Thursday, November 22, 2007

Being Grateful

I'm grateful that my eight-year-old son Kobe believed that a sprite peed on him tonight and was able to descibe the little bugger. He's got faith in the realness of fae folk. I'm grateful that my ten-year-old son Skyler needed a long hug before he could sleep tonight. He's got a willingness to reach out for comfort. I'm grateful that my husband Kevin can give me space when I need it most. He's sensitive that way - not to mention smart.

What are you grateful for?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Protecting the Rights of the Creator

When my first child turned six months old, I realized I could no longer take him into the literary agency where I worked as an assistant. My boss, agent Julie Castiglia, adored Skyler, but he cried a lot. I found it difficult to accomplish even mindless work such as entering submissions into the computer while endlessly tapping my foot on the edge of his bouncy seat to calm my fussy baby. When my work required actual thinking, i.e., sending letters to authors about royalties or editors pitching a new book, it was damn near impossible to concentrate. As I only made $2 an hour more than the babysitter, I had no other apparent option but to go home to raise my son.
Insistent upon making some cash, I brought home the slush pile of submissions to read and assess. But after awhile, the cut-throat nature of the business became intolerable. I could tell how much passion these writers had, even when they didn’t have talent, and it broke my heart. I wanted to be a published author as well, so their pain was too close for comfort. I often wrote notes of encouragement on the rejection cards. The small effort didn’t take much time, but it took energy and soon enough, I knew I had to quit the job completely.
Being a stubbornly independent cuss, this part of my process was extremely difficult; trust is also not exactly my forte. I had effectively cut off my income source and I was scared, albeit hopeful. In deep meditative prayer (with a candle), I asked for an income that would feed my creative spirit and enable me to stay home with my son.
Within a week, Julie called me with a proposal. An editor from Carol Publishing had called her looking for an author to write The Wicca Cookbook. Julie wanted to know if I thought I could write the book. At the time I had little formal training in Wicca, but I had been to some rituals and had already delved into several mysteries: my nana had been a psychic, my mother a Catholic, my father a Christian Scientist, and my aunt a tree hugger. I could do it.
The next week I found out I was pregnant. While my first son took naps and my second son grew inside me, I created my third “child,” the sister named The Wicca Cookbook. I turned in the completed manuscript a couple of months prior to my son’s due date. I remember asking the editor to be kind with rewrites and edits since I would either be on the brink of giving birth or postnatal (and possibly depressed as it had happened the first time, but I didn’t really tell them that. Brooke Shields hadn’t made her declaration, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to say anything.) Publisher’s Weekly announced the book with the cover Carol Publishing had chosen in their July 26, 1999 issue.

Soon after we turned in final edits, Carol Publishing declared bankruptcy.

All book deals and books were considered assets of the bankruptcy, including my baby. This book represented my future ability to make money and remain at home to care for my children. Post partum depression had settled in and my husband was drinking like a fish. This book was my ticket to self-sufficiency and it was slipping through my fingers like water. I consulted four lawyers and after months and months of negotiations we seemed to be edging towards the ability to get my rights back to my book. My agent sent out the proposal to different editors, including a publisher known as Ten Speed Press/ Celestial Arts. I liked the name of the publisher and they had published one of my favorite authors: SARK. Ten Speed agreed to buy the book, pending a letter from Carol Publisher relinquishing the rights. But, weeks passed and still Carol Publishing wouldn’t send a letter. It seemed that Kensington Publishing would acquire their book deals and they didn’t want to lose any lucrative assets. But we didn’t know whether or not the new publisher would ever publish my book, as they had eighteen months to decide once the takeover was complete. The roadblock appeared impassable.
Despite this, on faith, Ten Speed announced The Wicca Cookbook in their fall 2000 catalog. More time passed and the situation was indeed bleak. The editor in chief, Kirstie Melville, loved the book but was preparing to rescind her offer soon unless we solved the legalities. A deadline was set. The deal was off unless a letter appeared by February 29, 2000. Frustration, fear, and anxiety set in. I wrote affirmations all over the file folder that contained the record of this lengthy legal trail.
Julie suggested I join the Author’s Guild and request their assistance. Immediately to my great relief and amazement, the lawyer from Author’s Guild found a loophole in that Carol Publishing had only paid me half of the advance. If I would return payment ($2,500), I would have the rights to my book. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. I scraped together money already spent and sent it back to the publisher. The Author’s Guild came to my rescue and did what four lawyers could not do. With less than twenty-four hours before the deal with Ten Speed was null, I got the rights back to The Wicca Cookbook. Ten Speed knew what to do with this book, and it sold out of its first printing in three months.
The Author’s Guild resuscitated my career as an author and gave me the footing and support I needed in a desperate time. The guilds that protect our ability to make money from our creative efforts are irreplaceable. They support the heart of every story, the core of every theory. There are people, the storytellers, the scientists, the teachers, and other creators who want nothing more than to make a living from writing: words are their best friends, the way they communicate with the world and with their divine self. At this point in my career, I cannot afford to close my laptop and walk the picket line with the Writer’s Guild. However, this musing is my symbolic gesture of support. I’m not currently writing for a hit TV show or a screenplay for Warner Brothers, not yet at least. But someday, their battle for rights could be my battle – you never know.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

DEAR Drop Everything And Read

DEAR: Drop Everything And Read

The report cards are in and the teachers are pushing the habit of reading. But reading can be so much more than devouring books to rack up a high score or favorable remark. Reading books enables you to enter a different world, develop compassion for another’s pain, meet a friend from another culture that you may never get the chance to visit, and expand your perspective. But where to get these books? Of course convenience provokes us to shop at whatever big chain is nearby: there’s a wide selection, it’s familiar, we believe it’s cheaper, and they usually have coffee.

But what about the independent bookstores? There’s something (perhaps hidden within the American psyche) that makes me feel that supporting the little guy actually encourages and sustains self-government. As companies merge, whether it’s retail or media or books industries, and grow into mega conglomerates, we risk losing a fertile environment for the entrepreneurial spirit. Once you support another’s ability to strike out and create something of their very own, over which they have full autonomy, you champion and advocate the same sovereignty for yourself. The Ma and Pa of independently owned businesses are you and me! It is your grown child, your husband, your best friend, your neighbor. It's a person with a dream, no different than any of us.

When you walk into Rueben's Bookstore, you are walking into Rueben's dream, his passion, his livelihood. Supporting a local anything is important because you are not only supporting someone's dream or vision you are supporting choice and supporting a free society, based on the idea that you can do or be whatever you want when you grow up. You are preventing towns from all becoming the same.

Shopping at Ma and Pa's is a way of valuing the aesthetic differences. Without putting value on that, we lose creativity and individuality. Keeping the little guys alive keeps the towns, states and country we live in diverse and more colorful. Supporting independent businesses gives us more choice and more diversity.

When we walk into Target, we know how it's going to smell, feel and look. We know the carts are red and the font they use on the signs are the same at all Targets. The employee's uniforms are the same. So whether you are in a Target in California, Alaska, New York, Iowa, it is the same experience. So it is with Bed, Bath and Beyond, Starbucks, Borders, and Olive Garden. Same menu, same decor, same lay-out, same sign, same, same, same. Which becomes boring, boring, boring after a while. Which makes us have even less of a culture than we already do. While we enjoy the convenience of it all, we do not want to give up the uniqueness and independence of Ma and Pa businesses. We don't want to give up our "Main Street" – the core of our community. Aside from supporting freedom and individual dreams, placing value and different tastes, looks and feels, there is also the idea of humans connecting and forming relationships where we shop, eat and play.

If you think you vote with your dollars and you enjoy capitalism where everyone should have a fair shot, supporting local and small businesses give them a fighting chance. Especially with virtually no advertising budget. But often the chain stores advertise only a few books at discount, while the majority of books are the same wherever you go. We are forced to ask ourselves, do we spend a more value on supporting the dream, which is our dream, or money? These may be happy fuzzy feeling thoughts, but here are the facts.
Chain stores put the power of what is read and published in this country into the hands of the few (instead of the many) and promote books based on money (not on quality).Basically, the two big book chains have 800 or so stores each, but only one set of book buyers at their headquarters in NY and Ann Arbor, MI who make all the decisions about what books all their stores will carry. Each independent store has its own bookbuyer. In the old days before chains, if an individual bookbuyer refused to stock a certain book it was no big deal, since there were 5,000 other independent stores who might still get the book out into the world. But now (as those independent stores have been replaced by chains) if the single chain buyer for Barnes & Noble or Borders turns down a book, it will now no longer be available in 800-1600 stores across the country. Publishers will often decide whether or not to publish a book depending on whether or not they think Borders and Barnes & Noble will like it. Publishers have also been known to change book cover design, or titles, if the chains object to it. Then, once books get into the chain stores, there’s the question of which books get promoted and sold. Every inch of display space in chain stores (end caps, display tables, register space) is paid placement by publishers. Same with any of Amazon’s featured books or “if you liked this book, you might also like this one...”, etc. This means that only a few big books and big publishers get to put their books front and center, while smaller books and publishers languish in the back of the store, spine out on the shelves. Independent stores, on the other hand, display and hand-sell whatever books they truly believe in and feel are great books that deserve to be read.

So whether or not you chose to still visit the big chain bookstores, please seek out your local independent bookstore. Give them a visit and when you have the chance, order and buy books from them. Developing our local economies, getting to know our neighbors is imperative in these times. Whatever you do, read, read, read to expand and empower yourself.

For additional information on how to ensure the economic health of local communities...see here for more info: