A Moment of Jen
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Friday, March 07, 2003
posted by Jen at 3/07/2003 11:55:00 AM

I'm grateful to my brothers for so many things -- especially, these days, for the slang they bring into my life.

Many years ago, it was brother Jake who introduced me to the word nifkin -- and yes, to everyone who's wondered, it means exactly what it says it does in GOOD IN BED.

Now I have brother Joe Weiner and his weblog to credit for the phrase that I just know is going to make its way into one of my books, some day -- "wash the stank off my hang-down."

Ah, youth.

Meanwhile, news from all over. I heard from a novelist who's got the same agent as Shawn "Cinderella" McBride, who wrote to say that guess what? She hooked up with her agent the same way McBride did -- by finding the agency's name in a big directory and sending an email. Message: getting an agent is not rocket science, if you've written a good book.

I heard from the bookseller who sent me that first, fateful email about the way the cover of IN HER SHOES resembled the cover of BEST FETISH EROTICA, who wondered how I'd reacted (not well, at first, but now I just think it's kind of funny). And from another reader, who points out that the cover of Connie Briscoe's PG COUNTY also bears certain resemblances to the cover of IHS. So now I'm starting to feel like a trend-setter. It's weird.

Finally, I'm starting to put aside the pregnancy books in favor of the your-baby's-first-year books, and Adam and I are starting to figure out our parenting philosophy (and yes, our friends who are actual parents think it's hysterical when we bring this up, and as soon as they manage to stop laughing, they tell us that any and all tenets of said philosophy will go right out the window the first night we can't get the Bun to sleep).

And sleep is really my biggest question. I've read the attachment parenting people who say that every time a baby cries he or she is trying to tell you something and should be immediately comforted and soothed. And a lot of what they say makes sense to me, but some of it winds up sounding a little kooky. A little newborn baby in the bed is one thing, but the idea that your kid could turn out clingy and be co-sleeping until his Bar Mitzvah is not sitting well with me.

And then you've got the put-baby-on-a-schedule people, and they can sound sensible, too, with the idea that babies need structure, and a sense of what's coming next in their day, and that of course you comfort a baby who's crying because she's hungry or in pain but you don't run into Baby's bedroom the minute she makes a peep, or else your child will not sleep through the night until his Bar Mitzvah. I just wonder whether I'd ever be able to let a baby "cry it out," or whether I'd want to try to do something -- anything -- to make the Bun feel better, no matter what the book or the schedule says.

I have a feeling we're going to wind up reading all the books, coming to some sort of general consensus about how we'll handle things, and then just playing it by ear a lot. Meanwhile, we're amusing ourselves by coming up with detailed daily schedules of the Bun's activities:

5 a.m. - 7 a.m. -- Early Morning Aerobics
7 a.m. -- 10 a.m. -- Take a little nap
10 a.m. -- noon -- Communicate telepathically with dog; refine plan for household domination
noon- -- 3 p.m. -- Somersaults!
3 - 4 p.m. -- Draft angry letter to Lewis H. Lapham regarding direction of Harper's political coverage
4 p.m. -- Realize there is no email in the womb
4:05 p.m. -- 6 p.m. -- Take resigned nap
6 p.m. -- 11 p.m. -- Shake, rattle and roll. Flip, kick and twist. Pause only when Dad puts hand on womb, at which point, practice civil disobedience strategy of going limp.
11:15 p.m. -- Wonder where the exit is. Wonder if anyone's bought you a Gymini yet. Plan post-birth activities: accepting gifts and tribute.
Midnight -- Sleep
2 a.m. -- Give vigorous wake-up kick to Mom's bladder area.
2:15 -- sleep.

Finally, my last piece of good news. Foreign rights for GOOD IN BED have been sold in Russia, China, and -- at long last -- Spain. Whoo-hoo!

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Wednesday, March 05, 2003
posted by Jen at 3/05/2003 12:05:00 PM

In the better late than never department....

It took her seven months, but still, kudos to hard-charging, vigorously probing journalist Katie Haegele, with a little help from author Jim Gladstone, for finally reporting on something I've been talking about since IN HER SHOES came out -- the the resemblance between its cover and the cover of....well, read on.

In the weeks before GOOD IN BED came into the world, I was a nervous wreck. I'd wake up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat, thinking, Did I catch that spelling mistake? Did I make all the changes I meant to? And is the ex-boyfriend's penis so miniscule that no ex-boyfriend of mine would ever come forward and claim he was my inspiration?

With IN HER SHOES, I vowed it was going to be different, and that I was going to be sane. So last September, the week before it came out, my husband and I and Wendell headed up to Cape Cod to spend a week with four of our friends.

And it was bliss. Sunny days, sandy beaches, kayaking and barbecuing and shopping in P-town....it was just perfect. Except for one mistake -- I brought my laptop. And I checked my email. And one day, I came across a letter from a bookseller that said that she'd gotten an advance copy of IN HER SHOES, and she'd really loved it, but by the way, did I know that there was a book with the exact same cover as mine?

She has to be kidding, I thought. This must be a joke. But I clicked on the link, and lo and behold, same feet. Same legs. Same strappy, spiky shoes.

Dear readers, I freaked. I asked myself all the questions any author would ask in similar circumstances. How did this happen? Why does God hate me? And if there has to be another book with my cover, did it have to be fetish erotica? Why couldn't it have just been, you know, regular erotica? Or some nice little British novel that no one's ever read?

I called up my agent, then my editor to figure out what had happened, and whether there was anything we could do to fix it.

Turns out, the agency that licensed the leg shot to Atria Books (my publisher) had also licensed it to the fetish folk, and had neglected to tell either party that there'd be another book with basically the same cover.

At that point, BEST FETISH EROTICA was already on the shelves, and IN HER SHOES was on its way. There was nothing we could do except grin and bear it....and hope that nobody would notice.

But I decided that playing it safe would be no fun at all. And so, starting in September, at practically every reading I did, I'd hold up a copy of IN HER SHOES and a copy of BEST FETISH EROTICA and tell my sad story, the point of which was, you think you can control every aspect of being published, micro-managing right down to the last apostrophe, and then life comes along and violates you Oz-style with a large garden vegetabe. Or words to that effect.

The good news is that in spite of the lookalike covers, there never seemed to be much confusion between the two books. True, both of them do, in places, explore the complicated relationships between women, but only one of them has its heroines resolve their differences through creative use of a Water Pik.

So even though I was surprised to see the story reported as if it were actual fresh news, it's all good. Although now I feel like I know a little bit too much about Mr. Gladstone's leisure-time activities. If I meet him, I'll think twice before shaking his hand.
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Monday, March 03, 2003
posted by Adam at 3/03/2003 12:00:00 PM

"Writing is a racket. Most published authors know other writers or editors. Connections are everything."

Says who?

There's nothing that sets my teeth on edge like reading this kind of misinformed garbage, which appeared in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, in an article profiling Philadelphia author Shawn McBride, who sold his debut novel Green Grass Grace without the benefit of influence or connections or access to "literary watering holes." He just found the names of some agents, wrote a great query letter, got an agent interested, and sold his book two weeks later. An anomaly! A miracle! A Cinderella story! Who'd have ever thunk it?

Except that's how it happens for lots of writers -- including me.

I've written about this extensively in the "For Writers" section on my website, but I think it's worth revisiting, since I'm sure that anyone who reads today's Inquirer and doesn't know other editors or writers, and wouldn't be able to find a literary watering hole with a map and a Sherpa to guide her is going to come away unnecessarily discouraged.

When I wrote GOOD IN BED, I was working full-time as a reporter in Philadelphia. I wasn't hanging out in New York. I didn't know any agents or editors. When I finished the book, rather than asking around and seeking advice from colleagues who'd been published or well-connected college professors, I just got a book that listed literary agencies, picked twenty-five of them that had represented authors like me or books like mine, wrote what I thought was a funny, concise, compelling query letter, and sent it out.

Now, granted, I might have looked better on paper than McBride, who's a former mailman who had never published anything before. I'd worked at newspapers, I'd sold short stories, I'd taken creative writing classes and studied with big-name authors.

But as far as the New York-centric literary world was concerned, I was just another wannabe petitioning for a place in the slush pile. And still, without calling in a single connection, I eventually landed an agent, and a publishing deal. It took some time and persistence, but it happened...and my first book was eventually sold in four days. Why? Because it doesn't really matter who you are or who you know. What matters is that you've written a good book.

Good books get noticed by agents, get purchased by publishers, and find their way in the world. It doesn't matter whether they're written by Ivy League graduates whose fathers run publishing houses or mailmen with notebooks stuffed in their pockets. The myth that you need the right degree, the right last name, and the right connections to get a book deal is just that -- a myth (and one, I've noticed, that's most fervently embraced by people on the outside of the publishing world....the ones, perhaps, who like to think that if only they had the right connections, they'd be on the best seller list, too). Printing it like it's the gospel truth isn't doing readers, or writers, any favors.
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