Publishing Monday: The Second Time

Posted on Jan 19, 2015 in friends and colleagues, news & muse, publishing, the Next Novel

I’m away through the end of January at a writer’s residency at the Virginia Center of the Creative Arts, where I’ll be hard at work on the Next Novel.  During my absence, I decided to repost some old blog favorites about publishing and the creative process. Enjoy!

This week I’m deep in preparation for the Historical Novel Society Conference, which takes place June 21-23 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Besides preparing for the panel I’m moderating on literary versus genre historical fiction, I’ve a Victorian tea gown to alter for the costume pageant (I’ve lost weight since I last wore it), novels to finish beta reading/reviewing for author friends, and even an amber necklace to restring. So, a busy time! Yet I’ve managed to keep moving forward on the Next Novel, even if it’s only 500 words a day with an hour here and there. Below is my novel bible so far. As you can see, it’s already quite overstuffed.

I know I’ve been deliberately withholding information about the Next Novel. The truth is it’s too early—too nascent—to share much without feeling intensely vulnerable. That written, I will reveal I do have a title for it that I think rocks. I’ll also confess that the Next Novel is set four decades earlier than A GATHERING OF SHADOWS, during the mid-nineteenth century. Much of it is written from the point of view of my male protagonist—the first time I’ve done so. On top of this, he’s a photographer specializing in post-mortem portraits, a particularly perculiarly Victorian obsession.

So, mid-Victorian setting+ male point of view + death photography = new things to master.

Even with these new creative challenges, I’ve found my second time writing a novel a far less mysterious proposition than when I first set out to write A GATHERING OF SHADOWS way back when. Since then, I’ve grown much more patient with the process. I understand my first draft is only that—a draft to be shaped as needed as my book develops. I know it will take time for me to know my characters—that they’ll only reveal themselves through process and perseverance. I’ve also spent considerable hours—heck, years—attempting to master the craft of fiction writing. I’ve taken workshops, read books, studied, beta read, and beyond.

All of this makes my experience of writing the Next Novel far less fraught with fear than A GATHERING OF SHADOWS. However, my second time experience led me to wonder whether it was similiar for other authors: Were their second novels easier to write? Harder? Or just different?

To find out, I asked these questions to several authors I know via the Historical Novel Society. To my delight, they were generously forthcoming with their responses.

Donna Russo Morin, author of THE KING’S AGENT: “There is a change with the second, that mental shift between ‘I want to be an author, and I am an author.’ For me, it gave me the courage to take some risks, to take my plot places I may have watered down with the first. There was a confidence that gave my pen greater power.”

Susanne Dunlap, author of THE ACADEMIE: “My second novel ended up being much harder than my first. I think mostly because I was writing to a one-page proposal that my publisher accepted. I kept trying to make the premise work, and it simply wouldn’t. I knew it was crap. Then I finally decided I had to break free of what I told them I would write and just do what worked. I set the novel a year earlier, during the cholera epidemic in Paris, and everything just fell together. It was a lesson for me: write what gets you going, don’t try to write to a brief!”

Anne Easter Smith, author of ROYAL MISTRESS: My first novel was written in stolen moments while holding down three part-time jobs, moving three times to different states and having not a clue how to structure a book. I just wanted to tell Richard III’s real story, and if my husband and children ended up reading it, I would have been thrilled. It was 960 pages long when I came to its end and I was exhilarated that for once in my life I actually finished a project. So when astonishingly, someone wanted to publish it, I found myself facing a two-book deal that was not expected at all. I had no intention of ever writing another book once Richard was down on paper. So the second novel was a bit of a chore–for me the difference between writing your passion and writing as work. However, chore or not, my second protagonist, Margaret of York, ended up one of my favorites through this whole series. The difference between no deadline for the first (took me seven years), and an 18-month deadline for the second.”

Lynn Cullen, author of MRS. POE: “I have come to the conclusion that it never gets easier to start a novel, be it first or fourteenth. The blank page still holds its terror. I think the main difference is that while there is terror, there is not panic. You know that somehow, from some magical place, words will come. I find, too, that books are like your own children in that you love them all equally. It seems impossible when you have that first story/child that you could never love the second as much, but you do. You love each one for what makes them unique. The last thing I have to say is that I am no more organized about writing now than I was for the first novel. I like to tell myself my messiness is part of the creative process. I don’t completely buy that but it sounds good.”

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And there you have it: four multi-published authors on their second time writing a novel. I’m so grateful to Donna, Anne, Susanne, and Lynn for sharing their experiences! Though I’ve listed only their latest novels here, I hope you’ll take a moment to learn about their previous ones—they’re all fabulous.

Publishing Monday: Hidden in Plain Sight ~ Or, When the Cuckoo Calls

Posted on Jan 12, 2015 in news & muse, publishing

I’m away through the end of January at a writer’s residency at the Virginia Center of the Creative Arts, where I’ll be hard at work on the Next Novel.  During my absence, I decided to repost some old blog favorites about publishing and the creative process. Enjoy!

Over the weekend book lovers were stunned to learn that J.K. Rowling—yes, the J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame—had published a crime novel under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. She was outed on Twitter by an anonymous tweet stating THE CUCKOO’S CALLING was, in face, authored by Rowling; the tweet was in response to someone musing that THE CUCKOO’S CALLING seemed too accomplished to have been written by a debut author. When approached, Rowling immediately ‘fessed up to her deception: “I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”

To Rowling’s credit, THE CUCKOO’S CALLING has received overwhelmingly positive reviews—far more than THE CASUAL VACANCY, Rowling’s first post-Harry Potter novel, did. Both Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal granted THE CUCKOO’S CALLING coveted starred reviews; PW called it “a stellar debut.” So, it’s a good book. Yet, despite this, THE CUCKOO’S CALLING was turned down by publishers before being acquired by Little, Brown, Rowling’s publisher for THE CASUAL VACANCY.

More stunning news: Since its April 2013 publication, Nielsen Bookscan reports THE CUCKOO’S CALLING has sold only 459 copies in the United Kingdom. [ETA: And only 500 copies in the United States, according to Time magazine.]

Repeat after me: 459 copies. 

To place into context, most self-published authors sell on average less than 250 books—about 200 copies less than Rowling’s anonymous debut in the UK.

Wow.

A much older book’s wheel of fortune.

I’m bemused and horrified by this story in so many ways. First, I’m certain the anonymous tweet was generated by someone with a vested interest in Rowling’s career. Since being outed, THE CUCKOO’S CALLING has assuredly sold far more than 459 copies in the UK. Within 24 hours it had raced up to #1 on Amazon’s bestseller list; I presume the New York Times Book Review will follow suit. Secondly, it brings to mind how incredibly capricious publishing a book can be: if an anonymous book by J.K. Rowling can sell less than 500 copies in three months, despite being brought out into the world by a major publisher and receiving glowing reviews, is there hope for any of us? Or is it only a matter of authors having their turn on the wheel of fortune? Sometimes you get lucky; other times, Barnes and Noble doesn’t approve your co-op advertising.

This story of Rowling’s hidden-in-plain-sight new novel brings to mind a post I wrote in 2007 about the violin virtuoso Joshua Bell’s experience of busking in the DC Metro. Since it seems relevant, I’m reposting it below. Enjoy!

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A friend forwarded me this article today from the Washington Post about Joshua Bell, one of the most brilliant violinists of our time. As an experiment — or PR stunt, you decide — Bell was asked to perform as a busker for 45 minutes during rush hour in L’Enfant Plaza, a major Washington DC Metro station.

The concept: To see if genius would be recognized if hidden in plain sight.

The disguise: None. Unless you count Bell wearing street clothes instead of concert formal a subterfuge.

The instrument: Bell’s beloved Gibson ex Huberman, which was crafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari. This violin is considered one of the greatest stringed instruments created by perhaps the greatest luthier who ever lived.

I’m sure you could guess what happened. Of the more than one thousand people who passed Bell as he performed, only several stopped to listen. And only one person recognized him. For his efforts, Bell received a measly $32.17 in hand outs — about $40 an hour.

So why didn’t anyone pay attention to Bell’s free concert? It wasn’t the Metro’s accoustics — Bell said they were particularly resonant. Nor was he slouching — he thought that he played particularly well on some especially difficult pieces, such as Bach’s Chaconne.

One theory that comes to my mind is that the number of people who stopped were in proportion to classical music lovers everywhere. Or that many of the commuters were plugged into their iPods, unable to hear anything outside of their chosen aural environment. More likely, it was that they were so used to quickly classifying (excuse the pun!) whatever stimuli reaches their senses down to its most basic info-byte to save time: I see a violinist, is he asking me for money? Will he slow me down? Am I running late? Will I get to work on time? This is a common survival mechanism for city dwellers (and I’m guilty of it myself). There’s just so much going on around you at all times that you filter things. Otherwise, you’d just be overwhelmed with Too Much Information and become strained and drained from the effort of processing it all.

Still, it’s so sad to consider that so many people missed such an experience of beauty. And it was there, right in front of them for the taking.

I was thinking about this strange-but-true story this afternoon, as my toddler daughter searched for easter eggs that we had hidden for her to find. Tom and I were careful to hide them in easily accessible places, so Thea would find them without becoming frustrated. Thea was so persistant as she hunted. Yet every so often, an egg would elude her, even though it was right there before her eyes. It was almost too obvious, too easy, even for a two year old with a limited attention span.

These sort of events, great and small, makes me wonder how often we stumble across gifts of beauty and inspiration, hidden in plain sight. It makes me wonder how many I’ve missed along the way, because I was too busy or too preoccupied with the soundtrack of my thoughts.

Sometimes all we can hope for are eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to recognize.

Publishing Monday: 2015 Historical Novel Society conference

Posted on Jan 5, 2015 in events, news & muse, publishing, stuff I like, travels

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Already 2015 is shaping up to be a better year than 2014 on the author travel front. Besides my upcoming residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be traveling to Denver for the Historical Novel Society Conference this June, where I’m on a panel entitled “The Art of Book Cover Design for Historical Fiction.”

My co-panelists are Sourcebooks editor Anna Michels, Emily Victorson of Allium Press, HNS’s own Sarah Johnson, and book cover designer Jenny Quinlan. I guess you could say I’m the author representative who just also happens to be a designer. I plan to expand upon my presentation on the semiotics of book cover design, which was a hit at 2013′s conference.

The Historical Novel Society Conference is one of my favorite author events of the year. I’ve attended every one since 2011 save for last year’s in London—alas, the timing didn’t work because of family obligations. So glad that 2015 will be different!

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Photos from HNS 2013: Me with my critique partner Teralyn Pilgrim dressed for the costume dinner—Teralyn’s pregnant vestal virgin brought down the house. Below, author friends Stephanie Lehmann (ASTOR PLACE VINTAGE), Mary Sharratt (ILLUMINATIONS), and Margaret George (who needs no introduction). Happy times!

Publishing Monday: Author linkage inspiration and giveaway

Posted on Dec 15, 2014 in friends and colleagues, giveaways, interviews, news & muse, publications, publishing

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Here at Chez Art and Words apre le NaNoWriMo, I’m deep into design and holiday projects (see above). Like many in December, I’m on a push to finish everything up between now through the end of the year. Regardless, I can’t let the following friends’ and colleagues’ news go uncelebrated:

10855086_10205571501912788_776200096861261016_o1. Congrats to my friend Heather Webb whose new novel RODIN’S LOVER was featured in January’s Cosmopolitan magazine (right). They wrote, “You’ll be drawn into this story of obsession and passion between the artist and his apprentice/muse.” High praise indeed!

2. Author Robert Goolick (A RELIABLE WIFE) has just published a Christmas story entitled THE FINAL BALL OF ORIANNE DE PREMONVILLE. It can be found on Amazon under the Kindle Singles section, and involves the most beautiful red dress in the world. (I workshopped my opening chapters of A GATHERING OF SHADOWS with Goolrick at the Salt Cay Writers Retreat.)

3. There’s a massive giveaway of 22 books going on at the Historical Fiction Co-op. To enter the giveaway, click here. I’m a member of this wonderful group, along with C.W. Gortner, Lynn Cullen, Michelle Moran, and other notable authors.

EllenSeltzHeadshot-240x3004. Finally, on my author friend Christy English’s blog, I loved her thoughtful, funny interview with indie author Ellen Seltz (MR. MOTTLEY GETS HIS MAN). When I contacted Ellen about featuring the interview, she wrote regarding her decision to self-publish: “I think publishing is going the way of music and film—content with a broad appeal is going to benefit from that large distribution network, and niche content is better off in a focused channel.”

Other sage advice from Ellen:

Being an unpublished novelist may or may not correlate with being an inexperienced writer, or creative professional. If you have already developed your artistic sense and professional distance, great – go on and start learning the specifics of the form and the business side. If you don’t yet have a reliable sense of what professionalism is, or more importantly, how to tell whether you have written crap or not, then put publishing on hold till you get your crapometer calibrated. Put your stuff  in front of strangers (Strangers! Not your friends!) and see how they react. This is one of the benefits of the query/rejection/polish/resubmit process of legacy publishing, it forces you to see and relate to your work differently.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Publishing Monday: The morning after November 30th

Posted on Dec 1, 2014 in news & muse, publishing, the Next Novel

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Yes, I did it. I climbed the 50,000 word mountain that is National Novel Writing Month. I reached the peak of it, finishing up within twelve hours of the November 30th midnight deadline.

*collapses in heap of adverbs and punctuation marks*

This was my second time doing NaNoWriMo, and it felt quite different from my first. Back in 2009, I’d never written anything so long in such a short amount of time as that alpha draft for A GATHERING OF SHADOWS. Nor had I written any fiction that didn’t include heavy duty illustration and design elements. (Well, unless you want to include juvenilia I’d written as a child and teen.)

Other differences between my 2009 and 2014 NaNoWriMos:

2009: I jumped into my 50k with only the first scene of my novel figured out. This scene was later moved into last third of A GATHERING OF SHADOWS, and serves as a major plot reveal.

2014: I wrote my 50k with a detailed outline, after spending over a year writing character studies, a partial draft, and research and travel.

2009: I figured out my plot as I went along. Though I knew I wanted to use elements of the story of the Lady of Shalott in my NaNo manuscript, I initially had no idea if I was writing an epic fantasy, an Arthurian satire, a caper story, or something entirely different. After a long conversation with a friend about ten days into November, I realized I wanted to write a Victorian story of forbidden love, inspired by the tragedy of the Lady of Shalott. And that was only the beginning.

2014: Even though I knew my plot because I’d outlined and researched, there were still surprises along the way. One character proved to have a different history than I’d expected. (Who knew he painted botanical illustrations?) Another turned out to have hidden depths. An ending I planned on began to feel too contrived. This goes to prove that, when it comes to writing, you can outline all you want, but the real inspiration comes while writing. In other words, doing instead of thinking.

2009: I approached NaNoWriMo with an attitude of “Oh, this will be a good way to see if I like writing fiction.” I had doubts I’d even write anything publishable, or get to 50k words.

2014: I know I like writing fiction. I have a literary agent representing my first novel, which is well over 50k words. I’m well into my second novel.

2009: I went into NaNoWriMo knowing very little about the craft of writing long form fiction. I’d never taken a novel writing class or had a critique partner. I sort of groked the technical aspects as I went along—an exhilarating but frustrating experience in which much time was wasted. At the same time, there was the giddy excitement of discovery, of realizing I could do this.

2014: I went into NaNoWriMo with knowledge gleaned from five years of novel writing classes, workshops, and critique partners. I felt confidence in my craft.

2009: I had no idea NaNoWriMo would change my life as an author.

2014: I know NaNoWriMo changed my life as an author.

‘Nuff said. Now that it’s December first, back to real life.