What a great idea! Books on the Bus in Red Deer

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 9.46.58 PMI am grateful to Write, the newsletter of The Writers’ Union of Canada, for alerting me to a brilliant initiative now underway in Red Deer, Alberta (Canada) called Books on the Bus.

Buses in Red Deer now feature mini-libraries from which riders can borrow a book to read to themselves or their kids as they wend their way through town. They can also borrow the books for the weekend or the week, or even longer, and return them when they’ve finished reading them – or  they can “share the books with friends and family” and never return them at all. They can also donate books for the mini-libraries at various Red Deer locations.

Like the neighbourhood book boxes that are (happily) appearing everywhere, all of this happens at no cost to readers (aside from bus fare, in this case). “Books for all ages and reading abilities are available including children’s books, graphic novels and fiction and non-fiction for adults,” says the City of Red Deer’s website, which goes on to point out that “Providing access to literacy materials is a poverty reduction strategy identified by the Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance (CAPRA).”

Genius! I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of this idea before, and I think it should be happening everywhere. Which is why I am telling you about it.

 

Not every editor is the right editor

I’ve just been reading an article called “The Trouble of Rational Thought” by Miranda Popkey in The Paris Review about a writer I’d never heard of until today – Helen DeWitt. The subtitle of the article – “How Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai cultivates ambition in its readers” – caught my attention immediately, and by the time I’d finished reading the article, I’d ordered the book. (Which shows how someone writing a review or an article about your book can help sales.)

Quite aside from how intriguing the book itself sounds, the story of how it came to be published gave it an irresistible mystique. (“News of it traveled by word of mouth—and if that word reached you, it said something about the kind of reader you were: attracted to the recondite, undaunted by formal difficulty, unconventional in your tastes,” Popkey says.) Due in part to the challenges built into the structure and content of the novel, DeWitt had serious problems back in the mid-nineties trying to find an editor who was interested in what she was actually trying to do with her novel – who was willing to allow the writer to write her story, as opposed to the story the editor thought she should be writing.

It is clear that DeWitt’s novel was both unusual and ahead of its time – we’d be less surprised today to find different fonts and different languages in a published novel ostensibly in English than we might have been fifteen years ago. However, her story serves as yet another reminder that despite how important it is to have an editor (two, in fact – one for substantive editing and one for copy-editing) for your book, you also cannot just settle for any editor. The one you work with must appreciate that the book she is editing is your book, and not hers.

“My view was that the book benefits from the undivided attention of its author. And this turned out to be a scandalous… I mean it wasn’t even scandalous: it was so outrageous a point of view that it didn’t even cross anyone’s mind that one might think that: obviously what you needed was guidance.” – Helen DeWitt

As writers, we can always benefit from the knowledge and guidance of good editors. The authors of (almost?) every brilliant book I’ve ever read have acknowledged the contribution their editors have made to getting the manuscript into its final format. However, we also need to be aware that just as there are times when we need to listen, there are also times when we need to push back – even just a little, by saying “that’s not what I am trying to say,” or “That’s not how I want to say it.” And if we can’t get the editor to hear us, maybe we need to find another editor.

The story in The Paris Review led me to watch an interview with DeWitt herself, which is one of The Paris Review‘s “My First Time” series. In it, she recounts her problems with editors of The Last Samurai. Check it out:

 

Subsequent poking around the Internet has led me to discover that DeWitt’s problems with the publishing industry were not restricted to the experience of getting her first novel published. Her second novel, Lightning Rods, took ten years from completion to the bookshelf, and that experience also nearly drove her crazy.

I don’t know why I find DeWitt’s story reassuring, but I do.

Água Viva – Clarice Lispector

Mary W. Walters: Book Reviews

LispectorÁgua Viva

Clarice Lispector

Translated by Stefan Tobler

88 pages

New Directions Books

Although Água Viva is officially classified as fiction, it is likely to appeal more to those with a taste for poetry than to those who prefer the more familiar manifestations of prose. Água Viva lacks narrative structure: in fact, one reviewer described it as “non-narrative fiction” — whatever that means. For the most part the author betrays even her own basic construct, which is that this work has been written by an unnamed narrator — a painter who is exploring the artistic possibilities of the writing medium for the first time — to a lover from whom she has been temporarily and unwillingly parted.

Despite the wrench she claims to feel at his departure, the “other” to whom the writing is ostensibly addressed is not important to this work. For most of Água Viva, the narrator…

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Who by Fire – Fred Stenson

From my Book Reviews blog….

Mary W. Walters: Book Reviews

Who By Fire CoverWho by Fire

Fred Stenson

359 pages, Doubleday

A Human Face for a Complex Issue

A surprising number of the world’s most destructive conflicts can be related in one way or another to differences of opinion over how to manage the Earth’s non-renewable resources. Heated disputes over the ownership, use and fate of fossil fuels rage across scientific, political, economic, historical and cultural boundaries — damaging individual and community relationships as surely as tailing ponds contaminate nearby flora and fauna. Fred Stenson has brought the destructive power of these debates and arguments to a human level in his latest novel, Who by Fire (named, like Leonard Cohen’s song, from the Hebrew prayer/poem “Unetaneh Tokef”).

Bill Ryder is just a boy when a sour-gas plant opens downwind of his parents’ southern Alberta farm. Poisonous gases released during a series of plant malfunctions make the family sick — particularly Billy…

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My writing is buried in the junkheap of obscurity. Only you can save it.

Dear Friends and Family

My writing, which I love, needs ten minutes of your time.

I have posted the first chapter of my next novel, SEEDS AND SECRETS, on WattPad, here:  It will take you ten minutes to read it. If you do, you will be helping my writing career more than you can even begin to imagine. If you vote for it, you will help it even more.WattPad is a site where writers can post their work and other people can read it at no charge. They can also vote for it (which will increase the number of other readers who come to discover it), and they can “follow” writers whose stories they like, so they are notified by email when subsequent chapters in a book are posted. The more people who read and like a story, the more who will be directed to it via the site itself (computer algorithms take care of this).

SEEDS AND SECRETS is a novel about a woman who inadvertently discovers a magic formula that helps her to get younger, or at least to stay the same age. Some of you will remember that I wrote a first draft of this book when I was living in Saskatchewan, which is where the novel takes place. With your help, I will write this book and publish it in chapters (the way Charles Dickens used to do with his). This book and your help can turn my career around.

Here’s why I need your Help

Mine is a career of which I despair almost daily. I love the novels I have written — they are like my babies — and my heart is breaking because thanks to the self-defeating pig-headed snottiness of the media, almost no one knows they exist.

I believe it’s sites like WattPad that will help readers discover the good writers of the future. (Those and an increasing but still modest number of intelligent book blogs.) As you know, I am part of the first edge of established writers who have chosen to move away from the established publishing route, and go “indie.” With publishers going down the tubes and/or intent on publishing only novels that are sure to become runaway bestsellers (i.e., those written by movie-stars and inexperienced young first-time writers who look hot in interviews), for most of us, self-publishing is the way of the future and more and more of us are choosing to “go indie” – as musicians did before us. I have been co-presenting as part of a series of workshops put on by The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) on how to get your back-list title into print, or how to start out your career as a writer independently of publishers, and the sessions have been packed. TWUC has voted to start admitting self-published writers whose books meet a peer-reviewed standard of excellence. Every day there are more and more of us out here. But it’ll be another few years before you read about any of our books in the media.

As a result this is a very, very difficult time for those of us who are striving to produce really good books ourselves. We have the technology and contacts and experience to produce well written, well-edited, fun and thoughtful books, but we don’t have any way of letting readers know about them. Self-published books are considered by media outlets like CBC, the Globe and Mail, the New York Times, to be the poor cousins begging at the door. We are utterly ignored — the books we send for consideration are ignored, our follow-up emails are ignored, recommendations from friends in the business are ignored (by Writers and Company and Between the Covers at CBC, to name two): at this point in time, everything that has the “eau de self-publishing” is ignored (unless it cannot be ignored, Like Fifty Shades of Grey. Which is not even real writing), It’s true that the majority of self-published fiction IS crap — I wouldn’t read or review most of it myself — but it is the self-published writing that is NOT crap that threatens the whole already crumbling network of publishers, booksellers and review outlets for reasons I’ve gone into elsewhere on this blog. So it is ignored. They ignore US to protect THEMSELVES.

The reviewers do not seem to realize that by not accepting the changes that are taking place as a result of writers taking their own careers in their own hands, they are shooting themselves in their own foreheads. They are making themselves obsolete. Their old-boys network is not safe: it is about to fall around them.

In the interim, however, thanks to the fact that there is no way to get my books reviewed, or start any word-of-mouth buzz about them since my friends who HAVE read them don’t realize how important it is for them to recommend them to other people, I’ve sold about 40 copies of each of my two most recent novels.  Most of my fellow-author “friends” — who are usually great sources to one another of mouth-to-mouth recommendations — and all the outlets they control such as reading series, literary magazines, awards program, etc. — are also close to self-published authors. When I tell them I have self-published my most recent book most of them still turn up their noses at me as though I had begun to smell of something putrid. They have a big investment in the traditional publishing industry, too.When I read over excerpts from my last two novels (The Whole Clove Diet, which I am about to re-release as Rita Just Wants To Be Thin, so it’s unavailable right now), and The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid, I feel like my heart is going to break. I cannot even begin to explain to you how discouraging it is to pour your heart and soul into writing a really wonderful novel (my opinion on this is echoed by those who HAVE read these two books, as you will see from the reviews on amazon.com) and to know that most of the world isn’t going to be able to find out about your book for another five years or so, when the world will catch up with you.

Helping is easy…..and free. And FUN!!!!!!!!

So please read the first chapter of Seeds and Secrets and then please tell your neighbors (and your neighbours) it is there. And tell them about my other books. I am drowning in obscurity. For now, you are the ONLY ones who can help.The one chapter I have posted so far on WattPad is free. If you want, you can sign up using a fake name so no one will know you are you. You can read WattPad stories on your laptop or your mobile device. And if you read my first chapter and like it, you can sign up to get the next chapter and the next as they are written. I hope to have the entire book done by the end of August.

The Book that’s Never Been Reviewed

 In case you missed my most recent novel (and how could you NOT have missed it, since it has received ZERO reviews from any traditional outlets. ZERO. NONE.) you can check it out on Amazon. It is funny, bawdy, a great romp, a western based on Don Quixote (who ever heard of THAT insane combination). I wrote it with my dear friend John A. Aragon of Santa Fe, and I guarantee it is a better read than almost anything you will find out there. (I’m sick and tired of being modest. I can’t afford to be modest.)

Here’s the blurb for it.

The West will never be the same . . . .New Mexico, 1922.

The orphaned eighteen-year-old stablehand Rosalind Grundy is seduced by a married woman, and faces a lynching after the pair is surprised in flagrante delicto. But she manages to escape with the aid of a strange and aristocratic old man who calls himself Don Valiente.

Don Valiente, having read too many dime westerns, has come to believe that he is a famous gunfighter. He thinks Roz is a young man named Ross, and he takes her under his wing, intending to teach her and to revive “The Code Of The Caballeros.”

Don Valiente and Roz embark on a series of comic adventures. But when they come upon a grisly murder scene and the trail of three escaped-convict killers, Roz realizes that her only chance to survive the imminent showdown and to reunite with her true love lies in her ability to separate Don Valiente’s madness from the eternal truths in his teaching.

Here’s the link. The book is only $2.99 on Kindle, and if some people I actually know would actually buy it, other people would as well. That’s how this world of algorithms works.

You can also buy it in paperback.

If you feel like it, you can also tell the CBC and your local newspaper that I am worth reviewing, knowledgeable, and fun to interview. Although of course, that part isn’t necessary. If we just wait a while (three years?), they’ll come around. If they’re still in business.

With huge gratitude and even hugs in advance for your help, I remain your previously humble scribe.

Mary