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

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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Going for the Gross Out

Welcome, Coffin Hoppers! Prizes! Ghost! Inspiration! Another ghost!

Quick Win: Leave a comment with the phrase “Mother Nature is not just a metaphor” to get an ebook of Stolen Climates.

Our visit to the field left us chilled, so we decided to warm up in the living room. The paprika colored walls reflect the warmth of the fire, and every now and then someone cuts through the room, dragging the cold outside air along behind them like a ghost. We’re on the couch, sipping scotch and pretending that it is only the temperature making us shiver.

When the party gets quiet, as even the rowdiest parties do, we can still hear the distant screams. The sound steals in through the chimney, moves through the flames, joins us on the couch. As the one who set the mood by telling a ghost story in the middle of a haunted field, I feel obligated to lighten things up a bit; like any writer, the only thing I can think to talk about is writing.

The most I can promise is that this particular story won’t involve ghosts. It might go for the gross-out, but that’s just the risk you take. I top off our drinks, set the bottle on the end table and move slightly closer to you.

hey how for halloween!

Not everything in Stolen Climates was inspired by other artistic creations. A bit of it was lifted from real life. From my life.

In the backyard, near the door, there is a flower bed. The first year we lived in the house, a plant that looked like a cross between a sego palm and a philodendron grew in that flower bed. We thought the drought of the following summer killed it; there were no more leaves, just a cactus stump no more than a few inches high. That fall, I crouched to pull weeds and fallen leaves out of the bed; my knees were pressed into the dirt, my gloved hands seeking. It is possible I was listening to music, and it is possible the wide sky was blue. All I remember clearly is the pain. A sudden, literally stabbing pain.

I peeled my glove from my left hand.

A thorn was shoved under my fingernail. It was a quarter inch long, and I could see the thick line of it under my nail. It stuck out of the tip of my finger, a fat wooden stake.

Apparently, the sego-philodendron grew a crown of thorns and, apparently, I had bad luck.

The thorn hurt, but it was too strange and too unbelievable not to share. I went inside, to where my husband sat in his office. I think I asked him if he wanted to see something cool.

I added that scene to Stolen Climates, although I amped up the supernatural causes for it. You can win a copy just by commenting, and every comment is another entry to win one of my Scream-y prizes. Don’t be shy!

 

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Spooky Inspiration

( Welcome, Coffin Hoppers! Prizes. Ghost story. )

I’m not surprised the sexy gypsy won the costume contest, but you were robbed. Your costume is more authentic, especially the way your innards dangle over your belt. How are you getting your eyes so glassy?

Okay, not much of a talker, are you?

The keg’s just been replaced. Now it’s Devil’s Backbone, named for a road near Austin that’s claimed its share of travelers. Guys who probably look about as bad as you do, now that I think of it!

It’s funny stuff like this, the little coincidences or glimpses that inspire the horror I write. Stolen Climates is the Muse-child of a few major artistic inspirations. Since you’re so quiet, and the line for beer is long, I’ll fill the space by telling you about one.

front porch of Hill HouseI love The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. I enjoy the supernatural aspects of the story, but what really captures my imagination is the main character’s stubborn insistence on fabricating a better, more interesting version of herself. She lies to everyone, building a story of a life that doesn’t exist. Just as I pluck details from the chimera of reality to weave my tales, so too did Jackson’s character. Her stone lions and ‘cup of stars’ make cameos in Stolen Climates. My character, Prentice Feyerbach, is the male, iPhone-toting version of Jackson’s character. That’s why I include a copy of The Haunting of Hill House in the ‘I Won the Grand Prize!’ Scream; they are companion pieces, meant to match up like two stone lions on a high-rise balcony.

Where did that guy with the bad-ass fatal car crash costume go? You didn’t see him? He was right here a moment ago…

Don’t forget you can get a free ebook edition of Stolen Climates just by leaving me a comment that includes the phrase, “Mother Nature isn’t just a metaphor.”

May you find your blue cup full of stars,

-aniko

 

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The Real Hercules Would’ve Listened to Felicia Day

I have been sick.

The pain started innocently, just a slight sensitivity in my teeth. I thought I’d been drinking too many waters with lemon, but even after stopping the citrus wedge habit, the pain grew. A week into the illness, and it spread from two teeth to five, then up into my cheekbone and down into my lower jaw, threatening to get worse. First, it hurt to smile. Then it hurt to talk. Finally, it was agonizing to eat.

I kept masking the pain: Motrin by day, wine by night. I believed the sickness and pain would abate, that I just had to tough it out. I was too busy to be sick!  Two weeks after that first ominous tooth-tingle, I gained intimate knowledge of the phrase “writhe in agony.”

I ended up in the ER, with an IV of super-charged antibiotics. It turns out all I had was a sinus infection, but by letting it go so long, there was danger of it spreading to somewhat important items. Notably, my brain.

How did this happen, and why didn’t I listen to Felicia Day?

When I first started feeling off, perhaps a week or so prior to the beginning of the pain in my teeth, I had the following items on my To Do List:

  • Slay a lion, a hydra, and a flock of sharp-beaked birds.
  • Capture a deer, a boar, a bull, and get a monster to give me his cattle.
  • Take Cerebus to the bark park.
  • Steal apples to feed to the people-eating mares that I, for some reason, must also steal.
  • Buy a bra fit for an Amazon Queen.
  • Re-route a river to clean a stable that hasn’t been mucked in thirty years.
  • Find my way out of the Ambition Room.

Okay, so those are euphemisms for the actual items, but the magnitude, oh! – the sheer weight of all those deadlines, promises, expectations! When I stepped out of the Ambition Room, I sloughed off a passel of Sisyphean tasks. That helped just about as much as hiding under a bunch of balloons while Stymphalian birds attack: it was colorful, but didn’t do much to protect me from the poisonous dung and sharp beaks. I was still balancing the equivalent of two full time jobs, a house to tend, a marriage to nurture, friendships to sustain, and two rowdy dogs that need an hour of walking each day. People laugh when I tell them I have my day scheduled down to the minute. I’m not joking; even my lunch hour from my day job is an hour dedicated to my writing job. There is no rest for the wicked, and no breaks for this writer. That’s why I couldn’t be sick. I looked at my mental calendar and saw my days booked, from now until forever, from 5AM to 10:30PM. Literally: booked solid. When could I possibly squeeze in a visit to the doctor? Much less take a day to recuperate?

I learned that I cannot be booked that full, for months on end, and not get sick. Just writing two books in four months is enough to exhaust me. Add everything else to my list (which, of course, kept growing), and I was on a crash-course with physical burnout.

As Felicia Day says in an interview with Riki Lindhome, “Hospitalized for fatigue is not a joke.”

I wasn’t hospitalized for exhaustion, but in the Emergency Room for running myself into the ground comes too close for comfort.

I stumbled across that interview at The Nerdist maybe a week or so before I got sick. I was fascinated by Felicia’s story. Her candor is heartening to those of us going indie: writers, actresses, heck, indie mathematicians – every one of you could benefit from hearing Felicia Day’s journey, in her own words. I love it that she takes the focus of creativity off of finding fame and onto doing what you love.  She says, “Do what is special to you, and do it even if only five people ever watched it.”

Part of what makes Felicia Day outstanding is her authentic engagement with her fans. She tweets, attends cons (game and comic), and takes the time to connect with individuals. In the interview, she talks about having to learn to say no to pretty much everything in her inbox, stating, “It’s either you or sleep, and I have to choose sleep.”

My interpretation? That as wonderful as it is to be asked to speak, or participate, or just simply be told you’re awesome, it all takes a little bit out of you to interact. A tiny bit of time here, a minuscule amount of soul-stuff there. Put enough infinitesimal together in one place, though, and you have the universe. In other words: you can work yourself sick.

Now,  I am not even remotely famous or well known. I have nothing like the social obligations of an actress/screenwriter/YouTube channel producer. Yet already I have felt the totally welcome, utterly exhausting invitation to authentically interact with peers and horror enthusiasts. I appreciate the attention and the validation. I believe each small bit of exposure is another chance to help readers find my work. I’m happy if only five people ever love my work, but I suspect that there are a lot more out there – if only I could reach them. My drive to push forward, to expand my bookshelf, to accept every request – that drive is strong.

Yet by delaying medical attention for what was an insignificant ailment, I managed to lose an entire week of revision time on my next book. Worse than that, I worried my family, weakened my body, and suffered needlessly. I did not do myself any favors.

Next time, I’m going to listen to Felicia Day.

Where do stories come from?

GPS and high-speed computers can’t pinpoint where they originate.  Radar, sonar, Ouija board and ultrasound are all useless indicators. Yet stories come from somewhere and those of us who write feel it when a story quickens.  Heart trips over itself, breath pauses, and inspiration shatters preconceptions.  A story has arrived!

Do stories bubble up out of the shared jumble of archetypes from our cave days?  Do they come from an external Muse?  Do they leak like static from parallel universes?

I don’t know. Perhaps where a story comes from matters less than the fact that it comes at all.  Under the sheer improbability that any given story exists, the question of First Cause is almost trivial.

As a reader, a tale comes to me as an already revealed whole, but that is not the case when I write.  I hear of writers who come up with outlines, who know what a story is before the story has been written. That is not how it happens for me. I do not plan the stories I write to be as they are any more than a mother ‘plans’ her children to be as they are.  Each story is an act of nature, a noumenal birth.  Unlike mothers of flesh and blood, I am less creator than conduit; what is to be written passes through me, but is in some very basic sense not of me.

When a story chooses me, it comes from multiple avenues at once.  The universe conspires to bring me into contact with the inspirations that will prepare me for the story that is traveling from those unknowable elsewheres. When the right pair of contradictory ideas come together in one lucid moment, I become an open conduit for the expression of the story.

At that instant, I can’t see the entire plot arc or even begin to understand how to fit those contradictions together into some cohesive whole. Everything becomes a possible revelation of the story’s truth. Novels, movies, snippets of overheard conversation, dreams, music, even the moon and sun themselves can be oracles. Revelation and prophecy are anything except convenient. There’s an element of the trickster to stories. They like to play but, like any wild animal, stories can be dangerous. It is not an easy path to be a writer. I am not even certain it is a choice, or at least not the writer’s choice.

Even now, a story travels.  It will come unto us like religion, like grace, like the purest dharma.  It chooses us, and we are humbled.

 

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