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Thoughts on the indie publishing scene

The arts, losing it, and how they're linked

Writers are armchair psychologists. Novels are, after all, examinations of the minutiae of the human experience. I've always had an interest in psychology: I studied it at JHU, and my second book dealt with PTSD and the psychological fallout of war.

Surreal photography by Robert Jahns taken from Demilked.com

Surreal photography by Robert Jahns taken from Demilked.com

But I'm far from an expert. As with all armchair psychologists, my favorite client is myself, my own psyche.

Lately, after my mom became critically unwell (details of which can be found here) I have noticed some psychological symptoms in myself that had me worried.

After the trauma of her illness my anxiety started going through the roof. Anxiety that was haunting. Anxiety that was so acute that I no longer could look at the news (another child molestation story? No thanks). Hangovers and caffeine highs, or anything else that spikes anxiety, became unbearable. I worried about everything to do with my kids and myself. Things as small as crossing the road. Things as big as the meaning of life, and why is my mom suffering more physical torture when she has already been dealt so much in her life, when she's a person who went to church every Sunday. As I began to mourn my mother's life I realized there was a lot of anger, addiction and unhappiness in my childhood that I had largely (and quite happily) suppressed until the time I came to bring up kids of my own. I worried that now that I was forming kids in my own image the unhappy aspects of my childhood were catching up with me. Were they always going to haunt me? Were they enough to send me over the edge, make me lose my mind? I worried about all the things in between. 

In addition to the worry (which I now realize is rumination, and I now have tactics to deal with it), I have noticed other symptoms. Not being an expert I did not see a link between things that were, indeed, linked. Until I stumbled upon something that changed my entire perspective.

A test for the highly sensitive person.

Have you heard of it? I hadn't. I wish I had. Most people who fall under the category of Highly Sensitive Person ruminate over why they are experiencing symptoms. They wonder what is wrong with them. They wonder if they are losing it. The authoring psychologist estimates that 20% of our population are highly sensitive. Highly sensitive people see, smell and experience the world more sharply, and these people are drawn to the arts as a result. I scored 25 out of 27 on her test.

Basically you could not describe me more accurately. 

The first thing I noticed was lights. Ever since my late 20's I noticed bright lights drive me nuts. I despise overhead lights and often get up and walk out of a room because I didn't like the lighting. Nighttime soccer games were a no-go because the lights would give me migraines. I keep my Macbook on almost the dimmest setting because if it's too bright I won't be able to fall asleep at night. Sound is the exact same. If a TV or radio is too loud it drives me bonkers.  I watch TV on a sound level that my husband can't even hear. The volume of his radio in the kitchen bothers me through the ceiling/floor into our bedroom. (As you can imagine this leads to a lot of compromise in my house). Smells are the same, everything is so intense. I can't breathe while I'm helping my kids in the toilet or changing their nappy. I can smell a bit of sewage or slurry from a mile off.

Fabrics are another of my things. I sew almost all of my own clothes now because clothes on the High Street are not comfortable and the cheap fabrics and tags irritate my skin. 

Dealing with kids and the noise, neediness and smells associated with parenting often made me feel overwhelmed to the point I had to go in a room and sit quietly or stare out the window at the breeze blowing through the trees to collect myself. I always asked myself why other parents could seemingly deal with the constant chaos better than I could.

But on the flip side, as I noticed my senses sharpening I noticed I became far more interested in the arts. I was always into music but now, give me almost any art form and I'm fascinated by how it came to be, what it represents, and what emotions it stirs in me (apart from cinema because I can no longer go to the movies without having an uncontrollable urge to ask them to turn the volume down). The things I value most in life can be summed up in two words: nature and art.

I am blogging about this not because I love the idea of everyone knowing this stuff about me, but because I think other artists/writers might find some familiarity here. If this post helps one person, that's enough for me. It's not that I don't experience this stuff anymore, but now I know I'm not alone and that I'm not losing my mind. I have knowledge, and knowledge gives us power to cope.

There are far too many artists in this world who seem to lose it. Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman are two recent horrible losses. What fun, what drama, what brilliance we would have experienced with these men had they lived on. Our world is a sadder place when we lose talented artists to depression and addiction. The saddest thing about Robin Williams is that he never heard all the amazing things people said about him after he died, and he must have felt very alone to do what he did. Many famous writers are there too. Steven King and his cocaine addiction and Sylvia Plath and her suicide are two that come to mind.

Is it possible to lead an artist's life without losing your grasp of reality? Even though much beautiful art seems to come from people who are suffering, I firmly believe the answer is yes. I firmly believe that by understanding ourselves better we can find ways to cope. I firmly believe that when you know you're not the only one, it shows you there is nothing wrong with you, and that you can deal with your own intricacies, and make and enjoy art to express them.

I hope this blog post leads to at least one person understanding themselves better and knowing you are not alone. Feeling isolated is one of the quickest roads to depression. Do take the test, and leave a comment if you find you're a highly sensitive person. I bet at least 20% of you find that you are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A pen with no ink

I've been Radio Silent for ages on this blog. I also haven't been doing much creative writing in seven months or so.

Last week something changed. I picked up my pen and started a new story which could be a novel or a novella, and I'm feeling the great therapy that writing is. I set aside an unfinished novel manuscript which wasn't doing it for me at this present time. That was a painful decision because I hate to feel like I spent time on "wasted work." But that's silly. No work is wasted, it's a process, and sometimes writing is more about the journey than the destination. Making the decision to set that work aside has given me a fresh opportunity to start a new story.

While I took my time off from writing, my little family moved to Northern Ireland, a land that has a strange and disturbing past, but which offers an incredible quality of life in the present. I absolutely love it here, but it has been very different from England, and hence another assimilation process for this American. It took me two years to assimilate in England but I'm hoping it'll be shorter this time. (It helps to live with a local :-)

Six weeks after we got here, my mother fell ill in Upstate NY. She had a heart attack, and an open-heart surgery to repair some damaged valves. During the surgery she suffered a major stroke, and our destiny would forever be changed. She is now paralyzed on one side, living in a nursing home, but let's face it, she's not really living. She sleeps around twenty hours a day. The four hours she spends awake are filled with pain. She has a lot of family there, and my brother (bless his soul) spends as much time with her as humanly possible. But her quality of life is gone, and she'll never live at home again. She likely won't even get to visit there, even though her nursing home is less than a half mile away. She can't sit up and she can only 'eat' liquid meals. Medicare won't pay for her nursing home after 100 days, so my father will outlay an astronomical amount of money for her care. During this time, my father has been battling bladder cancer, although he's ok, and doesn't need chemo, it was just one more thing we didn't need. As my sister often says, the wheels feel like they are coming off the bus.

It was tough to write when this emotional tornado was going on. I have been mourning my mother's life, but she's still here. The psychological impact of this is very, very tough. My dad finds it difficult to enjoy himself. There is little we can do for my mom, other than pray and think of her. But when you allow yourself to really think how tough this is for her, and how unfair it all seems for both of them, it's depressing and it rocks my faith. For me to raise my kids in a happy home, I cannot allow myself to wallow in the sadness, I have to just keep trucking on.

Maybe that's life's biggest lesson: Just Keep Going. We are always going to face hardship in our lives. Everyone does. We can't quit when times get tough. We have to keep on trucking. Even when my faith is really shaky, I still believe in that principal.

Keeping positive memories alive is one way of coping. As a parent, I think the greatest tribute you can give your own parents is being grateful for their best aspects. My mother was great at giving us experiences: Camping in our cheap little camper at Selkirk, boating on Lake Ontario, playing in the sand at Southwick and Westcott beaches, hiking at Watkins Glen. She always let me visit the bookstore at Great Northern Mall and always gave me three or four dollars to buy a paperback. I was allowed to relax in my hammock or climb trees and read a book while she made dinner for us from scratch with fresh food. She worked hard to give us a good childhood, and never took the easy route.

I also believe that writing is therapy. A cheap form of it, because all you really need is a pen or pencil that can be purchased for less than 50 cents. But sometimes I feel like a pen with no ink. Sometimes I find it hard to write when I have so much going on in my head. Just like you can't rebuild after a tornado until the storm is well and truly over, I have to wait for the dust to settle in my mind, and only then can I start to rummage through the scraps to find something that interests and inspires me. I wonder, is writing the same for you?

I'll update more about the new story I'm working on. Right now it's called Hangman, though I usually have a working title and then a final title for stories. It's about how a bunch of creative writers disappear. The reasons how or why are unknown, but the kidnappers' biggest mistake was keeping them all together.

Keep trucking, guys, even when life gets you feeling down and out. Here's a picture of my little family taken at The Bushmills Inn. Because there's no better place to hang out with small children than a whisky distillery. ;-)

At the Bushmills Inn before a cousin's wedding

At the Bushmills Inn before a cousin's wedding






Living in Ireland on Paddy's Day

This is the first year I've been in Ireland on Paddy's Day... not sure how I've missed it so many years before. I have the huge blessing of being a resident here now, too.

I couldn't resist saying a few words about my new home country, a place I'm falling madly, fastly, deeply in love with.

The community we've moved to, Holywood, is full of interesting, great people. There is a vibrant High Street and most people seem to "buy local." Everyone tells me "You're very welcome." It's not because I've given them anything, it's just their way of welcoming a new face. 

The community and the surroundings are gorgeous but the local bar is a craphole -- in the best sense of the word.

It's called The Maypole Bar but everyone calls it Ned's. You'd be a fool to walk in the front door -- everyone uses the hidden side entrance. The plain wooden benches look like they've been there since the 50's, as does the rest of the decor. I'd heard there was sawdust on the floor, but on the day I went it was just grimy floorboards. You sit with your overcoat on and your knees around your ears, under lights so high and so bright you could be in a Dunnes Stores or a JC Penney's. Perfect for staring at people, which is what you do in Ned's -- there are no TVs, no fruit machines, no billiards, no music. There are no right angles in the walls, ceilings or floors. You get the sense you shouldn't pull your phone out; you're in a different era in here. The owner, who looks about 140, brings your drinks on a small round cocktail tray and sheepishly asks you to pay for them. You know he'd rather give them for free. Ned's is a thriving business beloved by the local drinkers and known as a lasting Irish tradition. Everyone loves it and everyone goes, and there isn't much competition if you'd rather drink someplace more glamorous.

Ned's in Holywood

Ned's in Holywood

 

In today's world of shiny, new everything, Ned's is a striking place, but the thing that strikes me most about Ned's is that I could be sitting in any bar in Upstate NY, even the "gentlemen's bar" my grandfather Avery owned, Oak Hill Tavern. My grandfather is gone but my aunt and uncle keep his bar going, because it's a tradition that should go on. The stark interiors, the no-nonsense approach to life, the need to enjoy a drink and wind down from a world that often just winds us up. And the lack of a need for much else; including signage.

Oak Hill Tavern in Oswego, NY - see the similarity?

Oak Hill Tavern in Oswego, NY - see the similarity?

 

And that's what it means to be Irish. They've made a brand name out of hospitality and chitchat. They've welcomed everyone, and in turn, the world has welcomed them. Irish culture is so endearing it has survived in every other country in the world. There are millions more Irish people than live on this fine island, but I suspect many would love to be sitting in my shoes right now, writing to you from the dark green foothills of the Craigantlet hills at the very base of the Ards Peninsula. 

And I haven't even spoken about the literary traditions yet -- that's for another post.

I leave you with some photos of my new homeland and I say to you, Happy Paddy's (with a D) Day. 

walking along the Belfast Lough looking out to St Helen's Bay

walking along the Belfast Lough looking out to St Helen's Bay

Holywood beach on a sunny spring day

Holywood beach on a sunny spring day

Traditional Celtic cross at Clonmacnoise  

Traditional Celtic cross at Clonmacnoise

 

The famous Irish greenery at our local country park - Redburn

The famous Irish greenery at our local country park - Redburn



A Christmas Clause

A poem 

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Who doesn’t like?

Sparkly lights

Heavy colors

A bit of velvet

Hopeful stories

Grandiose food

Togetherness. Just that.

 

Does everyone know?

Do we all feel it?

The richness of life

Appreciating others

The display of emotion

The sharing, the caring?

 

There are those…

Grinches, they say

Lamenting the spending

How it Feeds The Man

How the jingles grate

How shopping is unbearable

But, even they, I think

Love to hate it.

 

Just let us have

One joyous day

To go over the top

To celebrate.

Tweet: A Christmas Clause - a poem by Emily McDaid http://ctt.ec/08047+

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Why do we do it?

I haven't blogged in awhile, and I'll come right out and explain why: I have been through a bit of an identity crisis, asking myself why on earth I'm attempting to be a novelist at a time when the supply of novels vastly outweighs their collective demand.

My husband confided in me that he'd seen a statistic that 400,000 people write a novel in November each year for NaNoWriMo, asking me, "What is your real goal? If it's to write a breakout bestseller, I think you should stop writing today. Because it just seems unrealistic. Writing novels is too hard."

And really, truly, he is right. If my goal in attempting to become a novelist (or continuing to be a novelist, if my two self-published works count) is to hit a bestseller list or to "do this for a living," then I'm barking up the wrong tree.

Right?

Surreal Dream by Caras Ionut, taken from Demilked.com

Surreal Dream by Caras Ionut, taken from Demilked.com

In truth, I don't know the answer to his question. Up till now I've worked hard at my novels under the assumption that there was a glimmer of hope I was creating a new career for myself. After living and breathing the phenomena of self-publishing for two years, I have to say, it's not fun, it can be soul destroying, the reading market is tiny, marketing a product for which there is literally no demand is freaking hard, and my old job was easier*. And way better paid.

*I'm not talking about the writing part... I'm talking about all the crap that comes along with selling your books.

Did I have more talent for my old job (tech PR)? Or is it just easier because it's not a dream chaser? It's not a job that a five-year-old lists as his/her life ambition. Because it's not creative?

This is the crisis, if you want to call it such, that I'm working through. I have a third novel in the works, but there is a major issue with the story -- I simply cannot work out what the ending should be, not after months and months of thinking about it -- and I cannot continue to write it from the place I'm at now until I figure that out.

In looking at this problem, I think the real problem is, I've been trying to make my plot overly sensationalized. I was trying to write a bestseller, rather than just write a meaningful work.

Now that my husband has been frank with me about his thoughts on the impossibility of the publishing industry, I have a fresh pair of eyes with which to review my story, making two pivotal changes; (A) I plan to make it however long it needs to be, novella, short novel, novel, whatever it takes -- I'm currently thinking novella, for which there is probably an even tinier market than novels -- and, (B) Even if nothing happens in the story except the resolution of inner conflict, I'm still going to stick to my story. For the love of my character, if nothing else.

In other words, I guess I've given up hope that I'll become a novelist for a living. But you know what? Maybe that gives me greater freedom to produce better work. Maybe if I finally give up my dream of "making it" in publishing I will shed the conventions, rules and formulas for the betterment of my art.

I hope to keep blogging despite a shift in my thinking. I always aspire to be an inspiration to those who are starting out in writing/publishing. But the truth is, I just don't know where publishing, and the market for books is headed, and that uncertainty colors every move I make.

 

 

I want to know if authors are OK with Google Books

Google won an eight-year legal battle yesterday, gaining the right to scan any book it wants.

I have worked at the intersection of writing and technology for 12 years, and this ruling brings up a shitstorm of emotions pertaining to the rights of content owners (authors, publishers, etc) versus the freedom of the internet.

This tempest of emotion is such that I can't actually report on my own opinion at this time. And I don't often hold back opinion!

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I do however, know that I disagree with the judge's ruling that Google Books "increases book sales." I just don't see how that correlation works.

I also felt distinctly uncomfortable knowing someone could read all but one in ten pages of my books. For. Free.

Finally, the thought crossed my mind that if we're going to claim Google Books is good for education and research, then shouldn't it only include nonfiction works? I know I just opened myself up to a lot of criticism -- but that was my initial feeling. I didn't write a fiction book so that people could read it for free. But if you slaved over a nonfiction work surely there is some element of educating the public and the freedom of sharing knowledge that went into your effort.

I'm trying to start a debate here. I'm genuinely interested to know how authors and technologists feel about this. Or, are you as ambivalent as I am (at the current time)? And, is that ambivalence what gained Google their legal win in the first place? I suspect it is.

 

You don't need to write what you know

A little piece of advice from me to first-time novellists: 

Forgot what they say about "writing what you know."

I have self-published two novels so I'm no Stephen King. I won't be writing a book on writing anytime soon, however, I've learned a lot from writing the two novels that I've done so far, and the third one I'm working on during NaNoWriMo now.

Look at any list of writing wisdom, like this one from P.D. James, and you will usually find something along the lines of, "write what you know."

Absolutely no disrespect to P.D. James or any other great writer, but I disagree with this piece of advice wholeheartedly.

photo by Caras Ionut, a Romanian digital artist and photographer, from demillked.com

photo by Caras Ionut, a Romanian digital artist and photographer, from demillked.com

Why? Because you can research topics you don't know about. You can write about situations your friends, loved ones, coworkers and neighbors have lived through because you've seen it all through their experience. You do not have to make your MC an accountant if you're an accountant, because you aren't writing a book about accounting. You are writing a novel, which, at the end of the day, is about human relationships. If you have been living on this planet and forming relationships along the way, you already have enough fodder to put into a novel.

I think telling new writers to "write what they know" is limiting and clipping their wings, so to speak. I think a far better piece of advice is:

Put every interesting piece of detail you know about that topic into your character's story. Not all in one long piece of exposition, but sprinkled throughout.

There simply aren't enough words in the 80k-or-so words of the average novel to write a dissertation on what it means to be working that profession or living the life of the character. That sort of novel would be dead boring. The most important thing is creating interesting characters, putting them in a fitting setting, and finding out what happens when they intersect. You really do not need an insane level of detail about the character's profession, the disease they are suffering from, or whatever the context of your book is. You can do basic research to get an ample amount of information. What you really need is some interesting people and some interesting tension and conflict, said in an interesting way. And there you have it -- the seeds of a novel. Now you've just gotta sit down and write it.

 

 

Marine A should be offered redemption

As we near Remembrance Day in the UK, several media stories have reminded me why I wrote about the plight of Afghanistan veterans in TETHERBIRD. 

I have been very disturbed since I read the account of Marine A, a soldier who executed a dying POW, an insurgent in Afghanistan, and is now facing mandatory life imprisonment. He was found guilty of murder in court yesterday, while his colleagues were let off.

What Marine A did is barbaric and disturbing, it breaks the Geneva Convention, and should be punished.  His colleagues did not act appropriately either. The story does not make the Royal Marines look good, and this is crucial to his future.

Despite Marine A's horrific crime, I find it equally disturbing that the UK would throw the book at this man, locking him up in prison of the rest of his life.  I'm not alone in this viewpoint.

If we are going to ask our Marines and other soldiers to fight barbaric foreign wars, we have to accept the horrible reality that mistakes are going to be made. If we turn our back on soldiers who have mental health issues, or who act in a way that suggests their mental state was comprised, we are using them as scapegoats and we are equally as wrong as the enemy we're fighting. 

I encourage you to read about Marine A's crime because I think it's so important that the general public stays aware of what is happening in Afghanistan. If people stop paying attention to the news, the media won't report on the war, and they're the only ones keeping tabs on it.

I don't know the specifics of military law, but I believe Marine A should be offered mental rehabilitation in a minimum security prison and the (eventual) chance at a life again.

Our soldiers walk amongst us. They're some of the bravest members of our society, and we cannot put them in the firing line at home as well as at war. We cannot turn our backs on the people who are putting their lives on the line for our freedom. 

 

 

 

What makes novelists different?

I had a conversation last night with a fellow mother of a young boy, who is also a writer (of journalism). 

She asked something I've heard time and time again:

"How in the world do you have time to write novels?"

I am not bragging, but I can't tell you the number of people who have been astonished that I was able to produce two novels in one year when I had two small children. The same people usually look at me like I'm bona fide insane when I tell them I'm already writing a third.

Photo by Julian Stallabrass

I never know how to answer. I always say, "I used my maternity leave to get books out of my system that I'd been thinking about for years." But the real, darker truth is, I wrote books because I would have quite literally lost my sanity otherwise.

Parenting is so full on. Even one child is demanding pretty much 24 hours a day. Even when they're asleep, you don't stop being "on call."  Add another child into that mix (another child who doesn't get along with the first, in my case) and your world becomes complete chaos. 

The only way for me to temper the chaos of my daily existence is to have order in my head. The only way to have order in my head is to have a project, something that can be done largely in my thoughts, that is challenging, engaging and interesting. Writing is that outlet. I'm now back to my usual output of around 600 or 700 words per day, thanks to NaNoWriMo, and I'm starting to feel whole again. I can see a book taking shape* and the prospect is incredibly exciting to me. I don't think there will ever be a time in my life when I'm not writing a book. Maybe I'll never get picked up by a publisher. Maybe I'll always have to spend my own money to self-publish and maybe I'll never make that money back. Maybe I'll never sell thousands of copies because I don't write lowbrow zombie stories or smut. Maybe my books will never sit on shelves and always remain ebooks.

But you know what? I don't care about any of that. What I do care about is remaining sane and healthy.

Novelists are different. We are the ultimate observers of life, but we also experience the world In a different way. Firstly, we write because it is a compulsion, not just a hobby, not just a great love, but an actual compulsion. Secondly, we write to experience something larger than what is going on around us. Thirdly, we dissect human relationships and analyze people's motivations to bring fictional characters quite literally to life inside our heads. Take the outlet of writing away from a person like that, especially after they've become accustomed to having it, and the world can become unbearable. I think psychologists would do well to study novelists and see how their brains work differently. Please leave a comment if there is something else you've noticed about novelists that I've missed.

*My third novel, THAT GUY, is a comedy about Gideon Smee, a full-time Boston father and unemployed journalist. Bored and emasculated as a stay-at-home parent, Gideon creates a bizarre alternate identity for himself as a graffiti artist known as "Free Refills." Suspense builds as he wades into the idiosyncratic art world and rubs elbows with the amusing, yet nefarious, characters who live on the mean streets of Cambridge, Mass. 

 

 

 

 

How to get 39 reader reviews in 4 months by Bianca Sloane

Recently I visited the Amazon page of my critique partner, Bianca Sloane, to see how reviews were faring on her new book SWEET LITTLE LIES. 

I've read the book and I know it's wonderful. But even so, I was absolutely blown away by the number and quality of reader reviews. Since publication on June 19th, Bianca has attracted 39 reviews on her self-published book, with an average 4.5 star rating. 

She's incredible! 

So I asked Bianca, how do you get such great reviews? This is her answer, and I hope every indie can glean something useful from this. Thank you for your openness, Bianca!

"My short, pithy answer is, beats the hell out of me!

My thoughtful answer is, increasing your visibility and building relationships with book bloggers are key strategies and should be the cornerstone of your marketing efforts.

When I launched Sweet Little Lies, I seeded the book with about ten book bloggers who had reviewed my first book and liked it.  After thanking each blogger for taking the time to read and review my book, I asked if they would be willing to review my second book when it came out.  Already having those relationships in place was huge, as I didn't have to reinvent the wheel when it came time to do blogger outreach.  All I had to do was hit "send."  Book bloggers have large and loyal audiences, so having your book on one can be a huge boost -- especially if the blogger likes your book (and remember, not all bloggers will).   

The next thing I did was hold a week-long promotional contest, where I gave away Kindle copies of the book, an Amazon gift card and the winner's choice of one of my five favorite movies about the Dark Side of Love (which is what I write about.)  I gained new Facebook fans and newsletter subscribers and most importantly, I was exposed to new readers who'd never heard of me or my books.

Third, I held my first two KDP Select Days about a month after the book's release.  I know a lot of people are down on the program, but it provided me with a huge boost of visibility and most importantly, sales.  I had a couple of nice reviews going in, which helped.  Also, it's a pretty provocative cover, which I think helped to spur downloads.  I spread my five days out over a few months, rather than doing them all at once.

Finally, and this is ongoing, I keep my eyes and ears open for author interview and multi-author promotional opportunities such as blog hops. These types of activities are free, easy to do, and get your name out there. 

Overall, readers have felt compelled to leave reviews of my books--good and bad!--which is fine.  As long as they feel something.  I know not everyone will like what I write and that's okay, because other people will."

Thanks again Bianca for sharing your story. I have gained some inspiration from this, and I hope others will too. (And if you liked this advice enough, Click Here to Tweet it.)

I share some personal reasons behind my writing

I was honored to be interviewed by fellow author, Alana Woods, who also reviewed Tetherbird and said some wonderful things about the book.  Thank you, Alana.

I told Alana a few personal things about my writing, e.g., how I wrote about the war in Afghanistan after living with the strange and lasting effects of the Vietnam War for most of my childhood. (Please see her post at the above link for that story!)

I love adapting personal experience to a different time and place, inserting it into the lives of my characters, and seeing how they react.  It helps me come to terms with the challenging aspects of my life.

What are your personal reasons for writing? 

I was recently on Villiers Street in London, introducing a friend to Gordon's Wine Bar, which I wrote about in The Boiler Plot. I had a marvelous time living vicariously through my character. And in that vein, here'a a picture of us on that street -- one of my favorite spots in the Big Smoke.

 

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Hold the book and read it too with Amazon MatchBook: the latest literary tempest

Amazon is rolling out its MatchBook program in October, allowing readers to purchase an ebook for a dramatically reduced rate when they purchase the physical book. 

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I think it's wonderful. This is what technology is supposed to do -- make our lives easier, more accessible -- make it easier to consume content, and thereby spread information, learning and culture. 

But of course there are contingents within publishing who believe it will erode revenues even further for publishers. (By the way, no one in this camp seems to care whether it erodes royalties for the person who actually wrote the book.  I mean, who cares about them? They only get 10% anyway.)

I am a big advocate of reading novels quickly. I think it's an art form that is best enjoyed over the course of a week rather than, say, three months. It's easier to remember characters and plot points when you read a novel in a shorter space of time. With both a physical copy to keep by your bedside, and an e-copy on your phone, in your pocket, readers can continue a novel in the line at the supermarket, or in the waiting room at the doctor's office, while commuting, or waiting to pick their kids up at school. Readers who prefer not to use an electronic device right before bed (myself included) can "hold the book and read it too," so to speak.

It's no surprise to me that traditional publishing houses are complaining, and some are rumored to be opting out of the program, which Amazon has made optional. (But let's be honest, it's not really optional; laws of capitalism says everyone will have to follow suit, indies and self-published authors included.)

The days of the $12.99 ebook are over, I'm afraid.  Which is fine by me.

What do you think? 

 

 

A Visit to Europe's New Largest Library

Located in Birmingham, England, just two miles from our house.

The pictures say it all about the epic building. The queues out the door said it all about how literacy has NOT left our culture.  And the keynote speaker, a young girl shot in the face by the Taliban for campaigning for women's rights, and given asylum and the chance to recover in Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, says everything the world needs to know about the UK's politics, and the way it chooses to share its message with the world.

This foreigner sure is proud to live in this great country. 

 

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One Year Being Self-Published: The Good and Bad

Today is my one-year anniversary of uploading The Boiler Plot to Amazon, which I timed to coincide with the London Olympics, so it also happens to be the anniversary of the Olympics. (And yes, they are celebrating that here in Jolly Old England). 

It has been a strange and beautiful odyssey, self-publishing. I can't quite believe that in twelve months I put my first book out there, marketed it, and also wrote and published my second book, Tetherbird. It feels improbable that all of that happened in one year, because it's been such a life-changing event for me.

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Here's some stuff I've learned.  

The Bad Stuff

  • There's not a lot of money to be made in self-publishing unless you get really, really lucky
  • There may not be a lot of money to be made writing books at all, these days
  • It's actually very easy to watch a lot of money disappear. Self-publishing can be free, but it can also be very expensive, depending on how you approach it
  • Self-marketing is hard. Really, really difficult. And it makes you feel pathetic always tooting your own horn. It sometimes feels so gross it actually makes me want to stop writing. (Which is crazy.... see below)

The Good Stuff 

  • Family and friends crawl out of the woodwork, excited to read your work. Which feels, in a word, awesome
  • It strengthens your personal relationships when those closest to you take the time to read an entire novel of your words
  • It's even more heartening when friends offer to act as beta readers or help you by forwarding a marketing flyer. Even the smallest measure feels wonderful, like your friends believe in your dream, like you're not a crackpot to believe in it, too
  • I felt that, by self-publishing, I was achieving a lifelong dream, to get my words out to the public. There aren't enough words in the English language to describe how freeing that is
  • A positive book review from a reader will give you a high like nothing else, except maybe climbing Everest. It feels amazing 
  • Every subsequent thing you write is now penned by a seasoned writer. You are always improving, as a writer
  • When you're at your lowest, the best route up is to pick up a pen

And really, that last bullet point brings me to my message. Writing is for you. Writing is that all-empowering, omniscient salve.... there is nothing too low in life to be beaten by writing. I can write my way out of anything, now. And that feeling is more powerful than any amount of money or power on Earth. Maybe self-publishing is tough, hugely competitive, and maybe it's not the instant dream-maker that some people hope. But it has shown me that I'm a writer, and that I can rely on writing to give me a sense of purpose and achievement, and that I can convey elements of the human existence to complete strangers through the publication of my thoughts through words. And it gives me an outlet for that wild imagination that pokes me constantly with story ideas, characters, plot-lines, dialogue and revelations about the oddities of life.

I feel I have lived more in the past year than I have in any previous year of my life.

Aside from my friends and family, really, there's nothing else on Earth that I want. So I encourage you, despite the bad stuff, get involved. See what it can add to your life.

 

Bucks: A poem about Seattle

Flipping through my notebook, I came across a poem I thought was worthy of putting out there. 

We went to Seattle on vacation and I wrote this rather than setting notes, as I intended. Thankfully this functions as both. Thanks, by the way, to Shawn StJean for the idea of using an author blog as a forum to share poetry.  

 

 

Bucks

steep sidewalks rise to multicultural cloud formations

smoke rings, clowns, machines

the simple, flat Puget Sound mocks the complicated peaks around

the streets crawl with fraught artistic minds - a live folk museum

with misplaced skyscrapers

because they can

to show they have it

success ain't just an East Coast thang

and have you tasted our coffee? 

roots in self-pride. pride in self-expression

I'll take my coffee green, please

I'll rock a reverse mohawk

because I can

homeless men in the shadow of a totem pole with views of the Sound 

tired bodies stretched on the grass, catching z's

bent forward on benches, scratching charcoal drawings

to make some bucks off wanting tourists

whole piles of drawings

art carried on their person

or is it their person?

body as studio

bones as easel

because I am

thick fingers dusty as the toes poking out of their oversized shoes

(shoes worn by donation never fit)

if it rains, when it rains, the drops lend a new dimension to the art

one of them brags about making the front page of the P.I. 

before it went bust

the crumpled sheets, last night's pillow, add texture to the art

solemn faces on the totem pole look down and say, "It's your story. Another story." 

the newspaper artist's cart of possessions so large he couldn't move further than a few blocks

the fraying paper showing his own, unsmiling face, sitting atop his mountain of stuff

i think of how every bathroom in Seattle had a lock with a code 

keepin' 'em out

and i think about how there are no playgrounds, few parks

yet the taxes soar like the Columbia Center which the Sky Needle cowers beneath

if the homeless got the bucks from the piggy bank in Pike Place Market, would that be enough?   

or would they still live the streets

catch z's in the park

speak to the totem

smoke grass, use grass as bedding

a wisp from the coffee shop that took some beans, a brand, made a billion bucks

'cause the coffee's good

because they could

 

 

Being so big you have to write in secret

Anyone in the book biz has likely already seen the news about the "secret reveal" of JK Rowling's crime novel published in April under the name Robert Galbraith

Marketers and authors will immediately spot that the book didn't really sell that many copies....at least not for a writer with a brand like JK Rowling. The Sunday Times reported 1,500, but my Twitter feed says it was more like 500. Now that the "secret" has been "blown" it'll sell a whole bunch more than that, whether it's good or not.*

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The book was reportedly reviewed as "too sophisticated" for a debut novelist, so I guess that means it's relatively good. (I haven't read it.) Have any readers tried The Casual Vacancy? I got the sense a lot of people were pretty "meh" about it, but again, I cannot judge because I haven't picked it up yet.

I started The Dark Half this week by Steven King, a story whose jacket claims it's scarier than The Shining, about an author whose pen name comes alive and terrorizes him. 

So, pen names have been on my mind lately.  King himself used his pseudonym Richard Bachman to great effect, though he claims to have been outed too early to learn whether the name would have taken off without the power of the King brand behind it. I guess it's hard to tell whether your books are going to bomb when you write stuff as amazing as Thinner, one of his forays as Bachman.

A few novelists very close to me use pen names. I want to know: does it make you feel more free? Does it give you a whole different persona to inhabit when you sit down at your laptop/notebook/typewriter? Does it make you feel as if you can write your family/friends into your books with fewer inhibitions?

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I'm thinking of a comedy for my third novel, and that comedy is bound to include characters with traits drawn from some of my more, er, colorful friends and family members. I wonder whether writing it under a pen name would elevate my writing.

Tell me, trusted friends. 

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 *Marketers will also immediately spot my shameless newsjacking of this story to drive readers to my blog. So, carry on, JK, I've got no complaints about the games your publishing house gets up to. It's a hustle, even for brand names like you.

 

 

 

This blog has that nifty email sign-up thing, now

I finally got my blogging act together -- I am a marketing person, after all -- and included an email sign-up option for this blog. 

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It's available to the right in a little box. If you sign up, you'll receive an email between 7-9am EST on the days that I post. No emails any other days. Spam free, I promise. Have a great weekend, everyone.