Darlings, I am going to give you some advice. Now, I know you didn’t ask for this, but after a conversation I had yesterday—I think it’s needed. And with Valentine’s Day coming up, I figure it can’t hurt.
If you’re single, it’s okay. Bad failed first dates—dates that lead nowhere? That’s okay. That’s not a reflection of you. If someone doesn’t appreciate you for who you are (not funnier, not taller, not prettier), then that person is not right for you. Period. You are not unworthy or less, if someone cannot see all the wonderful things about you. If you have to change yourself (physically or personality-wise) to fit into someone’s life/heart? Well, that’s not real love.
And let me tell you something about real love: it will blow you away, once you find it. It will lift you up, not keep you down and never keep you small. Crazy Muppet hair will be appreciated. All your humor will be endearing. Because finding someone who cares for you just the way you are? Man, it’s magic. And it will do your soul more good than a thousand empty, shallow relationships.
Because you are not a vague ideal of a person. You are not a silhouette. You are blood and flesh. You are years of gathered wisdom and experience. You are a person, not a human-shaped checklists of requirements. Life is too short to be with someone just to be with them. It’s too short to settle. It’s too short to be anything less than 100% bloody you. Because you are excellent, just as you are—rambling and nonsense included.
Find someone who loves your weird. Find someone who loves your flaws (spoiler alert: that person won’t see all the bad crap you see about yourself). Find someone who sets your soul on fire. Find someone who thinks your taste in books (or comics or movies) is fantastic. Who can match you Princess Bride quote for Princess Bride quote. Someone who encourages and supports you without hesitation or question. Because that’s what you deserve.
And me? I’m single. I may be single for the rest of my life, and that’s fine. I know what I deserve, and I won’t take any less. Sure, I’ve been on my share of bad first dates. And it’s rare than anyone gets a second. Does that make me a snob? No. I just know what I want. And I know what it’s like to be understood and appreciated. Anything less is…well, bullshit.
If someone wants you to be thinner or younger, blonder or more poised, or somehow more easy/manageable? That person is not right for you. That person is not worthy of you. Because real love can find you in the most unexpected place and the most unexpected time. And the secret is, even if it seems insane, it’s worth it. It’s worth all the crazy. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to put in time and effort. It doesn’t mean love isn’t work. But it’s the good kind, like pursuing a passion you love. Like doing something you can’t live without. For me, real love is like writing. I can’t breathe without putting words down on paper. If I don’t write for a while, I feel so off-kilter. So…un-me. Love is like that too. Not a need or a want—but somehow both. Easy, like second nature, an instinct.
Find the person who feels like art. Who thinks of you when they’re falling asleep. Who meets you for coffee and remembers how you take yours. Find the person who lets you in and asks you to redecorate, not the one who expects you to slide into what’s already that. Because love changes you, on both sides. And it should. But always, always for the better. It’s not that you aren’t whole to begin with. You are. It’s finding someone who matches you, step for step, without ever thinking twice.
Believe me, darlings, you deserve that kind of love. Nothing less will do.
I’m running out of places for the books to live. They’re everywhere in my house, like some sort of word-born Tribble. They’re under my bed, living in my closet, stacked corners, boxed in the attic, on top of my dresser, and stuffed into my actual bookshelf – to the point where, to get to one book, I have to remove ten. There are books in the chest at the foot of my bed (which was meant for clothing), books in boxes in a storage closet, and books (possibly…definitely) in the linen closet. The attic flooring, honest-to-Hawthorne, has actually cracked under the weight. Now, there’s a sad patch of ceiling in my hallway that has been temporarily nailed together. With great books comes great responsibility, and the poor attic couldn’t handle the pressure.
Some might see this as a problem, even an addiction. My To Be Read pile appears to multiply at night, and if it ever were to become sentient, I’m fairly certain it’s large enough to murder me in my sleep. (Has Stephen King written about a homicidal book yet? I know all about the Evil Pie. But, surely, an evil book is much more terrifying. He could even call it Levon Red Rum. Mr. King, you’re welcome.) Yet, despite the overwhelming Book Plague of Unquantifiable Proportions, I still keep buying books. Anytime anyone asks me if I want a gift for something, I ask for books. When I don’t, eyebrows are raised and people assume I’m ill.
Recently, I brought Suzanne Palmieri’s The Witch of Belladonna Bay to read on my lunch break at work. Who needs food, when there are words? Okay, I need both, but I’m more than capable of eating and reading, just don’t mind the salad dressing I spilled on one corner. The other day, I realized that I can’t find my copy of Deanna Raybourn’s Silent in the Grave – a novel with the best opening sentence I’ve ever read. In a fit of pique, I ransacked all of my stacks, piles, and boxes – only to remember that I loaned it to a book-thieving mongrel who kept it for himself. I consoled myself with the notion that it’s a perfectly justifiable reason to buy a new copy. Right now, I’ve got my copy of Stephen King’s It on the passenger seat of my car, in case I arrive someplace early and have a few minutes to kill.
If you’re not a booklover, loving books to the point of clutter and mild hording is somewhat confusing, if not a slight bit horrifying. I’ve been advised in the past to – get this – part with some of my books, simply to make room for new ones. This is, of course, a WORLD of NO. I can’t do it. I couldn’t pick which ones I’d be okay abandoning. What if I’m struck with the sudden urge to walk down Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road in the Wizard of Oz or visit Thornfield Hall and Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre? What if I find my version of Ted Hughes and need to re-read Sylvia Plath’s Unabridged Journals immediately? Plus, if I parted with these things, I’d lose all my margin notes. I suffered through graduate school to put them there, and by Gaiman, I will not see that suffering be in vain. (If you could see me right now, I’m doing my best dramatic Scarlett O’Hara defiant flourish.)
My name is Ali, and I’m a book hoarder. I’m addicted to books. I have a book problem. Sure, it makes vacuuming a bit of a challenge, but I reason that having to move piles of books around is good exercise. Yes, my purse usually weighs a metric ton (why carry one book, when you can carry TWO?). And, okay, fine – I once might’ve lost my cat underneath the bed, because the books ate her. Well, technically, she squeezed between the book heaps, and I had to remove them all to free her. But that was just one time. It couldn’t possibly happen again, right?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think the cat is stuck behind some Shakespeare. Or is that a human foot?
Okay, we need to talk about this Simon & Schuster (S&S) news. So, grab your coffee – and your rage – and come sit by me. Because I have thoughts AND questions.
Now, I realize that self-publishing in a valuable endeavor for some people. Hell, I self-pubbed a book of poetry, because I wanted to do it. I had no grand expectations of being on Oprah. I did not expect to turn into Neruda or Plath overnight. I did it, because I wanted to – not because I thought I’d take the publishing world by storm. I had certain (reasonable) expectations.
I know several authors for whom self-publishing is the right choice. They’ve carefully considered their options and jumped in with goals, expectations, and eyes wide open. These are writers who are SMART. They hired editors, people to design their covers, and beta readers out the wazoo. In short, they’re not tossing out grammatically horrendous, typo ridden nonsense, and then imploding when someone decides to play SNAKE with them. (That will always make me laugh. I am not sorry.) In fact, Denise and Trisha? They’re awesome. I’ve had the pleasure of beta reading for Trisha, and I will read her books as often as she writes them. For her, the decision to self-pub was the RIGHT one. To each, her own.
Now, S&S (through a service called Archway Publishing.) has decided to offer self-publishing packages. You pay them a certain amount of money, and they publish your book. Years ago, we would’ve called this a vanity press. With the currently publishing landscape in transition, I’m not entirely sure WHAT to call it. But it feels kind of shady.
Let’s discuss that. For fiction, the cheapest package cost $1,999. Okay, let’s assume that I’ve got two grand kicking around under my mattress. Let’s assume I have a manuscript that is a) ready and b) I don’t want to light on fire. (Hide the matches.) What is the PURPOSE of this package? Well, apparently, it’s for a writer to “share a book with family and friends.”
Um, guys? If I wanted to entertain my family and friends with my words, I’d just print something out at Kinko’s. I remember doing that — IN HIGH SCHOOL. It was called a zine. Or, hell, I’d pull a Little Women and resurrect the Pickwick Club in the attic and all of you would be forced to act out my stories. *ahem* The package seems to include quite a bit (see below), but does it really?
I…have questions. What the heck is editorial assessment? Is that the same thing as editorial service? Nope. “The Editorial Assessment is not a replacement for our editorial services. Rather, it is a preliminary diagnostic tool, examining sections of the manuscript in detail to pinpoint areas in need of improvement. Reviewers offer examples of items that could be strengthened and give critique and commentary across a range of topics.” So, they’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, but they won’t help you fix it. I don’t know about you, but that’s what a good beta reader does. “Hey, you screwed up over here!” Or “this needs more sex!” “Why is your character speaking in German? He’s not German.” So, that’s not exactly what someone might expect it to be.
For someone who understands publishing, or who has friends to pose questions to, you’d be well aware of the difference between editorial assessment and editorial service. But what about Sally Whatshername, who knows NOTHING about publishing? Picture her, a bright young thing, with a newly polished manuscript and a dream. She sees assessment and thinks differently. She thinks, “Hey, if I fork off $2,000 dollars, S&S will publish my manuscript!”
And then she does, without understanding what goes into a successfully self-publishing career. She has no idea how to cultivate an audience base, or market, or make connections. She is that person on Twitter who goes, “BUY MY BOOK! LOOK WHO PUBLISHED IT!” And it doesn’t have quite the same impact as one might’ve hoped. Because the publisher’s name doesn’t quite mean the same thing, does it? Because once you can buy something, the value of it tends to change.
Next up, I have concerns about the “classic author support.” What’s classic about it, exactly? Is it vintage? Timeless? I’m not really certain of the diction there, but let’s assume this is a person who helps you. Indeed, the website describes it as series of people who will function as your “point of contact” to assist you during the publishing process. So, essentially, a set of publishing guidance counselors. Even after reading the description, I’m really not sure how that person supports you. Do they take your phone calls at 1:00 am, when you can no longer remember what an adverb is? Buy you a drink when you are CONVINCED that everything you’ve written is total shit? Probably not. (Your agent would though, if he/she is a good one. For prime examples, see Brooks Sherman and Janet Reid.) This point of contact changes, depending on the phase of the project, which means you will have to form quick relationships with anonymous strangers in order to complete your project. How acquainted could these people BE with your project? The time frame, from signing with the S&S service to completion is…I don’t actually know. I couldn’t find the answer to that question on their website. I would be curious to know what the turnaround time is, because those in the publishing world are well-aware of the length of time it takes to Bibbity Bobbity Boo a manuscript into a proper book. There are a lot of man hours and hard work that go into it. Things that cannot be properly accomplished in a month.
This seems like a way for a traditional publisher to cash in on the changing landscape of the publishing world. In theory, that isn’t a bad business practice. Adapt or die, as Darwin says. But this isn’t about developing a longer beak to snatch a worm. This is about making art, making literature, and publishing thoughts. There’s something to be said about adapting in a smart, reasonable fashion. Right now, a good editorial assessment might cost you $2,000 alone. A writer might be better off spending the cash on that, making the book as good as it can possibly be, and then going from there. Find an agent. Self-publish on Amazon. You get what you pay for, and while I balked at spending that amount of money for a publishing package, I’m betting that what you actually GET isn’t going to be what you’re hoping for. If fame and fortune and success all came cheap, or was available at Costco, we’d all be rich, pant-less, and frolicking the Caribbean instead of working and eating ramen noodles.
Let’s talk about art, specifically music. Even more specifically, Amanda Palmer and her forthcoming album. Here’s the background for anyone who needs it: Amanda’s funding her album through Kickstarter. She dropped a track the other day, and I spent days listening to it obsessively. (It’s here.) Amanda is one half of the Dresden Dolls, EvelynEvelyn, and she made a ukulele record of Radiohead songs. She has been a working musician for a long time now, and if you’ve ever seen her play live (I haven’t had the pleasure yet) or checked her out on Youtube (DO IT), you’ll learn one very important thing: she lives the music. It’s never just a song. It’s everything she is and everything is has, pouring right out of her like magic. Rough magic – the kind of magic that takes a piece of you and puts it out there.
A while back, Amanda parted ways from her record label. Why did she do that? There was a bit of controversy over (I shit you not) her stomach. They didn’t want it on the album cover, because it wasn’t perfect. Now, let me say this: she isn’t even remotely fat. That whole debacle, even though I discovered it post-problem, pisses me off.
So, how does a musician fund an album without a label, today? Kickstarter. It is especially helpful if one has an base audience and realistic goal, which you can see via the fact that her Kickstarter was fully funded very fast. I supported it, and that was my first time. Kickstarter virgin no more, people.
There’s your background. Here’s the meat of this post: the music itself. If you’re following along with Amanda’s updates, or her blog, you’re chockfull of knowledge. If not, even if you’re not a singer/songwriter, read them. You’ll learn a lot about art, its cost, connecting with fans, how to put on eyeliner as eyebrows, and you might even begin to suffer from Kimono Envy (I have an obsession with Kimonos).
This morning, I was reading the latest update, and Amanda wrote, “i don’t want this album to be remembered as “the kickstarter record.” i do want this record to explode. and i want this record to explode because it is awesome.”
Here’s a bit of anxiety, right? It’s not what I’d call anxiety of influence, but perhaps anxiety of origins. The whole reason behind this endeavor is art. It’s why so much has gone into everything about it, from the people involved (seriously, there’s so much talent all across the board that it’s almost shocking) to the what’s included in each donation tier. One dollar gets you the digital download, folks. ONE DOLLAR. What the frakkin’ hell can you buy for a dollar, anymore?
But I want to speak to Amanda’s concerns about the album being remembered, or received, based on the funding source and not for the art itself. The art is what counts. And here’s my confession: up until a few years ago, I didn’t know who Amanda F. Palmer was. I had listened to the Dresden Dolls music, but not a whole lot. I wasn’t paying attention. It wasn’t until she started dating Neil Gaiman that she caught my attention. My first reaction was something like, “Who IS this chick?” Eloquent, I know. From Gaiman’s Twitter, I started reading her blogs. From there, I checked out her music. Then, I followed her on Twitter. And hell, I found myself liking the hell out of her. Because she is HERSELF, without an agenda. She doesn’t shave. She paints on her eyebrows. She wears awesome stage clothing. (She is solely responsible for making me love/want corsets.) She does her thing. She makes her art. And that, right there, solidified my appreciation for her and what she does. (I should point out that I’m currently wearing her “Haters exit, pursued by bear” t-shirt, which I love.)
I learned about Amanda Palmer slowly, in bits and pieces, in pictures and words. The internet is a wonderful thing, because without it – maybe I wouldn’t have. Maybe I would’ve missed out on it (her art) and her. Perhaps I wouldn’t have known about her statue wedding to Neil Gaiman in New Orleans, while he wore a top hat. Or their real wedding at Ayelet Waldman’s house. These are details and moments that make people (whoever they are) real and solid, glimpses into life and love. Most of the time, it’s the art that draws me in first. In this instance, it was the opposite: it was person first, art second. Either way, I’m glad.
Here’s the other thing – from what I’ve heard of this album so far, it’s kickass to the Nth degree. What solidified it for me is something called The Bed Song.
I’ve been playing it on repeat, for days and days, whenever I’m at my computer (it’s currently on YouTube, but it’s a track on the new album). The music score alone is hauntingly beautiful. It’s one of the best piano arrangements I’ve ever heard. But the lyrics: holy fuck balls. They broke my heart into a thousand little pieces of sadness. (Dramatic? Oops.) Because the picture painted was so intense, so real, so relatable – and so infinitely sad.
It’s good art.
That, right there, is why the album will be remembered. Not because of its genesis. Not because a record label didn’t put it out into the world. If only for THAT song along, the album is worth it. It’s good art. (Which circles around to Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech; you’ve all probably watched it by now.)
One more time: it’s good art. Delivery system irrelevant.