Self-Publishing From a Female-Driven Perspective

ImageWhat follows is a guest post I requested from my fellow Athens Writers Association author, Katherine Cerulean.

I am writing and planning on self-publishing three books in the next year. I am also a woman.  Now, I’ve never really thought of those two things at the same time, or wondered how interconnected they might be.  But then Rob White, (who I first got to know on FB as we talked about female characters) asked me if I’d write about this topic for his site.

At first all my thoughts were glib.  What was the difference between us female self-published writers and the male ones?  Most of us wear bras?  My sister offered that ‘different parts shake when we write in the nude’.  I had a feeling neither answer was what Rob was asking.  What he wanted to know, I figured, was what didn’t he know or understand about the journey and struggles of a female writer?  Rob’s always been a great proponent of females characters, be it in games, movies, or books, but what about the heroine’s real-life counterparts?  What was that experience like?

Woah, I thought to myself.  I’m probably the least qualified female writer around to write on ‘the female experience’.  I was home schooled out in the country, my only sibling was a sister as tough and who loved the outdoors as much as I did.  My mother was very unsentimental and my father cried at romantic comedies.  AND I break out in hives at the idea of generalizing about women.  Surely there was someone better.

Then I realize, that is part of the experience.  Rob is probably not asked to be the torch-bearer for white men.  Just as a white male character is a blank slate to write a hero’s flaws and eccentricities across, so too is a ‘average’ male self-published author.  If you don’t have a pigeonhole of color, sexuality, or sex, then you start at zero.

Actually, I would argue, below zero, as a writer.  I have thought that’s it’s probably much easier for a woman to strike up a conversation with a stranger than a man; she is at worst no threat and at best a welcome addition.  A man may be welcome too, but he sort of has to prove himself normal and charming, where for a woman it’s expected.

I do feel some women (myself included) do find ourselves at a real disadvantage in being bold and talking to strangers.  They may be happy to talk to us, but we are not used to starting a lot of conversations.  The same is true, only more some, when it comes to selling, shilling, and talking up our books.  There’s still a very real feeling that women should be humble and quiet — and that’s the opposite of the self promotional sales(wo)manship needed to sell books.  We may be making friends, but are we making a profit?  And why do I still feel guilty even thinking about the word ‘profit’?

For myself, the main connection between my sex and my career comes down to characters.  Now, some of my favorite female characters are written by men (of course they are) and I will never believe one can write their own sex better than the other — we are all human in the end.  That said, I think the pressure to write great women characters may be a little more pronounced if you’re female; I know it is for me.

My logic goes like this: more writers still choose to write leads who are their own sex.  And some of my favorite genres are not 50/50 in having male and female writers, so I owe it to woman and little girls everywhere to create some kick-butt heroines in my writing lifetime.  Also, shamefully, I’m more drawn to write male characters.  Why?  Because I’ve seen it done well SO much.  All the more reason to think deeply about my female heroes and even flip sexes while writing a story if it seems suitable.  I have a fantasy called Memento Mori that is in the planning stages and it started out as an adventure with two teenage boys who were in love, but now I’m flipping it to two teenage girls.  I find you can do that sometimes, if it’s early enough in the process.

In closing, I’m reminded of the Chris Rock quote, “Being black is only 5% of my day, but it’s an intense 5%.”  Almost everything I’m doing as a self published author is exactly what Rob is doing, what everyone’s doing, but sometimes I am still brought up short.  By a guy who calls me ‘Hon,’ or by having a very real fear to ask for a sale, or when I have a great idea for a novel but there’s not a female character anywhere near it.

These things are all about me and many women — and men — share them.  And at the end of the day it is this sharing I love — we are all invisible behind our typewriters, no one can see our weight or our makeup, our flaws or our skin color.  And the oldest, whitest guy around may have the exact same fears as the young black woman and he is writing about her and she is writing about him.

There is a weight, a responsibility, to being a female author, but there is a great freedom to being a writer, period.  And one in an era when neither children, lack of money, nor male publishers can hold any of us back.

I can do anything, including forget for a long stretch that I am a woman.

Katherine Cerulean grew up in the countryside near Athens, GA,  home schooled on a farm with dogs, cats, a horse, a pony,  peacocks, rabbits, sheep, goats,  turkeys, an African Gray parrot, and many others.

She has been writing seriously for fifteen years, starting with screenwriting and then moving into novels.  Her completed novels are Other Gods (a fantasy) and A Caged Heart Still Beats (a love story).

She was co-moderator of the Athens Novel Writer Group, wrote a well regarded newsletter for her local Best Buy’s Women’s Leadership Forum chapter.  She is also the creator of People Who Have Come Alive, a Meetup group devoted to helping people achieve their wildest dreams.

She is the founder of the Athens Writers Association.

Katherine still lives in the house she was literally born in (she sleeps 30 feet from where she was born — how many people can say that?), with her sister, who is an amazing artistic genius, and their two dogs.

Since 1997, she has been hard at work improving her craft and measuring up to the high bar of what’s awesome.  Two screenplays and two novels later, she is finally ready to blow the doors off the publishing world with ‘Caged Heart’.

http://katherinecerulean.com

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Taking What They Giving ‘Cause We’re Writing For a Living

ImageI have a confession to make. I don’t write fiction full time. Shocking, right? I should be sitting on a magical cloud eating green and blue cookies and drinking sunshine juice and pumping out magical worlds 24/7 while wizards fight dragons on a nearby cloud. Okay, those of your that have read my fiction know that’s not exactly what my full time creative bubble would look like (there’d be a bit less rainbows and a few more scary monsters), but you get where I’m going with this.

No, from time to time -okay a lot of the time- I write for clients. I’ve written for utility companies, I’ve written for design firms, I’ve written for online retailers and even art magazines. Sometimes I’ve known what I was talking about. Sometimes I had to research the difference between an Ai Weiwei and a Rudolf Stingel. Always I’ve been able to produce a piece that said what the client wanted to say with just a little bit of that “Rob irreverence™” mixed in for taste. The results have left my clients anywhere from mostly satisfied to ZOMG WHY HAVEN’T YOU BEEN WRITING ALL OF MY WEBSITE COPY SINCE 2001? I can’t really brag though because for every few wins there’s always a client who just isn’t satisfied with anything unless you crawl inside of their head and pluck their thoughts out word-for-word.

It’s grunt work. It’s unglamorous and often uncredited but it pays the bills and allows me to keep my writing muscles nice and flexed, not to mention allows me to experience writing in styles and voices I normally might never have thought to. In the meantime, I get to step away whenever I can and jump right back into the ocean of creativity and the fictional worlds and characters I know and love.

So how about you? Are any of you writing for people other than yourself and your fans? How does it make you feel? Do you feel challenged or does your creativity get drained and leave you unable to devote the energy you want to your creative work?

Sneak Peek: The Pull Book 2: Home is Where the Monsters Are

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Below is a sneak peek at the upcoming second entry in The Pull series, Home is Where the Monsters Are. The book is due in the fall. The first book, The Pull is currently available on all major digital platforms as well as in Athens bookstores.

Prologue  

This world we live in is a strange one. The last year of my life was the strangest yet but I somehow know it only scratched the surface. Metal demons, a boy with no memory, a handful of young upstarts successfully standing against the most powerful man in America – perhaps the world.

Amazing things have happened to me since I met that masked boy with the green eyes and the pull inside of him. Amazing things have happened and I know without a doubt that amazing things are yet to come. Beautiful things. Terrible things. I know this because I dream about them.

Sometimes I wake up and remember. Other times I don’t, and carry with me the vague sense that something rich and powerful and ageless is stirring and we are all a part of it. That ageless power is what we call fate. It is more aware than we think, however. It calls to us. It directs us. It pulls us.

I don’t yet know where it is pulling him. I know that question haunts him every day as The Pull grows stronger and louder and more insistent. It pulled him to Atlanta, and there he found other heroes and stood with them against monsters both real and figurative. The monsters without and the monsters within. Some were defeated. Others still attempt to claw their way out from within each of them. I feel that one of them in particular will soon come to face the monster within herself, and the others may suffer for it.

They are my friends and yet they feel like strangers to me. They feel like pictures in a book or words from a poem. I feel that way about myself sometimes too. There are things down that road coming for me as well. Will I become a hero like them? Or will I succumb to my own monsters, and fall before my own purple fire?

I’ve played a part in this story and I have parts yet to play but for now these chapters belong to them. Four heroes, each with a pull of their own. Each has a destiny and a monster to overcome. Each has a weapon they hold close and a dream of a future they will fight for. Without each other, I have no doubt that each of them would fall, broken and alone. Yet together they stand strong. Together they will change the world. In fact they’ve already begun to do so.

My name is Patricia. Like my brother, I sleep now. Like him, when I sleep I see the world for what it really is. I see the story of humanity. There will be loss in this tale; but there will also be triumph. I close my eyes…and turn the page.

Look for Home is Where the Monsters Are, Fall 2013.

How Pain Can Lead to Wonder

ImageI’ve insinuated during this blog that my high school experience wasn’t easy. That’s putting it lightly. In fact it was the hardest four years of my life. Social anxiety prevented me from talking to anyone for fear of making them not like me. That fact, in turn made them not like me. By the time my junior and senior years came around I was simply known as the silent kid and any attempt I made to make friends was laughed down or looked at with mistrust because I was trying to step outside of my prescribed role, and in high school roles are everything.

Because I couldn’t have friends in the real world (or at least told myself I couldn’t), I resorted to creating friends in my head. First and foremost was a big sister character who was tough, funny, protective and a wise-ass who could love me even though I was quiet. She needed a face, so I looked around at my classmates and saw a tall striking blonde who looked like she was always ready to kick someone’s butt. That became Melissa Moonbeam.

Next I needed a brother character who would be the thinker of the group. He was intelligent and philosophical but also kind and with a dry sense of humor. That became Jason Dredd. There was no one around me who was quite like Jason at the time, so I composited a middle school friend named Damien (my first African American friend) and my real life brother Andy.

I realized then that I was missing an important element to this group: a love interest. I needed someone who would react to my character (more on that in a bit) with kindness, understanding, encouragement and warmth. It just so happened I had an enormous crush on a girl I barely knew at the time. That crush developed because of one instance of kindness showed to me after I had embarrassingly goofed up during a mandatory school play. Because she had shown that element of kindness I needed I took her face and her name and combined it with the warmth and understanding I wanted in a character it would always give me butterflies to be around. In that way, Stacy Cross was born.

Now there was one thing developing during all of this that I’ve neglected to mention. I was assembling that “ideal” circle of friends around me, but during the course of it I was also creating a fictional character for myself. It wasn’t the ideal me, for this version of me had flaws as well, but it was a me I could respect during a time I found it very difficult to respect the real thing. When I looked into my mind’s eye I stopped seeing myself and began to see Nick.

I mistrusted my own identity, so Nick was a character with no identity and no last name. I was skinny and weak, so Nick was skinny but could still kick ass. I didn’t care for my face, so Nick wore a mask. I was uncertain about what I was meant to do with my life, so Nick followed a Pull towards a destiny he neither knew nor trusted. In ways Nick was stronger; in ways Nick was more broken; but he was always quintessentially me even when I didn’t want to admit it.

There were other elements that sprung up around these characters. I wanted a constant companion so a dog named Blitz was born. I felt that teenage life presented an ever-present adversary for me and always whispered in my ear that I would never be strong enough, so an unstoppable monster named The Whisper came to life to unceasingly torment Nick.

These characters were born to give me comfort. When I sat in the back of a classroom struggling with my schoolwork, Melissa, Jason and the others comforted me and made me laugh. When I felt bullied or threatened, a scene would play out in my mind where Nick battled The Whisper and always held his own – or his friends joined him and battled the threat along side him.

These characters soon grew beyond mere comforting mechanisms and began to have lives of their own. In bed at night dreading what the next day would bring, I’d suddenly find a scene playing out in my mind. I’d see Nick and Melissa arguing over something. At first I wouldn’t be sure what, but like wiping the fog away from a window soon I knew. I knew what they argued about and what caused it and what that fight led to and how Stacy and Jason felt about it and that The Whisper was watching the whole time and that Blitz the dog was curled up on the couch oblivious to it all.

My subconscious took these characters from my grasp – maybe borrowed is a better word – and brought them to life. As if glimpsing a movie or a TV show, I watched the entire story of their lives, from Nick waking up alone in the woods with a sword in his hand to the fateful battle atop the *omitted for spoilers*. I gasped when Jason defeated Raven atop a factory in New Orleans. I grinned in triumph when Melissa took to her motorcycle and decided to face her past for the sake of her friends. I wept tears of loss when characters died and screamed in frustration when The Whisper showed up at the wrong time and just couldn’t be beaten.

My conscious mind created fantastical versions of the friends I truly wanted, and my subconscious mind pulled a life – a story for them to live through – from the ether. I didn’t intend to create the story of The Pull, and yet it happened. What I did decide to do, though, was grab a notepad in my parents’ basement in 1994 and begin writing those scenes down.

The story of the process of shaping The Pull into a novel is best left for another time, but I wanted to share that because I think its important for us to realize that even the worst times in our life can give birth to something beautiful. I’ll never call The Pull “the greatest story ever told” but it is my greatest story because it is the one my heart gave me when I needed it most. I share it in hopes that it may be able to give a bit of comfort to those in pain in the same way it did to me. It’s an adventure story. It’s a popcorn tale, but it just so happens to be one about finding your true value in a time when nothing is certain.

That value is always there to be found. Sometimes we need monsters to fight, journeys to take and friends to take it with us, but I truly believe that at the end of our own Pull, something beautiful is always waiting.

Self-Published Author – Not a License to Be a Jerk

Okay, lords and ladies, I want to throw my two cents into your hat or ring or shoe or whatever other metaphorical container you prefer I throw metaphorical change in. Just because you’re a published or self-published author does not mean you get to suddenly be an elitist butthole who can dictate what does or does not make a writer, what genres are and are not “real writing”, and what style is or isn’t “art”.

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have standards for things like grammar (except for lovable scamps like Cormac McCarthy) and making things clean and readable for our audience, HOWEVER, what we do not have the license to do, as authors, is tell someone whether or not they’re a real writer.

Example: Yesterday I noticed a tweet from a self-published author that read as follow: “YouKnowYouAreAWriterWhen (it was a hashtag, pardon the unusual caps) you are constantly saying ‘I should write that down’.”  My quote-unquote clever response to her was, “YouKnowYouAreAWriterWhen you have a dream that intelligent ducks enslave society, wake up and say, ‘I should write that down’.”  Her response to my response was as follows: “Hah.  Or maybe not….”

Now maybe I’m just reading too much into this, but that, ladies and gents, sure felt like I just got bitch slapped.

It just so happens that I actually AM working on a short story involving hyper intelligent ducks and class warfare (it’s less funny than it sounds), and it also so happens that I take offense to someone telling me what does or does not make me a writer.  So what if I decide to write about ducks?  Does that mean I can’t make an intelligent, thought provoking, entertaining piece about duck-human warfare?  “Maybe not”, at least according to one author.

Come on, people.  We get it, you’re talented and driven and successful, at least in your own eyes.  So let others enjoy their own talent, drive and success, even if it isn’t in a medium or presented within a theme that you enjoy or consider “art”.  Let me love what I love and I’ll do the same for you.

Who knows?  Maybe Urban Duck Fantasy is the next big thing.