Marvelous Journey

I have big plans to share my writing with you! Over the next five years, I will produce seven fiction releases. The works include literary short stories and a series of  dark sci-fi novels. I’m looking forward to taking you to new and magical places. My favorite authors – Italo Calvino, Elizabeth Hand, Iris Murdoch – shared adventure and joy with me, and I want to honor them by passing it on.

Marvelous Journey

Marvelous Journey (Attribution Kata Links at 123rf.com)

My publication schedule is aggressive. I don’t write full time, and I don’t have writing minions to do my authorial bidding. I have so much (everything!) to learn about the mechanics of producing books. I want to attend book festivals, meet readers, and build authentic relationships with them. I want to help other writers by sharing what I learn – including how they can avoid the embarrassing mistakes I know I’ll make. I want to do all of that, plus keep writing new stories. It’s a lot to attempt, but it’s also an invitation to take a marvelous journey. There will be moments of discomfort, and of exhausted incomprehension. Sometimes I may wonder where I am going, and then I will need to lean on my own definition of success to be my guide. Everything I do will have to pass one simple test: does it help me become the author-publisher I want to be, and will it add value to your life? If either half of that proposition is not true, then I need to rethink my approach.

My journey of a thousand publications begins with one short story. I chose a project small enough to not feel overwhelming, but one that requires many of the same skills needed for the more daunting story collections and novels. It will be my crash-course in ebook formatting and cover design. Later this year, I’m releasing Stolen Climates as paperback. Not only is that a great opportunity for me to tackle the process of print formatting, but it also meets the needs of readers who asked for a physical edition. I can’t wait to get started on this marvelous journey!

 

-aniko

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Jealousy Kills Writers

Brothers Grimm

Once upon a time there were two writer-bloggers I loved, Josie and Parker. Josie had a vulnerable, writer-next-door vibe; she was open about her rejections, the stumbling blocks to creativity, the difficulty of having to wake up early to cram in an hour of writing before the day job. Parker was an indie firebrand. Her edgy, outspoken allegiance to self-publishing was a rallying call. I loved them both because they were showing me how other women cope with the psychological brutality of writing in a void, struggling for readers, and striving for their dreams.

Josie and Parker aren’t their real names, and this isn’t a Disney-happy fairy tale. No, this is a Brothers Grimm cautionary tale because once upon a time, I stopped loving these writers because they got what they wanted. Their writing careers took off and left me feeling betrayed. Betrayal slouched towards jealousy, and I fell into self-pity disguised as certainty that I would never be where they are. I couldn’t stop comparing myself to them and feeling like a failure. After all, Josie and I used to be so alike, both loved coffee, wore odd writing sweaters, wrote before work. How dare she get a publishing deal, quit the 9-5, leave me behind? Parker also got a publishing deal, but hers came with a full reversal on her stance on indie publishing. My indie icon abandoned  me! Me, me, me! All I cared about was how these women’s choices reflected on how I saw myself. I knew I should be happy for them, to celebrate their well-earned place on the bookshelves of the world. I couldn’t, though, because I was full of spite and resentment. I stopped following them on Twitter, I got angry when Amazon recommended their new books, I used their successes as excuses for my failure. Does that make sense? Of course not! Jealousy isn’t reason’s bedfellow.

What did I do?

I withdrew from the community. I let my  jealousy become my permission to give up on ever ‘making it’ as a writer. That big screen TV that I just wrote about giving away? It was how I spent my time, drinking and eating delivery food and feeling wronged by … what? The fact that writers whose stories I loved made it? That women who struggled harder than I have got farther in their writing careers? I was the biggest pity party in town.

The road back to a place of  joy in writing and freedom from the burden of jealousy hasn’t been easy. It took months, and the tough admission that I was reacting to Josie and Parker’s success out of total selfishness. I don’t know if anyone else has this writer-jealousy problem; it’s not the topic of polite conversation. But, if even one writer is suffering that way, I want to share what I’ve learned about how to stomp out the killing seeds of writer’s envy. Here’s the first step:

STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER WRITERS!

Decide what you want, define success in concrete terms that matter to you. YOU, not Josie and Parker. Then make a plan of how you will get there. Know what you need to do this week, this month, and this year. Prioritize your list, then start working. I started with cleaning up and unifying my author-publisher platform; it doesn’t take much to get all of your social media outlets using the same type of images, taglines and bios. That was one tiny step on the larger journey, but it felt good because it is in alignment with my plan. When you know what and how, it’s easier to find appropriate role models. Then Josie and Parker become an inspiration rather than some bizarre writer’s yardstick that you either measure up to, or beat yourself over the head with for not being them. Practice gratitude and thank the authors who guide you by commenting on their blog and buying their books. Put in extra hours towards your goal by cutting TV out of your life. Look at other writers as a source of teachings, rather than a catalog of ways in which you have been “outdone.” Take your lead from your role models, but do things in your own way, and in accordance with your plan. Stop giving yourself permission to fail because you aren’t Josie and you’re not Parker. You will never be either of them. You are something equally beautiful, though: YOU!

-aniko

 

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My New Math

There are inflection points in life. The variables shift, and the comfortable plateau becomes something else. My graph is no longer a steady line, but a hyperbola, a sine curve, a Lissajous figure expanding and tightening its figure-eight of me-then/me-now.

Life on a wave is different than life on a line. I wake up excited and energized by the changes. I am a more fearless version of myself; my hair is cut short as a warrior queen’s, I wear chunky bracelets that clang as I journey to the living, beating heart of my city, my self. All of my electrons make the jump to the next level. I feel like a bright filament, a reactor of potential. Time runs faster, and there is an intensity to the even the still moments. I wish I could hold your hand, transmit this to you, but my words will have to suffice.

Aurora potentialis.In the onrush of nownownow I stopped blogging, but I kept writing. I put another revision on my second novel, DEAD BREATH, and have just received the last of my beta reader comments for a final pass. I revisited the decisions of my plateau-self and decided that I want to submit this book to traditional publishers. I love the freedom of indie publishing, the ultimate control – but I falter in post-production. I never found my audience with STOLEN CLIMATES, and all those people who are looking for small town horror with a soupçon of  THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL are still looking because I never made it possible for them to find it. If one function of life is to keep each other company, and a function of writing is to extend that company beyond time, space, and even death – isn’t it very sad indeed that books get lost?

I don’t want that to happen with DEAD BREATH, my second novel. DEAD BREATH is dark science fiction driven by the strong-arm elements of a thriller. Traditional sci-fi publishing houses accept unagented, unsolicited manuscripts. I know the arguments against traditional publishing. They remain valid. However, good stories don’t find their way to an audience on their own. They need advocates. What is a publisher, if not a long-standing advocate for stories? I want that big, purple-ape of an advocate. I’ve picked five markets to submit to, and given that the average time for response seems to be three months, it will take me over a year from Day One Submit to get to the end of my list. By then, my third book will be finished. If there are no takers on DEAD BREATH, then I will send the next book. If I get to the end of the series, and no purple apes shout my books’ praise from the towers of advocacy, I’ll go indie – but I’ll do it right, with a plan and with the budget to back it up. No matter what happens, the wait until my next book is published will be measured in years. In the interim, I’m toying with dabbling in Wattpad and Booksie to share out some of my odd little stories. I will keep you company here, too, checking in throughout the submission process, and you can friend me on Facebook, GoodReads and Twitter.

In other writing plans, I want to go on a writer’s residency next year. Nova Ren Suma, whom I’ve never met outside the pages of her books, inspired me with her diary post from her residency at Hambidge. The idea of a space to myself and time dedicated only to my writing titillates. I love it that there are writers residencies. I really love it that they feed you. Looking at MacDowell Colony and the like made me realize that although I love the idea, I don’t have to wait for acceptance to a residency to carve that time and space for my craft. I don’t know if any of you have every visited HomeAway, but beware! – it’s addictive. My ideal “residency” is a week of rural rental via HomeAway. I picture buying my provisions; there’s a blue ice cooler involved, a rented car, and the thrill of being somewhere new. I’ll drink hot black coffee, eat crusty French bread, and spend my days writing. There will be no dogs to walk, no job, no obligations, and no internet. It will be my residency, and I’ll write the first draft of a horror novel that begs to be birthed in a strange, isolated place.  I’m going to take advantage of this surge of creative energy – can you feel it?

 

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Provenance

My Muse is abundant. She has an orchard full of crisp apples, plump blackberries, and chestnut trees laden with dreams of braziers on damp Parisian streets. At the very edge of the grounds, beyond the field of lavender and the beds of profligate zinnias, there is a bee hive. Five-pound glass jars full of golden honey slumber in the root cellar, summer’s sweetness saved. These are the elements of inspiration, the ingredients of artistic creation.

I have written before about wondering where stories come from, and have told you that when I write, it feels like a conduit opens up and the story is transmitted to me. It is a little like waking up each morning and finding a basket of fresh produce and a bouquet of wildflowers tied with twine on my doorstep. It is beautiful and humbling. Who am I to receive this largess?

More importantly, is any of it mine? Yes, I spend the time stringing words together. I give them expression, but the underlying form of the story is something that I believe – and quite literally feel – is beyond me. The story is independent of me. It exists whether I write it or not. It is a Platonic idea that my words only aspire to approach. In that sense, I am a conveyance, not a creator.

This leads to all sorts of awkward questions clustered around the concept of ownership. Can a story belong to any one person, even the author? What is the provenance of a story? Do I own the fruits of my Muse’s inspiration?

Maybe the most I can claim is that I own the final product because I harvested it, cleaned it up, and shipped it to market. I try to tell myself I am charging for the convenience of the packaging; i.e., you could have extracted this Platonic form from the ether yourself, but I have extracted it, translated it to English, and made it readable on a Kindle. I tell myself that because otherwise, I can’t justify what right I have to charge for something that belongs to the universe. I could solve the problem by not charging, but it costs me money to transfer the story from ether to Kindle, and I’m an obligate financial being like any other working Joette. I could solve the problem by not sharing the stories, but that seems even more of a blatant travesty. How selfish would that be, to take the bushels of apples, the jars of honey, the fresh roasted and still fingertip- scalding chestnuts and then keep them all to myself? If I did that, the apples would grow mealy, the honey would crystallize, and the chestnuts would grow cold and then molder. It would be wasteful and wrong to withhold the bounty. My Muse deserves better than that, and the stories she gives me deserve the highest-quality production I can afford. The question of ownership aside, it is my duty and my honor to share what I have gathered in the orchard of my inspiration.

 

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Don’t Feed the Sharks

It is both rush hour and the unofficial start of the weekend. Sluggish traffic moves in dribs and drabs of chrome and tinted window. I am in my car, and this is my third time to circle my destination.

I am bad with directions. I can’t parallel park. And I can’t find the entrance to the parking garage.

When I finally make it into the garage, there is a white car ahead of me at the kiosk to get a ticket. Two garage attendants are working on the kiosk; they have it open and are trying to load in more paper. When they take out the entire printing mechanism, the younger worker smiles at me apologetically. I pass that apologetic smile along to the man in the white car, because he wants to back out of the parking garage. As bad as I am with directions, I’m worse with driving in reverse. My spatial reasoning skills are non-existent, and the entrance to the parking garage is a corkscrew of concrete and orange-plastic barriers. If I back down, I’d either hit the wall or destroy my rims on the curb. I’ve destroyed rims before; it is an expensive habit. So here we are, stuck in a situation we never would have chosen.

I experience the events in my external world as being indicative of my psyche and, from that perspective, there was nothing accidental about my parking garage misadventure. This past week, my mind has snagged in a whirlpool of counterproductive thought. The same angry reasoning keeps circling around itself, swimming just beneath the surface like a shark in shallows. Impatient and nipping, it goads me into wasting time considering things I cannot change. It is not meditation. It is aggravation. I go round and round, just like I did in the parking garage.

The circling thoughts generate two contradictory urges. The first is to lash out, to inflict my anger and indignation on someone; it is the equivalent of smashing right through the lowered parking garage arm. The second is to try and suppress my anger, which would be the same as getting out of my car, walking out of the garage, and pretending not to notice that anything is wrong. Neither is a graceful solution. Is there a third way, one that is not driven by the heckling, sharp-toothed thoughts fraying my calm?

I think there is. I can accept my feelings because they are legitimate denizens of my psyche. They are me, I can’t hide from them and remain at all self-aware. Acceptance doesn’t mean pretending not to feel something. It simply means welcoming the sensation, and taking it as a reminder to be mindful and practice compassion towards myself as I deal with the emotional storm. Mindfulness prevents me from lashing out in damaging ways that would only serve to increase misery by spreading it to others. This doesn’t mean I will avoid the situation or not address the problems. I will, but out of a place of co-operation rather than anger. It won’t be an attack or a recrimination, but an opportunity to make things better than they are.

Each interaction is a chance to become, and every challenge is an opportunity to decide how to live in the moment. It’s easy to be nice and practice loving-kindness when things are going well. It’s reality to need to learn to practice when the thought-sharks are nipping.

The other night, in the parking garage, I drove up to the roof. I stood at the side and looked out on the city that has become my home. I looked up, and saw the stars I have grown to love and welcome in their yearly transit. I couldn’t have reached that point without a lot of circling – both within the garage and on the street before I found the entrance. What seemed like a setback led me to a beautiful moment, and I believe that if I stop feeding my sharks a diet of anger, I will end up exactly where – and who – I need to be.

Update:

The situation that was making me angry has been resolved. By tending my anger and not allowing it to cause me to lash out at someone else, I was able to focus on doing what I could to help the other person (who never intended to anger me). The act of co-operation ended with feelings of gratitude on both sides, and is proof that well-tended anger can produce good outcomes.

 

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