Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Exciting Development

I just heard from my publisher today, and after a long discussion with her "team," they've decided to push back the release date from spring '10 to fall '10.  Now, normally I'd be crushed by this news. MORE waiting?  I have to tell people yet again that the book will come out later than I expected?!   But I'm curiously exhilarated, because what she said after the words "fall of 2010" made my heart skip a beat. 

She wants to generate interest in the book.  Pre-publicize it before publication.  She'll send me an image of the book (wheee!), which I'm to place on any-every-thing at whatever-literary-public event I attend. Can do that at the AWP conference! Check!

She said to start the blog.  Check!  I'm way ahead of her.

She said something about serial rights, where magazines like Redbook print excerpts of my novel.  (Really?  I'm thinking. Maybe in Seventeen! I'm starting to feel like a coddled author.) 

She said to make a Christmas List of any place I'd like to be interviewed.  Like on NPR.  What?  What!! Now my heart is pumping hard.  And possibly a television show. Huh? Like Good Morning, Texas?  I start to wonder if they even interview writers.  And why they would possibly do that.

But I toss my skepticism out the window because I'm full of "Wheeee!"  And it feels good.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

AWP, surfing for blurbs, and other calisthenics

Well, I've finally paid my dues for another year's membership with AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) so I can attend the AWP Conference in Denver next spring. Anyone else going? Last year, the conference was in Chicago, where my friend Andrea and I came down with temporary cases of ADHD from the hundreds of options offered to us. Because Andrea had some prior commitments, I found myself scrambling for company come dinnertime (and not always successfully, let me tell you). Here's a picture of a more fortunate dinner arrangement, with my dear friend Andrea Leavey and Bob Butler (we did Asian fusion that evening).

So this year, I'm booking my dinner companions early. If you're attending, and I've never met you, please join Andrea and me sometime for "good eats" at the conference!

What am I doing between then and now? Surfing for blurbs. You know, those little quotes on the dust covers of books: "a phenomenal triumph!" "this year's must-read!" "a debut taken by storm!" followed by a newspaper title, The New Yorker, or Ben Affleck (yes, he really wrote a blurb). None of these blurbs are mine, mind you. You'll see my blurbs come next spring. It feels a little awkward, a bit imposing, and sometimes downright embarrassing to think about the whole prospect of getting a blurb. First, you have to be bold enough to ask someone to read your book. The whole thing. Before Christmas. My mom doesn't even read my books. She just wants the lowdown: "So, in a nutshell, what's your book about?" she says. (I love you, Mom.)

I need about 5 or so from "interesting" or "influential" people. I have a few special endorsements (and I'm truly honored to received them), and now I'm waiting for word about another one from a certain someone here in Dallas. It makes my stomach all gurggly inside as I ruminate over the whole petal-picking scenario:
The reader loves it? (pluck)
The reader loves it not? (pluck)
The reader loves it? (pluck)
I can't bear to go on.

Once the blurbs are gathered and printed, a review copy of the book is bound and sent to the major book reviewers. We'll cross our fingers and hope the blurbs are tempting enough for someone from Publishers Weekly to nestle down with Song of the Orange Moons beside a cozy fire and cup of tea. Or brandy.

I'll keep you posted as we move along the next stage of this adventure ride called publishing!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's the Novel About?

My beloved Creative Writing teacher from high school suggested that perhaps giving people a clue about the novel's storyline might make a little sense.  (She's smart, that Sherry.) The first chapter of the book was published as a short story in Glimmer Train, Issue #51 (I know, my name is spelled wrong.  Such is the life of a writer.  The day I got my first poem published in a poetry journal, I threw open the mailbox lid and feverishly scanned the Contents page, only to find my poem was credited to someone named "Mary Stephens."  I could have cried.)  Song of the Orange Moons is structured like Joy Luck Club, and unfolds as first person narratives in each girl's life-chapter.  So, better late than never, here's a short glimpse of the novel:

The title, Song of the Orange Moons, reflects the lyrical nature of three girls’ stories and alludes to the orange tree where pivotal decisions occur.  This mosaic of stories tracks the intertwined childhoods of two girls and that of their neighbor, a widowed woman.  In spite of their different cultural and economic backgrounds, the three main characters all share the delicate and self-conscious journey to womanhood.  Two young girls from Jewish and Christian families and their elderly widow next door try to find happiness in a seemingly cruel world.  All three search for love and meaning in a variety of places—a charismatic church, a Depression-era orphanage, a moonlit Savannah park,  an orthodox Jewish boarding school—and end up finding lasting strength in the power of their friendships. 

Okay, it doesn't tell much.  But I'll give you more as soon as I know what I can legally give you.  You can always order the Glimmer Train #51 back issue if you want to get a peek into these mysterious girls.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Ball is Rolling

That's what my publisher said: The ball is rolling. For the past six months, I've been sitting on my hands to keep me from pestering her via quirky, impromptu (but carefully crafted) emails. Like the bad trenchcoat guy from The Iron Giant: Hey Scout! Where you going? Whatchyou up to? Hey now! Want to talk? What's up?

Sometimes I toyed with the frightful possibility that she'd lost interest. I worked myself into a fit of doubt one evening, and the only way to get myself out of it was, you know, to do what I should have been doing all along: keep writing the next darned novel. I kept telling myself that she was just busy because she's a publisher. Publishing books. And tonight, she thanked me for my patience, attributing it to my professional background. I felt like dancing.

She's given me a little "to do" list, and I couldn't be more thrilled. What does a novelist with a small press do? Think of all the ways to publicize the upcoming book. It's all about dissemination, getting the book into the hands of the person who will love it. Because let's face it: not all books appeal to the tastes of all people. My book is literary fiction from a small press. Publicity is a tall order for a debut novelist. I wonder if I can rely on the seven degrees of separation. Surely someone I know knows someone who knows someone at Publisher's Weekly...

By the way, if anyone's interested in what a successful fiction book proposal looks like, I can post mine. Now I have to stop blogging and do more research. Anybody know magazines that publish excerpts from novels?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Penning the last word

My status on Facebook was "Lori: just wrote the last word on page 340," but I'm not going to kid myself. It's exhilarating. It's momentous. But it's never the last word when I come to the end of a manuscript. I know in a few weeks I'll be digging through the pages, trying to find the diamonds and polish them up, tossing out the rubbish, and reconsidering altogether the entire last chapter.

There's something unsettling and, frankly, scary about finishing a first draft of a novel. I don't trust my judgment. I don't trust my words. You'd think writing the last page of a novel would be cause for a great celebration, and it will be, sometime in the future. I'm going to be calling my publisher soon, to tell her the good news, but I'm even hesitant to do that. The novel has just been born. There's still afterbirth clinging to its heels. I'm a little protective, still counting its fingers and toes.

I haven't written a post in the blog for over two months because I've been working on finishing the novel. I think my next post will be about the adventures on creating settings, which have thrown me for a few loops on this last novel.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Waiting Game

I had a creative writing professor who taught me a valuable lesson as a grad student:
One day, after receiving the thrilling news that my short story had been accepted by a literary mag, I told said professor (with some measure of pride and swelled chest) about this achievement.
He exhaled a plume of cigarette smoke and said, "So? Old news. What are you writing now? Cause that's all that matters."

His words popped my bubble right quick. But I got the picture. You can be proud of publishing a story, but if you're not already working on or finishing the next story, that bliss doesn't last long. You can't say you're a writer if you're not writing. (Except if you're Cormack McCarthy, who I heard can go for months or years without writing a word.)

My topic is supposed to be "the waiting game." I'm waiting for my first novel to be published. I've been waiting for a year and a half now. Things are coming along at the press, and I knew it would be a while before I could carefully plan to nonchalantly pass my novel at Barnes and Noble and exclaim, "Oh my goodness! What do you know. My book!" to the admiring passersby. So I wait. And occasionally bug my wonderful publisher with a coy email. I guess I might be hoping for a reply from her that says something like, "Hey, we've decided to publish your novel earlier than planned. It's coming out next week!"

So I wait, but because I remember that plume of smoke and that unimpressed drawl, "What are you writing now," I'm trying to slug my way through my next novel. Today I'm on page 223. It's summer vacation, I'm officially off duty at the university, and I should be tearing through the pages in this next manuscript. And some days I do. But every day--EVERY day--my heart is still pining for that first novel. Waiting to see it come of age in public, where it will be praised or excoriated, but there, standing on its own merit, outside the protection of my imagination or will. Now, back to the present, the only thing that really matters.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Getting the Call

I guess this first post should be about getting the call from the publisher who decided that my book would be a perfect fit for her press. I'd been published before--several short stories and poems in various literary magazines--but the only experience I'd had that involved publication and payment with actual money was a few years ago, with a lovely little short story magazine called Glimmer Train. My story, "We Cry for Us," which I'd written in graduate school, won second place (and a heart thumping $1000) in Glimmer Train's Fiction Open.

Fast foward four years and about 40 rejection letters later, and I'm sitting in my tiny office, listening to a woman tell me how gorgeous my story is, how she hopes I'll be able to publish it with her. I've heard about this call. I'd read about the whole novel-breakthrough business in King's On Writing. But it didn't prepare me for the euphoria I felt when I actually got the call.
About that number, 40, above. I didn't send the the entire manuscript out to 40 different publishers. (Frankly, I don't think there are that many publishing houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts anymore.) I did what every serious and ambitious writer does, but most keep as a dirty little secret: I multiply submitted. To be fair, I did inform the editors on my cover letter that the manuscript was, in fact, being submitted to other publishers. And I don't know if that hurt my chances of getting the coveted call. But I tried sending it to one publisher at a time, and I don't care what anyone tells you, you just can't wait 8 months for a faceless agent in New York to hem and haw over whether you're a good "fit" for their line-up without wanting to claw your eyes out.

So, I sent out a blend of cover letters, first chapters, first three chapters, and query letters to 20 small and large presses. I followed their particular instructions in my Little Presses encyclopedia and on their websites. I paid a small fortune in self-addressed stamped envelopes, packed my babies up, and hand-delivered those large manila submissions to the post office. About a year later, I had collected 19 rejection letters, which had been ritualistically three-hole-punched and placed in my Rejection Letter Binder. (Stephen King had warned me that a nail wasn't weighty enough to handle all the rejection letters a writer should expect, so I was prepared.)

I wasn't depressed or even sad. Some of the presses had closed shop before my letter reached them; others, resembling a kind of nepotistic, narcissitic commune, didn't publish "other people's" fiction; still others just didn't feel my story "fit" their needs. I got that. It wasn't until I received rejection #20, accompanied by 3 reviewers' comments that each contained 2 single-spaced pages of pretty harsh criticism, that I plunged into despair. Skipped right over Depression and shelved the manuscript from sight for more than 3 months. It wasn't until my beloved partner urged me gently but persistantly to resubmit, resubmit, resubmit, because this story matters. This story is beautiful. He believed in my writing. I did, finally, resubmit.

Twenty more submissions. Nineteen more letters that said, "Thank you for your recent submission. Unfortunately,..." and "We no longer publish...," sometimes in a form letter, and other times thoughtfully handwritten. I just needed one more letter, and then I could lay to rest my baby while she still had a tiny bit of dignity left. This was my state of mind when I picked up the phone and listened, dumbfounded, to the steady voice on the other end, saying all the things a young writer needs to hear. My heart was thudding. Thudding. When I hung up the phone, I opened my office door, let out a scream, and danced--danced --in the basement before accosting my collegaue across the hall and sharing the good news.

So that's it. That's how I turned from a short story writer into a "novelist" in a matter of minutes. That was over a year ago. Next post: the waiting game.