Sunday, July 01, 2018

How not to pitch your book at a book festival





            There were years when I attended the Los Angeles Festival of Books with the eager anticipation of an avid reader who likes nothing better than to stroll outdoors and wander into open-air bookstores. Readings by my favorite authors were also an attraction. I didn’t do much people watching.

            This year I dressed in period costume–a Hispana in 1840’s Santa Fe–and walked onto the USC campus armed with a pen to sign my first novel: The Sandoval Sisters.


            The response to my book was good and my venture a successful one, even though I’m a rube when it comes to marketing. This was a learning experience for me.  Predictably, there were a few missteps:

            At one signing in which I participated, several authors sat at tables with the covers of their books blown up on posters and prominently displayed alongside our books and bookmarks. Families, students, seniors, bookmark hoarders and lone crazy people streamed by our table. The families, students and seniors were self-evident. The crazies were harder to identify. Later on the latter.

            One author yelled out at a passerby, “Sir, sir, would you like a bookmark?” The man smiled cooperatively, came over, and she proceeded to pitch him. This author sold more books than anyone else at that venue. She also varied her pitch.  She explained that there was something for everyone in her book: mother, father, student, heavily medicated or in need of a diagnosis.  She had an uncanny ability to determine a potential reader’s area of interest and pitch her book in that direction. She made it sound easy.

            I didn’t feel comfortable yelling out to passersby, but fortunately at another signing, I was the only author present.  My poster of the book cover featuring the beautiful Sandoval sisters attracted plenty of people. My smiling face and period Southwestern garb–including holster–might have helped.

            Women bought my books­–the young and not so young–and I am most grateful to each of them. They asked good questions about the historical period and wanted to know what struggles the sisters had to deal with.  Many of them had never been to New Mexico and had only read period fiction featuring England or France.

            Men were not too interested in my story, even when I talked about the Texas Rangers. Most of them were mansplainers. The Urban Dictionary defines mansplain as, “To explain in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening.”

            One gentleman in a suit and a bowtie asked for a two-sentence elevator pitch. After I gave it to him he replied that the book had the makings of a movie and asked what actresses I had in mind to play the Sandoval sisters. When I mentioned Salma Hayek he got angry and told me she was over the hill.  She has a production company and is reading the book.  He told me not to sell myself short, that Salma Hayek never did anything until she married some rich guy and that I should get a Jewish lawyer to represent me. Then he pounded his fist on my book and told me he could hire a drunk hack to pound out a similar book over a weekend.

            “I’m done here,” I said, and told him he probably needed to get to Church. That stopped his crazy motor for a second. “Church?” he yelled.  I gestured at his suit and bowtie. “Okay, well then the funeral you were going to.” He glared at me and stomped off.

         Later, an athletic-looking middle-aged woman with a masculine haircut, who might have been a women's PE teacher, was particularly enthused over a fictional account of a cross-dressing woman of the old west.  She wanted to buy the book on the cowboy/girl, but the only book for sale was The Sandoval Sisters, one of whom dressed like a man in 1840’s Santa Fe.  She married an older man with whom she had a happy marriage, but when widowed fell in love with her childhood best friend, Monique. This aspect of Pilar is not even a subplot, but part of the spectrum that has always colored not only the west, but Santa Fe. I thought this woman might be interested in this tidbit, but the bowtied gentlemen had knocked the wind out of my sails, and I failed to speak up.

            By the time another woman, also rather jockish, appeared interested in The Sandoval Sisters, I’d had time to pull myself together. She loved the historical detail on the U.S. Mexican War, and the empowered Sandoval sisters dealing with the influx of American soldiers into Santa Fe. She took the details of the arranged marriages for Alma and Pilar in stride, and had no trouble with Pilar wearing men’s clothes for her work with horses.

But when I mentioned her relationship with Monique­­, she snapped her shoulders back and looked disturbed verging on panicked.  She quickly fled.  I obviously need more practice in assessing reader preferences.

            The parents of a ninth grader came by and studied my book. Part of her homework assignment was to interview an author. I learned that history, any history, was not part of her curriculum, so we talked about Manifest Destiny and what that meant in conquering the West, and New Mexico, in particular. She asked good questions and enthused over the book saying she wanted to read it.

            Her parents stood on either side of her. I quoted a recent review in which a reader advised all parents to have their daughters “whether 15 or 65” read The Sandoval Sisters. I should have stopped there . . . or made a safe return to Manifest Destiny. Instead, I said to her parents, “There’s a bit of sex in the book.” Even that wasn’t so bad, but then I felt compelled to add, “But the good thing is that the sisters really enjoyed it.”




Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Creepy Come Ons




Channeling my youth. Awakened thinking of this one:

My bff in hs, Claudette, invited me to visit her older sister who was living in Questa, NM. Her sister had one kid and was expecting another. We took a bus out to Questa which is in the sticks and beautiful country. A small town, lots of mountain scenery.

Her sister's husband was in the armed forces, I don't remember which one, and he'd been wounded. There was something about a plate in his head, but I didn't pay too much attention cause I'd just gotten my license before we left and Claudette's sister owned a '66 Mustang.

Wow, was she insane to let me take that car out on the open road or what? I drove the mountain roads with the pedal to the floor and with both of us squealing as only almost sixteen-year-olds can do. I wheeled around switchbacks skirting the edge until Claudette begged me to stop. Deer and bunnies spread the word to stay off the road.

The husband hadn't been home for a few days. On the bus ride to Questa Claudette shared tidbits she'd picked up about him; he drank and had psychological problems, what we'd term post traumatic stress disorder nowadays, but again adult stuff - not all that interesting.

The house was small and Claudette snored, so I slept on the couch. One night the husband was home. He took us out for burgers, but was mostly quiet during dinner.  In the middle of the night he crept into the living room where I slept. Literally folks, the man was on his hands and knees. I'm a light sleeper, and I'm also near-sighted, but the blurred vision of his stealth crawl is vivid in memory.

He crawled over to the couch and started touching me on top of the blanket, kind of petting me like I was a cat or something. I was totally freaked and pretended to be asleep. He reeked of liquor and mumbled some b.s. I could barely understand telling me I was beautiful and that he wouldn't hurt me. My heart beat so hard it filled my ears and drowned out all other sound.

I've always wondered if my heartsound woke up Claudette's sister. She tiptoed into the living room, but stepped on a squeaky floorboard as she rounded the corner. Busted! He immediately laid down on the floor like he was passed out. She went over to him whispering, and he acted like he didn't know how he got there and that he'd fainted. I was still pretending to be asleep.

I could barely look at them the next day and remember nothing more about our stay there.

Shite like that was always happening to me. For a long time I thought I must have some sort of electromagnetic draw for all the adult creeps in the world.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

People Are Strange

My thoughts are on strangers: a Venetian beauty with the stunned expression Venus should have had when she emerged naked and fully grown from the clamshell; the everyday strangers in one's own family; and my favorite song about being strange.




The Birth of Venus, Botticelli, 1482



My mother enjoyed talking to odd strangers (The Tattoo Lady, Mother and Me) because she could be wacky with them; this embarrassed me to the extreme since I was cultivating a shadow presence. In my inbred and criminal-laden school district, I learned to keep my eyes straight ahead and not speak lest I be accused of giving someone the wrong look of the day. Survival is it's own reward, as is blogging about childhood tortures. Besides, now I’m more like Mom.

In Venice, I stood in a long line for gelato in the Piazza San Marco, and kept my eyes on the server, a young woman whose beauty was dulled by a stunned expression, as if the repeated impact of nothing happening had made her deaf, blind and mute. I wanted to see her smile; an open-mouth laugh would have been a special Venetian treat.

The line moved forward and one tourist after another, and not just Americans, approached her and pointed at the flavor they wanted, sometimes grunting at the same time. I looked behind me; the line stretched into the middle of St. Mark’s Square. Turning back to my creamy gelato lovely it seemed as if her Botticelli eyes barely registered her surroundings.

It was my turn. I smiled and asked her in the Italian that I'd just learned while in the queue to pronounce cioccolata for me. We laughed at my attempts and her smile was enough to make me her slave. I thanked her for serving me, but I’d only taken a few steps away when I glanced back for one last look at a real Botticelli babe. Her robotic expression had returned.

Every encounter is a chance for interaction. Not everyone is open to it, but sharing a laugh with a stranger creates a connection with the world that makes me feel significant, almost like I’ve performed magic, kind of the opposite of Morrison's song.









People are strange when you're a stranger
Faces look ugly when you're alone
People seem wicked when you're unwanted Streets are uneven when you're down
When you're strange, faces come out of the rain When you're strange, no one remembers your name
When you're strange when you're strange when you're str-ange

Jim Morrison
The Doors
1967

Saturday, April 14, 2018

STUCK IN TIME: FORGIVENESS & FORGETTING

 Is it really possible to forgive and forget?


The Tree of Forgiveness
Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1885


Greek legends tell how Phyllis, queen of Thrace, fell in love with Demophoön, king of Melos, who visits her court en route for Athens after the Trojan War, where he had hidden inside the legendary Trojan Horse. He left the court, but when he failed to keep his promise to return within a month, she committed suicide, whereupon Athena, taking pity on her, turned her into an almond tree. Eventually, Demophoön returned to Thrace and, discovering what had happened, embraced the tree, which immediately burst into blossom.

Between you, me, and the almond tree, in the painting above, Demophoön looks as if he doesn't expect to be forgiven.

Memory is very important to me, but I've learned not to hold grudges. Grudges are all about keeping your pain, fear and anger alive. By doing this, you allow the grudge to control you. Your memory is not just a recollection, it's a reenactment. It initializes all your emotions just as if it were happening again, a recording in constant rotation shooting you back in time. In reality there is no time jump, but you are stuck in time.

Forgiving means that the memory no longer has the power to control you, to make you suffer in quite the same way. The blade of memory may make you wince, but you no longer bleed so profusely. You've taken the pain and anger and sorrow into you, but you've released the vilest portion of it, the part that made you feel less than, lowly, vulnerable.

©s. obriant

A lot of bad people did bad things around me and to me and to people I loved when I was a kid, so how did I manage to survive, much less forgive? Forgiveness wasn't this huge benediction bestowed on the evildoers in my life. It was the sure knowledge that I wasn't like those people and didn't want to be like them. This gave me hope.

Lack of forgiveness, grudges, and revenge arise from a lack of hope, a core belief that nothing changes. Change is my mantra.

I never forget, but I have discovered the capacity to forgive by letting go of my fear. Fear makes me sad and my childhood was overlain with fear and sadness which in my teens I camouflaged with anger. Fiery anger can be tinged with righteous purity, masking any true knowledge.

My camouflage worked so well that it took me years to realize that I was still letting fear rule me. Drat! I still had to deal with those memories and how stuck I was in the past. Writing helped me ferret out many of those emotions, examine them in detail, endow my characters with all the depth and nuance of being simultaneously good and bad.


This happened when I had a solid sense of who I am, and knew that the essential Sandra would persevere. The joy I feel in the world starts inside of me and radiates out.

I'm not a Pollyanna, a foolishly optimistic nutcase. I have felt both despair and hope. The memories of both states are not just in my brain. The feelings they generated are buried deep within the muscle tissue, sinews, veins and capillaries of my body. I can activate them. I know where they live.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Unpopular Crow Dies Savagely

The crows are absent (West Nile Virus?). They drove out the pigeons, but what will replace them. Saw a lone, young crow on the telephone wire yesterday. A blue jay was harassing it. There were multitudes in my urban neighborhood in 2009 (see below). Where have the crows gone?



A crow's caw is discordant, but part of our neighborhood backdrop, and easy to ignore. Just now, they set up a racket, the kind that usually heralds their spotting some tasty dog kibble left in the backyard, but this time it was more riotous than usual and was accompanied by a great beating of their wings.

They are big birds and some of them have a 3-foot wing span so if a few of them are together they manage to pound the air and stir things up. A panicked, pleading sound underlay this display, almost like that of puppy being tortured, yet more avian than canine. It was pitiful enough for me to put down my laptop and go investigate.

At first I thought the crows were going after a more mundane bird, but it was one of their own. A giant crow, glossy-black and commanding, was attacking a smaller crow. He was accompanied by three henchmen, and oddly, a bluejay.

The victim flew off, crying and begging, and the others followed. They circled back and the smaller crow tried to move into deeper tree foliage. The bigger one swooped in hard with a premeditated body blow and knocked it off its perch. Then, all of them took turns swooping down on it. It happened so fast and with such a flurry of wings that I couldn't tell for sure if it was being pecked. It managed to right itself and fly off again followed by the crowhood.

The boss's calls were louder than the others and angry, definitely not a dog kibble caw.

They circled back. The blue jay landed on a telephone wire to observe the proceedings. He didn't do any attacking, but still this was crow business, was he crazy?

I tried to keep still, but they simultaneously cocked their heads in my direction. I quickly calculated how fast I could get inside the house (damn you, Alfred Hitchcock!) They flew off into another yard, but I could hear the attack continuing.

What did the smaller, presumably younger, crow do to deserve this punishment?


Thursday, March 29, 2018

INCONSTANT MOON

If they say the moon is blue,
We must believe that it is true.
 Old English Proverb    

                                                                                           
    “It was different in my day.  Kids respected their parents," Mom said. "My mother and father were wonderful.” 

   Her father was a drunk and a pedophile.

   By the time Mom turned five her mother was in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. It happened on the night of a blue moon. No medical opinion rendered, the family suspected witchcraft.

   “My father worked hard and he took care of mother. He only drank for birthdays and religious holidays,” Mom said in his defense. 

    Then I must have a photographic memory for those holy Hallmark days of Grandpa lit up, his eyes and lips shiny, unzipping his pants and grabbing little hands to rest on the hard surprise there. We never told. The aunts and uncles paid no attention to the kids hanging around jolly old Granddad.

    “It only happened once,” Mom says when I remind her that he molested her, too.  “And my mother chased him with a frying pan.”  

    That’s her story and she’s sticking with it. That was the night of the blue moon and her mother never walked again. No more chases with the frying pan: truth waned with the moon.     
      
    “We were happy then,” Mom says.  “Life was simple.” 

    She smiles at her happy-ever-after ending to the story of her life. She’s 83. I still have a life to live, a ways to go, the irresistible pull of the blue moon to fight.


Published in 2007 in Storycircle                              



Sunday, March 25, 2018

Breaking the Rules: Confession and Revelation

Someone recently summed me up when I revealed my Catholic encrusted childhood. That knowledge muddies the waters in any relationship carrying with it preconceived notions of stereotypical neuroses. Guilt is one. Sexual addiction is another. Together they form their own twisted helix of desire and denial. Totally not me. Really.

The question at hand is Breaking the Rules, which for both Catholics and Buddhists segues into confession and revelation. The former lets you off easy, the latter involves learning something about yourself.

My family is sprinkled with sociopaths. Mom taught me how to peek at presents before Christmas and Dad told me the next time Jackie Jan beat me up, I should pick up a brick and hit her on the head. The priest wouldn't give Mom communion when she divorced. She joined the line to the altar anyway and knelt before the priest. He placed the wafer on her tongue. Parish nuns told my aunt it was a sin to take birth control, even when the infant she bore every year had increasingly disturbing problems. Mom drove her to a clinic for birth control. Too afraid of God to accept the medication, my aunt consumed heavy doses of alcohol instead. She drank to the point that my uncle lost interest in bedding her and the babies stopped. Footnote: she became sexually abstinent but my Uncle Benny didn't.

My last confession was when I was twelve. Went with a group of girls and when it was my turn I confessed to playing a kissing game with the boys on my baseball team. I was the only girl on the team. We played baseball everyday, and the kissing was a new and exciting after game activity. I wasn't exactly clear on whether or not it was a sin, but with confession it's better to be safe than sorry. I expected to have to say lots of rosaries, and get on with my day, it being perfect baseball weather. The games lasted until we couldn't see the ball and/or we took an afternoon break and hung out in whoever's house was empty of adults. Revelation: I had a typical Catholic's understanding of the machinery of confession since I had every intention of kissing my team again.

The priest on the other side of the confessional screen had different ideas. He asked me questions about tongues and probing hands in panties. We didn't kiss with tongues. There were no roaming hands. The priest's breath was halting and heavy, too, kind of trembly in an unpriestlike way. Waves of damp heat swept to my side of the confessional. I wasn't sure what was happening. It felt scary, kind of like I was in the bad-man-candy-from-strangers danger zone. I wanted out of there.

Worst of all is I knew it was taking way too long and people were going to start to wonder about Sandra and her Sins. Finally I told him I was feeling sick and he dismissed me in a sad, resigned way with only three Our Fathers and three Hail Mary's. My girlfriends gave me the what the heck squint when I came out. It was so embarrassing.

Confession implies guilt and censorship, but also forgiveness. This confession made me feel guilty. Not for what I'd confessed but for what I had aroused in him. He sinned. I did not.

I lost respect for him. He made me lose faith, not just in adults but in adult religious men.

Revelation involves sharing and openness, and should flow in a natural exchange of thoughts, philosophies, and experiences where unfinished people learn something about each other and themselves.

My last official confession was when I was twelve. Revelation is an ongoing process.


A short story:  Against the Rules