Monday, November 16, 2009

Anne Lamott and the Writing Mamas

The Writing Mamas of Marin hosted a wonderful literary evening with author Anne Lamott on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009 in Sausalito at the gorgeous Christ Church. It was another quarterly installation of the Mama Monologues, a charity event run by Dawn Yun in which a few of the "writing mamas" plus a special guest "writing mama" -- in this case, Anne Lamott -- face the audience to read (or perform) their tall tales on motherhood... like it really is.

These tales from the trenches of mommydom, as told by eight of the writing mamas, made up the opening act in the first hour. Each reader told a quick three to four-minute story that ripped giggles through the audience, yet delivered a satisfying depth or intelligence beyond the humor. Subjects included PMS, birthing, marriage, meditation, pubic hair, jealousy-riddled Google searching and the misinterpretation of a child's drawing (are those boobs or buttons?). Sorry, guys. This was definitely ladies night -- although the men that did show up, I'm sure, learned a useful thing or two.

Although the readers delivered natural, easy performances that entertained, it was all just the warm up. The cream of the evening was the second hour, driven entirely by the raw honesty, remarkable talent and delightful wit of author Anne Lamott. She is such a charismatic and natural story-teller. Standing before us and sharing her life story in this intimate setting gave the feeling that we were sitting around a campfire, warming our insides with wine, while listening, enthralled, to Lamott unfold the stories of her life growing up and as a writer. She does speak like her books read! Showing us pain we could laugh to.

At one point Lamott asked us if we wanted to hear her read a chapter (and she was poised with book open, ready to do that) or hear her life story. We voted for the latter. So she gave it to us. I can't remember all she said, of course, as she spoke about her now 20-year-old son Sam becoming a father a few months ago, and growing up in Marin, and drugs, and getting drunk, and becoming sober, and becoming a writer, and sending dreadful stories to her father's agent, and so on. But I did manage to jot down a few quotes that made me laugh or think:

"You don't really know how damaged you are until you're a parent."

"I'm counting every day to get less done... because you don't want to wake up realizing that you spent 40 years multi-tasking."

"I'm a black-belt co-dependent."

"You have the ability to write, so you sit down and do it."  (Lamott said she NEVER feels like writing but she has trained herself to sit down at the same time every day and do it.)

About writing "Bird by Bird," Lamott said that she was so easily overwhelmed. So much so she didn't think she could write a novel, but realized "you could write a novel if you write a small piece at a time. ...and then weave [the pieces] together."

Sorry I didn't capture more for you, or something perhaps more salient. Frankly, I was enjoying the wine and the stories too much to pause and actually write something down. So take note: If you have the opportunity to see Anne Lamott speak, especially so candidly and authentically as she did on this evening with us, I recommend you jump at it. You will feel either at the campfire or alone on your couch propped up by an elbow, reading one of her marvelous books.

Also look out for future Mama Monologues (info at, because they're almost always an intimate, behind the scenes affair with the guest author.

Photo credit: AP Photo/ Nati Harnik

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kemble Scott on Non-Traditional Publishing

by Cindy Bailey 9.11.09

I went to see Kemble Scott read from his second novel, The Sower, at Kepler's in Menlo Park the other night, and it was a treat. Kemble Scott is a pioneer in - how do I put it - discovering nontraditional, cutting edge methods of publishing and succeeding tremendously with them. He's also a skilled novelist of course (his first novel, SoMa, became a best-seller and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award), an Internet Marketing guru, and just a really nice, approachable guy. He's hugely supportive of fellow writers and graciously, generously shares his marketing/publishing secrets.

On the night of his reading, he shared the story of how his second novel came to be, and that may have been just as intriguing to fellow writers as the actual story in the novel (which is a kind of thriller!). Let me see if I can encapsulate it accurately: after the success of his first novel (and he's got some great stories about that), he decided to team up with a company called Scribd to bring out his second novel as a DIGITAL book! Scrbd was/is getting 60 million unique users a month, mostly college students (Kemble defined them as the "YouTube" of the written word.)

As one of the first official authors to do this with Scribd, he got a ton of media attention - just explosive. The idea behind the PR was "democratization of the media;" that writers no longer have to put up with waiting 18 months to see their book in print after acceptance to the publisher (or even have to be accepted by a publisher!!), and then have to wait another year or so to even know how many books they've sold (because pubs are not required to tell, he says), and then wait even longer to get paid from those sales! No, readers could have their books in hand (or on their screen or printer) right away. Scribd lets you know the second you make a sale, so you can adjust your marketing tactics--and even change your book jacket copy!--instantaneously to attract better sales. You don't have to wait years to get paid, either!

But do people read e-books? According to Kemble, everyone is different and has their own choice about how they read: someone only reads e-books, another won't touch them, another will read e-books on his/her iPhone while commuting, but a paper version at bedtime. There is a market and it is growing.

This story doesn't end there, however, for Kemble's second novel. After all the media attention, within a month (I believe; I have to verify timing), Kemble got offers from traditional publishers to print his digital book as a regular hardback book. What did he do? Something once again nontraditional. In Kemble's novel, he creates an alternative present day (it's today, but George Bush has been elected to a third term for example), and Kemble makes many references to modern day icons, such as Susan Boyle from Britain's Got Talent. Those icons might be forgotten by the time his book is published in hardback 18 months down the line. So he picked a small publisher who cranked out those books in a record 29 days!! Isn't that amazing? And to show support for independent bookstores, for this first edition hardback, you can only find it at independent stores, which is where he's making his reading/speaking engagements too.

That is just such a neat story. Love it! Looking forward to reading the other story (his novel).

Some links:

Some press on this: NYT, East Bay
The book: The Sower
About Kemble Scott.

Come visit us sometime at LitRave.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Author Ethan Watters Delivers

by Cindy Bailey, 3.31.09

As you may know, I belong to a vibrant writing salon called the Writing Mamas (, which meets at Book Passage in Corte Madera. We have guest speakers every month and our most recent one was author and San Francisco Grotto co-founder, Ethan Watters.

I come to the talk filled with preconceptions and expectations. In my intimate circle of writers, he’s famous—not only as an author and magazine writer, but as an accessible, patient, nurturing teacher and mentor. Writer friends rave about him, and finally I get to meet him!

There he was on deadline for a book (due in 10 days!), yet he took time off to come talk to us. And not just to rip thoughts off the top of his head, either. Oh, no! He came prepared, with a stack of detailed notes, a gorgeous sample query (by Todd Oppenheimer for his first ever piece in The New Yorker), and a genius, witty sample book proposal (by Mary Roach for her now famous book, Spook).

In his casual, approachable manner, he engaged us with insider information and tips on the business of writing magazine articles and books, asking us targeted questions, answering our own questions, and reading from the aforementioned samples along the way.

Here’s just a smidgen of the hot stuff he gave up:

The four main goals of a query letter (to a magazine) are:

· Get the magazine to say “Yes”

· Show that you’re the one to write it

· Sell the editor on your writing skills

· Develop a relationship with the editor

I can honestly say, I don’t often think of the fourth item because I’m so focused on the first, and I can see what a mistake that is! The ultimate goal, Ethan says, is to develop a long-term relationship with the editor.

Another hot tip: when you call the editor to check on the status of your query, if the editor says “No,” be ready to pitch him or her something else.

Another: editors almost never get back to you. You have to call them, and Ethan suggests calling about 10 days later.

I took down pages of insider notes. If you want in, I highly recommend taking Ethan’s nonfiction writing class, which he teaches at the SF Writers’ Grotto. One of my writer friends has taken his class three times, she loves it that much. Click here for more info: Classes start soon! April 13, 2009.

Ethan’s bio (from the SF Writers' Grotto site):Ethan Watters is a co-founder of the San Francisco Writers' Grotto. His most recent book is Urban Tribes: Are Friends the New Family? He's written for many of national magazines including New York Times Magazine, Spin, Discover, Details, Men Journal, Mother Jones, GQ, and Esquire. He has written two previous books about recovered memory therapy and the mental health profession. The movie rights for Urban Tribes have been optioned by Ira Glass and are in development for a feature film at Warner Bros. Currently, he is working on a book about evolutionary medicine.