This week, as promised, Writer’s Wednesday explores the careers and writing paths of two different Australian author’s.
Wendy Waters, author of Catch the Moon, Mary, is not only a writer, she is also an award winning composer, lyricist, and librettist. Her latest work wonderfully combines both her love of music and writing.
AB: Thank you Ms. Waters for allowing us to interview you for this week’s segment of Writer’s Wednesday.I see that you have a vast musical background and you’ve spent time volunteering with musically gifted children. Did these experiences have an influence on your story? What other life experiences have led to the stories you write and/or enjoy reading?
WW: Thank you for acknowledging the music! Music is probably my religion and certainly my drug of choice. That a good bottle of red! Whenever I’ve needed calm and reassurance, a song or piece of music has had the power to transcend my temporary loss of faith and realign my soul to that vast Otherness where perspective and hope find balance.
Music is a universal language requiring no translation, validating a unique interpretation. It is the one language that unites us all in response. An important message reaches into the soul and heart through the medium of music more readily than a verbal or even written delivery. Music demands emotional involvement from the listener and can unlock long-held hurt and pain, things we can only face under the hypnotic influence of music’s regenerative vibration.
I did volunteer with Oasis and had the joy of supporting many homeless young people whose musical gifts were their only pathway to healing. Many of them had been sexually and emotionally abused. In that situation the focus is the future because the past has nothing but pain to offer. If they wanted to talk about the past I would certainly listen, pain and anger must be acknowledged but I never let them leave the Center without challenging them musically. By that I mean, if the person was a brilliant pianist I challenged them to compose a piece of music on the spot. If the person was a singer I made them sing something outside of their comfort zone. The healing implicit in challenge can never be under-estimated. When they faced their challenge head-on and gave it a shot I noticed a change in their demeanor. Their eyes brightened, they smiled and our conversation became more positive.
Having accomplished something inspired feelings of self-worth that gave rise to seeds of ambition, hope, purpose and sometimes we were able to work on a game-plan for a very different future. My own challenge then was keeping those goals in place. People who have to struggle through life without families to fall back on or friends they can trust find their strength within and it’s very important when your paths cross that you become inflexibly positive about their ability to construct a more rewarding life all alone. People who can trust no-one must learn to trust themselves and the fastest way to do that is to find out that you can meet a challenge.
Too many people create victims by drowning them in sympathy and sentimentality. To say to someone who has lost everything “I believe in you and I know you can do this” is the most powerful affirmation you can offer. To say “Oh you poor darling, how you have suffered” is to keep them stuck in despair.
AB: This is incredible work. Your passion for your music and for the children are very apparent. This passion really crosses over to your writing. Of your published work, which book or written pieces have proved to be most successful?
WW: My short story Fields of Grace, which won the WW/Penguin Short Story Contest in 2007 was probably the most universally popular thing I’ve written. Nearly everybody found something in it that resonated.
The other published piece was a humorous poem I wrote called The Wife of Lance Allot, a parody of The Lady of Shallot. It came second the Wergle Flomp Humorous Poetry Contest 2010 run by Winning Writers https://winningwriters.com and loads of people thought it was hilarious. Some didn’t get it all!
A short story called Zabadiah published by Foliate Oak Literary Magazine 2010 www.foliateoak.com also had lots of positive feedback and then of course we come to Catch The Moon, Mary, published by Linen Press UK https://www.linen-press.com in 2015. It’s had a very mixed response. Some people find it very challenging and difficult to get through, others have raved about it.
AB: You are a very busy person. You are musically talented, you volunteer, and you’re a published author. These are some remarkable achievements. Many new writers have careers, families, and are trying to publish their own stories. For new authors, what are the pros and cons of self-publishing versus using a publisher?
WW: No matter which way you go never settle for second best. Writing is a calling. It’s hard work, often thankless and demanding, it brings out your best and your worst, it requires/demands years of dedication and incessant rejection and the right WORD is elusive at best, a trickster at worst. It tests your character and your spirit and when finally after multiple drafts your story still doesn’t quite hang together you feel cheated out of the life you might have enjoyed had you not been stuck behind your desk writing! And yet, if you’ve got the right stuff you’ll go back to the page and redraft until the story begins to cohere. At that point you may consider testing the publishing waters by submitting to houses open to unsolicited mss (manuscripts). Please DON’T.
Please get a professional assessment and take notice of her/his advice. Polish your ms (manuscript) again and then ask some readers to give you their honest opinion. Then carefully consider their feedback and polish your ms AGAIN. Then and only then are you ready to submit to publishers. It’s called respect. Respect for your work and respect for yourself. You’ve done the hard yards. You’ve offered only your very best work and you’ve risked the purely subjective opinions of publishers who will almost certainly reject your ms. Famous writers have tales of myriad rejections, enough to paper bathroom walls. You will also start to hear opinions about your writing and at that point you need to be solid enough about your voice to either take them on board or dismiss them.
Again many famous authors have been told they had no talent and many appallingly bad authors have been assured of their genius. Time and readers are ultimately the only measure of either. I pitched my book Catch the Moon, Mary for seven years before I found a publisher. I chose not to self-publish because I wanted the gate-keeper editor who would further knock my story into shape. I was lucky in Lynn Michell as she is one of the world’s best editors and mine is a very unusual story in need of a sympathetic editor.
My MS was in very good shape when Lynn got it but she improved it dramatically. For me, that was worth the seven year wait. Having said that many authors are self-publishing with great results and finding a loyal readership. All I would say is make sure you offer the world your very best work whichever route you choose.
AB: That is very solid advice. I personally agree with your statement referring to, “Respect for your work and respect for yourself.” In your own opinion, when using a publisher, do new authors need an agent?
WW: Agents have a role to play. But sometimes getting an agent is as difficult as getting a publisher. I’ve had very bad luck with agents and very good luck with publishers. If you have your work assessed and you received a Letter of Recommendation from the assessor as I did you can use it to approach mainstream publishers yourself. I was lucky in that Ali Watts, senior publisher at Penguin/Random House was one of the judges in WW/Penguin Comp and I have her direct email.
She tried very hard to publish another ms of mine Fields of Grace based on the short story in 2009 but the climate in publishing was so bad they weren’t taking any risks on unknown authors. It was Ali’s suggestion I try the UK publishers with both Fields of Grace and Catch The Moon, Mary. Writers can approach publishers directly these days. So strictly speaking you don’t need an agent but if you find a good one, they can be a buffer between you and rejections.
AB: For any book you self-published, where did you find your art? Did you use an artist you located yourself or did you purchase cover art available to authors?
WW: I didn’t self-publish but I was given license to find the cover for my book. I scoured the internet for pictures of angels and finally stumbled upon Des Cannon’s @Anima Fotografie brilliant photograph of an angel statue in a Dublin cemetery. I just loved the play of light and shadow on the serenely beautiful face and I knew I had to have it. Fortunately Lynn agreed. And fortunately Des Cannon was generous enough to allow us to use his exquisite image on the cover of my book.
AB: You were very patient when publishing you work, which I found admirable. Did you use an outside editor for your books? If you did use an editor, did you use more than one? Would you like to give your editing service a shout out for their great services?
WW: I used two assessors, Katherine Hammond and Lainie Jones before I sent the opening chapters to Linen Press and then Lynn Michell did a further edit.
AB: Where did you find trusted, experienced, beta readers, who would give you honest feedback on your book?
WW: I didn’t! I relied on friends and family.
AB: In running, many runners face a wall, where they wish to give up and quit. They have to dig deep and push through the wall. Writers can face some of the same hurdles. To open themselves up completely and reach readers, an author can become emotionally and physically exhausted. Each writer develops a strategy to either keep going or quit. While writing your book, you mention the struggles you faced.
Were there times when you wanted to scrap the entire thing and start over, or not publish the book at all? For new writers, who may also face this wall, what advice do you have for them to push past these feelings?
WW: When you give up on a project you’re giving up on yourself. Bad plan! We all have bad days, bad months, bad years. I think it’s important to release the expectations around your work and write for its own sake. It’s the same in a personal relationship. Too often our happiness depends on the object of our desire, be it a person or a vocation. It’s an unwieldy burden to place on another human being or a project.
If you can separate the feelings of despair and self-loathing from the object of desire and own them it can be a lot easier to leave them at the door when you go to your writing desk to work. I write daily…and without expectations of inspiration or transcendence. I treat my writing as a job for which I show up daily. I work in very disciplined fashion. The ms gets my full attention, regardless of how shitty I feel. I know it’s very hard but do try not to take out your frustrations on your book!
AB: Everyone has something they wish they knew when they started in a new field. If you could share one lesson you learned to avoid or one experience you wish you could re-do to make your writing experience better, what would it be? Feel free to share the experience leading up to the lesson and what made you choose the path you took.
WW: I wish I’d started earlier. I have a great work ethic so there’s nothing I’d change there. All I would say to any newbie is write daily. Doesn’t matter what you write just write.
AB: What work, besides your own, are you reading right now or have you read recently?
WW: I always return to Jeanette Winterson and Paul Gallico. Right now I’m re-reading Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Last night I consumed The Snow Goose, Gallico’s consummate anti-war book.
AB: If you were on a desert island and only allowed one book or other written word, what written word would it be and why?
WW: The complete works of Oscar Wilde because let’s face it Oscar said it ALL!
AB: It’s time to give yourself a shout-out. What would you like your fans to know about you? How can they support you? What would you like your fans to look for on shelves now? Where can they find your work? Is there anything else you would like your fans to know about you?
WW: Well, to both my fans – Dani McFetridge and Susan Pola – just kidding there’s my Mum as well and my daughter…no, seriously the best thing anyone can do for a new author is give them a review on Amazon and tell other people about the book. Also pass the book on if you love it.
Word-of-mouth is still the most effective, sincere and lasting form of marketing. I would like people to know that I also write lyrics and the musical I am currently working on is called The Last Tale, the story of Scheherazade ten years after she told the last of her 1001 Arabian Nights Tales. The brilliant composer on this project is Shanon Whitelock and his interview about our musical is on www.stagewhispers.com.au/reviews/home-grown.
More about my work and my professional musical background can be found at;
Aboutme wendy waters – author, lyricist, librettist | about.me , Linked-In https://au.linkedin.com/pub/dir/Wendy/Waters , and my blog https://catchthemoonmary.wordpress.com/
Lastly, Catch the Moon, Mary has her own page on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/CatchTheMoonMary
WW: Thank you so much for the opportunity to raise awareness about my book!
AB: And thank you, Wendy Waters, for your valuable time and allowing us the opportunity to highlight your work today.
To our readers, thank you for your time and support. Please take the time to support the authors who support you. Take time to read their books, follow them on social media, and of course, share their pages.
As always…be safe, be kind, and always be happy!