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Seven Years, Five Editors, Four Publishers: How I’m Writing My Novel

Ever wonder what it takes to write, edit and sell a novel? While there are a few overnight-success stories, most authors work very hard to produce a manuscript and get it noticed. Annette Martin published an excerpt from her novel-in-progress in Understorey Magazine in 2014. But she started writing long before that—and she’s still working to revise her manuscript and find a publisher. Here’s one woman’s story of writing and selling a novel.

Many years ago, after retiring from the school system, I had the gist of an idea for a story. I doodled at it here and there but had no real plans for publishing or even finishing it. I just enjoyed writing. Always had. But seven years ago I got a bit more serious.

By 2012, the story was finished. Almost 500 pages. What to do with it? The Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland (WANL) gave me a list of editors and said they’d pay half of the editing fee. I contacted one of the editors.

In 2013, that editor sent me a very long list of suggestions. I revised accordingly and sent it to another editor through WANL. This second one sent the manuscript back with another long list of recommendations, one of which was to “save some for the sequel.” I figured this meant I rambled too much. My story (I had trouble calling it a book) was too long.

In 2014 and 2015, I got even more serious. I chopped pieces out, twisted things around and found I really liked revising. I thought I’d like to have it edited by someone in Nova Scotia as that’s where I now live. I contacted the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia and found another editor. She did three readings. Many revisions later, I was ready to try some publishers.

I sent sample chapters to three publishing companies and the whole manuscript to another publisher, all in Newfoundland as that’s where the story is set. (But then, I enjoy and relate to books from Sweden, Norway—love Jo Nesbo—and other places so why did I think that way?)

Of these Newfoundland publishers, I never heard back from one (I later learned that they never received the manuscript). Many months later, a second said no, flat out. But then—a ray of hope. In April 2015, Creative Publishing emailed to ask if they could give the manuscript to an outside reader. In August, after I phoned to check in, they sent the reader’s comments to me by email. There were many good suggestions but he or she suggested I find yet another editor! The reader thought I should work on aspects like the inner thoughts and voice of the characters.

I sent the manuscript to an editor in British Columbia (I was really branching out). It was August 2015 and I was working in a more disciplined way. After two readings by this editor—and more chopping—I sent it back to Creative. They responded in June 2016: The manuscript was improved but still not ready.

Somewhere along the way, I also sent it to a publisher in Nova Scotia. They said, “It doesn’t fit with books we have in mind at this time,” or something like that. I am really not sure what that means.

Back to the revisions. I’m getting really good at revising and still enjoy, it by the way. (Teachers have the correcting gene.) I emailed another editor, the fifth, and last July her comments arrived. She wondered if I might reverse the order of a few chapters. I thought about this and decided it wasn’t necessary. She also said the opening was weak and I have to agree. I’ve changed it many times and I’m still not happy.

The manuscript is now down to 325 pages. I figure I’ve discarded enough characters and plots and pages for two more books. I do appreciate the many things I’ve learned from all the editors. (Who knew you have to leave quotation marks out at the end of a paragraph if the same person is speaking in the next one? I’ve read thousands of books and never noticed that.)

I plan to fix the beginning and send it off to a few more publishers. If nothing happens, I’ll self-publish. Or I’ll throw it in a barrel and set fire to it….

Book Review: No One to Tell by Janet Merlo

71KvlTE8B-LToday, the RCMP announced that it will offer up to $100 million in compensation to RCMP officers who have experienced sexual harassment and abuse on the job. The RCMP Commissioner also offered an apology: “We failed you. We hurt you. For that, I am truly sorry.”

Acknowledgement, compensation and public apology have been a long time coming.

Janet Merlo documented her twenty-year career with the RCMP in her book No One to Tell in 2013. The title is apt. In her detachment, Merlo was known as “a fucking woman with a big mouth.” Yet ironically, she had no one to tell about the constant discrimination and overt sexual harassment she endured. No one who was willing to listen and make changes.

Merlo, originally from Newfoundland, received her first RCMP posting in 1991, on the opposite side of the country in Nanaimo, BC. She knew that women before her in the detachment had complained of harassment and they had been shut down. Soon Merlo experienced it herself: a supervisor offering to retrieve change from her uniform pockets; a supervisor with a blow-up doll in his office; a list of “Training Courses Now Available for Women” left in her mail slot, courses which included “PMS—Your Problem Not His.” Merlo describes these and many other instances of bullying and abuse throughout her career.

At first she said nothing: “In a paramilitary organization, order is maintained by mute force—you just don’t speak out against those who outrank you.” When she did speak out the bullying worsened. She feared for her career and her health but she continued. She told coworkers and supervisors, sent letters to the RCMP Commissioner and to the BC Minister of Public Safety. She lodged a formal complaint that resulted in an investigation. Nothing was admitted or acknowledged. She was told to put it all behind her; that her issues were simply personality conflicts. Merlo was diagnosed with PTSD and that, too, was challenged by the RCMP’s Health Service.

Merlo says she has never thought of herself as a feminist yet her book empowers women in many ways. Through numerous anecdotes, No One to Tell provides a vivid look at the daily life of an RCMP constable and portrays the draining, often hidden, challenge of balancing several roles—in Merlo’s case officer, mother, wife and caregiver. Despite these many roles and her dedication to the job, she was often told she just wasn’t ambitious enough. Most importantly, the book also helps to explain why so many women are reluctant to come forward and report abuse.

Catherine Galliford, who trained with Merlo, first broke the silence about abuse in the RCMP during a CBC interview in 2011. That interview brought many women forward, including Merlo. They formed a Facebook group and, in 2012, Merlo filed a class-action lawsuit.

Today’s announcement and apology is partial settlement and a first step toward healing.

Read more stories about Women and Justice.

A New Partnership: Understorey Magazine and the Alexa McDonough Institute

 

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Big news for Understorey Magazine!

We are now in partnership with the Alexa McDonough Institute (AMI) for Women, Gender and Social Justice at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.

AMI, chaired by Susan Brigham, is a hub of feminist energy, action and research. Understorey and AMI share a mandate of empowerment through self-expression and sharing of ideas, experiences and stories.

We look forward to this exciting chapter of the magazine. Stay tuned for details of our new editorial board and creative direction!

A huge thank you Second Story Women’s Centre for their support in launching Understorey and publishing seven fabulous issues since 2013.

The Preludes to Assaults

Jane Eaton Hamilton is a Canadian author and activist. Her writing has won or been nominated for numerous awards. The following article, first posted February 5, 2016, is reprinted with permission from her website. Background on the on the Jian Ghomeshi trial is available on Wikipedia.

Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted]. I don’t know you very well, but I know this: one night in early 2004, after I’d been awarded a writing prize in Ottawa, you followed me to a side room annexed to the main hall, where I’d gone to get away from the crowds, and while my (then) wife was in the bathroom or off getting another drink, I’m not sure, you put your hand on me. That hand. One of the very hands that is being discussed in court this week. You closed the distance between us and you massaged my shoulder/neck while talking to me about how I needed to relieve the stress of my big win. Eventually my (then) wife returned, you dropped your hand (that hand), and we smiled politely and “uh-huh’d” while you bashed the Rockies, BC and, in particular, Vancouver.

You didn’t ask me if you could massage me. I guess you assumed you could touch me. The way men, the entitled 50%, have always assumed they could access women’s bodies at will. You were a star, and your status helped me to tamp down my resistance. I don’t know why the hell you picked me, as I had just been on stage thanking my (then) wife; I was obviously queer and out and significantly older. Maybe I was just the only woman alone during that function? I do know that a number of other men, and people elsewhere on the gender spectrum, have previously in my life singled me out for non-respectful interactions. The truth is, I did not step back, Jian Gomeshi, you [redacted], and I excoriate myself for that now. I should value myself more.

I was taught to be polite. I was taught to smile and nod and always, always be friendly. I was told that friendliness could get me out of pinches, even save my life, and indeed, through the years, this mostly proved to be true. Doing what men tell you to do is just a good idea. Not doing what they tell you to do can be disastrous.

I wish it weren’t so, because they would be illuminating, but stats for close calls don’t exist. The binds we’ve escaped because of our own instinct or intelligence or cunning remain undocumented.

Let me talk about what you touching me was and was not, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted]. Because you had followed me and waited until I was alone to approach, what you did was strange and mildly unsettling. I felt a sense of disquiet. But given my sexual orientation and marital status, I also didn’t take what you did particularly seriously. That night I stayed up with another Canadian literary luminary getting drunk and laughing until 4 a.m. He certainly didn’t massage me and I’ve never written a post about his bad behaviour, nor would I. Guess why? There wasn’t any.

Okay, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], I get that what you did to me was not a charge-able assault, or, arguably, even an assault. I didn’t take it as one, then, and I don’t now. But I’m going to tell you what it was. It was the something else that so many of us experience 1000 times a year as Canadian people assigned female at birth, and trans–and let’s name it for what I now believe it was: the prelude to a potential assault.

The preludes to potential assaults are these: language or behaviour or touching that create in their targets vague senses of unease that we “get over” as the day or week wears on. There is so much of this kind of crap slung in women’s directions in the average day that often we don’t even bother mentioning an encounter. We don’t tell our spouse. We don’t tell our employer. We don’t call a friend. Because these little infractions against our sovereignty, these thousands of small infractions, intended to train us to patriarchy, are par for the course. But we all understand what they’re actually telling us: they’re actually reminding us about what could happen.

If, say, we get uppity. If, say, we say no. If, say, we fight back. If, say, he woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

A year before you massaged my back, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], you allegedly hurt Lucy de Coutere. And there were alleged other victims, too. With that same hand you extended to me. With that very same hand you used to caress me. If the allegations are true, you wrapped that hand around victims’ throats and choked them. If the allegations are true, you used one of your hands to slap and punch your victims.

But guess what, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], let me tell you something about society. There are lingering effects to minor harrassment. Harrassment is a bridge built of a substance called continuum that Canadian women walk over every day of our lives from the day we are pushed into our pink worlds to the day we close our eyes the last time. And on that bridge are guys, nice guys, scum nozzles, and turds rolled in sprinkles. On that bridge of spectrums are guys (and some others) with their hands out, fingers waggling. Guys demanding we pay the toll. We’ll let you cross, they say, but only if you’ll smile. Only if you’ll give us a little kiss. Only if you’ll stop a minute and chat. Only if you’ll go home with us. If you want an “A.” If you want that promotion. Only if you get scared, because we appreciate scared. Only if we get to bash you in the head, throttle you, rape you and leave you for dead.

They say, We know you like it. They say, You asked for it.

You know what this mountain of harassment (and worse) does to the harried? It makes us queasy. It makes us question our interpretations. It makes us question our importance. It makes us scared to go out at night. Nervous to walk our own streets. Careful to lock our windows. It makes us tamp ourselves down.

It does all that because it’s meant to do all that. That’s exactly what it’s for.

The truth is, we aren’t fully enfranchised members of society, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted].

This all has a name, this systemic oppression. It’s called misogyny, and in Canada we need an inquiry* to untangle its octopedal arms so we can root it the hell out of our country, and unfasten our institutions from it. Imagine the productivity here if all our population was equally enfranchised. Not 50%, or 60%, or 80%, but 100%?

Really, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], I want you to stop and think about that. I want you to imagine a different world, a world where one class of people can’t get away with (allegedly) treating another class of people violently.

Because right now, in part because of you, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], we people who’ve experienced violence are triggered. We are not just thinking about your behaviour, and your lawyer’s behaviour, we are thinking of so many other times in our lives where someone else has behaved badly, where someone didn’t respect and honour us.

Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], this is all coming back up for us, all at once, until it pools like another Canadian ocean under that bridge men have been having us walk, tying us together across the country in one collective wave. We are thinking about times someone followed us onto the bridge. Times we were groped. Times we were pressured. Times we were coerced. Times we were held against our will. Times we had brusies. Times we were battered. Times we were raped.

This collective will says, We are mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.* Pretty soon, if we have our way, you guys with your baitings and assaults are all going to tumble off that bridge and drown in a big cold ocean of women rising up.

Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], ours is a world that celebrates the male. You know what else is part of our oppressive system? Not letting women drive, or vote, or own property, or go out without male accompaniment. Saying that girls are not good at math, giving girls passive toys, not letting women go to unversity, glass ceilings, few female politicians, women earning less than men for work of equal value, women bearing the brunt of child-rearing and housework, women who perpetuate stereotypes even as they obtain jobs where they could change them.

All that stuff we call sexism? That is just misogyny written in semen. Men like you built the world. You built it to work for you. And it works for you most of the time.

We are mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.*

Some men are up in arms this week, cautioning Canadian women to calm the fuck down. Don’t get your sweet little heads all in a tizzy, they say, in Canada we have something called due process. This is supposed to happen to complainants in court. Ultimately, it protects all of us.

In Canada, during due process, victims get psychologically battered, and we, the potentially violated, are standing upright while court is in session, quite out of order, and questioning that. We are saying This is not okay. This is an abridgement of Canadian values and Charter freedoms.

We are saying to the survivors of spectrum violence and to the brave, fierce women in court: We believe you and we stand with you and our support will never waver.

Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], isn’t this quite the amazing system men have developed for themselves over the centuries? This system where women are achingly vulnerable, taught from a young age to submit, while the other half of the population (and a few strays from our side) takes advantage? Because let’s face it, what our patriarchy requires more than convictions, and we all know it, is an intact status quo.

So Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], thanks for the back rub. But just so’s you know: I’m an anti-fan.

***

*A Canadian inquiry on misogyny is the idea of barbara findlay, QC

*adapted from “Network,” the movie

Canada is Raping You

This talk talks about violence as a men’s issue and I recommend it highly: Jackson Katz’s Ted Talk

If you are trying to understand abusive minds, I recommend this book highly, whether your abuser is a man, a woman or someone on the continuum: Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, by Lundy Bancroft

Here is a very good blog post about this situation: Bone, Broth and Breastmilk

For people worrying about due process, this article, citing rape conviction stats in Canada: 1 in 1000: What’s Really on Trial in the Jian Ghomeshi Case by Anne Kingston

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Literary Awards Season!

double pregnantYes, it’s literary awards season and two Understorey Magazine authors have been nominated for their book-length work.

Natalie Meisner has been nominated for the Dartmouth Book Award for Non-Fiction for Double Pregnant: Two Lesbians Make a Family (Roseway). Natalie published a preview of Double Pregnant in Understorey‘s Winter 2014 issue.

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Sylvia D. Hamilton has been shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the JM Abraham Poetry Award for her poetry collection And I Alone Escaped to Tell You (Gaspereau Press). A poem from that collection, “On My Dining Room Table,” was published in the inaugural issue of Understorey in 2013.

Congratulations Natalie and Sylvia! (And a pat on the back to Understorey Magazine.)