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Still Alice

I watched the movie "Still Alice" at the theater today. It was quite emotional, well acted, well directed. I walked away from it satisfied with the experience. I'm not always like that. Miscues and mis-castings often haunt films. Sometimes accents make me cringe. Other times find me frowning at the science or history being re-written and the plot's patent flimsiness.

Not with "Still Alice". My wife read the book years ago. That's why we'd never seen the movie. She loved the book but she knew the story. She didn't know if she could watch what she'd read. She'd shared insights about the book as she read it and those insights stayed with me. We discussed them at length. I knew the plot, characters, and story, and felt like I knew the book.

But a friend was in town. We're a small town and the movie offerings weren't stellar. "Still Alice" was the best of the lot, especially as Julianne Moore had won an Oscar for her acting. As I say, I wasn't disappointed.

I have several rituals after seeing movies. My rituals generally involve looking up actors to see what else they were in, or vetting science and history, but I also like knowing more about how the movie came to be. In this case, I knew the movie was based on a novel and wanted to know more about the author, Lisa Genova. So, like any good first worlder, I googled her name and found her blog and information about her book and then discovered a surprise: "Still Alice" had been self-published.

Lisa, tiring of rejections, published it herself. From her blog: 

"Before I self-published my first novel, STILL ALICE, last summer, I tried going the traditional route. I spent a year querying literary agents. But no one wanted my book. I was sitting in a holding pattern with a completed novel and no one reading it, waiting to find out if STILL ALICE was ‘good enough,’ waiting to find out if I was a ‘real writer,’ unable to give myself permission to write the next book. This was not a fun year.

To the last agent that year who said, “No thanks,” I said, “Okay, then. I’ve had enough of this. I’m self-publishing.”

I’m so grateful I had the confidence to ignore his response:

“Don’t self-publish. You’ll kill your writing career before it begins.”

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Instead of fearfully sticking my novel in a drawer, I moved forward. I self-published STILL ALICE, and the journey that followed and continues has been the ride of my life! I ultimately still wanted that big publishing house book deal, I just wasn’t going to go the traditional route. I was in for almost a year of guerilla marketing, of putting on my armor and battling every day, trying to overcome the stigma of being a self-published author, trying to scale the wall of the publishing house castle.

I listed STILL ALICE on myspace, goodreads, shelfari, and more. I managed my own website and blog. I read David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing and PR and John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Books. I scheduled at least two book events a month: Readings and signings at local bookstores, coffee shops, Alzheimer’s facilities or conferences, book clubs. And after seven months, after I’d started getting some good feedback and local press, I hired Kelley & Hall Book Publicity to join me in my efforts.

In the three months that I worked with Kelley & Hall, STILL ALICE was featured on television and radio. It was reviewed in newspapers, blogs, and at It was chosen for book clubs, as a staff pick at bookstores, and as a Finalist in General Fiction in the 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. And it won the 2008 Bronte Prize for best love story in North America.

By nine months, things were definitely beginning to vibrate. By ten months, you could hear the BUZZ. Word of mouth and a generous introduction led me to a literary agent who loved my book and within a week of signing our contract, I was inside the castle. STILL ALICE sold at auction to Simon & Schuster for six figures! They’ve sold it to publishing houses in nine other countries with more to follow and plan to release it in the US on January 6, 2009."

There is a lesson there to write, to believe, to do the work if you believe and don't let yourself be denied. 

That's my kind of story.

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The Right Song

Question: when did pop music arrive on the American music scene?

What were the top radio hits and performers in 1953 in America?

When did sock hops begin?

When was the term 'deejay' coined?

I spent yesterday afternoon in research after my writing session, addressing a 1953 dance scene. Yes, originally my novel starts in 1959. Now it's jumped back a few years. See, I'd formed this image of my character. It's a first impression. He's a young, rising businessman. Well, except his business is illegal. He falls in love with this damaged teenager and they start having children, including a serial killer. Oh, but wait. I didn't know it at the time, but my hero was already married. He enjoys the thrill of keeping different lives. The first wife thinks he works for the government as a private contractor. He likes the allure and convenience associated with the mystery of his secret profession. It was easier back then, before everything was so carefully vetted. The second wife knows his job is illegal and he likes that, because he can be more open with his second wife. His third wife doesn't care what he does, as long as they're having fun.

So now I needed to understand more about 1953 music. To the Google! Actually, I use Wikipedia for vast swaths of research and returned the favor to them for being so helpful by donating some money to the cause. Back in 1953, our hero meets his first wife at a dance. Is that a sock hop with a deejay? Did they have them in 1953? Check. What song was playing when he first saw her dancing...?

Oh, that was a toughie but the net helped me once again. A terrific website,, listed the top 40 songs with the title and artist, by year, with links to YouTube renderings. Fantastic. I sat there listening to song after song, listening for the one that he heard when he first saw his first wife but OMG, I disliked most of that music. I knew about twenty of the songs, sometimes through other artists, but several were quite new. After 1953, I checked out 1952 and 1954, yes, spending over two hours listening to music, reading about artists and thinking about that scene. It's really not important, I tell myself. Just select a song and move on.

First, though. I'll think check out 1955 and maybe 1956. He'll still be married, with children, when he begins his second -- and third -- marriages so that slight year shift won't make much difference. I'm eager to write this scene, as well as three related scenes burgeoning in my mind, so I will now and add the song's details later.

Time to write like crazy, one more time.

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It All Evens Out

Yesterday wasn't a good writing day. Today was great. Fabulous. I'm writing for me and I love it. Progress made, satisfaction with the words, characters, plots. Once again I was astonished by the turns taken from what I originally envisioned into something much better. Terrific. I hope I can sustain that. All I can do is try and try and try. 

I was amused that a novel submitted to an agent last July was rejected via email today, just over four months later. Good laugh out of that. My wife found that HarperCollins Australia has open submissions for unsolicited manuscripts every Wednesday. Prompted by that, I searched on 'unsolicited manuscripts' and found a google of avenues to pursue. It's all so promising. 

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This I Vow

As I start a new novel, I look back at what I've done this year and cringe at what I haven't done.

I finished writing the surreal science fiction fantasy novel, "Dark Red", in Feb of this year, 200,000 words.  Next, on a whim to see if I could, I wrote the cozy, "Life Lessons with Savanna", finishing in April and then completed a science fiction (with satirical overtones) novel, "Returnee", in October. 

The three novels have a few things in common. One, I wrote them. Two, they haven't been published. I didn't try hard publishing any of them. They reside on my computer along another science fiction novel, "Spider City" (which is actually a trilogy), and a science fiction tome titled "White Parasam" and an earlier novella,"Peerless", and a couple others. None published. None really attempted to be published. I set my sights on writing novels and I've done that but never really established a goal of publishing them. 

I've talked about it and thought about it. Those that read my posts on the late, wonderful Red Room site know that it's a recurring issue for me to get my butt in gear and get published. I thought once it was because I'm fearful of criticism of the novels. I think that contributes but I'm also lazy. I'm familiar with novel writing now. It's easy. That publishing business, well, that's something new and different. That's work. 

But, some will ask, why are you writing if you're not trying to publish? Don't you want to be publish? 

Yes, I want the victory without the hard work and effort. See, lazy. I still write because I thoroughly enjoy it, and enjoy the results, the novels I finish. That work, progress and result immediately reward and validate me, safely, without others to mar my self-image. Easier to stay unpublished and believe myself talented than to publish and prove otherwise. Except I know that's not true. I wrote and published short stories and received fan mail. So there is some sort of talent there. Novels, of course, are more ambitious, with greater associated risks. I go back and read them and enjoy them, often surprised by how well they're written, but that's me. I'm not impartial.

Besides, I'm intelligent enough to understand not everyone likes the same things. I thoroughly enjoy George R.R Martin's series, A Song of Fire and Ice, but others think those novels too big, too gory, or too unwieldy. Love Louise Erdrich and think her a beautiful writer that tells deep stories and yet others shy away because it's not what they want to read because they're too dark. I enjoy Cormac McCarthy, Harlan Ellison and Michael Chabon, Scalzi along with Asimov, and Octavia Butler, Phillip Pullman and Nancy Farmer, Kate Atkinson and Ian McEwan, Lee Child, Jonathan Franzen and Jonathan Safron Foer, Sue Monk Kidd and Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Lethem and Jo Nesbo, Stieg Larsson and David Guterson, David Balducci and Neal Stephenson, along with Stephen Baxter, Larry McMurtry, Sarah Vowell, Khalid Hosseini, Bernard Cornwell, Neil Gaimen, Donna Leon, Patrick Ruthfuss, Louise Penney, PD James, et cetera. These are among the writers I've read this last year. Some of those books were books I read before or books of theirs published long ago that I overlooked. I just like a novel that draws me in to think or lets me live on another world or experience life through another one's skin, and admire the writers that make it happen. But I have friends and relatives who judge novels and writers more cruelly and will take issue with a number of those listed, and their works, leaving me to wonder if perhaps I'm not critical enough...or are they too critical? Whichever, it comes down, in my mind, to different preferences and expectations. We look to novels for different reasons, carrying our own baggage, and walk away with different impressions of what we read.

No, thinking it all through, it goes back to being lazy. I have my routines of work, writing, reading, walking, visiting with friends and running around with my wife. I'm comfortable in those ruts, way too comfortable. I must take the decision to pursue publishing the last one done, and the rest. I must allocate the time and energy to do so. If you make it a priority, it gets done, just as I made it a priority to meditate and find balance, to get up and write every day, to write a novel, and a priority to do yard work, take care of the cats, wash the cars, socialize with friends, fix things around the house, go to work and complete my projects, now I need to take control, tell myself, "You must do this," set the time aside, establish a new routine, and do it. Publish. If not for myself, then for my wife and supporters, who have wondered just what the hell it is I write. 

It's time they see the results.

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