Story machine, manuscripts, etc

We begin with a little inspiration: the Mathematician demonstrates that with hard work, determination and a dose of crazy enthusiasm, you can indeed get to the top.

So here we go with the Story Machine workshop and my first ever I-read-your- work-and- give- you- feedback contest. Anybody have a suggestion for a pithier name? There has got to be one.

And of course, the pile o’ stuff giveaways, one for each day of the workshop. Every time you comment on a given workshop post, you will be entered into the drawing for that day.

To make things a little more interesting, I will draw the winner for each of the four workshop days at the same time I draw the winner of the I-read-your-work-and-give-you-feedback contest. All this pulling of names will happen on Sunday, which gives people time to think things through and comment.

Now, the rules for the I-read-your-work-and-give-you-feedback contest. If you would like to jump in, this is how you do it:

Anybody who

1. leaves a comment to this post stating that they’d like to be in the draw for the I-read-your-work-and-give-you-feedback contest, AND

2. leaves at least one comment to some other part of the workshop posts

will be entered into the drawing.
We clear so far?

On Sunday, after I draw the four pile o’ stuff winners, I’ll draw a name at random from those who have signed up. Within three months, the person whose name I draw will send me a piece of fiction, which he or she authored, and I will read that manuscript and provide my feedback via email.

Here are the conditions. Please don’t put your name in the hat unless you agree to all of them.

1. The manuscript or the part of a manuscript submitted to me must be your own work.
2. It may not be longer than 8,000 words (that would be about forty double-spaced pages).
3. The manuscript must be emailed to me. Specifics to be discussed after the drawing.
4. I am happy to read any kind of fiction — any genre, any approach — but I cannot provide commentary on non-fiction, children’s fiction or poetry.
5. I will make suggestions (which you are free to ignore, or act on); I will not rewrite any part of your manuscript.
Pleasemention6. Within two weeks I will email you feedback on craft issues (structure, pacing, characterization, dialog, prose, theme) — both what works and what (in my opinion) needs work. Of course, this is my subjective stance on what you submit. It is also informed by twenty years of publishing and editing, so the aim is that it be useful and constructive, but no miracles are forthcoming.
7. I cannot guarantee that the work you submit will ever be published or that you’ll find an agent. I can’t be held responsible in any way if your work doesn’t receive the recognition or reception you hoped for.
8. No money or goods exchange hands; I provide this service at no cost to you, for participating in the Story Machine workshop this week.
9. The agreement is that I provide feedback once. I can’t read the manuscript again after you have revised it. Not if you want me to ever finish another novel.
10. You have to agree not to worry yourself into an ulcer between the time you email me your manuscript and you get comments back from me. I’m a very careful and respectful reader, okay? I’m not going to be mean or condescending. That’s not the way I work.

A note: I can guarantee that your work and my feedback on your work will never be made public in any way. Your privacy is as important to me as my own.

So, if you’d like me to provide some feedback on your work, and you agree to the conditions stated here, please leave a comment that includes a valid email address. In your comment, you must also include this sentence (which you can copy and paste):

I have read the instructions and rules for this contest and should my name be drawn, I agree and vow (pinky swear) to abide by every single one of them. I also understand that I reserve Rosina reserves* the right to stop the contest if it is not functioning according to plan, or in the case of emergency.

Final note: if you have a question about this I-read-your-work-and-give-you-feedback contest, do not put them in a comment to this post. I will have to delete any such comments. Only comment here if you are entering the contest.

If you have questions or need clarification, please email me:

The tossing of hats may commence.

*My bad. If you already commented, don’t worry about this. I’ll fix it.

fatal or fatalism

Odd things going on today in my head. Some of that has to do with Book Six (why oh why did I think I could write a sixth novel in this series? and why did nobody STOP me from signing the contract?); some of it has to do with the trade paperback release of Tied to the Tracks


and the sinking feeling I’ve got that there will be no marketing for this book other than what I can cobble together in my amateurish way. Which is not unexpected — every other midlist author out there is in the same boat — but it’s still discouraging.

When Homestead came out in hardcover with a teeny tiny little press, I fully expected it to sink quietly into oblivion. A novel in an unusual format about women in rural Austria a hundred years ago, doom and gloom on every page… no surprise if it didn’t even make a blip on the radar. I was still proud of it, but I didn’t have any expectations.

But in the odd way the universe has of screwing with expectations, Homestead won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. I found myself flying places to talk about it. I was standing near Margaret Atwood at the Orange Prize ceremony because we both had books shortlisted. Never, ever would I have imagined such a thing happening when Homestead sold to Delphinium Press.

There was no marketing budget for Homestead. Somehow it was in the right place at the right time, the indies took it under wing, and it began to roll downhill.

A lot more energy was put into Into the Wilderness by Bantam, and it did better than I expected. It is still in print. I don’t know about the sales figures because I just refuse to look at them. I know my own weaknesses, and obsessing about numbers I can’t control is a big one. I do know one thing: it paid out the advance. I don’t know if that’s true for the other books in the series.

I think it’s fair to say that I’m standing at a kind of crossroads in my career as a novelist. Pajama Girls is in production; I’m working on Book Six. Beyond that I have no contracts. Nor am I actively looking for any at this point, because on paper I don’t look like a great bet. TTTT did modestly in hardcover. If it does better in trade paper (please dog), and if Pajama Girls does well, at that point I’d have some bargaining power — or better said, my agent would.

At this moment it could go either way. In a year’s time I might be looking at going back to the traditional workforce and writing in my spare time.


If you look back at the early entries in the original weblog you’ll see that I have always been keenly aware that this ride could end before I was ready to get off. I’m doing what I can to promote the work so that it has a chance of finding a readership, but there are hundreds of novelists out there doing the exact same things I am. Some of them have written better novels, or novels with a more popular theme. Some of them will do something in terms of marketing that goes viral, and then the lack of publisher support won’t be as important.

At the end of the day, I can look at the novels I’ve got out there and be satisfied. Some of them I like more than others, but I’m proud of all of them. Maybe things will start to roll and ten years from now I’ll still be going strong. Maybe not. In either case, I have no regrets.

Library Journal review

Jeanne alerted me to the Library Journal review for Queen of Swords, which had somehow slipped by unnoted. Here it is:

Library Journal

The latest volume in Donati’s popular Bonner family series opens where Fire Along the Sky (2004) left off, with Luke Bonner’s wife, Jennet, a captive of a renegade priest in the Caribbean. Luke and his half-sister, Hannah, rescue Jennet, but soon realize that she had to give up her newborn son, named Nathan after his grandfather, to keep him safe. The Bonners track Nathan to New Orleans, where he has been adopted by the matriarch of a prominent Creole family and her profligate grandson. Finding Nathan isn’t difficult, but keeping him and avoiding the ire of the Poiterin family is, and the Bonners soon find themselves caught up in the wartime politics of 1814 New Orleans. As with the previous books in the series, Donati treats her characters with sensitivity and does not shy away from tackling thorny themes, such as racial relations between Native Americans and whites during the early 18th century. This fast-paced, engaging book is sure to draw in readers. Highly recommended. Nanette Donohue, Champaign P.L., IL

I’ll take a ‘highly recommended’ any day — and with a smile. However, I have to point out that there are a few factual innacuracies here. Anybody pick them out? If so, please post a comment.

Which means: WARNING. Possible spoilers in the comments.

real people =/ fictional characters

There’s a very nice reader review of Tied to the Tracks up at Amazon, and in it is a question:

I don’t need to go in to the details of the story since the other reviewers have done such a good job, but I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the story. As a big fan of Deborah Smith (who wrote A Place To Call Home, and many others) I had high expectations, and Rosina Lippi didn’t disappoint. From reading the authors blog I know she had a career in academia so my one burning question is, who was the secretary modeled after?

This question is particularly relevant because the relationship between real people and fictional characters is a strong theme in the novel itself. There’s an ongoing discussion of Miss Zula’s habit of writing people she knows into her novels. There’s even a verb: My daddy was buttoned by Miss Zula. Another character claims that the residents of Ogilvie read her novels primarily to see who gets buttoned.

You’ll note, though, that Miss Zula never participates in these debates. Whether or not Button Ogilvie was in fact the basis for a character in one of her novels — to that she has nothing to say.

There are a couple reasons an author will keep out of such discussions. First, it’s just fun to listen to the debate. People with strong opinions about a novel you wrote, who get into arguments about them — that’s a huge payoff. To write a novel that arouses such emotion and interest in readers, that’s a sign that you did good.

Another reason not to answer questions about character inspirations: It’s one thing to use a novel to get back at somebody (not me, never me, nope, unuh, I don’t go there), and it’s a whole other other to find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit. Or a hysterical accusation thrown across (say) a crowded restaurant.

Finally, sometimes people see a connection where there is none, and they are so committed to their own vision that they won’t listen even if you break silence to dissuade them from their erroneous assumptions. So it’s better not to get involved in such discussions in the first place.

So for the record, I will repeat: with .75 exceptions (which I will note below), I didn’t base any of the TTTT characters on real people. Patty-Cake is a force unto herself, and has nothing, absolutely not one thing to do with any of the fine secretaries and office people I have known in the course of my academic career. Every one of them a diamond, a peach, a selfless, non manipulative, self possessed humanitarian.

We clear on this?

The .10 exception: Miss Zula does have a few small traits in common with various Southern women authors of the last one hundred years, but only very tangentially.

The .65 exception: Tony Russo, on the other hand, is vaguely based on my cousin Tommy V. Not in terms of his job or family, but personality? Yes. Anybody who knows Tom will have no doubt that the wisecracking guy from Hoboken with a flair for the visual arts and a strong interest in the opposite sex is him. Tony is my small tribute to Tom, who always makes me laugh.

The bigger question — where characters come from — is something I want to talk about in more detail in the next couple days.