Where Will She Sit on the Shelf?

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I’ve sat in on enough writing sessions facilitated by writers, agents, editors and other workers in the publishing industry to know that if my book doesn’t conform to market standards, good luck on getting it published.

Today’s post is on meeting that challenge and moving forward.

Maybe a Story Really Does Tell Itself

My original intention when I began telling my mermaid story was for it to be a romance. A beautiful fishlike young woman washes ashore where a beautiful young man discovers her and along the way love arrives.

The story didn’t unfold as I’d planned.

My mermaid remains a young female but her story focuses on her journey toward the realization of who she is and where she belongs in the ocean world.

A young man is a part of her narrative, along with issues of ocean pollution and extinction and motherhood and love.

Genre Dilemma

My novel is complete. But what kind of novel is it?

Paranormal?

Romance?

Contemporary?

Women’s Fiction?

Adult Mainstream?

All of the above?

None of the above?

I can’t imagine anything worse than a story being refused because the marketing department has no idea how to advertise it and the bookstores have no idea where to shelve it.

What do I do?

Change the story?

Keep the story?

Forget the story?

Advice from Experts

I expressed my dilemma with book editor, Rebecca Heyman. Her response was a recommendation to read three novels. One is Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

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Erin Morgenstern’s story doesn’t fit a standard type; it’s fantasy, romance, maybe even steampunk.

No spoilers here: In Night Circus, two old competitive peers, artists in magic and illusion, pit their apprentices against each other for an eventual showdown.

The story itself is magic. It enchanted me with its vivid details, compelling storytelling and mystical tone.

The structure of the story is also as unique as the tale itself.

Have readers found this strange, unusual novel in their bookstores, real or digitalized?

They certainly have.

Forging Ahead

My focus now isn’t on whether or not there’s a specific shelf for my mermaid novel but on how compelling and memorable my story is for the audience who will read it one day.

 

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“The Red Ball” Earns the Cut

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I had five pages to convince the judges that my short story was the best.

Midwest Writer’s Workshop of Muncie, Indiana, has a five-page maximum length requirement for its entries in long fiction, nonfiction and short and one hundred lines for poetry. No exceptions.

“The Red Ball” is a futuristic tale of a young man who rarely steps outside and a young woman who does, for thirty minutes every night while the city detection system goes offline.

It was seven pages long.

The judges expected to read incomplete entries, but wouldn’t it be to my advantage if I could end the story within the limit?

I trimmed.

Like lovely locks of hair, my story lost its extra curls of enriched characterizations. The words weren’t shorn for good, I consoled myself, only stored away in another word file.

“The Red Ball” took Best Short Story. Placed against the winning pieces in all four categories, it also earned me the Top Writer Excellence Award.

In the end, I couldn’t deny it: the impact of the tightened, five-page story was sharper.

The judges thought so, too.

Two Stories are in an Anthology, Romantic Ruckus

I notice how anxious I’ve become to get every aspect of this writing business covered.

I most enjoy the writing. I like the solitariness of it. My favorite spot is curled up in my chair with my computer on my lap, typing out a new story or editing an older one.

However, I won’t get anywhere unless I go after selling markets. Thank goodness for the Internet. I search online. I read what my fellow writers on Facebook and at my writers’ group are submitting to. Making my own list of possibilities, I send my stories out. No stamps. No envelopes. No waiting for a phone call or an envelope back.

The quickest rejection was four hours. Others took longer. Some came with a personal comment as to why it wasn’t being accepted.

Finally, an editor who was looking for quirky funny romantic stories, took one of mine. Then she asked if I had any more and she took a second one. What joy!

Now my professional writer’s resume is looking pretty, well, professional. I’m not feeling too bad either.

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“Migration” and “Big Screen Romance” are my two contributions here.

Romantic Ruckus, edited by Kara Leigh Miller.

Emerging From The Chrysalis

I notice how penitent I feel as I come back to my blog after being gone for a little more than a year. I want to apologize to someone. I feel like the dog who missed the newspapers and is looking at her human with sad eyes.

My reasons for my absence are valid. I’ve experienced drastic changes in my family, which required much of my focus. The center of my life, my mother, passed way last Thanksgiving. Since then I’ve been working with my family on the process of selling the home where all six of us kids grew up.

However, the most valid reason I’ve been gone is I fell out of practice.

I won’t dillydally about it. Let’s rip off the bandage in one strong pull. I am back and I am going to come here more often.

Like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, I stretch my wings.

Oh, look! A whole field of wild flowers!              DSCN0253

 

 

A Retreat is Really A Step Forward

I am tucked away on the third floor of this one-time convent and Catholic college for girls. A powerful place to write.

I am tucked away on the third floor of this one-time convent and Catholic college for girls. A powerful place to write.

I notice how energized I feel as I walk to my cell of a room, the sole person on this floor at this retreat center.

The Catholic nuns have got their act together. The number of women entering Catholic convents is dwindling. Various orders of sisters are compensating by renovating their convents and sisters-only retreat centers and opening them to the public.

I have three such places within four hours of me where I may spend a weekend or longer. The one in the picture offers meals every day, not just weekends. All provide quiet spaces, a desk, and a wifi signal.

I am in heaven.

Even though I have my own house basically to myself, I am distracted by work I do for other organizations and the chores of everyday living. In my room away from home, in a place taken care of by others and where meals are cooked, presented, and cleaned up by others, I sit at a desk, guilt-free, and go to it.

I sense the history of women praying, studying, focusing their lives on holiness in the days when these convents were full. The energy is powerful.

My connection with my imagination, diction and composition intensifies during this time in retreat.

The work is also powerful and the process sacred.

A Convention of Rejuvenation

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Writing Panel “Don’t Ever Let Me Catch You Doing This” featuring Dayton horror writers, Brady Allen and Tim Waggoner.

I notice the excitement generated by a writing convention and how valuable it is to reigniting my own drive to keep writing and learning the publishing business.

I recently attended Context 25, one of my favorite conventions because its focus is on writers and readers of science fiction and fantasy. Many of its offerings are free with registration: one-hour panels on everything from “Children Characters in Fantasy and Horror” to “Nanotechnology.” Other sessions are more intensive and longer and cost extra. Two of the three of my choice were “World-Building” and “Revising Your Manuscript.”

I love being a student and taking notes; listening to interviews with guest of honor writers in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Editing; asking questions of the experts. I write it all down in a journal used exclusively for anything relating to writing, whether the source is a convention, workshop, online or in magazines.

My top task is connecting with other writers and those involved in publishing. Small talk isn’t my forte. How do I sidle up to strangers and just chat? Here, the Con Suite is a good beginning. It offers free food, snacks, sweets, and nonalcoholic beverages. Usually, some of the seasoned writers, singers (called filkers), boasters, thinkers, talkers come to sit around the tables and share stories. After a few minutes, I feel like I fit in.

Chatting gets easier as the weekend passes. Seeing similar faces at various activities builds camaraderie. Shared experiences lead to writing discussions.

A mere weekend is exhausting, but only physically, and mostly due to less sleep. What is accomplished is my rejuvenation of spirit. It is only with perseverance that a new writer can make inroads into professional publication. This age of e-books and self-published books is shaking up the traditional book publishing process. I can get lost in that surge of change. But if I stick with it, I will find my way.

Writing conventions like Context in Worthington, Ohio, buoy my spirit and energy level. I return home to the rather solitary life of a writer, eager to write something new and focused to submit something already written.

 

Closure: John Updike and Sex

My first reading moment featuring a love story was the attraction between Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer when I was in third or fourth grade. I can still conjure up their quick kiss in the cave scene in all its imaginative detail. Later, in early high school, I devoted myself to Jane Eyre’s search for purpose and discovering love with the dark, sophisticated and tormented Edward Rochester.

Amid the times when these classics encompassed my world of romance, the talk of sordid lust was through the popular Hugh Hefner’s Playboy and Penthouse magazines. No, I wasn’t a reader nor a peruser of the photos, but I had high school and college friends who were.

So it was one extreme or the other: the black and white movie type of suggested sex of the curtain blowing through the open window or the glaring centerfold and full color exposure. It was all make believe.

As a university English major, I took a class featuring novels by Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and John Updike. It was the first time I read work so realistic of adult modern day life. Characters were regular people who could be my neighbors or professors. No one was literally lost in a cave or had an insane wife locked on the third floor of his mansion. The stories featured male characters and, in my memory, all of the men in John Updike’s works were in search of sex. Sex in average bedrooms like the one in my house or, now that I think about it, anywhere they could get it.

While the professor expounded on the works’ lofty themes and literary genius, and I took notes as the dutiful student who knew an analytical paper was in the offing, my real thinking was somewhere else: focused on the overabundance of sex, real, suburban sex. And perhaps I pined for the want of a gothic structure or a one-of-the-boys relationships like Nancy Drew. Instead, I think I grew up during that course and faced an all-too-realistic literary adulthood.

Today, a few decades later, I finished reading John Updike’s collection of short stories entitled My Father’s Tears, first since 2000, the inner book jacket states. Males dominate each tale, but the men are older, much older. Some are in the suburbs, some are in foreign places. All are coping with aging. “The Walk with Elizanne” is about a high school reunion, same with “The Road Home.” Even those that feature boyhood like “The Guardians” and “The Laughter of the Gods” is from a senior male hindsight.

The one short with the greatest departure from my imposed Updike theme is “Varieties of Religious Experience.” It has sex, but love and faith from its domestic to its fanatical as it encompasses the terror of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, as experienced from various perspectives.

I gave away the John Updike books I had to read in college. I was through with the white guys in search of sex. Maybe too real for me. Maybe not. I reluctantly returned to his writing with his My Father’s Tears collection. And there I was, struck again with the same issues and felt the same realness. But this time the cold, hard facts of love were taken over by an aging, male mind who wondered whether love had met expectations, matched memories or redefined definitions.

John Updike doesn’t kid around with age. He isn’t imagining the stud muffins of his youthful pieces. They exist no longer because he exists no longer in that image.

His last two stories are my favorites: “Outage” and “The Full Glass.” I see them as his eulogy to himself. In “Outage” his older-now male, sex-driven ego sees itself in both states of fantasy and reality. “The Full Glass” is his swan song. Through all of John Updike’s personal journey as a youth, adult, author, lover, father, here he is, on the edge of living, looking back and seeing life as a full glass not an empty one.

I’m not sure whether I will read his work again. I like to consider the reason being that I have come full circle and see this collection as closure for a writer who introduced me to modern, everyday male characters and their quests for love that remain, like it or not, a part of my literary memory.

As such, I raise my full glass and offer a toast. Here’s to you, John Updike: Born in 1932. Died in January 2009.