I Have a New Publisher! (She Dances for Joy)

Me doing the happy dance!

Me doing the happy dance!

I have signed with a new publisher! Diversion Books has agreed to re-publish “The Obsidian Mirror” AND the sequel, which I am now writing. I simply could not be more pleased. I emailed the manuscript and cover art to them today.

Diversion Books is located in New York City (and on Park Avenue at that. Isn’t that cool? C’mon. It’s cool.). They started as a division of Scott Waxman Literary Agency, but are now an independent company. Diversion publishes a wide range of fiction and non-fiction titles. In my genre, you might recognize authors Henry Kuttner, Ursula K. LeGuin and M.K. Wren.

I am thrilled to be in such august company, and really looking forward to working with this very professional outfit. I am also–needless to say–delighted that “The Obsidian Mirror” will see the light of day again, and that the sequel has a home as well.

I’ll be keeping you posted about the sequel. The one thing I learned from writing “The Obsidian Mirror” is to always start with a plot outline. (In all fairness to myself, I didn’t think at the time that I was actually going to write a novel.) I finished the plot outline for “Fire in the Ocean” (working title; it may change) two weeks ago and started writing it last week. So far, I’m more than 7,000 words and four and a half chapters into it. I like having a plot outline!

I’ll try asking you another question. Do you like the working title of the sequel? Not? I really am looking for feedback.

Day 2 of My Journey to My Next Novel

Day 2: Kona

In case you didn’t believe me about the hidden location of the rear door handles on our rental Chevy Crapmobile, I have included this. Do you see the handle?

Door handles are cunningly concealed on the awesome Chevy Crapmobile.

Door handles are cunningly concealed on the awesome Chevy Crapmobile.

Our second day here was a “down day.” We awoke rather late. I took a shower and then went to our outdoor kitchen on the lanai to make breakfast. Casey, whom we hadn’t yet met, came by to see how we were doing. He explained that he hadn’t yet purchased my requested decaf coffee.

“Decaf is kind of heretical in Kona,” he explained. “But I’ll put on a disguise and find some for you.” I said he could forget about it, figuring that I was in Hawaii, so how bad could my blood pressure get? I fixed myself a 6-cup pot of Kona coffee and drank all of it, and I am still alive.

Casey has long, white hair and a long, white beard. He told us that they were living in Seattle and had visited Captain Cook on vacation. They asked themselves why they weren’t living in Captain Cook and couldn’t come up with a good explanation so they moved here. He later delivered the decaf, but by that time I had decided to go with the local custom and drink full-bore.

There were a few issues at first with regard to breakfast. Our hosts had thoughtfully provided eggs and sausage (this is a B&B, but obviously we are expected to cook our B ourselves), so I chopped some sausage and scrambled eggs in a bowl before discovering that the camp stove wouldn’t light. Tom, brilliant man that he is, discovered the location of the gas tanks (they weren’t obvious) and turned the gas on, so that was all right. I could not find sugar for my coffee, but Joan found us some later. (I used brown sugar from the fridge, which worked fine.) I toasted some croissants, made Tom some tea, and we had a lovely breakfast. Joan reappeared so that I could ask vital questions such as does Hawaii have ants (yes) and where the recycling bin was (if it was a snake it woulda bit me).

After breakfast, Tom and I sat at the table, each absorbed in our work. I wrote yesterday’s blog post and cursed at various apps for not working the way I wanted them to. Tom–I’m not sure what he was trying to do, but I think he was working. I kept interrupting him with my app problems and he kept patiently solving them. This is why we have been married for 43 years. We didn’t have apps or iPads or iPhones–or come to think of it, personal computers–back in the day, but the principle is the same.

I should explain that I am trying to do everything on an iPad. I have a laptop, but just didn’t want to haul it around and have to demonstrate to TSA that I am not a terrorist. (Inclusion of this word will probably interest the NSA. Have fun, NSA. It’s only money.) I am finding that an iPad, which I normally use for reading books, searching the Internet and following Facebook, has certain limitations when you’re trying to manage a bunch of social media streams. In fact, it’s crazy-making.

Now that I’ve mentioned the NSA, it reminds me that when I opened my suitcase after our flight yesterday, a sandwich bag of nutritional supplements that I had packed first (and was thus at the bottom of my suitcase) was now on top of my clothes and had been opened. There was no note from TSA to say my luggage had been searched, not that they always leave billet doux when they search. Or it may have been an airline employee looking for free drugs. If so, I hope my calcium tablets gave him a sweet high. The whole thing was disturbing, in either case.

So the morning flew by before we knew it. As I made my way back to our rooms, I saw a gorgeous gecko right outside our bedroom. He obligingly posed for this picture:

He knows he's beautiful. Or she.

He knows he’s beautiful. Or she.

Then Tom reappeared, having washed the dishes. He needed to rinse his hair and T-shirt because a gecko (not the one outside our bedroom) had, um, eliminated over Tom’s head and hit his hair and shirt. So apparently geckos have a lot in common with seagulls.

Speaking of which, did you know that there are no seagulls in Hawaii? That seems almost impossible, but it really speaks to the geographical isolation of the islands. Not that I miss the seagulls, mind you. Instead, they have little blue doves, adorable little blue doves that make a satisfying jungle-y sound.

We finally finished our self-appointed tasks and headed out. By this time we both were thinking about lunch, and it was mid-afternoon. We first went to a the Oshima Store where our hosts told us we could purchase various items we had neglected to bring. Our GPS systems told us all sorts of nonsense. Finally, I glimpsed some Hawaiians walking by the highway. Tom stopped the car and I leaped out and pursued them. They kindly stopped and I asked them where Oshima’s was. They told me and sure enough, there it was. Oshima’s is a genuine general store; they carry a bit of this, a bit of that, heavy on fishing tackle, light on organization. So it took a while to find everything, but we finally paid and left.

Then we decided to get lunch at Da Poke Shack. Poke (pronounced POH-kay) is chunks of raw ahi (sushi-grade tuna) with spices and usually lime juice and coconut milk over rice. It is absolutely delicious. Tom and I had it the first time on a motu (little island) in Moorea. Our guide prepared it on the beach and it was nectar of the gods. At Da Poke Shack, they had a wider selection of sauces and grains, but it was late in the afternoon, so we had a limited choice–some of which disappeared while we waited. Tom got sesame poke and spicy garlic poke over brown rice and I got the spicy garlic and “Pele’s Kiss” poke over brown rice, both with edamame (steamed soybean pods). Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes, so it is fortunate that I enjoy spicy food, because there wasn’t a lot of choice–by this time it was 4:30 pm, and we were the last customers because Da Poke Shack had literally run out of food.

We stopped by the Choice Mart to pick up some dinner fixings. We saw these rambutans and couldn’t resist buying some. I’ll report on how they taste later. I like that they look like Klingon food.

Rambutans--or Klingon food.

Rambutans–or Klingon food.

We purchased two monchong filets that we would never see in a store at home (and according to the label, aren’t that common here, either) and some salad fixings. Several times, I was tempted by something like asparagus, only to find that it was in the neighborhood of $11 per pound. Anything that has to be flown in is hideously expensive.

On the way back we were astonished to see a flock of wild turkeys. One of the males walked right up to the Crapmobile and began a mating display. The Crapmobile was cruelly unmoved. Different species, I guess–though “turkey” would be a good descriptor for the car.

We got back just before sunset. I put the food away and then we both decided that we were still full of poke and didn’t want dinner. We sat on the lanai with our wine and played cards. Joan came out with a red banana she called a Cuban red. Later, she reappeared with sliced Cuban red on a plate. It was starchy but flavorful, with a faint citrusy tang. Still later, she offered us some champagne, which we accepted with delight. She served it in the prettiest glasses, tall flutes etched with a bamboo pattern. I guess she likes us if she’s giving us bananas and champagne.

Interestingly, we have never seen Joan and Casey at the same time. My writer’s brain began working on a story about a Hawaiian kupua (shape changer). Then I made it stop. One story at a time, brain!

I Took My Skull Back to the Place It Came From (Almost)

When I turned six years old, my grandfather gave me a present. It wasn’t wrapped, as I recall, but just placed in a plain cardboard box. As it happened, it was my favorite gift that year: a genuine human skull.

My grandfather, Frank W. Moore, was an adventurous man. In the earlier days of the 20th century, he helled around California in a Model T, driving across the desert before there was such a thing as “off-road” driving. He had a sailboat called “Amy H” in which he explored the California coast and offshore islands. (My grandmother was not named Amy H. I think the boat came with the name and he never got around to changing it.) In those days, California was underpopulated and he had the freedom to go pretty much wherever he wanted to do whatever he felt like. One of the things he liked to do was go out with his buddy, Dr. Walter B. Power, and cut down billboards.

On one occasion in 1917, he landed on San Nicholas Island, later made famous by writer Scott O’Dell as “The Island of the Blue Dolphins.” On or near the beach, he saw a white dome poking up out of the sand. He uncovered it and found a skull with half of its lower mandible. The teeth (those that were left) were ground down quite smooth as a result of the inhabitants’ diet of shellfish which contained a lot of sand. My grandfather took the skull home, where it became an object of envy for my mother, who had ambitions of becoming an archeologist (and eventually did). Mom named it Yorick after the skull in “Hamlet.”

In those days, there was no Native American Repatriation Act, aimed at restoring the remains of Native Americans to their tribes and homelands. The battle of Wounded Knee was a mere 27 years in the past when my grandfather found the skull, and the term “Native American” hadn’t yet been coined. Indians, in short, were not highly regarded by the mainstream culture back then. No one thought twice about my grandfather taking Yorick from his resting place on San Nicholas Island.

In 1917, there were no inhabitants on the island. The Nicoleños (or Ghalas-at) had been almost exterminated by Russian fur-trappers. In 1835, the padres of the California mission system moved five of the six remaining inhabitants to the mainland. The one who stayed, Juana Maria, became known as “The Lone Woman.” She lived there, utterly alone, until her removal from the island in 1853. She died not long after.

My mother thought the skull was that of a young male in his 20’s, pointing to the supra-orbital ridges and cranial sutures, and we continued to refer to it as Yorick. Sensibilities toward Native Americans hadn’t improved too much by the time my childhood rolled around, so I happily took Yorick to show-and-tell sessions at school–and I have to tell you, he never failed to make a hit appearance. No one could top me when it came to show-and-tell; imagine following my human skull with your toy cap gun (also a perfectly acceptable show-and-tell item in the 1950’s).

I took as much care of Yorick as a small child might be expected to do, but one day, something heavy fell on him as he rested in my off-duty Easter basket. My mother undertook to glue him back together–and while she was engaged in this project, the chipmunk I had taken home for the weekend from my third grade classroom escaped in the family room and took up residence in the couch. Mom thought this would be a good way to start a book: “While I was glueing my daughter’s skull back together, the chipmunk got loose.” I thought this had promise, but she never did write the book.

When my own children were in elementary school, I let them take Yorick to their show-and-tell sessions. He was as much a hit as ever, but I heard back from one teacher that Yorick was an inappropriate show-and-tell subject. She mentioned the Native American Repatriation Act, and I realized with something of a shock that Yorick was, of course, subject to that law. That ended Yorick’s career in show-and-tell.

I suppose I should have realized earlier that Yorick had been a human being whose remains had been wrested from his native land in an insensitive and chauvinistic manner. But Yorick had been a fixture in my life, and I hadn’t really thought of him as such. He spent the next couple of decades in a cardboard box. Out of sight, out of mind.

When I finished “The Obsidian Mirror” and began to look for a publisher, I remembered my unfulfilled obligation. My novel is based on New World legends, myths, and folk tales, and I recognized my enormous debt to the Native Americans and their many cultures. I thought if I got published–by a real publisher, not self-published–the finest way to celebrate this would be to repatriate Yorick to whichever Native American tribe now held the responsibility for those long-dead people of San Nicholas Island. I thought the Chumash were the most likely, as they are the tribe that lives around Santa Barbara now. I pledged to Yorick and the Powers That Be that I would repatriate Yorick if my book were picked up by a publisher. (I planned to self-publish if I failed to find a publisher, but I didn’t even contemplate what I would do with Yorick in that case.)

Well, AEC Stellar Publishing is bringing out “The Obsidian Mirror” sometime this summer. So I had a promise to keep.

To be honest, I had never before investigated where San Nicholas Island was, precisely, or what had become of it. I had assumed, as the island is considered part of the Channel Islands group, it had been rid of its introduced species like rats and goats and made into a nature preserve like Anacapa. A group of us sat in our living room this past holiday season and did some research. Some of us (not me) were voluble in proposing that we hire a fishing boat and go out to San Nicholas to rebury Yorick ourselves.

It turned out that San Nicholas Island is considerably south of the other Channel Islands (except for Santa Catalina and San Clemente), and sits perhaps 100 miles out to sea from the Southern California coast.

The Channel Islands

The Channel Islands

It also turned out that the island is under the jurisdiction of the United States Navy, which uses it for weapons research. The occupants of a fishing boat that attempted to land would probably be arrested. Some of the group still wanted to do it. “We’ll just tell them we’re old and we got lost,” said my friend Meg. Nope. Nope. Nope. Not going there. I reserve my feckless adventuring for my fiction writing.

I contacted my cousin Sally, who lives near Santa Barbara. Sally suggested contacting Dr. John Johnson, an anthropologist specializing in the Channel Island Indians. Dr. Johnson, a very kind and knowledgeable man, explained that there was an investigation underway to try to determine who (if any) were the legitimate descendants of the Nicoleños. And the organization in charge of the investigation? The U.S. Navy. I don’t have a whole lot of faith that the U.S. Navy feels any urgency about resolving this problem, but according to Dr. Johnson, there isn’t any alternative. Repatriated remains go to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, where Dr. Johnson works. He assured me that there is a special area where these remains are kept until they can be interred in an appropriate manner and place. Yorick would stay in the museum until the Navy decided where he belonged.

Well, Santa Barbara was at least closer to San Nicholas Island than Yorick has been in more than half a century. I made an appointment with Dr. Johnson to turn Yorick over.

When my husband and I went to Santa Barbara, Dr. Johnson spent some time examining the skull, then said, “I think what we have here is actually Yoricka.” He believes that the skull was that of an older woman, not a young man, and showed us why he thought so. (Sorry, Mom. I think he’s right.) He asked me details about my grandfather and mother and I filled out some paperwork. Then it was time to say goodbye. On the way out of the museum, my husband turned to me and asked, “Feeling a little sad?”

I said, “Yes.” I wish I had taken a picture of Yorick before we left. After all, he–she–was a member of my family for 97 years. I wish I had known who you really were, Yorika. I hope you find your way back to your Island of the Blue Dolphins.

The Final Concept (Cover Art)

Well, the publisher has approved final cover art for “The Obsidian Mirror.” As you can see below, not too different from the last one. We still don’t have the blurbs, publisher’s logo, etc., but that’s out of my hands for now. I like this one!

Cover Art 2b

The Coyote Didn’t Cut It

Sometimes I have to shake myself to see if I am dreaming. I am fulfilling a lifelong ambition: writing and publishing a novel. It has been a daydream so long that I had given up on it—until I actually wrote a book.

But now, I am listed as an author on the publisher’s website. I am working on the graphics. I am working on the marketing. I should be working on final-editing the manuscript, but haven’t quite gotten there yet. (Tomorrow. I promise!) Sometimes I wonder if this is real, or just an extended daydream—but then my publisher asks me to do something else, and I’m sure these tasks were not part of my original roseate dream, so I am becoming more convinced that this will really happen.

And then I go back to being amazed.

Well, anyway, here’s a mockup of my latest cover design, front, back and spine. I haven’t gotten feedback from the publisher yet, but I kind of like it. But no man/coyote graphic. <Sniff><Sob> I am very attached to the shape-changing coyote, but he just isn’t working out too well as a cover. I am sure I’ll continue to use him, but perhaps not on the book cover. If you were kind enough to weigh in on the graphic, thanks. I agree with the majority that the original one is the best.

Cover Art 2a

Vote for Your Favorite Coyote!

I sent last week’s cover art to my publisher. One of his comments was: “…the book itself also felt a bit more light hearted than the dark cover with the serious boy (who was definitely not so serious in my mind, as I read anyway).”

The man (Chaco) changing into a coyote is central to my story. Chaco is Coyotl, the trickster folk hero of many Native American cultures. He can shift back and forth at will, and this comes in handy several times during the story. So I’d really like to use the image of the shape-shifting man-coyote. But my publisher is right: the tone of the book is on the lighter side.

I picked out a few more handsome latino men from iStock.com, where there is a plethora of such men on sale for very little money, and created two alternatives to my original. I present them here for your deliberation: which is the best Chaco: #1, #2, or #3?

I eagerly await your judgement!

Chaco #1

Chaco #1

Chaco #2

Chaco #2

Chaco #3

Chaco #3

Tell Me What You Think. Please?

I’ve gone back and forth a couple of times with the publisher, AEC Stellar, and I think we’ve probably arrived at an agreement.

So now I get to do something fun: design my own cover art. AEC Stellar has people who will do this, but from my standpoint, one of the advantages of working with a small company is that they are willing to let me do my own cover design if I want (and it meets their standards). I realize that most people wouldn’t think this was fun, but I also paint in oils and design jewelry and I’m pretty good at Photoshop. You can purchase excellent photography and illustrations from an online stock provider for very reasonable prices and manipulate these images in Photoshop. I did a lot of this when I was working on marketing materials for Cisco, and I enjoy it.

Here’s my first concept. Do you like it? Dislike it? I’d love to know.

Obsidian Mirror cover3

The Contract

ContractThe book contract arrived. It seemed pretty straightforward to me, but I’ve never laid eyes on a book contract before, so what do I know? I followed the advice of my book consultant and shelled out some bucks to have someone knowledgeable review it.

I recognized that the contract was unusual. The publisher is unusual. It required some shared expenses. Having talked with the publisher, I was aware of this, and given that the author gets 50% of the net (as compared to maybe 12% from standard publishers), that didn’t seem unfair to me, especially as this is a new, startup publisher.

The reviewer sent the contract back with many, many comments. I looked at them all carefully. There were a few that I didn’t agree with, but some of the others seemed more than reasonable. For example, the contract specified that all rights to the work in other media such as TV, movies, audiobook, etc. would belong to the publisher. Now, the likelihood of my little novel being made into a movie is remote, but I didn’t see why I should give up the rights to my own work, even so. So I marked up the contract accordingly and returned it to the publisher with a polite note indicating that everything was up for discussion.

That was yesterday. No response so far. Of course, I reasoned, he needs time to look it over. I took my time, after all. But still. Is he pissed off? Insulted? Did he even see it yet? Am I stressing unnecessarily? Or is this an indication of thunderclouds on the horizon? Should I stop thinking about it? Should I call?

Or maybe I’ll just go for a walk on the beach and forget about it.

They Want To Talk Contract. OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD!!!!!

Fireworks GroupOkay, I’m hoping that I write and publish so many books that I will become jaded. But right now, I am so excited I can hardly see straight. So if this blog post is incoherent and sounds as though I were abusing some mind-altering substance, this is why:

AEC Stellar Publishing got back to me about “The Obsidian Mirror,” and they want to talk contract. Here is what Ray Vogel (surely the most luminously intelligent and talented man alive) of AEC Stellar said: “I did think it was very well written. The characters were unique and complex, and the story was a fun adventure that I could see appealing to just about any age.”

Which is precisely what I was going for. Thank you, Mr, Vogel. Thank you, AEC Stellar Publishing. Thank you, World. Thanks to all of you who have been with me on this journey and given me your positive energy and good wishes. Thank you.

Did I Find a Publisher? And More Dolphins.

Last week, I was reading “The Barsetshire Diaries,” a blog about retired life in an English village by Lord David Prosser. (Is he really a lord? I have no idea, but he is certainly a noble man!) Lord D. published an interview with Sorin Suciu, the author of a humorous fantasy novel called “The Scriptlings.” Sorin mentioned he was with a new publisher with “an author-oriented business model and a heart of gold,” AEC Stellar Publishing.

Humorous fantasy? I stopped reading and went to AEC Stellar’s website, where I queried “The Obsidian Mirror” online. “Obsidian” isn’t written as a humor piece, but it does have a lot of humor in the writing—my way of sweetening the underlying theme of ecological threat and conservation.

The next day, to my astonishment, I received a request for the first chapter.

The day after that, I received a request for the entire manuscript and an analysis of my writing. Though disappointed by my score in “Writing Craft” (80.9%), the verbiage did say, “You appear to have a good grasp of the craft of writing… Your style of writing is likely to be well received by readers.” My score in “Marketability” of 88.6% made up for it. (“We believe your book is likely to succeed in today’s marketplace.”)

So now I am waiting on pins, needles and tenterhooks to hear back. I was told it would be three or four weeks, which seems lightening fast, considering that my submission to Harper Voyager in October of 2012 only just came back with a rejection notice. Apparently, the rejection was conveyed on the back of an unusually pokey snail.

Please wish me well. And many thanks to the inimitable Lord David and Sorin Suciu.

* * *

On a completely new topic, my daughter, my husband and I took advantage of a rare afternoon when we were all free to go for a walk on our favorite beach. It’s October, and the midweek population of beach-goers was negligible, despite the golden, warm weather and sunny skies.

It was low tide, assuring a flat, firm walking surface by the water’s edge and lots of flotsam to peer at. The small crabs are all gone. I suppose they have their season, spawn, and die, for there are many tiny, empty carapaces scattered about on the sand.

Dolphins surfing. Photo by BabyNuke.

Dolphins surfing. Photo by BabyNuke.

 We walked for a mile and a half or so before turning back. Almost immediately, we began to see dolphins (or porpi) swimming just beyond the breakers. They rolled and splashed, and a baby broke joyously up from the waves, curved in a graceful arc and disappeared again.  We began to see dolphins surfing in the waves—something I had heard about but never seen for myself. As a wave rose up, the sun shone through, making it look like green glass. Inside the breaking wave, silhouetted against the light, we could see dolphins surfing along the curve and subsiding again as the wave foamed onto the shore. Then we began to see dolphins leaping out of the water, launching their entire bodies into the air, diving, then doing it again and again like enormous skipping stones.

Some days just make you glad to be alive.