Wanna Play Tag? Passing Along a Meme

Goofball Friday. I’m initiating a game of tag. I got wind of it from writer Joelle Anthony’s blog. The players I saw on Anthony’s thread seemed pretty peppy, which might help with this kind of game. I’m not so peppy, but no matter. An experiment!

Here’s how it goes:

1. These rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags 3-5 people and posts their names (links to blogs/sites), then goes to their blogs and leaves them each a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer; also, let readers know who tagged you.

What were you doing ten years ago?

9-to-5ing it as a technical writer at a high-tech company. Living in sin with my long-haired potter boyfriend and his 12-year-old son in a ramshackle 1960’s ranch house. Transitioning from writing only short stories to novels. Bursting into tears because of a mean-spirited and useless critique by a local Famous Novelist during his workshop (first stab at first novel) and then not writing for months afterwards.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order):

1. Try out a new workout class.
2. Talk a friend into seeing the new Indiana Jones movie with me this weekend.
3. Return a summer top that I bought last week — a what-was-I-thinking? purchase.
4. Make sense of my index cards: arrange scene ideas in a semblance of a plot outline for the rest of the novel.
5. Drop off unneeded work clothes at a favorite neighborhood clothing boutique (for donation to Dress for Success) in exchange for a 20%-off coupon.

What are some snacks you enjoy?

A nice cheese with a nice bread (and wine)
Sandwiches (which is to say lunch late in the afternoon)
Cookies dipped in milk
Granola cereal

What would you do if you were a billionaire?

Continue writing fiction
Travel everywhere
Buy my dream house and a dog (maybe a pug) to go with it
Take my family on luxury vacation to Hawaii
Because I’m only semi-domesticated, semi-organized: Hire all kinds of help for all kinds of chores

What are three of your bad habits?

Late-night munchies
Reading until WAY too late
What are five places where you have lived?

Sao Paulo, Brazil
Quito, Ecuador
New York, New York
Mill Valley then Berkeley, California
Portland, Oregon

What are five jobs you have had?

Waitress in my father’s yummilicious restaurant
Financial analyst in multinational corporations (Ecuador, Brazil)
Book publishing editorial schlub (NYC)
Technical writer

What 3-5 people do you want to tag? (anybody else who wants to play)

Two who might participate, one who doesn’t know me but I like her blog, and one outlandish possibility (mostly because male, but he’s kinda funny so I’m curious what he’d write):

Elizabeth Engstrom
Susan Wiggs
Patry Francis
Bob Mayer

What I Learned From a Bestselling Novelist

withsusanwiggs2.jpgLast weekend during my impromptu Puget Sound writers retreat (I wrote 32 pages!) I spoke to New York Times bestselling novelist Susan Wiggs at a book event. That I’d met her once before and that we have at least one mutual friend went a long way toward alleviating my tendency to clam up in the presence of novelists of stature. It also helped that she is down-to-earth and friendly.

Ms. Wiggs was a font of information about what life can be like in the publishing big leagues.

For example, did you know that…


portludlow3a.jpg1. …publishng contracts can include bonuses for landing on the NYT bestseller list? Or that it behooves us to negotiate favorable reversion rights so that we can regain ownership of our out-of-print novels? This is especially true should our books gain a fan-base. On the other hand, once we become bestsellers all our old publishers will rush to reprint those older novels anyhow — money in the bank for everyone involved.

2. …there is a smoke-and-mirrors aspect to the business that publishers readily exploit for the greater bottom-line? Here are a few examples: Designing the cover art with the novelist’s name bigger and bolder than the title to lend it that “bestseller” look even though the novelist hasn’t attained that status (yet). Or, negotiating favorable positioning inside one of the major chains (in custom risers in the front of the store; you’ve seen them) for an entire first print run — which in essence also gives the novel a “bestseller” appearance.

portludlow5a.jpg3. …many novelists at Ms. Wigg’s level incorporate themselves? Recently, a friend told me that National Book Award winner Denis Johnson recently inc’d himself. My impression is that becoming a limited liability this or that (jargon unknown to me) is pretty standard. And it makes sense, too, for tax and personal liability reasons.

4. …steadily increasing sales over many books is often preferable for a long-lived publishing career than the bidding-war-big-bucks first novel? Second-novel syndrome in which the second novel can’t hope to compare to the phenomonal first has sunk many a novelist.

5. …at the bestseller-dom level, the novelist and publisher may engage in a collaborative roundtable to generate story ideas? These brainstorming sessions include the marketing department, which may have veto power because there’s so much at stake. Call it a symbiotic relationsip: publisher committing to marketing and publicity bucks (which land novelists on the bestseller lists when all is said and done) and in return author commiting to one or two novels a year to keep the momentum going.

portludlowbaldeagle2.jpgNumber five fascinated me, especially when Ms. Wiggs mentioned that she still gets rejected (at the idea level not at the written-manuscript level).

Besides rejection, Ms. Wiggs still faces her writing group with potentially crappy drafts and expects the truth from them; still gets red-lined by her editors; still battles with story ideas that don’t necessarily pan out in the writing.

She’s still a novelist writing one sentence at a time like the rest of us. And, she works hard. She mentioned that she’d be reading page proofs (a tedious task) after dinner on Saturday night and before breakfast the next morning. I forgot to ask her whether she ever gets an entire weekend away from her characters…

Top Ten List: Early-Warning Signs of Spring

rhodiebuds.jpgThis is a hopeful time of year. The days are noticeably longer and the breezes are gentler souls. It’s too early for crocus, but I still feel spring. Here’s my top ten early-warning signs of spring:

10. Buds on the rhododendrons.

9. Bye-bye to the extra blanket on my bed until next winter.

8. High-end Easter and gardening items (all those seeds!) displayed in my favorite grocery store. Too early for Easter stuff in my opinion, but I appreciate their cheerful colors anyhow.

7.  Open-toed sandals on sale at Macy’s!

6. Strange but good-looking men wandering around my neighbor’s backyard, followed by the delicious scent of mown grass. (Said neighbors are an old couple who need professional help with mowing, tree-trimming, vegetable garden priming, and so on.)

5. Re-emergence of birds: hectoring scrub jays; male Anna’s hummingbird (bright pink helmet) checking out my feeder; red-breasted robins hopping around in search of worms; migrating songbirds twittering through the bushes; a northern flicker (think: giant woodpecker) tap-tap-tapping on my outside walls in the morning.

4. Honking Canada geese heading for their summer feeding grounds.

3. Those cutey Girl Scouts selling their almond rocas and peppermint patties. How could I not buy one (and only one) box?

2. As mentioned a few posts ago, my devil cat going stir crazy with spring fever. For his encore performance, he chewed through the exercise band I use for rotator cuff strengthening. It had been dangling from a little-used door for a year! Thank goodness he’s willing to go outdoors now is all I can say.

AND, my top sign of the coming spring…


1. My spring-fever stir craziness that has me longing to shake up my winter-weary routines and look out on a fresh view while I write. So, tomorrow I leave for an impromptu writers retreat weekend! I’d been thinking about it, but this photo on novelist Susan Wigg’s blog finally compelled me to overcome inertia. The literary dinner is a bonus.