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Month: October 2014

Something Different for Halloween

theater-masks1For years I pretended to be someone I wasn’t, on a daily basis. It was like a Trick or Treat or Hide and Seek all the time. There were several reasons for this: fear, shame, and guilt chief of them. A little over a decade ago, I said “no more.” I was determined to be myself, at all times.

But staying true in a world that encourages hypocrisy and putting on a good face is hard, and I slipped backward into making sure everyone around me was comfortable. We’ve all done it. Then five years ago, I renewed my vow to be true to myself. And for a long while, I was. But recently, I’ve slipped backward again. So this year for Halloween, I’m taking off the mask, rather than putting one on. Call it a resolution if you will.

Fear. I try to be a giving guy, concerned for the well-being of others, often at the cost of my own. Part of that is genuine kindness, but another part is fear that standing up for myself will offend others. Born out of the fear of being unpopular, or perceived as a jerk, this holds me back from sometimes just saying “no, this is my time.” Twice recently this has risen to the fore, causing resentment from me, and even comment from others.

As of today the mask comes off. No more fear. There will come times I will simply say “this is MY time.” Sometimes my mental health, and what is going on in my life is indeed more important than helping others. A tough balance, not one I manage well. I vow to do better.

Shame. There is a certain amount of shame attached to caring for oneself. The problem is, often taking time for this so I can continue to care for others is something I perceive as selfish, producing a feeling of shame. I fall back into self-neglect just to avoid that feeling. It’s stupid and illogical, but that doesn’t make it any less real.

So starting this November, I will not be ashamed of taking care of myself. The mask that says everything is okay will be removed. I have important work to do, and it matters.

Guilt. Guilt is an expression of fear and shame. In this case often unwarranted. And there are those in my life who attempt to make me feel both. All too often I let them. If you are one of those people, be warned. I’m going to call you on your actions, let you know their effect on me, and if needed I may walk away for a time.

I’m determined. No more masks, fear, guilt or shame. This year for Halloween, I’m taking off the disguise. Here I am, the real me. Sometimes hurting, sometimes vulnerable, sometimes just in need of some time alone, or time with those few who truly understand.

Don’t be offended. Though I often appear strong, I have needs as well. It’s time to meet those, so I don’t fall apart.

Happy Halloween!

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SAM_3500I usually blog on Monday’s and take part in Monday blogs I didn’t yesterday, but I have the best excuse ever: Vacation. I know, writers don’t really get vacations, and in that way this one has been no exception. I’ve written, filed away ideas, and even answered some e-mail. Obsess much? No, not me! But I digress. This week has been one of the best for me in a long time.

Recharge. There is nothing like a creative break to help you get back on track, especially when you know you are burning out. Not on writing, mind you, or on editing, which I love to do, especially for Tirgearr Publishing. They rock, in many ways. But the administrative side of writing, the interaction with other people, while endurable on one hand and mostly enjoyable on the other, both wear on my muse. So I needed just not to do them for a few days. I can only imagine that others are the same.

Reset priorities. For the last six months I have found myself often running around, doing things that while good, take away from my overall business plan and mission. I found myself needing to decide, and quickly, what was important and what was a distraction, something built into my original ideas, but one I have not followed well. It’s time to reset that, and get back to the basics: writing, editing, and reducing the time I spend on much of the rest.

SAM_3527Reconnect. I have an entire side of my family that I knew, until recently, little or nothing about. Part of that lack has shaped my ideas of what, exactly, family is. Well this week, I got to reconnect with a cousin, the greatest one ever, and her husband and daughter. It has been fantastic for me.

Not only that, but in the places I visited, I have reconnected to history, one of the things I love the most. I have come to realize once again how young the history of the West (where I reside) is compared to the Eastern United States. I may have to come back. For a month or two.

So how has your week been? Even if you are at home, I hope you have done some of the three things above. I know I will be focusing on them more. My muse is thanking me for it.

Good thing, because NaNoWriMo starts Saturday.

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The Dirge of Distraction

conquer-distractionI try to be a helpful guy, sharing with others the things I have learned the hard way, so they do not have to experience the same pain I have. I hope it frees them to make mistakes of their own. But there are times when being helpful becomes a huge distraction, and I lose the focus that has driven me to this point. Distracted, I am no longer learning and progressing myself. So my ability to be truly helpful diminishes. Anyone else know what I mean?

Recently, this Dirge of Distraction had risen in volume in my life, to the point where I had to do something about it. So following a particularly discouraging e-mail, and a quick accounting of the money and time I have expended over a few short months. I sat down with my business plan and my brain engaged, and did what I should have done a while ago. I evaluated what I am doing based on passion, income, and distraction. I needed to get back to the why behind what I do. Here are my original business rules, revisited, in the hope they will be helpful to you as well.

1) Do what you love. If you are going to leave the grind of a day job, and also sacrifice the security of, say, a regular paycheck, it pays to do something, or even several things you are passionate about. If you have a number of passions, you should (read must) narrow your focus. But this is only step one.

mailmoney2) Do whatever related to number one that PAYS. “It’s my passion.” “It’s my art.” Wonderful. Can you pay rent with that? Likely not, unless your landlord takes payment in poetry, prose, or painting (I’ve tried, with no takers). So you also need to make money with the thing you are passionate about. In the digital world, there are a variety of ways to do so, and the same creativity that fuels your passion should be applied to the business side of your endeavors.

3) Evaluate distraction vs. opportunity. Sometimes you can sacrifice short term loss for long term gain, in other words gambling and betting on the come. This is often the case with authors, as in a way you are betting the next book will sell as well or better than the last one. But it is the same with other opportunities. When it becomes evident the long term gain is not likely, or at least not likely to arrive before you starve, it’s probably a distraction rather than a great idea.

4) Be careful what, and how much, you give. This is the eternal downfall of the helpful. I like to see others succeed. Just be careful you are not doing so by sacrificing your own success. If there is no hope for reciprocity, or your charitable endeavor consumes too much of your time, energy, and money, it may be wise to stop giving, at least in that area.

Opportunity and success are often just as much about evaluating what to say ‘yes’ to, and what to pass up. ‘No’ is a very empowering word, and so is the phrase, “No more.” Don’t be afraid to stop, evaluate who and where you are, and where you want to go. Return to your passion. Those around you will thank you for it in the long run.

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Crossing Genres

This week, there was an excellent article in the New York Times with a brilliant explanation of religion. A similar piece aired on CBS Sunday Morning. Both pieces stated that religion is more about identity than a set of precepts everyone who ascribes to the religion adheres too. Muslims and Christians are Muslims and Christians because they identify themselves as such. We have no right to single out one radical group or another to tell them they are not “real.” Nor does one group have the right to vilify another, saying they are not true believers.  Interpretation of scripture in a number of textual, social, and cultural contexts can lead to any number of beliefs, equally justified, within any faith.

This is the way genres work as well. Here’s the scenario: “What do you do?”

“I’m an author.”

“What kind of books do you write?”

“Suspense/Thriller. Some horror.”

“Oh. I read mostly _______.”

Whatever the blank is filled with is likely not your genre. It’s also pretty likely that the potential reader standing in front of you actually does read something like your books, but has no idea what “genre” the books they read actually fall into. Genres are only real because an author declares they write in a certain one, and a reader states that is what they prefer to read. So bookstores and Amazon apply sweeping categories to fiction, and readers hope the author, the bookstore, and their tastes all align.

This results in disappointed readers, sometimes poor reviews, and confused book store clerks. Amazon provides more specific categories than most, but even those cover a wide variety of books. So how do we, as authors, stand out from the crowd?

Have a good log line. A movie term, all this means is a one sentence summary that piques the readers’ interest. Regardless of your genre, a good log line tells the reader at least a little bit about the book, the plot, and whether it is a good fit for them.

Have a solid, brief summary of your story. This is often the back cover blurb. But you should have this, or something similar memorized. Or you should be passionate enough about your story to share something quick and powerful with any potential reader. Don’t provide details. This allows room for the reader to interpret your story according to their worldview, not yours. Therefore, they create their own context, and your story is able to touch more readers.

Make sure your cover relates to your content. This reflects back to context and perception, the core of interpretation.  The cover, along with your log line and your summary, should begin to tell the reader something about the story. If it doesn’t, you need a different one.

Your story will not relate to everyone, but it will relate to enough readers. Breaking news: not everyone shares your view of the world. Actually, that is a great thing, because it’s what makes life interesting. So be honest about your work. At the same time, be open to a reader’s perception, and listen to what they have to say.

Will any of this guarantee you stellar book sales? No. But it’s a start. Your message must be clear, and communicating it is part of your job as an author. Just remember, communication is a two way street. Leave room for the reader to add their own input and imagination. After all, crossing genres is largely determined by context and interpretation.

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The Hard Stuff

I sit down to write, Not a song, not a
poem. Not a rock anthem to thrill
the masses, please the DJ’s, or be the pick of the
top 40 stations.

Not a piece of poetry filled with rhythm and rhyme, with all
the right accents, the correct emphasis on
syllables and beats, but what does flow
from my fingers like fire is the story…

A story so personal and powerful that my fingers cannot dance across
the keys fast enough. The words pile on top of one another, the dyslexic nature
of my fingers betrays my ability to correct them. That will have to
wait, because all that matters is the passion, the fear, the anger,
the doubt, the uncertainty. I write to calm the storm of thoughts, the multitude of
voices that surround me, the ones that say,
“Yes, it did happen that way. The pain is real.”
The pain is real.
It did happen.
The throbbing dulls with each word, the fear fades with each sentence, the doubt
gives way to certainty with each paragraph.
I am not a writer to please anyone, but to write the hard stuff, the things
that scare me the most, so in the end
my own soul will be healed.

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Us and Them

usthemOne of the reasons I agreed to and wanted to form Entrepreneurial Authors was this. There is no “us” or “them.” There is only us. I was reading a sermon (don’t die of shock, please) when it hit me. I won’t post the source, because to some the source itself would be controversial. The sermon was preached by a woman, who believes everyone should be included in the church and the gospel, the velvet ropes should be removed from the entrances to churches everywhere, and be burned. Not because she thinks so, but because Jesus said so. That’s not my topic today. The point I saw was that the current state of the church is much like authorship, and like the music industry used to be. And we can all learn something from that sermon. This quote was particularly poignant.

“In a week when I was particularly filled with self-righteous indignation and feelings of “us” and “them” – when I was pridefully standing above and feeling spiritually superior to those who, unlike me, were clearly not taking the high road, this all sounded like really good news. Because keeping score, and knowing where I stand above or below others, and maintaining divisions is just so damned exhausting.”

You see, I was bemoaning cancelling a conference, and was sitting, thinking about “us” who got “it,” and “them” who did not. And realized, as this pastor did, that I was simply creating another division, and not one based necessarily on fact, but differences of opinion. It doesn’t affect just me when I think like that. It affects everyone I interact with. So I have to stop thinking about “us” and “them” and realize the self-publishing revolution did one thing: it rearranged the seating chart at the author table forever. And we need stop trying to put it back, because the old way doesn’t make sense any more.

The Velvet Ropes are Gone! (Hallelujah) The Big Five (Big Six back in “the day”) were the gatekeepers of the holy of holies, publication. Only those who were worthy, not to mention lucky, were allowed in the club. But not everyone in the club was even treated the same. (Following me, churchgoers?). The ones who, for a variety of reasons were selected, got to sit up front, and sip the caviar and champagne. It seemed a lot like sports and music. The top 10% made all the money. The rest did what they did for the love of their craft.

We welcome the publicans and sinners. There has always been stigma attached to genres. Certain types of fiction and storytelling were simply not allowed. Convention told the gatekeepers this would never sell, at least not enough to be viable. Even good stuff was left in the slush pile for a multitude of reasons. There were small presses, but they struggled to survive. Print on demand was almost unheard of, and even a small run of books for an author who didn’t sell could bankrupt them. But the world changed, and authors discovered a wonderful thing: there were indeed audiences for what they wrote. The trick was finding them, and making it possible for readers to discover their work.

The Market as a Gatekeeper. As a reader and as an author, this is great news. However, there is a catch, as always. If you want to write for passion, there are now no obstacles. If you want to write for a living? Well, then there are things you must do, ways you must operate in the new marketplace, to be discovered, and to market your work effectively. In short, you have started a small business, and it’s hard work. It comes with good and bad, painful work and work you love. Breaking in, finding your place in the market, is the key.

The Gospel according to Troy (and others). The Good News if you will, the message of salvation is that authors are doing this every single day. There are a ton of mid-listers making a living from their writing. Sure, they often do other things as well, related to the publishing industry or another industry they are involved in. But primarily they do what they love: write. And they are able to make a living at it.

It isn’t that simple. At the same time, it isn’t that hard. There is no “us” and “them.” There is really only one division. Those who do, and those who don’t. The real gatekeeper isn’t the market, or a publisher. Your only gatekeeper is you. Choose your path. Because the ground here is level, and everyone is welcome.

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