A Murderati Interview with Red Room Founder Ivory Madison

J.T. Ellison

I am honored to have Red Room founder Ivory Madison here today. If you’re not familiar with Red Room, click on this link and check it out. (After you read the interview, mind you.) I’ve been a Red Room author for many months now, and I’ve found it to be incredibly easy to use, and chock full of fascinating people. I love how I can upload my reviews, my media, my interviews, book covers, tour schedule, book synopses, blog entries… you get the idea. It’s a clearing house for some of the most influential and interesting authors of our time — Amy Tan, Salman Rushdie, Po Bronson, John Stewart and Peter Coyote are just a few of the contributing members. I was entranced by their idea of a writer’s society, a network of authors, readers, editors, publishers and agents who all come together in a single clearinghouse to share their lives, books and ideas. It’s taking the blog concept and turning it into a vital resource for the writing community. Red Room celebrates their authors, shows a new respect for the literary world, and manages to have a healthy sense of humor. All wonderful reasons to join the community.

And not only is a cool place to hang out, the site itself is a masterpiece. The dedicated staff of Red Room maintains an ever-changing site which not only looks beautiful, but is functional and easy to use. It’s especially good for people who don’t like technology, because it is simple and straightforward. They take the guesswork out of having a web presence.

Ivory Madison is the architect of this online world. She is an eclectic, fascinating woman with the drive and vision only seen in few people. I hope you’ll join me in welcoming the ultimate Renaissance woman, Ivory Madison, to Murderati. And now, on to the show!


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’s 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 is 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.

Why invite-only?

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.

Red Room is staffed by an incredibly talented group of people, all of whom are twenty-nine. Something significant in that number? And do you fire them when they turn thirty?

Ah, you’ve read the “About Us” page. Well, there are a few reasons we say everyone on staff is twenty-nine. First of all, most writers hope to publish their first novel before they’re thirty…so I’ve told the entire staff they’re not allowed to turn thirty until they finish their first book. And another reason is that I’m a comic book writer, and in comics, superheroes never age beyond twenty-nine. I like everyone at Red Room to feel like a superhero. Also, I think I can still just barely pass for twenty-nine, so I am going to keep saying it until people make me stop.

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.”

And where do you find the time to do all that you do? What’s your secret? Can we buy some?

Sure, send me a check and then I’ll call you with the secret.

Okay, it’s ruthless prioritizing and logical next action steps. Every day, every hour. I’ve put many things on hold in order to build my dream. The secret to success is focusing on the next immediate action step in the right direction, at all times. That’s all. What will give you the highest ROI [Return on Investment] on your next five minutes? Your next hour? Your next year? Your most ambitious dreams are possible if you take a pragmatic approach to making them happen, and if you’re willing to accept the trade-offs.

In the past two years, I had to give up two other businesses in order to make this one a success. I had to work a hundred hours a week for a year to get redroom.com off the ground. But I made the right decisions for me, and took small action steps every day towards the highest priority goals I had committed to achieving. I’ve achieved more in the last two years on my list of life goals than in the past twenty, so I know it’s under our control if we move like a snail or at the speed of light. There’s nothing holding us back.

What’s your typical day like?

This is going to be so boring. Okay, I get up at 6AM, work from home on email and phone (focusing on East Coast contacts), and sometimes catching up on business reading, until 9:30AM. Then I get dressed and I walk the five blocks to work, with my fiancé, Abe, stopping for a quick breakfast somewhere, and we’re usually in the office by 10AM. I’m there until 10PM or later probably six nights a week, working closely with every department. I only go to lunch or dinner if it’s business. Then once everyone else has gone home, I flip a switch on the bookcase and go down a secret passageway built underneath my office, and follow a secret staircase down to my compound, where I change into my costume, jump on my motorcycle, and fight crime all night.

You’re currently recording an album with pianist Richard Hall – a compilation of jazz standards. Do you think it’s easier to record an album or write a graphic novel?

Richard and I were almost ready to record the album, had done all the arrangements and rehearsals, and then I realized—due to my ruthless prioritizing—that it would have to wait until the graphic novel was finished. So I took a year off of singing. The graphic novel just got wrapped up, was released in serial comic book form, and the book version is slated for release in January 2009. I have one other personal project in line and then I’m going to get back to the album. To answer your question, I am going to assume recording an album is easier because I haven’t done it yet and don’t know any better.

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.

Where do you see the future of the book heading?

Let me begin by saying that books are magical objects of art that change lives and aren’t getting phased out by any technology, ever. Take a subway ride in New York. Everyone from every walk of life has a book with them (and last month when I was in New York, half the books I noticed on the subway were written by Red Room Authors!).

I think most of the predictions I read regarding the trends, many driven by technology, of where publishing is headed are generally correct (we did one ourselves called The Future of the Book). But they are wrong if they say people are reading less—they aren’t—and when they say the physical book will be entirely replaced by ebooks—it won’t. Each market has micro-markets within it, too, so while new book sales might be down, used book sales are up, and while independent bookstore sales are down, online book sales are up. So the trends are complex and sometimes can both advantage and disadvantage a player at the same time.

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.

Outside of the writing world, what captures your interest?

Well, everything I love has to do with writing. My biggest loves are history and philosophy and feminism and lexicography and I discovered them all through books and authors, and I think of them in terms of books and authors. I’m very nostalgic, too, and for fun I love old music, film, and comic books, mostly from the forties. I like documentaries and weird antique books. I love old architecture—Abe and I have an 1887 Victorian. Our Red Room offices are in an old Victorian, too.

When you were a little girl, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?

Ivory Madison.

You want more details…okay. When I was about seven years old, I thought I would be the first female president and an architect and a film director and a lounge singer and Batman. I drew pictures of my headquarters, which was a large building with gargoyles on it. So, if I define those dreams very loosely I can say I sort of made it. I’m president of redroom.com, I designed the website architecture, I was the art director for my graphic novel, I did get to sing at the Plush Room, and I wrote Batman for DC Comics. I have some bookends that look like gargoyles reading books, perched up on top of the bookcases in my living room.

What books are on your nightstand?

Abe and I have towering stacks on each nightstand of at least forty interesting books and we should just admit we won’t have time to read them. The only books I wind up reading these days are business books. Books with titles like Structuring Mergers and Acquisitions, Execution, Wikinomics, Getting Things Done, Marketing Metrics, Traction. And when I get exhausted, I remember that “the antidote to exhaustion is whole-heartedness,” and I take an hour with a pop philosophy book, books on Toltec wisdom and Buddhist philosophy. The only fiction I make time to read these days is when my friends write books and I’ll get in a lot of trouble if I don’t read them. I don’t want to name names—we have a thousand authors!

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.”

And finally, tell us honestly… Are you big in Japan?

No. But there were 564 visits to redroom.com from Japan last month. My goal is to help you find your readers, colleagues, and friends wherever they are in world, and so maybe next year I won’t be kidding when I say we’re “big in Japan.”


Founder and CEO Ivory Madison is a writer, editor, and entrepreneur living in her hometown of San Francisco. A former management consultant to startups and the Fortune 500, Madison has finally combined her love of writing with her business acumen. Before launching redroom.com, she founded the Red Room Writers Society in 2002, where she personally helped hundreds of aspiring and professional writers complete their books. As a result, Madison was named Best Writing Coach by San Francisco magazine. Trained as an attorney, Madison was Editor in Chief of her Law Review, interned at the California Supreme Court, and served as a Law Fellow at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Her adventures have also included episodes as a New Orleans, restaurateur, radical feminist politico, and torch singer at the Plush Room. Her noir graphic novel, Huntress: Year One, will be published by DC Comics in January 2009, but is now available in its six-issue serialized form. It tells the origin story of a strong female superhero. Madison is twenty-nine.

The Story Behind the Photo – “Ivory Madison steals away from her duties as founder and CEO of redroom.com with fellow writer Robert Mailer Anderson. Actually, this photo by David Allen became the poster for The San Francisco Film Noir Festival in February 2007. Ivory and Robert have a platonic relationship, they are acting in this photo.”

11 thoughts on “A Murderati Interview with Red Room Founder Ivory Madison

  1. Louise Ure

    Thanks, JT. And welcome Ivory! I’m proud to be a Red Room Author as well.

    Ivory, if you want to chill for one of those few hours away from your crazy schedule, I’ll meet you downtown for a little billiards.

  2. Pari Noskin Taichert

    JT and Ivory,Thank you so much for this interview.

    I’m a member and an Author member who hasn’t done squat with my website because of a lack of time and feeling intimidated by the technology.

    You both make it sound easy and like I’m an absolute idiot for neglecting this astounding community.

  3. j.t. ellison

    Hi all,Sorry to be quiet today, I’m feverishly revising. Mega thanks to Ivory for spending so much time with us today, and thanks to everyone for stopping by.

    RedRoom is a fun spot to mix and mingle, and Pari, I promise it really IS easy…

    I encourage all mystery and thriller authors to go check it out — I’m a big proponent for blurring the genre lines, and I think RedRoom is a place to do that.

  4. Jake Nantz

    Great read! Thanks for helping us find those nuggets we might otherwise go months before we know about them!

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