Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Remembering three mothers

The Yiskor service on Yom Kippur is a powerful one. The whole day is powerful with its themes of repentance, atonement, and introspection and the memorial prayers for the dead seem to take on additional meaning.

Even more so now that both my parents have died.

This year, I spent quite a bit of time during the service thinking about the three mothers who have had a great influence on my life: the mother who raised me, the mother who raised my husband, and for the first time, the mother who gave birth to me.

I am grateful for the mother who adopted me - who believed I was a special order from G-d to her. She instilled in me a love of reading, of learning, of art, of the importance of family and hard work. If she held on to me a little tighter than I wanted, it was from an abundance of love and a fear of losing what she loved. She was a woman who had experienced deep losses from an early age and lived her life always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I understand that now. I wish she had been able to let go of her fears and truly live.

I am grateful for my husband's mother. She died far too young - when she was 50 and Neil was in his second year of medical school. I was fortunate to have known her. She was a force to be reckoned with - passionate, energetic, fiercely devoted to her principles and her family - which is often a difficult balancing act. She raised her son to be a deeply caring and emotionally healthy man.

This year, I also said Yiskor for my birth mother. Her name was Robin. She was 17 when she discovered she was pregnant with me. Maybe if she had come of age a decade or so later, perhaps she would have been the mother who raised me, but in the 1960's single parenthood was a different proposition. For whatever her specific reason or reasons, she surrendered me for adoption as a 5 day old infant and set the course of my life on its trajectory.

It's almost been a year since I discovered her name on a website and uncovered the network of my extended birth family and have been able to learn a bit about her.

She died in 2010 at the age of 65.

I never had the chance to connect with her. To let her know I was fine. More than fine - that I had a rich and fulfilling life, complete with work that I enjoy and an amazing family.

I love and I am loved. This makes me fortunate beyond measure.

When you're an adoptee, the question of nature vs nurture is one that is never far from your thoughts. While much of who I am has been shaped by my upbringing and my experiences, it is also true that there is much of my birth mother in me: the love of science fiction, the pride in the work of my hands, the drive to create, and the passion for local, sustainable food are things I seem to share with her.

It felt right to remember these three remarkable women, all of whom have contributed to the woman I am. As part of my spiritual practice, and in the spirit of Yom Kippur, I will work to honor their memories in the new year.

May you be inscribed in the book of life.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

This is me: An Adoption Story, Part 6

For anyone just stumbling on this story, the earlier installments are here:

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 4:
Part 5:

I've taken a bit of a hiatus in the tale of my adoption search. Part of that is because life is busy and full. Part because this is an emotional journey and writing about it brings back the intensity of living through it. Part, because this next piece was difficult to write.

In a prior installment, I talked about discovering I had a half brother.
"[Paul] also told me that [Robin] had been married and had had a child - a son. My half-brother. J (and I'll be using initials for some of the people in this story, first names for others, all to protect people's privacy) had estranged himself from the family decades before. Paul had no idea why. Only that when Robin was dying, J never responded to their emails and didn't attend her funeral."
I hadn't been ready at the time to contact him: it was more than enough to process all these new family member. Contacting J would be taking yet another enormous emotional risk. One I wasn't sure I was ready for.

So in February, I got to see Paul again, this time at Boskone (another Boston area Science Fiction and Fantasy convention.) This time, my husband and older son got to meet him. And they got along like they had been long-lost friends.

Paul meeting his "new" grandnephew
In fact, when I had to run from brunch to make a panel, my son and husband stayed to chat with Paul and later Paul's wife commented something to the effect that my husband and Paul could have been related they had so much in common.

At this point, it had been four months since I had found Paul and my maternal side family. I had been embraced and welcomed by them all: my uncle Paul. His half-sister. Paul's daughter. Robin's second husband Ed, Paul's cousin G, (who lives about 15 minutes from me!), and G's father, Paul and Robin's Uncle. Pretty much all of the family.

Except for my half brother J.

That February, I asked Paul for J's contact information. He gave it to me, but cautioned me not to expect much. That there was a strong possibility J would never even answer my email. And that I shouldn't take it personally.

It was very sweet for him to be so concerned, and to want to protect me from being hurt.

I assured him that no matter what happened, it couldn't be personal, since J didn't know me. And that I felt strongly about giving him the option to connect or not.

So I sent J an email. I had few expectations, but I also didn't want to make the choice for him.

I was surprised to get a reply right away. And his reply was similar to his grandmother's response so many years ago: essentially, prove who you are.

So I did. I took pictures of my adoption documents and of the notes in our mother's handwriting that were included in the file and emailed them back to him, also clarifying that I wasn't looking for anything from him other than the opportunity to connect, or at the very least, trade health information. I also directed him to this blog for a chance to get to know me at a remove.

I waited.

And waited.

It was weeks.

By the time I got a response, I had been certain none would be forthcoming.

I imagine J crafted his email carefully, aiming for whatever he believed would be most hurtful to drive me away. I won't share the specifics of what he wrote. The what almost doesn't matter. It was clearly untrue and it was clearly meant to ensure I kept my distance from him.

While I don't like making assumptions, it's hard to read J's words and not see an intent to wound. This was the kind of response Paul had been worried about for my sake.

And had I received that response at a far earlier time in my life, I might have been truly hurt by it.

But I know what it is like to love and be loved. To trust and be trusted. J's response had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him and whatever hurt and anger he has nurtured all these years.

I am sorry for him.

He had every right to reject contact. Had he done so directly and honestly, I would have been disappointed, but that is the nature of choices.

But by responding with cruelty and disdain, he revealed himself more clearly than he will ever know.

And it saddens me that he chose to lash out. I worry that he doesn't have the kind of rich emotional life and support that I have. He may be a stranger, but his is also my brother. My *baby* brother. There is that part of me that wishes to take care of him and embrace him as I have been embraced.

I did send him a reply. I didn't respond to any of the hurtful words, only told him that I would honor his wish to break off contact. I offered some of my medical/health information and let him know that should he choose differently in the future, I would welcome hearing from him.

That was six months ago.

I don't imagine there will be any reply.

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Monday, August 13, 2018

Guest Post: The Metaphysics of Science Fiction

I occasionally offer my blog to fellow creative travelers and today it is my great pleasure to hand over this space to Lancelot Shaubert. 

I first met Lance through the Writer Unboxed community and attended several writing retreats with him in the past few years. He is a bright, driven, passionate artist in all senses of the word. A writer, a musician, a filmmaker, Lance is someone whose vision includes collaboration and connection. I am honored to know him. Honored to be named a mentor by him. Honored to be part of his anthology.

Lance sent this to me when I was experiencing a low moment - feeling as if my creative work was at a dead end and not reaching or touching an audience. I didn't know until reading this how profoundly my story had moved Lance. He saw in it elements I did not consciously intend, but as all art is a construction between artist and audience, I am honored by what he sees in it. 

I leave you his thoughtful piece to consider.

The Metaphysics of Sci-Fi
Lancelot Shaubert

Since the meaning of anything is first and foremost the meaning of everything, sci-fi stories can carry a heavy metaphysical burden by virtue of containing lots of things: big things, small things, multiple planets full of things and so forth. When it comes to awakening the metaphysical import of science fiction inside of me, no living author has done so both through their craft and friendship more than LJ Cohen.

It seems every time we get together, she and I end up talking about meaning and philosophy and metaphysics. Time and again, both in those talks and through her work, she proves that sci-fi carries that burden better than any fiction genre other than fantasy. Take her most recent short “Perpetual Silence” from the Of Gods and Globes anthology I edited this summer. For starters, I cry every time I read her story. No exaggeration. I cry every time I read her story for the amount it says in so little, the weight it carries with such honesty and curiosity and melancholy: this is a story that gets the essence of nostalgia, of Sehnsucht.

Spoiler alert for those of you that care about such things (though I tend to think spoilers enhance rather than detract from the reading experience), but her story features a young woman researcher creating an instantaneous comms link in the distant heavens through a satellite. It’s like internet for deep space, a phone call to the other end of the galaxy. Strictly speaking, this should be impossible, but they figure it out. Problem: this instantaneous communication works like a virus and erases all lag from all communication between satellites. It’s inconvenient to the scientist long-term and she terminates her team’s life’s work in an instant of code. Why?

“She’d called the universe. The universe had called back.” She sought the ultimate consciousness behind infinite being and total reality and that consciousness responded. It scared her enough that she shuttered the program.

Think about that: she discovered and verified prayer. The story’s a metaphysical and astronomical argument for prayer. And for why we don’t pray: we’re actually scared of an answer, scared of the grounds of all reality, of the necessary and sufficient cause of being having... well... a mind of its own.

It’s not the only time an author asks such questions in a sci-fi story.

Star Wars quite famously proffered a sort of gnostic dualism as the grounds of its magic system. Dune dealt with the nature of prophecy to affect not only space, but timelines, and what time means for one’s identity. Firefly asks classic existentialist questions over and again: particularly the "Out of Gas" episode where they ask why does a screwdriver exist? Why is there such a thing as a screwdriver when there should be nothing? When a screwdriver and none of the material or efficient causes of a screwdriver can possibly contain the cause of a screwdriver’s being, moment to moment?

Heady questions from space cowboys...

The Martian, of course, asked if raw conscious courage can trump mindless matter. The Foundation (poorly, I think) asks questions based on the Hegelian picture of history (bolstered poorly by the Wellsian picture of history and mythology), questions that Sanderson picks back up in Elantris and... in a way... stumbles through to something like a more holistic picture.

The Man in the High Castle more than any asked if America would ever create true art, a true work of beauty (one that delights in making intimate the great distance between two things while preserving said distance) when we Americans obsess on the one hand with our hyper utilitarian purgation of art and on the other hand with profiting off of commodities and frauds?

If art, in other words, makes a new culture by preserving our own special uniqueness via a singular intimate encounter with what’s us and no one else, then we ought not (1) worry about profits first, for art is not advertisement, nor (2) worry about how many copies of our work exist, for art is about preserving that beatific distance in an intimate encounter and not about the proliferation of our namesake, nor (3) the efficacious or tangible or systematic affect of our work on the immediate society, for art is about the seventh generation and not about us and therefore the virtue it forms in us is far more important and far-reaching than whatever system it could tweak or technology it could inspire.

Though, strictly speaking, the Elon Musks of today are a few generations removed from the scifi of yesterdecade.

And then there’s Station Eleven, a sci-fi book written by a literary author (whatever that means) who typically writes for The Millions. Emily St. John Mandel builds a whole book out of graphic novel meta references and quotes from Star Trek claiming things like SURVIVAL IS INSUFFICIENT as well as songs and skits from a rag tag traveling orchestra and theater company — all of this points to the value of science fiction and dreaming of the future in a post apocalyptic world mostly killed off by the flu.

She ends the book with the first set of folks taking off in the first plane since the plague, dreaming of the first ships sailing in the dark since the crisis, and drawing a clean line between the sci-fi of today and the best parts of that science fiction vision which motivated The New World mythos, Columbus and all...

Whether or not the metaphysics of the 17th century was true — or whether or not the Manifest Destiny it upheld is just or beautiful or good — is a question for another day, but no one can deny that the idea of Manifest Destiny showed up first in 17th century science fiction. After all, the metaphysicians and fictioneers of that time were only following in a literary tradition solidified by Dante — an author only willfully stupid readers would claim had no metaphysical impetus behind his description of that great reversal of gravity the protagonist of Inferno experiences while passing down the frozen demon’s belly button.


Lancelot Schaubert has sold hundreds of stories, articles, and poems to markets like TOR (Macmillan), The New Haven Review, McSweeney’s, The World Series Edition of Poker Pro, The Poet’s Market, Writer’s Digest, and many similar venues. 

To grab a free copy of chapter one of his best written work (slated for 2019) and his best song, click here

Subscribe to BlueMusings and receive my short story collection, STRANGER WORLDS THAN THESE, as my gift.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Playing the Long Game

I'm taking a brief break from the long and twisting tale of my adoption search story to return to some hard numbers about my publishing journey. I do this periodically, mainly because I believe in transparency and it helps me maintain perspective.

First caveat: I am almost entirely self-published.
Second caveat: I do very little promotion or paid advertising. I have a small mailing list of under 1000 subscribers. I could probably earn more/sell more if I focused on this side of the business.
Third caveat: I walked away from amazon page reads to keep my books widely available. This resulted in a definite drop in income that I'm starting to recover from. It was a long term choice to eschew the immediate money for long term sustainability.
Fourth Caveat: I have learned I can write/publish a book a year and no more than that.
Fifth caveat: YMMV

This is an overview of my earnings from January of 2012 through yesterday, August 7, 2018.

I've marked when each of my 8 novels were published. They are color coded for the series they belong to.

A few things to notice:

2014 was an anomaly year. In June of 2014, I published DERELICT, the first novel in my space opera series, Halcyone Space. I did little that I hadn't done for my prior books, but this one (forgive the terrible pun) took off like a rocket.

There were fewer books being published in 2014 and Amazon's algorithms (impenetrable to mere mortals, then and now) somehow picked up on a week or so of modest sales and decided to promote the book in its genre newsletters.

Unfortunately, I had no way of capitalizing on this good fortune directly, as Amazon doesn't share its sales intel. While I had my social media links in the book and a link to my newsletter, I had no way to directly promote to all those readers.

One year later, when ITHAKA RISING was published, (book 2 of the series) I had no way to let all the readers of book 1 know it was out. And Amazon didn't magically do it for me. You can clearly see the tiny bump in income for that release. However, sales of all books over the following months were slightly higher than in the prior year.

In 2016, I had greater traction with the release of DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE, again mainly due to the power of Amazon: At that point, I had taken the newer books exclusive to Amazon in their Kindle Unlimited program and a big chunk of my income that year was through page reads.

Book 5 (PARALLAX) debuted in 2017, when I had pulled out from KU to have all the books available wide. My income between mid 2017 to mid 2018 was given a lovely boost by a .99 Bookbub feature on DERELICT.

This second graph is a yearly comparison of earnings between January of 2012, when I published my first novel, through yesterday, August 7, 2018.

With 8 novels in the marketplace, and a completed series, and greater traction on non-Amazon marketplaces (especially Kobo), I'm on track to exceed my KU exclusive/boosted-by-page-reads 2016 income.

If you omit the outlier of 2014, and factor in the switch from Amazon exclusive to wide, the trend is towards higher earnings year on year with more books available in the marketplace. (Note: the 2018 bar is only 7 months of the year and doesn't include the earnings from my latest bookbundle participation.)

Take Home Messages

  • Publishing is a long game
  • More of your books in the marketplace translates to more potential points of contact and sales
  • Amazon is still the biggest player in the market. Some writers choose to stay exclusive with them and can do extremely well on page reads and the specific promotional tools that gives them. 
  • Going wide entails risk and it can take a long time to gain audience share outside of Amazon
  • Of my 8 novels to date, 4 have earned back their production expenses, the 5th is on track to do so. 3 have not and probably will not. This is the case even in traditional publishing: good sellers bankroll poorer sellers.
  • This is not the business to be in if you need a steady income. AKA keep your day job or have a partner with one. 
  • Luck and timing play a larger role in financial success in publishing that any of us want to admit. 
  • You have no direct control over luck or timing. 
  • Hard work is necessary, but it's not enough.
  • If you, like me, find creating as necessary as breathing, there is no hope but to keep working. 

Subscribe to BlueMusings and receive my short story collection, STRANGER WORLDS THAN THESE, as my gift.