Tuesday, January 24, 2012

One for the Money, Two For the Show...

Is it wrong to admit that the "Ting!" of an incoming email mostly makes me flinch? An email usually brings:

1) An obligation I had forgotten about,
2) A payment request which, when filled, will improve the quality of my life in no measurable way or
3) Pictures of animals who, if not adopted by me, will die. DIE! BECAUSE OF ME!

All unpleasant surprises.

So you can imagine my delight when someone I interviewed for the book wrote to me and said, "Hey! The book's for pre-sale, which I'm sure you know!" This was exciting to me because it wasn't an animal on death row and also because I had no idea it was for pre-sale. I clicked over and noted the publication date is August 7th, which was exciting because I hadn't know that. Then I noticed the book is hardcover, which is incredibly exciting and also something I didn't know.

All pleasant surprises. Highly pleasant, in fact. Like many highly pleasant surprises, they made me a little agitated.

I'm of two minds right now. I'm supposed to encourage readers to pre-order a book, because pre-orders mean all sorts of good things to a publisher, a publisher who has gone the extra mile in terms of their faith in my book by putting in in a hardened cover. And yet it's 2012 and I know everyone is counting their pennies and it's hard to justify why you should spend money in January for something you won't have until August. And when I start to think that I'm asking for someone to spend money on something I wrote, a horrible little voice in my head hisses "You expect people pay for your words, plus shipping? You monstrous glob of entitlement! Why not just hire someone to clean the litter-box with platinum bags!"

After much soul-searching and humming loudly to block out the horrible little voice, I had an inspiration, I think. If you pre-order the book and send me some sort of email showing that has happened, I will send you a chapter which didn't make it into the book, which is sort of like getting to read what you paid for at the time you paid for it. I was always fond of this chapter--it was edited and everything-- but it didn't fit into the structure of the book and was jettisoned. Now, it can stop being an orphan and serve as my heartfelt "THANKS!!!" to the pre-orderers. If you don't pre-order for whatever reason (Local bookstores both rock and rule! I agree! Or, you've had quite enough of my writing, thank you very much! I understand!), know that I'm very grateful you're here, reading this. The books have been the sprinkles, but the blog and blog-readers has been the cake and the icing for the past seven years.

CODA: Sara J. Henry, who knows things, reminds me that people don't have to pay for their pre-ordered book until it ships, so it's slightly less awful to ask people to buy the book ahead of time. Good to know. But it still feels vulgar to be the "HEY! Buy my BOOK in ADVANCE!" person, and pre-ordering should still be rewarded.

CODA ULTIMA: If you've pre-ordered, thank you! Let me know by forwarding me a copy of the email the online store sent you. That way I have an email address for you where I can send the chapter. If you've commented that you've purchased, I'm thrilled, but have no email address for you.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Day the Music Died

In case you haven't been over to Wikipedia today, or Reddit or, well, Cute Overload, you might not know about the big fight taking place in DC over the future of the Internet. I know, I know, it seems terribly inside-baseball and more than a touch geeky, but it's potentially devastating to those of us who create, and take pleasure in other's creations, online.

I'm not saying there isn't a need to combat online piracy. I have more than a few friends who work in the entertainment industry whose livelihoods have been negatively impacted by theft of creative material and I will be the first to agree that some kind of change in policy needs to be created to address that. But I don't think this is that law. People who are smarter than I am tell me this is a badly, vaguely written law, capable of being used by any large corporation against any company they view as a threat, including potential competitors who might be bringing something truly interesting to the marketplace. The only people who will win will be the kind of people who measure their self-worth in billable hours.

Give this four minutes. You might decide it's so much balloon juice and that you think the law should pass. Having gained the information freely, that's your right as a citizen. Just remember, this law could infringe on some future you's ability to get information that easily.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Want Your Sex

An old-fashioned mother would say something like "You don't call, you don't write."

My busy, cosmopolitan mother merely noted that I haven't blogged lately. I explained that was because it's hard to blog when you haven't actually finished a thought in your head for several weeks.

For as far back as I can remember I've longed to be described as useful. Candidly, I also hoped for leggy, tawny, and elegant, but useful was always high on the list because it was the only adjective I had any hope in hell of hitting. I'm here to tell you, prayers are answered. I'm useful, all right. I have four separate volunteer jobs. I'm so useful I've recently been described as “frazzled”. I'd argue with the describer, but it was Consort and just as I was about to quibble I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Staring back was the Roz Chast-ian ideal of frazzled. Also, at that exact moment, I remembered I had a half-hour to write another fundraising letter so I dashed off in a frazzled and determined lunge.

Yes, readers, my charitable urges led me deep into social activism’s heart of darkness: fundraising. Wait, now I have five volunteer jobs. I believe this is what 12-step communities refer to as "bottoming out." But I'm not here to talk about my mental illness, colorful and sparkly as it might be. I'm here to tell you about one of the unexpected side-effects of homeschooling: censorship. And it’s not what you might think.

About two weeks ago, while at the library with the kid, my eye caught the most wonderfully compelling title. I flipped through the book, noticing it to be that perfect combination of good history woven through with bad behavior. It's called The Sexual History of London and my friends, it's awfully good. The writer, Catharine Arnold, knows her stuff and relates it in a smart yet approachable way. I love English history and I certainly appreciate terrific writing. The frazzled noise in my head -- which sounds like a violin endlessly being tuned -- actually faded away for a few seconds as I skimmed the chapter on the brothels of Londonium.

"What's that?" asked a small curious voice at my shoulder.

"Oh, look. It's...you!" I said stupidly to Daughter, snapping the book closed. We both looked down at the title and the cover artwork.

"I'm guessing that's not for me," she said flatly.

I laughed weakly and dithered about whether or not to check it out. Consort had told me in no uncertain terms that for the sake of my mental health (and by association, his) I was supposed to do something which made me happy and did nothing for anyone else. Sage advice. Reading about the sexual history of London would make me happy the same way reading about the history of rats in Manhattan had made me happy. I'm not prurient. I’m just odd. One problem, of course, is that the kid is always around. If, while reading this book, I forgot that fact and left it someplace available, my child might flip it open and read a couple of pages, at which point I might as well have raised her in the red-light district in Amsterdam. Maybe I should just wait and read interesting things in a few years.

My phone chirped an incoming text message, and then another, and then another. All three texts were from different groups I work with; each with different problem it would be ever so useful of me to fix. It was a sign. To protect my sanity, and my family’s domestic tranquility, I would find a way to read a dirty book. I did, however, take it to the automatic check-out, so as not to require eye contact with anyone. I asked Daughter to answer my text-messages while I swung it through the scanner and buried it deeply in the library bag.

My schedule over the next few days went like this:

Early in the morning, before anyone was awake, Sex in London. In the middle of the night, if I awoke in a frazzle over something useful-related, more Sex in London. Hiding in the garage, ostensibly packing the Christmas ornaments, I'd sneak in a little Sex in London. Because this book is so very compelling, and because I was so eager to have it and its two millennia of carnality and corruption out of my house, I tried to read it in the cracks of my maternal assignments; like while waiting for the kid to finish a music class, but you know, it's not easy to read in semi-public when the title of your book will make people look at you sideways, forever. Daughter's classmates come from nice families with mothers who never seem frazzled because they are all somehow related to Grace Kelly. When these women are observed reading in public, people see the book title and think: "I've always meant to read that” not "Should I be concerned this woman is near my children?"

With this in mind, I first hunched over cross-legged on the ground, covering the book with my legs. Then, concerned someone might catch a glimpse of the phrase tertiary syphilis over my shoulder, I inched closer into the corner. Finally, for the safety of everyone's decorum, I curled into a ball, my book in the inches between my knees and my collarbone, picking out a word here and there and wishing I owned a sombrero. I looked like a doorstop; a history-of-pornography reading doorstop. Which was when one of the most serene, least-frazzled, and most gently-bred of the mothers I know wandered over to see what I was reading and why it caused me to act so strangely. At which point I shoved the book into my purse and settled in for an hour of cuticle harassment.

It took a few days of sneaking around behind everyone's back, but I finished The Sexual History of London and for those of you with a less highly-developed social anxiety (and no children at home) I recommend it unequivocally. The odd thing is, for all the excessive, inventive and often deviant behavior in the book, I didn't find it to be titillating. After reading about many people making things more and more erotically byzantine and not appearing to be the happier for it, I found myself wanting to take the odd historical Londoner by the side and say "You know, it doesn't have to be that...complicated. More isn't always better." To which the Londoner would sneeringly remind me I had a volunteering task or six to accomplish and that at least he was having something resembling fun in his excess.

I returned the book and bid it a fond farewell. Wandering past the Science section, a title caught my eye. I read the inner flap, skimmed a few pages, and was captivated.

"Sex on Six Legs?" Daughter enquired at my elbow.

"It's about bugs," I answered crisply, as I prepared for another week of reading in the garage.