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Why I Self-Publish

Because I'm old.

Okay, I'm not exactly being followed around by some jerk in a long black robe waving a scythe, or not more than any of us are. But I'm not young. I read a woman's obituary in a local paper a few years ago. I can't remember many details but one thing stuck with me: she'd written 13 books, all of them unpublished. I don't want to be that woman.

Everything came together after my layoff. At that time I had completed one book and had another about halfway finished. I had submitting manuscripts to agents and publishers and had collected many rejections. I understood this was the way of the aspiring writer. I accepted that. But another comment on some writer's blog also stuck with me: it takes 20 years to break into print.

I didn't think I had 20 years. I still don't. And posthumous recognition doesn't have anything to recommend it. If I'm doing all this work I want to be around to collect the rewards, dodge the abuse, have the experience. So I self-published my first book, learned a great deal, finished and published the second. I learned more from that experience and, even better, had a really good time doing it. After years of corporate life where consensus had to be mimicked to get anything done it was liberating to do everything myself. I loved it. I still love it.

I've submitted a story to a commercial anthology. I hope it gets accepted. But if it doesn't I can publish it on Amazon or submit it somewhere else. I can put it on this blog and let people download it for free.  I can do exactly the same with The Dog of Pel when it is ready to go. Being an indie author is all about choices.

So would I like being published by a commerical publisher? Of course. It would be interesting, exciting, and validating. It would be a new experience and I hope I have that experience while I'm still competent to enjoy it. But if it never happens at least the work is out there. That's what my obituary will say.



Getting Stuck/Getting Unstuck

About two months ago I got stuck. The Dog of Pel was over half done but I could not see my way forward. Or rather I had so many possibilities and permutations I was writing scenes, changing my mind, rewriting scenes, and ripping them out.

I have three fallback techniques, which aren't really techniques but tricks to fool myself and force my brain to solve the problem. I tried two and invented a third, which seems to be working.

The first: print out the entire manuscript and re-read from the beginning. Mark it up. Go back to the computer and do all the revisions, hoping for inspiration to move forward. (This techique is very good for wasting time; I highly recommend it if you want the illusion of progress.) It didn't work.

The second: Outlining. I hate outlining. I have six or seven outlines of possible plot permutations and kept tripping over the alternative possibilities and unanswered questions, see first paragraph.

The third: I wrote down all the questions. I stared at the list for three days. Make that a week. Not writing for so long made me nervous I would drop the manuscript entirely, but I was reassured by my obsession with the questions. If I was that worried, the story was still alive.

This worked. Or it has worked short term, because I ignored all the outlines and notes and started a new story line for the last third of the book. Now I'm moving forward, like Jamie in the Scour, one step at time and testing my footing very carefully.

I remind myself over and over: I got stuck with The Bone Road. For a very long time. Years. I planned and wrote my way out of that, and (I tell myself) I can do it with The Dog of Pel. Never Give Up. Never Never Never.



Mary Stewart, In Fond Memory

Mary Stewart, the extremely successful writer of romantic suspense, has died at the age of 98. 

I scrolled back through the hundreds and hundreds of reviews of her books on Goodreads and Amazon. This is impressive since all of these books were written decades before the Internet and when computers were housed in specially built warehouses. Most of the reviews were three stars and above but I noticed a few comments about how unoriginal the stories were. People, please! She invented the genre. That's like reading Mary Shelley and complaining about how unoriginal her monster is.

Besides romantic suspense she also wrote stories based on the legend of Arthur. The Crystal Cave, the first of these, is one of my favorites but I never loved those books as I loved the romances. Those were the ones I read over and over, and they were the ones I carried about with me throughout my life as souvenirs of my younger self. The somewhat fuzzy picture above shows the ones that have survived; the paperback of My Brother Michael at the lower right is the original 1960 paperback edition. I bought it new.

I was tremendously romantic as a teenager and these books had it all: handsome strangers, mysteries, exotic locations (which I defined as 'anywhere not New Jersey') and intelligent heroines who ended up with the hero at the end. They were also, and I give myself points for recognizing this at the time, much better written than all the clone knockoffs who copied her. The descriptions, particularly of Greece, were so evocative I can still recall the scene by the dusty Greek roadside in The Moon-Spinners when Nicola gets off the bus and decides to follow the kingfisher up the path.

Time has moved on for me (and it would be bloody surprising if it hadn't!) so the books I loved most as a teenager are not the ones I appreciate most now. My favorite, hands down, used to be Nine Coaches Waiting. Unfortunately, Jo Walton's Suck Fairy has paid the plot a visit: it's a bit depressing now to have the hero solve all the heroine's financial problems by saving her by marriage, and the Cinderella ball scene is a bit over the top. To be fair, the heroine calls the reader's attention to it, and there's a touch of parody in the entire plot. I can see a reread in my immediate future—as soon as I can get my hands on a copy since mine has vanished for the fourth or fifth time. These are available in ebook, but somehow I can't, just can't, read her in that format.

My favorite now, and the favorite of a great many of her readers, is The Ivy Tree. This is beautifully written and set in the author's Scotland by Hadrian's Wall. Stewart's command of the plot details is complete and even when you know what the twist is, you admire how she pulls it off. I still, and this is going on for fifty years ago, remember my astonishment at the denouement. The heroine is terrifyingly intelligent and all the supporting characters are fully realized, although the villain is a bit cardboard. If you haven't read this, you're missing something.

So suspend a little disbelief and a few feminist principles and read Mary Stewart. She will always be worth it.