Have Courage

In “Layers of Light” a teenage girl and an elderly woman join others in a daring rescue attempt. One of the themes of this book is that all humans are capable of impressive courage, including the many demographics we don’t usually associate with this trait.

I’m trying to show more courage in my own life, and for me right now that translates into being more honest about who I am. My deep dark secret? I write science fiction ….

This may seem to some as nothing to hide, but I’ve worn a lot of different hats and made acquaintances in a lot of different arenas.  In many settings, my secret life as a teller of fantastic tales would be considered odd at best.

None the less ….

When I reissued my first novel x0 as the the shiny new “One of One” last week, I decided to send an email about it to everyone in my contacts list. Everyone. I guess I saw it as a sort of therapy. Here I am. I make up stuff and I’m proud of it.

How many people are in your contacts list? I had no idea, but mine included over 700. So the first thing I accomplished was cleaning it out. Getting rid of people I knew I didn’t want in there took it down to more like five hundred, and getting rid of those I had no clue who they were got me to 434.

Then I parceled it into groups, thinking that way I wouldn’t have to hide everyone behind a bcc and have a greater risk of ending up in their junk folders. You know, high school friends. College friends. My husband’s relatives. I made my way through every category that had two or more entrants and I will say I learned a great deal about my own life and the people I’d bothered to stay in touch with along the way. Some segments are well represented, others barely at all. Interesting.

I finished it all with a category called “you’re a friend I can’t classify” and called it done.

Then I sent everyone an email saying

You know what happened? Yup, about 390 people didn’t get the email, didn’t open it, or didn’t respond. That’s not what matters. Forty or fifty people did, and they contacted me and said “wow, that’s really cool.”

Yeah.

 

c3 is dead

What prompts an author to kill her own book?

A few weeks ago my fourth novel, c3, was killed by own hand. It made me sad. I finished writing c3 in late 2013, and released it on Kindle February 6, 2014. I’ve been told its hero, teenager Teddie Zeitman with her exuberant heart and a talent for out-of-body experiences, is one of my best creations. Green happens to be my favorite color, and the ethereal cover for c3 was my favorite of all the six.

But times change. Goodreads shows only three people currently reading my novel. Sales have gone from small to nearly zero.

I’ve never totaled up the exact sales, because it’s hard to separate a sale from a give-away but I suspect I’ve been paid for about a hundred copies (if you don’t count friends and family.) I’d hoped for more sales, of course, but every time a stranger liked my book and let me know, it delighted me. No regrets.

A few months ago, I attended a conference of science fiction writers, and signed up for a mentor. It may have been one of my more useful decisions. This professional writer pointed out that I could still have a marketable product in this particular story, but I needed a more genre-appropriate cover, a much better title, and an updated and aggressive marketing plan.

I can change the title of my book? Apparently I can. I need a new ISBN number (no problem). I  need to acknowledge to the new reader what has been done (just in case he or she is one of the 200 or so humans who already read this story.)

And …. I needed to kill c3. That is, it had to go off the market completely. No electronic versions for sale, although those who have it obviously always will. No new paperbacks printed and sold, although nothing can prevent current owners from reselling their copies on Amazon and elsewhere.

Over the years, I’ve eliminated all the hyperlinks in the book, and the text that went with them. I’ve made corrections and done minor clean-up. Why not. But I’ve refrained from doing anything major.

Because this will be a new book, I have the chance to do some serious editing. So I am. I’m giving more attention to point of view. I’m taking the techniques I’ve learned over the past six years, at conferences, from other writers, and simply from practicing my craft for hours every week, and I’m doing my best to fold those learnings into telling my story better.

It is still a work in progress, but so far I’m pleased with the result.

So while c3 will soon cease to exist, it will give birth to a new and better novel, to be called Layers of Light. I’ll be blogging all about it here soon.

 

Sometimes I Fly

I’ve always wanted to be a bird. In eighth grade I took my first trip in a plane. I squirmed with joy during take-off when it was everything I had dreamt.

I was flying.

One of my most common reoccurring dreams has always been being airborne. I’m surprised to find myself aloft, then I remember. That’s right. I always knew how to do this. I just forgot I knew. Sometimes I get details of what works, like I have to hop twice on my left foot before I jump off, but those recipes for flight have never been the same twice and not one has worked the next morning.

I keep on flying in my dreams.

When I got drunk in college, it made the room spin and made me laugh but the best part was when it made me feel like I was soaring through the air. After I graduated, I talked a friend into sky diving with me and even though I was scared, I was exhilarated, too.

Once I got my first real job, it came with this new thing called discretionary income. I signed up for flying lessons. I did fake emergency landings in fields and got okayed to fly solo. Sunday mornings, I’d drive to the little airport and spend my drinking money on an hour of airplane rental instead.

And I flew.

Then I got older. I had babies. They cried at changing cabin pressure when it made their little ears fill with pain and vacationing by car was better. I dreamt about flying, but not as often. When the dreams came, I was alone, moving silently through the air over wilderness. Maybe it was because I traveled a lot for my job, through busy airports on crowded flights, in seats that kept getting smaller. Claustrophobia kicked in. I decided conference calls worked fine.

I didn’t fly often.

Time takes some things, and it gives others. I now travel to places I’ve always wanted to go. The planes are crowded, but they’ve shown me the Andes from thirty thousand feet, and the island of Madeira sparkling in the twilight of a frothy Atlantic.

These days I write. When a sentence comes out perfect, I suck in my breath knowing it’s the best it can be. The sensation feels like flying.

When I edit my work, sometimes my words reform themselves beyond the original, and the outcome makes me laugh or cheer or cry. I am flying, then, the way I’ve always known I could, the way I was meant to do. Sometimes the realization makes me cry even more.

It’s amazing. Sometimes I fly.

I write because it’s cheaper than therapy

It turns out you can buy a whole collection of “cheaper than therapy” t-shirts and most of them make the valid point that doing something physical, or doing something you love, is good for your mental health. I guess the remaining ones (mostly about chocolate, wine and beer) make the point that the occasional indulgence is helpful too.

Most people I know who write, do include “writing as therapy” as one of their reasons. Sometimes it is the main one. I’m no exception. Writing anything is an outlet for me, and it is one of the reasons I blog, and at times keep a journal. In some ways the journal is the best mental health tool, because it is a place where I can explore my own issues without giving any thought to a reader.

However, fiction provides a sort of veil between my raw emotions and a make believe story while it allows me to delve deep into issues that might never surface in something more contained like a journal. Creating a plot has a certain non-linear element of surprise to it that can take me exactly to the places where I least want to go.

When I started my first novel, I promised myself I would do my best to write without fear. Some of that entailed pretending that no one I knew would ever read my book. (I still have to pretend that sometimes.) I got the chance to go to Ireland in the middle of my first novel, and toured the Jameson distillery. I was surprised to learn that every bottle of Jameson contains the two Latin words “Sine Metu.” Without Fear. Well, Mr. Jameson and I seem to have things in common.

I have a theory about writers block. So far, in my case, it is caused by one of two things. The first, and easiest to solve, is that my body needs something and I’m ignoring it. Usually it’s sleep, but sometimes it’s food or water or even a trip to the bathroom. My brain will eventually cease to create until I care for myself.

The other is that I want to go somewhere with the story and I’m censoring myself. Occasionally it’s because I have another direction I want the plot to go, but more often it’s because something deep within wants to take the story into territory that bothers me. I’ve learned that my muse becomes silent until I relent and stride into the dark forest that is scaring me so.

There, I find the demons that have my particular number, and as we stare each other in the eye, I become a little stronger and they become a bit less terrifying. As I write them into the ordinary, I turn them into creatures of the light.

The forest is huge and the creatures are many, so it’s not like this writing thing is a quick road to complete mental wellness, at least for me. But I do recognize that writing forces me to confront my worst of everything, and with the confrontation comes a measure of understanding.

While looking for information for this blog, I found a great post written by “The Angry Therapist” on tips for dealing with life if you can’t afford therapy.  I found the entire article worthwhile, and some of it surprising and wise. I especially liked tip seven: share your story.

A final word about therapy. Several people I’m close to either see or have seen a therapist and each one of them has benefited from it. It is, I’m told, expensive and hard work, but with the right therapist and the right attitude, it can be life altering. So please understand that I don’t mean to claim here that writing, or any other activity, can or should replace therapy when it is needed, or even wanted.

Therapy may be something I’ll try someday. Much as it may help me, I’m confident I have enough garbage in my head that writing for my mental health will always be an option for me. Besides, I have six other fine reasons to write, and there are four of them I haven’t given much thought to lately. One of them I’m kind of secretive about, and it will be the subject of my next post.

(Read more about why I write at at The Number One Reason I Write Books, Nothing cool about modest ambitions, My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing,  I love to be loved , Remember My Name and What’s the Point? )

Designing your own book cover, part 4

My easiest cover by far came with c3. It was the most difficult of my books to write, so maybe some sort of universal balance was at work. I’d barely begun skimming through the Shutterstock collection when I found not one but two backgrounds I loved. Which to use? I decided I’d send them both on to Jen at Mother Spider and let her decide.

I knew I didn’t want the image of Teddie, my hero, to be a photo. This was a book about out of body experiences, and a clear likeness seemed too stark. I wanted something vague, more like a sketch. She had to be young, dark-haired, and there had to be green involved.  I didn’t expect a lot of results when I combined all these search parameters, and I didn’t get them. However, the one image I got had potential.

This drawing of a young woman possessed the ethereal quality I wanted, but didn’t fit the cuddly softness I felt was part of Teddie’s personality. I played with it a little, and was happier once she had a rounder face and the soft brown eyes I envisioned.

The next challenge was to find a way to show an out of body experience in a single image on a book cover. I thought of showing her face three times, each one more transparent than the last. Also, I wanted a white bird because, well, it was symbolism I liked. I took all that and came up with the two straw man versions below and sent them off to Jen.

Jen did three brilliant things. First, she layered one of my backgrounds over the other to create an orignal and beautiful backdrop. Second, she got rid of the bird. Third, she rearranged Teddie to look back upon herself, conveying the idea of out of body in a way my linear images never could.

When this cover came back, I loved it instantly. She humored me by adding in the crescent moon instead of the dove, and we dinked around trying to match the font of my two-character title to the previous three books, but otherwise not a single revision was made. There was no doubt in my mind this was the cover c3 was meant to have.

Recently, I did some light editing and clean-up on all of my books, mostly to remove the links from all versions as they have become impossible to maintain. I decided if I ever wanted to make a tiny modification to the cover, now was the time.

Was there anything I wanted to change? Anything at all?

Well, I’d never been entirely happy with Teddie’s porcelain doll white skin or her sensuous lips. I thought a faint pink blush would make her look more human, and thinner lips more age-appropriate. I tried a make-over and was pleased with the results.

The new Teddie, and her beautiful cover, are shown to the left. It’s a joy when something comes so easily and works out so well.

(For more on this topic see Designing your own book cover, part 1, part 2 and part 3.)

A better word than courage?

While I was thinking through my idealistic first novel about how telepathy could bring about empathy, compassion and peace on earth, I was already formulating a far different story about the times and circumstances when understanding a point of view is incomprehensible, and when even the most vulnerable need to find the strength to stand up and fight.

I was moving my emotions into the coolers colors that, to me, denoted the “but what about” response to all the good cheer of peace and joy and hope that my first three books were encompassing. In order to write about the one, I had to write about the other.

The word I wanted to describe the theme of my fourth novel was somewhere in between desperation and bravery. It was a word that would call to mind

the children and elders in a village grabbing kitchen knives and pitchforks and fighting in their own front yards with their hearts and souls to preserve what was decent and good in the face of indisputable evil, and, against all odds, triumphing.

I called it courage, but that only scratches the surface of what I was trying to convey. Is there a word for this situation? If not, we need one.

(For more thoughts on words we need, see A better word than loyalty?, A better word than peace?, A better word than joy?, and A better word than hope? )

Sisters

My only sibling and I live far apart, so it requires money and effort to spend time together. Life is busy and it’s easy for months and even years to pass without face to face contact.

We’re alike in may ways, but different enough in others that we’re capable of irritating each other in the special way that only family members can.

This weekend, I traveled by car, plane and bus to make it from my remote house in the mountains of Western North Carolina to her remote house in a small town in Western Illinois. We ate, drank and reminisced , which was all well and good, but what matters to me is that we did more. We trotted out some of those differences and used the ways we’d grown apart to help each other.

My sister has more clothes now than I’ve owned over my entire lifetime, but I have got to admit that she really knows how and where to shop. It goes with modern country living that these places are all online, so part of one pleasant afternoon was spent sitting on her couch shopping for clothes. Oh, and for dishes. She’s really good with kitchenware, too.

I’m more at home with my computer, and had fun helping her manipulate music among her various devices. She and her husband have a new boat, which was great fun in and of itself, and now she is hopefully set up to enjoy playlists while she cruises down the river. And she is definitely getting a new mouse and keyboard for Christmas.

She is also one of the few people I know with whom I share my books before they go to the editor. This visit caught her about half way through the draft of my latest novel. I understand that may writers are reluctant to share their work in progress with family members so I consider myself lucky to have relatives who are genuinely  supportive of my passion to tell stories. I’m particularly lucky to have this amazing genetically similar pal to give my stories a second set of eyes.

Is she enjoying my book? Of course she is. She’s my sister. Does that keep her from making  a few suggestions? Of course not. She’s my sister.