My Favorite Banned Books: The Grapes of Wrath

Banned BooksLike most people trundled through the American public school system, I was coerced into reading a selection of “classical” literature as a teen. Because I didn’t like the way it was taught in my district—all this emphasis on theme and metaphor the author might not even have intended—I didn’t enjoy it all that much, little goody-two-shoes rebel that I’d been. As much as I grumbled when teachers said that the tree at the end of the book meant crucifixion and the way the moon hung in the sky was a symbol of the protagonist’s ennui about his impending marriage, I loved reading. I loved the places a good story took me to and the opportunity to see life through someone else’s eyes. Without someone telling me what it all meant. Only now, some (mumble mumble) decades later, rereading some of those works, am I more deeply appreciating the opportunity I’d been given. Some students have had wonderful books like Moby-Dick, The Catcher in the Rye (banned as late as 2001), Cat’s Cradle, and The Sun Also Rises (also banned, and burned in Nazi bonfires) removed from their libraries and school districts. Some countries do not permit their distribution at all. Continue reading

The World Inside a Book

6a0148c76e8722970c0147e3cfb865970b-300x300Reading is a huge part of my life. I have my parents to thank for that, because they always encouraged us to read and value books. They read to my two brothers and me when we were small, and there were always books in the house. When I buzzed through my school’s and community library’s collection of “age appropriate” books, I’d pick up whatever my mom or dad had started and left on the coffee table, taking care to keep the bookmark at their place. If there was a book they didn’t want me to be reading, they knew to keep it out of my sight! (Most of the time.) Continue reading

Writing Whilst Disabled: A Guest Post by Joey Paul

I’m pleased to turn my blog over to Joey Paul today. Welcome, Joey! She writes YA crime, paranormal and general fiction. Hope you’ll give her a read and start a conversation in the comments.

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10013847_10151996564367507_516979392_nOne of the things a lot of people will tell you when you’re newly diagnosed with a chronic illness, or suddenly finding yourself identifying as disabled is that you shouldn’t let it define you. They say that your illness, condition or disabilities are not you, and while that is true in part, it’s also true that it’s part of your identity. It contributes to who you are, whether you want it to or not. I’m finishing up a degree in health and social care and a number of my courses have dealt with self-identity. What I’ve taken from those lessons is that how you, as an individual, choose to identify is made of the labels you apply to yourself. For me, one of those labels is that I’m disabled.

When I became ill at nineteen and was retired on medical grounds from my government job, I didn’t want to accept the disabled label. Despite the fact that for the majority of my adult life – in fact most of my whole life actually – I had been in and out of hospitals with my lung issues, and then was diagnosed with M.E and Fibromyalgia, I still didn’t really see myself as disabled until I finally faced that it was a part of me. I don’t see it as a bad thing. It’s just part of who I am. Just as I am a writer, and a student and an amateur musician, I am also disabled and I see nothing wrong with embracing that.

A lot of the world view on disability is negative. There are fairly few disabled characters in mainstream media, books, TV, movies and usually when there is one, they’re painted in a negative light. They’re the bad guy. Or the poor person who lost all the good in their life and would be better off dead now that they’re disabled. It doesn’t really give the disabled children and young people growing up these days anyone to look at and see that actually, being disabled can be empowering. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing when to be honest; there is already a lot of negativity around it already.

If anything, becoming disabled and allowing myself to see the good in it, made me who I am today. Yes, I admit, I had other plans for my life. I was going to be a doctor and help people. I was on track until I left secondary school and went to college. When my health started to get bad, I dropped out and decided to try my hand at working for a living. I went through a string of jobs, but I made ends meet and had I not fallen ill with M.E and Fibro, then I would probably still be working at the same job. I never saw writing as anything other than a hobby. I never saw it as a way to make money, or a way to spend my time constructively. Sure, my diagnoses and conditions changed the course of my life forever, but I can’t honestly say that it was all bad.

I’m thirty-two now and was first published in 2005. Now, I have six books out with a seventh due out in the summer. I am writing the final chapters of my eleventh and twelfth books and although I have met many bumps in the road, I’m happy. I love what I do. I love writing and while I wish I could have come to this point without the pain and fatigue, hospital appointments, stays and all the other crap that comes with being disabled and chronically ill, I did come this way, and it did bring me onto this path.

Life is a series of paths, all with their own outcomes and their own stories. My life was headed in one direction and then it changed. It moved onto the path it’s on now. Sure, I wish that this path made it possible to keep normal hours (like sleep at night and not during the day!) and to maybe do a “normal” job. However, I have never really known anything but this and although it comes with its own challenges, I can’t say that it’s all bad. I get to do a job I adore. I get to write about gifts and magic. I get to explore worlds that I create and bend characters to my will as it were. You don’t get to do that when you work at the local magistrates’ court, or at least you didn’t when I was nineteen 😉

My point is this: Disability and chronic illness carry a lot of bad and negative things along with them. However, I see nothing wrong with saying that yes, I AM disabled and I DO see it as part of my identity. I’m not allowing my conditions to control me or to define me, but they DO make up part of who I am and who I will always be. I’m Joey, what’s wrong with that?

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Joey’s Bio:

Joey is 32, disabled, a writer and part time student studying towards a degree in Health and Social Care. She loves to write and is at the moment working on her eleventh and twelfth books, as well as preparing her seventh book for publication. She started writing when she was medically retired from her job at the age of 19. Her first book was released in 2005 and after a brief time away, her second one was released in 2011. In addition to writing books, she also enjoys reading them and can often be found resting in bed with a good book, a cat and an ukulele.

You can follow Joey and learn more about her and her work here:

Blog: www.joeypaulonline.com
FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/BugBooks
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MsJoeyBug

Public Speaking for the Terminally Introverted Author

I was recently a guest on a “Meet the Authors” panel in New York with ten other women who had been published in the last few months. We spoke about how our books came to be: the initial idea for the story, the publication process, and our marketing efforts.

As each woman took the microphone, the passion for her work came out clear-eyed and full-hearted. How she navigated the publication process clearly struck a chord with the fifty-odd women in the audience, each hoping to see her own work in print or pixels one day.

But as for marketing and promotion, they were less enthusiastic. I heard a distinct note from several of the authors. Marketing and promotion sounded like a distasteful but necessary chore, like emptying the litter box.

Then one panelist stood up and voiced what many of us had been thinking. “Face it,” she said. “We are writers. Most of us would rather hide in our rooms behind our computers.”

A natural introvert, I could really relate to that. But in today’s literary marketplace, even with social media allowing us to stay at our computers, we can no longer completely hide—not if we want to be treated as professionals. We can’t equate marketing, especially face-to-face marketing, with taking out the trash, either. It’s a vital part of being an author, making sales, and generating interest for your next book. So, what do you do if even thinking about speaking in front of a group makes you want to upchuck?

1. Forget the clichés about imagining the audience in their underwear. Frankly, depending upon the audience, that would horrify me even more than speaking in public.

2. Remember why you are there. You arranged this event, or agreed to speak at it. You invited these people and they chose to show up. Now, what are you going to do for them? Reframe your presentation and your attitude toward helping your audience. Do you have important information to relate to them? In my case, I wanted to help aspiring authors by letting them know what to expect during and after publication. This took the focus off me and put it on what I could do for them. Therefore, since it wasn’t really about me, I didn’t have to worry as much about what people would think of me.

3. Preparation really is the foundation. Yes, you’ve been living, breathing, and sleeping your latest project for years. You’ve memorized your hundred-word pitch. You know everything about your protagonist down to her choice of toothpaste. But don’t, do not, if you’re nervous about talking in front of a group, try to wing it. Write out your entire speech if you need to. Keep within the time constraints you are given, if any. Practice. Practice. Practice again. Ask a trusted friend to listen to your speech and give you feedback. Or practice in front of a mirror. You might not notice a nervous tic that needs taming or a habit of saying “um” between every other phrase. When I rehearsed with my husband, I learned that I needed to slow down and pause between sentences. Revise your script as needed, and practice until you are comfortable looking away from it (audiences like eye contact) or even not needing it, except for a few key bullet points.

4. Get comfortable in your venue. Arrive early, to get a sense of the space and settle into it. Bring your notes. Bring those little items that make you more comfortable. My mouth gets dry when I speak, so I always have a bottle of water and my favorite lip balm. I fidget less if I’m holding onto a pen, so I bring one. Whatever you need to keep you settled and to reduce your fears.

And, finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help if public speaking truly terrifies you. Check in your local community for a branch of Toastmasters, so you can practice speaking in a safe environment and getting constructive feedback. Once you get comfortable and know your material cold, there’s no limit to where you can take it!

Are you confident in front of a crowd? What helps you the most? Any public speaking nightmares you’d like to share? (Don’t worry; we’re all friends here!)

Books and the City

Had a great time at the Book Blogger Convention in New York on Friday. I’ve become acquainted with a few book bloggers during the pre-release promotion for The Joke’s on Me. But what an awesome opportunity to meet a whole lot of them at once! While it’s unfair to generalize about any group, these bloggers, mostly younger women, displayed one distinct quality: passion for the written word over nearly all else. Or, as one blogger put it, “I have books; what else do I need?”

They love books. They breathe books. Even with stupendously busy lives that include (in some combination) college, motherhood, partnerhood, writing their own novels, and multiple jobs, they regularly read and write about books.

As part of the convention, I participated in an event that was a kind of “speed dating” between authors and bloggers. It was the first year the BBC had done this, I was told, and it got a bit chaotic, as way more authors showed up than anticipated, and far more young adult book bloggers chose to partake than adult-book enthusiasts. But I got a good chance to circulate among several tables of very engaged book-lovers. Like most things in life, turns out I was some people’s cup of tea, but not others. I appreciated the direct yet tactful way these women have learned to say no to what’s not in their wheelhouse. (If only I had that skill when I was younger; I could’ve saved myself a lot of problems.)

We authors, too, got to mingle throughout the day, swapping war stories, swag ideas, and business cards. Most of the authors I met have books that have either just been released or are on the cusp of dropping. From them I learned important lessons: bring an ample supply of swag to book events, drink plenty of water to keep from losing your voice, and your ranking on Amazon is like your weight: don’t check it too often because it will make you crazy.

All in all a great day. Regrets? That I hadn’t been able to get to the four days of the Book Expo that preceded it so I could get books signed by some of my fave authors, like Jeffrey Eugenides, Erica Jong, and Dave Barry, and meet celebs like Jane Lynch, Florence Henderson and John Lithgow. And that I hadn’t brought one of those cute little rolling backpacks to carry the books I’d collected. Hey, I live and breathe them, too.

And now a question for you: Besides the book, what kind of giveaway goodies do you like sticking in your swag bag at literary events?

Have You Hugged Your Proofreader Today?

Every glamorous profession requires its share of trench workers. For every Kate Moss wannabe strutting down the catwalk during Fashion Week, there are dozens of people toiling away behind the curtain to make sure she doesn’t fall on her pretty face. For every Lady Gaga kicking butt and wearing meat on tour, there are legions of roadies, carpenters, lighting designers, costumers, drivers, and caterers making sure everything goes right and everything ends up in the right venue.

In publishing-although some segments are more glamorous than others-one of the most unsung heroes is the proofreader. Writers write their dreams, literary agents and editors help turn them into novels, but if the proofreader slacks at his or her job, a book becomes difficult and sometimes impossible to read.

But maybe you think proofreading is an easy gig. You’ll get to read all day, right? While proofreaders do get to read their projects (one hopes, anyway), it’s not really reading. It’s scanning; it’s analyzing. It’s akin to taking a Renoir and teasing it apart into brushstrokes, color, and light. Still, for every masterpiece, you’ll get an apprentice’s first project. For every New York Times bestseller, you’ll get a dozen textbooks, legal briefs, or reference manuals. You might get projects so dull, you’ll be fighting sleep in your chair. Which, if you work from home, may not be so terrible, but in an office, is not your supervisor’s preferred way for you to spend your time.

Proofreading is hard, physical work. Imagine spending your entire day, day after day, combing through manuscripts line by line, word by word, hunting for misspellings and missing words, when our human eye is trained to take in chunks of words and therefore skip over missing words and misspellings! Even if your posture and ergonomic set up are perfect, our spines were not designed to be sat upon for hours, our bodies were not meant to be still for such long stretches, and our eyes – especially the eyes of someone over forty – do not like maintaining a constant focus. Many proofreaders develop chronic neck, shoulder, and upper back problems. Now that many proofreaders have abandoned hard copies and red pens for the seeming ease of the computer, the strain just moves to other parts of their bodies. Eyes, in particular, don’t like hours of staring at monitors that reflect light, which was a problem e-reader manufacturers had to contend with in their earliest stages. Scientific eye studies show that we blink less when we look at a monitor, so those who proofread at the computer can end up with dry, stinging eyes.

So next time you dive into a book that reads like smooth, single-malt Scotch, thank the author, the editor, the agent, and the publisher, but don’t forget to thank the proofreader. Preferably with a shoulder massage and a bottle of eye drops.

Who are the unsung heroes in your profession?

(PS: One of my goals for 2011 is to blog more. Rather than just fretting about it or making endless attempts at first paragraphs that go nowhere, I’m starting right now. I will be posting on this blog as daily as possible for all of this coming year.

I know it won’t be easy, and some posts might plain suck, but it might be fun, inspiring, awesome and wonderful. Therefore I’m promising to make use of The DailyPost, and the community of other bloggers with similiar goals, to help me along the way, including (gasp) asking for help when I need it and encouraging others when I can.

If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way.)