the Trilogy

Mentors, interns.. HELP WANTED!

#literary fiction

I remember reading Raymond Carver's homage to John Gardner, in the introduction to On Becoming a Novelist. It does not take much searching to find stories of more great mentor-novice pairs, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, Boudin and Monet, plus uncounted others, relationships between experienced writers and artists less well known, and younger writers and artists they not only inspired but often helped in practical ways, by, for example, recommending their work to publishers or galleries.

I think it is time for the energy flow to reverse, for young writers and artists, who are generally savvy about complex internet pathways, to offer to guide their elders through the vast web of possibilities for making useful connections.

My dear friend Geoffrey Smedley, for example, is trying to spread the word about his brilliant book Dissections. In his late 80's, still energetic if not AS energetic as he used to be, and having just recently surfaced from a work that absorbed much of the last 20 years, an ingenious four-part electrical mechanical sculpture, or metaphorical machine, as he calls it, that spoofs Descartes' view of man as a collection of mechanical parts, Geoffrey's direct approaches, and those made by supporters have too often found silence at the other end of the line; this seems to be the new, in my opinion, discourteous, way many traditional media outlets (perhaps also gallery owners, certainly publishers) deal with the great unsolicited. Just ignore them. It is not that people who see his work fail to respond; a critic who reviewed his exhibit at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal described Geoffrey's piece as one of the best and most mind expanding exhibitions he had seen this year.

The challenge  is GETTING anyone to look at it or read about it. In the new world of epublishing, the problem is called discoverability, and it is exactly the same thing I face as a novelist. Responses from people who actually find and read my book Shinny's Girls, the Trilogy are generally enthusiastic, but...Promotion has never been a snap. As a publicist I once worked with told me, it's easiest to promote things people already know about. But at least there were ways of doing it that were familiar, journals, newspapers, well established radio shows.

I suggested to Geoffrey that he call on old colleagues in the academic world to put the word out to potential interns. Students who would like the experience of making known  to the world the work of a fine artist in late career. Because everyone connects through the internet, I told him.  This "conversation" all took place via email, something even we mature writers/artists appreciate, adore. So I didn't hear but only imagined the sigh. With the future fast dwindling, with what has to be a limited amount of time to finish one's life work, does it really make sense to let oneself be swallowed by the bright brassy world of internet promotion? Half in and half out of its gorge, I holler (on behalf of all veteran artists and writers in this position), Help!

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.

Oh no!

Today, the 2013 summer solstice, was to be P or publishing day. We were ready. Text complete, edited, formatted according to Kindle guidelines. Steve's cover design approved and appreciated all round. Only thing remaining, to upload it all onto the Kindle Select site.

Steve (Stephen (p0ps) Harlow) and I connected by Skype at 9 to begin the process. Skype's screen sharing feature made it possible for us to discuss the various options on the My Book page. First problem was uploading the cover in Tiff. Not only did it take 20 minutes, but when it appeared, the colours were inverted. The lovely red came out turquoise and the off-white background of the drawing appeared in black. Steve soon figured out that the Jpeg would work better than Tiff, although Kindle declares that both are acceptable.

The big, yet-to-be-fixed problem was when we previewed contents. The indents were too long, also inconsistent. I had followed instructions for "Building" my book. The text appeared as it should have on David Zieroth's Kindle and on my computer. Hmm. Steve is going to follow a tutorial he found, by a guy who had similar problems with Kindle and so used a different method. We will see what comes next.

And so today is not P day after all. But it is still the first day of summer, and I will celebrate by taking my first swim in the sea this year.

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!