Friday, December 23, 2011

"...Stay Drunk on Writing So Reality Cannot Destroy You."

Ray Bradbury said that, and I like it.

I do get drunk on writing. Painting isn't the same. I become a bit starchy, and frown a lot more, especially when my little treasures don't sell. Writing transports me. I resist returning to reality.

So I believe I will have to get back to that fifth book in the New Year. Which leads me to wonder why anyone else would be interested in that.

Before we all became so jaded about the publishing industry, there was such a sense of belonging and excitement reading writers' blogs. I was hungry to hear how others were doing, what their feelings were. (I also made a few new friends I've come to count on, some of whom are actually published.) But I believe there's been a distinct shift in thinking. It's tedious to hear, once more, that an agent hasn't been found, or that an agent was found but is finding the book a bit of a hard-sell. To sum up: nothing is happening. Who wants to read that on a regular basis? Masochists most of us are, but why make things worse?

People are split into two camps, it seems, judging by comments on other sites:

Those who love uplifting blogs, where the writer has just sold their first novel, and there's a mention of foreign rights, a TV movie, perhaps. And we know this blogger, don't we? Followed her all last year, didn't we? And now we can share in a little of the triumph.

And there are those who frankly enjoy a bit of misery. Hearing how terribly so-and-so was rejected, and how bitter he is about the whole process. Never going to write again. (Or worse, he's going to self-publish.) People so like reading this sort of thing, and it makes them feel less alone with their own frustrations, and possibly a whole lot better.

But blogs that are neither triumphant nor terribly, terribly poignant are just plain blah, let's face it.  And that's where mine is now. The only new thing  is that my agent (who has been in poor health) wrote that she is 'ready to get back in step and get this book (The Place of Dreams) sold, for heaven's sake!'

And so, in this last week of 2011, I wanted to let you know where my head is. I wanted to thank you for your readership and your comments over the past three years, despite the blahs. Oh, I've been gung-ho and rhapsodic at times, but Reality kicked in and now I need to re-immerse myself in the writing so that it can't destroy me.

My wish for all of us in 2012 is that we all get drunk together on our writing. And screw reality.

Thanks for the tip, Mr. Bradbury.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Eric Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011)

Goodbye, Christopher.

We’ll miss you.

“We are all atheists about most of the gods humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”

- Richard Dawkins (1941-)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why I'm Not Writing the Fifth Novel

Most of you know by now that I also paint. I've bored you often enough with the little frustrations that brings - I call it Creative Duality - but it was once far more than that.

When I was much younger, I wanted to be a serious jazz singer, and performed professionally a number of times, mostly in down-at-heel pubs. I didn't care for the road trips, or my audiences, for that matter. (And my mother wasn't too pleased with my career choice.) Perhaps if I had found that perfect little club, things would have been different. In any case, I am far too private to have enjoyed that life. My thought that I quite liked the idea of being an actor was also nipped in the bud around then. Public scrutiny isn't something I long for. (I've mentioned that before.) I can handle a blog, or one of  my books in a book store, but standing on a stage? Oh, my...very scary stuff.They say most of us fear public speaking (for me, just standing) almost more than death itself. When you're very young, you're supremely brave - witness my stint at singing. These days, I'm a total wallflower. I really don't want it any other way.

Then I decided it would be great to actually play jazz, and took up the flute. (I would be part of a group, and could hide behind the trombonist, couldn't I?) I wanted so much to be a professional musician, to be part of that life, both classical and jazz. Musicians are fascinating people, truly doing what they love. That only lasted until I ran out of money and couldn't pay my rent, so pawned the flute. I have another one now (after many years) but still can't play much on it, having forgotten the Haydn that I perfected at the conservatorium. Still I promised myself that I would dedicate a regular amount of my time to practice. So why does the flute case look so dusty?

But I always kept up with my painting and writing, dividing my time fairly equally. Now I find I can't do both. It occurs to me that when I paint, I create characters and scenes just as I do with my fiction. I have the bare bones of an idea as I sit down, and then let the thing develop. Exactly the way I am with my novel-writing.

I'm told that my syndrome (because along with the arts, I'm also obsessed with the environment, history, philosophy and world affairs) is called Polymathy. It's an ugly word. A classic Polymath is extremely clever, probably qualified in all the sciences, as well as able to compose and play memorable music, write poetry...possibly turning out the odd oil painting or two when he or she has a spare hour. So not having quite that much talent, or formal education, I guess I am a Generalist with Polymath leanings.

So this is an apology of sorts. I have done no writing. Painting almost a picture a day these last few weeks means I've no inclination to switch to the novel. I jump out of bed with the same excitement I usually have when I'm deep in a book, of course. Otherwise I'd stop doing it.

I have sold a painting. One lone painting. That's okay. That's one more than I've done with any of my books. (I've heard nothing from my agent for a couple of months.)

Just wanted to stop by. You know where I am. You can always check out my art blog link if you want to know what I'm up to.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Taking a Vacation from Writing. The Painting Urge is Back.

I'm feeling so much better about being here now. It took a long time to adjust. I did a lot of moaning and whining to my friends, who had absolutely no sympathy at all. Certainly the writing muse left me (although the protagonist from the next book continues to hint at possible situations, if I listen carefully during quiet moments), but it seems the painting genie is reemerging after a long absence. (Painting and Writing are close siblings after all, although perhaps yours is an only child.) I've bought a bunch of canvases and will be working on those this weekend. I felt the old excitement as I carried the canvases home from the store. What will the subject be? What will emerge? -- Much the same questions I ask myself when I begin a new book, really.

I know I am a better writer than painter. My artwork is naive, colorful, usually fun, but it doesn't have the spontaneity and assurance of my writing, and certainly doesn't require deep emotional intensity. Novels can be so gut-wrenching to write, can't they? I smile over my paintings, and laugh and cry over my novels.  If I were forced to choose, the writing would win.

It's spring here today. Odd, isn't it, if you're reading this in the Northern Hemisphere? I've been waiting for it just as restlessly as if I were back in Ontario, where I would watch for the first crocuses. Sadly, there are no crocuses in this garden, but swags of bottle brush blooms are about to burst forth and the Rainbow Lorikeets are eyeing them wistfully and smacking their beaks.

Perhaps -- where you are -- autumn is on its way. I envy you that. Fall truly is my favorite season. In the meantime, I'll enjoy this Aussie spring, knowing it will be quite unbearably hot in a matter of weeks. There, I'm still whining!

See you next time.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Space Shuttle Almanac

I don't often promote books. Of course, I publicize artists on my art blog, but I think this is a first in my writing notebook.

This mammoth, 1400-page, final edition of the Space Shuttle Almanac is co-authored by my son, Lee, so I'm allowed to be indulgent. I'm incredibly proud.

This is the description from the book, a twenty-year collaboration, I might add:
When the final sonic boom startled this author at KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility on 21 July 2011, and the orbiter Atlantis settled onto Runway 15 for the last time, the Space Shuttle Era quietly came to an end. With the final 'wheels stop' call, the magnificent orbiting machines would fly no more, sadly consigned to museums at KSC, Los Angeles and the Smithsonian.
As the saying goes, all good things come to an end - 'flames to dust' the shuttles are now permanently grounded. Critics have argued that the shuttle retirement was premature, that it should have continued in operation until commercial companies are able to pick up the slack of carrying cargo (and eventually astronaut crews) to the International Space Station. The arguments fell on deaf ears in Congress and in the Obama Administration, and the shuttle's fate was sealed.
The Final Edition of the Space Shuttle Almanac, on the other hand, is a celebration of 39 years of shuttle operational history as much as it is a final compilation of mission facts and figures, dates and times. Primary author Lee Brandon-Cremer has added an outstanding collection of images for every mission and every section to enhance the readers experience.

The Almanac's format is a digital version available as a download or on CD. This enhances the utility of the Almanac as a research tool and as a historical overview of three decades of shuttle flight operations. For the authors, the Space Shuttle Almanac has been a labour of love. It has been a 20 year commitment to document the large and small details of shuttle flights that always seemed to 'fall through the cracks' in standard shuttle histories and accounts. The authors hope that this Edition of the Space Shuttle Almanac will serve as a worthy tribute to the magnificent shuttle program.

Joel W. Powell & Lee Brandon-Cremer

August, 2011

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Incredible Patience of Writers

It takes a huge amount of patience to be a writer. It's a good thing, because those with less strength of commitment, less drive, simply won't finish a book in the first place, permitting a tiny window of opportunity for those of us who persevere.

But, along with the teeth-grinding, the frowning, the cursing, and the occasional weeping with sadness and joy --- the actual day-in, day-out writing -- you need patience for a whole lot more.  Finishing a book is almost easy in comparison with what's ahead.

I've already covered the research part of finding an agent. I've written dozens (a lot discarded) of queries, synopses, blurbs, and made sure I was personal enough with my emails to touch the heart of even the toughest agent. Stupidly, I now understand, I even thanked them when they sent me sharp, rote, rejections.

Getting an agent is a stupendous task. I don't care what you've read about it, that so-and-so found someone through a friend of a friend, or met someone at a writers' conference (I've never even been to one of those...), or had three frenzied agents plying a contract. In real life, in my life, it doesn't happen that way. It took me two years to find a good one.

But you plod on, try to stay optimistic, start on another book. Tell yourself that it will all come out right in the end. You have supreme patience. What choice do you have, after all?

I've heard from my agent at last. She tells me that The Place of Dreams is doing the rounds of editors as I write this. I'm grateful, of course, and a little awed by the idea, but I should be terribly excited too, shouldn't I? It's just that I've grown so used to the time involved in every aspect of this journey. I control the urge to whoop and holler about this new phase because each time I've even whispered a low 'Hurrah!" under my breath, I've had to wait so long for something else to happen. Had I been receiving a salary for the amount of hours I put in just on the agent-chase alone, I would be able to make a downpayment on a little cottage somewhere.

If an enthusiastic editor is found, the next hurdle will be the publisher's editorial board. How scary does that sound? I wonder how long they take? Finally, if they find it print-worthy, a book will be produced. I think this process could be upwards of a year or more.

I read somewhere that it takes, on average, three times the amount of time to publish a novel, as it takes to write it. My first manuscript was hanging around for a decade, but the time I spent on it -- the actual writing - was probably under two years. Therefore, if the above is true, it should take up to six years to get it published, assuming it has any sort of literary merit. Hmm. I finished the total re-write for it back in 2008. I still have another three years to go.

So, there, I've finished today's rant. I know you guys can take it. You're dedicated writers, right?

Remember that old song, 'Life Gets Tedious, Don't It?'  (The full lyrics are here. and Carson Robison sings it here. It's really, really old.)

Hound dog howling so forlorn
Laziest dawg that ever was born
He's howlin' 'cause he's settin' on a thorn
Just too tired to move over.

Well, I'm a bit like that dog. Life does get tedious, but I'm darned if I'm going to move off this painful thorn called Writing. I'll put up with it, but it's not from laziness; I simply have no choice. And I'll remain as patient as ever, even if I grumble about it from time to time.

Talk to you soon. Oh, and sorry for the forlorn howling.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

With My Writing, It's Always About Place

It's been five months since I completed Uncharacteristic Behavior. It came as a rather a shock to me when I did the calculation. I honestly thought I would take a few weeks off and get straight into the next book, but it didn't happen. All I have are the opening few pages, a fairly strong outline, a clearly defined protagonist, but, critically, at least for me, no ending, and I don't even know where I'll set the story. Without these, it's impossible for me to be drawn deep into the work. I try to picture my heroine somewhere. Where? I peer throught the mists of my inadequate (at present) imagination to what? -- Canada? Wales (again)? Until I have the geography right, I have nothing to provide the backdrop. They say great actors don't find their characters until they are in costume. For me, with my writing, it's always about place.

It's an odd feeling. Perhaps you'll recognize it. I spend a lot of time thinking about the idea of the book as if I were trying to recapture a memory which doesn't quite reveal itself. It will come, I know. I just don't know when.

No news from my agent, and I'm sad about this now. She seems recovered and bright enough on her blog, but I'm too timid to ask again what's happening to The Place of Dreams.  Fancy that. Me.Timid. In everything else in my life I am certainly not that. Yet agents have this effect on me. So much for my little Boadicea avatar that I pop in here from time to time. What a sham that is. Of course, were I published, I'd be brandishing my figurative spear in quite a confrontational manner. I would, really.

So hang in there, if you're also experiencing the same kind of down time. We're such a resilient, patient lot, we writers. Who knows what August will bring?

In the meantime, there's so much real-life (if it were fiction, the script would be laughable) political drama out there. Once again, I've become a TV news junkie. And I never miss Jon Stewart. Got to keep it in perspective.

Oh, and I didn't get any magic dust so far, but tomorrow's another day.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Magic Dust, Anyone?

I would have posted sooner, but Blogger – once more – was having some problems. I would start afresh in WordPress, because I’m afraid Blogger is becoming unreliable, but I’m fond of the look of my blog, and familiar with the technical eccentricities. It took a lot of time to feel at home here, really, and a new blog site would take forever to feel comfortable with. So I remain faithful to Google’s Blogger – at least, for now.

June has been a difficult month for me. We all have those months. I know I’m not alone with this. The last few weeks haven't been fraught with worry or deep sadness – rather, a general malaise, old-fashioned blahs. I can't get my act together. I lack optimism. All of this could be because I can't seem to get warm. Me! Ex-Canada! It's winter here, which laughingly plays out at around 59 degrees Fahrenheit during the day...hardly frigid, but with no central heating and one small portable radiator in the living room, it isn't quite enough and I've resorted to blanket-swathing and staying close to that heat source. I certainly haven't felt like writing. My computer is in a particularly drafty area of the house.

I heard back from my agent, who's been in poor health. While I totally sympathize, it's so hard to accept being no further along with the editorial search. Part of me is concerned for her, poor girl, but the other part is growing impatient. No, that's not true. Impatience isn't really me. It's more like a kind of dull resignation. My agent still loves the book, of course. This is enough for me for now, but I wish I had better news for you, all the same.

In my current doldrums, my new book is now on the back burner until I'm resuscitated by either warmer weather, or a sprinkling of some kind of magic dust. I’ve worked on the manuscript sporadically, but can’t seem to control my distracted moods, and end up idly searching real estate sites, looking for that perfect house I dream of, both here and North America. (Would I really do that to my cats again?) I'll be all right. We all get a bit weird when we're cold. Come to think of it, I get even weirder when I'm too hot. Either way, when the writing mood comes, it will be out of the blue, with no advance planning. It would help if I could decide on the age of my protagonist, and also have confidence in that essential last line. The one I have isn’t doing it for me. You know I need that before I can plunge into the real writing.

But I do have some ideas for a few paintings. My friend, Squeakie Stone, in South Carolina, is doing so well with his art work, in all kinds of galleries, that his latest email gave me a boost. I now have two of his pictures on the wall, where they comfort me. I don’t usually have paintings on this blog, but wanted to share them with you.

I've been considering a return to painting for a while. I've even moved my antique desk near the patio doors, for the light. This desk was never meant to be used as an art table, but it's all I have at present, and will have to do (its 19th Century surface well-protected, of course). So, the work area is ready, and all I need are some canvases. Maybe next month. (It has to be more inspiring than this month.) Just hope my paints haven't dried out... I could even revive my art blog, once I’ve produced something. What a surprise that would be.

And there you have it. My irresolute life. I dislike this vaguely-vegetative Fran, and long for the enthusiastic one back. She’s around, but suffering delayed reaction at leaving Canada. She never learns. Snivelling about not knowing where to live…everyone should be so lucky.

If you know a good magic dust source, please advise. (They should accept PayPal.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Shuttle Program, Me, and the Ants.

I saw the International Space Station overhead the other night - my first time. It was particularly moving to think that Endeavour was docking for the final time, even as I watched. All these years of following NASA's  space adventures, even (it's true!) seeing Sputnik regularly overhead back in the 50s, and still I'm enthralled. My son is a science writer, exclusively about space, particularly with the production of a huge tome which is the last word on the history of the Shuttle program, so I've always been aware of every flight, experiment details, and hardware, almost down to the last widget.

But seeing Endeavour up there on a clear, cold, starry night in Sydney, reminded me of just how very insignificant we are. We may not have been in space ourselves, but I think we all can imagine how Earth must appear to those brave folk up there. And they are brave. We've almost stopped feeling that clutch at our stomach when NASA control says 'Lift Off!', if we even bother to watch the news stories, because we've become used to and somewhat blase about those regular flights, but it is no less dangerous today than it was thirty years ago.

So it occurs to me that our rather frenzied rushing around down here (in the privacy of our own homes much of the time) texting, Skyping, Facebooking, Twittering, whatever, is all so much like little ants in their colonies, although what they do means life or death to them. Not sure what real purpose our social networking serves in the grand scheme of things, although I realize a lot of people would suffer terribly without it. All this busy-ness, all this communication...we would be rich if were paid by the hour to perform these tasks as real work.

As an aside, my own internet access died for an hour the other day, and I panicked. My way of life was threatened. I found myself sitting bleary-eyed, mentally thinking of all the things I couldn't achieve without it. I'm a writer, but my work is never printed and mailed. (Mailed?) I also imagined I might have to physically go into my bank. I certainly don't have checks to pay bills with. Is my branch still there? So many things crossed my mind, and then, miraculously, I got my online access back and life returned to normal. Such a relief.

I am a writer, yet I owe a letter to a dear friend in Canada, who doesn't have a computer. All these months, I keep reminding myself that I have to write that letter, and mail it. No success so far. I don't own a printer (see no point in hardcopy anything, really, except books), so I will have to write it by hand. I have nice handwriting, although I don't get to practice it too often, but the idea of taking a pen and putting my thoughts onto a sheet of paper by hand is anathema. Which makes me what kind of friend? A lousy one, I guess. One who emails and Skypes all the time, but who can't write a nice newsy letter and mail it.

Every day, I'm like one of those little ants, busy, busy, in love with my laptop, researching (often time-wasting on cute things that catch my eye), trying to get into flow with my fifth novel, wishing my other novels would be published. And none of it is a life or death imperative.

So the other night I looked up in wonder at the Space Station, which  seemed so close, like a firefly I could almost touch. It will never be seen as bright again after Atlantis's final flight. The Shuttle adds an extra third mass to it. (Thanks for that, Lee.)

And I found myself wondering how we must appear to those astronauts up there. A bit silly a lot of the time, I should think.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Writers Who Don't Write Get Grouchy

I'm still in non-writing mode, trying to convince myself that a writer needs a break from the constant internal conversations of characters who don't exist. Of course, I'm suffering. Writing has become my life. There -- I said it. The day-to-day personal things I do are of no interest to anyone, I'm sure. I quit Facebook and Twitter for exactly that reason. Who would care? I do my daily chores, read a lot, watch more TV than is healthy, considering how irritated I get with it. And my politics, my philosophies, the things that impassion me are revealed only in my work -- deep, deep in the work, I hope. Nothing worse than a preachy novelist.

So I expect to be embroiled in the next book very soon. I can't go on this way. I had a tiny thought that I could do some painting, but my heart just isn't in it. Painting does make me happy, and it's an almost instant fix. You come up with the idea, and get it down on the canvas. But I need more than that. I want total mental immersion day in, day out. I need the pull of my story to get me rushing downstairs to the computer each morning. The painting will have to wait. It's been a long time since the last one and, no doubt, will be a long time until the next.

This blog was meant to be a diary of my writing days. I enjoy talking about the work-in-progress, and sharing the various stages of it, although whether it's ever uplifting and useful to others I'm not sure. The fact is: my blog is a bit pointless if it doesn't talk about the act of writing. Why else would you read it?

And so I am at loose ends. I can't imagine not being a writer. I don't like not writing. Many of you grumble about the inability to write -- from lack of time, or lack of enthusiasm. If it's making you irritable, I understand. I'm about as crabby and sober as I can get, and it has to stop. Booze won't do it.

It's all about to change. I want my other life back. The writing one. I'll let you know how it goes.
"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you." ~ Ray Bradbury

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Life After the Novel is Finished

Uncharacteristic Behavior is finished. I've been over it for the thousandth time, pruned, tidied and dusted, and have now relegated it to the back of my mind for most of the time. It won't be completely cloistered off until I start a new book, of course. But it has stopped talking to me as I do other things, and the dropping-off-to-sleep whispers (I always need a pen and notebook beside the bed) have gone.

This is a no-man's land for the writer, this time immediately after completing a book. There is the sadness at saying goodbye to characters you've come to love or hate, and a sense of relief that you managed to make sense of it all. I wander rather aimlessly around the house, try to catch up on my reading (which slowed considerably during the writing), spend more time in the garden. I clean things thoroughly that have only seen a duster lately. I sew, which is pleasurable to me. I do useless but interesting research on the computer. (The little lizards in the garden, called Skinks, love to eat strawberries. Who would have thought? The Northern Territory in Australia was once considered as a Jewish Homeland site, before Israel. It's a dreadfully harsh state, and was nick-named the 'Unpromised Land'. And so on...)

I'm back to everyday life. Ho Hum, and what's for dinner?

When I'm not actively writing -- in my head, or at the computer -- I'm terribly listless.  No one expects a writer to finish one book and immediately jump into the next. But I want to. It hits me the minute I step out of bed.. What are you going to write this time? And if you finish it, do you realize you'll have five manuscripts waiting for publication?

But I have a loose plot, and I'll undoubtedly go with it. Right now it's a nub of an idea, captured on a 3x3 Post-It.  I have done one bit of a research. Did you know that you can buy a derelict stone cottage in the U.K. for under Fifty Thousand Pounds...around $75,000? This will often include acreage. And Ireland is the cheapest?  (Not that I'm thinking of buying one, although the fantasy has presented itself to me several times over the years.)

Anyway, I suspect I'll have started on this new one by the time I post my blog again. The irritable, Domestic Goddess me will leave again. I'm no good as housekeeper. My time is way too valuable for that. Clean and tidy is all I aspire too, and I'll never invite you to eat off my floors, okay? Oh, and if you are peeved by that, do you use housework as an excuse not to write? Shame on you! Enjoy the dust bunnies and finish your book!

One last word on your writing. If you haven't completed your first book yet, get it done as soon as possible. No more excuses: no cleaning the bathroom right now; declare a moratorium on emails and frivolous Googling; no catching that movie on TV that you've been dying to see. (Are there any like that these days? My TV is as barren as a desert.) Finish the book! A magical thing will then happen: you'll be itching to start the next. You've done it once, you've opened the flood gates. You are no longer a would-be writer -- you are a real writer, dues paid in the form of the emotions and time you've spent with it. The anxiety you felt -- Is it any good? Am I any good? Am I wasting my time? -- all these will fall away with the next manuscript.

Forget your need to publish. You have all the time in the world. Those painters of old, who died before their work was recognized -- were they not great artists? Does not being published make your work any less valid? In fact, I'd suggest not submitting to an agent until your second book is underway, and you can mention that in your query. You'll have so much more confidence and will be almost blase with the rejections you'll get (yes, you're bound to get them. Agents are the most confounding bunch). "What do they know?" you'll say, flippantly shrugging them off. "I'm already on my second book..."

I know about your doubts and anxieties, but with each new manuscript, the technical worries will go. The creative ones should never leave. That's what makes your work unique.

I don't curse on my blog (what I do in the privacy of my own home is a different matter!), but if I could I would right here:

Finish your ***** book!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Nearing the End of the Novel

And so another month has passed and Uncharacteristic Behavior is nearing the end. I've been working on it constantly - not so much moving it forward, as filling out the characters, adding detail to the earlier chapters. There's a lot of material in my 'bits' folder ready for the last chapters, but I'm hanging back a bit, savoring these last few weeks before I put it all to bed.  Once again I'm experiencing that bitter-sweetness at the prospect of ending a book and wanting it to last just a teensy bit longer. I try to reassure myself that - although I'll miss my current ones - there'll be other characters, and there is even that possibility of revisiting Karen, if I do a sequel to The Place of Dreams.

As this is my fourth novel, I found it easier, naturally, than the first, but perhaps it's not as good, as no blood was drawn in the effort, as seemed to happen with that first one (which was difficult to write, but I hope not difficult to read). But I'm happy with it, and my who-dunnit reader likes it, so something must be going right.

Speaking of readers' difficulties, The Guardian published a relevant interview with writer, Nicole Krauss, on Sunday. I've added the link, although I was most taken with the following:
'On a long book tour of the US, Krauss was taken aback to find that one of the things she heard most frequently from readers was: "this book is difficult". "I was so surprised," she says. "I realise that it's challenging, that it refuses to come together too easily, but I didn't think of it as a difficult read." So how to explain it? Krauss believes – or at least, she worries – that in the west, we are moving towards the end of effort. "We've arrived at this place where we just thoughtlessly plunge towards whatever the thing is that will allow us to make less of an effort. We know we're diminishing experience. We know that it was richer to walk to the store, talk to the bookseller, maybe meet your neighbour than it is to click online. But we can't stop ourselves. We're programmed to do the 'easier' thing. That's why people have Kindles. It's easier not to have to turn the page. All that's left of turning is this bizarre little sound to remind us of it. People no longer have the concentration to finish things; we skim along on the surface, and it's miserable.'
I can't help but think that she's right. People have become lazy, perhaps always were. How many of you skim-read passages in a book because you see them as unnecessary or riffle through pages to get to the next 'interesting' bit? My who-dunnit friend finds Mark Billingham too wordy; I think all of his words are worthwhile. Will we shortly be publishing more and more books of under 70,000 words, because anything more will be too taxing? And when was the last time you read any poetry or a 19th Century novel? What? Did you say, high school? Give yourself a treat, pick up some Dickens, or Hardy, and wallow in the words. One of these days I intend to read Ulysses. I should start soon; time grows short.

So it was recently revealed, through letters acquired by the University of East Anglia, that J.D. Salinger wasn't the recluse we thought he was. I somehow always felt that a man of his insight would enjoy regular interaction with real people. Niagara Falls, Canada, eh? Who'd have thought it? I might have stood next to him a couple of times, just before we went to the casino for lunch.

As an aside, of all the postings I've done for this blog, the most popular appears to be about agent requests for full manuscripts. There have been dozens of searches on the subject, which obviously means you're all doing really well with your queries. Good luck to you, and certainly don't stress if an agent asks for the whole thing. Time to celebrate! Your query letter worked!

Perhaps, by the time I post again, I will have completed Uncharacteristic Behavior. Nice timing, as that's the beginning of the Australian autumn - not really fall, because most of our trees don't shed their leaves and nothing much changes in the garden; the perennial plants look a bit bored with everything and simply doze off. Being a cold weather girl, I prefer the end of the hot season. A couple of weeks ago, it was so hot (over a 100 F/40's C) that I didn't think I'd survive it. Like magic, courtesy of the new weather patterns (which have no pattern whatsoever), it dropped 50% the following week. Love it! With the cooler autumn weather, the MS finished, I'll hibernate with my next book idea (missing the carpet of maple leaves I used to have at my door), and pretend snow is not far away. I think better when it's cold.

Tell me what you're up to. You've all been a bit quiet since I moved. I miss the chit-chat.

Until next time...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Writing a Sequel to The Place of Dreams

I officially signed Hafan Deg with the lovely agent on January 3. When I refer to her, I have difficulty saying 'my' agent, as it sounds pretentious. So I say, 'the lovely agent I signed with', which is less in your face. As I become more confident, I'll feel less selfconscious using the 'my'.

Her first official suggestion was to change the name of the manuscript. It's now called The Place of Dreams, which you've probably seen in the sidebar. The second biggie is that she asked if I would consider a sequel to the book. In all my dealings with agents, hinting gently that I have other manuscripts I want to sell, I've never thought about sequels for any of them.

My first reaction was that it couldn't be done. The book had been rather exhausting, taking a long time to get it the way I wanted it. It's something of a saga,  and it took many re-writes to bring the major raison d'etre to a satisfactory conclusion, all the loose ends tied up, and everyone more or less living happily ever after. But I haven't stopped thinking about it since the idea was presented to me--how my protagonist, Karen, could pick up from where we left off.  I now think it could work. I'm two-thirds through the fourth novel, at a tricky forensic pathology (Google is brimming with information on that!) bit in the book, but Karen is now popping into my head constantly and I've even started making some notes.

If my (did it!) agent suggested a sequel, it surely indicates that she believes Karen is too interesting to abandon to one book--that people will be so involved they will want more. Considering how long it took me to get her this far, it's all rather surprising, but very rewarding. As I become more comfortable in this role of agented writer, I'll ask more questions, as there is still much that I don't know, but right now I'm humbled by it all, and will probably remain that way until an editor is found, or until my agent tells me to relax and enjoy the ride.

I think I'm a fairly good writer, certainly do the best I can manage, but it's hard to be too confident in this business, isn't it? How awful to brag about it all, only to fall on your face when a publisher isn't forthcoming. I appreciate a certain amount of irritable rumbling from some of you, 'She's working on her fourth novel?'  But I'll keep on writing, whatever happens. There could be ten novels, who knows? Not one of them published. We don't write to publish, but do have a need to share our ideas, our view of the world, and publication is the only way to do that on a scale larger than this blog.

I suppose what I'm saying is that you should never stop writing just because you have other manuscripts tucked away that have generated little interest. Ten novels, even twenty, doesn't preclude the publication of your very next one, and with luck all those others will then be picked up, too. Except for British writer, R.J. Ellory (he writes who-dunnits exclusively set in the U.S., and does it well, even as he lives in Birmingham, England!), who confesses he has over twenty manuscripts in his attic that never sold, that will remain there. He has since published many subsequent novels, and it frustrates me that he hasn't felt the need to look at the first twenty again, but perhaps, after all this time of honing his craft, he is honest enough to acknowledge that they just weren't good enough, and not worth resurrecting.

Over twenty novels discarded--now that's what I call a true apprenticeship. Good luck with yours. Perhaps you're about to receive your Certificate of Completion in the form of a contract. Not that it will guarantee anything, but you can have it framed, and show it off to your friends. I now have three! I'm hoping the last one holds true to its historical association with good fortune.

Until next time, stay safe, and get back to work.

Quotes to Consider

"If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, Either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing." ~Benjamin Franklin

"Well behaved women rarely make history."~Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”~William G.T. Shedd (1820-1894), theologian, teacher, pastor

"It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." ~Franklin D Roosevelt (1882-1945), 32nd U.S. president

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), essayist, poet, philosopher

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." ~Mark Twain

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
~ Wayne Gretzky