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Star’s Story—the genesis

Sometime around 2004, when I was on the Aged Pension and a more assured income, I had a little time to experiment. I wanted to see if I could get into Meanjin, the foremost literary journal in Australia. I had something of a knack for styles. If I could get hold of enough back copies of a magazine, say ten, I could usually nail down the style their story editor liked. I’d done it with Penthouse and the Women’s Weekly—why not Meanjin? Unfortunately, I could only afford to buy one copy; the pension doesn’t pay that well, and business wasn’t booming at that point in time.

I had always found the stories in Meanjin rather mystifying, and downright inaccessible at times, so I constructed a rather post-modern story with flashbacks and time jumps that weren’t always sequential. Should be inaccessible enough, I told myself. I ended up with a piece of around 3,000 words, which I called “No Through Road”.

I didn’t send it off to Meanjin straightaway, ah no. In my experience, the best way to pick up a little lucre was through competitions. I chose two which had well established writers as judges (one was Frank Moorhouse) and a first prize of $1,000AU. Even getting shortlisted in one those would help to get a more sympathetic reading from the editor of Meanjin.

I was lucky, though I never hit the jackpot. “Road” was shortlisted in the prestigious My Brother Jack short story competition in 2004 and in the equally prestigious Hal Porter in 2006. Right, I thought, now for Meanjin. So I sent the story off – in those days, you still sent manuscripts through the post –  and waited. And waited. Eventually I got a lovely rejection letter from the ed, saying that although the piece had almost made it, they had decided not to take it up.

Well, it wasn’t bad for a first time, and I’d only had one copy to study; I’d do better next time, I thought. Then the internet hit us, and I began to consider publishing on the web. I saw in it a way to obtain print copies of all my work to safeguard when I was gone. Better than leaving the manuscripts to moulder in the tin trunk, I figured. I live in the sub-tropics, it’s very humid, I was worried about how long they’d last. Maybe I could be discovered posthumously and the grandchildren would make a fortune. So probably goes the thinking of millions of indie writers.

To return to the point: I changed the title of the story from “No Through Road” to “Star’s Story” to make it easier for anyone following these stories on the web as they come out. Publishing serially like this, I think you need to remind readers of where you’re up to in the collection. Which I’ll publish next year. I also changed the point of view from 1st person to 3rd; the thing seemed just too confronting in 1st.

Because it’s only 3,000 words long, it’s FREE in three formats at Smashwords. (Amazon won’t let writers sell their stuff for free unless they join Amazon’s KDP Select, and then only for 5 days out of every 90.) I’d love some feedback on the cover, love it or hate it. I could also do with a couple of reviews of this story as it’s unlikely to garner anything favourable from the general population, it being so literary and post-modern, hem hem. The link is: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/479505

Below is a recap of where we’re up to now in the collection:

  1. Busting God

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/416303

  1. Remains to be Seen

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LNDWRM2

FREE at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/454352

  1. Stella by Starlight

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MTVVG9C

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/467119

  1. Star’s Story

FREE at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/479505

Only another seven stories to go.

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super moon in starry sky on sea

 

Nine years ago or thereabouts, the Australian Women’s Weekly ran a short story competition with a first prize of $5,000 and guaranteed publication in this most circulated of Australian women’s newspapers. Being a writer and thus financially on the rocks (I figure I’ve made about $8 a week from my writing over the last 20 years, and that’s a high-end estimate), I decided to enter. I didn’t expect to win, but I thought there’d probably be a short list and the stories on that would be offered publication. And the Women’s Weekly pays, baby, pays.

So I sat down and sweated out a story of 5,000 words and sent it off. Months passed. Eventually the result was announced, but Danny Margaret had scored zero, zilch, and there didn’t appear to be a short list. Well, I thought, so much for that, and I put the story away in the proverbial bottom drawer.

Five years went by. One day (I must’ve had nothing better to do, perhaps it was the wet season) I pulled the story out and reread it. It’s not bad, I thought. Very Women’s Weekly – what a shame it didn’t get anywhere … Then I remembered Australian writer Marele Day saying once in a writing workshop that magazines were always looking for Christmas stories. They were drowning in the other kind, she said; but they were always short of Christmas stories. Hmm, I thought.

At the time my finances were in worse-than-usual disarray. Publication in the WW would sort all that out. O-kay. There was just one hitch: My story wasn’t a Christmas story. To solve this problem, I had the main character’s daughter refer to Christmas in an already-existing phone conversation and I had two people the main character passes on her way to the beach wish her a Merry Christmas. That’s all I did.

By now, my CV had filled out, and I had a little more confidence than I’d had in earlier years. I approached the editor of the Women’s Weekly by email, gave her my CV and a 3-line synopsis of the story and asked if she’d be interested in reading my “Christmas story”. Next thing I know I’m being offered publication in their 2010 Christmas edition.

The moral of this monologue is: If you put a short story in a competition and it doesn’t get anywhere, that doesn’t mean anything. What matters is being published. Craig McGregor told me this way back in 1979, but I didn’t take any notice. Besides, being a single parent, I needed the money that comps could provide.

Now here is “Stella by Starlight” minus the Merry Christmases. I’ve also made one other change, transforming the main character from female to male, to fit the story into the collection I’m publishing next year. Everything else, though, is the same, and the theme and moral of the story are unchanged.

Sales points for “Stella” are below. I hope you enjoy it. I wish I could provide a direct sales link to Apple, but I’m digitally disadvantaged.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MTVVG9C

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/467119

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Novel under const'n

 A few days ago I was surprised to receive an email from Carol Middleton, an Australian award-winning writer, and a reviewer for the prestigious Australian Book Review. In the email Carol invited me to join the Writing Process Blog Tour, in which writers are invited to reply to four questions about their writing process and then pass the baton on to another writer/s.

Many thanks to Carol for inviting me to contribute to this tour, which in its construction is like a chain letter but nice. You can see Carol’s Writing-Process Blog published Monday 12th at http://carolmiddleton.com.au/wordpress

Here goes.

 

 

What am I working on?

Having put my first novel out on Amazon and Smashwords last year, I decided to try to get myself a bigger presence on the web by putting up a short story a month in 2014. Being the digital klutz that I am, it took me three months to learn enough to put up my first story Busting God, now available at: www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S. I’m now working on formatting my second story Remains to be Seen, which follows the fortunes of Busting God’s hero as he tries to recover from the post-traumatic stress caused by his participation in the Vietnam War.

I’m a tortoise, very slow at everything I do, and not very comfortable on the web. However, I’ve decided that having a higher profile there will help my novels eventually, so I’m nailed to the cross of formatting these twelve short stories for the remainder of 2014.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

How to answer this question? My short stories were published in such diverse places, ranging from Penthouse to Aurealis to the Australian Women’s Weekly. Each time I adapted my basic writing style to suit the market — I was a single parent and I needed the money. My only novel published so far is MagnifiCat: www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY a strange little animal fantasy about a family of cats who find themselves on the poverty line in a small country town in New South Wales, Australia. In it I aimed to produce a kind of Wind in the Willows for adults. To what extent I succeeded is hard to gauge. The novel’s definitely not satire; it’s more like a fairy tale for adults, with an underlying heavy core that makes it adult fiction, though I plan to release a children’s version of it in 2015, minus the alcohol and the angst.

Why do I write what I do?

In my case there are two answers to this. The short stories were written either for money — publication or competition money — or to add to my literary CV. In the novels, however, I get to please myself. And I notice that what comes though in all of them (I have another four in various stage of development) is a desire to nail down a particular time and place that’s now long gone. You could say I’m obsessed with transience, and writing about these places is my way of trying to keep them alive in people’s memories after they’ve disappeared under the bulldozer of progress. My Queensland novel is set in Brisbane in the early 1960s; MagnifiCat is set in Byron Shire in the mid-1980s, and somewhere in the dim future, should I live that long, I’d like to write a novel set in Brisbane during WWII. It’s as if I’m saying to readers, Remember how it was. Don’t forget this.

How does my writing process work?

I write first draft material in the morning, while I still have some contact with my unconscious. Editing, a completely different process requiring a different part of the brain, I can do any time. I never work after dark unless I have an editing job or a manuscript appraisal for another writer and the deadline is looming.

To me, producing first-draft material is like digging semi-precious stones out of the ground, while editing is like polishing those stones into something people might find beautiful or useful. Basically, I want my writing to entertain, to make people happy. At the risk of sounding overly ambitious (or merely quaint), I’d like it to give people hope. Life can be tough sometimes.

 

The writer I’ve asked to continue the Writing Process Blog Tour on Monday 26th is Ed Griffin, a Canadian novelist and prison reformer. Ed taught creative writing in prisons for many years. He blogs at:

prisonuncensored.wordpress.com

Check him out on Monday 26th.

 

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MagnifiCat_Cover_for_Kindle

Anyone taking a casual look at the novel I’ve just put up on the web might be forgiven for thinking I need therapy.

Cat CartoonBut though the cats have the spotlight, many other Australian animals feature in this fantasy for adults — a porcupine policeman, a python bank manager, a kangaroo in the milk delivery business, etc. etc.

Aside from all the animals, though, that slide, hop, glide through this novel, and despite my determinedly lighthearted approach, the book’s theme of life below the poverty line gives it gravitas. It’s not as innocuous as it seems.

But enuff about the novel. Maybe it’s merely a drop in the digital ocean, but because I’m such a klutz digitally, I’m just happy to have survived the experience of getting it up there.

Take a look. It’s available in both e and print form. It’s certainly unusual.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY

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DSCF3566

In the bush outside Casino, musing on the vagaries of life, and human nature in general, accompanied by two bovine mums. The new calves are just out of the frame.

 Last week I went to Casino to celebrate the Melbourne Cup with friends. For those of you who don’t know about the Cup, it’s the foremost horse race in Australia; everything stops for it. I don’t know one horse from another, but it’s good to catch up with old friends and see what improvements they’ve made on their 240 acres since I was last there.

I had another reason to be glad I was in the bush for a few days: the first morning I was there I received an email from the POD designer – she’s holding my book to ransom until she receives the remainder of her fee. Which is not a lot, I might add. This is unusual in the industry, thank the Lord – the e book designer sent me 3 different versions of my novel and an invoice the next day with a month to pay.( I paid him 48 hours later – I have figured out how to use PayPal.)

The print book designer and I have had a rocky time (we were both starting out). So, as I say, I was happy I was among friends when I received the email confirming what I already suspected but couldn’t bring myself to believe.

My November deadline, has perforce, moved to 11 December — too late for anyone wanting to buy hard copies for Christmas, unless they’re prepared to ship the book using Amazon’s exorbitant Priority Paid option.

Along with the ultimatum, the designer gave me her bank details. Alas, I haven’t yet learned how to pay someone overseas in this way, where, I understand, certain extra bits of arcane information are required. It was on my To do list, but what with editing and proofing the novel, it got pushed to the back burner. Into the nearest town that has a branch of my bank, obtain a bank cheque, and send it by registered post. It will take at least 10 days to reach the US.

When the designer has received the money and sends me the POD version (hope hope hope), it would be madness to go to press without seeing the proof. (We’ve been though two, so far.) Even using Amazon’s priority paid shipping option, I will lose another 6 days. If there are formatting errors that require fixing, I wonder what happens then?

Even if the book is ready to go, and I sure hope it is, I will lose another six days while I wait for the last lot of print copies to arrive. In my youth, I would’ve lost a lot of sleep over this. Now I just chalk it up to the aforesaid vagaries of human nature and move the date to 11 December. Just to be on the safe side.

It’s a weird situation, and I have no feelings against the designer. It’s not her fault I haven’t yet conquered overseas internet banking. And she did have a hard time with me, I know that. Remember, I’m the one who didn’t even know how to save attached files forwarded to me as downloads. (I thought you saved them under View, and wondered why I couldn’t print or forward them to anyone.) In my defence, though, I had a bit of a hard time myself. When you’re both learning, these things happen.

Life’s funny, and far too short to waste a lot of emotion on a thing like this. It’s very small hiccup in the overall scheme of things. It’s even funny, if you can just see the humour. Fancy being so awful that someone felt driven to this measure. It’s a kind of distinction, I suppose, but one I could well do without.

Darth Vader image

Come over to the dark side, Luke, with me and Danielle de Valera.

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Most writers engaged in producing a novel have some wellspring of hope the work will someday see the light of day. Acclaim would be great, they think, but even publication — ah, publication! — would be a wonderful, perhaps life-changing, event. This hope of publication just over the hill is often the only thing that keeps the writer going through the long, solitary journey.

Long distance runner

In my particular case, it actually appeared as if I was in with a chance of having a traditional publisher for the book I’m about to put up on Smashwords and Amazon this November. Way back in 2003 or thereabouts, I sent the 3rd draft of an animal fantasy set in Byron Shire to one of the foremost agents in Australia. I’d been stalking this agent for years, trying to tempt her with various projects. When she accepted this manuscript without reservation, I was ecstatic, this lady handled big names like Frank Moorhouse. She loved the work, she said, and intended to send it first to HarperCollins. HarperCollins! I was over the moon. I had this crash hot agent, and she liked the novel so much she’d gone for one of the biggest publishers in Australia.

Well. I waited and waited. Gradually, my excitement dwindled. After some months I rang the agent up. The head editor of HarperCollins, said the agent, hadn’t liked the anthropomorphism in the work — hell, it was one 70,000-word piece of anthropomorphism — so goodbye HarperCollins. But never mind, she’d look around for another perhaps smaller publisher.

More months went by. Eventually the agent rang me up: what genre did I reckon this book was, anyway? Yes, dear reader, it was a cross-genre work. Which, if you’re an unknown novelist in Australia is akin to setting fire to your chances of ever scoring a large traditional publisher. I understand their thinking. If you’re a publisher, you can afford to take a chance on a weird, off beat novel with a well-known writer. With a writer such as myself, known only for short stories, the risk was simply too great.

I don’t know when the agent gave up on the ms, I was never informed. I simply heard one day that she had retired. In my naivety I attempted to find another agent for the work. However, having had the big-name agent turned out to be the Kiss of Death for my finding another. ’Oh,’ each of them said to me, ‘if she couldn’t place it, I doubt I could. I’ll pass.’

I then attempted to place the ms myself with small Australian publishers. After all, I did have a track record of pleasing the public with short stories, and had been fortunate enough to win a number of awards with them. Every small publisher I approached with the ms seemed to think I was writing in this fairy tale style because I could write in no other, ignoring the fact that my published stories were, in fact, rather edgy and streetwise. Two of them managed to reject me on Christmas Eve, though I’d sent them the ms many many months before. My mouth fell open when I opened those emails, which occurred in two separate years. Rejecting a writer on Christmas Eve was, as well-known author Susan Geason remarked, like something out of Dickens.

So I came at last to the wild and woolly territory of indie publishing, which contains its own pitfalls as set out in my previous post . Currently, I’m working on the first set of proofs from CreateSpace – but more of that next week. (If you like horror stories, don’t forget to tune in.)  After that, it’s back to the Hill of Bewilderment for more agonising over categories – Amazon allows writers two.

Will it be worth it? Money wise, I doubt it very much. But it will be nice to finally hold a published copy of the book in my hands and to know it’s out there somewhere after all this time.

Writing. It’s a great life if you can last the distance.

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Janet leigh

For those of you who might be wondering where I’ve been these last ten weeks, I’ve been investigating Indie publishing, particularly the publishing of Print on Demand (POD) books with CreateSpace, a subsidiary of Amazon. Those ten weeks have been most illuminating, and I thought I might share my discoveries with you. If you’ve already published a POD book, stop reading now, I won’t have anything new to tell you. If you haven’t, gird your loins, and read on.

For most writers, the journey into indie publishing follows a certain pattern. First, we have:

1.   The Sylvan Glades of Writing the Novel, where the Wellsprings of Hope bubble to cheer the fiction writer on his/her way. The writer thinks the going is tough, but they ain’t seen nothing yet. Emerging from this glade, the writer who chooses to indie publish must traverse:

2.   The Desert of the Last Copy-edit, a fearsome place littered with the bones of writers who didn’t know what they were doing with commas. Crawling out of this desert, writers encounter:

3.   The Fork in the Track, where the writer must decide whether to do only an e book (much cheaper, and easier on the nerves), or to take their courage in hand and rapell into:

4.   The Dizzying POD Chasm. Should the writer choose to do only an e book, Nos 6-10 will still apply, but they will, to some extent, avoid:

5.   The Slough of Despond, where the writer realises that s/he must either format the print book themselves or pay someone else to do it. Even if they decide to pay someone, as I did, they will still have to traverse:

6.   The Forest of Dread, where they must choose two categories for their novel. A great deal is riding on their choice, especially the novel’s findability. Having negotiated this forest, and there is no way around it, the writer comes to:

7.   The Hill of Bewilderment, where s/he must choose seven keywords which Amazon buyers might (the operative word here is might) use to discover the writer’s novel — again, very important for the novel’s findability. After this, they arrive at:

8.   The Lakes of Confusion, where they must set a price for their beloved novel and try to understand Amazon’s royalties system, e.g. a $9.99 price for a 250 page, standard-size paperback will yield the writer US $2.14. What happened to that 70% (or even 35%) we heard so much about? If, after this, the men in white haven’t taken our writer away, s/he must then cross:

9.   The Bridge of Tears, where, if s/he is a non-US resident, s/he must attempt to prevent the US Internal Revenue from taking 30% of his or her earnings. To do this, she must do battle with monsters ITIN, W-7 and W-8 BEN, go on a quest for a Notary (cross his palm with silver) and also find the elusive Apostille, without which the writer will continue to pay the dreaded 30%. Finally, the writer comes to:

10.   The Well of Disappointment, which s/he quaffs while contemplating the novel’s sales figures. If you think I’m being unnecessarily gloomy here, Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords says that, for most writers, the average number of e books sold per title is 100.

What does all this mean? In a nutshell it means that the average indie writer/producer of a POD book will be flat out getting their money back. There are hidden costs to producing a POD book that exist regardless of whether the newbie writer outsources, or designs the cover and interior themselves.

In the meantime, I’m camped on the Hill of Bewilderment, right next to the Lakes of Confusion, having taken over a week to negotiate the Forest of Dread with nothing but a hurricane lamp to guide me.  While camping out and enjoying the sights, it occurred to me that I might be able to do some good by devoting one post to each of the steps I’ve described above, so that newbie writers will at least know what lies in store for them.

Forewarned is forearmed. So they say.

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