About Sandra Hutchison

Indie author and publisher of THE AWFUL MESS: A LOVE STORY and THE RIBS AND THIGH BONES OF DESIRE.

After an indie start, an author transitions to traditional publishing

Sandra Hutchison interviews Nicole Blades, a Montreal native who moved to New York and found success writing across a variety of media, including a first novel with a small Canadian press, followed by one with traditional publisher Kensington’s Dafina imprint — with a second novel to follow this fall.

Do stay tuned if you’re a writer with a novel in a drawer. You’re likely to find the story of Nicole’s next book especially heartening. (Note: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links — for an explanation of what that means, please see the bottom of the post.)

Author Nicole Blades

Nicole, what inspired THE THUNDER BENEATH US?

About six or seven years ago, I read this magazine story about these three brothers who went duck-hunting as part of their Christmas get-together. But it all turned tragic when the family dog accidentally punched a hole in the lightly frozen lake. While trying to save the dog, all three brothers were sucked down into freezing water. Two of the brothers drowned and one survived.

The story never left me. I kept thinking about the level of guilt, pangs of what-ifs, and probable shame that the one surviving brother faced; and how that psychological torment could inform and influence how he sees himself moving forward. These men were in their 30s at time of the ice accident, but I started wondering how that heaviness of what happened would translate to someone who was just a teenager when their entire world was forever changed.

What’s your number one hope for what your readers will get out of it?

Compassion. I hope readers come away from this story with a fortified sense of compassion for each other. We have no idea what’s happening beneath the surface of someone’s life—no matter flawless or fabulous it may appear to on social media. We all need to feel valued and heard and supported as we make our way through this life. I’ve said this a few times, but it’s still true: The human condition can knock the wind out of you. It’s vital to know and believe that we can make mistakes and get back up, and that we are all worthy of love and acceptance.

I hope readers come away...with a fortified sense of compassion for each other. -- Nicole Blades Click To Tweet

How did you come to publish it?

My debut novel, EARTH’S WATERS, was published back in 2007 by DC Books—a small, indie publisher based in my hometown of Montreal. I dove right back into writing the next thing, another novel. After querying agents with Book No. 2 for a while, there were no bites and it never got picked up, so I did what I do: started working on the next story. That third novel became THE THUNDER BENEATH US.

Now, the second novel—the one I thought I had finished back in 2010—went through many changes and revisions and recasts as well as time on the shelf or in the desk drawer. But I didn’t want to throw in the towel on it because I still liked the story; I still cared about the protagonist and what could happen to her. Since the heart of the story always remained the same, I was able to build a brand new world around it and still stay intrigued with how it could unfold. And—sound the horn!—that Book No. 2 became HAVE YOU MET NORA? and will be published October 31.

All tallied, I have been living with and working on this NORA story for nine years. This writing/publishing world can be a roller-coaster ride, right?

That’s for sure! As a now traditionally-published author, what advice would you have for aspiring authors?

My advice is, first, be wary of advice! Sort of joking there, but the truth is there is no shortage of people popping up to tell you what you should be doing or (worse) what you’re doing wrong.  But as is often the case, you really do need to figure out what makes sense for you and your writing.

That said, I do have three suggestions to offer: First, read. You have to read to be a writer. No way around it. Read different genres and styles and quality of writing, because it’s all going to help your own writing and develop your storytelling. Second, you have to write. It’s a craft and you have to practice it, work at it. It doesn’t come magically to anyone. (No matter what they might want to tell you!) So, commit the time, sit in the seat, and write. Lastly, find your voice and use that. Don’t bother trying to emulate your favorite writer or the latest bestseller. That’s their voice. Use yours to tell the stories you want to read. Focus on one goal: telling a really good story in your voice.

First, read. You have to read to be a writer. -- Nicole Blades Click To Tweet

About Nicole Blades:

A novelist and freelance journalist who has been putting her stories on paper since the third grade, Nicole Blades was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, by Caribbean parents. She moved to New York City and launched her journalism career working at Essence magazine. She later co-founded the online magazine SheNetworks, and worked as an editor at ESPN and Women’s Health.

Nicole’s articles and essays have appeared in Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, NYTimes.com, WashingtonPost.com, MarieClaire.com, SELF, Health, and BuzzFeed. Her next book, HAVE YOU MET NORA?, will be released November 2017, and her latest novel, THE THUNDER BENEATH US, is available now wherever books and ebooks are sold. You can hear Nicole and her sister Nailah on Hey, Sis!, their new podcast about women finding their focus and place in business, art, culture, and life.

More about THE THUNDER BENEATH US:

Ten years ago, on Christmas Eve, Best and her two older brothers took a shortcut over a frozen lake. When the ice cracked, all three went in. Only Best came out.

People said she was lucky, but that kind of luck is nothing but a burden. Because Best knows what she had to do to survive. And after years of covering up the past, her guilt is detonating through every facet of her seemingly charmed life.

Best is quick-witted and headstrong, but how do you find a way to happiness when you’re sure you haven’t earned it—or embrace a future you feel you don’t deserve? Evocative and emotional, THE THUNDER BENEATH US is a gripping novel about learning to carry loss without breaking, and to heal and forgive—not least of all, ourselves. Buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2p7i4h4

Want to learn more? Nicole’s social media links:

Website: http://nicoleblades.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/nicoleblades

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WriterNicoleBlades/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nicole_blades/

Amazon Affiliate links give Sandra Hutchison a tiny percentage for any purchases made from this site without adding any cost to you. They also help people in other countries like, say, Canada, get the Amazon store that works for them. (Please let Sandra know if you’re not in the US and the link didn’t work for you! This is a bit of an experiment.)

Frustration and hope: An interview with self-published author Lisa Marie Latino

Sandra Hutchison interviews an indie author whose romantic comedy debut was written to give hope to anyone who feels they’ve fallen short of their dreams.

What inspired Ten Years Later?

I went through various periods of self doubt in the years after college. I, too, was single, still living at my parents’ home, and went through some very trying times that all entrepreneurs do while forming their own businesses. As I opened up to others about my frustrations I realized that nearly everyone, no matter their circumstance, was dealing with the same insecurities. That theme — visions of what one thinks life SHOULD be versus reality — really inspired me, and since I’ve always wanted to write a book anyway, I channeled that angst into writing Ten Years Later .

A lot of readers assume Carla and I are the same person because we share a similar background and common interests — we’re both New Jersey-based sports fans of Italian descent. Obviously, I drew on a lot of my life’s experience in shaping a relatable fictional character, but Carla has her own set of unique circumstances that represent the plight of driven millennials everywhere trying to claim their stake in the world.

The book was originally written for women in their twenties and early thirties who are struggling to find their way; I wanted Ten Years Later to be their beacon of hope and motivate them to accomplish their heart’s desires. But as I’m getting to know my readers, I’m realizing that they come from all walks of life. High schoolers to middle-aged men have read and loved it. To write a book that can touch a wide variety of people is very fulfilling.

How did you come to publish it?

I did the blind-pitch dance to about fifty literary agents…and got rejected by all of them. I have built my career by creating opportunities for myself that no one else would give me, so I figured I would add one more to the list! I enlisted an editor, proofreader and illustrator to craft an ultra-professional final product. I published through CreateSpace and they were very helpful in guiding me through the process. It’s another “business” to worry about but I wouldn’t want it any other way!

What most surprised you in the writing and/or publishing of your book?

My experience as a business owner alleviated a lot of the “shock” in my new career as a self-published novelist. I knew the work was going to be hard and the reward not so instant. But I’m still learning something new everyday, from distribution tips to new blogs or online book communities to tap into!

What’s been your best experience so far as a published author?

Getting feedback from readers. I am so humbled by the fact that people chose to spend their time in my little world I created. Professionally, there is no better feeling.

What comes next?

The ultimate goal for Ten Years Later is to turn it into a movie. In my humble opinion, I think it would smash at the box office as the next great romantic comedy!

As for the future, I have many ideas for books; some in the same lighthearted vein, some in a much darker voice.

As an indie-published author, what advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Find a subject that absolutely consumes you with passion and run with it! That passion will take you through the writing, editing, tweaking of the final product, and marketing yourself.

Find a subject that absolutely consumes you with passion and run with it! -- Lisa Marie Latino Click To TweetAbout Lisa Marie Latino

The CEO and executive producer of Long Shot Productions, a full-service media production company based in Fairfield, New Jersey, Latino has produced numerous commercial, corporate, and entertainment programs that have taken her throughout the United States as well as Europe. In 2014, Latino co-launched HipNewJersey.com, an online lifestyle program featuring the latest trends around the Garden State.

Latino has appeared on a wide variety of local television, network cable, and radio shows, including TLC’s Cake Boss, SNY’s Oh Yeah, and WFAN Sport Radio’s Boomer & Carton and works in-season for the New York Giants Radio Network. She has also served as an adjunct broadcasting professor at Seton Hall University. Latino graduated from Montclair State University in 2006 with a degree in broadcasting and speech communication.

Learn more about Lisa Marie Latino on Facebook or her web site, lisamarielatino.com, which has more social media links.

Ten Years Later
Carla D’Agostino is not your typical heroine. Stuck in a seemingly dead-end job, single, and still living with her overbearing Italian-American parents, Carla is thrown for a loop when she realizes her ten-year high school reunion is fast approaching. True love, a career as a sports radio talk show host, the perfect body–every dream remains frustratingly out of reach no matter how Carla strives and schemes. Out of reach, that is, until unexpected events lead her right back to where she started, and Carla discovers that all she ever wanted was right in front of her the whole time. “Ten Years Later” is a witty, unpredictable tale of one ordinary young woman’s race for the top as she throws caution to the wind and decides to go for her dreams.
WHERE TO BUY IT:
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / iBooks

Published every way: An interview with author Denise Deegan

Sandra Hutchison interviews multi-published Irish author Denise Deegan (who also publishes women’s fiction as Aimee Alexander).

Denise, in terms of being published you’ve moved from traditional to indie to Lake Union (as Aimee Alexander) and back to indie again. Quite an adventure! Can you share some of your ups and downs?

So, I had seven novels traditionally published, four contemporary works of women’s fiction, followed by a YA trilogy. By the time the last YA novel was published, the rights to my women’s fiction works had reverted to me. I thought that self-publishing would be an adventure, so I renamed myself Aimee Alexander (my children’s names combined), edited my books afresh, renamed them, hired a cover designer, and uploaded to Amazon. One of those novels, The Accidental Life of Greg Millar, was spotted by Amazon imprint Lake Union Publishing and then republished by them. My latest novel, Through the Barricades, is self-published.

Being traditionally published and having your novels translated into other languages is exciting. However, I love the control that comes with self-publishing. You choose your own covers, you do your own promotion, you see the results of that promotion immediately, and you can adapt with great flexibility. Importantly, you have a much higher royalty rate. You are an entrepreneur as well as an author. Having run my own PR business, all of this appeals very much to me. I like juggling different roles, working with different people, being creative in lots of ways, not just writing.

Being picked up by Lake Union Publishing was tremendously exciting because it came out of the blue. They approached me unexpectedly. I was aware of them; I had seen their books on Amazon. I loved their covers and their books. Mostly I loved their rankings! Being published by them was a treat. Their editing was wonderful, as was the cover they designed. They have been a pleasure to deal with. And they know their business.

I still have an agent and a manager in LA for my children’s and YA books. The market for children’s books is still very traditional.

I self-published my latest novel, Through the Barricades. 2016 was the centenary of a revolution that changed the course of Irish history. I wanted to get my story out before the end of the year. The fastest way was self-publishing. I just about made it. The book was published December 8. One of the highlights so far has been the cover, which I adore. That my daughter Aimee graces it makes the book all the more special to me.

As you note, you’ve published in multiple genres. Do you have any wisdom to impart on that?

Traditional wisdom states that authors should stick to a genre to build an audience. I had written four novels of contemporary women’s fiction. I didn’t plan to change. However, the next story that arrived to me was a teenage one. When I say arrived, I mean that I began to hear the characters’ voices in my head (which is how I’ve always written). The first conversation I heard was between sixteen-year-old Alex and her father. Alex’s voice was filled with rage, sarcasm but also a vulnerability that I couldn’t ignore. I scribbled that first dialogue onto a napkin in a coffee shop. Alex’s story became And By The Way, the first of The Butterfly Novels, a contemporary YA trilogy. I have since written a historical novel of love and revolution that is suitable for both adult and teenagers. I also have two novels with an agent, a YA thriller and a middle-grade pirate adventure.

The first thing I would say is that my novels are very strong on voice and emotion, no matter what genre they are in. That is because I hear and feel my characters. I become them as I write. If I ignored that process and stuck diligently to a genre, I would lose the realness of my stories. It would all become clinical and prescriptive, and my novels would, too. Then I would lose the desire to write.

A wonderful thing happened when I followed the teenage voices of Alex, Sarah, and Rachel. They really touched people. Girls began to get in touch on social media to say how they had connected with the books and characters. They spoke of how much they had learned from the issues that arose in the stories. They told me that they had read them over and over, wanted them made into movies, movies in which they would star. The reaction of teenagers to my books has touched me hugely and reminded me of why I write. I love what I do. If I changed how I do it, a little part of me would die. And I like living!

What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

The absolute thing I would say is: get your stories out to the world. Make them the best they can be. Hire professional editors. Learn the craft. Because it is a craft. Then get your stories out. Do not be stopped by the middlemen. If you can’t get an agent or publisher, do it yourself. The New York Times bestsellers list always includes self-published books. These are books that were not picked up by middlemen. Therefore they don’t always know a winner when they see it. And they will admit that themselves. Still Alice and The Martian were self-published, picked up by traditional publishers, and turned into movies. Why? Because the authors got their stories out to the world.

...get your stories out. Do not be stopped by the middlemen. -- Denise Deegan Click To Tweet

 What inspired your most recent novel?

Through the Barricades is a story of love and revolution. I’m a rebel at heart. If you want me to do something, tell me I can’t do it. I wanted to write a story of rebellion. Being Irish is an important part of my identity. My country’s history is one of oppression and a very long struggle for freedom. I wanted to tell that story through the eyes of Maggie, an idealistic girl who is prepared to sacrifice everything for what she believes in, and Daniel, a boy who is prepared to sacrifice everything for Maggie. I’m proud of my country’s history – its fight, not just for freedom, but to hold on to its identity, its stories and culture. I love this novel. More than any other, it is who I am.

What’s your number one hope for what your readers will get out of it?

I hope that people will connect with my characters, not just Maggie and Daniel, but their families and friends. I want them to feel as if they are right beside these ordinary people as they struggle in extraordinary circumstances for what they believe in.

I also very much want to share the story of a regiment of Irish soldiers that was stationed in Gallipoli in WWI. Researching (and writing about) this, I felt an incredible connection to the young men who fought and died in the trenches in Turkey.

What most surprised you in the writing of your book?

  • The connection I felt with soldiers in WWI, especially as I hadn’t originally planned to write about the Great War
  • How history is interpreted differently by people
  • The unplanned characters who stole into the book and built roles for themselves: a little orphan girl, Lily; Patrick, the rebel with a tough shell but soft center; and Michael, Daniel’s happy-go-lucky friend who grew up fast in Gallipoli but whose humor was so important in the trenches.

Tell us more about you and your book and where we can find it.

I’m an optimist. I find good in bad, light in darkness, and humor in difficult times. There’s something very Irish about that and it filters into the book. Though life in the trenches was appalling, humor was ever-present among the Irish soldiers. In a way, it defined them.

Family is hugely important to me. This comes across in all my books. Author Martina Reilly, who kindly attributed a quote on Through the Barricades commented: “The pieces written about the trenches in the First World War were really moving, as was the devotion Maggie’s family had to each other.”

I started life as a nurse. Medical issues always find their way into my books. Through the Barricades was no exception.

You can find Through the Barricades in paperback and ebook formats on Amazon.

About the author

Denise Deegan lives in Dublin with her family where she regularly dreams of sunshine, a life without cooking and her novels being made into movies.

She has been a nurse, a china restorer, a pharmaceutical sales rep, a public relations officer, an entrepreneur and a college lecturer. Her most difficult job was checkout girl, though ultimately this ‘experience’ did inspire a short story.

Denise’s books have been published by Penguin, Random House, Hachette and Lake Union Publishing. Her novels for Young Adults include The Butterfly Novels: And By The Way, And For Your Information, and And Actually.

Denise writes women’s fiction as Aimee Alexander. Her titles have become international best-sellers on Kindle and include: Pause to Rewind, The Accidental Life of Greg Millar, and All We Have Lost.

Learn more at https://denisedeegan.wordpress.com/about-denise/

Book Blurb

She was willing to sacrifice everything for her country. He was willing to sacrifice everything for her. 

“Make a difference in the world” are the last words Maggie Gilligan’s father ever says to her. They form a legacy that she carries in her heart years later when, at the age of fifteen, she tries to better the lives of Dublin’s largely forgotten poor.

“Don’t go getting distracted, now,” is what Daniel Healy’s father says to him after seeing him talking to the same Maggie Gilligan. Daniel is more than distracted. He is intrigued. Never has he met anyone as dismissive, argumentative… as downright infuriating.

A dare from Maggie is all it takes. Daniel volunteers at a food kitchen. There, his eyes are opened to the plight of the poor. It is 1913 and Dublin’s striking workers have been locked out of their jobs. Their families are going hungry. Daniel and Maggie do what they can. Soon, however, Maggie realizes that the only way to make a difference is to take up arms.

The story of Maggie and Daniel is one of friendship, love, war and revolution, of two people who are prepared to sacrifice their lives: Maggie for her country, Daniel for Maggie. Their mutual sacrifices put them on opposite sides of a revolution. Can their love survive?

Sandy’s note: It’s also very affordable right now if you buy it for Kindle at amazon.com.

Follow Denise Deegan on

Twitter: https://twitter.com/denisedeegan

Website:  https://denisedeegan.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/denise.deegan.3

Happy New Year!

If you’re local, hope you can join me and Christian women’s fiction author Elaine Stock at the Sand Lake Town Library this Saturday, Jan. 7, 1-2:30 pm.

two-authors-1-correct-date

Elaine and I are both members of the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association. This is a young and welcoming group that embraces both published and aspiring authors, traditionally published or self-published. You get access to courses, contests, feedback, and discussion, including opportunities to network with agents and published authors. I think it’s a great organization to belong to if your fiction falls into that genre at all.

Also, you might enjoy a blog post I recently wrote for Women Writers, Women’s Books, called “Why Won’t (Insert Name Here) Read My Book?” It’s about the inevitable painful realization all published writers have that not everybody they know and love wants to read their books. (I know, shocking, right?)

This coming year I plan to interview a number of other authors, and will also poke my head in occasionally with new stuff on my own front, but mostly I’m challenging myself to write the next novel a whole lot faster than I have in the past.

I need to, since after this winter it will be time to go back to full-time work. As I contemplate a future without Obamacare, I don’t see any responsible way around it — and that’s okay, since there are plenty of other things I like to do besides writing — and, frankly, every single one of them pays better.

Hope this finds you well. I wish you a wonderful year of reading and (if it’s your thing) writing! Onward!

Goodreads giveaway: Signed ARC of Bardwell’s Folly!

This is a pretty short giveaway, so don’t put off entering, US peeps. Enter to win today!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Bardwell's Folly by Sandra Hutchison

Bardwell’s Folly

by Sandra Hutchison

Giveaway ends November 30, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Here’s a short tidbit from later than the first five chapters:

Joe and Dori stood awkwardly in the great room, listening to distant squeals of admiration from Lisa. Robert returned quickly. “She said she wanted to grab a quick shower.”

“Great,” Joe said. “That’ll be at least another twenty minutes.”

“Anyone want another beer?” Robert asked.

“No thanks,” Joe and Dori said in unison. Joe gave her an annoyed look. He didn’t want them to suddenly get along too well, Dori concluded. She withdrew to peer out of the giant bank of windows.

“Something else?” Robert said, head in the refrigerator. “I have water, soda, iced tea. White wine. Red wine.”

Neither she nor Joe responded.

Dori looked at her watch. Now that it was finally growing dark outside, the windows were reflecting the yellow-lit interior of the house. In the reflection she watched Robert open an iced tea, check his own watch, then flounce down on the massive sofa that sat in front of the fireplace. “Anyone want a fire?” he asked.

Joe said, “Don’t you have the air on?”

Robert shrugged. “I can keep it low.” He picked up a remote and flames leapt up, quickly dialed down to embers.

Joe frowned. “So where’s the mood music?”

Robert cocked an eyebrow at him. “You want me to get you in the mood?”

Dori asked, “Do you have another bathroom?”

Robert said, “You’ll find a couple of bathrooms just down the other hall there, between the bedrooms.” He pointed towards the other side of the house. Dori couldn’t help noticing that while he’d escorted Lisa, she was on her own.

“Thanks,” she said, and took off. But as she passed the kitchen and front door she noticed a tiny half bath that was closer and ducked in. She sat down, noting the funky wallpaper with its rainbow trout motif, and realized she could hear the two guys talking quite clearly.

Which meant they could hear her, too. She’d have to try to pee softly. There were some drawbacks to the great room concept. She stealthily unrolled toilet paper, reluctant even to broadcast the clunk-clunk of the roll turning.

She heard Joe say, “You’ve got quite a reputation.”

“Hey, it’s not my fault women throw themselves at me. I don’t know if it’s my stunning good looks, my charming personality, or all that money. And, frankly, I don’t care. I enjoy the ladies, and I make sure they enjoy me. I make no apologies for any of it.”

Damn. Joe was right, Robert was a skank. That was the vibe she’d been getting from him all along, of course, but it was a little disheartening to hear him own it so wholeheartedly.

On the other hand that part about ensuring the ladies enjoyed it intrigued her a bit. No doubt there was something to be said for all that practice.

Also, the size of his instrument bore consideration.

Joe didn’t sound impressed. “Have you shared this philosophy with Dori?”

“I follow a don’t ask, don’t tell policy in regards to my philosophy. But you’ve already warned her off, haven’t you?”

Joe didn’t answer, unless it was some visual response Dori couldn’t see.

Robert continued: “What I like about Dori is that she clearly has a mind of her own. She’s more than capable of making her own decisions about what might be fun. I find her very appealing, actually. She might even be a keeper.”

As opposed to the old catch and release? Dori eyed the trout motif on the wallpaper and decided she felt vaguely flattered. She knew she could not compete with Lisa or half the other eligible young women in the world in terms of physical attraction, but apparently all a woman really had to do to fascinate Robert was be unusually uncooperative. She could do that.

Enter the Goodreads giveaway for a signed paperback copy of RIBS

Go for it, US peeps!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire by Sandra Hutchison

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire

by Sandra Hutchison

Giveaway ends November 29, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Stay tuned! Next week I expect to give away a signed Advance Reading Copy of BARDWELL’S FOLLY!

The persistent literary writer: An interview with Robert Schirmer

photograph of author Robert Schirmer

Author Robert Schirmer

How do you persist when the odds are against you? Sandra Hutchison interviews Robert Schirmer, author of BARROW’S POINT, published October 2016 by the small independent Gival Press.

Robert, we were in the same graduate fiction writing program at the University of New Hampshire in the mid-1980s. You’ve been working away as a literary writer ever since, part of that time also teaching as an adjunct. I’ve done enough of that to know it’s not an easy way to make a living, or to have energy left over for writing. How have you survived and persisted all this time?

It hasn’t been easy! Soon after I received my MA at the University of New Hampshire, I moved to Tucson and received my MFA degree in Fiction Writing from the University of Arizona. Around that same time, my graduate school thesis project, a collection of short stories titled LIVING WITH STRANGERS, won the Bobst Award for Emerging Writers and was published by NYU Press. I also received a year-long screenwriting fellowship from the Chesterfield Writer’s Film Project out in Los Angeles, so for a few years I was playing around with screenwriting. During that time period I had a screenplay optioned by Amblin Entertainment and Warner Brothers.

In the mid-90s I decided to leave the City of Angels and move to the Big Apple, where I’ve lived ever since. I also did the adjunct teaching routine for over a decade, and trying to find the balance between writing and teaching was always a challenge. Over the past three years I’ve been making a living off freelance editing and occasionally tutoring students one-on-one with their novels and story collections.

One thing I’ve been pretty good about doing over the years is making time for my own writing. On most days I require myself to write on my own work for a minimum of one hour. No matter how busy I am with other stuff, or think I am, I have to log in at least one hour. No excuses! No “this can wait.” Often we fall into the trap of spending our time “making a living,” and so we neglect to set aside the time needed to sit at the desk and just write and ponder (although who writes and ponders at a desk anymore?).

Flannery O’Connor was a big proponent of sitting herself down in front of her typewriter for two hours a day, even if she just stared at the blank page or wrote a page or two of labored prose. She said, “I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and at the same place.” I admire the discipline of that practice and try to follow it myself, minus the same time part.

I know you had a literary agent at one time, and the story of how you moved on from that is interesting. What can you share?

I had an agent at a highly regarded literary agency. As I was working on the final rewrite of BARROW’S POINT, she told me she didn’t think she could send it out to major publishers because the novel had “so many gay people in it.”

Needless to say I was floored by her comment. She later apologized if the remark came across as homophobic, and explained that she’d had another client whose novel she’d been sending around for some time. That novel had a lesbian protagonist, and my agent had a difficult time placing the book. Eventually, a small publisher took on the novel, but my agent said, “I don’t want to go through that again.”

Well, even the apology was problematic. She was assuming the reason the other novel was having a difficult time getting accepted was because it had a gay lead character. But don’t books get rejected by commercial publishers all the time, including ones with straight characters? Why did she automatically assume the reason for the rejection of the novel was because of the gay lead character? Were the publishers really writing back and saying, “Hey, we like this, but that lesbian main character is a problem.”

In the end, I parted company with that agent. Whatever her reasons for her perspective, I decided I wanted—deserved—an agent who was going to fight for the book and any other novel I might write. Even if she was right and the commercial publishing world does have a bias against fiction with “so many gay characters,” I wanted an agent that would push back against that mindset, one who wasn’t just submitting to the bias but was at least trying to fight against it.

Related to that issue of the market for LGBTQ-themed fiction, do you think your writing and publishing trajectory would have been different in a world that was more tolerant when you first began? Do you feel it has opened up a lot now? Or not as much as we might hope?

To tell you the truth, BARROW’S POINT (and “Fag Killer,” the short story the novel is based on) are the only LGBTQ-themed fiction I’ve published so far, so I don’t have a great deal of past experience in this regard. In a certain way, I want to believe that as the general culture has grown seemingly more tolerant (the legalizing of gay marriage and so on), that must mean the publishing world is more tolerant as well. On the other hand, since so much of mainstream publishing has become corporate and focused on the “bottom line,” I suspect there are still barriers to knock down. Certainly, if we’re to believe my ex-agent, a barrier to LGBTQ fiction still exists.

The movement toward corporate publishing has led, I think, to an increased need to pigeonhole fiction into a particular genre. Today’s publishing world seems to want a clear picture of what they’re selling, something familiar, an easy brand to market—so fiction with a gay lead character gets pigeonholed as “gay fiction,” fiction with a female lead is “chick lit” and so on. More complicated work that can’t be easily categorized is at a disadvantage.

In BARROW’S POINT the general premise of the novel is that several gay men have been killed in a small college town in Wisconsin. One of the lead characters is a gay cop. The novel really isn’t a whodunit/mystery/serial killer book, but you’d be surprised how many people connected to the business wanted to try and lump the story into the genre of “murder mystery” and were bothered when the novel started straying out of those confines and wasn’t following the traditional steps of a mystery/suspense novel. Again, it was the need to pigeonhole the novel into an easy marketing brand/genre.

So to bring the answer back to the original question, I do think there are still barriers to publishing LGBQT-themed work in the commercial market, but part of that barrier is getting publishers to understand these books can engage with a universal audience, and just because the lead character is gay doesn’t mean it will only appeal to a gay audience.

Separate from that issue, is there anything in terms of your writing career that you would do differently if you could? What is your advice for aspiring literary writers today?

I do feel as if I spent too many years on the adjunct teaching wheel. If you can get a full-time creative writing teaching gig, that’s probably a different matter, but trying to write while also teaching full-time as an adjunct gets exhausting quickly. Or at least that was the case with me. And the pay is deplorable, needless to say, so I wish I’d thought a little more about the gloomy financial picture I was willing to settle for.

But the main thing I would try to do differently is alter a certain character trait within myself. I’m a very prolific writer in many ways, but I’ve only published two books so far. The biggest problem is that I’m a terribly inefficient writer. I write so much and yet finish so little. My head in constantly jumping over to new stories, new novels, even occasional attempts at plays or screenplays. I have over thirty novels and story collections sitting around in various stages of completion. I have twice as many incomplete short stories lying around in my Brooklyn hovel, many of them written (half written!) in longhand in various old-school notebooks.  I’m the Joyce Carol Oates of unfinished work! If I never have another original story idea for the rest of my life, I still have enough projects to work on, just finishing up all the stuff I’ve already started.

Over the past 3-4 years I’ve gotten better at focusing on one thing at a time and actually finishing work rather than just starting it. So a piece of advice I’d offer is finish what you start. The market is really bad for incomplete works! And always remember the quote that says “with ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.” The market is really bad for incomplete works! -- Robert Schirmer Click To Tweet

barrowspointYou’ve landed with a small independent press. Tell us about that and about your recently-published novel.

BARROW’S POINT is an expanded version of a short story titled “Fag Killer” that was published in Glimmer Train back in 2006. As I mentioned in an earlier question, the novel focuses on a college town in Wisconsin where several gay men are getting murdered. The novel won the Gival Press Novel Prize in 2015 and was published in October 2016.  After I parted with my agent, I hadn’t sent the novel around much, so I’m fortunate the book found a home at Gival Press so quickly. The experience has gone pretty well—there’s good communication with the editor, Robert Giron, and the entire process, from notification of winning the award to the novel appearing in print, took exactly one year.

Of course, the difficulty in publishing with an independent press is that it’s more challenging to get exposure and get your novel read. Getting reviews is also problematic. I had to learn to do my own publicity and legwork, which I hate, but more and more writers are having to market their own books these days, even a lot of writers publishing with the big houses. I guess it’s just the way things are done now.

It is indeed! To learn more about Robert Schirmer and his work, check out his web site: www.robertschirmerwriter.com.

You can buy BARROW’S POINT at Amazon or at your local independent bookstore via IndieBound.

Feel free to join the conversation about publishing, persistence, literary fiction, LGBTQ fiction, or anything else by leaving a comment below. (You might need to click on a little dialogue bubble next to the headline to see it. Please note that comments are moderated.)

Robert Schirmer on persisting as a #literary writer, challenges #LGBTQ fiction can face. Click To Tweet

 

Bringing a long-dead missionary to life (despite myself)

Last year I was asked by a friend to write a short monologue for Jessie Fremont Traver Moore, a woman who’d spent most of her adult life as a missionary in Assam, India. It was for an original theater experience in the Sand Lake (NY) Town Cemetery called Amazing Graves. It featured monologues from a number of the cemetery’s dead residents to benefit the Sand Lake Town Library, where I used to be a trustee.

Since I had inveigled this friend into taking my spot on said board of trustees when I left town, I owed her. And of course I was happy to support the library.

Except…was she kidding? She wanted ME to write from the point of view of a Baptist missionary?

My Episcopal church family knows I’m a faithful parishioner but not a very pious one. I would rate myself a 1 out of 10 on ability to earnestly participate in spontaneous prayer. I’m mostly silent in group discussion of scripture. My evangelism consists of suggesting we have free bread and coffee and conversation on Saturday mornings and advocating in a more general way for justice and mercy.

As the product page on Amazon notes, it discusses faith, but those who require piety in such matters will not like it. Skeptics will probably be able to cope.

As the product page on Amazon notes, it discusses faith, but those who require piety in such matters will not like it. Skeptics will probably be able to cope.

If there are moments in my novels that suggest Christian belief might not be pointless or ridiculous — THE AWFUL MESS comes to mind — I try very hard not to bash anyone over the head with it.

Maybe this arises from an agnostic childhood. To this day my birth family finds my beliefs peculiar. And, even as a believer, I’m on the skeptical end of the spectrum. A lot of Christian rituals strike me as deeply cultural (and patriarchal and superstitious) ways of sharing the fundamental message of God’s love. I suspect I feel at home in the Episcopal tradition mostly because it’s so Anglican (yep, I’m an English major) and because the national church is decidedly liberal.

Even so, I don’t believe Episcopal practice is inherently superior to any other faith tradition that preaches love and forgiveness instead of hate and exclusion. Including non-Christian traditions.

I have attended Baptist services and Methodist services and Congregationalist services. I have also attended Christian and Missionary Alliance services, where missionary work truly is the focus of that congregation’s outreach. But whenever people talk about missionaries, I automatically wonder what the native people think of these white people coming in and trying to win their souls for Christ. Especially given some pretty brutal, imperialistic history connected to those efforts.

So I was leery of Jessie Fremont Traver Moore. But she surprised me.

She was named Fremont after an abolitionist candidate for President who lost. So in her family there wasn’t any of that blindness to the evils of slavery and of racism that we tend to associate with American Evangelicals today — not that this is necessarily fair.

And what a woman Traver Moore was! She left published journals behind, some of which her descendant in town loaned me, and another of which I found on Google, so I got to hear her official version of her life. I had to read between the lines for the unofficial version, of course, but there were hints of it there. (I never got the feeling Mrs. Moore suffered fools gladly.)

Here’s a woman who trained in seminary and crossed the globe multiple times by sea (the last time right as WWI broke out), going into regions where poverty and disease were rampant. In Nowgong, the village where she and her husband based their work, the Moores learned the native language, translated books to it, published them, and taught in it. The school they started there is still educating students today.

You can read the entire short monologue (which got a few edits from the descendant, Dee Erickson), but this is my favorite part:

Diane Doring portraying Jessie Fremont Traver Moore as part of Amazing Graves, 30 Oct. 2016 in Sand Lake, New York.

Diane Doring portraying Jessie Fremont Traver Moore as part of Amazing Graves, 30 Oct. 2016 in Sand Lake, New York.

In Assam we not only brought many Assamese to Christ, we started a school that eventually was educating over 100 girls, Hindus and Muslims as well as Christians. We participated in the civic life of Nowgong, and I counted many lovely Hindu and Muslim ladies among my acquaintance, even those who did not feel compelled to accept Jesus despite my best efforts to share the Good News with them over tea in their homes. In my diaries – which, by the way, I published — I remarked how I nonetheless hoped I would see them in heaven.

Now, I would forgive you for thinking at this point that since I have clearly passed already I could tell you whether I have met with those lovely ladies in heaven, but I’m afraid I have not been authorized to reveal any information about what comes next. We who are dead leave all that gazing into mirrors darkly to you.

You might be interested to read the other monologues, too. I’d start with the introduction and then follow the gravestone links for each. It was fascinating to see how the Rent Wars in particular foreshadowed some debates we’re still having today. (If you don’t think who you vote for ever matters, read this.)

A BARDWELL’S FOLLY update

cover of Bardwell's Folly by Sandra HutchisonThe Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of BARDWELL’S FOLLY is up on NetGalley for most of November, and reviewers are welcome to request a copy. I’m not actually the person who decides who gets these, but if you are a blogger or reviewer who might potentially give the book some play, you should be approved (if not, let me know!).

My pub date of November 29 sure is coming up fast. Too fast, really, since the end of the semester and Christmas are also racing into view. If you want me to reserve a signed author copy for you, please do let me know so I can get it to you before Christmas. And if you’d like to attend a reading or a launch party, let me know that, too, through any channel.

 

 

 

 

Ditching the nudity, but not the sex

by Sandra Hutchison

I’ve been contemplating bringing THE AWFUL MESS: A LOVE STORY (2013) in from wide distribution to Kindle Select, where various promotional opportunities can give it a boost. But the cover was a problem. Because it had a naked lady on it, sort of.

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire -- showing a (dressed) teenage girl on a bed, looking rather pensive.

Still widely distributed, without any recent promotions, I get the occasional foreign sale through Kobo and almost nothing in domestic or foreign sales from any of the other retailers except Amazon. About one in five Kindle purchasers of THE RIBS AND THIGH BONES OF DESIRE (2014), which is in Kindle Select, also buy THE AWFUL MESS, which is nice, but will never get it ranking high on its own.

As indie authors with any experience know, if I go back into Kindle Select, even for a while, I can more easily try to goose those sales a bit. (This will indeed hurt my ranking at the other sites, but as noted above, I don’t have really have one.)

However, there was little point in going back into Kindle Select if I couldn’t at least promote it on Amazon from time to time. And so I had an exchange with Amazon about their AMS marketing standards and whether this cover would meet them. (Thankfully, they were willing to consider the question.)

No, I was eventually told, there could be no nudity. Not even tasteful, blurred nudity.

Evolution of a coverSo I tried going back to a more professional version of my first (homemade) cover. But sales fell during that test, so I returned to the naked lady.

Next, I tried drawing a blurry underwater bathing suit on that naked lady. That was pretty funny.

Then I decided to try to cover up her blurry naked behind with a nice blurb. 500x700theawfulmess_ebookyellowquoteWould that be okay, I asked Amazon? Nope, that was still no go. Even if we couldn’t see it, nudity was being suggested. (The helpful representative told me that standards have toughened a bit recently — even a male nipple disqualifies AMS marketing nowadays.)

I suppose this sensibility may also explain why I’ve had a harder time getting BookBub and other slots lately. Who knows why, though? My books are getting dated now, definitely backlist, so that’s a possibility. I won’t shut up about the current election, or race issues, or whatever, so maybe they think I’m too outspoken. Or maybe they blacklisted me for my post “The Five Stages of Grief of Being Rejected by BookBub,” even though it was free advertising.

Making your opinions public as an author or any small business person is always a risk. But so is publishing a book, right? I’d rather err on the side of telling the truth as I see it than tip-toeing around.

Of course, I’m not depending on my writing to pay the bills, so I get to make that choice from a position of privilege. Many others cannot.

Besides the really beautiful design by Damon Za, what I like about that semi-nude cover is that it signals the book might include some racy stuff. Which it does, in two short sex scenes. Some readers have an issue with that, which is understandable, although I could wish they would read the whole product description before they start reading.

Meanwhile, of course, other readers are disappointed when I don’t have any explicit sex, as I’ve noticed with my beta readers on BARDWELL’S FOLLY. It has some bedroom scenes between heroine and hero, just as RIBS does, but getting graphic about slot A and tab B in the two of them didn’t, to my mind, serve any non-prurient artistic purpose.

Occasionally I’ve thought of excising the explicit aspects from THE AWFUL MESS, too. But I feel those explicit scenes do add something to the characterization in that novel. And anyway, what’s done is done (except, cough, with covers and typos).

I do still, sometimes, toy with bringing back the clean PG-13 version, much as MM Jaye did with a recent romance, but since my clean version sold a total of two copies back in the day I doubt it would be worth the trouble.

tugboat-cover-for-the-awful-messIt’s not as if a novel addressing misogyny and gay rights is suddenly going to find great favor in Amazon’s Christian romance market. The only reason I still toy with the idea is that I’d just like to try marketing it as a progressive Christian novel. Many Evangelicals are more progressive or at least less prudish than you might expect, and there are plenty of Christian readers like me who are quite liberal.

Anyway, I just recently purchased from Tugboat Design a pre-designed cover of a fully dressed woman that I hope gives at least a suggestion of sex while also, perhaps, hinting at the theme. I really like it, even though I personally envision Mary having slightly darker brown hair and even though I’m still not entirely sure what is going on in this photo. (What do you think?)

As long as I was investing in real design work, I had Deborah at Tugboat clean up my design for BARDWELL’S FOLLY, and get the paperback cover done, an effort I was procrastinating figuring out for myself. Hopefully this means the ARC will be ready next week to start going out for review. (If you’re a blogger or reviewer, feel free to request one).

bardwells-folly-tugboat-designIf you’re a writer who includes bedroom scenes that are more or less explicit, how are you handling that issue in your cover design and marketing?

Or, if you’re a reader who has strong opinions one way or the other, I’d love to hear from you. Do you think explicit scenes usually add to your experience of a novel, or get in the way? And even if you don’t mind them yourself, does it keep you from recommending a book?