(c) 2010 Jeanne Powell
"Am I Famous Yet?"
all rights reserved
Writing is a lonely profession, which is why Ivory Madison founded Red Room. In a virtual mansion dedicated to writers, we are bound to connect with at least one kindred spirit who appreciates what we have to say. And we are grateful to be known as writers within our community.
Outside that sacred space, it is a different world. Whether you're out somewhere eating, drinking, throwing snow balls, roller skating, jumping into mosh pits, the queries all have a dreary familiarity. Oh, you're a writer? Well, what do you write? My aunt had a bunch of books printed, but they're setting in her basement. Am I supposed to have heard of you? Are you on the best seller list? Have you won any prizes? Can you really make a living doing that? Yes, but what do you really do?
Attending my first AWP convention in Denver last April, I was gratified to discover that we are a force in numbers alone, that there are at least 4,000 writers from around the world who put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and who write without apology. I went to workshops which left me floating on clouds of possibility, and encountered literary celebrities who actually stopped and talked to the rest of us.
Yes, but am I as famous as I'm going to get, and is there a way to do something about that, and does it matter?
When I first went into print with Jukebox Press in 1994, I had no idea about anything, but I went ahead and found out stuff and did it anyway. Friends who liked my writing became art patrons more than a decade ago, and financed my early chapbooks and first full-length collection of poetry and flash fiction, MY OWN SILENCE (shortlisted for a national prize in 2002). I had hundreds of business cards printed and networked wherever I went, not knowing what else to do. At an art reception four years ago, I met editor Susan Taylor and gave her a copy of MY OWN SILENCE. She chose two poems to be printed in Essence magazine. What a thrill to get paid for a poem! During a book signing by Taylor in 2009, I gave her a copy of WORD DANCING -- new poems, flash fiction and 21 of my collages. Although she is not with Essence any longer, Taylor still knows a lot of people.
A birthday present in 2008 provided me with funds to attend a post-election political fundraiser in Silicon Valley. I handed a copy of WORD DANCING to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton because it contains my prose poem, "About That Woman," which has gotten a lot of attention from feminists.
In 2009 I gave a copy of WORD DANCING to District Attorney Kamala Harris at a fundraising event. We had met and talked at other events around the City.
Independent booksellers sometimes respond favorably to local authors. Two of them carry my books and have hosted readings for me. When a friend emailed a cell-phone photo of my book WORD DANCING resting on a bookseller's shelf, I immediately forwarded it to a few dozen people, just on impulse.
Recently I took a fascinating one-day workshop with writing coach Beth Barany, on how to become a best-selling author. She said that forwarding that photo was exactly the right thing to do.
I have been advised no agent will look at me until I produce more fiction than poetry, and perhaps more nonfiction than fiction. I'm working on it. My third book will be a collection of short fiction, and I have a number of essays on Red Room which may be included in a future collection.
Back in 1996 I started a micro press because neither I nor anyone I knew could figure out how to get published professionally. Since then I have published about 18 authors. A friend decided I needed a presence on the Web, and he set up a low-maintenance site for me in 2005 (http://jeanne-powell.com). Then Redroom invited me to join, and I accepted.
Happily toiling in relative obscurity, I was stunned earlier this year to learn that I have resale value on Barnes & Noble, Powell's.com and Amazon. My out-of-print chapbook, CADENCES, is out there on all three Web sites, selling for ungodly amounts of money ($75 in one case), and I don't get any of it. But that's OK. The sheer novelty of my work selling for more than the original purchase price ($8) while I am alive is enough -- at least for now.
Thanks to Red Room, I had an opportunity to write for AOL on the subject of travel. When I checked my email one day -- which I don't do very often -- I discovered my article had been accepted, was out there on the big Internet, and was being read. Five hundred hits on my Red Room site in one week from that article!
Writing is much more enjoyable than getting into print or marketing a new book. But it still feels good when I meet someone at a social or political event who says, "oh, I've heard of you." Will it get any better than this? It just might.
Causes Jeanne Powell Supports
Union of Concerned Scientists, VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against War), Doctors Without Borders, Waterkeeper Alliance, PSR (Physicians for Social Responsibility...