Rarely Well Behaved, Adieu

Little did I know when I casually entered a writing contest in early 2000 that by the end of the year, I’d have a book published. The winner of the contest got the trip to New York to meet an agent, and the rest of us slobs who were runners-up got the opportunity to claim a $99 printing contract with a relatively new print-on-demand publisher named iUniverse. The “claim it” window had a fairly short fuse, and if you claimed it, you had to get a manuscript submitted also in a fairly short amount of time. To “qualify” the manuscript had to be longer than 110 pages.

The $99 contract (which is now unheard of at iUniverse, with the minimum contract now close to $1,000) was bare bones–no editorial review and you had to correct the proof, but if your corrections numbered more than 200, you got charged for author’s alterations.

I decided I would give it a try. Yes, it was self-publishing, but I could justify doing this by the fact my story was good enough to be a runner up and get the consolation prize. The problem was, I didn’t have enough short stories lying around to constitute 110 printed pages. I started writing and/or finished a few pieces that I’d started and never concluded. I spent most of a night proofreading the manuscript and made the deadline for submission. I figured I could fix any typos or obvious editorial gaffes when I got the proofs.

The proofs arrived, and it didn’t take long for my corrections, i.e., edits, to approach the magic number of 200, and I had to go back and decide which were the most important–typos, obviously, and as many edits as I could get in under the magic number. The proofs went back, and a few days later came the cover for my approval. It was one of those seminal moments when you wish every loved one who had passed on was there to see such a beautiful thing. I had given a very vague suggestion for the cover–a house, a woman in old fashioned clothing, and a fence, which was based on one of the stories. The cover was perfect. I’ll let you judge for yourself:

I approved the cover, and about a week later came the proof copy of the book. That was another seminal moment, and I couldn’t help but be sad that my father, who was always amazed by what he called my “way with words,” wasn’t there to see it.

After the proof approval, here came my box of complimentary books, ten of them, and I had the pleasure of going on Amazon.com and seeing my book for sale. iUniverse at that time had an agreement of sorts with Barnes and Nobles book stores, and I used a couple of the free copies to hand off to events managers at the stores near me. That resulted in my books being on the shelves of a book store, several book signings and readings over the next year, and a guest speaking engagement on the benefits and pitfalls of self-publishing.

The biggest pitfall for me was the fact I had to do my own marketing while working a full-time job. I managed to score a couple of radio interviews, but this was in the days before the current social media. If I wanted press releases to go out, I had to create them, stuff the envelopes, and mail them. iUniverse gave you free marketing materials, i.e., graphic files of bookmarks, postcards, and small posters, but I can to print them and distribute them.

But that’s no different from what many authors published by small presses experience. I was lucky that I had media and professional contacts I could use. In fact, the organizer of a large aviation conference gave me time at the conference book table even though the stories (except for one, peripherally) had nothing to do with aviation. I sold thirty-six books in two hours.

In the twelve years since its publication Rarely Well Behaved enjoyed very modest success, but to me any sale was a success. A couple of years the royalties were less than $10, but the sales were consistent.

Yes, it was a self-published book, but I was damned proud of it. Still am. I’m a much better writer now than I was twelve years ago, but the stories still resonated. When I moved to my new hometown, I ended up being able to put copies in a local bookstore and a museum shop. At a book event in 2010 I sold eleven copies of it, more than any of the other authors there. I got e-mails and Facebook posts from people who told me what the stories meant to them.

My book may not have met the criterion for a New York Times bestseller, but it was my own bestseller.

When the time came to consider making Rarely Well Behaved an e-book, I gave it considerable thought and decided now was the time to improve those stories. I gave each of them an overhaul, but I vowed the central plot and characters of each wouldn’t change. I did combine two into a single, long story, almost the length of a novella, but each story is crisper, better honed, and contains fewer -ly adverbs.

Since I was doing that, I decided to break the one print book into two e-books, so that the  espionage stories could be in a volume to themselves. Fences and Blood Vengeance were published in April, a few days before my birthday, and that was the best present. (You can see the e-books in the sidebar to the right. Just one click, and you can own them. No, the marketing never stops.) Then, I made the decision to take Rarely Well Behaved out of print. Mostly, I didn’t want people to buy all three books–and some did–only to discover the, well, similarities.

On May 26, Rarely Well Behaved went out of print, and I was a little sad; but I was also very grateful for the opportunity to hold in my hands a real book with my name on the spine.

Friday Fictioneers Fun

It’s funny how you can look at an inspiration photo the first time and get nuttin’. Then sometimes, you look at the photo, and the story pops, fully formed, into your head. And it’s the most absurd (in a funny way) idea you’ve had in a while. Then, it turns into a piece of great fun which reminds you that Friday Fictioneers is just that, fun, but the kind of fun where you can hone your craft. So, it’s serious fun.

And, I got to Google “moth reproduction”–certainly a first for me.

Over the years, I’ve been told my dialogue is great–realistic, rings true, expositive. So, with Friday Fictioneers, I’ve tended to write narratives because dialogue is something I don’t have to focus on every day. Last week’s story, “Sure, and It’s Hard Being Wee Folk,” was dialogue plus dialogue tags and got more than seventy reads and 100 percent positive comments. Yay, me!

I also like to play around, now and then, with dialogue with no tags–so you have no indication of the speakers’ genders (or species) or their relationship, but I thought twice about doing an all-dialogue story two weeks in a row. However, the subjects of this week’s story wouldn’t be silenced. I hope you enjoy “Moth Love,” or as a friend called it “Moth Porn”–just imagine cheesy music playing in the background. (If you don’t see the link to click in the title, “Moth Love,” hover your cursor over the Friday Fictioneers tab above, and select it from the drop-down menu.)

To participate in Friday Fictioneers, go to Madison Woods’ blog and leave a link to your story in the comments to hers, then read some of the offerings. Pretty soon you’ll see time has passed while you’re having fun, and you’ll probably be late for work. Oh well.

Please feel free to leave constructive feedback on mine.

Story Cubes Challenge – Week 6

For week six of Jennie Coughlin’s Story Cubes Challenge, I thought I’d intro the story I wrote with a little information about the two characters I’ve been using in these challenge stories.

Mai Fisher and Alexei Bukharin are covert operatives for a fictional intelligence organization within the United Nations. I’ve written back story and, oh, four or five novels about them for the past fifteen to twenty years. (If you click on the “Works in Progress” tab above you can see descriptions of those novels in progress.)

I thought the Story Cubes Challenge would be a good vehicle for exploring things about the characters that don’t show up in the novels and back story. It’s been a lot of fun because I’ve written some things I never thought much about. I mean, back story simply said Alexei had defected from the Soviet Union, but I’d never written about how or when that happened, so I did in “Desert Nights and Weeping Flowers.”

The stories are vignettes, glimpses of the characters, and I’m learning a lot more about the two people and the world I created. Much fun.

So, here’s today’s story cubes:

Here’s what I saw in the cubes: (l to r) alien; padlock/locked; fight/fighting; earth/world; clothes on the line/hung out to dry; sadness; counting money; reading; and arrow.

This week’s story is called “Boredom and Terror.” (If you don’t see the link, hover your cursor over the Story Cubes Challenge tab above and select it from the drop-down menu.) And I live for your constructive comments. 😉

If you’d like to give it a try, use the photo of the cubes to the left and write a story of any length using what you see in the cubes, then go to Jennie Coughlin’s Welcome to Exeter blog and post a link to your story.

Eyes on the Prize

Last week I began what I hope is the final edit on the third book in my trilogy, A Perfect Hatred. (To learn what the trilogy is about, click on the “Works in Progress” tab above.) For Books One and Two, I did all the editing on-screen, mainly because I wanted to save trees. This was even though I know I do my best editing of my own or anyone else’s work if I have a printed document and a red pen. Yeah, I came up in an age where a red pen didn’t damage your psyche; it got your attention.

For Book Three, I decided to take a different approach–print a chapter or two at a time and edit as I retype. I got the idea from a writer friend, Cliff Garstang, who had blogged about it in one of his regular “Tips for Writers” posts. Even though he recommended it and has done it to good results, he indicated doing it for a novel might be daunting. I scoffed inwardly, but I should heed my writing peers who’ve blazed the trail.

It is daunting, but it’s also working.

Somehow, I’m seeing plot holes better; I’m improving the dialogue; I’m tweaking the characters. I’d always considered this the weakest of the three books when I knew it needed to be the strongest: It’s wrapping up all the plot threads from the other two and bringing the story to the usual epic conclusion. (Just joking. A little.) I knew this was a draft that needed more “meat,” and though the usual result of a revision is cutting the fluff, I’ve found this retyping-as-revision approach has allowed me to add muscle to what was a lean frame. Since I’ve cut 150+ pages from the first two books, I think I have a little slack in the fact I’ve added fifteen pages thus far to this one.

And I’m trying to manage killing trees by reusing the second side of the paper–using 275 sheets of paper (just over half a ream) to print 550 pages. That’s double-spaced, by the way.

On the other hand, it’s been a long time since I’ve sat down and generated 100,000+ words–or regenerated in this instance. It’s hard on the buttocks, it’s hard on the wrists and fingers, and it’s a strain on the eyes.

But I’ll end up with something better when it’s all done, something that will be more than ready to submit to agents. That’s the prize to keep the weary eyes on.

How do you edit/revise? Do you retype or print out and use a pen of any color?

Story Cube Challenge – Week 5

This one really was a toughie, given the fact I had to ponder the cubes (hmm, sounds predictive, doesn’t it?) for a couple of days before something gelled. A couple of the cubes (pyramid and moon) had shown up for another challenge story, “Desert Nights and Weeping Flowers,” and I didn’t want to repeat that or be too similar. Then, I decided to riff off that original story with a follow-up twenty years after the fact. So, you might want to read “Desert Nights and Weeping Flowers” before this one.

Here is what the cubes revealed:

And here is what I saw in the cubes: (l to r) drop/miss; falling; hanging on; beetle/scarab; shouting; miss/error/elude; pyramid; moon; flower.

To read the new story, “A Study in Blue,” click on the title or hover your cursor over the Story Cube Challenge tab and select it from the drop-down list. (And, yes, I’ve become a fan of the new BBC show “Sherlock,” so I couldn’t resist a little homage to a Doyle title.)

If you feel you’re up to the Story Cube Challenge, give it a try. Use the picture to the left, but go post a link for your story in a comment on Jennie Coughlin’s blog, Welcome to Exeter.

See you next week.

Back by Popular Demand

When Madison Woods posted the inspiration photo for today’s Friday Fictioneers, I warned her there’d be leprechauns–you’ll see why when you take a look at the photo and my story here. (If you don’t see the word to click on, hover your cursor over the Friday Fictioneers tab above, and select “Sure, and It’s Hard Work Being Wee Folk.”) Then, go to Madison’s blog to see what other Friday Fictioneers made of the photo.

My Irish grandmother was considered a wee bit quaint when she clung to believing in the wee folk even after she came to America. Every night, she left a small bowl of milk and bread outside wherever she lived. When I was very little, I was amazed the bowl would be empty every morning. As I grew older, logic and reason prevailed, but she’d have none of my explanations about cats and dogs taking her offering for the wee folk. Embarrassing when you’re a teenager; endearing now.

So, for today’s Friday Fictioneers, I brought back two characters from the story, “Lupruchan,” I wrote for the February 10, 2012, Friday Fictioneers challenge–Seamus and Declan, two wee folk I now imagine were the ones who cleaned my grandmother’s nightly dish of milk and bread.

Remember, we all love your comments on our 100-word stories, and feel free to re-blog mine or post the link on your own blog. If you’ve never given the Friday Fictioneers challenge a try, why not make this week your debut?

A Rush to Publish?

The literary world was abuzz this weekend over a New York Times article by Julie Bosman entitled, “Writer’s Cramp: In the E-Reader Era, a Book a Year is Slacking.” (I’ve included a link, but I’m not sure if this article is part of the NYT’s rare free content.) The gist: Publishing a print book takes time, but publishing something for an e-reader doesn’t. Traditional publishers watch how well their writers’ e-book sales go, then demand more output. If a writer doesn’t have a novel ready, a story between novels will do to keep the name out there and “meet demand.”

The premise, I suppose, is that e-book readers are more fickle than print book readers. E-books do fulfill our need for instant gratification. No more waiting lists at libraries for the next installment for an author you like, just “Buy with 1-click” and off you go.

I know when I find an author I like, I want to read more of his or her work, but I, perhaps, have a better understanding of the publishing process than the average reader. For me, waiting a year or two or five heightens the interest in the next book. Yes, I may go read other authors, but I’ll always go back to a favorite one. Publishers, it seems, are afraid that we’ll abandon an author if we don’t have a constant stream of new work.

I ask you, even though she has said “no more Harry Potter books,” will fans of J. K. Rowling drop her? No, they’ll pre-order her new non-Potter book by the millions, even at an e-book price just two dollars less than the print book price.

And up comes the quality versus quantity debate.

As someone who has worked on a trilogy for fifteen years (yes, you read correctly–fifteen), I’ve resisted “instant publishing gratification” because I’ve agonized over making them good books, as in a good plot, good characters, and good writing, something I’ve seen lacking in rushed Indie publications. I can’t imagine getting pressure from a publisher to publish more than one book a year. I know the quality would suffer because I’m meticulous about research. If I had to throw together a quick book to satisfy my publisher, I wouldn’t be happy with the product.

As a reader, I can usually tell when a favorite writer has “phoned it in,” especially those who write series. The last few Sookie Stackhouse novels, for example, have had little plot, even less characterization, and end abruptly. I understand Charlaine Harris is wrapping the series up, much as Rowling did, but Rowling’s final two or three novels were more well-formed than Harris’ last three offerings.

I understand there are readers who don’t care about the overall quality–they want more Edward and Bella and don’t much care that the writing and plotting are substandard. That’s obvious from the prodigious amount of fan fiction written about popular characters from books, movies, and television (some very good, most really bad). That’s also obvious when I go look at reviews on Amazon and see four and five stars on a book I’ve just reviewed and found wanting.

For one, I prefer to read a good book, good in all aspects, and I don’t mind waiting for quality.

What about you? Agree? Disagree? Why?

Friday Fictioneers and More

When you see this week’s Friday Fictioneers’ inspiration photo, expect some creepy, “dark and stormy night” stories. It’s that kind of picture. I resisted the temptation, though, and opted for a little sci-fi. To read my story, click here. (If you don’t see the link on your computer, hover your cursor over the Friday Fictioneers tab above, and select “In Moonlight and Peace.”) To read other Friday Fictioneers’ stories, visit Madison Woods’ page and dig in. I know I’m looking forward to them all.

Enjoy my story, and, please, leave a comment. I love your comments. They heal an occasionally bruised writer’s ego. If you’re participating in Friday Fictioneers, leave the link to your story also, so I can read it. I definitely make the effort to read the stories of people who have read and commented on mine. Friday Fictioneers has become quite the writing community and with a global reach. In fact, go to Facebook and “Like” the Friday Fictioneers’ Facebook Page.

My story last week, Amontillado, has generated something completely unexpected: It has become the inspiration for a longer work, as yet untitled, about why that baby was inside the wall of an old house. I talked more about it in an earlier post this week, and I’m very excited about starting a new, novel-length work without NaNoWriMo being the impetus.

In other news, in about a month, I’m looking forward to the week-long Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop at Hollins University in Roanoke, VA. My workshop will be “Stretching Your Fiction,” and the instructor will be Pinckney Benedict, author of Miracle Boy and Other Stories. The description of this workshop was what led me to apply for it:

Writerly evolution most frequently takes place as a series of great evolutionary leaps: writers – often inspired by some profound challenge or undertaking – find themselves suddenly, swiftly, and significantly advanced in their art. This workshop, through challenging writing exercises, far-ranging discussion, and intense scrutiny of participants’ manuscripts, will endeavor to induce just such an evolutionary leap. Prepare to leave the class both exhausted and changed.

Scary, but I’m definitely looking forward to it. [Rubs hands together in anticipation]

Now, off to read some great Friday Fictioneers stories!

Story Cube Challenge – Week 4

Yesterday’s Rory’s Story Cubes prompt from Jennie Coughlin’s Welcome to Exeter blog put the challenge in the Story Cubes Challenge. At first glance, I thought perhaps Week 4 of the challenge was going to do me in. I wasn’t sure how to work each of these actions or objects into something coherent. And, frankly, perhaps I still haven’t.

Here is the story cubes prompt:

I interpreted the cubes as: (l to r) hit, clothes on a line, agreement, thief/burglar/theft, a present, at a crossroads, shouting, a magic wand, and a padlock.

To read the story I wrote from this, “Resolve,” click here. (Or hover your cursor over Story Book Challenge then click on “Resolve.”)

I’m almost afraid to see what Week 5 will bring.

Enjoy, and, please, leave a comment about what you liked or didn’t like. How else will I learn? ;-D