When Words Are Born on Book Birthdays


Used with the permission of Harris Synergy Press

December means birthday month in my family. My brother’s is three days before Christmas, my father’s is three days after Christmas, and my late grandmother’s was December 13 (and nothing horrible ever happened to her when it happened to land on a Friday).  This also requires members of our family to do a precarious etiquette dance every year. To cosset my brother via capitalism love, we had to make sure he didn’t feel cheated just because he was born in the “Christmas Week Window.”

We experimented—double presents, huge parties with close friends when he was younger, buying him the same amount of presents but splitting them, making one present more expensive than the other…the list went on. We still haven’t quite figured out how to do it right but finally settled on the tradition of family birthday dinners and a present.

Thankfully, my brother has grown up unscathed and we breathe a collective sigh of relief each year when he graciously accepts his gifts sans the entitled attitude so often found in the Children of Capitalism.

Seeing as December has already received the birthday month crown, I must have been out of my mind when I decided that I wanted to include squeeze in one more birthday—my first book birthday.

I was a proud parent when my literary baby finally went out into the world last Monday. He weighed a lovely 5.5 x 8.5 inches and his firm spine was shiny and smooth when I held him. He was dressed sharply in a bright colored cover, and contained the ink blood, sweat, and yes, tears, of a frantic mother who wanted to do the best she could for him. The save the dates and press releases had been sent, the book trailer announcement prepared, and everyone was waiting for this little guy to make an appearance.

The aftershock is still hitting me—I’ve published a book through my own imprint. People have asked after my emotions and autographs and I’m still unsure about the first part. Tired, relieved, sleep deprived, hopeful, and proud could all describe the first question. The second question made me scramble to perfect an appropriate John Hancock and wonder if there were any taboos of book signings.

Fortunately and unfortunately, the work doesn’t end there. My Gerber-like book marketing plan for the next couple of years should help him to grow into a healthy, adolescent. At least until his other siblings get here, then I have to worry about (and welcome) sibling rivalry.

As I’ve reflected on this, it is amazing to look at how far I’ve come since I was fifteen jotting down scribbles in my room and how far I still need to go. I am now a brand and the book is a part of that brand. Book marketing is a tricky business because you have to completely separate yourself from your writing persona. For the past three months, I’ve been in full marketing mode. I’ve made sure my branding images are corresponding with my message, networked, and scoured the Internet for tips and tricks of book marketing. For the most part, I’m ready with a multi-year plan to make sure I’m not a one-hit-wonder.

But as I prepare to start on the sequel to The Golden Ashfruit today, I brush all that to the back of my mind and sit down to a place of quiet peace.

I remember the way a pen feels in my hand, the way black ink makes waves on white open spaces, and the sharp and clean smell of paper. I remember where words come from and how they pour onto paper like rain just when I need relief.

I remember myself. And know deep down why I am a writer.

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When Your Christmas Song Playlist Needs a Kick


Photo Credit: Cécile Graat

The answer is when you’re sick of listening to Christmas music. By now, you probably are. Radio stations have started playing it (some nonstop) since the day after Thanksgiving. Don’t get me wrong; Christmas music is great.

Most people like variety. Any song you could possibly ever want to hear has multiple versions by a plethora of artists. Traditional Christmas carols are awe-inspiring and spine chilling, but sometimes girls just want to have fun and rock out to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Michael Buble, or Mariah Carey. And by girls I mean anyone, unless you are a stickler for tradition.

But sometimes when you’re listening to the radio, the weird comes. The awkwardness sets in when the radio stations try to mix it up. It’s like if you are browsing YouTube and you ever end up in “the weird side of YouTube,” as it is most famously referred to. Radio-wise, you know what I’m talking about—the Christmas songs that probably should have never been considered Christmas songs.

For example, my family has a standing debate on Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby.” I can’t seem to listen to it without cringing. Mainly because Eartha’s voice, which sounds like a rendition of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday Mr. President.” It just seems like it should be in a 20’s nightclub somewhere instead of blasting from my speakers as I awkwardly sip hot chocolate.

Another one is “I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” I get it—it’s supposed to be funny that the father is Santa Claus. But personally, if my mommy kissed Santa Claus, I would have bashed Santa Claus with the empty cookie plate.

So as I was browsing YouTube the other day, I decided to collect the weirdest and most interesting Christmas songs I’ve ever heard. The radio plays some of the songs, and they will never play others or the FCC might be after them. The winners are as follows:

1. “The Night Santa Went Crazy”-Weird Al Yankovic. REASON: Santa commits elf genocide and is a certified reindeer killer. This is definitely not one for the kids unless they realize Santa is already dead (not even then), or people who are still kids at heart.

2. “I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”- Gayla Peeve. REASON: Hippopotamuses are not in season. The child should have wanted a snow dog, a reindeer, or a small bear cub.

3. “The 8 Polish Foods of Christmas”- Veggie Tales Christmas Party. REASON: The Veggie Tales are basically eating vegetables (cannibalism) and meat.

4. “Oh Santa”- Veggie Tales (Silly Songs with Larry). REASON: The song description. A bank robber, a Viking, and an IRS agent visit Larry as he waits for Santa. It’s comic because two of the people want money and one might possibly murder him. Oh, and he’s a cucumber.

5. “Christmas Swag”-YTF. REASON: Enough said.

6. “A Very Steam Punk Christmas”- The Men That Will Be Blamed For Nothing. REASON: This is a retelling of ‘A Christmas Carol’ centering on Ebenezer Scrooge. If you turned this up really loud, you would wake someone up or potentially do damage to his or her eardrums.

7. “Christmas Sucks in San Francisco”-The Downer Party. REASON: This song was pretty relaxing. It was also catchy in a sweet way. It was about the lack of December holidays in general.

8. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”-Elmo & Patsy. REASON: No one seems to lament the fact that the grandma was run over by a reindeer.

9. “Christmas Shoes”-New Song. REASON: Every time this comes on the radio, my family and I agree that this is the most depressing Christmas song we have ever heard. Touching message, but just really depressing.

10. “Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You”-Billy Squier. REASON: Questionable title, weird vocals, but interesting message and super catchy tune.

11. “Jingle Bells”-Brave Combo. REASON: This instrumental of “Jingle Bells” will make you dizzy even if you’re sitting down.

12. “Christmas Night in Harlem”-Louis Armstrong. REASON:  There is no spoon. Seriously, this is a great song. I love it and it’s not one you usually hear.

13. “Silver Bells”-Twisted Sister. REASON: This song actually hurt my ears and I couldn’t actually hear anything they were saying in the song, except for the chorus.

14. “Feliz Navidad”-Jose Feliciano. REASON: Merry Christmas in Spanish! The music is really catchy and if you wanted to go somewhere warm for Christmas but ended up staying in a snowy area, this song will make you feel like you are there. And you can get a mini work out in with dancing.

15. “I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas”-Bon Jovi. REASON: Christmas everyday would get ridiculous really fast. Not my favorite, but Bon Jovi does an admirable job here in terms of lyrics.

16. “Santa I’m Right Here”-Toby Keith. REASON: A song about a little boy living on the street and what he wants from Santa for Christmas. Unexpected and heartfelt song—I could barely finish it because it was really gripping.

17. “Winter Wonderland”-Ozzy Osbourne and Jessica Simpson. REASON: Ozzy sounded computer generated and this version is almost too syrupy.

18. “Catfish Christmas”-Steve Azar. REASON: I wanted to laugh the whole time. The music video was ridiculous.

I hope you’ve been able to find a break, a laugh, or a dancing queen in one of these songs. To recap, there is a song sung about a hippo, songs by vegetables about eating Polish foods, touching Christmas songs, possibly disturbing Christmas songs, a Christmas rap song, and a song about a specific place. Oh, and catfish in case you need some motivation to get down to your Friday Fish Fry.

NaNoWriMo Aftermath: Make a Killer Pot Roast

Photographed by Julia Freeman-Woolpert and Madaise, respectively. Used with permission.

Now that I can finally see my feet because my distended belly from all the turkey and general holiday goodness has gone down, I have a chance to convey my mostly positive feelings about National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo.

They are summed up in three quotes* about writing:

“It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.” -C.J. Cherryh

“I firmly believe every book was meant to be written.” -Marchette Chute

“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”-Colette

This is also what I’ve come to judge my own writing by. I don’t know of anyone who simply tosses words on paper and serves them up to a publishing company ready to be signed, sealed, and delivered to readers. The movement itself is a fantastic idea, but any good thing can be—and sometimes definitely is—taken advantage of.

When I first heard of NaNoWriMo, I thought it was the name of an ancient Native American burial ground. Wisconsin is full of cities and towns based off of Native American names, so I had reason to believe it might be connected with one or the other. Try saying Waukesha, Oconomowoc, Wauwatosa, or my home city, Milwaukee. Maybe you can—they have a tendency to roll right off the tongue.

Before I was inducted into the secret society that is NaNoWriMo, I thought of book writing as something organic, like making a nice pot roast. Seasoning it (writing the words, taking a break), trimming any fat, putting it in a pot, browning it (revising, editing, taking another break), and finally finishing it with garnish and serving (prepping for publication or recreational reading after more revision, then selling).

Everyone has a different way of making pot roast, meaning you use vegetables or maybe you choose a different type of seasoning. But some of those steps are vital. If you skip putting it in the pot or trimming the fat, you’re going to end up with a hot (or cold) mess.

Sometimes this is what happens after NaNoWriMo—skipping the trimming and vital preparation to go straight to garnishing and serving. Instead, participants should see NaNoWriMo as a starting point and a huge head start to a wonderful book.

That said, NaNoWriMo is a movement that I am excited to join the ranks of again soon. Whether participants actually do finish their 50,000 words is one thing, but knowing that people across the globe are toiling the same way you are, pushing out pages like gasps between labor pushes, has a certain allure.

It is a source of fragile inspiration welded together with iron determination to reach a goal. I find myself wishing that I could fully devote myself to participating this year and anticipating next year when I’ll probably have a chance to.

According to the NaNoWriMo history on its website, which reads almost like a novel laughing at itself during the process, NaNoWriMo started in 1999.  It quickly took off and grew into a hugely successful movement.

I can admire the spirit of the twenty-one creators who quickly matured from idealists into entrepreneurs. If they hadn’t risen to the occasion, the movement would probably never have the momentum it does now.

Part of the reason why NaNoWriMo is so successful is that the movement continues to operate out of the same idealistic and creative spirit it started with. The history examines the trials, pitfalls and adjustments the creators had to make, but for the most part, the vision has remained relatively unscathed. That alone is commendable because it’s difficult for many movements to achieve.

However, the freedom, raw natural talent, and inclination to cast off limitations, albeit within a limited deadline, has continued to make NaNoWriMo a success. The trade-off has spawned thousands of novels, a few of which have been published by major companies.

If you participated in NaNoWriMo last month, invest in your literary pot roast. You will probably feel just as fulfilled as if you made an actual pot roast and ate it with family.

*quotes are used with the permission of logicalcreativity.com