Friday, October 25, 2013

Racy Blood

25th October 2013

One thing I am learning about posting blogs is that you should be very careful with titles.  A blog I posted a few weeks ago entitled, "Literary Bleeding Hearts," apparently created a big stir within the vampire community and I was getting all kinds of hits from their websites. They must have been very disappointed to find out I was simply waxing lyrical about metaphorical blood from the existential wounds of writers. A more recent post called "Pretty Faces," was inundated by porn sites, and in that case I was actually happy to have wasted their time, because all I was going on about was how little writers make in general and even in Hollywood, because nothing says blockbuster to the moguls in Tinsel Town like a pretty face. From now on I will try to have blog titles with less flair, and then maybe I will go back to the small but steady stream of readers who are actually in tune with the theme of this blog, which is how, from the author's point of view, a book gets from here to over there in the publishing houses and onto the shelves. It is not intended to be a how-to, because I have been pretty unadventurous in the whole scheme, but it is a record of how it happened to me, for what that is worth.
Oh, it's a long and drawn out business.
John Steinbeck (who in case someone hasn't gathered yet, I have a particular fondness for) says it's "a real horse's ass business." It is, and just as when you stand at the back of a horse, you are sometimes marvelling at the grandeur of the beast, sometimes standing down-wind of a lot of hot air and sometimes being outright kicked.
Stephen King in his fantastic little book "On Writing," says, "Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own as well. It's about getting up, getting well and getting over."
To paraphrase him a little further, it's about getting over yourself. Steinbeck says about writing, "The mountain labors and groans and strains and the tiniest rodent comes out. And the greatest foolishness of all lies in the fact that to do it at all, the writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion, even when he knows it is not true."
Not only that, but the pay is lousy.
People tell me from time to time that they have pre-ordered my book, but there seems no way of telling how sales are doing generally. I have a special "author's portal" into the Simon and Schuster website, but, as my agent tells me, you don't know anything about sales until you get your first paycheck, and that presumably won't be until I have paid off my advance. Wouldn't it be nice to pay off your advance just in pre-sales? The way it goes, I will only make about a dollar per book (more on e-book sales - more, but not a whole lot more, as it should be), so I would have to sell something close to ten thousand books ahead of time to pay off my advance before March of next year.
But, as King says, writing books is not about making money (how can he say that - he's sold so many books he has lost count?) He can say that because there was a time when Stephen King's telephone was cut off because he didn't have enough money to pay the bill, and yet he kept on writing. As in all other areas of achievement, it seems that perseverance is the key factor. To quote Rockefeller, the richest man in history, "I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature."
That means that talent isn't even key. There is no simple equation between talent and success. Stephen King's first book Carrie was rejected thirty times. JK Rowling's first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times and then she was told by her publisher to get a day job because there is no money in children's books! Einstein, who didn't speak until he was four and didn't read until he was eleven, was thought by his parents and teachers to be mentally handicapped. Vincent Van Gogh painted eight hundred pieces in his lifetime and sold one  - to a friend.
Old Japanese proverb say: Fall down seven times. Get up eight.
That's the story of writing and publishing in a nutshell: Keep getting back up!

Friday, October 18, 2013

One woman. Two worlds. And a love that knows no bounds.

October 18th, 2013

All the buzz this week has been about judging a book by its cover - I got a draft of the close-to-final copy for the back cover in which my story is tailored for the best market. The tagline on the front cover reads: One Woman. Two Worlds. And a Love that Knows no Bounds. I can almost hear the ultra-deep voice-over: In a World where love knows no bounds...
That's how they sell books these days, and I will be very glad if they sell mine in heaps!  Selling your soul to the devil be damned - I'm walking with him right into his fiery lair.  You want Romance? You got romance - you got a love that knows no bounds, because that, I guess, is what we have to believe in. You got Mary Shelley who kept her husband's heart wrapped in a cloth in the top drawer of her desk (gruesome!) You got WB Yeats pining away most of his life for love of Maude Gonne. You have Robert Browning losing his heart (but not literally this time) to Elizabeth Barrett (even though she looked like a man in drag); you have Abelard for young Heloise, who had him by the goolies until the goolies went missing one night, and then you had a monk pining for a nun. There's Simon De Beauvoir pining for Jean Paul Sartre, a five foot toad with a large cranium (who says size doesn't matter?) but possibly the worst teeth in all of literary history. Love is blind. And so, presumably are most readers  readers, who will read anything so long as it has as its theme endless love.
My readers will in large part be female (so I am told repeatedly - well, they make up 62% of fiction readers - 91% of Romance), and I am tempted to call  all women out on the need for tales of endless love and order them to stand on their own two feet. Love like this might exist, but it ain't going to make you feel any better about yourself if you don't already. But I like love stories, too, and I sorely miss them when they are absent. I don't care for that celibate protagonist Langdon from Dan Brown's books. I decry gratuitous sex in books, but I keep wanting Langdon to forget himself and run his hand up Sophie Neveu or Vittoria Vetra's leg. It's the mix of spices, isn't it? I don't care for bland saltless food, and no more can I take a depiction of life without sex. It feels limp (so to speak) and lacking somehow. So, I am the perfect author to be writing tales of love that knows no bounds. I suppose even the most vigilant of us are looking for our happy-ever-after. Slap it on the front cover then: this author wants  immortal love and she hopes you do, too.
They want a photo of me now, too, for the back cover. I sent one, but it didn't have enough pixies in it. I don't have enough pixies in me, that's for sure, otherwise I would never sink into those morose moments (or longer than moments) that writers are famous for. The question is how glamorous to appear in a back cover photo, how young? It inevitably happens that you go along to a book reading only to find that something like twenty years separates the person in front of you from the one you saw and liked so much on the back cover of their book. But what can you do - we live in a culture of youth, though the youth know nothing, and wisdom is housed in bags of saggy wrinkles. Writers, like everyone else, must be eternally young and ensconced in immortal love. So the pictures aren't exactly telling a lie, but they ain't telling the truth either.  I can do nothing about my wrinkles unless I go and have them surgically removed, which would offend my deep literary ethics. Because in books women, even old women, are always beautiful.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Pretty Faces

11th October, 2013

Lots of excitement this week! I got back from that dog walk with which I ended last week's blog to find a box of bound galleys of Veil Of Time waiting at my doorstep. I wasn't expecting them,  and I haven't got teary yet about the whole publishing deal, but I have to say that as I lifted the first of sixteen of my books out of the cardboard box, my adam's apple did seem all of a sudden awfully large. The book runs to about 395 pages, and seems quite thick, but then the font isn't small. It's a classy looking book, for all that it is not a hardcover, with the stark black background and the scene of the wilds across the naked back of the girl.
There is nothing like holding in your hand the first copy of your book. As long as you are passing computer files back and forth with your agent and then your editor, and even after you have seen a printed copy, the process still feels a bit like one of those polaraoid instant pictures waiting to take shape in your hand. There is something magical about holding any book you are about to read for the first time, like having a ticket to a fantastical destination in your pocket. But it is all the more sweet when you are the creator. It's a moment of feeling like God. Just a moment. Just a nano second.
The bound galley version is what gets sent out to possible reviewers. It was taken from the script before I made the last editing pass (so not much will change.) I have sent a copy off to Anthony Peake in England because of his interest in the connection between epilepsy and time travel (from a theoretical physicist's point of view) and to local writer Scott Lasser (who has four books by Norton to his name.)
I sat across a table with Scott in the Main St. Bakery a couple of days ago, just as twenty years ago we sat across the table from each other in the local writer's group. We had differences in our literary taste back then and still do, but it was a poignant moment that found two would-be writers transported forward twenty years into their active literary careers. He makes money writing for Hollywood these days. He seems a tad jaded by the publishing business, and maybe I'll feel that way, too, after four books. For now, I'm still cheerfully optimistic and that is my prerogative as a bushy-tailed writer pulling her first bound galley out of its casing. At any rate, I handed Scott my book across the table - he looked through it and went "mmm," and "mmm." He said, "Impressive." His last book was titled, "Say Nice Things About Detroit." I asked him to say nice things about me.
My editor, Abby, is busy on the marketing trail selecting would-be reviewers (or "blurbers" as they say in the industry) mainly from the kind of genres that she thinks the audience is most likely to appreciate - mainly romance or historical fiction. I have taken my hands off that particular juggernaut because I don't have a heavy vehicle license and wouldn't know how to drive one anyway. Meanwhile, my agent is busy finding me blurbers from his agency's stable.
I have to say that this is where traditional publishing really comes into its own from a writer's point of view - I wouldn't know where to start if I were at this stage in self-publishing and needed some endorsements. But then I'm not that enterprising. Like Scott, I will undoubtedly get to the point of complaining about the small revenues a writer manages to squeeze out of a book's profits. But is  Hollywood any better? It's not, when you think of the salary of those who write film scripts against those who star in them. This is not a culture that honours creative genius like it does a good song and dance routine. Greece had its sportsmen and we have our pretty faces. Go put on your make-up. Go figure.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Praise Be

4th October 2013

Time passes. Now that we have hit October,  it is only five months until the publication of Veil Of Time! The thing about time is, it waits for no man. Nor woman. The point is, it takes no hostages, male or female. The blink of an eye, and you are dead in the water. And before I resort to any more cliches, let's move on. That's the publication part of the blog.
Here's the real topic of this week's blog: Writing. And a few praises.
Praise be to Gandhi who was born 144 years ago this week in India and who is an example to us all and without whom India would still be in bondage to England as Scotland still is, but that's another story.
I have attended many writers' groups and classes over my career (now that I am about to be published in five months, I can talk about the length of my career and how it started when I was twelve. My career has spanned many years, too many to mention. I am middle aged - that's as far as I'll go. It's more than twenty. It's actually more than thirty. That's really as far as I'll go.)
Point is,  there is so much standard advice out in the writing milieu: Show, don't tell; kill your darlings; leave out most adjectives; leave out all the adverbs; leave out anything but "said" in dialogue; no rambling sentences, and no dangling anything, male or female.
But once in a while, you hear something that puts a new spin on all of this rhetoric and gets to the heart of the matter. So, praise be to author Ron Carlson in whose class I sat one summer (along with someone else who is currently doing well in the publishing world, Linda Lafferty - in her acknowledgements to "The Drowning Guard," she offers thanks to dear old Ron for a pithy piece of advise which actually wasn't on my list of Carlson pithy sayings, but we'll get to that one, too.)  I am going to name three Carlsonisms, because they really are good and have stuck with me (and not much does.) I don't know where he got them. It could have been Wikipedia for all I know, except that this was before wiki leaks of any kind.
I might be more susceptible to this flaw than most. Ask anyone who knows me - I am always on my bully pulpit, I am the original proseltyser, and I always have an opinion. (I am also a very bad speller.) So I should have been a politician, except that if that had been in America I would currently be out of work (cf. government shutdown.) Everyone has their little hobby horses, and they like to ride them, but Carlson's point is, you don't ride them onto the page. A piece of writing has to breathe, not sputter in truisms. Literature (and especially poetry, you eejits!) buckles and sighs under the weight of ideas. Your story is about people, all the nitty gritty and the quirks and the failings. Get past your ideas if you are going to be a writer. That's not where writing comes from. (This is fast becoming my blog refrain.)
I feel the truth of this statement so keenly, but the mathematical reference throws me into panic. I didn't understand vectors when I was on my way to failing O'Level maths, and I still don't (Lines don't move, silly, they are  drawings! Would you have passed me?) I think what he means is similar to the first saying: don't cut your characters out of cardboard. They have to have a life of their own, and they have to be their own force in your story.
Number three: This one is the best, and I carry it around with me in my chest (which is also not a vector.) THE STORY IS THE MOTOR, BUT NOT THE FREIGHT. THE FREIGHT IS THE HUMAN HEART.
So there, Dan Brown and all you plot-driven novelists. No, I take that back - the freight of Dan Brown's books is ultimately the human heart - the loss of the sacred feminine, yes, all doing human heart work. Well, it's something to bear in mind, a reason to quiet the editor in your mind who wants to keep the plot moving at the expense of everything else. That's what makes me cringe about the industry idea of "the hook." The hook has a place in a story, of course, but it is not the freight! It is only the faint rumbling of an engine starting, not even the motor itself. The freight is the human heart - make your work bleed. Who said that you should be able to open a book on any page and catch it bleeding? Good god, I think it was Ron Carlson! Someone canonise that man, will you?
And so to the saying that Linda Lafferty took away from that class - it was the advice to Stay in the room. Writers, STAY IN THE ROOM! Live with a scene, a character, an exchange, and listen to the sound of it breathing. Yes, kill your darlings if need be, hide them behind the couch and mop up the blood stain, but stay in the room and let us join you.
Right now I am going to leave you there, living, breathing, pondering the human heart. You stay - I am going to walk my dogs.