Saturday, November 29, 2014

Clean up in aisle three - uh ... and four

(I wrote this post last Thanksgiving.  I think it holds up so here it is again.)

When Oprah tells me to do something I do it. Okay maybe not her fiber fat flush.
When she offered me a 21 day meditation challenge with Oprah and Deepak* and it was free I thought, why not? At the very least it will quiet my restless mind.  Oprah is not to be taken lightly and she doesn’t have to do this stuff with us.

The first day, Oprah and Deepak asked me to identify my DEEPEST desire.  They said that if I asked my heart and was alert to my daily life the answer would come. Usually when I’m asked this question I close my eyes and the first image that comes to mind I take as a metaphor for the answer. The image was a lawn chair.   Even as a metaphor - a modest chair, a resting place in a big expanse - a rest stop in a safari?- I couldn’t cram my usual superficial desires into the image.  Deepak and Oprah said not to worry.  They said to continue meditating and asking. The answer would come.  I chanted the mantra and minded my breathing for eleven days but nothing came.

It was the meditation on Surrender that began to turn things around. I do not like to surrender to anything. I’d rather control things even if it means not going anywhere or doing anything or engaging with the rest of the world.
After the meditation on Surrender, I had the ‘new to me’ idea to surrender to a couple of things. This might sound lame but it was a new thought, a thought I would not have had before.  The trick to surrendering is to catch yourself getting ‘your back up’ which means ‘defending’ yourself or your ego against something you perceive as threatening to the status quo.  We just adore the status quo (even if it’s not that great.)

During the gratitude meditation that Oprah swears changed her forever, she quoted Meister Eckhart an old German mystic priest that I had read a long time ago. I trusted him.  He said if you only say one prayer in your life let it be ‘thank you.’

Normally I would make fun of this to entertain myself.  Really?  Just say thank you? After years of looking at my life and shouting: Clean up in aisle three, uh and four the Universe is suddenly going to say: Polish the trumpets, somebody had an aha moment?  Maybe. 

That morning, feeling a bit dorky, I said thanks for the hot shower and for my strong legs and the warm and sunny weather in November. I continued with the meditation challenge and repeated my mantra even though pronouncing Om Vardhanam Namah for twenty minutes takes some doing.

During the gratitude meditation it came to me. It was such a jolt I had to open my eyes and begin to write this post.  My deepest desire was UNDERSTANDING. That was the only desire I needed because it would lead me to everything else.

This is not earth shaking or even exciting.  BUT to receive an answer to a question you’ve posed to your heart and mind and be CERTAIN of the answer is a pretty good discovery.  I could use this method -  surrender, alertness and gratitude - to get an answer to other things.

So what do we have here? Surrender to what comes your way (well, not a runaway bus), be alert to your daily life and say thank you (yes even for your annoying friend Delores who rants against the government non-stop). You can’t go wrong.  

Happy Thanksgiving. 
I say thank you every day for the people who read this blog. I am in your debt.

* Oprah & Deepak Meditation <>

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I'd like to buy your book. I can't sell it to you.

Facing launch day for Three Daughters got me to thinking of the days of being trad pubbed when I had the great Michael Korda as my editor. Michael was the nephew of Hollywood royalty, Alexander Korda, the movie director who married Merle Oberon (the Angelina of her day). I had been summoned to see him on the basis of an Op-ed piece I had written for the New York Times.

Michael is a small man and, as a child, he claims to have been pudgy.  Lord have mercy (it's fitting to borrow from the old South here) if there was anywhere a small, pudgy child should not go it is to that bs lockjawed citadel in Switzerland, Institut Le Rosay, where the uber rich park their children.  You know Switzerland, right? It's small, neutral, icy and unforgiving.  Remember Switzerland is the place where a salesclerk threw shade at Oprah.

Michael survived. He read history at Oxford, served in the Royal Air Force and ultimately landed at Simon and Schuster, where he worked for over forty years, a good part of that as editor-in-chief. (The only part I don't quite believe is 'the Royal Air Force.)

Besides me, he edited both Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and a long list of celebrities and best-selling authors.   I was not his usual charge - a homemaker from Long Island recovering from four pregnancies and three children under five.  What the pregnancies hadn't sucked out of me, the suburbs had taken.   I had no reference for the slick hushed offices of Simon and Schuster much less it's already famous editor in chief. 

Michael was not only the top editor, he wrote at least a dozen best sellers including POWER, what it is and how to get it.  One of the tips on "how to get it" was putting your desk on a platform so that no matter who came to your office you where above them.  The day I walked into his office he was lying on the floor.  "This is for my back," he said.  "I horseback ride every day in Central Park and I've hurt my back." He could have been hanging on a tree by one arm and eating a banana.  I was already on overload and my five year old was waiting in the lobby probably playing with the elevator and yelling all aboard when the doors opened.

Here's part of the dialogue.
Michael: Would you like to go out to lunch?
Me: No, thank you.  (I had one kid going bonkers in the lobby and two waiting at home with 14 year old Tara who let them eat frozen berries in my bed.) 
Michael: I'd like to buy your book.
Me: I haven't written it yet.
Michael: I want to buy it on the basis of the Op-ed piece 
Me:  I can't sell it to you.
Michael: Why not?
Me: Suppose I write it and you don't like it.  That will be devastating.  Why don't I write fifty pages and then re-submit it. 
He agreed, got up off the floor and ushered me out. 
I collected my five year old and left for the chaos at home.

I did sell the book to Michael Korda about a month later and it was mildly successful.  It was my start down this long road.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Anticipation abounds!

As I reported last April, one of Amazon's imprints, Lake Union, bought my novel, Daughters.  On the brink of a re-launch, here are the details of what's been going on in the last seven months.  Daughters was originally published by Delacorte Press and had professional editing and proofreading but there were still many glitches in the 720-page manuscript.

1.  The first step was the long process of re-editing.. The re-editing was not for narrative content but for inconsistencies within the narrative of historical references, dates, inconsistencies in the story lines of each character, etc.

2.  The second step was proofreading.  This step included English usage, grammar, awkward phrasing, etc.  I had mis-used or omitted about a gazillion commas.  (By the way, the rules of comma use are so long, complicated and open to interpretation they are useless for normal writing.  No.  Really.  They.  Are.)  I had paid particular attention to the use of which/that but the proofreader shut down all my "thats" and changed them to "whichs."  

3.  The third step was selecting and approving a cover.  I have to applaud Lake Union for including the writer in this process.  In traditional publishing they can put Hitler's Baby on the cover and you have nothing to say about it.  You see the cover when it's done.  Lake Union allowed me to reject designs, images and typeface during several rounds.

4.  The fourth step was jacket copy.  Again Lake Union allowed me to approve, re-write and suggest material for the jacket copy.   We also decided on a title change because the publisher didn't feel that the original title conveyed the depth and reach of the novel.  "Three Daughters" is the new title.

5.  One day in September I heard from a man in Michigan who was going to direct the audio version of the novel. (Amazon has its audio book studios, Brilliance, in Michigan.)  The novel is set in Palestine and there are many foreign phrases and accents in the book.  This dedicated man had researched every non-English phrase and wanted me to confirm the pronunciation. The actress selected to read all 19 discs (23 hours of listening) was excellent.

6.  One evening two weeks ago, the UPS man left several big packages in my vestibule.   My son, who was visiting, opened one box and found copies of the first printing of "Three Daughters."  It was nice to have him there to show all the proper emotion because I'm a dud at showing proper emotion.  Besides the paper edition, there is a digital edition, MP3 edition and an audio book.

7.  After a conference call with the head of marketing and my author coordinator, I am awaiting the official publication day next Tuesday, November 25. 

Anticipation abounds.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hard hats, big boots and black boxes with needles.

If you ever want to get anyone's attention pronto (and we know how hard that is) tell them you suspect a gas leak. Not much else invites such an immediate and generous response. Even with a bleeding head wound you still have to give the emergency room nurse your date of birth, your social sec. #, the deed to your house.

Without any interrogation the gas co. operator said, "We'll have someone there within the hour." She didn't ask for a credit card number.  She said get out of the house, don't turn on any lights or electrical appliances, don't light any matches, open all the windows.

I don't know what the life of an "I smell gas" investigator is like.    I don't know in what state of excitement he finds the smeller. The term "blow up" might be on their minds.  I think my computer is going to blow up if I fill the box marked "agree" on any internet interrogation.  

I smelled the gas in the little cottage in back of my house as I was about to get on the train to leave for a four-day trip.  For those who know me through this blog, I hate to leave my house.  I will do almost anything to avoid going far from my domicile and you would think a gas leak was a perfect excuse to abort the trip. I had already locked the front door and the back door of my house and getting the keys out of the suitcase was difficult.  I walked away from my property, the gas, the gas smell, the brain disorder (mine) and continued to the train that happens to be at the end of my block.  With every step, the words "blow up" clippety-clopped right alongside. On the train I had a stern talk with myself. I said, this is a chance to compartmentalize events and put them in perspective.  You opened the windows and shut down the in-take lever. Go on your trip and forget about the gas leak.

When I returned, I made the call and the gas team arrived 47 minutes later. The men (there were two) were tall and rotund. They wore hard hats and big boots and held black boxes with needles. They said, "When we leave there will not be a shadow of a doubt that it is safe."  How often have you heard that only to have the thing blow up the minute the truck pulls away?

I have to interrupt this banal post for important breaking news. I took a peek at my news feed and see that a probe has landed on comet 67P in a space first.  I just nailed down info on comets this weekend reading The Magic School Bus to my granddaughter.  (I also learned that 1.3 million earths could fit inside the sun - a fact that somehow scared the heck out of me.  The sun, unlike the Jimmy Dean Sausage man, is not a small friendly warm thing.  It is a vast, vast sociopathic star that makes everything else revolve around it.) Scientists hope the lander, equipped with 10 instruments, will unlock the secrets of comets -- primordial clusters of ice and dust that may have helped sow life on Earth. It is disturbing to hear that dust, my constant nemesis, also presents in space. When I hear ice and dust, that sounds disgusting but if it is going to unlock secrets, I'm all for it.  I wouldn't have thought that comets would be part of the big bang theory but that's just another surprise in the never-ending surprise factory that is space.  When the lander started talking to the scientists they were so happy they were dancing around acting all teen-agey and high-fiving like crazy.  Good for you scientists - it must have been a huge relief to get that first message.

(btw, the gas smell was due to a faulty pilot light in the stove.)