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.

 

 

November 18th, 2011

Please pass the chocolate. Now. NOW! Please.

It’s a good news/bad news kind of day, and let’s just say I’m trying to figure out the tone I should take here on this public little blog of mine. I’ve already mentioned that I get a tad, shall we say, sensitive, when it comes to the rejection of my work. I think I’ve been able to mostly work out in private all the usual angst (a taste: feeling like a loser, calling myself a loser, wondering why I have wasted so much of my life, etc., etc.), and am ready to move on (cue the crazy laughter: ha, ha, ha!).

So, the bad news: both ebook publishers I approached back in August, rejected my novel, my precious words! The first gave me a straight form letter, meaning I have no idea why they didn’t want it (Voice in My Head: “Uh, ’cause it sucks?” Shut up!). The second gave me an encouraging form letter of which I will include a bit here:

Though we aren’t able to accept this manuscript, it is always possible that future manuscripts may find a home with us, and we hope you’ll consider us for future submissions. Additionally, please remember that publishing is quite subjective, and what doesn’t work for one publisher may work for another so we wish you the best of luck in placing this manuscript elsewhere.”

For those of you unfamiliar with rejection, the stuff about the pub biz being subjective is a very standard line and not all that comforting when you’ve read it 100 times. But the first part about how they “hope you’ll consider us for future submissions” doesn’t come up every day. So that’s kind of nice. I guess.

So, yes, it’s time to move on. That means I have to go into “bid’ness” for myself now. Which means I’ve got to roll up those shirtsleeves and pony up the money (“Oh, kids, I’m not sure you’ll be getting Christmas presents this year since Santa has to bankroll Mommy’s publishing dreams!”) and make this book a reality. I have to banish the doubters that live in my head (and outside of my head run all the literary agencies, publishing houses, and contests that have rejected my work—crazy laughter again because there are so many!) and just listen to the nice people (in my head and out) who tell me to keep going. (This is usually the point in the post-rejection processing where I blame my writing friends for not being truthful about my abilities. Why haven’t they ordered me to quit, if not writing than at least trying to publish? OK, now I’m making them angry at me. If they are reading. Sorry, guys! I know you mean well.)

Primal scream time à la Charlie Brown: ARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

Oh, you’re still reading? Then you probably want to know what the good news is. Well. I have a roof over my head. I have a loving, supportive family. I have my health, such as it is. And I am over halfway done with NaNoWriMo, having clocked in 29,181 words as of yesterday. I guess I’d better get to my 1,667 for today.

And what will I call my publishing company?

Happy Friday, people!

 

 

September 7th, 2011

Kill Your Darlings

It’s been quiet in Bloglandia because I was actually doing some writing, although I can’t claim it was “real writing.” Real writing is the hard slog, new words on the page, new scenes, new ruminations, new dialog. Action that propels the story. Really hard, but of course, so necessary. What I did was not that. What I did was tinkering, sometimes considered writing, but really, it’s stalling if you don’t actually have a completed manuscript. I opened up two older documents, one a sequel and one a prequel to my Memphis Zhang (the witchy woman) novel. I began tinkering with both and what I really need to do is choose one. But which one? Still haven’t decided.

Okay. Another reason I’ve been quiet on the blog is because…(take it off quick, like a band-aid!) I got not one but TWO rejections. I promised myself I would be honest here and let you bloggers know what’s the what. Both rejections are for short stories, and both were contest entries. Bummer days, bummer days. But I will carry on, I swear.

So, now is clearly a good time to discuss writing groups and how much they help when the writing slows or comes to a standstill. I’ve been a member of a writing group since 2003, or there abouts. We call ourselves Kill Your Darlings (KYD), after a quote from William Faulkner. He was referring to rewriting, cutting the dross no matter how much you love it.

My group meets about every two weeks, and while we are kind to each other, we are also honest about what works and what does not in our stories. The problem is, with a novel it’s best not to show the first draft to anyone, at least, that’s my take. Wait until you have nearly a whole draft finished, then start polishing it up and show the second draft to the group. Short stories are easier because they are shorter and therefore it’s faster to get to that second draft, naturally. Of course, if you’re not writing anything, you have nothing to show the group. The trick is to find motivation and inspiration when things seem desperate. A writing group can keep you inspired.

I found my group through a local website called sfstation.com, since Craigslist.org can be a bit sketchy when it comes to this type of thing. I had to submit some writing to the group and got invited to attend three meetings, which were like a trial period in which the members decided if I was certifiable or not. (I passed.) If you’re looking for a writing group, I suggest googling the name of your town/city + writing + group. See what happens.

KYD has a format: One member emails a story or novel excerpt a few days in advance so we can read it and make notes (yes, on actual paper!). We meet at one member’s home, rotating from meeting to meeting, and we pitch in for take-out Chinese or pizza. Everyone “checks in” about the last couple of weeks, keeping it to our writing and reading so we don’t degenerate into a self-help group. Then the writer up for a critique reads his or her work out loud (we are divided evenly-ish with 3 women and 4 men). Each person then speaks, starting with positive feedback and moving on to more critical areas (kill those darlings!). The writer is allowed to give us his reaction to our critiques after everyone has spoken. The end.

My friend Heidi Ayarbe, who lives abroad, is a member of an online critique group. These work really well, too.

I’d love to know what others do to connect with writers. Do you have a writers group or something akin to it in your own field of interest? If you do nothing, preferring to go it alone, it would be great to know how that works for you. Share! Share!

August 23rd, 2011

No such thing

On the writing front, it’s been pretty quiet this last week. I worked on a couple of freelance projects, closed my eyes, and thought of England. In this case, England is the money I will make to pay the family bills.
But a few thoughts did come up. I’ve blogged about rejection, about how much it blows, sucks, hurts, etc. But say you make it. Say you are a published author. Then the reviews start to roll in. Not all of them are written by family and friends or even friends of Facebook friends. Not all of them praise your genius, your turns of phrase. Some might even criticize your writing, your story, your plotting. (I know, one is supposed to separate oneself from the work. I should write, the writing, the story, the plotting. But I can’t. The work is still my bébé.) Some might be really mean.
This is where nerves of steel help.
I have written book reviews. My first editor told me to be constructive with my criticism. It’s too easy, especially with the democratization of media (blogs, specialty websites, twitter, FB), to be an unthoughtful critic, and everyone is now a critic, which overall, I favor. My friend Heidi Ayarbe is an author of young adult novels, and she freely posts about the 2-star reviews she sometimes receives on Goodreads.com, particularly the ones that give thoughtful feedback. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and Heidi embraces that.
When my new book is finally out there, I’m going to do my best to facts of life it. That is to say, you take the good, you take the bad. Put on a good face to your adoring public, and if you feel like crying, do it in private or on the shoulder of someone who loves you. You and your bébé.

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?

August 4th, 2011

OK, traditional publishing, I’ll give you one more try

So, I’ve been obsessing about this whole e-book phenomenon, and it’s no wonder as I plow through the first Sookie Stackhouse novel (yes, I’m one of those True Blood fans who’s finally found her way to the source material) on my iPad. The app that truly legitimizes this basically rather expensive toy, although my kids would argue accessing Disney movies and Angry Birds is reason enough, is OverDrive Media, which I highly recommend to anyone who is an advocate of library usage. Through OverDrive, you can “check out” e-books and audible books (i.e. books on tape) for free. You get the file for 3 weeks and then it disappears. No late fees! Pretty awesome. Oh, and the app is free.

Anyway, e-books haven’t completely replaced real books in my personal library. An author I admire can’t sign my e-book, can she? I recently scooted down to a wonderful local bookstore, Bookshop West Portal, because I knew one of my favorite authors Ann Patchett had done a signing there for her new book, State of Wonder, and I’d be able to get a lovely autographed copy. Granted, I have yet to read her book (but it’s going to be good! It’s getting excellent reviews) because the e-books I requested keep rolling in from the library, and I have to accept them or they disappear from my “hold shelf.” But I’ll get to Ms. Patchett’s book soon. Don’t you worry! And for now, I can admire the lovely cover.

Of course, there are e-book publishers out there that specialize in digital books, and because this whole indie e-book publishing thing is kind of daunting (just found out, for example, that hiring an editor is going to cost mucho dinero), I might give one of these publishers a try. Yes, give them a chance to reject my beloved book one more time, then head off on my own, as Planned B. Let’s see…if I send out my manuscript by tomorrow to the editors, it could take three to four months before I hear back from them.

What say you, dear readers. Should I do it? Should I invite more rejection into my house?

August 3rd, 2011

Once upon an agent

Yes, at one point in my life, I had an agent. It was an amazing feeling when this complete stranger said she would like to represent my first novel. I was about 26 or 27 years old at the time, and it seemed like the work I’d done in grad school, despite my extremely yeasty doubts and insecurities, actually had some merit. I had found her in a heavy tome my thesis adviser had recommended, along with the advice to look for younger, newer agents, because they are “hungry” and more likely to take on an unknown writer. Plus, they will work really hard for you.

My agent was in Colorado. Not the hot bed of publishing, but I wasn’t prejudiced. She also wasn’t a member of AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives), saying she had the qualifications, so why pay the big fees? Fine, fine. I understood about that. She asked for $600 to cover expenses like photocopies and postage. Red flag: all my grad school professors (at the time, these were the only published people I knew personally) said this was a big no-no. NEVER give money to an agent. They should make their money on the commission only. But I had a good job as a paralegal and could spare the bucks. Plus, she was the only agent, out of those I’d so far queried, who had said she wanted to represent me. What can I say? I was in love. Head over heels.

We had lunch once. She was in San Francisco for some reason. And I won’t give any specific personal details, but that meeting planted the seeds of doubt about her commitment to my work. She had not actually read the whole novel, she said. Well, I wondered, how did she know it was any good? But I shook it off. We went dutch on the lunch.

Rejection, rejection, rejection. One big nibble from St. Martin’s Press, but in the end, no thanks, the editor said.

Every day, I waited for my agent to call with news. Sometimes, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I called her for an update. It was like being in a relationship with a boyfriend who ignores you most of the time, and you wait by the phone, can’t eat, can’t sleep…you get the idea.

At the end of our year contract, she gave me a 3-month extension. But about a month in, she called me and said, not at all kindly, “I don’t want to work on this project anymore. No one is interested, and the writing isn’t very good, and I just don’t want to spend any time on it anymore.”

Was I devastated? Hell, yeah! All of my insecurities were totally validated! I let it sink it, numb me, then went home and cried on my husband’s shoulder.

“What happened?” he asked.

“My agent broke up with me!”

I called her a few days later. She was polite. I asked her if I rewrote the book, would she consider representing it? She said she’d take a look if I had something in a few months, but she didn’t have any specific advice for changes, or maybe I was too dumb to ask.

But instead of calling her back, I went into hibernation. After a while, I might have done some editing of the book on my own. Maybe not. But I did decide not to go back to the agents. I went back to the heavy tome and looked for small publishing houses. And  that’s how I found Dry Bones Press.

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