A New Beginning

05/15/2016 at 10:22 pm (Author Updates, Publishing News)

The big announcement here is this: The Bear Who Broke The World will be published in 2017 by Wheeler Street Press!

Now, to the particulars leading up to that decision:

It’s been almost three years since my last post here, which admittedly is a long time to stay away. A whole lot of life… and waiting… has taken place in those years, with the evolution of this book many times at a standstill.

Since July 2013, after my amazing time at Squaw Valley, I have written numerous drafts, persuaded writers and readers I respect to read those drafts in their entirety, and done my damnedest to get an agent interested enough in the novel to offer representation. All of this has taken time, with the work itself demanding many, many hours of my vigorous attention to the rewriting, editing, and eventual polishing of this story about two brothers trying to navigate their world in 1976 Berkeley. Beyond the work, there has been my following agents on Twitter, researching websites about the publishing business and the gatekeepers who guard it so rapaciously, networking with my fellow MPW classmates and asking favors of my fellow teachers. Gina Nahai, in particular, has been an unflagging supporter of me and my novel, reading the entire manuscript and brainstorming with me on the best ways to get an agent to say “yes” – she has offered more to this project than I ever imagined or hoped she would.

The good news is that the majority of people who have read the manuscript drafts liked what they read – there have been exceptions here and there, but if everyone gave me nothing but positive feedback, I would be both suspicious of their critiques and question the fact that this many people were in accord over a piece of writing. I know from my own experience as a reader that some books I fall in love with are books that others hate with a passion, just as books I cannot stomach are some of my friends’ favorite reading experiences. So, I recognize how huge the subjective opinion reigns in matters of creative works. It doesn’t necessarily make it any less painful to get lukewarm feedback about an endeavor I put a whole lot of years, my blood, sweat and brain matter into… but I totally get it.

Which brings me to the agent search. This is where a lot of the waiting has rested, with a search that has been ongoing for more months than I would like to be reminded of, and which failed to garner a single offer of representation. I learned a lot from a different book I queried agents and publishers with back in 2014, which resulted in a lot of polite passes and even an offer of publication (which, for reasons still unknown to me, was rescinded before I even saw a contract). So, my approach to querying Bear came with past experience and a predisposition to overall rejection, and I knew what Janet Fitch told me was true: “It’s a numbers game.” Aware of all the pitfalls of sending my baby out into the cold, insular New York literary agent world, I was still surprised by how little actual response I got from my emails. My polished query and the recommendations I had from a few true literary powerhouses were answered with silence; referrals from published authors failed to attract any kind of response from agents. I expected, and actually looked forward to, a deluge of standard, form-letter rejections. What I wasn’t prepared for were all the no-responses, the total lack of interest to even dash off a quick “doesn’t work for our agency, but keep writing!” email. Again, I went into this agent search with my eyes wide open, not expecting anything (knowing full well that just because I would have liked to hear back from them, they really had no obligation to reply to my emails), but hopeful for a modicum of interest.

Once the writing on the wall became unremovable ink that I was unable to interpret as anything other than the harsh truth that no one cared nearly as much about my novel as I did, that’s when my entire outlook on Bear, and its future publication, shifted. That’s when I decided that if I really wanted this book — which I loved and wanted to share with whomever might care enough to read it — to become an actual novel that lived and breathed in the world, then I would have to publish it myself.

Wheeler Street Press was born, and a plan — or series of plans — was hatched. The creation of a publishing company, with the sole purpose of putting in print and in e-book form all of the finished, polished prose I have labored over all these years, was the most promising step forward I had experienced since I can’t remember when.

As I move forward with this blog, and publication through Wheeler Street Press becomes a reality, more details of this process will emerge. In 2017, The Bear Who Broke The World will see publication as both a trade paperback and and e-book. Until then, I will be here, continuing to document the evolution of my novel.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. I’ll do my best to make sure your visits here are worth the trip.

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photo by Justin McFarr

 

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The Return

07/17/2013 at 4:27 pm (Author Updates, Squaw Valley, Welcome)

 

It’s been two years and four months since my last post here, so my return to it after so long is less of a homecoming and more of a new beginning. Quite a bit has happened to me in that stretch of time; less has happened with the novel itself. I suppose a recap of time is in order, but I’ll try to be brief so that we can move forward and closer to the completion of this novel that I alternately love, admire, misunderstand and fear.

I just returned from a very inspiring, mind-clearing trip to the Squaw Valley Writers Conference, also known as the Community of Writers. squaw-valley-logo

It was utterly fantastic, and helped me to realize that a good year of revision on this novel — which I feel is midway through a fairly strong third draft rewrite — is both a reasonable and realistic goal for getting it in shape to send out in hopes of representation and eventual publication. With that decision, I feel I have some breathing room, time to allow the novel to fully declare itself, and to open myself up to different approaches toward finishing it.

Which is where this blog comes in. When I first started it, in February of 2010, I was in the second semester of my graduate program at USC and was deep into the first draft of Bear. I had already completed the best class I have ever — before or since — taken on writing, a master course taught by the unbelievably brilliant Janet Fitch about everything a craft-loving boy like me needs in order to elevate the work a level or two higher. Gina Nahai had also shown a surprising amount of enthusiasm for the first few chapters of the novel, which I had workshopped in her tremendously helpful and supportive classroom. That encouragement from her and my fellow MPWers fueled my desire to not only keep these characters on their fictional path, but to get them to their initial destination soon, well in advance of the last two semesters of the program, when I would work with a thesis advisor to usher me toward graduation and a world outside the rarefied creative air of graduate school.

So I wrote, and I wrote, and I spent time on the exercises here on this blog, and I wrote, and eventually I became so overwhelmed with the very focused work on the manuscript, in order to get it ready for “the final stretch,” that I abandoned this site and all of its potential.

What follows is a brief chronology of what happened when I stopped blogging here, up until the point — today — when I returned:

May, 2011: I finish a first draft of the novel — all 67,450 words or 236 pages of it — and begin my journey toward graduation with my thesis advisor, Rita Williams. She is funny, thoughtful and generous, full of effusive praise and sobering criticism, always asking questions about the characters, the story, what my investment in these boys means to me, constantly challenging the work to become richer, tasking me and my writing to go deeper and emerge more knowing and assured. She is willing to meet me weekly, to read and think deeply about the glut of new material I produce, and I love her for it.

September, 2011: I complete what I dub a “2nd Draft First Pass” for Judith Freeman, my second and last thesis advisor, to read before we begin our twice-monthly meetings. Her overall notes are much different than Rita’s, but instead of creating confusion in me about the novel that could have easily sent me spiraling into despair and inaction, it has the opposite effect: I get excited and even more focused on completing a second draft that is even stronger than the first ever was. Judith keeps me grounded, fosters my voice and trusts my instincts, introduces me to the idea of shaping all my scenes into a structure that “reads” like a novel, and inspires me to finish a final thesis draft that runs 80,800 words, or 279 pages. In late November, I turn it in to Brighde Mullins, the whip-smart, cheerleading director of the program. It is no masterpiece, but it is complete.

January, 2012: I know I need to get a teaching job, now that I have a graduate degree and teaching is to writers what alcohol is to… well, writers. Based on past experience and an English dept. head with a willingness to give a former student a shot, I wind up teaching three composition classes in my very first semester at this O.C. community college.

March, 2012: By this time, I realize that the lesson planning, in-class hours, and paper grading I decide that I don’t have the time or energy that Bear needs from me. Of course, I hold out a small shred of hope that my work load will lessen and I can at least visit Bear from time to time — but that doesn’t happen.

March, 2013: A mere 16 months after I finished the 2nd Draft of Bear, I am ready to pick it up again. I read it in its entirety twice, make so many notes on the crisp, white pages that by the second go-round, the manuscript looks like it’s been infected by red ink. I officially begin a 3rd Draft, intent on finishing it by the end of 2013.

April, 2013: I polish a partial chapter of Bear to submit for the Fiction Workshop at Squaw Valley. Janet Fitch teaches there every other summer, and USC alum I know have attended the conference. I learn that they accept only 1 in 4 submissions, so the odds are not in my favor. It doesn’t matter. The worst they can do is reject it, and rejection is something I’ve made friends with over the past few months, courtesy of the query letters and manuscript pages sent to all the agents for a different book.

May, 2013: I receive the beautiful e-mail stating that it is “their pleasure to invite” me to their “43rd Annual Writers Workshop” in July. I scream, I jump up and down, I can’t wipe the damn grin off my face for a good couple of days. I immediately ramp up my efforts on the latest draft of the novel, the inspiration and the motivation coursing through me. I attempt to finish an entire third draft in less than two months.

July, 2013: The Community of Writers conference in Squaw Valley begins. I have not completed my 3rd draft, but it doesn’t matter. I’m about to breathe the same mountain air as Amy Tan, Richard Ford, Karen Joy Fowler, Gail Tsukiyama, and an amazing array of novelists and short story writers. From the moment I arrive at Reno airport, to the moment I get on the plane back to LAX, I am living the dream. And it is glorious.

Which brings us up to today, the 17th of July, and I am barely home two days from the whirlwind schedule of workshops, panels, readings, dinners, parties and all that swimming in the community pool of creativity and camaraderie. It is time to recommit to the novel, to my writing, and to this blog.

I have a new goal of finishing the novel not by the end of this year, but by next summer. That feels right to me. It feels like a goal I can accomplish, maybe with time to spare. It is not about just getting it done — it never has been, actually — but about completing a novel I can feel so wholly proud of that it doesn’t matter if 2 people or 2 million people read it. I love being a writer. I love writing this book and spending time with these characters, and this blog will allow me to explore the people who inhabit these pages in a way I am unable to do through the manuscript alone. It will give me opportunities to tap into other facets of the novel: its themes, settings, points-of-view and narrative voices that expand the meaning — and my understanding — of The Bear Who Broke The World.

Let’s begin…

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