An Appetizer of Autobiographical Fiction

From THE PRECARIOUSNESS OF DONE,
the upcoming (and first) novel by Tony Houck

 

PROLOGUE

Las Rozas, Spain
March 1996

     “Eres un subnormal profundo—You are a profound retard.”
     The insult had burst through Ethan’s door just minutes into the new year, as he lay propped against his pillow, ingesting the Spanish edition of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. The abuse had cut the eighteen-year-old, but it had not surprised him, despite his host mother’s resolution to “be more maternal.” He had given her an archaic smile and gone back to reading.
     But now, three months after slumping into bed with an old fisherman at twenty-two past midnight—for Spain, quite early but not retardedly so—Ethan wasn’t smiling. Anxious, the bright yet painfully shy teenager perched on the side of the bed.
     The bunk was designed to save space: a bookcase wall bed—the convenience of a twin Murphy bed, the storage of side cabinets with adjustable shelves. The unit had been a closeout, and it rocked slightly. Thankfully, it had never fallen on anyone, but no one had ever gotten a restful night’s sleep on the “mattress” either. Ethan didn’t blame his host parents for the miserable thing, tucking him into their house-rich, cash-poor lives however they could. Nevertheless, the room was a bedroom in name only.
     It was the tiniest space in a suite of rooms with parquet floors and stark white walls that occupied part of what Spaniards call the second floor but Americans call the third floor of the latest housing development. Regardless of the floor numbering scheme used inside the building, its anemic red brick exterior lacked style and grace.
     A walkway led from the buzz-in entrance through pea green grass watered and mined by Chihuahuas and a German shepherd, and then pierced a short wall separating the private lawn from the public sidewalk. The pedestrian-friendly street was typical of those in the burgeoning yet walkable town of Las Rozas. The name meant “clearings,” and though its origin was unclear (likely agricultural, as roza in Castilian refers to a place cleared for farmland), for Ethan, Las Rozas was home.
     The exception was his host parents’ apartment. It was the place where he disagreed most with the words of his exchange studies adviser: “Differences aren’t good or bad, just different.” She hadn’t been referring to an acrimonious couple but to general cultural differences (female nudity on broadcast television, for example), and he had agreed with her, for the most part. And though dealing with an adopted culture wasn’t always as pleasurable as watching a topless woman savor a spoonful of yogurt, Ethan did so like a trouper.
     He was a child of natural parents who were quietly living married yet separate lives under the same roof, so he was ill-prepared for the matrimonio’s biting words to each other. Ethan persisted through, fearing that someone would end his studies prematurely.
     Swallowing his complaints had done him little good, though. He sat back, heeling one of two large boxes his natural mother had shipped at great expense. God bless the woman for trying to buoy his withering waistline with non-perishable tastes of home: hot sauce, spray cheese, peanut butter, Triscuits, powdered milk.
     Or on second thought, maybe the Almighty should impose a little penance on her for turning a deaf ear to Ethan’s wish that she simply wire pesetas: “so many boxes” irritated his host mother, the caretaker of a Spartan kitchen with few cabinets. Where was he to put groceries in his postage stamp-sized quarters? Certainly not in plain sight, even if he stayed. And if he got the boot, he might simply trash them, although he hated the thought of tossing out good food almost as much as leaving.
     Ethan tucked his hands underneath him and stared at his host father’s mouth: Looking a person in the eyes was an ability that often eluded the introvert.
     “What’s clearer than water is that your behavior cannot continue,” the man who ran the roost declared, arms crossed.
     The walls closed in on Ethan. “I’m not sure what I’ve done wrong,” he managed to say with a Castilian accent that would be perfect if he hung on until June.
     “Not sure what you’ve done wrong?” the man asked, palming the greasy hair stuck to his scalp.
     “Not really,” Ethan said.
     The man leaned back in his chair and laced his nicotine-stained fingers behind his head. “I find that hard to believe.”
     Ethan caught a whiff of body odor: Soccer had been on the tele, and his host father had forgone his bubbly, weekly preening.
     Even the bathroom (tub shower, toilet, bidet—an odd fixture—vanity, linen closet) was larger than Ethan’s bedroom. At night, when his window and its rackety shutter were closed because his host mother “said so,” the room was claustrophobic. Only by the light leaking in under the door, which was also to remain shut, could he see the hand in front of his face.
     “Or maybe,” the man continued, “you’re just too much of a troglodita to see it.”
     As a child of a marriage disintegrating two thousand miles away, it hadn’t taken Ethan long to puzzle out his host mother’s behavior: Standing up to the rooster who strutted around his barnyard was an ability that often eluded her, so she brooded and pecked at her host son. But her husband’s demeanor had been apparent from the very start: Reveling in his own crowing, he was just an ecumenical cock.
     “Never in my life have I seen such an odd young man,” the old bird said.
     Ethan stared at the floor, wondering if he would still have somewhere to perch come dawn. “If this is about the Krispis . . .”
     His host father laughed at him. “This is about much more than cereal.”
     “I don’t—”
     “You weren’t the only student we could have chosen, understand? Do you know what I’m telling you? There were other choices, but we chose you.”
     Ethan’s slate blue eyes watched his wristwatch tick away the afternoon.
     “Of all the teenagers in Estados Unidos, we chose the one who doesn’t like cereal.”
     “I like cereal,” Ethan assured him yet again; “what I don’t like is the taste of the milk you buy.”
     “The milk tastes fine,” the cock said.
     “Brick milk is quite different from what I’m used to.”
     “What kind do you—” The man caught himself: “That’s right; you drink milk that’s sold in bottles.”
     Ethan nodded. “It’s perishable but doesn’t taste funny, at least to—”
     “We don’t buy that kind of milk,” the cock declared. “Don’t ask me again.”
     I didn’t ask you before, Ethan wanted to insist.
     “We don’t eat Krispis. I bought and paid for them for you.”
     Ethan had little doubt that his host mother had actually done the shopping. Besides, they were compensated for his day-to-day expenses. “If I had known the Krispis were so important to you, I would have eaten them dry. I’ll eat them dry.”
     “And could you check the gas bottle before you shower every day?”
     Ethan couldn’t believe the man was harping on the butane again. “I do check it,” he said, “and I only forgot that one time . . . way back in September. I apologized—”
     “But your apology didn’t buy a full gas bottle, did it?”
     Ethan felt like a puppy that had once piddled on the rug and was having his nose rubbed in the invisible stain.
     “The wife couldn’t make dinner; Burger King doesn’t give away Whoppers and patatas fritas, understand? You’re strange but smart. I know you know what I’m saying.”
     “I understand,” Ethan said faintly, “and as I said before, my house in Bir-he-nia (Virginia) has pipe gas, not gas bottles. Without a gauge or a scale, it’s hard to judge how much is left in one of those things.”
     “Didn’t you pick it up?”
     Ethan wanted to scream. “Again, it felt about half full.”
     “But it wasn’t,” the cock said wryly.
     “No, it wasn’t. Sorry.”
     Additional rebukes and apologies lasted until the door creaked open. A woman’s voice ventured through the crack: “I’m going to mass.”
     Her husband wiped the saliva off the corner of his mouth. “Fine.”
     “And don’t forget to have the late-afternoon snack, you two.”
     “Make it before you go,” the cock said, “and I’ll eat it later.”
     “I don’t have time.”
     The man glanced at Ethan’s watch. “It’s only six fifteen, and mass doesn’t start until seven o’clock. There’s plenty of time.”
     “No, there isn’t,” the voice insisted.
     The cock left oily fingerprints as he pushed back from the table. “Why not?” he asked, swaggering forward.
     “Because I’m taking a sanity break.”
     The cock clutched the doorknob, his knuckles reddening. “So you have the time, but won’t take the time.”
     “No . . . no, I won’t.”
     “What about the café?”
     “You’ll have to make it.”
     “Why haven’t you done it?”
     “Because God frowns at sinners who are late to mass,” his wife said. “There’s yogur in the refrigerator, behind the milk.”
     Dispirited and hungry, Ethan began to push back his cuticles, tending to each finger in exactly the same way as he gazed out the window. Outside, the light was turning soft, but inside the mood was already hard. He rocked forward and watched his host mother retreat. “And there’s cereal to go with that milk,” he said, thoughtlessly trying to lighten the mood. Or maybe he knew exactly what he was doing.
     The cock shoved the door open and chased after his hen. The two exchanged idle threats of divorce—nothing unusual—and then the front door thudded shut. The man locked and chained it, waltzed into the kitchen, and clanged together the makings of a small pot of coffee.
     After cursing his cigarette lighter, he lit the burner with a match as gas flowed plentifully from the gas bottle on the balcony. Waiting for the water to boil, he opened a package of fairy cakes and ate one of the light, spongy cupcakes as he stood at the stove.
     Minutes later, the aroma of stovetop coffee drifted on the silence. It was followed by the sporadic tings of a glass espresso cup settling into its saucer. Another fairy cake, a warmed cup of café con leche, the return of the opened brick of milk to the refrigerator, the rustle of a new pack of cigarettes. The cock strutted out of the kitchen.
     Kneeling on the bed, Ethan banked the memory of the mountains to the north silhouetted a deep reddish-purple by the sunset. After four tugs on the belt built into the wall, he was insulated by the roller shutter from the hominess of Las Rozas. He turned to face the starkness of the situation.
     The cock stood in the doorway, legs apart, hands on hips, a lit Marlboro pinched between his lips. “I have made my decision.”

The Toxic Parent Quiz

(Warning: Brutal Honesty Ahead)

I have severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): things-must-be-placed-“correctly” OCD, “Don’t touch that!” OCD, I-rarely-leave-the-house OCD, I-rattle-doorknobs OCD, and I-often-despise-myself OCD. But I did not kidnap the Lindbergh baby, I did not shoot JFK, I did not vote for Trump, and I did not ruin the Star Wars franchise by making The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

In other words, don’t lay the bad things that happen in this going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket world at the feet of my mental disorder. And don’t blame me for your baggage, your issues, your mistakes, and your miserable life. Yes, certain family member, I’m talking to you.

Newsflash: If you want to see the person who makes my wife cry, scream, and curse after she hangs up the phone because you have bullied her into silence and frightened her into pretending everything is fine, take a hard look in the mirror. Take an even harder look in that mirror if you want to see the person who my wife has had to parent since she was just your little girl. Go ahead and tell her again that she should have married someone else, that I was the reason she didn’t visit you when our son was a baby, and that your relationship is a mess because of me. Borrowing a quote about you from my wife, I say, “You’re batshit crazy.”

Another newsflash: Of the 100 times she’s called you, 99 of them were because I, holding the cordless handset, asked her if she should call you. And if you think her visits to see you were her idea, think again.

Ironic, isn’t it?

And that irony begs at least two questions: Why did I encourage my wife to stay in touch with you? and Are you a toxic parent?

The first question is easy to answer and a poor reflection on my ignorance of the nitty-gritty of my wife’s childhood. I wasted so much time projecting my feelings about my relationships with my own, divorced parents onto my wife’s “relationship” with you. Even though I’m grown, I still need my parents in my life . . . in different ways than when I was little, but I miss them terribly, living far away from each of them as I do. I had a hard time believing that my wife has wanted little, if anything, to do with you since before I met her. So I nudged and hinted, but it has been painfully obvious for several years now that my wife’s old scars are still very painful and that you are hell-bent on injecting guilt and heartbreak into her life as you make everything about you. So, I’m not going to hand my beautiful lady the phone any more or encourage her to visit you. That batshit is over.

Answering the second question requires help from Holly Chavez, a freelance writer, journalist, entrepreneur, and woman I have never met. In her article, “13 Signs Of A Toxic Parent That Many People Don’t Realize,” which is available here, she presents 13 situations. I re-formed those situations into a quiz, which my wife took regarding your behavior. After answering yes to 12 of the 13 questions, her conclusion was clear: You are a toxic parent.

For the readers of this post who would like to take my Toxic Parent Quiz, whether about themselves, their parents, or others who touch their lives, here it is:

(Substitute the pronoun “she” to fit the particular situation.)

Does she provide you with affirmation and security?
Is she overly critical?
Does she demand your attention?
Does she make toxic “jokes” about you?
Does she cause you to justify terrible behavior?
Does she not allow you to express negative emotions?
Does she scare even you, her adult child?
Does she always put her feelings first?
Does she co-opt your goals?
Does she use money and guilt to control you?
Does she give you the silent treatment?
Does she ignore healthy boundaries?
Does she make you responsible for her happiness?

For explanations of the 13 situations, as well as suggestions on how to manage toxic persons, click over to Holly Chavez’s article, “13 Signs Of A Toxic Parent That Many People Don’t Realize.” (Source: http://www.lifehack.org/350678/13-signs-toxic-parent-that-many-people-dont-realize)

Of course, no parent is perfect. No child is perfect. And none of us is entitled to perfection when it comes to family. But imperfection is not toxicity, and at some point it’s ridiculously unhealthy, emotionally speaking, not to distance yourself from that toxic someone or to remove him or her from your life. Easier said than done, I know, but you must try.

I have no doubt that if my mother-in-law created some sort of Loving Daughter or Son-in-law Quiz, my wife and I would fail it with flying colors. We’re both okay with that. What we’re not okay with is the 92.3% (12/13 X 100) chance of regretting answering the phone. At least for now, there’s a 0% chance of that.

Ain’t call blocking great?

Continue reading

In Support of Local Authors and Independent Booksellers

Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, began sponsoring “The Rehoboth Beach Reads Short Story Contest” in 2013. That was also the year my family first visited Rehoboth Beach and the Poconos, during a surprise, early-summer trip I had been planning for more than six months. I had known nothing about the short story contest prior to wandering into Browseabout Books, and after returning home to Virginia, I had started working on my contest submission. The theme that first year was “The Beach House.”

“The goal of the Rehoboth Beach Reads contest is to showcase good writing while creating a great book for summer reading. One of the most popular activities for residents and visitors is reading on the beach, and the contest seeks to collect the kinds of short, engaging stories that help readers relax, escape, and enjoy their time at the beach.

Each story must incorporate the chosen theme and also have a strong connection to Rehoboth Beach (writers do not have to live in Rehoboth). A panel of judges select the best entries, which are published in a professionally designed and edited paperback book.

Contest Guidelines [for 2017]

 1. Submission must fit the theme “Beach Life.”
 2. Submission may be fiction or nonfiction, but must be plausible as a “beach read”
     (engaging, entertaining, and/or humorous).
 3. No poetry, erotica, children’s literature, or religious material.
 4. All work must be original, unpublished, and free from libelous material
     (a signed release will be required).
 5. Length must be 500–3,500 words.
 6. Work must be submitted via email, preferably in Microsoft Word.
 7. Work should be publication-ready (in final form and free from grammatical,
      spelling, and structural mistakes).
 8. Writers retain copyright but must grant first publication rights if their work
      is selected.
 9. There is no guarantee of publication.
10. Limit of three entries per person.
11. Publisher reserves right to edit for grammar and spelling; writers will be
     given an opportunity to review changes before publication.
12. No entries will be accepted after the deadline: midnight, July 1, 2017
     (entries received at or after 12:01am July 2 will be disqualified).
13. Each entry must be accompanied by a $10 fee.
14. Writers do not have to reside in Rehoboth, but the written piece must
     include a substantive connection to the area.
15. Work will be judged on creativity, quality of writing, suitability as a
     beach read, and fit with the theme.”
(Source: http://catandmousepress.com/contest/)

Beach Life cover
Beach Life cover image used with permission from Cat & Mouse Press

I didn’t make it into The Beach House, or into The Boardwalk in 2014, Beach Days in 2015, or Beach Nights in 2016. But after four years of disappointment, self-doubt, and knee-jerk reactions not to enter the contest anymore, the fifth time was the charm. My Judge’s Award-winning “Lefty and the Empty Bucket of Fries” begins on page 189 of Beach Life, which is now available at Browseabout Books and on Amazon.com. In celebration of surprise trips, local authors, and persevering through rejection and self-doubt, mosey out your front door and into your local or not-so-local independent bookseller. If you’re looking for a book that’s fun, engaging and beachy, I can recommend one.

The Dreaded First Edit: Part 1

On January 27, 2017, I entered into an “Agreement Between Publisher and Author . . . Whereas the Parties are desirous respectively of publishing a work provisionally entitled The Precariousness of Done (the “Work”), which title may be changed only by mutual consent.”

The agreement is 24 pages long.

Page 24 contains a “TENTATIVE PUBLISHING SCHEDULE,” which “depends on the extent of editorial revisions/corrections, and publisher’s, author’s and printer’s schedules. The following dates are based on a publishing agreement finalized by February 5, 2017:

First Edited Proof: March/April 2017
Final Edited Proof: March/April 2017
1st Interior Design Proof: April/May 2017
Final Interior Design Proof: May/June 2017
First Cover Versions: June/July 2017
Final Cover Proof: June/July 2017
Book to Press: July/August 2017
Printer’s Proofs: July/August 2017
Books Shipped: July/August 2017
Limited Release: July/August 2017
Public Release: Fall 2017

(Limited release is the date copies of your book are available to you, as well as available for preorder from [name omitted], amazon.com and bn.com. Public release is the date your book ships and is available for order from brick and mortar chain stores. Public release is generally scheduled two to three months after copies are received because it takes a number of weeks for your book to be reviewed by Barnes and Noble and other buyers, and additional time for your book to appear in buyer databases.)”

The first task to be completed on that tentative schedule began simply, with this email from my publisher:

“March 23, 2017

Dear Tony:

I am attaching the 1st EDITED PROOF of Precariousness for your review. We have edited the manuscript for grammar, mechanics, usage, and general content. We have used Microsoft Word Track Changes feature for this edit. In case you are unfamiliar with this feature, I have attached instructions on how to use it. Please note that we have not included the “clean” file mentioned in the instructions, but I’ll be happy to send one if you prefer. Some authors who aren’t familiar with tracking find the clean file easier to work with. Just let me know.

It is important that you read the instructions about the Track Changes feature before you begin responding to the edit.

Do not be concerned with spacing between paragraphs or other formatting elements at this stage. We will address formatting, indentation, margins, and other design elements at the design stage.

SPECIAL NOTES: None at this time.

IT IS CRITICAL that you work with the attached file in Microsoft Word, not with your original manuscript file or any other file. If you work with a previous or another file, we will have to edit the manuscript from scratch, and there may be delays and more production costs.

When your review is complete, please email the proof to me at your earliest convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call me at [phone number omitted]. Thank you!

Very truly yours,

[name omitted].”

When I opened the attached file, simple flew out the window and then straight to hell: Microsoft Word Track Changes feature is a visual nightmare for this severe obsessive-compulsive author–changing, checking, rechecking, re-rechecking. Accepting or rejecting my editor’s changes are another matter, for another post.

The instructions about the Track Changes feature got me started; the suggestions from those who have used it–thank you Adam and Noah–let me chew through the edit and make peace with it. An uneasy truce: other proofs (scary, final ones) will be coming.

If you’re a writer who is starting the process I am well into, and you need help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

If you’re an obsessive-compulsive who is struggling every day as I am, I’m here for you, too.

The Author Questionnaire: A Key to Book Marketing That Would Make the NSA Proud

For some authors writing is easy, for others it’s hard. I’m with the latter, and for an introvert like me marketing and publicizing my book (set for public release this fall) will be just as hard as writing.

As I was completing the author questionnaire sent to me by my publisher, two thoughts kept running through my head: (1) I’m going to have to leave my comfort zone so far behind I’m going to need a passport, and (2) I wonder if this is what it’s like to apply for a job in the intelligence community.

I kept waiting to be asked about my blood type.

So for those of you who are curious about book marketing and publicity, here’s the author profile/questionnaire I was sent and recently completed. Don’t worry: reading it doesn’t require you to disclose anything about your red blood cell antigens.

“AUTHOR PROFILE / QUESTIONNAIRE

Please complete this questionnaire in this Word file, not by hand. Also please leave questions in place and enter your responses following the questions.
Thank you!

The following questionnaire will help us prepare marketing materials, and will provide us with other useful information. It will also prompt you to begin thinking about how you will market and promote your book. Today’s author must be more than a writer; you must also be an active spokesperson for yourself and for your book. As your publisher, we will make your book available in the marketplace, but availability is only the first stage. The world must know your book exists before they can buy it, so our challenge (yours and ours) is to make you and your book visible. In a world where more than a million books are published each year, the competition is staggering. Marketing and promotion are essential to make your book successful.

Thank you for answering these questions as thoroughly as possible. (Some questions may not fully apply to your book; use your best judgment.)

TITLE OF WORK:

AUTHOR’S FULL NAME:

EXACT NAME(S) FOR COPYRIGHT:

MAILING ADDRESS (Street or P.O. Box, City, State, Zip):

SHIPPING ADDRESS (Street, City, State, Zip):

TELEPHONE (Day and Evening):

E-MAIL ADDRESS:

TWITTER ADDRESS (if applicable):

FACEBOOK ADDRESS (if applicable):

WEBSITE DOMAIN NAME (we recommend using your name rather than the title of your book):

YOUR DATE OF BIRTH:

ACADEMIC CREDENTIALS. (Colleges, universities, training; include dates):

OTHER PUBLISHED WORKS. (Be sure to provide titles, publishers and dates of publication, as well as a short description of each title):

AFFILIATIONS (clubs or organizations in which you are involved or a member):

WORKS IN PROGRESS. (Are you currently working on another book? If so, tell us about it.)

BIOGRAPHY. (Please write a short biography that can actually be used in your book. Write in third person. Keep it simple and clear. Longer bios, 200-250 words, are generally printed on a back page (or back flap for hardcover editions); shorter bios, 50-60 words, are printed on the back cover, if space permits. The length of your bio is basically your choice. If your book includes an illustrator, please also provide your illustrator’s bio.)

PHOTO. (Please send a quality color photograph of yourself (and illustrator, if applicable) that might be used on the back cover (or on a back page) and for promotional purposes. We recommend a casual photograph. Either way, it should be good quality. If you send a digital file, it should be high resolution and in jpeg or tif format (300 dpi). If you mail a print, a 4×5” or 4×6” is best.)

SUMMARY OF YOUR BOOK. (Please write a brief summary or synopsis in 150 to 200 words that captures the essence and main focus of your book. Write the summary so if people read it, they will want to buy your book. Write in third person. This summary will be used to develop your jacket copy.)

ELEVATOR. (If you got on an elevator and someone asked “what is your book about,” and you had just one or two floors or about ten seconds to tell him, what would you say? Write one or two sentences that capture the essence of your book.

BOOK COVER. (Please tell us how you envision your front cover. Are there specific photos or images you would like to see included? Do you have color preferences? We try to accommodate author preferences, within reason. Keep in mind that if you ask for “a woman sitting on a horse, holding a silver sword and wearing a white dress,” an image like this usually involves hiring a model, a horse, and a photographer to take a professional photograph, or involves complex PhotoShop manipulation and involves considerable expense. Think of simple images or photos that can be created easily or found in stock online photo galleries (like iStock.com) and that are royalty-free. (If yours is a children’s book, the cover image will most likely be produced by the illustrator.) Our standard approach is to create several versions of your cover. With your input and that of our designers, we arrive at one or two strong designs, and once a final version is selected, we polish and refine that version. We’re happy to discuss cover ideas with you.)

SALES HANDLES. (Think of statements that will help sell your book. How is your book unique? Why should a reader purchase it? How is it different from other titles on similar subjects or in a similar genre? Be as detailed as you can.)

AUDIENCE FOR YOUR BOOK. (The first audience to potentially purchase your book are those people who know you. Who else do you think will buy your book? List specific groups, organizations that may be interested in single or bulk purchases. Make a list of contacts, email addresses, and other pertinent information. You will probably want to create an Excel file or Microsoft Word file to list this contact information. Remember that your email list is one of your most powerful marketing tools.)

POTENTIAL ENDORSERS/REVIEWERS. (Consider who might write an endorsement for your book. Endorsements, sometimes called ‘blurbs,’ are printed on the back cover or on the inside first page of your book, and they are often used in promotional materials. You can request endorsements once we have a final edited or designed proof. The most effective endorsers/reviewers are successful writers, especially those who write in the same genre of your book, people in the topic field, editors, book reviewers, leaders, celebrities—people who have an audience and whose names may be recognizable. However, we welcome almost any endorsement. We suggest that you compose a simple letter asking for their endorsement or review (we can provide a sample letter). We encourage authors to be bold in seeking endorsements. Don’t hesitate to contact well-known authors and celebrities. They will often surprise you and respond. When we have an edited or designed proof, you can simply email or mail a copy to the potential endorser, along with your letter—and hope for a reply.

CONTACTS. (List those groups, organizations, newspapers, magazines, or newsletters you might contact who might publish a review, article or announcement about your book in their publication or on their website. Organizations or groups are often willing to include announcements about books published by their members. Perhaps you have associations or connections with media, editors, reviewers who may be willing to write a review once your book is published. Please send us their email addresses and names.)

EVENT LOCATIONS. (List libraries, booksellers, or other retailers or venues you might contact who may hold a book event for you, and collect specific email addresses and contact names for these locations. These should be in areas near where you live, or areas to which you are willing to travel. Signings and book events can be held anywhere—in homes, restaurants, wine bars, museums. It’s becoming more common to have events in places other than bookstores. Be creative. Perhaps you can hold an event at a coffee shop in your neighborhood.)

PRESENTATIONS/TALKS (POETRY, FICTION AND NON-FICTION GENRES). (Author presentations always draw larger audiences than simple signings. People are more likely to come to hear a talk than come to see an author sitting at a table, pen in hand. Author talks are generally followed by a question and answer session, possibly a reading, and then a signing at the end when you can sell your book. Now that you are a published author, people will think of you as an expert. Think of 4, 5 or more potential 15-20-30 minute presentations/talks you might give. What would the topics of these talks be? Write the topics here. Make them interesting and compelling, so when people see the title of your talk, they’ll want to attend.)

CHILDREN’S BOOKS ACTIVITIES. (One of the key draws for children’s book authors is to offer activities to children. We recommend that you develop 3 or 4 potential activities for children in the age/reading level for the content of your book. These should be hands-on/participatory activities that will engage children and inspire parents to bring their children to your event. Consider activities that involve drawing, illustration, assembly, puppetry, word or other games. List your activities here.)

BUYERS. (List booksellers, retailers, and other potential buyers who may want to purchase your book, and provide their contact information.)

RADIO AND TV STATIONS. (List local or regional radio and TV stations who may be willing to interview new authors. Provide contact information for these stations.)

OTHER. (List any other promotion/marketing you plan to pursue that will help sell your book.)

Now more than ever, books are successful in today’s market largely because their authors are active promoters. Reaching people who know you is easy; the challenge is reaching buyers who know nothing about you. In order to reach these buyers, you will need to be active and visible; you will need to talk about your book to groups and individuals, market your book in online blogs, social networking sites, and by other methods. Together with our effort, we hope to find a responsive audience!)

Return to: [omitted]

Thank you!!”

On Getting No Response to Queries, Licking Your Wounds, and Then Querying Again

About a week ago I received an email that made me tremble with excitement. Here’s how it began:

“Mr. Houck:

Thanks for your kind patience while we reviewed your submission. We’ve had a flood of submissions over the past year plus, and have been giving each one a fair reading.

I’m excited to let you know that we’re interested in publishing your book…”

(To read more, visit The Precariousness of Done.)

It was a thrilling, anxiety-provoking, life-changing moment that validated my years of lonely, hard work and briefly quieted the self-doubt that has always plagued me.

Throughout the writing process, I had become a better writer and believed in the book, but not so much in myself. And growing a thick skin was painful.

Three of my critical readers didn’t finish reading the manuscript. One that did had several “running quarrels” with me throughout, including “over written descriptive passages” and my shifting gears into “what seems to become a travel guide, thus confusing the point of view and the unity of the text, not to mention endangering the dramatic tension.” I could go on, but won’t.

After licking my wounds, I listened to their criticism, reworked the manuscript as I saw fit, and sent out my initial round of email queries in early September 2015.

October came and went. So did November and December.

I heard nothing.

But I still believed in the book. In myself, not so much.

So, after licking my wounds again, I spent the winter working on a new query letter, getting help with my approach, and re-re-retooling my manuscript. In April, I stepped well outside my comfort zone by attending my first writers’ conference and subjecting myself to live critiques of my submission during Slush Pile Live!

I survived and thrived, and then put what I had learned to good use.

Here’s the opening of the email queries I sent out in May:

“Dear [names omitted],

Ethan is bright yet painfully shy. A milk toast, he rarely stands up for himself, and when he manages to say no, he feels guilty or anxious. But when it comes to his passion—Spanish—he is an absolute and unflappable crack. His Castilian accent was honed while studying after high school in the Spanish town of Las Rozas. He has fond memories of living there, but not of his host mother, who called him a “profound retard,” or of his host father, who told him he was a “troglodyte” and then threw the teenager out of his apartment.

My novel, The Precariousness of Done, opens years later, when Ethan, now in his twenties, has returned to Las Rozas to visit the family that took him in after his eviction. It’s early October. The town’s holding its annual fiestas—runnings of the bulls, bullfights, carnival, concerts, street vendors, pickpockets, and crowds of teenagers puffing on cigarettes.

And it’s been nearly two months since Ethan lost his natural mother…”

So I started waiting again, knowing my queries were better. But were they good…or good enough?

My wife and I spent the summer months packing moving trucks, selling the house, taking our son to and from lapidary arts school, and starting a new job, but the queries were never far from my mind. At least I got a few personal rejections.

And then that email came last week.

So stay tuned: I intend to take you, the followers of this blog, through the hard work ahead with me. I’m sure it, too, will be exciting and anxiety-provoking, and I hope my journey can be of use to you as you push toward your goal(s), especially if self-doubt is also your constant companion.

Maybe we can work on that together.

Family Hassles and Turning the Tassel

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The future awaits my son. If I have done my job—and the verdict will be out for some time to come—he will work harder than everyone else, refuse to accept rejection and failure, which are unavoidable, try new foods and go new places, push himself far beyond his comfort zone, and tell those who deserve it to kiss his ass. I will always love and support him, and he will always have a soft landing place in my home, wherever it is.

And if, as I get older, I behave as certain members of our family did on graduation night, I give my son permission to leave the dinner table, to curse my name under his breath as he walks away, and to block my messages as he cranks his car.

I will not become my parents.