I’m now about a quarter of the way through drafting the final book in Callaghan McCarthy’s story-cycle. Soon it will be time for someone new to step forward and tell the story of Woodley, USA from their own perspective. To this end, I am issuing a casting call for potential lead characters to headline the next series.
During the course of your employment as Lead Character, you will experience newness and wonder (whether you like it or not) and you will have your entire belief structure fundamentally challenged and overhauled. Your heart will probably break a few times, but you will be provided with allies who will nurture you through this. You will probably also face some physical dangers; unfortunately, you’ll be on your own regarding how to get out of these particular messes. Your job is to figure out how to save not just yourself but your friends, the farm, the town, and ultimately the world. (You will almost certainly never understand exactly how the fate of the world figures in all this, of course, but it’s still your job to do it.)
Requirements include but are not limited to:
Adult human female with some life experience. You do not need to have grown children, but this is not a “coming of age” tale. Please have a few hard-learned lessons under your belt that have made you stronger and kinder.
Some cynicism and a few PTSD symptoms are OK, but complete douchebaggery will be considered a deal-breaker.
Preference will be given to those with 100% human blood, though if you suspect you have a long-forgotten faerie or deity somewhere in your ancestry, you may still be considered.
Skinny twentysomething characters with large breasts and flawless skin need not apply.
Please answer the following questions on the reverse side of this sheet:
What are you running from?
What did you hope to find when you arrived in
What did you really hope to find? I mean
originally, back when you were a kid, before they convinced you it couldn’t
actually be found in the real world?
Do you believe in ghosts?
If you are a fictional character and wish to be considered
for this position, please transmit your answers to my muse ASAP.
Note: While Woodley, USA is a diverse community, I do not feel that I, as a writer, am qualified to represent, through my Main Characters, challenges I have never personally experienced. While you will be acting alongside characters of many different ages, races, species, genders, physical abilities and neurological types, I feel that stories which feature these characters as the main Point Of View are best told by #OwnVoices.
A long time ago in a universe far, far away, I sent a copy of my debut novel to one of my favorite authors of all time. I sent it for no reason other than to thank him for inspiring me by writing some of the most enjoyable fiction I’d ever read, and also to thank him for his support. His support had come, many years before, in the form of what is, to date, still the best writing advice I’ve ever received. That advice, to paraphrase quite heavily, is: “Qwitcherbitchin’ and write!”
Imagine my excitement when I received an email this past June from the editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine (to which I have been subscribed since I was a teenager – and I won’t tell you how long that has been!) The email asked me to review, before release, a copy of an overview of Seven Turns this favorite author of mine had written in his “Books to Look For” column for the July/August issue. I’ve been bursting at the seams ever since, dying to tell you all about it. Now it is finally July, and I can tell you!
The overview of Seven Turns is the third listing down, right between Philip K. Dick and John R. Little … seriously, am I allowed to yell “Squeeeeee!” now?
My favorite part is where he refers to some of the spirits Cally encounters in Woodley as “deities.” I wouldn’t have expected most people to recognize that’s what they (some of them!) are, but of course Charles de Lint would know a deity when he sees one!
Naturally I also immediately sent him a copy of Moonlight and Moss. Not sucking up for another review or anything, but I want to see if he recognizes the other deities, because this volume deals much more heavily with the denizens of the faerie side of the meadow gate. (Oh, who am I kidding – he’ll not only recognize them, but is probably on first-name terms with some of them.)
Now, if you are one of my fellow writers in the #writingcommunity and you are wondering how to get your inspiration flowing, how to find time to write, wondering if you’re just a hack or what, here is the best advice I can pass on to you:
You know how it goes: It feels like I’ve been waiting for this day forever, but on the other hand, it all went so fast, once I finally decided on a release date.
That, they say, is normal to the point of being trite. Here’s the really weird thing, though: I feel like it all happened so long ago! I’ve been working a lot, lately, on the next book in this story-cycle, so that now when I talk about my work I get all mixed up about which story I’m talking about. I hope I don’t end up giving away any spoilers that way!
Each of the books in this story cycle is designed to stand on its own. The end of each book winds up the main plot and finishes the current story (with just a few Questions to give you a hint at what the next one might be about!)
You still might prefer to read them in order if you can, though, to avoid spoilers. Seven Turns happens, chronologically, before Moonlight and Moss and also focuses on Callaghan McCarthy. I am pretty sure there will be one more story (not counting the Christmas Episode – stay tuned!) with Cally at its heart. I have tentatively titled the next tale “Rivers and Roads.”
From here, I can see at least seven stories about Woodley, USA and it’s quirky denizens, and that seems like an appropriate number of rivers to cross. But you never know. There are a lot of people – and you know what I mean and do not mean when I say “people!” – calling my name. People who want their stories, also, to be told. I guess I’ll find out when I get to that bend in the road!
…and then they came upon the Thing…
(With many thanks to The Men for their amazing song and all the inspiring imagery it lent me.)
I’ll start, here, by thanking all the agents who have sent me rejections. I know agents have somewhere on the order of bazillions of queries to get through daily. They barely even have time to paste in boilerplate rejection verbiage and hit “send.” Many, nowadays, don’t even do that. So, when I get a rejection that gives me even the slightest hint of why the agent decided to pass on my project, far from being bummed about it, I am actually grateful.
I often feel like I’m working in a complete vacuum with regard to trying to sell my work. I feel fairly confident that my writing, itself, is good. Good enough, I mean, though of course any writing can always be improved and polished. The manuscript I am currently querying is as polished as I can make it, with critique partner and beta reader feedback. I am fortunate that I don’t have to work in a vacuum, there. On the other hand, the query letters I send out about said manuscript, well, really, the only feedback I can get about those, from real industry insiders, is through rejections.
OK, yes, I know: there is a ton – multiple tonnage, really – of Querying Advice on the interwebs. But much of it is conflicting or grossly outdated. Even AuthorTube videos by actual literary agents offer advice that conflicts wildly! I wade through all this cognitive dissonance and snatch desperately at what seems to be the most common advice. I do my best to incorporate it all into 350 words or less but, in the end, I’m totally winging it. I have no way of knowing – not really – whether or not my query letter is really the killer pickup line that will get me the girl, or just a slap in the face.
Most of the rejections I get are some form or other of the standard boilerplate: “This is not on my list.” And, if this is the actual reason for the rejection (rather than an attempt at the most inoffensive waffle possible) I can’t complain about it. My little world of Woodley, USA is never going to fit neatly onto anyone’s list – it crosses too many genres. Agents who rep Fantasy seldom rep Horror, for instance. Not that there’s any Horror in my work, but nowadays the word “ghost” is synonymous with “guts splattered all over the walls” and I totally understand why some people are not interested in that. God knows I’m not. And, sure, it’s not fair that when a Fantasy-inclined agent sees the word “ghost” in the second paragraph of my query, they roll their eyes and ball up their fists and hiss through clenched teeth, “Oh, FFS, why don’t these #^&$@ writers ever bother to look at my profile – I specifically stated I do not do Horror!”
But it is what it is, and until Western entertainment culture undergoes another sea-change (a sea-change I actually hope to help incite with my work!) I have to figure out how to deal with the situation as it is.
Two rejections I’ve received recently, though, contained completely new and different feedback! This gives me hope that I’m at least getting better at writing query letters. I mean, I’m sure these rejections are also copy-pasted – I can imagine agents need to send this particular one out a thousand times a day, too. But, honestly, I got a little giddy about these because they made me think the agents who selected this particular verbiage from their copy-paste choices had actually got past the word “ghost”!
They said, basically: “The concept of your story just
did not draw my interest strongly enough.”
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Dear Agents, for this
specific feedback! Even though it may seem like a slap in the face to some, it
was a gift to me, and I truly and honestly do appreciate your having taken the
time to send it to me.
My first response, of course, was to think, “Oh, OK, so what can I do to change my story to make it more gripping? Give it more pizzazz! How can I make the stakes higher? Maybe I should give in and put in some guts splattering across a wall here and there after all? Oh, I know: a climactic car-chase where the world will end if I don’t make it over the cliff in time to rescue the president from terrorist dragons from Alpha Centauri!”
And then I said:
My story is what it is. It is what it is because that’s exactly what it needs to be. It is internally consistent and beautiful. It gave itself freely to me from an eternal well of Story, and I will be true to it in return. The world does not have to be about to end in order to make the stakes heart-wrenching. Kittens and little children do not have to die horribly. I will not change the actual story itself, even if that’s the only way to get myself an agent. (I don’t believe it is, mind you. I just don’t know how to sell the damn thing, is all.)
Because I know it does, in fact, “draw my interest strongly enough.” I know for a fact that it does this to other people, as well. I am even reasonably confident that the kinds of people whose interest is drawn are not all that uncommon. These are the people I wrote it for. People who, when I describe it to them, say “Oh, I LOVE that sort of thing! Where can I find a copy?” Readers who say, “OMG I hope there’s going to be a sequel – I want to read more about this world!”
If I change my story in order to land a publishing deal, I will be betraying them. And I will be perpetuating the literary vacuum that led me to write this story in the first place because I couldn’t find enough of it in bookstores. There are people out there who want to walk down Main Street in Woodley, USA, and sleep in the Rose Room, and bump into George in the hall in the middle of the night, and jump the fence into the meadow and discover what lies beyond. Hang in there, peeps: I’m still trying to figure out how to reach you, but I am reaching!
All this by way of saying, I am grateful to all who have contributed the various data that has helped me make a decision. Thank you readers, critique partners, beta readers, and literary agents. I think I’ve made a decision? I’ve been trying to make this decision since last fall. I think I’ve decided I’m going to go ahead and self-publish Moonlight and Moss. Maybe. Probably. I will probably do this sometime in May 2019 (which is about a year since Seven Turns came out.)
On some level, it feels like I’m accepting defeat, but I’m not, really. I just don’t want to leave my readers waiting too much longer for the sequel to Seven Turns. My pride isn’t as important to me as loyalty to my readers – they’ve earned it! That’s the only thing of which I am absolutely certain.
I am fully aware that the second I hit that “Publish” button over at IngramSpark, I will turn to check my inbox and see I’ve just received an offer of representation. Because of course I will. Murphy is a real jerk, sometimes! OK all the time. Maybe I’ll kill him off in my next book.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep gathering data and polishing my querying skills so that someday when I finish this series and start a new one, I will – as I am still determined to – obtain agent representation.
So I took a break, after finishing the final draft of Moonlight and Moss (working title – but probably actual title, too!) to clear my mind before diving into Query Hell once again.
During the month of November, I participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote a little (for me) vignette about what Christmas is like in Woodley, USA. I really like how it came out! It’s been fascinating to find out why it snows every Christmas in Woodley, in a part of the country that ordinary doesn’t get snow at all. And, I found out what happens if you don’t have a wish to whisper into Santa’s ear at midnight on Christmas Eve.
I’m so pleased with it I’m going to polish it up and self-publish it as a gift to my readers. Someday I’ll also include it in the boxed set once the third Woodley novel comes out. The title is A Midnight Clear. Chronologically, it falls between Moonlight and Moss and the third volume which does not, yet, have a working title.
Now that I’ve got all the Beta-reader input back on Moonlight and Moss, I’m going to comb through it one last time to make sure it’s as perfect as possible before I begin submitting it for publication. I have received some great coaching on querying from people in the industry (particularly from Meg LaTorre at iWriterly, who gives a great online class on query-writing) and maybe I’ll have better luck this time finding good representation for traditional publishing.
That was my New Year Resolution for 2019: to find a new traditional publisher.
And here I must apologize to you, dear readers. Since I am, in fact, looking for a new publisher for “Moonlight and Moss,” this means it will take longer to hit the shelves than I anticipated, had I stayed with my current publisher. I feel terrible about this, because I know so many of you are clamoring for the next story. Believe me, I can’t wait for you to see it, either! But I really do feel these stories at least deserve a publisher which has distribution and marketing capabilities, and I must do right by them and find one.
To make it up to you for this delay, I’m going make the story I wrote about Luke, the proprietor of Motherboard Pizza, available for free. I can do this for the e-book version, anyway, though Amazon does require I put a minimum price of $2.99 on paperback copies. It includes a map of Woodley and the floor plan of the ground floor of Vale House, if that sweetens the bitter pill at all!
Also, I intend, in the interim, to give you some sneak-peeks at sample chapters of Moonlight and Moss, here on my blog. Stay tuned…
I know that’s not what you’re asking for, though, and I do promise to get “Moonlight and Moss” out there as soon as humanly possible. Without taking shortcuts on quality or on carefully reviewing publishers’ qualifications, of course!
I thought I didn’t like “Marketing,” and maybe I don’t, but seriously, the marketing and networking stuff I’ve been doing lately doesn’t feel like work at all. I’ve been meeting so many wonderful people, and through them, other people. I’ll tell you what: Writers are Nice! I never really knew any, before, and I had no idea they were such great people. Maybe I have finally found my Tribe?
First off, on Saturday, I went to the Zebulon NC Farm Fresh Market, where a lady from my local writers’ coffee-clatch (via the Franklin County Arts Council) was hosting a booth for Literacy Day. I got to meet more fellow authors, some newspaper folks, and librarians … AND! I got a free cantaloupe! How can a day get any better?
Well, there was still more in store. Saturday evening, the long-anticipated Launch Party for Seven Turns went off at the Wake Forest Coffee Company, where most of Seven Turns was written (and where the first draft of Moonlight and Moss is about to be completed. I’ll blog separately about that later!) I had been sweating this for so long: I was so sure I’d forget something, or that nobody would show up, or that I would drop the cake…
Oh, yes, the cake! That came out great! I showed the fine folks at Sweet Traditions the cover of my book and asked: “Can you make a cake to look like this?” and they said “Challenge accepted!” I think it came out fabulous! (It tasted pretty good, too!)
I really could not have pulled it off without all the help I got, though. I am so grateful for the support I have received all along from the Wake Forest Coffee Company, where most of my writing gets done due to both the peaceful atmosphere there and (or, perhaps, especially due to) the great coffee. My wonderful husband, who speaks for a living, emceed the event so I could concentrate on signing books and sucking up to potential fans. My wonderful daughter operated the camera for the Facebook Livestream of the entire event. An amazing local band, Clairvoyance, provided background ambiance (to tell you the truth, they have provided much calm and inspiration all along for my writing at the coffee shop, where they play almost every Sunday morning.) Even my grandson took care of making sure everyone had a program and a door-prize ticket.
I was so nervous before this event, but now that I have safely got over this hump, I am hoping upcoming book signings (next up: Book Signing at Page 158 Books) will start to feel more like just going to work every day. Or, wait… maybe I actually hope I never start to feel like any of this is “just going to work!”
Gary and I visited Mongtomery, Alabama last week, to follow the Seven Bridges Road made famous by the song written by Steve Young and recorded by the Eagles (it’s actual name isWoodley Road) and which inspired many of the moods and settings in the novel “Seven Turns.” My intention was to obtain a new, clearer Official Author Photo of yours truly in that setting.
I don’t think any of the photos came out much clearer than the one I’m already using – I will probably have to break down and go to a professional photographer – but I like the video we got of us counting the bridges, anyway!
I understand the road was much more atmospheric back in the days when the bridges were all covered bridges, but it’s still a very pretty road through a very pretty stretch of America. And there really is moonlight and moss in the trees!
It would appear I am going to have to add an Events widget to this blog. I have scheduled my first book signing (very exciting!) and am working on setting up more. I’m really excited because this is going to be at my most favorite independent bookstore ever in the whole world. (And all indy bookstores are The Best, as far as I’m concerned!)
This will take place on July 19 at 7:00 PM, at Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, which also just happens to my very favorite small, southern town ever (well, except for Woodley, of course, but the The Wyrd Systers Books and Gifts is kind of hard to find… )
Well, it has happened at last! I thought the day was still a long time coming, but yesterday, quietly and without fanfaire, Seven Turns appeared on Amazon.
It was surreal to see it there, really, and after all the Hurry Up And Wait, now I am back to hurrying: I need to order copies to take with me to book signings. Oh, yah, I need to schedule those book signings! I need to create my author page on Amazon! I need to create a media kit! I need to update my blog!
Great time for Windows to do an update that completely took out my keyboard, right? *sigh!* Thank goodness I still have my tablet, and thank goodness WordPress is mobile-friendly.
So there you are, everyone. I hope you enjoy it. I mean that, really. The main thing I really want people to feel when reading about my fictional world is enjoyment. I mean, you’ll feel a lot of other things as you’re reading, but mostly I hope that when you close the book at the end, you’ll find yourself thinking, “I enjoyed that!”
What an exciting phrase! My primary editor just told me she’s sent the final edit of Seven Turns to the Editor in Chief for…whatever comes next. Something about a proofreader. I thought that’s what editors did, but what do I know? Though it’s true that one more pair of eyes is always a good thing.
It’s definitely interesting working with an editor. One that isn’t me, that is. Having been an editor in a past life, myself, I know for a fact that one can absolutely not edit one’s own work.
But the most interesting thing was that, while I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories about how editors completely butcher manuscripts and ruin stories, none of that happened to me. There was some stuff about commas and apostrophes, but that’s the bulk of it. I was asked to re-word a few awkward sentences, and my editor did offer suggestions on possible alternatives, but the final call was mine. All together a mostly painless experience, I would say. Certainly not as painful as They would lead you to believe, anyway. Never listen to Them!
Anyway, I hope this means I will have a release date for you soon. Watch this space!