Welcome to March, dear readers! I am so honored to have Laurie Notaro as my guest blogger today and the first in my #WhatsYourStory series, featuring established and aspiring authors who will share their experiences in this writing life. You can find Laurie's books on the shelves of your favorite bookstores. In addition to her writing work, Laurie recently launched Laurie Notaro Creative, offering structural, line, and copy editing services and consultations to creative and academic writers at every level. Here's what Laurie had to say:
Very clearly, I remember the first morning I came home after my first book tour. It was already a scorching Arizona day at 8 a.m., but when I opened the back door to let my dog out, I smiled when my face was instantly warmed by the sunshine.
"This morning will be the morning for the rest of my life," I thought, then poured my coffee and sat down at my desk to work on my second book.
That was sixteen years ago. In the course of that time, I've written and published fourteen books of humor, women's fiction and historical fiction. Some did very well; others did not. But every day since then, including this morning, I got my coffee, let the dog out, and went to work at my desk.
Today will mark the last morning I move in that routine, my last morning of that life. I, like many, many other authors I know, cannot make a living solely by writing books anymore. It's time for me to get a day job and return to the workforce, and instead of sitting down at my own desk to write, I will be sitting down at another desk across town to give my time and effort to something that does not have my name on it.
Believe me, I am grateful that I even have the opportunity and skills to return to the workforce. Before I became an author, I was a reporter and columnist for a large metro daily newspaper; before that, I was an editor at a beautiful city monthly magazine; before that, I was the public relations person for a non-profit. Before that, I started an alternative magazine with my friends straight out of college. I made $800 a month and still had to ask my parents for money. Before that, I spent my college years not in class but working at the university newspaper, often times at the office until at three in the morning literally putting the newspaper together. I graduated with an unimpressive GPA, but with a firm foundation of writing, publishing and knowing what it was like to get paid shit for what you love to do.
When my first book came out and made it to the New York Times bestseller list, I hoped I would have a tenure of some sort to stay in the business. I did not know then how difficult it would be to repeat that success, and that in the book publishing world, there is no such thing as tenure. Your record is not in your work, it is not in your effort, it is not in what you put down on the page. It is a numbers game only. I was naive enough to believe that if people wanted better sales, they should write a better book. It was more than naive. It was baseline stupid.
The New York Times reported earlier this year that over 80% of the revenue that used to funnel toward newspapers and book publishing now goes to Google and Facebook. That is daunting news for writers who want to make their living doing something that they are the most skilled at. As a result, I am not the only New York Times bestselling author I know of who has gone back to work and will have to write books "on the side," or as a labor of love. For many of us, this is a reality now. Full-time writers have taken an 80% pay cut since 2002.
Should this be daunting to new writers? It's not good news, but it should not curb hard work and your passion for telling a story. Without stories, our cultural fabric loosens, it frays, it falls apart. If there is a book in you, a tale, a narrative, you carve out time to put those words down, whether it is at night, early in the morning, or in whatever spare time you can scratch out. I still have stories I want to tell. I still have books I want to write. It will take me longer, certainly, but the need for it does not leave me. I have the knowledge of being in the publishing industry for a very long time; the good news is that new writers are getting published every week. With a strong query letter and solid work, the opportunity to publish has really not diminished. I am a huge supporter of helping new writers navigate the channels of publishing protocol. I will always encourage writers to write; without our words, our society dries up and becomes static. Without new perspectives, we turn to stone. Find the time, tell your story. People need to hear it.
My last book was the best thing I've ever written, but it got lost in the frenzy of the election and an uncertain future for our country. It was the real story of three women who were determined to see their goals come to fruition as all of them attempted to make the transatlantic crossing before Amelia Earhart did in 1928. It took me five years of research to write that book, and it was the experience of my lifetime. But the sales numbers were terrible. My publisher turned down my next book proposal, saying verbatim, "Laurie is costing us money."
Those were hard words to hear. They were hard words to write.
The words that will not be hard to write will be the chapters of the next book, which I have not stopped working on. I believe in telling that story, and whether it is in the dark hours of early morning or late night, in the time that I may have gone to see a movie or on my lunch hour, I will write it.
You have my word.
Laurie Notaro was born in Brooklyn, New York, then spent the remainder of her formative years in Phoenix, AZ, where she created something of a checkered past. She is the New York Times best-selling author of the humor memoirs The Idiot Girls Action Adventure Club, Autobiography of a Fat Bride, I Love Everybody and Housebroken, along with numerous others; two humor novels; and Crossing the Horizon, a novel of historical fiction that tells the true story of once famous and now forgotten aviatrices prior to Amelia Earhart that vied to become the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic. She resides in Eugene, Oregon, has a cute dog, a nice husband and misses Mexican food like it was her youth.
In February, Laurie launched Laurie Notaro Creative. Visit her website to learn more.
...channeling West Side Story...OK, moving on.
It seems like every day of this new year brings some sort of change for me. I've got projects coming out my nose (really, it's very painful) and am traveling a lot (next week, Tucson Festival of Books). There's the usual insanity of parenthood, marriage and friendship. And although I admit, there are times when I start feeling a little bit overwhelmed, it's hard not to smile. Life is good.
When I named this blog "Kissing Authors & Astronauts," I was thinking about risk taking and facing the challenges that come in life. For me, an opportunity to produce an online news site in my hometown put me in contact with some amazing people, and yes, there was kissing involved. It started with Michael McGarrity. Michael is a very talented and charming author based out of Santa Fe. He's a big supporter of libraries, and I worked with him on several programs for our local library. I also went to Santa Fe to interview him about the first book in his upcoming series.
During that time, I created programs about literacy, history and culture. I met authors, astronauts and artists, got in free to cover concerts at a beautiful mountain venue and explored local politics during a mayoral election. Sometimes I look back on those days and think: What if I'd said no? What if I'd decided not to take that chance? It was hard work and balancing the news site with the full-time work of my marketing firm was often a juggling act. But I did things that I never would have imagined doing. I was bold. I was brazen. I was persistent. I was unstoppable!
Being a writer is also about taking risks. Sure, there are those enviable stories about authors who were discovered and became NYT Bestsellers on their debut novel! Yay! But most of us have to work long and hard to make progress in an industry that can easily be soul-sucking and cruel. We face lots of rejection, some of which is kind. Some, not so much. We get excited when someone loves something we've written, and then we agonize over how to translate that into a viable income base. We love to write, but for many of us, we're also trying to make a living and it's not an easy field to be in.
So why are so many of us doing it? And what are the stories of those writers out there in the trenches who didn't find overnight success but persevered?
Starting in March, I hope to explore those things on this blog by inviting guest posts from authors who are living the dream (and trudging along). These are funny, smart, creative, hard-working men and women who've decided that being a writer is their passion and will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. Some are full-time writers. Some have day jobs. We'll get to hear a little bit about how they got their starts, the challenges they've faced and where they are in their writing careers. Most of all, we'll be introduced to current authors and writers who are out there creating, and dreaming, every day.
Please share these posts with your friends and family. Maybe you'll find your new favorite author right here :)
Valentine's Day is just around the corner. Is the day of love one of your favorites or do you run and hide? Do you celebrate a day early with your girlfriends? Whatever your particular feelings about the BIG DAY, there are two things that I'm quite certain of: 1) there's no better way to celebrate ANY OCCASION than with a book, and 2) winning prizes is also super amazing!!!
So, this year, celebrate Galentine's Day AND Valentine's Day with some #ChickLitLove! Join the Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/648488038691371/. Then, on February 13th and 14th, hop to each authors page for chances to win great prizes.
I'm on team Valentine's Day and my assigned time slot is 12PM EST BUT you can visit my Facebook page anytime on the 14th for a chance to win a gorgeous hand-crafted necklace by Kell's Creations! It'd make a great gift for a wife, girlfriend, sister, cousin, daughter, BFF or even for yourself!
Check out the list below for some of the other amazing authors participating in the hop. See you there!
#ChickLitLove Hop Teams
As a former marketer, I understand the need to find a company’s target audience by identifying its niche, its market and by putting it into a category that addresses the needs of that market. So companies in the larger real estate market might be further identified as luxury, or commercial, or residential. You get the idea, right? As a marketer, I learned to embrace this concept.
As a writer, I want to scream when it comes to categorization. When people ask what kind of books I write, I automatically wish it was as simple as saying “I write romance” or “science fiction.” The genre writers have all the luck (at least the ones who are comfortably seated in their genre and happily identify with it). For me, it’s complicated.
My first run-in as a writer with categorization came about six months after finishing my first novel. I entered the manuscript in a contest, if for no other reason than to get it out there and have another set of eyes on it. When the feedback form arrived a few months later, I was annoyed. Not because I didn’t win (winning wasn’t really my intention and the guy who did win was so out-of-this-world talented that I’m glad he beat me), but because the critic called my work “women’s fiction.”
Now, let me first say that I love love love me some women’s fiction. I studied psychology in grad school because I adore delving into people’s emotional journeys. And, I’m a hopeless romantic, so I’m also an avid reader of chick-lit and even some genre romance. Though up until the point when my book was called “women’s fiction,” I can’t say that I ever consciously gave much thought to these distinctions. I love reading characters I can get to know and relate to, whether they’re detectives in police procedurals or heroines in steamy romances. I’m non-discriminating. As long as there’s someone I can root for, I’m happy.
So, why was I so irritated by this categorization, you ask? Mostly, I couldn’t really figure out what “women’s fiction” actually was. At the time, it sounded like books that only women would read and, being a woman who reads all kinds of books, that didn’t resonate with me. Further exploration led me to the definition “layered stories that are driven by the main character’s emotional journey.” OK. Maybe my book did fit this genre. After all, the book is all about my main character’s emotional journey as she navigates romance, takes risks in her professional life and comes to terms with truths about her family. But why is this type of story only for women? That was the thing that continued to bother me. The idea that a tale of emotional journey would be marketed as “women’s” fiction seemed terribly unfair to men who might also enjoy that sort of depth.
The marketer in me knew that I’d have to embrace some of these categories. So I did. I thought about all the types of readers I wanted to reach, and looked for pathways to those readers. When readers described the book as chick-lit, I started participating in chick-lit-oriented events. Same with women's fiction. I marketed my book in general fiction arenas as well, but the field is so broad and the competition so fierce that the idea of categorizing my book to reach a more targeted audience started to make more sense and felt less objectionable.
Until the day when it was suggested that my second book might not meet the criteria for women’s fiction (and that my first book probably didn’t either—too much romance). WTF? I mean, seriously!?! If not women’s fiction, then what? In the past two years, I’ve been told that my book has too much romance for women’s fiction, is too commercial for literary fiction, is too heavy for chick-lit, and is too clean for genre romance. Where in the world do I fit in?
It was at the peak of this crisis that I finally had a long talk with myself and reached this conclusion: I just want readers to read my book and form their own opinions. Really. I love that some people read Wallflower Blooming as a light romance and loved it. I love that some people really identified with Val and could apply some of the lessons she learned to their own lives. I even loved the 1-star review on Amazon that lambasted me for pushing my political agenda in my book. My response: “whoa, really? I thought the book was a little fluffy to elicit such venom.” I love that people felt something when they read it, and, of course, I’m glad that most people liked it. Whether they found comfort in the pages or simply a fun escape from the pace of everyday life, it’s really gratifying to have people read a story that you wrote and to feel something for your characters.
So, what have I learned from this whole categorization debacle? To keep writing and to stay true to myself. Do I believe that chick-lit readers will love my book? Sure. At least some will. And some readers of women’s fiction will love it. And some will think there’s too much romance. Will romance fans dig it? Yep. And some will say there’s not enough sex. And that’s the beauty of books. We bring as much to each book we read as we find in the pages. It’s a truly unique experience for each and every reader.
As a writer, there’s no way to avoid categorization. Just try entering a writing contest or submitting to an agent or shopping for a publisher. Categorization helps narrow down the field and allows our manuscripts to get into the right hands (in theory). It can also be a huge pain in the arse. I imagine that my love-hate relationship with categorization will continue. But what I hope most is that readers will take a chance on my books and form their own opinions. I hope they’ll open the pages and see what speaks to them.
Thanks for reading!
Having grown up in New Mexico, there are certain traditions that simply scream Christmas. Luminarias. Tamales. Posole. I come from a big Hispanic family and a lot of our traditions take place around the kitchen table. Every year on Christmas Eve, my mother would make a big pot of posole for our annual open house. The whole house smelled like red chile and cumin. That's the smell of Christmas to me.
I've lived in many places since my childhood and have tried to recreate some of these traditions to the best of my ability (it can be tricky to make a big pot of green chile stew using 4 oz. cans of Ortega green chiles). And lining the slippery walkways in Seattle with paper bags full of sand and candles doesn't always work very well. But the one thing that has remained a constant in my life is music.
My parents are folk musicians and I grew up in a home filled with music. I'd open my eyes each morning to the sounds of my dad playing his guitar in the living room. My mother's singing will always be a source of comfort and happiness for me. Christmas was no exception. Some of favorite Christmas carols are originals written through the years. School holiday programs. Christmas concerts. Endless hours of carols on the car radio.
Some of my favorite musical memories stem from caroling excursions. We'd bundle up and walk around various neighborhoods singing traditional Christmas songs. Some singers were better than others, but as a whole, there was nothing sweeter than the sound of our voices together. We cuddled. We laughed. It was a magical time.
It's November 30 and I'll admit that I've already listened to my favorite Christmas album twice and watched three holiday movies. So, let me say goodbye today by sharing one of my fav's and wishing everyone happy holidays with love, family and lots of great food and music.
Happy holidays readers! I'm participating in the Holly Jolly Chick Lit Hop, a Facebook event spanning December 5-16 where you'll have the chance to get to know some great new authors and books, as well as getting the chance to win some great books and other prizes. My "hop" day is Saturday, December 10 so drop by my Facebook page and find out how to win one of two Kindle Fires! Don't forget to share with your friends and to check out the authors parirticapitng in the hop. Links to their Facebook pages are listed below along with the schedule. Enjoy folks!
Make the holiday season even merrier by discovering new reads from some of today's best chick lit and romantic comedy authors during the Holly Jolly Chick Lit Hop on Facebook.
Here's how it works: every day from Monday, December 5 through Friday, December 16, readers are invited to hop around to more than 60 authors' Facebook pages (with about five stops each day) to receive gifts and enter to win prizes.
Here is the schedule, which includes the list of authors posting each day and links to their Facebook pages in case you'd like to give them a "like" and follow along:
MONDAY, DECEMBER 5
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 11
MONDAY, DECEMBER 12
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 15
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 16
Happy Holidays to all and to all some fabulous reading!
September was a busy month, which should be obvious since it’s taken me a month to post about it. I have a new book coming out in January 2017 and the vast majority of the month of September was spent typing furiously. That, of course, came after getting married in July, honeymooning into August and then flying out to Georgia for a week….oh yeah, and then school started.
But I digress…
Besides all of that craziness, I got to check two things off my bucket list, making September a spectacularly productive month on a whole lot of fronts. First item on my bucket list happened September 1 when I FINALLY got to see the Dixie Chicks in concert. I’ve been waiting ten years to see them. Back in 2006, they were performing near Seattle and I wanted to go see them so badly BUT I was due to give birth to my first child only a few days after the concert and I just wasn’t up to it. So, last year, by some miracle, I noticed that they were going on tour again. My soon-to-be husband bought me tickets, cementing his position as best guy EVER!
It was magical. The Chicks opened up with an homage to Prince, and later performed their version of Nothing Compares 2 U in front of a blazing purple backdrop. They did a fun version of a song by Beyonce and, of course, a whole lot of their own numbers. My favorite was Top of the World, which has always been one of my favorite songs and made me cry (as it always does). It inspired me to pick up my ukulele, learn the song and even record a video for my writing group (Monday inspiration).
We got home late late late and I was nearly dead the next day, but since the second item on my bucket list was happening that afternoon, no time for exhaustion.
After lunch on September 2, my husband and I made our way to the University of Colorado – Boulder campus to attend our second John Paul Stevens Lecture. Two years ago we got to see Associate Justice Antonin Scalia speak. As a constitutional law junkie, this lecture series provokes squeals of excitement from me (I’m glad my husband is used to my weirdness). So, seeing Scalia was awesome, but this year’s speaker had me nearly hyperventilating. I saw the announcement when we were in Georgia and immediately sat in the parking lot RSVP’ing to ensure we’d get seats. And I’m glad I did, as the event sold out very quickly.
But again, I digress…
On September 2, I sat in a packed hall and listened with rapt attention and tears in my eyes while Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke eloquently about her work on the Supreme Court and her devotion to the practice of law. This in and of itself would have been enough to make me happy as a clam. But much to my surprise, Sotomayor actually likes to walk among the crowd as she speaks, much to the chagrin of the half dozen federal marshals assigned to protect her. So, on that balmy day in September, I was literally two feet away from a woman who I admire deeply and who I consider one of the most important people in our country. If you’ve never heard me go on about her book, My Beloved World, you just haven’t been hanging around me enough. You should really go and pick it up right now and read it.
And there you have it folks. Check, check. 2016 is turning out to be one of the most eventful and memorable of my life. My son turns 10 this year. I got married. I went to Europe for the first time. I published a book. I saw the Dixie Chicks. AND I was arm’s length from Sonia Sotomayor.
Life is good and I am thankful.
It’s April 30th! Hooray! This exploration of feelings has been strange. I’ve been looking through lists of feelings online to get ideas, and I’m not so convinced of some of the choices. For instance, can you “feel zombie?” Maybe I’m just doing it wrong?
Reaching the end of this year’s challenge is leaving me feeling very zen. It’s always a little daunting to take on a month long challenge. And so many things have happened in April, I’m a little surprised I made it. Of course, I was late a few times and I’m sure some of my posts were a little lightweight, but I hope you enjoyed them. I tend to use this blog as a place to lend some insight into my personality and my life. As a reader, I’m always curious about the lives and loves and antics of the authors I like to read. I like that think, knowing a little more about how my brain works (or doesn’t), will help give context to my writing. (I am ALL about context).
So before I skip off onto other projects, I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who read my blogs this month. I hope you’ll continue following me here or on Facebook (I’m an addict so that’s a great place to find me). For those of you who have read or are planning on reading my book Wallflower Blooming, it was just picked up by a publisher and will be re-released in June. Yippee! And you can get the Kindle version free all next week!
Many exciting things coming to the blog so stay tuned.
And a big welcome to May! More sunny days, less chance of snow and lots of outdoor recreation. Woo hoo!
Well, the list of “Y” feelings is disappointingly short. I am feeling neither yucky nor yielding. And though I am definitely not feeling young, I would say that I’ve been feeling rather youthful lately. Several recent experiences have taken me back to my younger days: glasses of wine, flirty boys and high school antics. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I believe that saying, “you’re only as old as you feel” and I don’t ever want to feel old. When I’m 90, I still want to be vital and flirty and silly and all the things I feel now at 38. And when I’m determined, there’s no stopping me! Who’s with me?
On another “Y” related note, my critique group took me out last weekend to celebrate my upcoming wedding. It was the day after our writing conference so we all had things to celebrate. We saw a production of Lost in Yonkers. It was so so fabulous! The cast was exceptional. The young boy who played Arty was brilliant. He had so many lines and his facial expressions were priceless. The woman who played Aunt Bella was just beyond words (though clearly I’m going to take a stab at it anyway). The amount of emotion she was able to convey…just so so good. I laughed. I cried. I ate a huge hot fudge sundae. It was a splendid day with a group of people I just love to death.
Here’s me and Aunt Bella.
Xenophobic: intense or irrational fear or dislike of people from other countries.
Do you remember “freedom fries?” In 2003, when France openly opposed the war with Iraq, our government (who get paid a whole lot more than I do, btw) decided to change the name of French Fries served in the Congressional cafeteria to “Freedom Fries!” We’ll show you! Though this maneuver was obviously a highly intelligent act of protest (*sigh*), the dislike or fear of foreigners has been ever present throughout history (and is perpetuated by antics like the Freedom Fries incident).
Xenophobia is a toxic feeling and is used to justify all sorts of atrocities. Why is it that we (humans) fear the unfamiliar? Why do we fear our neighbors? Foreigners represent “the other.” Something other than ourselves; strange, different, alien. We fear the loss of our cultural identity. We see skin color as somehow defining our character and the mixing of races somehow contaminates that. OK, so it’s true that we (big WE) have done some hard work on overcoming these feelings. But there’s a long way to go (as evidenced by our ongoing need to identify one group as “the other” and try to oppress them).
How many people still see someone of Middle Eastern descent and feel uneasy? My family is Hispanic and my mother is often stopped for extra screening at the airport because she looks Middle Eastern. She’s not. But what if she were? My mother is a pacifist. She’s the person least likely to be a threat, especially on planes, which make her nervous. Of course, you can’t tell that by her complexion or the shape of her nose. But we’ve created a security system built around racial profiling. Here’s the problem. The people who actually want to hurt us are paying attention. If we create our system around the concept of “the other,” the logical step for someone who wants to beat the system is to make sure the next evildoers are “us.” (P.S. using the word evildoers here made me cringe, but I’m going with it anyway).
It’s a vicious circle. What do you think? Am I way off base here? Chime in. Your thoughts on this topic are very welcome (but please keep it constructive).
I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
Be My Guest!
#WhatsYourStory? Are you an author? I'd love to hear your story and so would my readers. Email me for more information.