THE ABSOLUTELY GRIPPING AND TOTALLY HEART-RENDING, PAGE-TURNING STORY OF SHOOTING MYSELF IN THE FOOT
Sub Department of, From The Publisher’s POV,
“This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things…”
Admission: technically, I’m not shooting moiself in the foot by writing what follows, as my foot is not in this particular door (although it’s sooooo tempting to try to jam it there). Also, it’s just not an apt use of that idiom. But such a hyperbolic statement is apropos, here. The door I’m referring to is submitting a manuscript to a certain publisher.
In December, after a hiatus of ~ four years (which I may return to), I started re-researching publishers and sending out feelers re some of my unpublished fiction.  Researching, querying, and submitting material has reaffirmed the reasons why I stopped doing so in the first place,  with one major exception. I received a stunningly personal note from a publisher who is one of the few of his ilk who “got” what I was doing with the narrative structure of my manuscript. Even though what I suspected when I queried him was true – that his imprint’s audience is more avant garde than what my story’s audience would be – ’twas highly gratifying to get his feedback (read: insightful praise).
Little did moiself know, the best – if by best I mean most unintentionally entertaining, and apparently I do – was yet to come.
I discovered a new-to-me outlet, a successful, worldwide digital publisher that had been recently acquired by one of the world’s largest traditional publishers. This publisher, which I’ll call *PubliGush* for reasons that shall soon become clear, was hitherto unknown to me because they specialize in genre works. As I researched them further I also saw that they are something called a Bespoke Publisher,  which, depending in your POV, is one step up from self-publishing or merely a new(er) label for hybrid publishing. 
Obviously, PubliGush is not for me. For the heck of it, I decided to peruse their titles on internet book selling sites, which confirmed that they are strictly genre. However, even knowing that my work wasn’t right for them, moiself was tempted to query anyway, just for the chance that, if I fooled ’em for a moment, they might try to offer me a deal with their services of (as per their website):
“quality of editing, packaging and marketing….
Their services, as I examined their books’ listings on Amazon, translate thusly:
PubliGush will give you adjectives! And, adverbs!
I couldn’t help but wonder, what hyperactive modifiers might they offer to moiself ?
It appears that one of their marketing strategies is to hyperbolize their book blurbs to the max. I refer to the vocabulary employed to do so, which turns out to be rather manic and somewhat, er, repetitive. Their “jacket” blurbs run the gamut from…well, from:
* An absolutely jaw-dropping…
* A real page-turner…
* A gripping emotional page turner!
* An Absolutely Heartbreaking tale of ____!
* Gripping and heartbreaking!
* Beautiful and gripping…
* An absolutely gripping and suspenseful…
* An absolutely gripping and emotional…
* A completely gripping and emotional…
* An utterly heart-wrenching and gripping…
* A gripping emotional page turner…
* An absolutely heartbreaking and gripping emotional page-turner…
* An unputdownable and absolutely gripping psychological thriller…
And, lest there be doubt about the amount of gripping and heartbreak involved:
* A totally gripping and absolutely heartbreaking…
Also, asthmatics be forewarned re this title:
* A gripping emotional page turner with a twist
that will take your breath away…
It was all so amped-up – moiself felt in need of a sedative after merely perusing these title descriptions. My pulse was actually racing; I guess you could say I needed to get a grip (absolutely, completely, utterly….).
Moiself’s favorite description of any book, even from publishers and reviewers less prone to hyperbole, is that it is “a page-turner.” Now, by definition, isn’t every book a page-turner? Whether you loved a book from intro to index or stopped somewhere in the middle with a, “Meh; I’ve read better,” the prose didn’t just present itself to you all at once. You had to…ahem…Turn. The. Page. (even with ebooks) to get there.
* * *
Department Of What We Talk About When We Talk About Grief And Loss
” ‘Sometimes I’ve heard people talk about losing a child and people say it’s like losing a limb. And as someone who’s lost both things, I just want to say, the realities are very different.’
Musician and writer Christa Couture has experienced way too much of people trying to convey sympathy and instead expressing their discomfort about disability and death.”
(The Allusionist, intro to 3-12-21 episode )
Grief; loss. I’ve tried to be as direct about the subjects as I can in my own life (no doubt failing spectacularly in certain instances). Thus, I’ve had my share of trouble using the societal conventions some folks prefer. For example, when someone asks me about my parents, I use the terms death or dead to impart the reality of the situation, rather than euphemize with phrases such as, “My mother is no longer with us.” 
I had an odd conversation several years ago, with a fellow parent at a meet-‘n greet event at my son K’s college. We got to talking about our respective families; she said that her son had recently “lost” his beloved grandfather, then asked about K’s grandparents – were they still living? Only she phrased it as, had any of his grandparents “passed.” I answered that my mother was alive but in precarious health, which began “when my father died…” She interrupted with, “Oh, when your father passed….”
At least twice more, while eliciting information about what happened to my family after my father died, she steered back to the term, passed. She seemed uncomfortable with any of the D-word triumvirate (died/dead/death); of course, it was fine for her to use other terms. Meanwhile, I was deriving petty amusement from her passive-aggressive attempt to steer the speech of a person she’d just met – that would be moiself – toward using a word that *she* preferred, regarding another person (my dead dad) she’d never met. I remember suppressing the urge to say something along the lines of,
“When my father passed? – Oh yes, that’s right, when he passed the LSAT we were so proud! No wait, he wasn’t even studying for that. Anyway, we were thrilled when he passed the AP English exam, but when he passed gas, well, that’s another story….”
I told you Captain Picard, I *suppressed* the urge to respond in that manner.
Once again, I digress.
The subject came to mind as per the thought-provoking reflections on grief and loss I heard while listening to a podcast last week. The most recent episode of The Allusionist, “Additions and Losses,” consists of an interview with writer and musician Christa Couture, whose book How To Lose Everything: A Memoir about Losing My Children, My Leg, My Marriage, and My Voice has just been released.
Couture might be described as an expert on grief and loss, considering her life experiences, which include:
* developing bone cancer in her leg when she was 11 years old
* the amputation of her leg after two years of grueling chemo treatments
*her first child’s death on the day he was born
* her second child’s death at age 14 months, not long after he had a heart transplant
* her divorce “born of grief”
* undergoing surgery which endangered her career as a professional musician
However, I gathered from the interview that the good-natured, intelligent, and subtly self-deprecating author wouldn’t describe herself as an expert on anything, except that of her own feelings.
Couture admitted to experiencing both sides of the uneasiness which comes from being either the receiver, or the giver, of comfort after death and loss. She and the podcast host mused about those face-palming moments when we, as flawed human beings, employ certain well-meaning if ham-fisted strategies in our attempts to relate to or express sympathy for someone’s tragedy. One of the more common is, “Scrolling through a Rolodex of doom,” which I found to be a wonderful term for the situation we’ve all either been in or witnessed (e.g., while visiting her friend who is hospitalized after a car crash, well-intentioned Debbie blurts out, “I know what this is like – my uncle Joe died in a car crash, and my college roommate Freda had her arm amputated after her Toyota was t-boned by a drunk driver….“).
Couture, who identifies as Indigenous, queer, and disabled, talks about person-first versus identity-first language. It is a subject about which she has clear opinions, even as she notes that her thoughts on this and other matters are not shared by everyone, and that she is not “the ambassador for the disabled.” She’s no language cop – she doesn’t insist that everyone must stop using terms that “the disabled community” finds offensive.  She does have some good suggestions for certain word usage and choices, all presented with her calm, generous, good-humored perspective. She’d prefer if you don’t use terms she finds “silly” in that they are euphemistic – e. g., “differently-abled” and “handi-capable”  instead of “handicapped.”
She and podcast host Helen Zaltzman acknowledged the difficulty of knowing what to say:
“…the shiftingness  is one of the things that makes people struggle with it…’I don’t know what to say now, because ten years ago I was told to say this other thing that I’m now not allowed to say. So I’m terrified to say this thing, and now I’ve made this conversation very awkward, and the wrong word has escaped my mouth because I’m so stressed.’ “
“Right. And I’ve been that stressed out person, who’s gone, ‘Oh wait, I said the thing and I know or I didn’t know…’ ” Yeah…that speaks to the power of language as well…the impact that it’s having on people or, you know, where people have asked us not to use those words, and then us being afraid of being shamed by them.”
The most poignant part of the interview for me was when Couture spoke of an existential crisis for her, one which arises almost daily and which she still has not fully resolved: how to truthfully yet self-protectively respond to the questions which naturally arise when people want to hear about your life.
For most people, “Do you have any children?” is a basic inquiry. But, two of Couture’s three children died. And when people who don’t know about the deaths of her two sons see her with her daughter, they often ask, “Do you have any other children?”
She still struggles with those questions. She still doesn’t have a pat response…
“…because it depends on the context, who’s asking. But I don’t feel guilty in the way that I used to about saying, ‘No,’ or, ‘I just don’t want to get into it.’
Sometimes I’ve had to go back and be like, ‘Remember that time I said I don’t have other kids? I now actually want to tell you: I have two sons that died.’ You know, from becoming friends with someone or something, a colleague or something like that. But it’s an interesting choice, when it’s a colleague or at work, because it’ll come up or they’ll hear about it somewhere else, and then I sort of wish that *I* had been the one to tell them….
So, yes or no, do I have children? It’s a loaded question. I try to never, ever, ever ask it, and not because someone else might have lost a child – maybe they have, but maybe they wanted children and didn’t get to, and that sucks. Or maybe they never wanted kids and they’re so tired of having to justify their decision.
Whatever it is, there’s all of these complexities around kids. And I just feel that’s a question that we shouldn’t ask. It’s a conversation to have with people who want to have it. But…I try to follow other people’s lead on that.”
Also useful to hear is Couture’s take on why she and (most) other disabled people do not view themselves as “an inspiration,” and why you shouldn’t, either (ever heard the term, inspiration porn ?). But, don’t take it from moiself – listen to the interview and/or get her book…or at least appreciate the picture of her prosthetic leg, which is, as the host noted, the most “glorious” prosthesis you might ever see.
* * *
Department Of Nomination For Arguably The Worst Lyrics Ever
One of the perks of having one of my car radio’s auto select stations set to the local FM oldies station is getting to occasionally hear the amazingly-cringe-worthy crap so-called classics I’d long forgotten. Prime example: “Music To Watch Girls By,” which, apparently and inexplicably, was a hit in 1967 for that favorite of your grandparents, the whiter-than-mayonnaise crooner, Andy Williams.
♫ The boys watch the girls
while the girls watch the boys who watch the girls go by
Eye to eye, they solemnly convene to make the scene
Which is the name of the game,
watch a guy watch a dame on any street in town
Up and down and over and across, romance is boss… ♫
Yeah, I know.
Imagine the poet laureate who was drugged and bribed to come up with,
“♫… they solemnly convene to make the scene. ♫”
If the lyrics themselves aren’t enough to send you running to the regurgitron, try scalding your cornea with these images. It was 1967, but the leering, camera-on-the-female-ass fixation would give the most booty-obsessed rapper a run for his raunchy money:
* * *
And Now, From Bad Songs To Bad Puns About Songs
My husband hates songs by Britney Spears and asked me not to sing them.
But oops, I did it again.
I’m writing a song about how much I adore seesaws.
It’s called 50 Ways to Love your Lever.
* * *
May you never be viewed as “an inspiration” for anyone…but if you are…
May the inspiration you provide be Utterly, Completely, and Totally Gripping;
May you not find yourself waking up at 4 am with the earworm, “Music To Watch Girls By” infesting your brain;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 My second and third short story collections and second novel.
 Nutshell summary: the publishing business sucks.
 Bespoke Publishers use POD (print-on-demand) technology to adapt an existing title to create a “bespoke book” marketed toward specific readership and uses. This is more common in nonfiction but is also used in fiction, to change, say, the book’s foreword, cover artwork, even some content, to target certain audiences.
 Aka author-assisted publishing, indie publishing, partnership publishing, co-publishing, hybrid publishing involve the author paying for some or all services (usually in return for higher royalty rates). Translated, “Hybrid publishing,” is another a form of self-publishing, wherein the author pays for the publication of their book. However, unlike self-publishing and vanity publishing, a hybrid publisher will not accept *every* manuscript presented to them – they do have editorial standards.
Traditional publishing is where the publisher assumes the entire financial burden of bringing a book to market, from editing to cover design to marketing, promotion, distribution…for which they (rightfully, considering their investment) receive the majority of the profits. Traditional publishers pay authors an advance (usually; this varies with the contract), then royalties after the advance has been earned back, in exchange for the exclusive right to publish their work.
 Which always makes me think things like, “But hopefully she’ll be back in 45 minutes, with pizza!”
 She does use term disabled community, a term which implies a commonality of experience, but not necessarily of not thought and opinion…which reminds me of what I’ve read and heard from members of “the black community” and “the LGBTQ community,” many of whom object to the groupthink implied by such broad labels.
 I didn’t even know that was a thing. I’d be cringing, too. ” Handi-capable”…sheesh.
 I love that word – it’s another term the world needs. I hope it makes it into the OED.