Publication Day

So, it’s here at last. The little book conceived in the throes of vertigo and anxiety, tapped out bit by bit on my dining-room table over the course of last summer, is now a reality. Sorry to get dramatic about it, but when this year began, I honestly did not think I would write or complete another novel. I had pretty much decided to let go of the whole fiction business and move on, perhaps devote myself to editing other people’s books, or teaching English to tots.  But The Novice Master forced his way out, and here we are.

So the hardcore details: It’s only available in paperback for now; the Kindle version will appear on the first day of new year, just a month from now. That’s deliberate: I hope to have a few reviews in by then. It won’t appear on Amazon until Dec. 3 or so; but you can order it immediately from Createspace.com if you wish. Or you can try to win one of the Goodreads copies, although as of today there are about 180 people ahead of you, so that makes it one chance in six…I’m not going to beg folks for reviews, but I will only say that I do crave some sort of feedback on this particular book; I really do want to know what people think of it, even if takes the form of a simple comment in this blog.

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Giveaway Day

My long-awaited Goodreads Giveaway launched, but alas, I missed the opening moments. It started Thanksgiving night, when I was distracted by family, cute nephews, turkey, three kinds of pie, the UConn/Syracuse game. At the moment the giveaway started, I was nursing a third glass of wine and listening to my brother-in-law’s fishing stories (and the merits of using fresh shrimp for bait). So much for seizing the marketing moment and being prepared. When I got home the next day, to vaguely figure out when the thing was scheduled to start, I already had 127 requests.

I think my numbers are decent, considering it was Black Friday and all, but I do find myself scrutinizing the other offerings, and coveting their numbers. I admit to some annoyance when I see a really uninteresting—or even amateurish—book racking up the big numbers. Why???!! But I still have 30 days to go: The giveaway officially ends with the year, at midnight December 31st. Which was probably a mistake on my part, because who’s going to be looking for free books on New Year’s Eve? I guess we’ll see…

Another mistake I made was making the description too short. This is partly Goodreads’ fault: they only give you this tiny window to type your description into. And I thought that brevity might be a good thing. But practically everyone else has humongous descriptions. You should see John Irving’s—yes, I’m competing with him, along with some other noteworthy writers. So herewith is the description I probably should have written, along with—if I can manage it, being a complete technophobe—the ‘widget’ Goodreads gave me to direct you to the site.

“Lonely, lost-boy Evan Claver, a childhood cancer survivor, finds himself at 19 yearning for the guidance, approval and attention of a mentor, or father-figure, an older man to help him figure out his life’s meaning and purpose. For several years he has fixated on the author of a spiritual treatise, whom he credits with curing his illness, a monk named Theophane, or simply, Theo. Evan sets out to track the man down at his abbey in rural Pennsylvania, only to find the monastery disbanded and Theo long gone. But he learns enough to track Theo down—to a small town in western New York State, where Theo has become secularized, now a widowed history professor at a tiny college.

Evan manages to secure a room that Theo—now Professor Barlowe—is renting out in his own abode. But the relationship does not go well at first: Barlowe is cranky, imperious, impatient and deeply suspicious of this strange boy who has turned up in his house; and Evan finds himself subject to endless derision as well as humiliating tasks, unconsciously picking up the role of lowly novice to Barlowe’s abbot. The book follows their academic year together, as their relationship flounders in a comical way but then begins to gel through small crises, epiphanies, revelations and drama. Their roles slowly begin to blur and dissolve, as both men realize they each have something valuable to learn and gain from the other.

But the biggest threat or challenge to the men’s bond is Persephone, Barlowe’s graduate assistant and Evan’s history instructor. She is drawn to both men, and plays them against each other, letting them compete for her sexual favors. Eventually this game leads to a crucial showdown between the men—“

 

I’m getting into ‘spoiler’ territory, so I’m stopping the description right there. It should be clear this is a character-driven narrative: both Evan and Barlowe are very flawed, troubled but appealing men, decent and loving at heart but never quite able to express that. Persephone’s a bit of a bitch, but she turns out to have a heart after all, too. This book reflects my basic faith in people and their innate goodness, that there’s hope for us all, but I’m not trying to be the next Flannery O’Connor, honest. So, go and read it. It’ll be on sale at Amazon next week in paperback form (you’ll have to wait until January for the ebook version) Or, enter the giveaway. Hope you win!

Book Giveaway For The Novice Master

  • The Novice Master by Kathy Cecala
    The Novice Master
    by Kathy Cecala (Goodreads Author)

    Release date: Nov 30, 2015
     Enter for a chance to win one of 30 signed/first edition copies of the contemporary novel THE NOVICE MASTER by Kathy Cecala. This new-adult, coming-of-age tale describes a quirky student-mentor relationship between a naïve college freshman and his imperious professor, complicated when both desire the same woman. [close]

    Giveaway ends in:33 days and 5:36:32

    Availability: 30 copies available, 158 people requesting

    Giveaway dates: Nov 27 – Dec 31, 2015

    Countries available: US, CA, and GB more

The Professor and his ‘novice’

Happy Thanksgiving! Here is a brief excerpt from Chapter 2 of The Novice Master, just to give you a little taste of what’s coming, November 30th:

Professor Ellis Barlowe sat on the porch of an elegant, but slightly decaying Edwardian-era house, his long, lean frame draped into an Adirondack-style chair as he studied a book perched on his lap. He was framed, like an icon, by an arched window behind him. Still dressed in his busy-knit gray sweater, now buttoned up tightly against the faint chill of early evening, he looked rather benign now, at rest, his face untroubled and clearly absorbed by the work he was reading; and enveloped in a puzzling haze. But he looked now like the man Evan had been seeking: Thoughtful, peaceful, perhaps even capable of some warmth or understanding.

Evan stood paralyzed on the sidewalk before him, uncertain whether to keep walking or attempt a conversation. This could be his opportunity, or then again, he might be brushed away as brusquely as he had this morning. He had just decided to cross the street and move on, when Barlowe looked up, and focused his gray-blue stare at him, his brow wrinkling in a foreboding way.

“Hi,” Evan offered, feebly, even waving his hand in an awkward little way. Barlowe stared at him a moment longer, the expression on his face not changing.

“Mr. Claver, is it?” Evan saw now that he was holding a cigarette in his left hand, thus explaining the cloudy haze that surrounded him. He took a long draw, as he waited for Evan to reply.

“Yes, sir. I thought I’d just…take a walk down this way…”

The professor blew out a cloud of smoke, squinting through it. “Are you feeling better now? No more fainting spells?”

“I’m fine, really, sir.”

“Where are you from, Claver?”

“Pittsburgh. Well, a suburb, subdivision, Forest Grove, it’s…Pittsburgh,” he repeated again, feeling like a true idiot now.

Barlowe took another long, thoughtful drag on his cigarette. “Did you come about the room, then?”

“The…room?”

“Yes, the room I’m renting out. I’m sure they explained everything to you in the housing office. Five hundred a month. Not negotiable.”

Evan stared up at the house, astonished.

“Could I…see it?”

“Well….” Barlowe stubbed out his cigarette and rose to his full height. “I generally prefer a female student. The girls tend to be neater and quieter. But here we are a week into the first semester and no one has signed on. You seem like a sober enough fellow, so perhaps you’ll do.” He ushered Evan inside, into a foyer lined with books.

Not just books, but books. Evan gaped about: It was as if he had wandered into the town library. Maybe it was the town library.

“Before we purchased this house, it had been a used bookstore. We bought it on the condition that all the books be left in place. It seemed like an appealing idea, at the time…” He sighed, then shook his head, as if in disgust. Evan, meanwhile, pondered the use of the pronoun we.

Off the foyer were four rooms—three were filled with books, the fourth was a homey sort of kitchen, with a refectory-style table, a large farmhouse sink and a sunporch projecting into the back yard. Evan saw the hint of a vast garden beyond.

Barlowe led Evan up a winding chestnut staircase, lit by an ornate stained-glass window at the top, an abstract design which glowed in shades of pale green and amber gold. The second-floor hallway was also lined with books.

“The books do make a good insulation,” said Barlowe, continued. “I wish I had thought of it, when I lived in Maine.” He pointed at the end of the hall. “Those are the children’s rooms. You’d have your own bath, but it’s in the hallway, over there.”

“You have children?”

“My grandchildren. They live with me, but they’re out now, with Beverley.”

How could he have grandchildren? If he only left the monastery about a decade ago, and had been there for over twenty years…Evan frowned.

“Beverley is your…?”

“Housekeeper. My wife is deceased. Here you go.” He pushed open the door to a small, dismal room, not unlike the retreat-house cell. The walls were cloaked in a beigey-green damask paper that might have been installed in the 1950s, and a large brown-bordered crack ran across the ceiling. There was a sputtering radiator, a single, twin-sized bed, a nightstand, a small desk and chair and dresser and nothing else. Not a single book or bookcase in sight. A window looked directly into the neighbor’s window, only six feet away.

Evan gave him a look of dismay. “You want $500 a month for this?”

“It’s what I need to get, to make my mortgage payment.”

Theo, with a mortgage?

“What will it be, my boy? Yes or no?”

“I’ll take it,” Evan said, suddenly. “I’ll…make it work, somehow.”

“If it’s worth it to you,” Barlowe murmured.

And now Evan looked at him: Really looked at him, the man he had been spiritually connected with for the past three years, now made real, only a foot or two away. He studied this tall, thin, tired older man, who still reeked of tobacco smoke: the grim set of his mouth, the eyes behind the spectacles so gray and light they seemed vaguely vacant rather than menacing now. He was not a completely unattractive man, but still… He tried to square this with the vision of Theo the beautiful archangel, the noble man he had seen on the wall of Benedetto, but he couldn’t. It just wasn’t the same man.

“Yes, sir,” he said. “It will be…incredibly worth it, to me. I would be…honored, to live here, with you.”

Barlow frowned at him, his lip curling as if about to make some dismissive remark. But instead: “Rent is due the first of the month. I’ll need a security deposit, as students your age can be destructive—“

“I don’t see much here to be destroyed, frankly,” Evan suddenly blurted out. And surprise of surprise: Barlowe actually smiled, a little. A little maliciously…

“Yes, it’s a bit Spartan, isn’t it?” Spartan came out as spah-tin.

“Spartan? It’s positively monastic!”

Barlowe’s smile dissolved, his face tightening in disapproval.

“You’re not going to be one of those little hermits, are you, locking yourself up and never coming out?”

“Oh, no, sir.”

“Because I won’t permit that. I expect you to be a fully functioning member of the household, and the college community. We are involved in the life of the town as well, with philanthropic organizations, food drives, free clinics…I have a large garden out back, all the food except what’s needed for the household goes to the indigent. I expect your involvement in all that, your help. There’s more to university life than study and parties, you know.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Your room includes two meals.”

“I already have the college meal plan, I would eat there.”

“We expect you at breakfast with us. The boarders always eat with the family in the morning.”

“All right.”

“Beverley will not be doing your laundry. She is not to wash your sheets. You will wash them yourself, in the machine downstairs.”

“I understand.” Evan felt a blush creeping up from his neck. How did he think he would dirty them?

“There is no connection with the, ah, Internet.”

“You’re not wired for cable here?”

Barlowe gave him another disdainful look.

“Bring me a certified check…First month’s rent and a $250 deposit…and you can move in at your convenience.” He paused. “Do you have any questions?”

“Just one. About…Sundays…”

Barlowe frowned and cocked his head.

“Where’s the church?”

“The Methodist Church is at the end of West State Street…”

“I meant a Catholic church.”

Barlowe gave him a blank stare. “I have no idea. Maybe the next town over…”

Evan stared back at him, in disbelief.

He wandered back to the college at dusk, now in a daze. He did not think about the financial mess he had just immersed himself in: His parents had already paid for a full semester of room and board, and he wasn’t sure they could get any of that back or would willingly pick up the bill for an expensive rented room. The deposit would eat up most of his ‘entertainment fund’.

But the opportunity to live with Theo/Ellis! To actually live with him, side by side, break bread with him every morning…Eventually some kind of bond would have to form between them. It had to. And then…perhaps, the true Theo would emerge and reveal himself. And maybe then, Evan thought, his own life’s plan would take shape.

 

Jumping out of the Airplane

Back at my ‘real’ job, I’ve been charged with putting together a newsletter written entirely by my learning-center English students, ranging in ages from 4 to 16. I admit I was annoyed at first to be given that task when I’m trying to get my own book out the door; but it has turned into a labor of love. My kids have taken to the task with great zeal, and even those who do not like to write have turned in some impressive offerings. The idea of seeing their work in print, likely to be read by others, is powerful incentive. They write with such determination and passion, their pencils carve deep scratches into their writing books. Some of the stories are lovingly illustrated, others decorated with fancy lettering; and as soon as they get to class, they insist on reading their masterpieces aloud to me. They tear up when I point out spelling and grammar mistakes, but accept my criticisms bravely. The hardest task, it seems, is getting them to settle on a topic worth writing about—but isn’t this true with all writers? I finally got two of my most recalcitrant students, a pair of middle-school boys, to write competing and enthusiastic stories on the topic “Jumping Out of An Airplane” (their suggestion, not mine!)

All of this makes me think about the way I approach my own writing. I wish sometimes I had that zeal and joy when I sit down with my notebook or at the computer (I’m one of those crazies who likes to write everything out longhand before committing to the screen). Long ago I gave up on the concept of ‘inspiration’ and decided to approach my writing as regular job, something which gets done every day no matter what. The problem with this is that while you might have the occasional day of splendid, ecstatic writing, when everything flows from your brain unbidden, there are too many days moping about, thinking about something else I’d rather be doing. But even this can be instructive: I find if I’m facing a week or more of mopey writing, then that particular project needs to be canceled or shelved; stalling is usually an indicator that something is seriously wrong. So just as I have my closetful of partially finished knitting projects, I also have a trunkful of unfinished manuscripts—which I sometimes unpick and re-work into meaningful projects later on down the road.

But starting a new project is always like jumping out of an airplane: There is the surge of adrenaline, exhilaration, the giddiness of the novelty, but also the awful fear that the whole thing will fall flat or disintegrate into mid-air. I feel, as the persistent writer that I am, that I have been jumping out of airplanes my whole life; and sometimes that fall to earth is blissful, other times not so much. I’m feeling that The Novice Master is my biggest jump yet, and frankly, I’m terrified: Not that it gets a bad reception, but that it gets no reception whatsoever. So once more the leap of faith, and hope it all works out in the end.

As for my students, their reward comes at the end of the month when their ‘English Express’ comes hot off the copying machine. And maybe I, too, should be content with the book I hold in my hands, my thoughts solidified into ink and paper; and not so much with the acclaim I still long for, after all these years.

The ‘Big’ Book: When Size Matters…

This new book of mine is gonna be big. I mean, actually big. I screwed up when choosing the trim size, picking the 6 by 9 inch size, when what I really wanted was a small standard paperback size. And I cannot change it, because I’m told this size is already tied into my ISBN number, which has already gone out in the various promotions I’m involved in. Aaarghhh!!! It’s also in a whopping 14-pt type size, because on my computer screen, the Goudy Old Style 12-point looked so tiny… But I’m okay with it now, seeing the actual proof. It looks, and feels, quite substantial. The husband thinks it looks like a pre-teen chapter book, but I had such an easy time proofing it—even with my various vision issues—it seems a natural for my fellow baby-boomers. You could probably read it without your bifocals. Which is a great thing if, like me, you like to read in bed or, occasionally, the bathtub.

I once took on an editing job for a novelist who had illustrated his fiction with his own black-and-photographs. They were scenic photos, really, of various gritty urban locales, and quite stunning. Which was a good thing, because the novel itself was… Well, not stunning. I don’t believe it was ever published. But it made me think about size and how the book would be formatted. It seemed to me only a big book, maybe 8 by 11, could do those photos justice. But would you really want to read a fictional book that size? It wouldn’t be very convenient for the train or plane. And certainly not the bathtub.

Perhaps this is all moot: I do believe most of my sales will be on the Kindle and other electronic venues, where size doesn’t matter. Still, it’s great to have a big old-fashioned book to set on your bookshelf, or something to wrap up and give to a friend. Or, if nothing else, you can use it to prop up that wobbly coffee table…

The Big Cover Reveal

3NOVICEcover

So here he is, my lovely monk…Now this cover is a big gamble for me, since this is not strictly a religious novel, nor is it either pro- or anti-Catholic, but simply about love and faith; but a little part of it does take place in a monastery, and The Novice Master himself was a monk at one time. I chose this artwork deliberately because I thought it would be so different from all the other book covers currently out there. I’m hoping that for every potential reader turned off by the religious imagery, there’ll be another intrigued enough to go for it. We have a new pub date for the print version: November 30, by which time I should have all the glitches resolved. We hope the e-book will be out sometime in December, but I’m getting very impatient with Pronoun.com, which still hasn’t apparently launched itself yet despite all the big announcements.

And a marketing update: Kirkus is definitely out. I found a better way to spend my money: Going through NetGalley to arrange for any number of advance galleys to go out to reviewers across the US. Also going with ABA (American Booksellers Assn)’s review program and PW Select again. Will let you know how that pans out…

Cover Story

Well, it could have ended in divorce, but luckily I was able to work with my husband the artist on producing with a proper cover for The Novice Master. Frank is very talented, but not always pleased with the dictator-novelist breathing down his neck. He came through with a great cover, as he usually does. I’ll reveal the cover here as soon as I get my print proofs from CreateSpace: They’re whining about the DPIs or some such things, so I have to see first if we’ve really pulled this whole thing off, or not.

There must be a thousand blogs about why book covers are so important, so I’m not even going to bother here. It’s obvious, isn’t it: How many seconds does a reader’s eyes linger on a cover image? Either it appeals or it doesn’t. The current trend seems to be strange fonts and scribbly writing slapped on a vividly colored page; I don’t like it at all! I like nice art on a cover, harmonious color, a hint of what’s to come inside, something evocative and soothing to the eye.

So here’s the story of my cover: I found my art at an estate sale, a graceful rendering of a thoughtful monk at his writing easel, perfect since my ‘Novice Master’ character had been a monastic who wrote a book on spirituality, before losing his faith completely. The folks running the sale gave me a very difficult time, claiming the piece I’d picked out was part of a set that couldn’t be broken up and was also mismarked to an outrageously low price; but in the end I prevailed by simply standing my ground and refusing to leave until I got the low price and without buying the whole damned set. Which was a good thing, because it turned out the picture was merely a print that had been hastily painted over. So not worth very much after all. Some Internet research turned up the original image and hooray, it’s in the public domain! And it was far superior to my garage-sale print, which looks quite nice on my office wall, however.

We cropped it in a very provocative way, showing only the monk’s handsome chin and mouth, to reflect a certain sexual theme in the book—not that any casual shopper is likely to catch it, but I was pleased with my little secret joke. The colors are muted, a bit on the gold/brown side, and I like the warmth of it. I hope it says, “This is a gentle, elegant novel with an occasional twist or shock, but very satisfying to read.”

And now a quick word about my blog readers in general: Who are you folks in South America who are viewing my posts? Hopefully not scammers, but it’s a little unnerving to see that little map of Brazil keep turning up in my stats! And to my friends who’ve been supporting the blog on Facebook, thanks ever so much: Hope you’ll enjoy my book!