Tuesday, January 22, 2013

She knows just what to say.


     My wife sat down with me yesterday to have a talk. Besides the fact that she is my rock, she is also very level headed and stable. She remains calm when all about her are losing their minds, namely me. I am at the other end of the spectrum and ride an emotional roller coaster pretty much every day. Having been around her family, who are all very tight to the vest with feelings and take things in stride, I see where she gets her steadfastness. When faced with breast cancer, she walked in the door, told me she had it, and proceeded to map out where we would go from there. I was a basket-case. She never shed a single tear through the whole ordeal. (Well, she did cry when they knocked both of her front teeth out during the breast surgery, but I couldn’t blame her for that.) I credit her attitude for her complete recovery. She has been cancer free for what will soon be twelve years.
     My wife’s mantra has always been, “Might as well laugh as cry.” She faces adversity with a positive human spirit that I envy. There doesn’t appear to be a mountain she’s not willing to climb, if that is what is called for. I can’t imagine a person I’d rather be stranded with, and not just because I love her. She would never give up, never feel sorry for herself, and she would make sure those with her continued to put one foot in front of the other, because there is always hope in her world. So it was to her I turned, when I hit the wall yesterday afternoon.
     I have been working on the next Rainey Bell thriller since last spring. I stopped to write another book and then picked up where I left off in the Rainey book. I started and stopped several times, and then sat down to write out a complete outline of the story, something I never do. I thought that might be what was holding me up. It wasn’t. The book is completely outlined and should have come easy, as all the others had. It didn’t.
     Things had been going very well for me at the beginning of 2012, better than I could have hoped. Yet, I could not shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen. I often heard my mother’s voice in my head, saying, “You never fly so high that you don’t have to come back down.” That has been my experience throughout life. The more successful I became, the more I feared some other part of my life would crash to the ground.
     On March 10, 2012, that prophecy nearly came true. My wife stopped breathing. While she survived the hypoglycemic episode, I shook for months. I watched her like a hawk. I fretted and fussed over her constantly. I stayed on an unremitting vigil, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Although she was doing better, I could not shake the feeling that soon, I would face an unfathomable loss. In this frame of mind, I could not write a Rainey Bell book. I managed to write Out on the Panhandle, and I'm sure that was because it was about us, fiction, but at the heart those characters are me and my wife. The characters were happy and safe, something I prayed would remain true for their real life counterparts.
     After publishing Out on the Panhandle, I tried to write and I did, but not the Rainey book. I write every day, it isn’t always for a novel, but I do practice the art daily. I made some progress with Rainey, but it was like pulling teeth. Writing has always come very easy to me. Once I know where the story is going, it usually just flows out, a constant stream of scenes playing out in my mind. Not this time. It seemed that every time I would get started, I’d lose the flow and stop. The other shoe was swinging in the wind and about to land hard. I could feel a dark cloud rising on the horizon.
     I had learned over the years to listen to that little voice, warning of impending danger. It has served me well. There have been times when I circled the drain like this, and finally saw the problem before it was too late. My instincts are strong and have often alerted me in time to head off disaster. These feelings are a blessing and a curse, for when they hit, I cannot move forward until I have understood them. They can be paralyzing, and I depend on my wife to remind me that worrying about something before it happens does not make the happening of it easier. Still, I could not move forward. Something was dreadfully wrong.
     With all the worrying about my wife, I am happy to say that the dark cloud did not concern her. Unfortunately, my instincts were correct. In early December, I found out my beloved Dixie, the dog I had loved more than any other, my constant companion, my best friend, had a brain tumor. I had three weeks to tell her goodbye. My heart was broken on December 27th, when I had to hold her for the last time and tell her to “rest now.” The shoe dropped.
     Since then, I have tried to move on. Each day is a struggle. I remind myself of all the blessings I have and that I was so, so blessed to have had Dixie in my life. Still, my heart is broken. I began to write again, but it wasn’t easy. It still isn’t. My wife has been supportive and encouraging, but I can’t find the joy in writing that I once had.
     Yesterday, she found me in tears. I had been standing on the back porch, watching the dogs sniff every square inch of the backyard. Most days now, I can go without tearing up, but yesterday, I just couldn’t hold it together anymore. I sat down on the porch steps and just sobbed. My wife came out of the house and sat down beside me.
     “Honey, are you okay?” She asked.
     “Hell no, I’m not okay. I’m pissed as hell that my dog died.”
     “I know, honey,” she said, patting my back.
     “For the first time in my life,” I said, through the sobs, “I had the money to fix anything that happened to her, but I couldn’t fix this.” Then the floodgates opened, and I began to curse the world. “I knew better than to be this happy. I knew I could never have it all. I can’t write. I can’t think. I’ve tried to move on. I’ve tried to understand. I’ve tried to not worry you, but I am barely functioning here. I can’t pull this load.”
     She let me cry some more and then she said, “When a person loves as hard as you do, you can’t avoid a broken heart, but you are stronger than you think. And I know why you can’t write that Rainey book.”
     I was intrigued and wiped away the tears with my sleeve. “Why?” I asked.
     “Because you embody your characters. I live with them, so I should know. Rainey is happy and you don’t want to let the other shoe drop on her. Rainey is the part of your personality that is a bit paranoid. She is the one that never thinks she can be happy. She hears that same voice in her head, your mother, saying she can’t have it all. Rainey, like you, believes there is a price to pay for contentment.”
     “It appears that there is, or at least that has been my experience,” I said, with a bit of sarcasm.
     She raised one eyebrow, which I cannot do and have always envied that ability. “The joy Dixie brought into your life, you think you paid too high a price for that? You would trade the love you two shared, not to have to feel this pain?”
     “Of course not.”
     She asked, “When you traumatize a character, what is your ultimate goal?” 
     I stared at her. I was too emotionally invested in my meltdown for rational conversation.
     She continued, “You take a character down to watch her rise back up. You break their hearts, you traumatize them, and I watch you fall apart with them.” She paused and smiled, “But then I watch you get them back up off their knees. I see you help them find their footing. You reach down and find the strength of character to push them through whatever life hands them. That’s not fiction, honey. They get that from you.”
     I was still dumbfounded, when she stood and started back in the house. She turned, just before she went in.
     “You don’t want to write this Rainey book, because you don’t think your heart can take it right now. I think you should. Go on, wreak havoc in Rainey’s perfect world. You’ll put it back together again in the end. I think it would do you both good. I think it’s what you need to heal your broken heart. My momma had a saying too. ‘You never get so far down that you can’t get back up.’ You just need to take that first step.”
     Last night, I wrote over five thousand words in The Rainey Season.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Steamy Bedroom Windows: Lesbian Fiction and Erotica


     We have moved into a world where LGBT families often include marriage, children, and the mortgage that comes with it. We move more freely as family units through the everyday activities of life. We attend PTA meetings, ballet classes, soccer games, graduations, weddings, and sadly sometimes funerals. We grocery shop, synchronize schedules, and coordinate pickups like air traffic controllers. We are families doing family things, as we watch our children grow.
     Some of us are growing old together, in longstanding relationships without children. Younger couples are just starting that journey. Others have grieved the loss of a partner and are getting by with a close circle of friends. Some of us are watching the kids we raised move on with their lives and are now being handed grandchildren to cuddle. We have retired to that time of which we dreamed, just the two of us doing as we please. We old ones are learning to live in this new, more accepting environment. We fought for the rights we sometimes forget we have, when encountering a place outside our still homophobic climate. We have to remind each other that yes, we can hold hands in public for all to see. No one will harm us here.
     While there is plenty of nightlife left out there, if you’re still young enough to survive a night on the town without requiring a three day recovery period, our social gatherings have moved from under the disco lights. We no longer confine our relationships to the back rooms of bars or clandestine affairs. We live openly, when we can, enjoying the first glimpses of what it might be like to be thought of as equal. We look forward to the day that “We the people” actually includes everyone. The times they are a-changing and the modern LGBT community is changing with it.
     One thing has not changed. It may seem trivial to some, but it is indicative of what the world outside of the LGBT community believes about us—that we are addicted to sex. We evidently cannot control our sexual desires and must have either just had sex, are having sex, or are about to have sex, as soon as we can be rid of the minor distraction getting in the way, like the other people in the elevator. Anytime, anywhere, and with anyone, we are not picky, or so they say. So, when I type “lesbian fiction” in the search engine at Amazon, I am not surprised by what pops up. Dismayed by some of the content, but not surprised.
     I just took a gander at the best sellers in lesbian fiction page. (It updates every hour, so by now it has probably changed.) The current top two sellers have crotch shots on the covers. Good for them. I’m sure they deserve their standing among the top selling books. It’s an achievement to be applauded. My argument is not with the covers or subject matter of these books. I don’t know that they are not sweet romances, where sex is a healthy part of a burgeoning romance and an integral part of the plot. The covers and titles would suggest otherwise, but you never know. All I know is, as other authors have stated, I don’t show my mother when I make it to page one of the best sellers list. Any moment of pride would be crushed by the ensuing conversation about all the half-naked women and crotch shots. It just confirms what she thinks. If I write lesbian fiction, it must be a “sex book” or erotica for those more eloquent than my mother. 
     Also on the list of best sellers are mysteries, thrillers, romances, and historical fiction. Most of these books contain sex, but the plot is not driven by the two main characters’ intimate escapades. When I search those categories without the lesbian qualifier, I am not bombarded with erotica. But add lesbian to the inquiry and the one-handed readers come into play. Why is that? No one is disputing that sex sells, but do plot and character driven books belong in the same genre listings with erotica just because they have lesbian characters? Where is the line in the sand distinguishing what is erotica, and who is drawing that line? Should erotica be a stand-alone genre with subcategories indicating gay, lesbian, straight, etc., or remain under the all-encompassing gay and lesbian fiction umbrella? Considering the expanding variety of lesbian fiction outside of the romance and erotica categories, is it time to take a look at restructuring the genre itself?
     I’m no prude. Read and write what you want. Sex is great. I'm 51, not dead, and not complaining.  Erotica sells, but is straight erotica included among the mainstream genres? And before the Fifty Shades of "Oh my God, are you kidding me?" argument gets started,  let me point to the debate happening in a much larger venue than my blog. I will simply say, the clamor over Fifty Shades of "Misogynistic Dribble" started when it came out as Twilight fanfic, and was removed from the site after it was deemed too erotic. I can also point to the Fifty Shades Generator | Terrible erotic fiction at the click of a button link.  Seriously, this series is a breakout anomaly that appears from time to time, not the norm, and clearly labeled a best selling "erotic" trilogy. Being a best seller does not change it's erotic genre status in the mainstream publishing world. 
     This is not about censorship or judgment. It’s more about changing the perception of our lives. Amazon’s lumping of erotica into the fiction category is just a symptom of how we are perceived. Our lives are changing. We are out, proud, and taking great strides toward equality. We are asking that people take their noses away from our steamy bedroom windows and look at us in our living rooms, where we are just people living very ordinary lives, where we have something to say other than the whispered desires of breathless passions. That request seems impractical when one look at an Amazon search result reveals we don’t seem able to pry our noses from the windows either. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Telephone Game and Jodie Foster


     We all played the telephone game as kids. The kid at the end of the line would whisper into the next one’s ear, and by the time it reached the end of the line the message had been mangled beyond recognition. Like many children’s games, we were supposed to learn something from it. It was a lesson about whispering rumors, about listening carefully, about questioning the authenticity of messages passed from one person to another. It was an illustration of how our brains work, how we play an active role in the interpretation of what we hear.
     Since Jodie Foster’s Golden Globes speech last night, her words have been examined, analyzed, criticized, cheered, misunderstood, misinterpreted, and applauded. It seems everyone heard something different. I watched the speech and then watched it again after the Internet blew up with “Did she or didn’t she just say…” propaganda. At times, I wondered if some people really saw the speech and if they did, were they listening.
     I’m going to preface all of this by confessing that I am a huge Jodie Foster fan. I’ve been infatuated with her since the very first time I saw her on “Mayberry RFD.” I resembled her enough to be asked for autographs as a child. Unfortunately, this resemblance did not follow me out of my early twenties. Jodie is seventeen months younger than me, and I can assure you the years were much kinder to Ms. Foster. Didn’t she look fabulous?
     I followed her career, like most of the lesbians I know. It seems that many of us adopted Jodie into our families, before we ever knew “our family” would not be the one formed by blood relations. We all “knew,” if not what exactly it meant, that Jodie was one of us. She never let me down. While I did not like every movie she made, I have immense respect for Jodie’s acting abilities. In my opinion, “Nell” was one of her finest performances and she did it without the crutch of language. Looking back at those first appearances she made, from the Coppertone ads through her incredibly mature performance in Taxi Driver, it is plain to see that even as a child she was an extremely gifted actress. The camera loved Jodie, and so did we.
     Jodie grew up with me, in a time where being an out lesbian was a career killer. Be it teacher, soldier, or actress, an out woman could find her career at an end with one whispered word, “lesbian.” In my former profession, teacher, I would have been fired on the spot with absolutely no recourse. That “moral turpitude” clause meant my employer got to decide what acceptable morals were. I stopped being a teacher in 2010, but that stigma is still alive 'n well out here in the Heartland. Once out of that world, I blew the closet doors off. While I was out to my family and friends, I had never, and I mean never, acknowledged rumors or “knowing” looks. My job depended on it. So, while many people I worked with, including my principal, “knew” and said nothing, it would have taken only one whispered word to end my career. When Jodie raised her hands last night and crowed, “I’m fifty,” I understood the smile on her face. It said so much more than how old she was. It said to me, “I’m fifty. I made it this far, and by God, the rest of this ride is going to be on my terms.”
     That’s where the telephone game analogy comes in. People heard what they wanted. I heard a declaration of freedom. When Jodie said she had an admission to make, teasing us to edges of our couches, her “I’m single” declaration sent me into peels of laughter. I got it. I understood that she knew we were all waiting with bated breath and then dropped the punch line with perfect timing. She followed it up by very eloquently saying that her sexuality was not a secret to her family and close friends. I understood the line about coming to terms with her sexuality as a young girl. I saw a hint of pain there, and remembered the confusion and longing that accompanied that same time in my life. She said enough, issue over, at least for me. Not so much for others.
     I’ve read that people are disappointed that she didn’t stand up for all those little girls out there, waiting for a role model to look up to. Hey, most of those little girls don’t even know who Jodie Foster is and their role models are not fifty-year-old actresses, gay or straight. If Jodie is someone a little girl looks up to, I think she is a fine example to aspire to. She has admitted she’s gay. How many times does she have to say it? Does she really need to say “I am a Lesbian,” using those exact words? The role model I saw last night gave us a glimpse of her family, her loves, and her passions. I know that she supports The Trevor Project and other organizations benefitting the LGBT community. She is a successful businesswoman, a loving mother and daughter, and a loyal friend who reaches out to those she cares about in their darkest times. Role model? You bet!
     Interpreting her speech as a retirement declaration just baffled me. What I heard is that she is moving away from the big box office world of Hollywood. She seemed to be saying that she was going to be doing what she wanted, telling the stories she wants to tell, and the hell with the critics and other people’s expectations of her. Welcome to the world of self-publishing Ms. Foster. <BIG GRIN>  In front of or behind the camera, I’ll follow you. I can’t wait to see what Jodie wants to tell us, without the censorship of Hollywood studios.
     She was criticized for “rambling” and “appearing nervous.” There are other parallels with my life and Jodie’s. I was also an actress. I say “was,” but once you are, you never really aren’t. Despite what people think, most actors are very shy and private people outside of the public’s eye. That nervous laughter Jodie is so famous for, that’s a self defense mechanism. Every word she has uttered in public for forty-seven years has been scrutinized. The telephone game mangling of her intentions has happened time and time again. Jodie was being herself and that is oh so much more frightening than playing a character. I remember the first reading I was about to do. I was nervous, really nervous. My wife asked me why, after all the performances I had participated in, would I fear a public appearance. I told her it was because I was going to have to be me. I fully understand Jodie’s nervousness, the adrenaline that was blasting through her veins. Thirty years in the theatre business and my voice shook through that first reading, as if I had never stepped foot on a stage.
     I could keep going, address all the things people are saying, but what would be the point. Like the accusation that she did not address her career, the reason for the award. If all that was seen was the speech, then the viewer missed her life go by on the screen prior to her taking the podium. What more could she say? “Look, look what I did. Aren’t I fabulous.” People saw and heard what they wanted. It’s just more telephone games. I can only know what I heard, what I saw. I heard a woman I greatly admire talk about her life, her loves, her sorrows, her joys, and her impending loss. She grew up in front of us, her life’s work recorded on film. I am proud of the woman she became. I respect her right to privacy and believe many more people would, if they knew just how terrifying her life has been at times. Jodie Foster owes me no explanations, no declarations, no glimpses into her bedroom. I think she’s given us more of herself than we ever deserved.
     The bill is paid in full, Ms. Foster. Now, go live your life. Do as you please. Pay no attention to the clamor. And thank you for being my sister, even if you didn’t know it. I “knew” and it was all that mattered. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Closing Doors


     The news of yet another lesbian publisher closing its doors is not something I like to see. I don’t know the reasons for the closing. Sometimes the reasons are tied to the health of the person who keeps things rolling. That is always sad and unfortunate for everyone concerned. But more often, it is because the business has ceased to thrive. Can’t keep the doors open, if you can’t pay the bills.
     Some people might think that as a self-published author, I’m over here with a self-satisfied smirk, mumbling under my breath, “I told you so.” I’m not. Well, not smirking anyway. I don’t want to see publishers going under. It isn’t good for lesbian fiction and it certainly isn’t good for the authors that signed with them. Despite my success as a self-published author, I would sign with a publisher if – and that is a big if – I saw an advantage to doing so. So far, I see an industry that needs to make some changes, and those slow to do so will be the next to bow out.
     What would make me sign with a publisher? What would prompt me to give up the 70-30 split I have with Amazon? What would entice me to give up the complete control self-publishing affords me? Why the publisher of my dreams, of course. And what would that look like, you may ask? I’ll tell you. I’m sure publishers do provide many of the things of which I dream, but I want it all in one bundle. Too selfish? Too self absorbed? Maybe, but if I’m giving up some of my pie, I’m of the mind that I should get some whip cream to go with my remaining share in return. My speaking openly about the business side of writing may take some of the romance out of the profession, but the sad truth is, publishing is a business. Gone are the days of the starving writer, while the publisher eats most of the pie. We're pulling up to the table, ladies. Pass the whip cream. 
     The publisher of my dreams would give me the time to write, taking care of all the things that distract from that. They would manage my website, custom made for me, not a cookie cutter template used for all the authors under their wing. They would handle publicity, and that doesn’t mean a generic announcement on Facebook and other social media sites. It means sending well-written press releases to all the major outlets serving the lesbian community. It means following up those releases, arranging interviews, book reviews, award entries, and public appearances. It means networking and championing the authors in their flock, and finding a way to make each one feel important, worthy of their time. I realize a certain amount of self-promotion falls on every author, but I see my author friends, who have signed with publishers, still doing all the things I do and for a much smaller piece of pie.
     I mentioned control earlier. That’s a biggie. Right now, I write what I want, when I want, and publish on my own schedule. I see no reason to hold a book ready for production, just to fit into somebody else’s idea of a publishing schedule. What, are they afraid there will be too many books to choose from? As Duck Dynasty’s Uncle Si would say, “Hey, wake up, Jack.” Has the explosion of titles in recent years not taught the publishers anything? These readers are voracious. There aren’t enough books to satisfy them. No way in hell you’re going to flood the engine and stall the car. So what, if you have a writer that produces a book every two years and one that writes three in twelve months. Forcing that prolific writer to wait in line certainly makes self-publishing more attractive.
     The publisher provides the author with an editor in most contracts. I think every author’s dream is an editor they can trust wholeheartedly, an editor that understands their style, their voice, and wants nothing more than to help tell the story the best way possible. They are the shoulder needed on some occasions and the voice of reason on others. They help hone and sharpen the author’s tools. They hold up the mirror every author needs to look into from time to time. Now, this editor is not one that is so swamped by other people’s manuscripts that they have no time to really work individually with any of them. This dream editor is paid well to handle a few authors and keep them all working and happy. An overworked, underpaid editor can’t be good for business. Again, as a self-published writer, I don’t wait in line. To be completely above board here, the editor I have been using has now taken a position with a publisher. It hasn’t been a problem, but should it be, we’ll part ways amicably and I’ll go find one willing to work on my schedule. Good editors are in demand, and I realize they must have steady work to make a living, but turn around time is something I would consider before hiring anyone. I’m not asking that an editor drop everything for me. Waiting weeks is doable. Waiting extended months between editing passes, not so much. I pay well and pay often, and am willing to pay more for speed and efficiency. The faster we work together the more books we produce and the more money there is to be made. Happy readers, happy author, happy editor, happy, happy, happy. (I confess, I love Duck Dynasty.)
     I would never sign with a publisher that held the e-book release back, while trying to make money off readers with over-priced print books. Print books are expensive to produce and distribute. The old warehouse model of printing books is a dead issue. It’s an expense that is neither necessary nor profitable. Print-on-demand alleviates the cost of printing books that end up taking up space in a warehouse, while the author makes no money and the publisher is out the expense. In the modern world, a person pushes a button on the Internet, pays for the book, a machine prints it, and it gets put in a box and shipped. It’s not rocket science folks. It’s progress. Holding off on e-book releases strikes me as counter productive. While I do have readers who prefer print, far more often, people who purchase my print books have read them as e-books first. Because print books cost more to produce and I don’t like charging out the ass for a paperback, I set my prices as low as my print-on-demand distributor will allow. I understand that printing in bulk is less expensive per copy, but weigh that against the cost of letting them sit on shelves or in boxes unsold. I make pennies on print books and offer them only as a service to readers who want them. Print makes up less than 3% of my total sales. I don’t seek out print outlets, because, let’s face the reality here, they aren’t lining up outside the bookstore for my new release. They are downloading off the Internet and getting it much faster. The e-book market is more fluid, easier to manage, and meets the demands of the instant gratification world we live in. The publishers are in this to make money. I get that, but playing games with the readers is going to backfire on them. You can already hear the rumblings of revolt.
     If I sign with a publisher, I lose control of pricing. That would be a big consideration as well. I charge less for my e-books than most of the “publishers,” not because I don’t think people would pay more for my novels or that my self-published work is any less valuable than that of a “published” author. I still have the same expenses they do for producing a book. I pay for an editor, cover art, publicity, formatting, distribution, etc., and the more mundane utilities and such. I produce a product that is obviously in demand. (Don’t believe it when they say you can’t make a living selling lesbian fiction. If you write books people want to read, you can. It’s as simple as that.) The reason I don’t charge as much is a personal one. My newest e-books are not the cheapest out there, but they are still a dollar less than what I could charge. My older books are less expensive and I’ve started dropping the prices on them as they age. I remember having no money and what a luxury it was to buy a newly released favorite author’s book. It’s the same reason I get pissed at the gas pump, when the prices rise and fall at some corporate whim. How much profit is too much? Publishers scream about Amazon keeping the prices too low with their $9.99 ceiling on e-books. (These are the same people that want you to go to their website and pay much more for their product than they can charge on Amazon, supposedly because the author gets more money. That may be true, but I'm not paying nearly $20 for a paper back book, not even my own. This practice smacks of manipulation and mendacity toward the hand that feeds them.) I’m doing just fine. Maybe publishers need to look at how they do business if they are losing money on at Amazon, and pay special attention to that chapter on supply, demand, and how they are affected by pricing. Selling more at a cheaper price usually makes a higher profit margin in the long run. I didn’t make that up. I actually paid attention in that class. I think the guy at Amazon probably read that chapter too. So, why should I gouge the readers because I can? It’s not that I devalue what I do. I make a very comfortable living as it is. I feel no need to take more than what I consider my fair share. Sure, I’d love to be wealthy beyond my dreams. I’d like to win the lottery too, but then maybe I have. I am fortunate to be able to do what I love. I owe something back. That may sound like socialism to some. I call it karma.
     I just have to stop here and say, “BUNK” to those that buy only from “publishers,” because of the perceived notion that if the book was any good it would have been “published.” There are some pretty big names out there in the self-published world these days. If things don’t change, which is the point of this blog, there will be a whole lot more self-published success stories. There is a new breed of author and editor team out there. Technology is making the ability to self-publish easier every day. True, that makes it convenient for people to slap a cover on some blank, or what should be blank, pages and sell them. Be a smart shopper. Download the samples and see what is between the covers. If an author won’t show you a sample of their work, move on, nothing to see here. Simply dismissing someone because they chose to self-publish is as much a head in the sand stance as pretending the e-book is not here to stay. Maybe they are digging in the sand for those 8-track tapes they had back in the day.
     So, my dream publisher would make my life easier, provide me with support, a good editor, a publishing schedule I could live with, and catch up to the changing world of technology. I would never feel as though I was one among many, waiting on hold, while my muse runs off with another woman, because I couldn’t get the help I needed in a timely fashion. My royalty checks would arrive on time with a complete accounting. I understand that is a big issue with the “published” crowd. Not a problem I deal with. I can see my sales by the hour. I know exactly how much my check will be every month. There is real security in that. And if Amazon shut down tomorrow, the technology exists to sell from my own website, keeping all the royalties. I choose to let Amazon sell my books and not have to deal with it. That is worth 30% to me. I’d be handing that over to my dream publisher gladly, maybe more. After all, if I’m happy, I’m writing, and that makes me happy. See how that works?
     I’d like to see the publishers take a good hard look at how they do business. What are you doing to help your authors be happy? Are you keeping up with technology? Are you doing all you can? Are you reaping the benefits of that prolific writer, or making them wait in line, losing money because of it? Have you grown too big to give the attention necessary to each author’s work, become an assembly line of carbon copy covers and editorial decisions? Do your editors have the time to spend with the author needed to produce the best novel possible? Are you listening to the readers and taking notes? Or are you scrambling to find out why your authors are turning to self-publishing, because after all, what have you done for them lately? My hat is off to any writer and publisher that have found this utopia together. But to those who still insist on keeping the lion’s share of the pie, without sweetening the pot with some tender loving care and nurturing of their authors – don’t look now, the doors are closing.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Caffeinated Ramblings and an Aspen Tree Grove



     I'm up, caffeinated, and not wanting to write, but to talk about writing. It's a curse of authors. We do love to chat about our books, ideas, and inspirations. So, let's chat, shall we. A while back, I read an author’s comment that she never read her own books after they went to print. I don't sit down and read them front to back, but I do visit my books often. (Well, most of them. I have no desire to read Before It Stains again. That was painful to write and I'd just as soon let it lie.) My characters are so attached to this web of stories I've told, it's really hard to keep up with all the different voices. The last thing I want to do is have a bunch of women, all with the same voice and opinions. Just like in any social circle, in Molly's world all of the participants are unique and bring their own insights. I look at Molly as the mother Aspen tree, simply because she is connected to all of the main characters. Like an Aspen grove, my fictional world is one organism tied together by its roots, but each character has her own tree.
     There are tiny saplings like Mo, Steph, Jamie, and Sandy, pretty much the size and shape they will always be. I don’t have any intention of visiting them again, but there is no need to cull them out. You never know when a growth spurt will hit. Over there, that patch of young trees grouped together, that’s Harper, Lauren, and the Tar Bar girls. I do hope to see them again. I think there is more to that story. There are giant trees, like Molly’s. She offers so many possibilities, there’s no telling how tall and spread out she will become. Rainey’s tree is pretty solid too. She hovers over Katie and stands at Molly’s back, away from the others, watching and growing. Gray and Lizbeth are the two on the edge of the grove, their full limbs turned toward the sun. Decky and Charlie, well, they are the two kind of bent ones near the stream, their upper branches entwined. They grow stronger together. Under the larger trees are the characters that sprout from each story, the friends and family on which the main characters depend.
     Scattered around on open patches of ground are the seedlings, characters that have sprung up independently, but always attached to Molly somehow. Sometimes I don’t see how Molly could be remotely involved with a story, until she walks into the room or answers the phone. Hell, I didn’t know she was Stephanie’s old girlfriend, until she just was. Who knew she would end up being Rainey’s best friend, attorney, and ass saver on occasion? When Lizbeth dialed the phone to talk to her oldest friend about her recent discover that yes, women could be very attractive, I had no idea Molly was going to answer. Molly just seems to find a way onto the page. I’m glad the readers like Molly. She is bound and determined to be part of the show.
     So, I visit my grove quite often. I prune, water, and remove the dried up sprigs that didn’t receive enough sunlight, withered, and died. I tend to the young seedlings, assuring them that one day they will grow into big trees, just like the others. Give it time, I say. I watch to make sure the mature trees continue to grow straight and true, retaining their individual characteristics, while keeping a strong connection to the roots from which they sprung. Sometimes, I’ll rest in a particular tree’s shadow, visiting. It’s very much like sitting down at the kitchen table sharing a cup of coffee with an old friend, reliving shared memories of tears and laughter. It may sound crazy, but I like these women. I enjoy their company. I wait for them to tell me more, so that our adventures can continue.
     Yes, I re-read my books. I like them. If I didn’t like them, there really would have been no point to publishing them. They are my children and I am responsible for them, warts and all. I may favor one from time to time, but they all have a special place in my fictional world, my Aspen grove of imaginary friends. I hope my grove continues to thrive and spread with new ideas. You never know. An Aspen tree grove in Utah is the largest living organism in the world.