When people hear my story and the reasons why I’ve chosen to live in the woods and write, the long litany of challenges that make up the daily average in my chosen field—they ask why.
Why do this to yourself?
Believe me, I ask myself that question all the time. I ask, but then, I already know the answer.
I do it because I love it. It’s tough to explain to someone who doesn’t love something or someone as much as I love telling these stories. I go to bed thinking about these books. I dream about them in the night reverie. I wake up thinking about them. I stare at the storyboard while I brush my teeth, drink my coffee, and dress. I puzzle over character issues as I drive to work, serve beer to customers, and then drive home. I ponder plot points while I feed the chickens, and water the garden. I rehearse dialog while I’m puttering around the kitchen, or folding laundry.
I live out in the boonies so I can have uninterrupted creative space. The phone rarely rings. I get visitors once in a blue moon. My freedom to disconnect from the real world, and plug into the world of The Pillars of Dawn is limitless. I chose this life because I love it so much. I live small so I can give more to my work.
Gone are my days of city living, night clubs, boomerang relationships, relationships of convenience, and electric neon metropolitan barely controlled chaos. Now my days are spent between work, and doing what I love. There is still tweaking to be done in that equation, but my connection to the writing grows stronger each season.
When people ask why, what they really mean is: why try so hard? Why give up all the modern conveniences? Why hurt yourself to achieve the dream? Why not just make the changes asked and be accepted into the literary world easily?
The short answer is…I’m stubborn. The long answer is…I love it enough to hurt myself to make it happen in the true shape and emotional intent by which it is being entrusted to me. Ergo, I know it’s just a matter of time—because my heart is in it, and my teeth and claws are dug in tight—if I have to drag it over the finish line with my last breath, so be it. I hope it doesn’t come to that, obviously, but I am prepared to fight long and hard if need be. It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t created something what it feels like to be responsible to characters, a message, and stories that aren’t even real. That responsibility to give your characters the best chance at representation, a running start in the world, a chance to be seen as they are asking to be seen. It’s tough to explain to people why you are prepared to fight for a character, a story that hasn’t yet drawn full breath or manifested into a shared reality.
For now, that fight means living a little off-grid life in the woods and putting the bulk of my focus on the next book, the next arc, the next point of development and so on. It means earning a paycheck as a waitress, and getting by on a small income so my expenses are low. It means squaring my shoulders for conversations with managers and prospective agents about holding my ground on the gender balance of my series. It means being willing to say “thank you, but you’re not the right fit for my books” to those who insist on compromising the core message, even if they’re in a position to snap their fingers and make publishing miracles happen if I would only bend on that one topic.
I’d gladly bend on a two dozen other topics, reasons, expectations, requests and needs. Gladly. Happily. Brilliantly. I would be delighted to work with all other topics and suggestions. Until then, I can only keep working, writing, building, creating and getting ready for that phone call wherein the topic of gender representation is not a focus of the re-write requests.
That day is coming. The world has changed a lot in the last decade of rejections. The awareness of the female voice and story is maneuvering into the light. The best thing I can do to support my series right now is to keep writing.
Keep going. Keep pushing, even when I’m exhausted. Even when it means picking up another part time job to pay bills. Even when it means I’m behind on all the things—keep writing.
It looks like masochism from the outside. I can totally understand why people wonder why I do it to myself. I get it. Who pushes that hard for so long when giving up would be so much easier? A decade of “no”, a decade of rejections.
Ten years is a long time. One can get completely worn down in a decade of what feels like perpetual failure.
But then…I stand in front of my storyboard and stare at my character profiles and I remember why I’m doing this. I love it. I love these characters. I love the world of The Pillars of Dawn. I have a responsibility to them and to the readers. I get to live art-fully when they breathe.
I get to write about the Muses every day. It’s a privilege. It’s a joy. And I’ll keep doing it so long as the Muses continue empower my pen. How many of us get to say they do what they truly love to do?
Choose your story.
Trust your story.
Bring justice to your story.
The summer is half over and it doesn’t even feel like it’s begun. The rainy, overcast skies and slow start to the tourist season at the restaurant have been confusing. Much of my garden drowned in the constant rain, and when the sun comes out it’s muggy and damp so some of my shady low plants have developed a rot that slowly turned them gray.
On the bright side of all the rain and damp, the kiwis have gone nuts, and the grapes are loving the water for their second year of root establishment. When they’re at the age to begin fruiting, I don’t know if this much rain will be a good thing, but for now…it’s working.
We had a rare patch of light this week, so I got out with the camera to keep track of the changes. The humidity was insane, but it was lovely to have sunlight. The 13 year old apple tree that never fruited is bent over with an abundance of gala applets. This tree was a decade old when I moved in, and it never flowered in those three years. Last year I built the chicken run along side the fruit trees and piled chicken manure around the bases and root zones. I also tested the manure on one garden box, and one row of raspberries.
As I’d hoped, the apple tree came to life this year with hundreds of blooms, and what looks like it will be a great harvest. The raspberries are abundant, and the one raised bed I fertilized is rich with half a dozen herbs, yet more rhubarb, and new gladiola shoots.
I also had an unfortunate raccoon attack on the chicken coop last month that killed several of my chickens and ducks. This has necessitated a temporary cloistering in the small coop for the remaining animals (which is unfair and gross) and an emergency coop remodel. Because I hate keeping the birds trussed up in such a small space, I do allow them out to free range when I know I’ll be home by dark. The result has meant that the slug population in my garden is like, zilch. Which is awesome. Go ducks! More on the coop remodel soon.
The final update for the cottagestead for July is this: I’ve made a controversial decision this year to let my bee colony go partially feral. This is due to the more aggressive nature of this last hive, and partly due to time management issues for getting in and working the bees regularly. The positive effect of letting them go natural for a season is that they are far stronger and more active than any colony I’ve had before. They’re so heavily populated, maybe even crowded---which means, they will either swarm OR they will be able to easily defend themselves from a yellow-jacket invasion like the ones that killed both my hives late last summer (and more than half of the county’s club hives).
Writing and Publishing
I blogged about my decision to look back into traditional publishing earlier this month. I’m also checking into brand management teams and agencies, as well as talent management. In short, it’s time to do something differently, and I’m putting feelers out in lots of directions for data and feedback.
To be honest, I don’t know what I need for sure. I could easily employ an assistant with the volume of projects queued up for publishing and business management, and if I could use a full time assistant---it’s to the point I need to look into what a team might cost and what benefits that would provide. Is it worth it? I don’t know, but I’m looking at a bunch of ideas and angles I’ve never considered before. Especially now that the cannabis farming and grow model are beginning to merge and overlap with my publishing works…
We are no longer the smallest licensed grow in the state of Oregon! YAY! That being said, we still have lots of work to do. This week we got our scales certified, which was a big step. It was so nice to have an official visitor signed into the log. I’m sure he thought I was being ridiculous…but I was just so excited to have an official sign-in. It’s the little stuff, you know?
We’ll have our logo soon, which will help us feel a bit more legit when talking to folks, especially as we near the first round of product going into flower for harvest. In just a few short months I hope to be announcing our new line of designer boutique recreational cannabis offerings by their unique names and descriptors.
These designer strains will be built into our marketing and branding campaign over three business platforms, including my writing and fantasy worlds. More on that to come. The unlimited potential for introducing cannabis as an entertainment enhancer in the literary world is, well, mind-blowing and exhilarating. I owe much of this enthusiasm and encouragement to my business partners who suggested the crossover potential long before I could see it myself. Now that my creativity is latching onto the concepts and drawing them into my fantasy worlds—there will be smokable adventures on the very near horizon.
Five weeks ago I decided to begin shopping The Pillars of Dawn series to agents and publishers. I’m mostly targeting foreign agencies and publishing houses, for reasons I’ll get into later. This means I intend to sell the series. I know. This will come as a big shock to those in my circle who’ve heard me swear off traditional publishing. (“Never again!” I exclaimed! Well….never say never, apparently.) I expect there will be a few conversations with my writing groups and such—but the process is underway, and I’m actively courting publishing houses around the world. So far, I’ve only gotten a couple of nibbles. (Poland, and UK) This has taken up a significant chunk of time as much of the research to find appropriate publishing houses can only be done when I’m in cell or internet range. (and with several of those houses I have to cut and paste chunks of website into google translate to find the right query method, then craft a foreign language query, check with translator friends, then query properly. Luckily, the Russian translation of Murder of Crows was completed several years ago and can be sent to Russian publishers (Thank you, Wianna).
I’m putting this out here now, so it’s not an even bigger shock when it happens. I’m happy to discuss the reasons and process to my indie colleagues and friends over a drink at any time. The support I’ve received as an indie has been staggering, and impressive, and I am deeply and profoundly grateful to my community for the constant encouragement and network to rely upon. I sincerely hope this decision does not signal any sense of abandonment to my community—on the contrary, I feel like I will be able to do more, and support my indie and publishing groups better when I’m not stretched so thin between projects.
This leads me to the WHY.
Why sell out after all these years?
I’m trying not to think of it as selling out, honestly. I’m framing it as selling up. Quite simply, the reason is that Plague of Gargoyles is nearly ready for a first draft printout, and Tangle of Mermaids is mapped, and partially written. This will conclude Act One of the series. Act TWO—is an undertaking that will require focus and concentration which I don’t believe I can sustain while working part time at a restaurant, launching a cannabis farm for the state of Oregon, and maintaining a cottage stead. SOMETHING has to give. I know it will be coming, and I don’t want the thing that has to give, to be my writing.
I can no longer sustain the publishing costs energetically of putting the series together to get it out there. I need help. I need to hand the reins off for the publishing/marketing part of the equation so that I can focus on the writing.
Don’t get me wrong, I have LOVED the creative freedom of being able to self-publish. I’m sometimes a little annoyed at myself for having sat on the fence for so long before pulling the self-publishing trigger. Still, it’s time to re-organize and re-focus.
I will continue to write until the series gets picked up. But I am writing as I can between the peaks and valleys of all the other goings on. Tourist season at the restaurant means full time work through the summer. Cottage stead projects for the summer fill in all the gaps. Cannabis farming is squeezed in there, it needs to be put up higher on the priority list as well. And at the very bottom, I am able to get pick-up and filler chapters written on rare occasions these days.
Selling up the series to foreign publishing houses will allow me re-organize my plate. AND the long-term goal is to option the series for television, so, that is in the matrix of things to one day come and I want time and energy to focus on that adaptation process. (Don’t get excited yet, still only a couple of nibbles on that fishing line as well. The only production company that shows real interest wants two more books on the market before they get into serious discussions.)
Anywhoo, all this is to say I’m priming for the shift, and I intend to make some changes coming up and this is just a heads up. A buckle your seatbelt, as it were.
Why foreign agencies and publishers:
Oye. This is a difficult thing to write. I hope the blowback isn’t too rough. There is anger here, but I hope you can filter as needed. This is raw and unedited, it’s the only way to get it out right now. It’s messy. Please forgive.
I have had tremendous and very encouraging feedback from American AND foreign readers. But I have had very negative feedback from American agencies, and publishing houses. Predominantly, that feedback has included requests to alter, change or omit the female led casting of my series.
I would very dearly love to say this is not a gender-based battle. I would love to say the 146 rejections I’ve received were about writing style, pacing, etc. etc. I’m sure many of those rejections WERE about writing style, lack of craft and such—but got lumped into a generic rejection. The truth is, all but one of those personalized rejections that I received included a gender related complaint or request.
Anyway, the only publishing and representation offers I got were hinged on my compliance with re-writing the series about the Greek muses from a male point of view, OR taking a gender neutral pen name, OR giving more substantial speaking roles to the male characters. (for the record, my cast is evenly split 50/50 by gender)
Because I refused these changes, I lost the options for publishing or representation with several American institutions. This is what led me down the self-publishing road seven years ago.
Since then, I’ve published three books in the series and not one. NOT ONE comment from readers anywhere has taken issue with the gender disbursement of the cast. It is a series about the muses, who are traditionally female, after all.
This has led me to conclude, rightly or wrongly, that with the American state of affairs and often decades backward way of thinking about female power, women’s rights, equality and rape culture—this market is not a literary fit for my work.
A whole series about Nine powerful women changing the world? Are we ready for it in the Unites States? We’re ready. Yes. We need it. Yes.
Are there any other series, television, books, movies that have a female led ensemble cast? There are a couple. A few. Several books and series and shows with ONE strong female lead—but no ensembles of super-heroine casts.
It’s as if there’s an unspoken fear that if super-strong, goddess powered, super-human women banding together to rock a story line will somehow threaten the hierarchy of the Universe. That if we recognize we hold majority in population numbers, and we stop fighting amongst ourselves for imagined patriarchal privileges, we’ll realize we are unstoppable and we will revolt. It will be a bloodbath. Anarchy!
Wait. All that might actually be true….
The last super-heroine-power shows I remember that are almost entirely female led ensemble were Charmed, Xena, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Niches to be sure. But valuable and full of voice. (and Xena wasn’t really a super hero, but full of awesome.) (Jessica Jones comes pretty damn close to fitting my hopes and dreams but is still not quite there yet.)
The point is, I have faith in the public and in the readers…I no longer have faith in the market conditioned American gatekeeper system. The more I reach out and get feedback related to gender, the more it seems to point to an expectation of continuing to support the status quo OR to encourage the “get back in your box, woman” ideal of commercial fiction.
While I know this is somewhat of an exaggeration, AND an amalgamation of my experiences. I feel like I’m being encouraged to write fluff for women, OR to write something less powerful for the genre to make it palatable for what gatekeepers think the American audiences want.
I am also American audience. I want a cast of female superheroes, not sidekicks to men. Not bit roles in the conclusion of the Avengers 15-year-long series with a five-minute tribute to all the females who supported for over a decade and didn’t have a full LEAD role. I am unapologetic about it. I am insistent upon it. (Yes, I know Captain Marvel had a lead, with a release less than a year from the conclusion of a whole decade long series. Here’s your vanity prize, ladies! BAM. Series and arc are over. Squeezed it in just at the end. I’m sure American women, who hold more than 51% of the census majority population, were sufficiently mollified by the brief acknowledgement and phoned-in representational reference.)
It’s about fucking TIME for women to own the story, for them to wield power both in fiction and on screen. Wield power as a collective of women, showing what it means to have sisterhood, community, and compassion. It’s about time for a collective of strong women to front the conversation of what feminine leadership looks like, and that means in all its sometimes messy glory.
I’ve been a student of Joseph Campbell for decades. When I first heard of his work, I was fifteen or so. For twenty years I obsessed over the standard three act structure, and the hero’s journey of storytelling. His body of work is genius, and I admire and deeply respect it.
However, in recent years I’ve become aware that even Joseph Campbell’s collection of works never really addresses the heroine’s journey. HER journey.
While this seems at first to be a statement of “what about me”, a squawking into the cacophony of unfair representation, it has basis in this one GIANT fact of gender that is missing almost entirely from the hero’s journey amalgamation of works throughout history: Childbirth.
Let that sink into the void of what you know about the Joseph Campbell doctrine. MUCH of what the hero’s journey is non-gender binary. It is the HUMAN experience. He uses many male/female legends and myths in gender fluid ways.
BUT he only hints at the differences that make up a huge variable in the human experiences that cross that boundary in gender specific ways. Yes, it’s part of the human experience.
But childbirth is strictly a female experience (for now). That’s just the biggest, most obvious difference. And if you can recognize that one, there are dozens of other variants that begin to come to mind. Conversations for another day, though. I’m sure this will blow up on the forums. The discussion will be live here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1294108170754107/
And so what we’ve known of the standardized hero’s pathways are subtly and invariably influenced and imprinted in masculinized ways. Thusly, many of our recognizable strong female characters are macho-ized. Some in small ways, and other’s in more significant expressions. But few of those strong female heroines are powerful in their owned femininity, powerful in matriarchy, and female tribal unity.
I feel like 80% of the hero's journey according to Campbell is the shared human experience, and the remaining 20% is rich with multitudes that need to be explored.
And so…because I am tired of the sloppy attempts of the American mainstream to appease the masses, hold the status quo to comfort male ego and entitlement, and find excuses as to why a female led enterprise will be unprofitable—I am looking at foreign markets for a home for my work.
The irony is not lost on me.
Embarrassingly, I just don’t think American publishers and agents have got it anymore. They are chasing trend, trying too hard to stay in a comfort zone, or direct the emotional needs of a population that has the majority, by the way, to just accept that the female lot is to be the support system to the male driven superhero fantasy based on a paradigm that doesn’t actually see/hear/recognize the female journey.
Frankly, I’m bored of it. BORED.
Will foreign publishers and agent think differently? I don’t know. I really don’t. But I’m querying to find out. I will have the answers to that question soon.
At the very least, maybe I’ll finally get some useful data back about pacing, or story structure issues. That would be a welcome and refreshing change of rejection pace. I would very much like a publisher or agent who plainly states, “You’re not being rejected for reasons of X, you’re just a shitty writer.”
I might send them flowers and a thank you note. Could I be better at my craft? Absolutely, without question or hesitation. Could I be a better writer/storyteller? Yup. And I’m looking forward to working with the team that will help me hone my craft into a much stronger, more accurate spear.
I will conclude with this acknowledgement:
I am very grateful to my readers; my American readers, and readers in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Russia, France, Canada, Ecuador, Britain, Kenya (though I have no idea how you found my books!), Israel, Germany, and Poland. How you stumbled across The Pillars of Dawn, and then made an effort to reach out was nothing less than miraculous to me. I am grateful to the men and women of every age demographic I didn’t even know I could reach, who have dropped me notes, comments, reviews, questions, requests, and ideas. Thank you for the messages containing corrections needed, and offering ideas on publishing opportunities to try. Thank you to patrons who picked up my publishing tabs, and offered financial support while I was struggling to meet deadlines.
I am targeting publishers in the countries of readers who have reached out to me. I feel like it’s only fair that if publishing contracts get made, those readers will get first dibs on translations and releases in their own country and in those languages.
Am I worried that this post and my opinions and points of view will damage my publishing prospects? Not in the least. It will only keep those opportunities that are not a match for my platform from reaching out. And that saves me tons of work in the long run. They say not to rock the boat when you’re sitting in it…but this is a boat that needs to be rocked. I’ve got my life vest on, so, I’m ready.
The right connections will get it, and then we’ll be off and running together.
I AM SO GRATEFUL TO YOU ALL. It’s been an amazing seven years of beautiful interactions.
Shopping The Pillars of Dawn does not in any way discount or dismiss my level of gratitude to you all. If anything, giving the series the opportunity to reach a wider audience, and allow me to get busy on Act Two, is a testament to my commitment to the series, and to my readers as a whole—and you made that possible. Thank you.
I will certainly keep you all posted on the forums, and through the usual channels. If you’re on the threads—I will post play by plays for you, and be open to conversations and feedback. Please feel free to ask questions, and or open a dialog about this projected publishing change. I am not going anywhere. I am listening. This is not abandonment—this is simply the next act in my publishing arc.
Thank you again, everyone. I truly hope you continue to enjoy this marvelous ride with me.
It certainly is never dull.
Viva La Story, Folks.
P.S. Because I exhausted myself so much on this post, I haven’t gone back for the edit and pc version of it yet. I’ll update when I have the fuel. In the meantime, I’m sure this will still some thoughts and feelings with people, so I am opening a Facebook forum for questions, answers and discussions here at The Pillars of Dawn: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1294108170754107/
If you want to talk about what I’ve said, in a closed, respectful group, please send a request and I’ll moderate as I’m able. I'm looking forward to input and perspectives on this post. Thank you in advance.