What comes next

I’ve been writing this blog for a little over a year now, and my audience has grown dramatically. My initial posts were read only by a close friend and some random guy in Brazil; now I have 26 official followers, and have had several thousand unique visitors over the course of the year. Many have left comments, ‘likes’ or have joined me on Facebook, and it’s all been good. With the launch of my latest novel, Wives of the Saints, I’m seeing a new surge in visitors, and it occurs to me that it’s time to re-introduce myself and talk about my work overall. I’ve also been reassessing my career and my goals, and am about to make some big changes, based on what I think is happening in the publishing industry—both independent and traditional.

My first novel, Secret Vow,  was published by Dutton/Penguin/Putnam, and as far as publishers go,  you can’t get any bigger or more traditional than that. I wrote about this experience (see the archives), and how it led me to self-publishing, or as I like to call it, independent publishing. I have ‘independently’ published five novels, with varying degrees of success. I don’t regret it, not one bit. And boy, have I learned from it. The experience has bolstered my confidence as a writer, if not my bank account. And after really studying this whole self-pub thing for the last five years, I’ve decided now that “Wives” is out there, I’ll do what I can to make it float. But I think this will be my last self-published novel. I don’t want to say forever. But I also don’t want to go through this again.

It’s not that I’ve lost faith in the power of fiction; nor have I lost my love of writing it. And I have no end of ideas for novels and novellas. But I’ve lost faith in the process. This is not a process for those who have a vocation to write, who connect the craft to their very souls and identity. Self-publishing only works if you consider your writing, your output, a product; and if you are willing to alienate both friends and strangers to relentlessly market and promote it. It’s becoming so desperate that we independents are basically turning ourselves into spam: No one really wants to see our stuff. That’s an illusion, of course, but when you’re competing against some 5 million other ‘independent’ writers (that’s the last estimate I’ve heard), you’re basically a voice crying out in the darkness, but one that no one hears.

What self-publishing is, really—as far as serious, literary fiction is concerned—is a kind of crazy apprenticeship, where you can practice your art in real time in front of an audience: You can flop or you can soar, but you can keep on going until you get it right. It’s like being in a perpetual slush pile, but at least one that’s mildly entertaining, and that you have a chance of earning a few dollars off of. And for older, midlist writers, such as myself, it is a way of simply surviving and staying ‘out there’, as you work on perfecting your art. I’m glad I did it, but my apprentice is over now, I think. Time to look for alternatives. And yeah, this means returning to literary agents and big publishers, but I’m hoping they’ve learned from their own hard times and will be a little more friendly to serious writers. Despite all the ballyhoo about the travails of the traditional publishers, they’re still out there, still producing books, still dominating the bookstores and libraries, if not the Internet.

And to be honest…Not liking the direction independent publishing is going in.  I don’t think 2017 will be a good year for self publishers; I think it might actually be the worst yet. I don’t think Amazon has a clue, or if they do, they don’t care: They seem to be playing some kind of trick on all of us, with their evil algorithms and glitches in sales reporting, as well as falling prey to a number of scams that they seem unable, somehow, to foresee, or stem.

I’m not giving up on fiction, but I am abandoning the novel for a while, and focusing on non-fiction. I do have a book project I am working on for 2017. Not going to announce the subject just yet. I’m always secretive about my books in the beginning, as I try and set up a special kind of intimacy with the subject. But I will be chronicling that process, and my attempts to find a publisher (this is a ‘small’ book so don’t feel the need to wade into the literary-agent nest of vipers yet), as well as commenting on my gainful employment as a language teacher, and my quirky and sporadic travels about the US (maybe I’ll even get abroad this year). But for now, my only goal is to get through the remaining crumbs of this insane tumultuous year.

Mandatory Goodreads giveaway reminder for Wives of the Saints: It ends December 31, at midnight. You’ll find it easily under the ‘Contemporary Novels’ tab—curiously, despite the crush of books, not so many of those…

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All I want for Christmas

santa

It’s simple: All I really want for Christmas this year is the total eradication of racism and xenophobia in the United States. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask for, but it’s not looking too good this Christmas…I belong to a huge, vibrant, extended family comprised of many colors, races, religions, beliefs, gender identification and differing countries (and continents) of origin, and I do not want to see a single one of my relatives (or friends) mocked, shamed, slighted, harassed or physically attacked just because of what they look like. Enough already! We’re all human beings, can’t we all just try to get along?

And as for Santa… Bet you didn’t know he was married to a beautiful woman of color, but he is. At least according to my own personal Christmas myth…

I also want to devote this holiday post to readers, who are the best gifts a writer can hope for. No whining or prognosticating about the publishing industry today (that’s next week). And not just my readers, but readers in general: Serious readers, people who live to read; people who savor intelligent and illuminating prose; people who do not think twice about spending $29.95 on a work of fiction, people who read through dinner, who read on trains and buses and subways (but please not while driving); people who invest in bookplates, and respect their books. People who read and appreciate poetry: Now there’s a special breed! This group does not include those who will download a book, whip through it then return it for a refund; or win a book in a giveaway only to immediately resell it on eBay: No, you serious readers—and I’m going to assume everyone reading this is, because you probably are—are the salt of the earth. You are more precious than diamonds, and seemingly as scarce. We cannot go on without you.

I am myself a serious reader; every writer has an obligation to be one. And I admit, being a hardcore reader is hard sometimes, with the distractions posed by media, movies, TV, Internet, not to mention actual life, which gets pretty messy sometimes. But serious readers know the hidden benefits of their passion: Satisfaction, escapism, enlightenment, calmness, and emotional fulfilment. But we need more readers. Parents need to not only  read to their children every night, but also to read in front of them, showing by example. Your children will take notice, and hopefully will follow your lead.

And it will make Santa—and Mrs. Santa—very happy.

Guest post: Pamela Schloesser Canepa

 

 

Wife of the Saint

I can call myself that now because my husband behaved beautifully on our recent road trip down south. I only blew up at him once, in Nashville, when we got separated in the heart of the Broadway honky-tonk and he wasn’t answering any of the cellphone calls I was frantically making to him, and then was not properly apologetic about it.  (Don’t worry, he wasn’t up to any funny business, just checking out Hatch’s show print shop.) But otherwise things went smoothly, no fodder for future novels on unhappy marriages, so now back to real business.

I have a giveaway to announce today, and I know: I said I would probably never do another Goodreads giveaway, since the results of my last one were so disappointing. Back then I gave away 30 books (because some idiot on some writer’s website told me to) and I think I garnered exactly two reviews, one not very nice one and the other was just stars. And it cost me a small fortune to send out all those books. So I’ve learned this time around: Only ten books, only two weeks, and only for US readers (sorry international readers, but really, if I’m spending $30 to send you a book, the least you could do is acknowledge it) So why not enter, and maybe save yourself $14.95? I may even autograph it. And though the book takes place in the summer, the cover looks very Christmass-y, at first glance. Would look really nice on your mantel or under the tree… And then when Christmas is over, you can settle in by the fire and sink into it, and revel in the descriptions of summer. Plus, I included a recipe for this incredibly delicious and very adult fudge, which you will want to serve at all your adult holiday gatherings. Maybe you’ll just want to skip the giveaway entirely (really, what are the chances of you actually winning a copy?) and just buy the darn thing. Just saying…Can’t guarantee this link will work, but here it is:  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33197157-wives-of-the-saints

 

What I learned from my insane pre-holiday road trip

–That it’s a very long distance from Northern New Jersey to Western Florida. Especially when you go by way of Tennessee

–That both my daughter and my mother are the bravest and most resilient people I know, charging forward despite uncertainties and dark clouds, and I can only hope some of that rubbed off on me

–That you can build a pretty good life-size replica of a Greek temple in a Nashville city park

–You don’t have to go to the Grand Ol’ Opry when you’re in Nashville, even if your daughter works at the Ryman theater. But you can still hear great music and have a good time

–If you have a chance to buy some fresh home-made pralines, you should jump on it. Glad I did, and sorry, not sharing what I’ve got left!

–A lesson for my husband: If you show up at the roadside antique mall five minutes before closing, the owner is not obligated to let you in for a “quick look”

–The cheapest gas in in Alabama

–What the ‘Emerald Coast’ beach is like in December: Pretty empty. 70-degree-plus water temperatures, but vicious rip tides and huge waves. But no seashells to collect.

–Shrimp and grits is still my favorite thing to eat in that part of the world.

–That Andrew Jackson was not a very nice man, and doesn’t deserve to be on the $20 bill. And I was not impressed with his house at all.

–The GPS on my new smartphone is a God-send. My daughter points out, with great humor, that we still use the map screen as if we were using a paper map. But that’s fine with me—You don’t have to try and fold the damn thing up or look for a road stuck in the crease.

–We visited author Ann Patchett’s bookstore, Parnassus, in Nashville, and it is wonderful, though I didn’t have enough money to buy all the books I wanted. And it sure is a nifty way to showcase her work. Will have to remember that when I become a famous writer.

–but the bookstore I could afford was in Knoxville, McKay’s, this giant warehouse just west of downtown, where I got a huge full-color coffee table book on Tiffany windows for only three bucks, and a good translation of Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross for only 75 cents.

–and old friends are the best friends. Even if you only see them once a year or so.

–And finally, I’m never doing a wintertime road trip again! But thank heaven for the heated seats in my husband’s new car.

the journey continues

Being in the South, when you’re from the North, is like being on a different planet sometimes. But in a good way. The South is a friendlier planet, and more fun too. I’m a little sorry to be leaving. Today we left sunny, summery Pensacola and drove north back through autumn into winter—there was even colorful foliage around Birmingham to admire, but we arrived in Nashville with the temperature dipping into the 30s. We’re back at the hermitage, but from here we begin our way back east again, taking our time through eastern Tennessee, then into and across North Carolina to visit another set of old friends. This whole trip has been like an early Christmas present, even with the trying moments: Traffic jams, miserable weather early on, and all that; but being with my daughter and then my parents has been a great gift, and that two days of ‘summer’ on the Gulf was just splendid. I have not gotten much writing done on this trip, although the long stretches in the car do allow for much musing, and thinking about the next book…Or books…

This will probably be my last post on the road, even though we still have five more days to go, five more days before I return to the reality (and work) of being an author again. And I’m coming to think that releasing a book and starting a long road trip on the very same day was a stroke of genius! It has been one of the most pleasant book launches I’ve ever had. But how it will ultimately all play out is still a mystery…

Temporary hermitage

So it’s been a very busy few days…How appropriate is it that my daughter lives in a Tennessee town called Hermitage? No monks there, though. This whole trip has been a retreat from my usual world, and I haven’t really had time to ruminate on my new book launch. December the second, the first day of our road trip and the first full day WOTS was on sale, was a truly blessed day: A big cluster of sales right out of the gate, and a lovely review (4 stars!) from one quick (but astute) reader! And we were having a great time making our way through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia, some of my favorite country in the whole world; strolling though the quirky town of Martinsburg and ending the day with very good long-time friends on their farm in the Shenandoah Valley: A hearth-cooked dinner, wine, great conversation.

The next day, getting though the rest of Virginia and Tennessee was a bit of a challenge, under gray skies: Passing by Sevierville and Gatlinburg, we saw virtually no sign of the terrible wildfires of just a few days ago, but not many signs of tourists, either. My repeated checking of sales stats while on the road not only wore down my phone, it earned me a scolding from my husband.

At my daughter’s cozy little hermitage here in Hermitage, we were served yet another wonderful meal, cooked by her and her significant other. It was a very moving thing, since it was the very first time my daughter served us a full meal in her own home, and it made me realize she has moved completely into adulthood. This was followed by a rainy day exploring urban Nashville, visiting the Parthenon (yes, they have one of those here) and at night, the ‘honky tonk’ row of bars and venues, where you walked past and heard a different singer or band blaring out of each one. It was a scene right out of a novel, and I was riveted by the sight of a tall man strolling past us, with longish white hair and a ruggedly handsome profile, in a black cowboy hat and tweed jacket, and thought maybe I could write a novel around him.

We’re in Pensacola now: After a long gray rainy ride right down the middle of Alabama, we awoke this morning to the sun glittering off the bay, and balmy breezes: Perfect for a walk on the beach, and for a while I actually completely forgot that I was an author with marketing chores to do. My parents patiently accompanied us to the various museums and tourist sites around town, then took us out to dinner; my mother surprisingly upbeat about her upcoming surgery for thyroid cancer. But I think that attitude will get her through it.

In case you weren’t aware, the paperback version of “Wives” is up for sale now. The Kindle version has already flat-lined, but that’s to be expected at this stage of the game, especially when I’m prancing about the South and not doing any significant promotion. No worries here. I’m just enjoying this little bit of sunshine in December, and this precious time with my family.