Friday, August 26, 2011

Implausible Dream

Zohreh (Zoe) Ghahremani
Within each one of us, there's a story, screaming to come out. I wrote my first novel to unload what had weighed heavy on my mind for decades. Having three American born and raised children, ones who know little about their parents’ Iranian history, I thought the cultural nuances throughout the story and the descriptions of my homeland would be my legacy to them. However, proud as I am of my Persian heritage, the recent political conflicts between Iran and the U.S. limited my expectations. Still, deep down I continued to hope that my story would touch the hearts of a few.
Over the years of becoming a full-time writer, I published more than two hundred articles, vignettes, and short stories. But when it came to a novel, my rejection letters became such an impressive collection that it could have discouraged any writer. But each time my agent forwarded a new one, I did my best to get past the disappointment and find the good stuff in those letters, which in turn enabled me to once again see the full half of my glass.
A long time ago, I miraculously discovered the secret to happiness. As a young girl, I had envisioned my good fortune to arrive with a charming prince, be a gift even. I also thought such a gift was only given to select few. Somewhere along the way I realized that true happiness is in fact the sum of little joyful moments, that it’s up to us to learn the art of recognizing those tiny moments learning how to piece them together: a ray of bright sunshine, the chirp of a bird by the window, or a child coming home with a good report card. I also learned that life is a glass that will forever be only half full.
So instead of waiting for that moment of ecstasy when my agent would present me with a contract, or counting rejection letters and listening to her explanations on why my book had not found a “home” yet, I decided to take matters in my own hand. Now a year later, it is clear how those editors and I had both underestimated the power of readers.
In the absence of advertisement and without a publisher to support me, the best possible publicity came from readers, who felt a deep connection with my story and related to its characters. Each satisfied reader brought in ten more and soon my little novel had started a buzz. Invitations poured in from libraries, bookstores, major universities and before I knew it, my novel was introducing me to people and not the other way around.
I’d heard such expressions as, “only in America,” or “land of opportunity,” and dismissed them as words of the lucky few. The joy of this unsolicited success has proven that indeed only in this country would readers choose their writer from among the unknown – not to mention selecting one whose name is unpronounceable. As if an extended trip to Cloud Nine wasn’t enough, my novel is also in the “One Book, One San Diego” program for 2012.
In each public appearance, I make sure to carry my old typewriter with a bunch of lovely silk poppies bursting our of it. The audience may view this as a prop that ties into my novel, but to me there’s more to them. The ensemble is a reminder of my “Cinderella” days, of the nights I stayed up and worked, and the days of disappointment when I secretly chanted, “I think I can!”
My hard work continues with the rewrite of my next novel – The Moon Daughter.  Short articles will be submitted as well and in fact, soon I will have my own column in a new women’s magazine from Texas called Zan. But regardless of what comes next, the poppies will forever have their special place. I hope to be an example, a positive messenger to younger and newer writers whose dreams may seem implausible. The clichés about not losing sight of your goal, that hard work pays off or that you should pursue your dreams are all true. As for fairy tales, they’re but an exaggerated version of true stories. Happiness is in loving what you do, and success will follow when others love it, too.
Zohreh ( Zoe) Ghahremani has written four books, of which two are published. The Commiserator is in her native language Persian, and her English novel Sky of Red Poppies was a finalist at the SDBAA and will be in OBOSD program for 2012. Her next novel, The Moon Daughter, is currently being polished for publication. When it comes to her finished satirical memoir of years of dentistry, titled Drill Fill & Bill, Zoe says, "That'll wait until readers know me enough to care! Sky of Red Poppies is available on Amazon, Turquoise Books, and most bookstores. or  visit

Saturday, August 20, 2011

On the Cost of Academic Books

By Judith Liu
August 20, 2011

My book, Foreign Exchange: Counterculture behind the Walls of St. Hilda’s School for Girls, 1929-1937, was released in April 2011 by Lehigh University Press (distributed by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group). When I first saw the price tag of $70.00 US, I was not surprised by the cost because it the book is being published by an “academic press” which means that the primary marketing audience for such a book would be to libraries and to the author who will purchase numerous copies for friends and family members. I am well aware that I will be the single largest purchaser of my own book.

As a member of the Yale Missions Listserve, a group of scholars and interested individuals who study missionary efforts around the world, a recent e-mail exchange amongst us was about the cost of academic books. One member was Daniel Bays, an prominent scholar , who lamented the fact that his book was going to cost $40. The cost prompted William R. Burrows, Research Professor of Missiology at New York Theological Seminary to write the following e-mail in response. It is so thoughtful and helpful that I am including it in this posting. Here is what he wrote

The discomfort that Dan Bays felt about the $40 price tag that Wiley put on his book made me wonder whether a post on realities of publishing economics might be welcome. This is it.

First, I’d not over alarmed about the $40. The reality is that the Amazon price of $32 is what most people will buy it for, and they won’t have to pay shipping and handling. Other dozens, maybe hundreds, of copies will be sold at venues like AHA and AAR at and other professional meetings for $20 or $24 (i.e., at 50% or 40% discount). Professors attend such meetings in no small measure because of the book fairs that attend them.

Another trend has also begun to have an impact on academic book sales. Whereas there was a certain kind of book that every serious college, university, or seminary library used to buy, the percentage that are in that category is dwindling, so much so that although a publisher as recently as fifteen years ago might have been able to price books with the sure knowledge that, say, 500 copies of a book on the Synoptics would be sold, experience now leads marketers to estimate, say, 250 or 100. Libraries now often consult with one another and only one library in a given network might buy that book. The rest rely on interlibrary loan, which has become super-efficient, especially in areas like Chicago, Boston, and New York to New Haven, where there are clusters of good libraries. Unless the author is an alumnus or on the faculty of a given institution, librarians wait to get a stipulated number of requests for a given book before ordering it. If they don’t, they let XYZ Library get it, since everyone in their circuit has agreed that they will specialize in NT studies, while LMN gets history, and ABC gets ethics, etc. Budgets allow nothing else.

What authors and book buyers also don’t quite understand is another family of reasons for the sharp escalation of prices. First and foremost, the higher prices are put on because publishers are no longer selling most books thru small book stores at a 40% discount. Instead, they sell through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, where discounts of 55% and more (plus free freight to the warehouse!) are demanded. On top of that, there’s the phenomenon of electronic book publishing. Prices there are unstable in e-publishing, though they will certainly settle down over time, but for our purposes it’s enough to realize that even academic books like Dan’s are increasingly ending up in Kindle, Nook, and E-book editions. Since academic publishers have not figured out what that’s going to mean in their battle to pay the rent and salaries, they’re mostly in a somewhat spooked and agitated state.

In addition, the used book business is professionalized to such an extent that many people are waiting six months to buy books from places like and or through the Amazon network of used book shops. The prices are often 25% or less than list prices.

The publisher, accordingly, has a six-month to a year in which to pay his or her expenses. They used to be able to amortize them over a 12- to 18-month period ! This is a real publishing economics earthquake. More concretely (1) s/he actually nets about $18 per copy on a supposedly $40 book sold to; (2) s/he has to pay for freight to the Spring Arbor warehouse; and (3) on top of that then has to take back unsold inventory and refund the $18 in a year’s time. Those returned books are often shopworn and unsalable. As a result the publisher is having to make expenses on a $40 book which, when you average in freight costs and returns, may give them a real net of as little as $12 per copy of a book that is, in trade terminology, “sold through” to a customer.

The average author and book buyer, however, has little sense of the way in which these things have changed.


While I appreciate such an articulate explanation, my lament is that my book is so expensive that its cost alone would dissuade any number of readers from purchasing the book. Yet, when I take into account that it contains fifteen rare photographs, six maps, and thirty pages of endnotes, the price is explicable. In what will seem an act of self-promotion, it is a book that I am proud to have written, and my hope is that any reader who purchases the book will find it worth the price. One final note, authors of academic works such as mine rarely see anything beyond the “free copies” they receive from the publisher. The reward we receive is from the immense satisfaction of having completed the work. In my case, my mother is exceedingly happy and that is priceless.

Judith Liu

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Reflections on Reading—Books and eBooks

by Kathleen B. Jones
I returned in late June from a conference in Australia, where I taught a very successful writing workshop for women. Most in the group were working on essays or longer works of non-fiction; one was working on a script. But the experience of doing quick writes, editing and critique sessions, and sharing work with one another underscored the importance of finding a group of like-minded—and respectful—writers with whom to share works in progress, encouraging each other forward with helpful suggestions for carrying a piece of writing through to completion. And, perhaps, publication.

But only days after this experience I was on my way out east, heading to the Hudson Valley, NY and Bard College’s Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities, where I was to direct a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) summer seminar for schoolteachers on the political theory of Hannah Arendt. Heady stuff! Sixteen teachers and I spent six weeks together mulling over some pretty dense philosophy and social and political theory.

Mornings I spent rediscovering the pleasures of distance bike-riding, especially through the leafy, gently rolling hills surrounding Red Hook and Rhineback, NY, followed by breakfast and preparing for the day’s discussion. Evenings I spent reading novels, essays or short fiction--Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, which I found somewhat disappointing in comparison to expectations raised by the hype the novel had received, George Prochnik’s In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, a wonderful meditation on the importance of quiet, and several essays and stories in copies of The New Yorker (always behind in catching up on reading those!)

Not only were those books and stories a welcome relief from the heated discussions about the world-shattering events of the Holocaust and World War 2 occupying my days; they were themselves a reminder of the importance of reading to the occupation of a writer. Immersing myself in books, I was dazzled all over again by the power of words to transport one to worlds yet unimagined, or emotions not yet fully plumbed. In those weeks I fell in love with reading all over again.

I’ve always been a lover of books. I mean, the objects themselves, not just the stories they tell. So it was a great surprise to me when, at the end of my seminar, the scholars who had shared its six weeks thinking journey with me presented me with a Nook!

When the electronic book craze took off, I had positioned myself in the camp of the Luddites. I would not be among those who would add nails to the coffin of print media, I proclaimed. How odd, then, press the buttons on this device, “open” the pages of the first book I had downloaded onto it—Michael Holroyd’s A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers--and experience the pleasures of reading taken to a new register.

Is there a word or a place I don’t recognize—the Villa Cimbrone, perhaps? I can look it up in the glossary embedded in the book or make a note to myself to “look it up later” via the web features included with the device. (I knew I would want to be reading some books with photos and drawings included and so I upgraded to the Nook Color, which includes access to the web).

I won’t be doing most of my reading on the Nook; mainly, I’ll use it for travel, or for some of those illustrated books that I might want to consult for my writing. (I often use images to conjure ways to describe character or place in a story and being able to “carry” some of these resources with me as I travel for my research and writing will be invaluable).

I can see myself now on that next flight from Los Angeles to London, on my way to a November conference in Sweden, listening to Mozart and reading Nina Sankovitch’s Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, anticipating how that book’s structure might help resolve some lingering problems with the manuscript I recently completed, but need to revise.

Kathleen B. Jones is the author of Living Between Danger and Love, Compassionate Authority: Democracy and the Representation of Women, The Political Interests of Gender and The Political Interests of Gender Revisited, both co-edited with Anna G. Jónasdóttir, and Women Transforming Politics co-edited with Cathy Cohen and Joan Tronto. Her new book, Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt, is undergoing revision. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Fiction International, Briar Cliff Review and Mr. Bellar’s Neighborhood. Her first play, Acts of Faith, written in collaboration with Sharyn C. Blumenthal, premiered in San Diego in 2009. Kathy taught women’s studies and political theory for twenty-four years at San Diego State University and currently directs summer humanities’ seminars for schoolteachers. Kathy has appeared frequently on radio and television in and beyond San Diego, and co-produced Profiles, a City of San Diego Television series on local authors. She has a B. A in political science from Brooklyn College, a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York, and is a certified yoga teacher (200 RYT) registered with the Yoga Alliance.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Original and Clever or Direct and Wise: Can the Two Literary Styles Live Together?

By Divina Infusino

Lately, I have attended a lot of literary events consisting of young, published fiction writers reading from their latest works.  One after another, they get up and demonstrate what appears to be one of the dominant, or at least one of the more trendy, forms of current fiction writing. I can only describe it as breathless, with long strings of vivid description.

Although it is punctuated with periods, commas and dashes, the prose gallops, almost without stop.  It surveys its subject –whether that is a person, a scene, an object, or an event-- and captures its every nuance with intoxicating detail. I admire the work, envy it even. 

And yet, while I objectively know that the writing is strong and creative, while I realize that the writer wrote and rewrote and evaluated or reevaluated every verb, image and twist of phrase, the prose rushes through my consciousness and leaves it just as quickly.  The writing seems full of adrenaline, jammed with observation and empty of insight. I walk away wondering what I heard, what I learned, or even if I felt anything beyond the sheer visceral exhilaration of words beautifully, but preciously, put together.

I go home and unearth from the beneath the piles of papers on my desk Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2009. It is one of the least self-conscious pieces of literature I have read in recent years.

I open the book to any page, read it, and breathe a sigh of relief. Compared to the clutter of cleverness and the overreach for originality that I have just experienced, the writing style in Olive Kitteridge is simple and direct until it injects a metaphor that literally leaves me gasping in its poignancy. Of course, the book’s literary style suits its subject.  It is a collection of short stories around the very unglamorous life of an abrasive, retired junior high school teacher in Maine.

Yet, every time, the beauty of the text stuns me.  This is prose powered by thoughtfulness, empathy and a combination of intimacy and perceptiveness with and of its subject. It knows what to tell and what to leave out and in the process says so much more than twice the verbiage could convey.  

As a writer and reader, just as a person, I like living in both worlds at different times. I like the hip and ingenious as well as the discerning and intuitive. But the current literary style seems to operate under the assumption that if you describe the outward appearance of something in enough detail, with enough invention and imagination, its inner truth will emerge. Most often, the opposite is true. Honesty and depth are usually concise and ruthless, like Olive Kitteridge.

However, if you know of recent books that combine both, I’d love to hear about them. Any suggestions?

Divina Infusino is the author of Day Trips From Orange County, an often personalized account of Southern California’s iconic and idiosyncratic locales, natural and cultural sites, hotels, day spas, shopping areas and restaurants. She is also a co-author of The Love Response and Rock Gods.  Divina has worked as a staff entertainment writer for The Milwaukee Journal and The San Diego Union. She was a cultural commentator for KPBS Radio and has been published in Rolling Stone, The Economist, TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, Reuters, The New York Times Syndicate, Harper’s Bazaar,, and  She can be reached at