Tuesday, March 30, 2010

So Cute I Could Eat Your Whole Face

“You know, ferrets like to eat babies’ faces.”

My attention had drifted away from Patty’s conversation with her sister and brother-in-law. For the past half-hour of our visit to their home, all I caught was “nothing, nothing, Brian, nothing, you’re not, nothing, listening.” I missed nothing. This juicy rodent-shaped morsel beckoned me back.

“Go on…?”

Already, the seeds of a kids’ story were taking root in my brain. For a working title, I chose The Ferret Fancies Sally. This rolled off the tongue with greater ease than my initial idea—Mr. Ferret Bores an Angry Hole Through a Tiny Head—which seemed a touch wordy for a children’s title.

Patty added, “It’s true. Ferrets will just gnaw straight through.” Kathleen then added, “I bet a lot of parents don’t like to keep ferrets around because of this.” I was glad she tacked this on, because it’s the sort of anomaly that catches one by surprise—like, “Good moms don’t let toddlers play with food processors,” or “Two of three dentists agree it’s unwise to clean a loaded gun with your mouth.”

We were half-watching Fatal Attractions, a new show about animal lovers who convinced themselves tigers and giant lizards made good stand-ins for lap dogs, and later had "Oops...who knew?" moments. I had little desire to watch TV, but after my sister-in-law tossed out the farm-themed tablecloth in which, on a previous visit, I pointed out numerous dildos disguised as grain silos, I lacked ready conversation starters.

(I’m not a betting man, but my guess is my brother-in-law sprung for a new tablecloth rather than eat his dinner each night on a sea of provincial but prosthetic dongs. Mission accomplished. So we watched TV while I tried to conjure other ways to make my hosts insecure about their home accessories. But I digress...)

These true-life stories are heart-rending and tragic—but in a nice way. To my mind, if you think a black panther is a more trustworthy companion than a golden retriever, you (a) have a gambling problem, and (b) are blog-worthy. In my upcoming book, I started a chapter by fondly recalling the violent death of Timothy Treadwell, who did the world a huge solid when he tried everything short of bathing in beef broth to make sure grizzly bears saw him as lunch. It worked.

I paid attention to a particularly harrowing segment about a woman so ripped up by a chimp that police thought she was a ripped-up man. Through the screams of both chimp and man-woman, the caller shrieked to the 911 dispatcher, “Kill him. It don’t matter. It don’t matter.” On the screen, subtitles mirrored this message.

My sister-in-law gasped. I also gasped. I said, “I know, right? She should have said, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ Silly goose.”

A victim of another chimp attack removed his latex nose from his face (his real nose in the stomach of said chimp). This was cool, but I wondered where he had purchased his new “nose”, which in no way matched his skin tone. If a chimp munched off my schnozz, I’d have fun with my predicament. I’d buy something from Party City, like a clown’s nose or crocodile’s snout. That way, I could entertain young children who, upon pulling the nose away, would scream themselves to sleep every night through adolescence. After this, just TRY to tap the little gaffer on the nose and say "boop". Priceless.

I laughed and laughed at the funny people and their dangerous pets— and then came the part about genitals.

It would seem that chimps, when attacking, peel off the victim’s face, then hands, then feet. This, I believe, is unfortunate. The chimps then rip off and consume the genitals. This, I believe, is most unfortunate, especially since Party City doesn’t sell good stand-ins other than balloons, which would seem like showing off.

A short time later, as we said our goodbyes, I made a mental note. On my next visit, I would present my sister-in-law with my undivided attention—that, and a shiny new, conversation-provoking tablecloth.


Friday, March 19, 2010

My first-ever guest post!

I wrote my first-ever guest post this morning, for Cajun Book Lady . Please check it out when you have a chance! It's not every day one makes someone spit their energy drink all over their computer.



Friday, March 12, 2010

Ice Cream, I Scream

Just before I headed off to bed two nights ago, I called down the stairs to my daughter Kelly, who had cloistered herself in the basement for a marathon John Hughes screening/mourning session.

As you might expect, Kelly responded to my call for her to “wrap things up” by:

1. coming up the stairs;
2. going to the kitchen freezer;
3. grabbing a tub of ice cream;
4. heading up to her room;
5. setting the late-night dessert next to her bed; and
6. falling asleep for seven hours.

Kelly is a somnambulist—which I believe is the formal name for one who, with no knowledge of her actions, steals ice cream I planned to enjoy but now can’t because it’s “room temperature cream”. Kelly is now a bad, bad daughter. She’s also a sleepwalker.

My first opportunity to make fun of my little girl for something out of her control came years before, when we lived in an apartment. Kelly strolled into the room, rocked on her heels a few times, and then blurted words that made no sense. The specifics elude me, but let’s just say the conversation went something like this:

“Daddy, will you always be a responsible parent?”

“Honestly? I doubt it, sweetie.”

“Okay. Can I have ice cream?”

“Maybe in a few years.”

My wife Patty, who at bedtime snores but never strolls, pointed out that, in speaking to Kelly, I was wasting my breath. I cast a knock-it-off glare, made a shield for my lips, pointed at Kelly through my hand and then mouthed, “Honey, I know…but she’s right here.

“No, moron. She’s fast asleep.”

Unconvinced, I walked over to Kelly, waved my hand in her face and stuck my tongue out—nothing. I then poked her in the forehead with my index finger. Apparently, this gesture approximated pushing a Go-Back-to-Bed button, because she then turned and left. I smiled at Patty.

“Wow. That was really cool.” And then, “Let's make her do it again.”

Of course, this wasn’t my first exposure to sleepwalking—which, according to the National Sleep Foundation, afflicts up to 15 percent of the population. As a child, I dreamed I was a firefighter. No blaze was too big for me, the world’s all-time #1 hero. What snapped me back to reality was my father’s angry question:

“Brian, why are you peeing in my night table drawer?”

I had no good answer. To be fair, had a fire been blazing in the drawer, it would be out.

Poetic justice came calling many years later, when I was a father to a two-year-old. Devin, who to that point only ever went to his mother should he awaken at night, walked right past her, came to me and extended his arms. Of course, this painted the dopey “awwwww” look on my face. I pulled him up to my chest, snuggled my head against his, and adored him like never before. And then he drained his bladder on my T-shirt.

I believe this was the only time I ever referred to a child as a “little fucker”.

For some, sleepwalking is benign. Those afflicted do little but walk around, carry on conversations with floor lamps and steal things that—not to put too fine a point on it—aren’t fucking theirs.

Others kill everyone in their home.

I’ll miss the ice cream but, in the scheme of things, I’m ready to let it go.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A First-Time Author's Rocky Path

For an entire year as a preschooler, my wife Patty changed her name. Without seeking anyone's blessing, she decided to answer only to "Cecil" (or, more formally, to "Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent," a beloved TV character of the time). When I heard this story, I gasped—not because Patty wanted to reinvent herself while barely invented, but because her choice seemed a trifle whacko for a child battling sibilance (or, as she would have said, thibilanth).

This morning, as I sat to relate my brazen efforts to promote my upcoming book, I recalled Patty's story, and it made me think.

I call myself an author. But, until Lost in the Hive hits shelves in June, I'm really just "Theethil" reborn—a notion of an author, an author-to-be.

The folks at PublishingWorks encourage me to keep up the ruse. For Lost in the Hive to sell, people need to know about the book, even though it's not yet a book—and know about the author, even though I'm not yet officially an author. If nobody knows ... nobody buys.

As a new author, I lack a solid "platform". This is editor-speak for, "You're no David Sedaris." For most authors (and especially for those insane enough to write humorous personal essays, as I do), a lack of platform translates into a lack of a writing future. To survive, I must pull a P.T. Barnum, a Houdini. I need to create buzz based on a promise, to craft clever smoke and mirrors that will draw potential readers to the edge of their seats, yearning for the eventual reveal.

What have I been doing so far to move myself from unknown to ├╝ber-author, from Cecil to Sedaris? Well, I'll tell you. Will these things work? Only time will tell.

1. I flirt with "real" authors

With few exceptions, most writers struggled to get their names and their books known. The more compassionate in this group recall this fresh hell and, like parents (at least those without crack addictions), wish a better life for those who follow. So, before the ink dried on my contract for Lost in the Hive, I started reaching out to other authors (mostly on Twitter and Facebook). Most have been happy to share advice and/or horror stories, will introduce me around and talk me up, and will even find ways to include me in activities and events in which they're participating. These favors come with an unspoken understanding: (a) since they've scratched my back, I may one day be called upon to scratch theirs, and (b) if I'm one of the lucky few to make it big, those backs will itch like a sonofabitch.

2. I make fun of myself

For the past several weeks, I've been directing clips for a YouTube trailer to promote Lost in the Hive. My book is self-deprecating and humorous (I hope), so my angle is to take shots at both the book and myself. I'm opting for a faux-testimonial approach, where "readers" share accounts of how my book changed and/or ruined their lives.

The advantages of a tongue-in-cheek video trailer are: (a) online videos are viral—like STDs and nasty rumors, they get passed around; (b) if you employ friends as "actors" in your video, they want their family, friends and friends-of-friends to see their star turn, so they pass the video around; and (c) even people who aren't avid readers enjoy movies, so they may buy your book on a whim before they realize, "Hey, I never read. He tricked me." Think about it: while most books are better than movies based on those books, a great many books were unknown until the movie version came out.

3. I'm a social media whore

Like iPhones and ill-fitting pants, I'm everywhere. I'm active on my personal Facebook page, and comment on the walls of other authors and comics. I maintain a Facebook fan page for Lost in the Hive. My generous friends use the "suggest to friends" feature on the page to tell their friends, who tell their friends, and so on. Some will even post a message on their personal Facebook wall, encouraging others to become fans and to pass the word along. Will all of these visitors and fans buy my book? I don't know. But, at a minimum, they'll know it exists, and that's a start. How did I get friends to do this for me? First, I'm a real friend to them (my backyard is full of bodies). Second, I asked.

I spend a lot of time—too much—on Twitter (omara_croft) and TweetChat. I follow many writers, booksellers, publishers, agents, comics and actors. I retweet their comments (a great way to seem funny or sharp by stealing others' material with their blessing), and reply with comments I hope they too will retweet. Most times, nothing happens; once in a while, something does.

On TweetChat, I participate in various discussion groups, like #bookmarket and #litchat. I make evocative comments, and some participants follow me (not as many as I'd hoped, but I keep plugging away). Most people want to know you if they think you have something to say (especially if it's about Twilight).

4. I steal others' ideas

If you're an author (published or aspiring) who doesn't know me personally, you chose to read this not because you love me or find me especially attractive, unless there's something very wrong with you. You're reading because you hope I'll share something you can use to promote yourself. Please, go ahead; use me. I'd use you. Along the way, I've picked up many good ideas from others.

On Twitter alone, I follow SMforWriters, AuthorTech and bookmarketer, all of whom offer wonderful tips, tricks and links to get your name and work out there. For example, a quick scan of SMforWriters' Twitter page this morning yielded a goldmine:
  • How blogging can help land a book deal

  • How writers can use Twitter to maximize efficiency

  • How to use social networking without losing author mystique (whatever that is)

  • How writers can build a "brand" on search engines
When I can break myself away from Twitter, I Google "author self-promotion", "how to attract Facebook fans", "book marketing" and "quick ways to get absurdly wealthy", just to see what others have tried and tested. All but the last one bear fruit.

5. I seduce readers of my genre

If you're a writer and you haven't joined Shelfari, take a quick break now and join. I mean it. Don't worry…I'll still be here when you get back. Avid readers love talking about what they've read, and also love hearing about good books they might read next.

On the site, I study members' positive reviews of books by authors who write books similar to mine. I then invite the reviewers to be my friends. I include a note like this: "I enjoyed your review of Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs. I, like you, am a fan of his writing. His work inspired me to write my own upcoming collection of humorous essays, LOST IN THE HIVE. I'm hoping to connect with other readers and writers who enjoy this genre. If you're curious about my work, please take a peek at my blog at lostinthehive.blogspot.com. Thanks for being my friend."

This isn't trickery. I believe people who enjoy these authors will also enjoy my book. If they don't, I'll look like an asshole and they'll tell everyone. (Hmm…should I be doing this?)

Within days, I had more than 100 friends. By looking at what they're reading, and studying what they liked and disliked, I learn a lot about what types of stories hold the greatest appeal, and can use this information to improve my own writing. What's more, I can keep my new online friends up-to-date about my upcoming book release.

6. I blog...a lot

I maintain a blog (lostinthehive.blogspot.com) that shares a name, and irreverent style, with my upcoming book. I write as often as I can. On occasion, I post a timely or relevant article on some issue I hope will appeal to a large audience—like, er, this one.

On BlogCatalog.com, I discuss my blog, the issues I explore on my blog, and the process of blogging; if I say the right things, people pop by for a look, and some stay. I re-posted one of my blog stories on Broowaha, an online newspaper made up of blog entries. I let people know, via my Facebook fan page and Twitter, that I've posted a new blog entry. When I send emails to people, I include the information about my blog (and my book) in the signature line. When I visit others' blogs, I leave comments that are outrageous, and drop subtle hints about my blog. Everyone does this; nobody seems to mind.

7. I thrive on symbiosis

I live in a small suburb of Chicago. Oswego is small enough to boast only one independent bookstore, and not big enough to attract a big-box store like Borders. I know Joe and Leah, the owners of Old Towne Books & Tea, quite well. I participate in their Writers' Club. I've been working with Joe on a podcast interview.

I use the skills from my day job—graphic design—to help them out with branding and promotional items. I do this for free—well, almost for free. In exchange for my services, I include a blurb for my book on most materials I create. Joe knows I'm looking out for myself. He's looking out for himself. And if in the process of looking out for ourselves we can look out for each other, even better. If you have a skill outside your writing, think about ways you can apply that skill to help your book promotion efforts.

8. I'm shameless

Yeah, I said it. I'm shameless. This is my dream, and I don't want it to die. I have two other books in the works that yearn for happy futures.

Carol, the VP of marketing at my publisher, told me, "You should be willing to jump through a flaming hoop of dogshit to sell your book." I agree. I would jump through a flaming hoop of gasoline to sell my book. I will blog, tweet, chat, email, perform, debate and proffer sexual favors (okay, maybe not) if it means more people will help my writing journey.

Now that the secret about my shamelessness is out, I would also ask you, as you read this, to "Stumble" this story, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, and tell your friends. All of them.

Oh, one more thing: would you please buy my book?

When it exists, that is.

Note: If you would like a formatted, PDF version of this blog post, please leave a comment or email me at brianomaracroft@yahoo.com. And yes, in case you were wondering, I will be saving your email address so I can let you know when the book comes out. That's just smart promotion.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Fornicator Kleptomaniac Consecrated Admissibility

I look again to the clock—almost three hours now. My agent has yet to answer my e-mail, the one with a hopeful young story that aches for her blessing. These are lost hours. I’ve passed the time pacing, casting idle death threats toward the children, gulping jelly beans (of course pretending they're valium), and hurling random expletives at a dishwasher that hates its job.

“We all hate our jobs, you big dumb dishwasher!” What my barrage lacks in finesse it makes up for in bile. “What makes you so special? Is your agent ignoring you?”

The dishwasher continues its high, insistent whine as it tries to drown my tirade. I hate that fucking dishwasher. I hate it more than I hate sharing the earth with Sean Hannity. I hate it enough I may never heal what ails it. I won't shed a tear if the dishwasher, and Hannity, die painful, grinding deaths.

“You’ve got mail.”

A path opens between manic writer and computer. Everyone here knows, when obstructed, I will shove. I click on the inbox. The title of my new message—“More and More Times a Night Fornicator Kleptomaniac Consecrated Admissibility”—sounds nothing like my agent’s voice. I make a note to read this message later.

I sigh, and start back toward the dishwasher.

“You’ve got mail.”

The path re-opens. I click on the inbox again and, this time, my agent’s name appears. I stare at it for a moment, in case it’s a clever ruse.

I know what it says. She'll gush, “You’ve done it! You’ve made me fall even more passionately in love with the English language, Brian. Or should I call you Mr. New York Times Bestseller Guy?”

I open the message.

The first word, “Brian”, feels encouraging. The second—“No!!!”—feels less so. I presume the humorous punch line hides in the next lines, so I read on.

“You’re not getting it. In your stories, you CANNOT make fun of how your wife’s memory is full of holes because of her various traumatic heart procedures.”

She then mocks my memory. Her words sting—and, trust me, this I won’t forget.

“Perhaps you missed the hint when I sent back your story about babies. I said ‘Writing about punching any infant—even a plastic one—won’t play well with any audience that cares about human beings.’” She adds, “Now you’re punching a whole new baby.”

My first impulse is to go all Salinger on her and the rest of our politically correct world. I vow I’ll never again write anything for public consumption. I like to write about what comes to mind, not what makes people feel safe or happy or comfortable. The world has pimples; I want to squeeze all the gorgeous pus of human frailty out of each and every one.

To bastardize the timeless wisdom of Flower (of Bambi fame), “If I can only write things nice to say, I’d rather not write at all.”

So, to show my indignation, but knowing this a battle bigger than me, I bid a forceful goodbye to my latest work—the first strands of a witty thesis about how Tourette’s can sometimes be fu-fu-fucking hilarious. I close the Word document without saving.

Three paragraphs of pure magic disappear forever. I blame Sean Hannity.

Now, if you'll excuse me...I need to settle a score with a certain dishwasher.

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