On Author Panel Hygiene


Figure 1. Dear Authors on Panels: some of you are not living your best life. 


I dedicate this post to two lovely people:
Carrie Jones, who brought up the topic on Twitter which made me get all foamy about it
Haddayr Copley-Woods, who added foam of her own



1) When you introduce yourself is really the only time you need to mention your book. Probably the book is sitting propped up in front of you. Probably it’s been listed in the program notes. After you mention it, though, LET IT GO. Most people haven’t read it. Don’t bore us with a synopsis about the story we haven’t read. It’s like telling inside jokes to people you’ve just met.

2) Do not use your introduction time to do a “quick reading” from your book. This is a panel, not a reading. And even a “quick” reading hogs up microphone time.

3) The gift of the panel is variety. If the audience wanted a concentrated shot of one or two writers, they’d attend a reading. But this is a panel, intended to offer a buffet of opinions and experiences. It’s also the most prone to being boring and walked-out-on. To prevent this, you must always consider the audience first, your panelists second, and whatever the hell your own concerns are dead fucking last. You want the audience to want to hang out with you afterwards. Because if they like you, are amused by you, find you entertaining, then they’ll want to get your book.

4) Be funny, engaging, entertaining and succinct. If you can’t be at least three out of the four, it’s really going to suck for you and the audience. Don’t just answer the questions. Try to extend the conversation to your co-panelists and the audience. I know a lot of authors don’t have a choice about where they’re sent to promote their books, much less how, and some authors may hate public speaking. Sorry about that. Perhaps you should just aim to be succinct? At least the end result is that you won’t be hated for being a microphone hogger?

5) Listen to your co-panelists. Don’t just sit there and plan your answer. When you listen to the other authors, this ensures that you might a) not repeat the same kinds of answers b) enhance and elaborate on the answers the others gave: “Like Nancy said, I also had a successful day job. But eventually, I got tired of just being a paleontologist. So one night, after I’d covered all my dinosaur bones, I got into my tent and started writing a story about these two mermaids who want to be wizards.” This keeps things flowing narratively for the audience. It also might result in Nancy wanting to buy you a drink afterwards. Collegiality among authors is a lovely thing.

6) It’s okay not to have an answer. If everyone else has already said what you would have said, it’s fine to pass. Everyone will appreciate that. Again, the point is variety of opinions, not equal time slobbering over the mic.


*these are all made up by me and not endorsed by some Author Governing Body. I have no authority in this matter except that I try to follow these guidelines. Not many other people appear to follow them. Do whatever the hell you want, I guess.






 1) Please don’t introduce yourself thusly: “Hi, I’m Joe Schmuckatelli, New York Times Best-Selling Author of ______.” Think about this for a minute. Your NYT-Best-Selling status is probably on your website, your Twitter bio, your business cards, a tattoo just above your genitalia and the fucking welcome mat at your home. It’s also in the program notes. It’s also probably why two thirds of the audience is sitting there. For the sake of collegiality, skip saying it. Remember, the alpha dog is the alpha because she doesn’t go around humping other dogs. Be cool about it already. And hey? Maybe take your co-panelists out for a drink afterwards. Spread some love.

 2) Audience members asking for writing advice are looking for encouragement. They are not looking for you to showcase your genius, how fast you write, how fortunate you are to be independently wealthy, how you constantly get brilliant ideas, how your agent crawled through a desert to get to your door and sign you. Even if all those things are true (sidenote: fuck off), please act like a regular person for a moment. Tell them practical things: your daily writing ritual, how you balance family and work, how you use a typewriter or a quill (sidenote: really? fuck off). Make this shit up if you have to. Even if you think most people are idiots and shouldn’t write. Even if you think publishing is totally difficult and basically a matter of luck. Even if you are like me and find giving advice perilous. Just be magnanimous about it. Remember your co-panelists are listening to you; don’t make them want to spit in your eye, too.

3) Behave on the panel as if your goal is to leave the proceedings with all your co-panelists for a long, rollicking, joke-filled, cocktail-studded dinner. This has never happened to me, but one can always hope.


**Pure fantasy on my part, but just like zero unemployment or anarchy, I think these are beautiful dreams





Life In Paris



NOTE: I wrote this a few years ago, when Matilda was younger and before I published any books. Because clearly, publishing books makes you the High Priestess of Regal Glamour.

Whenever I get upset with myself, the hurrying-around doing dull errands, the mess in the house, the slopped-together meals of cereal on the couch, the ugly clothes I wear constantly, I beat myself with a stick I like to call “Life In Paris.”

Let’s apply this concept.

Last week, we went out to eat at Ember’s. My daughter Matilda wanted pancakes and my husband and I were too tired/lazy to make them at home. (Also, she wanted bacon and we had no bacon.) After we ate our crappy meal at Ember’s, which was actually quite delicious, we went home and I put on a pair of clean pajama pants and went to bed in the shirt I wore today.

When I woke up, I put on a bra under my shirt I had slept in and replaced the pajama pants with the jeans I’d wore the previous day. I splashed water on my face and brushed my teeth. Then I hustled Matilda through dressing and breakfast (whole wheat English muffin with rhubarb-strawberry jam and a shot of blueberry juice). Then I dumped her and the rest of the kids on our block at school and burned rubber over to the grocery, wearing no make-up, forgetting the reusable bags, to return milk bottles* and get more milk for my coffee.

Now, what’s wrong with all of that, you say? I’ve had that morning often myself, you think.

Enter the Life In Paris. If I were having my Life in Paris, I would not take my child to Ember’s to eat pancakes. In Paris, we have crepes, which I make with total and complete magnanimity, as I’m a Parisian woman! Just as it’s in my nature to fuck an older, uglier man who is shorter than me, so is making crepes without breaking a sweat.

In Paris, I would not leave the house wearing a shirt that’s been recycled continuously in three different instances. I would not leave the house without styling my hair or wearing make-up.** I would not wear junky, flat-bottomed snow boots and ill-fitting, thrice-worn denim.

Furthermore, in Paris I would not drive to some ugly, all-purpose grocery store where the food is bland and indistinct and the counter man in the meat department has no more expertise in meat than the $7 bucks-an-hour cashier. No, in Paris, I would market at individual shops that offered premium food know-how – fromagerie, patisserie, charcuterie, boulangerie – and after learning about the provenance of my purchases, I would put on my Chanel sunglasses, exit the store and clack down cobblestone streets in heels. My feet would not blister or ache. I would buy fruits from a vendor every day. I would buy my paper from a gnarled old man in a newstand and peruse it while I nibbled on a pan au chocolat. Because there’s no way I would not have coffee at home with a plastic coffee maker.

Non, belles amies! I would be having cafe au lait in a charming bistro before I went to work at my glamourous job at a publishing house. I would be wearing a frilly silk blouse with lots of lovely necklaces. I would have jewelry custom-made that didn’t come from a thrift store. And of course, I wouldn’t be fat. My bra and panties would match. My daughter would toddle off to school on a bus – such lovely public transport! – and I would meet her at home for a lunch of dressed greens and roast duck.

Isn’t Life in Paris is beautiful? Life in Paris doesn’t involve scraping one’s windshield, or picking up dog shit with a shovel in the backyard. Life in Paris features shoes with smart heels, and clothing made of silk and wool. No synthetics allowed in Paris! Life in Paris doesn’t include a trip to the health club to stand on a machine for a requisite 45 minutes to remove flab. In Paris, we flutter over long, picturesque sidewalks, holding our berets to our heads, as we jet to meet our lovers in bistros in the rain! This type of exercise isn’t labeled such. It doesn’t exert, you see. Besides, should your body have the audacity to store adipose, which I don’t believe is actually possible within the 16th arrondissement, such tasteless flab would be run out on a rail by a mob holding stalks of artichokes.

Why I let this stick abuse me so, I don’t know. I went to France on my honeymoon, with a phrasebook and not much else. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I didn’t like France very much at all. We drove from north to south, in a rented car, going down the autoroute at high speeds only to be stalled out by our lack of language skills in small towns. Adrian found the whole place in need of some spackle.

“It’s like they rebuilt everything that got destroyed in World War II,” he said, as we drove through a cloverleaf in some small town with too many vowels and x’s in the name. “But they only rebuilt it once.”

In France, I could mimic my phrasebook and get a response that sounded like someone sucking on marshmallows. About all the French I have left from that puny guidebook has been used in this essay. All of this left me feeling like France is some club I can’t be a member of – is that what life is all about? About letting junior-high notions of exclusivity ruin your day? I can’t help it that I’m provincial and my province doesn’t have lavender fields or couture houses. We have a local foodshed, but only for 5 months of the year. The rest of the time, life here is slogging through snow muck up to one’s ankles or dragging a large plastic garbage bin to the curb at 9:30 at night or picking around superstores with an oversize shopping cart or watching pay-per-view movies versus hoofing it to the art cinema. Anais Nin couldn’t land in my life and grab the reins. There are not enough satin lampshades or casks of wine in the cellar or opportunities to watch burlesque shows.

Maybe I just need a Life In Akron, Ohio stick? Maybe I don’t need a stick at all?


*Back then I used to buy milk in reuseable bottles but our grocery doesn’t carry that brand anymore. Of course it doesn’t.

**I don’t do this anymore. I put on make-up because I’m a vain motherfucking 40-year-old.




On Genre Snobbery


Figure 1. Jesus Fucking Christ Already


Last August I completed my MFA in fiction writing at the Rainier Writing Workshop of Pacific Lutheran University. A great decision on my part. I learned so much.  My thesis became Sex & Violence and the second half of my program, I began writing what eventually became Perfectly Good White Boy. Most importantly, though, I made so many great friends that I love so much. I love them, across genres and aesthetics and geography, in fact.

This August, I went to watch some of these friends graduate. It was a beautiful, lovely, hilarious nerd vacation – who goes back to sit in on craft talks about writing? – and I’m so proud of my friends and their accomplishments. So happy to see the faculty who taught me so much.

But. Genre Snobbery. It’s alive and well.

Here is something that gets mentioned in MFA environments constantly:

“This is a literary program.”

Perhaps this should be tattooed on all MFA participants heads? It gets said so much that you’d think outside the classrooms, genre authors are lurking, pressing their noses up to the windows and smudging them with their unliterary ideas.

But me pointing out genre snobbery isn’t me wanting to talk up Young Adult. I love Young Adult lit and people being dickish is not going to change that. It’s what I love to read; it’s fun to write; it’s where my concerns as a person are concentrated.

HOWEVER.  I don’t think YA is better than literary fiction. I don’t think #YASaves, either.

I think #ReadingSaves.

And how we make more readers is not by hoping our culture will produce people who shoot out the womb clamoring for Vladimir Nabokov and Marilynne Robinson and Alice Munro and Jonathan Fucking Franzen.*

We make more readers by demonstrating that reading is a pleasure. And since most folks don’t emerge from their mother’s nethers with intense cravings for Donna Tartt and Toni Morrison, we need to get them hooked on prose stories when they’re young.

A person’s journey to Jeffrey Eugenides and Don DeLillo starts with Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone. With Anne of Green Gables. With Goodnight Moon.

Denigrating kidlit and other popular fiction genres because they’re on trend or making tons of money is not going to change that. Go ahead and be bitter about the unfairness of cash pouring into the hands of those who write these books, but it doesn’t change the fact that children don’t generally come to reading with a crushing need for Thomas Pynchon or A.S. Byatt.

Young readers want story, and they will take it any way they can get it. And they can get it lots of ways now. This is not the 1800’s, where the parlor entertainment was a piano and someone reading aloud baroque deathless descriptive sentences.

Now, we have television. We have movies. We have radio. We have the goddamn benighted internet that so many literary-fiction fans hate so much.

None of that can be changed, either.

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents,” said Emilie Buchwald, co-founder and long-time editor of Milkweed Editions (an esteemed literary publisher from my home state, I’m proud to say.)

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. And the world is full of readers who want all kinds of stories. Mysteries and spy thrillers and dirty romances and science fiction capers. They want them because it’s fun and enjoyable and thoughtful and delicious to read stories. Not everyone will graduate to the upper echelons of appreciating Faulkner. And that’s okay. Because #ReadingSaves.

I want to shake this into people who insist on sneering about genre. I don’t care if it comforts you to sniff at Nicholas Sparks and Clive Cussler and Stephenie Meyer for what you consider their unjust, ill-gotten gains.

If you want a world with more readers, then your snobbery about genre is hardly honey to the flies you want to lap up your work and pay for it.



*this is his real, actual name

Super Important Information Part I


Figure 1. Look, Norman Reedus is sideways-smiling. This has nothing to do with anything.

Figure 1. Look, Norman Reedus is sideways-smiling. This has nothing to do with anything.


1) Did our goddamn taxes yesterday. I feel I deserve something. A fruit basket. A medal. I don’t mind PAYING taxes. I just hate DOING them. And if you tell me, “Just get an accountant, Carrie” I will nod and say, “yes, but you still have to keep all your papers and receipts and finances in order for another person to do them. From there it’s just a hop-step to doing them yourself.”

2) Finished Vikki Wakefield’s Friday Never Leaving late late last night. Beautiful beautiful beautiful. Someday I will visit Australia and get to the bottom of why their YA is so excellent.

3) Matilda is all stressed about the dumbass standardized testing that starts this week at her school. I hate standardized testing. Especially when it happens twice a year and for elementary school students. I could never be a public school teacher. The level of insanity and expectations the public and the government dump on schools is fucking unbelievable. Also: stupid. I’m not convinced any sort of legislation regarding accountability or testing or whatever the hell actually has an impact on kids’ abilities to succeed and continue learning in the future.

4) Apparently, Winter Is Here and Never Leaving.

5) Perfectly Good White Boy cover reveal May 1: here and at the Carolrhoda blog and The Flyleaf Review. If this kinda thing interests you, well, then, good.





Figure 1. Gratuitious Daryl Dixon shot.

Figure 1. Gratuitious Daryl Dixon shot.


One thing you have to understand about me is that I’m a princess.

Not a girly princess, though. I don’t want to wear ball gowns or get my nails done or drink pink wines or talk about my dream wedding. I don’t want flowers or diamonds or Pandora bracelets or dinners at fancy restaurants where the tablecloths are white and the menu is French. I don’t do yoga or spin classes or wear statement necklaces or any of that shit.

But I’m still a princess. I believe it’s my husband’s job to mow the lawn, take our kid Trick or Treating, shovel the driveway, fix everything related to the car. I don’t want my grey hair to show. I spend a lot of money on cosmetics and toiletries.

I don’t like camping or hiking. I don’t recreate outdoors. I don’t like the icky feeling of dry dirt in my hands so gardening’s not my fave (though tolerable; I like growing food, see.)

I don’t push myself to do uncomfortable things very often. I don’t see the point of most personal discomfort. And I think about my looks pretty much 24/7.

Therefore I’m a princess.

Therefore I hate home remodeling.

Now, I don’t need my house to look perfect. I don’t like cleaning it and I’m a pretty crappy housewife. I don’t like decorating, either. We did this remodel so that my extroverted husband could have friends over more (our house was tiny) and so that we could have a dining room table (also for having people hang out in more comfort, including ourselves). But I’m not very good at visualizing anything spatially and I don’t like to waste my creative time on decorating shit. I’m not crafty or artistic. I just kind of want my house to be set-up and then that’s it. To paraphrase the narrator in Fight Club – I just wanted to settle the sofa question and then move on.

Which was why the previous iteration of our house drove me nuts. I was always having to rearrange the furniture, hoping for a more comfortable affect, and it never worked. The answer, unfortunately, was building an entirely new upper level.

Of course, it wasn’t that simple. Of course, my husband had no job when he embarked on the demolition. And then, when the roof was off, he got a job. And then, because if you’re going to bother to rip your roof off, you might as well re-wire and re-plumb and re-duct-workify so that you can have central air and a tankless water heater and a better basement layout and and and and…

I told Adrian at first I didn’t want to know the details of the remodel. That didn’t work.

Then I told him I wanted to know more stuff. “Need to know basis,” I said. That has worked a tiny bit better.

But he has so many things swirling around in his brain, I’d need a 3-hour Monday morning debrief to catch it all. And it’d be subject to change, too, given that he gets most of our materials on Craigslist and that availability makes everything cycle and revise itself hourly.

The fact is, I was told we’d be upstairs by end of October. It is now January. We’re still not upstairs. We’re still crammed into two rooms off a kitchen and bathroom. It’s like tenement living or something. Our dog is losing his mind due to the rearrangement of his food dish and the unpredictability and loudness of power tools. My handbag routinely is full of sawdust. My coats live on nails we’ve pounded into the studs and our kitchen table is covered in old flyers from Harbor Freight Tools and cordless drills and cans of epoxy. Right now the living room has PVC piping arranged by size all over the floor. And as of this weekend, our bathroom no longer has a door.

In the middle of all this shit, I had my gall-bladder removed, my first book launched, my husband got a new job, we had both the gross holidays I cannot stand (Thanksgiving and Christmas) and cold snaps that frosted over our windows (furnace not fully functional yet) which made showering in the morning a bracing experience reminding me of my college days in Latin America.

I cannot think of any more crap that could happen to us. Well, I suppose I could. I just hate living like this. I hate having to clean up a house that is by definition a dump. I hate that I can’t get into the shipping container in our driveway because the doors are blocked by snow and our artificial Christmas tree is sitting outside, fully assembled, covered in snow, probably rusting. I hate sawdust in my wallet. I hate sleeping on a futon. I hate finding nails all over the floor and I hate people asking me ‘how’s the remodeling going?’ and I hate spending money constantly on crap at Home Depot and never seeing anything change except for the worse.

I hate that we have no privacy.

I hate that my kid has limited space to play.

I hate that we can’t have anyone over.

I hate cooking off a hot plate.

I hate the long tunnel of discomfort and hassle that I’m looking down at the moment. I can’t see anything else.

Everything sucks when your home isn’t one.