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. ūüôā

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 ‚ÄĒ 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/

The Garden

Even if you have not¬†read Voltaire’s¬†Candide¬†you know¬†the story. It’s life, pretty much. You have a decent education, good looks, youth, combined with longings and yearnings, and at the moment you find they are about to be fulfilled BAM! they’re taken away and you’re sent to the army, but that turns out not so bad because, lo and behold, things get good again — and the object of your desires is again in front of you through an amazing concatenation of events! Over and over and over again, the rollercoaster ride of life until, finally, having won and lost more than you ever even imagined possible, you are (and who knows how?) in the back of beyond tending a garden. Your great love is a toothless old hag; your teacher is a blind, syphilitic, blathering idiot, but the figs are coming along nicely and it looks good for peaches this year.

I garden, not because I’m fascinated by it or want to grow my own food, or am passionate about any aspect of it. I’m not. I like flowers growing and homegrown tomatoes and basil for caprese in the summer. That’s about as deep as my enthusiasm runs. The flowers I like most need cold winters to do well in summer (sort of like me). My favorite flowers are iris which I was constantly trying to grow in Southern California — finally succeeded, too. The gophers didn’t like them much. I like wildflowers growing in a meadow in the high country, so I’ve planted a wildflower “meadow” in my backyard. My peonies got frosted again this spring, but it looks like I might get two blooms — the first since I planted them three years ago.

This year my garden is more important to me, and I’ve done more with it and taken it more seriously. I have found myself perplexed by many¬†things that are completely out of my control, the leadership of this country is a big one that I can’t do anything about. The other is the question of well-written and compelling novels — that have won awards — that no one wanted to publish…

The big independent bookstore in Denver has agreed to stock my novel,¬†The Brothers Path,¬†. There is a $50 administration fee for them to stock it (pay to play) and if it doesn’t sell within the first three months, I can continue to have the book in the store for an additional $150. This is a way to deal with the plethora (ha ha, I used that word) of self-published authors. I’m doing it, the $50 anyway. There’s also the possibility of holding an “event” — book-signing, I guess. The store does a lot of publicity for the author and the author pays them $150 to do that and must be able to invite 30 people. For the chance to do this, the author has to write a fairly elaborate proposal and the store evaluates how well events for other books in the genre have done.

So, the garden. I cannot shoot my novels¬†to the top of the NYT Bestseller list, but I can set out the tomatoes I started from seeds two months ago. I can’t change the political situation, but I can plant petunias. I don’t have the resources to travel the world, but I can walk around the little “garden”¬†by the river, the slough, and note the changes happening there every day throughout the seasons. Life moves continuously to the present moment and we owe that moment everything.

“There is a concatenation of all events in the best of possible worlds; for, in short, had you not been kicked out of a fine castle for the love of Miss Cunegund; had you not been put into the Inquisition; had you not traveled over America on foot; had you not run the Baron through the body; and had you not lost all your sheep, which you brought from the good country of El Dorado, you would not have been here to eat preserved citrons and pistachio nuts.”

“Excellently observed,” answered Candide; “but let us cultivate our garden.”

 

Tulip yard sign for Lois

The sign I painted for my friend’s fence

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/reprieve/

Back to the Old Name, Right?

It’s a long story, but for now with books heading toward a bookstore and various other developments in the writerly front, I feel I can say…

I’m a Writer, Yes, I Am!

The name was the original name of this blog, changed a few months ago. It’s based on a song by Iggy Pop, a song I seldom heard, that came on my radio one night about 8 pm as I drove home from the sixth class I’d taught that day in my costume as mild-mannered, business communication teacher, Professor Kennedy.

The song came on as I rounded a curve on Interstate 8 between La Mesa and El Cajon, CA, known to me by then as “Hotel California.” I was unhappy, felt abused by the administration of the university in which I taught (because I was being abused) unsure of the future, sick of the “let’s pretend” that teaching was increasingly requiring (thanks, No Child Left Behind for the mass lobotomies inflicted on the leaders of tomorrow). Time was I could be myself in the classroom; those days had faded away…

So there I was, with a 45 minute drive ahead of me, and here came Iggy Pop and I cranked up the radio and I sang. It became my little anthem and led to the title of my blog…

 

I do like punk rock music. I love this song. It’s a valid testament. Everything Iggy sang I felt. “I’m tired of being God,” especially, translating to “I don’t want to argue your effing grades with you!” The words resounded in my car that night, and I had a feeling it wouldn’t be long…but I didn’t know when. That ride was three years ago.

 

A GREAT Day for the Schneebelungenlied

The main job of a publisher is selling books. It’s a hard job for a writer and I think that’s why all of us hope to find a conventional publisher who wants to sell our work. When that clearly wasn’t happening for¬†The Brothers Path and I decided to fight, I had to become the “publisher” and market my book.

A big challenge for ‘Indie’ writers is getting their work into bookstores. There is a good reason for this which is that the majority of self-published books are not¬†well or carefully written.

Today I got what I have been working toward.

A bookstore wants to sell my book. It’s a rather special bookstore, Mastof Books, located in “Amish” country in Pennsylvania. They specialize in books about the Mennonite and Amish heritage. Many of their books are memoirs or genealogy, but they also have novels. I’ve ordered books from them to use in my research because the special facts I need — like letters from Anabaptist prisoners while in prison in Z√ľrich, translated to English — are published and sold by this company.¬†The Brothers Path¬†will appear in their October catalog, be featured in their newsletter and on their website. (Waaaa-HOOOO!)

Yesterday when they responded to my query, I had to answer questions no one’s asked me before. I didn’t even know the meanings of all the terms, so I looked everything up and crafted the best response I could, and admitted I’d never done this before. I did OK, though, and we reached satisfactory terms for both of us, and today I shipped off my first order EVER. I had to make an invoice, compute sales taxes, and make an attractive package. If it happens again, I’ll have to think of becoming an LLC. ūüėČ

I am very, very, very happy. I’ve done for myself — and the Schneebeli boys — what I thought I needed a publisher to do for me.

Book Marketing Update

I don’t even know where to start… In the past couple of weeks I’ve written six¬†1000 word essays. Three¬†have been or will be published on the IndieBRAG Blog.¬†

The first blog post came out on August 8; the second will come out on August 19 and the third on September 24. I’m thrilled to have the chance to write on this forum. The second post is about the non-fiction in my fiction, and since I write historical fiction, there’s a necessary close tie there. That was very interesting to think about and write. The third is about the lessons I’ve learned in my writing life and advice for other writers. I liked that because I could loosen up a bit in my approach and be less serious.

I also put together a three part guest post that has and will be appearing on Marilyn’s¬†blog, Serendipity. For this I’ve writing a lot more about my experiences writing and publishing. The first part “So You Want to Be a Writer” came out August 13.

I also had the opportunity to guest blog on “On Pets and Prisoners” where I wrote about my neurotic but devoted best pal, Dusty T. Dog, and on “Susannah’s Journey¬†“where Susannah was kind enough to post one of my short stories, “Rainy Night.”

One big challenge for indie authors is selling books. (Did you like the way I mingled the obvious with understatement there?) If an author can say he/she has books in a book store they’ve kind of, almost, nearly, made it. Making it, of course, is selling the books. The other Holy Grail of legitimization is getting one’s books in a public library.

This week my mission has been to contact the local libraries about adding my novels to their collection, and¬†IndieBRAG has a letter for writers to use in approaching bookstores and libraries. The letter is amazing. It clearly sets for the mission of IndieBRAG and explains the system they use to evaluate whether a self-published novel is worth a customer’s “money and time.” It makes no bones about the reality of self-publishing, that the vast (and I mean VAST) majority of self-published books should probably not have been published or, at least, brought into the bright light of day. It then makes it clear to whomever reads the letter that the novels written by “author” (and this is personalized) are excellent work.

IndieBRAG’s¬†letter¬†made it much easier for me to write my letter which I’ve now sent to the local libraries with the salient links and the IndieBRAG letter attached. That was yesterday and, of course, I THINK they should respond sometime in the middle of the night so I wake up the next morning to happy surprises, I know there’s no Santa… So, I’m waiting.

Once I did that, I was ready¬†to approach independent¬†bookstores in the area and that’s my next task. I hope to hear something positive from the libraries before I approach the bookstores; that would give me a small, persuasive edge that I don’t have right now.

This week I¬†also had to update all my “paper” marketing products — business card, bookmark, even notecards because in not very long I’m going to have to send books to the 10 or so book bloggers who’ve agreed to participate in a “virtual book tour” and to the people who have won my Goodreads giveaways, the ones that go along with the Goodreads ads…

And, if the library and bookstore gambits yield affirmative answers, I’m going to have to go meet people and leave my card… Well, soon, I’ll have them.

Back in the day,¬†I thought keeping a blog was stupid. When I started, back about 8 years ago, my blogs (on Blogger) were private — online journals. I began a WordPress blog because a book I read said it was an important marketing tool. The first time I sat down to write, I think I said so. I saw the “Daily Prompt” and I thought, “Who needs that?” Well, I’ve written over 1000 of them and discovered Lamont and Dude and a Flash-Fiction ability I didn’t know I had. Some of my favorite short stories came out of the Daily Prompt. Best of all, though,¬†have been the people I’ve “met,” the friendships formed, and the bits of life shared through our writing.

Marketing

I’ve been very busy learning how to market — and actually marketing — not just¬†The Brothers Path but¬†Savior as well. They are stand-alone books, but they are about the same family separated by 300 years.

To make it more resonant, I went through¬†Savior and changed all the anglicized names to the Swiss names they have in¬†The Brothers Path. As I did this, I thought of the “big picture” and how, until we have super-human prescience (which I do not want) we can’t really see the big picture. I had no idea when I wrote¬†Savior that I’d write a sequel. A¬†second edition of¬†Savior is now out¬†with the names changed.¬†The Kindle version is now cleaned up and nicer; the paperback has been redesigned slightly and uploaded through Createspace instead of Lulu. It looks better, is less expensive and hits the marketplace sooner.

Today I learned that¬†Savior won an award, the B.R.A.G Medallion. This is an award for independently published books that basically legitimizes their quality.¬†Martin of Gfenn won the award last year, so I’m very happy to have two books on the B.R.A.G. Medallion website. Along with that will come some online interviews and a blog-tour for¬†Savior.¬†Also, on the IndieBRAGMedallion site, my book (Martin of Gfenn, so far) and I have a profile ūüôā

Along with the award came a “report-card” from the readers. One reader said he or she would not change a word of the novel, but they would change the title. So would I; I just never came up with a better one and that ship has sailed.

Another reader hated it. Savior has, as one of its characters, an elderly Maronite Christian hermit living in a cave in Lebanon who has taken a vow of silence he must break when he finds Rudolf — the protagonist — face down in a stream. Given the time, place, and character that section of the book is full of what this reader described as “Bible quotations.” I cannot imagine my hermit speaking in any other language. This reader “skipped that part” and ended up not seeing any point to the book at all. The other thing this reader hated is that Rudolf is also (apparently) the lone survivor of a battle. In real life, that battle, the Battle of La Forbie, had¬†few survivors, among them only three Teutonic knights (Rudolf was a Teutonic knight). This reader confuses hearsay, rumor shared by the characters in the story, with fact. It’s one thing that the characters in the novel don’t believe anyone survived the battle; it’s another thing to look backward through 770 years of history and have — wait — a bigger picture than those close to the action could have had.¬†Bottomline — the reader just didn’t like it. ūüôā

I know that I approach a story with an agenda of my own but I can never know with what agendas others approach my stories, so the report card was very interesting to read.¬†And, my “grade” on this “report card” was the same as my high school GPA: B+ ūüôā

Savior’s award¬†couldn’t have come at a better time because¬†I’m putting time and money into publicizing¬†The Brothers Path.¬†I’ve hired someone to run a blog tour for it; I’ve spent hours on Goodreads cleaning up my author page and paid for an ad. Today I sent it into B.R.A.G.Medallion hoping for another award four to six months down the road. None of this is free. As soon as I have a clean hard copy, I’ll send it into the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews where it could be reviewed, win an award and be entered into competition for “Indie Novel of the Year.” I have little hope for the last, but some hope for a review and maybe the reviewer will like it enough to award it “Editor’s Choice.”

This is a lot of tedious and repetitive work. Today, because of the award, I had to rewrite everything pertaining to¬†Savior including my author bio and repost everywhere that exists. I’m not whining. I’m happy to be doing this, happy¬†Savior (which is absolutely NOT everyone’s cup of tea) has won this award, happy to have the money to at least move this mountain forward a little bit.

The Autumn of Adam and Eve

In this strange experience of publishing¬†The Brothers Path, I thought I had one great boon from the wreckage that was Bygone Era Books — a beautifully formatted, ready-to-self-publish manuscript. Yep.

And THEN…

I reformatted it to 6 x 9. No biggee. I changed the font on the chapter headings. Great. I uploaded it. Yay. I published the book. Waaa-HOOOO!

Then I looked at it on the Kindle reader.

Shit. A mistake in the first chapter. I was responsible now. I’d seen it (the superstitious morality of the self-published author). I had to fix it. Fixed it. All good.

And then…

Horror.

I KNEW Daniel Willis had edited the book, but I never

ever

ever

EVER

imagined anything as surreal as this. Thank God it’s laughable. Two priests are having a serious conversation about the nature of sin. Speaker 1 (Leo Jud) is a reformed priest, a pastor. The other speaker is a Cistercian monk, Brother Hannes.

Original passage:

‚ÄúIt is our nature. The Bible tells us to go into the Earth and be fruitful and multiply.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúAfter the Fall, Brother Leo.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúCan we ever find that Divine Garden again? I don‚Äôt think so. If it were God‚Äôs will that we could regain that lost innocence, we would have. Can we force ourselves back inside now? We‚Äôve all eaten of the fruit. Haven‚Äôt you, Brother?‚ÄĚ

The Bygone Era Books new and “improved” passage:

‚ÄúIt is our nature. The Bible tells us to go into the Earth and be fruitful and multiply.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúAfter the Autumn, Brother Leo.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúCan we ever find that Divine Garden again? I don‚Äôt think so. If it were God‚Äôs will that we could regain that lost innocence, we would have. Can we force ourselves back inside now? We‚Äôve all eaten of the fruit. Haven‚Äôt you, Brother?‚ÄĚ

***

All I could think was, “Damn. I’m going to have to go through this line-by-line now” which I immediately did. As I worked, and found a few more (but none as surreal) “edits” I just thought, ¬†“Thank goodness Bygone Era Books went out of business before they published my book.”

‚ÄúMore tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.‚ÄĚ Truman Capote

***

The Brothers Path is now available for $3.00 both for Kindle on Amazon and on iTunes as an iBook.

The Brothers Path, iBook from iTunes

The Brothers Path for Kindle from Amazon

Those of you who have volunteered to read (free book in exchange for a review) would you rather have a print book or an ebook? Let me know!

Here We Go Again on The Brothers Path

The Brothers Path has been resubmitted to Bagwyn Books. They have changed their submission requirements, and now they are actually simpler — I¬† imagine for them as well. Of course I’d hoped their response to me after Bygone Era Books (ha ha kind of a funny name now that they’re of a “bygone era”) went under, would be “Oh GREAT! We’ll get right on it!” But that wasn’t to be.

Their new submission process says that authors will be informed of Bagwyn’s decision by June 30.

Anyway, as disappointing as all of that was — and who knows but what more disappointment lies ahead — at least I persevered. And, if it happens that I end up publishing it myself (if I do that at all) it’s all ready to go thanks to Bygone Era Books that returned to me a beautifully formatted document.