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Predators, Romance, and Customer Service

Often, my week exists in tidy list format, so much so that I’ve started to keep a folder. To balance my left-brain tasks, I’m adding what reading and pop culture items have influenced my thoughts, mood, and creativity. This list-thing might only last three days. Two tops.

Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill: There are few things I love more than when predators’ misdeeds come to light and we can shun them forever. You can imagine my joy over Ronan Farrow’s gutsy reporting on the victims of Harvey Weinstein’s reign of terror. I’m thankful for the women who told their stories (and the ones who didn’t, you’re so brave too and I totally understand–really). I’m only halfway through and soaking up Farrow’s bold adventure.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: My colleague handed me this book and said, “This is how romance is done.” Since starting it, I have only put it down to read the Ronan Farrow book, which is an anti-romance. McQuiston’s story is a big love story on steroids. You will turn into a human heart emoji while reading. Needs to be made into a movie ASAP.

I’ve followed Cat Marnell since she wrote for XoJane. I may not be alone in watching voyeuristically her skirting what seems a bottomless pit of demises. I am afraid to get too invested but am always happy when she shows proof of life. She has many talents and I’m grateful for her lesson on how to do a smokey eye. The one time I was on TV, the makeup artist gave me a smokey eye and it looked amazing. I haven’t been able to replicate it without appearing demonic. But Marnell does way more than this! Her insights, her travels are wildly entertaining. If you follow her on Twitter, you know she has a new book, Self Tanner for the Soul, on Audible after her first one, How to Murder Your Life.

I love reading writing tips. A lot of them, I already know, but they can still refresh your process. Sometimes, there are things you haven’t tried. For me, mystery writing is a skill that has eluded me, so these tips gave me hope that I do could commit many homicides in fiction.

A happy story of the week: As a last resort for my hair, I turned back the clock twenty years and went to a nearby Aveda store in search of their humectant pomade, the product I used in my thirties. I know, this is way too pretentious for words. It gets worse. The saleswoman was so kind that I asked her advice if I was using the right things for coarse, dry tree bark in a desert hair. She said yes, but then asked about my shampoo and conditioning habits. Long story short, I walked out with a bag of product (including samples). Good customer service seduces me every time. The Aveda woman and I could become best friends. Her colleague told me that my purse was washable. Before I left, I donated to breast cancer research.

Including shopping the Aveda on Fifth Avenue and 19th, I recommend blocking off three hours to watch Amazon Prime’s Modern Love episodes. I only watched the first one, which unexpectedly made me ugly cry. I haven’t felt an emotion beyond mildly dead inside for a while, so this was amazing.

Happy new week to everyone!

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51? Okay…

I am about to enter my 52nd year. Here are the monumental things that I’ve learned in the past 370 days:

The news is still terrible. My daily goal is not to make it worse.

I put half & half in my coffee now. WHO KNEW IT WAS SO DELICIOUS?

Instead of dessert after every meal, I keep it to once a week. Apparently, sugar is bad for you.

If you’re depressed, it helps to read something outside your realm, maybe even out of your depths. For me, that’s been jewelry, economics, and French philosophy. This didn’t make me smarter. In fact, I would still fail economics today, but I am way more pretentious now.

I’ve kicked my bad habit of going to Old Navy and buying shit that I only wear once. I hear Brooks Brothers is nice.

What has happened to my hair? Please advise.

My parents drilled into me the importance of doing chores. But since I’ve given up my bad Old Navy habit and will try to cook, I bargained with God who said it was okay to pay someone to clean the apartment.

Now I understand what Nora Ephron meant about her neck, but screw it. I am not a moviestar (yet).

The colonoscopy was not so bad. Having the stomach flu is way worse than the prep, but it’s comparable to IBS. The propofol was AH-MAY-ZING and I’m lucky to have health insurance.

I complain about little things now and I hate it.

When crimes are committed by people in our government, are there any repercussions? Just wondering, since I’m planning how to live my next life.

Sandwiched between light-hearted issues is grief. One of my precious elders died this year. When I think about him, it dawns on me that he’s really gone. He won’t call me “Space-tience” or help me make parallels between now and Ancient Rome (see what I said about being pretentious). Luckily, I still hear him in my head. Hic, haec, hoc, Mr. Cobb!

More and more, I sound like my mom, but she’s hilarious so that’s okay.

The Americans is so good–and eerie as hell. Under no circumstances do I think about exercising to the extent that I could look like Keri Russell. Instead, I ponder the Reagan years and how they contributed to today’s geopolitical (?) distress. Discuss.

Leopard prints. So maybe I went to Banana Republic and bought some embarrassing new pants I’ll only wear once (BR lets you use Old Navy credit card!!!).

With each year, my list of errands seems to grow. Is this real or a fabrication? I wonder what would happen if I didn’t run errands for a week.

I think about the children in cages every single day. I don’t even know what to say about this. It breaks my heart every day. If I had any skills, I would use them. For now, I just write a check.

This thought began in my twenties. If suddenly I had to live on a deserted island, would I be okay? There are a few things I would have to pack. Am I packed? Oh God, I should pack just in case. Friends, this is why my purse is so heavy.

I wrote another book but I’m afraid to admit it.

Fear of flying is gone. Fear of before-flying is the same.

Every day, I still wonder how I lucked out with Sam as my partner in crime. I can’t believe it–STILL. He cracks me up daily and is just so dreamy. Do I love him more than I did when he first stepped off the plane on December 17, 2009 for our first date? Yes, 10 years more!

And this is where I say that I don’t care about my birthday so much. My best birthday gift is to keep hanging with my loved ones and not worry so much (that it could all disappear). I still want cake, though.

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Why You Need to Write a $*#(%@-ing Synopsis

Ah, Twitter: the place where one goes to complain and tell others what to do. But for editors, it can be an informative hub. I remember the day(s) when writers raged about the sweet, innocent synopsis and told it where to go. Why did I need to write one? They are pointless. We don’t even use them. Seriously, I’ve written a gazillion books. I’ve got better things to do.

Don’t we all?

It is a seasonal rant, and often goes up into the ether unchecked. I vowed after the last one to take it seriously and list all the ways a synopsis helps the writer. Since it is a New Year, and I have told myself to Be Awesome every single day of 2019, here is my reasoning for why a synopsis is sacred:

A synopsis can be like the literary version of showing your work. If you can tell your story in short form, you really know your story. It’s a different kind of writing but valuable nonetheless. To write one effortlessly (agents/editors will love you for them), follow my plan and write a synopsis in a day. It is not the stomach flu.

An agent/editor uses the synopsis to see if the book could sell or work for a specific imprint. We may love your writing, but to know for sure if the story has all the bells and whistles, we need an idea of the plot, even the spoilers.

On the editor side, I use the synopsis (sometimes cutting and pasting) to explain to others why we need to buy this book or as rationale for why I bought the book. It is the ultimate butt-covering device.

Five months later, after reading a hundred other books after yours, I reread your synopsis to jog my memory so that we don’t put the wrong characters on your cover or mess up the back cover copy.

On some occasions when the book isn’t quite finished, a talented copywriter will piece together a gem of a blurb from your synopsis.

Overseas markets may become interested in your stories. To tantalize, say, Germany or Spain or France, we give them snippets of information, some of which comes from your synopsis, which we have to reread again.

There’s also that time when I have to edit a book and I’m not certain if it’s the one I think it is (you’ve written three more books since). So I read the synopsis for the fifth time. I give thanks to the synopsis gods for clarifying and saving me from embarrassment.

Ten years go by. I might be assigned to conjure a list of twenty of your past books to reissue in four box sets, but I don’t know which ones I’d put where. My brain isn’t as sharp as it used to be. Perhaps, organize by theme? This involves reading your synopsis or some version of a summary (which would be a distilled version of your synopsis) pronto. Another lamb sacrifice to the synopsis gods for showing me the way.

You may ask via Twitter, Why can’t the editors just write the synopsis for me? Because we don’t know the story as well as you do. Maybe we haven’t read it yet. Maybe we just don’t wanna. And writing a synopsis for the 20-30 authors (20 x at least 2 books per year) we work with means asking the FDA (AMA, FCC, ADA, ABA?) to approve human cloning. While synopses are not the most thrilling things for us to read, they are necessary and help ensure the sanity of your editor and the immortality of your books.

Thank you in advance for writing them.

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Vacation in Paris

It seemed indulgent to leave in the middle of U.S. chaos, but a vacation was on the books. As I boarded my plane to Paris, news of separation of children from parents at the border was gaining steam. My television had been on for months (okay, three years). I didn’t want to unplug from the coverage, but I had to.

Somehow, I managed to leave this heavenly being. A gifted care-giver named Edgar took over Yossi Care.

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Here is what I did…

I landed in France, where there was a sane president, great pastries, and for me, a six-day escape.

On the other side of the pond (the freaking gigantic Atlantic), a train strike was discombobulating Paris routine. They have strikes every year. You can almost set your calendar by them: mail and train strike. Deals are struck. Everyone goes back to work.

Because of the strike I took a taxi. My driver spoke only French and he wanted to chat, so we gabbed away for two hours. Why so long? Everyone took their cars into Paris since train schedules were off. Just so you know, “Patrick” waved away my concerns about the U.S. and said that, eventually, the Orange Slob would be gone.

The second I reached our hotel room, I slept…for six hours. I kept trying to sleep throughout my stay. Jet lag is a thing, by the way. I only slept four hours at a stretch. My mistake was that first nap.

But we did have a pretty view outside our room…

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I read an engrossing book by Sarah Dunn.

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And I got to see this guy who was teaching a French class…

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We dined in awesome restaurants because it’s France. Here he is finishing my bowl of soup so that we don’t insult the chef. I was saving room for Green Tea Tiramisu (interesting).

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I ate delicious pastries…and lost six pounds. Don’t get too excited because I gained it back within a day of being home (and eating salads).

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I love to pore over makeup and other beauty supplies, so I went to Monoprix every day. Superficiality is relaxing and underrated–and deep, if you think about it.

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If I needed an American news fix, I turned on European CNN and saw the delightfully theatrical Richard Quest…whom I see often in New York.

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I walked all over and said Hey to pretty places.

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Then, boom, it was over.

Right at this moment last week, I was on a giant A380 airbus with my husband, coming home. Sam sat next to an Unpleasant Passenger. Because Sam has a knack for pacifying difficult people, he spent much of the ride cramped and chatting up UP, cajoling him when the flight attendants didn’t give him exactly what he wanted (extra Camembert cheese).

Midway through the flight, a man had collapsed and was lying down in the small passageway between the bathrooms. His feet were up and several people tended to him. Normally, passenger distress would send me into a panic (What if he dies? What if we all die? What should I do? Is this Executive Decision?). Not this time. He was getting help, seemed on the mend.

I thought of the sickness I’d seen and felt the last few years. Living with another person puts you up close and personal to how another human being manages from day to day. Plus, I had been around collapsing people and hospitals. The best thing I could do was sit in my seat and wish him well, letting trained people do their work. Oh, and vacation had officially ended.

We are back in the middle of our normal (not normal) days and I’m tuned in again. I’m grateful for the break, all while knowing that so many don’t get that precious time away from real life.

Here’s hoping you all get to unplug this summer.

 

 

 

 

 

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There Is No Shame in Asking for Help

Kate Spade’s suicide hit many of us hard on Tuesday, not only because it’s tragic that she left behind a family, but also because she had to have been in a very dark place. We don’t know what was going on in her life. Sadly, this news was eclipsed by our political crises. Pass me some ice cream!

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Kate Spade’s death tells me yet again* that there’s no shame in asking for help. For some, help doesn’t help. It’s become a cliché that creative people (who isn’t creative, btw) are prone to mental health issues and over-medicating. If you look at sheer numbers, no one is immune, which is why we need to reach out even more. Kindness should be a priority, along with asking if everything is okay, meaning it, and showing up when things fall apart.

As each day seems to deliver a new disaster, we can’t let those dark places take over. At the very least we can make peace with what is most frightening and try to move ahead little by little. In a couple days or a week, I may stop thinking of Kate Spade’s creativity cut short, what she must have suffered. There will be outrageous things in the news, small victories perhaps, then the next shocking death that didn’t have to happen.

There is no shame in asking for help. In the words of Hugh Grant in Love Actually, “Love is actually all around.”

Forgive the above platitudes about what is a very serious and complicated issue. I blame it on being face first in a pint of strawberry ice cream, new age-related heat sensitivity, and real sadness over the loss. And what else to say except: I’m heartbroken that this bubbly genius left us.

*RIP, Robin Williams, Avicii, Lee Thompson Young, Alexander McQueen, LWren Scott, David Foster Wallace, Chris Cornell, Gia Allemand, and a special friend from decades ago.

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Random Thursday Thoughts

32222522_2017084141884371_140361330824577024_nWondering if normal to need a 48-hour recovery period after working out with trainer?

The new Keanu Reeves/Winona Ryder rom com looks really good, though must prepare by rewatching them together in Dracula.

My mother is a new texter but somehow is genius with emojis.

Husband is grading exams next to me. The TV is off, which is miraculous. Resent his ability to focus. I may have to turn TV on…

…except he refuses to watch Maddow or Southern Charm.

The cat has drag queen claws.

Someone left a sock in the hall today at work. WHY?

Countless of us walked by and didn’t pick it up.

Wondering if I should finish the awesome story I’m reading, The Idea of You, by Robinne Lee, but don’t want to know the end yet. Have a feeling it’s tragic.

800 steps left for my Fitbit goal. Do I do them and reach my goal or defy tracking device?

How do I do 800 steps with husband grading right in front of me? In NY apartment, there is no place to go.

An ice cream parlor down the street….

 

 

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Fifty Things I’d Tell My 22-year-old Self If I Went into Publishing Today…

There is a lot that I don’t know about my profession and roles I haven’t had. BUT never underestimate a good observer. If I had to do it over, I would likely do everything the same way–with a few revisions.

So you’ve chosen publishing. Applaud yourself for this excellent decision (It’s way less depressing than academia. Sorry, Mom).

Resign yourself to being financially destitute but in a profession where you can read, which enriches the soul.

Most people in publishing love books, so you will find kindred spirits on every floor.

You will find wretched humans, too. They are either wounded or giddy about being wretched. They are not worth tears (definitely alcohol).

Wear a suit (or close) during an interview. Even though publishing houses can be casual, save it for Friday. There’s always the chance you’ll be called in for an interview at the last minute and you’re wearing your favorite jeans (I was so embarrassed).

Watch the parade of engagements, marriages, pregnancies. Maybe it’ll be you someday or maybe not. Either way, never miss free cake and champagne.

Twitter! Instagram! Okay, I’m not sure what to say about it. The boundaries are not clear. Just be smart in your usage. Not every picture should be of you in a bar, holding mega-drinks.

Oh, and if you feel the urge to cryptically diss your boss/company/author on social media, don’t do it. Your followers will want more information, it might get back to the wrong person, and once the wine wears off, you will regret it.

No matter how comfortable you feel communicating, keep a degree of formality in your emails to people, especially those you don’t know well and especially those above you in the org chart. Use Dear So-and-So or even (ugh) Hi, So-and-So, etc… Sign off using your name.

The longer the email, the more likely people won’t read it. Be succinct, but not too succinct.

And if the person is in the office and it’s a quick question, go over and interact with them, unless that colleague is a total misanthrope (that exists).

Figure out early on if you like to house-hop or stay in one (or two) places. Ambition comes in various forms.

Within the publishing realm, consider what you love most: editing itself, marketing, writing, working with authors and agents, networking across all landscapes. Specialize or generalize. The world is yours.

You may have a passion that isn’t your exact job in publishing. That’s okay. If your job abuts your passion (now there’s a book title), it can work out pretty well. The key is not showing that your Big Dream is a real priority–unless you have an imminent exit strategy. In life, you can excel at more than one thing. You can dream big and still be happy in your job (and do well in it). Human beings are complex!

Everything changes. Your office won’t be the same in five years or five years after that — just like high school.

You have special talents, but you can be replaced before the body is cold.

That doesn’t mean you need to be paranoid. But if you’re like me, you worry. Work with the paranoia and do an honest assessment of your skills, what else is out there, and how you will land on your feet.

Communicate with those at your level. It is useful to know how work is divvied up, how other managers operate, and discuss your career trajectory. A support network will be a source of strength.

There is true joy to helping a writer through her story.

Say yes to everything your manager asks (obviously, not theft or murder). It’s very simple. Managers need a lot of stuff done. Do stuff. Better yet, develop psychic powers to know what your manager will need next.

“Be yourself” isn’t always helpful as a motto. If you work for someone whose personality doesn’t mesh with yourself, learn to co-exist (where you appease your boss, who may not be your boss after five years). It will help you get along with anyone.

A positive attitude–to me–is more valuable than intellect, especially if consistent.

Pulling an all-nighter to present your 100-page mostly opinion-based report is just silly. Having facts and doing careful research will ensure a good night’s sleep.

Work hard to get over any fear of public speaking, even if you pride yourself on being The Quiet One. Practice really helps. If you learn to excel at this, your company will rely on you more and this will result in exciting opportunities.

Gossip is a guilty pleasure but it can also be a label that you never shed in the office.

If you can take the occasional work-at-home day, do it! Burnout is real.

Know when to leave the your boss’s office. Lingering to tell that funny story may be annoying (or funny, it depends). It’s difficult to strike the balance between avoiding your boss and overstaying. Somewhere in the middle is good.

You can work very hard all the time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will go far. Sometimes, the opposite is true. Working on five books at once means that you’re the girl who works on five books at once (and tells everyone about working on five books at once). The person next to you might be working on six along with networking like a fiend. Finding a new project or getting involved in another way can be more impressive than volume. That said, busting your butt is essential for this job.

Not everyone will like you and that’s a statistical fact. Often, it’s not personal. If it is, don’t sweat it. You have work to do.

Read everything.

There are ways to read everything without reading everything. Discover your ideal reading speeds, such as: Speed 1–author’s book, you should pay attention Speed 2–synopsis because you can always read it later. Speed 3–slush–if good, will automatically slow to Speed 1. Speed 4–that book everyone is talking about and you have to discuss it in a meeting. First three chapters, middle and last chapter okay. Enough so that you have a couple of good points.

Resentment of someone else’s success is a waste of time. Even if physically painful, congratulate that person. You’ll have to contort yourself into many unnatural states to praise others or their concepts. You’ll have your own moments of triumph.

Only apologize once per screw-up. Try not to screw up, but trying too hard might make you screw up. Failure is inevitable. Just stay in your workspace and read as this is Ground Zero for earning your boss’s love.

Your notes to authors should have an even, professional tone (though with praise, writers often appreciate hearts, smiley faces, and exclamation points)

Avoid starting sentences with “I think,” especially with revision letters or reader reports to your manager. We already know that this whole game is subjective.

Don’t casually drop S or F bombs in meetings until you’ve been with the company at least ten years or your role is Queen of Publishing. There are exceptions, like when you spill coffee on yourself or if the subject matter involves profanity. Then curse to your heart’s content.

Authors can see through criticism sandwiched between compliments. Consider letting both stand alone. You can be critical and diplomatic at the same time.

This is terribly ageist but some writers may resent a younger editor (even if you’re very, very qualified and not much younger). Find a way to win her over.

If you feel depressed about the career you have chosen, hang in there. Joy comes and goes in phases–if you’re lucky. Something exciting will come along and recharge your batteries. But if you feel hopeless about your future, find creative ways to grow within your job. Or change jobs.

Observe but don’t get involved in Twitter wars unless you know all the facts for both sides and understand the risk of engagement.

Being the first one in and the last one out might be expected. Sometimes, you’ll have a boss who wants you to have normal working hours but still get all the work done. Either way, flexibility is awesome.

Plan ahead for technical difficulties with your PowerPoint presentation. Old school works just as well–or even better if you can be charming.

The printer and/or copy machine will break down. Learn to tear both machines apart.

Read submissions within a reasonable amount of time. Publishing houses are busy, but writers support them and they have lives, too. If someone asks you the status of a manuscript after a few months, get to it ASAP. Don’t be the black hole where submissions go to die.

During meetings, if you’re one to fidget, sit next to the most intimidating person in the room. You’ll stop fidgeting because you’re too scared to move.

We all have our sketchy attendance periods, but reliability is a gift from the gods. Just show up.

Don’t hesitate to ask about opportunities for promotion during your performance review. It shows you want a promotion. Not everyone does.

Knowing some basic number crunching is advised.

Stay in touch with the friends who leave the company. You will run into them again.

Keep an ongoing list of your accomplishments. You will be amazed by how much you do, and it’s a handy list to give your manager.

When everything is falling apart (landmarks, governments, personal life, the flu), working on a book is excellent therapy.