Wednesday, September 26, 2018

How I Read: A History

I've been a reader since before I learned how. When I was a little kid, I memorized my favorite books down to the page turns, so I had my grandmother convinced I could read when I was three.

I couldn't.

I just knew which words went with which pictures.

It's been a while since I memorized a book, but reading is still a huge part of my life. I thought it might be fun to look back over a history of my reading life.

Young Childhood: My mom read to me from the start. In my earliest memories, I am sitting on the floor next to a pile of books, or even inside a little house I made out of books by stacking them carefully. I loved nursery rhymes, poetry, and rhyming stories the best.

My mom would bribe me to be good in the grocery store by promising to buy me a Little Golden Book at the end as a reward. I got a dollar once a week to spend on used comic books at Tom's Book Nook, where my mother got her weekly pile of cheap romance novels.

I was also really fond of those records you could get that would read the book along with you and make a chime when it was time to turn the page. I must've read The Story of Ferdinand thousands of times that way and would say "smell the flowers" along with the narrator.

Later Childhood: I haunted libraries as an older child. I was a Summer Reading champion, loading up on as many books as I could carry. My school librarian was practically my best friend. She always seemed to know what I would like. The book mobile ladies kept a stash under the seat with me in mind, and wouldn't let other kids check them out until after they'd been past my stop.

I remember one summer when I decided I would read the entire collection and started working my way down the shelves, starting with A. I found some things I would never have read otherwise that way. (I didn't finish that project).

This is when reading became social for me. I found other readers and we'd talk about characters we loved and share books back and forth. To this day, some of my favorite conversations are about books and I get great joy from randomly running into someone who loves a book I love.

I started writing during these years, making a name for myself as the Occasional Poet of Grandview Elementary. Got a crush on someone? Ask Samantha to write a poem for you. They're sure to check Yes on the "do you like me" note. Is it Thanksgiving? I bet Samantha has a poem about that. Grandma's birthday? Yep, she's got one for that, too.

Adolescence: My middle school and high school librarian was also excellent. I think she bought
books specifically for me and my other bookish friends.

She'd hide new books under the counter sometimes and bring them out only for us, making sure we'd be the first to get to read them. We were into creepy and spooky things. She indulged our taste for teen thrillers and stocked VC Andrews and Lois Duncan for us.

When I was ready for something more, she showed me Shirley Jackson and Patricia Clapp, authors of books that still give me a thrill to think about. The Haunting of Hill House and Jane-Emily remain favorites to this day.  She gave me Daphne duMaurier and Charlotte Brontë, too. I still remember the way she'd slip me books with an air of subversion, making me feel like there was something special about me that made me worthy to read these particular books.

I still wrote poetry during these years, mostly dark and self-pitying verses about broken hearts and unrequited longing.

This is when I first tried to write a book as well. I was co-writing a tennis-themed teen romance novel with my best friend during some of those years on a computer so basic that you had to switch between two 5 1/4 inch floppies, one holding the software, one holding the story. In a box somewhere, there are yellowing pages printed out on a dot-matrix printer. We never finished it.

College/Early Adulthood: My undergraduate years consisted mostly of required reading since I was an English major. Luckily, I was asked to read some fantastic work. This was when I found contemporary poetry, moving to living poets as well as beloved dead ones like Emily Dickinson (still my favorite).  That's when I found Adrienne Rich, Louise Glück, Stephen Dobyns, as well as my professor-poets George Eklund and Michelle Boisseau.

I wrote mostly poetry during this time, continuing through my twenties and into my early thirties with only occasional forays into fiction and essay.

I read less fiction during these years, partly because I lived in rural Alaska in a community with no bookstore or library. Luckily, I already owned enough books by that point to keep myself in words for years. I did read a fair number of comics and graphic novels, having found a subscription service that didn't eat me alive in shipping charges to Alaska.

My 30's: I moved back to the Lower 48 during these years. Tumultuous times, full of moving, child-rearing, divorce and remarriage, more moving, job-changing, etc. This is when I started feeling like I didn't have time to read. I read fewer books in this decade or so than during any other time of my life.

I read mostly to escape. Mysteries. Ghost stories. Graphic novels. It could take me weeks to finish a single book. Though, of course, I read to my children (first the one, then both of them).

We began to haunt libraries together, loading up on stacks of books as tall as my little girls. We fell in love with Sandra Boynton, who was not someone I read as a child, and revisited my old favorites like The Berenstain Bears and Dr. Seuss. We learned about Mo Willems and other delightful new writers. As they got older, we moved on to the Spiderwick Chronicles and Sisters Grimm, Harry Potter and Rick Riordan's Olympus series.

This is when I found audiobooks again: on CD. No beep to tell me when to turn the page now, but great narrators and engaging stories.

I'd borrow them from the library and we'd listen to them in the car, or I'd pick them up at yardsales. Mostly I couldn't afford them new (they were pretty pricey).

I didn't yet read e-books, though I'd begun to hear of them. I didn't yet use Audible. I didn't have a tiny computer in my pocket like I do now. Just a flip phone and spotty service back then.

My writing dropped off during this time, too. My reading and writing have always fueled each other, so that makes sense to me.

My 40's (so far): Technology is so much more a part of my reading life than it ever has been before! I'll often get a book as an ebook with whispersync to Audible and listen to it on my Echo or my phone or through my car's stereo system. It's wonderful the way all these things sync up and let me pick up where I left off almost effortlessly, dropping me back into the same story regardless of my current location. I also use my library's free service to get ebooks and audiobooks.

I'm a part of two book clubs (a classics book club, and a neighborhood one) and I read a lot of work by my colleagues and friends in the writing world, so my TBR list isn't getting any shorter, but it is growing more diverse. Sometimes I get frustrated that too much of my reading time isn't what I personally chose, but I get a pretty good balance of personal choice and networking or social reading.

I don't buy or even borrow nearly as much paper as I used to. After 40+ years of collecting books, and setting up house with a man who has collected books only a couple fewer years than me AND is an RPG gamer (more books!) AND raising two readers…well, I have to be realistic about space. We can't afford a bigger boat, and ebooks don't take up physical space. I'm not very good at culling what I already have, but I'm pretty disciplined about not bringing more physical books in (at least for myself: I still buy and borrow them for the youngest kid).

At first, I didn't like reading ebooks, but it's grown on me. I like that I can pull my phone out of my pocket and read a book. Since my phone is always with me, 21st century girl that I am, I am always carrying a nearly unlimited amount of reading material. It makes all the waiting time in my life into potential story joy, like Rumplestiltskin spinning straw into gold.

Audiobooks let me read while I'm doing other things that don't really occupy my brain like laundry, dishes, or driving familiar routes. If anything, with all these venues to books, I think I'm back to reading almost as much as I did as a child! In fact, according to Goodreads, where I began to track such things a few years ago, I've already read 49 books this year. Not too shabby for a woman with two full time jobs and a household.

As my reading has picked up, so has my writing. I committed to a daily writing habit when I turned 42 (Thanks Douglas Adams!) in an effort to finally make a go of it. I've seen three of my novels and several stories and novellas into print since then, and now have a daily writing chain more than five years long.

I've still got a little bit of my 40s left, so here's hoping the trend continues!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Coming Home

Lunch with my daughter and BOTH her grandmothers
Generally, I visit my parents in my childhood home of Bellevue, Kentucky at least once a year, for a longish visit in the summer time. But in 2018, I hadn't made it up there at all yet. I was extra super busy with writing related events, and Mom and Dad came down often to my neck of the woods often enough that I wasn't feeling like I hadn't seen them.  But I hadn't visited home yet this year.

So, when my school district closed down in anticipation of storm effects from Hurricane Florence, I decided this would be a great time to visit my parents, who live considerably further north and inland. That would keep us safe from any ill effects of the storm and relieve my worried husband by getting two of his girls out of harm's way, and maybe get us a little spoiled at the same time.

Because I live so far away (by the standards of a family that nearly all lives in a single 1 hour radius), coming home is often a pretty big deal, full of family gatherings, trying to see everyone I grew up with. It can be exhausting. But not this time. It was a last minute decision to come. It's a short visit. I hardly told anyone.

It was nice being home and not scurrying around to see everyone, but just relaxing. I saw only my parents, my husband's mother, and one cousin and her family (that last bit was a coincidence: she came by to talk to my dad about her car).

Coming back home to Mom and Dad is an opportunity to hand over some responsibility for a little while. Let someone else drive the car, make the meal decisions. We did little things like get coffee at a local coffeeshop that had sprung up sometime since I last visited, revisit a favorite lunch place, get ice cream at the local handmade ice cream shop, and make sure my daughter got her feline affection fix at the Kitty Brew Café. We also just sat and talked a lot.

You'll be relieved to know that we've developed all new plans for world domination. We're thinking we'll achieve it with cannis. Simple, beautiful, and pervasive.

As much as I love my extended family and old friends, it was super chill, sneaking in a little daughter time with just my parents. In 2019, I think I want more simple, quiet family time like this.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Shifting Balance

I've hit the season again where I am desperately jealous of writers who are able to be ONLY writers.

School started, and I'm back to the three way pull of home-school-writing. It becomes this constant shifting of balance from one foot to another, like trying to stand on a boat at sea in a storm.

I'm grateful to have interest in my writing at all, of course. And I know I'm in this for the long haul, so it doesn't have to everything all at once.

But (you knew there would be a but, right?)…

there's not enough interest yet to pay the bills, which means that I'm straddling worlds: teaching to hold up my end of the bills-insurance-mortgage game AND building a writing career at the same time.

When I'm trying to fit my writing life into one or two hours a day, I struggle with how best to spend that time.

  • I need to write new things. 
  • I need to promote what I've already written. 
  • I need to connect with the writing community. 

Here lately, I'm trying a rough every-other-day approach. If I write on the WIP today, then tomorrow is a "business" day in which I handle emails, make arrangements for things, and contribute to social media.

One of the tricks is that I love social media.

( Seriously: I mean look at all these links for all the social media play-lands I visit: )
FacebookTwitterGoogle PlusInstagramYouTubeTumblrMeWeKit

They keep making more platforms, and they're all fun! Plus I maintain this website and my author pages on Amazon and Goodreads. Jeez Louise. That's a full time job in itself.

I want to be on social media every day for at least a little while because besides being business, it's also fun. My friends are there. They are funny and clever, or they need support and I want to be a good friend. But you can lose entire days down that tube, let alone the whole two hours a day you have for writing stuff.

So, I have to protect me from me.

Other creatives out there, especially if you have a day job or other serious time demands, how do you decide where to focus your time and energy from day to day?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

IWSG: Paths to Publishing

It's the first Wednesday of the month! Time once again for the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop.  Today's question: What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why? After you read my thoughts, please be sure to visit this month's fabulous hosts:  Toi Thomas, T. Powell Coltrin, M.J. Fifield, and Tara Tyler!

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was only one path to publication: the one we now call "traditional." It was a murky one sometimes, too. Not the bright and cheery yellow brick road you might have been imagining. 

You'd submit your work to a publisher who either would or would not accept it for publication. 

If your work was rejected, you could submit to other publishers, but there really weren't that many, and eventually, you might just have to accept a life as an unread author. 

But this is no longer the case! Now you can publish independently, work with a small publisher, or put your work out as a serial. You can develop a podcast, produce content for YouTube, or put it up on your own website. In fact, there are so many ways to get your work out there that it can be hard to choose. 

When I first started submitting novels for publication (around 2012), I started with what was known as "The Big Five": Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group/Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Books & Random House (merged), Simon & Schuster. 

It was a frustrating process. So slow! I'd send my work off, and not hear anything for months. Then, even if the news was good (they want more chapters! they want a full manuscript), I'd wait months or even a full year just to get to "no." Usually, that "no" didn't even come with any feedback or advice, just a form letter thanking me for allowing my work to be considered. 

I played that game for only two years before I decided to go smaller, looking into small, independent publishers. 

I still wanted a publisher (as opposed to becoming my own publisher). I wanted that feeling of validation that comes from someone else valuing your work enough to invest in it. I wanted a team behind me that could serve my book with skills I hadn't developed: formatting, professional editing, cover art, marketing, etc. I wanted to see my book on the shelves of physical bookstores, and that meant finding a publisher with the right kind of distribution networks. 

Other writers I know value complete control over their product more than the things I've listed above, or have a skill set I don't possess that allows them to handle things that seem like problems to me. So, they've chosen to go indie. I don't see that this makes any significant difference in the quality of the product. I've read traditionally published books that were badly edited and had terrible covers. I've read indie published books that were beautiful and near-perfect. There's a range of work regardless of venue. 

I was pretty lucky. Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel, my first published novel found a home within a few months of my beginning to shop it around to smaller publishers. The process was much faster! Most rejections came within weeks rather than months. The space between signing a contract and holding a paper copy of my book was less than a year. That's lightning speed in the publishing world. 

I found my eventual publisher through another writer I knew online who was already published with them. I did my research and liked what I learned about the terms, so I decided to take the plunge

They published my debut novel in 2015. 

We're still working together. They've published two more of my novels and a collection of short stories since then. It hasn't been all roses and love songs. The company has had growing pains and staffing changes that made for tensions at times, but my books have sold consistently and remained available for purchase, which is the point!

I've learned a lot about how the industry really works since then. The biggest surprise was how much of the onus for marketing still falls on the shoulders of the author, even when you have a publishing house behind you…even if that publishing house is big. 

Another surprise was that finding a publisher doesn't mean that you're set for life. Publishers have niches and markets, and you might write something that doesn't fit with the catalogue. For example, I have a women's issues historical fiction trilogy I'm working on, and when I'm ready, I'll be taking it to different publishers. It's not right for this publisher. 

These days, I'm moving toward becoming a hybrid author. I've put out a couple of indie-published collections with friends, and am considering making my next novel entirely indie. I still haven't learned much about book formatting or cover art but I have made connections and learned about how that work can be hired.  

So, whether you take the road less traveled by, or throw your hat into the three-ring-circus of traditional publishing, it's entirely possible to find a path to publishing that works for you. We're so lucky to live in such times!