The Novel is Gone

DSC_0038

Two days ago, I pressed upload on my author’s account page and the manuscript was gone – off to Friesen Press  for the next stage in my self-publishing experience. I know, I know – I wrote these same words in a post about six weeks ago. Well, it did go then, but it got a review that suggested a bit of final polishing would help – which, by the way, was as necessary as the review said it would be. After innumerable edits there were still incidents of missing words, clunky repetitions and even duplication in a chapter break section. I could hardly believe my eyes. Oh well – that is why we edit and edit and edit.

I confess to having had very mixed feelings when I sat back in my chair in front of the laptop and realized that the novel was truly gone – that I was finished writing Disappearing in Plain Sight. It was most definitely elation mixed with high anxiety. My anxiety is partially about my baby going out into the world, but I also feel anxious because I keep asking myself – what now? What am I going to do now – all day, every day?

Yesterday I had to approve my three book industry subject and category codes – my author account manager sent along a spreadsheet with what looked like a million codes to choose from, but it’s actually simpler than it looks – once you get into the Fiction category the field is narrowed considerably. I have decided to go with Fiction – Romance/Contemporary; Fiction – Literary; and Fiction – General.

Then I had to come up with 7 keywords for book buyers who will look for my book online – flags for online databases. I chose love, relationships, grief, bullying, trauma, counselling, and British Columbia. Choosing these seven words was difficult – it seemed like an important part of the process. I’m now working on a section of acknowledgments and a dedication to be included with the novel.

I want to let this process of self-publishing unfold and by that I mean – not ask what is coming next or how long the next stage will take – just go with it. Take a wait and see approach, be patient, be open to the whole process. Sometimes this feels right to me and sometimes I feel like I’m an idiot – why not ask about time frames and next steps? The truth is, I am simply overwhelmed by all that I don’t know – even asking a question is challenging.

I was approached by Friesen Press via email the other day with a special offer to upgrade my cover package – an extra $299.00 would buy me a far better cover. No doubt it would, but as I’ve made clear before – I’m not spending any more money than I already have. My supporters have mixed feelings – one comment went like this – reading this email makes me think that if you don’t take this upgrade you’ll end up with a shitty cover. My response was – if you decide not to take the extra-large fries with your burger, in doesn’t automatically follow that they make you a crappy burger. Another comment took a more pragmatic approach – don’t sweat it – that’s their job – all you have to do is say no. Yup – true enough.

Today, I will continue to work on character sketches for the sequel to Disappearing in Plain Sight – The Light Never Lies. I have quite a cast of new characters and plan to expand on some of the original settings – get into more detail on the mechanics of a small sawmill operation and an organic bakery that makes use of an outdoor, wood-fired oven. I’m reminded of Stephen King writing (On Writing, 2000) that his books and stories are often situational driven. In contrast, I can see that my writing is very much character and setting driven. For me, the first step is always getting to know the characters and the setting. Once that work is done, I can toss them all together and things will start happening. The characters will tell me what they want to do and where the story is supposed to go.

I guess there are things to get busy with after pressing the upload button!

DSC_0987

I’m including this picture because it strikes me as the perfect mixture of elation and anxiety – depending on whether you are the lion or the horse. Entitled Lion Attacking A Horse, it is currently on display at the Getty Villa , located on the Pacific Coast Highway near Malibu, until February 2013. On loan from the Capitoline Museums, this is the first time this statue has been on view outside of Rome in over two millennia. It’s breathtaking and gripping and to see it is almost worth a trip to California in and of itself.

DP Challenge – What’s the best piece of advice you ever gave someone else and didn’t take yourself?

I see the DP challenges all the time, like the rest of us Word Press junkies who are always checking our stats and trawling around the blog world – this one I couldn’t pass up.

I used to throw a statement out to my students when I taught undergrad courses in helping skills and communication – giving advice is an act of arrogance.

Students would invariably have a strong reaction to this statement – that was the point, and to be fair it is overstated in its absoluteness. But I was trying to get a discussion going and challenge the idea that helping – be it in a professional capacity or with friends and family – is about telling other people what they should be doing. Let’s be honest here – that is what advice usually amounts to.

I feel so strongly about this that it has crept into my novel. Here is a small excerpt from Disappearing in Plain Sight

Liam didn’t want to give Lisa-Marie advice. He believed most people roll out the advice-giving wagon without thinking about what they’re doing. It’s arrogant to imagine you can ever know what someone else should do. He had no idea if Lisa-Marie should take her shot with Justin. His twisting gut told him it was a mistake . . . . On the other hand, Liam’s gut was always twisting and he didn’t know for sure what other people felt or wanted.

There, in a nutshell, is my opinion on advice giving. We seldom know enough about another person’s situation to weigh-in with a – you should do this – type of statement. We think we do, but we don’t and therein rests the arrogance. The other person will be the one to live with the consequences of taking our advice – do we want that on our conscience? It’s far more productive to be a good listener and allow people to explore their own situation and feelings and come to their own decisions.

I often faced very heart-felt comments from students on how giving advice was what their whole idea of helping rested on – they had always been the one in their family and in their various relationships to tell others what they should do – people actually valued them for playing this role.

I would set up an exercise where students would sit with a partner and listen to this person speak for three uninterrupted minutes. Going into this exercise, most students felt it would be easy – after all it was a course on helping skills and improving communication and many students took the course because they were considering future work in a helping field. And after all – what is three minutes?

After the time was up, we would discuss how the listeners managed. Invariably they shared that they found it extremely difficult to just listen and not interject with advice or share their own experiences of a similar situation. They often said the three minutes seemed like forever.

Try this exercise yourself – most people will find it very difficult to listen to another person talk for three minutes. (I’m not saying stone faced listening here – active listening – giving the other person non-verbal positive feedback to keep them talking.)

OK – conclusion – what’s the best piece of advice I gave to others and didn’t take myself? Simple answer – don’t give advice! I’ve broken that advice so often I can’t even count the times. And I know better! There you go – true confession. My most notorious advice-giving has been with my grown children. And I’ll tell you this for free – giving unsolicited advice to your own kids is quite unproductive.

Oh what fools we mortals be . . .  and all of that.

My advice – try listening instead of telling other people what they should do. Oh, oh – there I go again, giving advice.

 

 

 

What is Friendship?

A couple of days ago Bruce and I were having a conversation that we’ve had many times over the nineteen years we’ve been together. It related to our concern about social isolation. We wondered if we have enough friends and connections and if we spend enough time maintaining such things. We discussed people we know who still keep in contact with friends they knew when they were in school. We wondered if there was something wrong with us. We concerned ourselves about all the people we’ve known over time and have been close to that we don’t have contact with anymore. We raked up their names like concrete symbols of our failure to live our lives according to some arbitrary standard – neither of us knew where this standard came from.

We then went on to rationalize our failure in the ways people often do. We are both introverts so that makes juggling a whole host of friends a challenge. Right now, family commitments – kids and grandkids – are our first priority. We have chosen a lifestyle that revolves around living in an out-of-the-way place – it’s expensive and time-consuming for us to visit other people and over the years we have seen that it takes a lot to get people out here to visit us. We’ve both moved around a bit in terms of jobs and interests so people have come in and gone out of our lives.

(I’ll add a small aside here – having this kind of conversation is indicative of the type of people we are and sometimes I think it is great we have things in common and sometimes I think how much better it would be if one of us could say to the other – let’s just stop trying to rip apart our lives and analyze everything to death, here – OK?)

What was exciting about this recurring conversation was that this time we had a revelation. One of us asked a simple question – why do we always assume that the only valid friendships are ones that have lasted for years? That question flipped the whole topic on end – why indeed?

We started to discuss vital friendships that had been situational – when we moved on from that situation we didn’t stay in contact with these people but that didn’t negate the validity of that friendship. Our ideas opened to all types of encounters that we felt were genuine and life-giving – we let go of the need to judge these encounters based on how long they had lasted. Bruce thought about the campesinos he worked with while volunteering at a cooperative in Mexico. I talked about students I’ve taught and clients I’ve had. We realized that all of these relationships count.

I recalled a wonderfully brief encounter I had with a man while touring around the fabulous balconies and gardens of the Hearst Castle during our recent trip to Southern California. We ran  into each other on a set of stairs and he told me, with great enthusiasm, that the Bougainvillea peeking around the corner was incredible – a must see. I responded with equal enthusiasm, thrilled to actually get the name of this fabulous vine that I had been seeing in glorious bloom all around Southern California. He pointed out a nearby magnolia tree. I said I had lived in Victoria, British Columbia for a while and there were some beautiful magnolias there, too. He talked of how the one in his yard was not doing half as well as this one was. I explained my curiosity to know the names of all of these beautiful plants by saying I’m a writer and I collect tidbits of information – you never know when you will need to include a Bougainvillea vine in a story. He responded with excitement – a writer, how wonderful. I told him I write a blog – he said tell me the name of it – I’ll find it and read it. We talked no more than 3 or 4 minutes at the most but it was genuine and my day was made better by this encounter. I hope his was, too.

Bruce and I discovered that what really matters to us is whatever pushes back the walls of isolation between people. Our conversation ended on that note and the more I think about it, the more I believe it to be true.

We live in a world where most people are busy – things are fast paced – we wonder how time can go by so fast and we bemoan all the things we think we should do that we aren’t doing. Maybe we miss the importance of the opportunities that are presented in the little chance encounters we have with real people in real-time – let’s believe they count, because they really do.

PS to the man I met at the Hearst Castle – if you did find my blog, I hope you enjoy this post!

 

Open Your Mind

Open up your mind to the possibility that 1 + 1 can equal 48, a Mercedes Benz, an apple pie, a blue horse.

DP Challenge – find the 3rd line on page 82 of the closest book at hand and write your blog post based on that line – the above line comes from, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg.

(I know, I know – you’re asking yourselves – was that book really the closest to hand? Honestly – I was printing up yet another hardcopy of the never-ending story for yet another round of final edits and reading blog posts while I waited and this book was lying right on the desk next to me when I read the DP Challenge.)

So, what on earth does that sentence, in all its glorious isolation, mean to me?

For a writer, it could mean that a good story is a story with a twist. The thing that will really grab a reader is the unexpected – the blue horse when it seemed as though the author was going to pull out the same old same old. And this seems to be true for all areas of writing from big things like plot to little things like a common metaphor or analogy – give it a twist and you get people’s attention.

But wait – another part of my thought process has just kicked in here – what about the other side of this equation? What about the times our reader desperately needs 1 + 1 to equal 2 – go to hell with the Mercedes Benz and apples. The reader needs to believe in some constants in the worlds we writers create – that there are things to connect with and that these important touch points aren’t going to be blown off the map. What about that? Don’t we owe our readers that, too?

OK – maybe it’s like this . . . As writers we strive for what I used to understand, in another life, as internal consistency. (I was once a skilled university researcher – cue the band and the ticker tape parade, please.) We give that important twist when we highlight the fact that life is complicated. There are no easy answers, nothing lasts forever, and change is inevitable. The only thing you can count on is that just around the corner life is going to bite you in the butt.

The constancy that the reader needs – almost as much as they need that important twist – is captured in the fact that the characters we have created, the situations we placed them in and the various ways they react, are all things the reader can identify with – we allow the readers that precious aha moment when they say to themselves – right, I see how that could be.

So, fellow writers bring on the twist – your own version of a Mercedes Benz, an apple pie and those good old blue horses – just leave the reader knowing that in the world you created, there is some underlying 1 + 1 equals 2 consistencies to count on.

I present this picture of the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry. It seems to me that the reality of this building gracing the street of downtown LA represents a huge twist of reality and yet it is there – real – consistent with some internal rules of architecture and building that defy all logic

Happy Birthday, Emma!

Today is my beautiful little granddaughter, Emma’s, fourth birthday. Amazing how fast the time has gone by. She’s the kid I’ve cut my grandma teeth on – she’s the one who has taught me the amazing wonder of being a grandma. Brit, Emma’s little sister, gets to reap the benefits of all I’ve learned.

Being a grandparent is wildly different from being a parent but it still contains a huge similarity – a child comes into your life and very quickly you wonder how on earth you could go on without his or her presence. The major difference is that the overwhelming responsibility for this child is not yours. That can be amazingly nice and unbearably painful as you bite your tongue and mind your own business – you don’t get off the responsibility hook and still get to weigh in with your two-cents-worth opinion all the time. Being a grandparent doesn’t work like that. And I get to see a daughter I respect and love stretch her boundaries to grow as a mother and a person. That’s a wonderful privilege, for sure.

This photo is courtesy of Glenda Monsen Photography

I get to notice all kinds of things I never noticed when my own kids were growing up. Being a parent usually comes at a time in life when one is quite busy – work and life and relationships get in the way of being able to just sit and listen and watch. I have the great good fortune to pursue work that allows me to take blocks of time off and I live at a distance from my granddaughters. At first glance the distance part seems like a negative, but it gives me the opportunity to visit and stay for a couple of weeks at a time. No use travelling that far for anything less. So I get to be on hand when the kids get up and when they go to bed and for everything in between. I don’t get to see them every day but when I am there, I am all there.

I’ve shared Emma stories in this blog before – here is the latest. It can be a real challenge to get information out of little kids – at least when you question them. Sometimes gems do pop out without any solicitation at all. Emma was standing in the kitchen the other day when she quite suddenly said, “George Sewer didn’t sleep . . .  and he didn’t eat for two whole days . . .  and he didn’t even play with his friends. He just painted – dot by dot.” Each of these statements was accompanied by a dramatic gesture with her hands and the dot part was emphasized by a jabbing finger.

Who the hell was George Sewer? Off to Google, we discovered that Georges-Pierre Seurat was a French impressionist painter and draftsman who developed a particular style of painting in softly flickering, small strokes or dots of colour called pointillism. Emma scanned the Google images page and thoughtfully pointed out two of Seurat’s paintings that the preschool teacher had shown them.

                                                 

Always being one to stir the pot, I said, “Maybe next month you’ll study Jackson Pollock.” Emma stared at me with interest – I think the reason being that the name Pollock is sort of catchy. Anyway, I added, “He would stand in his garage and put paint on his brush and throw it at a huge canvas on the wall.” (My knowledge of Jackson Pollock comes from what I remember of the movie that starred Ed Harris)

Emma asked, “Did he not eat for two days or play with his friends?” Closing the computer and moving quickly to prevent Brit from crawling under the hide-a-bed, I said, “Not sure about that but he sure did drink a lot.”

Later on that day, I heard Emma telling Bruce that when she went to preschool she was going to learn about Jackson Pollock and that he sure did drink a lot. I noticed that her preschool schedule says they are going to learn about Van Gogh in January – I wonder if they’ll cover the whole cutting the ear off episode. I don’t think I’ll bring it up.

I’ll end this blog with one of Bruce’s amazing portrait shots of our beautiful granddaughter, taken when she was not quite two.

My Latest Flash Fiction for the Ramsgate Women’s Fiction Group

(A pretty pic to catch your eye – we writer’s our shameless in our ability to solicit attention – but don’t say you weren’t warned.)

Got my snippet of conversation for a flash fiction assignment from the Ramsgate Women’s Fiction Group – check out their blog http://ramsgatewomensfiction.blogspot.ca/

Anyway, here’s the result – fiction with a wee twist of autobiographical feeling – then again, what fiction isn’t like that?

“Yes, well she said she wasn’t drunk, but I don’t know.” Shit – why had she tacked on those last three words – I don’t know – in that tentative, weak tone? She sounded like she didn’t have a clue, like her client would have been better off telling her problems to the first passerby she saw on the street. Shit.

Monica clutched at the file in her hand and told herself to breathe. The weekly peer supervision sessions with one of her graduate school colleagues always rattled her composure. They were supposed to share case notes from their practicum counselling sessions and try to help each other identify blind spots, work on their edges – what a load of shit. It was the blind leading the blind – one-upmanship spurred on by mutual insecurity. The first person to show a hint of weakness would be brought down like a crippled zebra before a pack of slavering lions.

And who the hell did this guy think he was to be questioning her judgement in that snide tone and making her feel like some sort of beginner? The thought of him being a counsellor someday made her pity anyone who might end up as his client. What a joke this entire program was turning out to be. Why she had thought going back to school to get her Master’s degree was a good idea was a total mystery to her now. And at her age – it was laughable, really. She knew how to help people – she’d been doing it for years. But instead of being out in the world doing what she was good at, she was stuck in a corner of the graduate student lounge being grilled by an egotistical smart aleck who was young enough to be her son – peer my ass.

When she let herself dwell on what her graduate school experience had been so far she felt like vomiting. Insecure professors who were also younger than her, nitpicking over ridiculous crap – academics who hadn’t had an original thought in the last twenty years, people so busy cannibalizing any real work they had ever done and stealing their own students’ ideas for more publications and research grant money, they had no time or inclination to give a shit about teaching. Her fellow classmates had either come into the program thinking they already knew everything or they were so busy spewing back every word the prof said like it had just come down from God on high they couldn’t possibly open themselves up to really learn anything. The curriculum for the entire program made her question when the last time anyone designing this bullshit had been in the real world. What a colossal mistake it all was.

“Monica, can we drop the peer supervision roles for a minute? I really need to talk to someone.”

The tremble in his voice propelled her out of her spiral of negative thoughts as she sat up straighter and met his pleading eyes. “Sure, Jeff – what’s up?”

“I haven’t slept for a couple of days – I can’t keep up. Work is crazy right now and I need the job – I’ve got to pay for school. I don’t have that old silver spoon in my mouth like some people in this program. My girlfriend is on my back every minute about how much time I’m spending on campus and I’m behind in the readings for every course. Forget about that bloody theories paper for Mr. Dickhead – it’s not going to happen.”

Monica watched him drop his head into his hand and rake his long fingers through his hair. When he looked up his voice shook, “I admire you – you’re the one person in the whole frigging cohort who seems to care about anybody else or even slightly have her shit together. I watch you and I wonder what the hell I’m doing here. I feel like such a bloody imposter every second – like it’s only a matter of time before they find out what a total incompetent I am and kick me out of the program. Sorry to dump all my crap out like this – I just feel like I’m drowning.”

Monica took a deep breath and reached across the space that separated them to put her hand on Jeff’s knee, “Let’s take things one at a time – OK? Maybe together we can figure out where you can get a little room to move in all of this.” She smiled warmly at him and she could feel her world pivot back to where it was supposed to be.

Editing – The Never Ending Story

Home to our comfy cabin in the woods – well it will be comfy again when we build up some heat in the place. This morning I feel like I’m getting back to reality with a jolt. And that means back to the reason I started this blog – to share my self-publishing journey.

When I left on the marathon trip I thought the editing of Disappearing in Plain Sight was done. I clicked the upload button on my author account page with Friesen Press and like magic my four hundred page Word file went off into cyberspace. My overriding thought at the time was good riddance. Now, like the proverbial bad penny, or hot potato, or whatever tired old analogy one could use – it’s right back in my lap.

To quote the editorial evaluation – The manuscript is at an advanced stage of readiness for publication and needs only minor polishing up in mechanical terms. I recommend a professional proofread before publication to catch a few spelling and punctuation errors that will be distracting to the reader.

OK – I admit – my first thought was that any polishing had to be pretty minor. There couldn’t be that many errors – the manuscript has been gone over so many times. And not just by me, thank goodness. But of course, every time I made one change, I was running the risk of screwing up something else. No doubt there are issues.

Before I write the next bit of this blog, I want to qualify what I am about to say. Friesen Press is a business – I totally get that. Businesses are about making money. There is nothing wrong with wanting to run a successful business that makes money. Heck, I would like to make money someday – though the likelihood of that happening seems fantastical at the moment. There is money to be made in up selling – there’s a good reason you get asked if you want fries with that burger every time you go to a fast food restaurant.

I inquired about the cost of the minor polishing up my editorial evaluation called for – $1925.27. The very next day I received an email telling me that Friesen Press was offering a special 15% off of the type of editing I required. Again – no criticism here – this is about up selling and making money. I get that.

I will stay firm on this issue, though – I’m not putting out any more money than I already have to get the book published. One of my first questions to my author account manager at Friesen Press revolved around a fear I had that once I got into the process I would be pressured to spend more and more money. She assured me there would be no pressure and there hasn’t been!

So – it is back to the world of editing for me and two wonderful people I have enlisted to be my second and third set of eyes.

Here is the plan:

First, I must compare each chapter, line by line, with my editor’s suggestions – yes – again! I realize now that I missed a few things, especially in the earlier chapters. I guess real diligence to change came with practice. Someday I will write an entire blog about my use, or more correctly, my overuse, of the word just. I’m wondering if it relates to a way of thinking and ultimately of being in the world – a means of qualifying speech and thought. Anyway, it’s so natural for me to insert the word just all over the place (especially when writing dialogue) that I barely notice I’ve done it. When I reread, my eyes just skim over the word just like it isn’t even there. (You see what I mean – I had no idea I wrote the word just twice in one sentence – crazy!)

After making sure I’ve really done all the changes needed, I will reread each chapter with an eye for any typos that I have missed previously or recently created. Then I will recheck the formatting to ensure nothing has gone out of whack in that department. The next step will be a printed copy of the chapter that all eyes can poring over word by word. Then back to the computer to clean up any typos or issues we have spotted in the hardcopy. I will check the computer copy one last time and then move onto the next chapter. EEEK – but it must be done. I don’t get out of this editing purgatory until I’ve completed the process.

Bruce took this picture in a small grove of Eucalyptus trees near Pismo Beach in California. There were 5000 monarch butterflies in the grove that day. What was even more enjoyable than watching so many butterflies flit through the trees, was the looks on peoples’ faces as they entered the grove and looked up – sheer wonder followed by huge grins. Butterflies are free and right now I am not – but I’ll be flitting among the upper branches soon, too – only forty chapters to go!