Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ruby Neptune is BACK

The third book in the Ruby Neptune mystery series is finished!

When the headmistress of a prestigious private school in Brooklyn suddenly dies in front of the student body, the police assume the death is an unfortunate accident.  But the school’s Writer in Residence, Ruby Neptune, thinks she’s witnessed a murder.  Suspects include the parents of children who weren’t accepted, teachers vying to be the next director, a harassed secretary, and even the mother of a child thrown out of the school for a peanut allergy.  As Ruby Neptune investigates, she makes other surprising discoveries, one which impacts her personal life.  Meanwhile, the killer might get away with murder, unless Ruby can uncover the truth before she, too, has an unfortunate accident.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hilary Clinton and Violence Against Women

When I was a little girl, there were no cool female role models. Well, there was Wonder Woman, but she looked uncomfortable, like her breasts were about to pop out of her swimsuit. My brother had his pick of cool heroes but I did not. There were some spunky heroines, but in most television shows, the women, even the smart ones, eventually had to be saved by men.

People need heroes in their own images. I remind my husband about this all the time, because I love and appreciate all the women on television today who don't need saving. They can fight like men. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) Even without supernatural powers, they can win with smarts and a stun gun. (Veronica Mars.) And by the way, both of these fictional women were created by men.

But lately I'm registering a disturbing trend with these characters: They all get raped. I don’t know why I didn’t notice before.

Why do men who create strong female characters always make them get raped?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so graphically details horrible abuses to women that I began to wonder if the writer (and some readers) got a high from thinking about the torture of women. The movie is worse. I had to leave the room during those scenes. It's true, the female lead is smart and strong, and she gets vengeance. But I don’t know how anyone could leave that film thinking women were empowered.

I suppose the Ohio man who locked-up and raped three girls for ten years might have enjoyed the scenes in that book/movie. And since one in six women are sexually assaulted*, rapists are not so much an aberration as part of the norm. There were the high school students who undressed, raped, ejaculated on, and photographed an unconscious teenage girl while carting her from party to party. There's that rap song where the singer (Rick Ross) brags about giving a woman a drug and raping her while she's unconscious. On college campuses, as many as one in four women are sexually assaulted**. In my state of Nebraska, some third grade boys sexually assaulted an eight-year old classmate on the school playground. The list goes on and on.  I could write for an hour and not record all the sexual assault stories that have happened in this year alone.

I could probably write all day and not have time to document the sexual assaults occurring in the military. The Air Force official in charge of its sexual-assault prevention program is arrested for attacking a woman in a parking lot and the military's response is to "retrain" the men. Weird, because I wouldn't think men need special training in not attacking women. Shouldn't they just know? Like the way they know not to rob liquor stores or step in front of a moving car?

Obviously, something in our culture is teaching boys and men to rape. Is it simply the belief that women are less valuable than men? Is there a male rage that can only be relieved by hate crimes against women? Rape is an act of violence. Who is teaching our boys and men to be violent to women? Why do so many male writers view rape as a rite of passage for strong women?

So where does Hilary Clinton come into all this? Well, we know she is considering a run for president. I would like her to think carefully about her legacy. Barack Obama has shown us how ineffective a president can be. The GOP will devote themselves to blocking her like they do him. But they can't block the light from her international stardom. She could affect much more change taking on a single cause than trying to run our country. I'd like to see her take on that fight. I'm not alone. My blog on her speech about violence against women gets more hits than any other blog I've got. (And it's nothing but a transcript of her speech).

There are men running our country who believe that women can shut down rape sperm. Their brains are operating in medieval mode but that's who you have to deal with in government politics, apparently. Sadly, the president has little more influence than those politicians who seem proud of their ignorance.

Mrs. Clinton, I ask you from the bottom of my heart to forget about being president and make it your mission to wipe out violence against women, in our country and in the world.  I want a better world, not only for my son and daughter, but for all the children of the world. 

* According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape).
**According to the U.S. Justice Department's report The Sexual Victimization of College Women.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Is self-publishing the worst, or is it fun?

There's still a fair amount of disdain out there for Indie Writers like me.  Many circles don't consider you legitimate unless you've won over the gatekeepers of the publishing world: the literary agents. 

Here's how to get an agent.  1.  Be famous.  2.  Have a famous friend who will write a forward for your book. 

Do I sound cynical?  The other way to get an agent is to write a killer query letter that will land, with hundreds of others, in a liteary agent's slush pile.  Most agents get less than 5% of their authors from the slush pile so the odds are...not in your favor.  Most agents live in New York.  I'm from New York but I live in Omaha, Neb.  Call me paranoid, but I often wondered if my return address lowered my chances even more. 

I spent more than ten years getting rejected by agents so when I found out I could self-publish on Amazon, I leapt at the chance to bypass those gatekeepers.  In ten months my book,  The Truth About Dating (The Quinn Malone series) had sold more than 25,000 copies.

Rejection cuts more than I think it should.  I'm ashamed to say that ten years of rejections had made me decide to never write again.  Selling twenty-five thousand copies of my book changed all that.  I immediately wrote another book, a mystery set in my old Brooklyn neighborhood, Clinton Hill.  Murder Beyond Words (A Ruby Neptune Mystery)  Last year, that book sold 20,000 copies.    I wrote a sequel, Murder with Art (Ruby Neptune Mysteries).  Self-publishing is fun!

But then I tried to get some vibrant, wonderful bookstores in the Clinton Hill area of Brooklyn to carry my mysteries.  My books sell well online and both have an average review of 4-stars on Amazon, but local bookstores didn't want to carry them.  Why?  My paperbacks are made by an Amazon affilate, and they don't give brick and mortar bookstores a good deal.  I could sell them by consignment, but that's a lot of extra work for the stores.  These reasons make sense.  But an underlying commentary was this: self-published writers suck.  They can't write.  That's why they couldn't get published traditionally. 

This is the prevailing belief among critics and booksellers even as many self-published authors sell really well.  Sell thousands more books than me.  Sometimes it seems like the only ones who didn't like their books were the gatekeepers who first rejected them.

I just read this article on Salon.com by Ted Heller: The Future is no fun: Self-publishing is the worst..  Mr. Heller describes his odessy from successful, traditionally published author to author-with-brilliant-book-that-no-one-wants-to-buy, to self-published-author-that-no-one-respects-because-he's-self-published.  It's an interesting read.  Frankly, it was a relief to see a traditionally published writer vent his frustration with how hard the writing life is for everyone, be they traditional or indie.

I don't have the bitter taste of success ripped from me like Mr. Heller, so I'm still grateful for self-publishing.  Parts are bad, but (I'm starting to learn) no worse than negatives of being traditionally published. 

Here's why self-publishing is bad:
1.  I hate marketing myself.  It takes up too much of my time and I'm not good at it.

Here's why self-publishing is good:
1.  I write what I want.  No one phones me to ask how many chapters I've written this week. 
2.  I do what I want.  When I wanted to put a link at the end of one book recommending that my readers read Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's book Half the Sky, no one said, "That book's with a different publisher so we can't promote it in yours."  Or other stupid things like that. 

Here's the irony of self-publishing:
1.  I love libraries and bookstores.  I hate Amazon's scorched earth policy on the competition, yet I owe all my success to Amazon, and the stores I want to support won't take my book because I'm part of Amazon.  This, even though I set my Amazon paperback prices to match the price of my book at my local bookstore in Omaha (which was happy to sell my books).  That's the other fun thing about self-publishing: I can sell my books for any price I like.  You'll never find my paperbacks cheaper on Amazon than in the bookstore because I want to support our local bookstores.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In Tragedy, Taking A Break From Trash Talk and News Cycles

When tragedy strikes, people need time to mourn.  Grief is a powerful antidote to the ills of the world.  Grief allows us to process our pain, to mourn for our losses, and ultimately, to move forward with our new lives.   

Yet our country moves from grief to justice in lighting speed.  Within minutes reporters and people on the street were tossing out lines like, “we will not be cowed by terrorists!” and “they picked the wrong city!”  My favorite reporters deluged me with talk.  Rather than covering events, they seemed to be processing their own feelings aloud and on air.  Nicholas Kristoff rubbernecked for all of his “friends” on Facebook, posting horrifying pictures of injured people and bloody sidewalks; Tom Ashbrook from On Point devoted the next day’s show to the event, even though all he could really talk about was how little we know; ThomasFriedman’s column two days later suggested we defy terrorists by leaving no memories of the attack and that we schedule another Boston Marathon as soon as possible. 

Me?  My head is spinning.  The move from shock to grief to erasing all traces and counting on the resilience of Bostonians to carry on is going much too fast.  September 11th dragged on interminably but Boston is going to be sewn up before the week is out. 

So I’m watching as little of the news cycle as possible.  The weeks after 9/11 taught me that empty-headed news stories make me too numb to grieve.  The imperative, “Never forget!” is going around like it did after 9/11.  I feel insulted every time I hear that expression.  As if any of us would ever forget.  What I’d prefer is more quiet.  Time to reflect and feel bad without watching horrible scenes, like the one that Kristoff and later The New York Times showed of the father finding his dead son.  That scene was terrible, useless, unnecessary.  (I didn’t actually watch it).  That father asked for privacy.  We don’t need to overdose on his grief when we could be focusing on our own. 

For my five-year old, a tragedy is that she can’t wear rain boots on a sunny day.  When she keels over, sobbing about minor events, I usually urge her to move on, but sometimes I let her bawl her eyes out.  I hold her in my arms and let her experience grief.  I want her to learn that crying can help move the sadness out.  I want her to learn how to feel sad without jumping straight into retribution. 

I understand the desire for justice and I agree there is a time for vengeance.  But I don’t want to hurry past my pain just to show those terrorists that they didn’t get me down.  They did.  I’m devastated.  Part of me will always be devastated.  Our nation’s leap into trash-talking-avenger mode makes me worry about the well-being of the American psyche.  I almost wrote, “great” in front of American.  But then I realized I don’t need to say so.  Just as we know we’ll never forget, we know we’re a great people.  We don’t have to broadcast it non-stop in the face of a national tragedy. We’d be even greater if we could sing, pray, or ponder quietly while we all hold hands, one nation, helping each other.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Are Art Galleries Fading From New York City?

When I attended Pratt Institute in the late 1980s, I was intimidated by shows at art galleries.  I went to lots of them, but I always had the impression that gallery owners weren’t happy to see young students like me wander through the door.  I’ve never been very eloquent about discussing art; I feel like I’m shoveling out a lot of BS.  So when I graduated with a bachelor’s in Painting, I was deeply intimated by the process of asking gallery owners to represent me. 

That was decades ago.  I still paint, my art continues to develop, but I don’t bother trying to get shows. I replaced that desire with the goal of snagging a literary agent.  By the time I’d written my first book, I no longer lived in New York City.  I’ve often thought that my Omaha, Neb address was part of the reason I couldn’t get the literary agents to read my books (most live in NYC).  But thanks to Amazon, it now no longer matters that I don't have an agent.  Epublishing has served me well; I've sold well over 50,000 copies of my self-published books in just a couple of years.  So I'm a fan of online sales.

Today I read art critic Jerry Saltz’s article, “The Death of the Gallery Show,” in New York Magazine where he laments the rise of online art auctions because the public never gets the chance to wander through an exhibition of that artist, to see the artist’s works juxtaposed together.  Mr. Saltz says he goes to 1,560 NYC gallery shows a year.  A year.  That is incredible. 

Reading his article brought me back to my school days, and to the research I did while writing my second mystery novel, which begins with a death in a Williamsburg art gallery (Murder with Art (Ruby Neptune Mysteries)).  And as I read Saltz’s defense of art galleries, in spite of the fact that poor artists might not get to NYC to see the art, I started to think the art world was following in the footsteps of the publishing world:  both had NYC as their center and a small tribe of New Yorkers decided who was in and who was out.

But after mulling over his argument for a few hours, I’ve decided that what’s lost by art galleries disappearing from Chelsea is what’s gained for Indie writers like me.  In online art galleries, even non-represented artists get to sell their art, so it sounds like the democratization of the art world.  But only for the artists.  For art lovers, the opposite is happening.  As Saltz points out, auctions keep art away from everyone except the collector.  Even though I felt intimidated going to art galleries as a young student, I still went.  I got to see some amazing art.  I couldn’t buy the art, but I could still be influenced by what I saw on those walls.  Jerry Saltz goes to 1,560 shows a year, but he's not buying something at each show (at least, I assume he's not, on an art critic's salary.)  He's just looking and enjoying.

There’s no doubt that Amazon, for all its many flaws, has democratized the publishing world for writers like me.  But readers, too, get to read more books.  Books that literary agents didn't think they would like.  I may not make my living off my books (yet), but I'm still a success.  Without an agent or publisher and with a marketing budget of less than $200, the first book in my mystery series (Murder Beyond Words (A Ruby Neptune Mystery)) sold 20,000 copies last year.  Murder with Art sales are steady, too.
Living outside the city has its disadvantages for agent-less novelists.  Besides the obvious one, (not living in the city), some bookstores only carry consignment books for local authors, and though I’m from New York I no longer count as local.  An art gallery would let me show from afar, but of course they have years of experience working with out-of-town artists.  I imagine bookstores will get there eventually.  More than anything, Saltz’s article made me feel my absence from my favorite city in the world.  He made me miss living on campus at Pratt.  He made me want to gallery hop.  He made me worry that one of the defining traits of the city, art galleries, might be an endangered species.  Let’s hope he’s wrong.