When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I spend a lot of time reading articles on the Internet, figuring out what stories I want to report on next, and riding around on public transit because I don't drive. I think that if all the time I have spent waiting for buses and trains were added to the end of my natural life span, I'd live to be 150.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Most of what I read is for review or for research, so generally I ask the author or publishing company for an electronic copy.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
No. But I remember that sometime in early grade school I was writing a big story that was supposed to end up as a trilogy of books, except that I didn't know the word trilogy. I never finished it, but it goes to show that my taste for writing at length showed up early.
What is your writing process?
That depends on what I am writing. If I am writing for radio, I tend to choose my sound bites and then start writing around them. The writing is still pretty much a top to bottom process. but I generally decide as I go along how I am going to order things. When I write op-eds I tend to write my ideas first and get the supporting links or other documentation later. This makes sure that I get my ideas down, so I don't forget anything I wanted to say while looking for something else. If in the process of gathering to documentation, it turns out I was wrong about something, then I change it in the rewrite. I am trying out outlines, particularly for straight news stories for print. And I have a novel outlined. It's, I think, 16 chapters long. But that's the good part about having an outline. I will know how the story is supposed to go.
What's that novel about and when might we see it?
It's about two villages after they have had a truce after a long resource war in a post apocalyptic earth, about 200 years in the future. They are deliberately kept separate by their leaders even after the truce but a young woman and her twin brother break the strictures of their society and start making true peace with the other village by reviving the game of baseball, which had all but disappeared by then. I am a big baseball fan and was quite taken with the Captain's interest in baseball in Star Trek Deep Space Nine. That was one of the inspirations for it. As to when I will do it, that's a good question. My husband is really the fiction writer and I see it as more important that I do my nonfiction writing, so the novel is on the back burner and may never be written, or at least it will be several years before I pick it up again.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
No. But I remember several stories from childhood. I had a book that had a story in it that was very much like Beauty and the Beast. It is the morning of the princess' coronation and she meets the beast while walking in her garden. After the beast becomes a human prince and proposes to her, she says, "I was going to have a coronation today, but I'd much rather have a wedding." And I thought, why not both? Have your coronation and then have your wedding. My feminism showed up early. The same with Bewitched, the TV show. I never understood why Samantha had to give up her powers to be married to Darin. I was always on Endora's side about that. Never give up your powers, especially if they are magical.
There was another story in that book called "Beezus and her imagination" about a young girl in an art class who couldn't quite play with the art. She's successful at the end of the story. I can relate. I love painting but art is not my strength.
The Velveteen Rabbit really moved me. I was glad the stuffed rabbit was saved from the fire but I knew that by becoming a real rabbit he would eventually die and that made me sad.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Even though I don't have time to read much fiction, I love the Darkover Series of Marian Zimmer Bradley. I think it is tremendous that someone can create a whole world. That's more than five. Some of the books are better than others, but the series is wonderful. Heritage of Hastur is my favorite. I liked and reread several times a small novel called Juniper, about a princess who is being trained to be a healer in a goddess-worshipping Celtic tradition. It was very good. The sequel which shows the princess as an adult was not even half as interesting. Edward Morris' books on Theodore Roosevelt are great. TR is my favorite President and I love political biographies. There is a bio of President James Polk that I'd love to get my hands on and well as a bio of First Lady Florence Harding. But they were both hardbacks and I can't afford them. I am especially fascinated by presidential history before Herbert Hoover, who was alive during my lifetime,so I consider him current events, even though my parents lived through the Great Depression, not me, and they were just babies when he left office.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
Mostly, I read on my laptop. My husband and I share use of an iPad a friend gave me when she upgraded, but he mostly uses it.. I do find it easier to turn pages on the smaller device. We also have an older Nook my in-laws gave us. We don't have the disposable income for a lot of devices, but even if we did, we don't see the point in doing things like reading a novel on a phone. We would rather use phones for calling people. I like computers but when it comes to reading, I like paper books better. Paper is easier on the eyes than a computer screen, and I haven't mastered the art of highlighting and writing marginalia on an ebook. But ebooks are tremendous space savers. Given the small living space I have, that is the way to go.
How do you approach cover design?
I let my husband, David Watson, do it. He's an artist in many media, including computer graphics; he's fast, and he does it for me for free. Can't beat that combination. I tell him the title and give him a basic idea and he carries it out.
What do you read for pleasure?
I hardly read for pleasure any more. I don't have time. My non-work related reading tend to be classical mythology and astrology. I am a Pagan and I am studying to be a priestess of Hermes, which is fitting because Hermes is the God of Communication. The Ancient Greeks credited Him with giving humans the art of writing.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
None of them have been useful so far. I have sent out emails, and have put the title of my book in my sig. I have used Twitter. Cindy Sheehan interviewed me. Martha Rosenberg, the author who is the focal point of Eating Poison, has talked about the book. My Smashwords book page is linked to my blog, but I don't get much traffic there that isn't spam. If anybody wants to know how to attract spam to their blogs, they should look me up. I seem to have a talent for that. But marketing is a bust. I've sold 15 books since the end of May 2013. I think someone else needs to do the marketing. Just let me write and report. Those are the things I'm good at. Maybe I need to sacrifice a sheep to Hermes. He's the God of Commerce after all. Of course, I recently went vegetarian, so I hope He wouldn't mind some tofu lamb.
Describe your desk
A table at one of three branches of the Oakland public library: Golden Gate, Lakeview and Main (oh my!) I can't afford an office space though I would love to have one. If you would have told me as I was packing up to leave Bancroft-Whitney law book publishers in December 1991 that I would someday miss the little office I had there, I would have told you that you were crazy. But now I miss it.
Really, I would like 150-200 quiet square feet with reliable Internet, heat, electricity, bathroom access and lock and key. Easily accessible by public transit, of course. I would take care of the rest. I live on a small sailboat and don't have a table at home. There, the laptop is literally a LAPtop. I have considered trying to get space at the Oakland Hub, but it's expensive and they want people to collaborate. I am just me. It would probably be too noisy to conduct interviews anyway.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
In the Bronx, and I don't think it had any particular influence.
When did you first start writing?
In first grade. I did not go to kindergarten. I went to a Catholic school and I remember that every now and then the nun would tell us to write a page of our name. That was weird.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Now you see? One thing I don't like about ebooks is how the industry is so slanted toward fiction. The question could have been phrased: What's your next book about? Or what is the topic of your next book? My next book is going to be a compilation of op-eds and reviews. There are not enough women doing commentary in broadcast or print, so I am throwing my hat into the ring, to use a phrase invented during TR's 1912 Presidential campaign.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I hate query letters and book proposals because they smack of asking for permission. I don't need anybody else's damned permission to do what I do, to be what I am. I am a journalist; I am a writer. And I am tired of being ignored by editors who do not have the common courtesy to respond to a query timely, even if it is with a form rejection email.
I did one book proposal for a book on women's voices in the Peak Oil movement. It took me four days to write it to make sure it contained all the components the publisher wanted, including, I might add, market research; I'm just one person. don't they have their own department for that? Their guidelines said that they would answer back in 3-4 months. That was 7 years ago. I never got any kind of reply. I put four irretrievable days of my life into this and I don't even get a No, Thank you. Maybe the Post office lost it. But calling the publisher is a big no-no and would probably guarantee that the proposal gets discarded.
Under that system, publishers have all the power and writers are just supplicants who "submit". I have decided not to participate in that degrading system anymore.
You get a bigger percentage as an indie author. I hate the fact that when you query or do a book proposal, you are basically asking for permission to create a work that will primarily benefit some corporation financially. And they have a lot of control, even over the title. To hell with that!
What the hell do I need a traditional publisher for? The publishers who might be interested in the kind of work I do usually are small publishers who don't give advances. Also, today, if you are not an A list author, you have to build and fund your own book tour. What do I need most? Money and marketing help. They won't provide that and they will only give me 15% if I am lucky, and likely it would be less.
I hate the entire royalty system. Without the writer, you don't have any of the alleged value added by everyone up the ladder. But the writer is at the bottom. This is true in screenwriting, too. We ooh and aah over special effects and give all sorts of fame and money to actors and directors, but where would they all be without a good script?
My husband can design my covers, and the Smashwords Guidelines tells me how to format. A hex on all gatekeeping publishers. I don't need them for anything! The great thing about the Internet, at least theoretically, is that the artist can reach the public directly. I personally have a discoverability problem, but I don't see how traditional publishers are going to help that. If anything, there is some evidence that works by women authors get prematurely remaindered.
Discoverability is a big problem for a lot of authors. Do you have any ideas to aid discovery?
If I did, I would be discovered by now. Hmm, let's see. I've got it! Do your Smashwords interview!
I am beginning to think that curation, being on people's must read lists, is an answer. Word of mouth advertising is supposed to be the best, but it hasn't helped me much because you need that first group of people who will read you and tell their friends. Finding those first 100 people is the hard part. Better search engines, I suppose. It's the downside to the democracy of the Internet. We are all overwhelmed with information.
What became of the Peak Oil book?
I did some preliminary interviews, but then I had a heart attack and by the time I recovered I had other ideas. Of course, peak oil is an ongoing problem so maybe some day I will go back to it. Maybe not. I will mention it in my demonetization trilogy.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords gives free ISBNs and you cannot overestimate what a boon that is to an impecunious person such as myself. I published a volume of poetry called Near the Ragged Edge of Earth on Cafepress in 2006. The ISBN cost me $15. Those numbers cost ten times that now and you have to have a different number for every format. I just can't afford that. I am so sick of everyone having proprietary formats for things that should be standardized. There should be at best three formats for ebooks, one for fairly straightforward text maybe with simple graphics, one for highly graphical content, like graphic novels and photography books, and one for these enhanced ebooks that include audio and video and the like. And all ereaders should be able to read those three formats. So if you are publishing an ebook you need only one ISBN, two if you are also doing a print version. None of this Amazon does it one way and B&N does it another, etc,
Speaking of B&N, my father-in-law bought Eating Poison from B&N. Smashwords distributes to them and lots of other folks. That takes distribution headaches out of my life.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Getting a project done. I don't always finish what I start, so whenever I do get something finished, I feel good about it and myself.
What do your fans mean to you?
Fans are important because they help keep the room cool.
Uh, really, it's good to get positive feedback so that I know that I am not the only person thinking a certain way.
What are you working on next?
A book of leftist commentary that I call "As I See It "is in the final editing stage and should be out at the end of February 2014. I am thinking of making that an annual series. Then comes the trilogy on demonetization. I have started all three parts already. Part 1 is Why our economies can't work for all of us. Emphasis on CAN'T, I am going to deal with the inherent structural problems that neither liberals nor conservatives can solve. Part 2 is Values for a successfully demonetized world. We cannot build non-monetary economics on the same framework that gave us the money- jobs system. Part 3 is Demonteization: Ending the cult of commodity. It covers past and current societies and projects based on non-monetary economics. That trilogy is the magnus opus of my career.
Toward the end of the year, I would like to write a book about mandatory psychiatric drugging in the community setting. I was working on a radio project on this topic but the end result was not what I wanted due to differences with the producer of the show I was doing it for. But I know a woman in Oakland who wants to work with me on this. I think we will co-write it.
I would also like to put out little ebooks of investigative reports based on stories that KPFA-FM assigns me to do. A colleague there has said that in radio news I am like a novelist stuck in haiku. He's right. The beauty of ebooks that that we can use them to preserve long format journalism, which is dying on the vine with the emphasis on shorter and shorter stories and video this and picture gallery that. A picture is worth a thousand words only sometimes. There are publishers interested books that are 30.000 words or less. That would be perfect for some of these stories. Eating Poison came in at just under 15,500 words. That was 31 Microsoft Word pages, including Martha's illustrations. So 30,000 ought to be enough for an investigative report.
I am probably wanting to take on too much, especially since I have to do other things for money. If I am smart, I will focus on the trilogy. I am not always smart.
Who are your favorite authors?
Chris Hedges is my favorite, though I have only read his articles and have not had the time or the money to read his books. Politically, he does not go as far as I wish he would i.e. he is not a demonetarist. But I love how he trashes the liberals, although I did write something taking him to task last year. He was angry at the banal evil of careerists. I basically said you can't knock careerists as long as we live in a world that requires money and "earning a living". If you don't want careerism, ditch the earning a living crap. Why must we earn a living? Aren't we already living?
My husband, J. David Watson, is fast becoming a favorite author. I liked his first novel, a pagan saga called Do the Gods Weep as Well? He is now writing the first book of a space opera and it is great so far. I wish I had that kind of imagination. It would be more fun to write fiction. Anyway, it is a series he calls Pridewar and I think this has the potential to be another big series like Bradley's Darkover. I'm excited about it. He is going to publish through Smashwords, too.
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