Through the Clockwork Glass

A fellow writer recently blogged about how a nice girl like her could write the bloody, gruesome details of murder and mayhem in her crime novels.  No mystery to me, but I suppose it takes a writer to appreciate the magic which ensues at the death of a character.  Her blog got me thinking about my version of this journey into destruction.  How did a crazy girl like me produce believable scenes of the delusions and delirium of impending madness?

I call it the “Clockwork Orange” scene.  It’s the moment in my YA fantasy, Fractured, when the narrative finally fully explores the degree to which my hero is fractured.  Lisen has recently returned to her native Garla after seven years spent on Earth.  She has just experienced the horrific murder of her only friend in Garla, after which she kills the killer in order to save her own life.  That, coupled with a series of earlier heavy stressors, has weakened her reserves, and she slides into a pseudo-psychotic break, unable to discern the difference between her real life in Garla and her memories of her old life on Earth.

As she sits in a bath, washing away the blood and mud of the disastrous events of the night before, she slips softly into the persona of Little Alex from A Clockwork Orange.  Odd choice, that.  Not really.  A bath scene had occupied that space in the book for quite some time.  As I reworked the current draft to incorporate the earthly visit and its sequelae into the text, I realized as I approached this scene that Lisen’s situation and mental state were not unlike those of the movie version of A Clockwork Orange’s humble narrator  as he lounges in the bath near the end of the story.  Demoralized, demonized, disillusioned and, most importantly, feeling utterly alone, Alex sings “Singin’ in the Rain” to cheer himself up.  What a glorious picture.

This is my most-favorite-ever scene I’ve written.  I crawled out so far on the proverbial limb that my literary nose bled, and I waited for the thinning limb to break.  And in the first version, I did take a tumble.  But the members of the writing workshop I was attending at the time made multiple suggestions for how to engage the un-Clockwork-initiated more fully in Lisen’s plight, and I wrote them all down for later reference when I would return to it on the next pass through the book.

That pass did not come for nearly a year.  I kept dreading facing the scene again.  I’d promised myself I would make it work no matter what.  I loved the potential in that scene for setting the stage for Lisen’s temporary insanity while pointing out the value of both a book and a movie that I loved.  I arrived at the moment of truth only a few weeks after my mother’s death.  I was still numb, and the inner critic had fallen silent.  I feared any attempt I made to revive the potential at that point in time would fail for sure, but I faced it regardless, determined that when my workshop sent me home with renewed criticism, hopefully focused on more specific issues, I could keep reworking it until I got it right.

I followed all of their suggestions.  I started in a different place and then moved on to the old beginning.  I continued through the scene, tweaking here, finessing there.  Then with a pounding heart, I offered it up to my group for their reconsideration.  I read all twelve pages to them, and when I finally finished, I waited. 

Silence. 

Oh, I really fucked up this time, I thought. 

Then one woman spoke up and said, “I get it.  I really get it.”  And the rest went on to join her in their praise.  I had invited them into the heart of madness, and they had joined me.  I’m telling you, it’s the best scene in the book, but you’ll have to read nearly all of it to get there.  Best damn limb crawling I’ve ever done.

For Naught or Not for Naught

Many of my previous blogs have detailed the somewhat tedious task of prepping my book for publication, and at one point I briefly touched on why I decided to independently publish my trilogy.  But now it’s time to own up to the truth in full.  I really want to get read.

I have spent years attempting to convince agents and publishers to look at my book.  I wrote multiple versions of my query letter and synopsis, kept rewriting the book itself as I struggled to get it right, but the “Divinity that shapes our ends” refused to cooperate.  Through the decades the only “positive” rejection letter I ever received was the very first one.  Seems like a sign from the Divinity to me.

So last summer, after several new rejections in response to my latest endeavor at making a sale, I rejected the traditional publishing route in favor of self-publication.  In making this decision, I also committed myself to a singular objective.  I’d become aware of a contest that the online IndieReader was sponsoring, and completing the first book in the trilogy with an eye to the best presentation possible both in print and electronically grew into a necessity.  Lisen of Solsta: Fractured would finally receive a reading by someone with no reason to like it.

Let me be clear here.  I am not looking to win over a publisher or an agent.  I actually like, perhaps even prefer, the independent route to publication.  It has allowed me more control than any traditional publisher would have given me.  And I believe I’ve done a damn fine job of it.  What few readers I’ve reached thus far have blessed me with eight 5-star reviews on Amazon, and much as I believe each and every one of those stars was bestowed upon Fractured in absolute sincerity, they did come from people who know me and do have a reason to like it.

I have just completed a re-do of the Kindle edition of my book.  Although the print version looks fairly professional, the electronic version possessed some serious flaws.  Since (a) the best exposure for an author these days lies in downloadable data and (b) the contest requests a minimum of two manuscript submissions, one print and one Kindle, I had to get that Kindle version up to snuff.  With help from Smashwords.com, I created hyperlinks for chapters and made the text look as good as the best e-books I’ve read, and I’m feeling pretty good about that.

Now I only await the finessed hard copy from the publisher, and then I’ll complete the process by filling out the entry form and transmitting all materials prior to the deadline.  Then comes the wait.  I don’t expect to win.  In the fiction category, some contemporary tale of consequence will come in first, and that’s okay.

But if I can get that 4- or 5-star review from someone who has no reason to care, not only will it provide me with a new platform and, hence, more exposure, but it will also prove to me that all of this—the writing, rewriting, reconfiguring, proofing, reproofing, typesetting, in short, all that stuff I wrote about in earlier blogs—was not for naught.

Are We There Yet?

The rewards of all my work on my book, Fractured, flow towards me slowly, but they do flow.  I don’t know how to make the process move more quickly.  If I had more friends on Facebook, I’d probably be better off, but I don’t and that’s just the way I am.  And yet, the word moves, a person at a time, and I am being read, just not by millions.  Yet.

The interesting thing about marketing a book by an unknown author that appears to be just like any other young adult fantasy novel with a female hero but really isn’t—the interesting thing is that the few people who have read it are committed to it.  Admittedly, they are all friends, or friends of friends, or relatives of friends, so they took the risk on the book out of friendship.  But they come away with a real sense of my vision, and they care.  This means I’ve succeeded.  The words I put down on paper (or into the computer) have connected appropriately, as has my hero, Lisen.

Case in point.  One reader, a woman whose vocation I can only describe as somehow connected with helping people in third world countries because I don’t know much about what she does, admitted that while attending a conference (or seminar or some such), did something she never does; she missed a meeting, and she did so in favor of finishing my book.  That’s an amazing sacrifice made on behalf of a book by an author she’s only met once, an “unknown author” who is still struggling to get someone, anyone, to read her book.

Something in Lisen’s soul speaks to the reader.  Something in her journey stands out and offers readers a voyage of discovery.  Which is great!  It’s everything I wanted, and more.  Well, it’s almost everything I wanted.  I’d hoped to have a few strangers joining the rest of us on this road by now, but it’s possible that the strangers will show up after the second book is published.

Fractured blew the people I know away because they really hadn’t expected it to be quite that good.  The second book with its prohibited romance, life-threatening situations, murder and mayhem, and eventual clinging-to-the-cliff-by-the-fingernails ending should catapult my few very devoted readers into conversations with their friends and the young women in their lives about this gem of a storyteller and Lisen, the girl who does what she must to survive even when it may not be the most honorable path.

My reviews on Amazon—all four of them—are fabulous, and not because they are five-star reviews.  (One reviewer offered to give me four stars instead of five, even though in her mind I deserved five, so it wouldn’t look like what I believe she referred to as the “friend effect.”)  These reviews amaze me because each of these individuals GOT it.  They got why the book is titled Fractured.  They got Lisen’s broken state and how the mending is what this story is about.

One other thing these reviews have in common.  They want more.  All my readers want more.  They ask, “What happens next?”  They bug me to finish the second book (which is likely to leave them even more frustrated).  They keep me going when I feel like I’m getting nowhere.  Like children on a road trip, they keep whining from the backseat of the car, “Are we there yet?”  Soon, I’ll pull to a halt, put the car in park, set the brake and let them out to enjoy the next stop on the tour.

(With thanks to N. for the whining-kids-in-the-car metaphor.)

It Took Ya Long Enough

Yeah, I suppose it did.  In fact, I’m surprised I’m here.  For thirty-five years, admittedly with several multi-year breaks, I’ve put all I could into writing the story of a young woman now named Lisen who learns that the destiny she’d envisioned for herself has dissolved into dust in favor of a far more ambitious fate.  This was always the heart of the story, always its thrust.  The fact that she now has seven years’ experience as a Southern California teenager behind her changed nothing.  In fact, that change in the initial setup only enhanced Lisen’s accessibility and the poignancy of her journey.

My journey, on the other hand, has followed a somewhat circuitous route.  I’m not going to lie down on the couch here and confess my innermost workings, but the truth is that my father was a great one for cautioning me not to get my hopes up and my mother—well, she lacked the ability to love.  I grew up incapable of finishing what I started, especially when doing so could bring me any sense of accomplishment.  And yet, the one thing I’ve never given up on—despite giving up on it a dozen times a day, sometimes for weeks at a time—is the tale of Lisen, the young woman of destiny.

When I realized this a few years back, I asked myself why.  It was my very first novel.  The sage advice is to toss that first attempt.  Or, at the very least, pack it away never to see the light of day again.  I tossed the first version, no problem.  Then I rethought it—re-envisioned it, if you will.  I dumped that version, too.  And then, once more.  Why?  The fourteen-year-old inside of me wanted me to tell her the story, to tell her the story the way it was meant to be told.  I think that’s when I truly committed my all, what I had and what I’d have to dig up from somewhere deep within.  Whatever it took, I had finally promised that inner teen and the outer me that I would never hold back again.

And I haven’t.  I decided to independently publish Fractured because I couldn’t seem to write a selling query letter.  I couldn’t afford to pay someone to prepare the book for printing.  I couldn’t afford to pay someone to design my cover.  I kept hitting the rocks in the road, sometimes allowing them bring me to a dead halt, sometimes jumping over them with glee.  But I overcame all the obstacles, and I am very proud of the finished product—the writing, the story telling and the package it comes in.

So, to anyone who aspires to a personal goal, I say this.  Success does not come from the number of people who know who you are or the amount of money you make.  Success comes from within and the satisfaction of knowing that, given your limitations, whatever they may be, you did your very best and never gave up.