Tag Archive: self-publishing


Breast Cancer (Part 1)

Fairbanks Cancer Center

A breast cancer diagnosis is a downer—no question about that! I think the doctor who had to give me the news that my biopsy was positive was expecting—well—hysteria? Horror at mutilation? Panic at the C-word?

I’ve lived with diabetes for more than 40 years. Of course I was unhappy at the diagnosis, but the prospect of losing a breast worried me far less than the prospect of losing my vision or legs, and I’d lived with both for years. As for fear of cancer, I was already aware that breast cancer, caught early, is one of the most treatable of cancers. And mine was caught early.

Yes, I was worried—I am still worried—about the possibility of recurrence, of metastasis. (I have a mammogram and a follow-up visit with the oncologist a week from now.) But the lump in my breast was caught early, in a regular visit to my doctor’s office. (As a diabetic on an insulin pump, Medicare requires that I see my doctor every three months.) After my doctor found the lump I had what would have been my annual mammogram a couple of months early. The mammogram led to a biopsy, which was positive. Surgery was indicated. (Not that I didn’t wish Roi’s Healing ability was real.)

Because my cancer had been caught early, I had a choice of mastectomy (removal of the affected breast) or lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy. Being lopsided didn’t bother me, but the possibility of surgery affecting the diabetes did. I chose right through to go for the options that might take longer, but would have minimal impact on the diabetes. For surgery, that meant a lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy.

I expected to be miserable after the surgery, but compared to a knee replacement a couple of years earlier it was a breeze. I don’t think I even used the pain prescriptions after the first day or two. I did have a drain, and that was the major annoyance connected with the surgery. I needed to raise my basal insulin for a few days, but aside from that my insulin pump kept my diabetes under control very nicely.

I think my main problem came from the fact that I had two oncologists, one for the radiation therapy and the other for chemotherapy, and they weren’t communicating very well. There was some question as to whether or not I needed chemotherapy, the genetic makeup of my tumor, and which should go first. They finally got it sorted out that chemotherapy should come first.

One thing I should say at this point. Fairbanks Memorial Hospital added a cancer center not too long before I was diagnosed. Before that, I would have needed to go to Anchorage, 350 miles of mountain roads away, for either chemotherapy or radiation therapy. As it was, my therapy was within driving distance of my home.

I’ll get into the post-operative therapy next week. For now, I’ll just say that the diagnosis really woke me up to my own mortality. It was the final push that determined me to go ahead with assisted self-publication for Homecoming. Maybe if I had really kept at it I could have found an agent or a publisher. Certainly the book has garnered some fine reviews and is currently a finalist in one contest. But the cancer diagnosis was the final push.

A few breast cancer links:
Breast Cancer Organization
National Institute of Health
Susan G. Koman Foundation
National Cancer Institute
National Breast Cancer Foundation
Breast Cancer Detection Center of Alaska
Fairbanks Cancer center

Homecoming’s a Finalist!

I wasn’t going to blog today, but I got an e-mail that I think deserves a little bragging on. Homecoming is one of the three science fiction finalists for the Reader Views 2010 Literary Awards!

It’s not about space battles, or space aliens trying to take over the universe. It’s about people. Not all of them are human, but they are people, with hopes and desires and conflicts. Most of them are trying to make the universe a better place, but none of them are quite sure of how to go about it, and their ideas sometimes conflict with each others’.

No, everything does not wrap up neatly. When does it, in real life? But it does come to a point where one phase of a character’s life is over. Will a new phase begin? Tourist Trap should be out this spring.

As of the end of October, 2009, I had a clean, edited manuscript. It was still in some fifty chapters, one chapter per file and it had no curly quotes, em-dashes or ellipsis, but it was in Times New Roman, single-spaced, and with tabs rather than the Word formatting for paragraph indents. I’d also eliminated the headers and footers, as well as the page numbering, and tried to change my underlined text to italics. That much I did before I e-mailed the chapters to Carla for editing.

Now I had to get the manuscript into the form iUniverse wanted: a single file looking the way I wanted the book to look, though of course they would do the line-breaks and page-breaks to fit the page size.

The option characters were the first problem. I run a Mac system. So did Carla, my editor. So did just about everyone else I knew—but iUniverse didn’t, and I’ve had past problems attempting to transfer option characters (em- and en-dashes, double and single curly quotes, and ellipsis) from Mac to Windows. I wasn’t sure it would transfer properly, but I used the find-and-replace to change double hyphens to em-dashes and triple periods to ellipsis. Straight to curly quotes? I knew I could do it with autoformat, but I also knew that would mess up half a dozen other things, starting with spacing between paragraphs. Besides, I had been told that iUniverse had the software to change straight to curly quotes.

So I proceeded to start a new document. I put in the title page for the first section, then copied and pasted the chapters for that section, one at a time, to the bottom of the section. Then the second section, the third and the fourth. Finally, I copied and pasted the second section to the bottom of the first (with the proper page breaks inserted) and added the third and the fourth. I went through to make sure that the point of view character and the date were properly inserted at the head of each subsection (what had been chapters) but at that point I had been through the manuscript, chapter by chapter, so often that I wasn’t sure I’d recognize errors if they hit me over the head. So I did not reread the entire manuscript—after all, all I’d done was paste the chapters together.

Big mistake.

By the end of November I was ready to submit the manuscript to iUniverse—something I could supposedly do through their website. That didn’t work (manuscript size? Mac system?) but I was able to complete the submission by attaching files to e-mails. I got word from iUniverse December 11 that my manuscript was ready for editorial evaluation. When I let them know I’d be away for the holidays December 20 through January 6, they assured me the editorial evaluation normally took two to three weeks not including weekends and holidays.

I got word Friday the 18th, after they’d left for the day, that:
The editorial evaluation was complete and attached
I qualified for Editors’ Choice with minor changes
The Rising Star board wanted me to send back a marketing plan and title information sheet (my computer couldn’t read their form) within 7 days.

By the time any of them would be back in the office I’d be in Arizona, and while I could get e-mail through the web, I wasn’t at all sure I could send attachments.

I sent off a flurry of e-mails, figuring they’d get them Monday morning. I got the answers—extra time from Rising Star and take the time you need from the editorial board, the next Monday—thank goodness my sister and brother-in-law in Arizona have a wi-fi connection among their computers! I’d already seen that the editorial evaluation was good except for two sections: the marketing materials needed polish and the grammar and formatting needed work.

The marketing comments I ignored—the package I had purchased from iUniverse included editorial polish of marketing materials, and besides, the change they suggested was plain wrong. (They changed an intransitive verb to a passive transitive, completely changing my meaning.) Unfortunately their polishers made exactly the same change for the cover of the book and eventually on the marketing material initially published by Amazon.com—but I didn’t know about that, yet.

The grammar examples they gave me were where I put my paragraph breaks and commas. Mostly stuff that is really author’s voice. Then I started checking out the formatting.

Remember I said it was a mistake to trust Word?

As nearly as I can figure out what happened, Word gave random paragraphs an extra quarter inch inset, added 6 points below them, and garbled the italics, sometimes changing italics to plain and sometimes plain to italics. I went through the entire manuscript line by line, correcting these errors and finding a few places where intended italics were still underlined. Then I sent it back, repeating my request that straight quotes be changed to curly ones.

For the first time they said they couldn’t.

I knew the em-dash and the ellipsis worked, so I hoped the curly quotes would, and made the changes via find-and-replace as follows:
1. Change “space straight double quote” to “space left curly double quote.”
2. Change “tab character straight double quote” to “tab character left curly double quote.”
3. Change “straight double quote space” to “right curly double quote space.”
4. Change “straight double quote paragraph symbol” to “right curly quote paragraph symbol.”
5. Change all single quotes to right curly single quotes.

These changes took care of everything except the few cases where I had nested quotes—e.g, “He told me ‘forget it.’” But I had also used space single quote for shortened words—e g, ’ported for teleported, and those needed a right single quote. I set word to find and change “space single quote” to “space left curly single quote,” but this had to be done one change at a time. Luckily, there weren’t that many single quotes at the beginnings of words, and I finished the changes and sent the manuscript back in late January. By January 29, the book went to the production department, and the editing process and my fights with Word were over—for Homecoming.

I’ll know better on the sequel.

The Editing Process

The Festival of the Book introduced me to assisted self-publishing, but the panel members stressed something else as well—the importance of having your work professionally edited before submitting it. As I went through the guidelines for iUniverse, I found the same thing—submit your edited manuscript. Editorial evaluation was part of the package, but was I as ready as I thought I was?

At that point, the manuscript was formatted for hard copy submission. Double spaced Courier text, careful avoidance of option characters such as curly quotes and em-dashes, headers and footers, page numbers, underlining for italics and chapters as separate files. iUniverse wanted Times New Roman and a single file. I’ll talk later about the problems this caused me, but my main concern at the moment was finding an editor locally.

Back when I was writing the Alaska Science Forum I’d worked with an editor, and we generally wound up with something better than I could have done alone. Carla suggested rather than insisting, but her suggestions usually made sense. Further, she’d seen one of the very early versions of the manuscript and liked it. I hadn’t seen her for years, but when I phoned her she graciously agreed to edit the manuscript and suggested I e-mail her the chapters (57 of them at that point.) After skimming what I had sent her, she immediately made one suggestion that has a lot to do with the current shape of Homecoming—forget putting things in strict chronological order, which resulted in chapters jumping back and forth between planets several hundred light years apart and not knowing of each others’ existence. Instead, put the action on Central first and only then put in the simultaneous action on Riya. That was done in July ‘09, and it was a major improvement. Then in August Carla settled down to the serious, chapter-by-chapter editing.

Editing does several things. First, it catches grammatical errors—not many of those; my mother was a retired schoolteacher and I grew up speaking correctly or else.

Then it called my attention to ambiguities that I could not see because I knew who was speaking or to whom a pronoun referred. That’s a real problem in any kind of writing. You can write a conversation, even a long one, without tags (at least if only two people are involved.) But the chances are that your reader will forget who’s speaking after a couple of exchanges. Carla caught that kind of problem, and encouraged me to break up the longer conversations with action—even something as simple as a character looking away, or getting a cup of chocolate. As for pronouns, the rule is to use the character’s name if there is any remote chance the reader will be uncertain who “he” or “she” is. Of course there are times you may be deliberately using the pronouns to say something about a character, such as Zhaim’s use of “it” when referring to a slave, or Davy’s refusal to name someone he disapproves of.

There were places where we argued about changes. I remember one place where the change Carla suggested changed my meaning. Eventually I realized that my original phrasing, much as I liked it, was obviously not getting across the idea that I wanted, and I had to rewrite the phrase. I didn’t like the rewrite as well as I did my original, but it left less room for confusion.

I don’t know if all editors do this, but Carla again and again said of something I mentioned as having happened, “that should be a scene.” So I’d add a scene—sometimes no more than a sentence or two, sometimes several pages. The slaves’ discovery of the cave is one of those scenes, as are Marna’s visits to her mother’s home and to the Healers’ Center. I think that the book is the better for them.

By the end of October we reached the point where my manuscript needed only to be put into the format iUniverse required. By that time I had it in Times New Roman, single spaced, with a tab character beginning each paragraph. I had cautiously used the find and replace option on Word to change double dashes to em-dashes and triple periods to ellipses, and I was assured (wrongly as it turned out) that iUniverse could change my straight quotes and apostrophes to curly ones. I needed only to stitch the chapters together into a single manuscript, and I could send it in. I thought. Little did I know of the wars with Word to come—but that’s another story.

Writing Homecoming

One of the questions I get asked most often when I mention Homecoming is “How long did it take you to write it?”

I don’t know.

I’ve been telling myself stories for as long as I can remember—at least since grade school. I hadn’t written much of it down, except for a few poems. But then I got my first computer, a Kaypro running CP/M. Writing wasn’t easy, but it beat the attempts to read my own handwriting, cutting pages up, taping and stapling them back together, and proofreading mimeograph stencils of my dissertation. Still, I didn’t write much for fun, and I don’t think I wrote any fiction.

The next step was a Mac Plus, running Microsoft Word 1. Writing got a lot easier. I wrote most of the Alaska Science Forum articles on that machine, as well as doing some FORTRAN programming on it and I suspect a few scientific articles. I may have started Homecoming on it. I say may, because I can’t find the earliest drafts that I actually wrote down. Certainly the characters were around by then, and many of the incidents. But the first drafts I can find, now resident on my old G3, were started in 1994. They may have been a rewrite of something I originally wrote on the Mac Plus; they may have started life after I got the Centris in 1993. I’m not even sure whether they started out as Word or Word Perfect, as I have used both over the years.

I started out thinking of one story, with the material now in Homecoming along with what is now in the sequel, Tourist Trap. Too long. I tried breaking it into three books—Smokescreen, Homecoming, and Falaron Trek, and that is the oldest version I still have. I joined a science fiction writers’ group, and had it pointed out that the stories lacked enough conflict, Smokescreen didn’t really end, and the name Falaron Trek sounded too much like a spinoff of Star Trek. (I’d actually been thinking of pony trekking.)

I rewrote the original Smokescreen and Homecoming as a single book, now called Homecoming, with the bits in chronological order. Unfortunately this kept the story jumping back and forth between Central and Riya, with neither knowing the other existed. Falaron Trek was eventually renamed Tourist Trap. I sent both out to several publishers and agents. I got rejected. I revised. Often. I did get encouragement from a local librarian, and from a brother-in-law I was sure would hate it

I retired, as driving to and from work was getting impossible. Lots of time to write, yes? Well, until the fire. “The dogs and the computer.” I told the firemen at two in the morning when they asked me what to get out. All but the two geriatric dogs survived—I don’t think those two ever woke up, as they had access to outdoor runs. The G3, which at that time had my only copies of my fiction writing, got dumped in a foot of snow at 20 below and it’s still smoke-stained. But it is operational and has my early files 12 years later.

The next couple of years I concentrated on non-fiction, mostly my website on Shetland Sheepdogs and genetics, and looking for a more permanent place to live—all on one floor, within walking distance of a bus line, and where I could keep all five dogs. I found it and moved in, still part of the writing group, but now writing mostly short stories. I even sold one. But the writing group broke up as people moved away. The parts of the story I’d written no longer bothered me, but the later years of the characters still rattled around in my head, wanting out. Bits got written at novelette and short story length, but I still couldn’t quite pull the bits together. Then one fall it occurred to me—suppose I changed the sex of one character?

The first draft of what was to become the middle book of my trilogy was written over the following winter and spring. I began taking writing courses and signing up for the creative writing section of the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. The next winter I wrote the first draft of the first book of the trilogy, incorporating several of the short pieces I’d written earlier. Homecoming and Tourist Trap were laid aside, modified only when I needed to make them consistent with the trilogy. The third book of the trilogy took a little longer, mostly because it took me a while to find a unifying theme, but aside from an epilog it too was complete when I went to the Fairbanks Festival of the Book last summer.

I went to a session for writers, and heard for the first time about assisted self-publishing with on-demand printing. I hadn’t seriously considered self-publishing, though I felt I had something to say—the last thing I wanted was a few thousand books in my garage! But this sounded worth checking out. The handout gave the web addresses for iUniverse and LuLu, and I checked out both. iUniverse looked particularly interesting—their books were carried online on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, they offered editorial evaluation with the possibility of recognition and even some sales assistance for books their editorial review found worthy, and with a sale on, the price was low enough I felt I could afford to take the risk. The next step? Getting my manuscript ready to send them.

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