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Posts Tagged ‘The New York Times’

Working Retail? A Shopper? This Book’s For You

In blogging, books, business, entertainment, journalism, life, Media, news, women, work on March 24, 2011 at 1:37 am
Mall in Jakarta

Mall life....some of us survive it! Image via Wikipedia

Three weeks from today my new memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” appears from Portfolio, the imprint of Penguin Press focused on business.

It tells the story of my two years and three months as a sales associate at a suburban New York mall for The North Face, an internationally known brand of outdoor clothing. In it, you’ll also hear from many other associates nationwide, and from consultants, analysts and senior executives — like Richard Galanti, the CFO of Costco — working in the nation’s third largest industry and largest source of new jobs.

If you’ve ever worked in a retail job — or any job with the public (God help you!) — you’ll find something in it to identify with, especially customers from hell, whether entitled finger-snappers or the perpetually dissatisfied.

I started out, as many retail workers do, psyched. New job, new industry, new skills, new co-workers. It was all good!

A few years later, shaking with rage, I actually ran and hid in the stockroom one afternoon after the umpteenth whiny shopper hit my last strained nerve.

“You’re being hostile,” she sniffed.

Truthfully I replied: “You have no idea what hostile looks like!”

Please check out the introduction and chapter one here.

The book — yay! — is getting all sorts of media interest. I’ve already been interviewed, so far, by the Associated Press, Washington Post, WWD, Marie-Claire (May issue) and USA Today. I’m booked on NRP’s Diane Rehm show April 18, and will travel from my home in NY to DC to do it in-studio.

Entertainment Weekly just named it “an excellent memoir.”

Please cross your fingers for its success, come check out our FB page and, if you like it, please spread the word!

Finding, and Keeping, A Literary Agent

In behavior, business, culture, design, Media, Money, work on October 6, 2010 at 7:55 pm
Books Books

Image via Wikipedia

Some of you have asked advice on how to find an agent for your writing. Having been through seven of them over the years, I have some experience with this.

So, here are some of my thoughts, albeit most suited to writers of non-fiction, as I do not write fiction. Most agents represent a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, children’s and young adult material. Read their list carefully and don’t submit any genres they don’t handle.

How do I know when it’s time to get an agent?

Do you have a manuscript ready? Or a full-fledged book proposal? (If you don’t know how to write one, read this book.) If all you have is an idea, or several, you’ll need very strong writing credentials, a platform (i.e. thousands of people who know your name and will possibly be eager to buy your book), media savvy, and the willingness to undertake the writing of a book proposal.

Why do I have to write a book proposal?

How else will the agent know what you hope to accomplish? In a few cases, an agent you are introduced to through a trusted contact may sit down with you to hear about your project — and if they’re intrigued they’ll ask you to produce a proposal. If they want the project, they’ll work with you on it. They are not paid for this time, nor are you. It’s a lot of work! Do it cheerfully and diligently. Even if that book does not sell (and that happens), you’re learning how to write this crucial document and will do it better next time.

How much work will an agent do on a book proposal?

As much as s/he thinks is worth it. They may love you and your idea, but they only earn a living when they sell a book and close the deal. They can only invest so much time on each project and writer. Don’t take it personally. Find someone to help you polish and edit the proposal if necessary. It is not unusual for a proposal to take months as you send it back and forth to your agent until they are totally satisfied with it. It’s their name and reputation that intrigues and attracts editors, not yours.

What do agents do?

They help you prepare a proposal and decide which editors at which publishers are most likely to find it of interest. They submit it and hope. If someone shows serious interest, they will come with you to the meeting with the publisher — which is common now so they can check you out in person. If an offer is made (or several) they will negotiate with the publisher and editor to get the best offer they can.

Do I have to pay them to read my work?

No. If an agent wants to work with you they will take 15 percent of your earnings after the book is sold. They will also take a percentage of all ancillary sales, such as television, film and possibly speaking engagements.

How should I treat an agent?

With respect! They are not your BFF or your Mom or your writing coach or English professor. They know what a tough game it is to be a writer, but they’re not especially eager to hold your hand. They expect professional behavior even if this is your first book and it’s all totally new to you. They will help you understand this new world, but don’t abuse their time and goodwill. I tend to check in every few months to say “hi” and hear what they’re up to on other projects once I’m mid-book. But once your book is sold, you’re essentially on your own.

How do I find the right agent for my project?

Consult the Association of Author Representatives. A reputable, experienced agent is likely to be a member. This site also offers a fantastic wealth of information; and this list of FAQs.

The way many writers find an agent is through their friends and colleagues who will recommend someone to their agent. The way for a new writer with few or no such contacts is to read a number of books similar to the one you hope to write and read the acknowledgments; authors always thank their agents. Write to a few agents whose authors’ work you admire and tell them why you and your work are a potential fit with their list. Read their websites and see what sort of people they tend to take on — Academics? Politicians? Celebrities?

One of the best ways to find an agent who might be a fit is to attend writers’ conferences like this one, where they often speak. You can quickly get a feel for their personality and can probably slip them your card.

What if my agent is new to the business?

This can be an advantage. New agents are hungry for new clients while (much) more established ones have their pick.

What if turns out to be a poor fit?

It happens.  Initial enthusiasm, on both sides, can pale. They can take too long to reply to calls and emails or sending out your work. They need to communicate with you clearly. There are others out there. Don’t stick with someone if it’s really not working well for you.

What should I be looking for in an agent?

Someone whose personality will work well with yours. They may be skilled and experienced and have a Really Big Name, but if they’re too brusque or intimidating or hurried or busy, move on. Someone who really gets who you are and what you do best and are excited by your project. I want someone who’s been around the block a few times, who won’t waste my time encouraging things that won’t sell. I think you want to like them enough to work with them, but they’re not your pal. They’re a business partner. Feeling cosy with them, however personally comforting, is less important than feeling certain they have your best interests at heart.

What sort of books most excite them? Sell well for them? Ask to see their list of authors and recent projects.

If you read it with a thoughtful eye, you’ll notice patterns. I saw that one agent’s list was heavy on academics — he likes smart and informed think-y books/authors (who doesn’t?) — but I saw in that a warning. Professors have salaries and crave acclaim from a wider audience, and can afford a tiny advance. I have different goals and need an advance I can survive on. Another had a list studded with celebrities and one-book-wonders. I want an agent who wants to run with me for years.

Here’s how I found the agents I’ve met and either worked with or considered:

1) Can’t remember. A NYC agent. Deal fell through after I flew all the way to Australia to do the reporting. Ouch. Costly error, fun vacation.

2) An adult student in one of my NYU writing classes knew an agent who gave me three names. One became my first agent.

3) A friend in Toronto, a former newspaper colleague, sent me to someone highly regarded there. She demanded 15,000 words and then blew me off after reading them with one sentence. Dick.

4) I play softball with a bunch of fellow suburbanites. One, the pitcher, is an agent. He read over a few of my non-selling proposals and diagnosed why they were going nowhere.

5) A friend whom I have yet to meet face to face (we met through an on-line writers’ group) sent me to his agent. She’s terrific and we discussed one proposal but I back-burnered it. This book is too similar to one of hers (a NYT best seller) so she had to decline it.

6) A friend admired an essay of mine and sent me to her agent. Not a good fit. One email was enough to show me this.

7) I spoke on a panel in NYC about writing and a passionate young woman in the audience asked a few questions. She was then the assistant to my current agent and suggested I write a memoir. Now I have!

My current agent is Kathleen Anderson. She’s my age, bloody brilliant and even harder-headed than I, which I didn’t think possible. We’ve had shouting fights with one another and equally fierce hugs. She’s got a NYT best-selling author right now short-listed for the Booker Prize, Emma Donoghue, author of “Room.” Cool!

Like dating, finding an agent can be a little challenging. It  can be a fantastic fit or a disaster. Or neither. I’ve learned not to be in awe of them. They’re people. They work hard. They love writers and ideas. They advocate for talent. If you find a good one, treat them well!

Learning To Drive When You’re Not 16

In behavior, cars on August 9, 2010 at 12:40 pm
Car upside down.
Not optimal…Image via Wikipedia

Can be scary as hell.

Fun piece in The New York Times by Frank Bruni about his recent re-learning to drive and take a driver’s test, decades past the age of 16:

This is a cautionary tale. Like too many harried New Yorkers without cars or much cause to use them, I let my driver’s license expire — in October 2006. Then, in an unlucky development the next May, I was pick-pocketed. The double whammy of an expired license that I could not physically produce meant I could no longer right the situation with a written exam and a vision check. I was effectively 16 again, on the hook for a five-hour class and the dreaded road test, which I came to fear I’d never reach, given the labyrinth of civil-service incompetence, bureaucratic nonsense and simple misfortune I had tumbled into. Kafka could have had a field day with me.

Granted, the stakes weren’t so high. Many people don’t drive, and on most days, not having a license hardly inconvenienced me. But there were vacations and work assignments that required rental cars — and travel companions fed up with my inability to share the burden.

Bruni had to re-learn in Manhattan, which is indeed one of the scarier places to drive. Cyclists swerve and swoop in front of you and pound on your vehicle if they think you’ve transgressed their trajectory. Deliverymen and couriers ride on the wrong side and head straight for you, forcing you into the wrong lane where you, too, can have and/or cause a really bad accident. Hand must be ready to honk horn at all times. Decide, immediately, when it’s OK to cross the intersection and squoosh in behind the furthest vehicle — and when you’re going to get stuck there, blocking the box, liable for a very expensive ticket.

I learned to drive when I was 30, in Montreal, a city whose drivers are every bit as aggressive and impatient as Manhattan’s — but in French and with some very steep hills. I was taught to drive stick.

One night we were on a hill, in the dark, during rush hour. I can’t shift gears because I can’t even find the damn gears!

I started cursing. The instructor cursed back. We finally got up the hill and around the corner.

“You’re such a bitch!” he shouted.

“You’re a terrible teacher!” I shouted back. “I’m only being a bitch because I’m so scared of having an accident. If you were a better teacher, this wouldn’t be happening.”

That cleared up, from then on we got along great.

Like Bruni, I was terrified of taking the driver’s test, especially since I was going to be tested on an automatic, not stick shift. I’d never driven an automatic transmission car and here it was, in French. I got in, stared at the gear shift.

“P…that’s Park, right?” I asked. Thank God she answered, and didn’t flunk me on the spot.

I’ve since driven in a few places legendary for their danger: a mo-ped in Corsica, a rental car in rural Mexico, at night through Kingston, Jamaica (other side of the road.) I think I’m proudest, so far, of parallel parking in Dublin, which felt like doing a back dive it was so totally disorienting.

When did you learn to drive? Who taught you? Was it scary for you, too?

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Why McChrystal Sang Like A Bird To 'Rolling Stone'

In Media, the military on June 23, 2010 at 10:23 am
President Barack Obama meets with Army Lt. Gen...

Image via Wikipedia

Right now, there is much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth over Gen. McChrystal’s overshare with Rolling Stone — written by (yay!) fellow True/Slant writer Michael Hastings. Among fellow journalists…

How on earth, did he — of all the journalists in the world — manage to get this extraordinary career-making (his), possibly career-ending (McChrystal’s) scoop?

A few reasons, all of them classics of the genre:

1) Frustration By all accounts, Gen. McChrystal was totally fed up of being ignored and over-ruled by politicians and policymakers who he felt barely knew who he was and whose reputations were riding on the backs of his men.

2) Use the media It’s a time-honored way to speak truth to power — using the conduit of a popular publication as your loudspeaker and a willing journalist, editor and publisher as your microphones. If the people in charge aren’t listening to you, take them out of the loop.

2) Access Michael Hastings has been reporting on war, on the ground, for years. As a result of that commitment and the widsom it helped him accumulate, he knew the right people and they allowed him into their circle. From today’s New York Times:

As a result, Mr. Hastings waited in Paris with the general and his staff as they tried to get to Berlin by bus. Mr. Hastings traveled to Berlin separately. He later rejoined the general’s inner circle at the Ritz-Carlton hotel there, where they all spent the week waiting for the ash cloud to clear so they could fly to Afghanistan.

“I was so amazed by it myself,” Mr. Hastings said in a telephone interview from Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he is now reporting on another story for Men’s Journal. “At times I asked myself that question: Why are they giving me all this access?”

Though Mr. Hastings said that most of the eyebrow-raising comments in the article came from the general during the first two days in Paris, he found him and his staff to be more welcoming as time went by.

Initially, Mr. Hastings was not scheduled to travel with General McChrystal to Afghanistan. Only after he arrived in Europe did Mr. Hastings learn that the general’s staff was eager to take him with them. “They suggested the idea,” Mr. Hastings said.

Mr. Hastings ended up spending about a month on and off with the general and his staff while they were in Afghanistan — most of the time in settings and interviews that the general allowed to be on the record. “The amazing thing to me was that no ground rules were set,” Mr. Hastings said.

3) Time One of the most crucial elements of getting a story of this magnitude, in its full-on candor, is having a lot of time to spend with your subject(s.) For once, being a freelancer — with no editor demanding he shift his attention to a blog or TV report or the next story in order to look productive or beat the competition – paid off.  Michael was able to spend a month with his subjects., almost unheard-of for anyone with a staff job.

No subject, even the most private and protective, can spend a month around a journalist and not, eventually, let their hair down — even a high and tight. You get tired, you (as his subjects did) get drunk, your tongue loosens, you repeat the same ideas in a dozen ways. Whatever’s really bugging you will show up on  regular basis and all a reporter has to do is have the time, energy and attention to get every scrap of it down. Thanks to the volcano eruption in Iceland, McChrystal had a lot more time to spend with Michael than is typical for either of them. Both men, in the normal course of events, would have been on tighter leashes with much more constrained schedules. No one can report a story like this after one 20-minute interview.

4) Trust Closely linked to time. It takes a lot of time, certainly between military or police and journalists, to build any sort of trust. I recently heard journalist Sebastian Junger, who has just made a war documentary, Restrepo, describe the months he spent in-country, including sustaining several severe injuries, over which the soldiers of the platoon in Afghanistan that was his focus began to include him in their circle.

5) Street cred Michael is young, but he’s written a well-reviewed book about the Iraq war and losing his fiance there. He’s smart, well-published, knows the players and the issues.

6) Luck. A volcano eruption? No J-school diploma can get you that lucky…

This is a story many talented and ambitious journos would have killed for.

Few had the magic combination.

Hey, Rich Kids! Work Retail, Learn The Value Of A Dollar. Not.

In behavior, business, parenting on May 30, 2010 at 6:41 pm
A Range Rover car is pictured in central Londo...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

This is the sort of story that makes me want to throw a chair. From today’s New York Times:

Steven D. Hayworth, chief executive of Gibraltar Private Bank and Trust, is thrilled that his daughter will be working this summer at a women’s clothing store before heading to college in the fall. It is not the particular job that pleases Mr. Hayworth. Rather, he is hoping his daughter will make the connection between how much she earns each day and what that will buy.

“As a parent who has worked his whole life and has had a little bit of success in my career, one of the huge life lessons I learned early on is the value of a dollar,” said Mr. Hayworth, whose bank is based in Coral Gables, Fla. “Particularly for children of upper-middle-class and affluent families, there’s no perspective on value. When the new Range Rover pulls into the driveway, there’s no concept of how many hours of hard work went into owning that vehicle.”]

Unlike many collegebound children today, Mr. Hayworth’s daughter would have had no worries if she had not been able to find a job. She could have spent the summer by the pool knowing her parents had the money to put her through college.

I’m finishing my book this month, a memoir of working retail in a national chain of stores for two years and three months, part-time, for $11/hour. However much little Miss Hayworth learns from slumming it for a while on the sales floor, I doubt she’s going to learn “the value of a dollar” from crossing over to the dark side of the cash wrap

She doesn’t need the money. She’s taking work away from someone — maybe one of the millions of workers over 40 or 50 or 55 who can’t even get a job interview in their field or industry, even with decades of experience — who does.

Yeah, a little rich kid showing up to please Daddy is going to fit in just great with a group of co-workers who know the value of a dollar because they count every single one they earn. They may have many kids or be single moms or be putting themselves through college or, as were three of my colleagues, be working retail despite a prior criminal record, making it really tough to get any job.

Rich kids think work is sorta cute. Something to do before they head off the Hamptons for the weekend or start Harvard med school or head off on Mummy’s yacht.

A Range Rover costs $78,425 to $94,275. At a median national retail wage of about $8, she’d be working full-time for five years if she didn’t, like people who really need her job, have pesky stuff like rent, food, car  payments, insurance or student debt.

In the world of investment banking, $78,425 is pocket money.

You want to teach kids what a Prada/Range Rover/pair of Manolos really costs? Send ‘em far away from home, so they’re paying the real cost of housing and commuting to that job. Make sure it’s the only job they can get. Make ‘em stay in it for a full year, including the holidays.

They’ll still have no idea — because they’ll be too tired to shop and too intimidated to go into a store full of expensive shit they can’t afford. Many of our customers drove Range Rovers. They were some of the most spoiled, nasty, entitled people you could imagine.

I worked retail with two kids, both in their early 20s, one of whom stayed barely  three months who was clearly from a well-off family. Not an unpleasant guy, but his sole raison ‘detre was scooping up as much of our product at the healthy employee discount as possible. The money, as anyone working retail knows, is low and the work both physically and emotionally grueling.

Playing poor is an insult to those who really are. Playing poor is no joke to those earning poverty-level wages selling overpriced crap to the rich.

She won’t last a month — because she won’t have to.

Girls With Enemies Do Better

In behavior, education on May 19, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Interesting study cited in The New York Times:

In a series of recent experiments, a group of psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, recorded mutual dislike among 2,003 middle school students. Unlike previous studies on the same topic, these researchers also compared children who reciprocated a fellow classmate’s dislike with those who did not. Students who were not named at all on anyone’s blacklist were excluded from this analysis.

This comparison found that the girls who returned classmates’ hostility scored significantly higher on peers’ and teachers’ ratings of social competence. They were more popular and widely admired. The boys who did the same scored highly on teachers’ ratings of classroom behavior.

“You have several options, as I see it, when you become aware of someone else’s antipathy,” said Melissa Witkow, now at Willamette University in Oregon, the psychologist who led the study. “You could be extra nice, and that might be good. But it could also be awkward or disappointing, and a waste of time. You could choose to ignore the person. Or you can engage.”

She said the study suggested that “when someone dislikes you, it may be adaptive to dislike them back.”

I’ve blogged here about being bullied and how traumatic that was for me. But being disliked — which happens to all of us — is different from being bullied.

I was sent off to boarding school at eight and summer camp at the same age. An only child, I wasn’t used to being teased or fighting with siblings, so running into haters was a new experience. And, when you share a room for many months with four or six other girls — one or more of whom are nasty — you’ve got nowhere to run or hide. The closet? The bathroom?

I still remember a blonde girl named Stephanie and a dark-haired Kathy who were mean. Mean! But it was sort of fun to throw their energy right back at them. It’s not pleasant to discover not everyone likes you, but if they did, you’d probably be way too accommodating. Whenever Stephanie started sharpening her tongue, I was ready with a retort. I actually bit Kathy’s finger once, hard, when she was stupid enough to stick in my face and dare me to. She didn’t make that mistake twice.

Fighting for yourself — when not against a team of relentlessly toxic bullies — is a useful skill. Girls are too often taught to “be nice” when being tough, smart and ready and willing to defend yourself, verbally or even physically, is a better option. Like knowing how to cook or clean or change a tire, it’s a useful life skill.

Over 200 women race across the Moroccan desert, no GPS or cellphones allowed

In sports, women, world on March 23, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Here’s my kind of driving — a nine-day off-road race across the Moroccan desert.

You can follow them live through this link.

The Rallye Aicha des Gazelles (oh, I want that T-shirt) is  a 20-year-old event that draws women from across the world, reports Caroline Kinneberg in The New York Times. The race ends March 27th:

It is for women only, speed is not the point and no prizes are awarded.

Last Wednesday, 104 teams that had paid up to 14,350 euros (about $19,500) to register embarked on the roughly 2,500-kilometer trek (about 1,550 miles) from Nejjakh to Foum-Zguid. The competitive part of the rally, which includes parts of the High Atlas mountains and the Sahara, ends Thursday…

The competitors aim to reach the five to seven daily checkpoints, marked by red flags in the sandy landscape, while covering the shortest distance. The teams of two — traveling in four-wheel-drive vehicles and trucks, as well as crossovers, motorbikes and all-terrain vehicles — have only maps from the 1950s and compasses to guide them. Global positioning systems and cellphones are prohibited.

As the field has grown, it has become more international, with 18 countries — including Germany, Congo and Cambodia — now represented.Competitors have included a top European model, college students and a 65-year-old grandmother. Annick Denoncin of France is participating for the 14th time.

But about 70 percent of the competitors are first-timers who come for the adventure and challenge.

Anyone game to join me for next year?

Reports Fourwheeler.com:

Off-road ‘Ironwoman’ and Baja 1000 team driver Emily Miller and World Extreme Skiing Champion and U.S. Ski Team Olympian Wendy Fisher have an unlikely common denominator: The 2009 19th Rallye Aicha des Gazelles, the nine-day, all women’s off-road race in Morocco.

Miller, 42, a team driver for Rod Hall Racing, was trained by the off-road racing legend and has had multiple podium finishes as driver and navigator, in addition to being the only female to “ironman” the longest off-road race in North America. But why did the off-road truck racer decide to team up with an icon in the sport of big-mountain freeskiing?

The rally zips across Morocco, an enchanting French- and Arabic-speaking country in North Africa inhabited by friendly people, peculiar tree-climbing goats, and a spectacular desert landscape-a true wheeler’s paradise. Highlighting the arid region are enormous sand dunes; circular 3- to 8-foot tall sand traps (which Miller described as “sand cauldrons”); and unusual, rock-like mounds that resemble harmless giant broccoli crowns. Called “cauliflower plants,” these innocent-appearing obstacles are capable of seriously damaging a vehicle’s undercarriage.

However, there are no race ‘pace notes’ to warn about upcoming hazards. And participants must plot their latitude and longitudinal waypoints using Arabic and French maps dating from the 1950s and 1960s (Miller said they looked more like drawings than maps) using mathematical formulas and “dead reckoning”-the process of deducing the next location by using the course, speed, time, and distance from the last position.
GPS units were not allowed, although car-mounted compasses were; Miller and Fisher were relegated to a hand-held compass, as their vehicle didn’t have an installed unit. This made for many problems with interference due to the vehicle’s sheetmetal and electrical system. Fisher ended up working off of 26 maps, each with about nine quadrants per map that had to be measured.

The event also gives back to the people of Morocco, thanks to a medical caravan. From their website:

But access to medical care is still difficult for rural populations, where there is only 1 doctor per 3,700 people

The people living in these villages are more than 100 kilometres from the nearest clinic or hospital. In addition, a medical consultation and treatment can cost more than 15 days of salary.

Heart of Gazelles, in partnership with the Moroccan Ministry for Solidarity, the Family and Social Development, decided to address an important public health issue by going to the remote regions of southern Morocco.


Since 2001, thanks to the solidarity sponsorship of TOTAL Energy Group and the infrastructure of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles, Heart of Gazelles has been organising an annual Medical Caravan, a traveling clinic composed of 8 doctors, 4 nurses, 2 pharmacists, 1 optician and 6 “logistics” personnel.
This centre covers general medicine, paediatrics, gynaecology, optometry and pharmacy.

In 2009:

4,582 people received free medical care

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