Saturday, February 23, 2013

We've moved!

Just a quick note for all of you wonderful people who have stopped by the blog over the last couple of years:  we've upgraded and moved on!

If you still want to follow Nine Day Wonder and all our awesome interviews (past and future!), then stop by

In fact, I've just posted a new blog post in answer to a friend's question:  You've waited so long to be published!  How does it feel?  Find out about this bittersweet but encouraging turn of events.

See you in the new digs!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Publisher Spotlight - Tyche Books: New and Shiny

To tell you how I first came to meet Margaret Curelas and Tina Moreau would take a blog post all of its own, but I assure you, it’d be an adventure story full of twists, turns, coincidences, and an overabundance of women wearing hats at the World Fantasy Convention in Toronto, November 1st through 4th, 2012.

I’d mentioned a few posts back that I had been approached by Margaret to see if I would be interested in interviewing some of her authors in time for book launches.  The more I interviewed their authors, the more interested I became in Tyche Books itself, not only as an emerging publisher, but as a business owned and operated by two real risk-takers with an unorthodox sense of timing.

Now, if you’d like to hear an actual professional interviewing them, then go here.  It’s the link to an interview condcted by DayBreak Alberta, a CBC Radio production.

Upon listening to that interview, I was inspired to chat them as well.  The challenge:  they’re in Alberta and I’m not.  But, then Fortune – Tyche’s mascot, by the way – smiled upon us.  Tina and Margaret were both coming to Toronto to attend the World Fantasy Convention, and I just happened to be in town at the same time.

I had invited these two businesswomen out to dinner, and to my vast delight, Patrick Weekes came along for the ride.  So, between the last panels and Patrick’s 8:00 p.m. signing at the Sheridan, we headed across the street to a Chinese food place, and after an awesome repast of foodstuffs we could barely pronounce, I switched on the voice notes on my shiny new iPhone, and we talked shop.

It also bears mentioning that Tyche Books has recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.  Ladies, many happy returns!

New Kids

Tina and Margaret share something of a common experience:  they both originally worked for Edge Science Fiction and Publishing.  Tina was the managing editor of one of the smaller imprints, handling such things as the slush pile, author relations, layout, and so forth.  Margaret was the acquisitions editor for Edge proper.  After a couple of life-changing events (specifically, having kids), both found themselves looking for new dragons to slay.

In fact, both Margaret and Tina were looking for work that they could do at home – work that allowed for hours flexible enough to accommodate a baby’s changing (and demanding) schedule.  Fortunately, because of the evolving nature of the industry, they no longer needed to store boxes and crates of material; no need for heavy duty production or shipping; everything could be done online – and therefore, from home.

Tina told me, “Most people would say we were a little bit crazy there.”  Considering they were both new mothers – one with a toddler and the other with a three-month old – and considering that they were starting up a new business in a changing industry at the tail end of a recession, I was inclined to agree!  But as their business credo states:  “Fortune favours the bold.”  Apparently Fortune also favours the sleep deprived.  In their first year alone, they’ve launched five new books, with a solid line-up for the future.

So was it hard getting started? I asked them.  Tina admitted that the learning curve had been a challenge.  She held up two hands about four inches apart, saying, “I’ve learned this much.”  She moved her hands to the left.  “And [Margaret]’s learned this much.”  She added the spaces together.  “And we’ve pooled our knowledge base.”  Then she held one hand close to her chest and pushed the other one across the table.  “And we still have to learn this much.”

Margaret agreed.  “Our learning curve is shrinking, but it was pretty steep in the beginning.”

It’s Tina who handles a lot of the business aspect – the numbers, book layout, the distribution, basically all the whip-cracking that takes a book from a project to product, on time and at budget.  This is the kind of thing she went to school for, though even in her late teens, she had the entrepreneurial bug, though her initial dream of starting her own bookstore didn’t pan out.

And it’s Margaret who deals more with the authors and the social marketing, from acquisitions to editing.  She’s also moving out of her comfort zone to talk with the crazy people behind interviews and reviews.  Y’know, people like me.

By the way: Lucia Starkey is responsible for cover design, and according to Patrick Weekes, she’s a delight to work with.  I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her yet.

Collaborative Competition

Experience and big dreams aside, I know it’s tough for any new business to start from the ground up, especially when there’s already a huge and well-established base of competition.  So I asked them how intimidating the competition was.  They surprised me with me with their answer.

“We’ve found small presses have welcomes us with open arms,” Tina said.  “It’s not as competitive as I would have estimated.  When you get into the larger presses, it does become more competitive – between the larger companies.  They don’t see smaller companies as much of a threat.  They don’t really care too much about us one way or the other.”

Margaret agreed that there is a sense of collaborative competition.  “What’s good for us is good for others.  So it’s beneficial for small presses to help each other.”

When they were first starting out, Tina and Margaret talked to a lot of other small presses out there, and they exchanged information, contacts and best practices – a lot of don’t do as I did, do as I do now experience.

And when you think of it, this makes a lot of sense.  Let’s say there’s a start-up company out there that offers a new way of marketing small press books.  To keep that start-up company afloat, it would make sense to throw as much business their way as possible.  Small presses can only do so much – a book or two or three per quarter, tops; but together, many small presses can throw a lot of business over to that start-up company.  The start-up company stays afloat, multiple small presses are increasing their distribution effectiveness, readers are getting more books at better prices – everybody wins.

This all blew me out of the water.  I mentioned that I’d seen this kind of attitude between other emerging and independent authors, but I couldn’t imagine it happening amongst small presses.  So I asked if this was a changing trend, or if it was just a Canadian thing.  Margaret said that most of the presses they’d met were Canadian, “and more specifically, Albertan.”  Tina added that even most of the small presses she’d met in Ontario and BC had been supportive.  So maybe it is a Canadian thing.  With luck, I’ll be able to interview small presses in the States and abroad as well, and we can find out.

I asked them what they saw as their biggest challenge in expansion.  They could sum it up in one quick word:  distribution.

A little sidebar here:  in the scant few hours I’d spent at the convention, the one thing I heard the most was:  support Canadian presses by buying books from Canadian presses.  Without consumers paying for unique and high quality books from worthy small presses, those small presses will simply disappear.  It’ll be that much harder for rising stars to get noticed and get paid for doing what they do best:  building culture and telling good stories.

So how do we encourage people to buy more from small presses, especially when it’s so easy to download free books elsewhere?  And how do we know where to find books from these small presses?  And therein lies the challenge of distribution.

Tina explained:  “If you have less than ten titles, you’re considered a risk.  They [book sellers] think you might just be a self-publisher who is trying to get away with a publisher title.  So anything under ten titles is considered a risk.  So a lot of them won’t stock anything from anyone with less than ten titles.  Once you cross that threshold, though, then they start taking you seriously.  Then they start thinking, ‘Well, these guys have been around for a while, they’ve got ten titles, all right...then they’ll start stocking you.’”

Margaret added, “By the end of next year, when we have nine or ten titles, that’ll go away.”

In the meantime, Margaret and Tina are doing everything they can to break past that image of bad risk.  “Yes, we’ve only got five titles,” Margaret said, “but we’re still legit.”  Considering the big plans they have plans for 2013 and 2014 – including the Canadian sf anthology Masked Mosaics, edited by Camille Alexa and Claude Lalumière – and considering the amount of time and effort they put into marketing their agents, I would absolutely agree that they have the business sense required to be “legit.”

New Gates Mean New Gatekeepers

So how do they market a relatively unknown press with emerging authors?  Margaret said simply, “Not easily."

Tina explained:  “Because we’re a small press, we have limited marketing dollars, so we try to do as much as we can with as little as we can.”

They rely a lot on social media marketing and a lot of word of mouth.  That comes from Twitter, blog posts, interviews, Facebook fan pages, the lot.  They spend a lot in review copies as well, to get them into the hands of reviewers who will also help to spread the word about their books.  They also take out ads in specific, niche-appropriate and well-researched magazines, they get their books into library catalogues.

And who bears the responsibility of marketing, I asked, the publisher or the author.  Margaret said it’s a fifty-fifty split.  It’s also up to the author to build and make use of a network of their own.  Patrick Weekes had a bit of an advantage here, coming “preloaded with all the software” required for virtually marketing his book, The Palace Job.

But it's more than just the means that make social media effective.  Patrick said, “It’s important having a network already in place full of people who are willing to say the things that you’re embarrassed to say yourself.  I can say, ‘Hey, my book is out, it’d be great if you all buy it, thanks.’  But that’s just once.  Whereas, y’know, it’s good having a network of friends who are going to jump on and say, ‘Patrick’s book is out!  It’s really awesome!’”

Margaret said, “I do know there are some publishers who say, send us your novel and your marketing plan...and your sales are entirely based on what you do, and not what the publisher does.”  In other words:  it’s sink or swim for the new author.  If you don’t sell well, then you’re at risk of being turned down for future works; or if you’re accepted, you may end up being published under another name, to distance yourself from a bad sales record.

This is especially true when it comes to the Big Six – or rather, the Big Five, what with the merger between Penguin and Random House.

“I’ve known a couple of writer friends who are published by them,” Tina said.  “If you’re still a fairly small author, they will publish your book, and they’ll say ‘This is the amount of money that we will spend on your book.  You tell us where we need to spend it, and then you’re on your own.  And that’s it, that’s all you get.”

They mentioned that marketing is something they’re still learning.  It’s an area of the business where they have no formal training.  But they have hired the services of a BC publicist to teach them the ropes.

But one of their biggest marketing tactics right now is the concept of the eBook card, produced by Enthrill.

Seriously, these are cards are fantastic:  they have the cover of the book, the blurb on the back, and a single-use code for the purchase of an eBook copy.  You buy a card (maybe even get it signed by the author), you go home, you redeem the code, upload it to your eReader – sweet, geekly awesomeness, Batman.

They’re also great for selling at conventions:  anybody travelling by plane can agree that a good convention runs you the risk of going over your luggage weight restrictions.  I bought eight books myself, and I was only there for a couple of hours.  I also seem to buy books from long-winded writers.  That’s why I’ve downgraded from a briefcase to a backpack:  it’s more ergonomically friendly.  But if I were to buy eight books the size of a postcard, I could throw those puppies in my purse and not look like some thirty-something high school nerd.

But there’s another practical angle to the use of the eBook card:  it allows a bricks-and-mortar bookstore to sell eBooks.

We got to talking about the influx of independent and self-published authors, and how it sometimes feels like shoddy workmanship has pushed eBook markets to the saturation point; consumers have become wary of independent authors disguised as small presses.

“People for many, many years have been using publishers as the gatekeepers to fiction,” Tina said.  Consumers trusted established publishing to weed through the slush pile and produce only the best; and now, in some ways, Amazon and Kobo sites have become a kind of slush pile of their own.

“I’m reminded of a blog post, I read,” Margaret said, “called, ‘I’m not your beta reader.’”  You can find that blog post here.

Tina said, “...If you want to self-publish, you’ve got to do it right.  You’ve got to be professional about it.  You’ve got to treat it like a business.  You have to pay the right people to do the things you can’t do yourself...And a lot of people out there don’t treat it like a business.  They’re just like, ‘Hey.  I’ve got a book.  It’s finished.  I’m going to throw it up on Kindle.’  And yeah, then you get this whole beta-reader mentality and people are getting burned and now they’re starting to do the ‘let’s check the brand on the spine to see who publishes this’...People will still go and get the eBooks from self-published authors, especially if it’s an author they know, or recognize...but I think people will become more wary of this whole beta-reader self-publishing thing.”

To me it sounded like not was the industry evolving, but so was the consumer base.

Margaret compared the situation to her once-upon-a-time job as librarian.  “With Google and better, more advanced search engines, people were like, ‘Well, why do I need a library,’ or ‘Why do I need a librarian, because I’ve got Google, and the internet has everything!’  Well, when they start doing serious research, the librarians are the ones to say, ‘Here’s how to find out if this is a trusted source.’”

Which brings us back to the eBook cards:  they allow book sellers to be the new gatekeepers of good fiction.

“That’s kinda the reason why the whole eBook card thing is so awesome,” Tina said.  “It’s because we get to go back to bookstores and use their expertise in selling sell eBooks!”

Margaret jumped in and said, “And because they have the cards, they have something physical, something tangible for people going into the bookstore to actually browse...That’s how [some of my friends] shop for their eBooks:  they go to the bookstore and say, ‘Okay, I like this and this,’ and they take a picture or make a list, and they go home and buy the eBook.”

How much easier then is it to buy the eBook card right in store, then go home, enter the code and upload the book to your Kindle or Kobo?  It means you can buy your eBooks with pocket money, real live legal tender.  Or in my case, you can buy one with spare change, and then hand that eBook card over to a friend, like I did to Michael Lorenson.  (I already had a signed copy of the The Palace Job, so he got the eBook version.)

It also means that you can buy an eco-friendly eBook and support your favourite independent bookstore.  Win-Win-Win situation.

So does it pay to be the new kid on the block?  Absolutely yes it does – especially when the whole block is being refurbished.

Tyche Books is on the bleeding edge of a new era in publishing, one that is scalable, economical and very exciting.  It allows them to be creative and be geeks at the same time.

“We like being new and fresh,” Tina said.  “Like our eBook cards.  Because they’re new and shiny and I like playing with them.”

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Travelling Light in Regina

I'm taking a quick pause between interviews to mention something that's been on my mind since my late September vacation in Regina, Saskatchewan. (For best fun, click that link and keep zooming out until you see the second big city, Saskatoon.  Check out all that checker-boarded farmland.)

Now, I'll admit, most people wouldn't expect someone to take a vacation in a place like Regina, but dang it, I would recommend it.

Granted, the trip wasn't originally booked as a vacation.  The original plan was to meet with a client of mine, for whom I'd written a book - which is based primarily in Regina.  Unfortunately, the client couldn't make it, due to a last minute wedding change in the family, so instead of cancelling altogether, I decided that I should at least see the city that I'd been writing about.

Now, everybody goes to the east coast or the west - or, heaven help them, either to Toronto or Montreal - but few people break out of the ordinary and go some place...well...ordinary.  Whenever I travel, I tend to sniff over the tourist areas, then march off the beaten track to go find out how the locals actually live.  Sometimes, this has proven to be one of my better decisions (best latte ever:  someplace over the bridge at Shrewsbury, Shropshire in England), and sometimes, not so much (stumbling into the Lower East Side in Vancouver and coming upon a pair of youths shooting what looked like blue Gatorade into their veins).  But you learn more about a place once you slip the velvet rope and go where tourists probably shouldn't venture.

Not my hotel! But the Regina Inn was directly across from the under-construction place that *was* my hotel.

And Regina isn't exactly a tourist trap, which meant I felt perfectly at home.  As soon as I was out of the hotel, I could turn left and go downtown, or turn in any other direction and be among the denizens of Regina.  (The airport was disorientingly small, and it was weird to see this one dollop of urbanization in the midst of vast, sprawling, farmed terrain.)  One thing I will say though:  if you're not accustomed to prairie air, you might be taken aback by the smell of roasting, ground nutmeg.  At least, that was the impression I had for the first 24 hours.

But it really is a charming place, with lots of grass roots cultural events, an engaging night-life in the centre of town, a bustling and dynamic university, a huge park, and - unsurprisingly - a lot of open space.  My one regret is that I didn't get a chance to see enough of it.  I'll get to that in a second.

It was a perfect day of sunshine.  Boy, I wish I had more pictures to share. Read on to know why I don't have any.

I had left Montreal at dark o'clock (I think I was at the airport around 5:30 a.m.) on the Tuesday morning, and after a 2.5 hour layover in Edmonton, Alberta, I flew over the well-defined city boundaries of Regina around 2:00 in the afternoon, local time.  (Seriously:  farm land, farm land, farm land, metropolitan area! farm land, farm land, farm land.)  Both flights were swift and easy, populated with quiet readers who practised good hygiene - very much a change from the last few flights I've been on.  Regardless, I'm lousy on a plane, so I went directly to the hotel and crashed for about an hour.

After that, I got up and went to see what Regina was really like.  That's when I kept looking around for people smoking all those funny clove cigarettes, only to find myself surrounded by non-smokers and wondering where the heck the smell was coming from.  It took half an hour for me to realize that not all cities smell the same (for better or worse), and this was the dusty, spicy smell of the Great Plains.

And without a word of a lie, I'm telling you:  as soon as I was outside the hotel, my lips shrivelled up like slugs in a salt-shower.  The air was so dry, my lips chapped within a sentence.  Between this and my post-flight/pre-migraine stupor, I thought all this was rather funny.  And I hadn't anyone present with whom I could share this humorous observation.

I bought my first few souvenirs a few minutes later:  high-calibre lip balm, and a few maps - considering I hadn't figured out my easties-and-westies since we landed, and I can't stand not knowing my cardinal points.  A few minutes later, I realized:  I had no plans until the following day around dinner, I had no idea what to do, and maps are lousy conversationalists.

That's both a boon and a pooper:  when you're travelling alone, you can do whatever the heck you want.  Eat what you want, when you want, where you want.  Go catch a show, go back to sleep, sit around drinking bad coffee and pretending to read a book while you watch life go by...Unfortunately, when you're bored and out of ideas, you have no one to provoke but yourself.

I also eat worse when I'm on the road.  Now - I should know better.  Having had round after round of food poisoning, I should know to adopt a fully vegetarian diet on the road.  So in Edmonton, I had a burger (with fries), and in Regina, I had another burger (with fries).  The second burger I couldn't finish, and I blamed it on both fatigue and the prior burger.

Where in Regina this is, I don't know.  But I'm glad I wasn't driving.

The next day was a bit more engaging. 

For the record, I've spent most of my life in "Tall-and-Sprawl" urban centres like Toronto and Montreal, so I'm not accustomed to so much sunshine.  What struck me most odd was how long it took for the fricking sun to fully rise!  I swear:  there were 90 minutes between first light and the point at which the sun fully cleared the horizon.  They're not kidding when they say it's the sunniest city in Canada.

1 hour after first light.  All the way back to the hotel I felt like I was stepping on my own shadow.

I went off in search of an army surplus store because I desperately needed a backpack that could outlast me.    (I broke my carry-on luggage by carrying it.)  Here, I had a splendid reminder that the distance between two points on a map are probably not within walking distance, and that once afoot, I'm too stubborn to stop or turn back, no matter how tired or sore I am.

That's another one of those boons-and-poopers:  you can't shift the blame when you're lost, and you can't delegate someone else to ask directions.

Honestly, if you think you're in a small town, I recommend getting out and walking.  It's never as small as you think it is, if you're on foot.  The eyes can be fooled, but the feet are never wrong.

From there, I walked into the taxi office (because I didn't know the number for the company, and I just happened to pass the place), and I took a cab up to the University of Regina, 'cause darn it, I was bored, and because darn it, my mother wanted a travel mug from the place, and darn it, because Kevin O'Brien just might have been on shift, since he works there.  So, I surprised Kevin O'Brien at his place of work, and we went for an impromptu coffee.

Kevin and I went to high school together, many, many moons ago.  Much has happened since then.  He's now married.  I'm not.  We got to talking about our various careers, and about what had brought us both to this place.  I told him about my writing contract and the last minute change of plans.  He told me about his emigration from Kingston, Ontario.  Kevin's husband Kyle had landed a teaching post at the University, and it was a good job; and fortunately for Kevin, the same day he'd landed in Regina, he had a job interview of his own, and (despite jet lag) he scored high.  He'd found his own employment at the University.  Then, we scheduled dinner for later that night, for a party of three.

Let me tell you:  that was probably one of the most fun nights I've had in a long time.  We went out to a relatively posh restaurant and gabbed and laughed and guffawed over memories we'd shared in common - or had forgotten - and realized things about each other that we probably couldn't have expressed when we were younger.  I asked about their wedding and they gave me all the funny details; we talked about my church; we talked politics and economics; and we talked about the experience of being in Regina.  It was so much fun that we relocated the party to a pub a few doors down to continue the laughs and conversation.

But partway through dinner, before we left the restaurant, I realized that I couldn't finish my meal (fancy chicken and fancier veggies).  I'd thought I would have been hungrier, since I hadn't had anything since breakfast.  It felt as though I hadn't finished digesting the two burgers I'd had the day before (which could also have been true).  Still, I managed to share the better part of a dessert with Kevin, but that was more because of greed and awesome flavour than because of need; and after that came some "spirited" conversation, which made matters only worse.

To no one's surprise and due entirely to my own fault, I woke up in the night feeling very penitent.  I went back to bed feeling bleh but not bad.  The pressure and pain in my head were localized to one half of my head, indicative of a migraine and nothing else, so I didn't think anything of it.

Later that morning, I woke up feeling completely out of sorts, weak, exhausted, snuffly, nauseous - the gamut.  I tried making coffee, but the very smell of it made me run to the bathroom with all due haste.  Fortunately, I hadn't had food or water in a few hours, so it was a pointless exercise.  A vigorous, emphatic but pointless exercise.

This, I was soon to realize, was to become a routine every 20-30 minutes, whether I smelled coffee or not.  Within an hour and a half, I gave up trying to slither back into bed; between futile visits, I just sat on the floor at the end of the bed, my clammy and pallid face not six inches from the oversized TV.  I couldn't even be bothered to get to my feet; crawling was the safest and only effective means of travel that day.  Unfortunately, I think I wore a trail in the hotel room carpet, going from Point A to Point B and back.

After five hours of CSI reruns, I oozed back under the sheets and slept for at least three dramatic gun battles and one big reveal.  I was feverish, groaning, miserable, and completely alone.  Nightmares came and went, and as I emerged from the haze, I had one clear and horrifying thought:  "This is how I die.  I'm all alone, and it'll be housekeeping who'll find me wrapped around the toilet wearing nothing but sweat and mismatched unmentionables."  (Note to self:  don't watch murder mysteries when feverish.)

I'd left my itinerary with my family, and I'd originally had plans with Kevin and Kyle for the Thursday night as well, so I would be missed if worse came to worse; but the thought of being completely alone, two time zones away from home, without anyone knowing what was going struck me to the core.  There was only one person who could be responsible for me, and that was me.  So if I had to walk to the pharmacy, there was only one person who could do the walking for me.  I decided walking was a stupid and infeasible means of locomotion for any self-respecting life form, so I stayed in bed and went back to sleep instead.

A couple of hours later, I felt all neat and squared away inside, as if nothing had ever been wrong, so I decided I should at least get some water and food into me.  I figured the worst was over, and that the nap was precisely what I'd needed.

Fifteen seconds after food hit stomach, what had been dry trial runs now became a grave, projectile and unmistakable reality.  I had the flu.  This was not going to go away after rehydration and some guilt-laced aspirin.

Worst of all:  I had a flight to catch at six in the morning, local time.  I get airsick.  I had a migraine.  I had the flu.  There was not a chance in a million that I was going to survive the flight to Toronto, and then onto Montreal, without a barf bag surgically taped to my face.  I seriously thought they would take one look at me, flash back to the days of SARS and Swine Flu and refuse me aboard.  I would be stranded indefinitely in Regina with all manner of bodily fluids issuing forth from my body.  At one point I honestly thought I had Ebola.

So, running like Patient Zero from soldiers in hazmat suits, I flung myself three blocks toward the nearest pharmacy and plunked down a ridiculous amount of money for a ridiculous amount of tummy-soothing medication.  I ran likewise back to the hotel with my stomach in my mouth, counting the very seconds until I was safe in the bathroom once more.

I drank at least two litres of ginger ale, popped a gazillion Gravol and managed to sleep fifty minutes of every hour from then until four thirty in the morning.  I felt bad about ditching Kevin for dinner #2, but he was very understanding and compassionate about the whole thing.

The plane ride was every bit of agony as I'd expected, only with more limping, more congestion and more ear pain than foreseen.  While I should have been concentrating more on my nausea-reducing mantras, I couldn't help but think things like, My gosh, I've infected every passenger aboard this plane.  Every one of them is bound for a different destination, and they're going to infect everyone else, and then they'll infect more people...I've started a plague.  I will go down in history as the new Typhoid Mary.  No - don't touch that, you'll infect - aaaaah, too late now.  Good job.  You've just murdered somebody.  Now, will you stop breathing on people?  Jeez, I really do wish we could crack open a window...(For the record, I did use antiseptic hand wash, but that never gets rid of the sweaty cooties in your brain.)

I staggered after my luggage (which was mercifully swift) and hobbled outside to wait for the parking shuttle (and strangely, people gave me a wide berth at that stop).  Once deposited at my car, I realized my keys had fallen to the seventh level of hell, somewhere inside my luggage, so I sat on the parking lot pavement and undid every zipper and clasp.  I thought, "My gosh, this is a stupid way to travel.  I'm sitting on the ground behind my car in a parking lot with dirty underwear and half-consumed Gravol strewn about me."  The keys were in the last place I looked for them, for which I was glad.  At least I hadn't left them at the hotel.

I drove home with all the windows down, and upon arrival, I left pretty much everything in the back of the car, took the dog outside, called my mother (I'm not even sure she recognized my voice), then crawled into bed with every electrical thing turned off, including the phones.  The dog was more than happy to nap with me, though she did get a bit restless after the third or fourth hour.  We got up long enough to take her out again, and I turned the computer on to prove to concerned friends and family that I was still alive.

Over the next forty-eight hours, I slept for twenty-eight.  By Monday, except for some sniffles, it was like I'd never been sick at all.

But what stuck with me was the fact that I could just as easily have been poisoned or drugged by a random stranger...Well, suffice to say, it would have been a horrible inconvenience to someone to come and pick me up, if the outcome had been worse.

This hasn't discouraged me from travelling alone.  Because of the current cost-prohibitiveness of taking someone with me, I'll either have to travel alone or stay home.

But I have learned a lot.

For one thing, I probably could have called Kevin (in my best flu-like and pathetic voice) and begged him to swing by after work with a loot bag of meds.

For another thing, I could have called any number of kind friends in Montreal to come by with a spatula and peeled me off the Park-and-Fly tarmac.  Having one of them drive me home probably would have been safer for the rest of Montreal.

But these things don't occur to me.  I quite literally forget to ask for help.  I forget it's an option.

For a third thing, I did do right to make sure others knew my itinerary; and thanks to the marvels of modern technology, I was able to keep in contact at all times, either by phone or by wifi.  This is definitely a good habit to continue:  keep in scheduled contact.

So the moral of the story, I guess, is this:  yes, travel alone; but make sure others know where you're going to and when, and whenever possible, have plans to meet up with someone local, someone you know and trust.

And yes, I would definitely like to go back to Regina.  There are so many pictures I didn't take!  But I have another "ordinary" place to visit first, and a few extraordinary ones as well.

2013, I hope, will involve more travel than the usual Montreal-to-Toronto runs.  If I'm going to be an awesome Canadian author, I'd better see a little more of my own country.

With thanks to Kevin and Kyle for a wonderful visit, just the same!


Quick and interesting post-script (because one should always write a good story with a twist ending):  a couple of days ago, Kevin contacted me by Facebook.  He mentioned that food at that same restaurant we'd been to had tested positive for e.coli, and that at least one other person in that same week had contracted food poisoning.  So it may not have been the flu after all.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Survivalist Guide to the Rejection Letter Blues

Between interviews and reviews, I've been reading other people's blogs.

I stumbled across one post by Sloane Taylor by way of Sharon Ledwith.  For the record, I agree with everything Sloane says:  editors (probably) aren't evil, and you do need to brush off the dust and to carry on.  After the rejection, review your manuscript again and make it ever stronger.

But Taylor glosses over what to do during what she calls the "blue period."  So, I'd like to amend this by proposing a few tried and true survival tactics. Now that I'm approaching my 20 year mark in "not getting a single full-length project published", you can count me as something of an expert in this regard.

So, allow me to present my three-step Survivalist Guide to the Rejection Letter Blues!

Step One:  Keep Score.

Award yourself special prizes every time you hit 100, 500 and 1,000 points.

- 10 points for every hard copy (snail-mailed) rejection letter that has your title and name on it
- 10 points for every electronic form rejection letter that has your title and name on it.
- 25 points for every hard copy rejection letter sent on 1/2 of a standard 8.5" x 11" letter
- 25 points for every electronic form rejection letter that does not include your name or title.
- 50 points for every hard copy rejection letter that has been photocopied askew by some nose-picking, cross-eyed lackey.
- 75 points for every rejection letter that has specific feedback addressed to you (or to your agent, if applicable)

- add 5 points every time your title is misspelled
- add 10 points every time your name is misspelled (I have an unfair advantage here!)
- add 15 points for every spelling error (aside from your name or title); be careful not to mistake a cultural variant for a spelling error:  you say color, I say colour; I say tire, she says tyre...

Suggested prizes:
- 100 points:  favourite non-alcoholic beverage in your local eatery/cafe, favourite candy/chocolate, thirty minutes of computer games...
- 500 points:  re-read your favourite book from childhood, dress up in your best formal wear and go out on a date with yourself...
- 1000 points:  play hopscotch at a bus stop, wear a Halloween costume around the house...

Step Two:  Allow yourself to react

Choose actions from each of the following lists - denial, angry, sad, oblivious/altruistic, eccentric-genius.  For fun, try a different combination each time you receive a rejection letter.

Denial Reaction (Choose One)

a) Laugh.  Point at your screen and/or letter and laugh again.  When someone asks you what you're laughing about, point and laugh at them, as if they didn't get the joke.  Bonus points if you can make them laugh with you.

b) Choose to believe that there has been a gross and laughable error on the part of the editor:  surely, there were two authors with your name, and two projects with your title, and simply by accident, you received the rejection letter that was clearly intended for the talentless hack who plagiarized both your name and your working title.

c) Recognize that this rejection letter was meant for your evil twin, and clearly wasn't meant to be addressed to you.  You get their mail all the time.  Especially around that time when you get your post-Christmas credit card bills.

d) Research the Illuminati. They have a blacklist of certain geniuses and will do everything in their power to ensure their ideas are stifled (aka never published), because in the near future those geniuses will unite and free mankind from the Illuminati's global domination.  Clearly, you are on their list, and you are the greatest threat to their power.

e) Write yourself an acceptance letter in the style of the editor who sent the rejection letter.  Mail it to yourself.  Celebrate when you get it in the mail.

f)  Celebrate all the book signings, contrived marketing campaigns, awkward live readings and reviews you don't have to endure yet!  Think of all that free time!

Angry Reaction (Choose One)

a) Make two copies of the rejection letter; if this is a rejection letter sent by mail, make photocopies; if it's an email rejection slip, print two copies.  Take one copy and tear it to shreds; use of teeth is strongly encouraged, but proceed with caution, because paper cuts between your teeth are ugly, painful and really hard to explain.  File the other copy for future reference.  You'll probably need to blog about the blindness and callousness of the rejecting editor once you've attained the success you so obviously and richly deserve.

b) Repeat after me:  "They couldn't handle teh awesomeness that is me!"  And this is true, because if they attempted to publish teh awesomeness that is you, their presses would be overwhelmed by the magic of your words, and the instead of printed paper, unicorns and rainbows will spew forth, and those are devilishly hard to bind in a standard 6"x9" paperback.  (And the use of "teh" in this case is deliberate.  It's an internetism.)

c) Shout, "No, I reject YOU, sir!"  (Substitute "ma'am" where applicable.)

d) Make up a list of the funniest substitutes for "Drat, I didn't get accepted".  Note:  this is a lot more fun when you don't use any of George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words.

e) Make anagrams of the rejecting editor's name (i.e. Carol Green = Coral Regen) or puzzle-fy the name (Carol Green = Harmony-Noel Verdant).  Use this name in your next book.  Make sure the new character is put into awkward and embarrassing situations.  Use with caution!  And beware of karma.

f) Yell "Hulk Smash!"  Extra points if you do this in a grocery line-up.

Sad Reaction (Choose One)

a) Go cry, you sad-face.  Blubbering is totally encouraged.  Ensure that you attain new volumes of post-nasal drip.  Unintelligible noises while pointing to and/or thwacking the rejection letter are advised.

b) Slouch in your chair while chewing bubble gum and vacuously watching YouTube videos of cats trying to jump into progressively smaller boxes.  Videos of giggling babies and/or of goofy dogs are also acceptable.

c) Wrap yourself in a blanket, sit in a chair in the corner, and blow bubbles in your spit.

d) Hum "Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, might as well go in the garden and eat worms."

e) Go watch this short film.  You'll thank me for it later.

f) Go make sad faces in the mirror.  Exaggeration of facial expressions is required.

Oblivious and/or Altruistic Reaction (Choose Two)

a) Go to your local cafe or eatery.  Pay for the non-alcoholic drinks for the next four people in line.

b) Find a sad, lonely stranger.  Tell them the funniest (and cleanest) true story that comes to mind.  Ask them how their day has been.

c) Write a totally random but encouraging email to a close friend, extolling at least three of their virtues.  Provide examples.

d) Go for a walk.  If you have any, take with you:  small child(ren), dogs, ferrets, cats, spouse(s), stuffed animal(s), toy firetruck...

e) Go to YouTube and find clips of your favourite cartoon from childhood.  Freakazoid is required viewing.

f) Give old books to a local charity, social organization or shelter.

g) Help a little old lady/old man across the road.

h) Do one random act of kindness.  Bonus points if no one sees you do it.

i) Spend time with family and friends, away from the computer.  They are now your primary focus.  Put interesting people between you and the rejection slip.

Eccentric-Genius Reaction (Choose Two)

a) While in a public location, give yourself a standing ovation.  'Cause you deserve it, man.  *sniff*  You so deserve it!

b) Spend the whole day as a superhero (or villain) in disguise.  Don't let anyone know they're talking to a real-life superhero (or villain).  Wear a secret smile, because this rejection letter is the one little defeat that propels you to righteous greatness!  Yes, you may wear your superhero underwear.  You have my blessing.

c) Write a parody of your own story.

d) Take one dialogue section of your story and save it in a separate file.  Change only the genders of all the characters, then regenderize the names (i.e. Charlie = Charlotte, Carla = Carl).  Re-read the scene.  Let the hilarity ensue.

e) Take one action scene and save it in a separate file.  Change all the weapons and projectiles into something ridiculous, i.e. guns = automatic bubble machines; bullets = spit balls; knives = overripe bananas.  Let the hilarity ensue.

f) Go to your personal library.  Pick up five books at random.  Write rejection letters for the authors.  (But for goodness sake, don't send the letters!  Sometimes you never know if you'll actually meet this person.  It's happened to me many times, and once in a New York City Indian food restaurant!)

g) Write down five reasons why you think your work wasn't good enough to be accepted.  Next, write the opposite of each of those five reasons; always end the positive phrases with an exclamation point.  For example, if you wrote "because my dialogue is formal and cludgy :( ", then write "because my dialogue is realistic and it totally flows like a real conversation that I can hear in my head!"  Recite all the opposites aloud, preferably with a bloody bold English accent as if you're narrating a rousing good game of rugby, football or polo.  Now, using all those positive phrases, go back to your project and prove yourself right - even if that means revising whole chapters to make it so.

Step Two and One Half:  Suggested Diet & Exercise

Recommended food stuffs.  For those of you with dietary restrictions, you might want to skip this part.

a) Sandwiches made of chocolate chip Eggos smothered in Nutella.
b) Ice cream, but only for breakfast.
c) Cotton candy and/or taffy and/or candy apples.  Any sugary snack that came from a country fair will do.
e) Like Sharon says:  wine and cheese.  I add, *in moderation!*  Because too much cheese can give you gas.
f) Eat dessert before the main course.  Go on.  Live dangerously.
g) Added by popular demand - and recent practice:  shawarma.  It's Avenger-approved!


a) Air drum / air guitar / sing along with the Muppet's version of Bohemian Rhapsody.
b) Dance to the Village People's YMCA.
c) Do the Funky Chicken and/or the Hustle (or this version, which is probably better known.)
d) Attempt one of the All Blacks haka, as shown hereOr here

Step Two and Three-Quarters:  What *not* to do, ever!

Do not...

Take it personally.

Take any of this process too seriously.

Assume that all publishers are stupid, blind and/or too busy to have actually read and appreciated your manuscript.  If you do assume this, you'll carry that attitude with you if and when you meet prospective publishers, editors and agents.

Assume that editors don't actually care about culture, art or innovation; assume that editors are only after the bottom line and will never pick up a new, unestablished author again.  Same reasons apply from the previous point.

Assume that everyone is waiting to see you fail.

Believe that you are doomed to a life of dead end jobs and poverty.

Assume that you'll never succeed at anything, ever again.

Assume that all other "successful" (aka published) authors were only accepted because of who they knew, not what they know or how well they write.

Let this letter become the existential crisis of your life.  Writers are more than tinkerers of words; they are people who experience life, and life (I'm led to believe) is somewhere outside.

Assume that you suck and you should never have bothered writing it in the first place.

Drown your sorrows in self-harming behaviours.  No one is worth it.


Step Three: The Post-Rejection Period

If and when all your outstanding submissions have been returned:

a)  Collect all the feedback to see if there are any trends (i.e. problem characters, superfluous scenes, flat narrative.)
b)  If you did write "five reasons why this book might have been rejected", add those to the feedback list.
c)  Write out your synopsis from memory.  Do not cheat.
d)  Re-read your book, making special note of any times your attention wandered - or when you were completely sucked into the story.  Highlighters are your friends.
e)  Prioritize what needs to be fixed:  Plot comes first. Characters come second.  Setting and mood come as a result of the first two.  Theme happens usually by accident, but you can highlight it in the second pass-through.
f)  Give yourself a goal of how many submissions you want to make this time around.  Create a plan.  Then, keep score and promise yourself prizes!
g)  Repeat Steps 1-3 as required.

Survival vs. Thrival

If you have received all of your submissions back and currently have nothing outstanding, congratulate yourself.  You have endured the hardest trials any writer can ever face (except for everything that comes after publication, of course).

If you can get through a series of rejection letters without crumpling into a big, whiny, alcoholic, sniveling bunch of nerves curled up in the foetal position under your desk, then you have what it takes to be a rejection letter survivalist.


If you can get through years of rejection letters, if you can incorporate what sketchy feedback you receive, if you can knuckle down and dredge up the most awe-inspiring, most bittersweet, most powerful narrative as a result of rejection, then congratulations:  you are a thrivalist.

Thrivalists grow with every rejection letter.  They go through the same reactions and sadness and anger that every other survivalist does.  The difference is:  they thrive in adversity.  They take their lumps and they come back swinging.  After every rejection letter, their next project is better, more solid, more fleshed out, more powerful than ever before.  And their rejection letters come back with progressively more detailed feedback - which only adds fuel to their spiritual fire.

So what are you?  A quitter?  A survivalist?  Or are have you got what it takes to be a thrivalist?

Hulk Smash!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Marathon Month - Part Two, the Marathing

Thursday night, I'd just heard a kind-hearted (and slightly hammy) audience cold reading one of my radio play scripts.  The story they read was the basis of what I was about to write in Huntsville, Ontario, for the 12th Annual Muskoka Novel Marathon.

I was already hopped up on positive energy and adrenaline, because of all the Facebook chatter in the weeks leading up to the Marathon, and because of all the funds my mother and I had already been able to collect for the YMCA Literacy Programs - which is the whole reason why we put ourselves through this silly marathon in the first place.

I have to say, I have some of the awesomest, most generous friends and family a gal could hope for.  Between my mother and I, we raised $847.50.  That's almost $500 more than what I raised last year.  To put that in perspective:  the person who raised the most last year had collected just over $600.  In total, the Marathoners of 2011 raised roughly $8600, and that was the best year we had ever had, by far and away.

And, thanks especially to Tobin's efforts, we were able to get commitment from TELUS to match up to $500 - each.  So that was an extra $1000 right there.  Tobin raised I think about $600 as well.

This year's goal for donations was $10,000.  Between Tobin and I, we were going up to the Novel Marathon with almost 25% of this year's goal.  I was psyched for this marathon.

But you know what?  I only came in at second place for top fundraiser.  The top prize (the Remy), went to someone who raised over $1300.  (Tobin and I had both said that we would not count the TELUS matched contributions toward our totals, otherwise I would have had a fighting chance.)  I did win a fancy handwoven / handspun scarf though - which I've barely taken off since Saturday night.  I'm even wearing it now.  Fortunately for the rest of the public, that's not the only thig I'm wearing.

It was Tobin's first time at the marathon, but he knew a few people already, like Kevin Craig, Sandra Clarke, and fellow newbie Marie-Eve Girard, so I'm sure that put him somewhat at ease.

But for me, I remember Friday night as a period of much leaping into arms.  It was a family reunion.  I only get to see these people once - maybe twice - a year, but I think I keep in touch with them more than I do my own cousins.  I've watched many of them move from "unpublished" to "launching this year" or "launching a second book".  And as you've read in a previous interview, I was actually in the same room with Kevin Craig the moment he got the call from his agent, telling him his first book had just been accepted.

We goofed off, we kibbitzed, we introduced ourselves, and we met Nancy West, who is the Team Lead of the YMCA Literacy Programs.  I wish I had recorded what she'd said, because it was one of the best and most passionate summaries of the problem and the solutions.  Every dollar was assigned, and so much more had to go undone for want of money.

And then, after the intros were done, the games began.

I'd had two goals for the start of the marathon:  be the first with ten (I failed - Susan Blakeney beat me by THAAAAAT much), and to close out the night with 50 pages.  I didn't get to fifty either, before my eyes fell out onto my lap.  After all, I hadn't slept more than 90 minutes since Wednesday morning, so I was already pooched.  So, Tobin took me back to my hotel room, and I crawled into bed watching Stephen King in Creepshow.  By the way, Comfort Inn - probaby one of the best stays I've had in a hotel in a long time.  I didn't hear anything from the neighbours until Monday morning.

Unfortunately, my head was still abuzz, and despite my best efforts, I didn't get to sleep until well after 2:30, almost 3:00 in the morning.

The very next morning - around quarter to seven - Tobin gave me the wake-up call.  I was so out of it that when he said "Get up!" I said, "Yes ma'am!"  I'd had little more than 4 hours of sleep.

Saturday was one very long day of massive typing and stuff.  To my discomfort, there were six people who were already ahead of me in terms of word count, and they maintained that lead.  There were others who were typing lockstep with me.

Jackrabbits like Susan and Kevin, they scare the pants off me - they were at 150+ by Saturday afternoon, leaving me pretty much in the dust.  Kate Wheatley was a surprise contender, too, staying hot on my heels every step of the way - and Tobin, too, which really surprised and impressed me. 

But I've got one advantage they don't:  stubborn, old-fashioned stupidity. 

I went out later with friends to celebrate and goof off, and there I got to hang out with the likes of Kevin Craig, Cheryl Cooper, and Shellie Yaworksi (sorta - she was at the far end of the table out of yell-shot).  I managed another hundred pages, when I came to a natural break and decided to call it a night.  Back to the hotel I went - this time on foot - and by the time I got there, I was SO full of ideas I couldn't sleep again.  I had just over three hours of sleep that time.  Maybe four.  I think "zoning out in the middle of a conversation" could count as power napping.

I got on a roll during Sunday, and I knuckled down.  Despite my best efforts, the fatigue was starting to kick in, but I was still going at a good clip.  I really, really liked where the story was going, I liked how the characters were developing, I liked the suspense, the gradual revelation of neat stuff - and the IMAGERY!  Wow!  If I wrote half as well as I hoped I did, if the words did the imagination any justice, I may very well have come up with some of the best animated imagery I've ever written.

And then someone (LORI TWINING, I'm LOOKING AT YOU...!) asked me why I was the only one who hadn't done an all-nighter yet.  All the cool kids had done it, and it was fun every time.  Had I realized that Tobin hadn't done an all-nighter, and yet he was a cool kid, I would have turned down the dare.  Instead, stupidly, I gave into peer pressure and buckled in for an eleventh-hour all-nighter.

Now, to be fair - up to that point, I'd only had a rough sum total of 9 and a half hours of sleep since Wednesday night. 9.5 hours of sleep spread out over 72 hours.  An all-nighter with that little sleep beforehand?  That's DUMB.  I will not do that again!  EVER!  By dawn, I was sick to my stomach, and I ended up only writing 15 pages.

On the other hand, there were some awful laughs the night crew enjoyed, the night crew being Kevin, Marie-Eve, Lori Twining , myself and Monika Moravan.  (I'm probably missing a couple.  If I missed you, I'm sorry, but I'm amazed I can remember this much.)

Of course, those 15 pages are probably the most deliberately surreal of the lot, and MAN - hello character development - did I have fun with them.  But considering up to that point my cruising speed had been about 800-1000 words an hour, 15 pages (less than 1100 words) over eight hours was a bit of a let down.  Tobin drove me back to the hotel, and I was asleep before the door was closed.

Two hours later, I was up again, and back at the desk.

Believe it or not, I wrote 72 pages on the last day.  There's no logical, rational reason for why I could write so much on such a sleep deficit, but it certainly does explain why I was physically incapable of verbal speech by dinnertime.

The marathon isn't won on Saturday or Sunday.  The marathon-aspect of it doesn't really kick in until Monday.  The ability to push on when you're already past your limits, that's when the most prolific is won.  (For the record, I wasn't even trying for quality, so if most prolific is the only thing I win, I'm happy.  And if I don't win that, all the better - I won't have to defend my title for the fifth year in a row.)

In the end, I wrote a total of 312 pages between Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Monday at 6:00 p.m.  To give you an idea:  2009 = 300, 2010 = 305, 2011 = 250 (with best in adult category), and this year, I came in seven pages better than my personal best.  All that, and only on 11.5 hours of sleep between Wednesday night and Monday evening.

That's a fancy, mathematical way of admitting insanity.

In the end, there was not one thing I didn't enjoy about this marathon.  It was, without a doubt, a success from six weeks before it even started.

Because in the end, we raised $14,572.50 - almost 50% more than our total year's goal.

And I cannot wait for next year - because if my hopes pan out, next year's going to be the best one ever.

13's the charm.