Shocked—Shocked!—to Find Out that Writers Make No Money

Recently, Digital Book World published statistics on how much writers make. Turns out, it’s not very much. As a writer myself, and someone who works in the publishing industry, this was about as stunning as Captain Renault’s revelation that there was gambling at Rick’s Café.

Looking at the graph below, it’s particularly surprising, of course, that “aspiring” writers don’t make any money at all. Oh, Digital Book World, say it isn’t so!

dbwslide

While it’s interesting to look at numbers like this sometimes—and the breakdown of what kind of publishing provides what kinds of rewards—it’s not terribly informative. Because as both the graph and life experience can tell you, writing is not a lucrative calling.  And writing for young people, in particular, is not known for its millionaire-making.  With very few exceptions, anyone who writes—or creates visual art, or music, or…well, I could go on endlessly—can tell you that it’s not the salary that drives her.

This is not to say that it’s not a very nice thing indeed to get paid for your writing—it goes without saying that it is. It’s frustrating, even infuriating, sometimes not to get paid a lot (or even at all) for your work.

But—and here comes a reference to The Bachelor (it is still Juan-uary, after all)—creative pursuits are all about the journey. And part of being there for the Right Reasons is knowing that you’re almost certainly not going to get rich doing it. Though, again, a little something here and there certainly helps.

So, thank you, Digital Book World, for providing this graphic. It’s very colorful and pleasing to look at, and give us aspiring writers out there something to actually, well, aspire to. That teeny little slice of green up there is certainly calling my name!

Literary Lists…or, How Do You Know What Will Make Me a Better Person?

A fresh page upon which to create today’s list! I’ve been with this planner longer than I’ve been with my husband.

It is an undeniable fact: I am a list-maker. From what to buy at the supermarket, to what to pack for a trip, to what I need to do each and every day, there is a list. Indeed, I’ve had the same Franklin Planner since approximately 1997, for which I dutifully buy new, blank pages upon which to list-make at the start of every year.

For me, this is a sanity preservation device: I know my own tendency to become wildly stressed out if I don’t feel like I’m on top of things, so I try to keep on top of things. I am not a procrastinator—doing stuff at the last minute tends to eat away at my mental well-being. So, each day, I make a list of the things I need to accomplish. On paper, in pencil, with a system to mark off what I’ve done, what’s only partially done, and what’s going to have to wait a day or two. If this sounds like madness to you, fair enough. But it works for me and they’re not created for the benefit of anybody but me.

The long and the short of it is, I understand the urge to list things off and make sense of them.

What I guess I don’t understand is making lists of books based on things like Flavorwire’s “50 Novels Guaranteed to Make You a Better Person.”  Okay, so there are some good books on there, and there are worse ways to spend your day than putting together a list of good books. And, okay, so there’s research out in the ether that says that reading novels is good for you—can even make you more empathetic. As a life-long reader, I didn’t really need any scientific research to tell me this, of course. I know it from experience. I also know from experience that one woman’s life-changing read is another terrible bore. Because what changes you is as individual and subjective as being you is. I often joke, but truly believe, that while some people turn to religious texts in their times of need, I turn to Middlemarch. For me, that’s what’s life affirming and life changing. So to create a list of books that will help someone else be a better person seems like an exercise in futility.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I like a good book list. I like Goodreads for that very reason—readers putting together lists of books that they’ve enjoyed, usually by some sort of categorization. But creating such a list—one that says, hey these were great books that I liked!—and saying hey, these books will make you a better person, are two very different things. By all means, share what you love with me. Maybe I’ll love it, too. But don’t presume to dictate what might do something as enormous as improve a person on a fundamental level. Because my George Elliot might be your Jonathan Franzen. Maybe Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books opened up a world of possibilities for you as a kid. Who knows?

On my desk at all times is a little bookmark that contains a snippet of text from Little Women in a glass tube. I keep this on whatever desk I use as an editor—and it’s traveled with me from one location to another for many years—as a physical reminder as I read submissions and edit stories that everyone has their own special, life-changing books. Little Women turned me into a serious reader. Any other book might do that for any other reader.

So, at the risk of sounding cranky—and oh, I fear that I do sound cranky!—telling people that this book or that one will make them better or change their lives (and why it will) is kind of hooey. Tell me what you love, but then let me sit back and discover what I can in a book—and let it change me or not as it will!

On MFA Residency and “Juan-uary”

Juan Pablo Galavix
ABC/Craig Sjodin

Do you watch The Bachelor? No? Whether you do or don’t, if you’re tuned into any kind of pop culture or own any kind of electronic device, you must have keyed into the fact that ABC has dubbed this month “Juan-uary” in honor of the current (hunky, deliciously clueless) Bachelor, Juan Pablo Galavis.

My husband and I love this show. So much so that I won’t even deign to call it a guilty pleasure—it’s just a plain, old pleasure. Last week’s season premiere did not disappoint. There was the usual round of craziness: The lady who shows up pretending to be pregnant. The other lady who brings her massage table with her, just because. The folks who give new meaning to the phrase “odd jobs” (I’m looking at you, “Free Spirit,” “Dog Lover,” and “Former NBA Dancer”). But it also was crazy on a whole different level: as in he gave the coveted First Impression Rose to someone who could barely tolerate his presence, and then during the rose ceremony, someone actually mistook Kat for Kylie—you know, the kind of mistake anyone could make—and two ladies came for a single rose.

Did I mention that I love this show?

Are you beginning to wonder if I’m ever going to get to the part where The Bachelor is like my recent MFA residency?

Well, wait no longer, because here it is: Like the beginning of Juan Pablo’s “journey,” my nine days at residency at Lesley were a little bumpy. The first day was cancelled because we got over a foot of snow. On the second day, I apparently dropped my wallet in the parking lot of a shopping center near campus. No one turned it in. This resulted in hour upon tedious hour of organizing bank, credit card, license renewal—you name it—all in the midst of seminars, workshops, readings, and time with friends I only get to see twice a year.

Then on Friday, it snowed again and I slipped on a patch of ice and hurt my knee. Nothing’s broken—only woefully swollen and sore. And so I missed the last day of residency.

The thing is, this was my last full residency, the one that kicks off my thesis semester in a program that has meant a lot to me. But, just like the proverbial path to true love (you had to know I’d bring it back to The Bachelor somehow), the course of this residency just didn’t run as smoothly as I’d hoped.

Even so, it was—as always—wonderful to see friends and faculty, to talk about writing with people who are also on this crazy journey, to think about craft and dive a little deeper into a story that’s come so far—and still has so very far to go.

So, Juan-uary didn’t begin quite as I thought it would. Big deal, right? I’m still on this wild MFA program ride for The Right Reasons. And as any true fan of The Bachelor will tell you, that’s all that really matters.

The Bend in the Road

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“Anne had a long meditation at her window that night. Joy and regret struggled together in her heart. She had come at last . . . suddenly and unexpectedly . . . to the bend in the road. . . . but Anne realized as well that when she rounded that curve she must leave many sweet things behind . . . all the little simple duties and interests which had grown so dear to her in the last two years and which she had glorified into beauty and delight by the enthusiasm she had put into them.” —L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

It is not unusual for Anne Shirley to come to my mind unbidden, but today, this particular passage is first and foremost in my mind. Because I’ve come to a bend in the road—one that I hoped for and need, but one that also is bittersweet as all such things must be.

After nearly seven years—long enough so that my daughter has no recollection of me working anywhere but there—yesterday was my last day in the office at a publishing company that I love dearly. I’m not leaving completely, of course. I’m extremely pleased to say that I’ll still be acquiring and editing books with them. But now it will be as a freelance editor working from a quiet corner in my own home.

There are many wonderful things about this, cutting the endless commute out of my world not  the least of them. But it also gives me time to deal with schoolwork, time with family, and time to write in a more meaningful way—all while still working with authors and illustrators and on books that mean an awful lot to me.

On the flip side, I will miss the colleagues and friends in the office who have played such a huge role in my world week after week, year after year. And that’s a pretty gigantic flip side.

In the end, though, I welcome this bend in the road, and if I face the uncertainty of what lies beyond with a little bit of wistfulness, I also face it with great hope. Because there’s beauty and delight in what’s already been—and perhaps still more in what’s to come.

 

Nonfiction Picture Books at The Crooked Little Cottage

Christopher Denise
Christopher Denise’s gorgeous portrait of Mr. Pig and his Crooked Little Cottage.

Do you have a burning desire to know what my favorite picture was a kid? Alternatively, would you to hear a nonfiction editor’s picks for favorite contemporary nonfiction picture books? Well, Mr. Pig (and one of his cohorts, Jamie Michalak) over at The Crooked Little Cottage is featuring all of the above in a feature called Loved to Pieces today. Check it out—and then do yourself a giant favor and stick around to enjoy all fun this blog (and Mr. Pig) have to offer!

Literary Hunger

The Telegraph’s imagining of what Alice’s tea party might have looked like.

After seeing a link in PW Daily to this wonderful slideshow of the ten best literary meals on The Telegraph, I started thinking of literary grub myself. It’s not that I disagree with The Telegraph’s choices. (Okay, maybe I do. Thin gruel? Really?). It’s just that I’ve been known to cook, and eat, based solely on the literary merit of a particular food or drink. Heck, I’ve been known to take entire vacations on literary merit alone.

So here’s a small sampling of some of the foods and drinks that books have inspired me to try.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneButterbeer: I tried this for the first time ever a couple of weeks ago, thanks to a good friend and fellow Harry Potter enthusiast, and admit that it was kind of a thrill. Very, very sweet. But still kind of a thrill. Now, would I also want to try Chocolate Frogs? Why yes, I would. Every Flavor Beans, however…not so much. I like to think I’m an adventurous eater, but yet still am not eager to sample anything that claims it tastes like earwax.

 

Anne of Green GablesRaspberry cordial and/or red currant wine: When Anne Shirley inadvertently gets her bosom friend Diana Barry drunk on red currant wine (all the while innocently thinking it’s raspberry cordial), I admit that my interest was piqued. I wanted to try both. And many years ago, on a pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island, I tried raspberry cordial. Only very recently, I had some red currant wine. The verdict? Like Diana, I’ll go with the wine, thanks.

 

The Secret Garden

Porridge: On our honeymoon in Scotland, I determined that if porridge is good enough for Mary Lennox, it was good enough for me. I’ll never want a bowl of regular old oatmeal. Hearty enough to support one in traversing across moors with boys who talk to animals—or at least my husband, who only talks to our guinea pig—it’s tasty as all get-out as well.

 

The Tale of Peter RabbitChamomile tea: Inspired by Peter Rabbit’s post-McGregor stomach ache, I sought out this soothing herbal tea. Turns out that drinking a hot beverage made from steeping tiny flowers is not the wisest idea for someone with allergy issues. As soon as my throat began to swell shut, I knew that relying of naughty rabbits for inspiration as to what to eat or drink was a terrible, terrible mistake.

 

The waters at Bath: Here’s a tip that no one in Jane Austen’s Persuasion ever tells you: if it smells like sulfur it will, in fact, taste like sulfur. And while I don’t regret trying taking the waters (in Bath and in Cheltenham—I am a sucker for 19th century spa towns), I can’t say I felt anything but mildly ill after having done so. But when you’re in the Pump Room pretending to be Anne Elliot, who really cares?

 

Despite the occasional miss (or, you know, inability to breathe), I’m always up for trying something new. Got some literary food obsessions? Do share!

Lazy Saturday

Much as I admire Andy Samberg (and I do), my idea of a lazy weekend day is somewhat different than the one he and Chris Parnell imagined in this video. This may, perhaps, be due to the fact that there is very little time for a lazy anything in my world at the moment (the lack of posting of late on this, my beloved blog, attests to that). When it does happen, it’s always on Saturday mornings.

On Saturdays, no one in my little family needs to be anywhere until a swimming lesson at the Y calls at 11:30. It is the only day of the week in which all three of us can just lounge around for hours. And since I gave birth to the earliest of early risers, I do mean that we have hours.

This morning, after a long family snuggle, we made pancakes. You can choose your own adventure in terms of berries, syrup, and even type of pancake (regular or almond flour) in our house. Personally, I go the almond flour ones heaped with every available topping. Then we lounged on the couch, drank copious amounts of tea, and generally relaxed together.

Should I have been working this whole time? Is there not school work, freelance work, and just plain old work work to be done? Alas, yes. But for once, I didn’t do any of it. These few precious hours of downtime were sorely needed, by all of us, I think.

All good things must come to an end, though, and this glorious morning has. My kiddo is off at swimming class (dreams of being an Olympic platform diver aren’t achieved without hard work, after all), my husband with her. And I’m about to start working right…about…

Now.

When Dictionaries Blog

Can Brendan Fraser and Pauly Shore teach us something about how language evolves? Blissfully, the answer is yes.

I’ve known for quite some time that The American Heritage Dictionary has a blog—I do work at HMH after all. But just this week, I discovered that the Oxford English Dictionary does, too. Between the two, I’ve been in blog (procrastination?) heaven.

Take, for example, this post on Oxford’s blog about the roots and current usage of the word “bro”—or as their blog calls it, “The Rise of the Portmanbro.” It not only traces the early uses of the word, but quotes the Brendan Fraser classic Encino Man as one of the turning points in how the word is used currently. Who knew Encino Man had such cultural cache?

The blog is also careful not to pin down a meaning too carefully, but it does ascribe at least one key attribute: “The specific cultural attributes of such men are shifting and elusive, but one defining feature is a tendency to use the word bro. A lot.”

It also points to the abundance of “portmanbros” that have arisen—it’s not all about the bromance anymore: “plenty of other portmanbros have achieved widespread currency: bro-hug has appeared in the New York Times at least 8 times since 2010, and brogrammer has recently shot to prominence in discussions about the gender politics of Silicon Valley.”

The American Heritage Dictionary, for its part, is pondering such engrossing questions as “Ax or axe?” And what it lacks in snarky tone (yeah, I’m looking at you, Oxford blog), it makes up for in fun facts. Just as Oxford cited Encino Man, the AHD is happy to take So I Married an Axe Murderer as a sign of cultural usage.  But did you know that “axe” is technically not correct usage in American English?

Mike Myers, happily promoting the misspelling of the word “ax.”

Did you also know that most people use “axe” instead of “ax,” proper usage be damned? Indeed, the AHD blog points out that, “Home Depot and Wal-Mart will be happy to sell you an axe, but if you go to their websites wanting an ax your options will be much more limited.”

So where does this leave us? Well, if you put together Oxford’s breakdown of bro with the AHD’s examination of ax/axe, one key connection becomes clear—in the wearing of the AXE body spray by young bros everywhere. Ah, the sweet smell of brofume.

 

 

Literary Things to Love…at the End of a Hard Week

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found this to be a tough week, both on a personal and global kind of level. Right now, the sky is gray, the government is still shut down, I don’t feel great, and I generally need a pick-me-up.

So I went and found one…or maybe a few.

First off, here’s author Terry Pratchett, sporting a shirt he apparently wears to conventions. More reason to love Terry Pratchett? I’d say so.

terry pratchett's t-shirt
Via theonering.net.

And here’s a picture of Mark Twain and Helen Keller, who apparently had a lovely dinner together way back in 1901. If you want to read what he wrote in his journal about this encounter (and, seriously, why would you NOT want to read something Mark Twain wrote?), check out this piece in The Huffington Post.

mark twain 1

And as a parting shot, you can find a whopping 19 kick-butt book-related manicurescourtesy of Buzzfeed. But I had to share my favorite here, because someday, somehow I must have this on my nails.

One literary manicure to rule them all, one literary manicure to find them, one literary manicure to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Lord Of The Rings
Via chalkboardnails.com

 

 

Time Out (Miniature Edition)—For When There Is No Time Out in Sight

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve posted photos of any of my adventures, big or small, that qualify as time-outs from regular life (for that matter, it’s been a little while since I posted anything at all). There’s a reason for this: there have been no time-outs from regular life for me. Indeed, there simply hasn’t been time for anything.

So, while I don’t have any pictures of lovely places to share with you, I do have the recipe (literally) for a mini-break in a cup. Or as I like to call it, the “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter mug cake.”

Here’s all that you need:

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You mean you don’t have dark chocolate peanut butter and Vietnamese cinnamon in your pantry? Perhaps it’s time to seriously rethink the things you stock in your pantry.

2 tablespoons of whole wheat pastry flour
1 ½ (or 2 if you’re feeling crazy) tablespoons of Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter or Nutella (or almond butter, or whatever suits your fancy)
3 tablespoons of skim milk
1/8 of teaspoon of baking soda
1 tablespoon of chocolate chips or peanut butter chips (completely optional but come on—this is supposed to be a mini-break, right?)
A pinch of Truvia (or whatever sweetener floats your boat)
A pinch of cinnamon

First, procure your beverage of choice. The whole process of making the little cake takes about two minutes, so you need to plan ahead in terms of what will accompany your vacation in a cup. I prefer a glass of cold milk. Tea works nicely, too. However, if you’re looking for something stronger than that, I certainly won’t judge you.

Put everything but the chocolate chips into a teacup—and be sure to use a teacup instead of a coffee mug as this is a dainty-sized treat—and mix it all up with a fork.

It looks gross, I know. It only gets better from here.
It looks gross, I know. It only gets better from here.

Now add the chips and give it one last stir to spread the goodness around the batter.

SAM_0874
Ah, that’s better. Especially with the chocolate chips. Just remember: super-dark chocolate = super low in sugar.

Pop it in the microwave for 50 seconds, or more in very small time increments if it’s not cooked—but this is like a good brownie, in which gooey is better than cakey.

SAM_0876
The finished product: gooey goodness. And did I mention the protein? Soooo healthy.

Then sit someplace quiet and enjoy your chocolatey-peanutty cup of joy. It’s kind of healthy (protein! whole wheat! skim milk!), and small enough to not have to feel guilty about it anyway. And as my daughter frequently tells me, sometimes a girl needs a break.

Happy Tuesday!