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.

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# 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.

Can you identify the mystery poet?

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

Timmys

(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

Amblyopia

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.

Sad_Songs_Capital_B

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.

Painting with Light and the Metaphysical Reality of Literary Photography

World Unity Still LifeUncle Wiggily & World Unity – copyright 2012 – Paul Vreeland

The members of the Carry On Gang, one of the writers’ groups I participate in, recently put their heads down for an exercise of list-making. One lists of the 12 most terrifying or dangerous words, another of the most beautiful words, and a third of the most annoying words. “Reality” was at the top of my most annoying word list along with “real” and “really”– a list of words that I find so overused as to render them meaningless – a list that includes “nice”, “cute”, and “perfect” (as it is so commonly offered by waiters, waitresses and retailers and nearly everyone who wants to pass judgment on my choices). But now I’ve done it. The word “reality” is up there in the title of this post. Tell me it’s not perfect.

The photo above (Uncle Wiggily & World Unity) was taken in the dark. Inspired by the excellent tutorials by Dave Black offered at Kelby Training (http://kelbytraining.com/course/dblack_lightpaint/), I set my camera on a tripod, hung a black cloth over the window, and turned out the lights. I opened the shutter for about 30 seconds, and with a small flashlight, I “painted” the objects with light.  Dave made it look so easy, and his sets were much more complicated than mine. I took twenty, thirty shots before I had a glimpse of satisfaction.

For those of you who read my last post, “Listening to the voice that call, “Come back. I’m not finished with you yet,” – those of you who remember that I promised a shot of the Wright’s Creek foliage, it’s coming up. No. This time it’s not a tease. Keep reading.

It didn’t occur to me that “painting with light” was a theme of the past several weeks until I stumbled upon the breathtaking work of Irene Kung (www.irenekung.com), a Swiss photographer living in Milan, Italy. Check out this short video about her: http://youtu.be/YSFmKxSArgc Irene Kung’s work is a far cry from my still life experiments, and her images will stay with me for some time. They’re worth a study. How I wish that she would offer a tutorial. Sigh.

But what does painting with light have to do with writing and literature?

Enter Mary Ellen. She’s a rather insistent journalism student, a character in my slowly emerging and as yet unfinished novel. Recently she told me to read The Making of a Quagmire, David Halberstam’s account of reporting from Vietnam in the early 60s. Now Mary Ellen says that I’m to read In Cold Blood. She knows that I’ve seen the movie (1967), but that I haven’t read the book. Truman Capote’s ego hails the book as the first “nonfiction novel”, a literary feat opening up a new genre of literature, better known today as creative nonfiction. Interested in the thin line separating creative nonfiction from journalism, Mary Ellen wonders what would have happened if The New York Times had sent Capote to Vietnam and had asked Halberstam to cover the murder of the Clutter family in the sleepy plains village of Holcomb, Kansas.

Literary photography?

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Listening to the voice that calls, “Come back. I’m not through with you yet.”

Solitary in Fog II

Amble Towards Epiphany – copyright 2012 — Paul Vreeland

“I know something is there. I just haven’t found it yet,” he explained. I was watching a video of a talk given by Scott Kelby at a photographer’s conference hosted by Google+.  Kelby, the author of several how-to books, and host of www.kelbytraining.com, is a well-known name in the world of digital photography. The title of his talk is “Crush the Composition” and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the art. Crush_Composition

Click here to watch the hour-long “Crush the Composition” Youtube video

Scott was talking about “working the scene”. “Try this, try that. Create a shot list. Shoot wide, shoot tight. If something makes you stop, there is something there. Your job as a photographer is to find it.” He was offering another stop-and-think-about-what-you’re-doing slow movement dictum. “It’s our nature to want to go on to the next thing—shoot the next shot. Once you’ve done a lot of shooting, stop, sit down, look at the back of your camera and start going through your shoots. Make sure you’ve shot it every way possible.”

Every morning on the way to work, I pass Andrew’s Pond and Wright’s Bridge. The transformation wrought by the change of season on the foliage overhanging the water was remarkable this year. For several mornings I drove by, glancing over my shoulder at the crimsons and oranges bowing towards the dark water. Each time I drove by I knew the foliage would diminish both in intensity and in mass. I knew the lighting would change. I knew that if I continued my habit of getting to my desk as quickly as possible and diving into my comfortable routine, I would miss the shot, whatever that shot was. I stopped and I shot. On three consecutive mornings I stopped and I shot. Are you expecting to see the results? Keep reading.

Sometime during the past year, or maybe two, Alanna and I watched a film set in the middle east. A foreign movie with English subtitles, the plot had something to do with a two men making a road journey across a hot hard-scrabble and treeless terrain. I’m sorry, I can’t remember the reason for the journey, or the title of the film, but what I do remember is one scene in which the driver of the dusty white automobile, who happens to be a photographer, is taken by the beauty of the landscape. There is something that he sees that makes him stop. Scott Kelby would have told him, “There is something here. Your job is take your camera and find it.” We watch as the driver looks out the car window assessing the view, knowing that he will never return to this locale. His partner senses that the photographer’s talent has been tempted and he asks, “ Do you want to take a picture?” It is a moment of decision—a moment with little in the way of dialogue, and much in the depiction of self-betrayal. The photographer doesn’t get out of the car. He doesn’t take up his camera, and he doesn’t honour what his eyes have been blessed to see. He puts the car in gear and drives on. (If you know the name of the film is, please leave a comment.)

Perhaps the image of the landscape will haunt him for some time. If he retains the image, even if it is confined to his imagination, isn’t that enough, you ask. At least he has that.

Would it have been enough for Michaelangelo to “know” that his David(1501—1504) was confined to a giant block of Carrara marble—a block that had first been worked on by Agostino di Duccio and later by Antonio Rossellino, and then neglected for twenty-five years? Michaelangelo is reputed to have said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” – a statement that echoes Kelby’s suggestion that when he is attracted to a scene, “I know something is there. I just haven’t found it yet.”

The character in the Middle-Eastern road trip film is not a great photographer. He wasn’t as well-know a talent as Michaelangelo was a Renaissance master. But I don’t believe that this matters. The question is this: what of the writer who doesn’t apply his pen? What of the photographer who doesn’t use his camera? While we and millions of others have benefitted from Michaelangelo’s talent, isn’t it also true that Michaelangelo—something of what he discovered about himself as an artist, and as a human–was imprisoned in the stone until he brought forth his David. Maybe, for a writer, it’s not so much about the event of publication, as it is creative process of discovering who it is that is writing, who it is that is self, mirroring glimpses of the divine. Maybe, for the photographer . . .

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You Can’t Hurry Love: A Justification for Slow Writing

Luminous Crossing-2

The crossing of luminous souls – Paul Vreeland copyright 2012

If Blog posts are quick, gut responses, the “Slow Scholarship” alternative, the “Slow Blog” or “Slog” involves the posting on the web of short, thoughtful essays that have been carefully thought through. Typically they will not be posted more than a few times a year. ~ from the “Slow Scholarship: A Manifesto”.

http://web.uvic.ca/~hist66/slowScholarship/

In allowing the thoughts that I expressed last month to percolate, and in pursuing the paths they opened up to me, I recently read In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré. When I read his chapter on “Leisure: The Importance of Being at Rest” I wanted to take up knitting. If I did, maybe I’d finish my novel. Honoré cites Bernadette Murphy who claims, “It’s a wonderful cure for writer’s block.”

While there are many facets to the slow movement—slow food, slow sex—a few hold a particular interest to me as a writer. Surely you will not be surprised when I say that slow reading is one of them. Patrick Kingsley writing for The Guardian (Manchester, UK, not Charlottetown PEI) picks up where Nicholas Carr left off.(See last month’s blog “The Dreaded ‘D’ Word: or Why the Internet is not to blame for my Unfinished novel” for a link to Carr’s article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid.) Kingsley opens his feature “The Art of Slow Reading” with:

Is it time to slow our reading down? If you’re reading this article in print, chances are you’ll only get through half of what I’ve written. And if you’re reading this online, you might not even finish a fifth. At least, those are the two verdicts from a pair of recent research projects – respectively, the Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack survey, and analysis by Jakob Nielsen – which both suggest that many of us no longer have the concentration to read articles through to their conclusion.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jul/15/slow-reading

While it may be obvious to you, I need to beg the question: just what is meant by “slow reading”?

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