A Report in Late November

Here is my November report from the southeast corner of the Mitten.

Writing is a contact sport.

                       Writing is a contact sport

FRIDAY, November 20, 2015:

Today, I shot four videos, each ninety seconds long, which will help publicize my two current projects. I narrate audiobooks and my current project is a deeply moving book by John Thorndike titled The Last of His Mind: A Year in the Shadow of Alzheimer’s. The author’s father, Joe Thorndike, was a managing editor for LIFE magazine in the post-war era of American exceptionalism. He was also a founder of American Heritage and Horizon magazines. Few men had the chance to shape American thought as did Joe Thorndike. The book details the last year of his life, when his son, the author, moved into the old family home, to care for his 92 year old father as the elder man’s cognitive processes vanished.

In addition, I have a book of my own. Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle, is due out this spring, 2016. McGann Publishing is an indie house out of Oregon. As an indie, we do this project without an agent. That means I do a huge amount of ‘agent-work.’ I contact book review sites. I reach out to melanoma organizations for support on their website and social media. I set up dates with public radio and TV book shows. I pitch myself to people who do podcasts. I make contacts with influentials in the media and health care. I’m my own ten-percenter.

The literary agent business must be very unsettled these days. On the one hand, agents are supposed to find new talent. On the other hand, the book business is so tenuous that unless a book seems guaranteed to do well, houses, and by extension agents, are not interested. I heard wild stuff from agents as they said ‘no.’

  • Great book!! Too bad you’re not famous or I could sell a million of these but the fact is, nobody reads cancer books about nobodies.
  • Loved it. But nobody dies, so I’m going to pass.
  • Nobody is buying cancer books right now.

It is a sad fact that every creative person must face. Until you are truly a big deal, you get to spend about 20% of your time being creative. What sucks up the other 80%? Convincing others that your work is of such high quality that you deserve to be a big deal. Of course, once you are a big deal, you still spend huge blocks of time marketing yourself, but the saving grace for U2 and Julian Barnes and Dale Chihuly is that you travel in a much nicer style, and the cash flow makes for a comfortable homecoming. As an aspiring big deal, desperation pushes hard against the need to be mindful of the creative process.

I need to sell a bunch of books.

Ergo, I need to move people and with social media, video is a medium of choice. I shoot the videos with an iPad in my home recording studio against a backdrop of books. Two for each project. For the audiobook, I did a brief introduction to the book for one video, and a short sample of the first chapter for the other. You can click here and see the introductory video. For my own book, I read a blurb that Prof. Tom Foster, author of the NY Times best-seller How to Read Literature Like a Professor, was kind enough to write, and the other was a sample of chapter one. I’ll upload them, spread out over the next weeks, to each project’s Facebook page, and to my YouTube channel. I’ll push out links via Twitter and LinkedIn, too. The long-range plan is to use the success with this project to fuel my agent search for my next book project, which is already 1/3 written.

Music, theater, literature, video and movie, fine arts – we all need to catch the public’s eye at just the proper moment- and we never get to know, until ex post facto,  that the moment has arrived.

SATURDAY, November 21, 2015:

My long-time friend Anne lost her mother a few days ago. Anne’s mother fought the good fight against Alzheimer’s for the last few years. That forced Anne to travel between Chicago and southeast Michigan more frequently than she’d like in order to help care for mom. In the end, however, it wasn’t the Alzheimer’s that took her life. It was a second bout of lung cancer.

There is no good time to die. Regardless of how much pain someone is in, regardless of how much a blessing it is that the pain and suffering are done, for those who remain, the best we can do is hug, and as the Hebrew says, zichrona livracha- may her memory be for a blessing. Anne is now an orphan. It doesn’t matter whether you are 25 or 55, that moment you become the family matriarch is a terrible moment, yet full of awesome awareness.

Today was also the day of the first snows. It’s 5:15 pm as I write in the gloom of early evening and the snow is 6 inches deep on the deck. Our dogs are both short legged breeds. Otzi is a miniature Dachshund. Lucy is a Borgi; half Border collie and half Corgi, and she has a Corgi-esque physique. Watching them leap through the snow, heaving their bodies up and out of the snow like hyperactive inchworms makes me smile and giggle like a kid at SeaWorld.

The twenty-two year old just came in from a ten hour day as hard-lines manager at Bed, Bath & Beyond. He’s mixing Moscow Mules. I gotta go.

SUNDAY, November 22, 2015:

Officially, 10.4 inches of snow hit this region of southeast Michigan during the storm. Not bad, considering that last year was the snowiest winter in Michigan’s recorded history. Just over 100 inches of snow fell last year. That’s about eight feet; floor to ceiling for those who need a visual aid. That’s plenty of snow for winter fun and spirit. This morning has dawned crystal clear and cold with bluebird skies and a morning light has broken which reflects off the snow like tiny diamonds and that’s as many seasonal clichés as a writer should include in one sentence.

Sunday morning is a good time to vacuum the house. Otzi sheds very little. The Corgi half of Lucy sheds very little. However, the border collie half sheds enough that I use my shop vac with its sixteen gallon capacity drum. If I was more enterprising, I would save the sheddings, clean them, card them, spin them, and weave border collie shawls and scarves that I could sell on Etsy to border collie lovers the world around.

We have what is known as a great room. It is roughly 21 x 21 feet, and 10x 12 rug covers part of the floor. Our kitchen and eating area is about the same size. In case you were wondering, it takes 48 minutes to vacuum the entire area.

I also like to lift weights on Sunday mornings. The previous owners of this house built a one car detached and unheated garage in the southeast corner of the yard. It serves this owner/writer as storage space and a weight room. I’ve MacGyver’ed a squat rack with safety straps, built a deadlift platform and a variety of plyometric boxes, hung a makeshift TRX, and built an adjustable kettlebell from weight plates and plumbing supplies.

Deadmau5

                        Deadmau5

I have also supplied the gym with mousetraps. House mice, Mus musculus, were certainly here first but it’s my gym. They are welcome to live under the footings and around the periphery. But when I have to take a leaf blower to the mouse feces on the rubber floor mats before I can work-out, out come the traps. These traps, manufactured of wood in Lititz, PA by the Victor Company, are dazzling effective. Simple – A dab of peanut butter, fold the spring loaded bar into place, set the trigger, and when you return – deadmau5.

I feel a bit guilty. They’re cute little mammals, it’s cold outside, it looks like a free meal of generic peanut butter, and I play on all those evolutionarily hard-wired facts to lure them to their deaths. But as M. musculus are often vectors of disease, and as I have no desire to inhale aerosolized mouse-poop dust deep into my lungs when I lift, it’s ‘say hello to my leetle fren.’

On the average, about 85% of the protein-coding regions in both mouse and human DNA are identical. In some areas, we share as much as 99% commonality in our genes and DNA base-pairs. In other regions, it’s as little as 60%. It’s no wonder that I cannot discard those tiny, furry bodies without a twitch of remorse.

MONDAY, November 23, 2015:

Today was a day to pitch. In today’s market, NPR radio shows command a huge amount of attention from the intelligent book-buying public. There are not many places where one can receive unbiased information about new books.

There’s Goodreads, but Goodreads is now just the Donald Trump of literary information. It’s become a place where shady authors and agents buy positive reviews and ratings for themselves and buy negative reviews and ratings for those they perceive as enemies.

It’s true. Authors now hire people to slag their “enemies” on Goodreads. Goodreads: Yelp for books.

Radio bookchat shows are the real deal. Of course, for a science-based book, Ira Flatow and Science Friday is the Holy Grail. And while I dream about that Grail, I’d love to eat cheese and Spam with Eric Idle and John Cleese, too. Oh, and a parrot would be nice.

What’s this entail?Melanoma placeholder

1) Dig through Google to make a useful list of our state’s NPR affiliates.

2) Identify the station’s bookchat/regional creative show. Track down contact info for hosts and producers.

3) Write a pitch letter that engages and includes a propitious call to action.

4) Send-off nine email pitches.

Yep, I pitched a complete game today. All nine innings.

TUESDAY, November 24, 2015:

Most of writing is drudgery. An unmitigated, infernal toil. There’s a reason no one has ever sold tickets to a steel-cage battle of the literary giants. Being a writer is 10% inspiration, 30% paying attention, and 60% sweat equity.

The best question anyone could pose to a new writer was asked in Hugh Lofting’s The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle.

And then Polynesia asked Tommy ...

   And then Polynesia asked Tommy …

The good doctor’s parrot Polynesia says to the young veterinary apprentice Tommy Stubbins, “Are you a good noticer?” She asks him that as he wonders if he too, could learn the language of the animals. But that’s all writing is, being a good noticer.

The best children’s book of all time is E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. The spark that sent Elwyn Brooks to his typewriter? He noticed a spider spinning a web across a doorway corner of the barn on his farm.

You need to learn the skills to get what you notice down on paper, true, but after that, a writer has to sweat it out.

A writer is his own cabinet maker and interior decorator. We get some words, cut them to fit, toss in a few dovetails amongst the commonplace screwed and glued joints, run the mess through a router to smooth off the rough edges, and we birth a paragraph. We sand them and stain them, and repeat. Once completed, we ship the goods over to our decorator.

The decorator casts a stern eye at the paragraphs. He walks around the room with a cynical eye. He moves a few words around, takes a word out, puts a phrase in, takes a sentence from the middle and moves it to the front, takes a paragraph from the front and moves it to the middle. Shifting, cutting, pasting, he steps back to see with a new eye, and throws up his hands in frustration. He stomps out for a cup of coffee, returns, re-contemplates, and decides it looks pretty fair after all.

He hits publish and lets the public in for a look at the new room.

WEDNESDAY, November 24, 2015:

As “a guy who writes”®, I think about writing a lot-the creative process, that I rarely go anywhere without a notebook and pen, or my phone with Evernote close at hand. A friend and colleague is deaf, a fine writer, and an advocate for hearing disability issues. He was approached by an organization that advocates for those with hearing issues to write a book. He was not sure if he “had a book in him.” Of course he does, and I began to think about what makes a book.

Great books arise from a convergence of trifles. The best books are not built on cataclysm or epiphany. Great books are built around a series of human incidents, until, like a pile of Legos® which becomes a dinosaur, something magical has been constructed.

Imagine for a moment, in 2016, another book is released about the tragedy of 9/11.

(L-R) US President Barack Obama, former US President George W. Bush and US First Lady Michelle Obama and visit the 9/11 memorial on September 11, 2011 in New York on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

(L-R) US President Barack Obama, former US President George W. Bush and US First Lady Michelle Obama visit the 9/11 memorial on September 11, 2011 in New York on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Photo credit MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

It was a horrible day, that day in 2001. However, with fourteen years of academic hindsight; terrorism, history, economics, anger, marginalization, hate – a book is published that interests few who are not scholars.

Let’s imagine another scenario. Same theme, but with the addition of a human face and a series of nearly meaningless incidents. You, an aspiring author, discover that in 1998, a young man left his home near the city of Topi, Pakistan outside of Rawalpindi, for graduate study at Columbia University. Upon graduation, our young man took a position with the investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald, located in the World Trade Center. Our man’s work proceeded well, and although communication with his family was sketchy, his family was proud of his accomplishments.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the young man leaves his apartment for work at 8:00. He stops at his local coffee shop, and runs into another Pakistani national, a woman he does not know, at the coffee shop. The sip tea, they chat, they share a scone. It turns out they both work in World Trade. At 8:45, they decide to leave for work. They gather their goods, start the walk to their offices in World Trade, and they see are shocked to see smoke billow from their office center. They are aghast as people charge up the streets away from Ground Zero. The hijacked planes have hit the towers.

Back home in Pakistan, it is 7:00 pm, and the news that planes have slammed into the side of the World Trade Center is on the TV from Rawalpindi. Cell phone and internet communications in the NYC area were overwhelmed throughout this tragedy. For the next few days, our young man and his new friend are horrorstruck over the deaths of many of their colleagues. They are doubly horrorstruck that they cannot communicate their well-being to their families back in Pakistan. For the rest of their lives, our couple will reflect on the chance meeting in a local coffee shop that saved both their lives.

Your book is no longer a dry, academic dissection of radical Islam and poverty and terrorism.  It is a page turner destined for the NY Times best-seller list.

As Sherlock Holmes said in the Boscombe Valley Mystery, “You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles.”

THURSDAY, November 26, 2015:

My brother died three years ago. We miss him. He was married to a fine woman who is a good friend, a true sister in-law. They have two sons; 17 and a high school senior, and another 15, a sophomore. We’ve become accustomed, as much as a family can, to his absence. My 81 year old mother still feels it quite keenly. My 85 year old father feels it as well, but not as openly. Their minds still sharp, the loss of their youngest will burn inside until they, too, are gone.

Michael was a witty, kind, and bright guy. He was the sort of guy who could watch a Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day football game with interest and knowledge, whilst having a conversation about Russian literature and how Tolstoy really nailed the dynamic of the modern American Thanksgiving with Anna Karenina. You’d have liked him.

The food was great. We all are pretty fair cooks and we pot-luck: roasted free range turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, garlic mashed potatoes, salad, green beans, and cranberry apple relish. My dad made two kinds of rolls; regular potato and sweet potato, My wife baked her stellar pecan and pumpkin pies.

Over the years, we’ve always sat in the same seats; mine is second from end on the left side, Dad’s is right at the top corner of the right side, and while we don’t have an empty seat at the table in memory of my brother (which is good, because he would have thought it weak, sappy, and just plain dumb), all of us have an empty seat at the table in our hearts.

It was a pretty good November around here. Here’s to a fine December for everyone. Remember, I’m rooting for you. Rooting hard.

 

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The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at http://dstan58.blogspot.com/

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