The Persistent Author

 

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I wrote a book, something I’d yearned to do since childhood. I naively thought I’d start at page one and proceed in a logical fashion to “The End.” Instead the story came together in fits and starts with a whole lot of organizing, reorganizing, writing and rewriting—much of it done at night when I suffered from insomnia. Scribbles on yellow sticky notes, written in the dark, barely decipherable in the morning, eventually came together as a novel.

In all of my childhood dreaming, I had never considered the roller coaster of emotions that would come with the author role.

Initially, I told no one about my writing, rather embarrassed to presume to have the ability to put myself somewhere among the ranks of my favorite authors. But I couldn’t just leave my baby, er, I mean my novel, sitting on my computer so I joined the provincial writing guild and became a member of a critiquing group.

We were strangers on a mission, all new to the business of being an author, but determined to succeed and intent on helping each other reach our goals. Meeting once a month, nervousness morphed into confidence—not only of our own work, but also of the members’ genuine desire to help, not insult or hurt.

From the critiquing group I progressed to working with a writing partner sending work back and forth, brainstorming ideas, and making corrections. With a completed manuscript it was time to search out agents. I trotted off to the post office and, hands trembling a little, handed my letters over to the clerk.

I waited, impatiently for the post man. Replies did come—eventually. My heart beat faster, my hopes rose. I tore open the envelopes.  Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Hopes dashed, I glared at my computer, gave it a figurative kick and left it standing alone and lonely on my desk. This period of gloom lasted anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours after the receipt of one of those letters.

Refusing to give up, I started to write a second novel while preparing more queries for the first. Eventually a fat envelop arrived. My heart lept. This had to be good, right? All the others were skinny with little “Dear Author” notes inside. A fat letter had to be a positive response. Not! Rejection and pages of agent advertising urging me to spend a bundle of dollars on various services they just happened to be able to offer. Angry and frustrated, I debated quitting. Any sane person would give up. Not me. I persisted. I kept writing.

It was at the Willamette Writers’ Conference (not the first conference or workshop I’d attended, by any means) that I first heard about self-publishing. My writing partner and I pitched to an agent. She was positive, asked to see our work. Elated, we drove home plotting our future. A couple of weeks later we received identically worded rejections from this agent for two very different genres and writing styles. Angry at first, frustrated beyond belief, then overcome with laughter, our determination solidified. That was it! No more agonizing. Future defined. We’d self-publish.

Persistence paid off. I now have six books published (a four novel science-fiction series, one collection of short bits, and a contemporary novel) available in all formats. Ideas are swirling in my head for book seven. Now to get them to settle down into a logical order so that I can write it.

http://www.darlenejonesauthor.com

 

It’s so quiet here

I posted this about 2 years ago, but in light of what’s happening in the world these days, I felt compelled to post it again. The picture is from Aleppo, Syria, taken a few days ago.

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“We need you to interview a couple who have applied to teach in our province,” said the government voice at the end of the line.

“O-kay,” I said wondering why they couldn’t do it themselves.

“They’re from Lebanon and they only speak Arabic and French.”

Aha, that explained it. We had many immigrants coming into our city from war torn areas of the world and the Lebanese civil war was on-going at the time.

“We need you to evaluate their French language competency.”

A date and time were set and I met the couple in the appointed government office. I talked to each of them in turn.

The wife was shy and timid, but her French was fine. The husband was more willing to talk about conditions in Lebanon.

“I was a teacher,” he said. “They took my job away and sent me to work at the airport. Every morning I said good-bye to my family not knowing if I would see them again. Every morning a guard pointed a gun in my chest and asked me to produce my identification. The same guard. Every morning. As if he didn’t know who I was. We were so lucky to come to Canada. We had to come. I couldn’t risk the lives of my wife, my children.”

He paused for a moment as if gathering himself. “It’s so quiet here. You have peace. It’s so quiet here.”

All these years later, especially as I watch the news of war and strife around the world, one phrase echoes in my head. “It’s so quiet here.”

 

 

 

 

Joys of deciphering English

Dictionary

 

Uzo (my writing partner from Nigeria) writes:

When I am at a loss as to what a word means or how to write something, I consult my English dictionary. But then it’s English we are talking about; a vast somewhat complex language. It appears changes are being made every two or three years. And who am I to question another man’s language?

I imagine traditional speakers of English hold different views when it comes to the application of certain words. Take for e.g. “fell” in the sentence “His face fell.” In the Oxford dictionary there is an example like that along with its meaning. If as a writer, one is trying to convey to his readers that Jane is discouraged by her test results, how does he do so without being wordy? Do I simply say Jane looked discouraged? I am sure a good editor will point that out to me as “telling” how Jane feels. Yes, a writer doesn’t have to “show” everything, but when he does, he either is talking about a body part or anything around his book’s character(s). And from what I gather excessive use of “…ly” words make for lazy writing. So we are back to creativity in writing. How much description is bad and what sentences are now a cliché or not grammatical enough?

 

I write:

English is a horrendous language to learn. Culture plays a role too of course. I was getting my teeth cleaned yesterday and the hygienist, who is Vietnamese, said that her nieces and nephew are half-breeds. She used this expression because her sister and brother married white Canadians. I told her that “half-breed” has a terrible negative connotation coming from racism. When I was a kid, native Indians, (or to use the current politically correct term, aboriginals), who had an Indian parent and a white parent, were referred to, in a very derogatory way, as half-breeds. Of course she was completely unaware of this. Now, people use the term bi-racial. So I would say my granddaughter is bi-racial because she is half Mexican and half white Canadian.

 

At the same time, the complexity of English offers a multitude of nuances of meaning and that, of course, is where the difficulty lies. The article I sent you is just one writer’s opinion. She makes some very good points, but I disagree when she says the expression “his face fell” has the reader picturing his face on the floor. In fact “his face fell” is perfectly understood by native speakers to signify his shock or disappointment.

 

How much description is bad? It’s too much if the reader skips over parts. It’s too much if it doesn’t advance the story. Before television, books had huge passages of description that readers enjoyed, but with all the visual media we have now, readers don’t have the patience for that sort of thing. But then there is also danger in too little description if it leaves the reader puzzled as to what is happening. We, as the writer, have the scene clear in our heads. It has to be clear for the reader too.

 

One of the “joys” of being a writer is trying to find the balance in all of this.
 

Uzo writes:

Half-breed. Ah! We used to call white people half-caste. I thought that was cool until I got into senior secondary. Imagine how embarrassed I was when I was corrected. I felt terrible because one of my very good childhood friends was a white girl. She’s bi-racial – Nigerian and German.

What are the aliens up to now? Peek into book 3 EMBRACED

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00038]

 

Hi, I’m Curtis. Mrs. Jones—that’s her on the camel—put me in one of her books called EMBRACED. Sounds pretty mushy to me. Anyway, she says I have to tell you a little about the story.

Miss D, my school principal came to me one day with this page of scribbles. She thought it was some kind of code and she wanted me and my buddies to try to figure it out. I like Miss D and all. She’s not bad for an adult. You can talk to her and she doesn’t make fun. But, sheesh, a code from aliens? Anyway, to keep her happy, I said I’d help.

Thing is, once I started studying the scribbles, I could see messages. I told Miss D that Coder Guy (that’s the name Miss D gave to whoever was sending the messages) wanted her to fix things. Of course she asked what things? I didn’t know so I made up some stuff. Miss D wrote letters to newspapers using my ideas and the things she asked for started to come true.

She even let our class write letters on this fancy paper she had and the things we asked for came true too. Kinda spooky, eh? But fun. Secretly I wished Coder Guy could get rid of my zits and help me lose weight so I wouldn’t be such a geek. I didn’t tell Miss D that, but Coder Guy must have read my mind or something cause now I’m taller and better looking and the girls are starting to talk to me. Miss D says everyone changes, but for me it happened awfully fast so I think Coder Guy did it.

Now Miss D is in the hospital. She’s all screwed up by the messages and the letters and this guy named Sam. I think she really liked him, but he dumped her or something and that sent her over the edge. I’m going up to the hospital to see her now.

Oops, Mrs. Jones just told me not to say too much. Doesn’t want any spoilers for her book so you’ll have to read it to find out what happens. But she did tell me I could let you read an excerpt so here’s one for you.

Gotta go see Miss D now. Hope you like the book.

 

EXCERPT

“More drawings?” Curtis gestured at the papers she held.

Abby looked down at the pages and willed her hand to stop trembling. The three pages of code drawings seemed to shimmer and shiver with a life of their own. “Yes. Three pages. From Friday, Saturday, and last night. They’re pretty … they’re … pretty well done, I’d say.”

But Curtis was no longer listening.  He waved the papers she’d just handed him and almost shouted with excitement. “These are amazing. Way better than the first drawing you brought us.”

Abby stifled a small grin, but she had to agree. The drawings outclassed her scratches a million times over. “My friend developed instant artistic talent.”

“I’ll say.” Curtis shuffled the pages back and forth. He shook his head slowly and muttered “wow” over and over. Finally he looked up at her. “Miss D, thanks for getting so many. Now we have four to compare. We’ll see if there are any repeated patterns or sequences of symbols. Your friend is great to share these with us.”

“No problem.” Oh God, I’m such a liar. Of course there was a problem, and not just because she was lying to Curtis. My friend. How lame was that? The mere existence of the pages was the real problem. Some nights the clickings chattered incessantly in her fillings, almost driving her crazy.

Those were the nights of very little sleep. The weekend had been eerily silent. That was a new phenomenon since Friday, no clickings, instead Coder Guy had begun leaving the pages filled with drawings. Either way—no escaping the code.

A while back, she’d grown tired of sharpening the pencil she used each night and replaced it with a pen, which was now almost out of ink. She’d have to remember to get out a new one tonight. Or maybe not? What would happen if there was no writing utensil?

“What’s so funny?” Curtis asked. Abby hadn’t realized she’d laughed out loud. The lack of pen wouldn’t stop her night visitor. She stifled another burst of laughter she knew bordered on hysteria. Truth was, much as the pages of code scared her, she’d be devastated if no more came. The person—being, alien, Coder Guy—was an integral part of her life now; his existence had established a rhythm that kept her balanced. Or so she thought. Maybe she was completely off her rocker.

 

The reality of a writer’s life

 

 

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Writers’ lives often seem exotic and mysterious. Growing up, we read about the eccentricities of Hemingway, the excessive drinking of James Joyce, the desperate days of Jack London…. Artists in any genre are often seen as exceptional characters. They starve, cut off their ears, have several lovers, engage in dramatic fights, drink, and drink some more.

The days of big thinkers were never ordinary. They partied all night and slept all day.

How much of those stories are pure myth? What do modern day authors really do?

It’s likely that authors aren’t unlike anyone else. They get up, have breakfast, go to work, make dinner, spend time with their families, read, watch TV, sleep. Perhaps there’s a glass of wine with dinner, a night out with family or friends, a trip or two, a bit of body boarding at the beach. Nothing to make them stand out.

For a look at the day of a few famous authors see here.

 

Self-Publishing—who’s making the money now

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In the early days (2010) John Locke loomed large on the horizon as the first self-published author to sell one million books. Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey were not far behind. We did the math 1,000,000 X $0.35—and jumped on the band wagon. We all thought we too could be as successful as these pioneers.

Phase 2 of self-publishing saw the emergence of a plethora of “how to”—how to write, edit, publish.

 

Many blog posts one could read for free, but how did we know the blogger had any real expertise? We turned to books instead, however a large number of these books are also penned by unknowns, so we had to pick wisely. It quickly became almost compulsory to attend writing conferences as we hoped to find expert advice from the pros.

Phase 3 carried formatters, editors, and cover artists along for the ride. And those of us who were smart hired them to have our books be as professional as possible. If the big publishers wouldn’t take the time to look at us, we’d do it ourselves, and we’d do it right.

Phase 4? Ah, yes, another plethora, this time of advice on how to use social media to promote your books and the great debate about pricing and the wisdom or stupidity of making your books free;  all of this along with numerous book marketing sites. Some listed your book for free, others charged a fee. The problem of course was determining which were most effective, which really had the following to get your book “out there.” BookBub rose to the top charging what are exorbitant rates for most struggling authors, yet it is the one we all aspire to be on.

And, Phase 5? Perhaps the cleverest of all—“How to Market” courses with lovely videos, webinars, and supplementary materials, seemingly (from what one sees on the screen) prepared in the comfort of one’s own home. For the mere sum of $500, $600, $700 or more, you’ll receive the magic answers. Many of the presenters are Indie authors themselves. These “experts” promote strategies they claim worked wonders for their own sales, which makes one question why they are doing all the work necessary to create and present these courses instead of writing more books.

As we wade our way through the phases, weaving back and forth in an effort to produce the best possible book and find the elusive magical hook that will reel in readers, it’s phase 5 that intrigues the most. Convince 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 authors eager for sales to buy your course and you’re laughing all the way to the bank.

 

 

 

 

Multi-generational living – are we missing out?

Moving in

Moving in

 

Multi-generational living – are we missing out?

Through a set of unforeseen circumstances, our family life changed drastically and our daughter and young granddaughter moved in with us. We live in a 1600 square foot condo with a large living room/kitchen, a media room, an office, a large front closet, and two bedrooms, each with a walk-in closet and full bath. The floor plan offers needed privacy to go along with communal living.

Initially, I thought we’d be fine with this living arrangement. Now, a year later, while our daughter hunts for their own home, I find that I don’t want them to move out. Living together has been better than “fine.”

Helping our daughter with child care is a breeze when said child is in the same house. It’s not just the convenience of having her right here when it’s time to take her to school, or pick her up, or take her to an appointment. It’s the joy of having her energy and enthusiasm filling the house with laughter. “Grandpa, will you play two rounds of museum guard with me?”—a game she made up and for which she has detailed explanations and rules. “Grandma, can I read to you?” I’ve heard all of her books hundreds of times and love each and every reading. Yes, sometimes there are tears and whining, but that’s okay too.

Then there are the benefits of having an extra adult to share the work load and the expenses. Speaking of expenses, I have yet to calculate the savings by not duplicating—one set of appliances instead of two must equal four or five thousand dollars, one set of utility bills instead of two translates to a savings of four to five hundred dollars (or more) a month.

This communal living has psychological benefits too. The teaching and learning that flows back and forth—I’ve had to search Google to find out about some of the things our granddaughter talks about from school—the hugs and teasing, the caring and sharing, all of it priceless and beneficial for everyone. We offer stability and security, an oral history of our family, a perspective and wisdom (I hope) from our life experience. Our daughter keeps us current. Our granddaughter keeps us young. And love bounces off the walls.

It is said that multi-generational living went out of fashion with the surge of baby boomers. I’m one of those boomers and yes, we all thought we had to have our own homes; the bigger the better, right? Many of us followed jobs that took us miles away from our parents. Seeing, first hand, the benefits communal living has brought us, I wonder how that isolation from family impacts our children and our grandchildren. How does it impact us? What do we all lose in that separation of generations?

 

 

 

 

Out with the old, in with the new – it’s a generational thing

 

G's books

The other day, our granddaughter came home from school and asked my husband to ask her to spell I cup. He obliged. “I see you pee.” She giggled. This was apparently the height of grade one humor that day. My husband retaliated with this. “I got a new book from the library. It’s called Rusty Bed Springs by I. P. Nightly.”

Of course she didn’t get it. She didn’t have a clue about bedsprings—in fact, neither did our daughter. Only we elderly can bring up a mental picture of an old cot we had when we were kids and see the springs the joke refers to.

This exchange got me thinking about the circumstances that determine each generations’ experiences and the memories they will have of their childhoods. And it’s not just jokes and mental pictures of what we grew up with.

Without getting into the whole sphere of technology that has dramatically changed how we live and interact, I’d like to focus on books. I read to my granddaughter daily, and she reads to me, Slinky Malinki and Stickybeak Syd, Take Away the A, The Day the Crayons Quit, OH NO! (or how my science project destroyed the world), The Girl Who Hated Books….

Her bookshelves are full of wonderful tales, but there’s nary a “Once upon a time” to be found. And if you’re looking for a prince to rescue the damsel in distress—forget it. At the bookstore the other day, I looked, out of curiosity, for some of the fairy tales of my youth. Were the stores still stocking them? Were people still buying them? I found one, but that was it.

That’s not to say, my granddaughter has no classics, for on her shelves you’ll find Madeline, The Pokey Little Puppy, Corduroy, and a few Dr. Seuss which she loves and—is it sacrilege to say?—that I can’t stand

I sometimes feel nostalgic for those fairy tales of my youth and the memories I cherish. Back then, I loved the “Once upon a time…” opening for it meant a journey into magic and adventure.

But, for my granddaughter’s sake, I’m glad they are not on her shelves. I’m glad she’s reading about independent girls who can fend for themselves. I’m glad she’ll have different memories to cherish, stories of strong and self-reliant girls for that, I believe, is the greatest gift we adults can give our daughters and granddaughters.

Would you, if you could, live with aliens?

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Would you, if you could, live with aliens?

One of the joys of writing fiction is the freedom to imagine and create something beyond the realities that we know. I’ve always believed that there have to be other life forms in the vastness of our universe. Heck, there probably are ghosts too. I’m sure I saw the ghost of our dog after she died. Then again it could have been an hallucination.

But, back to my question. In my Em and Yves series, aliens toy with Em, use her to “fix” Earth, play with her emotions and her sanity. None of it fair, of course, but then every novel needs some spice. Of course, I had to give her a chance for a bit of revenge so I let her wild emotions impact the aliens, much to their horror.

As I wrote books 2, 3 and 4, I wondered if Em or any human could or would leave Earth,

leave everything they held dear, likely forever, to go live on another planet with other beings. What would it take to tempt a person to do such a thing? What reassurances would they need? A promise to be able to return home, the opportunity to bring their family with them…?

Would I? Could I? What circumstances would lead me to make that kind of decision, to go into the unknown?

I don’t have answers for myself and so I ask, would you, if you could, live with aliens?