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An obsessive-compulsive goes abroad

My friend Kathy asked me today what I need to feel safe and secure while traveling. I didn’t even have to think twice.

“I have to keep things organized. I have to stick to my rituals.” As an example, I don’t let anything stray more than a couple of feet from my suitcase (shoes get lined up next to the suitcase, toiletries are corralled into a tight formation on the bathroom counter). I just heard an interview with David Sedaris, who said he does the exact same thing when traveling to avoid leaving anything behind. I found this incredibly comforting.

My OCD starts way before I buckle into my cramped seat in coach. I think about this shit ALL the time as I prepare for a trip. My mind, when it sees an opening, beelines toward obsession. As you can imagine, a two-week trip to France with multiple stops is catnip for my OCD.

First come the lists.
My packing list, my “things to do before I go” list, my “things to do and see and eat when I am en France” list, my “people to buy souvenirs for and send postcards to” list. You get the idea.

I like everything about lists. I like to check and cross items off them. I like to revise and rewrite lists, creating various subheads and columns. The whole process calms and reassures.

Then comes the packing.
The shoes take precedence. Sadly, as I’ve marched on wobbly heels into the plantar fasciitis and brittle bones of middle age, I have to rethink my take on shoes that show off my figure and opt instead for sensible brogues that will suffer the cobblestones of Paris. #firstworldproblem, je sais.

I’ve added a new wrinkle to my packing plan. At this moment, I’m wearing three pieces that I plan on taking with me. As I dressed in this outfit of cargo pants, sweater, and drapey jacket, I had a sad epiphany. “Over the next week, I’ll try wearing all the items I plan on packing to see if they really work with each other and are worthy of claiming a spot in the rolly bag!” At this point, I realized I had ascended to a new level in my compulsive planning, much like Tom Cruise becoming an Operating Thetan Level 8.

In a word, crazytown.

But I own my choices, both in life and my wardrobe. So after I’ve roadtested outfits, I’ll turn my attention to actually packing the suitcase.

With the help of aforementioned friend Kathy, a world-traveler with impeccable taste and an enviable jewelry collection, I’ll lay things out on my bed to optimize garments’ and accessories’ mix and matchability. We will edit things down mercilessly, until we have the most versatile and practical garments, scarves, hats, and jewelry.

Once something makes the cut, it will get rolled up tightly and without wrinkles and put in the carry-on bag, starting with heavy items like jeans and shoes (stuffed with socks or small wrapped gifts) on the bottom and working up through t-shirts and unmentionables. I leave careful ruts for my makeup bag and stuff extra Ziploc bags in the suitcase flap. Over this glorious mess, I lay my empty duffle, deflated but full of the promise of Parisian purchases.

I close the top of the suitcase and then pray that I can shut the fucker. It’s expandable, but I only want to use those extra inches on the way back, when I plan on loading it up with French skincare and body products and perfume and checking the bag. At that point, the poor Samsonite will resemble my favorite pair of teenage Guess jeans, with all my stuff straining against the seams as I struggle to zip it closed. But in this instance, laying on the floor isn’t going to do much good.

Then comes the checking and rechecking.
Do I really have my boarding pass, passport, and all the other things that I find necessary to travel with these days without incurring massive anxiety? Did I really set my phone alarm properly? I always sleep horribly before every early morning flight, kept awake by the possibility of an iPhonefail, where my alarm—the one that I checked at least three times before I turned off the light—didn’t for once go off. Laying there in the dark, eyes wide open, I figure I can avoid caffeine and just sleep on the flight. Then I turn the light back on and check that I packed Ambien in my carry-on bag.

In addition to normal stuff like snacks and Ibuprofin, for this trip I’m also packing:

  • Febreze
  • Band-Aids
  • My vintage Pucci scarf (to pull the eyes up from those flat-heeled wingtips)
  • Empty nylon Sportsac duffle (for bringing back all my loot)
  • Some cash to convert (in the rare instance my ATM card doesn’t work at Charles de Gaulle)
  • Small guidebook and map
  • Digestive enzymes, Prilosec, Tums and green powder (acid reflux + wine + cheese = heaven on a plate, hell in the gut)
  • Stevia packets for all those cafés au lait
  • Lock for my suitcase (in case I store my bags at a hotel before check in)
  • Una’s wrist warmers (so my hands are warm while fingers can hunt and gather)

For the plane:

  • Antihistamines (after one stealth sinus infection mid-flight, I’m taking no chances)
  • Knitting project (small shawl pattern that fits in a quart Ziploc)
  • 1-2 books
  • Heavy clothing (While traveling, I wear my bulkiest items, like overcoat and knee-high boots, to free up room in the suitcase)
  • Shawl (doubles as a blanket or pillow)
  • iPhone (loaded with podcasts and the Learn French app to practice phrases and pronounciation when I have WIFI)
  • laptop & hard copy of my memoir in progress (in case muse strikes)

I’m obsessive, compulsive, and neurotic, but I’ve learned to use it for good over evil. Do you overthink your travel? What makes you feel safe and secure while traveling?

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How to host a public reading

I was thrilled to be invited to write a post for Hedgebrook’s blog. I discussed the terror and the thrill that comes with sharing new work. And I offer up concrete tips for hosting your own public reading.

Reading from my work-in-progress puts me one step further on my path to publishing my memoir. Setting up a reading is, in some ways, straight-up event planning, something that appeals to the OCD detail-oriented control freak in me. But as someone stepping up to the mic as well, I find it brings insecurities and fears to the surface. My post addresses all of this, giving concrete tips for planning a great event for both readers and listeners and offering up ways to ensure that the event moves the needle forward on your project, rather than scratching it.

And if you don’t know Hedgebrook, you should. It’s a magical, mystery place for women writers on Whidbey Island. A literary nonprofit, their mission is to support visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. Hedgebrook offers writing residencies, master classes and salons. In other words, it’s the shit. I want to go to there.

Have you read from your work? How’d it go? Any tips you’d like to share?

 

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Join me for Lit Crawl Seattle

As many of you know, I’m petrified about reading from my upcoming coming-of-age memoir, There Must Be Some Misunderstanding: A True Tale of Double Ds, Straight As, and a Whole Lot of BS.

Until I’m actually at the mic.

Then, along with my words, I come alive. I’ve done a handful of readings over the past year and each time, I’m find myself on a high the likes of which I’ve never felt before. I feel exhilarated, buoyed, and motivated to keep creating and connecting with readers/listeners.

So naturally, I’m thrilled (read: petrified) to be speaking at this year’s LitCrawl Seattle, a night of more than 20 readings around town. The venues are chockablock with crazy talented writers so I hope you’ll hit one (read: mine) or several. I’ll be emceeing “No Place Like Home,” readings centering around family. Deb Caletti (Secrets of Wedding Ring River) and Sam Ligon (Drift and Swerve) will be reading fiction, and I’ll be reading a chapter from my memoir-in-progress. I hope to see you there!

October 23, 7–7:45pm | LitCrawl Seattle, “No Place Like Home” Reading
Ltd. Art Gallery/Raygun Lounge, 501 E Pine Street

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Hear a piece from my memoir during Family Matters: Works-in-Progress

I’ve written about the challenges of writing my memoir before. I’ve been knee deep in writing the manuscript and have made significant progress. But with paying gigs taking front and center, it’s not always easy to stay the course and keep things moving forward. You know, life gets in the way and all that. One of the most effective tools I’ve found to keep me motivated is to bring my work into the world through public readings. I participated in two last year and felt terrified before and high after each event. So I’m doing it again. Here are the deets:

Family Matters: Works-in-Progress
May 1, 7-9pm
The Rendezvous, 2322 2nd Ave., Seattle, WA 98121

It’s a family affair! Well, sort of. Join 5 local writers—Allison Ellis, Jennifer Haupt, Jane Hodges, Kristine Lloyd & me—as we read brand-spanking-new creative nonfiction, all centering around our various ideas of family. Be the first to hear memoirs as they develop and take shape. If that’s not enough of a draw, it’s all going down in the Grotto, the groovy downstairs space at the Rendezvous in Belltown (there will be a cash bar and our own bartender). We aim to put the “fun” in dysfunctional during this lively, moving evening! Please feel free to spread the word.

Here’s the lineup of amazing writers:
ALLISON ELLIS writes about fashion, travel, home décor, overpriced coffee, “hot parenting controversies” and other lifestyle topics of great importance. Her essays and articles have appeared in Redbook, Working Mother, Fodor’s Travel Guides, ParentMap, and the Seattle Times. She is currently working on a memoir about her yearlong journey as a young widow in hot pursuit of a new husband.

JENNIFER HAUPT has been interviewing women who nurture the world for more than fifteen years, telling their stories in magazines and books. She’ll be reading from her new e-book, Will You Be My Mother? My quest to answer yes, which includes three stories from her own journey from daughter to mother. Author profits from this mini-memoir (available on Amazon.com) through May 2014 will be donated to mothers2mothers*, a non-profit organization that educates, employs, and empowers mothers living with HIV in sub-Sahara Africa.

JANE HODGES is the West Seattle-based author of Rent Vs. Own: A Real Estate Reality Check for Navigating Booms, Busts, and Bad Advice (Chronicle, 2012). She’s currently working on a memoir about money, eldercare, and the South. Her fiction has appeared in The Brooklyn Review and her essays have appeared in two Seal Press anthologies, The Seattle Weekly, and The Magazine.

Librarian by day, writer by night, native Alabamian KRISTINE LLOYD loves to tell stories about her family. Kristine earned her MFA at the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University in 2000. She has written for local blogs and Seattle Bride, and she is currently working on a memoir about the fact that her parents get laid more than she does.

JENNIFER WORICK writes about things that blow her skirt up. Named one of the four funniest bloggers in America by Reader’s Digest, she is the New York Times-bestselling author of more than 25 books, including the recent “Things I Want to Punch in the Face.” She has written for everything under the sun, including the Huffington Post, Salon, and Allure. She is currently writing There Must Be Some Misunderstanding: A True Story of Double Ds, Straight As & a Whole Lot of BS, a coming-of-age memoir.

* Since it was founded in 2001, mothers2mothers has reached more than 1.2 million HIV-positive mothers with essential health education and psychosocial support in nine African countries, putting mothers at the center of the solution of ending pediatric AIDS and keeping mothers alive. For more information visit: www.m2m.org

It’s going to be a fun, potentially rowdy, and moving evening. It’s always scary to bring such personal material into the light and it’s helped me more than you know to have friends be witness to my process and provide feedback. I’d love to see you there.

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Paying the bills and providing shelter

If you’re a fan of Things I Want to Punch in the Face, you may have noticed that I haven’t blogged in quite some time. I haven’t been ill or in the witness protection program.

My heart has been elsewhere.

Specifically, I’ve been writing my memoir. I’ve talked about writing a coming-of-age memoir for years and years, working on it on and off. But I committed myself at the beginning of 2013 to make this manuscript a priority.

And believe me, it has been no easy task.

While I’ve always been able to find time to write a funny blog post here and there, it’s a whole ‘nother enchilada to write a deeply personal long-form narrative. I had to have help. I set up a small support group to help me stay accountable. We were to send each other new chunks of writing each week. I have taken one-day and ongoing workshops to give me more tools around structure, dialogue, and characters. A few friends and I have even set up public “works-in-progress” events, where we read new pieces from our memoirs.

Even with all this, I continue to need accountability. It is far too easy to let life—travel, crisis, health issues, and paying gigs—get in the way. When I have a deadline for a freelance article or need to show up for my part-time job, my memoir gets the boot.

I work around all of this, writing at night or on weekends. And I also push through the emotions that arise when writing honestly about difficult events from my past, a past that includes people who I love and hope to not hurt or offend in the process. But one of my writing instructors, a celebrated memoirist in her own right, said that the feeling of discomfort that we get while writing tells us that we are doing the right thing, we are providing shelter to others.

That is part of what drives me. Yes, I want to create a work that has value and is beautifully written. But I want to give the gift of my story to others, who can be entertained (particularly when they read about the tragicomedy that was my prom), but who can also recognize themselves in my own painful adolescence.

So I persevere, even if sometimes I have to write corporate marketing copy first. I’m bringing the same determination that saw me through my teenage years to completing a draft of my memoir by next year. I’ll keep you posted.

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Seattle’s Book Ecosystem

I recently was tasked with writing an article on Seattle’s publishing scene. I wasn’t quite sure how to tackle it, seeing as Seattle wasn’t home to scores of big publishing houses and literary agencies. But it does have a thriving community around books. And when I talked with Gary Luke, President and Publisher of Sasquatch Books, everything became clear. “I think there’s less of a publishing scene and more of a book ecosystem in Seattle,” he told me. Rather than just editors and agents comingling, the publishing landscape in Seattle is more of a literary pastiche, and the result is a vibrant, active community of people and businesses coming together around books in all their various forms. “There are publishers here,” Luke said. “But along with that, I’d include bookstores, the Richard Hugo House, food bloggers, 826 Seattle, the libraries, Hedgebrook, Town Hall and, of course, Amazon.”

With this, the article took shape and the result is a profile of a literary, creative, generous, book-lovin’ community. Read the article here.

(Photo: Josh Trujillo/Seattle P-I)

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A few thoughts about the author platform

As an author and a publishing consultant, I have more than a few thoughts about the importance of a strong author platform. Through the Business of Books, my partner Kerry Colburn and I talk a lot about publicity and promotion on our site. And I was recently asked to write a guest post for Five Writers, a blog maintained by, yes, five writers. My friend Brad Windhauser is one of them (check out his blog, The Bible Project, where he chronicles his journey through reading the Bible); he asked me to offer advice to authors looking to create a platform.

I jumped at the chance.

Years ago, I was interviewed by the arts editor for my town’s weekly. I talked about the various books I had published, the writing process, and my philosophy on promotion. I believe I said, “Writing the book is only half of my job as the author. Promoting it is the other half.”

That guy didn’t get me, didn’t get that publishing is a business that requires authors to think and perform beyond their manuscripts.

Times have changed and these days, if you’re an author and not promoting your book in every possible way, you are setting yourself up to fail. Editors and agents are looking for authors who can sell their book idea and themselves. When you pitch your book proposal, you want to highlight your terrific writing plus the connections you have to personally help sell and promote the book.

So if you want six tips to start building a solid author platform, check out my post at Five Writers.

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MSN Popware: My new gig

After a lot of cyber-paperwork, a challenge when Mercury is in retrograde, I’m now officially a blogger for MSN entertainment tech blog, Popware. I’ll be reporting on new gadgets, apps, and do-dads, but I’m also interested in exploring how we interact with technology. To wit, my first post deals with the question of spoilers. These days, awards show results trend on twitter and friends start conversations about the latest random tragedy on Downton Abbey before you may have had a chance to watch your DVR’d episode. There may not be any rules but I submit that there should be.

For my adventures in technology, check out the Popware blog.

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What it means to be an author in 2013

It’s hard out here for a pimp.

It’s also hard for a writer. In fact, sometimes I feel like a pimp. Occasionally, I feel like a whore. Let me explain.

When I quit my publishing job to pursue a freelance career, I had a vision of sitting around coffee shops, schmoozing and writing and living off massive royalty checks.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, I’ve cobbled together a pastiche of projects that keep me gainfully employed. In an ideal world, I’d be able to just focus on writing projects I’m passionate about. Again, didn’t happen. Working for yourself is hard, harder than most people can imagine. Not only do I have to produce around the clock, I also have to act as business manager and entrepreneur (enter The E Myth). An accomplished author, I still have to hustle like the rent is due.

Because it is.

While I have done many ignominious jobs that have kept me humble and solvent, these days I focus on the following:

  • Writing (and subsequently promoting) books that blow my skirt up
  • Taking on random freelance articles for beauty sites, travel magazines and a pupu platter of media outlets
  • Writing columns for today.com’s book page
  • College lectures based on my books (more on that at Samara Lectures)
  • A part-time job at THAT large Redmond tech company

In addition to the above (and I’m probably forgetting a couple of things), I have the good fortune to help other writers develop book proposals that will get serious consideration from publishers or agents. With my business partner Kerry Colburn, a close friend and fellow author and publishing professional who I met on the job 17 years ago, we started The Business of Books to share our knowledge of publishing and experience reviewing and writing countless proposals.

It’s as gratifying as anything I’ve ever done. I’ve never had much of a desire to teach, but man, is it addictive. Watching our workshop attendees be inspired and motivated has been a joy. Hearing that they landed a book deal, well, we feel like proud parents. Don’t get me wrong—they did it themselves. They polished their proposal, sent out submissions, and soldiered on through rejections.

My heart is full thinking of all of these newly published authors. And while it can be hard out here for a writer, sometimes it doesn’t feel like work.

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Blogversation: How will you support your local businesses during the holidays?

Throughout this year, several bloggers will engage in a conversation on Newvine Growing—asking questions of each other and responding. Others are absolutely welcome to join the conversation, as well. Learn more about the Blogversation 2012. I wrote the following post around Black Friday.

You Get What You Pay For.

Writing my humor blog and then book, Things I Want to Punch in the Face, healed me when I was grieving, and made me not only face my dark side, but get comfortable with it.

Now, publicizing the book has changed me again. It’s made me rethink my purchasing habits and the kind of person I want to be. After a month of throwing Punch Parties at local bookstores and meeting independent booksellers at various conferences, I see the magic that exists within this community. Magic that I—we—can’t take for granted.

I emceed the author’s luncheon at the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association conference a few weeks ago and warmed up the crowd of bookstore owners and staff with a few Things They Might Want to Punch in the Face. First up: customers who regard their store as an Amazon showroom, coming in and snapping photos or making a note on their smartphone so they can order the book later online. This is an all-too-familiar scenario. I know, because I’m guilty as charged. At least I was. I’ve wised up because I’ve learned something.

You get what you pay for.

And what I get at my local bookshop is an experience. When you pay full price at your local bookstore, you get customer service, a wealth of knowledge, the continuing resource of a neighborhood gathering place, a full-on community.When you buy a book on amazon or another discounted retail site, you get the book. That’s it. The 30-40 percent you are “saving” is the cost of having a storefront, a knowledgeable and lovely staff, and books you can thumb through at your leisure. When you choose to “save,” you sacrifice your experience and your community.

You get what you pay for. And often, you lose what you don’t pay for.

Queen Anne Books, one of many local bookstores I’ve frequented over the years, hosted my last Punch Party in Seattle. Five days later, it closed its doors. This is deeply saddening, but not unique. It’s happening everywhere—bookstores, yarn shops, record stores are all going the way of the dinosaur.

I get it. I’m practical and lord knows, I love a good deal. As an author and a consumer, I like that amazon exists, that people can find my books no matter where they live, that I can easily ship out gifts to friends and family across the country.

But this comes at a price, and I’m not talking about free shipping.

Amazon is the hot dog of retailers: we know it’s bad for us but we want it anyway…with relish.

I’m not trying to slap anyone’s wrist as they reach for their mouse to click the BUY button. I’m just suggesting that we make more informed choices, value all that our local businesses provide to us, and as we dive into another holiday season, choose quality over quantity and save our local businesses instead of saving 40 percent off a copy of Where’d You Go, Bernadette (which, by the way, is terrific. I have Suzanne at Secret Garden Books to thank for the recommendation).

You get what you pay for.

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