Celebrating Freedom to Choose

Happy 4th of July! Today we celebrate freedom, and in the U.S. that means the freedom to choose our own religion, career path, locale to live, and much more. Rarely do we stop to appreciate the bounties we have been given. What does this mean to us as writers?

July Fourth
Today we have more freedom to choose where to publish our work. We used to be confined to the mega New York publishing houses. If you weren’t in there, you were out in the territory of the scorned masses, wallowing in the disreputable halls of the self-published or with unknown small presses. A friend of mine published her book in ebook format with Hardshell back in the day. Was it no surprise that this venture got nowhere? Ebooks hadn’t been widely discovered yet, and this publisher was ahead of its time. Today, it’s a different story.

Indie publishing has blossomed along with small presses and digital first imprints. We have so many more choices, almost too many as they can get overwhelming. If we decide not to wait for a publishing house to determine our fate, for example, do we really want to become publishers ourselves? Because that’s what this world is coming to as we authors take the reins.

Here’s what it means to choose the self-publishing path: Besides writing and marketing our own works, we have to outsource to editors, cover designers, and formatters. We have to collect the income from various distributors and formulate our own spreadsheets. And don’t forget buying ISBNs, determining a name for our publishing “company”, and registering for copyright.

With freedom comes greater responsibility, and we’re feeling that as indie authors.

You give up some of those freedoms to go with a publishing house, be it large or small. You also give up a percentage of your income and price control. But then they handle the cover design, editing, and distribution. If it’s a decent house, you get your rights back in five years and then you can put up your edited work on your own. But it could take years just to get your manuscript accepted in the first place and then scheduled…years that your book could already be available to readers had you put it online yourself.

These are tough choices, but at least we have them. It’s more than we could do several years ago. Now there’s always the possibility that our work will make it into the hands of readers one way or another. Isn’t that a reason to celebrate?

For Mom and Dad on the Fourth

Fourth of July weekend. Time to think about America, hot dogs, burgers with everything, pie, fireworks and a day off to chill (even in L.A. where it’s going to be trip digits). We’ve already had some reflections on the 4th of July here at TKZ. I wanted to add another. 
On the Fourth of July, above all else, I think about my parents. Mom and Dad were part of that Greatest Generation. They gave me and my brothers the best possible start in life. And for that I will be eternally grateful. 
Arthur S. Bell, Jr., grew up in Hollywood, next door to Joel McCrea and around the corner from Alan Hale (whose son was about my Dad’s age and would grow up to play the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island). He went to Hollywood High School and UCLA, where he was catcher on the baseball team. Oh yeah, and he had a teammate there by the name of Jackie Robinson. (Dad’s in the middle of the first row, Robinson far left)

During summers, Dad was an extra in the movies, making numerous appearances, one of which was as a wounded Confederate soldier in the Atlanta train station scene in Gone With the Wind. We’ve never been able to spot him, though.
But here is the thing that really blows me away. At the age of twenty-three, Dad was an officer in the United States Navy aboard a Patrol Craft, hunting subs around the Solomon Islands during World War II.

My mom, Rosemary, was born in Maryland. Her father was with the Roosevelt administration and went down to oversee projects in Puerto Rico. That’s where Mom grew up. She graduated from Syracuse University in 1944.
While living in New York she met a dashing young Naval officer and the rest is Bell family history.
Dad and Mom settled in Woodland Hills, part of the booming, post war San Fernando Valley. Dad went to USC law school and Mom was active in the community. She helped start the Women’s Club and worked on a local newspaper. She served on the Chamber of Commerce and as honorary mayor of Woodland Hills. Mom was the writer in the family and I first learned about stories from her.
From Dad I learned about hard work. He was one of the most respected lawyers in Los Angeles and a devoted champion of the Bill of Rights. He helped start the federal indigent defense panel in the city, so the poor facing major raps would have access to competent criminal defense counsel.

This explains, I think, why my books all have a quest for justice in them. I learned to respect that quest from Dad.

Here’s the way I remember him best––sitting in his home office reading advance sheets with the latest case law. He was the leading search and seizure expert in California. Judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, police and more than a few prisoners all sought his advice over the years.

Fourth of July was always big time fun when I was a kid. Mom would host a potluck for the neighborhood. All the baby boom progeny would be running around or swimming or eating or playing games. Then we’d sit on the front lawn and watch a local fireworks display.
Dad would sometimes take that occasion to recite a poem or two. With his ever present cigar, he would orate in the same voice with which he argued to many a jury.
One of his favorites he learned from his father, as I learned it from Dad. To me, it sums up what my American father was trying to instill in my brothers and me. I think he succeeded. It’s called The Victor:
A toast to the man who dares
No matter how dead his trade;
Who can win his luck
By his own good pluck
When the rest of the world is afraid.
Another to him who fights
When the trade is a whirlwind lure,
And who jumps right in
With a will to win,
Though rivals are plenty and sure.
So here’s to the man who dares,
Though fortune blow low, blow high,
And who always knows
That the conquest goes
To the man who is ready to try.
Happy 4th of July, everybody!

Rockin’ the 4th

My life’s experiences as an author often wind up in my books. While I’m writing, I let my mind wander wherever it goes to come up with settings, emotions, and dialogue. I free my mind and don’t censor myself. Chances are, if what I’ve written makes it through my own edits, it will stay. Being a writer has added to the quality of my life because I’ve become more of an observer and a listener and everything interests me.

So with the July 4th holiday coming up, I’ve been reflecting on my favorite memories of this celebration. It’s a federal holiday—typically a long weekend for most—which is reason enough to celebrate. Independence Day (commemorating our freedom from Great Britain and the adoption of our Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776) is typically celebrated with fireworks displays, parades, picnics, BBQs, baseball games, and gatherings of families.

I’ve had many fond memories of this holiday. My brothers and sisters used to wage war in the neighborhood with bottle rockets. I mean serious war, folks. We had bunkers and booby traps and body armor in the form of hooded winter jackets in the middle of the Texas summer heat. My oldest brother, Ed, once donned a hooded winter coat to protect himself from the onslaught of direct hits. He launched bottle rockets from a Coke bottle pointed wherever he aimed—like a young Rambo—but one blasted out of the bottle and turned on him. A self-inflicted wound. It spun back into his hood and sent sparks flying around his head. He looked like a human torch (except for the weird dance he performed) trying to smother the live round. He could have lost an eye, instead of the singe circle of hair that got burned off his head. This wasn’t exactly one of his stellar moments. Now that he’s a father, giving sage advice to his boys on fireworks, he has real credibility (even though it’s a story he’s never told them). Sometimes I’m amazed he’s still alive.

The memory of my brother setting his head on fire ranks near the top of my list of childhood memories for reason only a kid would understand, probably because Ed survived to laugh about it. But my favorite memory of this holiday came when I was in my 30s and vacationing in Hawaii. I lived in Alaska at the time, so spending weeks on a beach was as close to heaven as I could imagine. My husband and I didn’t know what to expect, but we’d been invited by friends to join them in an annual event they participated in on July 4th. A boat picked us up on the beach near our hotel. I’m not talking about a pier landing. We had to walk into the ocean and clamor—as gracefully as possible—from the cresting waves and into a raft. I should have taken note that arriving at the party onboard the boat, soaking wet, was a hint of things to come.

Every year, a group of close friends launches an all out war on the water between two boats. They make huge slingshots with surgical tubing and launch large water balloons, trying to score hits. Better than the old game, Battleship. The two boats run a parallel course and bombard the partygoers with mega-water-balloons. The battle was a lot of fun, but I will never forget being adrift on the ocean at sunset in paradise with warm water everywhere and the sounds of laughter filling my soul with a contentment I will always remember.

But after it grew dark, the boats anchored near shore. We had the best seats in the house as we watched the fireworks on the beach from the boats rocking on the waves. The dazzling lights reflected on the water and I couldn’t drink enough of that memory in, surrounded by friends and my husband beside me.

My favorite memory of the July 4th holiday was a little unconventional, but most good memories are. With the holiday coming up, how will you spend it? Do you have a favorite July 4th memory to share? Tell me a story.

True Confessions, or What’s Really on my iPod

by Michelle Gagnon

Recently my household has been debating the relative merits of lying (living with a toddler will do that to you-it’s amazing what a person will say to get them to eat their vegetables sometimes). And that got me thinking about the truth, and the complicated relationship most of us have with it. How honest are we, really? When there’s a passenger in my car, I make sure to tune the radio to NPR (which, if I’m being truthful, I rarely listen to), instead of the club mix station that jars me awake on a long drive (or a short one: again, the truth hurts). So I’ve decided to seize this opportunity to come clean about several things I’ve managed to keep quiet for years.


I have wide and varied taste in music. For someone in her late-thirties, I consider myself to be fairly hip (although I suspect most teenagers would scoff at my collection). I’ve not only heard of No Age, I own a few of their songs. But if one were allowed unfettered access to my iPod, you would also stumble across (gasp) Kelly Clarkson. “Good music to jog to,” I would say defensively (which would also be a lie—I only run when I’m being chased). Now I know what you’re thinking, there’s no real shame in listening to Kelly Clarkson, a lot of people love her music. True. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover…the soundtrack to the Broadway show Rent. A remix of the song “Holding out for a Hero,” from the second Shrek movie. And the pièce de résistance: LL Cool J’s “I Need Love.” Shocking, I know. But not nearly as bad as…


…what I watch on TV. I shake my head and tsk at cocktail parties when everyone deplores the sad state of programming that relies increasingly on reality shows showcasing our depravity. Then I go home and flip on “America’s Next Top Model.” I can’t help myself. When Tyra Banks reads the names off, one at a time, agonizingly slowly, emphasizing each syllable: “Only eight of you will continue on to become Americas…Next….Top…Model…,” I am absolutely riveted.

Mind you, I do have some standards. That Chef that apparently just screams at people for money? No need for him. Neither will I lower myself to watch anything that involves swapping family members, desert islands, trying to hook a millionaire, or D-list celebrities trapped in any sort of situation together. (Or singing. I’ve never really enjoyed watching people sing, for some reason). But “Top Chef,” “The Apprentice,” “So You Think You Can Dance”…I am your bitch.

As an aside, let me just mention that at one of those cocktail parties, a group of extremely cultured female friends was discussing how they only still possess their televisions so that they can watch films (with subtitles, I’m guessing). I joked, “Such a shame, now you have no idea what’s happening on ‘Project Runway,’” and they turned to me en masse and began to chatter excitedly, “Ohmigod, can you believe they voted off Kit? I was shocked!!!”

So I’m guessing I’m not alone in my shame. Just brand a big red letter “R” on my chest and let’s call it a day. Oops, I almost forgot the best of them all…


Ok, this one I’m not so ashamed of. Heck, I’ve already said in other blog posts that “movie critic” would be my dream job, and it states right in my bio that my weakness is Hollywood blockbusters. Honesty at last, right? But in throwing that right out there in the open, I neglected to mention one thing: although I love movies, it has been a long, long time since I have watched what would qualify as cinema. I finally caved to reality and canceled my Netflix subscription, because I would invariably order a critically-acclaimed film, hold on to it for months, then mail it back unopened. I had a terrible habit of putting movies in my queue that a different Michelle would watch, a better Michelle, one who really enjoyed reading as she watched a movie. The real Michelle tossed that envelope on top of her DVD player with a slight twinge of guilt and settled in to watch “Independence Day” for the umpteenth time. On network television. With commercials. Terrible, I know.

So there you have it, skeletons marched out of the closet, dirty little secrets tromped out for all the world to see. Time to fess up: what are you hiding?