• Here’s the Story

    I wrote a book called The Forest for the Trees and it’s an advice book for writers. For four years, I blogged every day about the agony of writing and publishing, and the self loathing that afflicts most writers. A community of like-minded malcontents gathered and thus ensued a grand conversation. Now, the most popular posts are gathered in Greatest Hits ( a work in progress) Gluttons for punishment can scroll through the archives. If I've learned one thing about writers, it's this: we really are all alone. Love, Betsy
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Well East Coast Girls Are Hip I Really Dig Those Styles They Wear

Big shout out to my beloved colleague and friend Erin Hosier and her brilliant client Edan Lepucki. Check out this NYT article in today’s paper and order a copy of Edan’s novel from Powell’s.
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Edan Lepucki with her book. Orders for it soared after Stephen Colbert cited it.CreditLeah Nash for The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — Nobody expected much from Edan Lepucki’s debut novel. Her publisher planned a tiny first printing of 12,000 copies. She was assigned to an editor with almost no experience. Was there a marketing budget? How cute of her to ask.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Ms. Lepucki,33, won the literary Lotto.

A few weeks ago, the late-night television hostStephen Colbert began attacking Amazon for discouraging customers from buying titles from his publisher, Hachette Book Group. But Mr. Colbert picked another Hachette author — a startled Ms. Lepucki — as the focal point of his campaign against Amazon.

“We will not lick their monopoly boot,” he said of Amazon on “The Colbert Report” beforeexhorting viewers to preorder Ms. Lepucki’s post-apocalyptic “California” from independent bookstores. The Amazon-Hachette brawl, Mr. Colbert explained, “is toughest on young authors who are being published for the first time.”

Ms. Lepucki, watching TV at home in suburban San Francisco, watched Mr. Colbert hold up “California” with a mixture of elation and nausea. (She had been alerted a few hours in advance to watch.) And then he did it again a few nights later, this time challenging viewers to buy enough copies to get the novel on the New York Times best-seller list. He also recommended “California” to his 6.6 million Twitter followers.

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Madeleine Sargent shipping copies of “California.”CreditLeah Nash for The New York Times

“I felt kind of icky to be benefiting from this fight,” Ms. Lepucki said. “At the same time, the opportunity to reach readers is a fantasy.”

“I did still wonder whether anyone would care,” she added.

Oh, they care. “California,” which arrives on Tuesday, is now one of the most preordered debut titles in Hachette history, according to a company spokeswoman. Ms. Lepucki’s agent is negotiating rights with the producer Gregg Fienberg and Killer Films. Little, Brown and Company, the Hachette division behind “California,” has increased the initial print order and doubled the length of her author tour.

Ms. Lepucki found herself in Portland, Ore., this week to sign 10,000 copies of her novel for the independent superstore Powell’s Books, where “California” hit No. 1 on the best-seller list after Mr. Colbert directed viewers there.

“Occasionally, my brain would overheat, and I’d forget how to write,” she said of her signing session. “My signature is like a squished spider.”

How Ms. Lepucki ended up as perhaps the only author to benefit from the Amazon-Hachette spat over pricing is a tale of almost unbelievable luck. And it has a twist: Her husband, Patrick Brown, is employed, in a sense, by Amazon. He works for Goodreads, a social network and peer recommendation engine for books; Amazon acquired it last year.

“Amazon has historically been a bully, and I don’t shop there,” Ms. Lepucki said. “But I love Goodreads. For the record. And my marriage.”

Mr. Colbert’s promotion of “California” started with Sherman Alexie, an anti-Amazonian and National Book Award winner for “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Mr. Colbert invited Mr. Alexie on his show and asked him to bring a book by an author penalized by Amazon’s refusal to take Hachette preorders. Mr. Alexie said that he asked Hachette for a few advance copies of books by debut authors to peruse.“California” was on the top of the stack. “I honestly suspected it wasn’t going to be my kind of book — too earnest,” Mr. Alexie said in a telephone interview. “But I started reading it, and it turned out to be an earnest page turner.”

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Ms. Lepucki signed thousands of copies of “California.”CreditLeah Nash for The New York Times

With its post-apocalyptic setting, “California” mines a very busy vein in contemporary fiction. But Ms. Lepucki sees it as a love story. A young couple, Frida and Cal, have fled the ruins of Los Angeles to make a home in the wilderness. Everything changes when Frida becomes pregnant, and they leave isolation for a strange settlement filled with threats.

It seems impossible that a story with such dark undercurrents could spring from someone so laid-back and gregarious. Over breakfast in Los Angeles, where she grew up, the freckled Ms. Lepucki displayed a surferish vibe, right down to the wet blond hair that she twisted to the side as she spoke. Still, her eyes, which are a striking shade of blue, had a tendency to flash mischievously.

“I have a darker imagination than most people,” she said. “If you don’t ponder the end of the world on a regular basis, I don’t think you’re really human.”

Ms. Lepucki winced when asked if the couple in “California” is modeled on her and her husband. It’s an easy guess to make, especially since she became pregnant with their 3-year-old son, Dixon Bean, while writing.

But no. “I’m madly in love with my husband, but it’s not us,” she said. “People seem to hate Frida, so I hope I’m not her.” (Her mother-in-law’s response to the book: “I’m sad she killed me in a blizzard.”)

Ms. Lepucki is a graduate of Oberlin College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and is the founder and director of Writing Workshops Los Angeles, which has drawn 1,300 participants since it began in 2008. She is also known in book circles as a writer for The Millions, a highbrow literary website.

“California” is actually her second novel. But the first, a disturbing story about teenage girls that her agent, Erin Hosier, called “the novel equivalent of a Harmony Korine movie,” failed to sell to a publisher. “It was overly ambitious,” Ms. Hosier said. “We finally stopped trying to sell it, because the rejection became too embarrassing and painful.”

That put more pressure on “California.” “You really can’t fail twice in a row if you have her credentials,” Ms. Hosier said.

Even before the boost from Mr. Colbert, “California” was receiving praise from respected novelists like Jennifer Egan and Ben Fountain and popping up on summer reading lists. Little, Brown ultimately printed 60,000 hardcovers.

But insta-fame feels more than a little weird, and she confessed to feeling awkward about the experience of being interviewed. She had another confession to make, too: Yes, she shuns Amazon, but just to be honest she did once buy a tin of Bag Balm, a salve first developed to soothe cow udders. “I had a chapped elbow,” she explained.

Boy You’re Going To Carry That Weight

Is writing genetic? There are certainly writing dynasties and by that I mean Kingsley and Martin Amis, Dorothy and William Wordsworth, The Brontes, the Cheevers, Cheech and Chong. My mother wanted to write. Does that count? My sister is a writer. I think the Safran Foers have seven or eight writers in their family. On the nature/nurture spectrum I gotta say these thighs are from my dad.

Were you born to write?

 

If You Don’t Know Me By Now

 

My insomnia continues. And my anxiety about home invasion is at an all time high. Other than that, I feel  great. Look, I know that statistics are in favor of never having anyone enter your home more dangerous than a girl scout, but that doesn’t stop the panic attacks, and by that I mean a powerful desire for a cheese sandwich right around now. Only I’m too afraid to go downstairs in THE DARK. Maybe this home invasion thing is a METAPHOR for something. Fear of clients? Fear of a 1,000 page  manuscript about Nova Scotia. Fear of Nova Scotia. Fear of marketing meetings. Fear of Alberto Vitale. Fear of calendars, magazines, and the environment. Fear of light bulbs, petitions and Thin Mints.

What’s your nightmare?

 

Baby You’re Everything I Ever Dreamed Of

I swore I would never do it and last night in a bout of horrible insomnia I did it: I wrapped my arms around Mark Zuckerberg and smoked a cigarette with Sheryl Sandberg or Andy Samburg or James Franco between selfies and here I am the four billionth person to sign up for Facebook. The four billionth hamburger. The other day I compared an elderly woman’s eyebrows to the golden arches and really patted myself on the back for that one. Do you still write poetry? NO. Are you on Twitter? YES. Instagram? YES. Do you have a blog? You’re reading it. Where did you go to high school? Technically? Where did you go to college? What stairwell in which dorm did you write a poem about death? Can I friend my puppy? Can I friend all the men who failed to worship me? Can you love others before you love yourself? Easily. Can you  friend the dead?

How much time do you waste on FB instead of writing?

Shining Star for You To See

 GIVE IT UP FOR ONE OF OUR OWN!

Took this off the web, not entirely sure it’s SHana.

 

PEN Emerging Voices Fellow Shanna Mahin’s OH! YOU PRETTY THINGS, a roman a clef about a young woman in L.A. whose efforts to escape the manic orbit of her former child-star mother land her in the employ of one of the hottest starlets in Hollywood, to Dutton, in a significant deal.

You know, every once in a great while I actually feel completely happy for someone else. When I read in Publisher’s Marketplace that Shanna sold her novel I felt like this was the best motherfucking news I had heard in a long time. How many drafts, revisions, xanax? How many therapy sessions, break ups, tantrums, reams of paper, forests felled? How much blood? How many tears? And what about lift off? Days when you get out of your way, where there is a direct line from your brain to the words. When it all finally starts to happen on the page. ANd someone says, yes, we would like to publish your book.  Our little girls is growing up. ! Give it up for Shana! Congrats girl!  Don’t forget the little people!

I Can Introduce You To Your Maker

Results are in. Winners of the “My Favorite Monster” contest have been selected by Jean Zimmerman. Please send me your snail mail address to askbetsylerner@gmail.com for your copy of Savage Girl. Thanks to everyone who participated.

 

There were a lot of freaky characters suggested. I have to go with the ones that scared me, personally, the most. (Dylan, in the liner notes of Bringing It All Back Home: “i know there’re some people terrified of the bomb. but there are other people terrified t be seen carrying a modern screen magazine. experience teaches that silence terrifies people the most”) And fear is always personal in fiction – I first read Lord of the Flies when I was in middle school, it made me quake when I read it in bed, and I still cannot pick the book up.

-Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s MISERY. Fandom turned on its perverted ear. You want it, you pathetic fame-grubbing scribbler? You got it.

-Chigurgh in Cormac McCarthy’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Pure stochastic soul-sucking nihilism.

-Hannibal Lecter from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Not only amorality but his sadistic treatment of Clarice. By the way, how often to great books translate into superb movies?

Of the three, I’d pick Chigurgh as the one I’d like least to spend any time at all, even in shackles and wearing a face restraint. He breathes poison.

 

 

Don’t Cry for Me Argentina

You’ve heard the expression, “no tears for the writer, no tears for the reader.” What do you make of it? I kind of hate it. But you know I’m a feelings fascist. On the other hand I know it to be true. I have cried while writing shit down. I guess the question is: does that make it good. Just because you can stir yourself, will the reader be stirred. Does “authentic emotion” produce great writing. Or “true” writing. All of these quotation marks are a little sickening. What am I trying to say? If I make myself laugh, will I make the reader laugh? If I fall asleep at my computer? If I eat green eggs and ham? How do you really create feeling in the reader, by having the feelings yourself or manipulating language to be evocative?

 

LAST CALL to WIN a FREE copy of SAVAGE GIRL. Who is your favorite monster in literature. Author Jean Zimmerman will select her top three picks at the end of the week. 

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