Just back from the happy, morning task of cleaning the chickens’ poop deck, I am here to announce that Bittersweet Manor is one year old! In celebration, and most conveniently, on May 27th, my novel will be awarded a Silver medal, an IPPY Award for Contemporary Fiction, from Independent Book Publishers. I ask: What could be a better birthday present?
Now, a few people have commented, “too bad you didn’t get the gold,” which brings me to part of my post’s topic today: Competition. I’m not into it. It ruins a good time. It dilutes success. It leaves nothing being good enough.
I’ve never won an award for my writing—typically I’m a runner up or an honorable mention or a no mention whatsoever—so this silver feels Tony the Tiger Great! If only because silver will look better on the cover; gold would clash with the blues and whites, don’t you think so?
To think: One year ago today, Carl and I drove to Boston where I was interviewed on the Molly Bean show in celebration of Bittersweet Manor’s launch and was thus jettisoned directly into a graduate-level course on publishing in the 21st century: a flurry of readings. Platform development. A Cross-Country, Whistle Stop Book Tour with Flash Readings. The challenges and failures and successes of sales and, in the end, it’s all about book by book. Like so much in life. Process and patience.
I have few regrets going with a new way, the cutting edge way of hybrid publishing. The publishing world is one of the most intransigent to change. Two years ago, I had sent out over one hundred queries for Bittersweet Manor with only two or three nibbles that went nowhere. I had no agent. No editor. No publisher and was about to add Bittersweet Manor to the shelf of my unpublished writing in a closet. Then I was accepted by She Writes Press.
Hybrid publishing, to many, is a glorified form of self-publication. A sneer usually accompanies comments about “couldn’t make it in the real world”, “vanity press” and “assisted self-publishing”. All causing feelings ranging from humility to humiliation in my heart, probably because that’s exactly how I have viewed it on occasion. No one has sneered at my successes more cruelly than I have.
However, I remind myself and know this: She Writes Press gave me the opportunity to publish a good book, something I would never have done by myself. Self-Publishing was not an option for me. I needed help, and am not good at asking for help, and so She Writes Press came along at a very good time for me.
Did I mention cutting edge. A lot of people are shrugging off the old ways and seeing the potential of these things called hybrid presses, the mixing of tradition with invention. Traditional publishing might be consider the “gold standard” but it removes control of one’s creative work, and doesn’t remove the necessity of the author doing the work of platform and publicity. Tradition absolutely gives one a stamp of approval, an imprimatur officiating that this book has been vetted and passed. I will point out here, however, that there are really bad books being published by both tradition and by authors. And some truly wonderful books, too.
Hm. This is not where I had intended to go this morning. I came in thinking about how Panda, our mother hen, is going broody two months earlier than she usually does, raising that question of do we/I order (sex-linked) chicks this year? And do we really need more chickens? And how dare I consider more chickens when I haven’t dealt, still, with Beatrice’s bumble foot (though it doesn’t look like much, apparently it is still there and needs to be operated on. . ..) Nor with Clownie’s and CooLot’s sneezing, and should I go to the Ippy Award ceremony or will it be too embarrassing and vain? Once I got through those ramblings, I planned to sit down and write about my attendance this past weekend at Grub Street’s The Muse and Marketplace Conference, a mini-version of this year’s rollercoaster, encapsulating what I have learned, and then some.
What did I learn? First, that I have to get my brain around Twitter. Technology sucks and is a time suck but it must be done. Like dealing with pasty-butted chickens of which we have three. Warm baths to come and I managed to develop my “author platform” this year from which I leap on various occasions. My website changed twice. I have an author page and personal page on Facebook, though I tend to forget to leap from them on a regular basis. And I have a Twitter account. That I have ignored ever since returning from the Cross Country Whistle Stop Book Tour with Flash Readings. Ignored until I noted that my publisher had tweeted that I won an award. The next day, I met two young women at the Grub Street conference who swear by Tweeter. Twitter. As does a fellow She Writes Author, Anjali Mitter Duva (The Promise of Rain.) All pointed to the fact that, if I am serious about this writing business, which I guess I am. Am I? I can’t consider tweeting twitting anymore. It’s a way to connect and communicate. It apparently leaves Facebook—that fuddy duddy application I only just mastered in an apprentice kind of way—in the dust. To ease the transition, it was suggested I consider the 140 characters a new form of flash story. Techno-Haiku. I who tend to write long. Very long. As exhibited by this post.
I also learned this most important lesson—thank you Porter Anderson, King of Tweeting—that one should not talk about one’s book until it is done. Otherwise, it’s old news before it’s even been dotted and crossed, I’s and T’s. So I won’t be mentioning my next book anymore (ahem) because that’s the third thing I learned as my rollercoaster car rocketed down into a dip of black reality: I have a lot of work to do before my next book is done. Not least, to find the story arc. I thought I had. Apparently not.
It took me ten years to hammer Bittersweet Manor into its current story form.
Sad but true. It is clear now that my next book is unlikely to save the world as I had hoped because by the time it is done, too much time will have passed. It will only be a memoir of a memory of a world that existed once upon a time. If we live so long.
But I mustn’t feel pressured and anxious about the time element. I can’t let the tick tock of the clock obsess me such that I don’t write. Right?
I also learned that I have not changed. Just as I did two years ago at Grub street’s writers’ conference, I stood on the sidelines, on the mezzanine level of the conference halls, staring down at the first floor, and around me, awed by the way people meet. They talk so animately and knowledgeably. They greet each other and connect and communicate . . . while I pretend to be quite content to scribble aimless thoughts on a piece of paper and dial my husband’s cell to see if he’s there to talk.
The above thought was had while enduring another trough of the rollercoaster ride. In fact, I did meet people. Not least, Russ Iiles, who brings us back to where I began: competition. I met him at the RiverHaven Books table where he was overseeing the sales of Indie Authors—because heaven forbid self-published books and hybrid books be sold at the same table as traditionally published books—not least, his own, Duct Tape Won’t Fix This, about his experience as a father experiencing the suffering of his child fighting cancer six times. He explained to me how little support fathers get in those situations. The men. Tough guys. Who don’t show emotion.
No longer. This guy, who used to be a tough guy, maybe even an angry guy, appeared to me to be a nice guy. A feeling guy. A cutting edge kind of guy because, in our society, it’s about competition, not compassion. It’s about gold, not silver or bronze or the hard work and long term going deep, then deeper to figure out what exactly one is trying to do and write, and if you get to that kernel, there is your gold. In yourself, not a medal. The medal is nice because it is outward validation but the real prize is one’s self. In theory.
My understanding from what Russ said is that, when a child is fighting for his or her life, the fathers/husbands/brothers aren’t supposed to show emotion, and so don’t get the support they need so desperately. His hope is that his book might save one man or many from the pain he endured of isolation and fear. He hopes to share his lessons of how to tear down the walls against emotion. And the walls of expectation. The expectation of steely strength and gold, instead of tears and hugs. He learned that compassion, not competition, is what we need more of. That’s what Russ and I talked about. Like me, Russ wants to save the world. Love and compassion are all we have left. It’s the only thing that can save the world.
Well, it’s a starting point, anyway.
As is reading outside of one’s comfort zone. I attended the Key Note event on Saturday night. “A Manifest for Inclusion: Building a Better Marketplace for All Writers”. And diversity was a key word during the discussion. How we naturally stay within our comfort zones and thereby don’t grow. And how, to facilitate change, we have to start supporting (by buying books by) people who are not like us. For example, I tend to read an old reading list of classic authors. The Dickens, Tolstoy, Eliot, Wharton list of books. But for the rest of this year, and beyond, besides the books on my desk on the subjects of biodynamic farming, gardens, and landscaping; and the articles from the NH Rebellion and NH Pipeline, I am going to read “out of my comfort zone” books. And I’m going to do so because it is a new path in my war against climate change & quest to save the world: we all need to expand our horizons. Just as we need to support our independent bookstores and public transportation, (please see my YouTube videos and posts from my Cross-country, Whistle Stop Book Tour with Flash Readings), so we have to read differently and divergently: so that the works will be there. The writers will be there. New vistas will be opened and hard conversations had. Change is uncomfortable but it is necessary.
I have to end this too long post, and so will end abruptly, and with celebration because I am not alone! Jean Moore, another She Writes Press Author, won the gold for Contemporary Fiction for her book Water on the Moon. As did Mary Adler’s In the Shadow of Lies won gold for Best West-Pacific Regional Fiction. And Carol Montgomery Merchasin won the silver for her memoir This is Mexico. All She Writes Press authors! J Dylan Yates, another SWP author, won the gold for her self-published YA version of the novel The Belief in Angels. The adult version of this book was published by She Writes Press. I hope you’ll check them out!