Thursday, 20 December 2012

Five things needed for Christmas

 In the southern hemisphere, the working year is drawing to an end. In a few days, New Zealand will hang up its working habits and go en masse to the beach, the hills, the riverside or the backyard. The cities will become havens of quiet. Rosa Mira Books HQ has already taken to the countryside and the company of ducks, opportunistic rabbits, wheeling swallows and morning bellbirds. I'm pretty sure I saw the rat, too, down by the pond, looking for a chance to pinch the duck's pellets.

Talking of ducks, I came across another delectable small Australian publisher which is to put out "an artisan set of Sue Woottons’s poems, hand printed by Canberra hand press printer Caren Florance of Ampersand Duck, forthcoming in early 2013".

The Happiest Music on Earth is being formatted. All digits are crossed that this will be a straightforward conversion so that it's ready before Christmas. Or even for Christmas. I had trouble writing 'for Christmas'. Possibly Ratty would have no such scruples, but I believe that what's needed 'for Christmas' is calm space, warm companionship, meals and stories shared, and time for contemplation of the good that's in the world and how each of us can add to it.

On the other hand, I reckon that Rosa Mira's ebooks add to the good that's in the world, especially if they're read. And enjoyed. And shared. An ebook for Christmas, anyone?

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Selling ebooks he is not, but isn't it good to see someone looking so calm and purposeful at this time of year, when the rest of us are feverishly winding up our projects preparatory to winding ourselves down? I'm delighted to learn that Ratty can French-knit. I'm sure that the e-reading populace will also find it a fascinating and powerful stimulus for rushing over to Rosa Mira Books to stock up on midsummer (or midwinter) reading.

Honestly, employ a rat at your peril.

Some people, however, are worth ten rats. Claire Beynon has blogged over at Icelines, with a blushingly generous piece about what she perceives to be happening here at Rosa Mira. She's included one or two, as yet unseen, portraits of The Rat — for what they're worth. Do take a cruise around her stunning site, and pop your head into her studio.

On 12.12.12 at 1.11 the Dunedin HQ was sold and will be vacated on 31.1.13. Actually, HQ remains intact — who needs more than a laptop and a table? — but the RMB operation will be on the road for the next year or two. Who knows, we might wind up in a rats' nest near you.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Interview with Sue Wootton & unveiling the 10k cover

I've been talking about the 10k series for a little while: the idea of publishing a series of shorter ebooks, each showcasing fine work whether an essay, mini novella, piece of memoir or, as in the inaugural edition by Sue Wootton, a collection of stories. Here's the cover for the series, give or take a tweak or two, designed by the stellar Caroline Jackson.

Sue and I talked recently, in the way we do these days, by email.

RMB: Sue, would you say a little about writing these three stories — the time, place, and any anecdotes associated with each?

SW: I think that seeds for stories drop into the imagination all the time. Sometimes I’m aware of this, and sometimes I’m oblivious – until one day, seemingly from nowhere, the story emerges. ‘Standard Roses’ comes into this second category. It was written in fits and starts. I kept going back to it, and for a long time nothing much evolved. One day, as if I had earned her trust with my patience, the protagonist started to speak. She told me, in one big blurt, everything I needed to write the story.

One seed for ‘The Happiest Music on Earth’ was the merry-go-round at Sydney’s Luna Park, which charmed me. Sort of. Beneath my enchantment there lurked an opposing feeling, very faint (I would have denied it on the day), but nevertheless a sense that there was also something sinister about it. In retrospect, that was the necessary second seed that sparked the story. 

‘Icy Noctiluca’ is seeded in historical fact. Hennig Brannig did discover phosphorus in 1669 by boiling putrefied urine in a search for gold, a process that did stink. He was one of a new breed of alchemists, beginning to think in a revolutionary – scientific – way about the composition of the natural world. Others pondered phenomena such as luminosity. What was its essential element? It was thought that a substance called phlogiston was responsible for fire, but nobody had ever isolated it. Thus there was much interest in cases such as the one I read about in a 1747 edition of the London-based Gentleman’s Magazine: a maid with sparking petticoats (the hottest maid her lady employer had ever shared a bed with). Gentlemen travelled from far and wide, said the article, to examine this phenomenon. In the name of science, you understand.

RMB: Are there writers whose work or way-of-being you draw on for encouragement or inspiration?

SW: Recently I read some early stories by Mavis Gallant. I marveled at the astute character observations in her work. So confident so young!  Alice Munro – I’ve just read her latest collection – always carries me off to Canada, from where I return deeply affected by my stay.  Marilynne Robinson’s novels are lodestones for their beautiful, measured language, and the deeply integrated crafting of her fictional worlds. There are no lazy observations in these writers’ works, and I bet there have been no short cuts to the finished product either. Contemplate, they seem to say. But also: concentrate, continue, and complete.

RMB: What are your current challenges?

SW: As always, abiding by the mantra above. The contemplation part is easy, especially idle contemplation (my favourite). Concentrating, continuing and completing – much harder.

RMB: Current delight?

SW: Writing poetry, after a long muse-less spell.

RMB: Hooray! What's up ahead for your work in 2013?

SW:2013 is the Year of the Novel. I am already carbohydrate loading.
Sue Wootton                                    Photo by Doug Lilly
RMB: (What's this box? I have no idea but I can't get rid of it either.)  I'm hoping to release The Happiest Music on Earth before Christmas but not all factors are in my hands — I'll keep you filled in.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Glad readers

Although I'm planning to give you a teaser today for the inaugural almost-ready 10K ebook, The Happiest Music on Earth, in the meantime I came across a couple of articles worth sharing.

Writer J.P. Ganley read Road Markings: An Anthropologist in the Antipodes earlier this year:  "I stumbled upon Jackson’s book at Rosa Mira Books – a classy, rather gorgeous looking NZ e-publishing site, by the way – and read the synopsis, blog posts and review. Within seconds I was hitting BUY NOW, and downloaded a copy onto my KOBO e-reader ... I can’t express enough how much I’m enjoying this …" You can read the whole on her blog, A Certain Book.

In the same hour, I was alerted to this appreciative piece about Road Markings by Terence Rissetto in  The Landfall Review Online, NZ books in review.

 Meanwhile (one of my favourite blogwords, I've noticed),  we seem to have a development in the story of 'the other rat'.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Sex in America

Amazon threatened to ban it, but Dorothee Kocks persisted, and now they've allowed it into their bookstore: drawing on the riches she uncovered in research for the The Glass Harmonica, Dorothee has created an interactive book titled Such Were My Temptations 'uncovering the surprising, secret world of America's first sexual revolution'. I had great fun checking out the teasers this morning.

Here's a four-minute video of Dorothee telling an audience how Such Were My Temptations came about. She's always a delight to listen to — the lyrical voice that sounds through her novel has its physical counterpart here.

And here's the delectable preview of the interactive book itself.

For those in the US, go straight to Amazon for your copy for US $2.99.  To read it on your computer, purchase the Kindle Edition and select Kindle Cloud Reader. For those with an iPad, it's available at the iBookstore.

"Kocks leaves no stone unturned in upsetting today's definition of 'Puritanical.' From political sex scandals to polyamorous poetry, New England's first citizens evidently had plenty in common with today's Americans. Those who think of the 1760's as an era of widspread chastity should brace themselves for surprise before reading Temptations..."

I'm still trying to access a copy, here in NZ. I'll let you know when I do. Meanwhile, we have Dorothee's gorgeous, vital and moving novel, The Glass Harmonica: a sensualist's tale, in which she makes rich use of the material she's shared in Such Were My Temptations.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Dodging behemoths

Issue 100 of the quarterly review magazine New Zealand Books is out and I was pleased to have been asked to submit an article about the ebook as artifact. I wrote with conviction and enthusiasm for what I'm doing here on Rosa Mira Books and for the opportunities that digital publishing provides. However I admit that the ebook itself as a tiny non-pictorial icon on a desktop, unless and until it is opened and read, is less than appealing. Much depends on the reading device and the attitude of the reader. Even more depends on content.

'Content' is what gives my work hours purpose and pleasure, as I read and discover exceptional writing, help its author to polish it up, and publish it in a digital form that does it credit.

'Content', until it's dealt with in a discriminating manner,  is both wheat and chaff. Today I've come across two or three articles lamenting, for example, 'The Mighty Zon''s bid for world domination of the e/book market. In its haste and greed, Amazon has thrown wheat and chaff (beans and pods might be a more fitting metaphor for the home gardener) in together. And this might be the point at which independent publishers, small and cheeping from their various outposts, begin to regain credibility and value for discerning readers. "Amazon inspires anxiety just about everywhere, but its publishing arm is getting pushback from all sorts of booksellers…" The NY Times article goes on to name stores refusing to sell Kindles, and booksellers refusing to stock Amazon's publications.

In her blog this week, author and editor Anne R. Allen describes the knots that large publishers have recently tied themselvs into, trying to stay afloat and relevant: "HarperCollins, moving to more ebooks, is closing one of its biggest warehouses, and seems set to gobble up Simon and Schuster.  And Simon and Schuster has launched a new scary-scammy self-publishing wing by teaming up with the vanity publisher Author Solutions. Yes, the Author Solutions which was recently acquired by Penguin, which was recently purchased by Random House."

Now, where am I going with this? I'm going towards small, discriminating e/book businesses trying to hold their heads up and put out fine work in the shadow of such behemoths as Amazon and Penguin-Random-Pearson. I came across Seraph Press today, not digital, but putting out a handful of finely produced volumes by NZ poets, most recently The Comforter by Helen Lehndorf. It is possible to buy books online elsewhere than Amazon, even if you run a Kindle. For example, meBooks stocks a wide range of ebooks by New Zealand authors, including Rosa Mira's. But if you want to support a small publisher, see if you can buy directly from their site. That helps them immediately and directly. It cheers them up, too. Please let me know of any small, selective digital publishers out there in the wider world. I'd like to point them out here.

Talking of knots, whose is the tail beside Ratty's? What happened to Lily? And what is the marketing department up to?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A rat, a book, a blessing.

I had to haul him out by the ankle from under the sofa (sweeping out blue cheese wrappers and marmaladey spoons with him) but Ratty insists he's ready for the festive season, greasing up his salesman's patter, sponging his ears clean, and limbering up with the ratadilloes.

Meanwhile I've been working with Caroline Jackson who's come up with a winning cover design for the 10k series — to be unveiled soon. It remains to be seen whether we can put out the first edition, Sue Wootton's three stories in The Happiest Music on Earth, before Christmas. Hope so. Thanks to those who have sent me work to read; I haven't forgotten yours, and mean to be in touch with you all well before the holidays start.

I dipped my toe into Michael Jackson's latest book, newly published by the University of California Press, The Other Shore: Essays on Writers and Writing. From the Preface: '… while many claim that these new [reading] technologies are "disruptive", undermining and transforming the way we work and live, I see them as "sustaining" what we have always sought to do — bearing witness to what we learn of life, struggling to express it adequately, and comparing our findings with the findings of others." Amen to that. It's going to be my prized summer read, I can see.

I started to write something about Christmas . . . but it's only November for goodnessakes so no. But in the meantime, did you know that any buyer of a Rosa Mira eBook receives a delighted and grateful blessing into the bargain? That's how small and personal we are round here. 

Monday, 12 November 2012

The twelve most compelling captions …

(… and seeking the one most compelling title). Apparently this title formula (the x y-est zeds) attracts hordes to the blog by some SOE magic, so you'll notice us trying that rat-trick around here.

Ratty may appear to be stuck and confused but really it's a triumph that he's turned up at all, recognisable, purposeful (evidently going somewhere) and drawing inspiration from his friends. He asked a few Facebookers to help him with his latest banner. Make what you will of their combined efforts.

Let's hope it augurs well for his pre-Christmas sales campaign.

Following Ratty's lead I'm asking for help with the name of the up-coming '10k' series — 10,000-word ebooks of fiction and non-fiction. '10k' doesn't quite capture the sense of sought-after gems that I seek. Ideas? Anyone providing the name I need will be offered a free subscription to the series.

As I write this, I come upon the glad news that our first 10k author (with three short stories in a collection titled The Happiest Music of Earth) Sue Wootton has just been awarded the NZ Society of Authors Mid-Career Writer's Grant. Congratulations, Sue! (I can't help adding that it's heartening to see an award come to the far south. By the NZSA radar, at least, we have not slipped off the end of the country.)

Okay, writing this and organising the rat took far longer than it should have. Would anyone out there care to write (or draw) a guest blog anytime soon? It might be about . . . your experience of digital reading; your experience of keeping a rat; a scene from the writer's/reader's/publisher's life; the time you were stuck under/in/behind a door . . . or anything else mildly or fiercely relevant to Rosa Mira Books.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Rat on a Roundabout

In time for the next ebook, Ratty has been coaxed back into the picture, or onto the horse, at least. He's looking a little stiff and neither right nor left, but I feel sure that the rocking motion and jingle-jangle of the carousel will lighten him up and have him back on the job he was born for: seducing readers into buying Rosa Mira Books while having as much fun as possible.

The merry-go-round horse alludes to Rosa Mira Books' next publication, a collection of three short stories by Dunedin writer Sue Wootton. Sue is a poet and fiction writer of flair, precision, wit and depth, the author of three volumes of poetry, most recently By Birdlight. She was Robert Burns Fellow in creative writing at Otago University in 2008 and has won numerous awards and accolades for her work. Her collection, The Happiest Music on Earth, will inaugurate Rosa Mira's 10k series. The rat will give a few more hints about Sue's stories soon.

Meanwhile, it's great news that the New Zealand Post Book Awards are now accepting original ebooks to be judged alongside hard copy titles. It seems important to step up and enter Rosa Mira's one eligible title for this year.

As for the 10K series, if you're a writer, do consider making a submission, and thanks to those who've done so already. If you're a reader, follow the rat.

Friday, 26 October 2012

10,000-word submissions sought

The rat's gone AWOL. I tried to rustle him up the other night but the pen ran amok, creating flaccid ratoids with too-long limbs, bread-board faces and doorstop tails. So, for now, here's a cousin — Rat Ascendant who brought birthday wishes across the Tasman last week from my brother Hugh, creator of the Rosa Mira Books website.

This week has seen some happy work on Rosa Mira's next two books (a memoir and a short collection of short stories). Actually, the stories are the first of the slim ebooks (if 'slim' can be applied to digital texts) that I'll call the 10K series. I plan to publish writings of around 10,000 words, whether that be three or four short stories, a piece of fiction, memoir, or an essay.

I'd like to receive submissions. It might be a potent extract from a novel that would otherwise not see the light of day; it might be the writer working over some matter they feel strongly about; the story of a relationship, or a meditation on the contents of the top drawer. Really, the sky's the limit — but I'd love to see some terrific writing. In the first instance, I'll ask for three lines in synopsis and three pages of writing. If in doubt, send me a query. Use the email link under Submissions on this page.

Pass it on.

In my next blog, I'll tell you about the up-coming story collection.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

A poet praises a novel

I found Ratty. He was hiding out amongst rough sketches for a card for a talented young clarinetist with a birthday this week. Whether a rat can achieve the correct embouchure and dexterity to play the clarinet is another matter.

Music is (often) sweet to the ear and so is a happy reader's report to the ears of authors and publishers. This week Dunedin poet Kay McKenzie Cooke told me and Elena how much she enjoyed Amigas. Kay blogs at Born to a Red-Headed Woman, where she shares stories from the south, along with her very fine poems and photographs. Here's 'Surprising the Quarry', which she wrote on the wall in Claire's hallway.  Kay kindly said I could bandy her words about.

Finished Amigas — loved it. Authentic evocation of the late sixties and pleasing tension to keep me scrolling. Expertly written, believable characters I really cared about. A smooth collaboration and a compelling story-line.

We're happy with that.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

How to turn your book into an app for iPad, Kindle Fire and other tablets.

I've been away with my parents and a broken hard drive, but now I'm home, it's spring, and everything's revving into life. I hardly know what to tell you about first: I'll write several blogs in the next day or two (where's that rat? I'll just have to start without him).

First you need to know about a fantastic opportunity from Dorothee Kocks / Beware the Timid Life: learning how to make your own book app. Packaging your own work for Kindle or the iPad might be the digital-era equivalent for writers of tidying up a manuscript and sending it to a publisher.

Dorothee's running an introductory, how-to webinar course for creating content for the iPad, Kindle Fire, or other tablets, especially intended for:
  • Children’s book authors
  • Historical novelists and historians
  • Nature writers/photographers
  • Comic book or graphic novel writers
  • Poets who want to read aloud or include visual content
  • Artists
  • Museum people and educators
  • Or … accountants with alter-egos of any of the above
Read all about it here and sign up if you will. I'd like to sit in on the classes, starting on Saturday the 13th October (very early Sunday here in NZ, but Dorothee says we can listen to the recording later).

Dorothee knows what she's talking about. She's recently created an app that got Mamazon (now, that's an apt slip of the finger — make that Amazon) hot and bothered — they wanted to censor it. And that'll be the subject of a forthcoming blog.

Monday, 24 September 2012

An email to gladden the writers' hearts

I'm away from home on the slow parental computer, so there are no frills and no pictures today, but I wanted to share this email from poet, novelist and short story writer, Carolyn McCurdie about Elena Bossi's and my collaborative novel, Amigas. (In the interests of keeping the plot from full view, I've abridged the email slightly.)

Just to congratulate you and Elena on this delightful story. I loved the characters, strong, very different voices, the joys and hiccups of their developing relationship. I loved the contrasts between the increasingly harsh realities of Claudia's world, and the almost cottonwool comfort of Jude's, and yet the ordinariness of both, family, the growing of girls to womanhood. I cared about these two. And for that reason I appreciated the integrity of the ending. I wanted a happy ending. I wanted Claudia to be well and happy. Then I just wanted information about her … in its fictional way it honoured the truth of what the people of Argentina endured  during those years …  Humanity shines through this story. The structure, the skipping from country to country, culture to culture, language to language, brought home in the most powerful and subtle way, that a basic humanity is what we all share, linked by that and by shared pain and love.    

Thanks for saying so, Carolyn.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Why publish digital books?

I talked with an interviewer for the NZ Listener a couple of days ago, who's putting together an article about digital publishing. What was it that made me stride out into the unknown and take on something whose outcomes were so uncertain? she asked,

I felt myself firing up as I do when I consider Rosa Mira Books's raison d'être: I am passionate about seeing exceptional writing out into the world, and without needing a huge budget or wasting resources, digital publishing seems to be the best means at present of doing this. With established publishers currently hedging their bets, shortening their lists, and wanting to be sure that every book they publish is a commercial success, some beautiful works of writing are considered too risky to take on. It might be that the author is new or as yet unknown; that the work appeals more to a particular than to a general audience; that the story requires readers to bring their full attention and intelligence to the reading. Or that the form of the work is new. None of these is a compelling reason for strong writing to go unpublished.

I'm also passionate about making as fine a job as possible of the editing, design and presentation of each ebook, and helping it find its way to its readers.

It's apricot violet time here in New Zealand.

There are challenges, of course. Here in NZ we've been slow on the uptake with reading devices. Hard copy is still the preferred reading medium for most. Amazon and the big ebook sellers are often seen by ebook buyers as the only source of ebooks; it's a long, slow job directing buyers straight to Rosa Mira Books, where the books are available formatted for every kind of reading device.

None of us knows what's going to happen to books or the publishing industry over the next few years, or even months. Obstacles and opportunities abound, for publishers and independent authors. I wonder if digital will become the proving ground for paper books. If a digital book is bought, read and loved in sufficient numbers, it might be deemed worthwhile making of it a beautifully designed and bound hard-copy edition. The book will be the longed-for artefect that appears once the work is known and applauded in its digital form.

Speculation. Meanwhile, digital publishing grows both simpler and more sophisticated. It's easier than ever to convert a document to ebook format (or to find someone to do it for a reasonable price), while on the other hand, apps are being made that can make a simple story into a multi-media experience. Still, what matters most to me is that the writing around which this activity centres is all it can be. For now, Rosa Mira Books is keeping it simple, producing well edited, well designed, robust and intelligent work with heart.

Frisky people!

Dorothee's been cooking up a treat.

While writing and researching for The Glass Harmonica, she kept coming across evidence that American forbears weren't the puritanical bunch it's often assumed. She told the Ashland Daily Tidings how she came across some erotic pictures in a history text. "'I was so astonished at how explicit the erotic art of the time was. I started calling rare-book libraries and asking if they had any smutty stuff. And they did.'"

 To make the most of the wealth of infomration, art, poetry and objects that came to light, Dorothee's created a media-enhanced ebook:  Such Were My Temptations: Bawdy Americans 1760-1830. "Loaded with poetry, prose and art, the e-book depicts this country's founding forefathers and foremothers as quite passionate …. It even includes an engraving of Benjamin Franklin and a lady friend having an intimate moment. While graphic in places, the e-book's aim is pleasantly academic rather than pornographic. It's smart, fun and challenges widely held assumptions."

With Such Were My Temptations, Dorothee pushes boundaries in her own right, expanding the definition of the book, adding dimension to the reading experience in ways only recently made possible. Rather than adding content just because it is technically possible to do so, Dorothee finds that sweet spot where content comes alive with new technology. One example is a polyamory poem, dry to read in early English. Such Were My Temptations presents a vivid video of the poem to help readers feel what that old word ‘ribald’ really means.

“Kocks leaves no stone unturned in upsetting today’s definition of 'Puritanical'. From political sex scandals to polyamorous poetry, New England’s first citizens evidently had plenty in common with today’s Americans. Those who think of the 1760s as an era of widespread chastity should brace themselves for surprise before reading Temptations.”  —The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction

To find Such Were My Temptations and more information run to

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Glass Harmonica rocks

Dorothee sent fantastic news: The Glass Harmonica is a finalist in the Utah Book Awards. Although I've always believed in the novel, it's great to have it so publicly affirmed, and this will be a terrific boost for Dorothee as she works on her next writing project. The awards ceremony will be in Salt Lake City in October. We'll keep you posted. Congratulations, Dorothee!

Meanwhile, this morning Ratty shinned up the Delicate Arch in the Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, with the banner that Lily's Thursday evening Sewing and Sipping Circle whipped together last night, on hearing the news.

Which brings me to a delicate point. I'm thinking of subletting Ratty's services to help keep the fabric of Rosa Mira Books together. Do you know of an author (or are you one, yourself) who would delight in having their book — ebook or hard copy — represented by the rat in this place or that? He's able to travel and position himself (and the book) pretty much anywhere, as you'll know if you follow this blog. He's willing to handle the author's writing tools, sit in their favourite chair surrounded by their bric-a-brac, or even, for an extra dollar or two, don the author's clothes . . . your imagination and his will show the way. He'll make the resulting images available in either digital or hard copy on firm watercolour card. He can be contacted here or on Rosa Mira's Facebook page where you can leave a message for him in any recent comment stream.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Road Markings remarked

I'm sorry to think that Road Markings might have been momentarily eclipsed here by Amigas. It's just received a terrific little review from author Sofka Zinovieff who lives in Greece.

"Beautiful, clever, moving and funny, Michael Jackson’s Road Markings is like the literary version of a 'road movie'. On the surface, it is one man’s journey back to his New Zealand roots – the search to find out where this 'Accidental Anthropologist' (the title of Jackson’s wonderful earlier memoir) came from. But it is also something much deeper – a musing on how far one man has travelled and how unpredictable yet significant is the influence of our origins. With the insights of a lifetime’s work as an academic, anthropologist, poet, and writer, Road Markings is written with intimacy and lyricism. It displays the fascinating insights of someone who has refused to be confined by one discipline and who has a vast knowledge of history, philosophy and literature. The book tells the story of one trip, with visits to old friends and relations, and to places that are half-forgotten, loved or dreaded, but which come back to life in new ways. Ultimately, this personal story is also something much larger; a book that is unafraid to confront the essential subjects of memory, life and death."

I've recently read Sofka's book Red Princess, an absorbing account of her aristocratic grandmother's life, who fled Russia in 1917 for Europe and joined the communists — a life 'turbulent and often scandalous'. Sofka's debut novel is newly released: The House on Paradise Street, set in Athens from its Nazi occupation until current times. Sofka's brief biography makes for entertaining reading in itself.

And don't forget Road Markingsbeautiful, clever, moving . . .

Monday, 6 August 2012

Amigas on the wing

Amigas is launched.

Early this morning there was a little candle-lighting, a little clinking of virtual glasses, a flurry of laughing emoticons between Argentina and New Zealand, and a message from Doug to say that the new website pages are live.

With this celebration of our friendship comes an avalanche of gratitude:

Mine to Elena for being the true and generous friend that she is. Amigas was her idea. She has always said yes to every challenge, has always believed the best of me and my capacities, and made sure — somehow — that everything we did was fun. Beautiful woman, outstanding writer, exceptional friend — gracias.

Thank you to Creative New Zealand who sent me first to Iowa and then to Argentina, and to all involved in the Iowa International Writers' Programme itself. To Christina and Beatriz who translated our texts from one language to the other. To Emma who made a detailed and indispensable assessment. To Pablo for our striking cover, and Caroline for her stirling design work. To Jason for patient file-making, and Doug for meticulous website management. To Coral and her class for marketing plans. To Jane for help with enacting them.

Friends and family have enthused from the very start about Amigas. Several have read it and given invaluable feedback, here and in Argentina: Claire, Christine, Elizabeth, Barbie, Raymond who also proofread, Marcelo, Irène, María Andrea, Raúl, Beatriz, Jorge, Tati, Gigliola y Alejandra. I'm afraid of leaving names off if I list friends who have been always alongside — wings or feathers aiding our flight — so I'm going to make this thanks both general and particular: you know who you are and we embrace you. Without friends, this work would be empty of meaning.

Fly, Amigas.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Remembering Hana

Hana Andronikova          Photo from Radio Prague
Elena and I have dedicated our novel Amigas to friend and fellow writer Hana Andronikova. Hana was in Iowa with us in 2007, a beautiful, fiercely intelligent free-spirit from the Czech Republic whose writing was in full flower when she died four years after we met. She and Elena had an especially close kinship.

When Hana found she was ill a few months after Iowa, and decided to go into the Peruvian Amazon to prepare herself for the ordeal ahead, it is typical of Elena that she made the challenging journey across South America to meet and escort Hana into the jungle, to act as translator, and to see her settled, even though Elena hates camping (a point we established early in our friendship).

A talented playwright and short story writer also, Hana is best known for her epic novel, The Sound of the Sundial, set between Zlín in Moravia, and Calcutta. I found an interesting interview with Hana on the Radio Prague website and quote from it here:  "Her last novel, Bottomless Heaven, which last year won the Readers’ Prize in the Magnesia litera awards went in a very different direction. It was a novel that was in many ways autobiographical, telling the very difficult story of a woman’s coming to terms with having cancer and travelling to Latin America, to the Peruvian jungle, to stay with a shaman, and then eventually coming back to Europe to face conventional medical treatment."

Elena visited Hana again last year and spent some hard but precious hours with her friend. Although dying, Hana entirely lacked self-pity, shedding light and love on all who came within her sphere. "By a sad irony, Hana Andronikova died just two days after Václav Havel (in December 2011) and in the whirlwind that followed Havel’s death many Czech papers devoted only a few lines to her life and work. But the Czech literary scene has lost one of its most gifted writers."

Hana was one of our bright stars, as a writer, a friend, and a strong, courageous woman. Her light shines on.

All going well, Amigas will be released tomorrow. In memoria de Hana. 

Thursday, 2 August 2012

'Here comes the sun'

Although Amigas is not set out chronlogically, the story begins in 1969 when two teenaged girls, Claudia and Jude, from Argentina and New Zealand, find themselves stranded by fog in the international airport in Rome. Drawn together by unease and a sense of adventure, they strike up a friendship.

Elena (2nd from R) con los amigos                         Photograph by David Otero
To entertain you while you wait (how about Monday for the release of the ebook? — let's see if we can do it) here are photos of the authors at 17 or so — in my case the only teen photo I can find. Claudia and Jude when they first meet are 14, but they go on corresponding into their early twenties.

Penelope (centre) and friends

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Some prize!

Elena emailed this morning to share her terrific news: she's been awarded the the Eduardo Mallea Municipal Award of Buenos Aires for her novella, Otro lugar (Another place), published by Ediciones de Copista. Ratty has decided to give her his almost entirely uneaten (and generally peculiar-looking) apple as a token of his estimation. This is a prestigious award, a fantastic reward for her beautiful novella. Congratulations, Elena!

You'll have to agree, it's nicely timed, too, as we ready ourselves to release our novel, Amigas, our happy experiment, as Elena so aptly puts it. She wrote (I paraphrase), an experimental work may turn out a little uneven, but it is necessary and good. "We did something important, you know? We made our little piece of sand. I am very happy with our work." And so am I.

Without knowing it at the time, we made a novel that is entirely fitted to the new technology of the ebook (with internal links that can carry the bilingual reader from English to Spanish and back again). ("Sin saberlo nosotras, estábamos escribiendo un libro que sólo podía publicarse como ebook si queríamos que se apreciara el modo experimental en el que lo escribimos.") By the time we'd finished writing it, Rosa Mira Books was up and running; we decided to publish here.

Checking the the ePub file the other day (yes, the eternally-penultimate version is being sent to and fro again today for checking and fixing), I realised we were in danger of contravening copyright by quoting freely from the Beatles song our teenaged characters sing together in the airport in Rome in 1969. So I cut the words right back (you're allowed to quote song titles); the reader will have to add words and music

Meanwhile, here's Joe Cocker singing 'With a Little Help From My Friends' live in Berlin. (Thanks, Elena. I found it on your FB page.)

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Even cowgirls get the muse

The digital files for Amigas are in the usual state of to and fro between me and Jason of meBooks: I ask, Can that font be reduced? Can this colour be restored? Oh, and there's a comma I overlooked . . .  He practically always says yes. Cheerfully, as far as I can tell.

Doug who makes and maintains websites for artists has been given a list of alterations to be made before next week's (pleasegod) launch.

At my request, Elena has sent photos and text. I still haven't found out what variety of camelid she's riding below.

Here she touchingly describes our meeting in Iowa five years ago (try it in your dashboard translator if you don't read in Spanish):

"Conocí a Penélope en Iowa durante mi residencia en el Programa Internacional de Escritores.

Recuerdo que llegué tarde al hotel y me dijeron que debía estar a una hora determinada en el atrio para conocer a los demás participantes. Cuando las puertas del ascensor se abrieron vi dos ojos enormes y una sonrisa en el centro del salón y caminé hacia esa mujer alta sin dudarlo. Era ella. Apenas lográbamos entendernos; pero ya éramos amigas. Sería un error decir que estrechamos los lazos durante tres meses: creo más bien que los tres meses sirvieron para entender qué nos reunió desde el primer momento."

On Rosa Mira's Facebook page I posted the cover image of the collection Elena contributed to, that was published last year, No me lo cuentes a nadie (Don't tell anyone) a book of letters between women writers who are also friends. It received this warm review in GRUNDmagazine, page 41. Again, it helps if you can read castellano.

And just to prove that Elena and I were amigas decades before we met:

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Rat as antidote.

There's nothing nicer than having your feet up on the sunny windowsill. Buttered sweetcorn takes some beating, too.

The boss is in a bit of a frazzle. Her brow is knotted. Her shoulders, too. She mutters away, asking how come she forgets every time how much work there always is the week before an ebook launch, and how many details wait in ambush blah blah blah. She frets about being publisher and published, when one is fraught enough without the other. Checking the ePub files, she observes how tortured her prose yadda yadda. Thank goddess for Elena! She's serene in Lily-the-Pink-land and at least her chapters remain enchanting . . .

Anyway, the boss thinks I should be up and running but thanks to my Argentinean wife, I've come to believe in La Siesta so that's where I'll be once I'm down to the cob. In between mouthfuls, I'll mention the students in Coral Atkinson's Whitireia Online Publishing class, who have come up with many ingenious and practical marketing suggestions: Kaahu Bennett, Nicola van Arndt, Mary Hay, David Langman, and Laura Sarsfield. Thanks, Kaahu, Nicola, Mary, David, Laura and Coral! Awesome work. The boss'll keep you filled in on how it all pans out.

As I write, the boss chuckles. An email from her amiga, Elena: Don't worry at all, is absolutely the same at the opposite for me. I like your write jajajajaja. Probably is not going to be our best novel but we did a good job. We did an original novel and we celebrate our friendship which is a lot. We were honest.  I am very happy …   "This is true," says the boss with a smile. "We're celebrating friendship — ours first of all, and in our novel the friendship between Jude and Claudia, between Judith and Adriana . . . Yes, this a good job."

Before they had an inkling that one day they'd meet: Elena Bossi and Penelope Todd.

Okay, so can we please get some kip now? Not you, dear reader. You may tiptoe over to Dorothee's site to check out her new publishing venture, Beware the Timid Life, which makes our outfit look timid indeed. If you have an  iPad with iBooks 2, you're ready to load up her playful and surprising exploration of the first American sexual revolution.  It's a new kind of eBook – "An Exhibit, A Story, A Salon." I'll let you know when it's ready for the Kindle. Meanwhile, you can revel in some of the same themes reading The Glass Harmonica.

Bravo, Dorothee.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Amigas: reviewers sought

All right then. Time to get Amigas on the road. We'd like to have it ready for you by this time next week. My loins are girded — in lederhosen from Schladming where, incidentally, Arnie Schwarzenegger buys his shoes. The week ahead is a large and interesting obstacle course. I have a plan and a new pair of glasses. I've almost learned to yodel. Lily the Pink insists that gaucho pants and tango melodies would be more apt for my preparations to release the world's first Argentinean-New Zealand collaborative, bilingual novel. But we rats take what lies at hand and anyway, as Claudia tells Jude in one of her letters, tango is for old people.

Lily and the ratadilloes have gone off to las pampas for a week or two, while I'm preoccupied. She'll send back the odd photo to illustrate my campaign.

Jason of meBooks has sent us the ePub file for checking. A class of five fantastic publishing students has come up with a marketing plan. I'm going to chew my way through that document, savouring and activating its contents. Someone has to write a newsletter. Someone has to contact a few media types. Someone has to break the rusty hinges on the Twitter account and get tweeting.

As for Amigas: in 1969 two young teens meet while stranded by fog in the airport in Rome — Claudia from Argentina, Jude from New Zealand. They swan around together and become friends. Over the following decade, they exchange letters, until the flow peters out during Argentina's dirty war. Forty years later, Jude finds herself again in the Fiuminicio airport and again has a significant encounter.

That's the gist. The ebook doesn't necessarily take the reader in chronological order, but that's over to you. Our story is about friendship and loss and coming to terms with what is.

If anyone would like to review an advance copy of Amigas, please contact me via the comment stream.

Okay, I'm going to hunker down and eat a piece of cheese dunked in maté before I plunge into the obstacle course.

Hasta luego.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Cover uncovered

I promised to post Lily the Pink's photo of the cover image of Amigas. The plan is to send the proofs this weekend to be formatted, which means that by the end of July the ebook should be available on Rosa Mira Books.

Our story begins (chronologically — there's more than one way to read it) in 1969, when two teenaged girls, from New Zealand and Argentina, meet while stranded in the airport in Rome. They strike up a friendship and go on to exchange letters from their two countries, into the years of Argentina's dirty war. Forty years later, the threads of their stories are taken up again — in NZ, in Argentina, and in the airport in Rome.

For your weekend entertainment, nothing to do with ebooks:
a nine-year-old English boy producing Monet-like paintings; a brief introduction to particle physicist and ecological wise-woman, Dr Vandana Shiva; and does it really sound like a Cuban dance melody? The music of the Higgs Boson.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Almost uncovered

Ratty and Dasychord are picking the sellotape from the cover of the English-Spanish novel Amigas, to be launched this month. The cover image was created by Pablo Accame (some of whose short videos you can see here), son of author, Elena Bossi (talking here with Tim Jones). Isgar and the local hooligan-bird look on while Lily prepares to photograph the unveiling. I'll post the photo next time.

It's been a great collaboration from start to finish. Elena and I met in Iowa in 2007 (thanks to Creative NZ), wrote our novel over the next two years and had its component parts translated into the other's language. When we met in Argentina in 2009 (gracias otra vez a Creative New Zealand), we spent three weeks examining our translations, checking words, facts and intention, and swapping songs on Youtube (our chapter set in 1969 is called 'Hey Jude').  Since then we've heeded the comments of a handful of discerning readers. Emma Neale did a manuscript assessment for us and we're grateful for her fine critique. While I continue to have mixed feelings about being both author and publisher in this case, Elena and I needed to stop tinkering, and to issue Amigas from Rosa Mira Books seemed the most straightforward route to producing a bilingual edition of our novel.

Book designer Caroline Jackson has put links between chapters for those who wish to read in both Spanish and English. By the same means, the letters that comprise the chapter 'Dear Claudia' can be read each in their original language.

In Argentina, besides working, we tried on clothes (everywhere we went but also) at 'Amigas' here in the small pampas town of Ayacucha (was it, Elena?).

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Ratty seems to have flown off in his purple ironing board and Lily's distracted, knitting peggy squares for a friend who has produced a litter of lilac Peterbalds and needs all the woollens she can lays paws on. Isgar and Dasychord are itching to make something happen. Their hedgehoglet friend, Apostrophe, does whatever they do, in miniature

So, what is happening?

There's a fresh batch of Slightly Peculiar Love Stories excerpts ready for perusal, by Claire Beynon, Latika Vasil, Brenda Sue Cowley and Linda Niccol.

I've spent time following helpful hints about SEO (search engine optimisation) and am having a few changes put in place this week. Let's see if the collection of slightly odd phrases inserted in the website's pages and meant to sound/look natural will draw throngs to Rosa Mira Books.

I've had a couple of wonderful offers of help recently from publishing students. I'll tell you more about those when they are taken up. I'm saying, Yes, please!

Dorothee has been cooking up a treat which is almost ready to be served – a tantalising side dish to The Glass Harmonica. Speaking of which, have you listen to this entertaining piece of William' Zeitler's, written and performed expressly for the recent transit of Venus?

The English pages of Amigas have been designed; the Spanish ones won't be far behind, and the cover will soon be ready for display.

I have a couple of exceptional manuscripts in the pipeline.

All is well. Slow but well.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Road Markings makes its mark

New Zealand Books is a quarterly magazine devoted entirely to the review of NZ work by fellow writers. For those reviewed it's not usually a comfortable read but considered critique is the magazine's raison d'être. The Winter 2012 edition opens with its editorial: "Two issues beyond the 20th anniversary edition of New Zealand Books and two before our 100th issue, we've reached another milestone. The determined enthusiasts who founded the journal might well have predicted the first two … But we suspect they would have had no inkling of the third: this issue carries our first review of an ebook.   … the word 'book' in New Zealand Books has changed its meaning forever."

That ground-breaking ebook is Michael Jackson's Road Markings, published here at Rosa Mira Books. (Thanks to NZ Books editors, Jane Westaway and Harry Ricketts, for making the leap.) The opening review, it's a generous page and a half of the A3 format by reviewer Alison Gray.  Rather more an outline of content, however, than an appraisal, it's not an easy review to pick excerpts from, but here are a couple:

"Michael Jackson … uses a 2008 road trip … to explore the theme of 'firstness' both in his own life and in the lives of people affected by social and historical events such as adoption, emigration, colonisation, war and illness or death. … It's a grand undertaking …

"The strongest pieces in this book describe how individual people have handled the blows life has dealt them, but the concept of 'firstness' remains elusive. Some people … reshuffle elements of the past to create a workable sense of self; some, like the wonderful Aunt Simone amd Mlle Picard in Menton, struggle not to be overcome by what has happened; some … simply decide to leave the past behind and make a new start, while others, like Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, seem able to recover from loss without 'acrimony, blame or the need for redemption'."

Road Markings is "full of good thinking and ideas about how people construct their lives. I eventually read it twice and was well rewarded both times."

Also in this edition, Chris Else comments on his experience with the Kindle reader.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

"a good south wind sprung up behind"

This week albatrosses galore have flown between Buenos Aires and Dunedin. You'll see some of them in due course but the beautiful birds are the work of talented cartoonist and animator Pablo Accame who is putting together the cover image for Amigas. Pablo happens to be Elena's son. Elena Bossi is my co-writer.

As I hinted last week, it's not an entirely comfortable decision, to publish one's own work. It's definitely been seen as the second cousin three times removed to meticulous trade publishing, and all too often the home-grown product is immediately recognisable. However, with the current turmoil of publishing, the scene is changing. Knowledge is available to anyone with an internet connection; there's no reason why the diligent author shouldn't put her work through the same stringent processes that a publisher would, and establish his own sales and marketing base. And I think that's the key: stringent processes. If an author is prepared to seek and pay for assessment/s and editing (their writing apprenticeship is another topic), then find designers who know what they're doing, and oversee the final product, then they can produce a book – hard copy or digital – worthy of their writing efforts.

So, am I apologising or what? I'm very proud of Elena's work and I'm prepared to say that mine is happy in the company of hers. We certainly had a great time working together, and continue to do so. Anyway, we have a publisher: Rosa Mira Books.

The decision to publish with Rosa Mira means that we can produce an edition in which English and Spanish versions sit side by side. Not page for page (most devices are more comfortably read with a single page open, and anyway, our translations are not word for word) but with links at the end  – and possibly the start – of each chapter so that the reader can switch between the two versions if they wish to.

Okay, that's enough for now. It's Saturday morning: the garden beckons, so I'll leave Ratty contending with the bird. More soon. Suggestions, questions and comments are welcomed.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Getting the next show on the road

A rat has little conscience. This one's not even going to apologise for his weeks' long silence.

He's just getting on with it, he says.

Elena Bossi and I met in Iowa, at the 2007 International Writers' Programme. We became friends and when it was time to part Elena suggested we work together on a project – a novel – in order to keep our friendship fresh in spite of language difficulties (mine: Elena's English is vastly superior to my Spanish).  We worked apart for a year or two, writing alternate chapters in our own language, having them translated, then putting the whole together to make a novel in each language. In 2009 Creative New Zealand awarded me a grant to visit Elena in Argentina, where we polished up our versions; checked facts, laughed a lot, sang Beatles songs, completed a solid draft of Amigas, then flew off to Tierra del Fuego.

The decision to publish one's own work is not straightforward. I'll say more about that soon. I'll talk with Elena on this blog about our process and who else has been involved. I'll tell you what's brewing in the way of book design and marketing. I'll keep Ratty busy.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Vita interrupta

Well, the online translator tells me this is how you interrupt a life in Latin but please tell me, anyone, if it's not so. I'm across the Tasman at present (like Ratty, yes! strange that) so my work is being done in even shorter fits and starts than usual.

 I wanted to let you know that The Glass Harmonica: a sensualist's tale has been reduced in price by four dollars to 7 USD.

The cover of The Glass Harmonica will always be dear to my heart. Not only because it covers a novel dear to my heart and Rosa Mira's first (which speaks, too, of the trust and courage of its writer, Dorothee). But also because it was hand painted by Christine Buess of Dunedin, the design suggested to her by a description in the novel of the waistcoat Chjara borrows from her employer, the prurient opium addict, Victor Ravenaugh.

He opened his eyes and saw her: dressed in his own clothes. Dressed in his pantaloons. Stuffing his boots. She turned away from him when she tucked a rolled cloth between her legs, a cloth he couldn’t see hid a single hard gold coin. He would have spoken to her sharply but he had no energy for rebuking her at that moment; her arms were raised, her neck tilted back, and her long hair swept to the middle of her back. She was braiding it.

Victor Ravenaugh had not seen a woman braid her hair for a hundred years. She pulled on his wig from the days of Louis XVI, then she wrapped herself in his ivory silk shirt with the matching ivory waistcoat. The waistcoat had been stitched all over by those Asian devils with silk-thread blooms and pink butterflies and his favorite ornament, the bright red tomato or pomme d’amour, that exotic discovery of the Americas. She did not look at him as she left, and he imagined he saw his better self. Going. At last, gone.

Dorothee has recently been preparing a mixed-media ebook drawing on some of her fascinating findings while writing the novel, about America's first sexual revolution. Such Were My Temptations: Bawdy Americans 1760-1830 will be available soon. I'll keep you posted. 

A new batch of excerpts from Slightly Peculiar Love Stories can be read here.

Meanwhile, here in Victoria, beach walks are punctuated by little gems such as this no-longer-puffing puffer fish which, as you'll know, is the world's second most poisonous vertebrate after the golden poison frog. Almost all puffer fish contain tetrodotoxin, a substance that makes them foul tasting and often lethal to fish. To humans, tetrodotoxin is deadly, up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. There is enough toxin in one puffer fish to kill 30 adult humans, and there is no known antidote.

I didn't touch it.