My Year of Living Indie

poetry_readingJacqueline Hopkins-Walton, a member of a Facebook group I belong to, recently asked us to kick in our “top ten” favorite books we read in 2012. Five immediately came to mind, several others I can’t name because they’re not officially published yet or I had a hand in editing, and the rest resulted from a quick consultation with my Kindle.

Only one book was put out by a large publisher.

In fact, a further consultation with the K-dude revealed that with the exception of The Maltese Falcon, nearly every book I read in 2012 was written by an indie author.

Curiosity? Solidarity? Poverty?

Yes, all are true. When, in late 2011, I started testing the waters prior to self-publishing my second novel, Drawing Breath, I met a bunch of great, funny, quirky, generous authors who’d decided to chuck pitching to the Big Guys and go their own way. Curious, I read a bunch of affordable—and frequently free—books that didn’t have a flightless waterfowl on their spines. Some needed some work. Some were good. Some were pretty amazing.

I didn’t consciously make a choice to avoid the big names. A few of my favorite trad-published authors, like Michael Chabon, Joyce Carol Oates, and Ian McEwan came out with books this year and I will read them, eventually, when the budget allows. (Before you suggest my local library, I am a big fan, although Marion the Librarian does not care for my slow reading pace, which resulted in my returning Ian McEwan’s Solar only halfway done under threat of large fines and manual dispossession.)

My TBR indie list sort of…evolved. Friends came out with new books. Other authors recommended their favorites. One thing led to another. My involvement with Indies Unlimited brought me closer to inspirational, heartbreakingly talented, funny, smart authors from around the world.

Doesn’t mean I won’t sink into a big-name book again. In fact, two are waiting on my nightstand: Jeffrey Eugenides because I’ve adored him since Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides, and Jane Green, because I won her latest in a Goodreads Giveaway.

This year in reading just happened. And I’m very happy about it. It’s a lovely feeling, looking down my Kindle directory and seeing so many friends’ names.

So, in no particular order, these were my favorite books I read in 2012:

Jimmy Mender and his Miracle Dog by Leland Dirks
Joe Café by JD Mader
Dissolute Kinship: A 9/11 Road Trip by David Antrobus
My Temporary Life by Martin Crosbie
Upgrade by Stephen Hise
Bad Book by Stephen Hise, KS Brooks, and JD Mader
Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines by Carol E. Wyer
The Sable City and Death of a Kingdom by M. Edward McNally [from the same series; The Norothian Cycle, so it counts as two!]
Charmed Life by Susan Bennett

What were some of your favorites?

Disclaimers:

1. I am a relatively slow reader, and it’s been a busy year.
2. Which means I probably read about thirty books.
3. So I do what I can. And this only one reader’s opinion.
4. There are many, many wonderful authors I’ve yet to read.
5. Even ones I know.
6. Your actual mileage may vary.

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Healing with Humor

ImageI love a good joke. Even a bad one. Which is one of the reasons I wrote my first novel. In The Joke’s on Me, a stand-up comic returns to her hometown of Woodstock after a major crisis and tries to get her groove back. One stepping stone toward reinventing herself is to craft a workshop on Healing with Humor. Frankie ferrets through research notes, movies, and videos of other comics, trying to glean what’s funny and why it makes people feel good.

Having laughed my way through some serious and not-so-serious health problems over the years, I felt unerringly qualified to write about a fictional character writing her workshop.

After all, a string of funny romance novels by Janet Evanovich got me through a nasty back injury, and elephant jokes once saved my sanity.

Elephant jokes? Yeah. Okay, they’re a little juvenile, but a good case of the giggles is still good medicine. About twenty years ago, I had one of those not-so-great mammograms (which turned out to be a false positive), and my perhaps overzealous doctor had referred me and my films to a breast surgeon. Needless to say, the forty-minute drive to his office was a bit stressful. So I turned on our local NPR station, which was running “Knock on Wood” during that time period. Some of you—and especially those of you in the Woodstock area—may know Steve Charney and Harry, his ventriloquist’s dummy (Yeah, I know. A ventriloquist on the radio.) That day, Steve was doing a long string of elephant jokes, one after the other. I was giggling so hard I almost ran off the road. Yeah, silly, but it definitely took my mind off where I was going.

So this is why one particular joke stuck in my head. Recently, when the lovely Carol Wyer, author of several humorous novels about aging disgracefully, interviewed me on her blog, Facing Fifty with Humour, she asked me to tell a joke. This was the one I selected:

Q: What do you get when you cross a kangaroo with an elephant?
A: Great big holes in Australia.

Okay, not spit-coffee-across-your-keyboard funny, but cute.

Then I came across this website. Apparently, the author, Kevin R.R. Williams, had read Carol’s interview and felt the same about my joke. In an effort to parse the eternal question of what makes people laugh, he deconstructed it over a dinner party. How I wish I could have been a fly on the wall.

Or the elephant in the room.

What do you think? Has humor ever helped you through a tough spot? Can humor really be analyzed? Once we do, does it lose its comedic value? And what’s your favorite elephant joke?

16 Uses for My Old Livestrong Bracelets

alg-troy-hair-jpgYeah. I bought into the whole Livestrong thing way back when. I rooted for the guy. When I was a health blogger, I even applied to become part of the Livestrong division on a website I will not name. And even though I knew more about omega-3 fatty acids and visceral massage than any civilian has a right to, I was turned down for lacking, I don’t know, something they called the “high Livestrong standards.” Yeah. Irony. But now I have all these Livestrong bracelets. Even though they’re made in China, I hate waste and I’m a recycling girl from way back, so if you’re in my situation as well, here are a few things you can do with them.

  1. Melt down and make new solidarity bracelet for Manti T’eo.
  2. Wear inside out until Tibet is free.
  3. Change to LOVESTRONG and give to marriage equality causes.
  4. Keep several pairs of socks together in the dryer.
  5. Physical therapy tool for relieving texting-induced tendonitis in thumbs.
  6. Pea shooter (Thank you, Carmy!)
  7. Fit over beverage container of choice to prevent slippage.
  8. Change to LIVESTRANGE and distribute in Woodstock and Portland. (Kidding. I love you guys.)
  9. Extra-strength exercise band to build up toe muscles.
  10. Secure hems of yoga pants so they don’t catch in the StairMaster.
  11. Bind together several dozen colored pencils or markers to make one big rainbow.
  12. Bring to the farmer’s market to keep the broccoli stalks from falling apart.
  13. Beauty pageant sashes for Barbie dolls.
  14. Change to LIVE LONG AND PROSPER and give away at ComicCon.
  15. Hairbands for Troy Polamalu.
  16. Mail them back to Lance Armstrong for a refund. And an apology.

The Brave New World of Self-Publishing

Cover_January_2013_2Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been sharing this link to an article by Nina Shengold in the January issue of Chronogram, an arts and culture magazine that serves the Hudson Valley area of New York.

It’s a look at the growing number of authors in the Hudson Valley area—a kind of mecca for traditionally-published writers–who have chosen to self-publish their books.

Nina surveyed twenty-two authors to craft her article, plus asked local bookstore owners and even literary agent Jean Naggar for their comments.

I was one of those authors. My last two novels were self-published, and if you look very closely at the lower-right corner of the photo with the article, [the chick wearing what looks like a Muppet around her neck] I’m holding both of them. I also edit and proofread for authors, mainly of the indie variety. If you’d like to hear more about what I do or how I can help you, please drop me a note via the “contact” form on my website.

Thank you to multi-talented local author and publisher Brent Robison for the idea for this blog.

Never Look Back?

200px-Satchel_PaigeOne of my heroes, Satchel Paige, is credited as having said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” When I ran competitively, coaches warned me that every peek over my shoulder was a waste of energy that could have been propelling me forward. Mindfulness meditation taught me to focus on the present. It seems like for most of my life, I have been strongly encouraged to either stay in the moment or look ahead.

But where does writing fiction fit into all of this? It seems to be perpetually looking backward. It allows me to “taste life twice,” according to Anais Nin. Through my characters, I mine past pain for the fiction of my present and future. I return to those old forks in the road and wander down the one I rejected to see if that alternative future might yield rich material, a new character whose story begs to be written.

This week, I looked back at some of my former fiction. An old story, one that I’d abandoned, called to me. Great, I thought, because that’s part of my “writing plan” for 2013. Write a new novel and dip into my Closet of Unfinished Things to complete and publish one of the many first drafts that I’d abandoned.

To my horror and dismay, the Closet of Unfinished Things popped out one really bad, bad, manuscript. (Bad Manuscript! Down, boy!) I barely recognized it as something I’d written. I guess that’s good, because it shows evidence that I’ve improved, but I cringed at every clumsy sentence, every typo, and every awkward metaphor. And that protagonist! I wanted to slap her! She has no spine. She is a dishrag. Every other character in this book—even the ones off camera—are more interesting than this little mouse. Maybe that’s why I’d given up on it in the first place. I adore the story. I love the themes, which are so relevant, so human. But it is not this woman’s story. She simply can’t carry it.

So I recast the lead, and I’m rewriting the thing. I have my doubts: Did this character fall into the wrong novel? Will a new character in an essentially character-driven novel change the story? Maybe. Maybe it will be a better story. There’s only one way to find out and that’s to plunge forward. No looking back, at least for now.

When You Have Editorial Differences

This post on Behler Blog today is so spot-on that I wanted to share it with you. Although the example is based on releasing your manuscript to a publisher and working with the publisher’s editor(s), this applies to self-published authors as well. Trust and communication is vital for both author and editor. You both have a common goal: make the best possible product for potential readers. Yes, readers. This is one big reason why we make books, yes? Anyway. I’m interested in your thoughts.

When You Have Editorial Differences.