In praise of needs must
A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to be invited to a Book Reveal party for Life in the Camel Lane by my friend, Doreen Cumberford. Doreen’s book, about life in Saudi Arabia, was inspired by the many years she spent there and so there were attendees from all over the world on the Zoom call. Doreen’s book came out while she was ‘misplaced in Mexico’ and unable to celebrate her newly published ‘baby’ in person in Denver, Colorado as she had planned. Zoom was the next best thing. Or was it actually a better thing?
In the 14 weeks or so since the world went into lockdown, things have changed. We have had to think differently about the way we live and the way we do business and Doreen’s Book Reveal is a great example of the positive impact acting differently has had. Before now, book launch parties had typically been live and local events. Now ‘needs must when the devil drives’ as the saying goes, which means that something is necessary but unpleasant. I didn’t want to run my workshops and writers’ circles online via Zoom. I had been resistant to it for years. I liked running them from home in a room with real people, a flipchart and chocolate covered raisins. But when the chips were down and I had no choice, I took a deep breath and dived in. And you know, it’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay because now people can attend my events who are not restricted by the cost of travel. My costs are reduced so I can afford to run things for free or for less money. Everyone wins.
Doreen’s Book Reveal, as I said, had over 50 attendees from all over the world. As she read from her book, her inspired and knowledgeable book publicist, Mary Walewski, of www.buythebookmarketing.com took a look on Amazon and saw that already Life in the Camel Lane was the #1 New Release on Amazon in the Middle East Travel category.
Mary Walewski is a great example of someone else who has embraced the ‘new normal’ and found a way to make gold out of the current situation. A Book Reveal party is not the only idea she has up her sleeve and if you would like to watch her webinar on ‘social distance marketing for authors’ then you can see it by clicking the image below:
Have you embraced this new normal?
These may be times of social distancing but my social life is busier than it's been for years. We are now 'meeting' friends in foreign fields for coffees, cocktails, catch-ups and games not once a year like in days of yore but monthly, maybe more.
I expect your life is pretty similar. What has surprised me most is that like so many of you I have had technology 'thrust upon me' thanks to the lockdown.
For years people have asked me to run online writers' circles and I've been too resistant, bone-idle even, to do so. But now that my precious monthly face-to-face writers' circles are impossible, I've taken the plunge and paid for a subscription to Zoom. Just four weeks into lockdown and instead of leading just my local circle I have run 10 online writers' circles and four weekly Speedwrite Live events. That's 14 events instead of one!
I'd been too scared to try and run online workshops but now I'm doing that too now and am surprised to discover they really work too.
I always knew I was pretty good at connecting with people but now that I have a busy Virtual Events calendar I am thrilled that folk from years gone by, like Andrea, who used to come to my classes in Oman decades ago, are back in my life. So there I sit in my office in The Hague, looking out at the social distancing shoppers in the street below and there on my screen, we chat with Pascale in Perth, Isabelle in South Korea, Yvonne in Washington and Geraldine in Ireland.
Now, I know different. I am grateful that the lockdown has shown me a better way of connecting with more people and has forced me, at last, to take my classes online.
I've just finished reading Seth Godin's book, This is Marketing, for the online business book club I just joined. Godin believes that when people are in a state of transition they are ready to try new things. We are all experiencing a 'new normal'. None of us knows the rules. This means that the times are ripe for trying new things.
"We build something that people would miss if it were gone," he writes. "something that gives them meaning, connection and possibility."
I'm not sure whether my new normal is 'better' than it used to be. It's certainly different. If you are reluctant to leap on board with online connecting possibilities then I urge you to think again. It might become your new normal, as it has rapidly become mine. This week alone, I have signed up for online pilates and poetry classes, am running three writers' circles and a Speedwrite Live.
According to Godin we make change by "normalising new behaviours".
In just four short weeks this new way of connecting is beginning to feel like home.
To find out more about my virtual events please visit www.joparfitt.com/virtual-events.html
Memoir hangs 100% on voice.
It's hard to believe that it took me so long to discover the work of Mary Karr. Karr is professor of writing at Syracuse University and her programmes are desperately over-subscribed. Yes, she is that good.
I first discovered her memoir, The Liar's Club, when it was recommended to me by a therapist, impressed by the way Mary managed to write to candidly and yet without indulgence about her dysfunctional childhood.
As I read, sure, I was delighted to see how she tackled the subject matter, but more than anything I was blown away by her style. Here was a writer who broke the rules, finished sentences with prepositions and had a tone that was completely her own.
After The Liar's Club I headed straight for Karr non-fiction book, The Art of Memoir, and it was here that I read the words:
"Whatever people like about you in the world will manifest itself onto the page What drives them crazy will keep you humble. You’ll need both sides of yourself – the beautiful and the beastly – to hold a reader’s attention."
In other words, you have to be true to yourself, your meaning and your story and the way you write must reflect this.
I went on from The Liar's Club to read Karr's second memoir, Lit, which tells of her failed marriage, her battle with alcoholism and the jerky progression of her career as a writer. Let me give you an example of her voice, found on the page that faced me when I cracked open Lit's spine at a random place:
"By age thirty, I'm not writing squat, which I blame on my ramped-up consulting schedule, knowing full well my favorite poet was a full-time insurance exec. Warren keeps urging me to deal with my complicated family on the page, but that seems too damp-eyed, though even I know the crap I crank out referring to Homer and Virgil is pretentious before Warren carefully pens pretentious on page bottom."
You see what I mean about voice? Sure, it's about what you write about, but it also about how you say it. If you are still confused, go read Mary Karr.
This month I want to introduce you to someone with whom, tragically, it is no longer possible for you to connect with. I first ‘met’ Lindsay de Feliz in 2011 when she contacted us to see if we might be interested in publishing her memoir called What About Your Saucepans? At first glance I thought it was a bit of an odd title, but when Lindsay went on to tell me it was about her move from a high-powered, well-paid job in England to become a lowly diving instructor in the Dominican Republic and how she had fallen in love with her life, the island and a local called Danilo. I was intrigued and asked to see a sample of her writing. I soon learned a number of things: this woman had a story to tell that was stranger and stronger than fiction; that she needed my help as a mentor and Jane’s help as editor to knock it into shape; that I really liked her and wanted to work with her; that “What about your saucepans?” was what her mother had said to her when Lindsay told her she was leaving the UK almost two decades earlier.
Over the next year or so she worked like a beaver on the manuscript while her real life began to get curiouser and curiouser. She had married a handsome local and became a generous and loving mother to his children, some of whom were very young indeed. Not only did she open her arms and her home to a new family but soon a four-legged family of stray cats and dogs joined the fold. Danilo became involved in local politics, ran for major and the two became affected by so much corruption the they were forced to run for the hills and into hiding. The book came out and we kept her quirky title, soon realising that Lindsay was embracing social media big time and many people now talked fondly of the Saucepans Lady, like me, they had never met but came to consider a friend. Her online marketing was second-to-none and sales were steady. By 2017 a sequel was inevitable as we followed Lindsay to her half-built Pink House in a tiny village beside the woods. Life After My Saucepans was published in 2017.
Her life was always complicated and chaotic but Lindsay, who temporarily lost her voice after being shot in the throat during a break-in in book one, continued to see the funny side of life and her readers loved her more with every word and blog she wrote.
This post is in tribute to a dear author who was brutally murdered in December. Lindsay's body was wrapped in bags used for pet food and buried in a shallow grave in the woods beside The Pink House.
I want to thank Lindsay for the joy she was to work with, the joy she gave to her many readers and the love she gave to so many.
And if I have a takeaway for you, learned from the last eight years with Lindsay it is that a bonkers title is not always a stupid idea. If it is catchy, or ‘sticky’ as Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book The Tipping Point, then that is always a good thing.
In memory of Lindsay, Summertime and Springtime authors will be funding a one-time bursary towards publishing an expat memoir. Further details to follow in early 2020.
Jo Parfitt's Monthly Inspirer