Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Reading with Robin is coming back! The extraordinary Robin Kall talks about author interviews, radio. breakfasts, teas, more--and has a book giveaway!

 How can you not adore someone who loves and promotes books and authors as much as Robin Kall does? (And who also is the warmest, funniest lunch date on the planet?) Robin is Rhode Island’s own book maven. From author interviews to events with best-selling authors, Robin shares her love of books wherever and whenever possible. You can connect with Robin on Facebook.com/readingwithrobin and follow her on Twitter@robinkall, online at http://www.readingwithrobin.com is updated constantly with all new author interviews and bookish information. Watch for news of the return of Reading With Robin radio – coming in January.

And the first three people who go to her site and sign up for her newsletter can nab a galley of Sally S. Hepworth's The Secrets of Midwives, which Robin loves.

I'm thrilled to host Robin here. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Robin.

How exciting that you are returning to radio with your show!  Can you tell us what's going to the same and what might be different?

I am so excited to be bringing Reading With Robin back to radio! What will remain the same is my passion for the books that I love and having the ability to share those with my listeners. I love giveaways and I'll be doing even more of those thanks to the generosity of the wonderful publishers I've been working with all of these  years. The show will still be broken up into chapters. That works well so why mess with it? I will have on debut novelists, beloved favorites and topical books depending on what's going on in the news or in my world. A few things that will be different will be the wonderful sponsors who have signed on to support this show. Too soon to share those now but you'll be hearing a lot about these wonderful people who are as enthusiastic about reading as I am!

I will be adding in a new feature -The Reading With Robin Book of the Month. Not sure that it will be called exactly that, but I will be highlighting one very special book each  month and will invite my listeners to participate by reading it as well and then participating in an on-air book club at the end of the month with the author also on the show. I am open to inviting local book clubs into the studio to get the whole on-air experience. So as not to have any spoilers for the real in depth look at a book I have something set up that will be invite only so those who have read and really want to get into the book will be able to do so. 

One of the additions to the show that I'm really excited about is going to be called "5 Minutes With Your Favorite Author." I'll give authors a chance to come on and talk up their favorite books and give a plug for theirs as well. The author community is so generous about championing others' books so I'd like the listeners to see for themselves what a supportive community it is. I have more but i should leave a few surprises…

You are one of the people who do more for books and authors than just about anyone I know and you are beloved by the book community.  Tell us how you started out, how you built this community--and why such a thing is so important.

Thank you, Caroline. Coming from someone who is most beloved in this community that means so much to me. What a wild story really. I started off in radio as a caller to a local show here in Rhode Island. Talk radio is addictive and as someone with an incredibly addictive personality, I was hooked. I was hooked even more as I started calling in, then becoming friendly with the host (15 years later and we are still best of friends) from there I would go into the studio for special segments and soon enough did a few fill-in hours by myself. Just thinking of those shows gives me chills. I remember thinking "What in the world am I doing here? In this studio. Alone. With all of these buttons on the control board. Oy.” I realized that I would really love to host my own show and knew immediately that the topic would be books/authors/reading -I pitched the idea, got a wonderful sponsor to agree to a show that i had no idea what it would really sound like and Reading With Robin had its first show in November of 2002. 

From that first show I met the nicest people both on-air and at the many events I would host. People who are still in touch today -some who have moved from Rhode Island, but were able to keep on listening through the magic of online streaming. It's really amazing when I stop to think of it. Kindred book-spirits. Wonderful people who attend events, always ask to help out and love being around all of the wonders the book world holds.

Reading will always be important no matter how it is we're reading. I am an old-fashioned reader and perhaps that will change one day but I just don't see it. In the years since I started the show much has changed with the e-readers, book store changes, etc., but what remains is the storyteller and the listener/reader. I like to connect readers and writers. It's a known fact that children who spend a great deal of time reading do better in school and it all starts from there. I enjoy going into the schools during reading week or whenever I am asked. The radio show has given me a platform so that I'm able to spread the message around and make it a lot of fun.

Robin, Susan Jane Gilman, John Searles, Dani Shapiro

You also have an amazing column called Well-Read, which will run every other Saturday, which will give exposure to your favorite books.  So what do you look for in a book?

What matters to you in a book? 

So happy that the column will work so well in conjunction the show. There's only so much I can cover in an hour a week so the column will enhance the show and visa versa (however you spell that) when I sit down with a book, I want to be entertained. Learning a little something is a bonus but mostly I want to get wrapped up in a story so much so that I don't even know what time it is or if Ari (my dog) needs to be walked. I enjoy a book with a sense of humor, not necessarily a funny book but one that's got a clever element or characters who see the world in an amusing way. If that makes any sense. Of course it matters that it's well written and what doesn't matter to me is that it's a book that everyone seems to be reading. I like to bring attention to books that others might not know about. I especially love a fabulous debut novel. That's one of my favorite things to share with my audience.

How do you do all that do?

Timing. I started the show when my children were young (ish) and I managed to do a lot with reading with robin often with their involvement.  Now that they are out of school, working and doing their own thing, i have more time to do mine.  

What's obsessing you now (besides these exciting events) and why?

Right now I'm obsessed with the movie,  The Interview. I want to know when how and if Sony is going to be releasing it. 

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

You asked such great questions so nothing that you should have for sure.  Here are some i love to be asked :  Are you interested in writing a book?  Short answer is yes! Isn't everyone?  I have an idea that I am pursuing so fingers crossed! 

How do you manage social media with your reading and prep for the show? 

I do my best but it's an issue. I am a social person so having the ability to tweet out a message, answer a few, check for Facebook messages and running into funny videos and the like -it's a bit distracting. I am working on prioritizing. I have a feeling I'll be working on that for a while. 

Will you be hosting Reading with Robin events outside of Rhode Island?

Yes! Last summer I had the pleasure of hosting the Grand Central Station writers in NYC and on Long Island and I would love to do more of that. With the radio show available on I heart radio and the web site traffic I am meeting more and more readers from all over so when there are enough readers to support an event, I'll be happy to tour around. One of the great things about having so many incredible author friends is that when I decide to host an event in another state-I'll just see who is around and plan a party!

What do you have coming up in 2015 in Rhode Island ?

In case anyone's travel plans will be taking them to Rhode Island or points north please keep these in mind:  January 31st -Tea with Jane Green to celebrate Saving Grace
May 5th -Sarah Mccoy is kicking of her tour of the mapmaker's children here in Rhode Island and I'm hosting her in conjunction with Brown University

May 16th- I am hosting the May breakfast for Reading Across Rhode Island's celebration of Derek Miller's Norwegian by Night. This is the 5th year in a row that I'm hosting this Rhode Island tradition of an event and I've been involved with the reading across Rhode island project since its inception in 2002.  Summer events are in the works and some very exciting ones coming up but I can't share yet!

Wednesday, Oct 7th is my annual An Evening With Authors which raises money and awareness for breast cancer awareness month. I do have this year's authors all set but not sure I should share yet. Hint -they're really great!!

And hopefully the fall will bring with it the release of Adriana Trigiani's long awaited movie release of Big Stone Gap! She has promised a big red carpet Rhode Island extravaganza so I'll be ready to plan that as soon as I get the word. I'm on 'stand-by!'

Monday, December 22, 2014

Tim Johnston talks about his amazing DESCENT, the surprise of writing a literary thriller, and so much more

 Descent is the kind of novel where you hold your breath while you are reading. It's also the kind of novel where the sentences are so gorgeous, you want to underline them. The story of a family torn apart when their daughter vanishes after a morning run, it's harrowing, heartbreaking and tense.

Tim Johnston is also the author of the Young Adult novel Never So Green, and the short story collection, Irish Girl, the stories of which won an O. Henry Prize, the New Letters Award for Writers, and the Gival Press Short Story Award, while the collection itself won the 2009 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. In 2005 the title story, “Irish Girl,” was included in the David Sedaris anthology of favorites, Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. Tim’s stories have also appeared in New England Review, New Letters, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, Double Take, Best Life Magazine, and Narrative Magazine, among others. He currently teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Memphis.

1) I’m always interested in the origins of an idea. What sparked the book? How did the final story differ from your original idea?

For most of my adult life, I've made my living as a carpenter, and this book—or the characters—came to me at a time when I was actively not trying to write.  I had all but completely cut myself off from all things writerly, publishy, agenty, by driving a truckload of tools up to the Rocky Mountains and throwing myself into completing all the finish work on a vacation house my father and stepmother had built up there.  I'd been up in those mountains—way up there, on the far downslope of the Great Divide—for months, all by myself, working away, when this family of four began to make themselves known to me.  Of course I did my best to ignore them, but they persisted, and grew more and more distinct in my mind, until one day I set down my paintbrush and said, OK, and opened up my laptop and began to write.  All I knew about them then was that they, like me, had driven up to the Rockies from the Midwest, and that this common American undertaking was going to prove to be the worst kind of turning point in their lives. 

I had in mind a story that dwelt in the aftermath of incredibly bad luck: how a family goes on with their lives once the headlines have faded and the world has moved on.  I had not intended to have a concurrent story about the missing daughter—about her singular, personal struggle to survive.  I also had an ending in mind that I thought I was writing toward until, after a long long period of paused writing, I realized I no longer wanted to reach—that that ending simply would not do for the characters I'd come to know so well. The concurrent story of the daughter contributed to this realization that I couldn't end the novel as I'd intended to, and when I finally understood another way to end it, I wrote very quickly and efficiently until the book was, suddenly, done.  

From a craft point of view, I do believe that because I didn't know the ending—or only thought I knew the ending—the characters and the plot have a less...guided feel to them than might otherwise have been the case.  In other words, I think that my surprise translates into a greater sense of surprise in the reader.

2) You’ve been praised for your ability to make the novel both highly literary and yet also a grab-you-by-the-throat thriller. Is any of this a conscious decision?

The "thriller" aspect of the novel was definitely not a conscious decision.  When you spend six years writing a book, it does not feel exactly like a grab-you-by-the-throat project; it feels the opposite of that—very plodding, very painstaking.  Also, all my training and ambition have always been in literary fiction, and I had no conscious awareness of having a knack for the suspense, or thriller genre, except that I'd loved such books before I went to college and learned that the smarty-pants world makes a distinction between a great read and great writing.  With Descent, I was mainly trying to tell the best story I could, at the maximum reach of whatever literary skills I'd learned.  That said, I did not want to write a so-called quiet literary novel, but wanted to write a novel with a compelling storyline—even a "commercial" one: a story that would appeal to more than the MFA holders of America.  I do think that much of the suspense of the novel came after I had a first draft in hand and I'd begun re-organizing the material, and working with the first readers and editors.  Only then—hearing from these readers and editors—did I begin to realize that this might be one of those books that keep people up past their bedtimes.  And I'm OK with that.

3) The structure of the story is so effortless, and so absorbing that I was wondering about the way you write. Do you plan things out in advance or just follow your pen? Are you an outliner? Do you have rituals?

Definitely NOT an outliner!  Beyond the opening events of the novel—what is now the prologue-like section subtitled "The Life Before"—I really didn't know what would fill all that middle space between a novel's beginning and its end.  The way I proceeded, after that opening section was finished, was to follow the character who interested me most, and that character turned out to be the father, Grant Courtland.  So I stayed with him and wrote his story—perhaps a hundred pages worth.  Then I did the same thing with his son Sean, then his daughter Caitlin, and lastly his estranged wife Angela.  The novel's plot hinges on the fate of Caitlin, but it was the four-way story of survival that most interested me and kept me going.  Once I understood how to end the novel, the last 100 pages or so were written much as they now appear, structure-wise; but one of the real pleasures of revising this book was figuring out how to braid those four earlier story lines together for the most compelling and, yes, suspenseful narrative.

I do have one ritual, which is to read good fiction whilst I drink my coffee in the morning.  When I realize I'm no longer processing the words in front of me, but have spun off into my own sentences, I know it's time to get to work.  

4) There’s so much in this extraordinary novel about how life can change in a second, how, in a way, there are parallel lives we could have led if not for one action that occurred. Could you talk about this please?

Well, I think this is something that fascinates all of us humans: this sense of awe at the little accidents and seemingly innocuous choices that lead us to where we one day find ourselves, wonderful or horrible as that place may be.  Some folks call this process Fate, or attribute it to the will and designs of a higher power, while others, like me, tend to believe that most of the things that have happened to the inhabitants of this planet—and to the planet itself since before it was even a planet—have been the result of accidents and natural laws, among which is the law of randomness. When something really terrible happens, we humans instinctively review events in reverse, and we can't help but imagine what would have been if only we hadn't done this, or done that—or if this random thing on its own trajectory hadn't intersected with our own.  In the novel, some characters struggle with faith, while others look to the randomness of the world to give back what it hath taken away—and indeed the plot does operate on the belief that just about any damn thing is possible.

Personally, I look back on the little accidents and innocuous-seeming decisions that led me to go work on that house in the Rocky Mountains, without which there never would have been the Courtlands, or this novel, period.

5) What’s obsessing you now and why?

Presently I'm kind of obsessed with time.  It took me so long to write this novel, and certain parties are already asking, Where's the next one?  I know that the time I took has much to do with the kind of book I wrote, and I wonder if I have the time to take my time again.  I mean, the world spins on, and there's all kinds of crazy shit out there just waiting to happen, and yet I'm a creature of a certain arrogance, or willful ignorance, that tells itself it has all the time in the world!

6) What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

What's it like to spend six years writing a novel, and then have to wait another 2.5 years after it's been bought before it's actually published?

A: It blows.

I talk to author Chris Jane about the effects of having a hit debut followed by 8 failures and then a NYT bestseller, what I won't write about, and much more

Thanks to Chris Jane for interviewing me for her wonderful 5 ON series

You post pictures around your writing area of people who represent your characters. I assume (maybe incorrectly?) you find the faces after you’ve imagined your characters. Has there been a time when looking at a picture has made you add or change something about a character – or even the story – because of what you saw in the picture (a scar, maybe, or a look in the eye)?

I start out with a vague image of the character. I might know that a character has frizzy blonde hair, and then I do a search until a photo speaks to me. I just know that’s the character. And yes, a photo can absolutely change things. I found a photo of this old woman with white braids wrapped about her head, but she looked so confident in the photo that I gave that confidence to my character!

What aspect of writing presents the greatest challenge to you, and has what challenges you changed over the course of your writing career?

Finding the right idea. I always have to have something new that I want to work on when I am finishing a novel because I hate that blank stage when you have no ideas at all and you start thinking that you may never write anything else except a grocery list! A lot of times I have an idea and it’s not the right one, but working on it will lead me to it. I spent months on this new idea and then during a conversation with a friend at lunch, I suddenly had this other idea that I was obsessed with!

Sometimes ideas just don’t work. I have the first chapter of a novel I’ve been trying to write for ten years, now, and I just cannot make it work. Sometimes it takes time. Is This Tomorrow was also one of those ten-years-can’t-make-it-work novels, and then suddenly, I was able to. I have no idea why. Maybe it was because I stopped stressing about it so much!

Imagine a world in which only one book from every author is allowed to exist for the rest of humanity’s time on earth. Which single book of yours from the last fifteen years do you save, and why?

Pictures of You. Because so much of that book is about my son when he was little–not that he is anything like the character, not that he has asthma (he doesn’t), but the love between one of the characters and that boy was and is the way I feel about my son.

If you’re stuck on what a character’s specifically worded response will be, or not sure what a character will do next, what do you do to move forward? How do you find that response or behavior?

Sometimes I try to imagine it as a movie. I write it as a script. I might say the lines out loud. I might try to go for “the negation of the negation”–which is finding what would be the absolute worst thing to happen to the character at that moment that would force the character to act or change.

What won’t you write about in a novel, and why?

I wouldn’t want to write a novel from the viewpoint of a serial killer or a rapist or a child molester. Those things, to me, are unforgivable crimes and you have to find the humanity in your characters. I don’t think I could.

You mention in a 2013 Psychology Today interview that Cruel, Beautiful World had just been bought by your publisher. Has your publisher ever rejected a novel you’ve submitted since taking you on as a client?  And if one is rejected, what happens to it?

Ah, see my response to this question below. The only other thing I would add is that Algonquin has bought both books I’ve submitted. If they rejected one, my agent would send it to other publishers. If they rejected it, it would go in a drawer, I would be deeply upset and cry, and then I would start writing something new.

Your first novel, Meeting Rozzy Halfway, had the kind of success that most authors dream their first novel will find. Were you surprised by it, and how, if at all, did that kind of attention affect your approach to your next book?

It was a total shock. I had enough rejection slips to paper the Empire State Building, and as a fluke I entered a story into the then very prestigious Redbook Young Writers’ Contest. I never thought I had a chance in hell, but I won first prize. And then an agent came calling, and then they sold a book deal on the basis of that story. That whole first year was magic. I was on TV, radio, everywhere, BUT little did I know that that is not how it goes all the time. My next book came out and my publisher went out of business so the book died. Same thing with book three and four. Then I signed with a big publisher for a two book deal, and they did no publicity and both books died. Then I signed with another publisher for a three book deal. The third book was Pictures of You and they rejected it as not being “special enough.” I asked if I could write something else for them, and they said, “No, we don’t think that will be special, either.” I was heartsick! It was my 9th novel, and outside of Rozzy, I had no sales at all. No one would want me. I was sure of it. So I cried to my friends, and one had this editor she loved at Algonquin, and she told her editor about my book. I sent her the book, and a few weeks later, I had a new publisher, who took that “not special” book and turned it into a NYT bestseller!

So now, I approach every book as simply that–a book I am writing. It may do well. It may not do well. It’s luck, timing, and a lot of other forces in play that no writer can control.

You write guest posts, you’re interviewed, you interview others, and you’ve appeared on television. What has worked best for you – outside of appearing on national TV programs like the Today Show – in terms of gaining visibility?

Social media! Facebook and Twitter are fabulous for interacting with people. I’ve met movie people there, other authors who I’ve been lucky enough to meet in person. It’s a water-cooler for writers! I’ve found the more open and honest and kind you are, the more those qualities are returned to you!

There can be a lot of imagined competition in the writing world (I say “imagined” because each writer is so different, and there’s so much reading space, that there’s little to compete for), and there’s also a kind of hierarchy. But you, a NYT best-seller who is well established and high on the totem, seem happy to promote other, some of them much lesser-known, writers and give some of your time to sites like this one. Why?

I’m glad you asked this question. There is indeed a lot of competition in the writing world–who made what list, who got what prize, who got what. And it makes writers crazy. Plus, if you look at the lists, it’s all really a matter of taste and the times, and who got the biggest publicity budget. I’m also a book critic at People, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Boston Globe, and you have no idea how many wonderful, amazing novels come through my door and they don’t get reviewed because there is so little space for reviews. (I don’t make the decisions on what gets reviewed, by the way. My editors do.)

I felt awful about this, and I decided it would be my mission to help lesser-known writers and, really, any writer. I gave over my blog to interviewing writers, which meant I could also interview writers who are my friends (you can’t review your friends because it is considered unethical). And I could spread the word about books I loved. The blog has grown and grown and it makes me feel great to help others.

I was helped a lot by other writers in my career–and hurt, too. One writer actually wrote a piece about writers who don’t deserve to make the NYT list and said “Sorry, Caroline Leavitt” in the piece! I was dumbfounded! Another writer wrote a piece about why she wouldn’t blurb a particular book–and it was obvious that it was my book! I determined I didn’t want to be that way. I believe in karma, and kindness, and I think you can really change the world by being kind, by helping others, by all these little acts to help others.

What advice would you give a class of writing students about the business of publishing?

NEVER EVER EVER GIVE UP. Really. Things can change in an instant. Publishing is a weird and fickle business, but it’s good to remember that The Help was rejected 60 times. And so were a lot of really fine books. Remember Van Gogh died penniless and unknown, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a genius.

Write for yourself, not for the market. If you write for readers, it sounds fake. If you write the book that you yourself need to read, then you will hit something universal and wonderful and important.

Connect with other writers on social media! Be kind. Pay it forward.

And never give up. Never. Never. Never.

Thank you, Caroline.

Readers: If you enjoy this or any of the other 5 On interviews and have writer or reader friends you think might also enjoy them, please share! The series is just getting started and there’s a terrific list of interview subjects ahead.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hope Katz Gibbs talks about PR RULES: THE PLAYBOOK, paying it forward, the 8 steps to success, and more

Every writer on the planet knows how important a great publicist, and marketing team are. I call mine at Algonguin "the gods and goddesses" and I know how incredibly lucky I am to have them. But what if you don't have a spectacular team in place? That's where the fabulous Hope Katz Gibbs comes in. Her PR RULES: THE PLAYBOOK, THE ENTREPRENEUR'S GUIDE TO SUPERSIZING YOUR SMALL BUSINESS WITH THE 8 STEPS TO SUCCESS has tips, practical advice, and truly out-of-the-box solutions that anyone who needs promotion will find incredibly helpful. And what I love best about the book is that it's full of heart, too.
Hope has an amazing background. She founded Inkandescent Group LLC, a publishing company dedicated to helping entrepreneurs through public relations, marketing, design, website development, and book publishing. She's also the founder of Inkandescent Public Relations. This public relations / publications / media relations / marketing / website & design agency helps entrepreneurs from around the country increase their visibility through interview published in newspapers and magazines, TV and radio, and by reaching out to their clients through monthly e-newsletters.
And that's not all! She publishes the monthly online magazine Be Inkandescent. In each issue, a high-profile entrepreneur is featured, and more than a dozen columnists share their insights into best practices in their industries. Columns include: book reviews, cooking tips, education, events, fashion, finance, fine art, health care, immigration, insurance, law, leadership, management, medicine, networking, nonprofits, travel, wine, and more. 

And Hope is also working on a new book, Truly Amazing Women Who Are Changing the World.
 I'm thrilled to host Hope here. Thank you so much, Hope.

I love the way this book is structured, which is unlike any other PR book I’ve seen. Not only does it have a gorgeous, playful cover, but also the inside is so easy to use, and no matter where you flip the page, there’s gold. It has real-life hands-on tips and the underlying message is always based on being true to yourself and to your product. It’s filled with personal stories and interviews, too. But what I loved most were all the positive messages in the book, which I feel can be used for living your best life as well as doing your best PR, such as taking time to play, letting people know the real, true you, and more. Can you talk about how you came to have this structure?

Hope: How wonderful of you to say that! When I embarked on this book project three years ago, I knew that I wanted to impart the lessons I’ve learned in the 30 years I’ve been a journalist, publicist, and small business owner. Teaching people just how to get into the news barely scratches the surface of what it means to do PR well – much less grow a business. So we took a broad view and included as much insight as possible to help readers know that like a good life — good PR for your business is the fun stuff. So play with it, and use the Playbook as a guide.

I love your 8 steps, especially pay it forward. Why don’t more people realize how important a step this is? And are there creative ways to do this?

Hope: This step is definitely important, but I want to encourage people to get creative and think twice (three or four times really) before starting a nonprofit. It’s a natural instinct to want to do that, but that would be starting another business — and nonprofits are very tough to manage. Plus, there are 1.5 million nonprofits in the country already — so if you are inclined to donate time and money, find an organization that already is does what you want to do in the philanthropic world, and volunteer.

Indeed, it’s possible to pay it forward in a myriad of ways. For us, we walk the talk through our InkandescentInternships.com program. We just opened an office in Richmond (November 1, 2014) to work with students at Virginia Commonwealth University, which is the number one public arts school in the country. These kids are talented, and five of them are working for us for college credit and a stipend. One of them is going to be our new assistant editor when she graduates in December. That’s a win-win-win — which is another one of our basic tenets of PR Success (we win, the students win, and the world wins).

I also loved that you included Dr. Esther Sternberg’s ways to heal, how dealing with stressful situations can not only make you stronger, but can help you empathize with others and how that can build credibility. Can you talk about this please?

Hope: I met Esther years ago when we were both members of the National Press Club, and she’d just released her first book, “The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health & Emotions.” It was back in 2000, and she was a researcher at NIH at the time, and I was a freelance writer and mom of two little kids.

Reading her book made me breath a sigh of relief, because her hypothesis — that a healthy spirit will result in a healthy body — dovetailed with what I’d learned back in 1993 when I became a Certified Massage Therapist.

Her subsequent book, “Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well Being,” investigates whether the world actually makes us sick — whether jarring colors and sounds shake up the healing chemistry in the mind.

These ideas fit perfectly into our approach to thinking about business in a holistic way. We maintain that “entrepreneurs are people, too,” and indeed — small business owners are only successful when they are healthy in mind, body, and spirit. I have long known that the more calm, confident, and comfortable I am in my own skin — the more successful my company will be. That’s true for everyone.

And as Esther points out, stress isn’t always bad — especially if it makes you empathetic to those around you. So here’s how I see the process working:

    The more I can empathize with my clients, their clients, the markets I’m appealing to — as well as our team, vendors, and subcontractors — the more compassionate I can be.

    The more compassion I have, the more tuned up my intuition will be regarding making the right choices … everything from where to advertise to how to pitch a client, to what should be on their website.

    Ultimately making those choices well makes for good decision-making.

    And that builds credibility.

What mistakes do authors make in publicizing themselves?

Hope: I love working with authors, but too many of them don’t have a grasp on the business of books. Unless you have a national bestseller, odds are good that you aren’t going to make a lot of money on your book. Even if you do have a bestseller, the way traditional publishing is set up — you aren’t going to make zillions.

If you self-publish nonfiction book that shows off your expertise, the game is different. If it’s a good book (which, of course, is the key), you will likely break even, or even earn a bit. But the key is to use the book as a marketing tool for your business. There’s more money in selling your services than there is in selling a $10 or $25 book.

No matter if the book is fact or fiction, be authentic about your promotion. Share tidbits from it on social media, spread the word to local reporters, and take as many speaking opportunities as possible to talk about the wisdom you have to share with the world.

You do a fabulous job with this, and thank you for sharing your strategy in our Q&A in the book! See page 35.

When people think about PR, they think about working 90 hours a day and being in high stress. So tell us about the importance of play?

Hope: It’s the number one thing to focus on, I believe. The older I get, the more time I take to play every day. Even when I’m working, I’m having fun. Monthly meetings with my interns are pizza parties. I like having business meetings at happy hour. When I’m in Richmond, I ride my bike to work every day and take a new route when I bike home in the evenings. When I’m stressed, and the weather is nice, I bike to a new place and look up at the sky.

Life is so short, and we spend much of it trying to figure out how to accomplish the things that so often aren’t easy — like building a business, managing a team, writing a book, and having a family. Even though these things are important, if we don’t take time to have fun … what’s the point?

So here’s my challenge to you: Do one fun thing every day this week and post the list to your Facebook page. Then challenge all of your friends to do the same. Let’ start a fun revolution. At the very least, you’ll generate grins and “likes.” That’s pretty fun in itself.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Hope: Ah, obsession. Just as having more fun is something that I am trying to embrace — letting go of my obsessions is another goal. I must admit that opening an office and buying a house to live in while I’m in Richmond was a pretty fun obsession. And now that I’ve accomplished that goal, I’m really trying to let go, enjoy where I am, and be in the flow. Can staying calm and cool be an obsession?

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

Hope: Maybe, what is my goal for the book? Because, of course, I want to sell copies. And I want to do PR workshops around the country. And I want to take on clients interested in hiring me as a PR Coach.

But mostly, I want more people to enjoy playing with their PR. Yes, it’s hard work to spread the word about what you do, and it’s hard to make a business grow. But so what? People much smarter than me have told us that everything worth having is worth fighting for. Why not enjoy the ride?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Larry Baker talks about The Education of Nancy Adams, the persistence of love, and why "obsessive" just might be his middle name

Larry Baker has been a Pinkerton security guard, master-of-ceremonies at a burlesque club, the owner of an Oklahoma drive-in theater, and is now an acclaimed author.  He's the author of The Flamingo Rising, which was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie and was chosen to be Iowa’s selection in the National Book Festival held in the fall in Washington DC; Athens, America; Love and Other Delusions; A Good Man: and The Education of Nancy Adams, where a young woman discovers that her new boss is her old teacher, a man she adored when she was 17.

I'm thrilled to host Larry here. Thank you, Larry.

I always want to know what sparked a particular book? What was the question haunting you that drove you to write?

A convergence of events. The basic black/white racial story comes from my time living in St. Augustine, FL, back in the 1990’s. Nancy remembers seeing a newspaper story about the two high schools in her town, showing pictures of the graduating seniors at the downtown versus suburban school...one lily white, the other more racially mixed. That was St. Augustine. That contrast was a “story” to me, but I did not have the characters.  Throw in the recurring stories about high school teachers having sex with students. I started with just Russell and Dana to personify that angle, but I always knew their relationship was only gossip. How about older man/younger woman, but without the passion, but who still have to suffer the consequences. Perception the same as reality. But that version was still missing something. Nancy Adams was a minor character in the first few drafts, but then I thought she should be elevated to the role of narrator, but not necessarily participant...ala Nick Caraway. As other writers know and you yourself have probably experienced...sometimes a character gets out of your control and takes over. That was Nancy for me. Trying to understand her as a character, led to a  spontaneous realization by me....Nancy was in love with Russell, but he was not in love with her. And THAT absolutely intrigued me. Nancy evolved from Chorus in the other story to the lead role in her own story, a woman trapped in her emotional past who is literally sent back into her adolescent “home.” She had loved, and lost, and it took 20 years for her to understand that, and then only through the intercession of a younger woman.

Your book has a tantalizing premise--a woman is going to work for someone she loved when she was 17 and now she’s 37. There is something about the persistence of love that is mesmerizing. Do you think it is really possible that we change, but the love does not?

I started this answer in my response to your first question. For me, love is like God. You do not know God through your mind or through the laws of a rational world. There is no proof for God, only Faith. There is no explanation for love (sex intensifies love, but it is not the same thing). You believe in God, or you do not. You experience love, or not.  You cannot “will” yourself to truly believe. You cannot “will” yourself to truly fall in love. And love, like faith, can be lost. But their loss in one’s life does not mean that God and love do not exist, merely that you have changed. Something from the outside has blocked the Faith in your Soul, or the Love in your Heart.  (Oh, geez, I think I just went too far sappy and purple prosy.)

What I love about your writing is the depth of character. How do you build your characters?

I don’t have a process or technique that fits all the time. I abhor clich├ęd characters, so my first goal is to fit a character to a situation, knowing full well that the world is not full of 3 billion one-of-a-kinds. We are all versions of a type. The trick for the writer is to make the type...not necessarily unique, but certainly individual. (Old definition of art in general: “To make the familiar unfamiliar.”) As you write, like in life, a character does not develop in a vacuum. I’ve already described a little of Nancy’s evolution as a character. From minor to major. But as I was re-writing her, I had to go back and figure out the “why” of her behavior.  Everyone has a past, and we are the combination of that experience and an evolved intellect.  Nancy lost her beloved father early in her life. She fell in love with an older man. She married an older man. All sorts of daddy issues. As I was working on that theme, I remembered another important dead white male father figure for American historians. Nancy Flynn became Nancy Adams. (Private pun alert...I named Nancy’s parents Charles and Frances, ala Henry Adams’ father Charles Francis Adams). So, as I was fleshing out Nancy’s character I was also expanding on the theme of how we are all shaped by history, as well as sometimes trapped by history.  To be free from the men in her life, she also has to be free of the intellectual ghost of Henry Adams. She has to literally become his teacher by the end of the book. I know, I know, this is the sort of self-conscious machinations that reveal an effort to write a “serious” book. But even that serious theme has to be hidden for the book to be enjoyable. Nancy is a smart woman but she has never given herself credit for her own intelligence. She is educated and insightful about others, but she still requires the intervention of Dana to finally understand herself. I know there is a “coming of age” fiction category, but I wonder if there is an “adult coming of age” genre. That is Nancy’s story.    |

What kind of writer are you? Do you outline? Do you have rituals? Do you wait around for the pesky Muse?

I do not believe in Muses. And inspiration is over-rated. My literary hero is Flannery O’Connor, and she said it best: "I’m a full-time believer in writing habits…You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away…Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place."

I am no genius, and my limited talent requires constant practice. Until my wife retired recently, I was able to work six hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year, and could produce 300 pages a year. With her being home, my routine has become more irregular, and less productive. So she and I have agreed that a laptop computer is on my Christmas list and I will be finding an outside location to go back to writing as much as I did before. But, on a good day, I start by re-reading anything I wrote the day before, and then I warm up and start putting words on the screen. Rituals? None, except that I drink a lot of coffee and stay in my office with the doors closed. I seldom do outlines beyond a basic plot direction and a list of characters and their basic traits. I live in Iowa City, home of the Writers Workshop, but I am not a WW graduate. I have been writing since I was fifteen. I do not belong to any writer groups. I write a complete first draft before I do any significant revisions. The first draft of NANCY was written in 1998. The final draft was written in 2013. Put the two versions side by side, you would be amazed by how different they are. Of course, in between 1998 and 2013, I wrote and published three other novels.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

I am getting self-conscious about my age (67) starting to dull some of my writing skills, and I am trying to juggle two manuscripts I have currently started. I need to make a decision soon and focus on one only. I have a frame story written, about a dying publisher and his assistant editor (tentative title WINDSOR HOUSE, opening lines: “Suicide would have been an understandable gesture, if everyone knew the truth, but Bobby Beaumont had a secret, so he told the Germans to go to hell.”), and a mysterious manuscript they have received. The dying editor turns it over to his assistant (amid the crisis of a German conglomerate buying their parent company), and she discovers that the unfinished manuscript is actually about the editor, written about a love affair of his, with a married woman. That mysterious manuscript is the “story within the story” and it is still to be written, although I do have the opening lines: “I was stealing a book when he caught me. I was twelve. He was sixteen. I was taller than him, and I always would be.”

I want to write a book about the question of whether the book business itself is dying or merely being transformed. Or, have we merely romanticized what was always simply a business? Obsessive? Might be my middle name.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?"

Here’s what I get asked at every reading I have ever had for this book: “How were you able to write from a woman’s point of view?”

Should you ask this question? I sorta think you already know the answer.

The Bard and women behind bars: Jean Trounstine talks about Shakespeare Behind Bars: The Power of Drama in a Women's Prison

Jean Troustine is a professor of humanities at Middlesex Community College  and is the co-founder of the women's branch of Changing Lives Through Literature, an educational alternative to prison. She's been featured everywhere from The Today Show to The Connection

She published a book of poetry, Almost Home Free, and co-edited the New England best-seller, Why I’m Still Married: Women Write Their Hearts Out On Love, Loss, Sex, and Who Does the Dishes. Jean is on the steering committee of the Coalition for Effective Public Safety in Massachusetts and is currently working on a new book about the tragedy of sentencing juveniles to adult prisons.

 Shakespeare Behind Bars: The Power of Drama in a Women's Prison, focuses on six women's lives at Framingham Prison and how they were changed by art.  I'm honored to host Jean here.

What made you decide to teach at Framingham Women’s Prison? Were you frightened?

I decided to teach in prison because I was offered the job to teach a college class behind bars. Being an adventurer I thought it would be different, a step up (I taught high school at the time), and I was happy to make the extra $$$. I was never frightened, not of the women. There were a few COs who scared me from time to time.

What surprised you the most about your prison experience? (i.e. how does TV and movies get it so wrong?)

My classes at Framingham often felt more like just women hanging out together with the added plus of academics. The women were regular people who had made bad choices or had bad luck or got caught up with the wrong guy. I think what I wrote in the book was probably more clearly said, but the idea is that they were Shakespearean as well in their dramas and tragic flaws. But movies and TV either diminish women's issues, turn human beings into caricatures, comedy acts, or monsters--I have yet to see a movie or TV show that accurately portrays a female behind bars.

You and I have talked about how women’s prison is so very different than men’s. Can you talk about it here for our readers?

The easiest way to think about this is like so: women bring their whole selves behind bars as do men. What issues we see in men on the outside (don't cry/be tough/loyalty is all/don't snitch) we see on the inside in many cases--but not all of course. Women --80% are mothers--do time "more emotionally" than men. A man might stab you but a woman might pee in your perfume bottle. Women want companionship, connection, community. Both men and women are lonely and most people do want to change--many more than the public thinks. In my opinion, many people absolutely do not need prison; we sentence people for way too long; punitive sentencing doesn't rehabilitate. Treatment and programs do.

Art and education can give hope and can offer redemption. So why are some prisons so loathe to put this into practice?

Education and expression are the opposite of conformity, containment, and repression. The goal of prison is to incapacitate not to allow freedom. But stats show the more education one has, the less likely they are to return to crime. So go figure.

Why was Shakespeare especially the right choice for these women?

If you can understand and embody a Shakespearean character, you can do anything :). Seriously-- I feel challenge is the key to growing and becoming all that we can be. And, as I said above, their lives often seemed Shakespearean to me.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Mass incarceration and how to stop it. Our punishment system is out of control and unfair to poor people and people of color. I'm writing a book about a former prisoner due in 2015 which will show the injustice of how we treat juveniles as adults in terms of sentencing. I also blog at Justice with Jean: jeantrounstine.com. Speaking of obsession, I tweet too about it @justicewithjean.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

How can you help? Begin by seeing that most people do not want to be drug addicts, commit crime, or leave their families to do time behind bars. There is always a story behind a person who has been incarcerated. Look for the humanity and how we can fix this system. Paraphrasing Angela Davis from a talk I heard last year: prisons are incubators for outdated ideologies. The prison itself creates much of the problem, but the people need your compassion.