Tag Archives: novel

Where the Fuck Did May Go?*

24 May

*Yes it’s a David Bowie reference. Yes, I’m still upset. Leave me alone.

We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood. If we wait for the mood, without endeavoring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination. – Tchaikovsky

 

So wow….I seemed to have lost a month. During the beginning of which I turned 39 (!!) and by the end of which, today, my husband reached over and plucked a white hair out of the top of my head.

I’m not even kidding. It was WHITE. I’m officially old.

So in between now and then I have a few people to thank, list-style

In other writing news, I’ve been working with Six Gallery Press and Low Ghost Press on edits to Better Luck Next Year which should be out end of July. In case you don’t know it’s the poetry book that’s all about the cancer escapade. I won’t say journey cause I hate that term. Anyway, I gave Kris at Low Ghost a giant hot emotional mess and out of that he has helped to carve a really honest and raw look at what 2014-2015 was like from the days before diagnosis to the end of treatment.

Caveat: So I’m just going to put this here because a number of people have asked me about treatment lately, specifically Am I done? and if not When will I be? That’s a hard question to answer, even as I come barreling towards Cancerversary #2.  I’m not going to be “done” for a few more years. I’ll be on tamoxifen for at least three more years unless it causes potentially dangerous side effects. I’m still going to be getting injections of ovarian suppressants (Zoladex) for another year and a half. But what I do each month is not at all like what people typically think of when they say “treatment” which is chemo. So I guess the answer is yes-ish but also no-ish.

/end caveat

I’m really excited for Better Luck Next Year. I think it contains some of my best writing – and if not then it’s definitely got the rawest and most honest stuff I have done. I promise it’s not to terribly “woe is me” or too terribly depressing.

In other writing news, I’ve been doing a lot of hand wringing lately over Palimpsest (the massive nightmare that is the sci-fi book.) I’ve been querying agents and I’ve had some very promising leads and bites and interest but nothing that has panned out into an offer. Which is fine, these things take time. That said, at the beginning of the month I had a really interesting conversation with an agent who made some suggestions that would require a big revision.

Big.

And I have been heming and hawing about it for a month now, whinning to friends and beta readers if I should go through with it and “one person’s opinion” and “am I willing to do the work” and whine whine whine.

Ultimately the problem is the end. Endings are HARD. And then a friend shared this list of suggestions from Billy Wilder to Cameron Crowe:

  1. The audience is fickle. Grab ’em by the throat and don’t let ‘em go.
  2. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  3. Know where you’re going.
  4. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  5. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.*
  6. Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you for it.
  7. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees; add to what they are seeing.
  8. The event that occurs at the second-act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  9. The third act must build, build, build in tempo until the last event, and then …
  10. … that’s it. Don’t hang around.

 

* emphasis mine

My friend wrote a whole post about it here which is great and you should read it. It was number five from this list that hit home for me.

And I think I found the problem in the first act. So the only question is should I cut my loses, scrap this to “one person’s opinion” and move on?

Or am I able to do the heavy lifting – the WORK – that will be turning this book around? Am I willing to put my other stuff on hold to go back into the trenches with Palimpsest again?

Oh who am I kidding?

My alarm is already set for 5 am. There is no spoon.

Wish me luck.

 

 

 

 

 

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A few thoughts (and a few too many words) on publishing

28 Oct

WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!

THE POST IS NOT MEANT TO DISRESPECT ANY FORM OF PUBLISHING WHATSOEVER.

Just so there isn’t any confusion about what I’m about to say.

So I was invited to participate in the Indie Fall Fest by Krista and Kristen. My very cool press BookFish Books hooked me up with them and I was excited to have a chance to share my latest novel, This Is Sarah, with the world. Both Krista and Kristen have been unbelievable  – juggling a million different writers and blog posts, handling interviews and giveaways. Honestly there are 141 books being given away. This thing is huge.

So part of the procedure involved me filling out a questionaire and the first question on there said:

Which was the first Indie book that you can recall reading?

And I stopped right there because I wasn’t sure how to answer that question. And the reason was because the word “Indie” means different things to different people.

To some indie means what it has meant since bands started their own record labels in their garage in 1983. It means “Independent.”

But these days, in publishing indie can mean small press OR it can mean self-published.

Now, at this point I emailed for clarification. Because I wanted to double check and see. Did they think that I self-published This Is Sarah? Was that why I was invited? NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH SELF PUBLISHING but my press and my editors at BookFish worked really hard on this and the last thing I wanted was for people to think it was all ME. Cause honestly, this cover?

cover

Not me. So very much not me. I couldn’t even begin to figure out how to make something like that nor would I even know how to go about finding someone like the talented Anita who made the cover.

Mine would have a stick figure. And not even a good one.

And the scene in the book where Colin gets into that fist fight with Michael. This one:

 

I hang up just as Michael grabs me and pulls me out of the closet. The phone falls out of my hand, clattering to the floor. I don’t have time to balance myself, let alone get him off me, before he throws me against the wall of lockers.

Just for the record, you see this sort of shit in movies all the time―people getting thrown into walls and doors, and they just bounce right back like the whole place is padded or something. Well, the lockers sure as shit aren’t padded, and as one of the locks grinds into my lower spine, I can promise you, it hurts way more than you imagine. White hot pain shoots up to my shoulders.

“What the fuck did you say to her?” Michael growls.

For a moment, everything goes blank, and I curl my hand into a fist. Michael lets me go, and I turn to walk away. But he’s not done, and now, he grabs me again by the shirt and throws me back against the locker.

More pain and then something just snaps in my head. I picture them together. I see Michael kissing Sarah, taking off her clothes. I see him whispering in her ear. In my head, everything goes white, and I swing.

My fist connects with his jaw, and his head snaps back. I swing again, even though my hand is on fire with pain, and I worry that I broke at least a few bones.

 

I might have written those words, but the scene itself was suggested by Mary and both Jen and Erin cleaned it up so it didn’t sound like crap.

This is what I’m getting at with Small Presses. They take care of you. The pick you up, dust you off, make sure you don’t sound dumb and push you out the door like a kid on her way to 2nd grade. They walk you to the bus stop, wave as you go and when you get home they’re right there waiting with cookies to hear all about your day.

And they bust their butt promoting your stuff online.

Back in 2013, I wrote a post for Pen and Muse about how my first novel was rejected by every major press in America. It was both utterly liberating and utterly humiliating to talk about. No one wants to talk about failure right?

Except maybe it isn’t failure.

I understand that my first book – a story about a girl who discovered she was the last living descendant of Shakespeare and gets swept away to a magical version of New York –  might not be a marketing department’s cup of tea. They all let me down real easy – “thanks kid, you can write but this just isn’t for us.” kind of thing. So instead it went to a small press.

And when I wrote This Is Sarah – it was just a novella – not the sort of thing a major press would be interested in especially from a nobody like me. But there again was another small press ready to talk.

Marketing a book these days is not easy. It’s an incredible amount of work – work done by both the press and by the artist. There are blog posts and facebook posts and tumblr and tweets that need to be going all day. And they can’t ALL be about your writing because then you’re one of those really annoying people on twitter that only talk about their work or their book, this unending noise of “BUY ME BUY ME BUY ME!”

Instead it has to be this suave version of “hey i’m really funny and interesting and that’s just me being me and oh, what’s that? Oh yeah, I wrote a book. No biggie. Here it is. Shrug.”

Not so easy, especially  for us (*ahem*) less than outgoing types. I was so thankful for all the extra promotion that Bookfish got me – setting up the cover release tour and book reviews and tweeting and facebooking their little hearts out when this book came out. I couldn’t have done all of that by myself. Which means those self-published people who have no press support got it even harder.

I was talking to a blogger named Rosie who read a copy of Sarah and we got talking about presses and different kinds of publishing choices and she said the following which I thought was incredibly insightful:

It’s authors like you that make me want to urge people to look past the books being pushed by big publishers occasionally and not be afraid to books published by smaller publishing companies or self-published authors…..

Before I had a Kindle I’d never even thought that their might be small pressers or authors funding their own books, which was very naive of me but on the other hand I’d only had access to what bookshops are pushing which is always big publishers.
When I heard that people self-published on Amazon, it was like discovering a whole new world and I started looking for smaller authors and I’ve discovered some amazing books. There does seem to be a bit of stigma around self-published books or small publishers, like they aren’t good enough because Harper or Penguin didn’t want them but I’ve read some bad books published by big publishers and some amazing books that are self-published or small press. The size of a publisher isn’t a reflection on quality.
I think what I like best is that authors like you are writing because you love writing, not because your publisher wants to make more money out of you. I’m fed up of reading trilogies that don’t need to be trilogies. “
This was very encouraging. This idea – that online book sellers give you access to more than what is in the store – is especially telling. I know that Amazon is a behemoth and there is the Hachette dispute but the fact is, that is where many many people get their books from. My press told me that 90% of their sales come from Amazon. So that begs the question how many readers am I missing by not being in brick and mortar bookstores?
I’m not really sure. I just know that ebooks have opened up a lot of doors for writers to get their work in the hands of readers – with or without a press. Plus the work that Katie and Kristen are doing to get people familiar with small press books makes me think we have a stronger voice after all.
Maybe we just need to all shout at once.
 
Anyway…many thanks to everyone who read, reviewed, promoted, supported or gave me a shout out when I was writing or promoting This Is Sarah.
I do write because I love it. It’s the best thing that I do. I just want to keep doing it.
Peace Love and Starbursts,
Ally

 

 

Interview with T.C. McKee – The Bone Treaty

23 Aug

bone treaty

 

Welcome kiddos!

Today I would like to introduce you to the very charming, very funny, wickedly talented T.C. McKee, author of The Bone Treaty recently released from BookFish Books.

Wanna see the cover? Of course you do!

bonecover

 

Amazing isn’t it?

You know you’re all:

give_it_to_me_stephen_colbert

 

So T.C. agreed to come over and answer silly questions for me. So take some time to get to know her and her book and then add the Bone Treaty to your to-read pile! You won’t be disappointed!

 

  1. Where do you get your ideas from? The tears of small children, right?

 

Definitely from the tears of small children. I like to add them to pomegranate martinis. Maybe it’s mixing the salt with the alcohol that just brings out my creative nature. No, seriously. I have no idea where my ideas truly come from…possibly an overactive imagination, watching people, listening to conversations, looking at the sky, daydreaming. Somehow, when I least expect it, a world, a story, a character just pops inside my head, demanding to be written. So yeah, I just do what the voices tell me to do. 

 

  1. Why did you write The Bone Treaty?

 

I would call it a personal challenge. I dabbled in writing when I was a teenager. My father used to steal my notebooks (no computers back in the day). He’d read them to try and figure me out, so needless to say he thought I was a little crazy for years. Never, ever try to figure your kid out through science fiction. Like ever! Anyway, life happened, kids happened, a real job happened, and it seemed I never had the time to write until a few years ago. One night, while the house was quiet I opened my laptop and just started writing. The Bone Treaty took on several forms before it truly resembled a story, but I just kept at it and here I am.  

 

  1. Clearly this is the first in a series – so did you plot everything in advance for the whole thing or are you making this all up as you go along and hoping for the best?

 

A little of both. I’m not a big outliner. I wish I were, but I never seem to stay on track. I like to go where the story takes me, and writing inside the lines just never works out for me. I admire authors who can lay out an entire manuscript in two pages, write it in about two months, and then go into revisions. It doesn’t work that way for me. I like things to marinate a little.

 

  1. First book you fell in love with as a kid?

 

Apart from the norm as a small child, my first YA book was Say Goodnight Gracie, by Julie Reece Deaver. It was the first time I felt emotionally attached to a book.

 

  1. If there was one thing people should know about your book before reading it what would that be?

 

The plot has so many layers that it was impossible to lay it all out in one book.

 

  1. In this cynical day and age what do you think fantasy books do for readers? What do they do for you?

 

I think they fuel imagination and we’re missing a lot of that in our youth especially. I think we also need places to go, worlds to get lost in, and characters to relate to. For me, I want to see an alternate universe, experience something amazing at the end of the day. We all need a break from reality from time to time. 

 

  1. Addie’s ability to read emotions using “color-vision” sounds amazing. If you had that talent, how would you use it?

 

I would definitely know who to avoid in public. Just think what the world would be like if we could all just avoid negative people, or meanies on the sidewalk. We could easily look at people and say, “Don’t talk to me. You’re a bad person and I know you’re a bad person because you are all red, so take your evil intentions and move over there, Mister Stranger Danger!” It would be an awesome world.

 

  1. Who would win in an arm-wrestling contest: C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkein?

 

Damn, that’s a tough one. I’m gonna say C.S. Lewis.

 

Follow up question – what’s with all the initials? C.S? J.R.R.? J.K? and now you T.C.?

 

Two reasons. First, when I started writing again I was scared of people knowing who I really was. I mean, what if all those people from high school buy my book and hate it. I have to see them in the grocery store. But then later I realized I didn’t really care about that. I was writing for the love of writing. I want people to love my book, and all the books I’m working on to come, but if they don’t I still love writing, so it’s okay now. Second, I’ve always kind of secretly hated my first name. No offense to any Tammy’s that might be reading the blog. I just never felt like it fit me very well. I cringe when I hear it. My husband calls me Boo, Babe, or Tam. I can live with those. I wonder if I should have put Boo Mckee on the front of my book. Ha!

 

Nice, right! I told you she was funny.

You can stalk  er….get to know TC on her website or on twitter! And remember The Bone Treaty is out now!

 

Mckee

Interview with Samuel Snoek-Brown on the release day of Hagridden

19 Aug

 

hagridden

 

So today’s the kick off to the blog tour for  Samuel Snoek-Brown’s debut novel, Hagridden and guess who gets to start it?

That’s right!

Me!

Sam and I met via Jersey Devil Press – a great magazine that I am proud to be a part of. I’m a big fan of his writing so when Columbus Press contacted me to help out with the tour for Sam’s book I jumped at the chance.

sam

For those of you unfamiliar here’s some information:

As the Civil War winds violently down, fears of the South’s uncertain future fuse with its unraveling traditions. Against the backdrop of this post-apocalyptic landscape, so littered with corpses and mythology and desperation, two women, stranded and alone in the Louisiana bayou, fight to survive.

Described as both a historical and contemporary piece of literary fiction, Hagridden, is a hunting drama that unflinchingly approaches race, culture, apathy and humanity.

I got my hands on an ARC and this book is the real deal. Sam is also going on an in-person book tour down in Texas so if you’re in the area – be sure to check him out. Dates and times are available on his website here.

And the book is available for sale here!

 

It is clear from just the first opening pages of Hagridden, this book must have took an incredible amount of research. Can you talk a little bit about how you went about that research and why, as a Portlandian (well, technically Ex-Texan Portlandian) you chose to set your book in the bayou?

 

I did grow up in Texas, but I have a lot of family from Louisiana. My mother was born in Deridder; her parents are buried in Rosepine. My aunt and uncle and cousin lived out near Johnson Bayou and Cameron, in exactly the region where Hagridden is set, and that’s why I set it there — when I decided to write a Civil War novel that set aside the battlefields and the national-scale politics so I could focus on the intimate, the personal, the struggle for individual survival, those saltmarshes of southwest Louisiana made perfect sense as a setting.

 

It’s funny that you bring up the difference between my own place in writing the novel and the setting of the book itself. I hadn’t really thought of that before , but I did write this book all over: in Texas, in the United Arab Emirates, in Louisiana, and of course here in Oregon. (And my publisher is in Ohio! That’s a wide-ranging story!)

 

That distance did impact the research. When I was drafting it overseas, I didn’t have access to any print materials about the Civil War, let alone the minutia of Acadian homebuilding, 19th-century American clothing, books on bayou flora and fauna, Cajun folklore, etc. So I did most of my initial research online, and only really got to the book sources when we moved to Portland. But even then, our interest in and perspectives on the Civil War in the Pacific Northwest is different than it is in the South, and that’s reflected in our libraries’ print collections, which is why I finally took a research trip to Cameron Parish in Louisiana to hit their local collections, talk to the people, walk the land, visit the cemeteries, dodge the gators . . . .

 

Where did the story at the heart of Hagridden come from? I read in a previous interview that while working as an office cleaner you once found a compartment in a wall containing papers, money and lock-box for a handgun. That, to me, sounds like the beginning of a novel right there. Was Hagridden a similar experience? 

 

Oh yeah! That old story! I was a maid, actually — or, I worked for a maid service — and the hidden compartment was in some guy’s home office, which made it even creepier. Later, I babysat for a home hairdresser whose client claimed to be a mercenary and once showed her his secret gunroom. Yeah, I should definitely write that book!

 

The kernel of the novel came when I was in grad school in Texas. I’d been tapped to introduce Louisiana writer Tim Gautreaux when he visited our campus, and the morning I was writing my speech, I was watching old samurai movies on tv, and in my mind, the civil wars of medieval Japan came together in my mind with our own Civil War and with the Southern fiction themes of cultural isolation and survival amid change. Once I saw that, the book felt necessary — I really wanted to read that novel! So (eventually) I wrote it.

 

You were the recipient of a 2013 Oregon Literary Fellowship. Can you tell us a little bit about the award and what it meant for your ability to write your novel?

 

The Fellowships are organized by Literary Arts, Oregon’s literary nonprofit that also hosts the Portland Arts & Lectures visiting writers series and the Oregon Book Awards. With the fellowships, the idea is to provide support for writers and publishers to develop or complete their artistic projects, but they go beyond just the finances: the year I received a fellowship, I also got season tickets to the Arts & Lectures series (I got to meet Salman Rushdie and Chris Ware!) and a week-long retreat at a writer’s cabin. It’s a big deal because a lot of the writers and publishers the fellowships have supported have gone on to become major names in Oregon and national literature. Stevan Allred, Kerry Cohen, and Cheryl Strayed are all former fellowship recipients, and the fellowships have helped develop important indie presses like Chiasmus, Forest Avenue Press, Future Tense Books, and Hawthorne Books.

 

With Hagridden, the core of the book was basically done when I submitted it to Literary Arts. It needed a lot of work, sure, but roughly speaking, the story was there. I just needed to revise it, and to revise it, I needed to be able to see the book as a finished whole. But at the time, I was still more focused on the words that made up the book, the trees but not the forest. My wife recognized this and encouraged me to apply for the fellowship, and even just the application process helped me see Hagridden as a complete book, ready for polish, which I spent the rest of that summer working on. Receiving the fellowship gave me both the drive and the confidence to actually start thinking about publication. And, of course, it also funded the research trip that helped me develop those important character details and get a stronger feel for the geography and the history of the region — the book wouldn’t have come out as rich as it did, and might not have caught the attention of my publisher, without that trip.

 

You don’t use dialogue tags. What’s that about? Is it a direct influence of Cormac McCarthy? How do you think it changes the storytelling?

 

That initially came about as an accident of the drafting process. I wrote the first draft of the novel for NaNoWriMo in 2009, but that year my wife and I were planning a trip to Vienna for Thanksgiving, which meant instead of the usual 30 days to knock out the rough draft, I only had two weeks. So at first, I was just skipping the quotation marks and even some of the speaker tags because they slowed me down. Anything to keep the writing going.

 

But as I got further into the draft, I realized I liked what it was doing to the narrative, and when I got into revision and tried adding the quotation marks into the dialogue, I felt like that punctuation was setting the dialogue apart, separating it from the story. Without the quotation marks, every sentence on the page is part of the story — it’s all narrative, even when people are speaking. That’s what I wanted for this story; it made it feel larger somehow. I don’t usually write dialogue this way, and I’m not planning to in my next novel, but here, it felt necessary.

 

And yeah, McCarthy is absolutely an influence on me. Him and Tom Franklin (who turned me on to McCarthy) — they weren’t the only voices I turned to while writing Hagridden, but they were the loudest voices in my head.

 

Your other book, Box Cutters is a collection of short stories. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about stories as if they were stepping stones to writing a novel. Did you feel this way? Was Hagridden your first attempt at a novel?

 

I think from a craft perspective, when writers are first starting out, it’s useful to think about it in this way. I like to point to Faulkner’s comment in a Q&A at the University of Oregon in 1962: when someone asked him about the difference between short stories and novels, he said, “All the trash must be eliminated in the short story, whereas one can get away with some of it in a novel.” I usually use that quote to complain about the sloppiness in some of Faulkner’s novels (I generally prefer his short fiction), but it is a good introduction to the idea that one should learn short stories before attempting a novel, because the short story teaches you compression and control. If a writer can learn that early, it will help her contain any narrative at any length.

 

But I don’t think any writer should treat stories as “stepping stones” to the novel, as though the novel is the ultimate form of fiction that we all should be striving toward. It’s true that novels sell better than novellas and stories and story collections, but that’s a problem for the marketers to figure out, and it certainly shouldn’t suggest that the novel is somehow the bigger, better version of the story. If anything, Faulkner was right in that the story is the better form for being so contained and precise.

 

So, frankly, I think once a writer has learned the craft of writing, her sense of story should be developed enough that length isn’t really an issue anymore. These days, I don’t often sit down and say, “I’m going to write flash fiction” or “I’m going to write a novella” or “I’m going to write a novel.” I did plenty of that early on, and if someone has solicited something from me and length is an issue, I can still do it, but mostly I just sit down at the desk and say, “What story do I want to tell?” And the story dictates the length.

 

And no, actually, Hagridden isn’t my first novel. I started a cheesy action novel when I was in seventh grade, though I never finished it. I wrote most of a bad Anne Rice-ish vampire novel in high school and college, but it, too, never really went anywhere. The first novel I finished was a comedy I wrote for my undergraduate thesis, and I wrote another novel as part of my doctoral dissertation. I still sometimes think of revisiting those, but really, they were mostly practice novels so I could figure out issues of time management and story structure. They were, to paraphrase Bill Cosby, the stories I had to tell so I could tell you this one.

 

What was it about teaching writing that interested you? What do you make of the adage that you can’t “teach” writing? Probably not much! What have your students taught you about your own writing?

 

I think that last part of that question wraps up everything else I have to say about the first two questions: I teach writing because my students become a writing community and they wind up teaching me as well. Mostly they do this by reminding me to keep returning to the beginner’s mind, as Natalie Goldberg says — they keep me fresh. One of the biggest complaints about writing workshops, especially at the graduate level, is that they can homogenize writing, and I think that’s a legitimate concern. It’s something to guard against. But when I teach writing, whether it’s upper level creative writing or introductory essay composition or summer workshops for teenaged writers, the students I get to work with haven’t gone through graduate workshops, they haven’t been trained to write in certain ways or according to certain traditions. That training is important, and I value the traditions I come out of as a writer, and I encounter a lot of student writing that would benefit from some of that training — but I also encounter total freedom, the utter absence of preconceptions. I sometimes read work from students that reminds me there are no rules except the rules that work, and they blow the cobwebs off all my old habits and wake up my own writing. That’s exhilarating, and it’s why I wanted to go into this field, as much to share what I’ve learned from great writing teachers as to learn what I never knew from great student writers.

 

Since you are a teacher and you teach writing, what is your view on work-shopping your own work? Do you have a writing group that you work with? If so, what was the biggest piece of advice they gave you when you were working on your novel? What piece of advice did you ignore?

 

I don’t actually have a formal workshop group in the way I did in college or in the way some of my writer friends do. Sometimes I think I’d like to have one — I have always benefited from it. But mostly, my experience in workshops taught me that in a din of disparate voices, I needed to find those few writers whose feedback I could trust to push me in the directions I needed to go, and then I had filter out the rest of the noise. In my writing life now, I feel like I have that in the few writer friends I work closely with. So when I send things out for feedback, it’s not in a formal, workshop-group sense, but one-on-one. I share things with some colleagues at the colleges where I work and from a handful of writer friends online.

 

These days, I’ve also learned how to read a rejection letter as feedback, and I sometimes get valuable advice out of that. When I received my Oregon Literary Fellowship, an agent in New York contacted me and asked to see the manuscript. She ultimately turned it down, but in doing so she gave me some valuable comments that helped me develop the characters quite a bit and refine the themes in the book.

 

I don’t think I really ignored any advice regarding Hagridden. When it got to my publisher, we discussed some questions about some of the vocabulary, and I was right about some of it but a lot of it I changed. Other than that, as far as I recall, no one ever really gave me feedback that challenged the nature or structure of the story, and the advice that required fairly substantive rewrites was all good advice and I took it. I feel fortunate to have gotten such good feedback on this novel!

 

I read in an interview that if you were marooned on a desert island the only piece of fiction you would have with you is Alan Moore’s The Watchman. Are you a big comic book fan? And if so, do you see links between the way mythology is used in comics vs literary fiction?

 

Ha! I’m sure that answer changes every time I see the question, but yeah, I definitely reread The Watchmen once a year. It’s practically a perfect book. And I am a comic book fan, absolutely. I’m not an ubergeek — I can’t compete with the real fans! — but I do have a pretty sizable collection of comic books and a growing bookcase of graphic novels. I’m fascinated by visual narrative, and I think the insights that comics authors bring to the narrative craft are profoundly useful even for us textual writers.

 

I don’t know exactly what the relationship here is — maybe it’s because our contemporary Western mythologies are best expressed in the form of superheroes, or maybe it’s because our very first religious/mythological texts took of the form of sequential visual narrative (comics!) on ancient scrolls and stone friezes — but I definitely think there’s a connection between mythology and comics, and I do think it’s often more effective (or at least more immediate) in comics than in literary fiction. When I wrote my dissertation novel, probably the strongest criticism I got about it was that the characters all felt a bit too large and the story a bit too outlandish, which of course was the point when I wrote it, but as I went back over the book after finishing my PhD, I realized it was such fair criticism that I couldn’t bring myself to leave that too-large outlandishness in the book. I would need to do a major rewrite, to effectively start again from scratch, which broke my heart because I loved the story so much. I wrestled with it for a long time and tried several versions of manuscript reboots, but it just wasn’t coming together. And then I realized it’s because the problem wasn’t in the story– it was the medium. If my novel could become a graphic novel, all that “outlandishness” would suddenly seem perfectly ordinary, and no one would question it. (That’s still something I’d like to work on, if I could find the right artist — or the right artist could find me — to collaborate on that afterlife novel!)

 

I think by treating the legend of the rougarou as a legend in Hagridden, and not as a literal thing, I’ve circumvented some of those problems and, I hope, made a new myth of the bayou. But it’s just grand enough, I think, that I do sometimes daydream of a graphic novel version of Hagridden. (Again, if the right artist came along, I’d love to see that happen!)

 

The publishing industry is a state of flux currently. Self-publishing or Indie publishing has become such a force that many of the big name presses are putting out digital only imprints. What is your opinion on this? Are they legitimizing good writers who need the support from a big name press or are they taking a bite out of the indie world on a venture that is low cost to them since it’s e-book publishing only? And what advice would you give to new writers trying to break into the publishing world?

 

I confess, I’m not involved enough in the industry as industry to speak with any authority on the issue of large corporate presses encroaching on the digital indie market. But advice to new writers? That I can tackle.

 

Here’s the most important thing I can say to writers trying to break into the market: Be patient, and keep working.

 

This is actually terrible advice, because the patience part is almost impossible to do. I know. I’m terribly impatient, especially about my writing.

 

But it’s important to keep in mind. When you send out a story and you have to sit around waiting, whether it’s the traditional months the lightning-fast digital hours — the wait can be excruciating. That’s why I always have several projects in various stages of work, so that when I send something out, I can focus on the next project and hope to forget about the current project floating around out there in the world. I don’t forget about it, of course, but in between all those mail checks and long sighs and stiff drinks, I have something else to work on. I’m writing, because that’s what we do: we write.

 

There’s this traditional path toward publication, this story we’ve all been told. I might be in the last generation for whom this would actually still apply, because this is a revolutionary time in literature and the traditional narrative is shifting, but the old story was this: You read a ton and went to readings and met other writers, and you wrote stories. And you sent those stories out, and you collected rejection slips until finally something took, and then little by little, you put together a list of publications. And you kept reading and studying and meeting people. Eventually you met the right people, or pulled together the right manuscript, and you put out a collection, maybe a chapbook. And that got your name out of the magazines and onto the bookshelves, and in the meantime you worked on a novel. Which is when you started all over — collecting rejections, putting together lists, honing your craft. Until finally you found the right person at the right time, and your first major book comes out, and suddenly you’re an author.

 

It’s an old-fashioned and heavily romanticized story, but it’s one I latched onto early on and, little by little, over years and years, I’ve actually managed to live that story. I’m tremendously fortunate, and that story involves so many generous people, and I feel so lucky. But to truth is, it wasn;t just about luck. It was about the work, and it took me YEARS. Like, decades.

 

These days the story is different, and with so many amazing small presses and the improvements in self-publishing, the path for some people (some people) is getting shorter. But for most of us, breaking into publishing takes an extraordinarily long time, and the only thing you can do to ensure that it might eventually happen is to keep working.

 

So my advice to new writers is to be patient, and in the meantime, keep writing, keep reading, keep putting in the time.

 

You’re just starting out your blog tour…what do you hope that readers will learn about Hagridden? What do you think we should know before we start your novel?

 

I suppose the one thing I keep hearing a lot are some preconceptions about the book. Some people hear that it’s historical fiction and they think it’s going to be a romance. Some people hear that it’s a Civil War novel and they think it’s going to be about battles and politics. Some people hear that it’s about an older woman and her daughter-in-law trying to make their way in the world, just the two of them, and they think it’s a heartwarming story that kids might like. Some people hear about the rougarou and think it’s going to be a horror novel.

There’s a love story in here. But there’s also some fairly graphic sex.

There are some soldiers fighting in here, but there aren’t large battles — most of the violence is brutal and intimate. And that brutal, intimate violence starts on page 3.

The woman and the girl do have a complicated but deeply devoted relationship — but they’re often ready to kill each other. Literally.

There’s at least one rougarou in this book, but it’s not supernatural — and it’s possibly more terrifying because of that.

 

 

Hiddles, Links, Books and Rowling (oh my!)

31 Jul

 

That’s Hiddles making a little heart for no other reason than the fact that in the universe there is Hiddles making a little heart. And there it is. Don’t you feel better now?

So…here we are – now nearly a month since This Is Sarah was released into the world. Some reviews are coming in and that’s always nice and always appreciated because it helps spread the word. Speaking of, I was talking to my friend Rita about this. She had a podcast coming up for Book Riot (you can listen to the whole thing here) and she was curious about my opinion on how Goodreads is used – mainly do authors want “bad” reviews or is it just better to say nothing?

My answer? Bring on the bad reviews.

First off, everyone gets bad reviews. It happens, and you’ll be sad for a while and then you’ll get over it. Then it will happen again and eventually you won’t care.

But the important part of this is that a review is an OPINION which means that all the reviewer is saying is “I don’t like XYZ” and another reader might see that and say, “Well, gee, I LOVE XYZ” and buy your book. See how that works?

That said, the one thing you never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever do is respond to a review – good or bad, really, but especially bad. We’ve all heard about explosions when authors behave badly.

But the flip side of that coin is that sometimes, readers behave badly. I’ve experienced this too – one reader rated my book one star before it was out…and I know who had ARCS via my publisher and she wasn’t one of them. Instead of responding, I ignored it and it went away. Am I lucky? Maybe. Would it be the end of the world if it had stayed? No.

The message here is this:

Readers – review the book, not the author.

Authors – hush up. Goodreads is a place for readers. Let them be.

Moving along – I have some linky things.

First off, is a recording that John Grochalski did of his poetry reading at Hemingways this past June for the release of Starting With the Last Name Grochalski. It was a great reading – a fun night of poetry and laughs and friends that ended with a mad dash through a Pittsburgh downpour. It was such a good night someone should write a poem about it.

Secondly, I got a little surprise in the mail yesterday – an ARC of Hagridden by Samuel Snoek-Brown.

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I forgot to take a picture of MY copy so you’ll have to settle for the cover from Sam’s site.

Sam was awesome and interviewed me for my release of This Is Sarah and I can’t wait to return the favor during this blog tour. I read the first chapter when it arrived and guys, this is the real deal. I’m so excited.

Next up I’ve got some linky stuff to share:

 

 

  • Also, This Is Sarah was entered into a Book Cover contest. Anita, at Race-Point really did a stellar job so if you have a moment to vote here, you can help her win! It would be much deserved!
  • Many thanks to Clockwise Cat for giving these poems a home.
  • And to Stephen at Dead Snakes for these.
  • I’m going to have a piece out about this on Saturday’s Forked Road – but August 9th is the This Is Poetry party in Illinois so if you’re in the neighborhood, you should check it out. This is Poetry was started by Michele McDannold as a tumblr and has now morphed into their very first book:

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Cool, right? I’m all:

 

And that’s about it from me.

EXCEPT today is JK Rowling’s birthday so to celebrate here’s the amazing new covers that everyone outside North America gets to enjoy!

My favorite new cover is Prisoners of Azkaban:

Azkaban cover

It’s my favorite mainly because it depicts what I think is the best scene in the ENTIRE series – the moment Harry realizes that it was the time-traveled version of himself that saves him from the dementors. It’s very “You are the One You were Waiting For” and it’s fantastic.

Okay that’s it. As of Monday it’s back to novel-writing. I’m looking at you Palimpsest.

Bye kids. Play nice while I’m gone.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

And we’re finished….

14 Jul

cover

After two weeks of madness, the blog tour for This Is Sarah is officially over! Phew. I had a really great time, answered some fantastic questions and even told a lie or two.

So without further ado, here’s a quick recap and thank you to all the blogger who took a little time out to help me spread the word about This Is Sarah. I posted earlier, covering the first half so picking up where we left off….

Thanks to Cynthia, Lee at Rally the Readers, Jen McConnel, Tracy at Fresh Coffee, Jay Scott, Meradeth Houston at Write Stuff,and Danielle at Consuming Worlds who were all kind enough to include an excerpt from the book from either Colin or Claire’s point of view.

Next up were deleted scenes: Thanks to Judith at the Cozy Corner  and Erin Alberts for including one from Claire’s point of view. The excerpt was a section from Claire’s journal about quitting the band after Sarah’s disappearance. Jesse at Pretty in Fiction and Mary Waibel both shared a medication journal from Colin highlighting his nervous breakdown and finally, Denee at Novel Reveries shared a post from Sarah’s journal, where we get to see her reaction to Colin’s confession that he’s in love with her.

Then I headed over to Enna’s blog to talk about writing, inspiration and why I wrote about loss. Next up was Crystal’s blog where we played a little truth or lie game. I was asked to give three statements, two truths and one lie and the readers had to guess the lie in order to win a copy of This Is Sarah. It was a lot of fun. Since the winner was already picked here were my three:

1. Ally fell off a waterfall in high school and cracked her skull open.

2. She was kicked out of the country of Monaco when she was 16 for “trespassing.”

3. She’s stepped foot on nearly every continent in the world.

Those of you know know me in real life know that regrettably, the lie is #3 but I’m working on changing that.

Next up was an interview at Hiver et Cafe where we talked about research, free time and my desert island book choice (Salinger, baby. Salinger). Speaking of Salinger I also blabbed on about him at the Daily Mayo.

Then I headed over to Bibliophia, Please. When Kayla agreed to be part of the book tour she asked me to write about the research that I did. So I wrote a post about missing kids. It wasn’t easy research and it wasn’t an easy post but there are links at the bottom of the post where you can help out in the search for missing children. 2,300 Americans are reported missing every day. 100 of those are kids who have been abducted. 2,300 families left wondering. If you have the means to help out please do.

And finally, I was thrilled to be interviewed by Sam Snoek-Brown, author of Box Cutters and the soon to be released Hagridden. Sam and I talked about my feelings about the YA label which has gotten a bit of backlash lately, why my writing style is so sparse (i.e., I suck at florish) and what the hell is up with my obsession with Antarctica, already? Answer: This Man

Scott

 

And I think that just about wraps it up. It’s been a fantastic tour and I can’t thank the bloggers enough for taking the time to share This Is Sarah. It’s still on sale on amazon for $0.99 if you’re an ebook reader. You gotta pony up more for the paperback. That’s just the way the world works.

In other news, I unexpectedly wound up spending the weekend with my entire immediate family, including both sisters and my nephew who all live far away and while the reason we were all together was, let’s just say not ideal, seeing them was amazing.

malinenkos

Like they say, the secret to having it all… is knowing you already do.

And I do, thanks to those guys up there.

Peace Love and Starbursts,

Ally

Oh man, it’s time, isn’t it? The book is here!

7 Jul

cover

So today’s the day.

THIS IS SARAH, my first YA book (and second novel) is unleashed on the world.

This is craziness.

Many many many many (million more) thanks to the wonderful folks at BookFish who loved this story (even back when it wasn’t even a novel) and were willing to take a chance on Colin and Claire. It meant the world to me that they gave me the room and the time to turn this story into what it is now.

Especially thanks to Mary and Jenn and Erin who busted their asses editing this thing and putting up with my indecision and my constant emails and all my other horrible writer insecurity.

And to Tammy who listened to my insanity right up to and including today! You really know how to keep a girl sane.

And thanks also to Anita, who made a cover that made me swoon, with a picture that tells it’s own story.

Most of all, thanks to all of YOU. You know who you are.

Finally……

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…….i hope you like the book. I really really do.

You can buy the ebook or the print on Amazon.

I love you guys.

 

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

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