Decide WHY You Write … THEN Decide How and How Much

If you think it unlikely that an op-ed on the topic of literature could raise the hackles (i.e., pitchforks) of those reading said article, you might be surprised.

As a writer who’s contributed, and had shared worldwide, reams of political, social, and artistic commentary over the last decade, appearing prodigiously on sites like The Huffington PostAOL NewsAddicting InfoShelf PleasureIndies UnlimitedWomen Writers Women[s] BooksindieBRAG, and others, I felt I had a good sense of which topics predictably stirred the ire of the masses: anything on gun reform, religious debate, LGBT issues, partisan politics, even home schooling, seemed ripe for rage. When I bit into any one of those, I did so fully girded for the onslaught to follow, poised for frothing emails, seething comments, and social media shares that inspired further froth and seethe. It came with the territory.

What I didn’t expect was to have my all-time most incendiary piece—the one that triggered the greatest volume of hate mail and trolling comments, countless responding articles ripping me a new one; ad hominem attacks about everything from my hair to my name to my bio to where I live, and, to this day, occasional snipes at my character—to be an article suggesting to self-published authors that quality ought to trump quantity in deciding how much to write.

“Dear Self-Published Writer: Do NOT Write Four Books a Year” (yes, there was some intended click-bait in the title) was a piece I wrote several years back in response to an instructive tutorial I’d found astonishing, one in which a “publishing expert” provided a list of “the ten best ways to be a successful writer” and her very first, her #1 suggestion, was: “write at least four books a year.” This was not qualified or offered with any caveat about making sure those books were expertly crafted, vigilantly edited and formatted, or beautifully designed and produced; no, just, “write four books a year.”

Corresponding comments under her piece, as well as comments shared in writers’ groups discussing these output suggestions, came with mountains of anxiety from writers struggling to get even one book done a year, much less four. But beyond the myriad emotional responses, I felt a certain misguidance was being promoted, one that adversely skewed what a writer’s priorities should be.

As a self-published author myself, and, perhaps more importantly, a reader of many self-published books, I had already been disappointed by the quality of far too many books crossing my path—poorly written, sloppily edited, amateurishly designed—and wanted my fellow self-pubbers to raise the bar, to take this new freedom-to-publish as impetus to demand the absolute best of ourselves, creating work that would position us favorably against any traditionally published author, burnishing opinions and easing stigmas ascribed to self-published work as a whole. So the idea, then, that an “expert” would blithely push self-pubbed writers to focus more on output than input felt anathema to me.

My article conversely (and, apparently, perversely) suggested that quality should always trump quantity in the debate about volume, and given the time and focus standardly required to produce qualitybooks, I posited that cranking out 4+ “quality” books a year would be a challenge for most writers, and, therefore, should not be prescribed as the “#1 way to be successful.”

“Off with her head!” they shouted.

The excoriation sparked by my thesis came largely from self-pubbed writers who clearly did write 4+ books a year, clearly did feel confident they’d met any quality demands, and clearly did take umbrage at my implications. OR it came from those writing 4+ books who’d prioritized sales over criticism of their books’ lack of quality. Or it came from self-pubbed writers who were just annoyed that someone (me) would suggest the self-pub market needed a standards upgrade.

But it was also because I hadn’t considered an essential precedent question: why are you doing this in the first place?

In my insular, perhaps myopic, worldview on the topic, I’d based my thesis on two things: 1.) The many comments shared by a large contingent of authors who didn’t appreciate or agree with the pressure to write 4+ books a years, and 2.) My own sense of why anyone writes and best practices in how that should be implemented. That second part is where I went wrong.

Because I’d made the (incorrect) presumption that all writers are driven to write and publish because they must write, and they want to write high quality books that can sit on a bookshelf next to any Pulitzer Prize winning, New York Times bestselling, positive review inspiring book without standing out as “less than.” That, even if one self-publishes, the goal—the non-negotiable criteria—is to produce and publish a book that, regardless of subjective likes or dislikes, is unassailable in terms of quality.

Turns out my presumption was just that: a presumption. And one I was quickly disabused of in the torrent of response that followed. Below is just a snapshot of some of the nicer comments flung my way (you’d think I was lobbying for child labor or the repeal of Christmas):

1. “I guess you’re rich, but most writers need to make a living and going for Pulitzer Prizes is a luxury we can’t afford.” (I’m not rich.)

2. “I write up to seven books a year and, sure, they may not be masterpieces, but my readers love them and have been more than happy to pay for them. Hah, it looks like you’ve only got two.” (Yep, just two so far.)

3. “Not everything needs to be a masterpiece. Maybe you’re picky.” (Sorta?)

4. “I don’t have time for that kind of quality. I’d rather deal with self-publishing stigmas than never make a penny.” (Hmmm…)

5. “No one in self-publishing is going to listen to her anyway. Elitist bitch.” (Ouch.)

Clearly what I’d left out was the (obvious) reality that not all writers operate with the same set of rules, have the same goals; are working with the same agenda, hold to the same standards, or prioritize their output the same way.

So, OK… what do we do with all that? Where do we go from there? How does any of that apply in terms of the persistent questions, “How much should I write?” and “How many books are expected of me in a year?” It’s said that things don’t really kick in until after your third book (I’m counting on that… my third is out next year!), and building your library really does give you a more powerful marketing position, so those remain good, valid questions to consider. Answering them requires that you sort out these two tasks first:

Figure out why you write.

It sounds so simple but it really is the crux of the matter. If your reason for putting words into form is that you have stories that demand to be told; memories that must be memorialized; imagined scenarios that clamor to escape from your brain into colorful, cohesive narrative, that’s why you write.

If your desire to write is based on the conviction that you can make money putting out easy-to-digest books that fall into popular genres that appeal to wide swaths of readers; if you want to create simple tomes so family and friends can access books you’ve written; if you want to write solid books that don’t have to be prize-winners but will tap into active and commercial book selling markets, that’s why you write.

There are likely other reasons; those seem the main ones.

Then figure out how you want to write.

If your “why” is the former, it may follow that putting out the most beautiful, creative, editorially polished, breathtakingly moving book is your goal. If so, that’s going to take time. You might not need Donna Tartt’s eleven years, but odds are good it’ll take many fastidious, thoughtful, detail-oriented months/years to fine-tune your book to the level you desire. However it gets published, you may not ever see profit from it. Or you may. It may win the Pulitzer… or only get fifteen reviews at Amazon. It may garner stellar editorial response, passionate readership, and accolades from respected literary contests. Or not. But if it is the book you want it to be, it will be your creative legacy, and that, itself, is of value. But that kind of book will likely allow you to only produce one book a year, perhaps one every two years. Or so. And that’s OK.

If you’re the latter in the “why” camp, odds are good your “how” goals will be less lofty. You’ll choose to put out work that meets at least a modicum of quality criteria, but, like someone said, not everything has to be a masterpiece. And if your priority is making some bank, you can push yourself to get it written fast, accelerate the production timing, and get more than one book out a year. Maybe more. Maybe even the four that “publishing expert” advised. You might make money, even get some good reviews, but either way, if your goal is quantity and you’re meeting that goal, more power to you. Hopefully you’ll score in the dollars department as well.

 

The moral of the story is: if I had to write my original article over, I’d have written this one, because it’s more to the heart of the matter. Yes, I’d still insist to anxious authors that the demand to write four books a year is NOT the only way to be successful… not by a long shot. But I’d also make this most salient point: you do you. Define why you write and design the work model that best implements that reason. Once you’ve got all that figured out, the timing of production and the schedule of how many books to produce is easy to plot out, and all in your hands.

And though it may be trite, it’s stunningly true: Just enjoy the journey.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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When It’s Time To Stop Auditioning, Give Yourself the Job: Self/Hybrid Publish

Let me start with a disclaimer: this is not a screed against traditional publishing. Yes, those are trendy and you’ll find lots of them out there, but this is not one. Life has taught me that when something sustains as long as traditional publishing has, it’s because it remains, however confounded and confused, a vital player in the scheme of things. I’d say that’s the case with the Big 5.

This is, instead, a few of my cobbled thoughts on the topic of why one might choose otherwise; why one might self-publish, or hybrid publish, or publish outside the realm of that iconic process of securing an agent who’ll, hopefully, wrangle a publishing deal, that will, hopefully, vaunt you into the stratosphere of big awards and New York Times bestseller lists. As much as one might dream of that starry-eyed path to literary greatness, there are myriad reasons why one might choose another turn. And very few have to do with not being good enough.

As someone who’s been involved in a variety of creative mediums throughout my career, the concept of stepping front and center to be judged toward some artistic goal is not a foreign one. Which is a convoluted way of saying, “I’m well-versed on the audition/rejection process,” which seems to apply to pretty much every step of life.

From birth on, in fact, we’re immersed in the act of striving for something: the cookie, the pat on the head, good grades, parental/teacher/coach approval, attention of boys/girls, that job we want, the lead in the play, first prize, the record deal, a deserved raise, and so on.

An actor? You submit your picture and resume; if you’re lucky, you book an audition. If that goes well, there’s a callback. If your luck holds, you go to the director, producer, network; whatever, and, usually, within a relatively short period of time, you know whether you’re in or out. Jobs, much the same timeframe. Record deals, boyfriends/girlfriends; that raise? All of these typically come to some recognizable fruition quickly enough to either celebrate tout suite, or launch your grieving process before the next snow.

If you’re an author? Not so much. The audition process toward getting traditionally published is far less linear, less step-by-step; less clear and more circuitous. It’s based less on talent and more on market trends; less on who deserves what and more on who knows whom. Less on right time and more on ‘how much time have you got?’ (a friend recently told me she’d just gotten a rejection from an agent she’d queried over a year ago!). Some of the words I’ve heard writers use to describe the process include: Time consuming, dismissive; rude. Arcane, confusing; contradictory. Exclusionary. Limited. Elitist. Devastating, elusive… impossible. And that’s just one Facebook writers group.

The Process

I’m sure there’s another, much jollier list of adjectives for those who actually make it through; who crack the code, score the agent, get the publishing deal. But this is about the other 96%, whose audition process might look something like this:

  1.  Write, rewrite; polish, re-polish the book and/or book proposal.
  2. Spend oodles of time (and money, if inclined to take classes, seminars, webinars, tutorials) fine-tuning the notorious query letter with the goal of meeting the arcane and specific demands of the literary agent world (which, most authors discover, will require several different versions of said letter).
  3. Diligently research which agents are open to unsolicited queries in your particular genre and note how they like to be approached.
  4. At this point, you should have your Excel spreadsheet out, organizing all the info you’ve gleaned into appropriate rows and columns (you do not want to double submit, for God’s sake, or query your novel to someone who won’t read fiction, or make the mistake of “checking back” if their site says “we only respond if we’re interested”).
  5. Once organized, put together impeccable packages with that perfect query letter and whatever else each specific agent prefers; then judiciously send them off in whatever amounts, order, and time increments you see fit.
  6. There. Done.
  7. Then you wait.
  8. And wait.

The seasons turn. You celebrate a birthday. Your sister gets married. The people next door move out. You lose the Oscar pool. Somehow you gain five pounds. You finish your non-fiction piece on elder care. You wait.

Then, oh happy day, you hear back! From some. Only some. Most are quickie email responses: “I’m not the right agent for you.” Some are scribbled notes on your snail-mail queries…same basic message. Others get more detailed: “Although it’s an interesting premise, I didn’t connect with the story the way I’d hoped.” They might give you some info as to why they didn’t connect or why they’re not right for you (usually not), but whatever you do, don’t write back and ask; they won’t tell you. Other than to tell you they’re too busy to tell you.

But, if you’re lucky, you garner a few requests for more (more pages, chapters, the manuscript). You’re excited to take that next step, thrilled that your sample grabbed them, your “premise was intriguing,” or your title “caught my eye,” and you send it all off, wishin’, hopin’, thinkin’ and prayin’…and then you wait. And wait.

Your parents take that cruise to Greece. You finally learn how to use Illustrator. More of the Arctic Shelf melts. You attempt making baklava. Your brother quits school to join a band. You start working out again. Your boyfriend gives you a cordless vacuum for Valentine’s Day. You wait.

Then you either hear back on the requested material or you don’t. If you do, you get something like, “I didn’t fall for the writing as much as I’d hoped.” Or, “Given the competitive marketplace, I need to love a project more than I loved this one.” Or, “You’re a white author writing black/Muslim/Hispanic/Asian characters and fear of cultural appropriation is too impacted a conversation right now.” Or… well, suffice it to say, rejection comes in a never-ending spectrum of hues and shades.

And then you…

You what? You’ve done your work, learned your craft, spent years honing it to a spit-shine by writing articles, blogs, short stories, screenplays, poems, etc. You’ve gained the expertise to know how to build a compelling narrative, construct a propulsive story arc, and conjure characters that jump off the page. Your dialogue is spot-on, you can make ‘em laugh and cry; your themes are resonating, universal yet unique, and those who’ve read your work are moved. Your book is loved (certainly by you), and it deserves life.

But after years of auditioning without finding the agent who is “right” enough to want you, your options are limited: traditional publishers aren’t welcoming to new writers who don’t have one of those. So what do you do now?

You shelve it. You write something else and try again. You set a bonfire in the backyard and burn your manuscript. You declare you’re done writing. You take up quilting, join a choir; finally paint the bathroom.

OR…

YOU DIY. You self-publish. You submit to respected hybrid publishers. You reach out to small presses that don’t require agents. You grab your destiny by the collar, drag it up on stage, flick on the lights, and make that sucker dance.

Like indie filmmakers, indie musicians; indie theater companies; freelance photographers, painters, potters, and mimes (yes, I do know some indie mimes), you take matters into your own hands, gatekeepers be damned.

You apply the same diligence to researching the art and craft of doing it differently, of doing it yourself, as you did researching agents. You suss out the pros and cons, talk with authors who’ve done it and have worthy experiences to share; you read everything you can on self-publishing. You zero in on the hybrid, small press, university publishers open to indie authors. You access professional book builders—content editors, copyeditors; formatters, proofers, cover designers—and you build the book you loved writing into the book you will love selling. One that reads, looks, and feels exactly as it should, with the edit, title, cover, and marketing plan you dreamed up and will launch with the help of skilled collaborators. A book that will sit comfortably next to any traditionally published book on any bookshelf anywhere in the world.

You stop auditioning and give yourself the job: published author.

And don’t let anyone tell you self-publishing is a consolation prize. It might be for some, but there are countless reasons why authors self-publish. Some, yes, see it as their only option. Others never even consider the “traditional publishing audition gauntlet.” A few straddle both worlds, bouncing back and forth, depending on the book, the available opportunities, or the experience they want to have.

My Experience

Me? After a year spent querying my first book, I stopped auditioning and gave myself the job. My second: no “auditions” at all; went right for the stage. Both experiences have been a wild ride of hard work, empowerment, and tremendous satisfaction, but after finishing my third novel at the end of 2016, I decided to set out, once again, on the traditional route. Bluntly, I wanted the experience; it was one I hadn’t had. But after another year of querying, and with time spent at writers’ conferences meeting with and listening to agents, publishers, and writers working on both sides of the publishing divide (one that is more disparate than I even imagined), it came down to this for me:

I want to write the books I’m inspired to write without limitation, without fear, without focus on “what’s trending in the marketplace” or what “impacted conversations” may dissuade others from inviting me in. I want to work with courageous, innovative people who look to nurture and develop good writers, who are willing to take chances, push against resistance, and advance compelling ideas and forward-thinking mission statements. I could either continue on my own, with like-minded collaborators helping me get it done, or, this go-around, I had the option to work with a hybrid publisher who met my criteria and welcomed me in the door. I’m lucky to have that choice: my next book, THE ALCHEMY OF NOISE, will be published by She Writes Press in early 2019, and I’m thrilled to have Brooke Warner and her team in my corner. That, too, will be a new experience.

But which ever way each of our roads turn, however we get to where we’re going, how lovely is it that we do have choices? Auditioning may be a valid option for some; that long, arduous process will likely always have a place in the publishing industry, and I wish well to anyone taking that particular path.

Luckily for us indies, it’s no longer the only path that gets us there.

“The Stage” by Laura Wielo on Unsplash
“You Are Here” by John Baker on Unsplash

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

A LITERARY VACATION Book Blog Profiles My IndieBRAG Awarded Novels

IndieBRAG is a literary organization made up of large groups of readers, both individuals and members of book clubs, located throughout the United States and in ten other countries around the globe. Their mission is to seek out, support, and help market independent authors and their books, and one of the ways they do that is with their BRAG Medallion, an honor bestowed on select books. I’ll let them explain that process:

All ebooks brought to the attention of indieBRAG, LLC are subjected to a rigorous selection process. This entails an initial screening to ensure that the author’s work meets certain minimum standards of quality and content. This initial screening may involve a review of sample chapters available on Amazon.com (or other on-line booksellers), or portions of the nominated ebook. IndieBRAG, LLC reserves the right to reject an ebook during this initial screening assessment for any reason in indieBRAG, LLC’s sole discretion. If it passes this preliminary assessment, it is then read by a selected group of members drawn from our global reader team. In both the initial screening phase and, if appropriate, the subsequent group evaluation phase, each book is judged against a comprehensive list of relevant literary criteria.

I’ve been honored to have both my novels, After the Sucker Punch, and Hysterical Love, awarded the BRAG Medallion, and with that honor came the attention of a popular book blog, A LITERARY VACATION, who’s just posted a profile on my books.

You can find that profile, with links, details and lots of information on both books, right here: Spotlight on the Books of B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Lorraine Devon Wilke

I’m delighted to have my work acknowledged—thank you, Colleen Turner—and I look forward to connecting to new readers!

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Horn-Blowing and Other Necessary Evils of The DIY World

horn blowing

“But enough about me, let’s talk about you… what do YOU think of me?”
— 
Beaches, 1988

I was originally going to title this post: “I Don’t Want To Talk About My Books Anymore!” but figured it might come off as a little whiny. And really, it’s not that I don’t like talking about my books—I LOVE talking about my books—it’s that I get twitchy when I’m the only one doing the talking, flashes of those obnoxious parents endlessly jabbering about their “really cute kids” while everyone smiles tightly and averts their eyes (cannot be one of those!). I’d prefer to talk about my books because other people asked about them; someone else wanted to discuss plot and character, or how to order a dozen or two copies. I’d rather respond to a whole other person tooting that horn than pull out the trumpet myself.

It’s hard out there for a book-pimp.

See, all this self-promotion started when the entire world went DIY some years back, with everyone doing anything and everything for themselves. The trend was seen largely as a positive thing: a democratizing, equalizing, barrier-breaking thing for all those independent people out there with a dream. Writers could put up their own articles, artists and photographers could set up their own blogs to sell their art; businesses and private practitioners could hang shingles in the form of interactive websites, and authors, they self-published. It’s gotten so democratically DIY, I half expect women to start delivering their own babies with headphones and an online tutorial!

And it has been a boon in many ways. The DIY market has allowed countless creators of every industry and medium to move forward without the limitations of picky gatekeepers, elitist corporations, prohibitive budgets, and miserly invitation lists. But where it’s proven challenging is in the wrangling (i.e., affording) of ancillary team-members who typically help creators move, sell, and promote their products. The horn-tooters, trumpet blowers, PR flacks, publicity people. And while there is not one “self-anything” who doesn’t need those people doing those jobs, a big fat contingent can’t afford them.

A full-time publicist for any business typically costs thousands of dollars a month, sometimes many thousands. A big-ticket item. But smaller marketing and promotional campaigns can also run into many hundreds of dollars and must be cyclically and consistently rerun to be effective. Even artists lucky enough to be affiliated with “umbrella” companies that provide some marketing and promotional support will find they’re obligated to implement those efforts on their own time and their own dollar. In other words, no matter where you fall on the “self” spectrum, you’re pulling that horn out of the closet.

And doing my own trumpet-blowing has always made me a little queasy.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a family of eleven children where one had to leap up and down and wave their arms to get any kind of non-generic, “oh, I see you” attention, but I find the “leaping” necessary to self-promotion (particularly in the glutted indie book market) to be oddly demeaning. Instead of your work drawing people to you while you stand there being quietly brilliant, you’re obligated to chase after them like a panting schoolgirl trying to snag the interest of the most popular guy (switch genders as applicable). Beyond that, it sometimes feels too self-focused, too attention-grabbing, too… I dunno… creatively narcissistic. I’d prefer that the work itself, or someone with excellent trumpet skills, speak for me.

But there’s no choice. As indie artists, we not only have to do the job, we have to be indefatigable about finding new and clever ways to get it done. There are thousands of businesses and websites out there tooting their horns in hopes we’ll hire them to help toot ours (sort of a DIY Circle of Life), but the costs can run anywhere from cheap (various “tweet your book” sites, featured pages, book-of-the days sorts of things) to downright expensive (Book Bub, Foreward and Kirkus reviews, online ads), and some, but very few, are free. Often you pay loads of money to set up sales in which you give your books away for free or very cheaply (always an odd oxymoron), and given the “effective marketing = persistent marketing” equation, even the most economical campaigns will add up.

So where do indie creators with limited budgets go? To social media, of course! It’s not only what’s left to them once they’ve tapped-out their budgets, it’s the information highway everyone uses, regardless of product. Which means social media is regularly BOMBARDED with streaming posts from all sorts of people touting the “latest with my fill in the blank (book, band, record, art, store, tour, company, etc.),” and, in some cases, that’s all they ever post. About their book. Their record. Their tour. Their whatever.

We get no other insight from them, no other angle on their personality or point of view; they don’t connect to or comment on other people’s posts, and far too often, their only contribution to the greater conversation is about that _________ they’ve created. Which makes their social interaction akin to turning a coffee shop into a billboard.

So my remedy, since we’ve got to do this horn-blowing thing whether we want to or not, is this: Get involved with other people, share about more than your own creation; “like” posts other people put up, jump in on a thread or two. Be human. Be interested. Be involved. So when you do talk about your whatever, we’re interested because we’re interested in you… and you’ve shown some interest in us. It’s an all-around happy social media thing, as it should be.

And until a scenario involving an enthusiastic horn blower comes my way, know I’ll be doing it for myself on social media too. Graciously, I hope. Forgive me if I ever seem redundant or one-note; if I ask too many times for you to reiterate your wonderful email response in a review at Amazon, or push too hard to get you out to a reading. I’m obligated to honor my work by wearing this hat, blowing this horn, but know I’m trying to be nuanced and selective about the notes. This thing is tricky, but I’ve heard practice makes perfect!

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

UK Author & Blogger E.L. Lindley Reviews AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH

ATSP_new billboard by Brenda Perlin

There is great honor, as an author, in seeing your work strike exactly the right chords, inspire exactly the desired response; even provoke exactly the intended conversations. We each understand that the experience of art and literature is a subjective exercise, but still… when it’s reflected back just as you imagined it in your head… well, that’s golden, isn’t it? 

UK author and blogger, E.L. Lindley, provided one of those shiny, golden moments for me today. She just posted her review of After The Sucker Punch, and I was as touched by her beautiful and articulate analysis of the book as I was her consideration in posting it beyond her blog and all over the social media world. THAT is truly above and beyond, and in a world where indie authors sometimes hear the resounding echo of their solo journey, that kind of support is truly and deeply felt. Thank you, E.L., I’m delighted you enjoyed the book! 

E.L. Lindley
E.L. Lindley

After The Sucker Punch is an aptly named novel because it packs a mighty punch and raises so many questions, I was left literally reeling by the end of it. Lorraine Devon Wilke commands our attention with a splendidly dramatic opening and never lets us off the hook until the very last page.

The novel is essentially the story of Tessa Curzio, who whilst attending her father’s funeral discovers that he kept diaries for fifty years and has used them to record less than complimentary observations about his family and friends. The trauma of the death of a parent combined with the diary findings serve to cast Tessa into a spiral of self-doubt and destruction. The diaries are described as a Pandora’s Box and indeed, once they’ve been opened, the lives of Tessa and her family will never be the same again. In addition to this, the effects of the Pandora’s Box seem to extend to the reader, leaving behind some very thorny philosophical questions.

LDW shrewdly uses the third person narrative to tell her story, which invites the reader to see the bigger picture. We don’t necessarily always agree with Tessa’s version of events, especially where her siblings are concerned. Tessa has a difficult relationship with her older sister Michaela but LDW offers us a glimpse of a woman trying to juggle her life as a wife, mother and teacher, whilst stepping up to her new role as the family designated carer for her newly widowed mother. Whilst Tessa may have little sympathy for Michaela, LDW ensures that the reader does.

Tessa’s relationship with her siblings is for me the heart and soul of the novel and anybody who has siblings will recognise the petty tensions and jealousies but deep visceral love that defines the bonds they share. Tessa to a large extent has removed herself from her family in order to survive and consequently much of the to-ing and fro-ing between them is via a hilarious series of telephone conversations.

LDW offers us the Curzio family and with it the question of whether parents are responsible for their adult children’s misery. Tessa grew up with an unstable mother who is prone to extreme mood swings and a distant, aloof father, who struggled with intimacy. Despite their chaotic childhood, Tessa and all five of her siblings have grown into accomplished, successful people. Ronnie, her younger brother has lost his way but still has the potential for a good life. However, they are mired in their childhood, looking for reasons as to why their parents are like they are. Tessa’s mother bemoans the fact that she feels like a “dartboard” as her children look to blame her for their difficult childhoods.

Tessa’s family dynamics reflect a period of time that will resonate with lots of us who grew up in the 60s the 70s. Children’s needs were not particularly taken into account and as Tessa points out there was “no concept of child abuse.” Her mother freely hits her children in anger and perhaps worse, they are subjected to the fear and anxiety of her constant mood swings. In some ways the fact that her mother has the capacity for great kindness, as when she reassures Tessa she isn’t sinful, makes her relationship with her children even more complex. In her role as a writer, Tessa covers a feature about fathers and daughters and finds herself comparing her own experiences with other more tangible forms of abuse. She comes to the conclusion that pain is subjective and so can’t be comparative – “it’s as deep as you feel it.”

There’s no denying that her father’s written words have a devastating effect on Tessa and cause her much soul searching. As she rails against his words, there is clearly the kernel of fear within her that they might be true. As she is forced to confront her fears, her life implodes around her. The only constant is her friendship with Kate and Ruby even though LDW allows just enough realism to creep into their relationships. Tessa can’t help but feel reassured by Ruby’s marital problems whilst suffused with jealousy at Kate’s seemingly perfect life.

At the crux of the novel is the idea of whether we should be judged by what we write. Leo Curzio’s diary habit is made more toxic by the fact that he wanted his family to read them. The diaries serve as a metaphorical hand grenade tossed into the bosom of his family with the potential to rip lives apart. Tessa’s aunt, who acts as the conscience of the novel, asserts that maybe we should be judged on our actions rather than by what we may write. To all intents and purposes Leo Curzio was a good man, who did his best to give his children the best start in life but, for some bizarre reason felt the need to vent his bitterness and resentment on paper. Which is the more valid Leo is the puzzle that Tessa is left to figure out.

In the end there are no startling revelations or absolute answers, just a sense of peace and the idea of trying to accept people as they are, warts and all. LDW has captured the spirit of family perfectly in that there is no perfect family. Her novel is funny, warm, tense, angry and ultimately shows us that life is to be lived and there’s no point in dwelling on the past.

To visit and stay updated with E.L.’s blog, click HERE. To visit her author page on Amazon, click HERE

ATSP photo art by Brenda Perlin.

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Beyond Genre and Gender Is Good Writing. By Good Authors. Meet Mark Barry

Mark Barry
Mark Barry

Writing is a an enigmatic art form, an alchemy of skill and talent that renders simple words into compelling prose, plot lines that take your breath away; jump-off-the-page dialogue, and characters we’d follow around any corner or shy from in the dark. Books are, quite simply, magic, and despite our cultural predilection to analyze the bejeezus out of anything and everything related to them — self vs. traditional, print vs. ebook; free vs. sensible prices; men vs. women; Amazon vs. everybody — when it really comes down to what we all want, it’s simple: GOOD BOOKS. And good books are, unarguably, written by GOOD WRITERS.

Of course, what makes a book “good” is clearly subjective (just set E.L. James fans on readers of Donna Tartt), but from this reader’s perspective, I don’t give a hoot about the race, creed, color, gender, genre, price point, publishing platform, or social media status of an author; all I want is the alchemy, the magic… the good book. Which is why I want to introduce you to a favorite new author of mine, a fellow who’s writing exactly those books: Mark Barry.

Certainly he’s not new, but I’ve just come upon his work in the last year. Writing fiction that stands out with its wit and originality, Barry, who’s based in Nottingham and Southwell in the UK, has built an impressive library of novels and short stories published through his company, Green Wizard Publishing, stories steeped in his cultural vernacular and sensibilities, biting and wickedly funny. Introduced by a fellow author who felt my own literary sensibilities aligned, I picked up my first of his books, Carla, to be pulled into an alternately tender and shocking story of love between a mentally-ill man and an innocent barmaid, swinging wildly from out-loud laughter to the gut-punch of pain, violence, and heartbreak. Rare to find such humor in so dark a tale… I was hooked.

Next came The Night Porter. A mad piece of fiction that employs Barry’s signature wit and irreverence, his attention to detail is so fine-tuned you’ll feel as though you know that part of England by the time you’re done. The narrative (begging to be made into a Wes Anderson film) covers the angst and antics of a rowdy group of writers gathered for an Academy Award-type event for indie books. With footnotes so rich as to be essential, Barry’s titular night porter finds his regimented life shaken to the core by the eclectic and confounding band of characters who demand his time, allegiance, and attention.

The most recent of Barry’s books I’ve read is Once Upon a Time in the City of Criminals, a bracing urban story that shares some of the aching tenderness of Carla, but goes deeper into the dark, following the trajectory of a tough, smalltime hoodlum who is hired to protect a young escort. With its sharp, brittle edges, its unvarnished glimpse into a violent subculture, it may be a rough read for some, but it’s replete with Barry’s crackling wit and signature mix of humor and pathos, and is, at its heart, a love story.

So now, with three books under my belt, and some correspondence articulating my kudos for his work, it seemed time for some one-on-one with the man himself, an invitation he so graciously accepted:

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So, Mark, what’s the most original, unique, hardcore thing about you as a writer?

Forty years ago, in the era I most venerate, I would have been quite common as a writer, with my admiration for crime books, pulp, gangster fiction, and such. But now, in the indie, PHP (Post Harry Potter) era, I am definitely unique and one-off, certainly in indie, which can be extremely conservative, concentrating on the commercial and the traditional.

I try new things. Three of my books do not use dialogue tags or speech marksUltra Violence, my football novel, is written in second person omniscient. The Night Porter makes use of footnotes. In Carla, the protagonist is a probationer from a mental asylum. No one else is doing this, to my knowledge, and sometimes it pisses people off. I’ve lost readers and, as a tactic, it doesn’t make for massive sales…but it does make for an interesting read!

Nothing disappoints me more than a book that’s identical to the last book I read and the one before that, which is an all-too-common experience for readers. Yes, there are people who like the familiar, but for me that’s beginning to wear thin. No two books of mine are the same.

What compelled you to write Carla, specifically? A real person? A real experience?

After walking into a pub one night, spotting this simply stunning young girl, and realising immediately that I was utterly (and quite rightly) invisible to her, it struck me that I had become old; that part of my life was all over. I remember feeling incredibly saddened by that, and the idea to write a novel about it followed shortly behind: I wanted to write about a mixed-age love affair. I thought about potential plots, came up with one, rejected another. For me, it wasn’t enough to have an everyday chap (like my very good self) as the older male – it simply wasn’t interesting enough and it had been done before.

I did have the experience of having been a psychologist back in the day, and, twenty years ago, I taught criminal psychology. That whole subject fascinates me, and so I had the idea of making the older male a mental patient – potentially (but not necessarily) dangerous – which, bearing in mind that Carla is written from his point of view, is interesting. Then it struck me: what if the girl (Carla) was, in fact, attracted to him and he wasn’t invisible at all?

It all came together from there, a story inspired by a very beautiful, but completely unattainable barmaid (and I never did find out her name, btw!).

The footnotes in The Night Porter, as mentioned above, are almost a character onto themselves. What inspired the decision to use that device, particularly in a novel?

One of my favourite authors is your countryman, David Foster Wallace, who unfortunately – and tragically – passed away late last decade. He was a prodigious user of footnotes which, for a fiction writer, is certainly an innovation. It’s usually in the domain of academia and non-fiction; you don’t often see them in fiction. DFW used footnotes for digressions, explanations, histories, lists, stories-within-stories, and internal monologues, thus keeping the body of the narrative clean, sharp and linear.

I was desperate to try this technique out and so, when the idea for The Night Porter came to me, it seemed the ideal opportunity. I also use footnotes in a wry way. Many indie authors will find their novels listed in one of the footnotes, particularly those who appeared on my interview blog, The Wizard’s Cauldron, and there are three pages of footnotes listing imaginary books from imaginary authors. I loved writing those.

TNP is a satire of publishing and indie at heart, and these footnotes are an ironic joke. Not entirely popular – and they are not available on the e-version (but the paperback is such a beautiful book, why bother with the e-version!). I would do it again and I have not ruled out a return to footnotes in subsequent books.

Violence and crime play a starring role in your work, certainly in your most recent novel, Once Upon a Time in the City of Criminals, yet you somehow always find the heart and humor within the darkness. Talk a bit about that signature mix.

In Criminals, I was keen to crack jokes and sprinkle the book with black humour. My friend, Georgia Rose, herself a mean writer, says that with Criminals, one minute she found herself laughing, the next, crying.

That’s pretty much what I aim for! I started out as a comedy writer (particularly with sketches about relationships) and my first audiences were predominantly female. And yes, while I enjoy a good punch-up in my fiction, I enjoy cracking jokes and, in particular, exploring the complex interactions between men and women, a lot lot more.

Frankly, I’ve been stunned by the ferocity of the violence in certain books — needed a shower after some, to be honest. I believe you have to throw something light into the mix to make it palatable.

If you could change one thing about the independent publishing world, what would it be?

One thing? Ummm. Nope – can’t do it! So let’s get radical: I’d limit the amount of books people can publish on Amazon in one calendar year. I’d completely ban novellas of less than 30,000 words, introduce some form of selection, and I would start a crowdfund to pay for five freelance sales reps to approach bookshops to persuade them to carry Independent paperbacks.

Bookshops: That’s the old/new frontier. The day I get my books in bookshops will be the day I’ve succeeded — it is simply too difficult now for me to continue using the Blog 101-recommended methods of Twitter, Facebook, and Book Bloggers, etc. The market is drenched with books, the review system is extremely dodgy, and everyone, talented or not, is fulfilling their I-Can-Write-Better-Than-That ideations. And fair play to them, but, in a lot of cases, they discover they cannot, yet still publish anyway.

In any case, evidence suggests readers are returning to the shops and that’s where writers need to be.

Lastly, you’re involved in a great literary organization, Brilliant Books; tell us a bit about that.

BB is something my friend, Phil Pidluznyj, and I started a year and a half ago. Funded by the British Big Lottery Fund, we take role models into schools – success stories from industry and commerce, sports and the arts – and get them to address and enthuse reluctant readers (of which there are many). Then, over eight weeks, we encourage the kids to write short stories and we publish the outcomes in an anthology that they keep forever. It’s been a roaring success so far – we even had the British Shadow Chancellor acting as a host. If you’d like to read a bit more about it, I’ve written a post about the group at Ali Levett’s A Woman’s Wisdom book blog.

So, there you have it: a snapshot of the prolific Mr. Barry: a good (excellent) author writing good (excellent) books. Visit his page, enjoy his work, and, frankly, don’t just take my word for it:

In the just-released LA Punk Rocker, an anthology produced by indie firecracker, Brenda Perlin, Barry contributed a short story on Billy Idol. With the book out only one day, the man himself Tweeted a “review” of Barry’s story:

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Testimonials don’t get much better than that!

Photos by permission of Mark Barry.
Tweet image by permission of Brenda Perlin.

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Who Do We Have To _____ To Get a Little Respect Around Here?

Self-pub meme

The cheers of indie authors who’ve FINALLY found outlets for their books — whether Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu, indie bookstores; wherever — can be heard far and wide from every corner of the globe. It’s been loudly exclaimed by everyone in the know that it’s the dawn of a new day for writers everywhere. After years of dismissal and disrespect from traditional publishers and their gatekeepers across every element of the literary landscape — from query letter browbeating, ice-cold rejections, overly possessive editors, and blasé publishers with no marketing budgets — independent authors have now taken control of their destinies and ventured forth, filters, limitations and grumpy gatekeepers be damned.

Good, right?

Yes, in some ways. In others, we indies are still very much the ugly stepsisters to our more vaunted and valued legacy colleagues. Don’t think so? Just today I clicked on the website of a “recommended book blogger” (whose name I will leave out for the sake of decorum) who seemed hell-bent on insulting those self-published writers who’d had the audacity to contact him for reviews. His FAQ page not only went out of its way to discuss how unreadable he found most self-pubbed books, but his hissing condescension about “amateurish” writers incapable of even understanding the word “no” led to a sneering pronouncement that he didn’t want to read, hear about, or otherwise experience the books of said authors and, therefore, please don’t waste his time by contacting him.

Sheesh. The fumes of disdain emanating from his page practically choked me.

And he’s not the only one. Media sources abound with snitty-toned announcements that they DO NOT TAKE SUBMISSIONS FROM SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS (caps are theirs). Review sites that cover legacy authors free-of-charge gouge self-pubbers in the hundreds of dollars. Feature writers who ooze admiration for the latest debut novelist from the Big 5 have actually figured out how to roll their eyes on Twitter over the pathetic shenanigans of indie writers trying to get their attention.

We’re definitely the “not cool” kids on the playground and this persistent — and, in many cases, undeserved — marginalization makes launching an indie book all the more difficult. When the overriding presumption is that your book is — to put it bluntly — a piece of shit (a presumption with which I personally take umbrage), you’re not only starting from zero in the world of marketing and promotion, you’re climbing from less-than-zero.

Fair? No. But let’s face it; we kinda dug our own hole, we self-published writers. Despite the fact that the industry is changing and evolving on a daily basis, with increasing numbers of options and outlets available, and more and more authors — even some from the traditional world — opting to go the self-published route, the rickety stage set early-on was built largely by anxious amateurs eager to define themselves as “authors” before availing themselves of the various elements of true professionalism. There are still far too many self-pubbed books that are amateurishly written, with poorly edited copy and covers that fairly scream “I’m a self-published writer!!!” And, unfortunately, still too many authors who relegate those necessary tasks as negotiable rather than essential — a professional blunder akin to a restaurateur opening a bistro without a qualified chef, a decent waitstaff, or a well-designed room. The resulting customer and industry response (see above) is the sad and subsequent remnant of that miscalculation.

We are all, every one of us, tarnished to some extent by the mistakes of the early (and prevailing) corner-cutters, but those mistakes are, hopefully, being mitigated by the growing number of independent authors who do approach their work, their books, and their presentation with impeccable and unassailable standards. And that growing number (of which I count myself) deserve to NOT be automatically generalized into a category of “subpar” by media, reviewers, bloggers and the like. Just as many traditionally published books (to once again put it bluntly) suck, yes… so do many self-published books. Conversely, just as many traditionally published books are profound and not-to-be-missed works of literary wonder, so, too, are many self-published books.

That the aforementioned blogger and his snarky cohorts refuse to consider that is evidence of literary shortsightedness. Like geezers who discount useful technology as “newfangled” or antiquarians who bemoan penmanship while ignoring heartfelt emails, they’re missing out. Of a gem. A “stunning debut.” A “keenly executed character study.” A really good book.

Their loss. But the unwillingness of the wider media to explore indie authors with the same open-mindedness — and vetting and reviewing protocols — implemented for those traditionally published, is creating a literary ghettoization. And the resulting deficit is felt not only by the writers being dismissed simply by virtue of being self-published, but by readers who have less access to those authors and their work because of that ignorance.

Just as self-published writers are obligated to evolve and demand of themselves the highest levels of professionalism, so, too, must accompanying media evolve away from their myopia and literary bigotry. If they do not, what is being wasted is far more than their time; also lost is the cultural embrace of much talent and many good books being written by courageously independent authors who deserve at least a look.

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.