Thursday, June 30, 2011

More Discovery Channel at Home

While we were having breakfast this morning, so was a little red fox in our backyard. And, yes, that IS a baby bunny he's devouring. Fortunately this time, we did not hear any screaming. Kudos to hubby for cleaning up the mess...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Journey So Far

As of this writing, THE MARRIAGE PACT has been out on Kindle for just over two weeks and also just came out on the Barnes & Noble NOOK. So far I've sold 37 copies. Not earth-scorching numbers (yet), but what I consider a healthy start for a rookie. Even better, many of the folks who've bought the book are telling me that they either really enjoyed it or are currently having trouble putting it down. Many more who aren't Kindle-enabled are asking about the debut of the paperback (which is coming soon, I promise).

Other questions I've heard a lot in the last couple of weeks: How did all of this come about? How long have you been working on this? How did you get published? Do you have an agent? What made you decide to write a book? Etc. So I thought I'd answer some of those questions by sharing an abbreviated version of where I've been and a guess or two about where I'm heading. I hope this will not only satisfy the curiosity of my friends and family, but maybe even help others who are considering following a similar dream.

The Original Goal: I have wanted to be a writer for just about my whole life. I majored in English and took creative writing classes in college and afterward. Over the years, I've pursued a number of other careers that I have also enjoyed, including my current occupation as a psychotherapist, but I have always loved the writing component of everything I did. As a freelancer on the side, I wrote magazine articles and web content and even a series of workbooks for students of English as a foreign language. These pursuits helped me stay in touch with my writing side, but were never as fun as the secret goal I harbored: writing a novel by the time I was 30.

Failing Forward: Needless to say, 30 came and went without my summoning either the courage or dedication to sit down and do it. The milestone, however, did get my attention enough that I began developing the discipline required to write a novel. During my grad school years, I camped out at a coffee shop between classes and wrote somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 words on a novel that turned out to be pretty much unreadable. It went into File 86 (you're welcome -- trust me, you wouldn't have wanted to read that one). But I learned that I did have the capacity to put the time and energy toward a major writing endeavor.

Over the next few years, I did a few writing projects related to my therapy practice and tried to focus on reading fiction in my spare time. Not to mention having a baby and relocating my practice a couple of times...

The idea for the THE MARRIAGE PACT started simmering in my brain about a year and half ago, though I had no idea how I would find the time to sit down and actually write it. I made occasional notes and jotted down paragraphs that never linked up to what I would write the next time. Finally, around Thanksgiving of this past year, I finally decided to get serious about making the book a reality. I had just turned 35 and wanted to finish it before 36. I didn't know what I would do with it once I finished, but after a long talk with my very supportive hubby, we decided that my goal of finishing a novel was worthy in and of itself -- even if no one ever read it. (Have I mentioned what a fabulous husband I have?)

I'm happy to say that I can now cross that goal off my life's to do list. Even if the 37 people who have already bought the book are the only ones who ever read it, I finished it. I'm proud of that.

That said, now that one milestone is behind me, I have new goals for my writing. I want people to read my book and be entertained by it. I want to continue writing books that people will enjoy. And, ultimately, I wouldn't mind making a decent living at it. That's why I decided to self-publish.

Actually, I made the decision in the early writing stages of TMP. I did think about going the traditional publishing route -- sending letters to agents and editors and spending the next year or two hoping someone would answer a query, agree to read my manuscript and eventually decide I was worthy of publication. I thought about checking the mailbox every day looking for rejection letters, writing and re-writing cover letters on which my fate with an agent, editor or publisher would hinge. I have to be honest, the thought of doing that was not only daunting, it was downright discouraging.

Then I read an article about the trend in the publishing industry toward signing new authors who already have a platform of readers and fans. That's when I started exploring self-publishing. I am lucky that I have a few friends and acquaintances who are experienced with that world or had done their own research, and those folks were nice enough to guide me toward some helpful blogs and websites [I'll try to post some of those separately for readers who are interested].

I'll be honest, the snooty English major in me did have an unpleasant initial reaction to the idea of self-publishing. If you have to self-publish, doesn't that mean you're simply not good enough to get "really published?" Isn't it arrogant to just put your own work out there, without waiting for someone higher on the publishing food chain to tell you it's good enough? It's funny that when I put those thoughts into actual words, they seem ridiculous. And yet, that's how I felt, and that's the reaction I've heard from others about the idea of self-pubbing.

The truth is, I've read a few self-published works over the years, and while they aren't always as polished as books that have gone through the ringer of the big publishing houses, they are typically just as enjoyable or worthwhile to read. And because the author has full control over the content and presentation of the work, and reaps a far higher percentage of the sales price, I've found that self-published books often provide more bang for the buck.

E-books and printing-on-demand have entirely changed the landscape of publishing, too. With print-on-demand, the entry costs are minimal for getting a book to market and out to readers. My primary investment in the book has been my time, and while there are a few costs in getting everything ready to print, we didn't have to take out a second mortgage to make it happen. E-books (like those for Kindle, iPad and NOOK) have almost no hard costs, so I can price the novel low enough that a reader doesn't have to think twice about investing in an unknown author.

I don't have to be the next Candace Bushnell or Emily Giffin to be successful in my own right (though it would be cool!), I just have to be good enough that you feel you've gotten your 99 cents' worth (or $11 in paperback). And hopefully, you'll also think it's worth another 99 cents to invest in the next book...

So that's where I am now. I am reading and learning like crazy from more successful authors on how to get the word out about THE MARRIAGE PACT, which I hope you'll enjoy enough to recommend to a friend. I am also working on a sequel to TMP (Hint: think Suzanne's story). That way, when you're ready for your next entertaining read, I'll have something to offer you. I am also doing some short little pieces which will be available for free via this blog and/or the e-mail list, just to tide you over.

I don't know what the future holds or whether my books will be as successful as I hope. What I do know is that I'm proud of myself for finishing a huge project, taking a risk, and putting something of myself out there in front of the whole world. And instead of sitting around waiting for someone else to tell me whether my book is ready for the public, I get to let the public decide that for themselves. It's a very empowering (and scary) feeling.

Marketing is going to be a huge challenge. I know in some ways, the pressure I will put on myself to perform might be more intense than what I might get from an agent or publisher. But whatever happens, at least some of what happens next is in my own hands.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sure, we're in a relationship. But are we Facebook material?

I've spent a good bit of time on Facebook in the past couple of weeks, promoting THE MARRIAGE PACT, and it's had me thinking about how social networking is changing the way we think and talk about relationships. I've never been someone who pays a lot of attention to how many FB friends I have or, sometimes, even manages to scroll down past the fold on my news feed each day. In fact, it's not unusual that I will miss out on fairly major announcements from my friends until someone actually passes the news on in person. Though of course I expect all 350+ of my friends to take an active interest in whatever I've posted. It's very passive-aggressive social networking.

The other night, however, a good friend of mine commented about how he notices when his friend count goes down by a few numbers and wonders who has defriended him and why. So naturally I have started noticing that, too, and am suddenly obsessing about it. Why did my friends circle shrink from 354 to 351 today? Which three people did I lose? Was it something I posted? Something I liked? Or did those folks just close their accounts or decide to eliminate anyone they hadn't actually had a conversation with in, say, the last 15 years?

I was talking to Hubby today about this absurd new source of social anxiety, which of course prompted him to make fun of me relentlessly for a bit. A few minutes later, he said "You're going to defriend me now, aren't you? I'm going to be dumped on Facebook by my wife." Possibly, sweetheart. Quite possibly.

It's funny, though, that Facebook has added a whole new layer to romantic relationships and friendships alike. We learn quite a bit about our friends and lovers through their Facebook postings and habits. Sometimes it's great to have information we wouldn't get any other way; other times, it's way more than we want to know.

The relationship status itself is also pretty interesting. My status has been unchanged since I opened my Facebook account (despite my idle threats to the contrary), but through my single friends I've learned that updating one's relationship status is a delicate matter. How far into the relationship do you update from "single" to "in a relationship," and at what point do you actually link your status to the person you're dating?

The same friend I mentioned earlier actually had a fight with a girl he was dating a while ago, because she was upset he hadn't updated his relationship status in what she considered an appropriate amount of time. Her concern, of course, was that he still wanted his cute female friend base to see him as single. But if you do update your relationship status, it pretty much comes across as a major announcement; and the congratulatory comments start pouring in from everyone in your social network. I'm not sure where that is on the relationship ladder, but I think it's somewhere between meeting one another's parents and moving in together...

The flip side is when the relationship doesn't work out and you're faced with returning your status to 'single' in front of the whole world. Breakups and divorces used to be something we could do quietly, sharing with our friends and family in private as we felt ready... but now it's either hang onto a false status or share, share, share -- with everyone from your best friend to your third-grade teacher. And do you stay Facebook friends with someone you're no longer dating? How about someone you became friends with because he or she was dating one of your friends, but they're no longer speaking to each other?

Another interesting element in all of this (at least to me) is how the mechanics of Facebook insert themselves into the way communicate with our friends. Those who choose not to do Facebook at all miss out on lots of interactions and online conversation, but they at least miss out on everyone equally. I don't know how the little hamster on the wheel writing the algorithms behind FB makes decisions about what's 'important' enough to go in my news feed; but I do know that I see much more of some friends than others. In fact, I have several friends who post A LOT, which is great, and I guess because they post so frequently I comment on their stuff more often. So, I see more of their stuff. Lots and lots and lots.... Up to the minute news.

On the other hand, I am almost always missing out on the posts by 3 or 4 of my closest friends, who post less frequently -- and since I talk to them in person much more often, I am less likely to comment on their posts because whatever I might say has already been said. I guess to FB, it looks like I'm not interested in them. But that doesn't mean I don't want to see what they've posted; in fact, those are the updates I'd like to see the most. So how to tell the little hamster? I can't. Facebook doesn't work on a spectrum, doesn't allow us to "rank" friends according to our viewing preferences or categorize or own posts according to importance.

I can't assign an importance value of 100, for example, to the birth announcement of my child, or a 15 to the funny thing my cat just did. (Alright, alright, a 5 for the cat). I can't tell Facebook that my best friend is my best friend and that I want to see every one of her vacation photos, even the blurry one that no one else found remarkable. Facebook only allows for "Like" or not, comment or not, and "Hide" for when you just can't take it from a particular person anymore. It doesn't reflect the subtlety and nuance of real relationships, and yet it can impact those relationships simply by what we see or don't see when we log in for a few minutes at the end of the day.

I'm wondering if this will evolve over time as social networks become more sophisticated -- allowing us to organize in detail what we want to know when, and from whom. As though I'm not already spending enough time lost in FB-world, I really need to add a couple of hours a week managing it...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pride, Joy and Sadness

It's been a banner few days at our house. If you've read the last couple of blog entries, you know that I somehow managed to wrangle what was a story in my head six months ago into an actual, published e-book yesterday. (The paperback and non-Kindle versions are coming soon.) It might sell 10 copies or 10,000, but I'm pretty proud of the achievement no matter what happens.

I'm not the only one earning my stripes at our house. Not only did Hubby single-handedly cut up an entire fallen tree in our backyard with a hack saw this weekend, but tonight he brought in the first squash from our summer vegetable garden, where he's been working all spring.

Monkey will be two in a little over a week, and he just learned to count to SIX, in the right order and everything. He's an amazing little boy with a sweet nature and a goofy sense of humor. He loves trains, just like his namesake, a man I knew as a loving grandfather and who raised my mother from the time she was nine. And in about three months, he's going to be a big brother to another little boy who I know will bring equal joy to our lives.

All of this good stuff is laced with a little sadness, since my mother is not here to share in it. She died ten years ago today, and it's hard for me to believe that a decade has passed. I've been thinking for the last couple of months that I would have more to say to mark this milestone: about mothers and daughters in general, and about my own mother specifically. Her spark, her humor, her seemingly endless ability to love those around her (especially my brother and me).

I have to admit, though, now that the day is here, I am at a bit of a loss for words. Maybe it's because both the happy and challenging events of the last couple of months have overcrowded the more reflective emotions of a loss I have lived with for so long. Obviously on some level that's true.

The other thing, the harder thing, is this: when someone you love chooses to take her own life, the grief is different, the pain is different -- even ten years later. Just as sadness lingers, ebbing and flowing with the events of the years, so do the guilt and the anger. I still miss my mom every day, a feeling that has intensified since Monkey came along and I know how much she would have loved and enjoyed him (and vice versa). Underneath that longing will always be two unspoken questions: "How could you choose to leave me?" and "What could I have done to stop you?" Of course there are no answers.

I know from talking to others who have lost loved ones to suicide that these questions are an inevitable part of our reality. I also know that nothing is that simple. So rather than try to unravel the mystery of her choice, or linger on the complexities of our relationship when she was alive, today I focus on what I loved about her: her passion for music, boundless generosity, deep faith, beautiful singing voice, wonderful laugh, enormous capacity for friendship, and much more.

I try -- with mixed results -- to cultivate those characteristics in myself, and I already see them reflected in my son day by day. I believe that is what life, however it ends, is all about: leaving behind something of yourself that can be cherished and passed on in the hearts and memories of those who follow. My mother's life was imperfect and her death tragic; but her legacy can be beautiful. Ten years later, that's the story I would rather write.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Eat Tuna Bagel, Publish Book, Take Nap

I spent most of this morning finishing up the formatting for THE MARRIAGE PACT for Amazon Kindle. It's sort of mind boggling how quickly someone who is reasonably adept at computers can start to feel very old. Five or even three years ago, I would've rated myself somewhere around the 80th percentile when it comes to knowledge of and ability to navigate basic technology. Today, however... Well, let's just say many of the relevant e-publishing websites don't have answers to my questions in their forums because, what idiot wouldn't know that?

When I came to a stopping point, my family and I celebrated with our weekend tradition of visiting our favorite deli for some yummy bagels. We got home about half an hour ago, and Monkey is not yet asleep in his crib for an afternoon nap, but I have already uploaded the book for publishing. That fast.

Six months of writing and editing, a few weeks of trying to comprehend the mechanics of converting a word processing document to an ebook, and then 15 minutes to upload and click 'publish.' It's sort of an astonishing process.

I am starting with publication for Kindle, and then I'll move to other ebook formats and paperback in the next couple of weeks. The book is not yet completely perfect, and this is causing me some mild anxiety, but I've worked very hard editing it and had lots of great help, so it is far more readable than it was when I last updated. One cool thing about self-publishing is that I can make changes with relative ease moving forward (so, yes, you should let me know about the typo you spotted on page 39 if you're an early reader).

It takes the amazon system about 24 hours to make the book available for purchase, so I'll keep everyone posted. In the meantime, here is the dust jacket summary for those who may be interested in reading:
Marci Thompson always knew what life would be like by her 30th birthday. A large but cozy suburban home shared with a charming husband and two brilliant children. A celebrated career as an established writer, complete with wall-to-wall mahogany shelves and a summer book tour. A life full of adventure with her friends and family by her side.

Instead, Marci lives alone in 480 square feet of converted motel space next to a punk rock band, hundreds of miles from her friends and family. She works in a temporary accounting assignment that has somehow stretched from two weeks into nine months. And the only bright spot in her life, not to mention the only sex she’s had in two years, is an illicit affair with her married boss, Doug. Thirty is not at all what it is cracked up to be.

Then the reappearance of a cocktail napkin she hasn’t seen in a decade opens a long-forgotten door, and Marci’s life gets complicated, fast. The lines between right and wrong, fantasy and reality, heartache and happiness are all about to get very blurry, as Marci faces the most difficult choices of her life.

So, obviously, this falls under the genre of 'contemporary women's fiction.' But I will say that a few of my alpha readers were men who confessed to enjoying it, too. And just so you know, it's a grown up book - there's some explicit language and sexual content. YUM!

I'll try to update the blog when the book is available in various formats. You can also stay in the loop by "liking" my Facebook page:

As a side note, there's some debate among writers and emerging writers about whether self-publishing is a "legitimate" way to get started, or if DIY publishing is the kiss of death for a new author. Some people say it's a great way to build an audience and get your work out there where it can be noticed by publishers, others say it ruins your reputation forever.

I can't speak to that with any authority, but I will say that writing a novel -- even light summer reading -- is darn hard work. I'm not sure how motivated I would have felt to keep at it over the last half-year if I'd thought that the only thing waiting for me at the end of the process was a slew of rejection letters from agents and publishers. It's nice to know I can sink or swim on my own. And instead of spending the next several months trying to convince someone in power that this book is worth reading, I can get to work on the sequel instead!

In the meantime, it is time for me to take a well-earned nap.

PS - If any agents or publishers are reading this, I didn't mean any of that stuff about sinking and swimming on my own. I need you desperately. Call me?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Animal Kingdom

We have this cat, Two, who is 13+ years old. She came from a shelter in Portland, Oregon in 1999, when she pawed at me through the bars of her cage and convinced me to look past all the adorable kittens in the next room and take a chance on a seasoned adult with a past. Ever since that moment, she has maintained this scrappy, aggressive sort of sweetness about her that I've always liked.

For more than half our time together, she's been an indoor cat. I started noticing in recent years that she was slowing down a bit, becoming less playful, and watching the birds and squirrels out the back window with only very passive interest -- as though she were only doing so because there was nothing good on HGTV.

So I was pleased to see her enjoying some time outdoors when we moved into a house with a yard last fall. I indulged her desire to move in and out of the house every fifteen minutes through the winter months. It's been fun to watch her stalking little critters in the backyard and proving that she still has her hunter's instincts. And when she started bringing us dead mice a few weeks ago, well... I had mixed feelings.

I'm certainly happy to see the old girl's still got it. I hope my reflexes and acuity are anywhere close to that when I'm the human equivalent of 13 cat years old. And considering the pest problems that have plagued us in this house, having a mouser on patrol in the backyard can only help things. The tradeoff, of course, is that at least twice a week one of us has to shovel our dead little 'gift' off the back patio and into the woods. Yuck.

A couple of days ago I was sitting at the computer with MLM, when we heard the most horrifying squealing noise coming from the backyard. At first I thought it was some birds fighting, but when I looked up I saw something through the window that's been nightmare fuel ever since. Two was in the middle of the yard, gleeful, as a screaming baby bunny tried desperately to free itself from her jaws.

Now I'm sure some of my animal rights friends will point out that there's no difference between the life of a gross little wood rat and that of a sweet bunny rabbit. Death is death, no matter how cute the victim. And I would say, you obviously haven't heard a baby bunny scream. It was awful.

So I grabbed MLM and rushed out the back door, commanding my very confused cat to let go of the poor thing as it struggled for freedom. She looked at me like 'Are you kidding me?' But after a moment, she relented, at least long enough for the bunny to escape to the nearest bushes. Two glared at me for ruining what was obviously the day's crowning achievement, then returned to the patio to sun herself resentfully. I don't know what happened to the injured little bunny.

It was all a little too Discovery Channel for my tastes. In fact, it was kind of like watching the Discovery Channel only to realize that the lion who is gnawing on the zebra carcass is actually someone you see and interact with daily, like Fred from the accounting department. If, that is, Fred also enjoys curling up in your lap and licking your chin on a regular basis. No matter how domesticated my sweet little cat is inside the house, her animal instincts are right there, just under the surface, ready to move in for the kill.

Fortunately, the bunny screams stopped ringing in my ears after a day or so. But MLM is still pointing out to the yard periodically and saying "I see rabbit. Let go, cat!" Hubby finds this terribly amusing. As for me, I think I need until the end of the week. In the meantime, Two is permanently banned from all forms of chin-licking.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hello again, hello...

I've noticed that the long gaps in my blogs (such as the one preceding this entry) seem to take place when I either have too little or too much going on in my life. Too little, and I don't feel I have anything of substance to share. Too much, and I have no time to formulate my thoughts or sort out what's interesting from what's... blogging banality.

This time around, it has definitely been the latter. I spent the month of May getting feedback from my alpha readers and doing some reworking of THE MARRIAGE PACT. I also did a little traveling for my other job, and we've been working hard to make plans for Little Frodo Baggins (the in utero name for Baby Boy #2).
Notice I said "making plans," rather than "making preparations," because preparations might be visible to the naked eye, while our plans have mostly been making lists of lists and talking things over in a general sort of way. It's a good thing the poor kid can't see how not ready we are for him, otherwise he might be kicking me even harder than he already is.

We've encountered some major new challenges as a family in the past couple of weeks, which I won't share now, but will definitely require some attention, energy, and spiritual focus on our part. Add a much-needed and wonderful family vacation with just the two of us plus Little Monkey, and it has been a jam-packed month. I'm hoping June will be calmer and slightly more predictable.

On the writing front, I am excited to say that TMP is currently being proofread by a very talented and forthright friend who I expect will improve its readability substantially. The cover design is in its final stages as well, so be on the lookout for that -- the amazing Marla Kaplan has rendered it beautifully. And while I'm spewing gratitude, my favorite band, The Old 97's, gave me official permission to use some of their lyrics in the book. Check them out, buy some music, enjoy the improvement to your life.

My official Facebook author page is also live and ready to go. If you haven't 'liked' it already [the word 'like' is slowly acquiring a whole new meaning thanks to social networking... along with 'friend'] please do so:

Meanwhile, I am navigating the world of electronic publishing, and probably making it way more confusing than it actually is. I have finally reached the point in my life where technology makes me feel very, very old. I may have to hire a brilliant 18-year-old to get me through it! Having lots and lots of other things on my mind is probably not helping my attention span, so I'm working hard on practicing those centering and relaxation techniques I'm always pushing on my therapy clients. Way easier said than done. 

The good news about all that's happening is that it will make being 6 to 9 months pregnant in the Georgia summer seem like a piece of cake! Sweaty, swollen, cranky cake. But still, as long as there's icing...