3 Lessons I Learned from Self-publishing a Debut Novel

ITYOT_Front_Cover_6_Feb_20163Four boulders blocking access to a logging road. Having visited my mother in Connecticut, we were driving through forests of Maine when I saw the four boulders and I thought, now, there’s a place to hide a body. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to tell you this: the month was October and earlier my daughter had lent me No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty. Subtitle: A Low-stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. The book appealed to me because I had written thousands of words comprising the beginnings of three novels. My problem was that my interest and energy fizzled and my books were orphans without proper endings.

You need to know this as well: Chris Baty is the founder of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Each year hundreds of thousands of would-be novelists sign up committing themselves to the task of generating at least 50,000 words and a story with a beginning, middle and an end within the month of November. (In 2014 more than 325,000 people registered, and over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been published.) Successful NaNoWriMo authors don’t start writing before November 1st, and verify a word count of at least 50,000 by November 30th. I had read the Baty’s book and I had gone online and registered with NaNoWriMo. We were driving through the state of Maine and I was stressed. It was the last week of October and I didn’t know what I was going to write about. Didn’t have a clue, until I saw the four boulders. Later we stopped at Wal-Mart in Calais before crossing the border. I sat in the car while Alanna went in and I heard the voice of a character. And then another. I wrote down their words in a memo pad I keep in my shirt pocket. Now I had something with which to begin.

On November 1st I awoke at 5 a.m. got up, made coffee, opened my laptop on the kitchen table and for the next 5 hours I typed. Alanna was very supportive enabling me to free myself of daily commitments, and each day I rose before dawn breakfasting with my keyboard averaging more than 4000 words a day. I was exhausted by noon each day, and I completed my 50,000 plus draft, titled Accidental Accomplice, for lack of a better title, on November 11—a novel in 10 days.

That was 2013. I blogged “A Novel in Ten Days: Bragging Rights & Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo 2013,” https://artsconflicted.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/a-novel-in-ten-days-bragging-rights-lessons-learned-from-nanowrimo-2013/ in which I wrote:

Experience tells me that for every hour of generative writing, I need to spend four in editing. Having drafted my NaNoWriMo novel in ten days, I will let it sleep awhile. And when I pick it up again, I will have to stock up on coffee beans and wood for the stove and be prepared to retreat into its wilderness for forty days.

That’s a laugh. The novel slept in the proverbial desk drawer for a year, then, in 2015 I started to edit. By no means a 40 day job, it’s taken more than a year. This was the real work. The characters cried out for development, the timeline was tangled and confused and typographical errors and inconsistencies needed to be rooted out. I hired editors and invited the members of my writers’ group to read the manuscript.

Here are the lessons learned from editing a NaNoWriMo novel.


# 1. The draft was written using a word processor. I saved each day’s work with different file names. When I began to edit, I pulled all the smaller files into one large file that I found difficult to work with it, especially since my time line was complicated. I purchased Scrivener, a product that enhanced my productivity substantially. For a free trial try https://www.literatureandlatte.com/ The Scrivener folks write on their web page:

Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.

I found that to be true. It enabled me to break up my smaller files into manageable scenes and to manipulate and move them so as to straighten out my time-lines. Furthermore I could make notations about scene. I had tried other products, but Scrivener, while not perfect, carries my endorsement.

Later, I decided to layout my novel myself. Scrivener was no help here, and although I knew I could do the job with Word, I opted for Adobe’s InDesign. (http://www.adobe.com/products/indesign.html) Self-publishing a novel is a three step procedure: generating the draft, editing the draft, and laying out the finished product. My experience informs me that there is no software that adequately meets all the start-to-finish needs.

# 2. The editors I hired read my manuscript three times, each with a different focus. They raised a multiplicity of questions. What helped them, and me, was the development of a personal style sheet. The style sheet answered questions such as: Was I going to use American or Canadian spellings? How do I treat the titles of songs, movies, and pieces of art? There is more than one school of comma placement. Which did I belong to? Where should I use em dashes and where should I use ellipses? The answers to these questions enabled me to be consistent and enabled the editors to move on to more weightier recommendations. The personal style sheet put us all on the same page.

# 3. I’ll Tell You One Thing’s timeline was a particular challenge and while Scrivener helped me to sort it out, I needed another timeline document. I used Wendy Clark’s spreadsheet template (http://wendyswritingnow.blogspot.ca/2012/12/wendys-story-timeline-here-it-is.html) and eventually I used MSWord to date-stamp scenes and events. Like the personal style sheet, this document helped me as much as it helped my editors.

#4 I uploaded the pdf generated by InDesign to Createspace (owned by Amazon) on March 1st. I’d like to say there is another lesson learned here, but I can’t put that in past tense. I’m still learning about this aspect of marketing and distribution. One thing I can say is that while I had hoped to print the book in Canada, Amazon produces the books in the US and shipping costs to Canada need to be considered. Perhaps there will be another blog posting about it.

Something Will Occur: The Collected Poetry of Claire Vreeland

My mother, Claire Vreeland, came to poetry late in life, thanks to a woman she met while visiting my family on Prince Edward Island. That woman was Doris McKay of Vernon Bridge, an artist, teacher and Baha’i, and their meeting was a life-changing, mystical and magical experience for Claire who was then a journalist working in Connecticut.  Not so unusual as it sounds; a visit with Doris was a mystical, life-changing experience for many, and it was an experience my wife and and I wanted to give to Mom. We thought that Doris would get a kick out of it as well, and so we engineered it. In our minds, we’d take Mom there, and leave her. We knew from our own hours with Doris, that once their conversation began to flow, they wouldn’t want it to end, and it would continue late into the night and into the first light of dawn. After a nap, it would pick up again, and so it did.  We drove Mom down to Vernon Bridge and retrieved her the following afternoon.

In her latter years, Mom planned a couple of books, one of which was titled Something Will Occur. She had written her dedication to Doris McKay, as well as an introductory article “Doors of Perception,” describing that time in Vernon Bridge. In it she wrote:

For many of the visitors, most of them probably were already Bahá’ís, the visit was always a bountiful feast or a wondrous deepening that kept them talking in the muted lamplight until the wee hours of early morning. For others, the entire experience was an overwhelming revelation. None left her presence untouched and much they learned there reverberated throughout their lifetimes, prompting them to greater efforts and attainment.

Doris was never satisfied with superficial conversation. She became impatient with excessive social niceties. With Doris, you plunged right in to the very essence of reality. You became recklessly yourself at your worst and Doris would be just delighted with you because she saw you whole. She saw what it was that you could not see or know about yourself. She opened your fountain of creativity until more and more of the good and shining things began to bubble up. You and she became jolly conspirators in finding out who you really were. You would leave feeling lighthearted and free, full of life and energy. And then you would want to take those you loved for a visit to this legendary woman.

At my very first visit to Doris, when I read to her some of the story I had written about Horace Holley, she told me I wrote poetically. This was disturbing news to the print journalist I was at the time. But she insisted that I was a poet. She told me about the Fibonacci sequence of numbers that appeared in nature, in the staggered number of leaves in plants, in the whorls of the chambered nautilus, that appeared again and again in the scores of great music, in the rhythm of good poetry. Much later I was to learn more about the mathematics of Fibonacci and about poetry and creative process… and also what it is to become a Bahá’í. mckay-fires-many-hearts

She wrote her very first poem “The Yellow House” about that visit, and she continued to write poetry, finding publication in US journals and winning a few awards along the way. She later encouraged other writers through the life writing courses she taught at the local community college and through the writers’ groups she mentored.

Describing the visit, Claire said that she had read to Doris some of her writing about Horace Holley. Holley (1987—1960) was born in Torrington, Connecticut, the town where Claire worked for the Register/Citizen newspaper. She spent hours researching the man who had become a prominent contributor to the development of the Baha’i Faith in America, and who had later been appointed to a select group to oversee the propagation and protection of the Faith on an international level. They were called Hands of the Cause of God. Claire’s work on a Holley biography did no see fruition while she was alive, and fortunately her work has been taken up by Kathryn Jewett Hogenson, a skilled researcher and talented writer, author of Lighting the Western Sky: The Hearst Pilgrimage and the Establishment of the Baha’i Faith in the West (George Ronald, 2011)   Perhaps this will be Claire’s most significant legacy. Time will tell.

In the meantime, I have compiled, edited and published in limited quantity Something Will Occur: The Collected Poetry of Claire Vreeland.  The book includes a few of the poems she wrote about Prince Edward Island. (Her earlier prose about the Island appeared in her weekly newspaper columns, and one of her first articles, “Second Best Place on the Island—The Dump with a Guest Book” was included in the History of Baltic Lot 18.) I don’t expect the book to be a wildly successful commercial venture here. Most of the copies will be distributed in Connecticut and Florida to friends, relatives, and to the libraries she frequented. If libraries issued gold cards, Claire would have had several. 

Compiling these poems has been a journey for me. I was surprised at the number of poems she had written. Surprised as well at some of their content. My journey has also been one of grieving and remembrance. I an earlier posting I had written about Winsted, the town where I grew up. I wrote about moving Mom to Florida and having no reason to go back to Connecticut. That post https://artsconflicted.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/no-reason-to-go-back/#more-266 was also about grieving and remembrance. Losing my father, then the geography of my childhood, and now my mother, I see the gradual erosion. The losses comprise a familial cultural heritage, and I’m further surprised to experience them as something much more than I had expected.  Putting this book together has been an attempt to put those losses at rest. Only an attempt. I hope it is more successful as a tribute to her, and to the love I have for her.

Doris McKay’s autobiography Fires in Many Hearts is available from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Fires-Many-Hearts-Doris-McKay/dp/1895456037

Lighting the Western Sky can be purchased from Amazon as well: http://www.amazon.com/Lighting-Western-Sky-Pilgrimage-Establishment/dp/085398543X

And, as of this writing, copies of Something Will Occur (166 pages) are available from me (paul.vreeland.ca@gmail.com) for $29.95 CDN including shipping. 

Eldon George: “Yes, that was back in ‘68.”

Eldon George telling the story

Eldon Tells the Story — Photo by Ahchee Hsu

Eldon George was honoured at a celebration hosted for him at the Fundy Geological Museum last Sunday (Nov. 15.) Feeling an it’s-about-time gratitude, I wish I could have attended.  The Parrsboro Rock Shop Project announced:

The Cumberland Geological Society, operators of the Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia (Canada), are pleased to announce plans to establish a permanent exhibit featuring the Parrsboro Rock and Mineral Shop and accomplishments of Eldon George.


I wrote the following several years ago after yet another visit to Parrsboro, and I’d like to offer it as a tribute to Eldon. But let us not forget the contributions of amateur collector Don “Keeper of the Cliffs” Reid who opened his private centre in Joggins long before the Joggins Fossil Cliffs Interpretive Centre was completed in 2008. Nor should we forget the contributions of Sonja Wood and Chris Mansky who gave the public access to their collection at the Blue Beach Fossil Museum near Avonport, Nova Scotia.

I’m grateful to the Fundy Geological Museum and to its current curator Dr. Tim Fedak, because for some time I’ve heard the academic geologists dismiss the likes of Eldon George, Don Reid, Wood and Mansky—people for whom the word “amateur” is a misnomer. These people are serious, dedicated and knowledgeable. They’re people whose passion and talent for sharing the treasures of Fundy with an appreciative public put them in the vanguard. They’re the people who put Parrsboro, Joggins, and Blue Beach on our maps.


Continue reading

Can you identify the mystery poet?

Here’s another poem from “Sad Songs from Hush River” available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/471447 offered in recognition of National Poetry Month. I wrote “On the Morn of Your Eulogy” as an exercise using another poem as a prompt.  My poem follows the structure of the original, including that of the title which is something like “On the Eve of Your Departure.”  Alas, I cannot relocate the inspiration and I am unable to credit the writer. Can you help? Do you know who the author and the poem might have been?  Suggestions appreciated.

Tell me you weren’t cracking up,

You had but the one suckling child

and you still held an artist’s brush with confidence

even hope.


I promised you by your tired eyes that you were a well-tempered palette.

You promised me by your tired eyes that you were a well-tempered palette.

And all the planets promised both of us by your tired eyes that you still

perceived the colors of truth completely


Who could not go on living?


My pen will be glad to have been a record,

The brush to have been your lover,

I to have been blessed to touch the hem of your dress

in the quiet of evening.


The scout has lost his compass,

The sailor his anchor,

And I — I feel my mind eroding–ragged holes exposing a stormy sky,

That my time too is ticking down

That your daughter is more than a daughter, and the sun is more than a sun.


What is the word for tomorrow?

Going to Timmy’s with You


(after “Having a Coke with You” by Frank O’Hara)

Going to Tim Hortons with you is better than a drive to Borden, New London, Hunter River, even Ebbsfleet, especially in winter when the roads are drifting in and the RCMP are advising “motorists” -– a word left over from an era when a man wearing a fedora needed an “operator” to complete a call to the woman he thought was his lover—she wore red shoes, but we didn’t know that because all we see of her is in calculated film noir shadows, but wanting a simile, I’ll say the word is left over like cold pizza from the night before.

Coffee with you is better, here in town at a Tim Hortons that both of us could walk to, if we had to, We push the steel and glass door, find shelter from the wind and snow, find warmth, and the only mumble is among three young kids behind the counter, indistinguishable, not that we’re paying any attention, but we feel their infectious camaraderie, or is it the richness of their energy that animates them and becomes us.

And what could be better than an idea growing between us as we stare at the table top remembering the heft the old white porcelain mugs, familiar as cliché. We talk of social media and A-D-D growing in a Petri dish. Your expression, not mine.

What could be better than a bottomless cup and a clock with no meaning, a to-do list left somewhere I don’t know–I’ve looked in my pockets, my wallet–and I wish I had it so that I could check it at the door like a backpack carried into Wal-Mart, or a cashmere coat removed in another film noir and delivered to an officious man at the theatre who hands me a ticket with the number 72 on it. I think of other lists, one once important that fell into the snow and the ink bloomed like a watercolour wash over lettering that tried so hard to be a new language, transcendent and Zen-like as I held it up, lines of calligraphy vertical, the words sliding off like drops of snow-melt that will appear next month, or the month after, on the branches of the would-be forsythia in your back yard.

Time disappears except for that nagging thought vandalizing the back room where I store things like the car keys, sleeping bags, and the notion that I should go to Cornwall for a haircut. But not today. I forgive myself without telling you, because I want you to believe that there is nothing better than being here with you, or so I tell myself as you begin to speak of depression and a change in meds, and it occurs to me that I dropped the once important list that blossomed earlier this morning, and that with an effort I’m not prepared to give, I could reconstitute it. Almost.

What would it be like to look into your eyes without guilt?

What would it be like to see you clearly and to know in that moment of visual penetration, my own clean nakedness, beautiful and soulful, stainless with no implications of dysfunctional sexuality and no hint of that vocal crescendo that is Elvis’s doing it “my way”, or Rufus Wainwright doing it his way, with Cigarettes and Chocolate, but more like Gershwin’s piano concerto in f, the intensity of which is so, so American. In a good way.

And I ask myself, what can you see through a Thorazine glass darkly? Oh that you could dance the dance of Salome, toss down the veils and emerge through all that fog that hangs heavy in the valleys of your discontent. Would you see any sunlight in my eyes?

When you belittle the well-intentioned but ignorant and ineffective efforts of Nameless, our mutual friend, I find myself uncomfortable, feeling the hardness of franchise furniture–when you say, “Why couldn’t she have … I realize that Little League baseball is better, especially in July, in a small town in Massachusetts like Boxborough or Hubbardston, metal bleachers, sparsely populated by eager fathers. The green of the grass is better. The red dust on Zoey’s uniform is better. After he slides into second and wipes his hands on his pants. And it doesn’t matter who wins, even though I’m aware of the cawing of the crows in the background, but apparently it does matter to the punk dad who stands up and yells at the ump, “Take your head out of your ass, asshole. You would have seen that Carl tagged him good. Zoey’s out for Chrissakes.” I want to ask the punk dad just how do you take your head out of your ass when you’re an asshole, but I don’t.

I surface and hear the remnant of the continued complaint, “Why can’t they give her another job, something else to do where she can’t screw up as much … I turn my focus to the couple behind you, sitting in the corner—the middle-aged man and woman who walked in twenty minutes after we did. I know you didn’t notice. I try to imagine their home life, their story.  I see them losing a daughter, and that’s why they don’t care what others think of the way they dress. They’re as comfortable in their attitude as war veterans who join biker clubs. If only I could make you as comfortable in your own skin, say the magic word that would take down that totem print of ‘The Scream’ that hangs over your broken couch, and replace it with a window overlooking the Aegean, which is a far more profound and dramatic act than finding a word that fits more smoothly than “motorists”—a word fluid with soft consonants like ells.

Going to Timmy’s with you is better than writing a poem with the word “motorists” in it, which is why I want to acknowledge this moment, one more occasion of our connect/disconnect, you speaking in the past tense, and me writing, in my mind, in the present tense, and wanting ever so much to believe that my love for you has not diminished.


Excerpt from Sad Songs from Hush River. In appreciation of National Poetry Month, this and twenty other poems are available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/471447Sad Songs from Hush River

A special award of appreciation to the first readers to write reviews (can be short blurbs) of the book of poetry on the smashwords site.

Sad Songs from Hush River




Amblyopia, copyright 2015 Paul Vreeland — Undistorted, unaltered and usable home eye test charts for children are available at http://www.eyecareamerica.org.

Autumn cool, edge of ice on the playground puddles

we line up, first grade boys,

the girls on the other side,

waiting the morning bell the big double

doors to open to the red brick school.

Squinting into the light

I am “four-eyes” clumsy

heavy lenses in clear-plastic frames,

an opaque patch

remedial over one eye

so to teach the other one.

A fifth grader, older, bigger,

unconcerned about laws of the line,

comes up to me threatening in his presence.

Behind him, a flamboyant maple

gives up a few more of its crimson leaves,

drops them down

to the collection-in-progress at its roots.

He hawks and blow-guns a thick glob of spit

onto my face, my glasses,

the one clear lens and the opaque patch.

Helpless, I wish a barren wish

for a parent, an adult, a bigger friend

someone to make me clean again,

I remove my glasses, feel the glooey slime

in my fingers,

wipe them on my pants,

and know myself dirty the rest of the day.

Having made his introduction, he seeks me out

on other mornings, asks for my money

and I acquiesce

all my pennies,

even three nickels

sometimes a dime.

Days pass, the maple gives up being flamboyant

and I forget.

until he reappears

I stumble over my discomfort,

like stumbling over the pronunciation of a word

like “sharing” the meaning of which I’m now unsure,

something I thought I had learned.

I choose another, smaller boy;

go to him and ask, “What money do you have?”

No threat, I’m just bigger with a question.

He hands it over like he’s lost a game

and so on other days, I do it again.

One Saturday his mother comes to visit mine.

It has to be her ‘cause I recognize the boy in tow.

I am on the dead grass of the front lawn

watch them coming down the street.

She with an expression of determination and something more,

approaches, and with a wordless glance,

teaches me the feel of shame

before I understand

the reason for it.

My mother greets them at the door

they enter and I am summoned.

Why did I do it? they ask.

So I tell them of the older boy.

And in the telling I learn the feel of another word

long before the spelling.

Then it stops; the other boy no longer seeks me out

all the leaves are gone, we’re in winter jackets now

the skies flat November grey,

a dull-matte diffusion of light,

like heaven might appear

through the patch I am supposed to wear

remedial over one eye

so to teach the other.


Excerpt from Sad Songs from Hush River. In appreciation of National Poetry Month, this and twenty other poems are available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/471447

A special award of appreciation to the first readers to write reviews (can be short blurbs) of the book of poetry on the smashwords site.

“And that’s why my grandmother’s legs are hanging on the wall.”

Walter Everett Burt the Barber

December 2014 – January 2015, our third trip to Victoria State, Australia, my second visit to Walter, the barber. Walter Everett Burt has the Brown Hill Barber Shop on Hummfray Street in Ballarat. The shop was full of waiting customers, all seats taken, late one morning when my son, son-in-law and I dropped by. One of us had to stand. But not for long. A haircut needn’t be a complicated affair, and each of the gents ahead of us was in the chair and out in matter of ten minutes or so.

Walter’s shop is well decorated. Lots of signage, most of it license plates from Australia to Alaska and points in between, but none from Prince Edward Island. The first time we visited, I noticed that Walter had quite a collection from New Hampshire, and that’s when he told me us of his North American connections. His mother was from New Hampshire and his father from Nova Scotia, from places we knew. Picking up the conversation again this year, he mentioned that one of his regulars was originally from Musquodoboit, a small village near Halifax, Nova Scotia. Being able to pronounce the name of the village is half the proof needed to talk about it with some credibility.  A few minutes later, the man from Musquodoboit walked in.  Happy coincidence?

Eventually we got to the story of the legs on the wall.  “They were my grandmothers,” he said. “She was in the kitchen, and my grandfather had an accident and cut them off.” That was the short version otherwise known as bait. Who could leave it at that? We wanted to hear more.

“Well, they were getting pretty low on food, and grandpa said she had a good lookin’ shank.” We had a little laugh. Walter was teasing us and then he spoke more seriously. (You can see the legs above the swinging doors and the ‘Waikiki Beach’ sign.)grandmothers_legs

“He was a sawyer,” he said. “He had a saw mill by the house. That’s how my grandfather made his living. One day she came out to tell him that dinner was on the table, that he should come in and wash up. She goes back and then somehow the eight foot saw got away from him; you know, big round blade. It got loose and came off the mount and tore into the house. It ripped through the kitchen, cut her legs off halfway up her chest, cut through the next room and came out the front of the house.”

“My father was five years old at the time, his brother two. He had an older sister, and grandfather asked her to run to the neighbours which must have been two miles away,  and have them bring their car around. There weren’t too many cars in those days. In time the neighbour came and grandad picks my grandmother up and puts her in the front seat. Then he throws her cut-off legs in the back seat, and off they drive to the nearest hospital which was down in Exeter. There was a new bridge, and my grandfather said he was the first car to cross it. He was going so fast the police caught up with him and stopped him. When they looked in the car and saw my grandmother all bloody like that, and her legs in the back, they let him go.”

“Back in those days they didn’t do much. Just tied off the stumps. They threw her legs in the hospital incinerator. Granmother said she could feel her legs burning. She swore she could feel her toes, and the flesh burning.  When she was eighty, the doctors said they could do something. But by then, she said, ‘I’ve put up with it for this long.’ Those legs on the wall, that’s what she got by on.”

Now, a license plate from Prince Edward Island, we need to work on that and get one to Walter.