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Secrets to Getting Published

My public library had a great talk about getting published. They got a good crowd of aspiring writers who want to write fiction, non-fiction, children’s books and poetry. The talk was led by an editor and a writer, who does both self-publishing and publishing through an established publisher.

I don’t think I should share all the secrets as their handout was copyrighted, but I’ll share some facts and tips:

  1. Know why you want to get published. Have a clear vision of what you consider success to be. (Getting published, wining an award, getting good reviews or what?)
  2. More non-fiction books are written by first time writers.
  3. Most self-published books sell less than 100 copies, and most of those copies are bought by the author. Ugh. ;-(
  4. Learn to “eat rejection for breakfast.” So develop a thick skin and remember that major writers often got dozens or hundreds of rejection letters.
  5. Adequately test your idea by seeing how people, not just loved ones, think about your idea.
  6. If you do self-publish get your books into different sorts of shops. In a book shop your books is one of many, but in a florist or hospital shop there’s only a handful of other books.
  7. The average new writer spends $3000-$5000 of their own money on preparing their books. Both speakers stressed that you should hire a professional editor. Someone who’s an English teacher or reads and edits professionally is required not just a pal.The cheapskate in me balks at spending so much money, but I’m mulling this over. I do have people whom I trust as good writers and grammarians read my work as a favor, but should I be paying someone? What do you think, readers?
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King Coal

By Upton Sinclair, who always takes the side of the underdog and shows people how hard and unfair life was for the lower classes in his time (i.e. early 20th century), King Coal is about a well-to-do college student, who leans to the left politically. His older brother and friends tell him that all the news and complaints of poor treatment of coal minors is hog wash. He decides to spend his summer as a miner.

He takes on the clothing of a working man and goes to North Valley where he gets work in a mine. He has no idea how much worse things were than he imagined. He makes friends with the workers, lives amongst them and sympathizes with them. He gets the same bad treatment. He faces the same problems – high rents in the mining housing, bad food at the canteen, exorbitant prices at the general store. When he helps the men organize and request, not a union, but someone to check that the coal loads are weighed right, he lands in jail. The judge is in bed with the mine owners. Upon release he’s followed and when a reporter prints his story . . . well, on and on it goes, injustice upon injustice.

The story is compelling and Sinclair creates likable characters a few that middle class and progressive wealthy folk would take to. It’s still a relevant story and should be read in history classes. If I taught history, I’d have some students read this, others read The Jungle and others read Oil! and then compare notes.

Sister Carrie

sister carrieA friend suggested I read Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie as I’m working on a historical fiction project. I finally found the time and I really enjoyed it, though it’s not because it’s filled with characters I was drawn to — at all. I wanted to find out what would happen and I found Dreiser’s style pleasant if not outstanding.

The title character, Carrie comes to Chicago from a small town hoping to find her fortune. She moves in with the sister and brother-in-law, who live in a tenement and grind their way through each day. They encourage Carrie to get a job and she pounds the pavement and finds a job in a factory. She hates the course language and rough behaviour of her coworkers. The work itself is dull. She soon loses her job and begins her rise. What’s unusual about Carrie is she does so little and is swept up by luck higher and higher up the social and financial with extremely little effort. She’s not witty or smart or hard working. She’s lucky. She met Drouet, a snappy salesman on the train to Chicago and is impressed with his suave style. She meets him again and he persuades her to move in with him. She’s just lost her job and her brother-in-law’s getting on her nerves so what the heck, she leaves her sister’s home.

She lives with Drouet and is rather isolated. She’s a kept woman and when she does make friends pretends to be married. She has no consequences to leading this wild life (for 1900). She never gets pregnant, never is judged or pinned with a scarlet A.

While with Drouet, she meets his even more prosperous and suave friend Hardwood, a manager of a high-ish class bar. Hardwood falls for her and winds ups leaving his wife and stealing $10,000 from his employer and running away with Carrie.

Carrie doesn’t even make any big decisions. She is tricked into going with Hardwood and lacks the chutzpah or direction to leave him. They move to New York and Hardwood tries to live off what remains of his post-divorce money. He slowly slides down to the gutter as Carrie ascends by dabbling in musical comedy.

I normally like books with characters I either identify with or admire. No one in Sister Carrie is anyone I’d want to spend time with, but they’re sympathetic enough and I didn’t know where the story would go.

His Second Wife

Ernest Poole’s His Second Wife follows Ethel  as she leaves small town Ohio after her father’s death. She goes to New York to live with her sister, Amy, a socialite and shopper, and Amy’s husband Joe and daughter. Ethel tries to fit in to the shallow scene Amy relishes, but just can’t. The superficial and materialism don’t appeal at all.

She’s after the new and exciting ideals, art and politics New York is supposed to offer. After Amy’s sudden death, Ethel stays to help Joe, but struggles to avoid getting trapped living her sister’s life.

Poole creates an original dilemma that rings true. Ethel isn’t the polar opposite of Amy as a lesser writer would have made her. She doesn’t hate shopping or all of bourgeois life, she just wants more. The novel recounts her struggle to find friends and to find her own identity, while evading Amy’s more manipulative friends who want to control Joe after he’s married Ethel. An original, compelling story, worth getting from Amazon, which offers it for free on Kindle.

Ragged Dick: Street Life in New York

Cover of Ragged Dick by Horatio Alger

I’d heard of rags to riches stories a.k.a. Horatio Alger stories, but I’d never actually read a book by Horation Alger — till now. I raced through Ragged Dick in two days, not just because it’s short, but because it’s funny. Alger reminds me of Dickens or Twain as he has jokes on every page.

Ragged Dick is a 14 year old orphan, a shoe shine boy who must sleep on the streets in a box of straw or old wagon if he can find one. He’s got wit and pluck and amuses and impresses his well-to-do customers. Time and again he shows his hilariously funny, honest, kind and brave. Yes, it’s a morality tale and the ending is happy, but it wasn’t as pat as I’d expected.

Spoiler Alert: Dick doesn’t wind up as a millionaire by the stories end. He does start out in actual rags which he explains he would get rid of but since George Washington and Louis Napolean (sic) gave him those close he felt he couldn’t.

While Dick’s a good lad, he’s not an angel with a dirty face (though he does have a dirty face). The narrator and Dick tell us that he smokes cigars, goes to the Bowery Theater a lot, doesn’t save money and gambles. Yet he corrals his vices in due time.

Much of the story consists of Dick showing Frank, a country boy who’s uncle is busy with business all day around the streets of New York, where there’s a con artist around every corner. Frank and the uncle get Dick a new suit for the day and suddenly Dick’s treated with great respect wherever he goes (well, almost) and a lot of folks don’t recognize him. Through Frank we learn that Dick’s in a jam. Because he’s so good and diligent about getting business, he makes $3 a day. If he worked at a counting house or store he’d just get $3 a week. He doesn’t pursue other work because that would mean a short term loss. Also, these clerk jobs tend to go to boys from in tact families. The book then is more than just a series of funny adventures, it does show aspects of 19th century urban America.

Like Dickens Ragged Dick will appeal to readers of all ages.

Rivalry: A Geisha’s Tale

rivalry

Kafu Nagai’s Rivalry: A Geisha’s Tale presents a world that seems more realistic that Memoirs of a Geisha, which was the rage 10+ years ago. In Rivalry, Komayo is a former geisha. She left the profession when she married. Unfortunately, her husband dies. There’s no reason to stay in the countryside up north with rude in-laws for the rest of her life, so she returns to Tokyo and her geisha house.

One of her first “patrons” sees her and takes up with her. He’s just a little bit older than she is and spending time with him is far better than with the fat, bald, ill-mannered middle-aged customers. Life’s not so bad.

Then Komayo meets an attractive actor and they have a dalliance. Then they have another and another. Her first patron was going to buy Komayo’s contract. He proposes marriage and Komayo isn’t sure. The patron hears some gossip about Komayo and the actor so he buys the contract of a fleshy, jovial but uncouth geisha. So there! (Talk about biting off your nose to spite your face.)

Komayo’s life spirals and shame haunts her. At times the story meanders, but generally the realistic tone which describes geisha life (without getting as flowery as Arthur Golden sometimes did) makes for a pleasant read.

The ending seemed to pat and undeserved, but forgiveable.

Silk Umbrellas

silk umb

As I work on my novel for young readers, I thought Carolyn Marsden’s Silk Umbrellas would inspire me. Marsden introduces readers to traditional Thai culture through Noi, a young girl in about 5th grade, and her family. Noi’s grandmother paints silk umbrellas and Noi helps her. The family needs money since the father can’t get gainful employment. Her mother makes mosquito nets and Ting, Noi’s older sister must quit school to contribute to the family’s income.

The writing is very lyrical and romantic. I thought it was a little too dreamy and ideal as I can’t believe that Thai’s are so untouched by modernization and the outside world. Since the umbrellas are sold to foreign tourists, I think I’m right. Noi would be acquainted with things like T shirts, TV and cell phones, even if she learned about them from a friend’s family.

The story is lovely and shows different attitudes towards child labor. Noi pities her sister and hopes to stay in school, while Ting, the sister, is realistic and uncomplaining. She seems to

All in all, I wish there were some images in the book because children would need the visuals to better understand Thailand. The glossary that defines words like Kun Mere (mother) and faring (foreigner) is a help, though I prefer footnotes on the page where each term is used. I’d say Silk Umbrellas is a good book on Thailand, but most certainly shouldn’t be the only book a child reads about the country.

Austenland: Ho Hum

Austenland

I found Shannon Hale’s novel Austenland on the new books shelf at the library. Since I’m an unabashed Jane Austen fan, though one who’s never read any fan fiction or other spin offs, I thought Austenland would be a fun, summer read.

Premise: Jane Haynes, a single 30-something graphic artist living in New York has is obsessed with Jane Austen novels. An elderly aunt dies and bequeaths Jane a three week stay at Pemberley Park, where everyone lives in the style of Regency England.

Hmmm, could be fun.

Well, Jane first can’t decide if she should go. Her fretting about this non-problem annoyed me. Of course, readers know she’s going or there’s no story.

Jane arrives in the house and meets the other characters, moderns who adopt early 19th century personas and clothes. As you’d expect they resemble Austen’s characters: the uptight Darcy, the cads, the matchmaking middle aged women. Here though we’re also given some pathetic characters like Miss Charming, a 50-ish heavy guest who adopts the personal of a 20 year old. Many come to Pemberley Park for a three week dose of wish fulfillment.

Throughout the story Jane questions her Austen-complex. Mentally, she complains of the boredom of the lifestyle. She bugged me as she was just a four star White Whiner. It’s hard to push through a story when the heroine is bored or questioning why she’s on a vacation. It’s easy enough to extricate oneself from a resort. Pemberley Park is not Alcatraz.

The plot was predictable; the prose, almost witty. The only non-Austen touch was that Jane has a dalliance with a gardener, who would have been invisible in an Austen novel, where the bad men weren’t servants.

Hale’s writing style is chatty and banal. I think she must read chic lit novels exclusively. While it’s hard to be as good as Austen, I think the best route is to avoid emulation and shoot for originality.

I see that the film opens August 16th. I’d wait for Netflix, rather than buying a ticket, though there’s plenty of better good versions of Austen’s oeuvre with dashing actors like Colin Firth, Matthew Macfayden, Rupert Penry-Jones, and Richard Armitage, that it’s hard to imagine that Austenland offers a better experience.

The Library Quiz


You Are an Imaginative Thinker


You are a nonlinear thinker, and you’re even surprised by the places your mind takes you.
You love to get lost in a story, whether it’s your own or not. You love fantasy.

You are a positive and uplifting person. You inspire others to be better.You are full of wonder and curiosity. You feel a strong connection to the world.

The Library Test
The First Rule of Blogthings Is: You Don’t Talk About Blogthings

The Elegance of Hedgehog

I had the strangest reaction to The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I admired the virtuosity of the writing and the characters interested me, but they were so aloof that I never got to like them. I would read the book then put it down for a few days and pick it up again. It wasn’t a chore to read, but it wasn’t compelling either.

The novel alternates between the concierge Renée’s narration about her life in an upscale Parisian apartment building and the musings of a precocious 12 year old girl named Paloma who resides there. Though at different ends of the socio-economic scale. both characters are acutely perceptive and intelligent. They share a disdain for the upper class dolts whom populate the building. The book is very class conscious and I’m not sure to what end. I did want to tell Paloma and Renée to get over themselves.

The two characters’ lives converge when an elegant Japanese man moves into the building and the three realize they are kindred spirits. I enjoyed the references to Ozu films and Japanese culture, but also shook my head in disbelief when at the story’s climax the Japanese man imparts some psychological wisdom to Renée. It just didn’t ring true at all.

The ending comes out from nowhere. Very Deux ex machina. I rolled my eyes as I read it. Though the plot and characters weren’t well developed, the style and little social insights the characters have are entertaining enough.

I wouldn’t recommend it and I wouldn’t reread it, but I don’t regret reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Disclaimer

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