Tuesday, November 17, 2009

AWP, surfing for blurbs, and other calisthenics

Well, I've finally paid my dues for another year's membership with AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) so I can attend the AWP Conference in Denver next spring. Anyone else going? Last year, the conference was in Chicago, where my friend Andrea and I came down with temporary cases of ADHD from the hundreds of options offered to us. Because Andrea had some prior commitments, I found myself scrambling for company come dinnertime (and not always successfully, let me tell you). Here's a picture of a more fortunate dinner arrangement, with my dear friend Andrea Leavey and Bob Butler (we did Asian fusion that evening).

So this year, I'm booking my dinner companions early. If you're attending, and I've never met you, please join Andrea and me sometime for "good eats" at the conference!

What am I doing between then and now? Surfing for blurbs. You know, those little quotes on the dust covers of books: "a phenomenal triumph!" "this year's must-read!" "a debut taken by storm!" followed by a newspaper title, The New Yorker, or Ben Affleck (yes, he really wrote a blurb). None of these blurbs are mine, mind you. You'll see my blurbs come next spring. It feels a little awkward, a bit imposing, and sometimes downright embarrassing to think about the whole prospect of getting a blurb. First, you have to be bold enough to ask someone to read your book. The whole thing. Before Christmas. My mom doesn't even read my books. She just wants the lowdown: "So, in a nutshell, what's your book about?" she says. (I love you, Mom.)

I need about 5 or so from "interesting" or "influential" people. I have a few special endorsements (and I'm truly honored to received them), and now I'm waiting for word about another one from a certain someone here in Dallas. It makes my stomach all gurggly inside as I ruminate over the whole petal-picking scenario:
The reader loves it? (pluck)
The reader loves it not? (pluck)
The reader loves it? (pluck)
I can't bear to go on.

Once the blurbs are gathered and printed, a review copy of the book is bound and sent to the major book reviewers. We'll cross our fingers and hope the blurbs are tempting enough for someone from Publishers Weekly to nestle down with Song of the Orange Moons beside a cozy fire and cup of tea. Or brandy.

I'll keep you posted as we move along the next stage of this adventure ride called publishing!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's the Novel About?

My beloved Creative Writing teacher from high school suggested that perhaps giving people a clue about the novel's storyline might make a little sense.  (She's smart, that Sherry.) The first chapter of the book was published as a short story in Glimmer Train, Issue #51 (I know, my name is spelled wrong.  Such is the life of a writer.  The day I got my first poem published in a poetry journal, I threw open the mailbox lid and feverishly scanned the Contents page, only to find my poem was credited to someone named "Mary Stephens."  I could have cried.)  Song of the Orange Moons is structured like Joy Luck Club, and unfolds as first person narratives in each girl's life-chapter.  So, better late than never, here's a short glimpse of the novel:

The title, Song of the Orange Moons, reflects the lyrical nature of three girls’ stories and alludes to the orange tree where pivotal decisions occur.  This mosaic of stories tracks the intertwined childhoods of two girls and that of their neighbor, a widowed woman.  In spite of their different cultural and economic backgrounds, the three main characters all share the delicate and self-conscious journey to womanhood.  Two young girls from Jewish and Christian families and their elderly widow next door try to find happiness in a seemingly cruel world.  All three search for love and meaning in a variety of places—a charismatic church, a Depression-era orphanage, a moonlit Savannah park,  an orthodox Jewish boarding school—and end up finding lasting strength in the power of their friendships. 

Okay, it doesn't tell much.  But I'll give you more as soon as I know what I can legally give you.  You can always order the Glimmer Train #51 back issue if you want to get a peek into these mysterious girls.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Ball is Rolling

That's what my publisher said: The ball is rolling. For the past six months, I've been sitting on my hands to keep me from pestering her via quirky, impromptu (but carefully crafted) emails. Like the bad trenchcoat guy from The Iron Giant: Hey Scout! Where you going? Whatchyou up to? Hey now! Want to talk? What's up?

Sometimes I toyed with the frightful possibility that she'd lost interest. I worked myself into a fit of doubt one evening, and the only way to get myself out of it was, you know, to do what I should have been doing all along: keep writing the next darned novel. I kept telling myself that she was just busy because she's a publisher. Publishing books. And tonight, she thanked me for my patience, attributing it to my professional background. I felt like dancing.

She's given me a little "to do" list, and I couldn't be more thrilled. What does a novelist with a small press do? Think of all the ways to publicize the upcoming book. It's all about dissemination, getting the book into the hands of the person who will love it. Because let's face it: not all books appeal to the tastes of all people. My book is literary fiction from a small press. Publicity is a tall order for a debut novelist. I wonder if I can rely on the seven degrees of separation. Surely someone I know knows someone who knows someone at Publisher's Weekly...

By the way, if anyone's interested in what a successful fiction book proposal looks like, I can post mine. Now I have to stop blogging and do more research. Anybody know magazines that publish excerpts from novels?