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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Garden gnomes & marketing, mostly


Scandalous news comes to us over the sea: an article in Germany’s Deutsche Welle, “Experts Revise Theory on Origin of Garden Gnomes,” recently put forward the inflammatory-to-Thuringians claim that south Thuringia may not be the historical source of the garden gnome. A gnomologist (also the owner of a Gnome Theme Park--is this not some gross conflict of interest between the noble and the mercantile?) evidently discovered an advertisement in the Deutsche Illustrirte Zeitung (1886) that suggests that the true historical Eden of the gnome may be Drawno, Poland, a town that once lay in German Pomerania, where a great river is divided into four tributaries running with clay slip, and where you will break your teeth on any apple you try to eat.

Digression: I wonder whether there is some obscure connection between Pomeranian doglets and the faces of garden gnomes. Something about the nose, or the eyes, perhaps…

Deutsche Welle claims that most historians of the gnome believe that the garden gnomes had its genesis in one of three terracotta centers—Thuringia, Drawno (Poland), or Usti nad Labem (Czech). This was news to me, as all my local gnomes appear to have been born hereabouts, or to have migrated to the place from elsewhere on the east coast. None of them grew up in a terracotta city, or lived at any time in a terracotta cottage, manor, tower, palace, or other such terracotta place of residence.

Evidently this new scrap of evidence tossed the Gnome Congress in Trusetal, Thuringia into something of an uproar. And as we all know, garden gnomes do not bear tossing well, and many a shatter-thwock-ping-ping-ping follows a healthy toss. I'd like to have seen the convention hall by the close of events.

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If you ordered a Raven, please keep your eye—now and then, that is; don't be so obsessive!--on the comments section of the Ravenous post whereof thou knowest.

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Once again I’ve been asked to pontificate on what writers can do to help market and promote. Infinite is the curiosity of younger scribblers. Touching is their eagerness. Swift approaches their doom and general disillusionment. Etc.

And there is a certain absurdity in somebody asking me that question because I, like almost all writers, have zero training in such things. Occasionally a writer like Jeff Vandermeer comes along, who is a sort of genius in this area, and who spends hours every day on that topic. But most writers don't have that spark in the business arena.

He doesn’t have three children, or a spouse with nutty hours, and that’s a big help. Point #1: Don’t have three children or a spouse with nutty hours. Too late for me on that one--I'm keeping them!

Jeff gets to know lots of people and then has a long list he can call on for help. Recently I posted some information about a book for him, and I also suggested some Carolina booksellers I thought especially helpful. Point #2: Learn how to marshall help, schmooze, and so on.

I know other writers who frequently ask readers to do specific things to help out the cause. It's a good cause, after all. Books are good; baby must have shoes. There are even some writers who have a sort of “army” of readers who are committed to spreading the news—I find this sort of writer's nerve and complicated organization to be astounding and even somewhat frightening. I come over all agoraphobic, just thinking about it. (I am not agoraphobic, but I have two writer friends who are. Did we cover the fact that writers are odd?) Point #3: Do everything that Marly is too afflicted with modesty (or queasiness or whatever it is) to do. Sure, ask.

What do I do?

I always make an interactive database for my publisher, including information about what I wish they would do and about my own linkages to the wider world.

And I suggest things that I wish would happen; this is called fantasy, or literary fantasy. Sometimes wishes come true.

When The Wolf Pit came out right after 9-11, I wrote reviewers directly because it wasn’t getting reviewed, despite the fact that Catherwood had gotten plenty of good reviews. And that was a worthwhile effort and netted more than 30 reviews, mostly in newspapers. I had, you note, a special reason to write, so it didn’t bug the books editors too much. But it is very possible to bug them too much. And that is not good.

I do events around publication time: the usual sort of thing. Some years are better than others because life is rather complicated and gets in the way of such things. Children, death, and sundry other issues crop up.

And I’m building the Palace, ethereal stone by stone. (Another thing: learn to blog at a high rate of speed, or it could begin to take over real life.)

Lately I’ve set out to publish short fiction in anthologies and magazines, in part to support my book-length fiction, in part because I'm currently subject to a story-writing mania.

Oh, and I suppose the Raven discount was marketing, wasn't it?

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If there’s anything else that a.) I don’t know anything about but that b.) you would like to hear me burble wisely about, please let me know. Anything. Leave a note in comments or drop me an email. Golf, baseball (despite the Baseball Hall of Fame's best efforts), the gold standard, the exact composition of a particular glacial moraine, the dialects of China: these are all things I know nothing about. There are millions more such topics. Just ask.

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GNOME PHOTO CREDIT The picture was taken by Lonnie Bradley, somewhere near wonderful, wacky Waco, Texas. He says that his little friends (or perhaps they are relatives) eat four times as much as regular Texans. He doesn't say whether they are also four times as big as regular gnomes. He doesn't say whether he is, in fact, also a garden gnome. I'd like to know. Also: their names and any gnomely occupations. And whether they eat barbecue.


  1. I think you are rather good at schmoozing. At least the Marly I met was very personable and interesting. And you do have several people who love to visit this site. So, give your self some credit.

    Also what I learned from you, Ron, and Brian this past summer, is that it is a hard marketing world out there. What I gleaned from you all is that you sure can't wait for the publishers to market for you. Sometimes I wonder how publishers pick which books to "push" and which they will not put as much effort into? Any thoughts on that? Do they draw straws, throw darts at a board with names of novels, or what?

  2. Oh, I do give myself credit for a some things! But not for all...

    Thank you for the compliment. I think the part I'm not good at is the asking.

    Got an already well-known name for whatever unrelated reason (child actor, rocker, statesman or child thereof, etc.), go to the head of the line. Got a truly bizarre, twisted past that you're willing to talk about in lurid detail, go to the head of the line. Thirteen years old and cute as a box of buttons, go to the head of the line.

    Got pushed previously and sold a ton, stay at the head of the line.

    Walking and talking garden gnome: take off running to the head of the line! I bet that would be a hit, at least once.

    Hope I didn't sound too negative. I see the world and how it is, and then I just wander off after the silver apples of the moon...

  3. All you ever needed to know about the history of those odd, cheery little garden gnomes, surrounded by scratchy pants and tips for writers- in- training. Only at the wonderful Palace of floating dreams and snippets of hopes, shining copper pots and (I imagine) sweeping marble staircases below twinkling chandeliers. Whimsical!

  4. You imagine it, and it's sure to exist somewhere in the Infinite Palace...

  5. Ha! Everyone in Texas eats barbecue. The gnomes mysteriously wandered into our backyard one day and never left. The kids like 'em and that's all that matters.

    On a side note, as a designer I feel like I've walked into copywriters heaven here! * help me * :)

  6. Hi Lonnie,

    Oh, no worry--we welcome the lame, the halt, thems as cain't wraiht but do any old ways (I grew up in the Carolina mountains, so why not?), the picture lovers, the pleasantly nutty, etc. All are invited to the party at the Palace of Hot Air.

    Wish I had some gnomes for my kids. But I think the dog would chase them away.

  7. 'And as we all know, garden gnomes do not bear tossing well, and many a shatter-thwock-ping-ping-ping follows a healthy toss. I'd like to have seen the convention hall by the close of events.'
    You and I are both channeling Henry Mitchell today, only (of course) you're doing it so much more successfully. If you have not read Henry Mitchell, you must do so, immediately. Your post today is so very witty and, in spite of the fact, that I'm painting as if I had two Honey-Baked at the end of my arms, I laughed and laughed while reading it.

  8. I feel like the Witch of the Waste: "She just laughed and didn't believe a word of it." Or something like that. Honey baked, indeed! I'll bet you're not a bit ham-handed. You're just demanding. And I don't mean ham-demanding. I'd like to see that painting.

    And I liked those little body parts bobbling around in your sleeve! That was amusing and truly odd. I was picturing ears and noses and eyes.

    Henry Mitchell. The gardener? He is supposed to be funny... Must be. I definitely picture you as somebody who reads Gertrude Jekyll and Jamaica Kincaid and Elizabeth Lawrence's market bulletin book. Or Peter Loewer. So, it must be Henry Mitchell the gardener. I have read a good bit of garden writing, but I haven't read him. I'll stick him on the to-read list.

    Oh, and did you hear that PT program about Jason Vieaux turning Pat Metheny tunes into 18th-century gigues and gavottes and so on? Reminded me of your Metheny remark.

  9. Why, garden gnomes? Just the other day I saw one, but I was in the city at the time, so it was quite an unusual thing. I was walking down the street, admiring the warm weather, when a reflection off a car's windshield caught my eye. It was mirroring the cerulean sky, with pearly clouds drifting across it, and I was thinking how surreal it looked when I saw the reflection of the garden gnome leaping from one roof to the other. I looked up, wondering how he could have jumped clear across Main Street, but by then he was several alleys away. I could just see his little red hat bobbing away. Maybe he was late for signing up for the Garden Gnomes' Superhero Club.

  10. I suspect, I suspect, I suspect the teenaged hand of L. S. Manet. And that name is but another nom-de-plume.

    But who knows? Perhaps Giurna of the purple gown is even now tracking a wee red hat that's bobbling between the stars.

  11. So Marly, based on what you said about marketing, I have come up with a marketing plan for you.

    Tell the publishers that you are a famous, cute, thirteen year old, blurting gnome, with a lurid past. Then run to the front of the line before they figure it out.

    What do you think?

  12. Gnomish genius!
    I shall enact, if possible.
    Luckily, I'm on the short side.

  13. Short of what? Certainly not ideas, nor verbiage, nor imagination. Not short-sighted nor short-winded. Must be on the short side of short at the Palace.

    I'm avoiding work--dawdling on your blog, reading about garden gnome historians. Think I'll go to Goodberries--a peanut butter fudge custard may cure this lethargy, at least feed it.

  14. Take me--I need some gnomish chocolate, and I'm too young to drive! I'll probably never be able to see over the steering wheel...

  15. Aw, Mom. You always ruin my fun.

  16. Sorry, G-u-i-r-n-a! Love that purple gown--

  17. Regarding your gnome controversy, a story on lists the first use of garden gnomes in England as occuring in 1847, when Sir Robert Isham imported 21 terracota gnomes from Germany. This predates the contested years of 1883 and so on. Can anyone clear up this discrpeancy?

    William L

  18. William L may be the man! I nominate him as one who has scoured the admittedly nominal gnominal literature, forging on into the depths of!

    On the other hand, maybe somebody out there already knows this gnomic stuff...

    And why did Sir Robert Isham need precisely 21 garden gnomes?


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.