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Discussion – novel where the main character is woman with a chronic illness (or two)

I was thinking about writing another novel about another kind of invisibility, to balance Ms Cellophane and The Time of the Ghosts. I deal with chronic illnesses every day of my life. I’m very much not the only one. Yet this kind of life with all its oddity and excitement seldom makes it into novels. It’s not easy to write about using the standard paths that women follow in stories. It needs fiction that’s a bit different.

Last week I solved that problem: I can write such a novel.

A small technical success, I thought. I can make a chief protagonist a woman dealing with chronic illness without making chronic illness the centre of the story. It would be more like Ms Cellophane and The Wizardry of Jewish Women than anything else, for I used those novels to help me find a way of handling the difficult subject. A novel about people, not adventure. The novel I was dreaming about feels personal and intimate, but is about the lives of many women. Problems we share without knowing we share them.

I wondered if the novel was worth pursuing, or if this was just a nice intellectual notion, as some of my ideas are. Then I realised that I wanted to read this novel myself.

“Fine,” I thought, “I’ll write it. I need more information to do it properly, though. If I just sit down and write it, it’ll only be for me and about me. Also, my life is very busy and money is an issue. I’ll take my time and make it a longer-term project.”

I explained a bit of this on Facebook and asked for women’s experiences. Within a few days I had advice and thoughts from many, many women. Their lives all follow a pattern, and one that is horribly familiar. I’ll be able to write an intimate novel that is not autobiographical.

I also have another driving need to write this novel rather sooner than I thought. The size and rapidity of the response and the shape of the stories of a large number of women suggest that we have a significant problem on our hands, as a society. It wasn’t just me and a couple of my friends. There is a major problem, I fear, in how certain countries handle the chronic illnesses of women.

I’m no longer working on women’s policy issues: the novel is my best way to communicate that there is a whacking great issue here and to start giving it attention. If anyone asks, I can join the social policy roundabout again, but it’s not what my life is about right now. The benefit of a novel is that it will give chronically ill women their dignity back, if I do it right.

It’s not just my desire to give readers an understanding of some major issues that’s at stake. Those women and quite a few other people told me when they were explaining their lives and sharing their experiences “We need to see this novel.”

I said “I was just collecting the background. I won’t have the money to write it for a while.”

Some of my respondents told me “Crowd funding.”

I have the core of a really good novel and a personal desire to write it. It will fill a cultural hole. And a group of readers want to see it. Need to see it. This changes things. It would be better if I wrote it sooner rather than later.

I looked at my schedule. If I can find income to take me from mid-December to late February, I can finish the research and write the novel then. I can finish the novel in the time if I don’t have to look for more income elsewhere.

I did some sums and it looks like a lot of money to me, but this novel brings in stuff our society hasn’t addressed and I’m going to have to do much legwork to bring it to life. I’ve done it myself for other novels (for those who are about to say “but in…”): my novels always have groundbreaking material hidden under the surface. I’ve reached a stage, however, where I can’t financially subsidise my fiction. Readers want this novel, and I need to be able to pay for the time spent working on it, for my computer, for the bus fare to the friends I’m having a writing retreat with, for my everyday. I need household expenses and medical expenses covered. I’ve made personal sacrifices for every other novel, in order to write what I want to write. It would be the wrong kind of irony to make those sacrifices for this one.

To finish the research and to write the novel I need $6,000. More would be useful, but without $6,000 I can’t do it this coming summer.

Then comes getting it published. I do not self-publish, so this could take time. I’m happy to accept help in finding the right publisher, for there is a great lack in the landscape of contemporary fantasy (what some critics have called ‘magic realism’ when it appears in my fiction, though I’d argue with that) focussed on women’s private lives when romance is not the central issue. And romance is not the central issue here.

I will try to find a publisher, but I don’t have high expectations. Readers love my work (two Ditmar nominations demonstrate this) but publishers look at it and wonder how to sell it. They tell me this. Editor after editor tells me what a fine writer I am and wishes they could take me on. So don’t hold your breath for a publication date.

Some of you want to read this book far more quickly than the publishing industry would allow. Two women want to read it now, and I haven’t even written it yet! Normally I just hang in there, for my work gets published eventually, but for those who want this book visible earlier, there is Patreon.

If enough people are willing to support me, I can set up a Patreon reward system where you can read the draft novel from the end of February until mid-July and give me feedback on it. You’d pay for the joy of being my beta readers and furiously checking that this is the work we want it to be. You get to point out problems in symptoms. Laugh at the jokes. Ask questions about imponderables. Criticise plotlines. We’d explore the subject matter, using the draft as a centre, just as we’d explore the novel. I’ll make it better by listening. And by teaching. If other writers want to solve issues relating to giving characters effective illnesses, this would be a very useful group to belong to. And if a need to put in a government submission emerges from our discussion, I’d do that as a natural part of proceedings, checking with each and every one of you before I quote you and sharing the whole submission before it goes in. My old self* will be useful if we choose this route, but it will be us (the Patreon group) that chooses it, not me as an individual.

Regardless of the government submission (whether it happens or not), even if the novel isn’t published for years (which is not abnormal in this industry), you’d read it during the first half of 2018. From late February until the end of July the Patreon group would pay for my time to prepare and send material to beta readers, discuss the novel with them, process everything and to do very solid editing. This would mean that the novel would be ready for publishers to look at by August 2018.

For this, right now, I need to know if there are enough people willing to pay money to make this possible. If it’s not possible, editing will take at least the rest of the year and possibly longer, for I’ll have to earn the money to pay for my time. Given the current economic climate, I can’t predict precisely how long it will take, especially since I have three books coming out through Book View Café over the next two years.

I’m not asking for money of any kind right now, although if you want to check out my Patreon page, it’s here. All I need to know is how many of you are theoretically willing to support this project on Patreon and if $15/month for 4 months is reasonable. It will get the novel into its final state by the beginning of August next year and, if the Patreon group wants, get us a government submission.

The third stage is the publishing one. I’m going to leave this for the moment, for a lot depends on when I get it finished, which depends on my income.

Answers and comments on this are open to anyone. You don’t have to know me! They will, however, close on 23 July. I’ve chosen this date with great care. I have a book to promote soon after, and if the fundraising option happens, I want people at Worldcon to be able to ask me about it. I also need to know if I’m writing this or earning money elsewhere, for earning money elsewhere has its own deadlines.

Comment here by 23 July and if the book is wildly desirable, I’ll take on crowd funding (I am really shy about crowd funding) and do a lot of planning.

Question One: is there enough support for this project to make it worth seeking crowdfunding? This doesn’t mean saying “What a nice idea” it means being willing to promote the project and push for it to happen. If there is, I’m happy to hear suggestions as to what sort of crowdfunding platform will work best for this. If there isn’t, then ignore Question Two, for the novel will take a currently indeterminable time to write and there are other things happening on Patreon (if this goes ahead, I’ll delay beginning the world building project – it’ll happen, but more slowly. I’ll still be teaching my research discoveries about world building, but it will all slow down).

Question Two: How many people want to be involved in the beta reading using Patreon?

* For those who don’t know, for ten years I was a public service policy person and for twenty I volunteered with women’s groups on policy and related issues. I have written a fair amount of policy stuff in my time, and only a tiny fraction of it has my name on it. A couple of times I’ve been named and quoted in Senate reports, though never for my favourite bits of what I said! This is why the submission is included as not too much of a big thing. It’s work, but it fits within the other work quite nicely. This goes to show the oddness of my brain, of course.

6 comments

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  1. Deb

    Count me in whatever way you choose to go. This book is so needed.

  2. Jean Weber

    I am totally in this. $15/month is a very reasonable sum IMO. — Jean

  3. Judy Edmonds

    Interested!!

  4. Hedda

    Gillian, I would love to support this in any way that I can though, as you know, my situation is quite limited funds wise. I totally believe in crowdfunding ideas such as this and I commend you for looking at this step. I know many artists who are doing the same because there is just not the support nowadays for creative types who need to make art, write, etc., and as you say, the publishing world especially can be a hard sell. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do as well as contribute funds. I’m hoping that by that point in time, I may have a little extra to spare.

  5. Dorothy Broom

    Count me in! I would love to read that book, and am happy to pay $60 to do so.

  6. Beta Reading

    nice novel story… btw I like your idea

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