My Renewal and God Bless Us Everyone!

My favorite writing teacher back at Palomar College started off the first day of class by saying, “If you are in this to make money, let me break that illusion for you right here and now. The days of Stephen King payouts are over. If you think you’re going to make anything near a livable wage, well, good luck. But it’s probably not going to happen.”

That class started off with fifty very earnest students.

By the end of that semester, there were just five of us.

Five stubborn sons of bitches who couldn’t take the hint.

That was a long time ago. An ocean of decades separates that naive girl from me. Sometimes i wish I could go back in time and thank that teacher, David Cowper, for his harsh but real truth.

Check this out. This year, I made $28.00 from my Patreon (THANK YOU! I do appreciate all of you lovely beautiful people). I cleared nearly $24 from Amazon. And just last week, I received a royalty check for $7.08 for three stories. That figures out to be (insert calculator noises) $2.36 per story.

On the other side of the ledger, I have spent $675.00 on layouts and artwork. I have spent $100 on editing ( a freaking bargain!) and roughly $300 on swag, books and festival fees.

Yeah. Mr. Cowper was right: If you are in this for a buck, good fucking luck.

HOWEVER, I don’t want to end 2019 on a downer. I want to spread a quick piece of wisdom that injected needed oxygen on my dwindling fire.

A few weeks ago, my friend, M, and I were sitting in the Author’s Circle tent at the Dickens of a Christmas festival in Franklin, TN. The weather was terrible but there was at least a thousand people wandering around the stalls. In spite of that, I couldn’t hook a sale if I’d baited my books with cocaine. My spirits were sagging and M and I started talking about the lack of sales.

“Hey,” she said. “I didn’t come here thinking I’d sell a bunch. I mean, I’ve done okay* but I’m happy to just be here with my book. I have a job that gives me money. This is what I do for fun. I don’t need it to make money.”

I had a flashbulb moment.

And it was then that I realized I had lost my own perspective about the Craft. I was so concerned about the Profits and Loss that I forgot that this was supposed to be fun, goddammit!

I have a day job. THAT pays me money so I can buy food to feed my body. THIS….the writing, creating, doing all the weird, wacky, stupid, useless, fun storytelling…THIS feeds my soul .

I am taking that renewal of purpose into 2020. I’m going to have fun and I’m taking you guys with me.

Buckle up. It’s going to be a spine breaker.

*M published a book, God Bless Us Everyone! It’s an anthology written from the POV of the other characters in the Christmas Carol. I was so happy to get her into our group at the last minute. M came dressed as Charles Dickens and she had this huge, beautiful stage prop of a leather bound Christmas Carol book. She sold quite a few but what was delightful was listening to her talk about her book with such pride and wonder. It never came off as an elevator pitch or a shtick. Just love for something she had created. I learned a lot of from that day.

https://www.amazon.com/God-Bless-Us-Everyone-Christmas/dp/1689022485/ref=sr_1_6?crid=WACOPEWO7TR&keywords=god+bless+us+everyone&qid=1577828113&sprefix=God+bless+us+%2Caps%2C207&sr=8-6

The one about the kid and the cannibal trolls

First off, let’s get one thing straight.

I don’t write books for kids. It’s not like I have anything against kids. Frankly, I think they’d like my books although I suspect parents and other adults in a supervisory position might disapprove.

And I tried once to write a children’s story. It’s about a boy who tries to save his mother from Death by stealing the Crown of Feathers* from under her pillow. Unfortunately, it turns her into an undead thing and he has to consult three witches to help sort it all out.

While writing it, I consulting with my daughter who is far more mature than me.

“So….do you think it would be okay if I let the Zombie Mom eat the boy’s dog?”

“No.”

“Okay. How about if she eats the Grandmother?”

“NO!”

So, even when I try to write something for kids**, it all turns out weird.

Which gets me to the point of today’s post.

I was at the annual Dickens of a Christmas festival in Franklin, TN selling books with the Middle Tennessee Author’s Circle*** when this little girl, maybe 9 or 10 years old, comes into the tent and says she likes spooky stories.

Fingers point towards me.

She gravitates instantly to my book, The Problem at Gruff Springs, a Weird Western story.

Her mother tries to push her towards another book. It has a unicorn on the cover. “Look, honey, fairy tales!”

The girl rolls her eyes and picks up my book so I go into my Spiel.

“That story is about Alan Pinkerton who is sent to look for stolen Confederate gold and finds that there are some horrible things in the mountains. Mainly cannibalistic trolls.”

The girl’s eyes widen. “Cannibal trolls! This is the one for me!”

The girl’s mother looked at me with even wider eyes.

“There is no sex or cursing however there is violence and, well, cannibal trolls.”

“This one. I want this one!”

And the mom paid and the kid went home with my book.****

.

*It’s an Appalachian folk tale. Look it up.

**Even though I think kids like weird and morbid stuff.

*** Truth be told, I was TRYING to sell books. Mainly what I did was stand there, feeling like a freak on display. “Oh, look. So, that’s a Writer, in the wild? How odd.”

****And I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to remember if there were any curse words. I did remember there is a scene with the troll queens pendulous breasts swaying about. Jesus. I’m going to hell.

The one where I start rambling and finally pull my head out of my ass.

My last story was finished on October 1, 2019. It’s called Brother Marvel’s Old Time Revival.

*Shameless plug*

And, until today, when I sat down at this cold keyboard, I haven’t written anything since.

It’s not because I don’t have ideas. I have a whiteboard looming over me with a list of projects. Looking up at it, I can hear it whispering, “For chrissakes, just write one sentence, a paragraph, anything! Get those wheels rolling!”

Here’s the rub: There is a part of me that desperately wants to stop. To never write another word, sink into mediocrity and just stay still.

Perhaps it is because I am too content.

I have a job that pays my bills with a very small spillover that allows me to buy books and pay for my Pilates addiction. Thank the Muses I don’t have to live on my royalty checks. The last I received from Kindle wouldn’t pay me a cup of coffee.

I made the rounds at a few book fairs this year and was grateful to make my table money back. However, if you really wanted to be anal about it, if you consider the overhead involved in putting on those shows, I am drowning in the red.

At this moment, my writing career is a classic case of diminished returns.

If there is no monetary incentives, why keep at it? Or, considering the lack of writing I’ve done lately, why do I even worry about jumping back on that horse?

Why am I even wasting my time bitching about it?

Because in the end, it doesn’t matter how much money you made or how many times you were published. In the end, IT DOES NOT MATTER.

What does matter is answering this question truthfully:

ARE YOU HAVING FUN?

If you answered, no then STOP. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Just STOP, get off the horse, dust yourself off and find something else.

Now I don’t have some rose colored perception about the writing life. I don’t expect it to be a mile a minute, raucous adventure zone cavalcade of fun fun times. It’s hard. Soul sucking, frustrating and depressingly hard work with sometimes little to no rewards (see the royalty statement paragraph above). Your work will more than likely never be read, be forgotten or, God forbid, your work will stay unfinished and molder in gut like a tumor.

So, if you’re not having fun. If even on your best days when the story is flowing like lava from your fingertips and the Word Genie is throwing a rave inside your head and you aren’t having fun, then stop.

Stop and find something else. Because, dammit, there’s no reason to clamp your knees around this bucking horse if you can do anything else.

And that’s it, isn’t it? Can you do anything else?

If I were to quit right now, go to school, and become something professional, profitable and respectable, the entire time I would be thinking “How could I turn this into a story?”

It’s how my brain works. I think in metaphor. I search for stories. I look for connections in unlikely things. I think sideways. Like Janus, I see both sides of the door.

I guess, maybe, I’m a little nuts. Perhaps, too organized a thinker to be diagnosed as schizophrenic but, in a way, I think all creatives are a little cuckoo for coco puffs.

Maybe that’s why I’ll keep on writing.

Not for money. Not for some kind of fickle fame. I’ll do it because it’s what I am, what I do and how I keep sane.

So, with that in mind, let me give my apologies. In a few years when my corpse is laid out on the cooling board in the morgue, I apologize to the poor soul who somehow ends up with my boxes of unfinished manuscripts, unpublished dreams, indecipherable journals and files named ‘future story fodder’.

I’m sorry. I couldn’t help it. It’s just how I was made.

But, until that, hopefully, far away day, you’ll need to excuse me. I’ve got some new stories to tell.

I need to rent an urchin.

Today, I was at Barnes and Noble perusing the magazines when a wide eyed little girl straight out of central casting, blonde pigtails and maryjanes, , came up to me.

“Excuse me,” she said, her lower lip quivering ever so slightly. “Do you like to, um…do you like to read books to your kids?”

She then held up a very slim book. Her blue eyes peeked over the top. “My daddy wrote this. Would you like to buy it?”

I looked around for cameras. “What?”

“He’s right over there. With my grandpa. Come with me. I’ll show you!”

She took my hand and pulled me towards two men sitting behind a sad card table. You know the kind. A tower of books and a writer looking completely out of place.

I looked at the man and shook my head. “You sly dog. Using your kid as bait to sell your books.”

He laughed. “Hey, it was her idea.”

The little girl laughed and dropped the urchin facade. “I told him it would work!” and then she skipped away to find more customers.

Respect, kid. You got skills.

And I really need to get an urchin.

 

 

A brief word.

Yesterday, I was waiting for the bus to take me home. It had been a long, boring day in the Cube. I had scribbled a few words about a story idea but nothing more. The sky was cloudy and my mood wasn’t much brighter.

Just then, a tall man, wide as a refrigerator, passed by me, stopped, turned to face me and pointed a

finger at me. He said, “You! I like your books.”

I mumbled a shocked thanks as he walked away.

My mood lifted. Sometimes, it just takes a brief word to change a day.

How to kill trolls.

So, let’s get down to the heart of the matter.

I’ve been blocked lately. I need to get back to work. I want to get back to work.

When I crack open a new journal, click my pen and declare, “Okay! Let’s write a story!”, I  feel deep inside me a great exhalation, as if this inner, bored muse is saying, “Yes! Finally!”and is so grateful that I’m finally getting back on track.

And that’s good, right?

But then there is another, thicker voice that lazily counters, “Ugh….. but why? Which story is worth the effort? Sure, you’ve got ideas. Kudos but, face it, you know it’s not going to go anywhere. Have you checked your Amazon numbers lately? When was the last time you received a royalty check? All that time invested in something and for what? What’s the term? Diminished returns. That’s it. Think about it. All the time and energy you put into it and what do you get back? Isn’t it more fun to pour a drink, kick back and watch Netflix? Hey, there are lots of shows you need to catch up on. OH! and your DVR. All that stuff you’ve been socking away to watch later. And podcasts. Have you checked your podcasts lately? Anything new? Or all those library books you still have checked out. Maybe you should read them. You really should do more reading. And researching it. Have you done enough research lately? You need to see what is hot on the market. What is selling. You should write that. But, first you need to do research. Not that it really matters. Face it. . Past your prime. You don’t connect to the people anymore. What do you know? What can you actually say? You had potential but wasted it chasing invisible ink dreams. You’re too old. Seriously, have you looked at yourself lately? You should go to the gym. That’s a good idea. Go to the gym. Doesn’t exercise revive brain stuff? Or is that alcohol. Yeah. Have a drink. All writers drink. It’ll loosen you up so you can do more research or read or something. But, first a snack. And a drink.”

wine
All the drinks

You get the picture.

So, how to fight the shadow troll inside my head that echoes every vile doubt that I’ve ever heard from others or, worst of all, conjured up myself?

Remember that first voice? The one that sighed, happily, FINALLY!

I focus on her.

And I remember the flush of excitement when the words are rushing through me.

When the story takes on its own life and I feel like a passenger, a scribe, clacking on my keyboard, just a witness to it all.

And then that finishing stroke. When the story is done and I know it’s done. That ending crescendo that leaves a lingering note of music on the page.

I remember the times someone had told me that my story brightened up their day, gave them a life or just took them on an adventure.

Because when I take my ego out of the equation (and it is my ego that is focused on the bottom line rather than the finishing one), magick can flow through when I left myself open and be a conduit for story.

That’s when I know I’m ok. I’m not a waste. I’m doing EXACTLY what I’m supposed to be doing and if the story sinks to the bottom, never makes a goddamn dime, and is only read by a handful of people, that’s is ok.

Perhaps they were the only ones meant to read it in the first place.