By Janette Turner
Readers of the My Edmonds News series, “The Self-Publishing Project,” are getting an insider’s peek into the process of turning stories into sellable books, as local writers Gretchen Houser and Kizzie Jones prepare for their upcoming releases. In the first part of the series, the writers got a glimpse of the challenges ahead from Emily Hill, a micro-publisher based in Edmonds. Here is an update on the writers’ progress since then:
Jones, a first-place nonfiction winner in 2005 at Write On The Sound (WOTS), said recently the text of her book is complete and “Seattle artist Scott Ward — the very talented illustrator — is faithfully at work with the illustrations.” The two of them met up at Home Beautiful this summer, as Ward showed off his artwork and Jones described the process “as puzzle pieces coming together” to see the illustrations for her story, “A Tall Tale about a Short Long Dog (How Dachshunds Came to Be).”
For her update, Jones gave My Edmonds News an overview of her writing process: “With a children’s book one is mindful of a sense of rhythm, rhyme, energy, and imagination. It remained a remarkable process to find new and exciting ways for the creatures to express themselves. Then finally came the time to say, ‘Enough!’ It is not uncommon for writers to be tempted to tweak a piece forever. At some point one notes the piece accomplished what was intended and it is time to let go and send it out into the world!”
Jones noted the response of her beta readers. “A few of my test readers have interrupted after a couple pages and remarked, ‘I thought this was a book about dachshunds and so far all I have heard about are sea creatures!’ My readers need to remember the title: ‘A Tall Tale.’ This is the genre like Paul Bunyan—a fable made up to explain something in life or made bigger than life.
“My muse for writing this book was an amazing week on the Oregon coast. Low tides allowed me to observe marvelous sea creatures normally hidden under the ocean, gray humpback whales just off the coast from my hotel room for three days and many different dachshunds every single day! My dear girlfriend and I had just read some fun Tall Tales on the placemats at a local eatery. She said, ‘Kizzie, this is our writing assignment this week. We will each write a Tall Tale!’ I took the special events from that week and created, ‘A Tall Tale about a Short Long Dog (How Dachshunds Came to Be).’”
When asked about writing inspiration, Jones mentioned the authors “who have made an impact on my spiritual growth as well as my writing life: Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, of ‘Kitchen Table Wisdom & My Grandfather’s Blessings;’ Kathleen Norris of ‘Dakota: A Spiritual Geography;’ and the work of Pat Conroy, whose style I find very powerful –his rhythm and repetition.”
Jones is currently Director of Spiritual Care at Horizon House Retirement Community in Seattle and, with her background as a chaplain, it is clear she intends her writing to nourish the spirit, as well as entertain. In addition to her success at WOTS, Jones has written pieces for denominational journals, Echoes of Ephesus, Chaplaincy Today, Primetime Northwest, and had a winning entry in military.com, 2007. Her blog is at https://kizeliz-dachshundsforever.blogspot.com/
Jones’ book launch is planned for Thursday, Oct. 4, in the Plaza Room above the Edmonds Library, 6:30-8:30 p.m. She invites everyone to join her and celebrate with a dachshund sugar cookie.
According to Gretchen Houser, her manuscript for the novella “Once Too Often” is never far from mind. “ A novella might not seem long to a novelist,” said Houser recently, “but I’m happy to report I’m closing in on 22,000 words and am at the midway point.”
That midway point is one of the serendipitous events along the way. “I rarely write with a plan in mind,” said Houser. “I like my characters to find their way without my prescribed and predictable route. Who knows what they might find along the way? I don’t always know where the writing is going until it gets there. It’s unpredictable, like a gypsy setting forth in a caravan. And yet, that’s the adventure of it.”
The adventure of Houser’s evolving book began “with the image of a lonesome young boy sitting on a front porch,” according to Houser. “The boy became Michael, and then his grandfather, Hugh Milton, took over the story – aha! I discovered that the porch was his. Soon, Hugh’s daughter Billie and her fiancé Jerry Fallon appeared. Jerry is an odd character combination: a ne’er do well who means well. A few weeks later, Billie’s older sister Rose enters the picture. Rose is childless, but Billie is another story, in countless ways. And then the porch got crowded: an old man with Alzheimer’s, a childless, longing-for-a-child daughter, and the other daughter, a mother too young with a runaway husband and a son growing up without a dad. After a while, the sun went down, it grew dark and they moved inside. In an instant, I had a whole house filled with problematic people to contend with. Before they all went inside though, a big black dog jumped through the door — and his name came to me in an instant — Atlas! And Atlas it has stayed.”
It is clear that Houser finds the writing process intuitive. “Just last week, Michael discovered a new friend while walking Atlas. Her name is Frankie DeWitt, a girl about his age, skinny, spunky and spirited. Frankie is a foster child from across town; another wrinkle in the plot. It’s challenging and fun to develop their relationship.”
When asked about her editing process, Houser said she relies on her critique group, The Ladies Writing Club of Perrinville, including Paddy Eger, Nicole Chen, Maureen Rogers and Emily Hill. “Rewrites occur following my critique group edits and comments,” said Houser, adding that she adores her group and each member is “a delight.”
When looking for inspiration, Houser said she follows “the lead of one of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Strout, author of the brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, ‘Olive Kitteridge.’ Also Barbara Kingsolver and Carson McCullers. In fact my new character Frankie is a tribute to McCullers’s own character, Frankie Jasmine Adams, who stars in the lovely novella, ‘Member of the Wedding. ‘”
Houser’s aim is “a story I can be proud of, that I can claim as my own and characters that will last. They say once a book has ended, the characters no longer exist. Having loved so many characters in so many books, I don’t believe that for a minute. Do you?”
Michael, Frankie and the other characters in Houser’s upcoming book, “Once Too Often,” are about to come to life, so stay tuned for the release date. In the meantime, check out Houser’s story, “Order,” in the recent “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!”
Local micro-publisher Emily Hill spent her summer traveling, but took time via email to catch us up-to-date. According to Hill, “Kizzie and Gretchen are each working on building a vibrant platform of friends and fans interested in hearing about the progress of their projects. I am so impressed by both of them as I watch their Facebook following grow, and see them picking up nods from colleague authors. My involvement has been watching for networking opportunities and making introductions that will lead to radio interviews and guest blog spots for these two Edmonds authors. Reciprocity is the strongest dynamic in publishing – it always has been – even before indie authors crashed the gates of the publishing world beginning five years ago.”
Hill’s publishing arm, A.V. Harrison Publishing, “is now closed for the season,” but she will be considering new submissions in January 2013. In the interim, she is working with her current list of authors and writing her own book, titled, ‘The Ghost Chaser’s Daughter.’ Hill described it as a compilation of twenty-six short stories, six of which “are new and representative of my summer travels through Hungary, Austria, and Transylvania.” Hill said the book “will be published in soft cover and will enjoy extended distribution through Amazon’s global market, U.S. libraries, and discounted domestic distribution channels.”
To get readers to those channels, Hill follows her own advice to take advantage of social media, especially TweetReach and AddThis analytics. She doesn’t see the value in Pinterest for book promotion, but is willing to keep an open mind. As always, her strongest advice for herself and clients is to “write locally, market globally.”
Over the next several months, readers of My Edmonds News will watch this batch of local writers release their books and pursue a global market.