Sunday, February 24, 2013

On the Road to Thebes

Last week I shared my Amazon Breakthrough Novel pitch with you and asked for your response. Several of you liked it as is; others gave me excellent suggestions for what might make it more intriguing to an agent. This coming week I’m going to begin honing that pitch to use in agent query letters. In a future posting I’ll share with you the process of finding agents to whom I might send a letter.
         Today, however, I want to return to the novel on which I’m now working—Three Roads Diverged. Two weeks ago I shared with you the research I did back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Let’s pick up from there.
         Crown published A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story in October 1992 and then sold rights to publishers in China, Japan, Korea, and Germany. The advances and royalties enabled me to purchase a new Mac and a printer, take six months off from freelancing, and travel to Greece to do research.

Here I am on the road between Thebes and Delphi.
         I’d wanted to see Greece, especially Thebes, since sixth grade when our class studied Ancient History. In late 1947 when Sister Mary McCauley introduced us to Greece, I saw Thebes on a map. Suddenly a frisson of remembrance about that city-state gripped me. In the depths of my mind, I could see ancient Thebes; my senses knew it. That was my first déjà vu experience.
         In November 1993, forty-six years after my introduction to the Bronze Age, I flew to Greece with a friend. For three weeks, we visited many of the sites I knew would be part of Three Roads Diverged. We rented a car. My friend drove; I navigated. We visited Athens, Knossos, Thebes, Delphi, Dodona, Olympia, Pylos, Mycenae, Lerna, Tiryns, Nauplia, and Epidaurus.          
         With a small camera I took pictures, as did she, of all these places. As the months pass, I’ll share with you some of the ruins I visited. Sometimes the photographs will be blurred because I really knew nothing about framing a scene. However, they will show you the sites about which I’ll be writing.

This is the path at the foot of the Parthenon in Athens.

When we flew home in late November, I began to write. For six months I used all the research I’d done to produce the beginnings of a first draft for the novel I hoped would one day be published.  
         Then in June 1994, I ceased to write. Why? Because the words of a fellow writer had burst the bubble of belief I had in myself about being able to write anything well, much less a novel. From then until now, that draft—the first third of the proposed novel—moldered on the computer, awaiting the click of reactivation.
         Then, two weeks ago, I printed out what I had—some 60,000 words. For nearly twenty years, I’d expected the novel—if ever completed—would divide itself naturally into three sections that would reflect the three Oedipus plays written by Sophocles.
         Using those three dramas as a foundation for the arc of Antigone’s life, I’d weave a story of who she was, what she did, and why. I’d search out the definitions that prompted her actions. By doing so, I planned to fill out the bare outlines of her life as given in Sophocles’ plays.
         His was the skeleton; I’d provide flesh, blood, tears, and sweat. Antigone would be given lungs with which to speak to a new audience. She’d be given a mind with which to enthrall us. A heart to woo us.
         As I read those 60,000 words these past two weeks, I’ve succumbed to her charms. Now I’ve realized how best to present her life. I’ll share that realization with you in the next couple of weeks. Peace.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Pitch for The Reluctant Spy

Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod (Wikipedia)

Last Sunday I ended my posting by saying that this week I’d share with you how I started writing Three Roads Diverged. However, instead, I want to return to The Reluctant Spy for one or more postings. According to the Amazon contest rules in which I entered that manuscript, I couldn’t really write about it until now.
         Why now? Because on Wednesday of this past week, Amazon posted its list of those entrants whose pitches had won them a place in the second round of the contest. My name wasn’t on that list. Please know I’m not discouraged; my getting through the first round depended on judges liking not only historical novels but also first-century Palestine ones. That’s asking a lot.

River Jordan (Wikipedia)

         Perhaps more importantly, my pitch had to grab the judges’ attention. In early January I struggled with writing three hundred words to beguile a judge into wanting to read more. Click here for the “pitch” posting on my Wednesday blog and here for what I wrote on this blog.
         Today, I’d like to share with you my contest pitch.

Pitch for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest

Ephraim, a first-century scribe, moves toward a crossroads: To betray—or to save—an old enemy. He hasn’t a clue how to solve his own dilemma. The truth is that he’s played many roles, but perhaps none harder than balancing between envious savior and reluctant spy. Can he manage both without undermining the foundations of his own life? And how much pride will he swallow to do so?
         There’s no doubt Ephraim can destroy his archrival. After all, just a few months ago his treachery led to the beheading of another man. Now he’s hit rock bottom, hunting desperately for the way to reclaim his honor. It’s all a question of what he’ll risk in his headlong flight from righteousness.                    
         From the intrigue of Jerusalem to the crossroads of Bethany, from the gossip of provincial Capernaum to the deadly threat of Golgotha, Ephraim journeys over more than muddy roads. The rat-infested cells of Machaerus Fortress looming over the Dead Sea cannot be any darker than the labyrinth of his own tortured mind.     
          His journey into the abyss of despair could end in redemption or ruin. One man holds the knife that can sever the muddle Ephraim’s made of his life. And this one man is the next victim of his betrayal.                                               
          Blackmail. Adultery. Intrigue. A crisis of faith. The themes of The Reluctant Spy remain as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago. Ephraim knows he can't change the past. But if he could let go of it, both he and his Galilean rival might escape the machinations of Jerusalem and Rome.

Sea of Galilee (Wikipedia)

What do you think? I know all of you want me to succeed. But please put aside your liking for me and for my writing and consider if this pitch on the book flap of an historical novel would grab your interest. If not, please tell me why. No suspense? Ephraim’s problems uninteresting? Too much information?
         Any suggestions for the reordering that information? For building more suspense? For whetting your interest? 
         The reason I ask is because I plan to use some paragraphs from this pitch in the query letters I’ll now begin to write. Just as I needed to attract the Amazon judges’ interest, I’ll soon need to pique the interest of agents.
         Thanks for any help you can give me. Peace.         

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Researching Bronze Age Greece

Last Sunday I asked a favor of all of you who read this blog: I needed more reviews for A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story and A Cat’s Legacy and asked if you’d help me get them.
         While asking for reviews, I also reflected on my lack of a platform—at least one dependent on page views of my two blogs.         
         The fourteen encouraging comments you left on last week’s posting have been so helpful. You complimented both books, which many of you have already read and reviewed. You stood behind reviews you’d written for them, offered to write a posting about how one of the books had helped you in a time of grief, and in general offered me your continued support as I try to get both books into the hands of readers.
         In addition, one of you ordered copies of both books, two of you have already left reviews on Amazon, and three of you offered suggestions for how to increase my page views. It’s now time to consider what direction to take. I’ll share my decision with you when I’ve made it, but for now I simply want to say to all of you a heartfelt “Thank you” for responding with such good will and creativity to my request for help.
         Today I’m posting about the new manuscript on which I’m now working: Three Roads Diverged. It explores questions about definition: Why do we let others define us? What happens when we cast aside those definitions? Does our integrity depend on resisting being defined by others? And finally how old does someone have to be to walk away from the definitions families impose?
         The novel, which takes place in Bronze Age Greece circa 1250 BCE, demands research on my part. I began this research back in the late 1980s with the study of classical Greek. 
          That was not the language spoken during Greece’s Bronze Age, but it would, I thought, introduce me to the language in which the great plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides had been written and to their cadence and syntax. I hoped both would lodge themselves in my unconsciousness and influence the way I wrote.

Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides

         Those renowned Greek dramatists used the ancient myths of their land as subject matter for their plays. I’d decided to use those myths also. So exploring the plays of these classical dramatists in the original language seemed appropriate to me.

The ancient theater of Delphi.

         To begin, I studied classical Greek for two quarters at the University of Minnesota and then continued my studies through correspondence courses from the University of Wisconsin.
         I never became proficient in speaking the language because of my auditory learning disability, but I did begin to understand syntax as I translated from Greek to English and English to Greek. Moreover I began to appreciate the way classical Greek writers approached their subject in both histories and plays. To write authentically, I needed to learn how those early Greeks thought.
         Beginning in the late 1980s, I have purchased many books on Greece’s Bronze Age and on the city/states of the time like Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, Athens, and Thebes; the flora and fauna of Greece; religion; typography; law; arts and crafts; the role of women and men; mythology, and any other subject matter that explored the world at the time. I now have a library of over a hundred scholarly works on Bronze Age Greece.

The Lion Gate at Mycenae.

         I’ll be working on this manuscript for at least two years. My postings on this blog will reflect my progress. Next week I’ll share with you how I began to write back in the early 1990s. Have a good week. Peace.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Book Reviews and Platforms

I have known two exceptionally astute senior editors. Back in 1991, the Crown editor gave me the word relationship that led to the publication of A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story. In 2012, the Wayman senior editor gave me the phrase Dulcy’s Companion Book that led to the final cover for A Cat’s Legacy. Both these women have been a blessing in my life.
         Recently, I spoke with that same Waymen editor about A Cat’s Legacy and why it may not be selling. She believes the new cover, which I introduced to you in last Sunday’s posting, will help. As perhaps the purchase price will. However, she also believes that readers, before deciding to order a book, look not only at the cover, title, and price but also at the number of reviews it’s received.
         As of today, February 3, 2013, A Cat’s Legacy has only eight reviews. Wayman’s senior editor thinks it needs more before prospective buyers will consider it a book worth buying.
         How many more? Well, that’s debatable.  A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story has twenty-two reviews from its first publication in 1992 in hardcover and its second publication in 2012 as an e-book, and yet it isn’t selling well either. Perhaps it, too, needs more reviews.
         Of course, reviews may be only a part of this. Publicity is probably the major influence in the sell of any book. In years past, the publishing company did the publicity. And surely Wayman has done its part in publicizing both of Dulcy’s books.

         However, unlike 1992 when Crown published A Cat’s Life, today’s large, contemporary publishing houses demand that writers have a “platform.” That is, a means by which they themselves can get word out about the book. This platform may be any or all of the following: blog, Facebook, Twitter, web site, radio show, PBS series, seminar or conference given around the country. That is, any writing or personal appearance that puts the author out in front of a large audience that might buy the book.
         Last week, a fellow blogger and author of several well-received and read books sent me an e-mail response to my comment on her blog. Given her past success, her words about platform stunned me. Right now, she is writing another book, and her agent has explained to her what’s necessary in today’s publishing world:
Publishing has changed so very much. Even with all my experience, I feel like a beginner—not in terms of writing, but in terms of the business. Book proposals are now 75% marketing and 25% content. It used to be the opposite. And last year, I read somewhere that you couldn't claim your blog as a decent "platform" unless you were getting 10,000 page views a month. I felt so discouraged as that seemed such an impossible number. But in the last two months, I've been averaging 12,000+ page views a month! Still not a whole bunch of Followers, but a good number of page views.
         Dr. Kathleen McCoy went on to explain that a series of postings she did on parents/adult-children relationships changed the number of page views she began to receive per month.

         So I’m left wondering if perhaps my blogs simply don’t appeal because of what I write about. I have two. One is an on-line memoir on which I post a story of my life each Wednesday. The other is the one you are reading right now. It is a memoir of my life as a writer seeking publication.
         For the first, I have 205 followers and fewer than 2,000 page views a month; for this second one, I have 25 followers and fewer than 200 page views a month. So you see, I literally have no platform.
         Dr. McCoy believes that a platform may be necessary only for nonfiction. So perhaps the novel I’ve written—The Reluctant Spy—won’t need a platform. We’ll see. All I’m sure of right now is that for each of the past three months, neither of Dulcy’s books has sold more than five copies.
         The bottom line to this lengthy posting is that I’d greatly appreciate any help you can give me with the following:

  • Writing a book review on Amazon or Goodreads for A Cat’s Legacy and/or A Cat’s Life if you haven’t already done so.
  • Asking those to whom you’ve given the book(s) to write a review.

Thank you. And peace to you ever and always, pressed down and overflowing.