Gut(ted) Instincts

A lit lightbulb

Gut(ted) Instincts

– When Eureka! Moments happen…

For the past two months, I’ve been wrestling. Wrestling the Fail Demon, wrestling the virtual page, and wrestling a Quantum Demonology prequel in Danish I had hopes to submit to publication in time for a New Year’s Eve deadline. To get the word out about me, to establish my questionable reputation, to maybe? start getting just a little buzz in just one small corner of the world. Just a little.

This evening, I had a eureka moment, the moment when I suddenly realized a vital fact:

It ain’t happening, baby.

After 12.000 words and not a little headache, after trying to translate pithy John Milton quotes and nailing a story arc to the page, nope… it’s not happening.

Seriously, folks, I really hoped it would. Hoped that maybe this one, maybe this time, maybe, baby. I really could pull this rabbit out of my hat and knock out 20.000 words of peerless prose.

Only to find that as my story progressed, my feelings of doom, dread and river-in-Egypt syndrome bloomed so very much faster than any time-lapse photography ever could.

The words were leaden. The cursor d-r-a-g-g-e-d across the page. I’m perfectly bilingual and verbally dextrous, so why the hell couldn’t I write in another language?

Then it hit me, that proverbial sandbag of insight right smack in my solar plexus.

Because I couldn’t feel it.

I’ll spare you the details of my unorthodox trans-Atlantic upbringing, but suffice it to say my first language was not Danish, for all I was born in Copenhagen and am a Danish citizen, but English. I mostly think in English (and some French and Italian), I certainly feel in English, and most importantly, I’ve received far more accolades (such as they are) writing in English than virtually anything I’ve achieved in Denmark. It helps not at all that my beloved (lethally smart) younger sister is an acknowledged journalist, author and blogger with the situation in reverse: born in the US, she’s far more truly Danish than I could ever be.

When we discussed our different projects a few days ago, she mentioned one of her own pet peeves about the English language: “There’s just too many… adjectives, too many descriptions, too much verbosity. I don’t need to have everything spelled out, and if you have to spell it out with adjectives, you’re not trying hard enough as a writer.” (She was referring to her elder sister’s novel.)

Ouch.

But back in the solitude of my own apartment, after the sting subsided, I realized that what she disliked was precisely what I loved best.

Verbosity. Adjectives. Describing the unknowable. And last but never least, feeling those words in your gut as you type them.

Whether it’s major mental constipation on my part (Denmark holds quite a few not-so-happy memories for me) or simple bloody-mindedness, I picked myself off the floor after that sandbag hit and made a decision.

Sometimes, your gut instinct knows what you can’t consciously acknowledge – in this case, when something feels wrong, it’s because it is, at least for me. So then, I thought.

Fuck it.

The prequel novella, titled “The Confessions of Apollyon”, is the story of the Devil (Dev, as he’s called in QD), what and who he is and how he came to be that guardian of nightmares and negatives. It begins on the very same night as Quantum Demonology and even in that same blues café a few hours before the QD protagonist walks through the door in search of mulled wine.

Some time ago, I became the proud owner of ten perfectly valid ISBN numbers and even registered an imprimatur under my own name. I’m also registered with the print-on-demand printer who printed the hardcover edition of Quantum Demonology.

So here’s what will happen: Over the next month or so, Dev’s story will be translated and rewritten for English-speaking audiences and formatted for publication. I’m registered with Amazon as an author. I know book bloggers who might be interested.

More to the point since that hit of the metaphorical sandbag, I’ve experienced an incredible sense of relief. Even my cats are finally able to share the room with me. I won’t have to stress around like a madwoman to meet that New Year’s Eve deadline, and can even devote some time to some of my other writing projects.

This does beg a question.

Would you – if you’ve read and enjoyed Quantum Demonology – like to know a little more about the one character in the story that a lot of readers relate to?

Tell me all about it in the comments!

Blood On The Floor

open_door_with_blood_pouring

  • Thoughts on the eve of a Red Letter Day

 

It was… a dark and stormy night, that Friday the 6th of November 2009, a night I was bored, couldn’t settle down, couldn’t sit still.

So I went through my browser history and located a link to a image I found a few days before that stuck in my mind, mostly for reasons I can’t possibly repeat, but I’ll tell you this:

It was some picture!

I still don’t know how long I simply stared at that picture when some diabolical voice whispered in my metaphorical ear:

What if?

Any writer can tell you – all stories, one way or another, begin not with Once Upon A Time, but with What If.

Lo and behold – an idea arrived! I had no idea what sort of idea, nor even where it came from, but in about two hours and typing as if taking ectoplasmic dictation, I had a short story about a woman in a café at midnight, a woman who had nothing at all and even less to lose.

Because I’m the sort of reckless, hapless person who does this sort of thing, I next posted it as an incidental short story on the virtual soapbox I had at the time – a blog about music, madness and feminism called MoltenMetalMama. I expected absolutely nothing. I did not even expect anyone to actually read it, for all I had 13 (!) blog followers at the time. Then again, you never know…

Yet the following morning, a comment landed in my inbox. One faithful reader had read it. Liked it. And even taken the time to comment my (lack of) storytelling abilities had blown him away! Right before he asked:

“So what happened next?”

What happened next was this: before November morphed into December, I found out I was writing a full-blown novel, wtf. No game plan, no idea how it would end or where the story would go, yet I completed over a fourth of it by the end of December.

And kept going. Going on the days the words flowed like champagne and bloomed like perfume, going on the days it seemed more like squeezing dried out toothpaste from an empty tube, and I had many of those, too.

Which is why Quantum Demonology is (also) dedicated to Portland OR resident and all-around fab fella Phil Hanson, because without him, I would never have had the courage to keep going, even as I fell through the rabbit hole of my own subconscious into very scary and very dark places I never even knew I had.

Four years later – a year ago today – I came out of the closet as what I totally thought was a dream come true: a soon-to-be-published writer, of a rather curious novel called Quantum Demonology.

This happened because of two things: One, after finishing the book nine months to the day later, I became a perfume blogger to satisfy my girlie itches and aesthetic inclinations, but mainly to become a better writer.

After a while, I ventured on to other perfume blogs and made connections and comments with other bloggers. One of them had a dream to become a publisher. She had read the original draft of QD (with more plotholes than even I could count) and thought it had the potential to become a book that would sell.

Would I like to publish it with her?

I couldn’t say no.

So on December 17th last year, and with a great deal of trepidation, the book was published by Nigel’s Flight of Austin TX to modest fanfare on the social media outlets of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and elsewhere.

And then. Then came that cautionary tale of all debuting and vainglorious writers everywhere.

Nothing.

Well, I thought, give it time. These things take time.

Understand, this was and is in many multilayered ways a very personal book. It was a book that ended up costing me my marriage, a dearly beloved son I have no idea when I’ll see again, and virtually everything I had. It wasn’t just a book, it was in so many ways the story of a life that could very well have been my own if only things never happened the way they did.

Review copies were sent, press releases sent out. Contacts were (likely) bombarded with alternate, counter-culture versions of

‘So how do you love it?’

Three months later, I was informed about my first royalty check – also the only money I’ve ever made writing in my life.

And still nothing. No one was curious, no one wanted to find out something about the inspirations behind it (for all it’s very much a Goth(ic)/post-punk/metalhead story), no one was interested in the figuratively naked writer across the Atlantic, shivering in the social media blast of Being Utterly Exposed As A Potboiler Writer.

Do you know, that would be perfectly OK, if not for the occasional emails from my publisher feeding me pablum about future hopes and possibilities that usually kept me off my local high-rise bridge that day.

Stranger things have happened!

Just like my protagonist, I had/have nothing at all and even less to lose. Unlike my story, all those so-called “possibilities” were nothing more than pie in the sky.

So I stepped up my game and thought long and hard about what we could do to move the merchandise a bit higher up on the Amazon food chain. I came up with alternate ideas on how to market it, came to discover thanks to a New York PR maven (bless her!) I had a unique angle to market it with and wrote all my ideas down for my publisher’s delectation in a future Skype conversation.

Except – this was in May – my timing was lousy. My publisher told me in exquisitely hyper-polite language to fuck the hell off.

Well, I did.

She never wrote me back again.

Some time later, I was more than a little outraged to discover she was working on another book with another writer – this one, I gather, slightly less of a hard sell, maybe? Or was it since I wasn’t an overnight sensation I had been dropped like a hot potato to rot in that infernal pit of Hades reserved for failed loser writer wannabes?

Before I shoot myself in the foot even more than I already have, I’d like to say that I was gently raised to be polite, nice and grateful at all times. I was also raised to answer all letters, emails and private messages promptly.

In the six months since I’ve fucked off, I’ve sent her five emails and two letters requesting to terminate my contract, so I can have my pathetic little nightmare back more or less intact.

No response.

On the two social media outlets I have left for her, I sent her a PM/DM today, asking nothing more than she contact me at her earliest opportunity today, in the hopes of at least hearing from a human being again, but really <evil snicker> hoping this blog post wouldn’t be necessary.

No response.

Here’s the thing: this woman, who I once regarded as a dear friend, spent quite a bit of money to get my book published, money I never asked her to spend on my behalf no less and money I certainly don’t have. For that and quite a few other things beside, I’ll always be grateful, just as I’ll always be grateful to know what I learned in the helter-skelter two months it took from ‘start revising’ to ‘publish’.

I can understand the shame of a miscalculation, the chagrin of a failed marketing approach, the embarrassment of not being able to deliver a nicely tied up dream on a silver-screened platter, or the lies fed to an isolated, dissociated misanthrope misfit to keep that dream alive.

Shit happens.

Most of it, I can even forgive. I’m human, too.

What sticks in my metaphorical craw, however, is not being deemed worthy of the honesty I told her in our very first Skype conversation was my one and only demand. And a disturbing and very unsettling feeling of being violated in some indefinable way, since that dream was not really hers to sell, but mine.

According to the terms of our contract, it will expire on December 17th this year for non-payment of royalties accrued in the past six months. Not that I expect any, you understand. Still, it burns me no end if this is how it ends.

This is not, so far as I know, how any professional publisher does business.

I will likely never see a dime off Quantum Demonology ever again, unless (as I also hope), I either prepare a new edition or another publisher bites, one with a better work ethic and hopefully infinitely better communication skills.

Meanwhile, most US literary agents won’t touch me or my manuscript with a ten-foot pole so long as I’m still under contract.

Meanwhile, the blood on the metaphorical floor is all and only my own.

Sic transit gloriam scriptori.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t. Buy. This. Book

Cover design by Rosy England Fisher

Cover design by Rosy England Fisher, The Oculus Studio, Portland, OR

Once upon a time nearly five years ago, a rather lonely and severely dissociated middle-aged woman wrote a short story inspired by a photo (never mind the photo) that somehow turned into a Faustian tale of a woman who did NOT sell her soul to the Devil in exchange for a dream – to become a full-blown, professional writer. The story ended when she took the Devil’s bait, and that, thought this writer, would be the end of it.

Until a reader (one of her four regular readers on her defunct blog, Moltenmetalmama, asked that fatal, terrible question:

So what happened next?

What happened next? That reader – one of the three to whom the book is dedicated – egged her, which is to say, me, on to write out the entire story of … what happened next, and so, the book that eventually became Quantum Demonology was born.

And before I knew it, all sorts of things happened in quick succession. I became a perfume blogger and then a perfume writer, gained a following for my words, and even created a perfume project with indie perfumer Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids around the book’s  torrid story of good, evil, the Devil and a writer.

Along the way, the potholed, first-draft version of the book was revised, edited and revised again. I knew I had something, knew it meant something, knew, as all artists do (if they’re lucky) This Could Be A Thing.

But the problem with pathological self doubt and having to do everything on your own is precisely… that you have to do everything on your own. It just so happens that one of my own creative quirks is the need to be kicked. In other words, I need a swift, hard kick to my derriere before I swallow all self-doubt and insecurity and get stuff out there. 

I had a story. A good one, so I thought at the time. I needed fame and glory and a gazillion dollars a publisher, and for that, I needed an agent, and to get an agent, I needed to write that most dreaded item in the history of literature: The Query Letter.

<Insert pathological self doubt panic attack>

Then, a miracle happened. I just know it did. I was contacted by a long-time virtual friend and fellow blogger and asked:

How would you like to publish Quantum Demonology?

What? No query letter? No agent? With a friend? Are you KIDDING?

So almost a year ago, I signed a fairly standard publishing contract and signed into an insane deadline. Apart from my photo session, I have absolutely no recall of the month of November last year. I was too busy revising and polishing off my story to a high and glossy sheen, which was to say… for the first chunk of ten chapters, I spent two days in bed with the covers over my head moaning spicy alternate phrases for “I suck! I can’t!”

Yet we could, and we didn’t.

Quantum Demonology was published as an e-book for Amazon Kindle on December 6th, and in a beautiful hardcover edition on Amazon on December 17th.

My publisher and I had all sorts of ideas on how to market it, where to market it and who to send it to. So far as I know, being half a world away, it was sent to quite a few people for review.

Quite a few lovely people on Facebook, who knew me as a perfume writer, bought or downloaded it, read it and a few (five) reviewed it on Amazon. I can’t tell you whether it was out of a sense of friendship (since I couldn’t afford to bribe anyone) or obligation that made them give it a five-star rating, but it could also possibly be they thought the book was just that good…

Then, on February 12th this year, I received my first ever Kirkus review. And wow, was I ever surprised that it was a good one! The reviewer didn’t hate it!

I think I floated for about two whole days. Well, apart from the fact that the protagonist of QD did NOT sell her soul, but as my sister, a published writer herself said when I brought it up, we have absolutely no control over how our stories are received.

But even with all those free review copies she sent out, no one wanted to so much as talk to me. No interview requests, nothing.

Not one.

Over the course of this past spring, the ambience between my publisher and myself became increasingly… strange. I was told of things that supposedly happened. I began to cook up alternate marketing ideas and wrote them down. I even guerilla-bombed a favorite band of mine and handed out book postcards after a gig, because it was all the drummer’s fault anyway.

He did say he was flattered…

In May, I sent off an email to my publisher to ask for a Skype session at the worst possible time, I gather. Because basically, she told me in excruciatingly polite language (the kind that slaps you across the face with a metaphorical glove), to eff the hell off.

Meanwhile, I also received the only money I’ve ever made from writing: a royalty check for $92 and change. (I blew it on a fountain pen I’ve wanted for years, so I could sign my own books in style) The book sold 22 copies in hardcover.

That was three months ago. My emails go unanswered. My Twitter DM was ignored. All I currently know is this: she’s preparing to publish book number two. Book no. one – which would be mine – is evidently not a priority any longer. I say ‘evidently’, because I have nothing at all to go on.

Having said that, a very, very dear friend gave the book a rave review – on one of the planet’s biggest perfume blogs.

This story – and the sequel underway in bits and pieces as I type – is my baby. I don’t have a gazillion projects to juggle bookwise because I don’t have the time, meaning the money. No one I know would ever demand a synopsis for screenplay development, because I don’t know anyone who does that.

My contract explicitly states that my publisher has the rights only to the edition published by her. In other words, a different cover and a few small changes would mean a new edition, which would mean… I could do this myself. So long as I also buy two new ISBNs, a bar code and a registration fee with the print-on-demand printers, and at this time, I can’t afford that.

Alas, I don’t own the rights to the beautiful cover designed by Rosy England Fisher, my publisher does. Which really kills me, since Rosy encapsulated everything I ever hoped that cover could be and a few more things I never dared to ask for.

There is surely a special section of Hell reserved for those unhappy souls who pounce on their email hoping against hope that some day, an answer will come. Or simply any kind of response at all.

For the longest time, I debated with myself on whether to go public with this. My publisher spent a lot of time and money to get Quantum Demonology out as a book, and for that alone, I can never repay her, nor for her enthusiasm as we battled Heaven and Hell last autumn.

But three months of silence is  more than long enough.

At this time, I don’t know what the future of Quantum Demonology will be, or even if it has a future. I’m so poor, not even Lulu is an option to self-publish.

But here’s what I can do.

Tell you this:

Don’t buy this book.