New novel coming, buy it, pass the word

PD is coming.

What? No, not the police department. PD is what the protagonist in my new novel Up Beaver Creek is calling herself these days. It’s her initials, and she’s not saying what they stand for. Back in Missoula, people called her Cissy, her nickname, but she does not want to be Cissy anymore. Widowed at 42, she is determined to start over with a new name, a new look, and a new home on the Oregon coast, where she will pursue her career as a musician–if things ever stop going wrong.

Eight wonderful, brilliant, generous beta readers have given the book a careful going-over, finding numerous typos and a few discrepancies I need to clean up. Next steps: Finalizing the cover and formatting the inside pages. I’m starting to get nervous. I want everyone to buy the book. I want to do readings here, there, and everywhere. I want everyone to say they love my book. I want to show the IRS and my father that I do actually write and sell books.

I want . . . what every writer wants.

For Oprah to love it.

Why am I telling you all this? Because these days, whether you’re published by one of the big New York publishers, a small indie press, or doing it yourself, authors are required to build “buzz.” We need to become salespeople drumming up interest and doing everything possible to make sure everybody knows about their books and can’t wait to read them.

That’s Up Beaver Creek, coming in June from Blue Hydrangea Productions.

This sales business is tough for writers who prefer to sit quietly at their computers and get lost in the worlds they’re creating. We prefer art over commerce, readers over buyers. Once upon a time, publishers did all the marketing while urging writers to hurry up and write the next book. Not anymore. Promote, tour, build that audience high and wide.

Buzz, buzz, buzz.

Our Willamette Writers Coast Chapter meeting yesterday was all about building buzz. Jennie Komp of Myth Machine talked about building one’s “fandom.” Cultivate one loyal fan who loves everything you write, and that fan will attract others who attract more. Pretty soon you’ll have thousands. At least that’s the plan.

It can work. I got an email on Saturday from a writer who has a new book coming out. I ordered it immediately. I haven’t read a word of it, haven’t seen the cover, and I don’t usually pay that much for a book, but with this author, I’m buying it. I buy everything he writes. I’m part of his fandom.

Up Beaver Creek, coming in June, read an excerpt here.

Komp used J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books as an example of maximum merchandising. Fans don’t just buy the books and see the movies; they buy the tee shirts, the little cauldrons, the round glasses, and all the other swag. The books have turned into an industry.

We can look at our own books for things we can promote: songs that appear in the book and might be used in the movie, merchandise that could be sold in conjunction with the book, real-life locations to which we can direct our readers, articles we can write that will direct people to our books, outtakes we could sell, and quotes we can combine with images to create “memes” that we post on social media several times a day. We can create YouTube videos about something in the book, invite our fans to post testimonials, and set up “meet-ups” for our fans to get together. In other words, sell everything you can from the world you have created for your book.

I thought I was doing well to write blogs and list my books in my email signature. I feel old and slightly nauseated. Would Mark Twain have done this? When does a body have time to write? Of course, we can hire Myth Machine or another publicity company to do it all for us.

Up Beaver Creek, coming in June. Meet PD and her friends. Did I mention the tsunami?

Buzz, buzz, buzz

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Two minutes of fame at the Willamette Writers Conference

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I had my two minutes of fame Saturday night when I received the first place award for poetry at the Willamette Writers conference banquet in Portland Saturday night. It’s not my first award, but as the queen of second place, I’m thrilled about this one and that it’s for poetry makes it even sweeter. That I could also celebrate with Debby Dodds, a sister graduate from the Antioch LA MFA program was also a blessing. The pictures with me in them come from Debby’s camera.

I got a room with a view, but of what?
It was a strange day in Portland. So hot even the people who lived there kept complaining. When I got the news of my award, the conference hotel was already full, so I stayed at a place nearby. Lest I get sued for libel, let’s just say it was in the area. If I had read the reviews before I booked my room, I might have chosen a different place. “Rundown” is putting it nicely. The photo will show you what my “view room” offered out the window. It actually got better at night when the convention center towers were lit, but still. Inside, everything was hanging lopsided, not quite clean or falling apart. No pool, no breakfast, not even a free pen. But it was only for one night, and the air conditioner worked.
It was odd showing up at the conference hotel and not being registered for or teaching at the actual conference. I was just there for the banquet. Inside the ballroom, we winners were relegated to our own tables, but most of the winners lived too far away to come to the banquet. So I shared a half-empty table with an 11-year-old winner in the kids’ category, his mom, dad and bored older brother and a non-winner who came in late and needed a seat. Turns out she and I both worked at the same newspaper in Los Gatos, California a few years apart. Amazing.
The awards began a bit late, but moved quickly to the poetry division. Amid cheers, I hurried up to the platform, posed for a picture with my certificate and hurried back to my table, where Debby grabbed me for a hug and a couple selfies, which showed up on Facebook a few minutes later.
Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series
We contest winners were small fish at the banquet. Awards were also given to Justin Hocking, executive director of the Independent Publishing Resource Center; Kelly Williams Brown, author of Adulting: How to Become a Grow-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps; Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins and seven other books; Ivan Doig, author of 16 novels and three nonfiction books; and Diana Gabaldon, whose Outlander books are debuting this week as a TV series on Starz. Gabaldon gave one of the best keynote speeches I’ve ever heard. We laughed, we learned, we were inspired, we gave her standing ovation.  Man, she’s good. And she started her books while holding down two jobs and raising a couple of kids. So what’s our excuse?
Once the nerves of my own award were over, I could enjoy my dinner. Salmon with hollandaise, some kind of potato concoction, green beans, salad and the most beautiful dessert, which I should have photographed. With layers of chocolate, coffee, more chocolate and whipped cream, it looked like a cupcake but slid down easy like cheesecake. Not exactly on my diet, but hey, I won first prize. Besides, when you consider my low-fat breakfast at the grungiest Denny’s ever, it evens out.
In the morning, instead of rushing to the Doubletree for a day of classes, pitching, and networking, I was free to roam to Chinatown and the waterfront. It was a wonderful day. Stories and photos to come. And then it was back to Annie in the cool coastal forest. Ah, fame.

Why I Moved to South Beach, Why I Stay


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Weekends like this last one prove I’m living in the best place in the world. My days were full of music, poetry, dog snuggles, and blue skies, along with church, a little laundry, grocery-shopping, and house-cleaning.

Yes, blue skies in January on the Oregon Coast. Right now as I write this, I look out my office window and see gold-tipped pine trees stretching into a powder blue sky unmarked by clouds. The alders are still winter-bare, but daffodil bulbs poked their heads above the soil this week, even though the storm season is far from over. From somewhere beyond the yard, I hear doves. Like the rest of the west, we’ve had far less rain than usual this winter, but unlike California and other western states, we have enough water, so that drought is not a problem.
It’s warmer back in California. I see weather reports predicting blue skies and temperatures in the 70s, and I miss those days when I could walk unfettered by heavy coats. But oh it feels good to lie beneath my electric blanket on a cold morning, and I finally have a use for all those sweaters my mother and I knitted over the years. And it feels great to sit in the sun under the Sitka spruce with Annie leaning against me, just enjoying being alive.
Yesterday I was up at 6 a.m. to lead the choirs through two Masses at Sacred Heart Church. It was dark as I showered and dressed and ate a slice of pumpkin bread for my hasty breakfast. But as I drove north on Highway 101, scanning the road for black ice, the sky lit up with pink clouds that turned bright red, a Hallelujah Chorus of a sunrise that made me glad to be here. The red reflected on the ice blue water of the bay and the ocean beyond where crabbers were pulling in their morning catch. After 17 1/2 years, the beauty of this place still amazes me.
More storms will come, weeks of gray skies, gray ocean, gray everything, of winds that tear at the windows and walls and sideways rain that stings like needles, but this is the tradeoff for those red sunrises and rainbow sherbet sunsets, for easy drives on roads without traffic at any time of day.
And for music and poetry. I don’t know whether it’s the ocean setting, the reasonable proximity to universities, or simply the lower cost of living, but this is a world of writers, artists, musicians and dreamers, and that’s a big part of why Fred and I chose to live here when we left San Jose. On any weekend, you can enjoy plays, concerts, art exhibits, readings, or dance performances. You can learn to blow glass floats, make beaded jewelry, or paint with watercolors. The Performing Arts Center and Visual Arts Center in Newport are busy year-round, and other venues to the north and south offer more arts activities.
It’s a place where one can get involved in a big way. A friend and I co-founded the coast branch of Willamette Writers a few years ago. Now I’m on the board of the Northwest Poets’ Concord, which hosts an annual poetry conference in May, and Writers on the Edge, which hosts the monthly Nye Beach Writers Series. I have a critique group which meets on Tuesdays. I have taken workshops, taught workshops, met famous or soon-to-be famous writers, and shared my work at readings, talks and open mics.
This last Saturday, we met for the Nye Beach Writers Series at the Newport Visual Arts Center. Covering the paint-stained tables of the art classroom with red silk tablecloths and battery-powered candles, we welcomed our guest author of the month, R. Gregory Nokes, for a talk about his new book, Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory. I ran the book table. After intermission, I ran the open mic. I read several of my poems, people loved them, and I felt fabulous.
During the day, I had time to sit out in the sun with Annie, to take a nice long walk, to catch up on email, clean my kitchen, play a little piano, and watch a movie on TV.
Getting up Sunday morning was hard, but then I got to play the piano at church, sing with two wonderful groups of friends, and chat over tea and donuts in-between. Afterward, a quick trip to the store, where I ran into several friends, as usual, a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, more piano, and more time in the sun before heading south to Yachats for the open mic.
Music, poetry and friends came together at the Green Salmon coffee shop, which is not open at night but allows us to use the space. Christmas lights still hung along the ocean-facing windows as we perched in our high wooden chairs. We laughed, we sang along, and we applauded performers taking the stage for the first time and veterans who came to try out new songs or just keep in practice. It was a safe place where people could screw up and nobody minded. “Do-over!” people would shout, and the performer would find the missing words or chords and finish in triumph.
Then it was time to make the long dark drive home, passing only a few cars on the way, keeping a lookout for deer or raccoons crossing the road. Time to light up the pellet stove, snuggle with the dog and fall asleep to dreams of music, blue skies, and words for a new poem.
I awakened to sunshine, blueberry muffins and another day of words, music, dogs and the most beautiful place on earth.
This is why we moved here. Sometimes I get lonely. I miss Fred like crazy, but this is why I stay.
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I haven’t posted here lately. I’m working on compiling the previous five years of posts into a “Best of Unleashed” book, which will eventually be available as an e-book. But I will still chime in here, too, because I can’t help myself. If you enjoy reading my blog, please recommend it to your friends. Thanks for coming. Have a beautiful day wherever you are.

That’s Where They Went!


My black dog Chico’s tags were gone, just gone. All four had disappeared. It had only been a week or so since I replaced them, but now, instead of jingling, he walked in silence. After a diligent search of the yard, I gave up and wrote his name and phone number on his actual collar. He had jumped the fence a day earlier, so I figured the tags were lost in the forest, never to be found again.

Surprise. Returning from the Willamette Writer’s Conference yesterday to two excited dogs and mountains of poo, I started cleaning up the yard and discovered something shiny sticking out of the uh, stuff. Oh my gosh, his rabies tag. In another pile, his license. In yet another, his microchip tag. Annie, Chico’s tan sister, ate them! What a stomach that dog has. She not only ate them, but digested and excreted them. Wearing plastic gloves, I washed off the poo and analyzed what was left. The license has lost all its color, and the microchip tag is illegible, but the rabies tag looks nice and clean now. All we’re missing is Chico’s name tag.

The question is: Should I bother putting the tags back on? Annie goes straight for them every time they wrestle, which is all day long. The last time Chico lost his license, a spokesman from animal control told me it wasn’t necessary to wear the tag as long as his license information was on file. Ideas?

Meanwhile, Annie has all her tags because Chico isn’t into eating non-food items. He’s into running and jumping. Oh, and he did break open the zipper on the big green cushion of the only chair I let them sit on. While Annie was soaking up affection in my office, Chico was quietly shredding yellow pieces of foam rubber in the living room. Arrgh.

People keep telling me they’ll mature. If they live another week, they’ll be 18 months old. Meanwhile, it’s like having two kids in the terrible twos. They are so sweet when they’re sleeping.