Mastodon The Writing Desk: April 2011

26 April 2011

Book review: Faith and Trust by Suzanne L. Davis

Faith and Trust is a book written with women readers in mind - so it is inescapably intriguing for a man to read.  At just over 100 pages, Faith and Trust is short for a novel but much more than a short story. Richly interwoven with psychology and dreams, this little book deals perceptively and sensitively with big issues of life and death, love and sex.
  A series of vignettes provide a pleasingly relaxed pace as we follow the life of Faith, who lives in a Chicago apartment with her cat called ‘Tangle’ and works as a Paralegal. (I had to look up ‘paralegal’ as it has different meanings.  Faith is trained in legal matters but not qualified as a lawyer). 
  We soon find ourselves looking at the world through Faith’s perspective. Interestingly, we have to wait for the description of her in a wealth of details, her shade of lipstick, her eclectic taste in music  (Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, Second Movement, Allegretto – Suzanne recommends you listen to it when you read chapter one)  
  It is also not long before you start to realise that Suzanne Davis has a very liberated style and enjoys exploring the possibilities of novel writing. For example, in chapter 2 she runs through the first nine tracks on Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection CD. (Later we find we are following every detail of how to make a red pasta sauce).  
  The book is full of real life details that create a very credible world that would be very hard to research.   I also liked the way Suzanne’s economy with words creates a clear sense of place and character.  Faith finds Chicago sinister and dangerous at night - and her date is like ‘Jim Carey in a serious role’.  
  Faith and Trust did offer an insight into the mind of a modern woman but also left me with more questions than answers. Do women really like being called ‘beautiful’ as a nickname?  
  Suzanne’s background as a psychologist really shines through in the dream sequences.  More than once I found I had to re-read sections as I realised we had slipped out of the real world.  That I wanted to is a testament to the way the book makes you work as a reader – and want to return to it at a later date.  I wanted more.  A sequel? 

Author Suzanne L. Davis is a Social Psychologist and Consultant based in Houston.  Suzanne says she has been fascinated by Psychology since she was six years old and aims to make psychological principles interesting and accessible.

Faith and Trust is available at as well as Suzanne’s blog and she can be followed on twitter at @hellodrdavis 

19 April 2011

Guest Post: A Self Publisher’s Tale by Elizabeth Currie

Elizabeth Currie
Firstly I would like to thank Tony for inviting me to contribute a guest blog to his website. After debating the relative virtues of a number of themes, we decided it might be topical and interesting for me to write about my recent journey to self publishing my first novel.

Like many journeys it has had its high points and low, its rocky and difficult places. But why self publish in the first place? That is probably the most important part of the whole process, the decision – not easily taken – to abandon (or perhaps not even look in the first place) the search for  the ‘conventional’ publishing route.

The journey for me has actually been a long one, taking easily the last five years, from when I completed my first novel (now titled ‘The Lady of Seville) and began the process of looking for a publisher.

From this vantage point I can now see how naive I really was. To me then, as an aspiring author of fiction (already with a well established pedigree in academic writing), it seemed all I had to do was my side of the ‘deal’ – come up with an interesting theme, research it well enough to make the plot and characters plausible, write it ‘engagingly’ (ie not like an academic article) and that pretty much would be that.  Well, yes, I realised that I probably wouldn’t exactly be ‘snapped up’ straight away, would have to prepare myself for a few rejections, but eventually, well ....

A depressing, disappointing and disillusioning experience  was in store for me. In those ‘days’ (we are talking about late 2006/2007 now) it was still (just about) possible to submit straight to publishers, so I tried a combination of locally-based publishers and agents. Time passed and one after the other the rejection slips came back.  I could easily write the rest of this blog detailing the subsequent weeks and months as they turned into years. I suppose in all I must have made some 25 or so submissions in total to agents/publishers for my first literary effort, an historical novel now entitled (but not then) ‘The Lady of Seville’.

Perhaps the book seemed slightly ‘specialist’, centring as it did upon a theme I knew a lot about and close to my heart, the period following the conquest of Peru by Spain in the 16th century. Although written as a dynamic adventure story and romance, with what I felt were interesting and credible characters, I could readily see that the book’s slow dreamlike beginning, and rather strange sounding story line might have caused it to be dumped straight into the slush pile.  I tried two main rounds of submissions and then withdrew the manuscript. Other life events took over and I have several other creative interests standing impatiently in the queue, awaiting their turn. So I turned my attention to painting pictures and developing my photographic portfolio for awhile instead.

Come 2009 I put all my goods back into storage again and once more took to the road – heading this time in the direction of India where I travelled alone for six weeks. I wanted to get ideas and inspiration for a completely different sort of book, one that might be more ‘mainstream’ and marketable, which is to say ‘women’s fiction’ (although not exactly ‘chick lit' – whatever that is).

I could write another whole blog upon this episode and related adventures, but in short, it produced my second novel: ‘An Indian Affair’ – a modern romance about half the length of the long historical adventure that had preceded it. No matter, however, exactly the same experience awaited me. This time I submitted directly to agents. I know you are supposed to submit to one at a time, but with an average eight week turn around period I did probably what many authors do, which is submit to around six at a time, all carefully selected from the ‘Writers and Artists Handbook’.

I made two and a half rounds of these: two at the beginning of the year (2010), about six in May; then another four or so later on in the autumn. One after another the standard rejections came back(pleasant, polite, but offering no feedback whatever). I know I am too sensitive; but I felt I simply couldn’t endure this process any more. I couldn’t see the point in carrying on banging my head against this impossible barrier as I was finding it. Something just wasn’t working. Clearly what I was writing didn’t sufficiently catch the readers’ attention to make them request a follow up.

At this point perhaps I should add that both manuscripts had been read by ‘trial readers’ and were well received; in particular the second romantic novel which had had good feedback from a selection of women well versed in the genre. By the end of the year I had finally developed my website and then made (for me) the unprecedented decision to enter the whole world of social networking (formerly so disparaged) and joined first Facebook and then Twitter. And, finally, I set up my own  personal blog (see ‘Wayward Lady’). Then I watched my world change from that erstwhile and hardly splendid isolation into something that slowly took shape as a writers’ network - and much-needed forum for exchange of advice and information.

By this time I had also joined a local writers group and slowly started to gain some of that vital insight and understanding I had lacked before.  In the mere three years since I had first looked into (then abandoned) the notion of self publishing it was clear just how much had changed. From being the old-style ‘Vanity’ press charging £100s for a mere three copies of your book and stigmatisation thereafter as a no hoper, the whole Indie, e-publishing and print-on-demand industry had taken off. New friends and advisers from the writers’ circle together with all the different links picked up from Twitter contacts allowed me to review my life and potential as a writer from a completely new perspective.

In the blog I had by then just started  I critiqued my own submissions according to the new sources I had just found.  In the ‘Slush Pile’ and ‘The Slush Pile Revisited’ posts I debated the merits of rewriting the opening pages to both my novels according to the arid formulaic criteria presented in such advice as ’25 reasons why your submission is rejected’; also with no guarantee of meeting with success.  As noted in the many web and blogging links I was now able to source, it became clear how rigid the formal publishing world had become.

I must admit it had, by then, achieved an almost revelationary quality. From feeling so blocked and thwarted, wondering if it was ever going to be worth writing another book, or whether the whole brave creative writing venture had to be written off(!) as a ‘failure,’ suddenly a way had magically opened up.  Certainly the whole process of taking your original manuscript and formatting it to make credible, professional and marketable end product (ie paperback) is a challenging one. Here I was helped by one of my new writing friends who had been through the process himself and advised me every stage of the way.

I was able to use a good original image to transform into a graphic for the cover of the book, and, a few storm-in-a-tea-cup style crises later, I had an ISBN and my first published novel. Certainly you learn en-route. There may be things I might change, or seek to improve for my new project underway (publishing the first written historical novel). Looking at the book there is nothing too startlingly out of place or dramatically ‘wrong’ to damn it as clearly ‘home made’.  It looks pretty much like any paperback book, but my own! (see An Indian Affair )

I would, however, advise anyone considering the same venture to give it all very careful consideration first.  I knew I had held out long in favour of conventional publishing, as still many people do. There are not an average of 300 weekly submissions to some, 800 per month to other Literary Agents for no reason. But increasingly it means that anything ‘unusual’, that deviates to any serious degree from standard submission ‘norms’ is unlikely to make it past the first stage.

As a further point I would also strongly recommend that any aspiring writer now have the all-necessary ‘platforms’: website, blog, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and so on. This seems now to be an absolute ‘standard’. Approaching agents with an ‘unusual’ submission and no awareness of the way the world now ‘works’ can only damn you further. And, as a self-publisher, these certainly are a sine qua non.

Well, so what if what I write is not actually ‘good enough’ in the first place? Inevitably many people might think this.  Certainly we are given to understand that there is much in the ‘slush pile’ that genuinely lacks talent; is particularly well written. There must be much too which, whilst ‘OK’, is nevertheless still lacklustre. I believe in the quality of my work; others who have read it do so too. And now at least, the world ‘out there’ can find out for itself!

Elizabeth Currie has worked as an archaeologist and anthropologist of the Americas. She  recently changed the focus of her work towards the creative arts (fine art painting and photography) and most especially writing. Based in York in the UK she has a passion for travel that has inspired many of her creative undertakings. She said that 'Ultimately, it has all served the one end of allowing me to develop my philosophy of life and the person I am; and to express it'.  

Useful web sites:
Blog site: ‘Wayward Lady’:
Blog Posts documenting the decision to move into self publishing:

  • Thursday 10/02/11: ‘A Short Cut to the Slush Pile?’
  • Friday 11/02/11: ‘The Slush Pile Revisited’.
  • Wednesday 16/02/11: ‘The Raising of Spells.’

Poetry: ‘Poetry in Motion’:

Links to sites/blogs/advice Liz found helpful:

Follow Liz @elizajcurrie on twitter

14 April 2011

Guest Post by Catherine Schaff-Stump: So, you want to be a writer, do you?

Catherine Schaff-Stump
Let's talk about the quality that all writers must have before all things. Before tenacity. Before skill. Before work ethic. Let's talk about patience.  Where is the first place you will encounter a need for patience? With your manuscript. You will finish it, and you will want to send it away. Don't. Put it in a drawer for a couple of months, and then work on revising it. 

Get some feedback on it, and then, after a few times through it, send it out. I rework mine several times, and if it's not taken on somewhere, chances are good I will do substantial revisions on it sometime in the future. Creating a good work of art isn't quick. I'm getting the years perspective in my mind's eye, you betcha.  

After completing the work, the next place you'll need patience is when you submit your work. The urgency you will feel as you wait for the world to give you feedback will be in direct contrast to the size of the abyss you send your work into. Be mellow about it. Own your patience. Get on with your life. You can't sit by the computer refreshing your inbox and hoping. If you wander the Internet landscape, you'll hear about writers getting book deals years after they've submitted to slush. Or worse, rejections, years after. Give over the response to the universe, and do something else.  

It can take a long time after you've gotten an agent to sell a book to an editor. It can take a long time to get your career balanced where you want it. It can take a long time to get an acceptance from a box store market. If your work is accepted, you'll need patience continually. Waiting for the edits, waiting for the publication, waiting for the proofs, waiting for the check, waiting, waiting, waiting. 

This is the nature of publishing. I've heard that the cycle of a book going from accepted manuscript to published product is about two years at a minimum after you've done all the writing, revising, and shopping around. Writing taken from this perspective seems to be an occupation for the self-flagellating type A. You'd best become a type B mellow person in regard to your writing life. Given this information, I think if you're looking for a life of recognition and fame, petty crime is better. 

There's another piece to this, and that's what happens to the impatient. Some writers give up. I say you should, absolutely, if you can. Waiting is not satisfying. Some writers self-publish. I say if you do, make sure you want to be a PR person, an editor, and a sales force, in addition to writing books. Some writers publish in small press, or publish for free. I have done this, but if you do it, consider the implications for your career. Strangely enough, this doesn't work linearly, like it does in almost every other occupation. Consider the reputation of the venue, how much you'll be paid for your work, and the overall impact on your writing career. I'll just assume you're waiting for one of those. Here I am. Waiting. 

Current manuscripts given over to the cosmos. Writing the next project. Walking the walk. Talking the talk. Waiting for the next opportunity to revise. Waiting for the agent, the sale, the publishing. Waiting for one short story to come out. Waiting for the edits on another. Waiting for the rejections, the partials, the fulls, the revision requests. Waiting for chance and skill to combine together into opportunity. Not even chewing my fingernails. Nope. Because this is the writer's life. Writing, sending, waiting, rejecting, rewriting, sending, waiting. With the occasional acceptance to keep things interesting. I'm walking tall. I'm a writer. You? 

Do you have the patience and the guts to send your work out, and wait for your writing to be good enough to get you the results you're hoping for? And then the ability to wait some more while those pieces fall into place? I hear Solitaire passes the time when you're tired of writing the next thing. Me? I sew, talk long walks with my husband, and pet my cats.

Catherine Schaff-Stump is a writer, teacher, researcher and novelist based in Iowa. Catherine's blog can be found at Writer Tamago and she can be followed on twitter at @cathschaffstump 

10 April 2011

A writer’s week on twitter - writing advice and tips

Twitter has a wealth of advice and tips for writers if you know where to look.  A good place to start is #writing where you should soon find Jon Winokur’s @AdviceToWriters with links to great writing quotes, articles and practical information from a wide range of sources at  
I usually check out Jon’s tweets (he has over 56,000 followers) as you never know what you’ll find, such as: 40 Twitter Hashtags for Writers

Daily Writing Tips

@writing_tips  is a good source of tips on grammar, spelling, punctuation and all aspects of  freelance writing on   Founded by writer Daniel Scocco (@danielscocco ), a small team of experienced writers and editors work hard to maintain standards on all aspects of writing, from book reviews to business copy writing.  As well as grammar and punctuation, a favourite of mine is the ‘word of the day'  which is always worth a look.   

Writer's Digest

Cincinnati based @WritersDigest has been providing advice to writers for over ninety years and is always worth looking out for in the timeline.  If you are quick (deadline is 15th April) you can enter the 19th WD self publishing awards (see )

Categories include:

  • Mainstream/Literary Fiction
  • Genre Fiction
  • Nonfiction
  • Inspirational (Spiritual, New Age)
  • Life Stories (Biographies, Autobiographies, Family Histories, Memoirs)
  • Children's/Picture books
  • Middle-Grade/Young Adult books
  • Reference Books (Directories, Encyclopedias, Guide Books)
  • Poetry

Fuel Your Writing

Finally, for something a bit different look out for Christopher Jackson’s Fuel Your Writing (@fuelyourwriting ) 

Fuel Your Writing aims to “fuel” your passion for writing of all types and to make the inspirational “go to” site for business writers, novelists, short story, advertising, technical writers - the list goes on and on…. 

5 April 2011

Poetry Guest Post: Angela Eun Ji Koh

1807 Oleander

As Mom had, I rubbed my wrists with gingko lotion.
They rested by my face
and I fell asleep smelling her.

In the morning
I boiled and drank salt water with pepper sauce for breakfast,
stirred with a chopstick.

I signed the postal slip on tiptoe
and brought home a letter from Seoul. I had no phone.
Kimchi packets had ripened on the trip.

I read the folded slips with foreign squares,
short crosses, stops, points
crowding the page, covering the creases.


My mother always loved the rain.
She loved the sharp edges of the stones washed with it
because she liked things clean.

It cleans every alley, she said.
God must like things clean. She was sure of this

more than the broken zippers
and the washed take-out boxes she saved in the pantry.
She loved to bleed.

I hope she finally found God’s cleaning in it.

Angela Eun Ji Koh taught English in Seoul, Korea and became a translating assistant in Tokyo, Japan.  After teaching 11th grade comparative literature in Santa Ana, California she moved to New York City.  She is now completing her MFA in Poetry at Columbia University. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, Juked, Entasis, Gulf Stream and elsewhere. 

3 April 2011

Book review: Notes from An Alien

I have become used to unusual followers on twitter - but was intrigued to realise I was being followed by an alien.  Her name is Sena Quaren, an Angian woman from a star system about twelve light-years from Earth. 

I had to find out more and discovered a new book which stretched the boundaries of the short story yet at 42,000 words is not a novel in the conventional sense.

Notes from An Alien by Alexander M Zoltai is, on one level, a science fiction story on an epic scale, following the lives of many generations over the course of a centuries long war. 

We live through ecological disaster and the near extinction of entire populations, before finally reaching inter-global peace.  One of the worlds was obsessed with religious superstition and practised brutal sacrifices yet the other, based on the power of corporate management was for me more chilling. 

There are, of course, a number of inescapable parallels with our world rooted deep in the author’s background.  The book explores a wide range of (for me at least) quite radical styles, including ‘notes’ and interviews, as well as ‘news’ updates.  I was left wanting more, as there were many sub plots of great potential that were never developed as we were moved quickly on to the next world, a new generation.

More than once, I found myself going back to re-read sections where I had missed something that later proved to be significant. This is something I rarely do with more conventional novels, so it says something about Notes from An Alien that I wanted to understand the detail.

Alexander M Zoltai

I particularly wanted more about Sena Quaren, the enigmatic narrator, who ‘reached out’ across space to co-author this book. The earth-bound author, Alexander M Zoltai, describes himself as a man with a nature that has always had problems with the way things are done in the social realm, including daily conversations, parties, groups, organizations, political systems, and governments. 

As you get to know Alexander Zoltai, you start to discover the paradox of his complex world.  He says "I'm just the translator and caretaker here. Sena isn't 'just' a 'co-author' of the book. She's a character and extremely real for me - as real as what most authors feel is the reality of their characters - maybe, just a bit more real.

As I am writing this, the news of events in Libya provides all of us with reasons to agree with Alexander.  Notes from An Alien is one of those rare works that raises some profound questions about our world and lives on in your memory. 

Tony Riches

A review copy of Notes from An Alien can be obtained at  and it will be available for purchase, in print and e-book formats, through FastPencil from the 16th May 2011. 

In memory of Jamie

When I write
its like something
Possesses me from within
and a new part of me is born
Freed from this mortal coil
that raps itself around me
that calls itself Flesh and Bone
smothering and blinding me
but when Free
I roam Freely
and when I see
I see completely
Poetry itself
has Possessed me
when I write
its like Passion
takes over and
my Heart my Soul
even my Fingertips
are no longer in my control
and I do not know
nor fully understand
what I am writing;
what I have just written
until I read it over
read it for the first time
like an Editor editing
making the needed changes
That’s the way it feels sometimes
like Poetry is a Flame
Burning Hot
and while reading
I catch Fire
I’m like the Addiction
writing the drug
and my Pen
is the best
part of me

Written by Jamie, who very sadly is no longer with us