Thursday, September 26, 2013

So… Just How did I get published?

I’m working on MASTER’S ENDGAME right now; the third book in the trilogy that started with FORTUNE’S PAWN and continued in PROPHECY’S GAMBIT

If you’ve read any of the series, you know that while there are a lot of winding subplots going on, the main theme concerns the red-haired, strong-willed barmaid Callie, and her unborn child with the bloodlines of Elf, Dwarf, and Human. She doesn’t understand that her unwed mother status is something auspicious—to her it’s an embarrassment and an encumbrance at best. All around her, people and situations she has no inkling of are coming together in the most exciting, and sometimes sinister and dangerous means. In the end, I’m not sure she ever will understand the significance of her life. I do; but that’s only because I know this story so well.

While its roots go back far deeper into my adult life, the actual source material for these three books comes from a far larger tome I wrote back in January 2000 to early summer 2003. I am currently revamping the last of it to fit the needs of my current publisher, the interest of my readers, as well as my own changing standards. 

Writing that seminal book took almost 4 years worth of hard work in snatches and sleepless hours between household chores, school meetings, family gatherings, cooking meals, gardening, taking pets to the vet, holidays planned and executed, and moderating an online bulletin board. Yeah life went on all around me, but I gave up hefty chunks of my free time and a lot of sleep to get words on the page, chapters filled, and the various threads of ideas interwoven to create this big backdrop, doorstop of a novel finished.

Finished—that’s the operative word here. I started something, I plugged away at it, and I eventually finished it. I’ve not always been good at that in my life, but I set out to write a book, and after a passel of false starts and short sabbaticals while I pounded my head against the wall rather than pounding keyboards, I actually finished it. THE CHILD OF THE FOREST was the original title, and I got it done. Completed. Kaput. Fin. Cue the end credits music.

I remember the day too, when I realized I was finally done writing the book. I typed THE END and then just sat there staring at the blinking cursor in disbelief. I might have even shed a tear or three. I couldn't believe I’d actually done it! All 850 some odd pages lay in files on the family PC, on various worn out laptops, and several floppy disks. It felt monumental. Printed up, a chapter at a time, letting my old Okidata laser printer rest when it got too hot, it weighed a ton and filled a box. With all the typos and changes, that monstrosity represented a torrent of words and an ocean of ideas that had come flowing out of my brain, running down through my stiff and aching fingers, and pouring onto those pages. Some days—hell sometimes for weeks or months—the words had barely trickled at all. Other times they came so fast, my poor keyboarding skills could barely keep up with them before they flitted on to wherever lost thoughts go. I looked down at THE END on that last page, and I knew then how the famous sculptors felt, watching a raw block of marble chip away into a masterpiece. I understood fully why it took Michelangelo 4 years just to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and how much he dreaded all the work involved in creating that masterpiece. I thought at the time I had created a monument of my own, and there was nothing humble about that feeling!

If you’ll forgive me for so naively thinking I had somehow reinvented the wheel all by myself, then you can get inside the sense of accomplishment I felt. So many of us set out to write, and so few have the resolve to see it through. For me, this book came at a time in my life when a lot of things had been going wrong, and situations out of my control were spiraling into continual frustration and anger. I needed to know I could do something positive with all that energy. After being a stay-at-home mom by necessity as well as choice, I was also hearing the career clock loudly ticking away. With not as many vital distractions keeping my urge to make a name for myself stuffed in the back hall closet of my mind, I was itching to do something BIG & IMPORTANT. Since my boys were nearing adulthood and didn’t need me as much, writing filled that yawning fulfillment gap.

Now, I suppose I could have stopped right there, and said, hey, I wrote a book—YAY ME!—but I didn’t. I wanted to sell that book to someone. So I groomed the manuscript as best I knew how, wrote a cover letter, and sent off some sample chapters. I waited, and waited, and waited some more. Eventually it…

…got rejected of course. Repeatedly. In my naïveté, I could not understand why. I thought it was brilliant, far better than a lot of what I had read. All my beta readers loved it. So did my tireless volunteer editor, Mr. Lee Houston Jr., though he did say it could be better with some minor changes. He also suggested that maybe I should consider dividing it up to make it less weighty and more salable; something I flat refused to do at the time. I was not chopping up my baby! Unfortunately, the mainstream publishers I was sending it to didn’t think it was anything to get excited over, and they summarily chucked what I sent them and sent back a form letter with a stamped signature and went on to the next item in the slush pile. Nobody was mean, just necessarily unfeeling, because business is business, and I didn’t have the industry chops or the glitzy eye-catching name to make it worth more than a cursory glance. So while the rejections were sterile and impersonal, the fact that there was no encouragement or criticism included left me yanking hair out by the roots. That doesn’t happen much in mainstream publishing, but it would at least have given me a chance to figure out just why this 4 year project wasn’t worth reading past the first page. The message was plain—don’t let the door hit your ass while you’re slinking away in defeat, Mrs. Unknown Author.

I had the damnedest luck too. My initial target publisher stopped accepting unagented work the winter before I was done. Without a contract in hand, my chances of attracting a literary agent were slim and none. I didn't even bother querying agents, just kept cruising through the Writer’s Market listings, and sending it out. Two other smaller publishers I chose got scooped up by one that had already turned me down. I was in the midst of reformatting it for yet another company whose submission guidelines wanted different margins, font, and so on, when the head of that company died, and things went into flux for new submissions. Out of frustration, I sent it back to one of the first publishers I’d tried, having heard the editor had left. He hadn't and I got my rejection slip far faster that time. Arrgghhh!!!!!!

I submitted short stories while that book was making the rounds too, glibly not realizing that the magazine market as a whole, and speculative fiction magazine markets in particular, had contracted to the point where just the big names or friends of the staff were getting space between the ever-burgeoning ads. I began to feel like Typhoid Mary when the one solid bite I got on a story was sent back for rewriting. While I was feverishly doing that, the owner/editor passed away, and the magazine went out of business shortly afterward. Double Arrgghhh!!!!!!

Five years of that hamster wheel insanity, and you could stick a fork in me, because baby, I was done. I chucked the last envelope with its rejection slip jammed back inside into a magazine holder beneath my desk, and stopped writing for a while. Seriously, I did. I can only handle so much rejection you know, and it reminded me far too much of dating. Now and then I’d write a little something just for fun, or pick away at the second doorstop book in that weighty series, but my heart was not in it anymore. A writer without an audience is like a daisy in a hayfield. You live and die in obscurity.

Fast forward to 2010, when I tentatively sent a couple of stories to Tommy Hancock over at the fledgling Pro Se Productions, now known as Pro Se Press. He was very enthusiastic about my stories, and because of that, so was I again. Fortunately, while I had been on hiatus from seeking Famous Authorhood, I’d never totally given up on writing, and had a whole lot more stories like those just waiting to be resurrected. Over the 20-some odd years I’d been banging on keyboards and wearing them out, I’d amassed quite a bursting file of stuff. I dug it all out, spruced it up, completed the unfinished ones, and started bombarding his inbox with clusters of tales I had once prayed would see light of day.

Quite a few of them have too. Some are still lurking in the wings, awaiting their debut, and they stand hand-in-hand with brand new material. Oh, what a feeling it is to see your name in the author credits, your very own words spreading over the pages, with maybe an artist conception of that this character or that scene looked like. That alone, was enough for me. People were reading what I wrote. It was incredibly orgasmic. I walked around smiling like the village idiot for weeks.

Along the way, Tommy asked me if I had any books written, or would I consider writing one? And yeah, I thought of THE CHILD OF THE FOREST, that hernia-inducing mountain of pages that was languishing in several hard drives and 28 yellowing printed chapters shoved in a closet. I kind of mentioned it sheepishly, because I knew Pro Se didn’t print the kind of lush, zaftig novels I had my heart set on creating at the time. Tommy didn’t care for the title, but he liked the premise, and said if I could split it up, and make each part a story unto itself, he’d consider it. First I had to submit a formal proposal, and then get to work.

Oh, you better believe I did! I’d had several months of writing notoriety I had never gotten anywhere else, and I was positively itching for even more. So I wrote a bang up proposal, dug out my best file of TCOTF, sawed my baby in rough thirds, and set to work. 

As I was working on that very first book, I started thinking about what to re-title it. I took the two main themes, Callie being a pawn of events around her, and yet being fortunate enough to have survived them, and came up with FORTUNE’S PAWN. That started the whole ‘chess game’ title theme for the series. Kind of funny, coming from someone who never successfully played a single game of chess (though I will beat the snot out of you at checkers).

Now I learned a lot from rewriting that first book; about what to keep and what to toss, how things can be worded well enough to get the point across and still be brief enough to qualify as fast paced, and how to seamlessly weave new scenes in between older ones. Not everything I had in the original book was worth hanging onto, but a lot of it was decent material. There were real gems here and there; so much of it was salvageable. It was an education, and an undertaking that required another walloping boatload of commitment, along with a practical jaundiced eye, to weed out even the most cherished scenes that had become too dragging and timeworn when reread. I eventually got past the stage where I wanted to curl up in a ball and moan every time I had to excise some precious little anecdote, and began gleefully whacking it to pieces and rebuilding it.

I have to give Lee credit as both editor and friend, for not pointing an accusing finger and saying, “I told you to break it up!” about 50 times a week. I could hear him grinding his teeth to keep from biting his tongue in half. Yeah, I’m that stubborn, but it’s what’s gotten me where I am. I even changed the personality of the main character—his beloved red haired barmaid—in the course of rewriting it, to be more as he had strongly suggested he’d like to see her. (Lee has a thing for redheads you know, but don’t tell him I tipped you off on that.) Callie was far more of a victim of circumstances and always an emotional wreck in the original book. In these retellings of her life story, she’s now a heroine in her own right, and I like her far better that way too. I promise you, she will continue to be so throughout her life.

Bottom line here is, splitting the book up worked well. The last third of the original tome was the most action heavy, and while I’m doing some serious cutting of source material, I’m able to retain far more of it than I did at the beginning. I am writing new scenes and rewriting within the old ones so that these three books that tell you all about dear Callie’s life in that complex fantasy world move smoothly together toward a conclusion for this series. I say ‘this’ series, because there will be more to follow, only I’ll be letting someone else take the lead. You’ll find out what that means by the end of MASTER’S ENDGAME.

What can you take away from this? First of all, if you want to be published, you have got to do a whole lot of writing. You need to be persistent in getting your work out where it can be seen, and not let the rejection slips (or negative reviews) stop you from writing more. You have to listen to feedback, even when it’s critical. Try and learn something from it too. Most of all; take chances—now and then tell someone what you are working on, show people what you have to offer. I know it’s hard to share, because we all worry about being scooped, pirated, or plagiarized, but people who know your work and enjoy it will tell someone else, and that can mushroom into opportunities. So don’t hide in your garret, get online and network! Indie publishing is the new frontier and it’s a very much an internet phenomenon. I got into Pro Se because Lee recommended me, as he had been recommended by someone else. That got me books listed on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, something I could not have done for myself at the time. Word of mouth is slow, but it can do what you don’t have a budget or an agent for.

I wouldn’t even be writing this blog post if I wasn’t stubborn and crotchety enough to keep at my craft. Today—with four novel length books, a digest sized children’s story, and who knows how many scattered short stories in print, sold on major online sites, and with more to come—I can proudly call myself a published author.

Now I’m working on adding ‘famous’ and ‘wealthy’ to that title. Hey, a girl can dream!

Write on,

Friday, September 13, 2013

My Latest Podcast!

Come join me and host, Pro Se EIC and front man, Tommy Hancock, as we yak about all the crazy, creative things that come out my demented thoughts and manage to make it into my stories. Had a lot fun doing this one.

And hey—while you're at it, on the same site, I have a featured title! Come check out what I had to say about THE HUNTRESS OF GREENWOOD anthology. That is one of four novel size books I've written that Pro Se has published so far, and part of my Imprint, HANSEN'S WAY. All the books in that imprint are set in the same world, BTW.

 If you're wondering just what I'm up to these days, I just sent a novel I finished for Pro Se in to be edited. Don't expect to see that one until sometime next year, but it will open a brand new series in the imprint. I should have an anthology opening another series coming out later this year. And right now, I am hard at work on the opening chapters of MASTER'S ENDGAME, the final book in the trilogy that started with FORTUNE'S PAWN and continued with PROPHECY'S GAMBIT. I have several short stories out there now in various stages of editing for three different publishers, so you can expect further news on this page.

Oh, and I found out recently, our local town newsletter—which I write a column for titled GIVE ME THE COUNTRY LIFE—will be posted online each month, starting with November. Since I just sent in the October issue, I was very excited to know I can share them with everyone after that. It's short, and mostly about seasonal doings and living out here in the rural neck of the woods, but it's a volunteer position. Just one more way a writer can give back to the community.

So all kinds of interesting writing going on, between housework, spending time with family, and putting up vegetables from my garden. Ah, the glamorous life of a writer...

Speaking of family, we've had a recent new addition to ours. Next to his proud older brother Ben, is Mr. Zachary Connor Hansen. Proud parents are #2 son Brian and my DDIL Stacey. What a cutie, and he is a very mellow, content baby. I am blessed with two amazing grandsons.

 Until next time,

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11, 2013—we remember too well.

I first wrote and posted this poem on the old Prodigy Communities Books & Writing Bulletin Board, September 14th, 2001. I have posted it somewhere online every September 11th since.

They Did Not Die In Vain

All humanity sighed
As souls left the earth
Lives taken swiftly
Unjustly so
They died not in vain
For tears and remorse
Wash clean the blood
On the crumpled edifices
Of steel and concrete
That makes civilization grand

But buildings do not define us
Within we are human
Warm and alive
Full of stories
Martyrs they became, oh yes
But so much more
Every last one
A living testament
To faith
And the greatest force on earth

We watched in horror
Over and over again
As the events were replayed
And reactions were given
Stunned looks
Terror in the streets
Angry oaths
Silent sobs
Open weeping
Our brethren were stoic
Or they cried and pleaded
They were dead heroes or victims
But they were all alive
Just moments before
Without any foreknowledge
Of their place in history
Etched on our minds
Engraved on our hearts
For eternity

I wept with them
The ones who died
The living left behind
The shattered hopes and dreams
Like the rubble in the streets
Made us all stop and think
That could be me!
I watched stunned
And vowed as did others
We will overcome this
We are one people
We are humane and caring
This cannot be!

Who dares challenge that right?
To live free and open lives
To send fear into our hearts
And sorrow of the most profound
For after all is said and done
Nevermore will we trust
With the heart of innocents
That we are safe and protected
In this womb of our building
In this fortress of our sovereignty

Will the swords of justice
Smite down the aggressors
And bring us peace and redress?
Or just a sense of revenge
I do not know
But I do know this
They died not in vain
Who gave their lives for freedom
And to help their fellow man
For as the tragedy struck
And lives hung in the balance
Or were snuffed out
I saw birds rise from the buildings
Sun on their wings
Angels of nature
Reminding me that there is a better place
Where there is no grief or pain
And no thoughts of war
May they live there forever
Those poor wretched souls
Till we join them again

And amid all the rubble
The twisted beams of steel and concrete
The dust and the fires
Papers fluttered to earth
A poignant reminder
We once lived and worked here
Do not forget us
We live on in your hearts
We did not die in vain
If the world becomes a better place
Because we once showed you
How to care about your brethren
And to value all you have
No matter how small it is
Or how rude and humble
Life is a gift