Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Above the Lake. (Official).

Not quite yet- death of a blogger! After such an unseemly interlude between posts (time flies with post-Mayan haste) but it has become evident that mine isn't going to be a rags to riches overnight success story (perseverance furthers advises the I Ching, although equally it suggests there is no point in entering the field if there is nothing to hunt!). Much has happened in the interim keeping me otherwise occupied: like 3 complete ms rewrites (polishing the household silver), breaking up with my partner and the getting back together, rejection slips from literary agents and publishers (15 at last count-2 still pending) and of course not forgetting core values: that of being a painter and painting. That's where the memoir and my calling in life dovetail neatly together, and one motivation for writing my story in the first place-a blatant bit of self-promotion.

After several title incarnations: Flight of Faith (smacks of religion)- Still life with Sunflowers (well not too bad)- Under A Tuscan spell, the artist's tale (derivative and lame), I have finally come up with a title that I can live with: Above the Lake: Tuscany, the artist's journey, which manages to touch a few bases-element of mystery, Tuscany, travel, artist and satisfies my editor Geoffrey's insistence that I can't have a title that doesn't directly reference something in the book (Cortona, Camelot-like rises above the lake...). 

Meanwhile, waiting (not idly) for THE call, I have decided  to go the self-publishing route: firstly because I can and it's no longer frowned upon or necessarily an admission of failure, secondly because I am curious to see what happens and thirdly to start building a social media platform for the book, as strongly recommended by most literary agents- who want to know that you are media savvy and like publishers, gas stations and supermarket self-check outs are getting you to do their work for them!

I actually have in hand a hard copy of the book! Amazing. I guess with the millions of self-published books it's not a bad money spinner either for Amazon or Lulu or whoever you go with-vanity publishing at its most enticing, no need for expensive print runs, it costs you nothing to produce, just publish on demand.

I will write about the process in another post because it is extraordinary having such a powerful array of creative tools at your fingertips.

Vanity publishing used to have a bad name but with the advances in technology and an explosion of wannabe authors that is no longer the case; the Indies taking on the Goliaths of the publishing industry with some notable success, particularly with the advent of E-books and the increasing popularity of E-readers like Kindle and Nook tablets, even undermining the viability of bricks and mortar bookshops these days.

I did have doubts about self-publishing (a hang up about self-esteem) and wasn't even considering it until by chance, looking for modern interpretations of the I Ching on the web I was drawn to a version by Michael Graeme (Free PDF download here) and then discovered in true I Ching synchronistic tradition that Michael also writes a blog and is a self-published author by preference, whose musings on self-publishing changed my perspective. Check out this article on his blog: Is Lulu.com a scam?

Well, the title is out there, since December and as of today 16 people have read the first three chapters on Wattpad, 36 people have downloaded samples from Smashwords and 16 people have bought electronic versions. I have bought 4 hardcopies from Amazon and the  Above the Lake facebook page has 31 likes!

It's not exactly viral but early days, early days...

Sunday, 27 November 2011

David Malouf responds and a message to Irene Goodman.

Suddenly Under a Tuscan spell sounds really lame, but I still like The Artist's tale part. The problem is how to introduce Tuscany into the title, to alert the reader to the theme of the book and hopefully arouse curiosity.

I had some good news from David Malouf- firstly, he actually read the manuscript and has written back with some encouraging advice to this first time author. Amongst other things, he found it 'engaging' and 'mostly fine writing' (I love the ambiguity inherent in that phrase, but whichever way you look at it 'mostly' is still a majority! Right?) but has advised me it needs to be tightened up further "put in its most attractive form" before a publisher will take it.

Prior to hearing from David, I had just sent out another query letter, this time to Irene Goodman in New York, so Irene if you read this please forgive me for being premature, I'm working on a new draft!

To be honest I wasn't sure if I would be up for this, after such a huge amount of work, but as I posted previously being despondent equals certain defeat, and thankfully, picking up the manuscript again it hasn't taken very long to be sucked back in.  It just amazes me how swearing it was so right last time could still be so obviously, glaringly wrong this time round!

What I've learned today:
I need a bigger writing desk...

and while I'm at it here is a corner of my studio 4:30PM...

and other stuff I'm working on...


Sunday, 13 November 2011

Title alert! Under A Tuscan Spell. The Artist's tale.

What's in the title? As an artist I'm usually pretty intuitive about finding titles for my paintings and composing them has become a part of my artistic ritual: the final flourish, the artist's statement, nailing it down in a phrase and signing off on the painting.

However, I've been finding it unusually hard to intuit the definitive title for my memoir.  Yellow Ochre, Brushing off Fate, Still life with Sunflowers, coming back to Flight of Faith, the original title and a sentimental favourite with a good tie in to the book, but somehow sounding too ecclesiastical (see previous post). So... announcing the latest manifestation: Under A Tuscan Spell. The Artist's tale.

Now this a deliberate take on Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, but one I feel justified in making because we are both writing about same time and place, and not just trying to piggy back on her success but adding a completely fresh perspective to the story. I thought her book was well written and enjoyed the read (bitterly disappointed by the film) but felt slightly irked by her shadowy portrayal of actual life in Cortona. Believe me, it is an amazing place (was?). Readdressing the balance was one of the reasons that motivated me to write- to put the Cortona of the 80's and 90's that I knew back onto centre stage.

And where am I regards finding a publisher? Well, moving slowly, no scatter-gun approach, trying to tailor my queries and target Literary agents and Publishers one by one. I have done my home work and am resigned to the long haul, all the time praying for that magic to happen, when events unfold smoothly, synchronistically, along the path of least resistance!

The tally so far: deemed refusals from 2 publishers and 2 literary agent. Contacted 3 authors, including Ms Mayes and David Malouf -no response.  I know David because he lived in Tuscany and figures in the memoir so I have sent him a hard copy of the ms, but am not sure if his address is still current because I haven't seen him for ten years.

Don't you hate that? When you don't hear back and are left wondering if your missive ever arrived? Like emails, you can never be 100% sure if the no-reply is deliberate or completely innocent and you have to weigh up whether or not to re-send. I have a friend who thinks he has resolved the problem with an email application that lets him know if his email has been opened. The annoying thing as the recipient is that you are obliged to click on a link in the body of the email in order to read his message.

What I have learnt today: despondency only leads to defeat. And recently I heard this one: it's not a question of give and take but rather give and give.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A crowded market place and then some!

Last year I attended a workshop in Byron Bay NSW on memoir writing with the Australian author Robert Hillman ( The Boy in the Green Suit). The subject: what makes me so interesting?   Critical to know for someone writing a memoir and a question that I was  hard pressed to answer when a friend unexpectedly put it to me.  And of course, has set off a train of thought ever since, on how to answer, a process aided by composing query letters, helping me to comprehend what the book is about? Sounds dumb I know, after all I wrote it and that should put me in pole position! 

Is 'living the dream and surviving the reality' a good hook or just a cliché?  

I was really surprised by how many people attended the workshop, counting forty and all of them women. Amazed too, at how many people are writing memoirs in one small Australian beach town. A golden age for women's memoir if the workshop was anything to go by; perhaps spurred on by Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray,Love?  Or Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes? 

According to a New York Times op-ed from 2002: "81 percent of Americans feel they have a book in them -- and that they should write it." A survey of Internet users in the U.S estimated out of  100 million users there are 8 million unpublished novels and 17 million unpublished how-to books written by that Internet-using population.  
The good news according to Bowker is that  American output of new titles and editions has increased by 1148%  between 2002 and 2010!

After the workshop I ran into my neighbour Laurel, an editor, who explained in Australia you don't need a literary agent to get a publisher, which was news to me. There aren't too many literary agents in Australia anyway and following up I found two major publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts: 
Pan Macmillan Australia have a Manuscript Monday . Pitch off the web every Monday and Allen & Unwin have The Friday Pitch-every Friday of course.

How easy is that! When i'm not wavering between genius and simply making a fool of myself! But the deed is done and no need even to pick up the phone, which is a relief; as an artist, cold calling galleries has never been my forte although it has to be done. I am a great believer in the work speaking for itself, but try getting a gallery to come to your studio and how can art speak if nobody sees it? 

What I have learnt today (warming up after a southern winter, T-shirt and shorts, surf pounding in the distance):

''There lurks, perhaps, in every human heart, a desire of distinction, which inclines every man to hope, and then to believe, that nature has given himself something peculiar to himself.'' Samuel Johnson.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Briefest view from the top and a false start.

Only a brief moment of respite, having climbed the mountain, planted my flag, exalted in my primacy and taken in the view, before heading down to join the unfamiliar fray of literary agents, publishers, writers, bloggers  and sundry camp followers.

A reality check: up one mountain and lo and behold another one to climb! 
Next week.
Fast forward-fast rewind;  I though I'd already reached the summit in January; not exactly popping the champagne corks but printing off multiple copies of the manuscript to hand out to friends (my beta readers), now only useful as single sided scrap paper―a huge stack cluttering up the side of my desk after a writer friend of mine in Melbourne, whose opinion I value, sounded the alarm and suggested the ms needed more work.

My heart missed a few beats when I opened her email, eager to know  but dreading what she thought...
Dear Nino,
Let me start by saying how much I enjoyed reading the manuscript. Your writing voice is immediately accessible and inviting and I just wanted to keep reading – I can tell you, this is no mean feat, I read heaps of scripts where it’s a torture just to keep going! With this, I never stopped wanting to read on. 
Phew! Over that hurdle. Fluttering at this point but then came the spoiler (2 pages long).
I am not going to go through everything I loved/liked – I really did enjoy it all – I think it is in fact more important to talk about where I think there needs to be further thought because I do feel that there is still quite a way to go if it is going to be picked up by a publisher...
Finishing on:
The next step, I think, is to really work out what it is that you, the writer, want to say. Your take on it. The thing that you must say, want to say, need to say. That has to inform your next draft – cos, yes, you have to do another draft – and then quite likely, another one after that! 
Oh no! On the job again, a full time occupation for the last two years and I blame J my editor for the premature celebration, declaring the memoir was "a page turner" an "airport book"! If only! But I think he was punning on the title Flight of Faith and anyway, catching a plane, would you buy a book with that title? 

I am fortunate to have J, a Yorkshireman, as my editor for these reasons:
(a) He lives in Italy and is bilingual, which means he can correct my deteriorating Italian (I moved to Australia 10 years ago) and he is happy to undertake fact checking missions for me to Cortona.
(b) He is a friend who features in my story, we shared a tower in Cortona once, and he can refresh my memory and fill in the gaps, even unwittingly provide some of the dialogue, as did other friends when I questioned them via email or on skype. 

By the end of July with three complete rewrites under my belt, I was in danger of becoming deranged. (Think The Shining"All Work and No Play makes Jack a dull boy"). The great art in painting is knowing when to stop, which I suspect is not the case with writing; there are infinite ways of saying the same thing, endlessly pecking at words, honing, polishing, diffusing chapters, then trashing huge chunks in a single, emotionally charged key stroke. Why is it that the passages you desperately try to hang on to are the ones destined to go in the end?  

This didn't make the final draft, one of my favourite anecdotes:
I had a terrible night, crashing at Marc’s apartment, puking out of the third floor bedroom window with the room whirling around me, and later stumbling to the kitchen I couldn’t find the bathroom in the dark shovelling penne out the window by the hand full with the sink filling up so fast.
Very early the next morning I am woken by a persistent sound of scrubbing andbleary eyed peering outI can see the old lady on the ground floor washing down a stone bench directly beneath.  She spots me and angrily waves her scrubbing brush up in the air at me, shouting, “Was this you?  You animal! What a disgrace!”  And pointing to the bench I had spewed over from a great height, “this is my husband’s favourite seat!”
I mumble an apology and duck back inside, trying to recall the confused events of the night.  I feel mortified and quickly dress, scribble a brief note to Marc that explains nothing except I have gone home and steal out of the apartment.  Exiting the palazzo I notice bits of pasta lodged on top of a car parked in the piazza in front of the building.
Marc calls me later in the afternoon sounding irritated. “Hey, buddy, what the hell was going on last night?  What’s the story with the old lady downstairs?  I thought she was going to attack me in the hall, and it was only her husband being stretchered out of their apartment at the same time that saved me.  Apparently he had a heart attack!”
She must have mistaken Marc for me and I have a terrible sinking feeling: was it my fault?  What if the old man was sitting there on his favourite seat and had a heart attack when I started raining down on him? 
I love the element of tragic-comedy and also the fact that it portrays me in an unfavourable light, resisting the temptation to gloss over, show and tell. (Fortunately the man's heart attack had nothing to do with my nocturnal exploits). 

One advantage of being an artist is that nobody is proscribing how much paint you use or the size of the canvas; the equivalent of the ubiquitous word count for writers.  Another would be having everything spread out in front of you, unlike writing and having to endlessly check back and find the page your train of thought is buried on.  

What I have learnt thus far: I need to get out of my studio into the garden more, heavy with the scent of Angels' trumpets at the moment, and enjoy the new view after a huge fig tree in front of the house was blown away in a storm, literally upended and somersaulted down the hill, like losing an old friend. 

And a new resolution: hopefully now that I am no longer chained to a computer and can start painting again, I will also quite smoking.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The long road to completion-an introduction.

I am an artist with no pension plan, trying not to look too far into the future because i can't afford to and anyway it would be scary. Ignorant bliss doesn't mean i'm stupid, though, but becomes a saving grace, a zen moment, stepping off into the abyss eyes skyward (like the wanderer/fool in my favourite Tarot card), which is how i started life as an artist in the first place, with a head full of dreams and absolutely no idea where i was going.

I am lazy at heart and no doubt, 35 years later, if i had known then what i know now, i might never have left home.  No, not really- I'm only kidding- but it's just as well i have a short memory because it has taken me 9 years to write my memoir Flight of Faith. It never really occurred to me how much work was involved, but stepping blithely into it and further down the road, there suddenly comes a point when you realise you are in so deep that retreat is no longer an option and advance offers the only way out.

It's excruciating bridging the gap between what I will to happen and what actually is; what I'm capable of and what i want to be capable of, what i see compared to the words i write.

Here is an embarrassing example from 9 years ago, lifted verbatim from the very first draft of Flight of Faith (It refers to London in the seventies and the flat i lived in):

'Life was just a gas-even if you had a 9-5 job. I remember a party in Queensgate terrace- and the  neighbour underneath had complained about the noise and the fact that his ceiling was vibrating violently-everyone was sniffing poppers and were jumping up and down to the music. G was on acid. The police came. G flung open the door,he wears a beard and was dressed in a lime green tutu. The policeman, unphased, asked him to turn the sound down and politely refused the invitation to join the party!'

And this is how it has turned out:

'Officially I’m not supposed to be living in Queensgate; nor is Tish, who sublets from a French friend, Alain, after he split up with his boyfriend and moved back to Paris.  A shame really.  No more heaving dance parties in the flat, dropping acid and snapping poppers, having group heart attacks, no more bearded ladies in lurid wigs and tutus opening the door to police officers and inviting them in, with the neighbours complaining downstairs.'

What I have learnt thus far in the creative scheme of things is (a) durability and (b)the crucial role confidence plays; not con-fidence or the manufactured kind but that supreme moment when you have learnt to ride the bike and can point it down hill, sit up in the saddle and let fly with no hands.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The long road.

Flight of Faith. 1984. Oil on canvas.
First the painting now the book! Flight of Faith. A memoir of life as an artist in Tuscany.
Living the dream and surviving the reality. The 20 years i lived in Tuscany before moving to Australia in 2000, form the basis of this memoir...
...Ian drops by the studio now and then, cradling his newborn baby girl, Paula.  I sketch her fussing in his arms and when she finally allows him to put her down, he poses as the central figure in the large painting I am working on, giving expression to my current upheaval.  Ambiguity is one of my hallmarks, the Pisces in me, and I have found a good title for the painting: Flight of Faith.  Is faith being routed or taking wing?  Am I running away, fleeing, or am I about to soar?  Ian charges towards us down a long alley of cypress trees, caught in the headlights of a car at dusk like a startled rabbit―caught outside his rabbit hole?  Has the spell finally been broken?  His arms are outstretched as if he is preparing for take off.  The lower half of his body is dematerialising, becoming transparent, hinting that he might soon be invisible.  Cortona is perched above the remnants of the sun on the left hand side of the painting and 'the valley' is buried in the opposite corner with the ploughed fields in the foreground appearing like a swelling sea, giving rise to further interpretations: Moses parting the waves and leading us to the promised land, or is he leading me out of the promised land?