Friday, September 27, 2013
Then life got in the way. The demands of homework and extra curricula activities suddenly meant that bedtime was unpredictable and often rushed. Our bedtime ritual lost the middle element. My children still read voraciously but we no longer share that nighttime reading time.
This story has a happy ending, though, because we still read books together. We recently all read 'Wonder' by R. J. Palacio at the same time. My daughter read it on a Kindle, my son on his iPod and I read it on my laptop. We bookmarked sections and spent a few minutes at bedtime, not reading, but discussing the parts of it that touched us the most.
This was not our only experience sharing a book electronically but it struck me that with much discussion about how technology is hindering humanity's face-to-face communication, with proper management we can actually use technology to enhance our human interactions.
I recently downloaded Orwell's 'Animal Farm' and I am hoping that we can enjoy this together as well. Wish me luck!
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
I’ve never tried sky diving and I don’t imagine I will ever have the courage to do so, but in looking for an easy analogy between the writing of a novel and the rapid journey of the short story, I’ve come up with this.
Picture a long-haul flight: you ascend, you meet your characters/neighbours, you understand your context, you enjoy the wide-sweeping views and perhaps experience a little turbulence. You have your ticket in your pocket, you know your destination; you may drink and make a party of it, or you might even fall fast asleep.
When it’s over, you arrive refreshed or exhausted, depending on your resilience and the air company you have chosen. You may have been changed by your journey – it may have somehow seeped into your skin – but perhaps you are the same as before, untouched and impatient to get going and reach a new destination.
But the short story? It’s a far different type of venture. Firstly, there’s no ticket, no guarantee, no one holding your hand when you have a panic attack. Risks must be taken. You have to jump into the void. It is a fast journey where everything can go wrong. Technically, you must be adept. You must understand timing. You will see the wide views alter quickly, you will feel a sense of culmination – and dread. And when you hit the dust you may not be a different person but you will be altered, the experience will have shaken you, tested your senses, brought you forth from the unknown.
Have you ever dared to write a short story? Or have you ever proposed a short collection to an agent to be told, Nice writing but could you write me a novel? Or, Well I’m afraid short stories don’t sell at all – how about a novel? Why is it that short stories are so often viewed as the junior sister of the more worthy novel? Are they merely practice for the real thing?
I was once shocked to read a well-known author comment that a novel can have ‘baggy’ bits, where a short story must not have a word out of place. That’s the laziest definition of a novel I’ve ever heard! I prefer Isabel Allende’s opinion: she feels that writers should not be urged to move from the short story to the novel, but rather in the opposite direction – that after mastering the novel form, authors should progress to the more challenging technical skills required for the short story.
When I grew tired of being asked for a novel I sat down and continued writing my short stories, working on technique, voice, cadences. Gradually, most of them were published in UK and Australian literary reviews. Some threaded together of their own accord. Some were clearly attention-seekers, other were more subtle, written in a different key. Several years later I found myself with a diverse collection set in Ghana, Italy, Australia, Belgium, Germany. Would my small British publisher ever be interested in a book like this?
Fortunately, my publisher fell in love with the stories and offered a contract quickly. I was able to obtain cover comments from two prize-winning authors who also liked the work. A brilliant cover was designed and the book was recently launched at an independent London book shop.
And now a new free fall starts. Promotion and publicity. Hoping that this short story collection might stand out, that readers might be enticed by my blurb or excerpts, and perhaps buy a copy. Hoping that reviews will be good and that bookshops will order.
Hoping that my landing is soft and safe!
Lust and dirt from a world of places
Some stories are interlinked. Two foolhardy snowboarders challenge the savagery of mountain weather in the Dolomites. A Ghanaian woman strokes across a pool in the tropics, flaunting her pregnant belly before her lover’s discarded wife. A sex worker is enlisted to care for her Italian lover’s elderly parents. Hit by a car in Brussels, a young woman returns to her doctor boyfriend. And in Berlin, Celeste visits her suicidal brother Ray and his partner for the very last time.
Pelt and Other Stories lingers on the cusp between Europe and Africa, between ancient sentiments and modern disquiet.
Pelt and Other Stories is available from:
Indigo Dreams Bookshop
The Book Depository (free international postage)
Kindle version out soon!
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
A few days ago we were at the playground. It was a little crowded and they both wanted to go on the swing but had to wait. They occupied themselves with other things and we eventually left without using the swing. When we got home, my husband inquired about their time at the playground. My three year old blurted out, “It was awesome. I had so much fun!” My five year old who had been busy on the slides and the monkey bars looked sullen, “I didn’t have fun because I didn’t go on the swings.” Same experience, two different reactions. Their experiences were colored by their outlook on life.
I see that same dichotomy among authors. There are many authors (especially newbies) that are full of hope and expectations. They see their potential through rose tinted lenses and they have faith that readers and publishers alike would love their books. Then I see the seasoned authors whose outlook has been tainted by the harsh realities of the publishing industry. The former celebrates when he sells thirty books, the latter looks at his five hundred dollar royalty check with disappointment, even anger.
I’ve said this before on this forum and I really believe it, that the distance between expectation and reality is disappointment. And I’ll go even further with this qualifier: the magnitude of the disappointment is directly proportional to the flexibility of one’s beliefs. What do I mean? If you can adjust your expectation to align a little more with reality, you will be less disappointed.
The thing is, after many attempts and disappointments, many of those newbies with the rose tinted glasses become frustrated and jaded. They are the ones who have set an inflexible bar very high and have not adjusted their expectations to align with reality.
So here are a few tips to be happy as writers:
1. Go in with eyes wide open.
Learn about the industry: the bad, the good and the ugly, then make the decision to write because you love it and not because you want to make money fast.
2. Let reality temper your expectations without interfering with your dreams
Be aware that there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of writers who didn’t debut a bestseller or make several million dollars on their first or even thousandth book. Being an author is not a get rich quick scheme. But also be aware that there are some authors who make it and make it big. So keep your aspirations alive.
3. Be flexible:
Your expectations are not set in stone. You can adjust it to reflect reality.
4. Keep hoping and dreaming
Writers are essentially dreamers. That’s what we do best. Keep your dreams alive.
5. Make a decision to be happy in spite of, not because of.
No one should depend on situations in their lives to be happy. Being happy is a choice we make irrespective of the ills we face.
If you have tips to add, please feel free to share them.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
|Head in the clouds|
First there was the case of Friend A. He is not a reader (except for the publications of his particular religious sect) and it shows in his writing which is unwieldy and preachy. He was out of a job and decided, since I had just snared a publishing contract, that he would write a memoir and make some fast money. Fast money? This was around 2006/2007 when Amazon's KDP platform did not exist. I explained the process of getting a book published and the time involved, but he brushed all of that aside. He'd get a big advance that would take care of all his expenses until the royalties started pouring in. Okay...
This brought us to the work that has to be done before signing that lovely contract—you know, the querying of agents and publishers. At the time few agents were accepting e-queries and the process involved lots of printing out of letters, synopses and sample chapters and mailing them to another country (my friend lives in the Caribbean, as I do) with International Mailing Coupons or return envelopes with US stamps on them. And before that, I informed Friend A, a lot of research had to be done to find the agents/editors who might be interested—online research with ultra-slow dial-up connections (remember those?)... My friend's response?
"Oh, you know all about that stuff so you can do it for me."
I think my jaw must have hit the floor at the same time my eyebrows collided with the roof, knowing as I did the years of hard work and research that led to that first publishing contract of mine. (And I'm not even talking about the writing itself here.) Hadn't I just explained all of this to my friend? Yet he thought I had a few spare months or years lying around, late nights included, to do this on his behalf. It was at this point that I began to write off his publishing aspirations, because writers must be willing to do the work. You're not willing to do the work involved? Then you're not serious, buddy. But a friend is a friend, so I hung in there and kept trying to help...
I took a deep breath and moved along to the actual writing. His book was going to be a memoir, and he had written an introduction and a few chapters. I told him the same rules apply as with a novel: there must be a narrative arc, it must be interesting and written in a style that makes the reader want to keep reading. Since it was a memoir, though, he needed to tell the truth, so he would have to excise all the intriguing anecdotes about fighting his (nonexistent up to that point) agent and editor to the death for "creative control" and "joining the ranks of the literati—damn them". He also needed, I told him, to leave out the parts about his vast qualifications to write the book and how much the reader stood to gain from reading the story—and let the story stand on its own.
He was horrified, and his first thought was that I was being malicious. Then he recalled our many years of friendship and that nothing I had ever done or said before provided a sound basis for such a conclusion, so he resolved that it must be the publishing industry that was rotten and biased and I was just showing him what he would have to deal with "out there". At that point he decided he would not waste his time and talent on such a system, and he moved on to other dreams and plans.
Friend B is another story. He also has a lot to learn, but makes up for his shortcomings with his love for and dedication to writing. He does the work, and has been doing it for many years. He puts in the time to learn more about the craft, constantly challenging himself. At some point he decided he wanted to have something to show for his years of effort, so he self-published an anthology on Xlibris. There was just one problem: he believed the royalty checks would start pouring in from the very next month. When I tried to tell him a bit about the reality of self publishing at the time, he got an angry glint in his eyes and a certain set to his jaw. I knew what he was thinking: that I had gone and gotten a publishing contract and now I was trying to rain on his parade. I was being a wet blanket. A purveyor of negativity.
I shut up. He went ahead with his plans and at last check, after five years, he had not yet sold 10 copies of the book. He continues to ask my opinion and advice, though. The difference now is that he pays attention. I don't know everything, but I share what I do know. I'll always try to help Friend B to the best of my ability because he works hard and loves writing stories. I hope that he finds some measure of success in publishing, whatever his definition of "success" might be.
So, unlike Sunny, I no longer try to put new writers right about the realities of publishing. When they ask in person or write me for advice, I point them to helpful links on my personal blog. And I don't read their manuscripts unless they are paying me to edit them. I've discovered that to some aspiring writers, it's all about fooling around with a fuzzy dream of immediate fame and fortune. They aren't interested in the years of toil, setbacks, and disappointment, with rare moments of bliss, that go into the making of a real-world publishing career.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
But I'm a writer, and when writers travel – or do much of anything, actually – we are always observing, picking up details that will probably in some form find their way into our work. Also, as always happens when we travel together, Valerie resumed encouraging me to write a romance or six – suggesting Bermuda as a perfect location. So I began taking notes on what I was observing, which I usually don't do.
Things I wrote down included:
Grass on Bermuda looks just like the Bermuda grass in our yard, but isn't because American Bermuda grass is African.
The Bermuda Longtail is the only bird I've found as viciously territorial as my favorite Northern Mockingbird. A cage match wouldn't be much fun, though; the Longtail's twice the size of a mocker.
The famous pink sand is ordinary white sand with (really pretty faint) swirls of pink flakes from crushed shells.
Sea turtles do not appreciate friendly snorkelers.
On the other hand, if you hold very still underwater (and are of hirsute eastern European stock) finger-long fish will line up along your arm to nibble your hair.
Wear sneakers in the water! Raw coral beneath the surf is the norm.
Mayonnaise is great for removing tar.
On a related note, everything is spookily clean.
Rude Bermudians are evidently kept in a secure compound far from any tourist areas.
Those last two are particularly significant. In our first exploratory stroll through the Dockyard on Ireland Island we sensed something a bit 'off' – not wrong, but different. It took us a while to realize what it was: no one approached us with discount offers. In every city with a tourist industry we've visited there were always folk on the street offering visitors half price or less on cab rides, local crafts, tours, etc. Here there were none. We'd heard Bermuda was expensive, but the prices in the stores were in line with anywhere else we'd been; what was missing were the street vendors. I even sought out alleys and back streets in Hamilton, testing the theory local entrepreneurs kept a low profile, with no luck. "Deals" were not available.
At seven every morning, as I sat drinking my third
Bermuda is not without crime – there are three prisons and we once saw a group of police officers surrounding a man on the street. And listening to a radio talk show in which the female host took calls from listeners debating some political controversy I didn't follow I learned Bermudians can indeed vent their tempers when they want to. (Though a heated argument in British Colonial English pales in comparison to southern talk radio stridency.) But Bermuda is alone. I'm typing this in Wilmington, NC, so Bermuda is about 770 miles east of me; the point of land nearest Bermuda is Cape Hatteras, NC, at just over 700 miles. Even on this shrunken globe of the internet and jets and 6,000-passenger cruise ships, in a very real sense the people of Bermuda have only each other to rely on. Which means that Bermudians need to trust one another to work for the common good, and behave in a manner worthy of that trust. Of course there are individuals who don't – they do have police and courts and prisons – and there are bound to be seven or eight or twenty opinions on what best constitutes the common good, but underlying it all is the knowledge they are all in it together.
What has this to do with writing? Quite a lot. Most of us have had the experience of reading a story set in a place we live or have lived and known by the second sentence the writer has no idea what she's talking about. She may know what street leads where and accurately describe the sunrise/set over the mountain/bay/river/skyline, but it's clear she doesn't "get' the place she's writing about. Every society, every locale, every family has its particular culture. More than any physical attribute a place and a people are defined by their culture – the givens upon which they base their decisions and behaviors. Any story set in Bermuda that vividly captures it's physical beauty, or engagingly depicts sea birds and turtles, or evokes its colonial history with insightful observations of architecture and ruins, but misses the culture of the people will ring false.
When you set your story in a place you don't know, don't just research its history and geography and politics. By all means, visit if you can and between snapping shots of everyday scenes and making notes about scents and sounds pay attention to how folk interact with each other when they're not playing for the tourists. Body language, manners. If you speak the language, listen to AM talk radio. If you can't visit, the internet makes local media scarily accessible. Listen to local talk radio stations, read local papers, read stories by local writers if you can find them. This diligence – which is by no means hard work – will add a depth and texture to your story and a verisimilitude the folks you're writing about will appreciate
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Sunday, September 15, 2013
For very different reasons, each of these three writers had an impact on me at an early age, long before I ever entertained any notions of writing at all, much less for publication. I first was drawn to Mr. Leonard due to his stories set in my home state of Florida, but before writing mystery novels he also was known for his western tales. He's long been acknowledged as someone with a gift for crafting wonderful dialogue and razor sharp, authentic descriptions to set a scene. When I started writing, I read his famous "Ten Rules of Writing" essay, then went back and reread a few of his novels to see if he practiced what he preached. Practice it, he did. My favorite of his rules are the ones you may have heard before, even if you didn't know who may have said them:
Rule #10: "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."
And, his one rule that he uses to summarize the first ten: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."
I'm not going to attempt to give my explanation of Mr. Leonard's "secrets for writing success." You're better off clicking on the link and reading them in the man's own words.
Frederik Pohl is someone I began reading almost by accident, after picking up a copy of his science fiction novel Man Plus when I was a teenager in the early late 1970s. I'd recently read Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and was looking for more Mars-based fiction, only to find that Mr. Pohl's novel was an altogether different animal from Mr. Bradbury's work. It didn't hurt that the main character in Man Plus becomes a cyborg in order to travel to Mars, which was something akin to Steve Austin, aka The Six Million Dollar Man, which I was enjoying at the time. Along with Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Richard Matheson, Joe Haldeman and Robert Heinlein, Frederik Pohl was part of my "golden age of science fiction reading," or the books I was enjoying at the age of 12 or 13. He's also the man behind the very wise Pohl's Law, which every writer, artist or other creator should always keep in mind: "Nothing is so good that somebody somewhere will not hate it."
Then there's Ann Crispin, to whom I was introduced thanks to a Star Trek novel she wrote in the early 1980s, Yesterday's Son. To this day, that novel remains popular with fans of such books, owing to her seemingly easy mastery of the characters and setting from what at the time was the only Star Trek television series. Her adaptation of the 1984 miniseries V still is one of my very favorite media tie-in works. I also read her original fiction, of course, but Ann ended up being one of my inspirations when I began writing tie-in novels of my own, because she never saw a need to distinguish between such novels and her own original fiction. To her, each was deserving of the best effort a writer could bring to bear. When asked about the difference between writing in someone else's "universe" and one of her own creation, her simple answer is one which also has served me rather well when confronted with such questions: "Personally, I believe a good story is a good story, no matter what universe it's written in."
Amen to that.
In addition to her fiction, Ann along with fellow author Victoria Strauss founded Writer Beware, a watchdog group with a mission to foster awareness regarding fraud, scams, and other illegitimate and illegal activities in and around the publishing industry. She and Victoria, along with everyone else working alongside them at Writer Beware, are among the best friends a new writer ever could have.
Elmore Leonard, Frederik Pohl and Ann Crispin: Thank you for decades of wonderful storytelling, and for not being afraid to mentor those smart enough to learn from your wisdom and hard-won experience.
Friday, September 13, 2013
Monday, September 9, 2013
Payment made to:
Our Supplier No.:
Supplier site name:
Paid to bank:
Hidden for security
Paid to account:
Hidden for security
That’s a not shabby $636.01 for one month of Kindle sales. For sure, I'd like to do better. But I've had a lot of months where I didn't come close. And that’s not even counting the paper books, which are selling too. Why? Hopefully word of mouth gets around to folks who don’t have Kindles, so they buy the paper copies. Kindle might be its own self-governed ecosystem, but it definitely interacts with other publishing ecosystems.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
Not only is that done in the arts, but also in science. I recall as a first year graduate student we had to write a mock grant on a particular research topic for Microbiology. My partner and I chose a relatively rare infectious pathogen and were excited when the leading person researching that pathogen was the invited speaker at a seminar. As you would expect we inundated him with questions. However he looked at us with suspicion and asked who we were working for. No matter how we explained that it was just a mock exercise, he would not answer any of the questions but referred us to his already published work.
That was quite a surprise for me and my partner because both of our mentors were always willing to share their research with the world even before it was published. In fact, once when I asked my mentor why he shared our research before it was published despite possibility of being scooped his response was that science is supposed to be shared with the world. And yes the end result is that someone else published the same research before us—we were scooped.
That is why I’m having a little dilemma. I have no problem sharing my unpublished work with others as long as it is not stolen. Two years ago, my daughter and I wrote two books in a series of books that involves children on a journey into the cell. The book was meant to help children understand the structure and function of the cell and its organelles in a fun and exciting manner. My daughter is now learning about the cell at school. I realize that both her and her classmates would benefit tremendously by reading the books, however, I haven’t published it as yet. So after agonizing over it, I sat her down and asked her if she thinks it’s a good idea to offer her teacher access to the unpublished manuscript as a resource. After careful thought (all of ten seconds) she says it’s up to me. The ball is now in my court.
Should I do so? Should I not? I’m still undecided. Why? Well for one, will the teacher or one of the parents of the students take the story and publish it as theirs? Would the teacher think I’m usurping his authority in the classroom?
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
I’ve scheduled blog tours for my last few releases, and I’ve often wondered how effective they’ve been. I’ve tried my best to measure the value. To contact bloggers and invite them to participate, and then have those who are interested reply positively, is a great feeling. Depending on the blogger’s followers, and on the author’s ability to get the word out, not to mention if the bloggers write reviews, post an author interview, post the author’s guest blog post, and/or offer giveaways, blog tours can be valuable avenues to take prior to release date. My most successful blog tour garnered daily reviews for one-week leading up to pub day.