Back when I monitored the NYS Legislature I often heard fellow lobbyists compare passing legislation to making sausage. The same can be said of publishing a book. So, I thought I’d let people into my experience publishing my novels, using as a case in point my soon to be published sixth thriller, Inauguration Day.
I started self-publishing in 2011 two years after completing a first draft of what became The Expendable Man. Over time I’ve been able to shorten the process somewhat, but the publishing world is constantly changing so it’s not as if what I did in 2105 with House Divided will be exactly what I need to do in 2017.
A critical obstacle to being a successful self-published author––however you want to define “successful”––is getting one’s manuscript in shape to be published.
A friend of mine is an author whose favored genre is contemporary noir fiction—hard-boiled, edgy, dark. Since that’s what he writes, that’s also what he reads. Without prompting, though, he read my novel of historical fiction set in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Washington, D.C., a story that could never be described as “edgy”. Graciously, he told me what he liked about it, but concluded by saying, “I write fiction so I can make [stuff] up. Historical fiction seems like way too much work.”
He’s got a point. Fiction is supposed to be fictional, right? Why go to the effort of having to do a ton of research and ensure detailed accuracy (because you know how those historical fiction fans are about that) when the story is supposed to be invented?
Recently, I caught up with Sue Harrison, author of numerous critically-acclaimed novels, including the best-selling Ivory Carver Trilogy (Mother Earth Father Sky, My Sister the Moon, and Brother Wind), to talk about writing, nature, and finding literary inspiration in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Joseph Daniel Haske: We’ve never met in person, but as you know, I grew up about ten miles from where you live in the eastern Upper Peninsula, in the next town over. Home remains important to me in countless ways and it still significantly informs my writing, as I’m sure it does yours. What do you think are some of the major advantages and disadvantages of being a writer in northern Michigan?
Sue Harrison: You’re absolutely right, Joe, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – my home since I was four years old – informs my writing in many ways.
Philosophy, Politics, and the Role of the Artist, Part II
I.Notes from the St. Martin Book Fair
In Part I of Philosophy, Politics, and the Role of the Artist, I explored University of St. Martin President Francio Guadeloupe’s assertion that the technological is the colonial. Guadeloupe, as I noted in Part I, suggests that “As politically heuristic as the distinctions between despots and democrats, atheists and theists, creationists and evolutionists, or in more macro terms the imperial West and the developmentally arrested non-West may be, these fade into insignificance when one comes to see that the technological is the colonial.”
I end Part I with my own question, “Now, I am trying to ask not only what is happening, but to whom?
What do mystery authors Sara Paretsky, Margaret Maron, Nancy Pickard, and Dorothy Salisbury Davis have in common? They saw that women authors often missed out on publishing contracts, promotional dollars, and review opportunities in a publishing world weighted in favor of male authors. They decided to even the playing field and, in 1987, founded Sisters in Crime, an association of mystery authors and fans with the clear mission to help women who write, review, buy, or sell crime fiction or as its official
mission statement says, “to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional of women crime writers.”
I joined the organization several years ago and can attest to the benefits of membership. SinC arranged a visit to the Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office in Baltimore where I learned the difference between a medical examiner and a coroner and watched an autopsy under way.
Paul Ruffin died in April of 2016, at the age of 74, leaving a literary legacy that numbered hundreds of poems, over a hundred short stories, as many essays, two novels, and countless inspired students, many of whom are successful writers themselves. Ruffin was born in Alabama, grew up in Mississippi, and spent most of his academic career at Sam Houston State University where he directed the creative writing program and founded the Texas Review and the Texas Review Press. In 2009, he was named the Texas Poet Laureate. Despite winning many awards and earning the praise of some of America’s best writers, like so many others labeled “a writer’s writer,” he never made a best-seller list. His fictional characters tend to be ordinary, rural people trying to survive in a world in which the odds seem stacked against them, his poems illuminate the nuances in that world that sometimes almost even out those odds, and his essays reveal his personal wagers against and reflections upon the gambles we all take with every move in this world of chance.
“The artist must be deaf to the transitory teaching and demands of his particular age. He must watch only the trend of the inner need, and harken to its words alone.” —Kandinsky.
Several years ago I entered a Masters in Creative Writing program as a poet, but I was equally interested in writing fiction and signed up for several short story workshops. My experience in the poetry classes led me into exciting new places as a writer, opening me up to undiscovered parts of myself and of the poetry world. But it has taken me all these years to fully recover from the fiction workshops.
Another day, another article proclaiming that the death of reading is threatening our minds, souls, and civilization. The latest essay is Philip Yancey’s in the Washington Post.
I try reading these essays from start to finish without succumbing to click bait. I am determined to prove wrong that no one today has an attention span long enough to finish an article, much less a book.
Sometimes I manage to finish the articles. Not always.
Last month I published a poll asking for tips about summer and travel reading (READING ON THE ROAD). I had an ulterior motive. I was hoping someone could save me from lifelong habit of lugging books around the world that I ended up neglecting or destroying, sometimes both.
I can’t say that anything I learned is likely to save me, alas. But I did get some useful and fascinating advice.
In 2005, as part of my graduation requirement for my low residency MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, I gave a craft lecture titled “In Defense of Telling: How to Put Ideas in Your Short Fiction,” which eventually was published in early 2008 as an essay at Segue Journal’s Writers on Writing, which can be read here: http://www.mid.muohio.edu/segue/wow/baker-defense.swf. In that essay I discuss how classic American short story writers such as James Baldwin, Flannery O’Connor, and John Cheever integrated their world views into their short stories. That essay begins:
I really began thinking about the “vision thing” after the 2004 American elections. During that time, with so many of my fellow writers and teachers in despair over the direction our country was headed, I recalled a passage from one of my favorite short stories, “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon.” In the story, a French film director is in a bar talking to a group of young African Americans who are traveling around Europe.
In part one of this essay, I argued that there are essentially two ways of writing a novel (notwithstanding the possibility of various degrees of hybridization). I called the first one the cinematic model. In this kind of novel the reader is essentially invited to see and hear what the characters are doing, much as playgoers do at the theatre, or as viewers watch a film. In this part, I suggest that the contrasting way to write a novel is lyrical, by which I mean that it’s focussed more on language than on drama, and more on the interior lives of the characters than on their conflicts and actions.
If Hemingway and Greene are seen as exemplars of the cinematic model, then their counterparts in the lyrical model might be Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Thomas Mann, Hermann Broch and Robert Musil—
For years I read novels whose titles appeared on the New York Times Best Sellers list. I also read the Times Literary Supplement in which books were reviewed that didn’t make the Best Sellers list, and I read them, too. These had to be the best novels in the country, I thought, and many of them were written by long-famous authors, people I had heard of back when I was a college undergraduate majoring in English. The problem was that I never enjoyed any of them, although, Lord knows, I tried. I came to realize that most of those novels were written by, for, and about upper-middle and upper class professionals (not the world in which I grew up) and that not only did the plots occur within the realm of genteel characters but these authors’ styles shared a certain gentility.
Once upon a time, I’d fill a backpack with thick tomes I had been waiting for months to devour. Paperback or hardcover, it didn’t matter. I was the kind of person who read War and Peace on the beach (and, actually, my organic chemistry text on a cliff near the Oracle at Delphi – but that’s another story). Now that I’m older and wiser, I’m not sure that’s the best way to take reading on the road.
6/1/17 THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP: TAKE YOUR SUNGLASSES OFF INSIDE AND TELL PEOPLE WHOM YOU REALLY ENJOY READING. In one of my very first classes in the M.F.A. program at St. Mary’s College, a mix of poets, novelists and short story folk like me were asked to share the names of some of our favorite authors. The names Thomas Pynchon, Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver flew around the room until it was my turn to introduce my literary self to my new friends. “I like John Irving,” was what I said.
When I looked up, the Pynchon guy was whispering and smile-giggling. Others agreed. The hush was unexpected. J. Irving was a bad answer. I remember clearing my throat and saying, “… and DeLillo … of course … Joyce.”
Creative Writing Programs: What’s Gone Wrong?
This month I retired from the American university where I taught creative writing for the past thirteen years, to both undergraduates and graduate students. It was the best job I ever had, and in the early years particularly I loved it. Over the past years, though, the frustrations and demands have become almost intolerable. Here’s what I’ve learned.
First, most students are delightful people, and many are imaginative and talented. What’s more, some genuinely love books and stories, reading and writing, and it’s a pleasure to teach such people. However, a majority are poorly-read, particularly at the undergraduate level.
Commonwealth: A Review for Writers as well as Readers
My apology to non-writers. This review of Ann Patchett’s 2016 novel, Commonwealth, focuses primarily on the writing, but in doing so perhaps readers will come to understand some basic writing techniques and how they influence story.
Unlike many contemporary novels, Commonwealth is written from an omniscient viewpoint. That means from the very first sentence there’s an always present story narrator telling us what people are doing and thinking. “The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with a bottle of gin.” That’s the narrator talking, not one of the characters.
“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
—Jorge Luis Borges
I had the distinct pleasure recently of being on a panel at the Washington Writers Conference with Tom Shroder—author, ghostwriter, journalist, and long-time editor of the Washington Post Magazine—and Michael Dirda, even longer-time book critic at the Washington Post and elsewhere. We were discussing the fuzzy lines that separate memoir, family history, and fiction.
As part of preparing for the panel, I read two of Michael’s several books: his most recent, Browsings, and his memoir of the first third of his life through college, An Open Book.
April-May and September-October seem to be the prime months for yard sales and book festivals. Certainly I do my share of both as vendor and buyer. On either side of the table, you can learn, enjoy the experience, and at book festivals, meet authors and publishers at all levels.
This weekend, my husband, Dr. Roger McIntire, will be one of the authors at the Gaithersburg, MD, book festival helping to staff the Maryland Writers’ Association booth. He’ll be talking about his practical books for parents and will probably be the only nonfiction author at the booth. At the same time, I’ll be at the Sisters in Crime booth at the Prince George’s (MD) Spring Book Festival in Landover, MD. Offerings at the SinC booth will, of course, be mysteries of all kinds.
American writers are often accused of literary insularity, so I’ve been doing my best lately to engage in more international, multi-lingual dialogue. Among other projects, I’ve been chipping away at a translation of a fantastic story collection by a very talented Chilean writer. Although I’ve done some translation work in the past, literary and otherwise, I haven’t taken on a project of this magnitude in quite a while, and it’s challenging to say the least. Literary translation can be time-consuming, stressful, and labor-intensive. If I translated more often, maybe I’d work more efficiently, but my current process often feels slow and laborious; I tend to obsess about all the minor details in much the same way as I fret about my own writing.
Derek Walcott, 1930-2017
I used to read a lot of poetry. That thought hit me on March 17, when I learned of the death of the Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright Derek Walcott on the island of St. Lucia, where he was born.
It has been years since I’ve read Walcott, but his work was once a constant companion of mine. As I think now about the pleasures of meter, rhyme, and the soaring imagination that good poetry generates, I realize what I’ve missed.
When I heard of Derek Walcott’s death, I recalled a day in 1980 when I opened The New Yorker and excitedly read the title “Jean Rhys” above a six-stanza poem. Only a short time before had I become acquainted with the Dominica-born author Jean Rhys, but I’d been devouring her novels Wide Sargasso Sea, Good Morning, Midnight, and Voyage in the Dark and recommending them to every book lover I knew.
In a recent article about writer and photography critic Teju Cole, Norman Rush notes that Cole’s emergence as a social media superstar makes him a “kind of realm.” Beyond his fine reputation as the author of books and other print media, Cole is also an accomplished photographer and prolific “Tweeter” with a huge Facebook following.
Cole himself has observed that some of the finest “literary minds of our generation” express themselves by means other than traditional print media. Yet they often still write books. Presumably that’s because books are more serious than tweets. Books are also more likely to stick around long enough to reach posterity.
Is this valid?
Developmental editors are concerned with the structure and content of your book. If your manuscript lacks focus, your DE will help you find the right direction to take (the “right” direction generally being the most marketable). This is where problems of inconsistent tone, an unclear audience, or an unidentified marketing niche often surface.
Developmental editors perform many of the same editing tasks as an acquisitions editor, but unlike AEs, whose time is split between editing and the business side of publishing, DEs tend to be able to give you more personal attention. If you have hired a DE on a freelance basis, this is undoubtedly true. Either way, you will find that good DEs are friendly, organized, valuable to your endeavor.
Part One: The Cinematic Model
There are essentially two different ways to write a novel. The first is action-oriented, and usually heavy on dialogue; concerned with visible drama, above all, it works much as a film does. It observes human beings interacting and conflicting with each other. “I am a camera with its shutter open,” wrote Christopher Isherwood, in the second paragraph of Goodbye to Berlin, “quite passive, recording, not thinking.” One may argue about whether he succeeded in maintaining that objectivity, but unquestionably that was his aim, as it was of so many early twentieth century writers, among them Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Graham Greene.
I’ve just returned from a repositioning cruise with Holland America Cruise Lines as it changed its operations from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean for the season. The price was right. The cruise began in Fort Lauderdale and ended in Rome with stops in the Azores and Spain (Málaga and Aliconte).
Azores? How else were we ever going to see the Azores? Actually, we spent the day in only one of these nine Portuguese islands, the largest, named Sao Miguel. Like Hawaii, the islands are volcanic in origin and Sao Miguel is green and mountainous. Tea and pineapple are major crops.
I looked forward to the nine sea days of this cruise as a chance to edit my latest manuscript and to begin plotting my next one.