Published Book, Sad Writer

The story behind the story of a Latvian Exile

“A Home for an Exile’s Heart” is now available on Kindle Vella. I’m not sad that my novel has not been published by a traditional publishing company, although that would be great. I didn’t want to spend a year or more approaching agents only to have them reject me. That’s what happened to a talented writer friend who already has four traditionally published books under his belt. I have none.

The tentative cover for a paperback that may never come to be.

Of course, just because no agent wanted to represent my friend’s book doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be interested in mine. He and I write in different genres. His is a mystery set in a WW2 POW camp. Easily categorized. Mine? Not so much. Yes, it’s a historical romance but much more. Is it also women’s fiction. I guess, but that limits the audience. Is it up-market fiction? I’ve read the definition more than once but I’m still not sure what the term means. Maybe it’s mainstream fiction. Figuring out the genre is probably not what agents want to do. They want to be able to pigeonhole a book quickly so store owners know where to shelve them.

My novel may always stay on Vella unless some traditional publisher stumbles across it, serendipitously, and wants to buy the rights to publish it.

How can readers find what they want when there are no neat categories in which to organize the book? Forget about serendipitous browsing. Who has time for that?

The reason I’m sad is that I miss my characters.

Anyone who has read a book and felt sad because they miss characters they’ve grown fond of will understand. I’ve been there and felt that. But when you write a novel the characters live in your head in a way that they don’t when you only read about them. My characters are vivid in my mind; I know them intimately in more detail than is written in my book. I know them better than I ever knew my friends or family members. Latvians are a close-lipped bunch, especially those of my parents’ generation. It’s too painful for exiles to talk about their stolen homeland. Nevertheless, I’ve pieced together enough information from their experiences and those of friends and other relatives, as well as my own memories, to create as accurate a picture as possible of what they went through.

Līvija Galiņa is based in part on my mother’s cousin. Both women were widowed Latvian refugees who came to the United States with their mother and one child. Both found love here; unlike my relative, Līvija falls in love with an American. Both families lived communally in a big house on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Many Latvian families, including mine, did so as well.

Neither my family nor my relatives lived in this house but in similar ones.

Cameron Quinn is Līvija’s love interest. They meet on the snowy day after Thanksgiving, 1952, when a car skids on ice, jumps the curb and nearly hits Līvija as she’s walking home from work. Cameron pushes her out of the way, saving her life. He’s a daredevil, a dashing former fighter pilot, a passionate suitor, and a kind, tender would-be father to Līvija’s little girl. There was never anyone like Cameron in my life. I could have used someone like him in my life. Still could. Cameron’s a composite of male characteristics I know from experience. I read up on what it takes to be a fighter pilot and watched endless videos of flying and aerobatics. They can be addictive.

His war experiences, being shot down twice, did not dampen Cameron’s love of flying.

Of my three main characters, I am most like Līvija’s seven-year-old daughter, Dzintra. I, too, was born stateless in Germany. As with her one of my uncles and his family found refuge in Australia. We both went to Latvian school, in addition to a regular American school. Neither of us saw any reason to learn the Latvian language. Who needs to speak Latvian in America? But my father insisted, so I learned. Cameron gently encourages Dzintra to keep learning by telling her about his own boyish reluctance to learn French, his mother’s native language. As an adult, he was glad he’d learned to speak French and Dzintra would be glad to have learned to speak her native tongue. I’m glad I did.

Like Dzintra, I sang in the Latvian children’s choir.

Woven into the story of these three characters are the stories of Līvija’s housemates–obstacles on her road to happiness. Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law are two such considerations. Edgars Siliņš, a single father, who needs a mother for his six-year-old son, would like to win Līvija’s affection for himself. The housemates include an older, stiff-necked, childless, busybody Latvian couple who were inspired by people I once knew. Līvija’s entire Latvian community believes it would be a cultural betrayal if she marries anyone but a fellow Latvian.

In one way or another, everyone has been traumatized by the war, by the loss of family members killed in the war, or by Soviet murders and deportation. Every exile wants to preserve their Latvian culture and keep their small community from dying out. Will Līvija choose her heart or her community and culture?

About Vella: Books are serialized on the platform. It’s not a subscription service. Readers buy “tokens” in order to read chapters. The first two hundred tokens are free. You don’t need a Kindle in order to read my novel. Any mobile device your laptop or even your desktop will do. I just tried it myself with someone else’s book and it works just fine. Nothing to figure out. The link to Vella is at the top of Amazon’s home page on the right. Just click on the link and claim your free tokens. Hopefully, you’ll love the story and want to read all of it.

Quote: Blaise Pascal & a Little More

Pascal, 1623 – 1662 was a French mathematician, philosopher, physicist, inventor, writer, and a Catholic theologian

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.

Hearts want what they want. Both characters in my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart, former fighter pilot Cameron Quinn and Latvian refugee, Līvija Galiņa have unruly hearts which are impervious to reason.

In 1944 war widow Līvija and her family, unwilling to live under a brutal tyranny, escape from Latvia ahead of the invading Soviet army. After six years of drifting through Europe, like flotsam on the tides of history Līvija washes ashore in Seattle, Washington, USA.

Līvija has been living in Seattle for nearly a year when on the snowy day after Thanksgiving she is nearly run down by an out-of-control car that skids on an icy street and jumps the curb. Her neighbor, dashing fighter pilot, Cameron Quinn pushes her out of the way of the oncoming vehicle, saving her life.

Their attraction is immediate.

To read their story you can go to Kindle Vella. I’ve published only twenty-two chapters so far. If there’s sufficient interest, I’ll publish the rest of the chapters. The first few “episodes” are free.

Vella: 132K Words=$1

Yep. One buck.

To clarify, Vella does not buy anything. It’s a free platform for writers to self-publish their books in serial form. Amazon takes a cut of royalties.

This is a depressing piece to write.

Of course, my chapters have been “live” only since July 14. It takes time to build an audience. It also takes promoting, promoting, promoting. It takes readers who are willing to buy 200 tokens for $1.99 and up to $14.99 for 1700 tokens. 

Marketing is not much fun. I hate it.

I’ve published only twenty-two chapters of my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart. I have more chapters I could publish, but why should I bother if no one but one of my relatives is willing to spend a few bucks to read more chapters? He’s the one responsible for that one buck, for which I thank him.

 Amazon is offering 200 free tokens, which in the case of my novel takes readers through chapter nine. It might help if they went back to their original plan of offering three free episodes to entice readers. Because of those two hundred fee tokens, they’re not getting their cut and I’m not getting mine.

As far as I can tell, Amazon is doing little to promote Vella stories. The Vella banner does not automatically show up whenever someone visits their site. Readers have to know to click on the drop-down menu and scroll to Kindle Store; not everyone knows Vella books can be found in the Kindle store. If potential readers are not looking for a particular author or title, they need to just hit “enter” and thumbnail cover illustrations in their little circles will pops up. Some of the stories have star ratings, others do not. On the far right side, “see more” shows in a tiny font. You can get a list view or a grid view of titles Big deal. Writers have to educate their readers. One person on Facebook wanted to read my story; he couldn’t find it, so I sent him the link.

A screen shot of Vella instructions for readers. I couldn’t find it again. The site’s not exactly user friendly.

I have the Vella page bookmarked. It shows favorite stories and trending stories. I don’t remember how I got there. That’s why I bookmarked it; I knew I wouldn’t remember. 

Self-publishing on any platform requires the writer to promote like mad or to pay retail juggernaut Amazon to do it for them. That goes for KDP, too. I don’t know if Amzon expects payments in order to promote Vella books. I could also create a Facebook page for A Home for an Exile’s Heart. The page would be free, but people would only find it if they happened to stumble on it. Facebook would be glad to “boost” the page for me, but since Zuekcerberg must be broke, I’d have to pay to get my page “boosted.” I think it’s thirty dollars to boost a page, but don’t know if that’s monthly or for a year or what.

I’ve done only a little promoting. Writing about my novel here is one way to publicize it. My Word Press account is linked to Twitter, Tumblr, and LinkedIn. I can click on the “F” icon on my Word Press page to share my post on Facebook. I haven’t succeed in linking it.

 Because my heroine is a Latvian World War II refugee, I’ve also posted links in several Latvian Facebook groups. People have congratulated me and clicked on “like” but seemingly no one cares enough to read even free chapters. Those who’ve read my chapters haven’t given Exile a thumbs up. I may have to post the link again with the screenshot.

I’m not sure it would be worth the money to pay Facebook to boost a page dedicated to my novel.

Maybe Exile doesn’t belong on Vella in the first place. There are no categories for women’s fiction or mainstream fiction. None of my characters are billionaires, Highlanders, or werewolves. Exile’s not paranormal, a fantasy, or a mystery. The Latvian refugee and the dashing fighter pilot live in non-dystopian Seattle in 1952. It didn’t even have the Space Needle back then.

What next? I guess I’ll leave A Home for an Exile’s Heart on Vella for the time being, but I will not publish any more chapters. I have no reason to. And I’ll go back to querying agents.

BUT, depressing as it was to report this stuff about Vella, it was writing. Writing is what I do. I feel better for having written.

A Home for an Exile’s Heart

An excerpt introducing a new character.

American P51D Mustang fighter plane

“Intense Blue Sky”

Intense blue sky. Innocent white clouds. Pristine clouds out of which killing machines suddenly emerged. The drone of his engine as Cameron’s squadron flew over Germany. The relentless rattle of machine guns. Flashes of light. A Focke-Wulf 190 came right at him, spitting bullets. A buddy’s plane going down, trailing a billowing plume of orange flame. Heart pounding Cameron maneuvered his aircraft out of range. Roared up into the sky. Made a sharp turn. Dived at the enemy plane. Firing. Firing. Firing.

To clarify, this is not a war novel. The story takes place in 1952, in the USA. The excerpt relates Cameron’s background so readers know what kind of person he is.