Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Where's "We the Purple"?

Good question. If you go to a Barnes & Noble store looking for We the Purple: Faith, Politics and the Independent Voter, good luck. You won't find it in Politics, or Political Science, or even Current Affairs.

Nope. You'll find it Inspiration.

Never mind that the faith content is, oh, less than 20 percent. Or that the distinctly Christian content is even less than that. And the inspirational content? I'm flattered that B&N finds my writing so inspiring, but really. Inspirational, in the religious sense? I don't think so.

And apparently, never mind that the political content is 100 percent. Or that my publisher, Tyndale, correctly categorized the book as political. Or that the B&N's own web site categorizes it under "United States Politics & Government."

The official explanation?
  • Tyndale is a Christian publisher.

  • The book contains a faith element.

  • All the other books I've written are shelved in their religion section.

I particularly like that last one. What if I wrote a novel, published by a Christian publisher, that contained a faith element? Would that be shelved in the nonfiction religion section, rather than Christian fiction, because that's where all my other books are shelved?

I've been in the publishing industry for 30-some years and the Christian bookselling industry for 10-plus years, and I have to tell you, it gets more bewildering with each passing year. The more inside information I learn, the more confused I am.

Unless I'm totally off my rocker here, I do believe the purpose of both publishing and bookselling is to sell books. I mean, to make money selling books. A B&N employee tried to comfort me—yes, I needed some serious comforting—by reassuring me that the staff would be able to find my book for any customer requesting it. Uncomforted, I asked him 1) Would anyone browsing the shelves for the latest and greatest book on independent politics think to check out the Christian Inspiration section? and 2) Would anyone looking for an inspirational Christian book have a clue what We the Purple is about?

Tyndale, God bless 'em, tried again to get it shelved properly, as did a B&N rep. But no. The corporate powers-that-be overruled reason. And I doubt that B&N is alone in making decisions like this; I just haven't looked for the book in any other stores yet.

Moral of the story: If you're looking for a political book during this highly charged political season and you happen to wander into a bookstore to find one, go straight to Christian Inspiration. You never know what you'll find there. (Hint: I'm shelved just to the left of Richard Foster.)

(Cross-posted on We the Purple.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How Not to Do a Booksigning

Friday night I went to an event at a local mega-bookstore billed as a discussion led by a certain nonfiction author. I won't embarrass the author or mention the book title, which was clever enough to attract my attention. Since I'd like to do a similar event to get the word out about We the Purple, I left my cozy little mountain enclave, reluctantly drove down the pass, and took the Evil I (Interstate 25) to the bookstore.

Big mistake.

At 7 p.m., when the author was scheduled to begin her talk, a videographer was still fiddling with the A/V equipment, which he continued to do for the next 10 minutes. Meanwhile, a dozen or so people in the audience politely waited for the technical drama to end and the book event to begin. Finally, the videographer was good to go. Everyone readjusted themselves in their seats and turned their attention toward the author, who stood behind the podium and appeared ready to talk.

But no.

She just stood there. For the next 10 minutes. Not saying a significant word. I had invited a friend to go to the event with me. "I'm losing it," she said. "Me too," I said. Those proved to be the most significant, and perhaps only, words spoken for the next 5 minutes.

Get that? It was now 7:25, a full 25 minutes into a one-hour event, and nothing had happened.

The bookstore support person, who had been standing at attention for the entire 25 minutes, did not do or say a thing. You have to visualize this scene. A videographer in the back, waiting. An author at the podium, waiting. A staffer on the sidelines, waiting. A dozen people in the seats, waiting.

And then the author took a breath, as if to speak. We sat up straight, anticipating the best—the beginning of the event, finally. "I'm still expecting two people," she said to the staffer, holding up 2 fingers in case, I suppose, the staffer mistakenly thought she meant "too people."

Whatever. We left.

At first I was ticked off, having left my cozy little mountain enclave, reluctantly driven down the pass, and taken the Evil I (Interstate 25) to the bookstore.

But then I reminded myself of the cardinal rules of any event:
  • Start on time.

  • Set up the bloody A/V equipment well in advance.

  • Start on time.

  • Don't wait for latecomers.

  • Start on time.

  • Show the people who are already there that you value their time.

  • Start on time.

  • Don't depend on the bookstore staff to do your job, which is to:

  • Start on time.

So now we all know what's going to happen the next time I have a booksigning: something is going to prevent me from starting on time. But I can guarantee it won't be because I'm waiting for latecomers. And I can guarantee that instead of standing at the podium looking clueless, I'll be explaining the delay to the audience. I may still look clueless, of course, but at least the audience will be clued in.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mountain of Authors

That's the name of an event I'll be participating in on Saturday (April 12) in Colorado Springs. It's a regional event that gives book lovers and aspiring writers an opportunity to hear local authors speak. (I'm now a local author...) I'll be serving on the nonfiction panel and signing my most recent release, We the Purple: Faith, Politics and the Independent Voter, which is getting lots of media attention in this election year. Here's the official information:

Pikes Peak Library District will host its 2nd annual regional authors’ event, “Mountain of Authors” to showcase authors of the Pikes Peak region, and offer presentations about writing and publishing.

The free program will be held from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Saturday, April 12 at East Library, 5550 N. Union Blvd. No registration is required.

This event will inspire new and established writers, and offer book fans a chance to meet and discuss their favorite titles with local authors. Panel discussions will be offered by nonfiction, fiction, children’s and teen authors. A free lunch and booksigning will also be held at the event.

Program Schedule
10 - 11 a.m. Nonfiction Author Panel (moderated by Tim Blevins)

Beth Barrett
Marcia Ford
Karen Scalf Linamen
John Stansfield

11:15 a.m. -12:15 p.m. Fiction Author Panel (moderated by Kirk Farber)

Kevin Anderson
Kacy Barnett-Gramckow
Beth Groundwater
Rebecca Moesta
Robert Spiller

12:15 -1:30 p.m. Lunch (food will be provided)

1:30 - 2:30 p.m. Children’s/Teen Author Panel (moderated by Karin Huxman)

Mary Peace Finley
Donita Paul
Katherine Pebley O’Neal

2:30 - 3:30 p.m. Author Showcase: meet authors from the Pikes Peak region, and purchase your favorite author’s books

Pikes Peak Poet Laureate reception following program.

If you come to the event and found out about it here, introduce yourself to me, okay?

(Cross-posted on We the Purple.)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Spending the Night with Alice Cooper

I confess: I've done it often. I've spent many Nights with Alice Cooper. Lest you fear for my moral choices --- or my eternal salvation --- I need to assure you that all those nights were spent on KKFM 98.1, "Colorado's ONLY Real Classic Rock." It's one of the few stations that comes in clearly as I'm driving through Ute Pass west of Colorado Springs. Five nights a week, Alice Cooper regales his listeners with great music and equally great commentary, and on many of those nights, I'm among those listeners.

Thanks to Alice, I'm can actually listen to music radio once again. Normally I give up after the second song because the playlists are so lame. But not Alice's. Not only does he play great and long-forgotten classic rock, he also plays stuff I've never heard before, and it's all good. Oh, and he also plays "lousy requests from mutant listeners."

Some nights he'll do themed segments, like "Same Title, Different Song" or "Songs We Just Don't Understand." This coming Monday is tax-distraction night. The show lasts a full five hours, so there's plenty of time for some Cooperesque storytelling. It airs on about 100 stations in North America and the U.K.

It's a fun show.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Bob Dylan Wins a Well-Deserved Pulitzer

Kudos to the Pulitzer Board for bestowing a special honor on one of my all-time favorite songwriters, Bob Dylan. The "Special Citation" was conferred on Dylan "for his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power." Those last six words perfectly describe much of Dylan's output over the last --- no, it can't be --- over the last 40-plus years. Is that right? Have I really been listening to his music that long? It never gets old. Never.

Even if you can't take his voice, and many people can't, you'd have a hard time tearing his lyrics apart. Sure, there were some less-than-stellar songs, but most are nothing short of magnificent. It's a pleasure to simply read the lyrics to many of his songs, let alone listen to the recordings.

In the interest of full disclosure --- not that anyone has asked for it --- I hereby confess that I am indeed the very same Marcia Ford who is the co-author, with Dylan fan and scholar Scott Marshall, of Restless Pilgrim: The Spiritual Journey of Bob Dylan. My admiration of Bob Dylan is a well-documented fact --- copyrighted, no less. You can read an excerpt from the book here.

Monday, April 07, 2008

My Offchored Life?

Not quite yet. But soon. Maybe. I could hire what Timothy Ferriss calls a "Bangalore Butler," a personal assistant who will do things like update my contacts file and enter into a database the info from the umpteen business cards I've collected and monitor my three dozen RSS feeds, all from the comfort of his home somewhere in India, most likely. Just like "Jason" or "Ryan" from Qwest tech support, "Brian" or "Steve" (a.k.a. Sanjay and Kumar) would be at my beck and call. And all for a price that won't topple my feeble financial empire.


But I have this problem. I get all bent out of shape when I call Qwest or any other company that has tech support/customer service in India or Pakistan or wherever, and I think about all the U.S. jobs that have been outsourced. So how can I justify doing the same thing? I can't. But then, neither can I find competent stateside help at a rate I can afford. By "competent," all I mean is "someone who can do the work without having me stand over them and prod them along every step of the way." And neither can I do all the work myself; health challenges limit the amount of productive hours I have each day, and I need to earn money during those hours, not spend my time on administrative work.

Anyone out there found affordable help of the kind I'm talking about? (I've already pursued the "high school student/son or daughter of a friend" angle to no avail.) Let me know how you solved this problem!

Ferriss, by the way, has a great blog (one of the three-dozen or so RSS feeds I subscribe to), is the author of The Four-Hour Workweek, and wrote an article about offchoring here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Cops and "The Bob Dutko Show"

Those two have nothing to do with each other---as far as I know---apart from the fact that they converged at my house at the exact same moment this morning.

Here's what happened: I was scheduled to appear on "The Bob Dutko Show" today at 11 a.m. Mountain time. We're living in a two-family house right now, this was a phone interview, and the guys downstairs had their music turned up a little bit too loud. We have a good relationship with them, so my husband was going to ask them to turn it down right before I went on the air.

So far, no problem. Until, oh, 10:50 a.m. That's when one of the guys---I'll call him Joe---started throwing bags of clothes out their front door. Uh oh. Last week Joe had threatened to throw out his roommate---I'll call him Bob---for not paying his share of the rent. Today, it seemed, he was making good on the threat. In no time the front yard was littered with boxes of empty beer bottles (do you know how much noise that makes?), a large metal trunk, and the rest of Bob's earthly goods.

Meanwhile, I'm prepping for the radio interview, wondering what on earth would happen next.

The phone rings. I don't have my glasses on, but I'm sure caller ID reads "Ware Christina"---the name of one of my friends. I pick up the phone and breathlessly announce, "I can't talk! I'm on the air in a few minutes!" The caller laughs. It's Bob Dutko's producer. Only later did I realize that caller ID actually read "WMUZ Christian." The show airs on WMUZ Christian radio on 103.5 FM in Detroit. Hey, it was an honest mistake. I put my glasses on.

By now, though, I'm not doing so well, but I rally and make it through the first on-air segment. Then we broke for a commercial, and I couldn't help myself. I had to see the next scene in the drama unfolding below. There was Bob, looking abandoned and forlorn, sitting outside on his metal trunk, snow falling on and around him. Yes, it had just started snowing.

I noticed he was on his cell phone and jokingly suggested to my husband that he was calling the cops.

The next on-air segment went fine---until I noticed one cop car, and then another, slowly drive by the window and slow to a halt. Now I'm seriously distracted. Somehow I held it together until the next commercial break, when I looked out and saw not one, not two, but four police cars. Oh, and three emergency vehicles including a fire truck. I live in a town of 8,000 people on a good day. This had to be the city's entire fleet of emergency and police vehicles, all parked haphazardly below my window.

I know the guys downstairs well enough to know that there's no danger involved. And I know them well enough to know that this is an utterly hilarious scenario. But I can't laugh. I'm back on the air, talking as intelligently as I can about independent voters and partisan politics.

The moment---I mean the exact moment---the interview ended, the cops left, but not before they forced Joe to put everything back in the house and told him he had to let Bob stay until they could go to court. Joe later told us he wasn't upset about that; he was just glad that for the first time in his life, the cops didn't make him go with them. They did confiscate his concealed weapons---a couple of pocketknives he had in his jeans pockets---but they let him keep the many swords that adorn his wall, once he assured them that if he'd intended to hurt Bob, he would have done it long before they arrived.

So if you were listening to me on the radio today and I sounded a bit rattled, you now know why. And if I sounded in any way intelligent and focused, you now know how well I can fake it. I felt like the fourth-graders in A Christmas Story looking out the classroom window at Flick, whose tongue is stuck to the frozen flagpole: "Holy smokes, it's the firemen!" "Holy smokes, it's the cops!"

My husband, by the way, never did ask them to turn down the music. Any wonder why?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Why I Don't Write Fiction...

...for now, anyway. There's one and only one reason: I am the most critical reader of fiction on the planet. I can find the flaws in novels in my sleep. And the one flaw that will kill an otherwise decent novel for me is unnatural dialogue. Here are some examples of the most egregious problems in dialogue:
  • Characters constantly using each others' names. This is especially irksome when the characters are married to each other. You know what I mean: "Jake, did you remember to pick up milk on the way home?" "No, Cindy, I was too busy wondering how long it would take you to use my name in a sentence once I got home." I mean, really. Who else would she be asking that question of?

  • Saying things that the other character already knows. Lazy writers use this device to provide backstory details: "Well, sis, you know I haven't been myself since I lost that lucrative accounting job back in the spring when I lived in Seattle." Methinks that "sis" — does anyone still talk like that? did anyone ever talk like that? — knew the job in Seattle was lucrative and that "bro" lost it in the spring. "It" being the job, his normal self, and his ability to speak like a human being.

  • Speech that is more formal than conversational, particularly when the scene cries out for informal dialogue. I wish I could post a real-live example from a book I just read, but that would be grossly unfair to the relatively unknown author. (Had it appeared in a book by a mega-selling author, I'd have no qualms about it; a bestselling writer should know better.) So here's my made-up example: "I've never told anyone this before. When I was just an innocent child, a beloved uncle crept into my room one night and stole my innocence from me. I could never think of him the same way again. He went from being my favorite relative to my most despised relative." I kid you not; I recently read a contemporary book in which the dialogue in what should have been a gripping scene was just this stilted. Give me a break! This young woman was revealing a secret she had harbored her entire life, and she's going to start talking like, I don't know, a prim and proper Victorian upper-cruster? I think not.

Fiction writers need to be real with their dialogue, and the best writers are those who have a finely tuned ear for dialogue. The others? It's as if they never stop and really listen to what they've just written, never stop to imagine what a person would actually say in a given situation or how the person would say it.

So that's reason number one why I've never written a novel: I'd be so critical of my own dialogue that I'd never finish writing the book.

What are your pet peeves about novels? I don't mean the obvious things, like truly lousy writing and a truly flimsy plot. What are the deal-breakers for you — those flaws that make you want to put down an otherwise good book and never finish it?