Where I spray-paint my thoughts…


Reflections on Success

It’s the end of another year. Maybe — depending on whom you ask — it’s the end of a decade. It’s certainly a moment to look backward in reflection and forward in anticipation.

Ten years ago, in December 2009, I posted the following video blog, reflecting about the fairly successful writing year I’d had in 2009. It’s about how, as writers, we are constantly moving the goalposts, creating new definitions of success so that we never feel like we’ve really achieved our goals.

As I re-watch this now, I think two things. I think:

  1. “That really is the problem, isn’t it? It’s so hard to just enjoy the successes you’ve achieved without constantly beating yourself up over what you didn’t accomplish, or still could.”
  2. “Where is that red sweater now? I really liked that for wearing at Christmas time. Did I give it away?”

But some things have changed for me in 10 years, besides losing or possibly giving away a perfectly good Christmas sweater. Personal things have changed, of course — our two kids have grown up, my mom has passed away, our dog died and we got a new dog. I tried quitting my day job for a semester to focus on writing, and loved the time off but realized that financially, I’m not ready to do that on a long-term basis yet (the aforementioned two kids still being in college has something to do with that) and I’m lucky to have a day job to go back to that I love (still the same one I had in 2009).

One of the biggest changes, though, has been in my approach to writing and to success. And I think it all began with a blog post I wrote about a duck. That was back in 2012, and I was thinking a lot about what constitutes “success” for me as a writer. Is it enough to be a medium-sized duck paddling about in a small puddle (my puddle being the local literary scene) or did I want to strive for the Big Pond (national and international fame and success!) and risk getting hit by a car crossing the road on the way there?

I maybe straining the duck analogy here, but such were my thoughts in 2012.

In 2015, I turned 50. And I thought a lot, that year, about what it means to be a 50-year-old writer, about being more than half a lifetime past the age at which anyone could be pleasantly surprised by my early success, about how I wanted to spend my time and energies in the remaining years of my writing life (which I hope will continue into, like, at least my 70s, but you never know, do you?).

I made a very conscious decision back in 2015, which I didn’t talk a whole lot about at the time but which grew out of that “never satisfied” video from 2009 and the duck blog post from 2012 and many other similar thoughts. It was this: I wanted to focus on being the best duck I could be in my little pond. By 2015 I had three books of local historical fiction published with regional press Breakwater Books. My career writing inspirational fiction with a Christian press was behind me (because of changes at that press: they were no longer publishing the kinds of things I wrote, and anyway I had written most of those stories that I had good ideas for, so I was OK with moving on). I had put a lot of time and energy into querying agents, etc., and trying to get a wider, more mainstream market for my books, but nothing clicked. There was no magic moment where I could say “And that, kids, was when I found success, which just proves you should never give up!!” 

I’ve heard a lot of writers say things like that, but only when their story ends with a major bestseller and usually a movie deal as well. And what I realize the year I turned 50 was: not every writer’s story is going to end that way. Most of us — including me — are going to have middling levels of success, and are either going to learn to be content with that, or beat ourselves out trying for something bigger.

At 50, I decided I was going to be in the “content” category. Of all the decisions I made in the decade of the 20-teens, this is the one that’s been the biggest game-changer and brought me the most happiness.

Who I am? I’m a writer who writes historical fiction based in, published in, and mostly read in Newfoundland and Labrador. My fifth novel with Breakwater Books, A Roll of the Bones, came out this fall. It’s the first in a planned trilogy, which is something new and exciting for me, and already in the two months it’s been on bookshelves, people have been telling me they’re reading and loving it.

I’m still exploring other types of writing, other pathways, as well. Twice this decade, when I’ve had a story to tell that didn’t fit into the “NL historical fiction” category, I’ve self-published a book: What You Want in 2015 and Prone to Wander in 2019. I love both those novels and I’ve learned a lot from self-publishing them, and I haven’t ruled out the possibility of self-publishing again when I have another story that seems like it would fit that niche.

I set a goal for myself in 2019 to learn to write plays, because I’ve always loved the theatre and never written for it. I took a wonderful class from Robert Chafe (Newfoundland’s greatest living playwright and a brilliant teacher) and wrote a very short play that, combined with pieces by two of my friends, found a home in the St. John’s Short Play Festival this year. And yes, I’m writing more plays in 2020!

So I am happy, and busy, and stretching my limits and trying new things. What I’m not doing is querying agents anymore, or trying to figure out how to “make it big.” As far as is humanly possible, I’ve stopped agonizing over why someone else’s book is selling better than mine, or why they got nominated for an award I didn’t. While that spark of discontent is deep in the writer’s nature and I’ll probably never entirely stamp it out, I feel very differently about these things than I did when I made that video in 2009. I believe I’ve defined what I want “success” to look like within my own writing career, and that’s the definition I’m striving to reach. It may not involve Giller Prizes and international best-seller lists. It involves visiting a lot of local book clubs and hearing readers say, “I loved this book!” a lot. Most important, it’s my own definition of success and it’s working for me.

As you embark into the 2020s, I hope you are crafting your own definitions of success and moving, even with baby steps, towards them.

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Tourist of the Past

I’ve been in England for almost three weeks. I’m heading home tomorrow. Jason was with me for the first 10 days, while we were tourists in London, and since then I’ve been on my own in Bristol, exploring the city where the first seven chapters of my work-in-progress A Roll of the Bones is set.

Problem is, the book is set there in 1610, and I could only visit in 2018.

I would, of course, love actual time travel if it came with a guaranteed return ticket (no way am I getting permanently stuck in a world without flush toilets, hot showers, or chocolate bars). But until that technology exits, the struggle for the writer of historical fiction remains: you can never really visit the places your stories are set, because those places exist only in the past.

If it’s the recent past (as with several of my Newfoundland historical novels) you can at least talk to people who lived at that time, look at old photographs, listen to stories. But going farther back — say, to the early 17th century, as I’m doing with A Roll of the Bones — there’s no-one left alive who remembers it, and no photographs. Some descriptions in very, very old texts. A few maps. But no way to get back there.

So all the while I’ve been researching this book, especially while in England, I’ve been poking at the edges of the past. That might mean spending time in recreated 16th and 17th century kitchens, whether that’s the kitchen of a palace …

 … or of a labourer’s cottage:

It’s also meant watching modern stonemasons at work on repairs to a cathedral, using tools very similar to those that would have been used 400 years ago:
And it’s meant standing on the deck of a replica ship, imagining how it would have felt with the sails unfurled, pulling away from Bristol’s docks down the Avon river to the sea and then across the ocean to an unimaginable new world:

Fortunately, there are many places dotted around England (and Wales, where I visited the wonderful National Museum at St. Fagan’s) where you can explore little bits and pieces of the past. And Bristol itself, while very much a twenty-first century, still retains some of the cobbled streets, old buildings, and other bits and pieces that allow you to step through a gate into — not the past, exactly, but a place where you can briefly imagine you’re there.


Quote Unquote

Several years ago, on this very blog, I wrote an angry rant about the trend of literary fiction writers dropping the use of quotation marks. In the years since, I still haven’t embraced the trend, but I’m maybe a little less angry. I decided to use my latest Shelf Esteem video to explore this phenomenon and see how widespread it really is. It does get a bit angry at one point, but only at Cormac McCarthy.


7 Reasons Why This Traditionally-Published Author is Releasing a Self-Published Novel. Number Four Will Blow Your Mind!

This summer, I’ll be releasing my novel What You Want, a work of contemporary fiction about three unlikely friends on a road trip, as a self-published e-book. There’ll be a paperback release later, probably sometime in the fall.

What would convince me, as a writer in mid-career who has had 23 books published by traditional publishers, to self-publish a novel? You’ll be amazed by the answers!!

1. I have run out places to spend or store the piles of cash I made from traditional publishing.
As we all know, there’s a TON of money in traditional publishing. Authors can make as much as one or even two dollars for every copy of a book sold, and with small publishers like the ones I’ve worked with, that can run into three and even four digits! It’s just not fair for one human to have so much wealth at her fingertips.

2. I need a break from the paparazzi.
The book trade is glamorous but exhausting. I’m sure you’ve all read blog posts and tweets from your favourite authors complaining about how tiring it was when they went on that nine-city book tour and had to be up at five to do morning television and come back to the hotel room and ice their hand after signing 3000 books in two hours. I myself have gone on tour to locations as exotic as Mount Pearl and even Conception Bay South. I have spoken to groups of up to sixteen people and signed as many as five books in an afternoon. A gal needs a break from that kind of adoration.

3. Matt Damon is bugging me to know if he can star in the movie adaptation.
We all know that some writers have achieved mind-blowing success with books that started out as self-published works. Let’s take E.L. James for example. Wait, no, let’s not. Let’s take Andy Weir, whose book The Martian, originally self-pubbed online, not only became a bestseller when it was picked up by a traditional publisher, but is now being made into a movie starring MATT DAMON. MY MOVIE BOYFRIEND. So apparently, self-publishing a book will lead directly to me meeting Matt Damon. I can’t draw any other conclusion, can you?

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So, I kind of fell down on posting the Women’s Suffrage Trivia Questions here on the blog. I ended up posting five photos with trivia questions on Facebook, and had many readers playing along there, but I fell behind here on the blog. It turned out that having your new book come out the same week that you start teaching classes at school is … kind of a lot to have happening. And now that we’re into the third week of school, and the book is more-or-less out there (still on its way to some bookstore shelves), things are still, well, kind of hectic. But the main thing is, the book is out there. Ish. And I apolog-ish for letting the blog fall a few days behind, but I did have a contest winner, and Edwina now has her free copy of the book, and I’m hoping a lot more people will be reading and enjoying copies of it very soon.

I’ll post book-related updates here as I’m able, but an even better place to look is on my official website, www.trudymorgancole.com . If you click on “Events” you’ll find out when and where I’m reading from and signing the novel, and I’ll post links to reviews and interviews under the “Press” tab. I’ve also created this page which has links to a lot of information about the historical background of A Sudden Sun, so you can check that out too!


Women’s Suffrage Trivia, Day Two


Here’s today’s WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE TRIVIA QUESTION (I can’t really call this a Fun Fact):

NAME THIS FAMOUS SUFFRAGIST! She is probably best known for the circumstances of her death in 1913, when she stepped in front of the King’s horse at Epson Derby, sustaining injuries that led to her death four days later. The reasons why she did this have been debated for, well, a century now, but the consensus seems to be that she was attempting to disrupt the event and draw attention to her cause — possibly by throwing a “Votes for Women” sash around the horse’s neck, though this theory, like everything else about the incident, is controversial.