Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Uncharacteristic Behaviour" Second Novel Published

And so I've published my second novel, an urban mystery, "Uncharacteristic Behaviour".  The idea for this book has been with me for a very long time.

Decades ago, in Sydney, there was a huge public protest against the demolition of some fine Victorian houses in Potts Point, to make way for a monster (it seemed then) apartment building. People chained themselves to railings, squatted in the few vacated houses, crowds clashed with police, and there was even a strong suggestion that one woman activist, who disappeared at the time, had come to a violent end.

At the time, caught up in my own life, trying to raise three children as a single mother and hold down a fairly demanding job at the ABC, I spent little time considering the seriousness of the situation. I hated what I heard on the news, was fired up from afar (in fact, I lived quite close by), but did not become involved. These were passionate, radical, somewhat intimidating people, these "counter-culture" activists, and I was a closet protester, safe in my own world.

Needless to say, the houses came down, and the apartment (which I later lived in!) went up, and stands today, a monument to urban developers everywhere.

Then, not too long after, strange as it seems, I found myself living in an apartment house in Toronto on a street where the same thing was happening! People chained themselves to the railings, squatted in empty houses, angrily gathered and marched with their placards. It was deja vu. 

In fact, this was a long term battle that had really started in the 60s. It took a long time to redevelop an area as large as this one. That earlier complex is still considered the largest redevelopment of its kind in North America, housing between 17,000 and 25,000 (nobody knows for sure...) residents.  By the time I was there, the developers were buying up and demolishing beautiful historic houses on the south side of my street, and the protests continued. With the help of a major civic activist, who went on to become the Mayor of Toronto (which campaign I did get involved with), the new high rise expansion was cancelled. Housing co-operatives were later built on the sites of the demolished houses.

My novel only involves one small street. The word "gentrification" applies to it because the planners' idea was to make the area more up-market, more refined, classier...whatever. This certainly doesn't describe the Toronto apartment complex, although the Sydney apartment building is apparently desirable, even if only for the spectacular views, I think. But the rest of the street probably looks much the same as it did in the 1900s - minus a few fine old terrace houses, of course.

I'm getting too old  to be running around the streets with banners and placards. Writing Letters to the Editor is no longer the way to go. So what did I do to voice my feelings about frivolous destruction of historic buildings? I wrote a novel.

Paperback at Lulu now, but shortly at Amazon, and there is an eBook, if you dislike too much commitment.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Amazon and Me

I've spent quite a bit of money at Amazon over the years. It's also the perfect place to research writers and titles. (I always need to know about Kate Atkinson's latest book.)

But to be there, listed there, with my own book -- well, this is a whole new ballgame. It took a while after publishing with Lulu, but finally I can hit my own name, and there's "The Attic".

To all of you who write, who long to publish, who dream of holding your book in your hand -- this is the way to go. It's not for the money - we are not naive - but your book becomes part of the literary world, whether or not anyone chooses to buy it.

I'm reaching an age where I prefer not to see my birth date written down, and I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable at the prospect of becoming a sweet, doddery, old lady, chatting people up at the bus stop, claiming to be a writer, but who had never published. Damn it, that wasn't going to happen to me.

And don't let it happen to you (assuming you are a woman - otherwise replace "lady" with "codger").

If you want fame and glory, then good luck with that. If you want to get rich, become a banker. But if you simply want to know that your words will never fade away...ever... then self-publish. Worry about the fame, glory and money later. It could happen. (In my case, probably post-mortem.)

So Amazon is no longer just a place for me to spend my money, or to research, but has become the safety deposit box for my book, along with the other three, when I process them.

Who knows, even Australia's Fishpond  could list it some day.

And to my dear reviewers, at both book sites, my deepest thanks. At least I know someone's read it...

Monday, December 2, 2013

Self-published - "The Attic" - The Novel Released from the Agent Query Treadmill

And so I've really done it. "The Attic" is out there - will be on Barnes and Noble, Amazon, etc., within weeks, and of course it's already at LuLu, the site I used to publish it.

If you've been considering it, but dismissed it because of some skeptical comments online (including mine!), I urge you to reconsider. Whether or not it sells, whether or not you establish a huge fan base, you will have the enormous satisfaction of holding your book in your hands and knowing it's available to the world. Forever, incidentally, as there will never be print over-runs, and it will never be stacked on a bookstore bargain table. In fact, your book will never be out of print, even when you are.

I've taken the liberty of adding a link to a really good article by Hugh Howey at Salon, about going it alone. This inspired me, and I hope it will have the same effect on you. 

It took five proofings to get to this point. Each time you make changes, you must get another copy of the printed book to finally approve it. And that's it. The only cost to me (I even designed my own cover) were those proof copies...under $100 in total. If I had been more careful, no doubt I could have managed with just two copies, but I was so enthusiastic, so excited to be at the final gate, that I missed tiny things. "Patsy" became "Patty" on one page,  for instance (and people said no one would have noticed), and there was an odd line break on page two. These could have been picked up much earlier if I had just relaxed and read through page by page, just one more time.

I won't discuss what goes into self-publishing. You must learn this yourself as you go along. But it's not difficult, just extremely exacting. As writers, and - we hope - good proof readers, we can cope with that.

But one thing...the beautifully formatted, perfectly proofread manuscript you've been submitting to agents is not the one you'll present for self-publication. You copy it, and then re-format it entirely. Once you've got the hang of the necessary book printer's format, you'll be fine.

However, if you then want to e-publish, that's a whole new formatting project. I nearly tore my hair out over that one, but I got there in the end,

You can do it. Honestly. Be brave.

By all means ask questions of me. I'm happy to share what little knowledge I have, or at least point you in the right direction.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

It's Been Such a Long Time...

I haven't type a word here since July. I have no excuses - there is always time in the day to say something, yet I didn't. I've been in a pensive, non-communicative state for quite a while, but I've emerged, I think.

I published my novel, now simply called "The Attic". This is huge for me. Not in terms of fame, glory, revenues (ha!), but with the incredible feeling of lightness, of relieving myself of a day-in, day-out stress that came when I let go and said, "Enough's enough."

In fact it wasn't as tricky to do as I imagined. Learning how to use the site itself was the hardest, and then it all fell into place.

This post is short and sweet. I only wanted you to know that I'd done it (what bravado!) after offering prickly comments about the self-publishing industry the whole time I've been blogging here. This only goes to show how long that's been, because since my very first blog, the whole attitude to what used to be called a self-aggrandizing  practice has changed.

And I have now taken advantage.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Self-Publishing Under Protest

It's been over four months since I last posted. During that time, I produced a lot of paintings, but that particular calling is losing its urgency, and I'm slipping back into writing mode with a vengeance.

There are a few queries out there, and I pop them off on a whim when I spy a new agent, or one who's just moved house. In fact, I'm now dealing with an English agent for Place of Dreams, and as soon as I can afford to do an actual print run of all my  manuscripts, I'll be going the snail-mail route with other English agents. Those sweet, eccentric Brits. I can say that, because I am one...although Canada and Australia have smoothed out most of the quirkiness.

In the meantime, I wanted to tell you about the book I initially called "Strachan's Attic", but which is now renamed, simply, "The Attic". (It's odd, but I see no other current book for sale with that title.)

I wrote this novel for a family member, Pat, who lived through the strange, somewhat surreal years of World War II in England. She was a very young, barely out of high school, truck driver in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, and I grew up hearing of her exploits - many of them funny, considering the circumstances - and conjuring up the images she described. Wartime is unlike ordinary life, of course, and we can feel some of that when we watch the nightly news, trying (if we have the slightest trace of empathy) to imagine how people keep their sanity through all they experience.

Even when I was very small, I always knew I would be a writer. I seem to have been born able to read, although that's impossible, but I certainly don't recall the first time I read something, so I must have been very young. My mother constantly bought books for me, and I still remember the thrill of opening up a new one. Along with a set of paints, and a coloring book, this was all I ever wanted as gifts. Nothing much has changed, except I no longer use coloring books.  Needless to say, in the back of my young mind, I longed to put the wartime stories down on paper. Undoubtedly, being so young when I first heard them from my mother or other family members, or directly from the long-retired WAAF herself, they made a deep impact.

And finally I wrote Pat's book. Although much of it is highly-fictionalized, it is as realistic, as hard-hitting, as faithfully recorded as I could manage. It is, ultimately, a love story. There were so many of those; senses are heightened and emotions are enhanced in a war zone. I believe I have captured this. Pat read the manuscript and loved it, but I so wanted to give her an actual book, tangible proof that her life had such a huge influence on me.

So, my friends, hold your breath...I am self-publishing it. In fact, it's all ready to go.

I've regularly more or less scorned the idea of what I saw as vanity press, but in this case, it's necessary. My WAAF is no longer young. And nor am I, for that matter. It's time to do this now.

I haven't decided whether or not to make the book available to the public. I need to consider this carefully. The book was written for her, but the few people who have read it - family, friends, a couple of writing buddies online - all enjoyed it, so it's reasonable to assume that others would too, although I'm also realistic enough to acknowledge that my MS readers would have resisted being unkind..

Perhaps I'll run through the process of self-publishing in another blog. For now, I'm too much of a novice to speak about it with any authority. But the book looks really good, and I believe I can do no more with it. If I do make it available for sale, I'll need to research the promotional side of it, I suppose. But then I never expected to reap a financial reward from it. All I ever wanted to do was see my sister's face when she held the book in her hands.

Yes, my WAAF is my sister.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Painting as Antidote to Waiting for Literary Agent Responses

I finally heard  back from that agent who had a full submission of mine for six months. I nudged her twice before getting her reply. She didn't say the work wasn't for her, but said,  "I am not the best agent for this..." A new way of putting things.

So - except for those who will never respond, by my reckoning about a third of all queries sent - I have now closed off the dossier which represents last year's queries. This is tremendously freeing, and I can now concentrate on what's gone out this year. In all things, I don't believe in looking back. That's done and gone, and some of it not related to writing would make interesting reading in itself, but the here and now is what it's all about.

I'm still rather feverishly painting and that's very soothing, and I find I'm not dwelling on the books at all, but thinking up plots (for that's what they are) for my next picture.

Until next time.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What Writers Want.

I mentioned last week that there were still a couple of chunky submissions out there...well, heard back from one. She was under the impression she had already told me she was declining the opportunity of representing me. Believe me, if such an email had arrived, I would have known about it.

However, that old full submission is still in limbo. Perhaps it's been so long collecting cobwebs on the hard drive that their computer thinks my follow-up was just another poorly-worded query, and dumped it before it reached human eyes. Ah, well...c'est la vie and all that. And of course, the agent could be away at some long, long convention, in some remote place where there is no access to the internet.

In the meantime, I sent off six new queries over the last ten days, spread over all four manuscripts. Three rejections later, early this morning my time, I received a request for a FULL of The Place of Dreams, from the very first query. To say I was stunned is an understatement. My experience has always been (and remember how many queries I've sent out over the last year or so) that a full request comes at about query number 52.

A New York agent, too, which is refreshing. This book is most definitely not set in the US, and I always figured that's why I've struggled so much to get a good response from that city's creme de la creme (really thinking in French today). I'll still approach some British agents -- just as soon as my printer is up and running...really.

What writers want, in fact, need, is contact with folks who say they really liked the bits you've sent them so far. It's totally reassuring. It makes all the work -- and I'm not talking about the actual writing here  -- worthwhile. As an aside, with my paintings, if someone wanders into my house -- friend, neighbor -- and spies one of my pictures and says how much they love it, I often give it to them. I'm a total pushover for flattery. Of course, I won't be doing that with my novels. Will I?

I'll keep you posted, as they say.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Boadicea and the Patient and Resilient Writer

I boldly followed up with a couple of New York agents this morning. One has had one hundred pages of Summer Must End for over seven months. The other asked for and received the full Strachan's Attic manuscript five months ago.

Now I know this would seem to imply that neither agent is interested, but when it comes to big partials and full requests I've always been treated very politely, so I've come to expect an eventual response. Heck, I recently received a very nicely worded rejection for an initial query with ten pages that I sent  seven months earlier, and it was personal, not the usual auto-response thing. So there are agents out there who do seem to empathize with the lonely writer waiting for human contact.

In the first half of 2012, of 147 queries (involving several partials and fulls, so I know the query letter worked) for 4 different books,  I received 80 rejections, about half of them personally worded. 65 - not unexpectedly - did not respond at all. I stopped querying (to spend time licking my wounds) last July.

These days I'm totally immersed in painting, producing a couple a week, and selling here and there (check out the art blog if you don't believe me). The almost instant gratification experienced with painting has been rejuvenating, but I know it won't continue for much longer. For the first time since last July, I've started to feel a small twitch of anticipation at the prospect of agent research again. It's only a small twitch now, but it will grow more demanding. Call me a masochist, if you like, but you have to be in this game. And I'm not jaded, really I'm not.

So I am once again girding my loins, Boadicea-style, to begin the slow slog of snail-mailing queries to those agents who do not accept email queries. Most British agents fall into this category. It's true. I have no idea why. Perhaps someone can tell me. In any case, I've said before that my writing is more suited to the British agents' taste in books judging by my favorite reading, and I feel that I can no longer "hmphh" at their sweet eccentricity.

Do you, my patient writer friends, have anything to add about this business? We have all been so very, very quiet lately when it comes to blog comments (especially me) but I would like to know how joyous you are about approaching agents. Or do you mutter under your breath (using Anglo-Saxon words that are best left off blog pages) as you compose yet another letter?

May your spring and my autumn bring a new determination in this insane struggle we endure for the sake of our need to write.

Notice the date of this post? I feel love...somewhere out there.

Never give up the fight.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ending the Year Without a Whimper...

I know it's been ages since I've blogged. For those of you who have followed me, it's been a rather long haul, listening to my general frustrations. I hope my basic optimism shone through, all the same. I'd hate to be accused of ending the year with a whimper.

On the agent front, I have nothing new to add. The manuscript for my first book, A Place of Dreams, was read in full by a wonderful, to-die-for New York agent, but eventually rejected as "too quiet". Isn't that sad? Sad for me, of course, but also for all those writers out there who still believe there is a place in literature for stories that contain nothing blood-curdling, gruesome, or violent. According to the agent, the writing is remarkable, characters well-formed, plot momentum excellent, but, in the end, not exciting enough. 

I still have a Full out there for one of my other books, which is in the supernatural genre so beloved by most, but I find it hard to feel much optimism about it. The truth is, as this year closes, I'm not thinking much about my writing at all. I've put everything on the figurative back burner of my brain. 

In the last week, I've produced six new paintings, and have more in my head ready to go for the New Year. They are amazingly therapeutic. I have no idea what other rejected writers do to heal their wounds (Chocolate? Shopping? Booze? Weed? Sex?), but I wish them nothing but the best for 2013, once the healing is complete.

My latest story, which is sitting at about the third chapter, will remain dormant for a while. I found I was thinking about how I could tart it up to make it less quiet, more violent, a little gruesome, and realized that this is a cop-out. I write what I feel, and I don't particularly like writing that other stuff. I certainly don't write what I think will be popular. It's my curse, I guess. 

In the meantime, let's keep on keeping on, all of us. Our eventual readers are waiting for us. (Such patience!) 

May you all have a wonderful Yuletide season and rewarding New Year. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The 'Dear John' I Sent to My Agent

I have ended the arrangement with my dear agent. The contract expired months ago, but we hung in there together, despite the fact that she was ill for most of last year and was so far behind with her work.

It was a very hard decision for me. She absolutely loved The Place of Dreams - which title she suggested rather than the original, somewhat cumbersome, Hafan Deg. So I will keep it. It's almost representational of all my writing - for when we write, doesn't it feel like a kind of dreaming?

And I continue to dream about what is possible for all my work, despite the setbacks.

Finding an agent who has fallen in love with your work is a very special thing. I clung to the idea that this was the one, this time we would get somewhere...but it wasn't to be. I didn't want to add more stress to her days with constant emails, didn't want to ask where the manuscript had been. I was so very, very patient, and I truly am not getting any younger.

But on Monday, sending off queries for my other books (which I mentioned I'd started doing in my last post), I suddenly saw how underhanded I was being. It felt a little treacherous, even though I had signed with her for only one book, over eighteen months ago. So I sent off my sad little message, suggesting it was time to find someone new. And it felt just like a 'Dear John' letter - really!

So The Place of Dreams is now out there in the agent-ozone, waiting to be opened, to be read, to get a nice "Interesting!" or "Do-able!" response. Or to join the other books on some kind of digital slush pile.

I'm sort of ok with it now, but I was a bit lost after I fired off that email on Monday. Trooper that she is, a true lady, she was friendly and understanding about my decision. She even agreed that we should remain in touch, shoot the breeze from time to time - my need more than hers, I suspect, as a writer does crave a certain amount of sympathy quite regularly.

And once again I'm back at QueryTracker and Publishers Marketplace, et al, every day, researching, researching, looking for that perfect agent who will fall in love with one of my manuscripts - well, let's be frank - who will fall in love with one of my queries.

Shakespeare wrote "The play's the thing!" as Hamlet tried to "...catch the conscience of the King." But the Query is the most important thing from where I'm sitting, as it tries to catch the eye of an agent. Of course, Shakespeare didn't have to look for an agent - in fact, some say he was the agent for the real playwright of all those works he claimed as his.

Boy, did I get off topic. It's been happening a lot, lately.

This querying business could damage one's mental health. Just saying...