Part One – The promise.
In university, I approached my roommate Susan with a thought that had been bothering me for a long time, even up to that point.
“Someday, if I sign a publishing contract,” I said, “10% of anything I make on that first book I want to give to charity. But I can’t make up my mind which charity!”
Susan suggested a program that she was passionate about: The Independence Program.
That was a long time ago. We more or less lost contact, except for Facebook, and I haven’t forgotten what she recommended. But then came the Muskoka Novel Marathon.
Now, I don’t like to consider myself as having grown up on the wrong side of the tracks. I think it was more “middle of the tracks”, for all the times we were on the move, and for all the times the light at the end of the tunnel was just another sign of bad luck.
I can’t complain. Where, when and how I grew up is part of who I am. I never went hungry, I never ran around naked, I never got into booze or drugs or prostitution, and for that, I can thank my Mom.
But I did grow up where “living in low income family with single mother” was the equivalent of getting into booze, drugs and/or prostitution. It didn’t matter to some how I got there. I didn’t matter where I was going. In some people’s eyes, we were somehow broken, I was doomed to repeat history, and that was a disgusting flaw in my genetic design.
There are others who are living that nightmare now. The hereditary shame heaped on top of a bad situation that starts with a stumble and spans generations.
I could speculate, I could diagnose, I could preach, or I could shut up and help. When people are genuinely striving for a better life, I want to help them; and if I can help them directly, I’ll support the people who can.
Helping people get the tools they need to get out of a bad spot, when they are actively trying to work their way free out of a life-trap – that has become my passion. And while I may not have the time for the volunteering, that doesn’t mean I can’t help buy the tools for those who can teach, in order to support those who want to learn.
So if I can help the YMCA York/Simcoe achieve those same goals, then it behooves me to do what I can. And along the way, as part of the awareness campaign, I get to sit down with a bunch of my brothers and sisters in arts, and we get to throw down word after word after word – so that others can read.
And I’m not alone. There are other fantastic writers out there doing the same as me: collecting funds for the same literacy funds and then attending the same 72-hour writing marathon I am. If you know a Muskoka Novel Marathoner, please support them by making a donation on their own Canada Helps Page. If you want to know more, please check out the website, or ask around.
Think about it: I’m a writer. I want people to read my books. It makes sense to help people learn to read. Enabling them to thumb their noses at a society that has shunned and shamed them for past failures – that’s just icing on the cake.
Fifteen years later, I still think about the promise I made. I’ve been meaning to donate some of my proceeds to charity, whatever that charity might be. But since the publication of Judge Not, I realize that 10% of royalties ain’t a whole heck of a lot.
So, when The Fog of Dockside City: The Obliteration Machine comes out in mid-June, 2015, 100% of my profits go to the YMCA York/Simcoe Literacy Programs.
Part Two: The Fog of Dockside City, and how it works for MNM
The Fog of Dockside City is a 4-book science fiction/”decopunk” series that I will be publishing independently.
Think steampunk, except that instead of it being set in more Victorian times, it’s set in the 30s and 40s. It’s closely related to the dieselpunk subgenre, except that diesel punk is the sleeves-rolled-up, riveted iron, blue collar cousin of the glass-and-chrome deco-punk city kids. For an idea of what decopunk looks like on film, go watch 2004’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, with Jude Law and Pepper Potts.
As with Judge Not, I’ll be selling TFODC: Obliteration Machine directly through the CreateSpace webstore, Amazon.ca, Amazon.com and other affiliates as both hard copy or eBook (DRM-Free, so you can convert it to a Kobo-friendly format).
Proceeds from the first book, now and indefinitely, will go to MNM; but how will depend on the time of year.
Active fundraising season (June 15-July 10 2013, May-July in future years).
Step 1: Donors go to a Canada Helps page (link to follow later) and make a donation online. The Canada Helps site is awesome, because it’s all done through PayPal. It also ensures that the funds go directly to the YMCA programs, and you can print a tax receipt right then and there.
Step 2: Depending on how much they donate, donors will then get a discount code for the CreateSpace webstore, or I will send them something even more awesome. For example, donate $25, get 25% off the cover price. Donate $50, and get the book at the cost of printing, shipping and handling (so I get zero profits, and you get a $20 book for pittance). Donate more than that, and I send a free signed copy in the mail. I’ll outline all the different offers early in June.
If people only want to donate and don’t care for science fiction (bah humbug), then they’re already there. If they only want to buy the book but don’t want to make an online donation, I’m still making a donation more or less on their behalf. But because I won’t see the first royalty cheque until September, I’ll put those funds toward the 2014 marathon.
And, if donors are unable, for whatever reason, to go through the Canada Helps page, they’re welcome to contact me directly to make alternate arrangements. This will be especially important for anyone who wants to get a copy of the book but has money in hand. (I will have some signed copies with me pretty much wherever I go, just in case.)
For the rest of the year:
Step 1: Smart, thoughtful and kind strangers buy the book online, likely at full price, unless Amazon has another surprise sale like they did with Judge Not.
Step 2: Profits I make throughout the year are all saved up for 2014’s marathon, and 2015, and 2016, etc., and I donate them.
But Pat – you did this as self-publishing? Doesn’t that cost money?
Ooooh boy howdy. It cost more than Judge Not, yes indeed. But remember: I’m also trying to launch a series, so the first one has some special needs.
So how are you going to get your money back?
By selling Books 2, 3 and 4. I’ll be spacing them out once a year to coincide with the “Active Fundraising” thing, so long as the Literacy Programs and the Marathon are both running.
If you’ve read Book 1 and you like it enough to buy the next, fantastic. The profits from Book 2 go toward paying off the investment for Book 1 and for Book 2. Same goes for Books 3 and 4.
(Remember that teaser about good things coming in 4s, too? This is what I meant.)
Let’s say someone hears about TFODC series during the launch of the second book. That’ll be during Active Fundraising. With luck, they’ll say “Wait, I want the first book first” – at which point I say “Make a donation online, and I’ll give you a great big discount on Book 1.” With more luck, they’ll buy Book 1 and 2 at the same time.
In 2015 and 2016 with the launch of the third and fourth book, again, people (I hope) will go buy the first book before buying the rest of the series.
So, let’s say in winter of 2016, after all four books are released, and I’m not actively collecting funds. Some clever and angelic soul buys all four books. I still donate my profits from the sale of book 1 to the MNM.
It’s a win for MNM, it’s a win for literacy programs, it’s a win for me because I get to put my money where my mouth is, and I get to share with you my all-time favourite characters, so I can’t go wrong. Short-term pain, long-term gain with many benefiting from the work.
I like this idea! How can I help?
If you know another Novel Marathoner and planned to support them, please support them first. We can always cut a deal for a discount afterwards, as my way of saying thank you for supporting them. Folks like Kevin Craig, Shellie Yaworski, Paula Boon, Dawn Huddlestone, Tobin Elliott, Alison Doucette, Karen Wehrstein and a laundry list of dedicated people are also participating, and I don’t want to take anything away from their fundraising efforts. Click here for a full list of this year’s participants.
If you’re an ex-MNMer and still want to help raise funds (like Kate Medland, I hope!), tell people what I’m doing and why. Once the link is posted and the book is ready for sale, usher them toward the Canada Helps Page. Or at least support another MNMer who helped you in years past.
If you’re a friend or a supporter of the literacy and numeracy cause, please do the same – spread the word.
If you only want to help raise the visibility of independent authors, then get the book online, review it, tell others about it, and then tell them that its sales are going to a very worthy cause.
Twitter only goes so far. Facebook only goes so far. What will sell this book is other people being excited about it.
Part Three: How this all has to do with MNM.
The Fog of Dockside City is a character born out of that time between The Rocketeer, Swing Kids, Newsies and The Shadow, all of which hit the big screen when I was in high school. Around the same time, quite by accident, I discovered The Shadow – the original radio plays from the 30s, 40s and 50s. I fell madly in love. Added to all that, was the music from The Mask with Jim Carrey.
I was thoroughly hooked on all things 30s and 40s, what with the art deco, the music, the chrome and steel, the spirit of adventure, the war bonds and the food banks, and the belief that anything was possible with innovation.
The original version of the Fog actually came out of a misread from the back of an old vinyl record. Inside the sleeve were two episodes of The Shadow starring Orson Welles and likely Agnes Moorehead, and that was inspiration enough. But what was on the sleeve, that was key.
What the sleeve actually said, I can’t remember exactly, but it was something to the effect of this: Orson Welles had become so popular as the Shadow that he had to stay quiet on the streets. People honestly thought some shadowy figure was coming into the theatre to play the part, and the studio wanted to keep up the mystery. In fact, if I remember correctly, his name wasn’t even mentioned in the credits until after his infamous role in The War of the Worlds.
So I began to think: what if, during that time, Orson Welles found himself in the middle of a bank robbery? His voice alone could inspire terror. If he was a ventriloquist, he could have scared the poop out of a robber, just by laughing that deep, sardonic laugh.
Then I began to think, what if your voice was so well-known and so fear-inducing to ne’er do-wells that you could actually fight crime with nothing but your voice?
Various incarnations appeared of the Fog after that. I wrote 38 two-act radio plays and published three of them. I wrote also wrote in novel format: 1993, 1998, 2008 – and 2012. But it never went anywhere.
The 2012 version is the one I wrote at last year’s Muskoka Novel Marathon.
There’s something special about MNM, being there, all the excitement leading up to it, just the right amount of pressure, and the opportunity to try something wicked-awesome, because you know you’re going to be throwing down a first draft, and if you don’t like it, you can chuck it in the trash later.
Two things happen (to me, at least) under those circumstances: the brain juices flow for weeks leading up to the marathon, and often chemistry gives way to explosions of ideas – when they’re least conveniently timed, of course. Let me tell you: after a series of epiphanies in both spring 2012 and again winter 2013, I have lost a lot of sleep (another teaser answered). And there are poster boards all over my office. No one come to visit! I have spoilers all over my wall!
The second thing that happens: when you’re writing so fast you don’t have time to doubt yourself, something takes over, and you can give in to raw creativity. Things come out of you that you didn’t think you were capable of writing. And when you’re stoned on a lack of sleep (because Lori Twining dared you to do an all-nighter) you come up with some of the most awe-inspiring, psychedelic imagery of your life. And then you have to go back and translate it into English, because the judges won’t have a clue what you’ve said.
Without MNM, the Fog would still be a half-baked, underfed and unaccomplished dream after 20 years. But MNM made it happen. The marathon made things click.
And now this book, having been written for a literacy programs fundraiser, is now being sold for literacy programs. And twenty years after the initial idea (good things come to those who wait – and who make it happen), The Fog of Dockside City is coming to life.
Part Four: That’s not the only reason why MNM is at the bottom of all this good news.
I’d been inspired by a thought that came from something I’d misheard in a university class, likely in 1997 or 1998. I don’t even remember what class we were in, but it was “supposed” to be about psychology, and all I remember was weeks and weeks of lectures about ants, and our text book was The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, from whence we get the term “meme.” I had misheard something, and mishearing gave way to thought, and thought to…nowhere. I had no place to put the idea – until I had a dream ten years later.
And it was a silly but spicy dream, which I won’t tell you about because it embarrasses me to this day. And yes, I am a prude. At least publicly.
But, I was able to take a piece out of that dream and weave it into a plot, early in 2009. I discovered I could reinvent werewolves, using basic genetic theory and some rudimentary understanding of retroviral DNA.
The plot rumbled around for weeks and months, and then something fantastic happened.
I was searching “72-Hour Marathon” (the Labour Day marathon) and got off at the wrong exit on the Information Superhighway, landing in Huntsville instead. This seemed more like a challenge: it was on-site, it was near Algonquin Park, and it was for a good cause. I’d never been to a 72-hour marathon, and it sounded like a lot of fun. So I signed up.
Then, being so close to Algonquin Park (where I’ve camped in summer and in winter), being so confined with a bunch of delightfully crazy people of my own ilk, and being as tired as I was, I started knitting in real people around me into the story. The story was no longer set at a lab, but on an island deep in the Canadian Shield, like those islands Sarah St. Pierre and I had visited during our ill-fated portaging trip some years ago. And it rained a lot, too; that also went into the story.
During that marathon, the world dropped away – all that was left was the story, and these people around me. The world could have stopped for all I knew – and for all I cared.
That sense of wilderness and abandon and the suspension of mundane, white-collar day to day – that became the foundation for this crazy-long book I was writing.
I have to say: the experience was so intense I had flashbacks to that infamous island in my story. I’d be walking toward my car, and for 3-4 steps, I was transported to some weedy, broken road in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by derelict buildings and a constant, pervasive sense of danger. Another step, and I was back in upscale Westmount, surrounded by posh triplexes and expensive cars.
Next thing I knew, by the end of that hot, rainy summer weekend, I had a 55,000 word first draft of a novel I called “Helix.”
Think about that for a second. 55,000 words, in about 64 hours. Less, if you consider I slept about six hours every night and ate occasionally – and I did it despite Jacqui Morrison conspiring to take a magnet to my computer in order to wipe the memory. Good thing for her I’m friendly and forgiving; bad thing for her: when we were roomies one year, I snored like the dickens.
You cannot write 55,000 words in 60+ hours unless you are well and truly inspired, and I had never experienced that level of inspiration before or since.
Unfortunately, for two weeks after that event, I was sick, mentally and physically. Now when I attend marathons, I have to be careful and conscious of myself so I don’t make myself so sick again. (And I failed at that in 2012, as Tobin Elliott can attest. I was a sluggish, barfy, smelly beast on the way back home, let me tell you.)
Now, I can admit it: the first draft was crrrrap. So was the second, third, fourth and fifth – but the fifth at least had some serious potential.
Later, I went with Michael Lorenson to a convention in Montreal. He suggested that I go prepared with an elevator-pitch (in case you’re stuck in an elevator with an agent and you want to upsell your book with a captive audience). I did one better: I printed several samples of Helix and other stuff, just in case the elevator got stuck.
To my surprise, there was a publisher from a small press, selling his books in the dealer room. Mike gave me a verbal kick in the pants, and when I was too slow, he helped with the introductions. The publisher recognized my name. I’d submitted something else several years prior, and sadly it was turned down, but he remembered my name and the title of the book. He graciously accepted the sample of Helix to read and consider.
A few weeks later, I had an email from the acquisitions editor assigned to my manuscript. She wanted to see more. I was thrilled to bits. How awesome would this be, I thought, if suddenly I was picked up by a publisher via such a random set of circumstances?
Weeks went by.
Months went by.
Nearly a year later, I sent an email asking after the verdict. I was told the acquisitions editor had left the company, and sadly, they didn’t think Helix was a fit for their house after all.
More years went by. Absolutely nothing happened. Other projects were declined by other publishing houses; then the submissions dried up altogether. I languished, as did all my books. Frankly, I gave up. I’d keep writing, but only for me. And then I stopped writing, not realizing that the promise of a delighted audience is what had inspired me all along.
And then, for whatever reason, I picked myself up again and started writing. No doubt MNM had something to do with it, and no doubt my friends from the Crime Writers of Canada had a hand in it, too. I had too many encouraging friends at that point to give up forever; and because I had so many encouraging friends, I decided to start interviewing them on my blog – the original Nine Day Wonder at blogspot.
Then, out of the blue, I had an email come through to my freelance company email address. It was someone from a small Canadian press that I’d never heard of. She asked if I would interview some of her writers. I joyfully accepted. (I will be doing so again in the very, very near future.)
After one or two interviews were set up, the publisher asked me another question out of the blue. “Whatever happened to Helix?”
I’d never submitted it anywhere else but to that one publisher I’d met at the convention.
Pieces clicked together. She was the editor who had worked previously at the other company, and she was now in charge of a press of her own. And she remembered Helix.
My brain exploded with inspiration. Suddenly I knew what I could change about Helix to jazz it up, tighten the characters, strengthen the plot, and completely wow-ify the setting. I was wrapping up first edits on Judge Not at that point; immediately after that, off I went to I write The Fog at MNM2012; and a few weeks after that, I rewrote Helix from top to bottom, from memory. Not editing, a full re-write from memory. It took more than 72 hours. It took less than a month.
I’d originally offered this wonderful publisher The Fog, as well. Then I decided, if she wasn’t interested in it, I would go it alone, so that 100% of what I was investing – time, work and profits – were going back to MNM.
Earlier this month, she declined the Fog, after giving some of the best, most constructive feedback on a manuscript that I’ve ever read.
And she accepted Helix for publication. She also swore me to secrecy until she could make the official announcement herself, today. I’ve slept through the night twice, since that email.
So, in 2013, I will be selling my most recent novel to come out of the MNM to go back to literacy programs; and as if in return for good behaviour and better priorities, my first full-length novel has been accepted for publication – and it happens to be the first novel I wrote at the MNM.
Helix will be published by Tyche Books in late 2014, date TBD.
After twenty years of trying to sell a full-length novel to an actual, bona fide publishing house, the drought is broken. And for that, I owe Margaret Curelas a debt of gratitude.
And that is why I can now finally live up to my promise: in the event that I signed a publishing contract, I would donate X% to charity. I’m taking it two steps further. Because I’ve had a book accepted for publication, I’m producing another on my own dime, and giving all those profits back to charity.
I’ve gotta say: after 20 years trying to get something published, and 15 years after making a promise, and 5 years after first joining the Muskoka Novel Marathon, I’m feeling pretty darn good today. At peace.
I’ve had one ambition my whole life, and that was to have a book accepted for publication. No matter what happens from here, I’ve signed a publishing contract for a full-length work, and all else from here is gravy.
I hope you enjoy the read.
Final very important note on why I won’t be competing for the Most Prolific Award this year. It’s because I’ll be partnering with the lady in this video, to help her write her own story.
And that’s why it’s all about MNM 2013.