While 2009 lolls on the end of the couch — dribbling and wheezing and farting, with barely enough energy to waggle its fat, greasy fingers at me — 2010 is already rubbing up against my leg, putting its scent on me, giving me the Bambi eyes, hoping I’ll take good care of it and not allow it to be all bloated and ignored like that stinky-ass ’09.

They’re so darn cute, these new years. They have to be or we’d never pay attention to them. We’d simply ignore their imploring looks, turn our backs on any significance they might be inclined to bring to our lives, and just carry on — another month-week-day, another debt, another sleep closer to the Big Sleep, when six friends will shove our mortal remains into the yawning maw of a big, black sedan.

I had great hopes for 2009, before it all went pear-shaped, before it all turned to custard. But then, I always have great hopes when the big hand meets the little hand at 12 on Dec. 31. That whole thing about one door closing meaning another, newer, shinier one is opening. The feeling usually lasts until about 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1 but, believe me, it’s good while it lasts. Short and sweet — that’s Planet Man all over.

I tend to make the same resolutions year after year, and then never lose an ounce nor win a lottery.

But 2010 is going to be different; I can feel it in my bones. Either that, or it’s going to rain.

For starters, I’m actually employed as January arrives, and that hasn’t always been the case. And I’m healthy and some people actually sorta put up with me, so it’s all good to go.

In the spirit of the upcoming event, I’ve put together a short list of things I’d like to accomplish in 2010 and, no, deleting this blog is not one of them (nice try!).

* I want to follow the example of my bestest new friend, newtowritinggirl.com, and try to write each and every day. And by write, I mean work on all those novels whose titles and first paragraphs lie scattered across my Desktop like so many balled-up pieces of A4.

I’ve joined a new virtual writing group to help me meet that goal and improve my chances of being published. This after leaving both Authonomy and You Write On when they turned out to be little more than pissing contests and stroke parties.

* I’d like to do more travel writing, starting with a return to Tahiti. Tourisme Tahiti pretty much promised me another visit this year after I missed out on a lagoon cruise in 2008. As well, there are still a number of places in this beautiful country (New Zealand, for first-time readers) to explore and write about.

* I want to expand my photography skills, starting with learning how to put a watermark on my photos so no one accidentally “borrows” them. There are a number of websites featuring people who take at least one photo every single day and I may try doing the same, although you might get sick of seeing the weeds in my back yard or my feet or the neighbour’s cat on a daily basis. (Note: What you won’t be seeing are any photos of Viking Woman from the back. I learned that painful lesson years ago and have no desire to repeat the experience.)

* I will continue to read Review 2 A Kill (review2akill.com) on a regular basis. I want to know what my daughter and her friends think about life and all its wonders. These talented and exciting people belong to the generation behind mine and whose hard-earned tax dollars will soon keep me in Depends.

* I will continue to be cheeky and irreverent and sarcastic because, hey, consistency is my middle name (I had weird parents).

If you want cold, hard facts and big, bold opinions, you can go now. But if you simply desire to be entertained, then sit yourself down, my dears, because have I a story to tell you. It all started in the year 2010 . . .

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BG coverGraham Beattie is an important man in the New Zealand publishing world. I know because he told me. He is so important, in fact, that, despite a request from a close personal friend, he was still far, far too busy to offer me more than a few stale crumbs of advice from his table of publishing experience.

Beattie did manage to take five seconds out of his hectic schedule to suggest I contact the New Zealand-based TFS Literary Agency. I did just that, sending a query letter to someone named Chris Else on June 22. Included in that letter was the entire text of the wonderful, magnificent, ego-pumping review Brown Girls received from Working Girl Reviews. Nothing like glowing comments from a neutral source to cause a literary agent to sit up and salivate.

Yeah, right.

Skip ahead 43 days to Aug. 5. Yes, that is more than six weeks later and, oh look, still no contact from Else or anyone, um, else at TFS to a query that takes 129 seconds to read. I know because I timed it.

Aug. 4: I send a short e-mail to Mr. Else asking — ever so politely — if he ever did receive my query and, if so, would he mind sparing 129 seconds to peruse it.

Aug. 5: In what can only be considered a strange coincidence, Mr. Else writes back the very next day after my e-nudge. To his credit, he apologizes for not contacting me earlier. But now he has concerns about the review I included with my query. Does this mean Brown Girls has already been published?

Aug. 6: Not so anybody noticed.

Aug. 6: Another e-mail from Mr. Else: Have I approached any other publishers or agents with Brown Girls?

Aug. 6: No.

Aug. 7: In that case, he asks, can I flick him the first 10,000 words.

Aug. 7: I can’t hit Send fast enough.

Aug. 19: This time, it only takes Mr. Else 12 days to write back:

Hi John

Thanks for the opportunity to look at Brown Girls. It’s good but I fear it isn’t good enough for us to want to take it on. The problem, in brief, is that a number of the characters, including your main character seem a bit cliched. Plus, I think we would have a much better chance of selling it in NZ if the main character were a (sic) NZer and not an American. Sorry.

Chris

Funnily enough, Mr. Else’s e-rejection arrived the very same day I received this comment from a member of authonomy.com:

Your writing is short, fast, and precise. The vivid imagery is amazing. “yellow fangs. greasy slobber.” “400 pounds of fat and sweat.” This is really, really good writing. (John R. Lindensmith, authonony.com)

Which, strangely enough, came after these comments:

The writing in this is deliciously taut. All the characterisation is good, minor as well as main. The MC (main character) is a bit of a hackneyed photo-journalist meets ’tec, but you infuse him with a back story of his novel and some mystery about his manhood that works to get over that. (Marc Nash, youwriteon.com)

. . . this is extremely good, very polished, writing. It feels complete to me as a reader. The plot’s good, and it slowly builds up intensity. There’s a real feeling of being there amongst the action. (Charlie Chuck, authonomy.com)

You set up the conflict – both social/political and personal very quickly, giving this pace and intrigue. Brilliant. (Elinor Evans, authonomy.com)

Five comments from five different people, four of whom are wannabe writers who are also voracious readers. In other words, the kind of people who actually buy books, thus providing agents like Mr. Else with their mortgage payments, courtesy of author commissions.

Five people. Four positive reviews. So who, exactly, has their head up their ass when it comes to assessing Brown Girls? Yeah, I thought so.

I pointed this out to Mr. Else (the difference of opinion; not the head/ass part) when I wrote back to thank him for taking a look at my writing sample.

I really wasn’t expecting a reply but, again to his credit, Mr. Else did reply:

Hi John

It’s not what I think so much as what I think potential publishers would think, which, of course, is certainly not what a potential reader would necessarily think. There’s nothing to stop you trying a few NZ publishers direct. There is not necessity to work through an agent in this marketplace.

Best

Chris

What I didn’t bother pointing out to Mr. Else was that it would take very little effort on my behalf to change the main character from an American to a Kiwi. As it is, I’ve already changed Jack once, because he started out as a Canadian.

But Mr. Else has already made up his mind and so I’m letting this one go. Because it will only turn into a pissing contest and no one wins those.

It’s just too bad they’re pissing on me.


I was thisclose to packing it in. To placing my MacBook in a sack of rocks and dropping it off the wharf at the Ahuriri Marina.

I had once taken joy in writing. Hell, I’d once made my living by writing, in the glory days before newspapers started hemorrhaging money and journalists.

These days, I sit my unemployed ass down in front of my computer and question the wisdom of wasting good electricity on bad ideas.

As a novelist, I’d hit a wall. A huge, hard, intimidating expanse that impeded any forward momentum.

Having grown weary of banging my head against the closed doors behind which black-hearted literary agents sit snickering, I’d edited my book, Brown Girls, for the umpteenth time and posted it on Smashwords, where it is available for sale in several different ebook formats (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1937).

There it sat, glory shining from every polished word, on the Smashwords home page. For about three seconds. Until the next 7,000 wannabe authors did the exact same thing as me — posting their deathless prose, submitting their mailing address and then sinking into the nearest chair with a view of the mailbox to await the arrival of the postman bearing a huge sack of royalty cheques.

In the meantime, to garner more attention (because writers are expected to not only supply their own PR drums but to bang them as well), I joined the Authonomy website (authonomy.com), which, to date, has turned out to be nothing more than the slush pile for HarperCollins (and, yes, I am now naming names after being discreet in Publish or Die! Part 8). The site is basically a popularity contest where the best way to move up the rankings is to play nice with others and hope they reciprocate. And where every Forum features one more writer admitting they have two chances of actually being published by HR: zero and none.

At one writer’s suggestion, I also joined youwriteon.com, which is more of a blind taste test — the samples you are asked to review are generated randomly and you have no idea who is going to be looking at your work, so you can’t cajole them into saying something nice. That all sounds a bit fairer except . . . except to date I have handed in six reviews and have only received one in return.

That’s the bad thing about being between jobs — everyone assumes you have plenty of time to waste.

What I should be doing with that time — rather than trying to say something (anything!) positive about the drivel I’ve encountered at both review sites — is writing. I’m about a third of the way finished with the sequel to Brown Girls. I’ve got at least four other books percolating in my brain. I have a completed novel from 12 years ago that is begging to be dusted off and loved again.

And then I hit that wall. That great, soul-sucking vortex of frustration where you could search in vain forever for a single crumb of encouragement.

Smashwords certainly wasn’t supplying it — I posted Brown Girls on May 17. To date, I have sold one (1) copy. I have earned $4.69. Yes, that is in US funds. Yes, that is $7.24 NZ. No, I do not feel any better.

The darkness was nearly complete. I was closing my MacBook and eying the stones in our yard.

And then . . .

And then a young lady calling herself newtowritinggirl happened.

We’re not exactly strangers, her and I. She is, in fact, the owner of the only ebook copy of Brown Girls ever sold. But buying something and liking it can be two different things.

Fortunately for my ego — and my MacBook and any sea critters in Ahuriri Harbour — newtowritinggirl appears to have enjoyed her adventures with Jack Nolan and Nurse Heather and Maina.

She sent this comment to my blog page: “I read it. I loved it. I will rave about it to anyone that listens!”

She posted this entry on her own blog (newtowritinggirl.wordpress.com):

The book was Brown Girls by John Wesley Ireland.  I read a review of it at Workinggirlreviews and had to read it from this.  I don’t know if it was the setting of the novel, the plot or the review, but I knew I had to read it.  Smashwords give you the first 20% free, a very good idea – especially in this case.  Ireland couldn’t have timed it better if he tried.  The last page of the 20% left you on  a cliff hanger.  I had to buy it to find out more.  HAD TO.  I’m very glad I did, it was great. I’ll do a full review of it when I have a little more time.

Today I am feeling better about life. Today, I am friends again with my computer. Today, I want to return to the Cook Islands, or Gisborne or New York state or Greece or B.C. — to wherever my next book is  set.

Today, I am a writer again.

Thanks, newtowritinggirl. Thanks for the puff of oxygen you breathed onto the dying embers of my creativity.

Should we ever meet, dinner’s on me. Anything you want.

Just as long as it doesn’t cost any more than $4.69 US.