Sunday, September 18, 2016

Welcoming Mya

This is Mya

I didn't have pets when I was growing up. My mother was always a very fastidious housekeeper and didn't much like animals, but I always loved them. I would be the kid playing with the family dog or cat instead of socializing with the other children. To be honest, I still gravitate to the pets when I'm at social gatherings in someone's home.

Dogs have never made me feel socially awkward or shy. They are endlessly forgiving and appreciative of our attention. And as we say  in our family, 'dogs are good people.'

I welcomed my first dog into my life the day before I got married. My sister had called to ask is she could drop her wedding gift because it was fragile and she didn't want to bring it to the wedding. She showed up to our apartment with a 12 week old Lhasa Apso puppy in her arms.

That was Max. Maxwell Smart Dog. While we hadn't registered for a pup, Max became the best gift we ever received.

Max the wonder dog
He was a natural clown and traveled well. We even had friends who would fight over who got to take Max if we were going away without him. He lived to be a grumpy old man of over 16 and the boys' fiercest companion.

When Max died, the kids were 9 and 11. We promised them we'd get another dog; that the right dog would find us, but that we would need to wait until Spring. (Max died in December that year.)

Come Spring, the kids reminded us of our promise, and off to the rescue organization we went. Neil was out of town and I told the boys we were just looking. That I didn't want a puppy, that certainly not a large dog, or one that would be a big shedder.

Then I saw this brindled pup and lost my heart.

Tigger

Tigger found her home with us and when we got her paperwork, discovered that she was born on the day Max died. She was a sweet and loving pup - easy to train and eager to please. She and I formed a visiting therapy dog team and she was a certified therapy dog for many years.

When the kids got older and were no longer 'puppies' to the dogs, we looked for a companion for Tigger and 5 years ago, brought Dustin into our lives.

This is NOT a Lhasa Apso
We were initially told that he was a Lhasa Apso. Not so much. Jack Rusell Terrier and something floofy is our best guess. If Tigger was 'good dog', then Dustin became 'other dog.' It wasn't that he was *bad*, he just wasn't as well mannered as Tiggs and a lot harder to train.

He also had a significant degree of fear-aggression around other dogs when on leash. This is still a problem, though a lot better that it was, thanks to lots of work with a dog behaviorist and Tigger's influence.

When Tigger died suddenly this summer, Dustin became very lonely. We knew he needed to be part of a pack and he needed the right companion. It had to be a female, a dog that was both playful and submissive. And because we have a dog door, the dog couldn't be more than 40 pounds. It took some time, but we finally found Mya.

She will be coming home tomorrow.

I know that dogs don't replace one another in your heart any more than people do - she's not Tigger and we don't expect her to be. We are just thrilled to welcome a new member of the family.

Stay tuned for a flood of Mya photos in the coming weeks!



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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Poetry, Memories, and Birthdays

Sunflowers always make me smile


I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
   --From OTHERWISE by Jane Kenyon


Today is my 53rd birthday. I slept late, had coffee and chocolate cake (baked by my older son last night) for breakfast.

I headed to the ceramics studio and unloaded a bisque kiln with one of my fellow artists. We laughed and joked and enjoyed the work that had been fired. Then I met a friend for lunch.

When I returned home, I canned all the tomato sauce my husband and I had processed the day before and left simmering in the crockpot. Then I washed, cut, and cranked through the food mill the last 50 lbs of tomatoes we had gotten from the farm last week.

This is some of the work I love, and like Jane Kenyon, I understand that being able to do it is a joy and a privilege that some day will be otherwise.

The truth is, I have more life behind me than is likely left before me. This is something that feels far more present and real this year than ever before. Both my parents died in the past few years and I find that I miss them with a special sharpness today.

*****

A tweet came across my twitter feed with something I hadn't realized: I share a birthday with the poet Mary Oliver. One of her poems. WILD GEESE is a favorite. I read it often, reference it with others, make them read it, too. 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
     --From WILD GEESE by Mary Oliver

What I love is solitude and quiet laughter and watching baseball games with my husband, and all things geeky and creative, and the joy of playing with words.

*****

In early September of 2001, my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday. We don't make a huge big deal over birthdays in our family. We did, for the kids when they were little, but not for one another. Usually a card, and a lovely dinner was the gift each of us typically wanted. Plus, our wedding anniversary is less than a week before, so my birthday tends to get overshadowed. 

That year, I wanted the gift of time. My husband's work hours had been especially long and our kids were young - elementary school age.  I didn't feel as if we had enough time just for the two of us, so I asked for something I wasn't sure could happen.

I asked him to take the day off from work, so we could just spend a leisurely week day together.

September 10, 2001 was a beautiful Tuesday. After walking the children to school, we returned home to have coffee and breakfast on the back deck. We took the dog for a walk, sat and read. It was a perfect day. A perfect gift. 

Then the next morning, the world shifted.

I remember so clearly holding on to the perfect, gentle birthday that I celebrated with my husband. It had been some kind of crucial inoculation against the evil. 

Doing the work that we love, with the people that we love, is to fight against evil.

*****

I had a lovely day. Dinner is being prepared for me by my family. There is a fresh bouquet of sunflowers in the dining room.  The dog is curled up by my feet. Friends from near and far called or emailed or messaged me with birthday wishes. 

This is an embarrassment of riches. 

It fills me with gratitude.

May you have the joy of doing the work you love with the people you love.





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Wednesday, September 07, 2016

10 Surefire Ways to Waste your Money

Photo by Mr. Serum, used with attribution. (CC BY-SA 2.0)




Several times a week, I get email solicitations for the masterclass for this, or the video conference for that. Almost all of the emails employ lots of ALL CAPS and lots (!!!!!!!) of exclamation marks and bullet points.

All in marketing-speak and all personalized with my name. They almost all start with a question.

Lisa! How would you like to increase your sales one hundred fold?
Well, sure, who wouldn't? But here's the thing - even though the vast majority of these initial 'courses' are free, they are designed to do one thing: sell you on buying future courses and services.

It's an industry, in and of itself, all couched in intensely optimistic language geared to make you fear you are missing out on the secret sauce if you don't SIGN UP NOW!!!! They use outlier case studies to make it seem that if you only follow their formula, you, too will be a superstar success.

If you're an indie author and haven't gotten any of these, I suspect you live in an internet dead zone or were smart enough to NEVER, EVER sign up for any marketing newsletters.

I have to admit to viewing some of these presentations in moments of weakness. Yes, I've also sat through timeshare pitches, though I've never been tempted to buy into one. And just like the timeshare pitches, the marketing video conferences are mostly flash and very little substance: they are selling you on your own wish fulfillment.

I've said this before and I'll repeat it now: In the world of indie publishing, there is no secret sauce.

Yes, there are some folks who have made it big, who have gone on to get publishing contracts and representation and movie deals. And those stories are real. They're just not reliably repeatable. Because if it was, EVERYONE would be repeating it. Everyone: Traditional publishers, small publishers, and indie publishers.

There. Is. No. Secret. Sauce.
Sing it with me, in three part harmony: There is no secret sauce.

I've been writing for almost 12 years. I've been publishing for over 4, with 6 novels in the marketplace. I've spent a lot of time educating myself about all aspects of the publishing world and there are 5 elements that seem to be common among successful authors.

Quality
Authenticity
Consistency
Collaboration
Luck

And still, this isn't a surefire formula. It just helps stack the deck in your favor so you might have the CHANCE to succeed.

Quality

Quality means a well crafted, well edited, well produced manuscript. It doesn't mean the great American novel, but a book that delivers on what it promises to its target audience. Quality is also a promise you make to yourself and your readers to keep challenging yourself to be better.

 

Authenticity

Common wisdom is that social media sells books, so we're all told to build our platforms and be everywhere, touting a consistent message. Yes, consistency is important (that's next), but not in this way. There are still writers who send autorespond messages to all new twitter followers with buy links to their books. There are still writers who only interact on threads to inject their books into the conversation. Don't do this.

It is my belief - backed by years of observation - that social media doesn't sell books, but it certainly can turn OFF potential readers. (One exception is when OTHER PEOPLE talk about your work in an authentic and enthusiastic way. That is gold. But if you do a 'tit for tat' kind of social media blitz, readers will figure it out. Don't do that, either. Just don't.)

If you like to blog, then blog, but don't expect your posts to go viral and your books to sell as a result. Even the biggies - folks like Chuck Wendig who have scads and scads of hits on his blog will be the first to tell you that traffic doesn't translate into book sales.

Same for any form of social media. Engage because you find something of value in the engagement. Otherwise, don't bother.

What I have noticed is that readers will find me on social media and seek to engage in positive ways. But only AFTER they have already read my books. Not every writer likes this, but my experience has been very positive.

Consistency

There is some evidence that regular book releases in recognizable genres help readers find you. There are some writers who can write fast enough to publish several books a year, like clockwork. That's beyond me, but each June for the past 3 years, I've managed to publish a book in my Halcyone Space SF series and I'm on track for releasing book 4 in June of 2017.

There are too many writers with one book in the marketplace who spend all their time and energy marketing and promoting that one book. Paid promotion (when it works at all) certainly doesn't provide an effective return on investment (oops - marketing speak! Sorry!) with only one book to sell. Find a production schedule that works for you and do your best to follow it. Even if that means you publish a novel every 5 years. Readers will wait for a good book, as long as they know it will happen.


Collaboration


The authors who have produced books I've loved and have raved about have created effective teams of skilled individuals around them. They have great beta readers. They hire excellent editors and cover artists and designers. They network with other authors they respect and who would appeal to their audiences so they can do authentic kinds of signal boosting.

They create a community of fellow travelers to commiserate with, encourage, and  assist one another.

They understand that indie doesn't mean they have to go it alone; rather it means they are ultimately responsible for the end result. And if they don't have a particular skill set they need to professionally publish a book, they appropriately outsource it.

Luck

And they can have all of the above going on and still not sell enough books to hit the front page on an Amazon category, or to make back their production expenses, or see their names and the names of their books talked about on twitter. That is the grim reality of being an artist of any kind.

Anyone who discounts the degree to which luck plays into the equation is probably trying to sell you something. Usually what they're selling is their sure-fire way to earn a buck. (Which they do when you buy their product. See? It works. For them.)

Yes, luck is that random factor, but here's the thing: you want to position yourself in the best possible place so that when luck strikes, you can take advantage of it. And that means all of the elements here: well written and produced books that deliver on the promises you make to the reader, an authentic presence, even if it's fairly sparse, consistent work over time, and a support network.

I've shepherded 6 novels to the marketplace. I was the beneficiary of a huge stroke of luck for 1 of them. And while I still understood that its big sales numbers were a result of serendipity, somehow, I didn't really appreciate it until the book that followed failed to do anywhere near as well.

For some time, I had convinced myself that that book had failed and I didn't understand why. Hadn't I done everything right? Hadn't I repeated everything I had done the first time, to such great effect?

That, my friends, is magical thinking. I had taken as a given that 1 success meant I had figured the formula out, even when I knew better.

There really is no secret sauce.

There is no secret sauce. Save your pennies on services and sales pitches that try to convince you otherwise. Save the time you'd spend watching what is, in essence, an infomercial. Even if it's free, it costs you your time and your energy. Save that energy for your craft.

Being a creative soul in the world is a hard road and very few are able to survive by their art alone. But it doesn't mean we're not going to try our damnedest, right?


#SFWApro





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Monday, August 29, 2016

On giving myself permission not to finish books


A quick snapshot of one of our many bookshelves


Long before I was a writer, I was a reader. A voracious reader. At the age of 10, I had read through my local library's collection of children's books and had to have my mother talk to the librarian and grant me permission to take out books from the rest of the library.

I once tried to count all the books I had read - it was my version of 'counting sheep' when I had a hard time falling asleep - and always lost track, but even then, it was in the hundreds.

So when I say I've read a lot, you'll have to take it on faith that it means many thousands of books over a lifetime.

I never abandoned books before I began to write them. It felt disrespectful, somehow, to the sacred act of writing. So even if I didn't enjoy something, I finished it. That changed in my 40s and 50s. Maybe because now that I am a writer, I don't want to internalize poor writing or work that may be good, but I don't enjoy. Maybe because I realized at some point that there would be far more books published than I could ever read, even if I had several lifetimes to do so.

So now I stop reading and put the book away if I get to the 10% mark and am not in the least engaged. In the past 6 months, I've abandoned more books than I've finished. For the majority of them, it wasn't that they were 'bad' (however that is measured), but just not engaging. If I don't care about the characters or the story, then reading becomes work, not pleasure.

There is a common thread in many of the books I set aside: they tell me about the story instead of telling me a story.

The book I closed last night was a prime example. I felt like the author was relating the events of the plot, as if they were giving me a synopsis, rather than letting the story unfold.

Many times, this is a result of mediocre writing, but more crucial, of the author maintaining a kind of uninterested distance from the work. After pages and pages of 'this happens and that happens and then that happens next', I grew bored. There were exciting things happening - a mutiny aboard a space ship, a captain dying from some unrevealed disease or disorder, his need to protect a young woman under his care - but it was a color-by-numbers kind of presentation.

If the author passionately cares about the story and transmits that care THROUGH the characters, then I will happily read even a poorly crafted story. But even if the words are well crafted, I don't have patience to stay with a story that has no passion.

And lest you think that this is a dig at self-published work, understand that I am an equal opportunity critic. Several of the books I set aside in the past 6 months were Nebula and Hugo nominees. Several were self-published books.

What this tells me is craft and packaging is not, on their own, enough and sometimes craft and packaging are not the essential elements of a great story. What I have discovered is when passionate writing, craft, and packaging happen in one place, that's going to be an amazing book. 


#SFWApro



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