Hipster call to support indie publishing!

Now, listen here, you hipster. You put down that caffe crema and turn off that Dandelion Hands album, stop stroking your beard and reading Teju Cole, and focus on me.

You’re not a bad guy, Mr. Hipster. You like to support the indie spots in town – you visit the coffee shop that has no siren on its sign but prices even higher, with a pierced barista who refuses to smile; you still buy vinyl, from the punk store that employs the barista’s clone; you patronize the ancient barber down the block for your weekly hot neck shave; you even take your dollars to the bookstore run out of a decaying storefront that keeps a cat and sells more used books than new. You’re conscientious about how you use your money, to whom you pay, and what you support. You’ve contributed several Indie Go-Gos, Kickstarters, and GoFundMes for filmmakers, artists, bloggers and nostalgia generators alike. You’ve got good taste. Better than any of your friends.

So why are you still only reading books from the big six publishers? Go take a look at your bookshelf and jot down the names of the publishing houses for me. I’ll wait.

You’ve got Random House and Penguin on your list, don’t you? HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster? You missed Hachette and Macmillan, but my point is: out of those books you glanced over, only maybe one was from a small house (nope, that one you just wildly defended? That’s an imprint of Penguin). I’m not judging your reading selection – those are some really great books, and every writer deserves an income. That you pursue such a wide variety of authors and genres is quite commendable.

However (you knew there would be a however, right?), you’ve missed a beat. Where you strive to spend your dollars with businesses and people who, you feel, embody your beliefs more closely, by shopping locally, organically, and ethically, by giving more money directly to the producer of your goods, you’re not doing so with your reading.

There are more writers than books, truly, and definitely more than books that are published with the aforementioned publishing houses. For every book on the shelf by Jonathan Safran Foer, there are about a thousand other people typing madly in their ill-lit apartments and on their work latops, in coffee shops and on college campuses, in cushy studies and between two squalling babies. There are more stories than books published, too, more stories about fantastic new worlds and the drudgery of the same life troubles, characters with no vowels in their names and at least 654 named Mary.

But, you say, self-publishing has no regulation for quality! Any dumbass can write something and have it uploaded to Amazon in minutes, complete with a shitty cover and no editing!

Right you are. But, if you’ll remember, big name doesn’t equal quality. Remember Twilight? Remember 50 Shades of Grey?

Like anything indie, self- and independently-published works have a wide variety in quality. Indeed, some people finish a 50 page Word document, save it, and hit upload on Amazon with nary a thought for formatting, editing, or even spell-check. They make a cover in Paint. This appears on searches next to best-sellers, next to meticulously-created works.

Music the same way. Anyone can record a song on an iPhone nowadays, on a computer, and have it on the web in a few minutes. A Facebook fan page can be arranged before the file is finished formatting. A BandCamp site can be created with just a login and a credit card. This, of course, doesn’t mean that every band on BandCamp is shitty – far from it. Are there awful albums on the site, terrible sounds that can hardly be called music? Well of course.

Generally, you’re happy to give a band a listen, right, Mr. Hipster? If it’s not in the Top 40, you’ll check out a sample, maybe even throw in a buck to download. Indie bands and musicians helped change the face of how we listen and collect music as we know it. Napster, and everything that came after, made it easier to access bands that might not be able to afford a van to come to your state, or press CD’s to sell at shows, let alone ship to stores hundreds of miles away. The sounds of the world were suddenly in our reach. Big record labels were terrified.

Now we have hundreds of indie labels, ranging from companies created to curate some of the best rock bands, like Frenchkiss Records, to labels created specifically for a single artist to maintain and control their own vision of their music, like Ingrid Michaelson’s Cabin 24 Records.

Indie labels are celebrated in music. So why not your books?

Of course you’re going to have to sift through some stinkers. Not everything brought to print or digital is going to be worth your time. And of course it might take more time and effort than going to your local bookshop (even that one with the cat, hipster) and picking up whatever cover catches your eye. But isn’t some of the glory in finding something truly special, in being the person just that far ahead of the curve?

Writers, like artists, like musicians, work – long and hard hours crafting and creating engaging stories, and then even more time polishing them. Self- and independently-published authors continue working: in formatting and graphic design, in coding and advertising. From start to finished product, and well beyond – after all, once the book is published, the work of getting people to read it has just begun.

To appeal to your egalitarian side, Mr. Hipster, I want you to know: I hold no bitterness against the traditionally published, or, even the publishing houses that take them on. A large amount of the books I read, myself, are from those very lists. There is, indeed, often a reason these people were picked by Random House, by Penguin: they’re usually pretty damned good (and profitable, but that’s a different subject). You’re welcome to read them just like, in the securely closed confines of your house at night, you’re welcome to crank up your secret Maroon 5 albums. No one is taking your hipster cred for that.

But you’re going to lose points if you don’t put your money where your mouth is. Indie means indie, means supporting those who are doing the work, and getting more of your money to those creators. Indie means fostering the new and the interesting, and the weird, and demanding your right to it.

Think of it this way: would you be happy listening to only what the radios want play? Why should you be happy only reading what the publishing houses want to print?

You can get back to your espresso and iPod now, Mr. Hipster. I believe in you, even if I think you need to lose the beard.

This blog entry is mostly a work of satire, and should be taken tongue firmly in cheek. When I say mostly, I mean I wildly support the work of Teju Cole and other authors of his ilk, and I’ve been known to drink Starbucks. But I really do hate beards, and think you should buy more independent and self-published authors if you believe in supporting artists and progressive thought. Because duh.

Forbidden Fruit Blog Tour and Interview

I’ve had the exciting honor of being included in Forbidden Fruit: Stories of Unwise Lesbian Desire and, today, the equally exciting pleasure of welcoming Axa Lee, author of “The Clinton County Horse Thief Society,” also included in this fantastic anthology. Enjoy!

ffcb1) What started you writing erotica?

I’ve always written—my grandma’s favorite story is once I learned to write the alphabet I told her that I wanted to write a story, if she would spell the words for me. At one point, when I was still in elementary school, my aunt said I should write smut books and make lots of money. Well part of her advice stuck I guess, because when I started seriously writing during the time while my offspring was an infant and we were much stuck at home together, erotica was the genre I felt most comfortable writing.

2) Besides erotica, what other genres do you enjoy writing?

Aside from writing undergrad papers and job applications, I’ve dabbled in literary fiction, attempted contemporary, and have a god-awful draft of an urban fantasy novel somewhere. I swore I’d never write time travel, but after reading The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneggerand Synchronic edited by David Gatewood, (and watching way too much Dr. Who during the Offspring’s first year of life) I’ve started messing around with time and the nature of memory and grief. I also enjoy westerns, leaning more toward Molly Gloss and Annie Proulx than Louis L’Amour. Historical-fiction has long been a passion of mine.

3) When you’re not writing, what are you doing? 

Oh I manage to keep myself busy. We have a family farm with 30+ head of cow/calf pairs and I have an off-farm job as well. I review books for a couple places, preserve food, sketch badly, do Insanity workouts, and spend a lot of time herding a precocious toddler. (Aren’t toddlers all precocious by definition?). The Spousal-Type Creature and I spend time together whenever we can. And adult beverages usually make an appearance somewhere late in the day. 😉

4) What is your most outlandish, ridiculous fantasy (erotic/romantic/sexual/otherwise)?

One that involves my Spousal-Type Creature, Shakira, and Kati Parry.
Or else a nap lol.

5) What was the inspiration behind your story?

Happy accident really, I’d been reviewing a book on horse-thief societies then saw the call for submissions and got this vivid image of this girl peering up at me from under her broad-brimmed hat. So I had to know more about her. Also I’ve read almost all of Molly Gloss’s fiction, so some of her heroines stuck in my head. Only she can somehow manage to keep her characters’ clothes on. I kind of admire that. There seems to be no lack of naked people in my imagination (laughs).

Excerpt of The Clinton County Horse Thief Society:

The call comes in by the post rider. Inside, my stomach flutters and tightens. I work to control my breathing. I keep my face blank, hidden beneath the brim of my hat until I can look up at him and nod once in acknowledgement. It might not be her, I reason. It might be someone else. But as I swallow past the urgent lump in my throat, I admit to myself that there’s really no one else that it could be.

I set down my hoe, stand and stretch my back. The kinks pop as I  straighten. I whistle Little Joe, the black pinto, up out of the lower pasture, and trudge up to the house for a change of clothes, some water and victuals, and my pistols.

I tell Momma I’ll be back when I can.

“How long this time?”

I shrug, toying with a button on my sleeve, not meeting her gaze.

“No way to be sure.”

“I wish you wouldn’t go.”

But since Pa died, the only one to go is me.

“Take care of your ma,” he said. “Take care of the horses.” Like him, I don’t much like thievery, especially of a man’s horses. That’s why, when these calls come, there’s the conflict in my belly, like two cats sparring in a sack.

***

The next stop on the Forbidden Fruit blog tour is Lisabet Sarai at http://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com/ who is interviewing Harper Bliss. Check out all the interviews on the tour at http://forbiddenfruitbook.wordpress.com.

Leave a comment on any post in the Forbidden Fruit blog tour to be entered into a random draw to win one of these great prizes.  Prizes include a paperback copy of Girls Who Score, lesbian sports erotica edited by Ily Goyanes, Best Lesbian Romance 2011 edited by Radclyffe, an ebook of Ladylit’s first lesbian anthology Anything She Wants, and a bundle of three mini-anthologies from Ladylit:Sweat, A Christmas to Remember and Bossy.  All of these titles contain some stories written by the fabulous contributors to Forbidden Fruit: stories of unwise lesbian desire. You must include an email address in  your comment to be entered into the draw.

LAUNCH SPECIAL PRICE ONLY FROM AMAZON: for one week only, 5 – 11 September 2014, purchase Forbidden Fruit:stories of unwise lesbian desire for the super-special price of 0.99c.

Forbidden Fruit: stories of unwise lesbian desire is available direct from the publisher, Ladylit (http://www.ladylit.com/books/forbidden-fruit/) or from Amazon, Smashwords, and other good retailers of ebooks.  Check out http://www.ladylit.com/books/forbidden-fruit/ for all purchasing information.

Virtual Book Tour – The Big Book of Submission

I’m excited to host this stop for this blog tour because I’M IN THIS BOOK. Let’s face it: ultimately I’m all kinds of selfish, and getting to do a blog tour almost for myself? MAGICAL.

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In all seriousness, The Big Book of Submission is a book I would host even if I’d not had the pleasure of being included. Rachel Kramer Bussel is one of those editors with the golden touch: she has an unapproachable ability to select not just great stories, but a variety, too, even within a theme, so that no one leaves the pages unsatisfied. To be a part of that mixture is a little like winning an erotica writer prize: I’M IN A RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL COLLECTION.

My favorite part of the book, though, is how short all the stories are. The love is multi-faceted: I’m an economical writer and, as such, hate word minimums; I love the challenge of shorter stories; and, in this case, you get more bang for your buck.

Writing my story, Brunch, was a challenge because of this. I had to construct a cohesive story, with a beginning, middle and end, in the space of 1100 words – and make it hot as hell. In writing erotica, I’ve found the biggest difficulty to be characterization: I like three dimensional, interesting people, in mainstream and erotic fiction, and I often struggle to balance the smut with that. Give me even less space and the effort doubles – in great fun, though, which may come as a surprise. It’s a bit like, maybe, a mathematician being given an especially difficult equation: half the fun is in the effort, and in the challenge you face.

The Big Book of Submission is chock full of writers who stepped up to the plate and swung a home run (I’m big on metaphors this morning, aren’t I?). Not every story will be your thing, but every one is well-written, sexy, and super fun. 

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Purchase your copy of The Big Book of Submission here!

Want to read more from some of the other featured authors? Follow the rest of the blog tour!

Cover Reveal: At the Edge of the World

It’s the one month countdown to the release of At the Edge of the World. Behold, the beautiful cover designed by the lovely and talented Laila Blake!

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I’m excited to be releasing At the Edge of the World with our micro-publisher, Lilt Literary, August 26th. You can learn more about the book and story in the link, and you can add it to your to-read list at Goodreads!

The ebook will be available through Amazon next month, followed by the print version a month later, and distribution world and net-wide before the holidays, for all those YA lovers on your gift list.

Over the next couple months, I’ll be making stops on some review and YA blogs– I’ll link these stops on my Twitter and Facebook, so be sure to follow me on either (or both!) for updates and information.

Thank you for celebrating this upcoming release with me. I appreciate your support.

On doubt

I want to talk about doubt.

Last summer, we had to put one of our cats down. Otis was about 18 years old, and had been suffering from a thyroid disorder for a number of years, a disorder that left him just a few pounds in weight, dull-eyed and prone to peeing everywhere.

We loved Otis.

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Shortly before my birthday, we took Otis to the shelter where we’d adopted him 15 years before so they could help us put him to rest peacefully. We were taken into a room to spend his last few minutes with him before we had to let him go into the back for the injections with a volunteer who told us she would hold him the entire time. We cried like babies.

Doubt set in. It was no question that Otis had been ill for a long time, and was likely to continue to suffer if we kept him alive. He couldn’t control his bladder, and we couldn’t leave him alone for more than a few hours at a time without him peeing on everything in the house.

But, I thought, what if the people at the shelter took him into the exam room and decided we were too hasty? What if they didn’t give him the injections, and instead had decided to remove him from our custody and find him a better owner?

I started looking on the shelter website daily, searching through the “older cats” section for his scruffy face. I imagined the bio they would write: Handsome senior cat removed from a home that didn’t see good years left. Lots of love to give. I imagined finding him and rushing to the shelter to claim him back and them declaring me an unfit pet owner. I might have gone so far as to imagine a pet version of CPS coming and removing our other two cats and our dog.

It’s crazy. I’m aware. But even a year later, I still have this inkling of a fear that Otis is still out there, and I’m a horrible person.

Doubt is a hard thing to shake. I do believe it’s a beneficial feeling, and certainly, day to day, it probably keeps us from any number of disasters and missteps. Doubt, though, can trip you up and send you sprawling in the dirt if you allow it to accompany you for too long.

I like to think I don’t spend too much time doubting myself (outside obsessive cat kidnapping thoughts, naturally). There are moments when a second look or hesitation is necessary, but I tend to be maybe stupidly confident in a few areas, including my writing.

This is not a luck of the draw; I am not a naturally confident person. In fact, it could be argued that I have rather low self-esteem and tend to be self-crippling, denying myself even easy success because I’m quite sure I don’t deserve it.

How, then, do I manage to get out of bed at all, let alone sit and type and send out work and face an inbox full of rejection?

Effort. Sheer effort. It’s always struck me as funny that people think I’m naturally bubbly, cheerful, and outgoing. Effort, my friends. I wake up most mornings to some fashion of career rejection, either by low sales, silent agents, or canned rejections in my email. There are certainly days I’d rather curl up in a ball and give it all the hell up.

Effort. It’s always amazed me that people think anyone successful, or confident, lacks any doubt. It’s like it’s a superpower: DOUBTLESS GIRL, ABLE TO SMASH THROUGH FEAR AND ANXIETY IN A SINGLE SLASHING MOTION OF HER HAND AND BACK AGAIN (there’s a reason I don’t write catch phrases). There is no such thing as a person who does not doubt themselves, one time or another. Doubt is like a mosquito: it is there, and the more you scratch it, the more it itches.

I doubt myself a lot. I certainly doubted my cat’s death, my culpability in the whole thing. I doubt my worth often – what truly confident person worries their cat is resold?

Doubt is not a personality trait that is ingrained in us from birth. Doubt is not a birth mark, doubt is not a state of being. Doubt is transitory, and it is defeatable.

I don’t have any advice, though, on HOW to defeat it. My friend and I tend to throw around a phrase: Fake it till you make it. It means smile even when you want to scowl, it means getting up when you want to lay on the ground, it means believing you’re doing the right thing even when you think you aren’t. You fake it, and, when you fake it long enough, you, most times, start to believe it.

This doesn’t always work, of course. I have dark times, I have moments of desperately wanting to give up – on writing, on my career aspirations, on even getting up and washing my hair. Doubt crawls in when I let it. Doubt always looks for the opening.

I’ve managed. I will manage again. If you want to, you can manage just as well, too.

No place like home

This afternoon, I drove past the house I spent my first ten years living in. It’s not far from where we’ve moved, and since my job moved downtown, I can pass the end of the block on my commute. When I spied a dumpster out front, I had to do a swing by.

I’m not sure what’s being renovated, as I decided pulling a super creeper and stopping dead in the center of the street to analyze the contents of the dumpster was not how I wanted to spend my lunch hour. Suffice to say, the bin was full of wood, and so my mind has gone wild.

Is it the all-wood staircase with the carved banister? The hand-scraped hardwood floors from the basement? Could it be the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of the study?

Those stairs are where I slipped and fell, biting through my lip, when I was four. I’d seen a Shirley Temple movie that morning and decided to try tapping my way up to my bedroom… in socks.

The basement is where I had my playroom, with the weird tree silhouette wallpaper, pot-belly stove, and stained-glass window. It was the scene of many My Little Pony debaucheries.

Those bookshelves are where my tree frogs lived, left over from a science presentation on the life cycle of frogs. I had three of them: Croaker, Croaker Junior, and The One Who Died Before I Could Name Him.

Don’t these people understand this is MY house?

It’s been noted that I have a certain romantic attachment to the house I grew up in. We moved when I was ten, just to the other side of town, but I remained attached to the first house in a way that bordered on fanatical for a number of years. My life’s ambition, besides being a writer (and actress, and singer, and doctor, and artist, and journalist and and and), was to move back into my childhood home at the soonest possible moment. The house changed hands twice since my parents sold it in 1989, and the neighborhood became rather coveted. Still, I insisted I would live there again some day.

Not everyone has the same attachment to a house they spent only the barest amount of cognizant time living in. I grew up with kids from military families, who lived in ten houses before they hit fifth grade. I held a deep resentment against my parents for years because they made me leave that beautiful house.

It was an angst that was hard to explain. The house, as it was, was lovely, but hardly any more remarkable than any other house. The kitchen was renovated in the height of the eighties, and so bore orange countertops and brown tiles. There were only two bathrooms, one upstairs where the bedrooms were, and one downstairs, off the kitchen. My closet was the size of a shoebox.

The house is absolutely not my style, either. Built in the early 1900’s, it is somewhat Victorian, crossed with Craftsman, with lots of wood and leaded glass windows. My husband and I bought a house built in the 50s, and our style leans towards Mid-Century, and contemporary. My credenza would stick out like a sore thumb in my childhood home.

I don’t know why, exactly, I love the house so much and cringe at the thought of it being gutted. I spent far more time, and had many more formative experiences, in the house my parents bought after it – I lived there from the age of ten until I was twenty, I spend hours there every week, I’ve been taking my children there weekly for the past ten years. I’ve known that home for nearly three-quarters of my life (I did the math!). Wouldn’t it make much more sense to be abnormally attached to it?

Memory is a funny thing, I’ve found. I can remember the feel of those wood steps under my feet as surely as I can the carpet that is currently under them, thirty years later. I’ve made a map of the house in my head, complete with furnishings, that hasn’t changed in decades. It’s perpetually 1988 in that old house.

At this point, if given the chance, would I even want the house again? I know it’s been remodeled – real estate photos from the last time it was sold show that – and the foyer that used to house our antique coat rack has been closed off and given a closet. The potbellied stoves that I so loved as a child were replaced with gas fireplaces. The vast garden plot my father fervently protected from squirrels was torn out to build a garage in the parking-competitive neighborhood. And now, of course, whatever they’re ripping out and dumping, unceremoniously, into the bin at the curb.

I suppose I’ll keep inhabiting the house that’s in my head, complete with the impressions of a very young child, keeping the height of light fixtures well above my head and the backyard endless up like a field. The memories are mine, and those can’t be renovated out my head.

I suppose, first, though, I really need to stop driving by and gawking. Baby steps.

Are we still not doing “phrasing”?

Forgive the shameless Archer reference. What I want to talk about is word choice, but it was too good to pass up.

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After she read After Life Lessons, my mother had a few things to say. She had some helpful criticisms, some thoughts, and then: “You know, I don’t like the word cock.”

This was immediately followed by a conversation about how there are no good words for male anatomy, so “cock,” as it stands, was about as good as we could get it. (Phrasing!) We went through several variations over wine, and ended the conversation cracking up over, I believe it was, “throbbing manhood.”

I love my mom.

Word choice is a funny thing. Given how much we all talk (and type, anymore), it’s not something any of us put a lot of thought into in our daily lives. I have a habit of reminding my kids to “find their words” before they speak but, when it comes down to it, few of us spend more than a split second of thought before words come out of our mouths.

It’s the magic of our brains, really, that ability to follow another person’s speech with our own. Imagine how very long conversations would take if we considered every last word to come out of our mouths. Deliberation over certain words aside, can you imagine deciding if you should insert “the” or buy a vowel or something?

In writing, of course, things are a bit different. We read differently than we listen, and where our brain picks up nuances in speech, it can gloss right over some writing while snagging on a misplaced, or poorly chosen, word. The wrong word can yank you right out of a fictional piece: way back, I had some beta readers call me out on a character referring to suburban homes as “McMansions.” It’s something I’ve said multiple times in my life, but, indeed, that specific character would never use such a description. It was removed, and the passage flowed cleaner, more like him, less like me.

When reading, word choice, as much as– or even more, in some cases– character development, setting, plot, even, defines how we feel about the writing itself. If a character moves and thinks and acts a certain way, and then a word the reader doesn’t associate with them– be it too academic, or slang, or simple– there is a disconnect, and the world the writer has created cracks a little bit. It can be difficult to impossible to reenter a world you don’t feel is entirely truthful.

While a single word isn’t likely to doom an entire story, repeated slips can. To use a tired metaphor, it’s like a plate, where one crack spiders into more and the whole thing falls apart. If your pompous doctoral candidate keeps using flat, simple descriptions, lacking in specificity, his intelligence, his entire characterization, can be damaged. He’s no longer impressive: he sounds like a dumbass.

Some words aren’t quite as problematic. Like our use of “cock”. It was the lesser of a whole host of evils, and fit more with the twenty-something character set. Certainly we could have used “penis,” but there is something weirdly jarring about that word when describing an act of sex. The others (including my mother’s snort-laugh suggestion of “throbbing manhood”) just sounded silly. So cock it is.

I really just wanted to end the post like that. But!

After Life Lessons was released on April 8th and we’ve been so humbled by how enthusiastic and positive the majority of the response has been. THANK YOU. We love sharing Emily and Aaron, and their zombie-filled world with everyone.

We just finished the first draft of Interludes, a series of first-person point of view stories from the same characters in the year following the first book. It will be released (for free!) this summer, as we work on the second part of After Life Lessons. We did a broad plotting session for that last night and I’m very excited about it! It will include some new characters and an expanded look at the world several years after the zombie infection wiped out most of humanity.

If you still haven’t gotten a copy of After Life Lessons, it’s available at Amazon (also at UK, Canada, and more), Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Kobo. If you have read it, I’d love to hear your feelings, either in the comments here, or in a review on your preferred site.

Thanks for supporting indie writers!