Publication News

 

And so, a quick update for those of you who have been asking about the progress of my book and when it may be published. (And a sincere thank you for being interested! :) )

Although I’ve been quiet on that front publicly as of late, a lot has been happening behind the scenes. I still can’t go into too much detail, but if all goes well Book One of my series, The Nature Knights, will be published Fall 2015.

I’m bursting to tell you more so as soon as I can start to reveal details, I will! For now, I’d better get back to the writing. There are eight more full length novels in the series, plus a novella – and they won’t write themselves.

One thing’s for sure … I’ll never complain of boredom.

Coming Soon … Videos!

A few months ago, when I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever finish my novel, a wise friend listened to my frustrations with patience and understanding and told me to relax and enjoy the writing process. That friend is Lesleyanne Ryan, author of the award-winning Braco. When I asked why, she said “because writing the book is the easy part.” I scoffed. Nothing could possibly be harder than writing a novel.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Enter book marketing.

For a while I would start to convulse every time I thought about having to flog my wares—book signings at the local Costco where I’d sit for hours unnoticed, lost in a jumble of oversized shopping carts. Public readings with no one but my mother in attendance, the sound of crickets chirping in the background. A basement filled with unsold copies of my magnum opus, destined for use as door stops.

But then I remembered that marketing is really just about connecting with people. As an extrovert, this excites me. Writing requires copious hours alone in front of a computer and I found that challenging. I mean, the cats are fine company but they’re not interested in having ideas bounced off them. They have no opinion on things like character development and point of view. And the dog has long since abandoned me in favour of eating tissues out of the bathroom waste bins.

So while I research book two of my series, I’m also updating my business plan to include marketing.

Most of it will be social media for now, which will be a struggle given the time requirements and learning curves. But millions of other small business owners manage it, and so can I.

For example, this blog needs to somehow magically morph into a full fledged website. I keep waiting for the tech and design fairies to arrive during the night and do it, but so far there’s no sign of them. I suspect they’re vacationing in the Caribbean with the book-writing fairies who have also been conspicuous by their absence.

The other thing I’ll be doing is video!

This is really exciting…I mean, I love to read (love, love, love it!) but when given the option even I will watch a video over reading an article online. Yesterday afternoon I brainstormed a list of nearly twenty videos I can post to this blog and my YouTube channel.

Everything from interviews with authors (I already have two lined up) and the craft of writing, to topics directly related to my novel—fun stuff like character interviews, the Newfoundland dialect and language (we have some funky words—even our own dictionary), and a short stop animation film enacting a scene from my story. I’ve always wanted to try stop animation! Luckily my 10-year-old daughter is as excited as me. We’ve decided to take this on as our spring/summer project.

So, stay tuned! Lots of exciting things to come.

I’d love to hear your ideas for videos you’d like to see on this blog and eventually, my new website. Please feel free to leave them in the comments section below!

Dreaming Up and Writing Down

Now that I’ve finished my magnum opus, many people have asked me what I’ll do next. The short answer is “write book two.” In fact, I’ve already started plotting it.

But what happens to book one? As I write, Crossing the Rubicon is safely in the hands of my beta readers—people who are reading my book and giving me feedback before I send it off to agents and publishers in mid-March.

When I started this blog in 2012, I called it “chronicles of a debut novelist” because honestly, the learning curve was enormous. I took a few writing classes, but for the most part I was learning how to write a book by writing a book. Actually, I think I could write a book about everything I learned about writing a book. :)

Ironically, one of the biggest lessons came from this blog—maintaining a social media presence is both difficult and time consuming. Difficult because I didn’t have a finished novel which meant I didn’t have anything really to talk about—no media interviews, public appearances, teaser text to share, trailer videos to post or cover art to reveal. I was just sitting alone in front of my computer. And that’s dull by anyone’s standards.

But it’s also time consuming and that was by far my bigger problem. I found myself spending precious writing hours drafting blog posts, crafting tweets, maintaining Facebook and well, my Goodreads account never did get off the ground the way I’d hoped.

I was increasing my follower numbers, but I wasn’t working on my novel.

So if social media is such a distraction, why spend any time on it at all? Terrific question. I asked a literary agent, a publisher and many authors the same thing. Bottom line? Publishers like writers to have an online presence. I’m not sure why but my theory is that it shows a person who can write consistently and well. It shows discipline, an awareness of marketing and a willingness to be an active participant in the successful realization of a story from initial concept to final ink and paper/digital product.

When a manuscript from a debut author comes across a publisher’s desk, one of the first things he does is a google search. (For the record, if you google “Valerie Francis” this blog should pop up in the top four. There’s a musician in Ireland with the same name and we toggle back and forth for the top spot. Go ahead, try it.)

Personally, I think quality of writing should trump a google rating or follower counter. That’s why last summer, as many of you noticed, I abandoned this blog and social media and spent all my time finishing my book. (Thanks for asking where I’d gone…nice to know people actually read my posts!)

Now though it’s time to revive the online presence, but in a manner that compliments my writing time. Not overshadows it.

I won’t be here everyday but I’ll pop in once a week (or so) to share more lessons learned, and give you a progress report on my novel’s path to publication.

In the meantime, I’ll be dreaming up and writing down worlds of new adventures.

Blog Hop: Writing Process—#thisishowwedo

My good friend and historical romance author, Kate Robbins tagged me in a blog hop last week. So now it’s my turn to answer a few questions – this time about my writing process.

What am I working on?

Funny you should ask … in fact, I just finished the first novel in a nine-book fantasy series for children (middle grade, ages 9-12). So right now I’m in the process of plotting out book two of that series, plus I have at last count, five other stories bouncing around in my head:

  • two literary fiction
  • one medieval (maybe historical, but probably fantasy) fiction
  • one women’s fiction (chick lit – my bestie wants me to finish it post haste)
  • and one regency novel set in Newfoundland

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I’ll focus on the kids’ series for this one. The Nature Knights has been described as a medieval Narnia set in Newfoundland. So, having a Newfoundland setting certainly sets it apart from most other children’s fantasy novels. However, there’s also an important environmental theme running through the book, so I think that also sets it apart. Environmental protection has popped up in all sorts of books—the dystopian worlds of many novels are in effect, depictions of the world after environmental disaster. My story is pre-apocalypse, and although things haven’t fallen apart just yet, the writing is on the wall and it’s up to my four main characters to ensure Armageddon never happens.

Why do I write what I do?

This is an easy one. I’m writing The Nature Knights because this is the story that presented itself to me. I really can’t explain it any better than that. I was actually trying to write a different book entirely, but one character—Clancy Donovan—kept hijacking it and in the end, she browbeat me into writing The Nature Knights. She really isn’t the type of girl who takes no for an answer.

How does your writing process work?

I find this whole business of “writing process” fascinating. I know lots of authors who have a whole ritual set up to help summon the gods of creativity and inspiration. They couldn’t begin to put pen to paper until (and unless) certain elements are in place: they need to sit in a certain chair or have a particular drink in a particular mug. They need the wind to come from the east or the planet Neptune (which rules inspiration) to be in their fifth astrological house of creativity.

I don’t know about any of that stuff. To me, writing is like any other career so I show up every day and punch in the hours. Sometimes I work on computer, sometimes long hand. Nothing more to it than that.

Now I pass the baton on to three other authors, Lesley Richardson, Paul Butler and Jennie Marsland.

Lesley Richardson is a writer from Bangor, Co. Down, who is currently writing her second novel, The Possibilities of Elizabeth. Her first novel, Biddy Weirdo, is yet to be published, but Lesley and her agent, Susan Feldstein, are hopeful that that will soon change. Represented by the Feldstein Agency, Lesley has just received her second grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and was also awarded a writing bursary from North Down Borough Council. She launched her blog, Standing Naked at a Bus Stop last year and she tweets.

Paul Butler is the author of several critically acclaimed novels including Titanic Ashes, Cupids, Hero, 1892, NaGeira, Easton’s Gold, Easton, and Stoker’s Shadow. His work has appeared on the judges’ lists for Canada Reads, the Relit Longlist for three consecutive years (2011 for Cupids; 2010 for Hero; and 2009 for 1892), and he was a winner in the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Awards four times between 2003 and 2008 at which time he retired from the competition to be literary representative, and then chair, of the Arts and Letters Committee. A graduate of Norman Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre, Butler has written for the Globe and Mail, Canada’s History Magazine (formerly The Beaver), Books in Canada, Atlantic Books Today, and Canadian Geographic, and has also contributed to CBC Radio, local and national. He lives in St. John’s. His website is http://paulbutlernovelist.wordpress.com.

Jennie Marsland is a teacher, a painter, a musician and, for most of her life, a writer. She fell in love with words at a very early age and the affair has been life-long. She enjoys writing songs and poetry as well as fiction. Jennie is a history buff as well as an unashamed romantic. Glimpses of the past spark her imagination, and she believes in happily ever after. A resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia for the last thirty years, she lives with her husband Everett and their outrageously spoiled Duck-Tolling Retrievers, Chance and Echo. Her website is http://jenniemarsland.com.

Lobsters, Life & Literature

Last week, my kids and I enjoyed mouth-watering, fresh Atlantic lobster with my parents. The poor little crustaceans were taken out of the water Friday morning, and were on my plate by suppertime. Talk about succulent!

Lobsters boiled to perfection.
Lobsters boiled to perfection.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the great joys of living in a seaport on the east coast. The weather leaves much to be desired, but the food is divine. To all my dear friends and relatives living “on the mainland” … eat your hearts out.

Dad, a true gourmet, has always taken great pride in orchestrating elaborate meals for those with refined and discerning palates. This melt-in-your-mouth lobster is merely the tip of the iceberg. My childhood is filled with memories of stuffed fresh Atlantic salmon (too big to fit in Mom’s oven!), flambé crown pork roast and chocolate éclairs (yes, completely from scratch). There was an octopus in there somewhere too.

Now, nearing the age of 70, Dad has begun to pass on some of his coveted culinary secrets to my son (aged 13 and 51 weeks, but who’s counting?). My young man has inherited his grandfather’s love of cooking and all things food. He stuffed and cooked his first turkey (a whopping 30 pounder) when he was only nine – homemade dressing and all.

Why have I chosen to write about this in a blog that is supposed to be about the trials and tribulations of writing a debut novel? First of all, the lobster really was that good. And yes, I’m fiercely proud of my father and my son and will gush about them both every chance I get. But those aren’t the reasons.

It’s because family – the importance of it, the definition of it and the bonds between generations – is an important theme in my novel, Crossing the Rubicon.

My protagonist’s father is about as far from Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee) as you can get. He’s a guy on the edge. His focus is on accumulating material wealth and he’s at risk of losing it all. He’s become a negligent parent, a disrespectful husband and frankly, a total jerk.

Without an effective father, my character still needs a father figure to guide him through his coming of age. This is pretty standard stuff in literature. Harry Potter had Mr. Weasley and Sirius Black (Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling), Tom Ward had the Spook (The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney), and so on. In my case, Al Archer has his grandfather (Liam Finnegan).

In a way it’s a throw-back to times gone by, when several generations lived under one roof. That was quite common here in Newfoundland, and in many other cultures too of course. It still is in some areas.

Fresh Atlantic Lobster
Fresh Atlantic Lobster

I haven’t included a lobster boil in Crossing the Rubicon, but it’s exactly the kind of scene that would be right at home in my story. The wise grandfather passing on sage advice to the young grandson taking his first tentative steps into manhood. Staging this conversation while the characters are cooking opens up all kids of opportunities for subtext and metaphors.

Oh yeah, a lobster boil will absolutely show up somewhere in one of the other books I have planned for the series. I already have one sandwich-making scene in Crossing the Rubicon, but I foresee many more meal descriptions in the future.

So Dad, son, what’s next? Some jumbo shrimp perhaps? Rotisserie chicken on the bbq? Or maybe a little prime rib …

My Neverending Story…

In my last post, I argued that writers should blog because it’s a great way to keep family and friends (i.e., your diehard supporters and those most likely to buy your book) updated on the progress of your manuscript. After all, they’re going through this weird and wonderful journey right along with you.

Naturally, my diehard supporters called me on this.

Seems I haven’t kept them abreast of the status of my (our?) neverending story.

Lest I ignore my own (and original) reason for blogging, as we say in Newfoundland here’s “where da book is at”:

The publishing industry has capped Young Adult (YA) novels at 90,000 words. True, plenty of YA books are over 100,000 words, but for a first time author it’s wise to keep within the word count guidelines. It has to do with the cost of producing and distributing books. A 90,000 word book could yield a reasonable return on investment for a publisher, whereas a 95,000 word book (selling the same number of copies) could result in a net loss.

My friends, a net loss does not lead to multi-book publishing deal. I’ve planned nine novels in this series – need I say more?

Book one, entitled “Crossing the Rubicon,” should come in right around that 90,000 mark. There are currently 35 chapters in all, 19 of which have solid drafts. Another 7 chapters are in a rough, first draft state and the remaining 9 have been outlined.

I spent months agonizing over the first half dozen chapters (more on that in a later post). To make the beginning work, I had to add a second point of view (pov). This second pov meant I had to add four more chapters (four of the nine in the outline stage above). And on-and-on it goes …

My workplan to complete “Crossing the Rubicon” is as follows:

  • May/June: finish the manuscript
  • July/August: manuscript with beta readers, flesh out ideas for book two
  • September: make final edits to book one
  • October: start shopping for an agent (book one), start outlining book two.

61 days, 12 hours and 22 minutes to deadline. Better stop blogging and start writing.

Later gator.

Why Prologues and Adverbs Get a Bum Rap

The prologue, like the humble adverb, is a despised thing among writers so I’ve learned.  So much so that, if you can believe the rhetoric, a manuscript of 90,000 words daring to contain one adverb is in danger of being denounced as rubbish and cast aside by agents – its author pooh-poohed as an amateur.  Likewise, the mere suggestion of inserting a prologue at the beginning of a tale is met with audible gasps of horror from those desperate to appear “in the know.”

Here’s the best thing about being a novice writer.  (more…)

The Next Big Thing: Blog Hop

A blog hop is like a game of literary tag for writers with blogs.  On January 30, 2013, I was fortunate enough to be tagged by Irish author Lesley Richardson.  So now, I’m “it.”  My job is to answer a few questions about a project I’m working on, and include bios and links to other writers I think you may be interested in discovering.

Sure it’s a marketing strategy and a fabulous networking tool for authors, (writing is a lonely business), but these aren’t the reasons I decided to take part in the blog hop.  I did it because I’ve found some fabulous writers this way and have added many of their books to my reading list.  Like Butterfly Cabinet from Bernie McGill.  Here’s the trailer:

So, without further ado …

What is the working title of your next book?  

I’m writing what I hope will be the first book in a nine-book series. I’ll keep the series name to myself for now, but the working title of book one is “Crossing the Rubicon.”

Where did the idea come from for the book? 

In all honestly, from one of my characters.  I know it sounds completely facetious but I swear it’s true.  At the time I was working on another project so when she arrived and presented it to me, I ignored her.  Big mistake.  When you meet her, you’ll understand that she is not the type of gal who tolerates the bum’s rush.  She hounded me.  Nagged me.  Drove me nuts with it until at last, in 2010 I began transcribing her story.

Before I started this book I used to roll my eyes when I heard writers say things like “my character really surprised me” or “the story went in a completely different direction than I’d intended.”  I’d think, “the author is the one with the pen.  If he doesn’t want a character to act a particular way, then all he has to do is write something different.”  Right?  Oh, how wrong I was.  There are times when my characters say things I didn’t want them to say – I even stop sometimes and wonder where the words came from, because it isn’t what I planned to write.  (Yes, it’s equal parts cool and creepy.)  I never change them though.  They’re always better than my original idea.

What genre does your book fall under?  

It’s a Young Adult (YA) fantasy adventure story.  Technically YA is considered to be ages 12 to 18, but I think kids as young as ten will enjoy the story, although they might need a parent to read it to them.  “Older” adults (18+) who like fantasy will have fun with this book too.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? 

This is my favourite question because when I’m writing the characters of Liam Finnegan and Arthur, I see Gordon Pinsent and Anthony Hopkins in my head.  My four main characters are all 12-year-olds.  I don’t envision any particular child actor for them  but I’d want them to be from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Here’s the remarkable Gordon Pinsent during a recent interview on George Tonight:

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  

Pass.  Can I do that in a blog hop?  Seriously.  I haven’t told my friends and family what the book is about.  If they hear about it through my blog first they’ll have a fit.

 I suppose I have to say something though, so how about this?  My book is about a boy who gets himself and his friends into really big trouble – life or death type of stuff.  Oh, and there’s dragons.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

I always dreamed of having my book published “traditionally” – that is getting an agent and having him/her sell my book to a publisher.  Self-publishing doesn’t carry the same stigma as it once did though.  It isn’t the same as a vanity press.  So, I’m keeping that option open as well.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? 

I seem to have a different definition of “first draft” than other authors.  My initial brainstorm of the book took about a month (this I’ve learned is what some writers consider their first draft).  I consider the first draft to be a full manuscript that is generally ready for human consumption – beta readers.  So far I’ve spend two years and eight months on that version.  Hope to finish around the three-year mark.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 

This is another question I’d like to avoid … it feels like a lose-lose situation.  If I compare myself to well-known authors I sound arrogant.  If I compare to unknown authors the reference will be lost, because by definition most people haven’t heard of them!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was browbeaten into it by one of my characters. (See the answer to question two above.)

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well, just finishing it will pique the interest of my family and friends.  They’re dying to know what I’ve been scribbling all these months (and no doubt curious to see whether any of them made it to the pages.)  As far as people I don’t know goes … I think I’ve come up with a pretty unexpected, though satisfying, ending.

Here are two other writers you might be interested in checking out – the first from Ireland, the second from Newfoundland.

Lesley Richardson is a writer from Bangor, Co. Down, who is currently writing her second novel, The Possibilities of Elizabeth. Her first novel, Biddy Weirdo, is yet to be published, but Lesley and her agent, Susan Feldstein, are hopeful that that will soon change. Represented by the Feldstein Agency, Lesley has received a grant from The Arts Council of Northern Ireland and a writing bursary from North Down Borough Council. She launched her blog, Standing Naked at a Bus Stop last year and she tweets.

Kate Robbins’ love affair with Scotland began many years ago. She has dabbled in contemporary film and theatre, but when a story of much greater magnitude welled up, her focus turned to the place which sparked her imagination like no other. Lasses, lochs, mists and mountains inspire her to write about strong heroines and irresistible heroes. Did someone say kilt? Find out more about Kate and her Scottish historical romances at www.katerobbinsauthor.com or follow her on twitter @KateRobWriter.

When Feedback Becomes A Distraction

I spent most of last fall getting feedback on my book from an agent, a grant jury and other authors.  The problem with asking for those opinions is that I got them.  So, what I thought would be helpful feedback on how to improve my story ended up being white noise – a jumbled mess of conflicting thoughts that distracted and confused me.

Don’t get me wrong – I appreciated the advice I got.  I can honestly say that I learned something from everyone.  The thing I’m frustrated with is my lack of experience in this field.  I was unable to distinguish the good ideas from the bad so I gathered them all up and have spent most of the last three months panning through them hoping to find nuggets of true wisdom.

For the most part, what was a weakness for one person was a strength for someone else.  For example, my book doesn’t deal with many of the themes common in Newfoundland literature.  I don’t focus on the fishery or its collapse, the resettlement of a community or a marine disaster.  Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will recognize local elements of course (names, dialect etc) but the story will appeal equally to people who have never heard of the province and can’t locate us on a map.

While this led to some interesting discussion of my story, it left me a bit confused as to whether people liked what I’d written or not.  Discouraged, I put the book aside during the holidays.  I didn’t abandon my project, but my progress has been slower than I’d hoped.

My kids actually gave me the best advice.  Knowing I was a bit blue about the book, they cornered me at the supper table the other night.

Son (age 13):  “Mom, do you like your book?”

Me (age … never mind):  “God yes!  It’s a blast!”

Son:  “Then who cares if someone else likes it.  Just write it for yourself.”

Me:  “You got a point there, kid.”

Son (smirking):  “Yeah, I know.”

Daughter (age 9 and three quarters):  “I like your book, Mommy.”

Me:  “You haven’t read it yet sweetheart.”

Daughter:  “So?  I still like it.  Besides, you’re famous.  You got a blog and you’re on twitter.”

Son (laughing):  “She’s not famous.  She’s Mom.”

Me (to son):  “Eat your vegetables.”

Daughter:  “Mommy, at my Christmas recital you told me not to worry because if I had fun playing the piano, the audience would have fun too.”

Me:  “Yes, I did say that.”

Daughter:  “Well if you’re having fun writing your book, the audience will have fun reading it.”

Aren’t my kids smart?  :)

I’ve now gone back through all the feedback I’ve received.  There’s some negative stuff – like the person who said she didn’t think I could do it but gave no explanation as to why, the person who had an issue with my punctuation (notably semi colons) and the person who said he has no “tolerance, sympathy or empathy for the genre.”  In fairness though, the punctuation chap also thought my story was “intriguing” and “fresh.”  The one who didn’t like the genre said he “loved” my writing, particularly the dialogue between characters.  And the person who thinks I can’t do it (a) doesn’t know me from Adam and (b) will eat crow when my book is on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Besides, the agent who reviewed it (as part of a course, not a query) thought my descriptions were vivid and that I’d effectively “raised the stakes.”  And Newfoundland author, Paul Butler, has said that my story is becoming a “real page turner.”

I unearthed another little gem in the feedback notes.  During the Piper’s Frith workshop last October, Lisa Moore reviewed a portion of my book that involves several people moving around in a kitchen interacting with one another.  She asked if I’d read any of Zadie Smith’s work because my writing reminded her of On Beauty.  I’d never heard of Zadie Smith but made a note of it anyway.  I’m glad I did.  Turns out, On Beauty was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005 and won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2006.

Listen, if my writing reminds one Man Booker finalist of another Man Booker finalist, that’s good enough for me!  Who knows, maybe one day I’ll even join them.

Here’s author Zadie Smith reading from her award-winning novel On Beauty.

And I’m off to the Frith!

On Monday (October 22) I’ll be on my way to Kilmory Resort in Swift Current, Newfoundland to attend the Piper’s Frith Writer’s Workshop.

You may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging much lately – well, it’s because I’ve been preparing for this workshop.  I’ve never been to anything like this before so I’m equal parts excited and nervous as to what will happen.  I must admit, I’ve always wondered what goes on during these types of things.  Turns out, it’s a pretty packed schedule – group meetings, private sessions with mentors, readings and of course blocks of time for writing/revising.

The faculty at this year’s event includes Don McKay (poetry), Michael Crummey (fiction) and Lisa Moore (fiction and creative nonfiction).  I’ve been assigned to Lisa Moore’s group and have already sent a sample of my work for her, and the other people in my group, to review.

The Frith also provides participants with an opportunity to read from our work.  I think I’ll give this a go – great practice for my (eventual) book launch.  There’s always the risk that a heckler will tell me I suck, or that a giant hook will yank me off the stage or, worst of all, the audience will yawn.

These are the types of things that would have sent me into a worried frenzy when I was twenty.  At 42, it doesn’t bother me so much.  After all, even if the readings go poorly, I still get a week in a resort.

I probably won’t have time to blog next week, but I will send a few tweets as time permits.  You can follow me @valerie_francis (or click the twitter follow button to the right of this post).

I’ll leave you with a short clip from Michael Crummey discussing our “bizarre profession” and the “unnatural process” of writing a novel.

Wish me luck!