Thursday, December 16, 2010


Here at booksBnimble we have this great Christmas book to sell and it suddenly came to my attention (via a very intelligent friend) that Christmas books can have a bad name. I knew what she meant. It suddenly occurred to me that I'm just like her: I would never read a Christmas book!

A week before Christmas generally finds me at my Scroogiest. I hate the traffic, I hate the crowds, I hate the carols blaring in the restaurants, in the stores, on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields...

When I was in Whole Foods the other day, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was blasting from the speakers and not one, but two sets of Santa-capped carolers were strolling around singing “Jingle Bells.” When the customers started joining in right in my ear, I thought the top of my head was going to come off.

So why am I selling a Christmas book? Well! While it happens that O LITTLE TOWN OF BELLINGHAM, or OLTOB, as it’s affectionately known at booksBnimble, does happen to be about a pregnant virgin, and does occur in December, it's far from the mindless treacle that you possibly imagine Christmas books to be, in which miracles occur and good things happen to good people. It has a slyness to it, a street smart savvy, a discerning sagacity, an understanding of the human condition that is not predicated on the old saw that says Christmas brings out the best in people. Rather, it asks the question: What would happen if a miracle seemed about to occur in the twenty-First Century? Everyone, it answers, would try to get in on the action. In short, the virgin would go viral.

Oh, cynical! You're probably thinking. But not so. Because it also asks the question, “And then what?”

Your average Christmas book has the texture and flavor of butterscotch pudding, wouldn’t you say? This one achieves something more like the delicate layering of a lemon meringue pie: First a froth of wit and wordmanship; under that, a rich filling that’s almost naughty in its tartness. And under that,  the crust--a solid literary foundation.

Not precisely “inspirational” in the sense that probably makes us Scrooges shudder. Nonetheless, after a relaxing read, I no longer feel as if the top of my head might come off.

I know you intellectuals are giving your sweeties ereaders for Christmas. Who isn’t? Why not also give them this bit of literary Excedrin as a stocking stuffer? O LITTLE TOWN OF BELLINGHAM. Only $4.99 at  www.booksBnimble.com, in all formats, or at Amazon. The commercial break is now over and we return to regulr programming.

Monday, November 29, 2010


We're hexed! There can be no other explanation.  Have you been to our gorgeous website,  www.booksbnimble.com? If so, we cordially HOPE you found it gorgeous, and weren't one of the three in ten who see it with no middle column. This is not a browser problem--sometimes it works in all three of the most popular browsers (i.e. Firefox, Safari and Explorer). Nor is it a size problem. It seems to work great on everybody's itsy-bitsy iPhone,  and it works great on the huge screen at the host's offices, but in Safari on my laptop screen, it's just not there. Yet on e's it's perfect. And for all intents and pruposes, we have exactly the same screen. The thing is, it's completely random. As if we're hexed.

YouTube, someone said darkly, is what's doing this to you--there can be no question. And yet our host, ever eager to be let off the hook, has never even suggested such a thing. It can't be that. There's a dark wizard at work here, possibly Lord Voldemort himself.

Okay, here's a hint--if you're one of the three in ten, and absolutely can't find the middle column, scroll way, way down past the rest of the website and there it'll be. This is  actually worth doing, by the way.  Because we have a great new video on there--a trailer for our winsome and delightful Christmas offering, Anneke Campbell's O LITTLE TOWN OF BELLINGHAM, about a pregnant virgin who turns up in Indiana  right about...now. Yes! A pregnant virgin in 2010--and her name's Mary. This is the crowd-pleasing Christmas book you really need to stuff in someone's stocking this year--a someone who's getting an e-reader for Christmas, of course.  (By the way, we also have a Chanukah book--maybe not as cheerful a read, but just as absorbing.--Patty Friedmann's TOO JEWISH.)

But how, you may ask, can you stuff an ebook in a Christmas stocking?  We've invented a way!  Not only that, it can be signed by the author. But I'm not saying how.  To find out, you actually have to defy Lord Voldemort and go to the site. (Once again, that's  www.booksBnimble.com  )

And while you're there, could you possibly slip the resident gremlin the old Avada Kedrava?

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Where we left off yesterday: Our star had just quit, and e. was speaking from her local: "Here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna get this chick I just met on a barstool.  She's done performance art. If you take my meaning."

Now e. is not the sort of person who does verbal air quotes, so what was up with that? "She has a very authoritative air," she continued.  Oh.

 "You mean she speaks Phone Kitten?"

"More like Hellcat."

"Hire her."

"I already did."

Problem solved.

In the morning, e. would still have to make a Wal-Mart run for new granny pants before she picked up the Hellcat, but no big deal. That would give L. time to fire up the lights.

Eight-thirty came and went, with no B. and no L. Finally, at  ten after nine, L. arrived with nine thousand pounds of heavy equipment, half of which he proceeded to lug up the stairs. By Floor Three he didn't look right. Kind of celadon. Something, he explained, about a dubious soft-shell crab.

"You just sit down on that and rest," I pointed to one of his mammoth footlockers.

"Uh, maybe 911 instead?"

He was sort of kidding and sort of not, but the bottom line was this: No workee today.

Not to be callous, but I had a video to make. "Okay, okay," he managed to croak. "I'll see what I can do." Sliding pitifully off the trunk and onto the floor, he managed to dig his phone out of his pocket. I left him dialing in a crumpled heap while I went to let B. in and administer morphine when she heard the news. (Kidding, of course--it was actually high-octane coffee.)

And from his bed of pain, L. performed magic. By the time e. arrived with the granny pants and the star, we also had ace gaffer Keith, who hustled the rest of L's truckload onto the set before B. could finish her morphine drip.  Wait...coffee!

And then The Star arrived. Beautiful! An excellent actress, it turned out. And absolutely dead wrong for the part, which called for an overweight redhead. Well, forget overweight, the kitten was only barely chubby herself. But the hair. Inky black. Okay, a quick call to Fifi Mahony's, wiggers extraordinaire to the drag queens, Mardi Gras revelers, strippers, and performance artists of the French Quarter. Alas, not happening till noon.

 As it turned out, that was no problem at all. Although here was the deal:  The Star had only managed to work in the gig by giving away half her waitress shift, but she ABSOLUTELY, NO LEEWAY had to  be at work by five-thirty.

So good news and bad news: We had time to get a wig, but no time to make the video. Because the ace gaffer had to turn the set (aka my house) into a studio.

 Pretty soon I couldn't even find the dog's leash. Because by one-thirty p.m., my house was a studio. Miraculously,  though, the hellcat--now a redhead--had actually started to look the part.

By three-thirty they'd shot two out of twelve scenes.  I was never doing this to my house again. I was over all the personnel drama.
And the star was due at work at five-thirty. I took B. aside. "Look, if we don't get anyhting else, let's at least get the Big O scene. We can use it by itself if we have to."

Okay, she said, and, afraid of what I might do otherwise, I went in another room to rest my eyes. E. arrived shortly. "Got some black thread?"

 "Oh, sure," I said, "whatever you need." And then it occurred to
me to wonder what on earth they needed with black thread.  Black just wasn't in the phone kitten's pink-and-green palate. E. gave me a look I'd never seen on her face--a kind of braced-for-flight look. "Uh..."

"Come on You know I'll find out."

She spoke really fast, like maybe I wouldn't hear her that way. "They need to animate the roach."

YEEEEEK!  An hour and a half to go and they were animating roaches? Seeing my face, the hellcat
suddenly started purring: "Weeell...I guess I could cheat another half hour out of my shift."

Oh joy! A whole half hour!

"Could you just....do the Big O?" I croaked.

Nope. Not yet they couldn't. But damned if they didn't at approximately five-forty. We had to cut two scenes, but otherwise, guess what? We actually shot the video! I mean, they did.

There was only one other tiny mishap. At ten of six, The Star raced to the bathroom to change and next thing you know, wild shrieks issued out of there. This from a woman who'd work with roaches!  I was pretty sure she'd broken a leg, but e. knew exactly what the problem was. "Looked in the mirror, didn't you?" she asked. "With the granny pants on."

Yep. She had. Some things are worse than roaches.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Since half the fun of being an ebook publisher (I thought) would be making little movies, I couldn't wait till we shot the video to enhance PHONE KITTEN, a hilarious mystery by Marika Christian. The book's about Emily, a sweet but slightly nerdy girl who ends up doing phone sex after losing her job, and finds herself in the middle of a murder. So here's what we thought:  A three-minute movie showing what a phone sex worker really does while fulfilling fantasies. Pretty funny, n'est-ce pas?

We held auditions, found the perfect actress, who I'll call K, cajoled B., a well-known producer, into wrangling the camera, and hired L, who's worked in local TV for twenty or more years, to do lights.

 It was going to be down-and-dirty, the e-guerrilla way--half a day to dress the set, half a day to rehearse, and a day to shoot. E. and I scrambled till 1 p.m., producing a cozy phone kitten nest. Please note the pink princess cover and Edgar Allen Poe doll.

Good, said B, and ditto the disgusting phallic cactus. But she thought the roach looked a little fake. We could live with that, but then K. was overcome by a rogue attack of shyness. Couldn't fake orgasm if you paid her (which we were going to, but not much). All seemed lost until e. thought to ask politely if K. ever indulged in spirits. It seemed the kitten did. Well, then, would K. like a tiny libation to loosen things up? K. lit up, and three vodka-and-cranberries later, the big O was roaring out of her. While she mopped.

Okay then! We were ready for the big time.  B. left with an admonition to look sharp by 8 a.m. the next day  and don't forget the muffins and coffee. I was thinking about celebrating with my own libation when the phone rang. I knew it couldn't be good. No way it could be good, especially when I saw it was K. Yep, she was backing out. She thought she could do it, but she just couldn't. She'd realized she probably couldn't run for president if she went through it. Or even the Board of Education. She sounded like she'd had quite a few more pink drinks.

I had one of those weird dissociations like you get sometimes. You know, you break a leg and notice the run in your pantyhose.  I suddenly realized she'd gone home wearing the pink granny pants so essential to the plot.  But wait a minute, the plot was still lying soggily on the page.  It wasn't going anywhere.

And then the phone rang again. It was e., from her local in the Lower Garden District. "You want the show to go on?" she said. "Here's what we're gonna do..."

Stay tuned for Day Two: WHY THEY CALL IT DRAMA

Saturday, October 9, 2010


About the time the Earth cooled, there was a writer named Judith Krantz, who introduced a kind of book that came to be known as "shop-and-fool around".  Actually, we weren't nearly so delicate as to say "fool around," but I'm going to here, to preserve decorum online.  Those books were a lot of fun, guilty pleasures for those who are prone to literary guilt (I personally am not). But you know what isn't fun? S&F for kids. Gossip Girl kind of books, books in which kids have no parents, drink and freak around at will, and wear clothes they buy for the cost of cars in Krantz's time. To be honest, it's not the drinking and sex that bothers me  so much--I've been known to pen the odd spot of gritty realism myself--it's the relentless materialism. And the unconscionable parenting. Who lets their kid loose with a credit Barney's credit card and why?

This is not the only literary convention that makes my eyes glaze over, or my teeth clench in irritation. Here are my top five, in no particular order:


2. THE 'SURPRISE!-I'M-DEAD' ENDING. I guess you could call it the ghost narrator. Listen, if you're dead, how can you be telling this story? Even Archy the cockroach had to bang his head on one key at a time to get the job done, so how does a sad mess of ectoplasm do it?  It's plain disconcerting, and as much of a cheat as a deus ex machina. In fact, I guess it kind of is one.

3. THE SCIENCE FICTION GAY YARN. In this one, everybody's gay--the hero's clients, brother, sister, uncle,  friends, even the homeless person he helps, as well as the victims of any murders (though not necessarily the villain), and half the cops. In real life, gays and lesbians comprise  about 10 per cent of the population and though like tends to seek out like, I'm talking about books that go way beyond that--in fact that postulate a world in which straight people are the ten per centers. Kind of fun, I guess, if you're a fan of gay lit for itself, but if you read it for literary merit, ultimately dishonest. I guess I should I should mention I'm not homophobic, or how would I know this? You have to read gay lit to know what's in it. I'd rather read Sandra Scopettone or Greg Herren (neither of whom is guilty) than most writers. I just like my science fiction so labelled.

4. SERIAL KILLER BOOKS IN WHICH WE KNOW WHAT THE UNSUB IS THINKING.  I don't care! In fact, I already know. I've been reading serial killer books all my life, and ground on this was broken early in my reading career. There's no new ground to break. These guys are all the same--evil, bad, crazy, nuts, insane, and much, much worse--insanely boring.

5. THE ALTERNATE UNIVERSE THAT ISN'T. We're living exactly as we actually do, Except  For One Thing, the Thing that's the premise of the exercise.  I don't mean magic, we all know magic is real, I certainly don't mean vampires, they're thick as mosquitoes in my neighborhood.  I mean any preposterous thing that really could happen in a few years if things continue to go wrong, but  hasn't yet. So here we are in 2010 with, say, a king instead of a president, an evil but genial ruler who orders dissidents murdered by day and by night guest stars on Jimmy Fallon. Or maybe  live snuff shows have replaced baseball as the new national pastime. (The ultimate reality show, get it?) Not just clones being raised as organ donors, I'm down with that sort of thing--Something That Changes Everything. And why? For the convenience of an author who played a game of "what if" and lost. Listen, guys, show a little ambition--go out there and....you know...at least change the date or something.

Monday, October 4, 2010


It's been almost ten  months to the day since a friend and I said to each other,"Let's become digital publishers,"  and today we published our first book. Who knew how hard it would be just to get a website up? It's been a long and fascinating road, but www.booksbnimble.com --now its name can be told!-- today exists in cyberspace. Go there now. Buy a book.

You can actually do that. Not only that, the most amazing thing to me is that that book didn't exist in saleable form six hours ago. What we did was, we finally hooked up the store to the website (or to be perfectly honest, e. did--matter of fact, she built the whole thing with her bare hands) and then we (okay, e.) formatted it as a pdf, and we put it on our virtual shelves and we bought a copy with our little plastic card. I don't think I've been this excited since I the first time  I held a book I'd written myself in my hands.

This was just an experiment, of course, to see how things were going to work. In a few days, we're going to have much fancier formats for that book--Marika Christian's PHONE KITTEN, by the way, a hilarious and delightful comic mystery--and in no time at all, we're enhancing it with the world's cutest video (really!). But you can still buy it, read it now, and get the video-enhanced version (or if you prefer, a link to the video) by going to our store, clicking on "contact us", and asking for a free update when they're available. (Actually, you can't do that quite yet. Maybe tomorrow--we need to hook up the e-mail first.) But you CAN buy the book. I would like to emphasize that. booksBnimble exists and has a book for sale.

If you want to write us to tell us what we're doing wrong (or better yet, to congratulate us), maybe do it on our FaceBook page--we have one!-- or here, since we don't yet have working email.

Meanwhile, buy PHONE KITTEN! You'll love it.

Monday, September 13, 2010


I seem to be undergoing an identity crisis.  This blog, originally meant to chronicle  electronic adventures,  will henceforth address itself also to the larger issues  (and non-issues) of the literary world, since it develops that twice in a week I've been unable to resist. Even Mike Shatzkin, the 600-pound gorilla in the e-pub world, sometimes talks about baseball. So this guerrilla feels free.

Let us now give our attention to a piece in the New Republic by a staffer named Chloe Schama, in which Ms. Schama wonders why no "major literary figures" have tackled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in sharp contrast to the way they wrote about 9/11.  "In fact," Ms. Schama writes, "the literary response to Hurricane Katrina has been almost non-existent."

As a New Orleanian, I'd have to agree that there isn't nearly enough post-Katrina lit out there, but I'd submit first that there's a lot more than Ms. Schama seems aware of and second, that the fault may not lie so much with the writers as with the prevailing attitude of New York editors and possibly agents.  I think we should establish that she's talking about fiction, although she is grateful for Dave Eggers'  Zeitoun, which isn't fiction. Actually, she just seems grateful that a writer of Eggers' stature took on the issue.  But I think what she's missing is that there are probably only three writers she'd probably consider "major literary figures" who are actually qualified to write a credible Katrina novel.

New Orleans being the extremely tricky and many-layered can of worms it is, Eggers was smart to go the non-fiction route. The Treme crew has gone to great lengths to make sure they portray the city properly, and yet Treme, though widely loved here, is also roundly criticized for every bit of misplaced minutiae. Offhand, I can think of four "major literary figures" who  actually could write about the disaster with the confidence of an insider, but since one is Anne Rice, I'd have to guess that Ms. Schama wouldn't find her literary enough (though you could hardly get more major). Ms. Rice could do it, though--she's written some good mainstream novels in addition to her paranormal material. The other three are Valerie Martin, who grew up in Lakeview, as thoroughly annihilated as the Ninth Ward; Richard Ford, a sometime resident who has deep roots not only in the community, but  in local political life; and Robert Olen Butler, who's already won the Pulitzer for a book set in New Orleans.  Frankly, if a major literary figure who didn't have that kind of connection tried to take it on, the results might well be laughable. Let's hope to hear from these four one day. I can only thank other "majors" for staying out of  this thing.

But I wonder if a lot of "minors" haven't been heard from because there is simply no taste in the world of  New York publishing  for post-Katrina angst. I can guarantee you there wasn't some years ago when I proposed such a novel myself. I was shot down before I could get the last syllable of "Katrina" out.  Maybe Ms. Schama's right--no one wants to hear what a mere mortal might have to say about it, and no literary god has yet stepped forward.

But a lot of others have. She did acknowledge Tom Piazza's City of Refuge and something else she described as "a comic book," not even a graphic novel. Since she mentioned the comic book, I'm going to decide that she isn't a literary snob, she just doesn't know about the many books and short  stories  that have made it through the Big Pub sausage-grinder.  One of the first on the scene was Patty Friedmann's very good but highly  under-appreciated A Little Bit Ruined.

New Orleans Noir, a book I myself edited, contained no fewer than eight post-K short stories, every one of which I commend not only to Ms. Schama, but to anyone. Two post-K books have become best-sellers, that I know of, one by James Lee Burke, the other by Erica Spindler. Other authors who've honorably tackled the subject are Tony Dunbar, Greg Herron, and Jean Redmann.  And it's also notable that Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine devoted a whole issue to New Orleans, containing several post-K stories.

I doubt Ms. Schama ever heard of EQMM, as it's affectionately known, so I'm cutting her slack for that. But what about every other book and story in the preceding paragraph? They're all mysteries, thus not "major," but then again she did mention the comic book as well as the movie Bad Lieutenant, noir by every description. So by Ms. Schama's own standards, surely these works should count if those do.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Late, but I have new info! Well, new to me, though possibly not to Jennifer Weiner, who it will be remembered, along with Jodi Picoult, took on the early canonization of Jonathan Franzen sometime in the distant past. AKA last week. Their point, or one of them, was their distress at not, as women, getting enough respect from the literary establishment.  I was particularly struck by something Weiner said, which to paraphrase, was that she was no Jonathan Franzen, but why couldn't she be treated as well as Nick Hornby or Jonathan Tropper?

At the time,  I had no opinion, having read one Picoult, almost all of Weiner,  and one Hornby, with varying degrees of enjoyment. But no Tropper. However, I did have a copy of Tropper's THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU on my TBR pile. So I  picked it up, ripped through it, and loved it!  Yet also found that Weiner not only has a point, she has a major, scary point.

Omigod, that was a funny book! I thought I'd die when the D-cup mom having the affair with the female neighbor at her husband's shiva  gives her kid a tube of K-Y jelly along with with tips on how to masturbate at Friday night dinner! Completely rolled on the floor.

It's actually the kind of thing Weiner can do just as well.  But I have a feeling if  she had, reviewers would have sneered. Tropper's book's a coming-of-age story about a 35-year-old guy, practically a genre,  and a well-respected one. But if  someone tried to write about a  woman as whiny and distant as Tropper's hero, she'd get slapped around, I'm pretty sure. (Not meant as a criticism of  Tropper; I   have personally known a number of immature and self-pitying, although very smart 35-year-old males, especially when I was 35, so I know this is a phenomenon that needs to be addressed.)

Women in literature have to be somehow Better. Because if they're not, their biographers will be dismissed as trivial. If  Weiner wrote a book about a family sitting shiva, in which all the characters were over the top,  the heroine was basically a princess who needed to grow up, and by the end of the book, actually had grown up a bit, at least realized she had "options", as Mr. Tropper rather unsubtly put it,  I think she'd be dismissed as commercial, trivial, and formulaic. Or perhaps the book wouldn't be reviewed at all.

I'll take Weiner's word for it that the NEW YORK TIMES hasn't treated her as well as the guys, because in a five-minute search, I couldn't find the reviews to confirm it and didn't want to spend all day on it--Tropper's came up right away, so maybe that means something. But I guess that's even a bit irrelevant. Tropper's book was a great beach read--and in fact, that was where I read it.  But isn't it weird to hear that? Can guys' books (other than those of Nicholas Sparks and thrillers) be beach reads? Let me tell you something: If that book had a heroine instead of a hero, no matter who wrote it, it would have been so considered. The problem may not be with women authors so much as the perception of female experience, period.  But that shouldn't be a surprise.

Still, it was. I was actually kind of shocked. In researching this piece I came across this amazing quote from the young and evidently oblivious female writer C.E. Morgan: "Male genius has far outnumbered female genius in the history of literature." Morgan went on to pronounce that this kind of discussion would stop if women would simply produce "more work of indisputable genius." 

Aside from her grammatical issues,  Morgan couldn't possibly know any of that, and she'd know she couldn't if she had the slightest grounding in what used to be called women's studies, though now I wonder if it exists at all. C.E.-cakes, listen up--feminists of yore tried tirelessly to get across the simple point that since men have consistently controlled the standards, sure, they've patted themselves on the back; sure they've considered women's books trivial, sure they've hired female reviewers with similar sensibilities. How many female geniuses have gone unsung and maybe unpublished no one knows. And Genius is always disputable--look at the Franzen skirmish. Plus, there's the small matter of perception of what constitutes genius, which, in a lesser way is one of Weiner's points. Only she's not talking genius, just fair recognition.

Evidently these early pioneers failed miserably. I'm horrified that we're having this discussion in 2010.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Last Saturday's shenanigans, an afternoon sangria party at our offices (aka my house), were all about video. Excited by the prospect of video enhancement for our first book, we auditioned actresses. "Let's just place an ad on craigslist," said e., our marketing director, "and see who answers." Well, who knew how many would? Especially given the delicate subject matter. Because here's what they were getting into: The book's a very funny, not even slightly salacious chick-lit mystery, but the heroine, fallen on hard times, is temporarily forced to make a living by giving good phone. If you catch my drift.

Ten answered, that's how many! And they knew in advance they were going to be walking into a shabby building in an edgy neighborhood to simulate phone sex in front of a bunch of strangers. Well, probably they didn't know the neighborhood would be quite so edgy, and probably one or two chickened out at the door. But here's to the plucky girls who didn't.  e. had told them the schlumpier they looked, the better their chances, and some even came in pajamas.

Well, we found the girl. The exact right, perfect girl, a young mother who came with her sister because who knew what kind of maniacs would advertise for dirty-talking schlumps? She was adorable! It was exhilarating!

That is, till we got our first estimate for the video. Good grief, if I had that kind of money, I'd forget about ebooks and be a print publisher. Or better yet, abandon publishing altogether and just have a facelift. Yes, it was THAT expensive, for a three minute video. I'll bet whole movies have been made for less!

No problem, of course, because we're guerrillas. We'll find guerrilla videographers, even if they turn out to be e. and me. Surely there's a crash course somewhere we can bull our way into. Because we're committed to video, controversial as it is. (More about that in a later post.) But why is video controversial? Because some people think books just. don't. need it. What we think is that not only can it enhance a book, it can help sell it.

I'm new at this, but I'm not aware of any other publishers using their videos (except for trailers) as marketing devices. Can't imagine why not, though. Seems like a natural. Does someone know more about this than I do?

Monday, August 2, 2010


We're tough-minded publishing professionals here at our e-publishing start-up, armed and ready for the coming digital revolution.  But we're still from New Orleans. And where we come from, when the going gets tough, the tough get into costume.  Last weekend, five of us had occasion to be together for our version of American Idol--except with acting, not singing. We were auditioning performers for our first embedded video. Naturally, with so many of us in one room, a photo op was declared

 Want to see what an e-guerrilla looks like? That's Janet, left, in the all-camo dress. (Some might call it a fashionable python print, but pythons call it camo.) Nevada was elegant in black lace with her camo pants and hat,  Adrienne went all Rambo with that headband thing and a cigarette, while Elizabeth channelled her inner Tania in a simple olive pashmina worn as a tunic. And me? I'd forgotten how empowered I feel in purple combat boots.

E-Guerrillas On a Break

   Left, E-Guerrillas on a Break from Fomenting Digital Revoution

Guerrilla Dog Ready For Action   

Janet's holding  our camp mascot,  Rambla "Che" Bookdog,  but Rambla's pink camo hat came out looking like some kind of wimpy sunbonnet. So here are a couple of better views:

Rambla--Pretty in Pink

Monday, July 19, 2010


Being a wannabe publisher is like Freaky Friday sometimes--I'm definitely in somebody else's body and they're in mine.  What writer hasn't suffered the ignominy of the Dread Title Change? And for no better reason than to sell books! If only they hadn't done it on my first book, slyly titled THE FEMINIST BORDELLO! Great title for a mystery, right? Kind of like those intriguing old Peter Dickinson titles, like THE GLASS-SIDED ANTS' NEST   or  THE YELLOW ROOM CONSPIRACY.

Well, my publisher definitely wasn't into intriguing and certainly wasn't into old. Nor did they appreciate the subtle humor. But you get it, right? (See, there's no such thing as a...oh, never mind.) They thought the "feminist" part would turn people off and "bordello" was a word nobody would know. Seriously. Even though there was a pretty good chance that  person buying a book would be literate.

They wanted a title that said "mystery". Not sly, intellectual mystery, like Peter Dickinson might write. Kind of generic, everyday mystery like some American...though surely not me!...would create. And so began the lists and tears. They went with DEATH TURNS A TRICK. To this day, I hate that title.

Then one day I started a new series, set in New Orleans, which, due to a high-profile  Mardi Gras murder, I called BLOODY CARNIVAL. Okay, even I knew that was lousy. I really wanted FAREWELL TO THE FLESH, you know, like they say at Lent,  when people give up meat? And also if someone were killed... well, how descriptive can you get, right?  Wrong. So very wrong. Nobody got it. Nobody liked it. They went with NEW ORLEANS MOURNING, considered by many to be my cleverest title. It still makes me cringe.

So can you guess where this is going?  You're probably already chortling, especially if you've ever been my editor, because you know I'm getting payback. The lists and tears have started again.

 Why is is that we can sit here in our office and see clearly that the author's title won't work, and be unanimous on the subject? And the author's friends and family are similarly unanimous? Will someone explain this phenomenon to me? It's exactly like when your writers' group and all your writer friends love your book, but everyone in New York thinks it sucks.
Is there a name for this thing?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Blinking In the Sunlight

It's a rude shock coming out of your cave after twenty-odd years. By that, I mean making the decision to go from the solitary slog of writing alone to the intricate choreography of collaboration--in my case, working with eight other e-guerrillas to start a digital publishing house. It's really weird how I'm craving both things--solitude on the one hand, teamwork on the other.

I'm never happier than when I'm at my desk with no one but Rambla (There she is... up there). And yet it's so exciting to bash things around with smart people! My adrenal glands haven't worked so hard since my reporting days.

But the down side of that is: Personnel Problems. We've had 'em here. We have no website yet, but boy have we been through designers; and would-be designers; and tryout designers. Nothing wrong with their designs, just problems being on everyone's back burner, due, no doubt, to our being so unwilling to part with shekels we might need for something we might not yet even know exists.

For instance, who knows how much formatting's going to cost? That is, specialized formatting for the new literary forms we're working on. And the kind of wild and crazy videos we want to make. (Do I sound mysterious? I hope so.)

Not only do we have practically no budget, it's a matter of pride with us, as e-guerrillas, to do this as cheaply as we possibly can. And so when we sat we're bootstrapping, we mean we're pinching pennies till they bruise. We're trying to do trades for whatever we can, and also begging a lot, and promising. There's a lot of promising going on, which, alas, can't be fulfilled until we get the site up.

But the good news is, it might not be long. We might actually be stabilizing. We have a fantastic new marketing director with a wonderful take-charge attitude, who simply slipped her tiny feet into a pair of combat boots and said, "Hey, let me take a crack at it." and came back in forty-eight hours with the site half-done. Woo-hoo! Girl Power!

And now we're forming an in-house writers' group, critiquing our own work not only for own venture, but for Big Pub as well. The idea is to get our interns and new kids ready to go pro, as well as learn a new way of working for own venture. We're trying to learn to write in teams.

A bit of clarification here. We don't intend to be primarily self-publishers--we've already acquired three fantastic novels for our launch, plus a terrific little how-to book. But certain things you just have to do for yourself. Three of us, for instance, are working on a book told in two blogs (real ones) and a dog's POV. Well, actually, it could end up being four of us--the dog has a canine friend and someone wants him to have  voice too. So that's four writers, plus a videographer. (When you're talking dogs, you've got to have a videographer.)

You can't farm that baby out. And who would want to, anyhow? Doesn't it sound like fun? Or am I crazy?

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Today I did something so weird I probably shouldn't talk about it in public.  It was one woman's fit of pique, but it does bring up issues. I went to the Kindle store to buy Thomas Perry's new book, STRIP, which I am frankly perishing to read. I'm a long-time fan of Perry's and it isn't often he writes a funny book, but this one sounds like the biggest side-splitter since METZGER'S DOG. So you'd think I'd pay anything, right?  Certainly $9.99 for the convenience of being able to get it NOW, without driving to a bookstore or waiting for  the mail.

Well, I would have. Gladly. But the Kindle edition was $14.30! I wasn't ready for that.  Sure, I knew all about the electronic price wars, I just hadn't yet been hit in the pocketbook. I realized that if I waited for the paperback edition, I could get two for very little more and have one to give away. Plus a real object to keep and cherish. I balked.  I wouldn't do it. I thought about the implications for the rest of us, too. What if that were me? How are any of us going to make a living when....you know, there isn't any print. (You've gotta consider the worst case.) Okay, the question came up, but I didn't think it was going to be by charging the cost of two paperbacks for a licensed non-object you can't even lend. I didn't buy the book, but I didn't cost Perry a sale either. I'm still going to buy it--but in hardcover, which may be what his publishers intend.

Still, I was shopping in the Kindle store because I wanted something to read NOW. Well, I knew where to find a cheap book. I read J.A. Konrath's hard-sell marketing the same as we all do.  So I went and bought one of his books for $1.99. Take that,  Big Pub! (But don't take it amiss--I love ya, babe, I'm not like Konrath, I just want you to get real.)

On the other hand,  what if Konrath's wrong? What if,  sometime in the future, people really are willing to pay large bucks for a virtually non-existent commodity? Well, if I that's where the market goes, I'll probably go with it-- after all, I just saved  twelve bucks and 31 cents toward a huge digital purchase--but that time isn't now.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Now a blogger

Here's my first post.

Two ways to look at publishing these days:  Either it's circling the drain or this is a very, very exciting time in its history.

Do you just hate the breathless way the latter notion is always uttered?  Me too, but I think I'm going with it. For one thing, Big Pub has too much invested to let it die.  Granted, they've been slow to make the changes the digital age demands, but eventually they'll adjust, and we'll still have books to read, different as they might look. The interim, though, is a great time for e-guerrillas to hit the streets.

And so, very slowly and painfully, I'm attempting to get my boots on the ground.  Pretty soon now I plan to be an actual publisher of electronic books. What a  terrifying metamorphosis. Me, a mid-career writer (check out www.juliesmithauthor.com ) attempting such a thing! Such hubris.  But such an adventure. My heart speeds up as I type. Can I pull this thing off?

I don't want to publish merely good books, I want many of them to be special books, books you can  only publish electronically, because they'd either be impossible to publish conventionally--as in video-enhanced books--or impractical, like maybe too short or too long; or too expensive. My hubris knows no bounds! And the same is true of my terror.

It wasn't so scary when the project first began, but I had a partner then. The problem is, one day she woke up sane.

Thinking back, I'm going to date the beginning  of all this to my birthday, when my husband gave me a Kindle. I bragged to my friend Chris, and she had quite a little rejoinder: It seemed her husband had given her one a month earlier. She was already in love. It's one thing to know about technology, but quite another to actually experience its potential. (Whoa. Don't go away--this is not a Kindle ad. I can't wait to get an Ipad.) What I mean is, both of us suddenly got it that e-books are here to stay, and that that could be a good thing. We hadn't thought if it as good before. But suddenly it occurred to us simultaneously that lamenting the demise of print books won't change anything, though who says they're dead? I'm still buying way too many. What may be dying is Publishing As It's Always Been. But then again that's been true for about twenty years, since the conglomerates took over just about every major house in New York.

Everyone we know in New York seems in a swamp of despair right now-- the daily word is that more and more people are being laid off, publishers aren't buying books from even well established authors, and the sky is falling faster than Icelandic ash. So here's what we thought: Let's do what we wish they were doing. Be innovative; be nimble; find news ways to publish books. And so one crazy day, we decided to just do it-- start our own e-publishing company. That's the adventure I want to chronicle in this blog.

That was about November and Chris dropped out as a managing partner a month ago (though she remains as an adviser), but  in that short time we've gotten a  terrific amount of enthusiastic help and actually acquired some books. Really good books, but more about that later. We can't sell them till we have a proper website and right now we have only what I thought was a beta site, but our intern Mack says is really more of an alpha thing. I didn't even know that term!

Meanwhile, I'm on a learning curve that's got me gasping for breath.