When they believe it’s about you….

cover of west endI’ve written so many stories from first person point of view. At first, I was nervous because people did ask – is that real? is that you? and even contacted me and said – I know that’s about you.

So, it does make a person nervous about what they write and publish.

But at some point, you’ve got to let people think what they want to think. None of it will affect you in the long run.

I had an editor refuse a fictional story because, he said, it’s memoir and ultimately we didn’t ask for your personal story.

I thought – it must be good if he thought it was me! But I didn’t bother to correct him. It was a fiction call and I’d submitted fiction. If the editor didn’t realize the “I” didn’t necessarily represent the author, but the character, he is probably not the editor I need to work with nor the journal I want to be published in.

I worried about this with West End – my first big publication. One of the big criticisms girl on train tracks.jpgfrom someone who believed they knew me thought it wasn’t a realistic portrayal of me. I had to tell him because the character was not me! While the same story convinced another person that I’d led a secret life prior to moving to California.

Possibly, one of the convincing elements of the story is the setting. The place, the west side of Cleveland, where I grew up, is real. You can trace the steps of my characters who walked the path passed the baseball field and lost themselves on the train tracks, or those who played in the abandoned buildings. The streets are still there, the houses still stand, except the one which burned to the ground – a vacant lot interrupts the landscape of the neighborhood.

West End was a passion project. It was for the kids who I’d known and those I didn’t who never made it out. But it wasn’t me. Maybe parts of me live there in the pages and parts of me live on those streets.

Ultimately, you can’t allow another person’s possible opinion of you affect your writing.

When Editors Go Cray….

beautiful ppl.jpgMany years ago, All The Beautiful People was accepted for publication. But, then, as happens sometimes, I got the dreaded letter (yes, that’s how many years ago it was) in the mail stating that they had accepted too many things and something had to be bumped. The editor apologized and said they’d keep it in their files, but I should feel free to submit it elsewhere.

I did so.

A year later, that story was accepted for publication in another journal.

Even another year later, the original journal – with a new editor – wrote me via email and said they’d decided to use All the Beautiful People in their upcoming edition.

I responded that they were welcome to use the story; however, it had been accepted and was scheduled for publication by another journal. The publications would come out about six to nine months apart.

I never heard from that second journal and believed they had removed the story from their journal and their archives.

Six months later, I received a copy of the beautiful journal and my story within its pages.  YET – they’d billed the story as a memoir – it was fiction – and they’d cut off the last paragraph.

I was a little embarrassed. The girl in the story does things I would never have never girl with elvis facedone. I was concerned what readers might think – that this might serve as some sort of legacy I couldn’t live down.

See – with the last paragraph – it could NEVER EVER EVER be mistaken as memoir. I sent off a quick email to tell them these two things.

The editor dashed off a quick and nasty response – that they had published it as received, adding some choice and unprofessional comments. She made it sound as if I’d sent it directly to her and that she hadn’t pulled it from their archives.

I responded with the history of the piece, date sent, date accepted, and by whom, date and reason it was taken out, and by whom, etc.

I received another quick and dirty response. I wish I would have kept that email – misspelled words, inappropriate language, and completely and utterly unprofessional. I decided to look this person up. I then forwarded her emails to her employer.

She had found All The Beautiful People in the other publication – the one which was attributed correctly and published fully – and accused me, in her fancy slang, of lying, cheating the system, and whatever else she felt necessary. Another email I forwarded to those who were really in charge of the journal.

I again responded – with the forward – the series of events that had transpired offering all the original letters, archived in my own files, and the emails, which I had still in my saved box.

Route-66-Texas-Midpoint.jpgI didn’t hear from any of them again. But they did put a tiny little line in an inconspicuous place on their website that the story was mislabeled as memoir and should read fiction.

Now, it could have easily been a little mistake to publish it as memoir; however, again, the last paragraph would have told ANY reader that was wrong. Therefore, the missing last paragraph and the misattribution made me wonder. Still, this problem could have been easily, politely, and professionally handled.

I was shocked to learn that the editor who had acted so poorly was a lecturer at a University and had a book or two to her own credit. I do not believe she continued as the editor after that, but I didn’t bother to check.

I learned two valuable lessons from this experience – KEEP EVERYTHING! and always act like a professional.

Submission Log

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How do you keep track of your submissions?

I keep a log of when, where, and what I’ve submitted. I also updated it when my piece is rejected, accepted, or haven’t heard from the publisher.

There are a number of ways to keep logs, either by date, title, or other.

I keep mine by date of submission, but it’s easily searchable if I want to find out where and when I submitted anything specific.

I also keep a log of places not to submit again. It’s a very short list, but if you run across an editor who is unprofessional or a journal that operates with questionable practices, you should keep track.

Using submittable as your tracking system works if you don’t submit to journals or publishers who are not members, as I do, but I find their site challenging to navigate when I’m looking for a certain title I may have submitted at different time periods. My list is long and some journals don’t actually update.

I’ve had a few things accepted (or rejected) and the publisher has not updated my submission on the site; therefore, it appears to still be in process.

I find my own log more easy to navigate.

 

Writing with Bones

I think I read Writing Down the Bones maybe more than 20 years ago.  I do believe it’s still on my bookshelf. I keep books that have spoken to me.

writing-down-the-bones.jpgAlthough one website says it’s a good book for beginning writers, I think we might all find some inspiration in these pages.

In yoga, sometimes we go back to level one, we go back to the training. After so many years of doing it, so many teachers putting their own twists on it, so many times we’ve worked with (or around) an injury – it’s good to go back to the basics.

I see nothing wrong with doing that in writing either.

Writing Down the Bones – a book by Natalie Goldberg. This site gives you a generous sampling of the book.

I’m planning to pick it up again – see what else I can learn, what I might relearn.

6 Reasons Self-Publishing Beats Traditional Houses and Agents – Guest Blog by John Grabowski

For most writers, getting a contract from a traditional publishing house is the golden biscuit, the grand reward after a struggle with run-on sentences, superfluous commas, and tired clichés. Many people will then spend years looking for an agent, and then have an agent try to place their work with a publishers, big or small.

But here’s reality: unless you’re J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, you’re almost certainly not going to receive the red carpet treatment you’re no doubt envisioning. Once upon a time, not a long time ago, self-publishing was considered the literary outback, the place for hacks. Now, in an ironic twist, we just may be witnessing the reversal of fortune. The Bix Six seem to be wallowing in their formulas. Meanwhile, much fresh thinking is coming from self-published authors who build their followings online. So rather than wait for your genius to be appreciated, here are six reasons you should consider being self-published:

 

  • You are your own editorial voice. While every self-published work should go past the eyes and red pen of an experienced editor, ultimately you can write and publish what you want. You don’t have to deal with an editor or agent who wants a happier ending, a younger protagonist, or the locale moved from Pittsburgh to Paris.

 

Your hired editor may suggest changes, and you should listen. But ultimately you stand or fall on the product. You won’t have to deal with the agent who refuses to read a manuscript because she never looks at anything that begins with dialogue, or one who says she won’t consider a novel written in the first person, or one who says the work cannot have a “Prologue” or an “Afterward.” Ask yourself if a reader ever put a book back on the bookstore shelf for any of those reasons and you’ll begin to see how silly and random the process can be.

 

  • You set pricing and distribution. Ever wonder why some really great book has not been reissued, forcing you to buy a beat-up second hand copy? The publisher decides distribution, pricing, and how long the title will be in the catalog. If they don’t want to keep it in their catalog, there’s nothing the author can do.

 

With self-publishing, your works can live on forever. Or, if later on your freshman effort embarrasses you, you can make it disappear with the click of a mouse.

 

  • You control the book’s cover design and artwork. This may be intimidating for some but it’s liberating to me. While some professional cover designs are great, others are simply terrible: a stock photo, the title centered above it, the author’s name beneath it. Not surprisingly, artwork like that tends to go to the lesser-known and novice authors.

 

If you’re unsure how to design a cover (and it involves a lot more than putting your title over a picture and your name on the bottom), google some freelance artists who do it. Study their work and contact the ones you like. If you don’t want to shell out the cash, and you have access to some design tools yourself, find covers of comparable works and study what you like, then try to imitate it as best you can.

 

  • You can fix mistakes. Even some very big, very famous novels have typos in them. Or formatting errors. When it’s your own work you can go back and fix the mistake, then re-upload the file. With traditional publishers, your mistakes remain, oftentimes even in second and subsequent editions.

 

  • You promote your work the way you want. Don’t think being published by a big house means jaunts to NPR interviews and author events at prestigious venues. Most houses do nothing to promote the majority of their authors. You have to do your own marketing and PR (an art in itself), so you might as well own and control what you’re working so hard to promote.

 

  • You can write the next novel you want. The curse of traditional publishing these days is even if you are a smash hit, they will want more of the same. If your goal is to write a second novel that’s different from your first, you may find doors shut to you. Despite claims on websites that agents and editors are looking for “fresh,” “new” voices, most are really chasing trends; that’s how they keep their jobs. Self-publishing is a wonderful opportunity for you to be you, and today’s self-published books look every bit as good as the product of the Big Boys. Rather than write your one-hundredth query letter, why not consider a faster, more streamlined way to reach readers?

 

John Grabowski worked in advertising, television news and public relations before daring to write his first novel. Entertaining Welsey Shaw was praised by Kirkus Reviews for being witty, fast-paced, and “filled with flirtatious banter.” A collection of his shorter fiction, Violet Rothko & Other Stories, will be published in September 2019.  authorjohngrabowski.com

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Thanks, John!

noreen

On my bookshelf

I’ve finished my Tana French detective series and didn’t want to go to bed without another book in hand. (Nevermind there are three on my bedside table).

bookshelf.pngI began browsing my bookshelf, which is semi-organized: books I’ve read and loved. Books I want to read. School books. Writing books. and, of course, Poe books

I also have something mixed in that would seem, at first glance, not to belong. Books on psychology, the law, philosophy. I assume many writer’s bookshelves are this way.

A writer needs a wide variety of knowledge.

I know we have google at our disposal; however, I find reading books about, for example, the Psychology of Marketing allows me to get an in depth look that a wikipage or a few short articles are not going to give me. This allows me to create a more realistic character or more thorough background to make the story more believable.

For West End, I needed to understand two things, the idea of an absent or unloving mother, and the different forms depression can take. Anxiety runs throughout my work from Of Strays and Exes to Life of Clouds – which features children affected in different ways by the disappearance of their father.

I’ve heard handymen say they are the jack of all trades. I think writers are akin to that. We need to learn many things in order to live many lives.

 

 

 

 

Influence

Billy Collins (poet) believes we must read to be influenced, and suggests young people mimic their favorite writers in order to develop their skills and to develop their own voice.

I think many young writers do this. It’s a natural form of development.

Other writers are afraid to read when they’re lion.jpgwriting; they don’t want to be influenced. I think by the point you develop your own voice, you won’t so easily be influenced.

I think reading Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion was imperative for me to stumble across. I’d never attempted to intimate him – but he took my understanding of writing and voice to a whole new level. The storyline, the use of language, and the originality of his voice was unlike anything I’ve ever read and it blew my mind.

What reading Ondaatje did for me was to help launch my voice and style. I say this because at the time, I was mired in instructors and writers telling me no, no, no. They so strongly believed in their own way of doing things, they didn’t allow other writers to develop in other ways. It was limiting.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – read far and wide! Do not be afraid of being influenced – open yourself to learning something new!