Stories are a Timeless, Magical Gift

The inspiration I’m given to write does not belong to me. It comes from the same source that created me, you, and everyone you love. It comes from Being itself. I’ve always had qualms about selling the fruits of that inspiration. It’s taken years of contemplation, waffling, and facing fear – yes, fear. Fear that by giving away my stories I will be seen as lacking dedication to the literary craft. Fear that making my stories free will somehow hurt other writers who want and need to make money from their art. Fear that even if the stories are free, no one will read them.

 

I don’t want to be a best seller. Writing isn’t about self-aggrandizement. It is pure gift, and gifts by their definition are outside of commerce. After years of contemplation, I finally realized that the “price” of free says nothing about the purity of my intent when I write. I can give you a gift, and still be dedicated to my craft. My only goal is to keep learning to be a better writer. I’d love for you to join me on the journey.

I’m sorry if you are a writer who feels this hurts you. I respect the effort you put into your creations. I pay for your books – happily. If you are a writer who is following the same path I am, and I read your story, I will click your Donate button. The nature of the gift demands reciprocity. Money (sadly) is still the easiest way to make the return, and to show appreciation.

If no one reads my stories, even free, that is not mine to carry or change. Words move those they are meant to move, and it is not within my control to decide how many people or who or even when my words reach them. That said, empirical evidence on Wattpad and Smashwords indicates people are reading my free offerings. I am working to get price-matching to trickle into Amazon, but even though that hasn’t happened yet, I feel a great soul-contentment to have every one of my published works available for free – as a gift – on Smashwords.

You can find links to free downloads for all of my books on my publishing website: http://www.oddskybooks.com

As always,

-aniko

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There’s Only One Way to Do the Job

I’m planning to make the shift to giving away all of my fiction for free.  I’ve cut production costs for any given publication by investing in the tools and skills necessary to do formatting and cover design, but editing – that’s a non-trivial expense. I’m not complaining. My editor charges a fair rate for the excellent work she does, and I come away from each piece we produce feeling like we’ve made something worthy – together. However, the shift to entirely free raises the question: should I continue to pay hundreds of dollars per story if I am not selling the books? I am fortunate in that this is a separate question than the one of being able to afford to pay an editor, and yet….  I’ll admit, I considered skipping editing. It gave me a twinge, and whenever something twinges in my conscience, I ask Mr. Aniko what he thinks. He was the one to remind me of the movie Chef, which we watched a few weeks ago.

Mr. Aniko: You remember that scene in Chef, where the son wants to serve the burned sandwich to someone who wasn’t paying, and the father (the chef) prevents him?

Me: Yes. That was one of my favorite scenes.

Mr. Aniko: The chef said that they couldn’t serve the sandwich, and the son said, “Well, they’re not paying for it.” Then the chef explained that to his son that cooking is both an art and a labor of love, and if you love something, you do it to the best of your ability, no matter if someone is paying for it or not.

If I were to skip editing, I’d be casting myself as the son giving away burnt sandwiches. It wouldn’t be respectful to readers. It wouldn’t be respectful of the gift I have been given nor of the source of that gift.

Recently, I listened to a sermon on the nature of God’s light. Each person is a unique expression of love, and this love is produced as light. The preacher meant literal light – as in glowing, white light coming from people who had removed enough of their false selves to let the inner light shine through. It reminded me that we’re all made of star dust. It reminded me that “namaste” means “the light in me reflects the light in you.” It reminded me that readers aren’t some nebulous entities who are there to read&review my stories for my benefit. To give them anything less than my best effort would be disrespectful to them, and through them, right back up to the source of that star dust, that light.

As a former co-worker always said, “There’s only one way to do any job: the right way.”

-aniko

Why I’m Thinking of Leaving Amazon

 

Each of us are given a constellation of gifts. We do not get to choose what these gifts are. We do not have to like them – and maybe you will spend years being petty and angry about not getting the gifts you wanted. For example: I wanted to be a scientist, but I was not given the gift of mathematical intuition. I spent years training to be a physicist, and you know, I can force it, but it’s exhausting because there’s no true inspiration behind what I do. It is entirely manmade. Artificial. Artifice. Only after deciding to cultivate a gift I was given – that of being able to write with honesty and intensity – only then did I begin to see my purpose. I also got another gift that I initially spurned, but it is the perfect match for my writing: I am good at testing software. Testing provides for my financial and creature needs, and in a physical, material way supports the transcendent gift of my writing – transcendent because it is the thing I am meant to give back to the world. Trying to force the mundane and the spiritual into the same pen was a lot like my years playing at physicist. It was a pointless fight. I’m finished.

If you read my last post, you know that I’ve been trying to live by some monastic principles. I’m paring back the noise and replacing the question of “What do I want?” with “What is right for me to do?” I see now that there are very few things I must do:

  • Love my fellow man and practice compassion.
  • Be a faithful wife.
  • Write.

Part of my spiritual quest has been to be deliberate about where I spend my attention. I can choose to spend my attention on gaming the publication system, or I can spend it quietly growing into who I am meant to be. I can choose to focus on the superficial, or I can choose to dwell in the numinous. I can keep trying to figure out how to monetize my literary gifts, or I can be grateful I don’t need to figure that out because I have another gift which intersects the realm of commerce. For all of these reasons, I am considering pulling my books from Amazon, and making them free on Wattpad, Smashwords, and my own site, oddskybooks.com, where three free stories are available now. I just need to find the time to make the transition, probably after my ten-week craft class is over, because there is a lot of behind the scenes effort that goes into such a shift.

I keep thinking of the monk who is purported to have written the Codex Gigas. The Codex is three feet tall, weighs one hundred and sixty pounds, and was written longhand prior to 1295. We know almost nothing of the author other than the remarkable fact that he spent somewhere around twenty-five years working in probable isolation to produce this book. This was an act of faith. I have a feeling he understood the production of the book was never about him, and that his glory was in the act of responding to the call he was made to answer. I want to write with that purity. I want to be absent from the intention. That is humility. And again, it is faith. Someone will point out that the colloquial name for this book is the Devil’s Bible, because of the legend that the monk supposedly made a deal with the devil to write the entire 160-pounds of it in one night so as to save his own life, and also because there is a rather cartoonish illustration of a devil included amongst the pages. Maybe that happened. The picture of the devil-thing is real. However, literary forensics indicates the quieter story, the one of plodding decades of anonymous writing. I think also of Murdoch’s The Book and the Brotherhood (someone help me here! I think that’s the book I mean, but Mudoch wrote so much!). After a character’s death, someone goes through the deceased’s desk and finds thousands of pages of gorgeous poetry, the sort of work that could have brought fame. Murdoch’s point is that there are pure ways of creation that are abstracted from the communal shouting match. Can I be humble enough to stop even secretly hoping my writing will make me visible to the world?

Leaving Amazon is in alignment with my beliefs, although it is in stark contradiction to the clamoring voices who are telling me that’s not how the game is played. I’m choosing to focus on quiet and contemplation. I have faith that the people who are meant to find my stories, will. If no one is meant to find them, not even one person? That’s not up to me, either. My calling is to write and to share; my calling is to practice compassion; my calling is to be steadfast in my relationships. I’ll be a good wife, a kind stranger and, maybe someday, truly become the person I’m meant to be.

As ever,

-aniko

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)?

A Sort of Sex/Wine Triumph

My editor, Jacinda Little, is amazing. Jacinda’s guidance in structuring MIXED MEDIA is responsible for the tension that makes the juicy bits all that more delicious.  Thanks to Jacinda, the protagonist of MIXED MEDIA discovers the sensuality thrumming beneath the surface of a still life.

Still Life with Figs by Luis Egidio Melendez, via Art.com

Still Life with Figs by Luis Egidio Melendez, via Art.com

An Excerpt from MIXED MEDIA:

An angel with a pixie cut, she sat at the end of a bench. She conceded a small, welcoming smile before shifting attention to her work. I wanted to swallow her whole, digest the miracle of her fixed stare. Instead, I took a place next to her and started drawing. Together, we created twin reflections of Melendez’s still life with figs. We caressed the sensual curves of the fruit; lovingly shaded the leavened bread; detailed the sweet-juiced slit of an opened fig. Sarah and I finished at the same time, a sort of sex/wine triumph.

I glanced at her. She laughed and said, “I never noticed how thoroughly sexual this painting is. Even the bread looks feminine.”

“Maybe it’s only erotic because we looked at it together.”

“Are you hitting on me?”

I closed my sketchbook, hiding the juicy fig.

“Don’t blush. I didn’t mind.” She extended her charcoal smudged hand. “I’m Sarah.”

 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.


The image included in this post is courtesy of Art.com, where you can purchase prints of this work, and thousands of others. Want some art? Click the Rafflecoptor button to enter for a chance to win a $25 (USD) gift certificate at Art.com!

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We Always Want to See What Is Hidden

Le Fils de L'Homme by Rene Magritte, via Art.com

Le Fils de L’Homme by Rene Magritte, via Art.com

Magritte’s Le Fils de Le Homme (The Son of Man) inspires a sense of dread. The blank water behind him, the obscured face, and the surreal placement of an apple all conspire to make you want to do one thing: see what the man looks like. In MIXED MEDIA, the protagonist Mario Santa Maria discovers he can only see artwork when he intercepts the communication between the viewer and the piece of art. The blank, featureless black that devours the paintings at the Vos Modern Museum is analogous to Magritte’s apple. Mario’s ability to see through the darkness is the equivalent of plucking that apple out of the air and exposing the features of The Son of Man.

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.

Excerpt from MIXED MEDIA:

“What do you see when you look at that book on the coffee table?”

“A picture of a man with a floating green apple in front of his face.”

“Do you know what I see?”

She shrugged.

“Nothing. I see a black rectangle where the picture should be. Magritte, the artist who painted this, explained it by saying ‘everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.’”

Darla clutched the bear to her chest. “What does it mean?”

“I think it explains what’s happening to me.”

“What, Mario, what’s happening to you?”

“I’ve been chosen for something.”

“Chosen?” she repeated.

“You make it sound crazy.”

About MIXED MEDIA

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?


The image included in this post is courtesy of Art.com, where you can purchase prints of this work, and thousands of others. Want to help me celebrate publication? Click the Rafflecoptor button to enter for a chance to win a $25 (USD) gift certificate at Art.com!

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Wisdom Tooth in the Belly of a Worm

The difficulty with having a mystical experience is that no one is going to believe you. You probably won’t believe you. Insanity seems like a better answer than discovering you’ve got some special access to the truth underpinning reality. I put Mario Santa Maria, the protagonist of my surreal short story, MIXED MEDIA,  in the situation of being called to an extraordinary purpose that also happens to be unbelievable. His girlfriend, Darla, thinks he’s lost it and wants him to get help. Mario himself isn’t sure what to make of it all. I chose The Scream as the perfect painting to represent the terror, shock, and apparent insanity of Mario’s new abilities.

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.

Mario Faces Darla’s Doubt

The Scream by Edvard Munch, via Art.com

The Scream by Edvard Munch, via Art.com

An Excerpt from MIXED MEDIA:

“I haven’t lost touch with reality.”

“Then what is this?” Darla spread her arms, indicating the coffee table, the mess, me.

“I’m sorry I’m such an inconvenience for you. I thought you understood why I had to quit that job. Retouching prints with cheap paint to give it an ‘authentic texture’ was perverse. It killed my inspiration, and then stole my dreams.” I finished shading a wisdom tooth in the belly of a worm, and tossed the sketch book onto the coffee table.

Darla’s lower lip quivered. Her nose whistled, a high-pitched reminder of the all the coke she’d done. “You need help,” she repeated.

“Thanks, but I’m fine.” I passed her the Vos bag. “I got this for you.”

She pulled out the bear and adjusted its tiny shirt. “Do you really think you can fix this with a stuffed animal?”

“No. There are postcards in there, too.”

Darla tucked the bear under her arm and fished in the bag. She shuffled the postcards. Escher and Munch appeared and disappeared in exquisite detail. When she set them on the table, the images morphed to black. “Should these mean something to me?”

About MIXED MEDIA:

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?


The image included in this post is courtesy of Art.com, where you can purchase prints of this work, and thousands of others. Want a chance to win $25 at Art.com? Click the Rafflecoptor button to enter the giveaway!

Click to enter!


 

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