Friday, June 29, 2012

Veil Of Time

29th June 2012

So the auction hammer has come down, the bidders have made their play and are leaving the room. There I am sitting alone on the front row, wondering if I got a good price for my auction item, my novel Dunadd, sold to the highest bidder. "Veil Of Time," is the title, said the hammer. And I can live with it. I suggested it a while ago in a long list of titles. I can accept it because the book is about time. It's about turning the notion of linear time on its head. We're done with that old paradigm - it isn't even good science anymore. What we live in is a kind of continuous field of energy blips. Maggie, my heroine is a blip in one time; Fergus was a blip in another time. They came and went out of the quantum soup, and who's to say that one came before the other. I think they exist at the same time. I think everything that ever was or will be is happening in this pardoxical thing called Now. It's not about lines, but more about layers, not pictures but holographs. I think people get that. Science is always a few steps behind the collective consciousness, trying to preserve the old paradigm while the new one is luring us on.
This is the zone in which Harry Potter exists - everyone is so over the Newtonian paradigm with its isolated objects being nudged along by reasonable causes. Every child knows that there are really no limits, and that's why they're reading Harry Potter like bedoins at a pool in an oasis.
Anyway, so "Veil Of Time," is a pretty good summary of that. I only resist it because it also conjurs images of the covers of Romance novels. I have been honing my craft on this writing path a long time, and I want the sum total of what I have mastered to be more than the limp pages in between the covers of a Romance novel.
I talked to my agent this week, and he says that the main thing is to push for a really good cover, which will mitigate to some extent the ambiguity of the title. My editor sent us a few examples of the cover art from some of their more recent publications, and I thought they were quite good. I liked the cover of "The Time Traveller's Wife." Audrey Niffenegger had a better title, and because she was working with a small publisher, she might have had more say in the cover art, too. That remains to be seen.
I was asking my agent what is to happen with the first novel of mine, "Duntrune," (oh, what they will do with that title!), and he said we will know by next spring how well "Veil Of Time," is going to do. He says that by then the book sellers (who helped to choose the title, for God's sake) will have made their orders, and we will get a sense from the type of reviews the book has gleaned . If all looks good, he will start moving on Novel No. 1. Oh, the business of this, the commodity that everything becomes in a free market economy. Well, it wasn't much different in Dicken's day. He knew about selling his work. Would that I have his success.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

June 23rd 2012

This last week, I went to a class at The Aspen Writer's Conference on how to market my book. What I learned is that you can't start too early, but you can defintely get to this aspect of things too late.  What I also learned is that I am going to have to hire a publicist to do this for me, because when it comes to the interent and tweets and toots and all things bright and beautiful, I am a complete blockhead. There were about twenty-five people in this class, and they seemed to be quite savvy in the art of facebook and its spin-offs, whereas this blog is about as techno as I get. I asked how much a publicist would cost and the answer was anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000. My problem is that I don't have any sense at this point how much the publisher is going to get behind this book. They can go a long way or do very little, and if it's the latter, then I had better get my skates on, as we say in Britain. It's all about building a fan base and whatever you need to do for that, like setting fire to yourself on the steps of the county courthouse, like doing a Lady Godiva through the streets of your neighbourhood. You can try to get publicity through your local papers and then those further afield, you can get a list of top book bloggers and try to befriend them, get them to review your book.There is apparently a site called HARO (Help a Reporteer Out) through which journalists actively look for good news items, and your story might be one. In short, you have to create a social media presence, which is hard for a writer who spends their favourite times locked away in a room scribbling. You have to befriend librarians and bookshop sales people. You have to send out questionaires and buy business cards.
I don't know about anyone else, but all this makes me want to put a pillow on my head and hide. If I had been good at selling myself I would have gone into the theatre. Still, the rub is that a person in my position is actually on the cusp of greatness or looking at a short sharp dive to the bottom of the heap. As my agent reminded me, one thing worse than being a writer with no books on the market is one with a failed book. So, you have to pull out all the stops, do whatever it takes, dance naked on the coffee table of your local bookstore, sing Scottish ballads on your local TV station. Or then again, you could just hire a publicist.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

June 16th 2012

This coming week is The Aspen Writer's Conference, which is where I found my agent (after many years of submitting to agents and editors there.) The problem was that I was always writing new stuff, so I would submit whatever I was working on at the time. It would have been better to have kept submitting the same piece, so there was some consistency. Anyway, it was lucky that I did submit the sample I did when Esmond Harmsworth was among the agents brought in to the conference that year. It was a fit, and that doesn't happen that often.
What I like to go to most at the conference is panels of writers talking about writing or about the publishing business. I'm going to one on Monday with writers who write about the place they come from. To me, it is more unusual when a person doesn't write about the place they come from. If writing comes from a place of longing, and the writer isn't living where they grew up, as is usually the case, then why wouldn't that place well up out of them? Being so far away from Scotland in exile, I get in front of my desk, go into the zone, and Scotland is all around me. I want to experience it, so I conjure it up through writing. Someone like Colum McCann, who comes from Ireland, but writes about everything under the sun but, is a puzzle to me. He's good, but he must be writing out of a different place.
Another event I am going to at the conference is a two-hour seminar on How to Market Your Book - I'll report on that next week. Everyone tells me it's not like it was in the old days. No matter that you have a major publisher, you're going to have to get out there and sell your book. Marketing is not something that comes naturally to me, or even unnaturally. It just doesn't come to me at all. That's why I'm a writer and not up on the stage. I'm a hermit by nature.
I have been doing a lot of hermitting lately, trying to get through this re-write for the publisher, which is turning into something of a major re-mix. I'm so close to the material now, I don't know when I put this in or if I pulled that out. The facts and figures of it are swirling in a cloud above my head.
This week, I was talking to Scott Lasser, a writer friend of mine. His fourth novel "Say Something Nice About Detroit" is coming out next month. I was expressing my anxiety over not being able to come up with a title for my novel I liked. I even proposed "Auld Lang Syne" to my editor this week, and I guess the lack of reply meant she didn't think much of the idea. Scott said that the title doesn't matter that much, doesn't need to have that much to do with the book, as long as it is a good title. If it needed to be about the book, he suggested, I could call mine "Cold and Wet." Well, it's a nice cold and wet, Scotland is, and it's not always cold, though it's usually wet. It belongs to the longing at the heart of me. It's probably the reason I write.

Friday, June 8, 2012

June 8th, 2012

Since I got my editorial notes from my editor Abby Zidle at Simon and Schuster a couple of weeks ago, I have been working hard on making the fixes that were proposed. None of these was very significant in terms of the story; it was more a question of highlighting things that were important but had a fairly muted presence, as things stood. I keep before me  - I think it was Auden, who said - "Kill your darlings." Very good advice but very hard to do. But I killed off quite a few darlings, re-wrote other chapters, added new material.
I look at it as a sculptor might. Your story at first is a block of granite,  and you just have to keep going back to it and fine-tuning, getting those features sharper so that the image you had in your brain to start with is what the viewer sees. From a big block of marble, you're getting closer and closer to your David. I feel good about what my hard work accomplished - the balance wasn't quite right before, and now it feels better in the hands, the weight of this as opposed to the weight of that, all working towards a cohesive whole. I feel like I pulled out (for view) my heroine's emotions more, so that the choice she has to make at the end of the book is heart-wrenching for the reader, too. I will make another run at it after a day or two's break (just to get some distance) and see how it looks to me then.  I'll tie up some loose ends and do some last minute tweaking before I send it back in to my editor.
After that, she tells me, and depending on whether she feels this new revision has addressed the problems she was having, it will either come back to me for another run through, or she will start the process of line-editing - so, nothing substantive, just pointing out uneasy transitions, that kind of thing, all sentence-level stuff. I had a question for her about the two foreign languages I use in the book - who's going to check those? Turns out, I'm responsible for making sure I get those right, so I'll have to run my Gaelic and Latin phrases past some experts in the field. I would be so embarrassed if the book got published with those kind of errors - I wouldn't be taken seriously in Scotland if my Gaelic wasn't up to snuff.
After line-editing comes copy-editing (for grammar and spelling) and proof reading,then type-setting. I will at this point start getting whole actual pages to look at.
And then there's the on-going question of title. My editor says her superiors are telling her we need it NOW. So, we had toyed with "Circle of Dreams," but that got rejected for being too "squishy,"  too "Fleetwood Mac." Don't quite get that reference. The next one she is going to run by them is "The Veil of Time." And here's something that completely floored me (being new to this game)  - it turns out that Barnes and Noble and Amazon both have a say (not just a small voice, but a considerable one) in the title of a book and in the cover art. That had never even occurred to me, but I guess this is a business, and what the title turns out to be might determine how many books either one of these mega booksellers buys to put on their shelf. Or so the argument goes.
I talked to my agent about it this morning. He says he's going to fight hard for a classy cover for my book, and I hope he's right. He pointed out that the cover art can put its own slant on the title. So, a woman in a veil (God forbid) would create the image of a wholly different book than a nice landscape of the area.
At this point, I feel a bit like I'm being backed into a corner. This is what the term "has you by the goolies" is all about, and if I had goolies I'd know what that means right now.

Friday, June 1, 2012

June 1st 2012

Just to finish the thought from last time about what a writer is, let's ask the question about what the art of writing is, or any art for that matter. I'll turn to Hermann Hesse here, who said that art is the universalising mirror. When I look into a Renoir face, that wistful look of the woman in Les Danceurs, I get, without any explanation, what that look is. To me the Impressionists got the balance just about perfectly between the impression and the expression. As soon as we get out of the Impressionist period, we get the expression taking over, and that (at the risk of pulling a wall of bricks down on myself) is how we got to modern art. So, the same goes for literature - there has to be a resonance, and at best a perfect resonance between the situation and the truth of what we're about as human beans.
Anyway, I shall move on, because hardly anyone agrees with me on this. I have had too many arguments in modern art exhibitions, getting red in the face over Art for Art's sake. I don't buy it.
On a more mundane level, and in case anyone is interested and still following this blog because it was supposed to be about publishing, here are some of the points my editor at Simon and Schuster asked me to fix in my upcoming book. (A small piece of trivia: the Simon in that duo is the father of Carly Simon.) Most of these points offer good advice for any writer:
1. Really get into the emotional lives of your characters and make the reader feel what they feel. Otherwise, you've just got a lot of facts. Another writer called Ron Carlson says that when you open a book at any page, it should bleed. Very good image.
2. With regard to the two lovers in a love story (which my book is only partially), the interaction should be electric. Thing is, this doesn't always happen in reality, but literature isn't reality, block by block - it is more like an allegory. For instance, dialogue between literary characters has to be somewhat unrealistic, more condensed, more to the point of the story - otherwise, you'd have a lot of "Hmmm's" and "Eh's," and "Excuse me's" and "Do you want milk with that?"
3.In my particular book, which takes place partially in the past, my editor thinks the tilt of the book should be about 65-35, past to present. The readers need to be more immersed in the past life, because it's more foreign to them.
4. Being a Scot, I sometimes assume my American readership is going to know what I mean when I allude to things like "The Stone of Destiny." So, explain it, why don't you?
5. My heroine, Maggie, has a teenage son in the present. He is one of the chief reasons she keeps feeling the pull back to her modern-day life. However, I haven't really taken that relationship to a level that would warrant that feeling.
6. The ending. My initial ending left the characters up in the air and faded into the mists rather melancholically. This was the first version, and the one I showed to my agent. His response was, this is a great story, well told, with a lot of commercial viability, but CHANGE THE ENDING. It was his opinion that no one likes a downer for an ending. I rather liked the ending the way it was and stood up for it. He told me I was shooting myself in the foot. Fine. I made the ending much more resolved, much happier. My editor likes that ending, but she wants me to amp it up even more. I'm thinking about it. We all like a happy ending. It just makes you put that book down with a smile. It gives you hope that everything everywhere will turn out all right in the end. I don't mind giving people that feeling.  I'm just not entirely sure where taking this path might fall off into sentimentality. As I was saying earlier, the burden on the artist is to look in the mirror and keep it real.