Perspective

I’m eating my lunch in the company kitchen. It is a wholesome lunch, nutritious and just enough to satisfy my hunger without leaving me sleepy. I’m  telling you about my lunch because I have no idea how to start this post. A group of co-workers discusses the upcoming Thai New Year, and I set aside the laptop to prepare my salad. The fridge here has the habit of turning my homemade herb-and-lemon flavored olive oil dressing into a congealed, light green mass speckled with lavender buds, snips of marjoram, and piney threads of rosemary. I cross the room to microwave my dressing. Ten seconds on the clock and someone calls out to me.

 “How’s the book going?”

“It’s going well,” I say. “It’s five hundred pages and still going.”

“Wow! I meant the book you have for sale, how’s that going. I didn’t know you were writing another.”

“Writing’s what I do. Selling? Not so much.”

“Is the new one a sequel to STOLEN CLIMATES, part of a series?”

“It is the first in a series, but it is not a direct sequel.”

Another person said, “I’m too scared to read your book; I heard it was scary.”

“I didn’t think it was that scary,” I say, retrieving my salad dressing from the microwave.

“Well, maybe scary isn’t the right word. Just, you know, people are like, “Is that what goes on in her mind?”

“People always think that because I wrote the book, I thought it up, but I’m as surprised as anyone with what happens. The ideas aren’t ‘in’ my head, they sort of come from somewhere out here.” I wave the hand that is not holding my salad dressing somewhere beyond my right ear. “I guess that sounds crazy.”

“No,” a third person says. “It sounds brilliant.”

The one who started the conversation smiles and says, “The most creative things do come from crazy people. Music, art… Have you seen MISERY? Someone might kidnap you and force you to write.”

“If they give me good food and a comfortable bed, that can work for me,” I say.

There is a slight pause in conversation, as there always is at a quarter past the hour.  The woman who is afraid to read my book broke the silence. “Did you write much when you were on vacation in Hawaii?”

“Not at all.”

“Really?”

“I discovered that when it is so beautiful, when everything is so good, I have no drive. Why create something when you are already in a perfect moment? I’m writing now that I’m home, though.”

And the writing has been amazing. The book is far longer and more complex than I could have imagined at the outset, and far more intriguing. I am at the stage where I can see everything, how all the details I didn’t understand are coming together to form the whole. The book is as real to me now as the work that I do during the day, or the people who were talking to me in the lunch room. I catch glimpses of people in the halls or passing me in traffic, and I think for an instant I’ve seen one of my characters. I love this phase of writing a novel. This is why I do it. The knowledge of this feeling – this utter completeness – this is what pulls me through the doubt and confusion that come with writing a book. It is a rush.

My attitude towards writing has reverted to something more pure than it was when I started this book. If you are a long time reader, you know I started out with a specific plan, complete with publication goals and strategic marketing. When I realized I wasn’t going to make the first goal, I dropped out of the internet. I spent two months living my life, not writing, not blogging, not thinking about publication. I made some major lifestyle changes, and as my well-being improved, I gained clarity. I do not have to stick to plans driven by publication. I do not have to blog weekly. I do not have to build a brand, or build my bookshelf, or market what I write. What I need to do is simple: eat healthfully, sleep well, laugh, and write for the joy of it. It is all so very, very simple. It took months of changing one small thing at a time to get to this point. I have finally stopped framing my decisions and goals in ways that inhibit my natural trajectory towards being exactly who I am meant to be.

As a result, I am not planning to self-publish my book when it is finished. I am going to send it to traditional publishing houses, and while it makes the year(s)-long rounds, write the next book(s) in the series. If I get to the end of the series and no one is interested, then I’ll consider self-publishing.

Maybe.

The fact is that I am not good at being an indie. I don’t have any drive towards the post-production/after-writing aspects of being indie. I went that route with STOLEN CLIMATES because the thought of the submission process sounded stifling, and everyone pointed out how I’d make less with a traditional contract. However, that concept only applies if you’re making money. I’ve never even come close to recouping the production costs of  STOLEN CLIMATES. Some days, I consider pulling it out of publication all together, which would really amount to unpublishing on Amazon. After more than a year, I still haven’t made STOLEN CLIMATES available on all platforms (read: B&N, Apple, etc). I never even got around to making a print version. And I have no interest in doing those things on my own.

I will never be a successful indie.

emergenceAnd that’s okay, because I understand now how much the act of labeling myself poisoned my ability to focus on writing. I was so worried with all the things an indie must do to be successful, that I couldn’t see the sheer simplicity of living to write, as opposed to living to write something to sell. I still want to share the stories I create, but now I am willing to see if I can find a partner to help me do that. Maybe I won’t, but I believe in what I’m doing. The best part of all of this is that waiting for responses from publishers won’t matter because while I am waiting, I will still be writing.

That is what I wanted to say. It took a frozen block of olive oil and some random conversation, but I’ve managed to find the words. I am no longer who I thought I was.

 

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Mahalo, Kaua’i

Vacation is a magical word, conjuring images of palm trees, sunlight, and precision relaxation. I’ve just returned from a week in Kaua’i, the Garden Isle of Hawai’i. It was everything ‘vacation’ conjures.

Mr. Aniko and I slept when we were tired, ate when we were hungry, explored the island on foot and in our rented Ford Fusion. We spent a day in a covered cabana by the sea, alternating reading with looking out at the expanse of blue, blue Pacific. Most days, we took sight-seeing drives; there are no interstates, which I suppose is obvious, and there were few short stretches where the speed limit was a whopping fifty (mph). To put that in perspective, some of the roads I drive on daily in Austin have a speed limit of eighty! At first trying to go twenty-five in areas that looked like Texas-sixties was laughable, and it was very easy to creep up to forty and still believe you were crawling. Sometime in the second day, it clicked: you don’t need to go as fast when the distance is so short, and when the landscape is inexpressibly beautiful. There were many times we remarked that the most noticeable thing about Kaua’i was the intense unreality of it. The lush greenery, winds scented with plumeria and hibiscus, the perfect temperature that never demanded more than a light sweater, the sudden rains followed by brilliant rainbows: none of it seemed like part of our world. Star Trekkies, Kaua’i has got to be the genesis of Risa, the holiday destination in the stars. It is that perfect.

This is what vacation looks like.

I wasn’t expecting the wind. We get wind here in Austin, strong gusts that precede a distinct change in weather. In Kaua’i the wind was constant. It soughed through the palm trees outside, and fearless little tropical birds perched on the spines of palm branches. One little red-capped bird hopped onto our lanai, or balcony, and sang to Mr. Aniko. It was enchanting.

I’d read that it rains in Kaua’i almost daily, and I packed an umbrella. The umbrella was not equal to the winds, but it was better than nothing. The downpours tended to spring up without warning, and at dawn there was a curtain of rain that blew off of the sloped roofs in sheets of water. On the day we drove out to see the Waimea Canyon, the rains didn’t relent. We trekked up to one of the rainiest spots on the planet, in a downfall, smiling and laughing the whole time. Out on Po’ipu Beach, the afternoon showers would come in and feel so very chilly. You could tell the newcomers, who would scatter at the first drops, but everyone quickly learned that if you cover up with the orange-striped beach towel, you’ll stay comfortable and keep your book dry, too. The afternoon rains passed in a matter of minutes, and then the sun returned, baking us back to warmth as we enjoyed vibrant rainbows arcing through newly unperturbed sky.

rainbow!

Traveling, to me, is as much about experiencing cuisine as it is about sightseeing or relaxing. I drank coconut water from a coconut hacked open by a man with a machete. I ate a Hawaiian hot dog  which is entirely encased in the bun and seasoned with spicy mustard and fruit spreads. We shopped at Big Save and Sueoka’s grocery stories, picking up Hawaiian sweet rolls (in Hawai’i!!), sandwich meat, and breakfast provisions. We alternated granola breakfasts on our lanai, with scrambles at the earliest-opening breakfast joint near our hotel. The waitress there never remembered us, and often didn’t bring me what I ordered, but the kim chee scramble was really tasty, and came with rice instead of hash browns. Our most excellent meal was at Pizzetta, in Old Koloa Town. I got decadent white truffle-infused meatballs and pasta.  Prices in Kaua’i are out of this world expensive, with $12 scrambled eggs(!) and $35+ entrees at the nicer restaurants. Overall, the food in Kaua’i was better than what we had when we vacationed in Maine a few years back, but nowhere near as good as almost any restaurant here in Austin. However, Kaua’i had more wild chickens and crowing roosters than either Maine or Austin, and the charm and the breezes and the perfect temperatures more than offset the lackluster fare available for (somewhat) reasonable cost.

Would I hop on the next grueling flight back to the Garden Isle? Two days ago, I would have said yes. I’ll admit to crying when it was time to leave; being carefree, comfortable, and without stress is addictive. It is chilly in Austin now, still getting into the thirties (F) at night, and the traffic screams by on roads so fast there is no option of driving with the windows down and still enjoying a conversation. The predominant colors here are brown and gray, an ugly contrast to the greens, purples, yellows, and reds of Kaua’i. Even the airports on the mainland are less lovely, all enclosed and full of recycled air instead of open and allowing in tropical breezes like Kauai’s Lihue airport. Like I said, two days ago I would have said yes.

I'm holding a baby coconut!

Today, I’m not so sure. Some really overdue yard work reminded me that there is gratification in doing that can’t be born of lazing around. It is also nice to cook again; right now, I’m preparing Tuscan beans flavored with sage and garlic. That we can do our weekly grocery shopping for healthy foods  for just over what one day of eating cost us in Kaua’i is a definite plus. My dogs are happy to see me, and the little Yorkie is sitting in my lap as I write this, both of us snuggling together against the brisk and chilly breezes howling down the chimney. The most important thing about being home is the return of my sense of volition. When I am perfectly comfortable, as I was in Kaua’i, I have no impetus to create. Writing seemed like a silly thing to bother with when I could lay on a beach and let the island sing to me. Work? Ha! That seemed like a ridiculous thing to even consider when the wind shifted palm tree shadows across the lanai. Yet writing, tending my house, and going to work help me understand who I am. If I were to stay in Kaua’i, I’m not sure I’d be the person who could write novels. I’m not sure I’d still be me, and I don’t want to be someone else.

And isn’t that the real magic of vacation? To leave enabled me to return to daily life, glad to be home, and happy to be myself. Life may not always be paradise, but I need the discomfort of too fast cars, too busy days, and disconsolate brown landscape to spur me to creativity.

Mahalo,  Kaua’i, for reminding me of who I am.

 

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