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literary fiction | Author Olivia Boler

Author Olivia Boler

writing is fun
April 10th, 2012

Hey, Jealousy!

Back in the day, I wrote a lot of book reviews for a major newspaper. Not a whole lot, but with some regularity. I developed a relationship with the book review editor there. Then, he left, taking a golden handshake. The new editor threw me a few bones. But eventually, he stopped. I’d send friendly emails now and then, letting him know I was available. Not one reply. “Well,” I told myself. “That’s that then.”

About a year later, I noticed that the author of the last book I critiqued for this publication had published a book review there. Hm, I thought. That’s interesting. Guess the new editor who had chosen to ignore me liked her. A few months later, another of her reviews appeared. And then another.

Today, there was a review in that very same newspaper about a new book by an author I’ve long admired. I glanced at the reviewer’s name. Guess who? Yup—the last author I had reviewed there! An author whose chosen subjects and themes have very little to do with the subjects and themes of my favorite author. Well, what did I do? I’ll tell ya!

I saw green.

I decided I sucked. As a writer. And a reviewer. And a person.

At the same time, I knew I could have written that review. I knew that my review would have been just as good, if not better. Maybe it would have won an award or gotten the notice of and a big appreciative laugh from Anthony Lane. I wondered where I had gone wrong in life, what had led me down this path of obscurity and mediocrity. When I was 30, I had so much promise! Ten years later, what have I done wrong?

But,  I didn’t wallow for long. I couldn’t. I had to get dinner on the table for my kids. And I had a blog post to write, a certain rant about those doubts that are always there, even as they get shaken loose a little by the need to monitor the boiling water for chicken tortellini.



August 15th, 2011

Being submissive

Well, I went ahead and did it. I sent my novel manuscript along with a synopsis and cover letter to two e-book publishers. If you want to check them out, they are Samhain Publishing and Carina Press. Samhain Publishing put out an ebook, The Matchmakers by Jennifer Colgan, I either got for free or extremely cheaply for my Kindle, and it seemed in the same vein as my book. I found Carina Press through some publishing board—can’t find the conversation now—but the two presses are slightly related in that a former Samhain editor, Angela James, is the Carina Press editor. Carina is owned by Harlequin.

Yay! Usually, I am extremely secretive and closed-mouth about my submissions because a.) people want updates all the time and b.) the submissions eventually, usually end in rejection and c.) when I can finally give  an update, it will be about a rejection, and then I have to deal with sad, disappointed, slightly embarrassed looks from friends/family. So, it’s best to keep it on the down-low, if I may be so bold.

On the other hand, there’s always that little thrill of accomplishment I get when I submit my work. For a while, at least, I get to dwell in possibility, and it’s a good feeling. But on the other other hand, while submitting is part of the writer’s job, it’s not easy.

Take the synopsis. Depending on the publisher, it has to be two to five pages long, give a complete description of your book, including the ending, and be good reading. I don’t enjoy writing synopses, but they’re great tools for figuring out if your book makes any sense. In the past, I have stopped myself from submitting my book because the synposis didn’t at all match what was going on in my book, which means what I had written and what I envisioned weren’t grooving to the same beat yet.

Anyway, I’ve left my virtual baby on the virtual doorstep again. It’s out there! Nurture it, love it, Samhain and Carina!

Right. I should have some news in four months at the outside. No, it’s not a fast process. In the meantime, I also entered a short story contest with Narrative Magazine, an online lit mag. I submitted one of my more literary The New Yorker type stories. You know, one with an existential crisis and an epiphany at the end. And no magical ponies or pixies or any of that stuff (although they did publish an excerpt from Chris Adrian’s The Great Night, with Oberon and Titania and other assorted faeries, and it’s a startling, lovely, tragic, magical read, so there’s that). I love my story, titled “Teachable Moments,” and hope it finds a home some day.

So, that’s the skinny for now.

How about you, fellow bloggers, writers, and readers? How do you deal with stuff like this? Do you have a sort-of secret life, a hidden artist’s heart that you want to protect from judgment and ridicule? Or do you just let your freak flag fly without giving a damn about the sad, disappointed, slightly embarrassed-for-you looks?

August 10th, 2011

Genre fiction, or what’s in a name?

I admit, I haven’t done a lot of research on the whole e-publishing microcosm—I don’t know what e-publishers are out there, the ones that are following the rules of traditional publishing with submissions, rejections, standards…you know, not vanity presses but “real” publishers. Oh, and that handle editing, cover art, distribution, publicity, and royalties (of the two I’ve checked out so far, they do not give advances). So just this very minute, I did a Google search and found this site, ebook crossroads. The link is a list of ebook publishers they’ve compiled. I’ll study it in more depth and invite you to do the same. Let me know what you find, if you don’t mind.

Like print publishers, many ebook publishers specialize in particular genres—romance, science fiction, westerns, etc. A few years ago, I interviewed author Clare Willis, who wrote Once Bitten, a paranormal romance about mosquitoes. Just kidding. It’s about vampires, of course. She told me an interesting tidbit—the best-selling genre of all genres is romance. Could I beef up the romance in my own paranormal novel? she asked. I wasn’t even sure if my novel could be labeled “paranormal.” For a long time, I thought of my book (and still do, although what do I know?) as “cross-genre”, like, if I may be so bold, Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, or a part of the magical realism subset of literature. (Remember, I’d been trained by my creative writing program to think like this: literary fiction=good, genre fiction=meh.)But my book might be too plot-driven or mainstream-ish or—gasp!— accessible to the reading masses to be classified as any sort of literary fiction. Anyway, I had discovered the genre of urban fantasy and thought that might be a good fit.

But romance? Well, again, my snoot radar went up. I didn’t read romances. Well..sometimes I read chick lit, but it was like a dirty little secret, an indulgence. But romance novels with busty ladies in corsets and long-haired, steroid-riddled pirates hovering over them on the covers? Not since a brief foray into the romance shelves of the local used bookstore back when I was in high school. I preferred the ones that took place in the Old West.

But I digress…I do like a good love story. A tantalizing triangle. There is an element of that in my book. Sure, I could beef it up. And it might even make the story better, more crackling.

Plus, once I checked out these publishers (and not all of them require lots of steamy sex, sometimes just “elements of romance”), they had clearly moved beyond corsets and pirates. There were fairies, vampires (of course), witches, space rangers, and normal everyday people. Other genres that have been around for 40, 50 years, I’m just learning about like steampunk and cyberpunk. Even if I’m not writing for those audiences, it’s exciting that other writers are, and that readers are demanding more.

Am I a romance writer? I wouldn’t go that far. Is my book a paranormal romance? If I can find a wider audience for my book, I’m open to the idea that it is. If you’ve changed your mind about genre, have always written genre fiction, or have some thoughts about e-publishers, do share.


August 6th, 2011

It’s no fiction contest

Since my early twenties, I’ve spent lots of money entering my short stories in contests. These contests are usually sponsored by literary magazines or universities with lit mags, and the entry fee is on average $15 to $20. I keep a little notebook recording my efforts under four columns: Date Sent, Story Sent, Forum Sent To, Answer. The Answer column is mainly filled with one word: NO. Sometimes, there’s a triumphant, YES!

None of the yeses come from contests. The notebooks contain records of submissions to agents or magazines and organizations that have called for stories. I’ve only ever been paid for one story, and that was a few dollars from St. Mary’s College for my short story, Unlit. Please read it!

I gave up on contests for many years (I can only take so much rejection, people!), but recently, inspired by my good friend Siobhan Fallon, who for some reason is one of my biggest cheerleaders and for every good reason is one of my biggest inspirations, tried again. I entered Crab Orchard Review‘s contest, one that Siobhan has won, with a short story my writing group and Siobhan both loved. I would be over the moon if I were a finalist or even in the honorable mentions. Well, guess what happened? Nothing. I recorded another NO in my notebook. A sensitive soul, I always take these disappointments hard in some way, either swooning, muttering bitterly, or with a glass of the house white. I’m thinking of giving up again.

But I am intrigued by Amazon.com‘s Kindle Singles, which are brief pieces (5,000 to 30,000 words) like essays, novellas, and short stories that are pretty inexpensive for Kindle users ($0.99 to $4.99). Yes, in addition to an iPad, I have a Kindle, which I L-O-V-E (so light to hold! no eye strain! built-in dictionary! note taking! stores thousands of books!), but it’s not perfect (can’t read it in the dark, can only read things downloaded from Amazon, can’t access library books with it) Admittedly, I haven’t purchased any Singles yet, but I wonder if this might be a good way to get some of my orphaned stories out there. There’s still a submission process that’s a bit more selective apparently than Amazon’s direct publishing requirements for book-length work. So, in my grand tradition, I’m not completely ruling out the rejection experience.

What do you think, dear bloggers? Is this a good avenue to explore? What’s your experience?

July 31st, 2011

So, Olivia, what do you write?

Funny you should ask.

I got my MA in Creative Writing at UC Davis, and the professors there were rather anti-genre. Either you wrote literary fiction, or you were a hack. At least, that’s how it seemed. So, I dutifully churned out a coming-of-age novel about a young women trying to find herself. Also, because I received my degree in 1996, I was reading a lot of popular stuff of that time, and it absolutely influenced my style as I tried to figure out my VOICE.

Because my first novel was a little bit sad, I next tried something more lighthearted. Bridget Jones’s Diary was white hot at the time, and it was such a relief to be able to read something that was laugh-out-loud funny, that addressed light issues like weight, relationships, and gawkiness (as opposed to drug addiction, serial killings, and child abuse) that was getting positive press. (I guess “chick lit” still struggles for cred). Until then, I felt like I had to read all these smart but dark authors like Brad Easton Ellis and Jayne Anne Phillips to be considered literary and cool. I wanted to be literary, cool, and funny. Anne Lamott was, so why not me?

Another popular book at the time was The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, and it introduced me to the concept of a novel-in-stories. I had been writing short stories in grad school and one of my cohort had once said to me, “Why are you writing a novel? You seem like a short story writer.” But every time I’d get a story critiqued in workshop, at least one person would say it felt like a longer story—like a novel! Still, I tried my hand at a novel-in-stories. Both my chick lit novel and the NIS made the rounds with the agents and small presses. No one wanted them in the end.

So I decided to write my witch novel. If JK Rowling could write an amazing, rich saga that appealed to kids and adults, maybe I could write something for adults that would also appeal to teens (that’s called “crossover” people). In the meantime, I wrote some stories with a magical bent as well. Magical realism! That’s another literary, respectable genre. Like Water for Chocolate, and that ilk. One of my stories got published on an e-zine but that e-zine no longer exists. I guess I could reprint it here on my blog. I’ll just have to find the file.

Anyway, I guess I write whatever suits my fancy. My favorite author of all time in Jane Austen. My favorite contemporary author is Ann Patchett. My favorite YA author is Suzanne Collins. I wish I could harness all their talents to become a mega-superstar writer.

Oh well. In my next life, maybe, although I hope to come back as a scientist or something useful like that. Struggling writer? Not that useful.

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