Tuesday, 22 December 2015

NaNoWriMo? Not for me—or is it?

Never, ever have I been even remotely tempted to participate in NaNoWriMo. Not once. Not even part of once—you get the idea. I always figured that spitting out 50000 words in a month is just a bit silly, and that the focus on quantity over quality would not work for me. But something strange happened over the course of three weeks from the end of November to roughly the middle of December. I began writing a short story that I'd had in mind for years, and the story 'magically' grew into a novel. In three weeks! I was writing 3000 to 7000 words a day most days, and before the end of those three weeks I had a complete first draft that weighed in at 55000 words.

I'm not sure exactly how it happened, and I still don't quite believe that it did. The story was so much fun that I just kept going. There was no pressure to meet a goal because I had completed the original target of writing the short in two days. There's also the fact that I was in procrastination mode: I was supposed to be working on a paper on critical and cultural theory, which apparently motivated me to focus all my attention and energy—elsewhere.

So who knows? Maybe it's time for me to rethink NaNoWriMo. Seems I may have stumbled across a foolproof formula: 1. It must be a lighthearted, fun project, and 2. There must be something else of critical (pun intended) importance that I absolutely should be doing during that time instead of fooling around making stuff up. Now that I've figured this thing out, I might actually give NaNoWriMo a whirl next year.

Here's wishing the community of writers and readers a very merry Christmas and a productive, healthy and happy 2016. Jewel Amethyst shared the meme below on Facebook and it encapsulates my sentiments for the season perfectly.

Lots of love and warm hugs to all!


Sunday, 22 November 2015

Location, schmocation

In the real estate industry, there are three important watchwords: location, location, and location. Publishing, it appears, is not quite that geo-fixated. Let me illustrate. When most people think of the Caribbean, this is what they picture...

Maracas Beach, Trinidad, West Indies
...and this does in fact exist, many times over. This particular beach is a 45 minute drive from my home in Trinidad, at the butt end of the Caribbean. [see illustration of butt end below]

Map of Caribbean illustrating butt end, aka Trinidad
When I first got serious about writing for publication in the late 1990s, my location mattered a lot. The Internet existed but accessing it was a slow, tedious process that involved dial-up modems and, if one did not own a computer, long hours spent twiddling one's thumbs in Internet cafes waiting for a single web page to load one [minutes pass] thin [more minutes pass] line [maybe I should step outside and get some fresh air] at [sigh...they need to fix the AC in here] a time [damn and blarst..my half hour is up!].

So, I got info on publishers and literary agents from a friend who printed out a few pages for me now and then, and from magazines like Writers Digest which advised me to invest in a monstrous telephone book-like tome called Writers Market that was published every year and was out of date before it hit the shelves. I bought it anyway. Back then no one was accepting queries by e-mail so I became familiar with SASEs--self-addressed stamped envelopes--and IMCs--international mailing coupons--all of which were a pain in the assets. I had to acquire rolls of US stamps to stick on the envelopes, figure out how many I should put, wait months--and usually in vain--for a response, etc.

I did not do much querying back then, and no wonder. More than six years of inactivity passed between my first flurry of queries and my second.

The second bout of querying, at the bottom end of 2005, began in much the same vein, but then I discovered the website AgentQuery, a database of agents that could be sorted in various ways, including by those who accepted e-queries. I sent out the first e-batch in the first week of January 2006 and got several responses immediately, four of which requested my full manuscript. Printing out the 420 page monster plus synopsis times four cost me money I could ill afford: photocopying was expensive here in Butt End.

Two months after I sent out those first e-queries...I had an agent and let me tell you, no milestone in publishing has thrilled me, literally bringing me to my knees, like that day the agent called with her offer of representation. This was BIG, I thought at the time. Susan had sold The English Patient, one of my favorite films, to Miramax, and Holes to Disney, and repped Julia Cameron and Jonathan Safran Foer. This wasn't just good; it was stratospheric.

"I have to tell you--I'm in Trinidad," I told her haltingly, thinking of her telephone bill.

"That's okay," she responded. "We have clients all over the world." I said it before and I'll say it again: this was my kind of agent. She sold the book some months later.

Over the years my location has become less and less relevant to my publishing life. High-speed, wireless net access caught up with Trinidad and with me, as did lightweight laptops, netbooks, tablets and phones that are way too damned smart. Self-publishing platforms such as KDP, D2D and Smashwords, as well as social media utilities like Blogger, Facebook, Twitter etc. also helped to shrink my world and give me near instant access to everything and everyone I needed. My network of writers and readers is modest by some measures, but far outstrips the reach I could even have imagined back in 1997 when I bought that Brother electronic typewriter and converted my tiny scrawl on piles of legal notepads into a readable manuscript.

There are still downsides to my location in Trinidad: the popular conventions, workshops, retreats and book fairs are too far away and thus too expensive for me to attend. I seldom meet my online writer people in person--I've met only one to date, actually. But I don't complain. I have consolations, like writing retreats on the coast with local writer friends who are a lot like me. Writers. Dreamers. Thinkers. Just like every other kindred writing spirit I've found around the globe.

I now have 29 titles (two novels, several novellas and a slew of novelettes) out there in the world under a variety of pen names and in several genres. With the exception of the first novel, I managed every aspect of their publication myself. And I've done it from right here on my little rock at the butt end of the Caribbean. You asked about my location? Location, schmocation!

Port of Spain, capital of Trinidad & Tobago
~Liane Spicer

Monday, 22 June 2015

Happy anniversary, Novel Spaces!

July 1 will mark the 6th anniversary of the Novel Spaces blog, and the beginning of our 7th year.

We're a different kind of writing group. Whereas most author blogs focus on a particular genre, Novel Spaces authors come in every stripe, from romance to historical, sci-fi to horror, literary to erotica, mainstream to fantasy graphic books, young adult to paranormal, crime fiction to poetry, media tie-in games to mystery. Yikes! That pretty much covers every major genre out there. Our writers are as diverse as their output, coming from backgrounds that range from biomedical research to information technology, the military to education, archaeology to law enforcement, health administration to broadcast media, graphic art and more. They are dotted around the planet, from Asia to the Caribbean and the US. So what on earth do we all have in common?

We love books. We love to read good stories, and to write them. We love the creative impulse, the idea that comes screaming through the ether begging: "Write me! Write me!" We love the research, the actual act of writing, of fingers flashing over keyboard or picking hesitantly at keys, of the swash and backwash of words forming into images. We really love words--all those sounds, shapes, and shades of meaning. We agonize over them, chuckle at them, cry over them. And perhaps most importantly, we love interacting with people who understand all of this and who feel the way we do about stories, about books, about writing.

To the 22 wonderful authors, past and present, who have stepped aboard the Novel Spaces ship, we thank you all. We appreciate the unique perspectives you have brought to the group, as well as your discipline and commitment over the years. To the new members waiting in the wings to join us July 1, welcome! We look forward to the new flavors you will bring to Novel Spaces as we embark upon our newest odyssey. And to our guest authors, readers and followers over the years, a heartfelt 'Thank you!' You're a lovely bunch. Never once have we had to deal with unpleasantness on our threads. That is something rare and beautiful.

Happy anniversary to the Novelnaut community! Off we go again.

Friday, 22 May 2015

So, you're a writer? Let me annoy you for a bit...

Back in April Dayton Ward wrote this post about the things people say to writers, which gave me the idea to do my own version. Every question/remark below has been said to me--by relatives, friends, or total strangers. As you can tell from the responses I wish I had made, this sort of thing brings out the very best in me. I deserve gifts of chocolate for not strangling anyone--yet.

Why don't you try to get your book on Oprah? 
Do you have any idea what I write? Do you have any idea what sort of book Oprah promotes? Do you have any idea how...  Sigh. Never mind.

I need some quick money to cover my bills while I wait for my severance payment to come through, so I'm going to write a book.
ROFL. ROFLMAO. Bwahahahaa! That's a good one... Oh--you're serious?

I'm not much of a reader but I'm writing a book. I'll send you the first draft and you can fix it up and get it out there for me as you know about this stuff.
Sure I will, you lazy SOB. That's what friends do. Because instead of writing my own books, I'd like to spend a couple years polishing your first draft, researching markets, submitting to agents and editors, following up, promoting, etc etc etc. Yeah, that's what I do because, you know, I took about 15 years to learn this stuff so I could do all your work for you.

So--you're writing the great West Indian novel?
No, I'm writing the great Nahuatl erotic sci-fi lesbian vampire novella. I'll let you know when it's out.

Can you get your agent or editor to read my manuscript? [Asked by total strangers]
Of course. Because that is what my agent and editor do--read manuscripts by people their clients do not know, recommended by said clients who have no idea what or how you write. This is the way we build trust in the author-editor-agent relationship.

So how much do you make? Give me a ballpark. [Said with a condescending smile.]
Frankly, it's bad manners to ask people probing questions about their earnings. Even if you know them. Even if you're family. What possible use can this information be to you? Until such time as I ask you for a handout [read: never] what I earn is none of your [expletive] business. Upside: You've given me a great opportunity to practise concealing my anger behind my mild-mannered facade while fantasizing about planting my foot up your smug rear end.
Are you getting a private jet?
I'll let that pass because you're technically still a child. A money-obsessed pest of a child, but a child nonetheless. I doubt I'll ever be into ostentatious status mega-symbols so if I ever strike it rich you'd never know it--unless you sneak into my shoe closet, maybe. Now get out of here before I whup your precocious butt.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Lit Fest & Novelnaut meet-up

Author panel at Bocas Lit Fest, May 2, 2015 in Port of Spain
Gadabout social butterfly that I am, I managed to completely avoid the Bocas Lit Fest every year since its inception. This year I had to be there come hell, high water or the onslaught of any of my usual avoidance impulses, and for two very good reasons: Carol Mitchell, my fellow Novelnaut, and Vaughn Stanford, my friend, first reader and publishing client, were featured authors this year. I made it on the second to last day and had such a good time my only regret is that I didn't attend at least one other day. On to Bocas 2016!

Bookstore's display
Bookstore chat
I had a long and sobering chat with the proprietor of an independent bookstore who has been very supportive of my work from the get-go. He said that sales are terrible (yes, everywhere), and the talk got around to a particular bookstore chain that continues to snub local writers unless they are already big names in the business. That chain snubbed me back in 2008--twice--and I've heard similar stories from other writers. Very unwise of said chain, since the books are in the big stores internationally and people can just get on their devices and order online. Way to cut your own throats, boys!

Celeb sightings
The legend Earl Lovelace himself, imposing as always in head-to-toe white; Nalo Hopkinson who set my groupie friend L'Oreal all a-twitter with adoration; and NYT bestselling spec-fic writer Tobias S. Buckell who hails from Grenada.

Liane Spicer & Carol Mitchell, with Gulf of Paria in background
I 'bounced up' several familiar faces, including my old UWI classmate, Chad Cumberbatch, who's now the Arts Minister in Montserrat. You go, Chad! Also met Kirk B. who will be joining the "Word Warriors" on our writers' retreat in July.

In a rare burst of maturity,
Vaughn ordered this drink from
the children's menu. 
We had our own little 'afterparty' at a seafront bistro on the Chaguaramas peninsula. Vaughn, L'Oreal, Isaiah and I started proceedings while Carol Mitchell and her charming friend Patti spent a lot of time driving around Chaguaramas (it was night by then) looking for the turnoff to our spot. Just so happened that the sign I told them to look out for was unlit so they never saw it. We eventually located each other and it was a blast! I'm here to tell you that Carol is every bit as lovely as she appears online. Writers, writer talk, book talk, coconut water and she-crab soup... It was bliss and I can hardly wait for the next Novelnaut meet-up. Who will it be, I wonder?


Liane :)

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Confessions of a Clueless Author, or how NOT to submit a novel for publication

It was 1998 and I had completed my first novel--a contemporary romance--the year before. At the time I had never heard of Publishers Marketplace, Writer's Market, or towering "slush piles" of unsolicited manuscripts destined for rejection. I lived on a rock in the Caribbean. I did not know the name of a single person in the publishing industry.

Then serendipity happened: I read a story in a local newspaper about a new Kensington Publishing imprint called Arabesque that was pioneering multicultural romances. The article gave me a precious scrap of information: the name of the Arabesque editor: Monica Harris. I asked a friend to find the Kensington address online as I had no computer and I shot off a three-page query to Ms. Harris via snail mail--yeah, it's what we did in 1998--and I waited.

A few months later I got a response, not from Monica Harris who had moved to another house by then, but from Karen Thomas, her replacement. Ms. Thomas enclosed submission guidelines and asked for the full manuscript of that first novel. There was one little problem: my novel was 10,000 words short of the word count she requested. So what did I do?

Clueless act #1: I brushed that minor word count detail aside, printed the manuscript, and off went the 10,000-word-too-short novel. (Pro tip: DO NOT DO THAT!)

Clueless act #2: Enclosed in the package was a lovely little bio on decorative stock, mentioning my adorable son, the lush valley where I lived, my precious rose bushes, and so on. (Pro tip: DO NOT DO THAT!)

Clueless act #3: What I did not enclose was a synopsis, although the guidelines specifically asked for one. It was too much of a bother and I was in too much of a hurry. (Pro tip: DO NOT DO THAT!)

Did I ever hear from Ms. Thomas again? Well, uh, no. I proceeded to....

Clueless act #4: Instead of sending the manuscript out to other potential markets, I waited...and waited...and waited for a response from Arabesque. I eventually got despondent and put the whole publishing idea on indefinite hold. (Pro tip: DO NOT DO THAT!)

I know--you can't believe anyone could be that deluded. I can hardly believe it myself but I was, and trust me, I wasn't even the most clueless aspiring author out there. In hindsight, putting down the manuscript and backing away was probably the least clueless thing to do then: I was a danger to myself. I spent the next eight years expanding that first manuscript, getting critical feedback from a first reader, editing the novel to a state of squeaky cleanliness, ignoring it for years at a time when life got "interesting", and learning everything I could about the publishing industry. At the end of 2005 I was ready to enter the publishing fray once again, this time as a serious player.

I was lucky. Within months of my decision, frustrated with the glacial pace of snail mail queries, I discovered a site that listed agents who accepted e-queries. I got four requests for full manuscripts immediately and about two months later, I had a literary agent. She sold the book to an editor who said she loved the story and wanted to acquire it for Dorchester Publishing. That editor? Monica Harris, the former Arabesque editor whose name in a newspaper had sent me gung-ho on the road to publication almost a decade before. I'd gone full circle.

~Liane Spicer

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Che Gilson's graphic take on the writer's life. Truth!

Drawings courtesy Che Gilson
Copyright Che Gilson
Please honour the artist's copyright and include correct attribution when sharing or linking.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

A Good Place

The first few years of being a published writer were a stressful, roller-coaster ride for me. On the upside there was getting my agent (my first fan!), holding that first book in my hands, seeing it in stores, reviews, emails from readers, meeting kind new friends in the writing and blogging community, the euphoria of doing something I was meant to do, a $100 Amazon gift card from another writer who said I had inspired her (I bought turquoise jewelry with it so I'll always remember)... I have a "Happy File" to remind me of those joyous parts when the going gets rough.

Then there were the downsides.
#1 The stress of no longer inhabiting a cave in my head but being "out there"--anathema for an acutely private person like me.
#2 Writing the dreaded second book in fear and trembling, only to see it mired for years in...
#3 The meltdown of my first publishing company amid the hysteria of hundreds of its writers bombarding the public Internet and private loops with "the sky is falling" messages. I could not watch. I could not look away. For two whole years.
#4 The first one-star review, on Goodreads, from a "friend".
#5 Looking on at the publishing industry's painful transformation as all the rules changed and kept changing.
#6 And worst of all: becoming so frozen by it all that I could not write for long stretches.

So what came next on the chaotic publishing front? Signing that first book with Amazon's Montlake imprint and actually getting the occasional royalty statement. Starting my own micropress (now at 15 titles, 10 of which are mine under various names) and getting small but increasingly regular royalty statements from there too. Going against the advice to stick to one genre and writing whatever I wish. Being published in respected journals and getting shortlisted for a the 2014 Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize.

Most important of all, I'm writing most days. I now understand viscerally (I took a while to really get this) that since the only variable I can control is the writing, I should make that my unrelenting focus. I get the occasional editing job, which I also enjoy. And from September, if all goes as planned, I'll be teaching again--part time, of course. Writing must come first, whatever the hell is happening on the publishing front.

After those tumultuous years, I finally feel like I'm in a good place. It's not about money, because that is still quite scarce. It's about doing the work, being thankful for my blessings every day, feeling some measure of control over my life, enjoying the present, and looking to the future with optimism instead of fear. *knocks on wood* Now if only I could get this exercise thing on track...

What has your writing journey been like? Do you feel that you're in a good place now?