would sit by candle light, listening to Venetian music (Monteverdi, Vivaldi), reading novels set in Venice or travel books about Venice (Jan Morris, H. V. Morton), cook Venetian food, write, and plot my art-hunting path through the city. In Venice I wandered, Eyewitness guide in hand, and checked off every church that I found open (I have a perhaps weird love of visiting churches to check out the art and architecture), as well as every museum in the city. I chose to go to Venice in February for the stark contrast of Carnevale, which is hideously over-visited but surreal and evocative, with ghost-like drifters in moon-pale masks wandering the streets, and the absolute abandonment of the city for the rest of the month, when it is almost a ghost-town, and I could stand in the middle of Piazza San Marco all alone. So I would voluntarily plunge into obsessive immersion in these evocative cities.

But that was all, in retrospect, a romantic and productive way of staving off loneliness. Since I’ve been married, and divide time between Umbria and Slovenia (where my wife is from), my obsessions have become more targeted. I tend to choose long-term projects that I can write about in both non-fiction and fiction formats, and that also encourage me to stay in touch with the anglophone literary world, which is tricky since I live in central Europe. For example, I’ve been writing a psychological horror novel, and so I’ve created a list of the greatest horror novels and short stories (King, Straub, Bradbury, Lovecraft, Blackwood, Poe, James) and I’m working my way through reading them, all the while keeping notes on the books and the tricks used by authors for chilling effect. This will become a magazine article, then perhaps even a non-fiction book, about this project, but it also provides ammunition for my fiction.

In terms of more mundane obsessions, I ate up “Breaking Bad,” which is just about the best thing I’ve ever seen on television. In still more mundane terms, I’m quite obsessed with Karl Pilkington, both in his “Idiot Abroad” TV series and in his podcasts with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.

Having listed that many things, need I mention that I also find making lists to be very soothing?

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book? Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?

My answer combines two questions (hope that’s not cheating). I love to write, but I also have a hyperactive gland of some sort that is both advantage and occasional disadvantage. I write very quickly, efficiently, producing around 3500 usable words a day for non-fiction, with up to 5000 on my best days. Most authors are content with 1000 words a day. This speed-writing goes along with my speed-imagination. I have a list of about 20 books that I’d love to write, given the time, fiction and non-fiction. Many are thoroughly mapped out, which means 10 page book proposals and chapter outlines for non-fiction and sample chapters plus complete plots for fiction. This would seem like a good thing, but the nature of the publishing industry forces me to slow down, which can be frustrating. Marketing and publicity teams do not want any author to come out with more than 1 book per year (the exceptions are for academic books or co-authored mega-bestsellers, like those by James Patterson plus a cache of essentially ghost writers). The assumption is, probably correct, that you just won’t get media and critical attention for two books in one year. There is also a tendency for the industry to want you to specialize. I’m “the art crime guy” for fiction and non-fiction, which is fine, because I enjoy my area of expertise. But I’ve already gotten away with spreading my wings more than most writers are able to, in that I’ve written both fiction and non-fiction, and I’ve covered art history and art crime in both. I have a friend who is an award-winning literary historian, and he has essentially not been permitted by his agent or publisher to write books outside of that specific field. I haven’t had that sort of restrictions put on me, but publishers are wary of shifting a successful author outside of their established field. I love the research-project-as-memoir format of, say, the wonderful humorist AJ Jacobs, but it would be a harder sell to convince a publisher to let me write such a book, if the research project was not about art or crime. This is why some authors choose to write pseudonymously, to give themselves a chance to break into other genres without hurting their reputation in their main field. So my hyper-active imagination, and the desire to write at least two books a year, in very different fields, has to be reigned in. It’s really only in the world of magazine articles that my quick-draw writing and variety of interests is considered a plus. In the book world, authors move at a controlled pace, sometimes slower than they might otherwise move, if left to their own devices.

Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick. Pep talk (or bootie-kicking) for the downhearted writer. Let fly.

Combining two questions into one answer again, the real key to getting off the ground with writing is to be iron-bullheaded. If you believe that you are producing good writing and have good ideas (and if enough friends/family/strangers, but not necessarily publishers or agents agree with you), then stick with it. You need the steel-skinned attitude that anyone who doesn’t accept your work as genius is a dodo who is missing out and will live to regret it. There is so much more rejection than success in publishing, that you need to be stubborn and even over-confidence. That doesn’t mean that you should be cocky or think you know it all, but it does mean that each rejection letter should be dismissed as a missed opportunity for the person writing it. DO take in constructive, friendly criticism. But don’t give up, and don’t write what you think people want to read. Write what you love. Readers, especially editors, can tell if your heart wasn’t in something.

I had a trick when I was first sending out agent inquiries (I started out as a playwright, looking for an agent in that field, but was quickly told that novels were the way to go). I would choose ten agents, and send them letters. For every one “no thank you” I received, I would send out another five. I did this for several months, until I finally got a “yes, the plays are all well and good, but do you have a novel?” The answer was “yes,” and then I frantically wrote a novel from scratch. This was The Art Thief, and it became an international best-seller. But you can’t give up.


What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?

I’m an only child and grew up surrounded by adults, hanging out with my parents and their friends, who were like aunts and uncles to me. I developed a vast imagination. In kindergarten I was drawing and designing monsters to do combat with each other (this was just before the video game era). I played Dungeons & Dragons. I collected comic books, then wrote my own, developing super heroes. I invented new rules for new worlds within Dungeons & Dragons. When I got a Nintendo (the original 8-bit one), I designed new games for it—they still fill many spiral notebooks that my mother is keeping, just in case she can one day either open a museum or cash in on them on eBay. I wrote a novella (entitled Zenla) when I was ten. It was about a British prince and an Arabian prince who were brothers (don’t ask how that works), and who set out to find each other, and fall into a magical land with monsters running around it. I was always drawing as a child, listening to the grownups speak, but also included in their discussions and treated as an adult. The result is that I have a good ear for dialogue (I think my origins as a playwright come across in my fiction, where much of the back story and subtlety comes through the dialogue, and the reader must keep an eye out for it, or it will pass them by). I also had wonderfully supportive, enthusiastic parents who thought everything I do was super, and that, as long as I tried hard, I could do anything in this world. I luckily also had the best schooling I could possibly imagine, in terms of providing a youngster with that key moral support, self-confidence, that is far more important than learning algebra or reading Moby Dick. I went to a renowned, progressive pre-school, Calvin Hill in New Haven, CT, and to a great elementary school, Foote School, both of which cultivated a love of learning and that key self-confidence.

What other jobs have you had -- other than writing or teaching writing? Did one of these help shape you as a writer?

I wear a lot of metaphorical hats. I’m a professor of art history with a specialization in art crime. I’m the founder and president of a non-profit research group on art crime, ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes against Art), that runs a Masters Program that is the only academic program in the world in which you can study art crime. I’m editor-in-chief of a twice-yearly peer-reviewed academic journal, The Journal of Art Crime. I teach art history and art crime at American University of Rome. I teach art and architecture of Rome every summer for Brown University, and I teach writing on the Umbria Writing and Publishing Workshop, and crime writing for Brown University. I also do television presenting, largely in the UK. I have several TV series in development that I would host, on art historical mysteries and art crime. That’s not even mentioning magazine and newspaper writing—I write a regular column for ArtInfo called “The Secret History of Art” and publish a podcast of the same name, and I regularly contribute to other publications, including the LA Times. So while the basic themes are consistent (art), I have many different roles that I perform.

All of these things are about teaching and performing. Giving public lectures, which I really enjoy, is just like television presenting and teaching at university. You stand up, you explain (hopefully) interesting things in a (hopefully) clear and memorable way that (hopefully) is so entertaining that nobody notices that they were “learning.” Writing is the same thing, just in text instead of live and spoken. I think all of this comes down to being a good self-editor. You need to carve away the fat, the boring bits, the unhelpfully artsy bits, and boil it all down to the core—the shortest, punchiest possible bullet of entertaining and educational goodness that still teaches what I want to get across and does not insult the material or the recipients of it.

What’s your take on touring?

I love touring, but it is a rare event these days. Touring is very expensive for the publisher (hotels, flights, and “escorts” as they’re called, who meet you at each airport and whisk you around to bookstores, restaurants, and signings), and it doesn’t always pay off. Most authors don’t like it—it is exhausting, but my first tour was when I was about 27, so I was peppy. I toured 12 cities in 14 days. Every morning I had to catch a flight, which meant 6 AM wake-ups, flights, then a talk at a bookstore, crashing at the hotel, then waking up again. I crisscrossed the country, too—I don’t think the publicist who arranged the tour checked a map of what was near what. I had gigs in Houston and Austin, Texas but I had to fly to San Francisco between them. But I did feel like a proper, old-school writer, traipsing the country, the way they used to do it, in the 70s. Now I even give guest lectures via Skype. I’m glad to have had the experience of the hardcore book tour, but now at the ripe old age of 32, I’d rather do mini-tours. For my last book, Stealing the Mystic Lamb, the pace was just right. I had talks in upstate Massachusetts, New Haven, New York, Baltimore, and Washington DC—all comfortable train rides with no early mornings. I love public speaking, and give invited lectures even when I’m not promoting a book, but if I can keep it to train journeys, with time to sight-see a bit, I prefer it.


Noah Charney holds advanced degrees in art history from The Courtauld Institute and Cambridge University. He is the founding director of ARCA, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art, a non-profit think tank and research group on issues in art crime (www.artcrime.info). His work in the field of art crime has been praised in such international forums as The New York Times Magazine, Time Magazine, BBC and CBC Radio, National Public Radio, El Pais, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Playboy, Elle, and Tatler among many others. He has appeared on radio and television as an expert on art history and art crime, including BBC, ITV, CNBC, and MSNBC. Charney is the author of numerous articles and a novel, The Art Thief (Atria 2007), which is an international best-seller, currently translated into seventeen languages. He is the editor of an academic essay collection entitled Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Praeger 2009). Recently a Visiting Lecturer at Yale University, Charney is now Professor of Art History at The American University of Rome. He lives in Italy with his wife.

www.noahcharney.com

www.mysticlamb.com

www.artcrime.info

Follow Noah’s regular column on art crime and mysteries in ArtInfo magazine:

http://blogs.artinfo.com/secrethistoryofart/

Noah teaches writing for the Umbria Writing and Publishing Workshop and for Brown University.

And follow Noah on Facebook and Pinterest.


To read more 1/2 Dozens by novelists, essayists, poets,













Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Objectifying Men in Hollywood. (A Failed Attempt.)

[Okay so I gave this a shot: objectifying men in Hollywood. This is Baggott's failed attempt.]

Matthew Broderick will not age ruggedly. He'll age doughy and pink. Soft, puffed. You will think of him sometimes and the phrase, "He's in high colour!" will come to mind -- something you've never said before and how can you explain the Brit spelling as it appears in your mind? Do you think he's had work done? (You do -- maybe just those face injections? And it makes you sad in a way you can't quite explain. Ferris... Oh, Ferris. Wherefore art thou, Ferris? But what you mean is youth, youth. Wherefore art thou, youth?)

He is no Richard Gere (and never was), Gere who -- perhaps because of his Buddhism -- has aged stunningly, like a rich, rugged, well-educated hippy dressed in extremely expensive casual linenery (linen finery). I didn't think Gere was handsome young. (I have heard Winger talk about their work in Officer and I side with Winger.) But now looking back? He was beautiful. There's a certain beauty to youth in reverse. You see some sweetness and how can you not feel a little tender?

My son saw Sidney Poitier from footage at the Oscars. He'd just see To Sir With Love. "That can't be him. He was so much taller." Was Poitier tall? He was tall in his eyes, in his posture. But actually tall? Looked it up. He was tall -- 6 foot 2. But literal height for Poitier is beside the point. Age, yes, it diminishes the body -- but just saw a photo of Obama awarding him a medal and there is nothing diminished about Poitier. Never will be.

Yesterday I saw a picture of a dog who looked exactly like Sean Connery -- all in the eyebrows. But this is more about the dog than Connery. (Does the dog growl with a little Scottish brogue? These are things I wonder about.)

I feel like I've failed to truly objectify men, here. Have I? Is this offending ANYone? I seriously doubt it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

#Finnsanity or Have I Raised a Player?

My oldest son is 15. He started high school this year, and every few days, I'd say, "Has the fawning begun?" And he'd give me updates. Why did I expect an onslaught of fawning? Straight up history.

Maybe it started way back in kindergarten; his nickname was "the mayor" because that's how he glad-handed and waved to the other kids, who were sometimes shouting his name out from afar, as we picked him up everyday. Basically, it never ended. There has always been Finn fawning.

But this past week he took it up a notch.

At his school there's a male pageant called Mr. [Insert Name of School Here]. 4 boys from each class get voted in. There's an early elimination round in which my son pretended to be an uber-hipster -- after his talk, he pull down a suspender strap and a la Zoolander, he gave the crowd some Blue Steel. That cut the pool in half. He was the only freshman left standing.

Note: There were three female judges -- wearing wigs of blond, red, green.

Finn's first question given him by the emcee was this, "If you could have any super power, what would it be?"

My son walked over to the judges, gazed at them and said in a raspy voice, "If I could have any super power in the world, I'd want to be able to stop time so I could spend an eternity with" And here he went silent and simply pointed at each of them - bam, bam, bam. He held the gaze and then gave up the mic.

The crowd lost it.

The other boys were asked weird questions -- a few of them were asked what they stored in their purses. This baffled them. One said, "Cookies?"

Then Finn was up again. His question, "If you could take one of the judges on a date which one would you choose" my son grips his chest in pain "and what would you do on the date?"

He takes the mic but can't speak. He shakes his head, sighs. It's too hard, Only one of them?

Finally he says, "Okay, which one of you likes me the least?"

The green wig says, "I don't know you."

He cocks his eyebrows. "Okay, green means go." For whatever reasons, this makes the crowd go wild.

He then explains how he'd show up in his yellow Mustang (or Corvette?) -- he grips the pretend wheel, straight-armed, and revs the imaginary gas. "I'd take you for a ride on a canopy road with the stars overhead." He looks up and gestures to the stars and then leans back into the mic and says to the green wig, passionately, "You can have the stars!" Again, the crowd goes nuts.

He then says he'd take her to a lake, for a picnic. "I'd whip out a picnic blanket," he swiftly turns to the other contestants, "That's what I'd have in MY purse." I think the crowd is now on their feet.

And then he says, "I'd serve some amazing milk steaks." The crowd goes quiet. Milk-steaks? He turns to them, a little annoyed. "Um, milk steaks are steaks marinated ... in ... milk." Ah, they get it.

He turns back to the green wig and says, "After we ate under the beautiful moon, reflected in the lake ... I'd reach up" and here, of course, he does reach up, "and pull down the moon!" He pulls that invisible moon to his heart and gazes at her, stepping closer. "So that it would shine on your beautiful green hair. And that ..." he whispers, "might just be enough ... for me."

Serious crowd mayhem.

Seniors took the top two spots. Finn, obvious crowd favorite, came in third. But the winner tweeted that Finn really deserved it.

An upper classman started trending #Finnsanity. I do believe the fawning has begun.

Need I hashtag this piece with a parental note? #we'rescrewed or #Godsaveus or #didhewatchtoomanyFreshPrincererunsasachild?

It's your pick.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Want to fuse your fist to a doll-head? THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT. (Well, those are some words I never imagined stringing together.)

So, yes. There's a PURE APP and it's free. CLICK HERE. Doll-head fused to your fist? Gears embedded in your neck? Some birds? Yep. Plus, architectural designs of the dome, a crucial newspaper clipping from Bradwell's trunk, and Lyda's bird (it spins)... You can even read an excerpt.

How in the hell does an app come to be? Here's the story behind the story -- about all of the extra materials for PURE.

At first the publisher asked us for any ideas for cool extra materials. I already had some. For years, I had a growing map that I'd add to while the world of PURE took hold -- pinned to a cork board in my office (now on the UK web site). To understand the Dome, my father (once an engineer) drew up some architectural drawings (now in the app). Lyda's bird, which she'll never see on display, was inspired by an actual wire bird made by my oldest daughter -- a wire bird with filigree ribs (now spinning in the app).

Yes. They loved all of these. What else?

What else? I had no idea. I went back through the book. I created a few things: Lyda's insanity file (see app), handbook pages for Academy Boys and Girls (saved for Book II), a Righteous Red Wave museum flier (see web site), a Righteous Red Wave poster (web site), El Capitan's notebook where he experiments with poisonous foods on OSR soldiers (see web site -- I LOVE these drawings done by a brilliant artist). I wrote the text of a newspaper clipping about Ellery Willux and used a previously created image given to me by the publisher to place it in (see app).

Great. They loved that. They suggested an ad from Bradwell's trunk. We took a pic of our collie in sunglasses and something from the immediate post-apocalypse... Dave and my oldest daughter got out plywood and spray-painted the pieces for the sign (Web site: see here and here).

These things took over our house for a while. The wire bird in an app should spin, right? So she hooked the bird on a string to the ceiling of our garage, marking out a circle below and shot 32 frames of the bird in an exact circle. (See app.)

She recreated THE MESSAGE that falls from the hull of an airplane after the detonations -- staining it with tea, burning its edges ... (see web site). I also wrote a page from Bradwell's parents' manuscript which was burnt a bit too (see here).

Now the actual fusings -- taking a pic of yourself with something fused to you and the post-apocalyptic after-effects? Way over our heads. All done in-house at Hachette. In fact, they're the ones who took all the bits and pieces -- in the UK and the US -- and designed and arranged and made accessible all of these wonderful, weird things.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Post in which I say things not meant to sound like I really just want you to buy a freakin' copy of PURE, if not for yourself then for someone else.

This Sunday, The New York Times Book Review chose PURE as an Editor's Choice -- in a wild pack of books. (And I've always kinda wanted French bebes -- so I'm digging the here's-how -- as I'm probably not going to get one the old fashioned way. Hey, Dave, c'mon. That was meant to be joke-y.)

Here's a nod from The Guardian (UK) on PURE, in which, this: "Baggott tells what might have been an overly grim tale with crystalline precision, offering a hint of hope in the novels to follow." (Oh, yes, hope, of course! There will be hope, but, too, I can go grimmer, dearest Guardian, and next time my precision might be used to do just that! And thank you, thank you. And I love being on a list with Anne Rice.)

I've heard that PURE is featured in the current issue of TIME MAGAZINE in a piece called "Love Amid the Ruins" by the brilliant writer Lev Grossman. (If you don't know Lev Grossman's novels, start digging in. Seriously.)

BookReporter.com picks PURE along with THE STARBOARD SEA (debut by Amber Dermont; surely you remember her 1/2 Dozen, right?) for 20-Somethings Spring Break reads. I think it's fair to confess that I didn't read on spring breaks in college. In fact, I got purposefully blurry-eyed, but here's hoping today's youth, well, at least might enjoy a little "post-apocalypse thrill-ride" (to quote Steven Schneider, producer of the Paranormal Activity franchise who rules this demographic, no?).

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Humbled & Giving: Let's Talk about the Good

One of my definitions of writing is this: the daily practice of empathy. Empathy isn't easy. It requires the will of imagination. Reading novels in particular allows us to create that bridge into another person's life experience. I believe that this action, this broadening, this crossing of the bridge can make us better human beings ... but ...

still I have to push myself to be empathetic in the here and now -- to really look out on the world and its ample suffering, to gaze at the things that are hard to even consider much less try to understand and, in some small measure, feel. And while I'm out there hawking my wares and talking bookishness, some of my friends are doing incredible, humbling good works to make the world a better place. They push me to empathize, and I'm thankful for the shoves.

Here are a few friends who've humbled me recently and some good causes you might want to support.

If you visit the www.onemillionbones.org...
this is what you'll find:

"In Spring of 2013, one million bones - made by artists, activists, and students - will flood our nation's capital.

"One Million Bones is a collaborative art installation designed to recognize the millions of victims and survivors who have been killed or displaced by ongoing genocides and mass atrocities in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burma.

"Our Mission is to create a visible movement that will increase global awareness of these atrocities while raising the critical funds needed to protect and aid displaced and vulnerable survivors.

"For One Million Bones to realize its vision, we need people to create and donate bones for this event."

My friend, Jane McPherson who has worked with victims of torture (as well as having a list of credentials and degrees after her name that stretch on indefinitely), has launched a number of local events to raise awareness of genocide. Her work here is staggering. The national project is called One Million Bones. (If you're local in Tallahassee, go to this link to see all of the wonderful events here in town. If you feel like really getting involved email millionbonestallahassee@yahoo.com) Or you can give directly by clicking here.

And three more recent causes:

A good friend's daughter, Summer, is now college age and raising money to go to Africa on a medical mission. She is one of the most serious, devout, focused human beings I know and is currently studying to be a nurse. She is truly called to do this work. Even if you're not religiously inspired, listen, I know that Summer will be doing real hands-on good on this trip, helping to save lives and raise people's quality of life. If inspired, you can submit donations online by going to www.whm.org/give/give-to-a-missionary and give to Summer Shepherd.

My friend Joshua Roberts, a myeloma survivor, is running a 5k to raise money for the cause. He's alive today because others have given and worked toward inventing treatments. You can donate by clicking the link.

And one more for writers, readers & animal lovers -- the sister of novelist Randy Susan Myers is raising money for an animal sanctuary in the Catskills. The upcoming event is bookish so writers out there, send a couple of books for the cause. (Or click the link to just send cash.)