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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Friday, October 15, 2010

A GREAT PUBLISHING ADVENTURE Warning: includes scenes of hard-core Anglophilia

Beth Nevis, author of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE  which debuts from Razorbill in January 2011, is running a contest on her blog this week, asking readers to write about their greatest adventures. I thought of a piece I wrote it in 2005 for the Canadian zine INkwell Newswatch, when I was riding high after the publication of my first novel, FOOD OF LOVE. I try not to blabber on too much about myself in this blog, but I thought some of my readers might enjoy this. I’ll post my regular how-to article on Sunday.


When I started writing funny literary women’s novels twenty years ago, if anybody had given me a realistic idea of my chances for publication, I’d have chosen a less stressful, more rewarding hobby, like do-it-yourself brain surgery, professional frog herding, or maybe staging an all-Ayatollah drag revue in downtown Tehran.

As a California actress with years of experience of cattle-drive auditions, greenroom catfights and vitriolic reviewers, I thought I had built up enough soul-callouses to go the distance. But nothing had prepared me for the glacial waiting periods; bogus, indifferent, and/or suddenly-out-of-business agents; and the heartbreaking, close-but-no-cigar reads from big-time editors—all the rejection horrors that make the American publishing industry the impenetrable fortress it has become.

But some of us are too writing-crazed to stop ourselves. I was then, as now, sick in love with the English language.

I had four novels completed. A fifth had run as a serial in a California entertainment weekly. One of my stories had been short-listed for an international prize, and a play had been produced to good reviews. I was bringing in a few bucks—mostly with short pieces for local magazines and free-lance editing.

But meantime, my savings had evaporated along with my abandoned acting career; my boyfriend had ridden his Harley into the Big Sur sunset; my agent was hammering me to write formula romance; and I was contemplating a move to one of the less fashionable neighborhoods of the rust belt.

Even acceptances turned into rejections: a UK zine that had accepted one of my stories folded. But when the editor sent the bad news, he mentioned he’d taken a job with a small Northern UK press—and did I have any novels?

I sent him one my agent had rejected as “too over the top.” Within weeks, I was offered a contract by the company’s owner/editor—a former BBC comedy writer—for FOOD OF LOVE. Included was an invitation to come over the pond to do some promotion.

So I rented out my beach house, packed my bags and bought a ticket to Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, where my new publishers had recently moved into a 19th century former textile mill on the banks of the river Trent—the river George Eliot fictionalized as “the Floss.”

George Eliot. I was going to be working and living only a few hundred yards from the ruins of the house where she wrote her classic novel about the 19th century folk who lived and died by the power of
Lincolnshire’s great tidal river. Maybe some of that greatness would rub off on me.

At the age of…well, I’m not telling…I was about to have the adventure of my life.

I knew the company published mostly erotica, but was branching into mainstream and literary fiction. They had already published the first novel of a distinguished poet, and a famous Chicago newspaper columnist was in residence, awaiting the launch of his new book.

But when I arrived, I found the great Chicagoan had left in a mysterious fit of pique, the “erotica” was seriously hard core, and the old building on the Trent was more of the William Blake Dark Satanic variety than George Elliot’s bucolic mill on the Floss.

Some of my fears subsided when I was greeted by a friendly group of unwashed, fiercely intellectual young men who presented me with generous quantities of warm beer, cold meat pies and galleys to proof. After a beer or two, I found myself almost comprehending their northern accents.

I held it together until I saw my new digs: a grimy futon and an old metal desk, hidden behind stacks of book pallets in the corner of an unheated warehouse, about a half a block from the nearest loo. My only modern convenience was an ancient radio abandoned by a long-ago factory girl.

I have to admit to admit to some tears of despair.

Until, from the radio, Big Ben chimed six o’clock.

six pm, GMT.

Greenwich Mean Time. The words hit me with all the sonorous power of Big Ben itself. I had arrived at the mean, the middle, the center that still holds—no matter what rough beasts might slouch through the cultural deserts of the former empire. This was where my language, my instrument, was born.

I clutched my galley proof to my heart. I might still be a rejected nobody in the land of my birth—but I’d landed on the home planet,
England. And here, I was a published novelist. Just like George Eliot.

Three years later, I returned to California, older, fatter (the English may not have the best food, but their BEER is another story) and a lot wiser. That Chicagoan’s fit of pique turned out to be more than justified. The company was swamped in debt. They never managed to get me US distribution. Shortly before my second book was to launch, the managing partner withdrew his capital, sailed off into the mists and mysteriously disappeared off his yacht—his body never found. The company sputtered and died.

And I was back in the slush pile again.

But I had a great plot for my next novel.

Did I make a mistake? Oh yeah—a full set of them. But would I wish away my great English adventure?

Not a chance.



Blogger Christine Ahern said...

God, how I love this story! And it did make a great novel. Of which this is a very entertaining abreviation.

October 15, 2010 at 4:40 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks, Christine. I hope some day an agent will think so, too. Sigh. Maybe I should make the staff into zombies?

October 15, 2010 at 4:49 PM  
Blogger Piedmont Writer said...

I've got a similar adventure story which is non-related to writing, but it would make a great book as well. Someday I'll write it out and share it with you. You went across the pond, I went to the wild wild west.

October 16, 2010 at 4:36 AM  
Blogger Emily Cross said...

wow. I really admire your bravery to just up and leave your life and just go for it!

You should let me know what your previous books are! Loved to read them!

October 16, 2010 at 6:48 AM  
Blogger Florence said...

Anne, a great post. It is the reason why we should never spend time with regrets. What use are they? They block out the wonderful experiences we have. The mistakes, the disasters and the things we think we should never have done are part of our collective memory and speak volumes of who we are today.

Thanks for sharing.

October 16, 2010 at 6:58 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Emily, you can still buy my books (used) at amazon.co.uk. Put "Anne Allen Food of Love" or "Anne Allen The Best Revenge" in the search window, or click through the links on my "more about me" page. My publishers didn't want to use my middle initial because of the way it looked on the cover, but it means my books are pretty hard to find with a search. It's like searching for a book by "John Smith."

October 16, 2010 at 10:32 AM  
Blogger Jan Markley said...

That's quite the story of the 'glamorous' life of a writer!

October 16, 2010 at 9:22 PM  
Blogger Sierra Godfrey said...

I absolutely LOVE this story. First, I love hearing more about YOU (you may be humble but I think everyone wants to know more about the fabulous Anne!), but also this is just a great story. Thanks for sharing it!

October 18, 2010 at 10:23 AM  

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