THE SOCIAL COMPLEXITIES OF WAR

 

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The novel is a living thing, an organism, if you will, mirroring the people and the societies it emerges from. Most reckon its original emergence with Daniel Defoe’s works, Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe in the early 1700s. What has made it increasingly popular is its take on the lives of common folk, their concerns and daily lives. As the novel has grown, it has drawn to it the deeper psychology of its characters as well as the subterranean reaches of these characters’ social orders, their geographies, their languages, their commonalities as well as their conflicts.

Kirk Kjeldsen’s latest novel, Land of Hidden Fires, touches many of these literary points in depicting the people and geography of Norway at the outer reaches of World War II. His story begins with a girl, Kari DahlstrØm, who grows curious about an American fighter aircraft that has flown over the family farm. She searches it out supposing the plane has crashed (it has), and nearby she encounters its pilot, Lance Mahurin. Kari has a yen for adventure and greener pastures and seizes on the pilot’s predicament to lead him to safety in nearby Sweden.

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Along the way, Kjeldsen gives us a spectacularly written narrative of the Norway winter, reminiscent of a Jack London story or two. Their escape isn’t simple, however; they are being pursued by a cranky German officer, Conrad Moltke, and his patrol, within the harsh environs of the beautiful Norwegian countryside. Danger nips at both party’s heels, not only as a consequence of war, but because they have placed themselves in a forbidding clime, which becomes a metaphor for the war itself.

Kjeldsen’s ambitions here seem formidable. His story and characters display traits that are near-archetypical of humanity – the urge to survive by both cleverness and pure determination; yet Kari’s and Lance’s goal opposes that of Moltke and his patrol. To ice this idea, there is the chaos of language to contend with: German, Norwegian, and English. Kjeldsen gives us a taste of these in passing, but even these scant mentions add to the increasingly combustible story Kjeldsen fabricates about the social complexities of war.

The author holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from USC, and it’s clear that he’s learned how to organize war’s fog into a workable piece of fiction. It’s a rare writer who can emerge from the shadows of academia with a fully mature prosaic voice, and it’s also clear that Kjeldsen is on the way to developing such a voice, one that just may eventually echo within the same halls as Graham Greene, John LeCarré, and Robert Ludlum.

My rating 17 of 20 stars

 

Visit my website here. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Deciding To Go Hybrid

Don’t get me wrong – – The publisher of Sam’s Place: Stories, Mike Aloisi of AM Ink Publishing, has treated me great. His people have designed great covers, set up professional layouts, paid promptly, and before Sam’s Place: Stories launched, he called me to talk over strategy for marketing, to answer any questions I might have, and to generally get to know one another. And he provided an audio version of the book! All this with the realization that literary fiction (he claims me as such) doesn’t sell as well as some of the other niche markets he’s involved in.

So why look for greener pastures?

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It’s really a question of anticipating expected interest in certain books I might write. Take, for instance, the next book published in my name, We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile. This book came about because I was so tired of seeing our two political parties call one another names and, in the end, accomplish little in the citizens’ name. So what would happen if this situation were carried to an extreme? The result was We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile. But what to do with this odd piece of fiction. It’s dystopian, to be sure. But how could I pigeonhole it in order to pitch it to an indie or traditional publisher? I scratched my head on that and came up with nothing.

Meanwhile I had set up my own publishing company, Gridley Fires Books, as an LLC concern for just this eventuality, and I decided to publish We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile through Gridley Fires. What did this entail, cost-wise? Cover design, of course, set up fees to publish through Lightning Source, and initial publicity though Kirkus Reviews. Incidentally, Kirkus gave me a very good review of this book, even featured it. All right, why have Gridley Fires bear the cost of publication, since an indie publisher, for instance would likely bear all those costs? Because I didn’t have to share sales with a publisher. Thus I could discount the book to bookstores and make a significant profit. If the book had been published by someone else and that publisher had taken their cut, discounting it to bookstores would usually leave me with a break even proposition or, if I was lucky, less than a dollar per copy sold. Simply a question of mathematics dressed in dollars. As it turns out I’ve done better monetarily with We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile even though I’ve sold less units than Sam’s Place: Stories has so far sold.

So this is hybrid publishing: so-called self-publishing (in my case through a legal entity, Gridley Fires Books), which in my case affords me an advantage tax-wise, and through indie publishers. BTW, my outside publishing isn’t limited to AM Ink Publishing; I have my first hardback book out with a small military-related publisher, Omonomany. I hope to  have something to relate on that subject soon.

But on to my next publishing adventure with AM Ink (I’ll probably post on this next week).

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information and a book trailer for WE ARE STRONG, BUT WE ARE FRAGILE. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

A Gift In The Lap

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Serendipity does happen, perhaps on a small scale, and even to novelists struggling to be heard within the literary din about them. Somewhat exhausted from the learning curve my first three experiments in novel writing and publishing had wrought, I decided to while away a year writing some short fiction. I had devised a scenario set in a rural Alabama pool hall/beer joint. About Alabama I knew a little; about beer joints and pool halls I knew quite a lot from my college days in Louisiana. The gist here is that I decided to write a piece of short fiction every month of the year, each set in or about such an establishment I called simply Sam’s Place. From this I hoped to uncover a really good story or two that might gain notice.

Some eight months into this project, I selected one story and sent it to a publisher in Massachusetts, who was soliciting stories for an anthology he planned to publish. Not too long following my submittal, I received his reply. He liked the story and wanted to include it in the anthology, but he also presented an alternative. I’d written in my submittal letter that the story was one of a collection I was currently writing. Instead, he wrote, I wouldn’t mind seeing your collection with an eye toward publishing it.

Wow!

Talk about serendipity. Still, it was a case of a bird in the hand versus one in the bush. I opted to send him my collection. But, I replied, I’m only some eight months into this. That’s okay, he replied back. Take your time, get the stories in good shape and I’ll look at them.  Finally, the twelve complete and to Mike Aloisi, the publisher, I sat back and crossed my fingers. He replied later that he needed at least sixty thousand words and I only had around 45,000. Can you write more? Of course I could but I don’t want to write fluff in order to get to the 60, ooo. Fine with him. I continued writing, adapting one rather long story I’d already written. Finally at some 55,000 words, he said he’d publish the collection.

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This experience made two valuable points: first, you never know from where a break is going to come from and the scenario that evolved with this indie publisher couldn’t have happened with one of the big publishing houses. It took almost another year, but my collection was published as Sam’s Place: Stories.

Next: My turn as a hybrid publisher. And what the hell is that?

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information and a book trailer for SAM’S PLACE. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

A Turning Point

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My third book, The Blue Bicycle, proved to be a turning point, both in writing and in publishing. As I wrote in my last post, while there’s always something to learn, voice and style to smooth out in a piece of creative writing, I was beginning to doubt whether I could compete with accomplished writers in attracting publishing contracts. So I set out to find out whether my writerly chops showed promise or not.

I spent the better part of six months writing a novella consisting of four parts, about a young boy abandoned by his parents and living with a colorful old man – his great-grandfather – who proved to be both enlightening and dangerous. Each of the four sections was written in a different tense and varying point of view. My logic here was that in writing something as complex as this, any holes in my writing ability would be glaringly obvious.

With the novella finished, I decided to submit it to a professional editor to see just what I and it were made of. A month or so following my submittal, the editor called, asked me to visit her and we could go over the manuscript face to face. She lived in another North Carolina town not far away, so I swallowed hard and agreed. In short, she only had three major complaints with the manuscript (I say “major” in a relative sense), which were easy enough to fix. Most of her comments, however, were laden with praise.

At about this time, I was awarded a gift – a summer-long writer in residence position to work with the famed Doris Betts. Over that summer, with her critiquing both short and long fiction projects I was working on, I gained from her enough insight into fiction writing to to eclipse a full decade of struggling to learn how to write on my own.

But back to The Blue Bicycle.

I accommodated the editor’s few comments, cleaned up the manuscript, and decided to hit a few agents with it. My second or third submittal brought a response back from a widely known New York agent. He really liked the story and was sorely tempted to represent me. But, he said, its complex structure would make it very hard to sell. And novellas were looked at by traditional publishers during that time with jaundiced eyes. So no, he wouldn’t represent me. Sorry.

A month or so later my good friend, songwriter and performer Eric Taylor, hit town and while we had a beer, we talked shop. I told him of the near miss with The Blue Bicycle. The trials of music publishing apparently aren’t that far removed from  those of books -Eric’s comment: “So this guy told you that you’ve done your job with this manuscript, but he couldn’t do his.” A unique perspective that, and bitingly humorous.

I shopped the manuscript around some more and eventually decided to do the
CreateSpeace thing again. Not an especially good choice, I subsequently discovered, but the readers who have found The Blue Bicycle  loved it. In fact, it’s been my bestselling book world-wide.

Oh, and by the way, American publishers may not like novellas, but European and British readers do.

Next, my writing bears fruit. Serendipity prevails in my favor.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information and a book trailer for A PLACE OF BELONGING. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Square One, Over and Over

My second novel proved schizophrenic in several ways. I wanted to write something in the vein of the Tony Hillman mysteries and, in fact, in researching for it I drove many of the roads mentioned in the soon-to-be novel, which was originally named The Good Road. I signed it, via my agent, with the Canadian publisher who launched my first novel. When the Canadian firm went under and before the book could go through the editing process, I also lost my agent, whose husband had created some unpublicized malfeasance that killed the agent’s career.

So back to square one.

I shopped the manuscript around myself and eventually signed with a second agent for a six month period. She did nothing with it, and I moved on. At this point I began being interested in small indie publishers. I signed with one in Texas, and a year or so later they wrote me that they were folding; they would no longer be in business. Then I was fortunate, or so I thought, to sign with another small indie in Florida. Another year, another fold.

I scratched my head. Was I jinxing these publishers, or was it the other way around? Three years passed during which I began to doubt my ability to write a salable novel. I began to grow desperate; I panicked. I wanted to get the manuscript in print, and I agreed to have iUniverse publish it. Not quite vanity press, not quite “legitimate” publishing. To give the company its due, they did assign an editor to my work and made some substantive  editorial comments, which I accommodated. The print setup, with a good font, good leading and margins and paper quality, produced the best production quality I’ve seen yet for my works.

Then there was the cover. I described my idea for a cover; they took my suggestion and ran with it. But the art quality was about what you’d find in a sixth grade art class. And the title: my editor really didn’t like The Good Road, said it represented too little of the storyline and theme. Better, he wrote me, something like A Place of Belonging, and I had to admitalthough bland, that did a better job of representing the novel. The book launched under that name and drew comments mostly on how terrible the cover was. Okay, a cover helps sell a book. The text had a number of typos,and I realized it needed some serious editing.

Back to square one again.

I was learning a lot at this point about how to write, so I cut some, added some, made it a better manuscript.  I decided to design a new cover, too. With such fundamental changes, I had to pay iUniverse to re-issue. This time the cover (below) drew much better comments.

 

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So, a learning experience. I still like the story and characters, though. In fact, the novel has drawn positive comments from readers, like this comment posted on Barnes & Noble:

“Bob Mustin crafts an intriguing novel of adventure, mystery, temptation and passion with a bit of intuition and historical perspective that keeps you involved in the suspense.”

But I realized I knew abysmally little about book design and marketing. Meanwhile I was taking a writing course or two and discovering that some things I was writing were good but only by gut feel, and other things could use shoring up technique-wise. My learning curve needed to elevate.

In a sense, back to square one again.

But the greatest leap forward in my ability to write fiction was soon to come.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information and a book trailer for A PLACE OF BELONGING. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Hardball Publishing and Selling

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Okay, tooting my own horn begins today, and I’ll begin with my first novel. A REASON TO TREMBLE was originally published in Canada. Because of the dollar exchange between the U.S. and Canada, the company was able to sell books in the U.S. at prices below comparable books published here. But Canada has to depend on American distributors, and so the U.S. publishers apparently made a deal with the U.S. distributors to hold up to $1 million worth of U.S. sales for my publisher. Since many publishers like mine depend on cash flow to stay in business, my publisher went broke.

Long story short, I obtained the rights to A REASON TO TREMBLE, but didn’t do anything with those rights for a while. My company had an original run for my book of 10,000 copies, and were to have destroyed the unsold copies, some 7500 of them, per my agreement. This didn’t happen, and these copies began showing up for sale on the Internet.

This was my first book published and an icy bath in the hardball business of book publishing and selling. Probably tainted by the book’s history, I found no subsequent publishers, so I published it through Create Space, and that’s the version that’s out there now.

If you find this title in mass market paperback, please don’t buy it; instead, show some love to the one with this cover:

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What’s the story? A young girl, Emily Shane, is riding home from dance lessons after sundown on her bike in the fictional town of Hope, Georgia, and is struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. Father Pat seeks the unknown killer, hoping to gain revenge for his daughter’s death, but the task is quickly taken up by Pat’s brother Jason, a down-on-his-luck Vietnam veteran. Before long, most of the population of Hope is involved, and Jason’s search reaches into the highest levels of government.

I chose originally to write in the mystery genre, and my efforts remained there through my second book, which will be profiled tomorrow.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information and a book trailer for A REASON TO TREMBLE. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Tooting One’s Horn

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I can’t help but compare the business of writing to that of currently popular music, no matter the genre. A few common points, as I understand the business of both:

  • Technology has made it possible to be your own recording company and book publisher.
  • The traditional music/book businesses still tout big sales, but the overall quality in both industries is flagging.
  • There are no true genres any more. All genres are blended and mixed with the influence of others.
  • Indie book publishing and music recording is flourishing. This is the place for taking chances, for innovation, for newbie musicians and writers.
  • Whether you’re a musician or a writer, you’re responsible more and more for promoting you own work, no matter whom you work for.

 

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This last point is perhaps the most flummoxing for both musicians and writers. Speaking for myself only, I have so many ideas for new writing projects that it’s hard to tear myself away from the creative end of writing and tend to the necessaries of promoting my already-published or soon-to-be-published work. What makes it doubly hard is that there is no winnowing process these days. I’ve studied the art of writing, been guided by mentors, critiqued and been critiqued, but I can only shout my worth in the marketplace to the same decibel level as those who have done little of these things.

It makes you not want to promote your work at all, you know? But promote I must, so I’m going to do more of that on my website here. Over the next week or so, I’m going to present my already published work and maybe a little about projects on the drafting board or still in the idea stage. As always, you can get a jump on this by visiting my website, where you can watch book trailers, read an occasional review. And there’s a store within the website where you can buy these books at bargain prices.

 

Visit my website here. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.