Thursday, May 25, 2006

How I hate it when editors are right.

When I was a kid, I used to sneak-watch Lou Grant at 10pm on Friday nights. This was an odd show -- the only hour-long drama that I know of that was, essentially, a spinoff from a sitcom. Lou Grant, of course, was the curmudgeonly boss of Mary Tyler Moore on her eponymous show; on his eponymous show, he ran the newsroom of a daily paper in LA. (His boss, Mrs. Pynchon, was played by Nancy Marchand, aka the evil Livia Soprano.)

The cutest darn cast member on Lou Grant was Billie, a young, curly-haired feminist reporter who pretty much embodied everything I'd want to be at the time, except that I never saw her do the bus-stop. In one scene, she stands by as her editor, a crusty old guy named Charlie, pencils in his edits on a piece. "What are you doing? You're chopping it up! You're taking out the best part! You're ... making it better," she says, first complaining, finally admitting defeat. It was a fine lesson for a young writer, and one I've put to good use in the intervening years; I rarely object to edits when I respect my editor.

So when I started a piece for a first-time-for-me magazine, and my editor (whom I knew from elsewhere) required a list of my experts before I even started interviewing, I was fine with it. Then, when I submitted my rough draft and was told my experts all stunk on ice, I got horribly irritated and put the project on the back burner for waaay too long (sorry, editor-who-I-hope-will-never-read-this). I finally sought out experts more in line with this magazine's requirements, interviewed them last week, and am finally putting their quotes into the piece, which was mostly OK structure-wise.

Oh gosh. Oh god damn. Oh, Billie! These new experts are sooo much more on the money. I was being horribly, stupidly lazy with my first round of experts, doing the usual search on Amazon for recent books on the subject, then calling the publishers' PR departments for contact. A recent book does not an expert make, especially when that expert doesn't have a graduate degree or clinical/research experience. My revise is going to be about fifty times better than the original, all because my editor was RIGHT: my old experts stunk on ice.

Lesson learned. Note to self: quit being a lazy little fruit-pie.

I'm Starting to Enjoy My Spam

In a sure sign that I'm much too isolated, I've started noticing the nice names and cute titles of the various bits of spam littering my inbox. This latest flurry -- I have been remarkably good at keeping my inbox free of spam, but lately, probably because of this blog, there's been an upswing -- has incorporated a new, dovetailed strategy of (a) making up real-sounding names and (b) providing interesting-sounding subject lines.

When one pops up in my inbox, I pretend, for a millisecond, that it's a real bit of mail from someone new and interesting. Here, courtesy of my Mail program's "trash" folder, are some of my new, interesting milli-friends:

Elijah Moon
Joachim Phelps
Lucia Leary
Cornelius Horn
Maxwell Stephenson
Rudolph Vickers
Lottie Lozano
Lorenzo Flores

I mean, these are GREAT names. One of the stupidly difficult things about writing fiction is making up character names that don't sound like fanciful made-up nonsense that you doodled in the margins of your notebook. Somehow, probably with the help of a randomizer and a baby-name site, these spammers have come up with perfect candidates for "the vice-principal guy" or "the boyfriend from a dozen years ago that still haunts the main character's memory." I mean, Rudolph Vickers! Didn't he woo Bette Davis' character in Now, Voyager?

As for the subject lines, who wouldn't want to read about these?

blackout day
imbibe blister
mutter leash
fortuitous luxurious

It reads like found poetry. Well, I guess by definition, it is found poetry. It reads like a random line from a book of Kenneth Koch. (I still don't know what a fricking bluet is.)

Of course, my personal favorite, yet saddest, random subject line -- which says volumes about the perceived audience, about the loneliness of inboxes, about the grasping needs of spammers -- is this slivered slice of genius-cheesecake:

You're not ugly

Anyone who can resist clicking on that deserves the cleanest, spam-free inbox the world has ever known.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Getting edited on a bulletin board

So annoying. My enthusiastic and effusive nature is too enthusiastic and effusive for TWoP. I've been edited and warned (by a moderator) for using too many exclamation points and admitting that I hadn't read the most recent posts, because I "just had to get this out there." It's bothering me more than it should. Which means I really have to get back to work...

Monday, May 22, 2006

Revise notes I thought I could only dream about

Okay, so this is on a tiny profile, not a Vanity Fair feature, but here's something I love to hear from editors:

I think you can feel free to have more fun with this.

Oh, my darling, and I think you can feel free to hire me every issue, for the rest of my life. Smoochy, smoochy, SMOOCHES!!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I am spending time thinking about the Best Novel Ever.

Today has been an interesting process of writing maybe 200 words of a story due tomorrow, then spending an hour doing something else entirely, such as reading my gossip newsfeeds or posting about Big Love on Television Without Pity. It looked like I had exhausted all procrastination methods (including! cleaing the bird cages!! all three!!!) until my mom emailed me a New York Times article about the best novel of the last 25 years. Before I opened the email, I said out loud, "Beloved, by Toni Morrison." Sure enough! There was Ms. The Bluest Eye herself, at the top of the list! I felt like a genius, a cultural know-it-all with her finger firmly up the ass of popular culture, for a good 30 seconds.

When I read Beloved, it was part of a senior-level class at Barnard called "The Modern Novel" or "The American Novel" or some such. It was taught by the kind of elegant, grey, tweedy, Connecticut-ty professor that are manufactured expressly to supply women's colleges with professors. I couldn't tell you a single other book I read in that course, but I. Remember. Beloved. It was everything to me. I re-read chapters the minute I finished them, trying to parse out the poetic references, the different voices, the homages to Faulkner ... I was astounded that any one person could produce a work that went so deep and wide into the dark soul of American history, into love, into cruelty, into flashes of joy so sweet you wonder if they were worth having, because everything is more drab in their absence. I'm -- I mean -- The flush hasn't worn off. I reread this book every once in a while and it wrecks me each time. Wrecks me. Each and every time.

The funny part is that after I read it, I stopped writing for like three years. My idea being, "Well, now that this has been written, nothing else needs to be said. Or if it does, I'm sure as shit not going to be able to say it." That's sort of horrifying in a way, but really, did the world need more navel-gazing fiction from a 21-year-old? No. And, I mean, I eventually picked up my, er, cursor again. Toni M. forced me to -- well, to dovetail this story with another making the rounds today, she forced me to NOT feel entitled, to realize that, shit, this is what real brilliance looks like, and I just don't shine in that way. Not yet, maybe not ever. Maybe Kaavya Viswanathan could have avoided her mess if she'd just read the same book. And, you know, taken some notes in class.

The next thing I learned, as I worked backward through the Toni Morrison oevre, ending with The Bluest Eye, is that you can start off non-brilliant (er, downright crappy) and work your way up. I went on an orgy of reading my favorite novelists' first or almost-first novels: Surfacing, by Margaret Atwood (who at the time hadn't even broken through to her best writing); Meridian, by Alice Walker (want to be depressed? seriously depressed? in the middle of the summer while working as a camp counselor in middletown, ny? WELL, DO YA?). What a relief: It's OK to not be brilliant. It's normal! I can write several crappy books before I get brilliant.

Of course, none of this explains why now, at my advanced age, I am still writing crap and am about as brilliant as a swarovski-crystal body-tattoo, but... well, it meant a lot to me at the time. So yay for A.O. Scott and yay for the New York Times Book Review and yay for Toni Morrison. Yay.

Monday, May 15, 2006

What is my DEAL? Or, My Love-Hate Relationship with Freelancing

Wow. I've done it again. Searched for, pursued, and applied for a job; interviewed; gotten considerably high in the process; and now ... I'm frantically hoping that I do NOT get it.

I play with the birds, and mourn for their livelihoods if I desert them for 10 hours per day.

I pick up my Mr., and worry about our codependent relationship and his well-being if I have to work till a later hour than he does.

I work on my projects, and realize that if I just actually committed to 8 hours a day of solid work, I would make money as good as I'd be getting at this gig.

The fact that I could get out of debt within a year or two, get my cavities filled, and probably drop fifteen pounds pretty fast doesn't enter the picture when I'm in this state. I'm just paddling about in a festering pond of anxious horror at the idea that I'll get a great gig.

I'm astounded and annoyed. At myself. As usual. You too, huh?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Excellent advice from a cheapskate

MediaBistro recently reported this nice little nugget from publisher emeritus (??) of The Nation Victor Navatsky:

Navasky also urged publishers to "overpay your writers" despite the inherent contradiction of that advice coming from a magazine "notorious for underpaying" theirs.

I'm all for anyone saying writers should be paid more, though the idea that getting more than the stinking $1 a word we've been getting since 1985 is somehow "overpaying" us is almost as infuriating as his admission that he paid Calvin Trillin "in the high two-figures" for his column.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Turns out I'm an inadvertent fraud.

I'm more upset about this than I should be. I'm rewriting horoscopes for someone; that is, I'm given raw content, and then I re-voice it for my client. I just found out that they're publishing these on days other than the original raw content specified. Presumably (and I'm not sure why I'm using words like "presumably," but I'm feeling a little stressed out), someone did the actual celestial research that I'm writing it from, and now it's going into random days. So basically, the advice I'm giving is random, like a fortune cookie.

This upsets me.

Why? Do I believe in astrology? No, but what if?

The same thing was done at the women's magazine where I worked. If the actual research wasn't sexy enough, the horoscopes were just rewritten to be sexier, and all that boring stuff about missed communications was edited out.

On the other hand, I had an editor, years ago, who delayed sending me a contract for a week because the company astrologer, who was kept on retainer, said it was a bad time to make decisions, or something. Maybe that branded the whole astrology thing onto my editorial brain.

I just feel bad and guilty and messed up about the whole thing. Which is probably just a tactic to keep me from actually working on the horoscopes, which are fork-stabbingly boring to do.

When the mooooon is in the seventh houuuuuse...


The second editor? The one who didn't respond? Well, she finally responded, and she bought a small story and asked for a tweak on a big one's pitch. Yay yay yay for me. Maybe I can pay for my health insurance this month.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Job listings that make me homicidal

Here's a little note from the "requirements" section of a job listing:

Please do not contact us until you have made yourself familiar with the magazine.

Okay. You know what? I send out 2-3 resumes each day, and every single one of them is for a job that I really think I would like. Some of them, I can't believe what a fantastic match I am for the described job, and I think, "Wow, these lucky people are going to plotz when they see my resume." One job, I sent my resume through a person I knew in the company, AND through the job-listing website, AND directly through the company's HR department. Another job, I was ASKED to submit for.

I do this all the time, and I almost NEVER get a response. Not even an email confirming that I applied for the job. I spend hours putting together the perfect cover-letter, highlighting the many ways in which my experience overlaps their desires. I'm pithy and amusing and my resume is eye-catching and solid. AND I HEAR NOTHING. Virtual tumbleweeds roll around in my inbox.

So for this guy to get all snippy about how I shouldn't even dirty HIS inbox until I've read, critiqued, digested, and basically mated with his publication... I mean, frig you, buddy. You let me know if you like my resume, and THEN I'll spend a couple hours paging thru your precious periodical. Mmmkay? Because for frig's sake, if I sat around mulling over every magazine that I apply to, I'd do nothing but mull. I'd be Martin Mull. I looked at your site, the mag looks great, and I'll cross the "getting to know you" bridge when and if I come to it.

I mean, really.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Now I'm feeling really unpopular.

Here are some things that happened today:

1. An editor wrote back in response to pitches, saying they were all bad.
2. Another editor still didn't write back in response to pitches.
3. A job that I thought I was overqualified for, but would get, was given to someone more qualified.
4. My agent didn't email me back.

I did, however, hear from an editor who wants a revision. So I've got that going for me, and that's nice.

Also nice: the continuing reaming of Alloy because of the "How Opal" scandal. People that I personally hate, because they personally effed over me and my friends, are getting mentioned, a LOT, in print. Unfaaaavorably. So I can sit in my comfortable chair of schadenfreude, by Ikea.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Sometimes editors don't play fair

If an editor asks me for pitches, saying she's desperate for ideas, and I deliver an email with like five of them... doesn't she at least owe me an acknowledgement?

If an editor gives me a great email with a list of stuff she'd like to see, and I give her 2 emailed in-depth pitches within a week... shouldn't she at least let me know if she's considering them?

Pitches are me, working for free. On spec. Plus, at the moment, money is dreadfully tight, and I want to line up some work. What does a gal have to do to get some positive affirmation?

I know I sound whiny. That's because I'm whining. Sigh.