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.

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