A Look at "The Examined Life"

I finally found a journal — one of the infinite stream of tedium series in my studio called The Examined Life, that’s been worth looking into. It’s from 1999/2000 — 20 years ago. That was the time I began reading Goethe. Goethe is all through that journal, a kind of thought conversation with this amazing man, writer as I discovered things in my reading.

At the beginning, I was in the middle of reading Faust and had not yet delved far into Goethe’s words about his life. But it’s clear from this journal that his work had shown me how to think about my own life with more clarity. I wrote:

Who can say…the passage of time, the chronicle of the stray thought, repeated over the years, the one truth we know and the question for which we find no answer strike the rhythm of our blind dance, the ache of our despair. The glorious morning when we remember — once again — who we are. Over and over and over again, we fight for ourselves with ourselves against ourselves. Life is only part crucible. We are perfected on an anvil with the hammer of our hope. (My words to me at age 48)

Now I think my anvil was hope and the hammer disappointment

2000 was a strange year for me. Among other strange things, in the pursuit of love that had been offered, I went to Italy only to find the man in question wouldn’t even talk to me, but left me in the hands of his family. It was an internal nightmare from which I attempted to awaken by walking the streets of Milan and looking at paintings. It was a fairly successful stragedy and not one everyone has access to. But I was angry and lovesick.

Love has always been problematic for me. I understand why now much more clearly than I did 20 years ago, but it’s always implied the loss of autonomy and a kind of surrender. It is something I wanted desperately (for a long while) and something that terrified me. As witnessed in the infinite volumes of The Examined Life have always searched for it while simultaneously dreading it. In this installment of The Examined Life I record the turning point.

“…That is why I prefer the study of nature which does not allow such sickness to arise. For there we have to do with infinite and eternal truth that immediately rejects anyone who does to proceed neatly and honestly in observing and handling his subject…” Goethe

Goethe had suffered the same love sickness I had. He ultimately gave up on GREAT LOVE, and found someone to spend his life with, but I think it’s different for men than it is for women.

2000 was also the year that I finished the original version of Martin of Gfenn, a 97 page first-person novella. I was pitching it and found an agent for it. Ultimately it didn’t work out — publishers turned it down because it assumed too much knowledge of medieval Zürich on the part of the reader. That was fair. That led me to study, opening a whole world to me.

There is a rejection note of a type we don’t see any more.

This installment of The Examined Life is the first interesting volume so far.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/02/04/rdp-tuesday-eggplant/

My News: Another Event…

Among the things going on, I will be doing another reading, this time at the Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte as part of their holiday celebration. The event runs from now until December 21. All the other participants are artists — most were members of the now defunct artist co-op which some of you might remember as having been, for me, a very mixed experience.

I took my stuff yesterday — all books, except a few notecards left over from the erstwhile co-op. My books are on top of a beautiful cherry-wood Victorian piano. The museum is a historical museum that has saved many things from the “old days” in the San Luis Valley — that says a lot, really, since the “old days” here go back to the Spanish conquistadores, not to mention the Navajo and Ute tribes. It’s a fascinating little museum, and I’ve learned a lot from looking at the exhibits.

Once I had my books on the piano and the poster from the Baby Duck reading set up, the exhibit looked kind of bare, so I went home and made a poster for the historical novels. It’s not as finished as the Baby Duck project, but I didn’t have weeks. I had hours. But, it’s all there now.

I was very low on supplies — even spray glue — and didn’t have time to drive to Alamosa to bigger stores with better choices. I was stuck with our little Safeway which was even almost out of tissue paper. But… I realized from making these two poster how my brain goes first to electronic presentations because that was my “thing” for so many years. I have not had to make posters for anything since my 8th grade science project on the Geological History of the Tetons. That went extremely well, by the way. I got an award from the National Geological Society and some oil and gas company. But seriously; 8th grade? I was 13…

The big open-house opening is tomorrow and I’m going with a couple of friends. “My” day is December 7, and as it is Pearl Harbor day, and there are a LOT of veterans here (one of the oldest retirement homes for veterans is near where I walk the dogs; it was built to house Civil War veterans) I decided to read the sections from Baby Duck that talk about the alliance between the US Army and China to fight the Japanese, notably on Hainan Island, and the numerous Chinese veterans I met. In those stories is a Christmas story and I’ll end the reading with that.

I’m looking forward to it very much — much less prep work for me as the museum is catering the event, not me.

As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder, B&W

Last night I was slapped by the obvious (yet again) and realized that while some people (me?) might value the color illustrations in As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder there might be potential readers out there who want to read the book but don’t want to pay the (exorbitant) price Amazon has slapped on it as a result of the full-color illustrations AND my wanting the book available to the widest possible audience. I realized it would be pretty easy to put together a black and white edition.

I did that this morning. It’s not live on Amazon yet, but it should be, soon. The price tag is $12.50, a $40 break from the full-color version. Since the slides all exist on Youtube, it’s a very good deal.

Rambling Discourse on Self-Publishing

I’d be lion if I said I have something to write this morning about lions. I don’t. More of a tiger person, myself.

Yesterday I got the idea of looking at some of my short stories, many unfinished, and that’s consuming me until I get the proof of the China book back from my editor.

This is the fourth book my editor, Beth Bruno, has helped me with. Long, long ago when I first wrote Martin of Gfenn and was submitting it to agents, I got a response. The agent had written in Magic Marker, big black letters, “Get an editor.”

I honestly didn’t know what he meant. I thought that was what you got after you got a publisher. It took fourteen years or so for me to “finish” Martin of Gfenn by which time the agent thing was moot. I published it. I sent it around. Then… I looked at the published book and saw it was rife with small errors of the type someone like me would never, ever, ever see. Savior was (I thought) finished, but I was afraid it was also fraught with errors. I went online to find an editor and I found Beth.

I found others at the same time and contacted several. I ended up hiring Beth because she presented herself in a straight-forward manner, and her commitment seemed to be helping writers write THEIR boosk rather than writing HER book through someone else, if that makes any sense. Many of the editors I found did not seem to have the professionalism or detachment Beth has. Her references were good and supported my perception of her.

It was expensive (for me) but it was worth it to me. Since then, Beth has helped me with three books. Now that she knows what she will be getting from me (a finished manuscript that doesn’t need a lot of development assistance) it’s more affordable for me, and we have evolved into a team. We work using the comments and changes feature on Words/Pages and by phone. With the China book, she was especially helpful in reminding me that I was writing about a world most people have not experienced, and I needed to clarify terms, ideas, moments, cultural details so others would know what I was writing about.

Working together on the China book has been great. After she finished the work specified in the contract, she offered to do a final reading of the finished project, something she’s just completed. We both love the project, I guess.

I was also thinking last night that initially I considered self-publishing (Indie publishing, has that phrase caught on?) to be failure, something you did when no one wanted your work because it wasn’t marketable for any one of a number of reasons. I still feel that way, but I also understand that a work not being marketable might not mean it’s a bad book, poorly written, or uninteresting. It just means that there’s no agent who feels they can sell it to a publisher because there’s no publisher who sees a market for your work. The market isn’t the arbiter of quality, just what people will buy.

Over this evolution I read a lot of best-selling historical novels that I would be ashamed to have written. I learned that I have an intrinsic sense of what makes a good book and that sense is sacred to me. I also realized none of this really matters. I understood this when I saw that just because I couldn’t find an agent, I would not stop writing. I also learned that I enjoy the process of putting a book together. For a brief moment I had a publisher for one of my books — The Brothers Path. That experience showed me the compromise that would be involved if I went “legit,” so to speak. And then he went out of business, and I was able to do my book myself. Disappointed, but…

Recently, The Price garnered an IndeBRAG Medallion. I’m happy and proud because that means all three books in that trilogy get to wear that badge. It also meant I could combine them in a single book and sell it at a lower price.

The president of IndieBRAG messaged me that she loved the cover of the The Price and asked who’d done it for me. I wrote back that I’d designed the cover for that and all my books. She was surprised. But I think it’s fun to figure that out; what images tell the story?

I still wish that there was an agent who saw the possibilities for my books, but the process of submittal got to be really grueling and my attitude toward it shifted from one of hope and possibility to, “Who the fuck are you to sit in judgement on my books?” That shift began at a writer’s conference in which an agent complained about having manuscripts to read. Really? That, Sweet Cheeks, is job security. Another wondered if the leprous hero in Martin of Gfenn got married and had children at the end. Over time, I encountered this again and again and realized that I’m just not on the public pulse. Can I go there? I don’t know. I don’t think so, even though there are a lot of good books out there that ARE on the public pulse.

Do I still feel that self-published books are “failures”? Yes, in a way. But a bigger failure would be allowing an external notion of success to stop me from doing what I love.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/07/07/rdp-sunday-lion/

The Schnee(belis) of Kilimanjaro

I got “The Schneebelis Go to America” back yesterday from my editor, Beth Bruno. I must be getting a little better because she didn’t send a truck-load of proofing corrections!

It’s funny how we are. I don’t know if I’m confident in my writing or not, but I’m not confident in my proofreading, so in her comments — email and comment tracking on my manuscript — that’s what I looked for. I fixed some sentences that didn’t make sense to her (that thing of writing for people inside your mind again…) and heard her remarks about a shift in pacing that, ultimately, hadn’t bothered her and even made sense.

I didn’t see the overall remarks about my writing and the story. The good stuff. I think this is because — in my mind — the book is a project I’m refining and trying to get right. It’s not finished.

To my editor, the manuscript came through as a finished story. I woke up this morning understanding what ELSE she’d said and I am very happy.

She asked what my plans are for the book. I told her I planned to give it a shot at conventional publication, and I was grateful for any advice she had. She had some advice, “I just think with the level of sophistication and specialty of your writing, you’d be best served by someone with solid experience in publishing.” Something I never thought of.

This time last year I picked up the manuscript again, my Aunt Dickie’s words calling out to me from a letter I have taped to the wall in my studio, “Please continue writing the story of my mother’s family.” I didn’t like this book at the time. It was hard going and the characters didn’t speak to me, but I loved my Aunt Dickie and that she loved my novels. I had hoped at that moment last fall to finish before Christmas last year so I could, at least, send her a manuscript to read. I was in a lot of pain from my hip at the time, and writing has always been, for me, a good ladder out of a hole. My Aunt Dickie was 93, and that number has a very clear meaning even though she was still independent and fit, walking a mile a day with her dog, driving herself to church and fully involved in life. She died last November, pretty suddenly, from a very aggressive cancer. All I can do is dedicate the book to her — which I have done/will do.

All of this brought home the message of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” We’re never ready to write the story but write it anyway.

He had never written any of that because, at first, he never wanted to hurt any one and then it seemed as though there was enough to write without it. But he had always thought that he would write it finally. There was so much to write. He had seen the world change; not just the events; although he had seen many of them and had watched the people, but he had seen the subtler change and he could remember how the people were at different times. He had been in it and he had watched it and it was his duty to write of it; but now he never would. Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

So, I will take another break from my blog to work on the novel some more and figure out how my writing is “sophisticated.”

Addendum: I “Googled” “sophisticated writing” and what it means is that the writer does some stuff like avoids the passive voice, uses a varied vocabulary, allows the characters to carry the story. That’s cool. I’m honored if that’s the case. I worked hard for that, and I owe a lot to Truman Capote.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/05/rdp-friday-truck/

Bliss

Chilly mornings out here in the real west. This big cup of hot coffee is (sometimes) the best part of a whole day. It’s always a major enhancement. I’m sad when it’s gone, and I have to give the cup to Dusty T. Dog (who is salivating at my feet waiting for it). All he gets is whatever has stuck to the sides of the cup, but he likes it. I think it’s a bonding thing.

During my long blogging hiatus I finished my book and sent it to my editor, Beth Bruno. She’s a writer’s editor not an editor like Maxwell Perkins or something. She helps me find typos and inelegancies of writing and that sort of thing. She’s awesome. Very helpful, thorough, and kind. I like working with her very much.

Long long ago (like 20 years) when I first sent manuscripts of Martin of Gfenn to agents, I got a rejection that was a folded a 8 1/2 x 11 sheet off paper that said in big black letters written with a Magic Marker, “Get an editor!” Big black letters and all, I didn’t know what he meant. I mean, was I NOT an English teacher? A WRITING teacher? Seriously?

But he was right. I should have been alert to hubris, but like many heroes (ha ha) had not yet encountered my fatal flaw face-to-face.

Meanwhile I’ve done my tasks. I have compiled a little spreadsheet that is a list of possible agents for The Price. I’ve written a pretty good query letter. I have done my chapter summaries, my synopsis and an introduction to the book.

I know that self-publishing is an option, but (as with all my books except My Everest) I want to give it a chance out in the big world.

~~~

In case you want to know what my coffee is, it’s made in Colorado. You can order it online. I bought a 5 pound bag a couple of months ago. I’ve tried their “sampler” and ALL of it was delicious. You can actually tell the different roasts and origins apart. Because of the way it’s roasted, it’s relatively low acid, too. That’s all for my sales pitch. 😉

1

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/07/friday-rdp-coffee/

 

Good Gnus

Kindle Front Cover My Everest.001

I got some good news on the famous author front this morning from Indie BRAG letting me know that my little hiking book, My Everest, has been awarded a BRAG Medallion. Basically, this is an award that lets readers know that this self-published book is well-written, interesting and (in this particular case) if you like hiking, nature and dogs, you’ll be very happy. It’s $3 for Kindle, $7 for paper back. Heres the link to Amazon.

Here’s the blurb from the book’s own website. 

Short Story Collection

Once in a while I write a good story. I’ve put a few of them together in a little book (88 pages!) I’ve titled the little book Luv’. The stories are both fiction and creative non-fiction and all revolve around the humor, irony and sometimes sweetness of human connections.

There is no historical fiction, nothing about God or leprosy or salvation or torture or exile or even Switzerland! One of the stories won a prize last year in a short story contest put on by the library in Alamosa. 🙂

If you want a copy, you can get one on Amazon here. The price is $7.15 (my dad’s birthday) and shipping is probably $2 or less.

It will also be available on Kindle for $4.23 (Shakespeare’s birthday)

 

Writing — a Bitter Rant Using the Word F&%$

I was a writer and I wrote novels. Not long ago I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, “You wrote three good books. You don’t have to write any more. Lots of ‘great’ writers only wrote one and where does it get you, anyway? You just work very very hard,  deal with your own frustrations and sense of failure over the proofreading problem, shell out a thousand bucks for an editor, go through the submission process, get rejected (and ignored), make the decision to publish the books yourself, bust your ass doing that (though it’s actually, for me, a fun process), then you get to do what you have no aptitude for or interest in — marketing — and then? Some people enjoy your books very much, but most people never even hear about them. What’s the point?”

The point is having something to say.

All three of my novels SAY something. This thing I’ve been plugging away on for two years now (?) doesn’t say anything. It’s just there.

If you want to “be a writer,” you might want to think about what I’ve learned.

Unless you can do it for its own sake, it is NOT worth the time or effort. Don’t even fucking bother.

  1. There are millions of scams out there that exist to take the money of all those people (largely baby boomers, I suspect) who have always felt they have “a book inside waiting to come out.”
  2. You might indeed have a book inside waiting to come out. Just write it and shut up.
  3. There are conferences that cost hundreds of dollars (and they won’t make your workmore likely to sell and they won’t make you a better writer). There are workshops. There are editing services. There are marketing services. None of these things will change the market and the market is where success lies.
  4. All the advice out there for dealing with rejection? “Don’t let rejection get you down. J. K. Rowling was rejected 900 million times and look what happened to her! Same with Stephen King! He was rejected 900 million to the power of 10 times and now where is he! Just keep trying!” You will reach a point where you don’t really give a fuck about J. K. Rowling OR Stephen King OR Willa Cather (same story, but only 700 million times — the population was smaller back then).

    In the process of eliminating files before transferring stuff to my new laptop, I realized — saw — that I have submitted my work to literally hundreds of agents and been rejected and/or ignored hundreds of times. Well, basically EVERY time. “Don’t let it get to you,” say the advice mongers.

    “You try it,” I say to them at this point though once upon a time I agreed with them. “Fuck you.”

    If you have something to say, you have an edge against rejection “getting to you.”
  5. Youth — young writers have more appeal to agents and publishers (generally) than old writers. Why? People are looking for the “next Hemingway” or a “new voice.” This is really stupid, but we are youth worshippers in our society and this is part of it. There are many contests out there for young writers and “new” writers, and it’s assumed that “new” writers will be young people.This is both objectionable and logical. The target audience  (from a publisher’s perspective) is always assumed to be the current generation with money in its pocket.

    A book that appeals to the young today will be carried along by that generation for many years though it may be completely unknown to succeeding generations. Just as an example, it’s been a long time since I heard anything about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance  and yet that was a HUGE book back when I was young. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues — another book that was HUGE when I was young, probably a meaningless title to the 20 somethings of today.
  6. It is NOT “all about how you pitch your book” either. Pitch matters, but it’s not “all about” anything. Take any advice with a grain of salt. Why?

    It’s a crapshoot.

    What does X agent believe will sell to her vast stable of (four) publishers? What do the publishers believe will sell to their readers? Who are the readers of your book? Can you imagine them? Does that matter? (Not much…) Does the quality of your writing matter? Not a lot, no. What matters is the tempo at which the public pulse is beating, and, if you are ON it, you have a chance.

I love my novels and I loved writing them. When someone reads them and enjoys them, I’m over the moon. That is the whole point of it. Learning a couple of weeks ago that the library in Alamosa had acquired my books, I was very happy. I had no idea. That my books are for sale in the largest independent bookstore in Colorado also makes me happy — through my own effort I succeeded (somewhat) in doing what a publisher would do for me.

I cannot deny that much of this has taken the joy and optimism out of the process of writing a novel. The story I’m working on now is good, but each time I sit down to work on it, I see ahead to the future when I would — again — be attempting to sell it one way or another, asking myself questions that have little or nothing to do with my book such as, “is this the spiel that will get an agent’s attention?” “Are my characters sexy enough?” Bleah.

 

What I Learned

I’ve self-published three very good books that have a limited audience in the United States. It’s OK. I wrote what I wrote. I couldn’t have written any other stories. They are my stories. As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
 —

When you write a novel, you probably revise it innumerable times until it’s as polished as you can make it. Then, you then hire an editor and get it as perfect as it can be. Then you start soliciting agents who will work on your behalf to sell the book to a publisher. The publisher will then market the book to stores. I’ve done this hundreds of times over a 19 year period…

To no avail for various reasons — not just the “system.” I failed myself often.

With the third novel, The Brothers Path, there was a moment when two publishers wanted the book. I had to decide between them. Everything was equal making it a gruesome choice. I chose the one who would publish soonest and who was closest. He went out of business, and the other publisher was no longer interested.

 –
Kind of demoralizing.
 –
Anyway, it’s a saga. Combined with my experiences with my other novels over a period of nearly 20 years, I just lost heart. “What’s the point of this?” I thought. Not like there have not been any rewards; there have been awesome rewards, but at a certain point, when a person loses heart, they don’t see the rewards very easily. They just see the things that led them to lose heart and NOTHING really makes it better. Every opportunity is no longer a chance for something good, but another shot at disappointment.
 –
Then a wonderful bookstore that I frequented when both it and I were young agreed to sell my books. With my newly jaded perspective, I saw mostly the downside (I still see it). It costs money to have my books in the store. Then they ordered a LOT of books, more than enough, if they sell, for me to recoup my investment. It’s a big “if” but it’s still an “if.” The thing is, every “if” has two sides. The books will be in three stores. It’s the most well-known and popular bookstore in the city. They have given me a chance to hold an “event” for my novel — this is another “if” as I had to write a pretty complicated proposal and I have to invest $$$ in the event as well, but “if” they agree, they will do the kind of PR I can’t possibly do on my own.
 –
So Tuesday morning I swallowed my dead heart and did the best I could with the proposal. I felt slightly good when I finished it, ate lunch, and headed into the city (Alamosa, 10,000 people) to go to the grocery store I like. I got in the car, turned the key, and Mohammed’s radio was playing a song that I listened to a lot back when I was 27 and right out of graduate school. Back then I was desperate to GET OUT OF DENVER and SEE THE WORLD. The song is “Kathmandu” by Bob Seger. I don’t even own it any more.
 –
“That’s cool,” I thought. Next song up, “Rocky Mountain High.”
 –

I was convinced (once more) that my car radio is a cosmic messenger.

I remembered the girl who stared at a map of the world and dreamed of going ANYWHERE. I remembered that girl, three years later, her dreams having come true, suddenly homesick, standing in her apartment in China hearing John Denver on Hong Kong radio. She had NO IDEA what her life would bring. She wanted to write — she did write — but she didn’t have a story.

 –
I looked all around me at the mountains. Saw once more the incredible place in which my life has allowed me to land. And then it hit me. I just succeeded in what I thought I needed a publisher to do for me.
 –
I must have had the biggest grin in the world when I came out of City Market and the wonderful wind of the San Luis Valley hit my face. A sainted old Mexican farmer wearing an ebony cross, suspenders, a checkered shirt, dirty boots and a cowboy hat smiled back, his black eyes sparkling.
 –
Heaven.
 https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/polish/