Events, General, Journal

Dreamers is gone….to the Printer

Dreamers, a novelI did it. I finally sent my novel, Dreamers, to the printer.

Today, Tuesday, April 5th, 2011, at 12:44 PM. ( I couldn’t help looking at the time, embed it in my memory.) I felt like crying then and do now as I write this. Why?  I’m happy, that’s why. It’s such a big deal.

Okay, it’s not the final-final, just the preview advance copy, and I’m printing only a few books to send to book reviewers to ask,  to respectfully request, their endorsements to add to the final.  “Advance Copy–Not for Sale” it reads on the back cover.

When I say I sent, I really mean “uploaded”; here in the electronic stratosphere of Northern California, I can send my brilliant blue cover file and my 374 page text file electronically to Kentucky where the printer does her magic. The printer’s a huge corporation, not a “she”, but hey, the Supreme Court ruled last year by  5-4 (Citizens United v. FEC ) that corporations are people with feelings and rights, so I think of my printer as a “she”.

So I sent my book to Kentucky with a click of my keyboard. But this techno-miracle is nothing to the miracle of Dreamers itself. I don’t want to talk  too much about this as I’ll lose it here tonight, and have to stop writing here at the computer. Like with the cryingg – Look at that, I just misspelled a word. So what, you say? Spelling matters in the book world. It’s like dropping off a high wire if you’re a squirrel. It’s like this feat of Dreamers at the printer.

You see, Dreamers is a novel that took too long to write.

Yeah, that’s right. I started it in 1969 in New York where I was teaching 6th grade at a private school in the East Village. One weekend or another, I wrote a few pages in my studio walkup on West 96th Street. It wasn’t called Dreamers then. I don’t think it had a name but it had a trolley  (remember trolleys?) that crashed into a brand new Impala during a snowstorm in Pittsburgh, PA the town where I was born. And that’s still the way the story begins, more or less.

I was twenty-four and dreaming of becoming a great female writer, a combination of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, or maybe James Joyce and Tolstoy depending on who I was reading at the time. I have to add “female” because it didn’t escape me then or now that all my writing heroes were men.

This would be my second novel. My first, “Hobbyhorse”,  was written in college, and I had 5 copies typed out on onionskin, one I had left on a toilet in an art gallery on Waikiki Beach.

A little later, I was reading the New York Sunday Times book reviews when I saw a small boxed notice of a winter Writer’s Workshop at the Provincetown Fine Arts Center on the tip of Cape Cod. Norman Mailer was one of the participant mentors. Reading that, I applied, sending in my few beginning pages in right away. Norman Mailer was shocking, prolific, a rebel, and a successful literary bad boy. I wanted to be part of whatever he was doing.

It’s still 1969. Come the 3rd of August and I’m in San Francisco now, having migrated out of New York on a romantic whim, when I get a telegram saying I’ve been accepted at the Provincetown Fine Arts Writing Workshop and what’s more, have been offered a full scholarship from the American Federation of the Arts to go there.

What a miracle! It’s out of this magic that Dreamers was seeded. I had an Alice-in-Wonderland kind of experience that winter in Provincetown and left the following spring with a seedling, half of a first draft. “Momma’s Old Clothes” was the title, after the dirty laundry that fell out of the Impala when the trolley crashed into it.

But oh, how long it took for that seed to bear fruit. I’m too exhausted to think about it. I need a rest after conjuring up these old stories. You can imagine how much more there is to tell.  It’s too much for one night–how long it’s been, 42 years from then till now. I’ll write about it some another time. Tonight I’m going to watch an old movie and forget about it. But tomorrow I’ll be checking my email to see if the printer got the files and if they’re alright–as in, all right. Oh my god. What if it all disappeared? Oh, sure I have backups. That’s not what I meant. You get it, don’t you? Disappeared, as in dreams that are lost forever.

Events, General, Journal

New! WriteWords Press is Expanding

NEW!  WriteWords Press is set to launch two more books in 2011!  In addition to Sundagger.net, WriteWords Press will publish:

Dreamers, an interracial romance of the ’60s, by  Margaret C. Murray

Floating Point, Endlessly Rocking Off Silicon Valley, a memoir by Shelley Buck

WriteWords Press began on a gray day four years ago.  It was January 19, 2007 and I was in Martinez, CA. I had just walked into a small old brick one-story office to register the fictitious business name of WriteWord Press at the County Clerk Recorder’s office.

The quaint town of Martinez lies on the water’s edge where the Sacramento River meets the San Francisco Bay. In the goldrush days, it was a ferryboat transit point across the Carquinez Straits on the way to the gold fields.

There were many birds in the wetlands near where I had parked my car. A few gulls followed screeching as I walked the two blocks down Main Street to the County Building.

It was a new moon in the sign of Capricorn, signifying a goat who climbs mountains.  I had the planets of Mercury (mind) and Mars (energy) in the sign of Capricorn when I was born and I was going to need that mountain goat energy now.

Ahead of me were two couples applying for marriage licenses. One couple was young with both sets of parents as witnesses, the other couple  past middle-age, like myself. We all stood in a straggling line that ended at a glass-windowed linoleum countertop.  On the other side of the glass, a harried clerk with touseled hair sat hunched over her computer.

I felt focused, clear-headed and resolute. Why was I taking on this Olympian task of launching WriteWords Press? Simply put, I was ready. I was ready to put my novels into the world.

You might say I’ve been addicted to good books since I was seven and could read. I had studied the great works of English and American literature as an undergraduate and graduate English major.

I practice the art of fiction reading and writing as a way of seeing beyond myself, into the meaning of my life, the way one might practice meditation to gain awareness. I had written at least five unpublished novels.

What’s more, I was sick and tired of hoping I’d write the perfect query letter to the understanding publisher. I was sick and tired of mailing out novel manuscripts with the accompanying SASE (for Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope).

No, I was finished with all that. No more did I want to spend my time frightened of the big, brown, stuffed envelope with my returned manuscript that sooner or later would appear in my mailbox.

No more did I want to spend my time praying for the agent who would recognize my work and take me on despite the overwhelming odds. The truth is I HAD that agent decades ago, a famous agent from New York City.

All that long ago, water under the bridge, and I was not looking back.

But neither the couples to be married at the registrar’s office, my planets in Capricorn, my publishing hard knocks or my literary expertise would have kept me in that line I was standing in. No, I owed my courage to more.

A lot of it had to do with my children, especially my oldest son who complained loudly in no uncertain terms, “I don’t want to have an failed novelist as a mother!” I couldn’t let him down! I deserved to give Chris a better image of his mother than that.

Then there was an educational program I had begun a year before.  I did it to come to terms with myself as a writer. But an amazing thing happened. The terms I assigned to myself disappeared. Instead I was coached to strike out into uncharted (and up till then unacceptable to me) territory.

But was it really unknown–this new independent publishing world? From my years as a technical writer, I knew well the nuts and bolts of writing, editing and putting a book together. With each contract job, the documentation, user manuals, white papers, and procedures I was hired to write took shape and direction on my watch.

I would not wait any longer for someone else to take me by the hand. I would make it happen myself. Why not take a leap into a new land and birth a small press? Yes, I was ready to become a small press publisher.

And now, four years later, WriteWords Press is expanding!

General

Books by Dead Guys

Margaret Murray at California Authors boothGreetings from a ragged writer at the California State Fair Author’s Booth.

Across from me I see a banner announcing “Books by Dead Guys!”,

showcasing a series of Gold Rush history books, written in the 1800s

and compiled from primary source documents.

Perched in my chair like a chicken in her coop, I’m tired from a day of teaching,

yet jazzed by the “big fun” fair around me.

Right now I’m bemused by a life-size plastic cow across the room.

The cow is turning round and around on a platform of painted grass.

Above the revolving cow is a fish-shaped sign that says “Glenn”.

I ask the young writer of historical and fantasy novels to my right

if there is a county named “Glenn” in California?  He doesn’t know.

People are walking by; some stop and talk, check out books and buy them.

A congenial-looking man ambles by and looks at my Sundagger.net flyer.

“Is there a county in California called Glen?” I ask him.

“Yes,” he says “Glenn County is about 50 miles north of Sacramento.”

“Oh,” I say.

Here comes an older man driving in an electric scooter. He’s sporting a straw hat with a brown brim.

He stops to pick up a book describing the history of the Sacramento fair.The author comes over, eager to

make contact. The man looks up, flipping the pages of the book on his lap.

Now he is taking out his wallet.

My eyes go back to the circling cow. This seems to be a very popular cow since groups of families, couples,

and single fair-goers are congregating around it. I notice it is revolving counter-clockwise and wonder why.

I think about cows, having come from a family of dairy farmers in County Cork, Ireland. My grandfather,

Jeremiah McCarthy, left over a hundred years ago to follow his elder sister to America. The 2nd son of eleven children,

he wouldn’t inherit the farm and so became a steelworker in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I believe there’s a family story he wanted to get away from the cows too.

The congenial man who told me about Glenn County picks up my novel.

“Would you like to have my postcard?” I ask. He takes the postcard with a picture of my book

on the front and a quote by famed mystery writer, Tony Hillerman. I watch the cow.

Round and round it goes. It’s white and brown, with brown ears and cheeks–do cows have cheeks?

I wonder if a real cow was a model for it.


“What kind of a cow is that?” I ask. A fellow writer to my left who grew up on a farm in Sacramento

says it’s a Guernsey cow.

The congenial man looking at my book takes out a twenty. He puts the money down on the counter,

saying he loves Tony Hillerman. He says he buys a book at the California Authors booth every year.

I give him change and autograph a copy for him, flattered and pleased.

A woman with a big green sticker on her T-shirt walks by with a friend. I comment on her sticker that reads,

“Change the World for $28. Save Our School Libraries”. Her name is Sally Eversole. It turns out that nearby

Elk Grove Unified School District just laid off their librarians and the library technicians, 73 in all.

The librarians were rehired, but not the technicians. Sally explains this means only school principals

–not the children themselves–will be able to check out books in elementary school libraries.

If every parent in the district pays $28, the library technicians will be able to work a four-hour day,

thus saving their jobs and their benefits. Most importantly the libraries will be open for our kids, explains Sally.

Want to support young readers and dedicated library employees? Go to the Elk Grove district website.

Yeah! for the California Authors Booth. Yeah! for book lovers everywhere.

It’s after 10pm. I’m walking to my car in Lot Z while fireworks light up the night. The moon is waning.

I pass the livestock pavilion, still lit up, and hear the cows lowing, their sound primitive and deep like a woman in childbirth.

Someone turns off all the lights. The cows stop mooing.

How peaceful everything is, so quiet. I imagine the plastic cow has stopped revolving too.

It’s great just to be here, right now. I’ll be back on Sunday, August 1st, the last day of the fair.

I’m glad.


General

“Keep writing. Stay healthy.” —Tony Hillerman

The famed mystery writer of the Southwest wrote that advice to me the last year before his death at 83 in 2008. In a note to him, I  had been complaining, whining really, about my writing life. “Keep writing, stay heathy,” he wrote back. This is my mantra when I feel confused, at loose ends, or discouraged with my work.

I wonder if renown writer J. D. Salinger had taken this advice, he would have experienced life differently. When he died at 91 in 2010, Salinger was possibly the world’s most renown and most successful literary recluse. “Hermit Crab,” Time magazine dubbed him. Here was somebody who was up there with the Grammy winners in star power and prestige, yet seemed cursed with the dismal personality of old Scrooge.

Back in the ’60s when I read Catcher in the Rye, my teenage heart beat along with Holden Caulfield’s. I was the catcher, those sheep; I was the rye too. J.D. Salinger was my writing hero along with Dylan Thomas, Oscar Wilde and Dostoevsky (No females in that short list, alas, but that is another story.)

Unlike Tony Hillerman who wrote 29 mysteries set in Navajo country, Salinger wrote one novel, a phenomenal success that he disdained, and three small volumes of short stories–then nothing else for 45 years.

By all accounts, J.D. Salinger was a phenomenal writer who refused his success. Was he was sick with self-loathing of his own genius, his own work? He must have felt he had no choice. He must have done his best from inside the worm of his illness.

But he did take one piece of Tony Hillerman’s advice. His wives and daughters say he wrote all that time. What did he leave us? I am dying to read it. Maybe that’s all he wanted–fans dying to read him. Maybe that’s why he shunned his fame and adulation. To keep us hungry.

Life is strange, wouldn’t you agree? Keep writing, stay healthy.
Thank you, Tony Hillerman.