Monday, October 31, 2011

Escape from the Island of Misfit Books

Branded, libeled, I write words that are found in the Bible 

I’ve been reading a lot about branding these days.

No, I haven’t been watching reruns of Bonanza or haven’t purchased a herd of steer.




Branding is a marketing buzzword, which, according to the American Marketing Association, means to establish “a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”

In order to successfully publish and sell my novels, I have learned it is necessary to “brand” myself. I don't even want a tattoo, so why would I want a brand?  This goes against all that society has been harping on us about for the last few decades—that it isn’t nice to categorize or stereotype people. Branding oneself is not an easy or painless task.  It requires really knowing who you are as writer and what you feel passionate enough about to put into words.

But I guess I’m not really not branding myself; it is my books--their subjects and my style of writing--that I’m trying to fix in the reader’s mind. But another marketing source states that I must also be the brand and says that if you write, oh let's say, sassy, sizzling Westerns, you may want to wear red cowboy boots with your bustier! Glad I’m not writing Westerns! (Believe me, you should be glad too.)

I Want to Be a Dentist!

I’m slowly coming around to defining what I write, and I think for now I’d term it romance--whether comedic or suspenseful--that appeals to the mind, heart and soul. One of the reasons, I’ve decided to go indie is that my books don’t really fit in anywhere. Like Hermey the Elf in Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, who wanted to be a dentist, I don’t fit in with the major publishers. I’ve been marooned on the island of misfit books!





I’ve tried marketing them to the inspirational publishers, and I've come very close to getting picked up by one of them.  But most of those are evangelical Christian houses, and I’m Catholic.  My books are filled with Catholic influences so that wasn’t quite a perfect fit.  Also, I’ve found the writing guidelines for the inspirational publishers to be very restrictive. By no means are my books filled with obscenities and graphic sex, but some of those publishers even frown on the characters dancing, having a drink or saying the words: gosh, darn and cripes because they are derivatives of God, damn, and Christ. Unfortunately, there seems to be a dearth of Catholic publishing houses that feature fiction.  But from the feedback I've received from women who have stumbled upon my sample chapter of St. Anne's Day, which I'm in the process of publishing, I believe there's an market for what I write.  Do you think there is?  (Warning--Even if you say no, I'm still going to publish.  The genie is out of the bottle!)



That Didn't Hurt a Bit!

I believe there's a market out there for contemporary fiction that is witty, warm, and wise.  Witty?  Warm?  Wise?  Wait! I think I just branded myself.  Wow, and it didn't hurt a bit!  (Still not getting a tattoo, though.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

WWJD--What Would Janice Do?

You probably remember the WWJD trend a few years ago, which begged the question:  What would Jesus do?  We all know he'd do the right thing, but sometimes figuring just exactly what that is when faced with a moral or ethical dilemma is not easy--especially when your baser instincts start asserting themselves.

I faced my own WWJD moment yesterday while at the gym.  As I bent to adjust the weights on the ab machine, I noticed something shiny near the weights.  I picked it up and lo and behold it was a Tiffany bracelet.  Do you remember I Dream of Jeannie, when Jeannie's evil brunette cousin would show up?  Now I'm dark haired so my evil alter-ego must be a blonde vixen because as soon as I examined the bracelet, her golden tongue whispered in my brain:  Finder's Keepers . . . Tiffany bracelets are expensive.  Keep it.  It's your lucky day.  

Then that other little voice whispered:  Do unto others.  What if you lost the bracelet?  Can your integrity be bought with a mere piece of jewelry?  

I knew what Jesus would do, but what would Janice do?


I looked at the bracelet and it had a charm affixed to it--a ring.  Then my writer's imagination took over.  What if it belonged to a girl whose boyfriend gave it to her before leaving for Afghanistan?  What if it was a gift to a daughter from a dying father?  What if it was a remembrance from a special birthday?

I decided I would turn it into the desk with the hope that they would have a lost and found department and someone would claim it.  A second later, a young girl came near looking pale and worried, scouring the ground around the weight machine.  "Are you looking for this?" I asked.  "I just found it."

She looked so relieved and thanked me profusely.

Now, I'm not telling you this to toot my own virtuous nature, but it got me to thinking about my favorite kind of stories to write (and read for that matter).  I like to present moral and ethical challenges to the characters.  Most of my characters want to do the right thing, but for whatever reason sometimes they don't--that is where the conflict begins.   

Jodi Picoult does that in her novels; she puts her characters in a moral bind, which prompts the reader to the question:  What would I do? 

Can you recall any other novels that pose moral conundrums for the characters? And for you?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Readers Are Like Drug Pushers

It's a dreary rainy October night, which means it's a great night for reading!  My latest "find" is Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand.  Actually, I shouldn't call it a find since I didn't find the book--it found me.  It would be more appropriate to call it a "referral" as my daughter recently read it and recommended it to me.  I'm only 100 pages into it, but the premise is a woman who is married to the biggest Ponzi schemer in history (think Bernie Madoff) must go into hiding with her estranged best friend on Nantucket to avoid the public's scorn.  The only regret I have about this book is that I didn't find it during the summer.  This would have been a great beach read, but the ocean shore setting still seems appealing on this fall evening.

As someone who is in the process of publishing a novel independently, I have learned that marketing is key to getting a book before the public.  Although marketing is essential, all the experts agree (and I concur) that the best PR is word-of-mouth recommendations.  Many of my favorite books have been recommended by friends and family.  Have yours?

Readers are a bit like drug pushers.  When I was a girl, I fell in love with Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.  It's the first book I ever read that made me cry.  (And I'm still not over Laurie's marrying Amy instead of Jo.) I couldn't wait until my daughter was old enough to read it.  In fact, I "turned her on" to it when she was in the fourth grade.  From there she was hooked on reading.  She'd read a chapter and like addicts comparing highs I'd ask her, "how was it?" 

Some of the books others have recommended to me that I've enjoyed are:

The Help (my sister)
The Devil in the White City (a student in my memoir writing class)
The Education of Little Tree (woman whose children I watched)
Light a Penny Candle (my mom)
Where Are the Children? (my grandmother)
Mark of the Lion (a neighbor)
Hello Darkness (a fellow writer)

When you read a good book, do you spread the word?  Is there a book you always recommend? I'm always on the prowl for a good read, so feel free to suggest some of your faves.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hi, My Name is Janice, and I'm an Addict

I admit it.  I'm addicted to Mad Men.  It appears I'm not alone in my addiction since a word has been coined to describe those who have gotten swept up into the advertising world of the 1960s--Maddicts.  My son Chris got me hooked on the AMC show when he was home for the holidays.  I tuned in during the fourth season, and this summer I signed up for Netflix, which we have set up to stream past episodes through our Wii.  I've been catching up on the previous seasons. I just finished season two, and it got me to wondering why I'm enjoying this show so much.  OK, Jon Hamm, who plays Don Draper, and John Slattery, who plays Roger Sterling, are pretty nice to look at, but there are many things about the show that also appeal to me. 






One is setting.  As I mentioned before, it is set in the early 60s. I was born in 1960 and spent my childhood during that decade.  In 50 short years, we have changed so much.  The last episode I watched  showed Betty Draper, boiling pots of water and putting them inside her refrigerator to defrost it.  I remember my mom doing that.  The clothing has also changed so much.  Of course, there are sex scenes, and with the girdles, garters, long-line bras, that these actors have to wade through, it's a wonder there ever was a baby boom!  Discussing how we have changed socially would take too long to highlight now so we'll save that for another day.

Another aspect I like about the show is that it weaves historical events into the episodes.  This second season showed the reaction of the office staff at the death of Marilyn Monroe, and the last episode I watched took place during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I knew that was a tense time as my Uncle Tom, who had been discharged from the army after fulfilling his duty, was called up for another year of service because of the crisis. But I had no idea that people really thought this was the end of the world and made provisions like moving away from NYC.  I think I've learned more history from novels and shows like Mad Men than any history book. 

Is there any story that has helped you to understand history better?  Off the top of my head, the John Jakes Revolutionary America series, the mini-series Holocaust, and  The Idiot by Dostoyevsky brought history to life for me.


The final reason I love the show is the characters.  I simultaneously hate and love Don and Roger.  Most mobster movies feature these complex types of characters.  While they do repulsive things, we are nevertheless fascinated by them.  Henry Hill in Goodfellas is one such character.  

Is there any shows or stories that you have followed that featured characters that you loved and hated at the same time?