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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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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Aniko on the Go

Creativity's Turning Gears

The creativity gears are turning, and I must tend them or be ground to something less than myself and more than icky. To do so, I need to take a break from the internet. I will not be blogging, tweeting, or Facebooking. What will I be doing? Writing. I intend to finish my novel by the end of 2012. Please wish me luck! And keep the lights on, ya’ll: I’m with you in spirit, even if I’m not commenting.

I will miss you!

xoxo,

-aniko

To keep you busy, here are some links to a few of my favorite posts:

Out of the Ambition Room

The Adventure of a Writer Reading

We Are What We Say

Provenance

Reading the Bee Leaves

 

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Autumn, awaking.

October.

The name conjures earlier nightfall, crisp air, and the advent of all things spooky. It is thirty-one days of horror movies, pumpkin lattes, and the possibility of weather cool enough to open windows. It is a time of afternoon coffee, fresh radishes crisp as apples and nearly as big, and the first bowls of lunchtime soup.

When I moved to Central Texas five years ago, I thought that there were really only two seasons: Summer and not-Summer. I was wrong. There are seasons, but they are subtle. The trees may not erupt with the Autumnal fire of cooler climes, but they do change. The live oak mellows from a dark green to a gentle golden-green and the lush emerald of the cedars deepens. Insects and flowers that the sun killed return, making October a month of understated rebirth. Dragonflies float on sunlight-reflecting wings, glittering bits of consciousness hovering above the changed trees. Fireflies drift amongst dying thickets even as multicolored zinnias blow in the cooler breezes. On cloudy mornings, Austin’s ambient light reflects from the muzzy atmosphere, and a surprising profusion of sunflowers glow bright as good omens.

My creativity, which had grown sluggish beneath the constant blue of Summer’s onslaught, is also flowering. My work on expanding and revising the first book in my sci-fi/horror series is going at a good clip, and connections between characters and themes ricochet through my dreams to appear on the pages. In addition to work on the novel, I’m also preparing a short story for inclusion in an anthology. The story is a strange little gem inspired by Ouida Sebestyen’s novel, Girl in the Box. Not including reviews and blog posts, I have written close to four-hundred pages of new material this year. To put that in perspective, the final draft of Stolen Climates weighs in at just over 240 pages. I have never been this productive. I welcome my awakening!

***

October is also the month of horror blog hops. This year, I am participating in the Coffin Hop. Mark your calendars, because I’ll be giving away fun prizes, copies of Stolen Climates, and writing a post a day!

Coffin Hop 2012!

Towards a More Beautiful Life

I’m heads-down on my revision. It is going well, and I am having fun again with my writing. There are several factors that contribute to the positive flow I’m experiencing. I believe  they are all things that can apply equally well to any endeavor – including the all-important endeavor of living a good life.

Witness Joy

In no particular order:

 Witness Joy

Earlier this week, I got to sit in on a Geology for non-Geologists class.  I’ll kick a rock down the road when I walk, but I don’t crouch down to check it out. The presenter at this class was a crouch-down-and-check-out-that-rock type of guy. He is passionate about geology. He is funny, knowledgeable, and a good presenter, but what shone brighter than all of those was his joy. It is a wonderful experience to witness someone talk about the things they love. It gives me hope that there is something warm at the core of what seems to be an inconsiderate and cruel existence. It makes me want to do things that matter to me. Witnessing joy enlivens my soul.

Give Back

At the beginning of the year, I decided I would write a GoodReads review for every book I finish in 2012. The reasoning was that not only would this help me be a better writer by learning from others, but it would also be a way to give back to the reading community.  In July, I was struggling with my WIP and falling behind in my book reviews. When I counted up the number of books I needed to review, I was stressed. Epictetus says, “Everything has two handles, one by which it may be borne, the other by which it may not.” I was grabbing my book review backlog by the wrong handle. I was looking at it as just another task, and not viewing it through the lens of my intentions. I am not just writing reviews: I am giving back to a community that I have belonged to for almost three decades. Sharing feels good. The simple fact is that feeling good is more beneficial to getting into a creative flow than feeling bad, so why not choose to frame situations in a way that make me feel good?

Fill Your Belly with KINDness

I am the Kind Bar evangelist! I love the sesame chocolate bar. I love the nutty crunch of the seeds enrobed in rich chocolate. It is a bit o’ rectangular heaven. It’s also healthy. I don’t live on Kind bars (mmm, to be so lucky!), but I do eat five small meals throughout the day, and include generous helpings of fresh veggies, seasonal fruit, yogurt – and yes, Kind bars. I have found that eating smaller meals more frequently has an amazing effect on my mood, concentration, and creativity. The sugar highs and subsequent crashes are bad memories. The late afternoon downslide of my mood due to hunger is a thing of the past. When I eat matters as much as what I eat. By sustaining my body thoughtfully, I can take on a lot more and still smile.

Be Intense

My time is fractured by demands that come in from all directions. Over the course of July, I realized that I was spending just as much time trying to switch between different tasks than I was spending actually doing the tasks. None of the tasks were things I was willing to drop, so I had to find a better way to manage my time. I tried blocking out sections of time within the day dedicated to different tasks, but the stress of working under constant mini-deadlines was stalling my productivity. What finally worked for me was to batch up similar tasks and pick a day in the future that would be dedicated to working through those tasks. The feeling of constantly struggling to keep up was replaced with a sense of control over how – and when – I get things done. I work, write, blog, love, laugh, read, and practice friendship in intense, single-minded bursts. When I go all in, the results are better than when I’m frazzled and fragmented. I hope this is a lesson I don’t forget.

Embrace Pandora

I was a write-in-silence kind of girl until I got stuck trying to figure out this WIP. All of my writer friends report great experiences writing while listening to music, and I bought some tracks from Amazon to play in the cloud (neat stuff). Those tracks came out of my book budget, so I can’t do that very often and still read. I ended up revisiting Pandora, the internet radio. I am not new to Pandora; I’ve listened to it for things like repainting my sunroom or scrubbing the house, but I’d never tried it while writing. It turns out that music does help me write. It pulls me through those dread blank pages, carrying me on the inspirations of other artists.

I’m working on learning to live a beautiful life. If I were one to believe in signs (and I am!), I’d believe I was on the right track. What else could seeing three shooting stars in one week mean?

May all your portents be good!

-aniko

 

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