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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Squeezing Into a Box - Selecting Your Category in Publishing


CATEGORIES! I know it's all about discoverability. I know that Amazon ranking depends on choosing the right category and tags for your book. I know, I know ... and I hate fitting into boxes.

I finally figured out where my book fits on Amazon, and I can't say I'm happy. But I'm going to be in:


When I was going after agents, I was all, like "Upmarket commercial or women's fiction with a magical realism twist." This was advised by my editor, who has served as a literary agent for one of New York's top firms. I figured she should know. 

The Renaissance Club, (forthcoming in January 2018 from Fiery Seas Publishing) will be categorized under Fiction in different ways on different platforms. I'm with other fantasy authors, mainly, some romance, though all the romance publishers said my love story didn't fit the formula! Another fox I couldn't squeeze into.

I went back to the drawing board, only to find the drawing board looks like Einstein's chalk board on one of his more frustrated days.

So what is the difference between these ever-evolving categories on bookstore shelves and Amazon's  categories. Arthur Krystal in The New Yorker ignited a public debate with his article in 2012
http://levgrossman.com/2010/05/so-d-you-write-fantasy-or-literary-fiction-or-what-do-you-write-lev-grossman/

Lev Grossman, author of the best-selling Magician's Trilogy, jumped into the discussion.What's wrong with genre? It seems we're all heading into one or another.

On Amazon you have to drill down from Books --> Literature --> Literary Fiction --> Women's Fiction or Fantasy. The road seriously branches here, but I've been going on the assumption that because there are more books in this category than in Fantasy, it might be a fruitful avenue to pursue. But my novel appears too literary for this category. So back to the fork in the road. Under Fantasy (with less than half the titles as Women's Fiction), you have no more sub-genres to choose from. Which leads me to conclude that a) my story doesn't fit well into this category, whose emphasis is on other worlds, and b) magical realism is not a sub-genre on Amazon, nor in most bookstores, so back to just plain Commercial or Mainstream Fiction as a category. Try standing out in that Amazon crowd.

Which boxes can you squeeze into as an author? And do you also find it frustrating, after the freedom of writing an entire novel, to have to perform this exercise? My sympathies!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Going Indie?

This is La Spezia -- one of the locations in my work-in-progress novel, The Romantics, the story of two half-sisters, their dispute over an inherited cottage in Italy, inhabited by the ghost of the poet Shelley.

This is where I wish I was living, even imaginatively. But I'm stuck dealing with the hassles of publishing my last novel, The Renaissance Club. This is the fate of the Indie author -- the self-published or micro-press published novelist. Nothing is easy, and everything takes up the precious time we need for the slow, slow, but deliciously slow creative process.

So I'm turning to one of my favorite gurus on the subject of publishing to help you navigate, if you're trying ot decide whether to be an India author. Here's Jane Friedman on a new twist in self-publishing: getting an agent AFTER you self-publish. And if you're still trying to decide if you have the right stuff to be a self-publisher, here's Jane on how to make the decision. She's so practical, and that really helps with a highly emotional decision!

As for me, I'm an Indie at heart. I like conceiving of book covers (even if I 'm not an artist), and I like the whole idea of marketing my stuff. I love playing on social media and establishing myself as an author this way. Blogging is what I do to relax, ditto Twitter and Facebook.

I'll see how things go, but I may publish The Romantics on my own. There are so many good reasons to go Indie -- a big one being the luxurious feeling of control. I really miss it. But the cure, of course, is writing something new.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Poems for Mothers

In honor of Mother's Day, which often coincides with or cozies up to my birthday, here are two poems I wrote for my mother. She wasn't the problematic parent, so she got fewer poems than my father, the riddle of whom I keep trying to figure out in verse. But poems for her and for the mothers intrigue me this year, in which I lost a stepmother. So maybe more to come.

Apple Pie Order

The hands that cut the apple
are white-fleshed as the silence
between us in the kitchen. Her sob
of breath. Cotton cloths, simple tasks.
Her hands skin and delve
a pale core from each green globe,
slice smiles and drop
them in the dough's lap.

My mother's hands soothe my forehead,
tug and tuck corners, tails, hairs
and sheets. Shove me forward, hold me back.
From their towel-wrapped rigor,
I know cradle and slap. Above
their industry I feel the tears.
For fear of seeing fear
in her, I watch the hands

Make a small, safe corner
for sweet flesh to be sectioned,
layered, sugared, snugged
under thin-rolled crust.
She always knows what comes next.

Her short, round fingers make do,
patch holes, keep going,
though nicked, scraped and scalded.
Ten trudging dough-faced soldiers,
rosebuds furled in flour-scented might.

From Femme au Chapeau (David Robert Books, 2007) 


WILD THINGS
-- For my mother

In the cathedral mountains she climbed
a boulder-strewn peak and found
a coyote slain mid-bound,
entombed in snow.
At her feet lay an empty bone-
shell in the high pass
where wind hones
rock to hosannas of silence.
Resurrected in a pet hound, that wild
child raced through her days,
howled joyful in her mind.
Wild things come to us
and we are drawn to the untamed,
to remember our long journey.

She housed generations of dogs,
made pilgrimages to the mountains
where they galloped through high plains
and life wheeled around her,
voices of sky and earth echoing
long after she came down.
Pairing feral with civilized,
she shared food and den,
watching them
as they watched her,
learning how frail yet enduring
the bond that tames us.

from Earth Lessons (Bellowing Ark Press, 1998)


Thursday, May 04, 2017

Shameful Day in Washington

“We are all breathing a sigh of relief,” Representative Chris Collins, Republican of New York, said. “We’re living up to a campaign promise we made, the Senate made, the president made.”

This statement was made after the House today passed legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

The Urban Institute (funded by the venerable Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) in 2016 estimated the costs to individual Americans should a repeal of ACA pass -- and these are just a few things to consider:
  • Number of uninsured people would RISE by 24 million by 2021
  • 81% of those losing coverage will be working families
  • There would be 14.5 million fewer people with Medicaid coverage in 2021
 It means people will be sicker and people will die. I hope the Republicans breathing a sigh of relief are having breathing issues that are no longer covered under their replacement -- if they ever come up with one. It's a mean wish, but my meanness pales in comparison to the idea of passing a law that will end up killing children.
Not to mention the loss of an estimated 200,000 jobs in healthcare from this new law.

Way to commit political suicide, Republicans. Last time I checked, those affected were all voters (except the children).

As Jimmy Kimmel pointed out recently on his show, it's shameful to take health care away from sick children. And that's exactly what these legislators are trying to do.

But it's not too late! Call or write your legislators today. We can still reach those who can make a difference before it's too late for millions of Americans. The Senate still has to vote on this shameful legislation -- you can contact Congress and quite simply save lives. Do it today.

“I have never seen political suicide in my life like I’m seeing today,” Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York, said. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, warned moderate Republicans who supported the measure: “You have every provision of this bill tattooed on your forehead. You will glow in the dark.”




Monday, April 24, 2017

Character Quirks & Little Defining Things or Events


I'm working on a new novel. I know the basic setup: it's about two half-sisters who clash over inheriting a cottage in Italy, along with its resident ghost, the poet Perch Bysshe Shelley. The setup (hook) has specificity, but a story that can fill a novel drills down into such granular particularity you find yourself imagining exactly how each character walks, eats, where they carry their stuff, which kind of pillow they prefer, and whether or not they can tolerate broccoli. It's all germane to the story, hopefully. But finding it out is a great labor.

As with all my great labors these days, I turn to the Internet. And seeking, I found several great essays on character-building, especially my favorite part of it, character quirks.

Here's Writing Geekery on character quirks.
The essential point is that a good character quick blends characterization and character development. 


And here's a character quirk I used that didn't: a gold pen. My character originally used it to aid others in time travel. But why? Someone gave this tour guide a gold pen in gratitude, and so the pen had the ability to fold time, or write paragraphs of history. Not a good quirk and certainly not a good logical rule for time travel. I wound up keeping the gold pen -- evidence that this character was wealthy and beloved by his wealthy clients, but not more than than. A minor, not developmental quirk, but then this character didn't develop through my story. He helped others do so, but he didn't have an arc.

It's possible to get so enamored of a character's quirk that you try to build a story around it, and that's fine, as long as it does support a story. But I do love character quirks and how they aid my remembering a character as I read. Sometimes it's an event in a character's life. How she once cut school to go catch crayfish in a creek and instead caught an unopened letter.

And I really love gold pens. Maybe for the next time travel story?





Saturday, April 22, 2017

Books, Books, Swimming in a Sea of Books

E-reading devices have made me a fiction-reading junkie. Hooked on Books was the name of a used book store up the road, which is sadly now closed because they sold paper books. But the books I buy on non-paper are proliferating like rabbits in springtime on my e-reading devices. I am so very hooked because of the ease of reading. On my phone, I always have a book with me.

I’m about to launch a book of my own, The Renaissance Club, a time-travel novel set in Italy involving the great Baroque sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini and a contemporary young art historian who specializes in–him. Fortchoming from Fiery Seas Publishing, the novel will appear as an e-book original and paperback. While I love that it will be both on paper and the ether, to suit different reading tastes, I’m an e-only reader. My eyes and hands like holding a Kindle better than a paperback. And I can turn pages faster, read more books (on my iPhone in the dark!) and consequently, have begun to simply consume novels. So I'm hoping that the e-version will be the popular one.

I now have — I blush to admit it — almost 100 books on my e-reading app, which means accessible on all my devices. A sea of books. What, for a reader and writer, could be more delicious?

What do you think of this cover mock-up for The Renaissance Club?

Comments welcome!



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

New website for THE RENAISSANCE CLUB - my novel's upcoming debut


New novel, new author website. Sounds simple, doesn't it? I've looked at so many author sites and the ones that stick with me are SO SIMPLE! Simple is hard. And I'm short of funds to pay a really great designer. As the daughter of a painter, however, I have my esthetic tastes, and as the daughter of a rocket engineer (same guy), I have my HTML skills. So -- drum roll, please -- here's the new author website for Rachel Dacus.
My new slogan: "In my world, love always wins." And I stick by that philosophy. I'd love feedback, comments, anything you have to say about the website or anything. When it comes time for cover design, I'll be asking for your opinion too! In fact, maybe I'll make some kind of contest out of it, a free ebook of THE RENAISSANCE CLUB for the winning comments. Or something like that! 

As I may have mentioned, James McAvoy is my pick to play the complicated, volatile genius Bernini in the film that I very much hope they're going to make of THE RENAISSANCE CLUB! The part of May Gold has yet to be cast in my imagination, but I'm working on it. Curly long dark hair, a curious and sometimes mischievous look in her large, dark eyes. Thoughts?

Monday, April 10, 2017

What a Writer Can Learn from HAMILTON

This lucky writer of plays, poems, and novels got to see the spectacularly innovative musical theater that is Hamilton. Having listened to the recording at least ten times, watched every Youtube clip of the musical numbers at least five times each, I could have rapped or sung along with many of the numbers. Yet in many ways, I was unprepared for the play itself, its drama and intensity, its organization of themes and events. 

So in one performance -- probably the only one I'll get to see for a long time -- I had a lot to learn, and I had to learn it on the fly.

The biggest surprise -- immediately -- was the near absence of non-rap dialogue. The story  proceeded by one after another spectacular number -- the kind that usually begins and ends a show. And each number, or many, were highly narrative. There was in-the-moment action, of course, but a lot of character-as-his-own-narrator speeches, delivered in rap, fast or slow, but almost always rhythmic. So there was a stylization in every scene, every song, that reminded me of Shakespearean speeches, with a kind of formal structure you don't see in musical plays, unless it's Shakespeare or opera. Rap, after all, is a form of poetry, and so the comparison to Shakespeare's rhythmic and often rhymed lines isn't surprising, after all.

My second surprise was the pacing. The whole show was thrillingly beyond fast. At a certain point, you just settle into being bombarded with content and you absorb as fast as you can. Regular musicals let you absorb plot in normally paced dialogue before the next huge production number hits, tying it  together. This show makes you learn the story through extravaganza. You scarcely catch your breath before plunging off on another wild ride again. It's like surfing monster waves.

I guess the most surprising thing to me was how much narrative was embedded in this history musical, often by the character about himself or herself. That's really a unique way to put a story together. I'll be thinking about that for a long, long time. And when I got back to bingeing on Hamilton songs and raps, it will be with an analytical writer's eye. What can I replicate here, how can I use the formality of rhythm or some other device to create structure? And where can you rent those stage turntables?



Saturday, March 25, 2017

Casting the Film Bernini from My Novel THE RENAISSANCE CLUB

The Renaissance Club by Rachel Dacus, Fiery Seas Publishing (forthcoming).

That felt good to type! Today I'm handing over my final manuscript to the publisher. It feels like handing over the controls of my airplane in mid-flight. Next, they wrap the book with a cover. Very important element. I can't help but  imagine casting Gianlorenzo Bernini, around whom the story unfolds, for the movie. Here he is in his self-portrait, age 26, an image that was part of my inspiration to write the book. Who could play the temperamental, charismatic artist?


JAMES MCAVOY


Don't you think McAvoy would be fantastic in the role? I thought of him because of his thrilling portrayal of Jane Austen's love interest in the movie Becoming Jane. But what if they made The Renaissance Club as a musical -- then it must be Chris Pine!! We can darken his hair. I'll write the lyrics, unless Stephen Sondheim wants to. How great is Captain Kirk singing as the Prince in this clip from Into the Woods?

CHRIS PINE



IF WE CAST LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA, HE CAN BRING HIS OWN COSTUME!


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Which Broadway Musical Illustrates Your Writing Process?



I'm having a Saturday writing morning that's deep into Crazy Lady Writer Head, thanks to too many exciting things to to work on at once. Plus my work-in-progress new novel, I have a novel to edit, a play to finish, a poetry manuscript to edit, and a memoir to edit. I feel like the bride above, who almost wants to call it off when it comes down to really doing the thing.

It's been a wild ride in my writing world since early February, when I had two offers to publish my debut novel The Renaissance Club, an expression of strong interest (with request for changes) for my next poetry collection, Arabesque, and even interest from a publisher in reviewing my memoir, Rocket Lessons. The thing is, I promised a lot to many, and now I'm facing the Saturday morning page like a sweaty-nervous bride.

See the above video for a glimpse of my writing process today. I think we all should talk about our writing processes not in the usual bland narrative terms, but as illustrated by Broadway musicals. Writing is all about the qualities of the Broadway musical: brightness, energy, force, and action. And an insane belief that inspiration --- like love --- will always win.

Here's a more upbeat glimpse of my usual Saturday writing space, which I'm trying to get into today --- Anything Goes:


If you had to pick a Broadway number to illustrate your writing head today, which one would it be?


Tuesday, February 07, 2017

My Favorite Fictional Sweethearts

Valentine's Day approaches, and over on Goodreads, someone asked me what are my favorite fictional couples. I cheated, of course, and managed to get in three pairs of lovers.

First, I'd have to say Romeo and Juliet.
There's nothing like starry-eyed and highly sexed young lovers spouting the world's most enchanting, poetic love lines  as they barrel toward their doom.

Right behind that pair are, for me, Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy in the book and movie BECOMING JANE. I'm a devoted Austenite, and would of course include all her lovers, Emma and Mr. Knightley first among them.

The biodrama about their author, starring the compelling James McAvoy, is based on an imagined (but possible) love affair between Jane and the Irishman. I love that story because the demise of their plan to run away together rests on noble feelings on both sides. They recognize what in the long run would be best for the other. Swooning and spiritual upliftment, quite a combo! They're in some ways the opposite of Romeo and Juliet.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Story with Sisters

Sibling relationships and specifically sisters is what I'm thinking about. I'm finishing a new novel. It's about two half-sisters who feud about an inherited cottage in Italy with its resident ghost of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Sisters -- we love to explore these complicated lifetime pairings. In real life and literature, sisters stand out. From Jane Austen with her siblings, to Emily Dickinson and hers, to those fabulous Brontes, the stories of siblings have made a huge impact on us, even if we're only children. We devour the sisters who are subjects of novels, in a sister-craze that isn't new, but seems like a current trend. Reading about sisters makes us consider our connections and how they affect our lives.  

I've been thinking a lot about that, following my brother's death. It's a subject that fascinates me and one I'm going to be exploring as I spend the month of February finishing the first draft of my new book.  

Sense and Sensibility is my favorite sisters story. I love the contrast in personality between the two, the tension hovering around the core of sisterly love, and the way their stories intertwine. I patterned my sisters on Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, because their differences fascinate me. In contemporary language, their story is one of reconciling the values of logic with feeling -- a journey we all have to take. Having your opposite in your family life, while often frustrating, is the magic formula to growth and wholeness. And that's what my story is about. That's what all my stories are about. The journey to that more full existence.

And I threw in a dash of Brontes, so of course my sisters are both writers.



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Deaths in Karmic Batches

I've read that when people reincarnate, they may do so in batches, sticking together for their progressive learning. I find the idea mostly pleasing. But I hadn't thought about how that might call for group exits. This fall-winter has knocked me on the head with two deaths. First my beloved brother (my only sibling) on October 10. Now my stepmother, January 19, last week.

Death's absoluteness blindsided me. You can't plead for just one more phone call or visit. You can't ask a departed person to send you an occasional text message saying  they're doing fine in that foreign country called the afterlife. Whatever language they speak there is mostly incomprehensible to me. Grief is in the silence.

To process my karmic batch of exits, I write, of course. Today my stepmother's body is being cremated. It's a hard fact. I awoke into it not happy. But the impenetrable is what writers write to penetrate. We try to write our way behind the curtain, even when that's impossible.

Death Is Not Subjective

You can’t negotiate it, finesse, or spin
it visceral skull-hardness
into soft-sweet resonance. You can’t flex it.

When I touched her folded, white hands,
I felt permanence. And impermanence
seared me in its icicle grip. I forgot to eat
all the rest of that day,

but then I followed it with a binge,
because while I am still alive
I need to learn the lessons of being
by hand, tongue, skin, and muscle.

By illness and overeating,
exercise, and petting my dog’s
silky strands. Chill fog is the right element
today, this day of a disembodiment,

winter tucking deeply in, life whirling
in sharp flakes inward,
behind a white curtain.

The road ahead
unclear, yet I travel
deep into the till then unknown.

I need to cherish even fatigue,
and remember what my brother told me
on his last day: to hug harder.
A hug is not subjective.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

More Embarrassing Riches in Poetry Publishing

The end of 2016 was very lucky for my poetry publishing. In this second installment on an embarrassment of riches, I'm delighted to share my poem, "Bird Bones", which was recently published in the redoubtable Prairie Schooner.

Thanks, editors!

I also had work published in Eclectica's 20th anniversary anthology, Prairie Schooner, Atlanta Review, Panoply (who very kindly nominated my poem for a Pushcart Prize!) and Peacock Journal (where they put beauty first).

Prairie Schooner had published some of my poems before, but as it's a top literary magazine, it's always a thrill when they grab something. And I'm always surprised by what they accept, as I was with the very first set of two poems they took. It's a print-only journal. Here is a photo of the poem page:


The PS issue is full of stellar poets and writers, people I'm proud to be among. I really recommend getting a copy. And not just to read my poem (you just did that). I recommend reading in all these journals. Gorgeous, breathtaking, heartbreaking, soul-awakening work in every one of these magazines. You won't be sorry.










Saturday, January 07, 2017

All My Imaginary Friends Have Superpowers

Because shouldn't we all have a little extra help? And also a friend you can always talk to, who understands everything the way you see it, or even if he doesn't, has wisdom gently offered? Yes, everyone should have this. 

In my completed novel, THE RENAISSANCE CLUB, (watch for announcement of its debut date), Renaissance genius sculptor and architect Bernini provides the magical wisdom and inspiration for young art historian May Gold, stuck in a going-nowhere teaching job, with a stick-in-the-mud boyfriend. As if Italy isn't magic enough on its own, she slips through a crack in time to come face to face with the tempestuous artist, staring straight into Bernini's eyes.

Well, what would you do if you could meet that one person in history who you've always admired-- maybe even studied and fantasized about? That's the way my tale unfolds. And the way May manages to make her not-so-imaginary but slipstream companion a reality in her life. I found the voice of Bernini urging me along as I wrote the story. It's a coming-of-artistic-age tale that rang deeply true for me. If you have to create, have courage and do it boldly. Think of the dynamic Bernini when you put your fingers on those keys, or the camera to your eye. 

My newest work in progress, THE ROMANTICS CLUB, also features an imaginary companion, in the person of a ghost. Two half-sisters clash over a bequest from their father, a cottage in Italy and its resident ghost, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, until an explosion forces one sister to learn the price of putting property ahead of family.

What I love about my imaginary companions with superpowers is the way they tend to support and encourage my main characters. No ill-disposed ghosts or phantoms here! If you want a dark fantasy read, look elsewhere. My ghosts are well-intentioned, creative, and want you to be too.They also want you to be vicariously in Italy as often as possible. That should be classified as a superpower.







Friday, January 06, 2017

An Embarrassment of Riches

My literary stocking overflowed this December. but I was so busy I didn't have time to mention it to anyone but those who saw the stack of magazines on my coffee table. I'm taking it as a sign of the new year, a flowering, perspicacious publication kind of 2017. I also found a late December rose, two blooms that opened up and held for a miraculous week. All good omens for a new year. No matter what November made me feel, I'm feeling optimistic now.

Thanks to Dan Veach, outgoing editor of  The Atlanta Review, for selecting my poem "Rain Dance with Redwood" for this new issue. Judging by California's rainy season, and the impending "monster storm," I think the dancing works. Here's the first of four big print publications I have work in this winter! I'm so jazzed and so hopeful. A good state for January. Happy shiny, new 2017!