Friday, July 27, 2012

A Little Kindness

I've been hosting readings at Mt. SAC and elsewhere for about 15 years now. In that time, I've worked with a lot of authors. It's incredible to me the type of things authors will do to audience members some times.

Anyway, it got me thinking. There are a lot of people whose books I will not read any longer. Why? A lot of books out there are great. If I read a jerk's book, I will have to relive that bad behavior again. How could I not?

I've left off the names of the guilty, but here are some stories of those 15 years, good and bad.

Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki

Tony Barnstone, author of so many great poetry collections, including Tongue of War, my favorite, comes again and again to Mt. SAC. He helps so many of our students every time, sitting down to have lunch with them. He helped one student to write his thesis statement. I will have him back as many times as he can come and read all his books.

Contrast: The author who came to campus and sat down for lunch. When a student said hello, she snorted and walked away.

I'm never reading her book again.

Fools Rush In (Christy Bristol)

Sunny Frazier, author of Fools Rush In and others, sits down and encourages students each time. She has given hope to all my young writers and to me as well, and I will read everything she writes. I will also assign her books over and over to my classes.

Contrast: The author who kept hitting on my wife and staring at her chest. He suggested that she should leave me and come away with him. He wasn't joking. That's actually happened with two writers.

The Los Angeles Diaries: A Memoir

James Brown, author of The Los Angeles Diaries, has a policy where he will take questions for as long as people ask. He sat there for 3 straight hours once answering the most personal questions imaginable about his drug rehab and his religion. An amazing man. I will read all of his books!

Contrast: The author who showed up 45 minutes late to a 60 minute reading, refused to take questions, and then demanded his check be sent soon. Never going to read any more of his books.

Death Is Not the Worst Thing: Poetry

My old friend, T. Anders Carson, author of Death Is Not the Worst Thing, sits with all students, makes friends with everyone, listens and actually cares. There's nothing I wouldn't do for this man, and I will have him back at Mt. SAC every year if they let me.

Contrast: The publisher / writer who was asked how to publish some poems said: "I doubt that you will ever publish your work." She knew nothing of the student who actually did publish 10 poems the next year.

There are so many stories of kindness and generousity in writers -- Cathy Day, Kevin Lee, Sarah Miller, Paul Tayyar, Sharon Olds, Jo Scott-Coe, Donna Hilbert, Gerry Locklin, Murray Thomas. I'm starting to feel guilty that I'm not mentioning them all, but I've been hosting over 20 writers a year for 15 years now.

There have been many fewer writers with bad behavior. A number of them, when asked about breaking into the business, have shook their head and condescendingly told the person asking not to be in such a hurry as though they had infinite knowledge of the person's desires and abilities. Why not answer the question straight?

One of my least favorite -- the person whose career I had helped early on, helped get his first publications, and then he snubbed me and the students when he made it bigger. Not big, just bigger.

But what does that teach me?

The answer is obvious, no?

I haven't always been a good or kind person, and I need to change that. A little kindness goes a long, long way. With all those great books out there, why would I ever read the book (even a great one) that reminded me of a jerk?

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Back of Beyond, and a Giveaway

David Cole and Jack Everett’s The Back of Beyond is fantastic summer reading that captures some of the magic that so many of us love from the Cadfael Chronicles, but is unique enough that it is not a mere imitator in either style or content.

The Back of Beyond (Abbot and the Acolyte series)

I suppose that any Medieval mystery will inevitably be compared to the Cadfael novels, but The Back of Beyond is its own novel too. Set in 13th century France , it follows Abbot Rutifius and his acolyte William in a murder mystery in St. Guilhem. Rutifius is there to make an accounting of the church to make sure that the money is being collected well and spent wisely, and to be sure that the abbots are not stealing anything, but he quickly finds that there is more going on than just money problems. People are dying.

So if you’re a fan of Cadfael, you’ll want to know just how close to those novels it is. There is the obvious difference as to place. This is France, but of course, it is also set in a religious setting, and that lends a good deal of commonality. More importantly, Cadfael always had a sense of the larger political realities of the day. Rutifius does not and doesn’t seem terribly interested in the wider world. He is interested in doing a good job for the church, in mathematics and in his food.
           
The style is different as well. There was a denseness to the language in the Cadfael Chronicles that is not here. This is a much lighter read. I don’t want that to sound as though I’m being dismissive. I am not. I enjoyed the charm and literary qualities of The Back of Beyond.

The one difference that I particularly enjoyed was the humanness of each character. No one was without major flaws and short comings especially our protagonists. These are real human beings who are making mistakes in their lives and often missing obvious clues around them. This is especially true of the abbot, whose flaws paralleled some of my own flaws, and as I was shaking my head at him, I was shaking my head at myself as well.

And that’s what a good book will do for you so often. Holden Caufield famously says in Catcher in the Rye that he likes a book if he feels that the writer is a good person, and he wants to talk to that writer.

There’s that sense all the way through this book. The writers are people who understand and like humanity, and they are likeable people. Anyway, I recommend the novel if you’re up for an interesting look at one of the sub-cultures of the 13th Century.

In any case, this is a blog about small press promotion, and I was interested in what the authors did to promote their novel. I emailed Jack Everett and asked him a couple of questions.

Question One: What have you done to promote your work?

We have a story in 4 episodes running on http://criminalties.blogspot.com that directly relates to the book and right next to it is the link to buy. I also constantly tweet to more than 1600 followers about the book as well as talking and plugging it on FB. There aren't enough hours in the day to do any more. I have tried to get signings, forums and readings but we are in a double dip recession over here and no one is buying anything.

Question Two: What surprised you the most about small press promotion?

My only surprise is the volume of competition out there it seems that everyone and his brother has written a book. However I am always open to suggestions and I have a certain following for my thrillers in Florida, maybe I can tempt them to try a medieval mystery for once.

Now for the giveaway!!

I think what I like best about what he’s doing is the 4 episodes. I like giveaways, and I’m going to emulate him to some degree.

Here’s what Mr. Everett has inspired me to do:

I’m going to be giving away two different chapbooks. Since I’m a poet and a writer, one will be poetry and the other is a short story. These are new collections and a new story unavailable in this form anywhere but my blog (okay, so they’ve been published in magazines, but never collected like this). Anyone who joins my blog as a follower will get his or her choice of the limited edition chapbook, and anyone who joins and convinces someone else to join will get both of them! Follow my blog! Get a rare chapbook!

Here's how to do it:

1. Become a follower, and convince others to do so.

2. Email me with your address to let me know you've done that. johnmbrantingham@aol.com


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Understanding the Game

"Serendipity. Look for something, find something else, and realize that what you've found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for.” -- Lawrence Block

My hesitance about online promotion has turned into a kind of fascination. Getting online and dealing with the bugs and annoyances of computers is still difficult, but it's not the focus of my journey any longer.

I spent a good deal of time talking to bloggers and looking through a lot of these online sites. The game of promotion is, of course, reaching as many people who would really be interested in your work as possible. This means a series of approaches.

1. Meeting people who are interested. That I have down. When someone meets you and likes your work and makes a personal connection with you, they're likely to follow you and be interested in past and future books. Most poets I know also love mysteries, so doing readings, meet and greets, and festivals is always useful. The only thing is that I tend to have a really bizarre sense of humor, so I need to keep that reined in a bit.

2. Other people's websites: This is the online version of meet and greets. These really help the networking. Facebook, Twitter (which is no fun for me), and Pinterest help meet a whole new group of people I wouldn't have contacted otherwise.

Okay -- so far, no great revelations on my part, but what I learned about blogging really motivated me.

3. I need to figure out what people are going to be looking for before they look. This is an exercise in personal psychology and group dynamics. Both are fascinating. What do people want to read? What they have read before and loved. So this is an exercise in letting people know that I'm going to give them that same great experience they had before.

Ideas spread like viruses, and all we really need to do is to figure out where the best place to introduce our ideas are. Once they really start to go, they'll take on a life of their own. It's why the classics still sell even though the writers aren't around to promote their books any longer.

The key seems to be the google search. I need to give them what they're thinking of. I've change the name of this blog, and I'm adding information about things that should pop up on google searches.

4. Once I have someone reading a blog, I need to keep that person coming back. I need to provide them something. Either it needs to be informative (this blog is at least a little) or entertaining.

As for that I'm going to keep posting videos of my poetry and other people's work as well.

I think figuring out how to bring those google searches around to me is going to be the most interesting aspect of my work for a while.


One added little bit:

I'm going to read 100 books this year, and record them. That's not unusual, but I'm going to focus most of it on small press mysteries, which is unusual I think for most readers. I've been doing that in the past, but if you follow this, you'll get a good sense of who is out there to read. My quest -- to become an expert on the field. I'll be changing and updating this post as I do if you're interested in following my progress.

Here's what I've read so far:

1. David Coles and Jack Everett The Back of Beyond
2. Lawrence Block Hit Parade
3. Gerald Locklin From a Male Perspective
4. Ron Carlson Room Service
5. Matthew Rohrer Destroyer and Preserver
6. Marva Dale Death of a Flapper
7. Sue Grafton M is for Malice
8. Denise Weeks Nice Work
9. Various kindle short stories by Lawrence Block
10. Jeri Westerson Serpent in the Thorns

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Finding Love in South Pasadena

My newest adventure in small press promotion? A poetry reading in South Pasadena.


(The Venue)

The poetry reading part isn't new. I've been doing that for years, but I've never been in South Pasadena before.

The Fremont Theater was great and Nuvein run by Chris Trevilla is an amazing organization. Some of the people who signed up for the open mic including Suzanne Lummis, Kimberly Cobian, Daniel Cuesta, Charlotte San Juan, Natalie Morales, and Alexander Vogel are frequent features other places, so it was a little intimidating to be the feature.


              (Here is Chris Trevilla)

There were many more than this. These were just the people who are my friends.

Still, I'm the world's biggest extrovert, so I'm not going to pretend I didn't love it.

What else did I love? Great friends in the audience -- Pam Arterburn (one of the best and most inspirational professsors in the world), Michaelsun Knapp, Geoffrey Greer, Laura Henneforth, Samantha Johnson, and Lloyd Aquino (a frequent writing and organizational partner of mine).

Also, I loved the food in their little foodery.


(Food in the foodery)

Also, I loved the fact that it was an actual theater. They let me sit backstage in the dressing room so I could live out some acting fantasies that I'd never fulfill otherwise.

Also, I loved that Mike the Poet hosted. Energy, energy, energy.

Also, I loved that Don Kingfisher Campbell was my co-feature and tore it up Kingfisher style.

I'm just learning how to do the computer-based promotion of my books, but I love and meeting people and being a part of this great community of poets and writers. This part of the promotion I've always loved.

Say what you like about Los Angeles. Our little subculture is amazing.

By the way, here is one of the poems I read: "Lightning Storm." I hope you enjoy.




Saturday, July 14, 2012

My Life on an Egg Timer

Let me start with an admission: I'm a workaholic.

Anyone who knows me knows that much about me.

If you're not a workaholic, then you don't know what down time can be like for us. My paycheck says that I'm a community college professor, and my hours during the school year are pretty regimented. That's not a bad thing. I always know where I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to be doing on a minute by minute basis, and I can fit in my passions -- writing and now promotion -- between those times.

The confusing part comes with the free time of summer when I want to do things, but I don't have a structure. I'd sit around looking at the computer wondering what to do. I was popping into blogs, sitting there for 3 hours and getting almost nothing done.

Then I got the suggestion for the egg timer in my last post and that really has changed my summer. Thank you, Sunny. This really focused what I was doing.

With the structure of the timer, I'm getting things done. With a half hour yesterday, I wrote and edited a poem. The next half hour got me onto a blog site and another half hour got me into another and moving. The moments were regimented and perfect. I was moving. I knew what I had to be doing when I was doing it. Two hours for fiction and an hour for magazine submission. Everything moved well. Two hours for reading even, and I didn't feel guilty for any of the stuff that I enjoy. As long as it was egg-timed, Puritan guilt was no longer a problem.

I'm not kidding about this.

The problem is that all workaholics are obsessives too. I'm featuring at a poetry reading this afternoon (I'll report on that tomorrow or the next day), and they've given me 14 minutes, which is both oddly specific and oddly comforting to me. The egg timer will control this for me. The egg timer will let me know exactly how long I have.

I've egg-timed the writing of to-do lists, also a relief for me. I egg timed lunch and dinner. I egg timed playing with my dog. I think I might be going a little overboard.

Tonight, I'm planning to egg-time my dreams. One half hour for the dream where the penguin tells me that he is my father and at the same time the reincarnation of my sister who I never knew I had. Twenty minutes for the dream where I'm teaching to my class but I have to teach political science and I don't know the first thing about political science and why is everyone looking at me like that and what should I say and does it make sense that I'm up here and maybe I should just tell everyone to drop right now.

And since I've been good and done the surreal dream and the social nightmare dream, I will schedule an egged-timed half hour dream about the hike I took with my dog in the woods where there was just an inch of snow on the ground. The pine trees were dark with moisture and the forest was empty of people. I'm going to dream that tonight in a half hour, but I think I'll put my wife there so she can enjoy an egg-timed half hour too.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Splitting My Time

So, I've been developing my skills on blogging and online networking thanks to the help of Sunny Frazier (her website is an incredibly help by the way), Marta Chausee, and those of you who have been kind enough to comment on my blog while at the same time developing some of my other publishing avenues. So I'm going to summarize this Doogie Howser style: What have I learned and what have I done?

1. I've stopped being frustrated at how slowly I'm learning the computer stuff. I'm progressing quickly, faster than when I first started publishing and I had to figure out all of that stuff by myself. I've been developing a bunch of sites online and trying to build those I have. I like the blogs, but gaining friends is a little cumbersome. That's all right. It'll get easier as I go. I added myself on a few sites:

Amazon's Author Central, but I find that really difficult to navigate. Still I have my books up there and a profile.

Good Reads

Book Blog I had this before, but I've been trying to build.

WalnutPatch, the local online newspaper.

That's all right for a couple days work online, but I need to comment more and really be involved in people's books.

The comment about using a timer is genius. It's clicking away right now.

2. I had a meeting about editing a book. I met one of the great poetry publishers and was knocked out to be there. Many teachers will be involved with that. If I can get teachers interested in me, they can use my books in their classrooms. That's good promotion! I can't reveal the title or information about the book yet. More later.

3. I also went back to my strengths. I got a group of students and help to teach them how to publish stories and poems. While they were sending theirs out, I sent out mine. Every publication is promotion after all. Also, I just like knowing people are reading my stories and poems. Tomorrow I'll be doing the same and more people should be there as well.

4. I took a couple of meetings on the SGV Literary Festival. This is a literary festival we'll be hosting in February next year off to the East of Los Angeles. I've been wanting to involve more and more people, but there is so much paperwork on so many levels that I haven't gotten to that point yet. Soon though, authors and publishers will start to be invited. Check out our blog by the way.

Okay so in general what did I learn? I need to keep playing to my strengths but to develop the online presence even more. It's not difficult. It's just leg work!

Monday, July 9, 2012

My friend Gerry Locklin has published 155 books and chapbooks and has a great work ethic. Here's his poem on being discovered by publishers. By the way, "Toad" is his alterego. Brilliant.



How to Be Prolific (Or Not)
Gerald Locklin

Drive by the faculty parking lot
Of the Humanities Office Building
A few nights of the week
At 9:00 or 10:00 p.m.,

Or at any hour
On many Saturdays or Sundays
Or “Holidays,”

And you may find Toad’s
Little White Ford Focus
Is the only one remaining
In the Faculty (or Emeritus)
Lot.

Otherwise, have fun with your family
Or on your own
Instead of Writing, Typing, Submitting
Manuscripts, and corresponding with
Editors, Publishers, Reviewers, Interviewers,
And Directors of Poetry Reading Series,

And grow old wondering
When you’re going to be
Discovered.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hello Everyone,

Today, I've started Project Promotion, and I wanted to chronicle it through this blog. In the past, I've published poetry books, but now, I'm starting to live my dream, publishing book length ficiton. In the past year, my novel, Mann of War (with Oak Tree Press), and my short story collection, Let Us All Pray Now to Our Own Strange Gods (with World Parade Books) were both picked up. Not to mention another very, very short poetry collection Study Abroad (with Wormwood Chapbooks).

I've figured out a good deal of how to promote, but there are bits that are ellusive. And it's all well and good to say that I shouldn't worry about the promotion and just live for art, but those publishers have been good to me, and I need to be good back. Any writer with a work ethic needs to be dedicated to promoting his or her writing.

Anyway, right now, I'm trying to promote in seven different ways:

1. Online: On Meyers Briggs and other similar tests, I always score as an extrovert. I'm more extroverted than just about anyone I know. That makes being online really frustrating for me, but it's the best way to touch a lot of people, so here I go! I do love being alone when I write, so maybe I can find pleasure online too.

2. In Person Appearance: This is my natural strong spot. I'm a born teacher (also a professor at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut California). I will speak to anyone anywhere. My poetry career is a great teacher. Here's a youtube video of me if you're interested. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tewaKLDYA-Y There are more up of me on YouTube if you're more interested.

3. Publishing Stories and Poetry: I tend to do this a lot, but since I am publishing a mystery/crime novel now, I need to focus on mystery magazines as well.

4. Reviews by Other Writers: I guess that comes later when my novel and short story collection comes out.

5. Radio: I've been on the radio a few times, had my work read on the radio by Garrison Keillor once, but this all remains a big mystery to me. Part of my quest is to figure this out!

6. Television: Not sure how to do this, but I want my work to sell.

7. Newspaper: I don't think many young people are reading newspapers, but that doesn't mean they're dead. Not yet. I love them anyway. This is just another world I'll be figuring out in the next few months.

This is the list so far. Maybe it will grow.

--John