Archive for September, 2009

Calling Mr. Republican

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 © by Susan Swartz

I put in a call to Mr. Republican. That would be my late father, V. Paul, or Victor Paul. I’d like him to sit in his chair in my living room and talk politics. The wingback’s been in the family for three generations and what he was sitting in when he died of a heart attack while watching the Today show more than 20 years ago in Pennsylvania.

I’m ready for a talk with a life-long proud member of the GOP. V. Paul loved being a Republican and gave me an “I Like Ike” pin when I was little. I sure did like my dad so I wore the pin although it didn’t turn me into a Republican.

I wonder if my dad and Ike know that Susan Eisenhower, the late president’s Republican granddaughter campaigned for Obama. She worried that the political environment was being taken over by angry, noisy extremists. That was over a year ago, in a relatively civilized time before town meetings, Washington marches and presidential addresses turned into a hate-it, hate-him blood sport.

(Speaking of mood swings, I can’t believe it was only this spring I wrote about Americans becoming less rancorous. Boy, did my inner Pollyanna speak too soon.)

But back to V. Paul. I’d liked to ask my dad why he thinks other rational, smart and compassionate Republicans like himself would allow gun-toting fear-mongers to take over their party and foul its legacy. I know there are radicals on both sides but where’s the conservative balance?

Are there no Republicans who cringe when they see this craziness being committed in their name?

I think back to last October when John McCain stood up to the screamers in Minnesota to reassure a woman that Obama was a decent family man and there was no reason to fear him. It reminded me why even some Democrats once thought McCain might make a good president. But the crowd booed McCain. They didn’t want to hear any respectful words about Obama, and that seemed to end it for any high profile Republican daring to set a gracious example.

Too bad. It’s a fine American tradition to disagree. My dad and I used to argue each other’s ideas at the dinner table until he’d finally declare a halt, saying “We’re upsetting your mother.”

I don’t want to demonize Republicans. I don’t want to stereotype them as the No Party. But I don’t get why they give a pass to the rowdy, rude and sometimes racist crowd who seem bent on scaring America.

I don’t believe that all Republicans are out to punish the poor and immigrants and think anyone who needs government help is a deadbeat. But why are there no leaders telling their people to keep it civil and if they want respect to leave the damn guns at home?

My dad and I would certainly disagree over the government taking on health care for all. One of his first jobs was selling insurance in Pittsburgh. The first time I ever heard the term “socialized medicine” was from him. As for Afghanistan and Iraq, it would be the same arguments we had over Vietnam.

But V. Paul argued in a rational, educated way. He didn’t care for coarse vulgar people.
He’d think anyone shouting “you lie” to the president of the United States was pretty much a jackass.

My dad believed that America was the greatest country and the Republican party truly grand but I’d love to know, from his vantage point, if he still thinks that.

Sit down, Dad. We need some help down here.

Doing the Author Hustle

Sunday, September 13th, 2009 © by Susan Swartz

Nobody used to care if an author was telegenic, or photogenic for that matter. You didn’t need to be a hottie or a hustler to be a writer. Just tell a good story, get it published, do a few author readings and hope for it to hit the best-seller list.

Except for blockbuster authors who achieved star status, the book business was more about getting attention for the writing than the writer. Most authors stayed somewhat hidden. You saw their photos on the back of their books, friendly faces in what looked like vacation pix taken by a relative, but you wouldn’t recognize them if they walked past you in the airport.

That was before authors were expected to be marketing experts. The author job requirements today are more than to be imaginative, ironic and understand metaphors. It’s way beyond the writing. An author needs to get out there and sell herself. She needs to create a fan page on Facebook, gather Twitter followers and update her website with new photos showing her at important well-attended events. She needs to blog regularly to niche audiences. And that’s only the virtual book tour.

In terms of face-to-face promotion, you still have your traditional book readings at book stores but also your author events with food and wine and theme party book launches.

It’s all about doing whatever you need to do to help keep your book and the book industry alive. Just as publishers and book store owners struggle to stay relevant in the electronic communication age so must authors. This means using all the tools to create your own buzz, including getting your teeth whitened and taking improv classes so you’ll be ready for primetime.

This is a new demanding world for the average writer, often a quiet, cerebral type, a happy loner content to spend days on end in a small room with a closed door, drinking cold coffee and dreaming up great characters and memorable dialogue. Authors do not normally aspire to be rock stars. On the glamour gauge they are of the scuffed shoes and comfy jeans style, somewhere near classical musicians and college teachers. They tend to look intense and act frazzled, perhaps from thinking so hard. Your average writer is not skilled at selling herself.

If she got the dream call from Oprah, she would be both thrilled and sick to her stomach.

But you have to do what you have to do. So before you even start writing the book you work on a press release. You take a special marketing class for authors where you learn it is not enough to produce a book, you need a brand. You learn what to wear on TV. No black shirts, no white pants, no sandals. And you support each others’ author gigs.

One I will be supporting this Saturday, Sept. 19, is the Sonoma County Book Festival which celebrates the local literary community and happens for the 10th year at Santa Rosa’s Courthouse Square and inside the main library. (Details at
It’s where authors, mostly from the Bay Area, get to do it the old fashioned way – read from their latest works and talk about writing with people who love books. (Disclosure: I’m not one of the authors but will be cheering on friends and my daughter and their new books.)

The book festival is a day of no hustle. Just people who write and people who read, the two most important ingredients for a book. It’s tradition and it’s free. And if you go and discover a great writer, feel free to tweet Oprah.