Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Fond Farewell

Since late October 2013, I’ve posted only once on this blog and that’s because my hopes—plans for it—have gone awry.
          When I began this writing blog back in September 2012, I had high hopes of sharing with you my adventures with publishing. I’d seek an agent for the novel I was writing and explore that search with you.
         The agent would find a publisher/editor and I’d let you know about today’s contracts and negotiations.
         The manuscript would go through the publishing process and I’d have a title and cover that you and I could ooh and ah over. Then would come publication and together we’d climb aboard our luge and zoom down the slope of sells and reviews, of readings and signings, of working with social media and the publisher’s marketing department.

         Only one part of that has happened—the agent search last September, October, and November. I’ve e-queried many agents but found no one interested in a historical novel about Palestine in the first-century of the CE.
         Wanting to be published again, I thought perhaps that a memoir might have a better chance of interesting agents and editors. And so I set out in January to collate all my convent stories from my on-line memoir blog Coming Home to Myself. I realized I had many more stories to tell about those nine years, and I hoped to do so this year.
         Because life happens, I haven’t done any collating or writing since the new year began. Moreover, I find myself loath to begin. The project just seems boring to me. And my best writing has always come from the wellspring of my own passion and curiosity.                                                    

What I’m both passionate and curious about right now—and what has held my interest since sixth grade when we studied ancient history at St. Mary’s Grade School—is Bronze Age Greece. Last summer I worked on a first draft for a novel that takes place there in around 1250 BCE.  It may be the first book in a trilogy or I may just continue writing and tell the whole story in a longer book.

         I know, deep down, that the writing itself is the bread, the sustenance. And that getting published is the slathering on of creamy butter. The first is more important than the second. And yet, I do so love butter!
         However, getting publishing—if that ever happens again—is in the distant future. So that leaves little to write about here. And that was what I wanted to share with you.
         Thus, I’ve decided to cease writing on this blog. Anything I have to say about my writing life will go on the other blog, which is, of course, the story of my life. Writing has been a big part of that story. So there is some serendipity here.

         One of the new adventures in my life is memorizing poetry again as I did when I was in my teens. The poem I’m memorizing right now is “Ulysses” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It ends with these lines:

 Though much is taken, much abides; and though

     We are not now that strength which in old days         
     Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
     One equal temper of heroic hearts.
     Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
     To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield

Those words speak to me and convey what motivates me to continue writing. I have stories to tell—on my memoir blog and in manuscripts. I trust that the blog postings will be read. And I trust also that if my writing is for the good of the Universe, it will be published. But I have no control over that. I have control only over what I do and how I respond to the vicissitudes of life.
What I will do is write when I have the time and health and inclination. I will strive, seek, find. There is no yielding when one’s desire to do something leads them to great happiness in the very doing. As to the uncertainty of life—I’m in for the long haul!
         Thank you for following this blog through the past year and a half. Let’s hold each other’s heartwishes in our visualizations, prayers, and thoughts. May all we do be for the good of the Universe. Peace.

Photographs from Wikipedia.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Two Fine Books You Will Enjoy

My last post, way back in October, contained words of wisdom from two follow bloggers who had been kind enough to share their thoughts with me on getting published. At that time, I said I’d post again when I had news about finding an agent. Fourteen weeks have passed and I still have nothing to report. But I missed writing on this blog, so I’m here today because you may be wondering, with Bugs Bunny, “What’s up, Doc?”
         For me, nothing.
         But for Melissa Ann Goodwin, a fellow blogger and author, quite a lot.
         Goodwin’s first book, The Christmas Village, was published in 2011. I learned about it in early December of that year. Right before Christmas, I read it with great satisfaction. This novel for ten to fourteen years old appeals to adult readers as well as children.
         Goodwin’s story caught and held my interest because of her vivid characterization and her suspenseful plotting. She has an astute ear for realistic dialogue. Because of this, I entered her scenes and lived the adventure with Jamie, a contemporary twelve-year-old boy who travels backward in time to the 1932 village of Canterbury, Vermont. 

         If you enjoy books for young readers, like those written by J. K. Rowling and Kate DiCamillo, I encourage you to read The Christmas Village. It is the 2013 Blogger Book Fair Reader’s Choice Award Winner for action/adventure.
         My good news for you today is that Goodwin has written a sequel—Return to Canterbury. A second book is always more difficult than a first one, especially if that first one has been so successful that readers yearn for a follow-up. These avid readers want to know more about the characters they’ve come to cherish. An author then faces the daunting task of writing a story that will fulfill all the expectations of the readers.
         With Return to Canterbury, Goodwin has more than fulfilled my expectations for Jamie and his two Canterbury friends, Chris and Kelly. Of course her books would appeal to me because the name of my Thursday on-line memoir blog is “Coming Home to Myself.” Discovering what and where is home has been basic to my postings. Goodwin knows we all search for home. As she recently wrote on her blog:

Longing for home is a theme in both of my books—and in my life. In The Christmas Village, 12-year-old Jamie finds himself far from home at Christmas time, and longs for nothing more than to return home in time to be with his family for the holiday. In Return to Canterbury, it's less about Jamie's desire to return home, and more about his desire for that kind of deep sense of belonging that makes us feel like we are at home.

In the search for home, The Christmas Village presented the reader with a mystery that the three young people solved by using their creative minds, their sense of fair play, and their compassionate hearts. Return to Canterbury presents us with another mystery that the three young people will solve, gaining the respect of the entire village.

Once again, Goodwin provides the tension and suspense that lead to a wholly satisfying ending. Jamie has traveled back to 1935. He, Kelly, and Chris are three years older than in Goodwin’s first book. Older and wiser, but still fast friends, they share a love of adventure and a willingness to risk themselves when danger again threatens the village of Canterbury.
In reading this sequel, I felt I had come home again because not only do I meet these three youngsters for a second time, I also got to learn more about the adult villagers who play such an important role in helping Jamie discover what home really means.
Both of Goodwin’s books deserve a large readership. She writes with great confidence and creates a compelling plot.
I finished reading her second book around one in the morning last week and lay there with a smile on my face as I let the plot, the characters, and the charm of Canterbury pass in review through my contented brain. Finally, I spoke out loud, “Well done, Melissa. Well done.” The cats raised their heads in bemusement and then snoozed again, perhaps to visit their own Canterbury.
I encourage you to think about any young family members or friends who are celebrating upcoming birthdays or happy events. The gift of The Christmas Village and Return to Canterbury would win you a reward as the “best” grandmother, mother, or friend!


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fellow Bloggers Provide Help

In last Sunday’s posting I asked questions about fiction genres and the state of publishing today. Two fellow bloggers, Perpetua from England and Kathy McCoy from the United Sates, provided answers to these questions. I want to share their informative responses with you because you may not have had the time to read all the comments for that posting.
         To my question about the difference between commercial and literary fiction, Perpetua answered:
In my librarian days, literary fiction was serious and sometimes more difficult fiction which was normally printed and sold in small numbers, unless it won a book prize of some kind, when demand would rise. 

Commercial fiction is basically popular fiction, often in genres such as crime, romance, thriller, which can almost be relied on to sell, often in large numbers. This doesn't mean it isn't well written, but it appeals to a mass-market in a way literary fiction doesn't.
In my response to her comment, I asked if there were subcategories of the genre “historical fiction.” Here is her reply:

Historical fiction is a very broad category, which can be subdivided into different types. There are historical mysteries (Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael novels spring to mind here or Lindsey Davis' Falco novels set in Imperial Rome) historical romances, such as Georgette Heyer's Regency novels (much loved by DH and me) or serious “literary” historical novels such as I, Claudius by the poet Robert Graves. I'm guessing there are probably historical thrillers too, but I can't call any to mind at the moment.

To my question about the state of publishing today, Kathy commented, as Perpetua did, from her own experience:
I understand your frustration, Dee! My agent has been schlepping Therapy Cats around to publishers for months now. A few have said "No" and more are just sitting there letting it grow roots on their desks. My agent said something about it was a shame that I hadn't published a completely new book in more than ten years so I would have a more recent, dynamic presence online. So frustrating!

So I finally decided to write some e-books inspired by my blog and see how that went—which is why I haven't been blogging for a month. In that time, I wrote Making Peace With Your Adult Children and Aging and Other Surprises. The latter makes heavy use of past blog posts and is a semi-memoir. I decided, just as a beginning, to get them converted to e-pub and professional covers done at Vook, which my agent recommended. Both are now on Amazon and other outlets as e-books and will soon be available as print on demand titles. 

I got a call from PBS Next Avenue, an online Baby Boomers magazine, the other day and the writer said she had seen my Making Peace With Your Adult Children book on Amazon and wanted to interview me for an article that will feature a link to the book and my blog post. So I'm optimistic.
This has cut down on some of my frustration in waiting for someone to buy my Therapy Cats book. There is no longer a stigma attached to self-publishing/indy publishing and my agent was very much in favor of it. (It also keeps me out of his hair!) Have you thought of trying this with either of your book ideas, Dee? Some "indy" books have been picked up by traditional publishers later on.
I certainly don't have all the answers these days in the rapidly changing world of publishing, but I'm more hopeful now. Maybe this approach is something to consider. There are ways to do it without it costing a lot. Because I chose to have Vook do the ePub conversion and also design a deluxe cover, my books cost $600 to get up and running, but sales are starting to come in. But you can do a Kindle Direct book with a Smashwords or other print on demand book for very little upfront.
Dear Perpetua and Kathy, you’ve enlightened my understanding of publishing and offered me options. Thank you. Peace.

NOTE: I won’t be posting again until I have more news about my search for an agent.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

And the Beat Goes On . . .

Hello again after a three-week hiatus. During that time, I’ve busied myself with visiting the websites of literary agencies to determine which agents represent historical fiction. As I look at what each agency represents, I’m also interested in the following genres: memoirs, fantasy, and inspirational gift books.
         Why? Because these are the categories on which I’ve been working the past few years. Let’s begin with the memoir.
         My other blog is an online memoir. I hope one day to take the postings and shape them into one or two memoirs—depending on length.
         Back in the early nineties, after the publication of Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, memoirs really came to the fore in publishing. Rick Bragg’s All Over But the Shoutin’ and James McBride’s The Color of Water, both published a few years later, cemented the premier place of memoirs in the publishing world.

         But so many memoirs have been published since then that the genre is not as popular with publishers as it once was. So some agents no longer represent this genre while other agents will say in their listings that they do not want “misery memoirs.”  
         I’m not sure what my memoir will have going for it. Nor am I sure what thread could hold the memoir together. Perhaps I will simply concentrate on the convent years, but I admit to wanting also to share the story of my mother’s influence on my life. I would also like to share some of the post-convent stories, especially those that have to do with peace and justice issues.
         For the fantasy genre, I now have ready the first book in a trilogy. Judy King, who illustrated A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story, has done stunning pen and ink drawings for Book One. I’m nearing completion of the other two books in the trilogy.  

         The manuscript for the inspirational gift book A Celebration of Angels is also near completion. Recently, several friends read it and responded enthusiastically to varied aspects of the manuscript.
         When I worked for Winston Press in Minneapolis in the 1970s and 1980s, all I knew of publishing was the developing, writing, and editing of curriculum for grade and high schools.          
         Today I know almost nothing about what’s happening in publishing: What are agents looking for? What kind of stories do editors want from agents? What are the developing trends today?
         From a fairly thorough reading of the websites of many literary agencies, however, I have learned that some agents represent just nonfiction, while others represent only certain subgroups of fiction.
         For example, many do not represent fantasy, sci-fi, poetry, Westerns, children’s pictures books, and juvenile books. Some agencies represent only “commercial fiction” or “literary fiction.” What do those two terms mean? I’m just not sure.
         I do understand that agents are effective only if they know a wide group of editors at publishing houses. They must know what those editors are looking for with regard to manuscripts. If an agent doesn’t know many—or even one—editor who is looking for a historical novel, then she/he won’t be interested in A Reluctant Spy. The agent will look upon the novel as a dead end.         
         Many editors who retire or leave publishing become successful literary agents. Having worked in a publishing house, they know enough people to approach with a proposed manuscript.
         That’s another thing I’ve been investigating on those web sites for literary agents: their professional background.
         Lots to do. I’ll report more when I get a nibble or two. Peace.

Cat Photograph from Wikipedia

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Novel's Beginning Scene

Here’s an update on what’s happened in the last week with The Reluctant Spy. I sent eight e-queries. In seven of them, I pasted in, per each agency’s web site instructions, a number of pages from the manuscript. The pasted sample ranged from five to fifty pages. I was able to send out three on Monday, one on Wednesday, and four on Friday.
         Within that same time, two of the eight agencies declined to represent the first-century Palestine novel. Still, this is just the beginning. I continue to believe that at least one or more agents will ask me to send the entire manuscript of 122,000 words. Then of course there will be the anxious waiting to see if, after reading, an agent will want to represent the historical novel.
         While all this has been going on, I’ve been considering the opening pages of the novel. Somehow the first scene has never felt right to me.
         Late last night, after staying up until 1:30 am to finish an intriguing mystery, I turned off the light and thought about the beginning of the novel I’d just finished reading. That led, quite naturally, to thinking about the beginning of The Reluctant Spy.
         Several years ago, an author asked me to read her manuscript for a historical novel. After doing so, I asked, “Do you like your main character?” The simple question startled her. Somewhat disconcerted, she admitted that she wasn’t sure any more.
         I explained that if she, the author, didn’t like the character, readers wouldn’t either. Readers need to be pulling for the protagonist. So in the first scene in which the main character appears, she or he must be shown in a way that will attract the readers' empathy and concern.
         Last night, I remembered that conversation and realized that in The Reluctant Spy I hadn’t followed my own advice—the novel begins with a scene in which Ephraim displays the darkest parts of himself to a man he considers his rival. Thus, the readers' first impression would probably be negative. That impression might color everything else they subsequently read abut him.
          Yet within a number of pages the story shows the strength of Ephraim and the burdens of his life. He then becomes a sympathetic character . . . and thus reader-friendly.
         So at 2:00 am this morning I sat here on this computer chair and began to reconstruct the first fifty pages. Now the novel begins with Ephraim showing himself in a good light so that readers will, I hope, root for him throughout the rest of the story.
         By the time readers come to the original opening scene, they will better understand why the main character is jealous and angry. They’ll understand, I hope, that like all of us, he is human. That is to say—flawed.
         After reorganizing the first fifty pages, I’ve ended up with a new first chapter and a more sequential telling of the story.

         I’m pleased with this decision, which was made on St. Michael the Archangel’s feast day—Michaelmas. That’s significant to me because just this past Thursday I found a slim manuscript about angels, which I’d written in 1995. Reading it again, I found myself wondering if it held any promise.          
          Perhaps Michael is now watching over me and has helped me find the right beginning for The Reluctant Spy.
         For many years, I’ve believed that I had fourteen guardian angels—my own, given to me at birth, and thirteen others, whom other humans had declined. All of them have stood by me in difficult times.     
         This week I, along with Michael and those fourteen guardians, will continue to send out queries. But I’ll be even more hopeful because the beginning is right. Peace.