Remember to add backlink from previous article to this one in first paragraph.
When I finished the scatterbrained rough draft of “The Shepherd and the Courtesan,” I was so relived I didn’t care about the miserable task ahead. That rough draft was a mess, which had taken many months to put to words to paper (or computer screen). But all that mattered to me was that this was the first new thing I had finished after years of writer’s block.
By the miserable task ahead, I mean the second draft. This process of 2nd draft is excruciating. At the same time, it’s also kind of exhilarating. The story – or triad of stories - is actually starting to find it’s shape, and I can see the novel’s potential. That’s it nut just jumbled chaos of words and scene and sloppiness.
I’ve always thought of writing a novel as putting a body together. The rough draft is only the skeleton of the piece, the bones that make the structure. The 2nd draft involves placing the organs – the brain, the heart, the lungs, the intestines and everything else in between, all those things that are needed to make a body function.
The 3rd draft is the skin, hair, teeth, and nails, in other words, refining the structure, plot consistency, character growth, and story arc. The 4th draft is the polish of language, reaching for the gold ring of lyrical beauty, harmonious rhythm of the written words singing in the brain, also know as the facial features of this particular body of work. What color and shape are the eyes and mouth? High cheekbones or jowly jaws? Is the body fat, thin, muscular, average? Is this body beautiful, endearing, homely, or sexy ugly?
Breaking the process of writing a novel down to building a body makes this doable for me. When I’m discouraged and convinced I’m a hack, I remind myself that I’m only building a skeleton. It’s not time for the features of lovely prose yet, so go ahead and let the writing suck. When I want to pull my hair out during the 2nd draft, I push ahead, knowing that when I comb through it the next day rewriting the spleen before reworking the pancreas, that the spleen may not seem so awful with a break and renewed TLC. But once I cross the finish line of a completed 2nd draft, I’m pretty home free.
Because writing gets fun at the 3rd draft and is giddy during the 4th. The 3rd and 4th draft make suffering through the 2nd draft worth it.
So what are some of your tips for slogging through the draft that sends you into orbit? Here is a more detailed blog with practical how-to steps to navigate 2nd draft if you’d like to take a look-see. Personally, I don’t use Scrivener.
Her beauty was staggering.
I had never seen so much flesh in my life as I did in the massive portraits on these walls. Standing, reclining, full front on, in profile, her back to the artist, the Courtesan was naked in every pose, her silhouette that of an hourglass. Her full breasts stood high on her chest, her torso curved to a slender waist above rounded hips, her legs were long and tapered. Her skin was creamy and luminous; and black hair cascaded to her waist. Her features were noble; hers was the classical beauty of the highborn class.
But her eyes made her unforgettable. Beneath arched brows, her large eyes angled on a tilt and mingled the hues of gold and amber. Her steady gaze held the controlled ferocity of a wildcat.
Such fierce scrutiny replicated in portrait after portrait overpowered my senses for a moment. I turned my back to gather my bearings, only to come back to the incessant pink of the foyer.
How in the devil did I come here?
That’s what I wondered as I encountered again the cavernous entry into the home of the most legendary Courtesan the Capital City had ever known. All I could think about was that afternoon when the Wanderer and I first stepped inside the Courtesan’s Casa.
The atrium had soaring ceilings with pale pink satin lining the walls, while mottled pink marble stretched along the floor and up the steps of the sweeping staircase in the middle. Maybe even the ceiling was pink. It was impossible to tell because the massive chandelier hanging in the space between the ceiling and the floor reflected pink everywhere. Hundreds of candles and thousands of crystal droplets married fire and ice when the tiny flames coupled with the glimmering teardrops, then flickered along the marble floor, the stairs, and the walls. Such a pairing had cast rosy radiance throughout the foyer to render everybody inside timeless and ageless.
The procession of servants and protégées lined up and waiting were the most gorgeous household I had ever seen. I couldn’t believe it when the men bowed! Even the strongmen actually bent at the waist, after they had pulled me and the Wanderer out of the rioting mob. They may have saved our lives! Yet here they were, bowing to us like royalty, while the women curtsied. The courtesan protégées made quite a vision as they fanned their sumptuous skirts. Even the most junior maids held their plain skirts wide. Their timing was impeccable. The Courtesan’s staff moved in flawless unison, but how could they have rehearsed that moment?
My friend, the Wanderer had enjoyed many grand adventures in his life. Yet his black eyes were wide in his face. He appeared as stunned as I with this spectacle. None of it seemed real, especially with the hard coldness of pink marble penetrating my boots to chill my feet.
Instead of gaining my balance, the glowing majesty of the entryway stirred the memory from that afternoon, which made me light-headed. I turned back to the paintings. This time, I found it easier to focus on the portraits lined along the wall north of the wide elegant staircase that cut a dramatic swathe in the center of the foyer.
The woman peered intently at the artist who had painted her. The loving attention to detail made me wonder if the artist had caressed his lover with each stroke of the brush. Carnality and lawlessness emanated from the Courtesan’s portraits. I could easily imagine a handsome, tormented soul painting with fevered intensity, a creator hopelessly in love with his libertine muse who would only cherish him in the moment. Perhaps they had made love in between sittings?
Before me were nine paintings displaying the glory of a legendary Courtesan in all the phases of her life. About five years must have passed in between each portrait. Her features matured and grew more defined with each painting, as she left the plump bloom of youth behind. Her body ripened to her prime, then past it; silver streaked her glossy black hair more and more in each portrait. Yet in all the paintings, her expression was much the same.
Those golden eyes sparkled with defiance and unrepentant joy. Her generous mouth curved in a knowing smirk. Had she anticipated her future audience when she posed for her portraits? Did she see past the artist, looking to those who would later gaze upon her? Her stare was relentless. She dared me to judge her, the scarlet woman who should have been an outcast. Instead, the joke was on the rigid and the proper. And the Courtesan knew it.
How in the devil did I end up here? What a day of madness this had been, I mused as I gaped at the sensuous portraits.
“So what do you think of my Vanity Gallery, darling Shepherd?”
Novel excerpt from “The Shepherd and the Courtesan,”
by Montgomery Mahaffey
©2019, All Rights Reserved.
“Artists are envied by millionaires.”
I don’t remember the book where I read this, but I do remember that claim and how gratifying it felt to read that. All flattery aside, this makes sense. Artists are creative and to be creative is to play God. Who wouldn’t envy that?
Personally speaking, I believe everybody is born with creativity. Yet few grow that quality or have that part of themselves nourished enough to have that creative strength throughout their lives.
Creativity is powerful. It is also overwhelming. Because I have found that a deep creative groove carves many paths, one detours to another, which then segues into another…and before one knows it, what was supposed to a straight road has become a labyrinth of various creative pursuits.
How heady is that? And how easy is it to get carried away and get lost and very possibly be left with a plethora of unfinished projects? Way too easy.
For example, I write original fables and fairy tales. I also enjoy the art of oral storytelling, my own stuff, as well as other people’s, and of course, the myths and folk tales from all over the world. Those two pursuits are very compatible, but I still have to stop writing to practice storytelling, even with my own stuff. Storytelling is not the same thing as reading from a book. It’s a performance, and that alone takes time and energy and repetition before a piece is polished enough to present to an audience. In other words, the path of writing segued into performance art.
When I was on the road with my collection of fables, I stopped in Santa Cruz for six months and came across flamenco dance. I even lived with my flamenco teacher and her husband for most of the time I was there, and was blessed to learn from excellent Gypsy teachers who came to California from Spain. Several months later, I wrote a lyrical piece, “Snowboarding for Flamencos” when I was torn between a flamenco workshop in Santa Cruz and the best snow season in SE Alaska where I lived at the time. Winter was intoxicating, and snowboarding won over flamenco. But the conflict was such that I wrote that piece and recorded, doing flamenco dance steps in a wide variety of footwear, including my snowboarding boots. So that is writing, spoken word, dance, and even music, because I made the cadences of my dance steps into as hypnotic a rhythm that would match the lyrics of “Snowboarding for Flamencos.” This short lyrical piece that was only two minutes long was doable, and very joyful when I finished it. I also used flamenco with another piece I wrote about an ecstatic experience I had on the Oregon Coast while on magic mushrooms. Again, performance art, choreography, dance, and live spoken word. That took at least 2 weeks for me to put together and practice, and if I did it again now, the rhythms would be different because I didn’t film or record it. Again, it’s doable. But I also fantasize about doing that as a book on tape for AN ENTIRE NOVEL. That would likely take a decade. That’s not doable.
So yes, creativity is overwhelming. But what a glory it is when all those segues and paths come together and something gorgeous is created!
That is the sweetest high ever!
“Fiction writers are strong in either plot or character - never both and each envies the other their talent.”
So said Margaret Grossman, my favorite writing teacher of all time. Her natural inclination was to write awesome, well-developed characters, the kind of people you’d want to sit down to coffee with and have long, intriguing conversations. But she struggled with finding things for these lovely characters to do.
My natural inclination is plot. I have absolutely no problem making stories up, with lots of plot points, twists, and turns. But it’s connection to the characters that keeps readers engaged with the plot, and I’m sad to say that my characters are often misunderstood and their development criticized. I struggle to flesh out fully actualized people in a fictional world - especially at that time when I worked with Margaret. I also think it’s peculiar, because I am always trying to figure out the psychology of people in the real world, and what makes us all tick. Perhaps all that amateur psychoanalysis has helped. Maybe I’ve improved since then, but criticism around character development is the most consistent when it comes to my writing. Perhaps that’s why I use archetypal types for my characters? Either way, I do the best I can, and sometimes that falls short. In my current novel, both the protagonists are telling their stories from 1st person “I.” I hope that will make a stronger connection between the readers and my characters.
Truth be told, I believe this weakness around character development is a pretty common problem with most indie authors. I haven’t made a formal study of it, but most indie authors whose work I’ve read have 1 dimensional characters as well.
I wish I could give some sage advice and how-to’s on how to write plot if you naturally write characters, but I’m one of those who doesn’t know how to teach something that comes very easily to me. When it comes to writing character, I say practice.
But another tool that may come in handy is to write up a character sheet describing each of your characters, and then add some of those details in your plot pages.
What does this character want?
What role does this character play?
Is this character sympathetic and trustworthy?
What is the primary struggle for this character in this story?
Feel free to add any more details that may help flesh out your characters into a person you’d want to hang out with or the kind of person you’d avoid at a party. It actually helps to list details of each and every character, no matter how minor they are. I don’t always do this exercise, but when I do, I find this tool helps bring characters to life.
And yes, as Margaret claimed, I do envy natural character writers their talent. But at least I have an exciting, juicy plot line to carry the day, and I’m sure some writer somewhere envies my ability to do that.
Fiction has changed a lot, and really, not necessarily for the better. My fiancée used to teach high school English, so she stayed current on YA fiction. She has a particular love for YA dystopian fiction, but she even read YA fiction she didn’t like to stay on top of what her students were reading. Like me, she loved to read her all her life. But I have given up on most contemporary fiction because I think most of it has gone down the toilet. She agrees, and insists that most of the great writing right now is happening in YA.
If I had to guess, I bet one of the reasons why is YA doesn’t cut out backstory.
I read voraciously when I was a kid. Growing up, I read mostly commercial junk and did not become actively interested in the classics until I was in college. But one thing most of my favorites novels had in common was that the backstory was a crucial part of developing the novel. Novels were often hundreds of pages long, and probably 100’s of 1000s of words. What made up all those pages and words? Quite a bit of it was the backstory. The backstory of each of the characters before they came to be a part of the main plot line was anything but shortchanged, usually described in great detail.
And these were great stories and I loved falling into those worlds.
The biggest mistake I made with my first novel of the Ella Bandita stories (Ella Bandita and the Wanderer) was cutting out so much backstory, and the reason why? Because I was trying to get traditionally published and all the agents and editors insisted on a word limit between 70,000 and 110,000 words. Sometime after the 80’s, novels became shorter and backstory was only a succinct mention, and in many cases all but disappeared. If the story is one that takes place in a short frame of time, that would work just fine more often than not. But where’s the space to fall into another world?
It certainly didn’t work for mine, and the criticism that is most often pointed out in reviews is the lack of backstory led to a lack of feeling connected or understanding of the main character. I know I should go back and rewrite it, add that backstory. But I simply can’t do it. I wrote and rewrote and cut out large chunks of that first novel so many times, I can’t bring myself to work on it anymore. There comes a point where one has to move on to the next book. Lesson learned, but ouch, that hurt.
So now I’m working on the 2nd novel in the Ella Bandita stories – working titles are: The Shepherd and the Courtesan or The Art of Taking Chances – and the Courtesan has a juicy backstory. Even if the transformation of an ugly peasant girl named Addie into the legendary Courtesan, Adrianna the Beautiful has nothing to little to do with the main plot, I’m writing it and it’s staying. Why? Because it’s good. Even if it makes the novel more expensive to print, it’s going in. Besides that’s the beauty of ebooks.
Maybe the glorious backstory can find its way back in to the pages of novels, now that printing may not be such an expense.
I think the biggest mistake I’ve made in my writing career is listening to others and believing their feedback was more important and valuable than my inner calling. This was especially true when it came to self-publishing. The year that I was on the road, I started to get a glimpse of the possibility of self-publishing as a path. This was in 2005, before ebooks existed, blogging was in its infancy stages, and everybody in the writing world advised me – no matter what – to avoid telling agents and editors that I had self-published this collection of stories. They would automatically assume that I was a hack if I did that. I hadn’t even gone to what was called a Vanity Press at that time. I had gone to a printer and my order was unique. The sales rep was quite intrigued with what I was doing.
That year, I got the idea of a collective of self-published writers who banded together to promote their work and each other? But when I mentioned it to others, a couple of ‘friends’ who were not writers told me that was redundant, that it had already been done, and there was no point in reinventing the wheel. One directed me to some writers’ house in Seattle, where none of the authors were self-published, and I heard that advice yet again to not divulge that I had self-published a book from somebody who was very involved in that community. She was very nice and understanding about it.
“They just don’t understand the need people have to experience the satisfaction of seeing your work in book form,” she said.
Looking back less than 15 years later, isn’t it so obvious what a mistake I made to listen to all those who thought they knew better, but didn’t. Since then, many authors have enjoyed a lot of success in the DIY arena and I could have been one of them. The internet, Kindle, and ebooks have changed everything. If I had followed my instincts, instead of listening to others, I may have started at the beginning of the wave as it started to climb and enjoyed the sweetness of the crest and fall.
So what’s the moral of the story? Trust yourself. Even if you screw up, there’s a peace of mind to screwing up on your own ideas, rather than screwing up because of somebody else’s.
In Anchorage with a lull in my book tour schedule - next round of dates not until September 12th and way out of cashola, thank god for the credit card.
Joe was lured by the promise of a fishing job in Valdez and he stayed while I drove on to McCarthy, and by some miracle, did not get flattened by the road leading to Hippie Shangri-la, the same road that just happens to be hell on tires since it's rocky dirt road built over old train tracks - nice! Just before the end of the road, I was tempted by the lure of full-service cabins with VACANCY sign. Pulled in and charged two nights for a yuppie cabin in the middle of nowhere - I mean, laminate floors in McCarthy! Andy, the keeper of the cabins, was very friendly and gave me three eggs, freshly laid, with some bread and butter for breakfast the next day, along with coffee. I figured what the hell? This is a business trip, I can write the whole thing off, treat myself to a comfortable bed, a big tub and lots of privacy after three weeks of camping, crashing on couches, and sleeping in the Brown Beast, which is hanging in there I'm happy to say.
The next day, I went across the bridge and walked to McCarthy, where I found out that the festival was in Kennicott - five miles away. There was irregular bus service, but the “contents were changing the world.” In other words, this bus in remote Alaska ran on peanut oil.
Layton and Sharmon, a couple from Soldotna, were on the bus with me. They were stocking up on beer and camping equipment, and when I said I was in work mode, Layton asked if I was a writer. I said yes, how did you know? And he said, you gotta be. He was a writer for the Clarion, a local paper on Kenai, and after telling him my story, he bought a book and assured me that of course I would sell all 20 as the bus running on peanut oil deposited us at the festival grounds in Kennicott.
I got off the bus and looked around; then I went into shock as the weight of 20 books in my pack settled on my back.
There were about sixty tents set up in a gravel parking lot with the ruins of the Kennicott copper mine and the Kennicott Lodge perched on the hill above us. Abandoned mining gear was laying everywhere in its rusting glory and a homemade stage was set up practically in the bushes. There were belly dancers undulating wherever they could find space amongst the rusting forgotten equipment, and people hanging out wherever they could find space.
Just beyond this scene looked like the other side of the moon, terminal moraine that's too cold to progress to the beginnings of forest because glacier ice is 3 feet underneath it - but just thick enough to cover the glacier, in uniform lines of silt in earthy tones of grey, beige, red, depending on which valley the glacier was carving through.
I looked at the homegrown festival - that was free, of course - and my vision of a big field with a variety of vendors was dashed. I muttered to the bus driver that this was not what I expected.
"Well, what did you expect?" he quipped. I’m sure he was as amused as he looked.
"I don't know, but it wasn't this."
Recognizing faces of people that I didn't know very well, I had the feeling I was at a Girdwood party in Kennicott and that this was not the right venue to be selling books. A gal named Valerie confirmed that suspicion a few hours later when she told me that she and her boyfriend were also promoting a book, "Wild Animus," written by an eccentric gazillionaire from Colorado, that wanted people to read his book so much, he was hiring promoters in every state to give his book away. Last year, they had given away over 2000 books and this year they were handing out CD's with him reading enticing segments of the book, so people would actually read it.
"Is it any good?" I asked her.
"It's a piece of shit," she said. "It totally sucks."
This was definitely not the venue for what I had in mind.
If you can't fight em, join them. I decided to just enjoy the party and hitched a ride by motorcycle back to the bridge and got my stuff out of the yuppie cabin I wouldn't be sleeping in that night, and got my camping gear for the party that went on until the wee hours of the morning...
That's all for now. Thanks for reading.
PS This experience was one of my most cherished experiences from that year on the road. It was proof that one does not take a journey. A journey takes you!
PS This was one of the most epic experiences I had from the DIY booktour roadtrip I did in 2005-2006.
I love storytelling. I grew up with it, and when I found my ‘writer’s voice,’ it was in the form of the oral art of telling a story with simple language and basic tools. I used to throw Story Circles where everybody had to share a story, and it was pretty awesome to discover what people came up with, especially those who were shy or very left-brained.
So I use storytelling to promote my work. I have for years. All of my blast from the past blogs are from that year I was on the road, telling stories and selling a book of original fairy tales out of my truck. I was living new stories as I was selling the ones I’d made up. It was an amazing year, one of the hardest and most exciting of my life, when I was fully out of my comfort zone. And I sold most of my books during that time, and met a lot of intriguing and open-minded people. Had some good adventures, each one unique in and of itself. I still use storytelling as a method of getting my work out there, and eventually, I will start a podcast. I go to open mics, and of course, I prefer the ones that allow 10-15 minutes, and 20 minutes are a dream come true. But most of them have become 5-minute open mics and I’m not a fan of those. I get it that the emcee wants as many people as possible to have their chance, but that’s just not enough time for anybody.
My most recent open mic in Portland, I read my first sex scene to a room full of strangers. Given that this particular Open Mic is around sexuality, that was the right venue and the right audience of a sex positive crowd. It’s a way for people to find out who I am and I still sell most of my books this way.
But nothing beats a space I created and a vibe that I have some control over, as well as much time as I care to give the stories I share. So Tea & Tales is my favorite. I have 2 more before the sun gets high in the sky and the people get restless for being outside. At my next Tea & Tales, I’m telling an excerpt out of my novel, Ella Bandita and the Wanderer, as well as the Tlingit tale of How Raven Ruined Crow’s Voice. I don’t think that’s the official title, but it’s how I remember it. If anybody reading this is in the Portland, Oregon area and would like to attend, drop a comment and I’ll give you the Facebook event page with the info. It’s on April 7th.
I’m not a fan of blogging. Isn’t this obvious given how long it has been since my last entry? It didn’t help that advice I received suggested the blog needed to be 1000-2000 words for SEO. Perhaps that is true, and perhaps it is not. I don’t think that makes a lot of sense for an author, because I’d much rather spend that time crafting a piece that is part of a much longer work – like my novel – rather than something that I do to promote my social media presence. This also doesn’t make sense to me because when I’m surfing the internet and come across blogs, I prefer them to be short and sweet. The ones that are longer and more detailed, I find tedious and usually stop reading after a couple of minutes unless the piece is really gripping.
I resent and resist this juggling act between creativity, promotion, and I drop a lot of balls.
Then I came across Seth Godin. This is a man who has written oodles of books and blogs EVERY DAMN DAY. Granted, he writes from a non-fiction entrepreneurial POV and I write fiction, fantasy that is rooted in archetypes and fairy tales. But he still has much to say that I need to learn about, so I finally checked out his blog.
Imagine my delight and surprise when I found that most of his blogs that I found are under 500 words. Within in those pithy pieces of brevity, there was plenty of sound advice and I didn’t have to spend twenty minutes absorbing his knowledge. He probably doesn’t need SEO like I do because he’s Seth Godin and I’m not an established name like he, but it made me stop and think that perhaps short and sweet pieces done quickly and more often might work more than having to spend more time on a longer article than I want to.
Like this blog. Less than 400 words. Perhaps you stopped reading after the first paragraph. But if you kept going, I didn’t demand much of your time and attention, now, did I?
In Anchorage to give the Brown Beast the medical care he deserves. Apparently, the BB has many leaking wounds, but according to the doctors, if I keep giving him transfusions on a regular basis, the BB should be good to go, for a long time...how about that?
Joe has joined the tour for the rest of the summer and he's set a goal to sell all the books in my truck. It is definitely more empowering to be a team of plural than a mission of singular, and the books are definitely selling. At Chair Five in Girdwood, I had people following me to the bathroom to buy a book - yippee!!! It is so much easier to have somebody else promoting me as a dreamer who is trying to manifest fantasy into reality. When I do it, I sound like a geek. At least for the next month, I don't have to endure the surface polite nods of those who can smell blood, while underneath the kitty sharpens its claws...okay, so I'm blowing things out of proportion.
Done with the Kenai Peninsula, and manana we're heading to McCarthy for the Blackburn Music Festival where we'll lay out a blanket and sell books. Heard good things about this festival, so it should be good, and then we'll be heading up north - we may even go to Prudhoe Bay just so we can say we did because I doubt a bunch of republican oil-drillers will be into fairy tales featuring my heart-eating seductress, but you never know. Then we'll be meandering on down to Fairbanks, and then...who knows.
Joe asked the I Ching a couple of questions...about chicks of course. And one said the great departs and the small approaches - after he made the decision to not spread himself thin to go see a gal on the other side of the world and the other was "The Marrying Maiden" with "The Arousing, Thunder" as the upper trigram, and "The Joyous, Lake" as the lower. Since that girl already compared him to a flower, because he's "sweet," that made Joe's day. He's been referring to himself as "I am the Arousing Thunder" ever since. And he's totally sold on the I Ching.
It's like traveling with my kid brother.
Anyway, my journal list is starting to get bloated, so I have a request of everybody...if you would like to keep hearing of what's going on, drop me a line and let me know one way or the other. If I hear nothing by the end of the month, I'll assume the answer is not and you're too considerate or too chicken to say so.
Anyway, hope all is well...
PS This is the 5th email I sent to my friends of what are now some cherished memories of my DIY booktour/roadtrip in Alaska in the summer and fall of 2005. It was literally called “I don’t know what to call this one; this is the fifth email.”
This road trip was shaping up to be an exercise in humiliation until Joe showed up. For instance, in Homer, at my first open mike, I had right in front of my stage the Christian kiddie contingent. They were there to play cards, talk loud, and make smart-ass speeches after different musicians played just to show how cute they were, while the folks that were actually listening attentively were behind them.
I was lucky though, they got even more obnoxious when the guy after me went up to play his guitar and sing.
At the Land's End in Homer, my first night was the exact same time and date as the post-Memorial service for Drew Scalzi, a former state Representative, so everyone there was going to that. One couple tried to get me to go upstairs, have some food and drink and let people know I was there, but there's just something about going to somebody's funeral, especially someone that I'd never met, to hustle some business that is...distasteful to say the least. The same couple came down and bought a book - probably out of sympathy because nobody showed up that day, and the wife suggested that I should come in the winter when people are looking for things to do during that time.
The next day, a couple of acquaintances and a couple of total strangers showed up. I sold two books. All I could think was that it was a mighty fine thing that I did not pay a dime for that space and that my beginner's luck had run out. And I'm back in the time and space of being a novice...again.
I packed up the Brown Beast (that is burning through the oil, but other than that is running beautifully) and headed for Seward.
It seems like every year I decide to do something different that I know nothing about, just so I can be a novice all over again. Perhaps Zen Buddhists would applaud my embrace of Zen mind by constantly being a beginner; but given that I learn by making sooooo many mistakes, the novice/beginner period can be agony.
In Seward, at the Resurrect Art Coffee House – an old church that was converted into this little gem, I had set up a tableside storytelling for the sake of promoting my book. The owners are every artist's dream come true as they support the arts and would let me do whatever I wanted. So I set up for three days, hoping positive word of mouth would help.
Day one: I told several stories and sold...nothing.
Granted, I'm sure it could have been worse, I could have been insulted on top of it. But to be in a place for four hours and have people nod politely at my efforts is...awful and humiliating.
Why would any sane person put herself through all this?
It didn't help that I had a Homer friend tempting me to go back to Homer, go charter fishing and party. It was so demoralizing, I almost went, but I made a commitment and as much as it hurt, that commitment must be kept. I gritted my teeth to bear it on Thursday, where at least the day would be mercifully short.
Day two: I told two stories to four people...sold two books. I perked up a bit. I've survived painful learning curves before and it was always better. I even sold two more books to a waitress and one of her followers at the bar where I refreshed myself with a beer after hiking.
And then came deliverance...
Friday brought the arrival of Joe, who has absolutely no boundaries, and therefore, no inhibitions. A born balls-to-the-wall salesman type. For those who know Joe, after fishing in Bristol Bay, his dreds got inflected with fish bits, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. He said every morning when he woke up his head smelled like fish and he couldn't take it anymore. What should surprise everyone was that he shaved them off, along with his beard. And damn! He now looks like a respectable young man. He’s not, of course. But at least, he now passes.
Joe listened to a couple of stories, and even stopped being a smart-ass half-way through the first one. A Colorado woman who calls herself "Soozie Creamcheese," bought a book, and the two over-friendly studs I'd met at the youth hostel bought none. Then Joe took it upon himself to take a few books and hit the bars. He took four books, and within 45 minutes, came back with forty bucks, and left with ten more books. By the time people were only caring about getting drunk he sold seven more books. While I stayed put at the Resurrect Art Coffe House, told more stories, and sold two books.
I couldn’t believe it.
Here I am, busting my butt telling stories and recommending myself to strangers and all Joe has to say is: "Dude, you should REALLY buy this book," and he’s usually chatting up a female.
And it works.
I just might have to pack up Joe in my luggage...
Thank God for good friends.
PS These were some great memories of my road trip book tour in the summer of 2005. FYI, the Resurrect Art Coffee House is still around. If you’re ever in Seward, go check it out!
Cole has busted out some pretty fabulous memes in the form of writing prompts and inspiration! Their style is different from mine, but that makes for broader perspective and more choices for all the writers out there to find those pearls of inspiration to get those creative ideas flowing and the pen moving across the page or fingers dancing over a keyboard. Things tend to flow from there. So enjoy!
On another note, this weekend, I'm heading for my first festival as a vendor for the first time in a coon's age. Imagine Orcas Island, with sacred music, late night dance parties, aerialists, fire dancers, nature, beauty, and lots of rain - that's where I'll be with Cole and my partner, Morgen, trying to tell some stories and sell some books. I have an updated and revised version of The Golden Pedestal for the kiddos with some gorgeous new illustrations, as well as Ella Bandita and the Wanderer for the adults. I'll also have some older copies of my original collection of stories, Ella Bandita and the Wanderer, which will go for a $4. A lot has changed in the self-publishing world since the DIY booktour odyssey I did in 2005/2006. One positive change on my end is that I'm not doing this alone. That is a huge relief!
I hope it's a good weekend, and if anybody reading this happens to be on Orcas Island for Imagine this weekend, come find us. In the meantime, enjoy Cole's writing prompts and inspiration!
I’m about to put out a children’s book, The Golden Pedestal. This original fairy tale is written in the classical style, with black and white illustrations interspersed throughout the story. There is no technology, the characters are archetypal, and there is a moral to the story. I wrote this story years ago, and a reviewer described it and the other kids’ story in the collection, Why Roses Have Thorns, as “gentle parables about the dangers of pride.” I concur.
To be more specific, I describe The Golden Pedestal as a cautionary tale about narcissism and how destructive it is to a community. My partner says The Golden Pedestal makes an effective allegory for popularity contests that gain momentum in high school.
Originally, the title of the story was Preacher Man and the Golden Pedestal, a friend of mine did about 7 illustrations, the books were handmade on 8.5x11” paper that I printed at the local copier and then bound with mini black binder clips. The cover was an illustration of the Preacher Man on top of the Golden Pedestal against a bright yellow background, whereas Roses was red. These were part of the DIY book tour/roadtrip odyssey that I took in 2005, and that I drop one of those old emails in this blog from time to time.
Perhaps because it was a pourquoi story, Roses sold noticeably better than Pedestal on that trip. Yet a lot of people preferred Pedestal when they read it in the collection.
So after messing about with the title and deciding to keep it simple, I hired an illustrator with some experience as a working artist to provide a fresh perspective, not to mention a lot more illustrations, and a book designer fresh out of a graphic design program who is eager to work in her new career. She did a lovely job with taking pieces of the illustrations and sprinkling them all over the book. Thus The Golden Pedestal is transformed into is a beautiful gem of a book. At least, I believe it is. I’m excited to get it out there.
I also am pretty clueless on how to market this to the general public because it’s completely different than the adult novels I usually write. It also complicates things just a bit that I write children’s fairy tales using my first name (Mary), and my adult fairy tales under my middle name (Montgomery).
I was advised to use different names to prevent confusion, especially for parents who might get scared off by the nature of my adult work. The Ella Bandita Stories – I’m at work on the second novel right now – cover the darker themes of sexuality, yearning, seduction, grief, loss, alienation, and these novels are for an adult audience. Although the sex scenes are not the majority of the story by any means, the sex scenes are explicit enough to be considered erotica. There’s only 1 scene like this in Ella Bandita and the Wanderer, but in The Shepherd and the Courtesan, there will be many more.
Although it may be the better part of wisdom to separate my children’s work from my adult work, I think it’s a shame. Sexuality and morality are two completely different states of being, and this really shouldn’t be necessary. Yet I was raised with the belief that good morals had far more concern with “not having sex before marriage,” and not enough concern for being honest, kind, and humble; having integrity; playing fair; living with courage and authenticity; acknowledging the dignity of others; and respecting the rights of others. It is very possible that somebody could have a sex drive so high they are what is considered “promiscuous,” but still embody all these beautiful traits that make a truly moral being. Yet how often is such a person given credit for having sound principles?
The cold, hard truth is we live in a highly sex negative society. That has not changed after decades of sex before marriage is the norm; many couples live together before getting married, and many young people have at least a few lovers before they do settle down.
Truthfully, I am so turned off by the word “moral,” I often substitute it with “principled” because it doesn’t have the emotional charge that makes my skin crawl. I often cringe when I hear “morals.” What comes to mind is the hard edged voice of an embittered dowager who is usually slut-shaming a girl or young woman for being sexual – whether she is “promiscuous” or not.
I could go on and on about this, and frankly, this last could be a long blog in its own right, and maybe it will be later. So I conclude with – I’m about to come out with a children’s book. I promise The Golden Pedestal will encourage good morals in your kids.
So what is The Golden Pedestal about?
A fable for ages 8 and up!
The Purple Princess has it so good. Her best friends, Sir Highbrow Olive and Miss Blue Begonia live on either side of her. The Purple Princess loves to play piano. Sir Highbrow Olive loves to study. Miss Blue Begonia loves to garden. They live with a view of the Golden Pedestal that drew their ancestors from the mountains to this valley. Harmony rules this village until the Preacher Man falls to his knees before the Golden Pedestal. Every day, the Preacher Man preaches of the glory of gold, begging the question: Who is good enough to be beholden on the Golden Pedestal? Then the people choose the Purple Princess as the one they should worship, the one who stands above all the rest. Sir Highbrow Olive and Miss Blue Begonia rush to her aid, and the three friends must find a way to reclaim the peace and harmony of their home before it is too late.
I hope you enjoyed some of the illustrations throughout this blog post. If this sounds like the kind of story you'd want for your kids and you'd love to pre-order a copy, write to me at email@example.com, send me a Paypal of $10 with both your email and physical addresses by September 15th, 2018, you'll get that beautiful book by the end of September. Unless you live in another country. It may take longer.
Thanks for reading!
As I said in an earlier post, I got to making lots of memes to promote my existence here in this world and in cyber space. I think Cole and I came up with some pretty awesome images, and thought it would be cool to share some of our collection in the blog.
These memes are original in the pairings of images with words. Many of the quotes are from those who are wiser and more experienced than I - not to mention famous. Unless the author is unknown, I always credit brilliance where it is due. And of course, I didn't take the pictures. But many are quotes from my work, and in one meme, my perspective.
These are some favorites of mine as well as those pinned often on Pinterest. I don’t know how all of this will shake out, but for the sake of passing on some good advice, I recommend Canva as a great place to design memes for free. My second choice is Quotes Cover, which is where I got started. I was pretty limited with how I could design the image and where I could put words on Quotes Cover. I think Canva makes a cleaner, more pristine image, so I use it all the time now. But I had to figure it out and have somebody show me a little of how to work that site. Both sites are free to work with, which is always a bonus. That said, I hope y’all enjoy the images and feel free to share them on your own social media – especially those that have Free Flying Press on them. ;)
So there y'all have it. There are many more. I hope y'all enjoyed viewing these as much as we did making them! It's a lovely creative pursuit to make some memes!