Archive for September, 2012


Yeah, publishers really CAN do that.

The latest kerfluffle to hit the net with respect to publishing has, of course, to do with The Smoking Gun’s report of Penguin suing several authors in order to recoup advances. Lot of authors (who should really know better) expressing outrage and even a well-known agent weighing in that if Penguin committed such an act against one of their authors why, they’d cut Penguin off from submissions.

Bitch, please.

Obviously, we don’t know all the facts, but of the authors cited, at least one of them delivered a completely fabricated tale under the guise of memoir. Gee, sounds like grounds for recouping a sizable advance to me.  Regardless, here’s what I know as fact:

Fact: Most contracts have provisions/failsafes written in to protect the publisher when an author fails to produce a manuscript (what they define as “failing to produce a manuscript” can be called into interpretation, which we’ll get to in a minute).

Fact: Every author who writes a book for a publisher, signs a contract.

Fact: It doesn’t have to be that you haven’t delivered the book—it can be that the book delivered wasn’t what was promised.

Fact: It could be that the publisher decides for whatever reason strikes their fancy, they no longer want the book, and they are well within their legal rights to do so, no matter how shitty and wrongheaded they are.

How do I know this? (And Lordy, I hate, hate, hate resurrecting this, but dammit, sometimes, it’s just necessary.)

Thank you and thanks to Barb for your patience as [Publisher] and I have taken more time to consider SO SHE DANCES. I’m sorry to send the news now that we’ve decided we can’t proceed with the publication. As personally committed to the project as I am and as much as I wish I could continue working with Barb on the book, I’m afraid it’s just too far from working as a [Publisher] book. By that I mean that, first and foremost, the characters aren’t developed fully enough, apart from Soledad herself, who is not coming across as a likable heroine to root for. Further, the style is overly wordy throughout, thus the story pace is slow.

I had hoped that [Publisher] and the other editors here would agree that further revision could bring the novel the necessary depth and emotional involvement, but unfortunately the group is unanimous in feeling that too much revision is required. And so we will have to cancel the contract now, with the provision that Barb will repay her on-signing advance if and when she sells the project elsewhere.

I’m so sorry to have to say goodbye to this novel. It’s painful to do so, but I’m hopeful that you’ll be able to find a home for the book on an adult- or paperback-original list. Please let me know if you’d like me to put [name redacted] in touch with you to discuss this further.

Yeah, the “Barb” in question was me. That was a letter I received nearly four years ago on a project I had sold nearly sixteen months earlier. Sixteen months of working on a manuscript, sixteen months of having more than one editor tell me how much they “loved it,” but when it finally went up to the final arbiter, the publisher, she decided she didn’t care for it and that, as they say, was that.

And because I had signed the contract, she was well within her rights to do so. And so, I had to sign a letter that read:

“The Publisher hereby exercises its option to terminate the Agreement based on an unsatisfactory manuscript delivered by the Author.

The book in question?

WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE.

Yeah. That one. The same book that wound up winning the International Latino Book Award as Best Young Adult Novel was the same manuscript deemed “unsatisfactory” (or in the parlance of my contract, “an unpublishable product.”)

I gave it one more revision pass on my own, basically to take out a few things I hadn’t agreed with at the time, but that I had put in to appease the publisher, and changed the title, but by and large, the book published by St. Martin’s as WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE was the same manuscript turned down the aforementioned publisher.

I won’t lie. That was the single, shittiest, lowest moment I have ever had in publishing. (And trust me when I say I’ve had more than my fair share of shitty moments at publishing’s hands.) To this day, it continues to fuck with my confidence, because by signing that letter, it was like a public acknowledgement that they were right, even though I knew (and still know) better. However, the simple fact is, I signed the contract that gave the publisher the right to cancel the contract and demand I pay them back.

Was it unfair?

Oh, hell yes.

Was it an abuse of their power?

Obviously, I believe so. The amount of the advance was an absolutely paltry sum (seriously, really paltry) by publishing standards and considering the amount of work I’d put in over sixteen months, never being late with a deadline, essentially being a Good Little Author, I thought it rather churlish of them to demand I repay, especially when you consider the amounts publishers (including this one) have let slide in the past.

However

They had every right to do so because I signed the damned contract.

The clause wasn’t a surprise—I was fully aware of its existence because I read my contracts beginning to end and ask about what I don’t understand. And it’s not an easy clause to have removed—trust me. I just never imagined it was a clause that would ever be invoked because honestly—the language: “unpublishable product,” seemed unthinkable. I’d already had two books published—had received critical acclaim and won awards—had proven I could produce a publishable product, so no… the idea that I could have a contract canceled because of that particular clause was near laughable.

*cue Fate laughing her snarky ass off*

See, here’s the thing— a term such as “unpublishable product” is an amorphous term—subject to interpretation. For that publisher, their opinion was that I had given them an “unpublishable product” and in retrospect, maybe I had, because that particular imprint certainly didn’t have anything like STARS among their titles or other acquisitions. Look at the editorial letter—they basically said they maybe thought it could find a home as an adult title.

My counterargument would be that they had contracted a book that was an interpretation of Bizet’s Carmen—did they honestly think they were going to get light and fluffy?

The truth is, that particular imprint should never have bought the manuscript. Because in terms of story structure, tone, and execution, I never wavered from the proposal I gave them, nor was it appreciably different from my previous novels. They knew what they were getting—or should have.

I will forever maintain that the bulk of error rests on their shoulders, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

Because I signed the damned contract.

And here endeth the lesson.

Earlier today, I read a post from my dear friend Jennifer Echols on the wisdom on never, ever, don’t-even-consider-it, throwing away any bit of writing. Go. Read. I’ll still be here. Promise.

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So. You see what good can come from never, ever, don’t-even-consider-it, throwing away any bit of your writing? I mean, you just never know. As for myself, I’ve long been a proponent of the school of There’s No Such Thing As Wasted Writing. Because again, you just never know. So in that vein, I decided to go digging into my own vaults and pull out a piece of writing I love (of which I have many) that fits nowhere in particular (much like Jenn’s) but that I absolutely love and that I can’t seem to let go. I completed this entire manuscript but as Lovely Agent kindly put it, it read like two different books—the first half vastly different from the second.

She’s… not wrong. So it lives on my hard drive, waiting for me to decide how best to revise, but in the meantime, I still think the first chapter, which I dashed off in literally a couple hours when the idea hit, still remains one of my favorite pieces of writing that I’ve ever committed to (virtual) paper. So I decided to share it.

And I hope you like it.

Chapter One of my 1960s-set story, Between Here & Gone

© 2012 Barbara Ferrer

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CROWD HAILS CASTRO AS HE REACHES U.S.  FOR AN 11-DAY VISIT

The New York Times

April 16,1959

One

April 1959

“Talia, I’m going to be sick.”

“Oh, no.  Otra vez?  How can you even have anything left?”

But Carlito was already leaning against me, the harsh, dry rattle of his heaves contrasting with the cold wet sounds of the waves slapping against the sides of the boat.  While he gagged and jackknifed into my lap, I desperately groped for the bowl we’d tried to keep handy ever since we ran out of the Coca-Colas that we’d saved for him and his delicate stomach.

I was too late.  He was losing what little remained, nothing but bile at this point, soaking through my skirt, hot and smelling acidic and faintly, ridiculously, of maduros.  Probably nothing more than a product of exhausted and overwrought imagination.  Wistful memory of the meal served at home before we left, colluding with the future.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

Everything out of the ordinary.

None of the servants any the wiser that it would be the last time they’d be cooking for us, serving us, cleaning up after us.

Or maybe they’d known.  No one could trust anyone else any longer.  I wonder how many of them at least suspected?  Might have been watching, waiting… Papi must have sensed it was close.

We should have just flown.  We should have left—long before this.  I tried telling them.  I had desperately wanted to leave.  Almost as much as I wanted to stay.  Wanted things to be the way they’d been, childish pipe dream that it was.  Wanted to curl up and die.

But Papi insisted that not only could we bring more with us on the boat, but that it would also serve us well in bringing extra money since we’d be leaving almost everything behind.  What we still possessed was tied to the country in ways that would all too easily rouse suspicion if we tried to make substantial changes.   Another reason we’d taken so long to leave.  Gathering money and items in small increments, all very cloak and dagger in a way that might have been thrilling and exciting if not for the sheer terror overlaying every step or word.

So not only was La Damisela a beautiful cruiser, meticulously maintained, but for los americanos—they would appreciate not only the beauty and craftsmanship, but also find the notoriety of what it represented entirely too delicious to resist.  All certain to add up to a nice sum.  Not that he directly said so.  At least, not to me.  Just la niña—la princessa—no need to worry my precious little head with such trivialities.

What a joke.  Everything was already different.

Yet so typical that he’d still think of me in such a way.  Attempting to keep me locked away and preserved in some airtight box.  Even after all that had already happened.  So willfully blind to the fact that I’d left innocence behind in one shattering moment weeks ago.  Although how could he be so callous?  Who knew?  Perhaps it was for his own benefit.  Protecting himself.

Mami and Abuela had always said it wasn’t that the men in our lives didn’t care or weren’t aware.  Just simply that they couldn’t handle our pain.  It overwhelmed them.  So instead they focused on pretending we were delicate flowers requiring protection.  That we were the ones who didn’t understand.  Even when they knew better.

Cause for more wisdom from Mami and Abuela—that, of all things, we were the ones who had to be strong.  For them.

I wasn’t sure I could do it.  I didn’t want to be strong.  I wanted to howl and scratch and spit and rip flesh from bones and rail at the inhumane unfairness of it all.  Perhaps I was better at this pretending than even I had imagined.  Because they—Papi, Mami, Abuela, Carlito—every one of them thought I was strong enough to cope.

Using a clean section of my skirt, I wiped Carlito’s mouth, dabbed the perspiration off his sweet face, trapped in that shimmering moment somewhere between boy and man.  Pobrecito—there was so much he’d be missing.  So much he should be experiencing that wasn’t this hell.

“Let me get you some water, hermanito.

“Don’t go.” His voice cracked.  Definitely more boy there, as his arms tightened around my waist—afraid I’d leave.

“But it’ll make you feel better.”

“It’ll make me throw up again.” Shades of a deeper tone.  A surety.  Almost against my will I smiled.  So stubborn, my little brother.  Since the cradle no one had known him as well as he knew himself—as he took every opportunity to remind us.

But I not only wanted to get him water, I wanted to change my clothes.  Get out of this dress with its soaked, filthy skirt.  Never mind that in sacrificing clothes in order to leave room for other items and the fact that this wasn’t the first time that I’d held Carlito through a bout of nausea, I didn’t have much left.  At the very least, I could always borrow a pair of Carlito’s pants and a shirt.  Anything would be better than sitting around in sodden, smelly cotton, clinging to my thighs, bare, since I’d discarded my girdle the first hour out.  It was just too damp to be wearing the close-fitting torture device.  Besides, clinging to social niceties was a waste of time.

“Carlito, m’ijo, I have to change my clothes.

“Stay.” A command, coming easily from the young prince accustomed to getting his way, easy for me to ignore until his gaze fixed itself on my face, eyes enormous dark smudges in the pale oval of his face.  So deceptive, since those eyes, in the light of day, were the same pale, brilliant green as Papi’s.  The “eyes of the San Martín men” as Abuelita proclaimed time and again from her spot of honor at the foot of the French mahogany table.  But in the dark, the color was inconsequential—overwhelmed by fear.  Ignoring the wet and the stink and my own terror and fury, I gathered him close, my little brother, taller than me now, the future man of the family, forever the baby, holding him as the yacht bobbed quietly along the waves.  We were saving our last bit of gas, I knew.  For when we got close.

I closed my eyes and turned my face into the breeze drifting through the cabin’s open door, breathing deep—sea air always helped.  Even under these circumstances.

“Natalia—”

I blinked, not sure if I’d drifted or not.  But I must have, because where before there had been nothing but endless dark—

Lights.

Through the window—tiny pinpricks of light in the distance, piercing the dark, gracias a Dios.

Finally.

Lights that appeared to be standing still, only their reflections bobbing and weaving the slightest bit on the dark water.  Looking like fireflies.  Difficult, but not impossible to catch.

Beneath the smooth leather soles of my shoes, I felt the engines rumble to life, the distant lights continuing to beckon, reaching out, guiding us in.

“We’re here,” Carlito whispered, struggling to sit straighter.  “Natalia, we’re here.”

Yo se,” I whispered absently.  But where? Continue reading

Emmys Fashion Roundup

We got the depressing, down-in-the-dumps post out of the way, so now we can return to what’s really important: my thoroughly matters-in-no-way-to-no-one burblings on red carpet fashion. I mean, I’m realistic about it—I’m not as funny as the Fug Girls nor am I as influential as Tim Gunn. All I’ve got is the perspective of someone who grew up in the high fashion industry and who, when occasion has called, has managed to dress herself reasonably well.

So then. shall we? Make sure you’re buckled securely into your seats and keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times.

I’m sick, so I’m feeling pretty lazy about uploading—all images referenced can be found on the following sites.

People Magazine Red Carpet Arrivals

HuffPost Style

(I may sneak a photo or two in…</rebel>)

Lot of yellow on the red carpet tonight. Lot of yellow. Look, I’ll be honest right up front. It’s not my favorite color. It’s a difficult color for most people to wear and let’s face it, judging from what I saw tonight… yeah, still difficult. Julie Bowen’s neon yellow, Claire Danes’ sack dress (honey, you’re pregnant—this is no excuse for a mustard-shaded potato sack), Julianne Moore’s very very-OMG-she-skinned-Big-Bird yellow, and Leslie Mann’s daisy yellow were the four, erm, standouts. Of the four Leslie Mann was the closest to pulling it off, mostly because the gown isn’t all yellow—the white bodice manages to offset all the yellow, not to mention, the dress fits her. This goes a long way towards making a dress work, regardless of color.

Speaking of dresses that didn’t fit well (aside from Claire Danes…) two that drove me bananas yet will undoubtedly show up on all the Best Dressed lists were Zooey Deschanel and Kat Dennings. Anyone who’s read my rants on strapless gowns knows how I feel about having them properly fitted to the Girls. Kat’s came closer than Zooey’s, but the bodice wasn’t long enough for her torso and let’s face it, Kat’s got some Bodacious Girls. They needed to be treated with more respect. I did absolutely adore the deep bordeaux color on her though, far more than Zooey’s powder blue. Darling, the Fairy Godmother called—Cinderella’s gonna cut a bitch if she doesn’t get her gown back.

Speaking of strapless gowns… Well, Christina Hendricks’ gown fit her well enough, although I wasn’t a fan of the belt cutting her in half and I really wasn’t a fan of the non-color. Yes, it made her hair stand out like a gorgeous beacon, but it otherwise washed her out. I wonder if maybe the belt had been a contrast color if it would have helped or hindered? Not sure. Overall, just meh on the look.

Her castmate, Elisabeth Moss, showed up as a blonde. I didn’t much care for it. I did, however, like her gown, considering it was a print. I liked the hi-low cut of the hem and the black and green color scheme. I do wish she’d done something about her tan lines.

Speaking of prints and tan lines… Julianna Margulies, what were you thinking? First off, honey, stealing the brocade off a Baroque sofa is so not done and secondly, TAN LINES: do something about them, please.

Continue reading

In light of all the publicity regarding the whackaloon wannabe writer who attacked the literary agent who rejected his work, I thought I’d offer my own response in the form of how I react to rejection.

You see, six months ago, I made the decision to apply to a writing residency program—the Television Writers Program sponsored by the National Hispanic Media Coalition. Five weeks in Los Angeles, five days a week spent in the company of other writers, creating a product. It sounded fun. I mean, five weeks in LA, for one. I have a ton of friends in Los Angeles and the opportunity to see them on something of a regular basis was super tempting. Not to mention, the opportunity to be on my own for a bit. I’ve never, in my life, lived on my own. Went from Mom’s house to dorm, to shared apartments and houses, to living with the boyfriend who became the husband. The idea of flying solo for a month? Yeah… love the husband and the family dearly, but I can’t deny that idea held its own appeal. 

Then there was the basis of the program itself— the opportunity to learn to write for television—that was pretty attractive. You see, it was television that drew me back into writing in the first place—that started me on my path to becoming a published author. (Those of you who know me well, know it was my love for the crazy talented writers Joss Whedon employed on BuffyAngel that made me think, “Hey, I can tell stories like that.”) Of course, I very quickly discovered that I’m a wordy bitch and I like narrative and internal character motivation a hell of a lot and all of that adds up to “Write novels, dummy!” So I did.  And I’m pretty damned good at it, even if my sales haven’t exactly reflected that. At any rate, I applied to this program not so much because I want to be a television writer, although God knows, I wouldn’t say no to an interesting opportunity to write for pay. It’s what I am, after all, and let’s face it, I’m spectacularly unqualified for almost anything else, but more than anything else, though, I wanted something new. New skills, new tools to add to the arsenal. I wanted something that would get me excited about writing again. To jolt my ass out of the Pit of Suckagetude in which I’ve found myself mired lately (which is a post for another day).

The application was pretty rigorous and involved, requiring multiple forms and notarized releases and writing examples (I sent in When the Stars Go Blue figuring it for a great example, given it’s an adaptation) and a lot of attention to detail. Good thing I’m a Virgo, yeah? The application window was ridiculously broad, stretching from mid-March to mid-August; being me, my application was posted by early April. Participants would be announced September 17th. So I sat back and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Kept fairly quiet about it, because I didn’t want to jinx it. I also didn’t want to face a lot of “Why would you want to do that?” inquiries, and frankly, I didn’t want to hear that maybe I was out of my gourd crazy for doing this. (I’ve had that happen before—I’ve sent in proposals and been immediately hit with “Why on earth did you send in that idea?” which results in the Doubt Monsters breaking into a spirited rendition of Numfar’s Dance of Kill Your Joy. Did. Not. Want.)

I just wanted to live on quiet hope and also not get anyone’s expectations up too high on my behalf, lest it get my expectations up too high. Expect nothing, regret nothing, right? I had run the suggestion past my writer’s group and a few other close friends whose opinions I trust, and as time went on, I let a few people know that I had applied for a writing residency program, but no details beyond that.

Anyhow, due to a large number of applicants, they posted a message that the announcement would be postponed until the 18th.

Which came and went without word. (Damned watched email never boils or summat like that.)

Finally, this morning (the 19th, Talk Like a Pirate Day, arrrggghhh), I sent an email to the contact liaison. Within an hour I’d heard back. I hadn’t made the cut.

I wanted to be sanguine about this. I knew it was a longshot going in for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was my utter inexperience with the medium. God knows, I’ve dealt with a lot of rejection in the past thirteen years. Certainly a hell of a lot more rejection has come my way  than praise. I know how to handle it. I know it’s not personal. It’s not an indictment on me as a human being.

Didn’t stop me from crying. Rather a lot, as a matter of fact.

Not the throw-myself-on-the-ground-pound-my-heels-on-the-floor-scream-and-rant tantrum sort of crying, mind. While there are times I wish I could, simple fact is, I suck at that. In fact, I abhor most self-pity, at least where I’m concerned. I’m remarkably forgiving of anyone else’s need for pity/support, self or otherwise, for myself, I can’t fathom it. The husband puts it more bluntly—he says I suck at wallowing.

He’s… not wrong.

But this one has broken me a bit more than usual. I don’t know… I generally don’t allow myself to dream outside of the confines of my own stories. For my characters, I allow my imagination to take flight — no dream is too grand or goal too unrealistic or impossible to achieve. Dreaming for myself, on the other hand? I’m about as good at that as wallowing. For me, it’s never been about the seven-figure contracts or #1 Bestseller status, although I certainly wouldn’t say no to either. I’m a pragmatist—not a Puritan— fer chrissakes. No, all I’ve ever wanted is a nice, steady career as a writer. Not an easy task, especially in this day and age, but certainly not grandiose.

But this program… yeah. I let myself dream. And maybe that’s why it hit harder than it might have otherwise.

Because I’m a sucker for punishment, I pinged my agent to ask about the status of another project that was out on an exclusive submission.

Yeah. Another rejection.

Oddly, this one left me more meh than anything else. It’s part of the game, right? The rejection letter was head-scratching in that way that rejection letters are and again, allowed me to be meh about the rejection on the whole. I mean, I don’t like it. I’m not a masochist (at least, not any more than anyone else in publishing), but it’s hardly devastating. I believe in my project. I know it’s a really fucking good concept and with the insight and advice I’ve received from the beta readers, I’ve certainly made it a stronger project than it was at the outset. Like so much else, it’s the sort of thing that requires the Right Person see it and I have to believe the Right Person is out there somewhere.

More than anything, though, it was something my agent said in her email to me that allowed me to put everything into perspective:

I think that sometimes we’re denied an opportunity to explore something to show us how much we actually value it, and that it goes beyond curiosity. Maybe that sounds trite but if I know anything about you, it’s that if you’re passionate about something you really go for it.

Now mind you, she said this with respect to the Writing Program rejection, but the end result was it immediately sharpened my focus and strengthened my resolve with respect to…

Writing.

Just writing.Telling the stories I love—the stories that need to get out or else they’ll drive me crazy(er).

It’s what I do. I really, really  fucking love what I do. Not only do I not want to do anything else, I simply can’t imagine doing anything else.

Something like ten years ago, after I’d started sending out queries and receiving rejections, but before I’d been published, I happened to stumble across an interview with actor Timothy Omundson where he spoke about pursing a career in the creative arts and some of what he said resonated with me—even then—to the point that I printed a pair of the more relevant quotes out and have kept them on my desk ever since.

One of those quotes is especially relevant today:

I really, really love what I do and for me, this work… there isn’t anything else. I’ve always been really driven. I think that is the most important aspect of my success… it comes down to how much I like it. I really think it has to be one of those things where doing it is the only option.

If you can do anything else, I’ve always thought you should go do it because this is potentially too hard a life.

No kidding. Today’s definitely one of those days where I idly wonder if it’s too late to get an accounting degree, never mind that no one wants anyone with my math skills balancing their books—trust  me. But after the tears dry and the inevitable trauma of “They hated my baby!” passes, all I’m left with is a sense of resolve (amidst the “You really are a sick glutton for punishment you crazy lady,” feelings).

I write. I’m pretty fucking good at it.

And I’ve got a couple of damned interesting stories to get back to. Anyone in publishing interested, give me or my agent a call.

I’ll be ready.

Guess what I did?

So yesterday, I pledged a considerable amount of money to Janice Whaley’s latest Kickstarter campaign. Yes, I’m privileged to call Janice my friend and so of course, I’m going to support her in any way I can, but more importantly, I think of her as a kindred spirit and I believe in what she’s trying to achieve. Like so many gifted artists, Janice once had a dream she thought might be impossible to follow—but she realized music was literally her life,  took the bull by the horns, and Made Things Happen. And while some amazing successes have come her way, the sad and simple fact of the matter is, in music, like in any other entertainment medium, it takes exposure to Make More Things Happen and in today’s media-happy climate, exposure tends to occur more readily with the benefit of large pots of money (or at least having the support of someone with large pots of money).

How cool is this, really?

Initially, Janice was going to use this Kickstarter in order to raise money for a publicist—luckily, a fortunate windfall has allowed for her to hire the publicist and now, the Kickstarter is going to offer some really cool things that showcase her immense talents and the fruits of her labors the past couple of years.

I’ve been told I can’t possibly be as supportive and happy for friends who experience successes as I appear to be, especially when the past couple of years have been so hard for me career-wise. Yeah… those people can bite me. Truth is, I fervently desire the success of people who are gifted and work their asses off, like Janice, just as much as I fervently desire my own success. (Hey, I’m no martyr. I hope it’ll happen for me, too.)

So yeah, I gave  to Janice’s Kickstarter campaign—and if you love really unique, beautiful, amazing music, you might consider giving too. Look, let Janice tell you all about it. *points down to link*

Janice’s Kickstarter

 

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