Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fantasy Writing

Oh what a bad blogger I've been. Too many ups and downs. Too many urgent small things to attend to. But more than anything, I've been too busy desperately trying to crank my actual experience of publishing my first book over to the fantasy experience I've been subconsciously tending lo these years as an emerging writer. You know the one - where I go on Oprah and the book rockets to the top of the best seller list?

I had such an amazing launch party: Kitty at Books Inc is a totally class act; there was a standing room only crowd; my talk went well. Kitty told me afterward that we sold more books in relation to the number of folks attending, than she has ever seen in her ten years of bookselling! The former Oakland Police Chief was there. Police and Army friends were there. My old friends from Stanford protesting days were there. I couldn't have felt more launched, and in a very post-partisan fashion.

Writers have a joke about the anticipation for one's book to launch: they call it "the calm before the calm." Which is not to say that I am calm. In my heart it's been more the storm before the storm. I have been waiting for the paparazzi to start banging on my door. I don't know how many people have told me I belong on Oprah. And I don't disagree. I think the book's story of a post-partisan love affair between a peace activist and a soldier/cop is particularly relevant right NOW in our post-Bush world. I think "love in condition yellow" is a great personal philosophy and not a bad basis for our foreign policy either. But Oprah, alas, is not calling back. She is in fact, on summer break. And here's the reality my book has launched into:

Many bricks-and-mortar book stores are closing their doors.
People are reading less books.
There are more and more books being published.
Newspapers are being shuttered.
There are fewer and fewer outlets for book reviews and features.
The internet is providing some outlets but it is more fragmented than in the days of yore.
The vast majority of books sell a small amount of copies (average: 2000 copies), while a tiny few sell an enormous amount.
There is almost no middle ground.

I have dutifully checked my NYT Book Review, and oddly, I am not on the best-seller list. The truth is, I don't really know how my book is selling. There are still hundreds of bookstores in the U.S. and they order books but can return them if they don't sell. So we won't really know for months the true numbers. The sometimes frustrating thing about bookselling, is NO ONE CAN PREDICT WHEN A BOOK WILL DO WELL. Some books get tons of coverage and nevertheless tank. Some books get almost no media attention and sell well through word of mouth. It's an alchemy no one can measure or quantify or dissect, and I realize I'm glad there is an element of magic and mystery to it.

When I evict my Oprah/NYT best-seller list fantasy, then I start to see how cool this has all been. First, like I said, I had an amazing launch. Then the book was selected by the American Booksellers Association as a June Notable Book, putting me in the company of talented writers like Walter Mosely, Andrew Sean Greer, Mary Roach, and Rick Atkinson. I did my first radio show, Mornings With Jeff Schechtman, KVON's public affairs show, (kind of a FORUM/Michael Krasny for the wine country. You can listen to it on my News & Events page. I've hit the blogosphere with a feature in Slate's new women's magazine, Double X and a blog post in MilitaryOneSource's BlogBrigade. And more exciting things are around the corner: appearances on KRON TV on June 21st, on West Coast LIVE on July 4th and a feature in the SF Chronicle Magazine on July 5th.

The wierdest twist is when I do get media coverage I can't say it makes me "happy" like it's supposed to in the fantasy. It makes me excited, for sure, but also kind of scared and nervous. I guess that's why they call these fantasies fantasies. They ain't real! The real thing is a whole hodgepodge of emotions. Like life.

What I try to focus on are the wonderful, supportive comments and encouragement of my family, friends, and readers, who relate to the book in so many different ways: A Marine dad came up to me at the launch and thanked me for disspelling stereotypes about servicemembers. He says his son is a Marine, and also a meditating vegan! Civilian women have written me about how they relate to overcoming differences in their marriages and families that have nothing to do with the military, but they related to the book. There was a comment attached to my last blog post (you can read the Literary Mama Q&A she is referring to on my site here) from someone who lives in a muslim country and found my ideas relevant. That's the real joy of this experience, connecting to other people who are sharing ideas and working to overcome differences. So thank you to all of you for keeping me grounded!