Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Magnanimous Javelina

I have blogged about this before, but it bears repeating. Please, Shakespeare or Henry VI or Dick the Butcher or whomever, let's not kill all the lawyers first. Or ever, really. For starters, I am one. Laura is one. I'm married to one. A number of my close friends are lawyers. Apparently we run in packs - like javelina. Only without the hunting, killing, and maiming with those demonic, razor-sharp tusks. Okay, shake it off, Kris. Those years in Tucson took their toll. At any rate, as I noted In Defense of Lawyers, most of us have plenty of qualities that justify continued existence. We are funny, we know a lot of the rules, we can throw a latin phrase into almost any conversation - okay, fine, that undercuts the argument, but you get my point. And recently I was reminded that certain of us are downright magnanimous.

I was reading a blog post by David Kazzie, he of The Corner, So You Think You Want To Go To Law School, So You Think You Want To Write a Novel, and perhaps most significantly, The Jackpot, a legal thriller that should definitely grace your Kindle. David Kazzie is something like our male doppleganger. Only a little - okay wildly - more timely, driven, and - fine - successful. So maybe he's not our doppleganger at all and we're just flattering ourselves. Point is, he is an attorney who writes fiction and blogs about his process. He is insightful and funny and generally inspiring and published The Jackpot on Kindle within months of when we published The Pecking Order. The post I recently read was a detailed account of his experience with a Kindle Direct Publishing program he used to promote his book. The results were incredible and The Jackpot eventually broke into the top 100 paid Amazon books. This program is available to all of us who have published on Kindle but some of us didn't pay much attention to it. In fact, from the reaction to his blog post, most of us didn't. We just cruised along mildly embittered that our book hadn't yet trended on Twitter or otherwise gone viral a la that traveling pants book, somehow manufacturing hope in the fact that we had sold at least one a month since it had been published (yeah, do the math, that's 12 a year). But mostly we were just bitter. Kazzie admits he was headed down the same path before he discovered this program. And he could have treated it like his own special secret, hoarded it from the rest of us for some perceived competitive advantage, let us all wallow in our e-book marketing desert, but instead he chose to share his process. To write a road map for the rest of us. To be magnanimous with those folks who he could justifiably consider his competition.

We followed his road map and in three days, the The Pecking Order downloads tripled. It didn't break into the top 100 paid Amazon books, but many more people are getting to know Abby and Adam, the Pecker and the Blowhard, and Babies Don't Spit Up and Motorcycle Man, Man Slippers and Sweat Rings. For that, we thank Kazzie, and for his belief that there is infinite space in the universe for art, and that the pursuit of creativity, unlike law firm life and family, is never a zero sum game.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Oh, the Places She Should Go!

Rejection is the foundation upon which most writing careers are built. We get it. We know publishers turned up their noses umpteen times at Harry Potter and The Help and even Gone With the Wind. We take this sparkling diamond of a fact, wrap it in silk, and stitch it into the lining of our souls, because knowing it's there is often the only thing that keeps us going. We understand, in a rational legal-mind way, that publishing is a business. We don't (usually) fantasize about severed horse heads soiling editors' sheets. We have learned (through yoga and meditation and just plain getting old) to let go, to live in the current breath, to be thankful for the opportunities we've had and to seize the ones yet to come. Sure, we are disappointed our book doesn't recline upon store shelves. That the contract with our agent expired faster than an iPad deal. That the electronic release of The Pecking Order didn't single-handedly crash Amazon's site. But, mostly, we deal with it and hammer away at new projects. And drink champagne.

Today is not one of those days. Today, we stomp our feet and cross our arms and stick out our bottom lips and bitch, thanks to Jennifer Weiner and Dr. Suess. If you don't know Jennifer Weiner, you should. She's a funny, snarky, Bachelor-watching, blogging, tweeting writer with great hair who personifies that quote, "well behaved women seldom make history." She's also published more books than the Bible's got Psalms. (Okay, maybe not that many books, but I couldn't resist a House of Pain reference. Admit it, you're Jumpin' Around now...) She's long been an advocate for women writers, taking to task critics, the media, and authors (looking at you, Franzen), for the disparate treatment of books written by men versus women. She particularly calls out people who dismiss what they have labeled, pejoratively, "chick lit." She recently penned a brave and spot-on blog post regarding how the the New York Times statistically gives more coverage to books written by men. (For Huffington Post's discussion of the issue, see here.)

As we read her blog and tweets over the past few days, we became increasingly incensed. Don't get us wrong, we never expected our book to be reviewed by the NYT, but in our own podunk way, we have felt the same bias. Our agent called our book "upscale commercial women's fiction" and shopped it to major publishers. Every single one found it laugh-out-loud funny, engaging, and well written. But they passed because the market was "saturated." In other words, there was too much "chick lit" clogging up the shelves. Bullshit. How about male-written thrillers with well-coiffed male protagonists, some sort of far-fetched legal conundrum or conspiracy or code to crack, an egregious amount of passive voice, and overuse of adverbs? You can't spit in a bookstore without hitting dozens of those . . . and they're usually on the front tables. (For what it's worth, I'm not sure you should ever spit in a bookstore, but you see my point.) Good for those authors. You did it. You should be proud. We hope you ordered a cake and threw confetti. . . we know we would have. But it's time for women's fiction (and not just the "important" kind, whatever that is) to be invited to the party.

At this point you may be thinking . . . wtf does this have to do with Dr. Suess? (Or maybe you're thinking about a peanut butter chocolate chip milkshake. Or maybe I'm projecting). NPR aired a piece this morning, on the 75th anniversary of Dr. Suess publishing his first story, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. I'm a huge fan of the Doctor. I listened to the segment with a smile on my face, nodding in solidarity when I learned his story had been rejected by publishers 27 times. This is exactly the encouragement I need today, I thought, pouring out a little green tea for my literary holmie. Then I heard this: Dr. Suess had all but given up when he was walking home and "bumped into a friend ... who had just become an editor at a publishing house in the children's section." Of course he did. Where's that champagne?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Follow Me Home

I have a little story to tell. If you know me personally I’ve probably bored you with the details already (perhaps multiple times on the same occasion, depending on how deep into the wine I’ve dipped). But the series of events in this small true tale won’t leave me be. They are pinching me at my desk and poking me awake at night and I fear I will have no respite until I commit them to paper. Instead of simply writing them down, however, I’ve turned the whole shebang into a writing exercise. I’m somewhat obsessed with point of view. My inclination is to write in the first person or in third person omniscient as the main character. But I’m always intrigued by multiple points of view, as in One Day or The Help. I’m also a tad in awe of authors who utilize a minor character’s point of view to drive the story. And so, here, though it might be gimmicky at best and painful at worst, I give you my story as told by. . . wait for it . . . my dog. Apologies in advance . . .

The woman was straight up pissed. Cartoonish, even. Red-faced with steam coming out her ears, her eyes bloated and bulb-like, that vein at her left temple threatening to blow. You know why? Because it was her fault. She left the gate open, even after jabbing her finger at the boys and threatening a Gulag-type existence if they let me escape. She forgot I was outside. Worse yet, she hadn’t taken me running for a few days, even though she knows I’m a Husky and I’m born to run, baby. And, frankly, I think she was hungover. I can smell those things.

I saw that cracked gate and popped smoke. I didn’t mess around this time, either. I didn’t stop to sniff road kill or mark the neighbor’s mailbox (Though, for the record, if your mailbox is shaped like a wide-mouth bass, I think you have it coming). I got my sprint on. I felt badly for a moment. I knew she’d had a rough few weeks. I’d sensed the tension in her movements, heard her crying, felt the long, hard exhalations that jostled my head in her lap. She was taking up less space. The house, which was too cumbersome and too expensive for a half-time mom, was swallowing her a little each day. I thought about running back and leaning into her legs, but then the delicious heat from the asphalt hit my paws like a drug.

Honking, swerving, yelling with pumped fists—all the world noticed me as I tore down the street, crossing from one side to the other and back again. She and the boys followed me in the car. The older boy, he tried to entice me with cookies as she pulled alongside. But what’s a cookie compared to the open road? I’m a traveler, man. I won’t sell my soul for a treat. Eventually he became angry and started chucking them at me as hard as he could. Rotten kid’s got an arm. The little one? He just cried. “I don’t want to watch her die!” I heard him scream. This from a boy who has not only run into traffic on numerous occasions, laughing maniacally in the face of certain death, but who recently licked a wild mushroom “just to see if it was really poisonous.” Pots and kettles, my child. Pots and kettles.

A few miles down, she almost got me in the pool enclosure of an apartment complex. I thought the jig was up. I was cornered, trapped in some sort of fancy celebration amongst silver serving dishes and ladies in ruffled dresses. She wore running shorts and a sports bra. And pink slippers. I won’t lie; I was a little embarrassed. I was like, “Nah, party people, she’s not my owner. My real owner washes her face occasionally.” She lunged for me and I leaped over her like a creature of the Serengeti. Real Discovery Channel shit. (I’m still replaying that one). And then I was off again. Born Free . . . until I tasted pavement. Ouch. Some dude—some dude barely outta high school in a plaid button down and shitkickers—jumped out of a truck (one of those ubiquitous Northern California trucks sporting a gun rack and duck decals) and took me down. Game. Over. I guess he’d been following me the whole time, trying to help. She offered to compensate him, but he declined and, with a literal tip of his ball cap, disappeared. I heard her tell the kids, in her hyperbolic way, that he restored her faith in humanity.

This is where things get interesting. Fast forward four weeks. (Four weeks filled with a dive down to the rockiest of bottoms. With the paralytic odor of depression. With late night conversations about fear and loss and a yearning for peace in the abstract, and concrete discussions about the market and downsizing and a fresh start.) She was reluctantly suiting up for a run (which, between you and me, usually ends up being more of a walk/run these days). She had the shoes on, the earbuds in, the thick layer of sunscreen that makes her look like a Kabuki actor dying of consumption. “Alright,” she sighed, “let’s go girl. We’ll run by the cottage today.” The cottage. The cottage that was the perfect size and the perfect price and only a mile away and in the kids’ school district and biking distance to the creek. The cottage with the red door and the blue shutters and the big-ass lawn with the big-ass tree for climbing and swinging. The cottage she’d seen online a few days back and emailed about but had heard only crickets in response. The cottage she knew she couldn’t actually have because the ad said, quite clearly, No Dogs. (And besides, she’d never admit it, but I think she had started to believe she didn’t deserve good things.)

We stalked it anyway. Just as she was about to turn the corner and head back home, she paused and, for some reason, turned around. A car pulled up in front of the cottage right at that moment.

“Do you live here?” she said to the guy getting out of the car.

“Yea, but I’m moving in a couple of weeks,” he said. And then, “Hey! I know your dog.”

I narrowed my eyes. He did look familiar. I sniffed the air. Oh Snap! IT WAS THE DUDE. THE DUDE WHO TACKLED ME.

They chatted for a bit about me--how fast I am, how pretty I am, how nice I am--and then she mentioned her obsession with the house. He invited her in to see it. She may have actually swooned. It’s like the space was designed precisely for her. And can I just tell you about the kitchen? That kitchen was ripe for all sorts of culinary nonsense.

But, alas, the ad said No Dogs. And the landlord hadn’t returned any emails.

“No problem,” the dude said. “My mom grew up with the landlord. I’ll put in a good word for you. We can call her now if you want.”

Call it kismet, call it providential, call it serendipity . . . I now call it home. And this place? This place smells like hope.

Monday, April 25, 2011

To Each Her Own

So I’m finally watching Mad Men. (Yes, I am quite tardy to that party. In other news, I hear there’s a fancy new way to withdraw money from your account without going into the bank!) Okay, maybe watching isn’t the most appropriate word. I’m devouring episodes at a pace that makes me think the Romans were on to something with that whole Vomitorium concept. (At this point, the only impediment to a complete and utter Mad Men bender is my frugality – I only get two DVDs at a time with my cheap ‘flix subscription.) In addition to being just plain riveting entertainment, the show--like the fictional advertisements Don Draper and company create—engenders a number of thoughts and feelings. Some are flippant: even though I don’t smoke I sure could go for a Lucky Strike right now; when did we stop drinking in the office; we should reinstate drinking in the office; when did we stop having sex in the office, for that matter . . . etc.

But some go deeper . . .

I was surprised to find myself, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit, enticed by the show’s clearly defined gender roles. Men brought home the proverbial bacon and wives kept house, tended to the children, and made themselves pretty. In the office, men wore the suits (good gracious, how they wore them) and women rocked the steno pads. Everyone, with few exceptions, knew their place. Maybe it’s the leaning tower of files on my desk and the 4 weekly little league games and the bottomless craters my boys call stomachs and the fact that my neurotic cat won’t eat unless I’m simultaneously petting him, but--for just a moment--I coveted that life. For someone else to make the decisions. For an either/or existence—either work or family. For blatant in-your-face sexism and gender discrimination instead of the insidious mommy-track.

I came to my senses fairly quickly. Of course I wouldn’t want to travel back to a time when women had fewer choices. And, of course I know the women of the Mad Men era were not models of contentment—a hasty perusal of any Richard Yates novel will tell you that. But I’m not sure the modern concept that women can, and more importantly should, have it all is the panacea, either. Kris and I used to spend precious billable hours debating the issue of whether it was even possible for a woman to “have it all.” We decided that, no, she can’t . . . at least not the way society (which, make no mistake, is still largely male run) defines it. Sure, today we can be wives and mothers and professionals. And that’s to be celebrated. But even as law firms announce "flexible" schedules and Working Mother magazine makes lists of family friendly companies and we stand on the shoulder pads of the brave pioneers before us and roar—we still can’t have it all. At least not in the manner it has been billed by our mothers’ generation. Which is to say, we can’t have the exact same career as the man in the corner office and also the same family life as the woman who makes her own baby food and takes her hand-knit-sweater-wearing, sleep-sharing, violin-playing kid to Kindermusik. Put another way, even if boozy workday lunches were the norm, and even if we’d now be invited to throw back the scotch with our colleagues instead of simply securing the reservation, many of us would have to decline so we could sit in our offices pumping breast milk for our babies in an attempt to assuage the guilt we inevitably feel for putting them in daycare and going back to work in the first place.


Maybe we need to redefine for ourselves and the generations of women to come what having it all means (and hope that my grandmother and Gloria Steinem will forgive us). Maybe we need to recognize that we don’t have to be everything to everyone. That having it all can mean something different to each of us. We imparted Abby, The Pecking Order’s protagonist, with this notion. I do not suggest that our novel is in any way a treatise on the plight of working women or some sort of feminist manifesto. It’s light and it’s funny (and it’s a little racy at times). Still, like most women, Abby struggles with having it all. And, like most women, she often fails by modern social standards. She is at times not likeable or sympathetic, but she is real. And that’s why we have mad love for her.

(If you feel like giving her a chance, you can download the book here.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

So You Wanna Stress Therapy Dog?

Yale law school now has a therapy dog available to students. A stress therapy dog. I guess it goes something like this – you take an absurdly difficult Torts exam (yes, for you fortunate non-lawyers, there’s a subject called Torts, and it isn’t remotely like tortes), after which you head over to the-well I’m not sure where they keep the therapy dog . . . wherever you must go to sign out Fido the terrier. (No, wait. This is law school. The poor pooch will have some dorky lawyer-y name like Habeas or Res Ipsa. And while I’m at it, a terrier? Really? Seems a bit of a yippy breed to be remotely relaxing, but I digress.) So you check out Habeas, take him home and curl around him in a fetal position. Problem solved? I don’t think so. And I’m not maligning stress therapy dogs. Or therapy. Or dogs. I’ve had plenty of both over the years and I’m a kinder, gentler Kris (or perhaps just a marginally less crazy Kris) for it. But I guess it’s the notion that the profession (as early as the poor budding baby lawyers in law school) is so inherently stressful that we need the likes of a therapy dog to get us through our days. It seems like a pretty clear case of treating the symptom rather than the condition. But how do you treat such an entrenched condition, with its white shoes and top tiers and all that? I don’t know. And in my defense (one can take the girl out of the law firm, but . . .) this blog only promises "tenuously related insights into the legal profession", not answers.

What I do know is that law firm culture, unless it experiences a significant shift, will continue to suck the souls from and ravage the bodies of those ambitious yet naive enough to pursue this path. It’s why David Kazzie’s Xtra Normal Video “So You Wanna Go To Law School” was not only a web sensation, but also reposted on Facebook by every lawyer I know. It’s why my former firm lost four brilliant women in a matter of two months, and shortly thereafter, every man who wanted to see his children, or perhaps just do some pleasure reading. It's why every third lawyer you know dreams of writing a bestseller and jettisoning the whole wretched practice, present company included. And yes, there is personal choice and responsibility, and sure, there are manageable firms and more mellow jobs, and fine, this post might be infused with a tad bit of hyperbole, but doesn’t the stress therapy terrier say it all?

Friday, March 25, 2011

It Was The Best Of Times

It's Friday, and it's been raining for 40 days and nights (not the proverbial 40 days and nights, people, I'm talking true blue rain) and I haven't had a glass of wine all week and I'm out of Taco Bell sauce (again) and one kid said the "F" word and the other brought home an "F" and I busted out nearly 6,000 words over the past 72 hours. So, yea, I'm a little punchy. Maybe that's why today's The Book or Bust post hit me so hard. The blogger sent the first 50 pages of her manuscript to a requesting agent yesterday. Sigh. Oh how I remember those days. Full of waiting and hoping and casting the movie and spending the advance. We wish her the best of luck - shiny pennies found on street corners, four-leaf clovers, and the feet of rabbits. And we also encourage her, and other writers in her position, to cherish this time, as nerve-wracking as it may be. Because it is a rich, rich time. A time measured in units of possibility.

For us, the age of querying agents and readying manuscripts for editors and crossing our fingers (and toes and legs and eyes and any other body part capable of crossing) began (believe it or not!) nearly 7 years ago. And, for The Pecking Order, it has come to an end. We are now entering a new era with respect to that book, one equally rich, equally teeming with potential. So stay tuned for an exciting announcement in the next few days. Long live The Pecking Order!

Oh, and p.s., to all you naysayers: I really didn't drink wine for a week. Not since St. Patrick's Day. Which I spent with Kris. I won't go into the sordid details, but her first words to me the next morning, via text no less (because neither of us could make the short walk to the other end of her house), were, "Dude. You with a tolerance is a bad bad thing." Cheers my friends:)

The Book or Bust: We're Off To See The Wizard#links

Sunday, March 13, 2011

All the Ladies in the House!

I love women. Not in the Sapphic sense (though there was a rockin’ mom at school pick-up last week . . . I’m talking ink, pixie-cut, yoga body . . .), but in the divine secrets/traveling pants/ride shotgun with Thelma sort of way. In the way girlfriends can sense a shift in each other’s moods over the span of hundreds of miles. In the way a night out with the ladies can act as an intravenous drip for the soul. In the way even the most gut-wrenching laments inevitably evolve into gut-busting laughter in the presence of certain women. Sisters, you know what I’m talking about. (And guys, in case you’re wondering, yep . . . we talk about everything. It’s a good thing. A necessary thing. Get over it.)

For some reason, though, women can be the harshest critics of one another. Who among us hasn’t judged or been judged by body type or clothing style or parenting choices? (My kid used a pacifier until he was 5, so I've received my fair share of snarky comments.) If you work outside the home, you’re likely familiar with that particular breed of professional woman, more senior to you, who views your ascent up the ladder as a threat and is more likely to step on your fingers than lend a hand and hoist you up a rung or two. It used to baffle me, this lack of gender solidarity, but I think I’ve figured it out. I guess maybe it boils down to a feeling, however misguided, that her success/happiness/ability to eat 17 bowls of ice cream without gaining an ounce somehow negatively affects my ability to do the same.

But that’s just crazy-talk. What if Kris—Kris my writing partner, my kindred spirit, the doppelganger of my very heart—what if she had refused to pass my resume on to the rest of the firm’s hiring committee because she didn’t want the competition? We’d have missed out on not only a deep friendship and rare creative partnership, but also on the little things that make life rich--late-night wine-fests in the office and Mah Jongg tournaments and repeated viewings of the O.C. (Seth Cohen, I still love you; Coop, I wish you’d died earlier; Oliver, I’ve erased you from my memory).

I guess what I’m saying is, other women gettin’ theirs doesn’t preclude you from gettin’ yours. In fact, I’d argue it serves as inspiration, a light to guide you on your own path. Case in point: the go fug girls, hilarious purveyors of my favorite website, have co-authored a novel, Spoiled, coming out in hardcover on June 1. The two-worlds colliding storyline appeals to every fiber of my young-adult-chick-lit-Pretty-in-Pink-loving being. (And, really, with characters named Molly Dix and Brooke Berlin, how can you go wrong?) But, aside from the book itself, I dig that two women have realized a dream. If they can make it happen, we can, too. And so can you. And you. And all of you. I hope they sell a gazillion copies. Love and luck to them . . . and to all my gurls.