The Publishing Truth Shall Set You Free…

It’s interesting once you really start learning about a topic how many things seem to jump up off the page (literal or web related) to show you examples of the truths you have been investigating.  Such as my interest in self-publishing and why it appears to make a lot of sense which  has been gleaned (but not limited to) J.A.  Konrath’s blog, “A Newbies Guide to Publishing”.

Numerous posts are written about publishing houses keeping the truth of  book sales and money being made that are hidden from the author with strange sales tallies and  accounting practises by many different authors.

As a rank outsider of the publishing industry with only a few rejection letters to my name so far, the niggling thought in the back of my mind as I read these blogs has always been… “really? It’s really this bad for writers?”  The allure of having a Big 6 company saying my work is good enough for them to publish is a great enticement to a new writer.

For a long time I’ve wanted to read Ken Follett’s book “The Pillars of the Earth”.  I’ve read so many reviews, heard by word of mouth that it’s a great story and personally the historical blend of the story is right up my alley, but finances just haven’t allowed me to splash out of such a treat.

 

 

The Salvation Army has a special place in my heart for  many reasons, but one area of service from the church that I really appreciate at this point of my life is the Thrift Shop / Sally Ann stores selling all number of second hand goods at very reasonable prices. Especially wonderful are the sale days. Because as a ‘bookaholic’ without the budget to maintain her addiction even at the second hand shop prices, being able to buy books cheaply is bliss, and being able to pick up a copy of Pillars for 99 cents was damn near orgasmic!

 

 

 

I’m sure  you can imagine my surprise to read within the Preface these words penned by Ken Follett himself:

 

 One day I was checking my royalty statement from New American Library, my U.S. paperback publisher.  These statements are carefully designed  to prevent the author from knowing what is really happening to his book,  but after decades of persistence I have learned to read them.  Page 8

 

I’m willing to bet that the publishers were less than amused at having that written in the paperback edition of a best-selling book – but it is yet another confirmation of the truth behind the groundswell of authors, what they are complaining about and why so many are making the move to self-publishing. And suggests that my long term love affair with the idea of a publishing house publishing my books requires some serious reconsidering.

But as my debating teacher once taught me, for every opinion, there is a flip side that makes just as much sense. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, here is a good argument from Nathan Bransford for sticking with the tradition publishing route.

I’m still not sure which way is the right way but I do know I need to keep writing.

The Writers Journey

its hard work

 

There are times when I wish that I had been kinda sassy and brave enough to stand against what I was being told to do when I was a younger woman and started attempting to write before life became complicated, like adult life generally is.

Instead of going to teachers college I wish I had tried to write novels like the ones I would lose myself in for hours at a time instead of doing my assignments. I wish I hadn’t listened to the university lecturer who told me point blank that writing for children was the hardest form of writing, that only the very best should ever attempt it and decide there and then that it wasn’t for me.

And yet,  if I’m honest with myself, when I look back to the works I wrote, they lacked depth, understanding and mostly it lacked soul. If I hadn’t travelled the journey that has brought me to this place in my life, I think that my dream of becoming a published author would be nothing but a pipe dream, or maybe not a dream at all.

What truly matters is that I think the dream is worth striving for even now. Even when I think it’s beyond reach; that I’ve lost the chance to be what I believe God has designed me to be, I believe it’s worth continuing to try.

I just wish that there were more hours in the day to devote to the striving. More hours…? Or more productive hours? Hmm… not sure I like what that line of thought is suggesting.

Oh that imaging the stories and putting them down on paper didn’t cause me to struggle and work as they do. I long for the day that the writing comes effortlessly. I wish that I didn’t need outside validation as much as I still do. That when I read a piece of work created a few years ago I didn’t cringe and think… “Oh, that’s baaaad!” but rather that I saw the talent that is within me.

But it’s OK. Even when rather than sassy self belief, there are  long weeks of self-doubt, when the writing just doesn’t come at all, its all part of the journey.

Thomas Keneally’s Library – and mine

 

As the end of your life started to come into clearer focus with age, what would you do with a personal library collected over the period of a lifetime? The books that you fawned over and then paid for at a favourite bookshop, gifts given for birthdays and Christmas, books borrowed from friends on pains of death to return and then never given back, or dare I even suggest, the occasionally lost library tomes that got lost in the shuffle of life.

Tom Keneally, celebrated Australian author askedhimself the same question of his personal 2500 book library and after judicious advice, decided to donate it all to the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts.  What a wonderful idea. Give the books lovingly collected over the years to a school so that the precious resource of literature isn’t lost to the rubbish dump or broken apart into meaningless little chunks.

But I wonder if Thomas Keneally wasn’t Thomas Keneally, Australian Living Treasure, if his collection would have been treated with such respect and care. I know that many people donate books to the Ottawa Public Library, and they are sold off at bargain prices (sometimes as low as $0.25 a book) rather than being added to the main collection. Often I wonder if it isn’t an insult to the deceased who left their book collections behind, hoping that the books would become part of the city collection. Although anyone who bequests the library with their collection must surely know that their precious collection will be torn apart, don’t they?  Perhaps the best idea, if you aren’t a famous, prize winning author that is, and you have a sizable assortment to share with other book lovers, is to find a small school library in which to place your collection. 

Obviously I think the best plan is to hurry up and get published, win  a few prestigious writing awards and make sure that someone, somewhere will want my collection of books when I eventually go to meet my Maker. So tell me, what are your plans for your collection? Or are you like me, and haven’t actually given it much thought – until now!

Waiting for a Book….

 

J.K. Rowling

The Harry Potter phenomenon started for me when waaaaay back when I was a teacher in 1997 and every child seemed to have a copy of the book; I simply had to know what all the fuss was about and got hooked. Now, 12 years later and I’m looking forward to my own daughter being old enough to start reading the books to her and sharing the pleasure of the story with her.

So I’m wondering if I’m I the only geek around who was up late last night watching “A Year in the Life of J.K. Rowling” on t.v.  and finding themselves missing the anticipation  of the build up to each new book release like we enjoyed with each of the final four Harry Potter books?

Of course I’ve heard about the Twilight series and seen a kind of excitement it’s generated for each of the movie releases,  but it’s been nothing along the lines of Harry Potter and so far I’ve been able to resist the temptation to hand over a fist full of dollars to buy the books and start reading.  And as I’m not likely to receive a complimentary copy from Little Brown just for mentioning the Twilight series here in this blog, perhaps I should order copies from the library and see what the fuss is all about.  Although I have to admit that without ever really getting into it in the first place, I have been known to utter the words “I’m so over vampires already; move on people, move on!”

And it’s not that I miss Harry Potter as such (although I admit that if I heard that the fabulous Ms. J.K. had written another book in the series about the Potter kids I would be pre-ordering my copy,) but I miss the thrill of knowing I was one of millions around the globe who was waiting through the thrilling agony of the countdown to get my hands on the book and start to read.  I just miss the collective feeling of people around the globe, holding their breath, waiting to know the end of a story…… waiting for a book…..

 

EDIT  January 3rd 2010:

seems I wasn’t the only person who was thinking about Harry Potter that day….       The Globe and Mail

Honouring Actions

courtney writing March 30th 2009

 

Working towards a personal goal as a member of a family unit can make you feel selfish at times.  You worry that you’re asking your family to sacrifice much in an effort to honour your own dreams. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to write books.  Earlier this year I came to a decision that if I didn’t have at least a draft completed that was at a stage I could send out enquiries to agents and publishing houses by the time I hit 40, then I should probably shut up about writing, that it wasn’t ever going to happen because I wasn’t passionate enough.

Sometime in February I started writing. Not a lot at first, maybe 500 words a couple of times a week. I would head downstairs to the communal sitting room complete with its fake fire and scratch out a few paragraphs; I didn’t want to jinx myself by aiming too high. I’ve always been able to churn out three or four thousand words to start a story, but the panic of trying to expand and write a whole novel often overwhelms me and I give up.  I set small goals for myself. I started off with the goal to write three times a week.  In April I got more ambitious. I worked out that if I wrote 360 words 25 times in a month I would make a 9,000 word count goal.  In August I worked towards the goal of 12,000 words, missing it by only 800; I achieved it in September.

Spending time writing means that I can’t spend time playing with Bronwen at the park. It means I can’t take her for a bike ride; I can’t sit down and watch a movie with Matthew or cook delicious meals or cakes on the weekend. It means that I must monitor my down time and ensure that I focus on achieving word counts, sometimes working through the night to reach them.  Most of the work has been written by the light of the TV in my bedroom so that I don’t disturb others slumbering and often its only very late at night when everyone was in bed that I finally get the silence I crave to hear the words flow through my head.

When I was struggling with the whole home school or government education for Bronwen over the summer a couple of friends suggested that by sending her to school I would be able to write during  the day.  When Bronwen made the decision that she wanted to go to school, I made a vow to be very strict and spend each 2 ½ hours each school day writing – no internet! In the first full week she was able to attend (after the falling mirror and almost severed toe deal) I wrote 5000 words. It was then I made a decision that I would write 1000 words minimum every day Bronwen was at school as a way of honouring the time she is away from me.  We must make the oddest couple; when I pick her up from the bus I ask her how her day was and she asks me if I got lots of writing done.

Over the weekend Matthew decided to go out and buy me a new mp3 player as the      i-pod that I’ve had for five, possibly six years now has become infuriating in that despite having spend $80 on a new battery just last year, it now can’t carry a charge longer than 20 minutes before it starts flashing an empty battery symbol at me and suggests ever so helpfully that I should shut down the machine or risk losing all my music.  Although it wasn’t part of the plan, Bronwen decided that she wanted to go out with her Daddah. Now I have to share that it is not usual for her to choose shopping with her Dad, but we decided to not make a fuss about it after having warned her that it could be boring; she was insistent.

I viewed the time alone as perfect for housework.  With the dishwasher unloaded, I had one load of laundry in the drier and was about to start the washing machine for another. I had already scrubbed the toilet bowl till it sparkled and was about to get a start on the shower.  It was about 45 minutes later when Matthew called to share what Bronwen had just explained to him. She had decided that she should go with him so that I could have some quiet time; some time to write.  She had gone out with her Daddy so that I would have some uninterrupted time to concentrate on my writing.

After talking to Bronwen and having her explain to me that I should be writing; after getting a little teary that my little girl was so incredibly generous of spirit I gave up on all the other chores I had planned  to do and sat down to write another 1000 words towards my novel.  It was my way of honouring her sacrificial actions. Her belief in me spurs me on for another week.

Just Who Is Going Through a Growth Spurt?

Ottawa bookmobile

Today the Ottawa library van comes to our suburbs. It’s a day of excitement and  the unspoken expectations when we go to the huge van and think about the unexpected treasures that reveal themselves as we comb through the oddly slanted book shelves.

All too often I get side tracked before we leave by wanting to check the email or I get a phone call or some such other reason and Bronwen will skitter around the house in a mad rush to get things organised for me so that we can leave already!

Today I was on the phone to Matthew and I was checking out some incredibly edifying website like facebook when Bronwen went to organise the shoes we were to wear.  Call ended and updates  almost fully read, I spun the office chair around to slip my feet into the shoes neatly lined up right where my feet would spin to with my head still turned away.

I did a double take as suddenly I felt like I had been transported to Lilliput – my huge feet wouldn’t fit into the shoes set out for me. What on earth….?   Until I looked down at the floor when Bronwen’s giggles became all the more audible and the realisation that Bronwen had my shoes on and had put her shoes on the floor for me to put on.

So what’s a Mummah to do? Well she shoves her oversized toes in as far as she can get them (which isn’t really too far at all) and starts to totter off to the hallway in a feeble attempt to chase her little girl who is laughing hysterically at this point at her own cleverness through the house to gain as reward a huge hug and kiss.

And she orders a book on Gulliver’s Travels from the Library which should be here next week.

Was Jane Austen the Original Chick Lit Writer?

Portrait of Jane Austen (1810) - by Cassandra Austen  watercolour and pencil

Portrait of Jane Austen - by Cassandra Austen (1810) watercolour and pencil

I’ve sniggered at the insanity of Becky Bloomwood’s behaviour in Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series. I’ve owned the whole series of “Princess Diaries” by Meg Cabot long before I had a daughter to justify them by saying one day I would share the books with her. I’m a big fan of Jennifer Weiner because she made the heroine in “Good in Bed” a plus size woman who didn’t fall into the predictable line of society’s demands for womanhood. If my bookshelves are anything to judge by, I am, in short, a “chick lit” kind of reader.

But for the longest time I have kept my reading preferences hidden, as if women’s contemporary fiction was my dirty little secret. Why you ask? Well, that genre of writing isn’t considered, shall we say, profound, now is it? Admitting to reading such novels does not make you look at all discerning. Not according to the intelligentsia anyway.

For it seems sometimes to me that for people sitting on discussion panels on book shows (like First Tuesday Book Club ), or people who write reviews over at the New York Times Book section can, intentionally or not, appear somewhat boorish in their need prove their superiority to the average person who reads, shall we say, contemporary women’s literature. Apparently writing doesn’t become good literature until its gut wrenching or emotionally tiring so that, yes, you are in awe of the authors’ ability and skill, but still in the end, feeling oppressed. And the good literature that the intelligentsia laud takes work to digest; it isn’t something that you enjoy for a time and then move on.

But I happen to agree with Jennifer Weiner, who in her own blog said;

(Give us) Contemporary women’s fiction (duh!) reviewed by people who do not think that contemporary women’s fiction and/or contemporary women themselves represent a pox upon the land. Reviews of books people are actually reading, instead of the ones the critics think we should be reading.
– Tuesday Feb 3rd 2009

Now don’t get me wrong. I spent a whole day in the bathtub one summer long ago, reading “Fall on Your Knees” by Ann-Marie Mac Donald with baited breath. I knew what was coming in the deepest part of my heart… I just didn’t want to see it confirmed in black type on the page. I’ve been whisked away to a time long ago and felt the softness of the silk kimonos against my skin in Japan with “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden. The gritty desperation and sadness in the story of “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt made me think of my own mother’s life. And I’m confident enough in my opinion of good and bad to say that I really wasn’t impressed with Wally Lambs’ “She’s Come Undone”. I think it was a success primarily because of the hype he gained from being chosen for Oprah’s Book Club.

So why is it that I’ve felt the need to hide my enjoyment of pure literacy ‘girliness’? And why have I felt the need to deny that if I were to ever write the stories that I know are floating around in my head, they would more than likely end up being considered contemporary women’s literature? I dream of writing neither the great Australian novel, nor Canadian for that matter. I do think it would be an amazing gift to write something that would change the world forever, but in all seriousness I do not dream that my writing skills will one day earn me a Pulitzer Prize. A Nobel laureate I am not! What I do dream, is of going into a book store and seeing books, printed and bound, with my name on the spine. Of being able to in some way support my family financially using the talents God has placed in me.

I decided, on a whim the other day to pick up a ‘classic’ in the form of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” I had been putting it off reading it for the longest time because I assumed it would be hard work, a piece of literature I would have to really work at to enjoy. How wrong I was; it was pure reading pleasure. I confess that I had Emma Thompson’s screen adaption and the latest BBC version by Andrew Davies playing in my minds eye as I read the story, but that only added to the pleasure. The gloriousness of the vocabulary, the extensive speeches, and the very richness of words that Austen used struck me strongly. Such a book, if it written today, would, I doubt, ever be published. Or if it were accepted by a publishing house, an editor would probably rip it to shreds in the name of readability; condensing it into a concise book with 10,000 words less to its girth, slap a pink cover on the front and apologise for its existence by placing it in the contemporary women’s literature category.

But a few days after finishing the book I had a thought strike me so strongly that I have been able to think of little else whenever I think on the subject of books. Jane Austen was the writing heroine of her age. She wrote novels that had the whole of society talking, despite her stories placing women as central characters and the heroines in an age where they counted for very little in a culture ruled by men. Austen wrote domestic fiction, putting the dynamics of human relationships into a sharp and often critical focus.

True. She didn’t sit down and plan on writing novels that would be lauded decades into the future. She wrote the story that played itself out in her mind over the course of several years and when it was published, hoped that people would read and enjoy it. She hoped that people who read Sense and Sensibility would come to love Elinor and Marianne as much as she herself must have loved them as she wrote their stories. And in the end, she herself would admit that she wrote stories to make money. And here it is, two hundred years later; Jane Austen’s books are still being published, still be discovered by new eyes and still delighting afresh.

So now I’m thinking that its high time I got over my fear of the title contemporary women’s writer and just started writing, in honour of Jane Austen. And by the by, indulge my current craze and tell me, which is your favourite Jane Austen novel?

Small Tasks, Serenedipity and Mermaids

serendipity-sign-post

Are you anything like me? You look at a small task and think…

 “Ooh, I reckon* could knock that off in fifteen minutes. Yeah…  I’ve got plenty of time before I have to start…. insert any urgent, time sensitive task that must be done – like , say, cooking dinner —-> HERE.”

Except that the small task you thought you could ‘knock off’ was not so innocently small. Nohoho… it was bigger than you imagined. It was even bigger than you thought you couldn’t imagine it to be. It was actually a Big Job disguised as a small task that was always going to balloon out to take up two and a half hours of your time and still leave little pieces of undoneness hanging out everywhere to annoy you.

Like cleaning up a small section of book shelf.

Alright … keep the sniggering to yourself please. I know, since when was cleaning a book shelf ever a small task? But I thought, in all honesty, that it was going to be a small task. Simply clean out the folders I had there, sort the items (keep or toss), wipe down the shelf, and bobs your uncle, fresh, workable space for my growing assortment of current paper work.

Except that cleaning out the standing files meant I had to move some books (I want, no, I need my synonym book and my dictionary within easy reach!) from one shelf to another… which meant that those other books had to be moved …. and that meant moving the sewing machine …. and wouldn’t Bronwen’s books be better on that shelf rather than the shelf right behind me?….  and maybe I should move my fashion books up to this shelf instead of down on the bottom shelf especially if I want to think seriously about starting a fashion blog ….  and ooooh, look at this coffee table book on Cartier jewellery…..

You get the idea. 

And it’s not often that when you undertake such a large amount of work are you tangibly rewarded for your effort.  Just a few weeks ago I finished “The Secret Life of Bees” and enjoyed it so much that I felt the urge to go to the book store, plonk some cash down and buy the next book by Sue Monk Kid, “The Mermaid Chair”. Except that with the bus strike that held Ottawa captive for seven weeks, I have been put on temporary hold of sorts on my little job and have no money coming in, which meant that fulfilling the urge to buy a new book could not be satisfied.

And here is where the serendipity part of the title falls in place. Wouldn’t you know it? As I cleaned out the shelf on the music book case (called because it has the music system on it and not because we are musically gifted) to put Bronwen’s books there I came across a copy of “The Mermaid Chair” that I had obviously bought before I went back home to Australia all those years ago; I had totally forgotten about it.  But here it sits, shiny and new, just waiting for me to read it (when I find the time to make a pile of peanut butter sandwiches for Bronwen to eat and organise a few bottles of water), and all because I decided to do one small task before I cooked dinner one night.

So here is a new challenge for this blog. Not that this is the only style of challenges will be in the future, (I’m not quite ready to reveal that side of things yet,) but I did want to create a fun challenge!  Tell me, what small task have you been putting off because you have a gut feeling it might turn into a Big Job? Can you to do it in the next two weeks?  Are you ready to accept the challenge and then come back and tell me about your serendipitous findings?

*Australian slang term meaning You bet! Absolutely!

Song Nine

 

starrynightFunny how a song playing in the background of a busy day can bring back memories and make you realise that even as a child you knew who you truly were… and that other people can have such a profound impact on your true self and that it can take years to get back to the truth you knew deep in your heart as a child.

I can recall very clearly a day as a young child thinking the song” Vincent (Starry Starry Night)” about Vincent Van Gogh was so incredibly beautiful yet heartbreakingly sad – although I was yet to fully understand heartbreak – and that the haunting tune brought tears to my eyes. But Mum said that Vincent was nothing but a layabout who tried to get attention by cutting his ear off and that he didn’t deserve a song to be written about him, even if the song was boring! She made it all too clear to me with her facial expressions that I wasn’t to find any loveliness in the story, or the song: that I was being silly to cry over it. Her behaviour and attitude made me feel that my inner being was useless. So I hardened my heart and turned away from what my true spirit was drawn too…. I mentally walked away from the beauty I was pulled towards and firmly set my resolve to making my mother approve of me… and that meant seeing things in the world her way.

Now I’m 30-something, and desperately searching and striving for my own true spirit once more. I struggle for creativity. I yearn to be more productive in my creative skills; I want to produce magnificence in the world around me. And I sit here listening to Josh Groban singing about Vincent, the memories come flooding back of that conversation and the realisations; the ramifications hits home.

The song was a big hit in the 1970’s for Don McLean, which suggests to me that I have pushed my true feelings about this story down rather than allow it to fill my soul with the beauty I felt even as a very young child. It’s almost as if I can pinpoint an exact moment in my childhood when I learnt that creativity, beauty as I saw it, was not acceptable in this world. And the message I understood loud and clear on that day was that I had to change my inner being, that which I really was, to be acceptable to the one person who matter to me the most.

Your parents may never have felt that they had the right, much less the opportunity, to get what they wanted out of life. Let’s face it. How many of our mothers really had a chance to do anything but keep house, raise babies, and maybe work to supplement the family income? How many of our fathers really got the chance to explore their own talents and interests? Most of them had to start earning a living and supporting a family when their own lives had hardly begun. My parents were like that. If yours were, how do you imagine they felt when you came along? Proud. Delighted. Hopeful. But then you began to grow… and demand …. and suddenly they saw blooming in you all the qualities they’d had to squelch in themselves: open, shameless wanting; free fantasy; originality; ambition; pride. They saw you grabbing the limelight when they had never gotten enough of it. They had learned at great inner cost to be modest and self-sacrificing and resigned – often for your sake – and they said,” I learned that lesson. You’ll learn it too.”

As very small children, we sense that message. We’d rather forget our destiny than risk hurting or angering the person whose love is life itself to us.

Wishcraft – How to Get What You Really Want.
Sher, B., with Gottlieb, A., 1979, 1983, Page 20

Without a doubt, my mother would be devastated if she knew I carried a memory like this around with me today. As a young woman trying to be my mother, she had no strong, stable, good examples of parenthood to emulate. She was too busy crawling out of  a situation of neglect that defies description to be purposely mean spirited. She would never knowingly have squelched my inner being; she loved me more than life itself. She was simply a product of her life experiences, trying to figure out how to help another life bloom when she had never fully bloomed herself. And I know how blessed I am that as an adult woman, I now have a mother who cares very much for my dreams, encourages my flights of fancy and rejoices in every attempt at creativity. I’m well aware that for some people, such love and acceptance from a parent will never be forthcoming.

I’m grateful that today I can rejoice in the pleasure of the song; that it’s no longer meaningless to me. I can celebrate the fact that my true self understands, that it is the identical desperation of yearning for the same self actualisation that Vincent strove for all those years ago. I can take heart in the fact that even if I don’t achieve success in the worlds view during my lifetime, maybe in the future the things I created will be seen with the same love and passion that I created them with now. I can rejoice, slump in comfort and understand that my yearning are not mine alone, that it is the same journey that every artist person has striven towards for all of time. One day I too will have my starry, starry night. One day my life will be a beautiful story of inspiration for others.  Do you have your starry, starry night already? If not, what will it  be like?