Monday, March 28, 2016

I Chose the Road Not Taken...

When I say road not taken, I'm not talking about a meditative journey, or an adventurous vacation, I'm talking about stepping out of my comfort zone into something new.

Self publishing.

I have three novels, one short story, numerous magazine and newspaper articles via the traditional route; published by official publishing houses or agencies. That's cool and exciting-and slow. My middle grade adventure series has not found a home with the traditional publishers even though my agent was very excited about it.

This work has a special place in my heart. It wasn't the first novel that I wrote (those almost always end up in the trash can). I worked on this series of (so far) three books for years. A lot of years, don't ask specifically.)

I can't let it go.

So through and with my agent, Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency, we're taking this baby through self-publishing. I'm going through her for several reasons. First of all, she's my agent. We signed an agreement to work together. Doing something this big without her advice and guidance seems reckless and stupid. Second, she knows the business: knows which publishers are to be avoided, what a contract with an illustrator should have, what the price of services for typesetting and binding, etc. should be, and how to push me through the process without a major screw up on my end. Third, yes she gets a standard commission, but I get answers to questions without the hours of research, she'll post the books on her blog giving me exposure, and maybe if it does well, a traditional editor will reconsider pubbing it. It's money well spent.

I know a lot of people have self-pubbed. Some of it hasn't been pretty. Too many of these books have poor editing; Natalie and I have already polished my baby so it shines. I'm in the process of hiring a fantastic illustrator, and between the 3 of us, I know my cover will be stunning. When I see some of the covers out there (even in traditionally published books) I want to cringe. None of us want to be associated with a third rate book. As soon as I have a contract, I will introduce you to my illustrator. You may be surprised.

Finally, this is a labor of love on my part. I am spending time and money to do this right. As the process moves along, I'll journal it here. You can decide if this road, which is bound to be rocky and difficult, but provide many views I miss on the more traditional road, will have been worth it.

And while I work on this project, I still have other novels that Natalie will send down the traditional road. Hopefully, some good news will be forthcoming.

Wish me luck on my new adventure.

Postcards to come...


Illustration courtesy of Microsoft.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Consider Me Culturally Confused...

My grandmother and I shared a love of Asian art. Not 'inspired' but genuine Asian art. Here's my living room with several pieces:

Even though friends and guests of Asian ancestry have been to my house and admired (or at least haven't said anything negative) about it, does this make me a criminal? Or at the very least a racist?

In today's ever divisive world, probably yes.

Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture. (Wikipedia)

I see more and more angry tweets, blogs, rants about one culture 'stealing' from another. Looking past the "America is a melting pot of peoples, cultures and religions," theme for now, let me state that I would never wear a Native American headdress because of its religious significance, the same as I would never wear the Pope's mitre. It's not right, the same way I wouldn't consider wearing a holocaust uniform as a Halloween costume because it's insensitive, possibly demeaning. 

Yet the Urban Dictionary says of cultural appropriation: 

"The ridiculous notion that being of a different culture or race (especially white) means that you are not allowed to adopt things from other cultures. This does nothing but support segregation and hinder progress in the world. All it serves to do is to promote segregation and racism."

That's kind of how I feel. I believe that sharing the best of our cultures with people who show an interest in them is the way to bridge gaps. I wouldn't wear a geisha's outfit, but my husband has a silk tie he bought in Japan. Is he a criminal? Or not because the Japanese didn't invent ties, so maybe they are the criminals? 

See what I mean?

It's confusing and exhausting, and no matter how you discuss this, a lot of people get incensed and we have yet another thing to argue about and take sides over. While I think it's ridiculous for young white men to dress like they're from a ghetto, I don't think they are committing a crime or 'cultural appropriation' because I don't concede that rapper-style is a cultural element- it's fashion, which evolves. 

We need to celebrate diversity- in books, people, thinking, religion, culture- but I believe we can't use it as a wall to keep one group separate from the others. A 'this is only mine and you can't touch it' attitude will turn people away, leaving you alone just as you requested and then you become alienated and to use a word I hate- 'disenfranchised.' 

Look at St. Patrick's Day coming up this Thursday. First of all, the man never made it to our shores let alone drove out any snakes so it's purely an Irish-from-Ireland cultural thing. But, have you noticed that on that day, almost everyone wears green, shouts Irish sayings, drinks green beer and hangs out in a party mood?

Everyone's Irish for the day. I never hear of anyone complaining that others are taking away their culture. I see no harm coming to them- they delight in seeing everyone sharing in. Kinda nice, if you ask me. 

So, now I'm even more confused. It's okay in this instance, but not that instance. 

Someone draw me up a list of rules because I can't understand it.

Hoping all eyes, Irish and everything else, smile on you-


(image courtesy of Bing/Microsoft)

Monday, March 7, 2016

Accept It, Use It, Work With It.

I'm not an angsty person. In high school, I didn't pine over a crush who didn't return my admiration, I didn't wail that I didn't get invited to the cool kids' parties, and I didn't sob when I didn't go to my prom. I don't do emotional slobber.

Maybe it's my industrious, stern German background. We didn't have all that much drama in our family; we tended to keep it to ourselves or behind closed doors. And it goes without saying that I don't like woeful, angsty books. Weepy females tick me off.

So when my agent says I need more emotion in a scene, I know she's right. I don't even argue, I revisit the scene and figure out where my cold-hearted writing needs to be humanized. Sometimes that's hard to do. This difficulty with emotion is a blessing when I'm asked to write a eulogy. I can write passionately about a passed loved one and smile through the recitation while everyone else cries deathinconsolably.

To make my scenes more heartfelt, I have to draw on personal experience, allow those repressed feelings to bubble up, and channel them into my writing. Recently, I lost my beloved Aunt Kay, my mother's sister who was in many ways, a second mother to me. With her sickness, hospitalization and then death, I was with the family, helping to support my cousins and uncle. For the most part, I stayed strong- because they needed me. But even now, almost a month later, I find it hard to 'let it go' and cry over my broken heart.

But thinking about her loss helped me feel a scene from my middle grade historical novel where a young boy loses a friend. It's during World War II, and the friend is a soldier in Hitler's army. Like with my aunt's illness, death and loss were hovering in the background, waiting for their opportunity.

I didn't add a lot of drama with the revision; my character, a 13-year-old boy named Tomas, of a sturdy Germanic family, isn't going to scream or pull his hair, or faint. He's going to be strong, like his parents and like the little soldier the Third Reich expects him to be.

But he can't. He throws himself into his mother's arms and cries, his whole body shaking.

That's it. That's the end of the chapter and that scene. For a boy trying to be stalwart during oppressive times, completely breaking down like that is expressing his grief.

Eventually, characters and people have to let loose, no matter how hard it is.

Clip art courtesy of Microsoft/Bing