Thursday, June 24, 2010

hither and yon!

Just a quick note to say that INTERN has been summoned to England very abruptly and will attending to Important Matters in the Mother Country until mid-July. Specifically, INTERN is going to Penzance (yes, as in the Pirates of Penzance...tra-la-la!)

INTERN will try to update a few times from abroad, perhaps to report on The State of Publishing in Great Britain or maybe just to complain about her books getting rained on while waiting for one of those double decker buses.

Long story short, INTERN requires three things from you, knowledgeable readers:

1. Tell INTERN which book she absolutely must read on the plane. INTERN only has about forty-six hours to figure this out, and it is a matter of CRUCIAL IMPORTANCE!

2. Alert INTERN to any amazing bookstores she absolutely must visit in Penzance and/or Saint Ives.

3. Alert INTERN to any mysterious old hermit writers living in Penzance and/or Saint Ives who might be interested in having a cup of tea with INTERN. Pirate writers especially wanted.

Off to pack!!!

Friday, June 18, 2010

discoveries whilst packing

As some of you may know, the lease on Casa de INTERN+Techie Boyfriend/Hippie Roommate/Vampire Roommate is up at the end of this month (there is, in fact, already a craigslist post out there trying to snare the next renter with extravagant promises of vibrant white walls and sometimes-functional power outlets). Hippie Roommate has already decamped for her biotech manfriend's more upscale digs, leaving behind packets of millet flour and organic apple cider vinegar which INTERN is scrambling to use up in the next two weeks. Vampire Roommate's worldly possessions consist of a bare mattress and a giant bong in whose glassy chamber he could almost certainly take up residency if it weren't so wet. INTERN has been vigorously putting things into a Giveaway Pile, and Techie Boyfriend has been removing things from the Giveaway Pile with about 3.7 times as much vigor.

This morning, INTERN was putting together a box of the free books she's collected over the course of her various internships, and out fell a page of scribbled notes from her "orientation meeting" with Executive Ed. INTERN is not much of a note taker:

"Amazon = bad"


"No books based on Peace Corps!!!"

The rest of the page was covered with doodles of squids.

In a weird way, those two statements, plus the squids, could be said to sum up the entire editorial policy of Venny McPulitzer.

Anyway, INTERN had better wrap up this post so she can bike down to the used bookstore and offload what feels like Venny McP's entire catalogue in exchange for some sweet, sweet store credit.

INTERN is feeling very happy today! Thank you to all of you for being so charming and delightful!

Monday, June 14, 2010

acquaintances don't let acquaintances be awkward about free books

A few days ago, INTERN got an e-mail from a reader who had a question about the etiquette of asking recently-published acquaintances for a free copy of their book. This reader has a family friend whose first book has just come out in (oh, snap!) hardcover. "Is it cool," inquired the reader, "to just ask her for a copy? Or would that be awkward?"

Good question. Really good question. Question to which there are many possible answers.

Possible answer #1:

If you were a recently-published author, which of the following would you rather hear from a family friend:

a) "I bought your book at the local independent bookstore and simply devoured it, dah-ling!"


b) "Soooooo, where can I get a copy of your book?" (eyes stack of review copies on author-acquaintance's desk meaningfully**).

Not only does answer (a) knock a few dollars off the advance your family friend is trying to earn out, but it reassures her that you are actually interested in the book as a book and don't just want a copy as a novelty because you happen to know her—a novelty that may well go unread.

However, as per INTERN's previous post, new books are freaking expensive. The situation is made more awkward by the fact that many non-writerly/publishy people assume that authors get unlimited free copies of their books, and can therefore dispense them like Pez to anyone who's heard about the book (landlord, distant relatives, former students/teachers, etc). In fact, authors get a limited number of copies (sometimes as few as twenty-ish) and need to give them out (nay, deploy them!) strategically.

So what to do if you really want to read your acquaintance's book but can't afford to buy it?

Ask to borrow a copy. Read it right away, and when you return it, tell your acquaintance about all the fabulous people you recommended it to who are at this very moment blowing up Amazon with orders. Another thing you could do is ask your acquaintance to sell you a copy at cost (most publishers let authors buy cases of their own books at 50% off the cover price). Another thing you could do is say you're broke but very interested in the book and ask for a free copy***. Another thing you could do is wait and see if your acquaintance offers you a free copy of her own accord.

There are many options, and none of them need to include terrible awkwardness.

**A surprising number of people have asked INTERN this question since her book was published, and they always act surprised when she tells them they can find it in, you know, bookstores. Why is this surprising? If INTERN were a barber, would people look at her all skeezy-eyed and ask, "Soooooo, where can I get my beard trimmed?" At the barber shop of course!

***This works best when you are a highschool or college student and your acquaintance is significantly older than you.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

hardback mountain

A few years ago, INTERN read an essay (a rather irate essay, if INTERN recalls correctly) by an author who argued that nobody who doesn't buy new, hardback literary fiction at its full price should be allowed to write literary fiction (or at least, try to get it published). This author set the minimum new hardback purchase quota at something like twelve books per annum. Her reasoning was that authors and publishers of literary fiction rely on hardcover sales to make the whole kerfuffle worth kerfuffling, and that one is simply hypocritical (and a big meanie!) if one wants to see one's name in big letters on a hardcover book but, er, declines to buy them.

INTERN still thinks about this essay from time to time, especially when she's in a bookstore ogling and then regretfully putting down someone's luscious new hardcover. Confession: INTERN has not bought a new, fullprice hardcover since...hmmm....definitely not in the past few years....or the few years before that....well, basically since she was 12 and had a $50 bookstore gift card from Grandma to play with. In fact, even allowing herself to pick up and hold one of those beautiful hardcovers at a bookstore feels like driving through a fancy neighborhood in a beat-up car: it's obvious to everyone that she of the cracked windshield and rusty doors is not really in the market for the mansion with the pineapple-shaped swimming pool.

INTERN supposes that this is where she should enter the fraught discussion of e-books versus print. But what interests INTERN more about this situation is the way that guilt has somehow become a significant feature of INTERN's experience of books, writing, and publishing. INTERN can't stroll into (or rather, out of) a bookstore without feeling guilty, stopped submitting to literary journals she doesn't subscribe to after reading an editorial diatribe against said practice in a literary magazine at the library, and has a very real sense that she's personally contributing to the much-trumpeted Demise of Publishing.

Isn't that weird? People who don't eat at fancy restaurants don't feel like they're responsible for the Demise of Fine Cooking. People who shop for used clothes don't feel like they're responsible for the Demise of Fashion Design. But somehow, not buying those twelve new hardcovers per annum feels tantamount to INTERN personally allowing the poor innocent baby goat of Publishing starve to death.

Is this some weird former-Catholic guilt trip, or do other people feel guilty about books? Is it readers' responsibility to take care of the publishing industry, or should the market just be allowed to do its thang? (INTERN knows precisely zero about economics, but has heard that in some instances, the market is prone to the doing of thangs.) Is it OK to just write and not worry about how many books you've bought, or do writers have a financial responsibility towards other writers?

Monday, June 7, 2010

from the annals of YA clichees

INTERN has been avoiding her computer as if it were a dreadful viper and instead been taking lots of 20-mile walks in the hills, where she is ironically much more likely to encounter an actual viper. This weekend, INTERN and Techie Boyfriend went to visit Techie Boyfriend's family, and INTERN got to hang out with his 16 year old sister, who is an eleventh grader at a bonafide American Highschool.

Now, you need to understand that for INTERN, American highschools are somewhat mythical places she's only ever apprehended through movies like Clueless and the dozens upon dozens of YA manuscripts she's read that take place in their locker-bejewelled halls. INTERN herself went to a Canadian highschool, which is a whole different animal. INTERN's highschool did not, for example, have a cheerleading team, or a stadium, or even the omnipresent Lockers that nerds at American Highschools are routinely stuffed into. INTERN's highschool did not have a Prom (the significance of which mystifies INTERN to this day) and one did not need a Hall Pass (wtf?) in order to relieve oneself in the bathroom. There were no "freshmen" and "seniors," just grade nines and grade twelves, and grade twelve was just grade twelve, not an insanely overburdened Senior Year on which the fate of the universe hung.

So you can imagine INTERN's fascination with the very different (and shockingly consistent) version of Highschool she's encountered in YA novels and manuscripts. If she is to believe what she reads again and again and again, highschool life in the US is always EXACTLY and UNDEVIATINGLY like this:

"Cherryville High is ruled by a ruthless posse of popular and pretty (but mean and anorexic!) cheerleaders named the Blossom Squad whose leader (more like a sultan! or a supreme court judge!) is a frigid ice queen named Stacey (who gets what's coming to her sometime in the third act when it is revealed that she has Issues!).

The Blossom Squad dates the Football Team (known as the Cherryville Stems!), which is composed of sweaty, muscular teenage boys who like to throw Raging House Parties when their parents are out of town (house parties at which their unfortunate tendencies towards date rape and alcoholism tend to come out) and who occasionally succumb (briefly!) to the romantic charms of a non-Blossom Squad female, dump her by leaving a nasty surprise in her Locker (how did he get into her locker???), then take her back at the last minute (usually in the final moments of Prom).

If you're not in the Blossom Squad or the Stems, you are by default a Pit (i.e. a cherry pit, but also a Misfit! with Misfit Issuuuuuuues!) You have a best friend (who is gay! or of the opposite sex! or nerdy about biochem to the point that she practically qualifies for a guide dog to help her navigate the world outside the science lab! but who ultimately fails to understand you in at least one Key Respect!) If you are a Pit, you might try to lay low, but there will eventually be something (ummmm....supernatural power? illicit romance w/Stem?) that will put you directly in Stacey's (like, the frigging SULTAN of the Blossom Squad's) crosshairs.

Whatever happens, it all gets wrapped up at Prom, which is more important than ANYTHING and at which there is generally some kind of massive showdown between Blossoms, Stems, Pits, and assorted bit characters like Hummer limo drivers and parents."

Luckily, hanging out with Techie Boyfriend's little sister for a few hours was enough to reassure INTERN that American Highschools are not, in fact, all exactly like that. Some notes from their conversation:

-nobody gives a crap about Cheerleaders and Jocks, not even cheerleaders and jocks.
-manga = cool
-i can haz cheezburger = hilarious.
-no mention of Prom. (why no mention of Prom? is Techie Boyfriend's little sister INSANE or something?) Most American Highschools don't even have one of those Olympic Countdown Clock thingies like Vancouver had.
-novels about various wars you have to read for English class = boring
-online comics = hilarious
-being a furry = totally valid life choice
-nerdy furry cheerleaders, peaceful rastafarian football players....A-OK.
-short attention span = yes

Naturally, this is only one conversation and not enough to *completely* dismantle the portrait of American Highschools INTERN has been reading about for so long. What's going on with this Cheerleader/Jock thing, anyway? Why do so many people write about that stuff? And are all these clichees real somewhere, or is it time for a massive collective update? Present and former American Highschool attendees, please advise.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

of unicorn hunting and hamster wheels

Lately, INTERN has been overwhelmed by the sense that she should stop jabbering so much and free up her head to learn something—empty the proverbial cup so it can be filled with better and more sparkling waters. INTERN has spent the past week wandering around town having very earnest internal debates over how best to do this. Questions arise like "is it possible to spend so much time on one's laptop and still soak one's soul in Deep Truths, or should INTERN throw everything 21st century-related on the stinkbarge and toil at her typewriter?" and admonitions also, like "INTERN, you have not been doing Serious Writing! You have been fooling around with Unserious Things and writing Unserious Books and your brain is not getting any smarter!"

Then last night INTERN and Techie Boyfriend watched a movie about a French painter who lived a life of back-breaking drudgery and died friendless and abandoned in a mental asylum, but made beautiful, wild, enchanting paintings of trees—trees that definitely, somehow, cavort with Deep Truths.

Now, INTERN just isn't sure about anything. The world seems to be made up of millions of hamster wheels of all different sizes, and INTERN is deathly afraid of spending her life on the wrong one, or spending it on the little hamster wheels instead of the big ones. Then again, a hamster wheel is still a hamster wheel.

This is all to say that INTERN is hunting some personal unicorns right now, and that things might get a little choppy, blogwise, as she tries to integrate all these creative ambitions and alter egos and find the best possible hamster wheel to run on. INTERN is certain she can find a way to make beautiful, wild, enchanting Serious Writing and also keep a blog/do book promotion/various other Laptopian pursuits, but it's something that needs INTERN's attention because it won't necessarily happen on its own.

Best wishes to all and to all a good day!