The Dust of Dogs and Human Insight
I’ve been reading A.S. King and learning how to write. Every one of her books is a meditation on the art and craft of the novel. She is wonderful. I just finished her first book, Dust of 100 Dogs, and her latest, Reality Boy – back to back. I’ve read all of her books inbetween also.
Dust is part pirate tale (female protagonist), part coming of age story, part love story, part dog story, part modern and part historical. How would you take being born aware that you were a pirate and then, because of a curse, forced to the live the lives of 100 dogs, before you were again born into present day remembering each of your previous iterations fully?
The pirate story and the modern story are told in parallel as are a number of dog stories. You know the ending at the beginning but it doesn’t matter because you still don’t know how exactly King will get you there. This is a great technique and very hard to pull off yet she did this with her first novel and in such an engaging way. I was so caught up in the story I kept thinking to myself, maybe it won’t end the way she said. I knew the way the story ended. She’s cursed and lives the lives of 100 dogs. But still… I knew how it ended in general, guessed the specifics, and still felt a lump in my throat when I got to the last page.
Reality Boy is so different and so visceral. You can read the synopsis on Goodreads. I’m not going to give it to you. It’s still too fresh for me. A good book will do that to me. It has to settle. I found tears on my cheeks a few times reading Reality Boy, and not because I felt manipulated but because the authenticity of Gerald’s (the protagonist) situation made me – feel. King is expert at capturing what it’s like to be in late adolescence (17). As an example. Gerald has a developmental insight at one point (he sees the world from someone elses point of view). I know this sounds mundane, but it’s hard to explain this kind of world view to adults and for me, King really puts us inside Gerald’s head and shows us his realization in such a painful and amazing way. And it is amazing, in a story telling world accustomed to cartloads of over-the-top action, explosions, and gun-play, how powerful a single moment of genuine insight from a character we care about can be.
What will she write about next?
F is For Phobos (Fear)
Phobos is the Greek God of Horror and Fear. Interesting. It’s also the name of one of the moons of Mars. Ph is the sound of F in Greek and there is no letter F. I didn’t know that until a few moments ago. Onward.
As a writer what do I fear? What makes me wake up in a cold sweat, shivering? Here’s my list – writer specific:
- Not getting published.
- Getting published (I know, I know. But sometimes when you get what you ask for its scary. Hey, I’m a neurotic New York Writer. What can I say.).
- Having writer’s block.
- Not having writer’s block. (because I’m thinking… when will I get writer’s block?).
- Getting a bad review (I’ve gotten rid of my Goodreads bookmark from my toolbar. I had worn it out from obsessively checking it. It’s like crack for writers.).
- Red pen marks (this is a hold-over from high school).
- Having to do social marketing (I’m getting over it but only slowly. I’m still not friendly with Twitter but at least we’re acquaintances. And I’m starting to know Facebook on a first name basis.).
- Letting go of the need for publication (if I let it go will it be more likely to occur just like the old tale that says if you want something let it go?).
- Not letting go of the need for publication (if I let it go will it not occur in which case this is a catch 22 and I’m screwed.).
- Losing my electronic manuscript and not having backed it up.
- Sending out emails that get lost in the electronic maelstrom of computer generated life and not knowing that they never reached their destination.
- Having to look for an agent again (don’t have to, it’s just a fear…)
What’s on your list?
Leave it to Beaver
I don’t know how this happened but it has. Cid Wymann, the protagonist in my book Open Wounds, has been compared to Leave it To Beaver. He’s a “Jewish Leave it to Beaver,” the reviewer wrote. I don’t know what to think about that. The Beaver didn’t really get into fights, or try to kill anyone, or get beaten by his father, or have his mother die in child-birth, or learn how to duel with a sword. Can you imagine Beaver dealing with Lefty, Cid’s WWI mustard gassed, one-eyed, one-armed, one-legged, cousin from England? The pristine world of the 1950’s black and white, father reading the paper, mother cooking, house neat and suburban, just doesn’t seem to fit.
There were a number of nice things said by The Write Girl in her review not the least of which is a comparison to Return to Exile (the Hunter Chronicles #1) by EJ Patten. I loved that book. And she says, It’s one of her favorite books about a boy growing up. But I can’t get past the Beaver. On the other hand the Beaver’s last name is Cleaver. That sounds Cid-ish. Cleaver. No elegance like the word épée or even foil or sabre. More thuggish, Cleaver. More like Cid’s father or Scarps, one of Cid’s antagonists.
Say, no more about the Beave. Thanks to The Write Girl for reading and reviewing and adding her review to Goodreads.
Here’s the link to her review: The Write Girl
Four Calling Agents, Three French Editors…
Three things I learned this year about publishing (please remember I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. These are based on my experiences this year).
- It’s better to be published by a legitimate press than to be self-published. Even if it’s a small press – if you want your book to be carried in a store it has to be available from Ingrams, Baker and Taylor, and or Folio. These are the big distributors in the business. I found in every instance in approaching booksellers and managers in over twenty bookstores across the country that as soon as I told them I was not self-published and that the books were available from Ingram or one of the others I was treated instantly differently (ie: better).
- Marketing is like a second job all by itself. I now work a full time day job, teach yoga twice a week, write, and do marketing for my book. I spend at least 1-2 hours a day marketing (twitter, facebook, blogging, emailing, interviewing, reviewing books, etc…). And that’s probably low. Finding a balance between marketing and writing is key to surviving your first publication.
- The publishing business is crazy. Agents leave the business without telling you, publishers are put up for sale seemingly out of the blue, subsidiary rights can be sat on, writers are just as competitive as world class athletes when it comes to snagging a seat at a full table of librarians during author speed dating, books don’t show up at readings, managers who’ve been called ahead of time about your store visit can’t remember talking to your publicist even though it was only 24 hours ago, Goodreads is like crack (or craic) for writers, it seems no two writers have the same writing process though most would agree it’s incredibly hard work to do (find a writing process and to write), and finally once your book is published writers you’ve never met before will help you to sell it through blurbs (which are key to getting your book looked at by just about everybody in the business and many readers looking for a new author to read.
After Christmas I”ll have to come up with some writing resolutions. That will take some thought. Here’s something though. For the last twenty years I wondered if the coming year would be the year I finally published my first novel. This year I don’t have to wonder anymore.
And that’s a very cool thing.
Crack for Writers
Goodreads is like crack for writers.
It’s not like crack for readers, but it is for writer’s – at least it is for me.
I didn’t do Goodreads until my book was going to be published. Then I got on, got in, and started being a part of the Goodreads world. I smoked the pipe. I joined the YA Historical Novels group. I settled into the background after a short comment or two and didn’t even mention my book. I played by the rules.
Then I got my first review and it showed up on Goodreads. It was five stars.
That’s when I knew I was in trouble. First I only looked at the site a few times a week. But when my book came out and the list of people reading Open Wounds or who put it on their book shelf grew and more reviews came in – I started checking ever y day.
Then it was twice a day – every day.
I started noticing the details about the site. I checked to see who was new on the to be read list. Did I know them? I got an adrenaline surge every time a new person was added to the list. I checked that number first, then checked the date of the most recent addition to the list. And I kept waiting for more reviews.
Five star reviews made me feel euphoric. It would last a few hours. Then I developed some tolerance and it lasted less. Now I needed them just to feel normal.
Four stars send me right into withdrawal.
One reviewer said she wanted to give me four and a half stars but since Goodreads only allowed full stars she gave me four. Why didn’t she just give me five? Why can’t the cup be half full and not half empty? Doesn’t she know that reviews are crack for writers and no matter what anybody says, we live and die by them? Is it just me?
I tried to quit. I tried to stop looking at Goodreads, just for a couple of days. So I turned to Amazon. Amazon was like methadone, only it didn’t work as well because methadone is for opiates and crack is a stimulant. I should have known better. I do drug prevention work in my day job.
Goodreads called to me.
So I went back. But this time I think I have it more under control. I’m taking a harm reduction approach. I took it off my toolbar bookmark. I went on to write reviews of books I’ve read so I keep the site in a positive light. I tell myself the number of stars isn’t important. I keep myself busy. I occupy my mind.
Then I check it… just… one… more… time…