You have some great individual pieces up on Red Lemonade. Can I give you Enhanced Sophie’s Choice and ask you to pick three that would give readers a good path into your work?
And also, out of which piece or pieces do you see something traditional book-length arising?
Oh my little darlings. I ache for them. For those middle children that always had a suspicion I will just declare that there are some parents that prefer their first born, so with that being said in the spirit of crappy parenting I will select Communion as one, because it has been with me the longest and had the most love and revision to be the complete confident piece it is today. Secondly I will go with Loose Morals, because I wrote it at a time when I was suffering from what Steve Almond has referred to as narcissistically blind and he likened it to someone newly in love that can’t possibly envision not making love with their partner several times a day. So in that way I felt my work on my manuscript was done and I went to a mentor and asked him what the next step was and he said to continue to write. To not stop writing. And with that Loose Morals was born and really became one of my darlings.
Let me interrupt you here for a second because around two thirds of the way through "Loose Morals" you bring up the "fear drug." And that really grabbed me. I wanted more about that, I'll confess. You choose to go with "the ache" instead which got me to wondering, what might the connection be between them? The ache and the fear drug?
Oh yes, “the fear drug” it’s cheap, easy to get, endless supply, and you always got your next stash on hand. I used to joke that this fine specimen before you is run purely on fear and worry. It’s a joke that’s funny because it resonates with a lot of people and there’s truth to it. But what is the fear about really? It’s not the fear of my demise. I actually find myself to be really resourceful. It’s the fear that I’m unloveable. That I’m not enough, not witty enough, not attractive enough, not talented enough. The only way that it relates to my demise is the dire need to convince everyone of all of my attributes in the shortest amount of time possible so that in the event that the building goes up in flames there will be some attempt at saving me. In that case I’m sure you can see how the fear and the ache are the same thing. The ache is the ache of want. Fostering and being fostered are two very different experiences, but as I get older some friends that are interested in parenting ask me about it. The common theme of both experiences is that there is this underlying hummm that ran through my adolescence dontgettooattacheddontgettooattacheddontgettooattached. That may be what helped embellish the fear drug into no longer such a useful tool but more of a desperation, an ache.
Gotcha, OK, and now back to your darlings!
Lastly I will choose one of my newborns, Whimsy. Because it is fun and still fresh and gooey but I really have the love and adoration of a new mom for it.
Also, of these I think that Whimsy has the most promise for a traditional book length piece. In fact all of the shorts are written in the same voice from the same narrator so as to serve as a collection of shorts. But if I were to dig deeper the most important story for me to tell lies within and around Whimsy.
So what is it about Whimsy that gives you the sense it's the one that's got the depth and scale? Clearly all your stories deal with some big emotion; with Whimsy then, what else does it have? Is it the need for time, a generational thing, or a need for space, like a city, a social thing? Or something else altogether?
That question scares me. I’m afraid that I might be found out. I have imposter syndrome and I’m afraid that I chose the wrong story and if I don’t offer a good reason as to why I chose that story you will all find out I’m a big fake. You see when I said Whimsy I didn’t mean Whimsy as it exists there but a hybrid like Whimsyprettylivesvanorexia-Whimsy. Similar to that question if you could only have one wish what would it be? And all us smarty pants figured out we would answer,” More wishes, duh.”
Overall being a writer is scary and you get your heart broken a thousand times and I will do it over over again until I'm satiated. Which will be never. I will run to my mailbox everyday searching its contents only to find a letter with a teeny tiny slip of paper that is a standard rejection the size of my little pinky and get my heart broken. I will sometimes get sweeter rejection letters that don't hurt as much with hand scrawled notes that are more like rain checks than flat out rejections. I run to my email inbox and get my heart broken. I will dedicate long afternoons cataloging all the ways in which my heart was broken, by mail, by email for this story for that story. I will get my heart broken in other ways too. I will get my heart broken at work when I perk up and give what I might believe to be a great idea for copy on our website and they will shoot it down because it doesn't follow some online fundraising guru's idea of what comprises a good story. And because they went to his 12 hour grassroots fundraising training full of snappy mnemonics and now they feel they are more adept at judging what is and what is not a good story. Suddenly I realize I'm in a room full of people where my MFA counts for nothing and it breaks my heart a little bit also. That scenario will happen often. Then sometimes I will lock myself away into my office or go to a coffee shop and just try to be alone with my stories and write because all the other times I ignore them my characters are like little children pressed up against the glass begging for attention. And then I will want to come home and be rewarded for this great act by my lover and my pets and perhaps anyone on the street. I will want them all to love me and take care of me and thank me for this kind act but instead I may come home to an empty house or they might ignore me or someone else's needs might outweigh my own because we all have to take turns having needs in this lifetime. I will remember a story a good friend once told me where she was trying to be nice in elementary school and she gave her turn away on a game at school. Her turn in the tire swing. She was trying to make friends. And the girl she offered took her turn and she lost her turn and she didn't understand that was the consequence and she knelt down and prayed to god and asked god why it hurts so much to be nice sometimes and that's just that. Sometimes other people take your turn when you give it away, and I guess it’s most scary because I’m giving the voice of Whimsy a turn and not the others but there’s a baby in that story that gets flushed down the toilet and I think she has something to say.
And I’m choosing it because it starts with chasing toast with a manic mother and ends with flushing a fetus down a toilet and it’s the story I most want to read and haven’t heard it yet. There’s something so eerie about flushing a fetus down a toilet. You know you’ve flushed a thousand times before there’s nothing to it and then here you have this very intimate lonely painful thing and well it’s hard to do and hard to describe but it’s more of a feeling and maybe of all the characters that are like little children pressed up against the glass begging for attention, no actually they're a hundred urgent notes scribbled and taped to the refrigerator of my mind, this note is the largest most urgent note. If we think of book covers like doors I think the first thing I would want to be on the other side of the door is Whimsy because as opposed to my other stories Whimsy has one thing different. It has the beginning…
Finally, this question is a question most likely best answered by the good people of RedLemona,de. Because in the end I’m much more interested in what you (the collective you) have to say about my work than what I (teeny little i) have to say about my work.
This is the first of a series of interviews I'll do with a Fizzy One, a member of the Red Lemonade community, someone I'd love for everyone to meet and greet and learn more about. We start with Melissa Chadburn, a very early adopter, a patient reader, a punchy writer and a dynamic participant in the conversations on this site, especially those conversations that center around the manuscripts.
How did you first come across Red Lemonade?
I was hunting around online. I read your interview with Gina Frangello at The Nervous Breakdown. Truth be told I was trolling for love. I hate to admit it. Dorothy Allison was a visiting professor at my school one quarter. She walked into the class adjusted her head band leered at all of us and said, “Y’alls a bunch of fuckin romantics. I don’t care what you say. You have to be to be a writer these days.” She’s right. I’m a romantic and I was tipping into my needy phase and it was kismet that at that point I then stumbled upon Red Lemonade. Because not only am I romantic but, as we’ll touch upon later, I’m a leftie romantic and I wanted the love to be equitable-that all writers have equal access and opportunity at getting this love and I see Red Lemonade as that place.
While I want to help people make money from their writing, I do also believe that making a life, as a writer is more important than make a living as one. You’re an activist by day; the nature of activism is that it is not something you can turn off at 5 pm. How do you make a life as a writer and as an activist?
I love this question. I read it as how do I balance between the two. However, I do not see them as conflicting things. Everything is art. In the same way I perceive everything as political. It’s the same relationship a lot of people have with writing and reading. Like if you’re in the middle of writing a great story or reading a great novel and you walk around with the hiss and the pop of the tone of these stories. You’re on that pink cloud where you see everything through your writer’s lens.
I get the same type of love and satisfaction from both. Financially, they’re both often thankless jobs. If money were the only incentive than there would be way less artists and activists and way more doctors and lawyers. Not to say that there aren’t doctors and lawyers who are artists, there are plenty. The truth of how I came to writing and how I came to activism are the same thing. I write because there was a time when I had no money and there were other times when I was told I couldn’t go anywhere and the only thing that was free was reading and the only way I could travel was through words so it was words that saved my life. In that same way activism saved my life. For part of my teenage years I lived in group homes in Los Angeles and I saw many kids that were separated from their families not for lack of love but for lack of money and it made me very angry and I could have graduated into the juvenile justice system with that anger or into advocacy and I was one of the few lucky souls who had the option and fortitude to choose advocacy. I think it’s also true that both writers and activists have a lot of empathy. It’s very hard for me to see people struggling and not internalize it.
I read and write to connect with people. Sometimes when you have all that empathy you get raw and need a place to put it all, that’s where the activism comes in.
If the real question is something that looms in all of our minds… how do I pay for it? The answer is I have made a profession out of one, activism, I’ve worked as a labor union rep and now as a community organizer. I’m by no means wealthy but by my standards I would say I’m more than comfortable. I grew up poor and sometimes lived on the streets and more often times was very fortunate to have families take me in. But simple items, like a vacuum for example, were viewed as luxury items. I had to sweep the carpet when I was young. So to be able to afford fancy coffee drinks more than two times a week is a barometer for high success for me.
But maybe you’re looking for a more practical answer on how I juggle my time. The practical answer is I have a fake boss. I got this from one of my teachers. I have the benefit of having a real boss but also have the writer’s life of not having a set schedule. So I have enhanced my real boss with my fake one. My fake boss resembles a dominatrix. She wears latex gowns and cracks whips and has a lot of expectations of me getting a certain amount of work done each week. Also my partner has a job that takes her out of town frequently so I live an alternate life when she’ s not home. I let myself get disheveled and eat naughty carbohydrate infused foods and write and read and do things that if someone were around might be perceived as rude in all parts of the house at all hours.
Where do you reach Red Lemonade from: home, work, on the road?
I reach RL from home and work. I usually intersperse my writing practice with some reading so I will read a short from a literary journal or poke my head into Red Lemonade. I like to come with the proper kind keen mindset so I usually assess to make sure I am not hungry, angry, lonely, or tired at the time I’m poking around. The people at Red Lemonade are so smart and nice I want to be able to be smart and nice back.
[Aw shucks! And with that, y'all check out Melissa's work Tiny Upward Shove, give her some feedback, and get back to work on your own writing. Part Two of this interview will run on Monday!]
Writers and Waiters—A brief and shoddy defense of the dissolute life: A guest post by Vanessa Veselka
In Zazen many lifestyles are represented because I wanted to force Della, the narrator, to navigate a world overwhelmed by options. Career-wise, though, it’s kind of like a job fair at the Rapture—public health nurses, academics, vegan cooks, sex party planners, union organizers, small business owners, waitresses, yoga instructors—but I wanted a spectrum.
Beyond jobs and what we do to survive, the city fascinates me, by which I mean The City as an idea, something ever-changing. Kio might have said it best in Follow Me Down:
"The city is shifting, it blurs, and then reforms itself whenever my back is turned…"
Still, like most writers, I’ve had a lot different jobs and imagined myself living many different lives. Admittedly, repeatedly leaving one job or place for another is a lousy path to sustainability. It leads to being 42 and renting a house with five other people who aren’t sure if they want to pony up for heat. But it does give you a wealth of detail upon which to draw. I know how vegan restaurants store tofu. I know what the final days of a doomed union election campaign look like. I have heard yoga teachers on Manduka™ mats like pulpits and watched noted paleonotologists nearly get in a fistfight over something that happened 68 million years ago. To quote Roy Batty from Blade Runner “I've seen things you people wouldn't believe…” But of course so has anyone who has worked a string jobs. So as bad for solvency as my tendency towards personal decline is, I can’t complain about it as a writer.
Having worked in restaurants and bars on and off since the age of fourteen, I find them a very natural setting to write about and write in. The vegetarian restaurant in Zazen, Rise Up Singing, is entirely staffed by people who should be banned from ever holding a food handlers permit. Mirror, one of the servers, is possibly the worst waitress in history. She eats off people’s plates before she serves them and refuses to switch on the OPEN sign because, “If you turn it on, they’ll just come in.” In many ways, she’s my hero. The waitress I wish had the guts to be. It was a great joy to write her. I have an unshakeable respect for a shameless disinterest in servitude.
I blame literature for my dissolute tendencies. The characters I love the most are always driven by desire. When faced with life’s obstacles, they come up with plans like killing pawnbrokers and selling teeth. Bardamu, Emma Bovary, Raskolnikov—these are not exactly the most career-minded folks on the planet. In fact, I would love to see the job interview where some HR person asks Raskolnikov to give an example of a time when he went above and beyond his duties to accomplish a task.
“Does the idiot half-sister count?”
Or asked Emma Bovary to tell them about a time when she made a mistake and how she corrected it.
“I’m so sorry, Monsieur, but nothing comes to mind.”
With such role models, how is one to become an upstanding, job-holding member of society? Still, it leads me to wonder if fecklessness is really a misunderstood form of commitment? I function entirely on a sincere and abiding belief that there must be something better. And for that, too, I blame literature. I have been ruined by novels.
So, my BEA fulminations disgorged, here are some milder vibes.
Shortly after BEA, I went to Korea, to talk to the Korean Literature Translation Institute about those things people typically ask me to talk about, Future of Publishing Blah Blah. As always with good conferences, the specificity of the circumstances (subject, location etc.) challenged me in the lead-up to develop new insights into some of the things I thought I already knew. And as again is the way with good conferences, then offered me compelling ideas from other speakers.
What I realized in preparing is that the translator isn't merely engaged in a one-to-one relationship with the writer she is translating but is in fact an ambassador for that entire culture, for that miasmic distinctiveness.
And what I learned by attending is that the translator also needs to be as curious about the life of readers in the target language as they are knowledgeable about the original culture.
In other words, translators must understand the reader as much as they understand the writer. Must both decipher the intent of the writer and comprehend the context of the reader, the lens through which the reader reads.
Which means they are themselves true publishers. Connectors of writers and readers. So, on the principle that Cursor, the engine that drives Red Lemonade, is all about One Thing—connecting writers and readers by any and all means necessary—somewhere down the turnpike it'd be cool to build a version of our manuscript annotator that works in two columns so an original text and its translation can be viewed and commented upon in parallel.
Of course, we also intend, once the underlying infrastructure of this site is sufficiently robust, to have the have the whole shebang available not just to other English-language publishers, but to publishers and publishers-to-be around the world.
Never let it be said we thought small.
Sorry for the slow pace of content creation here from the publisher! I've plans to speed up production: rather than wait for the perfect post, I'm going to write about this process a few days a week no matter how boring i fear the topic might be! Why? Because I find I've learned a lot about building a business from watching writers build their books. So you, as writers and readers, might find this business creation process useful too. Moreover the lesson many writers learn, that when stuck you just have to write no matter what, is a lesson I should apply.
Last week, Mark Warholak (co-founder) and Vanessa Veselka and Lynne Tillman (authors) and Abby Kagle (volunteer on legal and licensing) and I were at Book Expo America. It used to be where publishers go to show off their wares, though in recent years it began to look like it was where publishers went to die.
This year, there was a sheen of optimism atop the water. Though it was IMHO an oil slick, it had the effect of making everything seem more under control, less desperate. Now, as a congenital optimist I should be cheering this newfound positivity, surely, yes?
No. My optimism is firmed anchored in radicalism. It's the optimism of the early Christians, not the Romans. I don't think, it's going to be OK. I think, if we convert we will be saved and it will be bliss. If we don't...
The brute reality is that nothing has changed at Book Expo America. Oh yes, Apple and Google and Amazon were around. There were app vendors galore. (I tell you, there were more app vendors than there are app customers—it's like the San Francisco gold rush had five hundred miners and five thousands folks selling them jeans and pans...) That was the oily sheen of pseudo progress...
That's not change though, those are just vultures circling and the psychotropic effects of the formaldehyde.
There is, however, one change that betokens real change in the industry and there is no sign of it and that is the show opening to the public.
This is not the organizers fault. In 2009 they floated a trail balloon of having the exhibits open on Tuesday, the day before the convention opens. (Already the convention had been changed from its customary Friday-Sunday, to a late Tuesday-Thursday schedule, to accommodate publishers' desire for reduced costs.) The idea was that the floor would be open for a couple hours in the late afternoon-early evening, allowing for an opening night party as is done at the French book fair, the Salon du Livre, and at the American Library Association's Annual Convention. An opportunity to party, invite media, booksellers, authors, to hang out, have a keg at one booth, cheap wine at another, have a Stormtrooper mix you a cocktail at a third. Celebrate books. Create a sense of occasion, of event.
Nope. Not in publishing. Don't want to have to rush erecting our foamcore cover mock-ups.
I confess, I'm on the show's Advisory Committee. I and others have been crying out not just for a party but for at least one day of the show to be open to the public. Witness the remarkable success of events like the LA Times Festival of Books (140,000 attending), the Decatur Book Festival (70,000 attending after only five years in existence), the Brooklyn Book Festival, to name some outdoor events, and New York Comicon, organized by the same folks that organize BEA, but with exhibitors who actually care about the fans, 70,000 of whom show up. (And that's the me-too Con, not the original Comicon in San Diego!).
Books was once a business where publishers sold to booksellers, and booksellers sold to readers. So BEA was an event where publishers sold to booksellers. But with the chain(s) not needing an event to meet everyone, since everyone beats a path to their door, and with the explosion in the number of books available means that publishers need to motivate readers to read their books, and not take for granted they'll walk into bookstores and buy, the event needs to be about exciting readers/customers, not hustling the retailers.
But not only are we not getting the public let in for a day, we can't even be bothered to throw a party for the damn insiders.
Don't blame the organizers. The decisions get made by the exhibitors that pay for the most square feet at the show. I hate to repeat myself, quoting my own self, but I'm being forced to do so by the obtuseness of the industry I love.
The publishing business is not in trouble because there's no demand for books. It is in trouble because there are changes afoot in how best to satisfy the demand, changes to which there are suitable responses, two of which are fostering fan culture and generating a sense of occasion, and the leaders of the largest publishing organizations are failing in their professional responsibility to implement these responses. By reducing their participation in BEA at the same time the media participation has increased by almost 50%, by refusing to open the Fair to the readers on Sunday, these CEOs have effectively thrown in the towel. They are managing the demise of the book business, pointing fingers at any generic social forces they can find, failing to see the one place the responsibility can be found, their own damn offices.
Book Expo America is a microcosm of the industry. What it shows is that right now, the book industry thinks $10-$20 digital files is the change we need. No. The change we need is right there in the tagline of this site, the change we need is to invite you folks reading this, to invite you to BEA. When we can do that, that's when change begins, that's when we can earn optimism.
My head's still spinning after a long night of whiteboarding. I'm onto some really exciting stuff, but it's more of a data model kind of thing. It's actually probably nothing that will affect you all in the short term (unless you're a publisher), but since a rush of creativity can be infectious, I thought I'd share.
Anyway, I wanted to send out a quick post about other things I'm working on that will hopefully improve your experience here at Red Lemonade. We haven't forgot about you writers operating behind the beta curtain. As I've communicated with a few of you individually, I've been chipping away at a few things. I tried to simplify the manuscript uploading experience, added some chapter management features (there should now be a new tab on your manuscript and chapter pages). There's drag and drop for ordering, renaming, etc. It's pretty straightforward, I think, but I'll try post some documentation when I have some extra time.
Here's a short list of upcoming features, based on your requests:
- email notifications for comments on your manuscripts (imminent - hopefully today, maybe tomorrow)
- ecommerce - we'll be rolling it out in stages
- Bookmarking (a pretty obvious feature for a writing site, no?)
- Better tagging - all members should be able to add tags & better integration into the library
- more stuff I'll add here when after I begin crossing things off the list above
There have been so many great suggestions and feature requests. Add to that some amazingly creative ideas (big and small) that we hope to experiment with when we get the major stuff out of the way. The most frequently requested features were already on our wish list, but I've reprioritized based on what you've been clamoring for the loudest. So keep those suggestions coming! Even for things you think we already know about, it still can still influence what we do next.
So an author friend of mine has run into a spot of bother with her pregnancy (my wife did too, it's very distressing, though all was, and will be, well). Her book, her first, is publishing at the end of this month, and I've been helping her with promotion.
In so doing I got in a lovely email exchange with an librarian who remembered me from my Soft Skull days because of my rather vived marketing approach. I thanked her although I felt a wee twinge of weirdness. Is that what/who I am? I'm reminded of Bill Hicks's famous rant about marketers: "Anyone here in marketing? Kill yourself. Seriously, though. If you are, do. Really. There's no rationalization for what you do and you are Satan's little helpers."
Now, given that I helped market Bill Hick's book Love All The People, I feel like I can give myself a shot at rationalizing what I do.
The Industrial Revolution make the cultural nexus called "book" into a product to be sold in a supply chain like a shoe or a chair.
The supply chain is now dramatically shrunk even as more product is being pushed into it.
So the book is now something more of your self, something you exchange with others more like a talk, a conversation, a class, an event than like a lampshade or a hammer.
Which entails, quite fundamentally, that others do not really sell it for you; it is you, so you do the selling.
We've a tendency to see this as bad, but I think it is healthy and more integrated. To create a product for others to do all the selling involves an awful lot of good ole Marxist alienation. Of course, to do all the selling can be emotionally very taxing but that's true of many activities.
Don't get me wrong, I love what I do, I'd be despondent if I no longer had a role in helping writers and readers connect. (That might make me kill myself!) But I do realize that the only truly organic way to do it, the only honest and authentic way to do it, is for the writer to do it. So, writers, feel no shame in hustling. It may well be the Edenic state.