I keep hearing this rumor that people don’t read any more.
It’s a scary thought, to a debut author working toward a writing career. If people don’t read, then who will buy my books? I have had a midnight wakeful moment or two, worrying.
A couple of days ago, a co-worker asked me if I’d read a certain book that just happens to have the word Grey in the title. A few days before that, I received a Facebook message from a friend I haven’t spoken to in several years asking the same question. Now, while I personally wish they were reading some other book, they are reading, and I took their question as an opportunity to refer them to The Siren, by Tiffany Reisz. I figure all of those Fifty Shades lovers out there are going to need more books to satisfy the craving, which means they will be buying and reading more books. By other authors.
And people are reading other books. All the time. Everywhere.
Yesterday, when I was in talking to my supervisor about something, I noticed a hardcover of the new Charlaine Harris sitting on her desk. One of the finance people in our office sits outside during her breaks and reads a book, every single day. Yet another co-worker asked me for recommendations of something to read on vacation.
Even at the Walmart, people are reading. A couple of weeks back my Viking took me to the Walmart photo department to make a poster sized print of the draft artwork for Between. Bless the man, he wanted me to have one on my writing wall, and didn’t want to wait for the final product. Anyway – the woman who helped us with this project said, “will your book be on Kindle? I will buy it. I read a lot of books.” I got a similar response at the shoe store, (yes, there is only one in this town) and at Dress Barn in Spokane from the wonderful woman who helped me choose clothes for writer cons, and from the photographer who took my author photos. All of them interested in books, all of them readers.
Small town, small cross section, but I figure if there are people reading here, in the town of Colville, they are probably reading other places as well.
Even though there is no guarantee that any of these readers will buy my book, I find this comforting.
I have cover art, but I can’t show it to you yet. And I have the flu.
Yes the two things are related. Life is strange that way.
Friday morning I checked the email and there, hidden between a Coldwater Creek sale announcement and a Twitter follow notice, was the email I’d been waiting for with anticipation for months. Just a short note from my editor, saying that the draft cover art had landed on her desk today and please don’t post it yet because it’s not official.
Click, click, and there it was: a really truly book cover with the title BETWEEN and my name at the bottom. Kerry Schafer.
Huge milestone, right? A moment to jump up and down and shriek and tell everybody in the whole wide world that I HAVE FREAKING COVER ART.
What I felt was an emotional disconnect. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with me, somehow, or to the emotional imprint of the book that I carry around inside me. I inquired of myself about this reaction, gently, as in, “what the hell is up with you?”
Maybe it’s the flu, my self said to my self. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that my head is pounding, my throat is scratchy, my muscles feel about as vibrant as overcooked spaghetti and the only thing I feel an emotional connection with at this moment is the bed that I am very far away from.
When I got home the wonderful menfolk in my world supplied all of the enthusiasm I’d been lacking. There’s a lot to be said for a bunch of guys, including a very opinionated Viking, professing their love and admiration for your brand new book cover.
But it wasn’t until I was discussing my reactions with a couple of other writer friends that I began to understand that my response might have nothing to do with the flu and be within the range of normal. For me as the writer, the book is a living thing with a soul. The characters, (including a certain dragon) all look a certain way in my head. What I find myself wanting, as an author, is a cover that accurately reflects this concept of the book.
But that’s not what covers are for. The purpose of the cover is to say, first and foremost: READ ME. It gives hints about what your reading experience will be, entices you in. And the portrayals of the characters on book covers never, ever, look the way I envision them in my head.
Having had a couple of days now to think things over, I have realized that it is an awesome cover. I love it. It still feels a little surreal and distant, but then I’m also still a little feverish and in love with the idea of just lying in bed.
I’m also curious – any other writers find it surreal and strange to see your book cover for the first time? I’d love to hear about your reactions.
Waiting is definitely a THING in publishing, I’ve discovered. There tend to be flurries of intense activity, sometimes with crazy deadlines and a buzz of excitement. And then – nothing. Long spells of absolutely nothing. Sometimes it makes me wonder if I’m crazy, if I just imagined the publishing contract and the editors and even the agent. Maybe I have become delusional because I wanted this book to be published so much. Maybe none of it is real. But then, things start to happen again and there is another little flurry of activity – sufficient evidence to keep me going during the next period of waiting.
What am I waiting for? Well, copy edits on BETWEEN for one thing.
The book went off for copy editing very nearly two months ago now. Every morning I check my email with a mixture of anticipation and foreboding to see if the file has shown up yet in my inbox. And then I proceed to check that inbox over and over all day long until 5, after which I assume all sensible publishing people have left the building and will not be sending me copy edits today.
This will be my first experience with this phase of manuscript preparation. I look forward to it as another step on this adventure, a step that brings the book closer to being a BOOK, instead of just “that thing I wrote.” I worry about things. How many changes will I be asked to make? Will they try to take away all of my semicolons? Because I love the squiggly little guys and will have to fight to keep them.
Only the so far nameless, shadowy power that is the Copy Editor knows the answers.
I’m also waiting on cover art. The subject came up a few months back and there has been no more word. Editor Danielle tells me she’ll likely just find it on her desk one morning, and that she’s pretty much as in the dark as I am as far as the time it may be revealed.
But I also have a deadline for Book Two, so while I wait I’m also writing as fast as I can. I should hit fifty thousand words today if all goes well, and the rough draft should be done by the end of the month. I’ve been having fun with this sequel, and I’ll just hint that research rabbit holes have included: the myth of Prester John, sphinxes, sacred wells, Peyote, and Ponce de Leon and the search for the Fountain of Youth.
I had my author photos taken, which was much more fun than I had anticipated. And I’m beginning to work with the very talented and creative Stefan Friesen on the design for my new author website.
So this waiting thing is more a state of mind as there simply are not enough hours in the day to do what needs doing and twiddle my thumbs as well. Which is fortunate, because I never was good at thumb twiddling and there are no Angry Birds on my iPhone.
I’ve been taking it easy since I switched from the crisis job over to regularly scheduled hours in the office. For me, this means limiting my activities to work, writing, and the minimally necessary demands of running a household – groceries and bills, and just enough cleaning to prevent us from falling into squalor and chaos.
In the last two weeks I have not been to the gym. I haven’t even opened the textbooks for the RN refresher course I’m doing. There is clutter in my mudroom office that requires attention and a stack of mail on the windowsill that needs to be sorted and filed. I’ll get to it. Soon.
Right now I’m in a recovery phase, letting my body just rest and recharge. There’s a little bit of guilt kicking around in my brain, but I’ve locked it up for the time being behind a big metal door, where it can beat its fists and skin its knuckles without bothering me too much.
The truth is, I know better than to burn the candle at both ends for long periods of time. Meltdown is inevitable. Honestly, I think we all know this on some level. If we drive ourselves too hard for too long with too little rest, there is going to be a crash somewhere along the line.
What I think we forget is that we might even be more productive and get more and better creative work accomplished if we take the the time to rest. Picture one of those days when you are trying to write but you are exhausted.
Your brain feels like oatmeal made yesterday morning and left out on the counter to congeal. Your stomach burns from the constant onslaught of coffee and stay awake snacks. Your eyes keep closing. Your fingers stammer and stutter over the keys and typos pop up everywhere. You can’t remember why on earth you ever started to write this book in the first place, or why you are continuing to write it now. You may even dissolve into a puddle of tears and misery over the loss of your creativity and how much this story sucks. Hours pass, and very little gets done. Half of what you do manage to write ends up needing to be discarded later.
Now, consider the possibility that instead of forcing yourself in this way, you take the day off. You take naps, you watch a good movie, maybe you even find your way into a restful place outdoors – a park, the forest, a river, a lake, or somebody’s backyard pool. You get a full night of restful sleep. And the next morning, refreshed and energized, you’re able to make up the missed word count from the day before.
Apart from the possible productivity benefit, our bodies can’t sustain the constant onslaught forever. Stress hormones are produced that can affect everything from immunity to blood sugar regulation. Chances are that if we keep up the insane schedule long enough, we’ll get sick. Possibly we’ll only catch a cold, but the probability of developing a serious or chronic illness increases with high levels of stress as well. And if we get sick, productivity goes out the window.
I honestly believe that the religious traditions that dictate a day of rest every week really are onto something. I’m not acting on this belief at this point in my life, but I am making an effort to slow down a little over the weekend, to engage in guilt free episodes of leisure and allow myself to enjoy them.
Soon, probably this week, I’m going to have to bump up my schedule again. I need to go to the gym, because this too is a healthy thing. And I need to finish the RN refresher course that I started. I need to blog more regularly and catch up on household tasks I’ve let slide. I’d like to do this in a healthy way, though, since I’ve discovered that I kind of like this feeling of not being all tied up in knots.
If you’ve read this post, now might be a good time to ask yourself some questions. How brutal is your schedule? Are you exhausting yourself and depleting your resources? Would you benefit from fitting some regular rest and relaxation into your life? And if so, how might you manage this?
I challenge everybody to put some leisure time into this Sunday, if you haven’t already.
While I was at RT this past month, I learned some unexpected things.
One of them was that I, the card carrying introvert, absolutely loved meeting tons of new and interesting people. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but it was probably the fact that these new and interesting people were all either writers or lovers of books. I have to be honest – sometimes when I meet people socially in the big wide world, I am horribly and fatally bored. I can only think about when and how I can gracefully escape while engaging in the obligatory small talk or (hopefully) politely listening to something that interests me not at all. At RT this was never the case because the topic of any conversation was likely to focus on books: writing them, reading them, marketing them, where to put them.
Another thing I realized was making me happy while I was at RT was that I had one single job to do while I was there – be social and meet people. This, in itself, was bliss.
My current job involves a lot of juggling. It’s not safe, fun juggling with soft balls or balloons or stuffed animals either. More like knives and loaded guns and maybe a lighted torch or two. I drop something and somebody gets hurt, maybe me, maybe somebody else.
What I’ve been doing for the last five years is working as a mental health crisis response specialist. For the last two years of that, I’ve also been the supervisor of these services in my county. What this means is that every client I see, every client my team sees, is an individual that somebody thinks is dangerous to self or others, and my decisions can mean life and death. It means that sometimes I sit in my office doing administrative tasks with no clients on the horizon, and other times I’m trying to triage an onslaught of crises at once and make sure everybody’s needs get met. Scheduling anything during a work day or a night on call is a crap shoot. There is little structure and less consistency, and always the very real possibility that I’m going to make a decision that results in somebody getting hurt or dead. The phone is not my friend and I can’t schedule in writing time unless I have a full day off.
Honestly, this has been a lot of fun. There’s nothing like a good adrenaline rush. I get to hang out in jail and the emergency room. I’ve made friends with nurses and cops and corrections officers. I’ve stored away bits and pieces of situations and stories that can be adapted for writing later on. But it wasn’t what I meant to do with my life. I went into mental health to be a counselor – to develop a working relationship and assist people in making changes in their lives. Somewhere down the road I’d like to be doing this part time and writing part time – a balanced life of service and creativity.
When I got back from RT I read my work emails and discovered that one of our counselors is leaving the agency, and I immediately applied for the position. A couple of days ago I got the thumbs up on that – starting May 14th I’ll be shifting into a full time counseling position.
I have mixed feelings about this. I’m excited about doing something new, about brushing up my counseling skills, having a regularly scheduled day job, growing in a new direction. I’m ecstatic about not working weekends and nights. But I have guilt about leaving my team, knowing it will create hardship for them until the agency can recruit my replacement. I find I’m revisiting my grief for my two teammates who died during the time I’ve worked at this job. I’m taking a significant cut in salary.
It’s been an emotional roller coaster week, but in that deep, quiet place at my center, I am confident this is the right decision. You all may need to remind me of that in a couple of weeks when I’m trying to adapt to a daily routine. But for today, I think it’s all good.
Outside my window the world is moving into spring.
Every year, when spring finally makes an appearance on my mountain, I’m surprised. Not that it showed up – contrary to much whining and expressed doubt at the end of winter, spring has been showing up pretty regularly for thousands of years and I’m always pretty sure it will come along eventually. What gets me is that the green is as vibrant and improbable as I remember, and not a figment of my imagination.
I’m really not kidding about this. I’ve lived in lots of different places and spring came to all of them, but I seriously don’t remember seeing so much of this particular shade of green. I call it the Hollywood Fairytale Green, and there does seem to be some magic attached to it. Every time I look out the window my eyes are be-glamored and I sit and stare while time ticks on around me and I get absolutely nothing done.
Which makes it all the more ironic that while nature is doing spring with such abandon, my creative self has moved into a state of permafrost. Writing at the moment feels like trying to dig in soil that’s been frozen at subzero temperatures for weeks.
I blame it on my editor.
Have you ever done that thing where you soak in a hot outdoor jacuzzi and then jump out and roll in the snow? Either that, or jumped into a lake or a river that was way below comfortable swimming temperatures? Your chest constricts. You gasp, but no air enters your lungs. Your heart convulses once and then seems to stop. There’s a tiny instant where you think maybe this is it, you’re not ever going to breathe again, your heart is pissed about the assault and going to go on strike and that’s it, you’re dead.
Well, my editor sent me an email last week that created precisely that response. The email said that all of the line edits looked good and she’d sent the manuscript on to copy editing.You’d think this would be good news, right? The work is getting done. The book is moving forward.
In reality, not so much.
My own personal internal editor, once she managed to get her breath, started shrieking in terror. No, no. We are not ready. There are still so many mistakes. I thought we had more time. I thought the editor would find more flaws and send them back to me so I could fix them. I thought maybe we could work on this book forever. It’s not perfect. And the final, crowning moment of terror:
When I wrote the book, when I marketed the book, when I signed the contract, somewhere in the back of my head I knew people would read the book. Of course they would. Someday. After the writing fairy waves her magic wand and somehow turns it into a brilliant and perfect book with no flaws that everybody in the whole world will love when they read it.
And so, reality strikes. The magic writing fairy won’t be coming by. The book is what it is and won’t be changing much from here. Sure, there are things still to be fixed in copy editing. But no more rewrites, no more character deepening, or plot tweaking. In fact, the book really doesn’t belong to me anymore. People I don’t know are going to format it and put a cover on it and then it will be sent out to face the big scary world.
All of this has served to stop me cold in the process of writing the second book, which will also never be perfect.
I know what I need to do. Put my butt in the chair and write. Tell my internal editor to take a vacation, only I can’t send her too far away because I’ll need her for those copy edits when they show up. All week I’ve been struggling. I confessed me dilemma to the Viking this morning, and he gave me some very good advice.
He reminded me that I started writing because I love to write, and that the contract and the hype and expectations don’t change any of that. He reminded me that even if the book should miserably fail out there in the big wide world, all that this means is that the book failed. And that doesn’t mean I can’t still write for fun, or that I’m a failure, or that another book won’t succeed. He even dared to suggest that getting a publishing contract doesn’t change anything, not really.
Wise man, my Viking. Yes, there are expectations for this book I’m in the middle of writing. And a deadline. And a freaking outline, which is a thing I have never, ever dealt with before. But none of that means I can’t still write for the love of the story and the music of words coming together on the page. Because, if there is an magic to writing, that is the place where it shows up.
That said, it’s time to make another cup of coffee and get back to the writing. If only I can manage to quit staring out my window.
Today I’m guest posting over at Beyond the Margins about the combination of hard work and luck that ended in a publishing contract. It would be awesome if you’d like to click on over and read. And while you’re there, take a look around – these folks have some fabulous posts.
My research into dreams and dreaming carried on this week, interspersed with investigations into the myths and legends around the Fountain of Youth, Holy Wells, and the Elixir of Life.
I’m contemplating a plot point for WAKEWORLD which would involve my heroine, and possibly everybody else, being barred from DREAMWORLD for a period of time. So my question of the week was “what would happen if we stopped dreaming?”
In my quest for knowledge on this subject I took a look at the basic science. (By which I mean anything easily accessible on the internet with the assistance of Google. No textbooks were opened in the pursuit of this knowledge, nor were any scientific papers and studies consulted. I did, however, avoid Wikipedia and Wikihow.)
I found out that dreams appear to be instrumental in balancing moods, learning new tasks, and storing memories. People deprived of REM sleep (even if they still get Non-REM sleep) have difficulty with learning new skills, although they retain any abilities they previously possessed. Their memories and mood are affected. One study indicates that insufficient REM sleep may have to do with migraine headaches. Rats deprived of REM sleep got sick and developed sores on their bodies. (I know – ick, right?)
Apparently we do dream during non-REM as well as REM sleep, but these dreams differ in quality and intensity and seem to serve a different purpose. EEGs show brain activity much like that of waking during the REM phase of sleep.
Normally we all spend a couple of hours or so in REM sleep every night, occurring in cycles interspersed with Non-REM sleep. If REM sleep is consistently interrupted, these cycles will occur closer and closer together and last longer, in an apparent attempt to make up the difference. This signals their importance to the system, although again nobody seems to be entirely certain exactly why REM is so important.
I’m not sure how this will all fit into the novel at this point, but that is part of the fun.
Anybody here ever suffered REM deprivation? Personal experiences are so much more interesting than Science.
Halfway through the work week. Almost halfway through the writing week. What better day to pause for a minute and appreciate a fellow writer?
I want to try an experiment with something new. Every week, I invite you to join me in giving a little extra boost and support to someone who writes among us. There doesn’t need to be a special reason. Too often we wait for the big landmarks – the agent, or the publishing deal, or the book release.
There are so many milestones along the way – finishing a rough draft. Starting a revision. Finishing a revision. And another revision, and another revision, and another. Killing darlings, fighting revision tentacles. Battling self doubt and the power of the internal critic. Simply getting up in the morning to write, or staying up at night. Getting your butt in the chair and the words on the page.
This week, if you haven’t met him already, I’d like to introduce you to Ara. I met Ara at the James Scott Bell writing intensive I attended last year. He is dedicated to writing, a late night writer who does his word crafting after the day job is over and the family is asleep, a schedule that would slay me in a week. I understand he’s just beginning the exciting and nerve wracking business of querying his newly completed novel ACES.
I’m hoping we can all have some fun with this. Stop by one of the links and leave a comment. Say hi to him on Twitter: @araTHEwriter. Give the writer a little extra buzz, and maybe make a new friend while you’re at it.
Last night, I rang in 2012 with a group of online writer friends and my new novel. The writers hung out on Twitter, joking around and counting down the minutes. The new novel stared out from the computer screen, half promise, half dare. It’s a stranger yet, and the two of us are far from intimate, despite the level of commitment already made.
After the clock struck twelve and all the New Year’s greetings were said, I spent another half an hour at my desk adding words to what I think will be the opening chapter. It wasn’t a hugely productive writing stretch, by any measure, more of a symbolic gesture of intention.
I wanted to spend the first moments of this brand new year exactly as I plan to go on – writing.
2012 holds tantalizing promises for me. I have an agent now, and that makes all of my other writing goals seem suddenly plausible, instead of airy-fairy, pie in the sky day dreams. It’s possible that I could be published, soon, rather than sometime before I die. I could even possibly be lucratively published. Maybe some day I could even write full time.
None of these things will happen without a lot of hard work from me, however. Many hours of writing and revising lie ahead, and I wanted to have an understanding with myself, 2012, and the brand new novel, that writing gets priority focus this year.
No resolutions for me, only goals and a list of dreamy wishes which I’ve tucked away from everybody’s eyes but mine. One of the goals is to finish this new novel before the end of 2012, though, so it’s time to get with it. Which is why I’m also spending a big chunk of today writing.
As I mean to go on.