Sep 29 2011

Arberesh Club Picnic

Ooh! I should have blogged this before, but I just got the pictures off my camera from when we went down to Sacramento (a couple weeks ago) and met the boys’ Pappy and Nonna—along with lots of extended family—at the Arberesh Club picnic. Here’s Davy getting a snuggle:

davy and nonna

In the background, Robin’s getting a ride from his first-cousin-twice-removed, Mary Palermo. Then he rode a pony!

pony ride

He did the pony ride four times, actually. He loved the ponies. In fact I’m sort of idly thinking about looking into horseback riding lessons for him.

The picnic was a lot of fun and I’m sure we’ll make it a tradition. I’m especially looking forward to the Arberesh cookbook that the club is putting together!

Sep 28 2011


My friend Wendy wrote this awesome post on geocaching and letterboxing:

Letterboxing is similar to geocaching in that you search for boxes, but the approach is pretty different. Again, you look up boxes to find on a website — the two main ones are and — but instead of using technology to find the boxes, you follow clues kind of like you’d find on a treasure map or an adventure comic. Stuff like: “Walk to the end of the fence and look in the hollow of the ivy covered tree.”

The other cool thing about letterboxing is the rubber stamps! Each letterbox has its own stamp and each letterboxer or letterboxing team has a signature too. Once you find the box, there is a little booklet inside along with the box’s stamp. You stamp the letterbox stamp in your notebook and write down any notes about your experience. Then you stamp your signature stamp in the booklet in the box. A lot of people use purchased rubber stamps, but a fun part of the hobby is that most of the stamps are hand-carved.

It sounds like…having a pen pal that you can only reach by going on a pirate treasure hunt? It sounds pretty awesome, in other words. I want to try it!

Sep 26 2011

Local Politics

I really feel like anyone named “Wiener” should have more sense than to thrust himself into (expose himself to? begin blindly groping around in?) legislation relating to nudity.

Perhaps it should not be a surprise that San Francisco does not have a law against being naked in public, nor that a small, unselfconscious segment of the city’s residents regularly exercise that right. A proposed law would put some restrictions on public nudity in San Francisco, and a “Nude-In” on Saturday became a tourist attraction. “This is about body acceptance, not politics,” the organizer said.

That tiny minority was joined this weekend in the autumn fog and cold by unclothed sympathizers at a “Nude-In.” One of their objectives was to draw attention to a proposed law — introduced by Scott Wiener, a city supervisor — that would prohibit nudity in restaurants and require unclad people to put a towel or other material down before sitting bare-bottomed on benches or other public seats.

Unless there’s been a marked engorgement in the public nudity rates since we left San Francisco, this isn’t a real problem and it doesn’t require legislation. Wiener should withdraw this bill from the body politic.

Sep 26 2011

Potty Training Success

Now that Robin’s had a few weeks to settle into preschool, we’re making another big potty-training push. And, thank the angels, this time it’s working. We’re at the point where we can leave him in underwear while we’re at home (though we still diaper him up if we’re making a trip out). He’s not very good about telling me when he needs to pee (though he has done it a couple of times), but if I ask him at regular intervals if he needs to use the bathroom, he’s responsive and co-operative.

Over the past week I think he’s pooped in the potty five times, pooped in a diaper once, and pooped in his pants once. This absolutely represents progress and I’m really very happy. Of his cohorts at preschool, he is the last to be potty trained, but some of the kids not much younger than him are still having “accidents” at school. I don’t think it’ll be much longer before we start sending Robin to school in underpants.

I don’t know what I did wrong. I tried to follow the advice given in the books. I don’t know if we were too inconsistent or tried to start too early or what. All I know is that the things that never worked before (like offering him a jellybean every time he successfully uses the potty) are working now, and I’m just really happy to see it clicking for him.

Sep 25 2011

Publishing: My Crystal Ball

So I’ve been reading a lot about e-publishing in the past few days, and it’s fascinating. The indie DIY hipster in me is just utterly charmed. There’s this whole new culture springing up (although in a lot of ways it isn’t new, it’s an extension of fandom and fan writing) where writers and readers are connecting with each other without any mediation. No gatekeepers, no arbiters of taste, no curators of art. This is back to some seriously old-school bardic/skald/traveling minstrel shit, yo. You tell your story right directly to the unwashed masses, and if the unwashed masses like it, they throw you their pennies. Otherwise they fling tomatoes and manure.

This is where publishing is going. This is how it’s going to work. I’m convinced of it. Literary agents are going the way of travel agents: in a few years most of them will not be employed in the same way. Don’t get me wrong, there will still be a few agent specialists who serve really big clients, but the vast majority of authors (like the vast majority of travelers) are not going to work through agents. Similarly, big publishers aren’t going to employ people to read through slush piles. Instead, stories will just be thrown out directly to the audience, and the ones that become popular will be picked up by publishing houses to get editing, distribution, and wider promotion. This is going to be great for publishers because instead of having to make expensive guesses about which books might become best-sellers, they’ll be able to simply monitor the swirling Internet slush-pool and skim the cream right off the top. It will be great for readers too: the voracious readers will have as many books available to them, in every possible genre, as they care to read, and all of it will be extremely cheap. Meanwhile, pickier readers will still be able to rely on having higher-quality material packaged for them by publishers.

Despite the doom-saying coming from some quarters, I’m convinced it will also be great for most writers. A certain class of writers—the MFA-bred, New York-refined, “literary” writer—will suffer. That self-sustaining and self-reinforcing world, where only writers of a very narrow stripe are printed in the prestigious magazines, given the prestigious literary awards, or reviewed in the prestigious journals, will survive, but its hegemony will shatter. In its place will be a million sub-communities of writers and reader-reviewers, each with their own ways of promoting work from within, and each of which will have their own particular standards of quality. The advantage for writers is that they’ll be able to access these audiences directly.

What’s happening right now in e-publishing is that an army of amateurs are becoming professionals. Writers who simply couldn’t get their work through the door of a New York publishing house—who in the old days would’ve been locked out of publishing forever because they couldn’t get past the first hurdle—now are learning their craft by doing: by writing books, publishing them, getting feedback, and improving. And they are making a living. I loved this post: “‘I like the feel of a book in my hands.’ Bullshit. I like the look of a royalty check in my bank account.”

Of course, as always, the money-making leader on the Internet is…porn. Most of the money in e-publishing right now is heavily tilted toward romance and erotica. But I think the other genres are going to follow. Romance is the commercial leader in e-publishing because that market was already online. I do suspect that it has a lot to do with fandom, where for many years now a lot of women have become very much accustomed to writing reams of shameless smut and sharing it with each other. Over the past decade I’ve watched these fan communities nurture and train new writers—I can name authors who started off churning out undisciplined purple prose and are now writing at a level of craft that easily surpasses what you would find by picking a random book off the shelf at your local bookstore. (If you have a local bookstore anymore.) And just as inspiring to me is the way fan communities have nurtured and trained their editors—they’re called “betas,” as in “beta testers,” a term borrowed from the software industry, but what they are is editors and they’re acknowledged to be invaluable.

Now that existing dynamic is being translated into the wider community of writers and readers. The key breakthrough, to me, is that a writer doesn’t have to learn her craft by toiling alone in a candle-lit garret, producing manuscript after manuscript that will never be read by anyone but her mom, until finally the Muses descend and in a feverish burst of creativity she writes Ulysses (only to be crestfallen when she learns that somebody else already wrote Ulysses). Instead, she can learn her craft by joining a community of readers who will give her feedback and encouragement and even money—not much at first, but if her stories are entertaining and her prose is competent, her audience will grow. This is a great thing for young writers.

Since I left the publishing world (I was in magazine publishing, but we were rocked by the same basic forces that are capsizing book publishers now) I’ve been vaguely aware of the e-publishing phenomenon, but I hadn’t bothered to investigate it in any depth. Now I’m looking into it from the viewpoint of someone trying to sell a product, and it’s really, really exciting. A lot of people are very upset and anxious about what’s happening to print publishing; I was upset too, hearing about editors being axed, well-established imprints folding, bookstores closing up shop, cherished magazines and newspapers dying. This transition is painful. But I think what’s on the other side is going to be kind of awesome.

Sep 24 2011

More Publishing-Biz Musings

Well, my ex-agent was quite snotty about getting fired. In truth, part of the reason I wasn’t very excited about working with him is that he has a reputation for being kind of a jerk. In pretty much all the advice for authors out there, it’s repeated over and over that having the wrong agent is worse than having no agent at all. So I feel really happy about ending that relationship. Getting detailed feedback from his reader-assistants was great, but ultimately he wanted to take the manuscript in a direction I didn’t want to go, and the incredibly long turnaround times made it pretty obvious that I wasn’t going to be a priority for him.

What I’m second-guessing now is whether I’m right to jump immediately to e-publishing. After all, while most big traditional publishers don’t accept unagented submissions, there are a handful that do—big names like Baen and Tor/Forge. It’s just that the odds of getting plucked out of the slush pile are so long, and the wait times involved are, again, huge (Baen quotes a turnaround time of 12 to 18 months). And meanwhile acquisition budgets at these places are contracting; editors are being laid off; entire imprints slashed.

By contrast, e-publishing is exciting right now. That market is growing at a phenomenal rate. So while it feels sort of wrong to leave mainstream avenues unexplored, every time I weigh the calculation in my head I still end up deciding in favor of e-publishing.

But the decision-making doesn’t end there, because there’s now such a thing as e-publishers—like Lyrical Press or Double Dragon—that are fairly well-established and can offer a certain amount of institutional support for the authors they take on. The thing is, I can’t decide whether it’s actually worth it for an author to go with an e-publisher. If you self-publish an e-book, you have to do the formatting yourself, and contract with an artist for a cover image, but you get 70 percent of the profits from every sale. E-publishers will take care of the formatting for you, and they have in-house artists to do the covers. They’ll also provide some editing, maybe even comparable to what’s going on at the traditional publishing houses these days. But they take 30 percent of the profits, leaving the author with only 40 percent royalties. This is still excellent compared to the 15 percent that a traditionally-published author might expect, but that print author is getting services (like the physical printing, and getting the book placed in stores) that are very difficult for an individual to provide themselves. Formatting an e-book and getting it on Amazon and the other e-marketplaces is just not that hard.

What e-publishers don’t do a lot of is marketing. And frankly traditional publishers don’t do a lot of marketing, either, not for their midlist books. Authors have been expected to do their own promotion for quite some time now. In the e-book world, “promotion” doesn’t mean advertising, it means networking: getting the bloggers to review your book, getting readers to post reviews to Amazon, that kind of thing. So going with an e-publisher doesn’t necessarily provide much of a sales boost.

On the other hand, if an e-book sells well, some of these publishing houses are prepared to do a small print run. That’s kind of nice.

So, I don’t know. I’m still mulling it over.

Sep 23 2011

Easy Come, Easy Go?

I just sent an e-mail to “my agent” suggesting that we dissolve our nascent partnership.

I haven’t heard a peep in response to the revisions I sent him, but the disquiet I felt about them has only grown. The small changes were fine and helpful. The big ones, though I tried my best to implement them, I think did harm to the overall story. I regret making them.

Meanwhile, as bookstores and publishers continue to bleed red ink, the odds of success in traditional publishing get longer and longer—and e-publishing is looking better and better. The market for e-books is exploding. Sure, there’s your Amanda Hocking (who couldn’t get published through traditional means, and has become a multi-millionaire selling e-books for a buck or two a pop)…but more importantly, there’s a growing “mid-list” of e-published authors who are earning a steady living with their work. E-books published through Amazon offer writers 70 percent of the profits, which is huge compared to traditional royalties, while giving them the chance to retain near-perfect control of their work.

I first started querying agents for this manuscript in early 2010. Here it is coming up on the end of 2011, with no real progress—and that’s basically just how the industry works. As I wrote in my e-mail: “I’ll always be grateful for your willingness to work with me; I’ve simply become extremely discouraged by the very slow progress. And since I know you have many other projects pressing for your time, I’m hoping we can part ways with a friendly wave on both sides.” (The contract I signed specifies that it “may be terminated at any time by mutual consent, or by either party upon thirty days’ written notice to the other.”)

I really think I’m going to do the e-book thing. It won’t be anywhere near as prestigious, or as satisfying, as seeing my name on the title of a real book in a real bookstore. But how many more years do I want to invest in the “traditional publishing” route, when traditional publishing is in such terrible straits? And e-books are selling like hotcakes? I dunno, but I’d rather take a chance on something fast-paced and exciting than have my novel hang around in publishing limbo for the forseeable future.

Sep 23 2011

Recipe link: Charred Lamb and Eggplant

We’re getting a lot of eggplant in our veggie box right now, so I’ve been making a lot of dinners out of this recipe: “Charred Lamb and Eggplant With Date-Yogurt Chutney,” from the New York Times. It’s phenomenal. We eat it wrapped in flatbread and it is so, so good.

Sep 16 2011

Pictures of School

So here’s a picture of the room where I work:


I actually get the room attached to it, too, where the fishies and the guinea pig live:


The guinea pig’s name is Mei-Mei. She likes to eat parsley.


This is the art room (that’s Robin painting):

Robin painting

It isn’t just for art, but all kinds of sensory play. There’s a trough holding cornmeal and various things that are fun to dredge through it, and there’s usually play-dough or something else tactile set out on the tables. Here’s another picture of the same room:

art room

This is the block room:

block room

And the upper playground:


I was standing in the playground when I took this photo of the park below:


So, it’s really a nice physical space they’ve got, with a lot of different activities for the kids to explore.

Sep 15 2011

Work Day

So I just finished my second preschool work day! At Peter Pan, all of the parents rotate through all of the stations (art room, library, block room, snack station, and outdoors—actually there are two outdoor stations, but they work together). You spend a month (four workdays) at one station before switching to the next. I’m starting out in the library, which is a pretty low-key area. It’s not just books, though. The physical library room also holds the guinea pig cage, the fishtank, a dollhouse, some stuffed animals, a light table, and some other toys and games. The kids tend to be drawn to this stuff early in the day, so on the two days that I’ve worked, I’ve had about five or six kids in my room for the first hour or so. They mostly play together; my job is to referee disputes, engage any kids who seem to be in the “odd man out” role (while respecting those who want to play alone), and, of course, read books on demand. It’s not really hard; the library is adjacent to the art room, so there’s another parent right there to help out. And the kids are pretty self-directed: honestly I just sort of do what they tell me, and then pick up afterwards once they’ve abandoned me.

I can’t really generalize much from two work days, but so far nobody’s been interested in books until after the first rush clears out. When the majority of the kids migrate outside, I’ve been left with one or two that are in the mood for some one-on-one attention, and then we can read the books. I like these quieter interactions, because it gives me a chance to get to know the kids a little better. For instance, on my first day I had a little girl named Pearl Eden hang out and play marbles with me for a bit, and now me and Pearl Eden are buddies. Today she told me “You’re the best teacher ever in the whole wide world!” So—despite the fact that I’m pretty sure she says that to all the moms—I have to admit that was awfully sweet to hear.

The kids do “free play” from 9 to 11, moving through the various stations as they see fit. Then we herd all the kids together for group story time. Not all the kids can sit still for group story time, so it’s my job to take any particularly restless ones back to the library so they don’t disrupt the main group. The first day nobody needed to break off; today I did have one child wander back to the library, and we read a book together, which was nice. After group story time we all go down to the park, and then my station is at the swings. Again, it’s not really a hard job. I push the kids on the swings. It’s not rocket science.

After park time the kids play outside (in the school’s own, fenced playground area) while the indoor-station parents go back in to clean up. I vacuum my area and do some extra picking up, and then all the parents have a little conference with Gail (the administrator) about how the day went, and then we all go home.

My impression so far is that the co-op pretty much has everything broken down to a level of granularity that keeps things whirring along smoothly during the day. I have a little laminated card to carry with me during my work day that breaks down all my responsibilities into very small, simple steps. Like: “9:45 issue potty reminders,” “10:55 move the kids into the block room for group story time,” or “12:15 collect discarded coffee mugs and make sure they get washed.” (Don’t you like the phrasing on that? “Make sure they get washed?” Like, if I stand around at the sink with the discarded coffee mugs, perhaps the coffee-mug-washing-fairy might descend and I can supervise her while she does the work? They’re not saying I have to wash the coffee mugs, they’re just saying that at the end of the day the coffee mugs need to get washed. Which is fair enough really.) The only part of the day I feel stressed-out, actually, are those times when there’s no kids in the library and I worry that I’m not doing something I ought to be. I know at those times I’m supposed to look around and see if any of the other parents are swamped and need help, but so far everyone’s had everything under control, and then I just kind of stand around feeling like dead weight.

Robin seems aware of me, on my teaching days, but he definitely doesn’t spend all of his time in the library. He comes in and out more frequently than some of the other kids, but he really likes to play outside. During group story time he does come and sit on my lap—so did Pearl Eden, today, so they had to share. Pearl Eden was very sweet and patted Robin gently while Gail read the story. He ignored her utterly. He doesn’t seem to have any particular friends yet, but the other kids say “hi” and “bye” to him, and he participates happily in group games.

So that’s what my work day’s like!