You Again

Shelter from the Storm at the Travelling Book Café

My Travelling Book Café sailed across Georgia Strait to Victoria during an uncommon monsoon in that relatively dry city in the rain shadow of Washington's Olympic Mountains. No matter, the hostess, Paisley Aiken, founder of the Story Studio Writing Society, had chosen the cozy back room of the Penny Farthing Pub,  a perfect venue: warm, quiet enough to talk and listen, and with yellow light from the wall sconces almost bright enough to read by (a cell phone flashlight aimed at my page by a board member helped things along). The Story Studio is a non-profit dedicated to helping kids and teens improve their literacy by writing their own stories, and most of the Book Café participants were board members or Story Studio interns. As it has with other groups, the theme of identity that is central to my novel You Again,
Cover art by Steve Harlow
proved to be an incisive tool for opening the vault of feelings and stories about personal identity and how it is formed in families. This group of intelligent, mostly 30-something women first focussed on family position. Does the middle child always fit the role of appeaser? Is the youngest always the most spoiled? Who is/was the most influential, mom, dad, big brother? One woman, a self-described former cell phone writer (a technical writer who worked for a cell phone company and claimed credit for having actually written, among other words everyone scrolls by, the word "Exit") is the oldest of six siblings, someone her mother thought of and called "my right arm." While it sounds flattering, it meant that her mother relied on her oldest daughter for heavy house chores from the time she was six. Getting out from under "the arm" of this strong parent has been a lifelong challenge and something the speaker has been doing by identifying with work.

No doubt the parts I read from You Again spurred the discussion. I regularly choose a paragraph in which Lawreen, the oldest sister, discovers that she has based her self-worth on her relationship with her actress daughter. In a longer section, Annette, the middle child, ruminates on how it was to grow up with a single mother, how she felt the odd one out until she left her mother's house as a teenager and joined her father on his goat farm in Northern California. Later in the book, the youngest sister Elfie's sense of herself expands when she learns that her true father may be a pianist. Family position and parental recognition have come up at every Travelling Book Café, but as rain continued to pelt the leaded glass windows and the conversation rolled later into the evening, we started talking about how it often takes getting away, travelling, to discover who one is, and that reminded me of the First Nations tradition of a vision quest, which young people undertake in some cultures as a way of coming to learn their life's purpose. Paisley, The Story Studio founder, for example, travelled and worked with at risk youth in the Caribbean before she became interested in publishing and worked as a book publicist. Now she combines her teaching chops with literary pursuits.

The importance of place to self-definition also came up. This group included people from far off Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island, New York City, Colorado and they agreed that their places of origin seemed to have become more important to their identity after they left.  The same woman who had travelled to two dozen countries, often as part of her duties with the Lonely Planet Travel Guide, summarized the conversation by saying, "I think we all feel like black sheep."

The Travelling Book Café has turned out to be a kind of pre-book club, with small groups and a genuine opportunity to connect with potential readers. Many of them leave with a copy of You Again, and leave me envisioning a web of human lives connected by experience, stories.

How do YOU see it?

Point of view is one of the most challenging and exciting (exciting in the way that sitting at your desk alone can be exciting, something non-writers might not appreciate) tools a writer has to work with, and two recent reads demonstrated very clever use of it.

One novel, Seven Types of Ambiguity, was passed on by a friend and the other I picked up in the airport, for distraction. Of the latter, I was familiar only with the title, Gone Girl. It either already has been or soon will be made into a movie. The former was published almost ten years ago, in Australia, might be twice the size, and instead of working with two points of view, that of a husband and wife  - as Gillian Flynn does in her psychological thriller - Elliot Perlman, whose more slowly-paced work is a literary psychological thriller, juggles seven perspectives: a psychiatrist, his sensitive and possibly dangerous patient, the patient's ex-girlfriend, the patient's ex-girlfriend's husband, the prostitute girl-friend of the patient,  a stock analyst, Mitch, and, finally, the psychiatrist's daughter.

Point of view is a central consideration when I begin any work. My last novel, You Again, which is not a psychological thriller, uses the standpoints of a mother, three daughters and a grandson to complete the family saga that began with Shinny's Girls. I also played with point of view in a non-fiction book, The Private Eye: Observing Snow Geese, because I wanted to deliberately explore how a given reality, in that case, the race of snow geese that annually migrate from Wrangel Island in Alaska to the coast of Washington and British Columbia, is constructed by the subjectivity of the humans that interact with it. It's fun to think about such things and writing is a good way to explore thoughts.

In their novels, Perlman and Flynn in effect ask the reader, what's really happening here, how do YOU see it? Of course both situations are  invented, the case of the kidnapped wife and the kidnapped boy, neither of them really kidnapped as it turns out. And the books have different ambitions. Flynn is crafty, never failing to entertain the reader with a twist, a sharp phrase, an insight that feels piercingly honest. Yet, by the end, I felt victimized by so much contrivance, such A-plus student wizardry. As the chapters became shorter and the characters almost seemed to meld - and I got it, her obvious purpose - it felt as if my neck were sore from being yanked this way and that for so many pages. Good distracting plane reading, though. She's a smart writer, and an excellent plotter, and knows how to keep her readers guessing.

Nevertheless, I preferred Perlman's more thoughtful use of point of view, how the first person narratives not only revealed the narrators, but also shed surprising, sometimes harsh, sometimes beneficent light on the other characters. Through this large, compelling novel, my sense of the situation expanded like intricate paper puzzles do. Trying to understand the bit of human life he presented by viewing it from various angles reinforced the difficulty of sorting through the complexity of the human predicament. As well as being an imaginative literary take on the story, Perlman's multiple point of view approach had a broader, thematic purpose, which, from my vantage point, was ultimately more intriguing and satisfying. Not that he achieved a perfect novel. Both he and Flynn chose their characters to represent or critique certain contemporary social issues, and the Aussie occasionally got carried away setting those up. Still, in the words of Samuel Beckett, "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." That's how I see it, too.

Who do we think we are?

It was no surprise that the discussion at The Travelling Book Café in Quebec wound round to language and how it affects our identities. Language enters conversations at every level here, and it is more complex than the simple divide between those who speak English and those who speak French. In this group of Anglophones, the majority of whom have lived in Quebec for decades, there were a few who claimed to be comfortable as minorities in this French-first province, but others still feel like outsiders. The sense of who they are has changed: since the society around them identifies them as Anglos, they have to consider what that implies, something that did not come up before they moved from Wisconsin or Saskatchewan, Poland, Maryland, Ontario.

As for French, having recently returned from the mother country that gave Quebec its langue maternelle, having learned that many of the first arrivals from France in the 1600's did not even speak French, but one of the regional languages of France at that time, such as Breton, Oc or Gallo, I saw how the French that has developed in Quebec could have been influenced by those languages, certainly was influenced by the classic French in novels that were required reading in school. It would be as if a group of Anglos were separated for generations from other English speakers, and clung to the diction of Shakespeare. Of course that changed with the influence of English-Canadian and American culture via mass media. Still, a grand controverse erupted over the comments, supposedly misinterpreted (but don't they always say that?), of the Montreal tennis star, Eugenie Bouchard, who said that while she fears she may have too much of an Anglo accent when she speaks French, at least she no longer sounds like a Québecoise. The newspaper columnist who responded to this young woman, whom he otherwise admires, was noticeably hurt. An accent reveals our origins, he wrote. We should never be ashamed of our origins, who we are, where we come from, even if some of the wonderful Quebec films that have been produced in the last few decades have to be subtitled for screening in cinemas en France.

Identity: a major theme in my novel You Again, and the topic that elicits such personal revelations at The Travelling Book Café. A man who comes from North Carolina began the discussion with an appropriately general comment about how our identity is influenced by a web of things, including family, country, religion. A couple of women insisted that they are who they were born to be and have never questioned it, but I wonder: have any of us been so confident, life long, that we could avoid asking questions that get to the heart of our being? One good reason for keeping the Book Café to less than 20, preferably 15 people, is that everyone has a chance to speak, and after awhile, the more intimate stories begin coming out. One woman defines herself as someone who is not like the rest of her birth family, who are just plain mean, she said. Another one confessed that the culture she moved into when she came to Quebec with her husband caused her to fall into a depression she thinks stemmed from a loss of connection with self. A 20 year old admitted that while she attends school in the U.S., and is a U.S. citizen, she does not feel like an American. She has lived in many parts of the world with her travelling parents and assimilated aspects of each culture. She is now some kind of hybrid, she feels, no matter what her passport says.

Close to the age of my character Mattie, who tries to rescue his own identity by escaping the identity theft ring he was part of, this young woman's story was particularly poignant. Outwardly lovely and poised, she is searching for stable footholds as she moves forward into a career, into adult life. That won't be the end of it, though, at least it is not for most people, as Mattie's mother, another character in You Again, demonstrates. Sense of self changes as life circumstances change. What happens when you learn that your mother has been lying to you about your true father? What image do you have of yourself when the world no longer reflects the beautiful woman/handsome man you used to be? How far down do you have to reach to find your essence? In what language do you talk to yourself?

I'll read you my story, you tell me yours

The people who attended my first Travelling Book Café opened their lives to me and to each other.

My format for the afternoon was to introduce my new book, You Again, by describing what had inspired the trilogy that this novel completes; then read a bit, parts that demonstrated the themes I wanted people to pick up on, then invite my listeners to tell their own stories.

How incisive a discussion that invitation sparked. Some people I knew and some I didn't told tales of their search for identity, of waiting until  their 30's, or 40's before embracing whom they felt themselves to be; the importance of recognition or non-recognition from mothers. The talk wound around to sisters, especially those from different fathers; then single mothers and the ways they were stigmatized in the days when banks would not approve mortgages, when potential employers considered lone women with children risks instead of assets. How more than one parent had opened discussions of a daughter's future with the phrase "when you're safely married". The crowd ranged in age from late 20's to early 70's, so layers of history unfolded through the speakers.

One person told of growing up with an invalid mother who thought of her daughter as her emissary to the world. Another of how she has been looking for an image that truly reflects her since her mother rejected her when she was a child. The mother of two daughters from two different fathers talked about the sibling rivalry between her girls, how both had courted the favours of the only father who was in the picture. An actress who is caring for her dying father revealed that she cheers him up by imitating the Irish lilt of her late mother. "I have her down to a t-e-a!"

All this, and just outside the gallery where the event took place, in the Mall, a pre-Easter petting zoo attracted a different crowd: parents and kids, some sitting nicely with bunnies or guinea pigs on their laps; others standing outside the fence watching little pigs, and some fluffy headed breed of chicken, beautiful yellow ducklings, and newly hatched chicks snuffle and scratch and gaze back at the spectators with that trust unique to infants.

A few days later, it was not baby animals but the stopping and going of the #9 Broadway bus outside the window of the Heartwood Café that provided the rhythm and the potential to distract. Under the stamped tin ceiling, in the cozy front part of the café, I read the two sections I had read at the gallery, in which Annette and Elfie, (the middle and youngest of Shinny's daughters, who are nearing and midway through their 30's in You Again), contemplate their own identities and their place in the family. But I added a paragraph from the eldest daughter, Lawreen, in which she grieves for the lost identity her daughter's career as an actress had made possible:
            She swallows, works her mouth from side to side, rolls her lips together. But the tears come anyway, and since Ken is not home to ask her what’s wrong, she sits down and gives in. It’s just so stupid. She misses Mariah, her energy, her beauty; she misses the thrill of walking onto a movie set, or into a wrap party, of dressing up, of not pretending to be but actually being someone. The star’s mother, or the second-lead’s mother, or the girlfriend of the lead’s mother. Mariah has not actually needed a chaperone for years, but no one minded Lawreen tagging along. Everyone knew her, the crew, the producers, some of the regular Vancouver actors. She went from vigilant at first, to eventually relaxed, and could sip a cup of coffee and make small talk with anyone. It isn’t her life, it’s Mariah’s; she knows it’s time to back off. But she misses it. Oh how she misses it. What will she do with herself? Now her chest is tight and she’s struggling for air as if she has run a marathon. Could it be asthma?

This audience included two women who are both the middle sister of three girls, none of whom have children of their own. And a new thread unravelled from stories about how sisters remember childhood experiences as differently as if they had grown up in two different families. To conclude the evening, a writer friend, Ethel Whitty, read a section from her forthcoming novel, in which the bond between mother and daughter is expressed by the dress the mother sews for her daughter's first dance. The lyrical language itself testifies to their complicated love for one another.

The Travelling Book Café moves onto Toronto first weekend in May; Quebec in June. Have book, will travel.

The Travelling Book Café

The Travelling Book Café heads out for the first time this week, stopping in Gibsons (Windows on the Water, April 12) and Vancouver (Heartwood Café, April 15).

The challenge for authors required to do their own book promotion, which is most of us, is to find a way  to reach readers directly. But at this point in life, I can't pretend to be someone I'm not, and so I came up with the idea of meeting small groups, in neighbourhood cafés or independent bookstores, presenting the book, You Again, and then inviting people to relate to my novel's themes by telling their own stories. I don't know how this will work. One person I invited said she didn't think people would want to publicly reveal their thoughts about mother/daughter relationships; another invitee confessed that she might be too shy to speak in a crowd, even a small crowd. It could be a very small crowd, a handful of people. That would be fine, and if people would prefer to listen rather than talk, that's fine too. But I want to say how writing for me is a way of thinking about things. In fiction the thought process develops, usually unconsciously, through stories employing scenes that show, in this case, the complexity of the relationships between mothers and daughters, sisters and sisters.

Beyond that, I deal with identity. At the beginning, when I first conceived the character and her life for Shinny's Girls, I wondered, what do Shinny's daughters, each from a different father, have in common as sisters? Well of course they have Shinny, and the shared experience of growing up with a single mother, and all that implied in the 70s and 80s, including a judgemental society and, almost always, very low incomes. It was a different world, but we were further along than when my grandmother lived as a single mother, with all the shame I fear she may have felt in the early 1900's.

I hope people will engage with me in a dialogue about these things, and others that come up in the book, including the sub-plot concerning Shinny's grandson Mattie and his escape from a ring of identity thieves.

A wonderful cover from Stephen (p0ps) Harlow; free coffee from the excellent roasters, Strait Coffee; a free book draw... how can I miss?

Lessons from an indie musician

On a recent trip to New Orleans, I chanced on a performance by Helen Gillet and her band at the Three Muses.
I was looking for what I described to the doorman as interesting jazz, and he recommended I come back for the 9 o'clock show. Helen, a cellist, and her group, which consisted that night of a sousaphone, a clarinet and ... (I forget the fourth instrument), delivered a set that charmed me with its rhythms, playfulness, and the novel combination of sounds. On the way out, I ran into Helen, taking a break, and thanked her and she recommended that I come to Bacchanal where she performs regularly on Monday nights. So I did, and when she announced that she was going to be touring the northwest,  and was willing to do house concerts, I wrote down my email and invited her to stop in my town, a ferry ride north of Vancouver.

Short version is that in middle of February she started out from Louis Armstrong airport with a roadie and her equipment in a rented car, and drove across Highway 10 to Joshua Tree, south of San Diego, then headed north, stopping at various venues along the way and eventually arriving in Vancouver for a show at the The China Cloud on March 1.
The next day she sailed over, and that night performed for a petite but wildly enthusiastic audience at Boomers Burger Bar. The Boomers group may have been her smallest audience, maybe not, but it didn't matter to the quality of her work. She played with all the passion and inventiveness I admired when I first saw her on Frenchman Street, and the next day, after a walk on the beach, she packed up to continue onto Denver and Kansas City, and finally back to New Orleans, where she had a date around St. Patrick's day.

I admire her not only for her musical chops, but also for her go-for-it spirit, the way she maintains contacts, works hard to organize a tour and then drives herself all over the continent to play for most any audience of most any size. She feels comfortable as an indie musician, managing herself, promoting her work, producing cd's she describes as self-released.

That's like self-publishing, really, but self-releasers are better accepted - even considered cool - in the established music world. In the literary world there lingers that stigma of vanity publishing, and I can't say that I have been able to entirely shake it, despite joining the leagues of self-publishers with my latest novel You Again. Maybe I'm the wrong generation. I hear about committed, adamant and successful self-publishers (Cory Doctorow) and read rah-rah self-publishers on the various sites I peruse each week. I agree with the principle of being an independent, and, now, having set up a couple of dates to introduce the print version, I'm working to feel just as confident about presenting You Again as I did about the previous two novels in the trilogy, Shinny Girls and Flashing Yellow, which were published the conventional way. Here goes!

Self-publishing = self-awareness

Having come to the print-on-demand stage of my first self-publishing project, I understand all the reasons I like conventional publishers. For one thing, they make up for my weaknesses, my tendency to overlook small details; my shortcomings in the formatting department; my reluctance to sell myself; my urgency to move onto new projects.

Not that conventional publishers don't have their own weaknesses. When I was going over the  already paper-published first novel, Shinny's Girls, of my trilogy, I noticed copy editing errors, things I had depended on someone else to point out. The already published-in-paper Flashing Yellow, the second in the trilogy, was cleaner but went virtually unpromoted. When I added the third novel, You Again, not yet published conventionally, to complete my eccentric family saga for epublication,  those responsibilities suddenly fell on me. So I paid a copy editor to go over the entire trilogy, including You Again, relied on Kindle and Lulu to guide me through formatting, got cover art from a talented and resoundingly generous artist friend, uploaded, waited, tried a few feeble things like sending out emails or FB or G+ posts advertising sales, i.e." Now reduced to only 6.99!" I've given a few talks and will give more, I will try to think of other ways of letting people know that the Trilogy is available, and that You Again is even available separately as an ebook and soon in paper.

Meantime I'm steeling myself to go back to the ecopies of two editions, Kindle and epub, and search for any inadvertent mistakes. Inadvertent, well what else would they be? I almost let a big error slip into the text for the print on demand edition. Lucky that my designer, a friend who is a graphic artist and a novelist herself, has a sharp eye. Because with all the file switching around for different versions, between two computers with different word processing programs, I had lost the italics required for certain titles, and to delineate correspondence between the characters. Soon I will have to think of copy for the back cover and then how to introduce and promote the new print book. What will I do?

It's much easier to leave these jobs to people who have the skills to do them. I'm a writer, not a publisher, with all that entails, and even when I get my "team" to support my work by supplying services, often gratis, I have to be the boss. If a conventional publisher had been willing to take on this project, in an expedient fashion, which was beginning to seem unlikely - especially the expedient part - I probably would not have self-published. While it is faster and I can earn more money in royalties, I have not yet earned enough to cover costs, and I wonder, considering my befuddlement or reluctance regarding promotion, if I ever will. I'm writing social realism when many readers find social realism, maybe reality itself, depressing. Literary fiction is a hard sell in any format and hard to describe. It's literary, but accessible; simple on the surface, but with themes I feel are important, such as identity, what makes us who we are. I consider myself a serious writer, serious about the craft, I mean; the actual novels have been described as fast-paced and funny, though the readers who want stories in which everything turns out well might not agree.

As far as publishing goes, I have learned skills I never expected to want to learn. I doubt I have mastered them, but I have also learned a lot about myself, about how far I am prepared to go, about why I do it in the first place. If  I have a book that is ready to present and there are no other options for making it available to readers,  no matter how many or few there may be, I can't say I won't self-publish again, because as John Cheever famously said, "I can't write without a reader. It's precisely like a kiss - you can't do it alone."

We'll see.

Contents Under Pressure

A relatively new e-reader, I am learning the advantages of  Tables of Contents. You want to know what's ahead  in the pages you can't see until you touch and touch and touch your screen and eventually get to them. But as a writer of short stories, novellas and novels, I have had different ideas about chapter divisions, and thus the necessity of including a Table of Contents at the beginning of my books. I loved writing short stories. I thought a short story had more potential to be perfect than a long sprawling novel. Then I read John Gardner, in fact I read and re-read John Gardner, and I remember his thoughts about the  novella, how it traced a single emotional line (or something to that effect). Then I wanted to write a perfect novella. In fact my first "novel" Centre/Center is really three linked novellas. It qualifies as a novel in terms of the breadth of material, number of characters, time covered, complexity of theme, etc, but I divided it into three sections that focussed on three different but related characters. The breaks between the novellas are equivalent to chapter breaks.

When a friend read my recently published novel You Again on her IPad, she felt lost without a detailed Table of Contents. She is a disciplined person and likes to read to the end of a chapter before she falls asleep at night, and she prefers to know what she is getting in for. Having been reading on my Kobo, first The Great Gatsby, and most recently, Confederates in the Attic, I now understand what she means (though I find guides such as Tables more useful in non-fiction, like Confederates). So I relented, and created a fairly thorough Table of Contents for You Again, still not chapters, however. Instead, as in Flashing Yellow, I have big chunks I call "Parts," and, in You Again, month divisions. Within each month, though, the narrative moves from one character's point of view to another's, and those are separated by simple lines. For me it's a matter of rhythm, breath. I wonder how it is for other authors?  My friend  quickly surveyed the novels she was reading and found different ways of handling contents that lead to Tables. She liked Kate Atkinson's very precise Table, but found less detailed Tables in Colum McCann and Achebe.
If necessity really is the mother of invention, perhaps my habits will change as I write texts that will be published electronically. I had to think about it again when I updated my Shinny's Girls Trilogy for epub, because I want the Trilogy to be available to libraries, where I find most of my readers. Epub seems to require only that divisions are clear within the text, then goes ahead and makes the Table of Contents automatically. Much easier than doing it myself, with Kindle, even though the instructional video I followed for Mac users featured an Englishwoman with a lovely, patient voice.
In this eworld of books, TOC's seem to be an aid for readers. That requirement is prompting me to consider how organize my contents and, more importantly, why I do so. Is it the instinctive rhythm, the stopping for breath I feel, and changes in narrative voice as points of view shift from character to character,  or a greater logic I have not yet considered?

("Contents Under Pressure" is the title of one of my friend David King's comedies for theatre.Thanks, Dave.)

How it's going...

If I were to start a new blog, with advice either on writing, or on how to market one's book, self-published book, ebook, I would have to call it, Something you REALLY have never heard before... REALLY! Though I doubt I could actually think of something that has not already been written, posted, blogged, tweeted, shared. The web is more like a hive.

In my explorations, I have encountered people such as the Passionate Bibliophile, who confessed that yes he is a real person, if also an Amazon affiliate book store. I had to ask, because all the titles he posts on G + made me think he was either a speed reader or a computer program. But no, he is real and he likes books that affirm triumphs of the human spirit. Well who can argue with that? We all like to hear that people CAN overcome hardship, physical, psychological, situational, unanticipated, long standing. Even when we know that, perhaps, most often we accustom ourselves to living with whatever it is, since there may be no other choice, so many things cannot be overcome. At least not with un triomphe étincelante, or a sparkling triumph (though I like the French word for sparkling, which is kind of a visual onomatopoeia). Me, I like mixed motives, unresolved endings.

I persist in feeling most comfortable on sites for readers, such as Goodreads, though that site has come under fire from writers' sites, which now recommend Library Thing and, in Canada, the 49th shelf. Should I join everything, I wonder, just to keep up with the blazing changes in taste? One of the first sites I signed onto belongs to a librarian, Melissa, whose enthusiasm makes me feel as though I am part of an actual discussion, I mean a face to face discussion.

Many sites/blogs, whatever, collect other sites/blogs, just as I am doing here. Yet I find them hard to read. They are like textbooks with too many footnotes. Brian Fawcett, in his book Cambodia: A Book for People who Find Television Watching Too Slow, made literary use of the kind of attention splitting that happens when a reader is following one text and, at the same time, trying to keep track of the supporting information from another, or many other texts. I appreciate all the information people provide, while suffering mentally and ocularly.

Like a novice mariner lost at sea, I keep my eye peeled  for literary fiction writers who are in the same boat I hopped into a few months ago. A life boat of sorts. A literary lifeboat. For when conventional publishers do not share one's vision for presenting her work, there is now the option of e publishing. I thought I snagged a kindred spirit the other day, someone whose sense of humour and publishing experience led me to believe we might develop an on-line friendship. I was about to order one of her books when I saw that her novels are for young adults. No reason why I can't befriend a writer of young adult novels, and yet... Most of the writers whose posts I have read so far produce books that fit on easily labelled shelves.

I am still a baby in this new world, even if a veteran writer. The good news is that You Again, the third in the Shinny's Girls Trilogy, is now available as a separate ebook and will soon be available in print, with another great cover by Stephen (p0ps) Harlow.

Back to the book

I am a lifelong writer who has entered the world of digital publishing. In some ways it feels like leaving home, saying goodbye to Mom and Dad, the publishers who managed the jobs I am doing now, and striking out on my own. As with any big move, there is much to think about.

My book Shinny's Girls, the Trilogy has been available on Amazon for almost a month. I was excited to let friends and associates know about it and pleased to receive many notes of congratulations. I liked hearing that some readers were getting caught up in the story. But I had signed onto the Kindle Select program, which means that until the end of September the book will be available only to Kindle users and users of Ipads and Iphones, and in the case of the latter two, the print is still appearing in bold italics, which one reader/friend says she does not mind; but it is not supposed to be that way. Ah, doubts. Maybe I should have stayed home, if they would have had me; Mom and Dad, that is.

There is also the lingering stigma attached to self-publishing, the echo of vanity presses and the fact that anyone can publish almost anything electronically now. We traditionalists wonder how quality can be maintained, yet non-traditionalists are less worried. No one has to read a bad book. The gatekeepers, publishers, what did they know anyway? And were they any better at finding readers that I can/will be? One positive is that, like a grown-up, I am not waiting for approval from the gate keepers but have enough confidence to present my work myself. Really, this route is not so new. Even Dostoyevsky self-published, through his press the Dostoyevsky Publishing Company.

More issues arise. My friend Julie wants chapter breaks. She is a serious, traditional reader who enjoys ereading, but prefers ebooks that are more like physical books, with page numbers to show her where she is in the book, and chapter headings to divide up a long read. To me, clear chapters are a stylistic choice; at present I have a running narrative with only lines and spaces dividing the voices of different characters, different scenes. I have four sections in Flashing Yellow, three sections in the lengthier You Again. In the next iteration, I will put these on the Contents page, with links, so that readers can encounter the novels that way. Maybe it is something that digital publishing demands.

And then of course there is promotion. How will browsers on Amazon ever find Shinny's Girls, the Trilogy among the hundreds of thousands of offerings? I can notify friends and ask that they notify their friends. I can especially target other writers and people in the book business, book club members. I should be practical about the necessity of promotion, but after a lifetime in which one of the worst things a person could be accused of was doing something just to get attention (the voices of brothers and sisters clamour in memory), I have to find the right way to balance my private self with the public self required to do these things. My godson Jimmy says it doesn't matter. People tweet their hearts out knowing that recipients will just forget what they read in the flood of other tweets, posts, emails, texts.

My blurb follows:

    In the spirit of John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom novels, Shinny’s Girls, the Trilogy reveals a social history of our times by presenting the life of what critics have called “an uncommon common woman” and her family of three daughters over two decades, with each linked novelShinny’s Girls, Flashing Yellow and You Again - covering a single year. Through the threat of an obscene caller in the first novel, to the revelation of a long kept secret in the third, the girls gradually leave home in Vancouver for Milan, New York and a goat farm in the redwoods of Northern California, and Shinny’s world opens to experiences she would never have foreseen, including a white water rafting adventure that sparks a mid-life love affair; an email correspondence with a soldier stationed in Afghanistan, and her unintentional complicity with an identity thief who happens to be her grandson.

     Described as “fast paced and funny, and a pleasure to read,” the late CBC radio icon Peter Gzowski admitted that Shinny had hooked him. “I stayed up until the wee hours to finish it (the original novella). You get a real sense of the reality of the lives of these people.”
            Books in Canada: “A superb novella, Shinny's Girls demonstrates a large, robust talent, nicely matured.”
            Calgary Herald: “compelling and memorable.”
            Toronto Star: “…a strong collection by a considerable talent.”

Almost finished now. This ebook should be ready to upload to Amazon Select within a week!

angling towards e-publishing

In the latest of a series of Skype conversations - - about e-publishing, I asked my encouraging friend and e-mentor, Steve, how one promotes a book via social networks when one does not have much of a social network. Steve proposed that I make process a news story. For example, the fact that I wrote to a former publisher four months ago, regarding my wish to e-publish an updated version of a book he published in 1989, and that he still has not replied.. that's news, says Steve. Well, the fact that publishers of literary fiction take notoriously long to reply is not news to those of us who have dealt with them over the years. In my view, there is no reason why I should not republish, in e-form, my second and fifth books. The paper copies have not been selling. The publisher has nothing to lose, and, de mon côté it will be an opportunity to revisit and polish old work, and make it available to those who want to read the first two books of the trilogy I have recently completed with You Again. I bought a scanner so that I can scan in the text of Shinny's Girls and Flashing Yellow. I have to figure out how to use it and then proceed with Steve on making the e-book, then, at least, attach it to this site.

The art chat podcast discussion this week featured our thoughts on making money via web publishing. I said, perhaps hastily, that I would rather people read my work then get paid, but it isn't as if I object to earning money from my writing. I have earned a living as a writer and a teacher since about 1972. Who would not want to earn more? It's just that I have rarely earned enough solely from writing to support myself. Unless things change, money will continue to be an undependable reward. That doesn't mean I can stop writing books and plays, or will stop. I write stories and plays to entertain people, not for myself alone, so making them available is the least I want to do.

Jimmy the Peach recounted what he read about haiku, that it is not finished until it is read.