books


I go along mostly feeling as though I’m pretty much keeping up with modern life. Or at least make a passable pretense of it.

After all, I have tweeted. I have visited tumblr. I can (usually) upload and download photos. Recently I’ve learned to work not only my television set but also the DVD player and the VCR without even looking for the manual. I can program the GPS to get me places (although I often argue with it.) I even go on facebook whenever I think of it, which isn’t all that often, but still. Facebook is a well-known time suck. You could go on there and between farmville and what-Jane-Austen-character-are-you and sending and receiving little green plants, you could lose years of your life, and emerge crazier than when you went in.

But today modern life soared out in front in an effort to confuse me. I found out that I’m actually an app. Or rather "What Comes After Crazy" is.

(What Comes After Crazy is my first novel, and I still feel very protective about it, since it took me a ridiculous number of years to write, and so it lived in my head longer than most children live with their parents. And now it’s been out in the world since 2005, but, like any good parent, I still try to keep up with where it hangs out, you know. Part of that keeping track of it means that I have a google alert on it, so that whenever anybody writes anything about it, google tells me about it.)

And google has reported today that it’s an app.

Aren’t apps like when you have an iPhone and you want to know what restaurant to go to, and there’s an app for that? Or you want to check the sports scores, and so there’s an app for that?

So, here’s my question. Are people, you know, going to read a whole novel…on the phone? Is that what this means? Come on now. Do people seriously want to read on screens that are the size of their fingertips? Or does this have something to do with the iPad, which as Bloglily pointed out, may be the worst name of a product ever.

I have no idea. I’m just here, making my way through winter, leading writing workshops and working on a new novel—and every now and then, going out to once again do battle with technology: arguing with my GPS, wondering why tumblr doesn’t have an E in it, and following some tweets.

Is there an app for any of that?

Okay, so my hair was in my eyes, and I tended to flap my arms around a bit when I got excited…but at least today I could watch this all the way through without screaming or hiding my eyes.

I’ve spent this week trying to figure out how to embed this video into my website, to no avail. And my trusty webmaster is raising children and shoveling his Massachusetts driveway, so he’s out of commission when it comes to things that aren’t absolute emergencies. 

So, anyway, here is the interview that the lovely, fun, excitable, and intense Desiree Fontaine did on Connecticut Style on WTNH-TV Tuesday. What a fun time we had!

Just go to this link, and you can see it all.

http://www.wtnh.com/dpp/ct_style/book_lovers/kissing-games-of-the-world

Lately I’ve been editing the final version of my new novel, which is going to be called The Stuff That Never Happened, and I’ve kind of lost touch with Kissing Games of the World.

It’s a little like tending to a new baby while your toddler plays in the sandbox and doesn’t need so much attention.

So how sweet, then, to get invited to come to Newtonville Books in Newton, Massachusetts (another state, even!) to read from the toddler-aged book and get reminded once again of how much I once loved those characters and all the trouble they got themselves into.

Even better, I get to see one of my new dearest friends, Holly Robinson Cookson, whose new book, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter, is coming out in just a few weeks. I wrote a blurb for her book, which is such a delightful memoir about growing up amid quirky, unpredictable adults and…well, their gerbils. And then she came through town the other day on her way to visit her editors in New York, and we ate lunch and talked about a million things…and now she’s going to come to my reading since she doesn’t live so very far from there.

It’s very good, as you might imagine, to have Actual People at readings. A writer’s worst fear is that not one member of the public will show up to be read to, and you will have to slink away in embarrassment for the trouble the bookstore people went to even just to write the sign with your name on it. You will vow never to trouble the public again with the illusion that you wrote a book. WAIT!  No, no! I just remembered. That’s NOT the worst fear. The VERY WORST fear is that there will be ONE PERSON there to hear you read–one singular, baffled human being who is probably somehow related to the bookstore owner and who was BEGGED to come–and so with one audience member in the sea of chairs, you will actually have to DO the reading, and will not be permitted to crawl away and start trying to put the whole thing out of your mind, if you can.

So, anyway, all this is by way of saying that if you happen to be within striking distance of Newton, Massachusetts, on this Thursday (April 30), at oh, say, about 7 o’clock, and you would like to come to the VERY delightful bookstore there–well, I would be there, and I would jump up and down with joy.

AND, as an added bonus, you would get to meet my wonderful son Ben and his delightful wife Amy, who happen to live in the neighborhood and have agreed to saunter on by and clap very loudly. (You’ll know who they are because they will be the people in the back, whispering, “NO! No! PLEASE don’t read the sex parts!”)

Newtonville Books is located at 296 Walnut Street in Newtonville. The phone number is (617) 244-6619. Tell Jaime I said hello!

Remember when I wrote that post, the one that began, “It’s DONE! It’s DONE!”?

I can’t even remember how long ago that was, but let’s just say it was a post that suffered from premature optimism. The book wasn’t done. Ha! It was laughably undone. Little did I know, but I had finished a preliminary draft. I passed it around to friends who read it and instantly knew certain things about it that I couldn’t see..mostly that it wasn’t finished.

I considered breaking up with all of them and looking for new friends, but in the end, they were right and I was wrong, and I was grateful for their suggestions. It’s not everybody who will look at a manuscript and tell you that you’ve used the word “actually” about one thousand times, and that they wanted to come to your house and HIT you if they read it even one more time. 

But now–NOW the book is done, and it is even in the hands of my trusted editor and agent, both of whom are reading it. Typically, this results in yet another round of writing and changes, but that’s okay. In the meantime, my characters have quieted down and are living their lives without me paying any attention to what they’re doing.

And I am…well, what am I doing?

I’m trying to remember what it is people do when they are not writing a book for eight hours a day. I feel like someone who has had the engine running for so long that now that it’s supposed to be shut down, I can’t seem to find the OFF switch. It’s a little disconcerting, I don’t mind telling you. If I’m not careful, I may end up doing things like cleaning the house. Also, I need to return to the gym, a place I abandoned when I realized that the two hours I would spend there could be put to much better use writing.

This past week, I did two readings and signings of KISSING GAMES OF THE WORLD. I was a judge at the town-wide spelling bee for adults. I talked on the phone to people I haven’t talked to in months. I took several very long hot baths. I made airplane reservations to visit my stepmother in Florida for later this month. I chatted with a telemarketer. I cooked actual dinners that did not come from a bag. I went and read what everybody I know is doing on facebook.

And today I took a walk on the first spring-like day while everything melted like crazy.

I hate to say it, but I’m waiting for some characters to come and find me. What fun is procrastination if you don’t really have anything you MUST do?

My famiSandiShelton-jlb-11-06-08-6326fly keeps laughing at me when I explain to them that I am actually on a book tour right now and therefore should be treated with the utmost respect.

But I am.

It’s just not a tour of bricks-and-mortar bookstores, where I put on decent clothes and stand up in front of a microphone and read from my book, the way I did when this picture was taken back in November. (My friend Judy Barbosa took this picture of me reading at R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison.)

Trust me, this is NOT how I dress for a virtual book tour. Right now, for instance, I am wearing a stained, torn sweatshirt with yoga pants, mismatched socks, and mucklucks. My hair does not look like it does in this picture.

So, for those of you who don’t know and who keep asking me what I’m talking about, a virtual book tour is where I go visit people’s blogs and web sites. They invite me over and let me either post something about my book on the blog, or else answer their questions, or get interviewed by them. It gets posted, and then I go back and answer comments and questions that their readers have.

What is the point of this, you ask? I can hear you asking this.

As with any book tour, it’s to get information out there about my new book, to bring it to the attention of people who might not have bumped into it in their regular lives. Some of the blogs I’ll be visiting are often visited by readers looking for new books–and it’s good to get to tell them about mine.

I didn’t create my own virtual book tour. A young woman named Jaime Sylver, who works for www.pumpupyourbookpromotion, run by Dorothy Thompson, made all the contacts and the calls and recruited bloggers who might be interested in having me come for a visit. I’ll be doing this all month, and linking to the blogs where I have landed.

Today, for instance, I wrote a guest post for The Plot, in which I interviewed Nate, the main male character of Kissing Games of the World. Even though I thought I knew him very well, having spent the past year writing about him, I actually learned a few things in the interview. You can read the interview with him here.

I have to say, it’s fun being on tour this way. Last time I did it–back when A Piece of Normal came out, I made lots of new friends in the blogosphere.

And that’s the best part of all. That, and not having to put on real clothes.

 

Today–drum roll–it’s ELECTION DAY! And, oh by the way, KISSING GAMES OF THE WORLD is now officially available in stores.

The whole concept of a Publication Date is interesting. Before I ever had a book published, I imagined that Pub Date would be, like, the Best Day Ever. You know, along the lines of brass bands and balloons. Flowing champagne, barrels of monkeys. At the very least some puppy dogs.

Turns out that Pub Date is pretty much like any other day, though. You wake up and brush your teeth, feed the dog, check your email. Drink a cup of tea. The marching band doesn’t show up. The faucets are not flowing champagne. Later, when it’s obvious that lobsters and caviar aren’t going to be showing up, you leave the house to go out to buy something for dinner.

That’s when you see a bookstore. A bookstore! Your book will be on a shelf, FOR SALE. Perhaps, you think, you might even see a real customer picking it up and considering whether to buy it. How cool would THAT be!

DON’T DO IT. I repeat: DO NOT LET YOURSELF GO LOOKING FOR YOUR BOOK IN A REAL STORE. Your book is not on the shelf. They are sorry, but they never heard of you. They look at you as though you are a pitiable wretch, someone who’s obviously delusional. Perhaps an escapee from a nearby mental institution.

"You have a BOOK out?" they say as though they are speaking to a very dim kindergartner. They go over to the store computer and push a few buttons and peer at the screen. Why, yes, there IS a book there with that name on it, the name you’re claiming is yours. How interesting. But no, no. They don’t have any plans to order it. Sorry. They can’t order EVERY book that comes out, you know. They give you a pitying smile and turn to the next customer, a REAL customer who is not making rude demands.   

You go back home to throw back some jello shots before you get back in your bed. Later your friends from all over the country start phoning to say that they looked for your book in every bookstore in practically the entire nation, and it was to be found NOWHERE, and what happened? Was there some mistake with the date?

You disconnect the phone and get under your bed. Pub Date has claimed another victim. Too bad you didn’t plan ahead and have something else to think about.

But today! Today was my Pub Date, and the nation was kind enough to provide a wonderful distraction. It was as fine a distracting day as you are going to find. An entire election happened. And a more exciting election a person couldn’t ask for! I went and voted, went out to lunch with friends, went for a walk downtown. I didn’t pass a bookstore. No one called to say, "Oh, I didn’t see your book ANYWHERE."

I’ve had two glasses of wine, and OH MY GOODNESS THEY’VE JUST CALLED THE ELECTION FOR BARACK OBAMA!!!!

Now THIS is the best Pub Date EVER!!

Oh, I have to go. I’m crying.

For the first time in a year, I am currently not writing a novel.

It’s not that there’s not a novel waiting to be written. It’s still there. It’s living in the computer, and a whole lot of it is stacked up on the floor near the dining room table. Also, it’s buzzing in my head, waking me up in the night, tapping on the windows, whispering in my ear.

I suddenly know more about this novel than I know about my own life! Now is that the damnedest thing, or what?

Two weeks ago I could easily spend a whole day sitting in Starbucks staring at the unrelenting screen, begging my subconscious mind please give me some morsel of detail about what comes next! Tell me, damn you, what Annabelle is thinking! I would say that and then I would get up and order another cup of tea. Then I would realize that it was too hot in Starbucks to drink nuclear-temperature hot tea and so I would go and order iced tea instead. I would peruse the CDs for sale, gaze at the interesting cups and gadgets for sale, then talk to the chess players and the Scrabble players who are always there. I would scan the headlines of the newspapers. Then I would sit back down and push some commas around and glance at my watch and realize that it was time to go home and start supper.

But now I am not writing a novel. I am publicizing a novel. A week out from the release of Kissing Games of the World, I am doing interviews and arranging events, and writing little notes, sending chili peppers through the email system (see previous post), and then trying to figure out how to withdraw them. I am also praying for the improvement of the economy so that people will buy books again. 

And so now–NOW!–what does my novel-in-progress do? It dances and sings! It plays like a movie in my head. I now understand everything about Annabelle and her husband, their kids, their past history, her parents, her parents’ marriage, her mother’s illness, what Annabelle carries in her purse and how she walks and talks and even what songs she plays on her iPod.

I know the end of the book. But I don’t have time to write it yet. I have to wait.

So here’s what I’m wondering: Is this just my routine tendency to make progress on something ONLY if I am supposed to be doing something else? Do I have to create an elaborate ruse for myself in order to accomplish anything? 

Or is it true that novels bloom in darkness, not when the light of effort is beamed down upon them? Maybe they prefer to sneak around and come out when you’re busy doing something else.

Just tell me this: Has anybody else noticed this?   

Life has been simpler since I have accepted certain things about myself. I know, for instance, that I will never understand how the electricity comes out of the walls, nor will I ever know exactly why it takes TWO REMOTES to run my television set, and why it is that even then you have to press a series of buttons in rapid succession and if you make a mistake and miss one, then someone (not me–oh God not me) has to get out the manual again and reprogram the whole thing from scratch. But there are certain things I CAN do, even things with technology. I know how to work my iPod most of the time, and I can operate my cell phone and write emails! Almost 100% of the time they actually go through.

Okay. So I have this book coming out. I may have mentioned this. KISSING GAMES OF THE WORLD. Comes out on Election Day.

I decided that I should use my skills to write to my family members about this book. I have a far-flung family–lots and lots of cousins I hardly ever see, an uncle or two, and an aunt–and I decided that I should, you know, TELL them about the book.

So they could, you know, BUY IT.

I made up my mind to write them an email, a humble, informative–okay, BEGGING email. In it, I pointed out that I have hardly ever whined about a book coming out before, but that I had chosen to whine to them now because the economy has gone to hell and these days people hardly have two $10 bills to rub together…but if they DID have two $10 bills, I said, maybe they would like to pre-order my book on Amazon. You know, in the name of family love and values. I even humbly mentioned that Publishers Weekly had said the book was an "absolute treat, filled with realistic twists, complex characters, and a moving conclusion."

And then came the whining. I said that according to the publicist for the book (who would, I’m sure, have me go stand in Times Square in my underwear if it would sell even one more book!), pre-orders are very important to the life of a book these days! Could be the difference between a book that is gingerly tended to on life support and one that is tossed into the scrapheap of history, she said.

I gave the link to pre-order. It is here, if you are interested. And I signed it with love and hope that we would all see each other again soon.

Then I did something I never did before. I gathered all their email addresses and put them together in one file that I called "sandi shelton." I have always admired that other people send emails without everybody’s addresses showing all over the place. How elegant, I have thought. How technologically savvy such a person would be who did something like that!

I pressed the SEND button with no regrets.

But then, as always happens, there came the middle of the night. I was up late, blogging away about blonde chicken chili. To make the entry interesting, I decided to search the internets for a nice picture of a chili pepper and perhaps some spices. I found one and emailed it to myself and then I found a picture of spices on a spoon, and sent that to myself as well.

And then I realized what I had done. I had sent all my relatives (some who barely even know me as an adult) a begging email, followed by a wordless picture of a hot chili pepper, followed once again by a photo of spices on a spoon. Would they see this as a warning? A definitive sign that I have gone crazy?

Clearly, I had to say SOMETHING reassuring to them. So I wrote them another email, this one at 2 a.m., insisting on my own sanity. I tried to explain about the problems of emailing.

Readers of this blog, I have to report that mostly they have not answered me. Oh, my aunt wrote back and said simply, "fascinating." My mother’s brother said, "I was wondering where your mother’s genes had gotten to."

So now that I’m a known crazy person among my family members, I’m contemplating other, more daring, ventures. Perhaps I should start sending them pictures of different objects every few days or so: a bunny slipper, an eggplant that looks like Nixon, or maybe a Q-Tip. It might be a sort of ransom note: PRE-ORDER MY BOOK OR YOU WILL CONTINUE TO GET PHOTOGRAPHS IN EMAILS FROM ME!

Bwaaahahahaha!   

YoKISSINGGAMES_cover_editedu see, if I were technologically inclined–or if I’d been paying attention when my website was being set up–I would be able to fill in the little box on the right side of this screen. You know, the one where it says UPCOMING EVENTS.

I could write, for instance, that I DO have two actual upcoming events. I am going to be reading and signing copies of KISSING GAMES OF THE WORLD on two different dates coming up:

* At the meeting of the American Association of University Women on Nov. 1st, at the Clinton Country Club in Clinton, CT. At 11 a.m. Lots of you probably aren’t already a member of that organization, so I won’t be looking for you there.

But!

There is also this event, which is free and open to the public, whether you’re a university woman or not. I’m reading and signing copies at R. J. Julia Booksellers, 768 Boston Post Road, in Madison, at 7 p.m. on Nov. 6th. This is a mere two days after the election, which is beginning to really feel as though it might be a GOOD day after all. You could come and we could do a high five.

I have to tell you something about book signings: authors are TERRIFIED of them.  It’s not that we’re afraid that we won’t be able to see both the text of the book and our audience at the same time, although that IS problematic, I’m not going to lie to you. It’s that we all have the horrible, secret fear that no one will come. It’s like seventh grade all over again, when you walk into the lunchroom and realize that you have no one to sit with. Yep, it’s that same sinking feeling. As you park your car and walk into the bookstore, you are praying for one of two things to happen: a meteor will crash on top of your head at that moment (that’s the first choice), or that you will see someone you know who will agree to sit there and let you read to her.

Once you see that people other than just the bookstore employees are there to listen, there are other fears that kick in.

  • You have forgotten how many gratuitous swear words you wrote in the piece you’re about to read.
  • You are going to have a coughing fit in the middle, just enough coughing that your eyes bug out unattractively but not so awful that you won’t die from it.
  • Someone yawns while you’re reading–and you realize it was YOU.
  • At the book signing afterward, your mind freezes and you can’t remember ANYBODY’S name…so you try the old trick of, "Now remind me how you spell your name again," and the person says coldly, "Sue. S.U.E."

You can see that a person needs friends at a time like this. Friends who will spell their name for you without hating you forever.

Here it is: the advanced readers’ copy of the new book, which will come out in November.

It arrived this morning, and of course I stopped doing everything else I was supposed to be doing, and just sat down with it and gazed upon it, just the way you’d need to look at your newborn baby if it had somehow just come in on the UPS truck.

I still haven’t finished editing the page proofs, so it felt a bit surreal to see this all bound up like a real book, when there are still about 1,347,523 typos that need to be corrected, but I didn’t hold that against it. Instead, I carried it through the house and sang it a few songs, introduced it to the dog, and set it on the kitchen counter so it could look out over the rest of the house and sort of settle in.

It’s called “Kissing Games of the World,” as you can plainly see, which is the title I dreamed one night, a funny dream really, in which my husband claimed he’d written a book proposal with that as the title. His book was going to be an expose of kissing games, and so far he had thought up two of them: Post Office and Spin the Bottle. As soon as he came up with more, he would get a huge advance.

It hit me that this was a perfect title for the book I was writing at the time…about Nate, a salesman, who travels all over the world having relationships of no consequence. One of the other characters accuses him of just participating in kissing games, as a way of avoiding true feelings.

Naming books is always so hard for me. (The one I’m working on now still doesn’t even have a working title.) My first book was called “The Fortune Teller’s Daughter” in my head, except that it took me so long to finish it that somebody else wrote a book with that title, so we had to choose another. It became “What Comes After Crazy.”

The second book, “A Piece of Normal” was named by a friend of mine who mentioned that one of the crazier characters seemed to be seeking just that–a piece of normal, after her wacky childhood.  

But this book–well, it’s nice when the title just comes to you in a dream, even if somebody else in the dream was about to use it himself.

How do YOU get your titles? Please, please tell me!

 

 

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