Archive for January 2012

Doing Something: This American Life

Me and the Cakesters

I feel like this blog is turning rapidly from a blog about “naming things” to a blog about NPR shows on which I hope to someday be. In that spirit, I’d like to tell you a story:

I finished my newest book in July. It came out last month. (Remember The Best Life List? Now you will be very very sleepy and now you will go order it on Amazon and now you will wake in 3…2…1…) Hey there! What? No, we were just talking about NPR…

Any time I have ever finished a book I have gone into a mild depression. Nothing with cutting, but you know, a sort of downtime involving a live streaming Felicity marathon or carbo-loading. I have been really fortunate in that a new project had a way of coming up fairly quickly. Or maybe it’s just that human animals tend to forget pain. I don’t really know how long I went between projects. But I don’t recall turning to my limited stockpiles of gumption, pulling up my bootstraps (or, whatever) and trying to rustle myself up some work.

So as I’m lamenting my lack of a career over coffee with my incredibly go-getting author friend Abby Sher (Amen, Amen, Amen is the title of her amazingly powerful memoir featured on the Tyra Show and in Elle Magazine. Now you will be very very sleepy and now you will go order it on Amazon and now you will wake in 3…2…1…) What? Nothing.

…Abby says, “You need to pull up your boot straps,” or else she quotes the actual cliche, and she points me to the NPR program This American Life because she’s awesome and go-getting and knows about things and she says, “Even you must have at least one story that fits into one of these upcoming show themes.”

But that isn’t what gets me to do it. What gets me to do it is that pitching This American Life doesn’t involve donating a kidney or writing a lot. Rather, they only need you to jot down a few paragraphs about the story you want them to feature. It’s pitching for the lazy. You can carbo-load AND pitch them in between Felicity episodes. It’s a wondrous thing.

So I pitched a story to them. Then heard nothing. Now this is generally how me pitching things goes: I pitch and then just kind of hang out. Again, totally good for people who spend a lot of time chewing. But what happened at the Cavs game at my friend Mike Lashutka’s house last Wednesday is what changed the course of these events for the better.

First of all, I don’t watch sports but the event was Tivo’ed so it was definitely more fun when you get to watch the thing in fast forward. Also, the Cavs won which made all those Brooklyn Transplanted Northern Ohioans happy. But the best thing was that a girl came to the party with whom I got to talking. (She’s a social worker and you know how I gravitate to people who will listen to me.)

So she mentions that she used to work at NPR. I reply, “No way! I just submitted my first pitch to This American Life.” So she’s all, “Really? I used to work at This American Life!” And I’m like, “Nuh uh!” and we do that for a minute.

Long story shortened: The powers-that-be are subsequently contacted to dig up my pitch and the next day I get a confirmation email that my pitch has been received and read. It was automated. Everyone gets it. But I’d like to think I got mine a little more quickly and maybe even a little more thoughtfully because I got networked. And in this business that’s huge.

Now I am waiting again but I bought a box of Oreo snack cakes. (You heard that correctly. Not cookies. Snack Cakes. Cakesters, if you will. You can thank me later.) I don’t mind the wait because at least it’s an indication that I did something productive and that there is momentum behind my career.

Or at least that I did something productive…

Facebook: I Hate Your Face

Me and a bunch of people who didn’t unfriend me on facebook.

There are a few problems with facebook but I think the biggest one by far is what to do with a person’s page after they have died (and also, people tagging you on your fat days). We have never had this issue before in the history of humanity – a cheerful birthday reminder for the dead, a suggestion that you should friend the no longer living, etc. Historically, when people passed away there was enough to deal with in terms of settling the estate, hiding secret papers (what porn?), and generally managing your own grief at the loss.

Facebook actually has a plan in place for reporting a person deceased and from what I can glean, it has to do with memorializing their page. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as “reporting the person deceased” because then facebook would be dealing with a lot of “reportedly dead” ex-boyfriends. Which is why “reporting the person deceased” also includes  a complicated series of tests that ends with a dog crawl through a war torn village. Basically, when you are in the throes of mourning, you aren’t going to do it.

Which brings me to the second biggest problem on facebook, unfriending the deceased. It just feels wrong no matter how sad it makes you feel when their loved ones write memories of the 4th of July where they were the last one standing after that entire barrel of Uncle Jake’s moonshine (mostly because you can’t remember that holiday for the same reason).

But unfriending the living, that can be even harder. And actually, as I write this I realize that unfriending me, well that might be the hardest thing of all about facebook. Forget the dead people.

I know this because I was recently unfriended. I’m certain I’ve been unfriended multiple times, but this one was aggressive. This time it was a close friend who recently went through a series of personal problems. And it seems I didn’t handle his personal problems to his satisfaction. At first I just figured he’d taken himself off of facebook because he was invisible, unsearchable, unseeable, just gone. Then I realized he hadn’t.

Maybe you are saying, “Come on Jos. If he’s unsearchable, unseeable, how can you know?” Well I’ll tell you how I know. HE STAYED FRIENDS WITH MY HUSBAND!

So this guy not only didn’t want to see me anymore, he didn’t want me to see him. But the worst part is, he wanted me to know that he didn’t want us to see each other. There was no confrontation. No discussion. A simple disappearing. No, I take that back, a disappearing is never simple, ask Tony Soprano.

The truth is, this new method of social gathering whereby you refriend old friends, forgive old rivalries, create new rivalries and generally hope someone will buy one of your books (for the love of God, people…), there is always going to be a downside. There will be death and there will be hostility. (I once pissed a guy off because I made a really bitchy comment about people named after cities and he had a kid named Venice or Chattanooga or something.)

But it has hardened me. I am stronger because of this empty space where my once-good-friend used to be my good friend on facebook. And I’m relieved that we didn’t have to have a shoot out in the town square or send one another to swim with the fishes. That’s not true. We did. It was just less messy and much more metaphoric. And for that, facebook, maybe I should thank you.


The Opposite of My Porn Name: My Chaste Name

Dee Dee, sleeping on the job.

The Best Life List, my newest book, dropped officially this week. That’s what they call it when a published book is released to the public – “dropped.” I didn’t know that until maybe my forth book so it’s okay if you didn’t know that either. A book drops. Now you know.

This word seems sort of appropriate, at least where my books are concerned. They seem to drop and then just sort of free fall. People ask, “How are your books doing?” and my frank answer every time is to shrug my shoulders and sing “Mm-uh-umm,” (which sounds like “I don’t know” without words). This is because, sincerely, I don’t know. Genuinely. And I don’t know how to find out. At all. This is seven books later.

My grandmother asks, “How is your new book doing?” and I can say, “Great!” because, shoot, maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s selling like hot cakes in Baltimore. Maybe they can’t get enough ten item lists in Omaha and they are waiting for the sequel (The Second Best Life List). But most importantly, I can say that the book is doing great, perhaps even doing exceptionally because if I can’t find out the truth, how can she?

There is a rumor that Amazon ranks you with a number (Amazon’s Best Seller Rank) that indicates your sales numbers compared to every other book being sold on Amazon. I have studied this number, but have no idea if it’s true. I’ve also heard the number just represents how many people have looked at your book page, how many people have looked at any of your book pages, or how many people have thought about your book either in passing or in earnest.

Barnes and Noble is simpler. Your sales numbers are based on how many books physically get returned to the publisher. So if they order five copies of your book to every store in the country and only sell two, after a few weeks they will return the remaining three to the publisher. But the publishers don’t call you to tell you. Instead they mail your agent a really crazy looking bi-annual report that I swear I have stared at blankly for twenty minute intervals hoping to glean some spiritual, if not publishing-world-related insight.

So how is The Best Life List doing? Mm-uh-umm.

What I do know however, is that some other book I wrote for Adams Media didn’t do so good. And there is one really clear, non-spread-sheet answer as to how I know this: Dee Dee Clermont.

When I was asked to write The Stoned Family Robinson last year I had a little squabble with the editor over the by-line. I wanted it to read “By Johann David Wyss and Joselin Linder,” because I used (and by used I mean tragically bastardized) a version of Wyss’ manuscript of The Swiss Family Robinson. But I was told the publisher thought it would be jazzier to go with J.D. Wyss and J.P. Linder, since the book was sort of “jazzy.” However, I wanted fans of The Swiss Family Robinson to be able to find the book easily, which I used as my counter-argument. After a few back-n-forths, I was finally reassured that the seven remaining fans of The Swiss Family Robinson still living, wouldn’t want to find my book and conceded.

But as we negotiated the book contract for The Best Life List they were decidedly less polite. It turned out I wasn’t going to get to use my name, not because they were going for “jazzy” (oh…) but because one of my books had not sold well and the powers that be would be less likely to stock a book by “Joselin Linder” than a book by “Someone No One Has Ever Heard Of.”

“Write it under Joselin Fannin!” my agent suggested. I was about to get married and my married name was a nice one. But for some reason I didn’t want to use it. At first I wasn’t sure why. Then it hit me: I hadn’t considered before that my name might ever be at stake in this way. I didn’t know that I could sell, or fail to sell a book and end up having to change my name! It felt a bit like my identity was at stake. Since legally I was going to become Joselin Fannin or at least Joselin Fannin-Linder, I decided, it had to be saved, preserved, cared-for until I was sure I wasn’t going to F-it-up.

So I went to the place I turn to for answers to my most important concerns and questions including health issues, world news and naming things: The facebook.

“Use your porn name!” Jen Banks, my wise friend suggested (she lives in Vermont which is a really healthy state, so I listen to her advice a lot). Your porn name is the street you grew up on and your first pet. In my case that name would be Rafi Eastmoor. I almost went with it. It was both exotic and sort of sexy. But then it hit me: Isn’t using your porn name a little disrespectful? I mean, I was being paid to write a book. Writing is my favorite thing in the world to do. Should I really be an asshole about it?

After some deliberation, one pack of Little Debbies and an episode of The View, I chose the opposite of my porn name. My non-porn name. My chaste name. My current street and my current dog: Dee Dee Clermont. After all, it sounded like a good name for a writer, smart, a little bit hip (since Dee Dee is named for the bass player in The Ramones) and respectful (since my dog is pretty much my favorite person and I live on what is arguably the best street in America).

But most of all, it isn’t my name, it isn’t a name I am afraid of having banned in public. It is a name I am going to be okay answering to when NPR calls and wants to interview me on All Things Considered.

That is until the moment I realize that suddenly, in public, for the rest of my life, the dog and I basically have to share a name…That day’s going to be awesome.

Naming Yourself (and Baby Blue Z-yonce)

Make a Wish.

A few days ago Beyonce and Jay-Z had a baby. Although the media might have reported otherwise, obsessed as they are this week with the word “Tebow” which (loosely) translated can either mean, “Tight pants, cute butt” or “Pointing at the sky makes God love you,” that isn’t what they named her. They named her Blue, a name of which I’m loath to make fun, having named my 2001 Jetta the same thing once on a long drive to San Francisco.

Jay-Z, because he is Jay-Z immediately released a single about the birth of his child. And Jay-Z, because he is Jay-Z, it turns out, wrote a really nice song. I mean, I tend to get embarrassed when people become overly sentimental in public, and this song doesn’t do that. (That’s my general if unsophisticated litmus test.) Here it is.

Lyrically it’s R-rated, peppered as it is with profanity and “adult themes.” But that isn’t why the kid shouldn’t hear it until after college. I mean, isn’t it hard enough when your parents are just normal, everyday, hard working folks? What kind of expectation is already on you just for waking up in the morning with the last name “Z-yonce?” And now, on top of it, there’s your gushing dad telling the world with some certainty that not only are you his baby, but you will be a “younger, faster, smarter” him?

Okay, young, she’s got. Nailed it, in fact. I have no idea how fast Jay-Z is since I googled his miles per minute and got some song lyrics about a violent gang attack that while disturbing, neither helps me, nor the future adult-Blue. So maybe she can win that one too. But Jay-Z is smart. I mean, I think he’s smart. He’s a really good rhymer and he owns one of the largest hip-hop/rap corporations in the world, so I’m figuring he isn’t an “I can spell t-o-m-a-t-o-e” kind of guy (again, another litmus test).

But how can we avoid being measured by our gene pool? After all, we’re measured by everything from our car to our breakfast selection (Scandinavia, I’m mostly talking to you). My father was a physician in his life – kind of like becoming a rock star for Jewish people. My mother was an early childhood educator. My sister and I were afforded liberal arts educations thanks to our parents, but came out, more or less confused. What were we?

Undergrad doesn’t give you a job title. Apprenticeships, professional degrees and joining the mafia do. Most of the people I know (myself in included) fell into unplanned careers, and even now as we sit perched behind some desk or other, we aren’t sure what we’re doing here, if we want to stay, and if we want to stay, how to do so.

I have been a professional writer for a few years now. If people need proof I can direct them to books, websites, and many other places where I repeat that I am a writer in public making it seem more real and less pathetic to all of us. However, on a daily basis I wonder how one sustains it.

After my first book was published, The Good Girl’s Guide to Living in Sin (Plug. Check.) I probably should have hung out my “Relationship Expert” sign. I could have become a girl who helps people write their dating profiles. I could have counseled wayward couples. I could have gotten invited to weddings and been toasted during the thank you speeches.

But then I sold a second book and it was a humor book. Suddenly I found myself unable to name myself “Relationship Expert.” Maybe I was a humorist. Maybe I was like a taller, less squeaky version of all of those NPR writers who get to be on the Brian Lehrer show and talk about politics and say funny things about binge eating.

However, by then, I was a writing a business book and you can see the conflict of interest inherent in a career that makes fun of everything and one that monetizes everything. So, again, I remained non-committal.

When pressed I would proclaim, “I’m a Writer. You know how Meryl Streep can play a feisty American editor or a crazy British politician? You wouldn’t pigeon hole that lady into always playing the ingenue. Well, I’m like that except on paper. Except…you know, minus a fan base, critical reception or like…general reception.”

Then one day I was offered two weeks, seven dollars and a Fun Pass to write The Stoned Family Robinson. All of the sudden I was writing fiction. My dream job! That’s who I was, a Fiction Writer! A Fiction Writer never has to commit to anything as long as they can get on Oprah! Just call me Jane Austin! Dostoyevsky, anyone?

But when the book came out, rather than getting the coveted National Book Award, an interview with Terry Gross or even a must-read mention in People Magazine, I got a blurb in High Times and a blog on Celebstoner. I became a pot expert. An expert in pot. A coveted position to be sure, but again, not one I was certain I knew how to represent.

There is a difference between naming yourself an expert and being named one. In my case, I was nudged but never flung face first into any title. Therefore, those last steps, choosing to call myself a pot expert, a relationship guru or a marketing genius, well, other than dressed in scathing sarcasm, I just didn’t have the confidence or gene pool to back it up.

I am still searching for my title. Baby Z-yonce is going to have it just as tough if not tougher. But with every breath, every song, every book, I suppose we’re getting closer, she and I – and in the meantime, if we’re lucky, enjoying the ride.

The Best Life List

                This is my new book. It’s less blurry in person.

I can’t lie – I am finding it really hard to remember the title of my new book, The Best Life List, or Best Life’s List or Dances With Wolves…I didn’t title it. In fact, to date, I haven’t named a single of one of my books. They came to me already named and often conceptualized. In the case of Game-Based Marketing, Gabe Zichermann, my friend, gamification guru and co-author extraordinaire brought the concept and most of the content. And while we liked All the World’s a Game or Funware by Design, the “creatives” at Wiley thought business people like to know in advance about the book they are picking up. And with the rest of them, some editor in Publishing-Land (like Candy-Land but with sexy librarian hair) had a book idea, a title for it but no writer to carry it out.

Once I was chosen to author a book, however, all the content was mine (which is something I maybe shouldn’t brag about…) – or mine and a co-authors’ depending on the project. At one point Have Sex Like You Just Met…No Matter How Long You’ve Been Together (breath), was titled The Good Girl’s Guide to Sex – but there were a lot of books that were starting with “The Good Girl’s Guide” at that time and it turned out that book stores wouldn’t shelve it unless we changed the name. I was working with relationship genius, Elena Donovan-Mauer, and suddenly we weren’t just expected to provide the content of a book, but we had to title the damn thing too!! Insanity ensued as did suggestions such as Spice Up Your Sex Life, Have Good Sex Now, Sex Doesn’t Have to Suck and Neither Does This Title, etc.

What the editor finally chose (see the 9,000 word phrase in the previous paragraph) was not, I’m pleased to say, attributable to either Elena or myself. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.

The Best Life List (or whatever) was never my title. I was merely enlisted to write 300 ten-item lists for cool women during any phase of her life that were each light, engaging and informative. (Oh yeah, and I had three weeks to do it…)

Since this blog is about “Naming Things” (did you just spit out your milk in stupefied amazement- either positive stupefied amazement or negative?) I will bore…I mean captivate you with the reason the book was written by someone named “Dee Dee Clermont” instead of someone named “Joselin Linder” or “J.P. Linder” or even “Joselin K. Rowling”  in the next blog entry.

And then I will follow it up with the reason the names of each of the 300 ten-item lists almost killed me, two editors at Adams Media and one nameless woman simply referred to as “The Publisher” (a blog entry unto herself).