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Goal!   9 comments

What does literary success look like to you?

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What Tastes Like Literary Success?

The easy answer for me is seeing that my books are being read. Yeah, all indie authors are jazzed to see our books finally in publication. And, yeah, it feels good to sell a book and make some royalty. A little coin in the pocket isn’t a bad thing, especially since there’s a cost to publishing and it’s nice when your books break even or, gasp, make a profit. I’m a capitalist and, while writing as a hobby is something I’d do anyway, making some money off it is gratifying.

But, unexpectedly, was what happened when I published my most recent book in November 2018. The sales weren’t especially overwhelming, but I’m used to that and it was before I had discovered Amazon ads. The book that comes out later this year will be a full test of the efficacy of that program. No, in November I clicked on Kindle’s KENP Reads beta report and saw this amazing report that showed me which books were being read and I could do the math and see how many books that translated into. I could see that someone (I imagine the same readers) were starting with Book 1 (Life As We Knew It), going to Book 2 (Objects in View), going to Book 3 (A Threatening Fragility) and then finishing with Book 4 (Day’s End) and they were doing it, often day after day … binge-reading my series. While I’d love it if they left a review when they were finished, this is sufficient applause for me.

In fact, it was far better than getting paid when someone buys the book, which could sit on someone’s TRB for years. Instead, I get real-time data showing the books are being read. (KENP has now come out with a royalty estimator so you can see approximately how much money you’re making from those reads). That scratches the literary success itch for me in a way I didn’t even know I wanted.

Would I like to be a best-selling author? Of course I would. Any author who says they don’t want that is either lying or in denial. We wouldn’t publish our books if we didn’t want them to be read. Most of us are, unfortunately, going to languish in the shadows for our entire careers. We have to define success in something other than the dollars our books bring in the door. For me, it’s people reading my books. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do a happy dance if I broke into best-seller territory, so isn’t it lovely that KENP is now being used to calculate best-seller rankings. And, last month was the first time my KENP royalties outranked my sell royalties, so … yeah … starting to look kind of shiny around here.

Toiling in My “Fields”   10 comments

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

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Writing is something I can’t not do, so a lot of my process feels like breathing and breathing is usually pretty easy for most of us. Characters appear in my head , often while I’m doing something that has nothing to do with writing. There’s something about doing a big filing project, folding laundry, quilting and picking blueberries that makes my muse active. I don’t really think about it. Characters start talking in my head and I feel compelled to write down the stories they tell me. That doesn’t necessarily lead to a novel, but it often does.

I enjoy the first draft, that gravelly diamond-in-the-rough that just appears from beneath my fingers. And, I actually really enjoy the act of rewriting, of taking a rough story and improving it, pruning what isn’t necessary and adding what would enhance the tale.

And then we get to the critique and editing portion of the process. Submitting for critique is scary because you don’t know what people are going to think of your story and it’s just possibly that you’ll discover you’re crazy. I haven’t had that experience in submitting to sane people. I did have a Authonomy review by a notoriously cruel reviewer, but his (or her, that was always uncertain) review was so vitriolic that I didn’t mourn for long. I read what he had to say and considered the points, but I used my own judgment. He made The Willow Branch a better novel, but it surely wouldn’t have been published if I’d accepted his analysis whole-cloth.

That part is scary, but scary isn’t hard. Alaska’s a dangerous place and you enjoy it a whole lot more if you’re brave. Being brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. I’ve lots of practice overcoming scary. Nowadays I ask for beta readers before I’ve even finished the rewrite.

I’d say the hardest part of my writing process is marketing. I’m not a naturally outgoing person and I’d prefer not to have to interact with people to sell books, but alas, I’m not independently wealthy so I have to market my books myself. It’s all the hours it takes and trying to balance that with time for family and writing. The good news is, based on the KENP reads, if people find my books and read the first one, they tend to read the whole series. I keep trying to find a sweet spot where the books more or less sell themselves with just some promotion, but I’m not there yet.

I’m all about doing hard things and not complaining about it. I believe it’s the key to success. So check out my author page and find your next series to love. I’ve got fantasy and apocalyptic, a political satire and anthologies. See how easy that was? Hard part taken care of.

Book 5 in Transformation Project “Gathering In” will be out sometime before the end of the year.

Vulnerable Doesn’t Equal Victim   9 comments

August 5,2019

What is your writing Kryptonite?

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I LOVE this topic because it bumps up against a theme in my work in progress “What If … Wasn’t.” More about that in a few paragraphs.

On the surface, kryptonite is easy. It’s what makes Superman weak. But of course, there’s several different kinds of krytonite. All of them affect him in a negative way, but red kryptonite makes him feel strong as it also overwhelms his morality. Interestingly, green kryptonite is the anecdote – judiciously applied, of course. You don’t want to kill the superhero while attempting to save him.

“It’s your krytonite,” Ben observed.

Peter sipped coffee, frowning.

“Not unless it’s red kryptonite. I feel so strong and capable when I drink. I can fly and take on that dude from the Phantom Zone.”

“Colonel Zod.”

“Yeah. It’s a powerful feeling.” Peter smiled at the memories, and then shivered. “And then the consequences hit.” He looked haunted.

“Are the consequences your green kryptonite?”

“That’s where your metaphor breaks down, Ben. Green kryptonite only affects Superman. It doesn’t kill humans. Mine does.”

Peter’s self-hatred oozed from every word.

“I don’t have a future as a comic book writer, but — Peter, it seems to me you’ve learned to leave the red kryptonite alone. Five years sober! That’s odds defying, from what I’ve read. So why can’t you forgive yourself?”

Peter sighed, looking for answers in the bottom of his coffee mug.

“Maybe that’s my green kryptonite – shame. As long as I take a dose of it everyday, I leave the red alone.”

“Maybe, but I’d recommend you reduce the dose below lethal levels.” Peter rubbed the back of his neck, clearly uncomfortable with the suggestion. “Isn’t there a happy medium between red kryptonite ego-maniac and green kryptonite self-hatred?”

Peter shrugged, then shook his head in self-mockery.

“If it exists, I wouldn’t recognize it if it bit me on the ass.”

The last of Ben’s anger at Peter dissolved like ice in the hot sun, scorched by Peter’s brutal self-assessment.

“Do you trust your friends enough to recognize it for you?”

“Do you trust me enough to be my friend again?”

For the first time, Peter made eye contact with Ben. Telling the truth was hard for him because it made him vulnerable and right this moment, Ben had never seen Peter more vulnerable. Shame wasn’t his only green kryptonite.

From “What If … Wasn’t.”

Krytonites exist all around us and I think we humans have a lot of individual kryptonites — that which makes us weak and those may be far less dangerous than that which makes us feel strong, but will also kill us. I could spend several novels exploring the various kryptonites that affect a whole range of characters.

So the question is, “What is my writing kryptonite?” and clearly I’ve recently given some thought to the kryptonite subject … but not so much as it relates to writing.

When I googled the topic of writer’s kryptonite, the first five articles said “distractions connected to the Internet” (e.i., research that becomes online shopping, social media, etc.) And I admit, I do get distracted that way sometimes. I start to do research and I answer a comment on Facebook and I get back to writing hours or days later and look what time I’ve wasted.

The sixth article mentioned worry about what people will think of your writing or the story you share. Yeah, that’s there too, but I’m a writer who hopes to be a bit subversive, so I recognize the desire to live in the good estimation of others as a green kryptonite and I’ve learned to recognize its effect and either move away from or overcome it in order to be a published author.

Too much creativity has been a kryptonite for me in 2019. Yeah … TOO MUCH creativity. I’ve started about six books, including choosing to develop “What If … Wasn’t” into a series, in the last eight months, interfering with my ability to write my primary project “Gathering In” (Book 5 of Transformation Project. (The manuscript just went to the beta readers yesterday. I’m only a month behind. It’ll be fine.) Creativity surge-tides are definitely a red kryptonite because I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of creative genesis. I’ve just had to force myself to concentrate where my focus needs to be. Book 6 (tentatively “Winter’s Reckoning”) may have a different schedule to accommodate my new projects. Sometimes kryptonite shows us where we need to adjust our course a little.

Transformation Project and “What If … Wasn’t” are teaching me that my true kryptonite is vulnerability. When we bare ourselves in our books, we risk ending up covered in goose flesh and embarrassment, which might be why too many people use fake vulnerability to garner attention as a victim rather than a purveyor of truths that should be revealed. Victimhood acts like fig leaves, leaving our vulnerability inadequately covered by the flimsiness of sympathy. Truth should always provide some nice leather garments to strengthen us in our weakness, so we can move beyond the pain and hopefully bring the reader to the point of empathy, which is so superior to sympathy.

The end of “Gathering In” is all about grieving and the next book will build on that by exploring the pain of post-traumatic stress disorder. “What If … Wasn’t” is all about the consequences of bad decisions. At every creative turn, I am called to be vulnerable through my characters while I don’t naturally want to be vulnerable because I long ago decided that my life is not about being a victim. Yes, I’ve experienced pain. If I’m honest, I’ve experienced a lot of tragedy in my life. No, I am not a victim. I’m a survivor and survivors don’t ask for tea and sympathy. Overcoming tragedy has made us strong and we have developed scar tissue that makes us seem invulnerable. And yet, good novelists expose our vulnerability through our characters. We open up the scar tissue to reveal our innermost frailty and, if we have truly learned the lessons of adversity, we can show where strength comes from.

Whether in writing fiction or interacting with the people around us, when we are vulnerable, we give someone else a piece of our self, not knowing how it will be received or reciprocated. We’re opening a vein to another, hoping for appreciation or empathy in return as we reveal the tragic beauty of a beating heart — hoping our readers won’t run screaming in the other direction.

Some people will run screaming, by the way. The world is filled with shallow people who only want to interact with shallow ideas. How dare I ruin their apocalyptic fiction with feelings. My vulnerability through my characters risks them feeling vulnerable and entertaining thoughts they’d rather not have. But I’m banking that some people will thrill to the vulnerability of an “invulnerable” character like Shane, because it makes him human and if they stick around, they might get to see a phoenix rise —

IF I don’t kill him, because nobody is guaranteed to live through my apocalypse – well, except JT Delaney who has opened every book with thoughts on what went wrong and is clearly writing from the future. Who is this person? It’s a mystery. I’ll give you a free e-copy of “Gathering In” (when it publishes) if you can guess. Email me at lelamarkham@gmail.com if you want in on this guessing game.

And Peter of “What If … Wasn’t” — vulnerability is the only way he can move beyond the consequences of his past to reconnect to other human beings again. He doesn’t have strength to rely on. He’s vulnerable because he’s broken, but what he’s done means he can’t claim to be a victim. He’s not allowed to feel sorry for himself. He has to be a survivor because no one will ever forgive him if he claims to be a victim. Writing him in his vulnerable state is scary painful, but it also makes me feel wholly alive — invigorated by a kind of truthfulness that you just can’t convey without bleeding a little of your soul onto the page.

When we’re vulnerable with others, we create an imbalance in the relationship. We admit we struggle in some way, knowing that truthfulness might engender ridicule, fear or dislike of us or our characters. That imbalance, however, leads to connection and connection – that’s where novelists should live. We become more compassionate human beings when we share stories of pain and struggle. Not all people can be the creator of such stories, but if the writer shares with the reader, the reader reaps the benefits of our honesty.

But I don’t want to be vulnerable. I don’t want to get naked before my audience. I don’t want to shine a bright spotlight on the beauty and sorrow of my humanity. Like everyone else, I prefer to be invulnerable — the superhero of my own life — and many of my characters wish the same. I have to force vulnerability on them for the sake of the story, as other writers have forced it on their protagonists.

Consider these scenarios:

  • Without the potential for contact with kryptonite and the dilemma of juggling two identities, is there any conflict or tension to Superman’s story?
  • Without the looming possibility of Holden Caulfield’s suicide, would we care about his whiny school-trip diary?
  • Without Romeo’s often-blind passion, wouldn’t we just wince at his and Juliet’s inevitable teenage romantic train wreck?

Our characters must be compelled by a need or desire they are desperate to fulfill. That desperation, the willingness to risk everything, is vulnerability. Readers delight in character kryptonite. Journeying alongside a vulnerable character as they find their way toward peace and healing allows us to experience uncertainty and risk without having to abide it in real life. Writers really are doing the human race a solid by giving our readers the opportunity to experience vulnerability without the personal tragedy.

And, yet, being vulnerable is my real-life kryptonite, which means I must willingly expose myself to that which makes me feel weak in order to be a stronger writer.

#Openbook – Open book blog hop – 29 July   Leave a comment

Posted July 29, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Open Book Blog Hop – July 22nd.   1 comment

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Posted July 22, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Seasons of Writing   11 comments

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

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The answer is – yes.

It depends on what I’m writing. When I feel passionate about what I am writing, it’s like a pot of coffee to my system. I feel an increase in adrenaline that spurs me on to the end of the scene and sometimes beyond, creating excitement. What’s more writing releases endorphins like oxytocin into the brain synapses, giving a boost not unlike heroin or nursing a baby.

Adrenaline and oxytocin are a powerful combination that make it hard not to feel energized when doing whatever it is that stimulates them, be it writing or binge drinking. Yes, writing can become an addiction not unlike alcoholism. We’ve all heard sad stories of gifted authors who have hurt themselves or fallen into the bottle. Ernest Hemingway and Jack Kerouac are just two who come to mind whose joy in writing turned to despair. How do we know the difference?

Sometimes you reach the bottom of the well and you have to take a pause to let it refill. I have those times – when writing has exhausted me and I need to go live real life for a while. It’s not that I never want to write again. I haven’t run out of good stories. I’m not giving up. I just need a break. Or maybe a shift of focus. Whatever it takes to stave off burnout and reinvigorate my love of writing.

And those times of refocus and renewal are how I know I’m not addicted to writing. It is my obsession, but it is one that I am still in control of. So long as I don’t have a project on deadline, I don’t despair when the words stop flowing. I recognize it for what it is – a needed time to allow my neurotransmitters to replenish. While I can’t imagine never writing again, I know I can not write for a few days or weeks and not be harmed in the least by it. If I find myself feeling anxious about not feeling the writer’s muse, then I know it’s time to step back even further and analyze why I’m writing – to satisfy my muse or to stimulate my endorphins.

That isn’t me at the moment. My muse showers blessings on me most days. I am writing on deadline, closing in on the rewrite of “Gathering In” (the 5th book in Transformation Project series). And I’ve just had a wonderful burst of creativity toward other projects. I’m not exhausted by writing currently – although the smoke from nearby forest fires and warm nights that don’t cool down because the sun never sets makes me tired and cranky unfortunately. It also causes me to be awake nights — a really good time to write and stimulate some endorphins to overcome my current life circumstances.

Writing has seasons and we all go through winters. What is exciting in June may seem impossible in December. It is the nature of the creative process, but seasons are temporary and after winter comes spring.

Posted July 22, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Dark Night of the Soul   10 comments

What was your hardest scene to write?

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I don’t write comedy (except occasionally, satire), so my characters are often struggling with damage, flirting with an abyss while struggling with the escalating tension of their unmet desires, wants and needs.

The intermediary step where they still see some light can be a challenging construction – showing Shane fighting for his community, trying to keep moving, all the while carrying around a “dead body” of guilt that seeks to drag him into the darkness. Showing him as functional but damaged is a balancing act, but not the hardest scenes to write.

The ones I hesitate over writing are the dark nights of the soul when the character reaches a place where no light can enter and they don’t even have a glimmer of hope for the future. That’s a painful place for anyone to be and conveying that strains my skills. I’ve walked through my own dark nights and come out the other side into the misty sunlight of promised redemption and therein lies the struggle for writing such fictional scenes. I know there’s light beyond the darkness. If a dark night catches up to me these days, I know there is hope on the other side. I instinctively want my characters to know it too. And, yet, they can’t know it because they’re not clairvoyant and when you’re young, you don’t have a catalog of life experiences that inform you the darkness is merely temporary.

Shane can’t feel that there is hope because he’s descending into darkness and it’s all he can see and I have to dwell with him in that terrifying place for however long it takes for him to get through it. †

As a character-driven writer, I allow my characters to tell me their story – not just the events, but their emotions and motivations. Shane is a reluctant informant. He doesn’t like talking about his damage. He doesn’t like me invading his privacy. He would rather I just hint instead of writing when he loses another piece of his soul. Readers can guess at what happened. He doesn’t need to be devoured for my art.

Of course, that’s a cop-out. I probably have some PTSD from my own dark nights. I need to walk through them with Shane so that the readers can sympathize, even empathize, with his pain. And I need to write Shane as not anticipating light, even as I know there is light just beyond what he can see.

One reason I write from multiple points-of-view is that sometimes one character will refuse to share the gory details, but another character can observe their agony and that takes away some of the sting. It also gives the reader a little buffer from the turmoil of the damaged character. There are emotions readers (and authors) don’t want to experience. Of course, we want the reader to empathize with our characters because that creates a bond between the character and the reader – a feeling that the reader is part of the story.

So what is the hardest scene I’ve written? That’s a hard question to answer because they stop being hard after I write them and I choose not to hang onto past resentments. Apparently, that personal ethic influences me as a writer as well. Writing a tough scene is like jumping into an icy Alaska river – it takes your breath away and you’re pretty sure you going to die, and then you recover and swim to the shore and it quits being a death-defying feat. It becomes a pleasant (if painful) memory where I overcame the cruel Alaska wilderness – a source for funny stories. So I frankly don’t remember the struggle because I overcame and it’s time to move on. Still, I can guess at which scenes stressed me out while writing them.

Frankly, if I’m honest, the hardest scenes for me to write are plotted, but not written yet. Shane is entering his pivotal crisis of the series. (The series has an ensemble cast, so it may not be THE pivotal crisis of the series). The book that publishes this fall will have some hard scenes in it, but the next book — that’s going to be like giving birth. I’m also working on the yet-unpublished “What If … Wasn’t.” Peter is a young man being released from prison after serving a manslaughter sentence for killing someone he loved. He’s not as dark and morose as Shane can be, but he’s got some horrible memories to live with and, it is a challenge to show that he hasn’t been defeated by his past, but that he walks a fine line between self-hate that could lead to suicide and hope for a future few people want him to have. And for me, as always, is the recognition that while I, the “deity” of this fictional world, know there’s hope — the character and the reader don’t.

Posted July 15, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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