7 days to go… and a sneak peek

(Click image to read sample)

This time next week, I will be a published author. I started to write Black Wood in January 2013 and was lucky enough to secure an agent in June 2013, which led to my book deal in May 2014. Back then, the release date seemed so far off, but now that it’s nearly here, I can’t quite believe it!

I’ve loved the journey… I’ve learnt so much about the process of writing, editing and the business of publishing, and I’m still learning. But for now, I will celebrate this huge milestone by letting you know that you can now read a sample! This is the first time that any of this work has been available publicly, so I really hope you enjoy it!

Please let me know in the comments 🙂

…and if you do, then stayed tuned for next week’s ebook blog tour… details below:

You can still pre-order the ebook for 59p – but the price will rise soon, so if you like the sample, get in quick!

* * *

And just to remind you that it’s not all about me… Coming up later this week:

Ding Ding – Round 2

First of all – Happy New Year to all my readers, followers and those who have stumbled across this by accident and have no idea what I’m going on about 😉

As you may remember, 2013 was a pretty big year for me, what with me getting an agent, finishing my first novel and sending that novel out to publishers for their consideration…

How’s all that going? I hear you ask.

Well… so far, there’s been a fair bit of this:

Which is a bit like getting kicked in the teeth over and over again, no matter how many nice things they have to say about your writing… especially when several of them ummed and ahhed and said that even though it wasn’t quite right for them, they were sure it would be right for someone else… a bit like in The Voice…

when nobody turns round because they all think one of the others is going to…


But there was also quite a bit of this:

“Ohhhhh so close, but we’re not sure about this bit or that bit…” etc etc.

I did a bit of a rewrite for one editor, but it still didn’t work for them – so I decided that this wasn’t really the way to go. I could do that forever and still never get it how they wanted it.

Eventually, I had to make a decision… try to address what wasn’t working with the plot, or write something else… and considering the amount of work my lovely agent (who has unwavering faith in me and puts up with my stream of self-doubting emails…) had already put into trying to find my novel a home, and not wanting to throw in the towel too early, I decided to try and fix it. After all, the feedback on the strength of my writing was unanimous – the concerns were with certain elements of the plot… but the problem was, most of the feedback was contradictory. So I decided to get an editorial report from an independent editor, one who I knew was an expert in my genre. Which led to this…

The report was excellent. It made me fall in love with my book again; made me realise it really was worth working on. It highlighted a couple of big issues (and lots of smaller ones, but the trick is to use the report in the best way for yourself) and after discussion with my agent we decided on two key changes… adding some ’emotional intensity’ to my main character, who had a tendency to be overly cold and detached, thus not giving the reader a character to root for, and making the ending less complicated by spreading out the reveals and removing unnecessary strands (okay, maybe that’s three things…)

Anyway… that’s what I did in December, and in early Jan (the deadline I had set myself) I sent it back to my agent. I should hear his thoughts next week. After that, we decide on where to send it next…

Wish me luck!

What’s Going On?!

Ok, I admit – my blog has been a bit neglected of late. I’ve only been on twitter and facebook sporadically, my inbox has 1500 messages I need to sort out, I’ve been picking up books and setting them down, unable to concentrate and focus… I found out I was being made redundant, but it’s still not clear when… So, basically, things have been a bit like this…

Source: http://www.atypicallyrelevant.com/

So what has been going on?! Well, my novel has been out on submission, and I’ve had loads of very encouraging feedback… and to cut a long story short, I’m now working on a bit of a re-write – an edit, adding some words in, taking some out… this has so far involved lots of note scribbling and quite a bit of this…

Source: http://keithingtonb.wordpress.com/

and quite a bit of this…

Source: drmlifecoach.wordpress.com

But now, I have a plan… and it goes a bit like this…

Source: seejanepublish.wordpress.com

So what have you all been up to?? 🙂

Who do you write for?

Marlene Lee

A guest post from the delightful Marlene Lee, where she discusses the difference between writing for yourself and writing for publication…

I find that writing for publication is different than writing for self-expression, or a writers’ group, or a class assignment; writing for an editor is so much better.

My editor can be critical, yes.  He has high standards, certainly.  But he shows respect for my work.  I’ve heard this is not always the case. Likewise, stories I’ve heard about publishing houses that treat writers like cogs in a machine do not apply to my publisher.

I’ve written for a good many years without accomplishing the one thing I always wanted: to have my novels published.  What kept me writing?  Love of words.  Needy emotions.  Desire for attention I couldn’t or wouldn’t ask for directly.  Fascination with people’s lives and the worlds they inhabit.

Why was it so hard for me to be published?  Partly, luck.  I just didn’t run into the right agent or publisher.  I also wrote a lousy cover letter.  Self-promotion makes me uncomfortable.  “I know you don’t want to read my work or hear what I have to say, but if you don’t mind…”  Looking back, I think I began with apologies.

In a sense, I think apologies showed in my work, too, but I didn’t realize it until my editor started striking sentences left and right.  In fact, when he first read what I’d submitted, he told me I over-explained.  And I did, and do.

Over-explaining is a sort of apology.  I might as well be saying, “I’m hard to understand and my characters are hard to understand and so I’m going to tell you a lot of gratuitous stuff about them and myself and interpret their conversations for you because, you see, the characters are aspects of myself and you’ll never believe how sad, full, and ironic our lives are and how inadequate my writing is to make all that clear and also I have a good vocabulary and verbal style which you might not notice if I don’t flash it about…”

When my heroine says, “Please don’t tell my husband,” and I, the author, add, “she said, her lips curving in a teary smile that was part grimace, part irony,” I may as well be saying to the reader, “This character is too fascinating and complex for my ability to bring her to life, so you’ll need three options to empathize with her, and I’ll give you those options: tears, a grimace, or irony.  Or all three.  And if you can’t choose one, keep reading and I’ll choose for you.”

My editor strikes everything after, “Please don’t tell my husband.”

He doesn’t go on and on about it, embarrassing me the way writers’ groups and classes often do.  He doesn’t write his own wordy explanation to fulfil a teaching impulse, like teachers often do.

He’s busy.  He assumes I’ll understand.

Since his publishing house has already accepted the book for publication, I’m willing to be criticized.  And I will be paid.  Someone there likes my book well enough to spend money on editing, on cover art, and eventually, on me.  Money can facilitate growth.  For money, I’ll keep an open mind.  For the prestige of publication, I’ll pay attention to criticism.  For respect, I’ll do almost anything.

And to be read.

Although I think I originally wrote my novels to be praised, I now want them to be read.


About Marlene

Marlene Lee’s first novel, The Absent Woman, will be published by Holland House Books in April 2013. Marlene graduated from the Brooklyn College MFA program in 2010 and, for many years, subsidised her writing by working as a teacher and court reporter.  Her stories, poems, and essays have appeared in numerous publications. When she’s not writing, she tutors at the University of Missouri Writing Center and attends local readings, performances, and meetings of the Jane Austen Society.  Most of the year she lives in Columbia, Missouri, but she also spends time in her New York City apartment. Her blog can be found at www.marleneLee.wordpress.com.

Click to read Marlene’s short story The Long Black Cadillac

National Flash Fiction Day: A Debrief

So unless you’ve been living on the moon for the last few months, you’ll know that National Flash Fiction Day was on Wednesday. To re-cap – this was an event that celebrated flash fiction, i.e. very short stories, usually written quite quickly and generally focussing on a brief moment in time (that’s my definition, but there’s nothing set in stone). There were events online and all over the country (and international events too) – you can read more about it on the website and blog. When I saw the first announcement about it on twitter, I immediately jumped in with both feet.

Once Upon A Time

My first port of call was to contact Anna Meade at Yearning For Wonderland and ask if she’d like to collaborate on a competition. ‘It’s not just for UK writers,’ I begged her… and after her recent success with The Fairy Ring contest, I was keen to run something similar. An open competition where writers post their stories on their own blogs and link them all together. The lovely thing about The Fairy Ring was the way that everyone supported each other, read each other’s entries, and generally caused a Twitter frenzy. After lots of time-zone limited discussions with Anna, we came up with Once Upon A Time (#ouatwriting) and started madly promoting using our alter-egos… she, #fairyqueen and I, #darkfairy. Sometimes these personas switched. The result was a whole sheaf of fabulous prizes, including books, t-shirts and general adoration. We exceeded expectations and received 88 fantastic entries. It was very difficult to choose the winners. I had a rather long shortlist, as did Anna, and guess what? They were almost completely different! After a few painful discussions, we both did another re-read and came up with a much shorter list, and finally, the winners.

Oliver Barton’s ‘Pink Bells‘ was just the perfect, poignant tale. Angela Readman‘s ‘A Mermaid in Texas’ was just so completely raw and stunning, it stuck with me from the very first time I read it. McKenzie Barham‘s ‘I can show you the world’, felt so unbelievable real, it just blew me away. Then there was the gorgeous fan favourite, ‘Three Simple Words’ by Cory Eadson… There were many, many others worthy of a mention too, and I realised I had to do something about this – we couldn’t just celebrate the winners…

So I had the bright idea of putting them all together into an anthology… I wanted to celebrate the competition, but I underestimated the difficulty and time-constraints of putting a book together. It turned into a logistical nightmare, trying to coordinate 88 entries into a book, when each one was formatted according to individual taste on everyone’s own blog… everyone’s editing style was just ever so slightly different: single or double quotes, curly or straight, short or long hyphens, double spaces at the start of sentences, breaks between paragraphs, and my personal favourite – using spaces instead of tabs! Writers, PLEASE don’t so this – it makes editing a complete nightmare 🙂 As for typos, everyone does the now and again – how many times have you read a published book and find them? The odd one isn’t an issue, but if there are a lot, it does look sloppy (Note: this doesn’t apply to any of the entrants!) Then, of course, I had to contact everyone to ask for their permission, to make sure I had their link details for the author info, and to chase up people with missing information… My email decided to cause me a few problems there, but I got in touch with everyone in the end! Anyway, it’s almost done and I’ll be posting details of where you can buy it soon 🙂


Then came my next activity (note: I have not even mentioned writing anything myself yet…) I volunteered my services and was very pleased to be chosen as one of the 7 editors for the FlashFlood Journal (I also chose the name *ahem*). This involved us all taking a stint on the accept/reject and posting schedule. I’m not telling you which day I was on, but it was non-stop until midnight, then actually a fair bit past that, tidying up the inbox etc. It was a crazy experience (especially towards the end when the emails started bouncing back for no apparent reason)… Stories were flying in quicker than I could read them. I managed it by giving each one a quick read, then moving on, then going back to each one again – then a lot of the time, filing it for a third read. Some stories didn’t make it to the third read, and it wasn’t because they were bad. Mostly it was because they just didn’t grab me, even if the writing was beautiful. Others didn’t make it because I just didn’t understand them! That might’ve just been me though… the whole selection process is very subjective and each editor has their own likes and dislikes. FYI – some of my ‘not sure’ stories got 4or 5 reads – it was that difficult.

However, a few stand-out things that led to my third read (and remember this is only my opinion)

  1. A great title (seriously – if I have to pick from a pile of similar stories, the best title will win)
  2. A great opening line/paragraph
  3. A quirky subject that I haven’t already just read in similar forms in 20 other stories

Funnily enough, these three elements are things that I try hard to think about with my own writing. That, and a good ending. It doesn’t have to be definitive, but it has to be satisfying. I like twists too, but they have to work well. I won’t tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t write, but if you use your twist to tell us that ‘and all along the main character was an animal’ then you better write it well or else it leaves me disappointed! Again, just my opinion. My last thought on this (and some, but not all of the other editors agreed) is that don’t write stuff TOO depressing. It doesn’t have to be funny or crazy, that doesn’t always work either unless it’s written well; but after you’ve read a few miserable tales about funerals and cancer and break-ups, you get a bit fed up with them, even if they are beautifully written (before anyone says anything, yes, I am guilty of the odd bit of misery myself, that’s not the point here – we all do it!) I also learnt something else – as tempting as it might be to email the editors when you’ve received a rejection – don’t. They really and truly don’t have time to give feedback, especially on a project like this where the submissions came in over a short period of time and were being set up for posting on a schedule. I think we all tried our best to respond to everyone, but now having been on the other side, I appreciate how frustrating it must be for anyone hoping for feedback.

So – to sum up – being involved in both of these competitions was a  great experience and a great insight, and (being a glutton for punishment) I would love to do it again.

Stuff that I wrote

As for my own writing… *Beware – I am blowing my own trumpet here*

  1. ‘Shed’ was published in the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology, Jawbreakers
  2. ‘Message’ was published on 1000 Words
  3. ‘Sweet Sixteen’ was published in the Raging Aardvark Twisted Tales Anthology
  4. ‘Nightcrawler’ was published in Chris White’s Photocopier Press Pamphlet
  5. ‘The Rock’ was published on the FlashFlood Journal (note: subject to the editing process, like everyone else!)
  6. ‘Uncle Charlie’ was written and posted on the Write-in Blog on National Flash Fiction Day
  7. ‘Beware: Swans’ will be included in the Once Upon A Time Anthology

I also posted a flashpoint that I wrote in a pub 🙂

What’s next?

And now that it’s all over, I’m reverting back to my *To Write* list… which is ever growing (and includes getting back on with ‘the novel’)…

Thanks to everyone who’s been involved in the above, and a big big thanks to King of Flash, Calum Kerr for the excellent work he put in to creating  and executing National Flash Fiction Day… someone buy that man a cake!!