August 30, 2010

Depicting "transition" in polymer clay

You see, Blog, "Transition" is the theme of the August Creativity Challenge from A Creative Dreamer. This month I didn't have any trouble coming up with something, and it worked out well as I felt Magic House was in need of another good scuptural vase for the living room, and the idea I had in mind played perfectly into the transition concept.  Why?  Well, I'll explain as I go.

At about eight inches tall, my so-called "Copper Transition Vessel" is one of the bigger pieces I've done. I worked from a glass jar I set aside some time ago, but needed to change the cylindrical shape into something more organic.  So I added "padding" of crumpled aluminum foil and then covered the whole piece in a smooth piece of foil.  To smooth it out further, I coated it all in a layer of scrap clay.

The living room is mostly in light brown and other neutral shades, so the color that really pops in there is turquoise.  But with the transition theme, I thought about copper and how it oxidizes to that light blue-green color, and that sounded perfect.  (This oxidation process is what? Transition!)

I made the turquoise-colored clay by working from Premo in a tan color; this is the same clay I used for my ill-fated doll (so I have lots of it left), and it has a slight translucence to it.  I blended in blue and olive green clay in small amounts, and stopped mixing just short of an even color.  The resulting clay was very pretty in and of itself.

I used plain copper clay for the copper areas.  I made sheets of clay that blended the blue into the copper, using the popular "Skinner Blend" technique (all polyclayers know that one!).  Note though, Blog, that here is another example, that makes two, of "transition."

I covered the vessel in overlapping pieces of this blended clay.  Then I created surface scuptures that look like flowers or seed pods.  They incorporate all kinds of embellishments like beads, faux gemstones, and copper wire.  Then I used Perfect Pearls paint in coppe to highlight.  Lastly, I applied some metal leaf (gold and copper), particularly inside the "mouth" of the vessel, to make it like the intriguing interior of a flower might appear to a hungry bee.

You see, Blog, making a sort of faux metal is all well and good, but metal is static, and although copper does change with oxidation, other than that it doesn't "transition" much.  On the other hand, living things are always in transition, and making my vessel into an organic design provides a sense of growth, blooming, and development.

So there you have it!  It turned out exactly like I hoped it would.  Nevertheless, Davie had a certain "huh?" reaction.  "It's a wacky shape, kinda like that 'octopus' vase you made before," he said.  The "Octopus vase" is one of my three favorite projects to date, Blog, and not an octopus but another organic piece that happens to have trailing beaded wires at the bottom.  So I took that as a compliment, in a way.

In closing, let us all join in singing "Transition! Transition!" in our best Tevye voices to the tune of "Tradition" from "Fiddler on the Roof."  Something like that.

August 27, 2010

On "control": Give me back my life!

Blog, I don't think you have to be a control freak to dislike not having control. (But yeah, I'm sort of a control freak too.) It's perfectly normal not to want your fate in the hands of forces that don't give a rip about your best interests. We all have times in our lives when this out-of-controlness gets, well, out of control. And I seem to being having one of those right now.

Work: It's commonplace to feel like your work life is getting the best of you. I think more of us are feeling this than ever lately. Because of scarcity of jobs, a lot of employers seem to have the approach now that they can have less concern for the welfare of their workers, even though business has improved. What are we going to do, find a different job and leave? In my own life, and perhaps in our readers' as well, this is having a real impact. Reduction of wages and benefits continues with no end in sight, and hard work no longer means any kind of reward. And there's nothing you can do about it except add the extra work of job-seeking to your load. (Of course, this beats the nightmare of having been unemployed for months, which thankfully I do not have to endure.)

Red tape: As life increases in complexity, so does the red tape with which we all must deal. Just maintaining the status quo is a taxing task: bill paying, record keeping, maintenance of your various electronic devices, your car, your house, your own health, etc. And of course there are always snafus. This week I had to deal with a $100 rebate being rejected for improper paperwork, when in fact the paperwork was fine. And of course I also had to spend about six hours with the latest f*-up by my health insurance company and equipment supplier. I also had three medical appointments, one of which I accidentally missed! I've never done that in my whole life, I was just that stressed out.

Weather: I had lunch with my dad last week and he expressed again his conviction that the predictors of weather are useless. He proved absolutely right just a few days later. My daughters and I went for our annual camping trip and our first night was virtually ruined by a storm that no one expected to be of that magnitude. Then our second day, which we spent at the beach, was totally overcast and drizzly in spite of a forecast that very morning of total sunshine. How can you hope to plan weather-dependent activities? Well, you just can't. No control.

Human beings: I am blessed with a family that is sane, supportive, and mostly strife-free. My life wasn't always this way, so I sympathize with people who must cope with things like mean in-laws, abusive spouses, and challenging children. But even if your close relationships are good, you can bet some of the other humans around you will be a pain in the arse. My silly example from this week: I often keep my office door nearly closed due to noise or wanting to keep the room warm. The woman who delivers the office mail never recloses the door after she comes in. She is the type who, if you asked her to change, would get really snippy and still not change. All you can do to cope with the [admittedly tiny] inconsiderateness is flip her off on the sly. Yes, I do stoop to that level.

Technology: You know I love technology, Blog. But sometimes it functions more as a tool for humans to annoy you rather than as a way to save time and effort. This week I suddenly found myself, for the first time, no longer inclined to just delete unwanted emails. I was so fed up with people thinking they could inundate me from morn till night with crap I didn't want, I started taking the time to unsubscribe. As of this writing, after 48 hours, I have unsubscribed from personal stuff 43 times, and from work stuff 68 times. In two days, Blog.

I have insulin-dependent diabetes, a challenging condition that requires constant monitoring and action, and these days that's a comparative cakewalk to the rest of my life.

Well, Blog, you get the idea, and now let's segue into a more positive theme: regaining control. You know what? I found that just doing those unsubscribes made me feel surprisingly better. Why? Because each time I did it, it was like saying to another source of annoyance, "I control my life, not you, and I don't want your stupid newsletter about beauty products."

So there's Tip #1: Put yourself first when you deserve to be. Don't use this as a justification to be a jerk; that'll do nothing for your self-esteem and only make the world an unhappier place. But you are entitled to as much control over your time and labor as you can reasonably achieve, and especially in response to people trying to take advantage of you. Save the time and effort for people who truly deserve it--not spammers, telemarketers, or coworkers trying to pawn work off on you that is their own responsibility. As long as you are conscientiously doing those things that are rightfully your own duties, no one has the right to object.

Which leads me to Tip #2: Give karma a hand. You know karma, Blog: "What goes around comes around." I don't mind if you call this "slight vindictiveness," even. Example: Yesterday a guy selling online advertising called me about renewing for 2011. I told him my boss had decided to cut the program this time. Naturally he pressured me to reconsider...for a long time, despite my arguments. He claimed we'd gotten tons of website referrals in 2010. I asked him to email a report and I would check with my boss. Well, we have our own tracking, and I could see his report was falsified to a high degree. Well, lie to me and you'll see what happens! I didn't ask my boss, I just emailed the salesguy back a "no."

Going back to the camping story, here's Tip #3: Make plans that increase your own control. After our little weather debacle, my daughters and I made a new plan for future camping. In a nutshell, it eliminates the tent part and gives us fun alternatives to be together even if the weather fails at the last minute. For similar reasons, I avoid the following as much as possible: group work, people who regularly cancel social engagements at the last minute, and doing business with companies that have burned other people (Google is such a helpful tool).

And here's a tip for your mental health, Tip #4: Flip people off on the sly. I mean that figuratively as well as literally, like in my earlier anecdote. Sometimes other people simply have the power to make you unhappy and you have no way to change that. The "sly flip-off" can be helpful to let off steam and give you a little satisfaction, and is certainly better than brooding. I have been known both to quietly hang up on salespeople as well as to goofing off on the job for a couple hours when I've been mistreated by an employer--not that I mean my current employer of course! :-) As in Tip #2, fair is fair, and tipping the fairness scale back a little bit in your favor is nothing to feel ashamed of in my opinion.

On the flip side, there's Tip #5: Know when to let it go. I'm particularly bad at this as you might guess. Sometimes you just have to accept the crappy stuff lest you do nothing but add to your own grief. It can help if you say to yourself, "There's nothing I can do about this so I'm going to forget about it and give myself a treat." Then have a cocktail, some chocolate, or a lazy night of reading.

Lastly, there's Tip #6: Simplify and de-stress your life as much as you can. Employment is never going to be all joy (that's why they pay you), red tape is a part of life, and both people and things will always have their way with you to a certain extent. You can counteract these forces by making sure, in those areas of your life you CAN control, you are leading a balanced existence. Exercise, take time for yourself, don't over-commit to activities, eliminate bad relationships if you can, channel your energy into things that matter most to you. Leave yourself some wiggle-room to accommodate the unavoidable junk.

That's all I got, Blog, and I guess I said a mouthful. Good luck to all of you out there that are feeling put-upon. I hope this helped, and if you have more tips, please share in the comments!

August 24, 2010

15-year-old you and your celebrity crush (and a contest)

Blog, you’re not 15 years old yet, but a lot of us passed that milestone awhile ago. And it’s to those folks that I pose the non-musical question, who was your celebrity crush when you were 15? Post your answer in the comments and you might be glad you did. But more on that a little later.

There are a couple of reasons why I choose the age of 15. One is the fact that 15 is in that interesting transitional period between childhood and adulthood. Most people have passed puberty, but not by much, so are still confused and overpowered by their new desires and attractions. Many people still cling, at least on some level, to childhood beliefs like knights in shining armor, magical princesses, and wishes coming true. There’s nothing like a celebrity crush when you’re 15. That rock star, athlete, or TV actor can make a mighty big impact.

My second reason is that Maria Grandinetti was 15 when she fell for Captain Eternity. She and her friend Sue were having a sleepover for the occasion of Maria’s 15th birthday, way back on June 22, 1974, when they discovered a late-night science fiction movie show on a local Milwaukee TV channel (remember UHF?). Said show was hosted by one handsome, sexy, mysterious space alien character who called himself Captain Eternity.

The cancellation of the show in the fall of that year did not deter Maria, like many teenagers, from clinging to her devotion to the Captain. He captured her imagination in a way that she never got over, not even 16 years later when the opportunity arose to track down the actor who played the role. Since this story is a novel I wrote, Maria was successful in the attempt. And the man she found was just as compelling, enigmatic, and attractive as Captain Eternity was.

Okay, now back to 15-year-old you and your celebrity crush. (“You” meaning our readers, Blog, not you, who sadly are not yet 15.) Picture yourself having the opportunity today to get to know that person, even have a relationship with him or her. Opens a whole weird can of worms, doesn’t it? The other day I read that a women who crushed on Eddie Munster back in the 60s (of “The Munsters” sit com) actually finally met him and they are currently dating. And taking it slowly, as any wise person would, and indeed, as Maria Grandinetti also knows she must. How exactly would you deal with the real person behind your imagined beloved hero or heroine? How can you really integrate fantasy into reality in such a dramatic way? And wouldn’t it be scary and fun?

Well, it is scary and fun when it happens in The Resurrection of Captain Eternity. I wrote this book circa 1990, which is when it takes place (Maria is a reference librarian in the days before the internet brought us all the info we can google). I published it in 1998 when the publisher slated to do so went out of business before it could be released, and I first opened my little publishing house, Living Beyond Reality Press. Being then too poor to pay for ISBN numbers, till now I have not been able to sell the paperbacks anywhere but through LBR Press.

But happily, I just published the novel in ebook form at long last! (It was a bit tricky utilizing files from 1990.) It’s available in pdf, epub and mobi formats, from LBR Press as well as Barnes & Noble’s nook store, Amazon’s Kindle store, and coming soon to Border’s ebook store. Woo hoo! In celebration of this spreading of Captain Eternity fever, for every ten people who tell me their celebrity crush from when they were 15, I will give away one copy of the book in a drawing. Your choice of formats, even the good old paperback one of which I still have plenty of stock!

It may be 20 years old, Blog, but I just reread the book and it is still utterly relevant to the experience of celebrity adulation and how we deal with it. Every generation has its Elvis Presley, Leif Garrett, Corey Haim, Jared Leto, or Rob Pattinson. And most of us have experienced that exquisitely painful longing for the unattainable idol. The dream that attaining him or her just might be possible is one we’ve all harbored. And what if it was?

What if, indeed, Blog?

So post away, readers, no later than midnight, Tuesday, August 31. I’ll contact the winners on September 1.  And if all else fails, the paperback’ll cost ya a mere $5.95 plus Media Mail postage, while the ebook is only $3.95! (See what a cheapskate I am with my contest prizes?) All you need to know to buy a copy is on the Captain Eternity page of my website.

Oh, and my celebrity crushes back in 1971? David Cassidy, Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka (wow)...

and Malcolm MacDowell in “A Clockwork Orange” even though I was too young to see the movie. (He’s kinda dreamy to this day....)

Ah, fifteen....

August 17, 2010

How to have a Birthday Week

So, Blog, one of my Facebook friends asked, "You get to have a birthday week?" To which I replied, "Actually, everyone does, they just don't all know it."

I myself didn't always realize this. I can't precisely recall when I first started observing the Birthday Week tradition, but I'm pretty sure how it came to be. And you'll be pleased to know that it springs not purely from self-indulgent, narcissistic motives. Although certainly it does in part. But actually, I have always been pretty flexible about the specific day my birthday is officially observed, because my family members are busy and have other commitments and I really like to make the party convenient for everyone.

So, for example, this year it worked out for everyone to be available on Sunday the 14th. Aka Day Two of my Birthday Week (Day One being the day I gave our cats their Turbo Track). So, here's Principle #1 of Having a Birthday Week: one of the days is the day you have your family party. I had a super one this year: My fabulous chef daughters with their fabulous sous chef boyfriends prepared a Mexican feast featuring a fajita bar with grilled beef and chicken, and chips and guacamole. My dad and little Ava (age 5) were on hand so we had a 79-year age span in the attendees. Mother Nature gave us perhaps the loveliest weather of the whole summer, and the patio was splendiferously prepared by Davie. My cat Cody provided entertainment (his birthday gift to me).

Now, it's always nice, if you have a significant other, to also have a private, romantic birthday-related event. In other words, Principle #2 of Having a Birthday Week is that one of the days is the day you celebrate with spouse or mate. This year I'm doing this with Davie on Day Four, and we're getting duck BLT's at Honeypie. We have heard they are uber-scrumptious. Bet we'll follow up with some cozy cuddle time at Magic House, watching "Mad Men" or "Food Network Star" on DVR with amusing commentary by us.

Principle #3 of Having a Birthday Week is that you also observe your actual birthday. Mine this year falls on Day Five (aka August 18th, the day it always is). I'll be taking off work and am going to spend the day with my dad and be treated to lunch at the place we call the Pink Palace. There's nothing like spending quality time on your birthday with someone who was there when you were born, especially when enhanced by a Greek-owned restaurant that makes great omelettes and hash browns.

Now, so far we've covered three days of your birthday week, assuming you do all the above on different days. That leaves you a lot of days left over! What do you do with those? Principle #4 states, see if there's a reason to open a present on its own day. In this case, I asked for the Turbo Track for my cats, and opened it on Day One so that we could let the cats get the hang of it by Day Two, aka Family Birthday Party. See how this works? You may be able to find a reason like this too, for example, one gift is an item of clothing you want to wear on your birthday itself.

Principle #5 is that you can look at some fun thing you were planning to do anyway during your birthday week and declare it part of the celebration. Here's my example from this year: I have been trying since May to work out a day off to go to the Milwaukee Zoo. Every time we have planned to do this, it has ended up cold and rainy or super hot, or our plumbing has unexpectedly exploded. But the forecast for Milwaukee for Day Six of my Birthday Week is sunny, warm, and not horribly humid, plus it's Zoo a la Carte week! Anything that involves tigers and sampling local food is a celebration in my book!

Now Blog, with those days in your birthday week that just don't seem to have anything special going on, you may have to take a good look at your activities that day and just find something that seems cool enough to call celebratory. Aka Principle #6. On Day Three of my Birthday Week, I installed the makeup mirror I got from Davie on Day Two. Anytime I wield power tools and the project turns out well, I consider that a party. It's also a party to use my makeup mirror, which is the exact same kind I fell in love with when we stayed at the Vdara Hotel in Vegas in January (pictured here in this still from a video I took there).

There is one final Principle, #7. And that is that your birthday week is a time to indulge in something you really, really like to do. Maybe it's a trip to your favorite out-of-town shopping mall, or getting a mani-pedi, or going to the horse track, or getting yourself a bottle of your fave expensive wine. That kind of treat qualifies an entire day. Or combine several. As for me, I'm doing the latter, because on Day Seven of My Birthday Week I will be kicking off our annual mother-daughters camping trip, with my favorite girls in the world, at my favorite place in the world, Point Beach State Forest.

And that, Blog, is how you have a birthday week. Birthday Week is really a state of mind and doesn't have to cost you or your loved ones any more than having a mere puny birthday. And yet it packs 600% more birthday punch! So I hope our readers will plan now to enjoy their right to an entire Birthday Week the next time that happy occasion rolls around.

August 14, 2010

I can haz Turbo Track?

I'm using LOLcat speak today, Blog, because it's Turbo Track Day!  The day I've been waiting for ever since, while desperately trying to think of birthday present ideas for myself, I decided to find the coolest cat toy I could...and discovered the Turbo Track.  What, doesn't everyone ask for toys for their cats for their birthday?  Heck, it will be Alice's birthday too, so it's not totally insane.

Anyhoo, my Google searching for the best cat toy led me to the highly admired Bergan Turbo Track.  It was developed by a cat psychologist (why didn't I choose that career?) and got raves all over the Interwebs.  I wasted a good hour watching YouTube videos of cats playing with their Turbo Tracks and they all looked fascinated.  (It didn't hurt that the feline star of Turbo Track videos, Venus, looked just like Cody.  Or that the Turbo Track box cat looked like Alice.)  It was a mere fifteen bucks, how could you go wrong?

Well, as you can see from the photos, Codes and Pookers love the TT.  As I type this, Cody is in the living room behind me going as mental over the TT in "8 Track" configuration as he ever has over catnip.  He's been at it for ten minutes straight, which in cat-minutes is like 75,803 hours. 

Now, it may seem a little wack that I wanted a toy for my cats for my birthday.  But I bet a lot of pet owners get that.  First of all, watching the antics of our furry companions is often more entertaining than having antics ourselves...especially if you, like me, are a member of the over-50 crowd.  Secondly, I kind of dote on, especially, Cody, and so it's fun to give him something for the occasion. 

And thirdly, tomorrow is my birthday party with the family, and it will also be a present to me if my dad and daughters and their beaux and the adorable daughter of one of their beaux enjoy the cats with their Turbo Track.

Just look at Cody's crazed face in this photo!  Isn't making your American Shorthair get just as wild as your tiger the best present a girl could wish for?

And of course, what better way to kick off the first day of my Birthday Week (the actual day is Wednesday) than to spend an hour making a funny cat video?  Well Blog, of COURSE I had to immediately make my own Turbo Track Cat Video!  And here it is!

Hold the phone, Blog!  Our third cat, Selke, has actually emerged from whatever dimension in which she dwells most of the day away from prying human eyes!  I must go now and see if there's any chance I can get her into the Turbo Track.  Odds are against it, but you never know.  She's a cat, and it's a Turbo Track, and this toy is pretty dang irresistible, they say....  Hey!  Selke!  Get your bulemic-but-cute-self over here and check this out!

August 13, 2010

Blog interviews Living Beyond Reality Press

Blog, I feel if I have successfully anthropomorphized my blog, there’s no good reason why I can’t anthropomorphize my publishing business as well. The way Living Beyond Reality Press came to be is pretty quirky, so I’m hoping some of our readers will enjoy hearing how I came to choose self publishing and why I‘m glad I did. Rock it, Blog!

Blog: I’m happy to be talking with another amorphous being that sprang from Diana’s twisted brain! Welcome to the blog, LBR Press.

LBR: Thanks. Wow, love what you’ve done with the place.

Blog: Um, thanks! So, I’ve heard your beginnings had something to do with Sting, and something to do with Canada. Do tell!

LBR: The Sting part is easy to explain: Back in the early 90s, Diana had a bit of a Sting obsession, which led to her studying his favorite guy, Carl Jung, which lead to her writing a self-help book about Jungian psychology called Living Beyond Reality: A Jungian Primer for Enhancing Your Life.

Blog: Interesting. So the tantric sex had nothing to do with it?

LBR: The tantric--oh, you mean Sting and Trudy? Uh, no, not really.

Blog: Go on.

LBR: So, in 1997 Diana found a publisher for the book, an Edmonton-based company called Commonwealth Publications.

Blog: Oh...Canada.

LBR: Right. And publication of that book as well as her novel The Resurrection of Captain Eternity were in the works when Diana got the news that they were going out of business.

Blog: That’s kind of “eh,” eh?

LBR: Another Canada joke? Are you going to work in poutine and beavers here somehow too?

Blog: Sorry. I should have said “that stings,” I guess. But seriously, what a bummer.

LBR: It was. But Diana determined to make lemonade out of lemons and did a short print run of both books herself. Set up the book blocks in Word and worked with a local printer, and filed the paperwork to start me up in early 1998!

Blog: How exciting!

LBR: And to promote the books, she started, on that relatively new thing known as the Worldwide Web.

Blog: And the rest, as they say, is history?

LBR: Well, the next several years that was pretty much it, the two books selling occasionally off the website. Not a really big sales channel. So in 2004 Diana started submitting manuscripts to small independent publishers and that’s how she hooked up with New Age Dimensions. They released several books for her over the next year or so, both as those new things known as ebooks and as paperbacks. She became the publisher’s biggest seller and it was quite thrilling.

Blog: Success at last!

LBR: Well, yes and no. NAD also went out of business, just before a new Diana Laurence title was due to be released.

Blog: It’s enough to make an author feel like she’s the kiss of death.

LBR: Indeed. Time again to get out the lemon juicer. She hadn’t forgotten about me of course, and with the encouragement of her former publisher, she decided to republish her backlist herself, in both ebooks and paperbacks. Those were heady times...

Blog: Were they?

LBR: No actually, they were exhausting. She had a month (the due date set by advance publicity for her new book) to publish four ebooks and three paperbacks and get the old website set up to sell them. But it got done and there was much rejoicing!

Blog: And the rest is history!

LBR: Yes! And you know the best part?

Blog: What?

LBR: I don’t ever have to go out of business! At least as long as Diana’s around.

Blog: That is very nice! So how had the bookselling business changed from 1998 to 2005?

LBR: Dramatically. In 2005 there was Lightning Source, Inc., a subsidiary of Ingram, which not only prints paperbacks on demand but handles their distribution to all the major book retailers. Like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, in fact any bookstore that wants to stock them or sell them online. There’s a charge for the printing of course, but the profit we make is WAY bigger than a traditional royalty payment. Like ten times bigger.

Blog: Sweet. And the books look just like what the big houses print?

LBR: You can’t tell any difference. Then there’s ebooks. Lightning Source does the distribution of ebooks for Borders, Kobo, and many online retailers like Diesel Books and eBookMall.

Blog: What about the big name ebook stores, like Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s nook?

LBR: We have direct contracts with those retailers, and they pay very well.

Blog: But you still sell off the old website? How does that work?

LBR: We purchase paperbacks from Lightning Source and handle orders and fulfillment ourselves. Meanwhile, we use PalPal’s Payloadz service to host and sell our ebooks automatically through the site.

Blog: Very slick.

LBR: We also just signed up with a new program through Lightning Source called the Espresso Book Machine. It’s an awesome contraption that is installed in a bookstore and prints a perfect single book for you while you wait. All our books are available through Espresso Book Machines now too!

Blog: Holy cats! Sounds like there are lots of ways to buy your books all right. But how do people hear about them?

LBR: Well, all the fun challenges of promotion are something that could take another whole interview to discuss, Blog. But I do want to talk about an aspect of promotion in the current publishing world that is dear to my heart.

Blog: What’s that?

LBR: There’s a paradigm shift--ooh, I love working “paradigm” into conversations--from push marketing to pull marketing. Push marketing is like when a bestseller gets lots of press and advertising and product placement in stores. It’s the publishing business telling readers: “This is the book you should buy!”

Blog: It seems to work pretty well.

LBR: It sure does, for the big name authors. But small name authors have an audience too, which finds them by pull marketing. That is, they are looking for a book on a certain subject or with a certain theme or genre and simply find it via Google, or Amazon, or some other means. The mere fact that the book is around and visible finds some readers.

Blog: I get it.

LBR: Our books get found in online stores this way, and also through channels like Google Books and Ingram Digital/Summon, where they are all searchable and thus findable by readers.

Blog: So do you really think things are changing for tiny publishing houses like yourself?

LBR: I’ll put it to you this way: Back in 2005 some of the big name retailers refused to offer self-published books. Meanwhile, this month Kobo (the system used by Palm and others) invited publishers to contract with them to offer their ebooks, and they stated, “self-published titles are welcome!”

Blog: Awesome! And you save trees, right?

LBR: You like trees? Me too! Yes, ebooks and print-on-demand paper books do save trees. Did you know that thousands and thousands of Diana’s traditionally published book How to Catch and Keep a Vampire were destroyed by bookstores because they didn’t sell in the first nine months? LBR Press has never put a book into the trash.

Blog: Well, it sure is nice to see the opportunities for books today. It hasn’t been very long since there was only one way to get a book published and sold, and now there are lots!

LBR: After 12 years in the business, I’m really thriving, Blog. Sales just get better every year. Today we have 13 ebooks and 11 paperbacks for sale, and none of them are going away.

Blog: Sting would be proud. And Canada too. Thanks for all the infos, LBR Press, and here’s to many more years of bringing books to readers everywhere! Oh, and for readers interested in all the details of self-publishing via the LBR Press model, you can get Diana’s ebook Do-It-YourSelf-Publishing (writing as Diane Lau) for a mere $2.99 from Barnes & Noble, Borders or Powells Books, or $2.54 directly from LBR Press.

August 11, 2010

Adventure on a Tuesday night

Who says you can't have an adventure on a random Tuesday evening in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA?  Not I, Blog.  On this random Tuesday we travelled back in time and steeped ourselves in some gemutlichkeit, simultaneously!

Gemutlichkeit is the German word for friendliness and congeniality, and a quality traditionally expressed in our city's spirit of welcome and celebration.  English translation:  Milwaukee = party town. 

We found gemutlichkeit in abundance at a cozy spot called Best Place, located in the historic Pabst Brewery district.  This establishment was opened last year in the completely renovated former Blue Ribbon Hall, which was once the corporate offices of the Brewery and before that, Jefferson School (the oldest standing school building in Milwaukee).  It was built in 1858.

So yes, we were transported to the intensely German atmosphere of the Pabst Brewery, started by Jacob Best in 1844 and America's largest brewery until 1946.  Alas, the brewery closed in 1996, but it can't be denied that the spirit of German brewing lives on in Milwaukee, the city that beer made famous.  Best Place (named after brewer founder Jacob) features German and beer themed decor, stained glass, chairs marked with the Pabst script "P," and a painted fresco that explains the entire process of producing beer.  The courtyard houses a bronze statue of Captain Frederick Pabst, who married into the family and gave the brewery its name.  In short, it's a lovely old place full of Old World charm, and the perfect spot for enjoying some cold brews on a summer night.

But wait, Blog--lest you think that's all I have to say about time travel, there's more.  Our visit was prompted by the opportunity to see a local big band called the Mood Swing Orchestra perform a free two-hour rehearsal.  Was it 1858 or 1946?  Listening to fantastic old hits like "Brazil," "Satin Doll," and "How High the Moon," we were transported to the ballroom days when folks like my parents put on their dancing duds and foxtrotted to the music of the Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, Harry James and their ilk.

The band members looked to range in age from 25 to 80, which was awesome and magical in itself.  And dancing to their music were tots of five and couples of 85.  We especially enjoyed an elderly couple cutting a rug with unmatched enthusiasm and more energy than I had on this muggy night!  I imagined the woman 60 years ago, pretty and young and perhaps dancing to celebrate the end of World War II, and reminded myself that inside her head she is still just that young.

Wow, Blog--what a night!

It's sad to see change, to watch treasured institutions come and go, friends grow old and pass on.  But what comforts me is things like Best Place and the Mood Swing Orchestra, ways in which we humans seek to preserve our history and keep the spirit of our past culture alive for new generations to enjoy.  I'll drink to that.

So here's some video I took of the band's first number, my personal fave, Glenn Miller's "In the Mood."  Pour yourself a good German beer, close your eyes, and listen.  Is it 1946...or a random Tuesday in 2010?

August 10, 2010

Good grief, Pat Conroy.

Blog, as an author, publisher and reader, I do keep up fairly well with the book biz. And I just read something I find utterly baffling. I'd love to have our readers provide their responses to this situation so I can see if my own opinions are way off base.

So here's the thing: an author I've enjoyed a lot in the past, Pat Conroy, admitted that he hasn't a clue about ebooks. The 64-year-old author of such wonderful books as The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini said:

"I was at a signing in Georgia, and a guy came up to me with a Kindle and he pressed a button and there it was, my book (South of Broad). I'm a complete ignoramus when it comes to everything about the Internet. I kept noticing people in planes and shops were reading these things. I couldn't understand these instruments. I didn't know what they were." (Full story here.)

A part of me says, "Look, to each his own; not every author approaches his career like you do, ducky," But a part of me says, "How can someone be oblivious to something so significant to his career?"

The irony of this is intensified by the fact that I have been busy the past week publishing a novel I wrote some 20 years ago in formats for Kindle, nook, Kobo, etc. I've been publishing ebooks myself for five years now, ever since my publisher went out of business and I took back my backlist. But in the past I've published in pdf and lit formats, and learning to create ebooks for the latest technologies required no small effort on my part.

I hardly expect every author to have this depth of understanding of the technology. What I would expect is that Pat Conroy might be interested enough in the business to have tried the ebook experience once or twice, or talked to his agent to see if his titles were being sold that way in a manner that was bringing him the income he ought to expect from this revenue channel.

They were not, as Conroy's astute agent eventually pointed out to him. At least she was paying attention. I suppose you could say that it's her job, so he needn't worry about it, but to me that's a bit of a copout.

It's important to me to understand the reading experience that my fans have in whatever way they interface with my writing. It's one thing to read a book in paperback form, another to read it on your desktop computer (say, in html), another to read it on a handheld device like a Blackberry, and another to read it on a dedicated ereader like a Kindle. My readers experience my books in all these ways, and certainly there are formatting, bookblock, and even cover design issues that one considers when making books for these different media. Sure, these are publishing issues rather than author issues, but shouldn't the author care as well?

A part of my says, "Look, ducky, the guy's old fashioned. A lot of people are. It's not a crime." But a part of me says, "Quit calling me 'ducky.'" No, seriously, a part of me says, "Pat Conroy is only ten years older than me! He's 20 years younger than my dad, who spends hours every day on the Internet!"

It's no crime to be old fashioned, but you also can't use it as an excuse. Can you imagine a musical artist, even someone contemporary to Pat Conroy like Linda Ronstadt, Jimmy Buffett, Dolly Parton or Cher, saying "I just don't understand these iPods of today. You mean people can download my songs from Amazon? What's Amazon?" Even if your preference is to listen to vinyl, you are going to give new technologies their due and have at least a basic understanding of what they are.

And I'll grant that Pat Conroy "accepts" that some people read ebooks. Conversely, I'm not about to tell him (or anyone) to stop reading books on paper. I truly am a live-and-let-live kind of girl. But as an author, I'm fascinated by storytelling, the reading process, the many and varied ways in which authors interact with their fans, and everything having to do with books. These days, a whole lot of that involves technology. Sure, an author can choose to ignore all that. Well, one lucky enough to be established with a big, traditional publisher can, but I ought to mention that's a business model that is losing more money every year and not long for this world. But anyone else in the writing business simply must have a care for how s/he is affected by things like Amazon, the nook, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc.

There's a point when "old fashioned" ceases being a charming and endearing quality and starts to come across as laziness or even self-centeredness. Give me a guy like Stephen King (only two years younger than Mr. Conroy) who embraced the coming of the ebook and uses technology in creative and exciting ways. Do you think that has made him more approachable to readers? You bet it has.

To me that's not only good marketing, it also shows respect for your readership. It indicates that an author cares not only about how s/he reads books and appreciates them, but how each and every one of his or her readers do.

That's the kind of author I try to be. I'm just sayin', Blog. Opinions, anyone?

August 4, 2010

Channeling my inner David Bromstad

Blog, you (and husband Davie) are painfully aware at how long I have been tortured about the furniture arrangement in the living room of Magic House.  I have obsessed for years about what to do with this room.

The living room is quite big, and configured in such a way that only one arrangement of the home theater--possibly the most important element of our entire home--is feasible.  Likewise, there was only one good way to place my desk--possibly the second most important element of our home, at least for fans of my books, since that's where they happen.  We were left with a big, wasted area of floor space, some 80 square feet that served no purpose except for being the spot where I learned the "Rock Your Body" aerobic hip-hop dance.

It was very frustrating for me to watch HGTV's talented designers on TV (which I do about 857,208 hours per week) and know that they would be able to glance around our living room for maybe 20 seconds and say, "Obviously you just need to move that lamp, that potted plant, and those pictures and knickknacks, buy yourselves a [mystery item], a [mystery item], and a [mystery item], and it'll look fabulous!

Yes, I lost hours of sleep over this.  Yes, I came up with one idea after another only to reject them.  Yes, I drove Davie nuts.

Finally this week I took myself aside and said, "Listen, Birdbrain--just find a way to channel your inner David Bromstad and solve this!  Haven't you watched him for like 375,802 hours by now?"  Yes, I voted for David when he competed in 2006's "HGTV Design Star" and have watched his show "Color Splash" ever since. 

[Side note, had I been able instead to channel my inner Matt Locke, who came in second in 2008, I would have done that.  He's my design idol, and I'm thrilled to say, is now a friend as well.  But Matt didn't get his own show--yet!--so I haven't watched him for 375,802 hours yet.]

So, I reached down deep into my psyche, seeking a ripped gay man with a great smile, amazing artistic talents, and fabutastic design sense....

And gosh 'n' begorrah, it came to me.  PLUS we had a 10% off coupon for your entire purchase at World Market.

So, we just moved one lamp, the fake tree (slightly), and shifted some pictures and knickknacks, and bought ourselves a papasan chair, a matching footrest, and a small side table, and it looks fabulous!  Cost:  $185.  I can hear Vern Yip, Candice Olson, and Genevieve Gorder in a chorus, crying "This space is button!!!"

Putting the chair there was not the idea that fixed everything.  It was the footrest.  We just needed something that extended a bit into the space.  It also helped getting a chair that was round and contrasted strongly with the squarish couch, so it didn't in any way tie in visually with the home theater zone of the room.  The wood color and cushions match the bookcase, my desk, and my desk chair, bringing the grouping together.

Surprise bonuses:  a nice view of the patio, and the possibility of watching Hulu on my PC comfortably.  Best of all, it is super, super comfy-cozy for reading...and the light from the tree is actually enough to read by on my nook!

Problem solved at last.  Davie no longer has to listen to me fretting and brainstorming. 

And I knew one day those 857,208 hours per week of watching HGTV would pay off, Blog....

August 1, 2010

National Dance Day, with sausages

Blog, yesterday was the first annual National Dance Day (sponsored by the folks at "So You Think You Can Dance').  By sheer coincidence I got to observe it in perfect fashion, with the dancers you see to the right, along with 1,800 others!

First, some back story on National Dance Day.  SYTYCD choreographers Tabitha and Napoleon Domo created a nice hip-hop routine and put it on YouTube.  People all over the world were encouraged to learn it, and dance it on July 31.  Or, in lieu of that, simply find your own unique way to celebrate dance.

I haven't gotten a full report on the success of the project yet, but here you can see Tabitha and Napoleon with faculty members of Coastal Dance Rage, joined by choreographers/SYTYCD judges Mia Michaels and Adam Shankman, leading a crowd yesterday at Los Angeles's Music Center in Downtown. Nice!

Awesome!  But back to how I got to celebrate the day, Blog.

It so happens that yesterday at beautiful Regner Park in the bustling berg of West Bend, Wisconsin (population 28,152), an attempt was made at breaking the world record for largest Thriller dance.  Davie and I were on hand to see the band that opened for the event (the awesome Dead Rock Stars).  We were so lucky to happen to be there for the thrilling Thriller event!

So, over 1,800 people turned out, young and old, many in costume, and did a bangup job on the dance.  And the gang broke the U.S. world record!  Sweet!  What a sight to see, Blog...all those people rocking out, cameras filming from atop a cherry picker, the maniacal laughter of Vincent Price drifting up into the trees...oh, and the five members of the famous Klement's Racing Sausages were there channeling Michael Jackson too!

Here's a video I took from the back of the crowd, catching the Sausages in rehearsal along with everyone else.

Oh, and if you're wondering how close it came to a WORLD record, not close.  That would be the 13,000 people in Mexico City in August 2009, shown here.  Yikes, that many would NOT have fit into the whole of West Bend!

So, did I do any dancing myself?  I'm happy to say I did.  Later in the afternoon we enjoyed a show by Milwaukee's inimitable Pat McCurdy, and joined in on the Sex and Beer Dance.  A classic.  "Sex and beer / sex and beer / are the two things we hold dear!"

In closing, I just have to share my favorite ever dance video, and if you are not among the 30 million views it has received, or simply need to enjoy it again for a belated National Dance Day observance, please watch.  It's "Where the Hell is Matt," in which (over the course of 14 months, Matt danced with a cast of thousands in 42 countries.

Best ever, Blog.  Happy dancing, everyone!