Drafts

Last summer, thanks to some friendly university archivists,  I had the opportunity to study the first drafts of a certain American writer’s unpublished novels. But all I can think about in regards to those manuscripts, which were both wonderful and awful at the same time, is  had they been written today instead of nearly a hundred years ago, they would be up for sale on Amazon Kindle already, in their raw, incomplete form, their flaws glaringly obvious to any intelligent reader who might happen to stumble upon them. Makes me wonder: Does anyone still go through drafts anymore, when putting together a novel? Don’t think so.

I can say this with some confidence, based on my current participation in the Kindle Scout program—not as a nominee, but as a nominator of other books. I’m not doing the tit-for-tat thing with my fellow authors; I won’t nominate a book unless I feel it’s ready to be published. But so few are. It harkens back to my days as a fiction-reader at old McCall’s magazine: I was officially a copy editor there, but would assist the fiction editor Helen DelMonte with her slush pile from time to time—my ultimate reward being that Helen eventually published my first short story  in McCall’s, thus launching my fiction career. (And she made me rewrite it five times!)  So I’ve been going through the nominees at the KS site, trying to distract myself from my own campaign by finding other worthy books to support and nominate. And dear readers, I confess I am having a very hard time of it…

I’m not even looking at covers, pitch lines or blurbs; and I could care less whether you’re Hot & Trendy, now that I know how much dough you spent to get there.  I only care about how good your writing is. Of course, it’s hard when you only have the first few chapters or so to look at. But it’s the modern, online slush pile, pure and simple. Like the old  pile of paper which used to sit on top of Helen DelMonte’s file cabinet, it runs the spectrum from the very, very bad to…the almost good enough. And I give Kindle Press credit for picking so few of them. It’s the almost-good-enough ones that break my heart. Overall, there’s a fair amount of talent out there. But we writers are so impatient! I’ve found at least a dozen books that really just needed a few more drafts to polish them out, make them work as novels. And I’m not discriminating according to genre, I read them all. But those aspiring to literary status are perhaps the most disappointing of all.

Drafts need not be a function of time: It only took me six months to write Wives of the Saints, but I pushed it through many, many drafts after it flowed from my brain like magic.  It may have felt spiritually inspired, but that first version was complete dreck. It needed a LOT of editing. It’s grueling, boring work, time consuming, requiring many evenings when you’d rather be slumped in front of the TV; I even worked on it during my coffee breaks at the language school—Hey, I can drink coffee and edit at the same time! It’s painful when you have to eliminate that chapter you love but doesn’t work overall, or a character you thought was funny, but ultimately unnecessary. It’s making sure every word in the manuscript pulls its weight, and eliminating all the self-indulgent, meaningless drivel. Most of all, it means switching places, from proud author to potential reader. Would you want to read this crap? That’s why I always recommend putting the thing away for a while, distancing yourself from it. But again, that takes time. And we authors are so impatient to be published, and recognized.

So, do I think this improves my own chances of getting selected? Possibly, but I don’t know how much weight the editors are giving to other factors, such as those vaunted page clicks or my cover, which I admit is unimpressive. Also, everything, I think, depends on the first reader: If they don’t, for whatever reason, take to your book right away, then you’re toast. So I’m thinking my chances are pretty slim, but still, I’ve already reaped a lot of benefits, exposure and experience from this whole thing, so it almost doesn’t matter how it ends. So why not throw in a plug: Six days left, go take a look: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2FG91Y0LS2F58

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I woke up with a crushing migraine today–which I get about once a year or so—so I’m not really in the mood for updating my Scout stats or addressing some controversies in that arena. (But kudos to Katie Robinson, who made my blogspot a very popular place for a few days!) Doped up with Advil, caffeine and beta-blockers, I’m instead to going to amuse myself, and hopefully my readers, by ‘casting’ the movie of my book, Wives of the Saints.

First off, I don’t see Wives as a theatrical feature film, but as a miniseries, maybe for HBO or Netflix. I enjoy cable network miniseries, even though I don’t have premium cable, but I’ll snap up the discs as soon as they turn up on the library’s ‘New DVDs’ shelf. I loved Olive Kitteridge, with Frances McDormand, and I think Wives would have a similar feel, just set in Connecticut instead of Maine. Love, love, love Call the Midwife on PBS, and have always been a longtime fan of Doc Martin.  I like Masters of Sex (of course I do!) though the more explicit scenes are too clinical for me. I’m waiting for discs on The Affair. And a good friend affectionately bullied me into following  Outlander, even though I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction on TV—love it in print, though. Okay, so now that I’ve established myself as a follower of televised serial fiction, onto to the casting couch, so to speak.

I have two strong female characters over fifty, a pair of potentially plum roles for two aging actresses: My wives. The actresses who play them would have to have a feel for light comedy, and they have to be willing to be very dowdy and unpretty at times. And they have to relate to each other, since Grace and Miranda have a very strong kinship, a deep and abiding love for each other.  And although I compare a young Grace to Grace Kelly, the Princess of Monaco, she really isn’t a regal beauty. I’m seeing Laura Linney in that role right now. Maybe Laura Dern. Someone who’s vulnerable, with a cool shell, but wryly witty, with a deeply hidden spiritual nature.

Miranda is a little harder to cast. I didn’t make it so obvious in the book, but she is biracial (I used my beautiful nieces, who have Portuguese and Cape Verdean ancestry, as a model for her) dark, voluptuous, though as the level-headed, motherly ER nurse, she does not play up on that with men. She is practical to a fault, but ruefully accepting of life’s curve balls.  But no one automatically comes to mind—it could be a breakout role for an actress no one’s ever heard of. And if all the miniseries I watch weren’t so lily-white, I might be able to come up with someone.

For Fulton, I see Greg Kinnear, or some other tall, lean, handsome graying man, but he has to look good in tortoise-shell spectacles. For Sal, who could easily devolve into an Italian-American stereotype, I would pick Paul Giammati, someone who could add nuances to his character. And for Kenny—well, that would have to be Bill Murray, who has the right mixture of spaciness and secret intelligence. He might be a tad too old, though, and doesn’t really physically resemble him. Grace’s son could be any generic young actor, but he needs a weird-looking nose, because that’s how Grace ties him to his father.

The setting shouldn’t be too hard to recreate: I did not identify it, although some will guess it’s Middletown or Meriden in Connecticut, which is close—it’s a small city (or large town) that might be a blend of those two. Fulton and Grace live in a graceful Victorian, while Sal and Miranda have a 50’s split-level in the same neighborhood, and both New England and New Jersey are filled with these older neighborhoods—some up to two or three centuries old–full of mismatched homes. Not everyone lives in a condo or planned community.

But none of this will materialize until I can get Wives published. So if you haven’t checked out my Kindle Scout page yet, please do so. I’m too groggy to dredge up the link right now;  just type Kindle Scout nominees into your browser and look for the aqua rectangle. (See what a great marketer I am!)  You only have ten more days, and I promise not to whine if I don’t win. Oh, and below, check out the inspiration for my title, taken at my local county library:

books

Guest blogger: Katie Robinson

So, today’s entry is my big 100th blog post since I began this thing in October of 2015! I worried I wouldn’t have enough to write about several times a week, but I guess I underestimated myself! So to celebrate…I’m not posting!  I invited another Persistent Writer in to talk about her work. Katie Robinson is a British writer I met through an online writer’s group and she has lots of good things to say:  

I think that it is safe to say that today there are more writers than at any other time in history. Between free blogging sites, and self-publishing sites it seems that you can’t swing a cat these days without hitting a writer of some kind and that is wonderful.

The sharing of ideas and opinions helps us all grow as people and as a society. Whether you write stories, opinion pieces or factual ‘how to’ manuals there has never been a better time to get your words out to such a wide and varied audience.

The only thing that hasn’t gotten easier has been finding motivation or inclination to write. Finding the time to write, between work or school, raising a family and life, in general, can be tricky. But even when you find that small segment of time it can still be difficult, how do you put your ideas, thoughts, and feelings into words? We can all struggle with this until we remember why we started to write. Usually, when we remember why we started it becomes easier to go on.

So today I am going to share the reasons I started to write, in the hope that it will encourage others to start or continue on their own journey. There are lots of small, ineffectual things occurring on any given day that will cause me to write. But the three, main, most consistent reasons that I write are as follows.

The first and strongest reason is because writing allows me to share, with the world, my (hopefully) unique, absurd and occasionally insightful views on the world around me and the fields I meddle/work in. I like to hope that my outpouring of (again hopefully) constructive ramblings help and inform and/or amuse and entertain others. It helps me feel connected, to know that I can, by sitting at a laptop and sharing my own experiences, touch the lives of people around me, both close to home and those hundreds of miles away.

My second reason is a little more self-centered; I’m utterly and hopelessly in love with the idea of ‘the story teller’. The old wizened man/woman sitting at the table sharing tales with the younger generation. I have this romanticized notion of the storyteller, sitting in a warm log cabin or cottage, in the snow-covered wilderness, with a fire crackling, a dog at my feet and a cat in my lap. I know in reality you need none of these things to write and tell stories but this image has never left my mind since it first took root all those years ago when I picked up my first book and fell in love. I know that even if I become a best seller I will never feel like I have ‘made it’ until I sit in my log cabin or cottage in the snow and write (the log fire and the pets are optional extras, much desired but not necessary).

My last reason is perhaps my best one, and that is to teach. While writing stories is my passion, what puts bread on my table is my work in the legal profession. I work as a legal consultant for local firms and for years I looked for a way to combine my two loves, the English Legal System (yes, I know, I’m a big nerd; I totally own this so that makes it cool … right?) and writing. It was the senior partner in one of my firms who solved this for me, with a simple question “Why don’t you write law books, Kate?” After slapping myself a few hundred times for not thinking of this myself I got started. I now write Step-by-Step guides to the legal process, I help guide you through the convoluted (I love the legal system so it’s ok for me to call it names but if you do it then I might cry) legal process and help you reach a satisfying and fair conclusion. I teach people how to do for themselves and I enjoy every moment of it.

So, in conclusion, my reasons for writing are simple, I write for you, but I also write for me. Writing helps me make sense of and feel satisfied with my life. I recommend taking the time to consider what it is that makes you want to write if you’re not sure that’s o.k., your reason is there you just haven’t identified it yet and that’s all part of the fun.

Happy writing!

Katie Marie is an eccentric and highly contagious writer who hasn’t looked back since joining the college magazine at age 16. She has now been published in several anthologies and her debut novel Grey Wings is available on Amazon. Her second novel Amenti is due to be released in 2017. She can be found at www.katiemariewriter.co.uk

 

The off-line monastery

Here on the East Coast USA, we all entered the off-line monastery yesterday, when a massive cyber attack struck in a distressingly quiet way, and we simply could not make our way around much of the Internet. In the past, people would enter monasteries or cloisters to retreat from the world, albeit willingly. But yesterday we were forced into the wasteland it by a malicious hacker. Other than a few missed clicks for my Kindle Scout campaign, it didn’t affect me in any profound way. But if you were a writer trying to launch a new book or big marketing push, it was not a good thing at all.

Oddly, I spent all of yesterday at a really splendid academic seminar on the Irish Rebellion, watching an attack of a different nature and era through grainy film footage of 1916 Dublin, interpreted through art and music and drama, and connecting with some terrific real-life people.  And I had, coincidentally, been thinking of my recent retreat in New York State, which was an cyber retreat as well, as our guesthouse had no Internet access. No TV or radio. I was having issues with my smartphone as well, so I was really cut off.  The first day was quite unsettling, when I found myself unable to satisfy my daily habit of checking my stats on both blog and books, or read the news in bed in the morning, or check the weather before a big hike. And I hadn’t realized how dependent I had become on the Net for simply diverting or soothing myself at various moments during day, and especially before going to sleep at night, checking Facebook or window-shopping at various sites, or even reading though not-entirely-trustworthy Wikipedia sites. But I didn’t go crazy; I gradually got used to it. By the end of the week, I was just fine with it, and, I might add, writing up a storm.

Which is why you need to develop your non-Internet social skills and personality, to survive what are likely to be continuing disruptions to our electronic web.  Once everything seemed back up, I was able to read an article in the Washington Post in which a woman boasted that her only real friends were on the Internet. I can only hope they remain her friends, as the Internet continues to falter and come under attack, which is likely to happen more and more in the future.

 

Scouting report

Bear with me, Facebook friends and family members: This post is really for fellow writers who are following my progress on Kindle Scout. So, I’m five days into this thing, and feeling a little blue, because not only is my baby girl leaving town, my campaign stats page was down for a full five days, so I had no idea whatsoever how I was doing.  I thought it was just me, but finally I went onto the mega writers’ forum Kindleboards and posted plaintively, only to learn a whole slew of other Kindle nominees were in the same boat. One, who lives in England, had her stats go down the same exact minute of the day as mine! It was all good, because I made friends with a few more writers, and got onto the forum’s list of nominees to select. And then the stats finally came up this morning, and they’re okay, but I don’t know if I really trust them or not. The Hot and Trending List remains my impossible dream.

But about that…Someone tried to “comment” here at The Persistent Writer, offering to help “promote” my nomination at Kindle Scout. For just a small fee, no doubt…I swear, someone can always find some way to squeeze a little more money out of struggling writers… I trashed the comment, but then had an ah-HA moment. That now explains that whole weird and random Hot and Trending list to me! Every once and a while a pretty good book does turns up there…and I nominate it, wanting to reward excellence and effort. But I’ve been puzzled at some of the more poorly written stuff that come up, or ones with bad covers (yes! Worse than mine! But I’m working on a new one). They either have a LOT of friends and family or…they’re paying for promotion. Hmmmmm… But surely the Kindle Scout editors are wise to all that, which explains why so many Hot and Trendies don’t get picked for publication. So does it really matter all that much? Probably not…So I’m not going to worry about it anymore. My book’s getting published no matter what, even if I have to do it myself.

However, fellow writers, this has not all been in vain: There is one very good perk for the losers. If or when you publish your novel after being rejected, KS will send an email to everyone who nominated your book, letting them know it’s on sale. So that’s a pretty good promotional push, and well worth the 30 days of angst you have to go through to get to it.

But don’t think this is my whole life right now. Still helping Daughter with her big move; and my new language students in Edison and Jersey City have no idea that I’m even a writer, only that I’m this odd lady with a strange enthusiasm for the English language. Fall foliage is hitting its peak here in Northern NJ and I’m just drinking it all in. And I’ve begun work on the next, NON-FICTION, book, and I’m loving it, loving the return to my journalistic roots. Can’t tell you about it yet, but I will eventually. For now you’ll just have to suffer through the promotional travails of Wives of the Saints with me, and we’ll see where that ends up next.

My-baby-is-leaving-town blues

My baby is leaving town. After seven hardworking years in Brooklyn and Manhattan, our Frannie is moving west to Nashville, a city I have never been to nor have any knowledge of. I’m both thrilled for her, and a little sad.

But I want her to go. She needs to go; she needs to spread her wings and fly away and live her destiny. She’s leaving to join a man she loves, to live a decent life in a sane, non-Manhattan economy, and to bolster her music-production career. We will stay in touch through Facebook and instant messenger and phones calls and frequent trans-Appalachian visits, but it’s still hard to see her go. She’s my only child.

But she is fiercely independent, always has been, always on the move. On her first day of kindergarten, I was near tears putting her on the school bus I thought she was too little to take; but she raced up the steps then turned to me in a very businesslike way: “Go home now, Mom,” she told me sternly. She was, and still is, fearless. She began kicking, vigorously, inside me at just six months, trying to escape, until just days before her delivery, when she went ominously still and silent. I know now she was just plotting her exit. She waited until her official due date, and emerged into the world on a sweltering summer evening with a little outraged wail, and immediately began making little talking-type sounds, as if trying to explain herself. As if she had to.

When she was here last, we took a long ride in the country, in search of an apple farm and fresh cider. But during the drive, I told her the story I’d never really told her before, the long struggle with infertility, surgeries and drugs I took to bring her into the world. I described the little yellow-shingled doctor’s office and laboratory where she was conceived—I wish it had been the normal way, in a tumble of sheets and passion, but it certainly did not diminish the final result. And that tiny throbbing blip that appeared miraculously on my first ultrasound has grown to full maturity and is now about to fly off to Southern climes (drive off, actually—in my old Chevy).  In telling her the story, I’m sure it emphasized how ardently we wanted her, how determined we were to bring her into the world.  Nashville, you better appreciate her and treat her well!

So old mom will stay here in NJ with pop, and keep writing away and teaching foreigners proper English; and I must try to keep impertinent comments about marriage and future grandchildren to myself. But I’m already looking forward to a wintertime trip across the Continental Divide, a new city to explore and discover. You can certainly expect several reports from Nashville in the months to come…

F. Scout Fitzgerald

In an effort to distract myself from my ongoing Kindle Scout campaign–which has gotten off to a slow start, which is what I get for starting it on a beautiful weekend in autumn—I sentenced myself to an afternoon of knitting and watching old movies. But because my life is basically a series of goofy coincidences, the movie that came on was about a writer: Beloved Infidel, with Gregory Peck in the role of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Deborah Kerr as Sheila Graham. I did read The Great Gatsby, but other than that, must confess I don’t know much about him. But I watched with great interest the scene where F. Scott goes to the mailbox, and there is a slim letter from his literary agent—which we writers know is never good news. Good news comes in bulging envelopes, and sure enough, a scene follows with F. Scott going on a terrific bender, getting crazy drunk, beating up and trying to shoot poor Sheila Graham, almost killing her.

It made me groan, because this is the way literary novelists were expected to act, once upon a day. For one thing, they had to be male, of course, because no mere female could write Serious Literature. And they had to be drinkers, because they were tortured and sensitive souls who could not bear the travails and disappointments of the real world without some kind of anesthetic.  Oh, please. If good old F. Scott were alive and writing today, in this literary climate, he would be perpetually drunk and probably dead of alcohol poisoning before his Kindle Scout campaign reached its 30th day. At least back then in the 1940s and 1950s, a serious novelist had a chance of getting noticed and read.

It’s day three, and I’m already losing faith in this Kindle Scout competition. I’ve had decent click-through numbers, (KS will not tell you how many actual nominations you’ve gotten); but think it might all be rigged in favor of bad genre writing. If you go to my page (just to be obnoxious, https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2FG91Y0LS2F58), you’ll see that you’re asked to nominate three authors in all. I have no problem with that. However, KS conveniently runs a banner across the bottom of my page, listing all of the “Hot and Trending” books, as a not-so-subtle suggestion that you vote these guys up. But these guys don’t need your nominations, because they’re already “Hot and Trending!” The more I look at this, the more I think I’ll be publishing Wives of the Saints myself next month. But we’ll continue along, and see what happens…if nothing else, I should get a few good blog posts out of this!