Hermit Writer

I’m chickening out, right this second. See, this weekend is the Roanoke Writers’ Conference, which is supposed to be great, and some people sorta a-little expected me to go. But the idea of going felt like carving my own guts out with an ice cream scoop, and when I finally decided not to go, I felt nothing but relief. (It’s not like I just laid on the couch today, though; instead, I worked all morning at a sweaty-hot garage sale. Not that it matters. The important part is I still didn’t go to the con.)

I didn’t want to go to that con because I recently tried—to prove to myself and to anyone who might ask if I’m really committed—to sell my books directly to customers at FenCon, a science-fiction convention. I figured, aliens and zombies, of course my people will be at a sci-fi convention! And making small talk isn’t my favorite thing, but I was a Girl Scout, I know how to sell things, plus I love my books and sincerely believed they would sell like hotcakes.

Well, you can see where this is going. I sold enough to break even, but it was a near thing, and a ton of work. A (more famous than me) author twice came to my table and glanced through Beamed Up: Decide Your Destiny and when I made small talk about my book, he sneered at me and made snide comments about how he was a real writer (you touched my book, dude, I’m just trying to make a sale!). It was emotionally exhausting to the point that the next day I crashed so hard I could barely spoke to anyone.

Basically I sat at a table, cheerful smile plastered to my face, for two days with very few breaks… and it just didn’t feel worth it.

I sincerely came back after that and declared that I should just be a hermit author, like Harper Lee or J.D. Salinger. They don’t seem to be in style much lately, but I just don’t know of I can muster the kind of energy it would take to be something else. See, the authors I met at FenCon overwhelmingly also have day jobs and yet spend nearly every weekend at some kind of writer event. That kind of schedule isn’t sustainable for me; I need to curl up and feed myself emotionally, sometimes. It makes me feel like I’m not “committed enough,” not “real” enough somehow, not “good enough” to be trying to write.

And maybe that’s true. But I just keep thinking there has to be some other, better way. I don’t write for the money, and maybe that’s my problem; I should care more about the money. But, to me, the money is just a way to keep getting to do the writing—but it’s currently a paradox, because to get the money for writing I have to spend time and energy not writing. I just don’t have enough fuel cells to burn for that. Props to those who can, I guess. I wish I could be in your club.

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Review: SLAM

SlamSlam by Nick Hornby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nick Hornby has an incredible talent for writing realistic narrators, so believe me when I tell you this book is well-written even though it made my skin crawl with frustration. It’s charming even though the story caught me by surprise. Give it to your teenager.

That’s because SLAM covers a teen boy with his first real girlfriend and his completely realistic mistake to have sex “sort of” without a condom—and all the consequences that entails. We don’t see many books about the subject, so it is brave, but it made me feel a little squeamish, so maybe that’s why.

But the voice here is incredible. There are two twists that give the book something special: one, the narrator, Sam, has a penchant for talking to the poster of his idol, Tony Hawk. He helpfully supplies advice, in the form of quotes from an autobiography of Tony Hawk, in return. This makes for some rather hilarious and yet possibly deep conversations.

The other twist—possible time-travel. Sam blames this on TH, and maybe it’s all a dream, but Sam is given the opportunity to experience a day in the near-future, not that it is particularly helpful. In this way, Hornby muses on whether, even during particularly rough times, it would be any help at all to know what is going to happen a bit ahead, like that your mom won’t kill you when she finds out. But seeing the future and actually being in it turn out to be two different things. That’s a lesson for us all.

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Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is so astoundingly good that I’m mad i didn’t read it sooner. I read it as a library book and I’m already planning on buying it as well. If you at all enjoy fantasy books, stop what you are reading and pick this up!
The Name of The Wind is a deft tale—or rather, part one of three of a deft tale—about a precociously talented young wizard. Yes, there are some superficial similarities to Harry Potter, and if that entices you, bless you, pick it up. But if that makes you roll your eyes, to you I say, “stop, come back here, it’s better!” It’s a more nuanced and surprising story than HP ever was, harkening to some of the best parts of high fantasy while staying grounded.

The main character here, Kvothe, had a lovely family life as a traveling bard group, and it is remarkably pleasant to spend time with them through a child’s eyes. But this story also has crushing grief, the depths of poverty, and years of struggle. Kvothe is not perfect, but he’s extraordinary in ways that feel attainable and realistic. He seems like a kid you could know, if you lived in a well-thought-out world filled with past empires, real magic, and demons that seem all too real.

Don’t be put off by the massiveness of the tome; yes, it could probably stop a bullet and yes you could probably murder someone by dropping it on them. But I promise you will be so disappointed when you realize you’ve reached the end (and that the library won’t have book 2 available for two months because there’s a waitlist).

The anniversary edition, which I read, includes an author’s note, detailed information—including illustrations—of the many types of currency, and a pronunciation guide, and this you will read and reread just to extend the experience.

It’s a lovely book, and it will lull you into a comforting rapture so deep you will be shocked to find yourself at the end… at least, until you pick up the next one.

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Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1)The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If the video game universe of Mass Effect were populated by Fraggles, you’d get this book. It’s a charming, sweet, lovely little soft-sci-fi escape, and you should read it.

Author Becky Chambers most succeeded at creating a ship full of characters who are unique species, each with little foibles but who all generally get along. Reading the book is like you just popped on the ship and they offered you a fizz drink, so you sit a spell with them and just hang out.

But that’s also my frustration here. The plot is haphazard and there isn’t a single thread of narration or a theme that runs all the way through. There are episodes, like you’re tuning in to an alien spaceship version of Big Brother except everyone is trying their damnedest to get alone instead of creating unnecessary trash drama. But it made the ending flat—you’re just turning off the show, no series finale, or, at least, not one that feels like an actual ending.

I’m torn, because this book really was just a charming respite from reality and I did so love the characters, but I feel like it could have had just a touch more plot and been a better overall experience for it.

That said, I will still be looking for the next one.

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Review: Smoke and Iron

Smoke and Iron (The Great Library, #4)Smoke and Iron by Rachel Caine

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Events have spiraled out from a small group of friends to encompass the whole world in danger, as the Great Library starts to fall and threatens to take everything else along with it. Jess and his companions must tread carefully and choose their allies wisely as they seek to topple the Archivist.

The book retains the fun and verve of the whole series. I particularly liked the beginning, which deftly wove together different styles of leadership and courage in the multi-faceted approach to the story, each lead character having a crucial role. But I felt the book was rushed at the end, and scenes that should have been momentous were held to a page or less, which really dampened the impact. I can’t say much without spoilers, but let’s just say something huge appearing in the sky unexpectedly should be more than an aside. So I was disappointed in the end, in that I wanted more of the story as a whole.

But I love this world. It’s rich and vibrant and layered and realistic. This book, Khalila really shines. She is the best and most noble character and I love the quiet calm leadership she offers. I think she’s a great role model and it’s awesome to see those qualities —over punching and swordfighting—winning the day.
I just wanted MORE.

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Review: Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence

Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of AmbivalenceBaby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence by Rebecca Walker
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

What a disappointment. I picked this book up because of the subtitle—it sounded like a book about feminism and choice and weighty decisions. But it wasn’t, and I’ll be honest, I hate-read this book to the end only because I found Rebecca a huge pain in the butt and I was looking forward to her comeuppance. (Don’t worry, there isn’t one.)

It’s written like a journal of her pregnancy, which, fine, but she could have kept that personal. I liked the short topical essays in between much more, and the essays didn’t default assume I already knew a great deal about the author, her mother, and her family. Maybe that is what soured me: I don’t know the author from Eve, and she never put anything in context, so it was like a conversation with a stranger who just can’t take the hint and leave you alone to finish your latte in peace.

Also, the author wasn’t ambivalent in the slightest. She “had wanted a baby for 10 years,” but honestly just hadn’t gotten around to it. That’s how I got tricked into reading her self-absorbed, privileged, New Age-y journal entries.
That was sort of the best thing, actually: because this book was published in 2007, I spent the whole book imagining how badly Rebecca was going to handle the impending recession. This woman casually mentions that her mom has four houses—bet she doesn’t anymore. Or that she spends multiple days in the hospital; no mention of the ridiculous cost. No, this is a woman who can flounce around not working when she doesn’t feel like it, splitting time between New York and LA and, according to the book jacket, lives in Hawaii. Bet things weren’t as sunny for her by 2010.

If you’re looking for ambivalence or deep thoughts, look elsewhere. If you want to daydream about how Carrie from Sex & The City would whine to her journal during the economic crisis, read on!

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3 Reasons to Publish a Book

A few weeks ago I “e-attended” the Book Marketing Summit. By and large, the “summit” (a serious of time-locked webinars) wasn’t great, a rehash of things I’d heard before mixed with tactics considered bad form in the marketing world and overly tipped toward churn-and-burn business writers who pump out short “how to” books.

But one thing one presenter (a “book marketing expert” *cue eyeroll*) said just really fired me up: “There are only three reasons to publish a book: 1) to make money 2) to build prestige and 3) to start a movement.”

Let’s take this one at a time:

1) To make money. Of course every author with a book out is trying to make money on it; otherwise, it just sits there and there is no more grist to allow the author to write more things. But making serious, all-I-do-is-write money is vanishingly rare and very hard to achieve. Writing a book is not a get-rich-quick scheme because it is neither easy nor quick and you won’t be rich. A few years ago, Hugh Howey wrote about how the average indie author is making $500 a year on their books. And The Guardian just wrote about how the author cut is dwindling even while book sales are up.

Authoring is just not a cash cow.

Possible exception: you are writing a nonsense business book to support your main business. Maybe it will help; maybe not.

2) To Build Prestige. Let’s just say, if this is a goal of book-publishing, I am definitely doing it wrong. I’ve so far published adventure gamebooks for adults, about zombies and aliens. Where’s my prestige? Is it under the joke about the evil sentient cow overlords? Maybe in the bit where you have the deep existential decision about whether to try to eat a lion?

3) To Start a Movement. Again, this probably doesn’t apply to fiction. Was E.L. James trying to start a movement when she wrote bad Twilight fanfiction?

Fiction doesn’t need movements to be worthy. It just is.

When I heard that ridiculous list, I basically gave up on the “summit” entirely. It was mostly hogwash.

But what ARE reasons to write and publish a book?

Just a few off the top of my head:

  • To explain something
  • To explain something better than was previously explained before
  • To help you process something in your life
  • To help other people address a problem in their lives
  • For fun
  • To achieve a deeply held personal goal
  • Because the book you would like to read doesn’t exist in the real world yet
  • Because the words won’t stop bubbling up and the only way to deal with that is to put them on a page
  • To pass something on to someone else
  • Look at that: nine other perfectly legitimate reasons to write and publish a book, already three times more than that so-called “expert” claimed existed.

    I wrote my books (including the just-published gamebook Beamed Up: Decide Your Destiny. Buy now!) as a personal challenge, and because I thought they were funny. I published them because I enjoy self-flagellation… well, no, that’s not the reason, but it feels that way sometimes. I published them because I had already spent so much effort writing all those words, it seemed silly not to spend a little (lot) more effort and put them out in the world.

    Be wary, authors, of marketing “experts.” Keep your critical thinking turned on when you hear them out.

    And write for whatever reason you want to write. You deserve that.

    What’s your reason?

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