Posts Tagged ‘The View’

Memoirs are For the Constipated and Dostoyevsky

The photo I keep using as a “headshot.”

I love to write. In case it isn’t obvious by looking at some of the books to which I’ve attached my name, I will write anything. The simple fact that someone will pay me to write “Have you ever tossed a dwarf?” (The Purity Test, 2008) fills me with the same humble honor as the fat kid that isn’t chosen last on the playground. I can’t believe my luck. I still can’t believe it.

So what is it about this blogging business that I find so difficult? The answer is simple: I do not think I am very interesting. Before you do the, “Oh Jos, sure you are!” chin buck, I should be clear. This does not in any way stop me from dominating any conversation at a dinner party or chatting endlessly with my sister, husband, friends or telemarketers about the minutia of my daily interactions.

But when it comes to writing, I haven’t really been in the memoir game since my teens when I was also very into singing showtunes with jazz hands (see this blog entry for additional information).

I sold another book recently. It came a little bit out of nowhere because my writing partner on Game-Based Marketing, Gabe Zichermann, is truly an incredibly brilliant and well-respected star to whom I have unapologetically hitched my wagon. He was approached by an editor at McGraw Hill to write the quintessential book on gamification. A few weeks and a twenty page book proposal later, the deal was signed.

Getting this book deal is awesome on many levels, the first of which being that it means I can continue to “work from home” which let’s face it, is code for getting to drink on weeknights. But even better than that (no, you’re right, drinking on weeknights = best thing ever) is the fact that it is not memoir. Before this deal came along I was working on a book proposal about the death of my father and the terrifying gene with which he left my sister and I.

Angie Jordan liked my gene story. Or at least, was polite about listening to it.

The story, I’ve been told repeatedly, is an interesting one. People seem to love to hear about it. I feel fairly certain they are not just being polite. The other day when I met Sherri Shepherd with my family after a live taping of The View, the awesome comedian who plays Angie Jordan on 30 Rock stood there asking question after question after my mom casually mentioned the fact that my sister had undergone in vitro to weed out the gene in her amazing twins. (Did I mention that my mother is the best publicist ever?) Sherri Shepherd gave me her email address. Provided it isn’t a fake, I believe this indicates she found it interesting. It may have also been a ploy to wrap up the conversation. Don’t think I haven’t considered this possibility.

But, on a similar note, NPR’s This American Life bought the story two months ago.

And I know it’s compelling. I’m sure it must be. But there remains this internal shrug that weighs me down, this feeling that, “It’s just my life, you know?” You wake up, you get dressed, you eat, you work, you kiss your husband and go to sleep.

I have at various times worn the pain that comprised most of my 20’s like a collection of medals around my neck. I was happy to blurt out at the most festive of Sunday brunches anecdotes about loss, physical and emotional agony, infection, suicide, pain and death.

By 30 I understood better than most the notion that, “And then you die,” and thought it after nearly every major “crisis” I encountered. Ripped dresses, rain storms, lost jobs, and lost loves had a different weight for me than for most of my peers. I knew it. I felt it. There was genius in living a life so entirely present. Because, “And then you die” is the most liberating thing you can imagine. But also the most depressing. Finding meaning takes effort. Hope and belief are fleeting and tough to pin down.

I remember at 22, running late to meet friends from my graduating college class at a bar in Davis Square in Boston. I ran in breathless, took my seat in the booth and blurted out, “Sorry-I’m-late-my-dad-slipped-into-a-coma-can-I-get-a-beer?”

Someone looks like he could use a little time on the crapper, eh, Fyodor?

No one moved. I shrugged. What could I say? It was just my life.

I read once that Dostoyevesky wrote a lot of bad memoir in the years before he was finally able to write the work that would ultimately define his career. In a particularly pretentious discussion likely in a coffee shop in the 1990’s when I wore hoop earrings everyday and thrifted sailor jeans, someone suggested that memoir was a lot like shitting. It cleared you out so that you could try again to fill yourself with something meaningful. It was suggested that the great Russian writer had to write shitty memoir (pardon the pun), get it out, so that he could eventually write The Idiot, Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.

So maybe I have to write these blogs, write this book about the gene to make room for my inner The Idiot to pour forth.

Writing about myself isn’t as boring as I imagine the act of reading about me must be — but there is something about the story of my life, my family and our gene that makes me feel like it could get me on The View with Sherri Shepherd. And with or without an inner-The Idiot, that’s enough motivation for me.

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.