Monthly Archives: April 2011

Book #8

Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff

Here is the remarkable story of how Helene Hanff came to write 84, Charing Cross Road, and of all the things its success has brought her. Hanff recalls her serendipitous discovery of a volume of lectures by a Cambridge don, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. She devoured Q’s book, and, wanting to read all the books he recommended, began to order them from a small store in London, at 84, Charing Cross Road. Thus began a correspondence that became an enormously popular book, play, and television production, and that finally led to the trip to England – and a visit to Q’s study – that she recounts here. In this exuberant memoir, Hanff pays her dept to her mentor and shares her joyous adventures with her many fans. (via Goodreads)

Of all of Helene Hanff’s books, I’ve probably reread Q’s Legacy the least. 84 Charing Cross Road is, of course, her touchstone work. Underfoot in Show Business is the “young writer” book. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is her England book, and Apple of My Eye is her New York book. And Q’s Legacy? I misremembered it as being about Hanff’s early life, which is well covered in Underfoot. It isn’t. Instead, it’s about what happened *after*.

Hanff writes:

What fortune teller would have had the nerve to predict that the best years of my life would turn out to be my old age?

As a part of my failed Blogging from A to Z attempt, I posted about how important Helene Hanff has been to me. I’ve always loved the fact her fame didn’t come about as she intended, and she always seems befuddled by that. Since Q’s Legancy is about this sideways fame, you’d think it would be my favorite book of hers! But there’s a bittersweet tinge to Q’s that was maybe a little too bitter for an optimistic 22 year-old writer. (Fine. Optimistic is a strong word to be used in relation to me. Let’s say: Glass was only 45% empty.)

At 36, I’m nowhere near old age, though my joints might claim otherwise. I have more years of writing ahead of me than behind me, but I have a different appreciation for Q’s Legacy. Helene looks back and asks, “What do [I] have to show for it?” and I’m closer to knowing what she means. I suppose that’s the interesting thing about rereading books. Sometimes, they work better for you the second (or third…) time.

RoW80 – April 27th Check In

Aw, I missed my 3500th journal post. Which is a pretty low post count for a ten-year-old blog-type-thing.

I’m officially out of the A to Z Challenge. I spread myself too thin this month. Sometimes, the biggest defense as a writer is to not think too much and just go with it. Too much introspection, by me at least, can be depressing. And I’ve been really hermit-y lately. I just need to chill and slim down what I have going on.

RoW80 Check In:

Finished my 10%-cut-edit of Divine Fire! Three days early, I suppose. Now, time to really look at it and decide what needs to be tweaked, rewritten, and added to. Eric’s been chomping at the bit to give it a read through too, so there’s the potential for interesting things to happen.

RoW80 – April 24th Check In

It’s the last week of April! What the heck!

My goal during April has been to finish a 10%-cut-edit and diagnose Divine Fire‘s problems. On Wednesday, I considered stopping my edit to do some rewriting. Eric advised against it and that was a good call because the thought of rewriting just then stalled me out. I recovered on Thursday and Friday and managed 101 pages for the week. I have 38 pages left to the manuscript. That’s two days work at the pace I’ve been going, but I might try to push through and finish Monday. Then use the rest of the week to fix a few things.

I haven’t quite decided what the next goal should be for this round. I might continue working on Divine Fire, using May as a sort of overflow month. Eric has finals coming up and there’s also a trip to Omaha tentatively planned for the end of May. I also need to get back on the ball concerning queries and submissions. I think I have two for April thus far. Somehow my submission fire has waned.

Short Stories #10 & #11

“Djinn, No Chaser” by Harlan Ellison

(from Stalking the Nightmare, Phantasia Press, 1982)

I’m sure I’ve read this anthology, but it’s been a while, and I had forgotten that Ellison had written a genie story. I saw some mention of it somewhere a month ago, dug it out of my collection, promptly read half of it and set it aside. Finally finished it this morning. It’s low on djinn and high character interaction. Teaches a very good lesson about marriage.

“The Life and Times of Penguin” by Eugie Foster

Eugie mentioned this story yesterday in her blog and I had to read it. It’s fun and heartbreaking and lovely.

T is for Thrift

The majority of writers don’t make much money from writing. The second biggest piece of advice given to fledgling writers is: Don’t quit your day job. It’s good advice, but not advice I’ve particularly taken. I haven’t had a regular job in over a decade. Eric worked eight years in the semiconductor industry and then quit in 2007 and went back to school. Neither of us is currently employed. How do we do this? A combination of planning and living cheap.

The Eric-and-Katherine plan has always been that I would write and, after five years of working, Eric would go back to school. Since there was a boom in Eric’s industry, five years became eight. We socked away money from the beginning and Eric does a decent job of investing. The hope was that I would be pulling in money from writing by now, but my industry is a gamble. You can’t count on any sort of timetable.

We rent an apartment in the not-so-great-but-still-okay part of Tempe. Our rent is much cheaper than a house payment would be. An apartment also allows us to be more flexible with our future plans and cuts down on improvement and upkeep costs. Our neighborhood is located right off the light rail line and is serviced by free shuttles to campus/downtown. I live a block from a community center with a decent workout area. It costs me $25 a year to use their facilities.

We have one vehicle: a sturdy 1992 Nissan pickup. I don’t drive, so this works out fairly well. Our vacations involve flying back to Nebraska once a year to visit family and maybe renting a car and driving to the coast for a weekend.

We don’t have kids. Or pets. I know for many people this isn’t an option, and that’s okay, but it sure is easier to get along when you only have to worry about the health and well-being of yourself.

We don’t have cell-phones. Partly by choice, partly because the expense wouldn’t justify the use. Monthly, I pay $22 for a landline and $50 for internet access. I don’t have cable, but subscribe to Netflix streaming for $8/mo. Our main entertainment otherwise is EverQuest 2 (or the like), a whopping $30/month for both of us. This is less than my monthly electric bill. I don’t have the latest gadgets. Eric builds a new computer every two or three years. My main computer is still hooked up to a CRT.

I should cook more. We eat out/get take away from fairly cheap places, but if you look at food as something to be enjoyed, aka entertainment, it’s easier to justify $15 for dinner for the both of us. I do like going out for a tasty meal with friends, but I can’t do it all the time. I don’t buy many clothes. I’ve curbed my book-buying over the years. I don’t wear makeup and can’t bring myself to pay much for things like shampoos, hair cuts, manicures and pedicures.

I buy decent toilet paper and Heize Ketchup, but I wait for sales and use coupons. Our families send money and gift certificates on holidays. We have no debt. In general, I’m a healthy, happy person that just happens to turn her nickle over twice before she spends it.

And sometimes, yes, I wish I had a summer house in San Diego, a closet full of cute shoes, and a sloppy dog named Bill. I wish that I could have dinner out every night and not worry about the cost. But it’s all trade-offs.  I could have those things, but I wouldn’t have this: I’m a full-time writer.

And S is for…

If Q was for queries and R was for rejections, then S is for sales!

My first "sale" was the first story I ever submitted to the first market I sent it to. A ridiculous situation. This was way back in 1995, before good online resources. I had a 1995 copy of Writer’s Market and I *used* that baby. The story was published by a small literary magazine that paid in contributor’s copies. I didn’t mind not being paid in cash-money because I was new to the game and figured that every little step was a step forward. And to some degree, it is. That story is even online. No, I’m not going to link to it here. If you’re curious, break out your google-fu.

In retrospect, I wish I had gotten a few rejections first. I had been a schooly, and an over-achiever when I put my mind to it. I had rarely, at that time, been told that my work was not good enough. The story had been workshopped in a writing class and polished up, but that’s part of the course work. That I got an A and that first story published confirmed that I was hot stuff! Except, not so much.

I knew rejections existed. I knew to expect them. I knew that you kept submitting, because that was what writers do. The reality of rejections didn’t hit me until some time in the future.

For me, a sale (publication in any form) is bittersweet. I hate to be a downer, but in the end it means only slightly more than a rejection. A sale means you did that one thing right and that agent/editor liked it enough to put some of their effort into it.That’s pretty cool, but it doesn’t mean that you are necessarily a better writer than you were yesterday. It certainly doesn’t mean that the next thing written will necessarily be good.

R is for Rejections

"Rejection slips are badges of honor.
Purple hearts.
They mean you’ve done your duty. You’ve written your stuff and sent it out.
You’ve done your part.
Show me a writer who doesn’t have a stack of rejection slips and I’ll show you an unpublished writer."
~Richard Laymon, A Writer’s Tale

After rereading Laymon’s chapter on rejections, there’s not much that I can say that he doesn’t. Unfortunately, copies of A Writer’s Tale are few and far between. (I just realized that I have a signed and numbered copy. How did *that* happen?)  I’ll rehash:

A rejection may mean a number of things:

  • It could be the story, novel, or concept isn’t ready to be submitted. Writers need to continuously hone their craft. Maybe there’s a plot hole that was overlooked. Maybe the writing could sparkle more.
  • It could be that the market isn’t ready for the story. If the crux or style of the story is a little "out there," it could be a hard sell. 
  • It could be that the agent/editor isn’t interested in the story or doesn’t personally think he/she can sell it. If an agent mostly reps thrillers and the submission is kinda thriller, but mostly romance, the odds of a rejection might be high.
  • It may be that the agent/editor just agreed to sell/publish a story that is very similar. Subbing a teenage vampire romance to Stephanie Meyer’s agent, might not go well.

One thing is clear in all these cases: a rejection isn’t personal. Yeah, I know. It’s a rejection of the work, personal work!, that we do, but we need to be a little like coral. Let the submission be a finished fragment that can go on alone, separate from the whole. Most rejections are form letters. Heartless? Maybe, but understandable. If a rejection is more than just a form letter, take heed. It’s a rare sliver of advice.

Publishing is becoming a different place with the independent movement. I’m still in favor of the traditional route because, well, it’s what I know. Rejections have made me work harder than I might have otherwise. As always, my experience is my own.