My Blog Posts
Two Sisters Out of Four
I must get past this sudden sentimentality about family ties via this blog.
My other Wisconsin sister (two still live there, two like me have left the state), joined us the next day to attend my downtown Milwaukee book event at Mystery One Bookstore. Relations and friends, one from grade school, showed up for the event, the fun as always augmented by Usinger sausages to munch.
It happened the bookstore was near Old Town Milwaukee where we planned to dine. The historic German restaurant where we gorged on, what else, sausages and beer of course, happened to be across the street from Usinger Sausage Company, my generous benefactors who have supplied my book events with delicious treats since the beginning. My picture snapped in front of their sign didn’t turn out nearly as well as the pics of my beer-tasting in the restaurant which looks like a stage set of old Munich. I have to admit, the heavy German meal was wonderful.
But no rest for the wicked or the writers of books, so back to my sister’s for one last night before driving back to Chicago to complete the tour full-circle the next day, my very last with the rental car and its talking GPS lady who was constantly and irksomely “recalculating!” Honestly, there’s some passive aggression.
The event in Madison at Booked for Murder was inspiring in that a couple attendees had driven a few hours themselves to participate. They bought multiple books as well! Good for me of course, and good for the bookstore. Bookstores have become one of my causes as I blogged about previously. Suffice to say: Support your local bookstores whenever you can, or there will be none.
GPS lady got me to my sister’s later that night but definitely via the scenic route, never mind it was nightfall. I experienced more of my sister’s hometown than in all the years previous she’s lived there. It does get you where you want to go, this newfangled GPS, though hardly directly. Okay, it may have something to do with my ability to take direction.
What a relief to arrive at my sister’s after the hotels, roads, weather, and missteps. I felt at home as only this sister could make me. I have a lot of sisters, as I’ve probably mentioned a few million times, but especially now that my parents are gone, what a gift to have them, people who’ve known me forever and vice versa, who will know me to the end, who would help if I but asked. I don’t have a great belief that this type of relationship can only form around blood-ties. In fact I actually believe the opposite, that interconnections can and will be what those involved choose, jointly, to make of them.
Still, there is something about the formative years, the shared history and experiences that make family ties exceptional.
Wow, I’m getting sentimental. About family! If you’ve read The Sausage Maker’s Daughters, you’re as surprised as I am. I’d best regroup.
Road Trip: On(ward to) Wisconsin!
It didn’t look good, gazing from my hotel window in Minneapolis at the low scudding clouds darkening the skies on the day I needed to drive all the way to Madison, Wisconsin. I had a book event there that evening and would continue onto my sister’s house closer to Milwaukee for the night. (Yes, my sisters are still talking to me after the publication of my book, something I’ve been asked several times on tour. Remember it’s a novel, it’s fiction!) But the rain held off—that is until I had to pack the rental car and begin the drive.
Then did it come down. My female navigator was doing her GPS job, wending us through the maze of freeways and ramps and turns when a plunking sound like tennis balls hitting the car got my immediate attention. What! It took a moment of near panic to remember hail. Hail plunked and plinked for perhaps a moment’s respite from the downpour of rain that accompanied me all the way into Wisconsin. I timed this well, no?
The setting of my novel is largely Madison, Wisconsin, more, the campus there. But it had been sometime, years not decades since I’d done research on campus with one of my sisters for The Sausage Maker’s Daughters. But since I’d been there, Madison’s campus of the University of Wisconsin seemed to have expanded in every direction. It’s huge! And beautiful, at least on this day as I drove through it in sunshine, having finally left the rain behind in western Wisconsin.
We’re all hearing about the devastating drought in the Midwest in the news. Evidently, the rain stopped somewhere midway through the state, leaving the eastern part dry as a bone, the western part well lubricated, at least when I was passing through. Still the setting sun made the state capitol, a dome much like the one in DC, positively inspiring. As tired as I was after the drive and weather and a fun book event at Booked for Murder in Madison, where the owner and I discovered our shared respect for writers I’ve credited as being big influences on my work, still I stopped the car and tried to capture the capitol in peach light as I was leaving town. Alas, the Iphone, or me as photog, or both could not do the site justice.
Honestly, I forgotten the beauty and majesty of so many places I was seeing again—did I mention crossing the vast river between Minnesota and Wisconsin? What’s that memory loss about, do you suppose? Hmmm. Well, there’s more coming on the trip and sites, including perhaps the answer.
Road Trip: Minneapolis/Wayzata
My book event was in Wayzata, a part of Minneapolis I’d never seen before. It could not have been more charming. It’s a village really, set beside a huge lake, I believe Minnetonka—I’m sure someone will correct me—with shops and restaurants running along the shore that look out over gorgeous homes and the expanse of lapping waters.
In what was quickly becoming ‘my road trip down memory lane,’ this was an especially fruitful day. Perhaps my oldest friend, not chronologically, but a friend since toddlerhood who had long ago relocated here where she raised her family and now considered home, met me for a lunch that lasted the afternoon. A hundred iced teas, two waiters, and at least a billion shared memories later, it was as if we still lived across the street from each other, that our sisters were still all friends as our parents had been, and that we had talked every day. It’s heartening to experience a relationship that runs so deep with interconnections that even decades of silence and thousands of miles of distance in between cannot disrupt it.
And thanks largely to my friend and her husband and their friends, my second book event at the Book Case of Wayzata was more successful in terms of attendees. Perhaps my radio interview earlier with John Hines on WCCO radio, everyone there had heard it, helped as well. Mostly I laughed through the interview which he started in his best Fargo-esque, Midwestern accent, “So, A.G.S., how the heck are ya?”
Answer, after a few days retouching the people and places of my past, “Fine. Really fine.”
July 10, 2012
Road Trip Book Tour Phase 2 Des Moines
I arrived after my near panic attack and seven hours of driving by myself in Des Moines, Iowa. I don’t think I’d been there since my mid-twenties, ah hum, a few years ago. It was all I could do to pick up some Chinese—more on that fateful stop later.
The next day, I drove to Beaverdale Books, the site of my first tour event that evening, and met the owner, discussed the upcoming event, the sausages they had received for it from my fabulous benefactors—Usinger Sausage Company in Milwaukee, then left for a long-overdue breakfast/lunch stop. I drove around the campus of Drake University and was awestruck! It could have been a small college in Connecticut, all red-brick and green lawns and ivy. Wow. I spent four years here getting a Bachelors degree in Business. How did I manage to forget how pretty it was/is? I determined to stroll the campus after lunch and get some pics, but fate intervened.
After a delicious lunch near campus and some phone calls, messages, and email-catching up, I went to pay and discovered no wallet. Assuring the waitress I’d be back, really, I ransacked the car, but no wallet. Okay, how will I complete a road trip with no driver’s license, no credit cards, and very little cash. Cancel? How does one get home with no ID and all the rest? Yikes!
I headed to the hotel, conscious that the time for my event was nearing, checked everywhere but no wallet. Until I made myself focus on the last place I remembered having it, and with fingers crossed, drove to the Chinese restaurant. And there it was, completely intact. ‘Only in the Midwest,’ was my first reaction, until the man who handed it to me said, “I see you’re from California. So am I.” Also gratifying to be reminded there are good people everywhere.
Onto Minneapolis next post! Join me. I’d love the company the second time around.
July 4, 2012
Pre-Midwest Book Tour Freak Out
I didn’t realized how freaked out I was by the looming road trip through four Midwestern states, alone and by car for a week. The Sunday morning after my panel appearance at Printers Row Lit Fest the day before, in my hotel in Chicago’s loop, I found myself unable to pack. Only in retrospect did I realize that my symptoms pointed to the closest I’ve come to a panic attack. I didn’t feel well, was I tired, hung over—of course not! I couldn’t concentrate and wandered about my room as long as I could postpone getting a car and driving all the way to Des Moines, Iowa. Understand, I’ve traveled a lot for business but it had been years.
Once out of the maze of highways around Chicago and on straight-shot Interstate 80, I began to relax even though my rented GPS failed me three times that day and had to be replaced in Des Moines. I won’t even mention the oil warning light that popped on with a loud bing. I was reminded of the vastness of these United States, the richness of the farmlands of the middle, the quiet, the green rolling hills, the picture perfect farms with red barns and silos, my favorite black and white cows dotting endless fields. It was glorious! And somehow humbling. How could I have forgotten these, my roots?
Next post will continue the trip. Hope you’ll join me, this the second time around. I’d enjoy the company!
May 22, 2012
Ups and Downs of the Writer’s Life
Three-plus months into the release of The Sausage Maker’s Daughters, I’m finding the writer’s life to be one great big rollercoaster. If I say, a real E-ticket ride, I’m dating myself, but so is this wild and unpredictable experience.
First the good news: in this brief timeframe, the novel has been awarded five awards—count them, 5—for fiction writing, including a gold metal first place by the Next Generation Independent Publishers in Regional Fiction. I’ve always felt that the Midwest, specifically the state of Wisconsin, is an important character in the book, so I’m pleased that the story’s unique and life-shaping times and places have garnered recognition.
Now more humbling news: a recent bookstore event proved a total bust, okay, an almost total bust. I should have been more careful about the time of the event, given the location which is almost impossible to get to from the part of the city I live in. And I should have been on top of the store’s customer base and it’s main business (which is second hand books). Plus, I even got the event time slot wrong! So when only three people filled the plethora of seats below the dais I was asked to stand on, unable to ignore the booming of my voice through the microphone I was asked to use, despite the, um, intimate crowd I addressed, the irony was as thick in the air as the smell of sausages laid out as munchies and my own amplified voice.
Well, it all keeps one honest, I suppose. And I met wonderful people who work at the bookstore and feel certain they are on a successful path with their store (should I say, despite me?). And I’m learning the book business, pretty much the hard way, but learning nonetheless. Onward and upward, as the Wisconsin state motto goes.
March 25, 2012
Support your local bookstore
I’m getting ready to do my second bookstore signing event and yes, it would be great if everyone in LA came to share some refreshments and support me at Diesel Bookstore in the Brentwood Country Mart on 26th Street near San Vicente Blvd. on Sunday April 1st at 3 PM.
But there is a much bigger reason to visit not just this bookstore at the time and date above. Before they all disappear, visit and support your local bookstores.
I’ve seen first hand since the launch of The Sausage Maker’s Daughtershow formidable the on-line competitors are, being first to market, sell, discount, and review new books. Bookstores need to speed their processes to compete more effectively for sure. But a world with no bookstore down the street — or anywhere nearby — frankly sounds like one step from Orwellian, scary!
So support your local bookstores, and as my book tour continually goes up on my website, AGSJohnsonAuthor.com, kill two birds with one stone and suppport The Sausage Maker’s Daughters by popping by when I’m in one. I’d be thrilled!
February 29, 2012
Another momentous day passed yesterday, and I’m still standing! A generous friend hosted a book event in her home for me on the three week anniversary date of the launch of The Sausage Maker’s Daughters. Over thirty women and one brave man attended my first such event.
As I said when I began to speak at the gathering, I know what I want to say, but I’m a writer. I put words on paper and look at them approximately one hundred million times before letting them go. Having to stand before them and be a bit more spontaneous was daunting to say the least. But it ended up being fun.
No, I did not remember to say everything I wish I had, but beyond the story and its journey from rough idea to published novel, I also spent time setting the novel’s timeframe, The Sixties, famous for ‘sex, drugs, and rock and roll,’ but an unique era that was so much more. The normal, younger-generation suspicion that their parents’ generation and older are at best lame, at worst irrelevant, had grown into more vocal questioning in the aftermath of the Kennedy and King murders, as if young people were asking: does anyone running the world know what he is doing? (He used purposefully.) But the Vietnam War, more—the draft that fed it, coalesced those suspicions into overt, in-your-face rebellion and resistance, all peppered with lots of bad language. Perhaps for the first and only time in history, the younger generation organized into resistance movements against their parents and all authority. Borrowing protest methods from the civil rights movement that preceded it, the anti-war movement followed by the feminist movement openly “questioned authority” and “trusted no one over thirty.” Social upheaval abounded.
The world was at war, the generations were at war. No wonder I was drawn into setting my story of family strife in this period. But anyway, I learned I could stand before people and talk about what I write about—another milestone for me, though I must confess, I prefer the silence and exactitude of the latter.
February 21, 2012
The Business of Selling Books
It’s been a brief but exhilarating ride since The Sausage Maker’s Daughters launched officially, and we’re only two weeks into it. My time to write, including blog, has been decimated, but I’m remembering, trying hard to remember, that the point of it all is to enjoy the ride. There is, quite simply, nothing else. If we miss that enjoyment, we’ve missed our lives.
So I’ve been learning a lot about the business of selling books, first and foremost, that hardcover books are heavy and expensive and slow to ship. Duh. Distribution issues caught us unawares, at least me unaware, of the long, long lead times. But despite that glitch at the start which is still resolving itself—that’s the second thing I learned, things resolve themselves at their own pace no matter who is pushing or pulling—sales have been good! Reviews have been really good!! Amazon initially sold out quickly and backorders abound in the system of distribution that backs up all the big book sellers and small. Of course, it will be even better when it’s all behind us. And it will be soon, I’m positive, uh, sure of it, pretty sure…
Plus, I’m coming up on my first book events, so I’m into speed training for how not to write but speak about the book. In front of people—strangers, worse, friends and acquaintances. Let’s hope that’s the third thing I’m crash-learning.
And here’s what in these first two weeks has been the most gratifying: people of all ages and both sexes relate to the characters in very personal and deep ways. They see themselves, their families, their lives. Humanity’s universal flaws. They tell me about the characters’ motivations and details of their backstories I never dreamed of. Plus, the building tension has held them through to the end.
What more could any author ask for?
February 8, 2102
It’s almost 5PM on Tuesday night the 7th of February 2012 and I’m tired but excited. Today was the official launch date of The Sausage Maker’s Daughters, and I cannot let it go by without a celebratory blog. There have been missteps and miscues along the way, and today was no exception. But as these last glitches (let’s hope) work themselves out and books appear beyond the internet sales sites and on bookstore shelves, I stop to acknowledge all the years, all the people, all the money, all the writes and rewrites, all the advice and criticism, all the fits and starts that apparently were necessary to bring me to this day. Blast Off!
A bit of cosmic serendipity occurred during blast off that makes this day seem a propitious beginning. First, it’s the full-moon of Aquarius and if you dabble in astrology like I do, you know it’s a good day for new ventures, relationships, and contracts. That’s promising.
All this week, I’m celebrating the launch by visiting local bookstores to introduce myself, the Daughters, and shake the hands of the people who actually connect book-lovers and books. Today’s visit took me to Vroman’s in Pasadena, where, in addition to the aforementioned pilgrimage, I was able to see Lisa See in action at a book event. Lo and behold, today is the launch of her new book, Dreams of Joy. I have the same book-launch date as Lisa See! Very promising.
I watched her speak, mesmerizing her audience, and while she signed her book for me, told her of this star-driven overlap that must certainly make us sisters. Cousins? I asked if I could give her an advanced reading copy of my own book since our books are clearly linked by fate. Ms. See accepted with grace.
Just one last surprise: the person managing the event at the store became excited when I showed her my hardcover book. “You are The Sausage Maker’s Daughters?” she asked several times. I guess the answer is: yes, kind of. Astonished, I discovered she’d come across my title several times recently on websites and reviews, and the title fascinated her.
Okay, I think that’s enough for day-one.
January 31, 2012
Endings and Beginnings
It would appear, one week away from my novel’s official launch date of February 7, 2012, that one wild ride is ending and another just beginning.
I wish I could recount the bi-gillion things I’ve learned, tried to, and been bombarded with since the ride-that-is-coming-to-an-end began, but it would be impossible for anyone. First and foremost, I learned to write, maybe more importantly, tell stories that build with tension, maybe more importantly than that, develop characters that seem to resonate (from early reviews of The Sausage Maker’s Daughters) with a broad range of people of either sex. That last is thrilling to me as it’s what makes me read voraciously.
I find myself trying to micro-manage this ending which is not at all my nature, and all it’s doing is making me crazy and anxious. But I cannot seem to fully trust that my book is on its path out into the world just as it should be. I’m fussing all the way. Why? Because I’ve invested so much time, even more than money, that it’s hard to let go at the final stage. I’m sure the second novel will be much easier. Let’s hope anyway.
And that subject, with some months in between of stumping around the country for my first released novel, brings me to the second wild ride just starting — published author and promoter-in-chief of the book — before I get back to my first love: writing, even editing, of my next novel.
January 19, 2012
I’ve had some real excitement this week, not the kind I had a week before when my husband took a very bad fall in a museum and had to have six stitches in his forehead, all done in an emergency room where no one spoke much English (I wrote a somewhat depressing blog about it and may still post it, one day).
No this week’s excitement is of the good variety. My book and author name hit Amazon for pre-order now until the official launch date of February 7th, 2012. It’s amazing to see your own name and The Sausage Maker’s Daughters book cover on a site with, well, every other author and book cover known to man, just about (is JK Rowlings the only hold-out?).
And not only that, my website went live this week! Agsjohnsonauthor.com may contain more information than anyone needs, but it did turn out beautifully in my opinion and does faithfully state what my writing tends to focus on and investigate — mainly flawed characters; complex, challenging relationships; and ultimately how we choose to deal with the difficulties life throws at us. Everyone can relate to that list, I’m afraid.
So is it true that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger? Let’s hope so, and my husband is doing very well after his fall!
January 11, 2012
Countdown to Launch
My hardcover books are printed, shipped, and waiting in a warehouse in Kansas. I’ve held a few and given as gifts the first copies. I’ve even signed a few books, though I had to ask where one does that in a book. I’ve heard several good reviews from those few copies as well, especially liking: I never read fast, but finished your novel in a record three days and could not put it down. Yea! Okay, that’s from friends and/or relatives, but it’s specific enough to be believable. And I’m sticking to that premise!
So here’s what awaited me in the new year to be completed by my February 7, 2012 launch date: distribution of the advanced reader copies to reviewers, the QR site should one scan the code on the book cover, my websites going live, a trailer, a video interview, getting the book on Amazon for pre-order and finishing what’s needed for that site, finalizing PR, marketing, book tours and appearances, entrance into contests and festivals, social networking, even banking issues and DBAs.
All of which is just another part of the process of conceiving, writing, publishing, and getting the word out about The Sausage Maker’s Daughters, each piece of which has been daunting. Alas, the novel is a reality and one I hope that will entertain, inspire, and connect. Very soon you can check it out further on my websites, on Amazon and elsewhere. Stay tuned!
And happy, healthy new year.
December 11, 2011
Holidays are Hard
I’m not sure why holidays seem to get harder each year.
As we age, I suppose the losses we accumulate over a lifetime add up and weigh more heavily. I remember my childhood Christmases, the sheer excitement of waking early and rushing downstairs to see what Santa left for me and my family, the magic of the house decorated and flickering with colored lights, the special meals and treats, the wonder and magic that accompany so many firsts. One of my fondest memories is of a Christmas Eve where it snowed which was rare, big, fluffy, white flakes that transformed everything into extraordinary.
So Southern California doesn’t get much snow (thank heavens!), and my parents are both gone, and my siblings are spread out across the United States. Plus my husband and I and our family have had its share of tragedies. Well what family hasn’t? So what can we do to eradicate hard?
The trick must be to become childlike again: be in the moment as if for the first time. Cherish the ones you are now with as this too shall pass one day (and remembering that immediately makes you more appreciative). Put on your youthful optimism and expect a miracle or two, whether it comes down the chimney or across a telephone line. Be prepared to share joy and wonder and good food and love with everyone who will be part of it.
Be thankful that we’re still able to share the holidays with people we love, family and friends, and that we’re healthy enough to enjoy it. Then after reflecting on the blessings of the past, actively forgetting the disappointments that clearly aren’t worth mentioning ever again, prepare for a fabulous new year, full of excitement and new experiences and deepening relationships (in reverse order of importance).
I feel lighter already. Happy holidays, everyone.
November 25, 2011
Holding the Book
A miracle occurred recently on a rainy Saturday morning in Los Angeles. A UPS truck delivered a box to me that I was both expecting and still can’t totally believe.
I accepted the package, opened it, and lifted out my book—the first ever printed and bound book bearing my title, The Sausage Maker’s Daughters, and my name, AGS Johnson, on the wintry pastoral scene that has become my cover. It didn’t matter that this book was merely a proof of the advanced reading copies intended for reviewers and industry people, its back cover being slightly changed for that purpose. It felt, holding that book, like the embodiment of a lifetime worth of aspirations and struggles, hopes and dashed dreams, like life itself with all its ups and downs—which ironically is exactly what the book is about.
Holding the first book was a moment of overwhelming emotion, so I promptly sat down and wept. I felt better about that dramatic reaction when my husband had nearly the same one upon seeing it. Seems we’ve both hoped for and worked toward this moment, together, for a long, long time.
So here’s what I think it all means for all of us: dream big, dream wild, dream audaciously. Let nothing limit you and your dreams. Always have a dream. Always nourish your dream.
And then go for it. Pursue that dream as if your life depends upon it. Ignore the naysayers who will tell you ‘you can’t.’ Thank the critics that hate to tell you ‘you have no talent,’ that you can’t write, that you will never make it. Just keep moving forward. Smile and thank those that tell you if you just tweaked the plot and/or setting ever so slightly to, oh I don’t know, to aliens from a parallel universe who crash land in the middle of Wisconsin and become addicted to beer, intermarry with the locals, and start a chain of successful breweries that quickly spread through intergalactic space. Well…
No matter how crazy or cruel the commentary your efforts toward your dream may engender, bear in mind the moment of payoff, the moment of dream-realization. Believe in it when no one else seems to. And if your own beliefs are shaken for a time, then go for it on autopilot until belief and confidence return.
Look forward to the time when the impossible becomes reality that you’ll hold in your hands.
November 9, 2011
My + Life
It has struck me time and again that rarely do we really connect the two words “my” plus “life,” even though we over use them every day. ‘My life’ is about me, yours, all about you. It sounds so obvious, I fear we miss the point.
Let me digress superficially, which as deep as I can go, into physics and the laws of the universe for a moment. It’s relevant (no joke, you Einstein fans). Everything in the universe in its most basic form is electromagnetic energy or its subcomponents, charged entities like electrons, protons, quarks and so forth. According to the law of attraction, those electrical impulses either create affinities that draw to it similar forms, or the opposite occurs, repulsion, things pushed away.
Apply that lofty cosmic principle to life, ‘our lives.’ The things that I say, do, even think (firing synapses are electrical impulses) creates energy that either attracts people and things to me or repels them. That energy field that I am always creating by my thoughts, words, and actions dissipates out into the universe, attracting like energies and repelling unlike energies.
During good times, that easy enough to buy. But most lives involve tragic twists and turns and inexplicable challenges we most times think we don’t deserve. Why me? we wonder.
But if we truly buy that it’s our own energy that is attracting whatever comes into our lives, or is keeping good things at bay, then we have to take responsibility for all of it—the good, the bad, and the ugly. What about me attracted this person/place/event? should be the question. How can I change my patterns and ways and thereby change what I am attracting? What is the lesson?
“Why me?” can be a useful question if it avoids the debilitating pitfalls of victimhood and leads us to insights into our negative patterns and habits, into admitting our missteps, and into committing to change. Then de facto, by changing our energy, we begin to change ‘our lives.’ It’s worth a try, no?
October 24, 2011
Putting a book together and out into the world is proving way more complex than simply writing and re-writing for years, perfecting a story by way of believable, compelling characters (that’s number one for me personally), strong plots with no holes, building tension, creating the atmosphere, and a thousand other important if not critical considerations to good story.
There’s choosing a title that both intrigues and somehow encapsulates everything mentioned above. Then the cover design that does its share of encapsulating and intriguing. Each page within must be individually laid out, which surprised me. And there is the truly endless job of proofing it all.
There are marketing and PR campaigns to bookstores, libraries, and readers. Websites and internet campaigns to devise and keep up. Blogs. And if you are inclined to want old-fashioned hard-cover books to hold in your hands, and hopefully put into thousands of others’ hands, there are printers and bids and distributors and wholesalers to work with and coordinate. At the same time, one cannot afford to forget about formatting for all EBooks and the new mobile technologies rushing our way.
Suffice it to say, each one of these pieces could take months of research on its own, and by the time those months had passed, each piece would have changed as technology marches ever forward. It all comes down to: time or money. To do it all myself was impossible for me personally, and luckily I’ve been able to engage experts to fill in my knowledge/experience gaps. Others I know have done lots of research themselves and made sound decisions as to how to move forward. I applaud them—all that on top of being a good writer. Wow.
One thing is true no matter how one chooses to put a book out: at some point, just jump in, make the best decisions with the resources available, cross fingers and/or pray, and go for it.
October 12, 2011
Is Wisconsin to Blame for a Slow Creative Process?
Allow me another digression before I return to the publishing process, whirling along at top speed toward the release of my novel, hopefully, next month.
I recommend an article to all writers and wannabes in the October issue of Vanity Fair magazine titled, The Book on Publishing. It enables us non-New Yorkers an insider’s view of the mystifying world of traditional publishing by following the evolution of a new novel called The Art of Fielding from its earliest stages of writing all the way through to finishing, procuring an agent, a publisher, and getting a large advance for the novelist via an auction among publishers, the biggest for fiction in recent memory. Each piece of the puzzle is explored as well as how it all comes together. I hope the book is a smashing success.
It struck that the article’s author seemed shocked that the novel took 10 years in the writing. Doesn’t someone say that it takes 10 years to become expert at any new thing? The writer does make the point that in long-form fiction, by the time you finish one rewrite, your writing has progressed to such a degree that the beginning is no longer as strong as the end. And so you start again, but the same thing keeps happening. Uneven writing it’s called. One hopes that eventually the rewrites take less and less time and that the writing evens out.
So I’m embarrassed to admit that my novel, The Sausage Maker’s Daughters, from first written words to today, has taken 12 years – although three-some in the middle were spent on other things (more on those much later). Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that both the novelist in the article and I are Wisconsinites. Too much beer, cheese, and bratwurst slowing us down? Don’t forget the dairy state’s justly famous frozen custard? Weekly fish fries? I’m getting hungry now.
We may be slower than normal, we two novelists who grew up in Wisconsin, but one thing the harsh climes does bring out in people is something we’ve both just demonstrated through our writing: stubborn determination. I’m pretty sure that trait burns up lots of calories, too.
October 4, 2011
The Sausage Maker’s Daughters reflect on choices and consequences
I thought I’d include today an excerpt from my novel that we decided not to use as originally planned as an epilogue. My protagonist, Kip Czermanski, reflects on what she’s learned, the hard way, about life.
“I have to concede that on this one thing my dad was right: timing is everything—who we are, what we do, what we think and why, and what we believe.
Dad also used to say, we are of a time for a time. It sounded too fatalistic to me, even trite. But life can be both fatalistic and trite, I’ve since learned and learned the hard way.
Timing encompasses who we chance to meet and those we miss meeting, the relationships in our lives forming the skeleton on which everything else takes form.
When you think about it, all we have during our allotted time on earth is how we take it all in and how we act and react. That’s it, those three things—our interpretations, our actions, and our reactions. Those are the only choices, the only expressions of our individuality, we will ever get.
How wise were we aware of choices and their consequences before the directions of our lives were forever altered. Before who we became as a result was relentlessly, irrevocably, and unforgivingly cast out into the universe. Before the colliding ripples in our interconnected universe churned up only more chaos.
But I suppose, in the end, the harshness of those few choices makes those rare moments of truth and caring, and those of comic relief, all the more precious.”
September 16, 2011
After the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist disaster, I excerpt a passage below that the anniversary called up in my mind from my novel that is due out this fall, The Sausage Maker’s Daughters. Though the speaker is an antiwar activist during the Sixties’ Vietnam period, her disheartening experience with violence only begetting violence seems appropriate to today’s wars and all that has happened since 9/11/01. Please let me know if you agree.
The setting is Bascom Hill, the center of campus at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in the late Sixties. A protest demonstration has turned violent when the authorities attempted to suppress the gathering. Our young, idealistic speaker steps up to address the crowd.
“”A strange thing happened when I faced thousands of expectant students spilling down the Hill. In the background, the illuminated dome of the state capitol mystically hovered over the storm cloud of breath rising above the gathering. The fear and anger I saw in students’ eyes inexplicably caused mine to dissipate like the vapor they created. I was left with unexpected sadness. When I spoke, it was quietly, about renewed commitment to nonviolent change.
“How tragic,” I began, “that threats and violence speak louder and more influentially than nonviolent words and actions. Is this humanity’s shared truth, our shared burden? Will we never learn to talk, to exchange viewpoints peacefully, before it’s too late? Could we, the leaders of tomorrow, begin a new chapter by writing a peaceful page in history today?”
I’d lost them, the whole crowd. I sensed it in the sudden quiet. Their outrage required an object and I wasn’t up to supplying one. The subdued crowd clapped politely for me when I relinquished the mic and stepped down. Here and there I caught an expression that might indicate someone thinking instead of thirsting for action. But I’d disappointed them, no question. A fiery young comrade of mine, followed by several black speakers, soon reenergized the rally, but failed to reenergize me.”“
September 9, 2011
Coming to Terms with the Writing Life
Unlike blogs which should be short and punchy, I’m told, the evolution of the voice that became the protagonist whose story would become the novel I wrote throughout grad school and well beyond—well that evolution was anything but short and punchy.
The evolution was long, arduous, tedious, exasperating, frustrating humbling, and did I mention tedious? Little did I imagine that the two and a half years it took to write the novel as the master’s thesis required for my degree was only the beginning. Ten solid years of writing, rewriting, editing, and writing some more with a couple years off for the vicissitudes of life (more on those later), and only ten solid years later did I hear myself declare albeit only to myself and my computer: I’m done. It’s done. The voice had become a completed novel, as good as I could make it.
Alas, the literary world clung irrationally to its earlier position of not give a rat’s ass that I was, at long last, ready to bestow my novel upon the world.
And so another, dare I say grueling evolution commenced: learning the business of book publishing and selling at exactly the time the business of book publishing continued its freefall, changing so rapidly even experts struggled to keep up.
And there’s where we are today: me and my novel on the precipice of publishing and stepping out into the great big world where, they say, everyone has at least one story in them they long to tell.
I invite you to join me on these last stages of a long journey from inspriational voice to book in hand, or on Ipad, Kindle, cell phone…. Who knows—your story could be next.
September 2, 2011
The Voice Declares Its Intentions
As undoubtedfly the oldest student about to hit campus, I spent hours angsting over what to wear to my first MFA-level writing classes, having been out of college and my teens and twenties for some decades. I choose to believe this was not an indicator of my depth as a writer.
I had had some success in corporate America where women wore suits and heels and carried purses disguised as briefcases and learned to curse with the best of the far-more-prevalent guys (more on respect for the power of words to come). That look would never do.
So after a carefully contrived casual outfit of jeans and a top with long sleeves (more about women’s arms later) and enough makeup to cover most wrinkles gained honestly in the aforementioned prior career, I attended my first graduate-school-level writing class. I still stood out in terms of age, but not absurdly.
And that was when that voice I blogged about last week made known its purpose. From that first class through all my writing classes until my master’s degree was finally earned, that voice increasingly took on flesh and blood. It breathed, cried, screamed, ranted. That voice became a youngest daughter, a little sister, a child, an adult, a fearless human being too often pretending to be brave.
That voice became my protagonist, my novel’s main character, inhabiting a bit of fictional space complete with a house and schools in a conservative Midwestern town, nuns, lovers, radical politics and so much more. In short that voice became a challenging, controversial woman I obsessed over for a decade.
The voice became the story of a young woman’s life, navigating the complex and confusing times that were the Sixties, not to mention the politics of family. And to some degree, the story is everyone’s story about coming to terms with life. More on that subject next time.
September 1, 2011
The Voice that Became a Novel
It started as a voice, a voice so brash and cocky it was clearly compensating for something. The voice woke me in the middle of the night. I crept into the bathroom, careful not to disturb my sleeping husband, and perched atop the closed toilet to write as fast as I could to capture that voice.
The next morning, I wasn’t sure what I’d gotten, something that would ultimately take me years to fully discover. Had I recorded a personality, some anger, perhaps bravado whispering beneath the surface of the words? Metaphorically I sat on that sheet of hastily scribbled paper for months, reading and rereading it, putting it away and pulling it back out. Putting it away. It haunted me.
Months later, I took the now typed single sheet of paper to my wiriting group (more on the subject of writing groups to come). I read it to them. They looked somewhere between throughtful and confused, finally agreeing that the voice was interesting indeed, but what was it? No one knew.
More months went by, maybe a year, and that paper with that voice that compensated for something went in and out of my consciousness.
Meanwhile, since the literary world was making it clear that it had not been waiting for me with great anticipation as I tried to peddle my first novel, I decided upon a change of tack. Perhaps my undergrad business degree, which had served me well in my first career, was not the best foundation for an aspiring novelist. Not long after that conjecture, I enrolled in a master degree writing program to fill in the foundation for my second career.
And that is when That Voice declared its purpose. Next time: The Voice and Its Intentions.
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