Jean Harkin's Blog

August 8, 2023

Crazy Daze of Publishing

Long story short—my debut novel “Promise Full of Thorns” has been un-published, that is, it is no longer available from publisher, Sunbury Press. What an apt title—the thorns! The novel I wrote, edited, and fretted over for seventeen years had a short life span—five months, from January to June 2023.

It is now a “limited edition” as well as a “first edition.” A few copies are available through Amazon and direct (signed) from me. It is available at the local Cedar Mill library in Beaverton, Oregon.

Now, with my copyright restored to me, I hope and plan to publish a new edition of “Promise Full of Thorns” with a new cover in 2024.

My sad publishing story isn’t the worst, however. Dana Shavin writes in the August 2023 issue of “The Writer” magazine that an author was dropped by her agent and publisher after publishing her fifth book. Shavin adds, “there are changes in wind speed and direction that we can’t see coming in the publishing world.”

One of the factors causing upsets in publishing is the rising cost of printing. The price hike of my novel was the spark that lighted my disagreement with the publisher who subsequently dropped my book.

Writers who are new to the realities of publishing are often surprised and upset (as I was) with the lengths of time for responses from agents and publishers, and the months-long waits between signing a contract and the start of editing and other processes leading to the book’s release. For me, it was about fifteen months between signing the contract and being contacted by my editor.

It was a joy to have my novel released. Now, my balloon is only temporarily burst. Re-publishing awaits! My advice to other writers facing rejections; long waits; or difficult publishers, agents, or editors is this: Don’t become jaded, don’t give up! Shavin’s article in the August “The Writer” is worth the encouraging read.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on August 08, 2023 10:53 Tags: cedar-mill-library, dana-shavin, promise-full-of-thorns, the-writer-magazine

June 5, 2023

Extinction Threat or Novelists' Helper?

Alarms are sounding about the existential danger of artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots and language models. Even Sam Altman, the “godfather” of AI is concerned and has requested governmental, even international, regulations regarding this phenomenal new technology. Other high-level tech executives agree. Risks of AI include falsification of news, images, and information; transgressions to U.S. security; usurping of jobs for humans; scams of all kinds, and more.

Technology futurist Elon Musk has called for a six-month pause on AI development. Stuart Russell of “The Boston Globe” opined that hyper-intelligent AI is analogous to the invasion of an alien civilization beyond human control.

On the other hand, in a family discussion, we considered how AI might be a handy assistant to writers facing the “soggy, saggy middle” of their novels. This is often the most difficult part of a novel to plot and pace. A compelling beginning and a dynamite ending can leave a blank middle-ground for a writer. As a possible solution, the inspired parts of a story could be “fed” to a chatbot, allowing the AI to fill in the middle section. Of course, the writer should edit and revise the artificial text. This method might be a possible leap over writers’ block!

Price hike alert: Due to rising costs of printing, Amazon is leading the way for all publishers to raise prices on books this month. I have protested a price increase of my novel to $25, but to no avail. As a result, I will continue to personally sell copies of my novel “Promise Full of Thorns” for under $19. If interested, please contact me.

As for my short story anthology, “Night in Alcatraz and Other Uncanny Tales,” I am offering a few copies for sale at $3.79. If you would like a copy at this great bargain, let me know. Amazon has raised the price to $7.99.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter

April 2, 2023

Serendipity Happens--and Another Freebie

Serendipity happened again! With no planning on my part, two books I recently read in succession shared a connection. They were two books revealing the devastating, long lasting effects of war on children.

“We Should Never Meet” by Aimee Phan is a collection of linked short stories about Vietnamese children who were passengers of ‘Operation Babylift’ that brought orphans from Viet Nam to the United States near the end of the Viet Nam war. As adults they struggle to fit into a new culture and suffer alienation when facing the past.

“What Strange Paradise” by Portland author Omar El Akkad tells of the heartbreak and tragedies of Syrian refugees seeking asylum in countries where they are unwelcome. Amir is a nine-year-old boy saved by a teen-age girl on an island where he is tossed in a shipwreck. Their race to find sanctuary is suspenseful, as their lives are forever changed.

Read my full reviews of both books here on Goodreads.

I’m offering another chance to receive a free copy of my debut novel “Promise Full of Thorns,” published in January. The first person to comment here on my Goodreads blog and the first to send me an email comment will receive a free copy of my book. But you must state that you want the freebie copy. Two copies will be given away.

This is no April Fool’s joke!
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter

January 31, 2023

Romance, Relationships, and a Free Book

My new favorite romantic couple is now Alice and Charlie Lukas, the main characters in “Promise Full of Thorns,” my debut novel that has just been released by Brown Posey Press (an imprint of Sunbury Press.)*

Since it’s Valentines month and my novel newly released, I’m inspired to recommend my favorite romance and relationship books that I read and reviewed (here on Goodreads) in 2022:

“Bed Stuy” is Jerry McGill’s debut novel. Set in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, it is the story of a bi-racial and age-varied romance with fascinating complications.

“Confessions of a Farmers Market Romeo” by James R. Dubbs is a blend of humor, drama, and ‘foodiness.’ It rock-and-rolls through astonishing episodes like a TV sitcom.

“Fresh Water for Flowers” by Valerie Perrin is about a French woman who is keeper of the local cemetery; her husband is past history since he disappeared without a trace. There are back stories of love and secrets in this tale that involves a mystery.

“Hidden Among the Stars” by Melanie Dobson. This time-slip novel involves not only a romance in present time but also a past story of star-crossed loves during the Nazi period in Austria.

“Lila and Theron” by Bill Schubart tells of a motherless boy in Vermont who finds his true love and holds on through time and age.

“Oh William!” by Elizabeth Strout returns character Lucy Barton, divorced from husband William, but still with a loving commitment. An adventurous journey ensues.

“Remarkably Bright Creatures”, Shelby VanPelt’s debut novel, shows that love and faithful friendships are not limited to humans.

“Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor” by Melanie Dobson is another time-slip novel with forbidden love affairs and secrets in an English village.

“The Stranger” also by Melanie Dobson presents a slow-building love story between an outsider and a faithful member of a strict religious commune in 1890s Iowa.

“The Keepers of the House” by Shirley Ann Grau is a novel where forbidden love causes tragedy and heartbreak over generations.

*You may order my book in print from or any bookseller, including Amazon. Or order direct from me at a discount. E-books also available.

*I’m giving away two free paperback copies of my novel: 1) to the first person who wants a copy and leaves a comment on my Goodreads blog, and 2) to the first person who wants my book and is the first to send a comment about my blog to my e-mail address.

Have a lover-ly Valentines month! I hope to hear from you.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter

January 2, 2023

Permissions and Persimmons--Bah Humbug!

Christmas season has passed, and so has the December release date for my debut novel! Now that it’s 2023, a whole year of possible release dates stretches forward. Publishing has involved delays and glitches, agonies of editing and revising, but now the ball is in the publisher’s court. As a fellow author astutely commented, “the best moment is definitely when you get the contract offer. All the rest is an uphill battle with knuckleheads.”

One of my biggest hurdles was the obtaining of copyright permissions. I wanted to use a mere two lines of lyrics from each of two 1940s popular songs and a couple of stanzas from a 1919 poem by Robert Graves.

To use the lyrics, two music companies required, among other things, the following: 1) the number of books in the initial print run, and whether my novel would be distributed digitally; 2) a synopsis of the publication and a PDF excerpt of the lyric reprint with surrounding text to show context; 3) a complete list of all songs and writers that would be reprinted in the novel; 4) the title of my book and territories where it would be distributed; 5) my postal address.

And after all of that, I assume there would have been a price tag. I decided to write my own song lyrics! *

As for the poem, it is in public domain in the USA but not worldwide. So I chose not to quote the poem, although it would have been a perfect fit for a critical scene in my novel. Instead, one of my characters paraphrases the poem to another character. I think it works OK.

A bump in the road that could lie ahead: Collecting royalties. My oft-quoted fellow author related that he had to sell about 160 books on Amazon to make the same profit from directly selling 14 books himself.

So, WHEN my novel “Promise Full of Thorns” is released and IF you wish to purchase it, please order directly from me. I will accept pre-orders any time. Thanks. And Happy New Year of reading and writing!

PS: The Writers’Mill 2022 anthology, “Millworks framing life,” is now for sale on Amazon!
*PPS: Song lyrics prior to 1926 are in the public domain.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on January 02, 2023 10:09 Tags: millworks-framing-life, promise-full-of-thorns, writers-mill

October 23, 2022

Halloween Horrors of Publishing

I didn’t need to refer to Stephen King to recount these horror stories. Two fellow authors have furnished some frightful tales:

The author who I quoted last month as having suffered through his publishing ordeal, sustained new shocks following his novel’s release. He ordered two boxes of his books from the publisher to sell himself. In the first box he found two misprints. In the second box he found his novel printed with a page of blurbs from someone else’s book after the copyright page.

His marketing attempts ran into bookstore snafus that almost read like scams. In his first approach, he found that the store would land on the favorable side of a 60/40 split, and to make sure, the store would ring up the sales. For his $20 book, the store would earn $12 (for what?), and he would net $8. He had paid $9.25 to the publisher at author discount, thus actually losing $1.25 on each sale.

That bottom line has me spooked of scheduling a bookstore event!

Another author spent six years crafting her first novel. At a writing conference, she was thrilled to garner attention from an editor with a big-name publishing house. Following instructions, she submitted the first 25 pages of her novel for review in advance of meeting with the editor. The meeting turned out to be a terror: the editor lambasted her for not including a cover letter and had nothing good to say about the novel excerpt. Says the author, “I was so disheartened that I did not write a word for six months.” Bewitched!

She never finished that novel but went on to publish four successful ones, one with a major publisher and three with small presses.

Enchantments can happen! I have been assigned an editor, and my novel Promise Full of Thorns is scheduled for December release. We’ll see! “Many a slip”. . . stay tuned!
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on October 23, 2022 15:23 Tags: halloween, jean-harkin, promise-full-of-thorns, stephen-king

September 12, 2022

Publishing: Shakespeare and I

I felt high as a cloud when I received word that my publisher is finally ready to start work on my novel, “Promise Full of Thorns,” after nearly eighteen months on hold!

Looking back to a recent re-acquaintance with Shakespeare, I wondered if he jumped over a candlestick when he first published. Maybe not! By 1594 when Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” was created, he was already an accepted member of Lord Chamberlain’s Company of Players (later called King’s Men) and only needed to have his plays printed—not published—for the actors to use.

Publishing in those days could be dangerous, says Lyndsay Docherty of Lancashire, England, a lifelong Shakespeare fan and teacher. The risk was not censorship against rough language, bad morals, or violence, but rather treasonable political material that might trouble the anointed kings, such as Elizabeth I, whose position as monarch was quite vulnerable.

Fewer of Shakespeare’s plays, mostly harmless comedies, were circulated in limited numbers during his lifetime. Wider “publishing” of his plays happened after he was no longer alive to be grimly punished by the monarchy for sedition. However, Shakespeare happily had some long narrative poems published during his lifetime. “Venus and Adonis” and “Lucrece” were best sellers. Maybe he did some celebrating over these successes.

Back to today and my current publisher: A fellow author, whose novel was recently released, said he felt that our publisher lacked professionalism. He said he felt disrespected and treated shabbily with communication delays, editing mainly by Grammarly, and an original cover design he deemed abominable. “Months of suffering are behind me and I’m trying to take time to feel good about it.”

Bill Schubart, a Vermont author and publisher, assesses turmoil in the publishing world this way: He says that my publisher, while reputable, is roiled in a declining market for literary fiction, the rise of e-and audio books, Amazon’s dominance, and a flood of hybrid and vanity releases. Publishers are “struggling with . . .the rationale of pumping more books into an enigmatic and saturated market.”

Those are not the same challenges to publishing that Shakespeare faced! I’ll keep you posted how it goes for me. Thanks for tuning in!
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on September 12, 2022 13:01 Tags: bill-schubart, lyndsay-docherty, promise-full-of-thorns, shakespeare

June 24, 2022

Reconsidering Shakespeare

As my college friends and fellow English majors would attest, I was never a Shakespeare fan, even though I once attempted a spoof of “Hamlet” entitled “Omelet.” It must have had a Humpty Dumpty-ish sort of plot.

Now, eons after college and having endured a few of Shakespeare’s plays, I have been introduced to the bard in new ways. Thanks to a new Writers’ Mill friend from England and a book by Mark Forsyth*, I have re-discovered Will Shakespeare as a fellow practicing writer and one with astonishing creative talent.

According to a recent presentation by Lyndsay Docherty, a writer, teacher, artist, musician, and lifelong Shakespeare fan, of Lancashire, England, the young Shakespeare was not much for classical scholarly academics. On the other hand, he was intrigued by the Renaissance studies of Greek rhetorical figures (figures of speech patterns that punctuate written language with style.)

Fascinated with these stylistic patterns, Shakespeare practiced and worked diligently to perfect his craft using figures of speech such as alliteration, irony, antithesis, rhymes, rhetorical questions, and much more. His best plays show his mastery of elegant and eloquent writing. No matter what he wrote, he wrote it with style.

I appreciate a writer who works hard, thinks, contemplates, revises, and revamps to make his writing the best it can be. With the help of Forsyth’s delineations of the figures of rhetoric, I’m trying to consciously incorporate more of these figurative techniques into my own writing.

Lyndsay revealed another of Shakespeare’s talents, one I’d never heard about: He was an inventor of new words! Here, thanks to Lyndsay, are a few of Shakespeare’s 1,705 words he added to the English lexicon and the plays they appeared in: (Not all of his newly minted words caught on, such as “armgaunt” meaning having skinny arms.)

Bandit, “Henry VI” part 2; critic, “Love’s Labor’s Lost”; dauntless, “Henry VI” part 3; dwindle, “Henry IV” part 1; lackluster, “As You Like It”; Elbow (as a verb,) “King Lear.”

In his ability to enliven the English language with new words, I find Will Shakespeare a kindred soul to the late Portland writer, Brian Doyle, whose lively mind also sprinkled made-up words throughout his works.

Some have asked how publication of my novel “Promise Full of Thorns” is proceeding at Sunbury Press. I now have a blurb for my back cover that might see publishing daylight before the end of this year. I’ve exchanged cover blurbs with a fellow Sunbury author, James R. Dubbs, whose novel “Confessions of a Farmers Market Romeo” will be released soon.

More on Jim’s novel in my next blog, along with comparisons of modern publishing with Shakespeare’s publishing concerns.

*Mark Forsyth, “The Elements of Eloquence”
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter

March 5, 2022

March--From Violence to Birdsong

In like a lion, out like a lamb, or vice versa, as they say about March. So my book discussion is full of contrasts too—from violence to birdsong.

There is nothing more horribly violent than genocide. I read the first volume of “Maus” by Art Spiegelman, a family’s personal account of the Holocaust. Written in comic book form for adults, the characters are imaged as cats and mice, plus a few pigs. This book was recently banned by a school board in Tennessee that picked up on “inappropriate words” and “nudity” (a tiny image of a bathtub suicide in human form.) But the censoring school board overlooked the vitally important lesson of a horror story that must be told so as to never be repeated.

See my full review of “Maus 1” on Goodreads.

Avoiding violence is the timely theme of a just-released anthology, “There I Was. . . When Nothing Happened.” Jason Brick, of Portland, has gathered stories from forty violence professionals and martial arts enthusiasts who detail a time they came close to, but avoided, violence through skills both physical and language-related.

Now for the birdsong: I enjoyed randomly skipping through the delightfully, artfully, and alphabetically informative pages of “Birdpedia: A Brief Compendium of Avian Lore” by Christopher W. Leahy. This little book nests at my bedside for nightly reading. See my Goodreads review.

And be sure to check out “Bed Stuy” by Portland author Jerry McGill. This novel was nominated for the 2022 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel. See my Goodreads 5-star review.

I hope soon to be assigned an editor for my debut novel, “Promise Full of Thorns” under contract at Sunbury Press.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter

January 3, 2022

My Year of Books, and Goodreads to You!

I’m starting off the new book year and looking back to share some of my 2021 reading highlights with you. Maybe you’re looking for a short book or a long book, a popular one or one you’ve not yet read, a book by an Oregon author—or something else. Here we go:

I read 36 books in 2021, equaling 9,197 pages! My average rating was 4.3 stars; I gave 5 stars perfect ratings to about 12, so not such a grumpy critic, was I!

The shortest book I read was “The Catalog of Small Contentments,” 120 pages by Portland poet Carolyn Martin. The longest was best-selling “The Lincoln Highway” by Amor Towles. (576 pages.)

The most popular of books I read was “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro. Over one million readers on Goodreads shelved this book. The highest rated on my booklist was “The Point of Vanishing” by Portland-area author Maryka Biaggio.

All of my 36 books are reviewed on Goodreads; my first review of 2021 was “The Girl and the Bombardier” by Susan Tate Ankeny of Newberg, Oregon. I gave this book 5 stars. My last review of the year, also rating 5 stars, was “The Snow Child” by Alaska author Eowyn Ivey.

Other books I read in 2021 by Portland-area authors were “Claws for Concern” by Sheila Deeth, “One Long River of Song” and “Chicago” by the late Brian Doyle, “The Night Always Comes” by Willy Vlautin, “Fuzzy Logic” by Maren Anderson, “The Sound of Murder” by Cindy Brown, “Cat Conundrum” by Mollie Hunt, and “Where Lilacs Still Bloom” by Jane Kirkpatrick.

Happy New Year and Good Reading to All in 2022! If you’re browsing, take a look at the Writers’ Mill’s latest anthology, “The Floor Above,” available on Amazon. Profits go to the Portland-area Cedar Mill Library.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter