Publishing


One of the touchiest subjects in the writers’ world today is publishing. Once you write a story—a book-length piece, either fiction or non-fiction—do you self-publish it or send it out to a regular publisher? And, a sub-set question to that is: do you send it to one of the “Big Five” publishers or to one of the smaller presses?

There are those who subscribe to the persuasion that if you’re not published by one of the Big Five, you’re not really published. Some of those believers are more pompous/elitist than others.

But, back in the 1980s, something changed. Digital happened! Many people jumped on that wagon, but many of the writers who had been published by the Big Five continued to submit their work to those publishers and many to this day struggle to continue submitting to them, even as their rejection file grows thicker and thicker. As the digital process became easier and more popular, the Big Five began to falter and some have actually failed. (Those who used to work at Kodak may see a familiar pattern here.)

In the mid-1980s, I belonged to a good-sized on-line writing and critiquing group. As is usual, some were excellent writers and some were just good. A couple of the better writers decided to partner a new business (Writers Club Press), a print-on-demand (POD) publishing company, and asked the rest of us to join many others by submitting our work to them. I honestly don’t know how selective they were—whether they rejected some or not. But my children’s book, Luvella’s Promise, was accepted and they even let me design my own cover. (I wanted my mother’s picture on it.) Each of us being published by Writers Club paid some money to cover the set-up expense (they were starting from scratch), but they formatted the books, published each copy as it was ordered (the absolute beauty of POD technology), handled all orders, distributed the books, and paid us, the authors, our royalties—the whole, same process that every publisher follows.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Digital publishing has survived and flourished. Think Kindle, Smartphone, I-phone, tablets, notebooks… We’re surrounded and loving it. And to satisfy the demands of all that technology, the number of smaller, independent presses have multiplied, actually grown exponentially. Also, the availability of the POD process to everyone has opened the doors wide for self-publishing.

Self-publishing has become so popular that writing groups, made up of people who always liked to write so decided to do it, are springing up all over. Many of these don’t even try to submit their stories to publishers of any kind; they just follow the steps in whatever program they choose and self-publish. Memoirs are a popular self-publishing venture, which retired people write and then give the books to their families. The problem with self-publishing is that some of the “authors” are not writers. They have poor grammar, incorrect punctuation, no organization… no evidence of writing skills. And that spoils the business for those who study the language, edit the work, understand the process; in other words, write!

Recently, the author of the Rochester Reads book, Enchanted, spoke at one of my writing groups. (If you haven’t read the book yet, I encourage you to do so.) She said she understood that many writers today struggle with the publishing decision when they’ve completed their manuscript. Her advice was that self-publishing was very expensive and writers rarely earned enough money on the sales of their book to pay those expenses. But, she said, although her book was published by Harper Collins, she encouraged everyone to submit to a small press.

She said that they frequently market your books more than the traditional publishers do. In fact, she said, Hawthorn Press produced a best seller. The other independent publisher she mentioned is the Forest Avenue Press. Both of these publishers are in the Northwest, but of course, in our digital world, that is not a problem for us in the East.

Bottom line, if you want to have your work published, learn the writing trade. Know your language. Do your research. Keep your dictionary and thesaurus at your elbow and get to work… the long, arduous journey of creating a world that will pull the reader away from the everyday and into your reality.

Yesterday


Yesterday, Vella Meadows’ children, Richard, Casey, Donna, Carol and Joanne, gave a wonderful party to celebrate Vella’s 97th birthday. There were family, relatives, and old friends there. And among the old friends were the former residents/neighbors of West Parkway.

For me, that was priceless. Everyone has long since moved away from the street, but yesterday those of us who were at the party went down through Memory Lane, through the yesterdays of our lives. We laughed a lot; a couple of us cried a little; but oh! We had so much fun.

First of all, eight different adults came to me, one at a time, and just stood in front of me, smiling, questions in their eyes: “Do you recognize me?” It was a real challenge because I hadn’t seen them since they were children (except for one). And I passed the challenge in all but two cases.

We ended up all sitting at the same table, except for the Meadows. They stayed with us a lot, but had to circulate and play hosts, which they did expertly. But at one point, Casey confessed that when he delivered papers as a kid and his bike had a flat tire or something, he’d grab one of my kids’ bikes (which he said were always lying around the yard. Wait till I call them on that one!), finish delivering his papers, and leave the bike back where he’d found it.

Joanne took me aside and tearfully apologized for not being at Mary Kay’s funeral. She said, “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Baier. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t. I tried writing notes to you and I was such a mess, I couldn’t do that, either.” I hugged her and said it was okay. Because it is okay. We all grieve in different ways and that’s just the way it is.

Later, Patty Noonan and Joanne and I laughed about the things we did together. We’d have our tea parties. I’d bring my bone china cups and saucers down from the cupboard and made tea that we all hated, but we sat there and pretended we were high society. I told them how I really laughed at some of our conversations then. They were so cute.

Another time, they let me ride someone’s bike with them. I told them I could only turn right, and the devils turned left off Bennington Drive, leaving me going straight ahead and laughing hysterically all by myself.

Patty said she remembers a time when one of her paper customers hadn’t paid her for quite a while. (People didn’t realize—or didn’t care—that the paper carriers had to pay for the papers whether they got paid by their customers or not.) She said that I went with her to that home and marched right up to the front door and explained the situation to that customer. I guess I’ve always been a soldier for the little guy.

They said—proudly—that Mary Kay, Patty and Joanne were the first girl paper carriers in our area. (Hmmm. Apparently, I was into feminist training even back then.)

What was the greatest treasure of all that those girls gave me—and they never knew it—was that they let me play little girl with them. Granted, they were bored stiff by the time they came to me, saying they couldn’t think of anything to do. But those tea parties and that bike ride (I only did it once!) and our many conversations are still, and will be forever, in my heart.

As we wound down the party, the photos, and the story-telling, someone said, “You know, we really had a nice neighborhood. Everyone played together, was nice to everyone else; neighbors helped each other. It was really like one big family.”  And the circle of former neighbors all agreed.

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First row, from left: Sue Middleton, me

Second row, from left:  Carol Meadows, Mary and Patty Noonan, Donna Meadows, Joanne Meadows. And the big guy in back is Casey Meadows (yes, he’s standing on something.)

Writing a Book – External Part II (Continued from Internal – Part I)


At this point, I know essentially what the story will be about. And I know most of what I need to regarding the characters and general plot before I start to write it. I particularly like to write historical stuff. And that means research. Lots of research.

It’s important for me to learn about the clothing of the time, transportation, money, cost of products, the music (and dance if it’s involved in the story at all), the vernacular, the work available to people, technology or lack thereof. I also need to understand the general educational level of that time and even some of the subjects studied, if that comes up. (As it did in my mid-grade novel, Luvella’s Promise.)

If the setting of the story is not in my current home town, then I must go to the place where everything occurs and learn about that territory. Homes, work, shopping areas, churches…everything is very likely different there from where I live, especially if I go back years in history.

For my YA novel, Prison Break (working title), the setting is 1929’s Auburn, NY, which is also my original home town. So much of my research was in my head from having grown up there, but I still had to learn about prison conditions (which contributed to two major prison riots in 1929), traditions, operations…the whole nine yards. After the prison received approval from Albany (our state capitol), I was allowed to visit and was escorted from the front entrance, from one small hall to another at a time through locked bars each time, and to the administration building. I was not allowed into the prison population at all, and I did not request to be. Those sliding bars locking and bolting in front of and behind me in a safe area were enough!

For my YA novel, The Heartbeat of the Mountain, to be released in a few months, I went to the settings of that story in Muncy Valley, Dushore, Eagles Mere, and Forksville, PA. For Luvella’s Promise, the prequel to Heartbeat, I additionally went to the Wyalusing (PA) Council House, a small museum for the Delaware Nation, of which the Muncees are a tribe, in the House’s very early days. My mother and I were even invited to attend a Pow Wow (we graciously declined) and I was, for years, on their mailing list.

The evidence I discovered on that trip showed me I had another story and that’s how Heartbeat was conceived.

Researching can be exhausting sometimes, but it never fails to excite, inform, and entertain. And for my story to have a solid foundation and be believable, I firmly trust in reliable research.

NOW. I have to put butt to chair and begin the writing process. I’ve tried several ways to outline:  using Goal, Motivation and Conflict charts (described in detail in the book of that title by Debra Dixon), the regular old-fashioned outline, chapter by chapter (which I find dangerously leading to writing in episodic fashion), and what I’ve settled on is a simple, but detailed, synopsis. That’s what works for me. I simply enlarge on each stage of the synopsis, filling in dialogue, conflict, personality development and so on. If you write, you know these processes are the hardest part and take a long time.

I am not a novel-a-year writer; I take a few years to complete each novel. But I must say, I do like the stories once they’re out there in the world.

Writing a Book—the Internal Part


Those of us who write books/novels know it is not an easy process. Actually, it’s not a process at all; it’s a series of processes; a conglomerate, if you will.

I usually begin my conglomerate internally. I see something, or hear something, or read something that triggers a thought methodology. It begins with, “Oh, what a neat place for a murder;” or “What an interesting character flaw;” or maybe “What a perfect setting for a tryst of some sort.” From there, my mind takes off.

The embryo of an idea invades my brain, infiltrates it, snuggles into all the crevices and crannies. It leaps across synapses, exploring, roaming, and copulating so that the ideas burst into growth and permeate the sphere of my head. At times, the noise is…awakening!

At this point, my head is relentless, especially when I’m walking or going to sleep or slowly awakening in the morning. All those ideas, thoughts, plot points, concepts want their freedom. So this is when I have to assemble them in some sort of plot-line order. I do this best while I’m walking. At first, I just decide the journey of my protagonist, and often, of my main antagonist, whose journey is so frequently intertwined with my hero’s/heroine’s. As I do this, I find the need for another character or scene or conflict or any number of other issues, all to support the protagonist’s goals or to add conflict or interest or tension.

It’s rather a pyramid-building scheme. I have to keep adding ideas, conflicts, characters, situations until there is a solid foundation on which I can build a convincing story. Then, as my (still in my head) protagonist pushes through his/her life, conquering this barrier, overcoming that obstacle, I see a story blossom. I see the bulk of supporting characters, scenes, evidence and conflicts that can build into a story. And I see the denouement, the self-realization, the tip of the pyramid, and satisfactory (glorious, at this point) ending.

During this whole process, I may have jotted down names, character descriptions and backgrounds, and other minutiae in a file so I wouldn’t forget the nitty gritties. But at this point, I must begin my External part of writing a book.

That, and all its fun parts, I will discuss in my next blog.

Where is America the Beautiful?


A good friend of many years emailed me, among others, the other day and asked how we could change the mood in our country after the election, no matter who wins it. And I agree with him. How can we release the hate, the violence in our hearts, the antipathy that has been generated in large doses during this campaign season?

This is my 18th or 19th presidential election, and never… NEVER… has there been this much division and/or outright hatred. I don’t remember any violence, other than some painted messages in a recent year’s local election. Even when Jack Kennedy, an Irish Catholic, ran for the presidency, there was none of this hateful rhetoric, the name-calling, the blatant–and unfounded–accusations of illegal activity. The campaigns, from both sides, were run with mutual respect and common decency.

I could say the current feelings all began with one candidate’s outrageous statements encouraging bullying and violence but that’s (letting our feelings interfere) exactly what I propose that we run away from. As fast and as focused as we can.

We have to forget the diatribes, the heated accusations and allegations and insinuations of these past few months. We have to sit back, relax, take a deep breath and think rationally. We have to behave as we were brought up to behave, be polite to strangers, kind to neighbors, helpful to those in need.

These are not unattainable goals. These are behaviors that are, or should be, basic to all humanity. And if we don’t all work together to achieve normalcy and peaceful coexistence again, I truly fear where it will end. We must be civil. We must be understanding. We must be cooperative. (Are you listening, Congress???)

We must be American. Oh, please, let’s go back to being great.

Detritus


For some reason, in my shower this morning, I began to think of the word ‘detritus.’ I had just used it in a story I’m in the process of writing and I began to wonder if I use the word in all my stories. Truth be told, I really love the word.

I have several favorite words. Lovely, fantastic, wonderful… I use them a lot in my day-to-day conversations, so they are probably favorites of mine. There are also a couple four-letter-words I use—sometimes often, depending on what kind of day I’m having. I don’t know if that qualifies those words as favorites or not. Since I’m a sweet little old lady, I’ll say that they are not favorites, but rather something like anomalies. Frequently used anomalies.

But, getting back to detritus… It’s just so much fun to say the word.  For instance, you could say, ‘The yard was littered with junk and trash.’ (How gross!) OR:  ‘The yard was littered with detritus.’ Here’s another pair:  ‘The old yearbook was filled with yellowed, crumbling pages.’ OR:  ‘The old yearbook was filled with the detritus of yesterdays.’ (Ahhhh. Now isn’t that a picture?)

I’m so disappointed when I think of all those years I missed saying, “Honey, would you take out the detritus, please?” Just watching/listening to his reaction would have been better than an I Love Lucy show.

And how about renaming our DPW organizations to Detritus Pick-up Workers? Can’t you just picture their backs straighter, their heads held higher, their trucks less squeakier? (Now, there’s an oxymoron—another good word for perhaps another day.) (And yes, I know the descriptive phrase should be “less squeaky,” but I didn’t want to break the “-er” pattern. Poetic license. ‘Nuff said.)

Now I must go do my laundry while I walk the elongated circle of my basement for half an hour’s exercise and avoid any notice of the detritus lurking in the corners.

The Darkness


Each Christmas, I write a children’s story for my great-grandchildren. I write one story, but customize it so that each child has a copy in which he/she is the personal hero. This year, because the kids are getting older (all around 6), I wrote a little adventure. There was a big, bad guy on another planet they visited.

In a quiet moment after he had read the story, I asked Daniel, 6, if it frightened him when Kaos came after him. He said, no, he’d just kill him to protect himself. I’m thinking blood, guts and gore galore as I said, “How?”

And he said, “I’d kill him with The Darkness.”

Hmmm. What a concept! Although childlike in its simplicity, it’s actually an adult-designed product of the video games Daniel plays all the time, The Skylanders. But, isn’t it perfect? Isn’t The Darkness one of the worst things we have in our lives? Maybe even the deadliest?

Darkness descends; it envelops; it smothers; it overcomes us. It wraps us in misery and loss. It deprives us—of light, of warmth, of cheer, of health.

If there are 50 shades of gray, there are a hundred shades of Darkness. There is gloom, melancholy, anger, fury, depression, rage, hate, vengeance, grief, sorrow, illness, death. I could go on, but it’s too… dark.

If we look at history, we see periods of Darkness. We remember that Darkness when we hear the music, read the novels (think Russian) and see it in the art. The Darkness can be all encompassing and can affect thousands at once. Today, we can see it in the news, day after day.

At first I thought Darkness was mostly a result, a reaction, or like a passive verb, something being acted upon. But then, I realized it’s also a thing, not just a subject, but a force, a power, an evil. A killer.

And it’s there. It’s out there. It’s waiting for you. Be careful. Be very careful.

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