Monday, December 20, 2010

A Banner Year and a Visit from the POTUS

What's this then? Am I going all political on my writing blog for my last post of 2010?

Not in the least. After all, President Obama IS a published author, so there's a tie-in right there.

But the real reason the POTUS's picture is here is because he paid a surprise visit to my kids' elementary school this past Friday. Is that awesome or what? He even read his children's book Of Thee I Sing along with Twas the Night Before Christmas to my daughter Lucy's second grade class. (That's her there, in the pink shirt and snow boots, kneeling down right behind his extended hand.)

Even though we live just a few miles from the White House, the odds of a sitting president visiting our kids' elementary school is no better than it is for anybody else. In fact, when we heard rumors on Thursday that he might be coming, I said, "Yeah, right. Believe that when I see it." But Friday morning we were greeted with legions of cops and bomb-sniffing dogs at drop-off. A short while later, President Obama arrived. By all accounts he was, and I quote, "totally cool."

And speaking of totally cool guys, I've got another picture for you. This handsome gent here is my older brother and only sibling, Col. Andrew J. Lippert, and he is currently deployed to Afghanistan. He's not usually bald; in fact he's got a full and lustrous head of hair, but he recently shaved it all off in support of a fellow soldier's child, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer.

So, yeah, he's not only SERVING HIS COUNTRY IN A WAR ZONE but also SHAVING HIS HEAD TO SUPPORT A KID WITH CANCER. 'Cause that's just the kind of guy he is.

Yes, of course he's the favorite. Why wouldn't he be? Believe me, I conceded the loss of our sibling rivalry many years ago, my friends.

We're all missing him this Christmas, and no one is missing him more than his equally heroic wife, who's single-momming it until he returns. But I have to say that I'm particularly sorry not to see him during the holidays this year because that glossy dome of his would be a primo target for a high-yield, thermonuclear noogie bomb. (I'll get you when you come back, bro. As I used to say so often when we were kids, stronger and quicker you may be, but you've got to sleep some time.)

And finally, as some of you may have noticed, I recently did a bit of blog redesigning so I could add threaded comments. In the process, I removed the picture of my muse, Ivan.

I know, I know. It's unfortunate. I fully recognize that Ivan is the coolest Russian bear muse out there, and I just wanted to assure you that he's fine, and we're fine -- he's not run out on me or anything, although if he had, this would be the time of year to announce that. You ever notice how many Hollyood couples announce that they're splitting up right before the holidays? You know, because they hope no one will notice.

Anway, like I said, we're as solid as ever, me and Ivan. Why, here's a picture of him, taken just last night at the "Rock in My Pocket" office Christmas party. We had a great time right up until he passed out after singing a round of Russian folk carols. I got him the usual gift for Christmas -- a crate of apples and two bottles of Stoli -- and he didn't get me anything, but he's flat broke and I understand how that is. Being a muse isn't exactly a lucrative career, and besides, it's the thought that counts and he's fed me plenty of great thoughts this past year. Still can't tell what he's talking about half the time, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying our wrestling matches immensely.

So that'll do it for 2010. I want to thank you all for reading my blog this year. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season. Be kind to yourselves. Hope to see you all back here on January 5, 2011!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Plush Softness of Your Personal Brand

Years from now, I’m confident that my children will be able to sum up my mothering thusly: “There was always plenty of toilet paper in the house.”

You see, it’s my feeling that there are just some things you cannot fail at and still consider yourself a good mother. Routinely running out of toilet paper will land you in the bad mother column every time. So never has it happened and never will it happen. This is the blood oath I have sworn to my progeny.

Where do I fall down on the job as a mother? I don't sit down with my kids and color or cut up bits of paper and glue them to stuff, and I don’t, as God is my witness, string beads. Considering I have all girls, this has been kind of a sticking point, but my daughters have learned this mantra already, “Mommy doesn’t do crafts.” (You want someone to help you build a skateboard ramp? I’m the gal. Friendship bracelets and paper dolls? No can do, amigas.) Perhaps this will fill them with resentment as adults, but that's the chance I take. All I can tell you is, I don’t do no effing crafts.

So for me, here’s the math: Good mothering = no one is ever stranded in the john, paperless, calling out for assistance which cannot be readily given. I am, in a word, reliable. Reliable when it comes to important stuff anyway and honest about the fact that I can't do everything well.

This phenomenon is true of all jobs. No one can do it all, all the time, and if you try, you will land yourself in a deluxe suite at Nervous Breakdown Village. But there are those non-negotiables of every job -- the things you cannot fail at and still carry on believing you are good at your profession. These are the areas where you must focus your energies. After all, you cannot be a cop on the take or a banker who embezzles or a librarian who isn’t slutty and still have people think well of you.

As much as we as writers all hate the idea of having our work reduced to a few descriptors, we engage in this same practice everyday as consumers of literature. You see an author's name and you think things like “profound” or “guilty pleasure” or "that guy who writes creepy children's stories about clowns." Of course, you might also think of nothing in particular when you see an author's name, which would be bad and probably result in your not buying that author’s book.

Even if you haven’t yet finished your first draft of your first novel, you can still ask yourself these questions:

1) What do I need to succeed at with this novel above all else?

2) What are the things I want to be known for as a writer?

3) When people pick up my book in a bookstore, what few adjectives will pop into their heads? Original? Clever? Romantic? Thrilling? ("Oh,God. It's that creepy clown writer. Put that book back down at once, children.")

Most importantly, I need to know why you only keep one measly spare roll of toilet paper in your bathroom. I’m telling you right now, that’s never gonna cut it. We're talking major catastrophe, public scandal, weeping saints -- it's all looming over the horizon if you run out of TP. Do you really want to take that kind of chance? 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

When You Get Published, Will You….?

Here’s a fun one, comrades. And don’t you be a party pooper about this. Answer honestly. We're all friends here, so no harm done if you admit that you’re gonna Google yourself hourly or put a ticker on your lawn with the days, hours, and minutes remaining until your book is published. We promise to wait until after you leave before we start giggling and saying, "Can you believe the ego on that one?"


When you get published, will you …

1) put your picture on the book jacket?

2) read your reviews on Amazon?

3) create a book trailer or post v-logs at your website?

4) arrange to do your own promotional events (book signings, speaking engagements, etc.)?

My answers?

1) No. I see no reason to put my mug on the jacket flap. Never once have I looked at an author’s picture and had it positively affect my desire to buy a book. I have, however, looked at an author’s picture on a jacket flap and thought, “Jaysus, this guy looks like a complete wanker” and then NOT bought the book. So, what I’m saying is -- to paraphrase Depeche Mode, which I so often do -- pictures are very unnecessary, they can only do harm.

2) No. I once had the good fortune to work with a fellow who was a well-known magazine columnist. He was a very generous, happy guy despite being the frequent target of some rather harsh criticism about his writing. A piece of advice he gave me was, “Never read your reviews, good or bad.” I’ll do my best to follow that guidance.

3) Not if I can possibly avoid it...or rather, only if I can prevail upon someone who’s talented and who will work for free to create an awesome, professional-quality book trailer for me (wink-wink: you know who you are, my computer animation genius brother-in-law and my equally fabulous illustrator sister-in-law). As for the v-log thing – come on. There’s a reason we’re writers and not spokesmodels. Why take something painfully awkward (yourself) and put it in motion in a YouTube-like setting? Unless and until pity becomes a strong motivating force in book-buying, I'm staying firmly hidden behind my bloggy curtain.

4) Probably. Because I’m a good little author, and I do what my agent tells me to do. If she told me to walk around Times Square in flesh-colored unitard with a sign on my head advertising my book, I’d do it. And yes, of course, if she tells me I have to do any of the things on this list to market myself, then all bets are off, and I will disavow all knowledge of this blog post.

Your turn.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dear Dumb Diary

As many of you know, I grew up on the hardscrabble streets of Minneapolis. My father was a gifted musician and songwriter, but he never had much commercial success and as a result, he hit the bottle hard and then took his frustrations out on my mom.

To escape the household tension, I struck out on my own to pursue my music. For years I tried my best to make it at a local club, though I was constantly bickering with my band mates. They thought I was completely self-absorbed because I wouldn’t play any of the songs they’d written, just my own, and I seemed prone to long, indulgent guitar solos that alienated the crowd….

Oh, wait just a gosh darn minute. That’s the plot of Purple Rain. I get that confused with my own life story sometimes. That probably wouldn’t happen so often if I kept better track of the details of my own history.

Anyway, I was wondering, do you all keep a diary? Or do you see blogging as the substitute for keeping a journal or diary?

I was supposed to keep a journal when I was in grad school, in case I had some fleeting thought or observation that I could make literary hay out of or perhaps so I could someday reflect on the beauty of my day-to-day existence living on shrimp-flavored ramen noodles and Sierra Nevada stout (see, the details are so important now). I could barely get past putting down the date before I got bored.

While I am quite certain that my life was and is just as thrilling as anyone else’s and therefore worthy of being recorded in the minutest of detail, my theory as to why diaries do not appeal to me is that I seem unable to keep things in the order in which they happened, and your standard diary format is all about that: Today I did this and then this, followed by this. That’s just not how I think. I am incapable of remembering or thinking sequentially, serially, or in anything resembling a lock-step fashion, which makes plotting, scheming, and mathematics a right awful pain in the glutes, I tell you that much.

For the record, I do not see blogging and diary-keeping as the same thing. Diaries and journals have an unvarnished quality. They are, in theory, not written for an audience and thus, they closely resemble your inner monologue as much as anything can. Blogging, however, is different. Though personal and perhaps inclusive of some of the details of your daily life, blogs do have an intended audience and for that reason, should be focused and worthwhile for the reader. A diary, on the other hand – I think – is the last remaining territory where where you can dump out the raw, unformed stuff in your brain and perhaps stare at it like a Rorschach blob to see what mysteries it can unlock. Where ME ME ME writing is still permissible.

But does one have time to write books, maintain a blog, AND keep a diary? ‘Cause I don’t know about you all, but that’s a whole lot of writing and occasionally I need to eat.

What do you think? Has blogging killed diary-keeping for good? Are diaries another thing that has fallen victim to the time-crunch we all experience as adults?