Much ado about not much

It's been a funny week. By which, I mean, it's been an unfunny week. Which, paradoxically, is still quite funny to me.

The new book, The Caretaker, is mapped out and the characters are taking their own sweet time to get where I want them to be. To be fair to my imaginary friends, I've been neglecting them in favour of a self-pubbed novel full of other imaginary friends, Covenant. You can read about my adventures with the Kindle Select giveaway over here.

The unfunny / funny parts?

Four book rejections this week. Four. And one of those was for a non-fiction comedy writing book I'd proposed. When your book is rejected before it's even written, that's a caution to you!

It has to be said, though, that one of my rejections was as positive a rejection as can be:

'While there was a lot I enjoyed about your submission, ultimately, I did not feel convinced I could find a publisher for it and therefore I don't feel able to offer you representation for this project.'

That's great, right? Sure, it is. Except, if this agent isn't convinced they could find a publisher - and they're a top-flight agency - what hope is there for the others?

Add to that the scumbags who still email me in the name of my deceased brother, eight years on, because one of his online betting account providers (whose account I changed to my email in order to close it) passed the email address on.

And it would be easy to sit and await the orange bird of despondency (second cousin, once removed, to the bluebird of happiness). Only, even without the horrors of the news and the loss now of both Iain Banks and Seamus Heaney, let's face it, if those are my biggest issues, life must be pretty good. In fact, it is.

If my past selves (interpret as you wish, but I mean the me I was at various times in my life) could see all the writing and the stories to be written he'd be totally stoked. He'd be thrilled that I chose to become a writer and remind me that he's in a far worse place, even if he does have a full head of hair and fewer battle scars.

In a sense, we are always indebted to our own past - to the courageous choices we made and, from a different angle, those times we flew a flag of convenience. Our futures and our stories are dependent upon the people we are today and what we do with the opportunities we have at hand (or actively create).

If you've recently had a submission rejected, or your characters aren't playing ball, or life just sucks like a lemon taster working overtime, you have my empathy. If the muse doesn't answer your calls and the world can't see how great your work or your potential are, that can really sting.

So, what are you going to do about it? 

Me, I'm going to write. Why would I do otherwise?

Here's Howard Jones to play us out:

Get shirty!

Is it me, or is it hot in here?

Unless you live in an igloo or on a desert island, without WiFi, a LAN connection, TV reception or a newspaper, you'll know that the prolific and celebrated author Elmore Leonard died this week.

Alongside his frankly phenomenal creative output, he is also well known for his ten rules of writing, which I will repeat for you here with additional comments:

1. Never open a book with weather, even if it is a dark and stormy night.

2. Avoid prologues, which knackers every novel I've ever written - bar one.

3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. But what about my whispering, gasping and growling, he muttered.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said” … he admonished gravely. Erm, well said?

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. Do interrobangs count? Or should that be

6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose." All of a sudden I have a sinking feeling that all hell will be let loose in my next edit.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Damn straight.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Finally, one I've often adhered to, only to find that readers feel they can't picture my characters clearly.

9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things. Which leaves descriptions of...?

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. You mean they skip parts of a book? That's just terrible.

Okay, those are EL's rules and here are some of mine.

1. Stand by your writing. That means owning it, even the sucky stuff. Everything you've ever written has made you the writer you are now.

2. Never justify your words  - and avoid explaining them, if you can. Once you start defending  something you've written - which is, after all, a collection of structured squiggles and lines, you've missed the point.

3. If an idea for a piece of writing takes you to a dark place or makes you feel something, go there.

4. Don't spend time trying to be everybody's friend. Firstly, it's not possible. And secondly, you're not writing for everybody - not unless you're writing a dictionary.

5. Just give it a go. Try, draft, edit and maybe even bin. But don't sit and wonder what you could have achieved. That way lies sadness. 

Anyhow, that's enough of me and my made-up-on-the-spot rules, what writing rules do you have?

Self-Promotion: A Guide to How Not To Do It

Part of the reason I am a particularly unsuccessful self-published author is the fact that I'm also a terrible self-publicist and/or marketeer. 
I don't do 'pushy'.  I can cajole, convince and steer during conversations, but give me a head-start on a two minute slot where I can openly tout my wares and I'll be a tremulous wet mess before you can say 'fer Gods' sake, spit it out woman'.

Case in point last weekend.  We were out at a brother-in-law's house (yes, the same one from 'that other' post here) and everyone was going on about what they'd been up to and what was happening currently in the Real World.
Mention was made of guttering, plumbing systems, restoring an old Volvo, the temperatures we are currently experiencing and the terrible wages your average care worker receives.

There was scant talk of anything that was happening in My World.  
And in My World lately there had been BIG THINGS.  But if you've been up to your knees in the care of re-plumbing an old Volvo in this heat, then chances are it probably hasn't hit your radar.
So... *ahem*. Nothing.  *Aaaah-HEM!*
Start BIG, was my plan... and usually I can get away with being a little 'outbursty' by reason of My age/My disposition (not sunny at the best of times) and/or My Occupation (that's the literary one and not the paid one you understand).
"I have a book out today" I said as proudly and as nonchalantly as possible.

And then...
'Oh My God, really?' came a reaction.  'What's it about? Do you have it with you? Where is it?'
*this is where I run out of puff - other people's expectations are FAR higher than my own I think.
"Okay - *still smiling* It's called STORIES FOR HOMES.  It's an anthology.  I have a story in it along with about 60 others."
'What do you mean? You didn't write it?'
"Well I have a story IN it.  Oh, I also designed the cover which I'm really....."
'So where is it?'
"Well.. it's an e-book - so it's... y'know, on Amazon.'
'You mean a Kindle book?'
"Well, yes, you can read it on a Kindle but you don't have to have a...."
'I haven't got a Kindle.  I can't see what all the fuss is about....'
"You don't need a Kindle to read an e-book - you can get a Kindle App for anything. I haven't got one, I download my books onto my pc and ..."
'You don't have a Kindle but you've published e-books? How does that work?'
*some time later*
'So how much are you getting for it?'
"It's for the charity, Shelter, so, nothing.  It's all for charity."
'Oh.' *definite disinterest*
"We're planning a paperback in the Autumn, though."
*murmur, mutter, back to the Volvo action.
This, people: THIS is why I get so heebie-jeebie about trying to announce anything to anybody in that place called the Real World.  They just don't get it, do they?
So - for those of you who DO get it, can I please proudly announce the birth of the wonderful 'STORIES FOR HOMES' anthology which is available to purchase on the Amazon Kindle site (and you DON'T have to have a proper Kindle, you really don't). 
All proceeds are going to the charity SHELTER and we have been riding high on the Amazon Kindle charts for the past week since it came out.
My story is No.27 and I might have mentioned I designed the cover too - did I?
*shrinks away because blatant self-promotion is excruciatingly embarrassing*

Butterfly thoughts

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Last month, Anne and I finally cleared the old books out of the garage and took them to a car-boot sale. You can learn a lot about people at car-boots - the tryers, the observers, those who know exactly what they want, those who are open to anything that catches their eye and the browers - who want nothing more than a brief distraction in their day.

As luck would have it - and the luck was mine - we waited almost two hours to be allowed on-site, were allocated the final spot in a dead-end and the weather wasn't entirely kind to us.

All that said, I rather enjoyed the event. It was a great opportunity to let the books see daylight and to appreciate some of them again, and the stories that lay behind them. A holiday book inevitably brought to mind that holiday in Turkey - the one where I not only had the trots, but also wrote three short stories (one of which was subsequently published). 

Some were books I used to favour, but had chosen to release them into the wild; likewise a Christmas gift or two from long ago. There was also an esoteric volume, bought to research material for my magical fantasy, Covenant. Away, away all, and sendback a quid.

And the people...

Some would-be purchasers spent time chatting and befriending us, before clearing their throats and asking for a friendly discount. The books were all £1 each, just so you know.

Other customers rifled through the piles of books, couldn't find what they wanted and sniffed derisively as they left me to tidy up the display in their wake.

One person paused to pick up a book and then waxed lyrical about how much he hated the subject. My suggestion that he buy the book and then turn said person's face to the wall, as a sort of protest, fell upon deaf ears.

I met a man on a mobility scooter, joyous and witty (though alas, not in need of a book). I also met people who, to quote our late mum, were probably enjoying themselves, deep down, but had forgotten to tell their faces.

And as we tried to shelter from the rain, while simultaneously holding down the plastic sheet over the books, three thoughts came to me:
1. It's time to pack up.
2. Let's never do this again.
3. This is a lot like being a writer. (Although, to be fair, I think that about pretty much everything. I'm a little like The Fast Show's fabulous character, Swiss Tony, only with writing.)

How so, I imagine you asking.

Well, some writers will cosy up to you and loiter in your presence precisely as long as it takes to extract whatever information they're after. And then they're off, like a fart in a packed lift.

Others know exactly how they see themselves - and what they want - and have no time for anyone or anything else. They stick to their genre and whatever rung of the ladder they believe they're on.

There are writers, too, who make time for criticisms rather than critiques. They'll rush to Amazon for the latest bestsellers, only to read the worst reviews - and perhaps write a few as well.

Now, I'm not saying that the world of writers is an egalitarian utopia and that we should all hold doors (and windows) of oppurtunity open for one another. Although, frankly, it would be a nicer landscape if we did. I'm not that naive, as the woman with the $4trillion dollars for me in an offshore account discovered when she emailed me.

However, when we're busy writing and rewriting, pitching, submitting and smediaing (neat word, huh!), why not make the best of it. Tell your face, and tell your face to tell the world.

In the car-boot of life, even being able to pick up a pen and write whatever you feel like writing about, is a bargain. Even if no one may be buying right now.