Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Report from Ghana - Inside the Slave Dungeoon

Seven years ago, I visited Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle, and the experience shook me. I heard the voices of my ancestors calling out to me in that deep dark place of the slave dungeon.

This time it became even more personal. We visited only Elmina Castle, built in 1482 by the Portuguese. Initially the main booty was gold from the Gold Coast, acquired in trade for guns. The warehouses held the gold as well as cloths, blankets and linen from Morocco. The fortress was built to protect their bounty from traders and pirates from other countries. Then the price of gold slumped, and they found that it was more lucrative to trade in humans.

This time, as our guide described the female slave dungeon so vividly, the hundreds of bodies in that small space, in the dark, with no toilet, the smells of urine, and feces, and blood, and tears, I was there. I was there surrounded by bodies of other women who did not speak my same language, did not come from my village, and I was alone. I could hear my mother's voice singing that song she always sang.

Mother died when I was twelve years old. She died of breast cancer after four years of being in and out of the hospital, for double mastectomies, and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy wasn't widely available back then. Sometimes when she had a good day, she and my sisters and I would all be in the kitchen cooking. When Mother was busy at the sink washing vegetables, or at the table stirring up something, she would sing. Her song was always the same, Sometimes I feel like a Motherless child, a long way from home. She would sing softly to herself, moaning and swaying.

I never heard first-hand the stories of my grandmother and her Mother. These became the stuff of family reunions after Mother died, when I learned that my grandmother, Mattie had lost her mother in childbirth. Mattie had been raised by a series of stepmothers who never treated her as part of the family. There was so much pain wrapped up in that one song, the pain of not being wanted, pain of being alone, and pain of never knowing that you are loved.

There I stood in that dungeon, with the other tourists, but alone with that primeval pain, moaning and swaying.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A nice rejection

I really feel encouraged by this agent who took about 10 weeks to respond. By email:

Hi Sarah:

I am so sorry for how long I have been with your memoir. I was so torn— as I think you are a fabulous writer— and your story is compelling, but I am afraid I am not enthusiastic enough to feel I would be the best advocate for it. I know you will find success with it, and I wish you all the best,

Onward and upward. That kinda makes my day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Changing Names

I had started out writing my memoir giving fictitious names to some of the main characters. I kept family members' real names. There were a lot of people who only appear on a couple of pages, that I had kept their real names.

At the writer's conference, we were advised to either get permission to use people's real names or change names and places. The person who lead that session writes mostly biography, notably Voices and Silences by James Earl Jones and Penelope Niven, and she recently published a memoir of her own. She wasn't taking questions from the class, but we could write her questions that she will answer by email.

Today I have been doing a series of FIND...REPLACE using WORD. Then when I go back and read the changes, I'm having a hard time remembering who those people are now with the changed names. (Who the heck is Bernard?) What I'm wondering is even if I change all names and all places, anybody who went to high school or college with me, will be able to piece together some of who is who. That's assuming of course that anybody reads it...ROFL. There were only a couple of people that I wasn't nice about. They will recognize themselves, but possibly only a few other people in the world will even care. And since most of it happened 40 - 50 years ago, a lot of the people are dead, or won't remember anyway.

If I get a real publisher, they will have to advise me. If I publish myself, then I would be subject to being sued. That could work in my favor with increased sales...LOL

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Dreaded Blue Screen of Death

I have had this thing happen to me periodically for months now, but only every few weeks. I put off calling support because I was always in the middle of writing something and I knew that it would take hours on the phone. This week I got that screen every day when I boot up. I would reboot and it would be fine all day.

I decided to bite the bullet and call support today since my support contract expires in 2 months. I was on hold for 45 minutes!! When Abdul finally came on the phone, I read to him the stop codes and he said that indicated a problem with the modem. I only use the modem as a backup for my high speed connection, and as a matter of fact I haven't used it at all on this PC. Abdul took over my computer with the Dell Go to Assist product, and tried to update the driver for the modem, and every attempt failed to unzip all the files downloaded. He tried MANY times. Finally he asked if he could leave me without a modem. ARGGGHHH!

I agreed, saying that I would watch for any future blue screens and then call him back to get a working modem driver. Total time on the phone: 2 hours. Thank goodness for cordless speaker phones.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I attended the NC Writer's Network Conference in Winston-Salem over the weekend. This was my first writer's conference. Not that I have anything to compare it with, but I thought it was excellent. They had a variety of session in different tracks to choose from.

There were choices for fiction, non-fiction, poetry, screen writing, playwriting, publishing, something for everybody.

My choices:

The Perfect Pitch: Pitching your Manuscript

Step Away from the Desk: What to expect from a Publisher

Masks and Mirrors: Writing a Memoir

DIY Career Building Through Blogs and Self-Publishing

When Short Stories Don't Work and Why

All of the Faculty were people working in their respective fields, whether publisher's, editors for publishers, best-selling writers, or agents. In addition there were published authors chatting over morning coffee, and for evening sessions. I missed the Friday Night Opening to avoid an additional night in the hotel. The opening keynoter was Jill McCorkle. The Saturday dinner speaker was Robert Morgan. Both of these writers, as well as most of the faculty, have their roots in North Carolina. Robert Morgan was signing his newly released biography, BOONE. He also read some rather humorous passages from the life of Daniel Boone.

All of the seminars I attended were right on time for me. The DIY Career Building was most enlightening. Two of the speakers were "accidental authors" who first built a following with their blogs. Biodiesel Activist Lyle Estill started his Energy Blog out of his own personal passion, and he was happy having a small following of similar-minded people. When some national energy activist linked to his blog, his following soared, and a publisher came to him with an offer to publish his blog in a book.

Joseph Anderson started his blog as Notes to Mom while traveling through India. The internet would provide his mother with more up-to-date information on his travels than he could expect from using the postal system. I guess Mom shared it with friends who told friends, and before he knew it he had a following. He became another unexpected author.

Mur Lafferty is a self-described sci-fi geek, pod-caster, and mom. She syndicates her sci-fi novellas through weekly free pod-cast installments. She developed such a following of listeners who got impatient for the next installment that she published and sold her novellas in print.

Amy Tiemann has a doctorate in Neurosciences from Stanford Univ, but wrote MOJO MOM as the "missing manual for motherhood." Her lack of credentials as a parenting expert launched her into self-publishing and creation of a web-site that established her as an authority. She has been interviewed on the Today Show, and now is a professional blogger on parenting and technology for cnet.com.


The last session I had at the conference was Manuscript Mart. I submitted the first 20 pages of my manuscript to be read and critiqued by a literary agent. I'm still digesting that whole experience. The trouble is, there are two books in my book. There is the safe part of my story, some of the things I have blogged about, that are moderately interesting. And then there is the other part that I haven't told in my blogs, the conflict, the compelling part that makes my story unique. The compelling part is kind of buried in the safe part....the backstory. Now I need to strip away some of that backstory and cut to the chase.

I was thinking of trashing the first two chapters. Now I'm thinking how I can salvage them with more personality development in the backstory.

It's not an easy story to tell, but I'm getting better about my one-line pitch:

A coming-of-age-in-the-sixties black, single, pregnant, living in Munich for a junior year abroad...story. How does that grab you?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

We'll be leaving Friday for another cruise. This time it's the Western Mediterranean leaving from Barcelona, with stops in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and Gibraltar, and the Canary Islands. You don't even have to ask about pictures.

See ya when we get back!!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Permissions - the final piece

I decided to remove the lyrics of two of the songs I wanted to use as chapter epigraphs (new word I learned in this process). The third one, I just had to go for. It took pulling together the representatives for the two collaborators. It all came together today for $87.50. Those 3 lines resonate through the whole book.

I don't have permission to print them here, but you know what they are.

Main Entry: ep·i·graph

1 : an engraved inscription
2 : a quotation set at the beginning of a literary work or one of its divisions to suggest its theme

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Book Clubs

I have been in a number of book clubs over the years, some in person and some online. One of the reasons I enjoy book clubs is that I get introduced to authors that I would not have chosen for myself.

Some of those authors that I didn't know before, later became favorites of mine, like Tananarive Due. And others, I would not have touched with a 10-foot pole, but I read because the book club was reading. Now at least I can talk about those authors with more direct knowledge, but I still won't touch them again without prodding. I won't name names.

I know of some book clubs that have been together for 10 - 20 years. The longest running one I was in lasted 4 years. The online book clubs I have been in lasted a year or less. The ones that died, died for similar reasons.

Too many members only want to read the kind of books that they already read. For the in-person clubs, this meant that some people only came to the meeting when we discussed the book they chose. We changed the rules to disallow that after a while. With online book clubs, many people just don't read the books that are outside their comfort zone.

I recently joined another online book club through a yahoo group. I'll see how long I last with this one.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Where is the line between erotica and porn?

In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart tried to explain “hard-core” pornography, or what is obscene, by saying, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . but I know it when I see it . . . “

That discussion was about pornography in movie theaters. The courts don’t even bother with pornography in print. I started rolling this around in my head while reading the latest selection from my online Book Club. I won’t even give the title, because I don’t consider the book worthy of my endorsement, even a negative one.

The book was self-published by a writer who writes what he calls “erotic” literature. My personal assessment is that it is porn. I would venture to say that every person reading this will draw the line between erotic and porn in a different place. Maybe some of you have a good definition you can share. But, I’ll go with Justice Stewart in “I know it when I see it.”

For the book in question, I can give examples of where it crosses MY line. Geez, this book is so sleazy I have to hide it from hubster!!



Character portrayal

People I can identify with. I have to care enough about at least one character to continue reading.

Characters are defined by a tick list of body parts and sizes of those body parts. Pick your body parts from an assortment of mannequin parts and the personalities are all the same.

Plot line

Characters have interests, habits, and activities that don’t include sex. Conflicts arise from the depths of human experience

One sexual encounter after another. Cut and paste the dialog, but add some different toys for variety. The only conflict is who’s doing who.


Incidental to a bigger plot line. “The act” is described from the point of view of emotion and feeling. The woman’s emotion is not the same as the man’s. The words have no shock value.

“The act” is the only plot, described graphically in terms of body parts and part sizes. The dialog is intended for shock value, with no difference in choice of language between men and women. How many women refer to a man’s “package?”

Surrounding environment

Paint me a picture of a place I haven’t been before.

Right out of your favorite soap opera. Candles, flower petals and music by Maxwell.

Friday, September 28, 2007

I got Permission!!!

"We are pleased to advise you that our overseas client has approved your in context intended use of the two lines of MORE. This will be gratis following your disclosure of the name and address of the publisher involved, but for the present will not be authorized for private or self-publication without further details such as quantity of printings and location of intended distribution and name and address of administrator. We wish you good luck on your submission."

I heard from the representative for the other 3 songs. They want a minimum of $100 each!! There goes my soundtrack.

Since that song, "More" was way before some of you were born, here are a couple of old videos.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Getting Permission

This is the continuing saga of getting permission to print in my book a few lines of song lyric from each of 4 songs. It's not enough to print the names of the writers, since I will be charging money for my book.

I knew going in that the hard part would be finding who has the rights to sign permission. One song can have multiple collaborators who are members of different unions, have different managers.

I used this site as a reference www.copyrightkids.org/permissioninformation.htm and I used their sample for my model letter.

If I don't get permission, or they want too much money for permission, I'll just remove the lines from the book.

On August 23, I sent off nine letters to cover 4 songs. I included my phone number, email address, and a SASE so they can choose their communication medium. I've gotten phone calls and mail, saying I need to contact a different person. I got an email from Richard Marks' attorney, saying that I should get permission from Luther Vandross' people first since Marks owns only 25% of the rights to "Dance with my Father."

Then I got 3 emails from one person referencing 3 songs (including Dance with My Father) whose rights are managed by the Hal Leonard Corporation. The guts of the email says this:

This is in response to your request concerning permission to reprint the lyrics of our copyrighted composition(s) listed above. The request has been sent to our print agent, Hal Leonard Corporation for further processing.

In order to grant you permission for this use, Hal Leonard will first need to receive ALL of the following information:

-Title of publication
-Publication date
-Retail Selling Price
-Unit size of printing
-Territory and language(s) of distribution
-A brief summary of the content of publication
-Galley sheet(s) or manuscript page(s) on which lyric appears.

Anything you have sent to EMI has been forwarded to Hal Leonard Corp. If any of the above items were missing, please send them directly to Hal Leonard Corp.

OK, I have assembled that stuff to mail tomorrow. If anybody wants more than a symbolic amount of money ($1) for the rights, I'll back off. Meanwhile, I'll hang in there.