Sometimes a Social Media Break is Necessary…

Sardinia--freeimage.com

Sardinia–freeimage.com

Lately, I’ve been paying attention to what my favorite authors do on social media.

Some aren’t very good at it, in the sense that you never see them at all. Some aren’t very good at it because they manage to enrage a good portion of their fanbase without meaning to do so.

But others bear watching. I’ve been impressed at how J.K. Rowling has dealt with everything from international crises, to Brexit, to people commenting on decisions she made regarding her characters. She’s a class act, let me tell you.

I’ve been a published author for about six years now, and there are things I wish I had done differently from the beginning if I was allowed that famous ‘do-over.’ I’d be less forthcoming with stuff about my personal life, I’d pay less attention to reviews, and I’d have planned my releases better. Hopefully, I wouldn’t have let real-life get in the way of my production to the degree that it did.

There are lots of reasons for that. An unforgiving day job, a health crisis,ย  and so on. These are things most people have to deal with, and yet others still manage to be productive in the face of tougher challenges than mine. So why did I go from producing the equivalent of a novella a month to barely managing a novel a year?

One of the big reasons was a shift from Live Journal as the place I hung out and chatted with friends to Facebook. I’ll be the first to admit, I miss LJ. I still go to my journal, but the community is gone. People have moved on to other, more active platforms. One of the things I see that bothers me is that many of these platforms seem to need you to be there all the time in order to be a part of the community.

How does anyone get anything done?

I’ve posted before on what I see as the problems with Facebook; especially the way it causes you to compare your life with others (and come up short). But there’s another problem with Facebook and Tumblr and their ilk that I think is an even bigger issue: they are addictive time sinks.

When I am stressed and tired, I tell myself I need to unwind a little before attempting to to write. What happens is I spend some of my best writing time wandering in circles from one social media platform to another. Sometimes I start conversations, only to have to go back and respond to the comments I generated with my post. Sometimes,ย  I just scroll along, liking or RTing posts as I come to them, drugging my brain with a constant barrage of images.

Over the last five years, I would say there has been a big increase in my base level of anxiety. The sidebar on Facebook is typically filled with horrible news or events that are trending at the time. Friends will post heartbreaking images I’d rather not see, or post support of political and social ideologies I find unbearable. Lately, with all the heartache in the world, I find myself needing to take more and more breaks from social media. As we come into the Presidential elections here in the U.S., I can’t imagine I will be able to bear the fever pitch of hostility and polarization that the political rhetoric has created.

And yet I worry: surely if I abandon my social media platforms, I run the risk of dropping the ball on my marketing, right? After all, I’ve worked so hard to make sure my voice is heard among the sea of many who are out there plugging their craft, same as me.

Well, I’m beginning to think that’s not the case. Last month, I wrote a post on this website about my frustrations with readers who justify pirating and illegally uploading books to torrents. It automatically crossposted to Facebook and Twitter, and I went on with my day. To my utter surprise, it went viral. I had over 60 K hits on the website in a 24 hour window, and at last count, the post has been shared over 10K times.

And I did nothing to ‘promote’ it. I wrote it in a fit of frustration and clicked ‘publish’. Apparently some of the things I said struck a chord with a LOT of people, and it was shared accordingly. I strongly suspect nothing I ever write again will trigger that kind of reaction. I can’t say as I saw a big bump in sales, either. But my point is this: I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that self-promotion is a big waste of time. And while I think it’s perfectly fine to hang out with your BFFs on your favorite social media platform, keep in mind it is taking time from your best promotion effort ever: your next story.

So this is what I see successful authors do with social media:

  1. They do what my friend Shira Anthony refers to as ‘ninja posting’. They pop in, make a quick post, and close the browser before they’ve lost the best hours of the day to endless scrolling.
  2. They avoid the controversial and the political–something I have a tough time doing. Sometimes things are so egregious, something must be said. But shouting to the choir on your side probably isn’t the best way to go about changing minds.
  3. They post upbeat or interesting things–such as photos of their latest trips, or their reaction to the wildly popular television show everyone is watching right now.
  4. They are themselves–but with makeup on. You know what I mean. It’s the person you are when you go out on that first date, as opposed to the one who’s been in a relationship for 20 years. Yes, it’s you, but the best you. The polished you.
  5. They spend more time writing than promoting or socializing.

So perhaps now is as good a time as any to spend less time on social media for a while. Not just because I need a break from all the bad news in the world (seriously 2016, go home–you’re a mean drunk!), but because I’ve got things to do. Places to go. Stories to write. Life to live.

Dear Women’s Fashion: Size 12 is not XL

Okay, fair warning. I have my Ranty McRant pants on again.

This time the subject that’s been weighing on my mind recently is the ridiculous–and unfair–standards when it comes to women’s clothing. My musings on the subject began a while back when everyone was sharing a post written by Kallie Provencher for Rantchic.com called “24 Things Women Over 30 Should Stop Wearing.” No, I’m not going to share the link here because the post is pure clickbait. My reaction to it when everyone was talking about it was to tweet “The one thing women over 30 should stop wearing is the censure of random strangers on the internet.” Suffice to say, there was a lot of eye-rolling. I feel bad for the author, actually. If she’s lucky, she’s going to spend more time over thirty than under it, and according to her, life is over at twenty-nine and counting.

A beautiful rebuttal was written here, however. WarningCurvesAhead posted a brilliant collection of classy, sassy women wearing whatever pleased them–and looking smashing while doing so. I want to be these women when I grow up. I wish I had a fraction of their sense of style and their confidence in carrying off what looks great on them.

But one of the things Kallie Provencher frowned upon women over thirty wearing was graphic t-shirts. Which brings me to today’s subject: sizing of women’s clothing. Now, I’m a sci-fi geek. You can pretty much ask me about any sci-fi universe and if I can’t whip your butt playing Trivial Pursuit, I will at least have heard of it and am familiar with it. And I love my fandoms; Doctor Who, Firefly, Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate… I love mashups and crossovers. I love fanfic, fanart, and fan vids. My friends know the way to make me squeal in the ultrasonic range, so high I can only be heard by dogs, is to surprise me with something from one of my favorite shows. Just this evening, the BF surprised me with a CD of ambient engine noise from ST:TNG. Just think, now I can hear the murmur of the Enterprise’s engines lulling me to sleep on an endless loop instead of the usual white noise machine.

One of the things I love doing is sharing my fandom pride with graphic tees.

About the same time these previously mentioned posts circulated, another post caught my eye: Man Tries on Girlfriend’s “XL” Clothing and Gets Pissed About Double Standards.

Yeah, because my friends and I have been talking about this, too.

Now, for the record, let me state I am a solid size 12. There was a period of time when I was closer to a 10–there are days when I’m closer to a 14, but 90% of the time, I’m a hard 12. I wear a 36 C sized bra. Now I know in these pictures, I might look ginormous, but remember, the camera adds ten pounds. (I know what you’re thinking here, but trust me, only ONE camera is pointed at me in these photos…)

Let’s start out with a T-shirt I bought a few years ago. It’s a medium, but unisex. This is important, as you’ll see later on. NOT a men’s shirt, not a women’s shirt, unisex.

Medium UnisexYou can’t see it clearly, but it’s a “Hello, My Name is” shirt, with “Inigo Montoya–you killed my father, prepare to die” penned in. It’s also autographed. That’s neither here nor there. What’s important is the size.

This is a medium WOMEN’S T-shirt. I love Agent Carter, and this was sent to me by a friend. A friend who knows what I look like, and assumed I would wear a medium T-shirt.

Medium Women FittedOkay. I got into it, though I look a sausage encased in Saran Wrap. That’s what it felt like, too. And believe me, getting out of it was interesting. I seriously thought about using a pair of scissors… I was very disappointed, needless to say. I love this character, the show, and this sentiment. I should point out as well, that many of the graphic T-shirts I would order, like this one, do not come in a men’s or unisex option.

Right, then obviously, a medium is too small. So, when I ordered a T-shirt for myself (a lovely mashup of Frozen and Doctor Who), I ordered a large.

Large Womens Fitted

Um, I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t look all that much bigger than the medium to me. Okay, so maybe the material isn’t cutting off my circulation, but it is still sucking down to my skin like it was painted on. At this point, I *finally* took a good look at the sizing chart. That’s when I saw that a size 12 is an XL on most sizing charts for the graphic T-shirts I like.

Excuse me, WTF? 12 is considered XL? Since when? Since when does the size of the average woman in the U.S.–which is 12-14 by a Google search–considered extra-large? It brings me back to the pissed off boyfriend and the double standards of the clothing industry.

Okay. Deep breath. Order the XL. You like the shirt and you want to be comfortable. And you don’t want your arms to go numb when you’re wearing it. Exchange the large for an XL.

Here’s the XL:

XL Womens FittedNo, I am not kidding. This is the XL. It is microscopically different from the large, but honestly, it looks so much like the large I had to look at the time stamps to make sure I wasn’t posting the same picture twice. AND, I would like to point out, the shirt only comes one size larger–the XXL. That is insane. No, I’m sorry. It’s just wrong. What kind of message are we sending to young women (because obviously women over 30 shouldn’t be wearing graphic tees, right?) when 12 is considered XL? When there is so little difference between sizes that someone has to get the very largest size a product comes in just to be comfortable?

I honestly don’t know which is worse: vanity sizing, in which clothing companies mislabel clothing as being a smaller size than it is so women will feel good about buying it, or this. Itย  feels like a slap in the face either way.

BoysofSummer[The]FSOkay, rant over. In other news, Dreamspinner Press is continuing the Lazy Days of Summer sale until June 24th, which means you can get a copy of my award-winning The Boys of Summer for only a dollar! It’s the perfect beach read at the perfect price–but it won’t last long!

On Dreamspinner/Amazon/AllRomance

 

 

 

Fool'sGold-400x600And coming up next month, I’ll be releasing Fool’s Gold, a story about Olympic level eventing–just in time for the 2016 Games!

 

Anger is Not My Brand

Angry Ann by Josh Janssen flickr creative commons

Angry Ann by Josh Janssen Flickr creative commons

I’ve been thinking about this post for several weeks now, wanting to present a coherent essay instead of a random assortment of thoughts. The truth of the matter is this has been on my mind for some time.

Back when I first began publishing original stories, I came fresh out of the spill-your-guts school of thought when it came to creating blog posts. I’d spent years on Live Journal, where the anonymity of a fandom name lent to the fiction that you could speak your mind because no one really knew who you were. Though I was always friendly and made sure interactions on my on LJ were polite as well, I was far more free with my thoughts than I probably should have been, even in an f-locked entry. When I made the transition to this website, the inclination to be too chatty and to overshare tagged along with me. In part, it was due to the freedom of sharing such thoughts after a lifetime of having to hide who I really was.

Social Media guru Kristen Lamb has written several good books on the subject and runs a blog well worth following. I don’t agree 100% with everything that she has to say, however, and early on when I read her strictures against being too political or ranty on your blog, I tossed away that nugget of advice. Basically, she said that unless it was part of your brand, then you shouldn’t overwhelm your readers with political commentary, outbreaks of religious fervor, details of your medical conditions, or too many fluffy kittens. And while it was possible to use your interests to drive traffic to your blog (say, for example, you were searching for the Holy Grail of Gluten-Free Baking–edible bread…), they should still be in line with your brand. Dressing up in leather catsuits swinging a flogger might not be the best image for an author of children’s stories to share.

ATG sun - CopyI could see her point, and yet at the same time rejected it. Just because I’m an author with a product to sell, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have any opinions. Besides, how else do we change the world except by enlightening those around us? Maybe my viewpoint on a subject would alter someone else’s stance. Perhaps my struggle with chronic pain might help someone else who suffers the same. Who doesn’t need more fluffy kittens in their lives? At the time, I saw her advice as too limiting to myself as a person with interesting content to share. I didn’t want my blog to be ordinary or, God forbid, boring.

But my own opinion on this has changed over the years. For one thing, everyone seems to be so angry these days. Granted, there’s a lot to be outraged about. The political climate in the U.S. is so toxic right now that I have serious doubts we’ll ever recover, no matter who wins the Presidental election. People are furious, and rightly so, after spending a lifetime busting their ass only to discover the American Dream is not theirs to grasp. Many of my friends and acquaintances are one medical crisis away from total bankruptcy. State governments are overturning national statutes, passing unconstitutional laws, making discrimination legal in their region while making access to birth control and abortion nearly impossible. God forbid you be a single mother trying to make house and car payments on only one salary while raising your kids. My timelines are filled with horrific stories of yet another mass shooting or abominable crime, while nearly every week, someone within my social circle goes on a complete meltdown. These are things we should be outraged about, and open discourse on the subject.

And yet, lately, it has become too much for me. I feel like I’m on media and outrage overload. I’ve had to take breaks from social media altogether. A Sunday afternoon checking Twitter shouldn’t leave you breathing into a paper bag to calm your hyperventilation.

Author Heidi Cullinan recently posted an excellent essay entitled Pitching My Fork: Confessions of an Outrage Addict. I read it understanding how empowering channeling that kind of rage could be, and why someone might feel the need to shout their anger to the world–not only because they believed they were right, but because of the joy of cracking that whip, making people jump, starting angry dialog that you could continue to inflame or stomp out as you saw fit. I was relieved to realize on reading her post that I was not an outrage addict. I’m usually the person who sits back and shakes her head, waiting for the discourse to become more reasoned before weighing in with an opinion, if at all. People being attacked frequently become defensive, and say things without clearly thinking them through. People determined to be offended will see outrage in anything that is offered as rebuttal, and both sides continue to pour gasoline on the fire.

NotMyMonkeys-FBThat’s not to say we shouldn’t get outraged, or that someone else’s outrage isn’t a starting point for education. But that’s not how it turns out most of the time, is it? Whenever I see the latest kerfuffle turn into WW3, I frequently remind myself of the old Polish saying, “Not my Circus. Not My Monkeys.” I post it on my social feeds when I’m tempted to wade into a confrontation that is not about me as a reminder to sit on my hands and keep out of it.

The problem is sometimes it is my circus, and I wish to hell the monkeys would stop fighting.

Recently a discussion on one of my groups came back around to the advice Kristin Lamb gave about not getting too personal or too political on your blogs. One of the group members responded much as I would have done five years ago, saying that anyone who met her would know she is a feminist and a GLBTQ ally and she didn’t see why she had to hide these things about herself. That meant sharing things that she felt was important, and not painting over her content to make sure it was offensive to no one.

I agree with her in principle. I do. And you will still see me post from time to time on subjects I’m passionate about. But I cannot live on a steady diet of outrage, and that seems to be the growing trend wherever I turn these days. This is not about maintaining a level of professionalism or presenting a generic face to an audience at large. This isn’t me pointing fingers at those who choose to not to censor their thoughts. I applaud those who can share their outrage with wit and humor. This isn’t about following the advice of wiser people farther along on the same path. This is about me controlling how much power I give to other people to make me upset. This is about me being known for the kinds of books I write, and not the ranty blog posts I make. This is about anger not being my brand. I will not give it that kind of power over me.

 

The Cult of Anger: Which Wolf will You Feed?

snarling-dog-e1360684279321There’s another bruhaha brewing in the M/M romance genre right now, one that seems to have escalated in a little mushroom cloud on Twitter in the last 24 hours.

I don’t know how it started. I know that I’ve seen statements that both anger and insult me. It feels in part like another attempt to tell women we can’t write in certain genres, but it’s more than just that, I believe. The statements and counter-challenges have been flying with the force and unpleasantness of monkeys throwing their own dung. I’ve read comments that the only ‘authentic’ story is written from the perspective of a gay man by a man, and that anything not written by a man is not only crap, but fetishistic crap as well. I’ve seen an unexpected backlash against trans characters being included in certain stories, and strident statements that the M/M genre was created by cis-women for cis-women readers, so there–along with an unhealthy bashing of the female gender by these same women authors. Which is simply mind-boggling to me.

I can tell you I don’t write M/M romance because I wish I was male. I like being a woman, thank you very much. I do write in this genre because I find it more interesting and challenging to me as a writer, and because I can identify more with feeling like an outcast and having to hide who I really am than I do with the heroine of the average traditional romance novel.

I’ve seen a lot of people trying to define M/M romance to include what they want it to include and nothing else. I wonder sometimes if these people aren’t expecting fiction to be something like what is posted on a fanfic archive, where tastes and kinks can be so tailor-made to a person’s likes or dislikes that you can follow tags to get a story created just to your individual specifications.

Personally, I think it would be incredibly boring to choose to read only stories that matched all my personal preferences. Sure, it would make it easy for me to go shopping, and I’d be reasonably sure of liking the product purchased, but I’d never be challenged in any way. I’d never have my eyes opened to things outside my realm of experience, and I would very likely miss out on some amazing works because they didn’t meet my narrow criteria for stories I wanted to read. Frankly, there’s something out there for almost everyone. The spectrum is long and there are many shades of color along the way. I love Jane Austen. You don’t. We both love historical romances. Does that mean every historical romance must be a Regency–and that it must be written by someone who actually lived in the Regency time period? I think most of us would say not.

The kerfuffle has been like opening a can of vegetables your granny put up two summers ago, and discovering it’s gone putrid inside when you weren’t looking.

I don’t know why this same argument keeps coming up, nor why it seems to get uglier each time it does. I don’t dispute that gay literature, gay romance and M/M romance are different things to different people. What I don’t get is why we seem to have to keep drawing lines in the sand and daring people to cross them. Why we have to keep building clubhouses so we can post “Boys Only” on the door, or create our mud pies and then stand snarling over them like angry dogs.

Maybe it’s because so many of us are angry. So many of us are starving. We’ve been deprived and denied of our rights at work, and among our families. We’ve had to fight for equal pay and respect from our peers. We’re stressed. We’re exhausted. We’re bombarded daily with hostile, negative messages. And we’re looking for someone to blame when we fail to achieve the American Dream we were promised as long as we worked our asses off, played by the rules, and did everything right.

I certainly believe that is the appeal of certain right-wing candidates. They are tapping into this well of hostility that boils so very close to the surface these days. I believe it is the driving force behind GamerGate, and men bashing women online, and people behaving like trolls on websites, and people leaving harsh reviews because it gives them some sort of mean satisfaction.

It’s why I come home at the end of a long day, and instead of making smart choices about dinner, I say, “The hell with it!” and order pizza. We got reamed, damn it. We’re owed. We deserve it, we tell ourselves, even though we are only hurting ourselves in the end.

I don’t know when we got so mean and angry. All I know is that I’ve seen interactions change over the last decade of being online, and I have to tell you, I don’t like what we’re becoming. I refuse to play. I refuse to feed that wolf.

Two wloves proverb

Feed the Right Wolf…

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the proverb ascribed to the Cherokee Indians about how each of us has two wolves inside battling for control.

Two wloves proverbA few months ago, inspired by others on Facebook who were making a determined effort to post something upbeat and positive every day, I gave myself a challenge to find three things I was grateful for or made me happy each day. Although I haven’t managed to do this consistently every day (sometimes you just run out of time and you know you should go to bed instead of writing another post…) I’ve kept up with it far longer than I thought I would. I’m on day 47 now. ๐Ÿ™‚

I decided not to post to Facebook, however. Instead I’ve been posting these things to my fandom LJ account, so I could friends-lock the entries. Not necessarily to keep anyone out as much as to limit how many people I inflicted with pictures of my animals. On any given day, they *are* what makes me happy and grateful to be alive. ๐Ÿ™‚

After a few weeks, I noticed a funny thing–the words “I hate my life” stopped being the first thought on waking each morning. If I was having a bad day, I would remind myself that it wasn’t over yet, and I still had to come up with three positive things to share–and that too, altered my attitude for the better. I began looking forward to drafting the ‘positive things’ post, and wondering what I would share. As someone who has a tendency to imagine worst-case scenarios and view the world as not only an empty glass, but as one cracked and unable to hold water at all, this was a big step for me. I was feeding the right wolf, but it was still weak. Some days, I couldn’t help but pepper my ‘gratitude’ post with all kinds of qualifications, with little Eeyore sighs about the things that had gone wrong instead of right. But I persisted, and I could feel the Good Wolf getting stronger.

Sunny Day TommyLately, with the terrorist attacks all over the world, the appalling rhetoric spewed by political parties in response to these attacks, the daily reports of a new mass shooting at a school or church that these same politicians refuse to recognize as domestic terrorism, and the saber-rattling and fear-mongering that is being used primarily to further a political agenda, it’s not that it’s been hard to find things to feel grateful for. It’s that it doesn’t feel right. It feels shallow and self-centered to post chipper updates about how I tamed the feral tomcat, or that Walk a Mile got an Honorable Mention in this year’s Rainbow Awards (something I wasn’t expecting at all!), or that the recently adopted dog has been an utterly delightful addition to the family. And don’t get me started on how feeling pleased over something like discovering I’d been nominated for a Best M/M Author poll on Gay Book Reviews (because that kind of thing never happens to me!) feels like boasting if I share that news–that’s a topic for a blog post another day. Bottom line, it felt wrong to be happy in the face of the unhappiness and tragedy of others.

But here’s the thing: I need those uplifting moments. I need to see funny animal videos or read George Takei’s latest pithy commentary. I need to share my joy over the upcoming season of Agent Carter (hey, at least we got 2 seasons before they canceled it) or the fact that John Scalzi is absolutely besotted with his new kittens. I need to squee with my friends over the things that keep us going every day–the shows we love, the characters we adore, the stories we found spell-binding and empowering. We are BOMBARDED with bad news every day. We need our talismans against evil and hatred. We need to feed the right wolf. That is not wrong or selfish. It is necessary.

My mother called me at a ridiculous hour this morning to say ‘it was all over the Internet that those IS people (as she called them) were planning a major attack on the US today.’ Well, I don’t know where my mom gets her information, probably FOX News. It doesn’t surprise me that the terror threat is high right now–after all, we’re heading into major holiday. But I wonder how this threat compares to the number of people that will be killed in car accidents this holiday week, or how many people have been killed in shootings since the beginning of the year. I tried telling my mom this, and advised that in all likelihood, this report was more fear-mongering by the far right to get her to vote for their candidate. Even if it is true, it is out of my hands and there was no sense in her getting into a stew about it.

She interrupted me. “I just wanted to tell you I love you. In case I never see you again.”

I found myself telling my mother we needed to live every day as though we were under threat of a terrorist attack. Not with fear, or barricaded in our homes clutching shotguns. We need to tell our loved ones how important they are to us every day. We need to share the things that bring us joy, hope, and strength. Fear makes us dangerous–not only to each other, but to ourselves as well. One of the most touching stories that has come out of the attacks in France is that Hemmingway’s love letter to Paris, A Movable Feast, has been selling out at bookstores. People are buying copies and leaving them at memorials in a show of defiance to the attackers.ย  My eyes are tearing up as a type this. Yes. What a way to feed the right wolf.

The Good ShepherdAnd so because many other sources, both internal and external, are constantly shoving food at my Evil Wolf, the one that believes in the darkness and despair, it is imperative I feed the Good Wolf. It is not shallow or callous or indifferent to the pain of others. It is vitally necessary, or else the wrong wolf wins. I invite you to do feed your Good Wolf too.

Breaking the Cycle of Defeat

Snowy ridgeLast week, I was meeting with some friends when I got interrupted by an emergency call. As I excused myself to take the call in the other room, I heard one of my friends say quietly, “Poor Sarah, she never gets a break.”

My initial reaction on hearing this was to smile and think, “Yes. Someone gets it. Someone understands just how sucky things are for me. How sucky they have been and how unlikely they are to improve.”

It was nice, this feeling of solidarity and support, something I frequently don’t get enough of some days.

But a moment later, it hit me. I don’t want to be that person. The person for whom nothing ever goes right, the one that can’t ever catch a break.

Now mind you, I deeply appreciate my friend’s support. She’s been a staunch ally in my corner for the last several years now: being there when I needed a shoulder to cry on, surprising me with the perfect Make My Day gifts in the mail, believing in my writing when I’m ready to chuck the whole thing in the trash and get a second job flipping burgers… It is not her sympathy and support I mind. I mind needing it.

I won’t lie. It’s been a rough couple of years. I’ve been hit hard financially, physically, emotionally, you name it. Creativity tends to dry up in rocky ground, so one of the things that brings me the most pleasure in life has been one of the hardest to maintain. My productivity went from roughly a novella a month to a novella a year. I went from struggling with depressing circumstances to being outright depressed–and the very fact that my circumstances weren’t going to change made it hard to snap out of the cycle. Not to mention I’ve always taken my health for granted and now I can’t do that any longer. I’ve been forced to accept far too much in the last few years as being the ‘new norm’ for me.

dear-whatever-doesnt-kill-me-im-strong-enough-now-thanks-614a9This inner loop has been playing in my head these last few years that whispers once a person reaches a certain level of ‘down’, things just continue to spiral out of control, as though I were a stalled airplane and had no choice but to plunge to the ground. I’ve seen this play out with enough other people in my life that it’s hard to believe I’m not caught in this vicious cycle myself.

But along with that feeling of “No, I don’t want to be that person”, I’ve had other inklings that perhaps what I need more than anything is an attitude adjustment. I’ve been trying to locate an article I read some years ago on the dangers of focusing on what you don’t have rather than what you do. I wish I could find it: the gist of it is that by dwelling on the things you lack, you create a mind-set whereby you never get the things you do want. I’m not talking about The Secret or any mumbo jumbo like that. To be honest, I frequently have trouble with the concept of positive thinking or trying to make yourself believe something that is frankly impossible. If I don’t feel sexy, or powerful, or successful, no amount of self-talk is going to persuade me otherwise.

Still, the last few weeks, the BF and I have been watching some quirkly little movies. Always his choice, and I’m learning to trust his judgement. The first one was About Time, which I wrote about here. More recently, it was The Giant Mechanical Man and last night, Chef. None of these were blockbusters. In fact, you may not have even heard of them. But there seems to be a running theme about decent people like you and me living their lives as best they can, not really knowing what they want or how to get it until they find the one person that makes it all make sense to them. Nothing about their lives outwardly changes until they change how they think about themselves. There isn’t any magic, or super powers, or explosions. It’s just people discovering there is more to themselves than they thought because someone believed in them.

Then there was today’s Twittascope. Now, I’ll be the first person to tell you that I frequently mock Twittascope, using it as a guideline to do the exact opposite of whatever it recommends, yet there was something about this that resonated:

If you’re always fretting about the scarcity in your life, you’ll never feel the abundance around you. Prosperity starts as a state of mind.

success2I am conscious of the fact that when I put my mind to achieving something, it happens. The fact that I rarely believe in myself to the extent of making this happen all the time is beside the point; when I do believe in something, I’m unstoppable. So here is my formula for breaking the cycle of defeat. It might not work for you–I fully believe we all have to find our own Patronus spells to ward off the Dementors in our lives. But here are mine:

  1. Stop focusing on what you don’t have. Concentrate on what you’re grateful for. I know, sounds like your typical pop psychology clap-trap, right? Only there is some truth to this one, at least for me. When I stop focusing on what is lacking in my life, and truly sit down and give thanks for what I’m grateful for, it changes my thinking. Maybe you have to dig deep to find something. Maybe your ‘somethings’ aren’t the kinds of things most people think of when they are looking at the markers of a successful life. But there are things in my life I wouldn’t trade for anything: not financial or creative success, not public accolades or a secure future. Someone who gets me, who believes in me, who makes me feel worth knowing? Worth more than winning the lottery.
  2. Stop focusing on what you don’t have. Picture what you want. Imagine it in great detail a few minutes every day. This truly has worked for me, but only when I was very specific in what I was looking for and hoped to achieve. Telling yourself you’d like to lose weight or write a best-selling novel without a specific for either is a pipe dream. Make it real. Make it count.
  3. Stop focusing on what you don’t have. Stop focusing on what other people DO have. Stop comparing yourself to others! Sure, maybe you don’t write 4 or 5 novels a year, but you know what? Maybe the person who does has made sacrifices you don’t know about to do so. Maybe that person doesn’t work 50-60 hours a week, and isn’t trying to take care of elderly parents and raise kids at the same time. Or maybe they do. Whatever. They are not you. Maybe someone else has launched a terrific series just when you were sitting down to write something along the same lines. Does that mean your ideas have been blown out of the water? Does that mean no one is going to be interested in your Vampire/Space Cowboy shifter stories? No, it does not. No one is going to write Vampire/Space Cowboys the same way you are. I would strongly suggest if you move forward with that project that you not read the competition, simply to keep your material fresh and original in your mind, but the truth of the matter is if there is a market for vampires and cowboys in outer space, then there is room for more than one set of stories on the subject. So someone you like and respect has written an awesome series about FBI agents, or treasure hunters, or ghostbusters? That doesn’t mean your stories won’t be loved and cherished by readers. PUT THE WORDS ON PAPER. Worry about your audience later.
  4. Stop focusing on what you aren’t. Remind yourself what you are. There’s a reason why certain heroes and heroines resonate with you. Something about those characters speaks to you, and they wouldn’t if you didn’t value their traits and attitudes. Embrace them. Accept the things you like about them as the things you like about yourself. You’re not as different from them as you think. They are just further ahead on the same path as you. Borrow their strength until you can find your own.
  5. Stop focusing on the number on the scale, the image in the mirror, the ranking on Amazon, all the little ticky boxes of success as we’ve come to know it. Remember that so many industries make their money out of making you feel bad. It is in their vested interests for you to fail, to be miserable about yourself, to buy that self-help book, or this diet drink, or that product to try to make you feel better. That is not who you are. You are not a number on a scale, or the thickness of your hair, or how many books you’ve written/sold in the last two months. You are not the joint that is going to cause you pain the rest of your life, or the disease that robs you of so much joy. You are the stories you have to tell. You are the person your dog looks up to with love in his eyes. You are the person who laughs during an unexpected downpour, who can honestly be happy for a friend’s success, who the kids will call when they get locked out of the house in the middle of the night. Do you know what pictures I like the best on Facebook? The pictures of my friends wearing something that makes them feel good about themselves. That’s the look I want–the one that says, “I look smashing in this, don’t you think?” And they do, every single one of them. They look fabulous because they feel fabulous. I love the pictures people share of their kids in some moment of pride because the love for their children (or pets, or grandkids) shines through their posts. This is also who you are. You are the person who loves.

It isn’t easy to break the cycle of defeat. Lord knows I struggle with this more often than not. But I am not going to accept it. I’m not going to bow down to it, and nod sadly and say this is my lot in life. I will go down fighting, and then I will get up again. You’d better watch out for me when I do because I’m gonna come up swinging. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

 

 

The Value of Time

Drink from the creekI managed to get the dog out today before it turned into a sauna outside. That’s been a little tough for me lately–getting out before it is too hot for both the dog and me. Sometimes it is all I can do to drag myself out of bed and hit the trails before the air turns too soggy to breathe, but you know, every time I do, I don’t regret it. I get so much out of these walks. For one thing, I get the joy of watching my dog be a dog. He is not his best in the city on a leash. There are too many things that excite him, and try as I might, I can’t get him enough exercise while he’s on a leash, not when it is this hot. Lately, I’ve been going out in the evenings close to dark, but it’s still too hot to stay out long. On the days when I don’t have to be somewhere at a specific time, we head out to the forest. It never fails to renew my soul. I used to hike a lot more than I do now. I need to change that. Walking in the woods with my dog grounds me in a way nothing else does, and more and more these days, I realize I’m not doing enough of the things that make me happy.

Orange mushroomI have a minor obsession with mushrooms and wildflowers. I get a ridiculous amount of joy out of taking pictures of them. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea. Since it is a little thing, I see no reason not to indulge myself. I got some nice pictures today. A wide variety of shapes and colors that are simply pleasing to the eye. Taking pictures in the woods forces me to slow down, to not march through the forest with an eye on the time, already thinking ahead to what I need to be doing next.

Last night the BF and I watched a quietly charming movie called About Time. Iย  had no doubt I would enjoy it–the premise is right up my alley: at the age of 21, Tim finds out that the men in his family are capable of traveling back in time to specific events in their lifetime. Tim, being a rather decent guy, uses this ability not only to make things better for himself, but better for those he loves, too. He doesn’t always get it right the first time, but he usually does in the end. Problems come, however, when setting things right for one person irrevocably changes events for others–and sometimes Tim is forced to choose.

Toasted mushroom It was funny, sweet, and unexpectedly poignant. I kept waiting for something absolutely horrible to happen during the entire film, but you know what? It didn’t. Somehow, it managed to be a powerful little movie just the same. It ultimately was a movie about attitudes and finding happiness. It was a movie about living in the moment, and being fully present right now, and I am very glad I saw it. I *needed* to see it.

I’d been feeling a bit like Cinderella post-ball. I’d just returned from Rainbow Con,ย  where I had a fabulous time meeting so many of my fellow authors, readers, and reviewers in person for the first time. I had some of the best conversations about stories and writing. I learned so much about what to do and not to do at these events, and how to manage my table (hint, spending some time there is a good idea!). I took mental notes about the kinds of swag people brought with them, and the kinds of layouts people had on their tables. I learned that despite being among some of the coolest people on Earth, books will get stolen. I sat in on panels and learned new things about so many topics, opening my mind to subjects I might not have ever thought about before. I had an amazing time at Big Cat Rescue, learning the right and wrong way to run an animal sanctuary, and appreciating the hard work and commitment to education that organization holds.

I came back on fire with ideas about changing my website, and resurrecting old plot bunnies, and a commitment to finishing current WIPs.

TigerBut it’s hard to keep that flame burning when you get back home and fall into the same old routines. It’s hard to leave your ‘tribe’ and come back to an existence where the bulk of the people you meet don’t get what you’re all about–and you couldn’t really tell them anyway. It’s hard to feel as though you’re going back into a little cage after a taste of freedom. It’s tough to trade tigers for tiger lilies. ๐Ÿ™‚

I hadn’t been home 24 hours before I was already looking ahead to my next break, my next trip away to be with ‘my people’. Realizing just how much I had to do before that could happen, and knowing that it might be impossible for me to get away again in September as planned. You know what they say, the harness chafes all the more for having been removed for a while.

white mushroom tree baseBut that little movie last night got me thinking about living for the day-to-day moments instead of the big events. And yes, I’ve always known it’s your attitude that counts. The problem is, if you don’t have the right attitude, it is incredibly difficult to change it. Something about that film clicked in my head, though. Like maybe I could make it stick this time. It has certainly been easy enough today. I’m off work today, and I don’t have forty different things going at once, and a dozen different problems to try and solve. We’ll have to see how long the attitude adjustment holds. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’ve spent most of my free time on my return catching up with the gazillion emails and Facebook posts from friends. I’m astonished that a whole week has gone by without me opening a WIP. That’s going to have to stop. While I love all my deeper online connections, I can feel the stories calling to me. Stories begging to be told.

I’m going to stop wasting my time and then complaining I don’t have enough of it. From now on, when I sit down to talk with someone, all of my attention will be on the conversation. When I write, I will give it my complete focus. No more sucking joy from the future by worrying about it today. No more telling the dog ‘later’ until all of his laters are gone. No more wishing the hours would pass at work only to find myself incapable of doing any of the things I dreamt of all day long.

If I want something, I have to make it happen. There’s no other way.

We all are given the same twenty-four hours in every day. What we do with them is our choice.

 

Ten Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me As a Newbie Author

dangerThe other day I stumbled across a great Facebook thread in which a new author asked for advice: she wanted to know what kinds of newbie mistakes to avoid as a first-time author.

True to form, the writing community, including myself, chimed in with a number of excellent points. Afterward, it dawned on me this would make an awesome blog post, and here we are.

I’m going to give you my bits of ‘I wish someone had told me’ advice, mixed in with some of the best snippets I gleaned from my Facebook friends when asked the same.

In no particular order:

1. Google your pen name before you start using it. Yeah, I wish I’d done this. Because there’s Sarah Madison the actress, and Sarah Madison the cardiovascular surgeon, and Sarah Madison the published historian, and if you are looking for any of them and you get me instead, yikes! On the other hand, I like to think of someone enjoying one of my stories while recovering from cardiovascular surgery… Seriously, though. Google your pen name. You really don’t want the same pen name as a serial killer. Also, be careful of having a ‘unique’ spelling. If people can’t remember how to spell your name, they aren’t likely to find you on a web search. It’s easy. It takes less than thirty seconds, for Pete’s sake. Just do it. You won’t regret it.

Whether or not you need a pen name is another discussion altogether. I personally think if you write in wildly divergent genres, such as ‘sweet’ Christian romances and dinosaur porn, you’d better have two pen names. But that’s just me.

2. Platform and promotion. Yes, you have to have it. No, no one likes promoting themselves, but it is a necessary evil. As author K-lee Klein points out, “Writing is the good part, but be prepared to WORK for the book when it’s done.”

In order for promotion to work, however, you already have to have a platform and internet presence in place. A website (more on that later), Facebook page, and Twitter account are probably considered the bare minimums, but most writers have pages on Pinterest, Tumblr, Goodreads, Amazon, Instagram, G+… well, you name it. Many writers have pages on sites geared toward their genre, too. It’s a lot to keep up with. My rules for platform and social media: pick the two or three sites where you are the most comfortable and spend time there. If a site makes you unhappy, you won’t be your best there. Learn how to cross post from your main sites to other sites. I rarely spend time on Goodreads or Tumblr–they just aren’t my kind of places, but other people hang out there, so when I post a blog entry like this, I make sure it automatically cross posts to those other media platforms.

Worry less about your ‘brand’ย  when starting out. Be friendly. Share other people’s announcements. Interact with people in a manner that does not always center around your books or writing. For heaven’s sake DO NOT auto-post tweets or private message people with BUY MY BOOK spiels within seconds of them friending or following you.

glasses-booksThere are some great books on social media out there. I happen to like Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone:The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I might not agree with everything Ms. Lamb says (she is very much against pen names, for example) but she has some good points to make. One of which is that your name should be easy to find–it should be part of your website, your Twitter name, etc. Having a cute Twitter handle might be fun, but what if no one remembers that @AwesomeWombat is really Sarah Madison? Don’t make it hard for your readers to find you.

3. Websites: Your website is your home base. It is going to be the main way readers find you. Make it easy for them! You have roughly two seconds to make a good first impression when people land on your page. If your site is too hard to navigate, too difficult to read, has too many moving gifs or images that roll by too rapidly to read, you’ve lost a perspective reader right there. They will move on to the next site, to look for some other author whose home page doesn’t make their eyes bleed. Whether you have a static home page or not is up to you. But the most important thing is that your site is crisp, clear, and easy to navigate. Your social media links should all be in one place. Your backlist and buy links should be easy to find. You should update your blog on a regular basis. If you have a newsletter or a way for readers to follow your blog, it should be easy to find and sign up. Two seconds. Otherwise, your viewer will click away.

4. Reviews: if I had put these in any kind of order, reviews probably should have gone at the top. EVERYONE had a lot to say about reviews. For the most part, I tend not to read my reviews unless I’ve been sent the link from a trusted review site or a friend has discovered a glowing review and they want to share it with me. Everyone gets bad reviews. Don’t believe me? Look up your all-time favorite book. I guarantee that you will find someone who utterly loathed it and flamed it royally in their review. Any time I stumble upon a review I wish I hadn’t seen, I perform this very task and it is amazing how therapeutic it is. Because if someone can hate the book you adore, then it puts things in perspective for you. Over and over again, people gave DON’T ENGAGE A NEGATIVE REVIEW as their number one advice. Just.ย  Don’t. The author *always* comes out looking like the bad guy here, and nothing will alienate fans faster. Jay Northcote puts it this way, “Never respond to bad reviews. EVER. And don’t bitch about them in a public forum or it’s likely to bite you on the arse. If you need to vent (and if you look at your negative reviews, you will), do it in a safe/private place to someone you trust.Sue Holston says don’t even read your reviews, and I can understand that viewpoint as well.

There are some people who’d suggest not responding to any review on Goodreads, as it is a site primarily for readers, not authors. I know many authors who interact with their fans quite happily on Goodreads, but I confess, it feels like an abandoned mine field to me. One false step and BOOM. But that’s just me.

The point is, don’t let one bad review negate the twenty good ones you’ve received. Don’t let a ‘meh’ review derail you from your planned story arc, or shut down your writing mojo. Cooper West quotes Churchill, saying, “When you’re going through hell, keep on going”, which is a pretty good life lesson in general. Margarita Gakis advises the same, but urges even more to simply write. She says, “My advice is keep writing. Keep writing when it sucks and when you get a bad review and when you’re not sure if this is for you. Because as long as you’re writing you’re getting better. It’s like learning any skill and the more you do it the better you’ll be.”

And then there is the classic post regarding reviews from the imitable Amy Lane: The Five Stages of a Bad Review. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

5. Beta readers versus Editors (and what they bring to the table): first of all, these people are invaluable to you as a writer. As Kaje Harper said, “Beta readers and editors are in partnership with you to make the story the best it can be. Every error they catch, every change they suggest, is not an insult to your talents or story, or a sign of failure, but one more thing that will be better when actual readers buy your book. Welcome the red ink, don’t fear it or be insulted by it. At the same time, remember it is YOUR story. You can tell an editor they are wrong, if you truly believe that. They are human and fallible and sometimes your vision has to be the one that carries the day.

I think this is very important on many levels. As authors, particularly new authors, we have to be willing to accept the input of others, especially if we keep getting similar feedback from multiple sources: that’s your biggest indication something is wrong with your story or your writing style and it needs fixing. At the same time, it can be difficult not to let a strong-minded person take on more credit for the shaping of your story than they really deserve–or should have. Beta readers are not editors, either. Yes, they will catch typos, but their primary function is to tell you if the story is working or not. Different people catch different things, so I think it is very important to have more than one beta reader. But my main reason for having multiple readers is two-fold: not only do you not want to overwhelm a single person if you are a prolific writer, but it is much harder for someone to claim a larger share of the credit when there is more than one person involved. A beta reader who claims to ‘make or break’ you is like someone who helped you set the table expecting credit for cooking the banquet as well. A good beta reader is worth their weight in gold. They will help you produce the cleanest copy possible for submission to a publisher. They are cheerleaders and problem-spotters. But once the story moves on to editing, their role is usually done. Beta-readers are often friends, which can make it very painful to sever the relationship if it is no longer working for you. But if your beta-reader is acting like a gatekeeper between you and publishing, it is definitely time to end the relationship.

pen and paperEditors will clean up and tighten your prose, point out that you have used the same phrase thirty-seven times, correct your somewhat loose interpretation of the Chicago Manual of Style, and identify where things need to be explained in greater detail or a weak plot point that needs fixing. But they should not be altering your style to match their own. It is your story. They are polishing the finish on the sports car, not re-building the engine.

Kaje Harper and Becky Black also wanted me to point out the difference between rejection and ‘revise and re-submit’. Getting a revise and re-submit request is a good thing. It means the publisher sees promise in your story, but that it is still a bit rough around the edges. Don’t let an R&R crush you! It’s actually quite hopeful. ๐Ÿ™‚

6. Don’t game the system: I mean, seriously. There’s a big difference between recognizing and taking advantage of market trends (something I’m not very good at, but I know people who are) and writing simply to make a buck. Face it, if you want to make money, there areย  far easier ways of doing so. By gaming the system, I mean deciding you’re going to write serials, or short cliffhangers, or dinosaur porn, filling Kindle Unlimited with them because hey, you can churn those babies out to match the current best deal Amazon offers, and the instant the algorithm changes, so does your storytelling. Look, I have nothing against dino porn, but if you want to write it, do so because you enjoy it, okay? And no sockpuppets singing your praises or slinging mud at the competition. No buying reviews. I really shouldn’t have to say this, right? Pricing your story so that it sells well, or making the first book in a series free? That’s not gaming the system. Buying your way onto the bestseller lists is.

The best way to make writing pay for you? Write. Write a lot. Be working on your next story while you are launching your previous one and be thinking about the next one, too. Readers are like stray cats. If you feed them, they will come.

Most of us go through a post-story blues, where it is hard to move on to the next project. Get over yourself. I once sat down and figured out that it took me nearly a year from the time I conceived of a story idea, to writing it, to submitting it, to having it published before I saw royalties trickle in. Which means that for writing to pay the bills, I have to have a new story coming out at minimum every quarter. Which brings me to the next point…

7. Don’t quit your day job. Seriously. Writing a runaway bestseller like 50 Shades of Grey is like winning the lottery. It rarely happens, and certainly not to you and me. The rest of us have to slog out a minimum of something on the order of 60-80K words every 2-3 months in order to even hope of quitting the day job. I don’t know about you, but putting that kind of pressure on myself really puts a damper on my writing mojo. Writing is something I do that makes me happy in order to make other people happy.ย  But I don’t ever want to look back on my life twenty years from now and wish I’d spent more time walking the dog or hanging out with my boyfriend. And I don’t want to take something I love and turn it into something I hate because I can’t turn out a completed product I can take pride in.

But hey, maybe you can be incredibly prolific while still working a full-time job. Or maybe you’re currently jobless, and now is the sink or swim moment. It is possible to make a living as a writer. Just expect to work hard, write a lot, make a lot of personal sacrifices regarding how you spend your time, and don’t expect Hollywood to come knocking at your door with a movie deal in hand. It means writing when you don’t feel like it. It means there is no such thing as ‘your muse’, only the need to put words to paper because that’s your job.

Though this doesn’t quite fit in here, Felice Stevens had a nice bit to share about the “Rules” of writing: Don’t listen when someone tells you the “Rules” on how to write. Don’t listen when people tell you if you write fast, it’s junk, if you write slow you’ll lose your base. Find your voice and don’t try to be some one else.”

Which is just plain, good common sense. You’re going to hear a lot about how to be successful as an author. But by trying to please everyone, you’ll wind up pleasing no one. You don’t really need a ton of fans, anyway. You need a thousand die-hard fans that will buy everything you write and tell all their friends about you too.

pirate8. Piracy: it happens. There is no use giving yourself ulcers about it. Don’t try counting up the money in lost revenue it represents, either. It will only make you cry. Some people don’t fight it. Personally, I do. Piracy means the difference between my paying the mortgage some months, or whether I have to wait another year to replace the glasses with the $400 lenses. Piracy is the difference between having to choose between dental work or going to a writer’s convention. Don’t just bitch about it, though. Every couple of weeks, do a search of your name and book titles (I find that Google Alerts tends not to pick up many illegal downloads–it’s better for notifying you of reviews). If you have a publisher, report it to them–they are losing money as well. Draft DMCA and takedown notices to send to pirate sites. Make sure that people know that many of these sites are just phishing to steal credit card information. In my case, my stories frequently show up on torrents (someone seems to keep uploading a bundle of four of my stories–it’s infuriating to see the same bundle appear again and again…). Appealing to the torrent is usually futile, but you can report the link to Google, which will block it in a title search on their browser. Given that almost everyone uses Google, having them block the illegal site in a search is a good thing. Searching the internet and preparing takedown notices is time-consuming and frustrating, but I do it. Sure, I realize that the vast majority of people downloading illegal copies would never buy from me in the first place. That doesn’t mean I have to make it easy for them to pick my pocket.

NotMyMonkeys-FB9. Don’t ever diss another author. That’s just plain stupid. Unless you are among unimpeachable friends that you trust with your whole heart, giving a frank opinion of someone’s work or personality is fraught with the potential to have your words come back and bite you in the ass. Keep it to yourself, even if you feel completely justified, or if someone approaches you, encouraging you to vent. Be a professional and keep your mouth shut and your fingers off the keyboard. That applies in general to most internet kerfuffles and dramas. Remember the great proverb: Not my circus, not my monkeys. This is a corollary to not responding to negative reviews. People talk. And if you malign someone’s writing or themselves as a person, the chances are it will get back to them.

On the other hand, sometimes it is impossible not to have someone get angry with you through no fault of your own. Apologize for inadvertently upsetting them, try to correct or prevent the circumstances that led to the misunderstanding, but if they won’t grow up and get over it, let it go. Don’t talk about it, however. Be the bigger person here. Apologize, move on, and never refer to it again. If they keep bringing it up in the face of your silence, they wind up looking petty and small for holding grudges.

10. And last but not least: write what makes you happy. Don’t write to market pressures. If you have no interest in the latest fad, your lack of enthusiasm will show. If you want to write about chefs, or the horse-racing industry, or US Marines, or WW2 flying aces, or dragons, you can. Just make sure you’ve done your homework, or in the case of fantasy, you’ve created a world with believable rules that make sense. Don’t worry about finding an audience. Chances are if you love what you’re writing, others will too. And they are the readers that count the most.

As for me, right now, I’m deep in the throes of edits for Truth and Consequences, book 3 in the award-winning Sixth Sense series from Dreamspinner Press, hopefully to be released this fall! If you’ve been waiting to find out what happens to Flynn and Jerry next, you’re in for some major surprises! Next month, I’ll be attending Rainbow Con in Tampa, FL–do look me up if you’re attending the convention. ๐Ÿ™‚ More on that as we get closer to the date.

 

 

 

 

Suck It Up and Deal

HelpSometimes, like it or not, you just have to suck it up and deal.

I won’t kid you. The last couple of years have been fairly crappy for me. I’ve had to make some tough choices concerning my job, my writing, and my life in general. I’ve been battling low-level chronic health disorders, a bout of depression, and some serious financial woes. Every sacrifice I’ve made has been with the idea of making things better, of crawling out of that hole, of moving forward with life instead of just treading water.

2015 started out hopeful. My publisher, Dreamspinner Press, accepted the third book in the Sixth Sense series, Truth and Consequences, and not twenty minutes later, I received an email with generous offer to retool and re-release The Boys of Summer. For once, instead of chewing my nails while waiting to hear if my submitted manuscript was accepted, I’d decided to do the smart, adult writer-thing and had begun working on the next story right away. I’d been pleased with my writing progress on the new story when things in my life fell apart in a big way. To the point where friends began asking me if I was a serial killer in a previous life or if someone out there had a voodoo doll in my name, sticking pins into it. This is why I don’t believe in karma, to be honest. I know I don’t deserve any of this crap right now. There was a time, however, when I’d have wondered what I’d done to bring the wrath of the universe down on me.

Snow closeupI’m not going to bore you with all the multi-generational family stuff going on. Everyone has stuff like that going on in their lives. Nor all the animal health crises, of which there is always something when you have as many animals (especially as many geriatrics) as I do. The biggest problem, the one that outweighs all others, is that I’ve done a number on my shoulder. I probably have a torn rotator cuff, and let me tell you, I have never experienced so much pain in my entire life. Even with the ‘good’ drugs, I’ve lost ten pounds in the last couple of weeks. I’m waiting to get an MRI, but it’s very likely they will tell me I need surgery.

And I can’t do it. I just can’t. I live alone. I have big animals I take care of. Taking six weeks off from work isn’t an option, either. For days I stewed about the pain, and the possible need for surgery, and what would happen to me if I didn’t get surgery. I made my decision the other day: no matter what the MRI says, I will not pursue surgery at this time. Right now, I have about 40% use of my arm and I can deal with the pain fairly well until I try to sleep at night. I’ve got an elaborate system of pillows I use to prop the various parts, however, and I seem to have found a compromise I can live with. I’m functional enough that I can do my job. Each day I seem to be getting a tiny bit better, as long as I don’t overdo. I’ve come to terms with the decision, which has already meant missing one planned event and probably cancelling another one in July. I know, attending conventions is probably the last thing I should be worried about, but these are the bright spots in a rather grinding existence, so canceling them has been a downer. However, it is what it is. Suck it up and deal.

RockandSand pendant1A friend of mine sent me a pendant consisting of this tiny jar filled with sand and a small rock within. She pointed out that like the rock, I always rose to the surface no matter how much sand was dumped over me. It’s true, no matter how you turn the glass jar, the rock always breaks the surface of the sand. It’s kind of awesome having people who believe in you like that. Friends who have your back and help you out in so many ways. Asking for help is not easy for me. My friends make it easier to accept it when it’s offered. ๐Ÿ™‚

The one thing I seem to still be struggling with is the story I’m working on. It’s not a particularly happy story, and the characters have to work through some hard stuff. I find that I’m just not in the headspace to work on it right now. In fact, I sort of loathe it. Writing it is like pulling teeth. I decided the other evening that it wasn’t the story I should be working on at the moment. I needed to write something I enjoyed while I was sucking it up and dealing. I think that’s only fair, right?

So I’ve set aside the contemplative and angsty story I’ve been working on these last few months and have started a project I’ve been putting off for the last couple of years. I’ve been putting it off because I was afraid of not getting it right, of screwing it up. Truth be told, I’ve been holding this project in reserve as a kind of trump card, and have been afraid it wouldn’t live up to the test. As long as I didn’t play it, I could tell myself it was going to save my butt one day. Playing it, and discovering that it wasn’t as good a card as I’d hoped, was a reality I didn’t want to face. But a trump card never played ceases to have any value. So there you are. I’m setting aside a project that holds no appeal for me at the moment in order to play with one that does. It might be a dismal failure. But at least I will enjoy the process, and right now, I need a little something to enjoy in my life. The story is a totally different direction for me–but I think that’s exactly what I need.

Mountain Laurel

 

 

The Culture of Nasty: Where Everyone Has a Right To Share Their Opinion

www.jpereira.net info@jpereira.netI’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and discussing it with my friends. I suspect this is going to be an unpopular opinion. I’ve spent several hours drafting it, hours in which I could have done something more productive, and probably less like to piss the Internet off. I’ve come close to deleting it more than once.

The very fact I feel this way is proof of my point, though.

We’re in a culture of Nasty, where Meanness is King.

Perhaps it’s naive of me to think it hasn’t been there all along, but I have to say that in the last ten years, I’ve seen a huge shift in the attitudes and behavior of others, and I think it has a lot to do with the social media platforms where people spend the majority of their time.

My co-workers and I have discussed how short-tempered and irritable clients are, as well as how demanding they are. They want what they want when they want it. If you can’t drop everything and see to their needs immediately, they snarl, “Well, I’ll just take my business elsewhere, then.” The threat doesn’t change anything. If we could have helped them then and there, we would have. Instead, the attitude puts our backs up. Fine, so be it, we sniff, when they hang up on us.

I blame it on the Internet. I blame it on the instantaneous delivery of so many things. One-click a book. Stream a movie. Order food delivered to your house. That’s just part of it though. The other part is that the Internet encourages you to leave your opinion where ever you go, on whatever you purchase. How was your experience at your salon, your grocery, your daycare, your doctor’s office, Home Depot? Tell us! We really want to know!

The President of the United States started a twitter account recently. Within minutes, he’d received some of the most appalling racial slurs and horribly demeaning, hate-filled Tweets that I’ve ever seen. The President. Of our country. To think that when the Dixie Chicks disagreed publicly with then-President Bush’s decision to go to war with Iraq, radio stations dropped their music and people sent death threats. All because one of the band members said she was ashamed that Mr. Bush hailed from Texas. Now, direct name-calling to the President himself is de rigueur. Is it because he is the first black President? Possibly. But I think that the racial aspect is only part of it. FOX News has been cultivating an atmosphere of hatred and disrespect for President Obama for six years now. I think any Democratic president would have faced similar venom because so many people have been groomed to spew the Far Right’s bile. (It’s kind of fascinating, in a horrible way, how long the Koch Brothers have been modeling public opinion of political figures… but I digress)

The Internet has given Everyman a voice.

Everywhere I go, I see people plugged into their iPods or smartphones. There’s even a phenomenon called ‘tech neck‘ because so many people are looking down at the phone in their hands all the time that they are developing wrinkles on their necks at extraordinarily young ages. We had a young pedestrian killed here not too long ago because she stepped off the curb, eyes glued to the phone, without looking at the traffic. She couldn’t even put the phone aside long enough to cross the street safely. I recently read a thread on Facebook where someone complained of making an impassioned speech as part of a lecture, only to look out on a sea of students all staring at their laps. Not a single one was focused on the class. They were all checking their phones. We’ve become addicted to our devices. We’ve also come to a point where we expect to be entertained every minute of every day. Where we can’t cross the street without checking our messages, or we’re on the phone in the line at the grocery store and at the doctor’s office, or we can’t pause the movie for the two minutes it takes us to ladle dinner on our plates, so we have to carry the IPad to the kitchen with us.

And part of that constant need for connection means checking up on what other people had to say. Frankly, the nastier, the better. The more we can gasp and say, “Oh, no they didn‘t!” and yet read on.

I can’t tell you how many times someone will share a link with me but say, “Don’t read the comments. They’ll only make you gnash your teeth.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started an online conversation, only to have to leave for a few hours and come back to discover that it has imploded in my absence and I have no idea how to do the damage control.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen others in that boat, who’ve decided to close the thread to further comments because of the vitriolic disrespect people are showing to each other. Or people who post a strong commentary, but block comments because they know what kind of wank-fest will start if they don’t.

A friend and I were discussing this the other day–this veneration of the nasty, where everyone gets to have their say, but because so often they can do it anonymously, all filters are off. The nastier the better because then people will like your post and you’ll develop a following for your snarky reviews. Maybe it was the hilariously scathing gif-filled review of 50 Shades of Grey that started it, but I see too many reviews aiming for this level of cutting brilliance, when sadly, they are only a pale imitation. Giving celebrity status to the unpleasant critic has become the norm, from Simon Cowell on American Idol to the hordes of talk radio mouthpieces that make a living off being mean.

I think my friend summed it up nicely, however: Reviews have become so important and yet I think they have become so meaningless.

By that, I don’t mean the well-thought out review given by review sites and readers that truly want to share how this story made them feel.These people (and their reviews) are worth their weight in gold! I’m not referring to the people who are capable of articulating the problems they had with a story, either. I’m a big believer in constructive criticism, and I pay particular attention if more than one person makes a similar statement along the same lines when it comes to a story. No, I’m talking about the people who one-star something because it didn’t meet all of their personal expectations. The real issue seems to be one of expectations and entitlement. Because it doesn’t matter if it was well-written or not.ย  If it didn’t push all of that reader’s particular buttons, it gets low-balled.

This story was about vampires but your vampires didn’t get sparkly in the sun and your heroine (having some degree of backbone) is too bitchy so yeah, I’m one-starring this.

Your hero smokes. Eww.

There was too much sex.

There wasn’t enough sex.

The sex scenes were boring.

Or a personal favorite someone shared on Facebook today: Your Mayans were cruel. The real Mayans weren’t cruel people. (Um, human sacrifice, people? Perhaps that was just a mild aberration, then? A case of being ‘hangry’? Gee, someone hand that Mayan a Snickers bar, for God’s sake!)

Of course, if increased visibility wasn’t tied directly into reviews, then reviews like this wouldn’t matter. They’d just be opinions, and while a few of them might sting a bit, it would be easier to laugh them off. But because they *are* tied into increased visibility, and therefore potentially sales as well, they carry a lot more weight than perhaps they ought.

I’ve said for a while now that I wish Amazon and Goodreads would do away with the ‘star’ rating system and let people just post what they thought without the ranking business. I wonder if as many people would bother in that case? And if no one could give your opinion a ‘thumbs up’, would it still try so hard to be cleverly mean?

The point I’m trying (perhaps unsuccessfully) to make is that I think in many ways, the Internet has made us a less kind society. Our right to voice our opinion is what leads strangers to walk up to George Clooney and tell him, “Hey, your last movie sucked.” Like our opinion matters so much, we have a right to get in a celebrity’s face and tell him that. Or that we can be unforgivably ugly to the President. Or we can cyberbully and troll someone into self-harm.

I get upset when I read about stuff like that, or when I have to put out fires on my own page, or when everything I read makes me despair for the future of our species. I still think that the Internet is a kind of awful addiction, and I know I’d get a lot more done if I simply turned off my browser and got to it. There are days when my Facebook timeline depresses the hell out of me, and forget about going to Twitter or Tumblr! At least on Live Journal, there was a sense of community that tempered one’s interactions with others. Those days seem to have vanished. Now it’s about reblogging someone else’s content and moving on to the next New Shiny. If you are spectacularly nasty, you’re more likely to get reblogged, too.

But even as I’ve wasted the last couple of hours writing this, I know that I’m not telling the whole story. Yes, there is a lot of ugliness online. Yes, it is frequently addictive and often depressing as hell. Yes, I think the generations coming behind us will have to deal with an inability to focus on anything for more than a few minutes, and an outrageous sense of entitlement that makes some people think the world owes them a living. But here’s the thing: I’ve met some wonderful people through online communities. I’ve seen these people come together to help someone in need, be it financially or emotionally. I’ve been the recipient of links to funny videos, cute pictures that make me smile, surprise care packages, and astonishing generosity–all when I needed them the most. I’ve had my hand virtually held when I needed the lifeline, and have been given a safe place to vent when I needed that, too. I’m not sure I’d still be around were it not for that kind of support. I know I wouldn’t be publishing my stories. It was the enthusiasm and encouragement of my online friends that prompted me to submit that first story to a publisher.

So yeah. Mean is flashier. Mean grabs headlines. Nasty makes the news. It’s like the Dark Side of the Force–quicker, deadly, makes a bigger entrance. Seems more powerful.

But don’t belittle the power of the Light side of the Force. I believe that kindness, like nastiness, is catching, and as such, it is up to us to spread it around, sending it out in little ripple effects as a kind of shield against all the nastiness out there. I’ll probably be one of the first ones to die in a post-apocalyptic society, but you know what? I’m not sure I’d want to live through that mess anyway. We have to choose between the two, between kindness and meanness, just like in the story about the two wolves.

Two wolvesWhich will you choose to feed?