Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Release Feels Like Graduation, Wedding, BIG DAY

Hi friends,
I am surprised at how excited I feel about Monday, May 2, release day for Breaking Through the Spiral Ceiling.  Since graduation at my college is right around the corner, and we just saw the royal wedding on TV, I feel it compares to those occasions for me, way back when.  It's funny how little I recall of my graduation day.  I cannot recall the speaker.  I know we wore black gowns and it was very hot.  I recall sitting down with my family and my senior thesis mentor, Ann Lacy, to chat after it was over.  Did I shake hands with President Otto Kraushaar?  Probably.  But I have no memory of that.   For my first wedding, I recall having cold feet right before the ceremony and having my dad calm me down.  I recall that the priest brought Marge Champion, a movie star, as his guest to the wedding.  I remember after the classical music on the tape, it switched to rock n roll via Roll Over Beethoven.  But that's all I remember.  What we said, what the priest said, that is all gone.  For my second wedding, I remember being worried that my nose would still need a cast, but it didn't.  I remember more about the ceremony because Mike and I wrote a lot of it.  I remember singing the Wedding Song and Morning Has Broken with Mike.  I remember a taped talk by Sister Julian Betts, Mike's education teacher from Bowie State.  I remember Katie hitting everyone in the nose with a very long-stemmed rose.  I remember Erin sleeping along the wall, and Jean pregnant with Susan.  I remember Lyle, spiffy in a suit.  And at the reception, I remember people watching the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament while we opened presents, and that Lyle got more presents than we did!  More for that one.  Maybe because it was more recent, although still many years ago.  But the Book Release has in common with all these the feeling of anticipation, the feeling of being on the edge of something that will change my life.  Here's hoping it changes for the better, for the better for women considering a career in science but unsure if it's compatible with a family.  Yes it is!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Birds on the Move

It seems like every day now, I hear different birds calls from the fruit trees and berry bushes in the yard before I get up.  I can often spot a new bird or two as I leave for work.  The draft of northward migration is moving and the birds migrate through Southern California, stopping to snatch a few good mouthfuls as they pass through the neighborhood.  My sister Jean gave me a bird book with bird calls embedded in it, so if I have time, I can page through and try to figure out who I listened to at early morning call.  The calls are often particularly from males and stimulated by a spring burst of testosterone, but that general picture gets a lot more complicated when biologists study individual types of birds.  My old friend Luis Baptista, sadly now deceased, used to say birds sing such beautiful songs because their balls hurt them due to excessive testosterone in spring.  I can't really believe the songs are produced out of pain, though.  They seem to be joie de vivre in some cases, look-at-me calls in others.  The idea of King Solomon's Ring, which was supposed to make the birds and animals' vocalizations meaningful to the ring's wearer, has always attracted me.  I would love to be "in" on the meanings of these sounds.  But for today, just seeing a poised indigo bunting in the yard, sporting feathers of intense turquoise blue, was enough.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Thrills of Being an Author

I've been proud to say, under the guidance of Libby Grandy the magnificent, that I AM A WRITER, for about four years now.  But having a book published moves me a yard farther down the field to being an AUTHOR, which is a whole different dimension.  I don't count writing a text book, although that too was a thrill at the time.  But now, this isn't my take on science I put out there for anyone with $14 to read, it's MY LIFE in science, and my attempts to keep my family life and my life of science discoveries in a rewarding, balanced state.  And, I tried to write it using the methods of fiction.  Not making up facts, but using colorful language, dialog, writing in scenes as much as possible, keeping an eye on suspense and conflict, the techniques of a novelist.  So, when someone who is not in science reads the book and writes a review showing that she really gets it, it feels like a real pat on the back.  I felt that way with every good review on Amazon, and now with Susannah Burke's review on her book review blog, Sooze Says Stuff too.  If you'd like to read it, it's here:  or if you prefer a tiny URL, here: I'm so thrilled that she hung in there in spite of the science bursts and saw that it was more about how women can overcome societal obstacles.  Kudos to Suzannah!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

My Book? It's About People Who...

Why is it so hard to tell people what your book is about fast?  They ask, "What's it about?"  My memoir is about, it's about my, well, going into science.  Lame and lamer.  It's about having it all, but wait, some of it is about having doors slammed in your face and..  Lame too.  It's about trying to go into science before men wanted women to join them in the field.  Sounds formal, cold, doesn't imply beheading frozen flies to make a buck.  I don't think one sentence can do the job.  My novel, The Bad Project, is the same.  It's a coming of age story.  But wait, it's about college women.  No, it's about ethnicity. Not just ethnicity, about how friendship can reach across those barriers.  But is that the bottom layer of meaning?  Isn't it really about how, no matter what your motive is, looking for trouble is very successful?  Or is it about love and support between friends, how friendship is the most important take home message?  Here's the problem:  if you only had one sentence to say, why would you write a book?  Isn't it because you had more, deeper, more complicated, more interconneted, less obvious, more fun, funnier, sadder, than one sentence to say?  How can you strain out all the good parts you were trying to include and summarize the book in one sentence?  Something is bound to be lost.  Any ideas out there about how to do it successfully??

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Embarassment and Glory of Self-Publishing

I am self-publishing my memoir.  I hate to tell people that.  It reminds me of the stigma of vanity presses, the idea that you alone, in your delusion, think your book is worthwhile and so you pay someone to publish it.  In fact, the reality today is a little different.  I had submitted my book widely and received some interest.  It was "in the queue" at a university press for over two years.  Then they pulled the plug.  But why not keep submitting it?  I responded to my desire to let women know right away that they can "have it all," balancing family and a career in science.  I responded to being invited to give talks on my life in science, the reality that people were interested right now to hear more about it.

And I found a great variety of choices.  PublishAmerica, where I would pay nothing, would format, create the cover, and publish it, but they would decide the cover style and price. The price, considering its length, was probably going to be $26.  That was one end of the spectrum for me.  The other end was, also willing to charge me nothing, but asking me to do all the design work in formatting the text, designing the cover, etc, albeit with their wizards to help. Lulu's advantage was that they let me set the paperback binding and the cost, $14, to make it affordable as a supplementary text for a course in women in science, one use I'd always envisioned for the memoir, because it's an existence theorem that you can have it all as a woman in science.  These companies are very matter of fact and deal with authors with fast responses.  I found them quite businesslike and didn't feel like a creep with shiny teeth turning to them to publish my book.  But every now and then, when someone asks if I self-published, I fall through the floor into that abyss of self-loathing and mumble, "yes."  I should steel myself to say "yes, but today self-publishing is not so bad.  Authors cross the line between publishing and self-publishing in both directions these days."  That's the way it will be more and more, it seems to me.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Helping Hand for Indie and POD Writers You Know

People have asked me quite a bit during the few weeks I'm gearing up for the May 2 release of Breaking Through the Spiral Ceiling what they can do to help.  The good news, for me and all of your friends with books out, is there are several ways you can help them that are both free and not terribly time consuming.
1. Like their book on FB, Amazon, wherever else it appears.  Very fast support!
2. Go to an event for them.  Seeing a friend's face in the audience or at the signing table is very welcome.
3. OK, this takes longer.  Read the book and write a review.  Doesn't have to be literary or long.  Post it on or another site where the book is posted.
4. Ask the writer if she/he would love to have the book reviewed in some specific magazine or journal, then email to ask if they would accept a review from you.  If no, maybe suggest alternatives, especially if you have contacts there.
5. Make positive comments on FB encouraging others to read the book too.
6. If the author has a launch date, try to buy the book on Amazon on that day (if you can wait!)  That way, she/he has a chance to possibly say it's a best seller in its category, if lots of people buy it that day.
7.  Tell you friends to read the book.
8.  Recommend it to your community or high school library if appropriate.
When you see the author, a brief comment about the book is always appreciated!