And, for some positive news to cap off this tumultuous year of 2020, my novel, Sinking Dixie, is finally published! If you have read previous posts on this blog, you may notice that I have replaced the working title (“Pro Bono Publico”) in order to avoid any copyright issues. It worked out for the best because the current title fits both the literal (coastal erosion and subsidence) and metaphorical (modernization vs. cultural survival) situation of New Orleans.
It’s been quite a wild ride over the last decade, since the first image sparked in my head after an evening meeting at Stein’s Deli on Magazine Street in New Orleans, where the deli owner, the owners of the then-newly opened NOLA Brewing, a beer blogger, and other craft beer advocates discussed how they could bring in more craft beer to the city. It’s hard to imagine that they even had to do that, the brewing industry being the way it is today. I was writing an article about NOLA Brewing for Where Y’At Magazine at the time, and the owner invited me to the meeting at Stein’s Deli so that I could better understand the state of the city’s brew scene. I was glad to be there; however, I didn’t have much to contribute unlike the other attendees who were business owners either selling craft beer or brewing it. I liked the clandestine communal feel about the meeting. Afterwards, something sparked in my head: a small scene of two groups meeting in the woods exchanging firearms and ammunition. The meeting at the deli did not even mention guns or ammunition, but somehow my head filled that part in. Even though that scene never made it into the final manuscript, it set things in motion. Since then, I wouldn’t allow myself to let it stop.
I tell my creative writing students that the hardest things to do in writing are: 1) to begin a story, and 2) to finish the story. However, there’s the fog of publication that surrounds all aspiring writers in a cloud of anxiety and uncertainty. In actuality, the writing process is the fun part despite its snags, blocks, heartburn, and coffee jitters. The publishing process is enjoyable as well as I had the opportunity to make most of the decisions on both content and cover art with Maine Authors Publishing. It’s that part in the middle that’s torture. Querying agents, submitting to university presses, and entering literary contests without much response (if any at all) is what you do in Hell. It’s much like submitting resume after resume without even a rejection, but this is different. It’s your lifeblood. Your contribution to the ongoing human discourse. In “O Me! O Life!,” Walt Whitman ends his poem with an indirect call to action. He says:
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
For fans of the film Dead Poets Society, this excerpt may sound familiar. As Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) recites this passage to his students, he even takes it a step further: he asks “What will your verse be?” As an aspiring novelist, I felt that my “verse” was being blocked from this “powerful play” we call life. What could I do? At least when I was drafting my novel, I was in control. Then, I happened upon Maine Authors Publishing, an independent publisher located in Thomaston, Maine. They provide professional editing, layout and design, printing services, and marketing assistance. For Maine writers jonesing to contribute their verses, I recommend checking them out. It has been great working with the staff during the process, and the final product is of high quality. For aspiring writers elsewhere in the U.S., I would recommend looking into any independent publishers in your region if you’re not getting anywhere with agents or traditional publishers. If you are tired of telling people that you wrote a novel but it’s not published (like I was), you may want to go the independent publishing route. However, be careful about contacting predatory vanity publishers because they sense our desperation like sharks searching for maimed prey.
To clarify, independent publishing is NOT self publishing. With the former, you get most of the professional services you would with a big publisher. You do have to pay for it; however, you keep control and ownership of your work, which is important to me. So, you get the quality of traditional publishing and the control and ownership of self-publishing. To me, it’s a win-win. You do have to pay for the services, unlike with traditional publishers. But, like any worthwhile venture, an initial investment is necessary.
If you are interested in learning more about Sinking Dixie (or to purchase it online), click HERE. If you live in Maine and would like to support a local bookstore, Gulf of Maine Books (Brunswick) and The Book Review (Falmouth) have it on the shelves; however, I’m hoping to add more to this list soon. If you live in New Orleans, I’m working on getting them on the shelves there too, just stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, you’ll have to order it online.
So, for you aspiring writers out there, just keep writing and keep trying. As Ray Bradbury asserts in the preface of Zen in the Art of Writing, “Writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that. Not to write, for many of us, is to die” (xii).