the writer retreats

As I roll over into a new decade, my life has inexplicably become quite hectic and busy. Aren’t things supposed to slow down as you get older? I guess I should be grateful, and I am. But sometimes you have to step back from everything, at least once a year or so. I already did that back in April, when I went to Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. But I’m going to do it again. I decided that the week of my birthday should not be a week I release a new book and all the nonsense that goes with that. Instead it will be a week of retreat and reflection, pure writing for the sake of writing, and unlimited hiking in the autumn landscape of upstate New York.

Yes, I’m going back there again. I know I was just there in July, but I can’t help it, that crazy stretch of stretch of state between Binghamton and Buffalo is my spiritual home, so I keep getting drawn back. My very understanding husband has given his blessing, probably because he knows there’s very little trouble I can get into in that bucolic and quiet part of the country. I’m just going to go and recharge, and pick apples, and read a bunch of books, and maybe write something meaningful. Like the moth to the flame, I have to stay somewhere religious, so I’ll be staying near a monastery—the Abbey at Genessee—but in a retreat house a little ways away, so it will be a different experience, I think, than Gethsemani.  (I still have mixed feelings about my time there; I had some great moments, but on the whole was disappointed by it, there seemed a sterility and coolness to it, associated, perhaps with its popularity as a sort of Catholic tourist spot. Genessee has a claim to fame, being the subject of a book by Henri Nouwen, (which reminds me, I should write a post about him, he’s a very interesting writer) but I’m hoping it will have more of a welcoming, authentic feel.  Maybe I’ll become a monastery reviewer!

In any case, I will be out of communication for a while, since I’ve also vowed to stay off the Internet all week—will have to hide my iPhone somewhere. Prepare for a major onslaught of words when I return!


Is Amazon broken?

Before I move on to the shameless self-promotion of my new book, I’d like to address an issue I’ve been seeing on various writer’s forums (that I don’t participate in—I admit, I’m an ardent lurker). There seems to be this sense that the whole Amazon-Kindle self-publishing scheme is failing in a big way, and that the entire system is irreparably broken.

I don’t know if this is actually true or if it’s simply panic on the part of writers who have finally realized—with their fifth or sixth book or whatever—how unbearably difficult the process is and that there’s probably little hope that their careers as writers will ever progress in a significant way.

Here’s what is true: There have been many, many ‘glitches’ in the system, particularly in the area of sales-reporting. This has been true from the start: when you’re dealing with millions of writers, statistically, things are bound to go wrong. But this is little comfort when it happens to you. Also true is that there are millions of pieces of work out there, floating about in cyberspace. Now they all fit out there very comfortably and get along in co-existence, but not so well at the Amazon website, where they fight and try to trample each other, in a true book-eat-book world.  It’s true that readers are overwhelmed for choice, and it’s also true there is a massive amount of competition for eyeballs. But it doesn’t mean the sky is falling in. So don’t panic yet.

If you’re born to be a writer, you’ll be a writer no matter what. You should not base your worth as a writer on your sales figures, or lack of them. Just write, and take joy in that.  As for Amazon self-publishing, the cumbersome and glitch-prone system seems to be working exactly the way it’s supposed to. It’s really a giant slush pile, and its customers are the acquiring editors.  As far as I’m concerned it’s still infinitely better–and certainly more democratic– than the query-letter and over-the-transom  routine.

But what do I know? Maybe the Amazon-Kindle thing is imploding. But if it does… will I stop writing? Probably not. It  wouldn’t matter much for me, being at a low point sales-wise anyway.  The real tragedy would be that my books suddenly shoot to best-seller-dom– and then the whole thing crashes. That would just be my luck!

Going my way in fifty shades of gray


Was startled to see that a sequel to the movie “Fifty Shades of Gray” is about to come out, since I somehow assumed the first film had not done well enough to merit a continuation of that franchise. In fact, I fretted over a scene in my upcoming novel, in which my wife-characters clamber into bed together to eat nachos, drink wine and watch “Fifty Shades” for a good laugh. I thought the reference might already be dated, but apparently not. Great timing, Hollywood! I owe you one…

My next novel may be the only one you’ll read this year that references “Fifty Shades” and the old chestnut “Going My Way,” though in separate, but adjoining chapters. So you might conclude my book is about a.) nostalgic Catholics and b.) bondage and light S&M. Well, read it and see…of course it’s the wives watching “Fifty Shades” while the husbands wallow in Father O’Malley-land. For those of you born before 1990, “Going My Way” is a super-schmaltzy religious musical about parish priests that was heartily endorsed by the old League of Decency. Yes, there were actually movies Catholics were forbidden to watch, films that were given the tantalizing ‘Condemned’ label.  “Peyton Place” comes to mind, along with “Lolita” and “Baby Doll,” Of course we ran out and saw them immediately! I’m pretty sure ‘Fifty Shades’ would make that list, though it would be very interesting to see what a 1950s version of that would be like.  

So an update on the Kindle Scout decision: Gonna do it, thanks to support from my fellow writers. And soon, though I haven’t arrived at an exact date yet.  My birthday is coming up—it’s one of those loathsome milestone birthdays so I decided in lieu of gifts or cards, everyone can just click up a nomination for me. (Except my husband; he still has to buy me dinner and maybe some nice jewelry) Not only won’t it cost you anything, if my book gets chosen, you get a free copy for nominating me.  I promise not to be obnoxious about promoting it because it is, after all, just an experiment. More details soon…

Amazon’s ‘scouts’

I’m looking into trying one of Amazon’s publishing programs, called Kindle Scout. I was invited to do so, along with every single other author on Kindle: At the bottom on my now flat-lined earnings report, I saw a little line: “Be considered for a publication contract in 45 days or less.” So I clicked the “Learn more” button and was brought to the Kindle Scout site, which I read over with some interest.

I then dashed out a post to the Facebook writers group I belong to see what my fellow scribblers thought, but so far have been getting a collective “Huh?” So I will explain:  The Amazon god has deigned to create a traditional-style publishing house, which gives a (teeny) advance and lots of marketing support to its authors. It’s called Kindle Press, and just like a gatekeeping publisher, not everyone gets accepted. Thought I was done with that crap. But…the marketing push might make it worthwhile, if I were to get in, since marketing is the thing I do least well. However, you don’t apply the way we did in the old days (either through an agent or mailing your cumbersome manuscript in a large manilla  envelope where it sits on someone’s desk for three months before you get a one-sentence form-letter rejection letter); you apply through Kindle Scout.

In Kindle Scout, an editor does indeed review your work of deathless prose, but you also have to gather ‘nominations’ for your book. Some of these might be done for you, through a pool of readers they supposedly have on hand; but others you have to corral yourself. So, yes, again, you’re going with hat in hand to friends and relatives, begging…But you’re not begging them to buy the book, or even read it, or review it, just nominate it for publication. The more nominations the better, though it’s not clear to me how much that plays into the editor’s decision. I mean, if you get a ton of nominations and the book’s a complete piece of trash, will they buy it? (Probably!) If your book is a masterpiece, but doesn’t reach that magic number, are you toast? I did a little drive-by on the big writers’ forums (that I don’t participate in) and it’s a big topic of discussion. It does seem that very few submissions make it to publication. Those whose books don’t make it are quite bitter about the experience. Those whose have seem pleased but unable to give any concrete information about sales or how they’re being marketed.

So that’s that. Shall I offer myself up as the Kindle Scout guinea pig, purely out of love for my writers group members, and see how it works? Need to think about it some more. The process only takes 45 days, so I can’t claim a time issue.  The ‘advance’ at $1500 is laughable, but still more than I usually make in a month or two, or six. I know I’ll be incredibly pissed off and offended if I don’t get accepted, but I think I can handle it—as long as the rejection letter has more than two sentences. Besides, if it is  rejected, then it goes straight to Amazon anyway, with the benefit of some premarket exposure from all the folks you beg to nominate you.  Also not sure how the print book fits in, and I have to have one of those.

I’m hoping any fellow authors who have been through the process will stumble across this post, and give us a rundown on their experiences.  Even at my age, this writing business is still a learning pro

Let the games begin

And so, here we go again, on the new-book roller-coaster ride (OK, I’ll start back-pedaling on the metaphors.) It’s September already and even though I’m still teaching full-tilt, things have eased up enough in my personal schedule to pull the new book manuscript off the cloud and start scrutinizing it for publication.

I’ve decided to launch the book much earlier than I expected to, largely for several reasons:  1.) it’s done, so why not; I’m not getting any younger. 2.) Fall really seems to be the book-buying season, leading up to Christmas and 3.) I want the launch to coincide with National Indie Author Day, which is October 8.   I’ve been invited to speak at a prominent local library about my publishing path, and I thought, how cool would it be to actually publish a book on that very day! I confess I did have the gimmicky idea of actually pressing the ‘Publish’ button at the library, before an audience. But so many things can go wrong with that, and as I recall, your book has to go into review for a day or so before it actually goes on sale. So the idea is simply to use that day as the ebook issue date; I intend to have ‘hard copies’ printed up ahead of time for sale afterwards.

And there’s also  4.) Would like to get this book out the door, because I’m switching my focus to non-fiction, and am very eager to begin a project I’ve been thinking about and researching for some time. I would never say never, but Wives of the Saints is likely to be my last novel for a while, perhaps a long while. I’ve never really been fazed by the lack of big sales for my fiction, but I am concerned about the decline of serious readers in the US and the state of literature in general, not to mention the insane   competition for readers’ attention, from movies and Internet to the millions of other self-published authors out there. It makes me think novelists might be obsolete. But that’s only a small factor in my decision: The real reason is that there’s a book I really, really want to write! And it’s all going to be true.

But first we’ll get this next one out. Release this wild bird into the blue, and see where it ends up.  Watch this space.


So Mother Theresa is now officially a saint. I had not been following the canonization process, mostly because I think the whole sainthood business needs a serious overhaul in this most modern of ages, if not to be dispatched entirely. I have  respect for some saints of the past, but what are they, really, but flawed fellow human beings lucky enough to have gotten the attention of the Church?  Still, I guess the best of the best deserve a fuss, some kind of recognition, though this miracles business absolutely has to go. It’s medieval. Why can’t we look up to the saints for what they did with their lives, not for some supernatural, superstitious nonsense ascribed to them after their death?

But something I found interesting in the news accounts this morning was that so much was made over her predilection toward doubt, expressed in many letters to friends and mentors.  We’re supposed to admire people whose faith in God is absolute and without hesitation, so what to make of all this doubting? The apostle Thomas is singled out for his healthy skepticism, forced to poke his own fingers into Christ’s wounds to assuage his faithlessness. Yet it seems, in the more intelligent saints, faith and doubt go hand and hand, tightly entwined. Does a serious believer, then, have an obligation to doubt? Do unbelievers fight inner battles against the incursion of belief, yearning to be churchgoers again?

So this is what I’m doing over my Labor Day weekend, when everyone else is at the beach or at cookouts: Holed up in my messy office on a stunningly beautiful September day (even with Hermine the Hurricane spinning just offshore New Jersey). Thinking about doubts, and my own, which are considerable. Is extreme doubt simply a form of clinical depression? How much of what we consider spiritual  is  really emotional? And here lies the dangers of overthinking. Maybe doubt doesn’t matter so much (although I worry that it’s a triumph of rationality, proof that belief in God is a fictional construct after all). Perhaps our lives should be judged not by what we believe or don’t believe, but by what we do. But then, what do writers do? Write about what we think, our beliefs…So we are going to be judged, no matter what. Get used to it!

So choose those words wisely…That’s advice to myself. The rest of you may be as wonderfully unwise as you like–I’ll be delighted to read the results!