The Elephant in the Room that the Diet Industry is Ignoring

elephant--freeimage.com

elephant–freeimage.com

At the beginning of last month, I posted a little rant about an article I’d read, which suggested ways in which the ‘average’ person could easily lose weight throughout the day. I found the article so ludicrous, so not in keeping with the daily lives of most ‘average’ people I know, that I felt I had to say something.

I got that off my chest (with a fair amount of bad language on my part), but I’ve been thinking about it ever since. You know, the diet industry has a vested interest in making us feel bad about our appearance. So-called fitness magazines frequently feature models so nonathletic and frail-looking it’s hard to believe they could complete a single set of exercises they’re depicted performing. Their articles claim to help the reader to lose an unbelievable amount of weight in a ridiculously short period of time. Again and again. At some point you have to wonder if these ‘tips’ and fad diets were so successful, why does the next magazine come out with a new suggestion the following month? In fact, you have to kind of admire the whole set up: let’s make people feel bad about their appearance and then let’s persuade them to spend lots of money trying to live up to unrealistic ideals, only to have them fail and come back to spend more money. Clever, eh?

I read a statistic today from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and that said two thirds of every American are either overweight or obese. Why does this seem to be a uniquely American problem? I would have to say it’s multi-factorial. It probably has a lot to do with the abundance of fast food and processed food, both of which are cheaper than fresh clean foods you have to prepare yourself. One of the things I discovered on a trip to the UK was how much healthier much of the food is there. For one thing, they don’t allow all the additives that are considered a matter of course here in the US. Then there’s the difficulty of finding the time and energy to prepare healthy food when you’re always on the run. Not to mention exercising, for heaven’s sake.

Just this morning, I took an online ‘test’ to determine my ‘metabolic age’ based on a few questions. Of course, once I took it–and received the information that I was metabolically six years older than my given age–the whole thing was designed to scare me into buying into some program guaranteed to reverse this terrible condition, probably for three easy payments of only $19.99 each.

I think all of these health and fitness recommendations overlook one very important thing: the level of stress most of us are under every freaking day. It’s all very well to talk about willpower and increasing your metabolism, of getting up early and working out before breakfast, or eliminating all carbs, no wait, eliminate all meat, no… scratch that. Anyway, the one thing most of these lose-weight-fast and improve-your-health-in-12-easy-steps programs seem to overlook is that most of us are walking around with adrenal glands the size of cantaloupes from all the stress we’re under.

sleeping cat freeimage.com

sleeping cat freeimage.com

I don’t know about you, but I have to fight hard to get seven precious hours of sleep a night. You know what they say about lack of sleep? Among other things, it makes it easier for you to gain weight. Lack of sleep also ravages your immune system, and driving while sleep-deprived is every bit as reckless as driving while under the influence.

Then there’s the average work day in America. You think it’s eight hours, right? Well, I can’t tell you the last time I worked nine to five. More like eight to six or longer. A forty hour work week? Don’t make me laugh. I’ve worked sixty plus hours a week for years and I didn’t get paid overtime because I was on salary, not hourly employment. Add to that the fact the job itself is stressful, and you get the triple whammy: you’re eating junk food on the run and you’re eating to keep moving AND your own stress hormones are both demanding you eat more and storing everything you eat as fat. When your entire day is one long ‘flight or fight’ mode and you do neither, the constant influx of cortisol in your body with no outlet does bad things to you. And this makes it ten times harder to do anything about your weight.

Unfortunately, stress in America seems to be a way of life. Our work day and work week is not likely to get any shorter. Our jobs are probably going to remain one of the biggest sources of stress in our lives. Most of us are also trying to balance raising a family and taking care of elderly parents as well. And I’ve said it before but the thing so many ‘experts’ seem to overlook is we’re all starving: emotionally, physically, financially. We’re all pinching and scraping and sacrificing–and to come home at the end of the day and deny ourselves something else seems like asking too much.

But you have to. At some point you have to say, “You know what? Yes, I probably deserve that second helping of lasagne, but I also deserve better health. And I have to choose.” At some point, you have to accept that your job/family life is stressful and that it’s not likely to change–but how you react to it is under your control. You can manage your stress in other ways besides eating. Meditate. Walk the dog. Ride bikes with the kids. Hell, talk to the kids, for some other reason than to tell them to go clean up their room. For me, watching less television, spending less time on social media, and spending more time reading and doing quiet activities helps.

But cut yourself slack on the nearly Sisyphean task of losing weight. Because like any other goal you seek to achieve, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’re going to have good days and bad days. Toss out the diet and fitness magazines, ignore the latest fad trends. Remember that most of those magazines aren’t even depicting images of real people–they’ve been Photoshopped into unrealistic standards.

Take a deep breath. Maybe the most important thing today isn’t the number on the scale or whether your thighs rub together when you walk. Maybe it’s the fact you made someone smile, or you played with your dog, or you solved that really challenging problem at work. Let’s not make your weight one more thing to stress about. It’s not the most important thing about you.

Dear Entertainment Industry: A little hope, please?

candle by Q8y_dream Flickr Creative Commons

candle by Q8y_dream Flickr Creative Commons

Sometime toward the end of last year’s television season, I quit watching most of my shows. I work in an incredibly stressful profession. I describe it as life and death in a microcosm every fifteen minutes. I come home at the end of the day totally wiped out, with barely the energy to walk the dogs and cobble together some sort of dinner, which is often the first chance I’ve had all day to sit down and eat a meal.

One of the things I look forward to are my ‘must-see’ television shows, when the BF and I can relax, kick back on the sofa, and watch the next installment of whatever thrilling drama the entertainment industry has to offer.

But toward the end of the last mainstream television season, several things happened at once: many of my favorites went on hiatus or were cancelled. Of those that remained on my watchlist, many had become too intense, too dark for me to enjoy. I realized that 99% of everything I watched was incredibly violent. Storylines went from captivating to grim. Combined with my increasing anxiety over the upcoming elections and what the outcome could mean for the world as a whole, I felt as though I had to stop watching television and movies. At the end of the day, I didn’t need to be devastated by the death of characters or the destruction of everything I loved.

I took a hiatus. I read books. I watched old favorites. Thanks to the wonders of Netflix, I could re-watch old television shows that managed to entertain without nearly destroying me in every episode. I listened to music. I took up meditation.I walked the dogs. I began riding horses again. I wrote stories–a lot of stories. Sometimes when I heard friends discussing their favorite shows around the water cooler or on Facebook, I felt a little left out, but for the most part, I enjoyed my quieter evenings.

As the current fall TV season crept closer, I found myself getting excited about the returning favorites or the new possibilities. I watched a few episodes I missed in order to catch up with the season premieres, and I settled in to watching the first eps of the season.

After two such attempts, I complained to the BF that everything was horribly dysfunctional and dystopian. No one could be trusted. Teams betrayed each other and were broken up. Leaders were replaced by people that were evil and dangerous. Friends were forced to choose sides. Beloved characters were angry and vengeful. And I’m sick of it.

Worse, it’s not fun.

No, seriously, some of the franchises I’ve loved in the past have become so unrelentingly hopeless and dark that I Just. Can’t. Even.

Look, I get it.  We tend to write stories that reflect how we feel, and examine our fears and concerns. The mythology of werewolves is believed to have risen out of a need to explain serial killers. I recently read a study somewhere that suggested certain kinds of fiction arise in certain types of political atmospheres–and surely the rise of dsytopian and zombie apocalyptic fiction is a reflection of how angry–and terrified–so many of us are right now.

Hope: Steven Snodgrass Flickr Creative Commons

Hope: Steven Snodgrass Flickr Creative Commons

But I need hope. I need the possibility of a future that is better than my fears. One of the reasons Star Trek has had such an enduring fandom over the years is because Gene Roddenberry’s vision of our future was more hopeful than nearly every other sci-fi universe out there. In Roddenberry’s universe, we overcame our worst failings and inclinations. We solved the problems of how to feed people and create clean energy and how to embrace diversity without being terrified of it. Star Trek is about sending the best and brightest out as ambassadors for the human race. Sure, they were flawed, but week after week, they got the job done. Better yet, they inspired generations to be the very best human beings they could be, in the hopes that one day, they’d be good enough to be considered for the Enterprise crew.

At the risk of sounding like someone’s cranky old granny, I want that in my entertainment again. Sure, you can give me adversity to overcome–that embodies great storytelling to me. Yes, there must be conflict, otherwise it’s boring. But give me that happily ever after–or happy for now. End with a note of encouragement, a candle lit in the dark against the forces of evil. Maybe you don’t trust your team mates in the beginning because you don’t know them–but show us that trust building over time.

Because otherwise, you could end every story with “Rocks fall. Everyone dies.” And in a world where it seems increasingly likely that this is our future, I want a little fantasy, please.

So give me hope.

 

Dear Internet: I Want My Life Back

cell-phone-2-1525544-1280x960Periodically, I decide I need to break up with the Internet.

It usually comes after a week fraught with huge blowups among my circle: meltdowns and high drama, like the exposure of a catfisher or outrage over someone/something that is Absolutely Wrong.

More and more these days, it comes as a result of feeling overwhelmed and anxious about the future of my country and the planet as a whole, especially when we’re constantly bombarded with images and messages that tell us to be afraid, be very afraid.

As Internet Addictions go, I don’t think my case is too bad (though isn’t that what all addicts say?). Sure, my boyfriend jokes about how I reach for my cell phone first thing in the morning, but that’s about a morning ritual of checking messages and my Twitter feed that allows me to spend another ten minutes or so in bed before I have to get up. No, really.

I don’t have Facebook on my phone. I don’t have a tablet. With the exception of Twitter, I don’t check any of my social media platforms on my phone–that waits until I’m seated at the computer.

But I do spend hours every day at the computer, circling social media sites looking for something interesting to read or start a conversation. I get online to ‘catch up’ and ‘unwind’ and the next thing I know, I’ve wasted most of the evening. Would I have been more productive if I’d stayed offline? Hard to say. Probably. But most days I’m so fried when I get home that faffling around on the internet is about all I’m good for.

Earlier in the week, I read this post by social media guru, Kristen Lamb. She talks about the fine balance between maintaining a social media presence online and losing five hours of your life to LOL cat videos. She has some good things to say about the way mindless tech use can kill your muse (not to mention your life in general). I read the post, nodding along, knowing I needed to institute some of the same measures mentioned. My friend Shira Anthony calls her tactics “Ninja Facebooking”, which is to log in, share some information, comment on a few posts, and get out again before the time sink effect kicks in. It’s a smart way of handling things, I think. By the way, she’s got a great new release upcoming up that’s available for pre-order now–Take Two from Dreamspinner Press. You should check it out.

Pokemon HoundsYesterday, while I was out with the dogs for a short run, I almost walked into a couple coming from the opposite direction. I looked up just in time before my muddy dogs and I plowed into them and I was horribly embarrassed that I hadn’t been paying attention. Why had I been so oblivious? Because I’d opened a game on my phone (ostensibly with the purpose of deleting it, only I started playing it instead) and I wasn’t even aware of their approach until it had almost become a social disaster.

Lately, I’ve been noticing just how much time I spend answering emails, sharing posts and tweets, and participating in online conversations… and I seriously believe that I do this far less than the average person. I’ve been noticing how much of the evening is devoted to sitting on the couch beside the boyfriend while we both tickety-tap away on our devices–me on Facebook or Live Journal, and him on Reddit or playing games. Just the other day, I met a man with a toddler who had very little verbal skills, but he was a demon on the smartphone. His little fingers flew over the screen, scrolling through images until he found the video he wanted to watch. The kid probably knew how to work his father’s smartphone better than I know how to use mine. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know. Perhaps it is a matter of trading one skill set for another, exchanging one form of learning for a new one. However, I can’t help but wonder about the scores of young adults I know with crippling social anxiety, and whether the willingness of the younger generation to put every aspect of their lives online for public scrutiny has anything to do with that.

I met with my critique group this morning, and toward the end of our conversation we began discussing how much online presence writers need today. Where the boundaries are. How much should we share. How much time to spend doing it. That sort of thing. To my surprise, my group members seem to think I’m some social media whiz-bang. We were discussing the success of my latest story, and my friends gave much of the credit to my marketing skills. I had to make the squinty–face at them because I’ve been doing about the same thing as always on the media front–the surprising success of Fool’s Gold was probably due to several factors but I don’t think my ability to ‘work it’ on social media had as much impact on sales as decisions I made on pricing and which platform to offer it in.

Yes, I post to Facebook and Twitter regularly, and I share other people’s posts, too. Yes, I post to the blog semi-regularly, but then I *like* writing blog posts. Nothing has changed in that regard since my previous book was released.

But I agreed with much of what they had to say. It resonated with many of the things I’d been thinking lately.

computer-keyboard-1188763So I sat down here with the firm resolution to write the Internet a Dear John Letter. I wasn’t going to ‘take a break’ because I found being online overwhelming. I wasn’t shutting off my browser so I could finish a WIP. I was going to make a full-fledged declaration that the Internet was bad for me and I needed to be strong and walk away. To take that time and spend it more wisely. To reconnect with the living things in my life on a daily basis. To live my life before I woke up one day and discovered it was over.

And then I read this post by The Bloggess, who put things a little in perspective for me. And I remembered that my online life has allowed me to stay in touch with people I’d never see otherwise. I’ve made friends all over the world. I’ve traveled to meet up with my online friends, too. Hell, I met my boyfriend online, and next month will mark eight years of our being together. We had a blast playing Pokemon Go together at a local street festival a few weeks ago (just wait until he finds out I caught a Pikachu!), too.

Even my critique group, with its bicoastal and international membership, originated out of online communities and we ‘meet’ via Skype. Last weekend, I attended Writer’s Police Academy–an organization I learned about from friends met online–and I met up with fellow authors there. I’ll be posting about my experiences at WPA in the future, but the point is I’m not going to be breaking up with the Internet at all. The Internet and social media aren’t inherently good or bad. They are tools, that’s all. And like any tool, we need to learn how to use them appropriately and with common sense.

I wouldn’t carry a hammer to a wedding (it’s not Game of Thrones, peeps!), nor out horseback riding or to the grocery store. But if I need to fix a fence or replace a board, I’m going to use one. Be smart. Turn off the device from time to time and check out the world around you. Don’t walk into hikers or off cliffs or into bears because you weren’t paying attention. Pay attention. Life is worth it.

Dear Church Lady: Why Do You Care What I Read?

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Angry woman: freeimage.com

This post was prompted by an article that was being shared around on Facebook the other day, in which a Christian woman held up romance novels as one of the ‘new’, great evils of all time, sucking hapless female victims into their thrall. I’m not going to link to it here because it’s not necessary to drive more traffic to her blog post. There’s enough of that sort of thing out there as it is. In fact, the GOP has declared pornography a public health crisis that is ‘destroying the lives of millions.’

Think about that for a moment. Now, I’ll be the first to say that anything taken to excess can be a problem—even a health crisis. Alcohol, for example, or doughnuts. But along with controlling reproductive rights and standing for the most anti-GLBT platform in the history of the party, the GOP has deemed pornography as one of the main things it must battle in the upcoming election.

Not the fact that climate change is destroying our world.

Not the fact that scarcely a day goes by without a mass shooting here in the U.S. In fact, the U.S. outstrips all other countries when it comes to violent acts, accounting for 31% of all mass shootings in the world since 1966.

Not the fact the U.S. has an abysmal ranking for infant mortality, child poverty, and health care out of all other developed nations. Or that we’re sadly behind other industrialized nations in math and science.

No, what is most important to the GOP is what goes on in the privacy of our own bedrooms between consenting adults. And for this particular Church Lady, this includes what’s on my Kindle.

Not that she represents all Church Ladies. I grew up knowing some fantastic women, stalwart and forthright Church Ladies who would appear on your doorstep with a casserole and a hug at a death in the family, and a crocheted blanket for your newborn baby. They run the after-school programs for the latch-key kids, and the soup kitchen for the homeless. They don’t criminalize you for being poor. And when they raise money for the Church, it’s because the roof really does need repair, not because someone believes a multi-million dollar complex is what God needs from his faithful.

As you can probably tell by now, I was born and raised in a Christian household. I have very strong beliefs, and yet I broke with the Church some time ago. In part, because I didn’t believe that religion and politics should be bedfellows, and I don’t like being told from the pulpit how I should vote. In part, because I believe in the separation of Church and State. But also because I believe very strongly in free will. I believe in God. I no longer believe in the Church. And while someone has every right to come along and tell me I’m going to burn in hell for what I say and do, their right to dictate what I say or do or think ends when it infringes on mine. I suppose that’s where all the legislation comes from. There are states where any sexual position other than ‘missionary’ is illegal, where oral sex is illegal, where sex outside of marriage is illegal and so on. Probably so some fiercely intrusive neighbor can rail at you, “But it’s against the law!”

I call it the Sodom and Gomorrah effect. In this Old Testament story, God announces he will smite the people of these two cities because of their ungodly behavior. Not just the wicked and the guilty, mind you. ALL OF THEM. Abraham negotiated with God’s messengers, who said they would spare the towns if fifty righteous men could be found. Abraham talked them down to ten, but in the end, ten men could not be found. Before the smiting began, God’s angels allowed Lot and his family to escape.

Historians believe that Sodom and Gomorrah were actual cities struck by a natural disaster, which makes sense because earthquakes, wildfires, tornados, and the like wipe out everything in their path with little regard for your religious affiliations. Today, Sodom and Gomorrah are synonymous with evil and immortality—and there is a strong belief among some religious groups that the actions of your neighbor affects your own moral standing. That someday, everyone will be smote by association, regardless of how fervently you pray in your own home. I believe this is the fear that drives most of these anti-everything legislations. The willingness of some to stick their noses where they do not belong because on some level, they believe the entire nation will suffer hellfire and damnation for the actions of their neighbors.

The U.S. has always had a strong Puritan streak. These days, however, certain factions in government have forgotten the Puritans came to America to avoid religious persecution. They have forgotten the words of our Founders written so that others may have the right to worship as they see fit. They have forgotten the precepts of our Declaration of Independence. They want to amend these documents to say, “Only for those people who believe exactly what I believe” when they themselves are splintered into so many subsets within their own religions that this is impossible.

So I say to the Church Lady: yes, child pornography is wrong and it is a crime. What two consenting adults choose to do is not, even if they film it for sale under the rules of the industry. Yes, there are probably people who watch too much porn, just as there are people who drink too much. Yes, porn has probably led to unreal expectations and caused more than one marriage to buckle—but I suspect it was only a catalyst to an already unstable situation. And no, explicit romance novels aren’t new. They’ve been around for a long time. Yes, they’ve been called ‘soft porn’ for a long time, too. Why am I not hearing any ‘slippery slope’ arguments coming from you on this one, as so many do with gun control? Probably because you believe everything should be banned. Do you really think this is where you need to focus your energies right now?

I am perfectly happy with your decision, Dear Church Lady, not to read romances, or allow porn of any sort in your house. You can raise your children to believe sex is somehow wrong unless it is for the specific purpose of procreation, and wonder why they turn to other sources to learn more about one of the strongest human drives there is. You can wonder, too, why spouses stray or hire sex workers. Could it be on some level, they’re missing something in their love life? Some joy, some spontaneity, some freedom from the belief that sex, as an act in and of itself, is bad? In fact, it seems to me those that shout the loudest about controlling the thoughts and private lives of others should check to see if their houses are made of glass before picking up those stones.

Maybe that’s not the case for this particular Church Lady. It’s hard to know exactly what motivates someone to try to hold everyone around them to their specific standards. Just because I decide to go on a diet, it doesn’t mean I get to force everyone around me to do the same. Self-control and willpower are my responsibility, and no one else’s. And keep your nose out of my Kindle.

In the original draft of this post, I was prepared to go on ad nauseum about certain uptight women who think they should have say over what I read and write. (Never mind who I actually sleep with, or my right to access birth control) Who believe the ‘moral decay’ in America is more important than feeding the hungry, providing health care, or creating a strong economic base with the understanding that everyone benefits when there is more discretionary income—even the ultra-wealthy will see business profits go up when there is a strong economy. Tempting as it was, I canned that first draft.

Instead, I decided to share with you why I write romances.

I write because for most of us, life is fairly sucky and we need the distraction of being taken out of our lives for a few hours every now and then. Seriously. You had a crappy day at work? Lose yourself in the fantasy of meeting a wealthy billionaire who will sweep you off your feet and take care of you for the rest of your life. Put in a 12 hour day at the office only to come home and take care of small children and/or elderly parents? Immerse yourself in a different world for a few minutes before bedtime, a place where exciting things happen to characters that you’d like to be.

We need to believe that things can turn out okay. That we can get our happy endings.

We need to see depictions of healthy relationships. And yes, for the vast majority of us, this includes sex. It isn’t a dirty word, not to be spoken except under the covers and with a sense of guilt.  And yes, perhaps there are readers who get off on our words, who are titillated by the scenes of passion we’ve created. You know what? THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS.

Perhaps the reader is single and has no other recourse to relieve a physical need.

Perhaps the reader has had his or her trust violated, and is not in a position to let someone into their lives at the moment.

Perhaps the reader has reached a point in their lives where they are comfortable being alone.

Perhaps the reader is in a relationship, and for various reasons, their partner can’t meet their needs. Maybe it’s due to illness, travel, or stress. For whatever reason, maybe this reader uses romance novels to keep them satisfied until their partner is ready for them. Maybe they understand that their partner’s needs will always be different from theirs and this is how they remain faithful.

Perhaps the reader simply needs more than his or her partner can offer, and uses stories to help get them in the mood for a loving session with that partner. Things change, either because of illness, age, or workload. Reading a sexy scene can stoke the fires for a truly passionate session with one’s partner.

Or~gasp~maybe the reader just enjoys it.

Whatever the reason, I’ll let you in on a little secret here. You may think the reason people read romances with explicit sex scenes is because of the sex. It isn’t. People read because of the romance. They want to see a particular set of characters work out their differences, overcome obstacles, and come together for a happily ever after in the end. If there is some smokin’ hot sex along the way, for some of us that’s just icing on the cake.

So I say to you, Dear Church Lady, I have no problems if you only want to eat broccoli, and shun all sweets and confectionaries. I applaud your willpower for passing up bread and pasta, instead noshing down on zucchini and Brussels sprouts. Hey, there are days when that’s what I want to eat as well. But don’t come down with righteous indignation because I also like crusty French bread hot out of the oven brushed with melted butter. Don’t curl your lip because I dip my strawberries in heated chocolate, or try and legislate away my right to eat brownies. If your religion forbids such things, more power to you. Mine doesn’t. And I certainly wish the government would stop trying to legislate what goes on behind closed doors between two consenting adults.

Here’s a thought: why not check out a little spicy romance? Who knows, it may rock your world in more ways than one.

Fool'sGold-400x600For those of you who are interested in such things, check out my latest release, Fool’s Gold. Now available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

Blurb: Eight years ago, Jake Stanford had it all: a spot on the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team and the love of his life, Rich Evans. A tragic accident wipes out everything in the blink of an eye. Hard work and sacrifice get him another shot at Olympic Gold, but only if he puts his past behind him and agrees to work with Rich again.

Bound by secrets he cannot share, Rich was forced to give up Jake eight years ago. Now he has a second chance to help Jake realize his dreams. But the secrets that drove them apart haven’t changed, and Rich must face them or risk losing Jake forever.

 

 

Divine Magazine’s 2016 Summer Blog Hop & Giveaway!

summer-2016-blog-hopI’ll be the first to admit, I’m not really a fan of summer. To me summer is unbearable heat and humidity, mosquitoes and ticks, poison ivy and sweat. I don’t enjoy fireworks and I’d just as soon eat my picnic food indoors to avoid the gnats and ants. Summer is when I consider chopping off all my hair, until I remember that I look like an angry hedgehog with short hair, and believe me, that’s not a good look on me.

 

 

 

Melting Cat

Right now, it’s so hot, even the cats have melted! 🙂 You can see why I’m tempted to cut off all my hair.

So why, you might ask, am I participating in Divine Magazine’s Summer Blog Hop?

It’s a good question. I suspect the answer is I love blog hops, but I also love seasons. I’m fortunate to live in an area that has definitive seasons. Each one comes in its turn on a fairly predictable schedule. I love it it when the cold mud and snow of winter evolves into budding blossoms and balmy mornings where you don’t need that heavy coat. I adore autumn–that first time the temperatures drop twenty degrees, or the sound of dry leaves skittering across the pavement. I spend countless hours photographing my dogs in the snow, and I love hunkering down in front of a fireplace with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate.

Summer, I mostly endure.

But it has its moments as well. When I was a child, summer meant we went off to stay with our grandparents for a good bit of the season. Spending the summer with the grandparents was always fun because though there were still rules, the rules were different and somehow easier to follow. Summer meant fresh vegetables grown in their garden and cooked as only my grandmother could do. It meant staying up past my bedtime to watch my grandparents’ favorite television shows–programs we’d never be allowed to view at home. It was bowls of Cheerios as a bedtime snack, and up at sunrise to catch the bus for Vacation Bible School.

Leaping H_FBThat’s why we were sent–because of the wonderful Bible School. I know what you’re thinking, but this was Bible School done right. We spent an hour each morning with our lessons, and then the rest of the day we swam like fishes at the church lake. Every afternoon, we’d pile back into the bus, sunburnt and with ravenous appetites, to head home. On rainy days, we did crafts under wide pavilions, the damp misty air blowing cool on our skins. Or we played cards: Go Fish, Rook, Hearts, Jack-Change-It–I learned them all. I learned how to play chess, too–albeit badly. And some kind teenager, whose name I’ve forgotten, taught me how to swim as well.

There was no pressure. There was no push. It wasn’t a stepping stone to a better school or a rung in the ladder of personal achievements. The best part of it all was that the religious teaching didn’t come loaded with so much of what I see and hear now–or perhaps I just wasn’t aware of it then. It felt simple, however, without judgement or anger. More New Testament and less Old. And the rest of the time, we were allowed to be children.

I think I’d enjoy summer if it was like that again!

There is a GREAT giveaway going for this blog hop–some participants are doing an individual giveaway but the Grand Prize has it all: jewelry, a promotional tour, and gift cards from Dreamspinner Press! To enter the Rafflecopter for the Grand Prize, you must click on the link and leave a comment on the page there. As part of my giveaway here, if you leave a comment telling me what your favorite thing to eat on a hot summer day is, I’ll randomly select someone to win their choice from my backlist. Also, I just released my latest M/M contemporary romance–Fool’s Gold!

Fool'sGold-400x600

Now Available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited: Just in time for the 2016 Summer Games!

Blurb: Eight years ago, Jake Stanford had it all: a spot on the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team and the love of his life, Rich Evans. A tragic accident wipes out everything in the blink of an eye. Hard work and sacrifice get him another shot at Olympic Gold, but only if he puts his past behind him and agrees to work with Rich again.

Bound by secrets he cannot share, Rich was forced to give up Jake eight years ago. Now he has a second chance to help Jake realize his dreams. But the secrets that drove them apart haven’t changed, and Rich must face them or risk losing Jake forever.

So be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or sign up to follow the blog and newsletter (links on the right side bar here) to get all the latest news on the newest releases.

The Summer Blog Hop Lineup is right here for easy access, too!

 

 

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,  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,  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.

What Do Creators Owe Their Fans? Or: Say It Ain’t So: Captain America is Hydra and Fans Say NO.

I’m just now coming up for air after working hard to meet a deadline. I have a story I’ve been revising for re-release in an expanded version, and another in edits. Now that I’ve finished the revision, I’m taking a few days break before looking at the one in edits again–I find letting the story ‘rest’ a bit is better for the final read-through. I’m waiting to hear back from my publisher on a third story as well–so let’s just say I’m happy with my production at the moment.

Cap intervenes2When I take a break from writing, I allow myself indulgences I restrict at other times. That’s not to say I don’t read books or watch television when I’m in the middle of a story, but I only have so much time in the day. When I’m working on a story on a deadline, I can’t binge-watch on Netflix or stay up all night reading fanfic. But now that I’m on break, I can poke around my favorite fandoms and see if there’s anything that grabs my fancy. One of the beauties of fandom is pretty much no matter what happens in canon, there’s plenty of ‘fixit’ fanfic to go around.

Something that happened recently in the Marvel fandom had me wondering just what exactly do writers and creators owe their fans? In May 2016, the editors at Marvel Comics announced that Steve Rogers had been–and always will be–an agent of HYDRA.

The fans HOWLED their outrage, taking to Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and other social media outlets to shriek at this latest plot twist in the long-running series. #SayItAintSo became a hastag on Twitter, with even actor Chris Evans, who portrays Steve Rogers in the movies, weighing in. I don’t blame them. HYDRA is the antithesis of everything Steve Rogers stands for–the idea that he could be a secret HYDRA agent is so out of character the soul recoils at the declaration.

Captainamerica1

Captain America Cover #1 Source wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not to mention the ghosts of the original creators. Steve Rogers/Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two Jewish writers at a time when the Nazi regime was herding thousands of Jewish nationals into prison camps where they suffered and died. It’s no coincidence Captain America was depicted on the first cover of his series punching Hitler in the face. It was a conscious decision on the part of the writers, who were repulsed by the Nazis and felt war with the Axis powers was inevitable. If the current writers of the Captain America comics wanted to stir things up, they certainly got their wish. Pleas of ‘please stay calm’ fall on deaf ears as head writer Nick Spence was attacked so hard on Twitter, he received death threats. I’m not surprised, frankly. Not after skewering a character that’s been beloved for 75 years. Not after laughing about his plans and boasting that this isn’t a temporary plot twist, and had readers been paying attention, they would have seen the clues all along.

Cap and Bucky 1You know what? That’s his prerogative: to spit on the memories of the original creators of Captain America and enrage the fan base. I recall a WTF moment when J.K. Rowling paired Hermione and Ron, despite the fact Harry and Hermione had tons more chemistry together and were much more similar in mindset to make a logical pairing. I remember shaking my head when Charlaine Harris received death threats because fans were in an uproar over how her Sookie Stackhouse series ended and who she paired the main character with in the end. But I’m a big girl. I can stuff my fingers in my ears and sing ‘la-la-la’ if the writers/creators of a beloved series take it in a direction that is unpalatable to me. I wouldn’t dream of sending death threats or hate mail to the people who, in many cases, are the original creators of the characters I’ve become so invested in. They aren’t mine, even if they are beloved.

In all honesty, I suspect I know why Nick Spence is taking the series in the current direction. It’s because as it stands now, many people find Captain America the most boring of all the Avengers. He was hugely popular during WW2, and then his popularity fizzled when there were no clear enemies to fight. He’s been recast, reincarnated, and resurrected many times. The franchise has to keep the bottom line (and dollar) in mind. I’m reminded of the scene in Legend in which Lily is seduced by the darkness–and becomes ten times more interesting than she was before. Oh, I get it. Villains are simply more fun to write.

I have problems with the mentality that we need flawed heroes so they can be more relatable to us. I feel like I need to have Inigo Montoya say, “You keep using that word. I don’t think you know what it means.” I’ve written previously about why I don’t think Captain America is boring, as well as why we need heroes. See, here’s the thing. We need something–someone–to believe in. We need someone to look up to. Relatable? Yes, perhaps in the way that frail little Steve Rogers became a Superhero. But what some people seem to forget is that Steve already had the heart of a hero even when he was too ill to fight. Relatable doesn’t mean feet of clay, or stark betrayal. We love our heroes because they give us something to cling to in an ever-increasingly scary world. We love our heroes because they give us the courage to stand up to bullies and say the right thing and refuse to give in to intolerance and hate. We need our heroes to be better than we are because we need someone we can strive to emulate–not relate to in our failings.

Cap and Bucky 2So yes, I’m an adult. I can walk away from any franchise if it utterly disappoints me. That’s my right, just as it is the right of the creators to perform outright character assassination, should they choose. I can make up my own endings, tell my own stories. I can ‘fixit.’ But here’s the thing. I am an ADULT.

What do we say to those kids holding up their action figures, their belief in their hero smashed beyond redemption, when they ask, “Is Cap really a bad guy?”

Because you as a creator may not owe anything to me, but when you’re dealing with such an iconic character as Captain America, I think you do owe something to those young fans. Particularly if the character is not your creation, you’ve merely stepped into the creators shoes.

As for me, I leave you with this classic Bonnie Tyler song. Ignore the 80s style production values, close your eyes and listen to the lyrics. Because we all need heroes.

Dear Broke Reader: Your Sense of Entitlement is Killing Me

Alone by Cherie/freeimages.com

Alone by Cherie/freeimages.com

I’m afraid this is going to be a fairly controversial post.

I stayed up FAR too long last night reading the posts and comments generated after someone solicited recommendations for pirate sites on their Facebook page. A few people took her to task for finding ways to steal stories–because yes, that’s what it is–but astonishingly, others came to her defense. The perpetrator herself shut down the censure of others, blocking them, calling them names, and then making fun of the people who dared to call her out for stealing from others. I have no doubt there will also be retaliatory negative reviews on some author’s books because that seems to be the way things work these days.

This resulted in screenshots of her post being shared all over Facebook as a warning to authors. More people came to this woman’s defense and the furor grew, with additional voices weighing in on the subject by sharing the original post. And while I was annoyed and upset that once again, someone feels entitled to a creative work without paying for it, nothing prepared me for the number of people who agreed with her.

Now, I’ve been reading a lot about entitlement lately. Entitlement from fans demanding that showrunners give them certain storylines or fans contacting authors and demanding they receive free stories. Fans putting pressure on creators by bullying them online, by threatening their pets, by wishing dire things would happen to those same people who brought them the thing they love so much. I have some theories about why we are so angry these days. I think in part it’s because we’re all so hungry. We’re emotionally, financially, and in some cases, physically starving. We work our asses off at our jobs to barely make ends meet and at the end of the day, we want our reward, damn it. Be it our favorite television show, or that bottle of wine, or that tub of Rocky Road ice cream, or the latest release from our favorite authors.

I get that. I really do. I live that. Overworked, underpaid, under-appreciated–hey, join the club. It’s part of the reason I write. I tell stories because it helps me put aside the cares and worries of today. I jokingly say it’s cheaper than therapy. I share stories because I want to make someone else’s day a bit brighter.

But I don’t give them away for free. I can’t.

So it was upsetting to see how many people in so many posts defended the pirate-site seeker. There seemed to be three basic arguments:

I’m broke and I can’t afford to pay for my entertainment.

Oh honey. I’m with you there. See, I went to school, worked hard, racked up huge student loans to pay for my extensive education and spent twelve years paying them off. Just when things were starting to turn around for me, the economy went into the dumper, business fell off, and I incurred some major medical expenses. I haven’t had a television in 15 years and only recently could get access to broadband. I had to wait for favorite shows to come out on DVD and then had to save up to buy them. God bless Netflix. I’m now able to catch up on many shows I had to abandon.

But see, the thing is, I recognize that I am still a privileged person. I’m living in tight circumstances, yes, but privileged just the same. I have a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and can mostly pay my bills. I have access to the internet in my own home, own a laptop, a ten year old iPod, and a smartphone. I choose to have certain things. By choosing to have some things, it means I can’t have others. That’s called life, sweetie.

Besides, there’s this marvelous thing called a public library. You can go there and check out books, movies, and music for free! The best part is the library already paid for these things! And because it’s a loan which you will then return, it’s not stealing. Also, the library paid for these things out of a portion of the taxes you give to your community. So not checking out books from your library is like paying for Netflix and never using it.

But you want to read stories in your favorite genres and the library doesn’t carry them. Ask them to. If there is enough demand, the library will look into getting the stories you want. It can’t hurt to ask.

Oh, but you want your reading on your Kindle–and you don’t want to give it back. Well, there are hundreds of places where you can access free reads. Authors post things to Wattpad, there are countless fanfiction stories on multiple archives, and there are stories in public domain sites, such as Project Gutenberg. Tons of free material for your reading pleasure. Let’s not forget Book Bub, which offers short-term deals on all kinds of stories. You can even tailor the notices to your favorite genres. I get a lot of my own reading material that way–even as I recognize the pitfalls of such practices. In my opinion, such services go a long way to helping devalue the price of books in the mind of the average reader… but it is a way of getting deeply discounted or free stories legally. There’s also Kindle Unlimited. I’m not a fan myself, but I’m told for a flat fee–again like Netflix–you have unlimited access to a wide variety of genres and authors.

Oh. You want stories in your favorite genres by your favorite authors and you want them today, without having to pay for them, regardless of their listed price. Yeah, that’s entitlement. And when you download them illegally from a pirate site or torrent, that’s stealing. Let’s just get the terms right, okay?

Come to think of it, the notion that books should be free might be a big factor in why many publishing houses are dropping their lines of cozy mysteries–they simply aren’t profitable enough, despite the existing fan base. Think about that.

Creative works should be free–the purpose of creativity is to tell stories and share them, and there shouldn’t be a monetary component to the process.

I gotta admit, I was gobsmacked by this one. I see. So the very nobility of my purpose means I shouldn’t get paid for it. I should create for the pure joy of making things and release my creative works like doves into the sky, crying, “Go! Fly! Be Free!” as I let them go.

By this argument, all medical care should be free. Because what higher calling can there be than to be a doctor? I think I’ll try that argument with the bill collection services. I’ve been paying off medical bills for the last ten years now. I’m sure if I point out how noble it is to be a doctor and how much money I’ve already spent, they’ll cheerfully waive my remaining fees.

And seriously, guys like Michael Jordan love the game so much, no one should have to pay athletes ridiculous amounts of money for your television entertainment. Oh sure, you’re not paying the superstars yourselves–but the teams are, and the television channels are, and the advertisers are–all to catch your attention for a few moments in the hopes of selling you something. Guess what? It may seem free to you, but it’s not. Someone paid for it and they’re hoping their investment will pay off. It’s not a direct payment on your part–but when you become convinced you can’t live without an iPhone, you only drink Budweiser, and you feel that you must have a new car this year–you are paying for it.

Besides, if there were no financial incentive for playing basketball, the players would be doing something else. They have to earn a living, too. So you wouldn’t be able to watch them play, unless you lived in their neighborhood and could drop by for a pickup game Saturday afternoon after work.

Forget about the effort it takes to write a story. Let’s ignore the author’s contribution to this endeavor and deny them any right to be paid for their creativity. This ‘art should be free’ argument completely discounts the fact someone has to pay the editors, cover artists, formatters, distributors, book promotions teams, buy a dealer’s table and so on. I guess entitled readers expect that investment to come out of my own pocket with no hope of return. And if authors didn’t pay someone for these services, we’d have to do them ourselves, taking time away from writing to do so. Not to mention a shabby editing job or poorly executed cover is one of the first things readers will complain about.

Writers already make enough money.

Dear Lord, this one made me want to cry. Seriously?? Yes, there are some writers who make a ton of money, just like there are some basketball players or actors who make a ton of money. But the vast majority of basketball players make little to no money at all. And the notion of an actor working at a bar or coffee shop to pay the bills is practically a trope.

I call it the Castle syndrome. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the show in the early seasons. The premise was ridiculous but fun. One of the things that made me roll my eyes the most was the unlimited depths to Castle’s wallet. It made for an entertaining series because there was always the money to do outrageous things. But realistic? It was about as realistic as the notion that everyone in NYC can afford to live in huge apartments or that the NYPD would let a crime writer become permanently attached to the homicide squad.

Yes, there are authors like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and E.L. James that have made truckloads of money. Put it this way: you know there are people who win the lottery. It does happen. Chances are you don’t know anyone personally who has won, however, and the odds of it happening to you are slim to none. The stats on author earnings is grim to say the least. In this 2012 article by the Guardian, average earnings were less than ten thousand a year.

Let’s put it into perspective. I couldn’t get the above sentence out of my head last night, so I went to one of the illegal torrents I’ve battled in the past. Yep, four of my stories were there. So, counting only the royalties I would have received, not full price, I calculated how much I lost due to the over 16 K downloads listed. It came to about 13.5 K. That’s thirteen thousand, five hundred dollars and change. From one site. One. I routinely come across dozens of these pirate sites and torrents. I report them to my publisher. I send out DCMA notices. I report them to Google to block their pages in searches. All of this is extremely time-consuming and frustrating. No sooner do I strike down one, four pop up in its place. It’s like battling a Hydra.

Those lost royalties from that one site would have paid outright for the new car I desperately needed and was forced to buy. Or covered the medical bills I’ve been chipping away over time. It would have paid for the new septic system, or here’s a thought, I might actually be able to take more than two to three consecutive days off for  a change. I might not have had to wait five years to save up for extensive dental work that I had to have done, or made do another two years with glasses when my prescription had changed. I’m not looking to be a millionaire, folks. I’d just like to break even. Maybe put a little aside for a future in which I am no longer physically capable of working as hard as I do.

There are people who will argue that these readers, the ones that download my work for free, wouldn’t have bought them anyway. That word of mouth sells more stories than anything else, and if readers love my books, they’ll tell their friends. Yes, but if they acquire them illegally, they will tell their friends how to steal them as well. How exactly does that help me? My response to this argument is I don’t care if they wouldn’t have bought them anyway. Let them read something else.

I give away stories for free. I have a free story permanently listed on Amazon. My publisher routinely holds sales. I sell books at a loss at conventions (I look at it as promotion) because I want people to read and enjoy them–but I sell them to cover the cost of the table, of the travel, of the unpaid leave from work. It’s not free to me. None of it is.

Autumn Path WoodsAnd let me finish here by saying I deeply appreciate every single reader who supports me by purchasing my stories. You guys are the gems that have helped me through some rough times. You’re the people who paid for my dog’s life-saving surgery. You’re the people who’ve made the mortgage payment in lean months and let me take my first real vacation (eight whole days off in a row!) in nearly a decade back in 2012. You’re the reason I keep writing, when it would be smarter for me to put my time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears into something else.

You’re why I don’t do that. You’re why I keep writing.

 

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.

 

To KU or not to KU: That is the question…

Kindle_Paperwhite_3GTo KU or not KU, that is the question.

For those of you who might not be familiar with the dilemma, I’m referring to the decision most indie authors face when they go to upload a new book for sale: do I make it exclusive to Amazon, and if so, do I enroll it in the Kindle Unlimited program?

This is rarely an issue for me because I don’t usually self-publish. While I love the idea of publishing on my own schedule, the time constraints of my job mean that my efforts are better spent writing the next story than doing all the work of an author and a publisher. That may change in the future, however, and occasionally I self-publish a story just to keep my hand in. Especially with the recent wave of digital presses closing up shop, citing—you guessed it—an inability to compete with Amazon.

The first time I self-published a story, I made a lot of mistakes. I spent too much money in some areas, and not enough in others. It took me an entire day to format the story, which is not the kind of time I have to do this sort of thing, and then it turns out I formatted and uploaded the wrong version. The file I published was an older copy, riddled with errors, and it wasn’t until a friend commented on it to me that I’d even realized what I’d done. Even when I finally corrected most of my noobie self-publishing mistakes, I was never entirely satisfied. Which is a shame because I consider the story my best work to date.

Needless to say, I’m not looking forward to the process again, though I’m not going to make the mistake of trying to do the bulk of it myself. I’m going to have to farm out the things I don’t do as well to experts for assistance, and that means making a bigger financial investment at the beginning in the hopes of recouping it in sales.

Part of the decision-making process is determining whether or not to enroll in Kindle Unlimited. I confess, I have problems with the notion of Amazon exclusivity. Yes, most of my sales come from Amazon, but I like making my stories available across a wide number of outlets. When I last self-published a story, the exclusivity clause alone stopped me cold. Nope, nada, not doing it.

Then there were all the authors who posted about their tanking sales with the advent of KU, and how a reliable income had suddenly dried up as more and more people chose to pay a flat fee each month in order to read as many stories as they liked—as long as those stories were enrolled in KU. Most of the authors who posted about this reluctantly joined the KU boat, preferring to get some kind of payout to none at all.

I can’t help but think if authors had just held out a little longer, KU might have been unable to provide the diversity of stories that readers craved, and readers would have gone back to seeking their favorite authors elsewhere. Enrolling in KU feels a little to me like making a virgin sacrifice to the dragon in hopes of saving the village, ignoring the fact that eventually you are going to run out of virgins and the dragon is going to own you.

But now I keep hearing independent authors saying KU is the only way to go, the only way to get your story noticed in a sea of new arrivals every day (Amazon promotes KU stories and KDP Select stories more than others), the best way to reach new readers, the only way to make it to Amazon’s bestseller lists. I polled fellow authors on Facebook, and have heard strong cases for both sides of the argument from people I highly respect. I keep waffling.

Sacrifice the virgin one more year, or make a long-term plan to hold the dragon at bay?

Because that’s what it comes down to.

One of the things that bothers me the most is Amazon’s constantly changing TOS. It’s meant to stop the scammers from gaming the system but it worries me when I read posts like this one by author Selena Kitt. If KU pays by the page read, and Amazon can’t really tell how many pages are being read, AND that payout keeps dropping over time, there’s a problem. Not to mention this New York Times post as well, which indicates that a disturbing number of readers never finish stories in the first place. Or this disheartening post from The Guardian, which indicates that average author incomes in the U.S. have dropped below the poverty level.

Oh, Rick Castle, you’d better cut back on your lavish lifestyle, or else write more Nikki Heat novels. Fast.

My Facebook friends were equally divided on whether or not to enroll a new story in KU. Some were able to point to increased sales and readership overall, significant enough that they were very happy with KU and highly recommended it. Others not so much. Many people seem to feel that new or mid-list authors must enroll in KU if they hope for their stories to get noticed.

One of my friends, Anna Butler, pointed out that Amazon is not a bookstore. It makes it money on selling consumables—the real money in the book market for Amazon is selling Kindles. Cornering the book market in mobi format allows them to sell more Kindles. Authors and publishers are just another commodity to be exploited for the benefit of the consumer. She makes a strong point there.

Kindle reader in lapAnother friend reminded me that most book sales occur in the first couple of months. Making my next story exclusive to KU means I will have lost the best window for sales if it turns out that KU wasn’t a good choice for me.

Margarita Gakis remarked that KU is just another tool to be used, but to be sure that I was using the tool and not the tool using me. Enrolling in KU isn’t forever. I can choose to withdraw it after one cycle (90 days) and go across more outlets if desired. She’s made conscious decisions about her market and which stories to put in which venues, and I think that’s smart.

Several people messaged me privately to share their experiences—and concerns—regarding KU. Though they weren’t comfortable sharing their experiences publicly, they were happy to let me know what they were, both good and bad.

Author Josh Lanyon weighed on Facebook discussion. I admire Josh’s work greatly (Josh is the kind of author I’d sign a deal with the devil if I could get a tenth of the ability and talent). I asked if I could get a quote for this post. This was Josh’s response in a nutshell: “Authors who resort to KU are not evil. They should not be demonized. But they *are* short sighted. And they will pay the price.”

I’ll be honest. I’m still waffling about what I will do when I finish this current project. Most of us can turn a blind eye to the need for the sacrificial virgin if it will keep the dragon at bay another year or two.

Everyone except the virgins.

Dragons

Eventually, they’ll wise up. They’ll either leave town or have some smokin’ hot sex to take them out of the pool, but either way, the fresh-out-of-virgins dragon will eventually come to call.

 

And we all will be asked to pay the price.