Sunday, November 16, 2014

WILLA Award Winner Amy Hale Auker on the process ...


I have been waiting on Amy Hale Auker’s new book The Story is the Thing and in a post on Facebook, she mentioned there would be a delay until December 1, a few simple publishing items needed to be taken care of before the book could find its way to the readers. It made me think about the journey Authors travel and the navigation skills needed to sail the publishing seas. I reached out to Amy recently and asked if she would like to write about that very topic. Read what she has to say:

This Bonus of a Day by Amy Hale Auker

Today I got a wonderful surprise from my publisher. I can’t tell you what it is, but I can promise you that it truly is something wonderful.
The cold wind is blowing in the Santa Maria Mountains of Arizona. Our fall cow move is almost over. And the publication date of my new book, The Story Is the Thing, is made of jello. We are aiming for December 1, 2014.

Writing is one thing. Writing is my first love. Publishing is another.

In 2004, I went to a meeting with a man who was to become my best friend, my mentor, and eventually, my non-fiction editor. The meeting was, on the surface, about an entirely different matter, but Andy knew, probably more than I did, that I was a writer. He asked me to send him something I had written that I had never shown anyone else. Because of him, I stopped writing long, creative emails illustrated with photographs and started filling a folder with lyric first-person essays that made me run from my warm home out onto the prairie to escape their scary claws. One morning as I cooked for a crew of fifteen men and poured coffee for the truck drivers whose rigs idled growling beside the loading chute, I went back and forth to my keyboard until I had all of the words on the page for an essay called "Weather Talk." I cut and pasted it into an email addressed to Andy, cleaned the globs of pie crust dough from the keyboard, and went back to stirring the beans. The phone rang 30 minutes later. That is it. That is the voice. Now go write some more of these and we have a book.

The problem was I didn't care about a book. I cared about the soul-slamming feeling of having finally gotten onto the screen the swirl of words in my brain. Gotten them on the screen in a way that the swirl was making sense. 

By 2006, I had enough essays for a book, my marriage was failing, and the first seeds of ambition were throwing off their lifelong seed cotes and pushing up through my creative life. But books don't just happen because we finally wrote enough words.

Andy took Rightful Place to the university press that had hired him to find voices in the rural West that might not otherwise be heard. They balked. Where were my credentials? I had been published; a decade before, in magazines like Western Horseman and American Cowboy, but the university press wasn't impressed. So, the poor little sad collection of essays began the brave march through a peer review process. It took four years. Yes, four. And in that time, I did not rewrite it so much as reread it... over and over and over. Andy took the comments of one peer reviewer and rearranged the essays, splitting one in half, putting half at the beginning of the book and half at the end. Can't have "too much Amy, too soon."

Life goes on even when we are holding our breath.

I got divorced, got homeless, wrote another collection of essays that was cathartic but not necessarily publishable, got healed, was a bad mother, fell in love. I wrote my way through bucketfuls of pain on a little website called Six Sentences. I gained a community of writers. At one point, as I cried actual tears about the publication process, my new love said, Eh. Who needs essays? I read to be entertained. That brought me up short and I began to look around at our newly combined shelves. Novel after novel after novel.  GREAT novels, by really talented writers. Some of them genius.
I stopped rewriting and rereading the two collections of essays. I started showing up at the page every day. I began to write about a girl named Charlie. I gave her a mentor named Bill Morgan. Who would have imagined that Uncle Bill would become more fascinating to me than this young girl trapped in a scary marriage, discovering her sexuality? In fact, Uncle Bill began to tell me his life story and I couldn't write it down fast enough. I filled yellow legal pads with his words. The Story Is the Thing was born.
And it was awful. I put it in a drawer and started writing another novel.
Winter of Beauty was easier to write and much more traditionally structured. I spent hours in a dark hallway with blue tacky clay, making a construction paper outline on the walls. I discovered Rafe and Shiney. I met Jody and an old black cowboy named Delbert Lincoln. I lived on a mountain called The Bride. 
In February 2010, I got the call I had been waiting for. The university press committee had voted to publish Rightful Place and a contract was on its way. I was back to the essays and immersed in a brand new process... the publication process. It was a game of wait-for-years, hold-your-breath-for-months and then "please return this with your notes and corrections within ten days." I filled out endless forms. I got a managing editor, a copy editor, a marketing adviser, and a design team. I dotted all of the “I’s” and crossed all of the “T’s.” I did everything I was told to do including pay my dues to organizations that support writers.
I built a website and a social media presence. 

We received Advance Reader Copies for Rightful Place in January 2011. 
I submitted both novels to the managing editor at the university press only to be told that they didn't have time to read them. Perhaps I could workshop them?
RIGHTFUL PLACE was released April 15, 2011.

I began to shop, not workshop, the novels to agents and independent presses. Rightful Place began to win awards. And still, I edited and immersed myself in the manuscripts. I rewrote The Story is the Thing. I made another pass on Winter of Beauty. I wrote query letters and new essays for magazines. I wrote morning pages. I edited the mss again. 

During this whole time I was also working for a living, learning new ways of being in the world. I was learning that I needed to choose something to earn a paycheck that fed the writing. I am blessed to be a cowboy on a big ranch in the high Sonoron desert. Riding and writing go hand in hand.
My query letters began to pay off. I got an email from a "publisher" who wanted both novels. He sent me a contract and the specifics of how he publishes. I was to put up half the money for publication and the publisher would put up the other half. I asked about cover art and design... he sent me to a website I hated. I asked about copy editing and big picture fiction editing and he basically shrugged and said he was sure he could handle all of that. I took the contract to the man who owns the ranch where I work. He asked one question: What was I going to get for my money? In short, nothing. These scams are everywhere.

In October 2012, I got another bite. An independent press called Pen-L Publishing asked to read both novels. (Have you ever seen a crazy lady do a happy dance?) I think the turn-around time on that email was four minutes.  Pen-L sent me a contract for Winter of Beauty saying that The Story Is the Thing was too experimental, not traditionally structured enough for them to take a chance on it. This time, the contract was legitimate. By the time WINTER OF BEAUTY was released in October 2013, I had probably read it, with a red pen in hand, upwards of 20 times... the whole thing. And we still found typos in that first batch of 100 copies.

In December of last year, I sent Pen-L an email saying that I had rewritten The Story Is the Thing and asking if they were interested in seeing that draft. They replied with a contract. In the negotiations I pointed out that I knew too many great Western artists for any of my books to end up with a stock photo on the cover. They agreed. I asked my friend Steve Atkinson to step in as cover artist and designer. Design matters. 

During this time, since 2008, I have also been writing essays, enough that a new collection now rests on the desk of the managing editor at the university press. So writing continues, even as publication swirls around it. By now you have gotten the idea that I am always writing something new, but also always reading and rereading and editing and polishing something old.

The publication date for The Story Is the Thing was set for Fall 2014.

Delays in the publication of this book have been coming our way, one after another. Whether it is a misplaced draft or an overlooked email or … get this… Did you know that IS needs to be capitalized in the title? So, the cover had to go back to the designer… minor, but time consuming.

I was supposed to move back to cow camp today with pending final page proofs hanging over my head. Instead, my boss (yeah, he’s also my husband) said that the wind was too cold… we’ll go tomorrow. Those cows can wait. One more day. 

This morning my inbox dinged. The file I had been waiting for. I poured more hot water over the tea bag in my cup and curled up beside the most wonderful fire in the world, bolstered by pillows and this bonus of a day. And I began to look over this book, this book that means so much to me and will go out into the world soon.  This unconventionally structured work of fiction…

The surprise took my breath away. It is on page 117. I hope you get to see it ...

Thank you Amy for sharing your experience with us. 

I know I always appreciate knowing the story behind the story and now I’m certainly curious to learn more about the publisher’s page 117 surprise. 

I’m looking forward to reading Amy’s new book. Her writing is beautifully lyrical and her stories are heartfelt. Her body of work is growing and her voice is strong. 

It’s easy to realize Amy is a poet. She has written several poems and has performed at the cowboy poetry gatherings. She will be a featured performer at the Cowboy Christmas, Wickenburg, AZ on December 5-6, 2014 and at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Alpine, TX on February 27-28, 2015

Amy's books can be purchased directly from her website where all books are signed by her and at all the usual places including B&N and Amazon but if you choose to purchase at a store, I would suggest you support a local independent bookstore such as Amy's bookstore pick, Peregrine Book Co in Prescott, AZ,  my personal favorite Bookwork’s in Albuquerque  or one in your neighborhood.  

You can also purchase directly from Pen-L Publishing.

Pre-order The Story is the Thing at Amy's website.
Author Amy Hale Auker will be was among a panel of authors at the Peregrine Book Company Saturday, Sept. 6, for a discussion on “Women Who Broke the Mold.” (Steve Atkinson/Courtesy photo) {from The Daily Courier}

 Be sure to catch up with a few other posts on Amy’s work by linking to:

Whiskey Tales: [reviewing] Rightful Places by Amy Hale Auker - See more at: http://beachwalkermari.blogspot.com/search/label/Reviews#uds-search-results

An artist's eye and a poet's pen ... Amy Hale Auker - Beach ... - See more at: http://beachwalkermari.blogspot.com/search/label/Reviews#uds-search-results

Ranching on the Rocks with Gail Steiger and Amy Hale Auker - See more at: http://beachwalkermari.blogspot.com/search/label/Reviews#uds-search-results

Whiskey Tales: Winter of Beauty by Amy Hale Auker ... A ... - See more at: http://beachwalkermari.blogspot.com/search/label/Reviews#uds-search-results

Whiskey Tales: Amy Hale Auker ... a hard working writer - See more at: http://beachwalkermari.blogspot.com/search/label/Reviews#uds-search-results


Watch for the release of a new book by Amy Hale Auker ... - See more at: http://beachwalkermari.blogspot.com/search/label/Reviews#uds-search-results

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