I'm intrigued by one of the current giveaway books, 'Swans Are Fat Too,' for its Polish history and broadly-reaching narrative. Even the description is well written and compelling. But I can't click to win it until I blog, evidently. So here I am. I'm a novel writer and a tweeter -- I like little tiny snippets of news (and links, often) or I like long literary explorations -- ideally with plenty of dialogue and left-of-center humor. I like poetry! And personal essay! But blogging, I'm not so sure. It's supposed to be a web-log of my life, right? I just never quite know where to start (or why) or when to end. But hopefully this little addition will suffice because I do hope to click to win those fat swans in Poland.
And one more thing... if I ever do figure out how to do it, I think I'll blog about my recent conversation on Arabic tattoos with an Emirati pilot I met on a flight to Rome. You never know where the most wonderful connections will occur. I lost the little notebook I had with me that day (sadly got all giddy with my bad self at Paul McVeigh's book launch at Waterstones in London -- for 'The Good Son,' which I highly recommend, if you haven't read that), and I dropped said notebook, never to be recovered... it had my name in Arabic lettering, a gift from my pilot friend, who has now sent me a scan of my name by email and told me of a new tattoo he's inked on his thigh... a Biblical quote in Latin about resisting temptation. See what I mean? There are unimaginable riches to write about, but putting them into a story format worth delivering is often beyond me. And until I can learn to gift-wrap an experience or a thought, I'm just not much of a blogger, I guess. Still -- please wish me luck with the Swans.
My to-do list has been long and complicated this summer, so this lovely little book was the perfect antidote... an entirely guilt-free "guilty pleasure" that asked nothing of me, but delivered much. It's a beautiful melange of fable, philosophy, fairy tale, nature fiction, multicultural and cross-cultural social studies, and a hero's journey told through a filter of motherhood... with charming illustrations to mark transitions. I am glad it was translated from Korean for English-speaking readers, and glad this copy found its way to me. Any book that particular friend recommends in future will go straight to the top of my to-read stack.
I hesitate to review this. I met Jim Shepard in March and heard him read the opening of 'The Book of Aron' just prior to publication. It was a fantastic delivery of a deeply compelling story. I wondered how it would hold up, this Holocaust story told through a child's perspective, by comparison to Anthony Doerr's 'All the Light We Cannot See,' which I'd read for the purpose of working with that author the same week. (If you're at all inclined to apply for the Sirenland Writers Conference, by all means, DO. It's a big investment in time, travel, and money, but did you just read that paragraph above? Seriously, do it).
Oh my, this novel holds up. I hadn't read the reviews. I didn't even read the blurbs on the back, and I'm grateful to the universe that I was led to this book by entirely organic and encouraging ways... The interviews and jacket copy all ought to have spoiler alerts. I can't believe I got to experience this young boy Aron's life in the Warsaw ghetto as Shepard unrolled it, much like the protagonist, never knowing what would happen when I turned the page. And boy, did I turn them fast.
It's an important book -- a word people sometimes use for a book without humor -- but this one, even in its darkest moments, reveals shafts of lightness and light. And yes, you'll learn something about history, about the Holocaust, about Poland and Warsaw and the Nazi invasion, and power and crowding and the complexities of heroism, jealousy, weakness, hunger, family, and fear. And typhus. And a lot of lice.
Yes, I'm skirting the issues of plot here, and even character... on purpose. Just read it.
This past April I wandered achingly around the London Book Fair, like all 24,000 attendees, perhaps, with an overwhelming awareness that there might be MUCH to gain, personally and professionally, if only! If only I knew where to stop, who to talk to, what to see. A gnawing awareness that I coulda-shoulda-woulda planned it better, done it differently if only… It’s one thing to agonize after the fact, but this awareness in situ really sucks. Even wearing my favorite new multicolored Missoni-esque blazer from Positano didn’t alleviate the gnaw.
I’ve done the American Booksellers Association Convention, now calledBookExpoAmerica, many times as an exhibitor, (big huge exhibits I planned and executed in Chicago, New York, Miami, LA… ) and I’ve walked LBF and numerous other trade shows. I’m not intimidated (well, not too, too much), and I don’t tire out. By the end of the day, I’m a happy pack mule with bags of books, catalogs, business cards, and new friends. But every single time, I’m crawling with that weird false FOMO… despite the fact that often my favorite encounters that turn into great contacts – sometimes even contracts –– are with people I meet standing at a tall table eating tacos. Or in the line for the ladies room. Chance. Every time, good stuff comes when you’re not looking.
At LBF 2015 I went totally without agenda because right now I am both writer and publisher, and I wear a few other hats too. I wanted to wander. Two friends I’d met at theInternational Conference for the Short Story in Vienna last summer would be there, and I hoped to find them. I did. We were near the Middle Eastern Publishers Hall. Two people reached for the same book on a display at Alma Books. One hand was mine, the other was the hand of my Swedish friend Anna Solding, who runs MidnightSun Publishing in Australia. She and Lucy had been there all morning and had walked half the floor. I’d walked the other half, and lo and behold, we met in the middle. They’d stopped because Alma Books had published one of Lucy’s stories a few years ago, and she wanted to meet them. I’d been drawn by a beautiful cover on display. Chance.
Wild, inexplicable, astonishing CHANCE.
I had a review copy of MAILBOX in my bag. This novel sprang directly from a well that ran deep in Vienna. Anna blurbed it, in fact. I was eager to show them. One scene in particular had never raised any question or comment by my editors, beta readers or blurbers, but pre-pub, it was driving me crazy. I worried whether it was off-base… the whole scene, including some vaginal stuff, from a 13-year-old’s perspective. Lucy flipped through the book as we stood there, and she turned to that exact scene, (that exact scene!) read it, laughed out loud, said it resonated, said it was exactly right and true of her own childhood (years later and half a world away from my own). Again – chance. Had I asked someone to read that scene, and they’d answered, yes, yes, it’s true, it’s fine, it reads right, Nancy you’re so brilliant..., it would never have meant as much to me as Lucy Durneen’s serendipitous thumbs-up.
Another thing that came of that day’s tour of LBF was a moment at a tiny booth set up by two charming women from Poland, running the internet readers’ forum BookLikes. Impressive stats there. I was intrigued. I made a note to look into it later to run a promotion for MAILBOX.
Now it’s the end of August, my sons are heading back to school, and they just ran a promotion for MAILBOX. We included BookLikes and Goodreads in the efforts, running giveaways in both venues… still going in fact, if you’d care to click them. These readers’ forums are by no means the same thing. Goodreads is American, longer established and easier to navigate. It currently has 896 readers hoping to win my book. BookLikes has lower numbers but a certain fabulous authenticity about it that drew me in right away. Only 14 people have clicked to win MAILBOX there, but I get access to all of their names, their profiles, their book reviews and passions. It’s like the difference between doing a big speech from a well-lit stage, even for people you know want to hear what you’re saying, versus hanging out at a party as an invited guest, being approached consistently by interested people. I will happily send my books to the winners in both venues. I understand the business theories of critical mass and I know the numbers at Goodreads look great, but both matter. And what floats your boat on a day-to-day basis might just be the one-on-one, the slow-down-and-take-note conversations, the small, intimate, chance encounters. Especially if you’re a writer.
But here’s what made me sit down to write this blog, if we can call it a blog. In navigating BookLikes, I found an intriguing book about Warsaw I wanted to win, called SWANS ARE FAT TOO by Michelle Granas. The site won’t let you enter a giveaway until your profile is somewhat complete. (“Fill up your profile,” it insists). I had 90 books already catalogued there but I hadn’t reviewed them, so I played around the site a bit and did some of that. I still couldn’t click to win the Swans. I had to also write a blog post in BookLikes. I dashed something off about not really being a book blogger, titling the post “Rotten Blogger.” I clicked to win the Fat Swans and happily saw my own smiling mug come up registered. With my new name “Rotten Blogger.” Evidently my blog post title was now the title of my BookLikes blog, and therefore the title of me. I back-peddled fast and got that changed to “Nancy Freund LikesBooks.” I’m not saying I’m a stellar blogger, but using “Rotten Blogger” as my formal name in a readers’ forum seemed ill-advised.
But it got me thinking. I looked at my stats from my actual blog – this one – that I so rarely write. 40% of my website traffic comes to this silly blog. Why would this be the thing people click? My “Press” tab – so earnestly sought and achieved – gets a fraction of the attention. I had a 20-minute interview on RAPESEED with BBC Radio, for goodness sakes! My piece on variant synaesthesia is in The Daily Mail! GLOBAL HOME COOKING won the Eric Hoffer Prize Honorable Mention! Get over it, Nancy, no one cares.
So I realized something that the rest of indie publishing knows, but I’ve been too block-headed to hear. People want to know the real you, Madame Writer. The blog. The web-log of day-to-day stuff going on. Pull back the curtain, take off the make-up, let your hair down, and write what’s real in your real life, not just the slick stuff that’s supposed to sell books. Normally, I am a pretty approachable person, I think, in real life. Freund in name and nature. If people want to come hang out and have a coffee after spinning class, all sweaty, no agenda, just friends for a chat, I’m there.
It’s true, I am a rotten blogger -- or I have been. I tweet and tumble and Instagram and pin. I’m on Facebook a ton, but I didn’t get the whole thing with blogging. Now, suddenly, thanks to those two gals from BookLikes, I’m starting to… Watch this space. It ought to be fun.
Below: pics of the great little Booklikes booth at LBF and one that shows my favorite jacket in action -- a mini Vienna reunion that night with Lucy, Anna, and Jeremy Osborne eager to hear Vanessa Gebbie, author of A COWARD'S TALE, read in Notting Hill.
copy-pasted from the blog at www.nancyfreund.com