Thurs. July 20, 2017: Reinventing the Marketing Wheel — A Personal Journey

Thursday, July 20, 2017
Waning Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Sunny, hot, humid

Yesterday, I promised some thoughts on marketing, so that is what this post focuses on today.

At this point, the bulk of marketing falls on the author. Traditional publishers get books in bookstores and to distributors, which is an enormous part of the equation. Some of the smaller publishers give as much support as their overextended staffs can. But the bulk is up to the author.

I just wrote an article for WOW-Women on Writing on how to track the results of where you put your marketing dollars to get the best return and to decide where to put the money for the next go-round. I was lucky enough to have several generous authors and promoters share their expertise. I will post the link when it goes live; it’s a piece of which I’m proud — there’s good research and work put into it, and I think writers across genre will find it useful.

This post, being on a personal blog, is more personal.

I’m preparing my backlist for re-release, and hoping to build on whatever momentum I create to move forward in my career.  Traditional publishers want something new; most of them are reluctant to take on a backlist, unless you’ve hit major traditional best-seller lists.  Many of my decisions are the result of sitting down with people I trust to discuss and figure out what I want and need from my career moving forward, and what was working and not working FOR ME. “This is what’s done” isn’t working FOR ME, and I need to create campaigns that work on both creative and financial levels. Sticking to someone else’s formula limits me. Therefore, I have to come up with my own.

It’s not that I have the ego to think I’m so brilliant that I can create an entirely new model. But I want to find a way to engage and expand my readership with my backlist that encourages them to continue on the journey with me for new releases, some of which will be released traditionally, and some of which will be released in channels that haven’t been invented yet. I have to find the best marriage for each individual project. I need to balance business and creativity.

If I’m only going to focus on sales, on the business aspect, I might as well work full time for a packager and only do for-hire work. Nothing wrong with for-hire work; it can be great fun and a way to build craft, especially if it pays fairly. But the reason I write is to make sense of the world, and to find a greater understanding of the people in it. That means I need to work on whatever interests/bothers/upsets/intrigues me. Which may not coincide with what is thought to “sell”. And yet, it may be what certain readers are looking for or yearning for.

Agents and publishers don’t know what WILL sell. They know what HAS sold. Every submission is a gamble, and they have to make their best guess.  They want the next big thing, but no one knows what that is until it’s there. They have to be careful where they invest their time and energy. Where are they willing to take chances?

I completely respect that. Some projects I write will resonate with them; some will not. It’s like dating — you’re unlikely to find your soul mate the first time out. You keep going. And there might be a few heartbreaks along the way. That doesn’t mean either party is “bad”; it means they’re not a good match. You learn and move on to a hopefully better one.

Far too much of the business is run on “everyone does this” and “that’s the way it’s done.” Not every channel works for every book and author. Readers want good deals; bookstores and libraries face ever-tightening budgets, and they have to be particular about where they spend their money. Amazon, for all its convenience, seems to be turning to a model to actively prevent authors from earning a fair return on their work, between the bots that manipulate rankings, arbitrary dismissal of legitimate reviews in favor of badly written, poorly spelled reviews by unqualified individuals with an axe to grind, and sabotaging publishers by pushing cheaper second-hand deals.

I have several re-releases I want to put back out into the world, with the hope that they’ll start earning their keep, continue to build an audience, and pave the way for the next books in their series, and help build a solid platform while I continue, with new work, to pursue more traditional outlets. The goal of each book is that the storytelling and craft improves from the previous book, which means every book becomes a better experience. For re-releases, I can apply what I’ve gained in craft to the release, and thereby position the next book even more strongly, because I’ve got a firmer foundation on which to build.

But the books still need to find their audience.

The plan and execution for each re-release is easier, at least on the emotional level. Far too often, working with some of the small publishers, I’ve taken the “partner” aspect seriously, working with them on ideas and campaigns, only to have the publisher not fulfill what was agreed, and simply shrug it all off. ARCS not sent to reviewers as promised, books that were ordered far in advance not showing up for special events, “forgetting” or “misplacing” information sent for multiple-author promotions. The most destructive, in my experience, is refusing to put a solid release date into the contract, refusing to commit to a date, and releasing a book when the publisher “gets around to it.” Even if the author is doing the bulk of promotional work, you can’t build a marketing campaign that will get a return without solid information.

Being responsible for all the aspects of the backlist releases myself takes much of that frustration away. That’s why many of the traditionally-published authors I know have decided to go indie or hybrid. It’s not because they “can’t” get published by a more traditional outlet. It’s because the publisher isn’t giving them the support that will actually give a reasonable return.  Granted, they start out with a major advantage over me — they had the support of the traditional publisher to build their audience in the first place.

I’m also tired of all the marketing campaigns being so similar. Far too often, I’m scrolling past book promotion posts, because it all sounds the same. Covers are too similar. Cover blurbs don’t hook me. If I see a review quote from a site I know charges authors for a review, I dismiss it.

How does one set oneself apart?

There’s argument that one shouldn’t. This is what readers are used to; this is what they want. I think that underestimates the reader. Yes, there are readers who read to escape, who want something safe and familiar. They want the category romance where the only thing that changes is the character name and location. They are happy with the ever-more-restrictive formula for certain cozies that is more intolerant, that dumbs down character and motivation, and reaffirms their own narrow view of the world.  They’re free to read whatever they want, and I believe there’s a need for every type of book and every type of reader.  We all have days were we want to escape, and not be forced to think too much, or have our views of the world challenged. If that’s ALL a particular group of readers craves, they’re not the readers for whom I’m writing, so I’m not targeting them.

I’m on the hunt for something different. I have three major releases coming up in the fall and early winter, and several short releases. I have to build the individual campaign for each, and I have to integrate and cross-promote where appropriate. Each campaign has to be unique to the release, while building momentum.

I’m going to experiment. Yes, I’ll use some tried-and-true techniques, but I’m also going to come up with some things that are different. I’ll be sharing them as I figure out what they are and how to use them.

I’m starting with the following questions:

–Who is my target audience?

–What elements have given me the best return in the past, and can I adapt any of them for this particular release?

–As a reader, what catches my attention? Can I adapt any of that?

–As a reader, what turns me off? Can I avoid that?

–What makes my book unique, and what tangible aspects of that uniqueness can I use in promotion?

The answers for most of those questions will be slightly different for each release. Since I write in different genres, the target audience for each of the big releases (paranormal romantic suspense, contemporary mystery, paranormal mystery) will be slightly different. There’s room for some crossover, which I hope to exploit. But there will also be differences.

Elements that have worked for me include good media kits and individual outreach (absolutely no generic email blasts). Radio is also always one of my strongest aspects.

What catches my attention? Hard to pin down, but I have to.

What turns me off? Constant demands that I buy the book; poorly written cover copy or excerpts; covers that I’ve either seen on other books or that are so similar to other books I think I’ve seen them.

Two of the biggest turn-offs tend to happen on Twitter: one is a series of identical promotional posts that are scheduled and keep turning up in my feed. The other is when a new-to-me author follows me, I follow back, and get an immediate direct message demanding I buy the book. For me, that’s an automatic unfollow.

Another thing I don’t do is author photographs. I get a lot of flack for that. I write under multiple names in multiple genres. What I look like has NOTHING to do with my writing. I’m not an actor. I’m a writer. My words are my instrument, my words are what I share with the world. My life (which includes my looks) are separate. Readers don’t need a photograph. I have icons that designate the different pseudonyms. It’s even in my contracts. I’ve lost contracts when I refused to supply a photograph instead of the icon that is recognizable for any specific name. Interestingly enough, the ONLY time that’s happened is when the venue didn’t pay, and they wanted to run a piece of mine for “exposure.” In other words, no loss there. Unfortunately, I lost paid contracts when a newspaper ran a photograph of me that it had agreed not to run (I explained my contract). I should have sued the paper. I didn’t, but I lost a series contract thanks to that, as well as a stand-alone contact.  Because it was specified in my contract that I do not do author photographs; I only agreed to the newspaper interview because they promised NOT to run a personal photograph (I provided professional photos of the topic of the interview, which wasn’t even writing-related).  They lied to me and cost me book contracts, which means income.

I’m sick and tired of fighting with people when I hang out and they want to take pictures to post on Facebook. No. I don’t do photographs. Period. I have personal photographs that are in frames or albums with people in my life who are important to me.  I am not part of the “selfie nation”.  I could go into a whole rant on it, but people would feel I judged THEIR choices, which I don’t.  They can take and post any photo they want — as long as it’s not of me.  I have no interest in posting a selfie of me in front of something. To prove I was there? I don’t need to prove anything. That is my choice. That is my right. People can share whatever THEY chose, and it’s not up to me. But I can also choose what NOT to share.

Social media has done a great deal to expand my work’s reach. At the same time, I’m not willing to stop being who I am for fear of offending readers. I’m politically active — in life and on social media. At this particular juncture in time, my very life and that of my family depends on my so being. I’m not going to stop. That may turn off readers. Chances are, they are readers who wouldn’t like my books anyway, because my characters stand up for social justice and tolerance, and fight against oppression, tyranny, racism, bigotry, misogyny. Readers who don’t believe in those issues aren’t going to like my books anyway. Nor will I let them bully me by threatening not to buy my books if I’m politically active. Then don’t buy my books — you are not my target audience. It is your choice where to put your money. I’m an advocate of conscientious consumerism, and means respecting the choice of those who’d rather put their money elsewhere. We’ll go our separate ways. YOU are not going to change what I write. I write what I write, and I endeavor to get it out to the widest audience possible, who then CHOOSES if it’s what they want or not. It’s fine to be “not”. There are plenty of books and authors that don’t work for me. I wish them well in their careers and move on.  I don’t argue with them or publicly trash them.  I move on.

In fact, an author whose work I used to read fairly regularly (although I feel she’s dumbed down her last few books) complained about authors being politically active and threatened to stop following or supporting any authors who remained active. Although I consider her a midlist author, she is traditionally published, and believes that her platform has strong influence. Fine. That’s her choice. But she’s now dropped from MY list. I wish her well; I hope she’s happy and successful. I didn’t argue with her or try to bully her into changing her views.  But I choose to spend my hard-earned money on other authors, and I choose to spend my time with people who respect my beliefs, even if they don’t always agree with them.

As a dedicated member of PEN, who used to work on behalf of incarcerated authors all over the world when I lived in New York, walking my talk is vital to who I am and what I write. I’m not going to dilute it because it threatens certain readers’ narrow frames of reference.

Again: they are not my target audience.

And the rule of marketing that works, after “write a good book” is “know your audience.”

My goal is to create interesting, engaging campaigns for books in which I believe. I want to expand my audience. I want to write books that interest, entertain, and maybe make readers look at the world a bit differently. I want to create marketing campaigns that are less of “Buy my book, damn you” and more “come play in this sandbox for awhile — you might enjoy yourself.”

I’m still working out the details. I know I’m going to pursue interviews (blogs, print, radio). Once print editions are available, I may start pitching for appearances again. My media kits are vital tools, and the Media Room on my website is the one of pages with the highest traffic.

I also spend time dissecting what is unique about each release. Themes, characters, leitmotifs that turn up in the books. I want to build aspects of each marketing campaign around that, to make the campaigns more unique. I’m not sure what all of those are yet, but I’m working on it.

Will any of this work? I won’t know until probably 2019. I’m going to try different elements. Some will work. Some will not. I’ll adjust.

One of the biggest challenges is handling of all this, keeping on schedule, and maintaining momentum while staying on track with new projects and with the freelance writing that pays the bills and keeps a roof over my head, AND dealing with the difficult personal issues that I’m currently dealing with.

But, most important of all, I will keep writing.

I hope you continue on the journey with me. I hope you will learn from my experience. If my mistakes can prevent any of your own, that will be a positive, in my opinion.

Namaste!

Thurs. Jan. 19: Day of Resistance (Part II)

Thursday, January 19, 2017
Waning Moon
Cloudy turning to sunshine and cool

Not a productive writing day yesterday, but got a bunch of other things done. One contract negotiation, in particular, is taking more and energy than it should. I’m being pushed towards signing something that is not in my best interest and is in conflict with the standards provided by the Authors’ Guild, and I’m not willing so to do. Yes, I am willing to walk away if necessary. But the person who fights me on it wants me to sign it anyway. Which I won’t. This “shut up, roll over and deal, even though you’re being fucked on every level” mentality especially irritates me because it reflects what Swamp Thing Elect’s supporters are demanding of the country in every capacity.

Got some research done, but not as much as I’d like. I’m on hold on some of the research, because that is yet another contract that needs to be finalized.

On the third ongoing contract negotiation, the other party asked for more time, which is fine. She needs to run things by her legal advisors, too.

Today is officially the Day of Resistance, before tomorrow’s inauguration and our country’s march into destruction.

I am not able to go to NYC for tonight’s rally led by Michael Moore and Mark Ruffalo, unfortunately. Unfortunately, I’m limited in how much I can afford to travel right now, and since I’ll be marching this weekend, and last weekend was the PEN event — something had to give somewhere. But I will attend it virtually.

Swamp Thing Elect, the Narcissistic Sociopath, that corrupt con man, is not my president. I will not give him the attention he craves. I will not capitulate to his bullying, nor will I become complicit as he tries to destroy the many good things this country stands for, and the progress we’ve made over the last fifty years.

I am not interested in “unity” with Swamp Things Elect’s supporters, who believe it’s okay to mock the disabled, to deny women healthcare, to sexually prey on others, to destroy Medicare — which is an EARNED benefit, to destroy Social Security — again, an EARNED benefit, to condone violence against those who disagree, to destroy the educational system, to destroy the very planet on which we live on, to deny equal rights and basic human decency based on skin color and/or religion, and/or sexual orientation, to force one’s particular brand of extreme religion down the country’s throats while claiming everyone else’s religion makes them a “terrorist”, to condone domestic terrorism as long as the individuals performing it are white, to deny the press access to what is going on so the corruption can go unhindered, to put people in charge of agencies they are bound and determined to destroy, and to get us into a nuclear war because of a Who-Has-the-Biggest-Dick contest.

I’ve heard Swamp Thing Elect’s supporters proclaim that, should they see anything unethical, immoral, or tactics that resemble fascist tactics, they will be the “first” to stand up, and they will protect the “others.” These idiots are completely ignoring that they HAVE seen countless demonstrations of all of that throughout the campaign and voted for him anyway. The behavior had only intensified since the election. They can’t expect anyone to take them seriously that they believe in “family values” when they vote for someone who is its antithesis. They ARE NOT and they WILL NOT stand up against Swamp Thing. or his goons. As usual, they’re blowing a lot of hot air. Paraphrasing the meme that’s been going around, when someone comes for them, there will be no one left to stand for them, because they did not stand for others.

He has had numerous opportunities to respond to criticism and dissent with statesmanship and dignity. He refuses so to do. Instead, he behaves like a spoiled, ranting toddler, and incites further hatred.

It also amazes me how many Swamp Thing Elect supporters think they’re on a “special list” because they voted for him. They genuinely believe that, while people who voted for Hillary will lose health care, Medicare, all health and human services, and Social Security, because they voted for the Swamp Thing, they will keep their benefits while the “others” lose them. Several have SAID that to me. “You’ll be left to die in a ditch, but I’m getting a Cadillac plan and I don’t have to pay for it, because I’m on The List.”

So when they’re shocked that they might lose their benefits and go crying to the media? Honey, this is what you voted for. There is no such thing as “one issue voting.” You voted for the whole package including advocating racism and violence and inequality. You voted to lose your healthcare, your benefits, your overtime pay at your minimum-wage job, and to have your house foreclosed. You are not exempt. You are not on a “special list.” The information was out there; you chose to ignore it.

All while Swamp Thing Elect and his buddies line their own pockets, plunder the US Treasury for themselves, sell us off to other countries, and probably put the contents of the White House up for sale on eBay.

No. I will not “unify”. I will not normalize one of the most unqualified and corrupt administrations in this country’s history.

It is BECAUSE I have respect for the Office of the President that I will not unify with those determined to destroy it for personal gain.

For eight years, anti-Obama factions refused to work with/unify/compromise with the Obama administration. The amount of racial insult against the President and his family, the constant obstructionism. Mitch McConnell declaring it was his mission to make sure Obama was a “one-term President”. Not that he would do his job to serve the country, but that his entire mission was to obstruct Obama. Mitch McConnell refusing to give Merrick Garland a fair hearing for the Supreme Court vacancy, and then whining that the Senate has to rubber stamp anyone Swamp Thing Elect puts forth. If the cabinet posts are any indication, the next nominee for the Supreme Court won’t even have any legal experience.

I will not “unify” with such hypocrites.

I will not give the Swamp Thing the attention he craves. When the Supreme Court betrayed the American people by handing the election to GW Bush, instead of allowing votes to be counted, I did not consider Bush my president, either. I ignored him as much as possible, working with my elected representatives on issues that mattered to me.

Then, of course, 9/11 happened. Even though Bush had the information on August 6 that would have prevented it. Read, or re-read, the 9/11 Commission Report if you’ve forgotten. So we had to pay attention. And then Bush came to speak to an anti-war rally in NYC, against getting into Iraq, and told the assembled crowed, “I don’t care what you think.” I was there. I heard the words. I wrote them down on the day. He was my EMPLOYEE. He damn well better care what I thought!

And here we are, with thousands of lives lost and thousands of veterans who aren’t being cared for, and who won’t, be cared for, under the incoming administration.

The dumbing-down began in the Reagan years. I lived through them. I remember. It got worse with reality television. And now a reality television celebutard is about to take an oath of office he will not fulfill, treat the job like a hobby that he will ignore when he doesn’t feel like doing it, destroy our relationships with our allies all over the world, do whatever Putin tells him, and probably get us into a nuclear war, because he thinks it’s like a video game, and, in his pathetic life, there have never been any consequences for any of the horrible things he’s done. He’s been bankrupt four times. If this cabinet picks are any indications of how he’s run his businesses, hiring the least qualified for every position, no wonder. Now he gets to bankrupt the country.

I will not give him the attention he craves. I will ignore him as much as possible, while working with my elected officials on issues that matter, and fighting the policies that will destroy us.

One of the first things to do is to remove Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell from their positions, because they are using Swamp Thing’s ignorance and bombastic posturing for their own ends.

I have been keeping up with the confirmation hearings this week for the inept and corrupt that want cabinet positions. So far, they’ve all been horrifyingly unqualified for the positions to which they were named. I have been letting my elected officials know how I feel about them. I will continue working with my elected officials, and I will work to help other ethical progressives get elected all over the country in 2018.

I will continue with my own creative work, in prose, on stage, on film, and on radio, and accepting gigs from organizations in whose missions I can believe. I will not normalize behavior, legislation, and corruption that are sickening to me, and I will not “unify” with people who promote, condone, and live those beliefs. If I have to, I will co-exist with them, provided they don’t try to force them on me, and I will continue to use my First Amendment rights to speak out.

I will continue working with organizations like PEN, Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and environmental organizations that work for dignity and rights for all. I will cut ties with organizations who don’t take a stand.

I will continue to vote when votes come up, to read as many bills coming up as possible, and to find daily ways in my life to make the world around me a better place. That does not mean shutting up and ignoring the corruption around me.

There are plenty of progressive slogans being bandied about with which I don’t agree, because I think it’s too much bunnies and rainbows and not enough practicality. While we often need to unwind with cute cat videos and a glass of wine after a long day, bunnies and rainbows and “positive energy” won’t fix this. Hard work, cunning, intelligence, and a refusal to back down will.

That is my resistance.

I am not watching the inauguration tomorrow, for the first time since I can remember. I have other work to do, especially creative. I am also taking the trash to the dump — the gesture pleases me, in a small way. I intend to help take out the trash that is the incoming administration as much as possible in the coming months.

I will be offline from tomorrow until Monday.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009
Waning Moon
Pluto Retrograde
Rainy and cool

Yeah, it’s STILL raining. I hope that means we’ll have lots of gorgeous flowers when it finally lets up.

Speaking of gorgeous flowers, my morning glories are blooming! Imagine! In a north-facing window! Beautiful! Hopefully, the moonflowers will bloom, too.

Hop on over to FEMMEFAN to read my Belmont Stakes wrap-up.

And if you haven’t read my interview with Kim Smith, please drop by here and leave a comment!

Yesterday was caught up in business, and I didn’t get much other stuff done. I helped my mom with a bunch of stuff. We stopped at our favorite Chinese restaurant on the way home and got some take out. The food is always excellent, and the prices are great. AND they’re really nice.

The issues with 1and1 seem to be cleared up, at least for the moment. Let’s hope they remain so. And Canon sent me the fixes for both printers, so that seems to be resolved. Many thanks to both of them. We think that, with the big printer, someone else’s wireless crossed communication with my printer, and my printer was printing from someone else’s computer. We hope that’s now fixed. I don’t have wi-fi, I don’t have my printer set up for wi-fi, but . . .

I’m a little behind where I’d like to be on client projects, although no deadlines are in jeopardy. I have to reshuffle a couple of projects over the next few days, but everything will get done. And I need to get back to my own fiction. I’m behind where I’d like to be on that, although, again, no deadlines are in jeopardy.

I’ve got some more business to take care of today, and if all goes well with that, the next few weeks will be crazy. Most of it will be great, some of it will be frustrating, it will be exhausting, but the outcome should be quite good.

I don’t plan to be online very much today. I’m a little cranky because someone broke the city code and woke me with a leaf blower (yes, in the middle of the rain) at 6:15 this morning. And ran it for 45 minutes. Leaf blowers are banned entirely by the city code from May 1 – either September 1 or October 1. So I have to put in a call to City Hall. I don’t care what day of the year it is — I should NEVER be woken up by a leaf blower at 6:15 in the morning.

I think leaf blowers should be banned anyway, all the time, especially around here. All they do is kick up dust,dirt, and noise pollution. The guys who run them just walk around pointing them randomly at the asphalt. I have yet to see them ever use them on LEAVES. And as far as leaves go? Use a damn rake! Much more eco-friendly. I understand if it’s the Town Park and there are acres and acres of leaves in the fall — but handkerchief-sized yards don’t need them, especially when they’re not used properly.

Come by Sole Struck Fashions tomorrow. It’ll be my monthly post.

I didn’t do anything particularly interesting that can be discussed on the blog. Sorry.

I’ll put in a good day’s work today. Tomorrow, I’m up early, because I have a meeting with a Congressional Representative at 9 AM. And I have another Mac class in CT at 2 PM. I’m going to go a little early and play with the iPod touch and ask some questions. I’m not actually going to BUY it tomorrow, but at least I’ll do my research, so when I’m ready, it’s just a case of the cash changing hands. I can Tweet from it, so soon — none of you will be safe!

I have another Mac workshop on Sunday morning, and one on Monday night. Then I think I’m done for about a week. Yeah. I’ll have taken nine workshops in a month. And I’ll know how to use my computer! These are the free workshops Apple offers. They’re incredibly helpful. I feel like I should bake them all brownies or something.

Speaking of brownies, I baked some for myself yesterday afternoon. Just because there must always be something chocolate in this house. It’s a requirement.

It’s supposed to clear up this afternoon. I’m going to run over and check the brook in a bit, and determine whether or not I need to move the car. Hopefully, I don’t.

I got my confirmation yesterday — I am officially a member of Broad Universe! Woo-hoo! I can’t wait to get involved supporting my fellow fantasy and science-fiction writers. And my renewal from PEN arrived, along with the new membership card. I’m delighted. I need to talk to them about the plans for the Laura Ling/Euna Lee situation, and also about Prague.

Slow day on the Matty book. The Lucy Gothic is starting to pull at me again, but I’ve got other projects to complete before I can get back to it.

Have a great day!

Devon

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Waning Moon
Pluto Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Rainy and mild

My head is so stuffed full of information, it’s ready to burst. It was a good day, but a long one.

Train ride in was mediocre, as usual. I couldn’t stand the thought of being underground, so I decided to take the bus up Madison Avenue and then across 79th St. to the west side. The bus ride up Madison was excruciatingly slow, because there was a water main break at 57th St. The ride across the park was fine, except for the bratty, spoiled little rich kids with their nannies on the bus. One, in particular, a little girl of about six, was exceptionally horrid. Tantrums, screaming, whining, hitting other kids, trying to hit adults. She didn’t try it with me – like most bullies, she’s a coward at heart. I glared at her once and she hid behind the nanny. I’m not one for hitting a kid very often, but this one needed a good smack. Actually, maybe if they started by telling her “no” occasionally – and meaning it – it would make a difference. If she’s like this at six, what will she be like as a teenager, or as an adult? It’s a shame, because she’s very pretty. Too bad the inside doesn’t match the outside.

The Museum of Natural History was full of kids. I forgot that this is the time of year for school trips. You can tell the city kids from the suburban kids. The city kids are loud and rambunctious, but, living in the city, they’re very aware of personal space. They invade their friends’ space, but they’re careful not to invade that of strangers. The suburban kids have the same unwarranted sense of entitlement that their parents do, and just don’t care.

There was a really cute little boy of about eight with his dad, who thought EVERYTHING was AMAZING. There was a little girl of about eight or nine making sure her younger brothers and sisters didn’t wander off – there were about five in that group. The youngest could barely walk, but liked all the animals. She’d (Eldest) read a bunch of books before coming to the museum and was telling them stories about everything – it was great. A teacher-in-the-making (and most of it was even right). There was a girl of about eleven or twelve sketching, photographing, taking lots of notes in the Northwest Coastal Indians exhibit. Either she had a paper to write, or she’s an archaeologist-in-the-making. One little kid fell asleep in a corner of the Hall of Gems – it’s dark and only the cases with the gems are lit. There was a group of teenage boys wandering through North American Mammals, singing Pat Benatar lyrics. I told them I was impressed that they knew the lyrics to her songs, and they all blushed.

The Museum has a lot of stuff for kids, and several of the shops are geared specifically towards kids, filled with learning toys and books – really, they have one of the best shops I’ve ever seen. Low on the kitschy souvenirs, high on the education-presented-engagingly.

I wandered through the special floor of the main store dedicated to books. I could have easily dropped nine or ten THOUSAND dollars just in that bookstore. Fabulous stuff.

I visited some of my favorites – the Blue Whale, the African elephants, the owls, the biodiversity exhibit. I spent more time in the Human Evolution exhibit than I planned, because they were explaining archaeological and anthropological methods and evaluations, and I figured that would be good for the Gwen/Justin books. Yes, I eavesdropped, but the (very cute) lecturer didn’t seem to mind.

I spent quite awhile in the biodiversity exhibit, refreshing my memory. It’s a great exhibit, but once you’ve spent time in a real rain forest (I went to one in Australia), nothing else quite compares. You can recreate the look of it, but not the energy flow.

I spent a lot of time in the Halls of Minerals and Gems. It’s one of my favorite places. It’s very soothing to sit amongst enormous chunks of amethyst and crystal. Because of the dramatic lighting and carpeting, when it’s not full of rambunctious kids, it’s a great place to simply sit and be quiet. It’s a very meditative space.

The Hall of Meteorites is always fascinating. And I spent a lot of time in the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Honestly, I liked it better when it was the Hayden Planetarium. This has more levels and more open space, but I felt there was more concentrated information in the former, and it wasn’t all focused on making you buy an extra ticket for the Space show or the IMAX show. I took a lot of notes on the information that was there, and the Planetarium shop is terrific. I jotted down many titles, but I bought three books: Miss Leavitt’s Stars by George Johnson, about the woman who figured out how to measure distances between stars and galaxies. I’d never heard of her before; have you? I also bought a very basic book on the Solar System, because I haven’t read anything about it since about the fourth grade, and, other than being able to recite the planets in order from the sun and know what the retrogrades mean . . .that’s all I know. There was also a book on the sale table that I scooped up called A Traveler’s Guide to Mars by William K. Hartmann. The more I read about Mars, the more I think it was once fairly similar to Earth and that civilization destroyed the planet much as we are destroying this one. Flipping through the book, it seems that some of my theories are laid out and backed up in the book, but some of the things I think are possible are discounted, so I’m interested to read it and learn. It’s over 400 pages, so it will be quite a read. I also jotted down a bunch of titles that I’m going to try to get elsewhere.

On the spur of the moment, I decided to go up to the dinosaur exhibits. I’d always loved them as a kid (if I hadn’t gone into the arts, I would probably have been an archaeologist). I’d wafted through briefly after it was re-conceived, but hadn’t spent any time there. This time, I did.

Wow.

The curators truly did a spectacular job. One of the things I loved was how graceful the skeletons looked. That sounds weird, since they were these huge, lumbering beasts, or these delicate raptor-type things, but the way the spines curved and the tails stretched and the angle of the heads and front arms – really beautiful. I took a lot of photographs and wrote a lot of notes (so I’ll know what the photographs represent). This will help me in the evolution of world-building, as will the biodiversity exhibit and the Space Center exhibit.

I probably gathered information for about a dozen projects here; it’s information I can use on projects in progress, and information I can continue using in the future. I think I’m going to get some children’s books on the basics of stars and their physiology (when in doubt, get it in children’s book format – they often have terrific information stated engagingly). I still might contact some of the staff at the museum with questions, but I want to see if I can answer them on my own first.

That was the bulk of the day. I wandered down Central Park West and over towards Lincoln Center. I browsed in the big Barnes & Noble there – since when did it become a pickup joint along the lines of San Francisco’s Marina Safeway of the 1980’s? At first I thought I was delusional, but after the sixth guy asked me for my phone number . . .

My friend and I were supposed to meet at a place on Columbus Avenue, but Fordham University had its graduation ceremony and the place was packed. So I grabbed a few bar stools over at Josefina’s on Broadway instead, and that’s where we met. It’s a place for grown-ups and was a much-needed respite. We had an elegant glass of wine and caught up on life, then maneuvered through the renovations at Lincoln Center to the Walter Reade Theatre for the PEN Literary Awards.

What a beautiful evening! Low key but elegant and friendly. Jonathan Ames was the host. I’ve never read anything of his, but after listening to him up there last night, I am going to! If he writes anywhere near as wonderfully as he speaks, he’ll become one of my favorite aauthors. The ceremony was lovely, simple, from the heart, and inspiring. Richard Nelson received a lifetime achievement for his plays – one of my favorite playwrights, by the way. Janet Malcolm, whose work I thoroughly admire, received an award for her biography of Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas (if you haven’t read Malcolm’s work on Sylvia Plath – read it. Now.). Cynthia Ozick received the Nabokov award. There were awards for translation and a children’s book-in-progress, and first novels and poetry and all sorts of inspiring stuff. Truly lovely. And there was an empty chair to signify the writers we work so hard to release via the Core Freedoms/Freedom to Write program who are imprisoned throughout the work for speaking their truths.

The reception after was lovely. Whoever does the catering for PEN always does a terrific job. The h’ors d’oeuvres are just the right size, not too messy, and tasty. My favorites were the sesame rounds with guacamole and the farmstead cheese with pear drizzled with lavender honey.

The only unfortunate part of the day was how badly my feet hurt. I was dressed up, yes, and on my feet all day. But I wore one of my most comfortable pairs of boots. Yet, by the time I got home, after 11 PM, I could barely limp. I couldn’t believe it. And I realized – I’m not used to wearing shoes – at all – any more.

I work at home. We have a no-shoes-in-the-house rule. I put on a pair of shoes to go to the store or out to dinner, but that’s maybe a couple of hours. I wear my Timberland sneakers to do shows. But, other than that, I don’t wear shoes. I buy them. They’re on my shoe rack looking cute. But I spent most of my time barefoot.

Shoes hurt. My feet get claustrophobic.

Actually, my feet hurt, my ankles hurt, my shins hurt, my knees hurt, my back hurt, and my neck hurt by the time I got home, and I’m not feeling so perky today (damn alignment)!

Fortunately, I have acupuncture tomorrow.

I have to have an organized writing day. On the train, I figured out the final obstacle for THE MATILDA MURDERS, so I hope I can finish it today. And I got some interesting ideas for the adaptation, and want to do some work on the two stories.

I should probably also pitch for more short-term paying work.

Devon

Devon’s Bookstore:


5 in 10: Create 5 Short Stories in Ten Weeks
by Devon Ellington. This ebooklet takes you from inspiration to writing to revision to marketing. By the end of ten weeks, you will have either 5 short stories or a good chunk of a novella complete. And it’s only 50 cents, USD. Here.

Writing Rituals: Ideas to Support Creativity by Cerridwen Iris Shea. This ebooklet contains several rituals to help you start writing, get you through writer’s block, and help send your work on its way. It’s only 39 cents USD. (Note: Cerridwen Iris Shea is one of the six names under which I publish). Here.


Full Circle: An Ars Concordia Anthology
. Edited by Colin Galbraith. This is a collection of short stories, poems, and other pieces by a writers’ group of which I am a member. My story is “Pauvre Bob”, set at Arlington Race Track in Illinois. You can download it free here: