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September 2015

There's More Tucked into This Snail's Shell!


 

The Snail's Castle by Mark Gordon 
 

Jake Milson wants one thing and one thing only--to win the coveted and prestigious Hollingshead Scholarship to do postgraduate work at Oxford. He intends to travel to England with his girlfriend, Rebecca. But a problem arises. Professor Gregory Percival keeps getting in his way. During Jake's struggle with Percival, the lives of Jake, Rebecca, Percival, and Percival's wife, Margaret, intertwine. The novel, with its unexpected twists, draws you into the inner lives of its many captivating characters. It is a story of ambition, love, lust, and revenge set against the backdrop of romantic Montreal in the early 1960's.

Lisa Brunette gave this book 5 stars.

Purchase on Amazon. 

About the Author: 


Mark Gordon is a novelist and poet, born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

His published novels are The Snail's Castle, The Kanner Aliyah, and Head of the Harbour. He is presently living in Toronto, Ontario, and teaches English to newcomers to Canada. He updates his information regularly at www.markgordonauthor.com

His poetry has been published in numerous literary journals in the United States and Canada, including Quiddity, Illuminations, Poet Lore, RiverSedge, The Fiddlehead, White Wall Review, Roanoke Review, and in the anthologies Arrivals: Canadian Poetry In The Eighties, The Northern Red Oak, and Bright Stars 5, an Organic Tanka Anthology. Online, his poetry has appeared in Linden Avenue Literary Journal and Versewrights


Connect: Goodreads | Amazon | Twitter

Follow the Tour! 
 
September 21 - Little Dutch Bookshop
September 22 - Working Mommy Journal 
September 23 - The Life of K
September 24 - Kristian Wilson, Writing
September 25 - A Read-aholic
September 28 - The Overflowing Shelf
September 29 - Seraphina's world
September 30 - Cat in the Flock
October 2 - All Things Character It Is    

 



Why Is It So Hard to Finish?

  Writing wall
Revision notes for Framed and Burning. This was after I received BETA reader feedback and needed to revise the draft.

At last month's meeting of the Lewis County Writers Guild, we chose our programs for the year, starting with a list of brainstormed interests and then voting on our top picks. The most popular topics were 1) finishing drafts and 2) making a living as a writer.

These would seem to be in obvious conflict with each other, for if you can't finish the draft, you're a long way from making a living as a writer. But the group is the affable sort, its members up front about their own strengths and weaknesses. Thus "finishing drafts" garnered more votes than the latter.

I have to admit, this surprised me. I had not had occasion to think about it before, but I guess I'm what you'd call a "finisher."

It took me two years, but I finished my first novel around a demanding day job that required me to put in sometimes as many as 70 hours per week. I did it by using every three-day weekend and all of my vacation days to write and revise. This was a sacrifice, and I had the support of my husband and stepson, or I could not have done it. I also saw my friends a lot less and gave up fun Seattle activities, such as happy hour and live theater shows. 

For my second novel, I rearranged my life drastically in order to make space for both writing and the business of writing. I stepped down from management, scaled back to 32 hours per week (with a commensurate cut in pay and benefits), and moved to a small town where I could buy a house with room for a home office. Of course, things don't always go according to plan. The day job demands have sometimes meant I end up working 40 hours in four days so that when Friday comes, I'm pretty exhausted.

But the struggles and small sacrifices aside, I finished a draft of my second novel in only two months. I got up at 6 am and finished my day job duties by 3 or 4. Then I shifted over to the novel and worked till I went to bed that night, stopping only for dinner. I used Fridays to write, and I took a much-needed break from social media. I also wrote every weekend. I got to 90,000 words in record time.

But this isn't something I'd recommend. Sitting that much, as science has told us, isn't good for us

Part of the reason I pushed myself so hard is because I was passionate about the project. It had to come out. And I would say that if you aren't passionate about what you're writing, then of course you won't finish it. Why would you? We writers come to this because we have something burning inside us to share with the world. And if you aren't feeling that, then simply being able to check off the "done" box won't drive you to the page.

There have been projects I never finished, but it was right for me to abandon them: A novel I started in the summer of 2002. Another I began in the summer of 2003. When I look at both drafts now, I don't feel the passion in them. They didn't need to be finished the way other works have. Knowing when to abandon a project is key. I never think of these as losses. It was good practice, writing them.

I also have a finished manuscript I'll forever keep in a drawer: the memoir I wrote between 2006 and 2008. My agent at the time couldn't even get through it, it was so dark. But that writing wasn't wasted. It was a powerful catharsis, at the very least.

And I have one long-term project, a magnum opus of sorts, that I've finished half a dozen times in various incarnations, as a short story collection and then a 'novel in stories' and most recently as a straight-up novel. I might be periodically doing what amounts to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, or perhaps it will end up being my greatest work. I could also end up abandoning it for good. But for now, the passion is still there, just not the understanding of what to do with it. And that's okay. I've got plenty of other works to sustain me in the meantime.

So here are my first couple of tips on finishing:

  • Write where your passion is. Don't sit down to write a romance novel just because you think the genre sells. But if you read romance novels and think you can write them better, that's great! I chose to write mystery after working on the story lines for more than a hundred games in the mystery genre, reading mystery novels, and interviewing a crew of popular mystery authors for a magazine.
  • Don't be afraid to abandon a project if you can't finish it. All writing is practice, and if you've lost the passion for your novel, maybe it was just your warm-up draft. Do not read this as failure. All writing practice is useful.

The other reason I pushed myself to write 90,000 words in two months has to do with that other topic the Writers Guild chose to explore this year: making a living. My goal is to be a self-supporting independent writer by this time next year. That's a hell of a motivator, let me tell you. It makes me nervous just to write that here, because what if I fail? But I have a good plan in place for how this will happen, and writing it down is part of my goal-setting.

There's one among us in the Guild who's already making a living as an indie novelist, and you can see how he set the goal and then achieved it, his focus undeniable, his passion palpable.

At the day job, I spent five years on nothing but finishing things. Our deadline-driven, high-volume work was so focused on finishing that I had to design a digital queue to manage the projects and then hire a team to complete them all. My team routinely finished rewriting games with content equivalent to your average novel in about a week's time. When your job's on the line, you finish.

And that's the same level of urgency, I believe, that it requires to get to the finish line as a writer. Otherwise, your writing is what amounts to a hobby, something to be done at leisure, for the sole pleasure and enjoyment of the activity. And that is more than okay. It's wonderful, in fact.

Which brings me to these tips:

  • Consciously decide what your intention is. If you want to earn a living at your writing, that will lead you down a different path and set of choices than if writing for you is a hobby or sideline. For example, if you are a poet, you are not going to make a living at your writing. End of story. But like I said, that's more than okay. A great many writers would actually be happier if they relaxed and accepted their writing as a hobby. Writing and publishing my poetry collection was 100 percent a labor of love.
  • Set realistic goals either way. For my third novel, I've set a goal of getting to 20,000 words by the end of October. I'm at 2,800 words currently. That's a bit more reasonable than finishing a novel in two months around another job, and this will be better for my health and sanity, too.

If you're new to writing as an activity, which means you haven't actually done a lot of writing in your life, then you will need a great deal of training and practice, and that should be your mini-goal. While I completed a first draft of my novel in only two months, that was the tip of the iceberg you're seeing. What's underneath the water? Training through my English bachelor's degree, a certificate in writing, and a Master of Fine Arts in writing. After that comes my twenty-five-year career as a writer, editor, narrative designer, and teacher of writing.

I'm not saying you have to have all or any of that to be a writer who finishes drafts, but I suspect that a good deal of "not finishing" comes from encountering problems while writing and letting that stop you. Knowing how to tackle problems on the page takes instruction, training, and experience. And that definitely helps you finish!

Here's my last two bits of advice:

  • If you don't have the experience or training, get it. But if a degree program is not in the cards for you, there are lots of other ways to get the training you need, such as feedback groups, how-to books, conferences, workshops, and so on. There's an endless pool of resources available to you. In fact, a lot of writers end up making their living telling other writers how to do it. Beware that pyramid scheme, but do get the help you need from reliable sources.
  • Know what helps you finish other things in your life, and use them. I started off this post with a photo of the wall in my studio, which I've covered in clear whiteboard paint. I'm a list-maker and a visual brainstormer, and I know I have to see it "up on the wall" to get it finished. But for you, it could be something else.

Now let me turn this over to other writers out there: How do you finish? Please share your thoughts, tips, and techniques.


What I'm Reading: My So-Called Freelance Life

My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for HireMy So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire by Michelle Goodman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I reviewed this book on Amazon back in 2008 but find myself continuing to recommend the book to freelancers, so I thought I'd add it to Goodreads now as well. Here's my 2008 review, which still stands: As a freelancer for 16 years, I was skeptical at first that this book would teach me anything I didn't already know. I started out around the same time Goodman did, in my twentysomethings, and was just as green at the time (she and I both spent too much money on neat new business stationery). But I'd been waylaid along the route by a grad-school stint, and then got sucked into teaching, so her real-world advice has helped me refocus on the freelance goal, identify (and correct) a few re-entry missteps, and build on my niche expertise (even if you don't think you have one, you most likely do).

Plus, this book is a terrifically fun read. It's like sitting down with one of your gal-pals to talk shop instead of gossip. Although filled with practical, usable suggestions, Goodman writes with humor and pathos, sharing some of her own horror stories (such as a gig that dragged on so long, she ended up making a few cents per hour on it) and hewing to a no-nonsense, colloquial tone, with subheadings such as "Problem: Your Client Is a Bloodsucker" and "Ebbs Are for Amateurs."

I often receive e-mails from budding young freelancer-wannabes seeking advice. Now all I have to do is give them this book.

View all my reviews


'Granny' Award Winner No. 2: Cherie Althauser

Cherie_side_plank

Cherie Althauser, teaching yoga with the Sea of Cortez as backdrop. All photos courtesy of Cherie. Video by me.

I named the Granny Grace Award for Outstanding Women Over 40 after a trailblazing character in my Dreamslippers mystery series. Cherie Althauser could play her in the movie version.

Like Granny Grace, Cherie is an accomplished yogi who's committed to a spiritual path. I met Cherie when she taught a class called "Chair Yoga" at Embody, a gem of a studio in my adopted new locale. The inspiration for Chair Yoga came from Cherie's study of Iyengar yoga, which pioneered the use of props to help students get into postures correctly and safely.

As an experienced yogi, I was deeply impressed with Cherie's use of the chair to give students support--without sacrificing challenge. I took the class because I'd sprained my ankle. I made it through the class without any pain but left sweaty and feeling invigorated. It was especially fun to practice wheel pose using the chair.

Something Cherie said that day stayed with me: "All movement with intention is yoga."

Cherie's focus on movement began in childhood with ballet. She maintains she was never interested in the performance aspects of ballet, but she practiced it as a child and then returned to it for exercise as an adult. Now she applies her ballet training to teaching yoga. She explains: "In ballet, you learn that a movement can express itself from the core of your body out through the hands and feet. It's the same with yoga." 

Cherie_arabesque

Cherie in arabesque on the edge of a cliff near Sedona, AZ.

It's clear that Cherie brings diverse movement experience and training to the mat. In addition to Iyengar, she has studied a little Rolfing and Feldenkrais, both methods that focus on movement in order to heal or retrain the body. "I'm interested in how the body moves through life," she explains. "Yoga is the platform."

But movement alone would not be enough to sustain Cherie's path, which is also a spiritual one. In 2004, she came to a fork in the road that lead her to engage in spiritual research. "My whole life turned upside-down," she says. "I had a quantum change experience. I had a vision." She read books on religion and spirituality, reaching out to the authors when she had questions. 

Eventually, this brought her to a guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, and provided structure for her spiritual path in the form of the Self-Realization Fellowship. Cherie, who strikes me as level-headed and practical, says she was highly skeptical at first, wary of being drawn into a "cult." But she learned to meditate, which she and her husband do together now twice daily, and she returns to the Yogananda center in Los Angeles each year to check in with others on the spiritual path.

"He found me," she says. "I wasn't looking for a guru."

Cherie has taken up playing the harmonium and is committed to learning all of Yogananda's songs. She sometimes ends her yoga classes with a short concert.

 

In the U.S. the term "guru" can often have a negative connotation, as someone who exploits his position at the helm of a community of slavish followers. In stark contrast is the way that Cherie herself conducts class: with a sense of humor, as well as humility. She never takes herself too seriously. "Let's do...whatever that pose is called, something in sanskrit; I forget," she'll say. Or this: "You might want to grab onto your chair, as I'm going to, since I'm the one losing my balance." Her teaching reminds me that at its root, "guru" simply means "teacher," or better yet, "guide."

Undoubtedly her yoga instruction is grounded in her longtime career as a teacher and then program manager for the Child and Family Studies department at Centralia College, where she worked for more than 15 years. "The divine has always placed me in the role of teacher," she explains. But this role didn't come naturally. Cherie describes herself as intensely shy, admitting that this call to teach pushed her outside her comfort zone, again and again.

Her first encounter with the Child and Family Studies department came after she gave birth to twins and found herself feeling unsure as a mother. She tried to remember that when she taught, and then again when she supervised other teachers. 

At 65, Cherie is an inspiration for anyone looking for such an age to be filled with vitality and well-being. She shares this gift with others, both in Centralia and when she winters in San Carlos, Mexico, where she teaches English to underprivileged children, as well as yoga to retirees. 

Cherie_kids

 When asked what advice she'd give to others, Cherie answers, "Learn how to nurture your intuition. Learn how to hear it. Cultivate a close relationship with the divine, whatever that means to you. It's speaking all the time. You don't want to miss it."

 


I Could Win Kindle Scout - Unless Facebook Fails Me

 

Framed and Burning _ 1.96MB
This image was rejected by Facebook even though it does not violate their policy.

The long-awaited Dreamslippers sequel is ready, and I've entered it into a competition to win a publishing contract through Amazon. If you haven't already, I hope you'll nominate the book here on Kindle Scout. You've got five days left to make that nomination.

I need all the help I can get. Amazon doesn't share the number of votes an author has gained through the competition, but they do share these metrics: 

- what sites are sending traffic to your Scout page

- how much traffic you receive

- what percentage of that traffic comes from Amazon itself vs. outside sources

- how long your book has been in the "hot and trending" category

One thing these metrics revealed is that Facebook is far and away the largest referral site. The first week of my campaign, I was able to run an add asking people to vote for the book. This made a huge difference. However, the second time I tried to run the exact same ad, Facebook rejected it, claiming it's in violation of their policy because it contains an image (the book cover) with more than 20% text.

This was not only annoying and damaging to my campaign, it's just plain wrong: Facebook's policy states that book covers are exempt from the 20% rule. Here's an illustrative screenshot of their policy to prove my point:

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 8.40.48 AM

There it is right at the top: "The 20% text policy doesn't include: - Pictures of products that include text on the actual product (ex: book covers...." Furthermore, the ad ran successfully for an entire week the first time, but then Facebook's bots arbitrarily red-flagged it. 

After many attempts to resolve this issue, which is a lot of fun because all I get in response are boilerplate emails from bots restating language that has already been stated and doesn't apply, I'm still nowhere.

I have a professionally designed cover that I can't run in an ad on Facebook for no good reason whatsoever.

Assuming that Amazon really is granting publishing contracts solely on the basis of real votes (I'll admit that it could be/probably is more complicated than that), whether I win this thing or not could rest on the faceless Facebook policies that have been called "the stupidest thing on the Internet."

(But let me just say: I love Facebook. I was on there before any of my other friends, I spend way too much time in Facebook space, and I depend on it now for my author business. When Facebook works, it's a beautiful thing.)

The only way to get around this problem is to monkey with the Facebook-provided image grids, as others have done, but this means altering the book cover image. I can only run it with the series logo dropped out and the title moved so it's not over so many of the Facebook grids:

Framed and Burning FB final
This one Facebook approved. For now, anyway.

 Facebook might still reject this one in the future. Of course, hassling with all of this took time that could have been better spent writing.

Beleaguered and a bit jaded, but still hopeful, I press onward. Thanks so much for your vote!