blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I could go on and on and on about the differences between Colorado living and Indiana living. The landscape, the diversity, the climate, the opportunities...

But I'm going to tell you about the deer.

Indiana has white-tailed deer. Colorado has mule deer. I could go on about differences in their mass and height, but the real difference is in attitude.

White-tailed deer are anxiety ridden things, truly.

If they're browsing at the side of the road and a car comes by, they panic and bolt. They often bolt in front of the car.

If they're browsing in a large field and see or hear something disturbing, they panic and bolt. They often bolt toward a road. Where cars are.

And if they're just moving from one field to another, they leap onto roads. When cars are passing.

If the deer is calmly crossing the road, and a car comes close, the deer will sometimes stand in place, or stutter-step back and forth before bounding off. But—and here's the crazy part—that deer will often trot out of the car's path... then change its mind and dash the opposite direction just in time to get hit by the car whose driver thought the deer was (reasonably) going to stay ten feet away.

I lived just outside the edge of town. I saw this a great deal.

Once upon a time, my late husband was driving on 465, the major highway that encircles Indianapolis. He didn't hit a deer. The deer hit him. Slammed right into the side of the car, buckling the rear door and shattering the window.

White-tailed deer are skittish and unpredictable.

Mule deer, on the other hand, don't give a fuck.

Mule deer browse on the side of the road. And when I say "side of the road," I mean they're right there. Two feet from the pavement. They really
don't care about the traffic. They might look up now and then, but it's passing curiosity and nothing more.

If they cross the road, they usually do it as a mosey, and they'll make eye contact as they do it. "Go ahead, hit me," the even stare says. "Just wait until you see what I can do to your car."

(I should mention mule deer look a damn sight more solid than white-tailed deer, too.)

And before they cross the road, I swear they look both ways.

I've come upon mule deer while driving, and they don't spook like white-tailed deer do. They just give me The Look, and keep on with their mosey.

My oddest mule deer moment came when I was driving home from Tai Chi, on a well-used road with development on one side and open hills on the other. I rolled up to a stop sign, and glanced both directions before moving forward.

And caught my breath.

Out the passenger window of my little Hyundai sedan, I could just see the chest and chin of a huge mule deer. I had to lean over to see his antlers. He was massive. And he was just standing there, close enough I could have touched his muzzle were I in the passenger seat (and dared to roll down the window), waiting for me to get the hell out of his way. Sure enough, as I rolled forward, he strolled across the road behind me as if he had all the time in the world. And he looked at my tail lights as if thinking, "Yeah, you better move along, bitch."

But the most unsettling mule deer moment came last fall, when I'd run away to a local campground for a couple nights. My little Tanner-pup spotted a collection of mule deer, ran to the end of her lead, and barked like crazy. The mule deer looked up from their browsing and advanced on usEven Tanner decided it was best to shut up and back down.

White-tailed deer were annoying and dangerous.

Mule deer... I don't want to mess with them at all.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I know I’ve been rather blog-quiet lately. There are two reasons for that.

First, y’all know I love my job giving whiskey tours. And I’m not working that many hours, all told. But making the transition has been a bit rocky in terms of time management. Some things had to give, and longer online pieces were the pieces that fell to the wayside for awhile.

Second, I’ve been struggling a little with my “online presence.” Frankly, I don’t even like to couch it in that term, but I haven’t another that’s any better. Weighing where I speak about what, and in what terms, and how often or seldom

Y’see, my online presence has always been just… me. Not Me Writer or Me Not-Writer. Just me. At the same time, Online Me has almost always been separate from Real Life Me, mostly because the majority of people I interacted with in daily life had little if any interest in Online Me and related pursuits. And Online Me always felt free to be me, but now that people I know in real life are hooking into Online Me, I feel all weird and exposed.

It’s all mixed up and jumbled and judged, and all the boundaries are smudged, and I’m second-guessing every time I consider posting here (and LiveJournal) because I’m certain you’re not interested in that, and my goodness this used to be so natural and easy, and maybe I’m posting on the wrong day for people to actually have time to read it, and am I really going to use that photo again, and I think I’d be infinitely happier if Facebook went away forever.

*insert flailing arms*

I’m figuring it out, slowly but surely. The closer I get to feeling certain, the more I realize what I’ve posted in the past is exactly what I want to keep posting going forward. It’s my attitude, not my content, that needs to settle down and move forward.

So you can look forward to more writing posts, more fighting posts, more disconnected musings on grief and puppers and wellness and whatever, and when the weather shifts, there will be the return of posts about camping and gardening. (Yes, gardening. My current yard is a sliver given mostly to puppers, so we’ll be experimenting with hay bales and the like.)

In the meantime!

Flesh of Strife has been steadily growing, and as it grows, the plot for the last novel in the series, Ash of Life, becomes clearer. There is fun stuff in there, and hard stuff, and true stuff, and kind stuff, and hopeful stuff.

Another novel, completely unrelated to the Desert Rising series, has taken form. I have been ruthless against its demand to be written right now, though. Flesh and Ash must come first, because that’s what my darlings are reading.

And the cookbook! We’re almost there! Right after Superstars next week, I’ll be sending out a final round of recipes for testing. Other recipes have been adjusted according to the fabulous feedback people so graciously offered. Some of those adjustments were in ingredients, but most were in the instructions, and I’m so grateful folks put a meal on the line to discover my errors.

The Patreon novella is still moving forward, and is in desperate need of a new section or two in February.

And my Patreon is still there, and I am amazed and grateful every month for y’all’s support there. It keeps me going, truly.

So… Here we are. A confession, a meandering, and an update all in one.

And if there’s anything else you want to know about, please tell me because I’m obviously having a hard time figuring things out in isolation these days.

#SFWApro
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

You’ll not be surprised, my darlings, to hear me admit a few things trigger me to rant on and on. You’ve seen this before, yes? Well, this time it’s the notion that a writer who says they haven’t time to write in truth doesn’t really want to write.

I don’t want to call out specific folks because the call-out doesn’t matter. Besides, some folks won’t understand the circumstances unless and until they find themselves hip-deep in them. But I do want to offer perspective to those who—right this moment, or in the past, or in the future—read those sorts of comments and opt to take them as truth. It’s for those who, already under stress, take the tossed-off judgment of those they admire as an accurate assessment of their own skill and determination.

ClearCamaraFeb2013 112

It’s for the person I was just a few years ago.

So.

Last summer, I sat on a panel at 4th Street focused on wellness for writers. I mentioned the idea that “real” writers write through pain, through dire life events, through depression and more, and answered it with, “That’s kinda bullshit.”

It’s actually real bullshit.

But I didn’t always think that way.

***

In my early twenties, I worked a fulltime office job by day and worked theater rehearsals and performances every night. I dragged a three-ring binder around wherever I went—scribbling out a few hundred words every day by investing my lunch hour and dinner hour in my stories. Two decades later, my acting buddies still recall how I huddled backstage, stealing a sliver of stage lights that spilled through the sets, to write a paragraph or two between my scenes.

Man, I was so busy! All I had was a lunch hour no one interrupted, time backstage when no one interrupted, and most of my weekends with nothing to do but domestic chores. So busy!

Then I had a child. My husband started a business while also working nights in a different city, so the care and feeding of another lifeform was pretty much my sole responsibility. Even when the business succeeded well enough for my husband to leave the night work behind, he was gone most of our son’s waking hours for the years of his young childhood.

Man, I was so busy! All I had (once we got past infanthood) were early evenings when my son was asleep, and the six hours a week I could afford to pay for a sitter who’d watch my son while I wrote. Unlike my pre-child years, I had not only inside-the-house domestic chores, but home maintenance chores, and evening karate teaching as well. Even though my husband did, frankly, more than his share, I still had more to do than before I had family commitments.

Then the business tanked, my husband broke his sobriety, and we lost our home. My son and I ended up living first with my parents, then on our own in a tiny refurbished Amish home on a farm owned by friends. Then the economy crashed, and I couldn’t even get a job at a fast food restaurant. Really, truly. When you’re fifty miles from a city, job prospects are few. So I learned to drive a tractor, to harvest and sell vegetables, to barter with my neighbors, and survive winters with the thermostat set at 52 degrees and months when the food budget for my son and I was under $150.

Man, was I busy! I took care of a 130+ acres’ worth of farm chores by day, and taught karate by night. But I still had household responsibilities as well, not to mention my son’s schooling and extracurricular activities, and the extra time involved in working with my husband (we never divorced) for visitation. All I had was the time after about nine at night, after a day of physical labor and intellectual work (I was homeschooling my son, remember), knowing for more than half the year I’d have to be up by dawn.

I didn’t write much.

Then my husband suffered two heart attacks back to back, and was soon diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and given four to six months to live.

Man.

Was I busy.

I didn’t write.

***

The next time someone tells you “everyone” can find time to write if they really, really want to, understand they’re using the wrong pronoun to express their personal truth. Understand, too, more than one person will read this and form a rebuttal with, “I didn’t mean that!

But you and I, my darlings, we both know how we might hear judgments when already under stress and feeling isolated. When already knowing our creative selves must wait weeks or months or years for attention, and when we can’t control how long that wait must be. Yes, yes, there is a portion of the seeking-writerly-advice audience who will suddenly become motivated by the realization they have hours a day they could spend writing. They tend to be more visible and vocal because, well, they have the time to be.

Those who don’t have time? That’s who I’m talking to right now—the folks I wish I’d had the time to talk with and hear from when I was fairly certain I’d never be a “real” writer because I couldn’t manage to write much in the sixteenth hour of my eighteen-plus hour day.

So take a breath, give yourself a break, and know most people who have not-writing commitments and challenges have all taken breaks–voluntarily or not–from story creation.  That’s not only normal, it’s healthy.

“I don’t have time” is not an excuse, my darlings. Quite often, it’s real life.

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I'm weary of referring to Book Three and Book Four, so I'm kicking around ideas.

I've mentioned before I want to keep the same rhythm for Three and Four -- NOUN of NOUN.

The frontrunners right now are a word-match of ash, flesh, flame matched with life and strife.

Flame of Strife
Ash of Life

Flesh of Strife
Flame of Life

Ash of Strife
Blood of Life

Flesh of Life
Ash of Strife

... I don't know. *stares at options*

And I don't yet have a clue what I'll do for covers. It's not as if I can have the heads pop in from the top and bottom of picture this time. :)

WHEW!

May. 19th, 2016 09:49 am
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Five days ago, I mentioned to Facebook friends that I had a book release, two self-defense articles, and a website content project (for another client, not for me) all coming in the next month, and would be topping it off by heading to 4th Street Fantasy Convention.

This meant I didn't take time to read through and respond to any SFWA message board info, nor jump in to prod and/or propose and/or complete myself any SFWA committee business. Instead, I knuckled down on work that puts money in my pocket--necessary, since I've no pockets but my own from which to fund this life of mine--and did life-things like shared dinner with my son, attended my nephews' community theater performance, and scouted the local farmer's market.

And you know what?

I feel guilty today, because I didn't dive into conversations for less than a week.

There is something wrong with that.

I've written often about the importance of prioritizing one's life work, and about how my choice to self-publish is one way I support my priorities. I write on it and speak on it because I do things like... like feel guilty for not doing volunteer work in addition to everything else. I write on it, and speak on it, because I need the reminders myself.

Really, I know it's silly of me. I know, realistically, that anyone who wants to bitch about a few days' absence isn't worth my time. Not that anyone IS bitching, mind you. For heaven's sake, no one has any reason to NOTICE my absence, let alone give any time COMPLAINING about it!

So... it's my internal voice doing all the bitching. The voice that shouldn't be worth my time! The voice that tells me, always, I ought to be doing more, helping more, achieving more, connecting more, sharing more. It's a nasty, nasty internal voice, and I do wish I knew where it came from. I didn't come from a family that invested huge amounts of time and energy as volunteers. I was the family member always trying to get everyone else to show up at the soup kitchen, or sell things door-to-door for a cause, or .

Nope, this one can't be blamed on family dynamics or life's challenges. This is a quirk, an oddity, a damaging trait that's all mine. And it's damned annoying, knowing it's there, and knowing each time the self-talk I need to do to counter it, and knowing it'll pop back up regardless.

And you know what? Now I'm worried about posting this, because I took the time to write it rather than read through the discussions I missed.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

My sis and her family live on a military base, and I’m on and off the base a few times a week to help care for my nephews.  The road through the base swings around a field of about five or six acres near the family housing.

As I was pulling onto that road last week, I saw a boy walking, leash in hand, toward a beautiful and tall Husky sniffing around the side of the road.  Behind him, his parents were splitting up to close off escape routes.  I drove a little farther down the road, stopped my car beside a couple other cars, and joined a half dozen folks who had the same idea I did.

The Husky walked back to the boy, ducked his head… then tore off for the field with his tail up high.

For the next half hour, I was part of an impromptu mission to capture the pup.  Men and women — some in uniforms, some not — running back and forth in lines and arcs to keep the pup from bolting for the gates, and to gradually shrink his romping area.

And romping he was!  Head up, he pranced and sprinted and leapt all over that field.  Time and again, he bowed down in front of one of us, tail swinging, waiting for a single twitch to tell him where we were going to play next.

Everyone was laughing.  Sure, it was important we catch that pup, but it was so clear the pup was having the absolute time of his life!  And as orders and warnings were called (“HOLE!” was the most common, since the field was riddled with prairie dog dens), we humans played his game in the bright sun and cool breeze until the pup stopped, shook himself from nose to tail, and trotted over to the woman holding his leash.

More laughing, an exchange of waves, and we all piled into our respective cars and went on our way.  I passed that kid I’d first seen, now holding a leash with a tongue-lolling dog on the other end, and grinned all the way home.

As I was driving home, I thought, “This is one of those things that would happen to [livejournal.com profile] asakiyume!”   Then, in the next moment, I thought, “No, her stories have changed the way I see things, and that’s an incredible thing.”

And then I thought I should tell her, and tell all of you, about the Husky and the military folks and the laughter and the sun, and the power of perspective to change a story and a life.

I might have gotten teary-eyed in there somewhere, too.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

The fabulous writer and person Judith Tarr has been facilitating a read of Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels, first published in 1970s. Tarr also wrote this great post on her discovery of Kurtz’s work, and its impact on opening up her own writing directions.

Tarr just happened to choose the writer who had more influence on me, as a reader, than any other.

Kurtz boosted my writing as well in a couple remarkable ways—I’ll get to that in a little bit—but her stories did more for me as a young person growing up odd in a decidedly conformist environment, as an innately curious person being educated mostly by people who judged first the appropriateness of my questions.

When I was fourteen, my family moved from the high-crime sprawl of southern California to what was then a bit of a backwater tourist town inland of Santa Barbara. These days the town of Solvang and the surrounding valley bustles with an outlet mall, bunches of wineries (thanks to Sideways and the Firestones), lots of spas, and a massive casino. But three decades ago, it was cattle and horses and a couple struggling wineries (thanks to the Firestones) surrounding a Danish-themed town of fake windmills and aebleskivers. We high school students worked the shops and restaurants—most of us wearing quaint Danish costumes—and our sad running joke was how exciting it might be to one day have a Taco Bell to go with our little McDonald’s in the neighboring town.

I could go on and on about the experience of moving from a high school of five thousand students to one of 700, and how my parents’ intention to keep me safe from teenage drinking and drugging by making that move backfired wildly. But the bottom line is I went from a tight group of friends who Got It—we used to roleplay quests and escapes at Disneyland and in city parks, and perform musical theater numbers in random parking lots and shopping malls—to a stifling social group of girls who would have deemed me beyond crazy for such things. My closest male friends did sword fighting and such out in the woods, and I learned a few bits of play, but it was mostly No Girls Allowed. I was so insecure at that age and time, I played along in order to get along.

And so it was, at fourteen and lonely while pretending everything was just dandy with the whole drinking beer and kissing boys thing, I walked into a little place called The Book Loft.

To that point, my SFF reading had been limited more to whatever works my father had around interspersed with military books and films. I’d read Sword of Shannara, and I’d tinkered on the edges of D&D, but my practiced interests in fantasy were more along the lines of costuming, Shakespeare, and learning about historical daily life. Since I didn’t know anyone who shared my interests, I did my roleplaying and cosplaying (a word that didn’t exist at the time!) in my bedroom, alone, in secret. I assumed I was just a little daft, but not so daft I didn’t know I ought to hide it.

When it came to actually reading, horror was my first choice for fiction. I’ve often blamed my pre-and early-teen reading of numerous King and Bachman stories for what others consider brutal violence in my own work. After reading Rage and Cujo, I considered my own choices somewhat tame, alas.

But my overreaching reading interests? Anything supernatural, whether it was classified as fiction or non-fiction. Witchcraft and ghosts and legendary evils. Folklore with bloody endings. Divine interventions, druids, crystal skulls, aliens among us, werewolves, ESP, and Bigfoot.

I loved all things fantasy, but at the time had little idea it existed as a genre in adult fiction. Really, I knew one other person who’d read Sword of Shannara, and she was my age, and by the time I moved from southern California, we hadn’t really been in touch for a couple years anyway.

So into The Book Loft of Solvang I wandered one afternoon after school, thinking to check out the horror section. As you might imagine, a bookstore in such a small community—even one subject to the surges of tourism—had a rather small selection. I ended up crouched in front of some shelves that my memory places in the store’s back corner, scanning paperback spines. I pulled out Deryni Rising.

Hook, line, sinker.

I read every one of her books I could get my hands on at the time. (Cue back-in-my-day tales of waiting weeks and weeks for an ordered book to arrive.) I checked constantly for new ones. (Cue back-in-my-day tales of never knowing exactly when the next of a series was due, and having no way to look it up.)  I read the Deryni books, and also her co-authored Templar and Adept novels. My favorite Kurtz work, above all others, remains Lammas Night.

And over the decade and a half I read and re-read her novels, my perspectives changed. But it took re-reading some of her work, more than twenty-five years after discovery, to realize her impact on my worldview.

Kurtz gave me a framework through which I could see religion and the esoteric are cohesive elements, rather than mutual and threatening enemies. I didn’t need to see mysteries as threats to either science or religion. It was all right to not only acknowledge mysteries existed, but to be awed by both their existence and our inability to decipher them. It was even all right to be joyful in the face of mystery!

This was particularly important to me at age fourteen, sixteen, nineteen, twenty. I’d been raised in the Episcopal Church, in a congregation led by a remarkable man filled with love, compassion, and an incredible tolerance—no, incredible respect—for us young people who came to him with challenging questions of faith, of applying teachings, and of reconciling a loving god with world events. But the church in our new region was led more… judgmentally.  More… divisively.  More like… like the power-politics-driven bishops in Kurtz’s novels. There were no burnings at the stake, of course, but the undercurrents of intolerance were the same.

I came to understand, at an empathetic level, Kurtz’s recurring refrain of, “Humans fear what they do not understand.” I almost called that a theme, but to do so creates a negative half-story of her work, methinks.  The true theme Kurtz comes back to again and again, story after story, character after character, is the emotional and spiritual power of fearful people choosing to risk life and soul in order to understand one another.

Internalizing that philosophy has led me to seek understanding of those who believe things so very different from my own beliefs, even if those beliefs violate my deepest moral beliefs. Even if those beliefs violate what I consider the most basic boundaries of human behavior.  Personally, I fail often to be a glowing demonstration of this principle. But I try, and Kurtz is in large part the reason.

(Because this is The Internets, I’ll make clear there is a distinction between understanding the motivations behind belief and actions, and condoning them. Understanding does not nullify judgment.)

I mentioned my favorite novel of hers is Lammas Night. More than any other, that one gave me in-depth perspectives of what drives honor and sacrifice, especially  when the one striving for goodness is not perfect. When one is afraid. When one doubts. When honor is a choice set upon a shifting foundation we’d like to think was built by those beyond reproach, but might really be constructed of our own assumptions. And it’s about choosing sacrifice even if it might seem futile. Choosing service in the face of threats. Choosing honor despite the cost.

Everything surrounding us is presented as a reduction to This or That. Right or Wrong. Left or Right. Real or Fake. Worthwhile or Worthless.

But honor is the Also that fills the spaces in between. It’s the ideal we wish we could reach even as we tell ourselves it’s impossible. Kurtz taught me it isn’t impossible, but we will indeed pay a price for it.

Lastly, Kurtz gave me the concept of religious evolution as a natural path rather than an ungodly act. She was the first person to articulate the perspective that the fundamental difference between the Old Testament and the New might be less about God’s changing assessment of humanity and more about humanity’s changing comprehension of God.

That shared notion didn’t come from one of her books, though. It came from an actual, in-person conversation at a convention, where she kindly spent a couple hours talking and listening to my young writer-self even though I was so nervous, my hands and voice shook almost the entire time. And she’d agreed to spend that time with me because she remembered we’d exchanged letters four to five years before. She even—believe it or not—read an early, early version of my first completed novel that I, with her permission, shipped all the way to Ireland twenty-odd years before it became Sword and Chant. Her response is tucked away somewhere in my papers—a kindly worded assessment that boiled down to, “Highly derivative, but shows some promise.”

And I had to look up “derivative.” :)

So yes, Kurtz’s work opened new pathways for writers in general, and women writers in particular. Yes, she shifted the ground upon which we build fantasy, historical fantasy, and religious magic today. And yes, she was my doorway into fantasy reading (which, awesomely enough, included finding Tarr’s work!).

But I don’t today cherish her work primarily because of any of that. Instead, I will always hold most dear the changes she made in me.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

So it seems to be the time of year for discussing the relevance and/or purpose and/or importance of authors attending conventions.

There is this article from Sunny Moraine on the melancholy of non-con attendance. There’s this from Kameron Hurley, which opens with its own kind of sadness but ends with an urging, from the perspective of earned regard, to include those who aren’t already A Part Of in the convention experience. There’s the one from Chuck Wendig, which acknowledges a writer’s career isn’t dependent on cons but also goes on to name big professional reasons you better go anyway. There’s the cost breakdown from Marko Kloos, which makes the entirely relevant and under-discussed point that cons cost actual money that many folks simply don’t have.* And then there’s Harry Connolly’s take on convention attendance, which weighs the potential/implied/presumed social connections against the personal costs of convention attendance.

Also out there are numerous exchanges between newer pros and neo-pros who are, to varying degrees, afraid their inability to attend the same conventions as Big Name Authors and Editors will permanently and irrevocably damage their ability to thrive in traditional publishing because they’re not connecting properly. Alongside those conversations—parallel, rather than intersecting—is discussion of highly successful self-publishing writers who are, after achieving wide reader acceptance and earning solid money, considering attending conventions in order to see if there’s an advantage to it.

So let me tell you my little convention conclusions, from the perspective of someone who once wanted a trad-publishing contract and opted to quit, who came back to novel writing only because self-publishing was an option, and who has watched aspiring writers hunt down and dig up any scrap of helpful information for about twenty years.

“I met editors and agents and pro writers at conventions. Two years later, I signed a three-book deal. A dozen other writers I’ve met made similar connections and also signed contracts. Yes, the writing matters above all else, but it’s connections that lift you out of the slush.”

That’s a generic version, a mash-up, of advice I’ve heard on the topic over the years.  Man, I took that as gold once upon a time. I’d go to some cons and meet new people! I’d talk to editors and agents! I’d get straight-from-the source information, and I’d put it to use, and I’d finally move from the form rejections to the personal connections! All I had to do was lay out more money in a year than I’d ever hope to make on an advance in the same time period. Because that’s how it was done.**

And you know what? I did meet some amazing people—some of whom have since found success, and a few who don’t at all remember the woman who, once or twice, hung out with them ten or twelve years ago. I also met a very small number of pros who were rude. Not socially awkward, but rude.

And I once spent an hour or so with a major editor who talked me through all sorts of industry and craft know-how.  Yes, it was extremely flattering!  Some months later, that same editor yelled at me about politics in a bar during another convention.  And years later at yet another convention, he delivered a verbal rejection of a requested manuscript at a party, surrounded by other writers, and left me standing alone in their midst to both absorb the rejection and the embarrassment.

So… that’s what conventions did for me professionally, when I was attending them for professional purposes. In fact, that’s an uncomfortable variation of what conventions do for many writers who attend believing them to be professional stepping stones.  It doesn’t matter that five writers who attend conventions over the span of three years later land contracts if a thousand writers who also attended did not. Believing otherwise is, as Connolly mentions, survivorship bias.

It’s why studying only those who succeed makes it exceedingly difficult for you to succeed. You’ll end up doing all sorts of things successful people did—and those will mostly be things that had nothing to do with their actual success.

Writing every day, writing only on the weekends, attending a workshop, working with a critique group, writing in total solitude, spending ten years perfecting a single novel, dashing off a first draft in three weeks, writing what you know, bullshitting through every chapter, worldbuilding with a binder-ful of charts, creating a secondary world by the seat of your pants, having a well-employed spouse, having a spouse who’ll take care of all domestic responsibilities, having no relationships, having no children, writing while breastfeeding an infant…

These are all things many successful writers have done. These are all things many successful writers will tell you are personal decisions best made with an understanding of your own process.

Such it is with conventions.

These days, I adore conventions. They became really enjoyable when I ceased to consider them activities required to achieve professionalism via relationships with industry folks and instead saw them as opportunities to learn alongside folks I like. Where once I looked at guest lists to choose conventions based on who I’d like to meet for professional purposes, I now choose conventions based on where I can meet up with folks I know. No elevator pitch at the ready (in fact, is that even still A Thing?), no practiced self-introduction, zippo. I enjoy the convention atmosphere, give my best on panels I’m asked to participate in, immerse in awesome conversations of craft after hours, and look forward to meeting new like-minded folks.

That’s not to say I’ve never gained a little while at a convention. MileHiCon resulted in, among other things, an invitation to be interviewed for a podcast. On the other hand, that came about via an introduction from someone I’d spoken with online, and that online introduction happened via another online connection. The podcast invite came about at the con, not because of the con.

And the number of professionally-positive happenings at conventions are dwarfed by the number that have and continue to come about due to online relationships. Come to think of it, nearly every person I’ve met at a convention is a person I’ve first met, in one way or another, online.

But convention attendance isn’t required to reach readers who will value your work enough to pay you for it. That’s not to say there isn’t an agent or editor out there who will give preference in some way to a writer whose convention chit-chat was enjoyable, I suppose. But again, the chance of being the one person among the hundreds (thousands?) of writers that editor might meet isn’t likely to be worth the hundreds (thousands!) of dollars spent trying to be in that editor’s orbit long enough to make an impression.

And in the end, there is but one thing—just one!—that all writers who either land a trad-pub contract and/or build their own readership through self-publishing did consistently.

Ready?

They all kept writing stories and offering them to others until someone (in trad pub) or many someones (in self-pub) liked them enough to pay for them.

So if you want to go to cons, by all means, do so! Maybe we can meet up and have a good time! But if you can’t for reasons of money or work or family or health or preference or whatever, don’t worry about it! Plenty of writers land contracts without convention-connections. Plenty or writers connect with their readers through more consistent, readily-available, and cost-effective means.  And many writers have just fabulous sales without a single book-hawking or book-signing event at a convention.

We, my darlings, have options.

And while I understand, deeply and truly, what a bummer it is to miss attending conventions (after all, I miss most of them!), I don’t want anyone feeling less-than-a-writer for the miss. I like y’all too much for that. :)

*This fact does make more amusing the assertion I saw a couple years ago that self-publishing was only an option for the privileged and well-off few who could afford to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on editing, cover art, printing, and storage.

**Perchance that’s the reason I was never particularly swayed by the anti-self-pub hand-wringing over the expenses of self-publishing. I don’t know what other aspiring writers and neo-pros heard over the last couple decades, but the advice given to me included familiar phrases like “don’t quit your day job,” and “expect to spend your whole advance doing your own publicity.”

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
It's that time of year again, though it seems to have arrived earlier than past years. Usually, by my recollection, I don't end up feeling quite so sensitive until March, or especially May. Then again, that might be simply my impression.

I've been... overly sensitive for the past week or so, even as my writerly self--the one so thrilled and willing with story and character and creation--resurfaced in this new environment of family and encouragement. It's been like having sunburned feelings: you know the person touching you doesn't mean to cause pain, but even back-pats of encouragement hurt.

Then yesterday, when my mother was doing nothing more than trying to schedule a dinner for either Sunday or Monday, I just about bit her head off for no reason. Then I tried to laundry, and ended up stuffing clothes in the washer while tears ran down my face. Then I tried to cook supper, and ended up with the same result. Then I went to apologize to my mother, but what came out of my mouth instead was, "My 40th birthday was when I knew Ron was going to die."

Until those words spilled out, I really hadn't aligned past grief with present hurt. But there it is, doncha know, because grief is an unpredictable thing. It isn't malicious (at least mine isn't). It is instead almost too polite, apologizing for popping up year after year, and trying to be so subtle it leaves me confused and seemingly unable to identify it for days or weeks.

And the words, while true in an emotional sense, weren't true in a factual sense. I mean, yes, I spent my fortieth birthday in a VA hospital, helping Ron eat the first meal he'd been permitted in a couple days and arguing with doctors who wanted to put him on blood-thinning medications when he'd almost bled to death internally a few days before. But I didn't know he was going to die so soon for a few more days. (And I am still bitter and angry that I was the one who, after reading his test results, diagnosed him and told him the diagnosis weeks before a doctor got around to it.)

But the emotions rule, this far removed from the date. And my heart will always link my birthday with losing Ron--even though another four months passed before we lost him.

And I thought I had all that under control after figuring this out last night. Then I read this from Kathryn Cramer, and lost my shit all over again.

At the time Ron was diagnosed, we'd been living separately for almost three years, but we never divorced and we did remain close. There are times I still feel as if he's simply lost, and I'll find him if I walk into the next room even though he's been lost for five years now.

So... I think we're having a family dinner on Sunday. It'll probably be okay. I'm giving myself permission to leak emotions all over the place if I feel like it. The feels aren't going away, and though the feels aren't pleasant, having them is not a bad thing.

They exist. I exist. One cannot miss what one did not love, and love is not a thing to be left behind.

Wedding 1996

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

I will choose and understand my life priorities before I entertain, let alone commit to, "measureable" goals. For example, "My son and I will have conversation today" is a much higher priority than "I will write 1000 words every day."  What I produce will not be deemed of greater value and importance than who I am and the connections I want to preserve with family and friends.



I will give more weight to my mental and physical health, and the needs of the actual human beings in my life, than I do to word counts, bookings, and schedules. Certainly there are those who will assume I'm speaking from a place of privilege, as someone who must be able to set aside Real Life Responsibilities for some squishy emotional goal. Nope. The past almost-ten years haven't been a stroll down the primrose path, darlings, and frankly, the journey was made more emotionally difficult by production-focused people at the edges of my life who looked down on my decision to invest time in my son and family rather than a monetary venture.  I wasted time feeling bad about their snubs. I won't do that again.


If a fill-in-the-blank guru tells me I must perform X tasks in order to reach Y goal, or I'm not really ever going to get Y goal, I will merely assume the guru is telling the truth and move on. It's very, very easy to get caught up in the Secret of Success Rhetoric. The industry is just as savvy as the diet industry when it comes to guilting people into handing over the lives (and money) in order to prove themselves Not A Loser. Many gurus thrive on enforcing methods that in reality force a person to neglect health, friendships, family, and life experiences for the sake of meeting goals, and will insinuate you're a lazy, unworthy person if you're not willing to make those sacrifices. There is no success I could achieve that would be worth such neglect.  I will not be shamed into acting otherwise.


I will more loudly rejoice when I do well. I will share my successes rather than humbly swallow them. Screw that Tall Poppy madness. I invite everyone else to do the same.

And above all, I wish everyone a 2016 that has more laughter than fear, more moments worth remembering than days worth forgetting, more tears shared in the company of others than wept alone, more encouragement in times of doubt than doubt in times of difficulty, and more time with people you love than longings for those beyond reach.






blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Crossposted to Blair MacGregor Books

Another day, another piece of writing on self-publishing that makes me want to *headdesk.*  So I’m going to put this post here and, in the future, simply point to it when yet another one of those articles pops up.

Truth: There is no “real cost” to self-publishing, just as there is no “real cost” to trade publishing.  Anyone who tells you there is intends to sell you something, validate their own choices, or is simply unaware a range of options exist.

What is the “real cost” of feeding a family of four for a week?  What is the “real cost” of a college education?  What is the “real cost” of owning a home, taking a vacation, adopting a pet, raising a child, buying a car, having someone do your taxes, finding the perfect gown for an event?

The answer to all those is, “It depends.”

And too often, someone comes along to assert “It depends” must be followed by “the quality of work you want.”

That someone is wrong.

Writers new to self-publishing often take a Google-tour of sites claiming to give them “real” information.  And some writers, thinking they’re being helpful while defending their choice to not self-publish, have written compelling pieces that place the cost of putting out a single novel somewhere between ten and sixty thousand dollars.

Those are not helpful articles.  New writers who stumble onto them and believe them are likely to either give up entirely or become an easy target for scammers.  Heck, after reading an author dropped thirty thousand dollars to self-publish “properly,” who wouldn’t believe an Author Solutions package of ten grand sounds like a fantastic deal?

(And if you’re not familiar with Author Solutions and the support it receives from major publishers and imprints, start here and here.)

In most cases, cost is assumed to be the same as quality when one of two factors come into play.  In the first instance, cost matters if money is considered to be a measure of personal worth (see “Protestant Ethic”).  In the second, cost is used as a proxy for quality when one isn’t accustomed to or comfortable with cost comparisons and negotiations.

I once paid nearly $2000 for a gown.  People at the reception in Washington D.C. complimented it.  I once paid $65 for a gown.  Never in my life had I received so many compliments, and this from a Beverly Hills crowd.

So if you’re a new writer, here’s the deal:  You do not need to pay what large trade publishers pay to get professional results because—and this doesn’t get mentioned often, for some odd reason—you are not paying to retain employees, warehouse product, or maintain expensive office space.  And frankly, you’re not paying for exclusivity.  You are paying a contractor to provide you a professional service.*  You are paying for that service one timePeriod.

How do you find professionals who deliver great results at the price point you’re looking to pay?  Use the same method that used to be touted to writers in search of a compatible agent: check the books you like.  Well-produced indie titles will list their publication team—cover artist, designer, copyeditor, etc.—in the front matter and/or the acknowledgements.  Best of all, ebooks usually contain a live link to the professional’s website.  In very little time, you can create a targeted list of professionals whose work you like alongside the approximate cost of their services.  Easy-peasy.

If you’re an established trade writer thinking you should say something about self-publishing, here’s the deal: Read up on successful self-publishing members within your own professional organization.  SFWA recently opened its membership to self-published writers who meet the same income standards as trade-published writers, and many long-standing SFWA members fully embraced self-publishing long before.  Just a small bit of reading and discussion will reveal that the professional experience and focus of those who primarily self-publish differs from those who might self-publish a small project or two on the side.  They can give you actual numbers, based on multiple projects.  And if you have a question about self-publishing, it’s easy to ask.

For some, custom artwork provided by a Certain Name is critical to seeing their final product as “professional.”  Those folks will pay a premium for it.  For others, it’s essential to pay Certain Name for a developmental edit to shape their story for reasons of craft and/or confidence.  Those folks, too, will pay a premium.  But premium is a choice, and should not be presented as a necessity.  Telling new writers—and established writers uncertain if they should step into self-publishing—that they must spend a pile of money to be professional and spend every moment on insurmountable tasks associated with publishing is a swift and efficient way to put a lid on the number of writers who’d otherwise be able to engage with enthusiastic readers.

In fact, it’s kinda mean.

It isn’t realistic.  It isn’t “harsh truth.”  It is a narrow band of experience, based on a different business model, that’s erroneously touted as universal.

I’d much rather see us reach out with accurate and up-to-date information on the range of costs associated with self-publishing.  That’s the way to realistically and immediately support diversity, to give fellow writers the knowledge needed to take advantage of options and avoid scammers, and to expand the readership for everyone.

So at the end of the day, the truth is pretty straightforward.

The real cost of self-publishing is what you pay, after researching your options, to get the results you want.

Period.


(Next week I’ll put together a post in response to the “You can’t become a better writer unless editors reject you repeatedly” post I can wriipoint to whenever that meme pops up.)


*I’ve heard the argument that paying below Big 5 rates for artistic and editorial services harms professionals accustomed to making their living at their trade.  While not unsympathetic to that viewpoint, I do find it a tad offensive when directed at the one professional in the publishing business who has forever been told they shouldn’t expect to make a living in the biz.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Inspired by the lovely blue of Stephanie Charette, I decided I wanted to play with some color. Alas, I can't get in to my favorite hair gal for a couple weeks, so it will have to wait. Besides, she's getting some sort of new product in and wants to experiment with it first. I'm not sure if I'll keep my hair auburn and go with burgundy ombre, or dark brown with deep purple ombre.

I don't know if I'll need to walk into a more conservatively professional environment for consulting/teaching by September, so it needs to be something I can trim off, if required.

On the other hand, I'm moving to frickin' Denver--far away from the Land of Limits and Laments. There, purple hair is no reason to point someone out on the street unless it's too say, "Cool hair!"

Yes, the more I think about it, the more I want the purple.
**

When I told my son I was going purple, he told me he'd checked into getting some deep blue in his hair, but opted to save the money for a con he's attending next weekend instead. When I told him I thought the blue would look awesome on him, he said, "You know, some people can't believe you don't freak out over stuff."

Apparently, the list of unbelievable things that don't freak me out include tattoos, frank discussions about sex and attraction, staying up until wee hours, cussing, and having different opinions.

The last one brought me to a full stop. It is amazing, among my son's age-mates, that a parent tolerates--nay, encourages--kids to have independent opinions. Contrary ones, even! And it is sad that it is so.

Around here, I can honestly say it is not religiously and politically driven. Truly, my parents--my father in particular--are extremely conservative and regular church-goers. But they raised their daughters to challenge the world, not mold themselves to it, and they offered themselves as our earliest quintains in verbal jousts. Some topics were touchier than others, and differences in opinion didn't mean we didn't have house rules to follow. But our very thoughts weren't expected to align with our parents!

No, around here, the drive to conform and carry on is instead cultural--as deeply set as the assumption big-city living is inherently immoral and leaving town will result in heartache. Conformity is its own high virtue.

I've sat here for the last half hour considering the words I just wrote and wishing I didn't have to leave my young karate students behind.
**

Last week, I told the students in my women's class about my upcoming move. To say I was unprepared for the emotional reaction is an understatement. We ended up going out for drinks for two hours after class. I keep making mental notes of things I want to see these women achieve, or groundwork for achievement I want to see in place, before I move.

During regular classes, I catch myself calculating when this or that student is likely to be testing for their black belt, and wondering if I'll be able to travel back to sit on their review boards. I wonder where they'll end up in life, and I hope there will be someone to remind them they have choices and options and can ask questions of smart people and never have to apologize for dreams that don't fit in the confines of a small town.
**

The most insidious "inspiration" quote I've heard used around here is, "Grow where you're planted." It's often on posters alongside pictures of a single flower blooming between cracks in a sidewalk, or on an expanse of parched earth, or some other such appropriately challenging environment.

Yes, yes, I understand it's supposed to be about acceptance and inner peace and doing what you can where you are. But it's a pretty screwed-up message to give people who are in toxic, stifling, and abusive environments. It's basically saying, "Look: you had no power to choose where you were born and raised, and you have no power to go anywhere else now that you're an adult, so you might as well just make the best of your crappy situation and get on with doing what you can until you die right in the same place."

Or, perhaps, "You're screwed, but it's immoral to want anything more."

You know what would be better? "Choose where you want to grow." Then you can have all sorts of wonderful conversations about choosing rich soil, the right amount of sunshine, and good companions for optimal growth.

And I doubt that scrappy little flower bloomed all alone in the crack of a city sidewalk so it could be lauded from afar as a shining example of tenacity and humble virtue. It would likely prefer a bit more soil and little less trampling instead.

And, perhaps, a touch of purple hair and transplant.


blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

My admiration for a professional acquaintance grew during the Indiana RFRA upheaval (which I introduce here as an EXAMPLE, not something I really want to debate right now*). She is a life-long Republican activist. And I do mean activist. She organizes and attends political rallies, works in campaign offices, and is always ready to intelligently discuss policy. My beliefs and hers overlap in very few places, but I’ve always enjoyed our conversations whether we’re agreeing or disagreeing.

She held strong beliefs against RFRA–beliefs she determined were more in line with her vein of conservatism than that of RFRA’s supporters. Knowing she’d forever damage her standing among segments of her party, she became one of the loudest and most reasoned voices speaking for its amendment or repeal. Many of the photos you’ve seen of local rallies include her. She was even asked to speak at the largest rally. And she spoke to her fellow conservatives at every opportunity.

Coolest of all? She consistently delivered moderate messages regardless of her audience. Since the message was both inclusive and diverse (it touched on social, economic, personal, national, political, and generational responsibilities), people on both sides listened.

Even so, folks on one side bad-mouthed her as a fake supporter and criticized her mention of economic motivations as cold-hearted and selfish. Folks on the other side bad-mouthed her as a fake Republican intent on attacking religion.

But in the end, she and others supported and achieved a middle ground: Indiana has an RFRA that is more in line with the original intent of the Federal RFRA, and the folks whom the original Indiana RFRA drafters targeted were extended protection, and the discussion continues.

Oh, and Indiana state government has allocated millions of dollars to marketing and public relations intended to repair the damage done to Indiana’s convention and tourism business.

***

There is a charming innocence in believing life is like a box of chocolates. I rather hope that isn’t true because that would mean some chocolates are rotten, or filled with venomous spiders, or imbued with the ability to randomly kill those I love. I’d prefer my chocolates to be like chocolates, thank you very much.

Life is really a plane filled with passengers who ought to be prepared to slip into The Langoliers without warning. The view is fantastic and the destination just might be wonderful, but at any moment something will go terribly, irrevocably wrong and your survival will depend upon not only your own preparations but the attitudes and preparedness of those sharing your plane.

That’s why a passenger who refuses to take their seat when asked can be kicked off the plane prior to take-off or arrested after landing at the destination. It isn’t because failing to sit down when asked, even when nothing bad is happening, is a life-threatening crime. It’s because a person who can’t follow simple directions—who cannot fathom an existence beyond their own experience and desires—is a threat when reality slides to the left. Better to dump the passenger at the gate, or arrest them in the hope it’ll change future behavior, than deal with a jerk suffering from narcissistic tendencies in an enclosed space where errors result in death.

Over the past year—with all the intra-industry battles over publishers, booksellers, platforms, publication paths, convention policies, and now the damned awards—I’ve had much better luck judging behavior than opinions. I admit I can be harsh about it at times (my explodes-at-the-end-of-a-long-fuse temper is not my ally), but I’ve had more than a couple harsh experiences that taught me life is short, unpredictable, and enamored with its own brutal streak.

So yes, I’m far more interested in knowing who keeps a level head, who is smart and wise enough to entertain doubts, who is able to able to balance intense passion with a wide perspective.

I’m choosing who I want to be on my plane.

.***

It takes little effort and willingness to experience empathy for people we agree with. It takes a great deal more of both to experience empathy for those we disagree with.

The stock phrase about being doomed to repeat the past because the past is forgotten is true only to a certain extent. It’s actually the lack of empathy for the opposition that causes us to perpetuate the same conflict-ripe conditions. The inability to see why a single issue matters, the unwillingness to examine motive and motivation, the so-young belief that acknowledging a fact is the same as approving of what someone does with it, the simplistic and lazy assumption that the opposition fights because they’re evil and nothing else—that’s what dooms us.

The mistakes don’t lie in choosing strategy and tactics. The mistakes lie in not asking why we’re needing to make those choices again. Again. Again.

Empathy is the ability to imagine what the world looks like when viewed from a different window. In practical terms, it’s about listening to what folks say rather than hearing nothing but a Charlie Brown adult croaking while you think of your response, and about accepting that your personal experience is not universally shared or understood or even known.

Specifically, it’s about understanding a person who has been shunned and physically threatened because of their gender identity just might be furious about a law touted as a means of exclusion. It’s about understanding a person of faith, who has heard the millionth attack on religion as the cause of all ills, will be defensive about a seemingly small joke. It’s about looking at why a person thought to be awesome and welcome and level-headed suddenly accuses those who thought they’d been nice of doing harm.

It’s about peeking over the great wall of righteousness to glimpse the landscape that impacted the other side’s beliefs, actions, and reactions.

Empathy isn’t an endorsement of belief or behavior. It is, at its heart, the path that leads to connections and solutions.

Just about everyone is wired for sympathy. Not everyone is wired for empathy by the time they reach adulthood. And of those who are empathetic, even fewer are willing to acknowledge it. Fewer still are willing to share their empathetic understanding for fear the un-empathetic will accuse them of evil.

If you’re interested in practicing empathy, imagine how the person you most disagree with might read these words. Imagine that what you apply to the Other Side is now being applied to you.

Now don’t run away from those thoughts.

You see, we’re very quick to ask, “How would that make YOU feel?!?” and very adverse to coming up with an answer. And very, very reluctant to admit the answer might be, “I’d feel the way you do right now.”

Nothing happens in a vacuum. No story exists without backstory. A villain without motivation is a failure of storytelling. Real life seldom makes that error.

***

In my rural county, the most commonly spoken endorsement of a person’s ability and morality is, “She’s a good Christian.” From babysitters to financial advisors, therapists to farmers, politicians to plumbers. “He’s a good Christian,” is regional shorthand for moral, trustworthy, hardworking, good-natured, and every other positive trait you can imagine. I’ve often heard some variation of, “You know, she can’t do the X, Y, or Z parts of the job, but we keep working with her because she’s a good Christian.” Folks will tell you anyone is welcome, regardless of creed, but those same folks will listen for the “She’s a good Christian,” endorsement. Or pay close attention to its lack.

If you’re not “a good Christian,” you know you’re automatically lower on the list for danged near everything.

As someone who is not a church-going Christian (heck, I’m barely a cultural Christian anymore, truly), I totally understand the desire to have a place among friends who do not use religious belief as the basis of acceptance. I have an empathetic understanding, too, for those who feel so outcast by the “He’s a good Christian” environment—and who have been passed over for social and professional opportunities because of it—that they want a place to be completely devoid of Christian presence and acceptance.

But the truth is that the overwhelming majority of Christians haven’t the slightest inclination to use religion as criteria for employment, friendship, or anything at all. The overwhelming majority have no interest in recruiting you into their belief system, in demanding every public interaction conform to their Biblical interpretation, in punishing those who do not share their beliefs.

And yet—for heaven’s sake, be honest, my darlings—there are environments within the SFF community that will deride any and all stripes of Christianity, and gleefully so. There is even an SFF-community version of “She’s a good Christian.” It’s applied to those whose practice of Christianity either conforms with what’s assumed to be the preferred beliefs, or those whose practice is so rarely spoken of it is able to be ignored.

Right now—right this instance—if your thoughts are beginning to spin with, “Yeah, but…!” I invite you to take a step back from this part of the discussion.

Rest assured, anyone on any side of this debacle is well aware of the extreme ends of the beliefs. Truly, identifying that is the simple part, arguing it is for emotional satisfaction, and continuing to focus on it offers a dead-end.

I’m talking to those who are utterly sick of the spouting of the obvious, the screaming of pointless invective, the fingerpointing and the backslapping and cruel debates that seem to have completely forgotten actual people whose professional work is being trampled in the middle have been deemed acceptable collateral damage in the proxy war.

I’m talking to those who are more interested in exploring conversation with those who hold different beliefs than in beating the obvious extremist about the head. I’m talking to those who define victory as a lasting compromise, not those who equate winning with subjugating the opposition. I’m talking to those who want more than anything to discover why a conflict exploded—and who understand that discovery involves talking with people you don’t agree with rather than assigning motive from on high and plotting ways to stick it to the Bad Guy.

I’m not talking to those who prefer clever quips over substantive discussion.

I’m talking to those who listen when others talk.

I’m talking to the majority, my darlings.

***

There is a difference between winning a war and solving a conflict. Humans aren’t very good at the latter. Or, perhaps, we’d be better at solving conflicts if it weren’t so easy to let the war-winners assure us we don’t really need to solve anything as long as we can keep tearing it down.

But on my plane, I want people who can not only answer this question, but put the answer into practice:

True or false — If some Zoogs are Quigs, and all Quigs are Nofs, then not all Zoogs are Nofs.

As for the RFRA, if you want to look at the solution—which didn’t make much news—rather than the nasty battle—which certainly did make the news—take a look at how Utah handled the matter with discussions, negotiations, and the even-handed assumption that a solution didn’t have to involve a parade of the conquerors.

*

*If you really, really, really want to talk about RFRA, I’ll do a separate post on it. Otherwise, I ask you not derail the conversation about connecting with arguments for or against RFRA legislation.

#SFWApro

(Edited to completely replace the text with something LJ didn't screw up in some way or another.)

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Motherhood and writing: a topic buried beneath mounds of advice columns, cries of frustration, and hurtful moral judgments on all sides.  Most of what I hear are concerns a child will stall/delay/derail a career, coupled with ways to work around the child.

But this is a different sort of article.  This is about the other side of motherhood and writing, the decision that opens the door for all those advice-guides and judgments, and the truth some writers fear to some degree or another.

It’s about accepting—choosing—slower career growth in exchange for raising children and caring for family.

It’s about putting motherhood first.

100_2195

More mothers do this than talk about it.  You won’t hear much about choosing to gaze into a baby’s eyes as she breastfeeds, but you’ll hear lots about one-handed typing to create a first draft while the baby eats.  You won’t read many tales about how much more satisfying it is to help your child master riding a bike than it is to complete a solid first draft.  And rarely will you see a writer claim that putting avid pursuit of a writing career on hold was the best damned decision of her life.  You’ll most often hear the frustrations instead.

Why?

The perspective is out-of-step with the mainstream notion that “strong work ethic” is synonymous with, “works at the expense family.” It’s far more acceptable to say your progress faltered because certain plot points were challenging than to say your wordcount was low because you took your child to the park.  Few would call a writer dealing with depression unprofessional if a book’s release date was delayed for mental wellness reasons.  Many would call it unprofessional if the delay came from tutoring your child through a difficult school year.  So mothers are more likely to publicly vent about their lack of progress than tell you how cool it is to instead what a tiny human grow and develop.

I can tell you all sorts of things I did to keep writing while adhering to the parental commitment I’d chosen, and I can expound at length on the number and diversity of complaints I made about never having enough time and brainpower.  But that’s only the most-expected part of the story, the part that’s professionally acceptable and expected.  There’s much more to it.

**

I offer this as a discussion of my own choices, not my moral judgment of the choices other mothers make, and as a perspective for new writers/new mothers to consider.

A little history so you know where I’m coming from…

My son was a surprise, showing up more than a year earlier than my husband and I had planned.  For familial and financial reasons, we soon left the west coast and landed in small-town Indiana.  I also left an unfinished university education, the lure of a teaching career, and a growing presence in regional theater.  Some warned I was sacrificing my youth, ambition, talents, and success for mere motherhood.  That by the time I returned to professional life, it would be too late to “catch up.”  But rather than play the crazy-making game of trying to be everything at once, I chose to do a couple things in succession.  Why not have everything I wanted in a sequence instead?  And why was contributing to the next generation seen as a lesser calling?

TyPuppy 001

When my son started school, I was jazzed to have more writing time (and the privilege of living in a situation that permitted me that time).  Then, for a slew of academic reasons, I started homeschooling him halfway through third grade and my time went away again.  In the almost-decade since, I’ve experienced poverty, the loss of my husband, and the low expectations of people who know me as “just a mom” living in Indiana.  Our financial life might have been easier had I stopped homeschooling (provided I landed a job in the middle of the horrible recession), but it wouldn’t have been best for my son.  Not by a long shot.

So… we kept up homeschooling, and gave up other things.  That’s when I fully embraced parenting as my primary, no-hesitation vocation.

But something gave me comfort in the years of stress and loss, brought me joy in the midst of darkness, and motivated me to pick vegetables from 5am to noon, scrub toilets, and deliver the same basic academic lesson for the umpteenth time while wondering in the back of my mind how I was going to afford enough heating oil to make it through the winter.

It was not writing.

It was my son.

**

Even though my son was a surprise, my parenting decisions were deliberate.  I believed my child would grow more willing to explore the world if he knew a parent was always available to back him up—not to keep him from falling, but to pick him up if he did.  I believed he’d continue to share his thoughts and fears if I remained available, open, and accepting when he spoke them.  I believed that, as he navigated adolescence—especially while grieving his father’s death—he’d need me to do fewer things for him and with him, but would need me to just be there more.

Growing up didn’t wait while I finished writing the next scene or revising the next book.  The writing waited on my son instead.  Whatever I lost by putting motherhood first was so much smaller than what I and my son gained.

And I knew he wouldn’t be a child forever.

I’ve reached the end of the child-raising part.  My son turned eighteen in December, and though we’re still wrapping up high school studies, he’s transitioned into a person who shares the house rather than someone who is only cared for within it.  He holds down a job and takes care of his own finances, helps with meals and chores, and talks with me every day.  He knows he doesn’t need to ask permission anymore, but discusses plans anyway.  At least a couple times a week, he asks to “run something by me.”  Every now and then, he’ll knock on my bedroom door in the wee morning hours, unable to sleep because of worries or memories or something that just can’t wait until morning.

And all those times over all those years I lost sleep, lost brain cells, and set aside my writing at a second’s notice—because he needed to talk, or couldn’t wait to show me something funny the dogs were doing, or hit maximum frustration with his reading, or just wanted to hug or cry or vent about life’s unfairness—all those stalled-out writing projects and unpublished stories have paid off.  He’s a good young man.

When I sit with a group of parents complaining about the rudeness, self-centeredness, rebellion, and distance of their teenagers, I have very little to contribute.  In fact, I usually walk away, tired of hearing parents say horrible things about their own children.  Their experience is not mine.

100_2461

**

Do I have regrets?  Oh, bright hells, of course I do!  Most of them are small, more like random musings, the kind of regret that comes from having too many good options rather than a bunch of bad ones.  Would I have found as much satisfaction teaching college-level courses as I have found teaching classes of my own making?  Would I have settled in London for half the year?  Would I have landed a few choice roles?  How many books would I have finished?  What would I have done had I not invested so much in motherhood?

The most painful regrets have nothing to do with lost writing time and professional opportunities delayed or gone.  They are instead about times I lost my temper, or the day I cancelled a camping trip, or my inability to provide financial opportunities even in the midst of the recession.

What about those people who told me I’d regret sidestepping career choices in favor of motherhood?  The corporate executives, college professors, and theater professionals?  For their professions, at that time, they were right that I’d never recover from taking a eighteen-ish year time-out.  Their success had depended upon a defined course, or the opportunities afforded younger women, or their ability to prove their careers came first.  Most every mother today grew up hearing that women who don’t put a career above family must not be serious about anything but family—and women serious about family can’t be considered for much of anything else.

But writing isn’t like all those other professions, and indie writing is even less like them.  No reader gives a flip how old or young we writers are, what our CV looks like, how many genre conventions we attend, or whether we’ve checked off the proper boxes of education and experience.  The reader cares if we tell good stories and present them professionally.

When we reach the age when we’re told we shouldn’t even bother trying to recover a career in other occupations, writing provides us the potential of decades ahead.  And the availability of indie publishing means the writer needn’t anticipate waiting years to receive form letters and more years to see her work available to readers.  In fact, age and experience and maturity become incredible assets.

We don’t need to worry about breaking out before aging out. 

And let’s be real: Were we discussing taking time out from a new or established writing career in order to earn a series of academic degrees, no one would be bombarding us with advice on how to churn out novels with a thesis on our hip.

**

So if you’re a new writer, and someone tells you you’ll lose writing years if you have a child, understand the perspective the claim is coming from.  Women have been trained to refer to the years spent with their children as lost years, as time away from the world that matters, as a professional sacrifice, as something given away that can never be regained.

That’s bullshit.

If I’d resented every moment taken from my writing, I’d have finished my motherhood years bitter and depressed.  I’d have tainted my ability to write in the future, and broken my relationship with my son.  (After all, children who constantly hear their parents complain about what they could be doing instead of parenting don’t gain much in the way of self-worth.)  Instead, I chose to make parenting my highest priority, learned to be patient with myself as well as with my child, and discovered “missing out” was, for me, the best thing that ever happened.

Don’t let expectation determine your experience.

Sure, I swallowed my frustration plenty of times.  Sure, I sometimes wonder what else I’d have accomplished if I’d had thousands and thousands of additional hours over almost two decades.  Sure, I took the occasional trip to immerse in the writing life that was elsewise a mere figment of supposition.

But when I’m ready to look back from the end of my life, I will not think to myself, “Gosh, I wish I’d spent less time raising my son.”  Because the absolute truth is this: I wanted to know my son better than I knew any business or craft because my son—and people, and family—are by far more important than the best damned story I could ever make up.

Devin-GenCon-2014

#SFWApro


blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I have only one resolution/goal/commitment/whatever for the coming year:

I give up.

Motivation, goals, aspirations, and plans are not what I lack. Alas, I also have no lack of worthless reactions and preoccupations that distract and derail me. So rather than focus on all the things I want to accomplish (Oh, that list is long and varied!), I will instead strive to rid myself of those things that get in my way.

... and after writing and deleting and re-writing a list, I realize there are only two things I must truly give up:

1) I must give up the belief others will understand if given enough information.

2) I must give up caring about the opinion of those who cannot or will not understand.

And after I give those things on, I must move on and embrace those who already understand.

This applies to my writing. This applies to my teaching. This applies to my event speaking and workshop coordination. It means I'll take more chances -- big and small -- and just smile and nod at those who urge me to stay on the safe side. It means I'll talk less with most folks who wish I'd just settle in to something simple, and talk more with the few folks who share my determination, aspiration, and outlook.

It wasn't until the time came to move fully from mostly-at-home mother back into the professional realm that I realized just how limited others' opinions of me were. I've seen it pop up now and then, and have even found it amusing on occasion. (I admit to more than one incident of name-dropping just to see someone stammer.) But it wasn't until the last year, when I moved farther outside the microcosm of in-person contacts I've known for some time, that I realized how much I was permitting those limits to affect my professional opportunities.

I've wasted months trying to make that change, hoping if I could just show/tell/explain something, those folks brushing me off with kindly words would stop. Instead, it's been draining my time, my energy, and my confidence.

Surprise! I don't need them change. I need to move on.

I started the process around the middle of the last year, when I stopped seeing wellness coaching clients and teaching wellness workshops locally. This angered many people who say, with a straight face, I should provide those "services" for free or low cost because people need them. Hey, I'd be happy to do it if the power company and the gas station would accept "But I did a nice thing!" as payment. And frankly, the majority of people asking me to do those things for free make more money than I do.

So now I need to apply the principles to all other parts of life. In 2015, I will strive to waste less time on seeking understanding (in other words, support and approval for the sake of my ego), and invest that time instead in making my life happen. The more baggage I set down, the stronger I am as I create my future.

I already have a little start. "Come for a visit!" says a friend out west. "I have people who want to talk business with you."

Giving up is the best thing I've done in awhile.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

I really didn’t want to blog about Amazon’s Kindle Scout—I’m not interested in the good/bad debate—but I do think the conversation about the program is highlighting perfectly the business divide between self-publishers and (most) hybrids, and those who are focused solely (or overwhelmingly) on landing or keeping a contract with a “traditional” publishing contract.

In short, as Jim Hines says, Kindle Scout crowdsources the slush pile.  Writers submit their work and are encouraged to publicize their participation.  Readers nominate their favorite books.  The books with the most nominations are “more likely,” in Amazon’s words, to be reviewed by Amazon.  Amazon will then select the books it wants to publish.

I emphasize that last point because some have wrongly claimed Amazon will publish books with the most votes.  Nope.  Votes garner attention, not contracts.

My intent isn’t to rah-rah for or against Kindle Scout, but to look at why different writers with different perspectives have different reactions and opinions.  Personally, I want to see what shakes out in the next three months before I make a decision.

One issue that has caused a minor stir is that writers who enter Kindle Scout agree, at the moment of entry, to the contract terms.  To my knowledge, that’s similar to many contests.  I don’t believe the contracts for Glimmer Train’s competitions are negotiable, for example, but I’m willing to be corrected.  I’d also be interested in knowing if past contracts offered under contests like Warner Aspect’s First Novel Contest were negotiable.

I personally don’t much like things I can’t negotiate–my knee-jerk hang-up.  I’d love to see, say, SFWA and RWA look at the terms and make professional recommendations to Amazon.  For example, I’ve seen some opinions on the Scout indemnity clause that make me wonder enough to want the opinion of a pair of legal eyes, as well as a comparison to trade-publishing’s indemnity clauses.

On the other hand, the contract terms are right out in the open.  There aren’t surprises.  You either like them or you don’t, and if Amazon doesn’t select your work within 30 days, you’re still free to publish it on your own.

In contrast, Amtrak’s recent contest rules stated all submitted materials became immediately the property of Amtrak—including the work of those who didn’t win.  Many writers—self-published and trade-published—spoke out against that rule.  And many writers decided the mere chance of winning a train ride was worth losing exclusive rights to their submitted work.  As far as I could tell, those sides didn’t fall along self/trade lines.

So what about the Kindle Scout issues that do?

Scout participants selected for publication are not given any additional editing, copyediting, layout, or cover art support and services.  They do, however, have an opportunity to make changes before submitting the final copy for Amazon’s publication.  This has mightily disturbed writers most accustomed to trade publishing perspectives, but a relatively few self-publishing writers.

Trade-published writers put a high value on the editorial and artistic guidance given and decisions made by their publishers.  They like having a prescreened team take on those aspects.  They want the publisher to hire the developmental editor, copyeditor, proofreader, and cover artist, and decide how the book will be packaged and presented to readers.  They do not want, for varied reasons, to be responsible for paying those professionals out-of-pocket.

Self-published writers put a high value on making their own editorial and artistic choices.  They want to choose their own editors and decide how much influence the editor will have over the final work.  They want to hire their own cover designer, choose the images they believe best portray their story, and decide how the work is presented to the reader.  They see those expenses as a one-time investment.

The above issue segues neatly into the 50% of net royalty rate Amazon offers to Scout winners.

For informational purposes: Amazon defines net as “the gross amounts we actually receive from the sale of copies of that format or edition, less customer returns, digital transmission costs and bad debt, and excluding taxes. ”  Since most digital transmission costs are measured in pennies per sale, this amounts to a little less than 50% of the price the reader pays for the ebook.  For trade publishers, the 25% of net is calculated on what the bookseller pays for the ebook, and is generally considered to come out somewhere around 12.5% of what the reader pays.  (Audio and third-party rates are also in the contract, but I’m examining perspectives, not contracts, so I’m not going to expend words discussing them).

Trade-published writers focus on the lack of editorial and artistic support as the reason 50% is a poor royalty rate.  My guess—and that’s all it is—is that trade-published writers see the publisher’s artistic investment in their novel as what adds the greatest value and contributes most to sales.  The publisher’s artistic investment is thus worth 25% to 37.5% (depending on how one wishes to calculate it) for the lifetime of the project.

Some, but certainly not all, self-published writers calculate differently.  My guess—and again, that’s all it is—is that self-published writers see the publisher’s marketing push as the most expensive and value-adding contribution to sales.  They assume the publisher’s contribution to marketing and visibility is worth the 20% of royalties they’d lose over the lifetime of the project by going with Kindle Scout.  They see it as an investment in much the same way publishers will pay co-op fees for marketing and visibility.  Trading the potential visibility for a lower royalty rate is worth it to them.

Then there’s the $1500 advance.  That’s low in the world of trade publishing, and below the current SFWA threshold.  Since most trade-published novels are said to never earn out the advance, the small amount is considered a deal breaker for those looking from the trade-publishing perspective.

But many who self-publish have often said they’d give up a larger advance in return for a higher royalty rate.  I’m sure many did the math as well, finding the advance would earn out after 1000 – 1200 sales at the lower pricepoint Amazon mentions, and assume/hope/anticipate the visibility of participation in Scout would result in at least that number.  Qualifying for SFWA is not a high consideration for some self-publishers.

The differing conclusions are indicative of different perspectives, different artistic considerations, and different business goals.  Are there problems with the Amazon contract?  Some clauses that aren’t author-friendly?  Yes.  Are there problems with Big-5 and small-press contracts?  Some clauses that aren’t author-friendly?  Yes.  That’s why it’s nice to have options.

It’ll be great when we can discuss those options without turning everything into a morality play and/or superiority contest.  Please keep that in mind should you choose to comment.  Debate for the purpose of understanding would be awesome.  Arguing to win and/or claim the high ground would not. :-)

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Crossposted to Blair MacGregor Books

I was in my late twenties when knowledgeable folks explained to me why the business of writing sucked.

There was the consolidation of book distributors, the consolidation of publishers, and the consolidation of retail outlets.  There was the decline in readership, the decline of the midlist, and the decline of time new writers were given to build an audience.

Editors no longer discovered new writers.  They instead sorted through a curated selection provided by agents they knew.  Bookstores no longer made buying decisions for their local clientele nor displayed their favorites on front tables.  They instead stocked the books chosen by centralized purchasing departments and displayed books publishers paid them to display.

As a result of the shifting business landscape, writers were faced with an increasingly adversarial process.  The writer expected to invest hours upon hours to research the particular likes, dislikes, peeves, and ethics of agents and editors who required exclusive consideration for months or years before delivering rejection or acceptance.  And if it happened to be an acceptance, the writer expected the publisher might—eventually—pay her something close to what the contract said she was owed, sometime close to when the contract said she should be paid.  And if the writer’s sales didn’t take off and increase, the writer could look forward to being dropped (a fear expressed, alas, by some Hachette writers who assume the publisher will penalize writers for its own contract disputes).

I know there are many people who currently decry the decline and loss of Borders and Barnes & Noble.  I’m sorry, but I cannot share the sadness.  As outlined in this article from Slate, those big box stores—the ones publishers actively supported at the expense of independent booksellers—were the primary forces that drove the business of writing into the realm of suckitude.

Their buying decisions cut numerous careers short.  Their inventory policies homogenized selection to emphasize books that would sell quickly and in quantity.  Their publisher-backed display policies attempted to drive readers to what publishers wanted to sell rather than what readers wanted to read.

Thinking the demise of Big Box retailers signals the demise of quality literature and a decrease in a writer’s opportunity is like seeing the bankruptcy of Applebee’s as an event of culinary significance.

The Big Box book retailers, in conjunction with publishers, killed off independent booksellers some years ago, and adapted their business models to create a unified chain-restaurant experience.  Independent bookstores and online retailers actually stand a much better chance of creating a synergistic experience for readers and writers because they each provide a unique experience.  They might sell the same general products, but the specifics are what make the difference.

Independent bookstores are on the rise, and have been for a few years now.  They serve their unique readership.  They like backlists.  They like unique books.  They like writers.  They are stepping into the role Big Box stores attempted, and failed, to fulfill, and they’re doing it with enthusiasm backed by business plans that play to their strengths.  They’ve adapted, they’ve opened their opportunities, and they’re happy about it.

At this point, I’m fairly certain someone is awaiting the opportunity to insert the dangers of Amazon into the discussion.  Go ahead.

But keep in mind that Amazon and other online retailers don’t remove slow-selling titles from their shelves.  They don’t pulp the backlist.  They don’t limit their displayed selection to a few publisher-funded choices.  They don’t destroy the organic process of writers growing a readership through word-of-mouth discovery and list-building.

So, as a writer and reader, I am thrilled to hear more independent bookstores are opening and thriving.  Those stores give me human connections, expertise, enthusiasm and community.  I am thrilled with large online bookstores.  Those sites give me unimaginable selection as a reader and open opportunities as a writer.

Coolest of all? No one has to pick sides in this one.  Indie stores and online stores complement each other. They don’t have to compete with each other to succeed.

For writers, the business of writing doesn’t suck so much at the moment.  In fact, I think its future looks far more interesting than its past twenty years.


Note: If you’d like to discuss the Hachette case in this context, please read these links first so we don’t waste each other’s time exchanging opinions and facts already hashed and rehashed.  If after reading, there is something new to add, awesome! Let’s talk!

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Back in June, Anne Johnson hosted my guest blog post on writing gender equality in epic adventure fantasy.  Just a couple days ago, this 2011 story got a bump when it was featured on Tor.com.

And it got me thinking…

Let me say from the start that it’s fabulous to see archeologists pay better attention to little details like the sex of the folks they’re researching, particularly when they’re defining the culture based upon that research.  It’s awesome to see the combat-based contributions of women have made throughout history acknowledged.  And the more articles we have like Hurley’s We Have Always Fought, the better.

But as tempting as it is to wave that research around — “See?  We can have women in our stories!  History says so!” — it’s important to acknowledge the fact we don’t need to justify our stories.

Read more... )
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
This story This story is bugging the shit out of me.

"WBOC News has reported that the investigation concerns two books published by McLaw, using the name Dr. K.S. Voltaer, including one about a fictional, futuristic school shooting that becomes known for being the largest ever in the United States."



I've looked all over for information about it, and here's what I've found:

1. A school board member was concerned about the man's published books (one from 2011, one from 2013) to the school board.

2. The school board notified law enforcement.

3. Law enforcement discovered he not only wrote under a penname--which law enforcement and media then chose to report as "aliases"--but had legally changed his name in the recent past.

4. Law enforcement took the man into custody for a psych evaluation.

5. Law enforcement searched the school and the man's home for weapons and explosives. None were found, but they did find a map of the school where he currently teaches.

6. The man has not only been banned from school property, he has been removed from the area. Law enforcement says he does not "currently have the ability to travel anywhere."

7. A commenter on another article claimed there was "much more" to the story, including a "disturbing four-page letter" that had been written to the school board.

8. Law enforcement keeps alluding to other things, but won't mention any of them.

So... Three years ago, a teacher self-published a novel set 900 years in the future, and its inciting event is mass murder that takes place in a school on the other side of the continent from where the teacher actually teaches. He wrote a letter to the school board, the contents (and mere existence) of which are still being kept secret by officials. That, in combination with a name change AND penname, was enough to confine the teacher for at least three days, and ensure he cannot travel at all. And there remains some super-secret Big Reasons known only to law enforcement (and, apparently, a select few community members who were frightened enough to have a "Beware violence from this teacher!" talk with their children), that will make all of this sound far more reasonable than it does right now.

My take? The teacher did some research on how his novel's antagonist could pull off the school attack that gets his plot rolling. He had a map of the school because he happens to teach there. Concerned by what he'd seen while teaching last year, coupled with the more recent school shootings, prompted the teacher to write the school board about how easily a violent incident could happen at the school. And the school board freaked out. And law enforcement decided it was way better to freak out than risk "missing" something.

I could be wrong. There might be something very, very scary waiting behind the curtain.

I very much doubt it.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Half of my first summer as a teenager was spent in a compact car, driving back and forth from Southern California to New Orleans with my mother and nine-year-old sister. I was torn between huge curiosity and excitement, and the nagging certainty spending so much time with my ultra-extroverted mother and sister would cause my head to explode. I remember we argued daily, but remember more clearly all the places we saw along the way.

It was the first trip I took after deciding I could, just maybe, write a novel someday. Every part of me was primed to store experiences and research with the intention of one day using it in a book. One excursion in particular made a huge impact: Carlsbad Caverns.

Read more... )

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