The bittersweet taste of traditional publishing

book-436507_640One of the many reasons I have been more than usually absent from this blog in recent months is a rather large side project – a non fiction book. Now that we are in the final stages of reviewing the contract with the publisher, I think it may be worth adding my two-bobs worth to the discussion about self publishing vs. traditional publishing.

The new book, which will be about playspaces, came about in the most unlikely of ways. A chance in a million. On a whim, back in the dim dark days at the start of the year, I entered a competition on Goodreads. Remarkably, I won it, and some time later received a lovely hardback edition of a landscape design history book. Finding it hard to maintain the CPD points I need to maintain my qualification with a bub, I inquired of our professional magazine if they would like a review of the book, to which they agreed.

Now comes the remarkable part. I wrote to the publisher, asking for some of the images from the book to accompany the review. They forwarded these, and then came back asking if I would be interested in writing a book on playspaces. It’s a little eerie to know that you’ve been googled.

Joining forces with a friend of mine, we spent the next three or four months nutting out the exact contents of each section – chasing contributors from around the globe, and writing the first chapter. My other books have been much more ‘pantzer’ enterprises – they have been organic, growing during the process of writing. This one is firmly a ‘planner’, which is a real novelty for me. It remains to be seen if it will remain so, or if the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ shoot us into uncharted territory.

After that, it was all bundled off to the publisher, and went into limbo while it was reviewed by them and independent experts. All very rigorous, and very serious. Then suddenly, after a little back and forth, we have been offered a contract. Hardback and paperback, worldwide distribution. Hooray!

But wait…

The contract, as far as we can tell, if quite standard for the industry. It is, as a friend said, “no crapper than anyone else’s”. However, after getting used to the idea of 70% royalties in the self-publishing world, 6% on received royalties seems, frankly, more than a little exploitative. We worked out that on the first run, assuming all copies are sold, we won’t make enough to cover our communication, let alone any of the hard labour in writing the thing.

The other major difference of course is that we will have little or no control over the appearance of the book, where it is sold, or the marketing of the text (which may be a bit of a relief!). My other books – ‘The Artemis Effect’ and ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’, I have complete control over, and it may not be easy to let that go. I chose to self publish them for exactly that reason.

So – nearly a year down the track we are faced with a hard decision. Should we go ahead, on what is basically a pro-bono basis? There is the intellectual challenge, the kudos, and maybe the hope of improving playspaces around the world. One the other is a serious time and mental commitment when I have a small child, work, and have other things I would like to be writing. My co-author is trying to run her own business.

It looks like I may end up writing in every genre after all: Science Fiction and Parenting – done. Speculative Short stories and Poetry – underway. Non-fiction – pending.

I suspect we will go ahead, but I’d be interested to hear about your experiences and thoughts…

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Book Review: The Timekeepers’ War

81C6jQyqOVL._SL1500_The Timekeepers War is the debut novel of Saskatchewan based writer, S.C. Jensen, but you wouldn’t know it. Skillfully written and edited, there is no hint that this book is written by anyone other than an author at the top of their game.

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We are taken to a disconnected and post apocalyptic world, some hundreds of years into the future. There, people like the protagonist, Ghost, scrabble a hand-to-mouth existence amongst the ruins of the City, living in fear of one another, and of the burning rays of the Sun. Some have moved underground entirely, and these scenes did have resonances with Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ for me.

Unknown to many of the City’s inhabitants, others, considering themselves an elite, moved up, into a guarded luxury undreamt of by those below. This is the Elysian Empire: a dictatorship, run by the tyrannical Ursaar.
The Elysian Empire is a skilful and nightmarish blend of the worst of all worlds – think of Nero’s Rome with unbridled genetic engineering, and you’ll have something of the flavour of it. Psychologists would delight in picking apart the various conditions of the Ursaar, who is plagued by paranoia, megalomania, and best of all, a substitute Oedipal complex.

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It is hard to write about this book without including too many spoilers, but I can say that Jensen has created a believable and complex world, peopled by strong characters. Many of them are not beauties, either physically or morally, just as most of us are not in real life. One thing I did love was the way that the book avoided painting anyone as entirely black or white – no-one is an angel, and motivations are mixed and sometimes obscure, again, truly reflecting society. Written as the first part of a series of books, you are often left wondering what people’s real aims are, and I’m sure that will provide ample fodder for the next books.

In the same vein, it was refreshing to have a kick-ass heroine who is strong, and can look after herself, and yet acknowledge that she has doubts and fears just like everyone else. Ghost is no superhero, but perhaps a woman steeled by the hardships of her existence.

There is plenty of action, guerrilla warfare, and even spirituality in The Timekeepers War, which will lead you through a rich world of secret societies, secret passages, steamy townships and impossibly rich gilded imperial gardens. A lengthy but necessary section of explanation and back story in the middle of the book is kept flowing well with intrigues and a deepening of the relationship between the main characters, Ghost and the mysterious Lynch.

Overall, The Timekeepers War is a highly accessible book, which deserved to be widely read. It would make a fine film, and I look forward eagerly to the sequel.

Five stars from me.

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I received a free ebook of The Timekeepers War, in return for an honest review.

Guest Kasia James on The Milk of Female Kindness

Today, I’m Guest Posting over at the fabulously named “Peanut Butter on the Keyboard”. It’s a blog close to my heart in that it’s run by a group of great women who also manage to juggle writing with motherhood.

So please – pop on over to visit them.  🙂

Guest Kasia James on The Milk of Female Kindness.

 

Book Launch!

On Sunday the 23rd of March, we had a joyful celebration of the Launch of ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood.’

Somewhat ironically, the launch was held at Abbottsford Convent, which still seems to have the aura of nun’s ghosts floating down the corridors. Despite this, it really was a fantastic way to finish a project, if you can ever call a project like this finished. The energy of having all those supportive people in one place – estimates say that we had about a hundred attendees – really can’t be beaten. I was on a high all day. 🙂

I confess that I did umm and ahh about whether or not to have a launch, as it’s a lot of extra time, effort and cash to organise. I don’t think I would have done it if the fabulous Dr. Carla Pascoe (who has a bub even smaller than mine – and mine is only 17 months) hadn’t stepped in to give me a hand, especially as I am a book launch virgin.

Our Book launch was perhaps a little unusual. Bearing in mind that many of those attending would have small children, we thought it best not to have a boozy affair at a sleek bookshop, although that would have been fun. Instead, our venue opened out on to a green courtyard, and we were blessed to have Judy McKinty facilitating play, and the talented Richard Morden helping with Colouring-in. There was even fairy bread, although how much was consumed by adults on the quiet I cannot say.

The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest MotherhoodHeather Harris, one of the contributors to the book, and also a midwife with Medecins Sans Frontiers, spoke eloquently about how the cover of the book represented women form around the world spitting the dummy, and refusing to be silenced about our experiences, despite the societal pressure to fit us into neat little molds. I also wittered on about something or other – its’ all a bit of a blur…

 

Anyway, thank you to everyone who came along, and to all the wonderful people who helped out along the way!

A once in a lifetime experience.

 

Practical advice for the beginning novelist

Today, I’m delighted to be able to host a Guest post by the talented Cheri Roman, fellow blogger at The Brass Rag, and author of ‘Descent’.  A lady who understands how hard it is to fulfil that dream…

“How do you come up with all that cool stuff in your novels? Your characters and settings are awesome. When I’m reading your novel, it feels like I’m right there. And your villains…” (shudders delicately) “…super evil.”

This is a portion of the fantasy conversation I’d love to have with a reader someday. It ends with the fan asking for my autograph and assuring me that I deserve a Pulitzer. For writing fantasy genre fiction. Hey, if you’re going to dream, go big or go home, I always say.

My fantasy also includes a secluded writing spot; four clean, white walls and a huge bay window through which I can see little forest creatures cavorting on a wide, green lawn ringed by ancient redwoods. No phone, TV, or (gasp) Facebook. Best of all – hours upon hours of uninterrupted writing time.

But the operative word here is “fantasy.” These are rare scenarios, unless, of course, you are Dean Koontz or Nora Roberts. (Seriously, have you seen their houses?) For many authors, the writing life looks more like this:

Get up at five a.m., go to your day job. Work all day, constantly distracted by story ideas, terrified that they will escape before you can capture them. You steal the odd moment and write on whatever is handy: file folders, notepads, the desk calendar, napkins. Frustration sets in because you end up accidentally filing, covering, losing or throwing the notes away. You consider getting a notes app on your phone, but you worry that your boss will accuse you of making personal calls on company time.

The work day is over; you hurry home. Ideas are still buzzing between your ears as you maneuver through traffic. You arrive home and the kids/spouse/pets need your attention, so you feed and brush everyone and then, finally, the house is quiet and you hurry to your writing space and….your mind goes blank. You fear you’ve used all your creativity just to get through the day. But you power through. You pull out the crumpled napkin, power-gulp an energy drink and you write. Sometime around four a.m. you stumble into bed where your spouse gives you a sleepy side-eye but you are too tired to notice. You fall into the bed, already unconscious. The alarm goes off at five. Time to start over.

Alternately, you save your writing energy for the weekend and your spouse complains that they never see you, because you spend Saturdays and Sundays behind a closed door with this sign on it:

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The writing life is challenging whether you work a day job or not. Business, family and writing pull you in opposing directions. Plus, you have to sleep sometime. But for authors, giving up isn’t an option. Not writing causes mental and emotional agita. So you steal the moments and write the words that torment you until you put them on paper. It isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. So do it.

That’s my best advice. Create the space in your life for the passionate art of writing well. Surround yourself with like-minded people who support your efforts and dreams. Explain to your significant other how important writing is. Ask for their support. Be courageous enough to say, “no,” in order to guard your writing time. And write. Every chance you get, consistently, creatively, bravely. Write.

Happy New Year!

A great New Year to you all! Hope it’s filled with adventures, calm, deep satisfaction, and new experiences.:)

That’s what I’m hoping for, I think. As usual, I’ll probably be going for it with all the enthusiasm of my little guy.

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It’s been a big year for me – I spent a lot of it looking after my bub, some of it compiling our new motherhood Anthology, The Milk of Female Kindness, and some of it working in what must be admitted was a somewhat half-hearted fashion, considering everything else going on.

I think I need to take advantage of some of that calm I was talking about earlier to consider whether or not I will try and publish my short story collection this year. They are a rather eclectic mix, rather like me – science fiction, speculative fiction, and some which are probably best described just as ‘odd’.MOFK COVER front final

Anyway, if you are looking for a new experience to start off with, I am currently running a Giveaway on Goodreads for The Milk of Female Kindness. It’s not a how-to guide, but a creative look at being a mother, with artwork, poetry, essays, stories and interviews. It will make you think. there are five paperback copies available to the lucky winners, and it’s free to enter, so pop over there and give it a shot! 🙂

 

Book launch!

MOFK COVER front finalI’m very excited to announce the launch of our new Anthology about honest motherhood – The Milk of Female Kindness!

It’s out now on Amazon and Createspace, with The Book Depository to follow.

Terrifically proud of the 28 women from all around the world who have shared their thoughts, creativity and time to make this book. It’s wonderfully diverse, with artwork, poetry, short fiction, essays and interviews, from women at all stages of motherhood. Many are established writers and artists: others are new to the world of publishing. Some of them have been featured in Writer’s Block already, and more are to come.

So – if you are a mother, know someone who is, or have a mother (and let’s face it, most of us have at some point ;)), then this book will touch you, challenge you, confront you, and best of all, make you rethink the role of motherhood.

If anyone is looking for a book for the holidays – this could be the one for you. 🙂

Cover reveal! Milk of Female Kindness

Finally, I can reveal to the world the face of all our hard work over the last year! Drum roll please….

Here is the cover of our anthology of honest stories about motherhood – ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’.

MOFK COVER front final

The Anthology is a collection of the work of twenty-eight women from around the world, who have been brave enough to write honestly about their experiences of motherhood. I’d like to extend my most sincere thanks to all the contributors. It has been an honour working with such an inspiring group of people! 🙂

Unlike most other books on the subject, we have a creative focus – there is artwork, poetry, short fiction, essays and interviews.

The collection is deliberately diverse, in all senses. All stages of motherhood are reflected, and really the aim is to broaden the range of stories out there, and allow women to think for themselves what it means to be a mother, rather than relying on the shallow and market focused roles that the media might like to push us into. You may disagree with some of the work: others pieces will resonate with you. Whatever happens, it will make you think more deeply about being a parent.

The book will be released in paperback first, with e-book to follow soon after. Stay tuned for developments!

Fantasy Genre – Guest Post by Cheri Roman

Today, I have the good fortune to have a Guest Post by the talented Cheri Roman, who has just released her first novel, Descent. It is being very well reviewed, and you can see my personal take on it here. She writes for us on a subject close to my heart – fantasy, the improbable, and how ludicrous it is to discount ‘genre’ fiction. Enjoy!

earth-ship-clouds-sailing-sailfish-fantasy-otherThe Oxford Dictionary defines the word fantasy as “the product of imagining impossible or improbable things.” That’s not a bad start for defining fantasy as a genre. However, when you have such a name, it can be challenging to get the literary world to take you seriously.

One of the things that appeals to me most about fantasy writing is that literally anything can happen. You can have sentient storm clouds and flying houses and mice who fence and speak with the facility of an Elizabethan stage actor, because it’s fantasy. Nothing is out of bounds so long as it fits within the plot line.

That said, fantasy is not fluff. The basis of all fantasy stories lies in the question stem, “what if…” What if a boy found out that he was really a wizard? What if a group of siblings was transported to an alternate universe? What if a group of supernatural beings came to Earth and fell in love with humans? Such questions are interesting, not just in and of themselves, but for the deeper answers they point to about what it means to be human. Heroes and villains in fantasy are experimental models we can mentally climb into for a test drive. In fact, a good book in any genre should be like entering one of those virtual reality games, but with fewer limitations. By immersing ourselves in the world and characters created by a talented author, we are able to safely explore the extreme edges of moral and emotional dilemmas we hope we never have to face in real life. And just like lifting extra weights at the gym, the lessons we learn in those imaginary worlds can strengthen us for the everyday challenges of real life.

The boy wizard begins by searching out who he really is, something all of us must do at some point. The group of siblings must decide whether landing in a new world means finding a new moral center. Their example can inspire us to cling to our own moral code under much more “normal” circumstances. The supernatural beings have to learn that there is a cost to every decision we make; a fact we might ignore or fail to discover on our own. None of these are “light” matters. All of them hold eminently human lessons. The value of fantasy, and indeed of literature in general, lies in its ability to reveal such lessons, allowing us to see the world from a point of view other than our own, and learn from it.

Fantasy is often discounted as “light reading,” or worse, the less than brilliant sibling of science fiction, herself a distant cousin to literary fiction. But don’t sell it short. Considering the lyrical prose and plot complexity created by such authors as Ursula K. Le Guin, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George R.R. Martin in the mix, one should resist the temptation to dismiss fantasy as “light” anything. Instead, we should judge the writing by its own merits just as we do any other genre, and thereby enjoy the ride twice as much.

Cheri blogs at The Brass Rag, which is well worth checking out.

You may also like this post by Sabrina Garie, about her favourite fantasy character: the lovely, practical and not at all ethereal Samwise Gangee.

Author interview: Angélique Jamail

281290_207928565923285_3810021_nOne of the women I’ve been privileged to meet over the past few months while compiling our collection of real reflections and experiences about being a mother – ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – An Anthology of Honest Motherhood’ – is Angélique Jamail.

She is a sublimely talented poet, and I’m really looking forward to reading her debut novel when it is released.  Apart from being a writer and mother, she is also a teacher, bellydancer, and wearer of fabulous hats. I was lucky enough to interview her recently. Read on, lovely people, read on…

What are you passionate about today?

My family, my writing, the environment, equal rights for all genders and orientations.  I’m passionate about these things all the time.  There’s an expression I try to live by:

“Live your life so that your children can tell their children you stood for something wonderful.”

I’m far from perfect, but I try to make whatever corner of the world I touch a better place than it was when I found it.  Sometimes I manage to be successful.

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You’re a teacher, I understand. I read a quote from Barbara Trapido once, which read (if my memory serves me even vaguely correctly) “I wrote my first novel at my kitchen table in my fortieth year. A degree in English literature left me feeling that I was singularly unqualified for the task.” Do you feel that knowing too much about literature can be paralyzing to a writer?

I sometimes like to tell my students that I want to ruin them for reading for pleasure.  They look at me quizzically till I explain that I want them to understand and enjoy literature and writing so intimately that they will never be able to read something without noticing the artistry (or sometimes lack thereof) that went into writing it.  After studying literature and writing for so many years myself, this is exactly my wonderful burden, and I wouldn’t trade it.  A small part of why I teach, I think, is to share this love of the written word with other people.

But I think I understand where Trapido was coming from in that statement – the feeling of personal inadequacy while groveling in awe at the mountains of excellent literature that has come before.  I certainly do feel that, often, but somehow it doesn’t prevent me from writing.  It spurs me on and motivates me.  Part of me wants to have written literature worthy of being included in someone’s beloved canon, somewhere.  That ambition helps me get a draft down on paper.  Showing it to my workshop group, though, that’s another story!  When I have to share it with people, that’s when the feelings of inadequacy rear up.  But I also know that there is no growth without honest and constructive critique, so off those little manuscripts go.

Does poetry come to you spontaneously, or do you need to work at it?

I love the idea of found poetry, and occasionally I will write something very spontaneously and not have to revise it too many times, but more often than not, it’s a slow process from first draft to publishable poem.  I like that, though:  I want my poems – or stories, or essays – to incubate for a while.  There might be months between first and final drafts, occasionally years.  I have multiple manuscripts going at once; it’s the only way I can get anything done.

 Do you find writing longer fiction a marathon compared to the contained beauty of poetry?

I really find beauty in every form.  For me, the best part is the process.  I recently completed my first novel, which took me several years because I was having babies and teaching full-time while I was doing it, and also because I hadn’t ever written a novel before and was learning the process as I went along.  I remember there were whole semesters where I wrote only one or two chapters.

I love short forms because it’s the closest I get, as a writer, to something like instant gratification in my work.  I can potentially write a poem and revise it and have it critiqued and revise again and do a final edit in the space of a few weeks.  Writing fiction requires a different head-space, I think:  I have to imagine stories differently from how I imagine poems, even narrative ones.  And the novel was so different even from other fiction forms.  I’m not sure I’ve ever had so many different threads on a single project in my head at once.  The day after I finished the first draft, I remember, I felt very lonely because for the last year of my writing it, the characters and their interactions had been in the background of everything I did, as my subconscious tried to finish the book while I went about the other obligations of my life, waiting every day or every week to have time to sit down and write.


Poetry has been described as ‘crystallised moments’. Would you agree?

That’s a good question.  In one sense, yes, a poem (unless it’s a long form poem) can be a sharply, vividly defined moment in thought.  But I wouldn’t have immediately thought to characterize it with this phrase, I think.  I was once involved with someone who refused ever to revise any poem, insisting that the definition of poetry was a snapshot of the poet’s experience in a particular moment, and that to revise a poem was destroying that snapshot.  To each his own, I suppose, but for me, the process of making that poem – the length of my editing process – is quite different.

 


Tell me about ‘Fashion Fridays’!ladies-hats-3

A dear friend of mine, Margo, and I absolutely love wearing hats.  We had this grand plan a few years ago to bring hats back into style and started wearing them out places, but then she moved halfway across the country, and we couldn’t really do that very often anymore.  I thought that posting pictures of fabulous hats would reach a wider audience than just wearing them out and about, and I wanted some sort of weekly thing I could do on my blog that had to do with fashion – which would be my hobby if I had any free time!  So then Fashion Fridays was born.  It quickly evolved into a forum for me or other people to share fun accessories – I enjoyed having guest bloggers come in and participate! – but also to discuss real issues about body image and beauty and even wellness.  The frequency has dropped down now because I have so many other pots on the writing stove, as it were, but I’m still posting Fashion Fridays occasionally and am definitely open to queries from other writers.

I understand you’ve also dabbled in bellydancing. Do you see any parallels between dancing and writing? From the outside, one seems to be very public and extrovert, and the other very private (at least in conception) and introvert.

I have terrible stage fright and have to force myself to get out in front of people in order not to be terrified of what others will think of me.  This may be one reason why I teach, in fact, as teaching has helped me conquer that fear at least somewhat.  Bellydance was a natural choice for me:  I’m Lebanese-American and grew up around the dance, and I started doing it as a young adult because it was really fun and healthy exercise.  I also discovered that it’s a wonderful way to improve one’s self-concept, both in terms of body image and in terms of self-confidence.  As one of my teachers once explained, if you can control your body, you can control your personal space, and if you can control your personal space, you can control your life.  Ultimately I had to quit performing and teaching dance because I didn’t have enough time to devote to it.  I found I was spending all my creative energy on choreography rather than writing, and while dance is wonderful and exciting, it wasn’t really feeding me intellectually the way writing does.  When forced to choose between the two, writing won out, but I do miss dancing.  I miss it very much.

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How on earth do you find time to write, work and raise children? Has having children influenced your writing?

Well, I’m incredibly fortunate in having a very supportive partner.  My husband actively helps to make sure I have the time and space to write when I need it – including sending me off on Saturday mornings for writing dates with my close friend Sarah Warburton, who’s also a novelist, while he handles the kids and the house and whatever elaborate breakfast requests our little ones have dreamed up — and he’s also probably my biggest, most encouraging fan, as well as a sharp beta reader.  I’m positive I couldn’t do all of these things with any sense of competency without his being a full participant in every aspect of our home and family life.  I know some writers don’t get that, no matter how much they deserve it, and I know how lucky I am.

I think the biggest influence being a working-outside-the-home mother has had on me lately is to (nearly) eliminate writer’s block.  When you have five projects going on and next to no time to work on any of them, you tend to get really focused when that writing time does come along!  I also learned, once my first child was born, to let some things go.  For example, when my children were babies, I let go of the idea that I would get teaching work done at home and consequently also let go of the idea that I wouldn’t work through lunch at school.  Trade-offs, you know?

Having children really focused my writing, too, because it wasn’t any longer some neat thing I could say I did for fun while teaching paid the bills.  Suddenly I began thinking about quality of life and what kind of stable future I wanted for my family and what kind of role model I wanted to be for my kids, and then writing was not just my passion but also a focused career path.  It just so happens I also love teaching and have a position at a really excellent school.  The trade-off there is that I’m fortunate in the place where I work my “day job,” but I don’t get to write full-time.

The truth is, there’s never enough time to do everything you want to do all at once.  When I left dancing, one of my teachers told me not to worry, that dance would always be there waiting for me when I was able to come back, and that I could in fact have everything – but not all at once.  Finding the work-life balance is one of the major spiritual conundrums of our day.  I won’t pretend that I have anything under control on a consistent basis.  But I keep trying, and I keep taking things one chunk at a time.

There are days when all of this can be stressful, certainly, but right now, we’re making it work.  Right now, that’s okay.

You can read more from Angélique at her blog at Sappho’s Torque, or connect with her on Facebook.