It’s real

About seven minutes ago, I sent off the final draft of my new book to a publisher in Seattle.

They like this book, they wanted this book, they are going to pay for editing and proofreading and printing and will do all the things publishers do to a book before they try to sell it. They are very enthusiastic.

It’s hard to describe how wonderful this feels. Not loud and boisterous wonderful, but quietly fulfilling wonderful. Like seeing my daughters graduate, or holding their own in an adult conversation. Having the apple trees thrive.

According to our contract, they want to have the book available to readers on August 15. That’s a pretty tight time frame, and that’s pretty cool, too. In fact, there’s only one thing that isn’t amazingly wonderful about all this.

I had to write it under a pseudonym. That’s just how it played out. It’s going to be a while before anyone can know that it’s mine.

 

 

How this works

When I started writing last month in Costa Rica, I had no clue what I was writing about, why I was writing, whether it was or would be anything. I wrote because that’s what I do. If you’re curious, it begins here.

I said as much to Dick about halfway through the trip when he said he thought it should be a book: Books need to be about something.

All I had were verbal snapshots. But after a while, I noticed the snapshots were really of people, in this kind of interesting environment. After a little while longer, I sensed that there was coherence to it, even if I still didn’t know what the unifying principle was. Yes, it really does work like that.

I was sending it out to people I thought might be interested, and the response back was incredibly supportive. Not only was that favorable response a significant reason why I kept on, it forced me — you forced me — to include important visual details.

If you had not been there and I had waited, those details would have been lost, because I would have waited and then had only ideas, and the imagery, the environment that was so important, would have begun to fade.

But it still wasn’t about anything. It did not have a theme.

Two days after I got back I was trying to figure out a title for what was basically a collection. I think I’d written about the plane trip. Well, I know I had, because that one was actually written by hand on a yellow note pad when I could not connect to the internet in San Jose. I don’t know if I had transcribed it, though.

About that particular piece: I  told “Valerie,” and also “Olivia” and “Alycia” while I was in Bocas, that I’d just realized I was going to have to subject myself to the same process. Not to do so would have been unfair, dishonest. Later I would tell one of my favorite readers, “I could not ask of them what I was not willing to give.” That’s all I knew, so I did it.

After I got to Oregon, I was trying to think of a title for the collection. I went through several possibilities while sitting in my chair and letting my unintentional chew on the problem while I looked at the mountains.

Journey? No color. Slide Show? No again, similar reason but closer, maybe.

Then all of a sudden, I got a huge shove right in the middle of my chest. It almost took the wind out of me.  “Butterflies.” Of course. What an idiot. Obviously, I was writing about butterflies. These wonderful, incredible, occasionally tragic people were butterflies; delicate, resilient, often but not always beautiful, very different individuals with similar needs and desires.

With that came the answer to the problem posed by Dick  when he said it should be a book. What’s it about? It’s about the life cycle: seeking, struggling, transition. Butterflies do it. We do it.

Is that original? Not even close; butterflies have been used as metaphors since long before we knew there were things such as metaphors. Are we butterflies? Of course not.

It would work.

I will reorganize things. I will probably take people from one place and put them in another to create “story,” an emotional beginning middle and end. I will flesh out some places where I left things too sparse.

I’ll do more research on butterflies themselves, so I can make the metaphor solid. I’ll add these sparingly — I’m not going to hammer readers with science. A paragraph or two in each “chapter” to illustrate how it fits into the whole.

Then, “Butterflies” will will be a book. Like a butterfly, it will have gone from being one thing to being something else, very different. It will hopefully retain the bright colors of the previous generation — which would not be there were it not for those of you who allowed me to send you what I was seeing and feeling as I was seeing and feeling it.

I won’t do much of anything for a month. It has to sit for a while, undisturbed, while I get some distance from it. Then I’ll tear into it again, change it, fix it, redo that a few times, and then it will be done. It will be a very small book that will hopefully cause readers to feel reading it was worthwhile.

I can’t thank you enough. All of you.

~Erik

Next step

Chalice is finished. There are still a couple of important comments to come in, but rewriting the conclusion is finished. First responses have been very positive. Proofreader edits will be entered by the end of next week.

Finished… well, the work of the writer is finished. Work of the author continues: Legal considerations remain; the book needs to be formatted for Amazon and uploaded; I need to format for print then get it printed; and I need to hire a publicist. Actually, those are not the work of author, but part of my work as publisher.

I wish my squeamishness about the label “self-published”  would dissipate. Despite observations about the revolution in publishing, especially over the last two years, despite  exhortations by Steven Pressfield, despite my belief in the work itself, despite the existence of 110,000 words in the form of a story, despite my experience with  “professionals” who focus only on markets and not art, despite all these facets, the feeling “it’s not real” nags me.

But it is real, and it has real value. And soon, anyone who wants to discover that will be able to hold Chalice in their hand.

And I will move on to the next one.

 

New and improved

“Chalice” is getting another conclusion. A reader whose involvement in the story was deep and thorough pointed out a flaw that lessened the book. The ending felt rushed, he said, and he was exactly right. When that part was written, I was anxious to have the writing of it over.

Few things disappoint me more when reading than a book where the author copped out or “gave up” at the end. And some great authors have given me this feeling, as well as a lot of movies that went through a test market process and give “feel good” rather than significance. When talking about “art,” a solid ending is as important as the opening “hook,” though I don’t think it receives the same attention.

So I invited another reader who liked the original ending, and we met with the reader who raised objections. For an hour and a half we discussed the whys and why nots in what could only be called a story conference.

The final result was wonderfully positive beyond my expectations. The new ending ties everything together, gives the tale more impact, makes it more “real,” and better suits what I was trying to convey. Though it can initially feel like a slap, that’s the gift of thoughtful criticism.

Wind

The wind started blowing hard at about 2:30 a.m. My sleep is off anyway but the wind makes the steel barn groan; mountain-facing windows flex and distort reflection like disappointment of the self-absorbed; juniper and pine lean and twist to resist what feels like a threatening.

Can’t write. Too little sleep, current project too dry for the energy I can bring to the task, wind breaks flow of thought. Pay bills, I suppose, get taxes in the mail before I motor over the hill. Stop halfway at Rosie’s to get an oatmeal raisin cookie and refill the coffee. Daughter Sabitri made me stop at Rosie’s for the lemon poppy seed scone, daughter K.C. likes their hot chocolate and the macandcheese.

Portland if I can get a deal on a hotel, it’s the end of razor clam season at the coast and I’ll find a meal of them someplace downtown, then meander down to Powell’s for a browse.

Port Townsend to hunker down for a few days, real popcorn and digital projection with great sound at the small movie theater, stay at the lovingly restored Palace Hotel, see if I can get a solid draft done on the new project.

Should check movie schedules and music venues before I go but I just want to go, I’ve denned up here for too long, growling at the door. The week after would work too but I want to go, wanted to for some time.

The proprietor of Phoenix Rising Book Store in Port Townsend, flashbacks from San Francisco of decades ago, is back from India. Her large poodle Sumadhur is recently gone and I could hear sadness tussle with acceptance in even her written words, something of each we can share.

She is New York direct, she owns a bookstore, had offered to read my manuscript and is about halfway through. She does not know me nor owe me so I want to sit there for a couple of hours and find out what she thinks about it.

Friend of a friend knows Somebody

Chalice may be sitting on the desk of a big-deal publisher’s Somebody. I’d sent a copy to a “friend of a friend who knows Somebody,” because friend’s friend did preliminary reading for Somebody and said she would look at it.

Like the other 10 hard copies I sent off for feedback (with about 10 in electronic form), the spiral binding was for reader convenience and it was printed two pages on each side of each sheet to save paper.

Yesterday my friend got a call from his friend that she had sent it on to Somebody who said the submission was not even formatted to standards available online, but Somebody would read the first ¼ and give it to one of her readers who would read the whole thing.

Chagrin mixed with appreciation mixed with a modicum of “…but if I had known…” tempered by “… should I have assumed…?” I guess work pushed even in the direction of traditional publishing channels should have been formatted to traditional standards.

As we were walking his dogs through the manzanita near the river talking mostly about his divorce, my friend asked how I will feel if Somebody says Chalice is crap. My answer was sloppy, involving art and ego and opinions and the market place. All true, but only pointing at the nexus.

Which is that Chalice is not crap and knowing this gives me serenity. It is vastly improved from where it started and there is room for improvement still. I am doing my best and soon it will be done.

Chalice may not be for everybody, but it is not crap. And the opinion of one Somebody doesn’t change that, though of course I hope she likes it. 

Reader Feedback

Choosing the style “epistolary novel” for Chalice brings some interesting responses, some positive, some negative. They may break down by age and sex and whether a reader has done any online dating.

One reader, who I respect very much, said he kept trying to read the letters as if they were dialogue and wanted to say “people don’t talk like this.”

While on the phone as we discussed this, I pointed out that his original letter to me about the book was quite well crafted. “I spent a lot of time on that,” he said, and immediately conceded that I “had him.” (He then went on to make some excellent points, with examples, of language he would change.)

Another reader, also male and my age, very much likes the direct exposure to the characters granted by using their own words and delusions to describe who they are (and are not!).

Two different women have said the early and easy intimacy is much more common and believable in the current world of electronic dating, email, etc. and they like the structure if not the characters.

It may turn out that Chalice is not for everybody, obvious a long time ago. It may require a different type of attention. I do hope it has value for readers who don’t know the story.

In the mean time, it is fascinating and rewarding to watch the direction of the final draft drop into focus.