If the origin of the series and the foundation of the principle behind this series is interesting to you, then read onward, my friend.
I began writing erotica twenty years ago as I was hell-bent on discovering and owning my personal empowerment sexually/emotionally/physically. I struggled with the dichotomy of being a woman and thereby over-sexualized, and I was working through sexual trauma, shame, oppression, and so on. What a strange society we live in that provides such conflicting messages as overt sexualization and abuse-mixed with shame and oppression.
I started writing short misadventures of my attempts at discovery. Those eventually turned to heartbreak, and then were relegated to shame. I posed for Suicide Girls, then declined the contract. I picked up roles in film, theater, and in literary clubs that opened the conversations further by choosing erotica groups or taking on roles that required sexual expression. I even spent a year interviewing strippers in Portland, Oregon. Oh, the stories!
But throughout, I was writing shorts, poetry, and Letters to Lovers I’ve Never Met. I called them tidbits, landing points, and curiosities. These snippets were collected on napkins, spare sheets in notebooks, and scribbled on the backs of menus, or in the margins of my journals.
The tipping point came when I met a catfish. Yes, a catfish. It happened online, and the opportunity was ripe for a series of conversations around the topic of unfettered female sexuality—no holds barred—no shame—no judgment because there was literally nothing to lose. We’d never meet, so we could discuss everything in great detail.
For several months we spoke daily, and I sent him clips from the notebooks, journals, and tidbits.
An amazing thing happened. The collections of stories began to take shape. The language I’d struggled to find, the words I’d longed to target began to pull together. Finally, what I’d been trying to say for twenty years began to coalesce.
The conversations with the catfish came to an abrupt halt, as most of those stories do; when I wanted to meet him, he was gone like morning mist. Poof. All the better, I’m sure. What I’d needed was complete and it was time to sit down and pull my works together, catfish or not.
The resulting curation of all my erotic works coming out of the closet, so to speak, was the introduction of the Nome deplume, Blush Unbidden.
Blush is able to articulate the complexity of female sexuality and yearning in a way that is utterly different from male-centric porn, or slush factor sleaze. (Not to say that male-centric porn, and slush factor sleaze don’t have a place—only, it’s overdone, and lacks the feminine element.) Blush speaks in emotional anchors, very human vulnerability, humble curiosity, and unabashed wonderment. She’s real; both fragile and powerful,
and oh so very hungry to know all the delights of the world.
In the process of redefining the voice I would give Blush, and what type of journey or arc I’d throw her into, I had to sit down and truly frame out what erotica meant to me as a woman and an author.
What does erotica mean? What does female sexual empowerment mean? How does that work in our modern dating/relationship dynamics? What guardrails for health and safety need to be mentioned or respected? Where will I refuse to go? As an author…what is my writing safe word, as in, where will I reach the edge of the adventure?
It ended up being a much more in-depth process than I’d expected. By the time I was done putting the framework in place, #metoo was in full force and the media attention and backlash against women speaking out about sexuality and sexual abuse was so intense I stepped back. I was too tired to take the topic head on in the middle of the storm, but I fully acknowledged that if we’d had a better understanding of female sexual empowerment, female erotica, and autonomous voice fifty years ago—we might never have needed a #metoo hashtag.
Right about that same time the photographer I’d booked to work with for artistic nudes to accompany the next release passed away. Simultaneously, I’d received several emails from readers of the first installment of The Life Erotic, stating that the material had made them weep.
“I ugly cried.” One reader told me.
I was devastated. No one wants an ugly cry in the middle of their sexy time. It was so not what I had aimed for that I thought for certain I had botched the series horribly. I boxed up the notes, put the manuscripts in the archive and locked it all away.
FIVE YEARS PASSED
I continued to write shorts, tidbits, and Letters to Lovers I’ve Never Met, but I tucked them in the archive and focused all my energy on my other series under my given name, Athena. The Pillars of Dawn is a fantasy fiction series, which not unsurprisingly has quite a lot of adult sexual content in it.
Then I had an unexpected conversation with a reader who finished Scold of Jays, and who had also read The Life Erotic Week One: Reawakening.
In a nutshell she said something along the lines of, “I love how you write Fable’s scenes. The sex is so hot, and it’s so powerful. It’s part of the story, not just put in to be porn. She has no shame. I can’t remember what it’s like to have sex like that with no shame. It made me ask myself and my partner some hard questions. It made me think of that other series you write about the erotic stories. When is the next one of those coming out?”
I told her I’d stopped writing The Life Erotic because they apparently made people cry. I was more than a little frustrated with my inability to hit the right emotional note.
She seemed surprised, “Really? That’s what I loved about it. It made me have an emotional release AND a sexual release. I cried because it made me believe again.”
If I said I was stupefied, it would still not adequately express my feeling that moment. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t believe what she was saying. When she left the coffee shop I sat mindlessly at my laptop, dazed.
Believe is such a powerful word. Too powerful for my simple little short stories. Too powerful for my little provincial clutch of tidbits.
Then I got hung up on the word “Shame”.
Gah. Shame. The destroyer of intimacy. The bane of connection. The foul stink in the rose garden of…well, you get it.
Shame has no place in erotic content, or in intimacy, or in relationship dynamics that are reliant on trust. I could go on for a thousand pages on the damages of shame in the context of sexuality—instead I will say this:
Shame is a control mechanism. It is only used by a partner to destabilize or disempower—and it is only used by ourselves to repress or subvert impulses, desires, or wantings. The only purpose shame has in the world of adult content is to curb, corral, or alienate.
(The only appropriate form of shame I can endorse is as a form of punishment for abuse, criminal behavior, or to enforce standards of ethical boundaries, as in—shame only when ethics are violated.)
Shame is a punishment. Period. And not to be a ghostly or even weaponized force in the most vulnerable and exquisite parts of our relationship dynamics, and use of our bodies.
Wherein consenting adults participate, there is no room left for shame because the pleasure of such unfettered freedom and shared ecstasy leaves no oxygen for the cruelty that is mortification.
Her conversation spurred me to go back to the source material. I pulled all The Life Erotic boxes out of the closet, and opened the digital archive. I was so motivated by the idea that women out there are still held back from their most liberated sexual expressions by shame (and a plethora of other topics) that I dumped all the work on my living room floor and started sorting the notes.
Shame as a whole goes against literally everything Blush Unbidden stands for. All that she is is reliant on willingness, freedom, wild abandon, acceptance, and joyful curiosity. It’s impossible to be a hedonistic sybarite if you’re bound by shame.
It wasn’t just my frustration for my fellow ladies that spurred me on to revisit the material. It was my sadness for how this viral toxin that is shame affects men as well. The global and cultural disconnect around the autonomy of the female body, the lack of acceptance of all shapes and sizes, the confusing yet glorious profusion of differences in our sexual desires and expressions, genders and identifications has made the idea of finding true intimate connections a prospect with less viable probability than winning the Megaball.
I hate to say it, but I think sometimes men are flummoxed about how to date in this new arena. Without the traditional binary standards to comply with, AND what is perceived as a minefield of danger, they get squeamish around the feminists, and flinchy around anything that doesn’t smack of reliably traditional (Even though most of them will heartily agree that the traditions are already mostly obsolete). They still struggle with how to navigate in these new waters.
They don’t want to be accused of #metoo, or #rapeculture, or #creepers – but unfortunately, many of them simply don’t know HOW to approach women without setting off all the alarm bells, and they are petrified of being mislabeled and never recovering from the stigma or the shame themselves.
So where does that leave all my fellow ladies? High-centered and sexually frustrated. It’s no wonder that the Fifty Shades of Grey books were so fantastically successful. The conversation of female desires, and yearnings were at least being approached (well or not is debatable) These proclivities that were, to some, shame based--were finally topics of mainstream conversation. (To be clear, bondage and BDSM are not meant to be shame based or toxic, there are actually very healthy outlets in those sexual genres). It was an exciting, titillating, panty-soaking explosion of a feminine dialog that had been too long withheld.
For my take on it, Fifty Shades was a start, but it’s still miles from being a healthy, holistic, and fully liberated approach to female/male sexual empowerment AND an enriched human partnership within the realm of sexy vulnerability and trust. Still, it was an icebreaker, so, good on ya, E.L. James.
So where does this all lead The Life Erotic?
Merging brands and coming out from behind the pen name is a risk on lots of levels. However, the topics of female sexual empowerment, feminine gratification, and erotic freedom are very dear to me as a person and as an author. These concepts bleed over into my other series and genres. It’s a platform I can’t seem to avoid, and wouldn’t want to even if I could. It’s time to talk about it.
In the last twenty years the world has changed significantly around the topics at hand, but in many ways we are still stunted as a culture, and backward in our ways of understanding women, pleasure, and desire. It’s probably safe to say men try to legislate the female body BECAUSE of this disconnect.
Coming out of the closet is a step toward my own freedom, and the freedom of my fellow ladies as well. And let’s not dismiss the very real truth that when we as women are truly free to be ourselves in the bedroom and in relationships, and in the eyes of the law—then so too are the men in our lives freed to be themselves without the weighty burden of imbalance.
Dear men of this world,
Wouldn’t you love to know the woman in bed with you is there because she wants to be, yearns to be, aches to be filled by you—as deeply as you can go? Wouldn’t you love to know she feels freedom, from her sinew and helix all the way to her toes, and in that awareness—she longs for you? No doubt. No questions. No hesitation—she wants you? In the moment, she is yours because she gives herself willingly and would fight to prove that willingness if anyone questioned your motives? Would you sleep better at night knowing the woman you love would ferociously protect the quality of your nobility just as fearlessly as you would protect her from harm?
It boils down to engaging in the dialog. Blush Unbidden and The Life Erotic is here to create conversation. When women told me The Life Erotic Week One: Reawakening made them cry, I had to do a lot of questioning to tease out that snag.
It kept coming back to trust, vulnerability—and being seen. Let’s be totally honest—those three things alone are like the hottest aphrodisiacs on the planet.
I don’t mean, “you have pretty eyes.” Or “You’re so hot.” NO.
I mean being seen, truly seen, all the way to your pulsing aching center kind of seen. Yes, I have cried with relief and pent up pain when I felt seen for the first time in a very long time. (Made for a super awkward date ending to be sure).
Blush sees her lover this way. She also sees herself this way, and in the course of the series arc realizes she doesn’t like what she sees in herself, and sets out to correct the parts of herself that she doesn’t want to live with anymore so she can be a more independent woman, and an even better lover to the man she adores.
The tenderness she shares with her lovers; the unbridled passionate hunger, and her trembling timid courage fueled by desires make her an excellent mouthpiece to tell the story of coming into an unfettered female sexual freedom in a world where the rules are literally legislated against such profound independent and personal feminine sovereignty.
The sybaritic platform is the perfect stage for B. Unbidden’s explorations of liberty, autonomy, and thirst for life in all its gritty and glorious experiences. She is both a poet and a warrior, and I am profoundly blessed that her Muse has allowed me to attempt to scribe Blush’s journey.
I can only hope I do her stories justice. I deeply hope I can entertain, inspire…and arouse. So, without further ado….
The Life Erotic Week Two: Nibbles
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.
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.
Scold of Jays appeared on shelves last week with little fanfare. Barely a notice. I’ll admit, by the time the launch date came I was so strapped for energy and cash, I did absolutely nothing to promote, market or celebrate. I was just that worn down. Still, I’m loving the soft launch approach versus the big events and huge energy drains of marketing and such. It’s been really nice to just push the “publish” button and go have a drink at the beach. It’s also been rewarding to see and know that longtime supporters are getting the book first and at the discounted digital rate before the big launch later this summer.
Small victories, I suppose.
In other news my new colony of bees arrives Saturday. I spent the morning yesterday re-positioning the hive bricks, and leveling the new location with sand. I’m not super thrilled about having the hive so close to the deck and rose garden walkway—but last year’s hives were in constant stress due to the other proximities of activity (dust from the road, falling trees, smoke from the burn pile, etc.) There’s just not a better place to keep them safe, so I’ll have to manage this year with the hive in a more protected spot—but closer than I’d like.
We’ll find the happy medium eventually. Still, the boxes have been cleaned, and the foundation leveled. Bees arrive this weekend, just in time for the salmon-berry and apple blossoms.
The garden is showing signs of early life. The raspberries, freshly pruned, are bursting with new leaves, and the blueberries have bright green new growth. The rhubarb is curling out of the winter layer of leaves, and my sprouting trays and cups are quickly outgrowing their nursery beginnings. I’m really looking forward to getting my hands in the dirt.
The restaurant season is ramping up which means much of my writing and creativity work will be put on the third burner until autumn. I’ll be in summer season of tourism and working the grow site so my winter world of publishing will go dormant for a while. This always makes me a little sad, but there’s some relief in knowing I work hard during this season so I can afford to shut everything else down and focus solely on writing and creativity through the autumn and winter. It’s a trade off. It’s currently my only way to support the artist lifestyle—so forgive me if I’m less available than usual during the “make hay” months.
In all, I’m still in recovery from the last book and launch. I’m still struggling with a little bit of burnout and the need to transition the way I’m interacting with my daily events. More specifically, how much I’m investing in jobs and habits that don’t return in expectation or investment. It’s a work in progress.
In final news, I’ll mention again that I’ll be closing my Patreon account down next month. I just don’t want anyone to be surprised when it goes offline. It was a difficult choice, because I’ve really enjoyed being able to interact with supporters and patrons, and be connected. I’ll be working on a new supporter option with subscription-based patron tiers, and a portal for contact and interaction through my website. Hopefully this rotation won’t take too long, but it is entirely at the whim of access to the internet and time to sit and build out the site. In short, I’m closing the door on one method of interacting, and opening another soon.
Here’s to spring and the preparation for summer. Next time I check in, I’ll be knee-deep in gardening soil and hopefully recovered from the launch burnout.
Happy Spring, everyone!
There’s a lull that comes right after the hard push to release a new book to market. I was surprised when it happened with my first book, Ghosts of Seattle. I’d thought I’d be deliriously happy. Thrilled by the final product after a year of extreme difficulties. Instead, I was maudlin and tired. Later I blamed it on the disappointment of the traditional publishing process, but then I self-published Murder of Crows and went through the same post-launch pits. I wept a lot, and slept a lot. It took several months to recover from the burnout.
Sinnet of Dragon’s post launch lull was less catastrophic. I felt the exhaustion, knew there had been strain but I was also in an unusual position in that I’d just left my corporate job and was in the beginning of a new personal Renaissance. My schedule allowed me to sleep as much as I needed, and eat healthy food, and sit by the river. So the recovery from that book was fast, just a couple of weeks of low energy and I was back to full speed.
This time around I prepped for it. The exhaustion is close on my heels. I can feel it. I’m keeping it at bay with caffeine and sugar, which is not ideal, but I need to push it off a couple more weeks until I have a window to take a solid three days to a week of down time. I’m compensating with poor diet now, but during that window I’ll be able to switch over to healthier food, and de-stress by the sea and by walking through the woods, or puttering in the garden.
I don’t know what it’s like for other authors. I can’t speak for the post-launch process for others, but I can say it’s been a rocky road of discovery regarding the emotional rollercoaster of commercially publishing art and creative outputs.
Whether it’s the sleepless nights and hard pushing to break through the final edits, polishing, services wrangling, uploads, battling the impostor syndrome, financial strain, formatting problem solving, working a bill-paying server job, starting a new state licensed grow business, meeting the monthly patron rewards and requirements, and prepping the cottage stead for spring planting—well, it’s understandable there’s be burnout nipping at my heels.
I hate to say it, but, I’m going to say it anyway… many of the authors I know who are able to put out a book a year, and not go through a post-launch dip are being supported by a partner or a publisher. Having that support net allows for a faster recovery and/or less of a drop after the tension line is released. Even still, many will suffer some sadness that the journey they’ve been emotionally invested in during the creation process is at a kind of end.
So how to combat the sadness of transition, and the exhaustion of having pushed so hard to complete a deadline?
My recovery process involves a lot of water. Drinking a lot of water. Soaking in a lot of baths. Sitting in the swing by the riverside, or by the sea. Water is a medium for me, and I don’t know why. I have very little water in my chart, which is mostly fire. Maybe that answers it, after all….
Rest doesn’t always mean sleep, at least not for me. This year has been stressful to say the least. My brain has been on hyperdrive for the last few months of grow operation planning and work, and server work, as well as scheduling and wrangling the final publishing needs for Scold of Jays. This means my thoughts are always burning away, even when I’m trying to sleep.
Rest is a quiet mind. Sleep is important, but rest is even more important.
No problems to solve or chew on. No thirty-step prep to plan for any failure or worst case scenario. No ruminating on failures and cycling on negative energy or patterns. No coulda/woulda/shoulda. Just…quiet.
A quiet mind is hard to learn at first. It’s easy to let a quiet mind be filled with debris and worry, and circular thoughts of wrongs received or committed. But once you can get to a quiet space in the brainpan…well, rest happens so much faster, and recovering physical energy is faster.
A quiet mind sounds like a fiddlehead fern unfurling in a damp forest. A quiet mind tastes like the smell of morning dew on the strawberries. A quiet mind feels like mist settling on the lower pastures with a sunbreak over the creek.
Sleep will happen as it’s needed, but a quiet mind I have to work toward until it sticks. Until I can unwire the spinning top of thoughts, and replace them with the sound of running water. It sometimes takes a few days of staring out the window with my tea in hand.
When do I know I’ve reached recovery from burnout?
When I wake up before the dog needs to go out, and I don’t need three cups of coffee to find my legs…I’m on the right track.
When I find a quiet place in my mind, find peace at last…and out of nowhere new story ideas start to populate the quiet space. When imagination comes unbidden, then my mind has rested as much as it needs from the previous burnout. It may take three days, or three months—but it will happen.
When my body craves salad, fresh fruit, and clean water—and my cravings for starch, sugar, and caffeine are gone. Then I’m on the right track.
When I have an itch to explore, go for a drive to a new location, pack my day bag into the woods, or wander into the city for new adventures—I’m fully recovered. Adventure doesn’t call to me when I’m too tired to answer, it only calls when it knows I’m ready to engage, and I’m prepared to discover something new…then write about it.
And when I’m ready to write, my spirit is back where it belongs and my Universe is as it should be.
There’s no point in pushing creative work before that time. There’s no point in berating myself for not getting more done, or for not breaking into a new chapter when I have an hour to spare. There’s no point in wishing I could be the kind of person who launches a book on a Monday, then starts a new one on Tuesday. There’s no point in trying to rush the re-boot. Just set the stage with water and restfulness, and it will happen in due time.
Do you go through post-launch blues or burnout? How do you cope or rebuild?
Scold of Jays has officially been handed off to layout and design! The amazing Roslyn McFarland of Angelfish Publishing is taking on the task of interior design and digital formatting.
Book II of The Pillars of Dawn is officially off my desk. I can’t even begin to express how good that feels. It’s been a long six years on this one, and it would have been even longer without Patron support. I feel like I need to collapse near the river and sleep in the hammock for a week.
It will go through layout, a final galley edit, then to print. It’s still slated for available download and print on demand, April 9th, 2019.
It’s a long-standing artist reality that nothing is ever perfect, it’s only good enough to be released from twitchy fingers. I could agonize over the flaws for another six years, but the truth is, Plague of Gargoyles is pushing for mental space and I need the room in my brain. Holding an eleven-book series in my brainpan means storage space in the noggin is a priority. Like it or not, Scold of Jays needs out, so Plague of Gargoyles, and Tangle of Mermaids can breathe.
This post is a lot about coming to terms with being indie. I knew when I made the choice to go solo seven years ago that I wasn’t taking the route of having professional development funds or guidance, or even a large publisher’s umbrella to hide under. I knew it might be a long slog. Three novels into an eleven-part arc, and it hasn’t gotten any easier.
Several of my patrons on Patreon, are either indie, or thinking about going indie. So, I’m writing this post for them, on the last step prior to Scold of Jay’s launch. This is what my indie story looks like, to people who are about to take the dive.
Artists spend a good chunk of their early careers waiting. Waiting? Waiting for what?
Waiting for permission. Waiting for validation. Waiting to be discovered. Waiting for the money to balance out the cost. Waiting…mostly, as in the publishing world, they spend a lot of time waiting to be greenlighted by the gatekeepers, the people they believe are the best judges of their talent or efforts. Publishers, editors, agents, etc. The Gatekeepers make the call that most artists, writers, are desperate to be validated by, and released upon the world with their “I’m a legitimate writer” card.
That card will cost you 95% of your gross. Just sayin’.
The waiting game, or the “permission game” as I like to call it, strikes everyone at some point. No one is totally immune to the need to have their efforts “matter”. Deciding to take the indie path means re-configuring what matters most TO YOU, to YOUR AUDIENCE, and your SUPPORT TEAM.
Once you re-configure that data—you realize, there’s nothing left over for the gatekeepers.
Hell’s pretty tinkling bells, how I’d have loved to land a contract that would have made all this so much easier. Alas, it just wasn’t going to happen.
So I made a choice, the kind of choice you have to keep making every day. Get up. Yep, still indie. Start again the next day. Get up. Yep, still indie. And you just…keep…writing.
As an indie, YOU are the permission. You are the validation. You are the gatekeeper of your own stories. Period. It will cost you, a lot. But it’s worth the freedom of knowing you’re not waiting on anyone else, especially a bevy of highly paid professionals taking 95% of your cut for their third house on a nice sunny beach, who’ve never written a book in their life, but will be happy to tell you how you’re doing it all wrong. You’re not waiting on those guys.
You’re an indie, or thinking about it, so let the next artist wait on that kind of validation. You just keep writing. Write. Write. Write. Write until your fingers bleed, and your heart breaks, and then keep writing, because you’re about to get to the good stuff. Just write.
I estimate I lost a good decade of quality writing time while I sat on the curb with my first books, waiting to be “rescued” by someone else’s recognition or validation. Then I bored, tired, and hungry. There would be no rescue, time to do it myself.
The choice to go indie was not made lightly. I’d been with a publisher for one book, and it was a terrible experience. I wasn’t giving in so easily the second time around.
I knew it would be years of professionals questioning my choices, or dismissing my lack of polish. I knew it would be a lot of players in the industry just being polite, but having already decided to write me off. That happens to everyone. Even the big, famous writers. I’m not special, and I was prepared for a double dose of, who the fuck do you think you are treatment from industry people.
The publishing offers I got were ridiculous. They boiled down to: re-write the story of the muses from a male perspective, OR, take out all the Avian’s and replace them with vampires, OR, take on a masculine pen name. These were essentially rejections, in my book. So I added them to the pile of rejections and kept going. (Honestly, my most frequent rejection from agents was my refusal to change my name—my real name—Athena. My feeling was, if you have to change MY NAME to sell these books, then there’s something wrong with your marketing strategy, or the world as a whole. My name is short. It’s a mononame. It doesn’t take up much room on the cover. If your excuse is that a female name will prevent men from reading—there’s a problem with men, not with my name. End of discussion.)
But the tide of rejections slowed me down. They made me think, and re-think, and clench up. One hundred and forty-three rejections on my series later…I was too afraid to let Scold of Jays leave my hands—because what if they were right? What if all those important people who know storytelling and writing better than me are right?
What if I should have quit a long time ago?
Impostor syndrome is perfectly named. Once impostor syndrome gets hold of you, it’s nearly impossible to shake off. Who do I think I am publishing a series that one hundred and forty-three professionals decided was too shitty to support? I’m an idiot. I should be listening to them, right?
A couple of months ago, after a lot of clenching, stressing and the spinning in circles, I got in the car and went for a long drive under the full moon, hit fifth gear and belted some tunes. The Oregon Coast is a marvel by moonlight, and I made my way up and down highway 101 with my trusty Pink Floyd, The Wall.
I’m here to tell you if you’re indie, or thinking about it—the self-doubt and self-questioning has yet to totally go away. Three books total under my own label, and I’m still hesitating right at the final release stage. I had to go on a drive with Pink Floyd to remember this about myself and my mission:
Since when do other people’s opinions or permissions ever really stop me? For reals. All of my very favorite mistakes, accidents, journeys, relationships, scenic routes, learning curves, destinations, moments of bliss, and best adventures happened when I ignored the voice of authority—and made my own call, went my own way.
That’s how I felt before I published Murder of Crows, and again when Sinnet of Dragons was ready to be released. Why has Scold of Jays been such a struggle?
I think it’s because of the point of no return for my personal investment. I could have still walked away from the series after those two books, but once Scold of Jays is live…there’s no going back. The arc hits a pulling stride, and the characters are swept in at tsunami force, and I love the story enough to go with them. I don’t think I’d be able to walk away after this book is released because, I NEED TO KNOW HOW IT ENDS!
People are shocked when they hear I don’t know how the series ends. You’re not supposed to write a series unless you’ve already written the ending!! I did. I wrote an ending. But because I wanted it to be a surprise for me too, I wrote two more endings.
Yes. I wrote a total of three endings to this series. Because I’m selfish, and I wanted to be surprised, too. I’m writing it in a way that any one of three endings can fit, and I don’t know which one it will be. It could literally come down to picking one of three endings out of a hat.
See the problem? If Scold of Jays goes live---then I have to keep writing because I’ll be so invested that I will just have to know what happens next. Damnit.
It’s a point of no return because I’m realizing, I’m accepting an indie for life challenge. Potentially years to keep writing this series on my own, struggling, fighting, pressing forward. It’s a long-term commitment—me—with the commitment phobia.
So, I’ve literally done everything I wasn’t supposed to with this series. I’ve ignored the advice of professionals in the industry. I’ve been unable to afford top-quality editing and professional development, so I went ahead without it. I didn’t re-write the story from a male point of view. I didn’t replace my flying characters with vampires. I didn’t take on a neutral name, or masculine pen name. I didn’t finalize my ending before my series arc started. I didn’t hire a professional marketing firm, because I couldn’t afford it. And so on and so forth, etc. (the list goes on)
So therein lies the indie dilemma: give up because you feel like you can’t reach the bar set by the industry? Which means you will never be recognized by the industry, or validated by the industry, or supported by the industry and its peers.
OR keep going and find out how the story ends?
TRUST THE STORY.
So be it. I love these characters and these books. My readers love these characters and books enough that they’ve become my patrons in order for me to keep going—so, I CHOOSE THE STORY.
When it comes to the industry bar, I may not be a pole vaulter—but I can limbo like nobody’s business, and I bet there are a few good folk out there who’d like to limbo with me. Choosing the indie path means, not waiting for permission. It means setting your own bar.
You don’t have to be good enough for them—be good enough for yourself, and your readers, and the rest will eventually stop being relevant.
JUSTICE TO THE STORY.
Queuing limbo music… Scold of Jays is set for shelves, April 9th, 2019.
I hope it’s one hell of a dance off.