Posts Tagged ‘The Stoned Family Robinson’

Putting the “Lit” in Modern Lit

Anna is deciding betwixt all those eggs while standing among them.

I haven’t blogged in a while (I still can’t really deal with the word “blog.” It’s a Muppet word. It isn’t real…But that’s another blog). I had this intention to do it (you know, blog) every week. But for the last few months I haven’t really been sure about what I want to say. I continually touch upon my health “struggles” with my family gene as I prepare to sell a book pitch about it. But somehow the whole thing keeps feeling increasingly personal and complicated – even anger-provoking. And I’m not an angry blogger. (I fancy myself more Janice or Fozzy than Animal or Piggy when it comes to the emotional blogging department.)

But I woke up today and I was ready. It was time to blog. You might be thinking, “Here it comes. Is it going to be about the biggest storm to make landfall in American history? Or maybe about this endless election? Could she be about to wax poetical about all the amazing new releases in theaters now like Wreck it Ralph?”

No. I had a dream last night – A grammar dream.

Why this is particularly weird (besides the, um, obvious) is because, while I am a “writer,” I am not necessarily a grammarian. (Is that even a thing?) I like that there is grammar in the world, but I am not so deliberate a girl as to spend a lot of time considering whether or not I am using it properly. Like most folks, I just talk. Same with writing. It’s part of the reason that I can’t believe people pay me for this crap. Because it isn’t something I work particularly hard at doing well. (The Stoned Family Robinson, not withstanding…)

I’d like to think it’s generational. It’s a “kids today” phenomenon. Look at the brilliant poets of the past who deeply, agonizingly considered every word they placed! Look at the amazing writers of yore who crafted brilliant narrative and developed fantastic characters!

I’m not saying no one does that anymore. But…Let’s face it. The difference between modern lit and literature, is – frankly – the word “lit.” Which is why I was so taken aback when I woke up this morning, the remnants of my dreamy sleep fading slowly, as I thought, “The word `between’ can only be used when talking about two things…”

That was my thought. The dream lesson continued: “And `betwixt’ is for more than two things…”

Then, awakening even more, I was like, “Seriously? I will not use the word betwixt. Ever. I will however eat a Twix.”

I don’t remember ever learning this grammatical rule (I do, however, remember Twixes…) In fact, when I looked it up, it was not even a correct rule. There are some people who say it is, but they mostly live in really cold climates and have trouble with their hair. They are the same ones who claim that “among” is for more than two. But the truth is, “between” has been used since old English as a preposition that divides two or more items or regions. In other words, a discussion can take place between four as easily as it can between two. Betwixt, meanwhile, is just a funny word that you are only allowed to use while dressed like an elf.

But what’s weird is the dream itself. Why the hell did I wake up to “between” and “betwixt” like I’d suddenly been possessed by the demon spawn of Mark Twain and DH Lawrence? The dream actually took place on a hike at a resort where I was wearing really nice make up and hanging out with my cool friends Caroline, Erica and Sari dressed adorably and trying to figure out which bridge to cross to meet up with the rest of the hiking group. Discussion actually took place about whether or not any of our footwear was appropriate and maybe we should just sit on the beach…The grammar stuff – all I know is that it had something to do with walking through trees alone. Betwixt, or between them?

My grandfather and my real dad.

I looked at a picture of my grandfather before bed one night recently, asking him to help me make a very big decision about my health and life. Remarkably he actually showed up in a dream! But instead of engaging in a heartfelt conversation about surgeries, procedures and genetics, I started explaining to him, a lifelong Goldwater Republican, why Romney was a bad choice (landing hard on the dog-strapped-to-the-roof example). When I woke up he and I hadn’t really addressed the central concern. How did his “visit” help me with my near life-or-death dilema? Stupid dream.

Dreams are funny. They aren’t always trying to tell you something. Sometimes they are just words that flash through your head and make you ask yourself if you want a peanut butter or caramel version of the candy bar. But after I woke up from my dream about my grandfather (which oddly featured my father as Barak Obama toward the end – or me as Malia – not sure) I heard my grandfather’s voice: It won’t matter either way, he said. You will be okay no matter what you decide.

And I knew he was right.

Now I’m going to go vote. Then, you can be sure, I’m going to get a Twix and if I can’t decide betwixt them – peanut butter or caramel – I’m going to get both.




Manage Expectations or Edit Your Work: You Choose

Pretty much sums up my adulthood.

Several months ago I got an email telling me what an amazing job I had done reviewing a particularly weird (but educational!) book I had been asked to review for Celebstoner. You can read the review here. The editor at the website has used me exactly twice to review books by women writers of books that somehow embrace, mention or heavily smoke – marijuana because I wrote a book that embraced, mentioned and heavily smoked – marijuana. The book review that the email sender professed to love included something about smoking pot out of private bodily orifices, so that might have served as some kind of warning. It didn’t.

He blew so much proverbial sunshine- or pot smoke- up my ass (I had to go there) telling me how much he loved my review that I was the first person he thought of to review his new book that embraced, mentioned and might have once even been marijuana. How could I say no? I couldn’t. I am very susceptible to things blown up my ass. (Sorry. I’m done. It wasn’t really even funny the first time.)

A few weeks later the book arrived. It was really lovely. Colorful, well titled, legible. It took me a few weeks, but he nudged me with another pleasantly motivational email and I decided to make it my afternoon subway read. The next two things that happened were particularly vexing: 1) The book was a mess and 2) I had nothing else to read on the subway.

Point 1 had me kind of worried. I didn’t know if the story was smart or thoughtful or fun, all I knew is that the grammar was, well, bad and the layout was far from polished. If the guy had sent a note explaining that this was a galley proof, an unedited version of the manuscript, I would have read straight through and reviewed the thing for content, not grammer. But he didn’t. So, it would seem, this was the final edit, bad though it was. Point 2 just had me pissed.

Now let me just say, I am not an important writer. I’m not a big wig in any world much less the pot world. I don’t even smoke pot, I just enjoy people who smoke it. But somehow I knew I couldn’t review this guy’s book. I mean, I couldn’t even give it a bad review because that would imply that it was even in a state that was ready to be reviewed – even badly! But there he was, really really excited for me to review it. Which made me feel guilty, especially when I thought back on how much he really seemed to love me. Even if the love was for one little book review on one website in a universe of big reviews on many bigger websites, I would take it, because I am very good at receiving love – probably because I spent most of 7th grade feeling sort of sweaty and unloveable.

Reading The Stoned Family Robinson to a mature audience.

So I did the only thing I could think of doing. I overcompensated. I wrote the guy a very very long email telling him exactly what he should do to fix up his manuscript. I wrote about finding a good editor, building a target audience, finding an agent, reaching out to publishers, fixing the weird intro at the beginning of the story that is not only poorly written but tonally opposed to everything else I had read. Then I reread what I wrote and sent it off. And I waited. And waited. No reply. No, “Thank you so much Joselin! You are still my favorite all time book reviewer of books-by-women-writers-which-include-pot-themes! Great advice by the way! You are very very smart about writing, too!”

I don’t know what it was that I expected. I mean, I do because I just wrote it all out in the preceding paragraph. But I mean, this guy had printed lord-knows-how-many fancy books that looked very like a real book by a real publisher (because frankly, we are about to no longer need publishers…) and here was this person writing him a long email even though she wasn’t The Times, about why even she wasn’t going to review his book. And she wanted a reply. She wanted one bad. And then she got one (I will take it out of 3rd person now):

I read his barely one line reply. “Thanks,” he wrote. “I’ll look into it.”

What more could he say? I mean, really, what else was there?

I truly hope he did look into it, because I think people who want to write should always be writing. But I also stand by my 40,000 word email suggesting that if you want to do something and get paid to do it, do it right. A friend of mine recently embarked on writing a play. The problem was, she didn’t really know much about play writing. So instead of reading plays, taking a class or even looking up how-to tips on the internet, she just started writing dialogue. That would have been fine, but then she started sharing that dialogue with others in a professional setting so that it was being judged.

Damn hippies.

I think it’s important to stop here and say that it’s hard to write and sometimes it’s just a matter of getting it out. That’s 100% okay. I think writing should be shared and read and reread and not judged. But it’s also a little bit about expectation. If you hand something in to a potential editor, agent or even reviewer, polish it as well as you can, disclaim it by mentioning it still needs a professional vetting, or otherwise manage expectation, and then share it. If you are showing it to a spouse or a buddy, you can let them know you plan to eventually look up “how to write a play” but for now you just want to hear their thoughts on what you’ve got on paper.

But the person reading the work is only going to respect it as much as you did during your editing process. Which means, if you didn’t edit at all, that’s probably how much they’re going to respect it.

In conclusion, write all the time because it’s good for you, and also, just say no drugs. And also, read about people doing drugs.


Are You More Successful Than Your Parents Were?

My adorable parents.

That’s what the headline I just read asked me: Am I more successful than my parents were? When I read it, it was weird, the answer called out by my inner-monologue was swift and immediately, “Yes!” But when I thought about it for a few more seconds, I realized: No. I mean, monetarily I am way less successful. Societally, I am not successful at all.

I am 37, a first time newlywed, I have only held down a handful of “real jobs” since college, at least two of which involved a uniform. I am childless. I still wear concert t-shirts to “go out.” I only own one actual “outfit.” And my car has twenty three dents that I am aware of, a cracked spoiler, a faulty defogger and no heat or air conditioning.

So then, why did my brain immediately default to, “Yes,” when met with that little question? My mother had a graduate degree in education, two kids, a dog and a nice home with a porch when she was my age. She had a really good haircut, at least six blouses and a closet full of expensive shoes. My father meanwhile was a practicing physician with two kids, was well on his way to opening his own practices, buying a summer home and a speed boat with a closet full of weekday suits and weekend flannels. He bought Mercedes cars outright, without a lease.

There is no sad story here. My parents were in every way successful. They had, if not a perfect marriage, a nice one. My sister and I grew up feeling safe and loved. We were good kids, too. No one ever had to bail us out of jail or sit us down for “talks” and it wasn’t until I started making really bad choices in my late twenties when they were no longer responsible that anyone ever really had to worry. But by then I lived out of state so they never needed to know they had to worry until right now when I told them.

But I know that their life was in every way following the rules. They never said it, but I know they didn’t always ask questions before reacting to an order to jump. It wasn’t their fault. It was their generation. Success was defined differently then.

I feel like my life is as it should be. I guess that’s the reason the Pollyanna that lives in the recesses of my brain shrieked “yes!” upon being asked if I had exceeded my parent’s success. I had, because I had lived my life to this point in every way on my own terms. After college I moved to Europe and worked really insane jobs on which you didn’t have to pay taxes to make ends meet – but which usually involved excessive drinking. I moved to San Francisco where I helped my best friend start a business that ultimately failed but taught me a lot about failure (a lesson with which I am now intimate, thankyouverymuch). I moved to New York where I tricked everyone into letting me write a book. I met the man of my dreams and married him. I have a tiny Brooklyn apartment, a crappy car, two dogs who smell like dog, amazing friends, manageable debt and the promise, hope and optimism that someday I will pay it off because “They” will have turned The Stoned Family Robinson into a TV series starring Sean Penn (please, God, if you’re real…).

My parents might disagree, especially when I call and ask them to help cover a car repair or twelve…But I think in some ways they would also agree. Their choices weren’t bad, but I don’t think they were always on their own terms.

So, I feel more successful. Even if my retirement fund is a baseball signed by the Republican who owns the Texas Rangers and my great-grandmother’s fox fur stole that has a dried out fox head attached and terrifies my dogs…I look around and think: So this is what success feels like…It’s different then I thought it would, and sometimes includes the cheap chicken with a lot of hormone injections instead of the fancy organic kind, but I’m proud of it. Not always the chicken, but, you know…

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.