Announcement!

Publisher’s Weekly Shelf Awareness (Dec 1, 2022)

(https://www.shelf-awareness.com/issue.html?issue=4370#m58402)

Four women with extensive book world experience have launched Sibylline Press, which will focus on publishing “the brilliant works of women authors over the age of 50,” including memoirs, narrative nonfiction and fiction. Sibylline Press will release six books in fall 2023 and six in spring 2024 and will be distributed to the trade by Publishers Group West. The company also has an unusual publishing model, which involves Sibylline authors being deeply involved in the promotion of their books and other Sibylline titles.

Sibylline Press takes its name from the ancient Sibyls, older women whose oracular utterances contained wisdom captured in scrolls that Roman leaders often consulted. The press is, it said, “founded on the concept of collaboration illustrated by our Sibylline math, in which 1 x 1 = 100. Not one Sibyl, but many, are formidable. We have carried that metaphor into every aspect of the business, engaging our authors in daily, weekly, and monthly communications, in setting up our promotional strategy, and in developing a collaborative approach to promotion.”

Vicki DeArmon

The Sibylline founders are:

Publisher Vicki DeArmon, who has a publishing, bookselling and entrepreneurial background that includes founding Foghorn Press at age 25. (Foghorn was distributed by PGW.) After 13 years, she sold Foghorn to Avalon Books, now part of Hachette Book Group. She was also marketing and events director of Copperfield’s Books in Northern California for eight years, and has consulted to California independent bookstores, creating the “Everyone Gets a Book” holiday program that is still used by the California Independent Booksellers Alliance (CALIBA).

Julia Park Tracey

Executive editor Julia Park Tracey, a journalist who has headed city magazines and music, literary, and regional alt-news tabloids as well as the book publishing imprint of Stellar Media Group. She’s also a social media maven, conducting training and audits for groups such as the former Northern California Independent Booksellers Association and the Women’s National Book Association.

Rights and special sales director Anna Termine, who has worked in both trade and academic publishing for more than 30 years, specializing in rights and licensing. Termine and DeArmon established the Independent Travel Publishers Association together 35 years ago.

Design director Alicia Feltman, who is a web designer for the American Booksellers Association’s IndieCommerce platform and CALIBA as well as for Copperfield’s, where she worked with DeArmon on various projects.

Under the Sibylline publishing model, authors of all of a season’s titles will participate in shared tours, advertising and a promotional strategy that “celebrates the brilliance of women over 50.” Authors will contribute to the marketing budget and receive a generous royalty until their contribution is paid back at which time the royalty returns to a traditional one.

DeArmon commented: “We are a traditional publisher. But even as a traditional publisher, we’re pushing against some long-held lines, giving our authors unheard of support and access. We believe that the better an author understands the industry, the better she can work within it and with us to achieve success for her book.”

Sibylline Press’s Fall list includes three memoirs and two works of historical fiction and one mystery series:

These Broken Roads: Scammed and Vindicated: One Woman’s Story by Donna Hayes, the memoir of a Jamaican immigrant who gets scammed and robbed of her life’s savings by the “love of her life” met on an online dating site, but overcomes hardships to find success.

Becoming Maeve: Coming Out in Corporate America by Maeve DuVally, the memoir of coming out transgender in one of the most high-profile financial institutions in the U.S.

Reading Jane by Susannah Kennedy. After the suicide of her domineering mother, the author discovers diaries spanning 45 years that challenge and upend long-held truths in this memoir.

The Bereaved by Julia Park Tracey. In 1859, after her husband’s death, a grieving mother tries to support her children in New York City, losing them to the Home of the Friendless and the Orphan Train, then sets out to reclaim them. Based on the author’s family experience.

The Pocket Book by Patricia Reis. In this work of historical fiction, upon the death of her cold father, a suppressed 50-year-old woman begins an ancestral quest in Ohio in the 1800s, awakening secrets and herself.

The Rotting Whale: A Hugo Sandoval Eco Mystery, the first in a new mystery series by Jann Eyrich. Steeped in the noir of The City, the old-school inspector with his trademark Borsalino fedora, is a media darling, reluctant bachelor, and people’s hero fighting the good fight in a modern era that attempts to eclipse the old San Francisco Sandoval loves. In his first case in the series, he must find his sea legs before he can solve the mystery of how a 90-ton blue whale became stranded twice in a remote inlet off the North Coast.

Forthcoming from Sibylline Press Fall 2023

Excited to announce that I have signed a contract and my historical novel, The Bereaved, will be in bookstores in fall 2023. Prepare yourself for nattering and humblebrags with a side of shameless self promotion.

I hope you will love the story of Martha and her Orphan Train children, based on the true story of my fourth great grandmother and her four scattered children. Writing this story was one way I grieved the loss of our son. Martha and her lost boy are so much a part of me. Literally in my DNA.💔❤️‍🩹❤️

#fallbooks #bookstagram #booksofinstagram #historicalfiction #civilwar #suicidelosssurvivor

How is This Possible? Coincidences and Other Disasters

CANjuliahandscrosstopSI spend a lot of my time howling the cosmic yawp into the blue beyond. It looks, to mortal eyes, like I’m making lunch and beating a deadline and running errands and remembering to put out the trash cans. But I assure you, a goodly portion of every day is given over to caterwauling (mostly in my inside voice but not always) on the WHY of everyday living. The WHY of how did we get here? The WHY of how can X be happening?

I’m old enough to know better. I am hitting that midpoint in life. I have successfully raised 4.9 kids (just 1 year left on #5). We have a retirement plan (sort of). We own our cars (not new ones, God, no!). We’ve traveled around the world a bit (more when single than together) and we’re not on our first marriage (to each other, yes. In total, no.).

So you can bet that I don’t believe in fairy tales, magick, the Virgin birth. I do, however, believe in Something. It’s just too random that my husband and I met when we were both at the nadir of our love lives. I find Something in the spectacle of my own resurrection after that hairy divorce when I was a shadow of my ex, a skeleton of who I was and had yet to become, up to now, when I feel fully fledged and mighty as Aphrodite on steroids.

I have worked as a journalist for some 30 years now, writing poetry and short stories and a novel or two between times, trying to write the one story that was true. Reaching for Hemingway’s One True Thing. I have almost had it once or twice. Missed it by *that* much.

I was talking with my very elderly Aunt Doris about four years ago, telling her about my new story idea. I want to do a sort of “Diary of Anne Frank,” but a fictionalized version. Tell that teen girl’s story in a different way. Be in her shoes. Tell it sideways. Something like that. I told my aunt this on the phone, knowing I would see her the next day, and she encouraged me, as she always did, with alacrity. “Oh, that sounds wonderful,” she said. The next day I drove 70 miles to her house to see her, but she was gone. Still breathing, but the essence of her had slipped down, underwater, to where I couldn’t reach her anymore, and though I talked and talked to her, she wasn’t really there. We never spoke again.

So we held her memorial and sprinkled her ashes and cleaned her house, and my mother handed me a heavy old box of letters and journals. I took them home for later, feeling heavy myself, and wondering at the why, the how, the WTF of it all. We cleaned her house, and I brought home her desk, her martini glasses, her car. I slipped a ring onto my finger that had once adorned hers. I had her glasses remade with my prescription and one day opened that box. The diaries were there.

A few months later, I began typing up the diaries. I posted them on Twitter and Facebook, talked about it on the radio, made friends and followed trails back some 90 years. I’ve been working on this project for four years now; The Doris Diaries, her words, the diaries of a teen girl. Telling her story in a different way. I’ve slid into her shoes, a little sideways.

I’m not sure of the why. I only know that there’s truth here. I don’t know the right questions to ask, but the answers are somehow here anyway. It’s Something. Something I can’t explain.

 

Writing as Though I Had Wings

hand with penI’ve come to that cross-road in a writer’s life where she has to choose between writing what she wants and writing what earns her bread. It might even be one of those modern five-way stoplights where several roads merge and one must decide whether to turn gently to the right, to join the path ahead, or — most alarming of all — veer to the left and go against the traffic, hoping for a break in the rush to slip across. What to do?

And I think I might go for the difficult and risky choice.

This is absolutely one of those moments where, if speaking to young writers, I might say, “Do as I say and not as I do.” Because who would counsel a writer to leave off the path toward Easy and instead push forth into the Difficult? You want success? Don’t do this.

But then I think of all the advice given to me, especially in the past few years, about “Follow your bliss,” and “Do what you love.” Let the angels lead you where they will. I think of the quote from poet Mary Oliver, “I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbably and beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings.” Angels, again. So, I think, well, maybe I should. Maybe it’s time to chase this.

What is the this? It’s a long story, so to speak: My family history, reaching back into long ago when my people first 1545231_10153695308530455_1715698475_nput foot on American soil. Before it was American. Or after, just a century ago, before two great wars and women’s suffrage and Prohibition. I’m looking at my roots, of getting here, of what was left behind and what they came for, and what they achieved, and what it cost. And whom it cost.

So think of slavery and the Trail of Tears. Think of the British Raj and the Industrial Revolution. Think of the Orphan Train, of blood and bones. And — of healing, atonement, and mercy.

Oh, I don’t know how to write any of it, either. I’ll have to get there and see. But I’m finding myself obsessed with the vision I have for this story, and the possibilities. Maybe I’ll give it a year and see what happens.

Maybe I’ll be afraid of nothing as though I had wings.

Virgin No More (Book Review, Part 2)

2015-08-02 18.08.33I just finished reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time. I read Go Set a Watchman when it first came out last month, and read it before reading the beloved old favorite. And despite all the drama, histrionics and harrumphing by TKAM’s defenders of the holy tract and the way things have always been, I must say, I don’t see the issue. Atticus Finch is a racist. How is that shocking?

Small-town Alabama, in the Great Depression (TKAM) or in the fifties (GSAW), was racist. It’s still quite racist, from what I hear and read. (I’ll be traveling there in October and will give a first-hand account of my experience then.) But so are lots of places in the USA. Racism is still prevalent, pretty much everywhere. I grew up in super liberal Marin County and I learned racist slurs and rhymes. Racism is everywhere. To express shock that the fictional character in a book written about either of those time periods — but especially in the thirties — wasn’t racist seems naive.

Since I don’t have the baggage of having read TKAM a dozen times (or even once) since my adolescence, I certainly don’t have the same attachment to envisioning and sanctifying Atticus Finch in one particular way. But I can relate, to an extent. A set of books I grew up on, The Little House books, has a character, Pa (Charles), based on the author’s real father, who is also just, true and faithful. Always loving to his daughters, always dreaming of a better life. What would I say if Pa had been exposed later as a racist or a man with feet of clay? Would that show me the angst people are feeling now over the loss of their dream-daddy, Atticus? It might.

But that event, in fact, has happened. I have read everything I could find about Laura Ingalls Wilder precisely because I am such a fangirl, and some of that reading has been distinctly eye-opening. Pa was a fly-by-night poet and a dreamer who “married up” to Ma’s social class, and she (a shameless racist herself) had to fight to keep them in one place long enough to get an education for her daughters. Laura’s loving glances at her father, and his returned gaze, have been interpreted as incestuous by some  critics. And the family stories themselves were doctored by Laura’s probably bipolar daughter Rose, a staunch Libertarian (and cofounder of the political movement) who urged Laura to fudge the facts to make a better story.

How did I feel about that? Chagrined, of course, but also not surprised. Stories are stories, and facts are facts. I don’t think it’s possible for this white family in TKAM to have lived in small-town Alabama in the 1930s with a Negro housekeeper and a segregationist society and not be affected. Aunt Alexandra was affected. Uncle Jack, Atticus, not so much. The kids saw color. They didn’t understand the background so much, but they knew there were issues.

In TKAM, Scout and Jem attend church with Calpurnia and are confronted by a black church member who doesn’t want them to attend. At that moment, the children understand fully what it’s like to be excluded on the basis of race. The rest of the church allowing the two white children (of a prominent citizen) to come in and feel welcome shows less openness and more — well, maybe self-preservation. Just as Tom Robinson was doomed from the moment Mayella Ewell saw him passing by and asked him to come chop her firewood or whatever else she wanted — the church couldn’t refuse hospitality to Calpurnia’s employer’s children. Tom couldn’t say no and live; the church membership, despite all appearances of merely being hospitable, also couldn’t say no. That’s how ingrained the racism was.

It seems clear that Atticus is a man of character. He sees injustice in Mayella’s (or her father’s) accusation against Tom. He hates an unfair fight (which is why he stopped using guns as a youth, when it was clear he would kill anything he aimed to shoot). And Atticus is a man of duty — he was assigned the case; he didn’t seek it out. He saw through to the end, as far as he humanly could, that the case got his best work. He is a solid man of his word, and he remains that way through both narratives. In other words, Atticus doesn’t change substantively in TKAM, any more than he has “changed” in GSAW. And the mark of a central character is that he or she changes. The arc of growth is the story. Atticus himself is static in TKAM — and he’s still the same, only older, in GSAW.

So the focus of both stories is Scout — what she sees and knows. She grows up by three years in TKAM and learns that people are multifaceted and not always trustworthy. Her experience of getting to know Boo Radley, of working for the hated Mrs. Dubose, and of seeing Calpurnia in the world (Scout’s house) and at home (Calpurnia’s church) taught her that there is more to most people than meets the eye — a worthy lesson: Don’t judge. Scout, as the adult Jean Louise, has also learned about people, having broadened her horizons in New York City. Coming home, she sees at last how small-minded her neighbors are, her Aunt Alexandra, and even her father. She has changed — and again has to grow and change to accept people (even her social inferior, her fiance Hank) for who they are.

Either way, these are Scout’s stories. This is her arc. Although Harper Lee wrote GSAW first, and her editor set her to rewrite, bringing us TKAM, I don’t think it’s the lesser story. I’m perfectly comfortable with GSAW as a sequel — or even a prequel — for TKAM. I believe they are both necessary and valid, now that they are both out in the world.

I wonder if I could have concluded thusly had I read TKAM first?

Your thoughts?