Amazing, amazing!

My last post was heavy. It was so heavy, I almost didn’t have the strength to publish it. I feared being vulnerable. I was worried that people would be annoyed by a post that was more personal and less like a nice, safe essay. I even thought some people would be mad that I foisted my anxieties and fears on them, or disgusted that I mentioned anything to do with spirituality.

None of that happened.

Instead, the whole world reached out to me. I got thoughtful comments on the post. A friend I haven’t seen in years contacted me directly, with kindness and care. Others sent direct messages, and one lovely person even sent me a beautiful travelogue of  a recent adventure. And, as if the effect of being brave enough to admit to having lived through some darkness spread beyond the digital expanse of the post, another friend who knew nothing about it chose last week to remind me she’s always here for me, no matter what. It was the best week. I felt so loved.

Thank you all for being there for me.

With love,

-aniko

Beautiful blooms near my bus stop - gorgeous as your friendship!

Beautiful blooms near my bus stop – gorgeous as your friendship!

Flipped Bit

Sometimes, I flip a bit.

This is what we say at my day job when our software doesn’t behave as expected. “It flipped a bit!” In the past year, I’ve flipped almost every bit I have – and came close to a full crash. There are so many details I want to share, but what I want to share encroaches on the privacy of others. In some cases, it would be hurtful. I considered starting an anonymous blog, but then I realized that if I have to do something in secrecy, I shouldn’t be doing it at all. What I can give you are moments, images.

A look of pure hatred from a person I wanted nothing more for than happiness and light. The choice of betrayal or jail. Sobbing in the bathroom at work when I received news that made me feel like my DNA was unraveling. The thought of stepping in front of a city bus. There was also the dry air in Las Cruces, the dust rising like ghosts down the long road on a Sunday morning. Funerals. Too many losses, one so sudden and shocking. A year spent with people desperate to save their own lives, only to end up realizing I was the one who needed to be saved.

I am the person that those things happened to, but I am not the same.

I’m better now. Stronger. Whole. I have become a prayerful person, awakened to an unending source of love. When I am walking the path meant for me, joy and kindness are what I bring. Truth is what I speak, even when it is uncomfortable. I understand that this life is an opportunity to give with complete abandon of self.

I am a happy woman, quick to laugh. I love to write. I love to read. I love to be helpful to my co-workers, to care for my husband, and to walk the dogs given into my custody. I even love Twitter, and the conversations I have with friends I may never hug because we are time zones and continents apart. I’m finding my way back to the joy. I’m planning a return to classes at the Writer’s Studio (NYC-based, but I take the online class), and would love to work and, someday, be admitted to the master class. I want to be the best writer I can be. I want to be able to move from my particular pains and into sharing the universal hope and promise. I know there are bad days (bad years!), but without all of that bad, I would never have reached the spiritual deficit I needed to experience before I could be open to another way of being. The intense experiences of 2014/early 2015 taught me that it is true: blessed are the poor in spirit.

 

As ever,

-aniko


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Prolific Publishing for Success and Money: Or What I Learned By Trying

Had I Found the Blueprint for Success?

Last year, I read every book on writing and marketing that I could find. I subscribed to a handful of webinars, ‘attended’ email training sessions, and became a rabid devotee of any author with great branding and a promise of how I could succeed in publishing. Even though most of what I heard was not new to me, I felt like I had discovered a blueprint to success. All I had to do was publish prolifically, be helpful, and give away samples of my writing. Although the adjective “prolific” made me a little nervous, I decided to give the approach a try.

The journey hasn’t been all s’mores and champagne for me.

Attribution http://www.123rf.com/profile_bowie15 via  123RF Stock Photo

Attribution http://www.123rf.com/profile_bowie15 via 123RF Stock Photo

Initial Doubts Blasted by One Strong Outlier

I felt the first doubts about the method when I tried reading several works produced in the paradigm I was eager to emulate. It struck me that while some of these authors are doing well for themselves from a monetary standpoint, and were often quite the social media darlings, I didn’t feel their writing was good. The stories were competent in the way that food at a national restaurant chain is predictable: it won’t make you sick, but it won’t inspire you, either.

There are outliers, of course, and not everyone who publishes abundantly writes formulaic books. My friend Hunter Shea is very prolific, and offhand I can think of at least three new books he released in fairly quick succession (THE MONTUAK MONSTER, ISLAND OF THE FORBIDDEN, and HELL HOLE). Hunter’s work is consistently high-quality and fun to read, but for each one of his books that I enjoyed, there were at least two by other prolific authors that fell flat and ended up on my “didn’t finish” pile.

Despite my doubts, and with Hunter as a positive example, I remained determined to try publishing frequently. I started by drawing up a five year writing plan. In it, I scheduled myself to produce four new works a year. Each publication would have a free introductory “hook,” and at least one of the four publications would be novella-length or longer. I’d churn out works like my name was Krispy Kreme and the stories were 2AM hot donuts! Such was the plan, in any case.

What Happened When I Tried

I did manage two releases in six months (MIXED MEDIA and SPILLWAYS), but I discovered that having an excellent editor means I’m called on my authorial laziness, plot sloppiness, and continuity misfires. To be blunt: I do a lot of rewriting during edits. Getting MIXED MEDIA and SPILLWAYS right was a time consuming process, but I stayed on schedule – barely. At this point, I should reveal that both of those works were already drafted and “just” needed editing.

Long term, my personal slush pile couldn’t be my only source of material. I needed to be able to produce new works at a rate commensurate with my publication goals. To this end, I decided that I would experiment with writing a new work in a compressed timeframe. I blasted out the rough draft in a few weeks, which is amazing given that the only time I have to write is my hour-long bus ride to work. It wasn’t any worse of a first draft than most, but it was also not dazzling. I employed no challenging points of view, nor did I craft within a non-standard form. When the overarching goal was to publish at a frenetic pace, literary merit felt like a “nice to have” rather than an imperative. Under those conditions, my writing devolved to chain restaurant quality. I won’t publish a work that isn’t my best, and I’ve spent multiple editorial cycles improving the story. It is finally worthy of my readers, but getting it that way meant I missed my publication deadline for this piece by two months. So much for writing a “fast” story!

It was an interesting experiment. I think that if I were a full-time writer, I could have better luck with making quicker production turnaround, but my boundary conditions are decidedly not those of a full-time writer. For now, I’m done with attempting a frenetic publishing pace. I can’t honor my literary calling when the focus is on growing my shelf space rather than on the joy of creation.

Author Fatigue is One Thing, But What About Readers?

In a blog post Ania Ahlborn points out another possible downside of rapid-fire publication: reader fatigue. I can’t think of anything more fatiguing than reading masses of sub-par novels… well, other than writing masses of sub-par novels! I love that authors I enjoy have multiple books, but sometimes a year or more will pass between when I read those works. This, for me, is even true with series. There are so many voices to experience, and because my reading time is just as scant as my writing time, I’m apt to drift between genres and temporarily abandon even my favorite author.

Conclusion

I’m glad I tried the approach of fast publishing. I am pleased with the works I produced last year. SPILLWAYS, in particular, contains my best writing, with stories that challenged me as a writer. It is also my least read work – so far. I think that is partly because I am waiting to do a strategic campaign to advertise it, but it might also be a symptom of reader fatigue. If you are curious, you can read MOON SICK, the first story in the collection for free. All you need to do is sign up for my author newsletter at http://www.oddskybooks.com/odd-literati. After you subscribe, you’ll receive a follow-up email with a link to download the story in the format of your choice.


What about you? Have you tried writing at a multi-book per year pace? Do you read everything by your favorite prolific authors as soon as the books hit Amazon’s Whispernet (or the newstands)?

Ghosts & Chapbooks

It is wonderful to be able to connect with the authors whose works have moved me. That is one of the true gems of the internet age. At the end of last year, I read two works that moved me enough to write about my experience with them. I sent my pieces to the authors, and offered that – if they wanted – they could post them on their blogs. Both agreed! My delight is now threefold: the original story, the ability to express gratitude to the authors, and the honor of having my words appear on their blogs.

I read Hunter Shea’s latest work, ISLAND OF THE FORBIDDEN and was transported back to the time when I lived in a haunted house. Yes. You read that right. I believe ghosts exist, just as much as I believe in the chair where I’m sitting or the coffee I’m drinking. If you want to read some of the supernatural events I experienced, please visit Hunter’s post, A True Haunting in Belgium.

I had the rare and blissfully tactile experience of reading Mary SanGiovanni’s chapbook, NO SONGS FOR THE STARS. To quote myself, which is probably a first for me, “It feels good to feel, not just with our imaginations and our hearts, but also with our hands. Neither e-books nor mass produced pocket editions can provide the beauty I experienced sitting quietly and reading this slim chapbook.” The story is an enthralling addition to Mary’s (multi)verse. To read more of my thoughts about the chapbook medium and the story, please visit Mary’s post, Guest Post – Aniko Carmean – No Songs for the Stars.

Hunter and Mary, you are both amazing writers and wonderful human beings! I am so glad to have read your works!

-aniko


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Wondering Where I Am These Days?

I’ve been building a website for my new publishing imprint, Odd Sky Books! You can visit the “under construction” page to sign up for a newsletter to get updates that will be more frequent than I’ll be updating this blog. Here’s the URL: http://www.oddskybooks.com.

I am also busy preparing to publish a collection of short stories later this year, and getting ready to write a novella that continues the story of Mario Santa Maria from my recent short story, MIXED MEDIA. The idea to do that wasn’t mine – it was yours! Readers wanted to know how the story turns out, and I’m happy to oblige.

My publication plans for the next few years are very aggressive. I will not be spending time blogging, but I also will not take down this site. People seem to find it useful for two things:

1. The MailChimp + WordPress.com Tutorial

2. A Review of Ania Ahlborn’s Seed

You can always reach me by using the Contacts page on this site. The best way to find out what’s going on with me or my writing is to sign up for the newsletter, either using the link here, or by visiting Odd Sky Books. I will be sending a monthly letter that has the tone of an email from a friend, not a marketer. When Odd Sky Books launches, there will be additional benefits that current subscribers will receive. I’d love to have you join me!

As ever,

-aniko

Author Reading

Here’s a video of me reading the opening section of my surreal short story MIXED MEDIA. In it, the protagonist discovers that there’s something strange going on with the way he sees art.  Enjoy!


 

I wish that YouTube didn’t always choose the most awkward expression as the still video clip! :)


About MIXED MEDIA:

Story Blurb

Mario Santa Maria is an artist who has lost his dreams – literally. Insomnia, unemployment, and a failing relationship are his lot. Things are going badly, and then things get strange. On a visit to the Vos Modern Art Museum, Mario discovers he has the ability to intercept the communication between art and a viewer. MIXED MEDIA is a surreal tale of masterpieces, Delphic sugar cubes, and the promise of new perspectives.

What’s hidden by what we see?

You can read MIXED MEDIA for free (PDF), or purchase it on Amazon (5.0 out of 5 stars). If you enjoy the story, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads.


 

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Revision: Wanna See How the Sausage Is Made?

DIY Book Covers, Fiction Template #17

Cover Design based on DIY Book Covers Fiction Template #17

I love the freedom of the first draft. The only thing I love more is revising the ever-living bleep out of the first draft. Today, I’d like to share the revision the first paragraph of my surreal short story, MIXED MEDIA. Originally titled REPRODUCTION, I wrote the first draft in 2008. The first draft is full of gory detail, bombast, and sins against English. I’ve chosen three examples of the first paragraph to illustrate my revision process. Now, let’s make some sausage!

Here is an exerpt from June 12, 2008:

My name is Mario Santa Maria.  On Tuesday I walked into a museum where all of the paintings were black.  In the bright foyer of the visiting exhibit, natural light fell upon black canvas after black canvas, making the uniform paint gleam and reflect dark rectangles on the honey-golden floor freshly buffed.  I read the names of the works:  “Surreal Forest,”  “Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street),” “Submissive Ocean.”  Each canvas was a straight hung, edge-on-edge perfect patch of night set flush to the walls, and none of them more colorful than a square or rectangle of deep-space pitch.   The brochure describing the exhibit extolled the sensuous representation of Nature, and how each painting (various media) had captured the essence of light and life.  I chuffed a bit under my breath.  What a statement, to fill an entire gallery with such a nihilistic representation on modern life or modern Nature!  It was, I decided, a gutsy if artless venture.

I warned you about the bombast and the sins, no? This paragraph is an Ouroboros, choking on  its own tail. I’ve gone beyond overboard with adjectives. The floor is not just “freshly buffed,” but also “honey-golden.” The paintings aren’t just on the wall, they are “straight hung,” “set flush,” and (ouch, this hurts!) “edge-on-edge perfect patch of night.” I think we all get it that paintings in a museum are hung in an orderly fashion upon the walls. Almost none of that description was necessary, and I may as well take a stick and poke it in the reader’s eyes: “You! Know what? Paintings hang on walls!” I used the word “chuffed,” because Steven King used it in a book; which book, I no longer recall. It’s a fine word, but overbearing and pompous in this paragraph. This paragraph is a “gutsy if artless venture!”

It was also the pinnacle of my ability at the time that I wrote in in 2008. I’d been writing three years, and for the equivalent of a literary toddler, it isn’t bad. Another thing that’s not bad is that I knew I wasn’t ready to publish, and I put the story aside,  took several writing workshops, studied, wrote tons more, completed my first and second novels, and then (then!) came back to revise.

Here is an excerpt from May 5, 2014:

My name is Mario Santa Maria. On Tuesday, I walked into a museum where all of the paintings were black. I walked the perimeter, pausing to read the names of the works: Surreal Forest, Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street), Submissive Ocean. Each canvas was a straight hung, perfect patch of night set flush to the walls. The exhibit placard extolled the sensuous representation of Nature, how the paintings captured the modern essence of life. It was gutsy, if artless, to fill an entire gallery with such a nihilism.

This is better. I cut entire swathes of needless description from the paragraph. I kept the first sentence and maintain that simple phrase was always the exact right opening for the story. I replaced the awkward double-quotes around painting names with uber-swank italics. I got rid of “chuffed.” I’ll have you know I actually, sadly struggled with that decision. “Chuffed” is a good word, not oft used. I wanted to bring it back. Or get it started, like a party. I cut it, though, and that was the right decision. Writing is funny, because as a writer, you fall in love with the strange bits you are pretty sure no one else will ever love. You really believe those bloated phrases like “straight hung, perfect patch of night” are simply misunderstood, and if people had sense (SENSE!) they would know what was good for them and LOVE it. Luckily, I have an editor. Her name is Jacinda Little. She doesn’t let me get away with atrocities against my readers. I sent her the version from May 5 for her to edit. I think you’ll agree that with her input, the opening paragraph turns into something that doesn’t make you want to gouge out your own eyes.

Here’s the final revision to the opening paragraph, from June 1, 2014, nearly four years after the first draft was penned:

My name is Mario Santa Maria. On Tuesday, all of the paintings at Vos Museum were black. The works in the visiting gallery had names like Surreal Forest, Submissive Ocean, and Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street). Their placards extolled the sensuous representation of Nature. The nihilism was gutsy, and I wondered why there hadn’t been a bigger media splash.

Ahhh, isn’t that better? There are specific details to ground you in the scene, both the painting names and the name of the museum. I no longer try and painfully describe that paintings hang on walls (!). I also finally tell you why the fact that this is gusty matters to Mario or to you, the reader: no one else has noticed or mentioned that there is an exhibit of paintings that are just black canvases. It immediately gives you the interesting fact that Mario alone is remarking upon this particular phenomenon. I’ve also clued you in that Mario is in the museum on a day when most grown-ups are working, and possibly you wonder what’s up with that, which would be great, because a reader with a question is a reader who keeps reading to find the answer. Perhaps I could have come up with shorter names for the paintings. I think they’re clever, and Jacinda didn’t object, so they stay. I hope we can agree that the removal of “chuffed” improves this paragraph.

May your sausage making be guided by an excellent editor!

xoxo,

-aniko


 

About MIXED MEDIA:

Story Blurb

Mario Santa Maria is an artist who has lost his dreams – literally. Insomnia, unemployment, and a failing relationship are his lot. Things are going badly, and then things get strange. On a visit to the Vos Modern Art Museum, Mario discovers he has the ability to intercept the communication between art and a viewer. MIXED MEDIA is a surreal tale of masterpieces, Delphic sugar cubes, and the promise of new perspectives.

What’s hidden by what we see?

You can read MIXED MEDIA for free (PDF), or purchase it on Amazon (5.0 out of 5 stars). If you enjoy the story, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my newsletter.

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