Category Archives: Opinion

Gossip, shame and power.

“Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.”

Anais Nin (attributed)

poetry.jpeg

I’d like to talk about gas lighting and shaming, in particular about victim shaming. Gas lighting is defined as rewriting someone else’s reality. The phrase is from a movie about a man who plays tricks with the lighting to make his wife think she’s going crazy so that he can take her money from her (my rough understanding, I’ve never seen the movie but I probably should). The lights in the movie are gas lights and so the phrase, ‘gas lighting’ was born.

Gas lighting is a technique usually used by abusers to keep their victims on the defensive, to keep them worried and off their footing so that the victim can’t regroup and come up with an escape plan. It makes the victim question every last thing in their reality right down to the tiniest of things like: did I leave the door unlocked? Did I leave the window closed? Did I put the cap on the juice?

It’s enough to drive you mad, and that’s the point of it. The abuser wants to drive you mad. They want to have complete power over you. It’s the true mark of a sociopath to take this route with a victim. If you suspect you’re a victim of gas lighting you need to seek help immediately. You need to call a helpline if you don’t have friends or family that will support you because along with gas lighting comes isolating you from everyone else.

This isolation can be done in such an insidious manner that it seems impossible, paranoid even to trace it back to your abuser. And yet, when you look at where all the roads lead: they all lead right back to the person who has you in their sights.

Usually this sort of thing occurs in an intimate and usually sexual relationship. Usually one party has considerable power over the other either financially or physically etc. These sorts of tells make victims of gas lighting hyper aware of new gas lighting efforts and most victims will run away when they see the first signs of the same cycle repeating once more.

 

I’m someone who was raised by a violent sociopath. He was intelligent and calculating and not the sort of man who threw me into a wall and punched me, he was manipulative. He was scheming. He made me feel like everything I did was of my own volition and not doing it was weak. He made me want to protect him and to feel like I was doing a good thing to protect his secrets.

It took a massive amount of will to come forward about the sexual aspects of abuse and how deeply I’d been manipulated. It was deeply shameful to admit how badly I had been taken in. But it was okay because I had a good support network.

I had my husband, I had my friends online, I had my online friends, I had my local community, I had my therapist and perhaps one of the most valued anchor points of all was my childhood best friend who was one of the very few who I told the most intimate of my details to.

gossip 3

But it wasn’t okay. It wasn’t okay because someone in my system was gas lighting me. Normally it would be most likely to have been one of my therapists or my husband since authority and/or sexual behavior are the two big things that allow someone to be in the position to gas light another person. It wasn’t them. My husband has never kept me in a position of subservience in any way and my therapists have been carefully weeded through to find ones who listen to me and who don’t ever push me outside of my comfort zone.

false alarm

There was something wrong with someone who I least suspected: my best friend.

They say that you should always trust your dog. Well, my dogs hated her. The longer they knew her the more they hated her. They started acting out around her in ways that I had only seen them act around people who had admitted to having violent thoughts towards me or who had acted aggressively. That’s weird.

Then one day around Christmas, out of nowhere, she just called me and my husband stupid. She just said, ‘I was looking at getting a new game but I didn’t think you guys were smart enough to get them so I have to look for games for stupid people.’ Then she laughed. Hahahahah. That’s funny?

It’s not the way I talk to my friends and I’m not used to my friends talking to me that way. In fact, the only ones that have ever really talked to me like that are my abusive family. I started to have success in the local community and my friend C got mad. I could see it made her mad. I didn’t let it bother me because I could see that it was the sort of anger that comes with jealousy. I understand jealousy and I started the typical victim cycle of making excuses for an abuser.

But I had no idea that my friend would do this to me! Why would she? Was it all jealousy all along?

Then it got worse. Little bits of private information started to surface around town. At first it was little things that I keep to myself because I had to change so much to get away from my abusive family. They aren’t exactly secrets; but they aren’t things that I want told far and wide either.

The details that were getting out got more and more detailed and personal. People started to turn on me and my husband. And then, people started to let me know where the source of the rumors was: C.

I couldn’t believe it! With my typical loyalty I stood up for C while she smugly dispersed vivid images of my dad raping me around the small community where I live. All the while, not saying a word to me about it.

gossip 2

She would come by almost every weekend and sometimes she seemed exceedingly eager to hear about any misfortunes that my husband or I had had that week and seemed disappointed when I was happy and upbeat. My suspicions grew. My dogs continued to growl at her.

Every Sunday we’d play games with her and my husband and we’d either make dinner or order pizza, most often our treat. There was something else that was weird too. While to my face she would say that she liked my husband, as soon as I left the room she would treat him like he didn’t even exist. As soon as I walked back in she turned back on like a light switch. She was gas lighting us. She wanted me to think Tony was crazy or for me to say something to her and then to accuse us both of being oversensitive and crazy. It became rude to the point of insanity. How could I have her in my home if she was going to treat my husband this way? And what was she playing at by acting this way anyhow?

I wondered for awhile if she knew what she was doing. I wondered if it was just because she was awkward. Maybe she didn’t know what to say? But no, it was too extreme for that! And the escalation convinced me that she knew damn well what she was doing.

Meanwhile she was pumping us for information. One week she was elated. She told me that her mother had spent an hour and a half talking to her on the phone and was so happy for her mother’s attention. But she had been talking all about me and the pottery guild and how they had treated me. I felt sick to my stomach. Why was she talking to her mom for so long on the phone about me? Why did it make her so happy?

I realized with growing sorrow that she was trading in my struggles and tragedies as little gossip tokens to make herself the center of attention at her coffee shop. I realized that she was not my friend at all. This was affirmed when she told me that she wouldn’t stand up for me because she wouldn’t put her business at risk for me. She would, however, be more than happy to tell people about my childhood rapes it turned out!

Thanks, friend!

I told her I didn’t want to have our Sundays anymore. Having her leak everything we  said to her friends who hate me wasn’t cool. Having her be friends with people against whom I have a Human Rights Tribunal case made it too conflicted to have her over any more. Her response was to inform me that I was unappreciative of her efforts to ‘stand up’ for me by telling people about my abuse.

WHAAAAAAAT????

So, C, now you’re going to write my story for me? You who barely noticed my broken arms throughout childhood? You, who said you didn’t remember the times I broke down and said I had to do better, lose more weight (at 90 lb) so daddy would be happy with me? You who turned your back on me? You and your mother both. Your mother who was a goddamn school teacher and should have been on the phone with social services when this emaciated kid with broken bones was at her house… but was happy to let me come and stay for a few days but never to really help?

I would have been happy to let the betrayal go. To let it go that when people who know my name look at me and imagine my dad raping me when they see me. I was okay with you getting the facts wrong, C. I could have walked away without setting the record straight. But I’m  not okay with you telling me that I should be grateful to you for gossiping about my life and my pain. For making it impossible to know if the person next to me in public will say something about your version of the abuse I’ve suffered.  I’m not okay with you using my story as your currency. I’m not okay at all.

A lot of the comments you made and the friends of yours and your mother’s made make a lot more sense now. I wondered about them, like how I wondered about the things my family said before I found out my dad had told them all that I was crazy and that’s why I ran away from home. The two groups’ reactions were SO similar.

Congratulations. You’re almost as good as Leonard and Frank. One day maybe you’ll get smug enough and deluded enough and evil enough to rank right up there with them. But for now you can pat yourself on your back and tell yourself how much better you are than me because you have such a normal family, and how you ‘helped’ support me by taking my voice and telling your version of my stories to the world. Behind my back.

And maybe, just maybe, I won’t tell everyone all the horrible things you had to say about them. I can’t think of very many people that you had anything nice to say about. You listen in on your customers and judge them for what they read, what they eat, how they raise their children. You spill their private lives, rebirths and changes of name. You gossip about it to everyone else. You are a big pitcher with very big ears and a mouth meaner than nearly anyone I know.

You’re quick to talk about how important it is to be liberal but you won’t even admit openly that you’re bisexual. You’ll brag about it and talk about how proud you are of it, but only in front of the ‘right’ people. When it comes to time to put up or shut up, you shut up. You’d rather delete your FB page than put that up (and no one but you prompted you to insist on doing that, I wouldn’t mention it but you’ve assured me many times that you’re incredibly open about how liberal and bisexual you are that I don’t see why you’d mind me talking about it)… and deal with having to be connected to the real me. Not the little structure of me that you made up to use to put yourself in the spotlight, but the bag of pus you extracted to spread like poison over the city of Dawson Creek.

You aren’t just Faking Sanity. You’re faking everything. You’re lying. I know how you REALLY feel about a lot of people, maybe you’d like me to repay the favor you’ve done for me? ‘Warn’ people about what you’ve been through having to work serving them while hating them so very much? Despising them and their beliefs, their children, their ‘fruity’ or ‘nutty’ ways? Or maybe it wasn’t a favor at all and some things aren’t meant to leave a room. Maybe you wouldn’t want those people to hear the cruel things you had to say about them at all. Just a thought: you might value your privacy a bit higher than you value my privacy or in fact the privacy of anyone else around you including your business partner/roommate and your family… not to mention your much maligned customers.

Tell your own damn story and quit talking about my story. Quit talking about everyone else’s story. You don’t own any of that. You don’t do anything except sit in bed eating dollar store junk food and watching Will Wheaton play role playing games. You haven’t earned any of the stories you smear all over yourself and you don’t have a right to steal them. You’re worse than Gollum- at least he only wanted one ‘Precious’, you want anything dramatic, shiny or sordid to claim for your own and you don’t care who you hurt.

Speaking of hurt, I have one final thing to say on the subject. My dad hurt me, a lot. But I never trusted him, and I trusted you. I let my guard down around you and I thought you were safe. You were abusive in a way that stung more than what my dad did to me because there were good times with my dad. They were separate from the bad times but with you… everything I respected and treasured about you turned out to be a vicious and manipulative lie. You hurt me so much and for so little return, just a moment of attention and of being in the spotlight, a moment of putting a bit of tarnish on someone else. I should have known when I saw how cruel you had become to everyone in our past and in your present. The way you talked about your roommate and your family should have told me what to expect from you. The cruel lines around your mouth and the way people remarked that they had never seen you laugh before… the signs were there. I should have seen, but I loved you and so I didn’t let myself see.

I know that I’m not the only one you’ve done this to because I’ve heard the things you’ve said about other people. I’ve seen your cruelty in action. I wondered what they had done to you to make you so bitter and hurtful but now I see that you ARE bitter and hurtful. What people do in your radius is independent of how you treat them.

You need help. You know that. I’ve decided to post my response to you in public because I’ve learned that anything I say to you in private you’ll just twist. At least this way I get to keep my own words. You don’t get to steal those from me anymore. I’m reclaiming them and I hope all the people who listened to you realize that you committed a crime against my person, against my very soul by trying to steal my story for your own petty purposes. Go to the doctor, talk to a therapist, but whatever you decide, for once talk about yourself and not about everyone else. Get yourself sorted out and stop stealing from everyone and cutting everyone down to make yourself feel taller.

I hope that one day I can clear the debris of scum that you’ve covered our entire relationship in. Maybe I can enshrine what I thought of as our relationship in a hallowed place in my heart and mind then. That day is not today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Watt I’ve Learned About Wattpad

I have a lot of writer friends and I like to read and give feedback to them because… well, that’s what you do if you’re a writer and have writer friends!

i am a writer

It’s the ‘polite’ thing to do, but I enjoy reading what my friends have been writing as well as thinking it’s an important part of writerly etiquette to contribute to the writing community. Most of my friends have books on GoodReads or Amazon etc. but some of my friends live in the realm of Wattpad.

For people who use Wattpad as a tool you’re probably already going over the many good things that Wattpad has done for you and your friends.
Let me start by saying: I am not opposed to Wattpad, I simply don’t completely understand it. I think I’m starting to get it now, but I have my reasons for feeling like a fish out of water on Wattpad.

Let me go over some of the good points I’ve noticed and heard about Wattpad before I talk about my own take on this increasingly vibrant platform for writers.

The first good thing is that it attracts young authors. Teenagers are encouraged to write and by getting feedback they’re encouraged to keep writing. The same point is true for new writers or writers who for various reasons need extra feedback to build their confidence and/or writing stamina.

It’s not a pointless endeavor to post on Wattpad either. I sort of thought it was. This one has an upside and a downside. The upside is that more and more people including large publishers are farming Wattpad for talent. Margaret Atwood has been involved in an award called the ‘Watty’ since 2012. There are poetry contests and all sorts of things that people can get involved in.

writing love

I only found out those things after doing some research into Wattpad. Before I looked into it the last word I’d heard on Wattpad was that publishers considered anything put on Wattpad as ‘previously published’. A stigma that once attached to a story/poem/novel is very difficult to remove. Yes, most publishers only want fresh and virgin stories!

That part is still true and something that I don’t think a lot of people who post on Wattpad know about. That isn’t why I’m still a little anxious about getting into the waters of Wattpad, my reasons are my own uncertainties and my style of writing and reading.

When someone asks me to read their story on Wattpad or chapter by chapter it has the same affect on me: I don’t know how to give feedback.

From my limited exposure to Wattpad I’ve found most of the stories are in progress, this causes me to regard reading them as seeking ‘alpha feedback’. Alpha feedback is pretty basic because of the very obvious reason that the writer isn’t finished writing yet. Concepts and characters may be undeveloped because again… the writer isn’t finished yet.

writing 2

I’ve noticed that a lot of alpha feedback consists of nit-picky grammar edits that are, in my opinion, undermining and discouraging when you’re just getting going on a story.  This also negates the benefits of bolstering and encouraging writers to write more!

So, I’m not the only one who has a hard time giving alpha feedback. What is alpha feedback? Alpha feedback is feedback is, as stated previously, feedback given on works in progress (WIPS) and is usually done a bit at a time as the writer progresses through their story. Beta feedback is given on a finished work that may or may not have been edited.

writing tips

One of the best tips for beta reading your own work or the work of someone else. Beta reading can be where much needed texture is added to the entire story. 

Beta feedback is something that I’m good at and that I value deeply in the excellent beta readers who read for me. Beta feedback focuses on things like: umm, did you just teleport out of the shower into the living room? Or: I can’t understand this sentence at all, did you mean to say that they ‘ate China’? I’m thinking maybe you meant ‘chicken’??

Writing is rarely done all at one sitting and it’s also rare that there are no interruptions or distractions. If your writing environment is like that you are a lucky writer indeed! For the rest of us we have phone calls, knocks on the door, family and friends that talk just at the minute you were writing a key sentence… and you write down what they said instead of what you were intending to write.

writing process

When you read your own writing over you’ll likely catch a lot of these errors. If you read your story out loud you’ll catch even more of them. The mind is an amazing machine capable of glossing over the same thing even on multiple reads. This is especially true when we read our own work but I’ve seen as many as five readers miss the same mistake in a story! This is why beta readers are like gold because the sixth beta reader who catches the mistake is the one who saves it.

This isn’t exactly the same as editing although they are closely related. Beta readers aren’t there to catch grammar mistakes, spelling mistakes, formatting errors etc. If they see something obvious they might make a note of it to save the writer some time but it isn’t their mission. That’s what final edits are for and that’s a whole different blog!

writing editor

Anyway, in case you didn’t know, now you’re caught up on the different stages of readings and writing. This brings us back to our original topic: Alpha reading and Wattpad.

I don’t know what sort of feedback any one author is looking for when they ask for alpha reading of a story. It’s hard to go into detail because we don’t know if the writer is keeping the suspense tight or if they’ve missed an important aspect of the story. When you’re asked to read a story some sort of response is required or the writer will likely assume that you hated the whole thing and don’t want to tell them how much they suck. So, you’ve got to say SOMETHING or you run the risk of your efforts to be helpful hurting the writer.

How can you do that when you don’t know anything about where the writer is going? The writer may be highly organized and know where they are going for their plot, or they might be like me, someone who is a ‘pantser’ (flies by the seat of my pants rather than outlining). If they are a pantser, then they probably don’t know where they are going anymore than the alpha reader does.

Feedback is like fuel for writers. They NEED it to know if they’re doing their job and their job is effective communication. If no one replies to what they have to say it is the writer’s natural inclination to determine that they are doing something wrong. If they know they’re reaching their audience it gives them more fuel to keep on.

Which brings us to the conundrum of Wattpad. Giving someone grammar tips is one of those gray zones if you aren’t their editor. It’s especially bad if it’s all someone has to say about your writing. First of all, it’s a negative observation and second of all it isn’t about what you said, it’s about how you said it in a strictly modern context of what is stylistically ‘correct’. Notice that nothing in grammar/spelling/formatting is going to help someone to understand how well they are communicating their story. Not encouraging.

Understanding that alpha and beta reading are the writer seeking feedback on how well they’re communicating gave me some insights into how to be a better alpha reader. First of all, I’m going on the assumption that anything that seems like a hole in the plot or that I don’t understand is likely going to be cleaned up in the beta reading. Unless it’s a continuity error (Bob is wearing blue pants and five minutes later spills coffee on his red pants), it’s better to ignore those things.

Someone in who is alpha reading for you is really only their for the most part as a positive influence. Unlike a beta reader who looks around for structural integrity, holes in the plot etc, the alpha reader is there to feed into the story.

How can an alpha reader do this?

First of all, I’ve learned to underline and comment on particularly striking turns of phrase or patterns of style that the writer uses. For example, I recently did some alpha reading on a story where the writer used vivid colors to effectively key in important aspects of their story.

Alpha reading is also disrupted reading. It’s hard to come back into a story and try to recall everything that happened in detail especially if you’re reading multiple alpha stories. Here’s where my personal, stylistic issue with Wattpad comes into play.

I am not a fan of chapter plays. I like to read deeply and intensely. I want to sink into the world. I don’t want to be just driving through yet another landscape. I want to know characters and places and experience them. I can’t do that if the sections are doled out a little at a time.

Another very personal issue I have with Wattpad is obvious: It’s all digital.

I don’t enjoy reading books electronically nearly as much as I enjoy reading a bound book. I enjoy the tactile sense of the fibers that make the paper, the sensation of physically turning pages… I like to read in the bathtub and my laptop doesn’t share my love of the water!

So, to all my friends on Wattpad who I haven’t had a chance to give feedback to… I’m sorry. I have started a Wattpad account (although I’m not sure if I finalized it, there may be some hanging step I neglected) and I have intentions to read your work. Intentions aren’t the feedback you’re looking for but I can assure you that it isn’t your writing that has driven me away.

The final thing I will say about Wattpad, again it is both positive and negative, is that it is a community. That means that it should be reciprocal. If I’m going to comment there, I should also be posting my own writing and getting to know people. The intricacies of the communal aspects of Wattpad are still mysteries to me.

writing at work

I don’t usually get anyone to alpha read for me unless I know and trust them very much. I don’t want to get the feedback of, ‘yeah, it was interesting… you had a run on sentence in the second paragraph… but otherwise, yeah, it was interesting.’

I will continue to contemplate the world of Wattpad and try to take the plunge. I hear that there is a vibrant poetry community as well as other writing and that may be a good place to start.

I think Wattpad fills a valiant function in the writing world. Alpha reading is important and I know that people do move on to beta reading and final editing. People have even started to have television shows made of their Wattpad stories!

That’s pretty much it: Watt I’ve Learned About Wattpad 🙂

 

Discovering the Wheel

Today I tried the much revered potter’s wheel.

I love working with clay and I’ve been having a great time discovering different forms of pottery but THE WHEEL seemed to loom over all other aspects of the learning process.

I looked on-line, read a few books and generally gotten an idea of what to expect but nothing really prepared me for what the actual experience was like. First of all, it was fun and it was messy. As I told the instructor, I had signed up to play in the mud and I was getting exactly that.

Girl (3-5) playing in mud

The pedal was erratic, and difficult to work, especially since it was my injured leg that was used for it. The good news is that once the pedal speed is set it maintains so my leg’s lack of brain wasn’t too much of an impediment. The pedal was definitely the hardest part and I won’t be driving any time soon as my leg muscle decided to spasm or not respond as it saw fit. Fortunately, the only thing to wreck up on the wheel was a ball of clay so it wasn’t too hard of a learning curve.

Next came the really fun part (and I think I drove my instructor a little mental with this aspect of learning): Discovering how the clay reacted to my touch. I was shown right off how to hold my hands, how to move the clay up and down, but have I ever been content with sticking to what is within the demarcated borders? Of course not!

pottery-4

So, I spent awhile playing with the clay. Pulling it up into a tower and then pushing it down into what would eventually twist back up into my very first ‘tossed’ pottery project: a small vase.

Let me say first of all that after everything I had read about the difficulties of ‘centering’ the clay and all the rest that I wasn’t expecting to walk out with anything at all on my first session. I ended up with the vase, a small bowl and what may or may not work out as a little mug. I was pretty chuffed.

But unlike the other aspects of pottery so far I didn’t feel as satisfied with the final result as I did with the pieces I had made off the wheel. They were ‘fine’. Sort of bland, typical for someone who is new to the wheel, uninspired.

pottery-generic

The real fun on the wheel came not from the product but from having an interaction with the clay where the clay came alive in my hands. It’s a delicate procedure, on wrong twist, not enough water, a bit too much of a thumb and the whole thing ends up out of control. It’s fast. It’s interactive and it’s alive. Maybe that’s the allure of the wheel.

pottery-2

I’ve heard enough potters speak with reverence of The Wheel to know that you aren’t considered a potter until you master it. It’s referenced as something that you must know to proceed past the level of beginner on a regular basis. I think that for me, the joy the wheel brings isn’t capitalized and is more in the experimentation than it is on product.

Sadly, unlike making mud pies, the clay on the wheel gets tired. It doesn’t like to play as long as I do and expects to be formed or tossed aside. I’m pretty sure there’s an intense metaphor in that for life and for philosophy but I’m not getting it. The mortality of the clay as soon as it drops on the wheel is so finite that it misses out on all the fun we could be having together.

I suppose that’s why life and pottery and the origins of the universe are often compared to potter’s wheels. It spins quickly and is highly malleable: childhood. Then it grows weary and either finds a purpose or returns from where it comes from: growing up (or refusing to grow up). It finds a form, often not the form the potter intended but rather a compromise between momentum, hands, skill and the desires of the clay itself as well as the clay’s own limitations. After it has achieved that form it will either be successfully fired in the kiln or break apart: the challenges of adulting. Finally it is memorialized in a glaze and fired once more. It won’t be anything other than what it is now.

This is the finished product. The object is put on a shelf, it is used and at some time it may become broken and discarded, another thing that passes out of memory. It’s a very good metaphor for life, but I’m not getting it. The fun thing is the playing. The fun thing is testing limits, seeing what happens if I push here, or lift there… The joy of learning together with what seems a nearly sentient partner in creation is clouded by the inevitable decision that it must take a final form or become useless.

Round and round the wheel goes. Is the clay enjoying learning as much as I am? It seems unlikely. I don’t think I’ll ever love the wheel the way I love to work with the clay that is happy to be worked, adjusted and played with. I guess the wheel, while being the pinnacle of pottery is fundamentally working in only a few dimensions. The options are limitless and yet generic. It certainly serves a valuable purpose but I didn’t feel the attachment to the pieces on the wheel that I did to the coiled, hand pulled, pinched or slabbed pieces I had attempted earlier.

pottery-ancient

The metaphors, while profound, are slightly maudlin and macabre. I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy it as much as the rest of this art but I will always enjoy the parts about getting muddy and about those brief moments of rapport before the clay takes on a shape of its own.

Marketing and Writing: How NOT to Promote

Yay! You wrote a book! Now what?

There is a steady cacophony of voices that are constantly spamming everyone to read their book. It doesn’t matter if it’s one of the ‘Big Boy’ publishers or if it’s someone who is self published. There are just too many people demanding to be read and no cohesive thought put into why someone should read your book.

Think of it this way: you’re the new kid at school. You walk into the classroom, nobody knows anything about you or what you will bring to the class. The first words that leave your mouth will set the tone for your trajectory in the dynamics of this world of strangers. Is that first sentence a demand? Would you ever walk into a room of people you don’t know and without invitation order them to do something that is time consuming and will likely cost them money?

popular-mean-girls

Seriously, why should anyone do anything for you? They’ve already got what you want or are trying to get the same thing. You’ve got to work hard to be the one who turns heads. Is it what you’re really looking for? 

Now put yourself into the position of someone walking down the street. Without warning someone comes running up to you, flailing, holding a book and gibbering incoherently about how they’ve got the next bestseller and you totally have to read it right now. My response? RUN AWAY!!! And if I see that book… RUN AWAY!!! It might look harmless but my experience has taught me that it was written my an aggressive lunatic.

Because lets be realistic, chances are you haven’t written the newest best seller. If you have, there is a likelihood that it will take years of steadfast dedication on your part of calm and steady promotional work to make it a best seller. It took George R.R. Martin twenty years of going to conventions, going unnoticed, being ignored, having few sales before anyone started to take him seriously as a writer.

be-aware-popular

Do you know who is rated as the fifth richest dead celebrity? J.R.R. Tolkien. The man who changed the way the world would view fantasy novels. If you’re writing for the money you might have to realize that it could take years or even past your lifetime for you to become noticed, if you become noticed at all.

I’m sorry to sound like a downer on all this, but it is time for a reality check and after that I’ll give you the good news about promotion and writing, if you can handle it.

I’ve heard too many new writers (or even established writers) say that they were done with writing. It just wasn’t worth the time they put into it and it was too depressing. This usually is preceded by a storm of advertising and then silence and then… the pronouncement.

For brand new writers first quarter sales are nearly always disheartening. A few friends or family pick up the book and you’re lucky if you make fifty sales. Most people bottom out around twenty, especially for independent publishing. This is even more depressing because the first quarter is when, if you have a publisher, you will get the most publicity (unless something remarkable happens with your book).

For most people however, this is the pattern:

  1. Yay!!!! SO excited, finished my first book.
  2. I made my first sale!!
  3. Why aren’t more people buying my book?
  4. Buy my book dammit!
  5. Seriously, buy my book. Let me show you the cover art and an excerpt from it again.
  6. I did a book signing. No one showed up. I took a picture with some people I know to make it look less depressing.
  7. Buy my book! Why aren’t you listening to me? Spam, spam, spam…

8. I give up. Writing is stupid. People are stupid. I hate you all.

popular-failI

Don’t feel this way. If you do feel this way, don’t say it online or even to yourself. Expect to have more failures than successes. At the same time, never give up on the idea that your next attempt might be the one that succeeds. 

I’ve been watching and this is what I see repeated over and over and over again. There is also anger is some cases, people lashing out at other authors that they may perceive as being more successful than them. None of this is going to help you promote your writing.

Lets get some more misconceptions out of the way:

My publisher does my promoting for me.

WRONG. In fact, it’s fairly standard for most publishers to include a hefty amount of work in publicizing as part of your contract. This has dissuaded a lot of writers from going with large publishers who take most of the money earned and leave the author with often only pennies per a sale.

Publishers aren’t all bad. Even though they have expectations of you doing more than just handing them a manuscript and then letting you sit back while the money rolls in, they also have something that you, as a new writer may lack: Presence.

Lets go back to the school metaphor. You walk into a classroom but this time you aren’t alone. Someone that most of the people in the class respect walks in with you. This person is your publisher. They say, ‘Hello everyone, this is John Doe. I know you’re all meeting him for the first time, but he’s actually a really cool guy and here’s why…”

marketing-popular

Public Relations lead to Branding. Advertising and marketing CAN work but they can also irritate people and make them decide to vacate the area. This is why it’s good in any business to have someone who can speak for you. It’s reassuring to know that it’s more than your own opinion of yourself or your product that makes it special. 

That is essentially what your publisher does for you. They introduce you to venues, bookstores, conventions and other places so that you become familiar to everyone in ‘the class’. They try to make you look good, they provide editing, cover art, formatting and I’ll tell you one thing about this: they’re the ones who make the choices about those things, not you. If you sign on with a publisher your baby is theirs to do with as they see fit. You are relying on their experience with the markets and what sells and what doesn’t to make the decisions in editing and appearance. This can be an upsetting and painful experience if you aren’t ready for it.  The rest is up to you. The publisher has opened the door for you but what you do once you’re through that door is up to you.

popular-2

Ready for your makeover? If you want to make it big, you’re going to have to make changes in every department. This is part of the ‘branding’ process’. Suck it up, buttercup. 

If you aren’t willing to go the extra mile and to get out with your fellow ‘classmates’ why do you expect people to buy/promote/read/review your work? What makes you above all the rest that you are exempt from the hard work of getting to know your audience and your fellow writers and doing things for them as well as for yourself?

popular-1

If you think you’re above all this then go back to the classroom metaphor again. You want to be an author that people read, right? Well, that’s the same thing as wanting to be the popular kid at school. You want to be someone everyone wants to get to know better, everyone wants to be around you and have you come to their parties: guess what, popular kids have to work hard for their popularity and you have to work for your popularity.

If you have what it takes in the charisma department to walk into the room and make your own introductions and have people respond favorably to you then the self-publishing market could work for you. There has been an increase in authors who have already been on the best seller list multiple times and won awards to become their own agent. They know that they already do their own work in the publicity department and they know the right people. They have the popularity to do their own thing and pull it off. If you wear your clothes in a new way do people mock you or imitate you? It takes a lot of leadership and charisma to make you a trendsetter.

Before you answer, think carefully: Is this what I REALLY think of myself or just what I wish I thought of myself?

But there’s more to this and I hope that you give this a good think before you get upset the next time something doesn’t sell as well you you hoped: Is this what you really want?

Now that you understand how being a best-selling author is the same as being popular or famous, is that where you want to go? First of all, there are a lot of sacrifices that will be demanded of you. Your time, your energy and your personal life will all suffer. Even how much time you have to write will suffer!

popular-mean-girls

Being popular means that people like you for what you do for them. They aren’t really your friends, they’re your fans. They want to bask in your success and get a bit of its smear on them in the hopes that they can be popular too. Being popular is a far different thing from being moral or honest. Ask yourself what’s in it for you? Is it worth the sacrifices? Is it worth the pain? WHY are you writing? WHY do you care about sales?

popular-being-true

I’ve asked a lot of people these last two questions in particular. The answer to the second one is usually: So I can quit my day job. Bad news. Your popularity becomes your new day job. The six months writing, six months publicizing rules comes into effect (which will be discussed in more detail in the next article) and you have constant interruptions. Don’t want to go to a party? Tough luck, it’ll look bad if you don’t go. Don’t want to go to a book signing? Too bad, it’s in your contract. Don’t think that your responsibility as a writer ends with your book, it only does that if you’re writing for the sheer joy of it and even then, there is still a certain responsibility to others who read your book that is polite to maintain.

The answer to the first question: Why do you write is usually answered by varying degrees of honesty. I know that I write out of a compulsion. I have to write. I write whether I send my work to a publisher or whether I leave it in a drawer to rot. I write because it’s a huge part of how I express myself. I’ve learned that even though I am verbally loquacious I am even more expressive in my writing. I’ve had so many people who are close to me react with surprise at the things that I write because, often to my surprise, I haven’t actually physically told them those things. My heart is wide open on the page whether it’s a love letter or a novel. It’s also an exploration of different ways of being, different types of people, an exercise in empathy.

popular-1

Since I write it all anyway, I might as well do something with it. People tend to enjoy my writing and I enjoy writing it. I don’t need to win a popularity prize to know my self worth, I know enough about myself to know that I’m rocking it and having a good time. That’s more important to me than ‘popularity’.

Another daunting issue is classroom size. A hundred years ago, two hundred years ago… there were fewer writers. Now EVERYONE wants to be a writer. I’ve met very few people who hear I’m a writer and DON’T respond with, ‘I’ve always wanted to write a novel…’. The competition has become fierce and if you are perceived as being competitive it’s likely that you’ll make people want to remove themselves from you. It’s something of an irony with fewer people reading that there are more people writing.

popular-rickety-ladder

I’m not sure I believe those statistics, I think that there are more people in the world and that there are more people in countries where attending school is mandatory. There are more people with an education so by extension there are more readers and writers. Be both. Don’t expect to dictate your worlds without taking in the worlds of other people. Be generous in your reading. Even if you don’t do it for popularity, do it because you will learn more about writing through reading a huge range of works than you ever will from sitting down in solitary meditation.

I’m done shaking my finger at you and reminding you that being popular might not be all you dream. Chances are you are looking for success at any cost and nothing I’ve said about that cost has changed your perspective. That’s okay, popularity is a valid life choice. The next question is: How do you get popular in a competitive environment where everyone is shooting for the same goal as you?

Read Writing and Promoting: Doing it the RIGHT Way for my thoughts and observations on what successful writers do to overcome these hurdles.

-VCS

Being Derivative and Writing

When I wrote my first kid’s movie I was told: write it like a it’s a Harry Potter knock off. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to make something the same as what had already been done and ride off of someone else’s popularity. I didn’t write it like a Harry Potter knock off. Instead I wrote a kids movie about Nordic magic based off of a short story I had already worked on.

The script was handed over to Hollywood Producers who promptly sent me around 300 pages of notes on what to change; most of them were ways to make it more like a sexy (but still geared for children) Harry Potter movie. I wasn’t happy with the changes and backed away from the film industry but not away from writing.

This is a clear cut case of something that is derivative in design. The thing that I found sad about the order to make a clone was that the Executive Producer had wanted to make a kids movie since long before Harry Potter came out and he had idea of his own that he also stipulated be put in place in the script (I didn’t mind writing those in since it was a made to order piece of writing). Instead of pursuing his own vision or allowing me to pursue mine the result was a series of mangled half measures.

poe-boy

Is it parody or is it fan fiction? Know what you’re doing and you can be as creative as you want… but make sure you know what your own punchline is. 

This had been a conscious choice on behalf of the Producers and it was there to service the bottom line. I get it, making a movie is expensive and certain things have to be taken into account, but I believe that ideas must be strong enough to stand on their own in order to truly be successful. Consciously deciding to model a work and be the next, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, or the next,’Harry Potter’, or the next ‘Hunger Games’, isn’t going to get you very far. It might result in making a few bucks as you ride on the coattails of those that go before you, but is that really the only reason you want to be a writer? Really?

If it is, and I happen to pick up your book, chances are that I’ll probably toss it to the side and never pick it up again. Derivative is boring. Making a conscious, mercenary decision to be derivative is boring and sad.

A more insidious form of being derivative comes in the form of subconscious plagiarism. This is a sneaky one and I’ve learned from reading through slush piles that even if I’m not familiar with a movie/book or most often of all a video game that a plot and characters are hacked from, that these sorts of insertions follow a pattern. I like to believe the best of people and I’m not sure if I’m right or not, but I think that these really are accidental inclusions instead of actual plagiarism. Certainly the writers when asked about it seem shocked and dismayed. The more cynical part of myself wonders how much of that is an act and how much they damn well knew that they didn’t have an original idea and hoped that no one would notice the similarities.

I am generally of the belief that they are subconscious transgressions. Sometimes people even come up with an idea that they haven’t been exposed to before that exists already because there are limited permutations to the human experience and they are bound to overlap.

This is where the matter of being derivative becomes a dicey one. The first two examples, deliberately being derivative and subconsciously or consciously stealing another person’s world/ideas/characters are clearly wrong. I put subconscious theft into the wrong category because I believe that people should be aware enough of what they are doing to realize where their inspirations and influences come from. I also believe that we should respect the boundaries of those inspirations. It’s okay to be inspired, it’s not okay to steal.

But where is the line between inspiration and theft?

Inspiration can come from anywhere. An overheard conversation in a coffee shop can become the basis for an entire novel. Is this theft? No, because the author has taken something out of context and made it their own. A character in a movie can inspire someone to base their own life after virtues or even vices that they admire in that character. In the same way, an author can create a new character that contains elements of what they admire in another’s creation.

The common factor here is that they are making it their own. An example of how not to do this: I was reading a story. It was an interesting premise, I liked it. The style was awkward, the characters were stilted and the whole thing felt surreal and incomplete.

Awkward and stilted didn’t raise any red flags for me but surreal and incomplete did. I put in a few key terms from the story into Google and voila! I got the complete plot outline for the video game ‘Halo’. I also knew that this particular author was an avid video game player and she had mentioned playing Halo to me on several occasions. I myself have never played it. I didn’t know the plot, the premise or the characters but I did know the smell of someone writing in an incomplete world that was not their own.

The story was rejected, of course. I didn’t give the author detailed reasons for why their story was rejected, they got a standard form letter: Thank you very much, blah, blah, blah… Because I didn’t know if they knew how derivative their story was. This person had played Halo for untold hours, had it become so much a part of their internal landscape that they thought it was something of their own design? Is it part of my job to send snarky letters to writers telling them how their idea has already been done?

No. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that is my job for anyone but myself. I have to be aware of my own influences and how closely they border on other people’s creations. That isn’t my own editor’s job to tell me because we are supposed to be adults. Professionals who can see these boundaries for themselves.

Another example of this sort of derivative writing comes from people who watch or read historical fiction and confuse it for reality. A good example of this comes from the sequel to the movie ‘300’. I recently received a query from someone who wanted to write about the life of Artemisia 1 of Caria. The disturbing thing about their query was that their idea of her life was based off of the movie version of her rather than of the actual history of the real life historical figure. History had already drifted with the movie, which often happens. History is a subjective thing to begin with and it’s okay to take a bit of creative license. I find it an affront however, when an author doesn’t do their own research and relies on the research of secondary sources that have already taken liberties. At this point it goes from creative license to deriving a false reality.

If an altered fictional character inspires you I strongly suggest that you create a new character and don’t make aspirations to the idea that what you are doing is historical fiction. People who write historical fiction look at primary sources, they do a great deal of research before they start mucking about in history. Don’t steal that.

Someone or perhaps someones, said that at some point, everything is derivative. It’s true, there are parallels to be found in nearly any ‘original’ idea to other stories or events. The job an author of fiction has is of making those ideas their own. Endless, fading carbon copies, each more smudged and hard to read than the last does not make for good reading.

This is a way to track how derivative you are: sit down and make a list of all the media that you enjoy. Video games, movies, cartoons, songs, books- everything. Write down what inspired you as a child. Write down what frightened you as a child. Write down the same for you now.

Now comes the hard part. Identify what aspects of your inspirations are what truly inspired you. Now look at your own work, how close are the two? What are the essential difference between your creation and your sources of inspiration?

If you can’t find more differences than similarities then you have a derivative piece of writing and you might as well throw it out. Or hide it and rewrite it from scratch. Only save the original to compare how your rewrite changed from your derivative writing. Is it enough?

carry-on-being-stupid

Or don’t ask yourself these questions. Just know, you will be mocked. 

Ask yourself the hard questions about why you took it in the first place. What do you covet about the work you have taken? To my experience it is often because people are too big of fans of what they are writing about. It goes back to that inner landscape and how you ‘grew’ it from the time you were a little child until the time you sat down to write your first pages. This grows deeply psychological. Most people who write from an plagiarized inner landscape feel that those people and worlds are more real than anything else they could come up with. Sometimes they find them more real than the places and people in their real life.

Deep psychoanalysis of your own writing shows you where the gaps are in your logic. It shows you what you don’t want to face and what you obsess with. If you don’t take off the blinders and face your world anyone who reads your writing is going to notice it for you. They are going to point out failures in logic, similarities to other worlds/characters. Sometimes readers can be cruel and find connections to characters or worlds that you might not have even been exposed to. Sometimes it’s okay to have these similarities.

The important thing to take away from it is your own awareness of where your work is derivative and become conscious of when you choose to combine elements of your sources of inspiration. It’s a wonderful thing to be inspired and a dastardly thing to plagiarize and a very thin line that rides between the two.

On Writing

I never set out in life thinking: I’m going tobe a writer. Like much of my life happenstance, fortune and the fates carried me along like a branch in a stream and like the vast majority of my life I was happy to be along for the ride.

‘Becoming’ a writer sounds like a transition occurred at some point, but it didn’t seem that way to me. I jumped on board projects that happenstance threw in my pate and fortune and the fates dictated the rest. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a ‘famous’ writer and I don’t mind that. I have a lot more fun on the projects that I do without intent than the projects that I write and are turned into movies and such.

This is supposed to be a blog about being a writer and I realized that I rarely ever write about the ins and outs of being a writer. Part of that is because it’s a natural part of myself. It’s like talking about my eye color, it’s so much a part of me that blogging about it feels almost unnatural. When I sit back and think about where I started before my ‘becoming’ a writer and where I am now I can see the vast wealth of knowledge and wisdom I have gained from my journey.

I’ve learned that there is more to learn from other writers than there is from myself. Even though writing is, as many wise people have said, ‘the cheapest therapy you can get’, it’s interacting with other writers that has taught me some of the hardest but also some of the sweetest lessons.

Anyone who is writing or creating art of any sort is baring a part of their soul. Even if you set out to write a piece of drivel according to a formula guaranteed to become a best seller, how someone goes about doing so reveals more than hours on a therapist’s chair may reveal. There are a lot of writers out there and I’d like to say that some of them are absolute crap but the truth is that that’s just my opinion. I’ve learned that my opinion of another’s writing is entirely subjective. I’ve learned to accept this and to not judge a writer because I don’t like their writing.

have fun keep calm

This is a difficult lesson and I tell anyone that I do beta reading for to always remember that this is only my opinion. If I am content editing and I have a disagreement with someone but I’m editing for StarkLight Press, I will stick to my guns about what has to stay and what has to go… I will also remind the writer that there are lots of other presses and other option out there and that just because my feeling that their work in its current composition isn’t right for StarkLight, doesn’t mean that someone else might not think it is perfection just the way it is.

I’ve learned that it’s easy to lose friends because of giving an honest opinion after being asked to give an honest opinion. I’ve learned that I’m okay with losing those friends. I can accept this a lot better than I can accept being dishonest with someone about my opinions. I’ve also learned that no matter how often you remind some people that these are just my opinions, the cuts are too deep and a friend can become an enemy even though they’ve requested honesty.

From this I’ve learned that people are far more complicated than I ever suspected. I’ve never been the sort of friend who was okay with telling someone that they looked amazing when they (to me) really don’t. I try to be tactful and constructive but some people have egos like snowflakes and a breath of warm air can melt them. It can destroy everything they clung to that made them feel special. The hurt it causes the person is real and terrible.

I’ve learned despite this, I STILL must give an honest opinion when I’m asked for one. Even if it’s from a dear friend, my husband, anyone, I would rather them think bad of me than for me to hate myself. This was something huge to learn. I like to make people feel good about themselves. I like to pick the best parts of someone’s writing and praise it. If I’m asked to put on my editor’s hat and give a breakdown of a story though; that’s exactly what they are going to get.

The sad thing through learning all this is that I still believe that people and their writing, are each delicate and beautiful snowflakes. I don’t want to squish people and I think that it is unlikely that even what I might consider to be awful someone else might find inspiring. I’ve learned that there isn’t any point in trying to twist myself out of shape to find the beauty in every piece I read, not all writing is going to appeal to everyone and I’m part of everyone.

you write beautifully

There is no condemnation in writing. Well, actually, there is a lot of condemnation in writing, but there shouldn’t be. It’s open ended. I’ve read some things that have truly disturbed me, things that I find to be more along the lines of a snuff film than anything I’d like to read. Things so incoherent that the main character’s name has changed three times in the first three paragraphs and their state of minds of changed so rapidly and with no given provocation that I’m left laughing out loud and scratching my head in bemusement.

But, and this is a big but, I don’t feel a need to condemn that writing. I understand that to the writer if no one else it is a thing of value. That doesn’t mean I have to like it, or read it. And it certainly doesn’t mean that if placed in an editorial position I’m not going to point out the enormous irregularities and general spazziness.

books old

Some writers seem stuck in loops. They write about the same trauma again and again. They twist every character into the same poor, bereaved person that their soul is grieving over, usually themselves. Other writers try to mimic styles and clearly are using some sort of Gothic thesaurus. That’s okay. Writing is like sex. It’s intuitive, some people might be too rough, other people might be too bland. Some people are universally acclaimed as sex symbols and others may be waiting for ‘the one’ to recognize and match their style.

I didn’t understand the quagmire of politics that go on in writing when I got into it. Politics in many fields are something that escape me because I’m just me. I’m not trying to do anything with my writing, or with learning pottery, or with taking courses. The only thing I’m doing is being that twig on the stream. I bob along, sometimes I get caught on snags, sometimes I get submerged and other times I float merrily n the sunshine.

I’m also a little twig that doesn’t realize many things and enters each new current with the same wide-eyed innocence and faith as the first time I got into the water. I’ve learned a lot; one thing I haven’t learned is how to not be me.

have fun

I derive joy that my writing has touched so many people. Each piece of fan mail I get is a treasure. Every person who reads something I wrote and derives solace for their life makes the rest of the weird that comes with the mercurial world of writing worthwhile. Writing, reading or both, I hope people find their own lives enhanced by their pursuits like I have. I hope that they don’t bear the sting of the rejections too deeply. I hope that they are all that they hope for themselves and all the bits between.

I’ve learned a lot of other lessons from writing and the world of writing, a world non-writers are likely completely unaware of. For now, I’ve said enough. In fact, if this blog is like nearly every other piece of writing, I’ve probably said far too much.

Death, Grief and the Damned

My brother is dying because of extreme alcohol abuse. His liver and kidneys are dead. I’m told it’s a matter of days at best.

How do you deal with it when someone used to be close to you who was abusive and horrible to you your whole life is dying?

I’m trying to think about the good times only and not the bad.

This is some of the bad: My brother made it clear that he didn’t want me in his life. He told me I wasn’t good enough to get to know my niece and nephew. He hung up on me and laughed when I called him when I was young and begged for him to come and help because I was so so scared for me and my little brother.
There’s this enormous hole. Like a rotten tooth that’s caused you pain for years and is suddenly being extracted.
He was a miserable bastard even when he was a little kid he’d do stuff like pinch me really hard to make me scream and get me into trouble. He staple gunned my hand to the wall when I was seven. He ‘bench pressed’ me with his hands in inappropriate places.
Now his liver and kidneys are failing and I’m told he has days to live. I haven’t talked to him for years and made every effort to reconcile with him while he and his wife thought my offers of friendship were ‘working an angle’. The last time I talked to him on the phone he yelled at me for missing our mother’s funeral and I didn’t know she was even dead for years after her death because I had severed ties with the whole family due to abuse. I responded by making a birthday party for him and my dad who had birthdays only a few days apart. My brother didn’t speak to me ever again after that although he said he had a wonderful time. It was also the only time I ever met my niece and nephew because I’m just not good enough.
As part of the eulogy he gave at his own mother’s funeral he said, ‘Maybe she’ll finally stop being miserable now that she’s dead.’ I hope the same for him.
He was a hypocrite. A preacher who drank himself to death and never forgave or was giving his entire life.
My mom used to make us say three nice things about each other when we fought. That’s what I’m going to try to do.
1. He taught me how to use a slingshot.
2. He used to give me books he was done with without letting our parents know about it. That was how I got my first fantasy book and fell in love with genre.
3. He was sensitive. So sensitive I didn’t know how my brand of honesty hurt him to the core and made him hate me. I didn’t know my acumen was damaging to him, I thought I was helping. I think that he was far more sensitive that is ‘acceptable’ for a guy to be and that that’s part of why he was such an asshole.

There mom, that’s the best I can do for Len but I tried real hard.

len and frank

Hurt people lash out. I never meant to hurt him but it was hard for me to hear my girlfriends at slumber parties talk about the pain he had caused them. He took one of my best friend’s virginity and then told her she would burn in hell and made her cry. It’s hard to see the sensitivity in someone who could treat my friends like that. It was hard to have my friends always relating the latest traumas and humiliations visited on them. It hurt me and when I tried to talk to him it, it drove him into a rage with me that will burn well after he is dead.
I choose to remember him from an earlier time. He wasn’t kind then, but he was at his kindest, believe it or not. The brother I followed in the fields and forests even though I couldn’t keep up with him. I loved him so much but he was always eager to get rid of me. One day my dad warned him after he ran off with friends and left me to sadly trudge back to the house on my own. He said, “That little girl worships the ground you walk on and one day you’re going to break her heart one too many times and you’re going to regret it until the day you die.”
Too bad neither of them listened to those words.

Oh, I thought of a fourth nice thing to say about him, we had a lot of fun when we lived in the house in Arrowwood. It had secret passages in the walls and we would crawl around in them and play all sorts of games. He was rarely ever cruel to me then. We’d eavesdrop on everything that happened in the house and play games like ‘the floor is hot lava’ when we weren’t playing in the walls. He let me play in his tree fort too and we played sky pirates and all sorts of games.
We had a playground that was practically in our yard and we’d try to wrap the swings around the bar by swinging as high as we could. We smashed rocks together, using bigger rocks as anvils so that we could discover the patterns inside. Secretly we talked about finding diamonds in the rocks and what we would do with our wealth

Mom was right, there is always something nice to say about someone and you always feel better about them afterward. It’s too bad that it’s all too late and still unreciprocated. All hope is gone that it ever will be. I don’t know the man he grew into and I don’t love him. He made sure that I never got to know that man and so it’s hard to feel anything for him as he dies. That’s a sorrow all of it’s own.

baby len with debbie