47North and the Writer’s Grotto

Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. is a science fiction writer who loves the zeitgeist of steampunk. Although he grew up in both the United Sates and Canada he prefers to think of himself as British. He attended the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, where he earned an Honors B.A. in English with a Minor in Anthropology. He has lived on Prince Edward Island, excavated a 400 year old Huron Indian skeleton and attended a sperm whale autopsy. Richard currently resides in California.

“I’m not a very good writer, but I am an excellent rewriter.” (James Michener)

Last time we left off with a conversation about the positive experience I had with my development editor, Jeff VanderMeer.  After the development edit, which is mostly big picture stuff like structure, story progression and pacing, comes the copy edit and the proofread, both of which continually prove to me how poor my own proofreading skills actually are.  I am an excellent speller but it is amazing how one can read through his or her work with an eagle eye, fully expect the pages are clean and then have it returned to them with a typo, incorrect punctuation mark or other error highlighted on almost every page—that’s my experience, anyway.  Perhaps I’ll get better at it as time goes on.  I doubt it, though—and author’s mind is too cluttered with intellectual and emotional story distractions to proof his own manuscript.  As a note, my parents (a retired professor and a retired schoolteacher) also take a pass at my manuscripts, and they also find stacks of mistakes).

My experience with my publisher 47North has been a very positive one.  47North is Amazon.com’s new science fiction and fantasy imprint, and although it is a small publishing house (though growing rapidly) it also stands on the foundation of its gigantic parent.  My first agent, Adrienne Lombardo, had placed 47North on her top wish list of publishers because she felt it was great place for a new, unknown writer to land, firstly for its combination of small and big elements, and secondly because the wide advertising reach of the Amazon website, Kindle, etc. provides immense worldwide exposure for their authors.  I think that I have a great publisher—and in this respect I have been inordinately lucky.  I have greatly enjoyed working with my editor, Alex Carr, and the 47North team I introduced to you in the previous blog; they outlined their battle plan to me in the first meeting and plugged my book into their promotional machine months ahead of its release day.  They have been kind and responsive to my suggestions—as a rookie I don’t have many—and keep me updated on the process.  Alex brought in Jeff VanderMeer to be the development editor and assigned Eamon O’Donaghue as the cover artist, and I frankly don’t know how Alex could have found better people.  The book has gotten a lot of great exposure already, and I honestly believe that 47North is giving my novel its best shot at success—if the book fails, it will not be due to lack of promotion.

Since this is a Booklife blog, I’d now like to take a moment and tell you about my writer’s grotto, which is a compartment in my head.  I don’t like the term cave so much; it smacks of isolation, fear, darkness, misery and leg irons—too close to the awful truth, I suppose.  I jest, but only a little.  The mad scientist’s cubby-hole in the mind to which the writer retreats to do his or her work is both a torture chamber and a paradise.  When describing this intimate place of pain and ecstasy, of desperation and jubilation, I much prefer the more garden-like grotto, which conjures up (for me) the ruined cloisters of Jerpoint Abbey (one of my favorite places in Ireland), a roofless row of carved stone archways made butter-edged by weather, scented with meadow barley and the musk of ancient, sunburnt wood, laced with vines and green, green moss, pleasantly haunted by soft Irish sunbeams and the sounds of trickling fountains and little birds (these last elements are added by my imagination but hey—it’s my brain grotto).  It is here where I go to think and write and sometimes meditate.  It is a safe harbor for me and my creative impulses, a place where I can explore life and my place in it and attempt to strip away the delusions and denials and that protect me from hurts, both real and imagined, and thus open up dark doors I tend to keep under lock and key.  It is a stage where I am both the innocent, naked farmboy running through the fields and the disgraced knight, wretched and old, with the bloodstains of murder on his sword.  My grotto is a wonderful and perilous place of exploration and self-discovery and I love it.

From my (demented?) author’s brain grotto, I’d like to turn to the subjects of physical writing space and writing habit.  In the “Relinquishing all Fetishes” chapter in Booklife, Jeff recommends the Tao-like relinquishing of material items one might associate with the writing life, thus removing obstacles to the actual act of writing.  “These days,” Jeff says, “I don’t care where I am when I write, who I’m with, or if it’s midnight or noon.  I don’t care if I scribble on a piece of toilet paper or in some fancy goatskin lined tome.”  Better advice, writer, thou shalt never find.  Chuck the special notebooks, the favorite pens and the dedicated office space, Jeff advises, and just write whenever and wherever you can.  I really like that philosophy, even if I still cling to some of my writer’s treasures.  Having lost hordes of sparkling ideas in my youth because I wasn’t smart enough to write them down in the very moment they arrived, I now write notes on anything and everything—and in this respect I have found my ever-present iphone to be a wonder machine, at my fingertips with its notepad and audio recording program, and I grab many more of those potential gems in my butterfly net now.  Many storylines or dialog passages have been worked out in a recorded discussion with myself while commuting back and forth to my job in Los Angeles. I used to be a night writer, loving the silence and stillness of the wee hours, but I find the darkness-to-gray-to-sunrise of the early morning to be a better time to write in now—but my wife works on a rotating schedule so my writing schedule rotates with it.  The dedicated office space is probably my biggest transgression, my very special writer’s pet, locked away from the crayons and grubby hands of my children in the den of the house with my precious author icons and walls loaded with bulletin boards for my mosaics of 3×5 cards.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to let go of that one.  One of my dearest author dreams is to have a writing room like Rudyard Kipling (sorry, Jeff).

Kipling's Desk