A brand new season begins. My idiosyncratic calendar of three seasons a year has tipped over into spring – which I, personally, find a surprise given how cold it’s been over my way. Spring is all about new growth and bringing things out of dormancy to full bloom, however, and that is definitely on the menu with Mouse Cage – the Troy thing – which I am still unsure about the title for, but, y’know, the words on the outside of the book cover matter a bit less than the words on the inside, so those are what I’ll focus on for now.
Recently I’ve been doing some research reading. One I mentioned in a recent behind-the-scenes and on twitter, Catholicity & Emerging Personhood, by Daniel P. Horan, which is in quite the niche of theology about personhood, but an absolutely great book in that niche from my layman perspective. (Twitter thread here: https://twitter.com/foozzzball/status/1483121953653338112) The other major reading has been Opium Fiend, by Steven Martin, and that one’s a wild ride. A memoir of addiction, but from the perspective of an antique collector with a fascination for now-rare opium smoking paraphernalia. He manages to acquire an antique opium pipe, and, uhh… then gets ahold of some opium prepared in the antique way. It’s quite the wild ride, and covers the obsession around re-creating an extinct practice with a lot of detail and soul. (Some twitter notes here: https://twitter.com/foozzzball/status/1483852931707322372) I’m also dipping into Magdalena: River of Dreams, by Wade Davis, which is helping me learn about Colombia’s history – a subject I have been very lax on digging into, despite reading 100 years of Solitude and watching Encanto recently.
It’s really nice to slow down sometimes and get into research and exploring things intellectually. It’s been quite a long time since I read so much non-fiction at once, and it’s been quite inspiring in several directions.
Anyway. Other news, firstly, Aconite Braid is still in the process of being offered to agents. No particular new news there except to say my morale has been taking wildly high and low swings more or less at random. Some days the rejections are just a tick in the spreadsheet, other days they’re making me question what I’m even trying to do, but, overall, I think I’m handling the emotional side of nervously waiting to see who’s responded relatively well.
Secondly, Dog Country just entered the semi-finals for the SPSFC. (Pronounced ‘Spuhss-Fick’, apparently. See https://twitter.com/theSPSFC and https://thespsfc.org/ ) It was chosen as one of three entries from the selection of books assigned to one of the judging teams, Team Red Stars. There are (I think) ten teams, and each team picks three books to go into the semi-finals, from an initial collection of 300 in total. So, there are thirty semi-finalists, and Dog Country’s one of them. Over the next few months, apparently, the other nine teams will be reading Dog Country and at some point later this year (June?) the ten finalists, and then the final winner, will be announced.
It is wildly exciting, it has been very gratifying to read the kind things Team Red Stars have been saying about my book (Thank you RedStarsReviews – https://redstarreviews.com, Chimings – https://musingofsouls.wordpress.com/, Susy – https://susyscozyworld.wordpress.com/, William – http://williamctracy.com/ , and J.W. – https://jwwartick.com/ ) and, in addition, it’s very exciting knowing that more people, judges and interested onlookers both, are going to be reading my book and reacting to it.
Super wild. I feel very lucky. I will, however, temper that by saying that while it’s really exciting that my book’s getting attention in all this, if it misses out on the next round? (Or if someone who missed out on the semi-finals is passing by to read this?)
A book missing out on an award isn’t a signal it’s a bad book – it’s a signal that it hasn’t reached the audience that wants it. Books don’t have an objective quality level – books are subjective, and it’s all about who they’ve connected to and the circumstances around that. A book that might be amazing if read in a relaxed, slow setting might not look as good if read as one of dozens of books hurriedly read as part of a competition. A book that might connect with a reader new to a given genre might not work for a reader who’s been devouring the genre for a long time and has become jaded, and so on.
And the mechanism of competitions like this (and of things like, oh, say, submitting novels to agents and trying to sell them to publishers…) is not designed to find the ‘objective’ goodness or badness in a work, it’s designed to find works that have a specific style of broad appeal and accessibility to an audience which has already been developed and identified. Which is really exciting if you’re there! But if you’re not grouped into that bracket, well, that just tells you the competition (or agency reading practices, or publisher’s acquisition’s editor) passed on it – and I know I love leaping to conclusions, to immediately assume that someone passing on my book means I wrote a terrible book, but, that’s leaping to conclusions. All it means is the book hasn’t found the audience it needs to connect to, and sure, the reasons for that could include quality or skill issues which might need to be worked on, but it could also include a reviewer (agent/editor) looking at your book before they’ve had their coffee, or looking at it from a perspective that’s completely irrelevant to your book quality. (For example: Is this book really easy to market?)
…. Yeah, I may still be having some flashbacks from those morale swings while querying agents with Aconite Braid. Possibly. But the above is, in a sense, how I keep my emotions level about it all.
(Side tangent: Self Publishing, for its many sins, has one huge advantage for literature – it makes it possible to publish, and read, things that appeal to an audience which is undeveloped and unidentified. It can be experimental and take risks which mainstream traditional publishing can’t. Of course the number of interesting self-published works which never sell more than a handful of copies shows us why mainstream traditional publishing can’t take risks like that, but, still…)
Going into February, it’s mostly going to be working on Mouse Cage – which, if you are new to following me, is in the same San Iadras setting as Dog Country, but follows a very different character (Troy Salcedo, gengineered mouse and traumatized former research subject up until the Emancipation), who gets into very different pickles. (Digging through traumas old and new, participating in the San Iadras charity circuit, a failing career and on top of all that, navigating a complex romance that hurts as much as it heals).
Some of the material once formed a subplot in the earliest drafts of Dog Country, some of it is derived from material I was fan-writing in the furry fandom all the way back in the 00’s, and quite a lot of it is entirely new stuff that I’ve been daydreaming about for years.
That work’s going to be revisions and rewrites, guided by 26-ish pages of notes I made reading the first draft last month. I am hoping to get it ready for release in the vicinity of May or June, but I’m not ready to put that in ink yet.
I am still undecided what my next ‘for trad-pub’ project will be, since I think I need to be a little more… mercenary, when it comes to my next trad-pub book. It needs to have a more easily marketable hook – if Aconite Braid was raw artistic interest for me, the next thing needs to be a bit more of a half and half balance, I think, so… that will take some consideration.
Anyway. Busy month up ahead for me.
I hope your February treats you all well, and, as ever, thank you so much for your support, whether as a patron or someone interested enough in my work to read this. It all counts, and it all helps.