Monday, January 29, 2007

Emily Gets Around

So I was back in the hospital a few days ago. This time, it was because one leg swelled up terribly and doctors thought I had a blood clot. So they injected blood thinner into my abdomen (wait, I'll repeat that-- yes, they stuck a needle into my abdomen!!) and then admitted me because they don't do sonograms at night, and needed someone to do a sonogram on my leg to check for the clot.

Well, I was on bedrest (only while I was in the hospital... phew!), so they wheeled me into a room with a woman all loaded up with tubes and IVs. Within about a minute, she told me she had just had surgery for kidney stones the night before. Within about five minutes, I knew all about her 5 days of vomiting, her current bowel movements, her phlegm, her daughter's cancer, the fact that she hates eggs, and which doctors are having affairs with their secretaries.

She pulled back the curtain between us, of course. And proceeded to talk ALL NIGHT. Literally. I didn't sleep at all... not that I could have anyway. I had a needle for an IV stuck into the crook of my arm, and it just made me so ooked out that there's no way I could have really relaxed. But still.

When they wheeled me out again for my sonogram, she noticed my bulging belly and remarked, "Wow, you're going to have a really BIG BABY!"

Gee, thanks. Yes, I know. I'm tiny and the baby is huge. My doctor already made sure I was aware of this. I'm thrilled. I'm aiming for 14 pounds so I can ensure that I'll never walk again.

When she talked on the phone with her daughter, she informed HER that I was going to have a really big baby, too. And when her husband showed up to visit, she told him, too.

My parents came over in the morning, and she chatted them up. Turns out she knows every doctor within a 50-mile radius. I don't mean that she knows their medical training; I mean she knows all about their personal lives. I have no idea how, but there are four doctors on my parents' block, and she was able to authoritatively tell them about each doctor's affairs, who had an out-of-control daughter going through a "Gothic phase," who's already been divorced and left his ex with nothing...

Then she paused to detail her latest bowel movement before continuing on with the gossip.

Before we left, she made my mom take her phone number and promise to call after my baby was born, to let her know that everything went okay. Y'know, because the baby was going to be so big and all.

When I tell people about this experience, most of them tell me, "Oh! I had a roommate just like that when I had [gall bladder surgery, a broken arm, my appendix removed, etc.]." I'm starting to think Emily just drives around the country staying in hospitals and annoying people. Perhaps she's hired by health insurance companies, so people will pretend to feel better faster so they can get out of the hospital. I know that the moment the doctor said, "Good news!" I was halfway into my pants and running down the hall with my hospital gown trailing behind me. "No clot!" she called. "Wish I could stay and chat about it," I called back from the elevator.

I'm in my 35th week now, so I've pretty much hit a safety zone... if labor starts now, the doctors won't try to stop it. Which is comforting and terrifying at the same time. I suppose it's time to pack that hospital bag...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Getting My Game Face On, and Career Thoughts

I ended up in the labor & delivery unit a week ago with pre-term labor contractions, but nothing came of it, thank goodness. They pumped me full of IV fluids and told me I was probably dehydrated and that I should keep my feet up and drink a ton of water. So I am.

But I'm also having panic attacks. It's been about 10 months now since I've been off my panic medication, and I did so beautifully for the first 8 months. I really began thinking I might just never need those meds again, and maybe my brain has finally corrected itself. But then I had a run of a few days in a row where I had attacks, starting at a funeral. The ones since then haven't been as bad, but they're there, shadowing me.

That really messes with my confidence about childbirth. These past two weeks have been filled with thoughts like, "Why did I ever think I could do this?" and bargains with God for ways to get through labor without actually... you know... going into labor. (By the way, someone asked in the comments and I realized I never said it here: she's due on March 10th.)

I'm using a hypnosis program called Hypnobabies to help change my negative thoughts, but so far I'm too cynical for it to really work. I get to a certain part in the CDs where the woman says things like, "Your eyelids are so limp and lazy now that they just won't work. Test them and see that they just won't work." So I do, and my eyelids snap open, and I think, "You liar!" Then I don't believe anything else she says.

But I have to get back into a decent frame of mind somehow. Mostly, I'm trying to do that by not thinking about it too much. I've started working again, albeit not like I normally do. Right now, I'm working on this little pet project that's exactly what I said I didn't want to do again-- a niche book for writers. Not that I have anything against books for writers. It's just that they have a limited market, which means small advances and royalties, no chance of real bestsellerdom.

One of my editors asked me why I'd do such a thing now. I'm beyond that level. And the truth is that I'm wondering if it's a dumb career move...

Novelists have to worry about the "death spiral," where bookstores won't order any more copies of an author's current book than they sold of the author's last book-- which typically leads to smaller and smaller numbers, smaller print runs, smaller advances. It becomes very difficult for a midlist novelist to sustain a career if they don't pick up major steam in those first two or three books.

With nonfiction authors, it's not quite as cut and dried, but I honestly don't know how much of an effect past sales have. What I believe, but haven't set out to prove yet, is that bookstore buyers look at the numbers of the last book you wrote in that category when determining what quantity to order-- but not necessarily your overall book sales. So, for example, I've written books in the following categories: self-help, health, writing reference, children's picture book, biography, memoir, and language. I believe that when a chain buyer is figuring out how to stock my next book for writers, what he'll look at mostly is how my last book for writers sold-- not how my health books and memoirs have sold.

It becomes worrisome to me if that's not the case, for the reverse reason. I don't want them using my niche book sales against me when I write books with more mass appeal. If I write a book on a broader topic, like beating procrastination, I don't want the bookstore buyer to say, "Well, her last book [for writers] sold 5,000 copies through us, so we won't take more than 5,000 of this book."

But I'm already about 16,000 words into this new book, and it's meant to be a short book, so that's about a quarter of the way finished. I want to write the rest. I'm considering doing it under a pseudonym to avoid this whole concern, though that would mean giving up some sales, too... having more than one book in a category sitting on a shelf next to each other means better sales for both books. I guess readers think your books must be pretty good if the bookstore has more than one of them. Maybe I'll just use a pseudonym that's one letter off. Jenna Glatzen. Yeah, that'll throw the chain buyers off my trail!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Talent, Talent Everywhere

For New Year's Eve this year, my family went to a local theatre for a magic act and post-midnight cabaret set. It's this little theatre in this nothing town in the corner of a shopping center. The house was less than half full (mostly with senior citizens).

The magic act was pretty good. But the cabaret was outstanding. Three of the female singers were hold-your-breath level. (You know, where they do something so vocally stunning that you forget to breathe for a few seconds. Does that just happen to me?)

My husband is a wedding band musician and I've been around the wedding band industry for much of my life, so I can't tell you how many times I've heard the song "At Last." I still love it, but I had no idea I could still be mesmerized by it until I heard this spiky frosted-haired woman do the most nuanced vocal gymnastics in this little theatre.

And every one of them with the genuine smiles of people who you darn well know love what they're doing. You can just see when someone is at home on the stage. And I was torn between screaming, "WHAT ARE THESE PEOPLE DOING IN OAKDALE?" and "HOORAY! THESE PEOPLE ARE IN OAKDALE!"

Thing about community theatre is that it can really blow your mind. You figure that Broadway and the recording industry have the best talent the country can offer, and then you see this, and you wonder what in the world is going on. Is it that these singers never bothered trying to go beyond community theatre? Are they just happy where they are, keeping performing as a hobby and not a full-time career? Did they try to go further and fail? Did they hate city life?

And I'm reminded of my time on Zoetrope.com, the humbling crash to reality I got as a neophyte screenwriter. I had my head so full of praise from college professors that I assumed my screenplays were much better than most of what was floating around slush piles... until I got to Zoetrope and realized how distinctly unspecial I was. There were scads of really good screenwriters there! People who had written scripts I wished I'd written. People who had been trying to break into the industry, to no avail, yet had scripts that I thought were easily better than most of the current studio releases. (Don't get me wrong-- there was plenty of garbage there, too, but a lot more great material than I expected.)

I think the book world is a bit better that way. Mostly, the unpublished writers who I've thought are really talented wind up getting published eventually. (Though not always. Luckily, none of them have kicked the bucket yet, so there's still time.)

It isn't a crapshoot. But there remains an element of luck involved, and timing, and perseverance. Sometimes I wonder how many writers gave up one query letter too soon. Or how many hold-your-breath writers there might be hiding out in Oakdale.