Wednesday, November 30, 2011

all your e-mail are belong to us: in which independent bookstores get digital rabies

The other day, INTERN found a trampled but still legible coupon on the sidewalk for 15% off any book at a charming local bookstore on the little island she is temporarily calling home.

"Huzzah!" exclaimed INTERN. "What a find!"

She stuck it in her purse along with various other sidewalk finds (feathers, pennies, someone's bifocals) and went along her merry way.

Today, INTERN went to the bookstore and picked out a book to give to her big sister for Christmas (The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes, in case you're curious—INTERN's big sister is a crafty lady). When INTERN took her purchase to the counter, she presented the friendly clerk with her coupon.

That's when things got peculiar.

"Write down your e-mail here so we can keep you updated on our events," said the (really very friendly) clerk.

"Oh, no thanks," said INTERN cheerfully. "I'm just visiting."

"You'll still want to know about our events," said the clerk.

"Oh, but—I mean, I'm not going to BE here. I'm moving to California," explained INTERN.

"Yeah," said the clerk, "but you'll want to stay updated on our events."

This was turning into some kind of bizarre stand-off. INTERN began to flail a little.

"But—I'll be living in my van. In California. This is literally the only time I'm ever going to be near this store."

"Doesn't matter."

She tapped the sign-up sheet for the e-mail list.

At this point, INTERN decided there must be something sinister going on. Perhaps the store had some kind of policy whereby employees would be fed to the hogs for letting customers escape with their contact information unharvested. If so, INTERN certainly didn't wish to responsible for this nice woman's demise. She scribbled down her e-mail address (yes, her real one—INTERN will never learn...) and hurried out of the store before the clerk could shake her down for a Facebook like as well.


This was a fairly benign experience as such experiences go, but it speaks to a larger phenomenon of people, businesses, and institutions jumping on the e-newsletter and/or social media bandwagon in an ineffective and slightly ridiculous manner.

The e-mail harvesting craze reminds INTERN of the time last winter she decided to make acorn meal. Like a greedy squirrel, INTERN gathered all the acorns she could find, conveniently overlooking the fact that some of them had black spots, some of them had been sitting on the ground for months, and some of them weren't the edible kind at all. At the end of the day, she had an impressive pile of acorns, of which only a tiny handful were actually suitable for human consumption. They ended up rotting in a bowl until Techie Boyfriend threw them outside.

You can have ten thousand newsletter subscribers and not reach a single person. What matters more than numbers is connecting with people who actually care. And for that you need to be a discerning squirrel, not a greedy one. Certainly not a rabid one!

INTERN is all for bookstores (and writers, and publishers) doing everything they can to connect with readers. But unless we're smart about it, all we're going to end up with is a pile of rotten acorns—or a bunch of newsletters for events happening 800 miles away.


Are you weirded out by having your e-mail address wheedled, bullied, or bribed out of you? Does anyone actually READ e-newsletters? Where do you draw the line between reaching your target audience and reaching some poor sap who doesn't know you from a spammer? INTERN wants to know!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

thank you

...for all the tweets and comments and celebratory e-mails. INTERN feels like she has hundreds of fairy godpeople helping and poking and waving their wands as she stumbles her way towards published noveldom, and that is a magical feeling indeed.

In case you are curious, here are some questions and answers about INTERN's forthcoming books!

Q: Isn't summer 2013, like, a year and a half away? Why the long wait?

A: The summer 2013 pub date is timed to coincide with INTERN's release from the maximum security women's prison from which she has been writing this blo—oh wait, that's some other intern.

It would take an entire post to explain the logic behind pub dates. Most importantly in INTERN's case, the summer 2013 pub date for Book 1 gives INTERN more time to write a brilliant Book 2 (not a sequel) in time for summer 2014.

INTERN is still getting the hang of novels. She's inefficient, delusional, and frequently confused. This timeline gives INTERN more time to develop as a writer—well worth the longer wait.

Q: But publishing as we know it won't even exist after the 2012 apocalypse!

A: This is why MIDNIGHT AT THE RADIO TEMPLE is written entirely in Mayan characters.

Q: Is the manuscript finished?

A: Actually, INTERN is up to her nostrils in revisions and is at this very moment grappling with the dreaded Athenian Novel Paradox. Every night, Techie Boyfriend talks her out of yet another genius completely wacky revision "solution" (what if the novel is REALLY supposed to be told from the point of view of the azalea bushes?!?), hiding INTERN's laptop as necessary.

Q: How long has this been in the works?

A: Oh, let's see. INTERN had the idea for the novel about a year and a half ago, wrote most of it while living in this van, did her queries while living on Rattlesnake Ranch, and accepted Harper's offer in August just before leaving for India.

Now that the proverbial squirrel is out of the suitcase, INTERN is happy to answer questions about her own experiences with querying/going on submission/etc, although such things vary so wildly from person to person that they are better saved for entertainment purposes than used as a roadmap for anyone else.

Q: What's in the future for INTERN?

Lots of revisions. Lots of freaking out. Lots of going for long, distracted walks through muddy Northwest forests. In another few months, INTERN and Techie Boyfriend will be living in their van again, leading INTERN to rename her novel MIDNIGHT AT THE WALMART PARKING LOT.

In short, nothing has changed...


Have more questions? Fire away in the comments! Otherwise, INTERN wishes you a very happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

midnight unmasking ceremony

*eats dragon fruit*

*burns sage*

*dons ceremonial robes*

*shakes ceremonial rattles*

*reads relevant passages from the Tao te Ching*

*steals glance at clock*

*counts to three*

*scampers into the moonlight*


At this point, participants who wish to discover INTERN's "real identity" (as well as a totally unfounded rumor about this blog being defunct) are spirited over to this page (scroll down to the fifth item in the list).

Otherwise, here's the news:

Huzzah! Novels! Gamboling! Dragon fruit for all!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

hedonic treadsorcery!

INTERN was so impressed by this thought experiment at Kristan Hoffman's blog that all she feels like doing today is telling every writer she knows to try it.

And that is SERIOUSLY all.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Help a Writer Out: In Praise of Mutual Aid

When INTERN was in college, she had the extreme good fortune of having a best friend whose parents were writers and well-connected in Vancouver’s small press scene. When INTERN expressed an enthusiasm for all things literary, they casually and with no great fanfare took her under their wing.

Over the next three years, they introduced INTERN to poets and editors in their literary circle. Lent her a constant stream of obscure books. Helped her produce her first chapbook. Let her tag along to readings and book launches. They were (and are) great people and the best mentors an aspiring writer could have asked for.

INTERN spent the weekend visiting these mentor-friends in Vancouver and also soaking in/trying to get a grasp on the Occupy fervor that has bubbled up in that city like so many others (have you guys seen Occupy Writers? Lemony Snicket!). And it made INTERN think about all the ways we can help each other, as writers and as people.

1. Introduce writer-friends to one another!

Sometimes it feels like the only way to gain access to Serious Writers and writer-friends is to join an MFA program. The other pros and cons of MFA programs aside, this is downright ridiculous. We shouldn’t have to buy the company of other writers because it’s too hard to meet one another on our own.

Instead, let’s play match-maker ourselves. Introduce a poet to an editor to a short story writer to a critique partner to a Pulitzer-winning novelist. We shouldn’t need to take out massive loans to make fruitful literary connections—all we need is one another’s good will.

2. Lend a writer-friend a book!

Let’s thrust books into one another’s arms, yelling READ THIS! Let’s raid each other’s libraries on a weekly basis. Let’s drop books in the mail at the slightest provocation.

3. Take a writer-friend seriously!

Serious Writers come in all different forms—published, unpublished, self-published, old, young, university professor, highschool dropout. Taking someone seriously no matter where they fall on that spectrum can make all the difference between launching a new writer-friend into the world and watching them give up.

4. Help a writer-friend in crisis!

We’re all crazy and broke and uninsured and dying of lyme disease and on the verge of becoming homeless. Let’s give each other a ride, a meal, a safe place to stay, and a friendly ear.

5. Share your skills!

Help a writer-friend with book promotion! Design a self-published writer-friend’s cover! Show a writer-friend how to use a printing press! Look over a writer-friend’s residency application!

6. Share the cake!

Umm, literally. If INTERN comes to your book launch and there’s no cake left, things WILL get messy, mutual aid or no mutual aid.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

in which INTERN wrestles with a viper

INTERN is bored of Scandalous Revelations (and talking about herself in general) so today let's talk about snakes.

The poet Rumi has a great story about a traveler who was about to put on his shoe when an eagle swooped down and snatched it.

"Goddamit!" said the traveler, shaking his gnarled fist. "Stinkin' eagle stole my stinkin' shoe!"

Just then, he watched as a poisonous viper fell out of the shoe the eagle had snatched, and realized that the loss of his shoe had prevented an even greater calamity, namely being fanged on the toe by a poisonous viper.

Sometimes things that feel like setbacks are actually benevolent eagles swooping down to stop you from doing something really, really stupid. And sometimes things that feel like successes are actually tests of your ability to wrestle with the viper on your own.

Sometimes, INTERN feels like each person has a different question dominating his/her life—"Am I a good person?" or "Am I living right?" or "Am I striving hard enough in my art?". And sometimes you freak out and instead of those big questions, your life gets taken over by small ones: "Do I have enough Twitter followers?" "Am I popular enough?" "What if that eagle comes back and steals my other shoe?"

INTERN read a short article in the New York Times yesterday by author Thomas Glave, weighing in on Amazon's push into the publishing world:
And now, as things become more dire for writers who want to develop into actual artists, Amazon, the behemoth that fears no one, enters the fray. Can Amazon’s profit-centered forays provide a healthy space for writers?

Amazon aside, this left INTERN's skull ringing: What DOES constitute a healthy space for writers who want to develop into actual artists? And to what extent do any these shiny things we dabble in—blogging, online writing forums, Twitter—actually hinder our development as artists?

Sometimes, INTERN frets that her writer-friends who toil in internet obscurity are somehow purer as writers than INTERN can ever be. They must be so much less distracted by superficial worries or equally superficial victories. They must really, truly worship at the altar of literary Quality, in the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance sense, in a way that INTERN is terrified she slips from. The internet provides writers with such a lively and supportive community—but are we helping each other ask the big questions? Or unwittingly fueling an endless parade of small ones?

Now, more than ever, writers can bombard themselves with comparisons. All you have to do is jump on Twitter to see who just got an agent, who just signed a mega-deal, who's having their novel turned into a play turned into a movie turned into a video game turned into a McDonald's toy. You find yourself thinking, "I NEED to get HUGE!" instead of "I need to work humbly for as long as it takes." And when you see the eagle swooping down out of the corner of your eye, you jump up and say "Fuck off, eagle!" And you tell yourself whatever viper's coiled up in there—vanity, emptiness, losing sight of the big questions—is worth keeping that shoe on your foot.

INTERN worries about these things. She worries about them all the freaking time. But she also believes that we CAN create a healthy space for one another to become true artists, no matter which technologies we're using, or else she wouldn't be writing this.

We can help each other ask the big questions, and we can help each other strive to be better artists, and we can help each other shake the vipers out of our shoes.

And we can do it in the digital age.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Week 'o' Scandalous Revelations, Part 2: Truth and the Anonymous Blogger

One of the most frequently asked questions INTERN has gotten about this blog since its inception in April 2009 is "How much of it is true?"

When people ask this question, they are often referring to the more outlandish tales, such as yesterday's scandalous revelation or the time INTERN accidentally ingested part of Vampire Roommate's evil spirit absorbing tablets in her midday snack.

The funny thing is, the stuff that makes you say "Reaaaaally?" is the true stuff. It's the mundane details that INTERN has fiddled with—dates/times/genders/locations/ordering of events/identifying details of people and institutions—in order to respect the privacy of the people and institutions she's depicted. When she started this blog, INTERN was downright PETRIFIED of being discovered by her place of internment (she remains sworn to secrecy to this day). She therefore took great care to anonymize the crap out of every possible detail. Publishing's a tiny world, and there's a reason so many publishing bloggers are anonymous. Also, it's just plain fun.

There is also the matter of the untruths cooked up by readers' imaginations, which INTERN cannot control. Newcomers to this blog tend to assume that INTERN currently resides in New York City, when in fact she is writing this post from an abandoned houseboat on a small island off the Washington coast (and getting DAMNED SEASICK in the process). Recently, INTERN has seriously considered about adding some kind of sticker to her blog that says DOES NOT LIVE IN NYC, but that seems unnecessarily belligerent...

Then there are all those posts about writing, which are, of course, entirely fictitious.


INTERN will be taking a break from Scandalous Revelations tomorrow but returning on Thursday!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Week 'o' Scandalous Revelations, Part 1: An Uncensored History of This Blog

As you may know from Friday's post, INTERN's days as an anonymous blogger will soon be coming to an end. In approximately a week's time, INTERN will be forced to step out from behind her Wizard of Oz smokescreen and reveal herself to all of you as the lowly Helga von Spinklehorn, hunchbacked, far-sighted, and possessed of the most enormous set of fangs you've ever seen.

INTERN is scared shitless. But also a little relieved. Because while anonymity bestows many freedoms, it can also make things feel a little, oh, impersonal after a while, and for a long time now INTERN has been craving the ability to share herself in a way she has so far been unable to do.

But first, INTERN promised you Scandalous Revelations. So here is the first one.

Scandalous Revelation No. 1: What's the Deal With That Photo?

If you've been reading INTERN's blog for a while, you may have noticed this photo in the upper left hand corner:

The appearance of this blog has remained unchanged for so long that INTERN has long stopped noticing it herself. But the truth is that this highly undignified photo contains the scandalous backstory of how INTERN ended up dabbling in publishing at all.

A few months before starting her first publishing internship (and this blog), INTERN was an itinerant hitchhiker seeking her fortunes in the USA post-university. She had recently landed in a certain illustrious City and commenced a whirlwind romance with Techie Boyfriend, and was now in need of both Funds and Gainful Employment.

After searching unsuccessfully for Real Jobs and failing to hear back from several internships, a fed up (and slightly manic) INTERN saw a job posting on craigslist for actresses for a (quote) respectful, safe, and all-female Adult Movie company. The pay? A thousand bucks per six-hour session.

"WHY NOT?" said INTERN, barely twenty-two and hungry for adventure. "Beats temping at some boring office!"

She ran across the street to the payphone and set up a meeting with the director, then ran back to the apartment and enlisted an extremely reluctant Techie Boyfriend to take a few photos proving that she was more or less female and not so hunchbacked as all that.

The very next day (these things move FAST when you're twenty-two and recently off meds and very, very gleefully stoked on life) INTERN met the Adult Movie Director at a pizza place, then went for a tour of the Studio. The director was a barrel-chested European man with long curly porn-director hair (conveniently the only non-female member of the company). INTERN, being a curious sort of person, asked a million questions and was generally delighted just to get an inside glimpse of the Adult Movie world, even though she had no prior interest in or experience with Adult Movies and hadn't thought any of this through for a single nanosecond.

That night when INTERN checked her e-mail there were two messages.

One was from the Adult Movie company offering INTERN a thousand-bucks-a-session job.

The other one was from a publishing house offering INTERN an unpaid internship.

Hot damn!

Opportunity was really knocking now. Was it going to be brains or booty? Had there ever really been a choice?

INTERN wrote to the publisher saying she'd come in on Monday, and to the Adult Movie company saying she'd had second thoughts about her career.

But the whole experience made INTERN think. If people were willing to pay top dollar for her scrawny, snaggle-toothed body, SURELY she could find a way to make a living off her brain.

INTERN started this blog as a way to keep that promise. The photo in the corner was INTERN's idea of an inside joke—a wink to all the crazy, impulsive, gloriously irresponsible whims at the heart of every adventure.


Stay tuned this week as the Scandalous Revelations continue to fly. And, um, please don't tell INTERN's mom about the real reason she ended up in publishing.

Friday, November 4, 2011

a very short post about a very big decision

Due to a variety of Recent Developments of which INTERN will explain more in due course, INTERN has arrived at a point where it will soon no longer be practical (or indeed, desirable) to keep this blog anonymous.

INTERN is therefore declaring a Week 'o' Startling Revelations starting on Monday, culminating in a dramatic and shocking Unmasking to take place slightly later this month. Ladies and Gentlemen who are prone to fainting spells are encouraged to bring their own smelling salts.

But WHY?




Not to mention, WHO?

Stay tuned as the revelations start to fly...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

the kindle swindlers; thoughts on ebook piracy

When INTERN and Techie Boyfriend were trekking in Nepal, the heaviest thing in INTERN’s pack was a copy of Vikram Seth’s 1500-page A Suitable Boy, recommended by several clever and tasteful readers of this blog. That book was the size of a dorm room mini-fridge—INTERN could have survived in the Himalayas for weeks just by licking the ink. Attempts to sneak it into Techie Boyfriend’s pack resulted in immediate discovery and expulsion.

So when INTERN spied a fellow trekker reading a Kindle at the tea house that night, she accosted him immediately.

“How d’you like that thing?” INTERN said, helping herself to a chair at the table.

He looked up, smiling. He was a blond-haired sales and marketing type from somewhere in the southeast. His face spoke of leadership seminars and rugy.

“It’s great!” he said. “Ever since I bought it, I haven’t paid for a single book.”

“Oh, like you’re reading classics on Project Gutenburg?” said INTERN. She had met a butcher, once, in small-town Oregon, who read Dickens on his Kindle when business was slow.

Sales and Marketing beamed.

“No, there’s these websites where you can download new books the same way you download movies.”

INTERN’s expression shifted from friendly curiosity to suspicion. Her formidable eyebrows knit, and she leaned forward on her elbows.

“You mean you pirate them.”

He nodded, unaware of INTERN’s growing wrath*. “Yup. I figure the Kindle’s paid for itself about three times over already, just from all the money I’ve been saving on books.”

He took a sip of his Everest, giving out a yelp of surprise as the bottle shattered in his hands, the beer spilling all over his Kindle, which began to hiss and smoke and then melt into a puddle of black plastic and metal on the wooden table.

“What? WHYYYYY?” Sales and Marketing shouted. “Why did you do this, INTERN? Why me?”

But INTERN was already stalking away, her laser gun clinking softly at her side.


E-book pirating makes INTERN mad for obvious reasons: INTERN is a writer and has many writer-friends. But it’s a sheepish, ambivalent kind of mad: after all, INTERN downloaded music in college (though she has since sworn off it) and still enjoys the occasional ill-gotten movie (but does using your friend’s Netflix account now and then really hurt anyone?). Come to think of it, there’s probably a program or two on her computer that wasn’t strictly paid for (but it’s OK if it’s from a giant corporation, right?)

Laser gun fantasies aside, the truth is that INTERN can’t summon up as much righteous ire for people who download pirated ebooks as she would like to. Because she understands only too well their justifications. In a culture where “everybody’s doing it,” you feel like a sucker for paying for something everyone else is getting for free. Eventually, you get so used to getting that something for free that you feel downright outraged when someone asks you to pay for it.

“I’m not paying seventeen ninety-nine for a friggin’ album,” you sputter, as if someone told you they were going to start charging you three dollars a night to sleep in your own bed.

Somehow, it’s started feel like you’re the one in the right, and the music business is the greedy interloper trying to snatch back something that “should” be free.

INTERN and Techie Boyfriend have a younger friend, a real scrappy kid who isn’t above stealing a bottle of wine or a bike part here and there. One day, Techie Boyfriend asked him how he psyched himself up to steal something. Didn’t he feel guilty?

“No, man,” said the kid. “You just need to believe you deserve to get it, and it’s easy.”


How do people who wouldn’t steal a book off the shelf at Elliot Bay justify downloading pirated ebooks?


Digital products (like ebooks or mp3s) are like a big outdoor concert. You and your friends want to see the bands, but you don’t want to buy a $35 wristband, so you sneak in. Who does it hurt? It’s not like there’s a finite amount of music. The paying customers don’t get any less because you snuck in. As for the band? Well, if you hadn’t been able to sneak in, you wouldn’t have bought tickets anyway, so it really doesn’t make a difference either way.

Whereas stealing a physical book reduces a finite amount of books on the shelf by one, ebooks and other digital forms seem infinite. Stealing one doesn’t appear to reduce the stock—so how is it stealing? Besides, you wouldn’t have bought the book anyway…(or is that bullshit? Maybe you would have bought the book in 1980, but now you feel entitled to it for free. Better not think about that…)


How big an impact will ebook pirating have on writers and publishers over the next few years? And is there any way to preserve a mindset of book-buying in a culture that sees digital theft as harmless?

As someone who has seen her own work available for download on a torrent site, INTERN will be watching the ebook revolution with some wistfulness. But as a person whose own hands have been far from clean, INTERN can’t deny her own culpability in creating the culture that put it there.


How concerned are you about ebook pirating? Have you seen your books on pirate sites? Can authors do anything to reverse the tide? Will the benefits of ebook sales outweigh the losses of ebook pirating? INTERN wants to know!

*At this point, you may be wondering if INTERN invented this anecdote simply to serve the purposes of this blog post, but INTERN can assure you that so far everything she has related is 100% true. The culprit’s favorite book in the entire universe? “The Four Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferris. Which should tell you something about his aspirations. *sniffs snootily.*