Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Jo-Ann Mapson:

Welcome and thank you to our January featured author, Jo-Ann Mapson.

Over my twenty-plus years of in publishing, I have experienced the highs of seeing a book made into a TV movie, and my career fall off the map completely. When Solomon’s Oak was published in 2010, I was stunned. My previous publisher had dropped me for low sales figures (which ironically today would be great sales figures).  My agent and I had a frank discussion before she began submitting the book.  “Your sales record counts against you,” was mentioned often enough that I understood clearly that it might be time for a pseudonym.  Yes, I was disheartened, but I had also had a frank talk with myself.   You have published nine novels.  That’s more than most people do in a lifetime.  Maybe your time is over.  Maybe from now on you will read and make jam and learn how to knit.  And that’s OK. 

But within two weeks she sold the book to Bloomsbury, and essentially, my career started over.  I received a low advance.  My expectations were cautious.  For one thing, I was older by twenty years, which I’ll talk about later this month, I promise. 

But I want to start this month’s blog talking about videos.  Specifically, this interview series, what it can do, what I learned from them, and why I think they are essential not only to promoting your book, but also providing a connection between writer and reader—especially now that the bookstores are disappearing--again. 

First, it’s important to explain the differences of the publishing experience in 2012 versus 1992.  What was different?  Gone were the days of national book tours, staying in 5-star hotels on the publisher’s nickel, and eating dinners for which the publisher paid.  Also absent for a large chunk of writers were national reviews, print advertising, magazine interviews, and radio spots.  It didn’t happen overnight.  Venues like the Los Angeles Times Book Review, which had nearly always reviewed me, and had space to list events, were long buried. Newspapers and magazines were folding.  Book trailers began to appear online, ranging from way too long discussions with the writer to minute-long, musical soundtrack only, images to short film.

YouTube was born.

So of course it became my pastime to watch other writers interviewed and be envious that no one had asked me to do such an event.  Then I saw and admired video a local filmmaker had done of my friend and former student, novelist Judi Hendricks.

Unlike a book trailer, which aims to give a tantalizing glimpse into the story, this was about Judi, the person, the writer, her passion for baking, her mutt dog, Blue, and a brief tour of her impressive Stamm house.  What it did for the reader was provide a close-up, intimate, coffee klatch.

Lois Gilbert, the filmmaker, had published seven novels of her own, and before that, sold a thousand of her original artworks, mainly photorealistic landscapes and portraits done in colored pencil.  She felt she had nothing more to say in those formats, and turned to film. 

I might never have met Lois if not for Judi.  Santa Fe is a lot like a collective of small towns.  I live outside of town, on a couple acres and dirt roads.  Lois lives in town; Judi, midway between each of us. The writing and film were our connections.  Impressed with the video she’d done for Judi, I began saving up money for a film Lois could make about me, since I knew there was no chance my publisher would cover it.  Lois and I talked on the phone a few times, and she said to jot down topics I wanted to cover.  This proved to be difficult for a number of reasons.  One, who am I that anyone would be interested to watch for 3 minutes or longer?  One of the difficulties of accessing that public self is being a writer in the first place.  I’d be thrilled to stay at home all the time, to write and receive checks.  Alas, especially now, there is a need for publicity.  So Lois came to my house one hot summer day. We’d planned to just chat, shoot some footage of my dogs, and then schedule a date for the “actual” filming.

What happened next was spontaneous and perhaps the best way to access information from a writer.  She sat me down and started asking me broad questions.  What’s important to you?  Why do you write?  If you couldn’t write anymore, what would you do?  The dogs flitted in and out, bringing toys, begging for attention, and their distractions made us laugh.  I began to see how she’d potentially use them for a narrative thread.  That relaxed me.  We moved through various rooms, Lois commented on art and furniture, the taxidermy raven in my office.  I answered questions, told stories, and we focused on various objects, giving a kind of informal rambling tone to the topics, but connecting them as well.  We shot film all day.  It was exhausting.  Exhaustion is as much a tool as any photographic cut, aperture, or special effect.  I realize this because as the day went on, the better the footage became.

 The last little bit we did happened like this. 

Lois: “Now, before I go, is there any topic we missed?”

Jo-Ann:  “Yes, I wanted to talk about my marriage.”

 She sat me down on the couch.

I said, “I’ve been married thirty-eight years to the same man.  I don’t think long term relationships are”—pause, while I gathered my thoughts, my nerves shot, words escaping me—“praised enough.”  There is a moment after that where I pause, then say, “I love my husband.”

 A rag tag conversation that ended up being the final result’s opening scene.  It reveals the true self of a writer, and love is the core issue I write about.

 The more tired I became, the more open I was. 

 We did a second day of filming where I was working in the kitchen, making a batch of raspberry jam, but most of the film that made it into the final cut happened that first day.  Jam is my one culinary thrill, a way to share Santa Fe’s local fruits and vegetables. These are the gifts I give my family every Christmas.  I’d like to say I’m really accomplished at it, but the truth is, making jam is easy.  It is also a lot like writing a story.

 So at the end of that day, I was in the kitchen, spooning hot jam into glass jars while Lois was packing up to go home.  As I scraped the last spoonful of ruby red jam from the pot, I took it into the dining room where Lois was and said, “Have a taste.” 


It is the final bit of action in the video.  That four seconds is me, through and through, a slightly smart aleck sixty-year-old woman writer who cares more about reading than she does a clean house (Remember that, if you ever drop by unannounced.  Chances are the dog hair will cover everything like sheen).

There is where I made the connection to my reader.  That is the writer behind the story.  Posted on Facebook, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or my website, a reader forms a more intimate bond, I think, than reading a bio on a jacket flap.  What do you think?

Jo-Ann Mapson is the author of eleven novels and a book of short stories. Her work is widely anthologized and her literary papers are being collected by Boston University’s Twentieth Century Author’s Collection. Finding Casey, featuring some of the characters from Solomon’s Oak, was published October 2012. Core faculty and co-creator of The University of Alaska Anchorage’s low-residency MFA Program in Writing, she lives with her husband and their three Italian greyhounds in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she is at work on a new novel. Owen’s Daughter will be published in 2014 by Bloomsbury Publishers. Meet her on YouTube or at her website.


Anonymous said...

Nicely done. I wouldn't generally watch these, but I'm glad I did. I particularly like the line about dogs making us better people. And I agree it's humanizing and charming and many readers will connect with it. The writer seems very at ease and gracious. And the jam looks delicious...

Trouble is, I can't for the life of me imagine putting my private self--family, home--out there on the internet. (Not that anyone's asking me to!) Hopefully not everyone has to do this to succeed.

That's one of the hardest things about this publishing environment. There's more of a one-size-fits-all expectation. "You must" do a website, social media, videos, whatever. Leaves little room for the many different types of personalities and temperaments and comfort levels. Despite the focus on an individual in the video (and the obvious success of this one), the process seems vaguely homogenizing of all writers to me.

Does anyone else have this?

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Someone else recommended the video to me and I found it on the internet. I think it's wonderful how it captures you as a person and as a writer. I'm glad you wrote about it so now I know more! :-)

mo said...

Loved this ~ as always ~ and go in search of your videos that lend another vital dimension to who you are. I'm so astounded by the generous sharing of your life and feel like I've found a true friend even though we've never met in person. A bit effusive gushing here perhaps, but I love your house, your art, your dogs, your clothes, your jams and marmalades and your sweet faced husband and not necessarily in that order; that I love your writing is a given. Thanks for making me smile.