Category Archives: Novels

Discount for readers of The Militant Writer

[Please note: This offer has now ended]

coverAs a thank you  to the subscribers of The Militant Writer, as well as my many editing and grantwriting clients, fellow writers and friends, please accept this offer of a deep discount of The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid, at Amazon, for a limited time only.

This offer is available ONLY from Friday through Tuesday (December 16 through 20, 2016; North American time).

To obtain the discount, use these links:

This is what Christopher Wiseman had to say about The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid:

This novel is one of the few I’ve read twice in a week simply to get a better idea of how the authors so often made me laugh […]. On one level, it’s a fast-paced adventure story set in the old west – well, New Mexico, lovingly recreated, in 1922 – which is a page-turner all the way through. But the reader who has some knowledge of Don Quixote, Martha Canary (Calamity Jane), gender-bending and cross-dressing, John Ford/Wayne’s The Searchers, sensational TV courtroom drama, beliefs about decent and decaying codes of honour, the novels of Zane Gray and Louis L’Amour, the unlikely dignity behind seeming absurdity, even Monty Python, will get much more delight from the way this novel takes these artistic and historical conventions and hilariously stands them on their heads […]. It’s a sexy, violent, rambunctious, pacy, rollicking, shocking, ridiculous yet real journey through both the old west and through human behaviour.

If you own the paperback version already, you may choose to take advantage of this discount to add the Kindle Edition to your personal electronic library accessible on all your electronic devices.

(Please note that the Kindle app is available for all devices at no charge from iTunes or directly from Amazon.)

Please note that both versions of the book can be ordered at equivalent discounted rates from Amazon locations around the globe. If you are so inclined, please leave your honest feedback on the Amazon website after you have read the book.

“The western dime novel meets Don Quixote and goes digital in this mash-up of hair-raising tales. It’s a bold and sexy chase from end to end.” – Fred Stenson (author of The Trade, Lightning and The Great Karoo)

Reminder: This discount is available ONLY from Friday through Tuesday (December 15 through 20, 2016 North American time):

To obtain discount, use these links:

Turning Writers’ Blocks into Building Blocks, or “What don’t I know?”

 

blocks__4971835856There is no worse feeling for a fiction writer than coming to a grinding halt in the middle of a story. One day all of your engines are firing, sentence after sentence pours out of you like hot metal, almost faster than you can type – it’s like the characters are alive inside your head and all you need to do is write down what they’re doing. You love the story you are writing and you know that everyone else in the entire world is going to love it, too. You are thinking that at the rate you are going, you’ll be finished by the new year, and rich and famous by next summer (or at least critically acclaimed within the decade).

And then the next day, the magic vanishes. You sit down at your computer as you always do, you start to key in words — but these words don’t fit with the words you wrote yesterday, nor do they even fit with each other very well. So you delete them. You try another sentence. Nope. Nothing good is happening on the screen. You tell yourself that you should ease up on yourself: this isn’t the final draft, it’s just the first one. It doesn’t have to be perfect. But still it isn’t working.

You get up and pace. You lie on your back on your bed or on the floor, and you start feeling nauseated. You go back to the computer, but you find yourself checking Facebook instead of writing. You read the news. You play an online game. Only at the end of the day, do you give up — hoping that tomorrow will return you to your state of authorial grace.

But tomorrow, it’s the same or worse. So you start reading back through what you wrote before you hit the wall — and, horror of horrors — you wonder if that part is any good either.

One day you reach a point where you can’t even bring yourself to open the file where you have saved your story.

What to do?

Some writing gurus will tell you to just keep going. They’ll tell you not to worry about whether what you’re putting down is good or bad… they’ll insist you must simply carry on. “Keep getting your daily quota down on paper,” they say, “and it will all work out.” They will cheerily suggest that you stop the day’s work in the middle of a paragraph so that you can carry on tomorrow … as if you could even write half a paragraph today.

Well, I’ve tried following that advice. As a result, I have printouts of several drafts of a novel called White Work in a box somewhere that, taken together, weigh about 20 lbs. White Work will never be complete because I kept going as advised, and never did find my way out of the mess I was making of it. Everything I did just made it worse. I grew sick and tired of it. Twenty years later, I still can’t look at it.

On other occasions when I’ve hit a wall, I’ve put the project aside, afraid of wrecking it. I’ve decided to wait until inspiration returned. Eventually a couple of those projects went into the fireplace or into my filing cabinet or still languish on my computer, unfinished. When I look at them I have no idea where I was going with them, what made me so keen about them in the first place.

In other words, if you don’t deal with them when they first show up, little blocks can grow into big problems.

Meeting the Block Head-on

I have finally found a solution that works for me when I run into a block, and I hope it works for you as well. It’s not really a solution, I suppose: it’s more of an awareness that you can turn into plan of action.

I have learned that when I find it impossible to move forward on a project, it is because there is something important about the story that I do not know.
Not knowing something erodes my confidence, and when I lack confidence I can’t write. Trying to move forward becomes like trying to walk across a frozen pond when I am not sure whether the ice is solid enough to hold me. My fear of seeing the ice begin to crack, of sinking into the deadly water — of getting trapped beneath the ice — becomes greater than my certainty that I can make it to the other side. I start to slow down, and then I stop. And that’s when I start sinking.

So now, when I find myself grinding to a halt in the middle of a story – as I did recently in my new novel, Seeds and Secrets (which you can watch me writing on Wattpad, one chapter at time, if you are interested) – I ask myself, “What do I not know about this story and its characters that I need to know before I can move on?” (There are lots of things I don’t need to know. I’m not talking about those things.)

“Where have I taken a wrong step?” I ask myself. “How did I get myself out here where the ice is so thin? When is the last time I felt myself on solid ground, and how do I get back there so I can once again move forward strongly?”

Kinds of Missing Information

What I don’t know about my story might be something small. For example, maybe the daughter of my main character was traumatized by the 9-11 coverage, but I’ve just realized that she could not have been traumatized by that event because she wasn’t even born when it occurred. Now I need to change everybody’s age in the whole story, or find the child another trauma.

Or maybe it’s a medium-sized problem. Maybe I haven’t spent enough time thinking about my main character’s best friend. I don’t know why she has turned into such a bitter adult. I realize that I need to spend some time thinking about what led her to become the woman she is now. (I may not actually include this information in my novel, but it’s clear to me that I do need to know it before I can move on.)

Or it might be a really big problem, which is, in my case, what almost always happens when I don’t know how a story is going to turn out. Some writers just keep on writing with no real plot in mind, hoping for the best, and some of those writers get lucky. (Or maybe, as in the case of Marcel Proust and Karl Ove Knausgaard, they just keep writing, and writing, and writing, until they stop.) But most authors, like me, need to know the ending before they can write the middle, or they will come to a grinding halt. (That’s what happened with White Work).

In order overcome a block and move on, sometimes I just need to go back a bit and fix something to make the story feel right again, as in the case of the trauma incident. Sometimes I need to draw a map or a floor plan or a family tree to make sure I’ve got my directions and dates and connections right. And sometimes I have a bigger job ahead of me: I need to figure out and then make notes on the balance of the plot, so I can see where I am going. (In Seeds and Secrets, my most recent problem turned out to be minor: I realized that I had no idea what career my central character had taken up as her employment as an adult: i.e., in the novel’s present tense. I had to decide what career path she’d chosen and how that path logically arose from what had happened to her when she was younger.)

To find missing information in my novel, the last place I want to look is at the novel itself. (That’s where the information is missing from, so why would I look for it there?) Instead, I often find it useful to go for a walk or head to the gym. For some reason, if I deliberately force myself to think about the problem while I’m sweating, the answer usually comes to me. Other times, I take my computer to a coffee shop or a park where I try to shake the solution loose — in my experience, a change of setting is much more likely to create a missing piece than is lying on the bed, staring in panic at the ceiling.

Once I’ve figured out what I don’t know about my novel, and have filled in the necessary cracks in what I’ve already written, I find that the ground again feels solid, and I am able to move forward. The book itself feels better — stronger — when I’ve done this. It’s sort of like turning writers’ blocks into construction materials. And when you know how to do that, you almost start to welcome those blocks when they start to crash down in front of you and bring you to a halt. (Almost.) You realize that if you don’t fix the problem, you are going to sink for sure. But you also begin to trust that you can fix it, given some time and focus, and that when you have –  when you’ve made the ground strong enough again to hold you – the readers who follow after will find it strong as well.

__________________

photo credit: turbulentflow via photopin cc

I’m Checking out WattPad. Have You Used It?

 

WP

Seeds and Secrets is a novel about a woman who accidentally discovers a formula that will allow her to grow younger… or at least stop growing older.

One of the (few remaining) challenges about not having an agent or publisher is not having anyone give a damn if you ever get the next paragraph of your next novel written. I know that my kind readers will say that they care (at least I hope they do!) and I hope they will feel amply rewarded for their patience when the next book does come out. But their support is not the same as having someone say, “We need your manuscript in two months,” or whatever the deadline might be that a publisher can impose. I’ve never had that kind of encouragement, so this lack of external pressure is nothing new for me, but it is hard. I know many writers who live on advances and deadlines, and I envy that: I think it must keep them writing in a way that a vacuum cannot.

So I’ve decided that maybe an alternative route might be to get a few readers interested in my next book, and eager to see what happens next. For that reason, I have posted the first chapter on WattPad, where it can be read for free, as will subsequent chapters as I complete and post them. This is actually the second draft of Seeds and Secrets – I wrote the first one before I started writing The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid with John – but now that DV is up and running (my sixth book! Hard to believe!), and I have almost unpacked following my move to my new life with Arnie, and done some (quite a lot of) work for clients, and completed the first half of the PD workshops  for The Writers Union of Canada, I have started thinking about what’s next. And so I’m revising Seeds and Secrets, which is a novel about a woman who accidentally discovers a formula that will allow her to grow younger… or at least stop growing older.

The first chapter is up here now. You can read it on your computer, or download their mobile app. My goal is to have the revised draft of the whole novel up by the end of August, ready for publication. Even if no one cares if I meet that deadline or not, the fact that I will be under the illusion that a few people might be interested will be of immeasurable help to me: I know, in fact, that it will keep me writing.

However, you don’t need to do anything but click through: you don’t need to actually read a word. I am just playing tricks with my own mind and — in the meantime — doing more research for another book I’m writing, called In Defence of Procrastination.

While I’m here though, I will ask for your input. Have any of you used WattPad? Did you learn anything I should know about? Are you on there? (I can check out your book if you provide a link. Community-building is one of the goals of the site.)

I’ll let you know what I find out and how I progress with occasional updates on my WattPad Experience here. In the meantime, soon you will be reading in this space a diatribe about why I am so sick and tired of reading everyone’s whining posts about all those bookstore closures. That should make me popular. ;) Stay tuned….

 

 

 

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #17: Get a media person to complain that there’s too much sex in your novel

Even if he is your own son.

Dan's DV Review“I tried to imagine it was my mom’s coauthor who wrote the sex scenes and that somehow my mom’s role in the writing process did not even involve reading those passages at all. That didn’t work, though.” – Dan Riskin, PhD, bat biologist, host of MONSTERS INSIDE ME on Animal Planet, co-host of DAILY PLANET on Discovery Channel, and author of the forthcoming MOTHER NATURE IS TRYING TO KILL YOU (Simon and Schuster, March 2014).

(Note: I put in the time: I’m entitled to name-drop.)

Introducing the One-Book-Only Book Club: January 1 to 31, 2014

What better time to read a novel about a woman who is struggling to get thin than in January?

TWCD_cover_v2Join other readers and the author for a fun, easy, interesting, on-line book discussion from January 1 to 31, 2014 to read and talk about The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel – the story of 29-year-old Rita Sax Turner’s frustrating and funny but ultimately rewarding journey to rid herself of sixty unwanted pounds (or so. Maybe more. Maybe less).

Each week we’ll read 100 pages, and then we’ll talk about them together. There will be set questions and topics posted at the end of each week, but you can ask the author anything about her thoughts on the book, or talk among yourselves – about the book, families, marriages, walking in the park, your own food-related issues, anything. If you have ever used food for something besides sustenance – like to make you thinner, or fatter, or just plain warm and comfy – you’re going to love reading about Rita.

The Whole Clove Diet tells the story of a young woman caught in a frustrating marriage with two step-kids, a nagging mom, a whiny mother-in-law and no clear plan for her future… well, at least none that she wants to think about. Not long ago she was a slim young thing with her whole future ahead of her, but as her options decline, she is getting fatter and fatter (her words) – not from hunger, but from frustration and rage, and feelings of despair and sadness. Her husband thinks that her getting pregnant would be just the thing, but this idea only makes her feel more trapped. She goes on diet after diet, and guess what? They don’t work. It appears that reducing your calorie intake does not take any weight off your problems.

Rita’s redeeming features include her ability to hope (true of anyone who has ever gone on a diet!), her wits, and her sense of humour (black though it may sometimes be). When an injury gives her an excuse to escape the home-front action for a week, she starts to figure it all out – and to figure herself out. The novel is ultimately a feel-good story that will leave you cheering for Rita (and feeling even more hopeful for yourself, and for those around you who are battling with addictions of any kind).

Some of the issues we’ll be talking about:

  • Is overeating an addiction – just as bulimia and anorexia are now thought to be?
  • How does the western world treat people who are overweight differently than it does people of normal weight?
  • Do we invite any of this treatment ourselves, by how we act when we are above our ideal weights?
  • What is self-discipline? Can you acquire it, and if so, where?
  • What is the difference between deciding to make a life change and resolving to make one?
  • Do women and men approach food differently? How much does this have to do with our historic roles?
  • Does one diet work better than another?

We’ll also get down to the nitty gritty:

  • Why exactly is Rita sexually attracted to a doctor who has been verbally abusive to her?
  • What can Rita do about the fact that her husband’s first wife keeps getting more and more attractive in everyone’s memory the longer she is dead?
  • What IS the recipe for Nanaimo bars?

As we read, your feelings of despair and sympathy for Rita will alternate with a sense that you want to sit down and have a talk with her, or maybe just give her a good shake. But she’ll also make you laugh and cheer.

Find out what the author was thinking when she wrote the novel, and what her own experiences with weight issues (and other addictions) have been, in this perfectly timed opportunity to join a book club that is reading only one book, ever.

Whether you’ve already read The Whole Clove Diet or have been intending to read it – or have never even heard of it until this minute – join us. (Check out the reviews by other readers first, on Amazon or GoodReads, if you’re so inclined.) If you have ever wanted to lose (or gain) a pound or two, are planning to make a new year’s resolution (about anything – the same principles apply if you’re on a weight-loss program, cutting back on the booze or cigarettes, or training for a half marathon), or just love reading some good writing, snuggle up with this book – and with us – for a truly satisfying launch to the new year.

Note: The WCD One-Off Book Club will meet on the The Whole Clove Diet blog, but the discussion will be copied to Mary W. Walters’s Author Page on GoodReads. Regular updates will also appear on the Mary W. Walters, Writer Facebook page, and on Twitter (@MaryWWalters). If you are not an on-line-forum kind of person, you can have printouts of the discussions emailed to you on request, and you can submit questions by email each week that will be answered and/or discussed by the group. (mary at marywwalters dot com)

The Whole Clove Diet is available from amazon.com in both print and e-book versions, and as a Kobo e-book.

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #6.5: February 4, 2013

Book Promotion TipsReport on Our Facebook Launch

On Wednesday, January 30, 2013, John A. Aragon and I held the first “live” Facebook book launch I’ve attended: our own. It was a smashing success, although I may have one or two Facebook friends who are no long speaking to me.

You can still see the proceedings here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/509375175774289/

John and I were celebrating the launch of our new novel, The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid, and our kind guests responded in the spirit of the invitation and the book. Several people brought liquor, and others brought food (Tina Sweet’s Hallowe’en “munchies” were a highlight). A few people played us some music that contributed to the atmosphere, and a couple of videos attracted positive attention (notably the Skeleton Dance that Charlie Maze posted, and the Old Man’s Dance that Liz brought along). There were fruit sculptures, pictures, and even fireworks. It was great.

A couple of people asked us questions about how the book had been written, which we answered. We also provided some info they hadn’t even asked for and probably didn’t want to know (like how the sex scenes – of which there are really only 2.5 or so, but they are notable – came into being).

We held the launch over a period of two hours (7 to 9 p.m. MST, where John lives, in Santa Fe, and 9 to 11 EST where I am). All told, about 40 people dropped by with comments, congratulations, quips and compliments. All in all, it was more fun than some real-life book launches I have been to, and I highly recommend a Facebook launch as a way to attract a bit of attention to your book.

The only drawback was that apparently all the people who’d been invited (which was ALL of our Facebook friends) got notices by email every time anyone posted anything during the party. After about 100 emails, a couple of my friends alerted me to this problem. I knew, as did many others no doubt, that you can “turn off notifications” (upper right-hand corner of your screen) when you don’t want to get any more information about an event on F/B, but they didn’t know that. And a lot of other people probably went offline for the evening and came back to find their email boxes inundated with launch-related info. I apologized to them. I had not realized that unless you decline an invitation to an event (which some people don’t like to do because they think it’s rude), you get a notice about every post that relates to it.

Therefore, if you are having a launch or hosting any other live activity on an actual Facebook Event announcement page, you might want to warn your invitees that if they don’t want to get an avalanche of emails (or an “avalaunch” perhaps), they should decline or turn off their notifications.

For those who did want to attend, however, it was a great party!

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #6: January 29, 2013

Book Promotion TipsHold a FaceBook Book Launch

I have no idea whether you even CAN hold a viable/interesting live event on FaceBook, but we’re going to give it our best shot on the evening of January 30, 2013. My co-author John A. Aragon and I are going to hang out on the Event page I have created for the launch, and we will reply to and “like” the comments from people who drop by. We’re also available to answer any questions people might have about how we co-wrote the book (The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid) — which was a bit tricky since we wrote it on the phone and on Skype. (Or WHY we wrote it, for that matter. If we can remember, we will tell you.) We intend to play some appropriate tunes (thanks to YouTube links) and have a celebration. We’ve invited all our FaceBook friends, and made it open to the public.

BYOB, and leave your horses and weapons at the door.

I’ll report back to you on how it worked out. I’m a bit nervous at the moment (what if 10 people post comments all at once? What if no one does?) but nothing ventured, nothing gained. John and I are used to yattering back and forth with people on the Amazon ABNA forum so I doubt we’ll run short of things to say. ;)

In the meantime, more news from the “Ugly Truth About Fiction” article from last week (and thanks for all the comments on that one, by the way.) Amazon would have a better chance of “winning” if they stopped listening to the idiots on their review forums. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2013/jan/25/why-amazon-just-cant-win

Fiction in 2013: The Ugly Truth (and a call for patience)

iStock_000015635745XSmallOkay.

So I was going to write a post about the sorry state of fiction publishing during this transition period, as we watch the established presses, gatekeeper agents, chain booksellers and respectable book review outlets grind through the death throes of their former heyday — those days soon gone forever when they got to decide what books we should read.

I was going to detail a few of the horrors that one former “mid-list writer” (me) witnessed as she set off on her lonely road to self-publication, and witnesses still as she trudges down the even more harrowing and thorny trail of self-published-book promotion. Several of the appalling sights I’ve seen have contributed to a precipitous decline in my faith in my fellow human beings, such as:

  • New lows for the publishing industry. Traditional publishers have “evolved” from basing their guesses about what books they should publish next year on last year’s bestseller lists, to basing them on the lists of top-selling self-published novels — whose authors they then race to sign. How ironic is that?
  • Sticking fingers in the dam as the ship goes down. Almost all traditional book review outlets, booksellers, awards competitions and funding agencies continue to refuse to review, sell or reward self-published books on principle, no matter what the track record of the author or the quality of the self-published book (why? Because they might have to THINK if they were to become more open? How much easier it must be to simply proceed as they always have done, by accepting only those books published by traditional presses?). This makes book promotion for former mid-list writers very difficult, but it also means that readers who are wise enough not to participate in on-line review forums never hear about self-published books with any literary merit;
  • The Crap. Oh, the Crap. I draw your attention here to the hundreds of thousands of works of so-called fiction that have been released into the marketplace in the past few years by self-published writers who are incompetent, inexperienced, badly edited, and/or merely ignorant or boring, many of whom grow apoplectic and even threatening if anyone suggests that they don’t know how to punctuate, much less how to write (This enormous garbage heap is offered as justification by publishers, booksellers, review outlets, awards organizers and granting agencies for continuing to proceed as they do, and I do not argue that it is a major issue. However, a bit of diligence on the part of these institutions could sort the wheat from the chaff – sorting is not THAT difficult – but who has time to be diligent when your house is crumbling around you?) ;
  • False Positive Reviews. Then we have the proliferation of ridiculously positive, 5-star reviews of the aforementioned Crap now posted to Amazon.com, Goodreads, book-review blogs, and other book-related sites. Most of these patently fluffy reviews have been written by the authors’ well-meaning but inexperienced, uninformed and not widely read friends and relatives. One book-review blogger favourably compared an utterly talentless writer to one with the world-class stature of, let us say, a Jane Austen – a comparison that was then, of course, gleefully quoted by the writer in subsequent promotion. Now, if you were an unaware book buyer and a fan of Jane Austen, would you know to proceed with caution? I don’t think so. (Yep. It’s a zoo out there. Be careful where you step);
  • Books that sell on reputation and gossip rather than content. These are the Honey Boo-Boos of the current literary world. Take, for example, the Fifty Shades series, which has sold an astounding, gut-wrenching, nauseating 68 million copies so far. (Lest anyone accuse me of sour grapes, I have no qualms admitting that I am fifty shades of green over E.L. James’s book sales, but I would never, ever want to be associated with such bad writing, even in exchange for a lot of money. Thank you anyway, Mephistopheles.) As far as I can tell, this phenomenon MUST be due to the lack of literary reviews of the book, for why would anyone spend good money on a totally unerotic, misogynistic, implausible piece of shit? The only possible explanation is that  is that 67.32 million of those 68 million purchasers bought the book by mistake. I’m telling anyone who hasn’t yet made the error: I bought the first book in the series. I read as much as I could stand. I threw it in the garbage. Don’t waste your money. Read Anaïs Nin or someone else who can actually write erotic fiction instead);
  • Review Police: Then we have the packs of on-line sleuths, most of whom hide behind pseudonyms, who apparently have an intense dislike of writers in general and suspect us all of being guilty of the most nefarious crimes, particularly ones pertaining to reviews. (I have personally been the victim of their sordid and senseless attacks when I stupidly ventured onto their forums to point out the errors in their thinking. Like two-year olds, their arguments are not constrained in any way by the need to use logic, and they will therefore win all arguments). Among other things, such individuals believe to the very cores of their Neanderthalean little hearts that if you have received a free copy of a book rather than purchased it, you are incapable of writing an objective review of it. This opinion of course invalidates every review that has ever been published in the New York Times, the Globe and Mail , the London Review of Books, or any other respected review publication: since the beginning of (literate) time, reviewers have not paid for books they have reviewed; they have received the free review copies that have been sent to the publications by the publishers. The “review police” seem to have very little to do with their lives aside from hunting down authors they can report to the Amazon gods for having engineered positive reviews for their own books – or, better yet, of having written such reviews themselves, using false names. Such witch hunts commonly occur on the Amazon Top Reviewers Forum (which is not exclusively about books, but also talks about reviews of toilet plungers and whatnot; here is, however, a charming recent thread that reveals the biases of many of the habitues of the forum) and The Kindle Forum;
  • Overkill Response by Amazon: Last fall, Amazon responded to accusations by these sleuths by deleting thousands of reviews by writers, inflammatory or not. Here are the details, as set out in the New York Times and The Telegraph;
  • Last but not least, it doesn’t help that at least one traditionally published author has admitted to actually doing what we are all being accused of doing: not only has R.J. Ellory written reviews of his own books and posted them under pseudonyms, he has also used fake personae to slag his fellow authors.

So, yeah. It’s a pretty disgusting time to be a fiction fan – as I am, both as a writer and a reader. I remember a bookseller once telling me (about 30 years ago) that she didn’t bother to take ID from book purchasers when they wrote cheques because they were all so honest. The nature of the beast seems to have changed, and I am very sorry to be seeing it.

What I was going to do was to just advise everyone to stay away from fiction–even mine!–until this all shakes down. If you can’t trust what is being published to be good, and you can’t trust the reviews to be honest, much less representative, then what’s the point?

But then I reminded myself that this IS just a transition stage. I reminded myself how far we’ve come in the past four years. I remembered how I’ve noticed that several of the newly published writers I didn’t feel were very good seem to have given up on their dreams to become millionaires from writing the next knock-off Twilight, and stopped plugging their books everywhere. It seems likely that many others who are not “real writers” will follow because this is (as it always has been) a hell of a lot of thankless work.

I thought about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours and reminded myself that I’ve been at this fiction-writing stuff – working at improving my writing – for more than thirty years now. I reminded myself that I finished my (first) half marathon back in the 1990s , and lost 30 lbs last autumn, by keeping on and keeping on–no matter what. Giving up on writing, even for a few months or years, is not an option anyway: I love to write. A writer is who I am.

I told myself that within another few years, there will be a new and much better system, in which the readers will find the good books for themselves from among all the self- and traditionally published books that are released, and then will tell the rest of us about them on book blogs that we will come to trust to point us in the best direction for our own personal reading interests. Within a few years, really good editors will offer to put their imprints on self-published books they’ve edited and liked. There will be awards programs that are open to both kinds of fiction publications. Writers who have established presses and agents will stop dumping and ignoring on principle those of us who are not dragging around similar litters of dependents. (See, for example, this.) We will have book review outlets we can trust to cover ALL good fiction writing, no matter where it comes from, and booksellers who will recognize their new roles as community gathering places for book lovers rather than as gatekeepers.

It will take a few more years for the evolution to shake down properly, but it will happen. And I am optimistic, despite my dismay and discouragement right now, that the world is going to be a better, more open and less expensive place for writers and for readers. And that we will once again be seen as a group as honourable people who are kind and supportive of one another.

So I decided not to write that depressing, bleak, discouraging blog post I had been thinking about after all.

Alison deLuca: Steampunk, Dieselpunk and a Bolt of Flash Fiction

Alison deLuca, steampunking

One of the pleasures I have enjoyed in participating in the on-line writing community in the past few years has been meeting dozens of writers from all over the world through the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) forum, on authonomy, and in other venues. Many of them have launched their literary careers in an era when self-publishing was a viable option, which it was not for most established writers when they first started out. The new-writer experience is very different today than it was 30 years ago when I began, and that has both its drawbacks and its advantages, I think.

My own entry into self-publishing has been greatly enriched by this community: we’ve learned the ropes together. I decided it would be fun to profile a couple of these promising and industrious emerging writers on my blog so that you could read about the lessons they have learned, and the great progress they have made, in their still relatively new careers as authors. In discussing this blog idea in one of the FaceBook groups I belong to, the thought came to us that having one of these newer (and definitely younger) writers than I interview another might be the way to go. Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I present for your reading pleasure a series of incisive and intriguing questions posed by Jeffrey Getzin of Alison DeLuca – and her equally fascinating responses.

Alison’s bio (from her very thorough press kit: kudos on that Alison. I’m going to use it as a model for my own!) tells me that she is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books. She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain. Currently, she says, she “wrestles words and laundry” in New Jersey. You can connect with Alison on her author page on FaceBook here, and read her Fresh Pot of Tea blog here.

Jeffrey Getzin, whose first novel – a fantasy – is entitled Prince of Bryanae, has a website here. Next time, he will be interviewed by Alison. Stay tuned….

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JG: Tell us about your first book The Night Watchman Express. What’s it about? What inspired you to write it?

Alison: First, thanks so much for the opportunity, Mary, and for the amazing interview questions, Jeff.

Nightwatchman is a steampunk novel set in Edwardian England. It’s the story of a young orphan named Miriam. Her guardians want to control her wealth, and their son, Simon, clashes at once with her. When some real villains enter the picture, Miriam and Simon have to find a way to forge an alliance. Along the way they encounter a quantum typewriter, a mysterious governess, and loads of adventures.

I was inspired by the music of Angelique Kidjo, a wonderful singer from Benin in Africa. Her songs helped me to picture the character of Mana, a governess from the islands.

It was difficult to write the scenes where Mana was confronted by the attitudes of Edwardian society. I had to make those interactions realistic but never demeaning. In fact, I couldn’t have done it without Mana’s inner strength, intelligence, and inherent poise. A lot of that came from Kidjo’s lyrics and the singer’s own beautiful personality.

JG: The Night Watchman Express has gone through several iterations. Why all the different versions, and why is it so hard to find now?

Alison: When the book was first published, I was very naïve. It was only after I wrote the second and third books in my trilogy that I realized I needed to go through several rounds of beta reads as well as several professional edits. It’s a good thing that publishing has become more fluid with the growing popularity of ebooks and Indie authors, and thus I have a second chance to present my work.

I grew more and more unsatisfied with TNWE, so I decided to do a complete structural and line edit on the book. It, along with books two and three in the series (Devil’s Kitchen and The Lamplighter’s Special) will be available again this summer.

JG: Rumor has it that The Night Watchman Express is part of a planned trilogy. Can you confirm this? If so, what kind of story arc do you have in mind?

Alison: It is actually the first of four books called The Crown Phoenix Series. The first three are written, and I am in the middle of the fourth, The South Sea Bubble.

The relationship between Miriam and Simon is the Bosun Higgs particle that connects the books, as well as the struggle between Mana and Barbara, my beautiful villainess. Those women are both strong characters, and their confrontations cause a lot more adventures for Miriam and Simon.

JG: Do you have any other projects planned?

Alison: I do! I’m also in the middle of a dieselpunk book. Steampunk’s tech is driven by steam, so dieselpunk has working engines and more advanced engineering. It was a great deal of fun doing research for that; I got to dig out my father-in-law’s old engineering and mechanics manuals.

The title is The Gramophone Society, and it is about a modern girl who finds one day that the steps to her attic lead downstairs, not up. She descends and is drawn into the world of WWII, when children were sent out of London to the country to get away from the Blitz. Of course, lots of adventure ensues. Yes, I’m an adventure freak.

JG: How long have you been writing? If you could go back in time and visit yourself when you had just started writing, what advice would you give yourself?

Alison: “Hey, you! Thirteen-year-old self! Do you really have to keep writing a love story about yourself and Donny Osmond?”

Writing is a journey, a very special voyage filled with moments of despair, frustration, and also brilliant happiness. I spent one summer on a very long fantasy novel. Now I see that what I wrote is absolute tripe, but it did teach me that I could sit down and complete a book.

JG: What do you do for fun other than writing?

Alison: As well as being a mother and a wife, I’m a hopeless reading addict, and I love to cook and garden. Blogging has become a passion, and at times I like to get my Xtreme on and go skiing.

JG: Do you have a “day job”? If you could write for a living, would you?

Alison: My day job is being a Stay At Home Mom. I’m incredibly lucky that my husband supports my writing career. The house suffers as a result, but my man is gallant enough to put up with it. At least, he doesn’t complain too bitterly.

I’d love to write and edit for a living. As my daughter becomes more self-sufficient, I hope to do exactly that. The changing nature of publishing gives people like me opportunities I couldn’t have dreamed I could access in the past, so I am very blessed to be able to do what I love every day.

As an example, I never knew how much I loved to edit. I’ve discovered that I adore to assist in the process of a novel’s birth. Some of my edits have been for writers who have incredibly original voices, such as Shaun Allan. It’s been my good fortune to work with works like Sin and see those pieces evolve.

JG: Many authors say that in order to be a good writer, you must first be a good reader. What have you been reading recently? What’s next on your list?

Alison: How did I never discover Nick Harkaway before? I just read Angelmaker, and of course with all the clockworks in the plot it has me hooked. I finished the luminous Losing Beauty last week, and The Last Guardian is next on my Kindle. I’m the kind of person who has an upstairs and a downstairs book, and if I start to read a good book I’m deaf to all that is going on around me.

JG: Flash Fiction Challenge: Write a very short story involving: a lighthouse, a telegraph, and a beach ball.

Alison: This will be fun, especially since I’ve just researched telegraphs for The South Sea Bubble. Here goes:

Conditioned Response*

We crouched by the screen door. There it was again, a flash from the direction of the Barnegat Light.

“It’s not the lighthouse.” My brother raised a cracked pair of opera glasses to his eyes to check.

“Optical telegraph,” I said.

The last time we had seen it, five years earlier, our stepfather was at the top of the stairs. That blink from his old Maglite meant we had to climb up and be quick about it. The severity of the punishments were directly related to the amount of time it took us to climb to the top.

“It’s not him, at least.” He bit off the words with a long cough that was rich with phlegm.

“We don’t have to do anything about it. We can just stay here.” Even as I spoke I knew we would go to the lighthouse. We were dogs that salivated over the ring of a bell. Both of us had been schooled to come when the Maglite appeared.

I stood and walked to my old bike. My brother hopped in the basket. “You’re a lot heavier now,” I complained. “Jesus!”

“Just shut up and pedal.”

The house was at the tail end of the beach. If we turned and went in the opposite direction, we would pass millionaires’ houses, complete with pool boys and marinas. Our own home was an abandoned motel that had shuttered its doors at the end of the seventies.

My heart pounded as I stood on the bike to get us up to Barnegat. My brother took out a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. “Don’t even think about it,” I said.

Two flashes. Each one saw a rusty bike draw closer to the lighthouse. Centuries earlier they would have spurred an answering response from another lighthouse, and so on down the coast – a system of communication called the optical telegraph.

I kicked the stand down. My brother climbed out of the basket and stretched. “Remember the pick?” he asked.

I shuddered. Our stepfather used to illustrate what could happen to us with a beach ball and an icepick. I hated my brother for remembering and for making me remember.

“No guards on duty. Weird.” I felt for the handle, even though I knew the local historical society would have locked the door.

The knob turned easily in my hand. My brother coughed again and spat. “It can’t be him.” It was impossible for our stepfather to be at the top of those steps. Nobody knew that better than we did.

“Why did we come?” I asked. I pictured the red coast hidden inside our skulls. The light we had seen had its answer, and we were helpless against that message.

“Wait.” He put a hand out. I could see how his fingers trembled in the dark entrails of the lighthouse.

Thump. Thump. Thump. It was a muffled sound that grew louder.

The fear in my throat tasted like spoiled hamburger. “What!” I screamed. “What!”

Something appeared at the bottom of the steps. A beach ball.

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* © Alison DeLuca

Selling your novel: Genre vs. mainstream fiction

I have recently read that, unless their names are well known, writers in future are going to have a lot more trouble selling genre fiction than mainstream fiction, because readers will buy another, cheaper novel in the same genre (which today often means that they will go for a free novel in an ebook giveaway) before they will pay for a novel by an author they haven’t heard of before.

On the other hand, more readers are likely to be looking for genre fiction than mainstream fiction, so you’re at least going to have them checking out your book.

Your thoughts?