Making Lemonade Out Of Mighty Sweet Lemons, Or, Book Launch Reschedule = First World Problem

I admit to more than a little stress when I realized how few days remained between what I thought was my manuscript’s final upload and my November 18 book launch. But I told myself, with my usual fierce optimism, that the MS would be approved in time for me to press that magic “publish” button in time to order multiple copies of Altitude (Flying Burgowski Book Three) in time for said book launch.

I admit to more than a little swearing when my optimism was not, for once, rewarded.

The expected approval email did not appear. When notification arrived, it wasn’t good news: a glitch in the MS required a second upload. The nice CreateSpace rep I spoke with assured me that, assuming the second upload went through, the absolute earliest I could receive my books was…November 20.

I admit to more than a little self-pity at realizing my book’s long-awaited debut was going to have to be a little more-awaited.

But all it took for me to extricate myself from the Swamp of Stressed-out Self-Recrimination was a half-hour drive, during which I thought about…

…a friend of mine who’s going blind

…another friend whose son, a dad in his 40s, is dying of leukemia

…a colleague who pretty much lives paycheck to paycheck

…the family of Philando Castile

…the families of those killed at the Texas church, the South Carolina church, the Las Vegas concert, Sandy Hook elementary…and on, and, sadly, on…

You get the idea. My launch date postponement is the poster child of a First World Problem. I got home, got to work on setting a new date and notifying the people who helped me get this far with my book. 

Want to know how blessed I am? The friend who designed my original poster was emailing me the revised version within five minutes of receiving my news.

It was done before I’d even asked for it!

Sweet, sweet lemons indeed. 

Is “So” is the New “Well”? Fun Trends in Verbal Throat-Clearing

So have you noticed that no one on the news can begin a sentence without the word “so”?

So this has been happening with such frequency on TV and radio news, from anchors to reporters to people-on-the-street-answering-questions, it has me wondering: where did this habit come from?

So they do it in a way that pays no attention to the meaning of the word, as in “thus” or “for that reason”. So they’re just saying “so” as a kind of motivational noise, like the grunt we older people make when rising from a sofa.

So there’s no comma. So it’s not, “So, what I mean is…” So it’s more like: “I am starting to speak now.”

So it’s also not just newsy people priming their sentences with “so.” So it’s regular people, friends of mine…even, to my bemusement, myself!

(So if I hear The Mate say, “So I’ll be working on the gutters this morning,” I will consider that as a sign of impending Apocalypse.)

So it’s also showing up now in print, like on Facebook and blogs. So I’d give an example, but I don’t want to embarrass anyone. So keep an eye out for it, and you’ll soon see what I mean.

So, when did this start? (So did you notice–that time I actually used the word properly, logically, as in, “Okay, people, let’s think about this”?)

(Orig. photo by Abigail Porter)

So I’m also wondering, is this just an American thing? So you folks in other countries, are you prefacing your English sentences with “so”?

So another question: what did we use as sentence skid-greasers before “so”? So was it “well”?

So I think it was “Well.” So it might also have been “Um,” or “ah.” So maybe in Ireland it was “sure.” So maybe it still is. So you go, Ireland!

So what do you think? 

Confessions of the Clueless, Part IV: NaNoWriMo Got You Down? Try WriBoYoWaWri!

You’ve heard of NaNoWriMo? (That’s National Novel Writing Month–an annual, Internet-based creative writing project that takes place during the month of November.)

Well, today this clueless author is celebrating something more personal: WriBoYoWaWri. That is… writing the book you (or I, in this case) wanted to write.

When I first published The Flying Burgowski, I told my writing group, “I wanted to write this book, and I did. I wanted people to read it, and they are.”

So later, when I ran into the brick wall fun challenges of marketing and book-selling, my writing buddy Iris Graville (whose memoir, Hiking Naked: a Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance was just published by Homebound Publications) reminded me of what I had said.

“You wanted to write this book, and you did. You wanted people to read it, and they are.”

Later still, when Book Two, Headwinds, came out and people would ask me that highly annoying perfectly innocent question, “So how’s your book selling?” I could always find my “happy place” by reminding myself about WriBoYoWaWri.

(Original photo: Abigail Porter)

You know: Write the Book You Want to Write.

These days, much to my surprise and DEEP gratification, both my sons are turning into novelists. And both are sharing their work, and their thoughts about their work, with me, their author-mama.

The other night, Son Two was stating his intention to end his book in a certain place. “That’ll make it very short,” I warned. “A novella. When I wrote mine, back in the nineties, all the agents I contacted told me they could never sell it.”

Son Two shrugged. “It’s what I…”

And I kicked myself and finished his sentence for him: “…wanted to write. Of COURSE. Do it. Don’t listen to me.” And I meant it.

Son One’s work will likely have the opposite challenge: length. Will I warn him about the difficulties of selling a long novel when your last name isn’t King or Stephenson?

No. No, I will not. I will joyfully chant, Write the Book You Want to Write. And I will MEAN it.

Writers, readers–your thoughts? Will you join me in WriBoYoWaWri? Don’t worry about November. WriBoYoWaWri lasts all year long.

Confessions of the Clueless, Part II: Think Outside of the Genre Box At Your Authorial Peril

[*Note: Confessions of the Clueless Part I was my #hashtag rant. Here comes Part II.]

Nothing like working on the cover design of a book to let you know how hard you’ve made life for yourself. I’ve been looking for an image that…

…captures the dark beauty of the Pacific Northwest, without being too beautiful

…suggests the ugliness of the American industrial underbelly, without being too ugly

…encompasses an aerial view, but not from too high

…orients the viewer toward the water, but still keeps the shoreline visible

…won’t involve me in complicated and expensive negotiations over copyright usage

…allows for the addition of text elements in line with the previous books in the series

Turns out I really could not have thought up a more difficult set of requirements. Starting with beautiful vs. ugly: waterfront pictures are generally taken for two purposes, a) to lure tourists, or b) to lure business. The first wants only beauty; the second, only utility. And don’t forget that je-ne-sais-quois whiff of Northwest! Gotta have some dark forest in there. I searched internet images from Oregon to British Columbia. These were a couple of the finalists:

Port Angeles, WA–good on ya!

Or maybe, further north:

Powell River, BC, anyone? Great town.

But the image dilemma is really a stand-in for the difficulty my books face in terms of categorizing. You see, the Flying Burgowski series 

…takes its time to drop its heroine into the action, and said action involves no combat, no werewolves, no vampires, and not a single zombie.

…is fantastical enough to involve flying humans, but otherwise very much real-world (sorry, no parallel universe lurking just behind Platform Nine and Three Quarters!)

…deals with political issues like religious extremism, homophobia, and human trafficking

…has a middle-grades heroine, but one who faces adult themes like divorce and addiction from a very early age

…follows said heroine into her mid-teen years where, guess what? sexual maturity is suddenly an issue.

Let me dwell on that last point a moment. Jocelyn Burgowski’s personal literary hero, Harry Potter, also ages in his series, has a crush, finds a girlfriend. But author J.K. Rowling managed to keep Harry’s physical responses to said girlfriend–his natural teenage lust–safely off the page. Author G.K. Wing was not that unrealistic, or smart, depending on your perspective.

So, bottom line? How would YOU characterize this series? Have I made these books difficult to advertise, or what?

I call the first two books of the Flying Burgowski trilogy Middle Grades Fantasy, and the last one YA Fantasy–because I have to call them SOMEthing. But you know what? I’d really just rather call it a damn good read. Can that be a thing?

 

Watching Your Writing Role Model Strip Bare: Iris Graville Publishes Hiking Naked

If you’ve published your words in any form, you know the feeling when someone looks you in the eye and tells you they read what you published. It’s not like singing at a concert or displaying visual art. These are YOUR WORDS, your literal, expressed thoughts, straight from your brain into someone else’s. Who is about to tell you what they think.

Now imagine those words you’ve published are your MEMOIR. And imagine the people who are looking you in the eye are your neighbors, folks you bump into at the market, at the post office. 

My friend Iris’s new memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, could not be better titled. As Iris tells it in her latest blog post, “Baring My Soul”:

I reel a bit each time someone says something like, “I’m reading your book, and it really speaks to me.” Or, “I was right there with you.” And, “My back hurt just reading about your work in the bakery!” What stuns me is the realization that, as I go about my life each day, some number of people are reading about it. There’s an intimacy in that knowing that I hadn’t anticipated. I’m discovering that the metaphor of “hiking naked” extends to how I feel about others now reading my words.

(Courtesy Homebound Publications)

My own forthcoming book, Altitude, Book Three of the Flying Burgowski series, could not be more different from Iris’s. My book’s a novel. It’s Young Adult (although I’m finding that Older Adults seem to like it just fine). It’s fantasy–not vampires nor zombies nor dystopian archer-warriors, certainly, but hey! my heroine can fly. So, yes. Fantasy enough.

The only thing my book has in common with Iris’s is that she helped “midwife” mine, via critique, while I did the same with hers (both of us with a LOT of help, and in her case, Masters-in-Fine-Arts-level help).

Well, maybe two more commonalities: they’re both set in the northwest, and they’re both about strong females.But that’s it.

So how can Iris be my writing role model? Because she is, to borrow her metaphor, hiking ahead of me on that rocky path called publication. She started years ago, creating her own press to co-publish Hands At Work: Portraits and Profiles of People Who Work With Their Hands, with photographer Summer Moon Scriver.

Then last year she published Bounty: Lopez Island Farmers, Food and Community–which is just what it sounds like, only more mouth-watering.

But all the while, Iris was working on that memoir. Crafting and drafting, re-crafting, re-drafting; pitching, pitching, pitching; writing and submitting short pieces to increase her visibility; keeping her chin up through inevitable rejections…until one day…

You go, girl.

I am still bummed to have missed Iris’s launch party because of some silly plane tickets to Ireland. But now that I’ve heard about it, I’m totally planning to follow in her footsteps at my own launch party in November.

(Not sure who took this photo…but Iris will tell me.)

Iris introduced by her own writing mentor, Ana Maria Spagna? How ’bout Gretchen Wing, introduced by Iris Graville? 

I better ask her, huh?

Writing Prompts: A Hate-Love Relationship

“I don’t have TIME for writing prompts. I have serious revisions to work on!” 

Those were my thoughts a couple of weeks ago when my writing group met without anyone’s writing to workshop. We’d made a commitment, as a group, that when this happened, we would do writing exercises. Whoever hosted that week got to assign one.

My writing colleague/friend chose, “Create a list of scents from your childhood, good and bad. Then pick one and write about it.”

Luckily I LOVE my writing group. So I submerged my bad attitude in a pool of pleasant acquiescence. Inside I was thinking, “Argh. I’ve just ripped the guts out of chapters 5-8 of my new novel–the last thing I need is to be freewriting about my childhood!” But I followed instructions.

Here’s what my pen wrote:

Most people would call it a stink, not a smell: goats and their manure, goats and their milk. Goaty. Yes, hay is involved, and other sweet notes: warmth; cream; the nuzzle of a muzzle; baby-goat lips; that conversational “meh-eh-eh.” But mostly: ew. Little pellets everywhere, like those imported chocolate cordials, only made of shit. But they didn’t smell like shit. They smelled goaty. Hearty. Healthy. Researchy. Unique. Cute. Intelligent. Second-class but proud of it—“alternative,” like my school, my entire childhood. Goat Barn. Who has goat barns? No one I knew. Who could tell proud stories of being butted, of making “milkshakes” by bouncing a goat on one of the gangplanks across the muck? Who could use a goat as a safe spot in a game of tag and turn her teats into milk-guns?

Don’t worry. This stroll through the goat barns of yore is not going to cause a sudden veer toward memoir. I’m still working on chapters 5-8, and I’m still blogging about–as you see–whatever I feel like.

But this writing prompt, unwelcome as it was, did me an unexpected service: it reminded me of how important my weird childhood is to me, how I treasure that uniqueness…

My folks still have a goat or two, just for funsies.

…like everyone treasures his/hers/theirs. How we define ourselves gives us the courage to move forward. Sometimes that self-definition inhibits, and boy, when that happens, we have work to do. But when it empowers? We need to run with that.

So now, when my revisions start getting the better of me, when I start to wonder, Is this work even worth it? Is anyone even going to read this? Who cares?…all I have to do is think about that goat barn. And I’m armed “to the teat” with a powerful sense of worth.

Darn right, I have a story to tell. I was practically born in a barn. Thanks, Writing Prompt!

That same writing friend also shared this post, “On Hating Writing From Prompts,” by Alice Lowe, on Brevity’s Blog. Writing? You’ll love this. You know why.

 

 

Return to Kiwiland, Final Installment: Why New Zealand? The Coast to Coast Triathlon

And finally…Reason #2 why I’m headed back to New Zealand after 20 years: for a triathlon.

Not to run. To observe. To take notes. The next novel I’m planning is set in New Zealand, and this triathlon plays a major role. Because this is no ordinary triathlon. This is the Coast to Coast.

This. (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

This. (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

Kiwis take the phrase "cross-country" literally. (courtesy coasttocoast.com)

Kiwis take the phrase “cross-country” literally. (courtesy coasttocoast.com)

This race spans the skinniest part of the South Island, Kumara to Christchurch–243 kilometers (about 180 miles) of running, biking, and–no, not swimming–whitewater kayaking. Here’s the course:

Logistics might be complex. Ya think? (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

Logistics might be complex. Ya think? (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

Oh, did I forget to mention it crosses a mountain pass?

Thanks to Kiwi friends, I’ve been invited to “pit crew” for a woman who’s doing the triathlon. I’m going to grab her bike or hold her wetsuit or whatever she needs, all while soaking up the sights and sounds and scents and trying not to make a pest of myself.

For years, the race was sponsored by a beer company. Now its sponsor is Kathmandu, an outdoor gear company that seems much better suited. But notice how little else I know about the Coast to Coast! I’m excited to learn how much more I have to learn.

Like...how do they keep from breaking their ankles in the first kilometer? (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

Like…how do they keep from breaking their ankles in the first kilometer? (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

Also thrilled that I don’t have to run/ride/paddle the damn thing myself. The elites take about 13 hours to finish. The woman whose crew I’m joining expects to take 15-16 hours.

Funny story:  when I first chatted with “my” triathlete, she asked, “So, this American athlete and her coach…will they be joining you as well?”

It took me a moment to process this. Then: “Oh, no! They’re fictional. I mean, they’re what the book’s going to be about. So, no, they won’t be coming with me.”

Except they will, of course. In my head. Assessing their fictional future.

So if you’re reading this–cheers! The next time you’ll hear from me will be in mid-February, when our Great Kiwi Re-adventure is behind us. Till then, keep reading and writing and running or whatever it is you do. Hug your family. Talk with a stranger. Be well.

 

 

One Week After…Not Quite Ready To Leave The Bubble

I finally turned on the news today, a week after the election. I lasted exactly 11 minutes before turning it off again.

I know. I’m a wuss. I promise I’ll get tougher. But right now I want to stay in my bubble a little longer…a bubble I created, by scheming behind my husband’s back for six months.

…for a surprise birthday party, people! What were you thinking? Really! For shame.

Yeah, my Mate turns 70 in two weeks. I figured the only way to truly surprise him was to have the party two weeks early. Since that date coincided with a three-day weekend (thank you, Veterans!), my Evite received many Yesses.

I sent that Evite out first in May. I’ve been party-planning ever since. The triumph of the surprise, I knew, would be the arrival of Son One (all the way from Puerto Rico) and Son Two (from Vermont)  And when election day blew up in our faces happened, the anticipation of that surprise kept me going like a warm stove in an otherwise frozen house. Like a light at the end of a tunnel. Like…oh, just pick a simile, would you? You know what I mean.

The only problem? I couldn’t share that anticipation with my Mate. Miserable as we both were last week, my misery was alleviated by hope and love, and his…well, his had to wait till Friday at 2 pm, when Sons One and Two snuck in the back door and said, “Hi, Dad.”

At that, my Mate entered the bubble with me. Finally.

I’ll get back to regular posting soon enough. I’m already hard at work on my writing, and the other components that make up the life of a baking ex-teacher.

We'll think about the election tomorrow...or maybe the day after that...

We’ll think about the election tomorrow…or maybe the day after that…

But for now…I think I’d like to stay in my bubble just a few more days. Can you blame me? There was lots of love and lots of pie.

Why Revising Writing Is Like Caulking Your Bathtub

There’s not much nastier than a grimy old bathtub, right? Who wants to scrub up in something that looks like this?

It's amazing what you can not-see when all you want is a hot shower...

It’s amazing what you can not-see when all you want is a hot shower…

Except when it’s YOUR grime, built up over (let’s not count how many) years, you kinda…how shall I say…fail to notice how grody it looks. It’s just, y’know–your bathtub. Hop in and soak your cares away.

But my parents are coming to visit. And even though Martha Stewart is NOWHERE in my family tree, parents still count as guests. And guests cause my vision to change. As in, “Oh, GROSS! Who bathes in THAT?”

So I re-caulked the sucker.

It was a messy job. As it happens, being deep in revisions of Book Three (of The Flying Burgowski series), I couldn’t help noticing the parallels between re-caulking and re-vising.

Here I am, for example, getting rid of some crusty old adverbs and parenthetical phrases that had built up through two previous drafts and were now gumming up the forward motion:

Away with you, needless exposition!

Away with you, needless exposition!

The old caulk fought back. “But I must be serving some purpose or you wouldn’t have kept me around for so long, right? If you get rid of me, you’re going to have to start ALL OVER! And who knows how many more leaks that’ll cause?”

Sound familiar, fellow writers? Those are the same protestations your words and paragraphs make under your editorial knife. That’s why Stephen King calls revising “murdering your darlings.”

Well, I murdered the heck out of that old bathtub grime. The new caulk felt silky as cake frosting beneath my index finger. 

Can you say "final draft"?

Oh, dear–now I need to bleach all the shower walls. Better, but a final draft this ain’t.

And I’m going to try and remember that smooth, fresh finish as I continue to peel away at built-up prose. 

But I’m also curious–for what other activities does re-caulking serve as apt metaphor? Let me hear.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Daddy: A Personal Evolution Story

When I say Personal Evolution Story, I mean that literally: this story has to do with me and my dad, and with evolution–as in, Darwin’s Theory Of.

My first post-college job was teaching at the school I had graduated from only five years prior. Since it was a private school–woohoo, Carolina Friends School, go Quakers!–ahem, as I was saying, since it was a private school, no certification was necessary. They knew me, they liked me, they hired me, and I trained on the job. Some of the Upper School courses I taught included Lit & Comp I and II, Geography, History of the Vietnam War, Running, Romance and Satire…that’s all I remember. For a brand-newbie, I wasn’t bad. Considering how at home I felt at CFS, that’s not too surprising.

I felt a bit of pride in myself, becoming a teacher. But as a college graduate, I was well aware of my lowly status compared to the rest of my family. Both my sisters had a Master’s; one was working on her Ph.D, the other on her veterinary degree.

Some time during my second year, as I remember, one of the science teachers needed to go on maternity leave. My father offered to step in as a long-term sub.

This is also not surprising, if you know that my father a) was one of the founders of the school and a perpetual Board member, and b) taught Zoology at Duke. As far as he was concerned, science teaching was science teaching. Apparently the school agreed, and they took him on (probably for free). He taught good ol’ Biology.

After the first couple of weeks, he gave a test. Most of the class failed. Dismayed, he came to me with the test: did I think it was too hard? I remember reading it and thinking, “No, this looks like pretty standard stuff.” Still, his next practice quiz–yuck. Again with the failures. My dad couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

To his credit–and my surprise–Dad then asked me to observe his class to see if I could spot the problem. I’ll never forget how proud I felt at that moment: proud of him for having the grace to ask his youngest daughter for help, and proud of myself for being enough of a Teacher that I could teach a tenured professor a thing or two.

The Upper School Head Teacher and I observed Dad’s class together. Minutes into the period we looked at each other and smiled. Bingo.

The problem wasn’t the scope of my dad’s lessons, nor their sequence. The problem was that, in his normal, everyday speech patterns, he rarely used words of fewer than four syllables. Latin phrases like sine qua non or de facto were a dime a dozen. Having grown up with this high-falutin’ conversation, I didn’t notice, but as soon as I heard him through the ears of a hapless 10th-grader…ohhhh. Uh-huh. It’s not your lessons you have to bring down a few levels, Dad–it’s yourself.

Fast-forward to the end of the story: my dad learned to simplify his language, and to ask his students when he needed to rephrase something. His passing rates went up. Biology was learned.

Now, fast-forward another 30 years, to 2014. I publish my first novel, The Flying Burgowski. That is to say, I self-publish. My dad is supportive and proud, but I’m pretty sure that, as the author of a dozen traditionally-published academic books, he’d be even prouder if my book boasted the imprimatur of Random House instead of Amazon’s CreateSpace.

Meanwhile, however, my father and my veterinarian sister have teamed up to write a children’s book about evolution. It’s well written and clear: nice, pronounceable words, not a Latin phrase in sight! Beautiful illustrations grace the text. It’s a gem of a book. I’m excited for them, and for it.

Unfortunately, as with my novel, they can’t find a publisher. So, this past month, they self-publish. Through CreateSpace.

Here’s the result:

51515907_high-resolution-front-cover_6057779

And here’s the link, if you want to check it out or, even better, buy a copy: Darwin and the First Grandfather

And here’s the point of the story, in case it’s not clear yet: for the sake of the science he loves, my hyper-academic father has come a LONG way. From speaking only Academese, he has (with my sister’s help) made himself fluent in Common-Tongue Science. From publishing only with traditional, academic publishers, he has joined the proud ranks of the Indies. 

(Orig. photo courtesy Wikimedia)

(Orig. photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Not to mention–did I mention?–he and my big sis have written a damn fine book, one which fills a need. Please take a look and pass it on.