Monthly Archives: February 2010

San Francisco Writer’s Conference-Lessons Learned, Inspiration Gleaned

Our five-year-old son flung the front door open as I energetically range the dilapidated doorbell of our Belmont rental house.
“Mommy’s home!”
A flying leap landed him in my arms, with a whoop that summoned the other kids and my husband.

Gone for the better part of four days at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, our three kids were more than ready to have Mom back.  Not that Andrew didn’t do an awesome job with them in the preceding days.  Oh, to be a kid again and have him for a daddy.  (Yesterday, they were out back making hose water rainbows in bathing suits in mid-February.)

On the train ride back down from the city, I felt the transformation happening.  In my knee-high black leather boots, sheek leggings and stain-free white eyelet top with a red bamboo wrap flung around my shoulders just-so, I morphed from cosmopolitan, charismatic conference attendee to stay-at-home housewife/mom with each passing mile.  (As I write, I am simultaneously teaching my three-year-old how to play preschool games on the internet on another laptop.)

To attempt to do justice to the conference in a single blog post would be futile.  And, because reality is echoing loudly in my subconsciousness (do I really have time to devote a week’s worth of daily posts to capture the full essence of the conference experience, or should I apply my stolen moments of writing time to something like…polishing my manuscript?) I will choose to summarize my conference experience here, and then get going on the hard work of revising and polishing:

Over the course of four days, while hanging with a crowd of three hundred other writers, I had the opportunity to meet dozens of high caliber presenters including best-selling authors, large and small imprint editors and twenty-seven literary agents.  I selected nineteen out of the eighty lectures offered and absorbed guidance on topics such as:
-Branding Yourself
-Creating Literary Fiction That Keeps Readers Turning Pages
-Opportunities in Publishing: Past, Present and Future
-The Business of Publishing: What Every Writer Needs to Know
-Writing For Change:  Creating Books that Matter
-Why Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions:  How to Start or Join a [Writer’s] Critique Group
-a smokin’ full-day, ” How to Write the Break-Out Novel” workshop with famed literary agent Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary Agency
Amid Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel-catered breakfasts and lunches, I networked with loads of other established and amateur writers, swapping business cards like Olympic pins.  I met two other women with whom I am potentially starting a writer’s critique group.

Having initially rejected the idea of participating in the Speed Dating with Literary Agents event (yes, it’s exactly as it sounds) I bought a spot from another conference attendee who’d decided she didn’t need to participate after all, and actually enjoyed the opportunity to talk one-on-one with five agents and receive requests to submit my work to three of them.  Lesson learned:  speed dating (in the writers conference setting) isn’t NEARLY as scary or stressful as I’d imagine it would be.

On several occasions, I had in-depth discussions with other attendees about the future of the publishing industry and the role self publishing companies are playing.  At each conference I’ve attended, (four in all) this has been a hot topic.  I have my own thoughts on the topic, having self-published my first book:

1.  There are more and more companies cropping up on what seems like a daily basis, offering a wide range of “self publishing” options:
– strict POD (print on demand) companies that do little more than provide you a digital printing press through which to have your book printed.  No assistance with cover art design, interior formatting, ISBN number assignment, etc.  This option is cheep (as low as $37 through Amazon’s Create Space) but may not deliver very high royalties for authors (around 50-60% vs. 80% with vanity PODs) and certainly does not guarantee a high quality product.
– boutique, vanity or otherwise self-named companies that offer varying levels of “printing packages” that help you polish, print and promote your book project to varying degrees.  Editing, cover art, formatting, etc. may all be included–depending on how much $$ you want to fork over.  Be prepared to pay anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars for this option.
-e-formatting companies that help you take your word document or PDF file and turn it into an e-book for downloading readership.

The folks who support/promote the idea of authors publishing themselves of course believe it’s all the rage and the only way to go.  “Why not skip all the angst-causing circus tricks of trying to land an agent, hoping that agent can sell your manuscript to one of the six main publishing houses (or one of numerous university or small independent publishers) and then hope your said publisher will actually choose a title for your book that you like, apply a cover design that you adore and apply a few budgetary dollars toward promoting your book upon its release?  Why not, instead, keep yourself in the driver’s seat the entire time?

There is much to be said about remaining in the driver’s seat.  There’s A LOT to be learned from it.  But when it comes to gleaning book reviews from voices that still have clout in the industry and distribution and (good) placement in nation-wide bookstores that might collectively sell enough of your books to send a few royalty bucks your way, the trade publishing industry still has a lock-hold on these issues.

Book reviewers (I’m talking professional, paid book reviewers– not friends & family and occasional strangers who upload reviews on Amazon, B&N, etc.) don’t want to review self-published books.  Many of them flat-out refuse.  The stigma is still out there: many (close minded and occasionally justified) people assume self published books are poor quality products from untalented writers.

When my book came out in March of ’08, I sent out 25 media kits to book reviewers all over the country.  After sinking a couple grand into the production of my (extraordinarily professional looking and sounding) book, I spent several hundred dollars more in promotion activities.  At the end of the day: not a single main stream review came my way.

I don’t begrudge having self published at all.  I learned a ton of valuable information from the experience.  Yes, the trade publishing houses are heading down a dicey road of uncertainty.  If they don’t change their ways, and do it quickly, they are going to be in worse trouble than they are now.  Like any other business, if they’re not building their pipeline now, they’ll find themselves amidst talent drought later.  But the jury isn’t quite out.  Still steeped in practices of old, it is and will continue to be the rare self publishing author who actually “makes it” and sells tens of thousands of copies of her book–a mark of success by the traditional industry.

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Filed under Balancing career and motherhood, book promotion, family, From One Mother to Another, Kids, Mommy and Motherhood, Writing and Publishing

Teaching Cultural Diversity to Our Children

It’s not our kids’ fault that they are culturally anemic.  Of all the nurturing, growth-enhancing, robustness-encouraging assets Montana boasts, wide reaching cultural diversity isn’t one of them.  I am not discounting the important presence of native tribes like the Crow, Sioux, Kootenai and Blackfeet and others, by the way…I’m part Seminal Indian, after all.  But when it comes to widespread, international culture, Montana falls flat.

That is one of the main reasons Andrew and I took advantage of the opportunity to come to the San Francisco Bay area:  so our kids could come to understand a little more about the great big world out there.

In the past five weeks, I have eves-dropped in on conversations spoken in Korean, Chinese, Japanese, German, Russian, Italian, Spanish, French, Punjabi, and Flemish (does it really count as eves-dropping if you can’t understand what they’re saying?)  We have walked the open markets in Chinatown and ogled at decapitated fish heads, fresh-caught eels, duck, chicken and pig carcasses where our kids’ impending “yuck” declarations were preempted with explanations from dear old mom and dad about how different people around the world eat different foods than us.

This past Friday, our daughter’s elementary school (where she is easily apart of the minority race) held a Multicultural Potluck Dinner.  First through fifth graders and their families were welcomed to come in traditional regalia, and bring a traditional food item to represent their culture.  (We brought ground bison meatballs, assuming folks down here wouldn’t get too excited about sampling Rocky Mountain Oysters.)

At the conclusion of the meal during which we sampled Indian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Peruvian and Spanish fare there was a talent show–started off by an amazing belly dancing performance by an elementary teacher from a neighboring school.  A group of Korean children performed several traditional songs, children of Polynesian background shared a couple of hula dance routines and a fashion show was held to  highlight the beautiful costumes worn by so many.  (I had suggested we dress our three kids up like a bull, a horse and a cowgirl, respectively, and act out a rodeo roping event…but we opted to just wear our cowboy boots and call it good.)

Yesterday, while leaving church, our eldest noticed a sign outside the building which was written in Spanish.

“What does that say, Mom?”
“Oh, it’s written in Spanish, honey.  It explains where the Spanish language church service is and that there is also care for children during the service.”
“You mean, people who speak Spanish come to this church?”
“Yes, there’s a whole service for those who speak Spanish as their primary language.”
“Well, shouldn’t they be living in Spain, if they speak Spanish?”

A long conversation ensued about how people can live almost anywhere they want around the world, no matter what language they speak…and that the San Francisco area is a perfect example of that.

Andrew and I were beginning to wonder when our kids would notice the cultural diversity around them…perhaps now it will start to sink in.

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Lonely is a Four Letter Word

Tomorrow, it will be five weeks since we landed here on the San Francisco Bay peninsula.  We’ve gotten comfortable in our rental house with pictures on the walls and the catch-all, junk mail depository spot on the kitchen counter already established.  All three kids are now enrolled in school, we’ve determined where to do our grocery shopping and get the oil changed in our cars.  We’ve found a church we like, a favorite park to go to and Andrew is discovering favorite cycling routes.  We’ve been to the beach twice, visited the zoo, science museums and various downtown San Francisco attractions.  We’ve discovered we can walk to a coffee shop, a playground and a public library in twelve minutes, flat, from our house.  The weather here, even in early February, is generally good enough to do so on any given day of the week.  By all intents and purposes, we are settled in.

And, for me, the loneliness is just starting to emerge.

When Bozeman friends read this post they are likely to respond with some sort of “no duh.”  I miss Montana.

What I don’t miss is seven months of winter, endless snow shoveling and getting the kids in and out of snow suits.  I don’t miss pining for spring (summer) when flowers re-bloom and we can, once again, see the grass in the yard.  Not that looking out onto a lawn covered in crystalline snow pack isn’t beautiful.

But I miss our church.  I miss my friends.  I miss my childbirth education program and what it provided the community.  I miss my professional network of doulas and other childbirth educators who all shared a common goal of guiding women and their partners into and through the best birthing experiences possible.  I miss lunch at Janet’s house and dinner at the Tadvicks.  I miss the friendly secretaries at Emily Dickinson Elementary School and running into people I know on Main Street.  I miss Sola Cafe and The Cat Eye, too.

Even as I attempt to keep my game face on when around the kids, I echo their solemnity when thinking about that which we’ve left behind.  Transition is hard, whether you’re seven or thirty-seven.  But, I’m sure it will get better.

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Star Struck: San Francisco Ballet Company’s Swan Lake

Nearly seven years later (we celebrate our oldest child’s seventh birthday this Wednesday), I continue to be surprised at how differently the world looks to me through mother eyes.  Remember the first time you experienced Christmas (or insert equally important holiday) with a child, rather than being a child?  It totally changed the holiday for you, right?

Being a complete Christmas fanatic, perhaps it’s no surprise then that I keep having Christmas with Children experiences all over the place.  (Right now, I’m leaving out the derogatory ones…Grocery Shopping with Children, Clothes Shopping with Children, Dining with Children…)

This past weekend, as a special San Francisco surprise to our eldest in anticipation of her special day, the five of us headed into the city to watch the San Francisco Ballet Company perform the famed Swan Lake.  While I’d like to claim all five of us made it through the whole thing, that would be a lie.  Andrew spent all but the first fifteen minutes of the ballet outside the War Memorial Opera House auditorium, climbing stairs, running laps and otherwise burning off energy with our antsy three-year-old son.  (I know, I know:  what were we thinking, bringing a three-year-old to the ballet?  Well, we tried, right?)
This, however, was not the Star Struck, Watching Professional Ballet with Children moment I aim to impart.

For the first time in a long time, I found myself totally transported, utterly transfixed and covered in goose bumps on multiple occasions.

As a mom, I am so focused on the day-to-day process of maintaining a household, rearing kids, and eeking out some semblance of professional pursuits, that it seems moments of utter transportation to another realm, as promised in reading books, watching movies, ballets, plays and the like, are rare for me.  In short, the Mommy Brain is always hard at work, even in times of relaxation.

So in those brief moments when, flanked on either side by my seven- and five-year-old kids, I was utterly consumed by the music and poetic performance of dancers on stage, the swelling orchestral accompaniment, the tragic romance of the storyline and the magnificent movement of the dancers’ bodies.  And, as conscious brain once again took over I realized:  I haven’t felt like that in years.

And now, for a taste of the magic:

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Filed under From One Mother to Another, holidays, Kids, Living, Mommy and Motherhood