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Monday, January 30, 2012

Guest Post by Anne R. Allen


By Anne R. Allen

When I started writing funny women’s fiction fifteen years ago, if anybody had given me a realistic idea of my chances for publication, I’d have chosen a less stressful hobby, like do-it-yourself brain surgery, professional frog herding, or maybe staging an all-Ayatollah drag revue in downtown Tehran.

As a California actress with years of experience of cattle-drive auditions, greenroom catfights and vitriolic reviewers, I thought I had built up enough soul-calluses to go the distance. But nothing had prepared me for the glacial waiting periods; the bogus, indifferent and/or suddenly-out-of-business agents; and the heartbreaking, close-but-no-cigar reads from big-time editors—all the rejection horrors that make the American publishing industry the impenetrable fortress it has become.

But some of us are too writing-crazed to stop ourselves. I was then, as now, sick in love with the English language.

I had three novels completed. A fourth had run as a serial in a California entertainment weekly. One of my stories had been short-listed for an international prize, and a play had been produced to good reviews. I was bringing in a few bucks—mostly with short pieces for local magazines and freelance editing.

But meantime, my savings had evaporated along with my abandoned acting career; my boyfriend had ridden his Harley into the Big Sur sunset; my agent was hammering me to write formula romance; and I was contemplating a move to one of the less fashionable neighborhoods of the rust belt.

Even acceptances turned into rejections: a UK zine that had accepted one of my stories folded. But when the editor sent the bad news, he mentioned he’d taken a job with a small UK book publisher—and did I have any novels?

I sent him one my agent had rejected as “too over the top.” Within weeks, I was offered a contract by my new editor—a former BBC comedy writer—for FOOD OF LOVE. Included was an invitation to come over the pond to do some promotion. 

So I rented out my beach house, packed my bags and bought a ticket to Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, where my new publishers had recently moved into a 19th century former textile mill on the banks of the river Trent—the river George Eliot fictionalized as “the Floss.”
George Eliot. I was going to be working and living only a few hundred yards from the ruins of the house where she wrote her classic novel about the 19th century folk who lived and died by the power ofLincolnshire’s great tidal river. Maybe some of that greatness would rub off on me. 
At the age of… well, I’m not telling…I was about to have the adventure of my life.

I knew the company published mostly erotica, but was branching into mainstream and literary fiction. They had already published the first novel of a distinguished poet, and a famous Chicago newspaper columnist was in residence, awaiting the launch of his new book.

But when I arrived, I found the great Chicagoan had left in a mysterious fit of pique, the “erotica” was seriously hard core kink, and the old building on the Trent was more of the William Blake Dark Satanic variety than George Elliot’s bucolic “Mill on the Floss.”

Some of my fears subsided when I was greeted by a friendly group of unwashed, fiercely intellectual young men who presented me with generous quantities of warm beer, cold meat pies and galleys to proof. After a beer or two, I found myself almost comprehending their northern accents.
I held it together until I saw my new digs: a grimy futon and an old metal desk, hidden behind stacks of book pallets in the corner of an unheated warehouse, about a half a block from the nearest loo. My only modern convenience was an ancient radio abandoned by a long-ago factory girl.
I have to admit to admit to some tears of despair.

Until, from the radio, Big Ben chimed six o’clock.
That’s six pm, GMT.
Greenwich Mean Time. The words hit me with all the sonorous power of Big Ben itself. I had arrived at the mean, the middle, the center that still holds—no matter what rough beasts might slouch through the cultural deserts of the former empire. This was where my language, my instrument, was born.
I clutched my galley-proof to my heart. I might still be a rejected nobody in the land of my birth—but I’d landed on the home planet: England. And there, I was a published novelist. Just like George Eliot.

Three years later, I returned to California, older, fatter (the English may not have the best food, but their BEER is another story) and a lot wiser. That Chicagoan’s fit of pique turned out to be more than justified. The company was swamped in debt. They never managed to get me US distribution. Shortly before my second book THE BEST REVENGE was to launch, the managing partner withdrew his capital, sailed away and mysteriously disappeared off his yacht—his body never found. The company sputtered and died.

And I was back in the slush pile again.

But I had a great plot for my next novel.

Unfortunately, nobody wanted it. I was now tainted with the “published-to-low-sales-numbers label and my chances were even worse than before.

So I wrote two more novels. Nobody wanted them either.

Then I started a blog. I figured I could at least let other writers benefit from my mistakes. My blog followers grew. And grew. The blog won some awards. My Alexa and Klout ratings got better and better. Finally, publishers started approaching ME. (There’s a moral for writers here—social networking works.)

And finally, six years later, another publisher, Popcorn Press, fell in love with FOOD OF LOVE and sent me a contract. Soon after, they contracted to publish THE BEST REVENGE, too.

And this September, a brand new indie ebook publisher called Mark Williams International Digital Publishing asked if I had anything else ready to publish.

Just happen to have a few unpubbed titles handy, said I.

He liked them.

So in October and November of 2011, those three new comic mysteries will appear as ebooks: THE GATSBY GAME, GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY, and SHERWOOD, LTD (that’s the novel inspired by my English adventures.) Popcorn Press will publish paper versions in 2012. THE BEST REVENGE debuted as an ebook in December, with the paper book to follow in February.

A fifteen-year journey finally seems to be paying off.

Did I make some mistakes? Oh yeah—a full set of them. But would I wish away my English adventures?

Not a chance.


Twitter @annerallen

Authorpages:  At , at , on Facebook 

(Romantic comedy/mystery: MWiDP) A penniless socialite becomes a 21st century Maid Marian, but is “Robin” planning to kill her?  Buy at ,, or Barnes and Noble

(Romantic comedy/mystery: Popcorn PressA suddenly-broke 1980s celebutante runs off to California with nothing but her Delorean and her designer furs, looking for her long-lost gay best friend—and finds herself accused of murder. Buy at or and in paper at Popcorn Press or in paper at .

Monday, January 23, 2012

Guest Post by Sarah Woodbury

Turning Medieval by Sarah Woodbury

Sometimes it’s easy to pinpoint those moments in your life where everything is suddenly changed.  When you look across the room and say to yourself, I’m going to marry him.  Or stare down at those two pink lines on the pregnancy test, when you’re only twenty-two and been married for a month and a half and are living on only $800 a month because you’re both still in school and my God how is this going to work?

And sometimes it’s a bit harder to remember. 
Until I was eleven, my parents tell me they thought I was going to be a ‘hippy’.  I wandered through the trees, swamp, and fields of our 2 ½ acre lot, making up poetry and songs and singing them to myself.  I’m not sure what happened by the time I’d turned twelve, whether family pressures or the realities of school changed me, but it was like I put all that creativity and whimsicalness into a box on a high shelf in my mind.  By the time I was in my late-teens, I routinely told people: ‘I haven’t a creative bone in my body.’ It makes me sad to think of all those years where I thought the creative side of me didn’t exist. 
When I was in my twenties and a full-time mother of two, my husband and I took our family to a picnic with his graduate school department.  was pleased at how friendly and accepting everyone seemed.
And then one of the other graduate students turned to me out of the blue and said, ‘do you really think you can jump back into a job after staying home with your kids for five or ten years?’
I remember staring at him, not knowing what to say.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t thought about it, but that it didn’t matter—it couldn’t matter—because I had this job to do and the consequences of staying home with my kids were something I’d just have to face when the time came.
Fast forward ten years and it was clear that this friend had been right in his incredulity.  I was earning$15/hr. as a contract anthropologist, trying to supplement our income while at the same time holding down the fort at home.  I remember the day it became clear that this wasn’t working.  I was simultaneously folding laundry, cooking dinner, and slogging through a report I didn’t want to write, trying to get it all in before the baby (number four, by now) woke up. I put my head down, right there on the dryer, and cried.
It was time to seek another path.  Time to follow my heart and do what I’d wanted to do for a long time, but hadn’t had the courage, or the belief in myself to make it happen.
At the age of thirty-seven, I started my first novel, just to see if I could.  I wrote it in six weeks and it was bad in a way that all first books are bad.  It was about elves and magic stones and will never see the light of day.  But it taught me, I can do this!
My husband told me, ‘give it five years,’ and in the five years that followed, I experienced rejection along my newfound path.  A lot of it.  Over seventy agents, and then dozens and dozens of editors (once I found an agent), read my books and passed them over.  Again and again.
Meanwhile, I just wrote.  A whole series.  Then more books, for a total of eight, seven of which I published in 2011.
And I’m happy to report that, even though I still think of myself as staid, my extended family apparently has already decided that those years where I showed little creativity were just a phase.  The other day, my husband told me of several conversations he had, either with them or overheard, in which it became clear they thought I was so alternative and creative—so far off the map—that I didn’t even remember there wasa map. 
I’m almost more pleased about that than anything else.  Almost.  Through writing, I’ve found a community of other writers, support and friendship from people I hadn’t known existed a few years ago, and best of all, thousands of readers have found my books in the last year.  Here’s to thousands more in the years to come . . .


Links to my books:  Amazon and Amazon UK
Smashwords  BarnesandNoble  Apple