As I begin a post about the nature of travel literature / travel writing, I'm listening to Dark Angel by Canada's Blue Rodeo. Into whose dream did you walk? is a line from this song, but also makes me think of certain qualities of travel literature.
I've been reading a lot of Polish WWII history recently, as background reading for my Within This Darkness young adult series. But I've taken a break from the WWII history here and there for some other titles - two of which I'd call classic travel literature: Coming into the Country by John McPhee, and currently The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. I used to read a lot of travel literature in my 20s, and some of those books had a big impact on me at the time. Reading McPhee and Matthiessen recently, I've been reminded of something that always amused me - sometimes travel writers just put down, on paper, the most beautiful prose I've ever seen. No fireworks, no attempts at grandeur, just effortless and elegant writing.
Here is Matthiessen on page 22 of The Snow Leopard:
A luminous mountain morning. Mist and fire smoke, sun shafts and dark ravines: a peak of Annapurna poises on soft clouds. In fresh light, to the peeping of baby chickens, we take breakfast in the village tea house, and are under way well before seven.
Here is McPhee on page 35 of Coming Into the Country:
Last night, in forest, we were close by the sound of rushing water. Sound now has become inverse to the space around us, for we sit in the middle of an immense and almost perfect stillness.
In a way, it's not fair :) This is the kind of sublime writing that should be in novels, and most novelists would be lucky to write this well.
On the other hand - travel writers do have certain advantages over writers of fiction. With fiction, due to the need to tell a story, there's a certain amount of artifice involved. A certain amount of "making stuff up and hoping people find it is interesting" etc.
With travel writing it's just you, your journey, and what your eyes see as you travel through these remote places. And it strikes me that travel writing really lends itself to reflection and self-reflection - not only what I'm seeing, as I travel through the wilds of Alaska (Mcphee), or the mountains of Nepal (Matthiessen), but who am I out here, as an individual human being? and who are we, as humanity, both in the place I am now on my journey, and back "home", wherever I'm from?
I think the best travel writers let you see some remote corner of the world through their eyes, but also, make you feel part of something vast and fragile - this planet of ours, this civilization of ours, this "now" and this "what was before". And the best of them do it, as I mentioned above, in just gorgeous prose.
I've never really written travel literature myself, but for years I wrote a cycling blog (and also a veggie / vegan blog). I suppose my cycling blog was a form of travel writing, and I just remembered this post from the last day of my bike-camping trip in Pennsylvania in 2017. As I was cycling back into Pittsburgh at the end of that very thoughtful, meditative, dream-like solo cycling trip, I was thinking, and would later write, this... and... i guess this passage below, is a good way to end this post:
And so, journey's end.
I should re-read On the Road. See how that epic road trip comes to an end. I think Sal Paradise remembers his friend Dean Moriarty, lost somewhere in the swells and rolls of the prairies and rivers of America.
Dean was Sal's friend, but in some ways a ghost. And I think I was searching for some ghost on my way back into Pittsburgh. Scanning the faces of the cyclists coming by me. Wondering who they were. Perhaps the ghosts in our lives are ones that we need, and so we create them. Haunting us and keeping us company.
The miles rolled by on this trip of mine. And I enjoyed every pedal-stroke.
To everyone I met out there. To everyone whose hand I shook. Safe travels.
This was my wrap-up video from that trip :)
Hello and happy mid-winter everyone! At least midwinter where I am, in central Ontario, Canada.
I noticed that Goodreads was offering a small discount on their giveaways program right now, so I decided to give Festival some love, and offer a Canada-only giveaway of this book via Goodreads.
(starts on Feb 18 on Goodreads).
Festival is a coming of age novella, set in 1990s London, England, and Toronto, Canada.
It may not surprise anyone to know that I ...err... lived in London for two separate summers in the 1990s, and had two long stints in Toronto, so it is a fairly auto-biographical book.
After submitting it to nearly every publisher in Canada back in the late 90s (the old school way! snail mail, with sample chapters and a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope!), I ended up putting it in my infamous filing cabinet, and sitting on it until deciding to self publish it in 2015 - and it has been on Amazon ever since, but I've not really tried to promote the book.
When I sent Close Your Eyes to the Readers' Favorite company though, I decided to ask for a review of Festival from them at the same time - and wow - their review of Festival really knocked my socks off. It was pretty amazing to know that a book that was so personal to me, and which I'd written such a long time ago, was still able to mean so much to a reader in 2022.
And if you check the Goodreads reviews - all of which are relatively recent - it does indeed seem to have an impact on the modern reader, despite being set in the 1990s.
To be honest, I like that it is set in the 1990s... just prior to the internet era and emailing and texting etc. It actually makes all the "goodbyes" in the book more poignant (the characters not being able to say "do you have Insta? do you have What's App"?). And when Peter says his last words to Anne... it's via a hand-written letter, which he wistfully puts in the mail to her.
Anyway - Festival! If you're in Canada, enter the giveaway!
And if you're not - it's enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, so the ebook is free if you're in that program.
As mentioned in my previous post, Close Your Eyes received a super positive review from the Historical Fiction Company in the fall. I had entered the book in their "book of the year" contest, and in December they made some announcements.
Initially the book made their long list, for best book of 2022, and later it made their short list as well.
Close Your Eyes did NOT win best book of the year, nor was it the runner-up, but it did win one of their sub-categories - best Historical Fantasy book of 2022.
That image is from the Historical Fiction Company's Instagram feed. I like the castle background that they found! So nice! And actually, that river to the left is wonderful as well, especially if you're read the book and remember the escape scene with Tycho and Agnieszka ending up in the river :)
I don't remember if I myself nominated the book for that Historical Fantasy category, or if they assigned books to categories as they read them. I suppose that label is accurate, since Gora as I describe the Kingdom did NOT exist in history, though the broader scope of the book is indeed true - the Papacy, and the Bishop's thoughts about the Papacy, which foreshadow Martin Luther; Joan of Arc; the Hussites amongst whom Tycho lived for a while, and some other details scattered here and there.
The word "fantasy" just doesn't seem to suit the book though. And even Historical Fiction is slightly misleading, because it's not the actual HISTORY within the book which is important, it's Sam's heart, and Tycho's doubts, and Agnieszka's steadfastness, which are important. But... none of that fits into a label very well either - so I guess Historical Fantasy is about as accurate as it gets!
Close Your Eyes was published in December 2021, and I feel like I've done nothing for a year except flail about from one place to another trying to market the book. I used (or tried to use), Readers' Favorite, Hidden Gems, StoryOrigin, Goodreads Giveaways, and Netgalley, and maybe even some other places I've now forgotten, to promote the book, and to find reviewers of the book.
Netgalley was both the most useful, but also, the most frustrating. It costs an author (or publisher) a LOT to get your book onto Netgalley, and to promote the book there so that Netgalley users will even notice the book and request to read it, and I didn't really get as many reviews from that site as I thought I would. Having said that, some wonderful people discovered my book through Netgalley, and went on to write very touching reviews of the book, and I'm very appreciative of that.
I think a "slowing down" though is going to happen now, with Close Your Eyes. I will still be trying to find readers and reviewers for the book, but not with the zest I did over the last year.
A slowing down on the "marketing" side of self-publishing, to get back to the "writing" side of this business. I have another confused and tired young boy to get back to, Jeremy from Within This Darkness, and I feel a need now, to bring his story to the people who enjoyed Sam and Tycho and Close Your Eyes.
Oh, and shovelling snow. That was an adventure recently as well :) I put this video on TikTok during the blizzard that happened here in Ontario over Christmas. I use the same username (@chrisfindsthelight) on Instagram, and that video is there as well.
For anyone who isn't able to visually see videos very well - I had my 12 year old daughter film me for a minute, shovelling snow frantically as the blizzard roared around us, and I set it later to the "Gonna Fly Now" theme from the first Rocky movie :)
Best wishes everyone.
So let's be honest, when you put a book or a creative work out into the world, you're opening yourself up to criticism, and that's just how it goes. Obviously you hope the feedback is good, but maybe it won't be, maybe some number of readers / viewers will hate your work, and will let you know how they feel.
So, when I click on a new book review, there is always some trepidation and nervousness. I guess I steel myself in advance to begin reading a negative review.
When, after a few words (maybe you see the 4 out of 5 or possibly 5 out of 5 rating at the top), you realize it will be a positive review, you breathe a sigh of relief right away, and then you continue to read the review and see what the person said about your book.
And sometimes... you are blown away.
This review from the Historical Fiction Company blew me away.
Thank you so so so much folks, that was insanely flattering. Thank you.
Five stars, and your Highly Recommended award as well.
Sincerely, thank you so much.
I had sent Close Your Eyes to them as an entry into their historical fiction contest. They don't announce winners until December, so I won't know how I did in their contest for a while, but wow, what a wonderful review :)
Otherwise, it's autumn in Ontario. I haven't been able to get out cycling in the early mornings, and capturing amazing sunrises, recently, but here are a couple photos from walks with one of my daughters on the local trails.
Happy Friday world :)
Eden Mills Writers Festival - well, we tried.
I wouldn't say that was a huge success however.
I had hoped my daughter and I would go down, and we'd sell 20 to 40 books. I really had no idea what to expect - it was my first time setting up a booth to sell my books at a book fest, so I had a LOT of copies printed, thinking it'd be worse to run out prematurely, as opposed to return home with an excess of copies.
BUT - we sold... (drumroll)... 5 books.
The painted rocks that I'd done and took with us didn't really seem to help very much. What we really needed was better (i.e. professionally designed and printed) signage. The other booths had real signage - and were also more genre based (horror / fantasy / sci fi etc). I suppose that if you're a fantasy fan, and you walk by a guy's booth who is a fantasy writer, you might stop to browse even if you've never heard of the guy. I don't think that's as true for a booth (our booth) that isn't flaunting a certain genre at you.
"Hi! Come and browse our hard to describe literature books! Festival is a coming of age novel, but Close Your Eyes? God knows what Close Your Eyes is!" :)
Oh well. I learned a few lessons, and my daughter and I are undaunted, and agreed we would try again at another book fest and try to do better next time.
Plus, it was nice to work side by side with my daughter all day. I truly enjoyed that :)
I am continuing to try and put my book (Close Your Eyes) into the hands of book reviewers, and with few exceptions, when people read the book, they enjoy it.
Some recent reviews:
Crossing the Pond / 4 out of 5 stars. And Stefan was intrigued enough by the book that he requested that we do an interview as well - thank you so much Stefan!
OpenMyPages / 4 out of 5 stars. "Equally hopefully and heartbreaking".
The book continues to be on Netgalley incidentally, if any of you want to access it via that site.
I'm Chris Tomasini.