As Dr. Frankenstein cried when lightning brought his creation to life, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”
On the stroke of midnight, May 26, 2017, A War of Deception began downloading to those who had pre-ordered it for their Kindles. And I’m giddy with excitement. And nerves because the launch day has only just begun.
First, a lunch with several of my writer peeps, then pick up the cake for the book launch. Get home, change, go to Black Swan Books in Staunton to set-up, and hope that people, you know, show up.
A War of Deception began as a 2010 NaNoWriMo project. I had been retired from federal service for a year but hadn’t done much writing, the whole reason for my retirement. I was determined to have a viable rough draft of a manuscript, one worth rewriting and prepping for an agent search, at the end of that thirty days. The result was The Game, a story about a Russian mole in the FBI.
I put it aside for several months, as I do all my NaNoWriMo projects, and picked it back up in 2011. Boy, did it need work. That was rewrite number one.
Next, I sent it to some beta readers, who had comments, lots of comments. Rewrite number two.
Third, it went to a critique group, who also had comments and suggestions. Rewrite number three.
I queried a couple of agents and small presses and got feedback like, “You entitled a chapter, ‘Threshold. It should have been The Threshold.'”
I hired a professional editor, who found the holes I knew were there but couldn’t see, and along came the fourth and final rewrite.
At this point I decided to forego the agent/small press thing. I’d followed all the steps a traditional publisher would do, and so decided I would publish the novel, now entitled A War of Deception (based on a line of dialogue), under my own imprint.
Still, there was having it professionally proof-read, proving once and for all I’m the world’s worst typist, sending Author Review Copies (ARC) out for blurbs, and beginning the formatting process.
In between all these steps was purchasing a professionally designed cover, deciding on fonts, writing the back cover copy, creating a full cover (front, back, spine).
The formatting process was as easy as it could be using a Word template. (I’m likely too old to learn InDesign.) However, my OCD tendencies raged because I didn’t want widows or orphans at the end of lines and paragraphs, and on facing left and right pages, I wanted the last line on each page to be as closely aligned as possible. Try doing that on 407 pages of copy. And making sure every chapter started on an odd page, sometimes requiring inserting a page break, which often threw the entire file’s alignment off.
The formatting experience was good, in that I now have experience at doing this sort of thing, and that will enable to me to communicate well with the professional formatter I hire for my next book. It’s a been-there, done-that thing that I don’t want to repeat for the sake of my sanity.
Then, there was selecting a launch date, finding a venue for the book launch, and marketing. Lots and lots of marketing, something I have no experience with whatsoever. So, I did what I’m good at: I hired a professional to show me how it’s done.
In the midst of all this activity of the past six months, I had a serious health issue. Nothing life-threatening but certainly life-altering and fixable with surgery. I explained to my doctor that the book was going to come first, that this was something I had worked for almost my entire life, and I was going to experience it and enjoy it before surgery. He agreed that though the procedure was necessary, it wasn’t urgent. Still it cast a pall over what is undeniably one of the happiest times of my life.
And here we are.
Look for yourself.
For me, a momentous day. My first novel, dedicated to my father, who told me I could do whatever I aspired to do and to not let anyone stop me, and who I miss every day of my life.
Here it is, Dad. Thanks.
If you want one…
Kindle version: http://bit.ly/AWoDKindle
How Many Writers Does it Take…
I’ll be in wonderful author company on Saturday, February 11, 2017, when six of us are featured on an author panel entitled, “Love to Write, Write to Love.” The event takes place at the Massanutten Regional Library, 174 S. Main St., Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm. We’ll discuss our love of writing and our various paths to publication. After Q&A from the audience, we’ll be selling and signing our books.
The event is free to the public–gotta love those public libraries–and if you’re in the Harrisonburg, Virginia, area, here’s your chance to meet some great authors.
Who are These People?
I’m privileged to know everyone on the panel and have read their work–except for Taryn Kloeden, but that’s because her book won’t be published until spring.
Mollie Cox Bryan is the author of cookbooks, historical fiction, romance, and cozy mysteries. I write historical thrillers and speculative fiction. Taryn Kloeden writes dark fantasy. Margaret Locke is a romance novelist extraordinaire–she has to be to get me to read romance! Judith Lucci is an award-winning author of mysteries with a medical backdrop. Tamara Shoemaker writes incredibly visual YA fantasy–and dragons.
Stop by and See Us
This should be a great event. Writers talking about writing. Doesn’t get much better than that! Come hear what we have to say. Who knows? Something one of us says might get you started on your first novel!
How I Got Started
The Big Mo Builds
That first year after retirement, nothing got published. I remembered how much I disliked those rejection notifications, but I kept at it. First came a story in a start-up lit mag; then, another. Publication in an anthology. Placing well in a contest. Another anthology. More lit mags. Another contest.
In between were agent rejections, self-publishing some short story collections, small publisher rejections, and a few more agent rejections.
Still, all this has made me feel I’m on the edge of something I’ve wanted my whole life, something that’s about to happen. I’ve always said if I could simply get my stories in people’s hands they would find something to like about them, that they would want more.
In the midst of all this, I stopped being the writer others said I should be and became the writer I’m supposed to be.
Why do I Write?
Because it lets me be vulnerable and forces me to be authentic.
What more can you ask of life?
Despite all the studies otherwise, I rarely buy a book based on its cover art. The back cover blurb, plus a scan of several pages, is what sells me. I find many covers appear contrived or unrelated to the interior, that esthetics won out over a connection to the story.
As a result, my own covers have been minimalist. I prefer eye-catching, solid-color covers with simple, if any, graphics. I’m sure you’ll recognize these:
Then, I attended the Hampton Roads Writers Conference back in September and got quite a few statistics about how covers sell a book. Even a writer friend said to me, “I’ve been meaning to speak to you about your covers.” [Eye roll]
So, for my second novella, to be released on December 1, by the way, I decided to go non-minimalist. And here’s the cover reveal for the new novella, The Yellow Scarf, courtesy of selfpubbookcovers.com (Check them out; very reasonably priced.):
When I saw this cover on the web site, I recalled the final line of the novella:
“The bar’s rear exit led him to the deserted street, where the cold air cleared the last of the liquor from his head.”
With the yellowish/sepia tones on the cover, I couldn’t have found a more perfect fit. Even the outfit the man on the cover is wearing is very reminiscent of the character in the novella he represents. When the proof arrived and I saw the cover on an actual book, I remembered how I felt when my first book came out more than a decade ago and I saw the cover the publisher had designed. It’s as if your story has come to life, is tangible. The image formerly only in your head is there for all the world to see.
I don’t know if this cover will make a difference in how many copies are sold, but, actually, I don’t care because I love it.
I guess we’ll find out on December 1.
To read part one click here.
You send a story out into the world, and it gets published. Most of the time you hear nothing more about it, except perhaps for friends who go read it. On February 1, in email I got my copy of the on-line magazine my story, “Dreamtime,” appeared in, and the link to see it on-line. Normally, I’d update my author website with the link to the story, but I was still on the recovery side of a bout of flu. A few days won’t matter, I thought; I’ll get around to it. Turns out I was prescient.
A day later, I received an email from the editor of the on-line magazine indicating there had been some negative comments about the story. Literary critique, I asked? No, some readers found it offensive. How so, I asked? I got a vague reply about offensiveness and an indication the magazine’s editorial staff were considering what to do about it. The editor provided me a link if I wanted to see the comments.
I considered it, but I also didn’t want to get into a social media rant over my writing. No, I responded, I really didn’t want to see the comments. If they were literary critiques about style or story structure, summarize them, and send them to me. No reply.
Trolls and Fake Reviewers
I follow the author Anne Rice on Facebook. She is the rare famous author who will engage with people who follow her. She is adamant about commenters on her posts remaining civil and that she will block anyone who is vindictive or rude. She has also taken on people on Amazon and Goodreads who call themselves reviewers but whose sole purpose seem to be to cut down writers they decide they don’t like.
I’d had one negative review of my collection of short stories, Spy Flash. The reviewer indicated that he or she thought it was a novel but was disappointed to discover it was “just a collection of short stories.” All the information on the book clearly indicates it’s a collection of short stories, so when it became obvious this person hadn’t bothered to read the book, I let it go and didn’t reply. That was mild compared to some things I’ve seen on Amazon and Goodreads–questioning the author’s intelligence, whether the author’s parents were married when the author was born, and worse. Anne Rice is determined to shut these trolls down by pressuring both Amazon and Goodreads to police reviews better.
I had given her issue only passing attention. It didn’t affect me, so why get riled up over people being rude on social media. Happens all the time. I’ve personally pushed the boundaries of rudeness, but I’ve never posted false accusations or personal attacks. (Well, some right-wingers might disagree, but if so, my work is done.) Now, I felt as if I understood what Anne Rice was talking about.
I would never have known I’d been unpublished unless a friend had gone to the on-line magazine’s website to read my story and couldn’t find it. So, I looked. Sure enough, it was gone–no indication in the table of contents, no explanation on the web site. It was as if my story had never existed.
I emailed the editor, who did respond promptly to say it was a “difficult decision” to unpublish the story, but that the number of people who were offended had grown, and the editorial staff felt it had no choice. I again asked for clarification about what was offensive in the story and received a reply indicating that when art deliberately offends it is sending a message; but when art inadvertently offends it shouldn’t be displayed. Again, I requested specifics and got something, but not enough.
Because my story involved a didgeridoo, which is a musical instrument native to aboriginal people of Australia, the assumption was that my narrator was an aboriginal. The Australian Arts Council, so I was informed, has protocols that only aboriginal people or non-aboriginals who have obtained permission from aboriginal people can write about aboriginal people. A caucasian Australian objected to the story on that basis.
Two other writer friends went to the on-line magazine’s Facebook page and looked at the comments there. Most were positive, and indeed people I didn’t know came to my defense in light of what turned out to be a single person’s criticism. I haven’t looked at the comments. I can’t. Though my author’s skin has thickened to constructive criticism, it would do me no good to read the kind of negative comments my friends indicated were there.
The Australia Arts Council Protocols
This organization, which only has effect in Australia, does indeed have a nearly 50-page booklet entitled, “Protocols for Working with Indigenous Artists.” It has a section on writing and does indicate that if you, as a non-aboriginal, are going to tell the story of the aboriginal people of Australia, you should work with aboriginal people to assure accuracy. You should also use aboriginal language to describe cultural aspects. So, by titling my story, “Dreamtime,” which is a western term for a complex aboriginal religious ritual, I was in violation of those protocols.
Except, of course, they don’t apply to me because the Australian Art Council, which is not a regulatory body, has no jurisdiction over my little plot of central Virginia.
I did, however, download and read cover-to-cover those protocols. I believe those protocols have a place in Australia, where the indigenous people’s’ history, culture, and art were in danger of eradication by non-indigenous people who disparaged them because of racial prejudice.
Precisely what my story was about.
So, I’m glad that Australia now seeks to protect the art and culture of its aboriginal people, but, again, those protocols have no license over anyone outside Australia. Now, I’m not saying non-Australians are free to disrespect the Australian indigenous people. If a non-Australian writer did that (or an Australian writer for that matter), I’d be the first to denounce them.
My story revealed the narrator’s feeling of being an outsider at work, of his (or her) face being the only dark one there, how his (or her) co-workers wouldn’t understand why he went walkabout, how he’d overheard them calling him (or her) a derogatory term used by non-indigenous Australians. My story intended to honor the indigenous people’s struggle to be accepted, but it wasn’t perceived that way by at least one person and a few followers of that person’s blog.
For the most part of two days, I questioned my entire existence as a writer. I’ve fought injustice, discrimination, sexism, et.al., with my words and my actions. To be accused of “inadvertently” offending a whole race of people is shattering.
I did fight back. Though it was obvious the editorial staff of the magazine wouldn’t change its collective mind, I had to make a point. A novel I’ve written, which is at the rough draft stage, features a transgender character. I’m a straight female who identifies as such; however, I’m straight but not narrow, as the meme goes. I pointed out to the editor that based on her (or his) logic about my story, I shouldn’t be allowed to write about a transgender character. That and my point about “unpublishing’s” effect on creativity went unacknowledged.
However, I insisted the publication rights for the story be returned to me, and they were. I instructed the editor to keep the check (Yes, I was going to be paid for the story.) and to cancel my complimentary subscription to the magazine. Small protests, yes, but sometimes it’s the principle of the thing.
So, why not publish the story right here, so you can decide for yourselves? Since I have the publishing rights back, it’s my intent to submit it somewhere else, to a magazine whose editorial staff has a spine and stands up for its authors.
Click here to read my story, “Dragon Descending,” just published by Prime Number Magazine.
Today, I could have played a major April Fools joke on the rest of you by “announcing” that I’d just been offered a six-figure advance and a multiple-book contract from one of the “Big Six.” I could have, but I won’t because it’s likely the joke would be on me. So, no advance, no book contract; just constant editing and revising and hoping.
I get frustrated at times with the lack of new material I’m producing. I retired to have more time to write, and I have written more and more constantly than before I retired; but it seems at times that I do more re-writing than writing.
No difference, you say. Writing is writing. True, but I miss the mad rush of researching and drafting that comes with a whole new project. Granted, I participate in National Novel Writing Month every November, which means I have created five, original manuscripts in five years.
The first one was a semi-autobiographical piece, which, after re-reading it, I realized was 200+ pages of self-indulgent whining. It has, however, been a good source of short stories.
The second one I have edited, revised, and re-written to the point where it’s as ready as it will ever be for pitching to possible agents.
For the third one, I took a risk and killed off one of my characters, a bold move that turned out fairly well. It also helped me face the loss of my long-term relationship and address the emotions that involved; however, the character wasn’t ready to die and told me so. The good news is, I’m meshing this manuscript with another one I developed shortly after the events of September 11, 2001. So, all is not lost.
The fourth one is one that I really enjoyed writing. It’s the closest thing to a sci-fi novel I’ve ever written–a story about a dire future after the Tea Party takes over the government. Dark and political, it was a rough draft I was very proud of, and, in fact, the first 5,000 words I submitted for critique in last year’s Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop. The reception it received was awesome. (It helps that the workshop instructor, Pinckney Benedict, is a fan of dystopian fiction.) Then, I re-read Margaret Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale, for a book club and went, “Oops.” It had been two decades almost since I first read The Handmaid’s Tale, but apparently I channeled Atwood when I wrote my manuscript. (Channeling Atwood could be a good thing.) However, since it got such good feedback, it’s definitely something to work on.
The fifth one, last year, was a completely different work for me, a straight-up literary fiction novel that intersects an event in a small town during World War II with an event in the same town in present day. The protagonist is a successful romance writer married to a not-so-successful novelist, and all is just lovely until they find the bones of a baby in the wall of a room they’re renovating. I always put a NaNoWriMo draft aside for six months before I start revising, so next month is when I’ll pull it out and start polishing it.
So, what am I whining about? Well, after an amazing amount of creativity in the late 1990s and early 2000s wherein I dashed out six novel-length manuscripts featuring my two favorite spies, Mai Fisher and Alexei Bukharin, as they work for the fictional United Nations Intelligence Directorate, I haven’t produced a new novel featuring them since 2002. Yes, I’ve been revising and re-writing all those original manuscripts, but I’ve missed creating a new adventure for them. I have been writing short stories featuring them (Spy Flash, published in December 2012), but aside from that, Mai and Alexei walked away from a mission in 2001; and we’ve heard nothing from them since.
You’ve written all you can about them, you might say. No, I feel they have a lot of adventures in them, and I’ve made notes about those adventures. Merely, focusing on improving my craft and establishing a bit of a name for myself as a flash fiction writer has become my immediate focus.
That’s why I need that multiple-book contract, publishers. I’ve always been well-motivated by deadlines, so take a chance. Tell me you want three books, four, or five, and I’ll get right on them.
Don’t forget, this is National Poetry Month. Take a break from fantasy or cozy mysteries and read a poet you’ve never read before.
This, the first full week of the new year, I go down a new path on the journey to publication–querying an agent. Yes, I hyperventilate a bit at the thought.
Well more than a decade ago, I thought I had a manuscript in good enough shape to query agents. Armed with my copy of Writer’s Digest’s guide to literary agents, I made a careful selection of about ten who accepted work in my genre (historical thriller), who would look at the work of unpublished authors, and whatever other criteria I thought would make us a good match.
Since these were the days before electronic submissions and Submitable, I dutifully made ten copies of the first thirty pages of the manuscript, and I wrote a query letter (based on samples I’d seen in Writer’s Digest and other writing magazines) individual to each prospective agent. I prepared ten self-addressed, stamped envelopes with the correct postage and ten envelopes for each query package, again with the correct postage. The clerks at the Kingstowne, VA, Post Office got to know me well.
The now-ex and I spent a Saturday morning stuffing said envelopes, and we were rather giddy as we trekked to the Post Office and dropped them in the mail box. The now-ex was always very supportive of my writing–seeing as how a lot of my non-fiction had bolstered his career a few times–but he was also good at bringing me down to earth when I needed it. “Don’t expect an answer from anyone on Monday, or Wednesday, or Friday,” he said. “You said yourself, these things take time.”
Good advice, which, of course, I ignored when I eagerly checked my mail box upon returning home from work each day. I think it took about two weeks for the first reply to come in–of course, blah, blah, be happy to represent you, blah, blah, blah, for a fee.
I was a novice in the getting fiction published market at that point but not so ignorant to know that agents who expect fees up front are not being ethical. I went back to the literary agent “bible,” and this particular company did not indicate that it wanted an up-front fee. I tossed the response and considered it a rejection.
Of the ten queries I sent out, I got responses from six, all rejections. Of them, only two used the SASE to return the manuscript sample. Those two arrived within a day of each other, each with a hand-scribbled “No Thanks” at the top of the page. Both had a note: one said, “Like your writing, hate the concept,” and the other said, “Love the concept, dislike your writing.” Helpful. Not.
That exercise was so ego-bending–but necessary–that it put me off querying until now. However, I look back on it and realize it happened just the way it should have. That manuscript was in no way ready for anyone’s consideration and, in fact, has gone through so many revisions and reorganizations it’s unrecognizable as the draft I thought was a gem.
Time passes, I’ve educated myself better about the querying process, and now it’s time to try again. I have, however, been to enough agent panels at writing conferences to know it’s all subjective. It all depends on the agent’s mood on a particular day, whether he or she has had a fight with a spouse or child, whether he or she has had a spate of great queries or horrible ones, and many other conditions the writer has no way of knowing.
In other words, it’s a crap shoot. An agent described it that way at a “First Pages” workshop I attended last year, and it was a relief that an agent was so honest about the process.
So, why bother? Well, because I want to give traditional publishing a good chance before I go completely over to what some would characterize as the dark side of publishing. I have published on my own three collections of short stories, mainly because I know querying a collection of short stories, and in particular genre short stories, is almost a guaranteed rejection. My novels, however, are a different matter. I want to give them a try at traditional publishing.
This year, then, will be the year of the Query Letter. I’m not going to do a ten-agent blast mailing this time, mainly because most queries are now electronic, but I am going to do a lot of careful research and select two or three at a time to query. And this time, I do have a manuscript, which has gone through two revisions and my critique group, in really good shape. It’s not the one from all those years ago, which morphed into a trilogy (I know; yikes), but it’s one I’m proud of and willing to toss into the consideration pool.
You won’t ever win the pot unless you roll the dice.