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Note to Self (Two Paragraphs from Peter Kramer)

This excerpt is from Should You Leave?, a wonderful, difficult, not entirely optimistic book by Peter D. Kramer that did not, understandably, achieve the popularity of Listening to Prozac. Never mind. If he wrote it just so I could read these two paragraphs, and then reread them to myself again and again over the years, that would be enough. 

"After all, social acuity has its excesses. I sometimes think I see patients who suffer from hypersemia. A woman may know just what is going on with a man. When he says he adores her, she sees to what extent this sentiment is due to his compulsive need to place women on pedestals and attribute to them traits like docility and sweetness. She considers the man insecure and mistaken. His hidden potential for rage is apparent to her, as are his narcissism, his difficulty with commitment, and his excessive need for control. She is easily hurt by small gestures of neglect, gestures of which the man is unaware unless she points them out, something she avoids doing, knowing she would only be thought petty. She senses he is never fully present, not even during lovemaking.

This woman's world is full of such men, and full of the signals of ambivalence and unreliability that they emit. To her, many men are blind to their own needs; others are frankly hypocrites. She holds these beliefs resentfully and with a constant awareness of her difference from men. The myriad of cues overwhelms her; she can scarcely distinguish the more solid man from the less. Facing a man who is only slightly deluded, she cannot smile at his shortcomings and hope for growth. The flaws stand forth too vividly. For the hypersemic, to enter a relationship requires a conscious effort to ignore what she perceives with great accuracy. Any liason takes a leap of faith, and either she does not leap at all, or she leaps at the wrong moment, toward a man who is not subtly but grossly unreliable."

How to get me to read your book

It turns out that having good review karma is also a useful thing. Or that it helps you learn useful things. Which is to say, I learned something in the process of setting out to find books to leave reviews for so as to increase my review karma. I learned what it is like to try to sort through the glut of independently published books out there on the market, and how an actual person (namely myself) chooses to read one book--and to keep reading it--and not another.

In other words, I ended up inadvertently doing an experiment: what if you take a reader motivated to write reviews and put her on the hunt for books to review. When you expose her to the myriad of candidates out there, what does she do? How does she behave? What is she attracted to? If you are one of those people who are trying to get people to review their books, this will be useful to you. 

You will notice that many of the things that get me to read books are the things that book marketers tell you you need to do if you want to get people to read your book. It turns out that they are sometimes right. 

1. I have to see or hear about your book. A very few books I hear about from friends or see on Goodreads. Very few of them are ones that I end up reviewing. I have one friend who also reviews independently published books, and she and I share titles because we have very similar taste, but otherwise, most of the independently published books I read with the intention of reviewing are ones I've seen on one of the various services I subscribe to that tell me about free and cheap ebooks. I tend to see them mostly on my Facebook page, and they include Bookbub, The eReader Cafe, Pixel of Ink, and Eroticaeveryday. How did I pick these? Pretty randomly. How often do I check their selections? Pretty randomly. And only when I'm not already otherwise feeling overwhelmed.

So if I don't see your book there, I have almost no chance of reading it. And yet, my chances of seeing your book there are almost nil. Your chances are better, though, if your cover is visible and appealing to me in the post, and if your book is the only one featured in the post, so that I can see it and be intrigued without having to click through to something else to read the beginning of the blurb.  

2. I have to be interested in your book. Like many readers, I have very particular tastes. I mostly read romance, YA, paranormal, erotica, and erotic romance. Even with in those subcategories, though, I am very particular. I read Regency romance, but not contemporary adult romance, unless it is erotic. With YA romance, however, I will read contemporary. And so on. And then even within my preferred categories, I am still looking for something interesting or different. If it has to do with a rock-star, it's an automatic pass.

This is an important thing to recognize. First off, it means that you need to market your book in such a way that I can tell if it's my kind of brain candy or not right away, and you need to do it accurately. (One of the worst reviews I've ever given was for a Christian romance that did not use any of the code words for Christian romance in the description, and then didn't mention God's will or the bible or anything like that until 37% of the way into the book. Boy, was I upset about that bait and switch!)

But it also means that, even if you get your book where readers can read it, you have absolutely no control about whether your book fits in a category in their head labeled 'things I read' or not. Once you've committed to writing a particular book in a particular genre, that part is out of your control. You need to accept that.

3. It has to be free, or very, very cheap. If I am intrigued by the book and it is free, I will download it virtually for sure. If it is .99 and it looks extra intriguing, I will read the sample and then decide whether to spend my buck based on that. (And I often do.) If it costs any more than that, it's pretty much a no go. I'm a skinflint. I just am. (I know, I know. That's a whole other karmic quagmire that I will need to address another time.)

4. The cover has to rock. It has to look as good as if it had come from one of the big publishing houses. It can't look like you did it yourself, and it can't look like you got it from one of those hacks who charge independent authors $200 and then basically sell them a pre-made or a template. I am very, very picky about this. My feeling is that if you cannot see that your cover sucks, you are also incapable of making the many important decisions that contribute to writing a decent book. That is not to say you have to pay big bucks. The two best covers on indy books that I can think of off the top of my head were both done by the authors themselves. But you do need some sense of discernment. I do not invest my time in the work of people who do not have it. Sorry. 

5. Your book description/blurb has to be well-written. There's just so much independently published stuff out there that isn't. If something is wrong, or less than skillful in those less than 250 words, I am not going to trust you to take care of me for a whole book. I know, writing books and writing blurbs are two different things. But it comes back to the question of discernment.  Can you make good decisions about your writing, even in this small, strange, fraught genre. If you want me to read your book, the answer has to be yes.

6. Your book has to deserve four or five stars. I got into this to help other authors. If I got your book for free, unless I'm in a review group that makes me committed to reviewing it no matter what the rating is, I will keep mum if I didn't really  enjoy it. I'm good enough at filtering books that this hardly ever happens, but if it does, I usually just stop reading when I've realized that I'm not going to love it. On the other hand, if I've paid for something, then it's fair game. I won't be shy if it's disappointed me. 

7. Lastly, you have a better chance of getting a review out of me if you don't have very many reviews to begin with. I like to know I am making a difference. If I like a book, but it already has 457 mostly five-star reviews, do I need to add my voice to that chorus? Nope. Not this reader. 

It might sound like I am really picky, but the fact is, I can be. There are more books that fit all these criteria than I could ever possibly read, and more of them coming out every day. (Keep in mind, I also have my own, unmotivated, pleasure reading I'm always doing all the time as well.) If I find an independently published book that doesn't fit even one of these criteria, I just move on, knowing that I'll find another book that does. 

If you are an author, I invite you to be a reader in this particularly motivated and focused way. I challenge you to attempt to find independently published books to review on your own. Probably, YMMV. Which is cool. If it does, I'd love to hear about it. What are your criteria?

Oh, and if you've got a book you think I'd enjoy reviewing, don't hesitate to drop me a line at bookofbeings@gmail.com. 

 

Word Count at 1:00pm on November 8th: 3,481

Don't think I'm going to even come close to making 50K this month. Maybe I'll just keep going every day, even past the end of November until I hit 50K.

Oh, well. I have hit my new goal of posting at least one thing every day. 

Young Adult Literature for...? Help!

So I've definitely been going for the "soft launch" approach on The Book of Beings. I've put the series out there, and I've been gradually doing the things that might get it into places where readers who will enjoy it are more likely to see it. But I haven't had a big marketing plan, and I haven't been following some crack promotional strategy.

Partly what that means is that I haven't thought too much about what my niche is. I know, I know. The marketing people tell you you absolutely have to do that. Somehow I just don't have the energy.  

But what I have noticed, now that the book has been out there for a while, is that a certain kind of reader really, really likes it. These readers tend to be over 30, sometimes significantly so. (One reader told me her 83-year-old mother couldn't put it down.) They also tend to typically not read much young adult literature; they're more literary fiction types.  

Now that I know this, I want to be  help these kinds of readers understand that this book may be for them, even if, at first glance, it doesn't seem like the kind of book they usually read. I feel like there ought to be some wonderful, clever, tagline--something tweetable--that will communicate this probable affinity to them, but I have to admit, I'm at a loss as to what it might be.  

I've poked around the internet some, and the two phrases that seem to come up most often to refer to these kinds of books are "YA books for adults" and "YA books for grownups." I have to say, both of these descriptions leave me a little cold. Let's just set aside the issue that one of the traditional definitions of YA is that it is written for 16-25 year-olds. I mean, aren't most of those people adults (albeit young adults) by pretty much any definition? Do we want to insult them by implying that they are not?

Besides, neither "adult" nor "grownup" has a connotation that makes it sound particularly appealing in this culture. Ditto "mature" and "older." I mean, it's not quite the same as saying "YA books for the staid," or "YA books for people with crow's feet," but still...

I have a similar problem with "YA books for sophisticated readers" or "smart people" or "intelligent readers," and so forth. Who wants to imply that some readers might not be those things and that those readers should just pass you right by? I'm not a snob. I love readers, all readers, and I can't see making friends by alienating people. That's just not my style.

There's a site about YA books called "Forever Young Adult," which is kind of cute, but obviously I'm not going to steal it. (And besides, whenever I see the name, I can't help hearing Rod Stewart singing "Forever Young" in my mind, and it's not a mental loop I want to cultivate.) Their tagline is   "A site for YA readers who are a little less Y and a bit more A." I'm pretty jealous of that. It seems to skirt the are-you-an-adult/are-you-not-an-adult thing nicely, not to mention that it cleverly avoids the use of the actual word "adult."

Buzzfeed put together a collection of "YA Books for Adults who Don't Read YA."  There may be some potential there. I could go with something like "A YA series for readers who don't read YA." Still. It doesn't have much zing...

Any ideas, readers? You got any extra clever taglines lying around you want to share? 

 

Dear Artists, Writers, Poets, Musicians: You are the Holy Ones

This is adapted from a piece I wrote recently in my other life. It is the preface to a book of paintings and poems by a friend. Although it was inspired by her, it is by no means limited to her. Share it with the writers and artists in your life. Share it with yourself.  

Meditations / Suspended Time #3 Linda Saccoccio

Meditations / Suspended Time #3

Linda Saccoccio

There once was a One. This is a story we tell ourselves, that runs deep in our psyches, whether we speak of dividing the light from the dark, or of the Bigness banging. I like to think that the One had a choice to become more than one, that it chose to be two and more than two. I ask myself what could have tempted that One beyond its singularity, into where we are. What could have seduced it into a place of suffering, which does not, cannot exist within the One, where there is no separation.

You might say Love drew it forth, out of its unity, but I cannot see that. The One is Love. It does not need to offer Love back to itself. What does the state of separation have to offer to a One who is, without it, Bliss, Eternity, Infinitude?

Only this: perception. The One cannot see itself; there is no place within it from which it might be seen. It cannot feel Love, or Bliss or Eternity. It can only be them. The One breaks itself open, to suffering, to us, for this: so that it might regard itself, so that it might regard us, so that we might regard.

Every brush of visible light, every pulse of sound, every caress of feeling is the One here for its purpose, for its Joy. If we could but know this at every sensation, we would tremble, we would perhaps even be driven mad by the miracle in which we are enmeshed. And yet, in our separation, we cannot know it, can only strive to see it, to inhabit this truth, little by little, and for brief moments.

Those who make this light, those words and sounds new to us, all over again, they are holy. They open up the door that leads back from us to the One, and that leads from the One towards us, towards its purpose. They are here to help us remember why we are here.

Dear Artists, Writers, Poets, Musicians, you are those Holy Ones. When we look at your paintings, listen to your melodies, and read your words, we begin to remember why we are here. Yes, they are beautiful, yes, they are thoughtful, and exquisitely crafted, and everything our rational minds would want them to be. But what matters is how the beauty and thought and craft open us up to what is Beyond, to Remembrance, to Love.

 

Writing a book is not a successful dieting strategy

Transient

At work, I used to eat my lunch during my fifteen minute break, and then I'd go out for a walk during my half-hour off. Not any more. Now I use that half hour to write, or to market my book, or to spend time on social media promoting it. I don't get out of the house nearly as often on weekends, either. The thing is, when all this fantastically exciting stuff is happening in your head, it's hard to pull yourself away from it. Writing is probably even less conducive to exercise than reading is. 

And I don't know what it is, but something about writing makes me feel like I need oral stimulation while I'm doing it. Pretty much constantly. Fortunately, I've figured out that calorie-free tea works just as well as anything else, but if I'd decided that honey and sesame covered cashews were what needed to be passing my lips as I typed, then I'd be in trouble indeed.  I guess the other good thing about tea is that it means I have to keep getting up to use the restroom. So at least I get that exercise.

The other strategy I've learned is to write standing; I have a standing desk at home to which I can pull up a stool when I get tired of being on my feet. And at work I sit on an exercise ball, which means I'm more likely to wiggle around while I'm working and then to pop up and move when I'm ready for a break than I might otherwise be. 

So what I'm saying is, I've found ways to make sure that writing a book isn't something that makes me gain weight, but I could understand if it made others put on a few pounds. And it hasn't sent me to the chiropractor's any more than usual, but it would make sense if it did. In the end, it has taken me work to keep my weight even, and if I'd thought I was going to combine dieting and writing somehow, I would have been sorely disappointed. If you're about to start a writing project, plan accordingly. 

Oh, and then I also have serious fantasies about getting a Walkstation. If I had known at the beginning of the project how things were going to be, I might have seriously considered investing. (Of course, back then, all the options were way out of my price range.)

I'd love to hear from other writers. What do you do to resist the urge to stay sitting and keep typing? How do you keep the pounds from piling on? Do any writers out there have and use a treadmill desk? 

 

How The Book of Beings was Born

The iconic cover. How many of you are reading this just because your eye was attracted by that now famous spot of red?

The iconic cover. How many of you are reading this just because your eye was attracted by that now famous spot of red?

It was the summer of 2009. I'd just moved out of Santa Barbara. In two weeks, I was going to move into a place in Ithaca. I didn't know where I was going to spend the next part of my life, but I figured that in a year or so, I'd have the answer to that question. (I was wrong.) I was staying with family while I was waiting for the new place to be available. What I'm sayin' here folks, is that the space was liminal.  

The people we were staying with had all four volumes of the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers. Although I was well into adulthood at this point, I still read and enjoyed young adult books from time to time, but I had never read anything that would've qualified as either romance or paranormal, let alone paranormal romance.

I know, I know. You have a hard time believing that there was an adult female running around in 2009 who hadn't ever read a romance novel. What can I say? I was raised by Minnesota Lutherans. They don't go in for such foolishness. Never mind that I loved Jane Austen and only really enjoyed literary fiction with a prominent plot line involving romance. It never occurred to me that I could get the stuff I liked 100 proof or better. 

So, Twilight hit me rather hard. The thought I had, over and over, as I read it was, Man, this is some twisted sh*t. What I meant by that, I think was, I can't believe that you can pander so blatantly and forcefully to the female ego and get away with it.  My next thought was, Huh, I wonder how much further you could push it.  (I often have that very thought, about many things.) I asked myself, if Stephanie Meyers could get away with Twilight, could you get away with something even more extreme?

This was the thought experiment out of which The Book of Beings was born: could you write something that was, in some ways, even more twisted than Twilight, and could you make it work? By which I meant, would readers like it? Would they maybe even love it?

The facet of Twilight that struck me was the ease with which Bella allowed Edward to take over her life, the degree to which she accepted behavior that would, if actual people engaged in it, qualify unquestionably as stalking. I'd seen Julie Grey's piece on this very thing. (I was an enthusiastic Rouge Wave reader there for a while.) And although I disagreed with Grey's implied take on the relationship between fantasy and reality, (a topic I'll tackle elsewhere) I agreed that the way that Bella's life was subsumed by her relationship with Edward was an important, if not the important feature of the plot in generating its appeal. 

The question, then, was how to create a story in which the love interest would take over the heroine's existence in an even more extreme way. How, I asked myself, could he take over not just her life, but also her very body? (Vampirism was out. Just not into the blood thing myself, no matter how bloodless you make it.)

Having somewhat recently been pregnant myself, that seemed like the obvious answer. As Manon often muses, pregnancy is nothing if not the invasion of one's body by something at once alien and, at the same time, one hopes, eventually beloved. This was my answer, then: the love interest would make the heroine pregnant, but in a paranormal way. He would do it without sex. (Well, without physical sex.) He would do it without her knowledge, let alone her consent. How's that for extreme?

That is the true story of how I found my way to my premise. It was only later that I went, Wait. Teenage? Pregnant? No Sex? Which is to say, Virgin? Oh, I think I've heard that story before! 

That is how I ended up rewriting the story of the Virgin Mary through the lens of the young adult paranormal romance. I mean, when you think about it, the VM story is one of the original paranormal romances. (Well, okay, even if it was borrowed in the first place from other, older traditions.) But I didn't make this actually pretty cool connection until later, really. I'd like to pretend I was that clever and literary and everything, but as I've said before, I'm not that clever. I only ended up with the idea in a round-about, stumbling-bumbling kind of way. Welcome to the creative process.

Of course, once the Virgin Mary coin had dropped, a number of other things fell into place. But more on that elsewhere... 

 

I didn't actually write this book...

book.jpg

I've mentioned elsewhere that I don't really feel like I wrote The Book of Beings. I know that sounds strange. I mean, my fingers did actually type out all the words that now make up the series. But when I hear other writers talk about what it is like to write a book, it sounds like they picked out a car, got in it and drove. It sounds like they were in charge, like the story went in the direction they wanted it to go, like maybe they'd even planned out where it was going ahead of time. And it just wasn't like that for me at all. It was more like I was walking along, pretty much minding my own business, and a car swooped up alongside me and offered me a ride. Except there wasn't anyone in the car. So I got in, and I sat in the driver's seat, and the car took off. Other people probably thought I was driving the car, but I wasn't. The car was driving itself. 

Really. I started out with a few ideas of what I wanted The Book of Beings to be like. But if I wanted to know what was going to happen next in The Book of Beings, on a moment by moment basis, I had to write the next scene to find out. And as I did, it was like somebody was giving me dictation. That somebody sounded like Manon in my head, since I was writing in her voice, but I know it wasn't Manon. (Manon is a made-up character, I hasten to remind myself.) I guess I'm just going to have to remain agnostic about who the somebody was. 

You know how the plot structure of The Book of Beings is somewhat, well...complicated? With all the set-ups and pay-offs and plot twists and all that? I can't even tell you how many times I was writing a scene and the plot just revealed itself to me. Like I'd have written something earlier, and I'd have no idea why I'd written it, and then it turned out that I'd put it there because it was set-up for the pay-off that was about to happen. And I'd think, wow, that was really clever. Except it wasn't me who was being clever. I'm definitely not that clever.

So now, here's the thing I'm wondering: is it like this for all fiction writers, but there's some secret pact that they've all made to pretend like they're in charge of their stories when they're actually not? Or are all those other writers really driving the car and it's just me who's strange?  

I described all this to a friend once, and she told me that Anne Lamott had described something similar in Bird by Bird about how when she wrote, it was like there was a little man inside a box who just kept handing her cards telling her what to write. Well, I've got a copy of Bird by Bird here, and I've sort of flipped through it, and I can't find that part. I can find a whole bunch of parts that make it sound like Lamott's pretty much driving the car, though. I tried googling it too: "Anne Lamott little man box cards." Didn't get too far with that. So for now, I'll have to remain agnostic on that as well. And/or reread the darn book. (Which it's totally worth rereading.)

What about you? Anybody else out there willing to come clean about how they weren't driving the car either? Or maybe someone could just quietly take me aside and tell me to shut up so as to not give the secret away? 

 

 

for Day of the Dead

selfie as calavera

selfie as calavera

Whatever else it is, The Book of Beings is a meditation on the joys--and limits--of mortality.  It is a kind of Day of the Dead, one of my favorite holidays. Enjoy!

I always think I want unlimited time to write...

Here I am, at work, doing a write-in. So I have permission to do nothing but write for the next few hours. I always think this is my fantasy, to have all this free writing time. But really, now that I have it? All I want to do is do stupid stuff like re-read old emails and finish the romance I'm reading. It makes me edgy, the sitting down to write and knowing I have time and no excuses. The only other two people in the room must be experiencing the same thing because they are having a conversation rather than writing. (I think there may be a romance brewing there, actually, and I'm totally rooting for him, but he needs to learn that complaining about MLA formatting is not the way to anybody's heart.) 

At any rate, here I am. I am writing a blog post. Good for me.

I'm doing NaBloPoMo in November while everyone else does NaNoWriMo. My goal is to write 50,000 words this month. I'm going to post something every day, but not everything that I write. So I'll have some stuff to post left over when I'm done. But more importantly, I'll get over the hurdle of thinking that blogging is some big deal. Hopefully, I'll get the habit locked in. I'd like to. I'd like to write every day.  

(Oh, no. Now he's apologizing for not speaking Romanian. All you guys who need a writing prompt? I just gave you one. Go.) 

 

Tea (How I feel on waking)

"Tea! Thou soft, though sober, sage, and venerable liquid, though female tongue-running, smile-smoothing, heart-opening, wink-tipping cordial, to whose glorious insipidity I owe the happiest moment of my life, let me fall prostrate."

Colley Cibber, The Lady's Last Stake, 1708

Yay!

Yipee!

Amazon decided to give me a birthday present!

Episode One is now free at amazon.com!

Thanks to everyone on the price-matching team!

Hard work and persistence pays off!

 

What I really want for my birthday is...reviews

Hey, Everybody, 

Tomorrow is my birthday. I know, you're shocked I'm even mentioning it. I don't, usually. I'm kind of shy that way. But you know, writing a book makes you do crazy things. 

Like mention your birthday. And tell people what you'd like them to get you. 

But first, let me just say thanks to all of you who have already written detailed, thoughtful reviews of The Book of Beings. Thanks!  Each and every one of you made my day. So I've had a lot of great days lately.

goodreads.jpg

Anyway, Facebook is going to tell you that I want you to get me a Starbucks gift card. Please don't listen to them. What I'd really like, if you've read any part of The Book of Beings, and if you enjoyed it, is for you to go to either Amazon or Goodreads--assuming you have accounts with them--and leave a review, or even just a rating. If you're a Barnes and Noble or iTunes user, those are also great places.

I know, you don't usually do that. I don't usually do that. But I'm starting to understand just how important it is.  Reviews create something marketers call "social proof," which drives those mysterious algorithms. And with a book like this, one that's different, (and I don't mean that in a bad way) reviews can help readers understand if it's the right book for them. 

Which is what this is all about for me. I think there are people out there who are supposed to read this book. Help me find a few more of them. 

It doesn't need to be anything fancy. It could involve less hassle than sending me an e-card, even. 

Thanks in advance,

Liz