Monday, August 15, 2011

Our Finest Hour

I’ve been thinking more about Spencer Pratt, the reality TV actor I mentioned in my last post. Pratt was just voted one of America’s most hated celebrities, coming in second behind Casey Anthony. Was being unpopular in his vision for himself? I doubt it, even though Pratt and his wife, Heidi Montag, have shown that they are publicity hounds, a term for those who believe that any recognition—positive or negative--is good.

The couple, whose show was cancelled in 2010, now lives with Pratt’s parents. They recently told US Magazine that fame had destroyed their lives. Both went on “star trips” early on, spending big money on themselves. Already beautiful, she underwent ten plastic surgeries in one day; he bought a $1 million wardrobe. She squandered $2 million on a failed music career. He bought a fancy truck that he drove only once.
I’m taking their story with a grain of salt, but think about it. Like many of us, Pratt and Montag were preparing for the future. Most of us are taught to do the same. We may not be able to invest millions, but don’t we all see ourselves as bright stars of something?   
I think about Don Knotts playing Barney Fife. The Andy Griffith Show was his finest hour, but did he know it? Did anyone? Did Knotts see the Griffith show as a jumping-off point for greater things? It would be human nature; he was only in his thirties. After he left the show, Knotts went on to play many other parts, but he never quite captured the magic of Barney again.  
I’m looking ahead to author events for my first book. Right now my schedule consists of local and regional book signings and a few radio interviews. Will I ever go on television? Will It Started with Dracula become a New York Times best-seller? Will I be rich and famous? Or is this my finest hour, right now, writing this blog?
We never know, do we?
Buying new clothes, picturing oneself on a stage opposite Ellen DeGeneres or Piers Morgan, and laughing all the way to the bank are examples of positive thinking. They’re harmless—even helpful--unless we fall overboard like Spencer and Heidi did. Is fame fun? I don’t know. I guess it depends on where life takes us and what we’re made of.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Making Room

I cleaned out two closets today. The first one was the walk-in closet in my bedroom. I had it customized a couple years ago with multiple shelves, drawers, and rods at different heights so it keeps my clothes organized--in theory. What does a clothes closet have to do with being an author? Oh, you poor innocents!

See, first there is the prospect of book signings, which to some of us serves as the starting gun for whipping ourselves into shape. Author events are part of publicity, and before you know it you’ll be appearing in public, speaking to people you’ve never seen before. Your friends will see you in a new light; old lovers might show up; or your college roommate, or even that English teacher who saw a spark in your writing. If those possibilities don’t send you to your closet, I don’t know what will.
Before I ever worried about where I’d be going and what I’d say when I got there, I was stalking the malls. I’d been working at home in shorts and T-shirts, and it was time to pump up my professional wardrobe; or, more accurately, to get one. You’ll do it, too.
The other day I read an article about television actor Spencer Pratt. He was looking back to the beginning of his career when he was seduced by fame. Pratt said he began "investing in himself" by buying expensive clothes and accessories, only to realize later that (a) fame is fleeting; and (b) he now leads a simpler life and no longer wears any of his new clothes. Well, okay, there's a good lesson in part (a); but I still believe we need to invest in ourselves.
So, while you’re filling up your closet with author-like clothing, you might want to discard a few items. For instance, where were you planning to wear those ten-year-old shoes? Maybe they’d work with that skirt you forgot about, or that trendy top you’ve never had on, or the suits that don’t fit. Oh, wait; that’s my closet.
The second closet I cleaned out was the one just inside my front door. It held the usual jumble of coats, boots, and gloves plus an assortment of old umbrellas, Yankee Candles, vacuum cleaner accessories, and a big box of videos. Why did I empty it? Well, sitting nearby were seven boxes of books; a newly purchased hand truck to move said boxes; The Diva (my two-by-three-foot poster of myself); the easel I ordered to hold the poster; packing peanuts, bubble wrap, and mailing labels; my new stationery; a box of bookmarks; and a box of business cards: tools of the trade.
I wanted those items stored together, out of sight. When I get ready to leave for an event, I’ll be nervous enough without having to search the house for what I need to take. My books have to be near the front door, because each box is almost too heavy for me to manage.
Now that those books are put away, my living room looks better. My bedroom closet is shaping up, too, but I believe more shopping could be on the horizon--just a hunch, Spencer. Yesterday I cleaned my office. My goal is to have the whole house clean and my wardrobe organized before I start traveling in a few weeks.
Maybe we’ll see each other out there. I hope so. Stop and say hi.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Personal Branding: Stationery

In her book Making a Literary Life, Carolyn See suggests that writers—and would-be writers—should form the habit of writing “charming notes” to authors they admire. That would be one charming note per day, “five days a week, for the rest of your life.” A phone call will do as well, See advises; but how many of us would find that easier?
One of my takes on life is that some people are better in person and others are better on paper. Think about it. Don’t we all know some charming people whom we admire for their smooth styles and ability to talk to anyone? I have friends like that. Maybe that description fits you.
On the other hand, some of us are more comfortable typing out our messages. We E-mail; we build stories and books; we write blogs. We’re better-than-average spellers. We like English; we like getting it right. And our words flow best onto paper or the screen.  
I’ve been sending charming notes for years—not five days a week, but when I had something to say to an author. I did it my usual way, via E-mail. Sometimes they E-mailed me back, and sometimes they didn’t.
When I re-read Carolyn See’s book a few weeks ago, I knew that I would be sending out books to reviewers and others. Some would require a note, so I took yet another step in the personal branding process. I ordered personalized stationery. This might not be front-page news to many of you, but I had never had personalized note paper in my life.
I went to a store where I could expect personalized service because I didn’t want to make a social faux pas by picking something tacky. As it turned out, choosing the paper was easy; there is white and there is ivory. You can find pink note paper and notes with colored borders, but the risk is that they could be discontinued. I chose plain ivory.
Let’s face it: Does one put one’s first initial, last initial, or full name on the front? And what type font should be used? What color? How large should it be? I took my brother to the store with me because he has a good eye, but I already knew what I wanted if it worked. The type font used for my name on the cover of It Started with Dracula looks very much like my signature, and it would forge a connection between the notes I would write and the books I would be sending. It turned out to be a fine choice, per the stationery expert.
I received e-proofs but felt more comfortable returning to the store to discuss and approve my stationery before it was printed. After an additional round of correction—I thought my name was just too large—we ordered the stationery and picked it up within a few days.
If you want a career as a writer, writing charming notes is a great idea. I write mine by hand when I use my new note paper, although I guess whatever you decide is okay. Ms. See tells the story of John Updike, who typed his on a typewriter and had so much to say that the letters were jammed up and crooked on the paper.

Making a Literary Life is full of interesting stories written in a wonderful style, if you want to give it a try. I bought it in hardcover a few years ago, but the other day I saw a paperback version in Barnes & Noble.

Oh, by the way, in addition to being an author, Carolyn See is a book reviewer for The Washington Post. I sent her a copy of It Started with Dracula with a charming note. We'll "see" what happens.