the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: May 2011

A Week of Photos

This week was one of my most pleasurable weeks online that I’ve had in a long time.

I had fun.

I played around on Instagram, an easy-to-use photo social media app that is on my phone, taking random photos of Queens and Manhattan.   And when I say “played around,” I mean I PLAYED AROUND, focusing on the activity, not on the trappings of who, what, or where.   And I enjoyed playing around with other individuals who were having fun, not jockeying for position or pimping posts.

Instagram will eventually be ruined too, going the same way as every other social media application.   People will notice who is and who is not following them.  A marketing company will create a list of the Top 50 Instagram Moms.  A professional photographer will write a manifesto with rule #1 being:  no more photos of your lunch.

But for now, I am clueless.  I’m not a photographer.  I don’t care if you follow me or not.  I’m not even sure I will continue using this app next week.   But this week, I enjoyed seeing YOUR photos of your kids, dogs, patio chairs, and what you had for lunch.

Thanks for inviting me over!

Next week, I will return to blogging and Twitter.  Maybe my week of photography will inspire me to have fun again online.

see my recent instagram photos on Flickr

Weird Sunday Morning, Queens

There are some days that that you know will just turn out weirder than others.  I predict that today will be a very weird day.

It is 10:30 in the morning. Sunday. I’m sitting on a park bench in Kissena Park, waiting for a friend.  I am writing this post on a writing pad.

How do I know today will be weird?   Well, let’s begin right now and work backwards.

At this precise moment, I am looking at a big, bald, black man.  He is sitting at the adjacent park bench, where he is drinking a cup of coffee. This isn’t very unusual, but this man is built like a football player, with broad shoulder and a thick neck.  Again, not so strange, right?

So why is this man so special?   I can’t seem to look away from the back of his bald head.   It is pleasantly colored and shaped, and covered with only a wisp of peach fuzz.   His strong neck muscles lead upwards to the appropriate connectors, but his upper body strength gives off the impression that his head is also made of pure muscle.   As he turns towards the right to watch the passing pedestrians, I can clearly notice the indentation that at the point where the neck muscles meets the skull somewhere in the center of the back of the head.  It isn’t as if I have never seen a bald man before, but the prominent crease on this man’s head is incredibly unique, in so far that it looks almost exactly like a woman’s vagina, down to the gentle folds of skin and strands of short, wild hair surrounding the perfect recess, like the framing of a Rembrandt.

This dude has what looks to be a vagina in the back of his head.

Of course, I know that this is not a real woman’s vagina located on this guy’s head.   That defies reality.  Or does it?  Isn’t that what is on the minds of most men?   Isn’t it possible that the process of evolution might physically actualize what is already inside a man’s head, into something real, in a way that even Darwin could never understand.   After all, once mankind only imagined video phones, and now we can Skype in the real world on our laptops.    I’d like to believe that a man’s life is more than just a constant journey for the comfort of a woman, but can we fight human nature?  Why not make “pussy on our minds” into a genetic reality, much like we we developed ten fingers?!

Yes, today will be a weird day. And it is not just been about encountering men with vaginas on their heads!  I took a bus to get here to Kissena Park, about a ten minute ride from my home.  The bus arrived on time and the driver was friendly.

In the bus, I sat across from a man and woman, who were both dressed shabbily.  It was hard to decipher if they needy or a well-off couple dressing down for the weekend.   The man was deaf and was communicating with the woman in sign language.

As they signed, they took secret glances in my direction.  Or at least I imagined it.   I tried to ignore them by reading the advertisements in the bus, which were mostly about career schools and firms that killed bedbugs.   But I knew I was being watched and discussed.

At a certain point, the woman reached into her purse and took out an iPhone.  She handed it over to the deaf man.  He quickly typed something in, then abruptly stood, not in a threatening manner, but certainly with anxiety, and began to move towards me with the iPhone screen held out to my face, like he was presenting me with some bizarre Facebook update from Hell.

Was he going to ask me for money?   I have encountered many needy and homeless vision and hearing-disabled men in the subways, feeling their way down the middle aisle, warbling a song or selling pencils, making everyone in the subway car feel uncomfortable and guilty.   Was this the 21st Century method of asking for money on public transportation — coming up to strangers with a message on your iPhone?

I had no choice but to read the message on the screen, which was now inches from my face.

“Are you Tom Greene?” was written on the iPhone.

Tom Greene?   The comedian?  The one who was once married Drew Barrymore and had a TV show about his testicular cancer?

“No,” I said, shaking my head with emphasis, in case this deaf man was bad at lip-reading. “No, I am NOT Tom Green.”

He appeared disappointed.  He sign-languaged the information back to the women.   Even though I don’t understand sign language, I knew that he was expressing sadness over not being in the same Queens bus with Tom Green.  I was an impostor.  They ignored me for the rest of the trip.

Now do you see why I think today will be weird?  A black men with a vagina on his bald head.  A deaf man who thought I was Tom Greene and asked me about it on his iPhone.  And it is still only 10:30 as I sit here on this park bench.  Who knows what will happen next?

Perhaps I should have seen the signs earlier that events today would be odd and off-kilter.  If only I had been more observant.

After I woke up, I went to the Colombian Diner for breakfast.  This was before I went onto the bus with the deaf guy that brought me to this park bench near the bald guy where I am sitting right now, writing this down.

I frequently come into the diner, and usually order the breakfast special of two eggs, potatoes, toast, coffee, and a teeny-tiny glass of their water-downed orange juice.  When I am feeling spontaneous, I will order a Belgian waffle or an omelete, but 95% of the time, I order the same items for breakfast. My waiter is always Manny, the slowest waiter in the history of Queens, and never the other server, a curvy Latina with beautiful brown skin and full breasts.  Even though no one believes me, I have a conspiracy theory that the owner only allows the hot waitress to serve the Spanish-speaking customers, while the gringos like me get stuck with the dreadful Manny, who I assume is a nephew the owner was forced to hire.

“I’ll have two scrambled eggs, home fries, wheat toast, coffee, and the juice,” I told Manny.

“OK,” he said, as he wrote it down.

I’ve always been tempted to just say, “Just give me the usual,” like they do in the movies, but I’m not sure Manny would enjoy my familiarity.  He is not a sociable chap.  Perhaps something tragic happened to him during his childhood in Colombia, like his father being shot in front of him during a drug war.   There must be a reason he is the most dour waiter  that I’ve ever met.

On the other side of the restaurant, on the wall, are two framed photos.  I don’t usually take much notice of them — two random “relaxing” stock footage nature shots — that can easily be bought at Target or IKEA, framed for fifteen bucks.   Sometimes I notice a stressed NYC sanitation worker meditating on the photos while drinking his cup of coffee, imagining himself living near a gentle brook rather than a noisy, dirty neighborhood where the pigeons poop and the planes zoom overhead as the descend on nearby Laguardia Airport, spitting out their gas fumes next to the pigeon poop.

Today, when I looked over at the photos, and I noticed that they were crooked.  Perhaps someone accidentally knocked them while standing.   Or it was a subtle act of terrorism.   At this point, I had no idea that these photos were crooked for ME — a sign from God that my day was going to be as off-centered as their alignment.

“Hey, Manny.” I said, as he brought me my minuscule, thimble-sized glass of orange juice.  “Do you realize that the two photos over there are crooked?”

“No, they’re not,” he replied.

“Yes, they are.”

“No, they’re not.”

“OK, maybe it is me.”

I said that just to end the conversation.   Yes, I wimped out, even when I was 100% positive that they were crooked, and if I had OCD, like so many of you, I would have felt compelled to walk over there, lean in over the customers sitting in the booth under the photos, and lined nature back into symmetrical order.

“Screw it,” I said to myself. “It’s their freaking restaurant. If they want crooked photos here, let them!”

Crooked framed nature photos, deaf men who question my identity on their iPhones, and bald men with vagina heads.   Now, as I sit here on the park bench on this sunny Sunday in New York, I understand it all.   The Earth is coming off its axis, at least for one day.

It is 10:30 in the morning.   This day is going to be very weird.

Stuck on Page Ten of My Memoir

I’ve read a couple of terrific memoirs written by YOU over the last few months. I’ve enjoyed them tremendously. But something about the genre makes me uncomfortable, particularly when I wonder if have the ability to write my own memoir. Most of these memoirs revolve around a personal journey. Something dramatic happens to the writer, and through hard work and the meeting of mentors, he comes out stronger by the end. The memorist may have more gray hairs by the final page, but he is wiser.

I am stuck on page ten of my memoir. I was born. I went to school. I went to work. Something dramatic happened to me that set me off my path. I need to crawl out of the darkness and become a wiser man.

Without that wisdom, I can’t continue my memoir.

And by memoir, I’m not really talking about a memoir.

The problem is that I don’t feel any wiser than I did last year. I can’t offer you any profound insights into your life. I haven’t overcome my obstacles. Has there ever been a memoir about someone’s life being the same as the year before?

Maybe we can only care about third parties when they have truly overcome their “hardship,” whatever it is, no matter how small. We hate the drug addict face down in the alley, but praise him when he overcomes his addiction. The Neo-Nazi disavows his views and gets applause on a talk show. But wasn’t he the same guy who spat on you the month earlier? But, of course, he has changed, and we cheer change. He has learned his lesson. That is the template. We must learn to overcome our bad childhood, a death, a divorce, the losing of a job.

I am still in the “IS” state, the lesson unlearned. I can’t write that memoir until I overcome this “IS” and turn it into a “WAS.” Then I can write about my “NEW IS,” and move past page ten of my memoir.

And by memoir, I’m not really talking about a memoir.

Dear Neilochka, Mr. Internet Etiquette

For the longest time, I’ve wanted to be of some service to my friends. I want to give back to the community, to share some of my online experiences to help you learn.   But what can I teach you about blogging, social media, or the internet as a whole?   On paper, I am an internet failure.  I make no money.  I have no sponsorships.  I’m not the best writer.   I don’t even get many comments anymore.

But I’m unique in one way.   After six years of blogging, I know a shitload of people, and like the grizzled old man who has been through the Great War, I’ve seen it all.  I know it all. Who is liked and who is hated.   I’m like the Cindy Adams (old school gossip columnist for those who don’t know) of the personal blogging world.

With my special journalistic credentials, I cannot think of a better person to answer your personal questions about the mechanics of online life, or help you grapple with the many social encounters we have online, particularly in the use of proper etiquette.

Send your questions to neilochka at yahoo dot com, and I’ll choose someone each week, if I decide to do this more than once. I’m very fickle.

Today’s question comes from a blogger who remains anonymous, which makes me think she is a bigger wimp than I am.

Dear Neilochka, Mr. Internet Etiquette,

I am attending a blogging conference soon, and one of the speakers is a popular person who once followed me on Twitter when she was less popular, but has now unfollowed me as she made newer, better friends.   I know I am acting like a petty bitch, but I am worried about running into her at the conference and feeling uncomfortable.  And if I do go to the conference, should I purposely boycott her session?

Petty but Can’t Help It

Dear Petty,

Are you being a petty bitch?  Yes.

Is it natural to be a petty bitch? Yes.

Being unfollowed hurts, even on Twitter. I’m not one of those too-cool people who will tell you the bullshit that it doesn’t matter.  This person is dissing you.  She went out of her way to cut you out of her life, insisting that you are dead to her.  She didn’t politely hide you on some “loser” list.  She unfollowed you in public.  You are DEAD to HER.   She stabbed you in the heart, and then twisted the knife.  Accept it.  This person doesn’t think you worthy.

But that’s life, right?  Life IS rejection and unrequited love.  It’s never going to change. Once you accept this, you will feel free.  But remember that YOU would never unfollow yourself.  You love yourself.  And if you love yourself, it doesn’t matter who unfollows you. You have the ultimate power.

I remember my own experience at BlogHer 10.   One of the keynote speakers was a former friend who not only unfollowed me on Twitter, but unfriended me on Facebook, all because of a post where I jokingly called the children of “mommybloggers” as “Satan’s evil spawn,” AS IF they don’t call them that themselves!

But my mother raised me right.  I believer in proper social etiquette.  So, rather than ignoring her at the conference, I swallowed my pride, and was the first to approach her after her keynote to tell her that her talk was “brilliant.”   And even when she immediately said “Excuse me,” to talk to a more popular blogger instead, I didn’t let this hurt me, or make me feel insecure.

That night, at the conference, I dressed up, and went down to one of the many parties.  I danced and enjoyed myself tremendously.   I realized that I was proud of my own accomplishments.  I loved myself and that was the most important LOVE of all.

There was also this rumor going around that the woman who dissed me had given blowjobs to two bellhops earlier that afternoon in the men’s room.  I have no idea how the rumor started.

So, Petty, embrace your hurt.   But don’t sit around and sob.   Be proactive.   That is my advice.

If Egg Dishes Were Like Women

If egg dishes were like women, scrambled eggs would be the practical one, the strong-willed and hardy tomboy who grew up on a Texas ranch and knows how to rope a steer as well as any cowboy.

Sunnyside-up eggs would be the beauty queen, blatantly showing off her assets for all to see, teasing her prey, but quickly running when you make your move.

The omelet would be the complex woman you meet at the museum, super-smart, and too expensive to order on a regular basis. There’s a lot going inside of her, none of which you can ever know until that first bite.

(written on iPhone at colombian diner, queens)

“The Ride” with Marinka

(via iphone3)

I’m beginning to understand why I never get any PR companies asking me to attend blogging events.   It not because I’m not a parent.   It’s because I am bad in writing reviews of blogging events.

I’m one of those people who find it difficult to separate an event from the people that I am with at the time.  I’ve had as much fun in dusty Bakersfield as I’ve had in exotic Hong Kong.  It depends on who is at my side.  This is important for me to remember when going out with friends. I’d rather be with good friends at McDonald’s then with acquaintances at a four-star restaurant.

On Saturday, Marinka invited me to join her and her kids on THE RIDE, a new-fangled NYC tour bus “experience” that has been getting positive reviews by the local media. Marinka was invited as part of a blogger PR out-reach, and asked them if she could bring me.  They reluctantly agreed.   That means, in blog-speak, that we didn’t pay to go on the Ride.

I first met Marinka in August 2008, when she was a complete nobody in the blogging world.   I wanted to test having guest posts on my blog, but I wanted to do it differently, so I just chose the first five people to write a comment on my blog.    Marinka was the first.  As a test of her skill, I presented her with a topic to write about, and I purposely chose the most ridiculous one ever, “I Woke Up Today with a Penis! Can My Marriage Survive?

As anyone who has ever seen the movie “A Star is Born” knows, it wasn’t long before our fortunes turned, and I was the one bowing at her feet.

On Sunday, I was Marinka’s guest.

The Ride differs from typical tour buses in that the seats face one-way, theater-style, towards a large glass window which is open to the public.   The riders look out at the passing city like it is a movie on a giant screen.  Those on the street can see you, so there is a good amount of waving and photographing going on back and forth.

As we passed a few landmarks such as the Chrysler Building and Central Park, two cheery twenty-something tour guides entertained us with jokey information about the city.  It felt as if were were on a ride at Disneyland. To add to the artifice, actors/entertainers were placed on the street to interact with us.

We might see a UPS courier delivering a package on 45th Street.

Tour guide: “Hey, look, there is a UPS guy, working on a Saturday.  In NY, there are so many people wanting to get a break in show business, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was also a dancer going for auditions.”

A second later, the UPS guy would start break-dancing for our entertainment, and then the bus would move on,  just like in  the Pirates of the Caribbean ride!  Except here, real-life New Yorkers, just walked by, ignoring it all.

The bus was also a character.  Lights blinked, and videos blasted, and the bus even spoke, in that deep electronic voice of Knight Rider, joking with the tour guides, and telling us New York facts and statistics.

My review of the Ride: It is very very clever, making the typical 70-minute bus tour ride around Manhattan as old-fashioned as the evening news in the age of Twitter.

I am a fan of clever.   I love Disneyland.  But in all honesty, I’m not sure I enjoyed seeing New York City turned into Disneyland.   Will the tourist on “The Ride” go home thinking he had a real experience?  Why don’t tourists just walk the same twenty blocks themselves, carrying a tour book? Will future generations of tourists be disappointed when no opera singers approach them outside of Carnegie Hall with a song? Does EVERYTHING have to be interactive and pre-packaged?

If I were on the bus by myself, without Marinka and her kids, I would be counting the time, waiting to get off it and back on the noisy, crowded street with real smelly people.

If I were a thirteen year old tourist with my parents, I would hate it even more. I would not enjoy having tourists in the street taking photos of ME sitting in a bus with my parents, all of us in the dorky “I Love NY” hats.  I do not want to be part of the entertainment.  But maybe that is just me.

That said, everyone in the bus loved The Ride, including Marinka’s kids. They got a big kick out of seeing the performers in the street. I mostly wondered if they were getting paid union wages, and where they waited before their cue.  In their car?  At a Starbucks?

Should you go on The Ride if you are visiting New York?  If you have ten year old kids, and have never been to New York before, the Ride could be a lot of fun (although pricey, $59-$65!).  I also think stoned college students might find The Ride a fun and campy experience if they go on it at night, when the lights are on and there are less kids in the bus, and after the ride, go off for some pizza.

Did I have fun? Yes, I did. I was with Marinka. I’ve know her long enough now to have developed some a rapport.  When the Knight Rider “bus” made some cliched New York-centric joke about cupcakes in “Sex in the City” or “Robert DeNiro” in Taxi Driver, we could just glance at each other and, without words, know each other’s snarky response.

And that was fun. It is always who you are with that counts, not where you are.

How I Felt Today

Recently, I asked a blogger why she kept on writing every day online. She said that she wrote as a personal record for her children. I like that idea. Why have I never thought about that, if not for my children, at least as a record of my own life and thoughts? My blog allows me to go back and see my frame of mind during a certain day and year.

Today, I feel like writing about the death of Osama bin Laden, not because I feel any great urge to compete with the other million voices on the same subject. I know by next week, we will have moved on to a new subject, so I wanted to engrave my thoughts on this spot, like a virtual Plymouth Rock. As a record of a time and place.

I was on Twitter at 10PM on Sunday night when I saw a friend mention that Obama was going to speak at 10:30PM. I turned on CNN and Wolf Blitzer was hyperventilating with double-speak and speculation about not speculating what the speech was going to be about.

I tweeted something about this mysterious speech and said it seemed “scary.” Initial comments from my friends also used words like “frightened” and “worried.”

Soon the rumor was spreading on Twitter that Osama bin Laden was killed. The news media played by the old media rules, and didn’t broadcast the information. You could see the frustration on their faces as Obama delayed his speech. Everyone knew the news, and CNN was trying to slip in the information through smoke signals and wild gestures.

The environment on Twitter became silly, with jokes about the networks. There was a sense of absurdity to the media disconnect. Instead of the news media behaving like authority figures — a Walter Cronkite or Tom Brokaw, for instance — they were like game show hosts, waiting for the big reveal behind curtain number two, faking it for the audience.

The mood certainly changed once Obama spoke eloquently to the nation. Suddenly, we realized that this was a significant moment, a closure to the years of national pain that America has felt since September 11th.

The mood online quickly splintered as crowds appeared at the White House chanting “USA! USA!” Was this a spontaneous expression of patriotism or a disgraceful display of crassness? Should we be joyous or somber?

On Facebook, my status today read: “Adding my 2 cents, like everyone else. It was a necessity that we killed Bin Laden, both politically and symbolically, and it is good that we did. But it only reminds me of the evil and the lack of concern for humanity that exists in the hearts of so many, particularly those who pervert religion and nationhood for selfishness, that I feel more sad than anything else.”

I received a direct message from someone hoping to shake me out of my lethargy.

“Imagine this is Adolph Hitler. Wouldn’t you be dancing on his grave?”

I thought about that question, and quite honestly, “No.”

I don’t see the world like a Marvel comic book. The evil, at least for me, is not only Hitler the man, but the countless others who followed his horrific beliefs and orders — the soldiers, the citizens, and the sympathizers who helped make the Nazi machine so effective.

Bin Ladin may be dead, but what he represented appealed to many, including those who willingly killed themselves on September 11th in the name of religion. Some around the world still see him as a person of holiness.

Today’s statement from Hamas:

“We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior. We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs.”

That makes me sad. A real victory will come when all ideologies of hate are seen as evil.

Interview with Emily

Success as a published writer is possible.   Currently, I am reading the terrific “Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life” from long-time blogging friend, Kyran Pittman.   As talented a wordsmith as Kyran is, even she will tell you that luck and the right concept go a long way in getting your project published by a major publishing company such as Riverhead, a division of Penguin.   I’ll write more about her book next week.

My blogging friend Emily Rosenbaum has also just published a book. But she has gone a different path than Kyran by self-publishing it.

In the past, this approach to self-publishing might be viewed with mockery.  But I’ve been around long enough to know that not every book Random House publishes is good, and not every book they reject is bad.  I’m also familiar with Emily’s writing talent online.  I think anyone who finishes a book and puts it out there to be read by others should be proud of their work, and there is no reason I shouldn’t take it seriously.

The publishing industry is in chaos. Things are rapidly changing, especially as we all begin to read our novels on Kindles and Nooks.   As the world becomes digitized, it is easier for writers to bypass the traditional system completely.   The question remains — is this a good development, an opening of doors, or does it destroy the quality of our literature, as maintained by our gatekeepers, the agents and editors?


The following is not a review of Emily’s book.  I have not read it.  The book is not geared for me.  This is a conversation between me and a blogging friend, a writer, about her experience self-publishing a book, and what it means to her.

Oh yeah, I also would love to help her sell some books, because I think the subject might appeal to quite a few of my readers.

Her book is titled “Cooking on the Edge of Insanity.”

Her bio reads as following, “Emily Rosenbaum is a writer, mother, adult survivor of child abuse, and lousy gardener striving to live sustainably in New Jersey.”

The book blurb: “Emily Rosenbaum is that mother; you know, the one who avoids chemicals, minimizes food waste, shops locally, fears sugar, hides from corn byproducts, and tries to convince her son that lemonade is not a fruit. Don’t even get her started on BPAs. Six years after making her first batch of muffins, she’s not just pureeing squash and baking bread. She’s forming little lumps of chicken-apple-spinach mush into nuggets, coating them in homemade breadcrumbs, and lovingly brushing them with olive oil. She is poised on the edge of craziness, unless she toppled in last Tuesday.  In Cooking on the Edge of Insanity, Rosenbaum shares recipes and tells the tale of living sustainably while cooking for a family of five.”

It’s available for download to your e-reader for $2.99, from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The Interview:

1) First of all, this is a book about sustainable living, part essays/part recipes.   Just so I understand more of where you are coming from, when did you get involved in worrying about the food you eat? From your parents? College? Friends? And how do all your kids manage with such a crazy green mother? Have they ever eaten a Big Mac? Do they feel as if they are missing out?

Well, definitely not from my parents. My mother died when I was two, leaving me with a detached father and abusive stepmother. They actually were very into the whole sustainability thing: compost, gardening, etc. They were also assholes. Then I lived with a few other relatives, none of whom were at all foodies.

I didn’t even start learning to cook till college. I had an old Moosewood Cookbook I had taken from my aunt, who most likely never had cooked a single thing in it. Have you ever seen a Moosewood cookbook? The recipes are labor intensive, to say the least. Learning to cook out of it is like learning to play the piano starting from Beethoven’s Fifth. But, I began to teach myself, and over the years learned to love the process of figuring out how ingredients work together.

Then I had kids. And when you put nine months into making a little body (not to mention the fertility treatment) plus another year into breastfeeding it, you get kind of particular about what you put into it. I also really began to worry about the future of the planet because I have these little people and they’re going to inherit the earth that I leave them.

There were two other catalysts for my eco-mania. The first was rereading and teaching Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower when I was pregnant with my first child, Zachary. It is a phenomenal book, and it made me think hard about the world my son-to-be child would inherit. Then, Hurricane Katrina happened right around Zachary’s first birthday. It was a wake-up for a lot of people. We’re screwing up the planet so badly that it’s actually fighting back.

Hell, no. My kids have never had a Big Mac. Once, I let Zachary have a chocolate milk at McDonald’s. That said, it’s easier to shield them from McDonald’s than it is to avoid the sugar/chemical-laden snacks and candy that pervade kids’ lives. People hand that shit out to kids all the time, and adults get all huffy if I try to object. Really? The teacher doesn’t know why I wish she wouldn’t hand my first-grader a candy necklace?

I think it’s hard for my kids, especially now that we live in a very conservative area. I make some concessions, to be sure, like the chocolate milk thing. But some things are non-negotiable.

2) How many books or stories have you written outside of blogging that you have sent into magazines or publishers? From your blog it sounds, like with many writers, you’ve had to face some rejections with publishers, even when they gave you positive feedback, saying things such as “It’s very well written and compelling, but in the end I just don’t have a clear enough vision for how to position it.” How have you been able to overcome these frustrations?

Oh, yeah. That’s the $10 million question, isn’t it? How do you overcome rejection?

I only really became a writer four years ago, when my second child, Benjamin, was turning one. I was so sensitive to rejection at the beginning. I have no confidence in my work at all, and every rejection made me feel like I should give up. A good friend and far more established writer, Jacob Sager Weinstein, believed in me as a writer. His willingness to see me that way made a huge difference.

The last year has been good to me. I’ve been fortunate to have quite a few articles published – Hip Mama, Glamour, Bitch, and Brain, Child, to name a few. Plus, I have gotten a lot of bread-and-butter work, so I’m starting to feel like it’s not just an indulgence as the checks come in. Of course, I also lost the agent who was representing my other book, so the year has not been perfect.

Rejection still hits me hard. We all want that stamp of approval from the people who are supposed to know about such things. And you have to understand that I went to college with Elizabeth Banks and others who are unbelievably successful. So, I get that whole, “Well, we started from the same place and look where she is and look where I am” jealousy thing sometimes, no matter how happy I am for them. On the other hand, the amazing actress, Jamie Denbo, was my high school friend and she has been one of my staunchest supporters, so that has lessened the sting of her being beautiful and talented.

Ultimately, I remind myself it’s not a contest. Given the childhood I had, I’m proud of myself for getting my ass out of bed every day. I have three lovely kids, only two of whom regularly tell me they hate me. Life is about slowing down and living, and I work very, very hard to realign my idea of success whenever it gets out of whack. Cooking does that for me. It’s so completely basic. Food is what life is about, not blog stats.

3) Was there a moment during the process after writing the book where you just said to yourself, “Screw the system, I’m just going to publish this myself. I know it is good and there is a audience for it?”

There are two books. There’s the first one I wrote, which is not about food, and which was a much longer, more intense process. Then there’s Cooking on the Edge of Insanity, which is short and a labor of love. I’ve wanted to do a cooking book for years, but it’s a completely saturated market and my husband isn’t famous. Plus, there isn’t a whole lot of market for cookbooks with the F-word on the first page.

So, I decided to e-publish the book that would never land an agent or publisher, anyway. I figured it would be a great way to see if I am up for this kind of publishing or not. I didn’t care whether 5 people or 5000 people read it, so there was nothing to lose by trying.

4) You are selling your book as an ebook for $2.99 on Amazon and Barnes and Noble? Can you give my readers a quick breakdown on what steps you did to do this? Was it a simple process of downloading the content to these companies? Did it cost you anything to publish an e-book? Do you have a business plan or are you winging it for this first time?

Publishing an e-book is absurdly simple. Seriously. Kindle Direct Publishing and Pubit (which sounds dirty but really is the e-publishing arm of Barnes & Noble) are very, very user-friendly. You get about 70% of the profits from those sites, so it’s win-win. They don’t care if you only sell three copies, because they’ve done nothing to publish your book, and you don’t get charged anything upfront.

Anyone can get a Kindle App for a smartphone, iPad, or a computer, so people can download the book even if they don’t have a Kindle or a Nook. The bigger problem is that people wanted to see the book on the iBookstore or get it for their other e-readers. That’s where it got sticky.

There are several sites that host e-books and would have channeled it to those other readers. I chose Smashwords and uploaded my book there. But to get “premium distribution,” you need to format it just so, and my book as complicated formatting because it is a combo of essays and recipes. They also end up taking a larger chunk because Smashwords gets a small take and then the other stores take another chunk. Plus, you need to buy an ISBN in order to get into the iBookstore. That’s a $125 cost, so I’d need to feel I’d have an additional 60 readers to make up the difference. Since anyone can get a Kindle app, I knew that some of those who would go to the iBookstore would just get it from Amazon, so it wouldn’t be cost-effective.

The book is up on Smashwords, so folks can get it from their website. This is important because Smashwords knows no international borders, unlike Amazon and B&N. But I eschewed premium distribution. So far, I’ve sold one book on Smashwords.

You do need a cover, and you should get a professional to do one. I am lucky that another woman I went to high school with, Karen Hallion, is a bitchin’ artist, and she designed my cover.

I am developing a business plan as I go along. My husband has an MBA, so he’s helping, but we’re treating this book as a learning experience. For example, I had thought it would only be an e-book. Then I realized that there’s a huge potential readership in farmers’ markets. So I’m creating a physical book with on-demand publishing. Added bonus is I get to spend the summer cruising farmers’ markets, which is about my favorite thing to do.

We’re winging it, here.

5) Did you have to develop a thick skin because the promoting of the book fell entirely onto your shoulders?

I’ll let you know if I ever develop a thick skin.

Women have a much, much harder time selling ourselves then men do. We’re taught it’s grabby to throw back our shoulders and say, “I’m the shit.” I can say, “My writing is good,” but I feel like I need to sit back and wait for people to notice. It’s a damned good thing I am fortunate enough to have so many lovely and supportive people around me.

6) Do you think our opinions on self-publishing are changing? How did you feel about self-publishing in the past? Did you see the content as “lesser?” Have you changed your views since then? Do you think that this is the wave of the future in publishing? Are you as proud of your writing as you would be if Random House published the book? Do you consider yourself a real “writer?” Do you think this project will help you get noticed by traditional publishers for your next project? Or would you prefer to continue self-publishing?

Great questions.

I used to think self-publishing was for narcissistic assholes. Mostly because my father self-published.

But, now, with e-publishing, we as writers are redefining the marketplace. It’s a heady time. It’s still a tiny market, and trust me when I say we’re not going to pay to fix my daughter’s teeth on what I’m making on this book. The majority of people still want a physical book. I agree, I have to say. Since I figure the Apocalypse is coming in the form of us destroying the planet we live on, the day will come when we may have to live off the grid. When that happens, I’ll be glad to have all my paper books.

I digress. No one knows the future of publishing, right? The agents and publishers are all scrambling. Right now, they still have a headlock on the channels of distribution. It’s awfully hard to get noticed as a self-publisher. I don’t see the content as lesser, but there’s still a stigma attached. Is that changing? Absolutely. To what degree? I’m not sure.

As to whether I’d prefer to continue self-publishing: I don’t know yet. You have to understand that I hate the nuts and bolts work. HATE IT. I like the writing and author appearances, but the rest is paralyzing for me. I fight that, but it’s painful. That said, you sure keep a lot more of the profits if you do it yourself.

7) Any insights or advice about the publishing world that you would give to someone writing their first project? How did you learn about the worlds of agents and publishing and e-books? From websites? Books? Conferences?

Mostly? I learned as I went. You need to build a platform, which means publishing other places. If you want to get published in magazines, which is a great way to build a platform, you need to start small. Send things places that don’t pay, just so you can say you’ve been published there. Then build your way up. It scaffolds.

The most important thing to do is read, and read things longer than 140 characters. I read so many magazines and books. It’s the only way to figure out where you want to publish.

And get a professionalish website.   Jennifer Schmitt (who introduced me to you, by the way) designed and maintains my website. She has saved my ass many a time. It’s an easy place to portal all my work, and it looks professional, so I can channel people through there.

8 )  How do you see your blog and your presence in social media as related to you as a writer? Are they separate entities or do you find yourself “branding yourself?” Do you find interaction with other writers helpful? Do you consider yourself a “mom blogger” or a “writer” or both?

For a long time, I couldn’t understand why my blog didn’t get noticed. I thought it was a reflection of me as a writer. I’ve been blogging for four years now, and I never get listed in those “top blog” things, even by magazines I write for.

I made peace with it last summer. I’m a writer who blogs, not a blogger who writes. The difference being that my blog is not my primary way of getting noticed. I use the blog to develop my voice, write about things that matter to me, etc. It has been a great way to connect with some amazing people. No matter what happens, Coco, and Magpie will keep coming back.

I hate the idea of branding myself. I’m not a brand. I’m a person. I won’t post pictures of my kids or talk about their genitalia or try to fit myself into some mold. Life is too short for that shit. I write. I sell writing. The minute I start branding myself, I’ll be caring more about the brand than I will about what I want to say. What’s the point of that?

I am so very lucky to have had so many people support me as a writer. I have a small following, but they’re there because they trust me to keep it real.

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