This is an excerpt of my interview with Red Room author, founder, and CEO Ivory Madison. The full interview can be read here.
Tell us a secret about Ivory Madison that no one knows.
I realized recently that most of my fiction is about ineffective female assassins.
What is Red Room all about?
We call redroom.com “the online home of the world’s greatest writers.” It’s an online community created by writers for writers, and it grew organically out of our real-life writers community, the Red Room Writers Society.
Redroom.com, as you know since you’re very active on the site, lets you quickly set up a free, elegant website even if you don’t know anything about computers, and once you’re in, you reach new readers, colleagues, and friends. Some writers are already getting more than a hundred times the traffic they got on their freestanding websites. We like to say, “You take care of the writing, we’ll take care of the technology.” We’re rolling out new features every day to help you manage your life, your writing, and your media. I want writers to have all the tools they need in one place.
Beyond the technology aspect, it’s a great place to share useful information and to learn, to get educated about the writing world, to make connections, to have fun. And most importantly, once the website has paid advertising, we’ll be giving a portion of the proceeds to the causes each and every author supports.
How does Red Room differ from the Red Room Writers Society?
I founded the Red Room Writers Society six years ago to help writers, including me, finish their books. I created what I called my “Writers Studio” program, where writers met at a beautiful mansion and sat quietly and finished their books. It was a supportive community and it was a practical framework for achieving your goals. But community support and a practical framework for writing and promoting your career should be free and easy for everyone in the world, not just a few lucky people in San Francisco.
Redroom.com is the natural extension of the Red Room Writers Society. It’s a beautiful mansion for writers, online, where we can provide all this to everyone, for free. We’re aiming to build an international cultural institution for writers and readers. The internet makes the concept scalable and the time is right.
Every time I look at the author listings on Red Room, they’ve grown exponentially. Are you looking for more authors to join, and what are your criteria?
Yes, after just six months live, we’ve got over a thousand authors and ten thousand members, many of whom are readers, aspiring writers, and industry professionals including literary agents and editors.
We want everyone in our community to join as a member, and some can apply to become Red Room Authors. The criteria are more of an art than a science. In general, a book published by a reputable publisher will do it, but there are always exceptions, like an extraordinarily successful self-published author, a distinguished journalist with no book, or a prize-winning screenwriter. We’re planning to launch other designations to recognize all different kinds of writers, not just book authors.
Our community is for everyone, the aspiring writers, self-published writers, and published authors, but we only allow the published authors to have the designation “Red Room Author.” That part is invitation-only, that’s true. Here’s why: Finding an editor at a publishing house who supports your work by publishing it, rather than self-publishing, is a process that creates a filter. It’s not a perfect system, but it helps readers distinguish the level of quality of the work. When you look through the “Red Room Authors” in our community, you know you’re looking at writers who have achieved something. We go through a process evaluating every single author. You know we created a filter to help you find writers who have achieved something, either because of their writing talent, market success, or some other way that they contribute to the diversity or value of our community as a whole.
You have an exceptionally eclectic background. What’s the favorite hat you wear – singer, entrepreneur, writing coach, graphic novelist, literati, screenwriter, lawyer, spirited teacher of billiards???
You have no idea how eclectic my background is, JT. But we don’t have time here to get into it. I love doing all the things you mentioned, and in one way it can hold you back to have too many interests, to be a dilettante, but in another way, everything I’ve ever done has prepared me for this job—building Red Room. But at heart, more than anything, I’m a writer. Gloria Steinem, one of my heroes, at the end of the day, says she’s “a writer.”
What’s the literary scene like in San Francisco?
It’s amazing. Wonderful. Best in the world, I think, other than New York. I’m from here, so I’m biased in our favor, but I had been living in New Orleans for many years, and so the city’s literary scene was new to me when I returned ten years ago.
Several pillars of the local literary community here were crucial to the creation and success of redroom.com. When I founded the Red Room Writers Society back in 2002, I met many writers who wound up becoming friends and the inspiration for what was possible on a global scale for writers. Jane Ganahl, an author, friend, and the first person I hired to help me invite authors to redroom.com, cofounded Litquake, the city’s premier literary festival—through Litquake, I met hundreds of authors who eventually helped me build redroom.com. Also, my friend, Po Bronson, is not only a successful author, but also famous for his community-building in the writing world, helped me from day one with great advice about what writers wanted and needed online.
The downside of any literary “scene” is that it means readings and parties and events and classes, which means you’re at the party, not writing. Writers have to find time to finish what matters most to them, which for most writers means writing projects, not dinner party projects. Unless supporting other people’s writing is your top priority, your writing has to come first sometimes. I strongly believe you can write anywhere if you just do the writing and forget about the penumbra around writing. Moving to San Francisco or New York will not make you a novelist any more than moving to Hollywood automatically makes you a screenwriter. Marketing is different from writing.
What’s your favorite author story?
Bill Hayes, one of our authors, came over to our office with a signed book and a bottle of good French pink champagne to thank us for creating the website because he loved it and appreciated us so much. I don’t think that happens at Facebook or LinkedIn.
What’s your favorite line that you’ve ever written? Read?
That I’ve ever written? Maybe this one from my short story, "The Time I Tried to Kill the Poet Laureate of the United States":
On day seven of my trial, the judge said that he would put me away for life if I used the term Kafkaesque “even one more time!” (His anti-Semitism was transparent, so I took to wearing a gold felt star on my jacket to underscore it.)
The story is still unpublished, although I’ve read it at Litquake and other venues. The protagonist is a self-righteous pseudo-intellectual, kind of an Ignatius O’Reilly [from A Confederacy of Dunces] crossed with one of the more innocuous Edgar Allan Poe narrators. I keep thinking I should submit it to Story, but due to my ruthless prioritizing, I haven’t even found out yet if anyone thinks it’s publishable.
My favorite line I’ve ever read? Well, that’s an impossible thing to choose, but the first thing that comes to mind at this moment is the poem “Modern Declaration” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. The poem begins with, “I, having loved ever since I was a child a few things/Never having wavered in these affections,” she declares, “…that I shall love you always/No matter what party is in power/No matter what temporarily expedient combination of allied interests wins the war/Shall love you always.”