In June this year, I released my new novel, Two Spoons of Bitter, A story of love, betrayal and redemption at the Georgetown Indiecon in Georgetown, Colorado. Anne Marie Cannon, my former student in the MFA program was one of the organizers. She had managed the Starbucks in Newtown for years but set herself on a journey of discovery across the country until she found her place in Georgetown. She runs the Silver Queen Ghosts Tours and a needful things type of shop called the Flipping Flea.
She had been an amazingly creative and prolific student who wanted to focus on multi-media storytelling. Back then, I did a whole remote semester with her while she was in London researching her historical novel, Bedlam series, and then documenting her mother’s poignant return to Belgium. Her mother and her family had been forced out of Belgium as a child by the Nazis during WWII –her film project, Last Train to Belgium, is scheduled to be completed by a film crew this summer. Proving – sometimes good stories take time to actualize.
The conference took place in a red brick Victorian schoolhouse, with creaky floors and questionable dark corners. The whole town of Georgetown, an old mining town full of ghosts, sits at 8,000 feet above sea level. All of its streets and houses are just like they were a hundred years ago – history and restoration one of the main activities in the town. Remarkably – they had wonderful restaurants where no one blinked at eye when at the mention of gluten free.
I focused my conference session on Writing Real Life as Fiction due to the fact that the seeds of my novel began with a diary I kept when I managed grants and a five -person team disseminating services for People Living With AIDS who were also addicts. I lived in a small, ultra conservative Southern city at the height of the AIDS crisis in the early 90s. Back then, I witnessed many tragic stories along with corruption and discrimination in some social service agencies. My entire team and I ended up resigning from our jobs in response to the injustice. I wanted to expose it all and give voice to the voiceless but found the task much more complicated than I ever imagined. After many versions in non-fiction, I surrendered to fiction. The shift was not an easy transition. Being a journalist with two degrees in Creative Nonfiction as well as teaching and writing in the genre for years, I revere facts because facts equals truth and truth is the light that shines on the dark places in our messed up world, right?
But the truth about facts? Sometimes they just get in the way. If you add that to the idea that stories choose their medium – especially when characters take over and make it all about them – it was no surprise Ella Donovan was born – a young, idealistic woman eager to escape her shameful past and finally be in control of her own life. She takes a dream job working with teen addicts, far away from dreary Minnesota, in a beautiful, tropical city…and the beat goes on…
I was also on a panel about Indie Publishing. I had done some Indie projects in Puerto Rico in the past, which included a bilingual, literary and arts publication as well as participated in some Indie music recording projects but self-publishing my novel was my first truly serious encounter.
Why Indie publishing?
- Political content. Some authors didn’t want to be censored by a publisher who wants to please a general audience.
- Money. Some authors had worked with publishers for years but were tired of the publisher keeping most of the money.
- Creative Control. Some authors, including me, wanted more control over things like book covers. For instance, I worked hands on with a printer and designer and got exactly what I wanted as far as image and layout of the book.
- Time. Some authors, including me, didn’t want to spend years finding an agent and then additional time dealing with rewrites.
I had a lot more to learn than I had to share, which turned out really well because the Indie writers at the conference were the warmest most interesting people I’d ever met. I watched how they set up their tables, how they talked to their prospective readers, the promotional materials they used. I studied the images and kinds of information offered on the materials as well. One writer even convinced me I should start reading romance novels. I traded one of mine for one of hers.
I sold three books. I had carried 20 there. The bag was so heavy the airline had tagged it with a caution label. Note to self – not more than 10 next time.
Of course there are tons of reasons to not Indie publish – and I would always recommend – especially if you’re just starting out – to try the traditional route first – but the main one is – I would rather be writing than promoting and selling my book and of course there’s the huge obstacle of getting notoriety or even making money. But for me, at this time in my life and career where I no longer have to publish or perish – it’s a little more about the process – the art of it.
And it’s not as hard as I thought it would be. Even fun. I just returned from a reading in Helena, Montana at the library and sponsored by a local Indie bookstore. Even some of my Montana cousins I had never met showed up. One cousin told me one of her family lines were Confederates who fled to Montana after the war. They established an organization called Daughters of the Confederacy with a mission to preserve slavery and the Southern ways of life and donated a fountain to Helena eons ago.
Because of the recent controversy about confederate iconography – the city sought to do something about it – perhaps use it as a teaching opportunity but they found that in order add any kind of plaque they to comply with the law and add a version in braille. The cost was prohibitive apparently. Then because of Charlottesville – in a panic – the city removed the fountain in the middle of the night which was perhaps not the best move – because it made a lot of those crazy Montanans a little more crazy. I found it ironic as I signed my book for my conservative cousin — that much of it is themed around a critique of systemic racism and the antebellum South. Perhaps it would provide a window to her own evolution as a human being? or perhaps she would burn it under one of those crosses?
And there was this Vietnam veteran in the audience who wanted to write his war stories in fiction…
As much as I love telling my own stories – I love the stories people tell me.
Stay tuned for the Georgetown Indiecon next year.
Two Spoons of Bitter is available for $16 dollars plus shipping – $19 total.
You can buy it through my website –
or the publisher –
Or snailmail me a check. Email me – firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to do that.
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