Friday, June 17, 2016

A Volunteer Gardener with a History of Mental Health Problems

Not actually all that amusing, is it?
I'm not being funny. That quote, from an article in the Guardian describing the alleged murderer of a British MP, seems to sum up my feeling this week that the world has gone crazy. Not that the world hasn't always been a crazy, violent place, but this last week...

There was the murder of that girl singer on The Voice by a deranged fan, the horror of Orlando, and finally--because no week is complete without hearing about some atrocity perpetrated on a child--the snatching of a toddler in Florida by an alligator.

Now, granted, I don't know how anyone could be shocked or shattered to find the world an unsafe place after Sandy Hook in 2012. If the slaughter of twenty kindergarten children didn't wake you up to the fact that no one is safe anywhere, I don't know what would. If it's open season on little kids, why wouldn't it be open season on everybody else?

It's going to be a very long haul until November, and the best thing for me--and for readers of this blog--is that I avoid watching the news because I've developed the unhappy and unproductive habit of screaming at the TV. Especially when it comes to discussion of the 2nd Amendment.

Here's the thing. I come from a gun-owning, gun-loving family. I've got a disproportionate number of military and law enforcement genes bobbing around in my bloodline. I grew up with guns. To some extent I even buy into the myths and legends of gun culture. But when idiots start talking about how all this could be prevented if only everyone was packing... ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Besides which, we already DID that. Been there and done that. It was called the Wild West, and why in God's name, would we want to return to the 1800s? Are we also supposed to give up in-door plumbing and electricity? For the love of God. Why would any society look at one of its most violent periods and think, yeah. That's the direction. BACKWARDS.

Heck, why stop there. Let's go back to being Cave People and just slam our fellow citizens over the head when we have a point to make.

I have to be careful what I say here though because I probably sound more bitter than I intend. I don't think I'm bitter so much as exasperated. Because while people love to talk and post pictures and quotes and so forth--Oh! somebody wrote a song! Somebody made a film!--they seem largely incapable of ever getting around to pushing for actual change. Ya know, like through legislation. Through law. Because all the touching photos and moving quotes on Facebook don't actually change anything. We're all preaching to the choir and I'm so sick of it.

 It's not that I have nothing to say about Orlando, but that I fear if I begin I won't be able to stop.

So I'm going to press the pause button. I'm going to leave it at this: If you really do care about some of the events of the past week, please make an effort to vote. Educate yourself and then get out there and vote. Because it really does matter--and for those of us in the States, November could make a difference. Yes, the world is a crazy, violent place, but it always has been. It's up to us to decide how crazy and how violent it will be during our own lifetime.





Friday, June 10, 2016

Ramblings and Ruminations

Yep, I paid to license this
 
I was going to chat about creativity today. Creativity and what it's worth. But I don't have the energy.

There's been a lot of discussion recently in the blogosphere about piracy and pricing and publishing in general. Nothing new, except maybe the increasingly militant tone of some readers. I think a lot of it began when an author received a note from a reader informing her that the reader had enjoyed her latest book, but had returned it because she felt the book should have been free. That all books should be free. (I'm summarizing.)

It's not surprising that some readers feel this way. The surprising part is that the reader thought such a message would be received with anything but rage on the part of the author. Maybe it was a deliberately antagonizing move. Or maybe the reader honestly doesn't get it.

There's a surprising amount of that going around. I've read some fascinating comments from non-writers about what writing is and isn't -- and why it is or isn't worth anything.

The idea that storytelling isn't worth the paper it's printed on (or the cyber space it occupies) is a new one. It's a new one in any culture and at any time period. But it does seem to have taken hold in this century. Now, largely it's taken hold because it's self-serving. People very often try to justify the shitty things they do by coming up with elaborate reasons for why it's actually okay. And a lot of the reasoning for piracy smacks of that. Lots of grandiose talk about defining legal terms and artistic obligation and so forth. Most of it missing the point that piracy is illegal pretty much everywhere on the planet because most people, including governments, think it's not cool to steal from artists. Most cultures value art and artists. Heck, even the Nazis valued art and artists -- they were just rather particular about which art and artists.

By the way, when I talk about "piracy" I'm not talking about sharing a book with your mom or ripping a CD for your girlfriend. I'm not talking watching YouTube vids or downloading the file of an out-of-print book from a dubious source or snitching a Google image for a blog post. Yes, all that IS piracy, but it's also inevitable and -- in my opinion -- harmless. Not everyone agrees, but I don't have a problem with low level sharing. No, what I think of as piracy are torrent sites and massive sharing -- and the startlingly self-righteous and hostile attitude that frequently accompanies it.

I mean, you can rationalize it however you want--and I've heard some mighty high-falutin' arguments as to why piracy is A-OK--but the bottom line is the pirate is someone who has decided (for whatever reason) that what he or she wants trumps what the artist wants and hopes for. Debate it any way you like, but in the final analysis the argument is What I want is more important than what you want.

Which doesn't exactly make the artist feel good. It doesn't inspire the artist to create more art, let's put it that way.

One intriguing argument posited was that art is created for the purpose of sharing it with others. Now that's a non-artist speaking. Most art is created for the artist. Pure and simple. I write for myself. Most authors do. Most painters paint for themselves. Most songwriters are writing for themselves. I guess acting--maybe all of filmmaking is the exception? Playwrighting? Hm. Musicians are first and foremost creating music for their own pleasure...
Not Vivian Meyer -- but licensed thru Shutterstock
 

 My point is the act of creation is separate from the act of sharing, let alone the act of selling. Many artists do not share and would not think of selling. Their art remains purely private. It's still art and its still valid whether they ever share it or not. I give you Vivian Meyer.

I would continue to write even if I couldn't sell my work. But would I continue to publish? Hell no. Publishing is a HUGE amount of work and effort and expense. Why on earth would I continue to share my stories if I wasn't being recompensed? Writing the story satisfies my need to create art. The selling of the story...that's a whole other step. And I think that part of the equation is often missed in these debates about what art is and the role of the artist.

Then again, I could be wrong. I think fan fiction writers and much of fandom art is created with the idea of sharing--driven by the idea of sharing. Payment in that case is feedback and engagement. And it's possible that at different stages in an artist's life, feedback and engagement mean more than they do at others.

Another startling argument was the one that no one should have to pay for "ideas" or "imaginings" or "stuff that comes from other people's heads." This sort of falls in with the idea that an ebook is not a physical book and therefore it's not worth anything.

But a bard sitting with his harp singing his tales of gore and glory was still a storyteller and was still recompensed--even revered--for his time and effort and words. There was no physical product to be handed round. The thing of value was the story itself.

And pretty much anything you can think of starts out as an idea, as stuff from other people's heads. Okay, not the natural world. Not a wild flower. But a garden does.

Maybe the problem is thinking of storytelling as a product versus a service. Maybe if we could get across the idea that storytellers are providing the reader with a service she or he cannot provide for himself, it might make more sense? After all, a doctor is not leaving you with a product like the milkman does, but we still believe doctors need to be paid. And typically more than milkmen. Teachers...is there a more valuable service provided than that of teachers? But all too often they hand our own product back to us in its nearly original form. :-D An accountant does not leave you with a physical product...or maybe she does, but it's in the same way that a story can be printed out, yet doesn't have to be printed in order to fulfill it's purpose.

I guess I find the debate -- not the debate, but the hostility toward the idea that an artist would wish to be paid for their work -- dispiriting because I'm having trouble "creating" right now. I don't feel inspired. I don't feel like writing. It's now been two months and when I think of writing I think of how much work it is. How much time and energy and effort go into crafting fiction. If I could just  lean my head against my monitor and transmit complete and readable sentences that would be one thing, but that's not how it works. Furthermore, a monitor makes a very uncomfortable pillow.

So yes, I wanted to chat about what creativity is and what it's worth...what role inspiration plays versus discipline and training. But I find it all very, very wearying. Which gives you an idea of where I'm at from a producing-fiction-for-your pleasure standpoint.

But I saw a picture today -- a book cover -- and I was (briefly) grabbed by that urge to write, to create a story to amuse and entertain myself. Because the act of writing is a powerful and at times pleasurable thing. It is satisfying to create a story for myself. I started thinking about literary mashups and so forth.

Why would a picture of a vintage book jacket stir me to want to write something, anything? I have no idea--and that is the mystery of creativity.

and this I snitched off the internet

Friday, June 3, 2016

I No Speaka the Language

Do you ever notice the dreadful portrayals of immigrants in some of those 40s and 50s films? (If you think progress hasn't been made, just watch an old movie once in a while.)

Anyway, I had a little run-in with Amazon this week, but I'm actually excited about it because it forced me to climb out of my comfortable box (er, not literally, but that time might be coming) and consider new publishing possibilities. I have no idea how this will turn out, but one thing I've learned is you can't be afraid to try new things when it comes to your publishing career. Sometimes you have to take that leap of faith.

Here's the situation. I got one of those nastygrams from "Logan" at Amazon alerting me that Antico Veleno (Terreno Pericoloso Vol. 2) (Italian Edition) (ID: B00M4P6WBA) is listed on Amazon.it at EUR 2.99 and at EUR 2.89 on Lafeltrinelli-IT!

And of course the penalty for this is DEATH!!!!!!

Okay, no. But the penalty is you have to lower the Amazon price or raise the other price so that Amazon is never higher than a competitor OR potentially face the penultimate punishment which is Amazon can remove all your titles.

The problem is that I never listed a title at Lafeltrinelli-IT and can't control their pricing -- in fact, I'm not even sure it's a real site. It could be a pirate site or a portal to other vendors or who knows what. Again, I don't have an account there, which leaves me with the sole option of lowering the Amazon price.

Now you might think to yourself, it's only a dime, what's the big deal? But it's a little more complicated because first of all, well, the ruthless arrogance of Amazon is pretty damned offensive. It never fails to appall me. Secondly, that drop knocks the royalty rate from 70% to 35%. And thirdly, Amazon already charges something called a delivery fee, which lowers author earnings roughly about 4% on average.

(And yeah, again, it's just a few cents at a time, but stop for a second. Imagine if your employer arbitrarily decided to give you an ANY % pay decrease simply as a cost of doing business?)

But that IS the cost of doing business at Amazon and we (me) don't tend to really think about it, but 4% is still real live money and I'm still a real live writer trying to earn a real live living off my work.

Therefore I tried to, you know, communicate with the Borg Zon. I tried to point out that I don't have any way of controlling a site I'm not affiliated with, and that it might not be a legit site to start with -- is Amazon telling me that I would have to price match a pirate site?

The long and the short of it is yes. That is exactly what Amazon is telling me. Price match or face the consequences this is a recording.

Which seems kind of...well, at the very least unjust, doesn't it?

So I was in the process of escalating the argument (knowing full well it was an utter waste of time and energy) when I suddenly thought hold your horses.  Because...other vendors sell to foreign lands...I sell a surprising number of Italian titles through Kobo and I've been meaning to escalate my presence and promo efforts at iBooks (which sells to 51 countries versus Amazon's measly 12) and these other companies don't charge "delivery fees" and do pay higher royalties in most cases, and I hate Amazon's monopoly of publishing (including their insistence on exclusivity), so here is a way to begin to loosen Amazon's stranglehold on my own career, without seriously endangering my finances.

And the more I think about this, the more excited I am.

What if I just remove my self-published foreign language digital titles from Amazon?

YOU CAN'T FIRE ME. I QUIT!

But seriously. I'm sure I'll take a financial hit and there will be a big learning curve--and it will be inconvenient to my existing readers--but there are potential long term benefits that WAY out weigh the short term losses.

And to me this is what being a successful entrepreneur is all about. You have to be willing to leave the path. You have to be willing to take risks. And you have to be willing to put your money where your mouth is, i.e. invest in new strategies.

So that was my week. How was yours?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Happy...Memorial Day?

I was going to write a quick hey-there-have-a-great-long-weekend! post when I remembered what we're celebrating on Memorial Day.

The ultimate sacrifice.

The sacrifice of a life for a cause. Some of those causes have been more noble than others, but that's not the real point. The real point is that brave men and women died to uphold whatever cause their country deemed worth dying for.

We have been at war on multiple fronts for over fifteen years. My youngest nephew has never known a time this country was not at war. How can that be? But so it is.

I've been following a debate in the news as to whether young women should have to register for the draft. My dismay is not that women would serve in combat--nor that we still have a draft that we could reanimate at a moment's notice--it's that so many of our lawmakers can consider with equanimity the likelihood of still another impending conflict, one where we'd have to draft every remaining kid.

But I don't want to be a big downer for those of you about to reap the reward of a much-deserved three day weekend. It's just...the original heading of this post was Got Plans? And I couldn't help thinking that...so did all those people whose sacrifice we're acknowledging come Monday.

Humans = strife and strife = war. I think war is part of the human condition. We're an early planet, relatively speaking, and conflict is in our genes. But the least we can do is take a few moments to consider what all those global "conflicts" mean--and that the price is more than a few hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling away on a grill.

Friday, May 20, 2016

In Golden Days of Yore -- And a Free Audio Book!

I think a writing career was easier back in the day when none of us expected to be successful.

I read a heartfelt post yesterday by a talented and hardworking author who confessed to feeling like a failure because he hasn't had the success he pictured. I'm not sure what he pictured...being able to support himself at writing fiction? But back in the day, we used to consider ourselves successful if we managed to get published at all. And if someone read us, corresponded with us? Good heavens! We had MADE it.

Now days writers expect to earn a living at writing. Even though all data indicates earnings for writers are dropping (am I the ONLY person in this genre who reads those Author Guild updates?!) people are so certain that earning a living penning fiction is a reasonable expectation, they feel like they have failed when they can't do it.

If you're doing what you love, if your endeavors bring you satisfaction and happiness, you're not a failure.

You know what failing is? Allowing others to define you--and your concept of success. Not making time to do the things that you love and you find meaningful. Neglecting the real live people in your life because you're so focused on this goal of "success."

Anyway. This pressure to succeed is a creativity killer. Not to mention a real downer in my newsfeed.

I'M KIDDING. TRYING TO INTERJECT A LITTLE HUMOR INTO THE FUNEREAL PROCEEDINGS, OKAY?

So. It's been about three weeks since I pulled the plug--No! I'm just postponing, taking a breather--on the last project. And true to my word, I've been focusing on my long-term game plan because, as previously mentioned, cranking out a new book every 90-120 days is not sustainable.

Or rather, not sustainable for me. Your mileage (and readership and earnings) may vary.

I'm in the midst of taking a number of online courses dealing with promotion and blah-blah-blah. No, I shouldn't say that because first of all, I LOVE learning new stuff--and these are all great courses--and I feel kind of accomplished because I'm getting stuff done. Stuff that needed to be dealt with.

What kind of stuff? Well, right now I'm focused on translations and getting more stories into print. Neither of these are big money makers, but as I've said elsewhere, maybe they'll pay for my food stamps in my old age.

Speaking of...well, nothing previously mentioned, but I need a segue... would you like to take an online course from me on writing mysteries? I mean, I'm not Robert Crais or James Patterson, but I know a thing or two about writing mysteries -- for niche and for mainstream publishers...and making a fairly decent living at it. I've got the credentials and I've got plenty of experience in teaching. So...maybe. Is there interest in such an enterprise?

Anyway, that's where I'm at. I'm taking professional development courses and toying with ideas for the future that don't involve me cranking out books like an aspiring data entry clerk trying to beat the clock.

Oh! I finally--how many years has it been--figured out how to use Mailchimp. I have just under two thousand subscribers on my regular list, and that's a nice beginning, but I've started up what I am going to curate as a VIP or premium list. This will have monthly chitter-chatter and more about what's happening in general versus the quarterly updates on what's new to buy. It will have more freebies and giveaways and books for review and that sort of thing.

That list can be joined here. (You'll notice there's a very cool and exclusive giveaway for my VIPS.)

I'm not saying that I won't be returning to social media, but... well, we'll see. If the past few months have proved anything, it's that the big attraction for most of you is very simply the books. The stories. The characters and their journey. And that is exactly the way I want it. The way it should be.

So happy reading! And...I'll be in touch.



 

  

Friday, May 6, 2016

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Writing My Next Book

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of signing the final docs on our current home.




I bring that up because I believe it's kind of relevant to what's going on in that shiny, spinny little orb I call my brain.

The SO and I celebrated with Chinese food (we finally have a good Chinese restaurant--well, take out--place again!) and good wine and Curse of the Jade Scorpion (which is one of our favorite Woody Allen flicks). It was a quiet, happy evening in our still-feels-new home. Lovely.

I fell asleep at nine o'clock, which is late for me these days. At the beginning of April, I came down with the flu (one of those respiratory things) and I haven't really felt 100% since. I was flat out sick for three weeks and the exhaustion has persisted. For a while I was going to bed at eight at night and sleeping until eight or nine in the morning. Which is unheard of for me. My natural waking time is 5:30-6:00ish even on vacation. I was craving naps in the afternoon. Even green juice --my never fail cure all -- didn't help a lot.

I was -- and am -- exhausted.

And of course I have a book due. Because that's how it works in publishing these days. I write for my bread and butter and I ALWAYS have a book due. Of. Course.

Initially I wasn't concerned because the book was largely outlined and based on my own trip to Scotland (well, minus the murder and mayhem). It's a cozy mystery, and that's a genre I know very well indeed. It was fun reliving my own trip and listening to my favorite folk music and watching documentaries on the auld country...but then I got sick and fell behind and the Dark Thoughts Came.

The darkest thought was the most obvious one: hurtling at full speed down a never-ending highway is not actually a strategy. What is my strategy? Do I have a plan for the future?

Yada yada yada.

By week three, I knew that well or not, ready or not, I had to begin writing again.



And...I couldn't do it. I was falling asleep at ten in the morning. I was falling asleep at my keyboard. Hm. But that made sense because I was still coughing, still recovering, still obviously a bit under the weather. Not to worry, Camille. We can fix it in post.

I couldn't help noticing however that when I woke in the morning, even before I opened my eyes, I was filled with a sense of anxiety. Depression. Something close to dread. A feeling that was vaguely familiar.

Where did I know that feeling from?

Oh yeah. Five years ago when I burned out.

Gulp.

I hadn't even noticed I was off the map and here I was teetering on the edge of the abyss again. I'm not burned out--I loved every minute of writing The Mermaid Murders and A Case of Christmas. But I'm close. Way too close to that edge.

The last time it happened was simply a matter of writing myself to a standstill. Fourteen stories in one year, including four novels--two of them to mainstream publishers. That'll do it to you. This time it was different. This time it was getting sick and having time to think...and while I highly recommend thinking on a regular, even daily basis, it forced me to realize a number of things I had been too busy writing to really consider.

Like the fact that I had not had time to deal with the business side of my writing career since Summer 2014.

A writing career is not just about selling your writing. But that's what mine has been for the past couple of years. In 12 months I've written three novels, a novella and a short story. I moved house. I went to Scotland. We had a dramatic REVEAL. And a slew of other stuff happened too. And while I can hire someone to answer emails and send books for review, I can't hire someone to plan the rest of my life, or even the rest of my career for me, and that's sort of what has to happen. It has to be me and it has to be now.

Also I had to realize that I've fallen back into the habit of overcommitting. It is so damned hard for me to say no, to disappoint people. But if you overcommit, you risk failing and disappointing them anyway, so sometimes no really is the best answer for everyone.

 On the bright side of all this is the fact that I realized in time what was happening to me. I actually listened to what my body and brain were trying to tell me. The message is STOP. It's not conducive to short term success or financial security, but that's the message and I'm heeding it. Okay, maybe a little belatedly, but I am listening. I can hear perfectly well when I'm upside down.



So that's where we are right now. I'm taking a break from pretty much everything while I break up the engine and examine all the parts. I'm considering a number of plans and projects and I'll be sharing those here...and maybe on social media. I'll be asking for your input and thoughts as well.

Even if I'm a bit scarce for a while, you know me, I get in these chatty moods and next thing you know I'm blabbing away everywhere. What I'm trying to say is don't be alarmed if I go off the grid for a bit. And while I may juggle a few projects, I'm not cancelling anything. Next year will still be almost exclusively devoted to sequels and series books as promised, starting with The Monet Murders in the early winter.















Friday, April 29, 2016

Don't You Know it's Different for... Writers


Now and then I like to read fashion magazines. I mean, it can't be world news every minute, and I like to keep up with developments in skin care and um...stuff. Obviously I understand that the models are all airbrushed and twenty-four years old (which is kind of the same thing). And most of the pages are filled with clothes I couldn't afford even if they were designed for real life. I'm bemused that there are people out there who will pay $500. for a swimsuit (you know you'll be dunking it into chlorine and saltwater, right?) but I like nice things. I'm not going to judge. And I've certainly made my share of dumb investments--and not even got a swim date out of them, so...

These magazines usually have interviews with cover models or celebrities wherein the interviewee shares her beauty secrets and "fashion philosophy". I realize that these interviews are primarily about product placement, but I admit I find them interesting--kind of in the same way I can watch Animal Planet for hours on end. I like learning about other species.

But holy moly the life of a writer is different from the life of a fashion model/actress/Adele. So I thought for today's blog (which is actually last week's missed blog) I would grant a fashion magazine interview and Reveal What Really Goes on in Her--er MY--Daily Life.

The Josh Lanyon New York Fashion Magazine Interview

What is your morning beauty routine?

Coffee.

Wait. I see I already got the first question wrong. So the previous interviewee tells about rubbing organic rosehip oil all over her body and taking a freezing shower. WTH? I can't compete with that. Soap and toothpaste and deodorant when I'm not writing. When I'm writing...well, fortunately I don't see many people when I'm working. I did read in one magazine where the interviewee talked about using coffee grounds as a facial scrub, so maybe my first answer was correct. Let's go with that.


Do you have an exercise regimen?

Oh no. I'm failing my first NY fashion magazine interview!!! Okay, I do try. In the summer I swim. In the winter... I think about resuming yoga. I think about the summer when I can swim again. I think a lot about finding something to do that I like as much as swimming. I think about the fact that blood is congealing in my extremities--and my contemporaries--as we sit typing all day.

Writers should make time for exercise. I do sincerely believe that. So that's a start.


Physically speaking, how do you feel about aging?


I'm puzzling over this question. Physically speaking...like, am I aging spiritually as well? Hm. Well, I am all in favor of aging, given the alternative. Which, by the way, is even harder on one's looks.


Favorite designer?

I know this one! Levi Strauss. Dahling, you should see his summer line! What that man doesn't understand about bleached denim isn't worth knowing! Also Woolrich does a faboo line of plaid bathrobes that NO serious writer should be without.


You seem very comfortable with nudity. Has that always been the case?

Whaaa--??!! Well, I mean it's hard to shower without... Oh, you must mean in my BOOKS. Yes, this has always been the case. My characters have no qualms about taking their clothes off for the reader. And I understand that many readers also take their clothes off. But really that's between the characters and the readers.


What is the best fashion advice you've received?

Squinting makes wrinkles. Quit pretending you don't need glasses.