A Self-Publishing Writer’s Role Model. Introducing . . .

Posted by admin on Saturday Sep 22, 2012 Under Uncategorized

. . . Erika Robuck.

Three years ago when I was fishing around for what to do with my novels now that I was living so far from anything that could in any way resemble a publishing metropolis, I came across a few brave souls, pioneers, pushing forward on the vast prairies of self-publishing.

One of those very brave souls was the lovely young woman you see on the left. I read her very first blogs about her self-published women’s fiction novel Receive me Falling and ideas started percolating in my head. A voice started whispering, You can do this, Jane.

In those days before e-books, the perils of self-publishing were really daunting. Along with worrying about whether you were kamikaze-ing any future career you might wish to have or whether your book would ever be permitted to go onto the shelves of brick and mortar stores, you had to make several other decisions. Should you create your own publishing house? Should you go with one of the self-publishing firms? There were not a lot of people out there to help, and besides, you had to deal with utter contempt from anyone remotely associated with traditional publishing. And it cost big bucks.

My, how times have changed.

For the next couple of weeks, I’m going to write about the women who inspired me, who still inspire me. Today, it’s Erika.

After the birth of her first son, Erika’s life-long desire to write surfaced, and during her son’s naptimes, she completed Receive Me Falling , set on a haunted Caribbean sugar plantation.

Her son’s naptimes? Dear Lord. That in itself is inspiring, don’t you think?

After many revisions, she began the agent-query, request-for-partial, dead-silence-plus-rejection level of Dante’s Inferno that all writers are required to go through.

Her problem she began to realize from agent responses had less to do with the book than with the fact that she had no publishing credentials, no platform.

When her husband suggested she self-publish the book, she hesitated. That old stigma thing, again.

Long story short: she DID self-publish (see book cover on right). She did create a platform for herself by blogging and getting book clubs to read her novel and so on. She did create a path for other writers far away from the center of the publishing universe, so they could move forward. Thank you, Erika.

And it’s not just writers who benefit, it’s readers. There are stories you might never have heard, set in places that have never seen the light of day or the dark of printer’s ink—like my story set in Mexico, in the Condesa/ Roma neighborhood— had writers like Erika Robuck not done all this hard, scary work.

To tell you the truth, I have only recently started thinking about these women who’d inspired me. I’ve been caught up in learning to pod-cast and blog and completing all the tasks necessary to get an e-book on AMAZON. It wasn’t until I started to get close to the end that I began to remember that distant past before e-books, before iPads and Kindles, before all the wonderful writing sites and book reviewing sites.

In fact, I was reading one of my favorite book reviewing sites—Goodreads— when the book cover you see on the left popped up.

Well, I’ll be darned if it wasn’t Erika Robuck. The novel-in-progress she’d been blogging about when I last checked in had found a traditional publisher—Penguin/NAL. It was something she always wanted, and she made it happen.

If this sounds like an OPRAH moment, it is.

Anyway, you can Google Erika Robuck and read about her books and her story on her own blog. She also has lots of book reviews on that blog and interviews with writers, so if you’re looking for something to read you can get a recommendation that way.

There are going to be many, many new ways for writers and readers to connect in the future. This is especially important for voices that tend to be marginalized—women, minorities, people in rural and even suburban areas and even older people. Maybe ESPECIALLY older people. See next week’s blog about Elle Newmark who was 60 when she first published. You see, everything is changing, and I feel thrilled to be a part of this change. One small step for Jane . . .

What’s that dictum? Be the change you want to see in the world.

Okay, so what are you going to change?

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The whole story broke when I was in Mexico, and since everyone else seems to have weighed in on Amy Chua’s childrearing practices, I’m thinking why not me?

My room in the Villa Condesa

As we all know by now I’m a terrible insomniac, so when I woke up at two or so in the morning in a room not unlike the one my character Lili in Palace of the Blue Butterfly would also wake up in, I grabbed my i pad and clicked on the New York Times. Well, not first thing. First, I lay there listening to the sounds of the city around me, feeling the winter cold in the high-ceilinged 19th century building. After I was pretty sure I’d gotten the setting right in my book, after I’d sort of experienced the veracity, shall we say, of my words, THEN I turned on my computer and checked the Times. There it was —all the brouhaha about Amy Chua.

Anyone in the United States not in a complete coma knows about this book, so you don’t need me to spill any more ink on the subject. Since— like everyone else it turned out—I was absolutely horrified by this story, I started to read the comments, wanting to make sure I was not alone. I wasn’t, and boy, were there comments! My personal favorite: “They don’t have Child Protective Services at Yale?”

There is a great review of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Elizabeth Kolbert in this week’s New Yorker. I’m glad to see that a staff writer for the New Yorker is the same kind of Tiger Mother I was. Basically, the Tiger Cat kind of mother—you know the tabby variety with the stripes? And like such a creature, I was capable of withering looks when things were done I didn’t approve of, but that was about it. Okay, okay, so I strongly encouraged my daughter to go to Wesleyan instead of a theater conservatory, where, in spite of the fact that I had never threatened to burn her stuffed animals, had never locked her out of the house when she was barefoot and freezing (well, it doesn’t freeze in Berkeley, so that was never an option) she managed to get straight As.

But I learned a couple of cool things by following the comment threads on the Tiger Mother book.

One: There is an institute at the University of California at Berkeley—The Greater Good Science Center— that studies what makes people happy. Like scientifically studies. Seems that psychology has previously focused mostly on pathology—what was wrong and how to fix it. These folks at Berkeley now study what is right with some people and how to reproduce those results in others, especially in children.

Two: Guess what they’ve found out. Happiness doesn’t come from large amounts of money or great achievements. Happiness— and with it resilience, emotional intelligence, and optimism, all traits that may help you succeed—is fostered by gratitude, sense of community, and altruism.

The cool part is they’ve learned how to develop these qualities in people (like Amy Chua, I assume) in whom they are deficient.

Some things that work: Practicing gratitude, helping others, meditating.

Funny, that list sort of looks like my New Year’s Resolution list.

My Meditation Room

So how am I doing on that list anyway? Well . . . turns out I needed privacy, wasn’t Zen-like enough to meditate when I could hear Dave rattling around in the kitchen, so now I trot up the hill in the morning to the pool cabana. It has wonderful south facing doors that look out on a splendid vista. Plus, it’s warm in there from the sun.

The Greater Good Science Center has a blog called Half Full you might want to check out. Also, for all you mothers and grandmothers out there, I should mention a good childrearing book by Christine Carter, one of the research sociologists at the Greater Good Science Center. It’s called Raising Happiness, and it is a huge relief from the Tiger Mother, Helicopter Mother models we’re seeing. Shows you how you can develop all those good qualities like compassion, optimism, and resilience in your young ones. Sorry Amy. Kids don’t get medals for those things, so maybe you won’t be interested. For the rest of us—take a look.

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Mexico City (Part 2)

Posted by admin on Thursday Dec 16, 2010 Under Uncategorized

Here’s a picture of my friend Frances and me.

On the morning this photo was taken, we’d met for coffee in leafy Parque Mexico before Dave and I were to embark on the rest of our day. However, we ended up spending a lot of time talking about our families, our gardening plans and our enneagram signs. ( I’m a six. She’s a two. Does this mean anything to you?)

I’ve come up with a new math equation. Women + Interest in Personal Growth = Cultural Universal. Anyway, Frances and I always marvel at the fact that we come from two different cultures and yet have so many of the same interests.

When we finally looked at our watches (OMG the time!), I got on the cell phone—like every other Mexico City resident— and arranged to meet Dave in another of my favorite neighborhoods in Mexico City—The Roma. Actually, the two neighborhoods that I love sort of merge into one another and are sometimes referred to as Condesa/Roma.

I wanted to walk around Parque Rio de Janeiro—the setting that inspired my novel. After the 1985 earthquake, the buildings around the park, which are so romantic, fell into disrepair. Many were abandoned, and it didn’t take long for Mexico City’s artists, musicians and writers to move in.

I don’t know what it’s like for other writers of women’s fiction, but I didn’t make a conscious decision to write about the two expat sisters—Vivienne and Lili— who inhabit a house on this park. They just came to me, like new friends do—and I spent the rest of the time trying to get to know them—their passions, their rivalries, their secrets. Finally, the whole draft came together and the title —Palace of the Blue Butterfly— as well. I have no, I mean it, no idea how I got the title. It just flew into my head the way a bird might fly into a room.

If you are familiar with Nahautl, you’ll know that Quetzalpapalotl means Blue Butterfly, and if you know that, you’ll know that Blue Butterfly was the rain god’s (Tlaloc) wife. Okay. Actually, the real translation is iridescent, blue-green butterfly goddess. Not really a book title.

Well, to continue in this pedantic vein a moment . . . the actual Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl is a beautiful temple to Blue Butterfly at Teotihuacan, which houses this mural . . .

The Paradise of Tlaloc. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful examples of Pre-Columbian art.

A little digression, I know, except that’s Mexico—so many layers, ancient, colonial, modern—and they all sort of blur.

After poking our heads into the OMR gallery, Dave and I ended up in a little tea shop on Orizaba—the street that wraps around Rio de Janeiro Park, the street where my characters Vivienne and Lili live. Okay. Live? I can hear you say. Uh . . . Jane?

Oh dear. That’s why I have to get this book out there in the world . . . as an e-book, anything, so Lili and Vivienne can actually live— in someone else’s head not just mine— and can be sitting at a table in this exact cafe on a lovely, autumn evening when one of them gets the news that . . .

If any of you folks out there know anyone who has published an e-book, I’d love to hear about it. And yes, I’ve gotten agents and so on. They were both lovely, supportive people who only wanted the best for me. And then, there’s the publishing industry, the economy and well . . . If you write, you know the rest of the story. Let’s just not go there. Life, my friends, is too short, and there’s still so much to do!

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A Trip to the Big City (Part 1)

Posted by admin on Thursday Dec 9, 2010 Under Uncategorized

Whenever I get a hankering for a bit of glitz and glam, I head to the city . . . the really big city, the biggest city in the world . . . Mexico City.

I suppose everyone, and especially at my age, has a few threads left unwoven into the fabric of his or her life. Mine is Mexico City. It was a love affair that started on a road trip when I was seventeen and has pretty much continued. And while I love life up here on the ranch, I really did want to get out my fancy clothes, paint my nails, put on the Chanel red lipstick and be all urban and sophisticated and stuff. So . . . a week before Thanksgiving, Dave and I headed down Mexico way to visit friends, hang out in cafes, wander around galleries and museums and generally soak up comaraderie, culture, and haute cuisine Mexico City style for a week.

I wrote my beautiful friend Frances and said, “What I really want is an apartment in the Condesa where my friends can come over and hang out, where we can dine on rooftop restaurants and wander around parks, you know, where I can really feel like I live in the DF for a week.”

She told me about this delightful couple, Daysi and Homero Nava, who have just opened a lovely B&B—the Hotel Villa Condesa—on Calle Colima between Avenidas Guadalajara and Veracruz. The Navas are as fascinating as they are charming, and the place was was perfect— a beautifully restored Art Nouveau building, the kind I always dream I will live in when I come back in another life.

I love this neighborhood so much I wrote a whole novel about an expatriate who lives there just so I could be in the Condesa if only in my imagination!

Just look at some of these buildings!

Here’s a picture of the restaurant on top of the Condesa DF Hotel above Parque Espana. I heard somewhere that the writer Octavio Paz lived on this park, and I kind of hung over the edge of the railing hoping to catch a glimpse of his ghost deep in thought walking under the shadows of the tree. Ghosts… it IS Mexico, after all.


The first morning we were there, we headed to the Palacio de Bellas Artes for a look at the Saturnino Herran exhibit. Very cool. I snapped this picture of the skyline over Alameda Park from Bellas Artes while I was waiting for Frances.

Notice how clear the air is? That’s because of these . . .

The Ecco Bicis.

The idea is you borrow one from the bike stand and deposit it in the stand nearest your destination. How civilized is that?

After oohing and ahhing over the beautiful Art Deco interior of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, we dined at El Cardenal— a restaurant right behind the Metropolitan Cathedral where I had an incredible Mole. Then it was onto the Museum at the Templo Mayor and the treasures of Moctezuma II.

We finished up the first evening with great margaritas in the Opera Bar. If you look up you’ll see the bullet hole Pancho Villa put into the ceiling when he rode in there on horseback. I’m smiling because I’m sitting in the seat Diego Luna sat in for a photo shoot on Mexico city. Be still my heart!

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Mexico Trilogy Graphic Link