It’s Raining and I Want To Take a Nap

We’re having a slow thunderstorm here in Maryville, MO. The heavy clouds hang overhead, darkening the sky. From the clouds, an ominous rumble emanates. It’s almost seven-thirty, and morning appears to have fled. A streak of horizontal lightning jolts the neighborhood.

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I sit in my writing place, on the loveseat in the living room, near the window, and I want to take a nap. I close my eyes to think about writing this piece and I fall asleep sitting up, just for a moment.

This is the opposite of who I want to be. I want to be awake, dynamic. I want to write beautiful prose. I want to get many things done —

Who am I kidding? I want to take a nap.

It’s the perfect day to crawl back into bed, ignoring coffee and work to do, and turn off the light. I feel like I could sleep for twelve hours and wake up happy, or at least less blah than this weather has made me.

But I have promises to keep (Thank you, Robert Frost) and coffee to drink (Thank you, Richard). I have to meet with my boss and hold office hours and attend a faculty meeting. I might have time to write on my WIP (Work in progress, in author-speak). I’ve already done some grading (I get up very early). Tonight will be soon enough to sleep.

The Pieces I Have Lost

Writing requires a certain amount of editing. I have done a lot of editing in my writing life. I have edited out characters, scenes, and subplots to make books more cohesive and, perhaps, coherent.

Some of my editing I don’t regret. One of my characters, Josh Young, was young and whiny when I first wrote him. He’s older now, somewhat more mature, and a far better and more complex character. You’ll find him in Gaia’s Hands.

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Also, in one incarnation of Gaia’s Hands, there was a secondary love affair between two characters. Eric and Annie were interesting characters, but their arc was too much for Gaia’s Hands to handle. Eric remained; Annie did not.

Lilly and Adam’s relationship in what became Apocalypse (which will come out in the next year) was a lot darker, somewhat superficially. There was a lot of sexual obsession, which can be a good thing, just not for that novel. When two books got merged to make Apocalypse, I lost the goth feel but kept some of the edginess. There are some brilliant arguments in Apocalypse. I also lost the (also whiny) character James, and some subplot, but again I ended up with a better result.

As I got to writing more, I have edited out pieces less. Whole characters, subplots — heck, whole chapters — no longer get discarded by the wayside. Extensive editing taught me to write with less editing necessary.

There are pieces I miss, though. The chaste sexual obsession of Lilly and Adam was fun to write, but I don’t see room for that anymore. James dying and turning into a ghost cat (don’t ask) was fun for all the catlike manipulation he added to Apocalypse. Eric and Annie make a good couple, if only for a short story, but Annie’s place in the series has evaporated. Maybe the pieces will end up in a short story somewhere. Or another novel in another world.

About Hope

I hope that my writing will go somewhere. It’s difficult because the world of books has seen a renaissance of writers with a waning number of readers. The number of writers has exploded because of Amazon KDP and self-publishing. There are good books out there and bad ones, and readers are loath to sort through them all.

As a writer, I could let this discourage me, and sometimes I do. This doesn’t mean I quit promoting my work. I promote and hope I get better at it. I hope my promotions pay off. I hope people read my books.

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I won’t tie hope to a specific outcome, however. I hope things go well, not defining what that means. There’s so many ways that positive things happen, some of which I can’t even imagine right now. So no “I hope people read the promotional posts I put on Loomly” but “I hope positive things happen from posting.” Maybe it’s superstitious, but I enjoy keeping my options open.

Emily Dickinson once compared hope to a bird that perches inside us and sings. I find hope to be something more like a rough, homely rock which I need to keep polishing so that I can find the gem underneath. Sometimes it seems the work to reveal it will never end, but I must believe and polish the rock.

What I Dream Of (writing-related)

What is my dream about my writing?

Abstract landscape of colorful fractal foam, light trails and lights suitable as a backdrop for art, music, fantasy and imagination related projects

It’s not lots of copies sold (in fact, I am giving away copies on BookFunnel right now for newsletter subscriptions.) It’s not a lot of readers per se (although that’s nice to have).

My dream is to have people fall in love with the world I’m writing about. Wanting to know more stories about the characters. Checking out the map to Barn Swallows’ Dance. I would like readers to love my books, even if there aren’t too many readers.

To do that, I need a decent number of people to read my books, because I know my books are not for everyone. They’re not “commercial”. They’re equal parts dreamy and prosaic, because I believe even humans caught in the unexplainable will fall back on their everyday lives. But the unexplainable will win.

Here’s a section from Gaia’s Hands:

Jeanne looked around the efficiency apartment. The futon dominated the space; the uninspired dresser bore a pile of interesting things: a feather, a sheaf of notebook paper, a small box with an ornate pattern, a black fabric belt. He didn’t point out the top shelf with its orange and little pitcher of water, but she guessed it had something to do with Shinto, his adopted religion. On the wall hung a sword with a very slight curve.

Josh walked over to the black sword and pulled it off the wall. He brought it over to her and held it out with both hands. When she hesitated, he nodded. “You have my permission.” She unsheathed the sword partway from its scabbard and looked at the dull-edged blade. “Hey, this looks pretty cool.”

“I know. You can’t even cut the lawn with it, though. It’s not meant to have an edge, but I got it in case I learn iaido someday. I use a wooden bokken at the dojo for Aikido. I also bought it because it looks cool.”

Jeanne sheathed the sword and handed it back to Josh. “Thank you,” she said.

“Good instincts. You didn’t take the sword without my permission. Most people wouldn’t think to do that.” Jeanne had thought to do that, which boded well.

“I’m not so sure,” Jeanne said. “I’ve never had much faith in my instincts.” Jeanne’s instincts at the moment wanted her to indulge her curiosity about the man in front of her. She hoped Josh wouldn’t notice her blushing at her thoughts.

She sat across from him on the bed, cross-legged, and she tried to gather her thoughts, to speak the thing, once spoken, that would change her life irrevocably in her own eyes. “Josh, I’ve known I have this talent for plants my whole life. I can’t deny it anymore.” Jeanne’s skin prickled with goosebumps.

“Okay,” Josh responded, lifting Jeanne’s head up with one finger so that she looked into his brown eyes. “Tell me more about it.”

“As a child…” How could she tell the truth? Quickly, she thought, so that she didn’t think about how crazy she sounded. “Let’s start again. At age seven, I sat one day in the bean tepee my dad planted for my sister and I, and a bean shoot wrapped around my arm. Then a voice spoke to me. It was in my head but it wasn’t.”

“What did it say?” Josh asked.

“It said, ‘Remember this moment.’ That’s it. I put it away for all these years until it happened to me again. With JB.” Jeanne closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “Am I crazy?”

Is Jeanne crazy? In this world, she’s not, because the unexplainable hides in plain sight. She has to reconcile this with her life as a scientist, and that won’t be easy. She ends up — I won’t tell you where she ends up, because that would give away the story.

Gaia’s Hands is a love story about two unique people caught in a distinct reality that most people don’t see. I don’t know how romantic fantasy readers will take this two-world existence.

But I’m a writer, and we always have doubts.

Playing with Loomly

I have a couple of books out there. You can find all my books here. They’re all in the fantasy romance/romantic fantasy area, although I would recommend Gaia’s Hands to those who aren’t into fantasy as well. I’d recommend Kel and Brother Coyote Save the Universe (Kindle Vella book) to those people as well.

Most potential readers haven’t found this blog, so I can’t promote my novels through here and expect a lot of new readers. Therefore, I have to reach out to my social media accounts and talk about my books.

I know I can’t afford those promoters who keep sending me emails, so I have to promote myself until I’m rich enough1 to afford one. The problem is that I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m a writer, not a promoter.

For a while, I used free Hootsuite to post little ads on multiple platforms — Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It was convenient, even though I didn’t know what I was doing. Then Hootsuite dropped their free plan, and the cheapest plan for users was the $1188/year2 Professional tier.

I partook (is that the right word?) in free trials for two competitors of Hootsuite: Buffer and Loomly. I chose Loomly because it gave me one feature that the others, including Hootsuite, did not: coaching.

Loomly will give you advice as you are crafting your post to each of the social media outlets that you’re linked to for the post. Loomly tailors the advice to the specific outlet — for example, Facebook favors posts under 50 characters while Twitter readers want longer posts. They suggest better times for posts. They suggest when hashtags or exclamation points/question marks may increase engagement. Little things that are helpful in making a post stand out that amateur social promoters may not know.

In addition, Loomly features possible topics to post on daily, because posting about your project daily gets tiring for readers. Some of these are weekly items like #HappyFriday; others are one day only celebrations like #HappyGirlScoutDay.

I don’t pretend that Loomly is teaching me everything about social marketing, but I have more than I had before. It’s easy enough to use that I actually enjoy using it and my calendar is full through the first of July. It’s relatively painless to learn new strategies, unlike reading dull books on the topic. And it costs $312/year2 for the Basic (about equal to the Professional Hootsuite) tier.

  1. Not going to happen.
  2. These are billed yearly prices. The billed monthly prices are higher.

A Failed Book

I have been unhappy with Kringle on Fire since the first draft. This is not usual for me, as I love my first drafts with the drunken happiness of accomplishment. I have to work to be critical in the edits.

But I didn’t experience that with Kringle on Fire. It felt flat. It felt trivial. It felt wooden. It felt all the things you don’t want to see in a romance novel. I thought I was missing something until I started writing again on Avatar of the Maker and it sparkled. I had characters who responded to each other and action that flowed. I liked the characters. I felt like I wanted to write it (although I had taken a break from it to write the Kringle novel.

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I let Richard read through it to see what was wrong, and he picked up on the same thing. The book just didn’t sparkle.

What happened to this book? I think it was a combination of factors that were bound to doom it. First off, the female main character is a 22-year-old single mother to a two-year-old. Given that, she needs to be very cautious about exposing her son to potential male partners so as not to confuse him with father figures. (Staying the night is a definite no-no.) So that part of the relationship has to go slowly. It’s a Christmas season instalove novel, which is the defining factor of the entire series. Instalove is the polar opposite of cautious. This puts me into the situation of either putting the son in an unhealthy place or stretching out the action for longer.

There may be a way out, but I don’t know if I want to take it. I have written four Kringle novels, and I think that may be enough if the muse leads me this badly astray. I would be better served by finishing Avatar of the Maker and the other novel I have started. I feel guilty about abandoning a novel, but the Kringle book does not speak to me.

Maybe later.

Plowing through Writing

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I’ve been — not exactly plowing through writing as much as shoveling through it with a teaspoon. Adding words to the too-short Kringle on Fire has been a task, but I am finally almost at the 50k point. The Kringle books run short, mostly because they have light plots and I am an economical writer. And because I can write them short as I self-publish. But shorter than 45k and they’re a novella, and I don’t want to write novellas. So I’m at the editing stage now, hoping to add 300 words to the mix.

The books that I have in my writing pile have been slow as well. I need to do some soul-searching about what I need as a writer. I don’t think it’s time to give up writing yet, but it’s time to understand why my drive to write has tanked.

One possibility is that writing is no longer a new and shiny thing. I’ve published, I’ve held a book of mine in my hands, I’ve commandeered time for writing retreats. The immediate reward is not as bright and awesome as it was. Another is that I haven’t reached as many people as I thought I would. I had a fantasy that I would have a small but devoted readership, and that hasn’t happened. A third possibility is that I have doubts about how good a writer I am because of item #2. My husband assures me I’m a talented writer, and I think I should take that to heart. Finally, I take more time promoting myself than writing. It’s necessary unless you get a lucky break, but it’s not what writers want to do.

So there are some things I have to contend with if I want to keep writing. It’s going to require more soul-searching than this. In the meantime, I write, even if I feel like I’m shoveling through a snowdrift with a teaspoon.

Reclaiming Joy

I have lost some of the joy of writing in the distractions of trying to get books sold. I am a writer, not a marketer. Understanding that I have to be a marketer to get people to read what I’ve written helps me focus on those activities, but the activities themselves do not bring me joy.

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Although I wouldn’t say that recognition is unimportant (I dream of excellent reviews and lots of readers), it’s not the important thing. In fact, the problem with recognition is that it never seems to be enough (until it’s too much, and I don’t expect to get to that point).

I need to get my mind off of how well (or poorly) my writing is doing in getting recognition. That kills my joy. Joy comes from immersing myself in writing, whether it be my novels, this blog, or any short stories I come up with.

What brings you joy? Have you been in contact with it lately? Do you miss it? How can you build a little time for it in your life?

Looking Back at the Contagion

I look out my living room window at grey skies, a little slice of the day. I think I can feel Spring coming in, although we’re supposed to get a trace of snow tomorrow.

Three years ago, COVID hadn’t quite started, although I think we were hearing rumors from Europe. Many weren’t concerned because we thought American exceptionalism protected us from contagion. Not that big a deal anyhow, no worse than the flu (as if the flu were a trivial infection). That slice of sun from my window was my world under COVID, emblematic of my isolation, which I spent baking and waiting for the news to change.

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That spring semester changed the way I looked at things. People who disagreed with the government’s masking mandate and, later, vaccination push, took a malevolent cast, while those who complied I saw as more trustworthy. I became more of an introvert, having lost the habit of congregating with co-workers. Talking to people over Zoom became natural. The office became the loveseat with its view of the world.

After summer came fall, and the school year was what we called ‘hybrid’ — classroom plus synchronous distance for people who couldn’t come in because of COVID or other malady. That structure was very convenient for students, and very inconvenient for faculty who were basically teaching two classes. We sprayed disinfectant on student desks and tables after each class and kept masked distance during office hours.

COVID has now become, for people, like the flu — a disease that we get vaccines for, which mutates past the reach of the vaccine occasionally, and gives most unlucky people a respiratory illness which knocks them out, but from which they will recover. There are enough cases of debilitation and death, like with the flu, that many people will always take it seriously, as they do the flu. But we won’t forget the year when the contagion changed our lives, scared us, and perhaps scarred us.

It’s a SMART Goal Now

According to my past posts, I have set a Big Audacious Goal twice already for this year. The first one was to edit and query Apocalypse; the other was the one I came up with yesterday to double my social media presence. I’ve gone with the latter, because it confronts all my lingering reluctance to promote myself:

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  • My writing isn’t good enough
  • Nobody wants to hear from me
  • I don’t need a media presence
  • Nobody loves me! (Does this sound familiar?)

I’m working on 1) creating the SMART goal and 2) having fun with it.

First, the SMART goal. I will:

  • Post using Loomly twice a week
  • Post to Facebook and Twitter (I already post my blogs there)
  • Only post book news once a week
  • Use as many Loomly suggestions as possible to improve my social media posts

As for having fun, that’s just a natural part of who I am. Funny pictures, word play, bad puns — all come easily to me.

There’s a cynical part of me that says that this will not make any difference in engagement, but I have to take something on faith. Wish me luck.