A therapist for writers: only in Hollywood (alas)

I must be quick. I’ve been wrestling with my email all morning and I’ve a manuscript to revise.

There has been a lot of excitement this week. The Next Novel has found a wonderful home with U.S. publisher Doubleday. I couldn’t be happier!

In the meantime, two drive-by bits. One re. a great article: “Hollywood Shadows; A cure for blocked screenwriters” by Dana Goodyear in The New Yorker. It has something to say for any kind of writer, and with humour (which is how we survive The Writing Life).

And, speaking of humour, do watch this absolutely wonderful book trailer for Laurie Frankel’s novel Goodby for NowIt’s an example of what a good book trailer can do. I hope it goes viral!

I adore Eleanor Roosevelt, the lady with a squirrel around her neck. And Einstein: “I’m younger now than when I started it. That’s how good this book is.”

What’s your favourite part?

On giving a workshop, becoming a publisher, revising …

On giving a workshop, becoming a publisher, revising …

A few weeks ago, as I’ve likely mentioned on this blog, I gave a workshop at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference: Net Book Promo for Luddites. I had given this workshop two years before at the Kingston WritersFest, but quite a bit had changed since then.

My intention is to someday offer the content of this course as a free e-book on this site.

The workshop went very well, but the experience, for me, was a bit fraught because:

1) of course the Wi-Fi didn’t connect,

2) we needed to track down a cord that would connect my newish Mac to the projector,

3) only to realize that I didn’t have the files I needed on my computer (because I was expecting a different type of projector).

And then Naomi Wolf slipped into the class: she of the kazillion Social Media followers! (If you haven’t read her book — or seen the resultant movie — The End of America: do. Extremely important.)

During the conference and after, writers Merilyn Simonds, Wayne Grady, Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson stayed with us. Do you think we talked about writing and publishing? You bet. It was a wonderful week.

With the help of novelist, designer and tech wiz Kris Waldherr, I’m getting closer to launching Sandra Gulland Ink, my e-book publishing venture.

The covers have been finished, accounts set up with Kobo and Amazon — iTunes yet to come. (Apple is so slow!)

I read a lot of e-books, and I want these to be special. Kris has done a beautiful job of designing the books inside and out. I’m imprint proud!

Also, of course, I’ve had to re-read all my books, to proof them. Also, of course, I’ve made changes.

I’ve been putting off re-reading Mistress of the Sun, however — but the time has come. It’s timely, because right now I’m working on the final draft of This Bright Darkness (working title of what will become The Shadow Queen), and the two novels are linked.

As I’m rewriting, I think often of Ariel Gore‘s summary of the revision process: lather and rinse, lather and rinse. Right now, I’m lathering, working up detail, adding scenes. Then I’ll edit (rinse) before I send the manuscript to my editor.

And then it will be time to dive into the next novel, my YA about Josephine’s daughter Hortense.

Busy: yes!

Letter of the week: questions on the life of a writer

I just received an email from someone considering becoming a writer. She asked:

What projects are you presently working on?

Right now I have three projects hatching: 1) The Next Novel, now in 3rd draft; 2) a short novel for non-English readers, now in the exploration stage; and 3) a collection of historical snippets about youngsters marrying.

What is your writing schedule like? I guess everyone is different,
but I struggle with setting up and sticking to a schedule (with a day
job, but even if that wasn’t the case, I don’t have the best time
management).

I begin my writing day on rising (which is often before 6:00 am). I trick myself into this by having my (decaf) coffee fixings in my office. I break for a quick breakfast, but I generally write or revise until lunch. My afternoons are given to research, promotion, reading and correspondence.

Historical fiction is perhaps more time-consuming than other genres, but all require a full commitment. You would need to become obssessive about finding time for your writing, the more so since you have a day-job. Writing has to become a compulsion.

Over the course of your career, have you had to take on many different jobs to pay the bills while you wrote? (I’m guessing most writers do.)

I am fortunate to be married to a man who is good with money. That helps. Before I signed a contract for The Josephine B. Trilogy, I was working as a free lance book editor. Once a contract was signed, I had to give up both paying and volunteer community work in order to meet my deadlines. I didn’t earn very much money for a very long time. One should never expect to make money from writing.

Do you have any general tips for writers?

I recently answered a similar question on Leah Marie Brown’s blog. She asked what advice I would give to someone just starting a career in writing, and I answered:

1) Understand that you are unlikely to earn money being a writer, and that the only reason to pursue such a vocation is that you’re compelled to do so, simply for the love of it.

2) Understand that it takes a very long time to get to the point where you are publishable. (As in years.) It’s similar to getting a doctorate.

3) Write, write, write: regardless. Revise. (“Revision” = re-vision.)

4) Understand that this is a craft that must to be learned, so study books on the craft of writing.

5) Read constantly—especially books similar to the ones you aspire to write.

6) Build up a Net 2.0 presence: set up a website, blog, Tweet, Facebook.

7) Don’t send your manuscript out for consideration until 5 readers have told you that it’s indeed ready to go.

8) Collect rejections: it’s rare for a writer to be published without first having a stack of them. It’s an important first step. Plus, it proves that you are tough enough to be a writer.

9) Go to readings: observe how it’s done. As a writer, you will have a private self as well as a public one. Get comfortable with that.

10) Get to know other writers, on-line, off-line; join the community. Create your tribe.

11) Never give up.

Bon courage. I hope this helps. That you took the time to send me an email shows that you’re seriously considering. You said you wished to get a clear picture of the writer’s life before launching yourself into it. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. I suggest you begin by taking a writing course or workshop. It’s true that writing very hard, very demanding, but every writer I know feels blessed to be able to be a writer.

What would you add to my list?

Writers’ conference high

This is going to be a short post, because I’ve had a long and very stimulating day at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference, and another one tomorrow to come.

Tonight, at Barbara Kingsolver’s speech (fantastic!!!), I sat next to a young woman, who told me that she had young children at home in L.A. She was working on a novel, and this was her first time away.

“It’s an important step,” I told her, remembering the first writers’ conference I had gone to in Kingston, Ontario, the kids at home in the care of my hard-working husband. She was making an “investment” (of both time and money) in her desire to be a writer. “You are proclaiming your serious intention to the world.”

Kingsolver’s speech had us both in awe. When it was over, and everyone was standing, gathering their belongings, the young woman was busy, feverishly writing down Kingsolver’s wisdoms. “I am a writer,” she explained to the man sitting next to her.

Following her out through the throngs (of over 800 people!), I thought: Yes, and she’s going to be a good one.

*****
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A question to internationally-published authors

What can be done to avoid bad covers? What do you do?

Mistress_of_the_Sun

I’m still in shock from the arrival, yesterday, of a box of the French edition of my novel, Mistress of the Sun. My heroine, Petite (based on the real-life and blonde Lousie de La Vallière), is portrayed as a woman with jet black hair.

Forget all the historical inaccuracies: that her head is uncovered and her hair loose over her shoulders; that she’s wearing what appears to be a ball gown on horseback. Forget that the ugly horse looks half-dead. Forget the fact that the cover screams: This is not a novel to be taken seriously! And that it seems to be aimed at young adults.

Forget the pages and the footnotes added.

Forget all that and just concentrate on her heroine’s glaring black hair!

What can one do? (In the contract I was given approval of the cover, but this was overlooked.)

Here are some thoughts for the future:

1) Ask to see the publisher’s catalogue before agreeing to sell the foreign rights.

2) Get some understanding of how this publisher “sees” my book, how they intend to position it.

3) Make a personal connection with the editor who will be seeing it through.

4) Provide a brief crib-sheet (in basic English) to the art department on possible approaches to a cover, including a basic description of the main character.

5) Ask when the cover will be ready. Remind them that you are to see it.

In short, get involved.

Not that there’s ever time! Does one just sign, let it go and pray for the best? This is not my first bad experience, but it’s a dilly.