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?