On Publishing…and Procrastination

header image courtesy of Emma Reed, Champlain Publishing

Champlain Publishing is helping Alumna Colleen Rooney publish a collection of essays written by Champlain students. It’s called Publishing: Digitized and Personalized, and it’ll be out in the world Feb. 3. We’re going to have a big party at Champlain that day. You’re invited.

So last month, as is apparently my way, I sat back down with the manuscript at the last possible second to give it a final publisher’s going-over. If you’ve ever prepared a manuscript for publication, maybe you’ll see why I procrastinated: I’d already seen the manuscript, in all its different phases and iterations, over the last two years.

I was afraid I’d get to that point all editors eventually get to with just about every project, where you’ve read the thing so many times you can’t see it anymore, and you miss obvious typos that people will point out to you in the hallway on campus for the next eighteen months.

This meant that all this past Fall, when we talked about the book in meetings and planned our big February event, I found I’d stayed away a little long. I started to forget what we’d put in the book in the first place, and I’d not yet seen a couple of great new additions. This was a little embarrassing at meetings. I’d started to think of the Publishing manuscript as a youngster I’d babysat for in my past, now growing up so fast I’d better check in before the tyke left me in the dust.

It turned out waiting worked in my favor, because the excellent staff editors and proofreaders (heads up Kiera Hufford and Elise Price) at Champlain Publishing had already caught just about everything. Colleen deftly handled all the legal aspects and bravely assumed the mantle of both editor and publisher; Kiera took over where Colleen left off and got the manuscript packaged and ready to go; Emma handled design and layout and has just sent the final production files to me (where I will hold onto them, puttering about and waking up at four in the morning to worry needlessly over them, until the last possible second).

Anyway, reading the manuscript again was like going to a great party full of all my smartest friends. Jeremy Allmendinger’s hilarious sendup of the history of publishing had me spitting out my tea. Kristin Orlando’s take on stalkertizing shook me up as much as it had when she turned it in, in the publishing class in 2014, and it reminded me how savvy our students are when it comes to understanding how books are marketed.

I hadn’t read Tristan Louzuaway-McComsey’s take on educational fair use policies in publishing before, and it answered probably 80 percent of the questions I have going into another digital publishing project this Spring. (This item in particular is blowing my mind right now: I did about three hours of research trying to answer my myriad digital licensing questions the other day, only to find my student offered up most of this information for me two years ago.)

Colleen Lloyd gives a clear-eyed comparison of self-publishing v. traditional publishing that will help elucidate the process for anyone still on the fence about this. Alexandria Allen skillfully compares book packaging to boy bands, and Taylor Covington brings her bright, lively viewpoint to an insightful overview of crowdfunding. What a gift, to get to work with these people, to get to help bring their words out into the world.

So watch this blog, and our website and our Facebook page and whatever other social media and PR our talented and wonderful Champlain Publishing staff are dreaming up and putting into play right now to bring out Publishing: Digitized and Personalized. Remember this is all just post-New Year’s, when said students should really be resting and skiing and hanging out with friends. Instead they’re scheming and planning and working on blog posts and reviewing proofs on the weekend, because their managing editor left all this stuff up to the last possible second.

Ann Hood, My Ego, and Sheep: An Ireland Thank-You Note


skellig michael meadowI never really learned about thank you notes. Some families do it, some don’t. I just don’t remember anybody in my family talking about it much. Then I married into a family of people for whom they are very important. You’d think that nearly three decades of being expected, and often gently reminded, to attend to something might tip me off to its importance, but not having learned the custom young ends up being a real handicap for me. Usually if a family member or friend gives me a gift, I make a mental note to follow up with a thank-you, and then I go looking for the thank-you notes, and at first I can’t find them in spite of my mother-in-law gifting them to me every Christmas for the last 27 years, and then I start to write the note, and I don’t really know what to say. I start worrying that my sentiment will come up short, that I’ll get some detail about the gift, or the giver, wrong. I start envisioning them holding the note, reading it, and judging me. I keep no record of who I owe these notes to. I often neglect to ever mail them. Usually I just walk around all the time assuming most of my family members and friends are disappointed in me in a general way.

I’m now back two weeks from one of the best travel and/or study experiences I’ve ever had: The Bay Path University Field Seminar in Dingle, Ireland. Suzanne Strempek Shea, Tommy Shea, Leanna James Blackwell, this is my thank you note.

First Paudie O’Shea drove me from Kerry airport to Dingle in his van, which had a chicken under the passenger seat. He was talking to me cheerfully about his cholesterol in a charming English/Irish combination while he pointed underneath my seat, indicating there was a chicken under there. I was confused. Turned out it was baked, and for his wife Marina’s lunch. We stopped off at his house on the way to my guesthouse to deliver it. Then when we got to town, I met Tommy Shea for the first time when he greeted me while I was still in the van and insisted I go with him to see the city and get my first meal in Ireland (seafood chowder and Crean’s lager at John Benny’s, home to Mike, to the only sarcastic bartender I could find in a week of scouting local bars for sarcastic bartenders), while we talked about writing and books and Tommy showed himself to be a warm, friendly, endlessly curious and totally fun person. On my last full day in Dingle, I’d run into Tommy on the street in front of our guest house, and I’d know he could tell I’d been crying but and he showed concern but didn’t make a big deal about it.

Here’s why, Tommy: Back in June when I was making my plans to go to Ireland, finishing up my workshop pieces, picking out the workshops I’d attend, researching faculty, I’d come across Ann Hood, who would be leading a fiction workshop during the seminar. I was already familiar: I’d read a bunch of her tight, funny, knowing essays already. She’d written about food, about family, about how much fun she had imagining herself as possibly related to mafia when she was young. Some of the same stuff I like to fancy that I write about. I was impressed. She seemed like the writer, like the person, I’d always wanted to be.

Then I read that Ann had lost a young daughter. I remember coming across the piece, while I was taking a few minutes of break time at work, finding a Facebook post about how she’d written the book Comfort: A Journey Through Grief about the experience. I couldn’t even read the whole post. I just stared at it, gape-mouthed, for a few minutes.

I have two teenaged daughters. My irrational fears for their safety have haunted all the dark corners, and occasionally the bright, shiny front room, of my mind ever since each of them was born. Ann Hood had faced down the largest demon I’d ever even conceived of and written a book — by all accounts a beautiful book — about the experience. That is badassery, and not just garden-variety bad-assery. That is bad-assery on a mystical, magical level that I am afraid to touch. I’m afraid if I come into contact with it for more than three minutes my hair will fall out and my organs will cease to function.

Suddenly I couldn’t even face Ann’s picture on Facebook without almost bursting into tears. To be fair, I’m of the age where I burst into tears just about every time our dogs do something cute or when I miss garbage pickup day, but this was emotional response that I was not interested in learning how to to handle. I snapped my laptop shut. My break was over. I didn’t want to talk about fiction anyway. I would not be signing up for Ann Hood’s workshop.

So I go to Ireland. I take a creative nonfiction workshop with Tommy and Suzanne Strempek Shea and a playwriting workshop with Leanna. I’m immersed in finding ways to assimilate and understand the super-positive things they say, which my ego goes crazy for, and the suggestions for improvement, which my ego likes to put aside for at least a few days before really thinking about. On Monday, all I hear is that everybody loves my stuff and I’m funny and wise. On Wednesday, I realize that people also said I need to go deeper. I need to put more of myself on the page. I need to not dash stuff off and call it done, to maybe not always go for the quick jokes, to not be afraid of the dark corners.

Suzanne and Tommy also said, have you read Ann Hood’s stuff? She’s amazing. You two have a lot in common. I smiled and imagined I looked like a coyote, thin lips stretched over too-big teeth. Yeah, I’ll have to check her out, I said.

We had craft talks every day, and I attended Ann’s, reasoning that I could probably be in the same room with her without breaking down, because she’s written so much I felt relatively safe that we might not get to the sad book. Her latest, The Book That Matters Most, was due out within weeks so she talked about that. My cowardice was rewarded. I’d looked forward to Michael Ruhlman’s talk on the last day of the seminar, because he’d written so many books and articles I’d liked so much and I figured his talk wouldn’t challenge me emotionally because he mostly writes about food and, you know, he’s a guy.

Michael’s talk was where it all fell apart for me. He writes about a lot more than food; in fact, he’s got a new book of fiction due out this fall. I think he’s at Breadloaf while I type this. Anyway, yeah, he’s a guy, but he talked a lot about the pain and emotional toll of a writing life. He talked about writing about one topic but then going deeper and being brave and real. And about ten minutes into his talk he gestured toward his friend of 30 years, Ann Hood, who was sitting behind me. He told us about Comfort. About Ann’s bravery.

I could hear Ann react behind me, very quietly. I managed to make it though the rest of his talk. Then I just about got back to my room before I totally lost it.

After about an hour of crying and looking out my window at sheep, I realized what I’d felt wasn’t an aberration, wasn’t a freaky dumb thing I did because I’m so afraid to face my fear. It was kind of the reason I went to Ireland in the first place. We’re all afraid, to a certain extent, all my new MFA and Ireland seminar friends. I might have been the only one to take things to such a clownish level as to slink around pretending not to know who people were, but I think only Tommy saw my reaction, and it didn’t seem to freak him out. I think because that’s why he and Suzanne and Leanne and Ann and Michael and all the other amazing faculty and speakers we heard from in Ireland were all there too. There were all there all doing their damndest to show us, by example and with love, how to do just this.

So, thank you for that.group photo


I Used To Be Known As a Hot Italian


This video shows my Dad, Fred, helping me kickstart (in the pre-2000s sense of the word) my cookbook project, which is to be a collection of Italian Addonizio family recipes.

I know many friends have been awaiting this one for awhile. This is just to let you know that, as we say in the restaurant business, I’ve got it working. It’s in the oven, much like the Chicken Scarpariello you see here. The problem is I’m not convinced it should be a book. I think it might be better as a digital romp through my family’s history, made with Omeka or some other cool digital scholarship software, with sound files and recipes. But those take, like, years in the oven. best oven prep action shot

(And until my project is done cooking, enjoy the NY Times Cooking’s awesome Chicken Scarpariello recipe.)

Let’s talk about craft

Or, actually, to put it more directly, let’s listen to this fab radio interview with me and Shelagh Shapiro as we talk about craft.

Shelagh is a novelist whose first book, “Shape of the Sky,” blew my mind. She’s also the owner/head honcho/producer of the fantabulous radio show/podcast “Write the Book” for which she recently interviewed yours truly.

What I like about the show, and Shelagh’s entire approach, is how it focuses on the how of writing, the why, the questions that keep us up at night wondering about how to do justice to scene and character and plot, how to work to hold everything together before it all falls apart.

Shelagh’s not interested in talking to writers about how they found their agents or how much time they spend at the desk everyday. Lots of people do that. “Write the Book” is about how the writing actually gets done. 

So take a listen!

Gannett “Resets” and the Vermont Way

They did it again.

I read about the latest layoffs at Gannett last night while I was cooking dinner. I had a glass of wine and then I coughed up this really vitriolic post about how I was going to warn the undergraduates I work with to boycott their papers and never, ever go to work for Gannett. I used the words “disgusting,” and “cheating” and I think “corrupt.”

But I deleted the post after about a half hour. It felt like ranting, like shaking my tiny fists at people who weren’t listening to me anyway.

You have to admit I’ve got a point though. Newspapers have been dying for a long time, and all the publicly held, ridiculously huge media corporations are doing this sort of thing every couple of months. But Gannett seems to have a special penchant for doing it in a particularly nasty way. They make everyone reapply for the jobs they already have.

Just out of journalism school and you got your cops reporter job six months ago? Gannett says: Reapply for the position you bought a $60,000 master’s degree to get and moved states to take in the first place, and we’ll see what happens.

Been trudging in every day for the last 30 years to work as features editor, working through hurricanes and holidays and nights and weekends to put out a well-done entertainment tab? Gannett says: Reapply and we’ll see. Maybe you’ll get lucky and you’ll get reassigned to a cops reporter job in the next county so we can let that newly hired 22 year-old go back to where he came from. At least you’ll get to hang onto your health insurance.

At one point a good 80 percent of all my friends in four states worked as journalists. This fall most of the last of them have lost their jobs. These are career writers and editors with stellar credentials who have given decades to the work because they believe in it and they’re good at it. And the handful of my friends who have managed to hold onto their jobs are stressed and freaked out, surviving the latest rounds of layoffs only to wonder when the next rounds are coming. All of them have been treated unkindly, inhumanely.

This is what I really meant to say on Facebook: I’d been sitting up here in Vermont feeling sorry for myself because I haven’t been able to land anything full-time since I got here two years ago. I tend to kvetch to whoever will listen about how mediocre and expensive my family’s health insurance is these days. Things like that.

But that all pales next to the fact that I’ve found friends and fun work that I love here in this state with hardly any fulltime jobs. I’m trying to learn what people tell me is the Vermont way: Cobble together part-time gigs; leave yourself a little time to keep your creative projects going if you can. Also: quit complaining about insurance.

All the work I’ve found has been through caring friends who’ve taken time to help me find what I need when I need it, who then check in from time to time to offer support and friendship and make sure it’s all going okay.

It’s a different model than I’m used to and I haven’t quite gotten the hang of it all yet; just about everybody I know here is better at it than I am. But it beats the hell out of giving all my waking hours to a corporation I can never trust to treat me or my friends with anything like kindness.

Tired now.

cindy proofing
Cindy gets ready to proofread because my brain is now fried.

Me: I don’t know what to write.
Cindy: Seriously?
Me: Yeah. I’m really tired.
Cindy: Ok. We spent the summer busting our butts to publish books for Champlain students to use in class (including the amazing Larry Connolly’s new collection of student work, “Best Student Creative Nonfiction”), and we just sent the first title that we built from the ground up (Tim Brookes’ “First-Time Author”) to the printer yesterday. Our publishing company is printing your second novel (that’ll go to the printer tonight) and it’s the crux of the biscuit for our blowout inaugural launch party September 20, for which I have been researching hors d’ouevre recipes for two days. That is all just frickin’ awesome. Own it!
Me: Crux of the what?

Looking for us?

Barnes MacQueen Publishing Resources officially opened for business January 1, 2014 in the Karma Birdhouse, 47 Maple Street, Burlington, Vermont. We are Cindy Barnes (president) and Kim MacQueen (vice president). We are consultants and counselors to indie authors and are developing curriculum and events covering a wide range of publishing topics.

Welcome to the world, BMPR.

Some of the niceties, like our website, are in development now. In the meantime, you can reach Kim at kim@barnesmacqueen.com and cindy@barnesmacqueen.com. If you like, head over to facebook and like us. We’ll keep you posted there until everything back here is ready for prime time. 

Happy 2014! Whee!