A professional milestone

It may or may not be common knowledge that, under my real name, I run B10 Mediaworx, an author services / digital formatting company, which I’ve been doing for the past … mmm … four years. I think. Anyway, before that, I was an at-home medical transcriptionist for six years. I haven’t worked out of doors in ten years.

Well, doing this with babies/toddlers isn’t easy, let me tell you, but once they started going to school, my work life got a lot more productive. And it was so blessedly QUIET. I love(d) working at home. Free and breezy. But a couple of years ago, I found I had a lot more work to do AND I was slacking on the internet during the quiet time. So I started going to the UMKC library on Sundays to work, because they’re open until 11:00pm. AND it was a hassle getting a password for the internet, which I declined to do, because I didn’t WANT to be on the internet. One problem: They aren’t open every Sunday. Well, okay, I could work around that.

Until I couldn’t.

In November, we found out my husband’s employer was closing its Kansas City offices and sending its employees home to telecommute. Talk about a life change. And I do not do well with change. Of any sort. Even good ones. (Don’t come near me for two weeks after I’ve moved into a new house. Just don’t.)

For reasons I don’t know, Sunday, I was cruising Craigslist for office space. I mean, that’s not what I started out looking for. But I found this awesome deal for a little hole-in-the-wall above an old store in an old section of Liberty, Missouri. And it happens to be kitty-corner to the perfect bookstore. (Which is still perfect and I see a whole lot of other people are just discovering the concept and thinking they were original. Heh.) I emailed, as per protocol, but heard nothing. My husband had Monday off and said, “Well, why don’t we go up there and see what we can see?” Well, why not, indeed. I took my checkbook, just in case.

An hour later, I had an office. 140 ft2 of rehabbed historical building on Liberty Square, across from the courthouse, down the street from Jesse James Bank Museum, with a door and a lock and, most importantly, NO BOSS.

Today, I started moving in.

And I am ridiculously giddy.

The making of Dunham

And so begins a post (or series of them) (you know how wishy-washy I am) on Dunham, the privateer-heroine and pirate-hero Revolutionary War swashbuckler, which, for those of you not following the serial, will be available for sale July 4, 2013.

To kick it off, here’s the final cover for the official book:

dunham-fullflat-web

I struggled with the question of whether to go with a slightly modified version of the serial’s cover to deal with familiarity to those who’ve followed the story all year (yes, almost a year!). But in the end, I decided not to. Why? Several reasons.

1. At and during the RT Booklovers convention two weeks ago in Kansas City, I had a few marketing epiphanies courtesy of Tracey Reid (but most of which I can’t articulate yet, which is why I haven’t written about it).

2. My attempt at articulating this epiphany to my friend Melissa Blue brought forth an issue I hadn’t thought about: my books’ covers. ALL OF THEM. The fact that they needed a serious makeover. And that it must be done before Dunham was released to take advantage of the marketing wave.

3. So I did that. The Proviso, Stay, Magdalene, and “Twenty-dollar Rag” have new covers. In a different post, I’ll talk about the evolution of those, as I did before, long ago when I was just starting out.

bookcovers-banner

4. After I had done that, I realized that the variation of the serial cover I had made could not conform to the format I’d made for the previous titles, so I scrapped it and redid it from scratch.

I also decided to remove the series tag from Dunham and, subsequently, book 5, which is a post-apocalypse polyandry tale (as yet not officially titled). That, too, was for a reason: people see a series number and assume that the series has an overall arc and that book X is NEXT in the chronology. It makes them less inclined to pick it up because who wants to start something in the middle of a series? Even so, the four contemporary ones above, while perfectly able to be read alone, are, in fact, chronological, and so the series tag is appropriate.

Yet I needed the cover of Dunham to conform with the first four while still being separate. You will also notice that the featured couple is on the back instead of the front. Why was this? Because Dunham is as much epic adventure as it is romance, I want to capture male readers. There are ships involved and thus, naval battles.[1]

And so we have a cover that reflects the pattern of the four contemporary covers, but is also separate.

People DO judge a book by its cover because marketing has evolved so much that people can tell exactly what’s in it. Well. Maybe not exactly. But close enough to the target market to do the job.

____________

[1] I have done as well as I could regarding ship details and battles involving tall ships, which, I will have you know, is very difficult to come by for this very narrow window of time. It was a time of shipbuilding upheaval and drastic changes in naval warfare that began somewhere around 1760 and ended right around 1798, from which evolved the zenith of tall ship building and warfare, on display at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. In short, a LOT of significant things happened in shipbuilding technology and naval warfare between 1780 and 1805.

Veni, vidi, vici.

stfu_lg1I had several ideas for this post’s title:

“I’m not one of you.”
“Repeating myself”
“Tired of the sound of my own voice”
“Being silent”
“Serial starter”

Anyway, all of them are pertinent to my point, but they all mean different things. I’ll take them one by one.

“I’m not one of you.”

In the cult of self-publishing, the loudest voices are the ones who write fast and put out an oeuvre faster than I can switch channels on the TV. They are the ones who say such things as:

“If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer.”
“If you want to make any money at this, you have to write X number of words per day.”
“Writing is a business.”
“You must outline to write a decent book.”

and my personal favorite,

“Writers are lazy,” which post I would link to, but it has since been pulled. (Here’s the rebuttal.)

It’s all bullshit. Rather, the fact that all writers must follow these instructions as gospel is bullshit. The fact is, writers write for a whole host of reasons, only one of which is to make their works commodities. I provide a commodity service. I’m not in the business of writing novels to make them commodities too.

Commodities are soulless, interchangeable widgets, and I don’t believe that books are commodities at all. I also don’t believe that writing fast makes a book soulless. I simply can’t write that fast and put the time and thought into them that I do.

So, to you incessant voices in self-publishing and those of you who were trained as midlist authors to keep putting product out there, I’m not one of you.

Which leads me to my second point:

“Repeating myself”

I am not on the vanguard of self-publishing. Dan Poynter is. Aaron Shepard is. Morris Rosenthal is. April Hamilton is. They are mostly nonfiction writers and they speak to writers of niche nonfiction. For instance, Dan started out publishing parachuting and skydiving treatises.

I am, however, on the vanguard of self-publishing fiction, along with Ann Somerville and others in niche genres. I took a lot of heat for it, too. The loudest voices in self-publishing now were once rabid anti-self-publishers and some of them attacked me personally both publicly and in email for it. Hey. Assholes. I blazed your trail. You’re welcome.

(Oh, is that arrogant? Yeah, I know. I’m a woman. I’m not supposed to be arrogant. Suck it.)

I’ve said all I want to say, I’m noticing repetitious themes in my writing that annoy me, and I’ve become

“tired of the sound of my own voice.”

You may have noticed that, other than posting Dunham chapters, I haven’t blogged a lot.

“Being silent”

I seek silence like water seeks the ocean. You wouldn’t know it to meet me at a cocktail party, conference, or convention, but I’m an introvert. (Please see “Caring for your introvert” and “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.”)

“Serial starter”

I like to start projects. I rarely finish them. The ones I finish, I really, really care about. And then I abandon them. Because I’m bored with that.

“Veni, vidi, vici.”

You know where I’m going with this by now. For decades, I have wanted to be a published author. Like, since I was 15, which is exactly three decades. It may have been earlier, when I was around 10 and wanted to submit something to one of the Reader’s Digest quip sidebars. I knew how to follow instructions. My submission wasn’t published. But by the time I was 15, I had found out a) how to submit to Harlequin, b) what to submit to Harlequin, c) how many words I had to write to submit to Harlequin (Presents line, in case you were wondering), and d) about how much a Harlequin advance was and how much in royalties I could expect and when (answer: zero, which was okay with me at the time).

Along the way I have had disappointments and obstacles and tangential projects and replacement projects, all while going to school, earning a living being, basically, an administrative handyman because I had an unbelievable skillset and a degree. You know, living life as a marginally normal person. There was always something odd about me. Everybody knew it but me, until I finally got a clue by working in a very dysfunctional place.

So along comes 2007 and, after 7 or 10 or however many years when I had given up writing totally, out pops this doorstopper. And so I published it. And so I had MOAR STORIES TO TELL!!! So I did that. And here we are, five years later and I’m about to publish book 4 in a planned 5-book series, and I realized this morning…I’m done. I did it. I did what I wanted to do, which was to get my stories out on paper and to the public.

I have no more stories. I will write book 5, but it’ll be a while, and I will likely go dark for that time, but I owe those fans who have been slowly accumulating and who love the world I built.

The difference this time, in seeing the light at the end of this obsession’s tunnel, is that for the first time in my life I have no overarching “This is what I want to do.” I’ve done it. I quit writing once and had nothing to fill that creative void so I made a cross-stitch design company and permanently killed my love for my favorite hobby. But always, getting a book published was my overarching life goal–because I thought it would take my entire life to do so. Writing was my life’s work and I never thought I’d run out of stories to tell.

But I have, and now it’s time to move on.

So…where do I go from here?

I dunno, but I’m gonna read a lot of books while I try to figure it out.

Of artists and assholes

"Sit down, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time I ate your hamster this morning."Orson Scott Card doesn’t make a hill of beans’ worth of difference to me. I never read him until I was an adult (and haven’t read Ender’s Game), I was underwhelmed with the Alvin Maker series, and aside from his strong views on homosexuality, he has some other truly whacko ideas that also thoroughly and completely offend my libertarian sensibilities.

I weighed in on the controversy over his short story “Hamlet’s Father” because I can’t stand it when people rant about books they haven’t read. That is intellectually dishonest, and the people I saw doing this promote themselves as intellectually honest. Sorry, nope. Get off your fucking high horse and read the fucking book, then come back and talk to me.

A couple of days ago, I was cleaning out my feed reader and old web articles I’d saved and came across this: Broken, by Lefsetz, a music industry critic, in which he opines about the necessity of great art to come out of broken people. So this was already on my mind when I had an email conversation with a friend who is grieving her relationship with Card’s work because he personally is an asshole.

So this is what I said:

You wanna know why lit programs take the author out of the work? Because they don’t want to know what assholes the authors are.

I don’t know why anybody thinks an asshole can’t write empathetic characters. All you have to do is observe people and understand human nature. And in the end, the authors will reveal themselves to you in one of their characters, or leave bits of themselves in all of them (cf this article’s reference to Peter—the villain, I take it?).

Charles DickensDickens was an ass. Scrooge? Maybe parts of him.

Hitler was a talented artist.

Artists, great ones, are depressive, narcissistic, selfish, mentally ill, and sometimes evil. There are some who know how to act in public and some who don’t. It just kinda goes along with the artist thing.

It’s just that now people have access to these artists’ assholery and they don’t like the type of personality it takes to make great art. Not only that, but they don’t want them to self-medicate to mediate the bad personality traits but keep the great art. They want them to be emotionally stable. They want them to be normal.

Oh, hello, Van Gogh. Mozart. Polanski. (Shall we talk about Polanski?)

But art that touches people doesn’t come out of normal.

Card fans are grieving. Deeply, by the tenor of what I’m reading around the web. While I understand it, I’m kind of unsympathetic because people want great art, but they don’t want people to have the characteristics of what it takes to make great art.

Magdalene and Publisher’s Weekly

For an author, a Publisher’s Weekly starred review is one of the holy grails of reviews. It’s one of those things that, for a writer, is right up there with The Call (“Hi, Mojo. I want to offer you a contract for your book.”). I’ve had pretty close brushes with getting The Call, which (three times, to be precise) ended up to be “I love this book and I want to buy it, but I can’t because of Freak Things 1, 2, and/or 3.” What I have never dared aspire to (especially once I started down the self-pub path) is a review in Publisher’s Weekly at all, much less a starred one. But then Tuesday, this happened:

And you know what? I’m kinda proud because I had some goals with this book and, at least for this reviewer, I hit some of them. Later I received an email from the senior editor of reviews at PW passing along some more remarks the reviewer made, which made me believe that I accomplished almost all of my goals with the book.

But there is one I want to talk about because it’s not one that’s obvious. And it’s not obvious because I set this challenge for my own benefit, not for the reader’s.

In 2008, my editor for Monsters & Mormons, Wm Morris, wrote this piece at A Motley Vision (a Mormon lit blog): Stephenie Meyer’s Mormonism and the “erotics of abstinence.” The erotics of abstinence. Well, that’s an intriguing little idea. He was springboarding from this Time piece: Stephenie Meyer: A New J.K. Rowling?, wherein the author says this:

But it is the rare vampire novel that isn’t about sex on some level, and the Twilight books are no exception. What makes Meyer’s books so distinctive is that they’re about the erotics of abstinence. Their tension comes from prolonged, superhuman acts of self-restraint. There’s a scene midway through Twilight in which, for the first time, Edward leans in close and sniffs the aroma of Bella’s exposed neck. “Just because I’m resisting the wine doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the bouquet,” he says. “You have a very floral smell, like lavender … or freesia.” He barely touches her, but there’s more sex in that one paragraph than in all the snogging in Harry Potter.

I, like Wm (and pretty much everybody else who read the book), was intrigued by that idea.

In 2008, Mitch and Cassie were a bare glimmer in my mind. I had mentioned Mitch’s name a couple of times in The Proviso with absolutely no intention of following up on that. Cassie didn’t even exist when I wrote the sketch with a nameless unreliable and unlikeable narrator in the style of “Snuff.” I like to do those sometimes, usually because something catches my attention and I’m restless and haven’t written for a while and though I only have a few words in me, they must come out. That 250-word monologue was in my head when I started thinking about Mitch’s role in Sebastian’s life. The two disparate ideas simply wound in and around each other like different streams of smoke drifting on the same breeze, tickling my mind with vague possibilities.

I was still in the planning stages of Magdalene, trying to figure out if I would or would not have my bishop succumb to temptation. I will tell you: I didn’t want him to, because that wasn’t who he was and besides that, I’d already gone down that road with Giselle. But how was I going to do this? I didn’t think I could write sexual tension, didn’t think I could carry abstinence too far and still make it seem legitimate. (We Mormons have all sorts of ways to justify our celibacy, but nobody outside our culture buys a word of it.)

Then I stumbled upon the “erotics of abstinence.” Stephenie Meyer had to go to paranormal lengths to justify abstinence until marriage. I don’t write paranormal, so I didn’t want to do that. She also had teenagers, which is its own justification. I don’t write teenagers, so that was out of the question.

I wanted to do that. With adults. Who weren’t vegetarian vampires. Plausibly.

I wanted to do it better.

So I did.