A late summer toast to old friends, new books, and… Ragnarök?

The Tricksters Lover

I’ve been friends with the hilarious, curious, adventurous, and all-around lovable Samantha MacLeod* since I think third grade. We grew up together, playing anthropomorphized tigers on the playground right up until adolescence, getting into some real questionable music in junior high, and eventually self-publishing a book of our high school poetry before parting ways at college-time.

In the years since then, we’ve both seen the world as WWOOFers (she in Italy and me in Belgium), held a few real questionable jobs (she was a barista at the University of Chicago Divinity School coffee shop, Grounds of Being; I threw my body and soul into many “healthy patient clinical trials” in Boston), and have now settled into pretty awesome lives in our respective climes: she’s a Maine-based mom of two with a kickass chemist husband; I’m a good-times Brooklyn girl who gets to work in my pajamas by day and plan my wedding with the world’s handsomest bass-playing vegan bicyclist at night.

I’m so tickled and happy that Samantha and I have stayed friends all these years. (The fact that I can’t find any e-photos of us together should be no comment on the quality of said friendship! I attribute that mostly to digital cameras’ nonexistence for the first 20-ish years of our knowing each other. To make up for this awful dearth, I am happy to present instead this adorable photo of Samantha’s daughter carrying their cat Maxwell Finnegan up the stairs in the summer of 2013.)

Toddler carrying cat

Girl with cat

Now, a new chapter (pun annoyingly intended) has begun in Samantha’s life, and I want to shout it from the rooftops: she’s a serious published author with a juicy new paranormal romance heating up the shelves!! You can find The Trickster’s Lover right here.

Classic Samantha, the book combines a grad student’s wavering commitment to a career in Norse mythology with a scandalous visitation from Loki, “the enigmatic and irresistibly sexy Norse trickster god.” Mayhem (and many steamy love scenes) ensue as protagonist Caroline wrestles with her choices, her sanity, and Ragnarök—the mythical apocalyptic battle that will ultimately submerge the world in water.

On the grounds that she is a fantastic human being and because capping your summer reading list with an unusual and super-hot book like this sounds like good advice, I hereby urge y’all to order a copy today! And check out Samatha’s blog. It’s also really hot, in the way that funny, clever, and endearing things are really hot.

*Not her real name! Who knows when this romance author might want to run for President?

Hoping to publish? [stifled laughter]

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Andy and I attended a (free!) Social Media Week New York event called “Hoping To Publish? An Agent, Author, Marketing Director and Publisher on what to expect and the questions to ask, in the Trade or Self-Publishing Worlds.

Social Media Week

As you may recall from a previous post on this blog (one that featured a big creepy portrait of Kyle MacLachlan), Andy wrote a book many years ago, I edited it last year, and now we’re both wondering where the story goes from here.

We were hopeful that “Hoping To Publish?” would shed some light on our options, and indeed it did. Here are my top takeaways:

  • The world of book publishing is every bit as complicated and nuanced as the worlds of professional sports management, Japanese lacquer painting, or geopolitics, and the pros on this panel—who included a 40-year veteran of major publishing houses; an award-winning five-time novelist; and a longtime, seen-it-all literary agent—clearly spent much of their lives learning the ropes. (I should add that these are the ever-changing kind of ropes, which makes learning them that much harder.) This is not a space for the faint of heart or lazy of habit!
  • Generally, while the film and music industries have embraced “indie” production, bookish tastemakers do still tend to cast a pall on authors who self-publish memoirs and works of literary fiction—though writers of genre fiction seem able to avoid this stigma and can often do pretty well for themselves, both financially and socially. The panel agreed this construct will probably not last, that the literary elite will eventually fall in line with the rest of the media at some point, but for now, most of the speakers cautioned that self-publishing outside of categories like science fiction and erotica can amount to career suicide.
  • It’s really hard to get published. One speaker joked that, in the ’90s, when she was trying to get her first book published, everyone and his brother had a book deal—her coworkers all had book deals, the guy she sat down next to on the bus had a book deal. But in our post-crash (and nearly post-bookstore) world, it’s a tougher go for all.
Sad face

Example of a sad face (courtesy Flickr user kokopelli1330)

Yes, in all, it was kind of a bummer. But the panel did also take care to mention some silver linings:

  • Authors today can play a much greater role in the success of their books by working themselves to pump up their following via social media;
  • If your goal is to just to produce a physical object of your work for funsies or posterity (rather than to make a career of being an author), self-publishing is a cure-all godsend no matter your genre;
  • If you love to write, you should try not to get discouraged and keep writing no matter the publishing landscape. Because, at the end of the day, aren’t we all just writing because we love to?
I Love You hand

See? This guy just loves to write! (courtesy Flickr user Summer)

In our case, since Andy’s novel falls in the genre fiction part of the spectrum, we’re thinking that self-publishing could be a good way to go with her book. At the least, we’ll have an awesome book-baby we can hold in our arms and pass around to our friends, and if the stars align, she might make 50 or 100 bucks and get trolled on the internet by some nerds!

Dear readers: Anyone want to chip in their two cents on this behemoth topic?

A sci-fi plebe gets initiated

I should have known when I learned that a friend of mine named her blog after a Philip K. Dick novel that she was into science fiction (or should I say speculative fiction? help!), but I really didn’t think about it.

Only several years later (which was already several years after I’d met her) did the topic of sci-fi come up in earnest between us. We were in a rental car on our way to a wedding and she said, apropos of not much, “Have you ever edited a book?”

I said not exactly, but mentioned a few things that kinda-sorta came close. Why was she curious?

“Well, I wrote a sort of sci-fi novel maybe 10 or 15 years ago,” she said, “and it’s basically been sitting in a drawer since then. Recently, I’ve been feeling like I’m ready to do something with it, but I think it could use a second pair of eyes. I’m not sure exactly what an editor would do, besides be a genius and fix all my mistakes… But let me know if you want to talk about it.”

I was SUPER intrigued. For one, my friend wrote a secret book!! For two, it was a sci-fi book—especially weird!! For three, I love me the prospect of a crazy new project.

I’ve found that one of the best things about my first year-and-change of full-time freelancing has been the ability (or heck, sometimes the necessity) to take on a wide variety of editorial gigs. As I heard the author John Vaillant recently say, “I am a professional generalist.” Aside from the thrill of solidarity it gave me to hear a big-name writer identify himself that way—I’ve always been a mega-generalist and sometimes struggled with my lack of speciality, but he’s proof you can have an awesome career as a jack of many interests—his quip also perfectly described one of my favorite job perks: variety.

I told my friend that, although I: a) am not a fiction writer, b) am not even a huge fiction reader, and c) have never, to my recollection, read a sci-fi novel*, I was confident that I could at least do a decent job of copyediting her book, and that if I found I had any developmental suggestions for her in the course of doing so, I’d pass them on. She agreed to hire me, and off I went.


Dune! Power! Kyle MacLachlan!! (courtesy Flickr user KAZ Vorpal)

I’ve been combing through her formidable 480-page book since the middle of last month, with the goal of finishing by year’s end, and I’m having a blast with it, for many reasons. To name a few:

  • The change of pace is invigorating (see the jollies of the generalist, above). I love what I normally do, which is writing and editing external communications for nonprofits. It’s interesting, it has clear goals, and it’s for a good cause. But fiction! I can crank up the artfulness and shelf for a time the thoughts that the text I’m working on will need to be fact-checked, or instigate a call to action, or fit in a 500-word box. Our only goals here (though they are heady ones) are to tell an engaging story in the most appealing way we can. Hooray for that creative focus and freedom.
  • I’m getting to know my friend better through reading her impressive writing, which is lovely. And I’m probably enjoying reading the story more myself since I know who wrote it. Double win! Oh, and I’m gaining a better understanding of why people like sci-fi. Triple win!
  • As the weather cools, this is the perfect long-form project to curl up on the couch with: blanket over my knees, cup of coffee on the end table, laptop just where it was designed to be. Another nice change of pace: there’s nothing frenetic about this task.

So this post is part shout-out to my talented and industrious friend for believing I might be of some help to her labor of love, part written revelation about the wonderfulness of changing things up at work, and part teaser—’cause this book should be out on Kindle next year and I’ll be engaging in even more shameless self-promotion then!

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Hey other freelancers: Do you like the way variety shapes your professional life? (Or maybe you hate it?) Penny for your thoughts in the comments.

*Unless you count a college boyfriend trying to read all of Frank Herbert’s Dune to me in installments. I tried hard to keep up with it, but usually fell asleep before he finished.