Please mark February 10 on you calendars! I’m hoping you can join us for an upcoming reading and discussion of my novel Arborview. It’s a virtual event, so there won’t be any safety concerns.
The hosting library does a terrific job supporting the local literary community, and there is always a great turnout. Here’s all the pertinent info from organizer Kate Farrish:
If you’re a fan of fascinating female characters and graceful writing, you’re going to want to read Arborview, Karen Guzman’s second novel, and hear her discuss it Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. on Zoom.
The Tolland Public Library Foundation is sponsoring the free talk as part of its long-running Eaton-Dimock-King Author Series. In the novel, Guzman, a former Hartford Courant reporter, recounts the tale of two women who face hidden betrayals by the people they love most trying to start new chapters in their lives.
“Told with Karen Guzman’s trademark compassion, Arborview is the book we need right now: poignant, hopeful, and full of heart,” says New York Times bestselling author Michelle Richmond.
To register for the talk, visit tolland.org/library, scroll down to the Online Events calendar, click on it and navigate to Feb. 10 for the Karen Guzman event. Those who have registered ahead of time will receive the Zoom link by email.
The road to publication took debut author Belinda Scott from a love of reading to writing advanced review copy critiques to, finally, penning her own story. The moral? Follow that dream, even when the path is long and uncertain.
Please welcome Belinda, more formerly known as “Elisabeth,” to Write Despite.
Thank you, Karen, for having me on your blog. I’m really excited to be here. Honestly, it makes me feel like a “real” author. Sometimes I still find it hard to believe I actually wrote a novel. I have been a homeschool mom for the last decade and was a substance abuse counselor before that. I don’t think I’m exactly in the ballpark of what most people think about when they hear the term author—actually, I’m not even what I think about when I hear the word author—yet here I am.
My path to becoming an author started out with just a love of reading. As a child and teen, our small-town library couldn’t keep up with me. Every week I’d walk out with a stack of books until eventually I’d struggle to find anything I hadn’t read. Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden were my favorites and sparked my love of mysteries and danger.
As an adult, I continued to read at the rate of almost a novel per day, and the cost of my reading habit began to rival the car payment. Well, not exactly, but it was expensive. Thankfully, I found an online site that linked reviewers with authors and publishers who needed advance readers. My world opened up, as I found so many new and interesting authors, and my book shortages were no more. I was happy, and my budget was, too.
Through writing reviews, I began to interact with authors and receive personal requests to review new books. I joined ARC teams and eventually was asked to become a beta reader for an independent author. She and I became friends over the course of several novels, and I eventually ended up becoming her amateur content editor. Working with her was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. Editing spicy scenes can certainly lead to some hilariously inappropriate conversations.
My friend encouraged me to pursue my dream of writing my own novel, and when the pandemic caused us all to be shut away with nothing else to do, I gave it a try. Twelve weeks later, Thirteen Scars was born. I started out by sending a query, synopsis, and sample to my top seven publishers. Two sent rejection letters, but then my editor with The Wild Rose Press contacted me asking for a bigger sample and eventually the whole manuscript. A contract followed, and this week I was given my official release date: July 7, 2021.
I am a classic example of how following your dreams can lead you to some surprising places. I had no budget, no connections, and no real knowledge of what I was doing. All I had was an outdated computer and a dream. I never expected to have a published book or to be halfway through writing a second, so for those of you who are still dreaming, I say stop making excuses and start making plans. Tackle those dreams and see where they take you!
Breaking into the publishing business is no small feat. Perseverance and strategy are key, but video games—of all things—can offer unexpected insight, as Steven J. Kolbe discovered. Steven’s debut novel, How Everything Turns Away, is forthcoming from The Wild Rose Press. Please welcome Steven to Write Despite. Find him on Instagram @stevenjkolbe.
Some years ago, I became rather discouraged about my writing life. I read voraciously, wrote even more voraciously, and even chose creative writing as my college major. While I published a poem in high school and an interview with a U.S. poet laureate my freshman year of college, my accomplishments dwindled from there. A few years out of college, I began to doubt if this writing thing was going to happen.
Then my wife Susan did me a great favor. She convinced me to get a Wii. Now, I am not a gaming person. I played video games as a kid, but quickly my interests diverged. By middle school, I only played one if a friend really wanted to play—and then they would beat me miserably, of course.
However, as an adult, it was fun to return to the old world of Mario and Luigi, this time with fancy motion-sensor remotes. Around this same time, my friend Geoff, a New Orleans poet, introduced me to a website called Duotrope. This website catalogues different literary journals and magazines. It organizes them by genre, print or online, pay, and, most importantly, acceptance rates. Immediately, I realized my error. All the journals I’d been submitting to had less-than one percent acceptance rates.
I had a revelation: What if I approached my writing career the same way one approaches a video game—not with the hardest level first, but the easiest? Looking through Duotrope and thinking about Mario Brothers, I had a paradigm shift. I decided to send my recent stories to journals with only high acceptance rates. It worked. I placed nearly all of them within a few months. After that, I took on slightly more selective journals, and so on.
When it came to finding a home for my debut mystery novel, How Everything Turns Away, I checked out a copy of Writer’s Market. I chose a wide variety of agencies and publishers to send my manuscript to. In this way, I found The Wild Rose Press, an independent publisher with a wide range of authors and a stellar reputation. I began working with Kaycee John, who has been a lifesaver for my manuscript. She gave me copious notes on my sample chapters and has been working with me over the last year to take How Everything Turns Away from a manuscript to a novel.
Today we have a guest blogger. Please welcome novelist D.V. Stone. Her new novel, Jazz House, will be published in 2021.
D.V. has dabbled in many genres and published a slew of books. She’s got good advice including some seasonally appropriate editorial wisdom learned from a holly bush.
I’m what is referred to as a ‘Hybrid’ author. This means my books are both traditionally and independently published. I’ve published work across multiple genres. But whatever story I’m telling, my goal is always the same: to bring hope to the reader.
The authors and genres I’ve enjoyed over the years have, by turn, made me laugh or cry, or pushed me to the edge of my seat. In this spirit, I hope to do the same. I want my readers to sit and laugh, cry, scream, or just quietly contemplate.
So, what have I learned about writing and publishing over the years?
Perseverance and patience are critical. People ask all the time, “When is your book coming out?” Writing is a long process for me. I still work full-time outside the home in a medical office. There is a countdown app in my phone ticking off the days until retirement. I have so many ideas and parts of manuscripts waiting—especially one, in particular, begging me to finish.
Disappointment and rejection happen. The submission process can be a blow to your ego. You start out with stars in your eyes because you think you have something great. Then the first rejection comes. Then the second. And so on. You’ve got to learn to roll with it. It’s all part of the process.
Criticism and critique are important. Learn what you can from criticism and let the rest go. Don’t be a mule. If multiple people tell you the same thing about a sentence, structure, plot hole, or point of view issue, take a step back and really look at what you’ve got.
Editing and change are often frustrating and tedious, but they either make or break your book. There is so much to learn/know. Sometimes painful decisions need to be made. Characters you love may need to change. Sometimes vastly. Whole sections may need to be eliminated.
I love sharing this story about my husband, Pete. It’s an apt metaphor for the editing and publishing process.
Pete has a love-hate relationship with a holly bush in front of our house. For years he’s tried trimming it to keep it under control, but the bush seems to have a will of its own. One day Pete had had enough. Grabbing a saw, he dropped to the ground and cut it down.
Funny thing, a couple of weeks later, green started sprouting from the stump.
Editing a novel is like pruning a tree or a bush. In that initial rush of emotion, words pour over the page. Cohesion and logic take a back seat to growth. But once you take a step back, the delete key becomes your surgical scalpel, and critique partners, your nurses.
Sometimes my work is overwrought, and drastic steps need to be taken. Characters and scenes become casualties of the delete button. But the good thing is, if you have interesting characters, and are willing to listen and make the tough choices, your work can bloom beautifully.
Pete now carefully trims the bush to keep it from becoming the overpowering entity it once was. Not only is the holly healthier, so are the plants around it.
So, there’s a lot of writing advice available today. Just ask Google. We’ve mentioned various books and blogs on Write Despite, from time to time. But you know what they say about advice…
There is good stuff out there, plenty of it. Not all of it will speak to you, of course, and you’ve got to be careful who you listen to. But I came across this in my online travels and figured that candid tips from winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature can only shed light on the intricacies of the difficult process we all undertake when we write fiction. Whether you’re a newbie or the winner of many a hallowed award. Thanks to fine folks at nownovel.com
Okay, truth in advertising: My publisher sponsors the Possibilities Publishing Conference, held each year at the lovely historic Clark House in Falls Church, Virginia. So yeah, I’m not unbiased. I attended the kickoff conference last year and was super impressed with the sessions, the media room, the photographer and video offerings, and so much more.
This year I honestly went expecting it not to live up to the previous one. I mean, seriously, I felt like there was no way this little event—focused less on writing itself and more on getting your writing seen and read—could pack such power again.
I was SO wrong. Starting with the first session, Maggy Sterner, part branding maven, part life coach, part therapist, all business-savvy bulldog, handed participants a shovel (you know, metaphorically) and taught them to dig deep to find out what they and their writing are truly about. They dug, and unearthed what they didn’t even know they had, or needed, to build a distinct brand. There were tears, people. I mean it was that powerful and that effective.
Do you know the difference between an Instagram post, story, or highlight? Do you know how to best use Pinterest to promote your book—how to get the most from Facebook and Twitter, and how LinkedIn fits into it all? Children’s book author Lindsay Barry knows, and she has nearly 25,000 Instagram followers to prove it. Now Poss Pub’s biggest-selling author, Lindsay led attendees on an edge-of-their seats journey into all things social media. And man does she know how to sell. Her session ran long. Because questions. So many. And discussions, and aha moments, and all of it in breathless huffs because people were so fired up about this topic they couldn’t get enough. It could have gone on for days.
“The Truth Behind the Media” offered another deep dive into an author’s work and how it can be promoted through television, magazines, newspapers, and radio. Media booker Katie Riess took participants into the minds of journalists who can either choose to spotlight a writer’s work or not give it a second glance. What an author is thinking vs. what a media person is thinking are worlds apart, and she was able to map out the differences to help attendees pinpoint best practices for pitching their stories.
And more besides, including author Laura Di Franco, who led an inspiring workshop on building your author platform through blogging, and writer and publisher Keith Shovlin, who helped attendees learn to share their work with the world through podcasting.
The “Author Marketing Mastermind” session gave authors the chance to brainstorm marketing ideas with several of the above experts in a lively, yet intimate group setting. Participants received one-on-one attention and support to meet their goals, and were even provided with a second video meeting a month later to check in on their progress and receive additional feedback.
Between sessions, authors were encouraged to take selfies of themselves and their books in the Instagram Inspiration Room, which offered a lightbox and an abundance of props and decorations. And new this year was a podcast offering, where authors were interviewed about themselves and their work and walked away with professional podcasts for their own use.
Oh, and here are a couple of new resources I learned about while I was there. And you’re very welcome:
HARO, a.k.a., Help a Reporter Out, is a massive database that connects journalists with media sources and helps them pitch their stories.
Autocrit is an editing tool that helps you fine-tune your manuscript by analyzing your words and pointing out flaws, like poor dialogue, use of adverbs, repetitive words and phrases, and clichés. At only $10 for one month’s use, I can’t wait to try this one out.
At the day’s end, I heard so many people commenting on how much they’d gotten from this event, and every one of them said something to the effect of :
“You have GOT to tell more people about this.”
So—you’ve been told. Mark it down for next year (likely in early May), and tell your fellow writers. You won’t be disappointed!
Last week I was lucky enough to attend a fantastic workshop at the Writers in Progress studio in beautiful Florence, Massachusetts. Led by author Jacqueline Sheehan, the workshop was called “Getting Close to Your Characters.”
Anyone who’s struggled with bringing characters and their motivations (real and hidden) to life knows what we’re talking about. It ain’t easy.
The studio described the challenge this way:
One of the main reasons why readers read is to slip inside the skin of another person. The most memorable characters are those we feel closest to: the ones whose feelings we feel and whose lives we experience…. But how do writers accomplish this intimacy while thinking about so many other things, like plot and pacing and character development?
Jacqueline keeps her workshops grounded in exercises and techniques that writers can immediately put to use. In fact, I went home and did exactly that in my novel draft.
We delved into point-of-view, motivation, physical setting, and verb tense as conduits to create intimacy between character and reader. I can’t put down all the good stuff I soaked up, but here are a few gems that REALLY struck me.
Characters need STRONG and CLEAR motivations in order to engage readers. Ratchet up the intensity of their desire. One common complaint among literary agents, Jacqueline says, is characters that are too PASSIVE.
So, the question becomes how we skillfully develop characters to SHOW the intensity of their motivation, and by extension, who they really are. Some techniques to get you there:
Engage the senses, make reading experiential. Sight, sound, and touch are of course important, but don’t forget the other sense. Smelling what a character smells, or tasting, gets the reader up personal and inside what the character is experiencing. Scent especially is a very primal sense, evoking memories and states of mind in an instant.
Let characters be vulnerable to pain. “Being stoic is not going to work,” as Jacqueline puts it. Show the reader how they react to fear, betrayal, abandonment, loss. “It’s very revealing how we respond to those hard things,” says Jacqueline, who, by the way, is also a psychologist. “Your core is revealed.” Help readers feel what your characters feel and they’ll go along for the ride.
Use powerful verbs! Brain imaging has shown that when you watch someone doing active things, the same part of your brain lights up as the person doing the action. So, if they leap, you take a mental leap. The same holds true for readers. So, don’t breathe heavily, pant or gasp or instead.
Use actions, not thoughts, to bring readers into a character’s mind. Watching someone throw a punch or flip the finger in traffic is a more telling display of their emotional state than saying their angry, even if they’re “quaking with angry.”
A good tip—use verbs that are associated with sex; they’re already sensual and evocative!
Panelists gave attendees all the tools they need to create a brand, give great interviews, effectively launch a book, and market themselves on social media. It even featured a media lounge where authors could take head shots with a professional photographer and create a video focusing on themselves and their work.
Oh, and my favorite part? The Instagram Photo Booth that offered up a professional light box and a supply of backgrounds and props so you could take social media pictures of your book. As you can see, I had some fun with this one.
Why has no one come up with these grand ideas before?
Well, maybe they have, but not that I’ve heard of.
There were also a couple of sessions on getting published—tips on self-publishing, and advice from independent publishers on what they look for when considering a manuscript.
Just for fun, the Improv Imps led a group of introverted writers through an interactive workshop to help them loosen up in front of an audience.
And check this out: Penguin Bean Designs. Oh man, I love this company. They will reproduce, even create, pretty much any design you like on a t-shirt, hoodie, tote bag, wine sack, tea towel, pillowcase, you name it. I’m getting my book cover reproduced on a tote bag for a mere $25 (based on author Lindsay Barry’s cool tote here).
All of it took place at the gorgeous Clark House in Falls Church, Virginia, and included a pancake breakfast, lunch, two snacks (we’re talking cookies fresh from the oven, you guys), and a “sip and swap” wine and cheese closeout reception where attendees could mingle and trade books.
Next year’s conference is sure to be bigger, better, and even more innovative. Keep an eye out for it by following Possibilities Publishing online. Until then, here are the best tips and quotes I collected while I was there:
On launching your book:
Create a book launch team. Strive to recruit at least 100 people who will support you in your launch by reading, reviewing, and promoting your book. This can take as little as 5 or 10 minutes a week, and in return they get advance copies of your book, return reviews for their book, etc. And the results? Session presenter Jen Hemphil, author of Her Money Matters, saw 1863 copies of her book downloaded and sold in her first month (compared to about 200 for most self-pubbed books.)
Why do we connect with a brand? Brand strategist Rebecca Gunter says it’s largely trust, quality, an inviting feel. Why do we not connect? It doesn’t align with our values, it feels yucky or false. Branding is all about feelings. How do you want readers to feel when they see your brand?
Author and holistic healer Laura Di Franco suggests you write down five reasons you don’t promote your book. Then ask, if there were no one on earth to disappoint, how would you promote it? Give five endings to the statement “My story matters because ______.”
If you do nothing else, create a signature with your book info for use on Amazon, so that when you review things, others will see your book title pop up. (Well, duh. Why am I not doing this?)
On social media:
Jennifer Crawford is owner of Social Media Rescue and Write On Social, which cater specifically to the needs of indie authors. She coached us on how to use Facebook Live as a marketing tool to reach existing fans faster and interact with readers in real time. Nifty tip: Three times more people are watching Facebook Live videos and those that aren’t live.
Use Instagram Live too. These videos last only 24 hours and are great for time-sensitive promotions, sneak peaks, and book “secrets.” And since few people are using this feature for now, it’s a less crowded area that gives you tons of room to be creative with your author brand and narrative. Instagram users in general tend to be highly engaged!
Check out these other presenters and sponsors from the Possibilities Publishing Conference!
Vijal Nathan – Washington Post’s Date Lab writer, stand-up comedienne, interview coach
Ally Machate – book collaborator, editor, publishing consultant
Meredith Maslich – CEO of Possibilities Publishing Company, Thumbkin Prints, Eaton Press
The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference happened a little over a month ago (February 8-11 in Washington, DC), and in addition to all the books, journals, and souvenirs I dragged home, I also took a ton of notes during the sessions and readings, and finally dug them out. Here are some of the best quotes, overheard remarks, and tips, most of them without attribution. Some are true gems, so please enjoy these takeaways from some great conversations about writing and publishing.
Turning Flash Pieces into a Novel, Novella, or Memoir (Panelists: Abigail Beckel, Kelcey Parker Ervick, Lex Williford, Tyrese Coleman, Tara Laskowski)
“Prioritize clarity over adherence to the form.”
“Flash eliminates all the boring parts.”
Try writing flash stories and connecting them together for a novella or novel. This retains the strength of voice and character, and the overall tension of the book will join them and progress the story forward. (Voldemort is the big tension, little problems along the way are the smaller ones.) Tara Laskowski recommends The Desert Places as a great example of a hybrid text novel.
We All Have to Start Somewhere: How Bad Writing Gets Good (Some raw language in this one. Oh, those bawdy writers.) (Panelists: Melissa Stein, Richard Bausch, Tayari Jones, Natalie Diaz, Nick Flynn)
“Fifty Shades of Gray reads like somebody shat it out.”
“Give yourself the freedom to suck.”
“You cannot fuck it up. You can’t ruin it. You can only make it necessary to do it again.”
“Your writing isn’t bad, it’s just off. Like a sweater buttoned the wrong way. Unbutton it. Rebutton it. It’s a perfectly fine sweater.”
Distinguished Editors Panel, featuring Nan Graham, Daniel Halpern, Jonathan Galassi, and Erroll McDonald
“The author/editor relationship is like an arranged marriage.”
“Voice and territory, more than structure, are the criteria by which I judge a book. Structure can be fixed. But you can’t fix writing that’s not fresh, that’s been done before.”
You know a story is done when others you show it to disagree about what needs to be changed. If they’re all telling you a character isn’t strong enough or the pacing is slow, for example, believe them and fix the problems. But if they’re all telling you something different, it’s probably finished.
A Novelist’s Job: The Realities, Joys, and Challenges (Panelists: Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Julia Fierro, Celeste Ng)
Being busy, working, having a job, makes you more productive in your writing.
Do not think about writing a successful book. Just “be true to the work.”
Do social media in an authentic way. Use it as a place of community. If you feed into that world, it will work for you too. Help other writers (with reviews, promotion, comments, etc.) and they’ll help you.
On creating more spaces/avenues for writing to exist: “We’re all fighting hard for a piece of pie, when actually there is no pie. Your job is not to get your piece, but to make more pie.” –Celeste Ng
Also try to post enough to stay connected with people, but don’t make it seem like a sales pitch. Tweet an overheard conversation. Do a daily task, like Ellis Avery who posts a haiku every day. Another writer posts dog pictures (often with a link to his book) every day.
Loose, Faithful, and Literal: Adaptation from Novel to Screen (Panelists: Christine Vachon, Neal Gabler, Magdalene Brandeis, Melissa Bank)
Screenplays make you focus on the narrative—how to bring character and plot into what can be seen and shown.
“In a movie, action is always character.”
One panelist says she tells her students not to call themselves “filmmakers” but “storytellers.” Because there are so many different forms (like streaming services) today to bring stories to life.
A movie is a “jolt,” whereas a TV show is a life. Characters grow incrementally, and that’s a “novelistic sense of life in real time.”
NO screenplay should be more than 110 pages!
By the time the Q&A rolled around, it was apparent everyone listening to this panel was there to ask the same question: How do you get your screenplay seen? Sadly, the answers were pretty vague.
“If you’ve written ‘trash’ like The Godfather, you may be lucky enough that someone will turn it into gold.” —Neal Gabler
Write a two-page summary of why this should be made into a film. Send it to a producer you think would be interested. A 20-something intern will likely read it, and will pass it along (or not) to the producer. Melissa Bank, author of Girls Guide to Hunting & Fishing, sent a story to Zoetrope. They put her in touch with Coppola.
Ask yourself who’s your dream director? Actress? Work on those connections. “I wrote this for you and here’s why.”
“Great works rise to the top. Books come to our attention through coverage, reviews, agencies, recommendations. It just happens.”
Um, yeah. But how do you get your screenplay seen?
“It’s difficult to get things read, and to work with and without an agent. The only sure way to do it is to make the film yourself.”
Kirkus Reviews was recommended as the primary route for movie companies to see synopses of stories that might intrigue them.
Foremothers: Southern Women Writers (Panelists: Charlotte Holmes, Cary Holladay, Lisa Parker, Lisa Roney, Adrienne Su)
A panelist talked about her mother, whose family moved from the south when she was young. The kids in her school couldn’t understand her because of her southern accent, so she stopped talking—for a year. She read books out loud, practicing in her bedroom, until she lost her accent.
One panelist recalled how Lee Smith studied at the Sorbonne and loved to let people there hear her talk. She could see them taking her IQ down about 20 or 30 points as she spoke. Then she would say something that would “take them out at the knees.”
Live outside the world of your past, but find your background. You have to get away from it to look back and find your voice.
The Ten-Year Novel: On why some novels take so long to write, and what writers can do to sustain themselves. (Panelists: Tova Mirvis, Rachel Cantor, Rachel Kadish, Joanna Rakoff, Sari Wilson)
“It’s the persistence that makes you a writer.”
“My sense is that publishing has changed to the point that, a few years ago, an agent might say this book isn’t quite where I want it to be, but I’ll work with the author a year or so and get it there. No more. Books today need to be as finished and polished as possible before they’re ever sent out.”
Such Mean Stories: Women Writers Get Gritty: Women writers of the south talk about “grit lit.” (Panelists: Luanne Smith, Jayne Anne Phillips, Vicki Hendricks, Stephanie Powell Watts, Jill McCorkle)
“If we think about the reader as we’re writing, we’re putting blinders on ourselves as writers.” –Jayne Anne Phillips
“There is true fear about the power of women.” –Watts
“In fiction, I love to have that alter ego character who rises up and defends herself.” –Jill McCorkle
“I’ve probably learned more from my characters than they’ve ever gotten from me.” –Jill McCorkle
On unlikeable characters:
By giving readers the history of unlikeable characters early on, they reveal a life, and it makes the characters human. So even if it doesn’t excuse their actions, it helps readers understand why they are the way they are.
Recommended story: “Lechery” by Jayne Anne Phillips
Technology is your friend. Except, of course, when it isn’t. Who among us hasn’t succumbed to the seductive whisper of Facebook or Twitter when we’re supposed to be writing? The Internet is an incalculably valuable resource in all sorts of ways, but it can also be a hugely wasteful time-suck.
Author Alex M. Pruteanu ran into a different problem when he was writing his early books. Now working on a new novel, Alex has sworn off technology and reverted to pen-and-paper while he cranks out the first draft. The benefits have been surprising.
Please welcome Alex to Write Despite.
Why have you opted for a low-tech approach in writing your new novel?
My new book (which is being read currently by—my unscientific count here—12 publishers, with at least 30+ rejections already in the bag) is called The Sun Eaters, and it would be considered “literary fiction.” It’s not a big book at all—only about 60K words—but I wrote it around my day job and life in general (dad, husband, cook, mixologist, part-time jazz drummer, thief, liar, etc.), so it took nearly two years of fairly consistent work. It’s been making the rounds (read: rejected) with both literary agents and publishers (indie and “biggies”) since June of 2014.
The Sun Eaters is a simple story set just-post WW II in an Eastern European country. The story follows two brothers (14 and 9) as they struggle to survive shortages of food, the brutal winter, and a new politically repressive ideology (communism.) It’s a happy-go-lucky book, as you can tell. But it does have a happy ending. Well, sort of.
After having written and published a novella and a collection of published short stories using all available technology at those times, I thought I’d do the same with The Sun Eaters. By the time I started writing it in 2012, “the cloud” was available as a storage option, so I decided to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, between constantly saving my in-progress manuscript in the cloud, on various laptops, thumb drives, and on a regular ol’ desktop, all to ensure the security of not losing my work, the novel became an additionally huge pain (outside of the regular ol’ pain of just writing it.)
Many times I’d forget to save the newest version on some device or other, so I’d end up with outdated versions on some devices and up-to-date versions on others. Keeping track of things like that cut into my available brainpower, all of which I needed to write my book. When I finished in 2014, I swore I would never ever use a computer for my writing, even short stories or flash.
I am now in the process of writing my second novel, which is tentatively called The Long, Oil-Stained Life of Rosetti. For this go-round, I’ve opted to write it all out by hand, with a #2 pencil, on lined legal pads. Writing by hand slows me down enough to allow me to truly cogitate about the material I’m committing to the paper and not just dump ideas that will later be cut. Now I don’t have to save ongoing manuscript drafts every day onto a dozen different devices. And what I also like about the “old-school” method of writing is that there exists a natural extra editing step when transfer the work, typing it onto a laptop.
How is the process of writing a second novel different than writing a debut?
I think every novel has its own life, its own path, and its own destiny. I think each book dictates to a writer how it should be written. My approach to writing the second one is much different from the first. Besides the whole paper-pencil thing, I’m more loose about working on it and don’t beat myself up at all if I don’t write for sometimes long periods (days or weeks even).
Also for this second book I’m doing something I’ve never done before: I’m writing down notes when I’m not working on it. Because the scope of this one is much greater than the first, I’m finding that I need to jot down on sticky notes ideas as they occur to me throughout the day. I’ve got a folder full of stickies that I often consult before sitting down at a writing session.
I’ve also learned a ton from having written a first novel. The most important thing has been: how to be in the thick of it, as I’m writing it, and still keep a general, subjective eye on the scope of the book. It’s hard for me to convey that—I’m not a teacher or professor and never have wanted to be one—but it’s just something that I can feel. I can feel myself being buried in the minutia of the words and individual ideas, yet somehow able to act like a deity of sorts—a god, really—and keep focus on the scope of the overall novel, as it’s coming together… as I’m weaving it. Does any of this make sense? If it doesn’t just know it’s not you, it’s me. But also know that I know what I’m doing, so buy the damn thing when (if it ever?) comes out. Ha.
Finally, something else that I’m doing differently on the second one: I am reading literature concurrently. With The Sun Eaters, I basically stopped reading anything literary or any type of fiction whatsoever. I found that I didn’t have the time or energy to devote to anything other than my daily life duties and writing the book (usually during very early mornings.)
But now with Rosetti, I’m not just finding that I’m inspired by reading fiction concurrent with my writing, I’m finding that I need to indeed read “big books” with “big themes.” So I’ve been gorging on novels like Bolano’s 2666 and Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost and Melville’s Moby Dick and Dostoevsky’s Demons and Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and Cervantes’s Don Quixote.
There is something truly inspiring to me about books such as these. They are all huge projects with huge scope and huge reputations, and I find that comforting to my own work. These books offer different worlds for me to enter and spend time in, and when I come out of them, I’m ready to create my own, in my own novel. It’s quite inspiring to read this sort of work.
How long had you been writing before you published a piece?
I started writing around age 14 (horribly) and the first thing I ever had published was a very short prose piece called Center St. 2B. It was published in a literary journal (now defunct) out of California, Penn., called Peer-Amid. I was 26 years old. Since then, I’ve been lucky to have some pretty decent success. I’ve published short stories in literary journals such as [PANK], Guernica Magazine, The Stockholm Literary Review of Literature, The Prague Revue, and many others.
Any advice for writers still working for their first “breakthroughs?”
Yes: work. Work, work, work. Don’t get online and say you’re working (#amwriting is the most preposterous hashtag, imo; the epitome of cognitive dissonance for a writer on Twitter using it), or lament you’re not working. Don’t surf through Facebook photos or Twitter feeds because you’re “blocked.” Work. (I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” That’s the biggest load of garbage.)
And stay persistent and focused. Looking at my overall acceptance-to-rejection numbers throughout my career, I’d say about 7% of my stories have been accepted by magazines or journals. That is HUGE. I am lucky. I’d be happy with 2%. I believe 2% is the “standard” acceptance rate for a writer. I’ve been very lucky.
As of now, The Sun Eaters has received at least two dozen literary agents’ rejections and at least 30+ publishers’ rejections. I will never give up trying to find a home for it. Every time a rejection comes in, my mission the next day is to research and find at least two potential publishers to send the book to. Currently I’m looking at foreign houses that tend to publish in the English language. The research is exhausting, but I have no other choice.