Monday, October 18, 2004

Sage advice

Yesterday was fun -- lunch with Holly, dinner with Mike (two children in two cities in a day), and I spent the night in the lovely Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, and wondered if James Branch Cabell ever wrote about it. Then got up and did the final polish on a book review for the New York Times, and sent it off to them. Then went back to driving. Am now in a Best Western somewhere off an interstate, and am much too tired to write anything sensible or answer any questions.

(And yes, the 13 Nights of Fright thing starts today on Fox Movie Channel. The secret words that give you access to the extra material aren't hard to figure out.)

There was an e-mail waiting for me this evening from my assistant, the Fabulous Lorraine, which she had written to share with some friends, and which I think deserves wider distribution. It's pretty much all true, although she's forgotten that I did actually have to turn down a week at a Writer's Conference in Hawaii because there wasn't enough time, and I feel I should say that the Brazilians have got much better at not inviting-me-to-Brazil-next-week over the last decade.

Anyway, this is by Lorraine, and if you need to know more, or just send mangoes, write to her, not to me.

Top Ten Things Never to Send Your Favorite Writer

10. Food
Unless you are a proper Food Company, what you send will not arrive in anything like the condition you sent it out in. Writers, or anyone else for that matter, tend to become rather dubious upon viewing the crumpled remains of what once was no doubt (or a lot of doubt) cookies. Also, somewhere deep in our darkest recess of our past, all of us remember our Mother's Don't Take Candy From Strangers , I mean, sure, it's a million to one odds, that this is the final crazed fan who has coated the little goodies with arsenic, but hey, who wants to take chances?

Send wine. Or scotch. Single Malt. Old Single Malt.

9. Paw-paws.
Yes, I know, they are food. Well they might be food, I don't know. I do know they don't ship. Even Fed-ex. People have tried. There are reasons we don't have them in the North. For all I know, they are local to a three mile square field down South somewhere, available only to folk singers and local residents with a 1/2 mile radius of said field. I repeat, they don't ship.
Now mangoes do ship. Via Fed Ex. If you want something very badly from your favorite writer, a half dozen mangoes to his or her assistant will often move that request right to the top of the list. Trust me.

8. Invitations for things happening next month
Now, writers tend to be busy, based on my experience. Unless you are signing yourself HRH Elizabeth R. or including the words "Beach house " "Maui" and "business class airfare", next month is probably not going to work. Writers write. It doesn't matter how great your Convention is, they need to plan for it. In advance. It takes writers a very long time to write a book (no, I don't know why, it just DOES). If you are reading their Blog and find out they are in town for a signing next week, dinner is also not going to work. Especially if you have never met, nice idea, but sorry. They don't even want to see their friends when on signing tours. ( Actually the friends know all about writers on tour and tend to flee that weekend.)

Invitations coming in from Brazil are the exception to this. Brazilians only tend to send out invites for next month. Nothing deters them. They will set up an art show based on the writer's work, have an entire convention based on your writer's books, a conference and country wide media complete with signings, declare it a national holiday in the town, and get the mayor lined up to present the keys to the city making it permanently "The Poor Writer" Day from here on out AND this will all be scheduled Next Month. In one notable instance, Next Week.

7. Handwritten Letters.
Ok, we have a little lee-way here. Say it is a simple card saying, in nice, neat readable handwriting, "Darn your last book was great!" this is most likely ok. If you want your writer to read your letter it has to be readable. Yes, I know, one would think this was a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised at how many people take a lot of liberties with the word Legible. Typewritten is so much easier to read. You might even go all out and include your address at the top, along with a SASE.

Which brings us to another little point....

6. Letters more than ten pages long.
Whatever you have to say should not take that long. It might well be important, and if you have to, you have to. But consider keeping it short. Ten pages of your latest novel idea, film idea, dream you had last night, or just a newsy note bringing your writer up to date on your life is more than they want to know and they will not be with you much past page four. (All right, I lied, make that page two.)

Or rather the writer's assistant will not be with you that long. If your writer is very popular they get a LOT of mail. They can't read all of it, tho in their defense I must say they do try. You might consider something truly sneaky and start your letter "Hello, Oh great and wonderful Writer's Assistant, just bought your latest cd ( and ye gads! It is great!" Don't know why, but those sorts of letters do tend to get more attention paid to them.*

* Assistants are smart. Very smart. Make sure you actually buy the thing.

5. Letters written on black paper with a silver pen.
Silver pen on black paper is not nearly as cool as you think it is.

4. Your latest novel
Writers write. And they read. They have a backlog of reading bigger than most home libraries. They don't have time to read your novel/short story film idea. They don't have time to read the things they want to. It is also never a good idea to send them letters saying "Boy, I can't believe you used my idea I sent you last year in your latest novel/short story/film." They didn't. Again, trust me. They didn't.

Send your stories to agents, editors, magazines , family, and friends. They want them, and in some cases are paid to want them. In some cases they may even pay you for them.

4. Things with blood on them.
'Nuff said. I don't care what they write, they don't want it.

3. Anything you want back.
I am not talking about the odd book here, to be signed and sent back, particularly if you have written the assistant first explaining the situation (remember how we start those letters?) and sent the book with SASE (and mangoes). Most writers are happy to oblige. Even assistants don't mind, happy to help. I am talking about personal things you want back. Your one of a kind portfolio filled with the only copies of original art. The ten micro-cassettes-with-player you have recorded your dream journal on for the last year. Actually, any journal of any kind. This goes along with the only copy of your latest poems, the master copy of your cd or any family heirlooms.

Writers dread the sort of letter that starts out "I have sent you this, but please send it back when you are done". For some reason anything of the sort immediately sends the item off into some sort of alternate cosmic 5th dimension, and it will, I guarantee, never be seen again, no matter what good intentions the writer may have.

2. This is more of a Good Idea/ Bad Idea list of things you might send
Some Good Ideas: Small things, trinkets, cool jewelry, tiny statues, small things that squeak (not living), one of a kind toys, weird barbie Dolls dressed as the Endless (Sorry, I don't know why, but I have always liked those) cool old books, reference books , blank books for writing, cd's , black socks (don't care who they are, they'll need them) mittens (unless they live in Paw-paw country) wind up Sushi, muppet puppets of said writer, Day of the Dead things, fountain pens and perhaps some truly useful items like Sharpie Pens and post it notes . The better the writer the less pens and paper they are going to have around.
Some Bad Ideas: Art larger than 3 x 5 feet (I am being generous here), photo albums with more than 50 photos of one signing , things that squeak (living), anything fragile (it will get broken), live animals of any kind, anything weighing over 50 pounds, pictures of you and the writer blown up to poster size that your friend took at a signing, your ENTIRE collection of his/her work to be signed, anything you recorded while on drugs, open liqueur bottles with hand done labels in a foreign language, and anything you have to preface with "I found this in a graveyard...." (or your freezer).
Ok, I know what you are wondering. Yes, we have. All of them.

1. Sand
It gets Everywhere. Can I repeat that ? It Gets EVERYWHERE. I cannot tell you the amount of times I have sat sadly in my just-this-day-cleaned office, looking at my sand-covered desk, which now resembles something very like a Zen garden gone bad. This may be a fairly one-writer-specific problem, but if you listen to one thing I have said here, Do not send Sand. Ever. You can't pack it so it stays in whatever container you have deemed appropriate. Send the container, include a note saying "Fill this with Sand". I will do it for you, no mangoes, no cd buying, I'll nip outside and get you some of the best sand going. Just don't try and send it yourself.

I know what I am talking about here. Trust me.