Friday, May 29, 2009

Writers Who Need Writers, and Santa Claus Agents

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating. I love my little group of supporters. To open up my blog, and have no comments, or - even worse - no visitors, would be a real downer.

As writers, or artists, we work alone, with no one looking over our shoulders and smiling, or saying something encouraging, and the aloneness of that could make for a very uninspiring day. But you guys make sure that never happens.

I know that we all lean on one another, relying on the feedback from our cheerleading squads. At times we are uncertain, hesitant about the work, believing that we are somewhat alien from the real world, that no one can really understand us, or the life we choose. (Correction: do we really choose it, or did it choose us? I think the latter.) We need to feel part of a whole, to be members of a welcoming and loving club. Well, blogs make all the difference. Without my followers, I probably would have experienced far more down time, misery time, if you like. Just when all is looking particularly dark, be it the work, or our lives, you're all out there keeping an eye on things, and watching out for one another.

Yesterday's blog drew a lot of interest, and I was once again moved by just how kind you all are. There have been many times when I've had tears in my eyes at your words over these past months. So today, again, I wanted to say thank you. How on earth did I manage before I started my blog?

I found this sentiment on line from Einstein, a uncharacteristically gooey one, to be sure, but it says what I'm feeling today.

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

—Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965); theologian, philosopher, physician


Today I'm thinking of you all with deep gratitude.


My query stats for Orphan Hafan Deg as of this morning: 18 Pending, 2 Partials, 11 Rejections, for a total of 31.

One of my partials (which was snail-mailed) had been out there for a while, so I thought I should follow up on it. I read this particular agents' blog, and they hadn't mentioned being bogged down with queries, so I half-expected a rejection. The next day, there was their response, and I sighed (as usual) as I opened it. It politely told me that my MS was safe, and that I'd hear from them in about 30 days. My orphan is safe...how nice to hear that. I wish all agents would respond to our queries with "We have received your orphan, xxxx, and she is safe." Makes all the difference to how we feel at that terrible moment just before we press "send" yet again.

Of course, I've sent out new queries, because I replace the rejections each time, and one of these agents included the following words on his web site:

"XXXX Agents were formed in mid 2007 to help overcome some of the genuine frustration and feeling of helplessness felt by so many writers trying to get their book published - in particular their feeling that no one cares enough about their work to read it properly.

"It is our policy at XXXX to read and reply to all emails within 48 hours whenever possible. Of course it will take us longer to read your whole manuscript but in most case we will give you an answer within 2 to 3 weeks

(Re formatting) "....don’t worry too much about presentation or minor errors at this stage, they will make little difference to whether we like what you have sent us and we can fix it later."


Well, this is either Santa Claus working in his offtime, or the Good Queen Glinda's husband.

Why can't they all be like this?

Oh, and if anyone is interested in this agent's name, email me.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How to Stop Worrying about that Orphan in Agent-Land

The orphan in question is my book, Hafan Deg, which is out there in the nasty old world, waiting politely in the ether, perhaps for an assistant to come back from lunch, or the boss lady to find a minute to look at it (because the assistant already has and she thought it might be viable). My orphan is so alone out there, with no one to remove that last unnecessary comma, or tweak that sentence that never did look quite right, but absolutely nothing else came to mind to replace it. My orphan has been out there for rather a long time, since January, in fact. She's floated around for half of the winter, through the early crispness of spring, rarely acknowledged and certainly not praised, and the only words I get back about her are the short, mostly sweet, email notes, "..not for me...", "while I appreciate...I cannot, at this time...", "original concept, but sadly I'm unable..." And my orphan feels hurt that the world isn't ready for her, and would like to come home and stay home, back in that dark, cozy drawer, but I can't allow it.

I've been told so many times, and believe it sometimes, that I must keep pushing her out there again and again. That it's the best thing for her. That she'll never be truly free until she's faced all her fears. And so I try not to think about her, passing her on to yet more professional and rational beings, people who have no emotional involvement with her, but who will take good practical care of her in the end, it's hoped.

I have Strachan's Attic to be concerned with now. This Other is the reason I sit down each day, to stare at a screen until my eyes start to water. I have to get this Other up and running by herself, ease her through her baby steps, and on to some kind of maturity, so I can send her off on her own journey, which will be easier for her, I think. (You just sense these things, don't you?) From time to time, when one of those little emails pops up, I think about the Orphan and wonder if she'll be all right. But then I give a little sigh, and get back to my Other novel.

But how I envy writers who truly wash their hands of their literary offsprings once the last page is really, really finished. And do I truly believe them when they say that?

John Steinbeck said,
"I truly do not care about a book once it is finished. Any money or fame that results has no connection in my feeling with the book. The book dies a real death for me when I write the last word. I have a little sorrow and then go on to a new book which is alive. The rows (!!!) of my books on the shelf are to me like very well embalmed corpses. They are neither alive, nor mine. I have no sorrow for them because I have forgotten them, forgotten in its truest sense."
Well, of course, he would say that, wouldn't he? Rows of his books on a shelf? Plenty more where they came from, what?

So I get back to the current writing because this takes my mind off that poor orphan out there on her own. It takes my mind off the fact that my paintings aren't selling, and stops me wondering what that's about. It takes my mind off my solitary state living in this small town, which I chose, but which I now think was a mistake. (It seems I prefer noise and bustle about me. I'm a city girl for all my fine rural talk.) My writing is a consolation, a shield from life's frustrations - from slights with friends, a poorly-planned cash flow, decisions on where to live in this world, to the stress of watching the news. My writing - as with my reading - is escapism.

And Little Orphan Hafan Deg had just better learn to get on with things by herself.

 

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day, and a Little Wisdom from Andy Rooney

In researching the first US bombing involvement in Europe in World War II for Strachan's Attic, I came across this news story from my favorite curmudgeon, Andy Rooney. In fact, I read the whole thing with considerable interest before I realized whose by-line it was. (And see how vulnerable this guy looked before television got him.)

66 years later, his article is worth reading again: © The Stars and Stripes, February 27, 1943

And last night on 60 Minutes from CBS, Andy Rooney presented his tribute to Memorial Day with that understated insight he's famous for. What he said, as usual, was spot on. The guy gives me goose bumps.

Even if you saw it last night, check out this link to the segment, entitled "On Lives Taken". His comments, generations after that other war story from 1943, are worthy of consideration a second or third time, and again after that - maybe even 66 years from now...although I won't be doing the looking...

I love you, Mr. Rooney.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Everyone Who Doesn't Need to be a Writer, Do Something Else...

I've reached a deliberate slow-down in the word count. It's not that I can't write, but that I must take a break from it. I need time to evaluate what was produced over the last couple of weeks. It all felt as if I was on a roller-coaster, with no access to brakes. I'm going to relax and enjoy this no-writing period for a bit longer.

This leads me to a difficult observation. If this blog was meant to be about my experiences with the writing and final revision of the work, and then the ensuing agent-query process, well - I don't have anything new to say about these things. I've exposed my frailties when it comes to the agenting adventure, and I simply have nothing new to add. Over the weeks, I discovered that word counts for first novels need to stay relatively low, and that the amount of pain involved in cutting 30k from the manuscript was incredibly difficult for me. My stubborn use of the first person POV in my second novel is not encouraged by a lot of editors, but I stuck to my guns and my reasons were recounted in earlier postings. I talked a bit about my attitude to self-publishing, and enough was said on the subject, really. Avoidance of writing was talked about several times, and isn't to be confused with writer's block, which is a totally unrelated thing. The first requires artistic and creative flare, and the second doesn't.

And so, other than changes to those stat numbers I provide, this current process is notoriously slow - even the positive rejection letter will be a rarity, but how many times do you really need to hear, "It was a polite and helpful rejection letter..." I mean, what good will that do for you? (Naturally, should I get an offer of representation, we'd stop the presses for that.)

So my posting is not going to have too much in the way of new material for a while and I wanted to be honest with you about that. I do have a wealth of writer's quotes (other people's) which I'll pop in here from time to time - your literary Thought of the Day, if you like, to help you with fresh resolve. Perhaps I could run a Writer's Recipe of the Week if there was enough interest.

Anyway, this is just to remind you that I'm useless at the day-in-the-life-of-me kind of blog, but I am thinking of having a weekend in Montreal soon, where I can practice my French, so that might qualify as a reasonably good read, considering how very poor my French is. Oh, and I'm off to London late summer, where language won't be a problem, but over-sentimentality, or schmaltz, could be a disturbing influence.

Hey, perhaps this could be a dual-purpose blog - one facet covering the dilemmas of an unpublished novelist, and the other addressing her neurotic wander-lusts, because - believe me - there will always be more of those.

My current stats: 16 Pending, 2 Partials, 10 Rejections. Total 28.

"Everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he (she) can do something else, ought to do something else." Georges Simenon


Really...

Friday, May 15, 2009

More Queries, Another Partial, a Loaf of Bread, a Glass of Wine and No Thou

It's been a dizzy week for me. I've been so energized, writing Strachan's Attic in the morning, revising, editing in the afternoon, and itching for the night to be over with so I can get back to it. I haven't had such an easy time of it in ages. Every morning, it's as if I have an exciting appointment, and I've been getting up earlier and earlier (5:30 is becoming the norm). That's the kind of morning I like. I've complete another 7500 words - a chapter a day - and I'm almost at the half-way point, I think. The heroine, Strachan, leaves Canada for England in the next half, and I'm looking forward to that, as I get to go with her, after all. (I can show her a few of my favorite street markets and pubs.)

After that friendly rejection for Hafan Deg on Tuesday, I received a request for another partial from a Toronto agent. This is the first agency I've queried here, as they're a much rarer species than in the States, but they responded within one week of getting it, so perhaps they're also not as inundated.

My current stats: 17 pending, 2 partials, 8 rejections - total 27. I'll do a couple more today, to keep my hand in.

One of the agents I approached this week had this little closing piece in their submission guidelines (which were also perfectly detailed, bless 'em):
"All are welcome to submit. We admire each and every one of you for granting us the privilege of reading your work."

Isn't that charming? Instead of feeling like a kid who's submitting homework really late, to someone who's just finished reading everybody else's homework and is a trifle bored with the subject, I felt wanted, appreciated, and - just a bit...loved - there, I said it. This doesn't mean she won't reject me in due course, but I'll bet, if she does, she'll do such a lovely job of it that I won't mind a bit.

It's my birthday today and the weather is glorious. I've received flowers and chocolates (in lieu of family, because they're all so far away) and hope to get a decent lunch today with a friend from Toronto. If we don't make it, what the heck - I'll just go buy my own barrel of wine, and grab some good bread and cheese. I'm getting a bit past the "thou" these days. I don't think I could handle the excitement. I really must do something about this Brighton living.

Monday, May 11, 2009

13,000 Words and Still Going...

Kit Courtney hates that I bragged about my word count last week. Even as I read her little comments, I'd produced more. Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah--Nah, Kit. The total is over 13,000 words since finishing my blog on Tuesday. I know it's a lot, but you have to feed the flow thing once it starts begging. I count myself lucky to get back to it. I was starting to worry. Nothing sadder than a writer's blog where there's no reference to the serious writing. In fact, had the dry spell continued, I think I would have taken some time away from it - the blog, I mean.

This current spurt makes up for several weeks of goofing off. I can't explain why it happened, but complaining about the unpublished writers' lot in life seemed to do the trick. And it's still working. I think I'll probably finish about the same amount this week. And then that will be it for a while - R & R time before girding up for the next stage.

I am approaching a mini-climax in the book - the fulcrum from which the final half of the book springs. Almost like a Book One and Book Two arrangement, the first - and its emphasis on the 1940s - is reaching its critical point. It's exciting for me to see where it's going, and I'm back to that restless, don't-want-to-leave-it stage, hating to turn off the computer at night. This can't last, or I'd burn out before the end. But "Book One" - if we can call it that - will be more or less finished this week.

As an aside, Melissa will understand this: I had such a good weep over a section of it yesterday. I always figure that's a good indicator for the quality of the story, but it could also be just a reflection of my own intense involvement in it. I must ask my friend in Oz if she wept over the same bits.

I'm going to feel a bit of a fool if she didn't.

Post script: Just received a rejection on one of the partials. Thought you might like to read a snippet, because it's not negative, really.
"You have a great imagination - I love the premise - and you're a good writer, but I'm sad to say that I just wasn't passionate enough about this to ask to see more. I wish I could offer constructive suggestions, but I thought the dialogue was fine, the characters well-crafted, and the plot well-conceived. I think it's the kind of thing that really is subjective - why some people adore the book on the top of the NYTimes bestseller list, and others don't."

If we're going to be rejected, they should look like this, I think.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Enjoyed the Wallow. Now...Back To The Writing

Well, it seems that having a really good grumble, rant - whatever you want to call it - helps you get through an unproductive 'life is tedious' period. I've completed 8,000 words - three chapters - since Tuesday's self-absorbed blog. Obviously, Boadicea is back from R & R.

They are good chapters, not requiring much correction, which isn't to say I won't have bunches of typos later, but they are not there now - I swear! As usual, the chapters now wait for the inevitable visit from Typo-Imp, who arrives to do his dastardly stuff just after you've decided that your copy is perfect. (He looks a lot like the infamous green Nicotine Devil in the ads. I think they're related.)

But sometimes it happens this way, doesn't it? You throw the words down so quickly, leave it all to gestate overnight, knowing you'll come back tomorrow, or even later, to review it and make your revisions - and then you find that's barely necessary. I wish writing went this easily all the time. I'm on a Writers' Roll; I just can't get the words down fast enough. My friend in Oz had complained about waiting for each chapter (she has access to the whole thing as it develops), and I pointed out that she'd be better off waiting until several more chapters were complete, rather than reading one at a time, sometimes weeks apart during a slowdown. This week she has three in a row!

Dear Melissa pointed out, along with Embee, that we should embrace these grumpy breaks and just allow ourselves to wallow in the misery of being unrecognized and unappreciated - whatever our art - but then get back to it. Well, it worked, guys. Thank you. I am feeling much better.

There is an amazing must-read book, Art & Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland, which covers a lot of this. My deepest thanks to Darcy Pattison for recommending it to me. Of course, when you're in a blue funk, it's hard to pick up a book. You don't deserve it, you whiner, you say to yourself. You're way beyond self-help books, right? Well, after those uplifting comments on Tuesday, I went back to it and read pertinent bits. Here is the last paragraph, which in no way will diminish your enjoyment of the book:
"In the end it all comes down to this: you have a choice (or more accurately a rolling tangle of choices) between giving your work your best shot and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot -- and thereby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy. It becomes a choice between certainty and uncertainty. And curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice."

(I knew that. I'd just forgotten.)

Query stats: 16 Pending, 2 Partials, 7 rejections - total 25.

Have a good one. Be kind to yourself.

 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Selling Our Art - and Self-Worth

You may or may not know that I paint. Writing and painting have been plying me with their respective demands since I was a very small child. Over the years I discovered that my paintings had a market, and I picked up a small following of collectors for my naive (and sometimes not so naive) paintings. I remained a writer, but saw - and still see - how very difficult it is to get my particular fictional interpretation of my world into the hands of readers. Painting became my major pursuit. I've been told many times that my pictures are like little stories in themselves, and that makes sense to me as a writer. I don't ask you to examine the image for deeper meaning, but just to follow each story.

This, then, is why painting draws me back again and again, for its immediacy. Whether you buy a painting, or not, you'll perhaps see it, although the selling of it is the ultimate goal for the sake of validation.

I found I had to stop painting six months ago to Get Back To The Writing. I just don't seem able to manage both during the same period. The writing is sometimes painfully demanding, not necessarily a joyful pursuit, and of late I've felt the urge to paint again, because it is happy work. I mentioned this, if you recall, in an earlier posting.

The dilemma is that the writing will be neglected. I feel as if I am watching the imminent departure of an old friend. She is packing, getting her bits and pieces from the bathroom, preparing to leave for the airport. We sit waiting for her cab, trying to make bright small talk, but saddened by the effort. And so it is with my writing.

I am going to write today, determined to complete two more chapters this week. I'm hoping that this will push the painting bug firmly away for a bit longer. I'm not confident, really. Already I've started scribbling out my funny little sketches on scraps of paper. I've been thinking about really big canvases. (And I'm going to need more sealant, as the can I have has dried up.)

Go for it, you say. Paint away and be happy, you say. But here's the bad news. Art isn't selling. I've been looking, watching, researching for months now, and I can honestly say that we artists are hitting a bad patch. It's all very well for me to produce some charming little picture, amusing and colorful, but I need reassurance. That comes from selling. No sales, no encouragement.

If I'm sounding somewhat down today, I'm sorry. For me it's a double-whammy. It's terrible enough for those of us who produce paintings, or other artworks, knowing how difficult it is to sell, regardless of price. (Most of us have tried discounting to get our work out there.)

But for writers, it's the constant reminder, from blogs and news articles, of how poorly the publishing sector is doing. Everywhere I turn, I see some new comment on how very, very hard it is to sell our work.

And so, today, I confess I am discouraged. Artist, or writer, how do we maintain our enthusiasm for our work? It's all very well to acknowledge that just the act of creating is the point, and that we should be grateful to have that gift. But we are also sensitive and fragile, and we need concrete acknowledgment that our work has value.

I'd be very interested to know how some of you feel about this. It's a long posting, and even now I'm not sure I've expressed it completely - the way I'm feeling. Do you suffer from self-doubt when you have no feedback on your work, whatever form that work takes?

Please comment. I am in need of huge amounts of self-worth boosting.

Oh, and Boadicea seems to have gone on R & R. I could use some of her bravery about now...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Blogs Between Friends and Fewer Personal Emails

My best friend lives in Australia. Up until my first blog last November, we exchanged two or three emails a week, but they've gradually fizzled down to one every couple of weeks. She reads all of my blogs (I can see her in my geo-tracker), so seems to feel there's no reason to send personal messages. This is wrong, of course, because the pure nitty-gritty of my day could never be reflected in my blog, because I'm writing about art, or writing, not my Brighton Adventures. (The last was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Brighton is a very quiet town.)

I wondered how many of you have found the same thing, that your friends simply read your blogs and are satisfied with that. When I think back to the days when I wrote huge epistles and mailed them to family and friends, I'm impressed with the diligence involved in that. Later, we learned how to cut and paste similar descriptive bits (didn't you?) into each email to save retyping it. Then along comes blogging. (Oh, and Twitter couldn't do it for me, nor Facebook. I can't think of a more frustrating way to keep in touch, although it works for me as a promotional tool.)

I do chase my friend up from time-to-time, because there are personal things I want to say to her, and I just know she has snippets, too (although she lives in an equally quiet suburb in Sydney). But, for the most part, she must feel close enough via my postings, even though I'm sure a lot of them must bore her.

If my Mum were alive, and computer-savvy, she would have loved this technology. I could imagine her commenting on my page, saying that I shouldn't have said this, or that I wasn't sounding myself and what was wrong? Instead, we exchanged air mails, hers on those whisper-thin, blue Aerogram thingies, writing into the tiniest corner to make the most of the cost of them, while I, being a Big Spender, sent page after page, thick in the envelope, and costing serious money. I followed my Mum's aging process by the quality of her handwriting. Gradually, over the years, it turned from full-bodied and confident to spindly and shaky, as her own physique did.

As I age, I doubt you'll be aware of it, unless I mention it. My blogs pretty well guarantee you'll never see my own tremulousness, should it appear. It's not inevitable, after all, just likely.

Do you still write letters to friends and family? Do you even send as many personal emails? Silly thing to wonder about on such a lovely Friday, but I've just "poked" my friend with an email, who does NOT have a blog page, and it got me thinking.

Have a lovely weekend, all of you. If you're lucky, you don't have to send letters or emails because your friends and family are close by. Wish I could say the same thing.