Tuesday, November 18, 2014

writing on the go: memoir 26

When our first son, Greg, was seventh months old we moved to Pocatello, Idaho. Life there came as a culture shock with its slow pace and farm tractors on the highway. A sign boasted "Idaho: Like America 50 Years Ago." And although we saw bumper stickers with "Don't Californicate Idaho," people were super nice to us. From my journal September 9, 1983:
     The Sunday paper has three FULL pages of weddings and two of golden anniversaries. The dry cleaners do your American flags for free. There's a used-car dealer named Rick Cheatum. Neighbors introduced themselves as "Mr. & Mrs" and they're our age! The mailman stopped to talk and told us about his 6-week-old baby who has colic and that his wife loves to read romances. Backyards have clotheslines with socks, aprons and undershirts, vegetable gardens, stacks of firewood and big collie dogs sleeping under shade trees. Alleys are narrow with a spine of grass. 
     We stayed in a motel while searching for a rental. I hand-wrote several book reviews on a couch in the lobby, then the manager kindly offered his typewriter. While Greg crawled around the filing cabinets and desk in his office, I typed my column on the five-layered carbon paper. Tore off the top sheet and mailed it to Art Seidenbaum.
     Since The Times was still transitioning to computers, I once needed to phone in a column. I spoke as clearly as possible, articulating all punctuation and odd spellings. It took about forty minutes. As explained to me, someone transcribed my recorded voice -- typed it, I assumed -- then delivered a hard copy to one of the editors in Book Review. After corrections, it was sent to production for galley pages, which returned to Art for final editing to appear in the Sunday section. So many steps.
     In that motel office I could not have imagined myself today, in my sunroom with a paper-thin computer on my lap. Just one keystroke, quiet as a whisper, I can send an entire novel to my publisher before you've finished reading this sentence.

From LONGHAND: ONE WRITER'S JOURNEY, to be published Spring 2015.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

LA Times book columnist: memoir 25

In my joyful distractions of marriage and motherhood I had no time to work on a novel, but was able to keep up occasional book reviews for the LA Times. While we were living in San Luis Obispo, California, Editor Art Seidenbaum called one morning with an interesting offer: "Our Soft Cover columnist is leaving. Think you'd like take it on?"
     "Yeah!" I answered without pause.
     "Good," he said. "Every other week do a round up of mass-market paperbacks, eight in each column. Like stringing together a bunch of Notables. You'll do fine. Pay is $250 per."
     After we hung up, I calculated. Mass-markets are those 4x7s racked in grocery stores, newly published, not re-prints. Four a week! I have a baby. I'm a zombie-head low on sleep. I want time to swim and walk more. What was I thinking? Art had given me the phone number of the departing columnist.
     "Do you read every single book all the way through?" I asked.
     "Nooooo," he answered. "Skim, summarize, write. Easy."
     The first carton that UPS set on our porch weighed a ton. I selected obscure authors because I wanted to give them a chance the famous had already enjoyed. But how do you skim a novel and be fair about its content? You'd miss plot nuances that could make what might at first seem mediocre turn into a heart-stopper. If flippant, you could devastate a new writer.
     Over the next few years I did skim, but only almanacs, diets, recipes, and how-to's. Anything with a plot, I read cover to cover. Mysteries, Science Fiction, Romance. 
     I loved staying home doing mommy stuff and reading for my column. When baby Greg and I got antsy, we'd talk long walks downtown with the buggy then roll back to our bungalow. Writing the Soft Cover column was fun and great discipline. Limited to just a few lines per book taught me to keep it tight. No extra words.
    Meanwhile I submitted short pieces to periodicals about motherhood and infants, obviously not breaking new ground because everything was rejected. I tried writing picture books but they, too, were rejected. Becoming an author was going to be harder than I'd realized.   

From BLUE SKIES: ONE AUTHOR'S JOURNEY, to be published this Fall.