Status Report

About two weeks ago, I posted an update on progress with my novel, Ojibway Valley.   In that piece, I told how I’d decided to give up on the traditional model of querying agents and small presses, and my frustration with the process, and that I was going to go ahead and self-publish.

Well, it only stands to reason that after posting that article I should hear back from one of the many small presses I had queried.  I queried this press last July, so six months had passed before they replied, expressing interest in seeing my entire manuscript.   I looked them up on the internet, remembering that I’d found them through Duotrope, and that they were fairly new, having been formed in 2012. I figured what the Hell, I haven’t self published quite yet, so I sent them a copy, with a note saying that I’d give them two weeks to respond, and went back to the process of performing the final edit on my manuscript.

Exactly one week later, last Friday evening, I was working at my computer when an e-mail showed up in my in-box.   It was from the same small press.   I opened it, expecting another rejection letter, when much to my shock I found a short note saying they were happy to inform me that they wanted to go ahead with publication, and that they’d attached a generic contract for me to review.

I was stunned.  I quickly called my wife into my office and had her read the note, and she was stunned, too.  It was the moment I’d been waiting for since sending out my first query, about fourteen months earlier.

But that old Groucho Marx / Woody Allen joke played in my head.  It goes like this:  “I would never belong to a club that would have somebody like me as a member.”   I looked a little closer at the publishing company, and at the contract they sent me, and I found some discouraging items.

The first was that the guy who sent me the letter had the title “editor” next to his name.  I also noted that he was an author of two of the four fiction titles listed on their webpage.  So far, so good.  I clicked on his first novel, and was taken to a Goodreads review which blasted the book.  Again, nothing wrong with that, until I got to the end of the review, where the reader commented on the errors and typos that were all over the published work.   This made wonder about his skill and experience as an editor.  If I wanted to publish a book filled with errors and typos, I’d self publish – one of the advantages of having a small or big press publish your work should be the professionals available for review and design.

Then I took a closer look at the contract.  Nothing jumped out at me; it all seemed to be legitimate, until I noticed that in the header of the word document, it indicated that it was a contract between them and an author whose name I recognized from the only non-fiction title on their web page.  They had obviously copied his contract but forgotten to clear his name.  This struck me as a little careless at best, and as a breach of the other author’s privacy at worst.

Then I looked up the non-fiction work of the other author on Amazon, and while its title denoted that it was a serious book about a serious and topical issue, it was only 56 pages in length.  I don’t know how one writes a comprehensive book about such a serious topic in only 56 pages.

So I had enough doubts about this press to second guess having them publish my book.   To be clear, I don’t believe they’re up to anything crooked or unethical, I never got the sense that they were trying to scam me.   It’s just that I didn’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling that they would add enough value to my work.   In the end, I decided that I would stick with self-publishing.  This morning I wrote them back a very respectful and sincere e-mail, telling them with regret that I’d chosen other alternatives.  In return, I received a very nice note wishing me luck.

Lesson learned #1 – shame on me!  All the research I did Friday night I should have done prior to submitting to them last July.   I would have saved both their time and effort and mine.   Submitting query letters is hard enough work; submitting them to the wrong audience only wastes their time and adds to the backlog I complained so much about in my previous posting.  We wait months and months for a positive response; when we finally get one, it is a true shame to decline it.

Lesson learned #2 – contrary to lesson number one, before you sign a contract with anybody, you owe it to yourself and all the work you’ve put into your book to make sure you double-check everything and that you are comfortable with what you’d be getting into.  While I regret the wasted investment in time and energy, I remain the strongest advocate my little novel is likely to ever have.  I have to trust my instincts, and do what’s best to protect my work.

So the  update – I just finished my “final” edit and have re-submitted my changes to Create Space.  They’ll package my changes by tomorrow sometime, and I’ll review it again.  If all goes well, it could be out on Amazon available for purchase by the middle of this week.

Next step – put the finishing touches on a marketing plan I’ve been playing with.

Winter Dream

(This is what I remember from a real dream I had last night)

I’m sitting at an empty bar.   It’s early evening, and it’s a bar I’m very familiar with.   It’s empty, nobody else either in front of or behind the bar.  The front door opens, and I immediately recognize my Dad as he walks in. At the same time, the bartender emerges behind the bar, and two more people walk in behind my dad.  My dad silently acknowledges me, nodding in my direction, and I can feel myself beaming, unable to suppress my happiness at seeing him.  The bartender looks at me, a puzzled expression on his face.  My dad starts talking to the bartender, telling him about his winter in Texas, when the two who came in with him take their seats on his other side.  With my dad standing between us, I recognize the other two as my mom and my oldest brother.

I remember why I’m here, why I’m at the bar.  I was supposed to meet them here, as they returned from Texas, then drive them somewhere north.   I can’t remember where but I know it’s about a two hour trip from where we are.

The conversation between the bartender and my dad pauses, and the bartender again looks at me, the same puzzled expression on his face.  Though I’ve seen him a hundred times before, it’s been a while, and it isn’t surprising that he might forget my name.

“I’m his son, Dave,” I say.  “I’m giving them a ride.”

“I know who you are,” he says, “it’s just that I didn’t expect you here so soon.”

And then it comes back to me, then I remember, that the bartender and my dad and my mom and my oldest brother are all dead.

Remembering this, I wake up.

Life and Death and Decay and Our Town

I’m aging.  I’m damaged goods.  I’ve hit the mid fifties, and while we may not admit it very often, we’re all damaged goods by this point.  With me, the chief vandals have been time and Parkinson’s disease. I try not to think about it all that much, but every morning the difficulty I have getting out of bed serves as a daily reminder that I don’t function as well as I used to, that I’m not who I used to be.

I don’t dwell on these facts, and I try my best not to let them get me down.  They are simply things that are part of my life now.   Like the Deep Brain Stimulator, or the neuro transmitter installed in my chest that sends signals to the electrodes implanted in my brain. It helps much of my Parkinson’s experience, but there are side effects, including my speech.   My movement disorders specialist has given me a device with a range of settings that I can use to control the signals sent to my brain so I can adjust them to minimize the side effects if, for example, I am going to be speaking in public.   Today, for example, I videotaped two recordings of me reading the first paragraph of Chapter 15 of my novel “Ojibway Valley” with minor tweaks to my settings.  My intent was to upload them to this post and share them, but I quickly learned that I’d have to pay for a Word Press update, which I’m not ready to do just yet.

So it is that these things just become a part of my life now, and things I used to take for granted I can’t anymore.  But that’s not a big deal, it happens to everyone – it’s just that mine are a little more dramatic and unusual than most people’s changes.

We all change, every day, more significantly and quickly than we might care to admit.  We lose a little hair, we add an inch or two to our midsection.  Here is a quick photo tour of certain points of my evolution (or devolution?):

4th birthday

On my 4th birthday

jenny & i number one

My sister and I ready for battle

At age 18 - maybe the first sign of abnormal brain was a canoe paddle sticking out of my head.

At age 18 – maybe the first sign of an abnormal brain condition was a canoe paddle sticking out of my head.

On the radio show "Speaking of our Words", with Chris Deguire and Lisa Adamowicz Kless

On the radio show “Speaking of our Words”, with Chris Deguire and Lisa Adamowicz Kless of the Kenosha Writer’s Guild

Recent selfy, practicing my stink-eye

Recent selfy, practicing my stink-eye.  The canoe paddle may have been removed but defects and malfunctions are still apparent

I’ve been thinking about these things because recently I re-read the great American play, “Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder.   “Our Town” takes a look at life and death in a small New England town called Grover’s Corners shortly after the beginning of the 20th century.  The first act is about everyday life, act two is about love and marriage, and act three is about death and dying.  The third act is incredibly powerful.  It is only when considered against death that life becomes meaningful, that we are granted the perspective to view it with.

My familiarity with the play goes back about forty years now, beginning with a production by my high school drama club in the mid seventies.  I’ve seen a few performances of it now on television, the most memorable being a made for television production from the late seventies with Hal Holbrook playing the pivotal role of the Stage Manager, our guide into the world Wilder created.    It’s a unique character in that Wilder uses him to break down the wall between the players and the audience, and he weaves in and out of the action of the play, interacting equally with the characters and the audience.   The play is written to be performed with minimal set design, the actors miming most of their actions.  These devices work extraordinarily well and, by using the audience’s imagination, highlight the timeless universality of Wilder’s words.  We all form our own image of Grover’s Corners, because we all have experience with the moments he chooses to linger on.

In Act three, the main character, Emily, has died while giving birth to her second child.  She was 26 years old and joins the dead in the cemetery on the hill overlooking Grover’s Corners.  She learns that she is free to go back and live her life again, although the others of the dead strongly advise against it, telling here it won’t be like she thinks.  She settles on reliving her 12th birthday, and the pain becomes overwhelming:

Emily:  I can’t bear it. They’re so young and beautiful. Why did they ever  have to get old? Mama, I’m here. I’m grown up. I love you all, everything. I can’t look at everything hard enough. Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead.  You’re a grandmother, Mama. I married George Gibbs, Mama. Wally’s dead, too.  Mama, his appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it-don’t you remember? But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy.  Let’s look at one another.

It soon becomes too much, and she asks to be taken back to the cemetery:

EMILY:   (In a loud voice to the stage manager.)

I can’t. I can’t go on.  It goes so fast!  We don’t have time to look
look at one another!  (She breaks down sobbing.  The lights dim on the left half of the stage.)  I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back -up the hill -to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look.  Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover’s Corners … Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking … and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths … and sleeping and waking up.  Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.

 She looks toward the stage manager and asks abruptly, through her tears:

Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?

The stage manager answers “No,” then, after a short pause, adds “The saints and poets, maybe – they do some.”

Shortly after, we get the stage manager’s closing soliloquy:

Most everybody’s asleep in Grover’s Corners. There are a few lights on: Shorty Hawkins, down at the depot, has just watched the Albany train go by. And at the livery stable somebody’s setting up late and talking. Yes, it’s clearing up. There are the stars doing their old, old crisscross journeys in the sky. Scholars haven’t settled the matter yet, but they seem to think there are no living beings up there. Just chalk … or fire. Only this one is straining away, straining away all the time to make something of itself. The strain’s so bad that every sixteen hours everybody lies  down and gets a rest.

The strain is so bad that rest isn’t enough.  It’s art, it’s story telling, it’s shared experience, it’s beauty and language and music, and love, that occasionally relieve the burden of our straining long enough for us to get a brief glimpse of truth.  These are the things that replenish and nourish the soul as it trudges on through its long and incomprehensible journey.  They are sustenance, they are our defense against the slow and steady and unfeeling advance of time and decay.

The Longest Journey Begins With …

If you look to the right of this posting, you’ll see a book cover with my name on it under the heading, “Coming soon.”    I’m interested in any feedback you might have.   Does it look professional?  Does it make you want to read the book?   Does it induce nausea?

So yeah, my book is finally getting “published,” “self-published”, that is.  I gave the traditional find an agent or publisher path more than a year, and received nothing but irritation and frustration.  It’s no wonder they say that this model is dying.  It’s not the rejections that bother me – I came to appreciate them, even the form letter responses saying they’ve read my query letter or excerpt and it’s just not a fit at this time.   At least they have the decency to send something back.  What really bothers me is the number of inquiries that got no return at all.  I understand that these poor agents and editors are so overloaded, their slush piles are so high.   But to not even respond?   There were a couple of times where they asked me to send a transcript after reviewing my query letter, and then never answered, even when I sent a tepid reminder some weeks  later  per the instructions on their web pages.  Please, tell me that I and my work suck, it’s better than not telling me anything at all.

I get it, they are overworked and overloaded.  I can appreciate and understand that.    But what I can’t tolerate is rudeness.  To me, it is simple rudeness not to answer someone’s query letter.   I think these agents and publishers need to think long and hard about what it is that keeps them in business.   It’s the writers out there.  And the more overloaded they are, the more likely they are to find that diamond in the rough, the next Harry Potter or Twilight or whatever.   They should be grateful that their slush piles are full.   Every time I read a column or a blog or an interview where an agent mocks the amateur and talentless dreamers and their laughable queries, I wince.   They should be treating all of these neophytes with dreams bigger than talent with the respect that they deserve, or they should get into another business.

Anyway, I’ve given it the allotted year, and now I am going to self-publish, print-on-demand and e-books.   I’m going through my final edits, and sometime in the next few weeks, Ojibway Valley will be out there on Amazon.   I have no illusions about sales – I know they are going to be modest, more than likely embarrassingly modest.  I have trouble articulating exactly why I am self publishing and exactly what I hope to accomplish.   I guess it’s because I’ve written a book, and I think it’s not bad, and I want other people to read it, and maybe some small percentage of them will think that it’s not bad, too.

Over the past few years, I’ve invested a lot of time and energy in my writing.  I think I’m getting better, but I know I still have a long way to go.   Publishing Ojibway Valley now feels like the right thing to do at the right time, like taking a GPS reading and getting my coordinates for where exactly I am on my journey.

I’ll post more as things progress.   In the meantime,  any feedback is welcome!

It’s Snowing in Twinkle Town

(I thought I’d try writing a children’s story – my kids are grown and it’s been a while since I’ve been around small kids, but I was surprised at how quickly I was able to shift back into their innocence and optimistic outlook.  I imagine this could be quite good with the right illustrator) 

It’s snowing in Twinkle Town!  Look, in the village square!   It’s Mayor McBride!   He’s coming out of Miss Amanda’s House of Hospitality again.  He sure does spend a lot of time at Miss Amanda’s.  Oh, no!  He’s fallen on the sidewalk.  My, my, but it doesn’t look slippery!   Oh, well, it looks like he’s going to take a nap there, in the gutter of the village square.  He sure must be tired!  Look at the snow fall on him.  He should be wearing more than just his underwear in this weather.

Let’s go over to Baker Street and see what wonderful treats Mr. Snodgrass has in his bakery today!   Who’s that man at the counter in the blue uniform talking to Mr. Snodgrass?  Why, of course, it’s Officer McSleaze!   Officer McSleaze sure likes Mr. Snodgrass’s donuts!  But why is Mr. Snodgrass giving Officer McSleaze money?  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  And why is Mr. Davis from the health department standing outside in the cold?  What could he be waiting for?  Oh my, they sure are a silly mixed up bunch of people!

Out on the edge of town, in his trailer house, Eddie is hard at work.  He is cooking something, and it sure looks good!  Whatever it is, it’s nice and shiny!   Look at the funny suit he is wearing while he cooks.  He’s even wearing a mask!  But Eddie, it’s not Halloween! Meanwhile, Hank is sitting outside.  What’s that in his arms?  A rifle?  But hunting season is over!   Someone has to tell him, because he keeps watching the road.  Maybe he is waiting for a badger.

Now a car comes down the road.   Wait a minute, Hank, that’s not a badger!  Hank shouldn’t be shooting at the car.  That car looks like Mr. Green’s car.  Is that Mr. Green driving?  See the car crash into the telephone pole. See the car catch fire.  Wow, those sure are bright red and yellow flames!  I guess we’ll have to wait for Mr. Molar, the town dentist, to tell us if that was Mr. Green driving the car or not.

Someone should tell Miss Amanda about Mr. Green.   Mr. Green used to have fun playing dress up on Saturday nights at Miss Amanda’s House of Hospitality.  His favorite thing was to dress up and pretend he was Miss Sprinkles!   Golly, that was fun!  Mayor McBride had fun when Mr. Green played dress up, too.  He just loved to play with Miss Sprinkles!

Who will get to be Miss Sprinkles for Mayor McBride now?  I’m sure that the Mayor and Sheriff McSleaze will find someone in Twinkle Town to take Mr. Green’s place.

It’s snowing in Twinkle Town!  Isn’t it pretty?