September 25, 2010

The strange and twisted tale of my publishing business

Sting...Carl Jung...a failed Canadian publisher...a little guy named Shinny...Star Wars erotica..."Soulful Sex"...what a long, strange journey it has been. Get ready, Blog, for the story of a tiny publishing house called Living Beyond Reality Press.

Sting and Carl Jung. In 1990 I developed a peculiar fascination with Sting.  In my efforts to explore All Things Sting, I came upon his mentor/inspiration: Carl Jung, the inventor of psychoanalysis. Feeling that I myself could use some psychoanalysis, I studied Jung for over a year. In the process I developed a sort of pop, self-help version of some of his theories, which I put in a book called Living Beyond Reality: A Jungian Primer for Enhancing Your Life. I also realized the Jungian implications of my unpublished novel The Resurrection of Captain Eternity, and buffed that up a bit as well.

My Canadian publisher turns out kind of "eh." In the mid-90s I sought a publisher for my two titles, and managed to find one at last. Edmonton-based Commonwealth Publications seemed the answer to my prayers, until shortly before Living Beyond Reality went to press, the company folded. Being a never-say-die sort of chick, I decided to publish both books myself in a short run, and that I did in 1998. Thus was founded Living Beyond Reality Press.

That crazy place called the Internet.I also launched in 1998, the platform by which I would promote, sell and distribute my two titles. Sales were not exactly booming, but the site became a hit nevertheless, especially that little corner of the site dedicated to hockey humor and dubbed "Hockey Snacks." In no time I was publishing a new issue of this little ezine every week. It was hosted by Shinny, my left index finger with a drawn-on face and tiny plastic goalie mask. Told you this story was weird.

My writing takes an interesting new turn. In 2003 I posted something new to a couple pieces of Star Wars fan fiction. One of these was an erotic romance story. Maybe you're aware of the virulent popularity of Star Wars fan fiction, particularly of the erotic variety. I wasn't. But to my shock, I was getting emails from readers all over, raving about this story. I will admit I had been writing erotica privately since high school, but it had never occurred to me to actually publish the stuff. But now that total strangers were suggesting it, I thought the idea might actually be a good one.

Diana Laurence is born. Meanwhile, the web and the publishing industry had been changing like mad. Suddenly there were lots of new ebook and small press publishers seeking new authors, so in late 2003 I submitted my work to a couple of them. Unlike back in the 70s, 80s and 90s when I was freelancing, this time I found a publisher in a couple of weeks. In fact, I found two, and in spring 2004, I released ebooks under my new pseudonym Diane Laurence via these publishers. Alas, one of them proved to be less than honorable about their contracts and I dropped them. But the other, New Age Dimensions, was great to work with and became the home of Diana Laurence's "erotica with soul," including the Soulful Sex anthologies.

It only took me 35 years to become a success. When I was 13, 'Teen magazine published my short story "The Orange Crate with No Second Floor." While I did make some money freelancing during the ensuing 35 years, I never got close to that kind of exposure again. However, the Diana Laurence books took off: they sold like hotcakes, won awards, and I became New Age Dimensions' bestselling author. The internet and other technological changes made all the difference. I had found my audience and life was great!

What is it with me and publishers? Then in early 2006, my publisher New Age Dimensions decided to close business. Being a never-say-die sort of chick, I looked at this as a great opportunity. So in a whirlwind of effort, I took back the rights to my titles and determined my ever-present tiny publishing company, Living Beyond Reality Press, would re-release all of them at once along with the third collection of Soulful Sex stories.

Go, LBR Press, go! In the four years since then, all kinds of crazy things have happened to me and my little company.  I've published a bunch more of my own books of course, both in paperback and ebook formats.  I was approached by a traditional publisher to write the book How to Catch and Keep a Vampire, a terrific experience that nevertheless did not make me as happy (or successful) as publishing my titles myself.  A Chinese company contracted with me for the translation and publication of my two Bloodchained vampire romance novels.  People have done fan art and fan fiction based on my books, and a guy wrote a college paper about one of my stories. 

Embrace the change. And the publishing industry has evolved so fast it's incredible.  I've learned the most efficacious promotion is the stuff that is free or nearly free.  Whereas I once made the most money on my paperbacks, now it is the nook and Kindle books bringing in amazing profits.  Google Books came into being and is a big source of referrals.  Whereas I once felt I had to post constantly to user groups, now I blog and use Facebook.  Barnes & Noble has caught up to Amazon as a revenue source.  I sell ebooks on eBay.  And while traditional publishing is fading fast (as my own experience with it confirmed) to an unsustainable business model, self-publishing is coming into its own, and making people like me money and (even better) lots of new fans.

So I can't tell you what's coming for my little publishing business...but I do know it will be a blast finding out.

September 19, 2010

Muffin the Impaler, Vampire Cat

Boooooo, Blog, I don't mean to be pushing the arrival of Halloween, but I'm here to post my response to A Creative Dreamer's September Creativity Challenge, "Spooky."  And what's more frightening, more creepy, more haunting than FELT?  Yeah, just about anything.  Nevertheless, here's my response:

It's Muffin the Impaler, Vampire Cat!

I was inspired to create Muffin when I saw (via the awesome site Super Punch) this super charming drawing by artist/cartoonist Katie Cook.

I am hoping by giving full credit to Katie for her delightful creation, she will not mind my having transferred it, with a few modifications, to the world of felt. 

I had hit the jackpot at Michaels on Friday with a 15% off your entire purchase coupon, so I bought 23 felt squares in every possible color for a grand total of $5.67.  This should keep me in creatures for a very long time.  I also had on hand in my [newly organized because I spent the weekend building a new closet storage unit and organizing my clay, sewing, and jewelry crafts] wheely sewing cart this perfect crazy yarn my friend Cherie gave me last year.  The yarn looked so spider-webby I knew it would be a perfect toy for Muffin the Impaler.

I also had a couple driftwood hunks harvested at Point Beach this year, which combined to make Muffin's spooky perch.  The completed scenario shows Muffin in a moment of contentment, having swooped down to her seat in the swamp where she can peacefully enjoy some playtime, before resuming her career of MANIACALLY FEASTING ON WHATEVER SHE CAN SINK HER FANGS INTO!

Right.  Sorry about ending with a preposition, Blog.  So that's what I did with "spooky," and I am now ready to kick off the Halloween season in a couple of weeks!

September 17, 2010

Top ten most annoying reality show cliché lines

Blog, as you have no doubt observed, here at Magic House we watch a ridiculous amount of reality competition shows.  And if you spend 3,578 hours/week watching this programming like we do, you are quickly going to notice that certain phrases keep popping up again and again.

Now I have never had to live in a house with a dozen or more strangers who are either slightly dysfunctional, determined to bring about my demise, or both.  I have never had to go on two hours of sleep a night for six weeks, haunted by dreams of white cubicles demanding to be decorated, or blocks of knives demanding to be drawn.  I have never had to stand before several people I respect and admire and listen to them tell me what a crap job I just did.  I understand these competitors may not be at their best, wittiness-wise.

[NOTE: We have chosen a variety of reality show competitors to illustrate this post.  I really liked a couple of them and thought they were quite talented, while a couple of them were obnoxious and/or should have gone home much earlier to my way of thinking.  But I don't mean to attribute any of these lines specifically to them or them only.  Well, certainly not them only.]

But that having been said, let's just acknowledge that the stuff they tell the camera in those mini-interviews is completely interchangable.  I'll bet before the season begins, each one of them is put in a room with the filming team, and asked to record these various standard lines so they can be used throughout the series at key moments.  Let's just review what those lines might be:

1.  "I had to think outside the box."
Did you?  Or maybe "outside the bag," or "outside the confines of my clearly limited imagination"?

2.  "It was time to step up to the plate." 
This one always makes us think, well, sometimes people who step up to the plate strike out, buddy.  It's SO much better, therefore, to choose cliché #3:

3.  "I needed to hit it out of the park."
Thank you.

4.  "It was time to go big or go home."
In other words, "I realize what I'm doing here is really out there, but if anyone wonders what the hell I was thinking, I can point out that I felt it was time to 'go big.'"

5.  "I can't believe he would throw me under the bus like that."
The fact that "throw me under the bus" is used at least 57,078 times in any reality competition series should have tipped you off that it might end up happening to you.

6. "I'm in it to win it."
Yeah, you and everyone else in the history of competition, televised and non-. This gives you an edge how?

7.  "I didn't come here to make friends."
Translation:  "There's no reason to try to behave like a civilized human being under these circumstances.  I have carte blanche to be an asshole, awesome!!"  Are we really supposed to believe "I didn't come here to make friends" will make you sound like nothing but a tough competitor? 

8.  "One of us is going home today."
REALLY???  Are you sure???  Wow, who knew?

9.  "I had to be true to my personal style."
"Being true to oneself" is the ultimate excuse in reality competitions.  You can fall back on it no matter what the judges have said about your work...because obviously they just didn't get it, and your personal integrity simply kept you from being a sellout.  Pretty tricky; can't blame people for pulling this one out so much!

10.  "Thank you for the opportunity."
I actually have no objections to this one, the most often used reaction of the eliminated competitor.  Because while of course they are all "in it to win it," most challengers will not win.  Nevertheless, the experience of going through competition is always instructive and beneficial.  A cliché, but true, wouldn't you say, Blog?

So, readers...did we miss any?

September 14, 2010

When your athletic trainer is your cat

Blog, as you are well aware, it is simply not possible for me to conduct my morning workout in the basement without Cody joining me.  If I'm on the NordicTrack, he picks a spot to sit and watch.  If I'm lifting weights, he is even more actively involved, if you can call hogging the weight bench "involvement."  Perhaps in his pea-like but devoted brain, he thinks he is my trainer.

"Lady," [he calls me Lady in the imaginary world of anthropormophized pets in which we live at Magic House], "it is time to get your exercise on!  Tote that barge!  Lift that bale!  Feel the burn!  Am I saying all this stuff right?"

Cody employs a clever blend of criticism, zoning out, and getting in the way, all designed to increase my motivation and keep me striving.  For example, here he is offering an--um--encouraging expression as I do my sit-ups.  "All right Lady, give me sixty!  Crunch, crunch--you call those abdominables?  Those aren't even one minute abs, soldier!!!"

There's nothing like getting this kind of support from your pet to keep you going.  As I do my armcurls with the dumbbells, Cody is right there for me, showing his concern.

Showing his concern....

"What?  Hey, I don't need muscle tone...I'm covered with fur.  Carry on.  Lookin' good."

And with that sixth sense that all cats possess, Cody can tell when it's time for me to do my bench presses.  With carefully planned precision, he plants his body in the exact spot where I need to be in order to continue my exercise regimen.  "Consider it an added challenge," he says.  "Use the obstacle for your personal growth and stuff! Oh, and aren't you worried that people online will laugh at the tiny size of the weights you're lifting?"

People will simply need to remember I am 54 and a feeb, Codes. 

The "obstacle" will have to cooperate at some point.  Fortunately Cody is the very soul of cooperation.  Just take note of how he helps out when I am doing my pull-downs.  Oh, the helpfulness.  I realize the fact that I'm willing to do pulldowns with a, um...seated thusly in juxtaposition to my legs, is tatamount to admitting publically that you are a crazy cat lady.  Does it help at all that I refuse to own more than three cats?

Okay, when it seems I have done an adequate amount of reps, and I turn off the iPod, Cody stands up, stares at me, and starts to chirp.  This translates to, "Yay, are we done?  Up now?  Do we go up?  Are we done?"  The response "Time to go up, Cody" and heading towards the stairs assures him he may proceed ahead of me, in effect clearing the way of any hostiles for my easy ascent to the main floor.

Thus concludes our exciting exercise experience.  For those of you who must indulge in athletic training without benefit of cat, Blog and I can only say, it's never to late to visit your local shelter and find yourself a good trainer.

You and your body (including your abominables) will be glad you did.

September 6, 2010

The fine art of copying

They say "There's nothing new under the sun," Blog, and it's pretty much true.  It's a fact authors and artists of all stripes find annoying, because our creations can almost always be considered derivative in some way.  The best you can hope for is to develop a new, undiscovered twist on the thing that's been done before.  And really, that's okay.  I mean, if what you're creating is so great, the fact that someone else did it before you simply suggests that it appeals to a large part of humanity.

Better to go with it than to fight it, I say.  And that's what I love about the online polymer clay community, the beading community, etc.:  people share and copy all over, but they do so with respect, giving credit for ideas and techniques whenever they can.  Particularly if you are like me and don't sell your stuff, other artists will simply take your imitation as the sincerest form of flattery.

So, when I go out to galleries and artisan shops and the like, I do so with the unabashed goal of finding ideas.  I give them new twists or reinterpret them whenever I can, but if I love something someone else did, why not try to make it myself?  My case in point is this necklace and earring set I made yesterday pictured above (no polyclay here, just beading).  Check it out, and then take a look at the piece that inspired it to the left.

I saw this necklace at the Waukesha County Museum, in a little gallery they have there for local artists.  I'm ashamed to say I didn't catch the name of the creator, but I think she would agree that she could no more take credit for this style of jewelry than I could.  In fact, to the less experienced eye (for example, most heterosexual men), the similarities of the two necklaces might not even be particularly apparent.

What I liked about this piece was the assymmetry and the use of separate sections of bead work, a hunk of chain here, a ribbon there, some natural stones grouped together, some fabricated beads in a bunch.  So that was what I "stole," tweaked to my taste, in a different color scheme, utilizing the supplies I had on hand.

I think the people at Art Instruction Schools, Inc. would consider this counting as "any size but a tracing." 

Is it true that because I can reproduce stuff I don't always buy it?  Yes indeed it is.  But I don't think that's quite cheating.  I can't, after all, do everything (see the hideously embarrassing doll project), and my house is full of pictures, sculptures, and other art that I chose to buy rather than to attempt to copy.

Meanwhile, I can only hope that some of the stuff I've put online that I've made has been appealing enough to other people that they tried to make versions of their own.

One time I received an email from someone who liked one of my stories so much that she really, really wanted to write some fiction of her own using the same characters and setting (in other words, that genre known as "fan fiction").  I said, by all means--as long as she credited me with a link to my website.  I considered her request one of the most flattering emails I had ever received.

So that's what I'm getting at:  there's a nasty way to copy, and there's also a very, very nice way.  If you do it the nice way, all you're doing is proliferating something lovely...and that's never a bad thing, Blog.

September 5, 2010

Artist of [Undetermined Time Frame] #10: Super-realistic sculptor Marc Sijan

Hey Blog, there just so happens to be a truly remarkable artist based right here in Milwaukee. Davie and I discovered this on our recent visit to the Waukesha County Museum, where we were privilege to see a temporary exhibition called "Being Alive," which showcased the works of super-realistic sculptor Marc Sijan.

Marc is a fellow alumnus of the University of Wisconsin, and he developed his speciality with inspiration from Michelangelo's David. He was fascinated by the precise accuracy and attention to detail achieved by that sublime work. So he set out to perfect the art of capturing the human face and figure, not only in shape but also texture and color.

Marc (that's one of his self-portraits to the left) uses live models, producing from them a negative plaster mold. He then takes this mold and sculpts it to perfect the details, even to the point of using a magnifying glass. When every tiny detail is perfect, he creates a polyester resin figure from the mold.

Marc then sets to coloring the work, using twenty-five coats of paint to achieve the depth of color shades found in human flesh. After applying a varnish coat, he uses oil paint to finalize the details. Artificial eyes, hair and sometimes teeth are included, and appropriate clothing, jewelry and props.

The completed work is designed to capture a single moment of life, giving a sense that an instant ago this figure was moving, and in the next instant will move again. The poses of Marc's statues therefore add to the feeling that they are real.

If this seems like just an elaborate version wax museum statues, it's not, Blog. That was the interesting part of the experience of viewing Marc's works. Sure, a person does spend some time simply saying, "Wow, they look so real!" But the fact is, they look so real that you can't help but feel you are in the unique position of looking, at extremely close range, at actual human beings frozen in time. It's hard to describe that, and that's why looking at my photos here or on Marc's website does not compare to seeing them in person.

Davie and I reacted differently to the experience, and that was very cool in and of itself. I thought to myself, "I'm never going to get a chance to look at people this closely." I got right up in the art's grill, and stared at nose pores, wrinkles, the sheen of fingernails, the millions of shades of color on a bare back.  (And note in the work to the left:  she's wet.)

I compared the folds in my hands to the folds in another female's hands. I looked at the eyeballs, which were so well crafted they had veins in the whites. I scrutinized all the different kinds of skin. The whole time, I felt privileged. The human body is an incredible thing, and we never get to explore any body but our own--not even our spouses', really--on this level.

Meanwhile, Davie had a different experience. He just couldn't get past his brain screaming to him not to invade the sculptures' personal space. Lest you think that amusing, Blog, I had the same reaction in my own way. I too heard the alarm bells going off in my head that naturally occur when you are within a few feet of another human. It seemed impossible not to feel that way, and that was the ultimate test of the success of these amazing works. Davie could only get so close to them without feeling he was doing something wrong. This experience in and of itself demonstrates in an amazing way how we feel about physical intimacy with other human beings, even though it is not something we are consciously taught.

Kudos to Marc Sijan for his unique, moving contribution to the world of art. And I urge you, if you ever get the opportunity, to see his work. [Milwaukee readers, Marc is the artist who created the security guard located in the lobby of the Frontier Airlines (formerly Midwest Express) Center.] You won't ever think of the human body quite the same way again...and you may come away realizing that your own body is a work of art.

September 3, 2010

The bizarre origins of my next novel

As an author I'm not much for dry spells, Blog, but I had a doozy this year. Releasing five titles in 2009, including all the promotional work for How to Catch and Keep a Vampire, left me worn out, I guess. But you can only keep a writer quiet for so long. Besides, one of my biggest fans expressed on Facebook how she was pining for another book, and that kind of thing is hard to ignore: people who actually notice how long it’s been since you published something.

I've honestly been trying to come up with something for months, but every idea I had petered out fast. Meanwhile, I was reading a lot of really good books, books that combined compelling, clever plot ideas with wonderful characters and moving themes. Comparing my ideas to these excellent novels, I seemed to fall short every time.

A couple weeks ago, Blog, I had a really vivid dream about this extremely attractive guy. Not anyone I've ever known or seen before, but in the dream he told me his name and I actually remembered it. Jason Colton. Jason was in his early 30's I'd say, and really tall, like 6'3", and really slender. Lanky. He had my favorite kind of hair: curly, longish, and dark brown, like Frodo or Neil Gaiman. Biggish nose, thin lips, and sapphire blue eyes. A really low voice. He had a pretty serious manner about him too: no-nonsense. And in the dream I was just obsessed with him.

People familiar with my work know that I'm a Jungian and I believe in the animus. The animus, in a nutshell, is a feature of the unconscious mind, the constellation of a person’s opposite traits (and therefore the opposite sex), and in spite of being part of you is also utterly autonomous. The only way to interact with the animus is when he projects himself onto others, whether they be people you know, celebrities, or characters from books, TV and movies. Whenever that happens, you pretty much have to fall in love.

This Jason was my animus for sure, and it so happened I had just been thinking that day how frustrated I was not to have had a crush for ages...well, since 2009 for sure. It’s hard for me to write when I’m not crushing somehow; I need a muse. So, when Jason showed up, I figured he was there because I asked. I also figured he might be the key to finding my next book.

And then this friend and fan of mine posted her plaintive plea. Blog, I figured I really needed to take this synchronicity seriously.

That night in bed I had some imaginary conversations with Jason. Brainstorming. We probably worked through three ideas and they all quickly bombed. This was not going well, and I wanted to get some sleep! Finally I said, "Look, Jason, I got nothing. Maybe you could give me a good dream or something? This is gonna have to be all on you."

I woke up next morning unable to remember any dreams. "Sometimes I wonder about this Jungian stuff," I thought. I did my morning computer stuff, and then I worked out in the basement, and then I took my shower.

As I toweled off, it came to me. Like six ideas at once that dovetailed perfectly, and I loved them all. For the next hour (getting ready and driving to work), great chunks of the opening chapters, images of the characters, details and anecdotes flooded my brain. A girl raised by her grandfather, his specific "gifts," her eccentric aspirations, and crazy elements from the Korean war to hula hoops to the X-Men to a sprawling mansion to the Chicago Cubs to Jason Colton, who would of course be a character. Names, locations, dates. And all of it, in my humble opinion, really good stuff.

It was Aggie's Nine Heroes. A novel I was just dying to write. Where did all this come from, after my nice nine month drought of ideas? Well, Blog, you know who gets the credit in my opinion.

I have written almost three chapters already and I like it better all the time. It's going to take quite awhile to write as there is a lot that has to happen and a lot of characters to develop, but they are all going to be a blast to get to know. I already think Aggie's grandfather completely rocks, and if you’ve been following the meaning of this post, you know that statement is not me bragging.

The most oft-asked question of authors by their fans is this one: "Where do you get your ideas?" Well, now you know where I get mine.

Sorry you asked? LOL

September 1, 2010

Contest winner...And you go, Seth Green!

Yay, Blog, we have a winner in our who-was-your-celebrity-crush-when-you-were-15 contest.  Rachel Bland will receive a paperback copy of my novel The Resurrection of Captain Eternity.  And I think our Random Number Generator was tapped into karma or something, because she was having a bad day and really needed some cheerful news.  So double yay for that!  By the way, Rachel's crush was the inimitable Michael Jackson, and who can argue with that pick.

Between the comments on the blog post and my Facebook page, Blog, I heard some wonderful and fascinating stories about how these infatuations affected the lives of young women ever after.  Some of them had as much impact on their lives as the Captain did on the heroine of my book!  Very, very cool.  It was also interesting for me, being super old aka 54, to learn how many of these young'uns were drawn to the very same guys I was.  Clearly Rick Springfield crosses all age boundaries!

But it would appear the guy mentioned most often was, of all people, Seth Green.  15-year-old Devin is mad for him right now, and another Rachel adored him nine years ago when she was 15, and heck, about that time I really dug him too!  I was an Oz ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") fan but you can also enjoy Seth as Scott Evil, Mitch from "The 70s Show," or any of his dozens of other roles in film and TV. Never underestimate the power of the cute and geeky guy.  Although he shore don't look geeky in this photo, Blog.  Swoon.

Thanks to all who entered, and if alas you craved a copy of my book, on this page on my website you can find all the info to order it from your favorite retailer.  But remember, if you want the paperback, you gotta order from the publisher!

So, let's spend some quality time today thinking about that cute guy we were so into in our adolescent years.  Oh sorry, Blog... I know you're just not anywhere near 15 yet.  Although I wonder how exactly one calculates age in blog-years...