Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve Wishes

"May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself." ~ Neil Gaiman
"Listen to Neil." ~Lori Ann Stephens 

Bonjour from the Seine (photo taken by my 8-yr-old, Julien)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Blogging from Paris

So, I'm in Paris now.  I've been busy completing an interview with the marvelous writer, Matt Bondurant. Now that I've sent that off to the publisher, I'm working on my own writing and revisions.  Mostly, though, I'm transcribing my younger son's blog.  He's eight, and keeps a daily blog when we travel to Paris.  Hop over and visit or follow his blog.  He loves to read comments from readers.

Herve came home with a Christmas tree for Julien.  Our first Paris tree.  We've already started decorating it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


So, it's the end of the semester, and that means a few things. Grading final essays, submitting grades, France for Christmas Break, and writing.

As soon as I submit final grades for the semester, I hunker down and write.  Seriously write.  Six-hour-a-day writing, the kind that makes my heart want to explode, it feels so good.  My favorite place to write is on the plane to and from France.  The in-flight movies are either terrible or I've seen them (or both), so I pull out my laptop--and then my notebook when the laptop dies--and type/hand write several chapters over the Atlantic.

When we're in Paris, my eight-year-old son keeps his daily blog, which he dictates to me.  That means I'll have little time to even log into my own blog.  So if I don't make an appearance over the next few weeks, it's not because I'm not writing.

Have a great holiday break, teachers, students, and colleagues. 
Oh, and if you don't want to fight the crowds at the mall:
Song of the Orange Moons makes a great little holiday gift (hard back OR on Kindle) for friends and family!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Seeking Angels

Dear Readers and Bloggers,

If you've ever participated in the "Angel Tree" gift-giving, or if you ever wanted to give a holiday gift to a child who really needs and deserves a miracle, please consider making a donation to Sarah, whose jaw was destroyed by a tumor.

It's been a rough year for everyone I know. We all seem to be in the red by the end of the month. But consider swapping one holiday video game purchase for a holiday donation to Sarah's surgery.

Please give forward this month.  Here's a link to sweet Sarah's donation page and photos.

Every donation counts. If all my Facebook and Blogger friends donated just $25-$35, her surgery expenses would be met.

Thanks for paying it forward this post-Thanksgiving season.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thank you, Sherman

So, on Thanksgiving morning, as we were packing the car for Mee-maw's house, I stopped to lament.

I couldn't help it.  Something had been weighing heavily on my heart, and I couldn't stand it any longer. I marched into the kitchen and confessed to my partner. 

As much as I try, and much as I read, I cannot, cannot get into Young Adult fantasy books.  Even the bestsellers.  What is wrong with me?

It's kind of a problem because I just wrote this manuscript that is kind of fantastic, kind of science fiction.  And I've been immersing myself in YA, as any responsible writer of a new genre should do.  Contemporary? Check. Dystopian? Not a problem. Zombies? Well, I like the French ones. But every time I check out a fantasy novel, I can't get past the names without either groaning or giggling.

I felt truly, terribly awful for having decided, once and for all, that fantasy isn't my thing.  What made me think I would be charmed by Daughter of Smoke and Bone if I couldn't get past page 3 of The Lord of the Rings? I tried.  Lord knows I tried. So I spent the first few hours of Thanksgiving morning in frustration, until my partner, as always, put things into perspective.

"That's all right," he said. "You don't have to like fantasy."


So the day after Thanksgiving, after having taken my son and nephew to Legoland Discovery Center (a glorified store, folks--not a theme park), I poured myself a well-deserved glass of wine and settled down with Sherman Alexie's graphic, violent, disturbing novel, Flight.
from here

Holy crap.  That book saved me.  Sherman Alexie pulled me from my reader's malaise and shot his arrow right through my heart.

I don't enjoy violence in novels.  Usually it's gratuitous and caters to a blood-titillated audience, long ruined by Hollywood bloodlust.

Flight is not a long novel. I started on Friday and I finished it this morning.
It was rough and painful and disillusioning.

And so I was completely gobsmacked when the last three pages made me cry. 
Three times.
I had to quickly shamble to the bathroom so my nephew wouldn't see my stupid, wonderful tears rolling down my cheeks.
(Shamble is Alexie's word.  I stole it from Flight.)

So thank you, Sherman Alexie.  Thanks for making me feel the magic of fiction again.  For helping me see the Literary in the novel again.

For making me believe in happy endings.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Query Survival Kit

I have reached the Summit of Blues. For those who have been there, it's a mountain deep in the Wilderness of Agent Seeking.

I'm not depressed, but I am feeling this: ugh.  I need more energy, more caffeine, more pep talks, more something to get me through another round of queries.  I am fortunate that two of my manuscripts are in the hands of agents who requested Fulls, but it's been a while, and the more time passes, the more I feel grim. I figure I need Russell, from the brilliant film Up, to visit me.

He has a Wilderness Survival Guide that might help me during this Agent Query search.

How to Build a Tent. 
Or, How to Survive the Query Process
Step 1:  Separate Tent Parts.  
Or, Separate your self worth from your manuscript.
(That's harder than it looks.)
Step 2: Follow Directions Carefully.  Or,
Research the heck out of agents, fall in love with agent, craft a specific letter to agent, get rejection from agent on pitch alone, sigh, and repeat from beginning of Step 2
Step 3: Never Force Anything.  Or,
Realize that agents have specific ideas about what will be a success in the market--or desirable to publishers--and your manuscript might not "fit" those ideas. Truth be told, they're forced to judge a book by its cover (pitch), right?  

So take a deep breath, and just say it: "Tents are hard."
Rejections are hard.
But look at Russell's face.  All red-whipped, and he's still not giving up completely.

Getting rejections is an important part of becoming a better writer and determining how much I believe in what I'm doing.  Even published authors get rejections. (Yep, there are many of us. I'm not alone.)

Now, it's back to work.  I've got a tent to build.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The King's Speech

Stephen King, that is.

Here's my ticket.  I took a photo in the car, just in case they wanted to keep the ticket as I walked in the door. (There were 1000 attendees, by the way, and I was approximately #40 in line, thanks to my arrival three hours before showtime.)

As you (and all my Facebook friends) know by now, I had the extraordinary fortune to see Stephen King last night as part of his 4-city book tour. And more good fortune to be sitting on the fifth row, directly in front of him.

SPOILER ALERT! If you bought tickets to one of the three other King appearances, skip over the next paragraph.  He may tell these stories again, and I promise, you'll appreciate them more in person.

Stephen was funny, humble, proud (contradiction intended), and above all, adorable.
He talked about his tendency to be demonstrative ("My grandfather used to tell me, 'Stephen, you open your mouth and your guts fall out!'"). He talked about his overly-agreeable nature ("My mother used to tell me, 'Stephen, you're so agreeable that if you were a girl, you would always be pregnant!'").

He told us about the time he was invited to lunch by Bruce Springsteen, and about the first time he was recognized by a stranger and asked for an autograph.  In the bathroom.  I'll resist telling you the hilarious details of these stories until King's book tour is over. Go buy your own ticket.

Then he read from his new book, 11-22-63, a novel about time travel and JFK's assassination. That's all I know. (I didn't get one of the 250 randomly placed signed copies in the pile, but I was so content with my book and the entire evening, I didn't mind.)

Anyway, it was marvelous and thrilling and magical to sit in front of the man whose book, On Writing, became my writing Bible. (I recommend On Writing as mandatory reading for all fiction writers, regardless of their genre.) I'm such a wuss, I've never been able to read King's horror stories.  But "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" (and the other stories in the Different Seasons collection) captivated my heart and mind.

I ended the evening with dinner and good company of friends. Here are a few more pics, all taken by my seatmate and graduate school buddy, Diana.

That's me with the blonde hair and googly eyes. Diana took these photos. Thanks, Diana!
Have a great weekend!

Friday, November 11, 2011

In celebration of the palindromic moment

11-11-11 11:11:11

Apparently, this is the exact moment to slip on something made of corduroy, the Date that Most Resembles Corduroy.  Which will then bring you good luck until...the next palindromic opportunity?

Thanks goodness I have my brown corduroy blazer nearby.  Wouldn't want to press my luck.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tomorrow: Stephen King

This guy:

This book:

as many flash-free snapshots from my cell phone as I can take 
and still listen to King read
Live, in a high school auditorium,

One happy girl.

I'll be the one clutching a worn copy of On Writing.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I am Joy, I am Wonder

The Kool Kats over at YA Highway have asked writers to contribute again to yet another deeply profound prompt:
What are your writing and publishing superpowers (drafting? beta-reading? writing queries? plotting? character creation? etc.) -- and what's your kryptonite?

Immediately, I envision the Bugaloos.  I have NO IDEA why:
The Bugaloo in pink is "Joy"

Are they even superheroes?  Probably not.  But I was addicted to this show when I was little, and I was in love with Joy, that pink Bugaloo, and with the Blond Bugaloo, too. So I'm choosing her, folks. Here's a justifiable reason: my writer's ego can get squashed from time to time, but when it comes down to it, that joy of writing runs deep.  Joy irons her wings, and pretty soon, she's flying again.

I think mortality is my nemisis:
pics from here
Uh-huh. If you're old enough, you know what I'm talking about: What if I die before someone discovers that my manuscript rocks? But heck, it's just death folks, not kryptonite.

And I'm a wonder when it comes to finishing manuscripts. So, for my wondrous ability to git 'er done, here's a proper superhero for you:
from here

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Be Yourself

"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” ~ Oscar Wilde
This was the status update on October 31st (Halloween, get it?) by the amazing Dinty W. Moore. Dinty Moore wasn't the first editor to select one of my short stories for publication, but he was the first one who was totally, utterly, completely unconnected to me and still chose to include my story in his anthology, Sudden Stories: A Mammoth Anthology of Miniscule Fiction. My creative writing students at the time giggled at both the title of the book and Dinty's familiar name. ("Are you sure it isn't one of those scam presses?" one of my students asked, genuinely concerned for me.)
It wasn't a scam. Dinty is a well-respected teacher and writer, but it is his status updates on Facebook that consistently keep me in awe. And his keen eye for beautiful photographs.
So, Dinty posted this quote by Oscar Wilde, and it was like a dose of medicine.  Not the bitter-pill kind of medicine, but the warm Theraflu-kind on a cold winter's night. I'm juggling a LOT of things these days. I've got 2 fiction manuscripts (one adult and one YA) and 1 novel (Song) out to agents right now, and since talking publicly about submissions is not something we writers do, I won't say anything more. I have another (4th) completed manuscript that I've still got in the drawer simmering a while.
In the meantime, I'm reading YA novels voraciously, reading multiple blogs on writing and the publishing biz, and oh yeah, teaching English at the university. Sometimes I get swept away by all the advice from writers and agents on the web. I get bluesy in this big world of publishing with the jillions of fishies (with completed manuscripts tucked under their fins) in the sea. My story's a cross between so-and-so and sew-and-sew; I must pitch my story as such-and-such genre to even have a chance of being read; write BIG, write BIG! All this advice can make a serious writer feel very small.
Of late, I've had many a heart-to-heart conversation with my partner. These scenes consist mostly of my asking Hervé why and how and what questions about my manuscript revisions, and he offering advice that I largely ignore.  Then I realize he's right about practically everything, even though he's a brilliant scientist and doesn't read fiction.
Yesterday as I drove my partner to the airport, he gave me earnest advice and sounded a lot like Oscar Wilde: Trust yourself.  Be yourself. Great writers don't write like other people. You write best when you're not trying to please everyone. Pay attention to your craft.
Yes, we had the ensuing debate that begins, "But what about my audience?! I'm writing for an audience that I must please! Who must buy the book! And for the agents, who must give their blessings!" Yada yada yada. But I know there is truth to what he told me. I've been focusing on popular formula and trends at the expense of my craft.  They are two entirely different things. I've also been obsessively comparing my characters, plots, and themes to other novels, as though they are the measure of my story's success.
So I'm refocusing this week.  Craft. Voice. Intuition.
And I am, once again, grateful to have such a marvel for a partner.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

On Writing Coaches

"Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic."

It's Wednesday, and you know what that means: I have to stop procrastinating and get a post written before heading off to university. YA Highway wants to know "What kind of writing coach do you need? When you have to coach friends, what kind of coach are you?" Me?

I really wish I had some previous students pipe in here.  Was I a pain in the rear? So stickly that I ruined creative writing for you and now instead of living the tortured life of a literary novelist, you're living the tortured life of an accountant? As a graduate student, I tried to model my own creative writing teachers: tough as nails, but dedicated to anyone truly interested in the craft.  I was the kind of "coach" who handed back short stories with my comments inked in blood all over the margins.  Garsh, I was so serious.

 I'm finding that now that I've ventured into YA territory, I'm in need of some young whipersnappers (Garsh, I sound so old!) to give me some tough love.  Slay me with your worst "This part is so boring" so I can figure out how to balance the exposition, character development (aka, "telling"), and all the rest ("showing"). Criticism you can use to improve your novel is like a gift, after all.

I'm in the "query dumps" right now.  It's too early in the process to be feeling down, but to me, this is the worst part about being a writer. (Not the querying; the waiting. Okay, and the rejections.) Is there a coach for that?

Soup Dumpster
Yep: the query dump, where dormant dreams reside

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Shockingly Good

Another Wednesday, another Road Trip.
This week, YA Highway wants to know what you loved reading in October.
I took a wee break from YA this month to read some books that have been on my To-Read list for ages. (And I still haven't finished them.  Why? Because they're on my fake-Kindle, and I realize now that I have a terrible time getting through books on my "laptop version" of Kindle.  I guess I need a REAL Kindle for Christmas.)

But holy canoli, what I did read blew my heart right out of my chest.  This is the innocuous cover:
from here

Lamb is about an 11-year-old girl named Tommie who meets a middle-aged man named David Lamb.  Bonnie Nadzam is a gorgeous writer.  Every line is crafted, but not with the kind of pen that makes you stumble over clunky or outrageous metaphors; her writing is so fluid, you slip down into her deep, dark well of a story and you are lost.  Your soul gets a little lost while you're reading Lamb because this storyworld will encompass you from the moment you meet Tommie.  It is rich and disturbing and necessary reading, as difficult as it may be, for everyone. 

Highly recommended.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sure Thing

This week, I read Jane Dystel's blog post lamenting the somewhat new trend with the top 6 publishers, and it wasn't very encouraging, dear writers.

Seems that this is what they want:
from here
No, they don't want John Cusack. (Although at one point in my life, I did.) Heck, maybe they do want John Cusack.  But they really want that bathing beauty in the bikini, the "sure thing," and the Big 6 are not so interested in building a strong backlist inventory, which is a pity.  I like to read the bust-out NYT bestsellers like most book junkies do, but I also love curling up with a great book that might be considered merely great literature, not based on the millions of copies sold, but on the quality of the writing.  On the soul of the novel.

Does this mean that writers who are really desperate to be published had better be more like circus shows? A "sure thing" Barnum & Bailey act that will draw in the spectators in droves? (sigh) Sure seems like it. I'm submitting a YA manuscript to agents this month, and it seems that I'm getting the message: talented writing, but not "big enough," not a "sure thing" for this "tough marketplace." 

Maybe I should put a circus scene in the novel.  Hmm. Nope.  I can't do it.

I just finished reading Lamb, by Bonnie Nadzam, today.  It jolted me awake and made me go "gah!" for a good hour afterwards.  Same with C.W. Smith's new novel, Steplings.  Both are examples of great literature that make you feel more human in some way.

I hope the publishing industry catches up with the rapidly changing demands in the market.  Many authors are still believers in the sound and valuable judgment of the traditional gatekeepers.  Don't let us down.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Numero Uno

YA Highway is beckoning me again:
What's your numero-uno reason for writing?

I'll bet there's some sort of high-minded, acceptable list of answers to this sweet little, seemingly innocuous question. I'll bet there are plenty of creative writing teachers who'd cluck their tongues at the answers we give.  But that's why I like YA Highway.  No high-falutin' rigid readers who laugh with derision at our perplexing answers.  Here's mine:

Numero-Uno: Because I need to write.

That's it.  I need to.  I feel cranky when I go to long without writing.  My bones ache with jealousy when someone tells me all about her week of writing in a French castle (yes, Amy, I'm talking about you). Or that weekend at the Writers' Conference in D.C. or Chicago, or the Writers' Retreat for a blissful week in the woods.  I nod and cheer and say, "You go, Girl!" but they can't hear the envy in my bones go "creak!" 

Writing or rewriting a page, and then another page, or even merely a paragraph--it's like a drug, folks.  Like an anti-depression regimen.  Like caffeine.  Sometimes it gives me the jitters in a bad sort of way, but most of the time, I leave my writing desk and my heart feels two sizes bigger in a very good--I'm-ready-for-the-world--kind of way. 

I think many writers feel this way.  It's a bond we share.  We nod our heads sympathetically when  our fundamental needs aren't being met.  Writing-time needs.  Thank God my partner understands this. 

Right now, he's off to Canada for a week to work on three writing projects.  I'm happy at home writing on mine.  But I'm thinking I'm due soon for a trip myself, sequestered in an internet-free cabin, surrounded by nature? It's for my mental health after all, right?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday's 100th birthday!

100 weeks, that is.

This week's topic is What has your writing road trip looked like so far? Excitement? Traffic Jams and detours? Where are you going next?

Now that is a timely question, as I finally, this week, laid out my exhilarating, confusing, maddening,  gleeful, heartbreaking journey to publication with a traditional small publisher over the past three years.  I put it off and I put it off because I did not want to write anything negative about the good woman who selected my book out of the slush pile and declared it the Chosen One.

But the whole point of creating this blog was to share with other writers what it's like to get your book published, and I knew--I knew--I wasn't being completely honest.  I hope others can learn something, no matter how small, about the challenges of publishing.  

Even today, I wonder if putting it on the internet will come back to haunt me. If you want to take a peek at the story, scroll back a few days in the blog archive to read about my "perilous journey."

Was it exciting? Yes! Am I still over the moon to be published? Yes!

I've finished two more manuscripts--one adult novel and one YA novel--and those babies are visiting agents. My fingers and legs and toes are crossed. In the meantime, it helps to read the success stories of other authors.  They help keep hope alive. Thanks, blogging authors!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

99 Cents

The digital version for Song of the Orange Moons (thanks, ASD Publishing!) is now on sale for 99 cents! 
from here

If you haven't bought the hard copy (or just want to stock your ebook library shelves), now's the time to shop.  Kindlegraph allows me to "sign" your digital book, too, if you're interested in that cool gizmo.

If you don't have a handheld Kindle, no problem!  You know that there's a free app for Macs and PCs, right? You can download books (and a lot of free one's, too) right to your laptop.  I adore my hard copy books--couldn't live without them--but the Kindle is pure fun.

Please help me spread the news.

(Go Rangers!)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Can't Put this Book Down

Literally, I've been carrying this book around with me so I can sneak in a few pages wherever I go.  (I just got back from a lovely barium swallowing test at Baylor Medical Center, and I toted this book along with me.) What book is this that I can't put down, you say?  

Steplings, the new novel by C.W. Smith.

It's not YA, but it is literary fiction about two kids (18 and 11 yrs) who run away from home and the Amber Alert that follows.  It's about a family that was already unraveling paradoxically twining together and falling apart at the same time.  I'm engrossed with Jason and Emily.  I'm 3/4 finished and, as soon as I'm finished with this post, you know what I'm going to do? The book's right here to the right of my laptop.

Thanks, C.W., for a great story.  I hope lots and lots of people buy this book.
Here's the rather fantastic book trailer.  Many of you know how hard it is to create (or find) a book trailer that isn't cheesy. This one rocks.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Perilous Journey to Publication: I Come Clean

I've been putting off and putting off this post, even though I need to write it, if only to shed some light on the risks of publishing with small presses. So, let me preface this rather epic post by saying that I'm not publishing this as "payback" or out of malice or spite. In fact, the only feelings I have now are bewilderment, a vague sense of loss, gratitude, and plain old sadness.  Does that qualify as "ambivalence"?  Read, and you'll understand.

This is the journey of Song of the Orange Moons, my debut novel from November of 2010.

If you've done any research online about the publishing industry (and I'm sure most writers have), you know that publishing with the traditional big houses is almost impossible without an agent, and far from guaranteed with one. Many years ago, circa 2005, I had an agent for my manuscript of Orange Moons. No contract, just several lunches over which he encouraged me to write two more chapters (I did), and we chatted about his family, his own manuscript-in-progress, and where he'd send my novel.  He eventually sent it to three or four of the big presses, who in general liked the manuscript, but thought it wouldn't move (sell) in the bookstores. He suggested that I "turn it into a Young Adult novel."  At that time, I knew nothing about Young Adult novels and said I didn't think that would be possible. Not with this book. That was our last lunch.  Dead end.  Amicable parting of ways.

I made a meager attempt at finding another agent, but the process seemed so long and exhausting that I wondered if sending it directly to the publishers would be more efficient. (And I felt jaded by my first relationship with an agent.) I researched the small and large presses that received submissions (not many, folks!) and carefully packed and stamped 20 envelopes with the personalized query letters and partials or full ms, according to the publisher’s policies.

This. Was. Exhausting.

And expensive.

Six months later, after a few requests for full manuscripts and a few letters telling me that the press had gone out of business, I had responses from all 20 places. One press had seriously considered the book, but eventually declined, sending me detailed, multi-page, single-space rejection letters from their three readers.  Heartbroken, I literally shelved my manuscript in the living room bookshelf on the tip-top shelf.  Out of sight.

When my devoted partner figured out that I’d given up on writing, he insisted that I slap some postage on my manuscript and send it out to 20 more publishers. Ugh.  I did it, this time ignoring the SASE for return, and scouring the Internet and books for publishers who were actively and currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts.  I barely found 20 and sent my submission envelopes out in the world again.  My partner was right: I did feel a little better. I felt the glimmer of hope that my manuscript would find a home.

A few months later, I had 20 more rejection letters in my binder. At least, I thought I did. While I was on campus one morning, my phone rang, and there was this woman named M who was telling me how much she loved my beautiful book and asking me if she could publish it. I was ecstatic.  All I could think of was, “I’m in heaven!  And heaven is a place called BTP!”

I’ve told this story before, way back in the early days of this blog.  What I didn’t tell is the experience after I sent my signed contract for the novel.  It has been, in a word, frustrating.  Sometimes maddening. BTP was an established publisher of Children’s and YA books.  My novel was to be the debut of their Adult line of books.  M had big dreams: she said she wanted to publicize this book as though it weren’t from a small press, but from one of the big ones.  Except, of course, I would need to cover all my travel expenses.  I got that.  I understand that even authors with big presses must often create and finance their own book tours. But after two years of waiting for the book to finally go to press, and another year of the book being “in press,” I was so utterly in the dark about everything—what I was supposed to be doing and when and where—that I was lost and nervous and growing positively irked.  I did what I thought I needed to do: create an author website, join Facebook, create an author page on Facebook. Tweet.

How well a debut novel sells is vital to the success of a novelist.  My second novel might never get a glance from a publisher based on the sales record of my first novel.  Some writers are completely shut out from all the publishers.  Such are the tales I heard from other authors.  So I knew that this novel needed reviews, and lots of them, and sales, and lots of them, if I were to ever hope to publish the second novel I was working on.

I called and emailed BTP, trying to figure out some solid dates about the Advanced Reader Copies, about the official publication date, about how to get reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus and the others. M was busy, no doubt, with other authors, and what I thought was a small publishing firm became startlingly clear that M was it.  M was the only one doing everything.  That was why I so rarely could get hold of her.

It was clear though our few conversations that her original plans to make a big splash with the book were no longer possible.  It was too expensive for her to advertise the book in the NY Review of Books and other outlets, and she didn’t have the time. So I did it. All.

I hired an outside publicist to help organize a blog tour.  One month of publicity cost half my monthly paycheck. I sent copies of my ARCs to 25 different reviewers and a few contests.  I wrote emails to book reviewers and asked if they’d be interested in reviewing my debut novel.  I looked up the submission policies to Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus, and pretended I was some lackey at BTP suggesting that they review book. Because my ARCs were mailed to me about two weeks before the release date of the book, three months too late according to the big reviewers’ policies, I was up a creek called shit.

All of this took lots and lots of postage. That was only a small part of the investment.  I set up a tour to Chicago, paid my ticket and arranged a few readings and stayed with a dear friend, only to find out the ARCs had not even been printed (although they were “being printed as we speak” weeks before). I set up my big book launch, only to find out that the hardbacks wouldn’t make it to Barnes & Noble for the party because they were still being printed (another snafu by the publisher).  The book distributors had to overnight the boxes to the store, and they arrived on the afternoon of the party.  I was a nervous wreck.

Amid all the hubbub during the month prior to publication, I had very little contact with M.  I had almost none after the publication.  I emailed her the link to my Publisher’s Weekly review, something I was astounded by. And she emailed me her congratulations, but didn’t answer any of my questions, like how did she like my second novel manuscript I sent her.  (She had exclusive first rights to my second novel.)  To be honest, I hoped she didn’t want it.  I was so frustrated with the lack of communication that I was truly ready to move on to another publisher.  With an agent this time.

Over the past year and a half, I went through a range of emotions.  Anger at her lack of commitment to this book, gratefulness that she published it when no one else would, hysteria when my huge investments to publicize the book were slammed by the reality that the book wasn’t really “in press” yet or anywhere near it. I stored this bubble of resentment at being deceived, until I’d run into someone who’d congratulate me on getting published, considering how very difficult traditional publishing is these days, at which point I’m weakly smile and feel humbled.

During the six months post-pub date, I left messages and emails about some important details, one of which was my payment, which was to be sent upon the publication of my novel, but that I never received.  She responded only two or three times, making promises to look into matters.

And then, this summer, M finally called me back.  I had emailed her to ask about digital rights and film rights to the book—to see if she was doing anything, anything, had any plans with this book. She finally, finally called me back with terrible news.

This news she’d needed to share for a long time, and was finally calling to tell me.  In fact, she’d been making calls to her authors, two or three a week, because the news she had to share was too difficult to tell too many times in one week. I won’t go into specifics here, because this concerns her private life.  But she has been very ill, and her disease has progressed to a state that she has to close her business. She wants to spend her remaining time with her family, etc.
I listened to her tell me that all the rights to the book revert back to me, that I can purchase as many of the remainders as I want, that I can release an eBook immediately, that she is not renewing her 2-year dues to the nationwide distributor because she doesn’t know if she’ll be around then, so no one will be able to order from Amazon or Barnes & Noble because there will be no distributor for the books, and all I kept thinking was, “F*cking unfair for her and f*cking unfair for me and this whole unfair scenario is just crap.”  I couldn’t be mad at her anymore.  You can’t be mad a person who is terminally ill. I felt horrible for her and for her family.  And I thought, “What a sad, short life for this little novel, too.”

I understood why the entire publishing experience had been so chaotic.  My publisher’s life had been spinning out of control, and she was trying to balance her health with a one-woman publishing company.

I don’t know if this is a cautionary tale.  I feel mainly sad about her situation.  Sad that my book never really had a chance to sell copies.  I'm proud to have learned how to request reviews and how to set up a book tour; I'm incredibly thankful to the online community of writers who have shared their stories and wisdom as I trolled the internet for hope.  I don’t know what “lesson” I’ve learned other than I’m determined to get an agent for my next novel.  An agent who will know the field infinitely better than I and has access to more and larger publishers. I still believe that smaller presses are doing a wonderful, admirable service for authors, and they are doing hard work to keep literature alive and available in traditional publishing.  I fully support little presses! I'm suggesting that hopeful authors painstakingly research the press to which they submit before signing contracts.  Make calls and send emails to currently published authors with the press and ask about their honest appraisal of their experience. This past year has been a learning experience.  I am still grateful that M published my book.  It’s beautiful, and I’m still hopeful that she’ll send me the remainders I ordered from her over a month ago.

But I’m not counting on it.  It will be a year next month, and I still have not received a check for the publication, a royalty statement, or any paperwork of sales figures. I am in the dark about the future of Orange Moons.

The digital book is now out, and I’m glad that it has been getting some beautiful reviews.

And I have two completed novel manuscripts out to agents who have requested full manuscripts.  So there’s light in other places, and I’ve moved into it. I suppose I wanted to finally tell the complete story that this blog promised to tell: the real journey this author took with the little press that loved her novel.

*This post has been updated to remove M's full name and to emphasize that I still admire and appreciate the invaluable work of small and independent presses.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday

(Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.)

This week: What are your all-time favorite book covers?

How about this beauty?
And something about this one (although not YA) always makes me laugh:

Could have something to do with the author...
I absolutely adore Imaginary Girls, but someone on RTW beat me to it:
I'm not the average consumer, apparently.  Because I read almost solely on personal recommendations, I tend to ignore the covers and focus only on what's inside. And when you've read a phenomenal book, it's hard to divorce the cover from the the story inside that moves us.  (Which is why I still love the old Pride & Prejudice and Emma novel covers with the painted portraits.)

But I do appreciate the fact that book covers are no longer mere advertisement; they've become original art in their own right.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Déjà vu

After watching this, I'm struck: maybe I didn't just write a YA novel manuscript...
(Fantastic work, YA Highway Channel.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

On the Winner and on Pledging

On the Winner: 
Congrats to the winner of the Goodreads Book Giveaway, Julie Donald of Missouri!

Your copy of Song of the Orange Moons is on its way to you in a pretty Priority Mail envelope. Enjoy!
Thanks to all 491 people who entered the contest.  I hope you're still inspired to read the book and review it on Goodreads or Amazon.

And on Pledging (not the Greek persuasion):
My author friend, Amy Plum, shared a link this morning that I'm passing on to you.  What a great idea: read the book before you see the film. You sign your name and pledge to read the book whenever humanly possible. 

Another author friend, Matt Bondurant, will see his novel come to life via Hollywood in the 2012 film adaptation of The Wettest County in the World, starring Shia LaBeouf. But do you see Bondurant's name credited on sites like this or this?   Breaks the heart.  It seems like a decent gesture to give the novelist credit for creating the story to begin with, because I'll bet the novelists aren't receiving the kind of grand gestures that they can deposit in the bank so they can quit their day job and write.

I'm excited about the movie, too, but I'm reading the book, which I suspect will be very different from the adaptation.

Sign the pledge.  Read the book.  You'll get smarter.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Thanks, Peeps at Goodreads!

Today is the last day of the Goodreads Giveaway.  As of now, 422 people have entered the contest for a single copy of Song of the Orange Moons.  Good luck all of you, and I hope the winner enjoys the book and reviews honestly!

Another little girl and her goat

Another Road Trip Wednesday, folks
(From the website: RTW is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered.)

This week's topic asks us what themes, settings, motifs, scenes, or other elements do we find recurring in our work?
1. Hordes of unhappy little girls and unhappy mothers (à la Betty and Sally Draper)
2. Blanket metaphors that keep creeping into my drafts (the fog like a blanket, his silence like a blanket, the humidity like a blanket, oppression like a blanket, etc.) Thanks to my beta reader, I recognize and kill those darlings as soon as they descend on me like a blanke--
3. Fathers who try really hard but just don't get their daughters
4. Goats.  Yes, goats.
from here.
5. Pride and prejudice, usually in the main character, which (I hope) gets sorted out by the last chapter
6. Fingers and acute sensitivity to touching in general   

Readers, what have I missed?  If you recently read Song of the Orange Moons (or are reading it now), what motifs skulk around the pages?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday
Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This Week's Topic:
What's the best book you've read in August?

I know, I know.  I'm sooo late to this game (pun intended), but I finished The Hunger Games early in August.  I'm a relatively new YA reader.  A newbie. A preemie.  I only started reading YA with a lusty appetite in May, but I think I've read some great ones.

But everyone knows that The Huger Games is the cat's pajamas, so I'll offer one more that made me feel very uncomfortable in a good way: Please Ignore Vera Deitz.  This novel is about an almost  18-year-old whose best friend's ghost is haunting her, begging her to clear his name.   She also happens to be in love with him.  She also happens to keep a stash of liquor under the driver's seat while she delivers pizza to deal with her crappy life.  I was shocked, I laughed, and then I was horrified again. It's a YA book on the edge, like so many are now, and it works.  It stays with you.

BONUS: I'm pitching in my own Road Trip Song of the Week because Jessica Love introduced me to this greatness.  It will stick to your brain.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Good Enough to Eat

Summer vacation is officially over and my teaching cap is getting more wear than my writer's beret. But, I still have time to post some goodies.

First, I've been honored to receive the Liebster Blog Award, bestowed upon me by Jillian from Writing on a Limb. Thanks, Jillian!

Liebster means dear or favorite or apparently a bazillion other positive things in German (thank you Google), and the official rules are as follows:
  1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
  2. Reveal your top 5 picks [blogs with fewer than 200 followers] and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
  3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
  4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
  5. And most of all - have bloggity-blog fun!
Here are my picks:
1.  I love reading Stars Like Rain, a blog by a YA writer who is repped by Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary. 
She. Is. Cool.
2.   It Ain't Over Til the Fat Guy is Skinny is another fav blog written by my friend in New Jersey.  He's had a long history as a director, a playwright, an actor, and now, a novelist. His blog has personal and professional reflections on life, and is a little breath of fresh air for me.
3.  Jessica Love Writes, because she is a high school teacher (to whom the rest of civilization should bow and pay respect), and because she "kills her darlings," too.
4.  Sarah Enni's blog, again, because her blog on YA writing rocks.  Very entertaining.
5. Awkward Girl, who I met via YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday, and whose writing is not awkward at all! 

Congrats, bloggers!  Share the love, and may your blog grow plentiful and ever more exciting this year.

Second, the recipe for the mouthwatering, fantasmagoric orange cake that was baked especially in honor of the orange tree in Song of the Orange Moons and served at the reading club in my previous post.  Thanks, Dixie!

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
2 orange rinds, grated

Juice of 2 oranges
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream SUGAR and BUTTER, add EGGS.  Combine FLOUR, BAKING POWDER, BAKING SODA, and SALT, and add alternately with SOUR CREAM.  Add VANILLA, NUTS, and ORANGE RIND. 
Bake in greased, floured tube pan for 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean.
Combine ingredients for the "SYRUP" and boil 5 minutes. Pour syrup over hot cake and let cool in the pan.  When cake is cool, turn out of pan onto cake plate.

****For and impressive touch:  Slice Fresh Orange Cake horizontally into 3 layers.  Fill and top with 2 cups WHIPPING CREAM, whipped with 1/4 cup CONFECTIONER'S SUGAR and 3 Tablespoons of ORANGE LIQUEUR.  Add 1 pint of sliced fresh STRAWBERRIES between the layers, saving some gorgeous ones for the top.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I woke up this morning to an unexpected and delightful creative writing contest on Janet Reid's website.  
Here are the directions:

"Sounds like PANIC to me" Writing Contest!

There are two kinds of people in NYC today: those who are panicking about the incoming storm, and those of us annoyed by the hysteria.  To give everyone something else to think about for a couple days, let's have a writing contest! The prize is a good one: THE CUT by George Pelecanos.  (It's f/ing AMAZING!!) Rules for the contest are a little different this time.
Write a story using 150 words or fewer (note the word count change from the usual 100).  Use at least three sets of homonyms (words that sound the same) from the list below...

Out of respect for Mother Nature and Irene, as she approaches, I wrote this micro-story:
from here

She stood on the pier and faced the sea that whipped its fury against her cheeks. She would not budge, whether hurricane or whale lunge for her, or the indignant weather leave its wale across her flesh.  She wailed.  Thrust her fist in the air and cried “Whore!” to the sea that had devoured him. 

Her fisher, who three days ago had left this pier and his hook in her heart, and was swallowed by his bride-sea. 

A fissure in her heart widened, but she reined the two halves together. The sea would not reign her, would not strike an oar across her shaking calves and send her tumbling into the violent, black-ore depths.

“You have his flesh,” she shouted into the deafening rain. “But I have his soul. It was me he gazed at when you pulled him down to your cold bed. Behind his eyelids, it was me.”

150 words exactly.  That was a fun and challenging exercise.  Visit Janet's blog to read more of the entries in the comment boxes and to add your own.  Contest ends tomorrow (Sunday)!
Leave a comment here for me if you enter the contest so I can go read your story, too!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Block? What block?

(Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.)

This week's topic is
How do you beat writer's block?

I've been told by writing teachers of yore that writer's block doesn't exist.  That's right.  It's a figment of my imagination, this four-sided, five-letter word that is the worst four-letter word a writer can imagine.   But I don't really buy it.  

Not to fear.  I've found the answer to my imaginary foe.

It's not the local Starbucks for me. I get sidetracked by all the wonderful commotion and the real estate agents trying to close a deal at the tables to my right and left.

It's not the perfect desk sitting all alone in the middle of an empty room. Stephen King tried it and warned me it wouldn't work, but I didn't listen and had to try for myself.  I've got a cute little black desk in the middle of my office, but am I sitting at it?  Nope.  

To get my writing juices flowing, I sit in the dining room on cushioned chairs or on the armchair next to the dining room table.  Comfy, but just formal enough to keep me from falling asleep. Then I email my friend and say, "Hey, I'm going to send you an entire chapter sometime tonight."

Then I go get this:

from here

Then this:

Then I open my laptop, close my internet browser, and write.

So, optimistic promises + chocolate + wine + familiar chair to place my butt = a few darn good pages.

Oh, and before 4 PM, I have coffee instead of wine.  That's one cure for the malady of writers, and I endorse this message.