"Bake Sale" was the poem's working title; it's about bake sales. I wanted to enter it in a contest, but knew a title such as "Bake Sale" was a liability. That's because contests are run by organizations that like to appear serious, having boards and grantors to answer to. They' re reluctant to announce that a trivial-sounding book or poem -- good or not -- has taken their prize. Therefore, at great psychic expense to myself (just kidding), I sought another title that might sound better in a list of winners, finally settling on the title "Homemade."
I retitled another poem, "Soda in Bottles," as "Delight."
I retitled "Aunt Emily" as "Pure as the Driven."
You see the kind of thing I'm getting at.
A year ago today I was finishing and formalizing a manuscript, the most sickeningly hard work I have ever done. (I didn't then know that I didn't have to do it all myself, but that's another story.) I would've preferred cleaning toilets over the calling and faxing necessary to find and obtain permissions from copyright holders. Tedious fact checking, organizing the "front and back matter" such as the introduction and the "T of C" (table of contents) -- ech. And then formatting ("do not use tabs for paragraphs; instead, indent three spaces...").But it was my responsibility because the book was mine, and nobody else would devote so much time and care or waffle over a word as I, because it was mine, and was also my sole contact, forever, with the future and with readers I would never know. I could earn their respect only with the quality of my book.
Several writers I personally know are finalizing manuscripts for contests, or are under contract and a deadline and up all night, among dirty dishes, stressed out of their minds, eating junk or nothing. Awful. Yet noble. This is a privilege. Which of us would change places with a non-writer? What else is there in life that compares with having completed the epic project that is a good book?
First glimpse of my new book, Meet Me, last Friday; it was already being sold by St. Charles' Main Street Bookstore owner Vicki Erwin (yes, the writer) who ran the book sale at the Missouri Writers Guild conference, carrying 100 titles, all by conference presenters and workshop leaders. Amazing, the number and variety. Who had the most books? NYT bestselling novelist Bobbi Smith, "Queen of the Western Romance." If you like handsome, emotionally available cowboys, Bobbi's your author.
Authors were to be present from 3 to 4 p.m. for signings, and I had the pleasure of meeting my book's first buyer and second buyer.My publisher, Winnie Sullivan of Penultimate Press, met me there Friday, bringing my authors' and contributor's copies, plus my order of 100 copies for my personal stock. This cost me $970 with tax, but I got that over with, and Winnie helped me shelve them in my personal rolling bookstore. I was destined to sell two copies from the trunk before the weekend was over. Winnie and Vicki talked business.
Lessons learned on Friday:
- authors at "signing events" mostly stand there doing nothing.
- at conferences, dress to look prosperous, not like the ink-stained wretches we all really are.
- offer your business cards, if you leave them on a freebies table, in something that will hold them upright, or at least hold them.
- don't be afraid to bring your books even if not asked. Don't be afraid to want to sell your books or -- very classy -- have them sold for you.
- always carry copies of your books in your car.
- it is nice to have a publisher who'll help you move heavy boxes of books and talk business and promotion with a bookstore owner.
- have a good idea or two about how you will inscribe the books you sell.
- it takes two or three weeks for a new book to get on amazon.com.
At the MO Writers Guild conference, I led a workshop on chapbooks in the morning, and in the evening had dinner and gave a keynote speech. I am not a speechwriter, not at all. I learned:
- Be organized; it helps when so much is going on around you.
- People are impressed if you appear organized.
- Far from feeling cheated that I wasn't doing everything ex tempore, the workshop attendees appreciated it when I read from something I'd written years ago about chapbooks.
- Real-life examples -- I brought along every chapbook I own -- practically did the workshop for me.
- There's a speech in every writer's future.
- A speech is a transfer and amplification of energy.
- Nobody minds if you read your speech rather than memorize it or make it up as you go along.
- When I couldn't find a topic to precisely fit the title I'd announced six months ago, in desperation I chose an unrelated topic, but one that really gets me started: writers accepting less than their due. I was concerned it might end up a harangue or a Howard Dean Scream. There wasn't time to try it out on a friend. But I did rehearse. I am never, ever sorry that I rehearsed.
- Speeches need not be as highly polished as essays. You don't need "good transitions" or perfect grammar.
- Be yourself, with all your quirks. Onstage, you are as good as naked. No use trying to be somebody else.
- People like it if you express your true feelings because likely you are also expressing some of theirs.
- I had a "speaker shepherd," Judy Moresi, at my side during the cocktail hour and dinner, chatting me up as the hour of the speech approached, and I am so grateful to her, and to David Lucas for the whole concept of "speaker shepherds," because, although I was among fellow writers, like anyone in the spotlight I might otherwise have felt very chilled and alone.
- Listeners appreciate it if you speak with spirit, not withholding or droning. I knew that, but didn't know if I could do it in a prose speech lasting 35 minutes. Sure I could.
Common sense says an author is a writer who's published a book. But according to the national Author's Guild (AG), "authors" are those who've published a book "by an established American publisher" who gave them an advance.
I know someone who joined AG because it excluded people like myself whose books were not "legitimate" but still somehow a threat. Mine were published by my choice and with my money -- that is, with courage and confidence. But with my fourth book I qualify for AG now, and if I needed to feel better about myself I could cough up $90 dues and join.But I feel fine, and won't join a club whose point, apparently, is to exclude the riffraff: the vast majority of American writers. The AG makes further fine distinctions: Writers having a contract with an established American publisher but no book yet may apply for Associate-level Authors Guild membership. Freelancers qualify if they've published three works in periodicals commonly found at newsstands, receiving in return "significant" payment.
In my 35 years of writing, I have never received a "significant" payment. (I once won a "significant" prize, but it wasn't a publisher who gave it.) My guess is that you, like most writers, haven't received "significant" payment either. It's always been peanuts.
How about we forget all this hierarchy business -- it's too D.A.R. for me -- and respect and help each other, especially to get paid what we are worth.
Literary theorist Roland Barthes said of the difference between an author and a writer, "The former performs a function; the latter an activity."
What is an author's "function"? To go on lecture tours, like Mark Twain? To be on Today? To appear at signings and banquets? To inspire writers who aren't at the touring/Today Show level yet? Twain , the most famous touring author, wrote (1896):
I got horribly tired of the platform toward the last -- tired of the slavery of it; tired of having to rest-up for it; diet myself for it; take everlasting care of my body and my mind for it; deny myself in a thousand ways in its interest.
Seems that without actively writing, an author is decorative -- they do call it "an appearance" -- or at best a pawn in his own money-making game.
And doesn't a writer have a function as well as an activity? Like, to stir people's minds? To entertain them? To educate? To stand for something?
Those literary theorists...I'm sure Barthes explains his statement well and in depth, but I read more than enough theory in the 1980s, before we all found out that literary theory ("literature means nothing") was the brainchild of a former Nazi collaborationist, Paul de Man, who in the rest of his lifetime neglected to mention that rather telling fact.
Webster's etymologies, as far back as they can be traced:
author: "to increase, produce"
writer: "to scratch; to tear"
I think writers do both. The difference seems to be that writing is composing, and authorial actions are quantifiable or measurable. As in:
Have you written the next chapter of your novel?
Have you authored your 1500 words today?
"Author" and books are related because published books can be counted. Most people have no other way to take the measure of a writer.
OK -- this question's settled. Now: Have you written the next chapter of your novel? Have you authored your 1500 words today?
Mom phoned from Arizona to tell me through her tears -- she lost a brother, 88, last week and a sister-in-law, 81, on Monday -- that she received my book in the mail, thought it was nice, and although it was not written for people like herself, she was reading it. How glad she was, too, I had sent her something she didn't already have.
This is the first book I have ever sent her. Mom is not a reader or a net surfer; it is unlikely that she knows previous books exist. Close relatives who received the earlier books responded, shall we say, frostily -- a response richly deserved because I sincerely don't care whether they like what I write.I don't write for family. This time, instead of bothering them with a new book, I sent them my new author photograph. Sounds awful, but we manage to get along only through denial and ignorance of what we each care about; there is so much more, like blood, that unites us.
Doris Lessing was once asked if her mother was not mortified by her novels, which include sex scenes and whatnot. Lessing replied, "Mothers die much less readily than they would have you think."
But why risk it?
The women's poetry workshop "Loosely Identified" (LI), active now for more than 25 years, consists of about 40 poets, about 25 of them active members of the group, and at every monthly workshop, attendance totals about 15. Every two years, some of us read our best poetry in the River Styx at Duff's series. This year is remarkable for the quality of its poets, of course, but also for the publicity poster custom-designed by LI member gaye gambell-peterson. Trust me, each figure resembles the actual person.
I joined LI in '07, and we meet monthly. I value this workshop group in particular because of its warmth and humor, and the feedback my poems get from 15 very different minds.Because we're Loosely Identified, the group doesn't fall apart if anyone takes an extended leave to care for a family member, travel abroad, and so on. New members join, and if former "Looselies" come to town, they visit. The group published an anthology, Breathing Out (Cherry Pie Press) in 2002.
Any women poets who would like to join or visit a meeting, please ask me; you will need a member to introduce you. Or talk to one of us May 17 at Duff's!
Like the photo? Read on. Claire Applewhite's second novel, just out, is Crazy for You, about obsessive love among St. Louis's wealthy elites; the first was murder mystery The Wrong Side of Memphis (2009), both published by L&L Dreamspell. She is also the new President of the Missouri Writers Guild, potentially a very powerful organization. She wrote novels for a decade before getting published, and has an MBA.
Your novels are fun to read. And they have a satirical edge. Did you have fun writing them? Whom do you picture as your readership?
I hope that my novels take my readers to another world, and that there is a message waiting for them there. The challenge is to deliver the message couched in fun. I don't believe a writer's job is to judge, lecture or preach. I think it is to suggest, question and/or present--and allow the reader to form a conclusion based on individual experience and imagination. I hope that the "fun" in my novels encourages readers to read them. As far as my readership, anyone who enjoys a story with quirky characters, multiple dilemmas, and a Midwestern and/or Southern setting.
I know some people very much like Bunny, the spoiled St. Louis heiress in Crazy For You, and her parents and friends. Do you?
I think everyone knows a "Bunny," don't you? For this reason, a lot of physical description almost wasn't necessary--again, the suggestion of her appearance and mannerisms are left to the readers to form their own conclusions based on individual experience. The challenge as a writer was to expose the part of the characters that was not stereotypical.
How were sales of your first book?
Sales of The Wrong Side of Memphis were very competitive for a first book from a small press. However, I actively and aggressively promoted it, assisted by a publicist. I lectured at luncheons and book clubs, made multiple public appearances, scheduled many book signings and distributed complimentary copies. I asked for blurbs from other authors and journalists, and obtained reviews from book reviewers and Kirkus Reviews. Promotion was as integral as writing in launching the book.
You once said you got up at 5 a.m. to write. Do you still do that?
Actually, I have become a night owl. I find that the writing is best between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. The world is quiet, and the characters' voices are clear.
What is your ultimate career goal?
To become the best writer that I can be. I would like to pick up one of my own books someday and say to myself, "I couldn't have done any better," or, "Hey, I'm impressed."
Where'd you get those extra-foxy photos of yourself in evening wear?
And why did you have them taken? Ah, the photos! I got those photos taken in response to my "readership" regarding the professional photos I had been using. To quote one younger reader, "You look like Meryl Streep in the Manchurian Candidate," or another well-meaning friend, "You look like a banker." I concluded that I did not look like a writer. I asked people in journalism for the name of a good photographer. We did a ten-hour photo shoot, with six outfits, and, well, these were the best ones.
As the new president of the Missouri Writers Guild, what is your vision for its future?
I am excited to promote literary talent in Missouri--and there is a wealth of it. My vision is to encourage new writers with the accomplishments of those Missourians who have achieved success.