Little Annoyances

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Tapping a Pencil

Ren­nett Stowe via Comp­fight

 At the end of last month I received an email from Ama­zon in which I was informed that my KDP Select title, An Unpro­duc­tive Woman, was in dan­ger of being nixed from the pro­gram.  Appar­ent­ly, against KDP guide­lines, my nov­el is still avail­able on iTunes.  Ama­zon fur­nished a link and they were, of course, cor­rect.

I imme­di­ate­ly con­tact­ed Smash­words, as I’d pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished with them, to report this.  To my shock, as I’d total­ly for­got­ten, I was informed that Smash­words had removed their copy of my book from iTunes.  The cul­prit was Xlib­ris. It is their copy of my ebook that remains avail­able on iTunes.

When I first pub­lished An Unpro­duc­tive Woman in 2008, I did so through Xlib­ris, believ­ing their pack­age offered so much for so lit­tle, believ­ing they would pro­vide the great entrance I need­ed into the “writ­ing life”.  (I know.)  I try not to live my life with regrets. I make deci­sions that I am will­ing to live with.  Even if things go awry in the end, I will­ing­ly, if not hap­pi­ly, chock it up to a les­son learned and am able to move on.  That is how I feel about my time with Xlib­ris.  In fact, Xlib­ris, as cost­ly as it was for me, taught me what the “self” in self-pub­lish­ing is all about and what it is def­i­nite­ly not all about… if that makes any sense.

In 2008, I was work­ing full time and back in school so once An Unpro­duc­tive Woman was offi­cial­ly pub­lished, I did absolute­ly noth­ing to pro­mote it, until about a year ago when I remem­bered that I had a book some­where out there lan­guor­ing in the land of noth­ing­ness. I start­ed net­work­ing and learn­ing about self-pub­lish­ing and real­ized that I nev­er need­ed Xlib­ris and also that they have done lit­tle else for me oth­er than make my book avail­able via dis­tri­b­u­tion to the pub­lic at large, and ask me for more mon­ey.

In May of this year, when I decid­ed to enter Amazon’s KDP Select pro­gram for a three month “let’s see if this will make any dif­fer­ence in sales” tri­al, I con­tact­ed Xlib­ris and asked that they remove my ebook from all oth­er dis­tri­b­u­tion chan­nels.  I did the same with Smash­words.  Once all looked clear, I signed on and… tada!  I’m sell­ing thou­sands of copies a month.

Just kid­ding.

Actu­al­ly, I’ve gone from sell­ing a copy every cou­ple of months to a very mod­est few each month.  Very mod­est.  Extreme­ly mod­est.  Painful­ly mod­est.  But, nonethe­less this is an improve­ment.  I nev­er expect­ed my efforts, the few that time allows me, to bring about overnight suc­cess or over decade suc­cess, to be com­plete­ly hon­est.  I like writ­ing and I’d do it even if I wasn’t get­ting paid.  Which is not to say that I don’t want to be paid, only that I write because I must.

In any case, between May and Octo­ber my nov­el appar­ent­ly was nev­er removed from iTunes.  And, when I con­tact­ed Xlib­ris a cou­ple of weeks ago, I was assured they’d clear up the sit­u­a­tion.  In the inter­im, I’ve con­tact­ed iTunes direct­ly.  Did you know they have NO call cen­ter and even send­ing an email is a pain?  And when you do send emails it is almost always to the wrong depart­ment and you almost always get a form email back that lists a half a dozen oth­er links to help you solve your prob­lem.  Of course none of those links will address your issue either.

My book is still on iTunes.

I called Xlib­ris back again today.  Do you know how aggra­vat­ing it is to speak to a dif­fer­ent per­son each time and have to repeat your prob­lem each time?  Have you any idea?  Yeah.

So, as I write this post I sim­mer… but only a lit­tle.  My point here, oth­er than a tiny bit of vent­ing is this:

  1. If you ever decide to self-pub­lish, know that you can do it on your own at lit­tle to no cost to your­self.
  2. The online com­mu­ni­ty of indie authors is enor­mous and enor­mous­ly gen­er­ous.  If you get stuck, they will help you, coach you, befriend you, con­grat­u­late you, sup­port you, encour­age you, walk you through process­es, and com­mis­er­ate with you and none of it will cost you a pen­ny.
  3. When you have a day where some lit­tle annoy­ance makes you feel like you may tip over the edge, stop and reflect.  I guar­an­tee that you have so much to be grate­ful for.  It could always be worse.

There.  I feel bet­ter.  How about you?

Balance

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Warn­ing: Spir­i­tu­al Mes­sage Ahead

The Violent Volcano

Trey Rat­cliff via Comp­fight

 If you’re any­thing like me you’re on a con­stant mis­sion to cre­ate bal­ance in your life.

God? Chil­dren? Spouse? Work? Home? Health? Writ­ing? Self? In that order. Out of order. With poten­tial­ly a bunch of oth­er stuff added to the mix. Yeah?

A few morn­ings ago while dri­ving into work, traf­fic as insane as ever, know­ing the day ahead would be hec­tic, know­ing that I would not be able to accom­plish every­thing before clock­ing out, not hav­ing had my morn­ing cof­fee yet, and deep down wish­ing I’d just called off from work and feigned ill­ness, I had a lit­tle bit of a pan­ic attack.

Heart rac­ing. Head hurt­ing. Brow and palms sweat­ing.

I tapped through the library of pod­casts and songs on my iPod and couldn’t find any­thing that I want­ed to lis­ten to. So I turned it off. I start­ed to zikr, which for my non-Mus­lim friends means that I did some­thing akin to recit­ing the rosary. As I was talk­ing to God, I reflect­ed on two things that had occurred before leav­ing for work.

  1. I received an email from some­one who recent­ly read my book and loved it. It was a most love­ly wel­come sur­prise to know that some­thing I wrote touched some­one to such an extent that they want­ed to reach out to me. How awe­some is that?
  2. After read­ing the email I checked my book’s Ama­zon page to see if per­haps this love­ly per­son left a review. There was a new review but not by the per­son who wrote the let­ter. The per­son who wrote the review thought my book was mediocre at best giv­ing it a 2/5 star rat­ing. My first and only 2 star rat­ing.

I wasn’t bummed out by this. I long ago fig­ured it would hap­pen one day. And quite frankly I’m so new to all of this that I’m just hap­py some­one read An Unpro­duc­tive Woman and thought enough to write a review at all.

I reflect­ed on these two things and held them up in my mind as a sort of life metaphor. Each opin­ion about my book, both valid in their own right, exist­ing on oppo­site ends of the spec­trum. Me tee­ter­ing in the mid­dle. Me try­ing to bal­ance.

I’m not qual­i­fied to deter­mine what if any­thing God meant for me to glean from this suc­cess and fail­ure to reach my read­ers. For­tu­nate­ly, I did gain some­thing though.

  • No mat­ter how hard I may try, I will still be imper­fect.  But, that’s okay because Per­fect Is the Ene­my of Done.
  • I can’t please every­one with my writ­ing so I may as well please myself by cre­at­ing some­thing that at least I find worth in.
  • I can find the mid­dle ground in this life that often feels like noth­ing but extremes, if I try real­ly real­ly hard or just take it easy.

I also start­ed to think about the best review I’ve ever got­ten. It was four stars rather than five. The per­son who reviewed my book expressed true sup­port for my efforts in writ­ing my fresh­man nov­el and gave some very con­struc­tive feed­back that while not total­ly glow­ing, was still 100% pos­i­tive.  I feel as if I gained more from that one review than the review­er ever could have gained from read­ing my book. That review felt like bal­ance. That review is the one I always go back to when I need a boost, some affir­ma­tion that I am doing okay at this writ­ing thing and that I should keep at it.

For­tu­nate­ly, attacks of anx­i­ety don’t hap­pen to me often, but when they do, it’s usu­al­ly at times when I feel off kil­ter, when there are too many things to do, too many demands and not enough time or ener­gy.  Times when I’ve fall­en off that cen­ter line into the land of extremes.

I ought to have awe­some core strength, you know, because this bal­anc­ing thing is hard work.

What do you do to cre­ate bal­ance?

The Responsibility of Self-Discovery

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The pow­er of the self and self dis­cov­ery…

Tehran Sunset

Hamed Saber via Comp­fight

I read a cou­ple of arti­cles over this last week about the (mis)appropriation of cul­ture in writ­ing. This got me think­ing about our respon­si­bil­i­ty as writ­ers and read­ers and also as human beings.

We all have our respec­tive roles in life and we all have many. I am a Mus­lim, moth­er, daugh­ter, nurse, writer, wife… As I grow old­er I will, no doubt, adopt oth­er des­ig­na­tions and still yet slough off oth­ers. What we have here, hope­ful­ly, is the mak­ing of a strong bal­anced evolv­ing human being.

I start­ed to won­der how much of this per­son­al devel­op­ment influ­ences my writ­ing (or vise ver­sa) or anyone’s par­tic­u­lar pre­ferred form of artis­tic expres­sion.

When I wrote An Unpro­duc­tive Woman over a decade and a half ago, my life was under­go­ing a major spir­i­tu­al upheaval. The process of writ­ing AUW was cathar­tic and, believe it or not, I was in many ways buoyed by the strength of my main char­ac­ter Asabe.
Those who know me and have read AUW have told me that they envi­sion me as the main char­ac­ter, Asabe. I take that as a high com­pli­ment but I quick­ly set them straight. Asabe is the kind of woman I’d emu­late and I believe this is what I was going for on the sub­con­scious lev­el when I wrote the sto­ry. Asabe is a deep down good woman who is imper­fect.

These days I find that my main char­ac­ters, usu­al­ly women, reflect less of what I’d like to become and more the pas­sion­ate rebel­lious spir­it that already resides silent­ly with­in me. They are usu­al­ly good but deeply flawed and grow­ing in ways they nev­er antic­i­pat­ed. This would explain also, I sup­pose, why I fre­quent­ly hit char­ac­ter devel­op­ment road­blocks, because I don’t know that silent part of me as well, that alter ego

Whether right or wrong, my writ­ing is informed by me and me by it.

Recent­ly a movie enti­tled The Inno­cence of Mus­lims by Sam Bacile received more pub­lic­i­ty than it deserved. The film is an inten­tion­al­ly inflam­ma­to­ry piece of tripe meant, I would assume, to offend and harm the Mus­lim world com­mu­ni­ty. Most of the Mus­lims I know found it laugh­able and unwor­thy and then of course you know, if you’ve watched the news, that oth­er Mus­lims, to my cha­grin and mor­ti­fi­ca­tion, protest­ed loud­ly and unfor­tu­nate­ly vio­lent­ly. I cer­tain­ly don’t believe that the film was wor­thy of any action or reac­tion bar­ring dis­gust, but it does beg the ques­tion about the filmmaker’s intent.

We could begin by argu­ing about the right to free speech and thought. I believe Bacile had the right to make the film (with will­ing well informed actors), but what about his respon­si­bil­i­ty as an artist, as a per­son with the pow­er, how­ev­er small, to cre­ate change, to enlight­en, to objec­tive­ly protest what he may per­ceive to be wrongs. Obvi­ous­ly he had some griev­ances.

I feel that sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty when I sit in front of my key­board. It weighs so heav­i­ly on me that some­times my writ­ing lit­er­al­ly hits a wall. I am forced by some inter­nal check to eval­u­ate not just the direc­tion of my sto­ry but “why” it took that direc­tion.

I once felt as if my per­son­al mores choked my cre­ativ­i­ty, but now I would say that they have actu­al­ly checked my heart and moti­va­tions. This is a dif­fi­cult bal­ance to main­tain no doubt, if one is so inclined, but not a bal­ance I’m will­ing to forego just to main­tain my right to say any­thing that comes to mind with­out giv­ing thought to the poten­tial con­se­quences. I have a respon­si­bil­i­ty to myself and my craft and to a degree I also feel respon­si­ble for those who may read or be influ­enced by what I’ve said.

I des­per­ate­ly want to give life to char­ac­ters that are human, not per­fect cook­ie cut­ter fairy tale crea­tures (even in the midst of a fairy tale), but true rep­re­sen­ta­tions of, in par­tic­u­lar POC, women, and Mus­lims.  As we all know, no two peo­ple of any group are alike, so that is cer­tain­ly not an easy task. While I wouldn’t say that only a mem­ber of a cer­tain demo­graph­ic can give true life to such char­ac­ters, it cer­tain­ly helps. Also there are peo­ple who man­age to write their own demo­graph­ic wrong. I don’t believe any­one has the monop­oly on get­ting it right or wrong.

I lis­tened to a book a few months ago in which the main char­ac­ter was a woman, a very stu­pid, child­ish, whin­ing, woman, whose only appar­ent worth appeared to be her petite body, her fair skin, and her red hair. Grant­ed the book was poor­ly writ­ten dri­v­el, but this char­ac­ter exist­ed hap­pi­ly as a face and body. I don’t know a sin­gle woman who would wish to be seen in such a shal­low light. I kept scream­ing, “Real­ly? What woman acts like this?”
This brings us to the issue, in a very round about way, of the sub­ject of not just cul­tur­al (mis)appropriation, but gen­der and racial as well.

I can not expound on this sub­ject with the flu­id elo­quence of Nisi Shawl or Aliette de Bodard, but I can say this: Writ­ers have an oblig­a­tion to get the facts right, even in fic­tion, and to tell the truth the very best way they know how even if said truths hurt and ran­kle the author’s own sen­si­bil­i­ties, even if in the end their per­son­al prej­u­dices have been nul­li­fied.

Isn’t that what true art is all about?

This requires, in my opin­ion, the hon­est desire to do jus­tice to the work of art and an hon­est effort to make that hap­pen. Even if the facts are wrong I think most of us can tell the dif­fer­ence between will­ful deviance from truth and human error. I’m will­ing to make allowances for that. That said, none of this can be accom­plished with­out self-explo­ration and the under­stand­ing that must nec­es­sar­i­ly be born of that.

When I was in nurs­ing school, one of my pro­fes­sors spent an entire class dis­cussing the impor­tance of under­stand­ing our per­son­al lim­its. The con­text was this, that every nurse will come across a patient(s) whose cul­tur­al, reli­gious, per­son­al prac­tice may come at odds with their own. Some­times enor­mous odds. Do you ignore your lim­i­ta­tions and fail your­self and even­tu­al­ly the patient as well? Do you admit to those lim­i­ta­tions and seek help, guid­ance and/or a solu­tion? Before doing either, you have to under­stand your­self.

You have to know you.

reflections (B)

Camil Tul­can via Comp­fight

It is because I under­stand my per­son­al lim­i­ta­tions (to a degree…I’m still learn­ing and grow­ing every day) that I step back and eval­u­ate my actions with my most chal­leng­ing patients. I do this so as to ensure that I don’t cheat them of appro­pri­ate care just because I was annoyed or hav­ing a bad day.

Ques­tion: If an author is unable to approach a sub­ject with hon­est objec­tiv­i­ty, should they approach it at all?

We could hold up, as an exam­ple, the deba­cle of Reveal­ing Eden, which I could not fin­ish read­ing. Even today in the midst of near­ly unan­i­mous opin­ion that Foyt  is racist for hav­ing writ­ten some­thing as bla­tant, I still take issue with call­ing her such. I’m more con­vinced that she is instead, woe­ful­ly igno­rant about how to write an intel­li­gent­ly nuanced piece deal­ing with the immense­ly touchy sub­ject of race. I believe Foyt was lazy and that she did not do her research. I think she is guilty of being arro­gant enough to think she didn’t have to and for not fes­s­ing up when called out on her fail­ure. Besides being ter­ri­bly writ­ten, as we all know that there are many ter­ri­bly writ­ten best­sellers, I think she failed because she didn’t do the self-dis­cov­ery required to write a sto­ry with a sub­ject mat­ter so poten­tial­ly charged.

Did she ever ask her­self, “How do I real­ly feel?” Or “Why do I feel this way?” Or “What do I hope to accom­plish?” Had she asked any one of these or oth­er ques­tions requir­ing true self-dis­cov­ery, she might have been able to antic­i­pate the neg­a­tive back­lash that has since ensued.  She might have been able to write a tru­ly enlight­ened and reveal­ing piece of lit­er­a­ture

I think it is just as incum­bent upon read­ers to call out those authors who were too lazy to make the effort at self-dis­cov­ery, let alone fact check­ing.

As for the man who pro­duced the deroga­to­ry film about the prophet of Islam, well that thing (which I could not and would not ever watch) is akin to a tem­per tantrum. And as such, it was, like any oth­er tantrum, emp­ty of sense or worth. It was a lit­er­al mess. I’m not angry that he had the tantrum but I am dis­ap­point­ed that he didn’t try to do bet­ter, or that he couldn’t be both­ered to at least be hon­est with him­self and the verac­i­ty of his obvi­ous anger, which he is enti­tled to, if he wants to live with it.

But what has he ben­e­fit­ed? What have we ben­e­fit­ed? What was the point?

Only I can decide what my per­son­al moti­va­tions are and as much as I may want to, I can’t decide that for any­one else. (Don’t wor­ry, I don’t real­ly want to. That’s too much respon­si­bil­i­ty and work!) In the end the truth of it lays solid­ly in the lap of the artist. In the end the artist has to be at peace with the results, opin­ions be damned.

But isn’t that what the artist is in search of any­way? Opin­ion, prefer­ably the favor­able kind?