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Back in the 1970s when my son was two, his father gave him a large book entitled The Cat Catalogue. This was a most comprehensive book. A4 in size, it covered each breed and contained chapters entitled ‘The Cat in Literature’, ‘The Intellectual Cat’, etc. At the beginning of each of these chapters was a full-page, black-and-white drawing of cats, each by a different artist. Out of all the drawings, the one that caught my eye was the drawing entitled ‘The Artistic Cat’. It was done by someone who signed himself Marty Norman.

 When literary agent Rosemary Creswell retired without having placed my manuscript MagnifiCat with a traditional publisher, in spite of her enthusiasm for the work, I began to think of publishing the feel-good animal fantasy myself. Whenever I thought about the cover of the novel I was planning, my mind would return to the drawing by Marty Norman, which I’d seen in The Cat Catalogue. Luckily, I still owned the book – but how to find the artist? The book had come out in 1976. More than thirty years had passed.

This is where the web came in handy. But if you think I simply Googled the artist’s name and the rest is history, that didn’t happen. I couldn’t find Marty Norman. If you Google him today, you ‘ll find him easily, but in 2008, he was about as interested in the web as I was. I searched and searched – I even tried Facebook but I still couldn’t find him. There were a number of entries that might have been him. Eventually, I settled on one with a bio and dates that fitted my conception of the artist and sent him a Facebook internal email, explaining that I wanted to use the drawing from The Cat Catalogue for MagnifiCat’s cover and asking his permission. No reply. Seems he was as uninterested in Facebook as I was.

Years went by. I searched the web for an alternative image, but none came near the drawing by Marty Norman. I was obsessed, a lifelong problem of mine. I went back to searching for him. By now it was late 2011. With a friend’s help we tracked down a painting that might’ve been his in a gallery in, I think, New York, but there were no contact details for the artist. Although very different from the drawing I was obsessed with, the painting had the same surety of line that characterised Norman’s drawing for The Cat Catalogue. (See below.)

man on wire

I didn’t let the very considerable difference in style put me off. After all, good artists — and this guy was good— were supposed to be versatile, weren’t they? Besides, all that time had gone by; he was bound to have changed his style. I wrote to the gallery, explaining my dilemma and asking them to forward my request to their Marty Norman. No reply.

By now, I had definitely decided to publish on the web. I stepped up the search, going back over the ground I’d covered in the past. In the Friends Facebook section of the person I’d thought might be the Martin Norman I sought, I found someone I figured was the son. In desperation, I wrote to him via Facebook, stating my problem. Wonder of wonders, he wrote back to me! His father was the artist I sought; he’d pass my email on to him, I would hear from his father shortly. In due time, Marty wrote back. Yes, he was the person, and he would let me use the image. And so the deal was done.

MagnifiCat_Cover_for_KindleEven today, I don’t like Facebook, and only go there if there’s a notification in my email, but I have to admit I would never have found Marty Norman in those days without it.

Norman’s enjoying an illustrious career. There’s a great photo and bio of him

at:   http://www.saatchiart.com/martynorman Check it out. Below are two more examples of the work he is doing today:

Prisma4:Dark Matter

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Matter (painting)                                                      Prisma 4 (drawing)

If you’re interested in seeing more of Norman’s fine art, it can be viewed at:

http://martynorman-art.com/   or at the saatchi link above.

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P1030241

 

Thank you, Danny, for this kind invitation to write a little about my new book. It’s quite a contrast to MagnifiCat, your poetic and mystical work on Mullimbimby, which you recently released. I am still trying to work out how the two of us, who both trained in agricultural science, have come to writing works that have little to do with agriculture or science. Be that as it may, let me get serious and tell you something of my 432-page book, a social history.

 

Set in the 19th century, the book examines the lives of two men of contrasting personality. One, George Playne, was born in Gloucester to a poor family. His father was a saddler and harness-maker. His mother had come from Jamaica. He trained at the Gloucester Infirmary and later was appointed as Apothecary and House Surgeon. After some twenty-two years at the hospital, he suddenly decided to emigrate to Australia in 1839. Emigration to seek wealth may have been a prime reason for his decision; his friend and business partner, Daniel Jennings (who was wealthy) funded his travel.

In contrast, Daniel Jennings, was born in London and became a land agent and investor. He was always impetuous and eccentric in his behaviour. On arrival, he formed a business partnership with George, and purchased (for an alleged £10,000) the occupancy rights and the livestock to one of largest holdings in Victoria (around 200,000 acres with 10,000 sheep) called Campaspe Plains Station. He also invested heavily in both city and rural land in Victoria. He departed for Calcutta suddenly two years later, leaving behind his wife, and leaving George to manage the property at a time of deepening recession in the livestock industry. Two years later, he returned to the Colony with a new wife, and resumed his role as a gentleman squatter and investor. He left Victoria permanently in 1851 to retire to England. He was certified as a Chancery lunatic in 1865, and died in 1872, leaving a Will, which led to a legal dispute between his wife and his brother.

 

The Campaspe partnership between Daniel and George had been dissolved on Daniel’s return to Victoria in 1844 at George’s instigation. George then set up to practice medicine again in Melbourne. He became part of the colonial establishment, with important roles in lobbying for improved tenure for squatters, in the Melbourne Club (Secretary 1844-8), and in efforts to form a new colony separate from New South Wales (Secretary of the Separation Committee, and Joint Treasurer to the Delegate Committee), to establish a medical association and a hospital, and to form a new bank. He was a magistrate from 1843 until 1854. In 1850, he built one of the finest mansions in South Fitzroy. He had a strong influence on the development of a civilised society in Victoria. After 1851, his dream of a large city house, a gentlemanly existence, and a country property on the Mornington Peninsula was realized, but became impractical because of the shortage of labour after 1851 and the squalor and drunkenness when the gold rush started. He decided in 1854 to leave Melbourne and return to England.

 

These two men epitomize many early settlers whose contributions have been barely recognised by historians. To read more about them and the early devlopment of Victoria, or to obtain a copy of this book, go to:

http://www.bookstore.bookpod.com.au/p/8759432/two-squatters—the-lives-of-george-playne-and-daniel-jennings.html

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Novel under const'n

 A few days ago I was surprised to receive an email from Carol Middleton, an Australian award-winning writer, and a reviewer for the prestigious Australian Book Review. In the email Carol invited me to join the Writing Process Blog Tour, in which writers are invited to reply to four questions about their writing process and then pass the baton on to another writer/s.

Many thanks to Carol for inviting me to contribute to this tour, which in its construction is like a chain letter but nice. You can see Carol’s Writing-Process Blog published Monday 12th at http://carolmiddleton.com.au/wordpress

Here goes.

 

 

What am I working on?

Having put my first novel out on Amazon and Smashwords last year, I decided to try to get myself a bigger presence on the web by putting up a short story a month in 2014. Being the digital klutz that I am, it took me three months to learn enough to put up my first story Busting God, now available at: www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S. I’m now working on formatting my second story Remains to be Seen, which follows the fortunes of Busting God’s hero as he tries to recover from the post-traumatic stress caused by his participation in the Vietnam War.

I’m a tortoise, very slow at everything I do, and not very comfortable on the web. However, I’ve decided that having a higher profile there will help my novels eventually, so I’m nailed to the cross of formatting these twelve short stories for the remainder of 2014.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

How to answer this question? My short stories were published in such diverse places, ranging from Penthouse to Aurealis to the Australian Women’s Weekly. Each time I adapted my basic writing style to suit the market — I was a single parent and I needed the money. My only novel published so far is MagnifiCat: www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY a strange little animal fantasy about a family of cats who find themselves on the poverty line in a small country town in New South Wales, Australia. In it I aimed to produce a kind of Wind in the Willows for adults. To what extent I succeeded is hard to gauge. The novel’s definitely not satire; it’s more like a fairy tale for adults, with an underlying heavy core that makes it adult fiction, though I plan to release a children’s version of it in 2015, minus the alcohol and the angst.

Why do I write what I do?

In my case there are two answers to this. The short stories were written either for money — publication or competition money — or to add to my literary CV. In the novels, however, I get to please myself. And I notice that what comes though in all of them (I have another four in various stage of development) is a desire to nail down a particular time and place that’s now long gone. You could say I’m obsessed with transience, and writing about these places is my way of trying to keep them alive in people’s memories after they’ve disappeared under the bulldozer of progress. My Queensland novel is set in Brisbane in the early 1960s; MagnifiCat is set in Byron Shire in the mid-1980s, and somewhere in the dim future, should I live that long, I’d like to write a novel set in Brisbane during WWII. It’s as if I’m saying to readers, Remember how it was. Don’t forget this.

How does my writing process work?

I write first draft material in the morning, while I still have some contact with my unconscious. Editing, a completely different process requiring a different part of the brain, I can do any time. I never work after dark unless I have an editing job or a manuscript appraisal for another writer and the deadline is looming.

To me, producing first-draft material is like digging semi-precious stones out of the ground, while editing is like polishing those stones into something people might find beautiful or useful. Basically, I want my writing to entertain, to make people happy. At the risk of sounding overly ambitious (or merely quaint), I’d like it to give people hope. Life can be tough sometimes.

 

The writer I’ve asked to continue the Writing Process Blog Tour on Monday 26th is Ed Griffin, a Canadian novelist and prison reformer. Ed taught creative writing in prisons for many years. He blogs at:

prisonuncensored.wordpress.com

Check him out on Monday 26th.

 

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bustinggod(2)

A long, long time ago, back in the early ‘90s, I had my first short story published in a national magazine. My children and I were over the moon: the money (AU$1,500) was astronomical in those days. A few years later, I decided to see if I could crack the same market again—after all, $1,500 never goes astray.

I’d just read Narc! Inside the Australian Bureau of Narcotics by Bernard Delaney, who was a senior investigator in the narcotics bureau for some years before becoming Commander for the Southern Region of Australia. So I wrote this 5,000 word short story about an undercover narcotics agent, basing the procedures on Delaney’s book. After the usual eight drafts, I submitted it to the editor who’d accepted my previous story. My timing was bad. A week after I submitted the story, the magazine was sued for defamation. In the chaos that ensued, ‘Busting God’ went nowhere. I put it away and concentrated on the next draft of my Brisbane novel. Some twenty years later, I sent the story to an Australian magazine called Blue Crow, edited by Andrew Scobie, who accepted it enthusiastically.

Now that I‘ve decided to put all my work up online before I fall off the perch (it seems safer than wrapping it in ‘fireproof’ material and putting it in the tin trunk, but I might be wrong), I gave the story yet another draft and put it up on Amazon and Smashwords. In brief, it’s the story of an aging undercover agent who, along with his long-time Vietnam buddy Baby Johnson, is sent to the Northern Rivers of New South Wales to bust a heroin dealer everyone up there calls God because he’s so big. Apart from successfully running God to earth, the major conflict in the story takes place in the hero’s head. Will he stay in law enforcement or get out before his slowing reflexes get him killed? That’s the main idea behind the story, and the idea that leads to the next story I’m putting up in three weeks time, this time for free, called ‘Remains to be Seen’. As part of my plan to try to save the work before I drop off the perch, I plan to put up another eleven stories on the web this year, half of them for sale, half for free. This one has a price on it, but I chose the lowest price both sales sites would allow.

‘Busting God’ is one of the three favourite stories I’ve written; there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour. It’s also the first thing I’ve ever formatted. Being the digital klutz that I am (oh yes, I am — see my previous post on this subject at: https://danielledevalera.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/for-all-you-luddites-out-there/, formatting that story took me a long time and I’m so chuffed that I managed to do it. I was further encouraged by fellow writer C S McClellan, who did the you-beaut cover for me. Thank you so much, Connie; designing an ebook cover is way out of my league.

If you’ve got a moment or so, pop over and take a look at ‘Busting God’. You can read about 30% for free at either:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/416303

or www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S

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Internet friend Ed Griffin continues his run of prison reform novels with Delaney’s Hope, an upbeat idea for a new kind of prison.

Delaney's Hope coveAvailable at: http://www.amazon.com/Delaneys-Hope-Ed-Griffin-ebook/dp/B00GFGEBMG

In this guest blog Ed talks about the wellsprings of his hope for reforms and the novels in which he’s put forward these ideas.

Ed Griffin:

I am interested in prison reform. This is a direct result of teaching writing in prison for twenty years. It’s an indirect result of my education and service as a Roman Catholic priest for five and a half years. I heard the message of the gospel that we were to care for the “least of the brethren.” In my opinion, there wasn’t anybody more least in our society than a federal inmate.

I left the priesthood a few years after marching in Selma with Doctor Martin Luther King. That’s another story, relayed in my non-fiction book, Once A Priest.

I’ve written a lot about prison reform. My first novel, Prisoners of the Williwaw, is a story about Frank Villa, who convinces the US Government to put 300 hardened convicts on an island with their families and let them rule themselves. The federal government has finally realized that they can’t keep paying for prisons. Right now it costs $100 a day to keep a man in prison. So they let Frank Villa have an abandoned Naval base on the island of Adak in the Aleutians. No guards will be on the island, but the US Coast Guard will patrol the waters around Adak, and they will shoot to kill.

Half way to Russia and caught between the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea, it rains and snows 85% of the time on Adak. In addition, a fierce wind called a Williwaw builds up behind the mountains and smashes down on houses, equipment and even children. In World War II, the weather killed more soldiers than the enemy did.

Frank also faces a convict who plans to use this situation to his own advantage. He knows that each convict leaves prison with $200. He’s eager to help them spend it.

Can convicts rule themselves? This is an issue the novel looks into.

My second book about prison is non-fiction. It’s called Dystopia. An inmate in my writing class joined me in telling the story of prison. We each wrote our stories, not in lesson form, but by relaying the stories of the men we met there.

I told why I came to teach in prison, despite my wife’s worry. Then I started with my first scary day and told about all the people I met in my class. One of the most amazing people I met was Mike Oulton. He’d been arrested in Mexico for trying to smuggle cocaine into the United States. His sentence was ten years, two of which he spent in a Mexican prison and eight of which he spent in a Canadian prison. Mike also tells stories of the men and the staff he met in all those years, and he hints at which prison system he liked better. Mike’s been out now for seven years and he’s doing well. He works as an MC and as a master of ceremonies for weddings. This is right in line with Mike’s whole life, but now he’s found legitimate ways to express his exuberant personality.

The third book about prison reform is my latest novel, Delaney’s Hope. Delaney is a prison official who put his feet up for twenty years. He tried at the beginning to make changes, but his superiors stepped on him, and so, he did nothing. But then his missionary brother died for standing up to the oil people who wanted to take his parishioners’ land. Delaney feels guilty about wasting all those years, and he tries to repent by setting up a prison that really works. He convinces the government to let him use an abandoned minimum security prison in Wisconsin.

At the beginning he will only have five prisoners and three staff, counting himself. The criminal history of each inmate is given, as well as a picture of the staff. Delaney tries to break down the ‘us and them’ that exist in every prison. He tries to show the inmates that we are all weak human beings and no one, including the staff, is perfect.

His inmates include a drug smuggler who tries to sabotage everything Delaney tries to do. Another man killed his wife in front of their son. A third inmate ran a commercial greenhouse and cheated on the rules. That might have been okay, but then he knocked an old man out of tree, a neighbor who opposed his plans. The old man died. A sheriff who wanted this land to build a big maximum security prison convinced a sex offender to come to the prison, where he presented Delaney with a lot of problems.

Another thing Delaney tries to deal with is the sexism of prisons. Yes, what we now mean by a male prison is not a place for women, but Delaney points out that almost all of society is mixed male and female. If he can create a calm atmosphere, there is no reason why male and female inmates can’t be integrated at least as far as programs are concerned.

The prison starts and Delaney faces problem after problem after problem. Will it work? Can a prison work that’s not like what we have today?

Prison reform is not a popular subject, but we need to face it. When we hear that California spends more money on prisons than it does on education, we begin to ask questions. When we hear that the United States is one of the countries with the most prisoners, it’s time to look at prison reform. And Canada now with its conservative government tries to win votes on the backs of inmates. Right-minded people do not agree.

I hope my two novels and one non-fiction book about prison reform will have an impact. When I started to write, I promised myself I would never bore the reader; I would show, not tell; I would not let one word of opinion enter the story. I hope I have succeeded.

Ed Griffin

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HorseI’m one of those people who believes in everything and nothing, so don’t take it amiss that I share a few thoughts with you at the beginning of this Year of the Wooden Horse. The book I’ve got on Chinese astrology (someone less able than I to accommodate ambivalence gave it to me) says horses always look terrific, have plenty of sex appeal and know how to dress, but that they’re also hotheaded, hotblooded and impatient. In the years when I was younger and used to give Chinese New Year’s Eve parties, there must have been a few horses among the crowd. If there were, I don’t remember them, so I can’t pass judgment on the accuracy of the book, but we sure had a lot of fun passing it around and guffawing at the descriptions.

But I digress. What I’m really here for is to wish all those who read this post the best of luck in the coming year. If, like me, you’re just starting out on the digital journey, my commiserations.

My goal, this year, is to release a dozen short stories, roughly one a month, ranging in length from 4,000 to 9,000 words, half of which are set in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, Australia, an area I’ve lived in for the past thirty years and am still desperately in love with. I’m lucky enough to have a friend I met through this blog who is designing the first cover, but after that, I’ll be on my own in the formatting of both cover and story text.

Just how I’m going to manage, I have absolutely no idea. Designing the Smashwords versions of the stories won’t present many problems, thanks to the beautifully clear instructions in Mark Coker’s (Mark is CEO of Smashwords) Style Guide, obtainable free on the internet. Designing a Kindle version, however, is going to be more difficult. Both Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) offer simple, pain-free translations of documents  from Word to Kindle, but what I’ve seen of the results doesn’t enchant me. However, whether I’ll ever be able to learn enough digitally to do better remains to be seen.

In short, just learning enough to put up those dozen stories in one form or another is my goal for the year. Wish me luck, everyone – and if anyone wants to tell me their goals for this Year of the Horse, I’m a good listener.

Horse drawing

Good luck to you all!

Dani

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MagnifiCat_Cover_for_Kindle

Anyone taking a casual look at the novel I’ve just put up on the web might be forgiven for thinking I need therapy.

Cat CartoonBut though the cats have the spotlight, many other Australian animals feature in this fantasy for adults — a porcupine policeman, a python bank manager, a kangaroo in the milk delivery business, etc. etc.

Aside from all the animals, though, that slide, hop, glide through this novel, and despite my determinedly lighthearted approach, the book’s theme of life below the poverty line gives it gravitas. It’s not as innocuous as it seems.

But enuff about the novel. Maybe it’s merely a drop in the digital ocean, but because I’m such a klutz digitally, I’m just happy to have survived the experience of getting it up there.

Take a look. It’s available in both e and print form. It’s certainly unusual.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY

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DSCF3566

In the bush outside Casino, musing on the vagaries of life, and human nature in general, accompanied by two bovine mums. The new calves are just out of the frame.

 Last week I went to Casino to celebrate the Melbourne Cup with friends. For those of you who don’t know about the Cup, it’s the foremost horse race in Australia; everything stops for it. I don’t know one horse from another, but it’s good to catch up with old friends and see what improvements they’ve made on their 240 acres since I was last there.

I had another reason to be glad I was in the bush for a few days: the first morning I was there I received an email from the POD designer – she’s holding my book to ransom until she receives the remainder of her fee. Which is not a lot, I might add. This is unusual in the industry, thank the Lord – the e book designer sent me 3 different versions of my novel and an invoice the next day with a month to pay.( I paid him 48 hours later – I have figured out how to use PayPal.)

The print book designer and I have had a rocky time (we were both starting out). So, as I say, I was happy I was among friends when I received the email confirming what I already suspected but couldn’t bring myself to believe.

My November deadline, has perforce, moved to 11 December — too late for anyone wanting to buy hard copies for Christmas, unless they’re prepared to ship the book using Amazon’s exorbitant Priority Paid option.

Along with the ultimatum, the designer gave me her bank details. Alas, I haven’t yet learned how to pay someone overseas in this way, where, I understand, certain extra bits of arcane information are required. It was on my To do list, but what with editing and proofing the novel, it got pushed to the back burner. Into the nearest town that has a branch of my bank, obtain a bank cheque, and send it by registered post. It will take at least 10 days to reach the US.

When the designer has received the money and sends me the POD version (hope hope hope), it would be madness to go to press without seeing the proof. (We’ve been though two, so far.) Even using Amazon’s priority paid shipping option, I will lose another 6 days. If there are formatting errors that require fixing, I wonder what happens then?

Even if the book is ready to go, and I sure hope it is, I will lose another six days while I wait for the last lot of print copies to arrive. In my youth, I would’ve lost a lot of sleep over this. Now I just chalk it up to the aforesaid vagaries of human nature and move the date to 11 December. Just to be on the safe side.

It’s a weird situation, and I have no feelings against the designer. It’s not her fault I haven’t yet conquered overseas internet banking. And she did have a hard time with me, I know that. Remember, I’m the one who didn’t even know how to save attached files forwarded to me as downloads. (I thought you saved them under View, and wondered why I couldn’t print or forward them to anyone.) In my defence, though, I had a bit of a hard time myself. When you’re both learning, these things happen.

Life’s funny, and far too short to waste a lot of emotion on a thing like this. It’s very small hiccup in the overall scheme of things. It’s even funny, if you can just see the humour. Fancy being so awful that someone felt driven to this measure. It’s a kind of distinction, I suppose, but one I could well do without.

Darth Vader image

Come over to the dark side, Luke, with me and Danielle de Valera.

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Janet leigh

For those of you who might be wondering where I’ve been these last ten weeks, I’ve been investigating Indie publishing, particularly the publishing of Print on Demand (POD) books with CreateSpace, a subsidiary of Amazon. Those ten weeks have been most illuminating, and I thought I might share my discoveries with you. If you’ve already published a POD book, stop reading now, I won’t have anything new to tell you. If you haven’t, gird your loins, and read on.

For most writers, the journey into indie publishing follows a certain pattern. First, we have:

1.   The Sylvan Glades of Writing the Novel, where the Wellsprings of Hope bubble to cheer the fiction writer on his/her way. The writer thinks the going is tough, but they ain’t seen nothing yet. Emerging from this glade, the writer who chooses to indie publish must traverse:

2.   The Desert of the Last Copy-edit, a fearsome place littered with the bones of writers who didn’t know what they were doing with commas. Crawling out of this desert, writers encounter:

3.   The Fork in the Track, where the writer must decide whether to do only an e book (much cheaper, and easier on the nerves), or to take their courage in hand and rapell into:

4.   The Dizzying POD Chasm. Should the writer choose to do only an e book, Nos 6-10 will still apply, but they will, to some extent, avoid:

5.   The Slough of Despond, where the writer realises that s/he must either format the print book themselves or pay someone else to do it. Even if they decide to pay someone, as I did, they will still have to traverse:

6.   The Forest of Dread, where they must choose two categories for their novel. A great deal is riding on their choice, especially the novel’s findability. Having negotiated this forest, and there is no way around it, the writer comes to:

7.   The Hill of Bewilderment, where s/he must choose seven keywords which Amazon buyers might (the operative word here is might) use to discover the writer’s novel — again, very important for the novel’s findability. After this, they arrive at:

8.   The Lakes of Confusion, where they must set a price for their beloved novel and try to understand Amazon’s royalties system, e.g. a $9.99 price for a 250 page, standard-size paperback will yield the writer US $2.14. What happened to that 70% (or even 35%) we heard so much about? If, after this, the men in white haven’t taken our writer away, s/he must then cross:

9.   The Bridge of Tears, where, if s/he is a non-US resident, s/he must attempt to prevent the US Internal Revenue from taking 30% of his or her earnings. To do this, she must do battle with monsters ITIN, W-7 and W-8 BEN, go on a quest for a Notary (cross his palm with silver) and also find the elusive Apostille, without which the writer will continue to pay the dreaded 30%. Finally, the writer comes to:

10.   The Well of Disappointment, which s/he quaffs while contemplating the novel’s sales figures. If you think I’m being unnecessarily gloomy here, Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords says that, for most writers, the average number of e books sold per title is 100.

What does all this mean? In a nutshell it means that the average indie writer/producer of a POD book will be flat out getting their money back. There are hidden costs to producing a POD book that exist regardless of whether the newbie writer outsources, or designs the cover and interior themselves.

In the meantime, I’m camped on the Hill of Bewilderment, right next to the Lakes of Confusion, having taken over a week to negotiate the Forest of Dread with nothing but a hurricane lamp to guide me.  While camping out and enjoying the sights, it occurred to me that I might be able to do some good by devoting one post to each of the steps I’ve described above, so that newbie writers will at least know what lies in store for them.

Forewarned is forearmed. So they say.

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I first met John Macgregor about ten years ago. Turned out he lived down the street from me. John’s over in Cambodia now, having adventures, while I, ever unadventurous, am still in the same street. (Anyone who’s read my trip to NZ post will know that I’m not a traveller, never was.)

 John has recently put his award-winning novel, Propinquity, up on the web. I asked him to write a few words about the book and how he felt about it after all these years. This is what he wrote:

Propinquity cover

 

I tend to think of the 1980s as being quite close in time – a bit like Now With Bulky Devices. But exhuming Propinquity, my 27-year-old novel, revealed just how much Australia has changed in the few years since then.

Propinquity was disinterred for publication as an e-book. This meant I had to read the thing – for the first time since I was a young lad of 36 who regarded it as reasonable behaviour to wear black all the time, and smoke a lot.

I knew I had changed. And I knew my alter ego narrator would have changed (had I attempted anything so gauche as a sequel). Australia was the character which provided the surprises.

To get the difficult bit over with first: during the Mullumbimby section of the novel, my narrator, Clive, regularly goes swimming naked with two girl children (his girlfriend’s kids). That would probably be out these days. Indeed I’m nervous about even mentioning it. I suspect the way this passage was received in 1986 (not a single comment from a reader or reviewer) is different to how it will be read now.

But far more interesting (to me) is that Clive habitually tends to put a negative spin on things. I did not know in 1986  that this “pessimistic explanatory style” is the leading cause of depression. After 35 years of the black dog I was very happy to put it down about ten years ago, thanks to some learned optimism training. Many others have done the same. In my opinion we’re in something of a Golden Age of psychology – an age which lies in Clive’s future. So seeing his episodic gloomfulness now – from that future – is a bit like observing a gloomy adolescent: you feel he’ll grow out of it.

Small, linguistic things have changed too. There are no “awesomes” in the book, but one “whatever”, and one line that made me LOL:

“She laughed out loud.”

And what is it with all these hyphens? Back-drop? Match-box? Stick-figure? Plaster-board? Sun-tan? Heart-beat? Switch-board? Did we ever spell like that? If so, two and a half more decades of Americanisation have ended it.

It’s not just language that’s changed, but diction. After the Loyal Toast at a Melbourne wedding reception, Clive tells us: “The toasting done, assumed English accents at neighbouring tables began to rise again in volume.”

This alludes to a generation of Melbourne society women, who are now all dead. No-one thinks a fake English accent is sophisticated any more, even in Toorak. (One also suspects the Loyal Toast has gone the way of the Divine Right and Charles I’s head.) But it’s remarkable how recently these faux Englishwomen walked (and talked) among us. I can still hear the terrifying, brittle voices which cut the air before them them as they beelined toward you at a party, like the Queen with an icepick behind her back.

The book also suggested how our views on alcohol, diet and health have changed in scarcely a generation. Clive drank a real lot (“we spent a month drinking beer in the Portsea pub”; “The wine was tolerable too, the second bottle tasting better than the first.”), as did his friends. They even did this at breakfast. I don’t drink at all these days, and if I had anything to do with it (which I would) neither would Clive.

And to think that this young idiot also drank iced coffee and ate camembert! Didn’t he know coffee crashes the adrenals, and that dairy is the world’s number one allergen? To make matters worse, on page 126: “I consumed mountains of garlic bread.” These grain foods were the very thing that would soon make me sick for an entire decade, till the arrival of the Internet enabled me to learn that we’re not a grain-eating species. D’oh.

But Clive is incorrigible. He seems determined to submerge himself in over-work, coffee, tax evasion, alcohol, grand theft, garlic bread, procuring perjury and eating dairy – all the vices, not just a few:

“The meetings and telexes and coffees and cigarettes had been endless.” Unspeakable.

Indeed, after he has discovered the divine female at the heart of Christendom, exposed a 2,000-year Church conspiracy, fled Westminster Abbey, been chased by the authorities across the globe, and is finally nabbed by the law in Byron Bay, he tries to makes his escape by slugging a policeman. These days police are armed, and he’d be shot.

The foregoing also reminds me how radically the way people think about God has shifted. Propinquity is saying that everything we have been taught about God is nonsense – a fringe view in 1986, which is now mainstream. The old structures totter on, but the cynicism about them is total.

Finally, for all his sins, my hero Clive was right to suggest a post-revolution firing squad for Rupert Murdoch, for it is his ilk who have ensured that “the old is dying, and the new cannot be born”.

“In this strange interregnum” (to complete the quote from Antonio Gramsci) “many morbid symptoms arise”. Looking around me now at 61, he wasn’t wrong about that.

In 1986 it was thought that we were in with a chance to save civilisation, and the planet that gave rise to it. The ensuing quarter-century saw the ideas and structures by which that could have been done steadily abandoned. Now we’re down to a series of rear guard actions. The emphasis has shifted, with a slow, intricate subtlety, from preventing disaster to adjusting to it. None of that was visible when I was 36, and wore black, and smoked a lot.

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