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

 

Once a writer …

images (4) I’ve been challenged by Linn B. Halton, author and managing editor of the online Love a Happy Ending Lifestyle Magazine, (http://www.loveahappyending.com/) to join the Lovely Blog Hop to share some of the things that have helped shape my writing and my life. Thank you, Linn.

First Fond Memory

Riding on the sleigh under the moonlight with my father, the bells on the harnesses tinkling harmoniously along with the squeaking of the horses’ hooves on the hard packed snow—a romantic memory of a harsh life on the lonely prairie.

Books

No electricity, no radio, no TV. What’s a kid to do? Read and read and read. Anything I could get my hands on. Books from the storage area in the little one room school house, Little Lulu comics when my dad could afford to buy me one.

Libraries

A bit of magic come to Earth laced with the frustration of only being able to take out three books at a time. Only three? How to choose? Back then, at least one had to involve horses.

Passion

Travel has been paramount and I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen much of the world. My lifelong dream was to go on safari. That trip met every expectation and more. There’s no describing the silence, the vast spaces unmarred by civilization, the animals in their natural habitat—it’s a beautiful sort of time travel to another world.

Learning

Learning never stops. From the one room school house to university, from formal education to daily life, we always learn. Through my writing I’ve learned to be a more discriminating reader. I’ve also become an excellent proof reader and substantive editor. Two ways I can help other authors.

Writing

Joyful, frustrating, easy, painful—all of those and more, but never ever dull and never ever something I would give up. Once a writer, always a writer.

www.emandyves.com

And now I nominate Anneli Purchase.

https://annelisplace.wordpress.com/

https://wordsfromanneli.wordpress.com/

No Room for Error

pilots

Recently I called my doctor’s office to inquire about test results and was told that everything was fine, but that the lab had neglected to complete the one test that was crucial for my doctor to make a decision on medication, should it prove necessary.

When I went to the doctor’s office to pick up a new requisition, I commented that I was upset about the error. The receptionist told me not to be too hard on the lab staff as they were only human and they received so many requisitions.

Of course people make mistakes, but there are professions that don’t allow for error. This particular situation was not life or death for me, but what if it had been? Recently I met a woman dying of cancer. Her doctor had told her repeatedly that she was too young to have cancer and now that the cancer has finally been diagnosed, it’s too late to effect a cure.

Pilots, transit drivers, ferry captains … are all responsible for a great number of lives as they go about their daily jobs. How much room for error are they or should they be allowed? Pilots have an advantage in that they are not alone in the cockpit. The captain has the luxury of being able to check and cross check all procedures of the flight with the co-pilots on board.

A doctor interviewed on television suggested that his profession should adopt the pilot mode of co-operation and cross checking, particularly in the operating room as opposed to the “one man knows all” attitude that currently prevails in his profession. He claimed that surgical treatments would improve dramatically with a team approach.

And authors? Where do we fit in this picture? In one novel, a well-known and well-respected author (with a huge publishing company and its staff behind her) had one of the major characters in two places at the same time.

Does an error like that matter? Probably not. We can figure it out for ourselves, but it does spoil some of the pleasure in reading the book.

Errors of that nature could be much more serious in a non-fiction work. But in fiction too, accuracy is important.

A survey of fiction readers found that the one element most important in terms of enjoyment of the book was what the reader felt they had learned something. In Domingo’s Angel, I learned about conditions in Spain during Franco’s regime. In I Do Not Come to You by Chance and 419, I learned about the conditions in Nigeria that drove young men to participate in the flood of email scams we received. I like to think that the authors had done their research and that what they presented was as close to the truth as possible. (From what my friends in Nigeria tell me, both authors were spot on.)

Since I became a self-published author, I’ve been reading books by fellow indie authors. I don’t claim to have completely error-free books, but my writing partner and I are like those pilots in the cockpit. We send files back and forth for proofing and work very hard to find and correct all the little glitches. Knowing how difficult the job is, I sympathize with fellow authors and ignore minor mistakes, but I lose patience with books that have so many errors it seems obvious the author didn’t take the time to proof and edit properly.

With pilots and doctors there is no margin for error. How much of a margin should we concede to authors?

We indie authors want to be seen as professionals. We want to be respected for our work and devotion to writing. To achieve these goals we too, have very little margin for error.

 

 

Satan’s revenge – the synopsis


satan

You’ve written a novel, agonized over character names—after all you’re going to have to live with these people for many years. You’ve progressed from the draft to rewrite rewrite  rewrite, and then to edit, polish, and proof read. Along the way you’ve made the difficult decisions regarding your title, and cover design. Finally, you have it all in place. You’re done!

NOT! Reading agent and publisher submission guidelines you learn that you must include a 1 to 2 page synopsis—a summary of your novel—an objective outline of the story which includes all the key points of the entire main plot through to the end. Well now, that can’t be too hard.

“Writing a synopsis is like slowly pulling a tooth with pliers.”

“I hate it.”

“The deconstruction of a novel to reduce it to its simplest form is insane.”

“You never feel you’ve done your book justice.”

“Too much information to compress into too little space.”

“It’s the hardest writing we have to do.”

Oh, come on, don’t exaggerate. You authors are so sensitive. Numerous sites offer advice on how to write a synopsis. Check them out. It’s easy, you’ll see.

Written in present tense, third person, (in the same style of writing as your book) it’s a summary of your novel—with feeling. You do not have to include every character or every scene or plot point, but you should give a clear idea as to what your book is about, what is at stake for your heroes, and how it all turns out. Yes, you must put the conclusion to your novel in your synopsis. No cliffhangers or teasers.

Armed with all this guidance, you sit down to write the synopsis. One hundred drafts later and you’re crying in your beer, tearing your hair out, reduced to a blubbering piece of mush.

And no, even if you self-publish, you’re not off the hook. Now you need to produce the shorter, and even more difficult to write, synopsis meant for the public—the blurb or book description used to promote the book.

A blurb is not something that sums up your book in a nutshell. It’s meant to create enough excitement and interest to get people to want to READ your story. Think ad. Think movie trailer. Keep it short and simply written, easy to skim. Build in conflict and end with a good hook—a question that will get the reader to click that “ORDER” button.

Here’s the current version of my blurb. I think I’m getting a little closer to a good description, but undoubtedly, there will be more rewrites.

Emily doesn’t believe in heaven, but she has an insane desire to go “up there.” A yearning that’s so strong that she can no longer function in daily life. Even the wonderful Dr. David can’t help her find the answers she needs.

 Then a stranger arrives claiming to be her soulmate, claiming to have loved her in other lives. She is inexorably drawn to him even as she runs from him.

To prove what he says is true, Yves takes her to his world. There she meets gods and Powers and people rescued from doomed planets—living the perfect heavenly life. She knows she belongs “up there” with Yves, but all is not as idyllic as it appears. Emily is the only one who sees the danger. Can she leave her family and friends to stay with Yves? Will she be able to save him and his world?

As for the tagline, that catchphrase or slogan to advertise your book, how hard can that be?

Keep it simple, tell a story, be clear, be scenario driven, be creative, be memorable—all good advice from the Internet, but not so easy to put into practice. Movie taglines—In space no one can hear you scream. Alien (1979), Houston, we have a problem. Apollo 13 (1995)—are inspiring, but aren’t always the ticket for a novel.

This is what I’ve come up with so far for my books.

EMBATTLED

Aliens take over Em’s life. Trouble is the guy in charge is a rookie. Of course he messes up.

EMPOWERED

Jasmine is convinced she’s invincible. The visions she experienced as a child told her so.

EMBRACED

Abby believes the clickings she hears in the fillings of her teeth are messages from aliens. She’s right.

EMBROILED

Emily is obsessed with the notion of going “up there.” She arrives to a world in crisis. Saving it and the man she loves is up to her.

Mali to Mexico and points in between (coming soon)

I have to tell you a story. Snippets of a life well lived.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introducing Uzo

drums

I don’t remember how we met. Uzo reminds me that he was surfing WordPress looking for authors, found my blog, and read some of the posts about Mali. He made a comment, I responded and a new friendship was born.

Uzo is a young Nigerian with a blog. He lives in Asaba, Delta State (South-South Nigeria), one of the oil producing states in his country. I’m an older Canadian with a blog. I live a world away (in so many respects) on Vancouver Island, Canada.

Uzo writes novels. I write novels. Uzo writes in English, which is not his first language. As he says, “English is quite a vast language. Every day is a learning process for me.”

We begin by talking about books. We both like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’d read Half a Yellow Sun. He told me about Purple Hibiscus. Here’s what he had to say about that book. “Purple Hibiscus is a wonderful story. Adichie did a marvelous job there from the first person pov. Kambili’s account is so real and reflects the life of a rich, caged Igbo child-woman during one of the military regimes in Nigeria.”  We’re both anxious to read Americanah.

Uzo says, “I’m a no-good writer. I’m just a wannabe like you guys call it.” On the contrary, Uzo is a powerful writer. Here’s a sample.

Although the Liberian war is now over, I cannot wish away the memories. There are nights in my sleep when I still find myself dressed in army uniform, AK-47 ready. On these nights I hear the voices of parents calling their children; others joking, shouting: “Where’s your bunker?” The air cracks and I hear the sounds of diving jets and stuttering LMGs. Fire, blood, bullets and bodies everywhere. Things soon simmer to normal as danger passes. People fill the streets, young boys and girls going on various errands. Then he appears in a blood-stained enemy uniform. His oily dark face is teased with abandon. He’s about to aim his rifle at me. In my dreams, he dies in different ways. I’m his killer. Something tells me that he is my son. But I’m too afraid to believe it.

I’m not a professional editor, but I’ve offered to help Uzo with his English as he’d be drained if he had to pay an editor, so files are sent back and forth. I’m careful not to tamper with the uniqueness of his voice.

Only the eyes that moved swiftly would see the legs that desperately sprinted across the farms and pathways. Thereafter thoughts would arise if the runner was after something, or rather, was the prey.

Beautiful, right? And yes, my life, as a person and as a writer, is richer for having met him. That’s the beauty of the Internet.

Here’s what Uzo has to say about himself on his blog. (I don’t like the harmattan season either when the West African trade winds blow incessantly from the Sahara.)

  1. I love the game of Scrabble a lot. And I’ve won a big-money competition in that regard lately.
  2. I love the smell of the air immediately after a cold, long rain. It’s so refreshing!
  3. I don’t like the harmattan season.
  4. Music. Highlife music takes me to a different place entirely. It’s a gift to W. Africa.
  5. I want to learn how to speak Hausa and after that Swahili.
  6. I usually write with my right hand. But can also do so with my left…and it’s legible too.
  7. I still watch a lot of cartoons and can’t do without my PS3!
  8. Biscuits–I’m addicted.
  9. My favorite time of the day is very early in the morning for all the right reasons.
  10. I’ll get my dog friend a partner once I publish my first book. Well, that’s more like a promise.   In the meantime, he can woo those around him.
  11. I still have most of my childhood toys and comics with me.

Uzo’s blog: http://85degrees.wordpress.com

CLICK ON BADGE FOR LINK TO MY VENTURE GALLERIES PAGE.