Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Fish Wife: an Old Mermaids Novel

I am very pleased to announce the publication of my new novel, The Fish Wife: an Old Mermaids Novel. Like Church of the Old Mermaids and The Blue Tail, The Fish Wife takes place in the Old Mermaids universe where great magic and great heartbreak is possible. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I loved writing it. You can go here for FAQs and to read the first chapter. This is from the back cover:

The women got closer to the water or the water got closer to them. In the semi-darkness, a wave of light filtered through the storm, and the beach shuddered and shimmered. Suddenly Sara saw the women for what they truly were, saw their tails gleam and glimmer, and she looked down and saw her own true self. A gust of wind unsteadied her and snatched her cap from her head. She broke from the line of sea women and tried to run after her hat; only she couldn’t run at first, so she shook off the part of her that was of the sea, as though it was a skirt she no longer needed. She saw the red of the cap bouncing down the beach and she ran after it. She couldn’t lose the hat, especially not minutes after her mother entrusted it to her. Someone grabbed her arm and pulled her away from the roar of the ocean. “I have your red cap,” the man said. “I know what that means.”

An ancient Irish curse holds Sara in its grip: Cormac MacDougal steals her red cap which means she must become his fish wife or she and her unborn child will die. One night she can bear her life no longer, and she seeks out her true love, Ian McLaughlin. When she finds him in the arms of her sister, she calls on the forces of nature to destroy all that she loves. She flees the village with Cormac before anyone discovers the truth. She risks everything on a perilous ocean journey away from the only home she has ever known. She struggles to remember the old ways, to conjure up the magic of her ancient mer ancestors. She washes up on the shore of a new world where she encounters the goddess Yemaya, a Vodou priestess, a shapeshifting lord of the manor, and the Old Mermaids. In this strange and beautiful realm, Sara works to build a new life. But has she outrun the curse, or will it finally be her undoing? printkindlenooksmashwords

Read more here...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Coma Monologues

Mario's fabulous new quirky and moving novel, The Coma Monologues, has just been published by Green Snake Publishing! You can read what Mario says about his new novel here (plus read an excerpt there).

Here's a summary of the novel: Gary Hawken—husband, father, civil engineer, and accomplished nerd—enjoys a good life with his family in suburban Toronto. Then a crow distracts him at a traffic signal and a truck slams into his car, knocking him into a coma. Doctors doubt he will ever regain consciousness, but Gary’s wife, Melody—English professor and determined mate—undertakes his resurrection by saturating his brain with the voices of storytellers from his past. Old friends, family members, half-forgotten teachers, mythical creatures, dead heroes, and even a few fictional characters stop by Gary’s bedside to tell the tales that will tantalize him out of his vegetative state back to the world. Is the universe made of stories? Melody believes we’re all nothing but stories and she stakes her husband’s life on that ancient promise. print . kindle . nook . smashwords

Read more here...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Making of an Indie Writer

(What follows is my memory and impressions of my writing career. I'm sure I've gotten some of the details wrong, but it's how I remember it. I have no intention of vilifying anyone; I have known few true villains in my life. I often get questions about my writing life and why I'm now doing what I'm doing. So here are my answers. This version differs slightly from the version available online.)

In 2010, my husband, writer Mario Milosevic, and I started our own publishing company with the intention of publishing our own work. Even five years ago, this would have been the (supposed) death knell to any novelist's career. We didn't care. We were tired of the traditional publishing model: It wasn't sustainable, it wasn't resilient, and it sure as hell wasn't paying our bills.

Yesterday I finished the first draft of my new novel, Butch. In the next few days, I'll read it over and make corrections; then Mario will read it. Then I'll put it away for a while before I take it out and look at it again. I probably won't send it out to any other publishers. It's shorter than the standard novel. Even if it were the "right" length, I don't know that I would send it out to another publisher. This is fairly astonishing, especially coming from someone who has had six novels published by major publishers.

How had I gotten to this point?

I've been a storyteller since I was a child. I used to fold blank 8 1/2 x 11 inch pieces of paper in half, staple them along the spine, and then draw pictures to tell a story before I could write. Later after I learned to read and write, my parents bought me a little printing press. I'd write my stories and then print them out on my press. I was my own publisher!

I loved books, and I loved listening to stories told by my parents or other relatives. I loved writing my own stories. I loved art, too, and I won an art contest when I was in first grade. I drew the Man in the Moon. I remember thinking that I couldn't make a living as an artist, so I better become a writer.

Where that kind of logic came from, I have no idea.

In any case, I loved writing, and it was relatively easy for me. My teachers were often impressed by my imagination and my stories, and they encouraged me. My parents were encouraging too. My mother told me I should always write in pen instead of pencil; years from now, people would want to read the stories I had written when I was a child, and if I kept writing them in pencil, they would fade. I was astounded! Could it be true that people in the future would want to read my childhood tales? I got out my old stories and traced them in pen (and I have them to this day).

In high school, I wrote a novel a summer. When I was finished, I would put the pages together in a binder so that they looked like books. I no longer used the printing press, but I was still a publisher of sorts.

I took writing classes in college, and I majored in English language and then in American Literature for my Masters degree. I wanted to be a published writer, but it seemed like a long shot. Then the editor of one of the Norton Anthologies, who also happened to be one of my professors, called me into his office after reading one of my stories, "Into the Lion's Mouth."

He told me I needed to try and get my work published. I told him I had no idea how I would do that. He said I needed to find out the names of editors and then send them my stories. He suggested I look in the Writer's Market or the Literary Marketplace. (I can't remember exactly which source he suggested.) I went home and immediately started sending my stories to journals and magazines.

I got lots of rejections. For a time, I cherished each personal note I got, although they were far and few between.

A couple years later, I attended a six week writing workshop at Michigan State University to finish up my Masters Degree from Eastern Michigan University. I hung out with eighteen other weird and wonderful writers. By the end of the six weeks, I was determined to make a living as a writer.

I had also fallen in love with Canadian writer Mario Milosevic. We were married a year later. Soon after that, I sold my first story to a literary magazine that went belly-up before they could publish my story.

A few months later I sold a story to Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. I was ecstatic. This was a popular magazine that would pay me real money! When I got the contract in the mail, I read it eagerly. And then my heart sank. They wanted ancillary rights to my characters (merchandizing rights for toys or t-shirts, etc.).

I didn't think anyone would want to buy t-shirts or cups with my characters' likenesses on them, but I certainly wasn't going to sign my rights away to anyone. Besides, I was writing a novel with these characters.

I talked to a lawyer friend who was also a writer. "Sign it," she said. "If you make a fuss they probably won't publish the story."

I was not going to do that. I called Damon Knight who had been one of our instructors at the writing workshop. I read the troubling clauses over the phone to him. Yep, I had understood them correctly. He suggested I call the magazine and talk to them about my concerns.

That's what I did. My heart was thumping. I was worried I was going to ruin my career, but as far as I was concerned, I didn't have a choice. I talked to the contracts manager and told her I had some problems with some of the clauses. She asked me which ones. We went through them, one by one. She dropped each one I objected to and even suggested I change another one.

It was a good experience. The next time I got a contract from Asimov's, they still had the clauses I objected to, but the ancillary rights were on a separate sheet with a separate signature required. I just never signed that separate sheet.

And so my paid writing career had begun. I continued to be pretty sharp with contracts. Most of the time, the contract managers worked with me. It was only the editors of smaller publications who sometimes got their knickers in a knot, seeming to take it personally that I wanted to change something. "Well so and so signed it the way it is," they'd say, "and he's a big name."


I began selling short stories fairly regularly. Mario and I had moved from Ann Arbor to Bandon, Oregon to live in a free house a couple of blocks from the beach. We were going to try to survive as writers, without any other jobs. We had $3,000. Within about six months, we were almost out of money. We both had to find jobs. We lived in a small economically depressed town: There weren't many jobs. I ended up as a waitress and Mario eventually got a job at the newspaper doing paste-up and layout.

I wrote a science fiction novel called Timemarkers. Eventually I was able to get an agent on the merits of that novel and my short story sales. Finding an agent was as difficult and time consuming as finding a publisher. Back then (the 1980s) a writer had to have an agent submit her books to a publisher. Very few books were ever bought from the slush pile.

We met other writers in this tiny Oregon town. Some of them had their own linotype presses and they printed their own work. I thought this was crazy. How were they ever going to survive? They all wanted to make a living writing, but they were more in love with the life of an artist. They cared about what they could say, what words they could use to shape an exquisite poem, what story they could tell that would raise the hair on the back of their necks. They loved telling stories out loud to other people. They loved gathering with others to discuss Baudelaire or Tom Robbins.

Mario and I wanted to live creative lives, too. We had decided before we married that we didn't want any part of the American suburban life. We would try the writing life instead of getting regular nine to five jobs.

We were certain we would succeed.

Ah the ignorance of da youth.

I looked at these other creative people living in Bandon with us, all of whom were older than we were, and they were so poor, many of them living hand to mouth. I didn't want that kind of creative life.

One writer friend was certain the reason he couldn't get his book published was because there was a New York publishing conspiracy. "You gotta be from New York," he said, "or at least from back East. You gotta know someone. That's the only way."

We thought he was paranoid.

While we lived in this tiny town, I became quite ill. I wasn't able to write for a year, and I could barely read for almost as long. We didn't have any money for healthcare or anything else, and we had to go on food stamps--for a month or two. I hated that. I felt humiliated. I was a well-educated middle-class kid on food stamps. I decided the writing life was bullshit. I had to get a regular job. Maybe go to business school. Something. I was working as a librarian at a small library in Langlois, OR, down the road from Bandon, even though I didn't have a library degree. I liked the work, so I decided to go back to school to get my Masters of Library Science degree.

Mario and I once again picked up and moved to a new place: Tucson, Arizona. I went to school full-time while also working as a teaching fellow. Mario worked full time at a print shop and wrote while he wasn't working. I barely wrote. I thought it was a waste of time: It was a child's dream. I even resented Mario for continuing to write. I'd look at him and think, "Why don't you grow up and get a real job?"

Then Nina Hoffman sent me a short fiction review by Charles de Lint. She highlighted where he had said nice things about some of my short stories that had recently been published. I was touched. Something about the way he talked about my stories inspired and encouraged me. I couldn't quit. I'd been writing stories since I was a child. I had to keep going.

I got my degree, got a job, and we moved back to the Pacific Northwest. Mario and I continued to write. It was slow going. (I don't know if I was on my second or third agent at this point.) I would write a novel and send it to my agent. S/he would read the book and decide whether they would represent it or not. I never understood this and it drove me crazy. Who cared whether they liked the novel or not? Their job was to be a door opener. Once the door was open and the book sold, their job was to work on the contract.

Agents weren't writers or editors. But they often acted as if they were. My third agent would say, "Send it through the typewriter one more time." After I did that he usually sent the revised manuscript out to publishers. Sometimes he wouldn't. So I would spent a year working on a novel only to have my agent reject it. It was infuriating.

When he did accept a novel, he would send out it out to one editor at a time. One editor at a time. Then we'd have to wait for a response from that editor before my agent would send out the novel to another editor. This could take three to six months for each editor. It was maddening. But that was the way it "worked."

I left one job and got another. I had had quite a few horror stories published before I got sick. Afterward, I wasn't interested in horror stories. I felt like I was living one so I didn't want to write any. Around this time, I discovered Starhawk, Marija Gimbutas, Vicki Noble, Merlin Stone, Patricia Monaghan, and Mary Daly. I wanted to write goddess stories. I wanted to write stories that liberated: beautiful stories. Mythic stories.

I couldn't find many places who were open to these kinds of tales. I decided to start my own magazine, Daughters of Nyx: a Magazine of Goddess Stories, Mythmaking, and Fairy Tales. We paid our writers and artists, not much but something. We found an eco-printer in California who used recycled paper and sustainable inks. For two years we put out this beautiful little magazine. I loved providing an outlet for some amazing writers and artists.

Unfortunately, it was unsustainable for us. Dealing with distribution was a nightmare (especially when the main distributor went belly-up before paying his debts). It was a grind reading the slush pile. Publishing the magazine took an inordinate amount of time, too, and we weren't making any money. So we closed the magazine.

Also during this time, I began a cartoon strip called "Vic and Jane," about an independent woman and her smart-ass dog. I couldn't draw, but I did it anyway, creating these two stick figure characters. I had so much fun with them. I didn't try to get them published. Instead, I put together a book of their cartoons and sent them out to friends and family. (Much like those first books I published as a kid.) It felt so freeing not to have to go through a gatekeeper. It was freeing not to have to ask permission to put my creation out into the world. I just did it.

My work place remodeled using toxic materials, and I got very ill and had to quit work. I don't remember much about that time. I only know that for a few years, every day was a struggle. For many months I could barely walk across the room. Eventually, I started to heal. And I started to write again.

I didn't have a full time job, so I needed to sell a novel more than ever. We needed the money. I began writing almost constantly. I'd tell my agent that I had a new book, and he'd tell me I needed to find a hobby or another job. He could only send around one book a year. One book a year! That might have worked if I was selling that one book for boffo bucks, but that wasn't happening.

I insisted he at least send my current novel out to more than one editor. (The agent/writer dynamic was skewed. They were supposed to be working for writers, yet it often seemed like we were working for them.) My agent resisted sending out more than one copy of my novel for a long while. Finally he relented. I sent him several copies of the novel (whichever one it was at the time) and he sent it out to several editors. (This is now the industry standard.)

Eventually, this worked. He sold my novel The Jigsaw Woman to ROC.

That was an interesting experience. I never talked to my editor there. Ever. (This was before email.) I did have a relationship with her assistant editor, which was fine. I had no say on the cover, and when they first sent it to me, I realized they did not understand the book. It looked like a romance novel. The Jigsaw Woman was anathema to a romance novel. It was a feminist manifesto told through space, time, and myth. But I couldn't do anything about the cover, and I just hoped for the best. (By the way, The Jigsaw Woman was nominated for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award.)

ROC had dibs on my next book which turned out to be The Gaia Websters. I begged the assistant editor to make the next cover more appropriate to the story and "please, please don't put any bare-breasted women on the cover. And remember, Gloria is older."

When I got the cover, I was horrified. They had some very young blond woman dressed in a skin-tight outfit on the cover. I could not understand what the art had to do with the story. I called my assistant editor. "I told you she was an older woman," I said. "What is this?"

"She is older," my assistant editor insisted. "She's about thirty."

And then I realized, of course. My assistant editor wasn't even twenty-five years old. Thirty must have seemed old to her.

I also learned that when they first got the cover art from the artist, the woman was naked. I might have preferred that to her plastic miniskirt.

I kept writing. I kept trying to have conversations with my agent about representing more than one book of mine a year. I told him that I needed to make a living. $7,500 per book per year (if I was lucky) wasn't going to feed anyone for very long. He told me to slow down and write less.

I wrote Coyote Cowgirl. I have had doubts about some of my books over the years, but I had no doubts about this one. I loved this book and these characters. I was certain this book was going to be a break-out book for me.

I sent the book to my agent. He told me if I was going to write stuff like this, he didn't think we could work together.

I had no idea what he was talking about. I was devastated. I started to doubt my critical abilities. Charles de Lint and I had become friends since he first reviewed my short stories a decade earlier. We often wrote to one another, and I sent him copies of all the books I was writing. I wrote to him and told him what the agent had said about Coyote Cowgirl. He said, "Send me the book." So I did. I can't remember if he called me on the phone or if he wrote to me. But what he told me was that he loved the book; he said it was already one of his favorite books of all time.

I fired my agent. Then I tried to sell the book myself. No agent would represent me, and no publisher would look at the book.

I had stood up for my principles and now I was worse off than before.

Unbeknownst to me, Charles de Lint and MaryAnn Harris began taking the book around to conventions and trying to get editors to look at it. Finally, an editor from Tor read it, although I didn't know it until later. On Winter Solstice that year, while I was baking cookies, this editor called me and told me he wanted to buy Coyote Cowgirl for TOR.

I was thrilled. I also knew that my last two books had not done well. The Jigsaw Woman had actually earned me some royalties over the advance, but The Gaia Websters hadn't gone anywhere. (In fact I had readers write to me and say they couldn't buy the book because of the cover. They had loved The Jigsaw Woman but "how could you have done that cover for The Gaia Websters?" Most people don't realize the author has nothing to do with the covers of her books when the books are published by traditional publishers.)

The editor from Tor offered me a $10,000 advance for Coyote Cowgirl. My heart sank. I knew if they were only offering me that much money, they would not be doing any promotion for the book. It would die on the vine like The Gaia Websters had. I told him that. My career was flagging (dead) after the poor sales on my last novel. I couldn't afford to have another novel get lost in the shuffle. Would he promise to stay in touch with me? Would he promise to do all he could to get the book noticed? He promised.

Then he told me he wanted me to find an agent to negotiate the contract. I argued with him. I didn't want an agent. I was good with contracts. I wanted to do it myself. He said it was up to me, but he would prefer working with an agent when negotiating the contract.

I knew that now that I had an offer, I could get an agent. I decided I would do it on my terms. I started calling around. I wanted an agent who didn't just do genre. I wanted an agent who could represent teen books, juvenile books, nonfiction, genre, mainstream. And I wanted them to send out more than one book a year.

I found agents who did genre and others who did mainstream. At first I couldn't find anyone who could represent all of these types of books. I hated this whole process. I didn't like the idea of giving someone 15% of $10,000. It wasn't a lot of money to begin with, but then I'd pay an agent 15% and pay another 20% in taxes. (I don't mind paying taxes; I'm just saying it wasn't much money.)

Finally I found an agent I thought could represent all of my interests. I asked her to negotiate a cover consult, at least, so that I didn't get another terrible cover.

After the deal was set, I expected to hear from my editor regularly. I wanted to make certain that advanced reading copies (ARCs) went out to reviewers. I wanted to make certain the book had a good cover. Months went by, maybe even a year. I didn't hear from my editor again. I called my agent and asked her what was going on. Soon after that call, I learned I had a new editor. I hadn't wanted that. I just wanted to be in touch with my first editor. The new editor called me once. I don't know if he had even read the book. I never heard from him again. In fact, I never heard from another editor from TOR again before (or after) Coyote Cowgirl came out.

I did receive communication from TOR/Forge. They sent me the beautiful cover art. They sent me my copyedited manuscript. I proofread the sheets and sent them back. I tried to find out if Forge had sent out ARCs before publication. I was either told they hadn't send out ARCs or they did it at the last minute. This meant the novel wouldn't get reviewed since most publications wanted a copy of the book months in advance of the book's publication.

I knew before it came out that Coyote Cowgirl would probably sink like a stone. I could only hope that word of mouth would help since the publisher did no (or very little) promotion of it. It was as if they bought the book and then completely forgot about it. (Coyote Cowgirl was a James Tiptree, Jr. Award nominee, too.)

I sent other books to my new agent. She approved of some and disapproved of others. For one book, she thought the romance was too easy between the two main characters. I needed to throw a monkey wrench into the mix.

I didn't want to do that. It wasn't a romance novel. Yes, two people loved one another, and yes, they would stay together, but that wasn't what the book was about. It was about a group of women (and one man) finding their place in this old world. But I did what she asked. I shouldn't have. The whole book crumbled for me after that. She sent it out, as I had rewritten it, but it didn't get published.

By this time, I hated the whole publishing construct. It seemed half-ass backward. Foremost among these half-ass backwardnesses was the fact that so many writers couldn't make a living unless they were working like dogs either at other jobs or at writing. Why could the agent, editor, publisher, printer, cover artist all make decent livings, but the writer couldn't?

And why did we have to go through an agent to get to a publisher? I understood slush piles. I had had to read slush piles when I was an editor in college and later when I was the editor of Daughters of Nyx. It was gruesome. Yet, for the writer, at least, there had to be a better way. How had agents become the arbiters of what everyone in the country could read?

I started to think back to my friend on the Oregon coast who talked about an East coast conspiracy. It wasn't that I thought there was a conspiracy. But I did wonder about what was getting published. So much of it seemed alike in tone and subject matter. How to explain it? So much of what was being published had the same sensibilities.

What about the kind of books I liked to read and write? Nature was important to my experience as a human being, yet Nature wasn't a factor in much fiction. And out here in the West, we cared about the environment, about good healthy food, about peace and justice. Some of us contemplated the universe in our belly buttons or in the night sky. Yet, for the most part, that kind of subject matter was belittled, and it rarely showed up in any kind of serious fiction.

It wasn't that it wasn't getting written. It just wasn't getting published.

I often thought of Joanna Russ's book How To Suppress Women's Writing. In it, she talks about how the writings of women and minorities are suppressed. I wondered if it went beyond that. If most writers couldn't make a living, how many of them just stopped writing all together? Or how many amazing writers were out there writing but who had no idea how to navigate this bizarre publishing world? For the most part, we were getting fiction written by middle-class white people or those who could afford to write as a hobby.

So much had changed in publishing just in the decades I was involved in it. It had once been a "gentleman's business," intended to support the family who owned the business and their employees. As long as they made a modest profit, life was good. Once huge corporations began buying up publishing companies, publishers were beholden to stockholders whose main goal was to make money, not support anyone's family or employees or publish great stories. Soon enough editors couldn't make an offer on a book unless they first ran it past their sales team, which was often made up of mostly young men. (At least, this is what I was told by people working in the publishing industry in New York.)

If a writer couldn't appeal to that mainstream audience, if she didn't have the potential to be a bestseller, her chances of being published plummeted.

Was this why so much of what was being published seemed so the same?

Of course what I've just written is a simplification and a generalization about publishing. And this essay is about my experiences. I'm an expert at my life; I'm not an expert on everything else that has happened in the publishing world over the last thirty years. I can say that this writing life, trying to work with the mainstream publishing construct, was not sustainable for me and for many writers.

I had several friends who were successful writers. Over the years, they admonished me that writing was a business and I should think of it that way. I acknowledged I wanted to make my living writing, but that was because I loved writing. I loved telling stories. It wasn't just a business. If that were the case, I would have chosen something more stable and more lucrative. No, for me it was a way of being and living. I wanted to walk, play, dance through life in beauty, the beauty way. Telling stories was how I did that.

Coyote Cowgirl came and went, and once again my writing career was in the dumpster.

I went to the coast with Mario for a short vacation. Years earlier when we'd been on the coast, I had gotten an intriguing image of a girl with wings in my mind's eye. Now, unexpectedly, she came to me full blown and told me her story. I sat in the hotel room on the Oregon coast and began to write Mercy, Unbound. The main character was a teen, but I didn't intend for the book to be a teen book. I didn't intend anything at all. I just wrote her story. It turned out to be a short book. I sent it to my agent. She assigned me a new agent, one who specialized in teen books.

My new agent and I got along immediately. He loved my writing. And he loved Mercy, Unbound. He was able to sell it fairly quickly to Simon & Schuster. They also bought my next book, Broken Moon.

On a dime, my career and my publishing experiences changed. I loved working with Simon & Schuster. Every part of the experience was wonderful, at least what I remember of it. I loved my editor. She kept in good touch with me at every step of the process. She also loved my writing. I felt like I could breathe again. I felt like I had allies who respected me and my work. When I had a problem with the first pass at a cover for Broken Moon, they changed it. (By the way, Broken Moon got a starred review in Publisher's Weekly and is in its sixth printing now, I believe.)

I loved writing Mercy, Unbound and Broken Moon. They are short passionate novels. My writing is often fiercely passionate and emotional. With teen fiction, I was allowed to be emotional, to be fierce. I loved that!

I thought I was set for life. I would have been happy making a career at Simon and Schuster. Soon after I wrote Broken Moon, I wrote one of the most amazing and beautiful novels I had ever read or written: Ruby's Imagine. My editor liked it and wanted to buy it. But at the last minute she backed out of the deal. She was leaving the company and going somewhere else.

This was the third time an editor had pulled out of deal at nearly the last minute, before the contracts had been written but after I had been told that the book was sold.

I was crushed.

Sometime later, my former editor bought Ruby's Imagine at her new publishing house. But things were different. I couldn't get in touch with her. She didn't return my emails or my agent's. It was Tor all over again. The cover was strange and not very effective for their intended audience. As far as I could tell, no marketing was done. I'm not even sure they sent out ARCs. Probably not. I never heard from my editor during the whole process, so I didn't know.

In 2007, I wrote Church of the Old Mermaids. I showed it to my agent. He said if he couldn't sell this novel, he would quit being an agent. It was a beautiful, mystical, gentle, meaningful novel. It was American magical realism--or mythic fiction. Which was exactly what I wanted to write.

He tried to sell it. It probably went to fifty editors. A couple of times we were this close to a deal, but each time the sales department nixed it. We never knew why. Was it because a group of young men (and women) couldn't fathom the idea of a novel about a woman over fifty?

I didn't know.

I believed this book had to be published. We had put together a Lulu edition of the book and sent it out to thirteen people for a holiday gift. The people who read it loved it. Charles de Lint was one of the recipients of the thirteen, and he told me it was now one of his favorite books.

Two years later when it still hadn't sold to a major publisher, I decided I wanted to publish it myself. The publishing industry was rapidly changing. Amazon was helping writers publish books through Createspace. Mario had already put up several of his poetry books. (Poets have always been allowed to self-publish without detriment to their careers.)

Even so, Mario was reluctant for us to publish Church of the Old Mermaids. He was afraid it would damage my career. Generally speaking, the industry curled its lips in derision at the thought of self-publishing. I had done a little of that curling myself when I had seen or read self-published books. I thought, well, there's a reason they weren't published by someone else.

But then, who was I to decide what was or wasn't appropriate for the reading public? I wanted to read new voices. Maybe those voices wouldn't come from traditional publishing.

I wanted radical stories. I thought of all of my writing as radical, subversive, resilient. My books were all inherently feminist, humanist, mystical, harsh, beautiful, and/or disturbing. I was trying to figure out how we can live together on this planet in beauty. I loathed nihilistic fiction. Why bother to tell a story if it was all futile, if it was all worthless? Unless the writer could do it in beauty--and beauty was definitely in the eye of the beholder. There should be more "beholders," not just a relatively small group of people deciding what does and doesn't get published.

I wanted women and girls to feel uplifted, inspired, and empowered when they read my stories. I wanted boys and men to see men and boys in the media who weren't jerks, rapists, or sexually aggressive assholes.

I wanted Church of the Old Mermaids out in the world.

I already had the cover, and it was perfect. I had taken a photograph of my wooden Old Mermaid standing in front of the dark blue wall of our Napa store here in town. I'd made a sign to hang on her: "Church of the Old Mermaids, Kim Antieau, novice." (We didn't know how to put titles over photographs on our books yet, so that's why we did that.) We published the book on Createspace. Then I kindled it, put it on the nook, and all the other e-devices that were out in the world then.

I kept writing books, and then I would send them to my agent. He wasn't happy with one teen book, so he asked me to change some things. By this time our relationship was deteriorating. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because I was frustrated. I didn't understand why he wouldn't send out more than one novel of mine at a time. (Even after he explained to me why, I disagreed with him.) When he wouldn't do it, I started sending out my books on my own.

At first I told him I didn't want to make changes on the teen novel he didn't like. Why couldn't he send it out the way it was? But I relented. At least twice I rewrote the book. Until I couldn't stand it. Whatever vision I had had of the novel was gone.

When I write a book, it's as though someone has told me their life story. Making major changes feels like I'm messing with history. The story becomes a lie.

I urged my agent to send out all of the novels I had sent him. (In other words, if he had four of my novels, I wanted each of them sent out to a bunch of editors.) But he wouldn't do it. He had other titles from other writers at these publishers and he didn't want my books to compete with them--and vice versa, I'm certain. He would send out one book a year, essentially. I realized then something I should have realized earlier: No matter how hard he was working for me, he wasn't thinking of me first. He had a whole bevy of writers he was juggling.

We had a conversation about money. He told me he had seventy writers (I think that was how many he said) and only one of them was making a living. In other words, it just wasn't in the cards for me.

Again I said, "How come you can make a living, the editor makes a living, the artist, the printer, the sales team, but not the writer, not the person who is creating the work? Something is screwy about this entire set-up."

It may have been then that my agent and I split up. He was (is) a good guy. But he couldn't look after my interests the way I wanted.

Only I could do that.

I didn't know if I wanted to write any more. I had been trying to write commercial fiction for so long that I didn't know what stories I wanted to tell, if any.

I stopped writing. I went into a depression.

Then Mario went to a workshop with Dean Wesley Smith (a dear old friend from way back) to learn about e-publishing. I came with Mario, but I walked the beaches while he worked.

It was an exciting and scary time in publishing. Lots of writers--not just me--were having trouble selling their books. Publishers were being more and more cautious about what they bought. Plus they were being more demanding. They wanted huge percentages of e-book profits forever. Most writers were caving into these demands but some were not.

I got an offer on one of my teen books from a small publisher. I read over the contract and wasn't happy with some of the clauses. I sent the contract to the Authors Guild and they concurred. One of the problems I had with the contract was that they wanted e-rights forever. I'm not exaggerating when I use the word "forever."

Normally a writer gets between 7% and 12% of royalties off the cover price of a book. One could argue that the publisher has to pay the cover artist, the copyeditor, the proofreader, the editor, and the printer, plus they've got to make some profit, so 7% to 12% of the cover price of the printed book makes sense (maybe). But why should the publisher get a big percentage of the e-book cover prices forever? (Normally the percentages on e-books are more equitable in the writer's favor, but still: forever.)

When the publisher wouldn't change the terms, I turned the offer down.

After the e-book workshop, Mario and I went to lunch before leaving town. He told me he wanted to go full steam ahead on e-book publishing. I was still tired and depressed. It seemed like so much work. But he was excited.

"Kim, you were doing this before anyone else was," he said. "You went ahead with Church of the Old Mermaids when I thought it was a bad idea. But you were right. We can publish all your books. And mine. We can put up all of our stories. We'll have freedom."

His enthusiasm was contagious. I was tired of years of failure, sickness, rejection.

We started home, driving from the coast to the Columbia River Gorge where we lived.

"What will we call our publishing company?" I asked.

We bandied about different names. None of them worked. I said, "At the heart of everything I do is Nature. How can we work that into the title?"

Years ago, Mario bought me a small green rubber snake that sits on our dashboard like a guardian for our travels. I looked at the snake and said, "How about Green Snake Publishing?"

"I like it," he said.

Once we got home and started this new venture, I tried to be enthusiastic, but I was still discouraged. I wanted a big advance from a big publisher so that Mario and I weren't constantly struggling financially. (Because of my health issues and my inability to work a full-time job, we had struggled mightily over the years.)

I kept hearing bad news from the publishing front. Publishers were demanding that "their" writers cease and desist any indie e-publishing of their own. (And there were more draconian measures some publishers were taking to try and protect their bottom lines, but I won't get into that here.)

I watched this and wondered why innovative publishers weren't stepping up and saying, "We realize we haven't valued writers before. You are the creators! You are the storytellers. How best can we serve you and the story?" Those would be the publishers who would survive this upheaval, I believed. Embrace the new world. Make the world better instead of gaming the system to make you more profits.

Over the year, Mario kept putting up his short stories and selling them for 99 cents. Then we decided to put up my novels that had gone out of print. Fortunately I had gotten back the rights to all three of my adult novels before the e-book revolution was in full swing.

We first published a new Coyote Cowgirl. That was our first "big" cover, and it was torture for Mario. He came up with several covers he liked, but I didn't like any of them. I knew what I wanted and I wouldn't stop until I liked it. Finally I came up with a concept I liked and we were able to create it.

I wrote an afterword for Coyote Cowgirl. I enjoyed talking about the history of the book. I was glad it was going to be out in the world again.

We published my teen novel Deathmark next and then reprinted The Jigsaw Woman with an extraordinary new cover. Next was The Blue Tail. As we worked on each project, I started feeling more free. I woke up in the morning feeling enthusiastic instead of depressed.

I loved working on the covers; that was now part of my creative process. I no longer had to worry about big-breasted scantily clad women on the covers. Unless I wanted them on the cover.

This summer I started writing on my novel Butch. I didn't want it to be a long book. I loved writing shorter novels. Now that I didn't have to worry about a publisher wanting me to pad the story so that the book was longer, some of my writing stress dropped away. I could just tell the story I wanted to tell: My characters could just tell me their stories.

A few weeks ago, I finished editing The Desert Siren, the novel I had written last winter in Tucson. It is long enough that it could be a commercial book. The subject matter might even be commercial. I don't know. I don't care. I don't feel depressed now that it's done, as I often did in the past when I'd finish a novel, anticipating sending it to my agent or sending it out to publishers.

I realized that if I wanted, I could publish it myself. No matter what, this novel was not going to get lost. My job was to get my stories out into the world and let the world decide what they thought of them: And now I could do that.

That knowledge made me giddy with pleasure.

I realized liked being an indie writer.

I like being an indie writer.

I stay away from the arguments about the pros and cons of indie writing. It's like talking politics. Thems that gots it don't want to change nothing; thems that don't gots it want a revolution.

Occupy the Story, man.

I don’t want publishers to go away. But I want to be treated with respect; I want my work to be respected. I am not a commodity; my work isn't a commodity. I deserve to make a living from my work, just as everyone deserves to make a living from their work.

I ain't no slave to the corporation.

When we were telling an artist friend of ours that agents and then editors often ask writers to rewrite their work, he frowned and said, "Isn't that kind of like someone looking at one of my paintings and telling me I need to take this chunk of paint off here and paint this part of the canvas with a different color over there? And if I do all that, they'll pay me for it."

"It is like that," I said, "only it's worse. Half the time they'll ask you to make those changes but they don't pay you for it. They end up saying, 'geez, I guess I still don't like it.'"

I am an indie writer. I am happier with my writing and my publishing than I've ever been. I'm not making a living from my writing now, but I wasn't before. At least now I feel a sense of freedom and peace.

I may not be making a living (yet) but I am living happier.

We'll see what happens next.

(For more about what's happening in the indie (and beyond) publishing world, check out Dean Wesley Smith's website and Kristine Kathryn Rusch's website.)

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All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.