So long, 2015

So here is the almost obligatory end-of-the-year reflection post. But this has been a momentous year for me: It was a year when I finally decided to ‘go all in’ on being a writer, no matter what. For some reason, I’ve always been embarrassed about my need to write, as if it were some kind of mental illness or frivolous indulgence. I would usually tell people I was meeting for the first time that I was an editor or an English tutor, but rarely admitting that I also wrote fiction, and that, really, was the meaning of my life. Many people are weird when they meet writers, they either clam up (because they think you’re going to correct their English, or worse, write about them; I won’t do either), or they become overly effusive and want to be your best friend (and won’t buy your book anyway). It’s just easier to say, “Oh, I work at that learning center in Powder Mill Plaza.” But I finally made a true commitment to my vocation, even though it has resulted in a significant drop in income, to my husband’s dismay. But he understands. Ah, who needs money anyway! I’d rather have a handful of nice reviews on Goodreads or Amazon.

So here are the things I am humble and grateful for, in this last week of 2015:

–Thank you to Elissa at Pronoun Publishing, for working over the Christmas holiday to pull my book from the dark depths of the Erotica category, and placing it in a more appropriate slot: “College and New Adult”

–Thanks to the first few reviewers of my book, none of whom were friends or relations of mine: Andrea Stoeckel, Pauline Evanosky, Lynn Wachtel. Those first few reviews on Goodreads were, I believe, crucial in pumping up the entries to my Goodreads giveaway and boosting my list of prospective readers (the ‘to-reads’) to up over 175. And I’m not forgetting dear sweet Emily, my nephew’s significant other, who was the first ‘to-read,’ clicking the button during dessert at my sister’s Thanksgiving dinner!

–I’m grateful to have discovered the Net Galley service, which I used for promotion in lieu of Kirkus: So instead of one review (that a lot of folks would probably not take very seriously), I have the chance for many. Over fifty reviewers downloaded my galleys, and probably more—I haven’t checked in a while. But I would definitely recommend this service to any other writer looking to promote their work, although with one caveat: Be absolutely sure you’re submitting the best work possible! Net Galley reviewers do have a reputation for being brutal and honest. Also, it’s not free, but I think it’s the best $500 I ever spent.

–I’m grateful to all who actually read my blog. And folks do read it: My analytics show a healthy stream of viewers every single day. I’ve been pleasantly surprised when I attend a party or some other function, and someone mentions it. I’m surprised at who reads it, too! But thank you, all, and I’ll try not to let you down.

–My Goodreads Giveaway ends at midnight on December 31st, and to the lucky 30 readers who will win a copy of my book, congratulations! Thank you for entering! I am preparing those books to send out immediately on January 4th, via media mail, so it might take a week or so. Hope you will enjoy reading the book, and please do leave feedback if you can.

–Now I have sold a few copies of both formats of the book, although as a former agent of mine would put it, “it’s not flying off the shelf.” One look at my Amazon ranking will tell you that. But I am grateful to all of you who have purchased the book so far. And a quick note to my own family members, beyond my parents, husband and daughter: Not giving out free copies this time around! If you want it, you’ll have to go out and buy it! But I’ll sign it if you do!

–And to my own immediate family, my husband Frank and daughter Francesca, thank you for putting up with me during a crazy year; thanks for putting up with a messy house and unwashed dishes and not commenting on the garden gone to hell; thanks for your unending support and love, without which, I could never have finished this book.

And so Happy New Year, one and all. This is my last post for the year, and with the new year comes a new project, and a new focus, so stay tuned.

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The Unexpurgated Version

If there’s one essential rule of modern life, it should be: Never check your phone or tablet in the middle of the night. And since all my nights lately seem to be Dark Nights of the Soul, I should know better. But when I checked my tablet last night at about 3 a.m., during a prolonged bout of sleeplessness, I encountered this good news/bad news situation. I saw that the Kindle/Amazon version of THE NOVICE MASTER had gone live–good. But Amazon had it sub-classified as Erotica—!!! Okay, I know the title could be construed as faintly kinky, light S&M but THERE’S A MONK ON THE COVER! I realized what must have happened is that someone’s digital bots went into overdrive and picked up on the few bits of profanity and explicit language and decided it was light porn, with a religious angle. Well, there’s a new subcategory for you, Amazon: Catholic Pornography!

Now that’s it’s morning, I’m seeing the situation with more humor, but I’m still annoyed by it. Amazon support is claiming they did not provide the classification; and my publisher Pronoun is being completely mum about it.  I’ll get to the bottom of it, eventually, but in the meantime, if some readers desperate for sexual titillation decide to pick up the book, they’re going to be very disappointed. They will encounter an older male character who stammers through an explanation of the sexual act using every euphemism in the book; and the  few brief sex scenes inside (well into the second half of the book) are more comic and humiliating for the characters involved than actually sexy. Trust me, if I set out to write an actual piece of erotica, it would knock your socks off, and everything else you were wearing, too. This new book won’t quite do that.

But cheers to Lynn Wachtel who provided me with my first Amazon review and a very gracious review at that. Hopefully, most astute readers will realized I’m not peddling porn!

 

 

 

 

Publication Day #2

Well, I was going to wait for the New Year to publish the eBook version of The Novice Master. But what the hell.  Merry Christmas! Within the next few days, it’ll be available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, Google Play and Kobo.   I was very impressed with Pronoun Publishing, and the ease in which I was able to covert the print book to digital. It looks wonderful–there is a little glitch with the back-and-forth passages in the first chapter, which the formatting program seemed at a loss to handle, but I don’t think it’s a disaster. Although I’m sure some idiot will call me out on it… I kept the price low (3.99) because after all, I’m not looking to get rich with this. Just want it to be read! So now I will go have lunch, and do some last-minute Christmas shopping…And we’ll see what happens!

 

A couple of characters

I can’t discuss plot without also discussing characters, since the plots of my books are clearly driven by the whims, dreams and desires of the people I choose to write about. There are some writers who are masters of plotting; I’m not one of them. I’ve often heard complaints from editors and agents in the past that not enough happens in my books. And I think this is because I tend to focus on people who are relatively quiet, a bit cerebral, churning with lots of inner conflict. And too much plotting, in the hands of an amateur, can result in a book that feels forced and contrived. So I give my characters a free rein, and try to let their personalities and idiosyncrasies determine how the book will bounce along. This all reflects my habits as a reader as well: I’m not the sort to thrill over intricate twists and turns in a storyline; I’m always interested in the people and personalities. I use books as a way of figuring other people out, and what makes them think or do the things they do. As you might imagine, I am a big fan of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs, as well as fiction.

In the author’s note I included in The Novice Master, I discussed my long-time relationship with the character of Ellis Barlowe, who, as a younger man, was the central character in my first novel, Secret Vow. So I won’t go into that, because I want you all to go out and buy the darn book! (My Amazon ranking is looking very anemic all of a sudden). But I can give you some insight into the character of Evan, the ‘novice.’ He is, as some reviewers have suggested, immature, a bit over-pampered by his parents, but he is also earnest, bookish, intelligent, and utterly desperate for love and approval. I did not play up his background as much as I probably should have, but he feels his status as an adoptee, and his later misfortune in developing a brain tumor, are, irrationally, two strikes against him, and that he is not really a normal American boy-man at all. It’s also implied that his relationship with his adopted father is rather strained, and this helps propel him first toward an imaginary mentor, then toward Barlowe. He really isn’t based completely on anyone I know, but I think close friends and family will see a little of my husband in him, maybe. But only a very little bit… And yes, he does resemble the infamous surviving perpetrator of the Boston Marathon bombing. I do not want to glorify that pathetic young man in any way (I won’t even refer to him by name); but I admit that when studying his picture in the media, I was struck by the utterly lost look in his big dark eyes, and thought there was some kind of plea for help there. I wanted to give that same quality to Evan, the kind of beseeching look that Barlowe would find both bothersome and moving.

Persephone is partly based on someone I knew….once. Not saying who, but it’s not anyone close to me. But she has a lot of me in her, as well, especially that desperation to please and impress through scholarship. And a weakness for magisterial older men. I married an un-magisterial man my own age (He’s three weeks older than me), but I do confess to crushing on one of my silver-haired professors in college. I was struggling in his class, and he suggested a little private one-on-one meeting to discuss my situation. Believe it or not—and this is absolutely true—he had a fatal heart attack the day before our scheduled meeting! So instead of meeting with him, I was attending his memorial service. He was an OFM, so that probably would not have ended well anyway. But that dear friar-professor lives on in my character Barlowe’s physical appearance: the cool blue eyes, sweep of snowy hair, noble profile and frosty demeanor. And someone please remind me NOT to send this blog post to my alumni magazine!

(They would ignore it in any case. I think my alma mater is a little embarrassed by the female novelist who writes novels about Catholics, with sex—judging by the short shrift they gave Secret Vow in said alumni magazine. Well, you prudes, where did I develop my skills as a writer after all?! Right there in the heart of the “Enchanted Mountains.”)

And now a brief status update on the upcoming eBook version of The Novice Master: Pronoun.com has FINALLY come through, and will allow me to publish on their platform. That means I will be available not only on Amazon, but also Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony, Apple and Google Play (whatever that is). In additional they promise a very professional looking product. I’m trying not to get too excited because some kind of glitch is inevitable. But I do hope to have that eBook up (so many people have been asking!) on or about January 1stof the new year.

Place and Time

I’m now trying to turn my blog away from petty concerns about marketing and promotion, and toward more edifying ideas. At the learning center, my middle-schoolers are studying the building blocks of literature–setting, character, plot, motivation. I thought I would set aside a few posts to give my readers some insight into how those components work in my current book, The Novice Master, and why I made the choices I did. Today’s topic is Setting.

NM actually has two settings: There is the monastery setting of the first chapter ( which was originally going to be the Prologue, until I decided I wanted a more simply constructed novel). The rest of the book takes place largely in Professor Barlowe’s old house on West State Street in a mythical town in a west-central portion of New York State’s Southern Tier.

I set the first chapter in the mythical monastery of Mount Benedetto in southwestern Pennsylvania, because I thought it was important to show where Barlowe was coming from, and provide some contrast for his ‘afterlife’ in New York State. I envisioned this monastery as similar to a Trappist or Cistercian house; I was thinking vaguely about the famous abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, which I’ve read numerous descriptions of; Mount Benedetto is a little more ‘old school’ however. I have written about this mythical abbey before: It appears in my first novel, Secret Vow. I cannot say that I have ever been in an actual monastery, except perhaps for the tourist attraction of Clonmacnoise in Ireland;  but I do have some familiarity with religious architecture: The seminary of the LaSallette fathers and brothers next to my grammar school, the old convent that used to be next to the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Hartford; and the seminary where my uncle the Franciscan priest taught in NY state, where I spent a weekend once as a teen visiting him. An entire wing was roped off just for me, with a sheet suspended across the hall that I had to duck under, so I could sleep and shower without provoking the seminarians. What all these places have in common is that they were seriously quiet places, orderly, clean, yet about the corridors there always seemed an air of faint expectation and hope mixed with resignation. In most of these places, religious imagery does not abound in an intrusive way and they are, generally–to use an  adjective that gets used more than once in NM, ‘Spartan.’

The second setting for my book is more secular. Why did I choose to set it in a largely overlooked section of New York State? Purely out of nostalgia, I confess. I grew up in the capital city of Connecticut–and literally in the city, within walking distance of the gold-domed State Capital building; I live now in a very busy town in Northern New Jersey, a bedroom community for Manhattan. I spent four years in western New York state attending college, and I loved it. I loved the stretches of wilderness and rolling hills dotted with odd little towns and communities and also the big snaking Allegheny river. Every morning after getting out of bed in my dorm, I would look out at what were actually the foothills of the Allegheney mountains, and feel  comfort in seeing them there. They felt like guardian-angel mountains, watching over me as I made my way from class to class. It was not an easy place to live: The weather was particularly brutal, with snow coming sometimes in October and lasting until April or even May. I can tell you what it feels like, to walk around in 20-below weather: You can actually feel your nosehairs freezing up and everything goes numb in an instant. But I loved all of it, the crazy deep snow, and the ultra-lush greenness of early September, and the trails to the river through leafless trees in early spring. I remember telling my fellow writing students then that I thought the area would be a terrific setting for a novel–Not everything has  to take place in New York City or the South? Through the writing of NM, I was able to revisit this land once more, and it was a very satisfying thing. I just hope I did it justice.

 

 

 

 

New Adult, Old Adult

 

One week out from publication day, and things are going a little better than I’d hoped: When I’ve released books in the past, that first week or so after tends to be crushingly anticlimactic. Books come out a little hard and green sometimes; it takes time for them to ripen. It seems a book needs to sit around for a month or so before any kind of activity takes place, and Amazon won’t give you a ranking till you make that first sale. But not only did I actually sell a batch of books this week—a baker’s dozen to be exact—I also got my first review on Goodreads. Five stars! And from a complete stranger! It was a great review, but the reviewer got the genre of my book wrong. It’s definitely NOT young-adult. It’s NEW ADULT. But I forgive everyone for not knowing the difference. NEW ADULT is a fairly new, and somewhat controversial, sub-genre: It’s directed at the after-YA crowd, and the age group is 18-30. It’s supposed to deal with true ‘adult’ matters in a more sophisticated way than the young adult genre—which is often read by children as young as 10 who should presumably be spared the more explicit realities of life.

To be honest, I’m not really sure of the validity of this new genre, but when I saw it listed as a choice on the various book promotion platforms I’m working with—notably NetGalley—I decided to go for it. After all, I have a coming-of-age tale, with a 19-year-old main character who’s starting college, it seems to fit. But…I never saw my audience as primarily the 18-to-30 crowd—my daughter’s generation, by the way—because this doesn’t seem a group that in general reads a lot of books. I always felt my average reader would be a little older, or even a lot older. But there is no genre for Old Adult. It’s just not a sexy term the book industry would want to use; you might just as well call it Old Fart Fiction. And yet, the over-40 crowd, the Baby Boomers—they read like crazy! So why not market to this group? Not sure what you’d call it: Mature Adult? Sounds like it would be light porn. Maybe Adult-of-a-Certain-Age? Or how about simply, The Mature Reader?

Not that any of this matters right now: Amazon has given me no sub-categories, so I’m simply “Literature and Fiction.” And I guess I should feel privileged to be in this august category, crowded as it is.

The Goodreads promotion is moving along slowly, but I’ve come to regard it as a sort of online author’s cocktail party. I’ve been contacting and connecting with other authors whose work intrigues me, and I’ve already become friends with Lynn Wachtel, the lady standing right next to me, so to speak, on the list: Our book promos began, and end, on the same day; and I read her book, THE ZUM ZUM GIRLS, over the weekend: A fun read about 1960’s NYC. Like any cocktail party, there’s the folks you want to avoid, and the really intriguing and talented people you want to approach, but feel shy about. It’s been a great way to distract myself from the stats, and it satisfies my need for adult contact, after a day at the learning center struggling with four- and five-year-olds over the intricacies of the alphabet, or trying to convince a sulky preteen to write something, ANYTHING…