Thursday, 17 March 2011

Birthing a Book: An Author's Postpartum Reflections....

Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone

The day I brought my newborn daughter home from the hospital wasn’t like the television and magazine ads where beaming parents climb out of a car, sunny smiles on their faces, holding a pink or blue bundle. Oh, I held a pink bundle alright. And I wanted to smile, I really did, but I was terrified. I’d just left a beautiful nine-month journey—dreams of frills and pink lace, baby showers, attention from friends and family, a wonderful birth experience—and stepped right into the big middle of motherhood.

Oh, yes, I was happy. I’d brought a beautiful baby girl into the world. I was a parent. I’d dreamed and planned for this day. But, the moment I stepped across the threshold into my own home—far from the pampering security of the hospital where I merely admired and held my child while nurses actually tended her—I was ONE MY OWN.

I made a bee-line to the sofa, my daughter in my arms, and sank into the cushions, then sat there for a long time…frozen. Scared. Wondering what the hell do I do now?

Sure, I figured it all out in time. I did pretty well as a parent, and have a lovely, well-adjusted daughter to show for it.

What does this have to do with writing? I would never have dreamed it WOULD have anything to do with my writing journey; but every day I’m learning that it has everything to do with being an author.

On March 2, I gave birth to another child. A book.

Just as the glorious time leading up to the arrival of my daughter, I reveled in the splendor of the pre-published process—winning the contract, edits, approving the cover art, the galley print and…finally…the RELEASE. The birth of the baby.

Who knew? It’s happening again—sitting on the proverbial couch of fear with my newborn baby. Because now, just like with my daughter’s arrival, the exquisite preparation and the joy of birth are over. And, just like the real kid, I’ve found I have the same parental concerns with…yes, a book!

You know about post-partum blues? Well, who knew there could be such a thing as post-publishing blues. That’s what I’m going to call it.

Damn! Here I am again, with the same parenting concerns. I’m staring around, scared, blank, asking what the hell do I do now?

When my daughter was in high school, there was the debate over whether she should try out for cheerleading. And now, here I am, weighing the pros and cons of cheering on my book through promo. Go, book, go! Ra-ra-ra—siss-boom-ba! Do I promo? How MUCH promo? I still haven’t found the answer to that question. Some moms were really good cheerleader moms. I wasn’t. Some authors are natural-born promo-ers. I’m not. I’m bumbling with promoting my book, and the process frightens me. I’m out of my element. I suppose I thought it would be like a bird, I could let it go and it would fly on its own. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t.

On the subject of promoting, I’d babbled to some author friends about my failure to elbow my way into a loop chat, what a disappointing experience it had been. I’d been told it was a good way to gain exposure for my novella, so I felt the need to put myself through this torture in order to promote my book. Upon complaining that forcing myself on others was not my cup of tea, one of my friends advised me to do what was comfortable for ME, to promo in my own way. And, again, here was a flashback to motherhood—remembering that much of parenting is feeling your way around for what works with YOUR child.

The old motherly fear—will my kid fit in? Will other kids like him?—is no different with a book. If you have children, do you remember what you told them when you had that discussion? I do. Some may like you, some may not. And you can’t take it personally if they don’t.

To carry it a step further: will my kid be popular? Maybe. Maybe not. Again, I have to fall back on my child-rearing experience for THAT question. In following my own advice to my child, I won’t push to be popular. I’m not a rock star. I’m an author. I’m selling a book, not myself. If it’s ME I’m pitching, then why put any effort into my writing? My dazzling personality will sell the book, right? Wrong. The bottom line: I want my WRITING to count, I want my WRITING to be what a reader enjoys, what they remember.

I was blessed with the friendship of other experienced parents when I became a mother. I’m not sure how I would have survived the parenting game without their support and advice. I listened to all of them. Same with being an author. I’ve had the honor of having a host of supportive friends in the writing business. They are generous with their tips and suggestions. I listen to them all. Some of the tips I use, some I don’t. But I listen and absorb it all. It’s valuable education, and it’s free.

Last but not least, one of the biggest similarities between being published and being a parent is this: My first book, like my first child, will be the one I learn the most from, simply because it’s MY first step into publishing parenthood. I’ll learn from subsequent books. I’ll continue to learn as long as I write; but that first time will have been the orientation to the process. It will always be the most special because it WAS the first. I’ll be no less overjoyed with the next book and the next, but this baby will always hold that special spot in my heart. The characters will always be my precious first babies.

Like a mom feverishly taking pictures of her kid on prom night, I open the publisher’s page, or the Amazon page, and look at my child, I admire the cover, still revel that this is MY offspring going out into the world. His first date, if you will.

Just like that half-thrilled, half-scared mom on prom night, I find myself ‘waiting up’ to see if my child makes it out into the world safely, wondering if my book will fly or not.

No matter how much I cheer him on or worry over him, one thing—just as a real child’s debut into the big world—he’s on his own, and he’s really not mine anymore. But if I put all the love I had into him, if I wrote him to the best of my ability, he’ll be whatever he was meant to be, and he’ll be okay.

Monday, 7 March 2011

...Just to Be Sure of You...

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. "Pooh!" he whispered. "Yes, Piglet?" "Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. "I just wanted to be sure of you." ~A.A. Milne

I’m dedicating my blog today to a person who’s become such a part of my everyday life that I fear I’ve taken her for granted. She’s become a constant in my world, and I’ve come to see her as a fixture in my daily life as much as the clothes I wear and the food I eat; and, just as clothing and food, she’s just as necessary. Just like those staples, I’m not sure I could do without her.

For a writing term, I’ll call her my crit partner. For a personal term, a more endearing one, I’ll call her my friend. Her name is Sarah.

Once, a couple of years ago, on a writing forum, I put out a request for a person to read my manuscript and offer feedback. I’d never ‘met’ Sarah before, but she posted and offered to read. And we’ve been together ever since.

Sarah is not the only one who helps me with my writing. But, bless her heart, she IS the one I run to when my feelings get hurt out there in the cyber world. She IS there—now that my book is released—to listen as I angst over reviews that are surely just around the corner. She IS there when I throw tantrums—and, oh do I EVER throw tantrums—about things that irritate me. She IS there when I brag about myself, and she does NOT come up with smart remarks to knock my ego down a billion notches when I do slip up and boast.

I’ve run Sarah through the proverbial wringer. I’ve bitched, complained, whined, criticized, pouted, shouted, preened, bragged.

I’ve worn her out with constant revisions to my WIPs. She knows no chapter is final when I send it to her. She knows there will be one, or two, or a hundred follow-up emails, prefaced by an apology, with a change to the manuscript. I’m sure it wears her out, but she doesn’t complain, just gladly reviews each and every change. All this while she is trying to write and promo her own works.

I do not mean to slight others who help me. It’s just that a bond has developed between Sarah and me over the time I’ve known her, and we’ve come to rely on each other in our writing journeys. And when I say ‘rely’, sometimes it’s nothing more than just knowing the other is out there in cyberspace when we sit down to write at night. We LOVE writing ‘together’.

She knows this silly little truth, but I’ll share it with you. I have trouble writing when I know she’s not around. Told you it was silly. But she’s an anchor, and I somehow feel adrift in writing waters if she’s not just an email away.

So, sure, maybe I need therapy. Maybe Sarah IS my therapy. She might as well be. I go to her, like I said, as my sounding board.

I feel as though I use and abuse her good nature. If I DO, she doesn’t slap me upside the head for it, but just remains there, true and steadfast.

Oh, the time she probably screams silently, You BITCH! Because, oh, boy, can I ever BE a royal bitch. But I’ve never heard her say it. I’ve never felt it in her ‘voice’. She’s a hell of a lot more resilient and patient than I ever dreamed of being.

And we DO fight. I figure, if we were in person during our bouts—as we are both very feisty, outspoken females—we’d literally pull hair and claw at eyes. But that’s one of the things, oddly enough, that I cherish about her. The only other person I have this sort of relationship with—the kind where you can fight like cats and dogs and continue to care and respect each other afterward—is my sister.

I crit for Sarah as well, and I use the term ‘crit’ very loosely. She’s incredibly talented and doesn’t really need my feedback, but she graciously allows my input anyway.

On the release of Candy G. my very first published novella, Sarah was as much—if not more—excited than me. She cheered me on during the book’s conception until its birth, and is my biggest fan. On the day of my release, which happened to coincide very closely with my birthday, she sent a bouquet of beautiful, sunny daisies to my office. I’m looking at them now. Talk about a touching moment.

And while I’m embarrassing Sarah, let me also introduce you to her two books, Down in Flames and Run to You, both available from Noble Romance Publishing. I had the pleasure of ‘critting’ these two wonderful works, and heartily recommend them for wonderful romance reads. Check them out here and get to know what a wonderful writer Sarah Balance is.

Well, have I mortified you enough, Sarah? What an awful way to pay you back for being a rock for me. But I mean it from the bottom of my heart when I say you are a dear friend and a priceless jewel in my writing treasure chest.

Here’s to you! Thanks and I love you, lady!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A Ship in the Harbor...

A ship in harbor is safe - but that is not what ships are for.  ~John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic

It’s here. Now. The eve of my first book’s release. Yes, tomorrow, March 2, my book, Candy G, will be released.
There are so many emotions on the rampage in my gut. Primarily, excitement. Of course, excitement. I’m published! My book has the coolest cover! 

The process has been a fabulous roller coaster of giddy thrills that began with finishing the book, writing the end, submitting it to the publisher, being offered a contract. In time came edits, the cover approval, the galley proof (oh, the galley proof, the first real look at your soon-to-be-born baby), and then…and then…the release. All these things I’d heard other authors discuss, and I longed for my turn. And the experience has been every bit as joyful as I imagined. No, it’s been better than I imagined.

The other emotion? The emotion I didn’t expect? Fear. Of what? This is my dream. What’s there to dread?

Well, it was all fun and sunshine and lollipops until this countdown on the eve of release. Until now, my baby, my creation, my Candy G, had just been locked in my heart, embraced only by me and a critique partner and the handful who helped me. My baby didn’t have to learn to fly, he was safe in the nest with Mommy. 

But, as of the clang of midnight, my precious boy is going public, he’s no longer mine exclusively. He’s going to be pushed off the comfortable precipice where he’s lounged since I started writing him, and he’s really no longer mine.
Whether he flies or hits bottom like ol’ Wyle E. Coyote—you know…when he plunges to the ground below in a cloud of dust…a quiet poof?—remains to be seen. It’s all in the hands of the future now. And that realization is sobering. 

But should I have never submitted Candy G because I was afraid? No. I feared rejection, but submitted anyway. I fear a new kind of rejection now, as any author would. But do I wish I hadn’t begun this journey? No. I’m glad I did. If this book does a Wyle E. Coyote and hits the canyon bottom, I’ll write another book. And I’ll submit it. And another, and another until some publisher begs me, Please, for God’s sake, Stop!

I could write book after book and stay safe, never submitting them, like the quote above says—staying within the safety of the harbor. But, like John Shedd also said, that’s not what ships are for. And the realization that I DID sail my ship, I left the safe harbor and took a chance…well, it’s probably the most exhilarating part of this entire journey.