Now I Know Why Authors Write Sequels

I have writers block … and it’s bad, like really, really bad.

I have the idea for book two fleshed out … it’s titled and outlined and plotted down to the very end … and still, I cannot write it.  I can’t figure out how to put these characters into their lives and how or why they’d be where they are.  Well … that’s not exactly true … I do know the why and the how … it’s the elaborating that I simply fail at.

It’s absolutely the most frustrating thing in the whole world … I could literally rip my hair out at the root, bash my head against the wall, quit and just walk away.  Oh, I’ve tried to get past this mental road block.  I think — counting today — I’ve started this story eight times over the last three months.  I have started from various points of view, places in the story, points in time.  I’ve closed the computer and walked away … I’ve forced myself to sit in front of it for hours watching the annoying optimistic cursor flashing.  I’ve tried reading … tried watching movies … tried thinking about one hundred other things hoping that along the way the small fire of brilliance would kindle itself to self.  Yet … here I sit with a few thousand useless words.

Truthfully, I’ve got nothing … nada … zilch.

Now I get it, the reason why authors squeal over sequels … because they just know everything there is to know, the map is draw, the characters are flesh and bone, the conflict is primed and ready for paint.  New books … they give you nothing.

I was lucky the first time around.  I came home with a story … and I wrote it so quickly.  I lucked out big time.

My greatest fear is being a “one-hit-wonder” — and I’m not even saying book one will be a hit, just that, in this moment, I fear that’s the only solid story in me.  There is no longevity in doing something once.  Its the time and time again that gives a person fulfillment.

Recently I read an article about that girl from Hairspray (the movie) … Nicky Blonsky.  You may remember her story.  She was working at Coldstone Creamery … the ice cream store … when she was discovered.  Thrust into the world of Hollywood, she starred opposite John Trivolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Amanda Bynes, and Zac Effron.  She was a big deal for a hot minute.  Now … she works at a hair salon … doing makeup.  Take it from me … that is not glamorous work.  She’s talented … she can sing, she dance … but she could never recapture the fire of her Hairspray … she couldn’t turn it into a career.

She tried, sure.  Some ABC Family network show and a few other little gigs on Lifetime, but nothing stuck … and now, she’s just another MUA working the counter in a small town salon.  And I’m not saying that isn’t honest work … because it is, believe me, I know … but it’s not what she wanted, and I’m sure it’s nothing she ever saw coming.

Writing is hard work … it’s frustrating work.  I am at a place where I realize I may need to give up the ghost … walk away from my idea and my work and either breathe for a while or start something new — what that would be, I don’t know — but this is not a good thing.

 

269

If you Google how long should a novel of literary fiction be you’ll quickly find that most books should clock in around 100,000 words … less if often ideal (anywhere above 75,000 words is standard form) but any more than that means you’ve pretty much rewritten the dictionary.

My first draft of The Milestone Tapes was … well … long.  I did a lot of cutting and reworking to finish the book at a comfortable 94,000 words.  I’m not the longest novel of all time … but not the shortest, it’s not a novella nor is it a short story.  I sort of figured “hey, it’ll be a nice read with a good distance.

When I printed the book at Kinko’s double spaced and all, it was around 400+ pages — both printed and on my computer.  I needed two spiral bound books filled to max capacity.  I never had a moment of doubt that my book was “too short” when I saw it like that.  Actually, if anything, it encouraged me to make cuts … to really cinch it up because it was longish.

Then, it came back from the formatter.

Somehow, by shrinking the pages to a reasonable size (5 1/2 by 8 1/2)… I lost 100-some-odd pages.  My book is 269 printed pages long.  YIKES!

It’s not “short” … I guess … but it’s nowhere near how I imagined it would be.

My first thought was … breathe … these are double-sided pages.  But I realized, each page still counts as TWO!!  So, that logic didn’t work.

It kept me up until 3 in the morning worrying how this could be.

And now I’m wondering … where did half of my book go?

 

Parting Is Bittersweet

Tonight I sat on the floor of my office watching my husband transfer a decal onto the new Speck cover for the Mac Book I have … or rather … had.

You see, for this Christmas my family really jumped head long into my career.  My husband bought me a new (much lighter) Mac Book Air, my in-laws’ gifted me with a “magic” track pad (which by the way, is kind of magical :)).  I spent the day readying this new computer for the onslaught of use it will see … installing all the important software that lets me do what I do.  I was really, really happy.  It’s a fantastic machine.

Then … I came home.

I’m not the sort that grows attached to material things … well, not normally.  I have things that I love, of course — we all do … but I’m more connected to people and places … and the things I cherish are generally the ones that remind me of the people I love and the places I’ve been.  But … a computer is just that … a computer, right?

I replace technology all the time, never really thinking about it.  It’s never been “a big deal” for me … out with the old, in with the new.  If I like something … the newer something would probably be even better — at least, that’s my logic.

But, as I watched my husband take my Pro and turn it into his own … I felt something that ached a little bit like sorrow.

I realized that my (old) computer and I had something in common, something I’ll never be able to duplicate with something new, no matter how fancy … we, Pro & I, shared a story.  We were in the trenches together.  We suffered the same plights of writing my debut novel together … all the beauty and all of the frustration.  And maybe this is all rather ridiculous, but I did … do … feel bonded to that machine in away that’s easy to understand in my mind but hard to explain on paper.  It was the beginning of something special … and now, I’ve moved on.

I made Mark promise me we’ll keep it always … long after it’s become outdated and passé, far past it’s prime and even if it’s sluggish on it’s best day while moonlighting as rock on it’s worst.  I won’t really care how it remains … just so long as it does.  Because, I suppose, it is a “place” for me.

Writing is a very, very solitary thing.  It’s isolation.  It’s you … and you’re computer.  It’s along for the wild ride, and sits silently, ever diligent in encouraging you along.  The cursor blinks where your mind shuts off as though to say “what’s next?” or “you can’t really be done!”

I love my new computer … I really do.  It’s fast (like really fast) … and lightweight (almost like air) … and I know together we’ll do really great things.  But my Pro — it will always be a sweet spot of remembrance of the day, the week, the year my life really changed.

Merry Christmas From My Home To Yours

Dear Friends, Followers and Stumbled-Upon Visitors, 

Christmas has always been a special time in our home.  Every year we camp out at my parents house … play games … eat (of course!) … and have a bagillion laughs.  Christmas morning we gather around my Mom’s up-side-down Christmas tree and do the traditional opening of presents, have a lazy breakfast and take long afternoon naps.  It’s still as magical now as it was when I a kid … the joy of the season is alive and well in the Mackler-Paternostro home … made all the more special by the one’s we surround ourselves with and the traditions we’ve perfected with practice through the years.

This Christmas I wish you all the wonderful blessings of the seasons.  Much happiness … your health … and of course, good stories!

Happy Holidays now and always,

Ashley

Do You Ever Worry?

Sometimes the icy finger of dread creeps down my back … like, for instance, when I read the “disclaimer” my formatter added to my manuscript on my behalf spelling out that this book was a work of fiction — that characters, places, themes and the like are of my own wonderings and not based off the real life happenings of others …

But still … we live in legal times.  People can be “sue happy” at the glimmer of a windfall and this is true whether you’re insanely successful or selling merely two digits worth of stock.

I can say — in all sincerity — my book was totally made up.  My characters, save for Jenna who has mother’s spirit, are fictional beings living in the land of make-believe.  But, that doesn’t mean someone somewhere someday might not think otherwise.

We hear about it all the time.  And it’s not just the instance in which a story might strum the strings of another’s reality … sometimes it’s simply your book seeming to them a lot like their book — a book that may or may not be published, a book that may or may not be copyrighted … sometimes, it’s simply a matter of them having the idea and nothing more.

Stephenie Meyer was sued a few times over for her saga.  Once, before the finishing of New Moon … a college friend watched the Twilight movie and felt that the story was actually her’s … one that seemed to have many, many similarities to a short story she wrote in college.  Another, was after the release of Breaking Dawn when a relatively unknown author claimed that some scenes of the fourth installment were plucked directly from her own works — works that she had posted online over time but never traditionally or self published — like, the wedding scene or when Bella and Edward do it on the beach.  To her, those moments belonged to her book … and Stephenie Meyer with all her money was the “bad guy” … the thief … she was accused of plagiarism.

The internet has made being an author a dangerous place.  And the novelty of “no original idea” has taken a sharp right turn.

Can you protect yourself?  No.  Not from what I’ve seen … not from what I’ve looked up.  Save for a little blurb on the story being a work of fiction through and through, you’re screwed.  If someone wants a slice … if someone feels wronged by you and your writing … tough shit — that is, tough shit for you.

Thoughts and ideas are not gadgets and things … you cannot patent them … and that works both ways.  While someone may not be able to patent their idea that they never did anything with … you, as an author, cannot patent it either.  However, you can copyright it.  File it with the Library of Congress.  But, it’s not a fool-proof safe guard … loop holes, legal loop holes, exist.

And it’s worrisome, because whether you make bucketfuls of cash or not … you may someday find yourself served.

Do you ever worry?  How do you protect yourself and your work?

 

 

 

The Art Of Depressing Someone

This past weekend I had the chance to visit with my in-laws in Pittsburg for our Christmas Extravaganza.

This is entirely our thing … every year we pack the car, turn on some Christmas music and take the boring, bland 8 hour stretch of I-80 east bound towards the quant town of Cranberry, PA.  My husband and I have been doing this for the past five years … it’s something I look forward to, as the weekend always promises to be nothing short of fun.  Ample food, good conversation, plenty of alcohol, and a little good tidings and cheer to round it out.  It’s how we launch we the Holiday Season in our home, the first of our various Christmas celebrations.

This year was no different.  We were able to see family and friends, we ate too much and drank way too much.

As the evening lulled into good-byes and well wishes, we sat down in front of the television.  My mother-in-law turned on the Hallmark channel and the conversation lapsed into how “predictable” the various stories were.  Always the same formula of life’s grand lessons … he’s cheating, she’s heartbroken, he’s moving on, she’d dying … the names and places and dates may change, but the situations hardly ever do.

Before I launch into the art of depressing someone, we should cover a few ground rules first …

1. NO ONE beside my mother-in-law, father-in-law and husband in that room, at that moment, knew I had written a book.

2. I’ve always said my book would fit a Lifetime Movie perfectly.

… Okay …

So, as we’re digressing into the finer points of predictability when it comes to women specific television, my in-laws friend says … and I quote … “this movie is probably about a parent dying of cancer who writes a letter to her child.  How much more depressed could I be?” … end quote.

Now, picture me: I had a half full glass of wine in my hand, eyes wide, slightly flushed, embarrassed … raising the glass to my lips and skillfully swallowing the entire thing in one gulp as though the 4 ounces of wine were a shot.

Speechless.  I was just … speechless.

But now that the hours of drinking have passed … and the thoughts are clearer … my rebuttal is this …

I never wrote my story to depress anyone.  No, not at all.  Yes … there are pings of sadness in the 94,000 words that may hit home … places I worked on so hard to evoke a feeling of loss.  Real life, it can be sad.  But the story of loss … any loss … shouldn’t be depressing, it should bring someone to a thoughtful place.

Here is a bit of full disclosure …

When my mother was sick … our home was never a depressing place.  Honestly, it wasn’t.  She was given a 30% chance of survival in the dark days of modern medicine — we could have been grim … we had the right to be grim.  But still … we had candles and flowers, we laughed far more than we cried.  We talked to each other, we spent time together.  It was a place and time of collecting and gathering.  We never let her illness define us, and although there was hurt — there always was hope — and hope was far more measurable.

Death is depressing.  It’s a dark place by nature.  But there is a light side to it as well, and that light is the legacy of love shared between people over the span of a lifetime — no matter how long or short that lifetime is.  The scale of that balance is dependent on how an individual sees it.

Jenna Chamberland, my protagonist, she isn’t a wallower.  That’s not her nature, believe me — she showed me that all on her own.  She is strong in the face of uncertainty and, like my own mother, hopeful in a place of heartbreak.  The tapes … they were a gift.  A thing of love.  A show of devotion.

The art of depressing someone with words, it’s a balance.  I’m not a believer in things having to work out perfectly to have a happy ending.  Happy endings … and depression … are subjective.  Love doesn’t always end with Prince Charming kissing the princess awake … nor does it end with sunshine and gold stars.  For my parents friend … the final gift of a parent to child may be thing a sadness … for me, in the context of my story, it’s a source of joy.

My favorite quote on writing is this … “Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself.  You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world.  You bring your history and your read it in your terms” .  So, if you ever glance a copy of my book and decide to buy it … bring to it (along with all of your thoughts) that this story was written to be a hopeful one.

 

 

It’s Alive!

After working on the website for just shy of a month … worrying all the details like font and imagery … writing all sorts of copy, and then bashing my head into a wall, and rewriting it again … exchanging e-mails with an amazing designer in a far away place … it’s ALIVE.  My website, my formal “how-do-you-do” is up and running.

It’s sort of whimsical … very beautiful … and it speaks of my dreamy nature.  Scarlett nailed it down perfectly, and I really don’t believe I could be happier.  Actually, I know I couldn’t be happier.  It was exactly what I wanted.  It’s very “author” and equally user-friendly.

I’m excited to formally introduce you all to my professional door step …

www.ashleymacklerpaternostro.com

The site will be slower than my blog … I won’t be frantically updating it unless there is something important to say.  It will be … above all … professional.

 

No Back List? Big Problem …

In the publishing “real world” … the land of Penguin and Little, Brown, Random House, Harper Collins … authors generally publish one book a year.  Some, like James Patterson (with his writing partners who probably do most of the work) can publish more frequently.    But, it’s fairly normal for a new release to burst onto the scene everything 12-18 months.  I know I’ve been waiting for Gillian Flynn to follow-up Dark Places for almost two years now — which will be her third release.

But, with an Independent Author, the back list seems to be a crucial component in the true, measurable success.  It’s fairly basic … fans find an author, read a book and want more.  Obviously, if an author has several completed works available, the visibility of that person can grow … and there is no lag.

But, for me, my first book is literally my first book.  I have no back list, no completed series, nothing really to offer outside of my initial release.    The Milestone Tapes isn’t a story that lends itself to a series … I have to start back at jump street.

My second book … as of today … is the sum of about 3,000 words.  Because I’m pretty certain my genre requires a minimum of 75,000 words, I’m obviously nowhere near done.  And with no back list, I’m starting to worry about a big problem looming.

My plan has always been this … sink a lot of my money into PR.  Get my name and voice out there.  I always assumed that while the first book was away … being polished and taken care of … I could commit to writing my second.  It was a good plan … but totally unrealistic.  I still had to really work towards getting the book ready with a million little fine details that only I could take hold of.

Now, I’m faced with no back list … and nothing concrete to follow.

My choice is this

1. Hold The Milestone Tapes until I’m done with the second book.

2. Go forward and then write like a lunatic and hope that within six months I can publish book two.

So, if you’re an author … tell me …how did you plan for release number one?  What did you think about following the first release?  What was your game plan?

 

 

 

 

Whoa … Hold On A Minute

So … everyone kind of knows, you need to copyright your works.  It protects you … your book … and your “intellectual property” from less savory characters.

But, no one ever told me oh, you should probably file the copyright as soon as you finish editing. 

Currently, the copyright department is running 3 months for electronic filing, 10 months for snail-mail filing.  And while you can absolutely publish without … why would you?

This is a PSA … if you finish editing, the moment you receive the file back polished and ready to go … FILE YOUR COPYRIGHT!!

Why Does It Have To Be All Or Nothing? Let’s Try To Share The Sandbox, Okay?

It seems to me that every other day or so there is a new article about the death of publishing.  It usually revolved around the revolution of Indie Authors, Trade Publishers slitting their own throats and other mumbo-jumbo of the like.  At first, it was thought-provoking … the “what if” hung in the air … but now, it feels more like a diatribe in which you’re asked to pick a side and stay there forever.  Honestly, I can’t even read about it any more.

I’m left wondering … why does it have to be all or nothing?  Why can’t publishing be like any other industry?  Why can’t Indies and Trades flourish side by side?  We’re not in 4th grade … we know cooties don’t exist … we’re highly functioning, creative adults … we should be able to share the sandbox.

I look at my town … Naperville, Illinois.  It’s a pretty little place nestled on the outskirts of Chicago.  I was born here … and I’ve lived here my whole life.  Back in the 80’s our downtown was small … locally owned stores dotted the busy tree-lined streets.  In the 90’s we saw the birth of big box business.  Talbots, Barnes & Noble, Starbucks all converged on our space in force.  Some independent stores faltered and failed because they couldn’t compete … while others thrived in the onslaught of the new traffic.  Now, in the 2000’s stores … locally owned and otherwise share block space just fine.  The two bookstores in the heart of the town — 1 Indie, 1 Big Box — both see high volume traffic.  You can buy a $500.00 table from Little Luxuries or a $500.00 table from Pottery Barn.  It’s your choice … they both are set mere steps from each other.

Why does publishing have to be any different?

I’m not going to go all “why can’t we all just get along” on you … but I am going to say that books are an important resource in this world … we need them.  If one avenue of that dies … we’ll all suffer.  You don’t have to pick a side to understand that.  It’s pretty much common sense.

Traditional Publishing has its flaws … as does Self Publishing.  Not every author is suited for Trade … not every author is suited for Self.

When I listen to an Indie Author smack about the evils of Traditional Publishing … I’m curious to know what was the first book they fell in love with.  I’m sure it was something their mother bought for them in the bookstore.  So, it can’t be all that evil right?  It was a source of love, a pot of inspiration, a good part of their childhood.

When I listen to a Traditional Publisher spout the evils of Indie Publishing … I’m curious to know why that hate it?  How can someone chasing a dream possibly hurt them?

It seems like someone feels that they need to have the upper hand … when that’s not always the best option.  And … worst of all … it’s boring.  Like, really boring.  Because no one is right.  Traditional Publishing will adapt.  Self Publishing will grow.  And that’s what will happen.  That’s pretty much it.

So … let’s just share the sandbox like adults, shall we?  Stop predicting doom and just celebrate the way one leads into the other and vice versa.