Jennifer Astle

October 5, 2009

November 17th: The day a lipstick-clad pig will fly.

Books Palin Cover

You can add one more book to the list of literature that Sarah Palin hasn’t read; Going Rogue by Lynn Vincent…oops, I mean Sarah Palin.  I mean, there really is nothing that demonstrates your ability to run a country more than having to hire someone to tell your life story.  It’s not that she couldn’t write it though, it was just that her hands were too busy with her rifle now that hunting season has started.

You’ll probably find the book right next to Glenn Beck’s Common Sense.  If you find it, you might want to let Beck know where common sense is, I’m sure he’ll be looking.   But I digress…

So what does Palin get for nothing?  Well, aside for the $150,000 designer wardrobe, and the  fame (infamy?….please let it be infamy?), she was advanced $7, 000, 000 for the “work” she did.  Any speculation as to why she quit as governor of Alaska is undoubtedly washed away, just like Palin’s problems, washed away in a sea of cold-hard cash.  I’m guessing (or hoping, at least) that her ghostwriter, Vincent, will receive about $1, 000 ,000 for, you know, writing the book.

Now, I don’t have an issue with ghost writing per se, if you look at my services offered as a freelancer, I do ghost write under strict confidentiality from time to time.  No one’s cutting me a $7M check, so one does what one must.  I do take issue with someone of Palin’s stature, who although having left office, still seems to claim to have answers, taking credit for a measly 400 page memoir.  Remember, the book is about her life.  If you can’t write 400 pages about your life at any point after the age of 30, I suggest you consider how boring your life is.  But I suppose Palin was too busy quitting her job and running off to China to write it, so she needed help.

So on November 17th, the literary world will lose just a touch of credibility by demonstrating that they are no more interested in literature than Nike or Walmart.  No one even seems to be pretending that Palin wrote the manuscript, except her publisher, HarperCollins, who insist she was  “hands-on at every stage“.  Someone should tell HarperCollins that touching the manuscript does not constitute a hands-on approach.  Although it would be a first for Palin (unless of course, you believe she actually read the Bible).  I can’t wait to see the press tour footage.

But I must concede a single point, Sarah Palin does prove one claim about America; anyone can make it big here.  You betcha!

August 5, 2009

Book Review: It Sucked and Then I Cried by Heather B. Armstrong

it-sucked-and-then-i-cried-armstrongIf you read Dooce.com, then you are familiar with Heather Armstrong and her deeply sarcastic, somewhat sardonic sense of humor.  Armstrong regularly pumps out wit faster than MacDonald’s pumps out Big Macs, often amusing many, and enraging the odd wing nut.

At her blog, she talks about life the way we only wish we could; all of this after clearly expressing that she is exerting extreme restraint after getting fired for blogging about her boss and pissing off a few Mormons.  Before blogging was even a commonly used term, someone gave the girl a laptop, a wireless Internet connection and a way with words, and for that us sarcasm-aholics are grateful.  To put it plainly, she’s as funny as I wish I was.  Even her ridiculously excessive use of caps lock can’t make her less funny.

So, when I got my hands on a copy of It Sucked and Then I Cried I knew I had to read it.  Even though the subject matter is of absolutely no interest to me (I’m not a baby person), I couldn’t put it down.  This, I think, is the true testament of an excellent writer; the ability to make even calculus sound riveting. From her blog Armstrong writes of the book;

A few weeks ago when my publisher sent me several copies of my book in its final incarnation, I opened the box very slowly while Leta sat on a stool at the counter next to me. She was terribly excited because she thought it was a present from Santa Claus, and I assured her it was EVEN BETTER THAN THAT. Because look! It was a book I had written about her! Called It Sucked and then I Cried! HA HA! GET IT? GET IT? YOUR THERAPIST IS GOING TO LOVE ME! (Source).

Even when I got to the part about the dreaded evil episiotomy, I kept right on reading, because it really does take a lot of comedic talent to make that sound funny.  Her narrative of her pregnancy and the months following is honest, and you feel like you are riding the same see-saw of emotions she describes; wavering between extreme satisfaction and frustration.  You get a sense of what the pressure is really like, what people are really thinking, and how far they are willing to go to be better.  These more intense moments are nicely punctuated by letters to her daughter, Leta, in which she continues her sarcastic style, but is assertive about her deep love for the child and moments of sincere love for Leta’s father, that made me want to hug my husband.

As someone who is, and shall stay childless, and deeply skeptical of the Cult of Children, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with this read, but Heather Armstrong delivers more than just babies.  I highly recommend it to anyone who loves children, hates children, or is having or thinking of having a child.

July 26, 2009

God Loves Carrie Prejean Enough to Give Her a Book Deal

miss-california-carrie-prejeanIt seems as though another pre-packaged celebrity is going to to stretch out her fifteen minutes of fame by penning a memoir about the trials and tribulations being a 22 year old, heterosexual, rich, white, blonde, beauty pageant winner.  Move on Anne Frank, Carrie Prejan has a story to tell.

You will have to excuse the rehashing of what may seem like old news.  There are just some things that feel like they must have been a bad dream, and thus take a little longer to sink into reality.  See, I expected a Sarah Palin memoir.  Not only did I expect it, I saw it coming from a mile away, and although it pains me to say it; she actually has an experience worth writing about (although everyone knows she won’t actually be writing the book).

Wait, it gets better.  Prejean’s book is to be titled Still Standing.  No, it’s not a reference to her ability to walk in three inch heels while simultaneously sucking in her stomach, and throwing out her chest and ass, all served with a smile.  Apparently, Prejean is an ingenue, a rebel in the culture wars against the evil and corrupt conspiracies of the liberal elite who took her down and dethroned her because she stood up for her beliefs in “opposite marriage”.  Worth the ability to be that articulate in her arguments, you can be sure to expect a literary masterpiece. You can also be sure that that picture of Prejean will likely be the cover.  It’s the only one where she’s safe from the wind, and dishonest photographers.

I’m really starting to get tired of this shit.  Anyone else?

It’s like she is trying to use the title to convey the same message as  Elizabeth Edward’s book, Resilience, but didn’t quite have the vocabulary, and so Still Standing is born.  The only hope is that Still Standing will be still be standing on book shelves long after this bastardization of literature is released, leaving a little less room in the industry for someone who can actually speak, let alone write.

Is this a sign of the culture to come?  How have we become less jaded about the information and entertainment that is fed to us?  “Less advanced” civilizations have produced the Sphinx, the Mona Lisa, the Bible even, and the best we can do is Rock of Love and Carrie Prejean, wronged beauty queen.  Is it a product of our world so full of war and weapons that we must sugar coat our entertainment and have it force-fed to us, or do people actually like this crap?

April 3, 2009

Enough with this Eat, Pray, Love Crap

eatpraylove2Does anyone else cringe when they hear the term “chick lit”?  I always thought it was a term that was thrown around in book reviews to define material written by and for women, but behold, “chick lit” is an entire genre, like horror, that agents and publishers recognize. And, it just won’t go away.  Take Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert for example. Despite the book being published in 2006, it seems to still be lurking in the media, and setting the standard by which all women writers are being compared.

Now, I can’t say I have read the book anymore than I can say I read Confessions of a Shopaholic, beyond of course what Amazon was kind enough to provide me as a preview, and the few minutes I spent leafing through the pages in a book store before moving on to The God Delusion.  Needless to say, a woman’s memoirs about finding herself that starts with the line “I wish Giovanni would kiss me” is unlikely to captivate me the same way that Orwell captured me with his construction of a futuristic society in which the bourgeoisie worship an organization called The Party.

This brings me to another point.  When reading an article about gendered choices in literature, I was shocked to learn that men are actually impressed by women who read Orwell and the like. You know, because wrapping our vaginas brains around a complex political movement marked by submission and rebellion, is like, totally out of our reach…unless someone is going to bring up chocolate.  Which Orwell does, so I guess that’s why I read it.  Not because it is an iconic piece of literature and remarkably timeless in its representation of political fundamentalism (oh, shit I forgot, I am supposed to be talking about shoes).

So this brings me back to chick lit and Elizabeth Gilbert’s quest to get over her failed marriage, and her sense of being lost in life.  Here is my official position; if your life and your travels were that interesting, they wouldn’t be marketed as the bible of chick lit, they would be marketed as a memoir of an interesting life.  Show of hands, how many men have read Eat, Pray, Love?

*insert sound of crickets chirping*

So why is it that the industry finds this type of writing so appealing?  Obviously there is a market for it, or else agents and editors would be tearing the Gilberts of the world down to their heels and hashing it all out on #queryfail.  I can see it now “OMG, another query about her divorce and how she got over it, shut up already! #queryfail”.  Or maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part.

Of course it is no secret that many a woman have written under a nom de plume, or pseudonym (ahem, J.K. Rowling) to draw attention away from the fact that they are women and gain respect in the literary world before anyone looks up their skirts and realizes that they have an inkwell instead of a pen hidden up there.  Unless, of course, they are writing about “women stuff” like pining over 20 something Italian guys as a means to finding oneself.  Then girly names like Elizabeth can be plastered all over the cover like a rogue noodle that broke free from the covers font.

Now, before anyone jumps on me and says women publish literature other than chick lit, just look at Stephanie Meyer and Twilight, I ask you to pause for a moment.  ‘Cause there’s nothing darker than vegetarian vampires that blow sparkles out of their asses.  Stephen King look out, you have some competition (*snorts*).

Words are words, and the last time I checked the area between my belly button and my knees had very little to do with my choices of reading material or writing topics (excluding feminist literature of course, which is much different than wanting Giovanni to kiss you).  Women frequently write from the perspectives of men, and vice versa, with astonishing insight.  This begs the question; do we really need an entire genre of “Oh my god, I found myself in Jimmy Choo?” or are we creating it by filing it under the vagina niche and calling it a day.  You know, so men won’t have to make the mistake of picking up a book written by a woman for a woman while perusing the aisles of their local book store…because there is an entire section segregated off where women can confide in each other about yoga, having babies, being married, getting divorced, and shopping; all of the important life lessons a girl must learn.

This is my call to women writers; stop publishing this Eat, Pray, Love crap, and find a voice based on your writing talents, not on the chance that you got an X instead of a Y in your chromosome make up.

Update: Apparently my writing is worth plagiarizing without credit.  Check it out here, and feel free to let them know how us bloggers love link backs.

March 22, 2009

Weekend Reading: Writer’s Block and My Overflowing Bookshelf

procrastination-main_fullWriter’s Block.  That terrible, ever-lurking antithesis to “the flow” of which writers speak is a very real thing.  To someone who does not write extensively, it may seem easy to cast the notion off as silly, and inextricably linked to ego, but in reality, it can interupt a writer’s work and frustrate the bejesus out of them.  Flow, on the other hand, is that glorious pace a writer can find where the words seem to come from the fingers (or pen) first and the mind later.  It’s a constant race to keep up with yourself before the next moment flutters out of your mind like a butterfly and is lost forever.  This can last four hours before the writer is broken from the trance and brought back to the reality of dinner that must be made, day jobs that must be worked, and bills that must be paid.

I don’t know what other writer’s do when they experience Writer’s Block.  I’ve found sites for writing prompts and ideas, but ultimately a prompt that says “write about a red ball” is unlikely to shake me out of reality, and back into that dream world that writers create for themselves.  Someone once told me to keep my head above the clouds.  My immediate reaction was that it was mis-phrased; it should have read keep your head out of the clouds.  I didn’t understand properly then what was meant by that, but I do now.  Above the clouds is where creativity flows, and sometimes it is impossible not to come down, into the clouds,  and subsequently back into reality where there is traffic, phones ringing, appointments, and all of the mundane practices that make up this thing we call life.

When I have Writer’s Block, I read.  I’m always reading something, and in fact, I can hardly remember a period of time where I wasn’t completely absorbed in one book or another.  For the year I wrote literally nothing, I was completely wrapped up in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, a seven book monolith that makes The Stand look like a Sunday paper.

This may explain the current state of my bookshelf.  I’ve rationalized my Writer’s Block down to a few things, including the fact that I have my first short story making its rounds in literary magazines and contests, and somewhere deep inside me I am waiting for judgement/affirmation.  The second cause is related to research.  My book-in-progress is deeply rooted in religion, mythology,  psychology, and to some extent, sociology.  At 20,000 words I simply hit a point where the idea was no longer enough, I needed background knowledge to keep the train chugging along.

So, for a little change, I am offering my weekend reading list.

1984 by George Orwell

Until now, I hadn’t read this book.  Not only did I know that I must read it because it is a classic, but the subject matter interests me greatly.  I can hardly put it down and it has been dominating my reading for the last week. I plan to finish the last 30 or so pages today.  While reading it I have to constantly remind myself that it was written in 1949, and renew my admiration for Orwell’s construction of a future society.  As a sociologist at heart, this book is fascinating.

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

I found Sebold during a seminar course on Ethnography in my undergraduate degree.  Our professor assigned Lucky, a biographical account of her rape while attending college.  The Lovely Bones was her next book, which also took me in.  I expect The Almost Moon to live up to my expectations of Sebold’s ability to capture me.

2009 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market

Otherwise known as the bible.  I am going through this volume painstakingly, absorbing all of the information about the publishing industry I can cram into my 26 year old brain.  What are agents, publishers, and editors telling me?  How can I use it in the future?  I know that I can break down countless boundaries if I am prepared, and I intend to be.

The Lilith Monographs Vol. I: Immaculata by Joshua Seraphim

This is directly related to my book, in which the main character is Lilith, or rather my version of her.

Lilith: The First Eve by Siegmund Hurwitz

See above.

Glimmer Train Spring 2009 Issue 70

Glimmer Train is the first literary magazine I have subscribed to.  The first issue arrived in my mailbox on Friday and since then it has been waiting patiently underneath 1984, waiting to be picked up next.  I’m reading it partly to learn what other writer’s are selling, to compare as objectively as I can, the quality of the work therein versus my own, and to absorb great literature from the future authors of classics that will come about in my life time.  As my writing income grows, so too will my collection of literary magazines.  For those who do not subscribe, I highly recommend it.

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

This is a slow read for me.  I can only keep my attention focused on congressional history and legislative process for so long.  I also feel this is a necessary read.  Obama is an eloquent and moving writer, and knowing full well that he will become known as one of the great thinkers of our time, I am compelled to read through the political jargon to hear the message behind it.

Defending the Damned by Kevin Davis

This was recommended to me by a friend who works in the legal system in the United Kingdom.  It focuses on a public defender in Chicago, named Marijane Placek, a “snakeskin boot-wearing, Shakespeare quoting nonconformist.”  Needless to say, she knows my taste.

What’s on yours?

March 9, 2009

The Revolution Will Be Digitized: Books Meet Technology

kindleThere is no doubt that as a society we are bombarded by media from the moment we wake until the moment our heads hit the pillow (or longer, if you fall asleep with the television on).  News, movies, television, magazines, YouTube, Facebook, billboards, it’s everywhere.  But what of books?

Quite possibly the oldest, and longest lasting form of media, books face an uphill battle in the face of quick media like blogs, Twitter, and social network status updates.  Not to mention, many books are transformed into films or television spin-offs that make visual access more efficient than reading a few hundred pages.

Where does this leave the future of books?  E-books are a huge phenomenon barely heard of only a few years ago.  Amazon guru and Kindle backer, Jeff Bezos, would have you reading all of your books in digital format on his device, which retails for about $350.  That, of course, does not include the cost of the books themselves, which can be downloaded for an average of $10 for each of the roughly 250,000 titles offered on the electronic medium. Kindle is even available on your iPod.

The Huffington Post advocates for the digitization of books, arguing that the electronic medium makes it possible to read in the dark, like while at a bar or in bed, without having to turn on a light or lug a heavy volume around with you.

But does that satisfy the same feeling as thumbing through page after page as you read?  Are we trying to improve something that was perfect in it’s original form?  I take great pride in looking at my bookcases and seeing the collection of books, both fiction and non-fiction, that I have accumulated throughout the years.  Despite being broke in my days as a student, I rarely re-sold textbooks  to the bookstore for credit.  There is something to be said of the tangible quality of holding a book in your hands.

On the other hand, imagine the possibilities if devices such as Kindle were commonplace in schools.  Imagine the possibilities of equipping students with a device pre-loaded with books, texts, and resources.  Imagine if a student need only buy the device (or have it donated) and could read ahead, easily reference back to materials, and access new literature instantly, all in one place.  The possibilities are endless.  University students would love this idea.  Purchase a Kindle for $350 (not that much more than the cost of a textbook or two), and offer texts, journal subscriptions, and other reference materail at a discounted rate.  Universities could even include the device as part of tuition.

So while I am wary of the digitization of books for a variety of reasons, I also see the value. But personally, if I like a book, I will buy it…in it’s good old fashioned form.  Sorry trees.

March 6, 2009

The Celebrity Book Deal and the Struggling Writer

The book business as we know it will not be living happily ever after. With sales stagnating, CEO heads rolling, big-name authors playing musical chairs, and Amazon looming as the new boogeyman, publishing might have to look for its future outside the corporate world.

hilton_bookOminous words coming from respected magazine, New York.  With the publishing industry flailing, a writer has got to question her future.  Let’s just forget for a moment, the challenges of finding let alone the right agent, but any agent at all.  Then there is the query letter, and the waiting.  All of that, considering you have your book written first.  The challenges facing a struggling writer in the beginning of their career are steep, and that is under the best of conditions.

So, what does this mean for struggling writers and the publishing industry? It seems that there is a spike in celebrity book deals.  I have no statistical data to support this, only my observations from my daily morning online meandering.  James Franco has just signed with Simon & Schuster to release a collection of short stories.  That’s just the beginning.  In 2008, as the economic crisis that has challenged the publishing industry loomed, Miley Cyrus signed a seven figure book deal with Disney.  At least James Franco is an MFA candidate studying creative writing at NYU and Columbia.  Miley Cyrus is 15 and famous because her daddy had an achy-breaky-heart back in the 1980’s (although it must have got fixed sometime in the 1990’s).  Is it possible to still take the craft seriously when there are thousands of talented writers out there who are sending short after short to literary magazines, searching for an agent, and hoping for any advance at all, while Miss Cyrus gets a million dollars for her memoirs?

Let’s not forget Britney Spears’ $20 Million book deal to spill all of the sordid details of her recent crazy years.  Excuse me, but that is not literature, it’s voyeurism…and not very well cloaked.  What about Kanye West? Or Paris Hilton? Or Kathy Griffin? Or even Sarah Palin?  Musicians, actors, politicians…it seems anyone but a writer can get a book deal these days.

Is this really the way to save the publishing industry; by offering celebrities who already blog, Twitter, star in YouTube videos, films and television, appear on news and talk shows, and are the topic of paparazzi and media everywhere seven or eight figure book deals to write their memoirs?

Of course, I am biased considering that I am a “struggling writer” and not a celebrity.  I understand why the publishing industry is increasing its affinity with celebrities.  They come with a built in audience, just waiting to spend their allowances on the next unauthorized Lindsay Lohan tell-all.

But what of the struggling writer then?  Where will the future of publishing take us? To the Internet? Vanity publishing and self-promotion?  Is this just the right moment for writers to take reins away from powerhouse publishers by getting wise to the opportunities offered by services like Amazon (e.g. Kindle, CreateSpace), blogs, online lit mags, and a new generation of news media like the Huffington Post? No one knows for sure, not even the publishing industry.  One thing is for certain; enough with the celebrity book deals.

February 24, 2009

Let Me Review Your Book!

Filed under: Book Reviews, Fiction, Nonfiction — Anonymous @ 5:56 pm

I would love to begin a series of book reviews.  If you are interested in having your book reviewed please visit the Contact page and drop me a line.  On average, and depending on how much work I have, I can finish a book in under a week.  I’d be thrilled to read your work, comment on it (constructively of course) and link back to where your book is sold.  Sure, I could spend all of my time reviewing Stephen King, but he gets enough attention as it is (Sorry, Mr. King, but it’s true).

You sell your books and I build my library.  It’s a win-win situation!

– Jenn

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